Chasing 42

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Introducing My Newest Running Companion, Looper!

I dropped the hint earlier, but can now officially announce the newest addition to our family, and my newest running companion, Looper! We’ve had her a little over a week now, and she is well on her way to being a faithful endurance athlete at my side for even my longest training runs. A little training, plenty of treats, and some positive reinforcement and she’ll be able to pull me along for 25 and 30 mile runs with no problem.

Introducing Looper!

Introducing Looper!

Shortly after I began running, I began thinking about how nice it would be to have a dog I could run with around town. I watched as numerous friends brought their faithful companions to our group runs, and loved the energy the dogs added to the run. I’m always amazed at how effortless they make it look while the person they are dragging along is probably running a good 20 to 30 seconds faster than they would otherwise. Now, I love our puggle, Baxter, like no other, but puggles really aren’t built for running. He’s a wonderful lap dog, and he will cuddle you until you can’t take it anymore, but running is not among his many talents.

I remember reading several years ago in an issue of Runner’s World about the best dogs for running. Even then, vizslas struck me as beautiful, intelligent dogs who could go the distance. They are capable of great distance, fast pace, running on technical trails, and they are incredibly trainable. As it turns out, the beautiful epicurean had long wanted a Vizsla as well for their trainability and energy.

Running is hard work.

Running is hard work.

Sometimes, fate truly does deal you a strong hand. I happen to have a running friend who breeds and trains vizslas for hunting competitions, and I had mentioned my love of the breed when we had first met. About a month ago, she sent me a message to see if we would be interested in a two-year old female. She had been training for competition and had been doing pretty well, but her love of humans seemed to outweigh her desire to track down birds, and she was a bit gun-shy as well. However, she was a strong runner, and a very happy and loving dog. She happens to come from a line of amazing champion dogs as well.

"Getting along" with her new brother!

“Getting along” with her new brother!

There is definitely plenty of training in our future, both around the house and as she runs on a leash (she’s accustomed to running off-leash out in the country), and she hasn’t fully settled into her new life, partially because she happens to be in heat at the moment. We’ve already been hitting the road though, and it’s been such a different experience having her along for the ride. I can already tell that it will be a new challenge to continue to pay attention to my own form while paying attention to her at the same time. However, in time, I’m hoping we’ll end up in sync, stride for stride, and it will be no different from anyone else running next to me.

Race Report: Umstead 100

I relish in the logistics involved in planning for a 100 mile race. I’d almost go so far as to say that I’ve grown to love the build-up so much that it negates any nerves I might have leading up to race day. That was definitely the case this time around as I spent the week prior forcing myself to fully taper with short, comfortable runs to keep the #chasing42streak going. After the trials and tribulations of Grindstone last fall, both the epicurean and I were due for a relaxed, pleasant race experience, and Umstead delivered in spades! The location was wonderful, the weather was gorgeous, the day ran smoothly, and the volunteers and race staff were fabulous. I truly couldn’t have asked for a better race experience 🙂

Umstead-7

We packed up the car on Thursday after work, dropped Baxter off at daycare, and piled into the car with Looper. I knew we’d hit some rush hour traffic heading south on 95, but we wanted to tackle a portion of the drive that night so that our trip down to Raleigh the next day would be relaxed. We made our way down to Fredericksburg, VA and settled into a hotel for the night. It was pouring rain when we woke up the next morning, and I couldn’t help but have flashbacks to my water-logged trek at Grindstone. However, I stayed positive and we headed down the interstate and made our way to Raleigh, NC and to Umstead State Park. We arrived around 1pm, checked in, and found our way to the cabin I had reserved. It’s rustic charm was bolstered by the fact that it was literally steps from the race course. Having the indoor space to spread out everything and get settled made the evening that much more relaxing. We found a late lunch in town that afternoon, and then made our way back for the pre-race meeting. Afterwards, we made our way back to the cabin and sat out on the porch, watched the sun set, and then settled in for an early bedtime. I was quite pleased to be able to get a full night of sleep before the race!

Umstead-6

The alarm went off at 4:30AM the next morning, and I quietly got out of bed so as not to wake the beautiful epicurean. I began to get my pack squared away via the light of the headlamp, ate a small breakfast. We made our way up to the starting area around 5:45AM and the the camp was buzzing with pre-dawn excitement! My training block leading up to this race had been the strongest I had ever had, and I was filled with the excitement of possibility. After a brief moment, the RD sent us on our way into the darkness for the first of eight 12.5 mile loops. The shorter distance meant I’d be returning to see the epicurean regularly and she could relaxing at the cabin with Looper in the interim.

Loops 1 & 2

Going out too fast has always been my achilles heel, but I was committed to being patient and getting a sense of the course. I rode the slight rolling hills and let my breathing guide my pace as I ticked off the early miles. I was able to switch off my headlamp after 30 minutes or so, and watching the sun rise over the wooded landscape was a breath of fresh air. The entire course is made up of relatively wide biking and running dirt paths and my fears of the previous days rain creating a muddy mess were quickly alleviated. the first decent climb popped up around mile 4, and I was happy to power hike up it, and was greeting to a small lake near the top of the rise. There were several unmanned aid stations sprinkled throughout the course, which meant I only had to carry my hydration vest with one 500mL soft-flask. It was refreshing to not be weighed down by a full bladder and I knew I’d appreciate it even more later on. The mid-loop aid station emerged at around mile 6.85, and the full spread of food and drink that greeted me was a beautiful sight, as were the wonderfully helpful volunteers. After my first visit, I left with added confidence and a smile on my face. Several smaller but steeper climbs followed along the rolling path, and I forced myself to walk them and saved my energy for the downhills and flats. This strategy served me well and I was making the final climb up Cemetery Hill before I knew it. I made the turn down into the camp, and the epicurean’s smiling face greeted me. She quickly refilled my water bottle with Tailwind, tossed me another pack of honey stinger chews, and collected my headlamp. Efficiency was the name of the game, and she was on her game! I rolled up to the start/finish area and logged my first loop in 2:06, which felt well within my ability for the 12.5 mile loop (1000 feet elevation gain).

Umstead-3

The second loop was more of the same as the cool forest air whispered through the trees. I was focusing on keeping a calm and relaxed demeanor and really enjoying my time out on the trail. I had been training for this race for the last 3+ months, and this was the reward. This loop sent us back out of camp the way we came, and down and out-and-back flat spur for the first 3 miles or so. This would be the route we would take for the rest of the race so I had plenty of time to bond with the nuances of the trail. Ironically, I would come to resent this flat section and wish for the rolling landscape that would follow. Who am I, and what did I do with the flatlander?! The remainder of the loop flew by without incident, and I felt like I was out for any other Saturday morning run. I rolled into the start/finish at 4:12 elapsed and feeling great with 1/4 of the race in the bag. I stopped to visit the epicurean and she topped off my water while another nice spectator randomly offered to help me apply some sunscreen. It was a reminder of just how much of a family the ultra community truly is, and I rolled out for my third loop with high spirits!

Loops 3 & 4

The relatively groomed trails on the course meant full-blown trail shoes were overkill of a sort. So, I went with a lightweight, comfortable pair of Hoka Clifton 2s. Once I added my trusty dirty girl gaiters, my feet were quite happy. Luckily, this happiness persisted for the entirety of the race, and my feet were blister-free by the end. What a pleasant surprise! The temps did begin to rise a bit towards the end of the 3rd loop, and during the 4th loop, and the sun added some heat in the low 70s, but it was far from uncomfortable. I was focusing quite a bit on hydrating and made the decision early on to drink at every aid station, as well as cool my wrists and head if need be. This proved to be an excellent strategy, and the ice cold water at each of the aid stations was a treat I looked forward to every time. The volunteers were clearly refilling the coolers with ice pretty frequently, and I was thankful for their dedication. Aside from the heat, everything was firing on all cylinders, and the next two loops flew by rather smoothly. I arrived at the half-way point in 9:01, and my legs were still feeling really good. I was alert, had plenty of energy, and wasn’t feeling overly hungry or thirsty. In other words, I was in a best-case scenario at the half-way point, and was doing my best not to get too excited or get my hopes up. I still had 50 more miles to go, and a lot could happen in that time!

Umstead-4

Loops 5 & 6

By this point, I had mapped out the route pretty well in my head, and knew the distances between key points on the course, including the aid stations. This made it really easy to set small goals between these points and focus on my running during those intervals. The sun was on it’s downward path by the 5th loop, and the temperatures slowly began to cool. I had definitely settled into a rhythm at this point, and I knew when to walk and when to power hike without really even thinking about it. This would normally be the point where my quads begin to get a bit tight, but my legs were still feeling relaxed, and my feet were quite pleased with my shoe choice. Although my nutrition was still working, I was definitely reaching a saturation point with the honey stinger chews. Ironically, I had moved to using them when I dialed back my sugar intake and GUs and Cliff Shot Blocks began to taste too sweet to me. Now the Honey Stinger chews were beginning to taste too sweet to me as well. Luckily, I had plenty of solid food options at the aid stations, and began to eat more fruit, salted potatoes, and cookies. This, combined with my trusty Ginger Ale, made for a strong nutritional combo. My pace was slowing somewhat, but I was still moving really well and feeling confident. I completed the 6th loop around 8:15PM, just as the sun was setting. The epicurean was in high spirits as she checked in to see what I needed. I claimed my headlamp, along with more Tailwind, and some ginger chews, and set out once more. I was only a hair over 14 hours in, but only had 25 miles left to go. My energy was  high, and it became a bit harder not to get overly excited.

Loops 7 & 8

After a mile or so, I flipped on my headlamp and set out into the darkness. This was a far cry from the exhaustion as I set out on the second night at Grindstone, and I was at a loss. At this point, the 250+ runners were spread out pretty well along the 12.5 mile loop, and I found myself mainly running alone. However, I had a very pleasant conversation with a badass blind runner and his guide as they expertly navigated the terrain. We shared some great stories over the course of a few miles, and we arrived at the mid-point aid station together. After a quick refueling, I bid them good luck, and headed back out as they took a moment to rest. This would normally be the point at which the smaller climbs begin to seem more daunting, but I was still climbing swiftly and bombing down the descents at a pace I probably had no business going. I had spent the last few months focusing on training on the downhills and strengthening my quads, and it was quite gratifying to know that the work had paid off. I made my way into the start/finish at 17:20 at the end of the 7th lap, and I let the excitement of the final loop begin to well up inside me.

Umstead-2

My legs were definitely tired as I made the climb out of camp for the final time. I resented the flat out-and-back more than I should have, but gave myself permission to walk a few segments, encouraged by the fact that I wouldn’t be returning. I was counting down the miles more now than ever, and allowing myself to enjoy this final victory lap of sorts. I crossed the small bridge at mile 4 to begin the climb, and quickly realized that my headlamp was the only breach in the dark in all directions. I never once felt tired, but I began to hear sounds in the woods, and I sent my headlamp into the darkness where it was met with numerous pairs of glowing orange eyes. I was power-hiking up the long climb and trying not to get too freaked out by whatever was clearly tracking my movements. I didn’t have the energy to move any faster, and I “may” have let out a few screams into the darkness to try and scare away whatever had taken an interest in my movements. I eventually moved past this section, but the irrational fear stayed with me for much longer.

I rolled into the mid-point aid station for the final time and treated myself to some delicious broth, which was equal parts warming and hydrating. Luckily, I was moving quickly enough that I never got cold, and remained comfortable in my short sleeve shirt the entire time. I set out on the final 5+ miles and was energized as I crested the top of each hill and ran down each descent, my quads still feeling strong. I rounded the corner into the final straight-away, stopped briefly at the last aid station, and then pushed on. Plenty of folks were passing me in the opposite direction, heading out for their next loops, and it was nice to see more people again. I reached the camp, and began to slowly run down towards the finish as hearty volunteers cheered me on in the dead of night. The camp was lit up, and the cheers energized me as I made the last small climb and crossed the finish line.

I was all smiles and quickly spotted the epicurean, who reminded me to turn off my headlamp 🙂 The RD came out and handed me my buckle and I was a bit in shock. I crossed the finish line in 20:26, which was well beyond what I had hoped for, and a PR by more than 2 hours! I happily took the opportunity to make my way inside hear a warm fire and it felt glorious to sit down for the first time. The french toast was delicious, and the hot coffee was long overdue. After resting for a bit, the epicurean and I slowly made our way back to the cabin. i gave myself a quick wet-wipe bath, and then curled up in my sleeping bag. It was 3AM, obviously late, but I was lying down to sleep. I had no expectations of being able to do so, and it was an opportunity my tired legs relished!

I was sore the next morning as we loaded the car, and made the 8 hour drive (damn traffic!) back, but “20:26” kept popping into my head and I couldn’t stop smiling. You never know exactly how a race is going to play out, and I’ve come to expect the unexpected, which made this smooth, comfortable, and challenging race that much more special. This was truly what #chasing42 is all about, and I have the buckle to prove it!

Umstead-5

Race Report: Grindstone 100- Part 1

Anyone who has ever trained for and run a 100-mile race knows that the entire experience is one of endurance, perseverance, and mental fortitude. By the time you get to the starting line, you have spent countless hours on the trails, analyzing your training, contemplating your nutrition, committing to recovery, and preparing for the experience itself. The full commitment can be a challenge, and certainly necessitates an understanding partner and family members (if you have others), and it means sacrifices in other areas of your life.

So, by the time we arrived in Swoope, VA for the Grindstone 100, I could have very easily already been exhausted. However, I managed to balance my training block perhaps better than I ever had, while also training harder and putting in more miles than ever before. Although I didn’t register for Grindstone until July, I had been targeting a Fall 100-miler much longer, so this race was the culmination of quite a bit of training. After a full year on the East Coast, running the technical trails and collecting more vert than I had ever seen, I felt ready to tackle a race like Grindstone. I had fared well at the Georgia Death Race, which had given me a lot of confidence, and I was ready to test myself against a Hardrock qualifier.

I have the best crew!

I have the best crew!

I started watching the weather on Monday, and the chance of rain was present, but the percentage was low, and I wasn’t too concerned. However, by Tuesday, Hurricane Matthew came to life and had the southeast in his sights. When Thursday rolled around and I needed to finalize my packing, the chance of rain was at 90% and it wasn’t scheduled to stop until almost 24 hours into the race. I packed my rain shell, plenty of extra socks, and other dry layers, and did my best not to worry all that much. The epicurean and I (along with Looper) planned to arrive at the start/finish at Camp Shenandoah around noon on Friday to get checked in and set up camp since we (well, really just her since I’d be running the whole time) would be camping out. We hit rain just south of D.C. as we drove down, but it was fairly light so I didn’t get worked up about it.

When we arrived, the rain was light but steady. I had just enough time to walk to the main cabin, pick up my bib and race packet, and get weighed in before the pre-race briefing started. I absolutely love the environment at ultras and trail races, and this was one of the biggest ultras I had been too. I’m always fascinated by the conversations, the gear, and the humbleness of the runners at these events, and Grindstone was no different. The RD did a wonderful job outlining the race and providing us with all the necessary announcements, and I was happy to sit back, sip a cup of coffee, and listen.

Getting ready in the tent...Looper would rather snuggle up!

Getting ready in the tent…Looper would rather snuggle up!

A 6PM race start makes for some interesting nutrition and sleep planning, and I can’t say I’ve ever really been in that position before. We had been up since 6AM to get on the road, and I had every intention of trying to take an afternoon nap, but I was far too wired to really calm down. I ate a Subway sandwich around 2pm so the meal had enough time to digest before I committed my stomach to the endurance effort. We rested in the tent, out of the rain for a bit before I got changed into my running clothes. I’ve always been one to plan everything out, and opt for having the gear for any scenario just in case, and this race was no different. I felt confident with my choices going in, and overall, everything worked out pretty well for me. There were a few changes I would have made, but more on that later. My starting line gear consisted of:

  • Petzl Nao headlamp
  • lightweight beanie (I took it off after 2 miles)
  • short sleeve tech shirt
  • Saucony rain shell
  • Northface Long Haul shorts
  • compression calf sleeves
  • Darn Tough wool socks
  • Dirty Girl Gaiters
  • Altra Olympus 2.0
  • Salomon S-Lab 12 pack w/ 2L bladder (tailwind)
  • Black Diamond Distance Z trekking poles
  • Honeystinger chews
Suited up, with Looper's help :)

Suited up, with Looper’s help 🙂

When I initially registered for the race, the 6pm start was appealing because it meant I’d be running through the night with fresh legs, which would presumably help with so much climbing and a highly technical course in many parts. I lined up for one final bathroom stop and then gathered near the starting area, and said my parting words to the epicurean. I wouldn’t see her until the 3rd aid station, which was around 22 miles in, so she had some time to take a nap back in the tent. We lined up, Craig, the RD, had some final announcements (including warning us about a random group of night-time mountain bikers out on the course), and then we were off. I was determined not to go out too fast, recalling my experience at the Mark Twain 100, and luckily the narrow single track and technical rocky and rooty course made it much easier to slow down. We hit a brief bottleneck about a 1/2 mile in due to everyone needing to climb down a short embankment, but after that, the running was consistent.

Let's get this party started!

Let’s get this party started!

Start to Dowells Draft (AS #3)

The first few miles were comfortable, and I was moving along nicely as the sun set. It was nice to have at least a fleeting glimpse of light before being plunged into darkness and the rhythmic bounce of headlamps. I held out as long as I could before turning on my headlamp, and was able to wait until leaving AS #1 (Falls Hollow). Up until this point, the trail had included some rolling climbs, but as soon as we left Falls Hollow, the trek up Pilot Knob began. A good portion of this steep climb was on a service road, and we were required to summit, punch our bibs with a hole punch, and then roll back down a bit before hopping back on a trail. The steep incline and 2500 ft of climbing in less than 5 miles was a wake-up call for my quads, and I pulled the trekking poles out to assist with the climb. Little did I know that I wouldn’t put them away again, and they would prove to be an incredible asset.

Almost 300 people started...how many will finish?

Almost 300 people started…how many will finish?

After the climb, the Dry Branch Gap aid station approached pretty quickly, and I stopped briefly to fuel up. The race is cupless, so they offered everyone the opportunity to purchase a Ultraspire silicone reusable cup, and it worked like a charm throughout the race. By this time, I was at peace with the fact that I would always either be going up or going down, as there didn’t seem to be any flat, easily runnable sections on this course. I forgot to mention that the rain hadn’t quit and was still coming down light but steady. I was in the middle of the pack as I usually am, and the trail was still in decent shape, mostly on account of there being more rocks and roots than dirt to become mud. I tackled a long downhill section and rolled into the Dowells Draft aid station (#3) and happily met the epicurean. I was 22 miles in, and feeling pretty good at this point. I had done a good job of conserving energy, and the temps remained a bit warmer because of the rain. I had shed my rain shell a while back, and was fine being a little wet because I was staying warm (and didn’t want to overheat in the fully seam-sealed shell). I enjoyed some ginger ale, along with some pretzels and cookies, and the epicurean sent me off. I wouldn’t see her again until the next morning at the turn-around and she was eager to try and get some sleep.

Dowells Draft (AS #3) to N. River Gap (AS #5)

The next 15 or so miles were a bit of a pleasant blur. I was feeling really good, and tucked in behind a few other runners for many additional miles along the way. After around 1500 ft of climbing in the next 5 miles, the following 10 miles were mostly downhill running, and I was moving comfortably. By this point, the rain had thoroughly soaked everything, but I was still feeling fairly warm. There hadn’t been much mud yet, and my gaiters had kept my shoes relatively dry, which meant my socks and feet were relatively dry as well. As I rolled into the N. River Gap aid station, I was in a positive mood. I enjoyed some delicious and hot pirogies, along with some other snacks. I was making decent time, despite the weather conditions, and I’d had company on the trail up to this point.

I finished fueling up, and headed out for the 7 mile climb up to the Little Bald Knob aid station (#6). I had no idea what was in store for me on the Grindstone grind, but this soul-sucking section would test me in a number of ways. Stay tuned for Part 2 and find out how it went, along with the rest of the race!

Race Report: Labor Pains 12-Hour

I often find myself commenting on the paradox of age. As we grow up, we form very clear impressions of what it means to be an adult. Then we become adults, and find that we don’t feel anything like we thought we would. Well, perhaps this isn’t your story, but it certainly summarizes mine quite well. I don’t see this as a bad thing, of course. I’m excited by past, present, and future adventures, and I value greatly the playful spirit and sense of wanderlust that comes with running, hiking, and generally being curious about the world. I wouldn’t dream of changing it, and it was that spirit that led me to this race.

For the first time last year, I decided I would start running my age in miles on my birthday every year. In part this was motivated by a good friend who has done the same thing for the last few years, but more generally, it just seems like I really nice way to celebrate my birthday doing what I love. This year, I was lucky enough to discover the Labor Pains 12-Hour Race in nearby Reading, PA, which just happened to fall on September 4th, the day before my birthday. All of the reviews were positive and it seemed like a great way to take a short trip and enjoy the day with the beautiful epicurean and Looper happy to come along for the ride.

It was a relatively short drive up to Reading, and was made even shorter by the lack of traffic on Sunday morning. We packed some camping supplies so that the epicurean and Looper could set up shop and relax during the day, and watch the event unfold as I returned to the starting area after each 5 mile loop. We arrived in plenty of time for me to check in, pick up my bib and shirt, and for us to claim a spot near the finish area. The race is organized by Pretzel City Sports, and they have quite a bit of race organizing experience. I was impressed from the very beginning with how things looked, and could tell it was going to be an enjoyable day!

All set for a fun day of running and relaxing!

All set for a fun day of running and relaxing!

A record crowd of close to 300 people showed up to test themselves at various limits, and we all lined up for a few announcements before the 7:30AM start time. One of the neat things about a timed race like this is it allows everyone to set their own goals. That might mean running their first marathon or 50K, or pushing themselves even further. Regardless, the relatively short 5-mile loop meant you had a chance to see people repeatedly and you were rarely alone out on the course. This was a welcome treat throughout the day, and it made the miles fly by that much faster.

I wish I could have taken Looper along for a few loops!

I wish I could have taken Looper along for a few loops!

I knew going in that I wasn’t planning to push myself quite to 100%, but rather use this as a hard training run in preparation for Grindstone, and run at least my 37 miles in the process. I hadn’t read much about the course itself, other than it being mainly trails with a few road crossings. I foolishly assumed it would be relatively flat for some reason as well, and I was proven wrong on that front pretty quickly!

The course began with a sharp climb up a hill onto a service road, before dipping into the woods. The first half of the loop had significantly more gain than the second, and I was surprised so see that I had already climbed 400 ft by the time I reached the aid station around mile 2.5. The first half of the course was slightly more runable than the second, but in general, it wasn’t a terribly technical course. My standards have certainly changed over the past year, but the smattering of tree roots and rocks didn’t give me much cause for concern. The second half of the loop was much more runable and rolling, aside from two larger climbs almost immediately after the aid station.

Oh, I should also mention that I may have broken one of the bigger rules in running from the get go too. I decided this race would be a good time to test my new Altra Olympus 2.0s for the first time 🙂 I’ve worn new shoes for the first time at races in the past, and Altras seem to work really well for me so I wasn’t terribly concerned. I figured it would be the perfect way to put them through the paces and see if I wanted them to be my go-to shoe in a few weeks. The added cushion, better grip, and flexibility of this Olympus update did not disappoint! I avoided the first iteration of these shoes because they were just too stiff, but Altra completed a major overhaul before releasing the 2.0 and the result is a phenomenal long haul trail shoe.

Relaxing w/ our "lap dog"...

Relaxing w/ our “lap dog”…

If I had to venture a guess, I’d say that the comfort and cushion of my shoes probably contributed to me running a tad bit faster than I had anticipated. The weather was in the 50’s and humid at the start, but overall very comfortable, and the trails were in great shape. I was having a blast on the rolling hills and enjoying being a part of a great running community for the day, and the miles simply melted away. Every time I passed through the finish line to have my lap recorded and ran over to check in with the epicurean, I was feeling great and it felt like I had just left. I was making great time and feeling really comfortable on the trails, and it was a wonderful boost of confidence. It would seem that this most recent training block was paying off, despite all my complaining about the heat and humidity!

I monitored my nutrition throughout the day, and had no problem taking in a variety of food and drink, which meant I never felt on the verge of a bonk. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t consider pushing myself well past my birthday mile goal, and I felt like I could have kept running forever. I was most definitely in the zone! However, I dialed it in and did my best to remember the long goal and not get greedy in the moment. By the time I finished my 6th lap (30 miles), I had talked myself down off the ledge, and I committed to only running two more laps.

I’m pretty sure this decision brought me some much-needed relief, and it made the last two laps that much more fun. As an added bonus, the race started serving beer at the aid station at noon, and I happily enjoyed a nice cold IPA with the knowledge that I was nearing the end of my day. By this point, the sun was shining and it was beginning to get a bit warmer, which meant the epicurean and Looper were heating up without any shade to speak of, so my decision to cut myself off was certainly supported. I completed my 8th and final lap, pausing at the halfway point to enjoy a second IPA, and enjoyed the steep, rocky climb up to the finish area one final time. I walked over to the timing station to tap out, and they told me they’d leave my tab open just in case I decided to come back 🙂

I had 8 laps and 40 miles under my belt in a little over 7 hours, and I was feeling great. Last year, I probably would have felt somewhat guilty for not continuing, but I had accomplished what I wanted to accomplish, and I was making the smart choice to head home, relax, and recover. The timing for this race is perfect for my birthday run, and I may very well be back next year to tackle a different challenge. This year, though, it’s all about the long game…and that game begins on Friday at 6pm.

MD H.E.A.T. 50k Race Report

The race may have occurred several weeks ago, but make no mistake…the heat is very much still a factor in Delaware. Of even more consequence is the consistent 80-95% humidity, which leaves me wondering if it’s about to rain every day! I was talking with a friend this past weekend about the need for rain because the ground was so dry locally, and it occurred to me that I didn’t even realize it had been so long since a solid rain. The humidity leaves me feeling like it’s always damp and sticky outside. This feeling was the backdrop for my second consecutive running of the MD H.E.A.T. 50k on August 27th.

Last year, this race was my first stab at an east coast trail race, and the 6,000 ft. of vertical gain served as quite the wake-up call. It may not sound like much, but it was quite a bit for this Midwestern transplant. Oh, what a difference a year makes! The course was virtually the same this year, aside from a few adjustments for washed out trails, but running it felt entirely different this year. It was a nice reminder that I’ve been putting in a lot of work over the past year to increase my leg strength and climbing ability.

This year, I was lucky enough to have a friend from Iowa fly out to join me for the race. Ben has been training for the Twin Cities Marathon in October, and naturally saw his first attempt at the 50K distance as a perfect training run to test his endurance. It’s always nice to know I’m not the only one with a backwards logic 🙂 As I did last year, I woke up around 3:30am on Saturday morning, and hopped in the car for the quick drive down to Patapsco State Park in Maryland, where we loaded onto the bus around 5:45 for the short drive into the closed park.

I found Ben on the bus, we exchanged our groggy greetings, and we got settled near the start. The RD called everyone together a few minutes before 7:00AM for some quick announcements, and then we made our loop around the start/finish area and onto the trail for the start of the race. We fell into a comfortable pace/rhythm pretty quick during the first of two loops, and the small group of entrants spread out enough that we weren’t tripping over each other on the mostly single-track course.  I had a very visceral memory of the course from last year, and went in prepared for the hilly, technical nature. However, before I knew it, we were 5 miles in and moving along really well. The well-stocked and enthusiastically-staffed aid stations came up quickly, and we focused on moving quickly between them, while still maintaining a comfortable, conversational pace.

My recap of the race and the course itself last year provides plenty more detail regarding the various twists and turns, stream crossings, and steep climbs that awaited us. The memorable Grist Mill climb (all 47% grade of it) was waiting for us around mile 5.8 again, and I relished the experience in a much different way this year. I’m pretty sure Ben cursed my name for celebrating the climbing opportunity, but it was much more fun this year!

We hit the giant stone wall around mile 15 feeling pretty good, and gingerly tackled the climb and descent, managing not to face plant in the soft, muddy ground near the Patapsco River, which was an accomplishment in and of itself. We paused for a few moments at the start/finish to re-hydrate and take in some more calories. Ben’s shoes happened to be water proof, which might make the stream crossings more manageable, but also did a lovely job of keeping in all the sweat on this warm, 90& humidity morning. He was able to ring out his socks before putting them back on, while I pulled out a dry pair of socks and was never more happy to have remembered to pack them! I was much more familiar with the course this year, so I skipped my larger hydration vest, and opted for a bottle and smaller waist pack, which definitely contributed to my not overheating as much.

The second loop was, as expected, a bit more crowed due to the 25K race that had started around 9AM. We completed the first loop in a little under 3 hours and were feeling pretty good, so we kept the pace going. I had been worried about my pace prior to the start of the race, knowing that Ben is considerably faster than I am, but it would seem I have indeed developed a bit more speed myself in the past year. We were both running comfortably, and still able to carry on a conversation, which is exactly what I wanted out of the race as a solid long training run. I excitedly pointed out to Ben at the 26.3 mile mark that we had now run longer than he had previously gone, and it was fun to think back to my first 50K in D.C. at the Northface Endurance Challenge in 2011. We kept pushing along, and were both happy to get through the halfway point of the second loop, since the climbing was definitely front-loaded.

The time continued to tick by, and we moved along, enjoying the beautiful morning. I was once again reminded of how lucky I am to be able to venture out into the woods like this and explore so freely, and it served as a good reminder of my desire to keep my running sustainable. As we ran the final few miles, the reality of the distance caught up to Ben a bit, but he pushed on very well, and we were greeted by children with water guns as we crossed the finish line. At that point, we were both soaked through anyway, so washing off a bit with clean water was a welcome relief!

The post-race spread was impressive as always, and a cold beer tasted quite good after running 31 miles! We lingered and filled up a bit on the excellent spread, before deciding to call it a day and head back to the cars. The epicurean and Looper had stayed home this year, so I was on my own. Based on how I probably smelled after the race, I’m guessing she was happy she didn’t spend a few hours in the car with me afterwards as well. I ended up finishing almost 30 minutes faster than last year, and more importantly, felt much stronger the entire time. It was once again a great race, and certainly nice to see a familiar race and be a part of his first 50K experience. I have no doubt he is going to kill it at the TC Marathon this year, and I’m definitely feeling much more confident about Grindstone as well. All told, it was a great way to spend a Saturday, running the trails, and living the dream. Keep #chasing42 everyone!

 

Daily Chase: Vol. 49

It’s fascinating to me that we have so much easy access to wooded single-track and beautiful state parks in this area, despite the congestion of the east coast. When we moved out here, I knew I’d be able to run in some new and exciting locations, but I didn’t realize just how easy it would be to get to them. People may complain about how crowed it can be out here, myself included, but I’m coming to realize that it also means parks and trail running are that much closer (as long as I don’t get stuck in traffic!). This will be a calm week as I prepare for the Cayuga Trails 50 on Saturday and I’m looking forward to a quick trip up to New York for the weekend!

Ridley Creek State Park offers some gorgeous hiking!

Ridley Creek State Park offers some gorgeous hiking!

Chasing42 Log: 20160526-20160531

Run: The sun finally decided to make in appearance in the last week, which meant even more opportunities to log some beautiful outdoor miles! I picked up my weekly mileage a bit this last week, and was able to knock out a fantastic, hilly trail run with plenty of vert. I focused a bit less on distance over the weekend, and more on tackling climbs and hitting the downhills harder. The beautiful epicurean and I took a short trip up to Ridley Creek State Park in PA for some great hiking with Looper on Saturday as well. On Sunday, I went out for a longer run, intent on beginning to acclimate myself to the heat, and I was reminded ever so rudely that the summer sun was now out. My bright red shoulders and arms tell the story without me saying a word. Lesson learned!

Looper likes leading the pack!

Looper likes leading the pack!

Thought: This was my last week of training with a relatively flexible schedule before I begin a new position on June 1st. For the most part, my schedule has been quite flexible since I started running some 8 years ago, and it will be interesting to see how long it takes me to adapt to a much more regimented daily schedule. On the one hand, I know I won’t be able to sneak out for a lunchtime run (at least I don’t think), but I’ll also be able to come home at the end of the day and know I don’t have more work ahead of me after dinner. It will be an interesting life transition, and my training will certainly be affected, but I’m looking forward to making the shift and watching my life adapt in the process.

Maryland H.E.A.T. 50K Race Recap

Our east coast move has been a bit of a whirlwind and my head still hasn’t entirely stopped spinning. There has been quite a bit of “new” in our lives in the past three months, and that including plenty of new running locations and opportunities for me! I held off on setting my fall race schedule until we moved out here and am just now getting things squared away. This meant that I haven’t had anything coming up, which has been a bit of a struggle. I always feel better when I am focusing my training on a particular race, and I’ve been itching to get back to race almost from the moment I arrived in Delaware. So, last week, on a bit of a whim, I signed up for a 50K trail race in Maryland. The MD H.E.A.T. (High Endurance Adventure Test) race was held on August 8th at Patapsco State Park, just outside Baltimore. This meant it was easily within driving range, and I could head down the morning of the race and avoid any need for sleeping accommodations. The epicurean, along with Looper, decided to join me and we made an adventure of it. The result was an immensely challenging and satisfying day!

There’s really only one reason I will ever set my alarm for 3:30AM, and that’s for a race day wake-up. Google told us it would be a 75 minute drive, and the race started at 7AM, so we wanted to be on the road by 5:30 to ensure we had a decent buffer for any directional miscues. I made sure to organize my clothes, shoes, and pack the night before to make the morning as easy as possible, but the alarm was still a painful siren call that I found myself compelled to answer. Looper, our Vizsla, loves the outdoors so we brought her along for the ride. Luckily, she is a wonderful traveler and relatively comfortable in new environments. The race bused folks into the park from a nearby park-and-ride due to the limited amount of parking available on site. We had received permission to drive directly to the park because we had Looper with us, but ended up driving to the park-and-ride first. I arrived at packet pickup around 6:50, which gave me just enough time to pin my bib on, take care of business, and rush to the starting line. This event was technically more of a “run” than a “race”, as they weren’t giving out awards or keeping track of age groups. They offered a 25K and a 50K, with both groups traversing the same 16-mile loop. The 25K didn’t begin until 9AM, so the considerably smaller group of 50K runners (approximately 50) had a solid two hours on the trail before the additional 300 folks started their own trek.

Waiting at the start for the go.

Waiting at the start for the go.

Since the 25K was the main race, the aid stations weren’t going to be fully staffed and set up until the 9AM start. Thus, we had to have enough hydration and nutrition for the first 8 miles with no aid stations to resupply. The park itself runs along 32 miles of the Patapsco River, and encompasses over 16,000 acres. the route took us along beautiful single track, with the occasional access road and paved trail used to connect various points along the way. I mentioned in an earlier post that my legs are still becoming accustomed to the hilly terrain surrounding me, and this race served as my first real test.

Welcome to the east coast hills!

Welcome to the east coast hills!

The first 8 miles of the loop were without a doubt the most difficult, and I became aware very quickly of the elevation gain this race had in store for me. After a fairly calm first mile, several decent hills greeted me over the next few miles as we made our way up and down the river valley, crisscrossing a hilly power line clearing, and navigating switchbacks. We crossed several streams, and the quick splash felt wonderful on a morning where the temps were already in the 70’s and the humidity was approaching 90%. “HEAT” was certainly an appropriate name for the race! It was clear pretty early on that this flatlander wasn’t in Iowa anymore, and my quads were yelling at me for the deception. However, the copious elevation gain I’d been logging over the past few months seemed to have paid off, as I was navigating the highly technical trail pretty well and embracing the climbs. After several sizable climbs, I thought I was well acquainted with the trail and ready to tackle anything that came my way. Then I reached the Grist Mill Trail turn.

Seriously?!

Seriously?!

Around 5.8 miles in, the course took a sharp 90 degree right turn and I ran smack into a rock face. It took me a moment to look up and see the course markers to realize that we were supposed to go up! The 47% grade meant climbing with my hands as much as my feet, and grabbing onto tree roots to pull myself forward. After 100 feet or so, the trail leveled out just enough to stand up again, and I looked up in search of a summit that wasn’t there. The trail seemed to disappear into the woods, and the dense tree canopy nicely shaded the way. This would prove to be the toughest climb of the race, and one of the tougher climbs I’ve tackled in any race, although I’m sure I have more of them ahead of me! At one point, the trail opened up just enough to the left for a scenic outlook and a beautiful view of the valley below. If I had enough oxygen in my brain, I would have snapped a picture but I had to settle for a few of the hill itself. After finally reaching the summit, the trail leveled out and slowly began a calm descent over the course of the next mile, before we eventually ran into a paved bike trail along the river. We took the bike trail for about a mile, and my feet yearned for the rocky, rooty single-track  instead of the smooth asphalt that was guiding me along. We crossed the river on a swinging bridge, and the mile 8 aid station was waiting for us when we got to the other side. I could not have been more happy to see those volunteers!

The roads just don't compare!

The roads just don’t compare!

This was the first race I had run that offered Tailwind at the aid stations, which was a wonderful surprise and convenient supplement to my own supply. I lingered for a few minutes before thanking everyone and heading back out on the course. Almost immediately, the trail made its way up another steep incline but I was feeling much more refreshed after my pit stop and I tackled this hill which considerable ease. After reaching the top, the next 6 miles were relatively easy compared to the first half of the race. The trail continued to offer plenty of rolling hills, stream crossings, and technical switchbacks, but my legs had adapted and I tackled the miles quite comfortably. With less than a mile left, the trail ran straight into a 30 foot stone wall. I initially looked straight up and sighed at the thought of having to scale the enormous wall, which was serving as some sort of barrier along the river. However, I eventually noticed the 8 foot connecting wall situated at a 90 degree angle, and headed over to scale it. Going up was fairly easy, but going back down the other side was a bit more treacherous and I wondered what it would feel like on the second loop. I landed safely on the ground, picked the trail back up, and headed for the clearing and the start/finish area. I finished the first loop a bit faster than I had intended (shocking, I know!) but I was feeling really good. I stopped to chat with the epicurean, rehydrate, and take in some more nutrition, and then I headed back out on the second and final loop.

Heading back out for loop 2!

Heading back out for loop 2!

I knew what awaited me as I ventured out on the second loop, and was encouraged by the fact that I would encounter aid stations every 4 miles for this second loop. My legs were doing an excellent job of reminding me of the first loop as I tackled the early hills on the second loop. My pace slowed some, but I expected that and welcomed it, knowing I had more than enough time in the bank. I was partially dreading and partially looking forward to the Grist Mill climb as I moved along, so everything up until that point seemed more like an opening act before the main attraction. My legs were much more tired the second time around, and I’m sure the climb took me longer, but I relished in the accomplishment, one foot in front of the other. By the time I reached the paved bike path, the popular state park was much busier, and I found myself avoiding walkers, runners, bikers, and other folks wandering down by the river. I was that much more excited when I reached the swinging bridge because I knew I only had 8 miles left and they were quite manageable. A minute or so after I arrived at the mile 8 aid station, another guy came in and promptly called it quits. I tried to talk him out of his DNF and offered to run with him for a bit but he was done. I made sure to maintain my positive attitude as I embarked on the large climb just past the aid station.

Looper enjoyed the river almost as much as I did!

Looper enjoyed the river almost as much as I did!

The final 8 miles flew by pretty quickly, even if I wasn’t moving as fast as the first time around. I had judged my hydration and nutrition well, and my body was feeling good even if my legs were a tad bit tired. Over the next few miles, I began to pass folks running the 25K race, and I did my best to encourage them to keep going. I stopped a few times to offer assistance to folks, but kept myself moving forward. Relentless forward progress was key! The wall climb at the end proved to be much easier than I thought it would be, but I was a bit disoriented when I got to the other side until someone pointed out the exit onto the clearing to me. I emerged from the beautiful, shaded park and ran through the finish line to the sound of ringing cowbells (have I mentioned how much I despise them?), and I had a delightfully exhausted smile on my face. I collected some food at the finish area and headed over to sit down and decompress with the epicurean and Looper. In total, I gained over 5800 feet of elevation, which, considering the distance, made this the hilliest race I’ve run to date. When you throw in the highly technical trails, it became a fantastic test not only of my trail running abilities, but of my hill work as well. My quads were sore, but I was feeling great. It may have been a wicked early morning, but this impromptu race turned into a wonderful mini-getaway. It will no doubt be the first of many in our new east coast home!

Not a bad view on the way home either!

Not a bad view on the way home either!

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