Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Lookout Mountain 50 Mile Race Report-

I typically have a good month training throughout November. There is a time and place for everything and I typically run strong in December following a rather mediocre November race. This year November held the highest mileage and best quality running I've experienced in six months. Late in summer and fall this year I often put running on the back-burner for family/other commitments. In November however, I had help from my mom/family who watched my daughter a lot. The planets aligned. I was able to prioritize running in a way which still allowed a peaceful and rather stress-free life at home. (Thanks Kara.) Even with her (Kara) leaving town for several work trips I just cut out the extraneous fat from life and focused on Denali and running and work. It was a pretty special month! The stage was set for yet another strong December race.

Last year was the first year in three years I opted to not run the Lookout Mountain 50. Hellgate race director David Horton let me into the infamous Hellgate 66.6 mile run. It was nothing short of epic, battling Grossman in the last miles as we strove to break the old course record. I love the community surrounding the Virginia race scene, but I missed Chattanooga and the traditions I've come to expect from Lookout. Many friends from "the 'Ville" have started running Lookout Mountain and its a fun kickoff to the holidays, eating and running in this trendy mountain town in the southeast.

Rock Creek puts on a huge production, and admittedly they were a HUGE inspiration in my vision of what I wanted to build my race, The Backside Trail Marathon to resemble. 

On race morning this year, temps hovered in the upper thirties and rain poured from above. The conditions couldn't alter my readiness to go run my heart out on these trails I've come to love. The field this year would be the most competitive I've witnessed in my four years running this race. In the opening 3 hours I ran with Jon Allen, a friend whom I first met at the Ultra Race of Champions 100K back in 2011. Jon and I typically run within a place or two of one another and I was excited to swap stories and catch-up with Jon as we passed the miles in the rain and cold.

I was in 4th place at mile 22.5 after the long climb to the top of Lookout Mountain at Covenant College which serves as race headquarters. Even with the rain I was making good time and my energy expenditure was low. I hadn't yet unleashed the fire within and I was ready to do so.

I left Covenant College with Jon Allen and we found our way back onto marked trails- but soon thereafter we saw a runner heading towards us. This wasn't good. I figured he was lost, and so I assured him I was going the right way and instructed him to follow me. More and more runners began to get confused at the direction we should be travelling, and I played the ringleader for the confused lot.

Thirty long minutes later, and over 3 miles wasted, we realized we had been directed onto the wrong trails or somehow ended up on the 10k course which was marked in the same flagging. We had almost looped back to Covenant College completely. 

I had run this course before and the course I was on was very similar to the old course and ran the same powerline, etc. It was incredibly easy to confuse the two, and the fact that the markings were the same was not a great choice. Jon and I are both pretty seasoned trailrunners and this situation was beyond both of us. The majority of the guys and girls in the top 10 were prey to the same fate.

It was demoralizing. Surmounting a deficit to the lead pack of at least 30 minutes seemed impossible. This field was strong and the front runners who had somehow been directed onto the "right" course not only had the advantage of a 30 minute window, but they didn't have 3+ extra miles under their legs. Regardless, I came to play and I wasn't giving up. I had slipped from 4th back to around 30th. 

I lit up the trails and raced with passion and fury. I pushed the out-most limit of what I thought I could hold. I passed probably 10 people within an hour and let the anger fuel my run. 

I got to long branch aid station 10 miles later and saw my crew. I threw my bottle and didn't waste any time stopping to explain. Stephanie was very smart and yelled- "I know EXACTLY what happened!", clarifying I shouldn't waste any more time. I yelled to the volunteers at the aid station that someone MUST be made aware of this course marking debacle since a large chunk of the top 20 had gotten off course or had been directed off course onto a course marked with the same course markings! I'm ALWAYS very grateful to the volunteers and try to show my appreciation by saying thanks, however in passing my yelling probably came off like I being a big asshole. I apologize for that! (...but the race coordinators needed to be aware.)

Coming out of Long Branch I had the advantage of venting to Jeremy who ran behind me. The anger helped push me and fueled my desire to keep passing runners and work my way back up. By the time I finished the Long Branch lolly pop loop I was in 6th place.

I had 13 miles to go, and I knew the competition ahead was fierce. 

I began to feel the effects of my huge effort and became light headed and faint. I started taking in gels more frequently. I pushed harder and embraced the pain. My body responded well to what I asked of it. I only had a half a marathon left. 

Jeremy and I caught the lead female and I had a blast chatting with her. She was from New Hampshire and I liked her immediately as I heard her cheering on runners. We chatted about the White Mountains which was a good distraction and mutual friends from New England like Kevin Tilton. She was crazy strong and I figured we'd be duking it out for the remainder. Luckily I escaped her on a climb. The return route is fun because its an out and back in which you can yell and cheer on runners making their way out to Long Branch. I enjoy doing this and I thought it was cool to hear the lead chick cheering on runners as well. 

In the closing miles I cat-and-moused with another runner, a guy I had yet to meet, but we chatted pleasantly when our tired breath allowed it.  I passed him rather easily on a climb and I thought he was done for, but then a few minutes later he passed me with authority on a flat stretch. This continued for some time. I would run all the climbs and catch him, and then he would take off. 

I wanted to let him go but I told myself to dig harder and fight. Luckily for me, the closing miles became hillier towards the finish and I out-climbed him on the final hill. I dug deep and destroyed myself and lost him by a good enough distance he was out of sight.

I'm assuming we both thought battling for 4th was pointless. 

What I didn't know is that he and I had somehow passed Jessie Davis at an aid station and he and I were actually battling for 3rd place for a podium spot!

I crossed the finish line in third place completing my own "Tour de Lookout Podium" with a win in 2010, a second in 2011, and now a third in 2013. Hahahaha... I would say this was my strongest run there. 

I was elated to do what I thought was impossible after the 30 minute, 3+mile side trip. Many thanks to Stephanie for some great crewing which saved me minutes on the day at aid stations! I owe you this one!

Many congrats to all the Louisville friends who finished this beastly race. The conditions were some of the worst I've ever seen. Rhonda Curry, Andrew Thai, and Rob Putz- I'm impressed.  

Up next is The Pistol 100 mile in January only 3 weeks away followed by another Rock Creek race (if registration opens) the Thunder Rock 100 mile.



Monday, November 4, 2013


The Mountain Masochist Trail Run is one of the most storied races in the history of Ultrarunning. Deep in the mountains surrounding Lynchburg Virginia, this race literally embodies what many ultramarathons aspire to achieve in its course, its community, and its professional commitment to organization. The shoes I raced in over the last several years were even named after this race, The Montrail Mountain Masochist... Yes. This race is that big, and this year brought in national level competition.

Since its inception many of the worlds best mountain and trail runners have challenged themselves on these climbs and descents. Memories have been made and friendships have been forged along this course which crosses the Appalachian Trail several times in its point-to-point traverse from Monroe, Va to Montebello, Va. 

I felt a deep calm and peace overcome me driving into Lynchburg on Friday evening. The colors of fall accented the farms and mountains on windy Virginia backroads and a stellar soundtrack from Greensky Bluegrass, The Avett Brothers, and Punch Brothers complimented the scene. A flood of life changing memories sat in the back of my mind as I entered the Blueridge Mountains- experiences which started in my youth and continued into adulthood. Backpacking and racing in these mountains has become an essential part of who I am and who I have become.

The pre-race dinner is like a reunion among runners. A deep sense of community resides in the Virginia ultrarunning community. Race Director Clark Zealand secures some pretty great swag and door prizes for the runners of these races. Gear from Patagonia and more vendors is a staple.

Race morning came early but I arose without the usual fog which prevails in my mind at the early hours that come with ultramarathon start times. I can only recall one morning in over fifty ultra distance race mornings which I haven't felt groggy. (That morning preceeded my 15:27 Umstead 100 PR- which was one of the top 25 100 mile times of the year) Suffice to say, I'm not an early riser! I like my mornings to start at 7 or 8, and no earlier unless I'm camping. Alas, I thought my good feelings foreshadowed good things to come.

We followed a bus full of runners to the start and the stars overhead shone clearly in the Virginia mountains.

In the opening miles I chatted with friends I hadn't seen in a while. Eric Grossman, (my partner on some epic undertakings as of late such as the Colorado Trail FKT attempt and the Tour De Virginia stage race two years ago) and I quickly commenced to planning our next adventure. I laughed at Grossman's desire to conspire our next masochistic jaunt during the Mountain Masochist race.

Chatting with Brad Hinton for many miles was long overdue. Brad is a great runner whom I don't get to chat with nearly enough. We joked about how there are two types of runners- those who have mortgages and kids and those who don't. Brad and I both suffered the curse for some time of being a bridesmaid and never a bride. We both had a slew of 2nd place finishes and were due for a win! I think we both looked our gift horses in the mouth and would have been ecstatic with 2nd on race day!

The pace felt comfortable in the opening miles and I wanted to push harder but we were in the lead pack and I new there was a long day ahead. Once the real climbs started I held my energy levels steady yet the lead pack slipped away gradually. I found myself just out of tenth place, yet I assumed that I could reel in the inevitable carnage that was sure to be had in the final miles.

The first crew access point is at mile 15. It was light by the first aid station at mile 7. I dropped my headlamp there as planned. I knew I would be dropping a lamp, so I didn't bring my blindingly bright Petzl Nao since I didn't want to risk losing the best headlamp I own. Our Petzl rep from Quest Outdoors gave me this lamp before the Hellgate 100K last winter and I love it! That headlamp was amazing while pacing the Grand Slam this summer! The cheaper headlamp I ended up using was barely adequate for the fire roads and jeep roads most of the race course consisted of. I wish I would have brought the Petzl as I stumbled more than I was expecting.

Guy Love and I ran a lot of miles together in the middle of the race. Guy paced and crewed Eric and I during our Colorado Trail FKT attempt this summer. Guy was a godsend in Colorado by hiking in a tent and sleeping bag during a storm in which I became hypothermic above treeline and our 4x4 couldn't access us to get us below 13,500'. I've never been so happy to share a tent with another dude. We didn't reminisce about our summer adventures. We passed the time chatting about races on our calendar which we were looking forward to, possibly the Rock Creek Thunder Rock 100 in May. I was proud to see Guy push on ahead of me as my legs weren't responding on the climbs.

Mile 22 began the biggest climb of the race. I held pace and begin to pass several runners that had passed me early on. I held a nice smooth pace and didn't push too hard. Although I was way back past 10th place I knew that it was a long day ahead and if I picked up the pace later I could reel in carnage as mentioned... It isn't hard not too stress. I've seen this too many times. Ultras require patience and discipline.

I didn't make the demoralizing surge I had planned on though... I was enjoying myself too much. I can't recall too many times in races in which miles passed by this quickly. I took time to look around and admire these mountains which have shaped me over the years. I really wanted a top three spot at Mountain Masochist but I was living in the moment in the middle of the race. I didn't have that fighting spirit necessary to reach the top 3. I felt I had nothing to prove. I ran my race. I've said many times I wish I could go out for a 50 mile run and just enjoy it, and that's what I was doing.

The miles rolled by effortlessly and I was always surprised how quickly the next aid station arrived. In many races, the miles pass like eons, however today was different, I could have gone 100 miles, the legs had no power, but they had endurance. I was in the moment, holding the exact same pace I had started out running.

I never used my iPod, I just got lost in the mountains. I was shirtless and free and not pressuring myself.

This isn't the most motivational race report for someone to reach their maximal potential I realize, but it's what I needed at the moment. I have experienced wins and podiums, but I'm at a place in my life where running isn't the only part of who I am. I'm not done pushing myself. I'm not done destroying myself to go as fast as possible. But I just did my own thing out there on Saturday. The fire will return sometime soon, I'm sure.

With about 10 miles to go I was in 11th place behind Jordan Whitlock who was suffering after leading for a while and going out hard for the win. I was climbing stronger than he was but he was descending strong. I struck up some conversation and we chatted away a few miles. Jordan thought we were in 9th and 10th, but I was under the impression we were in 10th and 11th.

I didn't battle Jordan for 10th, I let him pull away, and I got back into my zone of freedom, no self imposed restrictions of time or place, just running my own enjoyable jaunt through the hills. This felt good.

I crossed the line in 11th place. The 51 miles with 9200' climbing took me 8 hours and 3 enjoyable minutes.

Sitting around after the race I thanked Clark for a job well done. He defines class act. Clark is a genuinely nice guy who runs a fantastic race.

Eric came up to our hotel room and showered and we killed some post race beers. I was really glad to catch up with he and Robin.

During the awards ceremony my enjoyable time out in the woods had momentarily vacated my mind and I was kicking myself for not being up there with the top 10. I was frustrated with myself, but then I remembered how good I felt and how much I had to do the following week and I relaxed into positive vibes.

The Lookout Mountain 50 Mile is December 14th.

My takeaway points...

In retrospect, my low mileage was probably a culprit to my lacking performance. I suffered a bad sinus infection after a marathon on 9/28 and couldn't run for two weeks. I also tapered for that marathon which means a month of low mileage, since I was fried after a summer full of running.

Luckily I didn't make a surge in the middle of the race like planned. I knew I would blow up if I did. Stephanie's crewing was top notch and saved me time. I luckily have a lot of experience and knew what I needed to do to get in a decent time with minimal training miles under my belt. My stomach was great, nutrition was perfect, and energy was constant throughout on race day. My time and placement were pretty pitiful, but in all truth I had a good race considering the variables.

The month of October, although it held very few miles was a blast at least travelling a lot, getting in a ton of climbing mountains in NH and playing a TON of music.

carb loading pre race! 

Getting in some practice on the ride home, making up solos to Avett Bros. poor poor Stephanie! What a trooper! 

strategy session pre race
I'll try to get some more pics up soon...

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Mill Race Marathon

Mill Race Marathon was my first race since June, and my first flat road marathon in a year. I had hopes of running under 2:40 but came up long...

I was actually planning on running The North Coast 24 Hour Run the weekend prior and had no plans to run a marathon...After my summer of long endurance, I focused on long timed runs on a one mile crushed track
in hopes to qualify for the USA 24 hour team. I signed up for North Coast but my wife had an event come up at work. To help out around home I decided to abandon North Coast and run the marathon the next weekend. (My wife and daughter accompanied me and we made a weekend of it.)

I think it meant a lot to her that I gave up my hopes of qualifying for the US team at North Coast. It showed that family is more important than running...I had after all, traveled an insane amount this summer. I can qualify next year. Still a bummer as training was going well...

I felt good for the run and my heart rate was where it should be, over 90% of max HR.

In the end, I went in to it a little too fresh and with too much muscle mass. I was 10 pounds heavier than my last road race at Marathon distance, however my body fat was super low, at under 5% so it was all muscle bulk.

I'm OK with the results overall. I was seventh place, and ran a decent run for my current fitness. 2:54

I needed to start the season fresh as I have a stout fall schedule ahead and I have time to gain fitness and lose muscle mass.

I was impressed greatly with the organization and professionalism at the Mill Race Marathon. Downtown Columbus held a huge after-party with multiple bands and tons of fair booths and great food. This event is sure to become a huge success in years to come.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Presidential Range Photos / Completion of the 4000 footers.

Back in early summer I completed the New Hampshire 4000 footers, a list of 48 peaks in NH over 4000 feet elevation. Westerners may scoff at the relatively low elevation of these peaks but I assure you, they are magnificent. In NH, treeline tends to fall at 4000, so many of the peaks are very exposed as they range in height from 4003' to 6388'. The quality of subalpine terrain in the area is nearly intoxicating as one descends into spruce-fir forest and the smells of evergreen and moss enter your senses. Here are pics from the Presidential Range Traverse. I traversed the range as a grand gesture to finish the 4K's. The range is 20 miles with nearly 9000' elevation gain. I was attempting to also set the speed record on this day, but 3' of snow the week before in the northern range made the conditions winter conditions which are not conducive to an FKT attempt. Instead, I took my time and enjoyed the beauty of this range so dear to my heart.