Friday, September 30, 2011

Bald Mountain Bit Me Again (UROC Report)

UROC 100K was a great event and while I had a disappointing day from a performance perspective, overall I had a really good time.Gill, Francesca and everyone involved with the race did an excellent job and I think this race will continue to grow in the future.

We rented a condo at the Wintergreen Resort (where the start/finish was) with another family/friends of ours. My friend Chris would be running his first half-marathon. I talked him into doing it; little did he know it is probably one of the most difficult half's to run, especially for your first! But he finished and really enjoyed it, I think he'll be stepping up to Ultras by next year.

On Friday, I picked up my packet and was immediately the guinea pig for Andy Jones Wilkins elite interviews. I participated in the elite panel that night, MC'd by AJW. The amount of talent at the table was amazing and while I felt a little out of my league, I was truly honored to be sitting with everyone there (I was even asked for my autograph, definitely a first).

Race morning started simple enough. The 7 AM start was nice and after a short "parade" lap we were off and running. My strategy was to stay back in about 10-15th place through the first third to half of the race and then try to slowly work my way up. The course was laid out very well and the first 5.5 miles had quite a bit of climb and some technical trail to allow the runners to get a bit spread out right from the beginning. I was in a pack of runners flip-flopping positions including Ian Sharman, Michael Owen and Jason Bryant. I was climbing well and would pass people on the uphills, but get subsequently passed on the downhills (one of the weaker aspects of my running, and one that I intend to work on).

We flew through the first aid station and made our way down from the resort to the Blue Ridge Parkway. I spent most of the next section running with Chris Reed. The fog had yet to roll in and it was a quite beautiful morning running along the parkway. We made our way to Sheranodo Lake at about mile 17. Michael Wardian and several of the front runners were just leaving the lake, so we were about 1 mile back. It was starting to really get humid, so I shed my shirt as we left the lake. After the lake is the most significant climb of the day up Bald Mountain to the Slacks Overlook. From my experience at Bel Monte I knew what to expect here. I actually felt good on the climb up and the only error I made was in not realizing how far away the next aid station was; I ran out of water well before the next aid. It was on the downhill coming off the mountain that I ran into trouble (no I didn't fall like at Bel Monte), coming down I was probably going a little too fast and somehow strained my left hip flexor. It didn't feel to bad at the moment, but after the aid station we had a nice section of rolling road and when I tried to move with any sort of speed I would get a shooting pain. I was slowed to a jog/trot/shuffle and started getting passed by other runners. I kept hoping it would loosen up, and tried to press on.

When I got to Mile 33 at Whetstone Station, I said I was done. The aid station was run by Neal Gorman and his wife, and was the central location for an 8 mile out-and-back along the Dragon Back Trail. With all the lead men out on this section of trail, the aid station was buzzing with excitement and Gill, Bryon Powell, and several of the other runners who had dropped earlier where there. When I said I was going to drop as well, I immediately was surrounded by a group of people encouraging me to go on. "It will loosen-up" "there is still a lot of race left" "you don't want to miss the next section of trail" etc...Jason Bryant got out some Bio Freeze and I rubbed it on my tight hip while he tried to massage my thigh muscle. Finally, I decided to give it a try and headed out on the trail. Initially, I felt OK (it was probably the Bio Freeze and the difference in terrain), but this did not last long. I saw Dave Mackey walking back on the trial and shortly after Wardian came cruising by looking like he was having a blast. By the time I hit the turnaround, I was done. I could no longer really run and was definitely no longer competitive, even for a top 10 finish. I made it back to the Aid Station and let Neal know I was dropping. If this was any other race, I probably would have hobbled along for the remaining 20 miles, but the goal of this race was to compete. Once that was no longer possible, my decision was easier to make.

I made it back to the Bald Mountain Aid Station and helped out there for a bit while I waited for Anne to pick me up. We then went back to Wintergreen to watch the finish. Getting updates about how Wardian had gone off course and there were only minutes between 2 and 5th place; it was very exciting. We then waited around in the fog, while the kids played and kept stealing MMs from the snack table. While my hat is off to all the finishers it was very cool to see Jon Allen finish 5th and local running buddy Brad Hinton finish in the top 10.

I really wish I could have finished and finished well, but there will be other races (probably too soon). I was really grateful to be a part of the event and hopefully next year I will be able to come back as a better runner and compete at an even higher level.

Here is a link to a video of the race summary:

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Ultra Race of Champions...

In a couple days I will be lining up to race the Ultra Race of Champions (UROC) 100k near Charlottesville, VA. It should be an exciting race with the best competition I have ever run against in an Ultra. I decided to run this race because it allows me the opportunity to better myself by racing against runners that are better than me. When I started Ultra running last year, my goal was to train hard and see if I could be competitive by the time I was 30. I don’t turn 30 until next year, so I guess this should be a good gauge of where I am. I am obviously at the back end of the “elite” group, but I am just excited to have the opportunity to run with so many very talented and experienced Ultra runners.

I also think the race is good for the sport. Gill and Francesca (the race directors) have put a lot of effort into making this a really top notch event starting in Year 1. There seems to be a lot of criticism about catering to the “elite” runners and whether or not it is a true championship. My take is simply that it will be a one of the most competitive Ultras of the year, and the winner will be the best of this group of runners on this day. We don’t have a championship, and there will be a lot of elite runners that won’t be in the race for various reasons, but that is no reason to dismiss UROC.

Still being relatively new to the sport, there seems to be two distinct groups in the Ultra community: one that wants a competitive sport and one that views it as a run or an event, a challenge to oneself to run all day(s) on varied, hilly and sometimes technical terrain. I don’t see why we can’t have both. Just because you are not Ryan Hall doesn’t mean you shouldn’t run a road marathon, we all have different goals. Running 50, 62.5 or 100 miles is an amazing feat whether you are doing it competitively or doing it as a challenge to yourself. A friend of mine will be running his first half-marathon at UROC. He was inspired to run, not by the elite runners, but after attending an Ultra and seeing guys like him pushing themselves to finish the race. This is what Ultra running is about and I don’t see why we have to lose that aspect, just because there will be some more structure and support for the competitive side of the sport.

Anyway, enough of my rambling. How am I physically? I think I am in pretty good shape. I’ve been training well and my ankle seems to be nearly fully recovered. I ran the Cheat Mountain Moonshine Madness 50 Miler a few weeks ago and had a shoe mishap that cost me about an hour+ of time. I started the race with a light-weight shoe that did not have enough ankle support when we hit the trail sections, and did not have my change of shoes in my drop bag (about mile 23). So after way to much walking/hiking to protect my ankle and sitting at the aid station (thought I was just going to drop as I could not run in the shoes I had), a friend happened to have a pair of 11.5 trail shoes in his car. So I figured I would try them out. I headed back out on the course jogging along with another running friend, James Brennan. At this point I had fallen way back and was probably in 10-12 place. After jogging for a couple miles I decided to start running again, and while there was some pain it didn’t seem to be getting any worse. So I thought I would try to move back up as much as I could. I ended up finishing in third. Up and down run, but it was good to test out the ankle and realize that I need more supportive shoes on the trails still. Since then I have been running a good amount of volume and shorter, local races on the weekends to try and improve my speed and turnover. Mentally I’ve been a bit strained with school starting up again, switching projects at work and then several personal matters. How will it all pan out? I am not sure, but it should be fun and as always an adventure. 

Monday, September 19, 2011

Not Running Related, but a True Example of Endurance

I'll have a post soon on my running and thoughts on UROC, but below is the text from a short paper I wrote ten years ago when I was an undergraduate and had to write a character description of someone influential in your life. I read this at my Grandma's funeral last week. I look up to very few people in this world, and she was at the top of the list. Without her influence I would not be the man I am today.