Monday, December 23, 2013

2013 Year in Review

"People who succeed have momentum. The more they succeed, the more they want to succeed, and the more they find a way to succeed." - Tony Robbins

What a year 2013 has been.  It started off with a 2nd place finish at a cold and muddy 50k in February.  Then in March I had my first win in an ultra at the Oak Mountain 50k.  After that my wife and I decided to move from Nashville, TN to Charleston, SC.  My running slacked for the next few months until we moved in May but I regained the motivation to start logging miles again after the move. 

I have run this bridge many times since moving to Charleston
I quickly realized that running in Charleston is completely different than running in Nashville.  There are very few trails and zero hills other than a bridge in Mount Pleasant leading to downtown.  A lot of the runners here seem to care more about 5k and 10k times rather than 50 mile or 100 mile times but this has benefitted me greatly.  I have joined several running groups, and I run a lot more track workouts now.  My speed has increased, and I have kept the fitness needed to be successful in ultra running. 

I took another win at the Cremator 50 Mile Ultra in July.  It was hot and I did not eat nearly enough calories but managed to build up a big lead and hung on for dear life in the last 12 miles.  The Cremator helped me take a major step forward in my running because it was in that race that I realized I need to take in a lot more calories and stay hydrated in order to finish strong in my races.  I know this should be common sense but it is easier said than done. 

I tested out my new found epiphany at the Long Cane 50k.  Even though I started off with plans of running the 55 mile option I had to drop down to the 50k due to a knee injury.  I felt great taking gels every 20-30 minutes. Even after 5 hours of running I felt like I could have kept going, aside from my knee issue.  The big test was the last weekend of September at the North Face Endurance Challenge in Atlanta.  I took one hour off of my previous years’ time and finished in 3rd.  I was in the lead through mile 44 but ended up losing it to two great runners.  I took 20 gels in the span of 8 hours and it kept my energy high.  I lost, not because of my nutrition, but because of my fitness.  I finished off the year with a win and course record at Mad Marsh 50k.

Thinking back to the beginning of 2013, I never imagined it would turn out to be such a great year. I had planned some big goals for myself and ended up surpassing all of them. Looking forward to 2014 I am very excited about what lies ahead.  Lowcountry Ultras is starting a points system for their races and at the end of all 5 races whoever has the least amount of points (points are given cross country style; i.e. 1st = 1 point, 5th = 5 points….you get the idea) wins the series.  The winner will get some swag plus entry into all 2015 races.  The races include Delirium 24hr, Bad Marsh 50k, Cremator 50 Miler with the option to run the Double Cremator, Homestead 10x5k and finally the Mad Marsh 50k.  I have all 5 races on my schedule for 2014 as I have every intention of winning the series.  If you think you have what it takes, check out their website and come out and challenge me. 

Also on the schedule for the first weekend of October is the Grindstone 100 in Swoope, Va.  This race has a measly 23,300 feet of climbing and 23,300 feet of descending on some of the most technical trails in the nation.  I get goose bumps just thinking about it.  Here is a description of the race on their website: “Grit, endurance, temporary loss of sanity.  You might need all of these if you want to attempt Grindstone.  If you want to finish, well, just keep in mind this is, without a doubt, the hardest 100 miler east of the 100th meridian.” I have read race reports from all levels of runners, and they have all said this is one of the most difficult races they have ever attempted.

Other than the races I mentioned, I would love to add 1-2 more races to my schedule. Right now I am thinking I would like to add a 50 or 100 mile race in the spring on the East Coast - so if you know of a good one, please let me know. 

Thanks for reading all about my adventures in running the ultra mile. If any of you are ever in the Charleston area, I encourage you to reach out to me so we can go for a run. There’s no better way to explore a new city than through running – trust me.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Mad Marsh 50K Race Report

"A lot of people run a race to see who is fastest. I run to see who has the most guts, who can punish himself into exhausting pace, and then at the end, punish himself even more. Nobody is going to win a 5,000 meter race after running an easy 2 miles. Not with me. If I lose forcing the pace all the way, well, at least I can live with myself." - Steve Prefontaine

Mad Marsh 50K consists of seven 4.5 mile loops on an old golf course in which the cart path has been removed exposing the grass and sand.  Although I missed a couple of long tempo runs in the weeks leading up to the race, I was still satisfied with my fitness level.  I felt good on Saturday, November 23rd as my wife and I made the 2 hour trek down to Beaufort, SC at 3:45 a.m.

After catching up with a few buddies, I did a quick warm up before heading to the start line. Anyone that knows Tim Waz (Race Director of all LowCountry Ultra races) knows that he starts on time and not a second later.  So exactly at 6:30 a.m. we were off running.  I decided to take the race out hard and then settle into a nice pace after a couple of miles.  Since it was a looped course, I knew I would have a better idea after the first lap of how slow/fast the course was. Although the entire course was flat, with the exception of one small hill, you still had grass, pine straw and sand to slow you down. I came through the first loop in 29:08.  A little faster than I intended, but I was feeling great.

The next couple of loops came and went fairly quickly and were rather uneventful.  I was holding onto my 3:30 50K pace through the 4th loop.  At the start of my 5th loop I remember telling Tim "It's gut check time" because I knew it would be hard for me to hold that pace much longer.  There was very little shade to protect you from the sun on the course so when the clouds broke it started to heat up quickly. The 5th loop I ran in 32:50 which was a full 1 1/2 minutes slower than any loop up to that point.  I continued pushing myself and hoped for a sub 3:40 finish.

Going into the 6th loop I needed to cover the last 9 miles in 1:07 in order to go sub 3:40.  I told myself it was possible and went on my way as I took a couple of clif gels.  Everytime I got in to a  groove, I would hit another sand patch that was just big enough to slow me down.  I forced myself to stay relaxed and smooth on this lap before giving it everything I had on the final lap.  When I came back to the start/finish line I knew it would be difficult to break 3:40 so I made a quick stop to refill my water bottle.  At this point, I knew I had to run the last lap in 32 minutes and went for it.  After a 1/2 mile I began to believe that I would get it done.  Even though my legs hurt I felt like I had just enough left to finish sub 3:40. Then out of no where I lost all energy in my legs.  My pace dramatically dropped and all hope disappeared.  I cruised into the finish line with a time of 3:43:58. Tim congratulated me,  I kissed my wife and we sat down to cheer on the rest of the racers.

A big Congratulations to Sara Maltby who finished in 2nd place with a time of 4:01:05 and absolutely crushed the women's course record.  Considering the race is in November, you wouldn't expect for it to be so warm - so Congratulations to everyone who finished because it was hot out there which made for a tough day.
First place trophy 
On the way back home I made the decision that I am done racing for the year.  I thought about Lookout 50 in mid-December but mentally I need a break from racing.  I will continue to put in miles because my first 24 hour event is only 2 months away, and I have BIG plans for that race.

Now sit back, relax and enjoy a few snapshots of me from the race:

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Lowcountry Trail Half Marathon Recap and Future Plans

"The more I train, the more I realize I have more speed in me." - Leroy Burrell

Not much has been happening since my North Face race in late September.  I recovered well from the race, and I was back running within a couple of days.  Two weeks after the race, I decided to run in a half marathon.  Just to be clear, my first love is ultra running and that is what I focus on. I don't run many races shorter than the 50k distance; however, I was lucky enough to win a free entry into the inaugural Low Country Trail 1/2 Marathon on Johns Island and couldn't pass up the opportunity to run in a new area.  Plus, this race gave me the chance to see how fast I could run a trail half marathon. Since this was a last minute decision to run this race, I had not done any half marathon specific training but figured I might be able to finish in a decent time.

After a brief warm up on the course, I quickly realized that the course was going to be slower than I thought due to thick grass and sandy trails but nonetheless I wanted to go out hard.  After coming through 2 miles in 11:30 I knew I wouldn't be able to sustain that pace but I still continued to run hard without holding back.  Naturally the part of the course in which we ran twice was the most difficult due to the thick grass. There was also a lot of twists, turns and roots which made me slow my pace down - but I wouldn't expect anything less from a trail race.  I was ecstatic to see 1:23:19 when I crossed the finish line.  All in all the course was awesome. It was well marked with every mile noted with a sign so you knew where you were on the course at all times.

Going out 'balls to the wall' for this half marathon made me think about trying to run a fast 50k. Being so close to Charleston I think the Mad Marsh 50K would be a perfect course to set a fast 50k pr.  I am hoping I can find the right balance of speed work and mileage over the next couple of weeks to put a good race together. I have come up with a plan, and pending any injuries, I think that I'll be able to achieve my goal.

Beyond that, I am thinking about running in the Lookout 50 miler in December. I heard it is an awesome race to compete in.  I think I am most excited about the Delirium 24hr race in February. I am intrigued by the thought of running for 24 straight hours to see how many miles I could log in that time frame.  I will be making my decisions about what races to compete in for the remainder of the year and early next year very soon. I look forward to testing my new strategies and seeing what this 29 year old body of mine can do.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Revenge at The North Face Endurance Challenge Atlanta 50 Miler

"Racing is pain, and that's why you do it, to challenge yourself and the limits of your physical and mental barriers.  You don't experience that in an armchair watching television."- Mark Allen

After last years debacle at North Face in Atlanta, I vowed to never run that race again simply because it beat me up so badly physically and mentally.  However, there I was Saturday morning at 4:55 a.m. standing at the start line in pitch black darkness, thinking about the events that happened last year and trying not to let them happen again this year.  I wanted my revenge.

At 5:00 a.m. sharp the first wave of runners headed down the open field toward the Pine Mountain trail where we would spend the next 2 hours stumbling through the darkness. Right before we stepped on to the trail, I realized that I was leading everyone. This surprised me as I was running a very modest pace.  After a couple of miles we had established a group of about 5 runners.  It was a great group to run with as we were all chatting and getting to know each other.

5 miles down... 45 more to go!
We came into the first aid station, which was 5 miles in, and I decided to run right through without stopping.  We only had 6 miles to the next aid, and I had enough water and gels to get me through this section.  The trail was lined with glow sticks which made navigation easy so the only thing I had to worry about was not falling over the many rocks that were on the course.  I was concentrating on taking a Clif Gel every 25-30 minutes.  I wanted to stay ahead of my nutrition plan early as I knew it would be difficult for me to take in calories later.  Every time we came to a hair pin turn, I would glance behind to see how many we had in our group.  We had 4 in our group with Jonathan Allen just behind.

Refilling at 11 miles
After a quick bathroom break, which relieved me of my pacing duties, I filed in the back of our group. At the second aid station I refilled my bottle, restocked on Clif Gels and grabbed a pack of Clif Shot Blocks.  Even though it was less than 5 miles to the next aid station I wanted the calories.  I was feeling great and was excited about how the race was going, even though it was early.  When the sun finally broke through the trees I turned off my headlamp and... fell flat on my face.  Are you kidding me!!!!  I make it through 2+ hours of pitch black darkness on this technical trail without falling and within 30 seconds of turning the headlamp off I do a face plant.  Lucky for me, I didn't hurt myself too badly.

Our group of 4 was still together at the 16 mile aid station. As we left, I remembered from the year before that the next 7 miles was one of the harder sections of the course so I wanted to keep a steady pace. Along here our group dwindled from 4 down to 3 and then down to 2.  Not knowing it at the time but Russell Jones and myself would spend the next 5 hours separated by no more than 30 seconds.

Coming into 29.1 aid station
Knowing the 23 mile aid station was just up the trail I stopped to use the bathroom, giving Russell around 30 seconds going into the aid station.  While at the aid station, I ate a few bananas and headed down the trail back in the lead.  After a mile or so there was still no sign of Russell.  I turned onto a new section of the trail and started running up a long dirt road.  I glanced behind me and saw Russell making his way up the road.  I am glad he decided to catch up as it was easier to run with someone than by myself.  Every time we turned the corner, I saw that the trail kept going up; and I would grow more and more frustrated. Finally we turned off the dirt road  and on to a trail. We were then immediately faced with a short but steep climb.  This was a hands-on-knees kind of climb.  I was lucky to have Russell with me as we worked together to stay on the trail.  Some sections were tough to navigate so it was good to have 2 sets of eyes looking for the orange markers.  We finally broke through the trees and into an open field with the 29 mile aid station in sight.  We were running together into the aid station. We made quick work of the stop - refilled water bottles and stocked up on gels.

Up to this point my nutrition plan was perfect.  The Clif Gels were still tasting great and I was able to stomach them.  My legs were starting to get a little fatigued but that's what should happen after running 30 miles on a technical trail.  In the next 6.5 miles Russell and I continued to run together.  If I walked up a hill then he walked.  If I picked up the pace on a downhill or flat - he matched it.  We were making it a point to stay together and if someone caught up to us we hoped we would have the legs to stay with them.

Russell and I coming into 35.5 aid station
As we were nearing the 35.5 mile aid station I started to get really hungry.  Luckily I had some crackers in my race belt so I stopped to eat them even though the aid station was less than a mile up the road.  When I got to the aid station I planned on eating a little bit of everything they had.  I did not want to feel hungry again for the rest of the race.  I ate several bananas, Clif Shot Blocks, potatoes, saltine crackers and 2 gels all while the volunteer refilled my bottle.  To make it go down easier I even had a little bit of mountain dew.  Russell and I left the aid station once again, together. Knowing this was one of the easier sections we decided to run at a good pace in hopes that we could hold off whoever was behind us.

Over the next several miles we were never separated by more than a couple of seconds except when I stopped to use the bathroom.  We were passing 50k racers going the other direction and I was trying to catch back up to Russell.  A couple of the racers stopped to let me by and as I went by my foot hit a rock and down I went.  Yelling words that should not have been said (sorry Mom!)  I stood up and was hit with a cramp.  After a few seconds I started running and finally caught back up to Russell.
39.7 aid station
Coming into the 42.5 mile aid station we were once again together.  We refilled our bottles and went down the trail for the final 7.5 miles.  The problem with running in the lead is you don't know who is behind you and how far back they are.  While Russell and I were staying together, Jonathan Allen was inching closer and closer to us.  We figured he was lurking back there somewhere and it was only a matter of time before we saw him.  We hoped he used all of his energy trying to catch up to us and that we would be able to stay with him. Unfortunately, he passed us around the 44-45 mile mark while we were going up a hill, and I knew I could not match his pace. Russell moved on with Jonathan while I remained behind.  Once I made it to the top of the hill, I tried to put in one last effort in hopes of keeping it close but my legs just weren't able to keep the pace. After a long uphill leading to the final aid station, I knew there was no hope.  They had put a couple of minutes on me with only 2.5 miles left.

2.6 miles left
I made quick work of the last aid station as I wanted to finish in the top 3.  Once again I was in a position of not knowing who was behind me or how far back they were so I pushed with everything I had.  A couple of cramps stopped me in my tracks but I was able to run those out. Finally I came over a small hill and could smell the finish line food.  I looked up and saw the tents of the festival. I took one last glance behind me just to make sure no one was back there.  As I came out of the trail and onto the open field where we started more than 8 hours ago, I was so excited.  I put my hands up in the air as I crossed the finish line in 8:08:05.  I was ecstatic, not only because of my 3rd place finish, but because I got my revenge and knocked almost 1 hour off of last year's time.  I could not believe it.

It was congratulations all around.  Jonathan ran an extremely smart race to finish in 1st with a time of 7:59:20.  Russell pushed Jonathan in the final miles and came in 2nd at 8:03:51.  This was the closest race in North Face Endurance Challenge-Atlanta history, and I was glad to be a part of it.   Below is a quick interview with the overall Top 3 from the race.


Top 3 from North Face: Jonathan Allen, Russell Jones and Me
There were two things that made my race go so well.  For the second race in a row Clif Gels did not let me down.  I cannot express how great these things are.  I ate around 20 gels during my race and not once did I have to force myself to take it because they taste so good.

The second thing that made my race go so well were my shoes.  Thanks to Chris from Fleet Feet in Mount Pleasant for getting me into the Pearl Izumi N1's.  After about 30 miles of trail running the week before the race without any knee problems, I decided to use them at North Face.  With the trail being as rocky as it was I wanted a little more protection than the NB110 could provide, and the PI N1s did not let me down.

I want to take some time to enjoy this race so I am not sure what the near future holds for me. I might take the rest of the year off from racing and focus on the Delirium 24hr race in February, or I might compete in the Mad Marsh 50K or Lookout Mountain 50 Miler later in the year.  Whatever my next race is I hope to build from this race.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Long Cane Ultramarathon Race Report... well sort of

"Everyone has a plan 'til they get punched in the mouth." - Mike Tyson

Sometimes making the right decision is not easy; and in the case of the Long Cane 55 Miler, I had to do something that I had never done before. In the middle of the race I dropped my distance from the 55 mile race to the 50K due to an annoyance in my knee.  For those of you that know me or have met me, you know I never quit anything.  It doesn't matter how bad I feel in a race or how much further I have to go, I would rather walk the rest of the way than quit.  But with two weeks until the North Face 50 I had to think about that race and did not want to do anything that would prevent me from seeking my revenge at North Face this year (read last years report on how North Face beat me up.)

Long Cane Ultra is a part of the Ultra on Trails series that Terri Hayes puts on.  This is a series of FREE races that promotes the sport of trail running in South Carolina and Florida.  Terri does a phenomenal job at these races as the aid stations are often stocked just as well, if not better, than some of the other ultras I have competed in.

Instead of boring you with details about my race, I am going to give you the good, the bad and the ugly of what happened at Long Cane.

The Good - With North Face 50 in two weeks, I wanted to use Long Cane's 55 miles as a chance to get a long run in on some trails and to test out my new nutrition plan.  In past races I have always struggled with going out too fast so I was also concentrating on pacing myself.  I did not go into Long Cane looking for love but by the time it was over I was in love with Clif gels.  I ended up running about 35 miles total on Saturday, and not once did I have a low point or lack of energy.  I never became fatigued, and I could have easily run another few hours before I slowed down.  I took a Clif gel every 40 minutes and it did wonders.  It not only gave me energy but it tasted amazing.  I even joked that I might start eating them for breakfast.  I am extremely happy with my fitness and my new, established nutrition plan heading into North Face. Additionally, I ended up placing 1st in the 50K. All in all, it was a nice run.

The Bad - I was fighting an inner battle with my mind on whether or not I missed a turn. The course was well marked and made perfect sense when looking at it on a map, however for about 10 minutes I was arguing with myself that I was going the wrong direction.  Finally, I decided to turn around and run back until I came across another runner.  It took about a mile until I finally saw someone else, who then confirmed I was going in the right direction. In the end my paranoia about missing a turn was wrong and cost me about 2 miles.

The Ugly - About 25 miles into the race my right knee started to hurt.  I have no clue where this came from as I had never felt this before.  I came into the 27 mile aid station right at 4 hrs into the race, and physically I felt fine except for my knee.  It was hurting badly but I knew I at least wanted to finish the 50K option.  I took some ibuprofen and ran/walked the last 4 miles to the finish.

With the knee issue aside, when I reflect on my run at Long Cane I can be happy with the fact that I got 5 hrs of running in on a beautiful trail without any muscle fatigue or soreness.  The Long Cane trail had a good mixture of rocks, roots, hills and even a water crossing or two.  It was definitely a good trail to run to help prepare me for North Face. Hopefully my knee will not hurt at North Face because I have the fitness and nutrition plan that will allow me to get my revenge.

Off we go!

5 hours later - finally finished!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Cremator 50 Race Report

"The best pace is suicide pace, and today looks like a good day to die." - Steve Prefontaine

On Saturday, July 20 I ran in the Cremator 50 in Beaufort, SC.  This race is part of a race series that Tim Waz puts on called LowCountry Ultras.  The week leading up to the race I tried to determine what my strategy would be come race day - I had two options.  Option 1: Start off conservative and sustain that pace longer, most likely leading to a faster finish time.  Option 2: Go out fast, hold it for as long as possible and know there would most likely be a lot of  suffering in the final miles.  So naturally I chose Option 2. Here's how it went down.

Start Line
My wife and I made the 2 hour trek from Charleston to Beaufort the morning of the race.  We arrived just before 5 a.m. and checked in.  Tim Waz gave a few race instructions to the racers and then we lined up on the start line.  At 6 a.m. 50 runners took off down the road, heading for what would turn out to be a long, hot day of racing.  Ryan Thompson and I had done several training runs together so I knew what he was capable of doing.  Ryan, myself and Jason Flassing took the race out at what felt like an easy sub 7:30 per mile pace.  I decided at that point that I would just hold onto that pace for as long as possible knowing there would be some carnage in the late miles.  Before I knew it, we had arrived at the first aid station and we were now 6 miles into the race.  Ryan was having some GI issues so he stopped to use the bathroom, and Jason continued running about a minute behind me.  I quickly exchanged my water bottle and my wife gave me 3 medjool dates.  This would be the game plan until I could no longer stomach dates. 

The next 6.5 miles went down without any issues, and I pulled into the 12.5 mile aid station around 1:33 into the race.  Still feeling good, I quickly switched water bottles, grabbed some dates and turned to start my journey back down the road.

12.5 mile turn-around
With this being an out and back course, I could see exactly how far behind 2nd and 3rd place were.  At this point, Ryan and Jason were only a few minutes behind me. The two of them were close enough to catch me if I faltered in any way.  At one point I was contemplating waiting on Ryan just to have someone to talk to but ultimately decided against it.  Around mile 19 I was able to see my wife again, and she gave me more dates and another water bottle of cold water.  With the temperatures starting to rise, she poured some water on my back to cool me off. It was one of the highlights of the day!  I gave her a kiss and headed towards the midway check point.  

Coming into the 25 mile aid station, I decided to drop the pace down to 7:40 per mile.  I knew the 25 mile aid station was just around the corner, so I looked down at my watch and saw that it read a little over 25 miles. Apparently, not only was this race run in the middle of the summer in South Carolina with no shade but Tim also made the course long (thanks Tim!) When I arrived at the aid station, I ate some watermelon and oranges.  I put on my music, switched water bottles and headed back out for the last lap.

My legs started to hurt but I was not ready to throw in the towel just yet. I decided to maintain a sub 7:45 pace.  On the way out I noticed that Ryan was only a couple of minutes behind me. Realizing that there were still 25 miles left to run, I knew the race was far from over and I needed to run smart.  After climbing the one and only hill on the course, which was a bridge over the Beaufort River, I decided to slow my pace.  The clouds started to break and the sun came out which made the temperature rise quickly.  I came into the 31 mile aid station right at 4 hrs into the race.  I switched water bottles, grabbed some dates and had my wife pour more cold water on me.

I left the aid station in fairly good spirits, and  I was running right at a 8:00 minute pace.  Then I experienced a first - I could no longer stomach food. I tried to eat my dates but had to spit them out because I started to feel ill.  I knew I needed calories so I tried a gel.  That didn't sit well with my stomach either.  At this point, my goal was to make it to the next aid station so I could try other foods before things got too bad.  I was about 3 miles from the aid station when all of a sudden IT hit me - kind of like how Alan got hit by Mike Tyson in "The Hangover."  I was down for the count.  I was no longer able to take in calories, and I ran out of water.  As if that wasn't bad enough, I stopped to pee for the second time and the color was neon orange.  Things looked grim.  I kept telling myself to get to the next aid station where I could spend a few minutes and recover.  I came into the aid station where I tried to eat several different things, including salt tabs, hoping that would help.  I was finally able to stomach a couple of potatoes and a little bit of coke.  I decided to spend 5 minutes at this aid station so I could prepare for the last 12.5 miles

Forcing myself to eat calories
At last I was able to jog out of the aid station with two bottles in my hand.  The sun was in full force at this point, and I knew I needed to drink a lot of water.  As I passed Ryan, who was only about a mile behind me, he told me he was dropping due to GI issues. I tried to persuade him to continue running, but certainly understood his reason for dropping. I started to feel my energy levels come back to me but the damage had already been done.  About 2 miles after I left the aid station, I passed Sara Maltby who was now in 2nd place.  She was running well and looked like she was still fresh.  I knew I had a good lead and needed to keep moving forward to secure the win.  I continued running until I started having painful cramps which forced me to start walking.  At this point in the race, I felt like my feet were rubbed raw from running on the hot pavement.  I could feel blisters starting to form on the bottom of my feet, and I knew there was nothing I could do about it.  So I told myself to run for as long as I could. 

Photo-op with Race Director Tim Waz
I finally made it back to the last aid station where my wife was waiting for me.  I spent a couple of minutes there refilling water bottles and taking in whatever calories I could stomach.  Mark Knowling volunteered to run the last 6 miles with me, and I gladly accepted.  Mark and I left the aid station and started to make our way to the finish line.  Given how I felt at the time, I was running a fairly decent pace.  I allowed myself to walk a little bit as long as it wasn't for too long.  It was nice having Mark there to keep me company in the final few miles.  We made one last trip over the bridge, and then we had a little over 2 miles left.  In my final mile I wanted to walk a little bit but Mark convinced me to run the rest of the way.  We turned the final corner, and I could see the finish.  I came up to the finish as quickly as I could where my wife, Ryan, Tim and volunteers were waiting for me.  I finished the Cremator 51 Miler in 7:23:47.  It felt good to be done.  Tim put a medal around my neck and congratulated me.  We took a couple of pictures and then it was time to jump into the pool where I spent the next few minutes cooling off.

Post-win swim
I love ultra running because it's unpredictable. You can train but you're never really sure how you're going to feel mentally and physically come race day.  I read in a race report once that had the perfect statement to sum up my race, "You won't know, unless you go."  I have no regrets about my decision to take the race out that fast.  Even though I know I could have taken it out slower and finished with a faster time, I am satisfied with how my race went. 

Congrats to everyone who made it to the start line and finished!  A special thanks to Tim for putting on this great event!  I am looking forward to participating in some of your other races. 

So many people think that running is an individual sport but it definitely is not.  I could not have finished this race without the help of all of the volunteers.  Thanks to Mark who had no plans to pace me but ended up doing so which helped me get to the finish line. Finally the biggest thanks to my wife.  She had come down with a bad cold just 2 days before the race and still went down and stood outside in the heat for over 7 hours while I ran down the searing hot road in the middle of summer like an idiot. 

Here are a couple of other pictures from the race:

Can you see me?

Feeling good - now bring on the heat!

Not feeling so good!

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Big 5

" No matter how many goals you have achieved, you must set your sights on a higher one." -Jessica Savitch

While I was running my 30 mile route on Saturday, I started to put together a list of my top 5 must do races.  The list I came up with contains most of the top ultras in the world in terms of popularity and in toughness.  If you're an ultra runner, you are most likely familiar with all of these races. If you're not, below is a short description of each one.

I plan to run each of these races before I retire from ultra running.  To enter most of these races, you either have to qualify or hope you get picked through their lottery system.  Beginning in 2014 and every year after until I get accepted, I will put my name in for all of the races below that have a lottery system.

This list is not in any particular order:

1) Western States 100 - I think this is on everyones list of must do races simply because there is so much history involved with this race.  The race starts in Squaw Valley, CA and runs 100 miles of trail to Auburn, CA. 

2) Hardrock 100 - This is regarded as the toughest ultra in the U.S.  It takes place in Silverton, CO and has 34,000 ft of climbing and 34,000 ft of descending.  The average elevation is 11,186 ft with a high point at 14,048 ft.

3) Badwater 135 - Most people shy away from this race because of the extreme heat. The temperatures can reach a very hot 130F.  The race starts 282 ft below sea level in Death Valley and runs to Mt. Whitney at 8360 ft above sea level.

4) Spartathlon - This is an extremely popular race over seas but not many Americans know about it.  This race starts in Athens and goes 153 miles to Sparta.  You have a whopping 36 hrs to cover this distance.  This race is rich in history, and I have heard from runners who have completed this race that finishing will become the greatest moment in your ultra running career.

5) Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc -  Regarded as the hardest race in the world not only because of the number of mountain passes but also because of the extreme weather.  This race is often shortened due to the unpredictable weather as you traverse around Mont Blanc over many mountain passes and through 3 countries.  The principle of the race is semi self-sufficiency so there are only 10 aid stations.  Everything else must be provided by you. 

All 5 of these races require a lot of hard word and luck to get into them, much less complete them.  Hopefully in the coming years I will be able to start checking them off of my list. 

So there you have it, my top 5 dream races.  What's on your bucket list?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Charleston Update

"Life (and running) is not all about time but about our experiences along the way." - Jennifer Rhines, Olympic Runner

My wife and I moved to Charleston, SC three weeks ago, and we have loved every minute of it so far.  The weather has been nearly perfect so we have spent a lot of time at the beach and a lot of time exploring the city.  It only took me a couple of days to get into a running routine, and I have started to build my mileage in order to get ready for the Cremator 50

My first two runs were vastly different from each other but both of them provided me with a little insight as to what running in Charleston is going to be like.  My first run was an unplanned 6 miles the first day we were here in order to stretch my legs from the 8+ hour drive.  What started out as an easy run quickly turned into a run that ended up averaging a pace of 6:39 per mile.  It was relatively easy to run that pace because of Charleston's lack of hills. Two days later I set out on a 20 mile adventure run so that I could explore the city.  I decided to run over the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge since it is the only resemblance of a hill that Charleston has to offer (I have a feeling I will be spending a lot of time on this bridge).  About 9 miles into this run I came to my other realization - it's even hotter and more humid than I was expecting as I had already gone through two full bottles of water without even realizing it.  Normally two bottles will last 20-25 miles but in this part of the country it is hard to drink enough while running because of the heat and humidity.

Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge at sunset
Running and biking path along the bridge
I started running with a great group of runners the first Sunday morning I was here. I have continued running with them each Sunday since, and we run 10+ miles at a fairly quick pace.  They have welcomed me into their group with open arms and have been telling me about several other group runs throughout the week of which I plan to join.  I plan to add in fast tempo runs and track workouts in order to get my leg speed faster - all that will happen soon enough. 

Running in Charleston is different than what I am use to - it is flat and fast here. Currently I am averaging 80 mpw. If I can build my mileage to the low 100s and acclimate to the heat, I hope to run a sub 6:40 at the Cremator 50 in late July.  

My wife and I are settling in easily in here. This is one of the most charming city's I've visited, and I'm excited to now call it home. It's great to run long and hard, and then spend the rest of the day recuperating in front of the ocean. Not too shabby if you ask me.

Enjoying a stroll on the beach after running 25 miles that morning

Sunday, May 5, 2013

New Beginnings

"With every new beginning comes new opportunities" - unknown

Since the Oak Mountain 50k I have done very little running. It has been tough for me to find any motivation to get out and run because my wife and I have decided to move from Nashville, Tennessee to Charleston, South Carolina.  As excited as we are about the move, I cannot help to think about my running goals I had set for myself this year and how I will not be able to complete some of them.  The biggest goal I had set for myself was to run the entire 444 miles of the Natchez Trace Parkway in one week and unfortunately I will not have the opportunity to do this.

At first I was unsure what the ultra running scene was like in Charleston but a friend (thanks Holland!) told me about a race series called LowCountry Ultras.  LowCountry Ultras puts on some pretty unique and tough races that vary in distance from 50K to 50 Miles and even a 24 hour event.  The first opportunity I have to race once we move in May is in a race called the Cremator 50 Mile.  After reading about the race I know why they call it the Cremator.  The race is on July 20th in the scorching South Carolina heat where the heat index reaches 115+ degrees and the asphalt temperatures can reach 138 degrees.  This quote on their race description says it all,  "The course was chosen based on the limited amount of shade that can be found along the course."  In other words they chose the course to be as hot as possible. Another unique race is called the Homestead 10 X 5K.  In this race you run a 5K every hour for 10 hours.  The person with the fastest cumulative time wins. I also plan to sign up for the Long Cane Ultra weekend.  This looks like a fun, low key event in which a 50K takes place on Saturday followed by a 55 miler on Sunday. I have not participated in races like the Homestead 10 X 5K and Long Cane Ultra before, and I'm excited to see what I can do.

The mountains of northern Georgia are only a couple of hours away so when I want to add some elevation change to my running, my wife and I can take a weekend trip and be there in no time. I have not researched too many races in this area, but I will be doing that soon to help round out the rest of my running for this year.

I am looking forward to my move in a couple of weeks and getting settled in to our new home. Once we get settled, I will begin to train and adjust to the heat so that I can be prepared for these races. I know the heat will bring a new challenge for me, but it's something I welcome. I am always in search of new adventures, so please feel free to let me know of any "can't miss" races you are aware of!

See you in Charleston!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Oak Mountain 50K Race Report

"Don't stop till everything's gone
Straight ahead never turn round
Don't back up, don't back down
Full throttle, wide open
You get tired, you don't show it
Dig a little deeper when you think you can't dig no more
That's the only way I know" - Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan and Eric Church

On March 9th I was joined by approximately 130 runners for The Oak Mountain 50K.  Oak Mountain State Park is located in Pelham, Alabama just outside of Birmingham.  Having grown up in Pelham, I spent many hours mountain biking and running the trails at Oak Mountain so I knew what to expect coming into this race.  The course had two aid stations, and you went to each one twice. One station was at the bottom of a ridge and the other was at the top.  The course was actually 33 miles long and had 3900 ft of climbing, so I knew this was going to take a little longer than The Black Warrior 50K.  Even though I didn't quite have the race I was expecting at Black Warrior, I looked at it as a chance to get a good, long run in 3 weeks out from the Oak Mountain 50K.  The next 2 weeks were spent building on my Black Warrior fitness, and I knew I was coming into this race in better shape.

My wife and I drove down to my mom's house on Friday evening - she lives about 20 miles from Oak Mountain State Park.  After a good night of sleep, I woke up around 5 am to get ready for the adventure that was about to take place.  

At 7 am, on what felt like a perfect spring day, we made our way on to a paved road towards the Yellow Trail. The Yellow Trail consists of short, steep rolling climbs which makes it difficult to get into any kind of running rhythm.  After a mile, I let someone else take the lead. He quickly pulled ahead of me and went out of sight.  I had to force myself to let him go knowing that I could not win the race in this section but I could lose it.  I pulled into the first aid station (7ish miles) in about 55 minutes and my crew told me I was about 2 minutes back from the lead guy. 

Start of the race

1/2 mile into the race getting ready to turn onto single track

I quickly exchanged water bottles with my crew and headed up the Blue Trail.  This next section of the race was hands down my favorite section.  We had a 2 mile climb that lead to the top of the ridge followed by a few miles of trail running bliss.  I was feeling good and pushing the pace.  I finally caught a glimpse of first place and timed him at 1:30 ahead of me.  The next time I saw him he was only about 45 seconds ahead.  I was about 1.5 miles from the next aid station and wanted to catch him before then. At Peavine Falls we had a rocky climb down to the base of the falls, and I made my attack there. We made the steep climb out of the gorge and ran into the second aid station together.  

My crew did a perfect job getting me in and out of the aid station without wasting any time.  I took the lead at this aid station.  As I left I knew I was running well and wanted to put as much time as possible ahead of second place.  I was in what could only be described as a trail running euphoric state of mind.  With every step I took, my foot glided over the rocks and roots and landed perfectly on the trail.  It was a steep rocky decent but I was running effortlessly and in control.  I made it to the bottom of the decent and picked up the pace.  I crossed a few bridges and was running on perfect trail all the way to the next aid station.  

Another perfect crew stop
Once again I quickly switched water bottles and headed down the Red Trail towards the final major climb back to the top of the ridge. This climb was about 2-3 miles on a dirt road and not nearly as steep as the climb up the Blue Trail.  Even though I was in the lead, I was acting like I was in second place and chasing first. Once I made it to the top of the ridge, I knew no one would catch me. It was now not a race against others but more of a race against the clock.  I turned off of the dirt road and onto a beautiful single track back towards the Peavine Falls Aid Station.  I started seeing outbound racers and knew I was less than half a mile from the final aid station.  As I pulled into the aid station, I started to feel a little dehydration setting in so I had my crew mix half a cup of gatorade in with my water.

I left the aid station at 3:43 into the race.  I had between 5-7 miles left, and my goal was to break 4:30.  My crew passed me in the car and yelled at me to run faster, so I took their advice. I turned off of the road onto the B.U.M.P trail and my leg started cramping up.  I took a quick minute to stretch and then started running again but the cramp would not go away.  This trail crossed the road several times and each time my  crew was there waiting for me. Once I arrived at the bottom of the trail, I knew there were only a couple of miles of rolling trail left.  Even though I was still cramping, I tried to enjoy the last leg of the race as much as possible. I came out of the woods and made one last turn towards the finish.  I tossed my water bottle to the side and threw my hands up in the air knowing I had just won my first ultra.  I crossed the finish line in 4:31:32.

Crossing the finish


Check out some more pics from the race:


Sunday, February 24, 2013

Black Warrior 50K Race Report

"If you can't win, make the fellow in front of you break the record." - unknown

Let me start off by saying this quote is only partially true because the fellow in front of me did break the course record but it had little to do with me pushing him and more to do with the fact that he was running on a whole different level during this race. As we were running the first few miles, one 25k participant told me that it was going to be a slow race due to the wet and muddy conditions.  So congratulations, Lee, on proving him wrong and setting a new course record. (Side note: If you live in the Nashville area - be sure to check out Lee's running store called the Nashville Running Company!)

The Black Warrior takes place in the Bankhead National Forrest just outside of Moulton, Al. The race was only a 2 1/2 hour drive from Nashville,  so my wife and I decided to head down the morning of the race.  When we arrived I picked up my race number and did a quick warm up. The start of the race is on a bridge about .3 miles from the finish so I headed over there and ran the first few hundred yards past the start to see what kind of hill we had to run up at the beginning.  I did not know anything about this course other than the first 2.5 miles were up hill and the rest of the race was on a single track.

Just before the start
At approximately 8:00 a.m. 150 people set off in a brisk 34 degrees up the dirt road towards the muddy single track.  Both the 25k and 50k racers started at the same time, and considering I did not know who was in what race, I set off at my own pace.  From the start I was running up front with Lee Wilson and a 25k racer.  The first 2.5 miles were advertised as being up hill but after about 1.5 miles the road started to level out.  As the three of us turned onto the single track, I looked back and realized that we had a  good gap on the rest of the racers.  I was immediately greeted with what would become the theme of the day... MUD.  I knew since the course took place on a horse trail that it would be muddy but I did not realize it would be this bad.  We were going under fallen trees, over fallen trees and through mud pits that were 20+ ft in length but this is what trail running is all about.

After about 6 miles Lee took the lead and I decided to let him go in hopes of catching him later.  The 25k race split off from the 50k at the 8 mile mark so I was left running by myself. We had a couple of creek crossings that washed the mud off of our shoes but then we were immediately running through mud again.  I was feeling good and hoping to keep Lee within striking distance.  As I came up to the 12.5 mile aid station where my wife was waiting, I was informed that Lee had already put 5 minutes on me.  I refilled my bottle and grabbed some fruit and headed back to the trail.

The entire course consisted of rolling hills that were all runnable.  All in all there was about 3,600 ft of climbing and if it was not for the wet, muddy conditions, I believe someone could easily break 3:30.  Everything was going well and I thought I was keeping Lee within striking distance but I could not have been more wrong.  As I came up to the 17 mile aid station they told me he was 9 minutes up.  I still had hope but it was slipping quickly.  Only 2 miles later, I came to the deepest creek crossing where they told me I was 13 minutes back.  At this point he was putting time on me quickly and I knew I would not catch him.  My mindset changed from winning to holding on to 2nd.  The mud pits were taking an effect on me both physically and mentally.  I was hurting and not in a good place.  I was growing more and more frustrated with the mud and actually cursing it every time I saw another pit.  I knew the 24 mile aid station was coming up and wanted to get to it so I could refill my bottle and get some calories in me.  As I came into the aid station I was surprised to see 2:53 on the clock.  That meant I had 67 minutes to go the last 7 miles to break 4 hrs.  I left the aid station in high spirits.

Mile 19

I was running down the hill and doing the math in my head.  However as I came up to another a creek crossing I saw a sign pointing me in the direction I needed to go and that's when I saw it - 50K Race 24 mile mark.  I had the wrong mileage at the last aid station.  This deflated me and really sent me on a downward spiral.  I had checked out of this race mentally and was ready for the finish.  I was running but at a slow pace, and I kept looking behind me expecting to see another racer.  Since I did not know the course I was not sure where the last aid station was.  As I made turns I would look up hoping to see the tent but I never did so I would look back down and see more mud.  Finally after what seemed liked forever I looked up and saw the white tent.  That signified the last aid station and a down hill dirt road without mud all the way to the finish.  I made a quick stop at the aid station and started running because I knew someone was coming.  I only had about 2.8 miles to the finish and wanted to hold on to 2nd place.

Final few strides before the finish
I got to the steep down hill and took one last glance behind me only to see nothing.  I picked up the pace and crossed over the start line.  After about 200 yards past the bridge I could see the final turn which led to the finish line and that is when I heard it, loud cheering behind me.  I picked up the pace to ensure he wouldn't catch me and crossed the finish in 4:16:20. Christopher Borden crossed the finish just 48 seconds later... talking about a close one.

This was definitely an up and down race for me.  I had some good moments and some bad.  I did not finish in the time that I was hoping for but I think the trail conditions had a lot to do with it.  This was only my 4th ultramarathon and there is a lot I still need to learn.  I feel that with every race I run, I learn something new.

One thing I learned from this race, was to be the one who chooses the music we listen to before my race. Against my better judgement, I let my wife choose the music during our car ride to the race. One of the songs she played was a Taylor Swift song that I later learned is called "I Knew You Were Trouble." During a majority of my race, I had this song stuck in my head. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on which way you look at it) I only knew one line of this song. I have to admit that it was a first (and hopefully last) for me.

Once again thanks to my beautiful wife who stood in cold weather at the aid stations to crew and cheer me on.  I couldn't ask for a more supportive woman to call my wife - even if she does have terrible taste in music.