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.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

CompletING the ING

This year’s Atlanta ING marathon was one of the better ones from my past experiences. I ran the inaugural ING in 2007. Being the first year, there were a number of logistical challenges they had to deal with. Water stops not being setup where they were supposed to be and then running out of water to give at the finish line when the temperature was close to reaching 90 are two major snafu's that stick out in my mind. I remember crossing the finish line and being handed a Coke due to no water. Last year Rhonda and I volunteered at the TNT water stop and don’t remember a day that it seemed no matter what I did, I could not get warm. The day just got colder and colder as it when on.

This past Sunday was the best weather I have experienced with the ING. Mid 40’s all day it seemed. It did get colder as the day went on, which could be viewed as a blessing or a curse. Blessing by the fact that it is later in the race, your body is working harder and it would keep you cooler. Curse if you are needing to walk some of the course, like the many up hills, and you cool down from not running, then you are just cold.

If you know me, then you know I like to talk. I have even been caught talking out loud to myself on the trails by other hikers. I had considered wearing a blue tooth ear piece just so I might be able to play if off if need be! ☺ Well, I had talked to few friends at work about how great running a marathon was. To my totally disbelief, they actually listened to me and signed up for the ING!? I guess that I shouldn’t be too surprised due to the fact that this was the same group of folks that I talked into doing the Silver Comet Half Marathon.

So, the journey of this adventure starts back in November. The laying out of the training schedule for everyone. The different questions about training, diet, and addressing the one everyone asks “Can I really run 26.2 miles?” The challenges that came with aches, pains, and blisters as the long runs get longer on the weekends. There were days when some of the group could hardly do 5 miles. There were others days that some felt like going on after 15 miles. For the most part, everyone was able to get in the miles that the schedule called for while still balancing family, work, and everything else. Sticking to a marathon training schedule is a bigger commitment than the actually race.

We were able to meet up at the starting line. We had all talked about starting together, but with 15,000 runners, if you don’t purposely stay right with someone, you can lose them very quickly. I think the 5 of us stuck together for about 3 miles and then got separated due to a bladder break. Three of us had decided to stick together no matter what, to be there to keep each other going. My wish was just for everyone to finish, don’t worry about the clock, just cross the finish line. The Atlanta ING is no joke of a marathon. It is not a race for someone looking for the “flat and fast.” Some sections of this marathon have inclines that last over half a mile, one of the longest and worse coming at mile 23. So, by no means is this an easy marathon for a first timer.

I am so proud to say that every one of the group crossed the finish line! I shared with them my opinion that if you can run the Atlanta ING, you can run a marathon anywhere in the country.

Adrianna, you truly amazed me with your determination to keep running after the pains you were having on the training runs and the one visit to the ER. You are a true runner in my book!

Nik, I know you face a lot of ups and downs through out the training, but you did not give up on the goal of running this marathon. You totally shocked me with hearing you having pains at mile 3 and you kept on going. Way to go!

K2, long distance running is something that is done with your heart and that is a strength you have. It is true, an Indian man can run a marathon!! ☺ I know you have heard me calling you from the dark side of the ultra world, but if or when you are ready for that, just let me know.

Dave, I look are you and wonder how different my life would be if I got into ultra’s at your age. You showed some serious heart going back to help Hank after running the whole marathon. Pretty impressed pulling a 30 mile day. Let’s go have fun at Sweetwater!