Saturday, August 28, 2010

Long Trail Race Report!

When can falling 120+ miles short of your goal be considered a successful run? When you realize your adventure isn't about personal achievement at all, but about rallying an amazing group of friends to support a cause more important than any silly trail run. Thanks to all of you who so generously donated to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, I have a big smile on my face while typing this report knowing the great thing we all accomplished. Together we raised over $3,000 for cancer research. Teamwork is awesome. Thank you!!

As for the down-and-muddy details of what happened up there over 150 miles of the VT Long Trail, here we go...

I knew I was up against a tough challenge when the pre-run forecast of rain, rain, and more rain came true. My crew (parents Joan and Steve) drove me up to the Vermont/Canada border from MA on Sunday under dark skies and steady showers. They, along with their over-stuffed Murano, would serve as my lifeline over the next three days in the mountains.
You need a slice of pizza or a roll of duct tape? The crew has it!

Since the Long Trail starts about 1.5 miles from the nearest road, I packed up my gear and hiked about half-way up to the LT the night before where I could sleep in a shelter out of the elements.
Great shot of me prepping in the rain just before I headed into the mountains
Steve's look sums up my feelings about the rain too!
...and off I go into the slop!
I was lucky enough to have some company in the Journey's End shelter: Peter, a recent retiree from upstate NY was ready to begin his own Long Trail adventure the next day as well. Pete was planning on taking about 4 weeks, and in many ways I was envious of his plan. I grew up vacationing, hiking, etc. in the mountains of New England, and as a result I truly feel at home up there. A nice side-note for this Long Trail adventure would be that I would finally complete a long-delayed goal of hiking all of New England's 67 peaks above 4,000 feet. Even though I didn't make it to the end of the Long Trail, I did get far enough to cover the last of the 4,000 footers on my list, so that's something to smile about!

The rain came down steadily all night as I half-slept in the shelter. When I awoke at 5 a.m. to hike the final half-mile up to the official start of the Long Trail, the trail was a flat-out river, and the fog limited my visibility to about 10 feet. I took me 40 minutes of slipping and tripping to finally get up to the start, and with a quick video post, I was off at exactly 6:00 a.m.. I knew I was in for a challenge to stay on record pace with the wet conditions, so I did my best to ignore any time-goals and just take what the trail gave me. This really held true for the whole adventure. I didn't run with any music or anything that normally affects my effort or speed in normal races. I just let the trail dictate what speed it would allow at any given point, and took advantage when I could. Since I knew I had crew stops (with fresh shoes and socks) at roughly 10, 20, and 30 miles, I was able to worry a little less about avoiding some of the crazy stretches of mud and just plow through when I felt like keeping my momentum going. Exactly how bad was the mud? I posted this clip just to give everyone an idea. Conservatively speaking, I'd say at least 50% of the trail for the 150 miles I covered looked like this:
Mother Nature laughs at my record attempt plans!
The first of FIVE shoe/socks changes on Day One
Even with all the mud and slick-as-ice rocks, I was able to move pretty well along the trail early on. My legs were in perfect shape to power up the steep inclines and hammer the downs that offered reasonable footing. I finished each of the first three 10-mile sections about 15 minutes ahead of record pace (using Cave Dog's pace chart from 2004 since JB basically ran the same pace last year). I knew I was in excellent physical shape coming into this adventure, and the biggest factor for me hanging close to the record would be the weather. Having made it through those first 30 muddy miles in such good time, I figured it would only get easier as the trail would hopefully dry out as the day(s) went on. Of course, I also thought Cop Rock was a good idea for a TV show, so you know, I've been wrong before.

Up next after my mile 30 crew stop was a 20 mile section without any chance for crew access, so I loaded up on extra water in my pack and headed out looking to make it through mile 50 in the daylight (something I never thought possible in the wet conditions to start the day). I had another nice section of progress here, signed into the trail register near mile 50 at Route 15, and packed up my overnight bag w/ my change of clothes and mylar blanket.
"Trooper" signs in yet another trail register

It got pretty cold at night, but I had my grandma's cookies to keep me warm!
My plan was to get up over Madonna Peak by midnight so I could grab some sleep on the trail before heading back down to meet my crew at Rt. 108 around 7 a.m.. The trail over Madonna Peak is notorious for being poorly marked and tough to follow. I knew this heading in and took extra time to make sure I was on the right route. As a note on the Long Trail markings overall, I must say I was surprised at how hard they were to follow on many of the open crossings near ski areas (Stark's Nest, you're totally off my Christmas card list!)...and then there was the 17 mile section between Lincoln Gap and Middlebury Gap where, apparently, they've decided to remove ALL trail blazes...can't figure out the reasoning on that at all, but some of the trees literally had chiseled out sections were the blazes once existed.

As it was, I didn't get lost heading over Madonna Peak, but that section did prove to be super muddy and slippery (made worse by that fact that I was doing it in the dark). After getting to a good spot to lay down, and taking the time to clean up with some baby wipes and change my clothes, I only had 90 minutes to sleep (between 2 a.m - 3:30 a.m.) before I had to get back on the trail to meet my parents at the appointed time. As expected, this time passed like a blink of the eyes, and I was up and on the move before I knew it.  I was probably a little anxious to get started on the massively-tough second day, and in my haste on the dark trail, I took a couple stupid wrong turns wasting about 30 minutes total. At one point, I was so turned around, I needed to crack out my compass to make sure I wasn't actually headed back up toward Canada on the trail. So stupid!  Delays aside, I made it back to my crew in good shape and ready to tackle the big climbs of Day 2.

First up was the highest peak in the state of Vermont, the "Chin" of Mt. Mansfield. This was a beautiful (and tough!) climb, and I posted this clip about 500 feet below the peak as the sun started coming out. I figured with sun and wind the trail would be finally drying out and I could have a strong day on solid trails, but man-oh-man was I wrong. Nearly this entire 20 mile un-aided section was a mud bog mess (with the exposed rocks above the tree line being the only dry terrain I would traverse all day).  I felt like I was in the Rime of the Ancient Mariner with 'water, water, everywhere, and not a drop to drink'!  Even though things weren't going easily (on top of struggling w/ the terrain, I had two hard falls when trying to push the pace), I did force a smile when passing by this sign so I could send the pic to my wife's Nebraska-native family:

By the time I made it back to my crew at Bolton Notch Road, I'd fallen more than a couple hours off record pace and was tremendously frustrated w/ the all the mud. My legs still felt surprisingly strong, but they wanted to RUN, and there was precious little of that on this day. After the next short and somewhat easy section, followed by the only three paved road miles of the Long Trail (that I reached, anyway), I pulled into Duxbury Road parking lot at the foot of the huge Camel's Hump climb ready to regroup and have some dinner. The crew had a tasty pizza waiting for me, and I was more than happy to make it disappear!
Enjoying dinner while checking out the work ahead of me when the sun goes down.
I felt fantastic after my dinner break and actually enjoyed the tough 7 mile climb up and over Camel's Hump. It wasn't until the top section that the trail reverted to its usual muddy mess. Prior to that, I was enjoying the best trail conditions of the whole 95 mile journey to this point. After making it up and over the Hump, I headed a couple miles back down to find a vacant tent platform to crash on for a couple hours. I was pretty tired after such a long, hard day (and only 90 mins of sleep the night before), and I was happy to be able to get 3 hours of sleep here in the appropriately-named "Wind Gap". That wind, I should point out, provided me with one of the more humorous moments of my adventure: About 2 hours into my sleep, I had a dream in which a couple morning radio DJs were reading off a list of the "Top 10 Most Useless Consumer Products". They were laughing at #7 on the list, the "Emergency Space Blanket", when I woke up and realized I was shivering like crazy as a result of the wind blowing my emergency blanket off my feet. It's crazy how quickly the brain works like that!

Because of the cold and wind, I woke up again before my 3:45 a.m. alarm and hit the trail to warm up. I had my nutrition plan operating to perfection on the whole trip, and I smiled at how completely fresh my legs felt even after nearly 48 hours of being beat up on the trail. Even my knee, which I smashed up pretty badly on Day One was starting to feel better as well. I was a couple hours behind record pace getting to Appalachian Gap, but with things feeling as good as they did, and the trail hopefully improving in the miles ahead, I was confident I could make up the time once I was able to run a little more.

First up on Day 3 was a 12 mile section to Lincoln Gap that would climb up and over two more 4,000ft. peaks. My fresh legs laughed at the climbs, and the predicted rain held off throughout the morning, but other than that, the section was a disaster. I lost the trail twice when passing over unmarked sections by ski trails (seriously, why aren't these things marked better...or AT ALL, even?!!!) and wasted about 30 minutes walking around in circles looking for the correct route. In addition, the 4 mile ridge line between Mt. Ellen and Mt. Abraham was a pure slop-fest. I really was trying to run (fueled by my trail-marking frustrations), but the mud and slick rocks would have none of it. When I made it down to the crew at Lincoln Gap, they were happy with how quickly I covered the section, but I let them know about all the delays and knew I lost a big opportunity to get back on record pace because of it.
Storming down to the road after a frustrating section. Note that sign says the trail is closed through Memorial Day to preserve it through the Spring Mud Season. Here's one vote to formally extend "Mud Season" through August!
Everyone says the trail gets easier once you head south of Lincoln Gap, so I was excited about starting out on the next 17 mile section through the Breadloaf Wilderness to Middlebury Gap. The good news was, even though the mud was still horrendous, there definitely were more runnable sections of this trail, and the climbs were short and easy as well. The problem was, with more runnable sections, the number of my slips and falls increased as well. The most notable fall involved me banging the inside of my already-banged-and-swollen knee extremely hard on a rock (this spectacular fall also involved me bouncing off my chest and knocking out my wind for a while). I knew I needed to keep moving to keep the knee from stiffening up too much, but it was certainly painful going for a mile or two. I knew I dodged a serious bullet, and even though I couldn't run as well as before with the new hitch in my gate, I still made good time over the section and had made up a huge chunk of time on the record pace.  I arrived for a some dinner at Middlebury Gap in a good mood and ready for things to get faster and easier on the final 130 miles or so.
All smiles at Middlebury Gap with dinner in my belly and easy miles ahead
I headed into the darkness ready for a couple more hours of moving before grabbing an hour or two of sleep wherever convenient along the way. Just as things were looking really good (and my parents had just promised me the forecast was for nothing but clear skies for the rest of the week), it started to rain again. Son of a Blaze! Not again!!

About an hour later, while moving pretty well despite the conditions, I had another surprise fall and hit the inside of my knee again. The resulting stream of expletives came out my mouth so hot and fast I think they actually dried out a mile of trail in front of me. I tried to walk it off for 20 minutes or so, but the pain and swelling was far too much to think about moving ahead safely, especially in the rain. I was able to hike up a little further to get cell coverage and let my crew know I needed turn around and meet them back at Middlebury Gap. I took a few minutes to record my "video of defeat", and then I broke off a nice crutch from a dead tree and began the s-l-o-w trip back down the mountain. With my knee limiting my leg flexibility to about 10%, I wasn't very stable on my feet when I hit the rocky sections, but I had to make my way off the mountain, so down I went.

Just to prove Nature didn't care about my (or any human) intentions, about a mile from the road I came upon a toad sitting in the middle of a wooden plank covering a mud bog . I didn't want to step on the toad with a wobbly step, and since I couldn't go around him due to the deep bog, I used my cane to give him a little tap on the butt to get him to jump out of the way. To my surprise, he didn't budge one bit! After another tap, and no reaction, I realized what he was really telling me: That toad, just like the rest of Nature, really didn't care about my plans. The toad wasn't moving for me, the rain wasn't stopping for me, and those rocks weren't drying off for me. In the months of preparation for this adventure, I had done all I could to put myself in the best position to break the speed record by controlling all the things I could (training, nutrition, gear, etc), but without a little luck from nature, it just wasn't possible to reach that goal. ...and even though I hate to fall short of any goal, I was OK with being forced to stop this time. There was simply nothing more I could do.

As it turned out, it rained all night long, and my knee swelled up even more making anything more than a slow, painful limp impossible. I gave it all I could during my 60 hours on the trail, and I tip my hat to Jonathan Basham, Cave Dog, and all the men and women who have made it through the entire Long Trail. It is, indeed, a rugged trail that rewards you with views of  beautiful countryside (when it's not slapping you in the face!). I highly recommend planning an adventure on the LT if you like this type of terrain, and I'm more than happy to lend some planning advice for anyone planning such a journey. Just let me know!

As for where I go from here, I'm not really sure. My legs feel fresh and strong, but my knee is pretty messed up. I'll need to give that some solid rest and rehab before getting back out on the training roads/trails. I'll most likely miss the Trilogy in WV, which pains me quite a bit since I've been looking forward to it for months, but I need to make sure this knee is 100% before I start beating it up again!

Finally, once more with great heart-felt emotion, I want to thank all of you for your donations and support for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. We've raised over $3,000 together on this adventure, and I couldn't be more proud to count all of you as my friends. You guys are the best!!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Video of Mud...Enough Said!

Thought I'd share this quick video from the trail since lots of people have been asking just how bad the conditions were up in VT.  I'll get my report up with plenty of photos and videos this weekend to tell the whole story, but this quick clip (and my obviously displeased tone)  sort of sum it all up in 15 seconds!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Video Update #5

Straight from the top of the appropriately named Mt. Horrid last night. I had a solid day and was reeling the record pace back in after being frustrated on the comically wet and muddy trails for the first 150 miles or so. My body was beaten up, not by the running/hiking, but from all the falls I took on the slick trail. In the end, a little more rain late last night and a third major impact fall on my knee did me in. I know the video is dark and I'm obviously sleep deprived, but you get the idea. It crushes me to say I had to stop. For as groggy as I am in the video, however, the message at the end is exactly the what matters here. Thank you all so much again, and Lizzy & I will happily donate the last bit to get to the $3,000 goal. In the end, there's no way I can consider this event a failure because of all of your generosity and what we accomplished together. Thank you!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Video Update #4

Video Update - #3

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Monday, August 23, 2010

Long Trail Update

An update from the Crew! Dan is having trouble with cell phone coverage, so we are updating through Tim's computer at Brewster River Campground. Dan is doing great, despite the knee deep mud. He is currently around mile 35 and about 1 hour ahead of the record so far.  Weather has been great today...some rain coming in overnight, but clearing again in the morning. More tomorrow!
The Crew

Video Update: Off I Go!

Off I go!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Photo update from Sunday night

I'm in the starting blocks, ready to rock! Problems w video up here, but hopefully this will go through. Raining like crazy, probably the same for tomorrow too, so it'll be a bit slow to start, but I'll get the train moving as soon as nature allows!

Video Update #1

First of many (hopefully!) video posts from my adventure! Without editing ability, you'll get to see my true emotions along the my less-than-pleased mood right now with rain forecast for the next two solid days. Boo!!! I'll fall behind the record, but won't a final two-day rally be fun?! I hope so! If nothing else, I look forward to growing that beard even more like a true VT mountain man! 

Monday, August 16, 2010

Vermont Long Trail - Let's Go!!!

Illustration by David Blumenthal
After a long year of training and anticipation, the Vermont Long Trail adventure is finally here!  I'll be driving up from DC to my parents' place in MA on Saturday, and then we'll make the final 4 hour push up to the Canadian border in northern VT on Sunday.  I'll be hiking up to the start of the trail on Monday morning with plans to begin the adventure at exactly 6am. I'll be sure to take a photo of my watch next to the "trail monument" at the northern terminus of the LT for official proof of my exact start time. After that I'll plan on taking various photos and videos along the way and posting them here when I pass through cell coverage areas. I'll do my best to get 2 or 3 updates posted each day...and I suppose I'll spend some time running too!  I'll have a loose plan to run 20 hours and sleep 4 hours each of the first two days. From there we'll see where I am in relation to the record and adjust as needed.  I will plan on meeting up with my parents once a day at a road crossing for re-supply of food, etc.. I'll be running with a small pack, sleeping wherever appropriate, and collecting water from various natural sources along the way.

Since I am trying to break the "Fastest Known Time" (FKT) on the trail, I'm following the appropriate rules to be as transparent and open as possible during my adventure. While foolish things like performance-enhancing drugs and other forms of cheating/lying have pretty much invaded all levels of sports in the world today, I'm happy to say the long-distance hiking/running world is still one in which Gentleman's (and Gentlewoman's!) Rules are respected.  Peter Bakwin has done a great job in recent years of maintaining a website where all FKTs are listed and updated as results are reported. By following the general rules prior to, during, and after a trail run, proof of your result should be clear and accepted by all in the community. Here are the simple rules to follow, per Mr. Bakwin and Buzz Burell:
  • Announce your intentions in advance. Like a true gentleman, pay your respects to those who came before you, and tell them what you intend to attempt and when.
  • Be an open book. Invite anyone to come and watch or, better yet, participate. This makes your effort more fun and any result more believable.
  • Record your event. Write down everything immediately upon completion. Memory doesn't count.
I'm happy to report that I reached out to the current Long Trail record-holder, Jonathan Basham, and he has wished me well on my journey.  I will also be posting my intentions on the ultralist to notify all other interested members of the community. Of course, this blog here will be the proof of my progress along the way, and if anyone happens to be up in VT next week and can figure out my location from my updates, please feel free to join me for a few miles!

Important note of clarification: I'm not running the Long Trail simply to set the speed record. If I do, great, but my adventure is much more important than that. Simply put, if this was 20 or 30 years ago, I would most likely be dead...I wouldn't have lived past 27 years-old. Because of the advancements made in treating many forms of cancer in the past few decades (including my non-Hodgkin's lymphoma), I was able to walk out of the hospital with a new lease on life.  Much like Spiderman's powers, with that gift came great responsibility. One obvious way I give back is by helping to raise money for cancer research, but perhaps even more important to current patients is doing something that can inspire them to keep fighting.

I recall the rush of adrenaline I felt during chemo treatments when reading about survivors like Lance Armstrong who came back better than ever after cancer treatments. Even though I know I'm no Lance Armstrong, I still push myself as hard as I can to accomplish things in my new life that will hopefully serve to inspire my fellow patients.  I'm running the Long Trail to celebrate this new life and inspire others.

Am I as talented as the current and former record-holders on that course? Nope!  Do I have the motivation in this adventure to make up for that talent gap and seriously challenge the record? I honestly think I do.

So, let's get these gangly legs out there in the Green Mountains and see what we can do!  I say "we", because with your help this will truly be a team effort.  Every comment posted to this blog, and every $10 donated to DFCI will give me the strength I need to keep pushing on out there.  My eyes are steel, and my gaze is long...Let's do this!!!!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Long Trail Gear List

Over the past few weeks I've learned first-hand that planning for a rugged 273 mile run through the mountains probably takes longer than actually running it.  With that in mind, I figured I'd share my gear list for my upcoming Long Trail run that kicks off at 6 a.m. on Monday, August 23. Hopefully this will help some of you when planning your future backwoods adventures!

Hokas: Goofy-looking? Yes. Total feet-saver? Even more so!
For maximum feet preservation, I'll start off in a pair of super-cushy Hoka Mafates on Day One. Hopefully they'll save my feet a bit over the next couple days on the rocky trails. If I'm still on record pace after Day 2 and things feel good with the Hokas, I'll stick with them the rest of the way to pamper my feet as much as possible. If I'm behind the record after Day 2, I'll swap them out for a pair of Saucony Xodus v.2 or Montrail Mountain Masochists. I know I can burn up the trail a little faster in those shoes, even if it means my feet take a little more of a beating. ...and if I'm behind on the record at the start of Day 4, I'll throw caution to wind and strap on the ol' 7.8oz. New Balance 100s to put on one last mad sprint to the finish.    
Random Note: My review of the Saucony Xodus from May of last year remains the most-visited post of all time on this blog. It has received over 5,000 original hits, and a huge amount of those have come via a direct link from a Swedish running site. I swear, in that country, my post is like the David Hasselhoff of Germany.

Socks, Shins, etc.
Naturally, I'll be rocking the Drymax Max Pros on my feet out there. With blisters being mentioned in a couple recaps of previous record runs on the LT, I'm thinking I could have a nice advantage in the second half of the run.  Keeping the trail debris out of my shoes will be my trusty old Dirty Girl Gaiters, and proving I can support the running industry even further by wearing a fourth below-the-knee product, I'll have OxySox on to provide compression support over my calves (and yes, I cut the feet off the Oxys so I can wear my Drymax there instead).

Shorts and Shirts
No rhyme or reason to this line up of randomly collected stuff. I'll change every day, and layer as needed in the cool evenings/mornings. Everything from Adidas shorts to a Zippered windbreaker will be worn at some point, I'm sure.

Lots of Hammer Gel, Perpetuem, and Recoverite. I'll probably grab whatever "real" food my parents have for me when I meet up with them every day too. I'm pretty sure a cold slice or two of pizza is going to sound really good after a couple days.

Other Gear
Love the Miwok. Great running pack for long adventures.
Since my crew re-supply stops will be limited to once-a-day (by my preference), I'll be running with the same pack I wore during my solo 142 mile Horse-Shoe Trail run last fall, the Gregory Miwok. In there I'll have my food, water, Mylar blanket for sleeping on the trail, change of clothes, and other essentials.

Some may question the benefit of wearing a pack when all recent record-holders have run without one (opting for multiple crew stops and pacers to haul their supplies instead), and those people may end up being right to question this move when all is said and done. But to be honest, I feel like I run best and enjoy the "adventure" of long runs when I don't have to worry about other people and can just embrace the solitude of it all. Sure, I'll waste a little time finding my own water along the way, and yes, my shoulders and back will probably be destroyed by the end, but I can also guarantee I'll have fun on my mostly self-reliant journey, and that's really what it's all about!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Two Weeks to Go!

Two weeks from today I'll be up in the mountains of Vermont running my way 273 miles south from the Canadian boarder. Since you could definitely say I'm 'champing at the bit' like a racehorse, I thought it was appropriate to include this photo from my trip to the Virginia MFA over the weekend with Lizzy. Among their vast and impressively varied collections was this sculpture of 'Christmas Goose', the horse who won the Virginia 100 mile ride in 1977, 1978, and 1979. Since I was wearing my Vermont 100 buckle (the VT100 is the only 100 mile run that still features horses and runners racing together), I thought this photo was necessary!

As for what I'll do over the next two weeks to try and stay relaxed, I'm really not sure. I couldn't be happier with how all of my training has gone over the past couple months, especially in terms of improving my leg strength for climbing those mountains. Since I live in flatter-than-flat DC, I've been a little creative in my training in order to maximize elevation gain during the week when trips to the hilly trails aren't as easy to squeeze in.  My favorite workout (read: most insane) has been taking place in the 7-story stairwell at my office 2-3 times a week. Since it's 70 feet up, and I generally like to rack up at least 4,000 ft. of gain with every hill workout, I run that stairwell 57 times in a row!  That might sound a little monotonous, but I actually enjoy it quite a bit....OK, I enjoy trips 1-40 quite a bit, then it's all pretty much screaming hell for the last 17, but still, it's a great workout! I highly recommend!

One more note about the Long Trail Adventure:  After doing all my research on how best to let everyone follow along with my progress, I've determined that the SPOT GPS transmitter will not be a worthwhile option on this run. I was hoping to have that live GPS tracking available 24/7 during the run, but even the SPOT staff I spoke with said they can't guarantee it'll work under the heavy tree-cover of the Long Trail (those of you who saw Karl Meltzer's struggles with it on his AT run a couple years ago know what they mean). Since it's $300 to buy the SPOT unit and set up service, I think I'd rather use that $300 to donate to DFCI and just do my best to keep this blog updates 2 or 3 times a day via other means. I think the most common way I'll do that is by posting via text when I pass through an area with cell coverage. I'll be able to include a photo and up-to-the-minute status of my progress along the route that way. I know it's not the same as minute-by-minute tracking ability, but I'll do my best to make it entertaining for anyone who wants to follow along!