Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Bel Monte Endurance Runs

Well, there were some firsts this weekend for sure....for one thing it is the first time I was "the" oldest finisher in a race. I also finished first in my age group (50-59) and Deb finished first in her age group (50-59), but not in the race she was hoping to do that in!

Welcome to the Bel Monte Endurance Runs, which is a 25K, 50K and 50 mile trail race run in the George Washington National forest in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Sherando, Virginia.
Some good things were had here and this is a wonderful series of trail races! The trails were beautiful, the climbs were what we expected and the volunteers and aid stations were great. The 50 miler has 11,000 feet of climb, it was hard, but good training!

Runners coming up the first real climb of the day

Let me get to our race...
The race started at 6:30 AM on top of a dam at Sherando lake in 24 degrees under clear, star filled skies. We lined up where we figured slower 50 milers should line up, a little forward of the back of the pack. What we didn't think of is that there are also slower 50K and 25K runners that we should have been ahead, so the first several miles were slow, as in real slow. In some places on flat trail we were at a complete standstill waiting for some "new" trail runner who didn't want to get her shoes muddy at the first creek crossing! Anyway, this cost us a lot of time and after hiking along some gorgeous trails as the sun came up, we reached Camp Marty, the first aid station at 7.3 miles in about 2:15. That's about a 19mpm pace. I wouldn't have minded, but even though there were some climbs in that section, particularly towards the end of those first 7.3 miles, most of it was flat to rolling in the beginning. The final climb I was able to crank up no problem as the field began to thin out. Here I refilled my bottles (water only for me), dropped my heavier long sleeve goat skin in my drop bag and grabbed a fresh flask of First Endurance Liquid Shot. I love this stuff and can usually down this for 30-40 miles before my stomach say no more. FE shot gives me lots of energy and electrolytes per flask, which lasts me about 3-4 hours...and this is basically all I need along with my water.

Marty and Deb goofing early in the race

Next up after Camp Marty was a great downhill section where I could make up a little time. Our friend, Bogie, didn't make the mistake we made at the start and was ahead somewhere. This section was a nice mostly jeep road and steep downhill, I passed a lot of people here as I can crank downhills pretty good after all these years of trailrunning. Many were tiptoeing their way down to avoid rocks and holes and I was able to fly by then. I was wearing my LaSportiva Crosslite trail shoes, which are their lightest and lowest shoes made. The foot turnover wearing these was great!

One of the many views we had during the day

At the bottom of the hill we came to the Kennedy Ridge aid station , mile 13.1 and because it was starting to warm up, I stripped off my 2nd layer of goat skin down to my singlet and tied it around my waist for later use. We had drop bags here, but because I was mostly running hard downhill, I never drank any of the liquid shot, just drank water, so I didn't need a replacement flask. With the next section being about 4 miles of rolling dirt road, I could catch up on my calorie consumption here, which is what I did. I really didn't like the road section, it felt hard with my light shoes, but it was a great place to try to make up some more time that I lost in those first few miles.

Next up was the Turkey Pen aid station and is where we split with the rest of the field. The 50 milers took a left on a wonderful single track, that climbed up for maybe a mile, then back down to a self serve aid station where we had to punch our number to prove we had done that section. Not far before I reached the station, I took a nasty header on a steep section of downhill and slid in the dirt. Other than some scrapes, all was fine. I also saw Bogie coming up as I went down and he told me I had 15 minutes to the turnaround, which means I am running around 30-40 minutes behind him. I lost THAT much time? So I punched my number, filled my bottle, took a hit of shot and started the climb. This is where I saw Deb coming down and she looked great, then not far behind her was Michelle Roy, our friend from Mass. Michelle was acting goofy, as usual, making a face at me, but she also looked great and I knew she and Deb would hook up and work together soon.

 Deb coming down to the turnaround on the out and back section

Me coming up

Michelle coming down in her red hot pants

The climb back up was steep and it was getting warm, so I just kept drinking and taking hits from my flask of Liquid Shot and I had no trouble, as a matter of fact I felt better than I did all day. Soon I reached Turkey Pen again and made the left back towards Camp Marty to complete the out loop.

Bogie coming down from Marty's....look at the heel striking!
Bogie wins the "most gear" award...

I cranked up the steep climb up to Marty, thinking of how much this training will help at Hardrock, which just made me crank even more. The climb was long after a rolling trail section of multiple creek and river crossings. They weren't bad, maybe ankle to knee deep in spots, but the water felt great on my feet, which were starting to ache a little from the rocks and my shoe choice. I saw Bogie again on the way up and he said I had about 12 minutes to the top (Ah, I'm gaining on him). At the top of the climb it was all business, take a couple of pictures, grab a fresh flask, fill my bottles and head down hard. Now I feel like I'm heading home. This was the 27 mile mark.

 Typical creek crossing on this section

The trail at the turnaround at Marty's to head back around

As I headed down I was now seeing the hurting runners....people just standing, looking not good at all. Some were even sitting by the side of the trail and I felt great! I guess training pays off. The runners were all asking me how far to the top, so I just started rattling off 2 minutes to the top, 5 minutes to the top, occasionally I'd come upon a runner running down slow from sore quads and would step around them and continue flying. As I was rattling off times, I then came upon Deb and Michelle, who were working together, I looked at my watch and said about 15 minutes walking to the top. I know how well Deb finishes ultra races and figured she'd finish within 30 minutes of me. More on that later...Grrrrrr.

Now it's just all business, like Karl Meltzer says, another day at the office....I wasn't seeing any runners anymore along the trails. I came to the Turkey Pen aid station and told the woman there I was all set and would be running through to get this thing done, she said I looked strong, which helped my attitude. About 1 mile to the road, then back up the road to Kennedy. Along the road I passed a couple of guys walking, asked if they needed anything and continued on my walk/jog effort on this rolling dirt road. Occasionally cars would drive by yelling out cheers to me, but otherwise it was a quiet journey. Now the road did feel real hard and the bottom of both feet were sore, they felt bruised...but I knew there was no relief until I finished, so for the first time all day I popped a couple of enteric coated aspirin, which didn't seem to do anything at all.

 Sign welcoming me at Kennedy, mile 37.1!

I finally reached Kennedy aid at mile 37 and totally forgot that I had a drop bag and flask there, took a picture of the volunteers and started the long grind up to Camp Marty again. I think this climb was around 3 miles long, I know it took me about an hour to reach the top. I was still trying to push the pace, thinking back to those treadmill uphill walking sessions I did over the Winter, but this was much steeper than 15% and I did get a little fuzzy in the head, slammed the rest of my flask of Liquid Shot and started munching on some Clif Shot blocks I had in my pack. This helped to keep me thinking good and soon I heard the cheers at Camp Marty. This was mile 43...

 Finally reached Camp Marty for the 3rd and final time, mile 42.9!

At Camp Marty I had some soup, filled my bottles, grabbed the last flask of shot and started up the road to the final couple of trails to the finish. I left with another guy who seemed to be hurting more than I was and while I was leading, we walked right by the orange flagging marking the left turn onto the Torry Ridge Trail back to Sherando Lake. It was only for a minute though as three runners were walking back towards us and said they couldn't find the trail. I looked back and there was the flagging going off to the left. Our brains now aren't the same brains we started with!

This next trail was tough on my sore feet....it was off and on extremely rocky and steep in spots. To keep my mind off of my feet, I though about Bogie who was up ahead and would I be able to catch him if I kept pushing....and if I didn't keep pushing would Deb catch up to me, like she does in many races. I had no idea where I was in the field or in my age group. I didn't see too many gray haired men since mid day, even with the out and backs, but that doesn't always mean anything.

 Typical downhill rocky section on one of the last trails...ouch!

I had left all the runners behind when I plunged down the trail, except for one younger guy who went by me, but he all of a sudden stopped and I went by never seeing him again.

 That's the guy on the Torry Ridge trail

I remembered from reading the trail description that we went by a blue marked trail and not too far from that was the other blue marked trail that we took down to the finish. Just before reaching that trail I ran into Abi Meadows, who I remember from her running Barkley last year and also from her occasional posts on the ultra list. She was very pleasant (and pretty) and mentioned to me that she had run the Terrapin 50K earlier that day and was heading out to sweep the last runner in. After that small greeting, I plunged as best I could down the rocky and steep trail to the road at the bottom, along the way passing a young guy who was having a lot of trouble getting down the trail.

At the bottom there was a small aid station and a woman told me to run up the road and the finish was in 2.4 miles. I looked at my watch and made a note of the time, which was 5:52PM. I needed to keep moving to try and break 11.5 hours! Where it was all road, even though it was all uphill, I figured it should be a piece of cake. but then I see the trail markers taking us uphill on a trail....Oh well, forget sub 11:30! I walked as best I could and at the top stopped to take a photo of Sherando Lake where we had started earlier that morning.

 Sherando Lake, about a mile to go!

I now recognized where I was, it was the road where we drove in that morning, so it's not far at all. Then I hear footsteps behind me and look and see that young guy running up the road trying to catch me. Man, I didn't need this, but if it's going to force me to work harder than I felt like working, so be it. I ran everything, all the uphills and blasted the downhills. I saw Deb, asked what happened, she missed the cutoff at Marty's. What? You were right behind me!!! She joined me and we ran together to the finish, everyone yelling at me to move because someone was trying to catch me. My old road racing legs kicked into action to keep the distance.

 I crossed the line at 11:33, 32nd overall and first over 50. Mission accomplished! And I have to say, other than my sore feet, I felt pretty good, so the training's working. Bring on Hardrock!

Some post race thoughts...
I should not have worn the LaSportiva Crosslites on these trails, they are racing flats. I should have worn my LaSportiva Wildcats, which have a bit more protection.
The First Endurance Liquid shot came through for me again, other than that one moment climbing up to Marty's, I never bonked or even felt sick. I almost always get sick, but one thing I've learned is I can get away with taking in less than what we think we need. I used three flasks (400 calories each), one pack of Clif blocks (100 calories) and a small cup of soup, that might have been 100 (a guess) for a total fuel consumption of about 1400 calories. That's about 120 calories an hour, no where near the 250 that's recommended. When I train I use no fuel and I also run mostly low heart rate, which supposedly teaches your muscles to use fat for fuel more efficiently. Anyway, it works for me!

OK, now for my biggest gripe and I will write Gill (RD) about this once the dust settles...The cutoffs. Several runners that I was with were concerned about them, I said don't worry about it just run. When I saw Deb coming up to Marty's as I was going down, she said she was worried about the cutoff. I said there's nothing you can do about it, so just keep moving and you'll be fine. Well, was I ever shocked to see her at the finish line when I finished! She and Michelle were about 15 minutes behind me, so let's say 20 minutes total after having some soup and filling their bottles. Deb runs the 2nd half of ultras like I do, she cranks as best she can and sometimes catches me. When she got up there, Marty just said I can't let you go on, you missed the cutoff. Deb tried to explain, but he wouldn't listen....which is the right thing to do as an aid captain. So she and Michelle had to return the way the 50 K runners went back (the way I went back after reaching Marty's the 3rd time) and ended up winning the over 50 women's race even though she ran an additional 5 miles, which was the out and back we did near Turkey Pen. I am pretty sure Deb would have finished under 12 hours, an hour under the cutoff.

So that's it, training race #2 for Hardrock is history...we had a great weekend with friends, Bogie had a great race, possibly his best effort yet after we ridiculed him all week about "taking it easy".

My gear:
LaSportiva Crosslite shoes
Drymax Trail Lite socks
Nathan Elite 2V Plus waist pack
Goat Skins: Greenlayer singlet and Longsleeve
Raceready shorts

First Endurance EFS Liquid Shot, 3 flasks, 1200 calories
1 pkg of Margherita flavor Clif Shot Blocks, 180 calories
1 cup of chicken noodle soup, 100 calories

To see the results go here...

To see my photos I took go here...

Up next is the DRB 50K in Mass. on April 18th...

Until the next race and post...
Steve and Deb

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Reverse Ring....not!

 The Massanutten Ring

This past Saturday and Sunday Deb and I was part of an event called the Reverse Ring. The Reverse Ring is the winter version of the Ring, which is the 71 mile loop or ring of the Massanutten trail that makes up what is most of the Massanutten 100 in May. The Ring and gniR eliminates all the road sections for aid station access and just stays up on the trail. Where it crosses roads is where we get aid. These two runs are part of the wonderful Virginia Happy Trails Running Club annual series of runs they put on.

Due to all the snowfall, we weren't sure that the gniR would be held at all....Virginia got dumped with feet of snow just a couple of weeks ago, but Mike Bur and Quatro Hubbard, rd's for the event made the decision to go on with the event even with some unknowns. There were parts of the trail where no one had been since the big snowstorm.
Mike Dobies and Jim Harris, race morning....donuts and Knob Creek

The weekend began at Kerry's Portobella house in Front Royal with many certain beverages consumed....this year Deb was a good girl and was careful of her consumed beverages, but Jim Harris decided that it wouldn't be the Reverse Ring without having the fun the night before, so he stayed up until around 3am and consumed several growlers of beer and some Knob Creek bourbon, maybe almost the whole bottle. Yeah, the run begins at 7AM....we tried to wake Jim up once, twice, then finally one last call before the drive down to Signal Knob and he finally got up. he was in no condition to drive, so caught a ride with Mike Dobies. On the way Mike looked over and saw that Jim was in his jeans, so they had to turn around so Jim could get into running clothes. Oh, Jim was the first runner in....more on that later.

The start is always uneventful because there just aren't many who desire to do this crazy event. There were more volunteers at the start than runners!

The group of runners who hadn't started early

The trails all day were about the same....clear down low, just rocks and leaves, but the higher you went the more snow there was....and as the day progressed it warmed up to where you sunk in deeper and had no traction. Our hope all day was that once it got dark and things got cold, it would firm up (joke of the day) and the going would be great....but it almost never happened. If you tried to run on top of the frozen snow, about every third footfall you would posthole. Once while running downhill behind Deb I did this, face planted scraping my face in the frozen snow. When I got up my face was numb and wet, I feared a big scrape and the wetness being blood, but it wasn't. At one point I stepped alongside one of what I called the log drifts, fallen trees that were covered with snow, and my foot got lost as I went in up to my hip!

Steve and Deb on a tree drift
Suzanne Carlson photo

After a great day of sunshine off and on and warmth with great views, we reached Moreland Gap, mile 30.4 and found out that everyone in front of us decided to call it a day....just couldn't take the deep snow anymore and only one person was up ahead...Jim Harris! Smart ones stopped....we weren't smart, just wanting that stupid T-Shirt! ;-)

 One of the many views from the trail

Some Massanutten rocks poking out through the snow

The next section was horrible, that's all I can say. It was almost 16 miles, unaided, snow that wasn't yet firm enough to support you so you could not trust it enough to do much running. Up high it was windy and cold. I was freezing, Deb and I both had everything on we had with us including our Marmot jackets with hoods up and we were still cold. Somewhere on the trail after Waterfall and leading up to the Gap Creek trail I looked at my watch and realized we weren't going to get to Camp Roosevelt by midnight, which was my cutoff in order to be able to pick up Tucker in the morning from the kennel and drive home so I can be at work Monday morning. Once the decision was made that we were going to stop, we both deflated about the same time and had no drive to keep pushing the pace...or eat...or even drink! Deb slipped and fell in a creek and now her mitten was dripping wet, so she had to remove it and wrap her head bandanna around her hand. All desire to continue was squashed like a bug on the trail. Suzanna and Paul caught up and we stepped aside to let them by. It was dark....it was cold....it was windy.

Now we finally reached the Gap Creek Trail, which will take us to Camp Roosevelt where we can end the day. Up, up we climb in the now freezing snow that breaks through every third step, then up top the wind was howling and on the way down you could not avoid getting your feet wet....the trail "was" a creek.

 Where we just came from....that ridegeline

The longest section of the day was after we saw the sign that told us it was 3 miles to the road, where Camp Roosevelt was. I said to Deb the way we are moving, that's three hours more to go...I think it actually took longer. We kept stopping to look for the orange blazes, now that our tired brains were no longer confident that we were on trail, even though we've both been on this trail plenty of times in the Ring, gniR and MMT100. Soon we saw a campfire and thought it was the volunteers at Camp Roosevelt, but we went right by it. Then Deb thought we were supposed to go straight when the trail turned right and I was being stubborn saying that the instructions were to never leave the orange blazed Massanutten trail. She came along with me, still thinking we were wrong when all of a sudden and after many stream crossings that you could only just plunge on through, we saw some flashlights. I was not hopeful and thought it was some hikers....but sure enough it was Quatro, Mike Bur and Carolyn Gernard. Finally! We're done! When we said we were stopping, they said "No, No, you can't" but Q was saying to himself "Thank you". Everyone was accounted for except for caroline, who was still on her was to Camp Roosevelt.

 3-4 foot round tree blocking the trail

Now that's it's done I can look back and be glad we did it....yeah I'm still not a Master and now probably never will be, but I never really second guessed stopping. Most likely it would have been 15 hours or so for the last 25 unaided miles. I would be in worse shape right now than I am in, we would have been late getting Tucker, meaning more money for another day and I would have had to take another valuable vacation day at work on Monday that I need for Hardrock.

The condition of my body is that of one who ran the whole Massanutten 100. My feet are swollen, they hurt, my toes are still numb from being frozen and wet for 20 hours (well actually 19:05 was our finishing time), my lower back is achy and my legs are trashed. Here it is Tuesday and I have not run yet and I am someone who runs every day of the year, if I can. Deb has two spots of frostbite on her toes, which she is prone to get due to her Renaud's syndrome. So, just over 19 hours for 46 miles! Results are here.

 A snowier section....leaving Woodstock aid

We both wore our LaSportiva Wildcat running shoes, which may or may not have been a good choice with the mesh uppers, but they did fine on the trail for traction. We dropped off the Yaktrax early figuring we'd not need them and never really did. One equipment problem we both had was the nozzle on our Nathan packs, which just seemed to freeze...Deb's eventually broke and we were both wishing we had just worn our Nathan two bottle packs and will from now on.

A huge thanks to Mike Bur and Quatro Hubbard for putting on the Reverse Ring and also to all the volunteers who helped at various points along the way. The highlight of the day was certainly the corn chowder that Dan Pesta had at Edinburgh Gap (at least I think that was where he was).
The highlight of the weekend was running and hiking for all that time with Deb and also hooking up with several of the other runners along the way.
Great time for sure!

So that's it....my quest for a Mastership of the Ring is probably not going to happen due to the weather. Deb and I will hopefully be moving back to New Mexico before the year is out and I won't come back for it. Damn, I wanted one of those shirts ;-)

We're coming back down to Virginia in 3 weeks for the Bel Monte 50 mile trail race, can't wait! We are certainly better prepared now than we were last week!

To view all the photos and videos I took during the run go here.

See some of you out there at some trail run in the future!
Steve and Deb