Coach Spencer Runs in the Woods

Coach Spencer Runs in the Woods

Sunday, December 30, 2007

2007 Best & Worst

A lot of running-related changes in 2007. Almost all very good. I'm happy to be evolving as a runner- keeps it from getting boring. I can honestly say that I was only bored running maybe 3 times since March. After running thousands & thousands of miles, I feel like I reinvented my running this year and have never loved it so much!

Here's a Best & Worst of 2007 list someone sent me that I used as a template:

Best Race: 12 Hour Adventure Trail Race in Triangle, VA. Loop was 6.62 miles long & fairly difficult. I made it 8 laps before the cutoff & was under the impression you could do another lap as long as you started before the 12 hour cutoff. I really wanted to get in 60 miles & was... angry when I was told I was done at 8 laps. I went out and did another lap on my own, finishing 60 miles in 12:35. I cleared it up with the race director later. I really felt like I had a lot more in me after 60. A great feeling. Even better was that I had some moderate blistering which I took care of and that was the only problem at all! Felt fantastic!

The Myrtle Beach Marathon was a little special too. I had been injured for over a year (back/sciatic nerve problem that still hurts some) & just being able to do a marathon in February 2007 felt like an accomplishment even though it was 25 minutes slower than my PR.

Worst Race: Outer Banks Marathon from Kitty Hawk to Manteo, NC. See previous post. After not running on asphalt for so long, my feet & legs were destroyed in this race.

Favorite Training Week: Running Camp at Brevard with my new team. Runs in Pisgah & DuPont Forest.

Highest Weekly Training Mileage: 82. A few others at 75 or more.

Lowest Training Mileage: 0 the week I hurt my foot. Probably something like 18 on a busy week.

Total Yearly Mileage: Around 2,200. I didn't keep a log for a few weeks in there.

Best Route: My wife's from Fort Mill, SC & I never knew there are 34 miles of trails there! I ran a 1/2 marathon there & then moved 7 minutes away when we moved to Charlotte. Having something that close, that long, and with a variety of hills and flat is wonderful. Before moving, my favorites were Gibson Park/PEC & the Salem Lake illegal bike trails.

Worst Route: Since April, I've made a point of seeking out good places to run, so I haven't run many places I didn't like. I guess I'd say a 2-3 hour run at tiny Triad Park, which included going on the same 2/3 mile trail 10 times. Also as New Year's struck, I was running 20 miles in my parents' neighborhood, covering the same ground several times.

Greatest Acheivement: The 12 hour race & simply the renewed love of running.

Biggest Disappointment: Hmm... I really can't think of one. I have had 2 slow marathons, but given the situations in each, I don't think of them as disappointments. I also can't think of a training run or overall trend that was disappointing. I've been pleased with my running, though I have been faster at times.

Longest Injury-Free Stretch: I didn't have a major injury all year, but I felt great from March to July.

Worst Injury: Hit a rock wrong coming down a gravel road lost in Pisgah National Forest. Wearing New Balance 810s with odd places with no outsole (for drainage, I guess- love the feel of the shoe, so I put Shoe Goo over the holes on a newer pair.) & felt like I broke a bone in my foot. Out for 8 days. That was mid-July & I still feel it when I'm barefoot. Doctor said it was just bruised. I'm not sure.

Most Memorable Moment: The solo 5+ hour Appalachian Trail run from 2 days ago ranks up there! See other post. 34 degrees, pouring rain, 60 mph winds on exposed grassy balds, ice on the trail, 4270' of elevation gain... Kinda memorable.

Most Forgettable Moment: I forgot.

Best Run Shared with Someone: 21 mile Sauratown Trail run with Hannah Parks. From Hanging Rock, over Sauratown Mountain and up to Pilot Mountain. Trail barely marked & barely there in places. 90 degrees. Having to drink out of people's hoses when they weren't home.

Best Shoe: I haven't run in them enough, but the Keen Ochocos have treated me right in wet and rocky conditions. Not an everyday shoe though. I've worn the Keen Wasatch Crests around this week to break them in. They may fall into the same category as the Ochocos- heavier duty than I need everyday, but a shoe with a purpose when I run long and on rocky terrain. As mentioned, I love the New Balance 810 if there aren't many rocks around.

Worst Shoe: Only shoe I've run in that I didn't like this year were the Merrell Pursuit Ventilators. Felt tight out of the box. I should've known.

Something I Never Thought I'd Do: So many things... Move to Charlotte to coach & teach. Run 60 miles. Run back to back long runs on a regular basis. Change my idea of a long run from 14 miles & up to "Eh, 4, 5, 6 hours or somethin'." Wear a Camelbak. Use hand-held waterbottles. I used to hate running with anything extra.

Race I Enjoyed Most Watching: West 4A XC Regional. Close second- 2 girls I coached in the Indoor State Meet 3200m, one 2 seconds from winning

Most Important Lesson Learned: Running for me this year has been all about freedom. I haven't worried about training, races, pace, etc., etc., and it's never been as fun. I've run more mileage than ever, done intervals with my team as hard as ever, and it's fallen into place, I just haven't planned it out and it's worked well. Not what I would suggest to my team or anyone else necessarily, but it's worked for me. The pressure to perform isn't there. I used to never run a race unless I thought I would PR. If I didn't, I'd pout about it for weeks. Now, I enjoy doing well, but the measure of that is a lot different than it used to be. My second best race of the year was a 10 miler in the mountains. I finished thinking, "WOW! I really ran as fast as I absolutely could. There wasn't a second where I could've pushed it harder. What a great feeling!" I have no clue what my time was. Didn't matter. In training, I used to plan 4-6 months in advance day-by-day. Now, if I feel like running 2 hours today, 3 hours tomorrow, and intervals with the team the next day, I will. If I feel like taking two days off & running 4 hours the third day, I'll do that.

Thing I'm Looking Forward to Most in 2008: Keep lovin' it. Run at least 90 in a 24 Hour Race. Of course that sets me up for an even 100 miler in 2009.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

8 Hours of MOUNTAIN Running

I enjoy a long training day much more than racing usually, but of course I like a change of scenery. I decided a couple of weeks ago that I'd take a solo trip to the mountains centered on running. I chose very difficult runs for my two running days- I didn't really know how runable either trail was.


December 27, I went to Linville Gorge, a deep gorge sometimes called, "The Grand Canyon of the East," with old-growth forests and a 50' waterfall. It's been 15 years since I've been there and when I was 18, I got lost in the dark with Tipa and camped who knows where (we shared a Walkman when we were sure we would be mauled by whatever we heard nearby!). I was a little nervous of that this time- or of getting hurt with no one to help me. People get lost for days every year in Linville Gorge. The trails aren't marked or blazed and some of the trails aren't maintained regularly. All of the trails are listed as "More Difficult," and "Most Difficult." I planned on starting on the west side of the gorge, going in on the easiest and shortest trail- Pine Gap Trail. It's only 0.7 mile and links up with the much longer Linville Gorge Trail, which travels the length of the gorge, hooking up with all of the other trails.

It rained the day before, but was clear & warm on the 27th. The trail was muddy with slippery rocks & roots. As I climbed (using my hands in places) further & further down, I wondered if I was on the right trail because it seemed a lot steeper than what I'd read. I ended up at the river & was almost certainly not on the right trail. I ran back up another trail and went out & back 20 minutes or so down three other trails. I ended up at the dirt road I parked on at a trailhead 1/2 mile from my car. I ran away from my car out & back for a total run of 2:50 with half of it on the dirt road. I had planned on runing 2-3 hours, so I was at the top end of that. The dirt road wasn't what I was looking for, but it is nice & narrow & through the woods. Good scenery, good run.

The highest elevation on the run was 4000' and total climb for the day was 2440'. Heartrate average 156. I was at 170-185 on most of the climbs. 50 degrees.


The next day was a lot different. The forecast for Beech Mt. was 50mph winds. At 800' higher elevation, Roan Mt. had to be higher than that. Add to that 2 inches of pouring rain- and at times, a little sleet & snow, extreme fog, sheets of ice covering the trail... it was a pretty miserable day, but I had a good time. It was the kind of day where I got all my clothes on in the car and waited for just the right moment to burst out of the car and start running, as if I'd dodge the rain somehow. I ended up wearing two jackets. According to the National Weather Service, 35 degrees + 60 mph winds = 17 degree wind chill. Being soaked in that, I don't know what that equals... death?

The plan was to run along the Appalachian Trail from Carvers Gap up to Roan High Knob, back down and over to Round Bald, Grassy Ridge Bald, etc. to Hwy. 19 and back. I was planning on running 4-6 hours. I knew I'd alter those plans, given the conditions, but I was kinda proud of myself for running through more than I could have. After the first long climb, I told myself I had to at least run 90 minutes. Then 2:00, 3:00, 4:00, and finally, I told myself, "By the time you run 5 hours, it'll almost be dark. That's a good stopping point." So I ran 5:04.

I ended up climbing Roan High Knob (34 degrees at the top) & going back over to Round Bald, Jane Bald and Grassy Ridge Bald. This was the absolute worst place to run in these conditions! You're running along a 5800' ridgeline with no trees to block the 50-60mph wind! The wind was incredibly tough. Horizontal rain/sleet stung my face so bad! I was almost blown down a few times. This section had 4" deep mud in places. I had to turn around, but ran an hour on the balds. The decision to get back in the cover of the woods was a wise one. I later went back up and over Roan High Knob, towards Hughes Gap, over Roan High Bluff on the Cloudland Trail, and along the road for a little while. I was never more than an hour from the car.

Highest point was 6285' with a total elevation gain of 4270', which is a lotta up & down. Average heartrate was 148. Couldn't quite push myself on those uphills to top out like I did the day before, but more than that, I was negotiating the ice & mud a lot more and my HR would go down to 110-120 for a minute or so. I didn't feel any worse at 5 hours than I did at 1 hour. I was a little sore from the day before (calves & achilles), but not bad. The day after, I barely feel like I ran.

My Gore-Tex Keen Ochoco shoes did a fantastic job on the rocks (most sections were very rocky) and in the rain, but nothing could keep my feet dry once the trail turned into a creek later in the day. Water was flowing down the trail ankle deep in a lot of places. My feet were dry for the first two hours. In the New Balance 810s I normally wear, I couldn't have run a rocky trail like this. Also no blisters. Thanks, Ochocos. You're ugly, but dry and protecting.

I took a picture right before I started running on the Appalachian Trail. I knew there was no way the rain would let up and I'd be able to use the camera. They say the balds are the best views on the entire 2000+ miles of the Appalachian Trail. I wouldn't know. I couldn't see more than 50 meters ahead of me.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


I ran the Outer Banks Marathon a month ago. Before that, I hadn't run more than 5 miles on the roads since my last marathon in February, and could probably count on both hands the number of times I'd even run 1 mile on roads since February... a few times at running camp, a couple of times with Wren in the stroller, and once at night. That's it.

Anyway, I didn't know what to expect. I'm not used to the even cadence of road running. Not used to the mind-numbing monotony of taking step after step that's exactly the same. A 3-4 hour run is routine for me- something I do once every week or two. ...but on trails. I can run all day on trails, but had the sense I might not be that fast on roads right now.

So, I ran the race and did lousy. The first 10 miles was fine. I ran through the half in what I wanted to, but the last half was so rough on my body. I've never experienced anything quite like that. The pounding of the road killed my legs- mainly my ankles, achilles, feet & shins. At 23 miles, I actually thought about dropping out because I was in so much pain- PAIN, not fatigue.

But, see, that was a month ago. "It's just a marathon." I should be able to bounce back from a marathon in 4 days or so. I shouldn't still have ankle & achilles issues now, should I?? I guess so.

I remember when I only ran on trails every once & awhile & how 10 minutes seemed like 30 minutes. More winded. Not used to the undulation, mental focus of the trail. I guess it's just what you're used to. I guess I learned a lesson at the Outer Banks Marathon, though. I've sworn off road marathons for at least a year.

I'm tinkering around with my 2008 race schedule. It's going to be ambitious. I don't usually race much, but I'm planning on doing 4-6 long races in 2008. 1-3 at the marathon/50K distance, one 50M/100K and one 100M/24 hour race- most likely Run For Africa 24 Hour Race in Black Mountain, NC.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Woolly Worm 10 Miler

Avery High School (Newland, NC) track to Lees-McRae (Banner Elk) track. 42 degrees at start.
2 miles downhill. 5 miles up a mountain. 2 miles down a mountain. 1 downhill-to-flat mile.
Kept my HR reasonable going up, but didn't feel like I was sandbagging. Not knowing the course, I had no idea if the first climb was 1/4 mile, 1 mile... had no idea it would be 5 miles! As I kept going up, I wondered if it would continue to climb all the way to Banner Elk. Was VERY happy to see it go back down when i did. I flew going down the last 3 miles & worked as hard as I could the whole race. Average HR for the race was 166 bpm. Felt good to give everything I had. Leaves & views were great. 720ft. of climbing in those 5 miles. Highest elevation was 4400 ft. Tough race! Legs killed me the rest of the day. 1:16:30- 7:38/mile if that means anything given the terrain.

Wren liked Woolly Worm Festival. Good weekend.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

60 Miles in 12 Hours

12 Hour Adventure Trail Race this past Saturday at Prince William Forest Park in VA. 6.62 mile loop you do as many times as you can. I'd wanted to get in 10 loops, but the course was much tougher than expected- scrambling over rocks, steep inclines, etc. Mostly trail with some gravel roads. I'm never a fan of the gravel.

My first 5 laps were almost exactly evenly paced- within 3 minutes. That made me happy. I intentionally eased up a bit for the next 2 & sandbagged on the 8th one just to get in before the cutoff to start my 9th one. Found out my 9th one didn't count because I didn't finish within 12 hours (12:35)! But I did get in right at 60 miles on a pretty tough course, feeling great, with no problems, even at a humid 88 degrees. Actually, my last lap was a minute faster than all the rest! I probably averaged 45 seconds of walking every mile, always in the same spots up hills or places that were unrunnable. My HRM has an altimeter & I climbed for nearly 6,000ft., which over 60 miles, is pretty hilly. I wore the HRM strap for my first 2 laps & I averaged 152 bpm, so I was working fairly hard. I felt like I was putting for 9:00/mile effort and hitting 12:00 miles or so b/c of the terrain. Took my time in aid stations too- fixing blisters, getting enough nutrition, etc.

Had they counted my last lap, I would've finished THIRD out of 36 people (a feat for a large old guy like me!). Instead, I was 10th with 8 laps.

In 26 years of running, doing marathons, Ironman races, high school miles, 50Ks, etc. this may have been my best race ever. Accomplished my goals & felt very strong finishing. I put in some ridiculous training, with 80+ miles/week on just 5-6 runs... 18 hard miles one afternoon with 30 the next morning- stuff like that. I have a road marathon in November. I'm not sure if the 40-50 long runs in the last 6 months will help me or if I'm in the slow & steady mindset now. I haven't run on a road in a long time.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Sauratown Trail is Hot Hot Hot!

Hannah (who I used to coach) & I were kind of dumb today. We ran the Sauratown Trail from Hanging Rock to Pilot Mountain. It's supposed to be 21.7 miles, but we got lost right off the bat and cut a little off later by going on a road instead of the trail. I guess we ran around 22 miles, but I'm not sure. My marathon ( 26.2 miles) PR is 3:22. We ran the 22 or so in 4:18!! I was DEFINITELY the slow one. Hannah had to wait on me quite a bit, but 22 miles on this trail are A LOT different than 26.2 on flat roads. Three factors for our/my slowness: 1) Condition of the trail; 2) I've had a respiratory infection for over a month!; 3) HEAT!

TRAILS- The trail is 94% on private lands, so it's a pretty neat concept. It's mainly designed for horses, but I'm not sure how you get horses on that trail. Really rocky, overgrown, not well-marked, etc. I was going faster on the flats than the downhills because of how rough it was. My legs were itchin' like crazy b/c of all the briars, poison ivy, etc. hanging over the trail. At times, we were wading through grass nearly up to our waists, saying, "Is this a trail?" My feet were the only thing that hurt. Pounding them into sharp rocks for over 4 hours will do that! The Sauratown Mts. are an eastern branch of the Appalachians. We ascended over 2400 ft., but there was only one tough climb for about a mile & honestly, we both thought it would be much worse.

SICK- I've been using a heartrate monitor every run for the past few weeks. I've noticed when I keep my HR under 155, I don't cough much, from 155-163, I cough more, and above 163, I cough like crazy. Feel like my lungs are filled with fluid. I was very cautious of this b/c once I start coughing, as Hannah says, "Game Over." From about 2:00-3:00, I did just that- coughed my head off and tried to walk quite a bit of the hills to control it. I'd run most of the way, but walk 5-10 steps every 3-4 minutes or so when we were in the hilliest part. There were a couple of times we walked longer sections, but that was later, due to the heat. The first third and the last third of the run, the coughing wasn't a factor.

HEAT- HOW COULD IT BE SO HOT??? It was 94 degrees when we finished. In the woods, it wasn't as bad, but there were a few stretches along roads with no shade. I drank about 120 ounces out there. That sounds like a lot, but it wasn't enough. I'm not sure how much Hannah had, but it was a little over 80 ounces, I think. An early sign of dehydration is hot skin. Mine felt like it was on fire after the first half. At most of the stream crossings, we splashed water all over ourselves. In the heat, more blood goes to the skin to cool your body off and less gets to the muscles & organs, which causes a drop in performance. The general rule of thumb is your performance drops :01/mile for every degree over 60 it is. At 94, that would be a :34/mile drop in performance. I'm not sure I need a formula to tell me I was slow!

A more serious sign of dehydration is a lack of sweating despite the heat & really hot skin. Around 2/3 of the way in I noticed our once soaked clothes were dry, our arms and hair were dry, and we just had a little sweat coming from our temples. I didn't mention it & I don't know if Hannah knew how dry she was. I started freaking out about water and around that time, we found a house with no one home & raided their spigot, pouring water on ourselves & guzzling tons of it. I would say either of us could've had heat exhaustion, which leads to heat stroke, which can lead to death. Lucky for us, we decided to get off the trail & run on the (HOT) road, where we found the house. If we had to wait 20-30 more minutes for water, we would've been really bad off. We had water drops every 4-5 miles and I carried 32 oz. with me on a belt- again, seems like a lot, but... We were lucky neither of us got the muscle cramping that goes along w/ dehydration. I've got to say it was a little scary to be out in the middle of nowhere not knowing what to expect and not having a way to stop, go home, find a convenience store, etc.

In the 90 minutes after we finished, I drank 56 ounces- almost 4 pounds (16 ounces of water = 1 pound of weight.). I didn't go to the bathroom from the time we finished until I went home, but I weighed myself as soon as I walked in. I was 6 pounds lighter than I was when I started this morning. Counting what I drank afterwards, that's really a 10 pound difference--- all water weight. That's not good at all. A 4% loss of body weight due to dehydration can cause serious damage to the body. Without saying how much I weigh, let's say 10 pounds is definitely over 4%.

OVERALL- Hannah had some leg problems, but was ready to go whenever I was. I waited on her only once all day. She waited on me 30 times, at least. My legs and everything were perfect, I was just held back by the coughing & the heat. It's frustrating to want to go, but just not being able to. I wonder how different our run would've been if I'd been well and the temp. had been around 45-50 degrees. 45-60 minutes faster, I'm sure. It was a good experience, but one we'll probably not do again! :) We had a good time, but I wouldn't recommend the trail unless you're looking for a true adventure.