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, June 24, 2012

OSS/CIA Nighttime Trail Race

Jo and I made the 3 hour drive to Northern Virginia so I could run in the OSS/CIA nighttime trail race. This race is intended to be a 50 miler, but provides an option for a 25 mile finish.

Obviously, I had planned to run the 50 mile distance when I signed up for the race. But recently, I had been suffering from an unknown illness ever since my finish at the Old Dominion 100 three weeks ago. As time went on, I began to get seriously concerned about my physical condition. I was exhausted constantly, my body ached, and I felt like I had a prolonged flu. When I ran, it felt like I was carrying a 150 pound person on my back. I was slow and running was painful.

After a visit to the doctor, I was immediately put on medications to fight Lyme Disease. I had suspected this might be the cause of my problems because the symptoms suggested it, and I had been infested by ticks during the OD100. 

As a result of the illness and the side effects of the drugs, I reluctantly agreed to drop down to the 25 mile distance...UNLESS...I was kicking ass in the race. Which I seriously doubted would happen, but I wanted to keep my options open just in case.

BIG SURPRISE!!! I'm #1 Again! This is my bib number in most my races. I would like to say it's because I'm really awesome...but it has a lot more to do with where my name falls in the alphabet.

The race was held at the Prince William Forest State Park. This is an awesome venue for a trail race and a truly beautiful park.

Race headquarters at packet pickup.

Packet pickup started at 5:30, but the race didn't start until 7:30. This gave us plenty of time to relax, rest, chat with other runners, and get ready for the evening.

Chillin before the race! A tired, diseased, ultra runner.

Jo was quite pleased to show off her ultra runner shirt. I hesitate to say that most people may have missed the writing if Jo was flat chested. But let's be honest, the words on the shirt practically smack you in the face.

"I don't do ultramarathons. I do an ultramarathon runner." Jesus guys...runner isn't pluralized!

At 7:30, we were sent off into the woods to start our adventure. It was still light out and the start time allows for about 2 hours of daylight running, depending on how thick the woods are. I was glad to be able to see the trails for a while so I could get a sense of what to expect.

I was surprised at how nice the trails were. I had heard several runners describe the trails as "technical". This is true if you're comparing them to the sidewalk in front of your house, but otherwise, they're a long ways from truly technical. However, this opinion is shaped based on the types of trails a runner usually runs or has experience with. These trails were usually wide, rocks were rare, roots were low lying, and the hills were pretty gentle. This is a very runnable course...in MY opinion.

Here are a few pictures of the trails we were on. I would consider these pictures to be a typical representation. However, there were a few areas that required careful footing, mostly near the river where large rocks and roots were exposed due to flooding.

Sweet, smooth single track!!!

When the race started, I was feeling really good. I was running up near the front for the first 5 miles and I was having a blast. I felt like I usually feel during a trail run and it was awesome! 

Thoughts of doing the entire 50 miles began to creep into my head. I was convincing myself that I could do it, and I could do it well. But suddenly, the rarely seen side of my brain interjected. The mature side of me. For the first time ever, I considered how I might feel tomorrow and how pushing myself tonight might slow my healing process. 

I don't particularly care for my mature side. While I am usually successful at keeping his voice muted, he occasionally creeps in and makes some good points. I reluctantly went back to focusing on a 25 mile run.

Maturity sucks and is entirely overrated!!! 

The woods got dark much earlier than I expected, and I switched my lamp on at mile 7. At this point in the race, things were still going very well. All of that was about to change with a huge mental screwing that I was about to receive.

I was pushing pretty hard when I came to a road crossing. This was a well worn gravel road and I had seen several road crossings like this and, like all the others, I didn't pay much attention to it. I could see the trail markers directly across the road and I ran in that direction and continued running hard.

I never saw the markers indicating the turn!

After about a mile of running, I heard runners approaching from the rear and they were moving fast. This struck me as odd, because if they're THAT fast, they should already be ahead of me. I looked over my shoulder and recognized the race leader. Instinctively, I assumed he had gone off course and I had passed him. 

I had it backwards. Shit....

As it turns out, I missed a turn that directed us to an out-and-back section where there was a water stop and a volunteer punching bibs to verify that we ran that section.

I had two choices. #1, keep running and not worry about it. #2, turn around and head back, adding 2 miles to my race.

I turned on my heels and headed back. After a half mile, I began to see the hoards of runners that had been behind me all day. I began counting the spots I was losing, which really only served to piss me off, so I stopped paying attention.

Initially, I was upset about missing the turn because I blamed it on poor course markings. I quickly fought those frustrations off and recognized it was my responsibility to know the course. But I still cursed the race management for a while and it made me feel better.

After losing so many spots and feeling dejected, I decided to settle into a nice easy pace and just enjoy the rest of the race. My body AND mind needed a solid run and this was my chance. 

For the next 18 miles, I settled in and enjoyed the trail. I chatted with other runners, hung out with the aid station crew at the halfway point, and simply focused on enjoying the event.

I eventually heard the rowdiness of the finish line and knew my evening was coming to a close. I crossed much later than I had hoped but was happy with the opportunity to run these amazing trails.

Crossing the finish line and getting my time recorded.

I was tired, hot and very sweaty, but I was also very content. It turned out to be an excellent opportunity for a nice long training run.

And it should be mentioned that this race gets a huge THUMBS UP for the cool race shirt. I get a lot of race shirts, but I wear very few of them for a number of reasons. This is a race shirt I'll definitely wear. JOB WELL DONE!

VERY well stocked aid station. This is one of many tables at the halfway point. Somebody likes to grocery shop!

I would also like to commend the race management team for putting on an excellent event. This was the inaugural race and they did an amazing job. The course was fantastic, the volunteers kicked ass, the swag was very cool, and they clearly wanted everyone to have a great night in the woods. Their sincerity was utmost and their skills at race management are top notch. 

I loved this race and I fully intend to return next year when I'm back to my normal self. I think I can be a contender in this race and I want to have a chance to rock these trails when I'm functioning like my normal self. This race is very well suited for my strengths as a trail runner. 

I felt very good after finishing which was a huge relief. Hopefully I'm gaining ground on my infection and will be able to run like I was meant to. After finishing, we spent some time chatting with runners and race volunteers, then started our long drive home.

I was very content!

I can't give this race enough praise. These guys did it right. There were a few minor issues, but the crew was very attentive and they'll do even better next year. And I can't wait to see how awesome this race will be by them.

Jo and I are headed to Finger Lakes next weekend for the Finger Lakes 50's and I hope I feel even better by then. I'm craving a high turnover and speed...Finger Lakes is a good place for that. We'll see how it goes!

Thanks for reading. Happy Trails, friends!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Laurel Highlands Fun Run

The Laurel Highlands Ultra is a very special race for me and Jo, as well as a large group of our closest friends. This race represents much more than a running event and we all look forward to it every year. This weekend has an inexplicable way of bringing people together and we have built relationships and memories that will last a lifetime.

My participation in the LH70 was threatened this year because I had fallen ill the week before the race. My stomach had been a mess, I had no desire to eat, I had lost several pounds and I was constantly tired. I was sleeping 10-12 hours a day and never felt rested. I was a mess.

Jo and I had debated whether or not to make the trip, but we both knew that we HAD to go, even if I wasn't running. This weekend isn't about the running anyway, and we both knew it.

So we headed to Ohiopyle on Friday with no clear idea if I would even run.

At the end of this sticker, it should say...."until Kelly writes a blog about it"

Our group rents a block of cabins right next to the start line and we spend the evening cooking, eating, hanging out and having fun. It's a very laid back, casual affair. Over the years, our circle can change. Some faces are new and some old friends are gone, but it always feels like family.

Me and Leon relaxing and having fun.

Dinner time with a group of amazing athletes and friends.

Me and Jo down by the river.

After long hours of loving, laughter and eating, we all started to wind down and get settled in for the night.

As I got ready for bed, it was clear that I was still under the weather. I was barely able to eat and my stomach was a wreck. I hoped for the best and settled in to await what tomorrow would bring.

I woke up at 3:00 hoping to feel refreshed. I didn't. 

This is when I decided to suit up and make the best of it. The race is secondary to everything else this weekend, but it's a stunning trail and I love being on it. I was determined to go out and run at least a portion of it, hopefully, the first 19 miles. While Laurel Highlands is notoriously tough, the first 19 miles are the most brutal in the race. If I could make it to the mile 19 aid station, I would be a happy guy.

Sitting on my bed pretending to give a shit about running.

My other option was to just DNS and head out to watch the others run. This didn't appeal to me. I at least wanted SOME trail time. So I bucked up and we headed out!

In the picture below, I was thinking to myself..."Shit man...I could be curled up in bed right now. It's kinda cold out...I'm tired...my stomach feels terrible...and I think I need to crap". Nonetheless, I was getting ready to line up...

The 70 mile runners from our group. Bob Bodkin, Leon Lutz, Me, and Ron Kappus. You may know Ron from page 52 of the most recent issues of Ultra Running Magazine. I wrote the story he was featured in, yet they used a picture of HIM instead of me. Ron knows I'm a little pissed about that. That's why he's keeping his distance from me in this picture.

It's now 5:30 AM and we're headed into the woods for a long day of tough running!

This race starts off with a short stretch of pavement before we enter the trail. When we get off the road, we immediately start heading UP, UP, UP. This is pretty much the theme for the first several miles.

As we made the initial ascent, I knew right away that I was only visiting this race. My body was wrecked and my mind wasn't right at all. But I like the trail and I decided to just enjoy my time in the woods.

The further into the trail we got, the more challenging it became. Soon enough, the entire field was hiking a steep uphill. 

We eventually crested the ridge and ran along the peak for a while. The sun was coming up to reveal a stunning morning. In the valley below, I could see the fog hanging low, creating a very cool effect.

By mile 4, we were back down in the valley on rocky single track. I was hopelessly plodding along, but enjoying the trail. Shortly after mile 6, we start the toughest climb of the day. A brutal, steep, rocky bitch! I loath this section. It goes on much longer than any hill should. All epic races have a hill like this. I'm not convinced it's entirely necessary.

Our first aid station come after mile 11. It seems a bit far considering the trail conditions, but that's why Laurel Highlands is so tough.

Here's a picture of Leon coming into the mile 11 aid station. Note his smile and carefree body language. Now, we'll visit this again later...

And now our buddy Ron, another member of our group...Not a care in the world.

And this is ME coming to mile 11. My buddy Derek was with us again this year. He's the LH77 winner and course record holder from last year. Just the kind of pressure I need, right? One of my closest buddies destroyed this trail and set a course record, now he's packing my bottle to the table so he can fill it for me. Kinda hard for me to act cool and confident right now.

I had completed the toughest section of the course and I felt like shit. I really wanted to take a seat and call it a day, but I also wanted to get to mile 19 and finish the rest of the tough stuff. My mood was awful because I knew I wasn't going all the way today, but deep down inside, all I wanted was to be on the trail soaking it up. I pushed on.

From mile 11 to 19, I was a tourist. I ran. I hiked. I stopped and looked around. I played with rocks. I took pictures. I just screwed off for a while and tried to enjoy the trail. And I began to feel good about my day.

A few pictures from the LHHT...

I knew that mile 19 was coming up and I lingered even further because I knew I wouldn't be going any further. I had nothing but time.

I rolled into mile 19 and saw Jo right away. She was ready to take care of me and fix me up, as always. I began to wave her off when I looked over and saw THIS...

LEON!!! He was well ahead of me earlier, and based on his 1000 yard stare, I knew he was all sorts of jacked up. I knew he was a mess, but I was selfishly pleased to see him! Misery LOVES company!

I took a seat next to my buddy and we discussed his plight as he went into very graphic detail regarding the last several miles. GRAPHIC DETAIL. Trail runners share everything. No filter. Leon had decided he would head out with me on the trail if I was going out for more. If I was done, he would stop with me. I looked right at Leon and said..."Looks like your ass is done cuz I'm getting a beer".

We went through the ceremony in which we removed our bib numbers, signed them, and handed them over to a race official who put them in a bag. I assume they are then carted into the woods and buried under a sacred Oak of failure and misery. 

The picture below best reflects our emotions at the time of our departure from the race...

My expression says...."Who gives shit?!?!"

Leon's says..."AWESOME!!! Kelly has BEER!!!!"

Leon was running the 70 miler, but he also ran the first leg of the race for his relay team. Aside from that group, we also had several friends still out on the trail. So we decided to spend the rest of the day following and supporting those guys. 

However, more importantly, I was determined to make the best use of my "Hydration System" in the meantime! As it turns out, this pack is perfectly designed for carrying two beers. I would have never realized this if I was still running the race. Small gifts from above.

We got to the mile 32 aid station in time to see Ron come in, looking fresh and strong. He was having a great day!

Kalyn was running the relay on Leon's team and she came in fast, finishing her leg of the race. She did a great job!

Jefferson, another relay runner on Leon's team, crushed his section of the race and made it look easy. This dude is a BEAST on the trail!

Tim, finishing his leg of the race. He later went on to say how much he loved it...

Leon was working his ass off at the aid stations, as exhibited below...

And I was giving him all the support he needed!

We toured from aid station, to aid station and cheered our friends on, along with every other runner out there. We relaxed, enjoyed each other, and had fun.

As night fell, we eventually made our way down to the finish line. It was a very cool and festive atmosphere. Trail runners and their families were scattered around enjoying the scene and the mood was festive.

We waited as Taylor came in to finish the last leg of the 70 mile relay for Leon's team. He ran hard and did a great job.

Taylor and Leon at the finish.

It was really amazing to spend time with the relay team. For several of them, this would be the longest and toughest run they had ever attempted. It's always cool to witness people meeting a new goal and pushing themselves to the next level. These guys worked hard and did an amazing job. It was very cool!

We all said farewell, and Jo and I headed to our hotel in Johnstown. All of us making plans to return next year for another LH70 reunion.

I would by lying if I said I was devastated, or even upset about the outcome of the race for me. I'm not bothered by it at all. While I love this race and the trail, I know all of that is rendered meaningless without the friendships and camaraderie that comes with this event.

For me and Jo, this event is the ideal example of what trail running is all about. This event defines the sport in our eyes. It's epic, yet small. The people and volunteers are amazing. The event is muted despite its excellence. The setting is rustic and rural, but easy to get to. The trails are unbeatable and the distance is perfect for so many reasons.

I have a ton of respect for anybody that finishes this race. Mile for mile, it's harder than any 100 miler I've run so far and it takes a tough runner to finish this thing in one piece.

We'll be back again next year with another amazing group of runners and crew and our family will grow again. This is a race that I will never miss, even if I don't run it!

Now it's time to get healthy and go rock some trails!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Old Dominion 100: Old School Fun...and Pain

The Old Dominion 100 mile trail race is the second oldest 100 mile run in the United States, second only to Western States. Old Dominion has proudly maintained its history and traditions over the years and has changed very little from the early days of the sport. It's a rugged and demanding race which does not allow pacers and a runner can only go home with a buckle if they manage to finish in under 24 hours.

I came into Old Dominion right after a mentally devastating DNF three weeks earlier at the Zion 100. That race left me riddled with self doubt and I was completely discouraged. Leading up to the OD100, I was completely focused on nothing except finishing this race, while eliminating any possibility for failure.

In preparation, I completely reverted to all my old race strategies. I went back to the same shoes, same clothes, same fuel and same pre-race rituals, hoping to start again from square one and hopefully improve my results by doing so. Most importantly, I focused on only one thing...finishing!

My efforts paid off....

Jo and I arrived in Woodstock, VA. on Friday night and attended packet pickup, as well as the pre-race briefing. We listened to the race rules and details while we mingled with the other runners.

The race began promptly at 4:00 AM Saturday morning. We gathered at the fairgrounds before the race and made final preparations.

Waiting for the fun to begin.

After a few words and quick payer, we were sent on our way.

Into the night (or very early morning)

 The runners make a quick loop around the outside of the horse track, then head out of the fair grounds for an early morning tour of historic downtown Woodstock.

Like with all my long races, I had developed a detailed race plan that outlined my splits and anticipated arrival time for each crew access point. Jo uses this plan to keep tabs on where I am at any given time so she can be prepared to meet me along the course. My race plan for this event was very conservative because I planned to run at a safe and leisurely pace.

After our tour through Woodstock, we made the long and steep climb up Woodstock Gap. This is a painful climb that tops out at mile 7, then we have a nice downhill run to the valley floor. I was keeping an aggressive pace but it felt great so I stuck with it.

I ran with a small group of guys that I met along the way and the conversation was a great distraction. We all entered the first crew access point and drop bag area at mile 20 together.

My race plan showed I would arrive after 4.5 hours. I got there an hour early. Jo got me fed, refilled my bottle, and I was on my way.

Soon after, we were directed to some excellent single track. This trail is a mix of a lot of surfaces, but it really has some of the nicest single track around.

A few examples.

An example of the views that surrounded us.

After several miles, our little group of runners fell apart as we all settled into our own rhythm. But my new buddy Matt and I seemed to be doing a good job keeping pace together and the camaraderie was helping to pass the time.

Matt was running his first 100 miler. OD100 is a pretty brave choice for a beginner at that distance. I was impressed!

By mile 32, we were 1:15 ahead of the race schedule and we were feeling great. We were just beyond the 50K mark in 5:40.

We reached mile 48 in 8:50 and we were still rolling strong.

Coming to mile 48.

Jo's father lives nearby and came down to the race to see what all the fuss is about. He's never seen me run before, and quite frankly, I think he was a little suspicious about a person running 100 miles. He had to see for himself!

Best Father in law in the world.

Matt and I crossed the 50 mile mark at 9:25 and still felt strong. We started to make our plans for sustaining the best pace so we could have a good, sub 24 hour finish. There was a lot of race left and the worst was yet to come.

Between miles 56 and 75, we were maintaining a 2 hour lead on my race plan. But things were about to become challenging.

Coming to the aid station at mile 75. Before all the bad stuff.

The hardest part of the OD100 starts at mile 75 with a climb up Sherman's Gap. This is a long, technical, boulder laden suck fest. The trail goes straight up the face of the mountain. No switchbacks, no flat areas for walking and recovering, no reprieve whatsoever. It just goes up...forever. And it sucks.

Matt seemed to have an advantage on this climb because he had been working the stair master leading up the race. As I scratched and clawed my way behind him, I made a metal note to try that out for myself. He bounded up that mountain like a billy goat!

The descent on the other side is almost as bad. It was still daylight during the climb, but got dark on the way down, which made the technical trail...much more technical.

Once we reached the bottom, we had a short run on flat ground before we had to turn and head up Veach Gap. This trail is almost identical to Sherman's Gap, but was slightly shorter.

These two extreme climbs occurred over a 12 mile span. Due to the extreme conditions, my 2 hour advantage over my race plan and been shrunk by 45 minutes. And I was now totally exhausted.

I met Jo at mile 86 and she got me patched up and sent me back out onto the course.

From mile 86 to the finish, we were on paved or gravel roads. While that sounds appealing, I can attest to the fact that these are some of the steepest roads I've ever run on. There was very little flat ground to be found anywhere. But nonetheless, Matt and I were still running.

I met Jo again at mile 91. I had been drifting to sleep while I was running and I needed to fix that. She patched me up with some Mountain Dew, got a few calories in me, and we were off.

From mile 91, we had a long uphill climb to a ridge line, then a steep drop off on the other side. My hamstrings were screaming on the way up and my quads were dead on the way down.

I met Jo again near mile 97. I didn't eat or drink. I just handed her some of my gear that I wouldn't need for last 3 miles. Matt and I wrapped things up quickly and headed to the finish. We ran at a decent pace backtracking through downtown Woodstock.

We arrived at the fairgrounds and made another loop around the outside of the horse track and headed to the finish line!

Matt and I crossed side by side. My finish time was 22:07:56 and I came in 13th place.

Old Dominion is a very tough course, but having somebody to share it with for 80 miles made all the difference. Matt and I did a great job encouraging each other all day and night and I'm sure neither of us would have done as well if we had been alone.

A solid race is exactly what I needed and it's precisely what I got. I ran hard on a tough course and I feel very good about my finish. Now it will be much easier for me to erase my DNF and move on with confidence.

The race staff and volunteers were amazing. These were some of the most sincere people I have ever raced with. The course was very well marked and everything with the race was well organized and professional. These guys put on a world class race.

And as always, Jo performed perfectly. It takes a serious commitment to stay awake for so many hours and completely devote yourself to a runner the way she does. I simply couldn't do it without her. In all honesty, I wouldn't WANT to do it without her.

We'll be at Laurel Highlands next week running 70 miles of the most stunning and challenging trails in Pennsylvania. This race is the highlight of my year!

Happy Trails!