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!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Trail Triple Crown: A Day to Remember

I had ran the Trail Triple Crown Marathon last year and I absolutely loved the trail system. It quickly became my favorite trail and it's still ranked very high on my list. As soon as I had finished the race last year, I vowed to come back and run it again.

The Trail Triple Crown is hosted by the Trail Dawgs running club. I'm not sure why their mascot is wearing a dress and carrying a purse, but whatever...they still put on some pretty cool races.

Trail runners have a way of falling in love with particular race courses, and like salmon, we'll return to them annually. Unlike salmon, trail runners do not spawn and then die. So maybe that's a bad example.

There are a few other characteristics that I've noticed within myself recently and I know this transformation is a result of spending a lot of time on the trail. If you're a trail runner you may share a few of these traits:

1. Most of the clothes in my wardrobe were acquired at packet pickup. I find myself getting excited when I score a particularly nice race shirt and immediately make plans for wearing it to my next important social engagement.

2. I am constantly refraining from firing snot rockets in public places. This is a very common occurrence during an ultra, but is not acceptable to do inside Whole Foods (according to Jo).

3. Whenever I'm driving down the road and see flagging tape hanging in a tree, I immediately start looking for the trail that is associated with it and make plans to return later to run it. I've learned that people use flagging tape for things other than marking trail running courses. This is stupid and confusing.

4. I have no problem pulling my running shorts to my knees so I can search for ticks. Those bastards hide in the toughest places to reach sometimes and I WILL NOT risk Lyme Disease for the sake of catering to your puritan values. Ticks are bad news. I may not recover from Lyme Disease, but you will most assuredly recover from seeing my bare ass. Maybe.

Sorry for the distraction...back to the race...

In addition to myself, Jo was on hand to run the Half Marathon. We were joined by Shasta Moore and Arron Skutch, both would be running their first marathons. Also, Aaron's beautiful girlfriend Kristen Wagner would be running her first Half Marathon.

We also met up with some of my friends from Runner's World (RWOL) Rik and Stacey Keener. They would both be running the marathon course today.

I want to take just a moment to provide some background on each of these runners.

This is me with Stacey and Rik before the race.

Rik is a certified bad ass on the trails and Stacey is equally tough. This will be her first marathon, despite having run an ultra already. I love when people blow right pass the marathon distance, then return later just so they can say they did it. We all need at least one of these races on our running resume.

Shasta Moore has been a friend and coworker for several years. I've never worked with anybody longer than I have with her. She and I worked together well before we had the jobs that we have now and she was one of the first people that I actively recruited when I got my new job. This means that Shasta knew me when I was fat, and she knew me when I was still trying to run my first mile. She used to tell me that my weight loss effort was a phase and that it wouldn't stick. Now she's lined up with me at a trail marathon.

Shasta...I win again!

Me, Jo, Kristen and Aaron before the race.

Aaron Skutch and I work together and we have traveled together while performing our jobs. As a result, Aaron has run with me on all of my favorite trails and running spots in the distant and remote locations where we work. I never really invited him, but he just kept showing up. Aaron also served as a crew member and pacer for me at the Javelina 100 mile race in Arizona last year. I think this may have been the catalyst that resulted in him wanting to run his first marathon.

Kristen Wagner has never run more than 10 miles in a race (road miles), so this will be a new experience for her. She's super tough and confident, so I was sure she would kill it.

For those people that are somehow unaware, there is a considerable difference between road races and trail races. To illustrate this, I'll take a moment to pick on the most famous road race in the world. Boston!

You may have seen the news reports recently regarding thousands of runners backing out of the Boston Marathon because it was going to be a warm day. This news stunned every trail runner I know. Trail runners are like US Mail (except we're in a much better financial situation). We don't care what the weather is, we just plan accordingly, go out, and do what we came to do. All my trail buddies that entered Boston, ran Boston.

Please note the elevation chart below. This compares Western States elevations and distance to that of Boston. And it's important to note that "Heartbreak Hill" has been highlighted in the profile. This is noteworthy because Heartbreak Hill is the most challenging spot on the Boston course. Western States isn't considered to be among the toughest ultras, but it is the Boston Marathon of trail runners.

Let's stop making fun and get back on track.

The half marathon started at 7:30, which is 10 minutes before the marathon. This is a 13.1 mile course and the marathon runners do it twice. We all gathered at the start line to watch the mass of runners take off. Aaron and I wished our ladies good luck, and they were off!

This left a much smaller group standing at the start line while we waited our specified 10 minute delay. We all made small talk until it was our turn. Soon enough, we were headed on our way.

I went out pretty fast, trying to pace off the fast guys and held a position up near the front for a while. The Navy Marathon Team is always at this race for some reason, and these guys are fast. I knew I wouldn't be running with them today and settled into a nice, steady pace with Rik Keener. We chatted as we ran and I was having a great time.

At mile 3, we had to cross a river that was approximately 240 feet wide and the water came up the bottom of my running shorts. It was ICE COLD. We scrambled through that and ran up the hill on the other side.

At mile 4, we caught up to a huge group of half marathon runners. We were in tight single track now and passing was very difficult. It's not bad when you're dealing with one or two runners, but there were dozens in our conga line.

Evidently, Rik did a better job of forcing his hand and managed to get around them much faster than I did. I was working my way through this mess for 2 miles and I realized some of these runners were deliberately making it difficult for the marathon runners to clear them. I don't quite get the thought process there, but whatever...

By the time I cleared this group, Rik was gone! I tried to make up for lost time and ran hard to find him. I never did catch him and wouldn't see him again until the finish.

At mile 10, the Navy guys came up along side me and asked if I was running the marathon. I replied "Affirmative!" and then they went into a detailed explanation of why they were now behind me. They had evidently got lost on the trail and were now trying to get back to their rightful place up front.

First off...I don't care that they got lost. Keeping on course is all a part of the sport.

Secondly...How do military guys get lost on a CLEARLY marked course? That gave me a lot to ponder while I made my way to the half way point.

I finished my first loop at exactly 2 hours and headed back out for the second half of the race.

There were ample aid stations, but I only stopped at 3 of them during the race. I was trying to make up for  the lost time, and I was feeling good enough to press on without much aid.

I enjoyed the second loop much more than the first, primarily because there were far fewer runners to deal with. So I just settled in and enjoyed the ride.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

Jo had finished her race before the rest of us, but since she is crew chief and photographer, there was nobody there to take her picture.

 But she did capture Kristen finishing her very first half marathon!! She did an amazing job.

Jo and Kristen after the race! Good job ladies!

It was at this point that Aaron came in after finishing the first half of his race. He was a little beat up and needed some aid. But he got patched up and sent back out to finish the second half of the marathon.

Aaron congratulating his girlfriend...or maybe Kristen giving him love and support so he could get out there and wrap it up. Either way, it was a great picture and a special moment. I love these guys.

I was the next runner to roll in to the finish. I came in at 4:10 and finished in 8th place overall. 

This is a picture of me about 1/4 mile from the finish. The other runner in the picture was finishing up her 5k and I was trying to clear her before the finish line.

Rolling to the finish! Another one in the books!

I immediately tried to find Rik so I could see how he did. I knew he would have done very well if I was 8th. When I found him, I learned he finished 4th overall with a time of 3:58. A sub 4 hour time in this race is a true accomplishment! 

The next runner in our group to finish was Shasta. I knew she had trained very well for the race and there was never a doubt in my mind that she would finish.

Shasta got a warm greeting from her sister. Shasta definitely toughed out a rough day on the course. I was very proud of her.

Then Stacey finishes! This chick definitely looks the part of a serious trail runner. She has all the cool gear and simply looks badass! She powered through her first marathon like a warrior.

Me, Rik and Stacey exchanging stories. Another awesome performance.

Shortly after Stacey came in, I saw Aaron making the last turn toward the finish line.

 Another marathon finisher!

After the race, we all shared congratulations and war stories. Talked about the trail, the aches, the water crossings, and all the amazing things we shared together, even when we weren't really together.

Nursing a few wounds and a few recovery beers.

Group shot..Me, Jo, Aaron, Kristen, Shasta, Stacey and Rik. Elite ultra runner Angus Repper kneeling in the back. Angus is among the best runners in our region and was volunteering at the race today. He WON the Hyner 50k last weekend, while I merely survived it. He's good people.

The more I run and race, the more I lose sight of how amazing the adventure can be. I try to find balance by staying close to people that want to run new distances and try new races. This seems to give me a direct link to that enthusiasm and emotions that I once felt as a new runner. 

I used to be overcome with emotion when I finished a tough race. While it still happens on occasion, it's rare. But I have that same feeling when I'm lucky enough to be a part of somebody else's excitement.

I find more satisfaction these days through helping other runners. While I still consider myself a novice, I think I can offer a few key insights that might help others along the way.

There will come a day when the fire is gone and can't be retrieved and that will be the day that I hang up my running shoes forever. But that day isn't today. And for as long as I can bear witness to people fulfilling goals and conquering fears, that day will not likely come for many years.

I thank all of these runners for letting me be a part of their day. It's a significant milestone and an achievement that will outlive all of us. Once you've accomplished these things, the results never go away and you're changed forever.

I love being a part of that.

Happy trails!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Hyner View 50k: Pizza, Beer, Friendship and Pain

This race report has to be presented in layers because there was so much going on this weekend and all of it deserves a little time and attention. So please bear with me as the story unfolds...

PART I: The Birthday

It is widely agreed upon that my wife is one of the best ultra crew members on the planet. In fact, I wish there was a competition for these selfless caretakers so she could be publicly crowned in a manner that is most fitting. But in the absence of such an event, you'll simply have to take my word that no other ultra runner, living or dead, has ever had a better crew.

So with Jo's birthday coming up fast, I felt compelled to do something extra special for her. It's nearly impossible to repay her for all that she's done for me, but I would be void of all human instincts and emotions if I didn't at least try to bring her some significant happiness on her special day. So after weeks of shopping online for the perfect gift, I found something that I knew would brighten her day...

The inaugural running of the Hyner View Challenge 50K!!!!

Some people may think my logic is counterintuitive, but I would strongly disagree! Hyner is an ideal choice because it doesn't allow for any crew support. Can you see where I'm going with this? She gets to simply sit and relax while I do ALL the work on her special day. And to top it off, Hyner offers camping right at the start line, so I also provided her with a chance to get out of the house for a while.

I can almost SMELL the jealousy as you all read this.

While I was cruising around in jets all over the continent this week, all Jo had to do was dig out our camping gear, get my race clothes washed and ready, find somewhere to leave our dogs, grocery shop, pack coolers, fuel the Jeep up, pack my ultra bag and restock missing items, and then pack the Jeep when she was done with all that.

We took off for Hyner, PA Friday in anticipation of the best birthday ever!

PART II: Friends

Once Jo got the camp all set up, it was time to relax and enjoy the rest of our day.

My 50k bib. I hung it there because I knew I would be drinking copious quantities of beer the night before the race, so this would guide me back to the right tent in case I got lost. 

Several of our very good friends were planning to be in attendance, so Friday night was intended to be a time to socialize and relax before the big day.

The first of my good friends to show up was JC. This man is a trail beast and one of the nicest guys I've had the pleasure to meet on the trail. 

JC and I relaxing. I look like I may be relaxing too much!

After hanging out for while, we decided to go up to the Hyner View (which the race is named after. Yes, it's an actual VIEW point). We were joined by Rex and Lisa. I had never met either of them before, but JC spoke highly of them, so I figured they were probably pretty awesome. 

Going up to the the view would give us a chance to preview one of the toughest ascents on the course. This climb is legendary, so I was eager to see it firsthand!

We drove to the top and walked to the lookout...

The view from the top. The 50K start line is down by the river!

My natural reaction after seeing the ascent!!! I think I was pointing at the start line, and muttering "holy shit" in between sobs and panic.

We hung around the view for a while, screwing off and making jokes about the climb...

Trail markers coming up the final ascent to the top...

JC...getting in the zone! JC is a Hyner veteran, but even with the confidence of a prior completion, this trail can still get in your head.

Me and my buddy JC. We're trying to act brave...

This is Rex and Lisa. These two screwballs are brother and sister and they are both a riot.
Rex and Lisa have been on a weight loss campaign and have collectively lost more than 400 pounds. At one point, Rex was nearly 500 pounds! They came to Hyner as a team and were hell bent on beating this grueling trail. Hyner is among the toughest trail races EVER. So it's no joke to come up here and take it on. I was unbelievably impressed with these two and they will forever have my respect.

Me and Jo...

A big group of idiots!

After scoping out the view, we all headed back to camp. We fueled up with large qualities of food and beer and settled around the camp to relax, tell stories and laugh our asses off.

At some point during the evening, JC brought out a plate of brownies with birthday candles on it and we all sang "Happy Birthday" to Jo. In spite of an entire day of screwing around, laughing and making fun of each other, I could see that Jo was deeply touched by this. Thanks JC! You really are a fantastic friend.

As the evening wore on, we were joined by several more great friends. It's times like this that I really appreciate my sport the most. If I were to set trail running aside, there is no chance I would develop relationships with the people sitting around my camp. And whether I've known them for years, or just met them, they're all unique and special. I'm constantly amazed by how my life is touched by the people I meet on the trail. No other sport has this.

We retire to bed at 10:30 and I set the alarm for 5:00!

PART III: Oh...yeah...the race!


The 50k race began at 8:00 and the 25k began at 9:00. Hyner has been around for a long time and is legendary for it's high level of difficulty due to crazy ascents, steep descents, and very rocky footing. But the 50k is a brand new event this year, and for veterans of the 25k, it seemed unfathomable!

This fact is evident in the number of runners in each race:

25k = 1200 runners
50k = 110 runners

Hyner is NOT my kind of race. I like long runnable sections on the course and I like to make time on the trail. Hyner does everything it can to promise a slow, technical, frustrating day in the woods. This race can be mentally devastating.

We got up, had coffee, got dressed and spent the remaining time getting mentally prepared for the long day ahead. I spend most of my morning socializing with friends and trying to stay relaxed.

My good friend Bob Bodkin. Bob does a lot of the same races I do and we see each other often. He makes an occasional cameo in my blog as well. Bob and I are founding members of D.U.R.T. (Dumbass Ultra Running Team). It takes a special kind of Dumbass to qualify for entry. BTW...yes, I'm wearing the Bull Run Run finishers sweatshirt from last weekend. "Yeah...I ran a 50 miler a week ago. SO WHAT!?"

I finally got to meet Pat (runPAtrails), a friend from Runner's World. We had never met face to face before, so it was great to finally have the opportunity. Pat will be running the 25k.
Jo and I eventually picked our way down to the start line and mingled with the crowd. While I was down there, I also got to meet Jamie (boyjame). He's another friend from Runner's World that I had never had a chance to meet at a race. He's a great young runner and I was very happy to meet him!
As we lined up at the start, I noticed several very fast runners in the field. I had raced with most of these people in the past and it was obvious that this race piqued the interest of a lot of people that had the potential to win.

Eventually, they got the race started and sent us on our way!
We had a length of asphalt to cover before we hit the single track. This worked out perfectly for getting us spread out so we could avoid the log jam when we hit the trail.
Jamie looking serious!
After a mile of road, and then a mile of undulating, narrow single track, we started the climb up to the view. I had (wrongly) convinced myself that the rest of the race would be pretty easy once I topped this first hill, so I pushed hard to the top. As I worked the ascent, my lungs were heaving in search of oxygen and several times, I began to feel light headed. This was truly one of the most brutal climbs I've ever done, but I felt like I was making good time to the top.

I had speculated to Jo that I would get to the view point in 1 hour. As I landed at the peak, I checked my Garmin and saw I had made it in 46 minutes. Despite the terrain, I was still under a 12 minute mile pace.

After getting to the top, we made a steep, technical descent into a tight river valley where we got aid. Then immediately turned back uphill toward the top again.

BTW...this is the theme for the entire race. As soon as we hit the top of a mountain, we turn and bomb to the bottom and then head straight back up. I honestly don't believe there is more than 2 miles of flat running on the whole course, and all of that came in the form of the road we ran to get onto the trail system.

Despite the forecast calling for rain, it was fairly warm and sunny for the first several miles. I was sweating much more than normal and spent a lot of time fighting off dehydration. I drank from my single handheld bottle constantly and took time to fill up with fluids at every aid station.

We continued the extreme UP...then Down for several miles. The downhills were too technical to make up much time. I went downhill only slightly faster than I could go uphill. The footing was treacherous and I ran with an abundance of caution.

Over a 6 mile stretch, we were faced with a mentally devastating section of trail. We made a sharp descent into the valley floor, then trudged upriver through boulders, loose rocks, downed trees and the creek itself. This was a slow climb back out and to the top. And once we finally got there, we bombed back down into another tight valley and repeated the process.

This was my hell! The uphill seemingly lasted forever and the downhill brought no relief because it was so steep and technical. I began to cuss the race, the mountains, the race director, and every rock I passed.

We came to an aid station at mile 20 and I was happy to put those sections behind me. I fueled up, refilled my bottle and headed out. On the way out I was following another runner and I saw him shove a branch out of his way. The timing was perfect, because as I reached it, it swung back and the sharp end landed right in my ear. This hurt like hell and it cut the inside of my ear open.

As I ran down the trail bleeding from the ear, I was temporarily distracted...and then it happened. Before I knew it, the ground was racing toward me at 100 mph. I landed flat on my face in the middle of trail. The fall knocked the wind of me and caused my sunglasses and handheld to fly off in random directions.

I've run THOUSANDS of trail miles and this is the 4th time I've ever fallen. Some runners make a habit out of it. I try to avoid it.

It hurt.

I picked myself up and carried on. We had several more hills to go UP...then DOWN...including SOB, which is a famous ascent on this trail. Most runners actually claw their to the top on all fours. I hated SOB!

It was about this time that I adopted a new mantra. I kept muttering "pizza and beer, pizza and beer". All I could think about was finishing so I could get me some PIZZA AND BEER!!!

After clearing that final hill, we had 2 miles of slight rolling terrain, then 2 miles of downhill to cover before we got to the finish. I ran every inch of those 4 miles, except for a brief pause to say hello to JC when I caught up to him.

On the final descent, I found my footing and ran, pushing an 8:30 pace down the trail. 4 other 50k runners tucked in behind me so they could steal my line. Slowly, I dropped all of them except one. The final runner faded, but he was still close behind. Close enough that I could still hear his feet skipping over the rocks. This was the best part of the race and I was literally laughing my head off as I ran. I was having a blast and it felt GREAT!!!!

We came out of the woods and hit the asphalt for the final stretch to the finish. I hammered down and pushed my way through the 25k runners, giving them words of encouragement as I went.

Right before the finish, we enter a small section of trail that shoots straight up to the finish line. After 100 feet of running the ascent, I stopped and turned to find the 50k runner that had been on my heels. Just as I did, he came onto the trail smiling. I said to him "How much fun was that?!?!?!" He was laughing and said it was "AWESOME!!!" He was still laughing as I turned and headed for home.

I crossed the finish line in 7:12:35.

This is MY blog, so I rarely post unflattering pictures of myself, but this one definitely speaks a thousand words. I was exhausted!

I had hoped to finish under 7 hours, but that time was just a guess, utilizing a lot of bad assumptions about the course. My time put me in 30th overall out of a field of 110 starters. Not a great finishing position, but I'll take it.

Here are a few more finish photos of our friends.

Jo Kappus finishing strong!
 A little celebration is in order! Rex did a great job conquering the Hyner! I was very proud of him.
 My man JC with a big PR on this course!!!
 Bob Bodkin taking it all in stride!
 I was so proud to see Lisa finish strong! Great job! She was accompanied by her friend Flynn that had come along to provide her with support and encouragement.

Post race was a blur of pizza and beer. We spent 3 hours watching finishers come across and taking in the amazing atmosphere at this race. It was one of the best finish line parties I've ever been to. Great food, music and the best people!

Not an uncommon site at Hyner. He didn't even make it to the second timing mat. He just crossed, veered off to the right and collapsed. I have no idea who this dude is, but Jo didn't let that stop her from capturing his suffering on camera. My wife is awesome like that.
More Runner's World Friends (BadMotherRunner and XtremeTaper). Tania volunteered at the mile 24 aid station because she's allowing her pregnancy to get in the way of running long races. 
 Marie (FTYC) chose THIS race as her first 50k!! I questioned her sanity, but she shut me up by knocking it out like it was easy! She impressed the hell out of me today.
 Sharing war stories with Jamie and Marie. They both did a great job with the 50k.

The Hyner View Trail Challenge is no joke. In all the years of the 25k event, it has developed a reputation for being a punishing event. The concept of doing 50k on that course is mind boggling to most people that have seen what the 25k reduces most people too.

This trail has over 7400' of elevation gain, which translates to almost 15,000' of elevation change over 31 miles. Considering the trail conditions, that makes for a serious day in the woods.

The race is well managed and has developed a warm feel and a great atmosphere. I'm not sure that I want to experience this race again, but I'm equally convinced that I want to be a part of it. It was a truly great experience and I'm glad I ran it.

So, in the end, Jo had a great birthday surrounded by friends. I ran a cool race and then we all had fun afterwards. It was a fantastic weekend!

We're off to Delaware next weekend for a trail marathon.

Thanks for taking the time to read my report. Happy Trails!