Monday, December 19, 2011

Lookout Mountain 50 Miler Race Report

Sorry, haven't proofread yet, but wanted to get my race report out ASAP!

Lookout Mountain 50 Miler Race Report

Troy Shellhamer

December 19, 2011

In the past, I’ve described the start of the Lookout Mountain 50 Miler as follows; “The Lookout Mountain 50 Miler has a brutally fast start. People always fly out of the gate like it’s a 5K, not a 50 miler, and you’re left sucking frozen wind, as your eyes tear up from the sting of the cold December air up on Lookout Mountain. You do everything you can to not get dropped before everyone else crashes from their ambitious early efforts, and then the real race begins.”  This year was different though, everything was different. One difference for instance, was that I had many friends from Louisville come down to run in the race this year; Jeremy Brown, Rhonda Curry, Jeff Miller, Daniel Delph, and Marcus McElwain. I’ve also gotten to know a lot of the other racers over the last few years, so it continuously gets more and more enjoyable every year to go down to the beautiful mountains surrounding the town of Chattanooga, TN, and catch up on everyone’s past year and make new friends as well while running one of the most pretty 50 miler courses anywhere.

So…back to the differences. This year, after lining up at the start line with hundreds of others, I expected I would once again be chasing others down trying to not let a large gap form as they start the race at speeds which are not maintainable for the duration of the race. During those circumstances, it’s like a tightrope walk, in which you must balance how much energy you’re willing to blow early on in the race, versus how big of a lead you’re willing to let your competition gain, even though you know from research what speeds will most likely win the race, and you can guess they’ll probably crack from their eager efforts. It’s a game of discipline. So I was surprised at the command to “GO!” that I found myself out in front, leading the stampeding heard of runners down Lookout Mountain Highway, before we entered the singletrack trail. (There are a few minutes at the start of the race which are on road to thin the heard before we enter the trail where we’re forced to form a single line…this is also what causes the warp speeds, as we’re all jockeying for position to not get stuck behind slower runners who would maybe be challenging to get around once you’re on the trails…) So, needless to say, I started fast since I was leading the pack to the trailhead, but I was going at MY speed, my pace, as I am a firm believer that in an ultra the only tactic to facilitate success is running your own race from start to finish, although you do have to make accommodations based on your competition…It’s a juggling act.

After the road stretch had thinned us out a bit over the first several minutes of racing, it was time to enter the trail. Johnny Clemons jumped in front of me, so I entered the trail in second place. He took off like a shot, and was soon gone, but I stuck to my guns and let him go, as I knew I was maintaining my fastest maintainable speed. Brian Pickett was immediately behind me, and we had the chance to chat over several miles as we raced to the first aid station at Cravens House, the oldest structure on Lookout Mountain and a piece of civil war history.

The Cravens House aid station is at mile 8, and the top 5 or so of us, all came barreling in exactly one hour, basically shoulder to shoulder, with the exception of Johnny Clemons, who we about to reel in momentarily. A quick bottle change at the aid station and I was back on the trail, without slowing to even a walk really for even a moment.

I was running now with Brian Pickett still, whom I met at the Iron Mountain race back in September, and also with Nick Lewis from Memphis, and I was enjoying good chatter with Nick about the west coast as he lived for a stint in Ashland Oregon and he was knowledgeable on the Tahoe Rim Trail, which was good brain candy to talk about while racing.

Around mile 9 or 10; Nick, Brian, and I caught up to Johnny Clemons who had been running in 1st since entering the trail around mile 1. We exchanged placement for a few miles, and I took the lead for a few seconds, before falling back again upon reaching the 2nd aid station at Reflection Riding Aboretum.

Just before reaching the 2nd aid station at mile 15, the trail runs next to a river, which had flooded over the trail plane, and therefore the trail was completely under water, we had to wade through the mud and muck and nastiness for some adventure. I slipped and fell in the mud, and managed to completely submerge my arm with water bottle attached into a sucking mud hole.  Kris Whorton, one of the race directors was at the aid station, and she had some water which I used to clean off my muddy water bottle, and in turn, I fell back to 4th place, as Nick, Brian, and Johnny were now the top three, and I was in 4th.

My plan was take it easy after reaching the Reflection Riding aid station, as immediately following that aid station is the biggest climb on the course. I decided my tactic would be to let them duke it out on the climb, as it was too early in the race in my opinion to start “burning matches”, or use vital energy reserves. I took it slow and easy, yet by the top of the climb, we were all shoulder to shoulder once again. When all 4 of us reached the top of the climb, we all bumbled around a bit trying to find where the course went. I had run the course before, and knew that the course went one way, but upon seeing the others turn left I was confused for a sec before gaining my bearings and going the right. We all corrected our mistake soon enough, and Nick Lewis and I came running into the Covenant College aid station at mile 22.5 in first and second place. I grabbed a quick bottle from Stephanie, as took off, but Johnny Clemons quickly jumped in front of me. Nick was soon with us, and the three of us ran for several miles together discussing pacing strategies as I believe we all wanted to set a new course record. We all shared the lead for a bit, and ran well together. It was shaping up to be one of the most social races I’ve ever run. Usually by the halfway point in a race, 1st through 3rd aren’t all still running together, sharing the lead. It was a blast and I honestly thought the race was still open to any one of us at that point.

We reached the Lula Lake aid station at mile 28 in high spirits, and began the other big climb on the course. At the start of the climb, I jumped off the trail to “take care of some business”, and although my little pit stop only took one minute, Johnny and Nick were gone, and I began to question the timing of my choice. I reached the top of the climb and started to hit my “mental low point” for the race. I let nick and Johnny escape on the super technical climb, and I knew they were both very strong. Nick had taken the lead for a bit before we hit Lula Lake previously so I was wondering if he had just been biding his time waiting for an attack around mile 30 which would have been a smart move.

After a long and lonely stretch, where my attitude was growing a bit negative, I finally reached the Long Branch aid station at mile 34. The trail in between miles 28 and 34 was pretty terrible, due to a tornado that had ripped through earlier this year. For several miles I found myself bobbing and weaving through the trees which had been chainsawed for us. Don’t get me wrong, they had done a ton of work to the trail, and made it as runable as possible, but after running through a very muddy first half of the race, I wanted to find smooth trails to get the pace back up on par with a course record, but with infinite river crossings, muddy trails abound, and bobbing and weaving around the trees on the new  stretch of trail in between Lula Lake at mi 28 and Long Branch at mile 34.

When I reached the road which headed up to Long Branch, I saw Nick’s orange shirt, and was glad that he hadn’t escaped too far.

Just like last year, I planned on taking it easy around the 4 mile loop which runners must face before trudging, running, walking, racing or whatever back to the finish line at Covenant College. The 4 mile loop at Long Branch is demoralizing and if you try to attack there, you won’t have much gas left for a strong finish, and those last 12 miles are paramount. Upon completing that 4 mile loop last year, I caught Josh Wheeler and ran those last 12 miles in for my first ultra overall win. This year, upon completing the loop, I started finally feeling good again, and I caught Nick Lewis with 12 miles to go. I knew I felt strong and would be able to run a good final 12 after a strong start and a mid race crash, I was back for a fast finish, but I knew that Johnny was now about 10 minutes ahead.

It was great running back to the start/finish line at Covenant College because the other runners are heading out to Long Branch, so you get to cheer on one another. Everyone kept giving me splits up to Johnny, and it seemed like although I was destroying myself and running a very strong pace, I wasn’t gaining an inch on Johnny.

I could only keep telling myself to keep chasing on the offensive instead of running on the defensive trying to hold my second place. I hoped that by trying to continuously attack in those last 12, I would maybe open up a larger gap back to third, and at least secure my second place finish…It’s a little head game I play…Sometimes if someone is just running to hold their placement, they might start walking climbs, and I wanted to make sure I was attacking the whole time to hopefully catch Johnny.

My efforts were futile. We kept even splits, and he finished 9 minutes ahead of me, but I managed to secure my 2nd place overall finish, with a time of 7 hours 32 minutes, which was 10 minutes faster than last year, on a course which was much harder. Nick came in third about 10 minutes behind me, so my strategy did work at least, I was able to put a larger gap back to third in the last 12 miles which I wanted. David Worth came in 4th and Brian Pickett rounded out 5th. It was talking and catching up with those guys!

Overall the race was a good one, and very different from previous years. I had a good week leading up the race, and even the day before the race was stress free and chill.

The highlight of my race was however, hanging out for several hours and cheering on my friends who all finished. I can’t describe how awesome it was to see Jeremy finish after dealing with some annoying back issues that have almost literally been a monkey on his back not allowing starting a previous ultra. He came in at 9:46 which was great. Marcus, Daniel, Rhonda, and Jeff all did great too and finshed with smiles. I was so glad that after personally witnessing the amount of work the Rhonda and Jeremy put in that the finished with smiles even on a tough course. What a great Christmas present! I think we have a new Christmas Tradition. We all went to a micro brew for dinner and celebrated our big accomplishments!


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Art of Recovery

Good training, as much as I want it to be PURE science, an objective science, is just as much ART and SUBJECTIVE. We athletes must learn to feel the difference between overtraining and overreaching.

The first few weeks after an ultra distance race are always a bit of training "crap shoot", whether it's an ultramarathon or triathlon. You never quite know what is going to happen, and you really need to listen to your body as opposed to following a training plan, unless that plan is for forced rest. Rest is always the best option! Here's a break down of my training during the first few weeks after the UROC 100K, and a good example of how one gets faster, by listening to one's body, and not digging themselves into a hole! Good training is about over-reaching a TINY bit and recovering, not constantly pounding out exhausted miles, and never recovering. We only get faster and stronger during recovery, and it takes a lot of experience to FEEL the difference between overreaching compared to over training. (Overreaching can be recovered from in only a few days, and is an amazing training tool, overTRAINING however, is the atheletes arch nemisis, and takes longer to recover from, and strength/speed gain is almost a null point, due to the amount of recovery it takes to recover from overtraining.)

I started the week after UROC with some time off from running. After a race such as UROC, which was an "A" race for the year, my legs were a bit trashed. My quads were definitely the most sore muscle group in my body, and I could feel soreness in them for at least 6 days post race. I ran a few miles on Wednesday, and hiked 14 hilly miles on Thursday, followed by 5 easy road miles. Friday was my first "real" run at a normal pace and it was definitely not fast, but it wasn't supposed to be and I didn't feel much resdiual soreness, and there were no odd aches, twinges, or joint issues.

My next big race is the Pinhoti 100 on November 5th. It is a point to point race along mostly all singletrack trail with over 16,000 elevation gain. My plan to knock off several hours from last years time was to not only focus on hill work, but to add speed workouts and mile repeats on a track once per week.

Saturday was my first track workout and it went well. I ran after work and the duration of the workout was less than an hour, to keep it simple and easy since I was still only a week after UROC. Sunday I was shocked how good I felt while running out at Jefferson Memorial Forest, which is pure climbing and technical singeltrack. My speeds and energy levels were as high as ever. I focused on good nutrition during this run, and felt like I could have gone 6 hours! Things were looking good. My weekly mileage was at 80. That amount of miles for me is absolutely absurd for a post race week, and I assume it is responsible for my good decision to take unplanned time off for recovery since I felt totally lame last week, following my big post race week.

So week 2 post race I was supposed to do my speed workout on Wednesday and I did, but probably in retrospect over did it. My speed work on Saturday was only 3 miles in the form of 800 meter sprints x 6, (3 miles at slightly faster than 5K pace), and then on Wednesday, my speed work was on hilly terrain, and was 800 meters x 3, followed by a one mile run at a 5:25 miles, and then another 800x3 and 1600 meter run at a 5:20 minute per mile pace.

I woke up Thursday, after my 5 mile speed workout from the previous night, feeling knots in my calves and tightness. My body is definitely not used to doing 5 miles at a sub 6 minute pace. Nonetheless, I knew that since my planned run for the day was not based on speed, but long slow distance I would be OK, so I headed out for 14 miles on trails followed by 6 on the road. My run was on a course I run frequently, and my times were much slower than normal at the given rate of preceived exertion, I was working hard, and getting little in return to sum it up. I knew I had to cancel my planned workout for Friday.

Friday's workout was a serious hill climbing workout, about 2 hours of brutal hill climbing at an "all out" intensity at Jefferson Memorial Forest. It is easy to hear the little devil on your shoulder saying that skipping your biggest workout of the week is the last thing to do, but seriously, unless your running that hard workout in top form, YOU ARE ONLY DIGGIN YOURSELF INTO A HOLE YOU WON'T RECOVER FROM! I knew if I went out to Jef and tried to hammer out a serious workout which was supposed to match my PR over the 13.5 mile hill climbing extravaganza I would get slaughtered, and have a workout much below sun-par. It was time to recover. I took an easy swim on Friday morning instead and went for a run with Kara, and honestly, didn't even run faster than an 11 minute mile! I made the RIGHT decision.

Still, learning to have faith in your training and skip a workout that is supposed to be your biggest workout of the week is hard to do, but doing that workout only digs you into overtraining as opposed to overreaching which you recover and get stronger from. I skipped Sunday's 30 mile run at Jefferson as well, and began my recovery week an entire week early...

Monday, September 26, 2011

UROC 100K Report

My right leg screamed in angst and pain. I put my hands on the cold, wet, grey stones I had just slipped on to throw myself back in an upright position to begin running again, trying to not lose even a second from my sloppy footwork. It wasn't even mile 3 in the Ultra Race of Champions 100K and I had just suffered a blow to my right Quadriceps that felt as though it had not only injured the muscle but went through to the femur itself. The terrain in the opening was brutal, a mix of wet rocks covering the trail, and steep grades which relentlessly destroyed the body with awesome climbs and grueling descents. It was a an accurate glimpse of what was in store for us the duration of our day, running 62.5 miles though the Blue Ridge Mountains.

I was in the right place mentally from the word GO! This race was about a strong finish and perfect pacing. Approximately 12,500’ of climbing awaited all of us on the course, and I couldn’t get caught up in trying to run someone else’s race. With the most competitive field in any race I have ever run, and with one of the most stacked fields in any Ultra ever, I knew I couldn’t destroy myself in the opening by trying to hang with runners who were battling in the opening miles, only to find themselves empty at the finish where it really matters. My strategy was confirmed as a wise one when I found myself running next to the highly respectable Brit, Ian Sharman, a phenomenal runner who ran the fastest 100 miler ever on American soil this year, 12 hours and 44 minutes at the Rocky Raccoon 100. I was thrilled to be chatting with the friendly Sharman as we approached the Summit of Wintergreen Mountain near mile 5.5.

After mile 5.5 I soon myself alone already which pleased me. In hopes of truly running my own pace, I was pleased to have the trail to myself, as I pounded the downhill miles to only meet more climbing before the next aid station. I was surprised at the amount of pain my quadriceps were in this early in the race, but honestly, I still felt better than any race in this year maybe, and I knew I had mental strength this race, and I was well rested and in peak form. I knew this because my heart rate was high relative to my perceived energy expenditure.

As the day progressed I maintained speed though the aid stations, which were all well stocked by Clif, manufacturer of high-end performance nutrition products. Fortunately, due to my great crew, consisting of Stephanie and Kara, I never actually had to stop running as they had my bottles ready to go for quick hand-offs at the aid stations, so I wouldn’t lose any time at aid. We were so fast at aid, I couldn’t even tell them about exciting things on the course, like my muscle stabbing fall early on, or about running with Ian Sharman up to Wintergreen Summit.  

At mile 18, near Sherando Lake, I managed to reel in and catch Dave James, winner of the 100 mile trail USATF championships this year. Chatting with the affable James, while navigating the singletrack around Sherando Lake was a highlight of the day for sure. I came out ahead of James and began the climb up Bald Mountain. I later heard that many runners dropped after the long technical climb up the rocky Bald Mountain trail, but I didn’t think it was that bad. I’m not sure if it was because they went out too quickly, or what, but I felt pretty good and had a good climb up Bald Mountain. Halfway up the climb, I caught Jeremy Pade and let him lead me up the climb a bit.I was glad to have the chance to chat for a moment with Jeremy as he is signed up for Pinothi this year, which is a 100 miler in Alabama in November. I was surprised to say the least when Jeremy and I both passed Michael Owen, one of the younger runners at UROC, who placed 3rd at the USATF 100 Mile National Trail Championships this year at Burning River. Michael is one of the guys I think are going to make the future of our sport. He’s crazy fast, and insanely good for how young he is. A guy like Michael who is so gifted physiologically to run fast road stuff who does ultras is going to be setting course records and raising the bar for the next 20 years. After Jeremy and I passed Michael, I then passed Jeremy and also another runner, Chris Reed.

After Bald Mountain was a long lonely stretch of pavement, and I didn’t see another runner for over thirty minutes, maybe even an hour, I don’t know. I began to grow worried I was off course and missed a turn, but I knew I was still seeing course markings and I knew I studied the map and I had to be on course, but I kept waiting for the aid station and it never arrived. What I didn’t realize was that the “aid” station at Spy Gap, mile 29.3 wasn’t a full aid station so I ran right by it expecting to reach the real aid later. The longer I ran, and looked at the mileage on my Garmin, I thought I had missed a turn and had screwed myself. The Blue Ridge Parkway and Spy Run Gap road went blanketed in fog and a strong breeze and the scene was ominous, but suddenly out of the fog, came a vision of figures and I heard clapping. I realized I was still on course and my world became right again.

I entered the out and back section and was glad to back on singletrack for a break from the pavement. I saw Dave Mackey walking and wondered if he was about to drop. Dave just set a new course record at the Waldo 100K last month, and has too many wins and national championships to even list. The benefit of an out and back stretch on the course is that I could definitively see my competition, and see their order and their spirits, etc. Soon after Dave Mackey, I saw Michael Wardian flying, and Geoff Roes looking downright spritely and fresh.

Upon reaching the Whetstone Aid Station again after the out and back, I changed my shoes as planned, which took less than 30 seconds, but I figured would pay large benefits on the road. It was mile 42 approximately at the Whetstone Aid, and the remainder of course was mostly pavement minus a very technical stretch of 5 miles of treacherous downhill singetrack on wet rock and muddy trail. I knew it was the right decision to switch shoes as soon as I stepped on pavement after 42 miles of running and was able to put in a strong pace even on the climbs. My cadence felt quick and light, but upon entering the Bald Mountain area again for the nasty trails, I had to pay my price.

I managed to gain placement as the race progressed all day. After Whetstone#2 following the out and back, I held 8th for a long time, and Chris Reed was in ninth. I was fast on the pavement and gained time on Grossman in 7th, but because I wanted faster road shoes, I sacrificed a lot of time during miles 48.5 to 53.5 as I pussyfooted down the Bald Mountain stretch with its steep grades and mud and rocks. I hit the aid station at mile 53.5 and Chris Reed had closed 10 minutes on me! As soon as I ran towards the station to grab my bottle which Kara and Stephanie tossed, I heard the cheers as Reed caught me!

Luckily, the rest was pavement, and I had already paid the piper and I could speed up now that I was back on roads for good. I didn’t even look back. Reed stayed behind, and I knew I had a slight advantage on the climbs. There was only 10 miles left, and I was empowered to hear that even as I crawled though the technical terrain in my road shoes, I still closed the gap on Grossman down to 4 minutes or so, and there was only 10 miles left.

The next 5 miles went by slowly as I was focused on not letting Reed catch me. I try to not race “behind me”, but I did NOT want to lose placement. I tried to focus on running my own race, and I did NOT look behind me even once to see where Reed was.

I entered the Aid at Reed’s Gap with only just over 4 miles left, and knew I had juice for a strong finish. I glanced back to see Reed entering the Aid Station, but I bolted without slowing. It was one mile downhill and then the finish was a climb over 3 miles to the finish. I held 10 miles per hour on the downhill to escape Reed and couldn’t see him at all, and then focused on attacking Grossman. I couldn’t see him, but I knew he was there.

Halfway up the climb, with nothing left in my body I dug deep as I had been the whole last climb and destroyed myself. I saw Grossman, running and looking strong, and attacked and rested and attacked and rested. I would go his speed and then attack faster to close the gap, and then recover by going his speed. It was foggy and misty and epic to the core. I knew Grossman couldn’t see me, or didn’t see me, but then a car containing some of the elites who had dropped and were on the climb to check out the finish alerted Grossman, and then cheered me on too! I dug deep for my final attack and passed Grossman with a huge smile. I have known Grossman for many years, as he created my hometown ultra during the years he lived in Louisville. I raced against him at the Iron Mountain 50, my tuner race for UROC. He won that race setting a new course record, which he was also the founder of, and I got 2nd. I wanted to send a signal I was feeling better than I was, so I yelled encouragement at him, and he yelled something at my to the effect of, “You are CRAZY!” and I took off. I was on fire; I just passed Grossman with less than a mile, taking 7th. He said something, which I didn’t hear, and then maybe something else. I wish I knew what it was, but I soon learned that there was another runner right in front of me! I couldn’t believe how close this race was! I attacked and rested, but after destroying myself to catch this next runner, I couldn’t make the pass. He held sixth at the summit of the climb and I gave up the chase as I choked, literally from exasperation. There was about a hundred or 2 hundred yards of downhill to the finish and I came in a minute or so behind JB, and I took 7th overall. I was ecstatic with the finish, as epic as ever, with so much fog and mist, it was just theatrical. My crew wasn’t even expecting me so early!

During my interview the night before the race with Andy, ( an interview I almost didn’t do because I so overwhelmed by being in such great company upon arriving, seeing my name on a plaque with the other true “elites” etcetera), I told him I wanted a top 10, but I didn’t think it was possible. I got 7th and was jovial. I stuck to my game plan, and ran my own race, trying to not get swept away in a fast start which ending up forcing out many of the elites. My nutrition was good and my crew incredible.

I was proud of my pacing, and it left me with yet again a drive to grow faster and smarter and push the limits even further. Everyone was so friendly and what a great chance to finally meet all the runners I’ve been admiring from afar for so long. I couldn’t sleep much after the race, as I thought about my next race and what I can improve upon to gain speed and efficiency and finish in the fastest I am possible of.




Some after notes…

Here’s a link to some vids…

I’m at minute 4 on this one….

I’m at minute 9 here, for the interview…


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Iron Mountain 50 Race Report

Damascus, Virginia will always hold a special place in my heart and mind. As a quintessential trail town on the Appalachian, it embodies the spirit of the trail I hiked in 2005. I spent time Damascus during my AT thru-hike, a period of my life when I walked from Georgia to Maine on a life-changing personal odysey of growth and cartharsis.

The mountains surrounding Damascus are beautiful as well, I have always wanted to come back and do a trail race. Ironically enough, this summer while attempting to thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail which I had planned ever since doing the AT in '05, I decided to come home early for many reasons, one of which was to get my race season underway. While searching for possible races to break my legs back in to racing, (I had a pretty stacked race schedule through April and was using the PCT thru-hike as several months of "Base Training"), I rememebered that the Iron Mountain 50 was the first weekend in September and I knew I wanted to do it.

I got home from Oregon in early-mid August, and began the training which would hopefully get my legs used to moving faster than the 3 mph I had been walking the previous 4 months. I had less than 4 weeks to adequately train for the Iron Mountain 50, but I had a great aerobic base from hiking 18-36 miles per day on the PCT at elevations from 6000' to 14,000'! After being home for two or three weeks, I managed to set a personal record on my stomping ground at Jefferson Memorial Forest on the Siltstone Trail. The Siltstone's a 13.5 mile out and back with steep climbing and technical terrain. I knew I was as ready as I could be for the race given the circumstances.

During the weeks preceding the Iron Mountain 50, I was also given a great opportunity to run in the Ultra Race of Champions 100K. (Thats 62 miles for you non-runners!) By being entered into the UROC 100K it automatically became my "A" race, and it is only 3 weeks exactly after the Iron Mountain 50. This meant I would be training through the week prior to Iron Mountain and I wouldn't be at 100% theoretically for Iron Mountain, but as close to it as possible. As excited as I was about Iron Mountain, to run with the greatest ultra runners in the world at UROC obviously trumped my race card as the priority. I took off and rested  Monday and Tuesday and ran 20 miles on Wednesday and Thursday before the race and then an easy 3 on Friday before Iron Mt to allow for recovery. -Definitely not ideal before a race but it was required for the end-objective which is placing as highly as possible in UROC.

All that rambling aside, I came to Iron Mountain to win. I was not going to be holding back anything, and I was hungry. After last season my confidence was up and I was going to fight for it. Up until about a week before the race, I had studied my competition and thought the likelihood of winning was seriously possible. This was before Shaun Pope and Eric Grossman signed up! I looked at the entrant list about a week before the race, and noticed these two late entries and got very excited to have the chance to race against them. True, it meant my chances of winning were greatly reduced, but who cares, placement is only relative to who shows up, and I wanted to race against someone of Grossmans and Popes caliber prior to UROC later this month. Grossman has long been sponsored by Montrail, a trail running shoe brand, and Shaun Pope set the course record at Iron Mt last year. Grossman has won over 30 Ultramarathons from 50K's to 100 milers, and has podiumed in many more. These guys are amazing athletes. Runners like Pope are the future of the sport, young and fast with the potential to throw down seriously fast road marathons, they are raising the bar in Ultras.

I showed up race morning and coincidentally, Eric Grossman was parked right next to me. I knew him immediately as the founder of my hometown ultra here in Louisville, the Lovin' the Hills 50K. He, of course, had no idea who I was, just like everyone else there.

As I prepared to race I joked with Stephanie that my secret weapon was foiled! Grossman showed up bearded as I was, and that it would be a true battle! (I hoped at least, against someone of Grossman's caliber!)

My plan for the race was to let Shaun Pope fly out of the gait. I assumed he would start a bit faster than Grossman and I. I knew I would have to push the limit the first few miles, maybe the first 10 or so,  just to stay up front in the opening miles, and gain positioning for later in the race, and stake a claim as a contender. I used to start slow, but to truely be competitive I find I have to go a bit faster than I would like in the opening miles, and use the middle of the race to settle into a groove, and then hopefully pick up speed at the end when the "real race begins" during the last 30% of a race. I wanted to stay with Grossman as he is someone who paces himself very well, and doesn't lose any speed. I was hoping to stay behind him the first 25 miles to conserve energy and if I had it in me, I would try to make a move in the second half of the race.

My legs felt like concrete. It was mile 4 and we hadn't begun climbing much yet. Pope was out front as planned and I was a few feet behind Grossman letting him set the pace. I wondered if I had it in me today. I have learned though, to be confident and not let the self-doubt rule your thoughts in the opener of a race of such great distance. It doesn't matter where you are in the begining, just the end. I found the balance between running another's race and my own. I ran "their" pace for the first 8 or nine 9 miles, and then backed off, letting them attack the first climb. It came time to run in my own world, in my own race. Surely enough, my faith in running my own race panned out to put me in second place behind Grossman. Somewhere near mile 10, I saw Shaun Pope slowing greatly on a climb. He had gone out hard, and was struggling now.

As I passed him, I asked him about his experience at the Western States 100, the pinultimate Ultra in the country. I hope to run it next year, but it is unlikely to get in as it is solely a lottery system to gain entry. Shaun was very nice, and it is great to race with such amazing talent. At only 22 years of age, guys like Shaun are going to be setting course records for decades to come. I didn't see Shaun again after that climb, and I don't know what mile he dropped at.

Around mile 16, at the Aid Station, Stephanie told me my placement was currently second, and I was concerned because I knew there should have been another runner in between Eric and I, apparently I later passed this anonymous runner as he was relieving himself in the woods!

At mile 22, I prepared for a long descent, nearly 7 miles all downhill, preceeding a large 3 mile climb to regain all of the elevation gain. I was running shirtless now, to aid in cooling, as my shirt was soaked with sweat and I was extremely hot. The air was so humid, that wearing a shirt wasn't allowing my body to cool through the process of evaporative heat loss, so my choice to run shirtless was a wise one. It felt much better and I was cooler by doing so. My hat was soaked and I can't recall ever sweating so much in any race, including Ironman Louisville last year when the temps were in the upper 90's. The humididty on the Iron Mt trail for race day was gnarly!

Near mile 25 I checked my watch. I read that I was 3 hours and 40 minutes into the race. One of my goals for this race was to run in under 7:42. That was the time I ran Lookout Mountain last December, which has 1500' less climbing and the singletrack is smoother and less rocky. Being able to run a faster than at Lookout would be a great accomplishment and I wanted to succeed in that goal. It was looking possible, but I knew the day would only grow hotter, and my race nutrition was running low.

I only brought 5 energy gels and 2 powerbars with me to the race, which is much less than I usually eat during a race. I managed to balance this out though, and although it may have affected my energy levels a little, I wanted to do a little experimenting for UROC later this months. I had enough sports drink, (EFS), to get through almost all of the race, only running out at the end, when I supplemented with the sports drink that the race provided at the aid stations.

I started to crash pretty hard inbetween miles 30 and 42. My heart rate would stay up, and my energy and enthusiasm were falling as well. I had been holding second place for many hours, and hadn't seen another runner in the same amount of time. I had to force myself to still attack all the climbs and not walk anything. I had no idea where third place was, and I was still hoping to catch Grossman although I knew it was pretty much impossible. I at least wanted to lose to Grossman by the smallest possible margin. I have enough respect for him to know how smart of a racer he is, and I knew catching him was pretty unrealistic, however, I never want to race "Behind me", trying to hold position. I always want to be on the prowl, trying to gain placement as opposed to hanging on for dear life just trying to not lose placement. I want to race, "in front of me", trying to close gaps, even if it isnt' realistic. Make sense?

As the temps rose, I would manage the body wanting to overheat on the hard climbs. I did this by slowing and listening to my body. I didn't want to crack and I wanted a strong finish. I could NOT allow myself to overheat. I drank a ton of electrolyte replacement drinks at the aid stops and my sports drink of choice also has a phenom level of electrolytes. I was really proud of my ability to manage the heat by altering my pace during the hottest stretches to allow for a strong finish. Once you have cracked in the heat and become dehydryhated, returning to a normal state is NOT easy and usually can't occur without stopping completely.

I came alive again from my death march about mile 42. I had run out of nutrition, but some cool water to the head, and a small handfull of gummi bears and a shot of 5 hour energy gave me a jolt. I began to fly again. I became fired up as I realized that if I had an incredible last few miles, I could hit my goal of a sub- 7:42 finish which was my Lookout Mt 50 time, but this time on a much hillier and rockier course. I ran 6:29 at the LBL 50 this year, but that is on smooth trail and has exactly of the elevation gain at only 4000', a great course and a great race nonetheless.

In my favor, the majority of the last few miles are all downhill. I often looked to my garmin and saw speeds of 9 or 10 mph. I knew it would be close to break my 7:42, but I was running "in front of me", and I was totally secure in my ability to hold second place. I passed some folks finishing the 30 mile course and enchanged encouragement, hoping they wouldn't think me psycho for blowing by on the rocky downhill trail, but I was on a mission. It began to rain for the first time of the day, but I was now in town and knew the course would foster speeds of 9-10mph, and I had about one mile and I was currently at a time of 7:30.

I crossed the line in 7:38, running 4 or 5 mins faster than my goal. I couldn't have been happier with the results of the day. I ran the best race I could have ran given the day, and I reached my goals. Stephanie and I had the fastest aid handoffs I've ever had, not stopping or sitting once, I would literally run by her, grabbing a prefilled bottle, shaving off time. I managed the unbearable heat well for me, and I paced myself well. I wasn't as sore as usual and I was in good positioning training wise for UROC in only 3 weeks. It was a succesful day, and I ran MY OWN race! It was a blast.  

I hung around the gazebo at the finish for about an hour chatting with the other finishers and congratulating them. Everyone at these races is always so nice and I see them all as family. We're all out here doing what we love with the help of the awesome race directors and volunteers. We had some good food at the finish and then I topped it off with a double scooped waffle cone on the ride back to hotel. I ate a great dinner at Harvest Table, a restaurant outside of Abingdon Va which uses locally sourced foods, on a gourmet scale, and for the first time ever, I felt so great after the race, I even enjoyed a beer with dinner.

A great weekend to get away and just relax, enjoying great company and beautiful trails...


Race Wear and Nutrition

Shorts- Pearl Izumi Infinity Compression
Shoes- Montrail Mountain Masochist
Shirt- Quest Outdoors Patagonia Cap 1 s/s
Socks- Injinji micro-mini orig weight
Bottle- Nathan Quick Draw Elite
Visor- Headsweats
Watch- Garmin 305
Gels etc-Clif Gels, and Clif Blocks, (1 pkg blocks, and 5 gels_
Bars- 2 powerbars
Hydration- Camelback elixer tabs and EFS

A special thanks to Stephanie for crewing~! We really have a great system down and it's awesome to see the progress in the speed of bottle handoffs, etc! thanks for all your hard work! She's really an awesome talent, printing out aid station maps and dealing with all the logistics!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

After Nearly 4 Months on the Pacific Crest Trail, It is time to RUN!

After a great race season, ending with the Umstead 100 in April, I left Kentucky for San Diego and headed south to the Mexican border to hike the Pacific Crest Trail- a long distance hiking trail stretching nearly 2700 miles from Mexico to Canada. It was an incredible experience, and one full of growth and redirection. You can read my blog about the adventure @

The journey was an amazing one, in which I met my goals, and can be summed up with the following quote my cousin Jeff sent to me regarding my last blog entry in my site;

"The only Zen you can find on the tops of mountains is the Zen you bring up there."

Robert M. Pirsig
I've signed up for the Iron Mountain 50 miler on September 3rd and now I've just received incredible news that I will be blessed with the opportunity to run in the Ultra Race of Champions in Virginia. This is a 100K race and it holds the toughest competition of any ultra in the country. I'll be racing against runners like Geoff Roes, Ultra Runner of the Year in '09 and '10, Dave Mackey, Karl Meltzer, (winner of more 100's than anyone in the world!), Ian Sharman, (winner of Rocky Raccoon in 12:44!), Eric Grossman, Andy Jones-Wilkins, etc. This is the most stacked field ever!

The race organizers of UROC have been amazing in their professionalism and organization. My original plan was to focus on improving my 3rd place finish @ Pinhoti 100 miler in November, but to be a part of this race, the UROC 100K I am now driven to focus mainly on UROC. Although I still strive to improve on my finish at Pinhoti, UROC will be my training focus definitely! Honestly, I really think that after hiking 1600 miles on the PCT and building a good base in my off season over the summer, running Iron Mountain and UROC will still do nothing but improve my form at Pinhoti even though UROC is the focus.

I'm doing road work now this week to get my legs back into form, and allow my joint to be off trails for a bit after the PCT. On road runs this week I'm doing some short intense threshold work, at or near 5K pace. Next week I'll begin my hill repeats out on the monster grades at Jefferson Memorial Forest, my main playground of trail running. I had planned on doing big mileage weeks the next few months in prep for Pinhoti, but now with UROC as my "A" race, my raison d'etre so to speak. I am focusing on quality over quanity and will probably not run over 150 miles during a week. UROC has 13,000' feet of elevation gain, therefore climbing prowess will be all-important. Fortunately I am at my lowest weight and body fat %, which will be of utmost importance.

The Iron Mountain Trail Race will actually be a great tuner race for UROC as it is also in Virginia on the Appalachian Trail and involves a great deal of climbing.

My bio should be up on the UROC site shortly. I can't believe this is happening! I'm pretty excited, and to hold this opportunity after my wonderful period of growth and reflection on the PCT is a whirlwind of positive energy.


First Day Back from the PCT- Nephew Jude's B-Day

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Interview Answers- Re LBL 50

So I was just email by TrailRunner! It made my day...They were asking about the LBL race and alerting me about my Trophy Series overall standing....

Here are my interview answers....

What was the course and scenery like?

The course at Land Between the Lakes is relatively mild for a trail race. It's all high quality singletrack, groomed for mountain bikes so the terrain is pretty smooth. There are many mileage options at the LBL trail runs, so the fact that the races are all run on the same 11 mile loop is cool. The course only has 4000' elevation gain over the 50 miler, so it is conducive to a fast race. With lakes Kentucky and Barkley on either side of the course, we had a great view and a gentle breeze. The scene is peaceful and quiet almost! The first half of the loop is flat, and I was tend to lost Zach Gingerich on that section as he was faster on the flats. the second half of the 11 mile loop is hilly, and that's when i would catch Zach, only to be passed on the flats again. It was cat and mouse! The weather this year was perfect too, No foot of snow to run through, no mud, etc! It was about 70 and sunny with minimal mud.

What was your training like for this race?

This was my 4th ultra in 5 months, and I felt like I was peaking well for this race. I was shooting hard for two goals; 1. win the race 2. set a new course record. LBL is about 3 hours away and I drove down on weekends to do training laps on the course, trying to beat the old record. My training laps had me running under a 6:40 50 mile time, (the old course record by Zach Gingerich), so I was hopeful to set a new course record. I also tried to balance this with the fact that LBL was not my "A" race for the season. I was running the Umstead 100 only 3 weeks after LBL, so I didn't want to cook myself at LBL. I was coming off of a win at a very hilly race in Louisville called Lovin' the Hills 50K, which has 14K' of elevation change and my mileage in the 4 weeks inbetween Lovin' the Hills in February and LBL in March held the biggest mileage of any month I have ran.

Were there any high or low points during the race that are particularly memorable for you?

High points definitely include catching Zach Gingerich and passing him. I obviously revered Zach from his past performances and was elated to be running with someone of his caliber, (and maybe even pushing him a tiny bit)! I was extatic to follow my splits each lap on my Garmin and see that i was 7 minutes faster than goal pace each lap for the first half. I really put myself through the ringer and slowed down the last lap, but only by a few minutes. At the end of the race there is an out and back and i saw Zach was only minutes ahead, (a close margin in a 50), and although I knew he would beat me, I killed myself to just "get as close as I could". -Doing that enabled me to break 6:30, which I didn't think I was capable of, even on a perfect day. I was unsure of how I felt about the race for a long time. I now know that I truly ran a good race and maybe the best race I've run to date. (I paid for it at Umstead though!) I pushed it pretty hard @ LBL and maybe was a little strung out from it. I felt good while racing, just not full of emotion...I usually like to be the one encouraging cheering on my fellow racers, and this race I did that, but not as much...I was a little more down to business...The emotions weren't overflowing like usual. I set out to just zone out and run as fast as possible? Sounds weird...I know....It just took a while to recover and gather my thoughts appropriately. You can't compare your race to that of another. The thing I love about Ultras is we're all out there doing the same thing, running an amazing distance. The camaraderie at LBL is always special. TO SUM IT UP; The race was much more special in hindsight than immediately after at the finish.

Oh, and Lapping my wife was pretty awesome! hahaha...Because I got to see her, not because I was lapping her! lol

Friday, April 15, 2011

Umstead Race Report

Friday, April 15, 2011Umstead Race Report

Umstead 100 Race Report

April 2011

Troy Shellhamer

I stood in the aisle of the sporting goods looking at knee braces. In only 3 days I was supposed to run 100 miles on one of the fastest courses in the country, Umstead. Looking at knee braces is not what a runner wants to be doing a few days out from an Ultramarathon.

The usual excitement of race week was toned down due to my knee "situation". I was rather anxious and stressed about the likelihood of potentially having to drop out of my first race ever. A few years ago I damaged my right knee in a snowboarding accident, and it took almost a year to heal, and it is still weak when pressure is applied laterally, (side to side). This injury doesn't usually affect my running, cycling, swimming, etc. The week after the 50 miler at Land Between the Lakes, (which was three weeks prior to the Umstead), I was doing massive amounts of hard labor in my new home and I injured my knee. It had continued to pop and swell and feel very distorted and misaligned every day thereafter.

It was recovering slowly but surely, but running 100 miles is no small feat. I knew that if I wasn't 100% for this race, the chance of finishing would be minimal. I could run through an injury in a 50 miler, and have good results- a 50 is usually around 7 hours- 100 though, is a long time, and the body starts to shut down and refuse eventually.

My first 100 miler was the Mohican 100 in which I finished in more pain than I ever imagined possible. I have run enough races now to not do that again. If I encountered any injury causing situation in the race, I decided I would DNF, rather than finish and do damage to my body in the process. I had nothing to prove. Running Ultras is mostly mental, and if you have the wrong attitude about the race, you have lost before you've even started.

About a day or two before the race I was talking to my friend Stephanie about my concerns regarding my knee. She reminded me of all the concerns I have had in prior races on race week, whether it was an injured shin I was nursing back to health, a head cold I thought would impede race performance, etc. This abated my fears and I felt a calm about the race. I would simply not stress anymore and I would just go down and have a blast and run my own race. What would worrying get me? Sure the odds were stacked against me, but they been in the past too!

Maybe not this strongly, but regardless, worrying does nothing.

I know that I peaked a little early for this race. Since I am leaving for a Thru-Hike of the Pacific Crest Trail on April 27, I will not be racing for a period of 5 or 6 months. This works out nicely as the PCT can be considered base training. I did want to squeeze in as many races as possible though, and Umstead would be my 5th Ultra in 6 months, (Pinhoti in November, Lookout Mountain in December, Lovin' the Hills in February, LBL in March, and Umstead in April). My knee issue prevented me from running much for three weeks prior to Umstead, and honestly, I was a little cooked from running a 6:29 at LBL and I was on a downward decline anyways. I guess I didn't quite play my cards flawlessly, as LBL was supposed to be a training race only for Umstead, and it ended up doing me in!

I met my crew at 5pm on Thursday night at Rhonda's house. Our crew consisted of Rhonda and Jeremy, two good friends from the exploding tri scene here in Louisville. We loaded up the Prius and were on our way to Umstead! We stopped in Pigeon Forge Thursday night and got a nice room for only $35, a great price!

I'm usually pretty consistent about my diet on the day before a race. I like to forego most complex carbs/ whole grains/ fruits veggies and anything else with large amounts of fiber. I've squatted in the woods enough during race day to learn that emptying my colon before race day is the best option! Cracker Barrel was a yummy option in the AM for breakfast, and some pancakes fit the bill for carbs and not much fiber! Double bonus, eating Cracker Barrel in Pigeon Forge, hahaha...

The rest of the drive down to Raleigh, (Umstead Park is right outside of Raleigh), was gorgeous. Our route took us outside of Asheville. We were in the mountains, the sun was out, and it was one of the first warm days of the year. Perfect!

We arrived at the race earlier than expected and our Team Medical Director, Rhonda, (an OT), had a great idea to try taping my knee with Kiniseo Tape. We stopped into a sporting goods shop and the picked up some tape and headed to the hotel.

I was taken aback once I stepped foot into the Hampton. I didn't realize it was a Hilton Hotel. They informed me about a special runner’s breakfast since the full breakfast bar wouldn't be open at 4:30 in the morn when we'd be heading to the race. There was a race table set up with loads of info and maps pertaining to the race. We had a blast talking and enjoying the ride down but it was now nap time and then off to Umstead, (only 10 minutes away), for the packet pick up and Pre-Race meeting!

Driving into Umstead I felt immediate excitement and knew that race day would be great. Tall pines covered the forest floor and the small rolling hills would provide entertainment while running all day. We took a gravel road in about 10 minutes and were greeted by volunteers who gave us our assigned parking number.

The set up at Umstead is awesome. It is at Camp Lapihio, which consists of a main lodge and many smaller cabins. These were all built by the Civilian Conservation Corps around 1940 I think. The buildings were in need of maintenance earlier this year and the hard working rangers were awarded a grant to refinish and repair the structures. They were in great need of manpower and the Umstead race organizers stepped in and saved the day putting in many long hard hours to finish the project in record time.

Blake is the race director and boy is he punctual. The Pre-Race meeting was set to start at 6pm, and the Atomic clock on the big stone mantle in the lodge saw the meeting start at exactly 5:00.00 pm, and finish at 6:00.00 pm. Blake gave an informative pre-race chat, but also an inspiring one. He awarded the # 100 bib number to a person from last years race whom he felt deserved the award for perseverance and who hopefully would finish this race and motivate other first timers. I couldn't believe how many first timers were at this race! It looked like hundreds had stood up when Blake asked the first timers to identify themselves! Awesome!

The pre-race dinner started at exactly 6pm, and I thought there was no way that we'd get fed by 8pm judging by the sheer numbers. We were all fed by 7:30 and headed back to the hotel by 8 pm after walking some of the race course after dinner! The Umstead 100 race is one finely tuned machine. Umstead is an impressive operation to say the least. The course for the Umstead 100 is one of the most stellar running surfaces I have ever encountered. It is crushed granite, all filtered through 1/16" screening. 1/16 is the smaller line of measurement on a standard ruler. There are no stones, pebbles, roots, etc. This crushed granite doesn't create a lot of dust either, even though it is powder consistency almost, and the footing is sure and sound. I can't imagine a more perfect surface conducive to a fast Ultra.

We ran by Target to get some snacks for Rhonda and Jeremy for race day and then were back at the Hotel before 8:45. As I got my race bag ready and got organized we talked about how the race would probably unfold and I gave Jeremy the bib numbers for racers I wanted him to keep splits on as the day unfolded. As much as I preach about running your own race, it is nice to know where the competition is! That being said, I have never really even asked or cared where my competition is in a 100 mielr before. I'll go out and race a 50, wanting splits, etc., but not in a 100. At this point, I run 100, and that's how I race 100, by going out and doing my own thing.

It was nice to see some familiar faces at the starting line at 6am. Jay Smithberger, a great runner from Ohio met me at the starting line and it was awesome to chat and pass the time for the first few laps of 12.5 miles each. He enlightened me at the end of the first lap, once it was light out, that I even forgot to take off my headlamp! Man, that was a few extra ounces, haha, oh well...

The course is a modified loop, which enables runners to run in opposing directions for several miles at the very end and begining of each loop. It is really refreshing to see so many smiling and encouraging faces as you end and begin each lap! The reason I chose Umstead for my last race was mainly due to the community of ultra runners in this race. I loved the concept of a loop course, that was flat and not singletrack. I LOVE singletrack, and I don't love loop courses and so I don't usually do them, but they have a lot to offer and it was time for me to branch out and do something new. I wanted to see other runners the whole race, and Umstead offered that possibility regardless if I was first or last.

The community at Umstead did not disappoint! I think I exchanged pleasantries with almost every runner on the course. It holds a great vibe and is a very positive environment. The weather further fostered the great spirits of the runners. It was nearly perfect, in the 60's and breezy!

The lead pack I was running with was on record pace. We turned in our first laps in less than 1 hour 45 minutes. The second and third laps were the same. I ran 1 hour 43 minutes the first few laps. It was amazing to see such a close race. The first seven or so of us were all only minutes apart, and we were keeping perfect pace with one another. At the start finish line where the out and back is, I could see we were at the same spots each lap, meaning we were all holding similar paces.

Serge Arbona is an amazing runner who finished the 100 miles of Umstead last year in just over 14 hours. I was shocked to see that I was keeping pace with him, and knew that it was time for me to slow down!

At the 37.5 mile mark as I completed my third lap I was literally astonished at how fast the race was unfolding! Not really any knee pain yet, but it was still a long way to go. It was going by so quickly that I decided to skip listening to my iPod until I needed it later. Only one more lap and I would be at the 50 mile mark, halfway! My kiniseo tape began to fall off, and so Rhonda jumped to fixing my knee before I departed, but that tape came off also amongst the salt and sweat, and so I tore it all off and run with no pain and no injury. This would be the second race where I have run an injury out of me! It's nuts to start with an ailment and then it "goes away" mid-race. As a medical professional this makes no sense at all, but hey, I'll take it, right?

Our race system of refueling was working flawlessly. There was a fully stocked aid station at the start finish and at the halfway point on the loop, basically giving runners nutrition and hydration every 6.75 miles. It was challenging for crew members to access the halfway aid station, and so Rhonda and Jeremy stayed at the start finish Aid Station and helped me refuel etc only at the start finish. Since the laps were so fast, it made things go by very quickly, since I would only see them every 12.5 miles. This was their first crewing experience and they did amazing, total naturals, they knew exactly what to do! It's hard to explain to someone when you ask them to crew, how important they are. Having friends help you run 100 miles is an awesome experience. Knowing that I have that kind of support helps me complete a race.

Jay Smithberger and I came into the Start Finish line completing mile 50 together in almost exactly 7 hours. For me, that was probably a bit too fast as my fourth lap out of the eight needed to complete the 100 was a bit slower than the first 3 laps. I generally try to pride myself on stong finishes. I usually pace myself well, but apparently I got a little caught up in the speed of Umstead and ran the first 50 about 20 minutes or maybe even 30 minutes faster than I should have. I was honestly trying to race Umstead, and felt well enough to do so, and hindsight is always 20/20!

You are allowed to pick up a pacer beginning on your fifth lap at Umstead, but Jeremy and I decided to wait until lap 6. I was still very fresh after running the first 50 in 7 hours, and I was entertained by my iPod too, so I tried to stretch out picking up my pacer for a little while.

I was ready for Jeremy by lap 6. I had run 62.5 miles in about 9 hours, and was starting to feel it a bit. The good news was that it was typical muscle fatigue and general tiredness, and no weird musculoskeletal issues slowing me down, the knee was great and the aches and pains were all just par for the course!

Jeremy's enthusiasm to get out on the course was refreshing. He looked so fresh and ready to fly, and I needed time to chill and relax! It was probably painful to run so slow with me after watching people run by him all day, but he stayed just a few ahead of me the first lap, as we chatted about the race. We discussed the events unfolding and Jeremy learned the course well after his first lap.

It is relatively flat the first half of the loop, with most of each lap’s 1000' of elevation gain coming in the second half of each lap. The hills to me were welcome however, as they break the monotony of the beautiful course, and allow different muscle groups to propel you forward for a few miles each lap. The hills were short, but steep enough that walking occasionally for a few seconds was a wise option.

During my last 100 miler, I crashed around mile 55 until mile 75 but then recovered for the last 25 miles to finish very strong and with energy. I could feel my energy seriously waning around mile 70 and I noticed I was slurring my speech. Jeremy and I developed a nutrition plan, and it helped out with the energy and as soon as I would start slurring again I knew it was time for a gel. I tried to stay on top of the energy input with gels every 20 minutes. Jeremy would keep track on his watch and remind me. Usually at that point in a race my stomach can’t handle much of anything without seriously revolting, but it can usually handle gels well.

Forward motion was slow coming and my pace was dropping by the minute. I concentrated on the next aid station and didn’t contemplate the mileage still ahead. It would seem easy to say, I’ve done 80 miles, only 20 left, but I’m a runner. I do a lot of 20 mile runs. I know 20 is a long way to go, it doesn’t matter if you’ve already done 80! I concentrated on living in the moment and focused on the next aid station whatever it was. Time went by quicker that way. The parts are always easier to handle than the whole. We got to the start finish line and I knew that I had to grab my headlamp as it was mile 87.5, I had one lap left, and it would probably be dark midway through this lap. I drank a little cup of Coca-Cola for the quick carbs and the caffeine. My stomach didn’t detest much to the coke. I had also been having success as usually at the aid stations with boiled salted potatoes, a staple in most ultramarathons.

I had a little business to tend to before leaving the aid station at the start finish line and beginning my last lap.

I call it “Bubble-Toe”. I tend to get these blisters, filled with blood, on the end of my toes sometimes. Usually it is the entire tip of my toe, including the toenail. It usually protrudes a great deal from my normal toe shape, giving it the appearance of a giant red lollipop- point being, it’s a huge blood blister. I grabbed my knife out of my race bag and made haste. Within milliseconds I had stabbed the bubble-toe, relieving all pressure. The fun-filled blood/pus sack erupted like Mt Saint Helens all over my faithful running shoes that had carried me. The shot was impressive, probably several inches shooting out of my big toe. The big toe nail had NO chance.

I threw on my socks and felt immediate relief. My toe was back to its normal size, from nearly double.

Jeremy was incredible. His longest run was a marathon prior to Umstead and upon leaving mile 87.5 to begin our last lap; he was also embarking into uncharted territory. That lap would bring a total of 37.5 miles for Jeremy and 100 miles for me. Rhonda was able to run a few laps with Deb Shelton, a friend from Louisville. It was awesome that our crew were all able to get in a few laps on the course.

During the laps that we ran together from mile 62.5 to 100, everyone kept shouting at how fresh we look. Jeremy always felt obligated to concede that he was “only” a pacer, but he was shouldering not only the load of running 37.5 miles, but as a pacer, he had to care for my wibbly-wobbly, speech slurring, pathetic tail trying to run the last chunk of a hundred miler. He quickly learned his job as a pacer and perfected it, providing entertaining speech and motivation. A pacer must push their runner, but also feel their runner out, allowing them to slow when necessary. It is a challenging task, with little reward, but without pacers, a lot of runners would not complete their feat.

We made our way around one last lap, and it became increasingly harder and harder to place each foot in front of the other. My pace was growing weaker, but I knew I would finish in good time. We had hoped to break 16 hours but realized that the effort was futile, and I couldn’t gain any placement in the process. Regardless, it was too much to handle. I went my own pace, giving it literally everything I had. I took a sit down break for the first time at aid station 2, (the halfway-on-the-loop aid station), at mile 95. I ate a small piece of pizza hoping the fat content would settle the amount of carbs in my stomach, thereby reducing the possibility of “osmotic-diarrhea”, another unpleasant side effect of ultras a lot of runners encounter. The pizza did the trick and I ran it on home, congratulating the other runners out on the course still who had been so encouraging all throughout the day. It was only 10pm, and many would still be running through the night to complete their awesome task.

I did it. I crossed the finish line in just over 16 hours. Considering the circumstances, I was very happy with my run. You must take each day as they come and maximize what you have. I wasn’t at 100%, and I wanted to be, but I didn’t let it get me down. I went down, and honestly had one of most enjoyable race weekends ever. Rhonda and Jeremy were great. The car ride home even went by quickly. It was mind boggling to get up on a Saturday, and be back in bed on Saturday night after running 100 miles. My first 100 miler lasted nearly 27 or 28 hours. This one was over in 16, Incredible. Since the park was officially closed after 8pm, I didn’t have much time after the race to linger around in the lodge post race. I hung out for a bit and thoroughly enjoyed the roaring fire and warmed up. The gates to the park open on the hour each hour to let runners and crew in and out, and so if we didn’t leave at 11pm on the nose, we would have to hang out for another hour. At the time Rhonda and Jeremy went to get the car, the masseuse came over and told me get on the table to enjoy a post race massage! It would have been pure heaven! Alas, I had to go. Fortunately our team medical director is an OT, and I was lucky enough to still get a massage in the hotel, triggering my knots and my dead muscles from the race! It was a perfect day.

I didn’t quite know what to expect out of Umstead. It surpassed every expectation. I thought a loop course, not on singletrack would be boring. It was the exact opposite. I am amazed how fast the race went by. It went by faster than some 50’s I have done. It was never monotonous and the camaraderie was inspiring and overwhelming. It makes me long to do another flat and fast 100. I loved it. It will definitely be one for the repertoire. I left feeling refreshed and renewed, wanting to sign up again asap. I can’t wait to see what I can accomplish next year. How I can improve my splits, pace better, be more patient, and improve my time.

It was my 5th Ultra in 6 month. The competition was the fiercest I have raced against ever. Out of 15 ultras I’ve run in, I was blessed to run with the strongest field I have ever run with at Umstead this year. It was awesome, and I can’t wait to return.

Now it’s time to focus on the next goal. I did it, I raced my full schedule with good results, and had a blast in the process, but now it’s time to head out west for my next Odyssey, hiking all 2658 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail. In 12 days now, I fly out to California, to start a journey requiring about 20-30 miles per day hiking through some of the most beautiful mountains in the world.

Sounds like the PCT will be good base training for fall when I return to racing. In 6 months my ultra season will be back again in full force! Living the dream…I am blessed.