Saturday, June 9, 2018

Kettle Moraine 100 MIler 2018

June 1

Martha is joining me for my trip to Wisconsin to run the Kettle Moraine 100 mile race tomorrow.  She hasn’t crewed for me in a 100 mile since 2009 and won’t really be crewing for me tomorrow.  She is planning to bring me chocolate milk and my drugs a couple of times during the day.  Drugs?  Yes, I am on antibiotics as I was diagnosed with an ear infection on Wednesday.  My ears have been stopped up for over a week now, but I am hoping that they will clear as the antibiotics do their job, and I get everything flowing tomorrow during the run.

Darin ready to run
We pick up my race packet and then grab dinner at a wonderfully nice Italian restaurant in downtown Whitewater.  I have some sausage stuffed ravioli, and Martha has some chicken dish.  I don’t eat many carbs these days, so this is a treat to carb-out!  I manage to clean my plate, but my stomach is definitely off a little bit with the drugs.  Well, I guess I will see how things progress tomorrow.

June 2

The weather forecast is almost perfect.  It is around 50 degrees this morning, but there is a chance for a passing storm late tonight.  It should be a quick mover, though, so hopefully we won’t be slogging through the rain for hours on end.  I start the race with ears completely clogged, a hacking cough from the drainage, and optimism that none of this will prevent me from finishing my 11th 100 mile race.  My 100 mile record stands at 10 finishes with eight DNFs.

The horde of runners and crews just before the start
Mile 3.3      35:43 (10:49 avg./mile) Tamarack

The crowd of runners, which includes 250 100 mile runners and many other 100k runners, moves out quickly over the rolling terrain.  I am a little quicker than desired on this first section, but I am definitely letting everyone go by me.  My hacking cough is only an inconvenience, and I am getting great snot removal.  Unfortunately, my body seems to keep producing plenty more.  I grab a handful of potato chips at the first aid station and press on forward.

Mile 6.0      33:11 (12:17 avg./mile) Bluff

I am settling down nicely to a good pace.  I want to average better than four miles per hour (15 minutes per mile) during the daylight today.  This will give me plenty of cushion on the 30-hour cut-off and may even allow me (if things go wonderful) to get the elusive sub-24-hour finish.  At this aid station, I grab some more potato chips as I really don’t feel like eating more than that.  On this section, I meet Mike Smith who lives in the area and is trying to run his first 100 miler.

Mile 11.1    1:07:04 (13:09 avg./mile) Horseriders

This race is mostly on rolling hills.  Up and down we go—up 30 feet and then down 30 feet.  Some climbs are possibly 100 feet of climb at one time.  It doesn’t sound hard, and relatively it isn’t.  The problem is that there is no such thing as an easy 100 mile race.  The good thing is that the entire course is on the trails except for the several road crossings.  My pace has settled a little more, but the trail is now single track and a bit congested.  This is an unmanned aid station so I move right on through.

Mile 14.2    42:35 (13:44 avg./mile) Emma Carlin

There are about 15 of us somewhat stuck behind a lady that insists on running a steady slow pace regardless of whether the course is going up or down.  At one point I passed her, but then when I walked up the next uphill, she passed me back.  Oh well, I just have to remain patient.  However, when we get to this large aid station, I grab two ham sandwich quarters and move out of the aid station before she does.  So, do a few other runners who were also “stuck” with me.

Mile 17.3    37:30 (12:06 avg./mile) Antique Lane

Now free to run and walk as I desire, my average pace actually picks up.  Of course, I also wanted to make sure you know who doesn’t pass me.  No fear as I don’t see her again until I am coming back from the turnaround at Scuppernong.  This aid station is another unmanned aid station with just water, sunscreen lotion, and bug spray.  Speaking of which, I put a little bug spray on this morning, but the mosquitos are definitely now in season.

Mile 19.6    25:45 (11:12 avg./mile) Wilton Road

These few sections are open prairie.  The quick ups and downs have subsided to gracefully long inclines or descents that are mostly flat.  My legs feel great, and my energy level is high.  My stomach is not 100 percent, and of course I have the clogged ears and drainage, but overall I think my race is going well.  Another unmanned aid station which I glide right on through.

Mile 23.0    43:42 (12:51 avg./mile) Highway 67

In the prairie section, I let Mike press on ahead.  Either he will slow down, or he will have an excellent first race.  I know though that I want to keep taking things really easy.  I am not chatting with many people as I have to concentrate really hard to hear what they are saying.  It is best to just run inside my own head listening to not much of anything.  At this aid station, I grab two more ham sandwich quarters.  Some of these seem to have mayo on them, and I like the taste.  I also refill my Camelbak at this aid station.

Mile 25.5    34:59 (14:00 avg./mile) County ZZ

I ease into this aid station, and Martha is here with some chocolate milk.  Unfortunately, the chocolate milk she bought is frozen!  She scoops a little in a cup, and I take a couple of swallows before handing the cup back to her.  She says, is that it?  Yep, I will see you across the way at Scuppernong.  The aid stations are within sight of each other so she only has to walk less than 100 yards, while I am running the 5 miles around the loop.

Mile 30.4    1:09:52 (14:16 avg./mile) Scuppernong

I find myself running most of this section with Tom.  He is a little older than me, but definitely has the same mindset for keeping a relaxed pace.  He also likes to roll quickly down the hills like I do, so we stick together easily.  I have plenty of pep in my legs for when I stop to take a leak, it is no problem at all to catch back up to Tom.  I roll into Scuppernong, and Martha has a full cup of mostly thawed out chocolate milk.  I drink the whole cup, and then grab two sandwich quarters to eat walking out of the aid station.

Mile 35.4    1:08:00 (13:36 avg./mile) County ZZ

Tom spent more time in the aid station than me, and I will not see him again in this race.  I believe it looks like he stopped at mile 54.  The chocolate milk has given me a bit more energy and the fact that I want to get this mentally challenging loop that gets you to where you began, finds me pushing the pace a little.  I am really hammering the downhills.  I arrive at the aid station with Martha holding another cup of chocolate milk.  I down that and grab two small sandwich wrap to eat on the run.  My pace is great, and I start to wonder how long I can maintain a sub-15 minutes per mile pace.l

Mile 37.9    35:00 (14:00 avg./mile) Highway 67

The chocolate milk and sandwich wraps settle in as I take it easy coming out of the Scuppernong loops.  I am going to just focus on trying to maintain sub-15-minute miles.  At this aid station, I only grab some potato chips.

Mile 41.3    44:04 (12:58 avg./mile) Wilton Road

Back on the prairie, I try to run smoothly.  There is one 100k runner that I keep leap frogging with.  He runs when I am walking and vice versa.  As the terrain is mostly flat, it is all about taking my time on mixing up running with some walking.  Another unmanned aid station that I roll right through.

Mile 43.6    32:10 (13:59 avg./mile) Antique Lane

The day has warmed up some, but it is still probably only 70 degrees out here.  There is a gentle breeze so far and most importantly, no sign of thunderstorms yet.  I manage to keep rolling along, generally keeping pace with the runners around me.  This is another unmanned aid station, but I take the opportunity to top off my Camelbak.  At least I am drinking plenty of water as a day like today when it isn’t very warm will still take the water out of you.

Mile 46.7    45:38 (14:43 avg./mile) Emma Carlin

Back at Emma Carlin, and it is only 10 hours and 15 minutes since I started.  I am expecting to see Martha again to get my antibiotics for the last time.  However, she is nowhere in view.  This aid station is quite crowded as there are crews for 50k, 100k, and 100 mile runners.  There is a remote parking spot and the race is bussing the crews into the aid station.  Anyway, I get some ginger ale to drink and then grab two ham sandwich quarters.  I am starting to walk out of the aid station when I hear Martha call for me and run up after getting off of the bus.  She says I am early—I am sorry I am running too fast!  Anyway, I take my antibiotics and drink a cup of chocolate milk before kissing her good-bye.  I tell her I will call her from the last aid station before the finish tomorrow morning.

Mile 49.8    49:52 (16:05 avg./mile) Horseriders

As the evening approaches, the mosquitoes are coming out in greater numbers.  At this unmanned aid station, I liberally spray bug repellent on my arms, legs, and back.  Hopefully, I won’t have too many more bites!  My pace is slightly off, but I don’t think it is anything to worry about.  I generally feel good, except for my ears.

Mile 54.8    1:17:52 (15:34 avg./mile) Bluff

This is a long 5 miles and with it comes some decent climbs.  As the name implies, we have to get up and over the bluff, which seems to be the highest part on the course.  The aid station is down the other side and not on top of the bluff, though.  I think about using the porta john, but elect to wait.  Instead I grab a couple more sandwich quarters and head out on the trail.

Mile 57.6    43:48 (15:39 avg./mile) Tamarack

At Emma Carlin, I had a headlamp in my drop bag, but as I was on pace (or even a little ahead) I elected not to take it with me.  I have to get back to Nordic before dark.  It isn’t as critical as it sounds as the trail from Bluff back to Nordic is double wide trail.  Early on this section, I catch back up to Mike Smith.  He says his IT band has flared up.  He has taken some Advil for it and hopes he can push through it.  At this aid station, I realize that we have to go the full 4.8 miles to Nordic, whereas this morning going out it was only 3.3 miles from Nordic to Tamarack.  It is only 7:06pm, so I have plenty of daylight to get into Nordic.

Mile 62.4    1:38:07 (20:26 avg./mile) Nordic

My stomach is definitely turning south.  It is uncomfortable to run very much, so I am trying to be content with mostly walking at this point.  The rain has started a little.  There was a few minutes of light sprinkles, but now it has stopped.  I get into the start/finish area and have a little difficulty locating my drop bag.  I don’t have shoes in this drop bag, but I do have socks, so I change them.  I also get my Camelbak topped off and put my jacket on as it starts to rain again before I leave the aid station.  Finally, I get my headlamp all setup.  It is dusk as I am leaving the aid station, so I turn on the headlamp and begin the trek through the long night.

Mile 67.2    1:34:21 (19:39 avg./mile) Tamarack

Within a mile of leaving the aid station, I catch back up with Mike Smith.  Company through the night would probably be a good thing, so I stick with Mike as we slog into the first aid station after dark.  I need to visit the porta john, but there are none here, and I am not desperate enough yet to go squat in the woods.  I grab a few potato chips and then continue on towards the next aid station.

Mile 69.9    1:07:06 (24:51 avg./mile) Bluff

Mike and I roll back into the Bluff aid station for the third time, and we both immediately enter separate porta johns.  This race is extremely well supported with about half of the aid stations having facilities.  I am quickly successful in the porta john, and then get some Vaseline to lube things back up.  I grab only a few more potato chips as my stomach is not very interested in eating much of anything.  So far, my energy level seems good.  This split is slower, but it included the pit stop.

Mile 72.5    52:38 (20:15 avg./mile) Duffin Road

Mike and I manage to keep up a decent pace mostly walking in the dark.  If I can maintain 20-minute miles through the night, that would be wonderful.  My legs still feel somewhat fresh, but as you know, my stomach is not happy.  It isn’t like I need to throw up; rather it is just a discomfort that really won’t let me push the pace or run much.  This is an unmanned aid station, so I just mark my time and keep moving.

Mile 77.0    2:01:40 (27:02 avg./mile) Highway 12

During this section, the rumbles of thunder begin off to the west.  At first the lightning in 25 seconds away, and then it is only a few seconds.  It quickly passes to the east and fades into the distance.  There was some rain along with it, but not very much.  We seem to have gotten lucky.  We stagger into this aid station, and I think Mike’s IT band has had enough.  Both of us feel like dropping and indicate so.  However, I sit down and a nice volunteer fetches my drop bag.  I drink a cup of Coke, and then change my shoes.  The nice volunteer brings me a cup of broth, and I manage to drink that as well.  Finally, he brings me a cup of broth with some potatoes in it.  I choke that down and decide to give the next section a try.

Mile 81.5    2:10:00 (28:53 avg./mile) Rice Lake

I start this section with fresh shoes and a long sleeve shirt on.  I am a little chilly, but quickly warm up to the point that I take the long sleeve shirt off.  30 minutes later, I am chilled again, so I put it back on.  At some point in this section, I am falling asleep on my feet so I sit down and take a quick cat nap, leaning up against a tree.  I am down for only four minutes and then up again with a little freshness.  Later, there is a park bench along the trail so I take the opportunity to sit a bit.  It isn’t long before runners coming back from the Rice Lake turnaround are coming towards me.  I get up and stagger forward.  I finally make it into Rice Lake at an extremely slow pace.  It is almost 4:30am, and I think I am done.  At this pace, I will not finish under the 30-hour cut-off.  If my stomach was better I would have popped a caffeine pill or two, but I am quite certain that it would not tolerate that.  I call Martha on an aid station workers cell phone, and she is coming to pick me up.

We have to go back to Highway 12 to get my drop bag from there, and then we go to Nordic where my other two drop bags are now.  After collecting these up, we head to the hotel room.  I am able to shower before collapsing into bed.  I sleep a few hours, and then Martha goes out to get a couple of omelets from us.  I manage to eat my very slowly.

I mostly lay around napping off and on until it is time to meet the Feigleys for dinner.  Jim Feigley is a retired Marine General for whom I was aide-to-camp in 1998-1999.  They live not too far from here near Watertown.  We have a wonderful prime rib dinner at a local supper club.  It is great to catch up with them as I haven’t seen them in eight years.

In hindsight, I am afraid I made the right decision to drop when I did.  I am also proud that I gave it a go in less than top health and made it as far as I did.  On Monday, I get stronger antibiotics from the doctor as my ears have made no progress on improving.  A week later, and things are finally starting to clear out.  It is unfortunate that this ear infection came on.  I think I was very well trained and well rested coming into this race.  With the perfect weather, I could have run a really good time.  The good news is that I have my Western States qualifier already this year, so I will be able to enter the lottery in December for WS in 2019.

My next ultra-race likely won’t be until September, and it will probably be the Cumberland Trail 50k.

Never stop running,

Return to Darin’s Running Page.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Bull Run Run 2018 -- Good Weather?

April 6 

It has been four years since I have run this race.  I am running this race again because my son-in-law, Ben, is moving up to the 50 mile distance having run a couple of 50k races.  My daughter, Amy, is also coming with us to crew for both of us.  This was the plan at our last race in February, but Ben ran so much faster than me, and Amy wasn’t able to support us both late in the race.  We fly up to Virginia this morning with a fair bit of turbulence.  We grab lunch at Five Guys, check into the race, and then eat dinner at Carrabba’s.  There is a fun little team competition, so Ben and I team up with Gary and Keith Knipling.  It is mostly for fun with the fastest team getting some piece of swag of some sort.

April 7 

Waiting for the Start of the Race
The weather has been the main topic for this race for the past few days.  The
forecast has varied from heavy rain turning to snow to now it seems there might not be any precipitation.  When I get up, the temperature is 48 degrees, but an hour later as the race is about to begin, the temperature has dropped to 43 degrees.  I start the race with short and long sleeve shirts, shorts, and a buff on my head.  There was no rain overnight.  It is overcast and blustery as the race begins.

Mile 7.2      1:17:10 (10:43 avg./mile) Centreville Road (1st time)

At the start, Ben is out in front of me and as we enter the single track trail, there are a dozen or so runners between us.  I am running with Sophie Speidel, and the miles pass quickly as Sophie and I catch up with each other.  About 3-4 miles into the race, Sophie and I move past Ben.  Sophie has a definite goal time today, and so far, I am able to keep up with her.  At the aid station, Amy is ready with chocolate milk and a bagel.  I grab half of a bagel and drink a small cup of chocolate milk.  Ben is less than a minute behind me.

Mile 11.6    51:03 (11:36 avg./mile) Centreville Road (2nd time)

The course has been modified some to ensure the full 50 miles is run today.  The turnaround is now a lollipop loop.  The problem is that there is no one at the junction of the lollipop and some of the people run it clock-wise and most of us run it counter-clock-wise.  On the loop, I let Sophie go on ahead as I am deciding to run a little bit more conservatively.  As I approach the junction on the loop again, Ben comes up behind me and joins me.  We run together back to the aid station where Amy is patiently waiting.  I drink some Conquest and take half of a bagel with me.  With the new lollipop loop, the race might be a little bit longer, but it is less than an additional half mile at most.

Mile 16.6    1:01:32 (12:18 avg./mile) Hemlock Overlook

I leave the aid station a little ahead of Ben, but then he catches up to me quickly.  However, on the way back to Hemlock, I open up a little gap on him.  I am working the downhills hard, utilizing my speed.  The weather is remaining basically the same.  The temperature has settled around 40 degrees with blustery winds and occasionally, there is a stray flake of snow that floats down.  I come into the aid station a couple of minutes before Ben.  I grab some potato chips at the aid station along with drinking more chocolate milk.

Mile 21.1    54:26 (12:06 avg./mile) Bull Run Marina

Leaving Hemlock, Michele Harmon catches up to me.  I am surprised that she was behind me, but she says she is at peace with her conservative pace.  We catch up for a mile or so, and then she presses on ahead.  Soon thereafter, Ben catches back up to me, and we run together into the aid station.  I grab some Pringles and drink more chocolate milk.  I am moving well and feel fine.  This isn’t going to be my fastest time, but is there the opportunity to get under 10 hours?

Mile 26.1    59:18 (11:52 avg./mile) Wolf Run Shoals

Ben and I continue on together for this section.  We are making good time.  We have been playing leap frog with Mike Campbell.  It won’t be the last time we see him.  This aid station does not allow crews to visit, so I grab a couple of PB&J sandwich quarters along with some water and more Pringles.  Alex is the aid station captain, and he informs me that the next section is longer than it has been.  The trail has been re-cut and now is longer.  I think he said it was about 0.7 miles further and that the veterans were complaining about it.

Mile 28.1    42:53 (21:27 avg./mile) Fountainhead

In the past, I have run this section in 25-30 minutes.  Clearly, this section is now longer as Alex indicated, but the question is how much longer is it?  It appears that it could be as much as a mile further.  Thus, I am calling this an extra Quattro mile or Q-mile for short in honor of the race director.  At the aid station, Amy is ready for us as Ben and I come in together.  I drink some more chocolate milk while stuffing my face with potato chips.

Mile 32.5    1:01:10 (13:54 avg./mile) Do Loop (start)

Going out to the do loop, we get to do the white loop in addition to the trail that goes straight to the do loop.  This goes by very quickly as Ben and I are talking away about some of my experiences in the Marine Corps as a General’s Aide.  Before long we are heading straight to the do loop.  We meet Keith Knipling heading the other way and then Sophie Speidel a little later.  Finally, we make the left turn that takes us up to the do loop aid station.  Dave Yeakel, Jr. is here with the aid station workers.  I grab a couple of sandwich quarters, and then Ben and I begin the do loop.

Mile 35.5    41:59 (14:00 avg./mile) Do Loop (end)

The do loop is actually a lollipop loop from the aid station and back to the aid station.  Ben has heard it is a rough little piece of trail so after the first half mile he says that this isn’t that bad.  Of course, this is the easy part and then when we get down to the water, we have to make our way back up with many ups and downs along the way.  At the Nash Rambler there is a full-size picture of Gary Knipling.  Both Ben and I take the opportunity to water the Rambler.  Early on the do loop, Mike Campbell came back past us as he seems to be doing better with his ailing knee.  When we arrive back at the aid station, Gary is just getting there.  This good for two reasons:  we are comfortably ahead of Gary, but more importantly it means that all of our teammates are likely to finish.

Mile 37.9    34:59 (14:35 avg./mile) Fountainhead

Ben leads the way after the do loop, and I think he has picked up the pace.  We are moving along nicely, and I start to do some figuring in my head of when we might be able to finish.  The numbers seem to suggest that we could finish in about 10.5 hours.  But for now we will continue to press on.  At the aid station, Amy looks happy to see us, and one of the aid station workers tries to put a lei around our necks.  I decline the offer as I have no intent to wear the thing for the next dozen miles.  I grab some food while Ben checks his blood sugar level.

Mile 39.9    41:42 (20:51 avg./mile) Wolf Run Shoals

Ben’s blood sugar level was a little low so he is now running with a bottle of honey.  He squirts some in his mouth every so often and washes it down with water.  Not long after the aid station, two ladies pass us saying they aren’t in a hurry, they are just cruising.  So, Ben and I from then on refer to them as the cruisers.  This section is still overly long with the obvious extra Q-mile.  At the aid station, I talk with Alex again while stuffing my face with potato chips.  I also grab two small cups of Coke.  It is time to start the push to the finish.  With his extra Q-mile, it is now obvious that we will finish over 10.5 hours, but do we still have margin to finish under 11 hours?

Mile 44.9    1:03:13 (12:39 avg./mile) Bull Run Marina

At some point, we got ahead of the cruisers, so after leaving the aid station, they cruise back by us.  Ben and I are hanging on, but I am calculating miles and pace.  Up and down we go; hiking the uphills and trying to run quickly on the downhills.  As we get about a mile and a half from the Marina, we pass Mike Campbell again.  His knee is really giving him problems now.  With a mile to go until the aid station, I pop a caffeine pill as I want to start my final surge before I get to the aid station.  Ben says he probably needs a bathroom break at the aid station, so I walk on through without stopping.

Mile 50.4    1:08:02 (12:22 avg./mile) FINISH!

My final surge is gutsy, but not overly fast.  Andrew Sullivan rides on my coat tails the last three miles.  I try to shake him, think he is going to pass me, and eventually we end up finishing together.  It was a good push at the end, but I don’t have the speed that I want.  Is it a problem of getting older?  I hope not.
Darin and Andrew finishing!

Official Finishing Time          10:57:27

109th out of 272 starters (231 finishers)

Ben comes across only seven minutes after me.  He ran a great race for his first 50 mile finish.  It was awesome running with him for most of the day.  The weather ends up to not be a factor with almost ideal weather for running hard.  The precipitation never arrives, and the trail is drier than I think I have ever seen at this race.

Ben and I quickly shower and change, and then we wait for our fourth teammate to finish.  It is a cold, blustery, raw day, which was good for running, but not so much for spectating.  We are pretty thoroughly chilled when Gary finishes with Zeke Zucker—two 74 year olds, who finish in 12:39.  Quite a race for some seasoned citizens.  I am thinking about running the Kettle Moraine 100 miler in June.  Until then…

Never stop running,


Saturday, March 3, 2018

Mt. Cheaha 50k - A Sweltering Day in February

February 24

I spent the week in Colorado with temperatures ranging from -1 to 16 degrees.  When I ran on Wednesday morning, the temperature was -1.  Now, I am in Talladega, Alabama (or close to it) where the temperature at 7am is 65 degrees.  The race is going to start in 30 minutes, and the only question is whether I start with a shirt on or off.  My son-in-law, Ben is running this race as well, and Amy is crewing for us.  I asked Ben last night if he wanted to stick together, and he said it would probably be good for the first half, just like we did in October at the Paris Mountain 50k.  As this is Ben’s second ultra, this is a good idea.  Just before the start, we chat with Caitlin, who is a former roommate of Amy’s.  She says she is going to take things really easy today.  I also make the decision to take off the shirt as it doesn’t feel cool at all.

Mile 3.3      35:54 (10:53 avg./mile) Chandler Springs

Ben is in the lead right from the start as Caitlin and I follow behind.  Within a couple of miles, Ben has worked his way quickly around other runners, and Caitlin and I lose sight of him.  Surely, we will catch up to him soon enough as he settles into a good position.  When we get to this first aid station, Ben is nowhere to be seen.  Caitlin and I press on thinking that we will catch up to him at some point—sooner or later.  Despite the fact that Ben is well ahead of us, I have run a quick pace for this section.  My goal today, if it doesn’t get to hot, is to try to average between 12- and 13-minute miles.

Mile 8.5      1:05:34 (12:37 avg./mile) Clairmont Gap

I continue to lead as Caitlin is content to follow behind.  Another runner, who is running his first ultra, is also tagging along behind.  I manage to dial back the pace nicely, and I am happy with my pace given the conditions.  Speaking of which, it is already feeling warm.  I don’t know how warm, but when the breeze is not on me, it feels very warm.  At this aid station, we see Amy, and she says Ben is about 7-8 minutes ahead of us.  I drink some chocolate milk as well as some Conquest.

Mile 14.9    1:39:48 (15:36 avg./mile) Adams Gap

Caitlin and I along with a couple of other runners make it down and through the most technical trail portions in this race.  The rock gardens are such that walking is necessary at times to keep from injuring myself.  At one point I catch a toe and go down, but mostly unscathed, I pop back up and continue leading the small pack.  Then around 12 miles or so, I finish a downhill section and realize that I need to slow down.  There is no breeze in this valley, and I am roasting.  I let Caitlin and several others pass by me.  I watch them pull away, but know that if I am going to survive this warm weather, I need to slow down to keep from overheating.  At the aid station, Amy has already left since she needs to keep up with Ben.  The aid station workers are telling us runners that it is seven miles to the next aid station.  At first, I think I have missed an aid station or something.  So, I ask, “Isn’t this mile 14 aid station?”  Yes, it is, at which I reply then we only have four miles or less to the next aid station, not seven.

Mile 18.4    1:08:32 (19:35 avg./mile) Hubbard Creek

The wheels are coming off as I continue to slow my pace.  I think I feel okay, but it is just so warm that I know I cannot push the pace like I want to (or could in cooler weather).  Scores of runners have passed me by, but there are a couple of runners that are moving as slowly as I am.  At the aid station, Amy is here with more chocolate milk and Conquest.  I also take the opportunity to sit down.  Amy says that Ben is 27 minutes ahead of me, and Caitlin is about 10 minutes ahead of me at this point.  Earlier, I was thinking that mile 18 would be the point at which I picked up the pace to see if I could catch Ben, but now I know that unless he blows up, I will be finishing behind him today.  After drinking chocolate milk and Conquest, I grab a couple of PB&J sandwich quarters.

Mile 25.3    1:48:48 (15:46 avg./mile) Silent Trail

After the refreshments, I settle into a good groove.  This section has several stream crossings, and they are good for cooling off a bit.  It feels like I can push a little, but I know I need to save that for the end.  Instead, I methodically make steady forward progress.  Somewhere on this section, the race clock passes 6 hours.  The previous two times I ran this race, I finished in 6:40 and 6:44.  This is obviously going to be slower than 7 hours, but the question is how much slower than 7 hours?  At the aid station, Amy has again moved on before I get there.  I grab a couple more PB&J sandwich quarters and refill my empty Camelbak.  I also drink two cups of Coke.  It is time to see what I have left.

Mile 27.9    32:35 (12:32 avg./mile) Lake Cheaha

Leaving the last aid station, I feel ready to push it to the finish.  I run most of this section and pass a couple of runners.  It is now time to really kick things in and get this race done.  At the aid station, I grab another cup of Coke before heading towards blue hell.

Mile 31.1    1:04:12 (20:04 avg./mile) FINISH – Bald Rock

Blue hell is the name of the trail that climbs Mt. Cheaha.  The trail is marked by blue blazes, and climbs 1,500 feet in about a mile—hence the moniker.  I vow not to stop on the climb and manage to work my way around another couple of runners.  As I near the top of the blue hell climb, my leg muscles begin to rebel. First it is my right calf muscle.  I ignore that and keep pushing.  Then it is the left calf.  Finally, the upper legs start to cramp, both on the insides and backsides.  By the time I have finished the blue hell climb, my legs need a break, but there is still about a mile and a half to go to the finish.  All of the runners that I passed in the last few miles come back by me as I am still moving forward, but only in a technical sense that I am not actually standing still.  I stagger into the finish with Ben sitting there already showered and changed.

Official Finishing Time          7:55:23

112th out of 228 entrants (31st of M40-49)

It was a very ugly day for me today, but I guess I can take solace in the fact that I did persevere and finish no matter how slow it was.  Ben was 50 minutes ahead of me at the end.  My legs recover quickly once I allow my body temperature to come back down.  The heat cramps were intense, but I worked through them, deep within my pain room.

Ben and I are both entered into the Bull Run Run 50 miler on April 7.  This will be his first 50 mile race, and we will see how well he makes that transition.  Until then…

Never stop running,

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Mountain Mist 50k 2018 - Beat the Rain

January 27

I am 49 years old today.  It is a great day to run in the woods and feel like I am young again.  The only problem is that it is raining lightly right now.  It is supposed to stop soon, but then start again sometime this afternoon.  When I left my house, the temperature was 53 degrees, so I decided I only would need a short-sleeve shirt.  As I drove up to Monte Sano, the temperature was lower.  I am sitting in my truck looking at 46 degrees.  That is a bit cool for only a short-sleeve shirt, but it is supposed to warm into the lower 50s.  Hopefully, I won’t be too cold before that happens.

Mile 6.7      1:10:54 (10:35 avg./mile) O’Shaughnessy Point

For the past month, I have been having nose bleeds every two days.  My last one was two days ago, so right on schedule, 15 minutes into the race, my nose starts dripping blood.  Fortunately, I am prepared with a Kleenex all ready to be stuffed into a stopper.  I do have to stop running, dig it out of my Camelbak, and jam it in.  During this time, 25 runners pass me, and I have lost about 5 minutes.  However, I am then able to run okay, and I meet up with Lanier, who I met at Hellgate last month.  When I get to this aid station, I throw away the nose plug, and everything with my nose seems fine.  I grab some potato chips to eat at this aid station before continuing.

Mile 11.9    1:02:37 (12:02 avg./mile) Aid Station #2

I am setting a comfortable pace at this point and am not worrying about my overall time—which is good.  My energy level is very good.  The only concern is that my lower legs have tired quickly, probably from the hard skating hockey game 5 days ago.  I don’t think it will be an issue though as other parts will begin to hurt more soon enough.  I don’t get much to eat here.

Mile 17.3    1:10:45 (13:36 avg./mile) Fearn Road

This aid station marks the halfway mark for the race—not in distance but in effort and typical times.  The race time is 3:24, which is slower than I wanted at this point.  My other finish at this race was 6:52, so if I can run even splits (first and second halves) then I should beat that time.  My daughter, Amy, has driven up to this aid station to meet me with some chocolate milk.  I drink the majority of the pint before thanking her and continuing the race.

Mile 21.0    51:51 (13:18 avg./mile) Old Railroad Bed

I am making steady progress and trying to maintain a good pace through the land trust section of the course.  I am getting passed by a runner every so often so it feels like I am slowing down, but I know that I want to save myself for the last two sections.  This part is very rocky and technical, and I just want to get through it without twisting my ankle.  I grab some PB&J sandwich quarters and some potato chips at this aid station.

Mile 25.1    1:08:57 (16:49 avg./mile) Hiker’s Parking Lot

This section is the most technical section in the race and ends with the climb up the waterline trail.  As I am climbing up the waterfalls on the waterline trail, I pass a handful of runners.  It is almost time to start the finishing kick, and I am warming to the task.  When I get to the aid station, Travis Satterfield is here, waiting on his wife to come through.  Travis plays drums in our church’s band, and it is great to see him.  He lies and says that I look great.  I stuff a couple of handfuls of potato chips into my mouth and wash it down with a cup of Coke.  Let’s see what kind of kick I can deliver today!

Mile 29.5    1:06:03 (15:01 avg./mile) High Bluff

I leave the hiker’s parking lot and for the first mile, just maintain the pace I had been keeping.  But then, as I know a technical downhill is coming up, I pick up the pace.  I pass a few people before the downhill section begins, and then pass a few more as we pick our way down, past the natural well.  When the trail bottoms out, I feel good, and continue to push the pace, passing several more runners before the last climb of the race begins.  On the climb, I am working hard, and manage to get around 4-5 more runners.  At the top of this climb is this aid station.  I grab another cup of Coke, and then start final section.

Mile 31.1    14:19 (8:57 avg./mile) FINISH – Lodge

My legs are starting to tire, but there are runners ahead of me who are clearly more tired than me.  I pass two runners, and then two more.  Then I see Lanier up ahead of me, and I pass him and another runner.  Lanier comments that I passed him on the last section at Hellgate as well.  After that, I spy Susan Donnelly in front of me.  She had passed me about 7 miles ago, but I quickly close the gap on her.  I pass her and another runner before finally crossing the finish line.

Official Finishing Time          6:45:26

134th out of 343 starters

A misty rain starts right as I am coming into the finish.  I talk with Lanier and Susan and a couple of other runners in the lodge after the race.  I consider waiting for Travis to get here, but then decide I am getting cold so I will get in my truck and drive home.  As I am leaving the lodge, I bump into Caitlin Milford.  She is one of Amy’s former roommates, who I was able to hold off and finish ahead of last year at Mt. Cheaha.  This time, she finished over 25 minutes ahead of me, and I never saw her.  Although Amy did tell me at mile 17 that she was about 15 minutes ahead of me.  Clearly, she had a great race today.  Maybe I can keep up with her again at Cheaha this year.  The Cheaha 50k will be my next race on February 24.

Never stop running,


Saturday, December 23, 2017

Hellgate 100k 2017 - Perfect Hellgate Weather

December 9

I am another year older.  Am I slowing down when I run?  Sometimes.  I seem to no longer have a chance against Nathan in the shorter distances.  For the longer races, the ultras, the races that I train for and live for, I think I am almost as fast as ever.  My slower top end speed is usually not a factor in ultras, but it has been seven years since I have finished under 17 hours at this race.  Will I be able to break the 17-hour mark again?  I have trained hard this year.  I added weekly speed work over the summer and fall.  It didn’t help a bit in the latest 5k I ran, but it did seem to help on the 50k I ran in late September.  Will it help here?  It is almost time to find out.

Darin before the start
Amy and Ben are getting married next weekend, but they are still out here to crew for me again this year.  They are better prepared with sleeping bags and warmer clothing, although it is not forecasted to be as cold as last year.  It is supposed to stay in the 20s, but snow is forecasted to start sometime after midnight.  I will start the race with thin tights, two long-sleeve shirts, hat, and gloves.

As this is the 15th year, David Horton has made a huge deal about the five of us who have finished all 14 so far.  We have been dubbed, “The Fearsome Five,” and Blue Ridge Outdoor magazine is writing an article about us for the February issue.  Before the start, Horton has us back out in front to get one last picture.  We sing the National Anthem, Horton says a prayer, and the race begins.

Mile 3.5      45:21 (12:57 avg./mile) FSR 35

The air is crisp and nicely cool.  The snow has yet to begin.  Maybe the weatherman will be wrong.  Maybe there won’t be any snow today.  I cover the early miles, settling into a comfortable pace.  Rick Gray comes by me around mile 2.  He had to stop and squat in the woods.  I arrive at the stream crossing to see that the water is very low.  I have never successfully rock hopped this first stream crossing and most years I don’t even consider trying.  However with the water so low, I give it a try and am successful!  I navigate a small rock garden before arriving at the first aid station right on my average pace for this section.  I drink a cup of water before starting up the dirt road.

Mile 7.5      57:34 (14:23 avg./mile) Petites Gap

Early on this section I find myself all alone.  This doesn’t last long as soon I catch a couple of people ahead of me, and a couple of people behind me catch up to me.  I attempt to run all of the not too steep sections as the road continues to go up and up.  It is cold as forecasted, but there is very little wind.  It is a beautiful, crisp winter night in the mountains.  I arrive at the aid station and find Amy and Ben.  They are ready for me with shoes and socks, but my shoes are still dry.  I drink about half a pint of chocolate milk and take a bagel with me.  I hadn’t run this fast on this section since 2010.

Mile 13.1    1:34:51 (16:56 avg./mile) Camping Gap

The goal during the night at Hellgate is to survive.  Leaving Petites Gap, there is a rocky technical downhill section that lasts about a mile or so.  One aspect of surviving is not missing a turn.  Near the bottom of the downhill, the course turns off to the right.  There are a handful of runners coming back up the hill after they missed this turn.  Soon thereafter, I link up with Michelle, who is a friend of the Grays.  She is a great climber, and I decide to try and stay with her through the rest of this section.  We navigate the single-track trail portion, crossing the two streams that are basically dry—not their usual condition this time of year.  Then we start the climb up the dirt road to the next aid station.  During the climb, Michelle pulls ahead of me, but I keep her in sight.  I have made excellent time, and it is only 3:17am.  I hadn’t run this fast on this section since 2010.  (There might be a theme developing with split times.)  I grab a quesadilla and half of a grilled cheese sandwich.  I also take a minute to remove a rock from my right shoe.

Mile 21.9    2:28:46 (16:54 avg./mile) Headforemost Mountain

Leaving Camping Gap, I am not very motivated.  I need to focus, though, as this section is the hardest during the night.  I try to walk with purpose on the uphill portions, and run with abandon on the downhill parts.  After a couple of miles, a few runners start hanging with me once they realize I am one of the Fearsome Five.  I can tell other runners exactly how far we are to the next aid station and what is coming up next.  I point out the false turns to the left (there are a couple of them) before the actual left turn off of the grassy road section.  We make our way up to Apple Orchard and then start the tricky downhill to Overstreet Falls.  At some point the snow begins to fall.  It is a soft snow fall, and it takes a while for any to start to stick on the trail.  I feel fortunate to get through this technical section without having the additional challenge of slick snow.  The Blue Ridge Parkway is closed due to the threat of snow, so the aid station has been moved to Overstreet Falls.  I get here is excellent time, but I don’t click my watch until the top of the mountain where the aid station was the first several years.  My time is very quick as I haven’t done this section in less than 2.5 hours in several years.  The clock shows 5:46am, which means I am 44 minutes ahead of the cut-offs.  I hadn’t run this fast on this section since 2011.

Mile 27.6    1:33:56 (16:29 avg./mile) Jennings Creek

Darin leaving Jennings Creek aid station
There are two guys that have been around me the last two sections.  One of them is Grant Muller.  I talk with them a bit, but as the downhill really gets going on this section, I push the pace.  I am feeling good, the snow is soft, and I feel like I might have a little speed left in my legs as if my interval training is paying off.  I pass a couple of runners, but then a couple of runners pass me as well.  Even so, I am thrilled with my time on this section.  I hadn’t run this section this fast since 2009.  When I get to the aid station, I cannot find Amy and Ben.  I walk up the road one direction looking for our car—no luck.  I walk the other direction and then find them starting to setup.  I am ahead of schedule, and they mention the fact that we didn’t buy any propane.  Therefore, they don’t have an egg, bacon, and cheese sandwich ready for me.  However, Ben runs over to the aid station and grabs a sausage and cheese sandwich, which tastes awesome!  Meanwhile, I decide to change my shoes as they have gotten wet in the snow, and my feet are cold.  So, after a 10 minute pit stop, it is still only 7:20am when I depart.  I have a full Camelbak that I hope will last until I see my crew again.

Mile 34.5    1:46:13 (15:24 avg./mile) Little Cove Mountain

On the initial climb, I meet up with two guys from Athens, Alabama that Amy and Ben had met over dinner last night.  They are nice guys, and it is their first time running this race.  We chat about the ultras we have run in Alabama and soon we have finished the climb and start the downhill.  I push ahead with the pace again, maximizing the benefit of gravity.  I catch up to AJ Johnson, and he and I are surprised when we get to the aid station as we are talking away.  AJ is trying to finish his 5th time and then he swears he isn’t going to run this special race again!  At the aid station, I eat half of a grilled cheese sandwich, and drink a cup of water.  In hindsight, I should have eaten more.  The temperature is holding in the high 20s, but with the snow falling on me it is taking more energy to stay warm.  It is 9:06am when I leave the aid station.  With luck and focused running, I have a good chance to get into Bearwallow Gap before 11:30am, which would be an hour ahead of the cut-offs.

Mile 42.5    2:29:12 (18:39 avg./mile) Bearwallow Gap

Darin coming into Bearwallow Gap
The bear hunters are out today as usual, and they have their dogs with them.  Leaving Little Cove Mountain, a few of the hunting dogs want to follow us runners instead of their masters.  After a while the dogs decide they need to go back to their masters, and I am glad.  They weren’t in the way, but they were a distraction to the mission at hand.  I push my tired legs to run almost all of the grassy road section.  It is rolling, but I know that this is where time needs to be made on this section.  Along the way, I find myself running with Jeremiah Clark.  He is running his second Hellgate.  He is a Liberty University graduate who now works as a personal trainer in Lynchburg.  When we get to the devil trail portion, I announce that we are making good time and have 45 minutes to the aid station.  I hear another runner behind me chuckle and turn to see that AJ is back up with me.  He ran with me last year and confirmed that my 45 minute prediction is spot on to the minute.  I survive the rocks and leaves of the devil trail once again, hop across the stream, and then run the last mile to the aid station.  Amy and Ben are setup and ready for me with a beautifully grilled ham and cheese sandwich.  I am famished, so I sit down and vow to eat the whole sandwich before leaving the aid station.  I wash the sandwich down first with chocolate milk, and then with some Conquest.  My Camelbak ran dry about 30 minutes ago, but otherwise, I have made great time, and I arrived at this aid station before 11:30am.  I spend nine minutes eating and drinking and preparing myself mentally for the last third of the race.  I am in great shape to finish under 17 hours,
Darin eating at Bearwallow Gap aid station
but will my mind and body hold up?  Let’s go find out!

Mile 49.5    1:57:03 (16:43 avg./mile) Bobblets Gap

The climb out of Bearwallow Gap is difficult.  I do okay with it, and AJ is back with me.  After we reach the top of the climb, he pushes on ahead of me.  After a couple more runners pass me, it is obvious I am not keeping the pace I want.  So, I make the decision to start the caffeine.  I pop a caffeine pill and within 10 minutes, I am running well.  My legs are no longer so tired, and I begin to re-pass the runners that had passed me earlier.  I quickly pass AJ, and power my way into the aid station with my eye on the clock.  I grab another half of a grilled cheese sandwich and wash it down with a cup of Pepsi.  With the parkway closed, crews cannot get to this aid station so I have to drink what is provided by the dedicated volunteers that man the aid stations.  As most know, I prefer Coke over Pepsi.  It not only tastes better to me, but the performance benefit late in a race is better as well.  I leave the aid station at 1:32pm.  I have 3 hours and 28 minutes left before 17 hours.  Of course the race cut-off is 18 hours, so I am in great shape for finishing number 15, but whether it will be under 17 hours is going to be close!

Mile 56.1    2:08:47 (19:31 avg./mile) Day Creek

Potato chips & Coke at the last aid station
I run down the hill on the dirt road for 2.5 miles completing it in 29 minutes.  The road was smoothed out last year, and it is easier to make good time down it than before when it was one rut after another.  I link back up with the guys from Athens, and we push each other through most of the section.  When I stop to take a leak with a mile or so to go, they go on ahead of me and make it to the aid station a few minutes before me.  Completing this forever section with 13 small creek crossings is the last tough mental portion of this adventure.  At the aid station, Amy and Ben are ready with a bottle of Coke and a bagel in hand.  I drink about two-thirds of the Coke while stuffing potato chips from the aid station into my mouth.  The clock reads 3:41pm.  I will have to run this section faster than I have in years.  Can I still recreate the speed I had when I was younger and before I had my ACL reconstructed?  Can I pull one last rabbit out of my bag of tricks?  I think I am ready mentally, now the question is will my body allow it?

Mile 62.4    1:12:12 (11:28 avg./mile) FINISH

Crossing the finish line!
Amy paces me for this last section.  I breathe as hard as my 48-year old lungs will allow while power hiking as fast as my legs will move.  We make it up the climb and cross the parkway one last time in 41 minutes—not bad.  My fastest ever was 35 minutes seven years ago.  I was hoping for 40 minutes, 41 flat will have to do.  Now the moment of truth, how much speed is left in my legs?  We start down the grassy road, avoiding the loose rocks.  I passed one runner on the climb and now start passing other runners in bunches.  I am moving very well.  I avoid any missteps, and we hit the gate with 1.5 miles to go (2 miles since crossing the parkway) in 18 minutes.  That leaves me almost 20 minutes to reach my goal.  The mile to go line feels like it takes us a long time to reach.  Meanwhile, we pass Robert Wehner, who is going to finish his 12thI mark my watch as I start the last mile.  The sun is setting, and I try to see if there is another runner I can catch before the finish.  Seeing no other runners in front of me and knowing I have my goal made, I let off the accelerator just a tad to ensure I have something left in the tank to look good crossing the finish line.  I may be the slowest of the Fearsome Five, but I am still one of them.  15 in a row!

Official Finishing Time          16:53:55

92nd out of 140 starters (111 finishers under 18 hours)

As you can see I ended up over six minutes under the 17-hour goal I had set.  It has been seven years (since 2010) that I have run this fast at Hellgate.  And, this then counts as a qualifier for Western States in 2019.  I was not lucky in the lottery this year for Western States for 2018, so I will have two tickets in the lottery next year.

When I finish, Horton again gets the five of us up in front for more pictures and recognition.  All I want to do is sit down.  First we take a picture with our finisher pullovers, which are very comfy.  Then we have to take those off and put on the embroidered golf shirts for another picture (below).  Finally, I get to sit down.  I start my recovery with a Coke over ice (thanks to Amy), and then think about a shower.  I learn from Ben that Rick Gray finished only 46 seconds ahead of me.  That would have been nice, but I guess will have to wait for another year.
The Fearsome Five
My next race will likely be the Mountain Mist 50k in Huntsville on my birthday, January 27.  Then Amy and Ben are talking about running Mt. Cheaha 50k with me in February.  Stay tuned, the fun is just beginning.  How many more years will I run Hellgate?  I don’t know, but I plan to be back next year.

Never stop running,
* All photos courtesy of Ben Shea--thank you!