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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, July 22, 2012

Vermont 100: Hill Repeats for 24 Hours

It was rumored that the Vermont 100 is a fairly easy trail race. It was also rumored that there would be TRAILS in this TRAIL race. I can soundly advise that both of these assertions are completely false.

I submit this elevation profile as a matter of proof...as it relates to the "easy" part.


The Vermont 100 has approximately 14,000 feet of ascent. Unlike some races, the climbs are evenly distributed over the entire course. There is no flat area to run on. There are 50 miles of uphill and 50 miles of downhill. Which in essence, makes this a 50 mile run mixed with a 50 mile hike.

Coming into this race, I was still strolling around on tired legs from the Leadville 50 mile ass whooping I received the previous weekend. I spent the entire week resting between these races, but the legs were still a little beat up. Of course, I had no reason to worry. Vermont is an "Easy 100 Miler".

By the way...whoever utters the term "easy 100 miler", probably hasn't run a 100 miler.

It's hard to tell in the picture, but this bib is comically enormous. It's about the size of a small blanket. 

Start line for the Vermont 100!

Like most summertime 100's, this race kicks off at 4:00 AM. After rolling out of bed at 1:30, filling my belly with high quality nutrients (apple pie, coke and coffee), we finally drove to the race start with about 30 minutes to spare.

My friend Bob Bodkin was running the VT100 as his first 100 miler. Bob has made a few cameo appearances in other race reports. I think he runs too much.

Me and Bob before the race.

Vermont is a fairly large race. It's one of the original 100 milers and is part of the Grand Slam. It's history draws a pretty big field, but is capped at 250 runners. Even at that, it seems crowded.

In addition to the VT100 run, there is also a horse race being conducted at the same time. It seems all the original 100 milers have their origin linked to horse racing. This is how Western States and Old Dominion got started as well. And that's your Ultra Running trivia for the day!

A slow, crowded start.

Like with all my 100 mile races, I had developed a thorough race plan well in advance. I break the race into several small sections and highlight my anticipated times into each crew access point. I also include crew notes so my items can be ready for me when I arrive.

I wasn't going to see Jo until mile 22 and I expected to be there by 8:15. This is roughly a 11 minute pace. I arrived at 8:00 exactly, a little ahead of schedule. It was already getting warm by this time, but I was feeling good and I was pretty pumped about being ahead of schedule.

Coming into the mile 22 aid station.

Before getting ahead of myself, let's discuss the course and scenery...

I had never been to Vermont before. I knew they were big into maple syrup, cheese, and not much else. I expected a quaint, small town feel and that's exactly what I got. From a purely aesthetic  point of view, it was a great course.

Scenes from the course.





The real downside was the total lack of trails on the course. The descriptions I read suggest a mix of fire roads, double track, single track and small amount of asphalt. The marketing team that developed that description took serious liberty along the way. This is purely a race on gravel and dirt roads.

The "trail".

Back to the race...

After leaving the 22 mile aid station (Pretty House), we made our way back down the road toward the Stage Road aid station 8 miles away. It was during this leg of the race that we climbed an enormous hill through a bare pasture, under the beating sun. It was a painful trudge. After making it to the top, I pointed my shoes downhill and let my feet fly. I sailed to the bottom of the hill, then hit a sharp uphill and climbed to the top and was led to an unmarked intersection. Left? Right? WTF?! I looked at the ground and realized there were no foot prints...no hoof prints...I was lost! I turned around and began to climb back up the hill that I just ran down and eventually found a bounty of markers. This is the price we pay for watching our feet too much. It cost me a mile!

I arrived at the Stage Road aid station 10 minutes ahead of my race plan. Not too bad considering I ran the bonus mile.

I was ahead of my race plan, but not by much. My legs were tired and my stomach wasn't great. I headed out to the Camp Bear aid station at mile 47.

Between aid stations, we had more of the same. Up and down...a constant roller coaster. And now, we're in the hottest part of the day. The fatigue started to set in. I arrived at mile 47 at exactly 2:00, which is what my race plan called for. I had lost all my earlier gains.

My next 10 mile run, coming into Tracer Brook aid station at mile 57 was a slightly more gentle and I made up some time and beat my schedule by 10 minutes. But this would be short lived.

Coming into Tracer Brook. 

After Tracer Brook, there's an enormous ascent that began to wear me down. Climbs like this have a way of messing with me on a mental level. After a mile of grinding uphill, I found myself swearing at rocks, trees, the race director, and the horses that weren't sharing my pain. I began to hold a real grudge against the horses.

HORSES!!!

By the time I made it to the mile 62 aid station, I was 30 minutes behind my race plan. This was a huge mental blow. Which was about to get worse.

A big milestone in this race is to make it to mile 70. This is the point where you can get your pacer, and gear up for night running. But getting there was proving to be a problem.

By this point, I was feeling dejected and annoyed. Every new hill added fuel to the rage burning deep inside me. I was quickly losing interest in this race.

I arrived at the mile 70 aid station 43 minutes behind schedule.

This is also a medical checkpoint, so I went straight to the scale for my weight to be entered. This is when they put a "hold" on me because my weight loss had become dangerous. I had to "bulk up" before they would let me continue. Now I was really pissed!

Getting on the scale and not in the mood for anybodies shit.

After being told to sit my skinny ass down!!!


I stormed around the aid station eating and drinking. I was tossing shit around and barking at people. Eventually I sat down and relaxed. After a few minutes, I felt better and had gained 2 pounds. I was back in the game!!!

I felt refreshed and had a renewed spirit about the race. But the horses and the hills were still annoying. But whatever...

Leaving the aid station with purpose! And a new shirt!

Darkness settled in around the 75 mile mark. I had been looking forward to this because I perform better when the lights go out.

Mile 77 aid station.

I was slowly gaining back some of my time and I was feeling good. My obvious goal was to finish under 24 hours and my race plan was very conservative. When I drafted it, I banked a lot of time for the last 30 miles. Some legs were calculated at 17-22 minute pace. I do this so I have a buffer when I hit a low spot early in a race. Now it was time to take a withdrawal from that bank of time.

The aid stations from mile 77 to the finish were a mass of agony and desperation. I moved swiftly amongst the injured and dejected and never stopped moving. I kept a keen eye on my watch so I could monitor my progress.

I knew I would finish the race, that was never a worry. But I really wanted to be sub 24. My self imposed pressure kept my moving.

As I approached the aid station at mile 96, I could hear people and see a lot of lights. This was the ultimate tease. This aid station comes within a short distance of the finish line, then sends you back into the mountains for more torture.

I was watching the time and knew I would be close to my goal and I pushed hard on the uphills and tried to avoid the temporary pain. In addition to pain, I was fighting total fatigue. 

When I could hear the crowd and see the faint glow of light, I knew I was almost done. The relief washed over me.

Crossing the finish line. Absolutely spent!

My final time was 23:52:00. My race plan outlined a finish of 23:30:00 and I felt that was a very conservative time and had secretly hoped for a sub 23 finish. But I can't remember any time I felt more satisfied with my effort and the results.

My friend Bob came in shortly after I did. I can't fully express how proud I was to see him finish so strong. He took his training seriously and has become a very strong runner this year. He tackled a tough race for his first 100 and he made it look easy. He amazed me!

Please let the record reflect that I beat this horse to the finish line. 

Vermont is a serious race with more than its fair share of challenges. The calibre of competition seemed to be higher than most races and all the runners I met seemed to have a lot of experience. This race had a different feel that most events I've run. In a good way.

My next race is a month away. Jo and I will be heading out to Leadville again and this is my goal race for 2012. Between now and then, there will be a lot of rest and serious planning. At least this time, I know what to expect.

Happy "Trails".



Monday, July 16, 2012

Leadville 50 Race Report: Not as Easy as I Remember

For me, it doesn't get any better than Leadville. It's beautiful and brutal all at once. The Leadville races challenge you in every imaginable way and coax you back with it's alluring beauty and natural wonder.  In other words, she's a sneaky, painful bitch!

Jo and I got to town a couple days before the race, which is ill advised for those that want to acclimate to the extreme altitude before an endurance event.

On Friday, we toured some of the sites that accompany the Leadville 100. I did this so I could get my mind right for the race the following month. It's like revisiting the scene of a crime.

I want to share some of the sites from the LT100 course.

Turquoise Lake in the day. For most runners, we only see this via our headlamps early in the morning and again on the way to the finish of the 100 miler at mile 7 and 93.

Twin Lakes is the low point of the 100 course and we pass through here right before climbing Hope Pass at mile 40 and again at mile 60. 


Hope Pass is the low point in the center of the picture. 

Our favorite Bar in Leadville, the Silver Dollar Saloon!

On Saturday, we went out to the mountain bike race to cheer on the riders. They ride the same course we run on Sunday. It's also a great opportunity to go to all the aid stations and preview the course. The bike race is amazing to watch and the energy is intoxicating. Its a very cool event!

We hung out with Ken Chlouber before the mountain bike race on Saturday. He's the famous originator of the Leadville 100 and is well known for his quote "You're stronger than you think you are, you can do more than you think you can".

Me, Jo and Rob with Ken Chlouber.

From the top of Dutch Henry Hill as the riders begin! We run up this same hill tomorrow.

Storming the hill!


Rider taking the hill at Printer Boy.

After seeing the course and aid stations we went back to the finish line and watched the riders come in. A new course record was set with a time of 3:43:28. That's an amazing time considering the terrain and altitude. It was awesome to watch!

This little fellow was waiting for his dad to come in. I love his mountain bike and custom Batman shirt!

Enough screwing around. I came here to run!

My good friend Rob Goeckermann joined me for the 50 miler. Rob was a running buddy from my neighborhood until he moved his family to Wisconsin. I was stoked to be running and spending time with him.

Our race began at 6:00 AM. It was dark and 45 degrees when we showed up at the start line. We were both excited and a little nervous. 

Getting ready to tackle the hill!

Get Ready!!!

We're OFF!!! Up Dutch Henry Hill!

I'm generally much faster than Rob. After we took off, I noticed him trying to pass me up the hill. This simply won't do! I had planned to go VERY easy up the hill, but kicked it into another gear to shake Rob off my ass.

Me and Rob tackling the hill. Looks like the guy in front us is going camping? Thats a lot of shit to pack in a 50 mile race.

We have a few flat miles after Dutch Henry Hill, then a LONG grinding climb to 12,000 feet, over our first mountain pass. This is followed by a 3.5 mile downhill run, back into the valley and to our first aid station at Printer Boy.

I break this race into 4 (almost) equal sections. Printer Boy represents 1/4, Stump Town is 1/2, Back to Printer Boy, then onto the finish. My plan is to keep those splits under 2:30 so I can have a sub 10 hour finish.

I came into Printer Boy just over 2:30. Not a great start.

Without time to acclimate, my lungs were burning and my heart rate was through the roof! This is NOT the same race I remember from last year.

Coming into Printer Boy for aid.

Rob all smiles after 13.5 miles through the Rocky Mountains.

After Printer Boy, we make a 1 mile descent then begin a long climb to our next mountain pass. This is followed by a very steep descent down to Stump Town, which is the 25 mile mark and the turn around for this out-and-back course.

The first thing I saw coming into Stump Town. Optimistic observation!

It was here, at the 25 mile mark that Jo told me Rob has been on my heels all day. I figured I would be adding distance between us as the day went on, but evidently I have underestimated my big buddy. I began to hatch a plan to set things back into their natural order.

I'm supposed to be taking this race easy because I'm running the Vermont 100 next weekend. I can't afford to burn myself out here today.

So far I'm on a perfect 2:30 split, coming into Stump Town in 5 hours. I have no time in the bank for a sub 10 hour finish.

Getting fuel at the turnaround.

Heading back up the mountain. Leadville Bound!

As I was leaving the aid station, I heard somebody say "Hey Kelly!". I looked up and there was ROB!!! The dude was right on my ass!

Rob hiking the hill to the aid station at Stump Town.

After leaving Stump Town, I was on a mission to get back to Leadville as fast as possible. I clambered back up the pass and bombed down the back side of the mountain headed to Printer Boy.

I rolled into the aid station and confirmed I was still making my perfect 2:30 splits. I'm now 7:30 into the race and need to make up time to meet my goal.

Coming back into Printer Boy at mile 37

My only hope for a decent finish is to run the uphill as I head over the final pass. After that, I'll have 5 miles of steep technical downhill and another 5 miles of flat trail to the finish.

I ran the uphill until my breathing and heart rate got too high, then settled into a brisk hike while my body settled down. Then ran again, repeating this process all the way to the summit, passing a lot of people in the process.

Once I reached the summit, I took a few deep breaths, pointed my toes down the mountain and ran as hard as I could. My running was bordering on out of control, but I was having a blast. I came to an aid station that marked 7 miles left to the finish and flew right passed it without stopping.

Once I hit the flat, I slowed to a steady, manageable pace and ran all the way to the finish. I stopped 5 times along the way to check on injured runners and offer whatever aid I could. Once they were all set, I headed back down the trail to the finish.

Pretty soon, I could hear the familiar sounds of the finish line. I ran along the top of Dutch Henry Hill and ran downhill to the finish line and across the red carpet.

I finished in 9:48:11, completing that last section in 2:18. This was almost 20 minutes faster than my split from earlier that morning over the same trail and 42 minutes faster than it took me last year to cover the same section.

 Finishing the Leadville 50!

Pretty damn pleased.

Relaxing after a tough run. Notice the storm in the background. The remaining runners are going to suffer.

Rob had a goal of finishing in under 11 hours. Based on where he was all day, I was pretty confident that he would make it. As I continued to celebrate with beers and mingle with other runners, I kept a watchful eye on the clock and the display that showed incoming runners.

As time ticked away, I began to get a little nervous, but I had faith in Rob.

Somehow, Jo caught a glimpse of Rob on the hillside right before he crossed the remote timing mat. Then his name appeared on the display, alerting us that he was on his way down the hill to the finish.

Rob crossing the finish in 10:52:05!

It was a moving experience and I was so happy for Rob. He's a tough guy and Leadville is a tough race. He had a plan and executed it well. I couldn't be prouder of any of my friends.

We relaxed together, enjoyed some beer and BBQ and shared stories with other runners. A truly fantastic scene.

The young man in the picture below had just finished running this 50 miler. I saw him on the course and was amazed that he was running at all, let alone, in front of so many adults. I'm amazed by this kid and I hope he goes on to become one of the great ultra runners of our time. While so many kids are too lazy to go outside, this kid is knocking off 50 mile runs at altitude. A true inspiration.

Once again, I really enjoyed my time in Leadville and I look forward to coming back in August to tackle the 100 miler. Running the 50 is a great way to regain perspective and get my bearings for the big race. 

I'll be heading to the VT100 next week, feeling good and ready for fun!

Happy Trails!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Finger Lakes 50 Race Report:

I ran the Finger Lakes 50 miler last year. It might sound silly, but that seems like a lifetime ago. A lot has happened since then and I've put in a lot of miles on a lot of trails in the last year. My hope was to come back to Finger Lakes and run a much stronger race than I did last year, when I posted a time of 10:13. I've run a lot of 50 mile trail races and this still stands as my personal worst. And with any luck, it always will.

Because of some health problems, I decided to drop down to the 50k option instead of the 50 miler. I'm trying to gain strength and get healthy, so I've really been going easy and I'm trying to get a lot of rest.


I enjoy this race because the Finger Lakes National Forest is beautiful and we like to camp there before the race. When most people think of New York, they don't think of hiking, camping and trail running, and neither do I. My mind usually conjures images of pollution, traffic, and loud annoying people. All of which is ALSO true.


Jo and I got to the campground, which also serves as race headquarters, on Friday. We set up camp, picked up my race bib, and headed into town for my pre-race meal.

When I say "TOWN", I mean Watkins Glen, NY. Watkins Glen is really quirky, and if you've never been, it will be hard to properly describe. It's a town that is working REALLY hard to put on an air of sophistication. They seem to be aiming for cosmopolitan...but they're falling a little short. While it really is a cool little town, they'll never be sophisticated because the town is populated by Hill People. It would be like dressing a monkey in a tuxedo. Fine...the monkey LOOKS civilized, but he's still probably going to fling some shit against the wall before the night is over.

We had dinner at Rooster Fish Brewing Company. We ate here last year too, and we really enjoyed the food and beer.

A pizza and a pile of sweet potato fries is an almost perfect choice for me the night before a race. This food was truly amazing. One of the best parts of running a lot of ultras, is the fact that I get to eat like a frat boy.

After dinner, we headed back to camp so we could unwind and get ready for the race. By unwind, I mean have a few more beers until my eyelids get heavy.

I knew when we started taking pictures of Flat Bart in various compromising situations, it was probably time for bed.

Soon, we were off to bed for a restless nights sleep on the hard ground. We really need to invest in some pads or an air mattress.

Huh...bib #1 again...

Morning cup of coffee to get me moving.

Tent city on race morning.

Jo and I before the race.

I want to quickly explain something about my bib number. I'm bib #1 a lot...in fact, if I'm not #1, I'm usually #2. On the surface, this doesn't seem like a big deal. But people tend to think I have that number because I'm an elite runner and I'm favored to win. You would be surprised by the comments and disappointing looks I get when I'm not running with the lead pack. LOOK PEOPLE...I DON'T NEED THE ADDED PRESSURE!!! BACK OFF!

On to the race...

Like most of the country, we're in a heat wave. Temperatures are going to be over 90 and a lot of this race is run on exposed trail with very little shade. I expected attrition to be high. After my issues with severe dehydration at the ZION 100, I was going to be running a very conservative race and monitoring my fueling very closely.

The 50K is actually 33 miles, consisting of two 16.5 mile loops. For the first loop, I planned to carry one bottle with Gatorade and drink water at the aid stations. There was plenty of aid available on the course, so a single bottle would work fine early in the day.

For the second loop, I planned to drop my bottle off with Jo and retrieve my hydration pack. Jo would have it ready for me, filled with ice and water. Then I would start drinking sports drink at the aid stations instead of water. My pack would also have salt pills, ginger, and Snicker's Bars (because they really satisfy).

The race provides HEED at the aid stations. This is a mixed blessing because HEED really seems to work well for me, but it tastes like shit. All the time and money invested in creating the perfect balance of electrolytes and energy, but they couldn't lift a finger to make it drinkable?

However, in the event that Hammer Nutrition wants to sponsor me, I would totally recant the above statement.

After a few words from the Race Director, we were sent off into the woods at 6:30 AM.


We run down a gravel road for 1/2 mile, then turn onto the trail. We run through the dense woods for a while and eventually emerge into a cow pasture, then back into the woods. The trail isn't overly technical, but there are a lot of roots in most sections and it takes a lot of focus to run with any speed.

I have heard some people refer to the course as "Flat". There are two very steep uphill sections on the loop and the rest of the trail is far more gradual. But this trail is deceiving because there is so little flat running to be found. There are dozens of long grinding uphill sections and corresponding downhills. An elevation profile wouldn't show a lot of big spikes, but this course is extremely challenging because it is so runnable and the hills will eventually take their toll on your legs.

Here are a few pics of the trail...






The race thinned out pretty fast and I was running alone from early on, occasionally passing runners, or being passed. I was feeling good and having a lot of fun on the trail. It's a feeling that I've missed lately. So I took advantage of it and simply focused on having fun.

The first loop was fairly uneventful and I cruised back into the finish area looking for Jo and my hydration pack. I gobbled down some calories, got my gear ready, and headed out.

First loop done. Halfway there.

A bottle of Ensure and a few chips. Always does the trick!

Headed back onto the trail!

By the time I started the second loop, it was getting really warm. I was determined to run the second loop strong, but cautiously. I had been losing fluids rapidly, so I didn't want to put myself in a bad situation. Running through the cow pastures was more burdensome in the heat, and my time at the aid stations lasted longer on the second loop. There was no need to be in a big hurry.

I passed a lot of runners on the second loop. The heat was becoming a problem.

I maintained a steady effort and my split times hadn't fallen off much since the first loop. I also noticed that my splits were much better than they had been in 2011, which was one of my goals coming into the race.

While running through mile 31, I was very pleased to still be feeling strong and I was excited to be getting to the finish line in good shape and without incident. Then I fell down. Hard.

This is significant because I never fall down while running trails. It's happened to me exactly 4 times before today (now 5). And whats even more amazing, is I had fallen in almost the same exact spot last year. If you're keeping track at home and running the stats, that means 40% of my falls have occurred on a trail that I have run exactly twice in my life. Vegas couldn't calculate the odds on something like that.

When I say "I fell", I'm sure you picture me losing my footing and sliding to the ground in some kind of controlled, defensive, self preserving manner. Not even close! I fell hard. On my face. Then I bounced and skipped down the trail for several feet, while banging into every rock, root, and stump along the way. And it hurt.

It was reminiscent of how I used to throw my Stretch Armstrong doll down our gravel driveway when I was a kid. He would bounce and skid mercilessly. Yeah, that's right, I played with a doll. But I made it look cool.

In case you weren't a child in the 80's.


After dusting myself off and verifying that nobody saw me, I started heading down the trail once again. More carefully this time.

I crossed the finish line at 5:50. Considering the heat, the 2 extra miles, and my condition, I was happy enough with that. I routinely run short ultras at a 10 minute pace when using them for training, and this was slightly slower, which was to be expected.

Approaching the chute.

Done!

For some reason, I left the shade of the tent so they could take my bib while I stood out in the sun like an idiot!

I cooled off with a couple of beers, then Jo and I made our way back to Philly for my post race recovery meal.

When it comes to proper post race nutrition, I only trust the skilled people from Lucky's Last Chance. This is a small bar/restaurant near our house in Manayunk. To the untrained eye, it probably seems like any other burger place, but that would be truly naive. These guys are brilliant and have perfected something that most people put no real effort into to begin with. They simply make the best burgers in the world.

And for me, after a race, there's only one burger that will do. The Peanut Butter Bacon Burger! Pure excellence! Yes, that is a huge helping of peanut butter on top of my bacon, on top of my burger patty. And yes, that is a huge side of jelly sitting next to it. As the burger masters always say, "It's the jelly that really brings out the excellence". This may sound a little odd, but if you eat one, you'll be hooked forever.

All things considered, I feel like the race a was success and we had a lot of fun. I am hoping to get healthy again and recover my strength. For that to happen, I need to focus on proper rest and recovery.

I'm not racing for the next two weeks, but then we're off to Colorado for the Leadville 50. We can't wait to be back in Leadville!

Thanks for reading. Happy Trails!