Saturday, January 4, 2014

Best of 2013 (Pic Edition)

Best Moment:  Without a doubt the birth of our son Kilian! Although every mile stone seems almost as amazing!
Honorable mentions: buying our first house, and Leah graduating Nursing School! It's been a big year!
Best Race:  From a performance standpoint St. Patricks Day 8k in DC.  That finishing kick suprised me as much as everyone else!
Photo Credit:SwimBikeRunPhoto
Photo Credit:SwimBikeRunPhoto
Favorite Race: Rothrock Challenge.  This was a tough choice, but because it was new to me this year and because this is what trail racing is supposed to be Rothrock wins out!

Honorable Mentions:  Cayuga Trails 50, Picture says it all.  ECS NewYork, This is a best every year!
Photo Credit: Endurance Photos

Photo Credit: Steve Gallow, Steven Gorgos


Best Trip:  Columbia.  While the race exposed my weaknesses it was a true challenge.  But it was the people who really made the trip!



Most inspirational people:  Mike Wardian and Justin Ricks.  These guys have full time jobs, are amazing runners and awesome fathers.  As I look forward to the coming years having a kid, and hopefully more, has given me new perspective, and I hope to be able to not only balance but mix responsibility, family, and some good outdoor fun the way that these guys do!



My best picture of the year:  Since photography is a bit of a hobby.  This one I took of Brett on Old Rag!

Have a great 2014 everybody!

Monday, August 26, 2013

10 Best Summer Runs!

87 degrees.  That’s what weather.com was calling for as I sat at my computer last night contemplating my route for today’s run.  I had been thinking about the dry dusty ridges of the Tuscarora trail but when I saw the weather that changed.  A good 16-17 mile loop out in Sky Meadows and G.R Thompson with a swim in Thompson lake right before the biggest climb of the day.  That was more like it.  As I look back over the summer I realize that most if not all of my long run routes were determined by one common factor.  A good swimming hole.  So here you go, just in time for the last few hot days of summer, or as a guide for next summer, my top 10 hot weather runs, with their accompanying swimming hole.  I will note that while I have a good sense of direction I am not very good at remembering trail names!  So if you are one of the 3 people who reads this blog and you actually want to give one of the runs a shot feel free to call me and I can give you directions or just go for the run with you!

1. Cedar Run, Shenandoah National Park.  Park at the end of Weakley Hollow road, using the same parking lot as White Oak Canyon.  Start up the White Oak Canyon trail, the more popular hike, but take your first left and follow the trail markers for Cedar Run.  The waterfalls may be less impressive than white oak but the deep freezing swimming holes make it a better spot to cool off any day, with a 25 foot cliff jump, and natural waterslides along the way.  There are various loops you can do depending how far you want to go including, old rag mountain, a loop that takes you down white oak canyon, or a straight out and back up cedar run that takes you to the top of Hawksbill, the highest Mountain in Shenandoah National Park.
 








2. AT/James River Foot Bridge, Snowden VA.  Some of my best College memories are here.  Just 20 minutes outside of Lynchburg the AT Crosses the James River via the James River foot bridge.  At roughly 100m long and 50 feet above the river, with no bottom in sight this is one of the favorite hang-outs for college students, locals and thru hikers.  A hot day might see 50 people laying out on the bridge with beach towels and plunging the 50 feet or so down to the cool water below.  Aside from the AT there are also countless trails and fire roads spider webbing out from Snowden into both the James River Face Wilderness and Thomas Jefferson National Park, making it one of the best places in Virginia to get in a good mountain run.









3. The Billy Goat Trail/Great Falls Park MD.  While the Virginia side of Great Falls is amazing and host some great races including The North Face Endurance Challenge, in my mind the MD side has it beat.  The Billy Goat Trail follows the river through and above Mather gorge providing some amazing views, gnarly technical terrain and swimming holes at every corner.
















4. Passage Creek/Buzzard Rocks.  There are countless runs to do here but my favorite is roughly a seven miler over buzzard rocks.  Park off of FT Valley road, next to passage creek.  There is no trail head here but you can see buzzard rocks straight above you across the road.  There is also an open boulder field climbing straight up the mountain side.  Cross the creek, and climb the boulder field.  It is less than a mile but extremely steep!  I will challenge anyone to race me up it.  When you hit the ridge follow the the white blazes of the buzzard rock trail to the south, your right, until you meet the Tuscarora trail.  Go right and fly down the mountain until you get to Elizabeth’s furnace.  From here follow the road back to your car.  There is an awesome swimming hole that y can’t miss right at the end!









5. White Rocks trail/ Cave spring falls, Shenandoah NP.  This swimming hole can be reached from either Buck hollow or Ashby road.  Either way there will be some STEEP climbs.  But it’s worth it.  This is one of the best waterfalls in the park that no one ever seems to visit.  If the water was a little bit deeper, and the falls were jumpable this would be my all time favorite swimming hole.










6. Fredericksburg Quarry.  Located at right in Fredericksburg VA, this place holds one of the best cliff jumping spots in NOVA as well as some of the best trails.  Park off of Fall Hill Ave/Riverside Rd and cross the road onto the unpaved canal trail.  The quarry is just over a mile ahead of you, and there are several amazing swimming holes in the Rappahannock River along the trail as well.  If you run the outer perimeter of this mountain bike park you can get 10 + miles in, as well as a 60 foot cliff jump!









7. Panther Falls.  Located just off the Blue Ridge parkway halfway between Lynchburg and Lexington VA, this is another spot where some of my best College memories were made.  From the falls, which can be quite popular, run out Panther Falls road for some of the best gravel mountain roads that VA has to offer.  If you going long, it only takes about 4 miles to reach the AT and get some serious single-track in as well.


8.  Overall Run, Shenandoah NP.  Park at Matthews Arm campground and run the Overall Run trail past Overall Falls, one of the highest and most spectacular in Shenandoah!  Continue on the trail past the falls, and after some steep descent you will find some nice cold swimming holes to ice your trashed quads in.  From there you can run a loop following Beech ridge trail? Or do an out and back on the popular Jeremy’s Run.


9. Quaker Run Rd/ Rapidan River.   Follow Quakers run road out Cigelersville and into the Shenandoah NP.  At the bottom of the first steep downhill there is a parking area by the river, or creek really.  From here you can hit the single-track, or continue up the road alongside the river where locals have built rock dams at every turn to build some awesome swimming holes.


10. Thompson lake loop.  Located right in my back yard in the GR Thompson Wildlife management area, this is at least a once weekly run for me and my dog Kira.  Park at the top of the mountain off of freezland road and descend 3 miles and almost a thousand feet to Thompson Lake.  After a good swim head up the trail on the opposite side of the lake, if it’s not too overgrown until you reach the AT. From here you can head back to your car, roughly a 7 mile loop, or head north into Sky Meadows State park and keep tacking on the miles!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Table Mountain 27k

                As I came through the Cardiac Aid Station for the second time with roughly two miles to go I glanced behind me and saw third place exiting the woods less than a hundred yards back.  I had already given up on the win when I entered the aid station and was informed that I was nearly 5 minutes behind the leader, which had shocked me slightly.  While I was not having my best ever performance I was certainly not having a bad day. 

                The trip started well, with a great pre race run the day before where I previewed some of the course, ran down the beach, over some boulders and inadvertently through a naked game of Ultimate Frisbee.  The race had started well too with a steep climb up from Stinson Beach.  After leading for about a mile I could feel that everyone but one competitor had dropped off the pace as we climbed through the early morning fog.  Temperatures were perfect and just as the race began to thin out we broke out of the fog to see the top of Mt. Tam ahead of us with an ocean of clouds sprawling beneath us.
  Just as we broke the clouds Galen Burrell passed me and while I maintained my pace he destroyed the remaining mile of the climb.  I saw him briefly about a minute ahead of me at the top and that was the last I would see of him until the finish.  I ran solo for a while as the coastal trail cut its way across the mountain to the first stop at Cardiac Aid Station.  By the time I hit the aid station I had been caught by three guys and we proceeded to FLY the next several miles of descent.  There were countless switchbacks and the four of us stayed pretty tight all the way to the bottom.  We all stayed close until the final climb on the Dipsea Trail where I was able to regain my runner up position and give myself some cushion.  Then right before the top I got sick like always and by the time I crawled into Cardiac the second time I was not sure how much energy I had left.  When I saw third place come out of the woods right behind me however I got a second wind and took off.  I knew that most of the remainder of the course was downhill so I held nothing back.  The trail was fairly smooth and except for a few hairy sections on the stairs, and there were lots of stairs, there was nothing to slow me down.  By the time I exited the Matt Davis Trail at the bottom my legs were trashed but I could look back and see empty trail so I knew I was safe.  I cruised the remaining 400 meters or so to finish crossing the line in second still well under the old course record, and only 50 or so seconds ahead of third place.  Galen it turned out had finished 5 minutes ahead.  Knowing that it wasn’t my best day I would like to say that I could have competed with him had I felt better but honestly that was one of the more impressive performances I have seen and I know I have a ways to go before I could have contended with him on that course.  After the race I hung out for a while with the other competitors and enjoyed the post race food and drink.  Then I hopped in my car and headed up highway 1 towards Point Reyes.  I had seen pictures on Google of a waterfall above the ocean that I was reasonably sure I could find.  I found the trailhead 20 minutes later and walk/jogged the four miles out to the falls.  It was a steep climb from the trail to the beach at the bottom of the falls, called Alamere Falls according to the sign, but it was worth it.  This was definitely one of the more beautiful places I have been in my life.
 











I relaxed on the beach for a bit went for a swim and then headed back to Stinson for dinner.  I was going to relax for the rest of the night but the coastline was so beautiful that I had to keep exploring so I parked up on highway 1 south of Stinson and climbed down the ocean.  For the next couple hours I climbed and navigated boulders along the water’s edge as I took pictures and headed south.


I finally found a destination in the form of a huge rock jutting out from the mountain and after a steep climb using ropes left by other adventurers before me I reached it.  I sat there for a long time as I watched the sun set and then hiked up to the highway and headed back to my car. 
















By the time I reached it I felt like I had run an ultra but all the beauty I had witnessed was worth the soreness.  It was nearly 10 when I reached the car and I crashed for a few hours in the back seat before heading back to San Francisco for the flight home.  I should have been tired as I wound my way back highway 1 but somehow I felt incredibly energized and alive by the early morning air streaming through my windows.  I could smell the freshness of the sea, feel the adrenaline of my recent adventures, and the excitement of heading back to my wife and soon to be born son, and in the moment, life was good.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Back to Back Efforts!

                               I have always recovered well from races or hard workouts but 20 miles in to this Saturday's Cayuga Trails 50 I was beginning to doubt my recovery abilities.  I hadn't felt many ill effects of the week before until that point but as we hit the steepest descent of the day for the first time my hamstrings were not letting my stride open up. Matt was running behind me but I could tell he was stronger so I let him pass and he bounded away.
      The weekend before had been my fourth stop on the La Sportiva Mountian cup, at the Rothrock Challenge 30k in Pennsylvania.  I rode up with Jason and Allison Bryant and their chipmunk, the little guy.  We camped the night before, which was just about the only thing the heat was actually good for over the weekend, and I got some insight into the course from the Bryant's who had run the race before.  I had done a lot of training over the spring on steep technical terrain but nothing really prepared me for what lay ahead.  The course itself was brutal.  Steep climbs followed by even steeper descents full of boulders and loose rocks.  That coupled with the 90 degree heat turned an 18 mile race into more of an ultra effort.   Tough as it was though this was definitely one of the funnest races I have ever run, especially the boulder field following the aid station at 13 miles! This boulder field was truly a "climb" and even though I didn't run it I was still able to build a lead by the time I reached the top.  By the time we hit the final aid station however Gabe had re passed me.  I spent a little extra time at the aid station and only gained on him slightly on the following climb.  I knew that the final couple of miles were a gnarly descent and that was where I hoped to move,
although with the heat I wasn't sure I would be able to.  The whole day I had felt the my descending was my strongest asset and with the course ending on the technical descent I was able to pull out the win.  If it had ended any other way I'm not sure.  The win gave me a solid lead in the points standings as well making an already fun weekend even better.  The next day however when I headed down the hill for my run I knew I might be in trouble.  My legs were every bit as sore as they had been after Bear Mountain, and although I didn't have the sluggishness I sometimes feel after an ultra I was still slightly worried.  By mid week however I felt pretty much fully recovered with only a slight hamstring tightness still lingering, and by the time I toed the line at Cayuga Trails any doubts I had were gone.
The Boulder Field
Rothrock Finish!




        This was the first running of the Cayuga Trails 50 where the National Championships will be held next year and the race and course were amazing! The trails were not nearly as technical as I expected but the scenery definitely lived up to my expectations.  The first three miles of the course climbed up through Lucifer falls on a trail cut right into the side of the gorge.  My legs felt comfortable on the climb although I felt slightly uneasy to find myself in the lead.  I didn't lead for too long however and by the time we hit the steepest climb of the day I was in 7th or 8th.  I had suffered a small setback when I swallowed a moth, a first for me, and couldn't stop choking.  By the top of the climb however I was running with Matt, as we closed on Denis, with only Sage out of sight.  I ran with Matt for most of the first loop.  We passed Dennis and had reports that we were gaining on Sage.  Matt kept the pace quick on the flat sections and I pushed the uphills until around mile 18 when he dropped me on the steep down. To be honest the pace he had been setting for the last several miles had bordered on uncomfortable for me and once I settled into my own rhythm I felt a little better.  I didn't lose too much time however and I had caught back up to within 15 or 20 seconds of him again just before the Old Mill aid station when my stomach heaved and I started to puke.  This is a recurring problem for me in ultras and something that I have yet to figure out.  I lost about a minute to Matt during that point and by the turn around at half way I was about 2 minutes back, and saw that Matt was within 30 seconds of Sage.  I tried to climb hard after the turn around but following my normal pattern after hurling I hit an energy low and found myself struggling just to hike up Lucifer Falls.  Looking back on the race I am truly ashamed of the next section of my race.  I was at a low for sure but most of the section between Old Mill and Underpass is mostly downhill and as low as my energy was I should have been able to keep a solid pace and be within striking range when I rebounded.  I let my current state get the best of me at that point however and I gave up.  My legs were tight from Rothroc and I used that as an excuse to throw in the towel.  It's always hard with 20 + miles to go to grasp the idea that you will actually feel better and be running strong again at some point.  My experience told me to keep pushing but I simply gave up.  I was about 90% sure I would drop out at the Underpass aid station and told myself that if I got caught and was in fourth by that point that my day would be over.  I almost wanted to get caught so I could lay down and sleep.  I was still in third however when I shuffled into Underpass and saw my wife, 5 months pregnant standing there with my water bottle.  I knew at that moment that I had to finish.  Less than a mile later I hit the steepest climb of the course for the second time and was shocked to find myself climbing strong.  I knew that I had lost too much time to even think about winning so I just focused on running quick and praying for continued strength. I felt strong on the flat road sections that followed and by the time I reached buttermilk falls halfway through the loop I was confidant I wouldn't get caught and thought that I might even have a chance at catching one of the leaders if they fell off.  At the aid station I ran into some trouble dropping my salt tabs twice as I left the table and then realizing I had forgot my gel and having to run back to grab one.  As I left the aid station the second time someone yelled that I was 9 minutes down.  I asked if that was from first or second and although I wasn't surprised my heart dropped when they yelled second.  I climbed Buttermilk falls very strong however and was still cruising when I hit the Underpass aid station for the last time.  The next few miles were amazing!  Out of nowhere I was sprinting up hills and hurdling logs, running faster than I had all day.  All of a sudden people started telling me I was close to the guy in front of me (I still didn't know if it was Matt or Sage). "Your a minute back one guy yelled." I automatically doubled it in my head as they were running the other way but still I felt encouraged.  I pushed even harder.  Then on a long gravel stretch with about 5 miles to go I caught sight of Matt about a minute up on me. He saw me too and I knew the race was on.  Gaining or not I knew Matt would fight.  By the time we reached Old Mill for the last time I had closed the gap significantly on Matt but my hands and lower arms were starting to tingle.  I had felt this only twice before both times before a complete energy loss where I could barely walk, so as Matt ran through the aid station without stopping I took a few seconds to fill up.  Then I was off again down through the gorge.  My first time through the gorge I took the stairs carefully, at least by my own standards, so that I wouldn't get hurt.  On this final descent I didn't care.  I leaped whole flights barely staying on my feet on the landings.  I still couldn't see Matt on the flat sections so I knew he was doing the same. Still I kept pushing. Then with about half a mile to go the trail turns onto a paved road and there is just a loop of the field before the finish.  As I came out of the trail I could see Matt on the grass and I knew I wouldn't be catching him.  I also saw a guy starting his second lap on the right hand side of the road so I moved to my right to keep my distance.  He moved the same direction.  I kept moving to my right thinking he would move to his right but he kept moving to his left until we collided.  With miles of two way traffic on single track trails behind me I collided with someone on a 20 foot wide road with less than half a mile to go.  I yelled my apologies and kept running. As I looped one side of the field Matt passed me looping the other, still a minute ahead of me.  I had flown on the last descent and hadn't caught up more than a couple steps, if that.  I yelled "great job" to him as we passed, and then rounded the turn into the final stretch myself.  As disappointed as I was to have come so close and ended up third I still knew that this was probably my best performance yet at an ultra distance so I pumped my fist as I crossed the line and congratulated Matt and Sage on their races.  A few minuted later Brian crossed in fourth taking the last cash spot, followed closely by Yassine to round out the top five. I hung around the finish for a little bit as it started to rain and then went to my cabin for a shower and a nap.  There is always a feeling of content when you finish an ultra no matter where you place.  The rest of the day you can rest in that contentment, and the accomplishment of what you have just run.  Then it's time to recover and train, because no matter how great your accomplishment was, you can always do better the next time.
Opening Miles.
Trail through the gorge at Lucifer Falls!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Don’t Judge A Race By its Finish!



 Looking at the three pictures above it would be easy to assume that the Bear Mountain edition of The North Face Endurance Challenge has gone much the same way the past three years.  But that is one of the amazing things about ultra races.  The course can, be the same, the competitors can be the same, the start can be the same, and the race can even finish the same way, but the experience that takes place between those points, even though it may result in the same finish, can be vastly different each time, and no matter how much you think you know you can always come away with a new lesson learned.
                My first year at Bear Mountain was my second ever ultra marathon and the first that I was truly taking seriously.   I started fast, could not shake Leigh Schmitt, realized how tough a technical ultra could truly be, spent myself by mile 25, and watched Leigh run away from me, as I walked up a pathetically gentle grade.  At the point I decided ultra running was not for me and that I would drop out at Camp Lanowa and never run an ultra marathon again.  My wife however was not at the aid station so I couldn’t drop out.  I started jogging, prayed, felt better, prayed more, started running, caught Leigh and won the race!  I learned that day to always keep moving no matter how low you get.
                Last year was probably my easiest experience in an ultra.  I started out slower, ran with Leigh, and in the second half opened up a small lead that I held to the finish.  I had low points but no moments of crisis.
                This year was truly a challenge and although I was able to pull on my experience from the previous two years to reach the finish line, I faced newer and tougher obstacles than before.  The race started out well enough.  I had forgotten my headlamp but with the help of some other runners the trail was plenty lit for me. By the time the sun came up a group of four of us were solidly in the lead.  Jeff Gosselin from Quebec, Willie Shefer from Hawaii, Iazaldir Feitoza from Brazil, and myself.  After a few more miles it was down to Willie, Jeff and I as Iaza was feeling tight.  The three of us ran together through most of the first 20 miles, until just before Lake Skannatati, when Willie started to fall off and Jeff started to pull away.  It was then, just before the aid station at 20 miles that I took my tumble.  I knew that one day I would take a gnarly header I just expected it to be in training instead of a race.  But this course has some pretty rugged spots and all it takes is one misstep. Luckily for me this one happened in front of a camera so I don't have to describe the fall!  You get to watch it! 
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b6p1CtmPKSU
Credit for the video goes to Joe Azze.
This link should work until I can embed the actual video!  There are a few things I would like you to note about this video.
1. The hyperextension of my left leg as I fall.  I don't know how I didn't break anything.
2. The sound when I hit the tree.  Volume does make this video better
3. Last but possibly most impressive I would like you to note that I kept the package of Sport Beans in my mouth through out the entire fall.  Even when my head bounces off the ground.  I don't remember holding onto them but apparently I didn't want to litter so I gave them to my dad at the next aid station. If you carry it in you carry it out.  I did leave some skin on the rocks though.

 Joe mentions in his blog that he didn't expect me to finish.  Immediately following the fall, and countless times afterwards I shared his sentiments.  As I got up my left leg was completely numb and I still thought it was broken but as I started to walk it held my weight.  After a minute of walking feeling started coming back to my leg and although the knee hurt slightly I was able to run slowly and was happy to be alright.  As I came into the aid station I said my most fervent prayer of thanks, and asked for the strength to continue the race.  I took an extra few minutes at the aid station to refuel and get my courage back up.  I could feel my shirt sticking to the blood on my back so I took it off and hit the trail again.  2 miles later I was back in the zone!  I had just found my rhythm again when I missed a right turn on the trail,  I saw the ribbon in my peripheral right after I passed it and as I shot off the trail to get back on course I cranked my ankle.  This was actually the tougher injury to deal with.  I walked for a bit and as I started to run again my Achilles and shin tightened up.  It made running uphill very painful so I hiked the climbs.  I was already slow on the descents because of my knee so I knew I was losing time.  Brian Russiecki passed me just before camp lanowa, and as I left the aid station Leigh was just coming in.  I was struggling with the idea of finishing but surprisingly over the next three miles I was able to get in a rhythm again and I told myself that I would race to the next aid station and that if I caught Brian I would keep going.  Then I hit a steep climb and as my spirits started going down again I swore that I would finish no matter what.  Partly because I actually had reasons to quit and wanted to fight through my problems and finish, partly because I knew that no matter how bad I felt that God could carry me through, and mostly because this was my mom’s first time watching an ultra event of mine and I didn’t want to wimp out.  I had just made this decision when I saw Brian and Jeff at the top only about a minute ahead of me.  I assumed Jeff was long gone so seeing the lead only minutes ahead put me back in the game and I started the chase.  I didn’t catch Brian by the next aid station but I did catch Jeff.  I was just coming into the aid station as Brian was leaving.  The past two years the next section of trail had been one of my best so I felt confident that I would catch him.  I started off strong looking for a burnt orange shirt.  Apparently they must be in style because every other hiker on the trail, and there were quite a few hikers, had a burnt orange shirt.  My hopes would rise every time I caught sight of one just to have them dashed when I realized it was another hiker.  I was moving well at this point so I knew that Brian must be flying.  Finally, on the one small climb between 35 and 40 I caught him.  I thought I would pass him and breeze on to the finish but as we hit the downhill again he picked up the pace and instead of breezing away I started having trouble keeping up.  I knew at that point it would be a fight.  At mile 40 I stopped to fill my bottle and eat.  Brian continued on and gained about 30 seconds on me.  I had to fight to catch him but after about a mile I did.  At that point I really wanted to settle in but I knew he was stronger on the downhills at the moment so I pushed the pace on the climb.  I was afraid of crashing but I was able to drop him.  I never looked back so I didn’t know if I was pulling away or not but as I left the aid station at mile 44.7 I could hear cowbells ringing up the trail and I knew he was within a minute of me.  The next section over timp pass is always tough and I knew if I could get over it strong I would hold on to the finish.  My calves were spasming but I kept pushing hard to the top and drinking and by the time I started down the backside of the pass the spasms were gone.  Then with 3 miles to go I rolled my ankle again.  I heard it pop and it hurt so much that I yelled. But at that point there was nothing to do but keep going.  I kept praying for my ankle over the final miles and it actually didn’t tighten up.  As I neared the finish Leah handed me my TNF Jersey and I put it on as I crossed the line.  I was shocked to see that I had run my fastest time on the course by over ten minutes!  I had walked a lot more than previous years and had assumed that I was going slower!  Brian finished strong only a few minutes after me, with Jeff holding on for third.  Leigh who was recovering from a bad bike crash came in fourth.   
Every year this race at Bear Mountain has been special for me.  I love it because it is back in my home state and my family can come.  I love the atmosphere of the event, and although it beat me up pretty bad this year I love the rocky technical terrain.  Each year has been special but the trials that I went through on the course, all the prayers that I prayed and all the times that I had wanted to quit but didn’t put this win above the rest.  Now it’s time to regroup and get ready for the next one!  Congratulations to all my fellow competitors and sufferers in The North Face Endurance Challenge this year.  And a big congrats to my friend and fellow traveler Jordan Whitlock who embodied the spirit of all ultra runners on Saturday by never quitting!  

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Hillbilly Half


     The Hillbilly Half Marathon in Olympia WA this weekend was the second stop for me on The La Sportiva Mountain Cup.  This is a series that I have wanted to compete in for several years but with the amount of travel it takes to make it to enough races it was impossible for me.  Fortunately this year I have the support of The North Face, who cover all the travel bills and make it possible to seek out new adventures! I flew into Seattle the night before the race, rented a car, found the start and trying to take some of Jason Bryant’s advice on how to have fun on the mountain cup, set out for a run on the course.  Problem was I had forgotten my headlamp and with the pacific northwest cloud cover the night was pitch black!  I made it about a quarter mile up the mountain on a gravel road before I decided that I had a better chance of getting hurt than seeing any part of the course and headed back.  I camped on the race sight and was up early and ready to run!
     At 8:30 the next morning we were on the line and ready to go.  I was joined again by Matt Byrne and Pat Casterline from the week before as well as Jared Scott, the 2011 series champion.  Right from the start it was the pack of as four as well as one of the local athletes Josh Klimek.  The course climbed immediately leaving no time for a large pack.  I felt comfortable on the initial climb running with matt and letting Jared and Josh have a slight lead.  By the time we reached the first aid station and headed up into the woods Matt and I had caught Jared and it was a three man race.  Once the course left the road it climbed steeply up the heavily forested mountain side.  I assumed the lead climbing comfortably with Matt and Jared close behind.  We hit another gravel road shortly and the three of us bunched up again as the road flattened briefly before rearing up steep again towards the pine covered mountain top.  As soon as we hit the climb, my legs which had been feeling great for the first portion felt a little heavy.  Matt who had sounded winded made a strong move on the climb towing Jared with him and I lost a few steps.  I could see the road climbing to the top of the mountain and was trying to save my legs a bit but after only a couple minutes of climbing Matt and Jared turned right off the road and disappeared into the woods.  I followed a few seconds later and although I could not see them I could hear them sloshing through puddles below me.  This next section of the course was a roller coaster of fun.  The course cut snaked its way down the mountain through thick pines on a rutted double track of racks mud and water.  Lots of water!  The rocky descents at Chilly Cheeks last week had honed my downhill skills and I quickly caught Jared.  I tried to get around him to catch Matt but He sprinted to the inside of the turn and shut me down.  Now that I was on his shoulder he ran aggressively and we soon caught Matt.  Matt then picked up the pace as we barreled downhill arms waking to keep our balance, sprinting the short ups and lunging into the turns.  Soon Jared got around Matt and I followed.  I thought of sitting on him for a bit but I felt stronger on the downhill then the two of them and I knew my climbing legs were not as strong as theirs and thought I might get some distance before the next big up.  Also Jared had shut me down on the pass earlier and just because he was making it tough I wanted to get around him.  I saw my opportunity on a short up where he took the outside line to avoid a stump and I sprinted for it.  He sprinted as well but after a little bit of shoving I got around.  He shouted “good pass” to me as I tried to get some distance.  Unfortunately the course started to climb again almost immediately and he went back around me followed by Matt.  I don’t think that I have ever witnessed so much passing during a trail race!  We hit the turnaround shortly after and I tried to use the descent to catch back up but I was starting to run into trouble.  Often when I travel I experience a very painful side stitch, and as we descended the hill it hit me full force.  My breaths started to come out as grunts as I tried to fight it off and stay in sight.  The course wound so much that I wasn’t able to see more than five or ten seconds ahead of me so I was unsure of how far they had dropped me by and my mind assumed the worst.  Pretty soon the trail crossed an open hillside however and I could see them about 30 seconds ahead.  Matt had overtaken Jared by that point and had a small lead.  I could hear him laboring heavily, still as he disappeared into the woods I could tell his legs were still in full flight.  That guy is tough.  Over the next several minutes my stitch got worse and as I ran doubled over I just kept praying to catch up.  At the next aid station I stopped briefly and drank some coke hoping it would erase the cramp.  I think it helped some.  Either way we were nearing the top of the climb and the last few miles would be predominately downhill, my strong point.  When I reached the gravel I couldn’t see either of my competitors ahead of me but as I let my stride open up I prayed that I would see them soon.  A few minutes later Jared came into my sight as the road flattened out and the adrenaline of the chase carried me to the trail.  By the time we left the road I had cut the distance in half and as we started to wind through the pines I could actually see him ahead of me and hear Matt further down, and I allowed myself to believe that I might actually win this race!  Then I got sick.  It came out of nowhere and the next thing I knew I was on the side of the trail puking.  I thought I might actually make it through this race but no such luck.  I tried to get everything out as fast as possible but by the time I was moving at a normal pace again I couldn’t see or hear anyone ahead of me.  The next section of the course was the steepest descent yet and desperate for another chance I hit it all out, no longer praying to catch up, just to stay on my feet.  I virtually sprinted down the mountain jumping over complete sections of trail where cinder blacks had been sunk into the mud to prevent erosion and somehow not falling or leaving the trail.  I kept it up for several minutes and by the time we hit the final section of gravel road Jared was barely ahead of me and I knew Matt couldn’t be too far ahead.  As we hit a short uphill I sprinted past Jared who by this time was nursing a bad calf and was able to see Matt just reaching the top Jared shouted a welcome to the mountain cup and a few words of encouragement as I went by.  I kept up the hard pace feeling better now that I had finished being sick, trying to let my legs go as fast as possible on the steep downhill.  On the next short up Matt looked back and saw me.  I knew it was going to get harder from here.  I charged over the top and continued to hammer the down.  By the next switchback I was in full sight of Matt and confidant that I would soon be pulling next to him!  Then I saw the power lines at the finish line and my spirits dropped.  This road had seemed so much longer on the way up, and now even though I was catching I knew I was out of time.  I sprinted all out anyway still closing but it was too late.  Disappointed as I was watching Matt cross the line ahead of me, I knew he deserved the win.  His run and his toughness were impressive to say the least.  There were several times that I thought I had dropped him only to have him fight back and drop me on the next climb, laboring the whole way but never slowing.  Jared as well had put up a heck of a fight until his calf cramped. He jogged through the line in third shortly thereafter followed by Pat and then Josh.  I talked to Jared for a bit afterwards getting some good insight into the next few races on the series from both him and Ian, the La Sportiva Team manager.  I definitely can’t wait to race again in Texas as I know Jared will be wanting to win that one bad as well.
Jimmer and I at the airport.

     It was after the race that I got my biggest surprise of the weekend.  I was on facebook on my phone trying to find a way to see a childhood friend up in Bellingham when I saw that my college coach and good friend Greg Jimmerson lived in Seattle!  For some reason I had thought he was in the Mammoth Lakes area.  I shot him a message and by the time I had driven back to Seattle he had called me.  I dropped my rental car off and the airport and he picked me up.  We went for a run, caught up on life and old friends and then had the famous Jimmer lasagna for dinner with his wife Melanie and son Cody.  That was followed by an epic game of Horse on the Nerf Basketball hoop and I lost for the second time of the day.  Not even my signature “Foot shot” could save me, although Cody almost did.  Then I got to prepare for parenthood by reading stories with Cody and playing with Super-dog, Super-Chicken (Angry Bird), and Super-Car.  I was worn out by 9:45.  Jimmer and Melanie had kindly offered to let me stay the night so I slept in a guest room and Jimmer drove me to the airport in the morning.  Seeing him was really a blessing.  He was a great coach and still has a way of encouraging me, not only in my athletics but in life, and my walk with Christ.  As fun as the race as getting to see him and his family was the best part of my weekend.  As I the plane lifted off the sun shone on the previously cloudy city and reflected off of the majestic rise of Mount Rainier.  I felt completely content with my life at that moment and thanked God for what he was doing in my life.  I also put in a prayer for the race in Texas.  Doesn't hurt to start early ;)
Mt. Rainier from the airplane!


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Chilly Cheeks 7 mile and the La Sportiva Mountain Cup


Ever since I decided to compete in the La Sportiva Mountain Cup this year I have been looking forward to the Chilly Cheeks 7 mile in Reading PA this weekend.  This was my first race on the series and my first shorter distance trail race in years.  In fact I have not run a race like this since high school back in the Adirondacks!  After college I have gotten back into trail running and racing but it has been at longer distances where everything is about control and conservation.  As I careened down the first steep technical downhill through the Pennsylvania woods just a couple miles into the race this weekend, there was no semblance of control whatsoever.  A few minutes later there was no trail whatsoever!  Just a line of orange ribbon strung out through the brush and fallen trees.  I couldn’t even think about racing I just let my legs fly as I ducked branches, hurdled logs and let the adrenaline rush of just having fun carry me until I hit the next climb.
I had left the previous evening out of northern VA, with my wife and friend, Jordan Whitlock.  Jordan is one of my favorite people because he has a cool name and because he is always up for an adventure.  We arrived in Reading around eight went for a shakeout run and a swim, thanks TNF for a nice stay, and then it was time to rest up and race!  The next morning was warmer than I expected and with a later start there was plenty of time for a relaxed breakfast before heading out to the course.  I had not seen any of the course in person yet but Jordan and I had a good 2-3 mile warm-up and got to run a solid portion of the course backwards.  This at least gave me a good idea of what shoes to wear.  After the warm-up Jordan and I stripped to our racing gear, snapped a picture and headed up to the finish line.  The start was nowhere in sight!  Luckily Jason Bryant one of the La Sportiva athletes was heading out to the start and pointed us in the right direction.  When we got to the line Ryan Woods and Matt Byrne, two other La Sportiva athletes I recognized were there, along with some solid looking local guys.  Now that everyone was at the start it was shaping up to be a good race!
Jordan and I before the start.

There was no gun to start the race just an old fashioned ready,set,go and we were off!  I settled into the front pack around 4th-5th.  Jordan and I had decided to treat this race like a 10 mile because that’s roughly how long it was going to take us.  After cruising down hill for about half a mile the course took a 90 degree turn straight up a bank of leaves roots and mud!  The steep climb strung out the pack, and I found myself in third with Matt, and Ryan right behind me.  We popped out of the woods and after a short road section headed back up the mountain.  By now I had the lead and with Matt, Ryan, and another La Sportiva runner, Pat, following closely behind.  We climbed slowly on a gravel path before plunging down the side of the hill on mountain bike trails.  I flew down the hill more because I was out of control than because I was trying to gain any time but when we came out of the woods at the 2.8 mile aide station I had a several second lead over Ryan.  Then it was straight back into the woods.  No trail. Just orange ribbons, rocks, trees, and fun.  I have plenty of practice chasing my dog through the woods so I think I gained a few more seconds on this section before we headed up the mountain.  The next few minutes were pretty brutal.  My legs burned as I pushed the pace up the mountain. No switchbacks, just steep climb.  I felt that Ryan was catching me at this point but I didn’t look back.  I felt sure that I was going to get caught on the climb.  I was pushing hard but didn’t feel like I was going as fast as I should be, yet  by the time we reached the next aid station my lead had increased.  At this point I expected the course to continue up but instead we followed a fairly level trail along the side of the mountain.  My legs came back to me and soon after my confidence returned as well.  The course didn’t stay level for long and pretty soon we were climbing up the side of what the local call Mt. WhaDaFugg.  By now my legs felt a lot stronger and even though they were burning I felt that I moved up this last climb better than the previous one.  The cheers from the top of the hill definitely helped!  I made it right to the top by the spectators and then slipped and fell.  I was barely moving at that point so it hardly slowed me and I was back on feet and heading down the mountain!  The next mile was all fast, downhill, single track with logs, bike jumps, and nice soft footing.  The downhill continued until a few hundred meters from the finish when you turned off the main trail, hurdled a guard rail, crossed the road and scrambled up a steep rock covered hill to the finish.  The last hill was steep and I was happy to not have to sprint it, even though the cheering made me run it pretty hard any way.  As I came to the top Leah asked if I was having fun.  Definitely YES!  I topped the hill and crossed the line in 47:37 tired, muddy and happy.  Matt followed soon after in second with Jason in third and Ryan in fourth after he had made a wrong turn on the way up the mountain. Pat came across the line in 5th making me the only non La Sportiva athlete in the top 5.  Jordan followed closely behind in a tight race for 8th spot. 
After a cool down with Jason, Jordan and a some of the La Sportiva Team the post race the fun continued with lots of food, and for most people beer, which had also fully stocked both aid stations.  We enjoyed the awards ceremony and Ron Horn’s humor before hopping in the car for the drive back to VA.  The first stop on the Mountain Cup was a success, now it’s time to get ready for the HillBilly Half in Olympia Washington on Saturday!