Coach Spencer Runs in the Woods

Coach Spencer Runs in the Woods

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Mt. Mitchell Challenge--- COLD

The Mt. Mitchell Challenge is normally a 40 mile race from the town of Black Mountain, NC (elevation 2,405) to the top of Mt. Mitchell (elevation 6,684) and back. Mt. Mitchell is the highest peak east of the Mississippi. This year, parts were cut out because of 58" of snow on the ground with 10 foot snow drifts, but it still went to to top and back. We used more road than usual, but there was still a good chunk of snowy trail.

My camera batteries were dead. Here are pictures from Asheville Citizen-Times. Really amusing pictures of freezing cold people and worth a look. I do have a picture that's pretty funny from my phone, but I don't know how to get it off my phone and on here.

So yeah, it was cold. Thinking about it though, I can't remember actually being cold. I had more clothes with me that I didn't put on. At 9 degrees and 30-35 mph winds, we had a wind chill factor of -15 or so. Brrr. But I expected much more snow. It caused some problems, but I anticipating post-holing through the 24" deep snow. There was only one section like that and it was only 1/4 mile at the top. I had been worried for weeks about this. Last week, they said they were re-routing the course to avoid the deepest snow, but we should still anticipate 2 foot snow. The day before the race they said the worst mile had been scraped, so I felt better about it. Also, the Challenge had been shortened to 35 miles & the marathon was shortened to 23.

So it was easier than I thought, but it was not easy. Not close.

2.5 miles in the town of Black Mountain with an incredibly steep paved hill at the end of the section. Then 9 miles of snowy fire road. There were ATV tracks you ran through. Otherwise, it was 8-16" or so of snow. But staying in the narrow tracks was tough. This section was certainly harder than usual with the snow but it was runnable. I was happy last year that this section is much more gradual than I expected. I felt tired and my hips hurt literally from the first half mile. Worried me. My hips hurt the whole way.

There was a 3 hour cutoff at the 11.5 mile mark, which sounds easy to hit, but I didn't know what to expect. I passed a guy with a GPS watch at the 7 mile mark and eased up when I realized it was in the bag. When I started passing people going back down from the marathon, I asked people how much to the cutoff and when I realized making the cutoff was still in the bag, I eased up again. I was just trying to make the cutoff and have fun with the race. There were about a dozen who didn't make the cutoff and some who voluntarily turned back to finish the marathon & not continue on with the Challenge.

At 11.5, we hit the Blue Ridge Parkway and 45 mph winds! Wow! 1/2 mile later, we turned on the Mt. Mitchell entrance road and ran about 4-5 miles to the top. It gradually got colder. The road was steep. People I was around walked the whole way. I'd pick out landmarks and run about 50m and walk 50m. I passed 6-8 people on the road up and no one passed me. I noticed runners coming back down with frozen hair & eyelashes. How bad was it up there?? I'd soon find out. Of course, Byron Backer came down with shorts on! Ouch!

A mile from the top, it got bitterly cold. -15 wind chill cold. My mom called me near the top. I could barely talk. It was like a scene from a movie about Antartica. "I'm... I'm... O... K..." Ice all over me. Gloves, jacket, hat, eyelashes. Sheesh! I remembered reading about people's eyeballs freezing at the Hellgate 100K & would close my eyes for 3 steps and open them for 3 steps.

At the very top, we trudged through knee-deep snow to the tower, about 1/4 mile total. Highest peak east of the Mississippi. All downhill from there, so it's easy, right? Not exactly.

At the aid station, someone announced there were only about 20 people behind me, which was humbling & got in my head a little bit.

I thought I'd fly down and really pass people- and at times, I did, but it wasn't as simple as that. Almost all of the road was clear of snow & ice, but there were patches. Not enough to warrant YakTrax. After turning around, I just didn't feel great. My hips hurt more pounding down the asphalt. About 1/2 mile from the top, I slipped on ice and banged my knee up. Falling also made my hamstring cramp up and I pulled a muscle in my back. That wasn't fun. It would be the first of my 3 falls. It took me 2-3 miles to feel better and I flew down the last 2 miles of the road, passing 4-5 people.

A couple of people passed me when I put on YakTrax before going down the fire road. The 4-5 minute break didn't serve me well & I started feeling bad again right after that. It was strange. My mood and the way I felt were clearly defined and changed quickly. There was no reason for the way I felt. Just simple fatigue. "Man, I'm tired." A couple of people passed me in the upper part of the fire road and I was fine letting them go. About half way down the fire road, I turned around and saw a guy in a very noticeable outfit. I told myself 90 mintues earlier there was no way that guy was going to beat me and there he was right on my tail. I picked it up and lost him and in the process, passed some people. I started feeling very good and flew down the mountain. People commented, "Dang, you are really moving!" But I also stopped a lot. To take pants off (Hey, I had short on!), take YakTrax off, go to the bathroom, etc. so I didn't make up as much ground as I could've. Passed more going down the big paved hill and one in town and felt great the last 7 miles. I love feeling good at the end of a race.

I finished in 87th place out of 121 finishers, which is disappointing. 7:48. My training has been garbage though. Getting through a race this hard is an accomplishment given what I've put in in training (or regardless of training, I guess). I know I'm crummy climbing mountains too. My buddy Kevin beat me by 1:05- Over an hour! Yeah, he's faster than me, but I thought he'd beat my by 30-45 minutes & I didn't expect him to create more distance on me on the way down. But when I was feeling kinda down for my poor performance, I remembered that the race was capped at 200 or 250(can't remember). So a lot of people got turned around, decided to turn around, or didn't start. I'd be fine with 87th out of 250. I guess the moral of the story is to train harder.

It was fun though... and quite an experience! The course was absolutely beautiful (so silent and frozen), I met some nice folks, and I pushed through some brutal conditions. Looking forward to next year!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Oww- Mt. Mitchell

I made it. 9 degrees & 30-35 mph winds at the top. I was never really cold though. Snow was an issue, but not nearly as bad as expected. We had to be re-routed on the road up to the top instead of the trails, avoiding the 5-10 feet of snow, but there was 18 miles or snow of snowy trails. I felt generally fatigued & hips hurt the entire way. Finished strong. Really made up ground the last 6 miles or so.

More later after a shower & stuff. I smell awful.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Seriously? How?

Mount Mitchell Challenge is coming up in 36 hours. This is a 40 mile trail race from Black Mountain to Mount Mitchell & back. In good weather, it's a very tough course (at least the first half). Last year, I ran the marathon that covers most of the course, but not the top part. They only let about 1/3 of the 40 mile runners to the top and then shut it down. I think something like 2/3 of those who went up were treated with hypothermia. It was pouring rain and 38ish on the lower trails & then got colder, windier & snowy up at higher elevations. But there was only a dusting of snow on the ground.

This year... UGH... 10 FOOT snow drifts at the top!! ...and it's currently snowing. I think just to the north of there, there's a Blizzard Warning in effect, but maybe not as bad at Mt. Mitchell. They re-routed the course so it "only" covers trails that had about 2 feet of snow on them before this recent snow. That's still knee deep. The upper trails have been replaced snowy roads, but it will still go to the top of Mt. Mitchell. They've taken out some aid stations because they simply can't get there. The forecast for race day isn't brutally cold. Hard to say what the actual conditions will be at nearly 7,000' but I'm guessing we'll have a wind chill in the teens.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't very worried. But I'm also very excited. This is why I signed up. Could be more about survival than running this time. I think I may be running in the same pack I took for 3 days of camping- a very small one for backpacking, but a very big one for running a race in. I'm overpacking. Better safe than sorry. YakTrax go with saying. Also foil space blanket, cell phone (do they work there?), gaiters, extra clothes, etc.

There's also a cutoff of 3 hours to a certain spot. I'm not sure how far it is with the re-rout- maybe 12 miles? The website says with the change, runners "have a reasonable chance" to make the cutoff. That doesn't sound incredibly promising. It sounds like there's a good chance that in the deep snow, getting to the cutoff in 3 hours will be pretty difficult. If it is 12 miles, I don't think I can run 15:00 miles up a mountain in deep snow. We'll see.

I've looked forward to this race for a long time. Hope it goes as well as possible. Sheesh. Worried.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Nice Week

Nothing epic this past week, but it was a nice one...

Last weekend, I thought about running a 1/2 marathon at the Whitewater Center, but we got a lot of rain, it was kinda pricey & I was still having hip flexor problems from the New Year's race. If I had been registered, I would've run it, but decided to stay home. Instead, on Sunday, I went out to a new park for me- North Mecklenburg Park in Huntersville. It's near my parents' house. I ran two 4 mile loops and went pretty hard the first loop & ran as fast as I could the 2nd loop. Second loop was 4:00 faster than the first. Felt good to go at race pace. Made me want to do some shorter distance races. I really never ever run local road or trail races. North Meck Park was fun. Fairly technical with some roots but not bad. Roots seemed to pop up more quickly on the faster loop!

Good results from our track meet this week, with our boys 4x800 finally qualifying for the state meet & our girls 4x400 and 1000m individuals running some impressive times.

We got about 2" of snow & ice Friday night. Had some enjoyable, crunchy runs on trails. So quiet & beautiful out. Ankle deep creek crossing in the first mile this morning at 23 degrees was a little chilly!