Saturday, May 25, 2013

A Run in the Pemigewasset Wilderness.

The mountains are breathing, pulsing, dying, rotting, and growing. They are alive. The weather that rips through the peaks and valleys wreaks havoc on the fir trees. This is evidenced by the carnage abound on the forest floor, often obstructing the trail. Dead and rotting trees provide nourishment to the moss covered sylvan floor to sprout new seedlings. The circle of life continues.

As I run in the Pemigewasset Wilderness in White Mountain National Forest I feel at home. Critics say, "You can't go home again." Every time I step foot in alpine forest however, my soul feels complete. It's like I've been in a slumber and have finally awakened.

The smell of the alpine forest is intoxicating. Fir and Spruce bouquet enter my heaving lungs. With each fleet footed step I quicken the pace with pleasure, craving more scents.

The wind today tears through my body. The 30 degree temperatures fill the spaces in between the atoms that comprise my body. This jacket leaves me feeling naked. The sting of the cold exulted by my senses. These are the moments in which I can be fully present in the moment. As I dance with the trail, navigating over and under dead wood, roots, rocks, and more, I am one with the mountain. I am not running on the trail, I am running with the mountains. The rain pounds my face, and my hands burn red with a fire of frostbite. My nerve endings are enraged. Alive. Rain has caused the trail to become a stream. The grade of the trail is so steep that water running off boulders in the trail splashes my face in icy bursts. Alive. There is not one numb cell in the body. Splashing through puddles freezing water drenches my thighs. The scene surrounding me reminds me I am organic and at some point, this body will become the rocks and flowers and rain that invigorates me. We are one. We are permeable and orbit one another.

After summiting the peak of my days objective and desire, I descend the highest point. I notice a drop of rain which landed in a small mountain stream. It roars down the granite slides. My flesh travels at the same speed down the mountainside as the droplet of water tumbling its way down to the Pemigewasset River. I notice the changes in flora and fauna as we enter lower elevations. The focus required to move at such speeds over the most technical terrain allows me to feel complete peace as I am in the present with my entire being. Even upon slowing once the grade evens out I am consumed with the living mountain I exist in. My senses are heightened. The problems of the world have melted away.

Although my muscles cry out. I am at peace. Although my hands are singed from the bite of the cold I am at ease like never before. I am alive and content.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

One step at a time. Logistics and the Colorado Trail Speed Record

The greatest journey begins with a single step. I have heard this many times and although it's true, it didn't mean much to me until recently. This whole year that saying keeps ringing in my ears. ( I suppose "running" through my head would be a better analogy.)

In attempting what I consider large scale endeavors from directing a trail marathon to planning a 600 mile run at over 10,000' elevation it is easy to get weighed down by the details. One can readily succumb to the stress of the juggling act and cower under the pressure. Large scale projects are a lot to take on, and yes, they can be scary but the only thing to fear is failure, and failure isn't the end of the world. Lately I'm able to take on larger tasks without stressing...I suppose it's all about mindset. 

I recently spoke to friend about tactics for his first 50 mile ultramarathon. One great piece of advice we discussed is to never stop making forward motion. The same holds true in planning these large scale endeavors. As long as you keep making progress in the planning phases and chip away at the end objective, you can do many things you thought impossible. Just pick one manageable piece of the puzzle, figure it out and keep going.  

In an ultramarathon don't try to run 50 or 100 miles, just run to the next aid station. In planning a race, I can't do it all in a day, but I can plan aid station menu's, or contact a sponsor for prizes. Just like Bill Murray says in that horrible movie, What About Bob,  just make baby steps! 

I think we are capable of a lot more than we believe. We just have to make that first step. Today I booked my flight for the Colorado Trail speed record attempt I'm tackling this summer. It started by just making a page on Facebook, then ordering maps and figuring out the route, and today I bought tickets. Through the support of friends and family this is going to happen. I am daunted nonetheless, but making forward progress! 

Last year prior to attempting the Tour de Virginia I was injured. I went in to the 14 day, 580 mile stage race with everything but machismo. I deemed each day I finished a success. In turn, I had a blast and finished healthy. Without a care in the world I ran 40 something miles per day through Virginia in 100 degree temps for 14 days. I didn't focus on tomorrow. I just lived in the moment and enjoyed it, pushing the limits each second. 

The anxious feelings I've had regarding this summers endeavor in Colorado are quickly making way for positive vibes. I'm prone to be my own harshest critic. The pressure I feel is from within. That's why I spill my guts on these pages for you folks. I'm talking to myself, reinforcing lessons I've learned... Writing is how I analyze and understand my experiences... I know this feat in Colorado is undoubtedly the biggest challenge I've ever taken on.

The injury I suffered before the TDV last year allowed me to put less pressure on myself. I need to ease up on the pressure to prepare and remember the many lessons I've written about over the year. I can do this, but I have to find the mindset first. I have to learn to practice mindfulness and live in the moment. That same drive which pushes me to the limits of my personal potential also push me to overtrain, (not allowing recovery from training) . Living in the moment I train effectively; when I feel good I train hard, when I feel worn I recover and get stronger. I have faith in my training and I'm not scared to take an easy recover day. The hay is in the barn.     

I'm flying into Colorado on the 16th. I'm meeting Eric, Robin, Mike, and more on the 17th to enjoy one day in Colorado and discuss logistics before we begin what will seem to be non-stop running for 600 miles. I am not going to go into many details about mileage and how we plan to break the current FKT, (fastest known time), until after the fact. The current FKT, (or speed record preferez vous?), is 8.5 days.  

Until then it's going to be a crazy ride. I'm headed up to the White Mountains in NH to see Kara's family next week. I'm planning to do a Presidential Traverse and a Pemigewasset Loop run. Both are epic White Mountain runs with time above treeline. Snow should be minimal, but I'll see how the trails look next week. Late season snows could still fall. A week after returning from NH I'm doing a 12 hour race as a training run for Colorado. The race is the Hawthorn 12 Hour on June 8. We're going to the Bean Blossom Bluegrass Festival the day after the race which I am psyched about! Since we'll already be in Indiana it worked perfectly. The following week I'm off to Chattanooga to be Mr Dad and watch Denali while Kara has some line shows. Chattanooga is awesome and I'll be getting plenty of training miles in, on, and near the Lookout Mountain 50 course. Upon returning from Indiana, I have one week until I jump on a plane California bound to pace rock star Traci Falbo in her first attempt at the papa of all ultras, the Western States 100.

All of this movement and travel helps facilitate that mindfulness I mentioned earlier- Just going with the flow, and breaking the routines I easily fall in to. The greatest journeys begin with a single step, just keep making forward progress.


Thursday, May 9, 2013

Inside the Backside- The Backside Trail Marathon Directors Report

Pre-race notes and they're off!

The time it takes to direct a trail marathon increases exponentially as race date approaches. I started planning The Backside Trail Marathon 2013 edition nearly 7 months before race date. Early on in the planning and organizing phases, things are pretty stress free. It's all about contacting vendors and sponsors and lining up details on a macro level. If you start the planning process far enough out, the time crunch doesn't weigh you down. 

Early morning sunrise setup

I planned for my racing season to culminate on April 6th at the Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run to provide the entire month of April to focus on directing the Backside Trail Marathon. I had to sacrifice running the Derby Marathon which is the day before, but I knew for the Backside to be fully successful it would require 100% commitment from the RD, (yours truly...ha ha). This month wasn't about me, it was about The Backside runners. In turn, I ran the fewest miles I had run since my daughter Denali was born. This dedication yielded amazing results as the race was a huge success thanks to our awesome volunteer staff and sponsors. 

I stressed about course markings for months before the race. It was the one thing I couldn't take care of before race weekend. Every other detail could be managed and scrutinized, but the course marking which is one of the most important aspects of the race was up to me to do one day before the race. I was pretty elated when most of the runners applauded the course markings upon finishing, even runners who, "get lost all the time had no trouble finding their way easily on the course!" There are a few spots I want to improve course markings at next year, and I want traffic control at the start finish but otherwise it was smooth as butter.

The Backside is held the day after the Kentucky Derby Marathon. We invite runners to "Double-Down". Runners who "Double-Down" and run both the KDF Marathon and The Backside receive a special medal. (We have the coolest medals in the planet...verified by our runners! You should see the reviews!) Runners can Double at full marathon distance of 26.2 miles and also at the half distance of 13.1 miles. Various running clubs award members points for running back to back marathons in the same weekend, and usually they have to travel to different cities on the same weekend to pull this off. The Backside and KDF Marathon combo provide runners the chance to do this in one city! The city happens to be Louisville at Derby time. There's no better place to be!

My goal was to make the race about each individual experience. I wanted prizes for each and every runner. The cool thing about trail running is the amazing vibe out there on the race course. Ultrarunning and trailrunning are both full of uber-talented athletes competing at a top level, but the emotion on the trail is one of camaraderie and community. I wanted to literally embody that in this race. I wanted runners to realize this is their race. 

With my goal being to provide each individual runner with a unique experience they could cherish, the race had to be an organizational superpower. Every aid station had to be stocked always, runners had to stay on course and not get lost, and timing had to perfect. I had an awesome crew of volunteers to help this happen. 

Volunteers showed up early to their shifts, and people even sought me out on race week asking to volunteer! How awesome is that? I tried to communicate clearly with volunteers and get back promptly when questions arose. In the same regard, I wanted to be the most accessible RD these runners had dealt with. Emails went straight to my phone and I tried to respond to folks immediately. I don't think anything fell through the cracks! Managing the list of who was "doubling" was pretty challenging as I didn't put a link on registration to let me know who was doubling. Every few weeks I would send emails having runners contact me so I could add them to the list. I also mentioned this at sign up but some runners missed this piece of info. Next year runners will have to answer whether or not they plan to "double" at sign which should ease the process.

The point in mentioning all this is that although I am ecstatic about the race I want runners to know I am taking your concerns to heart, and I want to strive for continual improvement. The race was a success and I want to build upon that.

Here's how the 2013 edition of the Backside Trail Marathon went down.

Right to left- Troy Shellhamer RD- Ricky George course sweeper/cleaner- Lauren Adwell DPT with Advanced Ortho, Traci Falbo Overall Marathon Winner, Jeff Mires registration volunteer

Cloudy skies and rainy weather yielded comfortable running temps and our trail turned in to a tough mudder rather quickly. Runners looked pretty badass covered in mud and soaking wet ripping down the course on race day.

Traci Falbo was the overall winner of the marathon which is a big accomplishment. Not many women can claim overall wins over the boys in trail races! Ben Smitherman was only 4 minutes behind to claim second overall and first for the men. It was cool to award Traci the win, but I have to admit I'm glad my course record still stands from the previous year when I doubled down!  

Damien Rock won the half marathon and Erin Rock was first for the females. A power duo from Lexington!

Winners received some awesome shades from Smith Optics and had first grabs in our North Face prize tents which contained a smorgasbord of sweet items like hoodies, backpacks, water bottles, and hats. Over half of our half-marathon racers received prizes and all of our marathon runners received prizes! Against the Grain Brewery donated some hoppy goodness to get the runners some carbs in liquid form. Advanced Orthopaedics was on site to provide medical treatment and rub runners down after their run. Headfirst Performance did a great job keeping the timing straight. Injini donated a ton of awesome toe socks to keep our participants blister free. Thanks to Clif Bar also for giving us a deal on race nutrition.  Luckily, we never ran out of food... I kept detailed spread sheets of aid station supplies and sent out an excel sheet to runners detailing the calories per runner per aid station and what would be available! We will have a great forecast next year to keep you well fed and hydrated! In line with the plethora of prizes and awesome giveaways we offered free digital images were available to all runners! Our photographer got some great shots of you muddy beasts rockin' it out on race day!

I was pretty stoked to see runners faces when they got to pick out their prizes and receive our hadncrafted medals. The medals were a collective effort between myself and Rhonda Curry. (Curry owns The Queens Jewels- Jewelery and Awards.) I heard multiple times that our medals were the coolest people had ever received! Score!

Thanks to our runners donations at registration, (runners had the chance to donate to Olmsted at registration), we were able to donate money to Olmsted Parks Conservancy. (The conservancy manages the trail network we raced on.) Quest and myself also kicked in some extra dollars from the race proceeds to help get the conservancy as much money as possible to keep up the great job they do managing the parks we are so lucky to have here in The 'Ville!

I would definitely say the race was a smashing success, but I'm not getting comfy. More improvements are in store for next year. I want to up the registration numbers again. We sold out this year and had a long waiting list. I fought hard to get runners who were injured to drop out and I even offered refunds to anyone who did. Most races don't offer refunds but I was glad to do so to get runners in from the wait list. Many thanks to runners who contacted me to offer up their spots!  Next year I will once again offer refunds in the event of a wait list, but only in the event we sell out.

The Backside Trail Marathon will have a webpage in development that I'm working on now. It can be found at 

Also in store is the planning of a new fall race. Keep your ears open as word spreads on the vine of whats in store. (I'm working on a timed event. More details to come!)

First edition of the finishers Double medals!