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!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Coming Down the Mountain: Lookout Mountain 50 Miler 12.18.10

Just before the start of the race.

My friend Kena dropped me off near the start with about twenty minutes to spare before the race was set to begin. I checked my gear, put my number on, answered a nature call and lined up with everyone. I saw Roxanne and gave her a big hug to wish her luck. A few short announcements and one of the RD's unceremoniously said, "Go!", and we were off. One hundred and fifty or so trail runners heading out on the Lookout Mountain 50 Miler. So it began.

It had rained much of the week leading up to the race with a couple of days of freezing rain and sub-freezing temperatures. I kept looking at the weather forecast and clinged to the good news of clear skies and above freezing temperatures for race day. Thankfully, the day before was clear and warm enough to where the trail recovered from the water and ice for race day. Except for some spots, it really was not an issue although much of the trail was well covered in leaves and made it hard to make out the rocks and roots below.

And they're off. (photo from race Flickr site)
I tried to layer smart for the race. After much deliberation, I went with tights that morning and was glad I did. I had a singlet on underneath with a short sleeve layer and then a long sleeve top layer. With gloves and my winter cap, that was perfect. I also deliberated on whether to carry a hand held water bottle or to go with a hydration bladder pack. The race organizers had emphasized self-sustainment with the hydration that it was a matter of concern, but I ended up going with the hand held and it turned out to be the right choice. The first aid station was eight miles into the race, but the rest of the aid stops along the way would only be four to seven miles apart. Just enough distance to get to the bottom of my bottle before needing a refill.

The first 22 miles of the course took us on the north side of Lookout Mountain with the first 6 or 7 miles following this amazing bluff with an incredible view of the valley and also Chattanooga down below. We would run with these large rock formations jutting upwards about 50-80 feet on our right, but with these drop offs on the left where if we took one wrong step, well, let's just say that you may not be around to tell the story to your trail running buddies. We cruised along with everyone trying to find their pecking order for the first half of the day. I would end up keeping a local runner, named Kathleen, within sight for much of this section and I would see her quite a bit later in the race. We cruised down the bluff, going below the Lookout Mountain tourist overlook and then making our way down to a gravel service road as we neared the first aid station.

Coming Down the Mountain
As conservative as I thought I was trying to be, my pace was fast. Much of this due to the excitement of the start, of course, and then because of the long stretches of downhill trail. Once past the first aid station, we continued to go down until we ran along a creek for a distance until we eventually hit aid station #2 around mile 15. Now if you take a look at the elevation profile, you would quickly notice that one of the toughest sections of the course was soon to come. After refueling at the aid stop, I paired up with another local runner named Yoli. We ran together for a ways and then we hit the climb. She let me know that the local trail runners had named this climb, "Big Daddy" and there would be no guess work as to why. It went straight up with the trail cutting through a power line section and then through more of the woods, eventually hitting a series of switch backs. Up and up it went with the ridge line getting closer and closer.

Coming out of the tree line, we came out into a clearing and some school soccer fields. After crossing the road, we were back at the start/finish area.  I was glad to see Kena and Tom. I rode up with Kena the day before and she was also there to cheer on her good friend Perry who was running the 50-miler. Tom had run the 10K that morning and was now in dry clothes and cheering us on as well. I had not planned to have a crew for this race, but these guys would soon proved to be an improptu crew for me and I couldn't be more appreciative. Anyway, I came in at around 4 hours on my watch and was at mile 22. Needless to say, things were going very well and if I could hold this pace, I would easily break 10 hours. But as usual in ultras, you go out fast and you pay for it later.

I left the start/finish area and headed down the trail on the southside of Lookout Mountain. This trail would wind down towards a creek, come out into a muddy powerline section and then go back into the woods for a long, descent to the Lula Lake aid station at mile 28. For this section, I mostly ran by myself except for occasionally catching a glimpse of another runner some yards out in front of me. It was nice to get in my own groove and not feel like chasing anyone or feel like someone was breathing down my neck. When I came into the aid stop, the sun was out and things were looking good at this point. Scarfed down some boiled potatoes, topped off the water bottle and headed out.

View from ridge. (photo by Perry Sebastian)
The next six miles to the next aid stop would be quite the rollercoaster with several changes in terrain. I followed a creek for a while, then a woodsy, rolling section, then along what look like some kind of bird sanctuary area that spit you out at Lula Falls. Here I had to stop and take in the view. Lula Falls is beautiful and even with the icicles on the edges of the falls, the water was rushing down into the gorge below. From here, I could look up to the other side and see where we had come from down the trail earlier. Leaving the falls behind, I was with other runners again and together we tackled a short but very steep section that some one had laid out ropes for us to use. Past the climb, we would come out on to a ridge with great views. We followed the ridgeline for a couple of miles until we then had to descend again. again, we ended up down by a creek and the trail wound its way along it.

Lula Falls
It was at this point that I started wondering about the lead runners coming at me. Sure enough, within a few minutes here came the leader. He looked really good and fresh. It wasn't hard to guess that he would hold onto to his lead. We exchanged words of encouragement and it would be a while before I saw the second place runner.

Soon enough, I came to the aid station at mile 34. I was hurting a bit at this point. I saw Kena and Tom again and Tom would have a grilled cheese sandwich waiting for me. This dude saved my life the year before at the Pine Mountain 40 Miler and here he was doing it again. That sandwich was awesome! He told me he would have another one for me when I came by next. Just the thing to get me going!

The next section was a 4-5 mile loop that wound back to the same aid stop. It was on this loop I had a bit of a bonk moment. I somehow was running along with kathleen who I had run with earlier in the day and we were both feeling it. The first half of the loop is mostly an incline and that didn't help. Then the second half of that short loop was tricky footing along a creekside trail that someone had named Scrawny Trail, but I swear it had nothing scrawny about it. I was looking forward to getting off this loop and was thinking of Tom's grilled cheese sandwich. I reached the aid station again and claimed my prize.

I was at mile 38 or so. Just 12 or so to go, but now I knew the terrain and I knew that there was quite a bit of climbing left to do. Also, my pace had dropped off considerably from earlier in the race. Still, mentally I was in good spirits despite the tough moment experienced on the short loop. I left the aid station, and Kena and Tom, munching on my sandwich. Once back on the trail, I just focused on timing my running and walking right. I eventually got back on the ridge top and followed it down to the short, steep drop. I once again ran by Lula Falls and was soon back at the aid station at Lula Lake. Ah, just six more miles to go.

I chatted with the folks at the aid stop for a minute while I ate some more potatoes and had some Coke (the best ultra race drink ever, period). When leaving the aid stop this time, I wasn't paying attention and I started running up a gravel road. I was going along for a few minutes when I realzied that we never came down this road earlier on the approach to the Lula Lake aid station. You hate to admit this to yourself after you've been running for so many hours, but I had to retrace my steps until I was almost back at the aid stop again. I saw where the markers pointed up the trail and I got back on course. It sucks to lose time like that but it's all part of the experience.

Just finished and checking out the swag.
Up and up I went. This other runner I had seen earlier caught up to me and passed me and I would focus on keeping him in my sights for as long as possible. Daylight was also starting to fade and it became my goal to finish before dark. I was gonna cut it close. I did alot of walking at this point, mainly due to the climbing. I kept thinking I would come out into the muddy powerline section soon, but with every turn of the trail I would be disappointed. I kept that other runner in view and eventually I could see the clearing. a few more steps and I was out in the open again onto the powerline cut out. The sun was going down and I had to turn on my headlamp. So much for finishing before dark, but I knew I was almost there. The trail left the powerline and back into the woods along the creek we ran by earlier. Another climb and I could see lights. I knew I was close. I looked back and I could see two headlamp beams coming up behind me. I made it my mission to not let them catch me. I pushed on that last mile and I was glad to come out onto the road where the finish area was located. I could see the finish line and I looked back again. I could still see the two headlamp beams but they were still on the trail and a bit farther down the hill. I was good to go. As I neared the finish, I noticed the clock was nearing 10:30. 10:29:50... 10:29:51... 10:29:52... I grit my teeth. 10:29:56... 10:29:57... 10:29:58... Almost there. 10:29:59... Nope. I ended up finishing in 10:30:05.

I was happy with that time. I came in to the race thinking I would run somewhere between 10 to 11 hours and I basically split it right down the middle. Earlier in the day when I came in to mile 22 at around 4:00, I contemplated a sub-10 hour time, but I knew I would pay for the pace on the first half. No negative split on this race. Not even close. Still, I was really happy with the run and I felt that I managed a good race for the most part.

I carried my Blackberry during the race and I shot out a few tweets. It was great to have other tweeps posting words of encouragement. My phone would chime repeatedly during the race and I knew it was another person cheering me on. It really did keep me going. I want to recognize those folks here: @cathicannon @jamieofthenorth @reallynotarunnr @tpcleary @MASlife @ekalifeh @marathondan @OTD_Colonel @julierje @BikeBeerBBQ @KevinSchraer @runnerteri @chamiltongt @hak42 @mogliaiken @AeRoss @oreo_drama @perseid88 @running_drew @PayneDave @twittyRUN @g_monee @ChuckJohnstone @SEB1119 @trailheadmarmot @SamanthaUF @Mountainman60 @jabaugrad @Bamarunner @DarthHelix @runnergoslow @goingforgoofy @octrailgirl11 @nicobrx @masonham @RunAroundATL @jsneads @GeorgiaSnail @runnersl @Dinkruns @Broadwayrunclub @goldentrails @UltraRunnerBren @Runjohnrun @luckeywinters @tradshad @sarahstanley and @laidbacklbc. Thanks you guys!

My friend Roxanne would come in fourth female and finished the course over an hour ahead of me. It was good to see her. She would later let me know that she wasn't in it mentally this time. The great thing about racing is that there's always the next one.

Big thanks to Kena and Tom, they were awesome support! Also props to Perry who ended up pulling out of the race after he rolled his ankle and had to walk on it for almost eight miles.

Lastly, major kudos to the folks at Rock Creek for yet another top notch race. These guys know what they're doing and I recommend any of their races. Oh, and the race swag was amazing: Patagonia tech tee, TNF arm warmers, TNF fleece headband, Lookout Mtn 50 pint glass and even a complimentary race day photo.

P.S. Check out the blog write up by the women's winner, Sarah Woerner: http://sarahsrunsandotherstuff.blogspot.com/2010/12/lookout-50-milerto-run-or-not-to-run.html

And also check out this cool little video the folks at Wild Trails put together about the Lookout Mountain 50 Miler: http://vimeo.com/18450406

Friday, December 10, 2010

Winter Running: Woody's Birthday Run

On the Art Loeb trail in the Pisquah National Forest area 
For some time now, it has become almost a tradition to run as many miles as years turned during our birthdays. In our group of friends/runners, we each have attempted this in the last few years. Of course, this becomes harder the older we all get. Last year I posted on this blog my birthday run for my 39th birthday and earlier this year I posted a run we attempted for my friend, Doug's birthday as well.

Now it was my buddy Woody's turn again. In 2008, Woody and I drove up to northeast Georgia and ran 29 miles from War Woman Dell to the top of Rabun's Bald, the third highest point in Georgia, and back. Even though it was December, we were lucky enough to enjoy very mild temperatures at the time. Although at one point, it seemed like we ran through a monsoon, it was raining so heavily.

Fast forward to a few days ago and we were set back by inclement weather for this, his 31st birthday run. When we marked the day on our calendar, little did we know that we would have record low temperatures in our part of the country.

Woody in action.
Being the birthday boy, Woody picked out the location for his birthday run attempt of 31 miles. it would be the Shining Rock Wilderness in Pisquah National Forest near Brevard, NC. A group of five of us would set out to run and hike the 31 miles of trails that Woody had picked out in this very scenic area.

We left Atlanta and headed up to North Carolina at 4:00 am and it took us over three hours to arrive at the trail head. Once we arrived, we knew we were in trouble due to the very cold temperatures. We got out of the car to get ready, but within minutes, all of us sat back in the car and got our wits about us. It was freaking cold! There was a light snow covering everywhere, but we would soon learn the trail was frozen over too.

After a few minutes and also the mandatory photos, we finally hit the trail at about 9:00am. It was slow going. The week before had seen alot of rain and now this water was frozen over on the trail. There were long segments of it that were completely frozen over with 2-4 inches of ice. On top of that, the first two or so miles of trail from the car to the top of the ridge was a hefty climb. We would be going from around 4,500 feet to the mid 5,000 feet and eventually topping 6,000 feet of elevation. All the while, minding the ice underfoot.

We realized in the first hour that we had only covered about three miles of trail. Granted, we had stopped a few times, but this was slow progress and it wouldn't take a genius to realize that covering the desired 31 miles in this terrain would be a bit ambitious. Still we carried on along the Mountains to Sea Trail until it connected with the Art Loeb trail. We could tell that it was probably some wonderful single track, but not in these conditions. Along the way, we did manage to find a couple of overlooks where we enjoyed some wonderful scenery. At one point, we had a clear view of Looking glass Rock, a large rock outcropping in the middle of the wilderness.

We stayed within the treeline until we crossed the Blue Ridge Parkway and made our way towards Black Balsam Knob (6,214 feet) and Tennent Mountain (6,040 feet). on the approach of these two summits, we were out in the open and facing an incredibly bitter wind from the North. It was a complete catch-22 situation. here we were in this incredibly beautiful setting for trail running with majestic views, but it was too damn cold and windy to fully appreciate it all. We did what we could to trudge through it and manage to get to the south side of Tennent Mountain and out of the wind. We reached the bottom of the trail on the opposite side and had a chance to regroup.

As the day went on and the sun made its way across the sky, temperatures did manage to improve. We ran down a water soaked trail and after a steep climb and momentarily getting off the path, we made our way back to the point where we crossed the Blue Ridge Parkway. A short while later, we were back on the Mountains to Sea trail. The original plan was to continue along some ridge lines that were off shoots of the Art Loeb trail, but we adjusted our route and decided to cut it short. If we stayed out there, we were putting ourselves in unnecessary peril. This was supposed to be a fun run and we wanted to keep it that way. So, we made our way back down the trail towards the car. At one point, we found an overlook we missed on the way out. The wind here was nonexistent and we were rewarded with an amazing view towards the south of the rest of the valley and other Appalachian scenery. it was spectacular. The photos here do not make it justice. We took a break, ate something and took in the view. After a while, we got back on the trail and finished up the run.

A short while later, we were back at the car. We had been out there for just about six hours and only covered about fifteen miles. normally, we would have covered that same route in little less than three hours, but the conditions were such that it was not to be on this day. Still, for all the rough going, we had a great time and definitely enjoyed ourselves. mainly due to the camaraderie (we laughed alot) and the incredible scenery of the Shining Rock Wilderness. We will definitely have to go back up there when the weather is better.

I had brought a bottle of champagne, which I popped open and poured out some for everyone. After toasting, we changed into dry, warm clothes and headed down to Waynesville for some burgers and beer. Woody would make up his 30 miles a few days later, but we had a good time trying to do it in North Carolina. I hope to see that part of the country soon enough.

Winter Running: Aller courir en Geneve (Running in Geneva)

10-ish Mile Run in Geneva Switzerland. 
Yeah, yeah, I know. I've been slacking with my running blog. But hey, you're reading it now, so let me get to tell you some recent running adventures.

Last week, my wife and I were overseas in Geneva. She had to be there for work and I had vacation days to burn, so I tagged along. Neither of us had been there before, or even to Switzerland at all, but we were both pleasantly surprised. Geneva is a multi-cultural, multi-lingual city on the west end of the country which puts it closest to France. 

You can't walk a block in this city without hearing atleast three different languages. Very cool! I love the emphasis the Swiss obviously place on pedestrians. There's not a meter in this town that doesn't have a sidewalk and they also cater to cyclists with kilometers of bicycle lanes all over town. We could learn a thing or two over here.

Anyway, while we were there, the city got pounded by some major snow. Apparently, the average high during this time of year in Geneva is in the mid-40's and conditions tend to be dry. However, the average temperature while we were there was in the low 30's and there was snow and ice on the ground the entire week.

Running in Geneva was very enjoyable despite the weather. I was able to experience some really nice urban running including some jaunts along the lake and river that go through the city. I also discovered short segments of trail in a couple of riverside parks. Best of all, because of all the snow, I ran in what seem like a winter wonderland with white landscapes everywhere.

Here are my Dailymile posts for the week:

Monday, November 28: Running in Geneva #1 4.6 mi 00:48 10:26 pace
Day two in Geneva, Switzerland but first run. Ventured for a short run from the hotel and had a slow pace going due to the snow and slush, and because I was not sure where I was going. Some how managed to run by the Palais du Nacions Unites (United Nations Palace) and even happened by the US Embassy. Pretty cool! More ambitous run planned for tomorrow along Lake Geneva. I hope the weather cooperates.

Tuesday, November 29: Running in Geneva #2 7.47 mi 01:08 09:06 pace
Set out to run longer but I'm realizing Geneva is actually not that big. Ran along Lake Geneva and the Le Rhone River for a bit and lucked upon a trail through a riverside park. It's still cold and I had to watch out for some ice patches but all in all, I enjoyed the run. I just need to figure out a way to add more miles on the next one. Maybe tomorrow. Au revoir!

Wednesday, December 1: Running in Geneva #3 7.97 mi 01:16 09:32 pace
Staticmap?size=150x150&sensor=false&path=weight:2|color:0x0000ff|enc:%7dkbygicid%40%40cqeskqbwfmq%40sc%7bhsn%7beuhcaka%5djw%40%7c%40_atacri%40%7dcsdoi%40wbacma%7d%40cckaadkaoa%7b%40a%40%7b%40_%40yao%40mfua_ci%40sae%40yag%40scqks%40afbe%5b%40kbm%40%7deca%7d%40ifuancyfey%40w%40wbkdkg%7d%40qbediksc%7dhybaw%40haihljuav%40sbxd%5dzwb%7c%40meddm%40v_lue%40uwb%3fucjaudxcmh%7c%40adv%40af%7c%40qc_%40b%5bu%5dia%7db%7bdw%40ubiscrabxbraz%40l%40ha%5eh%40fvaadb_%40j%40iafaaa%7e%40g%40h%40elj%5cde%5cee%5dmj%5di%40d_af%40ga%60ak%40has%40tqajw%40%3fgaqk%40uudackh%40gv%40b%7eantavazcrarb%5chazt%5ec%7d%40pcw%40%60f%7d%40%60dgdhiy%40rcma%60bw%40l%40_ab%40%5cpexeba%40jbcmbd%60kgg%60%40mxeodvb%7d%40%5c%5brbydtaw%40d%40i%40zhmkxa_eda%7dbxbwcjawdfs%40%7ecoadcr%40lcrdazpdfcraj%40xbiafcaafbcbnb%3f%5eme%7eeulk%40t%40%40rbtjfdafclengfa%40r%40in%40i%40r%3fvajd%7ecrfdblcft%40a%40t%40iehew%7c%40f%40rcnaldta%7ebn%40lfr%40%60clrpa%7c%40pc%60apcraj%40%60%40xl%40%60g%60hd%40nh%40%5blb%7bbpazx%7ef%60j%7ehxnrblp%40pbvftezkI wanted to go further explore the trail system I came across yesterday but we got over a foot of snow last night and it was still snowing when I headed out the door for my run. I figured the trails would be whited out and it would be prudent to stick to the roads. I decided to see if I could get away from Geneva to see what I would find and I was rewarded. I ran through the township areas of Pregny and Chambesy and found wonderful semi-rural roads with great views of white Swiss countryside and little villages. It was a bit technical with the snow but they not only plow the roads here but also the sidewalks. When I made it back to the hotel, I had ice and snow hanging from my eyebrows and beard. Great run!
Thursday, December 2: Running in Geneva #4 9.82 mi 01:30 09:09 pace
Staticmap?size=150x150&sensor=false&path=weight:2|color:0x0000ff|enc:wkbygacid%40%40cwe%7bkqbwfmq%40sc_iynweoh%7b%40eaycgaja%7b%40pacrm%3fycqdoi%40wbacma%7d%40qcsaqcaaqa%7d%40a%40%7b%40_%40yao%40mfua_ci%40sae%40yao%40%7bc%5daafbe%5b%40kbm%40qdu%40ibwfuancyfey%40a%40sawfmkkaudufepybaedxe%7bd%7ceuav%40sbxd%5dzwb%7c%40yenda%40l_lue%40uwb%3fuc%7c%40ycp%40_bbdce%7e%40%7dbkaua_e%7bf%7b%40mbz%40lbfcegz%40%7daz%40gcl%40_a%7d%40obia%40iscrabtd%60cha%5e%60bfpakr%40uj%40iafaaadag%40b%40elj%5cde%5cjqby%40%40%7dbmiafa%40mucjwuaxginivffn%40hex%40lp%60k%7ecjajraezawzm%7dex_%40rfwbn%40%40%7cczat%40b%40xab%40%60%40o%3fg%40fc%40i%40mc%40w%5ds%40cs%40%5chvwrctjja%7b%40h%40br%40uza_bxialbsdnic%60qycd%40dt%5civ%40%7ca%60bnv%60yd%40t%40bgd%5cjpaa%60bzrdnbfb%60c_%40fovbdz%40zbfc%60etancbavehzbzdvavdjdbbhbflhgzil%7e%40bhcl%40nndjbalnaf%40bbwbv%60djdekpcklea%40%7cao%40ledpgebxfpzk%3fzdeafbi%40h%40aataj%7cakta%5dfbqardc%40bavbaadamnagkr%40uhwfdqifqcoa%7d%40ufyf%7bbubkau%40ehmhobwaur%7dlwuochjub%7edob%7cbwctb%7bbhaqbpbBon jour! Still lots of snow on the ground and I had to watch for some icy patches but it wasn't too bad to run on for the most part, plus it was sunny. I decided to piece to gether some of my previous runs in the last couple of days and add some new parts. At one point I crossed L'Avre River and I had to climb up a trail on top of an overlook that when looking north across the river, I had a great view of much of the city. I only have two more days here and I'm gonna miss it. There's actually a big 10K here on Saturday called L'Escalanade, but it starts at 10am and our flight is at 11am. I don't think I'll make it. That just leaves tomorrow for a run. Au revoir.

Friday, December 3: Running in Geneva #5 5.72 mi 00:53 09:15 pace
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All in all, it was a great week. I would love to go back in the summer and really take advantage of some alpine trails for running. Who knows, maybe one day I can make it back there for the infamous Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc. That's Mont Blanc right smack in the middle of the photo to the left. It is about 20 minutes outside of town by train. Until then, I will look back fondly on a nice week that allowed me to switch it up for a bit and get away from the routine. Au revoir!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Rollercoaster of Love (Stump Jump 50K 10.2.10)

"Rollercoaster of love. Say what? Rollercoaster, Yeah (ooh ooh, ooh ooh) Rollercoaster of love. Can you get off our love rollercoaster?" ~The Ohio Players

Me, Doug and James at start of Stump Jump 50K
Why am I opening with a song lyric from a song first made famous by The Ohio Players and then The Red Hot Chili Peppers? Well, it all started as a joke. You see, James is not a fan of the Red Hot Chili Peppers music and before the start of the Stump Jump 50K, Doug and I were doing our best to stick an annoying song lyric in his head. "Rollercoaster of Love" ended up being the song that would come up the most. But then, it actually got stuck in my head as we lined up with 800 other trail runners at the start of the race and it would be an appropriate theme for the day.

I have a love for trails and the Stump Jump course although not comparable to ultras out West in elevation changes, it still offers some challenging climbs and downhill descents. Thus earning the label "Rollercoaster of Love". So allow me to further describe my roller coaster ride.

The course starts at a middle school at Signal Mountain, TN, and we got there with a little time to spare. It was James' first 50K and needless to say, he was pretty excited and anxious at the same time. Doug and I were trying to keep him calm and told him to just run his race. Doug on the other hand had signed up for the 50K, but unfortunately had been dragging knee trouble for the last week or so and decided to run the 11-Mile option instead, which was the right choice for him. Race started at 8am sharp.

The first few miles were part of the school's cross country trails. We winded around the campus for a while and then descended towards Mushroom Rock. Here's where the fun really began.

Coming down the hill next
to Mushroom Rock
A sharp descent from Mushroom Rock lead down to a cable bridge that we all used to cross a creek. The sign over the bridge said "Maximum 20 Persons". We were way more than that. In fact, if I have one complaint about this race is that it took a very long time to thin out the crowd. For the first 16 miles, basically half the race, I was always in a bit of a trail runner convoy and much of the trail is tight single track too. But I am getting ahead of myself. We crossed the bridge, then came up to the top of a ridge with another long descent on the other side. We would painfully revisit that on the way back. "Rollercoaster of Love..."

We hit the first aid station and I was feeling good. My buddy Phil was there waiting on some other GUTS runners and it was good to get some encouraging words from a friendly face. Quick plug for Phil, he just came back from running his second 100-miler at Cascade Crest (congrats Phil!) We crossed a road and started climbing up to another ridge. This time we were rewarded with a fantastic view of the Tennessee River on our left and these amazing, I'm guessing, limestone rock walls that went up 20-50 feet at various points to our right. Next thing I know, we passed the aid station at mile 10 and for the next 14 miles or so, would stay on mostly very runable singletrack trail.

I was in a line of runners when we came upon a jeep road with a bit of a climb to  the aid station at mile 16. Since it was about fifteen or more of us, we slightly overwhelmed the station. I took advantage of everyone refueling and continued on the trail once again after downing a couple of Cokes and some peanut butter filled pretzels before anyone else got moving. The trail leading away from the station had a considerable grade for about a half mile, so I had to hike most of it. "Rollercoaster..." Around mile 18, the trail is covered in sizable rocks and you have to watch your footwork while getting pounded a bit, but by now I was glad to be partnered with two other runners on our own and we kept a good pace together.

The Mile 20 aid station came up rather suddenly. I refueled quickly and moved on. I was still with my new running buddies and we made a quick descent before coming back onto trail that we had already run on, but in the other direction. Which meant that we got to enjoy another view of the Tennessee River and saw all the same rock formations from before. We did take a short misguided detour at one point, but we luckily caught ourselves and were able to get back on course. At this point, I was starting to feel the effort of the day some, but I was enjoying running with our small group.

We came off the ridge and descended back to the road we crossed earlier. The aid station at 24 miles was a welcomed sight. I knew we had two considerable climbs coming up and so I did take an extra moment to rehydrate and get something in my stomach. I looked at my watch and realized that a 6-hour race was doable. However, I would soon learn that the climbs in the next three miles would put a bit of a hurt on me.

First climb slowed me down more than I expected. Some of the guys I had been running with got up the hill quicker than I did, but I would reunite with them at the top. Once we got over the next ridge line, we descended quickly back to the cable bridge. The next climb took even more out of me. This one was the climb back up to Mushroom Rock. By the time I came to the aid station at the top, I was really feeling it, but I was glad to hear that we only had a little over 3 miles to go. But they would end up being three really looooong miles. I could see one of the guys I had run with earlier up ahead for much of the way and I would soon catch him with about 2 miles to go. Meanwhile, I was "chicked", not once, not twice, but up to three times in the last two miles. Oh well! Those ladies that passed me had more in the gas tank than I did.

Coming up to the finish line at Stump Jump 50K
I came out of the woods and off the trail for the last bit of road down to the finish. A welcomed sight indeed as the sun had come out and now without the cover of the tree canopy, it was a little too warm for my taste. I crossed the finish line at 6:15. Not the 6-hour mark I had calculated earlier, but not too far off. I was happy to get it done.

Quick note to share, if you like race swag this race has it. The night before at the race packet pick up, I received a cool Patagonia race shirt, a pair of Skullcandy earphones, a pair of Smartwool socks along with some other goodies. Then once you cross the finish line, they handed out medals and a cool North Face fleece headband.

Doug was waiting at the finish and after getting some food, we stuck around for James. I wasn't sure when to expect James, but I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised to see him when we did. He crossed the finish at 7:39 exhuberant and really excited. I was really happy for him and glad to hear that he had truly enjoyed the experience, his own "Rollercoaster of Love". Congrats James and welcome to the world of ultrarunning!

It was also good to see so many GUTS buddies at the finish. Roxanne (she was #2 female finisher!), Sally (no slouch herself), Spurgeon, Sean B., Sean O., Wayne, Steve, Tyson, Robin M., John Dove, Johnny Buice and others. We missed Jason, but he came in a bit later.

The day ended with beers and burgers at the Terminal Brewhouse in downtown Chattanooga. I really enjoyed the "Rollercoaster of Love" at Stump Jump and I'm already thinking about the next one. Maybe it will be back to Chattanooga for the Lookout Mountain 50-miler. We'll see how things pan out in the months to come. Happy trails!

(Check out James' account of his day at Stump Jump 50K: http://thearcoftime.com/?tag=2010-stump-jump-50k or Jason Roger's at http://bestpacescenario.blogspot.com/2010/10/stumpjump-50k-10210-race-report.html)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Chatooga River 8.15.10

Woody, me and Doug at trailhead
It is hard to believe it has been over six months since my last blog entry. It's not like I haven't had anything to write about. Quite the contrary. I have ventured on a couple of good trail runs with friends in North Georgia, ridden a beautiful century ride at Lake Tahoe, ran some miles on a legendary pilgrim route in Northern Spain and enjoyed a few weekend runs near home. However, my trail race calendar has gone through several revisions and a few cancellations with much of it due to work and family. That's just life. You have to prioritize. But I have a couple of races coming up in the Fall and I am ready to get this blog back into gear.

I'm running the Stump Jump 50K in October and I am considering the Lookout Mountain 50-miler in December. With those races in mind, I have slowly been ramping my mileage back to what it was earlier this year. This past weekend, I joined my usual running mates, Doug and Woody, to head up to Sumter Forest National Park in South Carolina to hit a 23 mile loop consisting of the Chatooga River trail, Fork Mountain trail and Foothills trail. Woody researched and found the loop and it would turn out to be a fun day of trail running.

We headed up there early on Saturday morning in an effort to get on the trail by 8:30am. We woke up to overcast conditions with the threat of rain, but it would turn out to be the best possible forecast. The cloudy conditions pulled down the triple digit heat index we have been experiencing in Atlanta this Summer and as a result, we actually got to run in temps in the 70's for almost the entire run. Unreal.

Anyway, we made it to the trailhead which is near a fish hatchery off a creek that leads into the Chatooga River. We got started at about 9:00am. The first few miles were great, as we were mostly following the creek down stream and the trail did not have much climbing. What it did have was alot of storm debris, hanging branches and rooty trail. It made for some tricky foot work while having to watch our heads. We soon came upon one of my favorite parts of the run, a 40' tall rock wall off the trail that extended for about 100'. This thing was really amazing to see and the picture here does not do it justice. It was a great site.

After playing tourist and taking a couple of pics, we kept on the trail and we came closer and closer to the Chatooga River. The Chatooga River is the state line boundary between South Carolina and Georgia. So it was kinda nice to think that we would be running in South Carolina and having Georgia just on the other side of the river. When we made it down to the river's edge, we took the trail to the right knowing that we would be making it around the loop to end up at this very same point later in the day. If we thought the trail was rooty along the creek, it really got technical along the river.

We passed a couple of campsites and saw a few campers who had spent the night down by the river. Everybody's always really cool when we go by giving a friendly wave and a nod. We would stay on the Chatooga River trail for about three miles while nearing Ellicott Rock. Ellicott Rock is a marker which corners the three states of Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina. Pretty soon, we would head East and straight up what would be the worst climb of the day. Not a bad climb, but just a hard climb when having enjoyed several miles of mostly downhill and flat running since we left the car. A couple of switch backs and a couple of hundred feet and we were suddenly on a completely different type of trail than the one running along the river below.

We ran mostly single track trail along rolling terrain. Now clear of the rooty trails, we were making good progress. But we quickly learned that this trail is not as well-traveled due to all the spider webs across the trail. At first, Woody and I were taking turns at the front but we would keep hacking away at these webs or having them break across our face. As we complained about it, Doug would make fun of us by meowing. Insinuating we were a couple of pussies, but he would change his tune when we threw him out to lead us for a few miles. Wasn't long before we were meowing back at him. He did manage to dodge a couple of shoulder level webs that would end up still getting me or Woody. Bastard. It became a running joke through out the day when ever someone bitched about the webs. "Meow!"

The Fork Mountain trail saddles North Carolina and South Carolina. Eventually, we would come out on Route 107. There was another trail head at the road that hit the Foothills Trail. Before heading down that trail, we busted out some sandwiches and took a little break. The mist was weird, we were soaked but it was appreciated as it kept the temperatures down. After some calorie replacement, we took off down the Foothills Trail.

I don't know what was my deal, but I would end up on my hands or on my butt a few times during the run. One time because the ground gave way under my right foot. Another time because I slipped on some mud. And yet another time, out of poor clumsiness right near a little creek crossing. This, of course, triggered more "meows" as I bitched while getting up. These guys don't cut any slack.

On the Foothills trail we came across another impressive landmark, a 50' waterfall right off the trail. Another reason to love trail running!

After a few miles we actually crossed the road that led down to the hatchery, the trailhead and our car but we had more trail still to cover and kept going. Short time later we would begin descending in a major way. This is always fun especially when the legs are tired. Woody pulled away and Doug and I just tried to keep up, dodging trees and watching our feet as we went down for a couple of miles. Soon we were down on the Chatooga River again.

The water looked to good to pass up. We only had a couple of more miles to get back but took advantage of a small beach area to get in the river. Ahhh! It felt amazing. The cool water after almost 20 miles was just what the doctor ordered. We stayed in the water for about a half an hour before putting our shoes back on and finishing off the run.

It was good that we only had a couple more miles to go as all of us had run out of water. I went through my entire bladder in my North Face light pak and one hand held. Plus for the first time all day, the sun was breaking through the crowds. Good time to wrap this thing up.

Once back at the car and after a round of high fives, it was time to change into some dry clothes and make our way to Clayton, GA for some major calorie replacement.

Another good day on the trail. I can't wait to get a few more of these in before the 50K in October. Happy trails!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Fun in the Snow

While I write this, most of the east coast is completely paralyzed with the worst blizzard in decades. I'm hearing about record snow fall in Washington DC, Virginia and Maryland. Here in Atlanta, we hit some chilly temps today, but remain dry and snowless. I was easily able to get my run in this morning with my dog.

A week and a half ago however, I did have some fun in the snow. I set out with some friends on a birthday run for my buddy, Doug, who turned 31. The original plan was to camp at the Standing Indian campsite near the AT up in the Nantahala Forest just over the stateline into North Carolina and then hit 31 miles of tasty trails comprised of a couple of loop trails and a portion of the AT. A bad weather system was forecasted for the weekend, so we skipped the camping part and got up early on Sunday instead and drove up. Good call on skipping the camping as the area got dumped with 5" of snow and temps were down in the teens at night. I like to camp, but no reason to freeze like a popsicle unnecessarily.

Anyway, Doug, Woody, Roxanne and I got up there early on Sunday morning and the place was a gorgeous winter wonderland. Stunningly beautiful with snow everywhere and just enough ice on the trees to make the whole place seem crystalline and delicate. I was excited about the run and was looking forward to a day of running and hiking some great trails. Part of the itinerary included two big climbs, one of them up Standing Indian mountain at 5,500 feet. I know, not a big deal by Colorado standards, but pretty hefty for us here east of the Mississippi.

We couldn't take the road down to the campsite area due to ice, so we had to park the car off the road and run a mile and a half or so down to the trail head. We would hit the Park Creek and Park Ridge trails first which formed a 10-11 mile or so loop, mostly following a couple of creeks but with a couple of pretty good ascents and a brief ridge line portion. At first, I was having fun, but it wouldn't be long before I was having some trouble. The snow was fine, although in parts, I underestimated the added effort it took to run through it. And the trail itself was actually very easy to follow even with the snow. But my stomach was giving me problems and I was falling behind the rest of the group. Rox, Woody and Doug were looking strong and having a blast.

At one point, we did have some good laughs when we needed to cross a rather wide creek but no one wanted to get their shoes wet. I found a log that cut across and walked along it to the other side. When Rox gave it a whirl, she stepped in the water and with the cussing coming out of her mouth, we couldn't help but chuckle. Doug and Woody made it across sans wet shoes.
As we finished up the loop, I realized that it wasn't my day. Here I was in a beautiful setting with good friends on a fun run, but I just wasn't in the game. I was having stomach problems and even worse, some doubt about finishing up the run. I didn't want to be a drag on the rest of the group, so I gave Doug some of my water and gels and split off from them back to the car. They in turn began the trail that led to Standing Indian and the climb up to the top.

The rest of the story from my perspective is rather uneventful. I got back to the car, changed into drier, warmer clothes and headed into Franklin, NC for some food and a clean bathroom. I came back to the same spot and ended up having to wait only a couple of hours. Woody texted me from the top of Standing Indian and let me know that they were coming down the same way they went up and coming back to the car. Good call, because at the pace they were going, they would not have made it down and run the rest of the planned course, AT and all, in time to be back by dark.

When I heard about the climb up and the view from the top, I admit, I was pretty envious. I didn't know that they would end up coming down and calling off the rest of the run or who knows, maybe I would have been a bit more adamant with myself to push on. We definitely want to go back later this year and check it out again. But all in all, it was a good day and I did have fun. I definitely know, Rox, Woody and Doug had a good time as you can see from the photos below. I ended up running about 13-14 and they got in a little over 24 plus the summit of Standing Indian. Happy Birthday, Doug (and thanks for letting me use some of your photos here)!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

twenty.ten Fat Ass 50K

I can't think of a better way to start the year than doing it on trails with dozens of friends enjoying what we love to do most, trail running! The epitome of low-key "races", this year's GUTS Fat Ass 50K will go down in history for four specific things: the cold, the company, the shirt and the Moon Pie.

The Cold: Holy shnikies was it cold! Even though I had just spent two weeks over the Holidays in frigid temps, waiting for the race to start when it was in the teens, sure made me think twice. I know all you people up North are thinking, "What's the big deal?" But we're just not used to it down here in the ATL. Average highs in early January tend to be in the forties or even low fifties here. So it was in the teens before the race and I don't think it warmed up much during or after.

The first bone chilling experience was the "shuttle" service from the off-site parking. It was a pick-up truck! You've never seen anything until you've seen 8 or 9 trailrunners freezing their asses off in the back of a pick-up truck in 18 degrees weather. Brrr! Once at the race start, everyone huddled around each other until it was time to get going. Things did warm up during the race, some where into the mid-20's. Someone say "heat wave"?

Luckily, I do better in cooler temps than warmer ones. I was one of the few, the proud, wearing shorts during the race. I think the blood capillaries in my knees are just now coming back. My compression sleeves on my calves were more for protection on my skin versus any compression benefit. Gloves, hat and proper layering up top kept me comfortable for the race.

The Company: At the starting line, we were all kind of staring at each other when someone happened to say "go!" It took a few seconds to register, so we heard a second "Go!" It was such a discreet way to start the race, that all of us almost missed it, but we finally got it going and took off. My first couple of miles, I ran with Spurgeon. Spurgeon was also in shorts, so we shared in that initial agony until our legs got numb. We maintained a pretty good pace and we were keeping the lead pack within a few dozen yards. I soon realized that I wasn't going to be able to keep this up. I told Spurgeon I was going to let up on the pace and he dropped me without any trouble.

I ran by myself for a while until somewhere towards the end of that first loop, John Dove and another runner caught up to me and we all ran together for a while. Eventually, it was just me and John as the other runner also moved on ahead. I would end up running with John for the next two and a half loops of the race. I was honored to run with John, as he is a longtime ultra-runner and fellow Ironman, and we had plenty to talk about. John kept me laughing with his jokes and we shared stories about his past adventures at ultra classics like Western States, Hard Rock, Vermont and Massanuten. We also talked about our dogs, families, cycling and triathlons. Running with John made a good chunk of my race just fly by. I lost him when he stopped to talked to Rob Apple and Susan Donnelly, while I ran on down the trail. I finished the last loop by myself, but I really enjoyed the miles shared. Good company!

The Shirt: So you run 31 miles and you'd think there would be some kind of special moment at the finish, right? Nope. I came in from my last loop, checked in with the time keeper and proceeded to take advantage of the mac n cheese some one brought, opened a can of PBR and caught up with some of the other runners that had finished before me. No fanfare, but that's OK. I was enjoying the food and even the PBR when someone handed me my race shirt. Yep, they had race shirts this year at the Fat Ass. Who would of thought? And you know what? It's easily one of my favorite race shirts I have ever gotten. Simple, discreet, but with a "phat" ass design. Check it out on the right. Pretty cool, huh?

The Moon Pie: Remember Moon Pies? Those chocolate covered, gooey marshmallow-filled cookie sandwiches that most people associate with RC Cola? Well, turns out they are pretty popular amongst several off the GUTS runners. Some of which have just been named to a new sponsored ultra team, Team Moon Pie. The folks at the Chattanooga Bakery, that make Moon Pies, sent a giant Moon Pie for all to enjoy.

This thing was the size of a pizza. Spurgeon delivered it and he placed it on the table that morning with a big, wicked grin on his face. That thing was just about wiped out several hours later as each finisher took a good chunk of the Moon Pie.

There you have it. The twenty.ten Fat Ass 50K. I didn't really mind the cold, I enjoyed the company, loved the shirt and took part of the giant Moon Pie. Happy Trails!

Photo credit: I stole the photos above from Janice Anderson's Facebook page and Beth Blackwell.