Monday, February 10, 2014

Getting Lost (Lookout Mountain 50 mile race report)

Lookout Mountain has a good reputation and is hosted by Rock/Creek, so I decided to fit it onto my schedule this year. It runs along Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga, sometimes dropping off the side of the mountain, and has 6300 ft climbing. My training had been minimal since Pinhoti 100 (avg 54 miles per week), so I was conflicted if I wanted to run hard or just relax and have fun. I settled on running reasonably hard as long as I could, then limp home if needed. Jason was going to run it, as well, and we even convinced Barry to come run it as his first 50 mile race ever. Accompanied by Seth, who would crew Barry, we drove to Chattanooga Friday afternoon, listening to my random collection of CD’s (Top Gun soundtrack!), grabbed packets, and ate some nice bbq before settling down for the evening.
In the morning, I went out for my typical pre-breakfast slow mile in nice weather, but the expected inclement weather moved in just as I finished. By the time we left the hotel, it was 40 degrees, pouring rain and windy. Perfect trail running weather (I tend to not worry about the weather, even when it sucks. We all run in the same conditions. And as I told Barry, "Embrace the suck.") I bumped into my running twin at the start (Troy Shelhammer, 4 time finisher and 1 time winner) and then we were off into the dark. The first miles past quickly as the technical trail generally ran along some cliffs, with some rather significant drop-offs at the side of the trail. I was in the front pack-ish, though not too worried about placing. The technical trail ended with several miles of fire road that allowed for some fast running, though this was also the rainiest, windiest weather all run. Eventually, after having run with Troy for many miles, the rain stopped just as we climbed several thousand feet back up to the start line. We crossed the start line/mile 22 aid in 5thand 6th place in 3:06, well ahead of my 3:30 prediction (though accuracy of my pre-race calculator is questionable). We were less than 10 minutes behind the leaders and I felt great, running well within myself.
After a quick stop, Troy and I continued on. We followed some small, yellow flags through a couple of parking lots and under some powerlines, where the wet mud turned very, very sloppy, sticky, and slippery. We could see a runner ahead, Adam, though he was coming back towards us. When we met, he said the flags led him in a circle back to this point. Troy was fairly certain he knew where to go, so we pressed forward, though the flags disappeared so we started guessing a bit. We could see other runners behind us, equally befuddled. Eventually, after 21 minutes of wandering, we found some more flags, followed them down the powerlines and then along a creek. However, we again began to have runners coming towards us on the trail, telling us we were going the wrong way. It ends up these were runners who were 20-30 minutes behind us at mile 22. A critical turn at the start of the parking lot had not been marked for us but was corrected for them. After 10 minutes travelling the wrong way, we turned around again, finally following the proper course. We spent an additional 18 minutes travelling the wrong way and then back, meaning we were off-course for 39 minutes (though this only cost us ~25 min as we skipped a few miles) and had dropped more than 20 places. Needless to say, we were frustrated. 
 Looking for redemption, Adam, Troy and I charged on, quickly passing packs of runners. We caught up to Barry, who was surprised to see me behind, though he, too, had been off-course for 10 minutes. I chatted with him for a few minutes while Troy pulled away. Then, I caught Jason. However, after a long season and a wrong turn, I had lost my drive to race hard. At the next aid station, I stopped for an extra minute to enjoy some gummi bears and soda before continuing on. The course was enjoyable, muddy at points, and had a few very technical sections complete with rope for climbing. I finally reached the loop portion, where Seth helped me change shoes and out of my wet clothes. The loop passed quickly, and I surprised Mitchell Pless as I passed him (I had last seen him at mile 20), then started the last 12 miles back to the finish. Most of the runners were still outbound, so there was plenty of traffic on the trail. I was around 10th place for most of this stretch, though I surprisingly caught Adam, who had slowed a bit. With some last minute leap-frogging, and while managing to stay on course this time (through what was definitely the muddiest part of the course- literal shoe sucking mud, sometimes mid-shin deep), I finally finished in 8:27 in 9th place overall. Troy had fought back valiantly to a 3rd place finish in 8:09. Had we started running the right way when we first met the course, I think top 5 would have been possible for all of us, and maybe a battle for 2nd and 3rd. But, it is what it is. This is the first time I’ve spent more than a few minutes off-course in all my trail racing history, which I consider fairly remarkable. Plus, the wrong turn was due to course markings (which the RD apologized for profusely after the race) rather than us making a mistake. Interestingly, the top woman snuck by while I was off course and no one ever told me she was ahead of me the second half, so I got chicked without even knowing it! But soon Barry finished, followed by Jason, and we had a very muddy, stinky drive home that was highlighted by a good pitstop at the strangest Chick-fil-A I’ve ever seen (toy dwarves in a restaurant?).
All in all, it was an enjoyable day racing. The first half was wet, cold, and enjoyable. I felt good and was running strong. The second half was a bit frustrating, but also a fun time even if I had turned it down a notch. The course was great. I’d be interested to see what I could do when the course was dry and I didn’t get lost. Maybe we’ll have to save that for another year.
(Note: my computer died so I lost all photos and had to write this on my iPad. Sorry for any typos. In the meantime, anyone have a good computer for sale?)

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Pinhoti 100 mile race report (aka The Power of Bacon)

Better late than never, right? Compared to my other hundo race reports, this one should be shorter and sweeter, mainly a compilation of thoughts on the race itself and my performance. Here we go:

Pinhoti means “Turkey Home.” Not sure what that has to do with anything, but there you go. The Pinhoti 100, on the other hand, is a trail race in eastern Alabama. It’s only been around for 6 years but has a reputation as a well-run race over a beautiful course.

They say you can’t start a 100 too slow. This is false. An early bathroom break found me at the back of a 10 person conga line moving uncomfortably slow. I forced myself to be patient, but lost 12 minutes from my goal time in the first 6 miles. I started too slow.

I talked to John Dove, one of three finishers of all Pinhotis, after aid 1. He told me the race is very runnable after mile 55, so save legs for that. He said mile 55 aid would be half of finishing time, and said the real key is running every step up Pinnacle Mtn. Both proved false- my splits were 9:51/8:22, and Pinnacle has some walking parts.

Several of the aid stations had music playing, all of them songs I liked. I enjoyed having those songs in my head. These included Zac Brown Band and Van Halen.

Pinhoti claims to be 80% singletrack. This is overly generous, I think, counting some jeep/fire road and double track as singletrack. There was more road than expected, though I didn’t mind at the end when it allows for fast running. There were several gravel road sections where a bike sure would have been nice. But overall I’d call it a good course, even if it really isn’t 80% singletrack.

The aid stations are well supplied with helpful volunteers. Thanks, all.

I’m not a fan of Hammer gels and can’t really stomach any flavors other than Montana Huckleberry. Orange, apple cinnamon, and tropical are ok. I can’t stand raspberry or banana. I think I ate 40 Huckleberry and never got sick of them.

Great views from Bald Rock at mile 40 aid station. And Blue Hell is slow, but a nice break and better than the road miles that follow.

This was my first 100 with no crew or pacers. I really enjoyed doing it that way, being self-sufficient and self-motivated. I plan to do it again in the future. I’m on the Karl Meltzer “no-pacers” bandwagon now.

This was my most even 100 miler ever, with no big ups or down. Truthfully, the first 65 miles were not great and I had accepted that it was not a strong race for me, running generally in ~7th place and feeling decidedly mediocre. But the last 30 miles were the best I’ve ever felt in any section of a hundred, especially the last 20 miles. Not sure how much the second fact is related to the first. The last 20 miles changed the race from “blah” to my best hundred ever.

Climbing Pinnacle Mountain was enjoyable and the first point where I started to feel good. There were literally thousands of spider eyes visible along the side of the trail in this section. The party music booming down from the aid station encouraged me, and I enthusiastically screamed and did a little dance when I arrived, then ate bacon. Delicious. Hard to top that. Powered by bacon, I moved up 4 spots in 10 miles (mile 80 to 90) and ran the fastest closing marathon of all runners.

The trail from mile 75 to 80 felt like a continuous spiral to the left. I’m still not sure how the trail didn’t loop over itself three times.

One race highlight was running with Olaf Wasternack from mile 80-83. It was the longest conversation I had all day and was very enjoyable, speeding the miles along. I was disappointed when he dropped back at mile 83.

It’s fun to pass people and run fast at the end of a race.

I’m ashamed I didn’t greet or acknowledge Pierre Loic Deragne when I passed him in the mile 90 aid station. I was so excited that I was moving into 3rd place that I didn’t encourage him, I just asked how far ahead 2nd place was and stormed out of the aid station. Sorry, Pierre.

I missed a turn at mile 93 and went swimming twice, literally, thinking the course was on the other side of the lake. Eventually backtracked and found the turn. Glad the 5 minute detour didn’t cost me a podium finish. Ru nning scared after the detour can sure add some pep to the legs.

It was fun to sprint across the finish line and still have energy and minimal soreness. I was disappointed there was no food, though (can’t they bring the food from the first aid stations to the finish?), but Kelley Hanna Wells got me some delicious grub from her car that saved me. Can’t thank her enough. Chicken wrap and coke never tasted so good, especially at 1 am.

A typical post-race highlight is hanging out at the finish and talking to all the great runners, including Jason and Evan, the top 2 finishers. It was also enjoyable to hear running-buddy Jason’s adventure of his first hundo.

This race leaves me even hungrier for a 100 mile win. Gotta get me one of those.