Dwight Shuler finished a strong 3rd OA in 1:20:45 at the French Broad Challenge Triathlon.
Monday, May 31, 2010
Dwight Shuler finished a strong 3rd OA in 1:20:45 at the French Broad Challenge Triathlon.
Friday, May 28, 2010
On May 15th & 16th, I ran the 16th Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 Mile Run in Virginia. The weather was great and I had a good day running in the mountains. For the race, I wore a pair of Roclite 315’s, which worked well for me on this course. Read on for a more detailed race report.
2010 Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 Mile Run
Race Report - Chris Reed
At about 9:00 PM Friday night we arrived at Caroline Furnace Lutheran Camp. I wanted to acquaint myself with the location of the new start to rule out any navigational errors in the morning. This first person I saw was Gary Knipling who gave me a warm hello. I always love coming back to Virginia to run. Overall I spend a small amount of time in Virginia per year, but as soon as I come back for a race, it seems like I was just here yesterday and it feels like I have known the other runners for a lifetime. After we scoped out the start, we drove to our hotel in Woodstock and we made our final preparations for the race.
Godfrey Draviam (my father-in-law), Raj, and I woke up at 2:15 AM and got situated. Rose Draviam (my mother-in-law), Zia and Eshan awoke and wished me the best. Eshan said to me – daddy, you will get 2nd today. I was thrilled with his seeding, but pushed the envelope and asked him why not 1st? He said, that would be good also – we had a good laugh and I gave him a smile and a hug.
When we arrived back at Caroline Furnace Lutheran Camp, I picked up my bib number and Raj, Godfrey, and I reviewed crewing details. The warm hello’s continued as more people arrived. And before I knew it, we were 10 seconds to the start of the race. 10 seconds later, we were running.
The first 11 miles were fairly uneventful for me. We ascended Short Mountain, which did not seem that bad, now that it was at the beginning of the race. I spent the first miles just trying to get into a conservative rhythm. My plan was to run the first half slowly and get into a relaxed state in hopes of saving steam for the 2nd half of the race. I was running in 7th when we hit the 2nd aid station at Edinburg Gap.
At Edinburg Gap I picked up some tunes and started jamming out the section to Superjudge. Soon I caught up with a runner, Don Patfield, who I had not raced with since 2008. It was nice to run with him for a bit, talk and catch up. I shared with him my pie-in-the-sky goal of breaking 20 hours and we talked about splits and the importance of putting time in the bank for the night hours. We got to aid station #3 – Woodstock Tower 3:30 hours into the race. I calculated I needed to run slightly more than 5 miles per hour. I was 25 minutes ahead of that goal now, and was satisfied.
The race pushed on and I got to my first of several low patches. It occurred between aid station Veach Gap (40.7 miles) and aid station Indian Grave Trailhead (49.7 miles). I thought I had heard that there would be an unmanned aid station in between these aid stations. So I drank both of my bottles half way through the section. It was about 1:00 PM and starting to get hot. I never got to the unmanned aid station and ran an hour without water. The beauty of this section made up for not drinking though. Basically for this section, you ascend a mountain and run on the spine of the ridge and then you descend to the left and run on a small shelf for about a mile. Finally I got to aid station #8, and downed a bunch of water, soda, and food.
Immediately after this section, I started to feel much better and relaxed into a nice pace on a 4 mile section of gravel road. I hit 50 miles at 9 hours and 7 minutes and was very pleased with my progress. The next 20 miles were uneventful until I got to Kerns Mountain. Once you are at the top of this mountain, you do more ridge running, but the trail zigzags across the ridge. Along with the zigzagging come short descents and climbs, and to top it all off, the footing reaches a “technical peak” here in my opinion. I got into another low and felt very sloppy as I trudged forward. I got through this section and was greeted by an unmanned aid station and a 2.4 mile descent down a gravel/paved road.
When I arrived at the base of Bird Knob aid station #12 – The Visitor Center, Raj had some cup-of-noodle soup ready for me. I hadn’t asked for it, but as soon as I saw it, I wanted it and ate/drank it all – it totally hit the spot. All day Raj and Godfrey met me at crew-accessible aid stations. They did an incredible job of navigating the area, getting me what I needed, giving me the low down on how far the leader was ahead and how far other runners were behind me and getting me back out on the course quickly. It was during the ascent of Bird Knob when night finally set in for me. This section went well and was very pretty, even during the night. Once you finish the ascent, you run along a slightly downward sloping grass path. I am not certain as to the origins of the name Bird Knob, but I could certainly hear plenty of birds singing in the night.
After the next aid station, I got into another low. I was getting lonely, as I basically ran the entire day by myself and I am not extremely fond of running at night. I’ve done a decent amount of night running over the last 3 years, but I get nervous about my footing and have an unfounded fear of what lurks in the woods at night. This fear becomes amplified when the body and mind has endured 80+ miles. Rationally, I understand that these fears do nothing to propel me forward and probably weaken my step-to-step decisions, but they are hard to shake.
When I got back to the Picnic Area, I changed headlamps and headed out again looking forward to getting through this last long section. At the crossing of US 211, David Horton greeted me and worked on psyching me up to try and catch the leader. The leader, Dan was about 50 minutes ahead, so it seemed the prospects were low in catching him, but David reminded me that ‘anything can happen’ in a race.
During this section, you run on this series of blazed trails: white, orange, yellow. When I turned onto the orange trail I ran for 25 minutes and did not see the expected turn onto the yellow blazed trail, I started to get concerned. I kept taking out my map and rereading the course description. The map had this section of trail going very close to a trail that was taken about 20 miles ago. Did I somehow stumble onto this trail? If I did, where were the other runners? The course markings at this point were fairly far apart and I started to wonder if someone messed with the course. I couldn’t get that orange-blazed mileage of 2.1 miles out of my head – I had definitely gone that much, now where is the damn yellow blazed trail? I finally thought it would be best to backtrack. Backtracking about ½ mile brought me to the 3rd runner, Aaron Schwartzbard. He quickly told me we were running correctly and that we had about 4 miles of orange blazed trail before the yellow. We ran together and chatted a little, then, I pulled away.
When I got to Gap Creek/Jawbone II, the last aid station, I gave Raj my waist pack and I took a handheld with a couple of gels. I got out of there as fast as I could. I knew Aaron was close behind. One more ascent and then a wicked descent where I got sloppy and took a fall. I banged up my knee and ankle a bit, but after 100 yards of movement everything felt all right. I got to the last cinder road section and starting moving, but not moving fast enough, as I soon saw Aaron’s headlamp shining about 50 yards behind me. OK, I’m in trouble. What is going through my head is that Aaron is about a 2:30 marathoner, that means he is fast, real fast – faster than me. OK, I signed up for a 100, but it looks like I’m also gonna do a 5k today! I decided to give it everything, knowing that if I get beat I will know I gave it all – did my best. I reached the last ½ mile trail section to the finish and ‘turned it on’ even more. This last section actually ended up being very enjoyable – weaving back and forth through the trees, up and down. Finally, the finish line appeared and I ran in for a 20:56:43 finish. I had dreams of trying to break 20, which didn’t happen. But, through Aaron’s help I was able to get under 21 hours – a PR for me in the 100. And we caught some ground on the leader, who finished in 20:25:48.
Gear I Used, Things I Ate, Stuff I Learned
I ran the entire race in a relatively new pair of Inov8 Roclite 315’s (size 13) with Smartwool PhD socks. The 315’s worked very well for me. The Roclite tread pattern gripped all of the varied terrain very well and the shoe held up very well – this course is known for shredding shoes! I used the shoelace lacing system that all of my Inov-8 shoes were originally shipped with (2 loops on the last 2 eyelets), which reduced my foot sliding around in the shoe. I wore Patagonia Ultra Shorts and 2XU Inov8 singlet. The 2XU singlet is so comfortable to run in – you barely notice it is there. I drank water, lemon-lime Nuun, and cola. At every aid station, I tried to leave with one bottle of water and one bottle of Nuun tucked into my waist pack. During the early parts of the race, I ate Clif gels. I also took Hammer Endurolytes throughout the race. During the later parts of the race I ate turkey & cheese wraps and sliced pears along with more Clif gels.
Overall, I was happy with how I ran the race. For my next 100 I am going to try to get more consistent with the calories I take in. In this race, I roughly ate every 25 minutes – but I know sometimes I got off from that. On my watch, I have the option to set a hydration alarm – I think I will use that to help be more consistent with taking in calories.
I felt like my pace was good throughout ¾ of the race. I was 10 minutes ahead of 20 hour pace at mile 77.1. As expected, I slowed down at night and I dealt with some mental and physical lows, which really threw me off from the goal pace. I have learned how critical these last 20 miles of the 100 are. One must pay extra attention to everything during this time – food, water, course markings, and your pace. At a time when your body and mind desire rest, one must maintain extreme focus.
I hope to come back next year. The VHTRC club and race director, Stan Duobinis, do an incredible job with this race. The aid stations and volunteers were wonderful! Thanks for a memorable time.
Thursday, May 27, 2010
The Pineland Farms Trail Running Festival is where you will see Amy Lane, Aliza Lapierre, Serena Wilcox and Chad Denning racing this Sunday, in the 50 mile race option. They are also signed up as Team Inov-8 for the team competition and I do like our chances. The venue is at beautiful Pineland Farms in New Gloucester, ME on a hilly, looped XC trail. Race distances from a barefoot 5k up to 50 miles can be raced over the 2 day festival starting this Saturday. Dwight Shuler will be in his element at the inaugural French Broad Challenge Triathlon. The challenge is a 1.5 mile run, 2.5 mile paddle, 11 mile bike, and finishing with a 2.9 mile run as part of the Mountain Sports Festival here in Asheville, NC. Kevin Tilton will be at the The Wachusett Mountain Road/Trail Race which is part of the USATF-NE Mountain Running Circuit . Kevin was just 4 seconds behind the win last year, running very well here over the last few years. Joe Grant will be racing at the Pocattello 50 mile, a challenging course at the Caribou-Targhee National Forest outside of Pocatello. On Memorial Day, Peter Maksimow will test out his turnover and race the Bolder Boulder 10k, a classic road race with a field of 50, ooo+ runners.
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Soapstone 24k 2010
This was the tail end of a busy four weeks of racing for me, with the middle two races being 7 Sisters and the Bear Mountain 50 miler. It’s hard to believe, but my recovery from the 50 miler was much easier than the week after 7 Sisters, and I didn’t exactly throw in the towel during the last few miles of the 50. Two days after the race, I felt good enough to do a short but intense hill workout with Kevin Gorman, my CMS teammate, and it went surprisingly well. I had no problems justifying running easy for the rest of the week, and my legs felt good by race day. I guess red wine and ice enhance recovery. I knew Jim would not be racing the day before (as last year), and given that he was a mile ahead of me at the New Bedford half, I was wondering how long we would be running together this year.
We got out somewhat quickly at the start, as I didn’t want to encourage anyone to hang on to us. On the other hand, I wasn’t trying to push the pace early with the vertical climb of Soapstone coming up at 2.5. The new singletrack section prior to the hill seemed longer, but that might have been due to the fact that I was a bit worried that we missed a turn. I tried to maintain an even effort hiking up the hill, so that we could actually run the upper portion and still feel ok for the hard downhill that follows. Jim gave me 10 second updates on two guys behind us, and seemed to think we were going to get caught.
Although pushing too hard on downhills is one of the best ways to ruin a race, I wasn’t holding back much on the descents. I didn’t actually think that I would put time on Jim, but it was likely to be harder on Jim’s legs than mine, and might prevent surges on the runable sections between the hills, where JJ’s leg speed would be an advantage. He seemed content with the pace, and I just tried to keep a steady effort. We talked about last year’s race, and how nice the trail conditions were this year. At 49 minutes, we started down the long stream bed downhill, which was almost completely dry. It is always nice to have dry shoes on the mile long hill that follows, and I felt much better on this section this year compared to last.
At around 60 minutes, my abdominal muscles started to get tight, which sometimes happens to me in races with fast descents. I think my legs get in front of my torso, and this fatigues my stomach muscles. I thought Jim might go by during the 10 minutes it took to relax the cramping, but he seemed to be worried about the final climb. It took forever to get there, and I started to feel the 50 miler on the rolling technical section from 11-13 miles. We hit the base of the hill at around 1:32, and I climbed as hard as I could while still leaving some for the rolling last mile. I couldn’t pull away from JJ, and I knew I was in trouble when I had to back off on the final trail downhill due to heavy legs from the climb
JJ passed me on the road, and it was downhill from there. My quads were dead tired, and hard downhill pounding on pavement was not helping. I managed to keep the gap at a few seconds until we got onto the dirt road and the final climb to the finish, where both my stride and turnover slowed. Jim pulled away steadily while I tried to limit the damage, but think I finished the 50 mile faster than that!
The race for spots 3-6 was very tight behind us, as Ross Krause, Keith Schmitt, John Dudley, and Dave Hannon all finish within a minute. Serena Wilcox won the women’s race by about 6 minutes, so it was a good day for Inov-8. In addition to JJ and Serena, I know that Ross Krause was wearing 290’s. JJ went with 212’s, which he was very happy with, and I wore my 290’s for a little more protection on technical downhills. I preferred the 290’s to the 230’s I wore last year, but I did run a bit faster last year. I’m thinking the slight course change may have added some distance, but I’m not sure on that. With the exception of the last mile, I’m happy with my race, and I probably couldn’t have expected much more a week after Bear Mountain. Deb and Scott Livingston and the Shenipsit Striders did a great job with the race, and the perfect running weather encouraged a record turnout of 160 for the 24k and almost another 100 for the 6k.
Full results at:
Monday, May 24, 2010
Saturday, May 22, 2010
One of my goals for the year 2010 was to run an ultramarathon that I had never before run. So, when my good friend Kyle Klingman asked if I wanted to run Minnesota's Superior Trail 50K, I jumped at the opportunity. Better yet, when I told my wife Hilary about the plans, she expressed her desire to fulfill one of her long-time goals of completing an ultramarathon, and committed to completing the race as well.
Thursday, May 20, 2010
A lighter schedule this weekend for most athletes. Abby Mahoney will be at the Northfield Mountain Trail Race, this is the start up of the USATF- NE Mountain Running Series at Northfield, MA . Adventure racing and current National Champs, Team Granite will be at the Longest Day AR near the NY/NJ border. The exact location is withheld until just before the start of the race. This year's race starts at midnight and will be an 18 hour event. Lastly Eric Charette will be testing the wheels at the Rock/Creek Scenic City Trail Half-Marathon at Raccoon Mtn near Chattanooga, TN. There is also a full trail marathon option as well.
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Not a sweet trail ultra and not a traditional triathlon. The Elk River Challenge is just that, a Challenge. I typically do 5-6 of these 'Challenge' type races sprinkled throughout my season. Take away the swimming and I can be competitive. Add kayaking in it's place, and it's game on! They are my little niche in the sporting world. A specialty, if you will. I ventured up to beautiful West Virginia last weekend. Check out my latest exploits here. Hope everyone has a great weekend. I'm gonna take a break....d
Monday, May 17, 2010
Sunday, May 16, 2010
Saturday, May 15, 2010
Thursday, May 13, 2010
We'll start this weekend off with a monster of a race. The 16th running of the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 mile this Saturday starting in Fort Valley, VA. Lots and lots of rocky single-track with over 16k of climb make this one of the tougher 100 milers in the US, especially if the weather does not cooperate and usually anything can happen in May in VA. Former MMT winner Todd Walker is back once again, as is Sean Andrish and Chris Reed. Joe Ziegenfuss will be racing at the Superior Trail 50k on the rugged but beautiful Superior Hiking Trail in northeastern Minnesota. Cristina Luis will be at the US Orienteering Team Time Trials in Harriman State Park, NY this Saturday and Sunday. Up for grabs will be a chance to compete at the World Championships in Norway this Summer.
Dwight Shuler will be back at it on 7 days rest at the Elk River Challenge, in Clay County WV. The challenge is a 5 mile paddle, 15 mile bike, and 3 mile run. Jim Johnson and Serena Wilcox will be at the Soapstone 16 miler this Sunday in Connecticut.
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
North Face Bear Mountain 50m 2010
7k of climbing
Technical singletrack and carriage roads
I almost didn’t get to the start for this one. After the incredibly hot 7 Sisters last weekend, I told Steph that if race day for Bear Mountain was going to be hot, I would not run. I believe 50 miles in heat is a town in hell. As my luck would have it, things cooled down prior to the race, so I started to get organized. I had a good amount of trouble trying to figure out the logistics for this race, mostly due to the fact that I depend on liquid calories, and don’t do the Gu. I have no issues with most races with rational drop points, but Bear Mountain only has drops at 28 and 40 miles. I finally decided to put my trust in the aid stations, which ended up being problematic.
One of the reasons I was not initially excited about the race was the 2009 event. The short version of that story was an incredibly fast start (with the help of Dave James), which resulted in a death march over the last 2 hrs when Brian Rusiecki left me for dead. I also had trouble with the 5am start, which forced an early race pit stop. Many of the early top 5 runners either dropped out, or lost substantial time in the second half of the race. Despite having run 7 Sisters with Brian and me, Leigh Schmitt ran away from everyone pretty early in the race, and beat me by 27 minutes.
After a couple of 50 milers last fall that were much better paced, I was committed to a sane early pace for the 2010 race. I then looked at the entrant list and saw Max King, Timmy Parr, Michael Arnstein, and Oz Pearlman. When Brian told me Geoff Roes was coming, I thought he was joking. Last year, the race was almost all from the Northeast, and I had no idea why so many west coast runners and fast road guys were showing up. The likelihood of a sustainable early pace seemed low, very low. While some were touting the technical nature of the course, I was thinking it wasn’t technical enough to keep road guys like Arnstein or Pearlman from a fast pace. I guess my memory was being selective and focusing on the carriage roads in the second half of the race.
After waiting for the last racers to get registered, the run started 15 minutes late at 5:15am. Geoff and Tim went to the front, and set a very reasonable pace. I was shocked and happy. Brian and I were talking about 7 Sisters and other races, but I suggested that we might want to quiet down. I though Geoff and Tim might crank up the pace if it seemed too comfortable for everyone. While I was handling most of the terrain pretty easily, I could still feel 7 Sisters on the climbs. As long as they didn’t start hammering the hills, I was OK. For most of the early miles, I sat around 7th or 8th, and just tried to conserve as much energy as possible.
Despite my objective of running an evenly paced effort, I was soon accused of initiating the real racing. I think there was a misunderstanding. There was a long technical downhill around 8 miles in, and Geoff and Tim slowed down considerably. I had noticed that a few people in the lead group were struggling with the rocky sections, and I didn’t want to give anyone a free pass. I drifted up past Geoff and continued to make my way down the hill at a very easy pace for any of the New England guys. I wasn’t working any harder, I was just braking less. Leigh said something about hornets in a nest, and Tim Geoff, and Gerry Sullivan started to run a bit harder. This was bad timing for me, as I began to feel the need for a pit stop. A mile later, I had to stop and watch the lead pack disappear in the woods. Even though it was only about 9-10 miles into the race, there was no one anywhere close to the lead pack at that point. It took me a while to get back on pace, and I didn’t want to repeat my mistake of last year when I ran too hard to catch up with the leaders.
When I finally managed to reel in Michael Arnstein, he picked up the pace a bit, and I suggested we try and work together. I still wasn’t feeling great, especially on the climbs, which was troubling considering how early it was in the race. We got to the aid station at 13.9 miles, and here is where my trust in the aid stations became an issue. I needed soda, and they had Pepsi, in the bottle, recently opened. I probably killed half the bottle trying to fill up my water bottle as it foamed all over. I know that they were trying to go low-impact this year and reduce the use of cups, but you can’t serve carbonated soda to runners. I asked for Nuun tabs, and they pointed me to a jug of Nuun water. This has no calories. I stared at an aid station volunteer in disbelief, and he magically produced Nuun tablets out of his pocket. Someone said they were not supposed to give them out, which is funny, because the tabs were listed right in the race packet. These aid station decisions were not made by the race volunteers, who were extremely helpful throughout the long day. I finally left with my tabs and my carbonated soda and chased Mike onto the singletrack. With all the carbonation, I lost about a third of my Pepsi as it blasted out of the bottle. Mike was worse off than me, though, as he only took water, and we had a technical 6.8 mile leg ahead of us with plenty of climbing.
The carbonation was not really helping my stomach, so I tried to hold wait until it was totally flat until I drank much. It was fun running with Mike on the technical sections, as he threw out expletives every time we had a steep, technical descent. I was really impressed with how well he was doing after he told me he never runs trails. I told him that the second half of the race was more runable, which I think helped him deal with the rough sections. We both began to feel better by the end of this section, with Mike really starting to roll on the easier stretches. I stopped holding back on the rocky sections, as Mike was able to compensate when the footing improved. I really don’t know how he made it through that section without any calories, but it might have cost him later on during the race.
The next stretch was also a long one at 7 miles, and I waited for Mike to stuff some fruit in his face before heading out. This doesn’t seem long, but I think Mike had us throwing down a couple 10 minute miles in the previous section, at least according to his GPS. Interestingly, his GPS was also telling us that the course was long, and I think he had us at 22.2 by the time we hit the aid station at 20.7. I don’t know if it was the bananas or the smooth terrain, but Mike opened his stride some more, and we were making good time as I tried not to push too hard to stay in touch. Luckily, there were enough small hills and stream crossings which allowed me to reel him back in. To my surprise, we ended up catching Timmy Parr, who was walking, and then Gerry Sullivan, who had been leading at 13.9 miles. It was a welcome relief to be feeling good enough to where I thought I might end up having a strong second half.
We finally got to the 28 mile aid station and our bag drop at about 4:18 into the race. They had Coke in cups, nice and flat, and I also threw some Gatorade in there with the Nuun tabs. This worked much better. I offered to wait for Mike, but he told me to go on, so I ran on down the trail at an easy pace. I thought he would catch up quickly, but even when I could hear see him, he didn’t seem to be gaining any ground. I was really itching to start running harder, and Mike was apparently having a rough patch. The next 6.5 miles seemed to fly by, with the exception of a very long road hill that tries to suck the life out of you. It began to rain on this stretch, which was refreshing, but wet shoes weren’t making anyone faster.
I wanted to pick up the pace even more through the 34.2 mile station, but I knew there were some miles at the end that would be hard on the legs, so I held back a bit. I had no idea where Geoff, Leigh, and Brian were, but I was feeling confident that I wasn’t going to get passed by anyone. I was still rolling through the 40.3 and 44.7 mile aid stations, and it was fun to weave through the 50k runners after running alone for about 2 hours.
The last 5 miles takes you back onto some very technical and hilly singletrack that did in my legs. My calves and quads tried to tell me that they were done for the day, but I worked out a compromise where I would back off on the steep hills, shorten my steps, and they would let me run the last 2.5 miles. The descent from Timp Pass is still one of worst trails I have ever run on, and the intermittent rain didn’t really improve the footing. I was extremely happy to see the last aid station, especially when I realized that I was probably going to be under Leigh’s course record from last year (7:44). Although the flagging was confusing with about 5 colors all tied together, I managed to navigate my way back to the finish for a time of 7:37:56. While I never saw him, Brian was only about 3 minutes ahead of me. Geoff ran strong all the way to the finish, putting time into everyone with fastest last 5 miles to finish with a 7:06. Leigh improved 22 minutes over his 2009 time after chasing Geoff closely for about 30 miles. Mike ran faster over the last few miles than everyone other than Geoff to just miss breaking 8 hours.
I was happy with my decision to wear the 310’s for the race, but my feet are a bit narrow for that model, and I had some movement in the toe box at times after the rain started. I ended up with a couple of small blisters on my Morton’s toes that I didn’t notice during the race. I probably would have been better off in my tried and trusted 320’s, but I’ve been having good runs in the 310’s. I almost considered something lighter, but the stability, traction, and stone protection of the 310’s was appreciated early and often throughout the race.
Although I doubt I could have stayed with Geoff, I do wonder how Brian and I would have done without our 7 Sisters warm-up. Despite some lingering fatigue, we ended up closer to Leigh than last year, but he did try and hang with Geoff for much longer. I could have skipped other New England races, but 7 Sisters is definitely one of my favorite races. The crazy thing is, my legs feel better after Bear Mountain than they did after 7 Sisters, so I guess a 50 miler helps with recovery!
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
On Saturday, I participated in one of the hardest ultra races I’ve ever competed in – the North Face Endurance Challenge Northeast Regionals: Bear Mountain 50 miler. In looking at past results, runners consistently run 1:30 to 2:00 slower on this course, and the RDs rate it a 5 out of 5 for technical trails, a 4 out of 5 for vertical climb, and 5 out of 5 for difficulty. Great – bring it on…who doesn’t like a challenge?
I was fortunate that several of my training buddies were going to race this also, so I knew I would have company at the race. We drove to the race site Friday night, and decided that with a 5am start, and having to load up a shuttle bus to get there between 3:30 and 4:15, we were going to just sleep in our cars in the parking lot. So, the night before this challenging event I was lulled to sleep by the sound of cars racing by on the highway and with my feet just tucked under the passenger seat in the car. The alarm went off way too early at 3:30.
After meeting up with the rest of our group (since they were bumming a bit of my drink mix off me), we jumped in the shuttles and were transported to the start. We all checked in, got our numbers, our timing chips, and settled into our pre-race rituals (filling bottles, handing in drop bags, whatever). We were all a bit star-struck as we saw some of the greatest ultra runners in the country milling around also. Unfortunately, at five minutes before the race (when I was just about to down my pre-race gu), they announced that the race start would be pushed back 15 more minutes. We grumbled and put back on our warm-ups.
Finally, at 5:15am, approximately 175 runners lined up under the inflatable start/finish banner, were treated to an inspirational talk by Dean Karnazes, and then we were off. There was a blaze of headlamps as the race streaked across the field and into the trails. Immediately the trail turned to double track, and I worked hard to get into the right position as it quickly narrowed. Luckily, two of my western mass friends (Matt and Damien) followed my lead, and after about a mile we settled into a rhythm. The three of us quickly passed the first few miles on the technical, rocky jeep trails, but were happy to shut off the headlamps – we felt like the danger of a broken ankle was greatly reduced once we could see where our feet were landing. I happily settled into the 2nd place female position, knowing that Nikki Kimball was out in front of me, but wanting to run my own race and not try to match her tempo.
About 5 or 6 miles into the race we were running along beautiful single track, with lush green growth beside us, rocks to jump on and over, and I was having flashbacks to the trails I train on in Western Mass. I must have pushed the tempo a bit in my enthusiasm to run something that felt so familiar, because next thing I knew my Westerns Mass buddies were off the back. I figured they’d catch me again, so I just kept running, starting conversation with the next runner I caught – who happened to be Oz Pearlman. We ran for a few miles, trading war stories from races. We were so engaged in conversation that we flew past a turn – luckily we only went about 200 yards past it and the runner behind us quickly corrected our mistake. Matt caught us quickly after that, and a small group of about a half dozen runners formed around us. It was a great mix, with Oz and I being the most seasoned runners, Matt running in his second ever 50-miler and a few of the folks being first time ultra runners.
The group ran together, sharing stories, and passing miles through the mile 14 aid station. Just past that was the most unintentional trail I’ve ever seen – it was a field of boulders. We hurdled over the rocks, running from flagging to flagging. I was glad to be in a group, because I easily could have lost a ton of time finding the trail without a group. I was extremely pleased that my 268s were gripping the rocks well and I wasn’t slipping and sliding like some of the folks around me. A few miles later, after a mile or two of climbing, the group was treated to slabs of granite and amazing views of the Catskills. Again, I was fortunate to have a group, because on top of the rocks there was no way to flag the course. I chuckled as I watched the group fan out across a rock and move forward…someone would shout out when they found the flagging indicating the route, and then everyone else would scramble towards them and onward. This continued for about a mile over these slab peaks.
Just off the peaks, the group was making good progress on a downhill, and suddenly I found myself flat on my face. Somehow a skinny root had grabbed my ankle and sent me down in a completely ungraceful fashion. Unfortunately, I landed on both knees as well as my hand with the handheld – so the poor runners next to me got a good shot of my hydration mix on their legs (sorry!). Luckily, no major damage and we were off again.
This group carried on for several miles at conversational pace until about the mile 22 aid station. With everyone having a different aid station routine, runners left at different times, and I quickly found myself running alone. After about 4 hours with company, I was happy to get into my own groove and enjoy the day. The next few miles of trails featured some rocky single track with plenty of logs to jump over, which kept breaking my rhythm, and I quickly wished I had some company. Eventually we were dumped on a wide jeep trail that gradually climbed up, and I tried to focus on the runners ahead of me and behind me. While there were plenty of other runners around, no one seemed to want to engage in conversation, so we were all focusing on our own pace. I was pleased to finally reach the mile 28 aid station, grab a new bottle, and know that I was over halfway done. I did a quick ‘systems check’ at this point – energy felt good, legs felt good, no injuries so far, fingers weren’t swollen, still peeing…things were going well.
After another few miles on my own, yo-yoing with several other runners, we reached what I have dubbed the road to hell. In the middle of this crazy trail race, there was the longest section of road, with a gradual uphill, that just broke my spirit. I jogged up it, but was well aware that my feet were barely moving forward as I trudged up this hill. Was it a coincidence that the sun had finally come out and was heating up the pavement? I felt completely baked on this section. I was pleased to turn back onto the trails – I have no idea how long the road section was, but suffice it to say it was much longer than I wanted. I could feel my mouth getting dry, but my bottle was practically empty and I had no idea how far the next aid was.
I finally heard some cheering in front of me, and was pleased to see a nice couple with amazing enthusiasm. They cheered extra hard for me, as they exclaimed that they were both huge fans of Inov8 shoes! These folks cheered me into the mile 34 aid station, where I downed several glasses of water and refilled my bottles. I knew only 6 more miles to the next aid station (and a fresh bottle!). I did my best to remain focused, but knew that things were starting to go badly. Luckily the 50k and marathon runners route intersected with our route during this section, so I had many runners to catch and pass which lifted my spirit. At one point during this game of catch I was alarmed to see two of the 50-mile racers running back towards me, asking if I had seen any of our orange markers recently. I suddenly snapped out of my fog, and realized that I hadn’t seen any 50-mile markers in a long time – there were groups of flagging for the 50k and marathon racers, but the orange flagging for the 50-miler wasn’t included. Had we missed a turn? We all stopped and asked any runner around us (who were all 50k and marathon runners) if they had seen a turn for us or if they had noticed any orange flagging – no one had. One marathon runner had a course map in his pocket, but only for the marathon course, but we still studied it, hoping for clues. After several nervous minutes, we finally decided to continue forward. Luckily, a few more minutes down the trail we saw the orange flagging. We were relieved to be on the correct course, but annoyed to needlessly waste time.
A few miles later and I was almost into the mile 40 aid station. I was surrounded by marathon and 50k runners…and I literally watched one of them fall over in front of me. I quickly stopped to see if he was ok – and learned that the heat was causing his legs to cramp. I pulled out the rest of my salt tablets and forced him and his friend (who was running with them) to down two each. After making sure they were ok, I was off.
In and out of the 40 mile aid station, and I knew I was home free. Typically, this is the point in the race where I can start to taste the finish line, and I know I can push through anything for 10 miles. Unfortunately, this was not the case as I struggle over the next mile or so of parking lot after parking lot that we had to run through. These parking lots were so long that they were approximately 1 bajillion cones long, and seemed to last forever. I trudged through them, unaware of how slow I was going, but doing my best to maintain forward progress. I decided I clearly needed some energy, so I opened my water bottle, took a shot of it, and realized that I really didn’t like the flavor of what I had mixed in it – it tasted like paste and immediately turned my stomach. So, there I was, late in the race, with no fluids on me that were at all appealing, energy low, still 9 miles to the finish, and I felt like crap. I was insistent on jogging, but I knew that my stride was limited to only a few inches each step. I kept creeping forward, and bummed a few sips of fluid off Matt as he passed me like I was standing still. Other than Matt, however, no one else passed me, - I was amazed that folks weren’t flying past me as I pushed on. The trails had turned to rocky hiking trails with some bushwack sections, and some river beds to run down – they were extremely rough on unstable legs. I was having difficulty breathing, as each deep breath to calm myself down and try to open up the stride would elicit a strong cough that was immediately followed by a dry heave. After an agonizingly long time, I finally reached the next aid station, which I figured based on my time had to be mile 45 or 46…and I felt completely defeated to learn it was only mile 44. I had 6 more miles to go?!? I almost quit right there…I almost broke down in tears…I didn’t think this was fun anymore!
I dumped my gross water bottle, refilled it with appealing fluids, downed several glasses of water to make up for the last several miles where I hadn’t had anything, and started hiking up the trail. At least I would try to reach the finish line. I powered hiked past one marathon runner, and she watched in shock as I immediately doubled over. My world got very unsteady, things were spinning, and my legs felt strangely detached from my body. I bent over trying to regain my composure, and dry heaving into the ground. I almost walked back to the aid station to get a ride back…but luckily I’m pretty stubborn and didn’t want to have to explain a DNF to folks.
After power hiking another mile or so, I heard some cheerful, enthusiastic voices behind me, and looked back to see the #3 and #4 female in the 50-mile race about 30-seconds back. While I’m not surprised that they were there since I know how slow I was going, I was annoyed that I could quickly get knocked off the podium. Luckily, the combination of seeing them behind me, the fluids that I had downed at the aid station a few miles ago, and knowing that it was only 4 downhill miles to the finish…finally kicked me into gear and turned my stomach back enough to allow me to run. I took off, hoping to gap the girls on the technical downhill which was the next section. I raced forward, thinking that I at least wasn’t going to give up without a fight. Luckily, I was able to cruise the downhills and hold on to 2nd place female, but finishing well behind the time I was hoping for. Only 2 minutes behind me, the third place female cross the line (with her pacer – it wasn’t the 4th place girl afterall!). It took me several hours, some ginger ale, and some pickled ginger (oh, and a beer) for my stomach to feel normal again.
I was pleased to enjoy the finish line festivities and see several friends, new and old, cross the finish line, having accomplished their goal of finishing the Bear Mountain 50 mile race. (I was also pleased to learn the teammate Ben Nephew finished a strong 4th place, just a few minutes off the podium against one of the most stacked field an east coast race has seen in a while.)
It was a rough day – it sounds like most folks I talked to had issues – from nutritional/hydration issues, getting lost, bruises and bumps, or mental challenges with the technical slow course. I know that the course defeated me that day, but I was fortunate to still hold on to a podium spot after all was said and done. Luckily, except for my stomach issues my body held up well. My feet loved the 268s (no blisters, no foot issues), my legs felt completely fine after the race (with the exception of a few new war wounds) – I was able to go out the next day and pace a friend of mine for a portion of the GAC Mother’s Day 6-Hour Race.
The North Face put on an outstanding event, with several different races taking place, tons of athletes of all ability participating, enthusiastic aid station volunteers, and a huge festival at the finish line. I will likely be back again to seek revenge on the course. Congrats to all the racers who had the courage to pin on a number and take on the challenge…and extra congrats to those who reached the finish line.
Mark Lundblad and I made our way up to Wisconsin's Southern Kettle Moraine Forest for the Ice Age Trail 50 mile and 50K races this past weekend. These races are one of those 'must do' events and it didn't dissapoint. I tried the x-talon 212's for the first time in an ultra distance race and was rewarded with a PR and 5th place finish in the 50K. These shoes ROCK. You can read my race report here. Mark finished the relentlessly hilly 50 mile course with a solid 3rd place showing. Click on Read More to see his full report.
Ice Age 50 mile Race Report (5/8/10)
There were many reasons why I wanted to go back to race the Ice age 50 miler. The main reason was because it is simply a great race. I enjoyed my experience back in 2007 and it worked out well with my schedule, so I thought why not.
The course is beautiful but deceivingly tough, with relentless short but steep stinging hills. It is mostly single-track with a nice 10 mile opening double track loop on the Nordic ski trails. What makes Ice Age challenging is trying to lock in on a good running rhythm. The placement of one short steep hill after another makes it tough and a keen mental focus is important to keep grinding from start to finish.
I flew up with my friend and fellow Team Inov-8 athlete Dwight Shuler who had a great race in the 50k, finishing 5th OA with a 50k PR to boot. We got in at 2am Friday morning thanks to many delays with our flights. Friday was a dreary rainy day but we were happy to finally have made it to the Kettle Moraine State Forest. The forecast was for rain to be clearing out on Friday and windy but cool and dry conditions on race day. Well the rain stuck around all night but it did give some of us a break for most of the day on Saturday. However the winds were pretty strong and figuring out what to wear started to consume my pre-race thoughts.
Funny how what ever you stress about the most prior to a race becomes meaningless on race day and then something you assumed was not worth worrying about becomes more of a game breaker. I thought ahead about writing down the aid station mileages and having that with me as a reference for my pace but I figured I could manage to stay focused from point A to point B. Turns out my brain likes to shut down from time to time while I’m racing and not just when I’m trying to remember the weekly family schedule. I had my split for the first 8.9 mile loop from 2007 so I used that for reference but other than that I was “winging” it.
After the first loop I was pretty much on pace and behind the race leader Todd Braje by about a minute. I knew Todd would be the man to beat and he did not disappoint. Once we got off the roller coaster double track Nordic loop, we were on the Ice Age trail. The terrain was more technical but still had all the short steep hills you could handle. I stayed in 3rd place for most of the first out and back right behind the 2nd place guy whom I did not know. I kept waiting for the turnaround at mile 21, to see Todd so I could figure how much damage had been done up to this point. Turns out he was almost 7 minutes up on me. I took over 2nd place at the turnaround. At this point I really started to try and push the pace a little and see if could at least not let the deficit build anymore. I kept getting reports from other runners whom we passed on both out/back sections on how far behind I was from 1st place. Most accounts had me cutting into the lead and one runner actually stopped and hit the split on his watch to tell me I was 3:50 behind Todd. This was around mile 26 or so but since I never wrote down the aid station mileages nor did I ever look at the mileage signs when I blew through the aid stations, it was a guess. Anyways I was cutting into his lead and feeling good about this race.
Somewhere around this last bit of good news and 15 minutes later I mentally checked out and never realized I was actually slowing down. I still felt ok but I was unmotivated for some reason. There are lots of mental highs and lows in ultra racing and this was definitely one of them. Why would I involuntarily start to slow down when I was starting to gain some ground? I’m used to running by myself and do not like to talk when I’m racing so that was not the issue. Looking back on my performance I was constantly wondering what my mileage was and trying to figure out how hard to push. I figured I had 2nd place in the bag but that was when Phil Kochik made himself known and I was passed pretty quickly. I had no idea he was reeling me in so fast. I went from digging into the lead to dropping to 3rd place in a matter of minutes it seemed. I stayed in a funk for quite a while going into the last out and back of 18 miles.
The next 9 miles out to the turnaround were tough as I knew I would not catch anyone unless they fell apart big time but I wanted to try and make a race out of it. My goal for this race was to break my time of 6:31 from 2007 but by not paying attention to aid station mileages I was pretty clueless as to where I stood. I did have a feeling it was not going to happen. I got to the turnaround with Todd more than 10 minutes up and Phil about 4 minutes behind him. I think the realization of not running faster than my 2007 time and knowing I was not going to catch anyone drove me to the brink of thankfully not giving up, but rather just accepting this fact and actually giving it all I had those last 9 miles. I pushed pretty hard the rest of the way and my concentration was strong and focused. Where was this mental fortitude from miles 25-40?
I ended up finishing just over my goal time with a 6:33. Probably on the best of days I would never have caught Todd as he is an incredibly strong and fast ultra runner. I was happy to finish and hear about Dwight’s great race and start to soak up all the awesome Wisconsinite patronage. I wore the Roclite 295’s and they performed very well. I had no hot spots or blisters. I’d like to see Inov-8 install a cattle prong in these shoes to keep me better focused for future ultras. The Ice Age races are a must do if you are an ultra runner. It is a beautiful, historic and well directed event.
Monday, May 10, 2010
Below is a race report from Serena Wilcox and her stellar 1st place performance this past Saturday at the McNaughton Park 30 miler.
My first official trail race for the 2010 season was McNaughton 30 mile! I started my day at 2 am listening to the pouring rain outside wishing I could curl up with the dog and cat and not run.
I met Jen Sorrell, John LaCroix, and Bob Ayers at 3:15am at the Richmond Park and ride (I was a few minutes late, all my friends know I am not a morning person!)…they had bagels YEAH because I forgot my breakfast and I was hungry! We drove to Pittsfield, VT about 1.5 hrs. When we got to Pittsfield we drove past the Aimee Farm to the general store which was open! I got vitamin water…that is like my coffee! Then we went to register.
Andy (RD) was all chatty at 4:30 am he gave us our bib #’S and off we went back to the jeep to get warm and change into running clothes!
The course was three 10 mile loops. Uphill and switch back for the first 6 miles then downhill with a few bumps for the last 4. The course was super fun to run. I decided on my Inov-8 268 for today’s race they are lightweight and comfortable.
I ran the whole first lap no walking the hills (I felt a little bad running up the hills past the 100 mile runners.) I normally walk the hills, but because I was using this as a training run I decided to run all hills! I wasn’t going to worry about my time. I felt really strong. All my training runs with Aliza are paying off! For my first lap the course was in pretty good shape not to muddy. When I came in to the aid station at the end of my first 10 miles Bob, race crew for the day, was there it was so nice to see a familiar face! I gave him my jacket grabbed some chips, which tasted really good and was off for lap two! A mile into my second lap the rain picked up and the temps dropped a bit… I wish I had kept my coat. By mile 16 my hands were numb. The only way to get warm was to run faster…plus I knew they had hot soap at mile 20! Bob was there again he gave me his gloves, which were awesome. Off I go for loop # 3 only 10 more miles to go woo hoo! Cause this was my third loop I knew where I could push myself a bit more there would be no surprises. I started my third loop out with Jan a super fast/strong runner. We stayed together for about a mile then we came to the hills and I let him go by. I kept him in my sites until about 23 miles, he was pushing the hills and I was starting to get tired. I noticed that because of the cold temperatures and rain I was not eating or drinking as much as I normally do. So I walked a bit and fumbled with my shot blocks. I knew I needed energy. The course was super sloppy for my last loop. Then I got to mile 25 and I was cold so I pushed to finish I really wanted dry clothes! I saw Jan at mile 27ish he was on the switch back in front of me. I decided to pick up the pace to see if I could catch him. I was not as careful on the slippery down hills as I was for lap 1 and lap 2. It was nice to have that extra motivation to push myself a bit harder too. I caught up to Jan and just kept running. I knew I was almost done. I kept telling myself down the hill over the bridge through the meadow and done. When I was a ¼ mile from the finish I saw my friends Jen and John starting out on their last lap. They both looked strong and I was so happy to see them and to see that they were having fun! I kept running to the finish where Bob was waiting with food and dry clothes. It was a great day to play in the rain.
On Sunday I entered a 6 Hour Mother’s Day Race. The course was a 5k loop that consisted of a variety of terrain. I saw this as a great opportunity for a supported training run. The prerace report was that the trails were fairly dry so I decided to try out my new f-lite 320 Pk’s. A four arrow shoe with a low key outsole that still provides underfoot protection seemed like a logical and ideal choice.
Before I knew it we were off and running. The first three hours ticked away without worry and I didn’t find myself looking at the race clock or my watch. My stride felt good and I was feeding off other people’s energy. At this point I had enough laps in to know what was around every corner and it was nice to know what parts of the course I could push slightly harder. Thirty three miles into the race I began to process the idea that my typical mindset of “the faster I run the sooner it is over” wasn’t going to work today. Today I had to pay attention to the clock which was difficult. With thirty nine miles behind me I told myself I would call it a day at forty two. With the mindset of one last time I hammered the loop, I had a renewed sense of energy with the thought that the end was near. As I finished the 5k loop and once again approached the clock I realized I still had a half an hour. Before my mind knew it my legs had taken me back on course again. I found myself now thinking “the faster I run the sooner it is over”. Again I pushed the 5k loop and found myself back at the start/finish line with the clock reading 5:53. This time I stopped dead at the line. The race personal informed me I had time to knock out another mile to add to my tally. I politely, but clearly declared no more. While driving home I felt disappointed that I didn’t finish the full time allotment. Perhaps I was mentally defeated by the 6 hour race.
As always Gil’s Athletic Club out of Massachusetts put on a great run. I learned that a timed race requires a much different approach then a set distance course and I commend those who can mentally handle it.
Saturday, May 8, 2010
This week was historic as the FKT (Fastest Known Time) was set on the Pinhoti National Recreation Trail. This 325 mile trail is comprised of a 175 mile section in Alabama from Flagg Mountain to the AL/GA state line and another 150 miles in Georgia from the border to the Benton MacKaye Trail, which is a connector to the Appalachian Trail.
Hampered by blistered and bruised feet, I was not able to achieve my 'A' goal of the entire trail, but did nail my 'B' goal which was a fast time on the Alabama Pinhoti Trail. In the end, I covered the distance in 4 days 5 hours 39 minutes and 12 seconds. This is the 2nd fastest time on this trail section ever recorded, behind Rob Youngren whom I started the adventure with and had set the fastest time the day before. Rob went on to run the entire trail in 6d 8h 48m.
Overall it was a great experienced and I am very proud of my effort as I stuck with it over the last 2 days when I could barely stand up at the start of each morning. I had a great crew and my pacers helped push me well beyond my limits. I have to keep remembering that I ran my first 50 miler last November at MMTR and my first hundred miler came in the initial 38 hours of this adventure run.
I am already looking for my next BHAG ultra-distance adventure run while my feet heal up. Thanks to inov-8 for encouraging me to chase my dreams, even if they seem just out of reach.
This was not the typical spring break you have in mind. No “Girls Gone Wild” scenes on this trip. Then again, no one really wants to flash others when they are carrying 50 lbs. of weight on their back! This trip was to the Grand Canyon: a five-day, bring-all-you-need-to-survive backpacking adventure down into the bowels of the upside down mountain. It was three of us: Nora, my better half, Erin, Nora’s co-worker who actually grew up in the Grand Canyon (her parents work for the Parks Service), and myself, Peter, you can call me.
We began our hike from the South Rim on the South Kaibab Trail (elev. 7,260 ft) at 9:45AM. I was entertained the entire trip that they named this trail after a food that you find on a skewer. I was so entertained by it that I never did find out how to pronounce it correctly. Actually, it is a Paiute (early settlers) word which means “mountain lying down.” They liked meats on skewers!
Nora and Erin still looking happy
The trail had snow accumulation and was icy the first mile or so, but as we descended, the ice vanished and the temperature rose as, too, did the weight on my pack seem to rise. The 50 lbs. pack began to feel like a monkey on my back, a big monkey, at that, so much weight for such a light person (I weight about 130). I would have preferred to carry very little and be running, but they tell me I need food for 5 days. Fair enough.
This was the first time that I wore my Roclite 295’s for an extended period of time. The grip was great on the steep descents and on the ice, dirt and rocks alike. Nora, Erin and I were discussing footwear before we left and they we going to wear the bigger, more “supportive” hiking-type shoes with bulkier grip to them. Since I was only taking one pair of shoes for long hours of hiking and, hopefully, lots of running, I needed it all: comfort, traction and light-weight. Since this shoe can be used as a racing shoe, I was worried that they would not hold up to all the abuse I had in store for them. Time would tell.
My pack seemed to be getting heavier and heavier on the 7.5 mile descent to Phantom Ranch, the bottom of the Canyon, and my legs began to quiver after a few hours. It felt like my shoulders were being tenderized by the straps of my pack. I have never done this type of hiking before with lots of weight, long periods of time, carrying everything you need for the entire time, so it was new experience for me, so, all I could think was “I hate you weight!”
The views of the South Rim and looking down into the Canyon, where the Colorado River has cut a deep wound into the floor, were spectacular. One’s depth perception does not function properly in the Grand Canyon. The depth and scale that your mind calculates is thrown off when you see a bird that looks like a speck of pepper hovering a quarter of the distance as the wall of the canyon you are sizing up. An awe-inspiring place, to say the least.
“Shit, that’s a big hole!”
At one point we passed an Amish family (Erin claims they were Mennonites, but I saw one of those fire places they are so popular for and some wicker furniture sticking out of their packs, definitely Amish!). It was impressive, in their long dresses, head coverings and long beards (just on the father, actually). It made me stop complaining internally to myself, if all 18 of them could do it, I should have no problem doing it.
As we came around the corner of a high trail, a view of Phantom Ranch came into view—it looked like an oasis in an ant farm. We were still really high up with two miles to go, that meant steepness. Then the churning waters of the Colorado River came into view and Phantom Ranch was growing in size. We crossed the River via the suspension bridge and were glad to be at the Ranch 6 hours after starting. Elevation, 2,400 ft. I was glad to get that heavy, miserable pack off my back. I know why they call it Phantom Ranch now: when you take your pack off, it still feels like you are carrying it—hence, Phantom.
We walked around the Ranger Station and Cantina, where they served snacks, refreshments and shirts commemorating your agonizing walk down into the Canyon for a mere $30. The price of things was like being at a professional sporting event. $5.25 for a can of Tecate! Ouch! I guess if everything is brought down by pack mules, they have to reward them by feeding them some top quality, gold-lined grass! Lucky for me, I snuck a bottle of Nimbus Brewing Company Pale Ale, a local Arizona beer, into my pack. Take THAT overpriced Cantina! All that pain I felt while carrying my pack down would be worth it when I cracked open that beer!
I began to feel very faint and queasy and still had not run yet. Note to self: Run before you hike for 6 hours next time! Wearily, I found some fresh socks and laced up my 295’s and undressed as much as possible. All I really needed was shorts since it was about 80 degrees down there, like being in So Cal again! Erin made me promise to take a headlamp and a long sleeve in case I got lost in the Canyon. I headed north on the North Kaibab Trail towards the North Rim and my legs felt surprisingly good; the quads were a little jelloy, but my hiking legs were obviously separate from my running legs. I can across Nora and Erin, who went on ahead of me to take a walk. The sound of the rushing water was so deafening that I they did not hear me approach. I made a snorting wild boar noise and Nora pooped her pants, I think. It was her screaming that startled Erin, not me sneaking up on them. Nora doesn’t like being spooked like that and had some choice words for me. I was laughing the next 10 minutes of the run and likewise almost pooped in my pants. The sound of the rushing water must have drowned out the pain because I felt fine.
The Bright Angel Canyon offered some spectacular views along the Bright Angel Creek. I crossed four bridges in this tight crevasse of a canyon, then emerged into a colorful wide-open canyon containing towering agave plants, cacti and a desert landscape. I had to play a game with myself to get through the run if I planned on running 2 hours: counting down the time until I turned around. Then again on the way back. 30:42 until I turn back. 27:13 now. OK, 24:50. 19:14. Only 16:32 to go now. Oh, look at the pretty waterfall! I saw Ribbon Falls from a distance and had to do a rocky climb, 14:07. I thought this would be comfortable 2 hours, 9:02, not so, 4:52. I almost reached the Cottonwood campground 7.5 miles away after I overshot an hour by 21 seconds. Halfway there, that wasn’t so bad. Just as I turned back, my legs told me they didn’t like the downhill, as slight as it was. I knew it would be a long hour, 58:18. Had a hot spot under my big toe, my quads felt like aspic and my hip flexors were highly tense. I had this reoccurring idea that I was acquiring a femoral stress fracture. 52:45. The run back was a struggle; where is the rushing water pain-drowner, I wondered. 48:19, 46:11, it really sucks when you look at your watch after only two minutes, 41:01, 36:55, 32:09…..I might as well run 2 more minutes to hit 2 hours, I thought, as every compulsive runner would! People looked at me like I was a runner with a hand growing out of my ass as I entered Phantom Ranch. I was practically naked, so maybe that was why.
Now to get rid of some of that weight in my pack, FOOD! I usually want a beer after a run, but not after a 6 hour hike and a 2 hour run. Two sips and I would be blotto. We set up our camp, made whole wheat pasta, dehydrated carrots and sautéed squash for dinner. The lemon pepper made it Five-Star! The icing of the legs in the creek was much needed. Putting on a down jacket really helps with coldness factor. It may look a little silly, but it helps. We went to the Cantina for one of those expensive, ritualistic cans of Tecate…and it did the trick, I was ready for bed! I have to admit, it was good. Like a cold, carbonated apple juice. At least I was getting to be early tonight. Well, not before binge eating a quarter jar of peanut butter with pretzels and fending off the ring-tailed weasel-looking things.
22.5 miles total today!
Activity in the camp began at 6am and the sound of people woke me up. If this happened back at home I would be a hot little potato, but the natural bio-rhythms of us humans prevails. It is rather enjoyable to wake up when the sun is rising. Geese must get hot covered in all those feathers because I was sweating in the down sleeping bag! We had our breakfast of whole wheat flour tortillas, peanut butter and dried fruit. “Where did all the peanut butter go!!??” It was those damned ring-tailed thingies, I replied.
We packed up and made our way to the Clear Creek Trail Head, a 9.5-mile trek to the bare-bones campground alongside, well, Clear Creek. It was a steep climb the first .75 of a mile. Finally, the cardiovascular system was put to work. Nora’s legs were sore and deteriorated as we progressed on the trail. She was having doubts about continuing on the last 2 hours. Attempting to prod her with an agave sprout would have probably just make the situation worse, so we just encouraged her.
The views were spectacular, like something out of a detailed painting. It didn’t look real. As the sun moved across it’s arc in the sky, the colors changed and the orange and reds turned to crimsons and purples. The landscape was covered with low brush, yucca, cacti and agave plants, most with huge, up to 20 ft., joust-like flower spikes reaching into the sky. They bloom after approximately 10 years and then die from the effort of pushing up a bloom 3 inches a day. It is said you can watch the flower spike grow if you watch it for a while. We had no time for that, we kept moving.
The rule was: No hiking and looking, if you want to look, you have to stop. I broke that rule a few times but didn’t fall over the edge of a cliff. Close a few times, though. Erin says to me at the end of the trip, “I saw you brake the rule about hiking and looking.” My reply, “How do you know I was breaking the rule? That means you were breaking the rule, too!” She couldn’t argue.
The last mile of the steep descent into Clear Creek was like walking on the moon, a skree hill of fine red rocks. The geology is quite fantastic in the Grand Canyon, I’m sure if you wanted to hear all about it, Inov-8 teammate Paul Low would be eager to tell you, as he is a geologist and has been there to study the area. The campsite just had smooth areas to set up tents in, but we were amazed to see a toilet, or, rather, a bin with a seat on it and walls on the sides and back, but not on the front. It had a spectacular view of the moonscape and canyon in the distance, no view obstruction. It worked both ways.
We arrived at 2:30 p.m., now it was time to run. I needed a rest first. I was acquiring some blisters on my toes. Nora was adamantly against me running up the Mars-scape we just came down, she thought for sure I would fall down the canyon or get killed. We live at the base of Pikes Peak and I run those trails on a daily basis…and now she worries! She was very emotional; it had been a long day for her.
I was surprised how good the body felt after almost 10 miles of hiking, along with a gorilla on my back. I promised Nora I would be back in 75 min. The run went really well and I was really impressed with the Roclite 295’s, they were holding up an not feeling like the lightweight training/racing shoes they are made out to be. I did an out and back run and waved to Nora and Erin (at 75 min) 1,000 feet below and I descended the Mars-scape. I’m glad I got the run in and treated my legs to an ice bath in the creek. We had our Tasty Bites dinner and sat as the night brought in the stars and a bright moon. Nora and Erin were out by 8:30 p.m. and I fell asleep to the sound of the rushing water.
19.5 mile for the day.
Sorry this is so long, if you have read this to this point, you are a trooper. Day 3 is pretty uneventful, other than the baby rattle snake and the waterfall we were unable to find. Slept well and long. I awoke at sunrise and no one was up, so I went back to sleep until about 8:30 a.m. We were in this tent for 12 hours straight! Wow! You would think we were potheads or something! It was nice to not have to get up and be on the move. It was our rest day since we were staying at Clear Creek for another night. So, pretty much, we were bums for the morning, eating breakfast, sipping tea, taking 15 min to change a shirt. Erin observed that is takes so much longer to do normal functions, like change clothes or get out of your sleeping bag, when the temperature is low.
It was nice to just sit back and rest the legs. The soreness in my legs appeared in certain areas: the hips, glutes, quads, pretty much everywhere, however, I was not nearly as bad at Nora and Erin. They were maneuvering around like zombies with Cerebral Palsy, especially Nora, worse than a penguin! It was pretty comical. If either of them sat down, it was a long chore for them to get back up again. When I did finally get up in the morning, after 12 hours in the tent, I had a searing pain in my lower back/kidney region. I felt like that guy from that movie ‘The Passion of the Christ’…Jesus, I guess his name was (Erin would like that one, she’s Jewish!).
We finally mobilized after 1 p.m. and did a day hike up Clear Creek into Ariel Canyon, to find a waterfall, which we never did find. The fountain of youth is still undiscovered. We did some rough bushwhacking at times. Although no waterfall was discovered, we did cross a boulder field, see a baby rattle snake, a frog, lizards, plants ranging from desert to tropical reeds, and discover a new plant growing on a cliff wall that looked strikingly like broccoli. I named it rockoli.
I really had no motivation to run, it was hot and I was sunburned and had way too much time on my hands. I forced myself to lace up the 295’s and get back up that one trail that existed from Clear Creek, the Red Wall of Mars. I ran past a couple of college-aged hikers and told them they had about 2 miles to go until the campground. They were a bit shocked to see me running past them in the middle of nowhere. I ran out about 50 min to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle rock (no joke, it looked just like the avitar of a TMNT!) and back, not feeling to good. I made it back in one piece with a few cacti spikes in my foot.
We had our dinner of dried re-fried beans, dehydrated sweet potatoes, tortillas and cheese, a true gourmet backcountry meal! It got pretty cold and took us long periods of time to function again. By 8 p.m. it was dark and time for bed. A pretty restful day, only 17.5 miles today.
This trail resembles the Inov-8 foot...coincidence!?
Erin was up by 6:30 a.m. but I really didn’t want to get up. I had recollections of my mother trying to get me out of bed when I was in elementary school, “can’t you just leave me along, mom!?” It was another long day, so we had to get started early; plus, it took us a long time to do small tasks like change pants and shirts. Packed up our tent and mummy bags, ate our oatmeal and headed back up the Mars terrain. It was a beautiful morning, the sun was shining and there was still that briskness in the air. The best part…the packs were getting lighter! We were eating our way through the weight.
The legs were doing much better (Nora’s legs, more specifically) after a days rest at Clear Creek and the 9.5-mile hike was rather enjoyable. We were moving at a fast pace and trying to put distance on the ‘packers behind us. “There’s the Ninja Turtle rock!” I went on ahead the last couple of miles to secure a campsite the Bright Angel Campground. I snuck under 4 hours for the 9.5-mile hike back.
The bagged tuna and tortillas with cheese were a good source of refueling and making people gag when they are on the trail behind you. I attempted to summons the will to run after a long hike. The legs were tired but I hoped a little rest before slipping on the Roclite 295’s (like Cinderella did in that story) for a run would do the trick. This was the last day I would be running “in” the Canyon, so I had to make it epic (or just survive, at the least).
Nora became nervous again as I contemplated runs up to one of the rims. She must know how to read minds because I didn’t disclose this information. Maybe it was the statement “I’ll be gone up to 3 hours.” I finally got going at 4 p.m., crossed the Colorado River to the South Kaibab Trail, connected to the River Trail, where the wind was gale force and the ground was sandy like a beach, at points—not cool only 20 min into a long run. I hit the Bright Angel Trail and turned towards the South Rim and began the long ascent. I passed people who started at me like I was crazy to be running (it must have been that hand again!). At one point two college-aged females stared at me as I ran by them and said “are you coming from the bottom!!!?” I replied “yes” and looked back a few seconds later to see them gawking at me when I added “I guess Phantom Ranch is the bottom, right?” Again, I was practically naked, only running shorts, with no water, so that may have been the reason for the odd looks. I also passed a guy who had a 2-year old child on a harness on his back. That’s worse than carrying food: squirmy weight, plus you need to feed it and let change its poopy diapers.
After a good steady climb, filled with stream crossings and switchbacks, I reached the “.3 to Indian Gardens” sign and decided I’d take the Tonto Trail and loop back down to the bottom. I figured this stretch of corridor trail was about 5 miles, according to a map, but it could have been longer, it was difficult to tell. This trail is a dangerous one: rocky single-track, no facilities. It’s the longest continuous stretch of trail in the Grand Canyon, running approximately 70 miles from Red Canyon/New Hance Trail to its western terminus at Elves Chasm near the Royal Arch Route. A sad occurrence happened in 2004 when Margaret Bradely, a former Greater Boston Track Club teammate of Invo-8 team member Ben Nephew and 30th place finisher at the Boston Marathon, attempted a long run during the hot summer months and her body was later found along the a drainage on the Tonto trail (http://www.nps.gov/archive/grca/media/2004/14jul04.htm). It made me cautious and respect the Canyon.
After an hour and a half my legs began to fatigue and the three honey packets I had were already consumed, I began to worry how long the trail really was. I was also unsure of the terrain, so I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. It was rocky and irritating but somewhat runable the first few minutes and later became smoother and less rocky. I did come across a pile of Mike an Ike’s that some hiker has spilled and thought “if I need some energy, I could always eat those…..on second thought, I avoid the artificial coloring.” My toes were catching rocks and I kept stumbling, furthering my fatigue. I did see a couple of people illegally camped in a drainage runoff, so there were people near if I needed them. I kept breaking the main rule while running along this trail, the views were amazing, sheer cliffs above and below me. I could see where the snow melt carved thin runoff points in the cliffs. This was the most beautiful trail during my time in the Canyon, I must say. It was like giants looming above and dropping off below me; hell below, clouds above.
After 45 minutes on the trail I popped out onto the Tipoff point and let out a celebratory yell as I had reached it. Now I began to worry that my run would be too short—never satisfied. It was all downhill from here, a 1,600-foot drop in about 2 miles on the South Kaibab Trail. The knees and quads hated me for this and the blustery winds almost blew me off the cliffs. I crossed the bridge over the Colorado River, my beat up legs couldn’t wait get back. An emotional and physically demanding run. I put on my down jacket and iced my legs in the cold creek. That bottle of Nimbus Pale Ale I had been saving was broken out to celebrate the 32.5 miles of hiking and 50+miles of running in the past 4 days.
After learning about the 22 species of bats within the Canyon (one specie that actually feeds on scorpions) we rendezvoused at the Cantina and for a Tecate and to reflect and recollect our thoughts from the trip. A great quote was scribed on the chalk board in the Cantina which read, “Anywhere is walking distance if you have the time.” I revised it in my head: “Anywhere is running distance if you want to save time.” 22.5 miles on the day.
I thought it would be a restful night, but not after the gale force winds damn near picked up our tent and placed it in the creek. The wind was so strong that we had a layer of dust covering us and everything else in the morning. I wanted to sleep but we had to get a start on the exodus of the Canyon. We bid farewell the Bright Angel Campground and Phantom Ranch and began the slow ascent to the South Rim.
The wind whipped up sand into our faces and the clouds rolled in and brought rain as we cleared the trail a few times for the pack mules bringing supplies and the backpacks of the lazy down to the bottom. “It wasn’t supposed to rain!” the stereotypical mule driver cursed as he passed us. We put our cardiovascular systems into use and we produced so much heat that it was difficult to decide whether to keep our jackets on or take them off. I felt like I was going through menopause.
We passed the Tonto Trail and I gave a nod, then we stopped at Indian Gardens for a snack, attempting to eat everything we had left. The plump squirrels were loitering around waiting for us to drop some food. Somehow, one of those fat little rodents made off with a whole apple in its mouth as Erin lamented, “I carried that apple around for five days and it gets stolen by a squirrel.” So, I hop the bench and up onto the wall and chase that little chunky bastard down, chucking my gloves and almost nailing it. It drops the apple and gets the hell out of Dodge. I am victorious! I got the apple back…and we savored it. I probably have rabies now, but it was worth it based on principle.
With a little over 4.5 miles to go, I began pushing the pace challenged anyone that dared to hike fast. After the 3 Mile Resthouse, I was truckin’. If I didn’t have a pack, I would have been running. There were some interesting characters coming down the trail, one guy in flip-flops. “Just wait until you have to come back up, dude!” Obviously he doesn’t know about the rocky switchbacks! I passed two teenagers, probably high-school aged, who were laying down on some rocks and they latched on behind me and were on my ass for about a mile or more. I kept increasing the pace but they stayed right with me. It was as if I was in a race, a bit exciting. I eventually dropped them and continued on with the fast pace. The grade was steep and the switchbacks seemed to be never-ending. The final 3 miles ascended about 2,000 feet. The last mile, which felt like the steepest, I covered in 39 min. and my final time was 3 hours and 59 minutes. I arrived to beautiful weather at the South Rim and lots of people milling around. Nora followed a couple of minutes later. Impressive, considering she looked like she was walking on stilts a few days ago and her bothersome IT band was pretty bad. When Erin arrived we all posed for our successful trip picture in front of the Bright Angel Trailhead sign and were happy to be back in the real world. Mission accomplished! We celebrated with warm showers and by visiting a few breweries in Flagstaff and drinking good beer.
The Roclite 295’s were dirty and beaten from almost 100 miles in 5 days, but performed like a charm.