Running should feel natural

Running should feel natural

Saturday, October 12, 2019

The Cascade Crest Classic 100

Four members of the Virginia Happy 
Trails Running Club made the trek to WA.
As long as I have been running Ultras, I've had Washington State’s Cascade Crest Classic 100 miler in my sights, now in its 20th year running. It’s a long journey there, involving a lottery, a summer of hill training, and a trip from Virginia. With a 34 hour cut-off the real goal was to just finish, but I couldn't help but set a modest time goal of under 30 hours. The race features over 23,000 feet of climbing on a giant clockwise loop through the central Cascades of Washington State. Climbs this long and steep are rare on the East Coast. Still, I found clever ways to train mainly in Shenandoah National Park by incorporating repeats of the most prominent peaks. I finally got in off the lottery, and this would be my only Western States qualifier for 2019, so after a long flight from DC it felt like it was do-or-die.

In the past I have struggled specifically with the nutrition aspect of 100 milers where I expect to be on my feet for over 24 hours. I've battled upset stomachs in the heat of the day, have difficulty getting down fluids and salt, and get very hungry late in races, all leading to a bit of a zombie-like march at night. I started training with primarily liquid calories and electrolytes this season, no more salt pills, a moderate amount of gels, and the typical snacking at aid stations. Pacing was important, and I took the advice of "start slow and then slow down" to heart. It all worked, and I felt just as strong on the back half, coming close to an even split. I never got tired at Cascade Crest either – the 9:00 AM start enabled a full night of sleep before the race that carried me all day (and night).

The race started out with some massive climbs past Goat Peak, on through Tacoma Pass, and a 30 mile roller-coaster on the Pacific Crest trail. After this we had a technical rocky descent down to a 2 mile abandoned mining tunnel. Parts of this descent were so steep that ropes were set up to assist in lowering yourself onto the “trail”. As we ran into darkness, despite only being half-way, all my systems were clicking and I started to think "I got this". My modest crew met me at Hyak Park at mile 51 with some hot food, and I picked up a pacer for just a 15 mile section. I continued to breeze through aid stations on foot, only sitting down briefly at mile 75 to change socks and eat some oven fresh pizza.

The back half saw more long climbs, some taking 7 miles to top out, and the aptly named "trail from hell" past Lake Kachess, so filled with rocks, roots, and ledges that little can be run. There were a few more chin-scraping ascents in the "needles" section, and a then a long descent back to Easton. Running the final 4 miles on surprisingly fresh legs I came in to the finish at 27:43 on the clock, smashing my previous goal. More importantly, I finally feel like I have a nutrition system that works for 100 mile runs.

Extra thanks go out to long-time friend Jeremy Rood for providing transport, dealing with my delirious rantings after the race, and bringing me my not-so-secret weapon at the half-way point (A Taco Bell chalupa – no sour cream, substitute beans for meat). I also experienced some trail magic from Brian Abrams, a Cascade Crest veteran and local runner who agreed to pace me for a key section at night. We only got connected a week prior and ironed out the logistics the night before the race. Huge Kudos to Race Director Rich White and all the volunteers involved for taking great care of the runners, and putting on a tough-but-fair 100 miler.

The look when you have nothing left to give. 

Sunday, December 25, 2016

The Inaugural Devil Dog 100 Miler

Redemption ain't easy. I was having a tough time forgiving myself for an unfortunate DNF ("did not finish") at Pine to Palm in September and knew that nothing short of a 100 mile finish before the end of 2016 would fill that void. As I searched for a viable option, the Devil Dog 100 miler in Virginia presented itself as the perfect opportunity.  Despite being in its inaugural year, I knew many of the volunteers and race direction staff. In addition, the course's loops of rolling hills provided easy logistics that should surely facilitate a high finishing rate, perhaps even a new 100 mile PR (personal record). As long as the weather cooperated—December in Virginia is typically mild—I knew I’d be in good shape.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.

A cold and icy start prior to sunrise.  Photo credit: David Potts.

Of the 105 runners who started the 100 miler, only 39% would cross the finish line.  Freezing temperatures overnight combined with rain in the morning hours of the race resulted in icy conditions everywhere.  The second night saw welcomed yet bizarre weather, with temperatures rising into the 50s.

Loop 1 done, and already tired.  Photo Credit: David Potts
The Devil Dog 100 mile course was 5 loops with about 80% singletrack and 20% gravel roads; there was also a 3 loop 100 km option.  There were three full service aid stations per loop, with three more water only self-serve stops.  Drop bags and crew opportunities were plentiful, though I opted to just leave a large bag at the start/finish.  While I didn't have a crew, the volunteers gladly handled every one of my needs and always had warm food ready. There were no major climbs, however with consistently rolling terrain the elevation added up. The gain/loss was listed at 10,000 feet, though some runners claimed over 12,000.

The venue, Prince William Forest, provides a natural respite from sprawling D.C. suburbia featuring 16,000 acres and over 40 miles of running trails.  Beyond its natural appeal, runners traversed some interesting history as well. The Devil Dog course weaves its way past a defunct pyrite mine, which earned workers a handsome $4.00 per day in the early 1900s.  Three small towns once existed within the park boundaries, now all extinct.  Finally, the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to the modern day Central Intelligence Agency, once trained agents in the art of espionage here.
Having never run a looped race before, I wasn't sure what to expect and each loop had its own unique set of challenges.  The freezing rain on loop 1 turned the course into a skating rink, forcing runners to tip-toe or crawl at times.  I used a technique mimicking cross country skiing to cross the roads and walkways, holding 11th place after loop 1.

About halfway through loop 2, the ice was beginning to melt but I was faced with a new problem.  All that slipping and sliding had worn my stabilizer muscles out beyond belief.  I found that fresh legs are not helpful when the attached hip, glute, and lower back muscles are exhausted beyond repair. The 3rd loop was my most enjoyable and I moved into 9th place. During full daylight, and no ice to contend with, I was able to run more consistently, listening to music as I crossed the halfway point.
Proudly finished, alongside my pacer Jake Kruse.  Still feeling a bit dazed.

Darkness set in by the time I picked up my pacer at the start of loop 4.  This was a harsh reminder that with 14 hours of darkness, December nights are long.  Not far into loop 4 something broke inside of me and I was reduced to a hobble.  Rallying to a speed walk I trudged on, relying only on constant forward progress.  Dizziness and nausea added to my stresses.  Leaving the last aid station and with 6.5 miles left in the loop I was faced with the possibility of walking all of loop 5. The thought of spending the next 10 hours walking felt mentally defeating.  I still had plenty of time before any cutoffs and I was committed to finishing, either by running, walking, or crawling.  A few miles into loop 5 I experienced some ultra magic: I became less tired, the nausea dissipated, and a welcomed dose of pep returned to my legs.  Now back to a mostly-running strategy, I patiently moved along.  The mile 87 AS told me I was in 7th place.  The final half-marathon just consisted of some steady walk-running, a quick stop at the final AS, and then a few last trying miles leading up to the finish area. Finally, I crossed the finish line at 7:25 a.m. in 25:25:10 total, good enough for 6th place, as I had unknowingly passed the aforementioned runner in front of me.

My friend and training partner Samantha Pitts-Kiefer finishing strong.
My 4th 100 mile finish gave me some key takeaways.  Support matters: the volunteers here were incredible.  I had only arranged for a pacer a couple weeks prior as a luxury, but he proved to be an invaluable necessity.  Next was that music works, and can get you through long solo lulls given the proper playlist.  My nutrition strategy is starting to solidify; I never got particularly hungry and didn't linger too long as ASs.  Most importantly, the more difficult the experience is, both mentally and physically, the more satisfying the finish. I had redeemed myself, righting my wrong from earlier this year, taking me into winter feeling accomplished and ready for the next challenge.

Race swag, and the coveted belt buckle.
Full results available via Ultra-signup.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Pine to Pain

That's my nickname for the Pine to Palm 100 miler, Hal Koerner's race showcasing the arid Siskiyou Mountains of Southern Oregon with over 20,000 feet of gain/loss.  Pine to Palm did not go as planned and I was disappointed to pull the plug at mile 59. It was a day of long, exposed climbs with record high temps in an area I was unfamiliar with.  I joined a few other VHTRC members for what would prove a daunting task to all.
VHTRC members at the race briefing.
When we started at 6:00 am from the staging area near Williams, the weather was cool and dry with some runners even wearing jackets; this made it all too easy to start out fast heading up Grayback Mountain.  Bee stings only a couple hours in added unnecessary stress and discomfort. After the first major Aid Station at mile 28 came the hottest climb of the day where things started to deteriorate. Mentally I dropped at mile 42, but continued to death march to aid stations at miles 50 and 52 trying to rally.  The only warm food available at this point was ramen noodles and hash browns. After trying somewhat successfully to resolve stomach, dehydration, and nausea issues (which included jumping in a lake), I was left with unrepairable muscle soreness from cramping throughout my body.  After over an hour at the Hanley Gap AS where I debated dropping I decided to hobble forward in a true act of self-loathing.  7 Miles later at Squaw Gap I had nothing left to give, physically or emotionally, and the choice was clear to drop.

The view off Grayback Mountain.

Excuses aside, I am already realizing some mistakes I made in the race that provide valuable lessons learned.  While the pace seemed comfortable at the time, in hindsight I disobeyed some of the tried and true strategies for 100 milers, namely to start slow and then slow down even more. I got caught up in a pack of fast guys, some attempting their first 100.  I should have been running my own race and remembered that the race doesn't start until the 100 km mark.  I would have been wise to pack more "real" food in my drop bags; orange slices and gels can only carry you so far.  Eating extra early on here would be extremely valuable, since trying to get food down in the heat of the day can be daunting.  Also important to remember is that muscle cramping is mostly the result of over exertion, not necessarily dehydration like was once thought.  This helps remind me that while it would be easier to blame the hot weather entirely, a more conservative start may have helped me maintain my composure.  Running point to point in an entirely new area presented a huge unknown.  Bottom line is that I went out too hard and couldn't get it done.

Pine to Palm is a challenging race on a tough course run point to point with a 58% finish rate according to the live tracking site.  The winner was Ryan Ghelfi of Ashland, in an unfathomable time of 18:28, 90 minutes ahead of 2nd place.  These mountains reminded me more of the rugged landscape of Northern California than the lush forests typically associated with the Pacific Northwest.  This amounted to long steep climbs, exposed ridge running, and eventual descents.  While the ASs were adequate, they are of no comparison to the mobile buffets that VHTRC has a habit of featuring back east.  The trails themselves were not very technical and I recall about half of it being on gravel roads (similar to MMTR).  Perhaps the last third features more singletrack.  All the turns were well marked, though a lack of confidence ribbons often had me questioning if I was headed in the correct direction.

Dry, arid conditions that reminded me of California.

I met plenty of other runners, some who finished strong and others that I commiserated with during our defeats.  The majority were from out west but there were plenty of east coasters and, in particular, a strong contingent of Tennesseans.  While the volunteers here were great, the biggest human element highlights of this race were the incredible generosity I experienced from spectators and other runners' crew members. At one point, a woman there to support her son jogged with me around Squaw Lake to try and help me clear my head.  After, her son's friend helped facilitate me jumping into said lake to try and cool off.  I met a gal from Nashville running who said her crew would be more than happy to feed me pizza, to which I stupidly declined.  Much later, after I dropped I was transported to a remote crew parking lot by Dutchman Peak to wait outside in windy, 40 degree weather.  A couple here who had been crewing for a friend that had already dropped were hanging out enjoying the party and offered me a spare sleeping bag to warm up in.  Then 20 minutes later proceeded to drive me the 90 minutes required back to my hotel in Medford, which they said was on their way home.

The race could work as a weekend trip, or be built into a longer vacation with potential side trips to the Oregon Coast, Portland, or northern California.  I opted to build in one extra day to side trip to the spectacular Crater Lake, about 2 very remote hours east from Ashland.

Wizard Island in Crater Lake from the Watchman lookout tower.

Pine to Palm was a humbling experience to say the least.  My first DNF in a goal race really hurt, but I'm trying to remind myself that by staying conservative I should have a lifetime of finishes to look forward to.  Knowing these lessons and the logistics of the area will do me well when I eventually return to finish what I started.

​Full race information and maps are on the Pine to Palm website.

Monday, June 6, 2016

The Old Dominion Endurance Run

All things considered, my running of the 38th annual Old Dominion 100 mile endurance run went splendidly.  After a winter sabbatical, spring training went great with several shorter races leading up to June.  Even after an extremely abbreviated night of sleep I felt like I had fresh legs at the start line.  The weather was typical of Virginia in early June; humid with highs in the 80s and the potential for showers.  Thats what you sign up for so there is no reason to complain.

Race: Old Dominion
Date: June 3rd, 2016
Finish Time: 22 hours, 19 minutes
Distance: 100 miles
Gain/loss: 14,000 ft

The course kept me in touch with my surroundings.  The combinations of gravel roads, hiking trails, and paved portions made me feel as though I was traversing all the human activity in Fort Valley and the Massanutten Mountains.  While some locals aren't sure what to think of Ultra-Runners at other races I've participated in, at Old Dominion I received plenty of words of encouragement from on-lookers.  One fellow cruising by in a truck even offered me a ride up the climb to Woodstock Tower.  I replied that it was a tempting offer but one I would have to pass up!  Plenty of wildlife was out as well.  I heard reports of a bear spotting; deer and bunny rabbits criss-crossed the trails and turtles came out in the late afternoon hours.  Snakes were the main topic of conversation among runners though.  I saw 3 huge rattlesnakes, one of which was coiled with its tail rattling away, a clear message to keep your distance.  This was also interesting to me since that while I realized there are Rattlers on the east coast, Copperheads and Cottonmouths tend to be more common in Virginia when it comes to poisonous snakes.

The whole race was tough; at no point did I feel great, however I never felt remotely close to quitting either.  Instead I just buzzed along at a steady pace, picking away at the course as the day waned.  I hit my lowest point around the middle of the race before the mountain top aid station.  I was hungry and tired, and having difficulty drinking enough fluids to off-set my sweat rate while at the same time not being able to stomach much food.  Somehow at the Edinburgh Gap and Little Fort aid stations I was able choke down enough calories which, combined with some cloud cover and decreasing temperatures, gave me a 2nd wind to push into the last 1/3 of the course.

One last test came almost 94 miles into the race.  Coming down off the last climb from Woodstock tower, during the dark and rainy night, I somehow strayed left on the road instead of veering to the right.  This looked like the course but as the road turned to gravel I realized something wasn't right.  Staying calm is truly key in this instances.  After a brief freak-out I stopped, consulted my map, and determined I needed to back track.  A local was driving home and stopped to direct me back to the last junction if I wanted to reach the finish in Woodstock.  It seemed like an eternity but in hindsight I only burned about a mile or 12 minutes.  The adrenaline rush of missing a turn gave me some fresh legs to make some of that time up on the way back.  I was just happy to be back and going the right direction!

"Flying" into the finish at 2:19 am Sunday.
Old Dominion presents a unique challenge, to cover 100 miles in one day.  Basically, you need to run, a lot.  While this may sound natural to Ultra-Runners, more mountainous courses give you plenty of chances to walk or hike up the hills.  Anytime the terrain is fairly flat or downhill you need to be running, anything less is just wasting time.  When the goal is to cover 100 miles in 24 hours you don't have time to waste.  There is a 28 hour cut-off for official finishers which is already challenging, and add to that the pressure of sub-24 for a belt buckle.  While there are plenty of runable sections, the course is anything but flat.  14 significant climbs, each with a quad busting downhill.

This race is classic Ultra-Running.  Paper mail-in applications, no sponsors, no live-tracking, no mercy, and certainly no bullshit.  The finish proved equally underwhelming; 1 person recording finish times, and 3 or 4 other supporters hanging out.  That was it.  Its low key and everyone involved knows what they are doing.  The race directors have admirably kept it this way for almost 40 years and I hope it continues.

Race HQ at the Shenandoah fairgrounds.
This is the oldest 100 miler on the east coast and the 2nd oldest in the country.  Like its western counterpart, this originated from a long distance horse ride.  Six years after the iconic Western States run began, the OD100 race directors wanted to give east coasters a chance to run 100 miles through rugged Virginia trails.

The Old Dominion endurance run, still a reason to get strong since 1979.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

My Favorite IPAs

India Pale Ales.  A finer class of beers that demands a developed palette.  Of British origin, legend has it these pale ales were brewed specifically to survive the long journey to the new world, once thought to be India, and thus the name was born.  The use of hops in beer is almost as complex as the manipulation of pinot noir grapes for red wines. Too hoppy and it may leave a bitter taste, not enough can result in a bland, "chug-worthy" beer.  I haven't always loved IPAs.  I used to prefer porters, lagers, and pale ales.  But those ever intoxicating hops grew on me.  Now many of my old favorites just seem to be lacking something.  IPAs are all the craze now in American craft brewing, and with good reason.

I decided to give a run down of my absolute favorites in this diverse category.

I had a few caveats for my list: they needed to be IPAs, plain and simple.  There are some great Pale Ales with a hoppy flavor, but they aren't IPAs.  Same goes for tasty Belgian quads or triples.  I excluded double or triple IPAs, often called "imperial" IPAs.  I was however fine to include sub-categories like Rye, Red, or Black IPAs, but none of them made it into my list since I've just never really tasted one that was overly delicious.  I wanted to make sure these are readily available, so I excluded brews in limited distribution or that may not even be bottled.  I know we've all heard a pretentious story about the "best beer ever", only to hear it doesn't leave the 10 mile radius where its brewed.

These are some of my tastiest go-tos along with a few others that barely missed the list.

Sierra Nevada Tropical IPA - The slight bitterness is soon overtaken but fruit notes of mango, orange and pineapple.  Fresh and drinkable with a dry finish.  Sierra Nevada's "Beer Camp" series represents a collaboration between their brewery and several smaller gigs.  While this may be a limited release they would be crazy not to make it a regular.

Stone IPA - Stone knows what they are doing with IPAs.  Their Delicious and Go-to IPAs are great options as well, but I still prefer the original.  This is what a West Coast IPA should taste like.  Some floral and piney notes compliment this crisp IPA.

Firestone Easy Jack IPA - A wonderfully easy to drink IPA.  I'm impressed with how much taste comes out of only a 4.5% alcohol by volume brew.  This also makes it a great option to drink multiples of throughout the day.  Not overwhelmingly hoppy and features some tropical notes.

Deschutes Fresh Squeezed IPA - a citrusey, hopped out brew with hints of spices throughout.  Its still an IPA so it isn't overly sweet on the fruit and its on the less bitter end of the spectrum.  Drink it ice cold at a hot summer tailgate!

Smuttynose Finest Kind IPA - a full bodied, classical American IPA.  This one isn't light on the hops so if you are still growing accustomed to hop-laden IPAs you may want to steer clear until you develop a pallet.  Once you do, pull up a chair, sit back and relax while sipping on this one.

Honorable Mentions: Stone Delicious IPADogfish Head 60 minute IPA,  Flying Dog Easy IPA

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Purity Ring

It happens every Labor Day Weekend in Northern Virginia.  Few have heard of it.  Fewer have completed it.  In fact there are now 157 unique members who have completed it.  Entry is free and the winner only gets bragging rights.  There is no corporate sponsorship, no shiny medals or belt buckles, and no mercy on the course.  Just a dedicated community of runners and supporters.  Its 71 miles of steep, rugged trails through Virginia's Massanutten Mountains.  "The Ring"  encapsulated the quintessential Ultra experience to me.

The 48 starters of the 2015 edition of The Ring.  At least I'm not the only crazy person.  Photo courtesy VHTRC.

I was having a great season of running leading up to the Ring.  Coming off a strong spring, a successful 100 miler in early summer, and several 50ks in August had me in shape and confident.  This was important because The Ring is not your typical fat-ass event and not to be taken lightly.  Some people kind of pencil it in as training for other events but I wisely did not have anything major scheduled for almost 2 months after.

I spent the night in nearby Front Royal to try and get as much sleep as possible.  The Ring starts promptly at 7:00 a.m. from the Signal Knob Parking lot where the runners circle up, provide our entry fee in the form of aid station supplies, and make last minute preparations.  Though I always plan to start out slow, I started out even slower than I would have liked getting caught behind a train of runners.  Coming up the first climb over the Elizabeth Furnace recreation area things spaced out a bit but there was still plenty of group conversation.  This was the first of many steep, rocky climbs.  I chatted with  a nice fellow from Ohio.  He said he had DNFed the Ring previously, and was just trying to get ahead of the clock and then just "hang on" after the half-way mark.  I suggested a more conservative strategy this time which hopefully he took to heart.

As I started to space out from some of the runners I caught up with my good friend Andrew Simpson.  He has been a good training partner for years now and we more or less agreed to run most of the daytime portion of the race together.

Early on, looking east at the twisting Shenandoah river with the
Shenandoah  mountains in view. Photo courtesy Tammy Wonning.
The first sections of the Ring are serious business.  The aid stations are few and far between early on, the first one occurring 13 miles in and only featuring fluids.  The next one was another 12 miles away.  I filled up my 1.5 liter reservoir but neglected to fill up my 2 soft flasks, an oversight I would later regret.  Things were hot and humid at this point and I was sucking down my fluids.  The last thing you want to do in any Ultra, especially at the Ring, is get behind in your hydration early on.  I ran out of fluids with about 4 more miles until aid, but kept the pace conservative and made it in no problem.  I enthusiastically filled up all my provisions at the Roosevelt AS as energetic volunteers fed me warm food.

Participants are allowed 1 sturdy drop-bag which is carted around the course to most of the aid stations.  I stored the typical supplies in mine, some of which would not be needed: sunscreen, bug spray, gels, nutrition bars, spare clothing, batteries, a headlamp, and bodyglide.  I heard stories about terrible bugs along the trail including relentless horseflies so I packed a safari hat with bug netting to protect my face and neck; to my delight it was not needed.

Passing Duncan Knob we had some runable, fairly flat sections, before the gradual ascent up Middle Mountain.  The climbs here weren't too tough, but it was the warmest part of the day and we were on a jeep trail that let plenty of sunlight in.  Here I was feeling hot and walking continued to tempt me.  My friend Andrew was really helpful here, pulling me along while the day wasn't even half done.

Navigating The Ring sounds straightforward but it can be anything but.  "Stay on Orange" is all you need to know; the trail is one massive loop that utilizes orange tree blazes.  However, many of the blazes are warn off, hard to differentiate from other red or yellow trails in the area, and do not always adhere to the typical double markings for turns.  You would be wise to carry a map & compass, approaching every intersection ready for a critical decision.  We had a few spots that required a little exploring of potential options before we could be confident we were indeed on orange.

This pretty much sums up the terrain.  Rocks, rock, and more rocks.  Navigate however you see fit.
The toughest challenge of the day came about 50 kilometers into the Ring.  The steep hike up to Crisman Hollow  was almost 1,000 feet in 3/4 of a mile.  It was tough to even keep hiking at a constant pace.  I was sweating bullets during the typical Virginia humidity, and ran out of fluids about half-way up.  I knew a major aid station was coming so I just tried to keep a clear head.

The Crisman Hollow aid station came at a critical time for me.  I was hungry, thirsty, and in dire need of  a break.  We ran into the eventual women's winner, my friend and training partner Angela Russel.  She departed shortly after our arrival.  Andrew also left before I did, feeling strong as ever.  I had a pacer waiting for me at mile 40 and welcomed a little alone time.  The next section was not very significant, just more ups and downs on the rocky trails of the Massanutten Mountains.

I had told my pacer, Rick Bennet, to expect me around 5:30 p.m. with a best case scenario of five sharp and a worst case scenario of around 7:00 p.m.  To my surprise and enjoyment I arrived at a timely quarter after five.  I hate having a pacer or crew member wait around for hours just due to poor judgement on the part of their runner so hopefully hitting the nail on the head time-wise will encourage him to pace me again in the future.

After meeting Rick at Edinburg Gap and refueling we headed off.  Still with plenty of light but a bit cooler out now in the evening hours.  I really had no idea of my current placing, I think I was in the top 10 and only had one female in front of me; most entrants would agree that the goal at the Ring is just to finish.  I was cautiously optimistic heading on.

Looking out over Fort Valley as we close in on Sunset.
Moving along we were now on one of the rockiest sections of the Ring, and thats really saying something in the Massanuttens.  Some of the trail just went straight though moss-covered rock gardens, prohibiting running and leading to the loss of at least a couple more toenails.  There were even times where all you can do is  stop, look at the "trail" in front of you and ask yourself what in the world are you doing out here.  While the footing was poor my spirits were higher now; it was beginning to cool off and we were treated to a gorgeous sunset off to the west.

Sometimes you just have to stop, collect
yourself, and figure out your next steps.
When we came into the Edinburg Gap AS at mile 48 the last ambient light of the day was fading fast.  I even remember catching a bit of a chill here.  After refueling we turned on our headlamps and headed on to the next climb up Short Mountain, which at the time seemed anything but.  I started to get pretty crabby here and credit Rick with staying cool.  I asked him to check our mileage on his GPS watch probably every 10 minutes, and had him verify whether or not I was hallucinating several times.  I had spotted a hand-written note on the ground that looked meant for a runner, and he reassured me that it was in fact "real".

When I am feeling really down in a race I just try to tell myself that its better to feel bad now and good later.  With almost 20 miles to go I really hoped it was true today.  Short Mountain finally topped out and we had some more ridge running before the next descent down to Woodstock.

The Woodstock Aid Station was pivotal.  To my surprise several of my good friends were all huddling up here.  Enrique, Misha, Eryn, and Snipes were all manning this spot.  Most of the day I had been eating cold or packaged food, but the foods at this stop were a Godsend; hot miso soup, chocolate cake, and avocado burritos were on the menu here.  Enough dirt and moisture had accumulated in my socks that I decided to change.  While it can be a waste of time it most certainly was not here.  Re-energized finally, I headed back out into the woods for one last major climb and descent toward Powells Fort.

I don't really remember much about this section, other than that I was finally feeling better in the cooler night air and was looking forward to the last section.  Not just for getting to finish, but I have run and hiked the Signal Knob area many times and its nice to be on familiar terrain.

Its not a real Ultra without night running!
Now about 60 miles in, we exited the trail onto the gravel Boyer Road and soon blasted into the Powells Fort Aid Station which featured more warm food.  I even chugged a starbucks doubleshot coffee drink, a staple of mine for tired moments in races.  I didn't know who was ahead of me but I knew I had a realistic shot of breaking 20 hours which was my stretch goal for the day.  However, this was only if I hauled ass the rest of the way.  Leaving Powells Fort I really had some legs on me all of a sudden so I got moving on the gravel road section.  Finally running "fast" for a change fueled my adrenaline rush.  Heading north on Boyers Road the trail takes a slight detour back onto single track trails and then rejoins the road to climb up to the Signal Knob over-look.  I spotted 2 runners and was able to pass them naturally on the uphill.

At the top of this hill there is a small detour to the Signal Knob overlook, and since its an orange marked part of the course you need to follow the trail out there.  Its an honor system section that would be easy to skip but I'm sure no one wants to cheat themselves.  Out of weird Ultra paranoia I still checked back over my shoulder to make sure the 2 runners behind me were going out there.

The traverse from Signal Knob to Menaka Peak and on to Richardson Knob is extremely rocky and slow going.  I didn't even mind this, being so close to the finish, and I realized from hiking in the area so many times that the last 2 miles would be a runable downhill.  Leaving the rockiest parts I came upon my friend Andrew from earlier in the day.  I enthusiastically suggested we all band together and push the last couple miles in but his legs were shot and he was just trying to get down the mountain.  I trudged on, catching an edge a few times that made me wisely back off the pace.  Less than a mile to go!

My pacer and I - Finally a reason to smile.
Finally, like an oasis in a pitch black forest came the finish.  A race official checked his watch to record my finish time.  Another volunteer handed us some warm food.  Just like that, it was over.  There were a couple of "prizes" to be had.  An oval "71" car sticker, denoting the length of the Ring in miles, and a tiny pin for first time Ring finishers proclaiming that "I peed on the electric fence".

I was very pleased to discover that I had come in 6th of the original 48 starters, and 27 eventual finishers in roughly 19 and a half hours.  Angela Russell had won the women's field 25 minutes ahead of me, being so close to the women's winner felt awesome.  The men's winner, Danny Mowers, came in almost 5 hours before me with an inhuman performance.  In an act of true Ultra class, Danny was still hanging out at the finish when I came in.  Andrew came in a few minutes behind me where we could all commiserate.  All that was left was to eat some food and pass out in our cars until daylight.  I don't think I've ever been that sore and incoherent the day following a race, not even a 100 miler.  However, that didn't stop myself and a few other runners and volunteers from visiting a beer garden in nearby Washington D.C. that evening, drowning our sorrows with 1-liter mugs of German brews.

The Ring is odd.  Bottom line is that its miserable, but people keep coming back for it.  Finishing the Ring (clockwise direction) is the only way to be eligible to run the Reverse Ring, the same trail run counterclockwise every February.  Will I be running the Reverse and gaining true membership to the "Fellowship of the Ring"? You bet.  But not until I forget about the standard edition.

Race: The Ring
Date: Sept. 5th, 2015
Finish Time: 19 hours 34 minutes
Distance: 71 miles
Gain/loss: 15,600 ft

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Watch these for Wanderlust!

Is running related to travel? Not inherently, but they both instill similar emotions.  The need to overcome obstacles, to do something that feels like a new experience to you, and to get out and see things you never thought possible.  Its your trip, your race, your adventure.  You may feel like if you just do one more big race, or travel to one more destination, you will feel complete; but often upon returning you are even hungrier for more.

"Wanderlust" has been kind of a buzzword lately, and essentially just means that you have a strong desire to travel.  I think running addicts have something similar.

The following 10 unordered movies are tops on my list in terms of giving me that urge to go out and explore.

Lost in Translation

A lonely, aging movie star named Bob Harris (Bill Murray) and a conflicted newlywed, Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), meet in Tokyo. Bob is there to film a Japanese whiskey commercial; Charlotte is accompanying her celebrity-photographer husband. Strangers in a foreign land, the two form an unlikely bond after crossing paths in a hotel bar.

7 Years in Tibet

The true story of Heinrich Harrer (played by Brad Pitt), an egocentric Austrian mountain climber who became friends with the Dalai Lama at the time of China's takeover of Tibet.  After a failed mountain climbing attempt and a brief stint in a British Indian POW camp, he gradually learns selflessness from the young Dalai Lama.

Into the Wild

After graduating from Emory University, northern Virginia native Christopher McCandless abandons his possessions, gives his entire $24,000 savings account to charity and hitchhikes to Alaska to live in the wilderness. Along the way, Christopher encounters a series of characters that shape his life.

The Motorcycle Diaries

On a break before his last semester of medical school, Ernesto "Che" Guevara (Gael García Bernal) travels with his friend Alberto Granado (Rodrigo de la Serna) from Brazil to Peru by motorcycle. The two men soon witness the great disparities in South America, encountering poor peasants and observing the exploitation of labor by wealthy industrialists.

Y Tu Mamá También

The lives of Julio and Tenoch, like those of 17-year old boys everywhere, are ruled by raging hormones, intense friendships, and a headlong rush into adulthood. Over the course of a summer, the two best friends, while living out a carefree cross-country escapade with a gorgeous older woman, also find connection with each other, themselves and the world around them.

Up in the Air

With a job traveling around the country firing people, Ryan Bingham enjoys his life living out of a suitcase, but finds that lifestyle threatened by the presence of a new hire and a potential love interest.  He soon begins to realize that a transient lifestyle may not be as rewarding as it had once appeared.

In Bruges

After a difficult job in London, a 2 person hit-man team is ordered by their boss Harry to cool their heels in Bruges, Belgium. Very much out of their comfort zones, the men find themselves drawn into increasingly dangerous entanglements.  Soon their perspectives on life and death are violently skewed in this dark comedy.


Based on the 2012 memoir by American author Cheryl Strayed, describing her 1,100-mile hike on the Pacific Crest Trail in 1995 as a journey of self-discovery.  We experience the natural beauty and challenges of her journey, along with memories of her past life.

Almost Famous

Set in the 70s, its the coming of age story of 15 year old William, a fan of rock music inspired to write for Rolling Stone. When his love of music lands him an assignment from the famous magazine to interview the [fictional] band "Stillwater", William embarks on an eye-opening journey with the band's tour, despite the objections of his protective mother.

The Beach

Twenty-something Richard travels to Thailand and finds himself in possession of a strange map. Rumors state that it leads to a solitary beach paradise, a tropical bliss - excited and intrigued, he sets out to find it. He is joined by 2 fellow travelers on an adventure to "The Beach," a mystical paradise. However, this paradise is less than perfect.

Descriptions paraphrased partly from IMDB.