Mystery Mountain Marathon

Mystery Mountain Marathon
Post Race

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Pinhoti 100

The Pinhoti 100 miler was the culmination of my running year for 2013.  No, I'm not done running for the year, but my race calendar ended with Pinhoti.

In December of 2012 I mapped out a plan and race schedule for 2013.  I wanted to run another 100 miler and get back into the shape I was in two or three years ago.  I also wanted to focus on running some new races versus running the local ultras that I usually ran year after year.  As the year progressed I found myself hitting my goals and succeeding at my races.  I don't think I ever hit a race in the proper shape though.  I would toe the line at a 50k in marathon shape, or a 50 miler in 50k shape, etc.  Nevertheless, the fall running season came around right after my biggest month of running in three years.  I pushed through North Face 50 miler and set my sights on Pinhoti.

I had exactly 5 weeks in-between TNF50 and Pinhoti.   Following a high mileage September that saw me race three times, I knew I needed to recover.  I planned on taking three days off and getting back at it.  Three days turned into five as my knees were slightly tweaked from the technical trails.  When I did start back I had another week of just slow 3 to 4 mile runs.  I was now three weeks out from Pinhoti and I hadn't really run in two weeks.  I thought no problem, I still have three weeks to cram in a few more long runs and stretch the legs.  Boom! My daughter gets sick, my wife is out of town, I get that order. Two more weeks has passed, and I am now one week out.  I woke up the Sunday prior to Pinhoti and managed to knock out a 21 miler on roads.  It hurt more than it should of.  So, heading into Pinhoti I really had only one quality run in the five weeks preceding.  I hadn't run any trails or had any significant elevation change either.  It was time to test my mental facilities and heart.

The week leading up to the race was so cool.  I immediately wrapped my head around the fact that I would be out there until I was done, accepted it, and anxiously awaited the start.  I knew I wasn't trained, but nevertheless felt very ready.  Before North Face, I had never used a pacer, and my wife was always my crew of one (Which she was wonderful at!). Pinhoti would be different; my wife, son, best friend and neighbor were all coming to crew and pace me.

This is generally the part where a blogger would give you blow by blow details of the race.  I'm not going to do that.  Those details really have nothing to do with this race.  I will give you a few of the highlights, never the less. 

  • First of all, due to a massive traffic jam I had to sprint over a half mile just to get to the start, check in, and literally hear the words 'go'. 
  • The bottleneck to get on the trail .08 miles in sucked. 
  • My friend Brett, along with others, had said that they were surprised at how bad they felt 15 miles in.  I too felt crappy at that point, but quickly recovered. 
  • I didn't want to see my crew until 28 miles in, when I did see them it was a huge lift.  Crossing the waterfall and entering the field with the lake was also beautiful.
  • I breezed to the top of Bald Rock, so fast I didn't believe I was there.  My crew wasn't even ready for me.
  • The pavement at Bald Rock heading towards and after Blue Hell sucked.  It was surprisingly painful.
  • My wife is a good pacer, as are my son and friends.
  • The miles 48-53 are some of the prettiest in my opinion.
  • The aid stations and volunteers ROCKED!
  • Horn Mountain is hard, especially the third segment heading into 85.  I fell so hard I thought I broke my arm.  Brett mentally saved my life up there too, when we got off course for 30 seconds, which I thought was miles.
  • The last stretch of pavement goes on forever.
Those were some of the highlights.  Pinhoti is a great race.  The trails are not too technical, and they are really pretty.

Pinhoti wasn't really a run for me was a continuation of a journey.  I was just shy of 5 years running at the start.  When I started running, I was running away from something....running away from a past I dare not speak of.  Or at least I haven't much yet.

I started running a month or so after I got clean from 13 years of cocaine abuse. I waited a month because I literally was afraid to raise my heart rate too much as I thought my heart might give out. It's funny, I have probably only told one or two other of my running friends that.  It was something I was always so ashamed of.  In all reality, it really never defined me, and the ultra running community would have accepted me just as eagerly. 

The run has always been in me; even in my youth my mind and body always told me to run.  It turns out that there was a reason for that, and I took to running quickly.  I set an immediate goal to run a marathon.  I went online, found a 16 week training program, found a marathon 16 1/2 weeks away, waited 3 days and started the set program.  I was terrified to miss a day or mile of training.  I thought if I did I wouldn't be able to run the marathon.  That fear had me training through snow, rain, minor injuries, etc.  Looking back it started a great training attitude for me. 

16 weeks later I crossed the finish line at my first marathon in 4:01:00.  My wife and son were waiting and I burst in to tears.  It was wonderful!  My first thought was that was tough, but I have more in me.  I signed up for my first 50k two weeks later, found out it was on trails, and thus started a new chapter in my life: trail running.  Upon completion of my first 50k, I felt the same way....I had more.  After the 50k I heard about a 100 miler.  My life truly became training and I set my sight on what I thought was the end all-be all of athleticism. 

To summarize, 10 1/2 months after my first marathon, I ran my first 100 in 22 hours.  I had completed my running goal.  After that I put my family first, continued to train, but put it second.  I have enjoyed every minute of running.  I have missed months when my daughter was born.  I have taken days off to spend a lazy day with the family.  I went from a front runner to a finisher.  And you know what?  big deal....the view from the middle of the pack is pretty good too, and quite possibly more fun. 

This now brings us back to the beginning of this blog.  I know I entered this race wildly undertrained. A 100 mile race isn't easy, it isn't for beginners, and you should be heavily trained to thwart of injury. I had no business starting or finishing Pinhoti.  I know what it takes to run a successful 100.  I chose to run this race for two reasons, and I knew before I started that I was walking away with a buckle.

The people I love most in this world were there with me for this race.

Every mile I run is a promise that I will never repeat my past.....
...but most importantly....

I wanted to prove something.....With the support and love of your family and friends you can do anything.....ANYTHING!  

I told this to them through tears on the last mile.....

......Pinhoti was my slowest 100 to date......but the most memorable race of my life.  This buckle is on the dash of my car.  My other buckles are collecting dust somewhere.....


Monday, October 21, 2013

TNF 50 miler, and some catching up

The North Face 50 miler
September 28th, 2013
*with an intro!!

I'm not really sure how to even start this race report, since I have not written one since 2011.  The last time I wrote; I was newly married, only had one child, and was in great shape although I had dealt with injuries.  Let's bridge the last few years.  I have a beautiful 2 year old daughter now to add to my handsome 15 year old son, I have been married over 3 years, and I am trying to get myself back into shape.  The trying to get myself back into shape has been occurring since 2011.  I have never stopped running, but definitely put it on the back burner as I had a little one to take care of, and my free time has dwindled.   

I entered 2013 with a plan on getting back into shape and running another 100 miler by the end of the year.  I was coming out of another small injury and a winter that found me with various colds and flu bugs.  I never used to get sick, but I hadn't been tested in a long time by the germs that the little ones bring in that can totally wipe you out.  I began the year by changing my diet and beginning to slowly ramp up some miles.  In February I was running Red Top Rumble and the Yeti Ultra Beer Mile, two easy races just to get my competitive juices flowing again.  I had Mississippi 50 miler in March, Chattooga 50k in May, Snakebite 50k in September, TNF 50 miler in September, and finally Pinhoti 100 in November.  January and February went as expected, In March I injured my foot on a 24 mile run right before MS 50, guess what?  I also got sick on race day, so it turned into the MS 25K.  Two weeks later I'm back at it, I had an 11th overall showing at Chattooga50k which was my return to Ultra Running, finally!

The summer was heavy mileage.....good.  I took a trip to Costa Rica, which was great, but....yup, 1/2 inch piece of glass in the bed of my foot was one of my souvenirs.   I lost another couple of weeks of training.  Shortly after I was back at it.  Snakebite 50k netted me another 11th place overall finish in extremely hot and humid conditions.  I recovered quickly and set my sites on TNF 50 miler.  The week before I managed a 5th overall at The Warrior Dash 5k, was my second of three races in September.

Finally,  race weekend!  TNF 50 miler, mentally, was the focus of my year.  I have run Pine Mountain 40 miler here a couple of times(see previous race report), and I have been at TNF 50 miler before.  Every time I run here I leave defeated in some way or another.  In the peak of my training I finished my first PM40 miler with a poor time, the following year my time was even slower and I finished injured.  The first time at TNF 50m was two months after my daughter was born.  17 miles in I realized I should be at home and not at the race so I ran into the aid station and quit.  Needless to say, FDR State Park is not my favorite place to run!  My running demons live there. This time I had family and friends down, and I was at least determined to have a good time and stick to my plan.

4 A.M. I was pulling in to the familiar parking lot to catch the shuttle to the start line.   The start is at 5 A.M. which in turn lends itself to a couple of hours of headlamp running on technical trails.  I spent my pre-race time talking to Brandi Garcia and Deano Montreuil, who both ended up killing it.  A few minutes to 5, Dean Karnazes did his standard North Face pre-run talk and we were off into the dark.  I usually take off to get in front, but I knew this year I was taking it easy so I just blended right in to the pack.  Of course 200 yards in I was at a complete stop as the bottleneck of runners tried to enter the woods.  The first mile or so is mostly downhill and fairly easy.  We all took turns passing and being passed as the group started to get into their respective spots.  Shortly after the first mile you hit a series of stream crossings and technical single track that is tougher to pass on.   The next 45 minutes was fairly uneventful.  Rocky, root filled , meandering single track which I knew like the back of my hand.  I kept a conservative pace.  I knew that; 1) I couldn't afford an injury this close to a 100, and 2)  I couldn't push too hard this close to a 100 in my current shape.  Two years ago would have been a different story.   I love running in to the first aid station. You emerge from the quiet dark trails where the only sounds were crushing gravel and heavy breath and Boom!  A flash goes off in your face as your picture is taken and you are surrounded by cheering people, police lights from traffic control, and tons of questions from aid station volunteers.  This is all before you are guided right back into your quiet little dark trail world.  I love it.

By the end of the next 6.1 miles I find myself looking forward to the light.  The best view in the park is missed by running this next section in the dark.  You get it on the way back, but its not the same.  Of course on the way back your not the same either.   I enjoyed running with some people I had just met during this section, we kept together for about 30 minutes and had some laughs, then I ceded the trail for them to take off.  Finally, a little over 11 miles in the second aid station came in to view, and so did the trails with the daybreak.  Oddly enough, I knew once I passed the next aid station at 16.7 miles(Mollyhugger) , that it was all down hill from there.  That was my one and only obstacle mentally.  Physically I knew 50 miles was always a possibility for me, but never underestimate the mental portion of Ultra Running, which in my opinion is more than 50% of it.   I like this section of the trail, neat rock formations and a few stream crossings, so I just kept plugging along until Mollyhugger Aid Station.

Like I said, after Mollyhugger Aid station the race was mentally over for me.  I just had to keep moving and I would finish.  The next 19 miles went along pretty well, the only thing that I noticed that was strange was my appetite.   For me its unusual, but I was ravenous, all day!  Every single aid station I went to I ate 4 or 5 items and drank 4-5 cups of varying fluids before thanking the volunteers, filling my bottle, and leaving.  I looked at my Garmin after the race and had 58 minutes of stoppage time!  That is unreal for me.  I usually pride myself for not spending much time at the aid stations. The section of trail from Mollyhugger to the TV tower takes you through a lot of tornado and fire damaged parts of the park. It had been a couple of years since I ran here so large portions of the trails were unrecognizable.  There was a new section in the race this year that took you out to a horse farm.  It was more horse and jeep trails than single track.  I'm still not sure if I liked it or not.  Definitely easier, but I'm a scenery junkie, and I think single track trails give you the best scenery.  The final mile into the horse farm aid station was in an open field at the hottest part of the day, blah!
From here to the TV tower is the best part of the course, beginning with gentle rolling pine straw bedded trails and turning into numerous creek crossings with 3 named waterfalls.  This is a very beautiful section which allows you to cool off before hitting more open tornado ravaged parts of the park again.  As I hit the open areas I was singing along to my iPod, I know some people don't like them on trail races, but they keep me sane from time to time.

At mile 35.5 my neighbor Nicole joined me for the final 14.5 miles.  She is a new trail runner who hasn't done much distance, but is a good triathlete, and I was looking forward to the company.  The change in the course made it possible for me to have a pacer.  The old course would have required a pacer for the last 23+ miles which my family and friends that were with me weren't up for. This is really the first true pacer I have ever used in my life.  People have joined me from time to time before, just never paces me....there is a difference. 

We took off at a good pace and made short work to the 40 mile aid station.  We were back on rocky trails, which I was used to by now.  After a few miles we were backtracking the first part of the course, and I knew what to expect.  I chatted with Brad Ballard for a minute and was off to Mollyhugger for the second time.  This stretch was almost entirely in the open, technical, and hot....I had two of my fastest miles of the day heading through this section.  Probably because I wanted to get out of the heat.

Through Mollyhugger with 8 miles left. 5.4 miles to the next aid station.  I was able to share some of the pretty views with Nicole and relive some of the early morning running I had done on the way out.  The only point on the entire run where I almost lost my mental point of view occurred about .33 of a mile from the 47.6 mile aid station.   I was starting to hurt and the mileage on my Garmin had this section as long.  For about 25 seconds I bitched that I just wanted to get out of the woods.  The aid station came into view and I knew it was just a short 2.6 to the end.

We retraced some of the pretty creek crossings and headed uphill to the finish.  It seemed like it took forever to hit the field, and according to my Garmin the course was like 50.7.  Its no problem, but I started my sort of kick tot he finish too early and ended up walking the last major hill to the finish.  Finally the field came into sight where we sprinted around the field and finished. slowest 50 miler to a lot.  Needless to say I still considered it a victory over FDR State park.  I don't know where I finished, nor do I really was somewhere in the top 1/3.

All in all....North Face puts on a hell of a race.  Yes, it is expensive, but is extremely well marked with tons of great volunteers.  You also get a lot of your entry fees back via a great schwag bag.  The biggest touch?  Greeting every runner and pacer with a North Face water bottle filled with ice cold water at the finish.  What a simple gesture that has left a lasting impression.

Up next? PINHOTI!  And guess what?  I'm currently sick with my daughters' cold and have just recovered from some overuse knee thing after this race.  I will probably only have 100 miles total between TNF 50m and Pinhoti 100.....well, I guess I'm going for the well rested approach!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Skechers GObionic minimilist trail shoes

Its been forever since I wrote here....I think I'm going to start back up with this fall's races.
Here's a real quick review of a new trail shoe I was able to test out.

A Nice Ride

Skechers GObionic Trail Shoes

                I would be lying if I said I wasn’t skeptical upon receiving the Skechers GObionic Trail Shoes from my friend Christian Griffith.  As most trail runners are, I am sort of a shoe snob and generally stick to my favorite brand and style.  My favorite brand isn’t Skechers and I don’t usually run minimalist, so this shoe was starting with its back up against the wall.

                Upon my initial inspection, I found a pretty sharp looking shoe.  The upper is fully synthetic material.  I received a pair in a Charcoal/Blue color scheme, which I liked.  I believe there are 3 or 4 more different color schemes available.  I immediately noticed how light they were, which I expected as they are billed as a minimalist shoe.  I also saw a fairly aggressive looking sole.  I immediately couldn’t wait to get them out on some technical trails, although I also had the memory of some painful runs in other minimalist shoes once I put them to work on technical rocky trails. 

                For my first run I chose a short (5mile) rolling trail that had numerous roots and rock gardens strewn throughout.  It was hot and humid.  Upon putting the shoes on I noticed that they were very comfortable.  Skechers touted a ‘Second Skin’ feel to the upper, and they were right.  I kicked the ground a few times, and then off I went.  I hit the trailhead and some golf ball sized gravel and instantly winced.  I had remembered feeling everything underfoot in other minimalist shoes.  I instantly noticed that these felt like some of my more padded and substantial trail shoes that I normally wear.  That made me smile and then I took off.

                Thud!  I caught a root.  Crunch, caught a rock.  I stayed upright, but began to look down at the shoe.  It was then that I noticed the enormous toe box on these shoes.  I am not used to running in a shoe like this, and I was catching things on the trail that I normally wouldn’t.  I forged ahead keeping in mind that I had to pick up my feet a little more, thankfully these shoes are so light that it wasn’t a problem, but I slowed my pace.  Upon completion of the run I loved everything about these except for the larger toe box.  I wondered if I could get used to it.  Otherwise, they seemed light as air with a bunch of cushion for a minimalist shoe.  I also noticed less lower leg fatigue than other comparable shoes.

                I waited 10 days before I used these again, as I had a race the following weekend and didn’t have the guts to try something totally different race day or in recovery.  The next couple of times I wore these I went on longer, but less technical trails.  After the first three miles I got the confidence to really ‘open up’ these shoes, and I flew!  I had no issues with the toe box and I continued to notice the nice cushion.  I also found the sole very aggressive, which I liked.  The material on the upper portion of the shoe acts as a moisture wicking fabric and pulls the sweat away from your foot.  It’s clearly evident as I could actually see the outer getting wet. 

                My final run to date in these shoes came yesterday.  The shoes were broken in by now (about 30 miles), and I chose Jeep roads with a baby jogger.  I never noticed that the shoes I had on weren’t my normal trail shoes.  I literally flew across the trails with no issues.  I REALLY loved these shoes on the fast and flat trails. 

                All in all, I like these shoes.  It is a minimalist shoe for the non-minimalist runner.  Everything I want in the minimalist style; lightweight and aggressive with enough cushion to have a comfortable ride.  I give these shoes my seal of approval, which might not go that far, but at least I am a seasoned ultra-runner.  I don’t know how long it will take me to wear these shoes out, after close to 40 miles they show no signs of wear, but when I do I just might buy another pair.  The shoes appear to be retailing at about $80 bucks, so the price tag isn’t bad either.  Good job Skechers!


Ryan Cobb

Monday, March 14, 2011

Thrill in The Hills Trail Marathon

Thrill in the Hills Trail Marathon,...I'm not really sure how to start this one.  This was an XTERRA Race, which means I knew it was going to be on mountain bike trails, which are not always my favorite. I tend to enjoy more technical running surfaces.  The race took place at Ft. Yargo State Park in Winder, GA. I had never been there before, which is a little odd considering I went to UGA, and it was not too far away.  Nevertheless, I showed up race morning, early! Mapquest told me it would take 1 hour and 25 minutes, but I made it in an hour flat.  I noticed driving in that the park was pretty with a large lake and the namesake old fort taking up the majority of the center of the park.  I found my parking spot, put on my jacket because it was chilly, and headed to registration.   The first thing I noticed at registration was a line about 50 people deep...sigh.  The next thing I noticed was that the long line was for the half marathon option, and no one was in the full marathon registration line.  I walked right up, grabbed my number, and headed back to my car for a little heat.  I kind of chuckled to my self really.  This race was my consolation for LOST 118, which I was supposed to be running this weekend.  But, If you have read my previous reports, I'm just fresh from an injury, and not ready for a 118 mile race, unfortunately.

I sat in my car pondering the race.  I wasn't feeling a 100% in my knees, not bad, but not perfect either.  I also really haven't raced too many marathons.  Considering all of the Ultras I've run, I have only raced 4 marathons.  Weird huh? So, I tried to ponder what time I would run.  I set my goal at sub 5 hours because I wasn't feeling race ready.  I run street marathons at about 3:30, and my fastest trail marathon was 3:57 at Scenic City last May. 

About 15 minutes to start, I put on my brace, grabbed my aid, and headed towards the start.  As I jumped out of my car, the girl in front of me looks up and says "Are you Ryan Cobb"?  "Why yes I am!"  It was Jenn Coker, who I had not met before, but she told me that we shared some mutual of whom was my 6th grade girlfriend from Texas.  How random!  Anyways, that's another story altogether.  I had not seen anyone I knew until I reached the start and chatted up Beth McCurdy, I saw Cindy Ralston, and heard Blanton yelling Chef Cobb...Chef Cobb!!!  At least I felt a little bit more at home now, GUTS and the Rogues were represented. 

And we're off!  The first .7 miles were on asphalt to spread out the runners, which was necessary as there were 500 of them.  Finally, in to the trails by the lake.  There had been a recent brush fire, which encompassed the first two miles.  The air was thick with smoke, and some of the tree stumps were still smoldering.  Despite the spreading out, there was still alot of jockeying for position through the first couple of miles, which were rolling switchback, heading down towards the lake.  Then, back on to a half mile of road, across the viaduct at the north end of the lake, and towards the first aid station at about 4 miles.  I felt pretty good at this point, the next three miles were real easy, and I found myself battling it out with people I knew were only running the half, but I felt fast, so I went for it.  I blew through the second aid station, just like the first....nothing for me yet.  The next notable portion of the course came in the 7 to 8 mile mark when we arrived at the bottom of the dam...left the trail, and headed towards this dreaded power line section I had heard everyone talk about before the race. Ummmm......not so much, a gentle groomed hill about .4 miles long, followed by an easy downhill....obviously the vast majority of these runners hadn't run Sweetwater!!!  After winding around the lake for a little less than a mile, we hit the second power line hill which was similar to the first, maybe a .10 of a mile longer.

At this point I was hurting a little, or at least I thought I was....maybe it was all in my head, I hadn't run long much this year.  at 9.8 miles I smiled for the photographer, raced down a hill, and took flight after meeting a root head on with my toe.  That's what I get for playing to the camera :). Anyways, I jumped up and continued on through the 10.5 mile aid station, up an 8 foot dirt wall, and towards the start/finish.  The last mile towards the start/finish area seemed to take knees were aching.  finally, I turned a bend, up a hill, and I was being ushered out for my second loop.  I was thinking that I knew the first lap was done, and I didn't have to push it on the second lap.  I slowed down, took a GU, and was passed for the first time in the day at 13.5 miles in.  I kind of looked over my shoulder, saw no one else, and started jogging, at a much slower pace for the next two miles.  I had let a sense of complacency set in...odd for me at only 15 miles.

Then, it happened.  I remembered who I was. I am an ultra runner, and have gone through much worse than this.  The pain was really minimal, and why was I bitching?  I picked the pace up at about 16 miles and felt fine.  I continued on for the next 3 miles without stopping, or seeing anyone else.  My I-pod was cranking, and I felt good.  At about 19 miles I saw another runner coming behind me.  My competitive juices started flowing, and I picked up the pace some more, and left him.  I was now approaching 20 miles and hit the mini power line section again...breezed up the hill, caught a runner, which energized me, picked up the pace some more, and continued to feel even stronger.  The next major hill, I caught another runner, and breezed by him Sally Brooking style with a low to the ground power hike!!!  On the second power line Jason Spruill caught up to me.  He actually took me surprise and startled me!  I didn't think anyone could have caught me because I felt so strong.  We chatted for a minute, but I was determined not to be caught so I really kicked and took off.  After I passed my landing area from the previous lap, I dropped my pace to 6:50's and never went above a 7:20 pace the remaining 3.5 miles in.  I just kept smiling because I couldn't believe how great I felt.  It had been a long time since I had caught the runner's high,and I was basking in it. With 1 mile left I caught the one runner who had passed me at the 13.5 mile mark, much to his dismay.  I dropped to a full on sprint for the final .5 mile and finished strong....3:56.  A PR for a trail marathon race.  I was totally stoked, and actually wished that the race was a little longer!!

The time was good enough for 16th overall and 3rd in my age group, which meant I would bring home some hardware.  I coudn't have been more happy.  I stood around and talked to Sean Blanton, we shared a box of his Tag-a-longs, and I headed home, re-energized and ready for my next run.  Good job XTERRA an thanks Tim. 

Whats next?  Southern Blue 200 mile relay, running the Silver Comet unsupported,...then what?.......
---happy running!!!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Red Top Rumble 'Lets get Ready to Humble!!!!'

I will try to keep this a short report for a short race. Red Top Rumble 2011 took place in a veritable heat wave in comparison to last year.  No Ice on the ground!  The race sold out in less than 24 hours this year at over 300 runners.  This is the largest race in number of people that GUTS puts on.  The race takes place at Red Top Mountain State Park in Acworth, GA, on the shores of Lake Allatoona.  The park got its' name from the past iron mining that took place there, and as the iron was exposed it would turn red due to oxidation.  The trails are fairly un-technical, and consist of numerous rolling hills.  The RTR is an 11.5 mile trail race, if you ran all of the trails out here you could get in 13.1.

This year, as it was last year, I was able to volunteer and run.  I prepare the post race food for all of the runners, and get out on the trails and run the race while other volunteers tend to keeping the food hot.  I really enjoy the opportunity to volunteer, and place that over actually running the race.  The fact that it is a GUTS sponsored race means that I will have a bunch of friends out there, and get to see alot of people that I haven't seen in awhile too.  This year, instead of BBQ, I prepared breakfast food for the post race runners.  I thought that this would be easier than last years massive BBQ, but keeping breakfast food hot is a challenge...eggs lose heat fast!

As the race start neared, I started to mentally prepare for the race.  This time last year I was running for the lead, and was in great shape.  This was the week before IronHorse last year in which I went on to run a top 10 finish in the 100 mile event, and easily go sub 24 hours.  If you have been following my blog, you know that I am not in that shape this year.  Today only marked one week of pain free running, and I hadn't run over 6 miles since FA50k.  I told myself that if anything hurt I would turn around at the halfway mark and saunter back to the start to keep an eye on the food.  I had very low expectations, and figured sub 2 hours would be a good time for me. 

I threw on my I-pod, cued up some Lil' Wayne, and toed the start line.  Ready, Set, ruuummmblle!!!  We were off, I left the gate faster than I had planned, but still conservative enough not to stress anything.  The first 3.7 miles of this race is the easiest part, which takes place on the Iron Hill Trail.  The Iron Hill is a mountain bike trail with only about 187 feet of elevation gain and other words flat.  I was only giving 80%, and had no intentions of anything else.  Nevertheless, I was in the top 20, and was surprised.  I spent some time taking in some pretty lake views, and the last part of the sunrise.  At 3.7 miles you take a left and hit a little single track trail over to the other side of the park, and the hiking trails.  This is my favorite part of the race, I don't know why, it just is.  There are two little creek crossings, and some good roots.  At the end of this section the runners end up at the Visitors Center and head out on the Homestead Loop. 

Upon entering the Homestead Loop I felt pretty good, and I think I ramped it up just a touch.  I reached the creek, gave Aaron Dwileski, who was surprised to see me running, a high five, and headed towards the road crossing.  After passing the road crossing and an aid station the runners are out in the heart of the Homestead loop...roughly a 5k of continuous switchback rolling hills that weave in and out of the Lake Allatoona's little finger coves.  There isn't a single difficult climb, they are just never ending.  For some reason, I always get lulled in to a false sense of ability, and take them too hard and pay for it on the last hill or two.  Today was no different, and on the last climb I had to stop and walk for a hundred yards.  My knee was tweaking just a little, so it was probably a good break. 

Eventually the runners return to the road crossing aid station, then parallel the road on the Sweet Gum loop that takes them by the old Lodge.  Back in to the woods there is a bout a mile of slight descent back to the creek, then a slight climb up to the Visitor's Center loop, a sharp descent and ascent that is about .6 miles back to the main road.  At this point I was feeling the fact that I had lost some of my endurance, but I knew it was almost done, so I shrugged it off and headed back on the campground loop and on to the funky little single track.  I was still giving about 80%, and was happy for that even though about 30 runners had passed me in the last 7 miles.  I need this humbling, its good for me. I learn from it. 

As I returned to the Iron Hill Trail my knees felt about 85-90%, which was better than I expected.  I made the final turn back towards the Start/Finish and mustered up a sort of weak kick to the Finish Line. 1:35, 8 1/2 minutes slower than last year, and about 35 places further down the list.  I was cool with it....Two weeks earlier I was thinking I would never run without pain again. 

Post Race was the best part, as my wife joined me with the dogs, and we got to hang out with some great GUTS people.  If you haven't volunteered for a race, this is a part you cant understand.  There is just a different comradery than just running the race.  Oh, and by the way, I had no left overs!!! The food seemed to go over well!! 

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Fat Ass 50k 'Suffering is a Choice'

Fat Ass 2011 brought a change of venue, but the sub-freezing temperatures remained the same.  I guess to be fair it was warmer this year. It was a balmy 19 degrees at the start, up two degrees from last year!  At 5 a.m. when the alarm went off, I still wasn't sure if I was going to run this.  I have hardly run at all since Pine Mountain a month ago, and I hadn't run one mile in the last two weeks.  After Pine Mountain, I had a really painful bout of tendonitis flair up in both of my knees.  I have been trying to be really good; lots of rest, minimal if any running, taking anti-inflamatory meds, broke out the knee braces, strengthening the quads, etc, etc.  I had suffered with a bout of this two years ago, and basically with the help of a brace and anti-inflamatory meds I ran through it.  I keep hoping the same will happen here, but it hasn't.  I have seen slight improvement, but when race morning came I considered my right knee questionable and my left knee was definitely still in pain.

Nevertheless, three hours later I toed the start line with one of my good friends and upcoming 100+ pacer Brett Luna.  In my head, before the start, I planned on being a 'half ass' and only running 15.6 miles.  After the first step, I knew I was going to run the whole matter how long, or how bad it hurt.  At the moment, I had no idea on the answer to how long or how bad it was going to hurt though.  I did have one thing on my side , this years' race was at Sweetwater State Park, and I knew these trails like the back of my hand.

Off on the first loop, and I felt great!  We ran down the parking lot and headed for the blue trail.  The blue trail is a gently rolling fairly easy 2 mile stretch with good views of the river.  Brett and I settled in somewhere in the back of the top ten runners, and started our 31.2 mile conversation.  There was no one else I'd rather run a Fat Ass race with than Brett.  I knew that the entire day was going to be one joke after another, and we would truly be embracing the spirit of a Fat Ass run.  After two miles, we were down some washed out rail tie stairs, and off on to the White Trail.  The White trail is my favorite of all the marked trails at Sweetwater, three miles long with great river views and Jack's Hill.  A little over a mile in to the White Trail, I felt the first twinge in my left knee....and so it begins.  Nevertheless, I tried to ignore it, and up Jack's Hill we ran and then through the pine forest to the Start/Finish.  One loop down, five to go.

The second loop was fairly uneventful, this was the one loop that I chatted with some other runners.  I got to see Javier de Jesus and Kate Brun on this loop.  The pain was still there and becoming more evident on the downhills, which is common for patellar tendonitis.  The Blue Trail was the main aggravator of my knees for the rest of the day, and I often looked forward to getting next to the river on the White Trail.  At the start of the thirs loop I was entertaining the idea of only running a half ass.  I was really upset that the downhills hurt so bad.  I am, after all, nicknamed The Salamander....because of the way I pick through technical downhills.  By this time the level and uphill sections hurt too, so I guessed it didnt really matter.  On the thids loop, I had to stop and walk for  aminute or so....I was hurting.  At least the company was good, and the weather had not yet turned bad.  We decided that we wanted some tunes, so at the end of the third loop Brett grabbed his I-Phone, we cranked up some Bob Marley, and headed out on the fourth loop.

At this point, I had gotten really quiet.  I really wasn't sure if I was making the smartest decision continuing on.  Sharp pains had started in my knees whenever I landed anything but perfectly square on my foot, and on trails that meant greater than fifty percent of the time.  Brett was doing a lot of talking, and I was doing alot of listening, to Bob Marley that is.  We made up our own lyrics to the songs, one of my personal favorites was 'Buffalo Runner'!!!!  I would have moments that I could perform, but more often than not I was just in pain.  At the end of the fourth loop, I spent alittle extra time at the aid station refueling, which was a mistake.  In the matter of a couple (literally) minutes, my knees had cooled down enough to when I started running again, they didnt want to.  The pain was really excrutiating, and I started some weird kind of hitch in my step where I would kick my left leg way out in a roundhouse motion to keep going.  And why did I keep going, especially in a Fat Ass run?  I DONT DNF....PERIOD!!!!  We had switched to listening to Incubus on the fifth loop, and that is pretty much all I did.  Listen to the music, and talk trash about myself, and my performance.   The fifth loop was the longest loop of the day, both in time, and in my head!

At the Start/Finish Line after the fifth loop, I knew there was only one more loop!!!!  I tore away in an odd hobbit style gait, and headed for one more punishing loop.  After a short period of time my knees warmed back up, and I actually started a somewhat normal run.  The sixth loop brought some weird hard core metal that Brett had in his phone.  Oh well, whatever does the trick.  The last loop brought a bunch of trash talking and jokes that we hadnt seen for a coulpe of hours.  I got to take one more look at the beautiful Sweetwater Creek, one last painful descent down to the creek from blue to white trail, and one more trudge up Jack's Hill.  My knees were shot....

In case you didnt know, The definition of trudge is "to walk with purpose".  I always do, and always will.

We finished in 6:30, my second slowest ultra ever, and 1 hour and 45 minutes slower than last year.  Te weird thing was, I enjoyed the hell out of it.  I faced demons and crushed them.  I proved one more time that I am just that tough.  I had a blast running every step with one of my best friends.  I enjoyed being humbled, and I learned from it.....and that was the best part and the most important lesson to me. 

See ya at Red one way or another....

Monday, December 13, 2010

Pine Mountain 40 Miler

Pine Mountain 40 Miler...hmmmm, one of the more deceptively difficult courses that I have run.  I think it is something about all of the runnable climbs that lulls me into a false sense of ability,...or something like that.  Last year I came in fantastic shape, and put up a mediocre time....and hurt for a couple of days.  This year, I came in sort of tired. I had really been ramping up my miles in a desperate effort to get myself ready for the winter season.  After Mystery Mountain, I knew I had some work to do, and I know better, but thought that I could get it all back by running myself in to the ground for 5 weeks.  Want to guess how well that worked???  Any ways, My friend Will Glover, training partners Jon Obst, and Agostino Corigliano, and I had gotten a sweet cabin in Calloway Gardens.  Race Day came, I was well rested, and the weather was twice as hot for the start as it was last year!! (34 degrees!).  I toed the line thinking,.....its just 40 miles.....for a distance runner, 40 miles is just mind over matter, anything less than 30 is usually a training run.  Oh, did I mention I found out that I got in to Western States on Saturday?!!!!  The Olympics for Ultra Running, a one in a million shot, ....and I dont know if I can run baby is due two weeks before...I was still on a high just thinking about it as we were about to start though.

And we're off!!!  The group of 150 runners thinned pretty quickly as we headed down the dam towards the woods, I entered the woods with my friends and settled in for the easiest section of the course.  The first 3 miles is a gentle upgrade of well maintained and non-rocky trail.  A few runners fell here early, and I thought to myself that they had a long day ahead of them, as the course just continues to get more difficult.  After crossing the road at about the 3 mile mark we worked ourselves on to the top of the first ridgeline, and for the second year in a row we were treated to one of the most beautiful sunrises I have ever seen.  We ran up on this ridge for about three quarters of a mile, I spent the whole time trying not to fall, as I was affixed on the sunrise, and not the trail.  At about 6 miles we cruised through the first aid station.  Since the weather was fairly cool, I and most of the runners around me barely stopped, the next aid station was fairly close.  About 10 miles in the trail started to get really rocky, not that they weren't already, but they were worse now.  Compunded with the rocks, this year the leaf cover was much more intense and thick, I twisted my ankle around ten miles in.  I didnt look at it until the end of the race, but it was nice and swollen with a dark black hue.

Mile 14.8 brought the Mollyhugger Hill Aid Station.  I grabbed a couple of sandwiches and quickly took off.  The entire race I concentrated on eating as much real food while running as I could, I think Im kinda' over gels and such, real food gives me a better and longer lasting boost.    I was staying fairly well hydrated as well, I didnt want to make the same mistakes I made at Mystery Mountain, and get behind.  Even though I tried to ignore it....I was starting to cramp after leaving this aid station, WHY! I was well hydrated, alternating sports drink with water, eating alot, taking salt, but sure enough, I was cramping.  Mile 16.....kicked a rock, went face forward off the trail, right calf completely seized up in to a horrible cramp.  I quickly rolled on to my back, sat up, and tried to start working it out.  I couldnt get it to loosen up, I looked behind me to see if there was an oncoming runner, and...dammit...found myself looking back at a fellow runner's junk as he relieved himself....not cool, but the good part was that I knew once he was done, he could help me up.  And he did.  So, after a 2 minute delay, I was off running through the woods again, knowing that stopping would only make the muscle worse.  I ate a few more s-caps, and chugged my whole water bottle, knowing that the next aid was only about 2 miles away.  I made it to the next station, took off, and felt pretty good for the next three miles.  At about mile 20, you encounter the most beautiful portion of the course, it is about a 2.5 mile strectch that takes you across a stream about 12 times or so, and you pass numerous cascading waterfalls, and three fairly major waterfalls.  After the stream it is just a short distance to the TV tower, which I consider halfway, although it is actually just shy of 23 miles.

At the TV tower aid station I came across Tom Wilson and his grilled cheese sandwiches. I remembered these from last year, and quickly scarfed two.  My friend from Florida Will came up while I was eating, he wasnt having a very good day, and had injured his foot.  I wasnt having the best day either, so I decided since I talked him into coming up, I would glady bring him in, at whatever pace, and share some good conversation. The next three to four miles were fairly slow, but full of good conversation, I actually think it was the favorite part of my race.  I had met Will this past May when I traveled down to FL to run Wickham Park, we did almost the entire race together and have stayed in contact ever since.  When its been awhile since you've seen a running friend, it is always great to share some miles in the woods.  Just about 26 miles in Will told me numerous times to get the hell out of there and not wait for him.  As every Ultra Runner knows, sometimes you need to be alone out there with your thoughts, I sensed that this was one of those times for him, and took off. 

When I took off, I felt great.  I remembered that I was tough, and that my speed increases with distance.  It was like an entirely different race, and I was an entirely different runner.  At 28 miles I was back at Mollyhugger Hill Aid Station, I dumped a handfull of Chia seeds into my bottle, ate another sandwich, and started picking people off.  I would be willing to bet that I had one of the fastest splits over the last 12 miles, and I made up almost 45 minutes of lost time, and passed about 15 runners.  I enjoy the last 10 miles of Pine Mountain...I generally start to warm up and shed some clothes, and the last 3 miles are basically downhill, so who could complain? 

As I exited the woods and headed for the finish line I just sort of raised up my hands and shrugged my shoulders, I was 14 minutes slower than last year, I knew I could have beat last year, but didnt, for some reason it just wasnt a big deal to me. I had a good time, I finished like I knew I would.  I dont know, I don't have awhole lot else to say.  Thank you so much to the volunteers for making the race such a pleasure.  Sarah Tynes, thank you for all of your hardwork as RD. GUTS, in general...another fantastic race.  I have a great schedule lined up for the next seven months, and look forward to seeing alot of ya'll out on the trails!!!!