Thanks for visiting my blog. This is where I document and share all of my running adventures with my friends and fellow runners. The good, the bad, and the unquestionably painful. All for your entertainment! Enjoy!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Lookout Mountain 50: Not a Happy Camper!

I've had a pretty cool race season and I have nothing to complain about. I bagged some top 10 spots in big races, traveled to a lot of cool places to train and race, and I met a lot of really cool people in the process. 2012 has proved to be a pretty decent year of running.

Which makes it really tough to end it on a sour note. 

We traveled to Tennessee to run the Lookout Mountain 50 miler (and for my bride to whoop ass on the 10k). 

I Did Not Finish. Also referred to as a DNF. And sometimes referred to as....SHIT!

Cool Swag. I'm wearing it anyway!

Before getting into the brutal details, I feel like I need to provide a bit of back story as to how I even ended up in Tennessee to run this race. If I have to write about my personal failure, I may as well rat out one of my best friends in the process. I like to try to deflect blame where possible.

Some of you may know this man. He's the "Bearded Wonder", AKA...This Bees Knees (http://thisbeesknees.blogspot.com/). This whole adventure was his idea. See how free spirited he appears?

I had never even heard of the Lookout Mountain 50 mile trail race. I'm not even sure I had heard of Tennessee before Leon brought it up!

The ORIGINAL plan was to have an epic road trip from Pennsylvania to Tennessee and run this race together. As buddies. As kindred spirits, one might say. I was excited to be a part of an adventure with my buddy and jumped at the chance. After signing up and making all the arrangements, Leon swapped this race for another opportunity. I was devastated. I may have wept. In my deeply saddened state, I can't quite recall. But I was sad.

Me and Leon during better times.

This is the true Leon! Sinister...and drinking a PBR! 

Ok...It's not Leon's fault that I ended up in Tennessee. Let's be honest. If somebody mentions a race in passing, I'll probably run it, no matter where it is. AND, the race Leon swapped for Lookout Mountain, is actually a 100 miler in Utah that we ARE going to run....TOGETHER. Allegedly.

I love Leon like a brother. So I'm entitled to lay blame on his doorstep. This is what real brothers do.

Coming into this race, I was feeling great. I was well rested and recovered from JFK and I had been training on hills, at altitude. I was ready to go.

Me and Jo before the start of the 50 miler

Start Line!

The race began at 7:30. It was a comfortable 43 degrees and was forecasted to be a perfect day for running. The stars we aligned! This was going to be an epic day! I even had images of a solid top 10 finish floating around my head. This type of course is right up my alley!

We're off!

I was still having fun when this picture was taken.

The race starts at the high point on the course and we drop off the mountain down into the valley almost right away. The trail is tight, single track and the drop is gradual for the most part. The trail wasn't what I would classify as "technical" but there were rocks, roots and the usual potholes scattered about. This was complicated by the 4-6 inches of dry leaves that provided cover for these obstacles.

To provide a sense of magnitude, we were dropping about 1500 feet in elevation over the first 13 miles. So this is a manageable and FAST descent.

The biggest concern is the drop off that was always present on the left side of the trail. In most areas, it was extreme and a fall from the trail, in that direction, could cost you your life. This is not an exaggeration. I'm not afraid of heights, but I am afraid of falling from heights, and I'm VERY afraid of dying.

These signs are NOT on the course, but maybe they should be

Somewhere around mile 5, while I was in perfect ultra runner form and feeling awesome, I lifted my handheld bottle and took a long swig of water. In doing so, I momentarily averted my eyes from the trail and my right toe made instant contact with one of the many camouflaged rocks on the trail.

Start the slow motion, mental replay....

I knew I was going to fall, but I didn't know if I would fall to the trail, or to my death. I hoped for the trail. Because I made contact with my right foot, my body shot to the left side of the trail, or in other words, to the CLIFF OF DOOM. I twisted and tried to shift my body weight on the way down, but to no avail. The left side of my body slammed onto the left edge of the trail and I bounced. While airborne, I realized I was bouncing OFF the trail toward the cliff. I stuck both arms out and started kicking my legs in hopes of grabbing a small tree or rock to keep me on the trail.

Reenacted photo. It may be a slight over exaggeration. 

I managed to grab a small oak tree and stay on the trail. And I lost 7 spots in the process.

When I pulled myself to my feet, I instantly realized that I had some damage from the fall. As I began to run, my back tightened and my left knee was sore. I hoped it would work itself out.

After such a nasty spill, I assumed the worst was over. BTW...assume = ASS...U...ME. But mostly ME.

While focusing on my self assessment, I was a little distracted and never noticed the next mine field of rocks that was waiting in a perfect ambush formation. I somehow managed to step on a rock that was sloped in toward another rock, causing me to slip and lodge my right foot in between them both. While I managed to stay upright, I had bruised the top of my foot in the process.

This is ultra running, Keystone Cops style! At this point, I should have just flung my body off the cliff and ended it all. But I kept running.

After a few miles, the ache in my back and the bruise on my foot were not getting better. I began to worry about a broken foot and there was an occasional YELP of pain when I landed my right foot a certain way. Things were looking grim.

We made it to the bottom of the mountain, and the mile 15 aid station. I had hoped that flat running may be a little easier on my back and foot, and it was. Then we started a 5 mile ascent, back to the top of the mountain we just came down. And the pain returned.

I struggled to the top of the mountain. Very little of this section was runnable, so I had ample time to think about my situation. I was hurt, I knew this much. How bad? No idea. I was still holding my position and moving along well, but not in a manner that was normal, or that felt right.

I ultimately decided to ask Jo for advice. I was due to see her at the 22.5 mile mark and decided I would do whatever she recommended. I had mixed feelings leading up to the aid station.

Mile 22.5 aid station

Still running well, but in pain

Our car was parked nearby, so I asked Jo to go sit with me a minute in the car while I explained the situation to her. In hindsight, I think I did this because I already knew where this was headed.

We discussed it at great length, weighing my options. Could I finish? Yes. Could I finish well? No. Could I finish healthy? No idea.

We bagged it right then and there. I was extremely upset, but I couldn't deny it was the right course of action. I'm at the end of a great year of running and I accomplished a lot. I have nothing to prove to anybody, not even myself. At the end of the day, this event is inconsequential. It was best to just pack it in and move on, while keeping an eye to a new round of training and a fresh race schedule on the horizon.

That wraps up my race season, and as I said in the beginning, it's a crappy way to end the year. But I have a fresh beginning right around the corner and we're excited about what lies ahead.

I want to thank Leon for being a good sport. I love him dearly and his friendship means a lot to me. And I need to thank Jo for taking such great care of me all year. She kept me safe, healthy and in one piece, despite my best efforts.

Now it's time for some recovery while enjoying the holidays. We'll be attacking 2013 with a vengeance!

Happy Trails!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

2102 JFK 50 Race Report

The 50th anniversary of the JFK 50 marks my 50th race at the marathon distance or longer. I know what you're thinking, it seems like I've run more long distance races that that, but after careful review, the number has proven to be accurate. However, that's 50 marathons and ultras in 2 years, so it HAS been a busy time.

I chose to run the JFK 50 because of the hype surrounding this event. It's iconic, hard to get into and has a massive following of loyal runners that return year after year to take part in this event. This would suggest it's something special. Seems logical.

The Kennedy family has left an impressive legacy in its wake. A few of the most notable events include:

- 1 Lobotomy
- 4 Fatal Plane Crashes
- 1 Rape Trial
- 2 Assassinations
- 2 Fatal Car Crashes
- 1 Suicide
- 1 Drug Overdose
- 1 Murder Conviction
- The JFK 50

Just a normal, all American family.

I hadn't planned to "race" the JFK 50, but I wanted to run it and have a decent time. My body has been feeling good and my running has been strong, but after running two 100 mile events in October and a tough trail marathon in early November, I was trying to be realistic about my level of fitness for JFK. Even though I was strong, I was sure that I would tire quickly if I went out too hard.

In other words...I was NOT going to KILL THE JFK.

This race attracts a lot of the elite runners in our sport because it has the potential to be fast. This year was no exception. The field included Max King, Ian Sharman, Michael Arnstein, Ellie Greenwood, Ian Torrance, and Kelly Agnew.

We also had several good friends in attendance at the race, including Derek Schultz, Greg Brozovich, Anna Piskorska, Rachel Ridgway and James Wedekind. All of whom are great runners and very fun people.

At the Start. If you click on this picture, you may notice a few of the guys in the front row should have been somewhat deeper in the pack. They're lining up against the best ultra runners in the world. This isn't Black Friday at Wal-Mart.  

Spoiler Alert!!! Max King is in the RED long sleeve shirt. He wins and sets a new course record. The two guys on the far left side of this picture don't even know who Max King is!

The race begins on US 40 in downtown Boonsboro and climbs almost 1200 feet over the next 5.5 miles. All of this is on asphalt. I ran this section well and felt strong. A sign that living and training at altitude is paying off. While the runners around me were gasping for air, I was coasting up the mountain with relative ease.

We left the asphalt and joined the Appalachian Trail for the next 10 miles. The race boasts more distance on the AT than this, but they're including a paved section of the trail in their numbers. I refuse to accept that as a real trail. Sorry guys, let's make a distinction between a trail and a golf cart path.

Welcome to the AT!

Running on the Appalachian Trail was clearly the best part of this race. This section of trail was typical for the region. It was steep and extremely rocky. It was possible to make good time over most of it, but it paid to be cautious in several sections of this trail. Coming into this race, I had fallen a total of 5 times  during various trail runs. After this section of the AT, that number grew to 6. But after a classic "tuck and roll" I was on my feet and running again in no time!

We made our exit from the AT by descending 1000 feet through a series of technical switchbacks toward the dreaded tow path. I was in a 4 person freight train as we barreled down the slope. This was the first, and last time that I felt really happy during this race.

Max King leaving the Appalachian Trail. 

Finishing the best part of the race. Now onto 35 miles of mind numbing drudgery.

My buddy Greg Brozovich entering the mindless trek on the tow path. 

The transition from the AT to the Tow Path at mile 15.5 was the first chance to see Jo. I was able to get into and out of the aid station quickly and on my way. After running 15.5 miles of hills and technical trail, I now had a full marathon to run on the tow path before an 8 mile cool down run back into town. Sounds daunting.

In a piece of classic stupidity, I had forgotten to bring my watch for this race. This didn't bother me much because I DID bring my Garmin 905 and figured I would wear that instead. However, I did NOT bring the charger for the GPS watch and found myself double screwed by my nonchalant packing style. This came as a mixed blessing. While I would have no way to monitor and manage my split times, I also wouldn't be staring at my watch every 4 seconds hoping to get the hell off the tow path. In light of this issue, I had Jo keeping me posted on my splits when I saw her every 10-15 miles. Not frequent enough to be truly useful, but at least I wasn't flying totally blind.

I tried to make the best of the tow path, but I sincerely could not find any redeeming qualities in it. It's flat and boring. There is no other way to describe it. And to compound matters, the JFK race directors will DISQUALIFY you if you get caught wearing headphones in this race. They claim it's a safety issue because runners may need to pass and you will need to be aware of their presence. NOTE TO THE RACE COMMITTEE: The tow path is 50 feet wide. We can navigate around each other.

I have a real issue with races that provide a list of all the shit they'll disqualify you for. Let's just relax and enjoy. OK?

Derek Schultz coming into the Antietam Aqueduct aid station at mile 27.

Making my way to the 27 mile aid station

I came into mile 27 in 4:32. This was a bit slower than I had hoped for, but I knew I had to make up time for the early ascent in the first 5 miles. This is where I grabbed my first bit of food. Up to this point, I had drank about 30 ounces of Gatorade, but I hadn't taken in any fuel. I grabbed a handful of chips off the table, refilled my bottle and headed out.

Due to the cool weather, my fluid intake was minimal. As a result, I was keeping my handheld filled to the midpoint in the bottle to cut back on the weight. I know if sounds silly, but a few extra ounces makes a difference over 50 miles. After 5 or 6 hours, a handheld bottle can feel like you're carrying an anvil!

Shortly after leaving the aid station, I noticed my IT bands were getting tight. My hip flexors had been sore for a few miles, but now that my IT bands were beginning to rebel, I knew my pace was going to suffer. The longer I ran, the tighter they got. I paused on the course every couple of miles to stretch my legs, but the relief was only temporary. I was going to have no choice but to suck it up and deal with it.

The pain continued to get worse. As it got worse, I got pissed. I haven't had issues with my body all year and for this to happen now was just annoying. I realized it wasn't an injury, but my legs were a tad bit overused and they were rebelling. Damn legs.

Coming to the Taylor's Landing aid station at mile 38.7

When I saw Jo at mile 38, I was in a pretty foul mood. I had run 23 of the most boring miles of my life and I wasn't feeling good. I honestly wanted to bail on this race and just get to nearest cold beer so I could relax and complain in a more suitable environment. But I knew that wasn't going to happen. I was going to run the last 12 miles and end this thing the right way.

A few miles after Taylor's Landing, I finally exited the tow path. So to this point, I had covered 5.5 miles of paved uphill, 10 miles of technical trail, 26.3 miles of the tow path, and now I had to cover about 8.5 miles of rolling asphalt.

This is a trail race, right?

Shortly after leaving the tow path, I encountered an unauthorized beer stop on the course. Being a dutiful and experienced trail runner, I took full advantage of it and replenished some calories and carbs. It was delightfully refreshing and it was clear this man is destined for sainthood.

While I was still reveling in my good fortune, I encountered a SECOND beer stop a mere quarter mile down the road! Not wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth, I sauntered right over and gathered up a cup full of frosty awesomeness!

This race was really beginning to turn around for me!

The beer helped to sooth my aching legs and I was turning over a pretty strong pace at this point. The course at this point consisted of steadily rolling hills and I walked a few of the steeper climbs. The ascents really made my hips scream as my IT bands rolled over my hip bones. Its a truly awful feeling.

Jo met me for a final time at mile 46. I gave her a quick status update, a quick kiss, and I was on my way to the finish.

Coming through the Downsville aid station at mile 46

There was a final aid station at the 48.5 mile mark, but I sailed right through without stopping. I was quietly hoping to break the 9 hour mark but I was really doubting the possibility of it. I was running hard, but I refused to run hard enough to risk an injury.

On the home stretch!

Saying HI to Jo as I wrap this thing up

As I got close to the clock, I watched the time roll from 8:59 to 9:00. Without a watch, I had no idea how close I was to breaking the 9 hour time I had hoped for. This seems to be the story of my life.

(But let's be fair. We started 1100 runners with a gun start, not a chip start. I broke 9 hours)

Crossing at 9:01

Smiling for the Paparazzi! 

1100 runners started the race. 942 finished within the 13 hour cut off. I crossed in 213th place. I hadn't hoped for anything better than this and wasn't really looking for a competitive time. I can certainly live with it considering my ridiculous October and the resulting pain I suffered through for 20 miles. Such is  the reality of the sport.

Happy to be done!

I'll be blunt. I don't care for this race, which is probably evident in the way I drafted this race report. I honestly don't see the mass appeal. Maybe it's a trail runner thing. Maybe the appeal is coming from the road running crowd that likes to push beyond the marathon distance. I really can't explain it. This race is nothing special. But I am glad I ran it so I can have an opinion of my own based on experience. I'm entitled to that.

I would like to say that the race is very well managed. The organizers do an excellent job with the details, and the aid stations are world class. The volunteers are amazing and a runner lacks nothing at JFK.

This race is obviously popular with a huge number of devoted and talented runners. They love the event and I think that's great. It's just not for me. But I am sincerely happy to have the experience.

I only have one more race left in 2012. The winter months will be spent on rest and active recovery before tackling another tough race season in 2013.

I hope to see some of my dear friends on the trail soon!

Run happy, stay healthy and have fun!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Moab Trail Marathon: Beautiful Brutality

After a couple of tough 100 mile trail races in October, mixed with a lot of travel, moving to Utah and squeezing in a beastly trail marathon in Moab, Honey Badger was feeling less than amused and was actually starting to care. He's looking forward to some time off.

Tapping his fingernails...losing his sense of humor about it all

I won't lie or try to hide my enthusiasm about it. I had a great race at the Javelina Jundred after finishing in 8th place overall with a sub 20 hour time. It was my last 100 miler of the year and I'm glad that string of races ended on such a high note. It will provide a focal point heading into 2013 and I can feel good about my running through a tough 2012 schedule. I'm pretty stoked about it all.

After wrapping things up after Javelina, Jo and I went on an exciting trek through the Southwest, hiking and trail running our way toward Moab for the Moab Trail Marathon. It was a trip of a lifetime and was nothing short of epic. Before getting onto my race report, I want to share a few highlights from the adventure.

After leaving Fountain Hills on Monday, we headed to Sedona, Arizona for hiking and running in Brins Mesa. Sedona is a beautiful place for enjoying the trails and very few people take advantage of them. Most people seem to enjoy the views from the inside of their cars. This is just fine by me!

Hiking to the top of the mesa 

Testing my legs with a bit of uphill running!

On Tuesday, we drove to Chinle, Arizona to hike Canyon De Chelly. This is a stunning canyon filled with ancient Indian ruins. We hiked to the White House ruin and visited all the overlooks on the south rim. It was amazing.

Sidenote...If you visit the canyon, make it a day trip. Staying the night in the Navajo Nation can leave you wanting for simple amenities, such as internet, decent food, and drinkable water. 

View of Canyon De Chelly before the hike to the bottom

White House Ruins

Wednesday took us to Cortez, Colorado to explore the Canyon of the Ancients. This canyon has more than 6000 ruins and is a beautiful hike. We loved it so much, we went back the following morning so I could run the entire length of the canyon. Jo dropped me off on the North side then drove around to the other end and hiked in to meet me on the south end of the canyon. It was a magical run. Loved this spot!

Jo and I in the Canyon of the Ancients

View in the canyon

After my trail run on Thursday morning, we drove to Moab for a few days of fun and racing. As soon as we arrived, we hiked to the Corona and Bow Tie arches outside Moab.

On Friday, we opted for the longest and most challenging hike in Arches National Park. This found us on the primitive trails in Devils Garden. We left before sunrise and had the entire technical section to ourselves. We saw several amazing arches and views along the way and had a great time together. I can't properly explain how amazing this hike was. It was stunning and very challenging.

Inside Arches National Park

In awe of it all

Hiking down a "fin"

Technical slickrock. Bad footing = long fall

We logged a lot of miles in epic surroundings and it was probably our best vacation ever. Life is all about adventure and we're all well served by going out and finding it. We found enough this week to keep us smiling for a while.

Thanks for indulging me! Now onto the race!!!

The Moab Trail Marathon is hard. I know I say that about a lot of my races, but I really mean it this time!

The Moab Trail Marathon is set on a series of steep, rocky, technical trails on the west side of town. This time of year, Moab has sweeping temperature changes. We were just above freezing at the start of the race and the temps rose into the 70's before we were done running. Altitude is also an issue for some runners as we work our way higher out of the canyons to the top of the mesas. All of these variables result in a tough day on the trail.

We were joined by my coworker and our good friend, Shasta Moore for this race. Shasta is becoming a very strong and talented distance runner and she takes this stuff seriously. No matter how hard I try to convince her otherwise.

The race started at 9:00 AM and we headed out on jeep roads and double track trail. All of which was rocky and rolling. The first 4 miles were very runnable, but tough. I settled into a comfortable pace and just rolled into the race while I assessed my physical abilities. Things seemed to be working right, so I ran accordingly.

At the 4 mile mark, we began a long, technical climb over slickrock and uneven trail. The race started to suck a little. After topping out, we were treated to a nice technical downhill section. I ran this section like a bit of an idiot, but made it all the way down without seriously hurting myself. Bonus!

Just before the 10 mile mark, the half marathon runners peeled off and headed out on their own adventure. Jo was among this group.

After some narrow single track trail and a bit of gravel road, we hit the big hill. Every race seems to have one of these and the Race Directors seem to put them in the most inconvenient locations. This one was placed just after the mid point and right after a nice section of reasonably flat and fast running. As if it were to say "WHOA...now I'm gonna hurt you". And it proceeded to do exactly that.

This uphill section is a bit longer than 2 miles and climbs more than 1200 feet. As a bonus, it's fully exposed to the sun and hotter than hell all the way to the top. It's rocky, nasty, technical and has a life threatening drop on one side. Welcome to Moab!

Starting up the big hill

It was a bit rocky

View near the top. Not AT the top...NEAR the top!

After cresting the top, I was hoping for an amazing downhill run to help make up for the long hike to the top. I was treated by some downhill, but not enough. There's never enough downhill. Never.

We ran through the sloping valley and then some rolling, rocky trails.

Have I mentioned the sand? The fine, powdery sand that seems impossible to gain traction in? Yeah...there was a lot of that too.

Loved this section of trail. It's too narrow to run though, so I did a cartwheel through it. Unfortunately, there was nobody there to take a picture of it. It was awesome.

We eventually made our way to the downhill I was wishing for. Except it wasn't what I wished for at all. It was too steep. Far too steep and much too rocky. This was not my happy trail that had I envisioned.

View of the Colorado River on my way down

We approached the finish line and I could hear the crowd from a mile a way. But it was a tease. Another common Race Director trick. We ran right passed the finish line for a final 5 mile loop through the worst part of the race before getting to the end of the torture and mind games.

Me passing right by Jo at the finish. "Hi Babe. Yeah...gonna run more. Yes...it sucks as bad as it looks. See you soon? I hope. "

This 5 mile loop had it all. Ladders, running through culverts, running though a cave, and two technical sections that required ropes and spotters. It was no joke!

Coming to a vertical cliff that required a rope assisted climb

I finally made it through all the tough stuff and hit the road headed to the finish.

I ran with this dude for a few miles and didn't know he was a genius until I saw this picture that Jo took. He stopped by his drop bag and retrieved a beer right before the finish. Only in trail running!

Like any good race, the Moab Trail Marathon finishes with a brutal uphill scramble. More punishment for good measure!

Running the last hill

Headed to the finish!!!

Knowing the course and the terrain, and given my physical condition, I was hoping for a sub 5 hour finish. I crossed the line in 5:02:24. This put me in the top 30% of finishers and higher if you count the starters that never made it. I can live with that.

After looking over my shoulder during the entire race, waiting on Shasta to pass me, the first time I saw her was at the finish. She's becoming a tough, talented runner and considering my tired legs, she had me running scared all day. I would never hear the end of it if she beat me. Ever!

Shasta taking the last hill to the finish!

Jo finished her race in 3:15:40 and had an amazing time. The half marathon course was just as challenging and brutal. Jo did a great job and I'm super proud of her. After the post race briefing, it seems that she enjoyed it more than I did and she'll be keeping an eye out for the 2013 registration to open. She's an enabler!

Me, Jo and Shasta after the finish

I think it goes without saying that the Moab Trail Marathon is an epic adventure in itself. But when coupled with a week of hiking the Southwest and running a fantastic 100 miler the previous weekend, this was a week that we'll never forget.

We saw places that will leave a lasting impression on us and we certainly accomplished things that we'll be proud of and will provide inspiration for more amazing adventures.

We have a couple of easy weeks before we travel to the east coast for the 50th running of the JFK 50 miler. I'm sure that will prove to be an amazing adventure as well!

Hope to see some of you on the trails soon!