Sunday, August 30, 2009

Cheat Mountain Moonshine Madness Race Report

"Now let's see what I can do to salvage this race!"

That was my comment to the unbelievably awesome volunteers at the mile 23 Aid Station after they miraculously found three AA batteries for my dead headlamp. Before stumbling into their oasis, I had spent the previous 10 miles fumbling, tripping, and slipping through some of the nastiest single track trail I've ever seen. Then again, since my headlamp died and my emergency light did nothing more than make the fog even tougher to see through, I can honestly say I have seen worse trail, but that's only because I didn't actually see this one at all. I can't read braille w/ my feet, but I'm pretty sure the rocks and roots of this trail were spelling out: "Hey Dan, Why don't you take up a nice safe hobby like knitting?"

In those ten miserable miles, I fell more times than I can count, had my shoes sucked off my feet in mud fields about 4 or 5 times, and, most dishearteningly, was passed by a ton of runners (w/ working lights) who all seemed to be running through this nasty terrain like it was a flat road. I should also mention it was about 1 a.m. and raining at this point as well. Needless to say, I've been happier. ...but let's rewind and get the full story.

I made the 4+ hour drive out to Beverly, West Virginia on Friday afternoon knowing the forecast for that evening's race was not looking pretty. Further reinforcing that feeling was this sight as I neared the Cheat Mountain area:
Yes indeedy, there's nothing like the sight of your race course inside a cloud. I guess that's what the weatherman meant when he said 100% humidity.

Here's one more. I'll be displaying both of these works of art in my new traveling exhibit entitled: "Mother Nature, you suck."
Just before pulling into the Beverly 4-H club which served as the race headquarters, I stopped off at the local Kroger grocery store and picked up a few supplies. The fruit salad was very good, the batteries, as it turned out, were very very very bad. I'm not sure if someone at the Kroger or at Energizer is truly the one to blame, but whoever is responsible, I hope their cat pees in their shoe.

After the supply run, I pulled into the field across from the 4-H where my fellow runners were setting up camp:While there was plenty of room for pitching a tent (as a few people did), I must say that the 4-H building was an amazing place to start/finish a race. They had plenty of room to sit at tables or stretch out, the bathrooms were clean, there were hot showers (!!) and bunks to crash on after the run...and even though I had to take off before the post-run breakfast, I know it was delicious from the sights and smells coming from the kitchen. For anyone thinking about running this race in the future, the facilities and support from the race staff will not let you down!

After checking in and chatting with the Race Director Adam Cassaday (one of the classiest and nicest guys in ultra-running), I headed back to the X-Terra Inn to relax in the back while listening to a sweet local Oldies station. I found it humorous when the Beatles' I'll Follow the Sun came on - Not in this race, guys!:
Soon enough 9 p.m. rolled around, and after a group-effort singing of the National Anthem, we were off into the darkness. The first 12 miles or so were pretty much straight up the mountain, and my only goal at the start was to run this stretch without walking a step. Everyone seemed to be running way too fast at the start, so I let just let them all blow by me on the first mile or so of road (at least 60 runners). I found my nice steady pace (9:30s) and just settled in. As the road turned to dirt and the hill got steeper, I started to catch up to some folks. As I got closer to the 5.7 mile Aid Station, I had already passed about 25 people, and since I blew through the Aid Station without stopping, I leap-frogged about 10 more at that point. Between that AS and the next one at the top of the hill (mile 12.3), the grade got a little steeper in parts, but I just kept my head down and pounded out the pace (passing about 20 more people in the process).

Interestingly enough, the long climb was easier at night (and in the fog) simply because I couldn't see more than a few feet ahead at any point. Without any negative mental hurdles to overcome like the sight of a 2000 climb in front of me, I just cruised along all the way to the top, never looking more than 10 feet ahead. I refilled my Camelback at AS 2 and headed into the first trail section of the race.

Not realizing my headlamp was slowly dying over the previous dirt road section, when I entered the even-darker and foggier trail I was shocked at how difficult it was to see. As another runner said to me a little later in the race, this trail would have been hard enough to run in the daylight, never mind in the rain/fog at night. Amen to that, brother.

My legs really wanted to run faster, but the narrow and over-grown trail would have none of it. My weak light wasn't helping my case as I strained and squinted to see through the ferns covering the track. Each footfall was like entering the worst lottery ever...what would I step on this time, a rock? A root? A 6-inch deep mud bog? Oh wait, how about wondering into an actual stream? Yup, did that a few times as well. About 10 minutes after experiencing all of the joys listed above, I saw a light coming from behind. I stepped aside and said "Wow you're moving great, keep it up!". The runner slowed for a moment and said "Do you have a light?...Do you want one of mine?". I assured him I indeed had a light and did my best not to say "Silly man, it's the big bright thing up here on my head!". Little did I know, I was wearing nothing more than a useless Three Dead Battery Holder on top my head at that point. My light had dimmed so slowly that I hadn't noticed it was now completely gone. Crap!

Right behind the first guy came 4 or 5 more, each running quickly and confidently through the rough terrain with their lights. Showoffs. I tried to hop in behind them as they passed to at least see the general direction they were heading so I didn't lose the trail, but without my own light pointing at my feet, I couldn't keep pace with anyone without falling. I did have my small emergency light on at this point, but it just has one pretty weak LED...and with the fog refracting it every which way but useful, it was little more than a shiny forehead ornament. By time I popped back out onto the short road section before the mile 23 Aid Station, I was just about as miserable as I've been in a race. My legs felt great, but they wanted to RUN...and this routine of shuffle, trip, suffle, fall, shuffle, pull shoe out of the mud and put it back on wasn't exactly a bucket of chuckles for me.

As the case usually is, just when I felt about as low as I could, the amazing guys at the Aid Station saved my race. Adam Cassaday was there too, and I felt really bad about asking if anyone had batteries since he specifically sent us an email earlier in the week saying he won't have any at the Aid Stations so we should make sure we had fresh ones in our lamps and extras in our drop bags. here I come, stumbling up like an idiot begging anyone in sight for three AAs. I figured my lamp would have plenty of power with a fresh set of Energizer Lithiums, so I didn't bother packing any back-ups in my drop bag. I guess life is full of surprises, eh?

Anyway, two volunteers raided their stashes and came up with the 3 AAs I needed to fire up Ol' Bessy (which is apparently what I'm calling my headlamp now). I can't possibly thank them enough. With quite literally a new outlook on life, I filled up my Camelback and said the line that opens this Race Report: It was indeed time to salvage the race.

From that point I had about 27 miles to go, and with my legs begging to finally run again, I cranked up the iPod and took off. I was amazed at how much of the trail I could now see, and more importantly, how quickly and nimbly I was able to run it. A mile or two after the AS I started catching up with the people who passed me on the trail earlier. A nicely timed Run to the Hills by Iron Maiden cued up just as I was really kicking it up a notch and flying over the rolling terrain. By the time I popped out at the next AS 6 miles later, I had reeled in and passed all but two runners who passed me on the trail earlier (a couple running together - and fast!). I was feeling great and truly enjoying myself out's amazing what a little light can do for you!

By the time I looped around and made it back to the AS manned by my Battery Angels, I thanked them again and quickly switched to some road shoes w/ more cushion than my trail shoes. The reason being is the final 12.3 miles are pretty much all downhill on hard packed dirt roads, and I wanted to give my shin a break from that kind of pounding in a harder trail shoe. This was a training/rehab race, after all!

After the switch, I was fired up and ready to end the race in style. Just a mile or so out of the AS I caught up with the couple who passed me on the trail earlier. They were still moving well, but I passed them on an uphill and pulled away quickly. Since my legs felt great, I was still running all the hills w/ my steady and strong pace.

I flew quickly but safely over the next 6 or 7 miles (always mindful of my shin AND my 71 mile race next week!) down the forest service roads to the last AS at mile 44.3. I grabbed a bit of water for the last stretch and happily made my way home. It was raining a little harder at this point, but after so many hours out there, it really didn't matter. It wasn't possible to be wetter. In fact, it reminded me of my innocent thought when I was a little kid: If my shirt is completely soaked, I would naturally win a wet T-shirt contest, right? I mean, it couldn't possibly be any wetter, right? I really thought I could have a career winning wet t-shirt contests...

Anyway, I covered the final section quickly and easily and pulled across the finish line in 8th place with a time of 9:15. Certainly the slowest 50 miler I've run, but definitely one of the most rewarding as well. Here I am with RD Adam at the finish:
...and here's a random shot of my leg, humorous to me because I changed my shoes/socks when I only had 12 miles of road left to run and they still got filthy! My trail shoes, I will mention, should probably just be thrown away. There's just as much mud on the inside as the outside since I had to fish them out from the mud bogs a few times.
Oh, and since we're looking at one, I'll mention one more time what Drymax socks did for me. Here are a few facts: I ran 50 miles, in the rain, through streams and mud and I had ZERO blisters or hot spots. Amazing. Here's the post race proof:Overall the race was quite a challenge (obviously), but it was definitely a great time. Adam Cassaday and his volunteer group of family and friends did an amazing job coordinating the logistics of such a difficult race (it's at night, it was raining, as far as I could tell the Aid Stations were in the middle of nowhere, but everyone was so cheery and helpful!). If you're looking for a challenge, I highly recommend signing up for this race next year. It has a little of everything mixed in, and as long as you bring a working light, it's a ton of fun!

I didn't see who won (mostly because it happened an hour before I finished), but congrats to all who battled the elements and finished the 50 miles. Big high-fives to Dave Nevitt and Ray Williams who came down from Canada and ran great races. I met Dave down in FL while we both volunteered at Iron Horse 100 in February, and he convinced his buddy Ray to run his first 50 miler with him at this race...way to pick an easy one to start with, Ray! Great work!!

As for me, my legs are feeling great and ready to go for a run tonight. With the 71 mile Massanutten Ring coming up on Saturday, I'll probably take it a little easy on them this week, but still get in some quality miles. The Ring will be just like the last two races I've done this month - I'll take it slow and steady the whole time while concentrating on the training aspect and not the racing. I know I'll have a great time out there...I always do in the Massanuttens!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Friday, August 28, 2009

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Friday Night Madness!

Good thing I recovered so quickly from my last race...because I'm lacing up the kicks in just a couple days for my next one! I've been looking forward to running the Cheat Mountain Moonshine Madness 50 miler for quite some time, and it's finally here! I know some people don't like running alone in the dark, but I absolutely love it. ...and I think I'll love it even more in this race when I actually have fresh legs (as opposed to when you reach the night in a 100 miler and you already have 80 miles on your screaming lower limbs). It'll be nice to know I can at least *try* to out-run a West Virginia mountain lion if needed!

I'll bring along my cell phone and probably post a couple audio updates, but most likely those will be before the start and after I finish. I'm by no means trying to "race" this one, but my leg does feel really good, so I think I'll at least take the race a bit more seriously than I did the Viaduct 100 - No twenty minute aid station stops in this one! Another reason I probably won't post during the race is all of you will be sleeping during most of it anyway! I'll probably finish sometime between 5 a.m. -6 a.m., so a post after the finish should be enough to update everyone on the events of the race while you eat your bowl of Lucky Charms on Saturday morning.

I'm super-excited to hop in the XTerra Inn and head out to West VA and start the moonshine madness! ...I just need to figure out how to get ready for a Friday night start time...who the heck knows what/when/how to eat before something like this? At least I don't have to worry about setting my alarm to wake up in time!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Best Recovery Ever

I guess there's something to be said for running a slow 100 miler after all.

When I woke up the morning after Viaduct, I braced for the usual shooting pains and stiffness in my legs, but to my surprise I felt nothing. Even after my 5 hour drive home, I was a little stiff, but let's face it, I'm not getting any younger and that stiffness would have been there regardless of any running done the day before. The truth was, I ran 100 miles on very little training and felt completely fine the day after. Forget all this "racing" stuff, I should run slowly all the time!

Normally I take a week off after a 100 miler to recover and relax, but this time I was itching to get back out there the next day. I took one day off after the race just because I felt like I should, but after that I got right back into my daily training schedule without any problems at all.

...and the best news of all, I was able to run 20 miles at a reasonable pace on the roads the last two nights without even the slightest twinge in my shin for the first time since February...and I didn't even ice it down after! This is a great sign for the next 6 weeks of training for the NorthCoast 24, which is entirely on asphalt. I'm already starting to iron out my pacing plan for those 24 hours...SLOW and STEADY will be the theme; I've learned my lesson.

As for the more immediate future, I'm super excited for my mountain races coming up in the next couple weeks. First up in the Cheat Mountain Moonshine Madness 50 miler next weekend. Check out this fun elevation profile...I know I'll be looking forward to those last 9 miles....Weeeeee!!!

I'll be taking it out slowly again at Cheat Mountain to be sure I have a semi-full tank for the Massanutten 71 mile Ring the following weekend (which has a super-stacked field of MMT 100 studs showing up). I'm looking forward to enjoying both of these races exactly as I did the Viaduct 100. Keeping it slow and steady while getting in some solid training miles sounds perfect to me!

One last note: Good luck to all my friends running the Leadville 100 out in Colorado this weekend - Jamie Donaldson, Nick Pedatella, and my man Pete Stringer - he's gonna rock it at 68!! I'll get out there myself some day, but until then, I'll happily live vicariously through you all via the web updates!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Viaduct Trail 100 Race Report

I'm back from a great trip up to the PA country for the Viaduct Trail 100. I hope everyone who checked in for my audio updates during the race found that technology to be pretty cool. Since we all know ESPN won't be doing live updates of any 100 milers in the near future, I think this type of runner-generated media (along with twitter, etc) will go a long way to satisfying the rabid ultra fans out there who love to follow the progress of 100 milers all over the country. I know I'm one of those fans, so if anyone has any questions on how to set up this audio-posting system for themselves, I'll be happy to help out. All you need is a cell phone, and yes, it's free!

With that said, let's move on to the amazing weekend I had up in the woods of Pennsylvania. If I had to sum up the whole experience in three words, the first would be "Moose" in the Moose Lodge in the sleepy little downtown next to the race (the building on the right). For some reason I got a kick out of this:

...the second word would be, appropriately, "Viaduct". This amazing structure serves at the Start/Finish line for the race:
...The third and most important word to sum up the event would definitely be "SuperAwesomePeople". Everyone from the race directors Carl Albright and Dave Kennedy to the fantastic group of runners who came from all over the country made this event a truly spectacular one. I'm not sure I've ever been at a race where everyone seemed to get along so well and pull for each other in such a community effort. Since we all passed each other multiple times on the out-n-back legs, it was easy to follow each other's progress and keep everyone's spirit up. I love races like this. Here's RD Carl Albright with one of his 3 sons (all of the Albright boys and their mom volunteered all day/night to help us out!): I made the 5 hour drive up to the race site from DC on Friday afternoon in the XTerra Inn. Yes the Viaduct 100 technically starts in Lanesboro, PA, but as far as I could tell, Lanesboro isn't really a "town" as much as it's just a handful of people living in the woods. I got the feeling if they had to field a town softball team, the player in right field may or may not have to be a bunny rabbit. Luckily for those of us looking for a general store, just a couple miles down the road there are actual signs of life in neighboring Susquehanna.
I love little towns like this. Check out the old school water tower...and yes, another shot of the coolest Moose Lodge around.

Just around the corner from the bright lights of the Susquehanna strip, the Starrucca Viaduct stands in imposing fashion. Apparently this thing was all the rage 150 years ago, and as I found out at 2:05 a.m. on race day, it is still in use today. ...and quite loudly at that.

It's tough to convey just how tall this thing is...maybe this shot from directly underneath will help. Blow this picture up and tell me it doesn't make you dizzy...

Just a few yards from the Viaduct is a little parking area where about 20 of us chose to camp out the night before the race. I snapped a shot of this barking beast, who I affectionately named "Son of Cujo", as he welcomed me upon my arrival. Good thing all dogs love me...a few minutes later he put the fangs away and was laying at my feet licking my legs while I was sorting things out in the back of my car. Good boy.

As more runners showed up, I made friends with them as well (although there was considerably less leg-licking from them). I particularly enjoyed meeting PA native Gary Ferguson, as we talked for a while about all things running. It was great to follow his progress during the race, and when I saw him heading out on his last out-n-back at 1am in the rain, I thought, "This guy is one tough SOB!" ...and proving that thought right, he went on to run his fastest loop of the day and broke 24 hours for the first time in a 100 miler! I love seeing people kick ass like that! Way to go, Gary!! Here's a shot of him earlier in the day enjoying the course:After chatting with a few other campers while the sun went down, I retired to the XTerra Inn for the night (I actually upgraded myself to the "Xterra Suite" for this race as I added an air mattress this time). I slept like a baby in my plush accommodations all night, only waking up for a few minutes at 2:05 a.m. when a train came barreling over the Viaduct right above our heads. Talk about an impressive site to see/feel/hear, that moment was one of the highlights of the trip for sure.

In the morning I had the presence of mind to take a pre-race shot of my feet. For some reason, a few crazy people still don't wear Drymax socks. Here's the before and after proof of their magic. ...and yes, my big toe nails are still growing back from the game of Rock Soccer I played in the last few miles of Bull Run in April. Here's the "Before"...
...and here's the "After"...check out my sweet sock tan!!
I didn't have any blisters or hot-spots all day, as always. That fact is especially notable this time since my shin injury has limited my training over the past few months. Because of this reduced training load, my feet haven't had a chance to build up their usual toughness. I knew this heading into the race, but the Max Protection socks stepped up and kept them in great shape all day. Thanks guys!!

As for the race itself, it was a great day for running, but I knew I had to treat this as a "training run" and force myself to go slowly right from the start. It's kind of odd to say "I'm running this 100 miler as a training run", but that really was the case for me. I've only been running for 5 weeks since my injury shut-down months, and the mileage for those 5 rehab weeks was 20, 30, 40, 50, 60...and all those miles have been S-L-O-W. Not exactly the training schedule for 100 mile racing success. The plan for this race was to keep it slow and easy all day to keep my shin healthy and get some quality miles in while having fun.

My plan was tested early on as I forced myself to run slow from the start. That's not an easy thing to do when chatting with great people like Byron Lane and Gregg Geerdes. The three of us ran together at the front most of the way until the first turn-around at 12.5 miles, and then Gregg and I ran the whole 12.5 trip back stride-for-stride with Byron a minute or two behind us. It was pretty funny that I ended up running with Gregg considering we were both wearing the same orange Bull Run t-shirt from this year's race. How random is that? Here we are coming into mile 25 looking like twins:After the 25 mile mark, I let Gregg run about 100 yards ahead of me for the next leg of the race. Not that I didn't have a great time chatting with him, it's just that I knew it would be too tough to keep myself from running too fast unless I was running solo. Running with people always makes me go faster for some reason, even though it usually means I'm talking a lot too. I wonder why that is? Anyway, right around mile 30 I found a nice 10+ minute/mile pace and settled in. I was able to keep that same pace (give or take 30 seconds) all the way to the finish.

In order to keep my racing instinct from kicking in, I made a point to take a looong time at the turn-arounds with random time-killers (change my shirt, brush teeth, chat w/ the volunteers, etc). I'm usually so hurried to get in and out of an Aid Station during felt so good to not feel any pressure and just relax for a few minutes. I knew if I kept the "race" out of my mind I wouldn't do anything stupid to re-injure myself. Lucky for me, both Gregg and Byron ran great races and stayed a couple miles ahead of me throughout the night. Out of sight, out of mind...perfect! Here's me killing time with a little water cooler chat at mile 62.5:
Of course, I can't take all the credit for finally figuring out how to run slowly from the start. The terrain of the course really helped me keep it slow-n-steady all day. There were about 78 billion rocks on the trail, so keeping constant focus to find the least painful foot purchase prevented me from opening up into a more natural (i.e. too fast) stride. This was the perfect terrain for keeping me in check all day long. Thanks, Mother Nature!

Speaking of the terrain, after the sun went down, just for the heck of it, I decided to run as long as I could in the dark without my headlamp on. With overcast skies (it was actually drizzling off-and-on at this point), there was no help from the moon either...I just let my eyes adjust and got to work. Given the number of rocks waiting to roll my ankles on the trail, this was probably pretty stupid, but I felt like mixing things up a bit after the 75 mile turn-around. As a surprising benefit, it actually kept me from getting lazy w/ my feet, as occasionally happens late in races: I didn't kick a single rock the whole time! Plus I was simply having a flat-out blast doing it too. The added excitement from this little game really made time fly out there. I made it about 9 miles (!!) before I needed to turn on the light when I reached the nasty section where an old railroad trestle used to be. I borrowed a Barkley term and affectionately referred to this section as the "Son of a Bitch Ditch". With all of the loose rocks and sand on this sharp drop-off (followed immediately by the steep incline back up), I knew this was probably a good time to turn on the headlamp for safety. ...but I sure had fun in the dark while it lasted!

It was when I turned on my headlamp that I realized there were about as many bats flying across this trail as there were rocks piled on it. I kept a running tab of all the wildlife I saw during the day (Rabbits: 14, Wild Turkeys: 4, Frogs: 3, Deer: 2), and if I included the bats in this contest, their count would be easily in the 100s. It was pretty cool to see so many dive across my field of vision over the last 14 miles or so...there were so many, in fact, that seeing them flying right at me before diving out of the way actually got pretty boring by the end. ...Now that's a lot of bats!

As I made my way back through the last section, my ipod had died so I was just cruising along enjoying the final miles while singing to myself. I was definitely having a good time out there. My legs still felt great (my feet were feeling smashed up from the rocks, but that's another story) and I was so happy with how the "slow and easy" plan worked out so well for me. Even more surprising, my legs feel great as I type this a day later. I guess the old saying that endurance takes a long time to build up, but also a long time to go away applies here. It's amazing how the body can respond when you treat it right!

As I neared the finish, I picked it up a bit on the last couple miles for no other reason than to randomly break 19:40. Super nice RD Carl Albright was there to give me my railroad spike for finishing. What a great time I had out there!

As far as the race for the win went, Byron Lane ran a great race (even after tripping on a rock early in the race and breaking his finger!!) and finished about an hour ahead of me in 18-something. Gregg ran great all day as well and pulled in about 30 minutes behind Byron for 2nd. I rounded out the top 3 about 30 minutes after Gregg in 19:38. Here's Byron, happy to be done with the race so he can finally head off to the hospital - You're one tough dude, Mr. Lane!!One important note: I definitely need to apologize for calling Byron "Lord Byron" on my audio posts during the race. I was trying to refer to him regally since he's such a good runner, but it turns out the actual Lord Byron was a pretty dirty dude. Definitely the opposite character of Mr. Lane. Sorry Byron, I didn't mean to sully your good name!! It'll be "Flyin' Byron" from now on!!

A few other technical notes on the race:

For those of you who keep track of these things, this course is definitely long. I noticed this on the second loop, and RD Dave Kennedy confirmed it with me after the race. He said it's about 2 miles long, I think it may even be a little longer than that, so if you're running this to set your PR, keep that in mind. Much like the Iron Horse 100, the rocks on the course slow you down and chop your stride just enough to keep it a little slower than a Rocky Raccoon or Heartland 100 (from what I've heard). Also, if you're planning on running this race, definitely consider a light trail shoe. I actually ran it in road trainers (Brooks Glycerin 6), but my feet were pretty sore on the bottoms at the end from all the rocks. Plus most of the trail is made up of cinders/stone-dust, so keeping some of that debris out too of your shoes is probably a good idea too.

I ran with EFS fuel from First Endurance up until mile 62.5 or so. After that my stomach wasn't too happy with it. I love the idea of EFS having both carbs and electrolytes (and easily mixing in with my hydration bladder), and it was certainly convenient to just dump it into my camelback and not worry about gels/S-Caps, but for some reason my stomach didn't like it in the 2nd half of the race. I also felt the need to brush my teeth for the first time ever during a race, so I'm guessing whatever sugars/chemicals they use in EFS are the reason for that. I think I'll go back to Gels, Perpetuem, and S-Caps for my next race since, even though it involves keeping track of more than one product, I never have stomach issues with that mix.

As for my upcoming plans, I'll take a day off today and get back out there for some shuffling on Tuesday. My legs actually feel great, so I'm feeling good about getting a couple solid weeks of training in before heading out to West Virginia for the Cheat Mountain Moonshine Madness 50 miler on August 28. ...and seeing how that race starts at 9:00 p.m., I'm looking forward to testing out my night-vision abilities again!

A million thanks again to everyone who checked in on the blog during the race (I really felt your support out there!), and for all the amazing volunteers, pacers, runners, and of course RDs Carl and Dave. You guys worked so hard and pulled off such a tremendous event - Congratulations and Thank you!!

Viaduct Trail 100 - Race Update!

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Monday, August 3, 2009