Reflections

22 May 2014

Let’s just say that I much prefer Tony Krupicka’s running to his writing, but I did enjoy this post about how he got started on ultra and mountain running.

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Wild and Wonderful: Capon Valley 50k Race Report

18 May 2014

I had heard nothing but superlative things about the Capon Valley 50k, and the 2014 iteration was no exception.  Started by an equestrian club as a fundraiser, and hosted at a Ruritan park, it has turned into a mid-Atlantic staple due to the great course and the ridiculously friendly volunteers (on which, more below).  My result – 6:09:21 for 15th place – was consistent with other efforts, neither better nor worse.  Yet I was extremely pleased because my preparations in 2014 have been lacking, to say the least; I tried several new tweaks to great success; and the experience really rekindled my enthusiasm for running, which has been lackluster since Oil Creek last fall.

In the four weeks leading up to CV50k, I ran 22 miles, 14.75 miles, zero miles (impromptu business trip to Brussels), 41.1 miles, respectively, and then a handful of miles the week of as an unneeded mini-taper.  Through the end of May, I had run 218.5 miles for 2014.  For sake of comparison, that number was 352.45 (!) in 2013.  I’ve simply been in a rut, in which lack of fitness and lack of inspiration are mutually reinforcing.  Yet Laurel Highlands Ultra has been looming in my mind, and the early spring DNSes left a bitter taste in my mouth, so I’ve been slowly, but surely, regaining my legs.

I rushed out of DC Friday night and made it to Capon Valley around 10:00 pm.  From where I parked, I could see very few campers.  I made my bed in the back of my car and fell asleep.

The next morning came quickly.  I went inside to register and investigate the breakfast.  The friendliest women I had ever met sold me pancakes, a muffin, and cups and cups of coffee.  I have the tendency to compare everything I like with Wolfsville (defined in opposition to everything I don’t like as DC), but here the comparison seemed apt.  I felt at home.  I was bantering.  I might have said “wooter.”  I used an outhouse and I liked it.  I felt just like Ricky when Uncle Pen came to visit.

We walked halfway down a gravel line to the start.

At the signal, I began running.  CV50k is the epitome of an old school race – no frills, no excuses.  First we were in a field, then we were on a road, then we were in the woods – a natural and thoughtless sequence.  I had no nerves and started running naturally.  My main goal was to have a solid, consistent training run with an eye toward Laurel Highlands.  Things were going swimmingly for about a half hour, following sparse ribbons, until the gentleman in front of me – shirtless, tanned, mustachioed – announced to the collected runners that we had taken a major wrong turn and were wildly off course, or rather, we had cut a large part of the course.

Roughly fifty runners, it seemed, were standing still in the middle of the woods.  He declared that we should head back to AS1 and eat the extra distance.  Checking in there, we could continue on our way.  I considered not turning around, but even though I wasn’t “racing,” it didn’t seem sporting.  That’s ultra.  (Mind you, I bear no negative judgment toward folks who chose to kept going.)  Running the course backward, we first passed the three guys who would go on to win, having a laugh about the “Capon Valley 60k.”  The aid station folks looked confused.  I called out my number, grabbed some water, and headed back out.

The course switched back and forth between singletrack and fire roads.  I couldn’t guess the proportion, but a week later it feels like 50/50.  I loved the course overall.  There was plenty of variety; as soon as I was getting used to the terrain, it switched up.  The piste was smooth compared to a lot of what I typically run.  The hills were plentiful, but not overwhelming, and never so long that the caused any despair like that slog up Long Mountain last fall.  There were a couple of screamers that wreaked havoc on my toenails, but everything was manageable and allowed long stretches of consistent running.

Judging by the elevation chart, there was a big climb in the middle, but I passed it without realizing.  I spent a good bit of the race either immediately or shortly behind the eventual women’s winner.  She was remarkably consistent, so marking myself to her helped me be the same.  At one point, naturally, I tripped on a perfectly flat, smooth section.  Of course I would.

One of the changes I had made to my strategy was to stop riding the gel train.  I’ve tried to switch my diet toward the low carb/high fat direction and have done most of my longer training runs with minimal nutrition in an effort to force my body to burn fat better.  It paid dividends at Capon Valley: my energy levels for consistent and I was able to move forward steadily all day.  I nibbled on aid station food and drank a little Coke, but mostly stuck to water and a salt pill every hour.  I was pleased.

I was also very conscientious about pacing.  Even when trying not to, I go out to hard and blow up poorly.  (Later, it dawned on me that I don’t go out to hard; I only blow up because I’m not fit enough to go long.)  But again, I had pop in my legs the entire day and was running the rollers that any other day I’d be walking.  I even had enough for a kick down the finisher’s chute to the surprise (it seemed) of the two folks I was running in with.

Indeed, from the last aid station to the end, I was feeling great.  It was nothing compared to my crazy Mountain Masochist finish, but I was increasing my speed and felt like I could have picked off a lot of folks if I wanted to.  This tells me (1) that my new adjustments had worked well, and (2) that I could probably function at a higher level throughout the day rather than keep a huge store of energy for the end.  But I brought home feeling very much in control, and I’m thankful for that.

Overall, I can’t say enough good things about the day.  I ran exactly how I wanted to and it rejuvenated me.  The course, accommodations, and race staff and volunteers were all top-notch.

Even the navigational snafu couldn’t ruin my mood.  When they posted the results, I had initially been DQed for failing to check in at AS1.  I emailed the RD to explain that while we had gone off-piste, I, along with many others, returned to check in, which added somewhere between a half mile to a mile to our total distance.  I didn’t care so much about the DQ, but wanted them understand what had happened.  Based on the email exchange, they nevertheless switched me to an official finish.

Mostly when I return, or intend to return, to a race, it’s because I felt I didn’t give it an honest effort and want to run my best possible time.  But I very much hope to return to Capon Valley next year for the sole reason that it was an all-around, immensely gratifying experience.


Thawing

8 April 2014

I was going to write a post on DNSing the Mount Mitchell Challenge, then I didn’t.

I was going to write a post on the Rock & Roll half, then I didn’t.

I was going to write a post on the struggles of getting back into shape, then I didn’t.  (But teaser: doing squats is a game changer.)

So while I’m continuing to regain fitness and build my weekly mileage, read this excellent Joe Gray interview


Los mejores de Colombia

8 February 2014

I thought about posting my travel journal, but I’m too lazy to edit it for readability and too self-conscious to post it unedited, so we’ll let the pictures tell the tale.

Bogota

Bogota

Read the rest of this entry »


Updated 2014 Plans

23 December 2013

I’ve had a little more time to think about 2014 and more definitive race plans are starting to coalesce. I’ve (wisely) reduced the number of races to focus on quality. I’m cognizant that there’s a lot of social-type stuff going on next year (i.e., more weddings), plus I want to lift more, get into climbing and kayaking, etc.  That being said…

February 22: Mt. Mitchell Challenge (registered). I can already tell I’ll be undertrained for this one because I’ve had a lazy past few weeks.

March 15: Rock & Roll USA Half Marathon (registered). I’ve half-assedly done the full the the past few years, but T convinced me to do this half this year. I haven’t done one in several years (other than pacing friends), so I think it’s ripe for a PR attempt if I can get some good speed sessions in the spring. Plus, before I can retire from road running, I have to nail that dream marathon time, and this will be a good step toward that.

May 10: Capon Valley 50k. Supposedly a good course, only two hours from DC, and I’ll use it as a training run.

June 14: Laurel Highlands Ultra (applied). This will be the focal race for the year. It means that for the third or fourth straight year running, I’ll miss out on the DC North Face Endurance Challenge. But I’m excited about Laurel Highlands because the course will be reminiscent of Oil Creek and it’ll keep me eligible for the Western States lottery. Plus, if I did my math right, doing Oil Creek, Mountain Masochist, and Laurel Highlands in that span of time will give me enough points to register for UTMB. (Mon dieu!)

July 26: Catoctin 50k. I wasn’t disappointed with last year’s race, but I can go significantly faster. I need a strong showing for my backyard race.

September 13: The Rut 50k. This is highly speculative, but I’d love to do it for a number of reasons – Big Sky country, the naked mountaintop, Euro-style racing, the Skyrunning championship. The high altitude will hurt and slow me down significantly, but I’m so, so tempted to do some real western running, especially since I’m taking a pass on Speedgoat.

October 4: Megatransect Challenge. Honestly, this kind of looks like a dream course. I was bummed to get shut out of registration last year. 

October 26: Fire on the Mountain 50k. I love everything about this race. I’m excited to return after taking a pass this year and giving it an honest effort.

November 22: JFK 50 Mile. Highly speculative. I thought I was done with this one, but spectating this year got me all fired up. With some fair training, I can take a decent chunk of my 2011 time. But this already looks like a pretty full autumn.

Sometimes I think I enjoy planning for races as much as running them.


UROY et al.

20 December 2013

Ultrarunning is getting ready to release its end of the year accolades, so I thought I’d preempt them by stating who should win.

Male UROY:

Rob Krar. Dude came onto the scene like a wrecking ball. (Sorry, had to.) He has so many iconic runs and wins that it’s hard to believe that he’s done them all in the space of mere months – Moab, Leona, the double crossing, UROC, TNF50. He nearly picked off the defending champ at a sweltering Western States in his hundred-mile debut. Aside from the misstep at JFK, he had an absolutely dominant year. Personally, I don’t see Krar as part of this new school of road/track runners entering the ultra scene – although he ran collegiately, he has been competing in sub-ultra trails for a little while. Still, he was a total blast of fresh air this year. Plus, that beard! That last name that lends itself so well to portmaneaus! I think I need to take a minute…

Rob Krar - interview

#fearthebeard

Sage Canaday obviously had a super strong year and would have won in any other year. Notwithstanding his blow-up at UROC, he too was dominant, but achieved more in the early part of the year and seemed, fairly or not, to fizzle a bit as the year went on.  I’d also rank Ian Sharman pretty highly for setting the new Grand Slam record. I think that incredible achievement has actually been underappreciated in light of the other fireworks this year.

Female UROY:

Michele Yates. Like Krar, totally dominant, winning by my count six of the seven ultras she ran at every standard distance in a wide variety of terrain. That’s incredible breadth. Pam Smith, between Western States and the new hundred mile track record, had a great year as well, but MY simply did more. Rory Bosio’s performance at UTMB, while breaktaking, cannot alone propel her to female UROY in light of her otherwise solid, if sparse, season.

Male UPOY:

This was closer, but I think it’s Krar’s new R2R2R record. He just demolished what was already a pretty tough mark. Could he be the one to take it under six hours? It would require a near superhuman effort, but the Krarnivore is as close to superhuman as we’ve seen.  His win at UROC when he just dropped the hammer on some incredibly stiff competition was impressive, as was Zach Bitter’s new pair of records. (Breaking a Yiannis Kouros record is especially noteworthy.) And as mentioned above, Sharman’s new Slam record was amazing, although the series wouldn’t qualify for UPOY under the Ultrarunning Magazine standards.

Female UPOY:

If you say anything other than Rory Bosio’s run at UTMB, you’re crazy. She not only smashed the record, but placed seventh overall. Again, I don’t think it alone is enough to make her UROY, but it was probably a career-defining effort and one that will be talked about for decades. I might even call it POY regardless of gender.

Finally, I don’t know whether Ultrarunning is considering it, but I’d fully support segregating the awards into a trail category and a track/road category. They’re really apples and orange.


So this is the new year

21 November 2013

But, as previously discussed, I’ve got a lot of exciting goals and plans for 2014. I’ve nearly settled on a race schedule for 2014, to wit:

February 22: Mt. Mitchell Challenge (registered)

March 22: Terrapin Mountain 50k

April 26: Promise Land 50k

May 10: Capon Valley 50k

Early June: North Face Endurance Challenge DC 50

June 14: Lawyers Have Heart 10k (obligatory)

July 19: Speedgoat 50k

October 4: Megatransect Challenge

November 6: R2R2R

That’s ambitious, even for a guy who realizes that he often bites off more than he can chew.  That being said, it’s very likely subject to change.  I’d like to add a marathon PR attempt – if I am focusing on getting fast(er) this year, it would make sense.  Although I’ve done the erstwhile National Marathon for the past four years, I might skip it this year or just go for a half marathon PR.  A different goal for the year is to just get more vert.

Having done Holiday Lake and Mountain Masochist this year, Terrapin Mountain and Promise Land would set me up for a nice Lynchburg Ultra Series or Beast Series attempt in the next few years.  I really wanted to look into Andy Jones-Wilkins’s new race, the Thomas Johnson 100k, but I just don’t think it’s in the cards.  I’m also bummed that I’ll be taking a pass on Fire on the Mountain 50k for the second straight year.  I like to think of it as my home race, but it’s too close to the Double Crossing attempt.

Speedgoat will be very, very challenging, but my primary motivation in all of this is for the adventure.  For that I’ll probably have to spend a few months on the StairMaster while restricting oxygen intake to simulate the altitude, no David Carradine.


The Broken Road

14 November 2013

A Time of Gifts is is not only one of the greatest books I’ve ever read, but continually inspires me.  That being said, I was pleased to see this account of his posthumous book, which I look forward to reading.  It’s also a good reminder that I need to finish the biography – my to-read pile is growing perilously tall.


Well they gave him his orders at Monroe, Virginia*

10 November 2013

I came into the 2013 Mountain Masochist Trail Run in an unusual posture.  A month prior, I had completed my goal of finishing the Oil Creek 100.  Then, my legs felt great throughout, and even after, but a severe caloric deficit I couldn’t dig out of led me to hiking the final thirty-eight miles.  Finishing in just over 30 hours, I wasn’t disappointed, but somewhat bemused at how things shook out.  For two weeks, I thought that I nailed my recovery perfectly.  But a series of unsatisfactory mid-length runs and a very stressful workweek leading up to MMTR prevented me from showing up in the condition I would have liked.

MMTR is an institution.  Its thirty-first edition, like the others, features over 9,000 feet of vertical gain.  It was thrilling to even participate in such an iconic race and take in the breathtaking autumnal scenery.  This became a mantra as I hit the peaks and valleys over the next fifty miles.

MMTR_CourseProfile

The lead-up to the run was inauspicious.  I had to stop several times on the drive south to deal with a work emergency.  My crew (CH) and I decided to camp at the start line to reduce hassle in the morning.  Yet a particularly noisy group of 19 year old girls camping nearby prevented me from falling asleep until after midnight.  Morning came quickly and I deviated from my practice by eating breakfast an hour before running, rather than earlier.  Nevertheless, nowhere on earth can buoy the spirits like a pre-dawn ultra starting line.  I was ready to roll.

The first little stretch (mile and a half?) was on pavement.  A very confused local was blasting Drake as a few hundred runners surrounded his car and quickly passed.  Soon after turning into the woods, my stomach started doing backflips.  (This is a recurring issue.)  I knew that if I gutted it out, it would calm down after about an hour – and it did!

Unfortunately, that was the point where my legs started feeling twice as heavy as usual.  I wasn’t in panic mode, but was a little concerned.  At this point, I was only about an hour in and my body was fighting me, hard.  I had almost killed my water – shouldn’t there be an aid station soon?  But I forced myself to stay positive.  The aid station was a little farther off still, but by the time I reached it and left, I was feeling pretty good.

The next few miles passed quickly.  I was hiking most hills to stay fresh for the seven mile slog up Long Mountain.  I spent a couple of miles with a really nice fellow named Billy from Lynchburg.  This was his first fifty miler (as was the case for many others I met), as part of the Lynchburg Ultra Series.  I could kind of relate – I have a special place in my heart for JFK, but what I was doing then was a different beast entirely.  In other words, I felt like this was my first honest fifty.  I ran with Billy for a large portion of that long, smooth downhill from roughly Mile 16 to Mile 20.

The smooth jeep roads were a nice change of pace.  In the previous months I ran Catoctin 50k and Oil Creek, both gnarly, and did a lot of my trail training on the AT in Myersville.  At MMTR, there was a short technical section in the Loop, but it was actually welcome at that point to mix it up.  The overall buffed out roads felt like a prize for making it through a long season of tweaked ankles and hopping over rocks.

Finally, I reached Long Mountain.  I began a strong power-hike and hoped to remain steady to the top.  I have very few stand-out skills in long-distance trail running, but I feel that I’m a pretty good uphill hiker.  I was imagining my legs as pistons firing, feeling good and passing folks a few at a time, when I finally got my comeuppance.  I always get my comeuppance.

It hit me halfway up Long Mountain.  I suffered a tremendous wave of nausea and came as close as I ever have while running to losing it out of either end.  Up to that point, I felt like I had been fueling and drinking pretty well; I must have been pushing too hard.  I felt really poorly for the next fifteen minutes or so and backed off the pace significantly.  I inched into the Long Mountain aid station desperate for words of encouragement.  CH didn’t disappoint.

I began to feel better as I kept climbing out of Long Mountain.  Nevertheless, at this point a familiar foe reared its head.  I simply wasn’t taking in enough calories.  I recognize that this is always a problem for me, and yet I can’t seem to fix it.  I’m always afraid that putting too much into my system will cause some sort of malfunction, but the opposite problem is just as bad.

At any rate, I finally reached the Loop where CH was set to run with me.  Like I said, the more technical trails felt like a nice change of pace on that day.  It was CH’s first exposure to trail “running,” and she saw that it often entailed a great deal of hiking.  Save for a minor fall, I think she enjoyed it.  I punched my bib at the top, took in the incredible view, and was warmed by a feeling of accomplishment.

Unfortunately, the day wasn’t over yet.  I ran out of water coming out of the Loop, and the aid station could only fill me up halfway, as they were running low.  The short jaunt to the next aid station was somewhat of a low point, but I gulped down a lot of water.  This, of course, caused frequent bouts of micturition for the rest of the race.

From the Loop to Forest Valley?  The less said the better.  There was one hill in particular – not a terribly long one – that seemed to reach straight up.  By the time I reached the final aid station at Porters Ridge, however, I was feeling better, mostly due to the knowledge that the remaining four miles were nearly entirely downhill.

From there to the end, I let gravity take control.  With about two miles to go, I really opened up my stride and was running rather quickly.  Having no regard at that point with how I placed, I nevertheless passed at least ten other runners.  It was more just enthusiasm for how close I was getting to the finish line.  Yet I quickly discovered that the last three-quarters of a mile or so were paved and flat.  In any other circumstance, a flat course would be cause for celebration, but now it meant that I actually had to start working again.  I didn’t want to be that huge tool that passed a bunch of people only to slow to a crawl and have them catch back up.

The finish line was a welcome sight.  I mused before the race that if the stars were perfectly aligned, I’d probably run around ten hours flat.  Keeping in line with my poor power of prognostication, I ran a 11:20 and change.  (I actually knew early on in the day that I wouldn’t finish anywhere near ten hours.)  I think on a perfect day I could have shaved an hour off of it, but I wasn’t disappointed in myself at all.  I was blessed to run such an incredible course and really just tried to enjoy the entire experience.  Huge thanks are due to Clark Zealand, Dr. Horton, the organizers and volunteers, the friendly racers, and my crew, CH.

*Of all the renditions of Wreck of the Old 97, this is probably my favorite.

Image

(Real men wear fanny packs. Photo courtesy of CH.)

What did I learn?

This was my final race in a long and exciting, but trying, year.  I took on some big challenges with the understanding that it was probably too much, too soon.  On a macro level, next year I plan to work on quality miles rather than racking up junk miles, and focus racing on 50Ks and 50 milers.  I simply need to become a better runner before biting off huge distances.

From MMTR, I confirmed my realization that I really need to nail down my nutrition and hydration strategies.  I also learned that I need to incorporate a lot more hill training not just in race-specific training, but as a matter of course.


Oil Creek 100 – 5 October 2013

17 October 2013

Oil Creek 100 - 5 October 2013