Coach Spencer Runs in the Woods

Coach Spencer Runs in the Woods

Thursday, December 24, 2009

What Did I Get Myself Into?

Freedom Park New Year's 24 Hour Race is coming up. I'm scared. Here's a quick checklist:

1) Asphalt. Race director said you can run on the grass next to the path though. I bought the first pair of road shoes I've had in almost 3 years just for this race. I figure even if I'm running in the grass a lot of the time, a 10 oz. road shoe is better than a 12 oz trail shoe.

2) Seems like it's rained for 6 weeks straight + several inches of snow there that's melting + an inch of rain they're calling for tomorrow + RAIN DURING THE RACE will make running on the grass potentially worse than the asphalt.

3) 1 mile loop. I can handle a 1 mile loop in the woods or around a lake or something. This is all out in the open in a grassy park. I've been there before for XC meets so I knew what I was getting myself into. Something... I dunno... I just don't like running in the open. Feel like people are watching me. That's one of the reasons I don't run on the roads anymore & the few times I've done it to prep for this race, I've waited until dark. Good thing the days are short now.

4) Yesterday's forecast called for low of 25 with sleet. Today, it says low of 32 with rain on the 31st. Snow Dec. 30 & Jan. 1. I would much rather have 25 & sleet than 32 & rain. I just don't want it to be muddy. It's gonna be muddy. Not like trail muddy, but like soccer field muddy. Wet feet. Poor footing. There are 100 runners. Let's say half run 1' into the grass and let's say 50 miles is the average distance people go. That's 2,500 laps people are running, churning up the mud. I'm sure the forecast will change a lot in the next week. Either way, though, I think it's gonna be muddy, dangit.

5) Undertrained. I've gotten in few 2:00-2:30 runs in the past month, but nothing longer than that. With a good summer of training and a 90 mile race 3 months ago, I should be OK, right? Semi-OK? Good enough? As good as dead? I can't decide.

I thought injury, the heat & a boring 1.5 mile loop (turned out to be nice, not boring) was going to lead to a bad race at the Hinson Lake 24 Hour Run, but I was very pleased with my performance there, so maybe things will go well at Freedom Park! And, hey, I always love bad conditions, don't I?? I'm headed up to the mountains Dec. 26-29 and am looking forward to getting in a couple of runs with the YakTrax! Can't wait to see how terrible it is at Mount Mitchell Challenge this year. So, what's a little mud, right?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Snow Slush Mud. Greensboro Watershed Trails

Ran a pretty brisk 7 miles at 11 AM at practice today and then got in the car and drove to Greensboro to run with Hannah. We ran 11 miles on the Greensboro Watershed Trails around Lake Brandt. These trails are pretty flat and normally not that technical. Some roots, but nothing too tricky. The Owl's Roost section is the toughest, but not bad- just a lot of short, steep bumps. I forgot that they got a few inches of snow in Greensboro the other day when we got an inch of 34 degree rain (I swear the ground has been mush since before Thanksgiving!). What we ran through was an inch of snow on top of three inches of mud. Squish, squish, slide. Squish, squish, slide. Had a lot of fun and it was good seeing Hannah, but what would've normally been a pretty quick run turned into 2 hours of slogging through the muck. Made it a difficult run.

Got to go to my favorite restaurant in the world with Mr. John Rash too. Binh Minh Vietnamese Restaurant. v5 with tofu and extra vegetables. Yum.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Nice Runs Over Break

Nothing earthshattering, but I had some nice runs over the Thanksgiving break. Good to get back into the swing of things and enjoy some down time from school.

Wednesday- 1 hour at Beatty Park in Matthews with some WHS runners. We train here a few days a week over the summer but it's been a little while since I've been. Rooty as always and those roots were hidden under the leaf cover this time but no one fell.

Thursday- 1 hour at Fisher Farm Park in Davidson. This one was a new one to me. I was up at my parents for Thanksgiving & planned on running at North Meck Park but changed my mind the night before. I got a little lost before I understood the concept of these trails (Part of that was b/c I went backwards, apparently.). If you just follow green, you have a 2.8 mile loop or something like that. There are also blue and black spurs here & there, but it all comes back into the green... at least I think. There are a total of about 4 miles of trails here from what I gather. I went on all of them at least once. You go through woods & open fields. I kind of liked the open fields. Some of the trails in the woods were a little too tight to get much flow. Felt like they were trying to cram too much trail into small patches of woods. Then again, I guess the green trails were pretty easy to run. The black diamond had lots of little 6' dips and quick turns. Hadn't rained in 3 days but the trails were still a lot more muddy than Beatty the day before. I'm sure I'll go back to Fisher Farm Park since my parents live 4 miles from there, but this is not a destination trail. The fog & 45 degree temps of the morning were half the fun.

Friday- 1 hour on Smoketree Trail + gravel & paved roads, Beech Mountain. 25 degrees & 20-30 mph sustained winds with gusts over 50 mph! A little snow on the ground too. I can't describe how much I love the cold & miserable conditions. Wore tri shorts, tights, long sleeves, short sleeves, thin Brooks Infiniti jacket & toboggan. I was a little toasty under the jacket when climbing, but my ears & face stayed cold the whole time. Legs were perfect. I was a lot more cold watching Wren sled afterwards! I've done this loop a few times when I've been up here. It follows some abandoned dirt roads that have washed out. Rocky. Passes a couple of small waterfalls, which had icicles on them this time. When I was on this trail over the summer, I saw a bear scampering away from me. I think they were smarter than me this time & found a warm place to be.

Saturday- 2:10 on several trails & roads on Beech Mountain. I had planned on starting at 4900' where we stayed, but instead, got dropped off at 3400' and made my way up. Total climb of 2900'. Ugh. After injury and illness, I don't think I've run over an hour in the 2 months since the 24 hour race. 2:10 on rolling terrain would've been OK, but the fact that is was my longest run and by far the hardest, ugh... I really struggled, but got through it.

Sunday- Thought about running. Decided against it. Calves, achilles, sciatic nerve enjoyed the day off.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Freedom Park 24 Hour New Year's Race

After the problems I've had this fall, I'm not sure how smart it is, but I signed up for the Freedom Park 24 Hour New Year's Race put on by Brown Mountain Running Club in Morganton, NC. This race is on a 1 mile PAVED loop. Paved. I said I'd never run another paved marathon. I thought about running 6 hours of this race last year & asked the race director if I could run in the grass instead of the asphalt. He said OK. Hopefully that stands for this year too. Until this week, I didn't have a decent pair of road shoes & hadn't for over a year. I plan on doing more road running in the month leading up to the race. This really may not be a good idea. We'll see.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Brooks Inspire Daily Program

I was recently selected to be a part of Brooks' Inspire Daily Program. From their website:

Brooks I.D. stands for Inspire Daily. These two simple words guide the principles of the program. Brooks I.D. is made up of over 2,000 members who are active in their running communities and share a passion for the Brooks brand. They are runners who are winners in their own right: Winning their age divisions, accomplishing their personal goals, pushing their own limits, and, by extension, encouraging others to do the same. They are coaches, mentors, and leaders.

I've tried a number of shoes over the years. I've had more Brooks than any, but Saucony & New Balance would probably be the next two. I've had a few pairs of Adidas & Asics. 1 pair of Mizunos. 1 pair of Nikes in the mid 1980s. No Reeboks. Back in the 80s, I had some Turntecs, Converse (yes, they made running shoes), & Etonics. More recently, I've tried Montrails, ENDs & Inov-8s. I keep coming back to the Brooks though. From the Chariot of 1985 to the Hyperion of 2001 to the Cascadias I can't get enough of now, I've put a lot of miles in Brooks. They also happen to make the shorts (Sherpa II) I liked so much I bought 5 pairs of.

The ID program gives members a 40% discount and some free gear from time to time (some of which are new test models). I've never seen myself as a pitchman, but I'm glad to be a part of this program. Being loyal to the products I like isn't hard.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Good Hiker

Wren prides herself on being a good hiker. "The best in the world." We went to Crowders Mountain yesterday and climbed Kings Pinnacle. It's a 3.5 mile hike roundtrip and is listed as "strenuous." The Pinnacle Trail goes steadily up for about .75 mile, gets a little rolling for about .4 and then really turns upward to the summit. Wren did a great job and said she liked it better when it got steep. She loved jumping from rock to rock on the trail. It's a pretty rocky trail. Several people on the trail commented how well she did & that they were getting shown up by a 5 year old.

I hiked up with the family & then ran back down and up and down Crowders Mountain. It was my first hour long run in a month. Still coughing a lot when I run, but I'm a lot better. Today will be the 9th day I've run in a row. Mostly just 5-6 milers though.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Rough Period

I ran today for 45 minutes & thought I'd die! Before that, I'd run once in 16 days. I had bronchitis and the flu at the same time. Coughing & wheezing. The other day I ran made the coughing much worse. I think today's run was hard not only because it's been so long since I've run, but I'm also still having a lot of trouble breathing.

The team I coach has been wiped out by the flu. Unlike anything I've ever seen. The boys didn't make it to the state meet though they were ranked 7th in the state. The girls had even more cases of the flu (7 of top 8!) + injuries. We managed 4th in the state meet yesterday. Ready to get myself & the team well!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Love the Weather

People this time of year complain about the weather a lot. 52 or so when I went out the door this afternoon. Cloudy. Rained all week and looked like it wanted to today. Kinda breezy. If the weather was like it was today everyday, I'd be OK with it.

I also really enjoyed my run. 2 hours at ASC Greenway trails. Back pain wasn't too bad. Loved scooting along the roots, rocks & leaves. It was one of those dreary days where I felt like skipping the run but once I got out there it was one of the highlights of my week. Someone remind me those runs are always the best.

Low tonight is supposed to be 33. Wish I were in the mountains this past weekend. An early morning 33 degree would be nice, but I know I'm not getting up at 5 AM.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


I had some problems coming into the 90 miles I did at Hinson Lake. They didn't get worse there but didn't go away either. I haven't run a whole lot since then. 5 miles here & there. I ran 2 hours on the trails at Latta Plantation Sunday & didn't have much pain so I thought I was cured. When I got out of the car after the run I knew otherwise. Sciatic nerve got worse throughout the day. Spent Sunday afternoon & night horizontal. It was a little better Monday & today. Went to see Josh Kollman, a local Ironman chiropractor yesterday & will go back Wednesday. This problem's existed for about 4 years. It's usually just a nagging pain I can deal with, but flares up sometimes. I enjoyed Sunday's run more than usual because I hadn't run that much in 2 weeks. Getting bored. Want to be better.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

90 Miles at Hinson Lake

"Why would anyone want to run all day & all night around a 1.5 mile loop?" Those were my thoughts a couple of years ago when I heard about the Hinson Lake 24 Hour Race put on by the prolific Mangum Track Club. I really enjoyed it though. You hear that? It was actually fun. I never thought something that long would be fun. Rewarding yes, but not fun. Having done one 24 hour race, one 12 hour race, 12 hours of a 24 hour relay & numerous fixed distance ultras including a 100 miler, I really love the fixed time races. No pressure. If you do 30 miles, OK, great. If you do 130, OK, great. You're not a loser if you don't complete a certain distance.

I had few expectations coming into this one. I wanted to get in 70 at least. Some recent injuries made me back off that goal a little, so I really went in expecting to do... whatever. In a way, that's what made my race. Didn't psyche myself out.

I completed 90.0 miles. This was on some pre-existing sciatic nerve problems & foot issues that caused me not to run all week. I kept upping the bar throughout the race. Said I'd quit at marathon, 50K, 40 miles, 50, 60, 100K, 70 & then I was DONE at 75. Packed my stuff up and started walking to the car. Was talked into running 5 more miles. Then at 80, was told I was in 9th place. I had no intention of making the leader board so I had to defend that. At about 60 miles, I passed the guy who was in 10th place but then went to the car for a short rest & never actually made the leader board of top 10 at that time. Late in the race, I was doing some math in my head, predicting what the people behind me could do. I stopped at 23:20 with 90 miles when I knew I had 7th place locked up. There were over 200 starters.

Early in the race, dealing with pain, it was harder & harder to pass by the car every 1.5 miles! The course was an easy, smooth loop around a lake. A bit monotonous doing it so many times, but really a beautiful location. The first half of the loop was perfectly flat and the north side of the lake was gently rolling. Fans of Umstead would feel right at home.

I had just told someone I was doing 1 more lap at 30 to make it 50K. I waited at the aid station for my buddy Konrad to tell him I was leaving & run my last lap with him, but I ended up running the next 20 miles with him! He saved my race. During all of those miles, I felt like a pacer- like I wasn't really in the race- just getting him through it. I'd let him get ahead of me at the aid station & then run hard to catch up. I didn't realize he was getting me through the race. Konrad fell victim to the tent at 100K & didn't run anymore after that. When I saw his shoes outside his tent, I knew he was done for the night. Still, a solid effort. Getting my mind off of the pain with Big K was incredibly helpful. We got separated at 50 miles & I really felt great from 50-65. Best I felt all race. No one passed or lapped me this whole 15 mile section. I flew past people & they asked if I was the leader. Not quite. The leader (Jonathan Savage) ended up with a staggering 131.5 miles I believe. I walked one hill & the aid station each loop all day & stuck to that. I did walk a little more in the last 3-4 laps but not much & walked almost the whole last lap as sort of a "victory lap."

I could've gotten 100 in I'm sure. With a 1.5 mile loop, the tendency is to not carry anything with you & just use that aid station each time, but with 60 laps & spending 2:00 each time, it really adds up! That's 2 hours spend just in the aid station! Also, I laid down in the car 3 times for 15 minutes each time. That's a total of 3 hours of down time. I don't regret not getting in 100 at all though. I'd like to do this race again & next time, I'll bring a bottle & a gel or two with me so I can just stock up every 3-4 loops instead of stopping every 1.5 miles.

I met & ran 3 hours with race director Tom Gabell at a race last spring. He & his crew were great. Most of them were out there all 24 hours. Standard ultra fare was served. No gels. I didn't eat much & certainly didn't stick to any fueling plan. I brought a big bag of stuff but barely used it. I consumed less than 200 calories an hour & most of it was liquid. I'd say 50% of my calories for this race came from the Powerbar Endurance drink served on the course. 25% was from Mt. Dew, Coke & ginger ale. 15% was from solid food like salted potatoes & trail mix. 10% was from Gu Chomps & Roctane. Also had one thing of EAS protein drink. Most people would say that's not enough & not the right types of food, but it worked for me.

High of 81 & low of 66. Warm for my tastes. Most of the course is in the shade but I packed a hat with ice during the day. A lot of people had issues with the heat. I really enjoyed the night hours because it was cooler & just fun. The race cleared out quickly when it got dark. Many quit for good & others came back after the sun came back up for a few more laps.

Feel sore & a little groggy now, but much better than after Rocky Raccoon. I spent the whole day in a dark hotel room barely able get across the room to make it to the bathroom then.

What's next on the agenda? I haven't looked much past this race. It was a good one! Click here for a video of the race. It's not great, but it's all I filmed.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Hinson Lake 24 Hour Preview

Coworker: Are you pumped??!
Me: No.
Coworker: Why? Shouldn't your adrenaline be flowing? Isn't it good to get a little nervous.
Me: No. Adrenaline might be good if I were racing 800 meters, but 24 hours of adrenaline doesn't work.
Coworker: But aren't you excited?
Me: Trying not to be.
Coworker: You don't make any sense. I still don't understand why you do this stuff.
Me: Cause.

I'm running the Hinson Lake 24 Hour Race Saturday & Sunday. I put a lot of pressure on myself in my 100 mile race this year, but this time, I'm just getting in what I can get in. You never know what can happen, but 50-60 miles is in the bag, barring injury or illness. I'll be satisfied with anything over 70 miles. 100 would be very nice.

My training hasn't been anything like it was leading up to the 100 miler in February. That's not necessarily a bad thing. I developed some problems due to overtraining in December. This summer, my training has been OK, but few really long runs. I did run 12 hours at night 6 weeks ago & felt fine. Ran a marathon 4 weeks ago. Not much over 2-3 hours besides that. I think I'll be fine though.

I've had some foot issues this summer. Haven't made much of it & it really doesn't bother me while running, but I've had some plantar fasciitis and pain on the side/top of my foot which may or may not be connected to the PF. Also have a stone bruise that hurts a lot when I'm barefoot or step on a rock. All of this is on the same foot. That said, I don't think it'll effect my run this weekend... that may be a dumb thing to say.

I've never been to Hinson Lake, but it's a 1.52 mile loop you do all day & night. Sounds exciting, right? Pictures are actually nice- you run around a lake the whole time. Looks like a relatively flat, wide, smooth dirt trail. Not my favorite type of running, but it'll be good for getting the maxiumum number of miles possible. Sue Norwood posted a lot of good photos & a race report from 2008's race. Click 2008 on the left.

Supposed to be around 83 degrees for the high & 60 for the low. I don't do well in the heat, so I may take it a little easier between noon & 6 PM on day 1. I tested out a new (to me) product to help me out in the heat- Liquid Endurance. Always thought about using it when I did triathlons but never did. It's main ingredient is glycerol which helps you absorb liquid prior to the race (3 day pre-race loading process). Theory is you have more to sweat out this way. It also helps metabolize fat. I'm also planning on trying some different methods of staying cool like ice under a hat & an ice-filled bandana.

Maybe I should be nervous, but I'm not. Just going out for a very long run & we'll see how it goes.

(after a XC meet this weekend)
Me: Next week at this time, I'll be getting kinda tired.
Girl on my team: Which one will be more fun for you, eating lunch with us now or running that race all day & night?
Me: Fun?? At the time I'm doing each of them, I'm sure lunch will be more fun, but this lunch won't be a highlight of my year & possibly more. This sandwich isn't exactly character-building.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Saturday, August 29, 2009

73 Miles of Appalachian Trail Video

Finally, what you've all been waiting for- my film making debut. if having a blog isn't self-important, now I'm making movies of myself. :)

Click here for the 9 minute video of the trip.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Wild Hare Marathon

Ran the Wild Hare Marathon today. Low key free event put on by Brown Mountain Running Club. Minimal support, but enough to get you through & not lost. This is the same (new) course as the Ridge to Bridge Marathon and it goes from Jonas Ridge to... I don't know. Sort of near Morganton? There's nearly a 3,000' of elevation drop which sounds easy but it wasn't as easy as I expected. The first 6 miles were on asphalt & rolling terrain. That's the only asphalt. The rest was on gravel roads through Pisgah National Forest. After the rolling 6 miles, you drop most of the 3,000' in the next 9 miles. There are a couple of decent sized uphills in there too, but for the most part, you're just descending. A little rough on the quads, knees, hips & back, but didn't feel like work. At mile 15, there's an abrupt change, as is flattens out and you come out of the woods & onto a different road. From there, it rolls gently for another 6 miles and the last 5 miles is mostly a gentle downhill.

I thought I'd be about 3:35. I finished in 3:49 after taking about 10 minutes to "check out the woods" a record 5 times. Without that, I would've been 3:39. Around miles 15-20, I didn't work as hard as I could've because I knew my time was shot. Had I not been in the woods, I may have pushed it in these miles & hit 3:35. If, if, if. Excuses, excuses, excuses. I felt fine. Enjoyed myself. Ran every step. No leg, blister or fatigue problems. Good experience. Had a good time going up there with Kevin & Brad who also ran.

Worst part is I sort of realized I'll never see the other side of 3:30 again unless I make some big changes. If I can't do it on a course like that...

Next stop, Hinson Lake 24 Hour Race Sept. 19-20. No concrete goals. Somewhere between 70-100 miles would be nice. More excited about the start of Cross Country season. First meet is Tuesday.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Rotten Recovery

I am amazed everything felt fine during the 50 mile night run this week. I wouldn't say I felt great, but not to have the hint of a problem for 9 hours is fantastic. The days since then haven't been so good though. I haven't been sore at all. Strange. Had other problems though.

24 hours after the run, I spent the night throwing up. Not sure why. Spent most of yesterday in bed. I ate a cup of rice & 1/2 can of beans at 3 PM & a decent dinner, but that's all I felt like eating all day. Today, I woke up at 6:30 AM & had a Powerbar before practice. Ran 2 loops of the 5K XC course at Wingate University & picked it up the last 2 miles. Afterwards, I mowed my parents' grass & then came home & mowed my own. Hot today. By 3:30 PM, all I'd had to eat all day was that Powerbar. I did drink a lot. I was making something to eat & ended up on the kitchen floor. Jennifer said I was leaning on the counter mumbling & she lowered me to the ground. I think I was only passed out or whatever for a minute, but I was very much out of it for 20 minutes & fuzzy for 30 minutes after that. From 5 PM on, things have been OK & I ate like a normal person.

I always stress taking care of your body & the importance of recovery to my athletes, but I guess I should take my own advice. Crummy last 2 days. Yesterday was my birthday too. :(

Friday, August 7, 2009

Running All Night

The night before last, I ran from 9 PM-6 AM. Not a race, just a solo training "fun run." There were a couple of notable things about this uneventful event. 1) I ran the whole way. Because it was easy terrain, there was no excuse to walk and I realized about 7 hours into it, I hadn't walked any. I got in somewhere around 50 miles in 9 hours because of the easy terrain & I kept running; 2) I ran at school and had planned on doing the 3 mile loop over & over again. A midnight storm & downpour flooded the trails so I had to run on asphalt the rest of the night. Usually kills me, but I was OK; 3) I'm not sore. At all. It's weird. No blisters. Nothing. Legs are absolutely fine.

I didn't run at practice 2 hours after finishing, but I could have. I would have run the 14 miles they're doing today, but was up all night with a stomach virus. Yuck. It's a nice birthday present. Today's the big 3-6.

Good Summer

I haven't taken any big trips over the summer, but I think I've done more running in the mountains than at home, which is nice. I've had a lot of 3-4 day weekend trips over the summer and have really had a good time. With the school year & Cross Country season approaching, I've been thinking about all I've been able to cram into these past 2 months. Pictures from last weekend's run at Julian Price Park off the Blue Ridge Parkway, near Blowing Rock, NC.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Wow- Caesars Head

On the way back from running camp in Brevard, NC, I decided to go 12 miles out of my way to get in a nice longer run. I'd heard about Caesars Head State Park & seen pictures, but hadn't really investigated the trail maps or anything. Never heard of anyone going there, so it was a mystery. Turns out, Caesars Head & the adjoining Jones Gap State Park have some of the best trails, waterfalls & overlooks around! Who knew?

I showed up at the Visitors Center & talked to the friendly rangers who seemed genuinely interested in my running. They warned me, "The trails are kinda gnarly," but they weren't that bad. I ran most of the trails on the east side and went back & forth over creeks and along the scenic Middle Saluda River. Saw Jones Gap Falls, which is about 50' tall and though outstanding, is supposed to be the least spectacular of the several waterfalls in the two adjoining parks. The 5 mile (one way) Jones Gap Trail was the least technical of the trails I ran, but it still had its share of rocks & roots. Seemed like an old logging road. The other trails were more narrow & technical.

I gave myself 2.5 hours Saturday because I wanted to go home after a week of being away from the family, but next time I go, I'll plan on getting out to most of the trails in the park which would be a solid 5-6 hours most likely. I can't think of any trails 2 hours from home I like more than what I saw here!

About 10 years ago, I started getting into photography & spent a good deal of time in the woods taking pictures. Waterfalls were my favorite subjects. It disappoints me that I can only carry a tiny, basic point & shoot camera when I run. Every time I'm out somewhere new, I want to spend an hour or two taking pictures. Of course, if the equipment were lighter & smaller, that would severely alter my running routine!

Brevard Running Camp

Had fun week with 22 of my runners at Brevard Distance Runners Camp. Ran 77 miles for the week (including a longer one Saturday morning) & the runs were much prettier than last year. All of the runs are in DuPont State Forest & Pisgah National Forest. The ones in DuPont are mostly wider double track & rough fire roads, while the Pisgah ones are single track.

The run up Art Loeb & down through North Slope Trail was the longest & hardest. Only about 10% of the girls in the camp attempt it & some have to cut it short. I'm happy to say 8 of ours did it & were strong doing it. This run was about :50 up & :35 down for me. As much as the camp makes this run out to sound suicidal, it's actually one of the more moderate sections of the Art Loeb Trail, which goes over 30 miles & from an elevation of just over 2000' to over 6000'. We were on the low end.

We do an early morning run the last full day of the camp up to John Rock, which has the best view of the week, over to Looking Glass Rock. The fog was rolling through when we were there, so you had really beautiful views one second & it was completely white the next.

One of my favorite runs of the week was Cedar Rock in DuPont Forest, where you're out running on the rock face for a mile or so.

I had to struggle to keep up with my top girls this week, but that's not a bad thing, as long as it's them getting faster & not me getting slower. I actually ran the runs a little faster than 2 years ago (We didn't run many of these last year.). This was a great experience for our team & a way to build momentum for the coming Cross Country season.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

I can actually run run.

Lately, because I only run on trails, I've thought maybe I can only run on trails. I've run on some hard trails lately and I've had to walk & wondered if I could even really run run. You know like miles and miles without stopping. I told someone the other day I'd be scared to run a 10K for time and I'm scared to see what my flat road marathon time would be. As silly as it sounds, I just haven't done that in a long time. I'm at the beach with the in-laws and decided to go out at 5 AM this morning and run 18 miles. Ran 7:45 pace, which is rolling right along for me. I picked it up and ran 7:00 or better the last 2 miles. It was very easy. Could've gone much longer & could've gone faster. I've run 3 runs of 2 hours or longer this week. The 18 miles is more than I've run on the road in the past 18 months combined. I guess it feels good to be able to run like a normal person. People have been accusing me of being more Man. vs. Wild than runner lately. Good to maintain a balance. Actually I prefer Survivorman. Man vs. Wild is fake. :)

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Kings & Crowders

I've run at Crowders Mountain State Park 3 times & each time, it's been 90 degrees or more. I felt good after the 3 hour run the day before & I've wanted to go up Kings Mountain & Crowders, so I did that on my way home yesterday. These mountains are rocky remnants of an old mountain range... and I do mean rocky. Solid rocky outcrops on top, but loose stuff going up.

I'd never gone up Kings Mountain before & told myself as short as it was, I'd run all the way. Nope. Things were going well until I hit the really steep part about 1/2 mile from the top. Dang. The Kings Mountain loop using the Pinnacle & Turnback Trail took me about 40 minutes plus 10 at the top to look around. Great views from the top of these mountains, as they stick out 800' above everything around them. Very similar to Hanging Rock & Pilot Mountain above Winston-Salem. From the Visitors Center where I parked, there are two ways up to the top of Crowders Mountain. One is up a steep gravel road and then 250+ stairs. That's the easier way. The harder way, which I did is scrambling up rock & then over a ridgeline & back down the stairs. You kinda lose control going down the gravel road before turning left on a rocky, rolling trail back to the Visitors Center. The Crowders Mountain loop is about an hour, so I was out close to 2 hours & felt good, but was humbled to absolutely have to walk in places.

What excited me most is confirming what I thought to be true. Near the peak of Kings Mountain, the Ridgeline Trail comes off to the left & goes into South Carolina to Kings Mountain State Park & Kings Mountain National Military Park. This is a 6.2 mile trail & the loop around the South Carolina parks is 16 miles, making that a great place for a long run. For some reason, the Ridgeline Trail is not on the maps any of the 3 parks provides. Parking at the Visitors Center at Crowders & cutting out the big climbs at Crowders & Kings, you could have yourself a nice 50K. There is a 50K- or actually a 60K there, but retracing that course as a training run with it's climbs to the peaks would require too much walking for me. When it cools off this fall, I'll head over there.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

North to Damascus- Hooray!

I kind of feel like I'm back from the dead! Nice, enjoyable long (but not too long) run today with very little rib pain!

To review, exactly 2 weeks ago, I fell & cracked a rib on the Appalachian Trail in Georgia. I continued running 71 miles over the next 3 days. When I got home, it got worse. Exactly 1 week ago, I was in the Emergency Room & thought there was an outside chance I would die from a blood clot, which the Urgent Care doctor told me I had before rushing me to the ER. After injecting me with morphine, doing more blood tests & giving me a CT Scan, they ruled out the blood clot but said my lung was crushed a little in the fall & fluid was seeping in where it shouldn't. They gave me ibuprofen, which I'd already been taking, but for some reason, I feel remarkably better the next day. Coincidence. I ran 7 miles 2 days after the hospital which hurt & got in a couple more 7-9 milers with mild pain. I had to walk a couple of times two of the days.

Hannah was supposed to run with me this weekend, but I haven't been in contact with her much between her Outward Bound trip to New Zealand and working at a camp. I found out on my way up to the mountains I'd be going alone due to another committment she had. It's just as well anyway. She's so much faster than me when I'm 100%. With busted ribs, who knows how much I'd hold her back?

The section of Appalachian Trail from 421 near Shady Valley, TN to Damascus, VA is 15.0 miles- about 15.5 from where I stopped and looks easy on paper. The elevation starts at around 3300', goes up to about 3950' and does some gradual ups & downs, but dumps you out in Damascus at 1950'. Sue Norwood's report of this section says not only is the elevation easy- the trail surface is very runnable too. Still, every time I think I'm in for an easy day on the AT, it always turns out harder than I thought. "How in the world could they fit any more rocks on this stupid trail?!" I've been known to say late in a run. Or, "Do we have to go up every single mountain from here to Maine?!" I've been on several "easy" downhills that are just covered with jagged rocks or strewn with huge boulders you have to use your hands to climb down.

I was pleasantly surprised today though! The section was by far the easiest section of AT I've ever done. The hardest climbs were only 300-500', there weren't many of them & they were gradual. No need for switchbacks- just long stretches of straight runnable trail. I could've run 100% of this section, but not knowing it, I left some in the tank. I still ran maybe 93%. Told Jennifer it would take me 4-5 hours to run the 15.5 miles. Turns out, I finished in 3:07. No need for water fill-ups. Took a couple of pictures, but besides that, no stops. The trail went along ridgelines for the most part, so if there were no leaves on the trees, you'd probably have nice views to the left & right almost the whole way.

Best of all, I experienced almost NO pain! Having a huge bruise on my arm from the IV last weekend is a reminder of what I could've been facing. There for a little bit, I thought at best, I was looking at 2-3 days in the hospital, blood thinning medication, no activity for 3 weeks... something like that. Or is a blood clot something they operate for? I didn't know. Knowing that I'm back & able to do what I want to do is unbelievably encouraging. Now, I know, running mostly downhill isn't too hard. :) But still, I was out there over 3 hours with almost no pain.

Is this a good idea with the lung problem? I dunno. I think it's OK. The ER doctor has done triathlons & was a little evasive when I asked her about running. She said I could run as long as it felt OK. I'm going for a follow-up visit in a few days.

Grinning from ear to ear that I'm back to running!

Monday, June 22, 2009


I spent most of Father's Day in the hospital. The rib pain from falling last week has migrated and gotten worse. Because it's near my heart & lungs, I thought it best to get it checked out. After 3 hours of tests, the Urgent Care Center said I had a blood clot & rushed me to the Emergency Room. They did more tests, including a CT Scan & said it wasn't a blood clot, but I had Pleural Effusion. When I fell, it crushed the lung a little, causing it to fill with fluid. If it gets worse, they may have to drain it. It could also lead to pneumonia.

Whole lot better than a blood clot. I envisioned having to be hospitalized for days, on medication & unable to run all summer.

So, today, I promised everyone I'd do nothing (one of the perks of a teacher's summer), but I plan on resuming regular running tomorrow if the pain's not bad. Every day has been worse than the next though, until today. Feels much better today.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

73 Miles of Appalachian Trail in 3 Days

OK, now for the proper report.

I made it around 73 miles on the Appalachian Trail in 3 days- 71 of which were with a fractured rib. My goal was 110 miles in 4 days, but I'm OK with what transpired.

There are 2 main ways to the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail in Georgia- a 8.8 mile approach trail or USFS Road 42. Doing it the second way, you drive a rough gravel road that isn't marked very well for 30-45 minutes & then end up in a parking lot 1 mile north of the top of Springer Mountain. This is what I did & Jennifer dropped me off at 10 AM- a little bit of a late start as I knew I had 29 miles ahead of me. The Georgia section of the AT is considered to be the hardest state besides Maine & New Hampshire, with Vermont, Tennessee & North Carolina closely following. Most of the trail in Georgia hovers around the 3,500' mark. There are lots of ups & downs & the trail is relatively rocky (I've yet to run on a section of the AT that isn't!).

I ran/hiked to the top of Springer Mountain and came back down the rocky section of trail. The top wasn't what I expected after seeing pictures. There's just a small rocky outcrop, a plaque & a pretty good view off to the west. Certainly not as grandiose as you might think. I would imagine a southbound thru-hiker would almost want something more. I don't get that impression from the northernmost point in Maine, Mt. Katahdin.

I passed the parking lot and wondered why I hadn't just left my pack in the parking lot while I went out & back. 50 meters after passing the parking lot- 2 miles into my 4 day trip, I fell and fractured a rib. It was a fall I would easily regain balance on if I didn't have the pack, but with it, I landed flat on my chest. At that point, I considered calling Jennifer to come pick me up, but how could I bail out just 30 minutes into a 4 day trip?! "Maybe it'll be OK," I thought & continued on. "If it's really bad, I can call from Woody Gap (20 miles into the trail) or Neels Gap (30 miles into it- and right at the beginning of Day 2)."

I really enjoyed the first few miles through the hemlock groves along the streams of the Stover Creek/Three Forks area. Though it was a lowland area with no views or anything, it was one of my favorite sections of trail. Some of the hemlocks & some poplars later on seemed like they could be old growth, but I would imagine this area was cut extensively in the early 20th century.

Things went well for the first 5-6 hours and were relatively uneventful. I was making good time, getting through the pain of the rib and enjoying myself. I passed a group of day hikers every 45 minutes or so. The first real view I came to was Ramrock Mountain & soon after it, Big Cedar Mountain which was wonderful. I had to climb several mountains the first day- Springer, Hawk, Sassafrass, Justus, Ramrock, Big Cedar, Burnett Field & part of Blood. On paper & objectively, Day 1 was the hardest, but Day 2 felt worse. My watch has an altimeter on it & tells me I climbed over 21,000' this first day. It's been know to be off, but it's usually very close. That sounds like a brutal day, but it wasn't until late in the day that I faded, the rib hurt more & I wanted to be done.

I pulled into Slaughter Creek Campsite on the side of Blood Mountain at 8:30 PM, so I was out for nearly 11 hours including breaks to treat water, take pictures, talk to people, etc. There were 3 guys at the campsite & I was glad. There have been routine reports of bear activity on Blood Mountain and to the north. There was a bear at the shelter on top of the mountain (1/2 mile from where we were) the night before & one at our campsite two nights before. Having other people there was comforting. They didn't believe I'd come as far as I said I did in one day, which was a common response I got from people. "No, but where'd you stay last night?" These guys really thought I was lying when I told them I'd come all the way from Springer Mountain that morning. Counting having to go back to get something that fell off my pack and short side trips for water, I went about 29.5 miles the first day. I met a woman the first day who was only able to cover about 3-4 miles a day and was planning on getting to the Smokies. I don't even want to do the math to find out how many weeks that would take.

I regret getting to camp so late. I rushed to get my tent up, down a Clif Bar and protein shake, hang my bear bag & go to bed. Sleeping didn't really happen because of my rib and because I was just waiting to get mauled by a bear! I slept a total of 90 minutes probably & during that time, I was awoken by a crash. I yelled out, "Hey! Hey!" and heard several more loud crashes down the mountain. I'm 90% sure it was a bear & would say it was 200' from me. I've already seen two bears this year & they both ran away quickly. Black bears aren't a huge risk in most situations. They're not out to get you, but they will certainly steal your food & defend themselves when they feel threatened.

I was very happy that the rib was tolerable the second morning. I got up, took a long time to pack up & was on the trail at 9:00 AM. The climb up Blood Mountain wasn't bad and the views at the top were spectacular. I spent 20 minutes looking around at the top & had the whole mountain to myself before coming down into Neels Gap. The only store I'd see all trip is right there on the trail. It's an outfitter called Mountain Crossings & I bought some food & mailed my stove, fuel & pot home, deciding I could get by on Clif Bars & protein shakes for dinner. I enjoyed a Cherry Coke & Corn Nuts at the store, talked to some people & was on my way. I was scolded a little by an older guy who I think worked there.

Him: Did I hear you say you went all the way to Blood Mountain on the first day?
Me: Yeah, it was a long day.
Him: Why would you do that? That's too much like a job.
Me: Eh, that's what I do. I run these crazy long races & wanted to see this part of the trail. I only have a few days, so why not pack in as much as I can?
Him: These mountains are sacred. You should enjoy them, not push through them.
Me: Well, I am enjoying them. Instead of just seeing one or two mountains yesterday, I got to see 8 or 9. This is enjoyable to me.
Him: It's like a job. Relax and respect the mountains or you'll get hurt.
Me: Actually, I did get hurt yesterday...
Him: See! Everyone I've heard of who tries to push through gets hurt. That's the mountains way of slowing you down.

I mean I see his point, I guess. This isn't a race and I maybe I shouldn't be as rigid as I was with the planning. When I asked most people how far they were going for the day, they'd say, "As far as I feel like," or, "Until I get tired," or "Until it gets dark." I didn't feel like I was racing the clock, but I did feel like I was racing the sun & trying to get to my predetermined destination at all costs. Maybe I could stand to relax a little. But this trip absolutely was enjoyable to me. No one can tell you what pace is enjoyable for you.

I left the store with a new supply of Clif Bloks and Gu and was ready to go. I was cruisin' along just fine over Levelland Mountain, Cowrock Mountain... & then hit Wildcat Mountain. I'd never heard anything about this mountain and I don't know if it just happened to be situated where I was going to lose it that day or not, but I hit that thing like a brick wall! It's a short, incredibly steep climb I wasn't expecting. I was prepared for Blood Mountain, Tray Mountain, and some others to be tough, but this little 400' climb killed me! After a steep descent, the trail leveled off a little and went steadily downhill to Low Gap, where I met two young guys from Alabama that had come to the AT after 250 miles on the Pinhoti Trail in Alabama. They said they had no backpacking experience & were planning on doing a thru-hike. They'd have to flip it- hike north, then go to Maine before it got too cold & hike south to the point they left off at. I joked about how ambitious they were that they needed an extra 250 mile warm-up.

I got water again at Blue Mountain Shelter & felt fair. Then, I dunno... I completely fell apart all of the sudden. 2 minutes after filling up with someone & telling him about my trip, I was on the phone home telling Jennifer there was no way I could make it. I had to go 27 miles today I wasn't going to make it even after leaving at 9 AM. I couldn't make 27 miles in 12 hours. What was I doing out there slogging through this pain? Why did I think this was possible when I couldn't even lift my left arm over my head or pick up my 14 pound pack with my left hand? I called my mom next who was supposed to pick me up on Wednesday & asked that she come on Tuesday instead. She tried talking me into camping at Unicoi Gap (2 miles away) & getting picked up there in the morning. I didn't tell her, but I considered hitchhiking from there & sleeping in a motel in the nearby town and assessing the next 2 days then. I told her I was going 4 more miles in the next 90 minutes before nightfall & camping at the top of Rocky Mountain. We arranged for me to be picked up at Dick's Creek Gap the next day after a 15.5 mile run/hike (which turned into 17.5). Up until I called home, I was able to jog the downhills and easier uphills and walk the steep stuff. Those 4 miles took forever though. I ran little. I was done. With this rib pain- every step- every inhale hurt. It had for 2 full days. I couldn't sleep. The pain was right at my sternum strap on my pack so that made things worse. And running at that point didn't seem like something I was able to do. I felt pretty pitiful. To top it all off, the last climb of the day was a quad-busting 1100' climb up Rocky Mountain. I almost cried when I came to what I thought was the nice water source someone had told me about. It was a mud slick with no water flowing at all. I was empty and had to spend the night on this mountain with no water... and I wouldn't have it for the first 4 miles the next day. Then, 1/4 mile up the trail was a nice creek! Whew! Saved!

I arrived at the top of an empty Rocky Mountain by the light of my headlamp. "Hello?!!" "Anyone here??!!!" I yelled. No reply. Just then, my headlamp crapped out. I could get it to work for 3 seconds at a time and then it would go off. So I put my tent up, got some food, and all that in the dark. I didn't waste any time, but didn't get to bed until 10:15 PM. I listened to my ipod until 1 AM and then slept pretty well from 2 AM-7AM.

I felt great the morning of the 3rd day! Spirits were up, running was easier. Pain wasn't as bad. Much of that, I think was that I knew today was a shorter day & the last day. I kind of regretted making the call now! I thought I could make it, but then again, what really kept me going was knowing I didn't have to sleep on the ground with a broken rib that night. That I could have a drink with ice in it. That I wouldn't have to have a pack jostling all day on that rib...

Day 3 wasn't bad at all. I flew up Tray Mountain. Killed it. I passed a group of 15 Boy Scouts strewn across the mountain, many of them doubled over and getting out of my way. Tray Mountain is a long climb, but it's relatively gradual until the last 3/4 mile when it kicks upward. On paper, it might be the toughest climb I did, but I felt the best on it.

Another thing that made Day 3 feel better was knowing I could eat more since there would be no Day 4 but I had food for it. I was really only eating 100-150 calories an hour while I was running, which isn't enough.

Overall, Day 3 went downhill more than uphill, but there were some good climbs too. I felt good for 4 hours and not so great for the last 2. I got a little lost at Indian Grave Gap and the water in this section is way off the trail, so I ended up going about 17.5 miles. Two miles from the end at Dick's Creek Gap, I was shuffling along as I had the last 2 hours (Had to think, "Now is this a run or a walk? I have both feet off the ground at once, so it's a run."), when I came 1 step away from a timber rattlesnake. It wasn't in the trail, but right before I stepped down, it thrust itself a foot or so & started rattling like crazy! I jumped back quick & didn't give much thought about bypassing it through the poison ivy thicket on each side of the trail. The day before, I came close to stepping on a coiled rattlesnake that just looked at me. Had to crawl through the briars to get around it.

I was happy to see my parents & get picked up when I did. I honestly believe I could've made it another day for a total of about 95, but I'll take my 73 in 3 days and knowing I could go home to heal up. In actuality, the 2 days I spend laying around the house after coming home hurt the worst! Maybe I just got through it on the trail because I knew I had to. I didn't complete as much of the trail as I wanted to, but I'm happy about what I did accomplish and doing so through adversity. More than that was that I got to see a lot of great stuff- mountains, views, 2 rattlesnakes, family of turkeys, chipmunks, wildflowers, etc., etc. I wish I'd been able to meet more people, but I was on the go too much. Most people that run the trail just take what they need for the run & get picked up at night or have someone meeting them at every road crossing giving them water & food. Carrying the pack made it different. I wasn't used to it & wouldn't have been so ambitious had I known how 14 pounds on your back would feel. 15-20 miles/day would've been challenging, but manageable and allowed me to have some downtime each night. How much did I run? I dunno. It's hard to say since it changed throughout each day. I ran a lot on day 1 & early on day 3. I'd say altogether, probably 40-50%, I ran. I'd planned on more than that, but I was just happy to get through what I did in the shape I was in.

I'm supposed to run on the AT (or some other long adventure run- we never set the details) with Hannah in 10 days. I haven't run in the past 3 days, but I think I'll be OK. I'll test it out tomorrow. I'd like to go back once more this summer and do 20-25 miles.

The single biggest question I got from people on the trail was, "HOW MUCH DOES YOUR PACK WEIGH? IT'S TINY!" I had hoped it would be a little lighter, but it ended up at 14 pounds at the heaviest with water and food. I almost left my 2/3 length Thermarest pad at home because I thought it was too bulky. If I were sleeping directly on the ground, I can't imagine the pain! Here's what I had out there:
REI Jet UL pack- I think it's right at 13 oz. & 1850 cu in.
Deuter Dreamlite 500 sleeping bag- 13 oz. Packs down to the size of a Nalgene bottle. Never really used it except as padding under my rib. Would need something more in other seasons, but lows were around 60.
Eureka Solitaire tent- 2.5 lbs or so. I could've saved some weight on this sleeping in shelters or under a tarp, but I didn't want stuff crawling on me.
1 set of running clothes (P.U.! Smelly.)
1 set of sleeping clothes
1 set of Patagonia capilene long sleeves in case it got cold at night. I wore the shirt to sleep in part of one night & used the bottom as a pillow.
1 rain jacket- never used
Small first aid kit
ipod Nano- seemed frivolous, but I listened to it both nights & it's tiny, so...
Tiny still camera
Tiny Flip video camera- just got it. Will post videos one day.
Laminated list of landmarks & distances between them
That's about all that was in my pack.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

110, 73... Eh, what's the difference?

Just got back from my 4 day Appalachian Trail trip a day early. More details, pictures & even video to follow. Briefly, here's what happened...

Day 1: Got dropped off 1 mile below Springer Mountain, ran up & when I got back to the parking lot, I tripped (Maintaining balance is hard with the pack- even if it was just 14 pounds. A normal trip that you can recover from leaves you on the ground with the pack on.) and fell right on my chest. CRACKED RIB. 2 miles into my 110 mile trip! I felt it- even heard it crunch. I could've called Jennifer then & told her to come pick me up, but I kept going. With side trips to get water & going back to find something that fell out of my pack, I ran/hiked about 29.5 miles the first day. Camped just below Blood Mountain where there has been frequent bear activity lately. Only got about 90 minutes of sleep because of rib pain. Scared a bear off in the night.

Day 2: Started out OK, but every step hurt my rib. Running made it worse & the worst part was that the busted rib is right at the sternum strap of my pack. 6 hours into it, I faded, but ended up taking 6 more hours! 26 miles in 12 hours! Granted 2 hours of that was treating water, hanging out at the Neels Gap store, talking to people, etc., but still. I called my mom at mile 22 and asked her to pick me up a day early. I didn't think I could make it a 4th day. Got to the top of Rocky Mountain after dark and camped by myself. A nice 1,100' climb when it's dark & you're miserable is a great end to a day!

Day 3: Started out feeling great! Rib hurt, but felt energized. Believe it or not, my muscles never hurt. Knees, calves, achilles... everything fine. With getting lost & long trips for water, I ended up with 17.5 miles at Dick's Creek Gap for a total of 73 miles for the trip. Besides the shorter distance, today was the easiest day with significant climbs at Tray Mountain, Kelly Ridge & a few others, but a lot of downhill too. Also some of the only flat I saw the whole trip... albeit for only 500' at a time.

I feel good about it. I could've easily bailed out before I did but I stuck with it, and while slowed down considerably, I hung in there. Saw a lot of wildlife (2 rattlesnakes I nearly stepped on, turkeys, hawks, chipmunks, deer...), saw some great views & tested myself a great deal. I think I could've gone 5 more miles today & 15-20 tomorrow for about 95, but I was happy to be picked up when I was. On day 2, I wasn't entirely sure there'd be a day 3... come to think of it, I wasn't sure about day 2 on day 1.

More later.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Appalachian Trail Preview

My semi-ambitious goal is to cover all of the Appalachian Trail before I die. Only semi-ambitious, because I don't plan on thru-hiking (hiking the entire 2,100+ miles at once). I'll chip away at it year after year. I just decided to do this a year ago. In 2008, I ran about 150 miles on the AT, but much of that was out & back in sections, so I've really only covered 74.3 miles. I have my work cut out for me. I plan on running all of it I can... well, "ultrarunning" all of it, which includes walking the significant climbs. :) There are parts in New England that are impossible to even think about running. I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to finish the northernmost 100 miles with Wren when she's 18-22. She's 5 now. I think that would be an emotional finale. She's a great hiker already, but who knows if my plans will interest her at all in 15 years.

Anyway, I'm setting off on Sunday to tackle the southernmost 107.7 miles- from Springer Mountain, GA to Winding Stair Gap/Hwy 64 near Franklin, NC. I have to run up 1 mile from Forest Service Rd 42 to get to Springer Mountain, making the trip 108.7 & there will be detours for water & views which will make the trip 110+ miles. I'm doing it in 4 days. It's not an easy section at all. An average hiker spends 10 days on this section. I'm not too worried about the distances though. Maybe I should be. It will essentially be 4 of the hardest marathons I've ever done back to back. Each day will be an average of 27 miles- of course planned that way so I can think of it in terms of marathons (or slightly longer). While my marathon PR is 3:22, each of these marathons may take 7-8 hours because of the terrain & gear I'm taking. ...and of course, I'm not racing here.

I've got my pack weight down pretty low though. 12 pounds + water. I don't plan on carrying more than 40 ounces with me. That's 2 hours worth. I'll treat water along the way from springs & creeks. I could make my pack a little lighter by ditching the solo tent & sleeping in shelters or under a tarp. There are a few other minor changes I could make to shave off an ounce here & there, but I'm satisfied with the pack weight.

"A little over a hundred miles split between 4 days is nothing for you." Not true. Yeah, I ran a 100 mile race 5 months ago, but that's 100 miles at once & on a much much MUCH easier trail. In many ways it's harder to do multiday events even if the distance is shorter each day. When I ran the Blue Ridge Relay a couple of years ago, I realized running what amounted to four 10Ks in less than 24 hours was much harder than running a marathon. This should be infinitely harder than the 100 miler at Rocky Raccoon. I think. But again, I'm not too worried about the running.

What I am worried about is the uncertainty of it all. There are a lot of "what ifs" involved in such a trip. Being alone for 4 days & going into areas where there have been recent reports of aggressive bear activity seems a little dicey. They have actually closed the trail to camping (not hiking) from Neels Gap to Tesnatee Gap because of this. Of course, all of the "what ifs" about snakebites, twisted ankles, busted knees, wild boar attack are worrisome too. Most of this fear would be alleviated with a running companion, but at the same time, I like running alone too. My mom offered to come pick me up at the end of each day & drive me to a hotel. It was tempting, but besides the fact that there aren't roads evenly spaced where I'd want them, this is something I want to do. Just like running ultras is a test everytime I do it, this too, is a test. It's unlike anything I've ever done & I'm committed to finishing, but it will be difficult.

Here are my plans:
Sunday- USFS 42 to Springer Mt. to Slaughter Creek Campsite (28.5 miles)
Monday- Slaughter Creek to Cheese Factory Site (27.0 miles)
Tuesday- Cheese Factory Site to Muskrat Creek Shelter (24.8 miles)
Wednesday- Muskrat Creek Shelter to Winding Stair Gap (28.4 miles)

Any advice is welcome! I have a Flip video camera on the way to my house. I plan on making a few short videos along the way & will try to post them. Wish me luck. I'll need it. I've got this trip planned and two other single days on the AT this summer, so I'll be up over 200 for my total. 10% done. :) Chippin' away.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Beech Mountain 5 Miler

Came up to Beech Mountain with my extended family last night at 8 PM. Talked my dad & brother into running a 5 mile race here I saw a banner for on the way in- A Cool 5. Tough hilly course! No flat anywhere. 41:52. My calves still hurt from last weekend. Fun spur of the moment race. First race shorter than a marathon I've done in a very long time. Dad was 48:56. Brother was 50:40ish. I came back & ran the last half mile with my brother. Went on a 2 mile hike at Roan Mountain later. The rhododendrons still have about 10 days before they're in full bloom. Only a few were out today.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Product Reviews

END Stumptown 10 oz shoes- I got these shoes a month ago and came close to wearing them in my 34 mile race a few days later. I put them in the car along with my Brooks Cascadias & made the last minute decision to go with the Brooks mainly because I just hadn't put enough miles in the ENDs yet. ...but I like them a lot.

END stands for Environmentally Neutral Designs & they're based out of Portland. Their shoes are made with some recycled materials with an effort to minimize waste.

I've tried lightweight trail shoes like the Inov-8 310s and the New Balance 790s and they didn't cut it for me. I wear the 790s on occasion for speedwork, and both of these shoes are popular, but just didn't work for me. The Stumptowns were different though and they're actually lighter than the Inov-8 310s (278g vs. 310g).

I have weird feet. say the least. Wide forefoot. Narrow heel. The Stumptown is made with a stretchy material that accomodates my weird feet. I'll go ahead & tell you though- there is no heel cup. Nothing. You can squish the uppers flat. It's strange & I'd read about it before ordering them, but I still wasn't prepared for it. When I got them I thought there was no way this was going to work out for me. Out of the box, I took them for a 90 minute run and have put in a few 60-90 minute runs with them. Felt great. You don't get the stability you would with a beefier shoe, but if you're buying the Stumptown 10 oz., you're not looking for the Montrail Hardrock or the like. I like the freedom of this shoe as you glide across rocks & roots. I felt quite a bit faster and more nimble. I am neither.

I was all ready to wear them at last weekend's 50K, but last week, I got caught in an incredible downpour while wearing the Stumptowns. The trail turned into a river instantaneously. As I went down hills, the insoles slid down into the toes. I had to take the shoes off & fix them each time. They did that 3 times before I removed the insoles for the remainder of the run. With the river crossings at the race, I didn't wear the Stumptowns, so I still haven't tried them out on a very long run. I would imagine they would be fine for me at 50K, but beyond that might be a stretch. Other folks will be perfectly fine going longer in them, I'm sure.

Another upside of this shoe is the retail price is a very reasonable $75 and I got it for $59. The Stumptown also come in 12 oz & 8.5 oz versions, as well as road varieties. I'd highly recommend checking out shoes from this new, forward-thinking company.

Roctane gel- After hearing great things about this gel made by GU, I resisted buying it because it's more expensive than other gels. Apparently, it used to be a homemade mixture elite athletes passed around in ziploc bags before it was introduced commercially in the past year. GU sent me some samples & I'd have to say even to a cheapskate like myself, it's worth the higher pricetag.

I mentioned trying Roctane in my post about Rocky Raccoon. I really think it helped me significantly in that race and I've used it with good results since then. There is a moderate amount of caffeine (35mg) in each packet, but I think the big difference is the amino acid blend. I feel like it helps me maintain focus in a long race or workout. It only comes in two flavors (blueberry pomegranate & orange vanilla). The flavor isn't the best- a little medicine-y, but it's not bad. Certainly not hard to get down or anything. While there are better tasting gels out there, I honestly think Roctane works better than any of the others. Try it out. I used to think all the gels were about the same.

GU Chomps- Just tried these for the first time this week. They just came out this spring. Clif Bloks are sort of the standard of the new chews and I really like them. Less messy than gels and easier to handle. If I didn't have a ton of gel laying around, I'd probably just eat chews on the run, but I mix it up. I like Bloks, Sharkies, Stinger Chews... Chomps come in 4 flavors (fewer than Bloks), 2 with caffeine. They all have an amino acid blend not found in Bloks or the others. Also have 100% RDA of Vitamin C & E. The Bloks are a little wet/slimy... that sounds worse than it is. Sharkies are a little more firm and harder to chew. Chomps are a little more in between. Taste is comparable across the board. I don't have a huge preference, but the Chomps might by my favorites. Interesting flavors like Cranberry Apple & Blueberry Pomegranate.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

SweetH2O 50K- Sheesh! Hot & Hilly!

What a tough race!

Just when I was starting to think of 50Ks as comfortable & kind of routine, the SweetH2O 50K outside Atlanta kicked my rump. I had heard it was pretty hard & went into it a little more nervous than usual. I ran a 34 miler in SC earlier this month & people told me the time from that race- 6:49 should be about the same time at SweetH2O for 31. The 34 miler was no problem & I was confident going into it.

There was a large crowd & some speedy looking folks. Race was capped at 250 & 212 finished. We ran most of the first 2 miles on roads, which wasn't to my liking, but necessary to spread out the field. I felt like I was being pushed to go faster than I wanted to, even though I was right about in the middle of the pack. The legendary David Horton was there & he fell right after entering the woods. Both hands were all bloody. I ran right behind him for a couple of miles. There was a steep concrete spillway you go down, through some water & then back up. Had to use the rope to climb up. After that, the trail got very rooty & rocky for a couple of miles- the kind of stuff I like, but with a large group, it slowed things down a lot.

I didn't know when to expect the infamous waist-deep river crossing, so every time we
came down to the river, I thought we'd hit it. I'd be waiting until mile 19. There were a good number of ups & downs in the woods, but then you hit something called Top of the World. The first time, this was 4 huge 300 meter hills- one bigger than the next. Then you go through the woods for a mile or so & come back out to power lines for some more huge up & downs, but those were mostly downs. The second time around, it was a little different & I think there were 6-7 hills on the first section & then you immediately cross over to the power lines. The first time through, I told some locals I was running with, "Ah, this isn't terrible. It'll probably be worse next time around though." So true! ...but I was feelin' pretty good for the first 3 hours.

At mile 19, I was feeling OK & running with Mark Elson, who I've run with before. I've finished within a couple of minutes of him twice. Not today. It was here that we hit the river crossing- or I should say the line for the river crossing. There were about 40 people in line & you had to go one at a time. I waited 22 minutes to cross. I'd passed David Horton at around 4 miles & he passed us right at the river crossing. He'd cleaned his hands up a little & showed us the black eye he'd gotten from a fall a couple of weeks before! 22 minutes later, I was walking waist-deep in the Sweetwater River holding onto a rope. At one point, my feet shot out from under me & I was just holding onto the rope until I could get them back. The current was strong. I'm not too competitive & I would've welcomed the wait in a training run, but the wait here was a little aggravating. It was hard for me to get back into the race mentally after this. I ran with Mark for another mile until he took off. He waited for me for a second, but he looked too fresh & I told him to go ahead. It would've been wise to stick with him for a few miles. He ended up finishing something like 45 minutes ahead of me! Because the river crossing spaced the race out so much, the last 12 miles were kind of lonely.

Hitting Top of the World the second time was the worst! It was 86 degrees & that section was totally exposed with no shade. I had my hands on my knees, literally thinking about each step. I started getting dizzy & lightheaded- something I've never experienced while running. Thought I was in trouble & considered crawling off into the shade of the woods to cool off for 20 minutes, but kept trudging. It was ugly. This was the most "out of it" I've ever been in a race. An aid station worker asked me if I was OK. I stayed there talking to him for 2-3 minutes & really, after that, I felt a lot better. Guess I needed the break. The thing about these hills is- see, they weren't mountains that you can expect to climb for 30+ minutes with switchbacks & more moderate grades. These were super-steep cliffs practically (OK, I'm exaggerating) that only took 1-2 minutes to get up. Brutal though. Click on the picture to the left and look at the ant-like people flying down the cliff!

Rest of the race was relatively uneventful except for the end. Jennifer (wife) & Wren (5 year old daughter) came with me to Atlanta & went to a museum & festival all day. They were waiting for me 1/4 mile from the finish line & Wren ran in with me. As we were running, she said, "Is this special for you? It's special to me to finish your long run with you. You can leave if you need to go faster. I'll just follow you (of course her speed was my top end at that point!)." Broke my heart. I've always thought it was a little cheesy when kids finish with parents, but not this time! After we crossed the line & she gave me 5, she said, "UGH, Dad, you stink so bad!" That got a chuckle from the finish line crew.

So, the guy who told me my Buncombe 34 Miler time of 6:49 would be about the same as my SweetH2O 50K time couldn't have been more right on, even though I broke down in the last 10 miles. I finished in 7:10, but taking out the 22 minutes of standing around, that's 6:48. Pretty close, huh? Finished 120th out of 250 registered & 212 finishers. Keeping in mind my 50K PR is 4:41 on a flat course... it's just kind of amazing how much conditions & terrain make a difference in this sport. Over two hours difference. Wow.

Next up is 109 miles on the Appalachian Trail in 4 days. Solo. Taking all of my gear with me. I'm very nervous about it. 2 weeks from today will be my first night out.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Buncombe Trail 34 Miler

I said I was going to push it at this race. Most of my races in the past year have been more like training runs. I didn't take a camera, phone... wasn't planning on chatting much- just wanted to run as fast as I could. Envisioned myself making up a lot of ground in the last 6 miles. Wanted to finish in the top 20 out of 74 starters.

I guess I didn't exactly stick to my plan but I had a pretty good race. After mile 2, I started running with a group of guys that ranged from 2-4. I ran with 2 of them for a couple of miles & ended up running with one of them for the next 13 miles or so. The miles clipped along without much effort, but at mile 15, the guy I was with, Tom said he was planning on walking more than we had been. I went ahead & got caught by the first woman a mile later. We ran together for the next few miles & several times, I'd go ahead a little & she'd catch up. We probably stuck together for the better part of 10 miles, and I was convinced we'd finish the race together, but another woman passed us & she went after her. I didn't feel like picking it up quite yet. I think I finished within 10-12 minutes of both of them. The last 8 miles was lonelier. The only people I saw were the two guys passed, and didn't spend any time with them. I almost never get passed in the last 10K of an ultra and I like to finish strong. Today was no exception, but I walked a little more than I wanted to. Needed a little motivation. No one to run with. No one I could see to go catch. Ran as fast as I could the last 2.5 miles- easily my fastest of the day.

The weather could've been better. It was extremely muggy for the first 2/3 of the race and then the sun came out and it got hot. 82 when we finished. It rained about 1/2" last night, so there were some nice muddy spots.

I finished in 6:49, which is right at 12:00/mile. 23rd overall. I'll take top third. Given my slack training lately & the heat, I was satisfied. I had no problems to speak of today. Skin felt really hot, and I had some heat rash on my chest, but legs were fine. I could count on one hand the number of 15+ mile runs I've done since Rocky Raccoon 100 Miler in February... OK, maybe not quite one hand, but I know I could do it on 6-7 fingers. I'm used to getting a lot more mileage in but just haven't had the time to do it this track season.

Terri Hayes puts on great, low key races with sparse (average of 8-9 miles between aid stations), but well-stocked & friendly aid stations. The course was rolling singletrack with not a lot of scenery. A few creek crossings.

SweetH2O 50K outside Atlanta later in the month. Looking forward to that one. Looks tough. I'm glad I got today's race in before that one.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

"You Think You're Better Than Me?"

I've been hearing weird rumblings lately from people I know (& like) that I'm not a very good runner, that I'm slow, that "I run a 5K at xx:xx pace & his 100 miler was run at xx:xx. That's SOOO slow!" Even, "That 100 miler he ran was an easy one. There are some in the Rocky Mountains that are a lot harder." Geez... Let me state this loud & clear: I AM NOT A GREAT RUNNER. I do what I can.

See that's what I like about ultrarunning. It's relaxed. Sure there are people who are very competitive & the elite athletes in the sport are extremely talented & put forth a great deal of effort to get where they are. One look at Anton Krupika's blog would tell you he's serious about his training! BUT, while I consider myself serious about my training & have clearly defined goals, what I like about ultrarunning is that it's fun. Plain & simple. I do it because it's fun. I do it to prove to myself I can acheive a goal, but that goal is rarely meeting a certain time. With the uncertainty of courses I run, how good of a measure is time? If I wanted to still be obsessed with shaving seconds off my 5K times, my training would be a lot different. I got tired of that, so I don't do it anymore. Got tired of pouting for weeks about being 2 minutes slower than my marathon PR. It wasn't fun. You get to relax and enjoy the experience a whole lot more with ultrarunning. I don't remember 5K road races being very fun, per se. I spent 4 months in 2003 to break 19. In about 6 races, I ran 19:06, 19:04, 19:08... until finally, I ran 18:58. I felt like I accomplished something but I can't say it was fun.

That got me to thinking... my running & non-running friends must get tired of hearing about my fantastical running adventures. I get the feeling that people think I'm better than them because I can cover very long distances. I DO NOT. If I could run a 16:30 5K, wow... I only wish. I'm slow. I run what I like to run & try to have fun doing it. My hat's off to fast 5K folks, 1st time marathoners, etc., etc. A friend of mine is running his first 1/2 marathon in a week or two. He thought I was mocking him when he told me about it & I reacted with a, "Wow! That's great!" I was genuinely excited about it, but he thought I was belittling him for "just running a 1/2 marathon." No way, Disco Dave.

Now having said all of that, I will be pushing it at the Buncombe Trail 34 miler in 2 weeks. I realized the other day it's been a very long time since I've gone all out in a race. Viewed them more as training days with aid stations and maybe a new shirt. I'm not building up to anything at the moment, and I'll go hard. It's been a really long time... I guess since last March.

As an Earth Day aside, I ordered a pair of END Stumptown 10 oz. shoes yesterday. This is a very small startup company based out of Portland who makes more environmentally-friendly trail shoes. I've seen a few reviews out there, but I plan on reviewing them after I get a few run in them.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Spring Break

Why do I do this blog? Started as a place to post race reports so I wouldn't have to email them out to friends, but the more I started reading other people's blogs to decide places to run, the more I think of it as race & trail reviews. Today, I'll give you a little review of the Tanawha Trail, which goes through 3 counties (Avery, Watauga & just briefly in Caldwell) in Western NC.

I love winter running & dread the summer more & more each year. I wouldn't call the conditions on our trip to the mountains this week ideal (low 40s & rain every day but one), but I do like running in that stuff a whole lot more than the 80+ we'll get here soon.

A few good mountain runs over the break. Saw a small black bear (running away about 150m away) on one. It was just an hour run but with 1020' of climbing all in the last 35 minutes. I felt pretty strong. ...well, I dunno if that's the word for it. I kept going & it didn't seem too bad. How's that? On another 90 minute run, I climbed 2300', almost all in the last hour. Both of these runs were mostly on the singletrack & dirt "road" trails on Beech Mountain. They cut several dirt roads 30 years ago and never developed that part of the mountain, so now, they're washed out, rocky & rutty. There's even a whole golf course that was cleared but never opened & it's far from the nearest open road. Kinda eerie. It's funny the description of one of the toughest singletrack trails classifies it as easy, but only talks about going one way. They suggest having a car at the bottom to drive you back up. Yeah, it's steep there! My family's been going to Beech Mountain for 25 years, but I just discovered the trail system a year ago.

I wanted to do an out & back of the entire Tanawha Trail, but the morning I was going to do it ended up being 20 degree wind chill & driving rain. I would've been up for the challenge, but I didn't think my shorts & thin long sleeve shirt would be. Weather forecast had said highs in the 50s everyday when I was packing!

The Tanawha Trail runs roughly parallel along 13.5 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway. It starts at Beacon Heights, near the entrance to Grandfather Mountain & ends at Price Lake. I'd read a guide that classified it as "easy to moderate." I thought that sounded like 10-11 minute miles. Hannah told me no way. We went on a family hike to check it out a little and walked about a mile out & a mile back. It was rocky & rooty in that section, but not too bad.

I ended up being able to run one way of the Tanawha Trail on our way out of town. I was still thinking 11 minute miles was possible. After all, I was going downhill most of the way- total elevation loss of over 1000'. Well, Hannah had mentioned the upper part was more, "fun" than the lower part. Knowing her, I should've expected the climbing, scrambling & squeezing across boulders the first 4 miles gave me. It was beautiful, but not very runnable. Once I got past Rough Ridge, it was smoother sailing. Still a fairly technical trail, but I was able to get moving. The first 3 miles took me over an hour & between mile 0.5-3, it was rare for me to string together 30 running steps in a row. The rain didn't help. On a dry day, I would've taken more chances on the rocks.

It was sunny on the west side of Grandfather Mountain, but as soon as we crossed the ridge & let me out, it got immediately foggy. Couldn't see more than 50' ahead of me. All I saw at overlooks was white fog. I sort of like those days though. Feels as if I'm the only person left in the world. Felt that way the day after Christmas in the rain as I ran 60 miles by myself and didn't see another person on the trails all day.

I must've passed 50 waterfalls- some substantial & others that probably are usually dry, but with all the rain we got... Subsequently, I probably had about 10-15 creek crossings, but I wonder how many would be there on a dry day!

I told Jennifer it would take me 2:45, but clearly, that wasn't happening. I called her 1:40 into it and had only been 5 miles! I could've hopped onto the Parkway & run down it to the lake, but that's no fun. I knew most of the rocks had to be behind me & told her it would take me 1:40 more to do the last 8.5. I was pretty close & the whole 13.5 ended up taking me 3:23. Must be my slowest half marathon ever! Around Boone Fork, the trail got less rocky & there were noticeably more downhills. The last 2 miles or so were mainly through hilly pastures. Wasn't expecting that. Every turn seemed like it should be the end, but finally, I got to the lake & Jennifer & Wren were waiting & clapping like it was a race.

Would I recommend Tanawha to fellow runners? No. Yes. Not the whole thing, but an out & back to Raven Rock from Price Lake would be a great 17 miles of nice runnable trail. Save the other part for a hike & take lots of pictures as you crawl across boulders, over waterfalls, under the Viaduct, and onto rocks which I assume have great views of the surrounding mountains. ...fog's all I saw. :)

Going the way I went, you lose elevation, but you climb a lot too. 3680' over 13.5 miles when you're losing a net of over 1000' is a lot more than I'd expected. I wouldn't classify the ups & downs I did as that hard though. Going the other way, I'm sure it would be more difficult.