Sunday, July 17, 2016

Indiana Trail 100 2016 - Anyone have an ark?


April 29

My airplane is in the shop again this spring, so I am driving from Huntsville, Alabama to Goshen, Indiana.  I drove a few hours after work last night and stopped near Cave, Kentucky.  The night was restful, but the room did not carry the Penguins’ playoff hockey game, so I listened to it off iHeart radio from my iPad.

This morning, I drove the rest of the way to Land O’ Lakes state park where the race will be.  I get my race packet and take in the area around the start/finish area.  There is a fairly large parking lot, but with 400 runners combined in the 50 miler and 100 miler, I am sure this parking lot will be full well before the 6:00am start.  Furthermore, since I do not have a crew, I need to get a parking space that will not be too far from the edge of the lot where the course passes before reaching the start/finish line.  This race consists of six 16.7 mile loops.  I decide that getting back here before 5:00am will be the best idea.

David Snipes arrives later that afternoon to pick up his packet.  He flew to this race from Virginia and is staying in a hotel near Fort Wayne.  Then I travel the 45 minutes to Goshen arriving at my cousin, Andrea’s place.  For dinner, her brother Chris and his family join us all, and it is a nice reunion as I haven’t seen them in almost two years.  I manage to get to bed slightly after 9:00pm, setting my alarm for 3:15am.

April 30

I get up at 3:07am before my alarm goes off.  I got some sleep, but not as much as I would have liked.  I get ready and make the 45 minute drive back to Land O’ Lakes state park around 4:25am.  David Snipes arrives about 10 minutes later.  We are each parked three rows away from the side of the parking lot where the course passes.  I feel good and ready.  My training has gone well, and I am healthy.  The one concern is the weather.  The temperature at the start is around 45 degrees.  There is some cloud cover, but the horizon is showing the coming dawn.  I have two technical shirts on—one long and one short, a buff, shorts, and my Camelbak.

Mile 4.3      44:45 (10:24 avg./mile) School House

Snipes and I start the race together, although with no plan to stick together.  The course is rolling hills around many lakes.  This first section is almost all a grassy trail.  I make great time, and everything is going well.  The sunrise is spectacular with mostly cloudy skies, but the sun does peak through as it rises.  I grab a couple of PB&J sandwich quarters at this aid station and keep moving forward.

Mile 9.0      49:31 (10:32 avg./mile) Youth Campground

Leaving the last aid station, I push ahead a little from David.  With the 50 miler starting the same time as us 100 milers, the field is sorting itself out.  The fast 50 milers are way ahead, but the mid and back packers are crammed together with most of us mid-pack 100 miler runners.  Most of this section was more grassy trail, but some of it was dirt.  The course as this point is in great condition.  At this aid station, I grab a few grilled cheese quarters.  As I am leaving the aid station, Snipes is coming into the aid station.  This will be the last time I see him in the race.

Mile 14.0    1:03:23 (12:41 avg./mile) School House

This course utilizes the same location for two of its aid stations.  They are separate aid stations, but on either side of a road in the park.  I am settling in for the long haul.  This section was mostly dirt trail with quite a bit of it being tight single track.  My pace was a little slower, but I think this is mostly due to the terrain as opposed to me lowering my effort.  There are some short steep ascents and descents on this part as well.  At this aid station, I grab a quesadilla quarter and a little bit of chocolate before heading towards the finish of the first loop.

Mile 16.7    33:52 (12:33 avg./mile) Sand Beach (start/finish)

This section starts with a nice, steep climb.  None of these climbs are bad as they are at most only 150-200 feet in elevation change, but little of the course is flat.  This is mostly a good thing as this encourages me to power hike the uphills and run the downhills.  Having said that, the last almost half mile into Sand Beach is pretty flat.  I feel good on finishing this first lap.  It isn’t raining yet, and I feel pretty good.  I pull a folding chair from my car and sit down while I eat a ham and cheese sandwich, washing it down with a pint of chocolate milk.  The temperature at this point is around 47 degrees.  My time for this first lap is 3:11.  My ultimate goal would be 24 hours, but my main goal is just to finish under the 30 hour cut-off.  So, with one out of six laps completed, I am in good shape.

Mile 21.0    49:37 (11:32 avg./mile) School House

This second time through, and my pace on this section only slows down slightly.  This is good, but I wonder how well I will be able to maintain.  For now, I am very satisfied with my times.  I grab two more PB&J sandwich quarters and press on, maintaining forward progress.

Mile 25.7    1:03:30 (13:31 avg./mile) Youth Campground

I am doing okay, but my pace slows.  However, I have my eye on the goal, which is to finish.  If I can get under 24 hours that will be awesome, but I won’t be disappointed if I am slower.  During this section, I begin to feel a couple of drops of rain.  I was hoping that I might get 2-3 laps done before the rain started, but it is not to be.  Hopefully, the course will hold up well.  At this aid station, I get some more food and make my first sitting restroom break.  The temperature is still in the high 40s, and so far, I am very comfortable in terms of staying warm.

Mile 30.7    1:13:26 (14:41 avg./mile) School House

Pace slows down a little more, but if I can keep my pace faster than 15 minutes per mile then I will do very well.  The technical portions of this section are definitely harder than the other sections.  The rain continues to fall.  It is a light rain so far, and the course is holding up well.  I get a half of a hamburger to eat at this aid station and indulge in some more chocolate.

Mile 33.4    39:12 (14:31 avg./mile) Sand Beach (start/finish)

I continue to make forward progress as the rain picks up a little.  I am still warm enough with just the two shirts and a buff.  The dirt is now turning into mud, but so far it is only a little slick—not much to worry me.  I stopped by my car at the end of this section lap and grab a blueberry muffin to eat.  I was it down with a little more chocolate milk along with some Conquest.  My cumulative time at this point is 6:57.  It is early afternoon, but the skies are dark with the complete cloud cover.

Mile 37.7    1:03:15 (14:43 avg./mile) School House

The nice thing is that my pace has stabilized right about where I need it to be.  The bad thing is that the rain continues to fall—sometimes moderately and sometimes lightly—but always it is falling.  This section isn’t too bad as the grassy trail sections are holding up well so far.  At this aid station, I eat some potato chips and a cup of soup.  The temperature remains in the high 40s.  I am cool when it is raining moderately, but comfortable when it is only raining lightly.

Mile 42.4    1:09:59 (14:53 avg./mile) Youth Campground

The course is not officially falling apart in my view.  The mud is getting deeper, and I see several people with mud on their backsides where they have slipped and fallen.  I jokingly accuse them of sliding down hills intentionally to gain an advantage.  My pace continues to be solid, and if the rain would just let up, I would be much more optimistic about my chances.  At this aid station, I get some more soup along with a grilled cheese sandwich quarter.

Mile 47.4    1:31:48 (18:22 avg./mile) School House

The course is now a quagmire!  We are slip sliding all over the place while trying to make forward progress and stay upright.  I am still running down the hills, but it is a much more cautious evolution on each one.  The uphills are slower as each step includes a slide of a foot or so.  The important thing at this point is to stay mentally into the race and keeping making forward progress.  I eat some more quesadilla quarters at this aid station and do not spend any more time than necessary in the aid station as I don’t want to get comfortable not having the rain falling on me.  Each one of these aid stations has large tents to protect the awesome volunteers.

Mile 50.1    49:27 (18:19 avg./mile) Sand Beach (start/finish)

I spend the majority of this section, psyching myself up to get this section done so I can get started on the second half of the race.  I do not want any thoughts of quitting after 50 miles to enter my head, and I hope that by starting the fourth lap, I will be over the hump and onto my 10th 100-mile finish.  This is my 17th 100-mile race that I have started.  My finishing record stands at 9 finishes and 7 DNFs.  Some think that DNF stands for did not finish, but it also stands for do nothing fatal.  A lot of things can go wrong over the course of 100 miles, and the weather is just one of these things.  My pace is slower than I would like it, but with the extremely muddy conditions, I don’t think I can do much about it.  Back at my car, I decide it is time for a jacket.  I strip off my two shirts, put a long sleeve dry shirt on, and then put my Patagonia Houdini jacket on.  I also trade the buff in for a wool watch cap.  My thinking is that I need to stay warm as this is going to take me a while longer.  It is only 5:30pm, but I also strap on my headlamp as it will most assuredly be dark before I make it through the next lap.  I see Snipes and the guy that was going to pace him at the start/finish area.  He dropped after two laps with no desire to battle the mud.  His pacer shows no inclination to pace me, which I am fine with.  At this point, I don’t think I could ask anyone to come with me and endure the rain, mud, and water.  These conditions are just plain nasty.  My time for the halfway point of the race stands at 11:31.  While I am still technically under 24 hour pace, I think it is very unrealistic.

Mile 54.4    1:05:43 (15:17 avg./mile) School House

That being said, with warm clothes on and more food in my belly, I feel pretty good.  And, this section is holding up the best as most of it is grassy trail.  Since I am feeling good, I decide to push the pace slightly to see if I still have a shot at a sub-24.  The rain continues to alternate between moderate and light.  When I get to the aid station, I am slightly disappointed my split wasn’t faster.  So, I resign myself to not getting a sub-24, but I am steeled to the fact I am going to battle through this crap and get my 10th finish.  I eat more potato chips and another cup of soup at this aid station.  These volunteers are truly awesome.  Each aid station has more runners in it—runners trying to warm up or ready to drop out of the race.

Mile 59.1    1:30:58 (19:21 avg./mile) Youth Campground

With a sub-24 hour finish out of my mind, I focus on steady, forward progress.  I also try to think about anything except throwing in the towel on this mud fest.  There are definitely fewer runners out here now.  Most of the 50 milers have either dropped or have finished.  Probably about half of the 100 milers have dropped.  I roll into this aid station just as darkness is fully descending on Northern Indiana.  The course continues to get worse.  There is mud and water in many places that is ankle deep or deeper.  I have done nothing with my feet yet as they seem to be fine (for the most part) and doing anything would be rather pointless.  As I enter this aid station, I decide adding another long sleeve shirt would be prudent.  I get my drop bag and after removing my jacket and wet shirt that I will put two dry long sleeve shirts on under my wet jacket.  I continue to eat and drink plenty.

Mile 64.1    1:53:21 (22:40 avg./mile) School House

The decision to change into more dry shirts was a good one, and maybe the weather will let up its relentless rain at some point soon.  This cannot happen too soon.  Unfortunately, it will not be during this section.  I battle through the mucky, muddy, slippery course.  The goal has been reduced to the bare essential—forward progress—hopefully staying upright.  Leaving the aid station, I turned on my headlamp.  It is working well, shining through the rain drops.  At some point along here, the leader of the race passes me for the second time.  He is now on his sixth and final lap.  I get to the aid station, and it is very crowded.  There is a lady sitting on a chair that is dropping out, and there is another runner that is unresponsive sitting on another chair.  The aid station workers are starting to call for a paramedic, when this unresponsive runner comes back.  I grab some food and my first Coke as it is time to get some caffeine in my system for the cold, wet night.

Mile 66.8    58:13 (21:34 avg./mile) Sand Beach (start/finish)

Leaving the school house aid station, I manage the steep climb immediately afterwards, and then the rain, which has been light to moderate most of the day, unleashes in a torrent for about 30+ minutes.  The trail is now a flowing stream of mud and water.  I am splashing along in places that are mid-calf deep.  My formerly warm body is now soaked to the bone.  With a rain like this, any jacket wouldn’t stand a chance, and mine is thin and light.  I try to pick up the pace to keep warm, but as I get closer to the start/finish line, I am not only soaked to the bone, but now chilled to the bone as well.  My shivering is nearly constant.  About a half mile out, I take inventory in my head of what dry clothing I have left in my car.  I think I have one more long-sleeve shirt and another light jacket, but that is it.  In the theme of doing nothing fatal, I decide that I will end my race at this point.  I turn in my timing chip at the start/finish line and begin the process of cleaning myself up.  It has been 17 hours since the start and is now 11:00pm.

Snipes was waiting in his car in the parking lot, having cleaned himself up hours ago.  We talk as I get my stuff and head to the showers.  It is just one of those days not conducive for us to finish a 100-miler.  The mud on my feet and in my shoes is caked on the skin and inside of the shoe.  The water in the showers is lukewarm.  It takes me about 45 minutes to get reasonably clean.  I am shivering the whole time and do not stop until I am back in my car with the heater warming me up.  I climb into bed around 1:00am.  Almost 22 hours after I left it.

This is my only planned 100-mile race this year.  I have no other long races planned until the fall.  I am not sure when my next one will be.  Until then…

Never stop running,
Darin

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Hellgate 100k 2015 - As hot as hell!

December 12

Another year has passed, and I am another year older.  Seasons change.  Our lives change.  Many things change.  However, for the past 12 years I have always been at Camp Bethel the day before the second Saturday in December.  Since December 13, 2003, the Hellgate 100k has been as consistent as the sun coming up in the east.  And, five guys have managed to be here running this race every year.  For some reason, we all have managed to finish every one of these 12 years.  This year is the 13th year.  Aaron Schwartzbard, Jerry Turk, Jeff Garstecki, Ryan Henry, and I are streakers.  We don’t know how to live our lives in December without a finish at Hellgate.

I left my house this morning, drove to the airport, and flew my plane to Atlanta to pick-up my son, Nathan, who just finished the fall semester of his junior year at Georgia Tech.  He will be my faithful crew for another year.  We eat lunch at the 57th Aero Squadron and then fly onto Roanoke.  We load all of our gear into a little Kia Forte and drive the familiar route to Camp Bethel, arriving around 4:30pm.


Waiting for the start
It is a nice homecoming every year.  The race director, David Horton, greets every runner warmly and can even remember most veterans’ names.  He still makes us put on name tags and indicate how many finishes we have at Hellgate.  I talk with several other runners including Aaron, Jeff, and Justin who I don’t think I have seen since Leadville in 2011.  Nathan and I eat dinner with Bob Anderson and his wife as well as Bob and Janice.  Mr. Anderson is 68 years old and attempting to be the oldest finisher at Hellgate.  Janice will be one of the sweepers—people who come along after the last runner picking up streamers marking the course and making sure that no one gets left out in the woods.


The big story this year is how warm it will get tomorrow.  I have already decided that I am going to start the race in a short sleeve shirt.  The only question is when I will take it off?  The temperature is in the mid-50s at the start, and I am cool, but not cold.  We sing the national anthem and then we are off for our grand adventure at one minute past midnight!

Mile 3.5      44:23 (12:41 avg./mile) FSR 35

This past week, my left knee flared up and was somewhat painful and stiff this week.  It has slowly gotten better through the week, but is still bothering me now.  I am running rather cautiously when around two miles into the race I roll my right ankle.  This is not too much of a concern as I do this often, and there is an added benefit that my right ankle will hurt worse than my left knee for the rest of the day.  It always feels like I am getting left behind as the faster runners pull away, and I become a back of the packer at Hellgate.  There are no slow runners that get into Hellgate anymore, and this year is no exception.  Three miles into the race, I attempt to rock hop across the creek, but slip and get my feet wet anyway.  At the aid station, I drink a cup of water and turn to start up the hill.

Mile 7.5      1:01:21 (15:20 avg./mile) Petites Gap

The run/walk goes well up to Petites Gap.  There are more than a dozen runners behind me, but I need to stop and change my shoes.  This takes a couple of minutes, and a few more runners slip by me while I am doing this.  My left knee has warmed up nicely, but I am still concerned about it.  I drink about half of a pint of chocolate milk, and then take a bagel with me to eat on the way.

Mile 13.1    1:40:53 (18:01 avg./mile) Camping Gap

I take the initial downhill from Petites Gap slowly with caution.  My right ankle is a concern, and I am not sure about my left knee yet.  I manage, though, to make it through the initial rock garden.  There are a couple of runners near me at this point who are trying to finish the Beast series.  This is their last race, but also their first time at Hellgate.  They might have finished Grindstone, but Hellgate offers its own unique challenges.  One of these challenges is keeping my feet dry on two more creek crossings on this section after changing into dry shoes and socks at Petites Gap.  The last three miles of this section contain one of the toughest climbs in the race.  We follow a dirt road all the way to the gap.  When the aid station finally appears, I am relieved and take a peek at my watch.  This is not my fastest time on this section, but I guess it will have to do.  There is no time to waste; however, getting some food at this point is essential.  Crews cannot get to this remote aid station, so I feast on pb&j sandwich quarters and some potato chips.

Mile 21.9    2:32:26 (17:19 avg./mile) Headforemost Mountain

Leaving Camping Gap, I am in the company of a couple of other guys.  After a mile or so, they leave me behind, and I am left to stay focused on making steady forward progress by myself.  The first half of this section is an old grassy road.  It is rolling and mostly nice, but there are potholes where the possibility exists to turn an ankle.  I am also trying not to get passed by any more runners!  There is one runner behind me that I can see every time I glance back.  Fortunately, they don’t catch me before we turn off of the grassy road and onto a challenging single track trail.  I get a little boost from the change in scenery and manage to slip past two other runners who missed a turn.  They quickly catch back up, but it gives me a chance to talk with someone a little bit.  I am also telling them where we are and how much further we have before we drop down to Overstreet Falls to start another climb up a dirt road to the aid station.  I eat more sandwich quarters, refill my Camelbak, and drink a small cup of Coke.  It is about 6:05am when I leave this aid station.  I am 35 minutes ahead of the cut-off at this point.

Mile 27.6    1:42:41 (18:01 avg./mile) Jennings Creek

Early in this section, I get into a really nice rhythm.  I pass a couple of runners and have another close behind me.  I am making really good time, I think.  At some point, there is an old guy hiking back towards us.  It is still before dawn when I see him, and it seems very odd that someone would be out here just for a hike at this hour.  When the trail becomes more technical, a few runners slip past me.  I just cannot bomb down technical downhills like I used to several years ago.  Regardless, I am still feeling good when I roll into the aid station.  Nathan is here with an egg, bacon, and cheese grilled sandwich.  It tastes absolutely wonderful!  While I am sitting there, a race official mentions that there are only six more runners yet to come into this aid station.  I am sitting in 136th place at this point.  Only three runners have dropped out so far.  Nathan says the temperature is already 60 degrees.  I decide to leave the shirt on for now.

Mile 34.5    1:48:27 (15:43 avg./mile) Little Cove Mountain

Running an ultra is running until you are exhausted and then continuing.  The body makes some weak attempts at trying to tell you it is tired, but ultra-veterans have learned how to ignore the less serious signs.  I leave Jennings Creek and start looking for the proper tree to duck behind in the woods in order to relieve the pressure building in my lower backside.  About 10 minutes out, I find a place that will work.  My effort is not as rewarding as last year, but it is still effective.  After taking care of business, I power on up the hill, and then start bombing down the other side.  I pass several runners while on a dirt road, and then entering a single track trail again, I pass one guy and then two ladies.  I am moving well and making good time.  After passing the ladies, I catch a toe and take a slide, but bounce back up quickly without skipping a beat.  When the course dumps back out onto a road, I see a guy in front of me that looks like he might be slowing down.  It is big Mike.  He says he is having a rough day, sweating profusely, and unable to keep food down.  It is definitely warming up, but I am feeling good, so I push on ahead towards the aid station.  At the aid station, I eat three grilled cheese sandwich quarters and drink more water.  I refill my Camelbak again as I have been sucking down the water.

Mile 42.5    2:22:16 (17:47 avg./mile) Bearwallow Gap

In addition to drinking copious amounts of water I have been taking an S-Cap every hour or so.  It is now blazing hot climbing well into the 70s.  I pass a few more runners before deciding that I need to back off of the pace since it is so warm.  I was running so well and was hitting the pace that I wanted.  However, I know that the most important thing now is not to blow up.  I have a comfortable margin on the cut-off times, so I will throttle back a little.  I watch as several runners that I had previously passed, come back by me.  I hope that my wise pace will pay dividends and I will see them again.  When I get to the aid station, the air is still and heavy and hot.  I sit down and eat a grilled ham and cheese that Nathan has perfectly cooked.  I wash it down with an ample amount of Conquest.  I leave the shirt behind as I leave to start the final third of the race.  I have almost a 45-minute cushion on the cut-off.

Mile 49.5    2:04:45 (17:49 avg./mile) Bobblets Gap

As I leave Bearwallow Gap, my stomach is full—mostly of Conquest.  I am also very warm, even shirtless.  I hope that there will be a breeze as I climb higher.  My climb is very warm.  I am suffering and in need of some cooling of some type.  When I near the top of the climb, I decide to lie down beside the trail on a patch of moss.  I lay there for a couple of minutes and when I hear another runner approaching, I get up and start moving again.  The two minutes was just long enough to let my stomach get ahead and my body to cool off slightly.  I am also newly motivated to stay ahead of the runner behind me.  She stays close, but then we pass another runner, and my pace begins to quicken.  I definitely don’t make great time on this section, but I am moving forward fast enough.  When I finally get down to the dirt road, I walk the mile uphill into the aid station.  Nathan is ready with a nice cup of Ramen.  He finds some ice, and I am able to gobble most of it down.  I drink a little chocolate milk and a little Conquest before heading out.  It is almost 2pm so I have over four hours to make it to the finish.

Mile 56.1    2:12:42 (20:06 avg./mile) Day Creek

I run well down the dirt road from Bobblets Gap.  The dirt road section is 2.5 miles, and I cover it in 31 minutes—my fastest in a number of years.  When the course transitions back to a single-track trail, I catch up to a runner and his pacer who are taking a break.  They decide to tag along with me, and it is nice to break things up with a little conversation.  An interesting question the pacer asks me is what year of Hellgate was my favorite?  That is a very good question and a tough choice.  I have fond memories of every year because each was different with its own challenges.  They stay with me for most of this section, and I am in good shape entering the aid station.  This is another section that I didn’t cover as quickly as I would have liked, but it will have to do.  My stomach is slightly queasy from the heat and all of the drinking I have had to do.  I drink a little Coke and stuff some potato chips in my ever so dry mouth.  Nathan offers me a bagel, but I decline.

Mile 62.4    1:24:09 (13:21 avg./mile) FINISH

The other runner and his pacer are with me for most of the climb.  Again I don’t set any land speed records, but I make it to the top in about 45 minutes.  Now, I have over an hour to get to Camp Bethel.  I am ready to run, but it soon becomes obvious that the other runner who has been with me for the past two sections is ready to run faster than me.  He and his pacer quickly leave me behind, but all of us are passing several other runners as we make our way downhill into the quickly approaching darkness.  I pass a couple of people and then the group of four runners who have been together all day—I think they are related somehow.  My pace is quick enough, and as I make the turn into Camp Bethel for the 13th time, I am glad to be here!

Official Finishing Time          17:34:03

119th out of 145 starters (131 finishers under 18 hours)

I had a nice second half in this race.  My stomach queasiness will continue past midnight—nothing terribly wrong, I just don’t feel like eating at all.  Nathan and I order a pizza in our hotel room, and I don’t even touch it until after midnight when I eat one cold slice.  The next morning, I feel much better and eat some eggs, a biscuit, and gravy.

The most interesting part of this year’s race is that my left knee was a great concern for me before the race.  I couldn’t use full range of motion, and it was tender to walk up or down steps.  After the race, it doesn’t bother me at all, and I again have full range of motion.  This is directly in line with my 20 mile rule.  If something bothers you that you think you might want to see a doctor about, run 20 miles and then and only then if that same issue is the thing that hurts the most then maybe you should see a doctor.  However, in all of my experiences something else hurts worse or the original issue has gone away entirely.

My next race is going to be the Mountain Mist 50k on January 23.  Until then,

Never stop running,
Darin

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Georgia Sky to Summit 50k - Good Climbs


November 7

This race continues my discovery of new races to run since I have moved to Alabama.  I chose this race as it is five weeks before Hellgate.  Last year, I ran the Paris Mountain 50k in Greenville, SC, but that race is a week later this year.  So, this year I am tackling a race that is reported to be a little more difficult.  My last race was five weeks ago at the Cumberland Trail 50k, and since then my running has gone well.  However, my left knee has been causing me some pain sensations.  Then two weeks ago I realized that I had cut back on my Dove Dark Chocolate eating and when I started eating it again—just a piece every day or two—my knee pain greatly subsided!

Now I am looking forward to this challenge.  I flew my plane into Franklin, NC, rented a car, and drove south to Dillard, GA to the race packet pickup.  The weather was forecasted to be rainy and overcast, but when I landed it was mostly sunny.  Then at the packet pickup it clouded back over and stayed that way the rest of the evening.  After picking up my race number, I went to dinner at a BBQ place and thoroughly stuffed myself, enjoying the fries, pork, and slaw, along with some lemonade.

In the morning, it was raining (as forecasted), and the temperature was in the mid-50s.  I ate my granola and drove to the start.  There was an early start option for those that thought they needed more than the allotted 10 hours.  They set off at 6:30am during the heaviest rain of the day.  The rest of us started at 7am, and about half of the runners were wearing jackets.  I ran in just shorts and a short-sleeve shirt with a buff on my head and my Camelbak.

Mile 2.5      24:03 (9:37 avg/mi) Beegum Gap #1

The rain is light but steady at the beginning of the race.  We start in the heart of the Sky Valley community and begin running uphill.  Most of this first section is on paved road, but before we reach the aid station, the course transitions to a gravel road.  I don’t get anything at this aid station as there is mostly just water and drink.

Mile 8.0      1:19:39 (14:29 avg/mi) Wilson Gap #1

Now the climb up the mountain begins in earnest as the course transitions again, this time to a single track trail with switchbacks.  It is a tough climb.  The wind is blowing hard, but fortunately the rain has nearly stopped.  I work up quite a sweat on this section and am thankful that I don’t have to remove a jacket or any clothing.  After we reach the top, we begin a downhill section that I flat out fly down.  I pass a few runners, and there are several more behind me.  We make great time, but the downhill doesn’t last all the way to the aid station.  The last couple of miles are rolling terrain.  At this aid station, I grab a few PB&J sandwich quarters and a handful of potato chips.

Mile 12.0    42:15 (10:34 avg/mi) Darnell Creek

This section begins an interesting part of the course.  There is basically an out and back with two spurs off of it, I think.  There are also a couple of creek crossings.  When I crossed the first one, and then we turned around, I thought I was hitting the same creek crossing, just from a different direction.  However, there was a branch of the course that I didn’t notice (fortunately, I took the correct branch).  This aid station is at the end of one of the spurs, so I grab some potato chips and head back the way I came.

Mile 15.0    46:12 (15:24 avg/mi) Wilson Gap #2

The spurs were interesting, and I got to see most all of the runners either coming or going, but I am glad to be back at this aid station.  I grab a couple of sandwich quarters and try to determine where I am in relation to the rest of the field.  The spurs prevented me from sizing that up and no one here seems to have a good grasp of positions either.  So, I push on readying myself for the climb back up the first mountain.

Mile 22.0    1:59:38 (17:05 avg/mi) Three Forks

There are a few of us climbing together leaving Wilson Gap #2.  I am really working it hard coming up the climb as I think I am further along in the race than I actually am.  The switchbacks are tough and relentless until we clear the initial peak, and then cross a small saddle before starting the ascent up Rabun Bald.  The final section up to the top is pretty steep, and my legs are starting to get a little tired.  At the top, I am blessed with a beautiful view, but this is not the aid station.  I now get to descend down the backside of Rabun, which we were warned about during the pre-race briefing.  It is a lot of solid rock, covered by wet leaves, and very steep.  Actually, the footing isn’t too bad, and I managed to keep my feet underneath me.  However, the activity completely wipes out my tired quads.  By the time I finally get down to the aid station, I am ready to be finished.  The only problem is that there is still nine more miles and one more climb!  I fuel up on some more sandwich quarters, refill my Camelbak, and drink a small cup of Coke.

Mile 29.5    2:10:13 (17:22 avg/mi) Beegum Gap #2

The climb from Three Forks wasn’t terrible or very hard compared to the previous climb, but at this stage in the race, it takes perseverance to keep putting one foot in front of the other.  There were a couple of waterfalls on this section that were quite sizable, especially with the rain from last night and this morning.  When the climbing ends, there are just a couple of miles of nice single-track trail to get to this aid station.  At the aid station, I start talking with a guy who was just behind me on the last section.  He is wearing running sandals, and I ask him about those.  He says he had to go to them as a foot injury ruined his arch and any shoe aggravates his arch.  This is his first 50k, so he is thrilled to be almost done.

Mile 31.2    19:29 (11:28 avg/mi) FINISH

Sandals guy and I talk the whole way done the hill back into Sky Valley.  I am in no hurry, and he seems content to talk with me.  I mention several 50 mile races for him to consider.  We keep running down the hill, finally rounding the last turn, and crossing the finish line.

Official Finishing Time          7:41:29

74th out of 167 finishers (18th of M40-49)

After crossing the finish line, there is a tent setup with a barbeque lunch.  I fill my plate with barbeque and slaw.  They also have a keg of beer, but I can’t have any as I have to fly home after this.  Although the rain definitely dampened the course, the race director and volunteers have done their best to keep things lively.  After filling my gut, I head for my car, but not before I spy a creek where other runners are wading.  So, I jump in and the cool mountain water feels very good on my sore ankles and tired legs.

Overall this race effort met my primary goal—get in a lot of hill work in preparation for Hellgate in five weeks.  However, this is definitely a race that I want to do again.  I think that I could make up significant time now that I really know the course.  It is a very fun course with some serious climbing.  The race director claims 7,000 feet of climbing.  Now, I just have to recover and prepare for Hellgate.  Until then…

Never stop running,
Darin

Return to Darin’s Running Page.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Cumberland Trail 50k -- A True Test


October 3

When I decided to run this race, I liked the date as it is 10 weeks before Hellgate.  This would allow me to run another race on November 7—5 weeks before Hellgate.  Initially, I was looking at the Stump Jump 50k in Chattanooga, but that filled up very quickly so I found this race and decided it would be good.  The field is small, and it is a point-to-point race.  Since the race is on the Cumberland Trail, the thought I had was that it would be of moderate difficulty.

Yesterday afternoon, I drove from Huntsville through heavy traffic around Chattanooga and Knoxville.  I made it to the packet pick-up at Cove Lake State Park just as the race director was packing up.  I got my t-shirt and asked about race numbers.  He said they would just write our number on our hand in the morning.  From there I ate a quick dinner at Fazzoli’s and checked into my Budget Motel Inn, which was truly a cheap place, but it would suffice for just me for one night.

There are 42 people signed up for this race, and 33 of us get on the bus in the morning to ride to the start.  I find out on the bus ride that many of the runners are first time ultra-runners.  It should be interesting as the low parked off of South Carolina will keep us wet all day.  The temperatures are in the mid-50s, and I am going with just a short-sleeve shirt and buff, of course.  I don’t think crews are possible with this race, but then again it is just a 50k.

Mile ~6       1:38:01 Lick Creek Mountain

We depart the bus.  I find the race director and he writes my number on my right hand.  Then most all of the runners water the bushes before the race director blows a whistle to start the race.  We immediately turn onto the single-track, Cumberland Trail.  It is morning twilight, and many of the runners have headlamps, but I didn’t want to bother, and I can see well enough.  There are about 7-8 runners on the trail ahead of me, and then I am leading a chase pack of another 7-8 runners.  After the initial climb, about two miles into the race, most of the runners behind me finally decide to pass.  I am more than happy to let them pass so that I don’t push the pace too hard early.  Most of this first section is uphill, comprising of two long climbs.  When I arrive at the first aid station, a couple of the front runners are passing through having already completed the three mile loop.  I grab a cup of water and a PB&J sandwich quarter before starting the loop.

Mile ~9       43:13 Lick Creek Mountain

I read that the loop was 2-3 miles, but obviously, it was at least three.  It is a lollipop loop so I get to see another runner returning as I am heading out.  After the stick portion, the loop starts a very steep, but short climb.  I hike up that, but run most of the rest of this section.  It feels like we aren’t getting shorted at all on mileage today.  As I return to the aid station, I meet a few runners heading out on the loop.  Then at the aid station, the sweepers are there.  These are volunteers who run behind all of the runners picking up the streamers and such that mark the course.  They also represent in some form the pace the runners need to be ahead to finish under the cut-off time.  So, I have about 45 minutes or so on the cut-off time at this point based on the sweepers’ position.  I grab another PB&J sandwich quarter and start down the hill towards the next aid station.

Mile ~12     45:37 Norma Road

As I begin my decent, another runner comes up behind me.  I let him pass, but then re-pass him at one of the stream crossings after we get down in the valley.  However, when I stop to take a leak, he goes by me again, and I never see him again during the race.  Thus begins a long stretch where the only people I see are the aid station workers.  I will not see another runner for over three hours.  At the aid station where two ladies are volunteering, I grab a couple of sandwich quarters and a cup of water before I start the next climb.

Mile ~17     1:38:32 Lower Elk Field

This section begins with a long climb to the top of a bald mountain.  It feels like I am climbing forever and thus not making great time as the climb is steep in many places.  While the trail is in great shape and the footing is good, it is not runnable in many places due to the steepness of the terrain.  I finally make it to the top of the mountain and proceed to pick my way across the bald.  The markings are about every 200 yards or so, but I am in the clouds and visibility is 200 yards at best.  The trail continues through high grass, and it is difficult to follow at times.  Just about the time I think I must have missed an aid station or something, out of the fog a blue pop-up shelter appears.  There is a couple working this aid station, and I know they have to be chilly on this day.  It has begun to rain steadily, but this couple is prepared with good jackets and such.  I thank them for being out here on this miserable day, and then I eat three sandwich quarters.

Mile ~23.5 2:00:20 Carroll Road

After descending off of the bald, the trail then starts another climb.  I have been running by myself for so long, it seems like all of the other runners have quit running.  I miss a turn at one point, but quickly realize my mistake as the trail just sort of ended.  I trace back about 100 yards and find the place where the true trail turned to the right and uphill.  As I finish another section of hard climbing, I finally make it to this aid station where there is another runner!  The first one I have seen in almost four hours!  As I am putting a little more water in my Camelbak, two more runners come into the aid station.  The aid station workers say it is about 7 miles or so to the finish from here and that this is the last aid station.  I fuel up with three more sandwich quarters and a cup of Coke to start the final stretch.

Mile ~31.5 1:56:13 FINISH – Cove Lake

I basically leave the last aid station with a guy right in front of me and two runners just behind.  One of the runners behind me is a female, and I think there is only one more female ahead of me.  I will do my best to try and keep her behind me so that I only get “chicked” once today.  I pass the guy ahead of me, but then he stays with me as we start to descend.  We are pushing each other hard until we realize we haven’t seen a trail blaze in a while.  We make the wise decision to turn around to find the turn we must have missed.  We lose about 10 minutes on this detour, and when we find the missed turn, there is the female runner just ahead of us.  However, she is stuck at a blown down tree trying to find a way around it.  I spy a blaze below us, and launch down the side of the mountain to regain the trail on the other side of the blown down tree.  In the process I open a gap on the guy that I was running with and the female runner.  I take the opportunity to push the pace down the hill, pushing the edge of control going down difficult, technical trail that also happens to be wet and muddy.  I manage to continue my pace all of the way to the park and the finish.  The female runner and the other guy finish a few minutes after me.

Official Finishing Time          8:41:42

17th out of 42 entrants (4th of M40-49)

I mention to the race director that this felt as hard as the Barkley Fall Classic, and he says it is harder than the BFC course from last year.  When the two runners finish after me, I thank them for pushing me to the finish.  I partake of a couple of pieces of cold pizza and a cup of Coke at the finish area, before walking to my car.

This race was wonderful!  I had a great time running by myself, mostly, on a rainy, cool day in the mountains.  The climbing was butt kicking, and I find out that it was about 8,400 feet of climbing.  What a day!  My legs will be sore for several days, but I am happy with my performance and hope that my legs will recover quickly.  My left knee was hurting on the steep up and down sections today, so I am also hoping that it rebounds well.  My next scheduled race is the Georgia Summit to Sky 50k on November 7.  Until then…

Never stop running,
Darin

Monday, June 29, 2015

Bighorn 100 miler


Bighorn 100 miler

June 17

This race came onto my radar when the VHTRC ambassador (Gary Knipling) declared it the destination race for 2015.  I think I had previously considered this race, but had rejected it because it was too far from Virginia, and it did have some altitude.  The first excuse was minimized due to the fact that I now live in Alabama, and I could make it to Sheridan, Wyoming in my plane with only one fuel stop.  And the second excuse faded from my mind when David Snipes told me he was going to enter the 100 mile race.  So, I also entered the 100 mile race figuring that 34 hours was plenty of time to finish a 100 mile race.

For a 100 mile or 100k race, I like to have a crew to ensure I have my grilled ham and cheese sandwiches, chocolate milk, and Conquest.  Despite its popularity with many runners, the first two do not seem to be staples at most aid stations.  The third item, Conquest, is no longer available, and I am down to my last two canisters of powder.  My son and daughter have crewed for me most recently, but neither of them was available for this race.  So, I began trying to recruit from my co-workers, and the summer intern volunteered.  His name is Andrew, and he has just one more year left at the University of Alabama.


Setting sun on the way to Shenandoah, Iowa
We begin our trip on Wednesday afternoon by stopping at Buffalo Wild Wings for the two day out, pre-race meal—15 wild wings, onion rings, potato wedges, celery, and blue cheese dressing.  I had to forego the beer as I would be piloting my airplane soon.  We manage to depart the Huntsville Executive Airport around 5:45pm.  Our destination for today is Shenandoah, Iowa.  Along the way, we divert around a couple of thunderstorms, arriving safely after 10pm.  The airport is closed, but coordination earlier in the day told us where the key for the courtesy car was hidden.  We retrieve the key and drive the retired police cruiser into town for night at the Shenandoah Inn.

June 18

The Thursday flight into Sheridan was mostly uneventful.  We had to divert well north to avoid an early morning thunderstorm, but otherwise, we had an enjoyable flight seeing some of the Badlands along the way.  At the Sheridan airport, Avis has our car waiting for us on the tarmac.  Our vehicle for the weekend is a Toyota Rav4.  I requested a four-wheel drive vehicle because it can be useful getting into aid stations.  We get checked into the Best Western and meet up with Snipes.  We all then go to packet pick up where we see Gary, Zeke Zucker, and others.  The day is a nice, warm, beautiful summer day here with the temperature in the mid-80s.  I am hoping that tomorrow will be a little cooler.

After getting our race packets, Snipes, Andrew, and I grab lunch at Sanford’s, which turns out to be a most excellent establishment for a burger.  We stuff ourselves, and then Andrew and I head back to the room to organize and plan for tomorrow.  I list out all of the items I think I might want at each aid station where I will see Andrew.  He gets a feel for all of my gear, including my white gas backpacking stove.  My other stoves are in the possession of my daughter, who is in Virginia.  For dinner, we go to Ole’s and feast on some pizza and pasta.  It is decent, and I stay up until past 10pm so that I will be able to sleep as late as possible.

June 19-20


All of the VHTRC runners
The pre-race briefing is at 9am with the 100 mile race starting at 11am.  Did I mention that Snipes has decided to drop back to the 52 mile race?  Now, I will not have the opportunity to try and beat him for the first time at the 100 mile distance.  The briefing is good and thorough.  Afterwards, all VHTRC associated runners gather for a picture.  There are many of us, although only a dozen or so of us are running the 100 mile race.  The other race distances are 52 miles, 34 miles, and 18 miles.  We drive towards the start, park along the south side of the road, and then walk at least a half mile to the starting line.  It is nice and warm already, and I hope it is cooler at the higher altitudes.
Driving towards the start

Mile 1.3      13:10 (10:08 avg./mile) TR TH out

This first section is along the dirt road on which the race started.  I glide along, feeling well, but also realizing that it is a warm day.  The field of runners is over 300, and we spread out nicely during this first stretch.

Mile 3.5      34:08 (15:31 avg./mile) Lower Sheep out

The course switches to a single-track trail that begins the climb up beside a river.  The other runners are jockeying around a little bit, but most of us are content to just try to keep up with the runner in front of us.  When I come into the aid station, I click my watch, but don’t even look at the time as I am not concerned.  This pace is still comfortable and quick enough, but the climb isn’t too steep yet as we are still beside the river.

Mile 8.5      1:44:02 (20:48 avg./mile) Upper Sheep out

This section leaves the river and continues the climb up steeply, but still inside the canyon.  It is quite warm (probably in the mid-80s), and there is no shade at all.  The air is thinning as we climb, and I begin to feel my lungs working harder to provide the needed oxygen.  I am also sucking water often, and my Camelbak runs dry a few minutes before reaching this aid station.  I hadn’t topped it off at the earlier aid stations as 45 ounces of water is usually plenty for 15+ miles even in warm weather.  However, as hard as I am working and sweating, I guess I am not surprised that I have drained my Camelbak in about 8 miles.  I fill my Camelbak at this aid station, grab half of a turkey and cheese sandwich, and eat a handful of potato chips.

Mile 13.4    1:15:45 (15:28 avg./mile) Dry Fork Ridge out

Leaving the last aid station, I run beside Jaret Seiberg.  He says he is feeling the effects of the altitude and is going to take it easy.  I am also feeling a little light headed, but otherwise I feel okay.  We are well over 7,000 feet elevation at this point.  Regardless, Jaret pushes on ahead of me after a mile or so.  Another mile or so after that and Boots Nickle catches up to me.  She is truly enjoying herself, and I see her off and on for the next few miles.  Around mile 11, the course descends about a 1,000 feet dropping us into the first aid station with crew access.  Just less than 7,000 feet, and I feel like I have covered about 25 miles at this point.  Andrew is all set up with a grilled ham and cheese sandwich, a refilled and ready Camelbak, and plenty of Conquest.  Andrew tells me I am only 15 minutes behind my own projected pace.  I drink about a pint of Conquest and eat half of the sandwich before I take off.  I will eat the other half of the sandwich while I walk down the trail.

Mile 19.5    1:37:37 (16:00 avg./mile) Cow Camp out

Simply beautiful scenery!
I take it easy at first leaving Dry Fork while I eat the other half of my sandwich.  Then I begin to pick things up.  I thought at this point is to just keep moving forward.  This section is up and down rolling without any real loss or gain in elevation.  I feel like I have adjusted to the elevation, and I like the time I am making.  There are even a few short sections in the trees.  I roll into Cow Camp with my Camelbak again needing to be refilled.  I accomplish that and grab a granola bar and some chips.  I also drink half of a cup of Pepsi to try and jump start my pace and maybe help my light headedness.  So far, my time is decent, but I need to keep moving.

Mile 26.5    2:00:41 (17:14 avg./mile) Bear Camp out

I think I am pushing harder and picking up the pace, but my time does not reflect it.  This section is still more of the rolling hills around 7,000 feet elevation.  I refill my Camelbak again as I don’t want to run out of water again.  It is time to push to the next aid station where I will see my crew again.

Mile 30.0    1:07:37 (19:19 avg./mile) Sally’s Footbridge out

River beside Footbridge aid station
Most of this section is sharply downhill.  For the first part, I am on quite a roll as I pass several other runners.  Then we have to navigate a sucking mud section and after that I am not able to run quite as fast as I was before.  I still feel like I am making good time, but the aid station takes forever to get to.  Incredibly this section is almost as slow as the section with the steepest climb.  Much of the downhill is equally steep, and I think this prevented me from making great time.  At the aid station, Andrew is there with all of my stuff ready.  I eat a full bowl of Ramen, washing it down with chocolate milk.  Then I take a black long-sleeve shirt and my Houdini jacket with me as the sun will be setting soon.  I also strap on my headlamp.  I am now a full hour slower than my own projection, but the projection was based on a 30 hour finish, so I have time to spare.

Mile 33.5    1:16:43 (21:55 avg./mile) Cathedral Rock out

This is the first aid station that surprised me.  I didn’t know how far it was to the next aid station, and I was just power hiking up the mountain when here is an aid station.  I again feel like I am keeping up a decent pace, but as can now be seen my pace is continuing to slow down.  I look over the assortment of food at this aid station, and the only thing I want is another little chewy granola bar.  I devour it and then head on up the mountain.

Onward and Upward
Mile 40.0    2:41:53 (24:54 avg./mile) Spring Marsh out

After leaving Cathedral Rock, I start running with a lady named Kim.  She is from Denver, and this is her first 100 mile race.  We chat a little, but mostly just keep each other company as we try to persevere against this almost 5,000 foot climb.  Kim has a GPS watch, and she says at one point we have just covered the last mile in 18 minutes, which sounds like a really good time to me given the steepness of the climb.  Then it gets dark, Kim stops for something, and I push onward.  My spirit is good, but I know that I need to reach the 48 mile mark before 2am.  This aid station, unlike the last one, takes me forever to reach.  It is just past 11:30pm at this point, and I need to pick up the pace if I am going to make my 2am goal.  My original goal was to be at mile 48 by midnight.  I grab a few snacks, and head on out to continue my trek to the top.

Mile 43.5    1:48:25 (30:59 avg./mile) Elk Camp out

It is now past 1am, and I am starting to not like my chances of staying ahead of the cut-off times.  There is now a stream of runners heading back towards me.  The leader met me just before mile 40, and now the runners coming towards me come in bunches.  Many of the runners have pacers with me, so it is difficult to count how many there are.  At this aid station, there are several runners who are really hurting.  This is another aid station that was packed in on horses, so there really is no option to drop out at this point.  One guy’s headlamp has gone dead, but it is a rechargeable so the aid station can’t help him.  They have fresh batteries, but these are of no use to him.  I get some soup and eat more chips before heading on up the mountain.  As I am leaving the aid station, there is a hammock already setup and just waiting for me to lie down in it.  It is extremely tempting, but I resist the temptation and press on towards the next aid station where my crew should be.

Mile 48.0    2:02:59 (27:20 avg./mile) Jaws Trailhead

As I watch the clock tick through the 2 o’clock hour and towards 3am, I realize that this is not going to be my day.  If I were to leave mile 48 at 3am, I would have to run an even split pace to finish within the 34 hour limit.  As it is, the time is 3:23am when I get into the aid station.  I tell Andrew it is time to call it quits.  I report into the aid station workers that I am dropping out.  Then Andrew and I get into our vehicle and head towards Sheridan and our hotel.

Quitting Time      16:23:00

It takes over an hour and a half to drive back to Sheridan.  It felt like we were driving downhill forever.  It is daylight when we finally get into the hotel.  I leave my mud caked shoes outside the door as I will throw them away tomorrow.  They have nearly 500 miles on them, and the tops have a couple of holes.  Like all DNFs this one stings a little, but I am not disappointed in my effort.  This is a tough course that was made a little harder by the warmer weather this year.  My main thought is that I need to acclimate at least a week at 5,000 feet or higher before running a race like this again.  In 2011, I was in Colorado for 10 days before Leadville, and I think it was key to my finish there.

Saturday evening finds me and Andrew back in Dayton in the park with most of the rest of the VHTRC.  There is nearly a steady stream of runners finishing, and we enjoy fellowshipping with the whole gang.  Gary is making sure everyone is well hydrated, and Scott Crabb gives us an extra meal ticket.  I talk with Zsuzsanna Carlson for a while.  She is very disappointed that she had to drop at mile 66.  I also talk a bit with Sophie Speidel, who ran the 52 mile race.  She thinks this was a hard long course, and her race with downhill the majority of the time!  In the end, it is a very nice evening.

I am not sure at this point what my next race will be.  Stay tuned!

Never stop running,
Darin