Tuesday, May 09, 2017

A perfect day at Massanutten 100 miler

Two weeks out from my 5th MMT I went for an easy 6 mile run with my buddy, and pacer, Garry. When I got home my ankle blew up. I canceled my last big weekend and cut my mileage down a lot more than planned. I spent two weeks icing my ankle and figuring it will be fine on race day, or I’ll be out of the race by mile 12. 
not out of the race at mile 12 – photo by David Whitney Potts

My goal for the race was to do better than last year. My more specific goals for the race were to get to the Bird Knob lookout by sunset, and to win the Masters division. There was a long list of runners I thought would be competing for that award with the main two being Brad Hinton and Keith Knipling. Brad has crushed me at Bull Run the past two years, and Keith can crush this course like no other.
In order to beat my time from last year and get to Bird Knob before dark I had to do two things this year: Run faster in the first 54 miles, and not miss any turns in the second half. From mile 10 to 34 there are two climbs, and the rest is largely runnable. During my training this year I put more focus on running steady. It paid off as I got to Elizabeth Furnace 23 minutes ahead of last year.

Much like 2014, this year runners were treated to 103.7 miles of wet feet. The field we run across at the start had about a foot of standing water and there was never an extended period of drying off. It rained for about 4 or 5 hours in the morning and the trails were worse than 2014 in some sections from what I remember. I took two falls. Around mile 25 there’s a steep descent that was just a stream of water. I was bouncing around trying to avoid the water and my foot clipped a rock and I went down hard. My knee hit a rock and I got some road (rock) rash on my arm and shoulder. Then at mile 37 I was going down a wide open trail with very little rocks, excited about how well I was feeling when a rock reached up and grabbed my ankle. I tucked and rolled like a stuntman, and hopped up and kept running.
Mile 26 photo by Karsten Brown
For much of the first half of the race I leap frogged with Will Kuper (another runner who crushed me at Bull Run). I would take a big lead on the climbs and rocks, and he would pass and take a big lead on me on the runnable sections. Just before my mile 37 tumble I spotted Brad Hinton ahead of me. When I got to the aid station I changed socks, and chased Will to the next AS. We repeated our routine up Veach. I took the lead on the climb, he gapped me when we got to the top.

Indian Grave - photo Annie Gie
As I got into Indian Grave at mile 50, I finally caught up to Brad. It was a huge motivation for me, and I was able to also catch Will on the road to Habron. On the road I also caught up to my buddy Pat who was struggling. I encouraged him to run with me and he finished the section strong (and went on to an awesome 6 hour PR finish of 23:20).
Brad was in and out of Habron quicker than me, and I passed him on the big climb. It was the last runner I’d see on the trail for the rest of the day. At this point in the race I was 43 minutes ahead of last year. Looking at how well I ran the back half of the race last year I thought I’d be able to make up not much more than the 20 minutes of extra running I did last year. Apparently I underestimated myself. When I left Habron I put on my pack. About 20 minutes into the climb I went to eat a gel. There were none in my top left pocket, none in my top right pocket. I reached around to the sides and found one. I planned on eating three in this section and started to let myself get mad about not having more and in my head I was rationing this one gel as if I was stranded on a deserted island. After about 5 minutes I took the pack off to look in the back pocket for more. None back there either, but as I was putting it back on my hand touched  a pocket on my shoulder I forgot about. Never have I been so happy about 200 calories.
Jess Gockley’s feet on that trail later that night
 At this point in the race I had no idea of what place I was in, or if there might be someone in my age group ahead of me. I just knew I was running well, and if I kept it up I could get to Bird Knob before dark. Coming into Camp Roosevelt I was running really strong and spotted Garry out on the trail. Just about the same spot I tried to tell him I wanted to quit two years ago. This year I was feeling better than ever. A quick aid station and I was off to the worst section of trail on the course. It’s a mess on a normal year, and it’s a foot deep stream on wet years.

 I didn’t focus on trying to beat my best time here. I just went at it strong, and kept taking in calories while my stomach was still ok. In the end I missed my best time on this section by one minute. Maybe the final splash in the creek slowed me down. 

Along with Garry, Marsha was down for the second half to help Kym crew, and Brandon came down to also pace. I told them I didn’t think I’d need a pacer until mile 78, but they had Brandon jump in with me here. It was a good idea. I wasn’t struggling, but having him with me helped lift my spirits more and kept me moving well. I focused on not missing the turn up Jawbone this year, and I’m not sure how I missed it last year. It rained off and on in this section but it cleared up for a beautiful view of the mountains as we ran down the road to the Visitor Center aid station. It was 7:19pm, and after some soup I left for the huge climb. I told Brandon about my goal to get to the lookout and he said he’d give me 1 minute to enjoy it before we got moving. I took it all in in about 20 seconds. We got to the Bird Knob Aid Station before needing our headlamps. I remember seeing a picture of Brian Rusiecki coming into Bird Knob in the daylight a few years ago and I was amazed. Now I was doing the same. The run from Bird Knob to Picnic is probably my least favorite on the course. It seems like 4 miles of the same thing over and over. Not difficult trail, but all running, and mostly wet. It gets in my head that I’m not moving fast enough and constantly look behind me as if someone is catching me. In this section we saw the same Whippoorwill on the trail as last year. It didn’t fly off the trail until I almost stepped on it. It did that 3 times again. Bizarre.

We heard cheers from Picnic AS a few minutes out. Great news. Not only because we were finally there, but the cheers meant I caught someone. Nick Pedatella had just gotten to the Aid Station when we got there. I had some more soup and quickly got out of there and Garry joined me to the finish. When we crossed the 211 highway I started running the climb. I ran much of that hill last year and as I ran I tried to get myself to run the entire fire road until we turned off to the trail. I made it and cut a few more minutes off my time with that push. We power hiked  the long climb, including this awesome trail:

except picture hiking that in the dark- photo Ted Bielawa
 After the 4 mile climb, the downhill here always hurts my quads. It wasn’t as bad this year and I cut more time off. We ran the road to Gap 2, and with a 15 minute improvement it was my best improvement of the day (so far). We made quick work of the last Aid Station. I was sad to hear a fellow Pacer Laura Mooney was still at Gap 1 and they were trying to get her to go back out, but it was also nice to see the familiar faces of her crew. We made a strong push over the last few brutal miles of trail and popped out on the road. At this point last year I got passed and there was no chance I was letting that happen this year. Garry took charge and pulled me along to a ridiculously fast finish. According to my watch my last full mile was an 8:38. I finished in 21:05:33.

I cut 43 minutes off the first 54 miles, and 66 minutes off the second half that I didn’t think I could improve on. I had a great day alone, but there’s zero chance I finish anywhere near where I did without the amazing help of Marsha, Brandon, and Garry. And there’s zero chance I even run the race if not for the amazing support of Kym. I ran more training miles than ever before this year, and I can only do it because she’s a supermom and a superwife. She got me in and out of every aid station in seconds (except when I took about a half hour to change my shoes in the above video). I can’t do any better than this, so why ever do it again? Just like I said last year. 
Brandon, Garry, Marsha, Me, Kym
Kym and I. Masters champs

strava - https://www.strava.com/activities/976089321

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Fourth Time's the charm

It was 8pm the night before the race started. I had a great training cycle and was in the best trail running shape of my life.  But, my race was about to end. Pat Heine, my pacer Michael Heimes, and I were hanging out when a black bear wandered into our campsite and was staring us down.  I was certain he was about to attack.  After a few moments, Kym believed us enough that there was a bear in camp that she opened the tent to see.  Luckily black bears are terrified by the noise of zippers, and it ran away.  Crisis averted.  Averting crises is a running theme to any good 103.7(++) mile run.

(Video by Pat Heine because mine was too blurry)

After a mostly terrible night of cold sleep I got up and prepared.  Said hello to a bunch of friends at the start, and we’re off.  I settled into the back of the chase pack for the first 4 miles up the road, running and chatting a little with Pat.  We hit the first climb, and we took it about as slow as I can ever remember going up that climb.  But, I wasn’t in any rush. The train continued to move slow over Short mountain until someone caught us and asked to pass.  Shortly after that I decided that pace felt too slow, so I also headed off ahead.  Coming into mile Edinburg Gap I felt like the first section was very easy, and I was right on target.

Feeling less than stellar at mile 25. Photo by Paul Encarnacion
So what was my target?  Sub 24 hours. Again, after failing last year.  I had a printout of my previous three year’s Aid Station arrival times, which I very briefly went over with Michael before being rudely interrupted by the bear Friday night.  The plan was to cut a few minutes off each section, then bigger chunks over the last two sections that I normally struggle with.  In execution, I only actually remembered a few of the times. I had hoped to be about 20 minutes ahead of my best when I got to Elizabeth Furnace, but I was struggling early.  In my previous 300 miles on this course I had never had to step well off trail to use the “mens room”. I did so at mile 13, and felt like I needed to either puke or step off again for much of the next 15 miles.  The humidity was getting to me early. Not a good sign. Also in my previous 300 miles on this course, I don’t recall ever actually falling.  I fell for the first time in these miles. I was going down a steep hill and my foot got caught.  In slow motion I was heading towards a rock the size myself, headfirst. Luckily I was able to get my hands up to push and tumble off the rock. Crisis averted. I don’t remember much else about this section other than getting passed by Kathleen Cusick just before Powell’s.  Exactly where her and Amy Rusiecki passed me last year.  When I got to Powell’s I was out of Tailwind.  I had meant to pack more, but I forgot, and the excellent AS volunteers filled me up with Gatorade. They offered to also add ice, which was amazing.  I was overheating and this was perfect.
running into Elizabeth Furnace - photo Beth Auman

On the long fire road out of Powell’s I was moving ok and killed the climb around mile 29 like I always do.  At the top of the climb my stomach finally recovered, and I determined it was likely Tailwind that was causing me problems.  Over the next few sections I tried to mix in Tailwind, but it never felt good,  so I eventually bailed on it. I had planned on most of my calories coming from that, so I had to change course.  More Gu’s than planned, and more Aid Station food than planned.  It worked out.
back on track at mile 33 - photo Beth Auman

I got to Elizabeth Furnace and re-lubed and did everything I needed to do.  I asked my crew if it was really hot out, or just me.  They told me it wasn’t hot at all, but others had left without shirts.  I decided to do the same.  I cooled off a lot in this section, and that really helped me move well.  I got into Shawl knowing I had a really good section.  Without actually discussing splits/times, Michael would simply tell me I was in good shape with the times.  I took a long AS at Shawl to tape my feet, and headed out shirtless with two handhelds and a shirt tucked into the back of my shorts.  There were a few other people around me to chase, so the run to Veach went pretty well.  I headed out to what I always find to be the hardest climb of the day for me.  It’s around noon, and it’s always been sunny.  The climb has a lot of sections exposed to the sun as well.  I started the climb with 36 oz of fluids.  Shortly into the climb I was crossing a very muddy section when I fell again. A harmless fall, except I landed on my water bottle, which shot out about 6 ounces of my precious water.  The climb was hot and hard, as usual, and I was taking in a lot of my fluids.  But, after I got to the ridge, the temps cooled down and shortly after that a light rain started falling.  It was perfect for me.  I put my shirt on and finished the section strong.  Looking at the splits now, these 9 miles were 35 minutes fast than last year.  I got into Indian Grave to a small group of runners, including Kathleen who was drinking a beer.  I got out of there quick and she zipped by me and gave me someone to chase on these road miles.  It was raining pretty good for this entire section, but it didn’t bother me at all.  This was the first time I’d see Garry, who was coming down to help me/Kym crew again this year.  Last year, the first time I saw him I was hating life. This year, I was all smiles.
Actually running into Roosevelt with year with Garry

At Habron I changed to a dry shirt, put on a windbreaker, and refueled.  I also got an update on my kids.  Colin pitched one inning, allowed one walk, no hits, and struck out the side.  Kenslee won her soccer game, and scored the last goal “for my dad.”  Probably my favorite part of the day.  Within a half-mile of leaving Habron the rain stopped and I was hot already.  I took off the jacket, but refused to have a bad section.  At the end of this section last year I sat down and tried to convince my crew to quit.  I absolutely was not going there at any point today.  During the long climb I passed 4 or 5 people and ran strong into Camp Roosevelt.  Looking at the splits, I was 47 minutes better than last year, and 24 minutes better in this section than ever before.  When I got into Roosevelt I was again warm, so I took off my shirt for last few miles before sunset. Duncan Hollow was a muddy mess of a stream, as was the descent down the other side.

Gap 1. A wee bit of mud on my legs
When I got to Gap 1 I changed socks, and picked up my pacer.  Before the weekend, Michael and I had only briefly met once, after Stone Mill.  We’re Facebook friends, and I know he’s a huge Bernie Sanders fan.  I’m politically un-opinionated, so leading up to the race I joked with him when we ran I’d convince him how President Trump would Make America Great Again. We headed out of Gap 1, made the turn at the yellow gate and started up Turkey Pen Rd.  We started talking about Trump and other things political, then, suddenly, I realized we hadn’t turned up Jawbone yet.  There were no flags around us.  Michael ran ahead, saw nothing, then ran back.  I followed him back, knowing exactly where we went wrong.  Eventually we got back on course and headed up the Jawbone climb.  Looking at my Strava, we went just under a mile past the turn.  1.8 bonus miles.  The guys I had passed in the previous sections?  I had to now pass them again.  Of all the places to go off course, I guess this was the least harmful.  No climbs, runnable road, still daylight, not too deep into the race to crush me.  I wouldn’t let it crush me. Sub 24 was still in sight.  Crisis averted?  We moved well along the Kerns Mt ridge, and got to the road to Visitors around 8:10pm.  I moved well on the road, passing a group of kids likely high on some illegal drugs, and rolled into Visitors without needing headlamps.  This was a goal I had somewhat joked about the night before.  I never thought it would actually happen though.

Besides the first section, the only actual Aid to Aid split I knew was that in 2014 I got to Bird Knob in under an hour.  I had lost time by missing the turn in the last section, so I didn’t want to lose any more time here.  I climbed well, and passed a runner just before Bird Knob Aid Station.  I had a chocolate covered donut, some tater tots, and headed out.  The next 6.2 mile section always feels long to me.  After an early climb, it’s largely downhill.  In this section my watch died, and the games I play with myself to fool myself into thinking there’s more to go than there really are were useless.  I just started to get really tired.  Although mostly downhill, there are some small ups that I really wanted to be running, but simply couldn’t.  I was exhausted.  Eventually the Picnic Center Aid Station appeared and I moved on.  Got a bunch of food, no one caught me, got out.

In the three previous years, by this time my quads are dead, or my feet are torn up, so I’ve never run the mile downhill out of Picnic.  I vowed to run it, and I did.  Slowly, but it was running.  Kym and Garry met us at the 211 road crossing to give me a new watch.  From this point I knew there was about 3.5 mile of climbing.  I was actually able to run for stretches in the beginning.  I felt somewhat invigorated, and moved strong.  During a more technical section here we came upon an owl on the trail.  It was just sitting there and didn’t fly away until I was almost on top of it.  Twice it flew away, then landed on the trail 15 feet ahead.  It stayed there until I got there, and did it again.  It was cool and bizarre, and if Michael didn’t also see it, I’d have written it off as a hallucination. Eventually we topped out, and started heading back down.  I hate this downhill, but I very slowly was able to run it.  We got to the road to Gap 2 and I was able to run all of that (I think?).  Looking at splits now, this section was 21 minutes faster than ever before.

We got in and out of Gap 2 fairly well and I climbed very strong up Jawbone the second time. Because of the missed turn the first time, I don’t have a Strava segment to compare, but I feel like I might have gone faster the second time up.  I passed a bunch of people who were going up Jawbone the first time.  Everyone was cordial, and I wished them well.  After reaching the top, the next two miles or so are unrunnable, for me.  We walked the downhill, and walked the technical trail from there.  Just as I popped out on the road, I lost the masters title.  Nathan Leehman passed me like I was standing still and finished 9 minutes ahead.  The way he was moving, I knew there was no chance of catching him.  But, as I looked at my watch I realized I had a slight shot at sub 23.  When Michael picked me up at Gap 1, I said we will not mention a possible finishing time all night long.  We were to focus on the climb we were on, the ridge we were on, the descent we were on.  Never mentioning time.  When we got to the road I said “Ok, now that we’re on the road, I can talk about it.”  I then proceeded to tell him I thought I had a broken foot.  Somewhere in the first twenty miles I stepped on a rock and my foot slipped and another sharp rock went right into the side of my foot.  When I changed socks at Gap 1 it was all black and blue.  Every flat step for the last 30 miles killed it.  Rocky trail, fine. Flat running, pain.  He convinced me I was fine.  It was 2:15am, and he convinced me we could finish sub 23.  We ran every step of the road, and partially up the campground road.  Just like last year.  I head Garry’s “woo-hoo”ing in the woods and knew I had it.  The last quarter mile felt like it took forever, but I did it. 105.5 miles in 22:54.

Thank you to Garry for coming down again to help me and Kym out.  She loves hanging out with you, and I love seeing you as I come into every aid station.  You helped keep me eating and moving though the Aid Stations.

Thank you to Michael for spending a cold long night in the mountains with me.  You just once questioned why I wasn’t going faster, and it was the perfect question for the time.  No chance I move as well all night without you on my heels, and making sure I was taking in calories.

And mostly, thank you to Kym, who put up with this for the fourth straight year.  Not just for these 23 hours, but for the months leading up to this where I disappear into the woods for hours on end.  You’re the best crew, and wife, I could ever dream of.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Stone Mill 50 Race Recap

In early September a Facebook post from a bunch of friends saying they signed up for Stone Mill got me interested.  A few weeks later I was signed up and started training.  I figured I had about 5 weeks to build up to acceptable shape and I did.  Every one of my friends dropped out, but I decided to stick with it.  Going into the race I had no clue what my pace would be.  I’ve run 3 50s.  One was in the snow, and two were fatasses where I ran completely alone for 35 miles.  I scanned past results and settled for a goal of around 8:45.  Which would be a 45 minute PR at the distance.  Knowing the course is very runnable I did a lot of miles of training on the Perkiomen trail and the regular trails at Evansburg.  The trails of Stone Mill were very similar in elevation to Evansburg.

The first mile of Stone Mill is downhill on a sidewalk before hitting the trails.  I was probably somewhere around 30th place and the pace was just right for this early on.  Mile 2, when we hit the trail, was a 9:59 and that was the slowest mile for the next 20+.  My plan was to stop as little as possible at aid stations.  I wore a pack with a bladder for the first time ever.  For every Aid Station up to mile 24 I simply grabbed a handful of chips or pretzels and kept moving.  Kym and the kids came to help me out and I would basically just get high-fives and keep going.
Photo: Ken Trombatore

The course was very well marked.  The only part where I was slightly confused was I didn’t know there was a long (~2 mile?) road section leading to the mile 14 Aid Station.  I was following a group of runners who appeared to know what they were doing, but I couldn’t help question it.  We crossed a 4 lane highway, then ran about a mile on the sidewalk, then crossed right back over it when they realized we shouldn’t have crossed the road.  The fact that we were on the wrong side of the road is probably why I wasn’t seeing any course markings.  But eventually we came to the aid station and crossed under the road back to the trail.

Photo: James Williams
Shortly after this a deer popped out and ran in front of a few of us on the trail for a few seconds.  It was a big buck with a nice rack.  It then left the trail and turned around and ran full speed about 50 feet in front of us directly across our path.  About mile 45 I saw another deer running full speed.  It was grunting like wild pig. Or maybe I was just delirious at that point.

Photo: James Williams
Everything went pretty smoothly and at mile 24 I handed Kym my pack and took a handheld for the 3 mile section along the towpath.  I didn’t want a full pack bouncing around on that fast section.  But, there was a stiff headwind the whole time to slow me down.  I did 3 sub 9 minute miles, and they turned out to be the last three miles I’d do under a 10 minute pace for the rest of the day.

Photo: Dan Reichman
At the next aid station I grabbed a half a PB&J, and that ended up not sitting well with me.  I spent a lot of the next section trying to figure out if I’d puke or not.  I didn’t, and when I got to mile 34 I was pretty miserable.  I couldn’t eat anything, but Kym gave me a ginger chew.  It seemed to really calm my stomach and I was able to churn on.  When I got to mile 37 aid station my watch read 35 miles.  I was 3 miles to the next Aid and when I got there my watch read 39 miles.  According to my watch this section was a mile longer than advertised, but I’d been expecting those miles to be made up at some point.  From mile 40 on I tried to justify walking every hill possible.  But the hills are so small it was hard to justify, and when I did walk, it didn’t feel right so I’d quickly start running slowly again.

I made my final exit of the trail just in front of a guy I had passed.  As we started up the road he passed me and we jockeyed a few times.  He joked it was like a snail chasing a turtle.  At one point I gave up chasing him and turned around.  I saw two other people exit the trail and decided I didn’t want to get passed.  I ran strong to the finish.  When I crossed the finish line, the announced said “Tim, come see me.”  I was the first 40+ year-old-finisher and that won me the Maryland Masters State Championship.  On paper, the best running accomplishment of my life?  8:31:18, 16th overall, 1st out of 66 in my age group.
If coach woulda put me in fourth quarter, we would've been state champions

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

MMT, take 3

In 2014 I finished MMT in 24:43, and my main focus this year was to break 24 hours.  An Achilles problem in February lead to no running for over 3 weeks.  The mileage slowly built back up, but never got to where I was in the previous years.  I did more overall elevation, so my goal, though a stretch, remained sub 24 going into race day.  If I had any chance at this, I knew I’d need help this year.  My buddy Jeff casually mentioned he’d help if I needed it, so I reached out to him about 10 days out.  He was in, and recruited Garry and Marsha to join him.  Sounds like a party in Virginia.

After checking in, attending the race briefing, and eating we hung out with some friends at their upgraded cabin for a few hours before heading to bed.  It was a good time, and nice to relax before trying to sleep.  I got 3 hours of sleep before tossing and turning until the alarm went off.

not feeling bad at Edinburg
My perfect-day race plan was to go 5-10 minutes faster in the first 12 miles, then run at the same pace as last year for the next 75.  I thought that if I was able to get through Aid Stations better, I could be about 30 minutes ahead of last year where Jeff could jump in and push me to sub 24.  Well, plans are made to be broken, right?  The first 12 miles went according to plan.  I didn’t feel like I pushed too hard, though I was sweating a lot more than last year.  It was low 60’s, but very humid.  It was around mile 13 that I knew sub-24 wouldn’t happen.  I think the best aspect of my ultra-running is my fast uphill hiking.  As I went up the big climb at mile 13 I was already out of breath and had side stiches because of the heat.  And, it was only 6:30am.  My new goal was to just finish as fast as I could, regardless of time.

For each of the past two years I ran most of miles 15-30 with a group of other runners.  This year I was never really with anyone for more than a mile or two.  During these miles I got passed by a fair number of runners, many who I recognized, many who I knew I should not have been ahead of at this point.  Maybe I went out too fast, and would spend the next 80 miles paying for it?  In this section runners were slaughtered by a ridiculous amount of horse flies.  I said I felt like I was going to get a concussion because of how many times I was hammered in the head by flies.  The other memorable thing about these miles was my attempts at peeing.  I never had to, but forced myself to.  It barely dribbled out, and it was a dark yellow.  I was drinking 40 ounces between each aid, and drinking another 20 or so at aid stations.  I was taking salt every 30-45 minutes, but I could not stay hydrated.
feeling less than stellar after 33 miles
Kym putting suntan lotion on me
At Shawl Gap (mile 38) I saw hopeful winners Jimmy and Ashley in chairs looking like their days were done.  It bummed me out big time.  I don’t remember much about what I said or did here, but I know I had a deep, dark sense of jealously.  I was so spent that sitting down in a chair and calling it quits didn’t sound like a terrible idea at this point.  If I was rude to the group here, I’m sorry, I think I was trying to avoid letting those thoughts creep up.  I left here with 2 full handheld bottles, and an empty flask to fill up 3 miles later at Veach Gap.  During this short 3 mile road section I downed almost all of the water I had here as well.  I refilled those, plus the flask and headed out for what I knew to be one of the toughest sections.  There is a huge, mostly straight climb which has sections exposed to the sun.  I did most of this section with a guy named Dana running his first MMT.  I know for sure that if he weren’t there to help push me I would have sat down to rest a few times.  About 4 miles into this section he asked me if I had a lot of water.  He had just run out.  I had about 20 ounces left, and we still had 5 miles to the next aid.  I told him I had a little.  He said he was ok for now but might ask if he got desperate.  As I contemplated just giving him one of my half full bottles we turned a corner to about 40 gallons of water on a bench.  It was absolutely magical.  I topped off my bottles, and drank about another half-gallon.  I think that surprise-water saved a lot of people’s day.  It was here that Rande Brown caught up to us.  I asked him if any of his previous 10 finishes were this hot.  He said it was tough to tell.  He could only remember one other year of extreme heat.  I moved ok into Indian Grave (mile 50) where the awesome volunteers were having runners sit down while they put ice cold towels on them.  While it sounded great, I didn’t want to get too comfy there.  I quickly cooled myself with one of the towels, grabbed a bite to eat and set off on the 4 mile road to Habron Gap.  A light rain started on my way there and that felt great as the road is very exposed when the sun is out.  When I got to Habron I saw Jim, his day officially done.  He and Karen set me up with a handkerchief full of ice to wear around my neck for the next section.  This aid was bordeline overwhelming for me because there were so many people there to help.  Jim and his crew, Kym, and the crews of all the other Pacers.  It was excellent.  I sat down for a few minutes to rest, then set off in the rain for another big climb.
A haze over the mountains, with a storm brewing

It was here that my race took a nosedive.  During this long climb a pretty heavy thunderstorm rolled in.  It went from 90 degrees and sunny to somewhere in the 60’s (I think?).  I was sopping wet in a sleeveless shirt, and I was cold.  Teeth-chattering cold.  It wasn’t fun.  The extreme heat wasn’t fun, now the exact opposite was even less fun.  I didn’t want to do this anymore.  I couldn’t stop thinking that.  I didn’t care anymore.  I didn’t want to be out there.  I’m not sure what it was, but as the weather made a complete change, so did my hydration.  I couldn’t stop peeing.  During this 9 mile section I peed at least 15 times.  I was convinced that I was medically unable to go on.  I’m now sure I was fine, but I was convinced I was done then.  In this section, after the climb there are several miles before the next aid station where the trail is very runnable.  The rain had stopped and I’d try to run.  When I’d run, I’d kick a rock.  Almost always with my right big toe.  I grunted the first few times, then I yelled a few times, then it turned to blood curdling F-bombs.  My foot was broken.  I was again convinced I was medically unable to go on.  I was done running, I had to walk it in from there.  From the time the heavy rain started through the rest of this section I planned my DNF.  My best plan for a successful DNF would be if Jeff, Garry, and Marsha didn’t show up to help me at mile 63 like they planned.  Maybe they heard Jim got hurt and his crew would help me, and they wouldn’t be needed.  I knew I wouldn’t be able to convince Jeff, Garry and Marsha I needed to quit, but I could fight Kym on it.  My hopes rested on a DNS from my crew.  About a quarter mile from the aid station I spotted a long blond haired dude in a flannel shirt drinking an IPA on the trail.  My DNF hopes were dashed. When I finally reached him I apologized to him for having him come down, as I was quitting.  He had none of it, walked in with me telling me I just had to get it done, forcing me to run the last few yards into aid.  I sat down and told everyone I was done.  In 2012 I told Kym I was done at mile 88.  At that point I knew I really wasn’t done, I kind of just needed to say it to express how much I was hurting, and how much I needed a rest.  This time I was serious.  I was dunzo.  They all had running clothes with them and asked if I needed someone to go with me.  I told them I wouldn’t do it alone, and if anyone came with me it would be a 6 mile walk before dropping.  I was adamant I was walking the whole section, and then I was done.  Jeff ran and got changed.  I changed socks, moleskin, and my shirt.  My big right toe was a disaster, but I tried to ignore it.  I only had 6 more miles of walking on it anyway.

Jeff and I headed out with a baggie of food that Marsha gave me.  As we walked I ate all the food, leaving the two hard boiled eggs I was confused about why she would give me.  A few minutes later I realized they were potatoes, not eggs, so I ate them too.  This section consists of about 4 miles of mostly uphill trail, some of which is a stream.  Jeff and I talked and my spirits changed.  I may have even run a little in those first 4 miles, I can’t remember.  I do remember that the climb here has always been my favorite of the race.  It’s very steep, but only about a mile long.  I decided to attack it.  We went up fast, and this year the downhill after the climb was not in nearly as bad shape as last year, so I ran that whole thing.  I got excited when I passed a few runners, as I hadn’t passed anyone on the trail in a long time.  I got into Gap 1, and it was on.  My crew saved my race, and now it was time to make it worth it.

We headed out up Jawbone and Jeff remembered about a turn off the main trail that I surely would have missed if I were alone.  When we got to the top of this climb another storm rolled in.  This one was more refreshing.  It was a humid climb and the rain wasn’t as drenching as the earlier storm.  The trail along Kerns Mountain is pretty much unrunnable in the dark.  We fast hiked it and passed a few more people.  With a new moon it was complete darkness out there.  I started playing a game where I’d spot a runner’s headlamp far ahead on the trail and I’d say “headlamps”.  We’d make a push and pass them, then look for another one.  Every pass in the night felt better than the last.  I think I passed 6 or 7 in this section.  When we got to the 2 miles of road before Visitors Center (mile 78) it was the first time Jeff kind of pushed the pace for me.  We did two strong miles before reaching Garry’s redlighted headlamp waiting just outside the Aid Station.  Yeah, yeah.

In Visitors Center I put moleskin on my right ankle, got some soup and headed out.  I had meant to switch watches, and about a tenth of a mile from aid I realize that and asked Jeff to go back for me.  Probably a stupid ask on my part, but I use my watch to fool myself into thinking I have more to go than I really do.  We climbed up to Bird Knob fairly well.  One runner was in there, sitting in a chair, and eyeing up the lounge chair.  I was happy to be feeling positive, and we headed out with more soup.  After the next short climb we ran well, picking off more headlamps.  6 or 7 more. 

Jeff and I looking for food, Garry hydrating (photo: Andrew Burnette)
Picinic Area (mile 88) has been my downfall both previous years.  I napped in 2013, and too long of a sitting down, sock-changing break in 2014 lead to dead quads.  We moved in and out of there pretty quick, but my feet were too sore to try to run the mile of downhill out of there.  Regardless, we knocked off 3 more headlamps as we started the next big climb.  The last huge climb.  The climb that never, never, ever ends.  My fool-myself watch trick failed me here.  I thought 3 miles was a high estimate for how long this climb is, but it’s even longer than that.  This climb hurt.  On the downhill just before the road, we got passed the one time of the last 40 miles.  The road running was slower than I’d hoped, but once we saw Garry’s red lights I was able to run it in from there.  Again, aid was quick and at the top of the very last climb we caught the runner who passed us.  (He passed us again just before the last road to the finish, but must have made a wrong turn and got lost as he finished 45 minutes after me.  Ouch.)  Most of the last trail section is too technical to run at this point of the race so I just moved through it as best as I could.  We got to the road at 6:05am.  A strong finish for sub 27.  We ran every step of the road, and halfway up the campground road.  It was awesome. 
This was definitely the hardest run I’ve ever done, and finishing with the help of my friends was the best feeling of my running life.  Garry, Marsha, Jeff, Kym – I surely would not have finished without you.  I cannot thank them enough. 26:48. Two hours slower than last year, and 7 places better for 13th place.

As usual the volunteers were all awesome.  I was especially impressed at how Kevin just had a hip replacement, but I saw him all over the course.  At the finish he mentioned how bad I looked at Camp Roosevelt and he wasn't sure I'd make it.  To have 199 runners and a race to direct, remembering each runner and giving them the feeling that every one of the matters is what makes MMT great.
Best crew ever

Best Wife ever

A special thanks to JP Food Sales, Redners, and Great Lakes Cheese for sponsoring me.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Rattlesnake Ridge 50K Race Report

Since I saw no others online, I figured I'd do a quick report.  We were out visiting Kym's sister for 12 days, so I looked for a place to run or race while I was here.  I found the Rattlesnake Ridge races.  I was torn between the half marathon and the 50K.  Since I just ran MMT 5 weeks before this race I'm not 100% recovered, but I'm definitely not in half marathon shape, so I went with the 50K.  The elevation would be more than any east coast 50K I'd ever run.  So, in prep, a few days before the race I ran up Mt. Si.  I parked in the wrong spot and ran up the Old trail from the Boulder Loop.  It's apparently much more steep than the normal Mt. Si, and there' wasn't a single person on it.   When I intersected with the Mt. Si trail there were a few dozen people I passed in the last 1/4 mile up.  There was a thick fog at the top, so it made my decision to not climb the haystack easy.  I made a wrong turn at one point, and added about a mile on the way up. So, the climb up was 4.2 miles with 3600 feet of climbing in 1 hour 22 minutes.  The run down was 3 miles with about 3300 feet of descent in 40 minutes.  Nice way to pound my quads just before the 50K.  Mt Si run from little Si lot I think garmin

After a quick 1/4 mile out and back we headed towards the Rattlesnake Ridge trail.  Miles 2-5 go straight up the mountain, about 2600 feet of gain.  Halfway up you see the sigh to the Ledge lookout.  I was tempted to go take a look, but I had no idea how far the ledge was, and I was in around 4th or 5th place at this point.  The next 6 miles are downhill.  There's slight ups for the first mile or two, but its mostly down and fast.  I'm not a fast downhill runner and sore quads are the lingering effect of MMT.  I was passed by about 6 guys over the next few miles. The last mile before the turn back up the mountain is on a crushed rock utility road.  Shortly after the aid station I started to pass the 1/2 marathon runners, who had just started their race.  It was fun to have a lot of other runners out there climbing back up the ridge line. The only "problem" with the race, if you want to call it that, is the traffic.  After you pass the trail to the ledge on the way back, around mile 19, there's tons of people hiking up and down the mountain.  It was a beautiful day, so there were probably even more people out there than usual.  There was a lot of stopping and waiting, and slowing down to avoid people for about 2 miles.  After coming off the trail you pass the Finish line, and there's a 4.5 mile out and 4.5 mile back.  On the way out I was running really well holding low 8 minute miles.  On the way back, I realized I was running well because those miles were all downhill.  About 100 feet of mile down on the way out, then 100 feet per mile up on the way back.  Easy if it's early in the race, tough for the last 4 miles of a 50K.  It's all runnable, and I ran it all, but it feels like it'll never end.

The course was extremely well marked.  I bought a "clearance" shirt after the race for $5.  The trails on west coast are much different than the east coast.  Mostly in the long climbs and downhills.  There's definitely no 4-6 mile hills in the Philly area. Also, the trail is all smooth.  There's rocks and roots, but they're all avoidable. The trail up to the Ledge was probably the most technical with rocks.  The backside had more windy/switchbacky trail. Rattlesnake Ridge 50K garmin

view of the trail

another pic of trail

view from the Ledge, halfway up where the 50K runs

wiping daddy's sweaty kiss off

Icing my legs in the cold lake after

all the people on the ledge

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

MMT100 Race Report (again)

Last year I ran Massanutten as my first 100.  I blistered early, sprained my ankle at some unknown point, and had no fun over the last 50 miles.  So, I figured, let’s do it again. 

Last year Kym and I had plans to go out to dinner with some friends from my running club (Pagoda Pacers), but we got there too late.  This year we left early to get there with plenty of time to set up, but heavy rains on the ride down delayed us.  When we stopped for lunch at Chipotle we sat down to eat and saw Jim Blandford and his wife Karen, and crew Beth.  Exactly who we were having dinner with that night.  We joined them for lunch and I talked to Jim about his nutrition plan for the race.  He does Perpetuem with a gel and S-cap every 45 minutes.  This is what my plan was, with real food added in since I’d be out there for many more hours than him.  We got to race headquarters around 3pm and saw the mess it was because of the rain.  The parking lot was a mud pit and the field leading to the start/finish line was underwater.  We checked in and learned the bridge to the campground was out.  This meant we’d have to drive between the two, and that the start was moved to the campgrounds this year.  We drove up to set up camp and there were only about a half dozen camps set up at this point.  I noticed one was Karl Meltzer’s car.  He had his speed golf bag out, so I went over and talked to him about it.  He was very friendly and it was an interesting conversation about the sport.  Kym and I set up camp, went to the pre-race meeting, out to dinner, and I was asleep at 10pm.  I woke up twice in the night with nightmares of DNF’ing at mile 54.
Overflowing river on race morning

Race Day
When anyone asked me my goal for the race, I generally would tell them to not get the blisters I had last year and to not sprain my ankle like I did last year.  By doing that I knew I’d be able to have a nice improvement.  I told only one or two people my stretch goal of finishing before the 6am sunrise on Sunday.  That would be a 2 hour and 49 minute improvement, and would not be easy.

Start to Edinburg Gap
Last year I recall the first time I had to get my feet wet was around mile 65.  This year would be much different.  On the 4 mile road to the trail we had several shin deep water crossings from the overflow of water off the mountains.  There were about 15-20 of these types of crossings through the day with miles and miles of wet and muddy trail.  My plan to keep my feet dry all day was out the door 1 mile into the race.  I ran the first few miles with my friend Lori (who won 1st place senior woman!).  When I got to the trail I moved much more quickly up Short Mountain than the group I was near.  When I got to the top I ran the rest of the section with two guys, Brad and Dan, who were friends running together.  I very much enjoyed the conversation and leisurely pace and the weather was perfect.  I rolled into Edinburg gap at 6:25, exactly the same time as last year, but at what felt to be a much more relaxed pace.  12 miles.  0 minutes ahead of last year. 

Edinburg to Woodstock to Powells to Elizabeth Furnace
photo credit: James Williams
After leaving Edinburg there’s a long climb, then about 19 miles of very runnable trails with one other climb before you see your crew again at mile 33.  This section all blends together for me.  I know that I climbed the first hill strong, then put in my headphones for the first time.  During the runnable sections Brad and Dan caught me after I went through the first Aid quicker than them.  There was a group of 5 of us that ran a lot of these miles together.  At points I felt like their pace was too quick for me, so I’d drop back from time to time.  At Powell’s I had some French toast that might have been my favorite food of the day.  It was exactly what I desired at that point.  After leaving Powells’ there’s a fire road for a few miles.  During this section there was some talk about being excited for the next hill so we could justify walking.  5 or 6 of us hit the mile 27ish climb together.  I’m still very new to running very long distances, but the best thing I’ve learned is to walk with a purpose.  When I’ve run with Jim Blandford and other Pagoda Pacers who are better runners than me, I’m struck by how quickly they can move while walking.  I made it a point to walk with vigor when I decided to walk.  All day.  If you think about it there are something like 30 miles of uphills.  If you can take that average down 2 minutes per mile just by walking quicker, that’s an hour off your time.  It’s a lot easier to walk 2 minutes per mile faster than to run 2 minutes per mile faster.  So, on this uphill I pulled pretty far away from the group.  I was a few miles past the hill before they caught up to me again.  I’m just not as fast on the flats/downhills as them.  I got to Elizabeth Furnace at 10:38am.  33 miles.  11 minutes ahead of last year.
coming into Elizabeth Furnace

Elizabeth Furnace to Shawl Gap
My plan was to change socks at Elizabeth, but reports of a very wet trail ahead led me to decide to wait until Shawl.  This section was one of my least favorite last year.  After all the runnable trail we had just been on, the climb here was a kick in the gut.  It’s not the longest climb on the course, but one of the more technical ones.  Lots of switchbacks, steps carved into the mountain out of stone, and when you look up, it seems like it will never end.  This year I knew what I was getting into, and just put my head down and hiked as fast as I could.  There’s some high grass fields in this section and Kym pulled a tick off me as I got into the next Aid Station.  38 miles. 23 minutes ahead of last year.

Shawl Gap to Veach to Indian Grave to Habron
Coming into Shawl I started to feel a hot spot on the bottom of my right foot.  I took a long time here to change socks and to put moleskin on the bottom of both feet.  This 100 million percent saved my race.  The bottoms of my feet did not blister all day.  During a short road section before Veach I ran a little with Kyle.  A friend of a friend who I’d met just before the start.  Kyle and I would leapfrog and run together a little for the next 30+ miles.  The climb out of Veach is one of the toughest of the day.  It’s long and mostly straight.  You can look ahead of you and see you just keep going up and up and up.  It’s the middle of the day so it’s hot, and there’s 9 miles between aid stations.  I had two handhelds at this point, so I had to drink a lot, yet conserve water for the long time it would take.  After the long climb, there’s some runnable miles before you get to a ridge on the side of the mountain.  Very technical and actually a little scary in spots.  You just have to take your time and get through it.  It was here last year that my bottom of the foot blisters started.  This year, I was feeling great.  Just before Indian Grave I caught back up to Dan.  Brad had been feeling strong and took off on him.  Dan, Kyle and I ran most of the road to Habron together.  54 miles. 41 minutes ahead of last year.
me, Dan, Kyle photo credit: Ryan Paavola
54 miles done and happy. photo credit: Tab

Habron to Camp Roosevelt
I sat down to change socks at Habron.  I also taped my toe as it’s always a blister area.  This was my only blister of the day, but I never felt it until about a day after the race.  Dan and Kyle left Habron well before me.  I was having fun talking with friends here.  I left there with two handhelds, a burrito, a half of a PB&J, and an amazing ice cream sandwich.  I settled in for one of the longest climbs of the day.  It was the hottest part of the day, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been.  The climb seems to take forever here and as I neared the top I caught up to Dan who was with Brad who had stopped and was forcing himself to puke.  I quickly moved on wishing them luck.  I don’t remember much about this section other than that rough climb. 63 miles. 47 minutes ahead of last year.
Pretty sure that guy is about to punch the girl in the face
my bro and me

Camp Roosevelt to Gap 1
When I got into Camp Roosevelt I was greeted by my brother.  He had asked me how he could see me at some point, but I never go confirmation that he’d be there.  It was an awesome surprise.  Unfortunately I was feeling so good at this point I got out of there as quick as I could.  I’d heard that the next section would be the wettest of the course.  Last year I had just taped my feet for the first time, and this was my best section as I ran most of it except the large climb.  This year was a lot of hiking, as running through the constant stream of water would have just taken too much out of me that I wanted to conserve.  The large climb was not nearly as large as I had remembered.  But, the back side of the trail was just as wet as the front, so it was slow moving down that as well.  69 miles.  56 minutes ahead of last year.

Gap 1 to Visitor’s Center
Coming into Gap 1 I was again changing socks and checking on my moleskin.  The volunteers here were amazing.  They gave me a foot bath, cleaned my shoes, reapplied moleskin and got me fed.  All while I just sat there.  Really awesome.  As I was being waited on Kyle came in and got out of there.  I could have stayed forever, but my midway goal was in reach.  I knew my best chance at finishing before sunrise would be made or broken here.  After leaving Gap 1 there’s a big climb then you hit the pie plates.  Mile 71 turn left, mile 98 go straight.  When you turn left you’re greeted with some horrible running along a ridge.  Up and down over the ridge with big rocks all over the place.  I wanted to cry here last year in the dark.  This year, it was not dark.  I looked at my watch when I made the turn and I think it said something like 7:55pm.  I had a few minutes to run in the sunlight.  So I took off like a bat out of hell.  I ran recklessly.  After spraining my ankle last year I am always afraid of it.  I didn’t care here.  I ran as fast as I could over this very technical section.  I made it through the worst of it before the sun set over the mountains. 26 hours was possible now.  I continued to move well here and passed Kyle for the last time of the day.  The last few miles of this section are on a road.  I welcomed it and ran strong.  Last year without stopping at Gap 1 at all this section took me 2 hours and 42 minutes .  This year I stopped for about 10-15 minutes and still finished the section 35 minutes faster.  78 miles. 1 hour and 32 minutes ahead of last year.
leaving Visitors Center (I think?)

Visitors Center to Bird Knob to Picnic Area
Coming into Visitors area I knew I was too early for Kym.  So, as I ran into the Aid Station I looked for her car.  Sure enough I was able to find her still asleep.  She popped up and got me what I needed while I ate some delicious soup.  I was moving well, so I wasn’t sitting down.  I got out of there quick.  The climb up Bird Knob is very steep and technical.  Last year there was also fog at the top.  I had back to back to back 27 minute miles here last year.  This year I moved very well and passed several people at the top.  Some more soup at Bird Knob, and back to running.  After you leave the aid station there’s a seemingly very long ¾ mile road to the next climb.  It’s a relatively short climb before a few downhill runnable miles.  These miles take a long time and last year just as I started to feel better I got sick of them and crashed.  This year I convinced myself there were more miles than there were, so when I got to Picnic Area I was mildly surprised.  88 miles. 2 hours and 57 minutes ahead of last year.

Picnic Area to Gap 2
Last year I got to Picnic and sat down to sleep for 30 minutes.  This year I sat down and had another amazing job done on my feet.  Cleaning, remoleskin, new socks.  Awesome volunteers.  I grabbed some food and got out.  There’s about a mile and half of downhill leaving this aid station and the sitting down for 10 minutes did my legs in.  My quads were toast, so I’d be walking this.  Fast walking.  After the downhill you start uphill and just keep going up.  I don’t remember it being this long last year, but there’s about 3-4 miles of climbing.  Some mild uphill, some steep uphill, some through a fast flowing creek.  After getting through that you then go back down a pretty steep hill.  It’s wide trail of loose smaller rocks.  Extremely runnable if it were earlier in the race, but not here.  When it wasn’t too steep I was able to do some running.  Finally you come out to about a 2 mile section of road before the last Aid Station.  I wasn’t moving too fast here, but I was doing my best to run as much as I could. 97 miles.  3 hours and 55 minutes ahead of last year.

Gap 2 to Finish
When I got into Gap 2 I looked for Kym and couldn’t find her.  I loaded up on some food and headed out.  Oops, Kym always hands me new full bottles, so I headed back to refill them.  As I was leaving here I looked up and down the street then heard my name.  I was again so far ahead of what she thought, so she had just woken up.  I grabbed a long sleeve shirt and headed out for what I knew for sure to be a sub 26 finish.  Heading up this climb for the second time of the day I caught somebody who asked me where the pie plates where. I pointed to the headlamps above us and told him up there somewhere.  He said he was on his first climb up as his stomach was giving him issues and he needed a nap.  I wished him luck and headed off.  Just then I got to the pie plates and shouted back he was almost there.  From here there’s a very steep drop then some very technical trail.  It was all fast walking for me.  There were some sections here that I was able to run briefly, but my quads were just too painful.  Finally I got to the glorious road.  4 miles to go.  I looked at my watch and it was 3:58am.  15 minute miles to go sub 25, 12 minute miles for a 4 hour PR.   I started running and didn’t stop.  I passed Keith Knipling with a mile or two to go and got that 4 hour PR.  I sat down and was able to amazingly see Keith finish his 15th MMT at the age of 38.  We're the same age, so if he follows his dad's footsteps he can do 50 of these.

103.7 mile in 24:43:03.  4 hours and 6 minutes ahead of last year.

Post Race
My goal of finishing before sunrise was blown away by the fact that I was able to get a shower and back to sleep by sunrise.  4 hours of sleep in the tent and I was actually able to help Kym pack up camp this year.  We went down and joined our friends at the finish to hang out, eat some tacos, and drink some beer.
Meltzer, Yoder, Lori, I forget his name, Marsha, Beth, Kym, Me, Jason Lantz. photo by Karen Blandford

A huge thanks to my awesome wife for chasing me down and being there for me again.  She's down on herself for not being awake when I arrived a few times, but I was so far ahead of my times that there's no way I could be upset.  She's done this by herself for the past two years and I can't imagine how difficult it is to do that.

Three days post race and I’m able to go up and down stairs without too much trouble.  My big toe blister is the only really annoying thing I have going on now, but hopefully that will be gone in the next day or two.

Less mud and quicker through the Aid Stations for sub 24 next year….?

edit:  GPS records