Monday, April 27, 2009

Potpourri Post

No real common theme to the news this week, just a bunch of random stuff - Enjoy!

First off, thanks to the volunteer work of Aaron Schwartzbard, I can share a couple of his photos from the Bull Run race. This one gives you an idea of the sea of bluebells we all ran through in the "upstream" section of the race.

...and here's another of me later on in the day as I lick my lips in anticipation of yet another tasty gel...mmm.
Speaking of gels, that brings me to my next point. This past Friday I put on my chef's hat just before a 20 miler and mixed up my first batch of homemade gel. This will be a work-in-progress over the next few weeks as I iron out what mixture works best for me, but with gels being so expensive (when you eat as many as I do, anyway), and the essential ingredient (maltodextrin) being so cheap when purchased in bulk (20 pound bag for $20 - that can make about 500 gels), I decided it was time to come up with my own special recipe tailored to my preferences. Since the gels that work best for me are the ones w/out any stuff like fructose or added flavoring (Hammer Gels work the best with their avoidance of excess sugars, etc - they're just expensive), I'm starting from the ground up as I make my gels with just malto and water for my training runs. The taste of that mixture is mildly sweet, and it worked great on my first run in terms of keeping my energy level at a constant as I nursed the mixture through my hydration pack. For 100 milers I'll need to add in some Perpetuem as I usually do (for the protein and fat), but I should have the malto mix just right in a few weeks so I can just add in the usual Perp dosage by time I get to the Mohican in June. I'll update my recipe once complete and post about it for others who would like to compete in an episode of "Iron Chef: Ultrarunning" with me.

In other news, Team USA is on their way out to Italy this week to compete in the World 24 Hour Championships on May 2-3. This is the event I hoped to qualify for back in November at Ultracentric in Texas (we all know how well that turned out). As a matter of fact, only 1 male runner actually ran the necessary 135 miles last year to qualify for the US team, so a good portion of the guys on the 6-man team made the squad based on 2007 results. The ladies, on the other hand, had some great performances in 2008, and their squad should seriously contend for a Top 3 spot this weekend in Italy. My super-fast friend Jamie Donaldson led the US ladies last year in Korea with 137 miles (5th in the world), and with the weather and course hopefully cooperating a bit more in Italy this weekend, she could very well top 140 miles and lead the team to their first podium spot in the history of this race. My friend Jen Van Allen (fresh off a 3:08 tune-up at the Boston Marathon last week!) should also make a nice splash on the world level in her debut on the US Team. I wish all the runners the best of luck out there this weekend...Go Team USA!! The race begins at 4am EST on Saturday, and progress can be tracked on-line throughout the day here (hope you've brushed up on your Italian!).

Finally, with April wrapping up, I'm happy to say the injuries are behind me (although I did tweak my back lifting a gallon of milk the other day....seriously...a gallon of old am I??), and I was able to rebound with a 300 mile month. May should mark a return to the 400 mile level as I ramp up for Mohican. I've got 7 solid weeks of training lined up before that race - It's probably too early for me to be as excited as I am about this race, but by time the gun goes off on June 20 it will have been seven months since my last 100+ mile race. I'm probably this excited because I've forgotten how much these things hurt!

Monday, April 20, 2009

2009 - 24 Hour National Championship News!

A couple months back I caught wind of a new 24-Hour race scheduled for this fall in Cleveland. The course looked like a great venue for racking up the miles, and I really hoped the folks who pick the site for the National Championship this year would consider it...

...and moments ago, I found out my wish came true! Here's the official announcement. I'm excited already!


The 2009 U.S. National 24-Hour Run Championship will be hosted by the North Coast 24-Hour in Cleveland, Ohio on Oct. 3-4, 2009. The event will be held on a flat, paved, traffic-free, certified loop measuring just under 1-mile in Cleveland's Edgewater Park, alongside Lake Erie.

For more information, check the event website:

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Bull Run 50 Race Report

What a great day for a race! Sure, I'll admit after 4 months of no races I would have been just as happy with a rainy 40-degree day, but the gods of ultra running gave all 350 of us running the Bull Run 50 a spectacular day for running in Northern Virginia today. Yes, it got a little toasty out there as the temps rose to about 80 (made worse by the fact that very few of us have had the chance to heat-train yet this spring with cool temps most days), but that just made the numerous head-dunks in the rivers feel that much better!

The race went tremendously well for me (aka, "Tom Griffin"). I ran an incredibly steady pace the whole way, and most importantly for me, I came out of it injury free! It feels so great to be back!!! Knowing my limited training meant I needed to keep things in check, I let the rabbits fly out ahead of me at the start and burn off some of their adrenaline. I was running in about 40th place after 3 or 4 miles, but once we hit the hills, I started picking people off since I was running the same pace no matter the terrain (my extra time in the gym over the past couple months really paid off all day long). By the Mile 11 Aid Station I was in 12th place, and for the next 10 miles or so, I ran completely alone. This was actually a tremendous help in terms of letting me run my pace and not get caught up with other people's races. By mile 23 or so I caught up to Keith Knipling (such a great guy) and another runner. As it turned out, I would play leap-frog with Keith for the rest of the race.

As the day warmed up, I knew I needed to hit the S-Caps and water pretty hard to stay ahead of any crashes (especially since I'm not in any real shape right now). I was caked in salt most of the day as a result (another reason those river dunks felt so good!), and I'm pretty sure my shirt could be worn as a bullet-proof vest right now - it's that stiff. ...but it was all in the name of proper electrolyte balance!

To fast forward to the end (I'm really looking forward to a nap right now, so I'll wrap it up!), I caught up to Keith on the last hill before the finish line, and even though he pulled away toward the top, I knew I had my miler's kick (funny how that never leaves you) to close the gap at the end. With about 100 yards to go I flipped the switch and caught up to him in a snap. We joined hands and crossed the line together in a tie for 10th place with a time of 7:39. I've always wanted to finish like that, and to be able to do it with a great guy like Keith was truly an honor. After both of us worked so hard in the heat during the second half of the race, it was really the perfect way to finish.

I'm not sure of all the results, but I do know that Leigh Schmitt continues to be flat-out insane. When I saw him at mile 30 or so on an out-and-back stretch (he was waaay ahead of me), he already had a huge lead and was actually running up a steep hill without using his arms. Seriously, his hands were on his hips as if to say "I'm not getting enough of a workout here, so I need to make it harder". Oh, and I should point out he was running 7-flats while doing this. Like I said: INSANE. I don't know his finishing time, but he did win, and probably by 20 minutes. Amy Sproston ran away with the women's title, crossing the line a couple minutes ahead of us in 9th overall. She's such a great runner - Her time of 7:34 was the second fastest ever on the course for a female. Congrats to both winners and all the finishers today!!

Personally, it was just a great race for me. I knew my limitations heading into the race, and pushed myself just enough to get the most out of the run without crashing (or hurting myself). Of course, the day wouldn't have been nearly as successful without my crew (parents and Elizabeth) and the insanely awesome volunteers - Holy Cow were they great! I never spent more than 30 seconds at an aid station (ok, maybe the last one was a minute, but I was definitely dragging from the heat so I was in no rush) - they were like NASCAR pit-crew members out there. Tammy's ice at the Marina aid station (about 45 miles into the race when it was HOT) was like a gift from heaven...thank you, Tammy!!

As for gear, my compression socks were awesome, my Drymax Maximum Protection socks kept the blisters away, and my Vasque Aether Tech SS shoes held up pretty well too...the only problem was, with all the roots and rocks on this course, I stubbed my toes about 3 dozen times while flying down the hills and set an all-time record (not a good thing) in terms of number of toenails lost - FOUR! Looks like my cover shoot for Flip-Flop Monthly will have to be re-scheduled for 2010.

Before getting to the photos, I definitely need to mention that Race Director Anstr Davidson and all the VHTRC folks really make this race something special. Everything is taken care of in such a top-notch manner. I can't say enough about how amazingly well this race is run.

Ok, my bed is really calling my name right now...It's wrap-up time. Elizabeth took a bunch of photos, so I'll do the rest of the recap the lazy way and just caption a few of them here.

Here's me just before the start...clearly showing the effects of the 4:30am wake-up call. That Nathan HPL hyrdation pack was awesome all day, by the way. I'm pretty sure I won't be going back to my old two-bottle belt any time soon.

Poor Elizabeth had to get up at that ungodly hour too in order to drive to the course with me, but she made the best of the situation. Pulling a page from the Dan Rose Handbook, she made a reservation in the X-Terra Suite and got a little sleep while I was out on the first loop of the course!
I know you can't feel the heat in this picture, but trust me, since I have zero heat-training right now, it felt crazy hot...and the fact that none of the trees have leaves yet, the 100% sunshine of the day made it feel even hotter.

This is my mom and Elizabeth, awaiting my return from the "infamous" Do-Loop. Having run it for the first time today, I can now appreciate why everyone calls it "infamous". About half-way through the nasty 3 mile section, I took a quick look around to make sure I wasn't being filmed for an episode of Punk'd or something. I figured it had to be a joke.

This is the view I had all afternoon as I tried to catch up to Keith. Probably the only reason I was able to keep pace was the fact that my hydration pack allowed me to skip every other Aid Station. Keith would run every section a few minutes faster than me, but I'd leap-frog him at the Aid Stations I didn' t need to stop at. I prefer to run with extra water like this for that very reason (Plus I like to keep my rhythm out there without having to stop all the time for fuel).

Here I am coming into the Marina Aid Station at mile 45 or so...sure, there are nicely built stairs to use, but after 45 miles of climbing hills, apparently I felt more comfortable off to the side.

Finally the end!! You can see the two of us crossing together right behind the lady in blue.

The happy finshers. Ready to drink everything in and around that cooler behind us.

In addition to my smashed-up toes, I also got this special take-home souvenier of the course, compliments of a nasty fall while going way too fast down a particularly nasty hill. I was impressed that my instict was to go into a baseball slide to lessen the impact. My compression socks get an extra thumbs-up for keeping my shin from looking even worse.

Here the happy crew, smiling after a job well done!

...and here's "Tom Griffin" with his wife, who happens to be 152 years younger than him.

That's all for's nap time! ...also, I have to say it feels GREAT to be back racing again!!!!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Good for a Laugh

Two of my true passions in life are ultra-running and stand-up comedy. Everyone knows about the miles I run, but not many know I've spent a huge amount of time over the years going to comedy clubs and watching/listening to just about every stand-up routine I can find on the internet/TV. Sure, there are TONS of horrible comedians out there, but when I find a good one, I feel like I just found a great new running trail in the mountains - "How did I not know about this all along? I need to tell everyone about it!!"

Anyway, back in the mid-nineties I saw the Sklar Brothers' (fraternal twins from St. Louis) for the first time on some random TV was only about a 5 minute routine, but I was hooked right away. Over the years they've been honing their brand of 'twin delivery' to the highest degree of perfection. Lucky for me (and you!), they've recently be hired by Brooks Running to put together some running ads as the "Running Superfans". Here's the clip they did for 'Ultra-Running'...if you like their style of comedy, there are 7 or 8 more clips that will queue up at the bottom of the window...also, you can head over to their site, Running Superfans, for more clips and other stuff. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Bull Run 50 This Weekend!

Sure, my annoying injuries have kept me from getting into any sort of racing shape for the Bull Run 50 miler this weekend, but I really don't care. I'm just so happy I can finally run in a race again (it's been FIVE full months since my last race). It'll be a little bit of a let-down not to try and contend for a podium spot in the race on Saturday, but I think the weather (looks beautiful), terrain (I love that course - when dry!), and camaraderie with the other runners out there will make the experience just as rewarding.

Adding to the fun will be the fact that I'm running the race officially as "Tom Griffin", my great-great-great Grandfather who actually fought in the battles of Bull Run about 150 years ago. My parents will be coming down from MA to join in the fun with me, and I'm sure it'll take me a couple of Aid Stations before I get used to hearing them yell, "Go, Tom!".

Even though the course should be in great shape by Saturday, I know I need to keep it in a low gear all day to stay healthy and survive the "battle". I figure I'll go out comfortably at more of a 100 mile pace and just try to hold that steady the whole way. I'm treating this run as more of a training run for the Mohican Trail 100 miler in June, and with the terrain of the two courses being very similar, it'll be the perfect testing ground.

In other news, I'm excited to note that I will be pacing a new (and fast!) face in the ultra-running world at this year's Massanutten 100 in May. Nick Pedatella of Boulder, CO has posted some smokin' fast times in his first couple ultras, and given that he's only 23, I expect a bright future for him in the 100 mile world. I'll be pacing Nick for about the last 30 miles of the race, and given the absolutely stacked field this year (I see about 8 guys who could win the thing), I'll have the best seat in the house to see how the final stages of this battle unfold. If he can withstand the cracks of my whip, I'll do my best to get Nick a spot on the podium!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

So Much for an Easy Run....

Just when I thought I'd seen it all while running through the woods...

This past Saturday started off a little rainy, which I knew would make my tune-up run on the Bull Run course a muddy affair, but by the time I drove to the course, the rain had happily stopped and the sun was coming out. Sure, the trail was still a sloppy mess, but I appreciated not being wet up top as well, especially since the air temp was in the 40s. As I started running, my plan was for an easy 18-20 miler as a final tune-up for the race this coming weekend. Everything started off routinely enough as I made my way through the first couple miles to the concrete "steps" that help folks get across Pope's Head Creek on their way to the rest of the course. Here's a photo of what these clever steps look like (Aaron Schwartzbaud photo from 2008 BRR).

A few miles up the trail, I came upon the next river crossing, only this time I was surprised to see the concrete steps were completely submerged by the stream (with the dirty water this time of year, I couldn't see them at all under the surface) - I guess the overnight rain raised the water level a foot or two. Even though this swollen stream wasn't more than 10 feet across, I didn't feel like getting soaked on this chilly day, so I decided to turn around and run back the way I came before tacking on a few (hopefully drier) miles on the southern part of the course. I took a new (and surprisingly dry) route back to the start, and the wimpy side of me was patting myself on the back for such wise decision to avoid the river crossing.

As I arrived back at that original Pope's Head Creek crossing, I picked up the pace and prepared to hammer the long climb back up to the parking lot. I made the final 90-degree turn off the trail to the concrete crossing steps, and I was shocked at what I saw. ...or, rather, what I didn't see: The steps were gone! Apparently, in the hour since I originally crossed over those steps at the beginning of my run, the creek swelled up a good 3-4 feet and my path home was now hidden under the suddenly raging current of the opaque creek. Crap!

I took a moment to think about my predicament, and when I processed the big picture, I realized I was now trapped between the suddenly roaring rapids of Pope's Head creek in front of me and that other swollen river 5 miles back to the north. What to do, what to do...

Since the creek in front of me met an even larger river immediately to my right, I decided to bushwhack up-river in order to find the safest place to cross. I was hoping for a large downed tree or a narrow passage or a dolphin with a harness on its back...*something*... that could get me across the swollen river, but after a mile of hacking my way up the river bank, I found no such relief. At that point I accepted the fact that I'd need to get a little wet in order to cross the river, so I headed back south to try my chances at an area that looked the least imposing to cross.

When I arrived at the area, I saw I could walk about 1/2 way across (30 feet or so) in ankle-deep water before taking my chances with the last 30 feet of deeper surging current (since the water was so dirty, I had no clue how deep it was, nor what the footing was like on the bottom). I found a sturdy stick to give me another point of balance in the deep water, and with a deep breath I said "Ok, here comes the fun part"...

I carefully made my way through the ankle-deep section and realized the river bottom was composed of lose and jagged shoe-box sized rocks. So much for good footing. As I started moving into the deep part, I felt the icy-cold water bite at my skin as it rose past my knees. At that point I was moving quite cautiously, planting my support stick at a steep angle to brace myself against the force of the current. Between the power of the current and temperature of the water, I was ready to admit defeat to Mother Nature and congratulate her on kicking my butt on this day. Unfortunately, as the water rose up to my waist, and its force had me leaning with tremendous stress on my stick, I knew there was no turning back; trying to shift my weight to turn around at this point would immediately knock me from my feet and send me down the rapids.

The branches from the small bushes on the shore in front of me seemed so close at this point (about 10 feet away). Even though the riverbank immediately rose 100+ feet in a steep cliff on that side of the river, I didn't worry about what that climb would be like, I just worried about grabbing one of those branches to pull myself to safety. I thought surely the water would start to become more shallow as I moved closer to the shore, but the steepness of the bank, clearly the result of years of river-erosion, told me there was likely little relief coming my way until I grabbed those branches. With about 8 feet to go, and the water now at mid-waist, the stress from the current's force had my legs and stick at screaming at red-line levels. I know the saying goes "It never always gets worse", but I was about discover the exception to that rule.

As I planted my stick for the next step, the pressure from the water was too much and in an instant I heard the stick snap and was immediately knocked from my feet and sent down the river at Phelps-like speed. It was freezing cold, tremendously disorienting, and really really REALLY not what I had planned for my easy afternoon workout.

Two flashes of my backwoods training immediately clicked through my brain. First, I needed to fight my instinct to put my feet down searching for the bottom - The most dangerous part of being pulled down a raging river is not what you see above the water, but those rocks, downed trees, and random debris that lay below waiting to snap your legs as the current rushes you down the river. Second, I needed to slowly try to make my way toward the shore as the current allowed. Trying to fight it on any level would be completely useless and exhausting. Lucky for me, after just a few seconds, the river's natural bend brought me within a few strong strokes to some over-hanging branches on the shore. I saw my opportunity and with a quick surge I was able to grasp the branches and pull myself to the safety. Phew!!

Of course once I pulled myself out of the water, the wind-blown 45 degree air told me that I needed to get moving fast to generate some heat. Climbing the 100 foot cliff in front of me looked like a great way to accomplish this goal, so up I went. My hands were pretty numb, but I did my best to wrap them around every branch and root I could find to help pull me up. As I neared the top, I figured I'd have a good 1/2 hour bushwhack search to find my way back to the trail that leads to the parking area, but apparently the Gods of Trail Running decided I finally deserved a break: When I crested the top of the climb, the trail was just 5 feet in front of me. Woohoo!

10 minutes later, I was back at my car...stripping off my freezing wet clothes as fast as I could (I apologize to any woodland animals who came upon this sight on an otherwise pleasant afternoon). I saw that one of my Vasques now had a big slice through the fabric across the top (no clue when this happened), and I laughed a bit when I realized my feet were already basically dry even though there was still a puddle of water in my shoes. Thanks Drymax!

So what was the lesson learned here? Not really sure. I have no clue why that river swelled up so much an hour after the rain stopped, but if I can take anything away from this ordeal, I guess it was a nice training session for my attempt at the Barkley Marathons next year!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Cherry Blossom Weekend

It's that time of year again here in DC - the annual Cherry Blossom festival!

Many DC residents hate the festival because of the 9 billion tourists that flood the city and make Obama's inauguration crowd look like the line at an Arby's by comparison. Having grown up in New England, however, I'm accustomed to folks clogging the streets and sidewalks every year to check out foliage of another sort, so I roll with it.

...and I run with it too! As luck would have it, one of the highest concentrations of Cherry Blossoms is along my regular Hains Point loop. After blasting my legs on a 30+ mile Bull Run run on Saturday, I took the opportunity during my recovery run yesterday to bring along my camera and show everyone my daily running route at its prettiest.
First off, here's a map to orient you. That big green peninsula in the middle of the picture is where I run (I run about 2.5 miles to get there/back home). On that strip of land (also known as East Potomac Park), there's a road around the outside and a golf course in the middle. The southern tip of the peninsula is called Hains Point, and I will put it up against any other place on earth in terms of consistently brutal wind in the winter. Something about the Potomac River forcing the prevailing winds in a NNE direction makes that place seem more like Mt. Washington in New Hampshire than Washington, DC (For those of you too lazy to follow that link, I mentioned Mt. Washington because it is the home of the highest wind speed ever recorded on earth - 231 mph).

Here's what it looks like from the road during Cherry Blossom week. You know how people refer to the Appalachian Trail as the "Long Green Tunnel", well, I've got my very own pink tunnel to run here in DC.

Between the road and the fence/trees that line the golf course is a great strip of single-track. I try to run on this as frequently as possible to give my legs a break from the hard roads.

More pink tunnel. In about a week all of those blossoms will be on the ground. The brightest flames burn quickest, as they say. I actually enjoy the blossoms just as much when they fall - it's like running through piles of pink snow out there (minus the cold/frostbite)!

On the west side of the loop you can see Reagan National Airport across the Potomac. Fisherman are pretty much camped out here around the clock. I'm not sure they catch anything great - I get the feeling they enjoy coming out here for the peacefulness more than anything else. Especially at night when the place is completely deserted. After a long day at work, I appreciate the area for that reason as well.

After I have my fun out on Hains Point, I make my way back home. One of the cool things about living 1 block from the Capitol Building is this view as I make the turn with 1 mile to go. No matter if my run was 6 miles or 60 miles, this is always the view for the final stretch home. It's even prettier at night...and I never take it for granted!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Winter Recap and Future Plans

April is here! Warm weather and lots of races are finally blossoming on the calendar...and this time couldn't have come soon enough for me - What a mess the past 3 months have been for my running! Hopefully I can learn from some mistakes and be smarter in the future. Here's a quick recap of 2009 thus far:

Even though I dealt with some knee issues in January, I was still able to rack up a solid 350 miles of running on the roads for the month. By the beginning of February, my knee was feeling great and I was looking forward to the Iron Horse 100. Then, of course, my shin blew up (totally my fault for running a 20 miler on it the day after I initially hurt it), and both that race and my month of training were shot. I was only able to cover 137 miles in the month...and I needed to take a whopping 14 (!!) days completely off as my leg healed up. ...and yes, I was quite miserable the whole time.

With March came some new hope (and smarter rehab planning). In the end I was able to run/elliptical on all but 2 days. Here's the breakdown:

Elliptical Workouts: 10 days - 70 miles
Running: 16 days - 132 miles
VersaClimber: 4 days - 28,000 feet
Lifting: 20 days (after all elliptical sessions and some runs)
Off Days: 2

With the turn of the calendar to April, my shin feels great, and I'm hoping I can stay out of the elliptical world completely. This weekend I'll be putting in my first honest days work in a long time (30+ miles on the Bull Run Trail). Since that race (on 4/18) will just be a training run for me this year, I won't do any sort of taper before it (not that I have anything to taper down from anyway!). My only goal right now is to stay healthy while racking up enough miles to turn in a strong effort at the Mohican Trail 100 in June.

As for my schedule after that race, there are too many ???s right now for me to really know what the heck I'm doing. The main reason for the confusion is they still haven't named a site/date for the US 24 Hour National Championships. I received an email last week from the folks who sanction the event, and they said they're in the process of finding the right race - they hope to have a decision in a couple weeks. Since that event is my #1 priority for the 2nd half of this year, I'll just have to be patient and wait for the announcement before solidifying my schedule.

In addition to the National Championship,
I'd love to squeeze in a couple of these as well:

Viaduct Trail 100 - August 8 - Just the perfect example of why I love ultra-running: No glitz, glamor, bells, or whistles. Just Man v. 100 miles of nature. This race is a "Fat Ass" event, meaning you have to crew for yourself and no real aid is given by the race directors (they do supply water). The race also has a $0 entry fee, which is right up my alley. Each finisher gets an old railroad spike as their award - how cool is that?! I'm on the wait-list right now (only 30 people get in), but I have hopes some will drop
before the race (I think I'm 5 or so deep on the list). My big thing this year is to save $$ by picking races I can drive to, so with this one being just 5 hours from home, I'm definitely looking forward to it.

North Coast 24 Hour - October 3 - This is a brand new race located directly on the shore of Lake Erie in Cleveland. The .91 mile loop looks to be flat and fast. If the National Championship isn't too close to this one, I'd love to head out and give it a try. With Cleveland also about a 5-6 hour drive from home, this also appeals to me as another drive-in race option.

Pinhoti 100 Miler - November 7 - I REALLY want to run this one. I hope the National Championship isn't too close. The course is the type of point-to-point trail run I love with enough elevation to keep the quads burning all day long. Sure, an 11 hour drive is pushing it, but a stop off 1/2 way in Nashville could break it up and make for a nice vacation book-end.

In the meantime I'll just focus on making April a healthy month, and hopefully by May we'll all know when/where the National Championship will be and the rest of the year can finally fall into place too!