Monday, November 24, 2008

2008 Dizzy Fifties

I had run a 7:16 at the Hocking Hills 60k 2 months ago, so in looking at the 40.65 miles (approx 65k) in the Dizzy Fifties in Huntsville, Alabama, I had expectations of finishing in less than 8 hours on this very fast course - wrong! Final time on my watch was around 8:40!! About 6:16 at 50k. I didn't have any issues or excuses so it has me scratching my head on exactly what happened.

the course:

Driving 3 miles straight up a hill right out of Huntsville, I arrived at the top & it became pretty flat -- a plateau of sorts. It was breezy on top & chilly till the sun rose a little higher. There were nice scenic overlooks along the outer edge of this plateau thruout the course. The race consisted of 3 loops run multiple times with a centralized aid station, similar to the Stone Steps 50k format in Cincinnati. The small loop of 2.2 miles was run once, the north loop of 4 miles was run 4 times (for 40 milers) and the south loop of 5.6 miles was also run 4 times (for 40 milers). The most difficult was the north loop the 1st time around when the trail was covered with several inches of new fallen leaves. With all the rocks & roots hidden beneath, you had to step gingerly & hope the ankles held out! I only had one tumble but many twists & turns of both ankles -- nothing serious though. With all the foot traffic, the leaves were kicked out of the way or matted down as the day progressed & it became much better. This north loop had the only hill on the course as you dipped off the plateau for a couple miles. The small loop & the south loop were flat with the leaves already matted down & with only a few rocks & roots -- fast & easy running trails.

the race:

I was just over a 11 minute pace for the 1st few loops & then quickly faded. High stepping in the leaves on the 1st trip around the north loop apparently took something out of me. By the halfway point of the race, I was already reduced to the "shuffle" mode (slow) as my legs were gone. I stumbled & stubbed more toes dragging my feet thru the leaves that way, but I wasn't going fast enough to fall! I did get passed by one 50 miler. He was someone I had known from Lovin' the Hills & Stone Steps -- Tom Possert -- a tall fellow with long muscular legs. As I was walking up the one hill on the course on the north loop at about mile 34, he passed by me & started walking -- so he was human after all! Of course he was on mile 44 and walked faster than I ran all day. I could tell it was unusual for him to walk this hill as he commented (without me asking) that he would be running this if he needed to. He sure didn't need to as he finished easily over the next competitor.

I did wear two (2) watches this race: one of my favorite toys -- a Garmin 405 and my regular Polar watch. The Garmin's battery is not very good -- it only works about 6 hours for me, so I came prepared. Here are some pics that I made from the Garmin data, the first 3 are from the Garmin Training Center program & the last is from the Google Earth program (I've exaggerated the vertical scale somewhat in this pic to highlight the topography of the area) -- Click on pics for a larger view:

1st loop run once:

north loop run 4 times:

south loop run 4 times:

sample google earth pic:

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

2008 Pinhoti 100

I was really looking forward to this inaugural Pinhoti 100 as it promised a lot of single track & had an early starting time. I didn't think getting too sleepy, like at Grindstone, would be an issue -- and it wasn't. Unfortunately, my old nemesis, my back, like at Mohican, did me in once again = DNF. Maybe my body is trying to tell me something with 3 DNF's now in my last 3 100 milers! My Dr. prescribes muscle relaxers for my back, but they have no effect on me. My last resort is a chiropractor -- I've always kept away since I'm "double jointed" & have feared something may pop too far. My joints can pop out of place without help from someone else! I'm going to seriously think about it, but for the mean time, I'm cutting down the length of my races.


With the race being a point to point format, a long bus ride to the start was necessary unless you had made arrangements to move your car. I get motion sickness easily & the ride was OK till we reached the hilly & curvy gravel road 7 miles from the start. I felt nauseous & my stomach became upset, but not enough to throw up. The nausea went away once we started but my stomach remained upset.

I ran into Bob Engel & Robin Meagher, both from Cincinnati, at the start line -- both would do very well in this race! Congrats!

Miles 0 - 6.7 Aid Station 1

I wanted to go out slow so I kept to the back at the start. With about 90 starters funneled into a narrow single track right off, it was single file walking for about a half mile for the runners in the back. It was a rocky & rooty section that was slick from the rain the day before, so I didn't mind the walking. The trail remained narrow but everyone was able to find their own spacing by the 1st aid station.

Miles 6.7 - 13.27 Aid Station 2

Very nice runable single track thru this area. Whoever designed the Pinhoti Trail seemed to have a priority in mind: no trails along the top of any ridge! This was clearly evident thruout the entire course (of what I completed). All the trails went along the sides of hills with occasional sections along the bottom & only rare crossings of the top of any hill. The only exception I noted was about a half mile of ridge running coming up to highest point in the race at Mt. Cheaha. With this "side of hill" trail design and switchbacks, the course was fairly "level" considering the very hilly nature of the area.

My upset stomach turned into a need for an unscheduled pit stop. The chafing afterwards was pretty painful even though I did get some relief at the aid stations.

Miles 13.27 - 18.27 Aid Station 3

After the 2nd aid station at 13.27 miles, a detour was made onto a roadway to avoid a section that was heavily damaged by a tornado. This was mostly uphill & everyone was able to witness the incredible destruction along side the road. It looked like a clear-cut logging operation! After several miles of this, we finally got back onto single track. The fallen trees were not limited to that one detour area though. There were countless trees across the trail from start to finish on this course that you either jumped, climbed, crawled under or went around. The first hundred or two weren't too bad, after that it became taxing on my back. They were momentum killers for sure.

Miles 18.27 - 34.56 Aid Station 6

Other than the detour, the course was a single track lover's delight up to this point. I felt good as I was well within myself & making good time. With a pretty good breeze, leaves were falling like rain -- very nice!

Miles 34.56 - 40.94 Aid Station 7 Bald Rock

This was mostly an uphill section that turned rocky coming up to the highest point in Alabama, Mt. Cheaha. The best view on the mountain was at Bald Rock & it was crowded with visitors. I stood with them for a while to enjoy the view -- GREAT!

Miles 40.94 - 52.07 Aid Station 9

The steep rocky trail coming off Mt. Cheaha was called "Blue Hell" (this segment is run uphill in the Mt. Cheaha 50k). I would say it was called "blue" as there were blue blazes painted on the rocks. It was steep, but not as tough as I expected -- it would have been had it been dark or I had to climb up this hill.

It was about mile 50 when I had my first twinge of pain in my back -- it was not a welcome sign. It became dark & with every trip or stub of the toe, the pain would seem to go directly to the back. After another unscheduled pit stop I entered the aid station at 52.07 miles at about 13 hours 14 minutes. Great volunteers this stop & at every aid station!

Miles 52.07 to 55.34 Aid Station 10

From the aid station, it was slow going as the trail became pretty technical. The highly reflective tacks & tags on the flagging were excellent night-time markers. There were a couple creek crossings and the water was down. It was clearly evident that these creeks became raging torrents at times. Unfortunately, my back was getting worse by the mile & I was slowing down considerably thru this section. At the aid station at 55.34 miles, the thoughts of DNF were creeping in. Up to this point, all I thought about was that I was on schedule for a PR & felt pretty confident about it! I sat down on the ground as I went thru my drop bag & put on some warmer clothing & then pondered my situation. Had some hot soup & other goodies & started off to the next aid station slowly.

Miles 55.34 to 60.29 Aid Station 11

As I was walking, I started calculating the amount of time I had left to get under 30 hours and figured I had to do 20 minute miles the last 45 miles. But I thought, after the next aid station or two, the trail really took off from any roads or civilization & if I decided to stop then, there were no provisions for the volunteers to get me out of there. This weighed heavily on my decision to stop as I didn't want a repeat of Mohican, where I had to be packed out of the wilderness when my back went completely out. Better safe than sorry, so I made the decision to just walk it in to the next aid station where there was vehicle access & end it at 60 miles.

The End

I told the volunteers I was stopping & asked if I could get a ride back to the finish. They said there was a shuttle scheduled soon & to sit down & wait. I was reluctant to sit down as I knew if I stopped moving for very long I would start freezing. The volunteers said they had a space blanket & that the shuttle would be there any minute & convinced me to sit down. About 5-10 minutes later I started shivering. There was a breeze & the space blanket didn't cover every part of my body -- I felt the wind! My inside shirt was still soaked from sweat & that didn't help. I was soon shaking so much I told them this wasn't working & that I needed to get some place warmer. My back pain was no longer an issue at this point and I started to feel a little nauseous on top of all this! One of the volunteers brought up their car & cranked up the heat -- saved once again! Many Thanks to this volunteer! Soon after, Jamie Henderson (RD Todd Henderson's wife), with some heavy coaxing to get us moving, transferred me & another runner into her vehicle for a ride back to the finish. Jamie is one wonderful person!

As I reflect back on this race, I'm very disappointed once again, but happy that I took on the challenge. I felt really good most of the race & most everything was going well -- things can change quickly though, as I found out. The point to point format on a brand new course made for new scenery every step of the way -- it was a big change from loop ultras & the course was great! I would definitely like to take on this race again next year.

Next up is Dizzy Fifties, also in Alabama. The event offers a 50k, 40M & 50M options. I've opted to try the 40M.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

pure screamin' hell

Last night I volunteered at the Pure Screamin' Hell 7 miler in Waverly Park. It’s rare for a trail race within Louisville itself and even more rare, or even a first for a trail race at night. I was happy to contribute to the trail running scene here, a city so dominated by road races. I was curious to the turnout on this Halloween night & surprised that about 50-60 runners showed up. I scouted the course last week and thought about entering, but decided I didn’t need to be running at a 7 mile pace on a trail at night with my weak ankle & with a big race the next week. This primarily MTB course is rooty in some areas, but overall pretty smooth with no technical or rocky sections. The entire course is made up of small rolling hills. About 20 minutes after the last runner left the starting line, I swept the course & finished with a large bag of glow sticks, flagging, signs & trash – one thing I didn’t have to worry about were parts of gel packets, which are so common when cleaning up after ultras! I did end up “running” the course, but at a much slower pace.

The big race is now less than a week away. I’ve been reading about the Pinhoti Trail along the lower Appalachians and found there were several races in the area that use a part of it. One area they’ve described is called the “Blue Hell”, an extreme climb over rocks & boulders on the way to the top of Mt. Cheaha. Looking at the Pinhoti 100 course, it appears I’ll be going DOWN this section – hopefully before nightfall! Another thing I’ve read were the numerous stream crossings, some with ropes -- maybe with this dry season, there won’t be a need. I’m really looking forward to this upcoming challenge/adventure!