Monday, September 21, 2009

2009 Youngstown Ultra Trail Classic

I had not run this race before as I thought it a bit far to drive for a 50k. Well, I was right -- the toughest time was not the 7 hours completing the race, but the 7 hour drive to Youngstown, then the 7 hour drive back! Seemed like everyone on the road Friday afternoon was in a big hurry to get home or someplace for the weekend. With EVERY Interstate under construction this time of year and unfamiliar roads, it made for some hectic driving at times!

Really though, I enjoyed the event & I'm glad now that I made the trip. Mill Creek Park is a real gem located in what seemed the very middle of Youngstown. Drive just one block out of the urban sprawl and you drop down into a valley and into a different world!
I was pretty tired after the trip, but fortunately got a good night's sleep at a new motel which was nice. In the morning, I arrived about an hour early at the start to sign in & to drive a drop bag over to the covered bridge aid station in the middle of the course that I would visit several times during the race. At sign-in at the log cabin, I ran into Bob Engel from Cincinnati. Bob has run in several races that I have, including Germantown just a few weeks ago. He was doing the early start at 7 am -- I believe just to be done early . . . which I wish I would have done as it was cooler and I wouldn't get caught up in the early pace as I did.
I arrived at the covered bridge aid station about 7:15 am. There was no one there yet, so I left my bag & I was glad to see it was still there when I arrived the 1st time.

Returning to the start, I ran into the only person, other than Bob, that I "knew" at the race: Mike Keller, who also had his daughter along. Actually I only knew Mike from reading his blog & entering his ONE . . . . MORE . . . . MILE and TEN . . . . . MORE . . . . . MILES challenges. Mike had entered the 25k & I had thought that would be the last time I saw him at the start . . . but at about the 21 mile mark, I made a wrong turn after following 2 runners blindly & I ended up on a road . . . and Mike just happened to be driving by just at that instant & got us straightened out!

Very nice & cool start next to the lake:
The course consisted of 2 loops, 7.75 mi & 4 mi, done multiple times but not one right after the other: 1/2 of the large loop (the hilliest portion of the course) was done first, then 2 laps of the smaller (fairly flat) loop, & finally 2 1/2 laps on the large loop again. Feeling pretty good at the start with the cool temps, I got caught up in the pace & ran up a few hills I shouldn't have the 1st few miles. With all the rocks & roots, I was tripping & stumbling along -- I almost fell headlong but caught myself at the last moment and in doing so I twisted my back slightly. It may have been better to just fall into a roll & not cause the shiver up the spine with the twist, but that's hindsight. Fortunately, I was only doing 50k -- any longer & it would have been a factor in the race.
About 90% of the race was within sight of the 3 lakes or the creek as the course wound it's way along the banks in this valley -- a pretty scenic course! Lots & lots of steps too -- steel, wood, stone & natural rock steps and one long boardwalk. The course also passed the 3 dams for the lakes, this is one of them:
After the initial 4 miles, I settled back down into an even pace & stumbled only once or twice afterwards. Then the 2 laps of the small loop were fairly easy & the only problem I had thru here was an unscheduled pit stop (& it wouldn't be the last). I was experimenting this race by trying a liquid (Ensure) diet the day before & it seemed to have the opposite effect I had hoped for.
The covered bridge aid station was also next to Lanterman's Mill & Falls. The volunteers here got to know the runners personally as the 50k runners passed thru here 5 times. They were a very friendly bunch!
I did get off course a couple times. For the most part, the trail was marked very well with streamers & lime dust. Only one 90 degree turn did not have any flagging & I heard from many runners, including veterans, who missed that turn. But with the course following a narrow strip of woods around 3 lakes in the middle of a city, it wasn't long at all before you realized you were off course!

At the halfway point, my time was about 3:13. I knew then breaking 6:30 would not be possible, so I shot for 7 hours & I was able to make that goal.

Next up in less than 3 weeks is the Oil Creek 100 in Titusville, PA. Time to rest up! It's going to be a long drive (9 hours?) & mostly over the same route up thru Ohio as this race. Did I learn something by going to Youngstown? Well IF at anyway possible, I'm going to leave on Thursday (& skip that madhouse Friday traffic) & get a day's rest in after the long drive too!

Friday, September 11, 2009

I've come to a boil!

I don't know why I'm so susceptible to these, but a boil/cyst appeared overnight in a sensitive area (to say the least) & it has put all activities on hold. Hopefully the pain & pressure will subside & it will come to a head soon. As for lancing a boil, I'm too chicken to do it myself! For some reason & for the first time, the Dr. put me on antibiotics & I have a return visit scheduled already. Walking is difficult, so running is out of the question for the near future. YUTC is looking doubtful at the moment.

Monday, September 7, 2009

2009 Iron Mountain Trail Run

In training for the upcoming Oil Creek 100 in October, I wanted to get in a good hill run & this IMTR 50 miler in Damascus, VA advertised to have about the same rate of elevation change per mile. I had only one previous race in the Appalachians, Grindstone 100 last year, and I wanted to get more experience with the same terrain. The ascents & descents at both these races go on for mile after mile at a time, but the hills in this race were not near as steep as those at Grindstone. I love new trails & this race fit my schedule just right too.

My biggest concerns coming into this event were the cutoff times & the heat. All week I watched the temps & humidity go up each day. I really hated to waste such unseasonably cool & comfortable summer weather in a taper! Fortunately, it remained dry all week & saved one more cool morning for the race start. The first 5 miles of the course was next to a creek and provided the soothing sound of rushing water -- very scenic thru here! The VA Creeper Trail:
The Creeper Trail portion was an old railway bed with at most a 1% uphill grade for the 5 miles to the 1st aid station. My plans were to take it easy & not get caught up in the pace on this flat section and shoot for no faster than 11 minutes a mile. Checking my GPS after the 1st 2 miles I saw I was running at less than 10 minutes per mile. At this point I was pretty disappointed in my lack of pace discipline even though I was almost at the very back of the pack! Looking back now, I don't feel that "quick" early pace was ultimately a negative factor -- really though, it probably gave me the slack time I had to have for the early cutoffs. Overall, I needed to average 14:24/mi to be an official finisher. As for being at the back, that's where I belonged as for the next 45 miles I didn't pass any 50 milers, other than one gal who I played leap frog with (& lost)!

Part of the course was on the old AT.

After the 1st 5 easy miles, the course went up & up & up for the next 5! I passed a half dozen 16 & 30 milers thru here.

This is the start of the Beech Grove Trail up to the 2nd aid station:
After about a mile or so out of the 2nd aid station, the trail went up on top of a ridge that ran at about 3500 to 4000 in elevation. Quite a few ups & downs thru here & probably the most technical section of the course. It was slow going until the trail dropped down a hill to Skull's Gap. Picture of Skull's Gap on 2nd pass thru:
Leaving the aid station at Skull's Gap, the course went back uphill onto the ridge via a short section of gravel road. After running along the ridgeline for a while, the course then made a big drop (about 1500 feet in about 10 miles) down to Rowlands Creek. I don't care too much for running on gravel roads and there was a long section thru here that just seemed to go on forever! After running downhill for so long though, I was feeling pretty good at the bottom at the Rowlands Creek aid station at about the 29 mile mark.

It had taken about 6 hours up to here & pace wise, I was in good shape --- EXCEPT that the next 4 miles back up to the top of the ridge again was uphill every step of the way! My Garmin 405 was giving me a low battery signal at that time & I continued up 3 of the 4 miles up the hill to the Hurricane Gap aid station -- it took over an hour to walk those 3 miles! I shut the Garmin off then as I didn't want to lose the data up to that time & I had never run the watch over 7 hours before.
The first mile or 2 up this 4 mile hill also went thru a gorge area that was full of large & very tall trees. There were several cascading waterfalls -- the highlight of the course to me. The only thing that detracted from the wonderful sights was that this was a very popular trail for horse riders. The trail was showing alot of wear & tear in areas. It was the first time I noticed any biting insects. There were several deep mudpits, a big change from the mostly rocky course, but since it had not rained for some time, there were still ways to bypass the mud. My feet never got wet this day -- with careful stepping across the streams.
By the time I reached the top of the ridge again, it was late afternoon & I got HOT. I really began to slow down & since it was taking longer to reach each aid station I was running out of drink before each refill. Fortunately, hydration was never a real problem as I learned a little from my last race. From the top of this ridge & thru the gaps in the trees, I could see hazy, "bluish" Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance -- neat!
One thing which put me on edge a couple times during this day was the course marking. With such a small 50 miler field (16 starters), once the 30 milers broke off, it was pretty sparse out there -- I did not see another runner for 4 hours! I was relying on the written course description as the website didn't have a course map posted and I was also relying heavily on the ribbons along the trails. There was always extra flagging at the turns, no problems there, and what I call "confidence" or intermediate ribbons were placed 1/4 mile (up to 1/2 mile?) or so apart -- that's where I had a little trouble as I wasn't used to that. I would be going along & suddenly think . . . it's been some time since I noticed a ribbon, am I still on course? Keeping an eye on the tricky footing while trying not to miss a single flag took a determined effort. So, when I got that "lost" feeling, I would then start looking in earnest for the next flag. Sometimes 5 minutes would pass, or 10 minutes with a little panic setting in. . . & think: I must've been daydreaming & missed a turnoff! Then I would see a most comforting flag! Whew!!!!

At the last aid station, I figured I had over 2 hours to run the last 7 miles to be an official finisher. Since most of the course was on a big downhill from here, my concern switched from finish time to remaining upright! I stumbled several times thru the day, but never fell -- if I do fall on any trail, it's almost always on a downhill. So I took care those last few miles, especially where the trail resembled a dried up or washed out creek bed. Back in Damascus, I made it under the 12 hour cutoff & was next-to-last of the 11 official finishers.

Overall, I'm happy with having reached my goal & glad to have made the trip & the effort -- it was very enjoyable! Maybe I've seen the last 80+ degree race weather this year too!

Next up is the Youngstown Ultra Trail - Classic (YUTC) 50k in Ohio. Last year at this time, I chose the 60k Hocking Hills Indian Run over YUTC mostly because the drive was 2 hours shorter. A big difference in these races is that the 60k race at Hocking Hills is an add-on to the primary races, the 5k, 10k & the 20k. Everything there was geared more to the shorter races, although I expected & prepared for that going in. Looking forward to Youngstown this year!