Saturday, November 14, 2009

Pinhoti 100

Photo by David Ray

As most of you know, I started this journey about a year ago with my desire to run my first 100 mile race. I had decided on the Angeles Crest 100 miler due to the fact that I had crewed some friends of mine on that race. Due to the fires in CA in August of this year, sections of the AC100 were burned and the race was cancelled. I posted my disappointment on FaceBook and was immediately directed by a number of ultrarunner friends to sign up for the Pinhoti 100 in AL.

Here is a description of the course from the website:

The 2nd Annual Pinhoti 100 is a Point to Point Trail run starting in Heflin AL on the unmolested Pinhoti single track trail. Runners will make their way over the highest point in Alabama while navigating over rocks, through creeks and across beautiful ridge lines of the Talladega National Forest. The course will consist of 80.62 miles of single track trail, 16.98 miles of jeep road and 4.52 miles of pavement and will finish on the rubberized track in the Sylacauga High School Football Stadium.

With it being so close to Atlanta, and giving me 2 more months of training, it just seemed like the logical choice. After signing up, I started doing my research on the course to see what I had gotten myself into. I started reading others reports on it that had ran it the first year. I started learning of places like “Blue Hell” and descriptions of the course being everything from sections of pine needle pillows to rock and root tripping snipers. So, I knew that I was in for a good time on this course.

Three weeks before the race I started my taper. I had been running 60+ miles a week for the previous 4-5 months, and sometimes worked some 100 miles weeks in there just to see how my body would react to that much distance. My taper was 30 miles, then 20, then the week of the race, I would only do 10 easy miles. One aspect that I had not experience is how your body gets so use to all those miles and then the antsy-ness someone can get from not running. I was given some good direction from my running coach\friend, Victor Zamudio, to use this time and rest up and take that desire and nervousness energy and let it build a fire inside for the race. I think this worked very well for me.

Race week finally gets here and Thursday night I get a nice surprise. My mother-in-law Patricia “Mimi” Nancoo flies in from FL to come support me in this crazy adventure. My first thought that I asked her was did she know what she had signed up for! I knew the forecast called for the temperature to be in the upper 30’s the night of the race and know that people from southern FL put on a jacket when it hits 70 outside! She assured me that she would be fine and was here for me.

Also, my running buddy Patrick Ackley, flew in from Seattle to run/crew me. Pat and I had run 35 miles of the AC100 together. I knew having him there with me through some of the tuff times would be helpful. I have watched him on more than one occasion be sick, vomiting, and continue putting one foot in front of the other. A true testament of the mental fortitude he and other ultra runners can have.

We head down early Friday afternoon to Sylacauga, to the finish area to stay and go to the race meeting at 5:30. I thought that it be best to stay at the finish area that way if anyone of my crew needed to sleep during the night, we would be that much closer to where I was in the race than the start. Dave Grant and I go on to the meeting, while my wife and her mother went out to get something to eat. Victor, Pat, and Vladimir (a buddy of mine from Atlanta) had decided to carpool with Lane Vogel and Christian Griffith and had come down after the meeting. After eating and sorting out my gear, Crew Boss Victor orders me off to get some sleep.

Here is a pre-race video Pat shot:

I slept the best to be expected the night before my biggest race. I think I got to sleep about 9 and woke up around 2:30. We had planned on being up at 3 a.m. to get ready and drive back up to the start. The drive took us about an hour and 40 minutes to get the Pine Glenn Campground. We show up with about 25 minutes before the start. It is pretty cool that morning in the upper 30’s I believe. It gets to be nearly 6am and we start to realize that the bus that some of the other runner took to get to the start has not arrived yet. It shows up a few minutes later and we are directed down this dirt road to the “start line,” a white line drawn across the road. I love the informal setup of some ultra races! Todd Henderson, the race director, says a few words and then we are off.

I purposely put myself in the back end of the group. I was taking the advice that Krissy Moehl had given me at the Stump Jump in October, to start off slow, slower than even I thought I should go, just a nice easy pace and to eat as much as I could handle early on in the race. I also knew that 100 yards from the start line the race enter a single track portion that would jam all of us up for a while till we thinned out over the next couple of aid stations. I had met Lane Vogel the night before and ended up near him in the back of the pack. He also seem to have the same idea of starting off very slow. Also, for all of you that thought I am crazy for running 100 miles, this was Lane’s 2nd 100 miler, the first one being the weekend before Pinhoti!!! Back to back weekends of 100 mile races, amazing!

I still had the fear or the thoughts of not really wanting to do this run, but not as bad as I had experienced at White River. I think having all my family and friends there and having some friends running with me greatly helped me out. Obviously, I had a long time to think about this during the run and believe that I discovered that I was afraid of failure. Everyone of us ask the same question, “Can I really do this,” whether it be about running or another aspect of life. But this time it was different. I had my crew and believed in their ability to push me through this race if it came to that.

I continued running with some GUTS member, Lane, Tony Gonzalez and Christian Griffith. We were chatting away so much that at one point I heard someone, Lane, I think, apologize to the other runners around us because of our talking so much. I think we talk the whole way of 6.7 miles to the first aid station. We continued on to the next aid station and then we started thinning out a bit.

From all the great advice that I had received from Mike Consentino, Jon Obst, and Spurgeon Hendrick, I knew that I need to focus on getting to Cheaha State Park, the highest point in AL, before dark so that I could descend Blue Hell in the daylight. With this in mind I had decided to keep an easier pace till aid station #3, just over 18 miles into the race. I remember coming across a section of trail that Spurgeon had spoke of in his report about Pinhoti where you can see Mount Cheaha way off in the distance and it is humbling because that is not even the half way point!

At about 20 miles into the run I can start to feel my lower back start to tighten up just a bit. I am not sure if some of you know, but I had my L4 disk rupture over 10 years ago and had to have back surgery. My lower back was one of my biggest concerned that would come into play in this distance. I have tried to learn the lesson in ultra running that you have to address issues early, if not, you can get yourself into trouble quickly. I roll into aid station #4 and ask Victor to stretch me out. This was one of the best preventive things I did during this race. I got up from him stretching me with no pain and really feeling like I hadn’t run the first 20 miles.

I continued running with Lane Vogel for good portion of this section. I really appreciate Lane being there and I used him as a gauge of sorts. I knew that if I could keep up with him I would be able to get to the top of Mount Cheaha with plenty of daylight to spare. We continue on the single track of the Pinhoti trail, weaving in and out of valleys, up and down hills. At some point we got separated and I just continued toward the goal of getting up Mount Cheaha. I got aid station #6 and must have looked at my watch wrong or something, but I got it in my head that if I didn’t push it even faster through the next section I wasn’t going to make it to Blue Hell before dust and this section is a lot of uphill due to climbing the mountain. I know I must have looked like an idiot power walking as fast as I can and giving it my all. When you get to the top of Mount Cheaha, you have to take a wooden bridge for about ¾ of a mile before you get to the aid station. I am pumped up at this point so much that when I see Pat with his video camera I just want him to put it up and we get to running. I show up at the aid station #7 and I am so pumped up I can’t stop talking! I am just this babbling goof that wants to pick up my pacer and go. I haven’t even realized that it is around 4 pm and I have another hour and half of daylight! I am told to take a seat and then instructed by my entire crew that I am not allowed to do math for the rest of the race!

After changing shirts and eating a hot dog, Pat and I are off to Blue Hell and beyond. Blue Hell is a pretty crazy section. It is not even a trail, it’s just rock hoping and more than once you are going down 3 or more feet at a time. If I understand it correctly, you drop around a 1000 feet in ½ a mile in Blue Hell. Pat did a great job of reminding me that we did not need to have handheld bottles so that your hands are free to grab onto rock, trees, or whatever you need to get through there. It is so nice to have someone there at that point to talk to and keep you going. Pat is talking to me and telling me how great I am doing. That is one thing you have to know and agree to as being someone pacer, bold face LIE to them if you have to for them to keep going! I don’t think he was lying to me per se and it seemed to really start pumping me up.

We continue to click off the miles and just work it aid station to aid station. I can’t remember what aid station is was, but Tony Gonzalez’s crew had fixed him a grilled cheese sandwich. He only wanted half of it and asked Tom Wilson to hand me the other half. I don’t know what was in it besides cheese and bread, but it was like crack to me! I started feeling good and wanted to pick up the pace with 60 miles on my legs! Wow, it was fantastic! Tony and Tom thank you so much!

Somewhere in the next aid station or so my crew had brought steaks and had cooked them up. They asked me if I wanted one. I was like HECK YEAH! I had down that thing before you know it. I wished I would have taken Pat’s idea and made me a Dorito steak sandwich! That steak just seemed to be the right thing to keep me on the up swing from the grilled cheese sandwich.

I think by the next aid station it was Pat’s time to take a rest and my buddy David Grant to pick up the pacing role. David is rookie to ultra running and had just run his first marathon and 50K this year, but I knew that he was up to the task of pacing me. From picking up Dave as pacer it all seems like a blur till we started the climb to the Pinnacle Aid station. I had heard people talk about this climb as pretty difficult, especially after having 70+ miles on your legs. It was the most uphill section of the course that I can remember. It did seem like it went on for a couple of miles. I remember Dave trying to be positive with me making a statement that all the stairs workouts that we did during training would pay off in this section. He was right. Through that whole section I didn’t stop moving forward once. We start to get close to the Pinnacle and hear welcomed sounds of David Ray hollering at us. To me it always puts a little pep in the step when you know that you are near an aid station, especially when it is manned by friends. David is down the hill waiting for runners coming up and taking their orders for sandwiches the station is making. All I heard was egg sandwich and said “YES SIR!” I know that everyone that made it to that aid station was glad to see those folks. I down the egg sandwich and hit the trail.

Through the next sections I know that it had some beautiful views. I would love to visit those sections in the daylight. Dave and I kept noticing the lights from cities in the surrounding area. No clue what city it was, but it was very nice. We start hearing music from a far distance below us. Again the pep in the step happens, but it was a little early. Ended up realizing that we were hearing the music from around a mile and half of downhill switchbacks! It was the Bulls Gap station. The volunteers were nice enough to climb up that hill and had made poster boards of 1 mile and half mile to go. I can’t say it enough, the volunteers at this race were OUTSTANDING!

If I have my thoughts straight, remember I wasn’t allow to do math the rest of the race, I got to Bulls Gap station, 85.63 miles in and I had enough time to walk the last 15 miles and finish before the cutoff. This was good feeling because short of a total unforeseen issue developing, I should be able to finish. In some ways a weight was lifted, but I also knew that I had been running pretty good for this long and really wanted to give it my all and get my best time. Victor had told me that this was the race that I had been training for and I need to lay it all out for this one, don’t hold back.

So at this point I pick up Senor Victor for my last pacer to the finish. I thought that this would be appropriate since he has been coaching/training with me for the past year. Plus, I know this former Marine wouldn’t put up with me wimping out for this last section, but honestly I didn’t want to get to a place that he would have to break bad on me. I had started getting a whiff of “the barn.” A term that some ultra runners have picked up describing the sense of knowing the finish line is coming closer and the desire to finish up the race. Those last aid stations couldn’t get there fast enough!

This last section ended up being mostly dirt road. From Bulls Gap station to Rocky Mt Church station, the only way for your crew to get there is to drive the same road the runner is on. I had already left Bulls Gap with Victor and next thing I know we hear cars coming and it is my crew. They pull up beside us someone yells out of the car “run faster!” I could not have asked for a better crew for this race. They were never, ever negative with me at all and took care of me completely.

Vic and I finally get to the last aid station. For some reason one of the volunteers decided to bring in a little Crown Royal and Coke. In true form, Vic is the first person to take them up on the alcoholic beverage. I just wanted some more water, a few potato chips and I am out of there. Shortly after leaving that last aid station we come up on a runner running alone. It is Dan Brenden, 58, from AZ. From what I am understanding, finishing the Pinhoti 100 was Dan’s 15th 100 miler FOR 2009! WOW! Also, when Dan crosses the finish line, for the last 50 or so feet, he carries his wife over the finish line in his arms! Dan, you are the MAN!

So Vic and I speak to Dan briefly, but I can fully smell the barn now and just want to finish this thing. Well, if the course hadn’t been tough enough, the last 4 or so miles are on asphalt! Todd Henderson, the race director, is one sick joker! At least I had known about it and when I had picked up Vic I had changed into some basically new street shoe to try to have the added cushion on my feet. Vic had informed me that my wonderful wife, Rhonda, had arranged for everyone of the crew and even my 8 yrs old daughter to be there. Her uncle Eric had gotten up that morning about 5 am and had driven her down to the finish line from ATL. That road seemed like it would never end and I even had some false hope of being done, but it was the football field of the junior high school.

I keep going down through there the best I can, running when I could, walking when I had to. I keep following the trail markers and come around a corner and see the stadium of the high school. I cannot describe that feeling. It is almost overwhelming, to say the least. I enter the one side of the stadium and greeted with “DADDY!!!” Grace was in the football field waiting on me to get there. I motioned her over and ask her to help me get to the finish line. Even as I am writing this, I relive the moment and it is indescribable. 26 Hours, 14 Minutes. This event was truly a gift from God for me.

My most energetic pacer!

I have purposely taken a few days to try to process the whole event before writing this report. One question that seems to been asked of me this past week, “what did you learn from this event?”

Below is part of what I learned:

1. You have to eat all the time in a hundo. Pat was nice enough to let me borrow a watch that beeped at me every 30 minutes. Believe me, I got to a point of hating that thing earlier in the race, but it turned into a true help and I do attribute some of my success in this race to that 30 minute eating schedule.

2. Your crew is very vital to your success. I do know that some of the runners of this race ran without pacers the whole time, and my hats off to them. In my mind, anytime a race allows you a pacer, I am going to have one. Also, your crew has to be positive with you all the time. They have to keep you going, even if you want to give up, because giving up at some point most likely will cross your mind.

3. Victor had taught me that in a hundo you are going to suffer, how you suffer and how much is up to you. You can train well and suffer a little at a time during the training and prepare yourself or you can train less and depending on your pain tolerance just hopefully push through it. I am the type of person that prefers to be more than ready if at all possible. I think that I trained hard and it paid off for me in this race.

4. Visualization: During my taper Pat was gracious enough to put up with my nervous phone calls about the race. He told me to think about the race. See myself running down the trail, relaxed, in good form, and full of energy. I did do that to the best of my ability and was surprised that I found myself feeling that way at different times in the race. The body will follow where the mind takes it.

I can’t thank everyone enough. Todd Henderson, all the Pinhoti volunteers, and all my GUTS peeps were just wonderful out there. I have never been so proud to be a part of such a wonderful community as the ultra world in this event.

To my crew:

Mimi: I know you didn’t have a single clue what you were getting into but you were a real trooper! Thank you so much for supporting me.

Vlad: Thank you for helping me out. I promise that I will leave all the math up to you next time, Mr. CPA! ☺

Dave: It has been amazing watching you grow as a runner. I know that I could not have done so well if it hadn’t been for all the runs at lunch where you pushed me just a little faster. Thank you little brother!

Pat: One of the toughest men I know. Brother, it was good to run with you! Thanks for all the talks, lessons, and encouragement. One of us has got to sign up for another hundo in 2010 just so we can run together!

Vic: I can’t thank you enough for all the training runs, coaching, and friendship through this whole journey. You have been a true brother through this and I will never forget it.

Rhonda and Grace: Thank you for putting up with craziness of the days spent in the woods away from you two. Thank you believing in me when I doubted myself. You guys were always there supporting me and I will always love you for it!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Stump Jump 50K

Photo by Christian Griffith

I ran the Stump Jump 50K this past weekend. I did not plan on running this race with it being so close to the time I was suppose to be in recovery from the AC100, but since that did not happen, I thought the SJ would be a really good training run for the Pinhoti 100. I ran the SJ in 2007 as my very first ultra. Man, did that course beat me down that year! I had no clue of what I had gotten myself into in 2007. My trail training was quite limited but I thought I could wing it since I completed 3 road marathons earlier that year. I really didn’t really think that a 50K was that big of deal. Just 5 more miles, right? Wow, was I WRONG! So in 2007 I crossed the finish line in a roaring 7:40 (20 minutes shy of the 8 hour cutoff time) barely able to walk due to the quarter size blister on both feet and it was 93 degrees. As thoughts of that day came back, a fire started to build within me. I wanted to get a little runners revenge, if I could.

The Rock/Creek Outfitters was having a great expo on the Friday before the race, so I had planned to go up early on Friday to look around and just hang out. Plus, I found out that some of the elite runners of the ultra world would be there hanging out and I wanted to get a chance to pick up some tips for my first 100 miler. For some of you that are not into the ultra world, imagine your favorite athlete, TV/movie star, or musician that you would really like to meet and having the ability to walk up and talk with them. I have experienced this multiple times at different events in the ultra world. Krissy Moehl was there at this expo and I really wanted to meet her and ask a few specific questions in regards to my running. This young lady is truly elite in the ultra world placing in the top 5, if not first place, of countless ultras. She was so very gracious and talked with me for about 20+ minutes. She gave me some great advice for my first attempt at 100 miles.

As I stated before, I love going to meet people at ultra events, but it doesn’t always have to be the elite of the sport. It can be very interesting and humbling to talk to other runners and find out what brought them to the sport or that event. A buddy of mine, named Wayne, shared with me that he was running SJ on the 3rd anniversary of being cleared, or in his word “healed”, of cancer. Man, what a way to celebrate!

SJ hosts a 50K (31 miles) and an 11 mile run at the same time. It is one of the best 50K’s in the southeast with 5000 feet of elevation gain in the Tennessee mountains outside of Chattanooga. It is what I had heard described as a “lollipop course”. From the start, you head out to a particular point, run around the round top part of the lollipop, then return back to that particular point, then from there return to the start/finish line.

Race morning was in the mid-40’s, which I was happy for. In 2007, by 8 am it was in the 70’s. This year the 50k and 11 milers started off together, but with in ¼ mile we were directed in two different directions. I had planned to really run this race, not just complete it with whatever time I crossed the finish line. I wanted to see what my body would do if I put it under more pressure and a somewhat faster pace than I am use to. But, I still wanted to run my own race. It didn’t matter who or how many passed me, I did what I felt I needed to do at the present time.

Shortly after leaving the high school where the start/finish line was, we got onto some nice dirt/gravel running trails around the sides and the back of the school. This goes for a few miles till we get to Mushroom rock. Truly, a rock the size of a house that looks just like a mushroom. I would love to show you a picture, but I didn’t take my camera on this run. After this is some great single track that is pretty steep downhill at times. Keep in mind, this is part of the course that you will cover twice.

We cross Suck Creek road, and head up more single track for a few more miles till we get to Indian Rock House aid station, which is aid stations #2 and 5, since you will run the Mullins Cove Loop and return to this aid station. During this loop you come across the section called the Rock Garden. It is a huge section that is completely covered in rocks and is pretty difficult to navigate. In the SJ course description, it states that this section of the trail is “hard to follow” and “easy to fall.” Very accurate. I luckily didn’t fall, but had some close calls. I felt like some teenage girl trying to walk in her first pair of high heels and trying to be cool about it. I learned something from this section for myself. When the trail is that technical, from the way I am stepping, it starts to work on loosing my shoes. If my shoes get loose to a certain point, I am guaranteed blisters. So after this section, I took a minute and re-tided my shoes. No blisters for the whole race!

I had worked things out in my mind that I wanted to take it easy in the first part of the race, but once I got back to Indian Rock House, I knew that I was heading back to the finish. I really wanted to see if I could not only keep on running through the last miles, but see if I might be able to speed up a little bit. I knew what laid ahead. I had vivid memories from 2007 of leaving the Suck Creek Rd aid station and doing a “death march” as it is called, up the hill that seemed never ending. I remember having to sit down on the side of the trail or stopping in this section to try to catch my breathe. This year I had a different attitude and plan for that section. I was determine to show it that it wasn’t big and bad, and I had gotten stronger. Mind you I was power hiking it and not running, but I didn’t have to stop one time! One of the guys I passed on this section commented that I “seemed effortless” in going up that steep section. That was a great thing to hear and it put a pep in my step a bit more. I shared with him why I thought that I could do this. In training for the AC100, I knew there would be sections of that course that I would be walking up hill constantly for 3 and 4 miles, and that is just in the first 25 miles of the race. Well, that type of constant uphill sections are not readily available in Georgia, so I starting thinking how I could recreate that. I came up with 2 ideas. First, stairs. I happen to work in a building that has 22 flights. So, I started doing 100 flights in a workout and worked up to 200 at a time. Next, getting on the treadmill and setting it to 12-15% grade and walking for 3-4 miles at a time at 3-4 mph pace. And to push things a little harder, I started wearing a weight vest. I started off with 10 lbs and now have worked up to having 25 lbs in it while I do the stairs or inclined treadmill. Just thought I would share this with my ultra friends and see if that sparks any ideas to help them out.

Early in the course, I had bumped into Kena, one of GUTS members and the superstar that ran 104 miles at Hinson Lake a couple of weekends ago. I know that she is faster than me, so I decided that I would try to push myself to stay with her as long as I could. At one point I was running ahead of her and got to an aid station just before her. I am not sure where it came from, but you know how I like to play games in my running, so I purposely hurried through the aid station and told a friend of ours to tell Kena that I was playing “Boogieman” with her. That she is the boogieman and it is her job to catch me. I can’t explain it, but man, it fired me up to get down the trail. Side note, Kena was running this 31 mile race that day in TN, then driving to SC to run a 40 mile race on the next day.

With a couple miles to go I caught up to a buddy of mine, Tony. He had taken pretty bad fall and was in some pain. I knew that he was just trying to get through it and cross the finish line. I talked with him for a little bit and we kept moving forward. I told him that Kena was behind us and closing in, if we let her catch us, especially with the fact she is running 40 miles the next day, that she would never let us live it down! In no way in she that type of person, but it really does help to play some of these games to cover this distance. It did work and Tony started running with me again. Another side note, Tony went on the next day and ran 40 miles in SC also!

For the past mile, we have been in the trails that we started at that are around the school. You can hear the cheers of other runners crossing the finish line and want to finish this event up. The last ½ mile is back on the road and you can see the finish line when you get to the top of the hill. This time was such a great feeling to cross the finish line running strong. I was able to take an hour and 9 minutes off from 2007 time.

I appreciate all volunteers and people that worked at the SJ this year. You guys did a great job!

Krissy, thank you for taking the time and talking with all of us. I really appreciate the advice you gave me and will be sure to let you know how it works out at Pinhoti.

Wayne, with you beating cancer, 50 or 100 miles should not be that intimidating at all! Let me know when you are ready and I will help you all I can.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Hinson Lake 24 Hour Ultra

So as most of you know, this past weekend was suppose to be my first attempt at running 100 miles. Due to the fires in California, the AC100 was canceled for 2009. September 19th was a date that I had been living and training for since I was crewing my buddies for that race in 2008. So, life goes on and I happen to stumble on the Hinson Lake 24 Hour Ultra in Rockingham NC. Some friends of mine were going and I thought that it would be a great training experience for me. I had not run more than 50 miles at one time or been up longer than 18+ hours from the SCARs adventure. Plus, with the price being $24, how can you say no.

I know most people think that I am any number of adjectives in the realm of crazy, nuts, or insane, but this really comes out when you tell them that you are going to run in a circle for 24 hours. I did start questioning this myself. I thought back to the Delano 12 hour and had mixed feelings. Proud that I had run the farthest in my life, but I still to this day have an irritation of being rained on due to that race. Running in 8+ hours of rain just SUCKS! But, Hinson Lake did seem to be a beautiful nature place to run, so I said, what the heck.

If some of you don’t know, the car ride to and from some of these events can be an adventure itself. I ended up riding to the event with Christian Griffith and Matt Kahrs. We get up in the Rockingham area around 10 0’clock that night and decide to look around at the setup. We start walking around looking at things and talking about where to setup our canopy for the event. There had been talk of rain during the event and we wanted to have somewhere we could stand and dry off. We decide to start walking the 1.52 loop around the lake and for some reason, not one of us had a thought of grabbing a flash light before we jumped out of the truck. So I pull out my blackberry and it has enough light for us to see where we are going. We end up getting around the whole loop without anyone getting hurt or tripping. I just know how stupid it looked for 3 grown men walking around in the dark by the light of a blackberry!

We show up just after 7 am to get registered and unload all the gear under the canopy. Before I know it Tom Gabell, the RD, is gathering everyone around the bridge for the start of the race. There is a welcome, a prayer for safety for all, and then we start. From the very beginning I end up running with a guy from around the area name Trent. It takes a few laps for the group to thin out and get into your own rhythm. Trent and I run about 4 or 5 laps together and then my stomach starts to act up. I don’t know if it is from my previous choice of food or nerves. I let Trent know that I have to make a pit stop and that I am sure that I will see him out on the course. One great thing about these loop events is that usually they have an actual bathroom instead of having to make due in the woods. I come out from the bathroom and Trent had decided to take a break and wait for me to come around on the loop. That is one thing that I have really learned to enjoy with ultra events, being around like minded people that understand why you run like you do.

So Trent and I just start working through the laps. People ask me how can I stand not only to run that long, but then seeing the same thing over and over. Well, my thoughts are that you have to figure out a way for yourself to break it down. You don’t eat all your food in one bit, so you can’t look at an event in one big lump or it will be over whelming. So Trent and I start working through thoughts of breaking this down. We decide to run 4 laps and walk 1. After doing that a few times, we decide to change it up and start walking all the inclines and run the flats and down hills. We continue this for I don’t know how long then start setting up other goals of after so many laps we get to sit down and take a 5 minute break, change shoes, or even getting some real food instead of just snacks.

In the afternoon Trent’s family shows up to support him, his wife and 2 young boys. I really learned the value of family at this time. It was such a great distraction to have his boys wanting to go out and run with us and encourage us to keep going. At one point I kinda pulled away because I was getting choked up missing my own wife and daughter. They were suppose to be there, but due to my wife’s work, I came without them. I don’t plan to ever do another loop event without them being there.

The day wears on into the night. Trent’s family heads home from some well deserved rest and we keep working through the laps. When we get to mile 62, Trent decides to call it quits due some foot pain that he is not sure of. With this being his first ultra event and never going this far, I agree with him to play it smart and rest. So for the first time in 18+ hours, I set out on this loop alone. It was kinda odd. Someone had given me the idea of listening to a movie on my iPod. I just happened to have the movie 300. Wow, what a boost of a movie to listen to while you are tired and need to get pumped up. I know some people thought that I had really gone over the edge when I am in the middle of the woods screaming the line, “This is Sparta!!!”

At this time I realize that if I just keep going that completing the next 2 laps will put me on the top 10 leader board for the males at the event. I don’t really think of myself competitive, but I have never finish in the top 10 males of any ultra event that I have ever done, so it gives me a boost to get my name on the board . So, I again start figuring out ways to break down the event into bite size sections. From 1:30 to around 4 I keep walking the laps and just try to keep moving. Looking back on it, I think I was too easy on myself because during this time I keep sitting down for a few minutes each loop. Trent rests but will not go to sleep and tries to start crewing me, asking me what I need and getting things for me so I don’t have to get up out of the chair. He was being a true example of what I have come to love about the ultra community, helping your fellow brother or sister runner to push on in an event an toward their goals.

After resting for a few hours and watching me trying to continue on, Trent decides to rejoin me in the fight of keep moving for 24 hours. Finally, after a longer than usual night, the sun finally comes back up and I get to experience the magic of the 2nd sunrise. For those of you that don’t know, in an ultra event when it goes so long that you are seeing the sunrise for a second time, it does a great thing for you of positive feelings and a boost of energy that is really unexplainable.

One of the most incredible experiences came at 7:44 am on Sunday morning. We had just finished a loop and I was calling it quits. I was at 85+ miles and that was the top end goal that I had set for myself. At this time the Hinson Lake workers handed us a banana with our race # on it and said “RUN!” I don’t know what happened, but it was like a shot of adrenaline to my system and Trent and I took off at the fastest pace we had done in 24 hours. We ran almost the entire loop and got back in 12 minutes!!! I actually didn’t want to keep going, but we had another 4 minutes, so we keep going and got another half mile before the horn went off. I never, ever would have believe that I could run an 8 minute mile at the end of a 24 hour event with 85+ miles on my legs! Ended up 14th place over all with 87.13 miles completed. A major learning lesson for me was that your brain controls the situation a lot more than your body does in an ultra event.

I truly enjoyed myself and think that Tom Gabell did a fantastic job with this event. The volunteers, mostly his family, were wonderful and I truly appreciate all of there hard work and know that some of them were there 24+ hours. Thank you so much!!!

I am very proud of my fellow GUTS members that showed up and rocked this race and supported each other. Kena, you did awesome with 104 miles! You go girl! Tom and Perry, thank you so much for the encouragement and better yet the grilled cheese sandwiches! Tom, you saved me with that second one about 5 am!

Trent, brother, what can I say. I don’t know how things would have turned out with having you there to talk to and distract me from going in circles for 24 hours. Your beautiful family was a Godsend. Becky, thank you for helping out with all the silliness there. I am sure you didn’t think you would be putting up Christmas lights inside of a canopy in September! I am sure there are many more ultra events in the future that we can team up again!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

White River 50 Miler

Picture by Glenn Tachiyama

What can I say about my first trail/mountainous 50 miler? There are a number of words that come to mind; gorgeous, difficult, stunning, and no joke. The race is held in Crystal Mountain, WA. Here is a great description from the race’s website:

“Set in the shadow of Mt. Rainier, this race offers spectacular views. Like "The Mountain" itself, though, the race stands as an ultimate test of mental character and physical endurance. Over the 50-mile distance the race course rises and falls a staggering 8,700 feet (total elevation change: 17,400 feet). The race features rolling terrain, ridge tops, northwest forest, several sections of technical trails, and of course several demanding climbs and challenging descents.”

I had signed up for WR a number of months back with the idea that it would be my qualifying 50 miler that I would need for the AC100 in September. But, after some thoughts about what would happen if I had a bad day at WR, I decided to get the qualifying out of the way with the Delano Park run. So, going into WR I didn’t have a complete “do or die” mindset, but more of a continuing gut check to see how I was doing with my AC100 training.

My number one goal was to cross the finish line in the allotted time of 13 hours or less, which for a while I had debated in taking the allowable “early start” where they let people that feel they need more time start at 5:30 instead of 6:30. I had debated this due to being pretty sick the week following July 4th. I had gotten chest cold that knocked me down so hard that walking my dogs outside for 15-20 minutes would leave me having to immediately go lay down in the bed for a while. I was not able to workout at all for 9 days straight! Talk about someone about to go nuts! When I come back to work and start easy running again with my lunch crew, I had to stop multiple times to cough and dry heave trying to clear my lungs. I start wondering how am I going to run a 50 miler in the mountains when I am struggling with a 5 mile loop on the road??!! I appreciate my THD crew that was patient with me and refused to leave me through those spells! I know it wasn’t pretty.

I talked to a number of running buddies asking their opinions about the early start with regards to my prior sickness. Some thought that it would be a good thing for the early start. Some told me just to go for the regular start and see what I could do. Rhonda, my wife, has a way of helping me stay balanced. I asked her opinion on what I should do. She told me to do the regular start and to have this be a “trial by fire” type situation. She thought that I would be fine and that my training would get me through it. I can’t tell you how much it means to have a spouse that supports and even encourages you in a crazy sport like ultra running.

I flew to Seattle airport Friday night around 9:30p.m. and Pat, my partner in crime from the Camp KP post, picks me up and takes me to his house which is only about 15 minutes from the airport. I get to bed as soon as possible, but have a hard time sleeping with the “night before a race” nerves. Same type of night before your first day of school in a brand new school but intensified. Before I know it, Pat is waking me up at 4 a.m. to get ready to head to the race. It is around an hour and half drive to the start line from his house. We get there an immediately start to see friend from all over and some of the super stars of the ultra world. I get to talking to some of my friends from GA that made the trip also and start meeting new people, before I know it I have about 10 minutes to get to the starting line. I am doing all sorts of things to try to make sure I didn’t forget anything and Pat calmly assures me that he will take care of my stuff and have it at the aid station that we has discussed.

People ask me all the time, “How do you run that far?” I think I am starting to scratch the surface of the mental aspect to this thing called ultra running. As the race begins and we start running down through the first mile and I start having these thoughts of “What am I doing out here?” “I don’t want to run 50 miles today” I really wanted to stop turn around go find Pat and hang with him the rest of the day at an aid station and take it easy. So, what did I do? I bold faced lied to myself! I told myself that I should at least run to first aid station just see what it looked like and the layout of course to that point. So I get to the first aid station in around 40 minutes. Not too bad, but it might have been a little fast for me. So I start thinking about what the next aid station might look like and decide to run on and check it out. There is a word that has been said to me a number of times lately about learning to run 100 milers. That word is “patience”. And I am trying my best to learn it. So I decide to patiently work myself from aid station to aid station and also from friend to friend. I had made friends with Glenn Tachiyama through Pat and knew that he would be out on the race course taking some awesome pictures of all the runners that day in 2 different spots.

So I start up the first of the two big climbs for that day. In the course description it is told that this is a 6 mile climb going up nearly 2900 feet of elevation gain. I was curious just how difficult the mountain climbs that I had read in others WR blogs. This is a stout climb, but with only 4 miles on your legs it doesn’t feel that bad. I continue on between different individuals and groups of runners and get up to the Ranger Creek aid station, mile 11.7. These volunteers have to carry cases of water from some type of serious distance, because there is no way to get a car or even 4-wheeler to that site. My hats off to them!

I feel better about the run and am thinking that I will now keep going and run over to see Glenn around mile 16. It is amazing how much seeing a familiar face can do for your spirits in doing these long runs. Shortly after seeing Glenn is the next aid station, so I stop for just a minute and grab some potato chips, but not enough food. I am still working out how to fuel myself properly for these long runs. I don’t feel that hungry and am still feeling good so I head out and keep going. This section of the race is an out-and-back, so we return to the Ranger Creek aid station. At this point I am 22 miles in to the race and know that Pat is waiting for me at the next aid station about 5 miles away and the majority of this section is down hill. I happen to catch up with another trail runner named Heidi and decide to chat with her some while I have someone to talk to. Depending on the situation in some of these trail races, you can run for a long time and not see or talk to anyone, so I tend to take advantage of opportunities to chat with people. It makes everything seem to go faster.

I get to the Buck Creek aid station and while I am still 200 yards out I hear Pat start yelling my name “Ransom!” A smile comes to my face. He gets me into the aid station and has a chair ready for me to sit down and starts taking care of water bottles and asking me what I need, just like a true ultra runner brother. I switch some things out in preparation for the next section of climbing due to direct sunlight and the temperature heating up. I am still feeling good and don’t really eat much, but I do pack a double cheeseburger in my pack for later.

I had done some research online about this race for a few weeks before. I had read how this next climb, even though it was less elevation gain than the first climb, had been the breaking point for a number of runners. Some talked about breaking down into tears wondering how to take another step. Since I am over half way done and still feeling good, I think I got a little cocky with this part and really underestimated what it would feel like to climb with legs that have 30 miles on them. Thinking of this section, all I can think about it is the word “WOW!” It beat me down. Some of the sections just seem to go on and on with this steep grade that just wears you out. I finally get to Fawn Ridge aid station and lose my balance walking in. This big medic guy comes over and grabs me and walks me to a chair. I was pretty tired, but I knew that I was not done. I had been told that if you can make it to the next aid station at mile 37, you should have this course beaten. I sit there for about 20 minutes resting and eating potato chip and drinking Mountain Dew. I start feeling better and know that I have an hour+ before the cut off time. I start climbing again.

Picture by Glenn Tachiyama

I get going and continue to repeat to myself that if I just make it to the next aid station I should be able to finish this course. Also, thoughts of seeing the familiar face of Glenn helps too. The last mile to Sun Top aid station is brutal for most. You have been climbing for almost 7 miles and then this last mile is continuous, steep, and in the direct sunlight. I tried to keep moving forward the whole time I was on the course besides sitting down at the aid stations, but on this last section I had to stop just for a moment and rest. I would usually justify a break with the absolute gorgeous scenery and take a picture. I finally come around a corner and can see the top of Glenn’s blue baseball cap. I yell out to him, “Man, you don’t know how glad I am to see you!” I slowly walk up trying to gain some type of composure for when he takes my picture instead of a brutalize shell of a wannabe runner. He gives me another high five and encouraging words and I walk on to the aid station. I guess I am looking worst for wear because the volunteers want me to sit down in the shade in a chair. I decide that I should try to eat my cheeseburger now since the next 6.5 miles are all downhill and the blood should be able to get to my stomach and not be needed in my legs as much. A number of people see me eating the cheeseburger and have all kinds of questions from if the aid station had more to where did get that. It seemed to trip some people out. I keep coming into these aid stations right before Heidi is leaving and she continues to encourage me on.

The 6.5 downhill seem longer than that, but it eventually comes to an end and I am at the last aid station before the finish line. I had created a card that I carried with me to know the cutoff times and know that I have 2 ½ hours to cover 6.6 miles. I know that I should be able to walk this and make the cut off time. I had even started joking to myself that I had spent a lot of money for this race and that I should get my money’s worth and stay out here as long as I wanted to before the cutoff time! The last section of this course is some of the most technical running I have ever been on. With already having 45 miles on my legs, the last thing I wanted to do was step wrong in all of this roots and rocks and injure myself. One of the best feelings of the day came when I met a guy on the trail and he let me know that I had just ¾ of mile to the finish line. I happen to get to the finish line when they were handing out the awards for the people that had won that day and everyone stopped to turn around and cheer me through the finish line. That is something that I will never forget.

Here is a clip of me crossing the finish line:

White River is a beautiful, tough course that I will treasure for years to come as my first mountain 50 miler. A huge “Thank you” goes out to the race director, Scott McCourbrey, and all of the volunteers that made that race so wonderful.

Post race interview by Pat:

Heidi – It was great meeting you. Thanks for putting up with and encouraging this old southern boy.

Tracey and Everett – very nice meeting you as well. You guys try to keep Pat under control if you can. I know that is a big job. By the way, when are you guys signing up for your first 100 miler?

Pat – Brother, can’t thank you enough for everything that weekend. You guys were such great hosts and really took care of me. I know the next time I see you will be at AC and will be glad that you will be there by my side for the biggest run of my life.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Camp KP/AC 100 Training

Day 1 - Angeles Crest National Forest

This past weekend I had the opportunity and the privilege to go to a friend’s small training camp in California for my continuing efforts of preparing for the AC100. The objective for this camp was a “gut check” of sorts for the 3 participants, Pat, Vic, and myself. All 3 of us are running a 100 miler this summer season. KP is the Zen master that got Pat and Vic into this ultra stuff when they all worked together. Then through Vic changing jobs and coming to work where I do, I got pulled over to the dark side of ultra running.

Vic and I flew out to LAX on Friday afternoon getting to the airport gate when the last 20 or so people are boarding. Due to work and meetings, we got a later start than we wanted to and then the lovely ATL traffic jam to the airport didn’t help either. I knew right then that I had to relax and just be cool because it was what it was and I knew that the following 2 days would probably be some of the hardest training I have done so far. No sense in stressing myself out and getting into a negative mindset from the start of the trip. Before I know it, we are at KP’s house greeting everyone and discussing plans for the next day.

I was really looking forward to Day 1 due to the fact that the guys had been nice enough to plan for us to run the first 35+ miles of the AC100. Last year Vic and Pat both completed the AC100 and I was able run about 35 miles of the back end of the course as their pacer. I was pretty anxious about the front end due to the fact that you get to the highest point of the race around mile 17. 9300 feet above sea-level at nearly the top of Mt Baden-Powell. I don’t know if I have ever been that high above sea level and know that I had never tried to run at that height.

We started off from the same parking lot I will be starting from for the AC100 which is in Wrightwood, CA. We head up a couple streets till we finally hit this fire road. Pat and I are ahead of Vic and I guess are so focused on getting up the road that we totally miss the Acorn trail marker to the left that we are suppose to take! We continue up this road for not sure how far before it just ends. We look around for a bit trying to figure out what happen. End up walking back down to the start of the fire road. We then started back up the road looking to our left instead of right and found the Acorn Trail marker. We had lost 45 minutes! I promise you I will not forget where that Acorn marker is at the race!

We start climbing on the Acorn Trail and at the top of this 2100+ feet of climbing, it puts us onto the PCT (Pacific Coastal Trail). At that point it has some beautiful ridge running being able to see for miles around. At two different points we pass by the top of ski lifts for the Mountain High ski area. Pat and I get to the first meeting point for the run and so the tongue lashing begins from KP and Vic on how in the world could we have gotten lost! If you can’t verbally assault your ultra friends, who can you then! We took our lumps and headed on.

We ran another 4 miles and meet KP again at Vincent’s Gap at 6500 feet. This is where the party was about to start, at least for me. The trail up Mt. Baden-Powell climbs 2,800 feet in 3.6 miles over 41 switchbacks to a saddle 100 feet below the peak. KP was nice enough to fix us a sandwich. I grab mine and started walking listening to KP direction that I needed to learn how to eat and walk. I started eating and trying to down the sandwich as best I could, but due to the fact that I am going up hill and already over a mile high I can barely keep the food in my mouth due to try to breathing! I did learn quickly to take small bites, but still I sound like a freight train. I was able to eat ¾ of the sandwich but got into a negative attitude and ended up throwing the last part away. It seemed like it would never end, then I finally saw this beautiful sign and realized that I had actually made it to the highest point in the race and I was ok! I haven’t passed out or gotten sick due to the thin air. Funny thing is when I saw this sign, I didn’t pay close enough attention to it and continued on the trail to the top of Baden-Powell. I got about a 50 feet away from the sign and thought to myself, “Wait a minute. If that is the highest point, why am I still climbing up!!??” Yes, I had gotten off the course AGAIN, but it was my fault for the fact that I was by myself. I get back down to that sign and realize that it was pointing to a trail that started downhill. One new experience for me at this point was hearing my heart beat in my head! First couple times I heard it I turned around to see if someone was behind me!

Another crazy thing that happened this particular weekend was that it was colder than we had anticipated. We actually thought that it might be warm up there. WRONG! After getting to the highest part and making my way to Islip Saddle the wind kicked up. It had to be in the low 40’s and I was not totally ready for that. Fortunately I had brought a long sleeve shirt, but not a coat. I had to live by a saying that I heard a few years ago, “If you going to be stupid, you got to be tough!” I think the cooler weather helped me in the way that I was so cold that I was going about as hard as I could to get to KP’s truck! I get to Islip Saddle and KP was smart enough to bring the camp stove and cooked me up some chicken soup. It was some of the best I have tasted due to the situation.

We start discussing the plans and how the day is going and decide that I am going to go with Pat back over the section of Mt Baden-Powell again for more altitude training. We get back over 8000+ feet and Pat starts to get altitude sick. This is something that I was concerned for myself. It doesn’t matter how good of an athlete you are, if your body has an issue with altitude you either have to deal with it or take a number of weeks trying to acclimatize yourself. For the next 6 or so miles Pat would run some, have the sick feeling, throw up, start to feel better and start running again. That cycle happened 4 different times! I share this not to embarrass Pat in anyway, but to give everyone insight into what happens sometimes with ultra runs and also to share my true amazement that the man kept going and would not stop! That is what I am learning ultra running is all about. Sure it is about covering a set distance, but what happens when you get sick or develop a blister, or any number of issues that can happen. Do you give up or do you solider on?

Here is a link to video that Pat shot of the recap of Day 1:

Day 2 – Cleveland National Forrest

Today we were running in the Cleveland National Forrest that can be seen from KP’s back yard. I was a little concerned on how I would do today. I have never run 38 miles one day and then plan to run 30+ the next. I was obviously sore, but had no major pains and was very grateful for that. The guys had warned me that starting off that morning I would have some pains and if I would just keep going that my body would loosen up and things would be better. That prove to be dead on and within a couple miles I was feeling pretty good.

2 miles away from KP’s house, we start up a dirt road that is nearly a constant 7 miles up hill. The incline to it wasn’t too terrible, but the fact that you are constantly going up hill that long did wear on me. We get to the top of this climb and head down a fire road for 5 miles and meet KP in his truck for the one and only aid station for this 30 mile trip. We take a couple minutes to talk about things, grab a snack, and off we go for the rest of the journey.

The very next trail we get on is a 1 mile downhill that is just nasty. The trail is covered with large rocks that are loose and slippery. I had a number of close calls of hitting the ground forwards or backwards. We get down in this beautiful ravine that has some nice trails that roll along and we can finally get into a good running rhythm and cover some distance. Not sure how long that section was but it seemed to be over way to fast because the next thing I know we are starting up a trail called Holy Jim, a 4 mile constant up hill. The one thing I must say about the trails in CA is that the way they were laid out, the incline is not that bad. The Smokies in NC, the AT trails seem to go straight up the mountain, in CA they have a lot of switchbacks but the trails have a way that you can get into a rhythm and get through the distance.

We finish with Holy Jim and have 3 miles to go on the fire road to get back to the 7 mile now downhill to finish this trip. I know that in physics going downhill is easier than uphill, but still going constantly downhill for 7 miles, at least for me, was hard at times. Using the same muscles over and over will get to anyone. As most of you know me, I try to make a game out of anything, especially if I trying to distract myself from the pain. I started thinking of myself as a race car going down the mountain. I started to take the inside of the curve whether it was on the right or left side of this dirt road. I get about 2 miles from the end of this dirt road and notice this car driving away from what I had seen early on the way up of what we thought were empty bee hives. Well, they were not empty and I think the guy in the car has done something to them to make them mad. There are thousands of them flying around the hives but fortunately not too close to the road. I immediately started walking very softly and even remember saying out loud “I come in peace!”

I am very sore and my feet are killing me. I get to the asphalt road and realize that in my sleepy, painful run out from KP’s house, I don’t know how to get back! I am in the front because Pat had stopped to talk to someone and I just had it in my mind to get down and complete this run. I start walking up the road and notice that Pat is coming up behind me and he is moving at pretty good clip. I know what you are thinking, but no, the bees had not gotten after him. He gets up with me and says “Let’s roll!” There is no stopping the man, he is ready to finish this thing but it has to be at the finish line of KP’s driveway. One thing he tells me is that KP had taught him to always finish strong. Finish strong??!! I feel like I am nearly going to have to break out into a sprint to keep up with him. We run by some neighbor kids with this real puzzled look on their faces like “why is that big guy chasing that other guy and breathing so hard?”

It was an absolute OUT-STANDING weekend!! I feel much better about my training. I know there are a few things to tighten up on, but I am happy for where I am right now.

KP – thanks for everything dude. The encouragement, butt-kicking, and hospitality were great. You have an awesome family.

Pat – Dude, you continue to teach and amaze me. To realize you were that sick and continue on to run another 75 miles in the AC100 last year, mind-blowing. You made the times of suffering much more bareable.

Vic – Thank you for all the coaching and advice you have given me to get me to this point. I appreciate your patience through all the silly questions I have asked you about how to do this, that, and the other in the craziness called ultras.

Rhonda – my beautiful wife, thank you for continuing to put up with this crazy quest I am on. I Love You!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

SweetWater 50K

This past Saturday I ran the SweetWater 50K in Lithia Springs, GA. I signed up for this with the mindset of it being a training run for the AC100. It was local, 25 minutes from my house, and I needed to get a more little race experience. With all the running that I have been doing, I still have only participated in only two other actual ultras events before this one.

As the time got closer I started thinking about how much I could improve on my 50K PR. My first 50K was my first ultra ever and man what it was it a slog fest of 7:40. I had never done a physical activity for that long in my life! I just knew that with a few years of running under my belt that Sweet H2O would be much better.

I started reading other’s thoughts and blogs on the race and knew this was something that I would really enjoy doing. Call me crazy, (I know some of you do already) but since the SCARs adventure the harder a race is described, the more I am interested in it. I started reading about the “Powerlines” and “TOTW” (Top of the World) sections of the race. And then the website has a great picture of the “creek crossing” that is high enough to be over most people waist! The other thing to know is that the SweetWater Park is not that big at all. The park website states that is has 9 miles of trails, so obviously to run a 31 mile race there is going to be some loops involved.

Another aspect to this event, with it being so close to the house, I was able to assist in getting the race setup with trail marking and aid station supplies. One requirement that the AC100 has is to volunteer for an ultra event for runners to give back to the ultra community. I agree with this requirement and really enjoyed myself. All of the folks from the DCRR, Douglas County Rogue Runners were just fantastic to work with. I felt instantly welcomed into the group. Thank you! I helped mark the course and still don’t know how Johnny and Scotty, the RD’s came up with the 31 miles, but I know they did because I know I covered that distance!

We start off the race on the road and within the first 3 or so miles get to the first major creek crossings. There were discussions between runners about the creek crossings. Should you take a change of shoes? Should you just take your shoes off? I remember seeing a guy the first year the race was run carrying a pair of flip-flops! Maybe I have had good luck, but since running in the rain for 8+ hours at Delano, I don’t worry about my feet getting wet especially if you are wearing the right socks. Thin and light synthetic socks seem to work well for me.

After a number of miles we get to our first time through the TOTW and Powerline section. TOTW section looks like a dirt roller coaster, just climbing then a descent. Someone had taken orange spray paint and painted the phrase “Just think what the second time will be like!” One of runners was asking if that was just a cruel joke or was it for real? The Powerline section is just raw. It didn’t seem like it was a trail, but more like running down a very steep section that was caused by serious erosion.

This is the 3rd year for Sweetwater, but the first year that they have cut out the half-marathon. In years pass most of the entrants signed up for the half. This year there was 250+ runners all doing the 50K. With a race being new there are always trouble spots to work through. This year was the major creek crossing at mile 20. As I showed up at this section there were 20+ runners waiting to cross. This water crossing is so serious that they have a rope that you have to hold on and multiple lifeguards waiting to make sure no one gets taken down stream. It was a little disappointing figuring that I lost about 25-30 minutes of time waiting for my turn. I am sure the RD’s got an ear full about it and know they are already working out a solution for next year.

I slog through the second time over TOTW and Powerline doing the best I can, but the sun was out and heating things up pretty good. Now I had been told that if you get through that section the second time you are home free. The last 4 miles as relatively flat and smooth. Mile 28 turned out to be pretty big shock to all of us. The RD’s had not told anyone about the change in the course at mile 28. I see a sign for Mile 28 and pointing nearly straight up a hill where there is no trail besides the one that all the runners had made during the race. Wow, I didn’t know what to do but take it a step at the time. I come up on another runner hugging a small tree desperately trying to catch his breath and made the statement to me as I passed “This is absolutely ridiculous!” Scotty & Johnny, you guys are sick for that, but I did enjoy it after I got up it!

I had a humbling experience that happened on mile 29. I was getting down through the trail as best I could run/walking. At one point that I was running and hear these footsteps come up on me pretty quickly and feel and tap on the shoulder and hear “Good job, buddy.” David Horton and his running partner pass by me looking like they just started the race. Before I know it they are gone an out of site. For some of you don’t know, David Horton is one of the top elite ultra runners in world. He accomplished things in the ultra world that only a handful of runners have ever done and still holds a number of records in the ultra worlds. Why was this humbling? Well, for one, as David told us all at the dinner the night before the race, “I’m old!” He will be 60 years old next year. Even being 20+ years younger and also calculating that I had about a 30 minute lead on him at the creek crossing at mile 20 he still passed me! There is something to be said about experience in ultras and knowing how to gauge yourself. I am sure that I was one of many the he passed in the last few miles. I just hope that I will be able to still be running when I am 60 and passing younger guys!

I have to give out some more props to some of my fellow ultra guys:

Matt, you are a beast! Outstanding time. I know that it is just a matter of time before you are taking 1st place in anything you run. You were so fast I didn't get a picture of you!

Colt, welcome to the ultra world! Dude, not running a marathon and coming out and pulling the time you did. You are solid! Thanks for helping me get a better time. You didn’t know it, but the last 10 miles I was trying to catch you the whole time! It made the run much better.

Dave, I am glad I finally talked you over to the dark side of running! I know you are just going to continue to enjoy this and get better and better. You did very well for you first ultra!

Thursday, April 30, 2009

I have been SCARed, at least half.

WOW!!! Is the first word that comes to my mind when people have asked me about my latest ultra adventure. SCAR stands for “Smokies Challenge Adventure Run”. Here is a great descriptive quote from Matt Kirk site:

“SCAR is an unofficial and unsupported 70+ mile 24-hour traverse of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park along the Appalachian Trail starting at Fontana Dam and going to Davenport Gap. The total elevation gain is 18,660', 12,800' in first 40 miles and 5860' in last 30 miles. On course aid and bail-out is only possible at 40 miles at Newfound Gap Road, and maybe not even there. All food and gear must be carried and water must be pulled from streams that are located as much as a quarter mile off the trail. Also, there are a lot of steep climbs and descents all on singletrack. In March (when SCAR somehow ends up being attempted) there's bound to be quite a bit of slippery ice around Clingmans Dome. To break 24 hours, one needs to maintain an average of 3 mph which is actually much harder than it seems. It requires relentless and steady movement forwards. In March, the weather can be anything from balmy weather to blizzards.”

So, some friends of mine find out about this challenge and we decide that it would be a good “gut check” for us since all 5 of us have plans to run a 100 miler around the fall season. Man, we did not know what we were getting into!

Since it was the first time any of us had been to this part of the AT, we had a lot to try to figure out. Where to park the cars? Where to spend the night? How to get to the start? I was really appreciated my friends figuring out all the logistics to the best of their ability.

We headed to park the one car at the end of the run at Davenport Gap. This was totally in the middle of no where. I am not sure if we would have found it if it wasn’t for a car parked on the side of the road. We made the decision to park at the Ranger’s station, just under 2 miles away. I remember us stating that what was 2 more miles after 71, plus, it was all down hill from that point to the station.

We were going to head to Gatlinburg and get a room, then head out early in the morning for Newfound Gap. We got lost somewhat and end up changing plans and staying somewhere off of I-40 and 321. Got to sleep around 1 am and had to be up at 4:30. I think this was one of the first big mistakes of the trip. That little of sleep really hurt me more than I have ever known up to this point. I have been trying to be smart and getting plenty of rest before and after workouts or events. This time it just didn’t work out that way.

We wake, get ready, and we’re out the door. Drove over to Newfound Gap to meet Jeff, a gentlemen that own Hikers Inn, and offers a transport service for hikers on the AT. Jeff takes us down to the Fontana Dam and gets us there 30 minutes early than we had planned.

Nine o’clock the five of us start our SCAR adventure. As soon as we hit the AT it was accenting climb that just went on and on. From the start I was watching my Nike+ and set it to see the pace I was doing. In any event it is good to have different goals, but also know how to be realistic and revaluate those goals if things become difficult. My major goal was to finish the distance, but I would have liked to have completed it as close to the 24 hours as possible. So, I kept a close eye to make sure that I was doing at least 3 mph as stated in description above. For me, that speed may have lasted about to mile 9-10 then the wheels slowly started to come off. THE INCLINES ARE INSANE! They are relentless and seem to go on forever. Plus, they are straight up the mountain. “Switchbacks” are a term used in the running world to describe the zig-zag “Z” style in which a trail is laid out up a mountain. This section of the AT had very little of switchbacks. You just went straight up. I am so very glad that I have been doing a workout with friends at work where we do stairs, usually 100 flights in a workout. This workout helped me out, but to prepare for doing SCAR again, I will be planning a time where I can do way more than 100 flights to get my body ready.

Between the lack of sleep, 85 degrees temp, and the seemingly constant uphill, I slowly started falling apart somewhere between miles 15 to 20. Due to the time of season, it was hard to find shade. At times all I could do was look for shade and sit there for a couple of minutes and rest. At one point, I vaguely remember sitting down off the side of the trail in the shade and feeling like I was drunk. I felt myself starting to nod off. I don’t know how long I sat there. I came to, somewhat, and realized that I need to get going. I had tried to eat, but my stomach was torn up. The only thing in my mind was to just keep pushing forward to the next shelter.

At this point I was in the middle, 2 guys were ahead of me, 2 behind me. When I reached a shelter at mile 22, I decided I would stop and rest and wait for one of them to catch up to me. Christian got there too quickly, I was still getting water. I decided to stay there and wait for my buddy at the back of this crazy train ride. I did not get a chance of picking up my fuel of choice, double cheeseburgers, but I have a couple slices of pizza in tin foil. My stomach had not felt the best, but I knew that my lack of food was hurting me. This shelter had some volunteers from the AT and they had a fire going. I have failed to mention the bugs at this point. I say bugs because I don’t know what they were, a combination of nat and mosquito. Anytime you stopped more than a minute, you would have about 50-100 of them all around you and they bite. I was so glad to see the fire knowing that the smoke from it would hopefully keep them at bay. I decided to put my pizza over the fire to warm them up. This really helped me and I scarfed both pieces down.

My buddy Vic shows up. I am wondering how he is doing and if he is planning on pulling the whole 71. In the miles before I had really started questioning a lot of things in my life regarding this part called “ultra running.” “Why am I doing this?” “Do I really think that I can run 100 miles?” “If I am struggling this bad and not being over 7000 feet in elevation, what am I going to do at 9500+ feet in CA?” Vic thought I was being thoughtful and waiting for him, but honestly I was needing to talk to him because I was at a point thinking that I would not be ready for the AC100 this Sept.

I left the shelter feeling a lot better physically, but mentally knowing that I had 18 miles to go and it was going to take about 9 hours to get to Newfound Gap. It really helped having someone there to talk to and distract me from what seemed like an over whelming distance in this terrain. Only thing that I tried to keep in my head was just moving forward. That’s all there was. There were no aid stations to stop at and tell them you are quitting. You have no other options than stop or go, period.

Vic and I continued on through the dark. It seems odd, but having to do inclines in the dark seem easier. I guess you can’t see that is ahead of you and it makes it seem easier. At 2:42 am we roll into Newfound Gap. The 3 ahead of us have been trying to rest either in the van or in sleeping bags in the parking lot. We load up and head to the closes hotel that we can find for a well deserve nights rest.

It has been a few days now and I still feel that I cannot put all my thoughts together in this post. Was it the hardest physical thing I have ever done? Yes. At some points did I hate being out there? Yes. Do I plan to go back and do all 71 miles? Absolutely!

You don’t know how far you can go till you push pass your personal breaking point, then get up and go some more.