Monday, April 30, 2012

Pine Mountain 40 Mile - RD

As some of you may recall, I ran the PM40 this past December. It was a blast! So much fun, that I wanted to become involved in the behind the scenes work for the 2012 edition. My mother always told me to, "Be careful what you wish for, you just may get it!" Who has two thumbs and is the new race director of the PM40? This guy, right here.
The PM40 is a 40 mile ultra marathon on the beautiful Pine Mountain Trail system of FDR State Park in Pine Mountain, Georgia. This GUTS event will test runners endurance and ankles over rocky single-track trails. The trail follows the ridge line, going up and over it for the duration. Depending on water levels, the few water crossings could be dry or ankle deep. Runner's will experience both pine & hardwood forests, rock outcroppings, waterfalls, and beaver ponds.

Here are a few pictures of the views you can expect.

The DNR limits us to 175 runners for this great race, slots will go fast. If you are interested in running it, registration opens tomorrow!

Ultra Sign Up

If you are interested in being a volunteer, I will be eternally grateful!

Feel free to email me with any questions!


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Allstate Life Insurance 13.1

Recently I was approached by the marketing manager for the Allstate Life Insurance Atlanta 13.1 Marathon.  In exchange for my blogging about the race, I was offered a comped entry and a few to give away to the readers.  A sucker for free stuff, I was immediately interested. I'll be completely honest, this race is one month before Pinhoti 100 and I'm not sure I can give it the attention it deserves.  I did email the marketing guy back and told him my situation and he seemed okay with it.  So, I think I will take him up on the offer.  If nothing else, it'll give me the opportunity to give away a few entries and perhaps develop a relationship with the compnay that will create opportunities down the road.

Here's the details....

Okay, so those aren't really the details, so much as just the elevation profile.  I'm a stats geek, I make a living as an analyst, so this type of information is very interesting to me.  I like to scout out the course ahead of time to see what I'm in for on race day.  This race is held in the Brookhaven area, as the profile shows it's an "honest" course.  I'm not saying it's death by hills, but I don't predict a lot of half mary PR's to be set.  That's cool, I like challenging courses.

The shared section of the course(miles 6-7 & 11-12) could be awesome or it could be a potential hotspot depending on course flow management.  I am sure people far smarter than me have already thought about these logistics.  One of my most favorite aspects of trail running is the out and back section where you see other runners coming and going and you get to cheer them on.  Hopefully, this will be the case here.

October is a great time of year for running in Atlanta, we have finally closed the book on the heat of the Summer and the running temps are great, I'm thinking in the low 60's.  From checking out the website, this race series has events all across the country, from all outward appearances, they have their act together!  The half mary is a great distance, long enough to really stretch your legs out, still short enough to not wreck you for a week afterwards.  If you are looking to make the jump to longer distances, give this race a try.  Who knows, it could be the building block to something bigger.

Keep checking back for updates, as the partnership is finalized, there will be comped entries and discounts available!


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

SweetH20 50k - 2012 Edition

(photo credit:G. Gallmore)

Early morning, April 21st. I pick up the other half of the trail running "Dumb & Dumber" and we head to Sweetwater Creek State Park. Ah, home away from home. After picking up our bibs, we parked our chairs behind the car & "tailgated" for an hour or so, catching up with old friends, discussing the weather for the day, & just tried to stay loose before the 7:30am start.

I love this race. I love the Douglas County Rogues that put on this race, I love the trail network it's held on, but mostly I love the people who run this race. Over the last few years I have had the pleasure of meeting some amazing people that run in this area and every one of them seems to turn out for this event.

Our race plan was to get out fast, get to the spillway before the crowd and then settle in when we got to the single track. We were hoping to cover the first mile in around 8:30, turns out the adrenaline fueled start got us there in about 8:00. Shortly there after, we turned off the road, onto the single track and headed towards the spillway. In the previous years, I have spent up to 10 minutes in the conga line waiting for my chance to descend & ascend the 10' concrete walls that form the spillway. Due to our strategy this year, we were able to head right down, cross, and scamper up the wall on the other side. Perfect. The only fear was going out too fast in the first couple of miles and paying for it later. After crossing the spillway we headed down the jeep road towards the creek, enjoying a more comfortable 9:15 pace.

(photo credit:G. Gallmore)
The first few miles of this race are really great; gentle rolling hills, some single & double track, just great trail running. By mile 7 we had arrived at the aid station and grabbed some water, this was a walking stop, no need to dilly-dally. Tom & I had discussed beforehand the purpose of the day; we were here to race. The typical chatter was missing from our early morning routine. We were both working a little harder than normal, Tom even more so. As we were on the 1.5 mile cross country run towards the gas lines, I checked in with Tom to see how he was feeling. He told me he was having trouble keeping his heart rate in check. We decided to walk for 2 minutes, to try and drop it under control. It's better to give up 2 minutes early, than to blow up and give up an hour or two at the end of the day. As we turned up the jeep road and began the first true climb of the day, I noticed that Tom was struggling to keep up. I dropped my pace a little to keep him in sight, but he didn't seem to have that extra gear. I had to make a decision - stay and wait, or go and race.  We were racing today and I had to go. I turned back and gave Tom a head nod and left. I was hoping he'd work through the issues and bounce back.

My first trip through the gas lines was uneventful.  The morning air was cool and I didn't feel the effort too much.  In preparation for Barkley, I've done a lot of climbing this year.  So, even though I am not fully recovered from Barkley, my legs were able to move me through this section pretty easily.  Learning from past experience here, I knew not to push too hard, otherwise I would pay dearly on the 2nd loop.  It wasn't long before the gas lines were complete and I was on the mile long, out and back, trail to the school aid station.  This is the best part of the day, you get to see everyone that is ahead and behind you.  I get such a rush from seeing everybody I know and everyone cheers each other on.  This is hands down the best part of trail running.  I've never experienced this during a road race.  On my way back from the school aid station, I passed Tom, he was probably 10-15 minutes behind me, but was looking like he might have bounced back. Only later did I learn he was really struggling.

Down the sun exposed power lines, back to the park, up Jack's Hill - the next thing I knew I was circling the lake and approaching the creek crossing at the completion of my first loop.  At about 3:10 into the race, I was a tad slower on this loop than last year.  I was hoping that would help me run close to even splits this year.(last year my 2nd loop was almost an hour slower than my 1st loop).

(Photo Credit: J. Sutton)

The creek crossing was smooth, we haven't had much rain the week leading into the race, so the creek was low.  After the crossing, you have about a mile of flat trail to run the water out of your shoes before you tackle the climb.  The elevation profile says it climbs 300' in .5 miles, in reality, it seems more.  This is a tough climb with 16.5 miles on your legs.  I (fondly) remember my first Sweetwater back in '10.  This climb about killed me.  I was slowly hiking up the hill, with my heart rate blowing up in the 170's when this dude coolly rolled me up and asked how I was doing.  "I'm gonna die!" I told him, he smiled and said "Keep moving forward".   Fast forward to this year's race, As I was about mid way up the climb, I rolled up on this guy in front of me. "How's it going?" I asked as I pulled even with him.  "This sucks!" was his reply.  "It's almost over", I told him and continued on, never seeing him again. My Sweetwater experience had come full circle.

(Photo Credit: C. Griffith, x2)

Crossing back across the creek, I began my 2nd loop.  I was really beginning to feel the effort of the day.  My pace was rising about a minute a mile and I was taking a few walking breaks.  I ran 4 of the 5 miles to the tributary aid station by myself, not seeing a single runner. This was without a doubt, the low point of my day.  All of this time by myself, thinking about my conditioning, wondering if I belonged out there.  These mental demons hit everyone, from the elite to the back of the packers.  I was not immune, the difference is that I know how to deal with them better now than before.  I divided the remaining trail into sections and calmly worked through them.  Before long I had caught sight of a runner ahead and began to reel him in.  Lance, from Atlanta, was running his first ultra. We began chatting and getting to know each other a little and before I knew it, we had covered  3 miles to the base of the gas lines.  Not knowing if we'd stick together much longer, I thanked him for running with me and helping me get through that low spot.   We worked through the gas lines together, passing a couple of runners.  "Oxford" was ahead of us and we were gaining.  At the top of one climb, I yelled to him, "Oxford, I'm coming for your ass!"  He'd look back and said, "This sucks!"  Eventually we caught him and he ran with us for a while.  Finally, the last mega climb behind us, we were heading to the top of the world on the out & back section. 

I really needed the out and back section to the school.  I was reenergized by seeing everyone on the traill and I knew when I got to the school that I only had an hour left before the race was over. I had been picking off runners one by one and I think I had moved up 15-20 places on the 2nd loop.  My goal of 6:20 was out of the question, but I though I had a shot at beating last year's time and cracking the top 50.  Lance & I passed a few more guys on the way to the power lines.  It was here he stopped for a bio break, I pulled ahead and didn't see him until the finish.  Sorry bro, we were racing, I couldn't stop for a pit stop that late into the day.

The last climb up Jack's Hill was a real grind, "nature's stairmill", Jack's Hill sucks!  It bends slightly to the right, so you can never really see the end of it, it just keeps going up!  Finally, getting to the last aid station, I grabbed a quick water refill and passed through, no sense in hanging out, the finish line was 2 miles away.  I was crashing badly and popping gels and candy like it was my job.  My mantra for those last two miles were simple, "You quit at Barkley, don't quit here."  While that mantra wasn't completely true, it helped me hang on.  The last two miles are mostly downhill, on gently winding trail, I was strugglingto keep an 11:00 pace.  I. was. toast.  Finally, I rounded the corner and all that seperated me from the finish line was a 1/4 mile, uphill road section.  Tom & his kids were waiting for me at the top of the hill; he'd had a rough day and dropped at the water crossing.  They ran me in and I crossed the finish line at 6:40:01.  2 minute Sweetwater PR, good enough for 53rd place out of about 240 starters. 

Thank you to all of the wonderful volunteers!  This race is amazing, simply because of all of the wonderful people who give up their Saturday to come out and support us runners.  Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!  Mad props to Johnny B., for putting on another great race.  Seriously, if you live in the southeast and have not run this race, you are doing something wrong!


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Third Time's a Charm

The 6th Annual Sweetwater 50k!

It's that time! The annual running of Sweetwater 50k! I love this race; this is where it all began for me. I just re-read my 2010 & 2011 race reports and cannot wait to get back out there! Of course, the "Dumb & Dumber" of trail running will be taking their show on the road this year, as it will be Tommy's 2nd running of this awesome race.

Tom & I have really "clicked" lately and our running adventures have been pretty awesome. We ran PM40 together and then followed that up with Weymouth Woods 100k. I think the adventure that really cemented our friendship was tackling Laurel Valley together. After three quality runs in the last few months, we may actually go head to head next Saturday. That should be fun. We both know the course and what to expect, I may have a slight advantage with the recent hill work, but that SD has been putting some serious miles in the training bank lately and is ready to take out a 2nd mortgage.

The great thing about this course is that it has a way of keeping you honest. It will quickly expose any weakness and then slowly gnaw at it. For my part, I have great expectations, I'd like to best my time of 6:42 from last year. In a perfect world I can slip under 6:20. I'll say it. As long as I finish 0:00:01 faster than Mr. Black, it'll be a good day. Otherwise, it will be a long year...

All kidding aside, my favorite part of this race is the camaraderie! There is something about this trail and the runners from the area. Taking all of the GUTS runners and the DCRR Rogues and putting them on their "Home" course just makes for a great day. I really am looking forward to spending a day in the woods, finishing it off with a few burgers and cold beverages at the group pavillion!

Let's do this!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

B-list submission

It has been 3 days since I was tapped out and I still haven’t stopped thinking about Barkley.

I was told that I would be a changed man. I believed what I was told, I just didn’t understand.

I see things a little differently. Certain areas of my life have come into greater focus.

The Barkley has changed me.

I thought I knew “hard”.

Nothing could have prepared me for what the Barkley so freely dished out.

The endless climbs.

The quad busting descents.

Bad Thing & Big Hell lived up to their names.

I wanted to quit, but knew the only way back was to continue forward.

Coming up Rough Ridge, the proverbial straw that broke my back.

Who would have thought 400’ would be so hard?

When I asked Laz to tap me out, he asked “Why?”; didn’t I want to continue?

“I’ve had all I could handle.”

No truer words.

The post “run” shower re-energized me, much like the descents gave my legs fresh life.

Maybe I could have made it to the top of Bird.

The walk up the road back to my camp reconfirmed my decision to drop.

It was the right choice.

Sitting around the fire until 4am sat night/sun morning was a highlight.

I learned that even the little I thought I knew, was nothing.

I want to go back.

265 days.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

"Most races are set up for success, this race is designed for failure" - Laz

Wow. What a day. What a week.

The Barkley Marathons. The. Barkley. Frickin'. Marathons!

There is so much to this, so much, that my race report needs to be a race novel. This was a special day, I am going to write about the familiars and leave the rest to be discussed on future trail runs. If you really want the goods, you're gonna have to come run with the YC&SD's running club.

I arrive at FHSP on Thursday hoping to get settled and get up onto Bird Mountain to have a look around. A middle March training trip fell through, so this was my first visit to the park.

The park is awesome. The camping area is small, a nice bathhouse centrally located. I was lucky enough to be able to share a camping slab with Psyche, Leo, Charles, & Wouter. Wouter, from Belgium, flew into Knoxville and rode his bike from the airport to FHSP. "No big deal.", he said. Right. Wouter came to run 5 loops.

I, on the other hand, had no illusion of running 5 loops. What a conflicting line to measure; expectations and reality.

Time to put on my trail shoes and I headed up Bird Mountain. This is the first section of the course and is regular "candy ass trail" according to Laz. Almost 1400' of gain in 1.25 miles. Easy, right? I was a little winded at the top of this climb. That didn't really make me feel good about what was to come. Regardless, I spent a couple hours on top of Bird traveling around on the Cumberland & N. Bird Mtn Trails. I kept running into runners that were also up there looking around, everyone was super friendly. I met Paul & Iso, both of whom were already in the race. I also met Travis, who was behind me on the Weight list. At that point he still didn't have a slot. It didn't matter, once he moved to #1 on the WL, he made the decision and packed his stuff and left Colorado for Frozen Head. He was in camp for 2 weeks. (He also finished the Fun Run this year).

I descended back to camp, happy to have my ankle feeling 100% and my right ITB was also quiet, these two recent injuries ended up being a non-issue. Walking back down the trail to the Yellow Gate I saw more and more people pouring into camp. It seems this year people were arriving earlier than ever before. I am not sure if it had anything to do with the documentary being filmed.

I spent the rest of Thursday hanging out in camp meeting new friends and catching up with old ones. As Friday morning passed, Laz arrived at his campsite and we began to set up the race HQ. Ever the master motivator, Laz said that he would not hand out the instructions and course map until the big tent was standing. it didn't take but a few moments before 8-10 runners were instantly putting together the big white tent. Turning to someone(maybe a camera guy?) Laz said, "See, this is the only race where the runners are also the race volunteers." While we put together camp, Laz began to unload his van and hang the license plates. What a cool experience to be able to see all of the plates from over the years.

After handing in my plate to him, It was added to the hanging memorial. My plate will forever hang with Dusty Hardman's & John Fegyveresi's. I had the pleasure of running a little more than half of my loop with Dusty and John ended up being the 3rd and final finisher of the 2012 Barkley. Not long after the plates were hung, we got down to business. Course map time.

It is important to purchase a topo map from park HQ. On that map we were to copy the official course map, provided by Laz. In addition to the map, we were provided with 5 pages of single spaced, typed instructions, on how to precisely navigate the course. "If you follow these instructions carefully, you will have no trouble completing the loop."

As Friday winded down, all but a few runners had arrived. it did not look good for my friend, Psyche. She was the #1 person on the weight list. She needed someone to not show up in order to get in. Literally in the 11th hour, Laz called Psyche over to the race HQ and told her Luis was taking part in the search party for a missing runner out west. He would not be running; she could have his slot if she so desire. What a roller coaster of emotions for her, up and down all day with rumors of people dropping and slots opening and closing. After ascending to the top of the weight list for the 2nd year in a row, Psyche had a slot.

It was hard, but I managed to lay down around 9:30pm to attempt to sleep. The conch shell could blow as early as 12:00AM and as late as 11;00AM Saturday morning. last year, the race began at 1:07AM; I didn't think he would have back-to-back night time starts, but what did I know.

I managed to sleep in one hour increments. It had pretty much been that way all week. I've never felt pre-race anxiety like I felt about this particular race. At 6:42AM, some one's car alarm went off. I, and many others, initially thought this was the conch shell. Might as well get up and start preparing. I had enough time to eat breakfast and handle the morning toiletries before the actual conch did blow; at 8:11AM.

One hour until the start.

At Precisely 9:11AM, Laz lit his cigarette and we began. Nobody seemed to be in a terrible hurry to scramble up to the road to the trail head; I did notice Nick Hollen was one of the few guys actually "running" up the jeep road. I fe1l into the middle of the congo line, heading up Bird. I reached the top of Bird Mountain in 36 minutes. Certainly not the fastest 1.25 miles in my life, it was 12 minutes faster than my stroll on Thursday. Looking around, I noticed I was in a group of about 6 runners containing: Hiram, Dusty, Tim, James, and Will. Excellent, I thought, two vets and a handful of virgins. A portion of the new section was named after Hiram, so who better to be with on the way to my first book? We hit the book dead on in 52 minutes and quickly began our way down Check Mate Hill. Dropping 1300' in .5 miles of bushwhack, this section was no joke. I couldn't imagine having to come back up it on loops 3 & 4. (Luckily I didn't have to - this year) As we were heading down, we ran across Psyche, she had overshot book one and was back tracking. This was the beginning of a long day for her.

Hiram took us right to book 2, 1:20 minutes into the race. I was brimming with confidence, I was feeling so good. The mood was light and jovial as Hiram & Tim continued to take us on a tour of the park and the book locations. Everyone was joking and in good spirits. The climbs were manageable and our lines were perfect. Book after book, we were dead on. The pages from books 3 & 4 were safely tucked in our plastic bags and we were headed to "Testicle Spectacle"

It's really a cruel joke. You come down off of Stallion Mtn and cross the New River, you are feeling great and the weather is nice. Not long after you pop out of the woods off of an old jeep road, you turn right and there it is-straight up. I mean STRAIGHT UP.

Testicles, spectacles, wallet, & watch.

No point in delay, time to climb. You know you are in for a long day when you are finding it is easier to travel on all fours then with two legs. We could see a tiny spec at the top of TS; it was a camera man. After what felt like about 30 minutes of climbing we hit the bench the cameraman was sitting on. I was the last runner in our line, he got up and followed me up the remaining section. After about 5 minutes I heard him exhale, "Phew, that was hard!" Wait, what?!?!? Dude, you filmed us for 30 minutes of that climb and hiked for 5 minutes and you are gonna try and tell me that was hard?????

Grabbed our page at the top of TS and headed out, next stop Raw Dog Fall.

Hiram navigated this one perfectly and we had our next page.

coming into this race, I had been having internal debate about what experience I wanted to have. There was a lot of talk about "virgins clinging onto vets" and never truly experiencing what it is like "Out There". I was torn, do I hang on and take the tour or do leave my comfort zone and go at it on my own. I had decided pre-race, that I would force myself out of my comfort zone and try to hang on to a stronger vet for as long as I could. I had been falling back on the last couple of climbs and was red-lining in order to stay with the group. I had to work really hard to keep up on the climb and then recovered as best as possible on the descents.

This all changed after Raw Dog Falls & Danger Dave's Climbing Wall. Myself & James were dropped on the climb through Pig Heads Creek, on the way to Rat Jaw.

We were on our own. Two virgins, a couple of maps and 5 more books.

We picked up the trail to the base of Rat Jaw and began what felt like the longest hour (or two) of my life. More 4-point of contact climbing(both feet and hand on the ground). I was grateful for the points along the power line cut where I could use the downed power line like a rope to help pull myself up. The higher we went, the steeper it got. I was moving 5 feet at a time. My heart felt like it was going to explode. James & I didn't speak, we simply exchanged simultaneous glances of encouragement and disbelief.

One step at a time, we made it to the top of Rat Jaw, where the book and 2nd water drop were located. I was relieved as I had run out of water halfway through the climb and we were cooking out there in the exposed power line cut.

The decent was almost as difficult, the only plus was that we were going down. It is here we ran across the guys coming up behind us. It was nice to see the others, I took some comfort in knowing the likes of Frozen Ed & Leonard Martin were on my six; they know the course pretty well.
James & I hit the prison tunnel and trudged through. I managed to keep my feet dry through the entire tunnel. All I had to do was make it up the wall. Of course, I fell off the wall halfway up and my feet were soaked. Relentless forward progress.

Book 8 was in the bag. All that remained were 3 pages and the 2 hardest climbs; A Bad Thing & Big Hell.

I can't accurately describe these climbs. I'm not sure my words will do them justice. I would move 15-20 feet at a time, and then doubled over, hands on my knees, gasping for air. I would pick a tree and motor towards it, get to it, allow gravity to slump my back into it and rest. James and I were using young treelings to help pull ourselves up. Trees keep snapping or pulling out of the ground. I found a really great hiking stick, which helped tremendously. Every time I thought I couldn't go any further, I reminded myself of my race mantra, "Don't make any race decisions on an uphill climb."

We hooked up with Leonard on the decent down the Zip Line. He is a wealth of information and I think he is a major reason I was able to finish the climb up Big Hell. Something he said stood out, "Just focus for an hour and twenty minutes to the top of Hell." that is how I run a lot of my races, I break things down into time segments, "I can do anything for X minutes." It took all I had to make it to the top of Hell. I didn't think it would end. I knew for sure James, Elise & Leonard were going to drop me. Thankfully, Elise & James were allowing me to see their suffering, I knew they were hurting, too. For some strange reason that helped me continue, we were unified in our suffering.

Nothing felt better than grabbing the 11th page out of the book. I knew I had finished the last climb and had almost 2 hours to get back to the yellow gate. Leonard was giving us splits and advice on our way down Chimney Top. "12 minutes of climbing up Rough Ridge and then about 45 minutes of downhill on trail to the park". Easy peasy.

Or was it? We hit Rough Ridge and I immediately fell off the back of the pack. One last punch from Laz, this 400' climb had me on the ropes. "Don't make any race decisions on an uphill climb" I finished the climb and caught back up to the group on the decent. I knew then there was no way I could go back out for loop 2. Bird Mtn and it's 1300' feet would be insurmountable. I was okay with that. I had left everything I had "Out There".

I arrived back at the yellow gate 12:44 after I left; I returned a different person.

For most, this is where the story would end. Mostly of the same for me. However, unlike the other one loopers, I showered, ate, and then headed over to sit by the campfire. I asked Laz, "Is is cool if I sit here with y'all?" He said, "Sure, it's tradition."

This is where the lesson began. I sat around the fire with them until about 4AM. Runners came and went. I saw Jared & Brett go out on their 3rd loops. They looked as fresh as they did 24 hours before. Brett ended up shattering the course record and Jared finished his 5 loops in 56 hours. I was there when Psyche, Naresh, & Matt Mahoney finished their sub 19 hour loop. The look on Naresh's face, when Laz told him there was no need to count his pages, was priceless. I was there to see so many runners, far stronger than me, get tapped out.

I learned invaluable lessons. Listening to Limacher, Dobies, Gleman, Laz, Mike Bur & Jason discuss the "old days" and what it was like and what it took to run Barkley....and this lil nugget, "Completing 2 loops at Barkley is equal to some of toughest 100 milers in the country."

When I heard that, the vacuum popped. Aha!~I hadn't really thought of it like that. Thinking about it though, time wise, it is dead on. Funny, I thought going in that "one loop was the same as a tough 50 miler". It only makes sense that the same would apply to 2 loops.

The lessons learned are how to properly prepare for another go. Jason said, "Train in the Cohutta's, you can get 2000' of climb in 3 miles." I need a sub-24 Pinhoti in order to have a shot at 2 loops. I need to climb! I need to have a few hundy's under my belt in order to think about a Fun Run.

The best part of my race happened after I was tapped out, while I was sitting around the campfire, soaking in the Barkley. I'm glad I was forced out of my comfort zone in several different ways this past weekend. It has opened my eyes to a whole 'nother ballgame.

"Most races are designed for success, this race is designed for failure." - Laz

He said that to me as I was saying goodbye to him Sunday morning. The next sentence was equally as important, "You have to have your own idea of success." I simultaneously succeeded and failed at Barkley. What a ride!

**Photo Credits: T. Armbruster, P. Wimberly, & J. Price**