Saturday, January 26, 2013

Trail Running in Upstate South Carolina

Have you recently moved to Greenville?  Visiting Spartanburg on business?  Staying at Anderson while visiting family?  If so, and you want to know about trail running in Upstate, South Carolina, then this post is for you.  I hope it provides some useful information to visitors and residents alike.  I’ll first address where the trails are, then races, then some miscellaneous stuff.

Where to Run- In Town

In Greenville, the premier trail running location is Paris Mountain State Park.  With about 20 miles of trails ranging from easy to very technical winding about the mountain, it is only a few miles from downtown.  It’s a splendid gem that is a joy to visit and quickly causes you to forget you're still in-town.  Mountain bikes aren’t allowed on Saturdays, and the park is open until 9 pm on Tuesdays in the winter, so those are the days I use it the most- you’ll usually find me there on Tuesdays starting about 5:30, if you want to join us.  Greenville Track Club also has an informal group that meets there for a run every Saturday morning at 8:30 am.  There are a few other miles of trails at Conestee Park and at Cleveland Park, but Paris Mountain is the definite crown jewel.

In the Anderson/Clemson area, the best trail running I’ve found is the Issaqueenah Trail system.  There are miles and miles of trails packed into a relatively small area, primarily sweet singletrack.  You can find maps online- one is here, though even this is still missing some trails.  Whether running along Keowee River, ducking holly branches, or going up and down the endless hills, there is plenty here to keep you busy for years.

Spartanburg’s best trails can be found at Croft State Park.  There’s many miles of official and unofficial trails circling the lake, though my favorite area is the no-horses-allowed Southside Mountain Bike park just across the bridge.  It’s less hilly than Paris Mountain and Issaqueenah and has some real cruiser trails.

Where to Run- Outside Town

As good as the aformentioned parks are, an hour or so of driving opens up a whole new world of truly outstanding running trails

The Palmetto trail winds off-and-on through the Foothills and Blue Ridge Escarpment- I enjoy running west from Landrum towards Hogback Mtn, though only in winter as this gets overgrown in summer.  A nice mix of steep climbs and runnable trails.

Picture 002

Mountain Bridge Natural area contains Jones Gap and Caesars Head State Parks with dozens of miles of trails, generally moderate (Jones Gap trail) to very difficult (Hospital Rock, Pinnacle Pass, Naturaland).  There are some very picturesque waterfalls, so bring your camera.  Be aware parking can fill quickly at both these parks.


Continuing west, Table Rock State Park contains some of the best views in the state from both Table Rock and Bald Knob overlooks.  On clear days, these provide unobstructed views looking towards Greenville.  It also has some of the biggest climbs in the state. 


I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Table Rock is the start of perhaps the finest trail in the state, the 77 mile Foothills Trail. Popular for week-long backpacking trips, there is also a good trail running group and listserv based on this trail.  Climbing from Table Rock over Pinnacle Mountain and Sassafras Mountain (the highest point in SC), the well-marked FHT passes numerous waterfalls, including Whitewater Falls, the one of the highest waterfalls east of the Mississippi, and has some impressive suspension bridges and thousands of wooden steps.  The 35 mile Laurel Valley section from Rocky Bottom to Whitewater Falls has no road crossings and is some of the most remote trail in the South East.  It winds north of Lake Jocassee, then follows the Chattooga River (where Deliverance was filmed) before finishing in Oconee State Park.  The trail is difficult, with most runners taking more time than on a 100 mile race.  My favorite section is to park at Rocky Bottom trailhead and then run either towards Laurel Valley to the Heartbreak Bench (24 miles and 5200 ft climbing round trip) or run east up Sassafras, sometimes all the way to Table Rock and back (28 miles, 7600 ft climbing).  Just watch out for industrial-strength spider webs in the summer and carry plenty of water.



Toxaway River sign

FHT track

Venturing across the border into North Carolina, Dupont State Forest is my single favorite trail running location near Greenville.  It has over 100 miles of trail and has some of the best known waterfalls in the South.  Don’t skip Dupont.  Asheville and Pisgah also have innumerable miles of trails, though plenty has been written on those elsewhere.


I’ve noticed that the races in Upstate SC seem to change frequently.  One year, there are Xterra races in Paris Mountain or Table Rock, or Go Run Trails race at Jones Gap, the next year they are gone.  A little internet searching will reveal what races are on queue for this year.  I’ll still highlight a few, though.

Croft State Park hosts a trail marathon in July, a half marathon in November, and a 24 hr run in December.

In Greenville, Greenville Track Club hosts a number of fun races at Paris Mountain, right now a 12k, 8k, and 16k spread throughout the year.  Half Moon Outfitters also hosts a race at Conestee and a night race at Paris Mountain that are known for lots of swag for entrants and winners.

For ultramarathoners, South Carolina seems to have a much smaller selection than nearby North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, or Virginia.  But, there are still some high-quality races.  Terri Hayes hosts several ultras that have great reputations and challenging terrain.  She doesn’t even have set entry fees, just asking for voluntary donations to offset her expenses.  Clyde Sinclair also hosts Laurel Valley 35 mile (or 31 or 40 miles, depending who you ask), a no-nonsense race run in the middle of August that provides no aid stations but still fills up every year (17 and counting).  There are countless stories/fables about this well-beloved race, and a few of them might even be true.  Dan Hartley also puts on Harbison 50k in Columbia on some nice, fairly flat singletrack.  But, like I said earlier, most of the ultrarunners venture out of state for most of their races.

Other Info

Greenville seems to have more running stores per capita than anyplace I’ve ever seen, though always changing.  Right now, there is Fleet Feet, The Run In, Greenville Running Company, On On Tri, plus stores like REI, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Half Moon Outfitters, and many others.  In other words, if you need shoes or gu, you’re in luck.

The Greenville Track Club is a fine organization that hosts many races and has weekly training groups.  And, if for some reason, you want to run someplace other than trails, try out the Swamp Rabbit trail in Greenville.

I hope this post provides some useful information to Upstate SC residents and visitors alike.  If you see any errors, have additions, or just want to ask a question, please leave a comment.  Otherwise, enjoy the trails.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

2013 Run Downtown 5k race report

I still need to do several ultra race reports, but ran a 5k today that I wanted to record.  The RDT is a great competitive race in Greenville, one of the more competitive of the year.  It’s well organized and a nice loop course, with 200 ft of climbing.  Winning time is usually around mid-14’s, and there are often 20 guys under 17 min.  It’s also the only race I’ve done every year since I moved to Greenville SC, so is a good benchmark.  I’ve never done 5k speedwork or tapered for it (I ran 18 miles yesterday), but I still try to be competitive.

In 2011, RDT was my first 5k race in years and I was happy with my 16:58, 15th place finish.  Last year I improved to 16:34 and 14th place, setting my road race PR.  I reviewed my splits from last year (5:21, 5:20, 5:52 for 1.1) and knew I could beat them today, though not for any training-related reasons.  In fact, my PR from last year was coming off a 395 mile December and no hard races, while this year I only ran 211 miles in December and killed myself in a 50k two weeks ago.  My right knee is still balky from that ultramarathon, and my left knee is bruised and extremely painful from a hard tumble I took yesterday on the trails (seriously, it was so stiff and painful that I couldn’t walk down stairs last night).  Plus I’m fighting a cold and haven’t been sleeping much.  Nevertheless, I’ve truly felt I’ve always underperformed in 5k’s due to not pushing hard enough and have really learned that race performances can depend on guts/stupidity/toughness/tenacity more than training.  I decided to basically go all-out like this was a 1 mile race, then depend on my endurance to carry me.  After all, no amount of pain in a 5k can match the hours of pain in ultras.

Despite 3.5 inches of rain in the past week, the weather dawned clear and dry.  Temps at the start were a cool 32 deg with a tiny breeze.  I warmed up with Byron Backer, then stripped down to just my singlet, green shorts, and stretchy gloves and was appropriately cold for a short race.  Greeting a few of my GE teammates, we lined up and started right on time. 

Per my plan, I started very hard and was in 4th place after 100 yards.  2 runners really took off the front followed by a big group.  I had settled into 11th at the half mile mark and felt good, if breathing hard.  We crested a hill at about .8 miles and all of a sudden my legs warmed up and my lungs relaxed- it was go time.  Looking around, I was confident that I was the only ultrarunner in the group and the only old guy, so wanted to see how many young bucks I could catch.  I passed most of the group, reaching the 1 mile mark in 7th place at 5:12.  Sweet.  Mile 2 is net downhill and allowed me to stretch my legs, which my bruised knee did not particularly enjoy.  At all.  I reached the mile marker on the shoulder of 6th place with a 5:10 split (I think that is my 2 mile PR, or at least post-collegiate PR).  We passed a couple guys on the long climb as injured GE teammate Jim cheered.  I reached the top in 5th place.  My legs were absolutely maxed out and my vision was blurry while my lungs screamed.  Ahh, the aliveness of racing.  Someone passed me, and I let him pull me along to pass a slowing runner.  My brain faintly saw the clock counting closer to 16:00 despite my best efforts to stop time.  I crossed the finish line in 5th place at the 16:01 mark.  I was very happy to see GE teammates Phil, Dan, and Barry run great races, as well as many others.  It was a fun, fast day.  Final results here.

RDT 5k

Approaching the finish (photo from Greenville News)

Today was a 20 second PR and I am very pleased with the result.  I certainly would have liked to break 16 min, but it wasn’t to be.  Heck, I was amazed at my time given my lack of mileage, injuries, no speedwork, and ongoing recovery.  I really feel I ran my best today and finally have a 5k time I am satisfied with.  Maybe I’ll have to write a 5k break-up letter and stop running them like I did with the marathon.  Per calculator, my time would be 15:44 on a flat track- wow. 

5k’s are definitely a young guy race- the average age of the top 10 finishers was 24 years old, and I was the oldest in that group.  In fact, I was 11 years older than any of the other top 5.  Similar to last year, this just reinforces that a strong mileage base and stubbornness can make up for youth and speed.  I’ve been feeling a bit down with my training the past few months, but I’d say I’m in ok shape.  Anyways, now we’re waiting for child number 4 to join our family this week, and then it’s onwards with the rest of 2013.  It will be a great year.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

6 months of running, plus looking forward to 2013

I doubt I have any blog readers left, as I’ve basically written once in the past 6 months.  Not that a lot hasn’t happened.  I’ve just had other priorities and haven’t been able to make the time to write.  But, I wanted to put a few pictures, a few memories, and a bit looking forward to 2013.  So this might be a bit long, primarily heavy in pictures. It includes Hardrock pacing and race reports for Iron Mountain 50, StumpJump 50k, and Shut In Ridge Run, amongst other things.

Last I wrote, I had run Logan Peak in June. I spent the next few weeks with family, including a great week in Utah where I wore out the trails and twice summited Mt. Timpanogos.

Hardrock 100 pacing

At the end of my Rocky Mountain vacation, I headed to Hardrock 100 to pace Tim Adams, a Brit who I had never met before. Cody and Joe came, too.  I had never been to Hardrock before but it is truly a special race and I loved the atmosphere.  And the San Juan's are beautiful, impressive mountains, especially when you know you will be running in them. I paced Tim, who did an excellent write up in a UK ultra magazine you can find here.  My thoughts on Hardrock, in no particular order:

The San Juan's are stunning. I paced 27 miles from Grouse Gulch to Maggie’s Gulch in 12 hours.  We summited Handies Peak just as the sun rose to amazing vistas. Tim is hardcore- he struggled with huge blisters the whole time but never talked of quitting. Sherman aid station is the best I have ever seen- I ate bacon, two types of cobbler, breakfast burrito, pie, popsicles, all attended by eager volunteers. Someone even decked the forest service bathroom with a fancy display, doilies, flowers, scented candles, and nice TP. The stretch from Sherman to Pole Creek seemed far too long and took forever. Didn’t really enjoy that part. I never had any problems with course markings. Tim jumped in a mud pit and pulled out a fawn that was stuck, a once in a lifetime encounter. I want to see Virginius, Oscar’s, Grant Swamp pass and the rest of the race. I will race this some point, but will wait till I live back in the Rockies. Spending a weekend at Hardrock with Cody and Joe is something I will never forget.


Tim on top of Handies


Looking back at Handies


Climbing out of Sherman, one of my favorite sections





The never ending path to Pole Creek



The mud pit and the saved fawn


Late Summer and Fall

After returning home, I ran a local trail marathon at Croft State Park and enjoyed it. It was typically hot and humid, plus very muddy due to several days of rain, and I had a blast squishing through the mud.  The race was a few miles short, but still a good workout. I was peaked and ready to travel to Oregon for Waldo 100k in August but bailed due to threats of forest fire, something I still regret.  I had a great shot to qualify for Western and just DNS’ed instead.  Moral of the story- always travel to races so you don’t have regrets. I took out my frustrations by registering for Iron Mountain 50 mile in Virginia.  I had run the 30 mile race in 2010 and loved it, and knew several running friends (Brad Hinton and Troy Shellhamer) would be there.  Unfortunately, the race was a bit blah for me- I never felt any spunk and my legs were tired all day from too much training. I hung with the lead pack for 29 miles, then entered a very dark place and walked most of the next 5+ miles. I finally came around at mile 40 and enjoyed the last 10 miles, finishing in 3rd place, about 30 min slower than my goal. I always enjoy this challenging but low key race, but prefer the 30 mile as the 50 has too much gravel road and forgettable trails in the middle.

The rest of the summer/fall was spent training, running to the Bench, hiking and running at Great Smoky Mtn Natl Park, and winning a local trail night 5k. The 5k was a blast, but running fast on technical trails at night is exhilarating and a bit crazy.  All my other night runs have been at the end of ultras, so moving a ton slower.



Leaf strewn autumn colors on the way to the Bench


IMG_0038 Running and hiking with the kids in the Smokies

StumpJump 50k

I was excited for the Rock/Creek StumpJump 50k. It has a great reputation and was stacked with competition, including newly-crowned UROC champ Max King as well probably 10 other sponsored athletes.  I was eager to again test myself against some of the best in the country at the Meat Grinder of the East, with hopes of a top 5 or podium finish.  The day dawned unexpectedly rainy but did nothing to dampen my spirits.  The starting line was quite the spectacle as a helicopter hovered overhead shooting video, memorializing one of the biggest 50k’s in the country.  An initial pack of 10 runners blazed along the muddy, wet singletrack.  I slowed briefly and then promptly made a wrong turn around mile 2, losing about 30 seconds to the leaders.  This proved to be the most fortuitous wrong turn of my life as it allowed the lead group to get out of site on the twisting trail.  After the wrong turn, I found myself behind Coloradoan Duncan Callahan, who was taking a somewhat more reasonable pace that I found welcome after the initial dash.  Content to save my energy, Duncan and I chatted for a while as we passed the first aid station.  It was Duncan’s first run in the east and allowed me to reminisce about how accustomed I had become to the nuances of the Appalachian singletrack, with an abundance of roots, mossy rocks, small climbs, and leaves.  8 miles into the race, I wished Duncan well and pulled ahead, eager to make up time on the lead pack and pick my way into the top 3.

SJ view- RC

Typical course scenery (photo courtesy of RockCreek website)

I reached the mile 10 aid station and was joined by a RC videographer, impressively running with a handheld camera.  I queried the time since the last runner and was told he had a two minute lead.  I then asked how far I was behind the lead pack of Max, et al.  The videographer looked at me in surprise and said, “You mean you don’t know they went off course? You’re in second place. The race is wide open”  Apparently the leaders ran past a volunteer and went several miles down the wrong trail shortly after I lost them.  This surprised me but I knew wouldn’t change the way I was racing.  Give it your all, no matter what else happens, and you’ll finish where you were supposed to.  I’ll admit I started looking behind me every now and then, expecting to see Max catch me from behind.  I also confused the RockCreek guy providing online updates, as he didn’t know my name and took to calling me the Mystery Man.  The next 2 hours were a solo run, though, and I pushed hard on the wet, slick singletrack.  I finally reached the infamous Rock Garden at mile 17 and slowed a bit, not wanting to risk injury.

Stumpjump2 RockCreek

Thumbs up (photo courtesy of RockCreek website)

I’ll admit that, while hard, the rock garden was shorter and less difficult than I had anticipated, although strangely dark due to very thick foliage and cloud cover.  Shortly thereafter, I again saw the videographer and asked how far behind Max was, to which he replied that most of the runners had DNF’ed (I would later find out they went 7 miles off course and were not eager to pass 400 runners on technical singletrack).  Within a few minutes, I caught the leader at mile 18 aid station and quickly pulled away.  The remainder of the race was a mix of excitement, fear, pain, and utter exhaustion.  The race has some nasty uphills that guarantee appropriate suffering in the last few miles.  Nevertheless, I won the race and cheered in Duncan a few minutes later.  My 4:27 time was slower than expected, although similar to my winning time at the easier SweetH20 50k.  I could imagine taking 15 or 20 minutes off that time given a longer taper and better (i.e. dry) conditions, but I can’t fathom running David Riddle’s 3:50 from 2011.

ScreenShot1001  Rock/Creek mid-race tweets (in reverse chronological order)

I have to give full props to the StumpJump RD and entire race crew.  It is one of the best races I’ve ever seen- well organized, competitive, and has 31 miles of absolutely sweet, technical singletrack with great views (a welcome relief from the many miles of gravel road found in some races).  The trophy is the heaviest one I’ve ever won (there’s even a video about it’s making- see below) and they also give a ton of gear to podium placers.  The race also mailed me a copy of the newspaper that had the race photos and sent me a thank you note, neither of which have ever happened before.  If you ever get the chance, run the StumpJump.



I have been trying to run all the races in the SE, not wanting to repeat any.  That I made an exception for the Shut In Ridge Run says something about the quality of this race, as does the fact the race is in it’s third decade.  It’s normally about 18 miles and finishes almost 3000 ft higher than it starts.  It’s in Asheville so you know it’s competitive, and you’re doing well if you can beat your road marathon time.

My Activities 11-3-2012, Elevation - Distance

The Blue Ridge parkway that runs alongside the race was closed, so Justin volunteered to come up and shuttle my car to the top.  The road closure also resulted in the finish line moving an extra 1.1 mile away, and (unbeknownst to me) some of the aid stations closing.  The weather was cool and clear, though I quickly discovered that the outer bands of Hurricane Sandy had blown all the leaves off the trees earlier that week.  Race veterans confirmed this was the leafiest year ever, with much of the trail having 4-6 inches of fresh leaves completely obscuring the tripping hazards beneath.  Crazy indeed.  I ran a 2:49 in 2010 and felt I could do 2:40 this year, but that meant a fast start.  My 5:49 first mile found me in third place, though I drifted between third to sixth for a while, with much of the passing happening as we took turns falling.  Similar to StumpJump, this race is almost all sweet, technical singletrack which adds to the enjoyment of seeing the brilliant fall colors.  I had just passed someone who broke his toe during a fall when I arrived at an aid station to find nothing set up.  No cars, nothing.  I realized I was in a bit of a predicament and was glad for my last minute decision to carry a bottle, even if it was only 1/3 full and held 1 gu  I ended up nursing that bottle through 90 minutes of race.  One of the lead runners hadn’t brought any water, and I passed him as he slowly walked a downhill at mile 13, completely bonked, moving me into 3rd place.  I enjoyed the steep final climb and descent on Mt Pisgah as much as anyone (which is to say, not at all), passing the old finish line at 2:40:50, right where I wanted.  The official finish line was 7 minutes away and I was thankful I didn’t have to hold off any hard-charging runners from behind.  After talking to some of the locals like Scott Williams and eating the food at the finish line, Justin and I drove home just in time for me to miss our scheduled family photo shoot. I spent the rest of November getting ready for the North Face 50 mile Championship in San Fran… which will get it’s own post.

2012 Year in Review and a Look Ahead

To be honest, I have mixed feelings about 2012.  For no reason in particular, I don’t felt it was quite as good as 2011.  I ran the most miles ever and was relatively injury free, both positives.  I won 7 races ranging in distance from 1 mile to 50k and set 5 PR’s, including 4 in one race at a relatively-satisfying Umstead 100.  Winning StumpJump was an unexpected highlight.  But for some reason, I think I left a bit on the table.  Not racing Waldo was definitely a mistake, and I had a number of races where my performance range from a bit subpar (Uwharrie, Iron Mountain) to downright abysmal (TNF 50). 

For 2013, I expect myself to improve.  I plan to keep mileage about the same but want to increase the number of Big Workouts (especially hill work), which I feel decreased over the last few years.  Beyond that, I want to keep racing, running, and having fun. 

Planned races:

January- Harbison 50k

February- Mt. Mitchell Challenge or marathon

March- Probably Chuckanut 50k, if I get in the lottery

April- The Barkley Marathons, if I get in from the wait list (I’m number 11).  Yes, this is THE Barkley and is completely nuts.  I plan to train accordingly.  For the record, I never would have imagined running this race even a few months ago and now I find myself strangely excited.  If I don’t get in the Barkley, I’ll do Promise Land 50k

May- recover, or go Massanutten 100 (wait listed) if I didn’t do Barkley

June- nada

July- White River 50 (yup, 2 trips to Seattle for races)

August- maybe Laurel Valley 35, maybe nothing

End of year- plan to do TNF Atlanta 50, then Pinhoti 100, the Lookout Mtn 50.  Might do Georgia Jewel 100 or Grindstone 100 instead of Pinhoti

Should be fun.  Hope to see you all on the trails.  Any I’d be remiss to not give a big, end-of-the-year thanks to my wife and kids for supporting me.  I love you guys!