Chasing 42

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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!

Daily Chase: Vol. 61

The last 10 days certainly have been a whirlwind! All races involve some degree of preparation and deviation from your normal schedule. However, the amount of time and prep energy that goes into running a 100-miler takes things to a whole new level. I felt like I spent all of last week packing, and have spent all of these week unpacking. I’m not sure I would call running 102 miles much of a vacation, though. The conditions were horrible, and I can’t wait to share the whole story with you!

Chasing42 Log: 20161004- 20161014

Run: The past week and a half has been all about the lead-up to the Grindstone 100, suffering through the race itself, and recovery! I kept my tapering pretty light and consistent last week before leaving for the race on Friday morning. The race itself began at 6pm on Friday evening, and I finished quite a few hours later, but did finish. You’ll have to wait for the race report to read all the gory details. Keeping the streak alive on Monday was definitely a challenge but I punched out a painful mile nonetheless. My run on Tuesday was less uncomfortable, and my legs felt surprisingly good. Most of the soreness had already disappeared and I was only left with the reality of mangled feet and slowly healing blisters. By Wednesday, I was able to get in a comfortable 7 miles, and it felt good to stretch my legs again. I was surprised by how quickly I was recovering, but made sure not to push it. I made it to the group run last night and ran another 7 miles at a bit of a faster pace but could definitely feel a bit of fatigue towards the end. I suppose I should give myself a bit of a break considering I just tackled 102 miles, right? A quick run today will pave the way for a relaxing and easy-does-it weekend. I’ll pick up my regularly scheduled training soon enough, but I’m doing my best not to get antsy and let my body fully heal itself. I just wish it wasn’t quite so hard!

Thought: There is a part of me that wishes recovery was all-or-nothing. How nice would it be if you were completely unable to run all the way up until the point where everything was fine and you could resume your regularly scheduled program? Alas, the human body is a tad more nuanced than that, and thus we do our best to pay attention to all the signs and not over-analyze things along the way. Does anyone else get really antsy in the recovery period after a long race? I’d go so far as to say it’s as bad as the taper leading up to a 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.

Daily Chase: Vol. 60

The sun is setting earlier, and rising later. It’s once again dark when I roll about of bed in the morning, and everything seems to be moving a bit slower. I am pretty sure that it rained for the past two weeks, with random, limited breaks to give us just enough hope that it might stop. I’ve commented before on the simple joy to be had from running in the rain, but walking from your car to your office in the rain is another question entirely. I’ve found out the hard way that the University of Delaware campus is a haven for puddles and poor drainage. It’s truly a civil engineering headache and I’ve had the soaked pants on several occasions to prove it. However, I’ve been in taper mode for the last week or so, and am starting to get rather excited for the Grindstone 100 this week. A certain hurricane may be soaking my chances at beautiful sunny weather, but a light rain under a tree canopy isn’t all that bad, right? We’ll see what I think after I’ve been running through the night! If you’re interested in following me or checking in this weekend, the race is being webcast at http://www.eco-xsports.com/ beginning at 6PM on Friday. Rain or shine, I’ll be out there #chasing42!

Chasing42 Log: 20160920- 20161003

Run: In the past, the taper has been a cause for trepidation. I’ve worried about getting too antsy and feeling paranoid about injury. However, the rest of my life has been so busy lately that I luckily haven’t had time to be all that worried. However, I’ve kept things interesting the last few weeks. I made a trip north to Mt. Tammany last weekend for some climbing training and trekking pole practice, and had a blast on a beautiful Saturday morning! This past weekend, I finally had a chance to run the Brandywine Bend Footrace that I had heard so much about since moving to Delaware. This amazing 7.5 mile trail race through Brandywine Creek State Park and surrounding private property is truly a gem and I had a blast! I’ll be sure to share more later. In between, I’ve been keeping it simple and maintaining my streak with some quality runs of varying lengths, speeds, and terrain. In the process, I’ve been focusing a lot on recover and nutrition, and that extra attention has me even more excited for this weekend!

Thought: I’ve been listening to a lot of running podcasts lately, including some fantastic interviews at Ultrarunnerpodcast and GingerRunner, and the epic stories of races and back country adventures have me craving an adventure of my own! I’m not sure what that is going to look like, but I’ll be doing some serious planning once I have Grindstone under my belt(buckle). Where should I go? What epic runs or adventures have you always wanted to undertake? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Vertical 5K Fun

A week ago, I felt adventurous and eager to try something new. The result was the inaugural Vertical 5K (as it shall henceforth be named)! I felt it was worthy of it’s own shout-out Daily Chase-style post due to the hilarity and suffering that ensued.

Chasing42 Log: 20160919

Run: I was feeling antsy, and found myself thinking about all the climbing I had coming up at Grindstone. After a relatively restful weekend, my legs were feeling really good and I wanted to push things a bit harder. I had been out to the Newark Reservoir on several previous occasions and had enjoyed running the perimeter, hoping onto the nearby trails, and doing a few repeats on the enormous hill that stretches from the parking lot to water level. However, I thought it would be fun to take it to the next level, and see how many repeats I could complete.

The hill itself is grassy, and sits at about a significantly steep incline. There is a paved path that winds around up to the water level more gradually, but enough people take the shortcut that the city has found it necessary to redirect traffic up slightly different paths in the grass to avoid erosion. This made the .08 mile climb that much more challenging, and added to the fun! I began my ascents by pushing pretty hard and feeling my pulse jump as my heart and lungs were called on for a more intense experience. I was wearing relatively light weight road shoes unfortunately, so the run down did not offer nearly as much reprieve because I needed to be overly cautious of my footing so as not to do my best Jack impersonation.

The distance accumulated incredibly slowly on the steep incline, and my quads were burning pretty quickly. However, I loved watching the elevation gain increase much more quickly than the distance, with 80-90 feet of gain over each summit. I lost count of my repeats fairly quickly, but started paying attention to the distance and decided after about a mile that I would push for a full 5K. The final runs up involved quite a bit of pushing, but I hit my goal, and relished running down the hill one final time and taking a lap around the parking lot to shake out my legs. I was drenched from head to toe, and no doubt looked like a mess, but it felt incredibly. After 3.3 miles, I had gained 1,772 feet. This won’t be my last time tackling this hill and #chasing42!

vertical-5k

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