Welcome! The intent of Anecdotes from the Trail is to share my experiences while trail running or racing (occasionally on the road too.) And to feature other trail runners and their accomplishments. You may see the occasional gear review or even contest. Please visit from time to time. Happy trails!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Good, the Bad and the Not-So-Ugly: Pine Mountain 40-Miler 12.4.11

High fiving Woody as I was coming into the first aid station.
I ran the Pine Mountain 40-Miler back in 2009 and at the time, I provided a play-by-play report then of that race on the blog. So, I thought I’d take a different approach to this race report. I’m gonna break this up for what it was in reality, an experience that proved to be…the good, the bad and the not-so-ugly.


As always, the good included an opportunity to trail run in the woods with a bunch of friends. It was so great to see so many out on the course, whether they were running, or volunteering. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all the volunteers and specifically to thank Kena (even though she was following and supporting another runner, it almost seemed like she was supporting me every time I saw her at every aid station), Phillip (who pointed out my bloody nipples at mile 31 and offered sports tape), Kim, Harry, Joel, Jenn, Jason, Rachel and all the other volunteers  for the killer support at the Mollyhugger Hill, Dowden Knob and Rocky Point aid stations, and to Sarah (the RD) and the rest of the GUTS crew for another well organized and supported event. Frank gets special mention for serving up the grilled cheese sandwiches at the TV Tower aid stop. Too many friends out there running to list here, but I did get to catch up with many of them post-race at the finish line. A couple of special shout outs to Laura, Aaron D. and Woody D., it was not to be their day for any of them as they all DNF’d for various reasons, but that’s how it goes some times. We’ve all been there. The beauty of the sport is that there’s always the next race.

Another good thing about the race was the swag. Everyone received a really nice, fleece winter cap and all the finishers took home a sporty, fleece half-zip top. That beats a t-shirt any day.

When it comes to the race itself and how the day went for me, my first 24 miles definitely represent the good. I arrived at the start with just a few minutes to spare to hit the bathroom and pick up my number. I also realized when I arrived, that I had forgotten my hand-held water bottle. Not again! This happened to me at Stump Jump a couple of months ago, but luckily this time I had a spare one liter water bottle in the car that  I had brought for after the race. It would be my faux football to carry the whole race, but it was a savior. Anyway my buddy, Woody, drove separately, but we both managed to arrive about the same time. We lined up with everyone and after a few words from the RD, we were off. Woody took off with the leaders and I held back and decided to find a spot closer to the middle of the pack. Soon we were on single track trail and the pecking order seemed pretty set since no one seemed overly anxious to pass for the first few miles. I really did feel good. I was chatting it up with others around me. I met some great people that I would end up seeing all day long, like John from Oak Ridge, TN who was running his first 40-miler, and Elizabeth from Atlanta, GA who would end up dropping me for good at around mile 33 after passing each other several times through out the race. When I ran part of the course with my buddy, Doug, a couple of weeks ago, we ran out past the point where the Mollyhugger Hill aid stop would be during the race, which is about mile 11 of the course. I remember then thinking that I wanted to be at this spot two hours into the race and sure enough, that’s what happened. In fact, I hit mile 12 or so at the two hour mark and I started thinking that a sub-8 hour race would be doable after all. I ran the course in 7:58 the last time, but I was coming into this race a lot less prepared and with fewer long runs on my legs. So a sub-8 hour race was optimistic. The next couple of aid stops were very welcome sights because to get to them we had to traverse through tornado devastated portions of the course, but more on that later. Needless to say, I reached the TV Tower aid stop (about mile 22) and I was still feeling pretty decent, but the wheels would soon come off.


Refueling on an uphill.
Back in April, a storm and several tornadoes laid waste to the immediate area in and near the park. Huge sections of forest trees were tumbled over like little toothpicks. Trees were down, uprooted and slashed. Volunteers had obviously spent many man hours cleaning up and chain sawing miles and miles of the trail. We would encounter the first of these sections about 12 miles into the race and it was a good mile long, between the Mollyhugger Hill and Dowdell Knob aid stops. On the upside, because the trees were down, there were no leaves on the trail. One of the stand out characteristics of the Pine Mountain 40-miler is the leaves you encounter on the trail from the autumn foliage and the level of difficulty they add on the already technical and rocky trail. In the tornado sections, there were no leaves, but there was also nothing else. I mean no life. It was kind of eerie and depressing to see. And when I spoke with other runners later, we agreed that there was like a bad spiritual vibe, a bad energy of sorts. There were other sections on the course that were just as devastated and I couldn’t help feel the same thing every time. On the way back at around mile 30, I was crossing one of these sections for the last time and the sun was out. Even though it was December, it was unseasonably warm and I was already feeling crappy at this point. Between the sun, the depressing landscape and the miles on my legs, I hit the wall hard. By the time I arrived at the Mollyhugger Hill aid station again around 31.5 miles in, I was walking and I still had my least favorite section of the trail left to go.

We all hit the wall at some point, right?  I mean it happens to the most experienced of athletes, the Lance Armstrongs and even Kilian Jornets of the world. But man, there’s no comfort in knowing that and it always sucks. Like I said, I started to fall apart and at mile 30 started walking without running again and it lasted several miles. I wasn’t injured. I didn’t have any blisters. I felt like I had managed my nutrition just fine. But obviously some thing just turned off like a switch inside. Earlier at around mile 23, I had a second wind and I had passed several runners that I had shared the trail with for a few miles. I had tucked my water bottle into my arm and I kept a steady pace. I even managed to run up one of the few decent climbs on the race course and I thought I put some distance on runners behind me. But when things went south for me, they went south fast. Many of those same runners, now caught me and passed me. After the aid station, we jumped on a white-blazed trail that is a lot less traveled by hikers and the footing was more difficult with the leaves and rocks. I was so fried, that it was all I could do to just put one foot in front of the other. As I walked, more and more runners would pass including Elizabeth who dropped me here for the last time. I wouldn’t see her again until after crossing the finish. She gave me a smile and a thumbs up and flew by me like I was standing still. I walked and walked and just tried to stay positive. Now I thought if I finished in under nine hours, I would be lucky. But in ultras, many times if you feel like crap, you just gotta hang on and some times things can turn around. And they did.


I came off the white-blazed trail and hit the last manned aid station of the course, Fox Den Cove, at around mile 34 of the course. I lingered at the aid station and drank and ate my fill. I was joking around with the volunteers and they were great. At one point, one of them told me that my time was up and that I had to get moving. I looked at him and thanked him. A sign of a good aid station in a race is they know when to push the runners along. There’s no sense in my hanging out and the only way I was going to finish the race was to get a move on. Leaving the station, there was a slight down hill and feeling a bit rejuvenated I tried to jog a bit. It didn’t feel too bad. I alternated jogging the down hills and walking the up hills until I eventually came up on a runner that had passed me earlier when I was really feeling terrible. Now it looked like it was his turn to feel like crap, but he was managing to stay in front of me, the more I tried to catch him. This went on for a little bit until we crossed a road and started on the final climb of the day. We were both walking, but I was determined to pass him. Slowly I inched up on him and finally passed him. Encouraged by this, I started running up the hill and realized that I could hold the pace. Once on the ridge, I made it a point to put some distance between the two of us and I didn’t look back. I crossed the final road crossing and the rest of the way was down hill. Just a little over two miles to go. I was so excited. I ran down the descent and never really walked again. The trail soon leveled off and followed a creek back to the finish. As I was nearing the end, I saw local ultra-legend, Richard Schick ahead of me. He had passed me earlier when I was toast. He has also “schicked” me before at the Mt. Cheaha 50K when he passed me with less than a mile to go at that race. So, I thought that maybe I could return the favor. He was getting closer, but as we crossed the last foot bridge he had about a 20 yard lead on me and the finish line was too close. He finished with 8:32:23 on the race clock and I crossed the line at 8:32:34. I high fived Richard, thanked  some of the GUTS crew hanging out at the finish and found the nearest spot to sit my tired ass down. Tough race, but I had seen the good, the bad, and the not-so-ugly of it. I was happy to be done and with my time.

Thank you to Vikena Yutz for the photos!

2011 Pine Mountain 40-Miler blog roll:
Sarah Woerner (female winner and new course record holder)
Aaron Dwileski 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

2011 Pine Mountain 40: Race Preview

It's Thursday, so only three days left for the 2011 Pine Mountain 40-Miler on December 4th. I am going into this race with a big question mark, my race fitness. My training has been minimal, in fact I've only had two 20+ runs since my last race, the Stump Jump 50K back on the first weekend in October. I should be fine, but I can't help feeling a bit undertrained. To boot, I picked up some nasty virus this past weekend and it had me in bed for pretty much  the whole weekend. I didn't run for four days, which is odd for me. I guess a little forced taper rest should do me some good. I've shaken the bug and I do feel better, but we'll see what this means for Sunday's race.

I ran Pine Mountain 40 back in 2009 and I really enjoyed it. You can read my race report: http://anecdotesfromthetrail.blogspot.com/2009/12/pine-mountain-40-miler.html. It's a challenging course on leaves-covered, rocky single track trail following much of the Pine Mountain trail out of FDR State Park. The scenery is fantastic as the course includes some good ridge line running. The most obvious feature of the course are the rocks. Lots of them. They definitely keep you watching your footwork as you progress to the finish.

Here's an elevation profile I borrowed from my buddy, Jason's blog:

I did get to preview the course recently with one of my running buddy's, Doug. We drove down there a couple of Fridays ago and we ran about 25 miles, mostly on the Pine Mountain trail. The leaves were just starting to fall, so I'm sure the trail is totally covered by them now. We ran up to the spot where some tornadoes wreaked havoc earlier this year. I'm sure I'll get to see more of the damage on race day. I hear that the trail is clear of the storm debris now.

Last time, I ran the race in under eight hours. I'd be happy if I did the same this time, but we'll see how I feel on race day. The weather forecast is ideal with partly cloudy, temps in the mid-30's to start and mid-60's by about the time I finish.

I'm picking up Woody at about 5:00am and we are hitting the road. We should get there just in time to pick up our packets and be ready to start. I'm looking forward to it.