Saturday, February 29, 2020

Mountain Mist 50k – Plenty of Mud

January 25
2020 has gotten off to a varied start for me.  For the first week of January, I skied in Big Sky, Montana for five straight days.  I came back from there expecting to bounce back quickly.  Unfortunately, the bounce back wasn’t very quick, and I still have some lingering issues.  The issues are:  my right knee feels a little off, my left hip is talking to me some, and my shoulders are continually sore.  Nothing that rises to the level of true pain, but enough discomfort to make me a little worried.  I am looking forward to this race today to find out if any of these issues are something about which to be concerned.

This winter has been another wet one.  The past year plus has been wetter than normal with the only exception being the month of September.  The past few weeks have really been wet.  Fortunately, it is not going to rain on us today, but we did get a good soaking the past two days, so the course will be muddy.  The temperatures are supposed to be rather nice starting out in the mid-30s and possibly climbing into the low 40s.  I start the race with shorts, long and short sleeve shirts, hat, and light gloves.

Mile 5.9      1:00:09 (10:12 avg./mile) O’Shaughnessy Point

The course has been modified this year to remove Warpath, K2, and the Powerline section.  In place of this, we get to go down to Oak Park.  This first section, though, is basically the same as always.  I get off to a good start with no issues.  I am in a good position in the pack and have settled into a fairly comfortable pace.  The mud so far is not too bad.  At this aid station, I grab a handful of potato chips.  My hands were cold early on, but they are doing well now.

Mile 12.7    1:25:12 (12:32 avg./mile) Bankhead

This section is where the difference from previous years begins.  I am running well with my energy level still really high.  I am maintaining a good pace and managing (mostly) not to get caught behind slower runners.  We are still relatively bunched together as we go through the stone cuts.  However, there is no reason to hurry through this section.  About a mile out of the aid station, I find myself running with a lady named Kim.  One interesting bit of information about her is that she got into the Western States 100 on her first try in the lottery.  At this aid station, I am looking at the sandwich options when a worker offers to spread peanut butter on one of the jelly sandwich quarters.  I agree, picking up two sandwich quarters, and he spreads the peanut butter.  It isn’t exactly clean and neat, but most of the peanut butter gets eaten by me.

Mile 15.6    36:06 (12:27 avg./mile) Oak Park

After the aid station, it is nearly all downhill to Oak Park.  Kim and I chat about races we have run and ones that we want to run this year.  We are in a bunch of runners so the pace is not overly quick.  But, since is it still the first half of the race, I patiently bide my time.  At this aid station, my daughter, Amy is waiting for me with chocolate milk.  It is Promised Land Diary brand, and it is truly outstanding.  I drink about half of the quart bottle before thanking Amy and heading back onto the trail.  This aid station is interesting because it is beside a little league baseball field and in a neighborhood.  For the record, my halfway split time is 3:00:31.

Mile 21.7    1:28:42 (14:32 avg./mile) Old Railroad Bed

Kim hurried through the aid station ahead of me, and I find a new running partner to chat with as we climb up, up, and up some more from Oak Park.  Joe is from Tennessee, and he has only run a handful of ultras.  He asks me what my goal finishing time is, and I reply that I want to finish before 7 hours.  I then tell him that I think we are in excellent shape to make this happen since we made it through halfway in only 3 hours.  Joe and I run about half of the uphill, and then we are on the old Toll Bridge road.  It is nicely rocky.  Although we climbed up, there is more mud and water on the High Trail as we make our way to the next aid station.  I tell Joe that the mud will be worse in McKay’s Hollow.  He finds this hard to believe as we are sliding all over the place with the mud.  We get into this aid station in reasonable shape—that is not falling in the mud at any point.  I grab a couple of PB&J sandwich quarters along with a handful of potato chips.

Mile 25.5    1:03:40 (16:45 avg./mile) Trough Springs

Running the old railroad bed is ever so slightly downhill, but the problem is that it is extremely rocky as the rocks were left behind when the rails were removed.  I continue on a manageable pace telling Joe stories of races past.  When we finally make the left turn onto Waterline, it is time to start to push.  I pass a several people as I make my way up the waterfall on this trail.  When I get to the top, I start a slow shuffle to the aid station.  I am not sure where Joe is, but I suppose he will catch up.  At the aid station, I grab two cups of Coke and some potato chips.

Mile 29.7    1:09:10 (16:28 avg./mile) Rest Shelter

Soon after leaving the last aid station, Joe does indeed catch up, but then I trip and catch myself with my hands in the mud.  I do not yet feel the effects from the caffeine, so I encourage Joe to push on ahead.  I tell him to keep pushing at this point if he wants to get in before the 7 hour mark.  Several people pass me at this point before we start going down.  Once the downhill starts, I warm up to the task.  However, there are plenty of other runners in front of me, and I am not able to pass most of them until we get into McKay’s Hollow.  I get into a really good rhythm and start passing people at every turn.  I spy a gray-haired lady ahead of me and wonder if it is Sally Brookings.  Indeed it is, and soon thereafter, I catch back up to and pass, Joe.  He asks if we are still on pace, and my response is that I am.  When I start the last uphill climb, Joe is right behind me.  We get to the last aid station with about 17 minutes to reach our goal.  I grab only a cup of Coke before starting the final push to the finish.

Mile 31.3    16:58 (10:36 avg./mile) FINISH – Lodge

Joe and I start out the final section running together, but then he pushes a little ahead.  I am working very hard to keep a fast pace going.  Will it be fast enough?  Last year I did this final section in 16 minutes flat.  I don’t feel like I am going quite as fast this year.  I have my eye on the clock as I make one last scramble across a small wooden bridge.  Coming up the other side of the bridge, I trip one last time, but quickly scramble up and manage to get across the finish line in the nick of time!

Official Finishing Time          6:59:57

151st out of 397 starters

This is my fourth finish at this race, and it is my slowest to date.  However, with the change in the course making it a little slower, combined with the healthy dose of mud, I am completely happy with my time and especially my effort.  It was a fun day to be out in the woods running with almost 400 of my closest friends.  Joe managed to get in with over a minute to spare, and we share our congratulations and thanks with each other.

Typically, my next race would be Mt. Cheaha 50k in February, but I have decided not to do that one this year as my adult hockey league playoffs may conflict.  I also want to ensure I fully recover and am able to get in some hard training before I go skiing for another week in March.  So, my next race is going to be the Cooter Creek 50 miler near Charleston, South Carolina on April 11.  This is the inaugural running of this race, and it is already advertised as a bit long at 52.69 miles.  Hopefully, it will go well and be a great workup for my 100 miler in June at Kettle Moraine.  Until then…

Never stop running,

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Hellgate 100k 2019 - Watergate

December 14

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.  No, scratch that, this was the worst of times, but more about that later.  On Thursday evening, my son-in-law, Ben, and I flew up to Roanoke in order to arrive ahead of the weather that would arrive on Friday morning.  Most years, I fly up from Huntsville on Friday morning.  This is the first year that I will spend the night before the race in a hotel room in Roanoke.  The flight goes very well, and then Ben and I consume Buffalo wings and such at BW3s.

On Friday morning, I sleep in as long as I can, all the way until 7am.  Then I spend the rest of the morning lying around the hotel room, reading some emails, and a magazine.  We then get lunch, buy the last few grocery items, and drive up to Camp Bethel arriving about 2pm.  I have more waiting around for the race that is the cornerstone of my ultra-racing year.  Ben and I spend the time catching up with old friends—Robert Wehner, Jeff Garstecki, and Aaron Schwartzbard.  Later I chat with Curtis Tait, who is running his first Hellgate.

Before the start
The weather forecast is not good.  It has been raining lightly most of the day so far, and it is supposed to continue into Saturday morning.  The low temperature is supposed to be around 38 degrees, and I decide to wear shorts with a long sleeve and a short sleeve shirt.  I will also wear thin gloves and a hat.  My strategy is not to dress too warmly so that I will be motivated to run hard and stay warm.  At the starting line, it is just misting, but the temperature is closer to 34 degrees.  We sing the National Anthem, Horton says a prayer, and we are off for the 17th time in this race!

Mile 3.5      43:23 (12:24 avg./mile) FSR 35

There is no wind, and I feel really good.  I am not cold at all, and I am not too warm either.  I find myself early on ahead of the other four of the fearsome five (Aaron, Jerry, Jeff, and Ryan).  At the one mile mark I need a photographer to document this phenomenon, but there is none in the woods on this dark, dreary night.  My lead of the other fearsome five quickly vanishes, but I do manage to stick with Jeff and Ryan until the first aid station.  I don’t feel like I am pushing the pace too much, and my time is within the range I want to hit.  Most years I am a minute or two slower, but this seems like a perfect start to this adventure.  I drink a cup of water at the aid station before heading up the hill.

Mile 7.5      55:53 (13:58 avg./mile) Petites Gap

Given my fast time on the opening section, I dial back a little.  I run and power hike my way up the hill, minding my own pace.  Many people feel like they need to make some time while they can, but I relax and enjoy the dreary night.  The rain is very light for this section, and even as the dirt road climbs higher and higher, there still is no wind.  When I get to the aid station, Ben is waiting for me with gear at the ready in the back of the mid-size SUV we rented.  I drink some chocolate milk before grabbing a full bagel to take with me.  Most years I change my shoes at this point, but with the rain there is no use.  My feet will be wet until Jennings Creek.  Both of these first two sections are faster than average for me.  I am off to a great start!

Mile 13.1    1:35:18 (17:01 avg./mile) Camping Gap

Leaving Petites Gap is where the race really starts going.  I take the first mile downhill section very well.  It is nicely technical with rocks and such.  When we make the first “tricky” turn on the course, I find myself behind a group of 5-6 runners.  Initially, it feels like a good pace, but after a little bit I decide to pass them.  I am then free to set my own pace again over the next few miles of single-track technical trail.  I make good time on the single-track and when the course dumps out onto the next dirt road section, I find myself with Steve.  He is moving well and wants to push the pace to catch back up with Jordan Cooter, who Horton refers to as Beaver.  Anyway, I let Steve press on as I continue to set my own pace.  Once again the climb to the higher elevations does not bring any wind.  The rain has remained light, and with no wind, I am reasonably comfortable.  I grab some grilled cheese sandwich quarters at this aid station along with a cup of broth.  My time is really good so far.  At 3:14, I am 15 minutes ahead of my pace from last year and have not been faster than this since my 2010 race.

Mile 21.9    2:25:53 (16:35 avg./mile) Headforemost Mountain

The grassy road begins this section.  I try to run most of it, resisting the temptation to walk the easy gradual uphill parts.  About halfway through the grassy road section, I link up with Hannah Quigg.  She is a Liberty University student that is taking Dr. Horton’s class this semester.  It is her first time running this race.  We chat a little bit, but mostly just keep pressing along.  Around 4am, the rain picks up to fairly steady and moderate.  Hopefully, the rain is nearing its end.  I am still feeling reasonably comfortable as I run the single-track trail.  Hannah follows me as we hit the single track portion leading to Overstreet Falls.  At one point she drops back a little, but by the time we get through the aid station at Overstreet Falls, she is back with me.  Most years the aid station is up at Floyd’s Field beside the parkway, but this year the parkway is completely closed due to ice, so Charlie has the aid station down here, and there are plenty of people manning the aid station with Charlie.  I grab a few pierogis before quickly exiting to continue up the hill.  At the top is where I mark my time as this is the location the aid station was for the first several years.  As I climb up the dirt road to the top of Headforemost Mountain, the wind decides to show its presence for the first time tonight.  And let me tell you, it is not a welcome guest.  I quickly get chilled by the wind and know that I will have to run hard after cresting the top to warm back up.  Initially, when the wind starts blowing it seems like the rain is going to stop, but this is a false hope as the rain resumes at a moderate pace soon thereafter.  My overall time at this point is 5:40, and is as fast as I have gone since 2010.  In fact, 5:40 at this point ties for my fastest time with a couple of other years.  Only 2010 at 5:32 is quicker.

Mile 27.6    1:57:36 (20:38 avg./mile) Jennings Creek

Sitting in the vehicle at Jennings Creek
Cresting Headforemost Mountain with the wind blowing and rain still coming down at a moderate pace, my hands are nearly numb.  The rest of me is sopping wet.  So, I run downhill to the next aid station, praying that I won’t go hypothermic along the way.  Hannah is with me again as we get into the technical trail about midway through this section.  Thoughts of dropping out of the race enter my head with full force.  I think that ending my streak with 16 straight finishes sounds okay.  The problem is that I still have a few miles to Jennings Creek before I can drop out.  Hannah and I had been running along in silence so far on this section.  To distract me a little from the pain of the cold, I ask her how she is doing.  She says she is doing okay given the conditions.  She is a little cold, but what is one to expect but to be a little cold at Hellgate?  Then she asks how I am doing, and I, with brutal honesty, say that I am freezing.  My plan of dressing a little bit on the light side seems like not the best idea right now.  Then I start telling her about the trail ahead from here to the aid station.  The conversation has the desired effect of distracting me somewhat from my misery.  By the time we get onto the grassy road that is the last mile into Jennings Creek, I no longer have any thoughts about dropping out.  Instead my thoughts are only on how I am going to get warmed up so that I can continue this race.  I get to the aid station, find Ben, and hop into the vehicle.  I spend the next 25 minutes accomplishing the following tasks all while I am shivering uncontrollably:  change my shirts, change my shoes and socks, and eat a bacon, egg, and cheese grilled sandwich that my extraordinary crew has perfectly prepared.  After I have accomplished those few tasks I am still uncontrollably shivering, and it is still raining.  So, I add another layer, putting on my yellow Houdini jacket along with dry gloves and a hat.  Then I exit the vehicle to resume my race.  Sitting in the dry vehicle didn’t warm me up any so now we will see if good, old human exercising can do the trick.  Arriving at Jennings Creek at 7:13 is the fastest I have been here since 2010.  My plan for dressing lightly worked well for my pace.  The problem is that I then had to spend 25 minutes changing into dry and warmer clothing.

Mile 34.5    1:51:15 (16:07 avg./mile) Little Cove Mountain

Leaving Jennings Creek
The course goes up for a few miles leaving the Jennings Creek aid station.  Hannah apparently didn’t take as long in the aid station as I did, and she will finish before me.  On my climb up the hill, I catch up with Darryl Smith, who has run this race 13 times or so.  Amazingly, Darryl and I have never run together in this race.  It doesn’t take more than 15 minutes of power hiking for me to warm up nicely.  It is still raining, but only lightly now, and the jacket is doing a good job of shedding the water.  The dry hat and gloves are also nice and will be as long as they stay mostly dry.  It must be very close to freezing, probably 34 degrees or so, as there is a little ice left on the dirt road from last night.  This section is uneventful other than the rain finally decides to stop before 9:30.  At this aid station, I eat a few PB&J sandwich quarters and drink a cup of Pepsi as that is all that they have.  Now that I have survived by not going hypothermic, I can focus on finishing under 17 hours, and the Coke should help me run a little quicker.

Mile 42.5    2:26:20 (18:18 avg./mile) Bearwallow Gap

Coming into Bearwallow aid station

Darryl and I run most of this section together.  It is good that I was behind him at one point because he dropped both of his mittens.  I picked them up and hand them back to him (once I caught back up).  We catch up to Chelsie Viar during this section.  This is interesting as I caught up to her about this same point last year.  Last night before the pre-race briefing, Chelsie told me she hated the fact that I knew exactly how long it was into the next aid station from various points on the course.  The one that rubbed her last year was from the turn up the hill to the devil trail.  For me, it is right around 45 minutes from the start of the devil trail until the aid station.  So, when I make the left turn to go up the hill to start the devil trail section, I make a point of yelling over my shoulder to Chelsie that we are 45 minutes from the aid station.  This year, it takes Darryl, Chelsie, and me 44 minutes and change to arrive at the aid station.  I was hoping that I could shed a layer or two at this point, but while it has stopped raining, it hasn’t warmed up very much.  It is still around 40 degrees or so.  I do leave the Houdini jacket with Ben at this point, along with my gloves.  I haven’t worn either of these since before the last aid station, so I should be okay.  Ben has cooked a perfect grilled ham and cheese sandwich.  I eat most of it and wash it down with some Conquest—yes Conquest!  This is my last serving of Conquest that I have been using sparingly since I bought a case or two about a decade ago before it was no longer made.  I leave the aid station before Darryl, but I hope he will catch up soon.  My elapsed time is 11:55 leaving this aid station.  I am going to have to run really good times on the next two sections to give myself a chance at finishing under 17 hours for the third year in a row.  While sub-17 is necessary for a Western States qualifier, only sub-18 is required to be an official finisher of this race.

Mile 49.5    1:56:40 (16:40 avg./mile) Bobblets Gap

I make good time heading out of Bearwallow Gap.  This is a beautiful section with great views.  The problem (as with most parts of this course) is that I cannot take my focus off of the single track trail in front of me.  A couple of people pass me on this section, and I manage to pass one person.  Otherwise, it is a peaceful time run alone.  Darryl doesn’t catch me until just before the aid station.  I sit down by the fire at the aid station.  It is chilly as the wind is whipping around at this point.  I eat several quesadilla wedges and drink a nice cup of Coke.  Three ladies come through while Darryl and I are eating at the aid station.  They look to be moving quite well.  My time is not as quick as I would have liked.  My chances at sub-17 are fading, but I have the next section to try and correct that.

Mile 56.1    2:06:11 (19:07 avg./mile) Day Creek

Last aid at Day Creek
On the 2.5 mile downhill from Bobblets Gap, Darryl and I pass the three ladies and another guy.  However, when we get on the single track trail and resume climbing the three ladies pass us by.  Darryl and I push hard and steady through this section.  I am leading most of the way, and I think we have a chance to get under two hours for this section.  We pass the point at which I met Sophie hiking back towards me in last year’ race when she told me it was 55 minutes to the aid station, and this year I am at 1:19 for this section.  The problem is that I can’t remember how long it took me last year.  Well, now I know it is about 45 minutes from that point to the aid station.  This is again about 10 minutes slower than I needed.  It is still a really nice time for this section; it is just not going to allow me a chance to finish under 17 hours.  In fact, this time is faster than I have done this section since 2008!  I eat a handful of potato chips and drink another Coke before heading up the last climb.  My stomach is not doing wonderful, so I decline the bagel that Ben offers me.

Mile 62.4    1:35:47 (15:12 avg./mile) FINISH

Leaving Day Creek, the three ladies, Darryl, and I are all together.  Darryl thinks we still have a shot at sub-17 and does a slow shuffle up the hill.  I am power hiking conservatively as I know I have a nice cushion of time.  If I really pushed it and felt good, I could probably finish in 17:15 or so.  I don’t feel either of those so I am just going to finish.  One of the three ladies is a pacer, and she says that she thinks we can make it to the parkway in about an hour.  I inform her that it should definitely be less than an hour.  As Darryl leaves us behind, the four of us stay around each other the rest of the climb.  I make it to the parkway first as they stop to address some issue one of them is having.  I reach the parkway in 47 minutes and begin to make my way down the other side.  The problem is that I have to exert energy to force myself to run, and I have to exert energy to watch my step on this dirt road that has loose rocks on it.  With those two exertions of energy, there is not enough energy (or motivation) for me to run hard.  I am in a survival shuffle that barely keeps me in front of the three ladies.  I finally make it to the gate that marks 1.5 miles to the finish.  I have covered the last two miles in a blazing 32 minutes, downhill with a tailwind.  Well, it is not quite a tailwind, but it is definitely downhill.  Right before I reach the gate, the three ladies catch and pass me.  When I get out of the smooth, gravel road, my legs come to life, and I manage to run the last 1.5 miles in 15 minutes.  I manage to finish ahead of the ladies, but fail to catch another guy that I see in front of me for the last mile.

Official Finishing Time          17:34:16
109th out of 142 starters (124 finishers under 18 hours)

Just after crossing the finish line
This year was truly a challenging Hellgate.  The fearsome five all agree that this was the toughest year in terms of the weather.  (I still contend the first year was the toughest mentally as we didn’t have any idea what the course really was.)  The 9+ hours of cold rain in the dark from the start of the race made it extremely difficult.  Amazingly, the drop rate is not very high.  When I was feeling pity on myself coming down from Headforemost Mountain, I had myself convinced that a majority of the field would drop at Jennings Creek.  As it turns out, most everyone did what I did.  They regrouped, changed into dry clothes, and pressed on to the finish.  At Hellgate, the cut-offs are fair and as long as one is in front of the cut-offs, there is still a good chance of finishing under the final cut-off.

While I wish I had been able to get another sub-17 finish, I am really happy that I was able to get my 17th straight finish.  The rest of the fearsome five all have finished well before me.  Unlike last year, I am again the fifth of the five, but still one of the five.  I expended quite the energy running this race while keeping my body warm enough.  Now, it is time to recover and figure out where I am going to achieve a Western States qualifying time next year.  My next race will be the Mountain Mist 50k on January 25 in Huntsville, Alabama.  Until then…

Never stop running,

Return to Darin’s Running Page.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Razorback Running Revival – A Tough, Slow Day

November 9
Final approach into Fayetteville

I enticed Martha to join me for another ultra marathon adventure.  We flew to Fayetteville, Arkansas yesterday afternoon and had a nice Italian dinner in town before driving to the bed and breakfast in Winslow.  This in the inaugural event for this race, and the race director lives in Colorado where he directs several other races.  The course is an out and back with a lollipop loop at the far end.  Also, since the course is so remote, crews are not allowed to visit any of the aid stations.  So, Martha drives me the 10 minutes to the start and snaps my picture before I am off in the pre-dawn twilight with 36 of my fellow runners.  The temperature is in the low 30s, but is supposed to rise into the high 50s.  I start the race with shorts, long and short sleeve shirts, stocking hat, and gloves.

Mile 8.7      2:11:54 (15:10 avg./mile) Old Locke #1

Darin before the start
I run very carefully for the first couple of miles while the daylight is making its full presence in this beautiful fall day.  About three miles into the race, we have our first river crossing.  This one is pretty wide and then within a quarter mile there is another (but less wide) river crossing.  The water is swiftly moving, but only a little over knee deep.  I am chatting with JP and Matt as we arrive at the first aid station.  My first thought is that this is 10 miles, but then I recall that it is 8 something.  By rough calculation, I figure I have run right around 15 minutes per mile.  All of us share a common goal it seems—finish before dark, which would be less than 12 hours.  This translates into faster than 15 minutes per mile.  I guess I will have to pick up the pace if I am going to finish before dark.  This first section was rather technical with plenty of rocks and such.  And, the first two miles were run in the dark, so I figure I can make better time now as I hope the trail will become smoother, and I am not warmed up.  At the aid station, I grab several quesadilla wedges to eat on the way.

Mile 16.3    2:09:55 (17:06 avg./mile) White Rock #1

I make my way to the White Rock aid station feeling good and thinking that my position is solid.  However, the cut-off for this aid station is 4.5 hours, and I am at 4:20, which means I only have 10 minutes on the cut-off at this point.  I grab some more quesadilla wedges while chatting with the nice aid station workers.  They say the next aid station is not far—only 3.5 miles.  JP and I change our shoes at this point, and I take off my long-sleeve shirt.  I trade my hat for a buff, and I am ready to roll.
Sunrise in the Ozarks

Mile 19.8    1:13:11 (20:55 avg./mile) Potato Knob

The “short 3.5 miles” is nearly all uphill, and I think it might be a tad farther than the advertised distance.  The last mile up to the knob is a good steep climb.  I am working hard, but as can be seen, I have not been able to pick up the pace yet.  At the aid station, I grab a healthy handful of potato chips and eat a pickle before heading down the trail.  I have some time to make up, and I plan to push the next section reasonably hard.  I had refilled my Camelbak at White Rock so I didn’t figure I needed to do that again so soon.

Mile 27.3    2:11:58 (17:36 avg./mile) Shores Lake

The steep downhill coming out of Potato Knob doesn’t allow for striding out due to the steepness and the technical trail.  I am running mostly with Matt and doing well, except I run out of water about 45 minutes before I get to the aid station.  These 7.5 miles seem like a forever section as the aid station just will not get here.  As hard as I am pushing it, I am sure that there is an extra mile in this section.  This is later confirmed by other runners with GPS as well as the race director himself.  At the aid station, I eat a few PB&J sandwich quarters before drinking a cup of Coke.  Matt and I are right on the cut-off, and we have 1:15 to get back to White Rock to meet the final hard cut-off before the finish.  The Coke should help me run faster at this point in the race.

Mile 32.4    1:49:50 (21:32 avg./mile) White Rock #2

Matt and I run almost the whole section up and down along the stream that we get to cross twice.  The second time we cross the stream, we catch up to Steve, who Matt knows from the area.  As we begin the uphill climb heading towards White Rock, the realization that we will get timed out sets into our minds.  We start seeing runners coming back down from the aid station, and the first ones say they were the last runner to make it out under the cut-off.  Then we see a few more runners, and they say they are the last runners that were let to slide out of the aid station a few minutes past the cut-off.  We finally make our way back our way into the aid station a mere 36 minutes over the cut-off.

Official Finishing Time          DNF – Timed Out

36 starters, 18 finishers

At the aid station after we each grab a bite or two, the 10 or so timed out runners ask the aid station captain what the plan is for getting us back to the start/finish line.  The answer is that they have a couple of seats for two or three of us.  Then he asks if we have a buddy we can call.  I borrow a cell phone and call Martha.  She says she will be there in an hour as that is how long it will take on the back-road, dirt-roads in the Ozarks.  In the meantime, we all hang out catching up on the college football games while we try to keep from getting too cold.  These 32+ miles were a good tune up for my next race regardless of the fact that the race director (or anyone else apparently) did not actually run the course to see how challenging and slow it would be.  The race director quickly announces that the cut-off next year will be two hours longer.  This is the first time in my 83 ultra-race career that I have actually been timed out at an aid station.  My next race is the 17th running of the Hellgate 100k on December 14 in southwestern Virginia.  Until then…

Never stop running,


Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Stump Jump 50k - A beautiful day for the family!

October 12

Nathan and Darin before the start
My wife, Martha, doesn’t usually accompany me for many of my races, but this is an exception because our son, Nathan, is also running the race.  She missed seeing him last month, so here she is to greet us at each aid station.  Martha and I drove over from Huntsville to Chattanooga last night and got a good night sleep in a hotel in town.  Nathan, on the other hand, didn’t leave Jacksonville until 9pm due to work.  So, he made it to the race start in time to get an hour or two of sleep in the back of his vehicle.  This is the first official 50k that he and I are running together.  The weather is close to perfect with the high temperature supposed to be close to 70 degrees.

Mile 4.9      1:00:09 (12:16 avg./mile) Edwards Point

This race had almost 300 runners in the 50k, and Nathan and I got split up as we jockeyed for position early in the race.  I was slightly disappointed that we weren’t able to stay together for the early miles, but I will see him later.  I cruise easily through the opening miles getting into a decent position with the other runners.  No crew at this aid station, so I quickly grab some potato chips and am off down the trail.

Mile 8.2      46:00 (13:56 avg./mile) Mushroom Rock #1

This section was a little more uphill than the first section, which is my excuse for running a little slower.  I was also thinking that I should slow down a little to see if Nathan can catch up.  When I get to the aid station, it is packed like a tourist attraction.  Some runners are posing for pictures, which I totally do not understand at this point in the race.  Heck, we are only a quarter of the way through the race.  Slightly irritated, I push through the aid station quickly passing at least a half a dozen other runners milling about.

Mile 14.2    1:32:18 (15:23 avg./mile) Indian Rock House

Indian Rock House
A good downhill followed by (of course) an uphill section.  I am still moving well and feeling great.  I am not trying to set any speed records at this point.  About halfway through this section, I am chatting with the runner behind me when another guy catches up to us—and it is Nathan!  I am glad he caught up with me.  Hopefully, we can put a few miles in together.  At this aid station, Martha is here to greet us.  I grab some chocolate milk from her, and boy does it taste great!

Mile 16.7    38:43 (15:29 avg./mile) Snoopers Rock

I hold up a little to let Nathan catch back up to after the aid station.  We run most of this section together.  I am moving nice and easy.  So far, I have no complaints about the day, the course, or the volunteers.  As I am now halfway through the race, the crowd of runners has thinned out and is no longer a problem, not like it was ever much of a problem.

Mile 19.4    53:03 (19:39 avg./mile) Haley Road

After leaving Snoopers Rock, I press ahead leaving Nathan a little behind.  He is still moving well, but I want to make sure I push myself.  This course is not as much climbing as I was expecting, and for the most part, it is not very technical.  However, this section is a little technical, and at one point I catch my toe on a rock and tumble to the ground.  Picking myself up, I first check behind me to see if Nathan is catching back up, but I don’t see him.  I get into the aid station in not too bad of shape.  I grab a couple of PB&J sandwich quarters for the trail as I get my Camelbak topped off.

Mile 22.8    48:23 (14:14 avg./mile) Mullins Cove Parking

Leaving Mullins Cove
Compared to the previous section, this stretch is much smoother and better for making good time.  There are a couple of ladies around me, and we are pushing each other as we make our way towards the finish.  I feel like I could pick the pace up a little, but after my tumble on the last section, I am content to run slightly cautiously.  I twisted my ankle on a training run one week ago, and it is still not steady.  I have tested/tweaked a couple of times today, and I don’t want to do more harm to it.  At this aid station, Martha is here as she only had to walk a few hundred yards from the Indian Rock House aid station.  I drink some more chocolate milk and tell her that Nathan should only be about 10-15 minutes behind me.

Mile 29.3    1:57:09 (18:01 avg./mile) Mushroom Rock #2

This was a nice hard section on the way out, and so it is on the way back.  I am running with a guy who is running his first or second ultra.  He asks me how this compares in difficulty with other 50k races, and I say it is about average.  As we are hiking up the last climb back up to this aid station, he asks me again if it is only about average.  Yes, it is only about average as this climb is not much more than a mile.  Granted we had two climbs on this section, but neither climb was too bad relative to some races.  I grab a small up of Coke at the aid station before pressing forward towards the finish.

Mile 31.2    16:50 (8:52 avg./mile) FINISH

Darin eating after the finish
Some races save the long sections with a little extra mileage in the last few miles—not this race!  The website says this section was actually 2.6 miles, but I shortened it here as that would have meant I ran sub-7-minute miles coming in.  Even as it is, I doubt this section is anywhere close to two miles.  I wasn’t five minutes out of the last aid station when I started hearing the music at the finish line.

Official Finishing Time          7:52:30
109th out of 298 starters (6th of M50-59)

Nathan nearing the finish line
Not a bad day all in all.  I got a very good 50k trail effort in; got to run with Nathan some; and the weather was nearly perfect.  To top things off, all finishers get a burrito and beer to help replenish a few calories.  I have my food consumed when Nathan finishes about 30 minutes after me.  He had two comments.  First, he says the sleep deprivation affected his speed on the technical trail more than his lack of hill training as he lives in flat Jacksonville, Florida.  Second, he says that the runners around him talked more when he was with me and I was talking to them.  Otherwise, he said the other runners didn’t talk much.  There must be a common denominator in there somewhere.  My next race is going to be the inaugural running of the Razorback Running Revival on November 9th in northwest Arkansas.  Until then…

Never stop running,

Friday, June 21, 2019

Lighthouse 100 Miler

May 31

My son-in-law, Ben, and I are flying up to northern Michigan so that I can run a 100-mile race.  He will be crewing for me, stopping at every aid station to ensure I have what I need.  The weather is near perfect for flying except we have a little bit of a headwind.  The flight takes 4 hours and 40 minutes, but we manage it non-stop from Huntsville.  When we land in Gaylord, Michigan, our rental car is driven right out to our plane.  I reserved a standard mid-size with Hertz, but we got lucky and will be driving a red Cadillac sedan for the weekend!  We eat lunch in Gaylord at Spicy Bob’s Italian Express.  I have an Italian grinder, and Ben has a calzone.  We are well stuffed as we go over to Walmart to buy a few groceries and then drive over to Traverse City.  We check into our Comfort Inn accommodations and then head to the pre-race briefing at a nearby park.  At the briefing, I meet up with Eric and Noni Clifton, who I haven’t seen since 2000 at the JFK 50.  Eric is a little older now, but he used to win all of these ultra-races.

June 1

The starting line lighthouse
On race morning, we drive the 25 minutes north on the peninsula to the start.  The sun is just starting to show its early light as we arrive at the lighthouse parking lot.  It is cool in the high 40s, but the weather is near perfect.  I ate my usual bowl of granola and cream in the hotel room before driving to the start, and I feel as ready to run 100 miles as I ever have.  There is no pressure except for needing another 100 mile finish.  To date, I have finished 10 and dropped out of 9.  This race will be unique for my 100 mile races as it is all on paved surfaces.  No mud or other elements, just plenty of hard pavement.  I start the race with shorts, short-sleeve shirt, and a buff on my head.  To guard against the cool temperatures, I pull on a light long-sleeve shirt for the first few miles.  There are 41 of us that toe the line on this late spring morning.  The race start is exactly on the 45th parallel, which means we are halfway between the equator and the North Pole.

Mile 5.0      57:53 (11:35 avg./mile) Smokey Hollow Road

Sorting out the pack of runners early in the race
Race director Dave says go, and we all begin shuffling forward.  Eric Clifton gets to the front and as we get out on the main road, a deer darts in front of him.  Most of us are all bunched together.  I meet several people who are attempting their first 100, including Ray and Cat.  Karl and Leslie are maintaining a nice, even pace, and for this first section I run near them.  My primary goal is to finish, but my reach goal is to get a PR, (My current PR is 25:51 at Mohican in 2007) and my far stretch goal is to finish under 24 hours.  This is the gold standard for 100-milers.  I like to think of it the same as qualifying for the Boston Marathon.  To run 100 miles in 24-hours, a 14:12/mile average is needed.  So, this first split is good as I have settled into a good pace.  I want to run about 12-minute miles early on, and this is spot on.  I wave at Ben as I roll through this initial aid station.

Mile 9.0      41:14 (10:18 avg./mile) Peninsula Fire Station

After the first aid station, Karl and I start talking about other races.  He has a 100-mile PR of 18 hours or something and has run Vol State at least once.  His goal today is just to get Leslie home for her first 100-mile finish.  They are both planning on running the Vol State later this summer and are using this race as a training run.  What is Vol State you ask?  Why it is a 300-mile, multi-day race around Tennessee created by Lazarus Lake, who also is the race director for the Barkleys.  So, we are chatting away and don’t realize until we get to the aid station that we have left Leslie and Cat a little behind us.  Karl stops at the aid station to wait on them—they are only a minute or two back, and I press forward.  Now, I have a little time in the bank, but I need to ensure I don’t go out too quickly.  I remove the long-sleeve shirt at this point and drink some CR01 (my own mixture that mimics Conquest).

Mile 14.8    1:12:51 (12:34 avg./mile) Bluff Road and Center Road

Darin and Mike
This section is alongside of the East Arm of Grand Traverse Bay.  It is nearly completely flat, but the flat sections seem like they might be uphill.  It is tempting to let yourself walk these flat (maybe slightly uphill) sections, but I know I need to keep running if I am going to achieve my goals.  It isn’t that I don’t feel like running, it is just that I want to conserve as much as possible for late in the race.  About halfway through this section, Mike comes up from behind me.  We run together for a couple miles to the aid station.  Ben is here ready with my chocolate milk and a bagel.  It is still cool, and it has drizzled a little, so the chocolate milk is awesome.

Mile 20.5    1:13:18 (12:52 avg./mile) East Bay Park

I stroll into East Bay Park mostly by myself, although there is another runner who is leapfrogging me as our run/walk rhythms are offset.  This section was almost entirely flat, and my pace seems to be working well.  I am running about 13 minutes and then walking 2 minutes.  One of the aid station workers asks me if I also bike as my thighs are larger than most for runners.  I reply that no I don’t bike, but I do play ice hockey, and used to play football.  I peruse the selection of food at this manned aid station and settle on a healthy handful of potato chips.  The aid station volunteers were willing to make me a peanut butter sandwich, but I didn’t really want to wait for it.

Mile 27.5    1:16:23 (10:55 avg./mile) GJ’s Pizza and Market

We are now in Traverse City having made our way down the peninsula.  I run right by the Comfort Inn that Ben and I stayed in last night, and then I pick my way across traffic and head south before turning left on the TART trail.  This is a nice paved fitness trail that goes through the city for several miles.  I pass a runner with his crew just before getting on the TART trail.  This is a good confidence boost as it confirms I am on the correct route.  The TART is almost perfectly flat, and I settle back into my 13 and 2 rhythm.  I turn off of the TART trail to conquer the hill of Holiday Hills.  It is a good mile plus all uphill before turning around and running back down the hill to this market.  It is really nice to see all of the runners ahead of me and behind me.  I am not sure the mileage on this section is entirely accurate, but I did run down the hill rather quickly.  I drink a fair amount of CR01 when I see Ben at the market.  Interestingly, Ben was sitting here when I was heading up the hill, but he didn’t notice me pass on the opposite side of the street.

Mile 33.3    1:13:42 (12:42 avg./mile) TART trail and Bates Road

After the market, we get back on the TART trail, and I continue my nice comfortable pace.  I catch up with Jenna, who is the race director for the Cry Me a River 100-miler in Peoria, Illinois.  She is only running 50 miles today.  I roll into this aid station at the one-third mark in great shape.  My time is 6:35 so I am well ahead of a 24-hour pace.  I am actually currently slightly ahead of 20-hour pace.  Ben has cooked a nice grilled ham and cheese sandwich for me, and I take my time to eat the whole, piping-hot thing.

Mile 40.0    1:32:33 (13:49 avg./mile) Monro Road
Darin at Mile 40 drinking chocolate milk

After my sandwich, I take a little off of my pace.  I am moving with Mike and Jenna for a good piece of this section.  I feel good so far, but the key is to remain patient.  I could probably rip off 10 miles in an hour and a half at this point, but I would severely pay for it later.  I down some more chocolate milk at this aid station before grazing on more potato chips from the aid station.  It is the same bag of potato chips that was at the 20.5 mile aid station.  My time as I leave is 8 hours and 7 minutes.  So, I am no longer under 20-hour pace, but am in a very good position to finish under 24 hours.

Mile 45.0    51:35 (10:19 avg./mile) Riverwalk Grill

I am still moving with Jenna as the two of us and one other runner enter Elk Rapids.  When the course turns right on US 31, I open up a little gap (not intentionally) on Jenna and the other guy.  Through the heart of the town, the course turns right to the unmanned aid station at the Riverwalk Grill parking lot where Ben is waiting for me.  I drink some chocolate milk and take half of a bagel with me for the road.  I was a little surprised by my pace on this section, but move on quickly as I am approaching the halfway point.  It turns out that I won’t see Jenna again.

Mile 47.8    46:35 (16:38 avg./mile) Caria Highway and Cherry Avenue

I spend the majority of this section running out of Elk Rapids wondering if I am going the right way.  There are no intermediate confidence markings, just signs when a turn is necessary.  I keep looking back for Jenna and the other runner, but they are too far back and I can’t see them.  Finally with about a half mile to go to the aid station, two crew vehicles that I recognize pass me.  Thank goodness I am on the right route!  I roll into the aid station a little slower than before, but I had slowed down when I was uncertain.  I drink some more CR01, and get another handful of potato chips from the aid station.

Mile 53.0    1:21:28 (15:40 avg./mile) Torch Lake Road

Changing shoes at mile 53
The course is well off of Lake Michigan at this point and on the west bank of Torch Lake.  I am leap frogging a couple of guys that looked well dialed in and focused.  On the down hills, I am getting by them, and then they pass me later on the flats or uphill sections.  When I get to the aid station, Ben has the Ramen and hash browns ready.  I decide to change my shoes at this point as I am eating my dinner.  My pace was a little quicker than this 15:40 shows as it includes the time I am sitting here in the aid station.  My elapsed time is 11:07.  Some use a rule of thumb to double the time from mile 55 to predict one’s final time.  By any measure, I am well on pace to finish under 24 hours.

Mile 57.5    1:09:14 (15:23 avg./mile) Sugar Maple Lane

My extended stop at mile 53, let the two guys I was leap frogging get ahead of me far enough that the leap frogging has ceased for now.  The road we are on has some elevation changes.  It is actually nice not to have it be completely flat.  There are actually a couple of climbs.  At the aid station, I quickly duck into the porta-john.  After the pit stop, I graze by the food table and grab some mini candy bars.

Mile 64.0    1:40:02 (15:23 avg./mile) Eastport Market

Darin at mile 64 eating his sandwich
All but about a couple hundred yards of this section are on US 31.  It is nearly all flat with visibility for a mile or more down the road.  I can see the two guys ahead of me the whole way as they stay about a half mile ahead of me.  I have slowed my rhythm down to 10 minutes of running with 5 minutes of walking.  I am figuring that I can maintain this nice 15 minutes per mile pace with this rhythm.  At this point, I only need to average 16:37 miles to get in at 24 hours.  When I get to the aid station, Ben has a grilled ham and cheese ready for me, and I take my time to eat the whole thing.  Keeping the calories coming in at a high rate is one of the critical factors.  My shoe change was not ideal as I have a blister on the inside of each of my heels.  They aren’t causing me much concern and at this point so I am going to leave them alone.

Mile 71.4    2:07:06 (17:11 avg./mile) Norwood Church

As the evening begins to turn into night, I run alone this whole section.  The section is on a lonely country road.  A vehicle passes by occasionally, but mostly the traffic is other crew vehicles.  At one point, I ask a couple of teenagers I see if the road is going uphill or flat.  They say it is very so slightly uphill, but I am looking good and they are confident I can keep running.  Less than a half mile from the aid station, I run by another crew and ask them how far the aid station is.  They say it isn’t far now, which was less than informative.  I arrive at the aid station right as the last elements of daylight are fading.  I turned on my required red blinking lights about 20 minutes ago.  I have one on both my front and back as this race requires.  As it is cooling off, I add a long-sleeve shirt, hat, and gloves.  Any rain chances ended several hours ago, and it looks like it is going to be a beautiful cool night.  I grab another handful of potato chips from the aid station before heading off into the night.

Mile 76.9    1:25:47 (15:36 avg./mile) Barnard Road and Klooster Road

I added the iPod at the last aid station to let the music try to keep me rolling in the darkness.  I have a small headlight, which is all I need with the smooth, paved surface.  Halfway into this section, I am fading.  So, I decide to go to the whip—a No Doze tablet.  I am nearly caffeine free in my daily life, so adding caffeine at this point has a very good effect.  I roll into this unmanned aid station feeling like I am on a good pace.  Ben offers me a bagel, but I decline and instead opt for an Access Bar.  I drink some chocolate milk before heading on into the dark night by myself.  Can I keep averaging 16-minute miles and finish under 24 hours?

Mile 82.4    1:26:20 (15:42 avg./mile) Holiday Gas Station

Darin eating the "free" bag of chips
I get a little boost as I come into Charlevoix.  This is the last town before Petoskey where the finish is.  I pass through about half of the town before the Holiday Gas station aid station finally appears.  Ben is here waiting as always.  This is a “manned” aid station that is essentially the convenience store.  All runners can just go in and grab anything we want and it will be charged to the race.  I look for a hot dog, but they aren’t ready as it is about 1am in the middle of the night.  So, I decide to get an ice cream bar and a bag of potato chips.  I have a rough calculation in my head that tells me I can average almost 17 minutes a mile and still make my 24-hour stretch goal.  My spreadsheet analysis now says that 16:59 is the magic number for a pace from this point.

Mile 85.8    1:03:40 (18:44 avg./mile) Little Traverse Wheelway Path

I make my way through the heart of downtown, and there is a group of partyers fooling around on the opposite side of the street from me.  When one of them spots me, they start cheering wildly.  It is fun and a slight motivation.  Leaving town, the darkness envelops me once again and soon I come upon Ben at this unmanned aid station.  In my spreadsheet with the mileage at each aid station, it says this aid station is at mile 87.5, which I am pretty sure is not correct when I get here in about an hour.  I have now used Google maps to estimate new mileage for these last couple of aid stations.  In the moment, I now wonder whether I have 4 or 6 miles to the next aid station.  At the time, I didn’t know that my pace has fallen off.  My post analysis says I need to average 16:34 per mile.  I sit down and eat most of the beef Ramen that Ben has prepared.  I pass on any hash browns, deciding to get moving before I get chilled.

Mile 91.7    1:54:22 (19:23 avg./mile) Cabin on Nine Mile Point Drive

This aid station takes me forever to get to.  Ben had heard and passed onto me that there was an issue with the cabin where this aid station is supposed to be.  I am hoping that the reason it is taking me longer than expected to get here that maybe the aid station has been moved, and I will be closer to the finish when I get there.  Unfortunately, when I finally get to the aid station, Ben asks me how I am doing and my reply is that it depends on what mile we are at.  He confirms with the aid station worker that this is mile 91.  The aid station isn’t actually at the cabin, but it is in the same place on the wheelway.  My rough calculations now say that I need to run faster than 15-minute miles as I have a little over two hours until 6am.  Can I do that?  I don’t know, but we are about to find out.  My post analysis says 14:39 per mile is necessary.
Sunrise near the finish

Mile 100.3 2:44:03 (19:05 avg./mile) FINISH!

Starting the last 8+ miles, I decide that another No Doze is in order if I have a chance of rallying.  I also decide to abandon my 10 and 5 rhythm of running and walking.  Instead, I run 20 and 25 minutes before walking for 5 minutes each time.  As can be seen by my final time, all of my attempts come up short.  My pace is only slightly faster than the previous section in the end.  I am about 2 miles away from Petoskey when the sun rises.  With only 10 minutes until 6am, reality sets in.  I walk most of the last two miles.  I am freezing cold as the temperature has now dropped to 40 degrees.  I meet the wife of a runner behind me, and she warns me not to miss the final turn.  As I enter into Petoskey, I resume my shuffle.  I make the final turn and Ben tells me I can stop running as I have crossed the finish line, which is a hand drawn chalk line on the ground.

Official Finishing Time          24:38:06

17th out of 41 starters (32 finishers under 30 hours)

It always feels good to finally stop running, and I am happy with my finish and effort.  I will think about only a couple things that I would have done differently, but overall, this was a very good race.  I would have had Ben meet me every two miles, gone down to the cabin and used the restroom (I had to duck into the woods on this last section), and added another layer to stay warmer.  But, I have now established my 100-mile PR at a new mark at the age of 50.

I have no other race plans for the rest of the summer.  My fall racing will begin with Stump Jump in Chattanooga in October.  Until then…

Never stop running,