Sunday, September 24, 2017

7 Summits Challenge in one day

Sometimes you need someone to blame.  In the endurance game when;
the going gets tough
the energy tank is depleted
the cramp or sleep monster approaches
thoughts of a nice soft couch, or really almost anyplace other than where you are at, it’s commonplace to find something else to point a finger at other than yourself.  For this, we’ll blame Ed McKeown for posting about Jay Finkle’s 7 Summits in one day run from a couple years ago (RVTR page reference on 8/29/17 – also see the Roanoke City Parks and Recreation page for the event at -

I don’t normally stray from my training plan, but following the Iron Mtn 30 miler I didn’t have anything on my agenda.  So a few weeks of recovery later and not many free weekends in the near future I decided to try to fit this adventure in on 9/22/17.  My usual training partner and adventure buddy James Decker couldn’t make so I did a little head scratching and texted the ever ready Johnny Robinson.  He’s been training for the Cloudsplitter 100, which is 2 weeks out so it fit right into his plan.  His first response was “adjusting my schedule now.”  What more could you ask for, no questions, just action.  The plan was a go.

For the next 10 days we worked the plan little by little, with each text, call and voicemail the adventure became more of a how fast can we do this project and started to lay out the details.  Since we were leaving from Johnny’s we decided on a summit order of;

Poor Mtn – 3.47 miles and 846ft of climbing

The 7 Summits site says this – a 3.8 mile loop that travels in a lollipop in a clockwise direction, down to the creek to the cascade overlook and back up to the overlook.  We decided that going down to the water at the cascade overlook and touching the bench at the other overlook were necessary to complete this summit.

Neither Johnny or I had been here before, so we didn’t know what we were in for.  It was going to be 4:30am and we were worried that the darkness would be a problem.  We had a few rats in a maze moments but we made it down and the big climb back up in good time. 

McAfee Knob – 7.83 miles and 1850ft of climbing
For this we were trying to verify if there was a USGS marker and came up empty handed.  The normal reference for turning around is the sign at the top.  That didn’t satisfy us since turning around there made you miss the best part, the great view and time on the ledge.  We decided that the route would be the AT all the way up, staying straight at the top, to get to the actual peak, and then heading out to the rocks, circling back to the sign and then heading back on the AT.

We made to the top just before the sunrise and had a bit more of a challenge heading down in the dark.  Someone had a dying headlamp from too many hours reading, while camping the weekend before (not me).  That made for a little slower going until the sun was up and we could resume full speed. 


Dragon’s Tooth – 4.45 miles and 1362ft of climbing
Here the plan was to climb up to the top and then drop down to the Tooth.  Touching the Big Tooth makes it official and then you head back to the parking lot.  Dragon’s Tooth really puts a hurting on muscles you don’t normally use.  So many big steps, lunges and climbs to get to the top.  It really is a great trail but tough to do under the pressure of the clock.

Tinker Cliffs – 7.31 miles and 1936ft of climbing
To get to Tinker Cliffs you head up the Andy Layne Trail to Scorched Earth Gap and then head up, or south on the AT, to the Cliffs.  The official top of the mtn is designated by a USGS marker on one of the overlooks.  I’d say it’s the 2nd or 3rd rock outcropping and the marker is right at the point of a rock. 

That climb up from Scorched Earth Gap is a steep one but we were motivated by the fact it was our halfway point of the day.  From there we soaked up the view and started the long 3.6 mile descent back to the car. 

Read Mountain Preserve – 4.71 miles and 1079ft of climbing

I had only been here one other time and I think that Johnny said the same.  The route here was to do a counter clockwise loop, up the Buzzards Rock Trail, an out and back to Buzzards Rock, a ridge run and big drop off the mountain on the CCC Trail, returning by way of the Rocky Way Trail and then Buzzards Rock Trail back to the parking lot.  We settled on the turnaround being the overlook at or just beyond the last blaze.  There is a trail that continues along the cliff but for turnaround purposes the big overlook suffices.

The descent off the ridge on the CCC Trail is where my hamstrings started to talk to me.  It has been awhile since we had been able to open up our gait and loosen up and the drive time between the summits was tougher on the muscles than I had expected.  Heading back to the car on the Buzzards Rock Trail was nice and we were able to stretch things out and feel like runners again.

Sharp Top – 2.91 miles and 1224ft of climbing
Probably my favorite local trail.  I rank it as having the highest effort to reward ratio.  1.5 miles of huffing a puffing to the top, that has a rare 360 degree view and great scenery.  This route was simple, touch the rock at the end of the trail and retrace your steps. 

As we headed off of route 460 there was a sign that stated there was some road work ahead and cautioned travelling wasn’t recommended for motorcycles.  We thought about doing a 180 and taking an alternate route but decided to forge ahead.  About halfway to Sharp Top we were greeted by a stop sign and told it would be about 10 minutes.  We didn’t get the exact time but I’d say were where there about 25 minutes.

At that point we saw the truck picking up the pylons and opening up the road.  The construction was done.  Had we been 25 minutes later in our arrival we wouldn’t have even been stopped.  Bummer, we hadn’t counted on construction slowing us down.  Oh well, the spot we were stopped at gave us a great view of Sharp Top. 

Getting out of the car at Sharp Top was rough.  I felt like a rusted up tin man.  About .5 mile in to the hike things loosened up and things felt good again (thank goodness).  The descent has some sketchy rocky sections that could have been ugly but we both made it down unscathed.  One more to go.

Mill Mountain – 4.49 miles and 876ft of climbing
Finally, we tackled Mill Mountain.  The listed route has you running up to the Star, then down ridgeline, where you cross over the paved road to Sidewinder and then finally back to the parking lot on Woodthrush and Lower Woodthrush.

Starting here was even more rough than at Sharp Top.  Things just wouldn’t loosen up and there wasn’t anything else to do other than shuffle as Johnny forged ahead.  Once we crossed the Fishburn Parkway things loosened up and we both were able to run most of the Star Trail and the rest of the route.  We were both surprised to see it wasn’t 4pm yet when we got back to the car and saw we had a great chance at beating the 12 hour mark. 

From the Star Trail parking lot it was a short drive back to Johnny’s where we clocked in with a final time of 11:44.

Here is a breakdown of the day;
We left Johnny’s at 4:02a.m. and finished at 3:46p.m  
Google had our driving distance at 127miles and a drive time of 3:47
Strava recorded 9173ft of climbing
Garmin gave a mileage of 35.17

Sunday, August 27, 2017

2016 Race, Year in Review

Well how do we begin to talk about 2016 without mentioning 2015 and the Beast Series.  The Beast Series went well, I was able to finish in 2nd place overall and put behind me my first 100 miler and 420 miles of racing.  2016 was Gina's year to go for the beast and my turn to take a different approach, recover and not be as focused on racing ultras.  Below is how the year played out.  I didn't start the year with a race plan, I just let it unfold as the year went on and as my fitness allowed it to play out.

The week after the Holiday Lake 50k we started a Low Carb High Fat Diet.
03/19/16 - I ran and won the Terrapin Mtn half Marathon in 1:57.49
I had never considered the Terrapin Half and had planned to go and crew Gina.  Then Alexis Thomas mentioned she was thinking about it and it hit me, that was a perfect idea.   A "short" high intensity race that I'd never done before.  A race that has a lot of elevation and technical running which is exactly what I love.    
Doing some prior race recon, I had hoped I could accomplish a podium finish, but wasn't sure how the new diet and approach would work out.  I did a couple HIT time trails to dial in the HR limit I was going to race under.  I choose 162 and tried to keep it dialed back when the alarm rang out knowing that by not hitting the red line that I would be able to keep a high intensity pace longer and avoid the dreaded fade.  
I decided to go without food or water for the race.  I did have an "emergency" gel with me if things started to go south but I ended up not needing it.  I got a handoff of water at the 4 mile point before heading up to the Terrapin summit and then some water at the 2nd water stop and that was it.  
As a side note, I was told I was in 3rd place at 4 miles and only passed one other guy.  No one mentioned I was in first place so I thought I was duking it would for 2nd with Josh Zealand and even shared this with him at mile 11.5.  So after the finish I said to Clark, "so how far ahead was 1st place?"  Which made him confused as he pointed to me and said, "you are first place."  
Uh shocker!  1st place, that's cool!  
04/16/16 - I ran my first road marathon, the Blue Ridge Marathon in 3:17.28, finishing 8th.
Now for a real test.  I had done some HR recon on the course and did a dry run a few weeks before and thought I could pull down a 3:18 but the goal was a top 10.  
I set my HR alarm at 160 for the big climbs but planned on staying below 155 for most of the race.  I planned to use the water on the course and had Gina hand off a baggie of a little race mix I had put together (1 banana, almond butter and a tsp of 100% cocoa.  She's aptly named these shit bags, because of the way they look.)  I took one of these at the Campground after Roanoke Mtn around mile 10 and then another at Peakwood which I carried with me until about mile 18.  
I walked through a few water stops to drink water and walked around the water stop loop on Peakwood.  Other than that, I didn't walk any of the course and really didn't feel  like I needed to.  The race went according to plan.  Probably because I followed the plan.  
06/18/16 - Highland Sky 40M - 7:17 and 9th overall
I'm still working on the LCHF protocol and how to race in it.  I've done the races above with very little food and water.  This would be a little different.  I started using UCAN as a drink mix and making some almond meal waffles that I add almond butter to and taking a few Artisana nut butter packets.  
This is a race that I've done one other time and really lost out in the last half.  The same thing would happen again.  I ran the first half pretty conservatively and felt good, but when I sat down to change my shoes at the Big halfway aid station, I began getting cramps.  I nursed things through the next miles of the Road Across the Sky and thought I was in the clear but somewhere in the boulderfield in the next section I started to get light headed and caught my toe a few times which set the cramps back in motion.  
I could have used some carbs in the last section because I started to get light headed.  So having some UCAN on hand or snacking on some banana chips would have been a good idea.  Although no, or no carbs have worked in the non ultra races.  I've since learned to incorporate a few more carbs during an ultra, rather than trying to stay so low carb during an ultra event.   
This again, had me dial things back and under control until the section they call the butt slide.  This is a mtn bike downhill trail that is a very steep downhill with tons of rocks and in some places a flagged path that follows no trail.  I was doing good until I caught a toe again and started in with the cramps.  So I limped along, stopped a few times, and thought for sure I'd get passed by a few runners.  That never happened and I was able finish in a decent time but I know I left a lot of time out on that course and can do a lot better.  
09/02/16 - The Rut Vertical Kilometer - My first vertical race and it was painfully great.  An abbreviated course didn't disappoint in regard to pain delivered.
I do love the pain of riding the red line.  This was a rough uphill race that had me gasping for air the whole time.  Some of the footing was very sketchy towards the top but it was a great time.  
09/04/16 - The Rut 50k - This was an abbreviated course due to snow.
I had hoped the VK race would take enough out of me to enjoy this event and it did help but the conditions had all of us going more conservatively.  There was snow overnight and ice at Lone Peak so they took out the high elevation sections of the race.  We were all bummed but you can't argue with the decision.
We were greeted with HUGE snowflakes at the high point of the race and we ran through the snow for about 30 minutes.  The snow and rain caused much of the last 10 miles of the course to be nothing but mud, deep, thick mud.  It was a fun day to run in such a large event with 400+ other runners from all over the US.
11/12/16 - Richmond Marathon - The goal here was to run under 3:12 for a Boston Qualifier and at best run a 7min/mile pace.  Finished in 3:03:42.
Somewhere after the Blue Ridge Marathon I decided I wanted to try to qualify for Boston.  The Richmond Marathon seemed like a good place to do it.  It's late in the year and I always enjoy heading for Richmond for the weekend.  
The main issue with this is that I also wanted to PR at Hellgate which was a month later.
So to keep from blowing up my chances for a good Hellgate I decided to try to run a 7 min ave pace marathon at HR.  I choose 152 and thought if I could keep it dialed in I would minimize the odds of this affecting my Hellgate time.  
The plan was to run at a 152 HR until I knew for sure I could pick it up and hold on until the finish.  I spent the early miles running with a few friends, just chatting and enjoying a race.  I think at around mile 10 we got separated and each ran our own races.  I think I stopped at a few water stops and walked through drinking some water and then picked up a baggie of race mix I had put together (1 banana, almond butter and a tsp of 100% cocoa).  I eat that and then grabbed a second one to have on hand for later.
I think I slowed on the windy crossing of the bridge and then my pace slowed in the 18-22 mile section.  It was at mile 22 I knew I could pick it up and bring it home.  My pace went from around 7 min per mile down to 6:30 and below.  I was cruising in the last stretch and felt good.  Happy with my time and having plenty of room for a BQ. 
12/10/16 - Hellgate 100k - The goal here was to PR with running sub 12:30 and being in the top 10.  I ended up with a 13:05 and 13th place in what was one of the coldest events I've ever run.  Starting temp was at 23 and it bottomed out at 8 degrees.  It took 4 months to regain the feeling in my big and second toe on my right foot.
This event went from a race against the clock to managing the body and trying to keep my water supply from freezing up and not doing anything stupid.  It was a really wild event where the plan and goals were in a state of flux throughout.  Things were constantly being adjusted as the temps dropped and the cold took it's physical and mental toll on the body.  This was definitely a great race to have a crew and I'm thankful that Walker was there to help out.  
I think things were going well until mile 47 or so, at the big aid station at Bear Wallow Gap.  I tried to get refueled with some bulletproof coffee and I think that made my stomach go south.  So I managed that and a few pity parties in the next 13 miles to Day Creek.  Then, from there it was a big climb up to the BRP and then down to the finish.  I hiked/ran with the 1st female in this section and then she left me behind.  
As I finished up in 13 I wondered if I'd hear the same comment from Horton; 3rd loser!  But then 1st Master.  Yay!  He always follows that up with, "your not the first finisher over 40, just the 1st over 40 outside of the top 10."  See he gives the top 10 special prizes and then 1st 40+, 50+, 60+.   
It was a good year of racing and training.  I'm happy with the LCHF effects and am trying to dial in some of the details.  In general the major differences I've seen are;

  • Have not been hangry at all and overall less hungry which equals much less time thinking about food.
  • Can run up to 4.5 hours or 24 miles with only water.
  • I do not get sore very often.
  • Sleep better and need less
  • Tired less often 

Friday, February 10, 2017

You are better than you think you are

You are better than you think you are, you can do more than you think you can!
These are the words of Ken Chlouber the founder of the Leadville 100.

This quote pops into my head time and again.  It hit me most recently around mile 31 of the Highland Sky 40 miler.  I had hit a rough patch, was tired, cramping, light headed and "just doing my best" to keep moving forward when the quote entered my mind.  It provided a bit of a reset, I was approaching a literal high point of the race, within the "boulder field."  I stopped, looked out at the amazing view, stretched, took in a couple deep breaths and continued on with newfound energy.

As it was in this scenario, I commonly get a mind shift in an ultra, where I get taken out of the race and back into life, the bigness around me, and the insignificance of the present moment.  I've run enough ultras to know that the pain is only temporary and many times, within minutes of finishing all of the pain and misery are quickly washed away.

You have to push yourself to find your limit.  I realize that many people just don't care about their limit, that's fine, but for me and many people I know, the training, the quest, the failures, the successes, and the few times you get to ride that limit, oh yeah, that's what it's all about.  You learn that things aren't really that tough, that you can get through "it," and that life goes on.

So many people say that they "can't imagine" running 3, 5, 10, 100 miles.  Whatever you believe is the limit, why not go out and push it.  See if you can achieve it.  Maybe you can, maybe you can't.  Regardless you'll learn something in the process about the endeavor and yourself.  That's the real accomplishment.

Start dreaming up your next big challenge, there are so many places to begin.

It's easy to live in the bell curve, but what is the fun in that?

Happy New Year, may it be all that you want.