Running should feel natural

Running should feel natural

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Terrapin Mountain 50k Race Recap

Race: Terrapin Mountain 50k
Location: Sedalia, Virginia
Date: March 22, 2014
Gain/Loss: 7000 ft
Time: 6:00:22

Standard pre-race briefing from Clark Zealand (Race Director)
The Terrapin Mountain 50k, the 2nd race in the Beast series.  It wasn't too complicated: get started on a flat road, after about 2 miles, start going up, and up, and up!  Refuel, and go down, down down... A lot of this was on gravel or jeep roads so it wasn't technically challenging and you could actually run downhill, but the uphill parts required walking for the most part.

The climax occurred about 20 miles in, when we summited the rocky Terrapin Mountain lookout, then quickly made our way down to squeeze through "Fat Man's Misery".  Here runners need to drop down between 2 giant boulders with only about 2 feet of space between them.  FUN!
Runners punch their bibs at the Terrapin Mountain overlook.
Just check out the below topo-map for the course, that provides most the details!

The real tale of the tape here is the elevation changes, with lots of sustained climbs, relatively short flat spots, and long downhills.  The toughest part was actually the extreme downhill between miles 22 and 25 where we descend Terrapin Mountain.  After this though things got more manageable. We hit the last aid station, turned around and headed back to the finish.  This was at least on terrain runable in some sections, and as the trail leveled out I did less and less walking.  Some creek crossings provided a refreshing change of pace!

The, approaching the final creek crossing I fell!  You never expect it, but somehow you stop paying attention just enough to catch an edge - as I felt myself begin to tumble I consciously rolled onto my right side before falling, managing to do an almost graceful barrel roll.  Horton was on the other side of the creek and saw the whole thing play out - he seemed to congratulate me on it.  "This is how we roll!"

Once I finally broke out of the forest onto the last section of gravel road I was able to pick up the pace to around 7 minute miles, and pound out the last mile on pavement in close to 6 minute pace.  I passed 2 more people in the final mile and my real goal was to break 6 hours.  It didn't happen, as I came in at 22 seconds beyond the 6 hour mark, still very happy with my time though! ON-ward and UP-ward with the BEAST!

After conquering the mountains off in the distance!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Slipping and Sliding over the Shenandoah Mountains

Slow, Steep Miles up to Skyline Drive and over Old Rag

Last Saturday my buddy and I headed out to the Old Rag area of Skyline Drive, one of the best hiking spots near the DC area.  Though its only an hour away it feels like a whole different world out there.  I haven't been feeling great lately.  My energy levels seem normal, but its been tough to be motivated with winter dragging on for so long.  The main issue is with my left knee - something just feels funky in it and I really don't want to push through the pain.  Most of my recent weeks have not seen a lot of miles running, in favor of swimming, spinning, yoga classes, and even speed walking up a steeply inclined treadmill (this is actually a legitimate training strategy for mountain trail running).  I had also been feeling just really "dead-legged" in both lower legs but that seems to have subsided with some rest and generally taking it easy.

As an aside, Old Rag is an absolute "must-hike" for any nature or fitness lover in the DC/VA area; I have been hiking around Old Rag since I was a kid and its still so fun scrambling around on the rocks there!  Its 8.8 miles round-trip so plan a whole day around it.  I recommend hiking up the "Ridge Trail", which starts off unassumingly but about 2/3 of the way up has you scrambling around boulders, squeezing through crevasses, and climbing up rock walls! Make sure to stop and take in the gorgeous views.  Pack some snacks, a lunch for the summit, and plenty of water to drink.  While it may feel warm at the bottom, the top can get cold and windy in a hurry so be sure to bring a hat, gloves, and extra layers of clothing.

"Shouldn't we be over there?"
We started off on a fire road, but even that was too steep to run in some sections, then veered onto the trail to Robertson Mountain.  Trail running quickly turned into speed hiking uphill through snow, though for every 2 steps we took it felt like we were sliding back 1.  Once we were close to the summit there was about 6 inches of snow in the shaded areas of the mountain.  While I was dripping sweat on the way up, after things leveled out I put on my extra layers to stay warm.  The views from here were spectacular and reminded me of the barren, treeless peaks of the Rockies.  We soon scrambled back down the other side of the mountain, and while still snowy at least we were able to run down.

Panoramic view off Mt. Robertson.
Back on the Old Rag fire road we headed up to Skyline Drive, turned around and ran back down.  This brought us to a cross-roads: head back to the car to refuel, or attempt Old Rag?  We both still had some water in our packs so we opted for the latter.

My friend Andrew, descending back into the snow.
Hiking up the backside of Old Rag was slow going but steady.  At this point my feet were already wet and cold so I didn't mind walking through the melting snow.  After a quick visit to the summit we headed back down the infamous Ridge Trail.  This is tough enough to climb up when dry, but descending it while dealing with snow and ice provided a new (albeit dangerous) challenge.  There were a few scary moments, like having to lower yourself off of a boulder, with nothing to hold onto, and oh yea - you are landing on ice so you better keep your balance!

Down we went, until the snow dried up and the terrain turned into runable switchbacks.  Closer to the bottom I couldn't believe some of the people starting out were only wear a t-shirt and shorts, but its deceptively cooler down there.

From the summit of Old Rag.

All in all a super fun day.  18 miles in just under 5 hours, and I set a new record for my slowest mile ever: 41 minutes!  Very happy to get in all the climbing and elevation in preparation for Terrapin Mountain!

Friday, March 7, 2014

RRCA Club Challenge 10 Miler: Race Recap

Just a quick little recap of the...

Race:  Club Challenge 10 Miler
Date:  Feb 23, 2014
Location: Columbia, MD
Finish Time: 1:11:36

The Club Challenge 10 Miler is an annual 10 Miler race put on by the Howard County Strides.  It felt like a small race but with over 700 finishers its more of a mid-size one.  When I think of "small" I think of like 300 participants.  This race was a haul to get to and started at 8:00am so that meant an early morning, but I'm glad I met up with my running club for a good hill workout!

This event is really about camaraderie among runners and seeing which clubs bring out the most participants.  The course was challenging and hilly, but I still knew several people who posted PRs that day.  Decidedly taking it easy, I was able to enjoy myself, get a good workout on the hills, and progressively push harder through the race.
DC Road Runners group shot!
Sitting at work on any-given-weekday, I'm surrounded by inactive people who think running is either crazy or just plain stupid.  Sometimes you start feeling weird, like you are out of place.  It was such a great feeling seeing so many runners that are active participants in area clubs, and so many fast runners!  In fact, there were over 40 sub-60 minute runners, and almost 400 who finished in 80 minutes or less!
Club numbers.
The weather was perfect out.  High 30s at the start, and even though it felt cold then one we started hitting the hills I had sweat dripping down me.  I went out at a conservative pace, maybe 7:30s, to warm up and get a feel for things as I haven't done much road racing lately.  The hilly terrain helped warm me up, and while the effort level felt high I was probably only hitting 7 minute miles.  A few more bursts of energy later and I was passing people with a couple miles to go, pushing 6:45 miles.  I happily finished in 1:11:36, though not before looking at the clock and remembering what it felt like to finish a 10 miler in much closer to an hour on a similar effort level.  Ultra specific training starts to make you slower, but you can't train for everything and I am at least retaining some of my speed at the shorter distances!
Looking a bit distorted pre-race.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Holiday Lake 50k++ Race Recap

The most miserable race you'll ever love!

The Holiday Lake 50k ++ - "plus plus" since its notoriously longer than 50 kilometers.  I've heard some estimates are at 33 miles.  However, that's the thing with ultras, the course "is what is it" (okay, I hate that saying but it seems appropriate).  Its true though, you can't really think in terms of a distance PR, its just your time for that course on that day.  And this certainly held true last week at Holiday Lake.

Race: Holiday Lake 50k ++
Location:  Appomattox , VA

Date: Feb 15 , 2014
Finish Time: 6:09:40

First off, this race had a great "Ultra" feel to it.  We arrived the night before at Race HQ, set up in a community center at a 4H camp.  Opting for the on-site accommodations we were treated to hostel (or kids' camp) style bunk beds with a central bathhouse.  I slept surprisingly well.  Once morning arrived I went through the usual race day routines and we set off at promptly 6:30am.

This isn't an actual course picture (I didn't carry a camera), this is actually the result of a Google Image search for "snow ice slush mud".  Surprisingly, its a pretty good depiction of what the course looked like (at least in the "easy" sections).

On the way out there was a little more snow, about a foot that had been trampled down by the front runners.  Soon it would melt enough to create a soupy slush for us to run through.  To my own surprise, I got hot enough trudging up some of the hills to debate ditching my rain jacket.  I'm glad I held onto it, and ended up leaving at the mid-point aid station.  There was also a creek crossing with water up to your knees that we had to wade through.  It was numblingly cold but at the same time refreshing.  Even more refreshing was realizing we would go through it on the way back!  Oh, and did I mention that it was dark and freezing rain for the first hour?!

Most of the time you had two (miserable) choices: run through the melted (and often running like a mini-stream) path of ice-mud, or run on the less traveled sides that meant crushing through a foot of snow coated with ice.  Take your pick.  Ultra running isn't supposed to be easy, but while I've enjoyed most of my trail running in warm weather this type of choice had not yet occurred to me.

The course itself went up a 3/4 mile of road before it entered the trail.  There was a mix of singletrack running, jeep roads, and power line pathways briefly around Holiday Lake and then winding through the absolute middle of nowhere Virginia.  We eventually got back to the lake and returned to base camp at the half-way mark, only to turn around and make our way back counter-clockwise.

For the most part it was uneventful, just the way it should be, filled with conservative, steady miles of running.  I did notice an extreme drop off in runners on the way back though.  Around the marathon mark it was really getting tough.  I wasn't out of energy, but my toes were physically going numb which had me concerned.  I would stop every mile or so and swing my legs to get the blood back in my toes.  I kept pushing on, trying to make progress, and hoping the sun would come out enough to warm me up.  It was just a giant mental push on until about 30 or 31 miles in, at which point the thought of finishing made me so happy I had a burst of energy.  Once we finally popped back out onto the road I sprinted the final 3/4 of a mile, passing 3 more people in the process!

The Runner

Who is this David Horton character anyways?  Well, he is a pretty badass ultra runner, not just for his accomplishments but kind of for his originality and forward thinking in the sport.  He started ultra running before it was a "thing".  He was setting the records just for fun, some of which would later be broken but only by sponsored athletes only out there to break a record.  He is one of only a handful of people to complete the ├╝ber difficult and culturally underground Barkley Ultra-Marathon.

A brief bio from Liberty, where he teaches:
Since 1977, Horton has ran approximately 160 ultra marathons (any race that exceeds the 26.2 mile marathon standard), 30 marathons coast to coast of the continental U.S. (1995) and holds the record for running both the Appalachian Trail (1991) and the Pacific Crest Trail (2005). Horton’s record-setting completion of the Appalachian Trail took 52 days and nine hours to complete – an average of approximately 41.7 miles per day.

With all this he is surprisingly down to Earth, even a bit feisty, characteristic of an everyday southern Gentleman.  He doesn't just relish in his accomplishments, but also encourages other to run and puts on some badass trail races in Virginia along the way.  Most runners simply refer to these Ultras as "Horton races".  Check out "The Runner" for a recap of his epic run on the 2,700 mile Pacific Crest Trail.

Horton and I after the finish.

All in all it was a fun time, and a memorable race - as long as I can mentally block out miles 23 - 29.  Beast Series Race #1 Done!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Brooks Transcend: New Shoe Review

Brooks Transcend

Brooks recently released a highly anticipated new shoe, the Transcend (or at least highly anticipated by me).

While its easy to write this off as a Hoka rip-off, it has some key differences.  Okay - first off - lets be clear, this is a pretty obvious response to the success of the huge soled Hoka OneOne shoes, and yet another sign that the "minimalist" movement was only a passing trend.  Sorry to everyone who became a victim of minimalist marketing and got injured as a result!  I loved what Hokas were doing for everyone but they just weren't doing it for me.  People also have a psychological tendancy to latch on to an alternative solution, hold it high on a podium, and "swear by it".  I on the other hand, maintain a decidedly skeptical viewpoint on just about anything.  This outlook can be both a gift and a curse

A little background:  when everyone was going ga-ga over the minimalist movement, a mostly marketing generated strategy to mimic the "natural" running experience, along came Hoka OneOne.  Hokas were anything but minimal with a huge sole and yet a fairly simple upper.  Though they let you run naturally it was more about letting you float over the roads and trails.  Instead of your knees and hips absorbing that impact the maximal cushioned sole was doing the work.  They were embraced by the UltraRunning community, as a cool, "different" alternative that just works.

I wanted to love Hokas, and I have worn them with varying success along the way, but I found that the running roads in them just doesn't work for me.  They are too "squishy" and offer little (if no) lateral support.  They could be the miracle shoe for some runners, those light on their feet with that perfectly neutral foot strike, but I wasn't able to shed my road runners injuries with them just yet.  I needed some stability, and something closer to a regular road running shoe.  Enter, the Transcend.

So far, the Transcend has been awesome for me!!  Its just the road shoe I was looking for, lots of features without being bulky, plenty of cushioning, and a little stability (on all sides) when you need it.  Brooks was having a promo launch event so I was able to snag some extra goodies too!

Transcends with extra freebies: A visor, shoe bag, and dry ice-cream!

As told by Brooks - The Transcend features five key technologies that work together to provide its unique ride: 
  1. Super DNA – this advanced cushioning material provides the ultimate smooth ride that smartly adapts to your every stride. 
  2. Guide Rails – specialized plates built into the midsole revolutionize traditional stability by allowing your hips, knees and joints to move along their unique motion path while you run – all without any traditional posts. 
  3. Ideal Pressure Zones – transform the traditional idea of comfort by minimizing localized pressure evenly in the heel, midfoot and forefoot. 
  4. Rounded Heel – aligns your stride naturally and easily. 
  5. Plush upper – a combination of premium materials conforms to your foot for a custom, plush fit. 
It doesn't force the support on you like an Adrenaline or Trance, its just kind of there when you need it.  As the pictures show, the bottom part is all the same type of foam, and the support comes in the form of "guide rails" that promise you a touch of support in whatever direction you may roll.  It has lots of cushioning, but not so much that you forget what you are doing.

They aren't a super lightweight shoe, but they felt just fine with me.  I think the sample size is listed at 11.2 oz (roughly the same as a pair of hokas).  While this is a far cry from the insanely light Saucony Guides I also enjoy running in (at under 9 oz), the Transcends felt anything but heavy.  I'm not sure how a heavy heal striker would fare in these.  They have a slightly rounded heal to encourage a mid-foot strike, or at least transition each heal-strike more naturally into the next step.  For me, they were a great compliment to how I already run:  a mid-foot strike with a slight roll-in that I just can't seem to shake.

I'm really excited to take these off-road and see how they perform on trails.  I hope Brooks comes out with a trail version eventually, but they already feel solid in the little trail running I have done in them so the road model might be adequate.  The only thing I'm worried about is their lasting appeal with buyers.  I don't think they had the kind of blockbuster debut Brooks was hoping for, and if people stay weary of a "different" looking shoe these might only be temporary.  I plan on wearing these in my upcoming 50k, so I should be able to evaluate their trail worthiness after that!  Until then, I'll continue to tear up the pavement in these babies!

Update as of April 1st (and that's no joke...)

While the Transcends felt great on my feet, after about a month of running I started to develop knee pain in my left knee.  Its hard to tell what is the root cause, it could be overtraining, general fatigue, and the ultras I have been doing.  After scaling back my mileage, stretching and yoga routines, strength training, and cutting out speed work the knee pain has started to go away.  The biggest difference though is that I went back to wearing my normal shoes, that is:  Saucony Guide and Brooks PureCadence on the roads, and Hoka OneOne Rapa Nui (with SuperFeet Orange insoles) on the trails.  Maybe the transcends had too much stability and structure all around?  I got probably around 150 miles in on the Transcends before the knee pain required me to rethink everything.  I've done about 100 miles since then and the pain is all but gone.

As the primary root cause of my knee pain I can't really recommend the Transcends.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Photography Rules!

Photography. So simple, yet so difficult for so many people.  I have long considered myself an [extreme] amateur photographer, usually putting things into practice while on travel.  Rather than expensive gadgets and clunky cameras, I just like to refine the actual art of picture-taking itself.

So how does this relate to running?  Well, it does - barely.  Photography is a great tool on the internet and in blogs.  When I post a picture I want it to mean something, I don't just want an "insta-gram" of whatever random thing I grabbed a picture of.  I make these recommendations because I believe anyone, anywhere, with any camera, can take great pictures to capture their life with.  If you only get one chance to capture something, make it count.

Photography Rules I Live By

First and foremost, your camera does not matter (okay, just a little).  I can't say this enough.  I'm amazed by the number of tourists I see on trips with overpriced, SLR cameras taking terrible pictures.  A simple point-and-shoot is usually adequate.  Heck, you can even produce professional quality results from an iPhone camera (one of my favorite cameras actually).  Yes, you can get better results from a giant SLR camera, but you won't want to bring it anywhere, and you have to hang it around your neck.  Photography should be spontaneous - that's why having something that will fit in your pocket is key - as the saying goes, Less is [often] more.

rich chinese kids carry dslr camera 04
Seriously, how far are you going to make it
carrying around this monstrosity!
Other than the iPhone 4s camera, I usually carry the Canon S95 on trips.  Though it has been superseded by a few models, its still one of the best, truly pocket-size cameras on the market.  It does still retail for a few hundred dollars, but there are plenty of options under $100 as well, like the very compact, 16 megapixel Canon A2400 IS.  If you don't believe me ask Ken Rockwell, who maintains a great photography site which preaches that "Photographers make photos, not cameras".

Next, please set your camera up correctly.  Anytime you are ever in doubt, please just set everything to auto.  It will look fine.  I'll never understand people who fiddle with the ISO, White Balance, Aperture Size, and Color temperature, just to have their pics come out blurry, washed out, or underexposed and not know how to frame things.

Personally, I like to set the color option to "vivid" (giving colors a little more contrast and "pop"), turn on any over-exposure correction to "auto", set the preview grid-lines on (usually by pressing the display button), and turn off the flash.  I also got in a habit of reducing the picture size down to 8 or 9 megapixels to save on memory space, but now that you can get a 32 Gig SDHC memory card for cheap you can just leave it on full megapixels.  I only adjust the finer controls when the picture calls for it.  There is a nice feature under "White Balance" called a "Tungsten" filter - this is for shooting inside where light can make your pictures appear yellowie.  The filter compensates to make things look clear.  All that being said, the iPhone camera is auto-everything and I've taken great pictures with it.

One of the best kept (or maybe worst kept?) secrets of photography is to go by thirds.    Once you have those handy grid-lines on, which divide the frame into thirds both horizontally and vertically, keeping points of interest in the intersection of the lines is usually pleasing to the eye.  If its an ocean pic, try for 1/3 sky, 1/3 water, and 1/3 land.  If its landscape, try for 1/3 foreground, 1/3 middle ground and (you guessed it), 1/3 background (which is often the sky).  Sometimes you will want your subject smack dab in the middle, but still use the 1/3 rule to have some space on their sides to kind of frame what you are looking at.

One of my favorite pictures I took in the Cinque Terre region of Italy with some 1/3 grid-lines crudely drawn on.  Observe how things line up with the lines, spacing, and intersections.

Another favorite of mine taken outside of Cuzco, Peru.  Note the foreground, middle ground, and background; and the donkey is on the right 1/3 line.

The grid lines are also handy for lining up the horizon to be level.  Nothing can ruin an otherwise perfect shot by a crooked horizon, so be careful to get it straight.  You can rotate the picture later during post-processing, but you lose some picture quality, plus its just a pain.

Back-lighting! This poor guy - all we see is a shadow!
If you are taking a picture of people, make sure there is light in their face.  A good rule of thumb is that the sun should be behind you the photographer - no one likes this because they are basically looking at the sun, but just tell them to squint and then try to act normal when you actually take it.  You don't want to be taking a picture of a shadow.  Its called back-lighting, and it sucks 99% of the time.  Same for buildings or still objects - take a picture of the bright side.  If you can't avoid back-lighting, experiment with the flash to see if you can get around it.

So what if its really cloudy or foggy out?  You'll have no contrast between your subjects and their surroundings.  Instead, make sure there is plenty of background to create a contrast.  If you are skiing and its snowing out, take pics of people with trees behind them.

In the picture to the left - it was actually cloudy out.  We found a good backdrop standing by the National Cathedral.  Add in some opportune expressions and a little post-processing to adjust the contrast and you end up with a nice pic!

Remember to fill the frame with interesting stuff.  Make your picture like a really interesting story.  Sometimes you do just want a picture of one thing, but usually you want to make your picture interesting.  Just think, you could just take a picture of the Washington Monument and treat people to a giant tower (obelisk to be exact) - kind of boring in my mind.  Or you could pull back - way back - until you fill the frame with the DC skyline!

The DC skyline - so much to see!

Next up, mostly for people pics, but also for things like buildings or mountains - please stop cutting peoples' heads and feet off.  I've had to have many pictures retaken when people cut off the top of my head, or made it look like I'm balancing on my ankles.  Its not hard - just look at the preview and don't cut anything off.  Also check to see if there are any obvious distractions or objects that look out of place.  Don't make it look like a pole is coming out of someone's head!  If there is a bag of trash or something unsightly around keep it out of the frame or move it.  Major problems easily solved.  If you want to get picky, try not to cut off shadows of people either if its sunny out.

Don't ask me to explain why - this is still one of my favorite pictures I've
taken.  Of my dog, curled up in some sheets, from an iPhone 4s camera.

More tips:

  • Always take 3 or 4 of the same thing.  If you think you've got a great picture lined up, take several of the same thing just from slightly different angles.  Same for shots of people, their expressions will all be slightly different - this way you can choose the best one.
  • Close one eye - when you are lining up a shot if you close one eye this gives a better indicator of what the picture will look like.  Since we see in stereo vision (2 eyes) this will simulate a picture, which appears flatter since its a single lens.
  • Don't over zoom - underzoom and then crop later.  I can't tell you how many times I've told people "Please don't zoom in!".  Cameras nowadays have way more megapixels than you could ever need, so you can always just crop it down later.
  • Careful about reflecting sunlight and lens flare.  You can make neat affects with reflections (light bouncing off of water, car windows, whatever) or lens flare (which is when too strong a light source gets scattered in the lens and creates a bright "starry" image) but beware of unwanted instances of these.
  • Ask yourself: will I want to look at this again
    later? Don't just "take take take" for the sake of using your camera, stop and think if after you download this to your computer would anyone want to look at it.
  • Steady hand, hold your breath, then exhale and shoot! Nothing ruins a picture like a blurry scene caused by handshake.  I've heard if you take a deep breath and then exhale when taking the picture it makes it easier to steady your hand.  You can even rest your hand on a tree or rock if you need to.
  • Post-processing can turn good pictures into great ones! Programs like Adobe Photoshop or GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) are nice for advanced users, but I usually prefer Google Picasa.  Just to make a few quick adjustments - crop it the way you like, adjust the contrast with auto-contrast (this makes a huge difference), and maybe even brighten or darken it.
  • Finally, don't be afraid to bend the rules and get artsy!!
Photography is fun! And there are great pictures everywhere.  So grab your point-and-shoot, head out the door, and see what you can find!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Tinkering with my 2014 Race Schedule & The BEAST

The Year of Two Thousand and Fourteen

Planning out your next year of races, a fun yet intimidating task.  Why fun?  Well, you get to think about all those great accomplishments, the people you will meet, and the sights you'll see as you tackle new races.  Why intimidating?  Its a lot easier to put races on your calendar and say you want to train for them then actually going out and grinding out some of these runs, especially when you put down 14 miles on a weeknight that ends up being cold and rainy.  Also, there is still the possibility of getting injured, and that just completely throws your schedule into the garbage disposal from that point on.  These races aren't easy either, I love training for these things, and then relishing in the feeling of accomplishment afterward, but there is usually a point when I'm running a race where I ask myself "Why in the world am I doing this?" (and I don't have an answer).

I want to keep focusing on Ultras, while not giving up entirely on speed.  Marathons are still cool, but just not as satisfying to me as Ultras.  A Marathon PR is still the crowning achievement in running, but you have to dedicate yourself solely to that event, and it could damage you beyond repair for months.  After running Chicago in 2012, I told myself I would wait a good, long time until I attempt a new PR, and that time is still at least another year away.

The Beast

As I focus on Ultras, while mixing in some shorter races, I have also come to a determination:  I need to do the Beast series.  I've heard it calling, heard it beckon for me to try it.  Grindstone, the Lynchburg Ultra Series, Hellgate, these are all great accomplishments individually but I think for this year to truly delve into the heart of Ultra-Marathoning I must complete them all.

What is the Beast?  Its a race series of Ultras consisting of three 50ks, a 50 miler, a 100k, and a 100 miler (not all in that order).

So now I present my list of focus races for 2014, fairly subject to change:
  • Holiday Lake 50k++ - the first in the Beast series.  Two fairly flat loops around a lake.
  • Terrapin Mountain 50k - a month later the Beast series continues in rural VA Mountains.
  • Cherry Blossom 10 Miler - a favorite of mine in DC.  I probably won't try to PR since I don't think ill have the speed.  You do this more for the atmosphere anyway - finally Spring!
  • GW Parkway 10 miler - a locals' favorite run on a scenic course from Mt. Vernon to Old Town Alexandria.
  • Boston Marathon - had to come back for the 2014 race.  Hoping a road marathon won't hurt my training too much.
  • Promise Land 50k - intimidating since its less than a week after Boston, but a favorite 50k of many.  Super hilly, so I can always just power walk and easy run it.
  • MMT 32 miles Pacing - in what should be a great experience, I'm going to sign up to pace someone for the final 32 miles of the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100.  It will be slow and rocky.
  • OSS All Nighter 50 miler - a fairly technical night-time run on the original proving grounds of the CIA.  Its two 25 mile loops.  Excellent practice for running at night at Grindstone!
  • Catoctin 50k - a hilly, summer-time 50k in Maryland during July heat.
  • Reston Century Bike Ride - to give my (running) legs a break and get maximal time in on the bike.
  • Iron Mountain 50 miler - I conquered the 30 miler, now I want to tame the 50.  An insanely hilly course should provide for one last great training run before I get ready for Grindstone.
  • Backroads Century Bike Ride - A more scenic century than Reston to help me recover from Iron Mountain and get a day long workout in.  Probably my last major cycling event of the season.
  • Rim2Rim2Rim - A growing legend among Ultra-Runners.  Not a race, but a challenge - to run from one rim of the Grand Canyon to the other side and back in a day.
  • Grindstone 100 miler - my first 100 miler!  And it won't be easy.
  • Mountain Masochist 50 Miler - Another east coast favorite.  Things will be dicey having run Grindstone just 6 weeks prior.
  • Hellgate 100k - the ultimate in self-loathing.  Starting at midnight, in winter, one final death-march to becoming "The Beast"!
This might look like a crazy schedule, but when you think about it, each race is really a training run for the next one.  I would not in a million years run this many road marathons in one year.  I also have another dozen or so shorter road races penciled in, but I've decided to make those all optional in favor of my goal Ultra races.