Wednesday, September 3, 2014


The mountain had crushed me; my now dead quads made every downhill step an exercise in pain management. Quitting sounded so nice and easy, but I wasn’t ready to give up…

The Iron Mountain Trail 50 is a race I wanted to run a couple years ago, before my long bout with injury. So a couple weeks ago when I saw that some entries opened up, I couldn’t turn down the opportunity. The course is beautiful and represents everything to love about east coast mountain/trail running: steep climbs, switchbacks, fire roads, technical descents, and of course lots of rocks. Despite my love for this terrain, it had been years since I spent quality time on technical trail and I was a bit nervous about how it would go. I was in really good running shape, having logged many miles in the Southern heat and humidity on the roads surrounding Nashville, but that hardly properly prepares you for a run in the mountains.

Start of the 50 Miler

The race started out conservatively enough, a staggered start this year meant that the 50 milers didn’t have to keep up with the ‘rabbits’ in the shorter 30 and 16 mile races. I went out front with Adam Casseday as we warmed up on a 5-mile stretch of the flat Virginia Creeper trail. This section flew by as we chatted and about 35 minutes later we were making our fist major climb of the day. The climb is long, but not too steep and this early in the race didn’t seem to be that bad. As we approached the second aid station around mile 9, Jordan caught up to us. I let him go ahead and Adam fell back a bit.

The next 13 miles were very pleasant. I was running by myself occasionally catching glimpses of Jordan on the climbs and losing sight of him on the down hills. I passed Doctor Horton who was pushing his bike up a section of washout trail full of rocks that we had to run down, he jokingly said, “there’s a few rocks up ahead.”

As I hit the aid station at Mile 22, Troy caught up to me and we would run together on the next section that consisted mainly of forest service road. Again, this section flew by as we talked about life and various running adventures. However, somewhere in this section my right calf started cramping up a bit; not a big deal at the time, but it did foreshadow the suffering ahead.

At mile 29 there is a long, steep climb up to the next aid station 3ish miles away. On this climb my calf cramps continued to worsen. At the aid station I took some extra salt and continued on to the next section, which was quite rolling. The cramping was still too bad to run any of the climbs, so I hiked all the hills and figured I would make up for it by pushing hard on the down hills – bad choiceL I quickly blew up my quads and now I couldn't even run the down hills.

Barely holding it together
The section from mile 37 to 43 was pure suffering as I probably walked 95% of this section. I was cramping on the climbs and the downs were painful even to walk – some of the steep downs I walked backwards to alleviate the pain. A few runners would pass me here including Shaun, who gave me the only meaningful advice “just finish.” The truth was I really wanted to drop. My race was over, I was cramping, my quads were blown and walking it in did not sound fun. But I came here to run 50 miles in the mountains, and there was really no reason I could not finish other than I was having a bad day.

So I came into the last aid station, determined to finish even if I had to walk every step of the final 8ish miles. At the aid station I pitifully explained my plight to the volunteers as I took a couple more S caps and downed several refills of Mountain Dew. After lingering a bit too long, I headed back for the final leg back to Damascus.

My cramping started to subside so I was actually able to run some of the up hills, and as you approach the finish you mentally become stronger and are able to push a little more. So despite the pain I started jogging the down hills as well. After what seemed like forever the trail spits you out back into town to finish the last mile. I crossed the finish line about an hour later than my goal, but the important thing is that I crossed the finish line. I politely declined the opportunity to try for the Iron Man Award (most sit-ups, push-ups and pull-ups within 5 minutes of finishing).

After finishing, I chatted with Troy and some of the other runners for a bit. He had a super consistent run and finished in second just two minutes off the lead. He put 50 minutes on me in the second half of the race, which really made it clear how slow I had been going. The last 13 miles of this race was probably the toughest I ever pushed through, especially in a non-hundred. The good news is that other than the blown quads I wasn’t too beat up. However I did look like a 90-year-old man trying to get downstairs the next day.

I guess the lesson learned is that if you haven’t trained on long, steep hills don’t expect to perform very well in a race that features long, steep hills. It also provided a good reminder that sometimes this sport is just as much about grit and stubbornness as it is about physical fitness. Although I would have liked to finished much better than I did (and I’ll be back to try again), I do feel like I can call myself an ultrarunner againJ

Friday, March 21, 2014

Delano Park 50 - First sub-6

After getting sick and having to bail out early at Rocky Raccoon I really needed a goal race for the Spring. I had made the lottery for MMT, but did not feel I could appropriately train for the terrain. Instead I decided I would continue my trend toward faster 100 milers and try my legs at Umstead 100. There is about 2 months between Rocky and Umstead, so I wanted to run something in-between to get a bit of a confidence boost. I had originally planned on running the Rock’n Roll D.C. marathon, but our plans changed and we would not be in D.C. the weekend of the race. So I looked for something local to run and found a race about 2 hours away in northern Alabama.

The Delano Park Run consists of a 12 Hour Solo/Relay and 50 mile race. Twelve hours would be more running than I wanted, but  a 50 miler would be a good training run one month out from Umstead and hopefully give me a bit of a confidence boost. It has been almost a year since my surgery, and although I have been training and running well, I still had yet to complete an Ultra. So, a couple days before the race I registered and Friday night I drove down with Anne and the boys.

After battling traffic to get out of Nashville, we made it to Decatur, AL around 8 PM. After a few slices of pizza and some wings I was tucked in bed. I really had no expectations for the race. I knew there wouldn’t be much in terms of competition and I hadn’t run a 50 miler since before my injury over 2 years ago. My fitness was pretty good, and I had been coming off a string of 90-100 mile weeks. I didn’t taper at all, which was part of the plan. The course is a one-mile loop (a format I’d never run before) and is almost flat. So, as I told Anne the night before, I was just going to treat it like I was going for a regular long run.

Race morning was a chilly 36 degrees, but temperatures were expected to rise to the low 60s. We got to the start line about 20 minutes before the race, I grabbed my bib and pinned it to my shorts, dropped my bag on the ground, and waited in the car to stay warm. I was very calm and relaxed; looking forward to spending the next several hours running. The race started right at 6 AM and we headed out on the first loop. The course is primarily crushed gravel and winds its way around the park, with the only little hill leading up to a water tower and a slight downhill back to the start/finish. It’s not much more than a bump, but is just enough to break it up from being completely flat. The first lap I settled into about 6:50 pace and it felt easy and comfortable. The only person I would run with all day was a member of the leading relay team, but because of the looped format you are constantly surrounded by other people. After a few miles I settled into about 6:40 pace and was just clicking off the laps. As I began to lap people multiple times I got several cheers, and some questions about which race I was in. One lady jokingly asked if my twin and I were running the relay.

Ten miles came and went in around 67 minutes. I shed my long sleeve as the sun was coming up, failing to notice that my nipples were already bloody. It didn't hurt, but looked gross. Despite the looks I was getting, it was still too chilly to run shirtless. The miles clipped by as I settled into a groove running 6:30-6:40 pace. The cooler weather meant I probably wasn't eating and drinking as much as I should, but tried to stay consistent eating something every 20-30 minutes, primarily shot blocks.

About mile 22 Anne and the boys returned to see me through the second half of the run. There was a big playground in the park so about every 7 minutes I heard a “hey dad” from Logan and Gavin as they were chasing each other around the park.  I hit the marathon mark in 2:53 and the 50K point in about 3:27. At this point I realistically thought I had a shot to sneak in under 5:40, but there was still a lot of running left.
It was also about this time that the sun was fully up and the temperature started to creep into the 60s. While not very warm it was 25-30 degrees warmers than it was at the start. I ditched my shirt and tried upping my fluid intake. However, around mile 35 I started slowing. I did expect to slow, especially since this was the furthest I had run in a couple years. I thought I could hold it together and tried to keep the pace around 7 minute miles. However, my energy level kept dropping (probably a lack of calories) and my right leg started acting a bit funny. I don’t think my glute was firing right, so I was dragging the leg a bit. What I would have given for a good hill to break things up at this point.  

It was also hard to keep the pace when there was no one to chase or chasing me and mentally I only considered this a training run anyway. I knew I could jog it out and still finish under 6 hours, so there was very little incentive to push hard through the pain.

So, my focus shifted on simply finishing the run and I plodded along at what felt like a snail’s pace but in reality was 7:30 to 8 minute pace. I entered the last mile and said goodbye to the ever familiar landmark: the playground, the bench, the water tower, that one tree – I had consistently counted them down and now this would be the last I would see of them.

As I approached the finish line the RD got on the loud speaker to announce my finish in a course record time of 5:51:52. A small group of the 12-hour runners gathered to congratulate me, reminding me of the many great qualities of the Ultra community.

After the race I drove over to the local church with the RD, Jon Elmore, to pick up my award. My stomach was off for several hours, until I was able to get down a chocolate shake from DQ. Later that night I was nitpicking my run, when Anne reminded me that there aren't too many people that will run sub-6 for 50 miles. I know I can run faster, but given this was a last minute decision, at the end of a couple high mileage weeks and I am still less than a year removed from surgery, I have to be pleased. Next up is Umstead 100, we’ll see what happens…