Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Beersheba !

 "The toughest trail run in the country" -- that's what it says on the race logo for the Savage Gulf Marathon in Beersheba, TN where I ran last weekend.  Don't think that rings exactly true, though the race is pretty tough for a marathon.


The race is put on by and for the Tennessee Park Rangers (TPRA).  They really bent over backwards to be sure everyone had a safe & fun time.  I love new venues & this was no exception.

From the TPRA race website:
 

This was my 7th different trail marathon, but really the only other race I've run that's comparable to this one, as far as trail type, is Massanutten 100.  ROCKY!  I thought it had more rocky-technical trail per race mile than Massanutten, but it was distinctly different in one way:  the trails at this race were very well manicured -- even with the sometimes constant rock piles & boulder fields!

You could tell the hardcore people who built this trail made a super-human effort to rearrange some of the massive rocks & also bring in some flat rocks & place them amongst all the ones on edge or pointed.  Even so, it wasn't very easy jumping from rock to rock all day -- but it made a big difference.


As for the scenery, I would rate that near the top in comparison to other venues.  Plenty of overlooks, very abundant/beautiful waterfalls & lots of neat rock formations.  The course did not swing by everything the area had to offer -- it would be nice to come back & take the time to visit them.

Checking out the accommodations before heading south, it appeared the closest motel was almost an hour drive from the race.  Dry weather was forecast so I decided to take advantage of the free camping near the start line.  I arrived early so I could take in some sights.  This was at the Stone Door overlook:


I've seen pics where someone is on that thin 15' overhang over a 150' sheer vertical drop (crazy!): 


In the Stone Door: 

There's only about a quarter mile of road (paved or gravel) running on the course & that's on the park road & parking lot at the start/finish.  I was still chilled by the cool, windy night in my tent so I wore a shirt to the pre-race instructions at the start.  As we ran past the cars in the parking lot during the start, I dropped off my shirt at my car.  That made me dead last heading onto the trails.

To me it seems the marathon pace is so much faster than a 50k.  I bided my time on the 1st couple miles on the easy, non-technical trails which led to the Stone Door steps & entrance to the rocky gorge below.  I knew I would catch up to the tail end of the group as they would still be backed up at those steep & narrow steps by the time I got there -- and they were.

Photos by Jessica Phillips Photography:

the leaders:


The trails were GREAT.  I always prefer narrow, technical single track over anything else.  No mud or sleet like last week at LBL -- I got the bottom of my shoes wet a few times here.  What I wasn't prepared for this race were all the suspension bridges!  Some of them were pretty long.

One of the crossings:

The 1st bridge was only a few miles into the gorge while everyone was still bunched up.  I was a third of the way across the bridge before I knew it.  It was going up & down quite a bit, but I held on.  Then it started swinging sideways at the same time!  I stopped dead in my tracks.  This was not a place for someone who gets motion sickness easy & has a fear of heights!

2 runners were stuck behind me on the bridge when I froze, so when the sideways motion slowed down, I let them squeeze by me.  Only when they got off & the bridge stopped moving did I get across -- one down, 7 more crossings to go!  I did not (nor did others I suspect) read the sign that said only 2 persons on the bridge at a time.  I got better as the day went on as I also made sure I was the only one crossing on each bridge.

 

One bridge was made up of strung out aluminum pic boards -- that was nice as it restricted the up & down movement.  It reminded me of how ice climbers go across crevasses in glaciers on ladders.  I did stop on a few of the bridges to admire the scenery.  The crossing over the Collins River with the huge boulders was the highlight of the course to me.

Surprisingly my back gave me problems at only one location the entire race:  the "Stagecoach Rd historic trail" about mile 16.  I imagine passengers on a stagecoach on this rough road in the old days got back problems here too!  It was a 1.5 mile section all on a steady downhill.  By the time I reached the bottom, I was ready to crawl.  Luckily there was an aid station right there.  I took time for a little rest & recovery & even more surprisingly, I had no ill effects afterwards!


Despite the marathon PW in terms of the finish time, I thought it was one of my better efforts in the past year.  It also had to be one of my most enjoyable races - highly recommended.

Next up is Potawatomi in Pekin, Illinois in about 2 weeks.  I'm attempting 10 loops of the course -- last year I was injured on the 5th loop.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

short again at LBL

I came to LBL needing everything to be just right in order to make the cutoff at 36 miles (13'/mile) to be able to continue to a 50 mile finish.  However, Mother Nature had other thoughts. 

It started with the sleet & snow on Sunday night the week of the race.  I was out shoveling & scraping the ice & snow off the driveway the next day in near zero degree windchill conditions.  I did not catch a full fledged cold, but I did come down with some kind of bug -- sneezing, a constant dripping nose & worst of all was the fatigue.  For several days I thought the race was not a possibility.  However, after lots & lots of bed rest & vitamin C, I felt better by Friday afternoon.  The race was on.

My next hurdle came when I arrived at the race -- the snow had melted at Grand Rivers, but there was sleet & ice everywhere.  Despite 50's the day before & above freezing temps overnight, the trails had a thick layer of sleet on them.  I needed shoes w/aggressive tread -- I had none.

The temp was nice & cool & I started the race with a slow controlled pace.  After the 1st mile, I looked back & out of nearly 700 runners, there were only 75 or 100 behind me.  Starting in this position, I knew there would be backups once we hit the trails & a restrained pace the 1st loop.

Despite the stop'n'go running with the crowd on the 1st loop, I was ahead of the pace that I set last week during my test run on the course.  Near the midway point of the 2nd loop (18 miles), I was at the pace I needed to be to make the cutoff.  I could even run a little less than 14 minute miles & still make it -- I felt I could do it.

But, it was like a switch was thrown & the course instantly deteriorated!  Instead of the semi-solid sleet base, it became sleet, mud & mucho water.  The water could not drain off the trails as the sides had built up with splashed out sleet.  It was hard to believe it could get that deep on a usually well-drained course.

When the trail conditions changed, my chances of making the cutoff went out the window.   I was disappointed, yet I continued enjoying the run with the adverse conditions.

The temps felt like they rose to the 70's (actually only 50's) & the 3rd loop was mostly run in cold water.  Some of the small streams that you could jump over the 1st loop were now 15' wide & you had to be careful of dropoffs when wading thru them.  Where the trails were flat, the water just stood in the trails several inches deep.  On the hills there was always a steady stream running down the middle of the trail.  Splish - splash - what a gas!            












next up:

I have some soreness in the arch of my right foot (where I ran with too much mud in that shoe) -- other than that I feel pretty good.   I did not push & extend myself this race so I've decided to go back down to Tennessee for the Savage Gulf Marathon in what promises to be a most scenic & challenging run. 


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

pre-run at LBL

After the back to back long runs in TN, I thought I'd go down to LBL & run a lap or two on the course since I'm having concerns about the 50 miler.  I was planning on a good rest, then on Thursday or Friday I'd get the run in. 

BUT, I got a new toy during the week:  a GoPro 3+ Black version camera:
At this years LLTH race, I took my handheld video camera with me on the 1st loop -- it was extremely shaky.  That's when I seriously looked into the GoPro.  I'm still playing with it & trying to figure it out -- one thing it says is that battery power is limited in cold weather.  Since the temps were in the teens/low twenties, I decided to wait & head to LBL on a warmer Saturday.   A bit close to the 50 miler next weekend, but I knew to take it easy.

It turns out the Western Kentucky Running Club (WKRC), the people who put on LBL, lets their race day volunteers make an official run the weekend before the actual race.  I thought it an ideal time to join them so I could try out my new toy AND get in a confidence builder over the course.

I believe most of the volunteers were running 1 loop (23k).  I would do 1 loop & if I felt like it, I would continue on with 2 loops (marathon).  For the race this weekend, if my back doesn't give me problems, I don't think I would have trouble with finishing 50 miles.  The problem is the cutoff at 36 miles, which is at 2:15 pm (a 13' pace).  Pacing is critical -- I'm so worried that I won't make that cutoff that I usually start too fast.

Course was in great condition -- it was cool & breezy along the lake.


Well I started the run too fast on the road (I do this about every year) -- got caught up talking about the GoPro & whatnot.  Even so, I fell increasingly further & further behind the main group of WKRC runners.

 I concentrated on my pace -- I wanted to see how long I could maintain the 13'/mile average.  After the quick start I slowed down & by the end of the loop my average was down to the 13'/mile.  Since I felt OK I continued with the 2nd loop.  I averaged around 14'/mile on the 2nd loop -- I think I could have averaged 13'/mile, but I didn't want to push it this close to the race.  I don't know if I could have made it to 36 miles at that pace, but at least I know now I do have a chance -- it was good run.


Got a problem with the GoPro.  I'm getting a thumping noise when I'm running but it goes away when I turn my head to the side.  I believe it has to do with the strapping, but haven't figured it out yet.  A bit disappointed the rechargeable battery only lasted about 110'.  I have some more batteries on order.  Here's a 19 sec clip:


 https://drive.google.com/file/d/0Byd8JwCSMpVCRDJ1c0RBZVdfUzQ/edit?usp=sharing


Monday, March 3, 2014

Thunder Rock pre-run

Despite my back problems & level of fitness, I'm signed up for several long races this year.  The first one, Potawatomi 150 next month (signed up early last yr) appears physically out of reach at this time so I'm looking at dropping down the distance.

The 2nd one, Thunder Rock 100 in 2 months is a brand new & very scenic race in Tennessee & I jumped on it at registration opening (filled in 48 hrs) as there aren't very many races like this that are within driving distance of Louisville.  Last weekend the Race Director, Randy Whorton, had a pre-run on the first 40+/- miles of the course over a 2 day period.  I had never done back to back long runs before as I've always been too tired after the 1st day.  But I really wanted to see what I had gotten into plus I could quit after the 1st day if needed.

There would be a couple other challenges, other than having back to back long runs:  1. the course was basically unmarked & you had to follow an EVERYTRAIL map that the RD had posted.  I did not have the recommended EVERYTRAIL app to use while on the trail, but I did try to memorize what I could by following a GPS track on Google Earth.   It appeared most trails would have trail blazes, however the old forest roads looked troublesome.  2. With several thousand feet of elevation, it would be tough.

Day 1:

I knew it was going to be a long day in the 1st mile of the run.  About a dozen or so of us runners began on a wide gravelly trail on a slight downhill grade.  Trying to keep up with the group I still fell behind -- problem was they were running an 8:30 pace.  I was expecting a more leisurely pace.  Just before entering single track at 2 miles, I could see over a 1/4 mile ahead & they weren't in sight!

I ran alone, did alot of walking & did some wandering.  The 1st trails had old blazes on the trees, but they were few & far between.  Some intersections were a big guess & I ended up having to run down several trails/roads to try to determine which way to go.  One place in particular was bad & if it hadn't been for someone placing sticks in the road for a makeshift directional arrow pointing off the road, I would have never found my way!  It turns out one runner didn't see those sticks, got lost & had to be tracked down. 

Day 2:

The RD had a different plan the 2nd day since there were several others who had trouble the 1st day.  This day would have more turns & some totally unmarked trails so he would be running sweep.

Surprisingly, I felt OK the 2nd morning as I slept long & well (pretty tired!).  My back (w/brace) would not be an issue either day.  The biggest challenge I could foresee this day was not getting lost!

 bringing up the rear again:                                                     


The 1st day was scenic, but this day took the cake.  If you like running with the view & sound of water rushing by for miles, this is the race for you.  Lots of whitewater rapids too.  One view from about 250 feet straight above a creek was one of those WOW moments.  The trail was so narrow here too & since I have a fear of heights, I had to lean up against the hill on the other side thru this section.

This is a video of the runs:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3o5VVIowQ0k

Again I was running behind the group this day (with the RD running sweep a few minutes behind me this time taking pics & video) but a couple times I would catch the group when they didn't know which way to go & had stopped to wait for the RD.  At one intersection I stopped & waited for the RD because I heard the group ahead up on a hillside where they shouldn't have been.  Turns out they did go the wrong way -- the RD ran after them.  I didn't go so I inherited the lead . . . until I got off course!

One of the new directions (RD changed them from the posted course) I heard just before we started was:  after about a couple miles after the right turn at the 1st intersection on the gravel road, turn left at the orange gate.  Well, I did that.  Turns out there was ANOTHER orange gate (the correct one) just a little further down!   No trail blazes this end of the course, so I was on my own.  After a half mile & down a 300' hill, the forest road became increasingly overgrown & difficult to traverse.  I had also passed a "50/50 guess" intersection down the hill -- should I have turned?  Well, I decided to turn around & go all the way back to the orange gate. 

Luckily, the RD (who had ran down the off course group earlier) was passing by on the gravel road!  So I was able to run to the finish with the RD.  When I got home & checked my GPS with the final miles WITH the RD, we did NOT run on the course we were directed to!  Wo!


Oh yes, I get motion sickness easily & on the very hilly/curvy van trips to the start & finish on these point to point runs, I got sick!  We even had to stop once for me to recover . . .

Sunday, February 16, 2014

a memorable day

Last weekend I finished my 9th Louisville's Lovin' The Hills 50k (LLTH).  It has to have been the most fun time I've had on the same trails that are my regular training grounds.  The ice covered trees & snowy hills were AWESOME!   Some races may advertise of their most scenic courses, but this was the best one I've ever run.
 
All photos on the blog today courtesy of Terry Fletcher w/SPORTZbizz:

Race blog recap here.  More pics here & here.

I also love narrow single track -- most of the course on the Siltstone Trail (about 13 miles) was only as wide as my shoe turned sideways -- I checked!  Runners avoided the unpacked snow & kept true to the skinny path or risked discovering the hidden edge/dropoff of the already narrow trail below.


Ryan & Russ w/ice beards:
 

It was my slowest time for LLTH, but I knew that would occur going in.  Marking & then re-marking (because of the ice storm) on the snowy, obstacle-ridden course completely wore me out.  Also, I just can't hike up & down these hills during the week of any race & expect a good time.  But time was not a concern this day-- I was out to have a memorable run -- and I succeeded!



I took a hand held video camera with me on the 1st 6m loop.  This camera was NOT meant to be used while on the run like a GoPro.   Also, looking at the short & shaky results after the race, it was obvious I didn't always know when the camera was on or off!  In very small letters on the screen it signals red for pause/stop, green for on -- not easy to see when running.  Anyway, here is a short shaky segment -- trying to keep from tripping while avoiding icy branches & trees from knocking the camera from my hands: 
video  The video is in High Definition (HD) although the default on Google Drive is 480p.

Next race is LBL 50M in 3 weeks.  Such a contrast between LLTH & LBL!  I'll need to avg 13 min/mile for the 1st 36 miles in order to be able to continue with the 4th lap.  Based on my recent efforts, that pace will be an extraordinary task!  My back seemed to tolerate the much slower pace better at LLTH last weekend too.


Last year I had one of my worst efforts ever at LBL & I still don't know exactly what happened.  Maybe I need to put in a speed work or two before then?  Will see . . . .

Monday, February 3, 2014

still running

Last weekend I travelled down to Huntsville, AL for my 4th Mountain Mist 50k.  Last year I set a satisfying PB for the course, but based on my recent races, I knew I wasn't going to be anywhere close to that -- if I finished at all.

The RD altered the course this year to try to minimize the congestion that always occurs very early in the race when 300 - 400 runners are funneled down the 1st big hill that's on single track.  The 1st 2 years I ran this I used a quick early pace to avoid the heaviest traffic but ended up running a forced pace afterwards just to keep from getting run over!  This year the course was re-routed so that a couple miles of fairly flat road/trail were shifted to just after the start to help spread out the field.

Well, the field had indeed spread out after 3 miles, but a new problem arose.  As soon as everyone headed down the 1st hill of years past, everyone came to a standstill.  Why?  Because Alabama has had its' share of cold weather --  one of the streams crossing the trail had turned into ice.  It took almost 4 minutes to go inch by inch just to get to the ice.  Had I known I would be standing around that long, I would've ran the 1st 3 miles alot slower (the line behind me was not near as long as the one in front).  One fellow couldn't wait & took a butt slide down the steep hillside to bypass everyone.

The course was the driest I've seen it, so other than the ice crossings, the course was fast.  Surprisingly though, this year the winning time was 27 minutes slower than last year when a record was set in the mud.  Besides the course alteration at the start, there was one other change at mile 24 -- the course felt longer but my Garmin said it was about the same. This years' winner, Scott Breeden, had won Louisville's Lovin' the Hills 50k in record fashion in 2013 after finishing 2nd at Mountain Mist a few weeks earlier.

2014:                                                     2013:

 

The 1st half of the course is the fastest & least technical.  I always use the 17 mile aid station as the halfway point of this race timewise.  Last year I averaged 12 min/mile to this point.  This year it was 13 min/mile -- it was slower, but felt good & was really enjoying myself.  I had used the same race prep (diet & belt tightening) as before at Tecumseh & up to that point it was working great.  However, the long rocky technical downhills at miles 19 & 27 were tough.  The large step downs on the boulders about did me in.  Most runners jump down them, but for me it was an awkward ballet with the stiff back brace.


After the last tortuous downhill, it was a struggle to continue.  I was hurting and had no energy.  There was Powerade at all the aid stations but it was watered down quite a bit -- I missed my sweet Gatorade.  I ate some pb&j quarters & potato chips - my favorites, but apparently I did not eat near enough.  After I dragged myself across the finish line, I headed straight for the hot pizza.  They have pizza delivered regularly & it's kept in ovens til needed -- it's great!  What Christmas turkey I was able to burn off during the race, I gained back & more with pizza (I think I ate a whole pizza!).  I believe I've found the limit to the special pre-race diet I'm using & need to make some adjustments (eat more) for longer races.

Next up on Saturday is Louisville's Lovin' the Hills 50k.  This race is about as local as it gets -- I can see the course from my front porch.  Earlier today I flagged the 1st leg for the race, about 6 miles.  I had planned on more but wasn't expecting the 5" of snow last night.  Felt like I needed snowshoes in the deeper areas.  Looking ahead at the forecast for the rest of the week, it doesn't look like the snow will be going away anytime soon.  If anything, any melting will freeze over & the course will be solid ice!  Looking forward to the challenge.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

a couple changes

Hats off to Brian & all the others who made the 2013 Tecumseh Marathon happen in 2014!

After quickly encountering disabling back pain at the Otter Creek Marathon, I did a couple things differently for the re-scheduled Tecumseh Marathon:

First thing was to tighten up the back brace as tight as I could make it -- I was stiff as a board!  Since I've learned from experience that this causes digestive issues & unexpected pit stops, I made sure I had NO food in my system other than a couple gels & gatorade at the start (no breakfast either).  This was no simple task as it required a special diet 2 days before the race . . . . eating food that I knew would pass thru my digestive system for sure before the start of the race.  This makes it tough the day before the race with only liquids that have no solids.  I don't know if I would have enough energy reserves if I tried this for an ultra.

Second thing was to use a measured pace (much slower than at Otter Creek) the first couple miles.  It was tempting to open it up as the 1st mile was on gravel road & mostly downhill.   I settled in towards the back, but when we approached a wide flooded stream crossing the road, there was a major backup.  I think there were some rocks you could use to jump across, but with what seemed like 30 or 40 people standing around, I wasn't going to wait.  The water was about thigh deep & I passed a bunch of faster paced runners I had not planned on passing.  Best part of this move though was when I reached the "squeeze down" to single track right afterwards, there wasn't any backup.  It was single file running the next mile and luckily it was not at a forced pace.

Because of these changes, I believe I was able to finish this marathon (this time).


new course:

This year the RD used an alternate course using an out'n'back section around the lake with 3 laps of a 6 mile loop.  Although more than half of it was on frozen gravel roads, I thought this a much better design than the previous alternate course that was an out'n'back starting at the finish line.  With that pure out'n'back, you had to pass everyone running in the other direction at some point in the race.  When that was done in 2010 in the snow, it made it difficult to get by everyone on the single track. 

The reason for the move off the Tecumseh Trail was because of all the snow, ice & mud.  Less than half of the alternate course was on actual trail.  The trails took a real beating with the repeated loops in the mud.  Some of the trail was on the old course but was so wallowed out I could hardly recognize it.  Most of the mud was the "splashy" type and small parts of the trail were under water (much like at the Otter Creek Marathon that was in the rain).  There was only one hill that was encountered on each lap.  Had it been a hilly course with that mud, it would have been tough. 



I ran into alot fewer people that I knew this year since the field was practically cut in half.  I can remember:  Bob S., Terry F., Mike F., Russ G., Brian H. and Cassie R.  I recognized several others, but didn't get a word in with them.  At one point in the race I told Bob S. (who I seem to meet at every Indiana race either running or volunteering) that this was my LAST race!  My back was giving me fits at the time as I had just run down the one hill on the loop (downhills are the worst on my back).  I even told him my thanks & good-byes . . . this after 10 years since our first encounter at OPSF!

Well, I've got a short memory and 2 days later, with my back having recovered somewhat, I went & signed up for a bunch of races!!!  Duh. With entry limits nowadays, a decision has to made early.   All I can say is I'll take them one at a time -- if I don't make it to the race(s), I'll know I donated my entry fee to a good cause. 

This year I was going to make a big donation to the Jefferson Memorial Forest as I have done in the past, but since they keep closing miles & miles of scenic single track trail for no good reason, I've decided against it.  It was an easy decision for me.