Sunday, May 28, 2017

Indiana Trail 100 - Rain, Thunder, and Lightning

April 28

I flew my plane up this morning from Huntsville, Alabama, and my cousin, Andrea, picked me up at the Goshen airport.  After grabbing lunch, I drop her off at the high school where she teaches a class in the afternoon, and I drive out to Chain O' Lakes state park.  I get there around 2pm, but the packet pickup doesn’t begin until 3pm.  So, I have a little time to kill.  The weather is mostly overcast with rain in the forecast for tomorrow and Sunday.  The only question is whether the conditions will be better or worse than last year, when the rain began late morning and didn’t stop until early Sunday morning.  Packet pickup goes quickly, and I am soon on my way back to Goshen and Andrea’s house.

We eat dinner at a good restaurant in Warsaw.  I have some delicious lasagna with several pieces of bread.  This is about as extreme of carbo loading as I do these days.  We get back to the house, and my head hits the pillow around 9pm.  I am asleep almost instantly, and I don’t even think I rolled over before my alarm goes off at 3:15am.

April 29

I take care of my morning routine in quick order, and I am driving towards Chain O’ Lakes state park before 4am, arriving there about 4:30am.  I get an excellent parking space that is very close to the start/finish line and aid station tent.  I make my final preparations, which includes forming five ham and cheese sandwiches.  For my refreshments at the end of each 20-mile loop, I will have a ham and cheese sandwich and the option of chocolate milk and/or Conquest.  I also have cinnamon raisin bagels if I want them.  I start the race wearing shorts, thin long and short sleeve shirts, a buff on my head, and my Camelbak.  It is about 50 degrees, which is the temperature it will basically remain at, plus or minus two degrees for the whole race.  The good news is that it is not raining at the start.  The race director mentions the possible hazardous weather forecasted for the afternoon and evening, along with something about stopping the race if necessary.  Then we start the race on his simple voice command right at 6am.
At the Start before Dawn

Mile 3.0      35:33 (11:51 avg./mile) South Park

Although it is dark when the race begins, I do not start with a light.  For one, it will be daylight within 20 minutes, and nearly everyone else in the race has a light.  There are 170 runners starting the 100 mile race, and I do not have any trouble seeing where I am going.  In addition, the 50 mile runners are with us for the first two sections.  I try to relax and run as slow as I possibly can given that I am very excited to be running.  I chat some with Darcy Lallathin during these early miles.  She and I both say that we want to run this first loop no faster than four hours.  At the first aid station, I don’t even stop as it has only been three miles.

Mile 7.5      50:38 (11:15 avg./mile) School House East

Darin in Background - Gray shirt, red shorts
After South Park, I think Darcy is pushing the pace ever so slightly.  I decide to stick with my own pace, especially given the fact that Darcy is a much faster runner that I am—she won this race two years ago!  I am very content to run my own race at my own pace.  If anything, this section was a tad bit fast. At the aid station, I grab my first two grilled cheese sandwich quarters.  This race is phenomenal with the aid stations.  Every aid station has grilled cheese sandwich quarters along with soup.  The weather is overcast with temperatures near 50 degrees.  No rain so far, but we all know it will be coming at some point.

Mile 12.1    53:59 (11:44 avg./mile) Rally Campground

Over the different sections, I maintain my a little better than 12 minute per mile pace.  I feel really good, and these early miles are just floating by.  The rolling grassy trail is in good shape, and I have thoughts that maybe a sub 24-hour race is possible.  At the aid station, I eat a couple more grilled cheese sandwich quarters along with a few potato chips.

Mile 17.5    1:05:16 (12:05 avg./mile) School House West

I am back to the school house, but this time on the west side of the road.  The school house is actually on this side of the road.  This section is the longest stretch at this race.  At 5.4 miles, it isn’t long at all in the grand picture of ultra races.  That being said, it is still long enough, and I am glad to almost be done with the first loop.  I eat just a handful of potato chips as I know I have sandwiches at the car.

Mile 20.1    38:57 (14:59 avg./mile) Sand Beach (start/finish)

I record my time when I am leaving an aid station.  So, while I finished the first loop officially in 3:57:11, I don’t start my second loop until 4:04:23.  When I got to the car, I sat down, ate a ham and cheese sandwich, drank over a cup of chocolate milk, and changed my shoes and socks.  I hadn’t planned on changing shoes at this point, but I decide that these shoes are dry at this point so I can use them again later.  The pair of shoes that I take off is my newest pair of trail shoes.  I stay with the same clothing I started the race with—thin long and short sleeve shirts.  With the seven minutes here, I am right on the pace I wanted.  It also is good to get off my feet for a few minutes.

Mile 23.1    35:27 (11:49 avg./mile) South Park

Before I changed shoes, my right (chronic) ankle is hurting me.  After I change shoes, I don’t feel it at all the rest of the race.  Although the change of shoes may have helped, I think it is the few minutes I sat down that helped it the most.  I run this section six seconds faster than I did earlier.  My pace is holding very nicely, and the fresh shoes and socks feel good at this point.  I do stop briefly at this aid station to grab some potato chips and a couple of cookies before heading back onto the trail.

Mile 27.6    53:29 (11:53 avg./mile) School House East

Red Buds on the Trail
As can be seen, my time on this section is slightly slower than earlier, but I hitting the exact pace I want.  12-minute miles, if I was able to hold it would yield a 20 hour finish.  That obviously won’t happen, but my reach goal today would be a sub 24 hour finish.  I am holding a really nice pace for that given that I will slow down at some point, and things will be a little slower tonight.  Depending on how much it rains later, the muddy course will slow things down as well.  At this aid station, I go back to eating a few grilled cheese sandwich quarters.

Mile 32.2    58:41 (12:45 avg./mile) Rally Campground

Soon after leaving the last aid station, the rain begins.  It starts as a light rain, but this is very close to the same time that the rain began during the race last year.  It also started raining lightly last year.  The difference is that I am better prepared with about three times the number of shirts and jackets.  I have a jacket in my drop bag here at this aid station, but I will use that yet.  The trail starts to get a little muddy, but it is not yet sloppy.  I eat a few more grilled cheese sandwich quarters before heading back out in the rain.

Mile 37.6    1:13:06 (13:32 avg./mile) School House West

The rain continues; fortunately it is still only lightly raining.  The course is muddy and starting to get a little sloppy.  I am blaming my slower split on the rain.  Even with this slower split, I am still moving well.  With the quick first loop and a half, I just need to average 15-minute miles from here in to finish in less than 24 hours.  At this aid station, I grab another stack of potato chips and head for the finish of my second loop.

Mile 40.2    43:24 (16:42 avg./mile) Sand Beach (start/finish)

Somewhere during this section, the rain stops.  It even feels like it might stop for a while.  The forecast called for thunderstorms this afternoon and evening, so we haven’t gotten those yet.  The atmosphere seems to still be unstable as the wind is gusty, and the sky is overcast.  My race time after 40 miles is 8:20:08, but once again I will take some time at my vehicle before starting the third loop at 8:28:30.  This time, I eat another ham and cheese sandwich, drink some more chocolate milk, and change both of my shirts, as well as my buff.  I stick with the same shoes that I wore for the second loop.  They are not very wet, and I am not sure that they won’t get wetter.

Mile 43.2    42:11 (14:04 avg./mile) South Park

The muddy course is definitely slowing me down at this point.  This section of the course contains some brand new trail, and the rain really makes it sloppy quickly.  That being said, I am still setting a decent pace, but I don’t know how long I will be able to keep the pace at this rate given the muddy trail.  At the aid station, I grab a couple of cookies to eat on the course.

Mile 47.7    1:03:00 (14:00 avg./mile) School House East

As the rain has stopped for over an hour now, the course with the gusty winds is starting to firm up, even though the sky is still overcast.  I am pleased with my pace on this section, and maybe I can get through halfway before the storms start.  I am still moving well.  While the legs are starting to get a little tired, my energy levels remain solid.  I eat a couple of grilled cheese sandwich quarters at this aid station and also get a cup of soup.

Mile 52.3    1:08:15 (14:50 avg./mile) Rally Campground

The 50 mile runners shorted the first loop to 10 miles, so they are 10 miles behind me as I catch a few of them.  At one point on this section, I catch up to three guys who are running their first 50 mile race.  They are struggling, but will hang on and finish, I think.  One of the guys is having knee problems.  The other two guys are hanging with him.  The three of them (with their troubles) provide me some levity.  The course is still muddy in spots, and this only adds to these guys’ struggles.  At the aid station, I grab some more grilled cheese sandwich quarters, and then get back out on the course.  My elapsed time at this point is 11:21:56, so I am well ahead of 24-hour pace.

Mile 57.7    1:16:33 (14:11 avg./mile) School House West

Soon after leaving the last aid station, two guys (Pascal Becotte and Dan Milligan) come by me.  They seem to be setting a nice steady pace, so I latch onto them.  After a while we make introductions, and I learn that they are trying to get done with this third loop by 13 hours, which leave 11 hours to finish the last two loops.  Pascal and Dan have a great pace going.  The other thing I learn is that Pascal’s ultimate goal is a finish in order to qualify for the lottery for Western States next year.  These goals line up very closely with my own.  Just before we get to the school house, Dan says that Pascal and I should push on as he is hurting.  After trying to convince him to stick with us, Pascal and I push ahead.  When we get into the aid station, I sit down and eat a couple of grilled cheese sandwich quarters and drink a cup of soup.  As I am starting my soup, Pascal says he is going to start walking, and I tell him I will catch up soon.  Then Dan comes into the aid station, but again tells us not to wait on him.

Mile 60.3    45:41 (17:34 avg./mile) Sand Beach (start/finish)

I leave the school house a minute or so after Pascal, but I never catch him.  Our times at the end of loop 3 show he was three minutes ahead of me at that point.  My time is 13:14:33 into the aid station.  While I don’t have a full 11 hours for a sub 24-hour finish, I still have a legitimate chance to make it.  I eat another ham and cheese sandwich, drink more chocolate milk, change my shoes, and get my headlamp as it will be dark in a couple of hours.  I probably could have spent less time here getting everything ready, but I wanted to make sure I was ready for the next loop.  The shoes I put on are the ones I wore for the first loop, but now I have fresh socks.  I plan to wear this pair to the finish.

Mile 63.3    42:37 (14:12 avg./mile) South Park

I get going again and manage a decent first section for the start of my fourth loop.  There is a large train of runners that comes by me as we approach the aid station, and I hang with them for a bit, but then let them go.  I need to let the race come to me—namely run my own race depending on how my body is feeling.  At this aid station, I only grab a handful of potato chips as my stomach is still digesting the last food I ate.

Mile 67.8    1:10:45 (15:43 avg./mile) School House East

On the way to the school house, I am starting to resign myself to the fact that I might not have a sub 24-hour finish in me.  I am not sure why I felt this way, but there were several runners that came by me during this section.  In hindsight, it doesn’t look like I was moving too slow.  Michael Lewis is one of the runners that passed me, and I am able to hang with him as he is walking quite a bit.  As we are trudging along, the thunder and lightning starts to pick up.  At first it is very distant, and then it is off to the east.  We get into the aid station without getting wet.  I grab some more soup and a couple of grilled cheese sandwich quarters, but when I ask for coffee the nice aid station workers say that it is being replenished.  So, I set off without any coffee at this point, but instead I drink a small cup of Coke.

Mile 72.4    1:28:14 (19:11 avg./mile) Rally Campground

Mike and I press on as it is now dark.  My headlamp is working well, and we have plenty in common to talk about.  He is a school teacher in Ohio, and he coaches football.  Specifically, he is the defensive coordinator of the high school team.  We talk all manner of football strategy and how film has changed over the years.  I am very interested in how he manages to train enough while teaching and coaching.  The lightning and thunder continue at a safe distance—meaning we aren’t getting wet yet.  We aren’t moving fast, but we are making steady forward progress.  As we are about 100 yards from the aid station, the rain begins again.  We dash into the aid station and proceed to take our time in dry comfort of the aid station.  I eat some more grilled cheese sandwich quarters and start drinking coffee along with a cup of soup.  I change my shirts, putting on two long sleeve shirts.  One of the long sleeve shirts is really thick and warm.  I don’t usually wear it unless the temperature is much colder, but with the rain starting again, I want to ensure I don’t get chilled to the bone this year.  I also grab my Houdini jacket.  The rain stops within 10 minutes, and Mike and I head back out.  An aid station worker tells us that this was just a glancing blow and that the major line is coming in about 15 minutes.

Mile 77.8    2:28:59 (27:35 avg./mile) School House West

My time splits show that I spent almost 13 minutes in the last aid station, but if I can stay drier a little longer and keep myself fueled up, it is worth it.  Right on schedule, 15 minutes after we left the Rally Campground, the thunderstorm finally finds us.  I put on my jacket right as the deluge begins.  It is a gully washer.  Within minutes there are streams running down the trail beside us.  We trudge on through the darkness, the thunder and lightning, and the heavy rain.  For over an hour, we press through the rain before arriving at this aid station.  We duck into the aid station tent and there are a few runners taking cover from the storm.  Mike and I join them.  He is standing up next to a heater, while I am sitting a few feet away with a blanket over me.  I am wet and cold, shivering most of the time.  However, my inner layers are mostly dry.  It is just that my whole lower half of my body is wet and cold.  The storm rages on outside while I try to stay focused and not let thoughts of dropping enter my mind.  After about 30 minutes, Mike tells me he thinks he is done.  I am determined not to drop.  After being in the aid station about 45 minutes, the report comes from other runners that the storm is letting up.  Here is my chance.  It is now or never.  I need to get going!  Although there are about a dozen runners in the aid station at this point, I get no takers to join me right now.  So, I set out on my own.

Mile 80.4    50:37 (19:28 avg./mile) Sand Beach (start/finish)

Start/Finish Aid Station at Sand Beach
I make it to the start/finish area, and the aid station tent here is flooded!  I decide not to go to the car, but instead go into the aid station tent and grab some grilled cheese sandwich quarters and refill my Camelbak.  I also drink a cup of soup.  So far during the race, I have refilled my Camelbak only at the car.  It hasn’t been warm, and I only ran out of water in my Camelbak on two of loops during the last section.  I have only one more loop to go.  The time is now 2:05am, and I have until Noon to finish—plenty of time, but clearly I won’t finish by 6am for a sub 24-hour finish.

Mile 83.4    1:12:13 (24:04 avg./mile) South Park

On my way to this aid station, I decide that I need to use the outhouse.  My stomach is not feeling wonderful, and I think things might improve if I can have a successful sit in the outhouse.  The trail is nice and muddy, but the plus is that it isn’t raining.  When I get to the aid station, I visit the portable toilet, but I am mostly unsuccessful.  After several minutes of attempt, I give up, head back into the aid station, grab some coffee, and continue on the course.  Other than my stomach, I feel as good as could be expected given that I have been running for over 20 hours through rain, mud, and more rain.

Mile 87.9    1:46:41 (23:42 avg./mile) School House East

I am mostly by myself through this loop so far.  The fast runners have finished.  The mid-packer runners are spread out all around the course.  I am mostly walking now due to my stomach, but I am still making forward progress, and I am not overly tired.  It is a very dark night as it is still overcast.  The wind is still gusty and always blowing in some direction.  I get into the aid station, and eat more potato chips along with some Coke.  I need to find something that will turn my stomach around.

Mile 92.5    1:47:41 (23:25 avg./mile) Rally Campground

On this section, a runner and his pacer come by me.  They ask how I am doing.  When I tell them my stomach isn’t doing well, one of them offers me a ginger piece of candy.  I take it, and it is very spicy.  It is supposed to help with stomach issues, but I can’t tell.  I am peeing every 30-45 minutes.  I have taken in a lot of fluids with the water, coffee, soup, etc., and I haven’t been sweating since it is cold and wet.  It dawns on me that I might have too much water in me that my body cannot rid of quick enough.  The solution is simple—I need to stop drinking water.  I make my way into the aid station still managing to stay upright.  The mud is very sloppy, but at least it is below my shoe tops.  In the aid station, I eat another grilled cheese sandwich quarter, and then fall asleep in the aid station while sitting on a folding chair.  An aid station worker wakes me up and says I need to get going.  I couldn’t have been asleep even three minutes, and I am a bit perturbed at the worker for waking me up.  Regardless, I decide to head back out onto the trail.

Mile 97.9    2:06:24 (23:24 avg./mile) School House West

I plod along in the dark by mostly by myself.  At some point, there are two other guys that I manage to stay with for a couple of miles.  About a mile or so from the aid station, my efforts at letting my body regulate to the proper water level seem to have succeeded—my stomach is feeling enough better than I can run some.  I get into the aid station just as another rain shower is beginning.  It isn’t a hard rain; rather it is a nice soft rain.  The type of rain that one wakes up to and decides they should sleep in today.  I have no such luxury.  I am down to less than three miles to the finish.  At the aid station, I grab some potato chips, nothing to drink, and head onto the trail that will take me to the finish.

Mile 100.5 47:47 (18:23 avg./mile) Sand Beach (start/finish)

After leaving the aid station, I talk to Mike Ekbundit, who is feeling even better than I am.  He says that when the thunderstorm struck last night, he was really close to the start/finish.  So, he stripped off his wet clothes, climbed into his sleeping bag in his vehicle, and slept for 1.5 hours.  It seems to have worked well for him as he will finish over 10 minutes ahead of me.  I am running the downhill sections again, and it feels great.  Up until now, my legs haven’t bothered me at all.  As I start the last climb up a hill, my left knee feels kind of weird.  I let that work itself out as I proceed to the finish.  I run the last 200 yards down the hill to the finish!

Finishing Time    27:46:08

60th out of 170 starters (94 under 30-hour cut-off)

The Reward
I have just read on the Indiana Trail website that the 100 miler is moving to October to try to avoid the harsh weather.  Coming back from last year’s DNF after 67 miles required a lot of mental preparation.  I came this year ready to deal with whatever weather Mother Nature threw at me, and I have prevailed!  My training was excellent the past three months since I had the flu in January.  I had all of my logistics lined up, and it didn’t hurt that we did get a little less rain than last year.  I get my belt buckle from the race director immediately after finishing.  I quickly remove my shoes and socks, put on my crocs, and start driving back to Andrea’s house.  At her house, I eat some bacon and eggs before crashing for a couple of hours.  My body is in pretty good pain and sleeping consists of rolling over every 15 minutes.  I will fly home tomorrow in a 80+ knot headwind.

This is my only planned 100-mile race this year.  I have no other long races planned until the fall, although Amy and I are talking about doing a 50k together in July.  Until then…

Never stop running,

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Mt. Cheaha 50k - Redemption Run

Ready to go at 7:30am

February 25

Four weeks ago, I attempted the Mountain Mist 50k in Huntsville.  I had a good case of the flu weeks one and two before the race, but I was already entered, felt like I was recovered enough, and it was only a 50k.  Unfortunately, I was not recovered enough and dropped out of a 50k for only the second time in my life at mile 20.  The other time was at Catawba in 2007, and it also involved coming back from an illness too soon.  I spent the week after Mountain Mist exhausted again, but otherwise felt okay.  My plan was to run a hard run two weeks after Mountain Mist (two weeks before this race) to ensure I was fully recovered before entering this race.  So, two weeks ago, I ran a 17-mile tempo run in a solid time and effort.  When I went to the website to sign up for this race, I found out it was filled.  Instead I entered and put my name on the waiting list.  Four days later, I was notified that I was in the race.  Now I had a week and a half to finish my preparation.

Crowd of runners is gathering

I spent Thursday and Friday this week assisting on the annual inspection of my airplane in LaFayette, Georgia.  Nathan picked me up from there at 5:00pm, and we drove down to Anniston, Alabama for dinner and a night in a Super 8 motel.  Dinner was at an Olive Garden, and both of us thoroughly enjoyed our meals.  In the morning, it is just a short 30 minute drive to the start at Porter’s Gap on the Pinhoti Trail in the Talladega Forest.

The race is scheduled to start at 7:30am.  We arrive at the start around 6:30am, and I get my race number.  At 7:20am, I complete my final pre-race activities and am ready to run.  What I didn’t know was that the buses that take the majority of the runners to the start from the finish area are not here yet.  When I realize this, Nathan and I head back to his car to keep warm.  The buses finally arrive about 8:05, and the race director announces that the race will start at 8:30am.

To the top of Alabama

Mile 3.3      38:12 (11:35 avg./mile) Chandler Springs

The early pace is conservative for me as I really want to finish this race in good shape.  The trail is rather congested during the first two miles, but when we get to the aid station, things have spread out decently.  A few of the people that needed to pass during the first two miles are seen later on as they slow down, and I pass them back.  Nathan didn’t go to this aid station, and I don’t even pause.  I pass a couple of people as I continue on the course after the aid station.

Mile 8.5      1:01:53 (11:54 avg./mile) Clairmont Gap

I maintain a conservative pace so far with the difficult sections coming up next.  About a mile or so from the aid station, I meet Caitlin, who is my daughter’s house mate. Caitlin is graduating this spring from UAH with a degree in Chemical Engineering.  I stay ahead of her for now, and I privately decide to myself to finish ahead of her.  We knew of each other before now, but we had never talked.  We chat the last mile into the aid station.  At the aid station, I point Caitlin out to Nathan, who had met her at the Mountain Mist last month while I was struggling and dropping out of the race.  I drink some chocolate milk and a little bit of Conquest before taking half of a bagel to eat on the trail.  The weather is warming up quickly from the 50s it was at the start.  The high temperature today will reach 67 degrees.

Mile 14.9    1:26:39 (13:32 avg./mile) Adams Gap

This section is the place that this race course gets serious.  This 6.5 mile stretch includes some rather technical trail with plenty of rocks.  It is tiring and slow progressing through one rock garden after another.  My ankles hold up pretty well, but I test my right ankle once before I get to the aid station.  While my pace is slower than before, my effort is probably higher.  At the aid station, there is a short out and back, so I see that Caitlin is just a minute or so behind me.  At the aid station, I drink plenty of Conquest and grab another half of a bagel to eat on the trail.  We also switch out my Camelbak for a full one.

Mile 18.4    51:27 (14:42 avg./mile) Hubbard Creek

I continue to press the pass, hoping that each surge will leave Caitlin behind me for good.  However, each time I let up on the pace a little, it is not too much later that I see her coming up on me again.  At one point on this section, she passes me, but then as we get to the aid station, I am right behind her again.  I grab another quick drink of Conquest and push out of the aid station ahead of her.

Mile 25.3    1:26:35 (12:33 avg./mile) Silent Trail

During this section, I start passing a few runners. I also tweak my right ankle again—nothing too serious, but I definitely know I need to be careful.  One of the runners I pass is Michelle Belcher.  When I pass her, I thought she looked like she was fading, but then she decides to keep up with me.  This is good as I have another runner to keep pace with and hopefully keep me pushing.  We end up talking most of the second half of this section.  Although we are maintaining a good pace, Caitlin is never far beyond.  We cross two streams on this section that has a water level around mid-calf.  It is refreshing in some ways, but each time I hit the water my right hamstring starts cramping.  I pretty much ignore it and just let it work itself out.  The pain is solid.  I just need to ensure it doesn’t get worse.  Ordinarily I would have backed off the pace, but if I do that I will get passed by Caitlin.  When we finally pop out onto to a dirt road, the aid station is right there.  Nathan says I am making great time, and I tell him that it is killing me trying to stay ahead of Caitlin.  I drink some more Conquest as I am sweating profusely, and then I drink a cup of Coke for the kick to the finish.
Keeping pace with Michelle
into the last aid station

Mile 27.9    33:35 (12:55 avg./mile) Lake Cheaha

Michelle and I run this road section all of the way into the state park and to the aid station beside the lake.  We don’t see anything of Caitlin this whole section, so maybe she has finally slowed down.  While I am drinking another cup of Coke at the aid station, Nathan spots her coming into the park.  I take off for the final 3+ miles with Michelle with me.

Mile 31.1    46:35 (14:33 avg./mile) FINISH – Bald Rock

On the brutal final climb, Michelle and I pass a couple of guys.  I am committed to relentless forward progress.  My hamstring is cramping quite often, but at this point it is just mind over matter.  As we complete the final climb and start the remaining 1.5 miles on top of the mountain, Michelle takes off.  I don’t have much of an answer for her surge, and I am mainly focused staying in front of Caitlin.  I keep my eye on maintaining my momentum and when I think I am finally close to the finish, I take one more walk break.  In a few seconds, Caitlin is right behind me again and we only have a quarter of a mile left.  I say hello to her and then surge towards the finish.  The finish line is back on a paved road in front of a lodge.  There are vehicles trying to get in and leave.  I pay little attention to the vehicles.  Dodging cars and trucks, my only goal is to get across the line.

Official Finishing Time          6:44:56

78th out of 276 entrants (20th of M40-49)

The final results show that I edged out Caitlin by only 29 seconds—less than one second per mile.  What a race!  This is a really fun, beautiful, point-to-point course.  I just wish it wasn’t so exhausting for my legs.  I guess my legs cramping was just a result of the hard effort and the warm weather.  The legs are mostly fine after I finish, though.  This time is four minutes slower than two years ago.  Then the weather was a little cooler, and we didn’t have the hour delay at the start.

I eat a couple of pieces of pizza and drink a beer while chatting with Nathan and Martha.  It is a beautiful day and now I have Martha, who drove down to meet me, to drive me home.  Since this race went well, I have entered the Indiana Trail 100 on April 30.  I have to redeem myself after last year’s monsoon DNF at 67 miles.  Until then…

Never stop running,

Return to Darin’s Running Page.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Mountain Mist 50k -- Perfect Weather

January 28

Chilly before the start
The weather today couldn’t be more perfect for this run.  The temperature at the start is right at the freezing mark, and it is expected to warm up into the 50s.  The weather the past several months has been dryer than normal.  Well, we have received normal precipitation the last couple of months, but we are still catching up from the drought last summer and fall.  Therefore, the trails that are typically quite messy this time of year are in very good shape for this run.  The only issue for me then is that I had the flu 1-2 weeks ago, and I am not sure I am fully recovered.  But, this is just a 50k so I should be fine.  Nathan is home for the weekend.  He helped us celebrate my birthday yesterday.  Today he is crewing for me on this race.

Mile 6.7      1:04:55 (9:41 avg./mile) O’Shaughnessy Point

Just before the start I see Rick and Tammy Gray.  We greet each other warmly, and then the race begins.  The Grays are from Tennessee, and I have run dozens of races with Rick over the years in Virginia.  I start quickly as the first two miles are on the roads before we get into some technical trail, which isn’t too technical until later in the race.  I have blitzed this first section rather fast, but I am feeling good and the weather is spectacular.  Somewhere before the first aid station, I drop a shirt off with Nathan as the day is warming up quickly.

Mile 11.9    1:01:05 (11:56 avg./mile) Aid Station #2

Around mile 8, Rick, who I lost sight of after the first mile, passes me.  He obviously had to stop for a pit stop.  We run together for about a half mile before he pulls away from me again.  At the aid station, Nathan informs me that Rick is only about 5 minutes ahead of me.  However, at this point I decide that I need to slow things down a little bit.  My early fast start needs to be reined in some.  All I need to do now is cruise through these next several miles until the real work begins after mile 20.  I drink some chocolate milk and take half of a bagel to eat on the trail.

Mile 17.3    1:07:41 (14:28 avg./mile) Fearn Road

Around 13 miles, I twist my right ankle for the first time today.  It hurts quite a bit, but the pain deadens out after several minutes.  I press on during this time, but know that I should be careful.  Besides that, I am feeling okay, but I have definitely started to slow down.  This slowdown was planned, but I am slowing down more than I should be at this point in the race.  Despite my careful running, I roll my ankle again around mile 15.  It isn’t the rolling of the ankle that is most concerning, it is how I feel.  My balance is mostly okay, but my proprioception is greatly reduced.  I get into the aid station and ask Nathan for the ankle tape.  He doesn’t have it with him and the truck is at least a quarter of a mile away.  We decide that I will tape my ankle at the next aid station.  I drink some Conquest and press forward for the second half of the race.

Mile 21.0    57:36 (17:33 avg./mile) Old Railroad Bed

Soon after leaving Fearn Road, I realize that my proprioception has been reduced to almost nothing.  This means that I am having a terribly tough time feeling where my body is in relation to my surroundings—most importantly the trail below my feet.  In addition, my energy level falls off the table.  Within two miles of leaving the Fearn Road aid station, I have determined it is time for me to stop.  However, on a trail race one cannot just stop anywhere.  I walk the last two miles into the aid station where Nathan is waiting, and I call it a day.  Fortunately, the truck is only a quarter of a mile away.

DNF = Did Not Finish = Do Nothing Fatal

While I don’t think I would have killed myself to slog through and finish this race, it would have taken a long time and may have allowed my flu to rebound.  The rest of the day on Saturday, I was completely spent.  My hockey game on Sunday was okay as we had three complete lines so I didn’t have to skate too much.  Even so, I was very spent after the game.  It will take me a full week before my energy completely recovers.

The next race I want to run is the Mt. Cheaha 50k on February 25.  However, I need to ensure I am completely recovered before entering.  My plan is to run a long tempo (17-18 miles) in two weeks and see how things go.

Never stop running,

Return to Darin’s Running Page.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Red Eye 2017 - A Beautiful Day!

January 1

It has been three weeks since my last race—Hellgate 100k on December 10.  I ran well at Hellgate this year, and since we were going to be in Virginia over New Year’s weekend, I decided to turn out for the Red Eye.  I had no plan other than to get out and run 2-3 loops and enjoy the day running with my kids, Nathan and Amy, along with all of the other VHTRC runners.  We hitched a ride with David Snipes from Ashland.  The temperature at the start was slightly below freezing, but knowing that it was going to warm up, I decided to start with shorts and a few shirts and a hat to stay warm during the first loop.

Gary Knipling was at the top of his game during the pre-race instructions.  He also announced that the Blue Train will be going to Pinhoti this year as its destination race.  Wow, the blue train is coming to Alabama in November!  I will not likely run the Pinhoti 100 miler in November due to its close proximity to Hellgate, but I will try to go down and pace someone.

Mile 11.5    2:11:14 (avg./mile) Picnic Area – Loop 1

This race is nice and relaxed with the majority of the runners planning on just out for a loop or two.  We complete the obligatory 1.5 mile mini-loop and then proceed with the main loop that we will do three times for those of us doing the full distance.  I was about 30 minutes into this first loop when the trail dumps us out onto a gravel road.  As I was wondering where Nathan and Amy are, Nathan pops up beside me.  He then tells me that Amy is close behind, and then there she is right behind us.  We are together for just a little while, before Amy drops back.  I keep Nathan in sight for a mile or so, and then let him go on ahead.  At the time I was thinking I will catch back up to him soon enough.  During this first loop, I am nice and relaxed and not pushing it very hard.  When I finish the first loop, Nathan is about five minutes ahead of me.  Amy is about 15 minutes behind me, and she will be content with just 11 miles today.

Mile 21.5    1:55:54 (avg./mile) Picnic Area – Loop 2

Starting the second loop, I decide I will pick things up a little to see if I can catch Nathan in the first hour of this second loop.  I catch a handful of people, but Nathan is nowhere to be seen.  The thought that he could finish the second loop ahead of me starts to make me wonder how hard I am going to have to push on the third loop to ensure he doesn’t beat me on this first head-to-head race between us in an ultra. However, finally after 1.5 hours into the second loop, I catch up to Nathan.  I run behind him for a few minutes, and he says he started the second loop deciding to push the pace to see what he could do.  Now, he says his legs are tiring and starting to cramp a little.  I then push on ahead of him, and end up finishing the second loop four minutes ahead of Nathan.  I quickly grab some food and drink and head out for my third loop before Nathan gets into the aid station.

Mile 31.5    1:56:41 (avg./mile) Picnic Area – Finish

Now on the third loop having assured myself that neither of my kids will beat me, I can relax a little.  But, since I have ramped up my effort and speed on the second loop, I feel like continuing to push the pace.  I am tiring a little, but Daniel Lawver and I play cat and mouse most of this last loop.  I roll my chronic right ankle once about halfway through, but that pain deadens out quickly and isn’t a problem for the rest of the way.  The weather today warmed up nicely to almost 50 degrees, and David Snipes, Nathan, and Amy do not complain about having to wait for me on my third loop.  David ended up doing the first loop and then a little bit more.  Nathan and David enjoy hanging out at the start/finish chatting with other people hanging around (including Gary Knipling).  The funniest part is the dog jerky that someone donated to the aid station.  Apparently both Nathan and Keith Knipling didn’t realize it was dog jerky as opposed to human jerky until they had already eaten it.

Official Finishing Time          6:03:00

7th out of 34 finishers (120 starters)

This was a great day!  I got to run with my kids and some old friends.  The weather was near perfect, and I had a very good run.  I couldn’t have asked for a better recovery run the Hellgate three weeks ago.  Now, I have four weeks until Mountain Mist in Huntsville on the 28th of January.  Until then …

Never stop running,

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Hellgate 100k 2016 - Cold enough to freeze...

December 10

Darin before the start
For the past four years, my son, Nathan has been my crew.  Four years ago, he had help from my wife, Martha, but the last three years, he was the crew for me at this all important, special race the second Saturday in December.  This year marks another transition for my crew at this race as my daughter, Amy inherited the crew responsibilities.  She is being assisted by her boyfriend, Ben.  I think this is his first introduction to the world of an ultramarathon for Ben.

We flew up from Huntsville, Alabama yesterday morning.  The only issue was whether my plane would start on a cold Friday morning, but I reduced that risk by getting my plane put in a heated hangar the night before.  Arriving in Roanoke, we ate lunch at Firehouse Subs and then drove to Camp Bethel.  As it was still early in the afternoon, Ben and Amy went for a run, and I took a catnap.  Afterwards, we hung out, catching up with old friends, which included Rick and Tammi Gray.

Dinner was good as it has been the last several years.  I had one slice of Lasagna, some spaghetti with red sauce, salad, and a couple of rolls.  After dinner, the race briefing was exciting and entertaining, even though Horton decided not to have any door prizes this year as he is saving them all for the Holiday Lake 50k in February.  I then finish getting ready, and we drive to the start around 8:45pm.  This year it is cold.  The temperature is about 25 degrees at the start and because of this there are no college students lingering around outside making a ruckus like they did last year.  Thus, my crew and I are able to catch a good 1.5-hour nap before the start.  I am dressed warmly, wearing two pairs of tights, two long sleeve shirts, running jacket, and hat and gloves.

Mile 3.5      46:39 (13:20 avg./mile) FSR 35

Right after the start
I begin cautiously just trying to get through this first section unscathed.  The air feels very cold, but overall I feel very comfortable.  At the creek crossing, I quickly get across and head towards to the first aid station.  It has only water, but they don’t have any cups.  I still have plenty of water in my Camelbak, so I click my watch and move on to the next section.  This is my slowest time ever on this first section.  This is significant as I have 13 years of history to compare.  However, I am only a minute slower so I am not concerned much although I didn’t think I was going this slowly.

Mile 7.5      1:01:57 (15:29 avg./mile) Petites Gap

I focus on running when it makes sense on this completely uphill section.  Laura Drake and Rick Gray come by me about halfway up the hill.  As we climb higher, the temperature noticeably drops.  If it was 25 down low, I suspect it is below 20 up higher.  Ben and Amy are ready and waiting for me when I make it to Petites Gap.  My shoe laces are frozen solid, so I just pry off my wet, frozen shoes, peel off my socks, dry off my feet, and then put on dry socks and shoes.  This takes a couple of minutes, but it always seems worth it.  My time is decent on this section, so I am now in good shape at 1:48 overall.  I drink over half of a pint of chocolate milk and take a bagel with me for the trail.

Mile 13.1    1:40:31 (17:57 avg./mile) Camping Gap

The first part of this section is technical, rocky downhill, and I pass a couple of runners as I carry a good pace.  Then the course rolls up and down across two small stream crossings, which I navigate without getting my feet wet.  When the single track trail dumps back onto a dirt road, my watch says 45 minutes.  This motivates me as I should be about halfway to the next aid station.  The course now climbs for about three miles.  Unfortunately, I don’t think I make as good of time on the climb as I have in the past.  This puts me leaving Camping Gap at 3:29.  This is not my slowest to this point, but I only have two years slower.  I eat a few burnt grilled cheese sandwich quarters, drink a cup of soup, and then head out for the longest section of the race.  Did I mention that it hasn’t gotten any warmer out here?

Mile 21.9    2:35:13 (17:38 avg./mile) Headforemost Mountain

The grassy road section proceeds well for me.  I maintain my place with the few runners around me.  After many miles on the grassy road, a few people pass me, but then I pass them back on a slight uphill knowing that we are turning off onto single track very soon.  The single track is technical and rocky, but I do well with it.  I manage to keep the runners behind me, and then on the rocky downhill to Overstreet Falls, I pass another runner or two.  I feel like I really went through this tough section well.  Now, a quick hike up to Headforemost Mountain will get me through the first third of the race.  A few years ago, this aid station was moved a half mile to Floyd’s Field, but I still mark my split where the old aid station was.  As we make this final climb up to the highest point on the course, the temperature is feeling even colder.  And, the wind at this elevation is stiff.  As I crest the top of the hill and begin to run towards the aid station, it is bitterly cold.  The low for the race will be recorded at 8 degrees!  (This doesn’t count any wind chill, so it is well below zero with the wind chill.)  My hands start to go numb, and by the time I eat a cup of soup and some quesadilla quarters, my hands are completely numb.  These aid station workers are displaying true dedication and support.  My time is okay, but not good.  There again are only two years slower than this time.  However, my overall time of 6:04 is still almost 30 minutes ahead of the cut-off.

Mile 27.6    1:45:01 (18:25 avg./mile) Jennings Creek

Eating breakfast at Jennings Creek
Notice the frost on the hat
With numb hands, I have no choice but to run down the hill, hoping that there are warmer temperatures down below and that the running will get the blood flowing.  My hands go from numb to painful before eventually thawing out completely in about 30 minutes.  Meanwhile, my Camelbak drinking hose froze up somewhere going into or out of the last aid station.  So, I have no water, but with the extreme cold this is not too much of a concern at this point.  This occurs about the same time as daylight begins to flood the course.  I stay consistent and try to make good time going down the hill on this section.  AJ (Alan Johnson) catches up to me about a mile before the aid station, and we run into the aid station together.  I am glad to be done with the night section, and I am ready to make up some time on the cut-offs.  My cumulative time at this point is 7:49, which is my second slowest ever to this point.  At the aid station, I tell Amy to make sure to thaw out my Camelbak as she hands me the next one.  Then she becomes concerned that the hose on this new one may be frozen as well.  I test it and am able to suck water through it, so it is okay for now.  With the sun up, I decide to take off my running jacket and proceed without it.

Mile 34.5    1:49:16 (15:50 avg./mile) Little Cove Mountain

I head out of Jennings Creek motivated to start making better time.  I quickly pass a runner on the first climb, and then catch up with Greg Loomis.  I have known Greg for many years, but have not had the pleasure until now to run with him during a race.  We start talking and the course passes by quickly.  At some point, we are joined by AJ.  The three of us make decent time on this section.  Greg asks me about cut-offs, and I tell him we are doing okay.  We should finish this section in less than 1:50, which will put us at Little Cove before 9:40, and then I can nail the section into Bearwallow in less than 2:20, which will give us over 30 minutes on the hard cut-off of 12:30 at that point.  Meanwhile, I am not drinking from my Camelbak often enough, and the hose freezes up again!  I think I only got one or two sips since Jennings Creek before this happens.  Along the way to Little Cove Mountain we pass Robert Wehner, who is dropping out with a bad back. Unfortunately, my crew is not allowed to come to this aid station so I am stuck with my useless Camelbak unless the hose thaws out from the sun and warmer temperatures.  At the aid station, I drink a few cups of water and eat several grilled cheese sandwich quarters.  My time leaving here is 9:38, which puts me in good shape.

Mile 42.5    2:18:09 (17:16 avg./mile) Bearwallow Gap

Coming into Bearwallow Gap
AJ and I leave Little Cove Mountain together while Greg spends a little more time at the aid station.  I tell AJ that the key on this section is running as much of the grassy road as possible.  I push the pace as we pass a few runners on the first part of this section.  Soon after the grassy road section turns back into single track, Greg catches back up with us.  I am feeling good and running quickly, but I am getting thirsty and hungry.  Without any water, I don’t eat my Access Bar, nor do I take another salt tablet.  Even with the cold, I am still sweating some, and I have only taken one salt tablet so far.  As we make our way through the downhill portion before the devil trail, a couple of other runners join the train.  We get to the left turn up the hill to the devil trail, and my watch read only 1:25 since Little Cove.  This is awesome as it is 45 minutes or so from here to Bearwallow.  I lead the train through the rocks and leaves on the devil trail, and then make it across the stream for the 13th of 14 times without getting my feet wet.  We roll into the aid station in 2:09, and then I spend some time taking off a pair of tights, eating a grilled ham and cheese that Amy and Ben have made, and generally refilling the fluids in my parched body with chocolate milk and Conquest.  The time is now 11:56, and I have 34 minutes on the cut-off.  My time for this last section was solid, very close to the median over the years.  So, now I have another thawed out Camelbak.  Let’s hope it stays that way!

Mile 49.5    2:02:08 (17:27 avg./mile) Bobblets Gap

My belly is full of food and fluids as the three of us (AJ, Greg, and I) leave Bearwallow.  We make good time on the initial climb and then start the ins and outs section with the scenic views and steep drop offs.  At this point, Greg decides he is ready to run a little faster, and he leaves me and AJ behind.  AJ and I stick together through the leaves and single track.  On the steep, but short, downhill section to a dirt road that will lead us to the aid station, something gets tweaked in my right ankle and my Achilles tendon decides to flare up.  It is quite painful as we power hike into the aid station.  Ben and Amy are again ready and waiting with a full serving of Ramen soup for me.  I sit and relax a little making sure to eat most all of the Ramen.  AJ decides to leave before me, and I tell him I will try to catch back up.  I decide to drink some Coke to hopefully placate my Achilles.  With my body very sensitive to caffeine, the Coke has the desired effect.  My time is slower than desired, but I had to let me body rebound from not getting any water for so long.  At 13:58, I have over four hours to finish before the final cut-off.

Mile 56.1    2:07:23 (19:18 avg./mile) Day Creek

Eating Ramen at Bobblets Gap
I start slowly running down the dirt road leaving Bobblets Gap and discover an amazing thing—the road has been graded smooth!  This dirt road was terrible before with deep ruts and large rocks.  Now, it is smooth and fast.  I make it down this 2.5 mile section in 27 minutes!  I pass four different people, two of which are Todd Brown and Amanda Tichacek from the Chicago area.  My Achilles still hurts, but it isn’t too bad running downhill.  I then start the single track “forever” section with the goal of getting to Day Creek in about two hours.  I never catch AJ or Greg.  I get repassed by the four people who I passed on the dirt road, and then others come by as well.  I just need to hold things steady.  Larry Huffman is one of these runners who get past me as I count the stream crossings—13 in all on this section.  I am thrilled with my time of just over two hours when I near the final aid station.  This is my fastest on this section since 2008!  It is 16:06, and Amy is going to pace me for the final section trusting that Ben will be able to navigate back to Camp Bethel alone.  I ask Amy to take a headlamp just in case, but I don’t think we will need it.  I drink several ounces of Coke and take a bagel for the climb.

Mile 62.4    1:22:48 (13:09 avg./mile) FINISH

The last (and only time) that Amy paced me on this section I blitzed it in 1:04.  Of course that was six years ago when I was only 41 years old and before ACL surgery.  This time, Amy and I enjoy the late afternoon setting a brisk, but reasonable pace.  Actually, I am working as hard as ever, and Amy looks like she is out on an afternoon stroll.  We make it to the top and cross the Blue Ridge Parkway for the final time in less than 46 minutes.  Not terrible, but quite a bit slower than 2010 when I did it in 35 minutes.  We haven’t caught any other runners yet, but at least no one has caught us either.  Then as we begin the run down the hill, we see Todd and Amanda up ahead.  I pick up the knees a little and shift into the next gear as we blast past them.  The sun has set, but twilight is still enough to let us see the few rocks and ruts on this grassy road section.  Then we make it to the gate, which is about 1.5 miles from the finish.  We make the 2.5 miles down the hill to the one mile to go mark in 28:22—not terrible.  Shortly thereafter, we see three more runners.  I kick it into the highest gear I have left as I pass Larry Huffman and Laura Drake.  I also pass another runner before crossing the finish line with my watch reading 17:29:05.  This is my fastest finish post ACL surgery—a new PR of sorts.

Tentative Finishing Time      17:29:39 (according to the current results)

96th out of 140 starters (111 finishers under 18 hours)


At the start, I had a few goals.  1) Finish my 14th straight Hellgate, thus preserving my status of one of only five runners to have finished all 14 editions.  2) Finish in the top 100.  I hadn’t done that since before ACL surgery in 2012.  3) Finish under 17 hours.  Something I hadn’t done since 2010.  Well I consider it a success to have accomplished 2 out of 3.  Now, I am hurting from my fast last few quick miles.  I clocked 8:32 for the last mile.  I sit at the finish in pain, but with satisfaction that I have overcome the extreme cold and a course that is tough even in good weather.

Dr. Horton tells me that I need to train harder next year.  Of course, he has told me this the last few years.  One issue I have is that I no longer have easy access to Priest and Three Ridges.  Monte Sano and Wade Mountain in Huntsville are decent, but not the same.

My next race I am signed up for is the Mountain Mist 50k on January 28, although I might run the Red Eye 50k on January 1.  Until then,

Never stop running,