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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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!