Coach Spencer Runs in the Woods

Coach Spencer Runs in the Woods

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.