Monday, June 24, 2013

M-Cubed for 6.24.2013

Monday Morning Musings....a collection of thoughts that have very little do with each other but land here on Monday morning.

- First off, welcome to my new readers. After my race last weekend, I've connected with lots of new friends and many have stumbled onto RTRSBM. Welcome!

- Fantastic weekend and what better way to start the week than with a day off?! Most don't know what I do for a career but I will tell you I work for Uncle Sam. In that job, I work a compressed work schedule which basically means I work 9 hour days and in exchange, get every other Monday off. I used to have Thursdays for the past year but wasn't sure how I'd like Mondays but I gotta tell ya...there is a certain joy to knowing the work week is starting but I am not! :-) I think I'll start it right...with a run with my bride.

- So I attended my first Alive Festival on Saturday. The Alive Fest is a Christian music festival in its 26th year here in NE Ohio. I took my 12 year old with me and we joined up with my church's youth group who had been camping there since Wednesday. Hot and humid was the day but a great lineup of music. My favorites, who I'd never seen before were Sidewalk Prophets, Matthew West, and Skillet. Yes...Skillet. I can see how many mainstream Christians would hear Skillet and immediately write them off. Hard rock...yep. Christian? Yea...most certainly. See it from my perspective for a moment: I like that genre. I used to be a pretty big Metallica fan. In my darker days, I went to destructive music and cranked it as loud as it would go. The more I read about Skillet before Alive, seeing them in concert and hearing them talk, and listening to their new album (which gets released tomorrow but I bought on Saturday) has me sold. They go on tour this summer with Papa Roach which doesn't make sense at first glance. Truth is, per John Cooper the lead singer and founder, they are great friends with those in the rock arena but those bands know what Skillet stands for. It is Skillet's chance to bring in light to a very dark place. Rock on, Skillet. You have a new big fan here. I can understand the words in your songs, too. :-) Here is a photo during their performance...with a full Mr. Moon conducting a photo bomb in the top left of the photo.

- I am pretty much fully recovered and ready to rock out the miles. I did get that nice 10 on Saturday after my last post and even ran by this local farmer. Those are beautiful Percheron horses and he is "making hay." Goin' old school!! I stopped and met this man for the first time and we talked for about 10 minutes. It was great to hear his family's history and farm history in the community...and he was quick to mention he isn't Amish! Great run.

- Lots of research on the West Virginia Trilogy and some exchanges with the race director, too. The race is unofficially on my calendar (meaning I haven't cut a check yet and registered but am 'mentally' in). There are still some things floating around out there in the Fall that I need to nail down before I can commit. Hopefully, I will be able to do that soon. The plan is for me to do the 50K, 50M, and 1/2 marathon and camp at the site while my wife volunteers for the first two events and runs the 1/2 marathon with me. 94.3 miles over 3 days in the height of fall colors in the middle of protected wilderness. "Yes, please!"

- It's going to be a "Man of Steel" kind of day. I've been sittin' on my hands waiting to see this movie but with my girls at camp last week and knowing they wanted to as well, I waited. Well, it's $5 movie Monday at the local theater so we're off to see the latest rendition of Superman tonight. Can't wait! I've heard nothing but great things about it and I've watched every trailer...many times in my home theater...cranked.

- My success with Brooks Running's Pure Project shoe line just continues to be phenomenal. Back in late 2011 when I returned from deployment, I transitioned into the minimal shoe line from a heavily cushioned shoe. This totally changed my gait and turned me from a primarily heel striker to landing mid-foot. Old injuries faded into the background and I got stronger/faster. Being a nearly 6'3" guy around the 200lb mark can wear on a shoe, though. My shoe of choice has been the Pure Flow. It's a relatively light, neutral shoe that somehow, withstands the beating I give it. My first pair got 350 miles on them before I knew it was time to retire them for pair #2. That pair, my bright orange one now have 370 miles and they aren't done yet. Pair #3 have 39 miles are slowly being worked into the rotation. A new color was just released (think Florida Gators) and I plan on picking them up. I continue to love being part of the Brooks family and can't wait to see what they bring out next.

- New gear: I am not fond of back-mounted water bladders for endurance running. They just don't do well with me and I tend to do much better with a waist-mounted system. I only have a one-bottle carrier, though. I learned at Highlands Sky how much I like being hands-free. Normally for long unsupported runs, I carry a handheld and the waist-pack but a 2-bottle system would surely be nice. I found this one from UltrAspire and hope to acquire it soon. See the ring connecting the two sides? That's a departure from the typical design. Looking forward to getting it and trying it out. (product link)

Have a great week, everyone, and keep Running Happy!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Recovery Week and a Thought

I knew on those steep ski slopes I was running down last Saturday afternoon that I'd suffer the consequences via trashed quads...and I did. Sunday and Monday weren't pretty for simple walking and going down steps. Uphills..no problem. Going down was no fun. Wednesday, I did an easy 5 with my wife and it was refreshing to warm the fibers up and stretch them out. Later, though, they were still a wreck. That's when I called my true ace in the hole when it comes to fixing these issues. Sure, I could wait until I felt better or I could visit my hold-nothing-back massage therapist, Larry Karasek out of Cuyahoga Falls. He's known for finding problem areas and not stopping until they are no longer a problem. He got me in on Wednesday morning and 90min later and plenty of laughing (that's my pain-coping-mechanism), he accomplished much and made lots of observations. Here's a smattering of his thoughts:

  • Most of his clients beat up the quads or the hamstrings. I did both.
  • The change to a more minimal shoe has resulted in landing mid-foot over the past two years and thus, has greatly strengthened my quads since they are now the primary workhorse. His opinion is that strength surrounding my knees has kept me (and continues to) injury-free.
  • From above-my-abs to my knees, I am very strong and defined all the way around. (though you can't tell by looking at me!)
  • Comparing calves to quads, I have small calves because I no longer heel-strike when I land. Again, the quads, the powerhouse in me, have stepped up to the game.
  • I have abs. I asked that he call my wife and tell her since by looking at me, I don't.  He attests that I do. First time I've had them massaged before, though. Gotta ignore it while it's happening or laughter ensues. That's a tickle spot, for sure.

Once Thursday arrived, I felt like a million bucks. Total turn-around and I kept up a significant water intake and raw food intake. Lots of colorful fruits and veggies filled my day but I took another rest day, too, for the repair. Yesterday, I took my dog, Bristol, for a brisk 6 miler at dawn and felt great.

Enter the race bug. One thing I finished Highlands Sky saying (and my wife recorded, by the way, on video) was that I do not desire a 100-miler. It's just not there. A few posts back, I threw out the idea of the Midwest Grand Slam in 2014...4 100-milers to include the Burning River 100, a race that is hot and humid and one I really don't crave to return to. Love the race, the people, etc. but no desire to suffer like that again. BUT, I do love ultra-running and love the 50K to 50 mile race distance. I can still be happy and not suffer...too much. I also loved the West Virginia mountains, the remoteness of it all, and the people who make up the West Virginia Mountain Trail Runners club. Simply a great community of like-minded folks. So they have this "event"...
It's a "stage event" over 3 days. You travel to the mountains on Thursday afternoon/evening and camp out at the start. No hotels, no ski resort. It's either a tent or a "dorm" to rent for $15 a day. On Friday morning is a 50K through the mountains followed by dinner afterwards. Saturday is a 50 miler and then on Sunday, a half marathon. At the end, it would be 94.3 miles and a WV Trilogy finish. Mid-October, too, and the landscape will be littered with fall foliage. So far, I have family support and my wife would accompany me and on the final stage of 13.1 miles. So that's what is on my mind right now. It has a small 100 runner limit and it's about half full so I need to act relatively soon if I want in. (Race Website)

For now, though, it's time for a sunrise 10 on my favorite country route. No watch, no timing, and nothing but the sun, birds singing, and dew burning off of the newly risen cornstalks and soybeans. Have a wonderful weekend!

Run Happy, friends!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Race Report: 2013 Highlands Sky 40 Mile Trail Run

Months ago, I was looking for my "next big race" but hadn't yet caught the "100 mile bug" that I once had back in 2009. In the good days, I think I'm like many runners who feel they can conquer the world and run forever and I begin "100 mile race shopping" but in the end, my passion for it just isn't there...and if I don't want it bad enough, I sure am not going to devote the training time to it while stealing the time away from my family. Enter "something in between." I've done many races since my 100-mile finishes in 2009 but none over the 50K/31.2 mile mark. Other races out there over 50K are the 50-mile, the 100K, and a few oddball distances, like 40 miles. My good friends at NEO Trail (Northeast Ohio Trail Club) who love rocks and old-school ultra running recommended I look at the Highlands Sky 40-Mile Trail Run, the "40-miler that runs like a 50-miler." Set in a national forest in eastern West Virginia, a small amount of research showed me 1) it's a relatively short drive, 2) it would be a great family getaway...wife and kids hang out at the ski resort/pool while I play in the mountains, 3) it was breathtaking with regards to scenery, 4) that I could head to a race and be anonymous vs. knowing everyone (it's nice to do that now and again) and 5) it looked like a heck of a challenge. I think it was only minutes later, several months ago, and I had booked a room at the ski resort and registered for the race, my first 50K+ race since October 2009. And that's pretty much the last time I looked at the race until last week.

The drive was beautiful from northeast Ohio and down into West Virginia. Windy roads that made my family nauseous en route led to the small town of Davis, WV which is just 10 miles to the east of Canaan Valley Resort where the race headquarters was and the finish line. After checking in and familiarizing ourselves with the grounds, including the indoor and outdoor pool, we walked down the hill out the back of the lodge and found the finish line, ready for us on Saturday. Here is the view from the finish line on Friday night.

The HS 40-mile race is essentially two distinctly different "races" when it comes to the course. First off, the race is 41 miles, not 40. The first 19.7 miles which end at Aid Station #4 contain 3300 feet of elevation climb...yea...11 football fields. The first 2.4 are on the road as you run down an old country road and then the climbing begins. From what I heard through the day, it was dry last year. This year, the area received 2" of rain during the past week. That turned that elevation climb and 19.7 miles into the wettest, muddiest run of my life. While the climb "sounds" steep, it's a slow climb that just doesn't end through the forest. Heavily covered by bright green foliage, the trail is very narrow at points and always rocky or blocked by boulders. In the wettest of areas, there is only one way through. As I stepped forward, there were times that my foot would go down 3" and other times, the water was up to my knee! Sometimes I could see in the water and other times, it was black muck and shoe-sucking. A loosely-tied shoe would end in an epic fail on this course, no doubt. Luckily for me, there were several water crossings...or shall I say "swift moving creek crossings" to clean up in. They were also kind enough to stretch mountain climbing ropes across to help not slipping on the mossy rocks beneath the water. At the 3rd crossing, I nearly bathed in there due to so much mud being caked on me.

Aid stations were great. The first one was the only liquid-only station at 2.4 miles in. After that, it was the longest stretch between aid stations at 8.1 miles. If you're going to have a long stretch between AS's, then early on is best vs. late in the race. This 8.1 miles is also where the first 2100' climb takes place. The rest of the aid stations were very well stocked with typical ultra fare and very helpful volunteers. I continued to enjoy my new ultra-favorite...Pringles. They had potatoes/salt at each AS as well.

Here are photos from the first 19.7 miles. Note in some photos how the "trail" more resembles a common stream. This was totally normal. I don't recall a single dirt only section in these 19.7 miles. It was mentally exhausting as eyes-off-the-trail would have resulted in face-in-the-mud or in one runner's case, a nose cut on a rock after a face plant on the trail. It was a relief to arrive at Aid Station 4.
Race Start

1st Water Crossing




Aid Station #2 after the 8.1 stretch since Aid Station #1
Water Crossing #2



Water Crossing #3



Entry to Aid Station #4 at Mile 19.7
At this point, I had heard that a shoe change was advisable. I am not a fan of changing shoes ever if no problem exists. In ultra-running, "managing" your feet is an art and when things are good (e.g. no blisters, hot spots, etc.), you don't mess with it. However, I had gone through so much crap that undoubtedly, my shoes were holding a lot of it and I had a solid stretch of dry road in front of me. A warm, dry, clean pair of shoes sounded magnificent so after refueling at the aid station, I shed my Brooks Cascadias which were full of grime, pebbles, and grit for a clean pair of Brooks Pure Grits. I had some powdered lube already in a new pair of socks ready to go and I was carrying BodyGlide to re-lube my feet. It was the right choice, for sure. I spent probably 10min at this aid station due to the change but I was soon on the "Road Across the Sky."

From mile 19.7 to Mile 27, it is nothing more than a straight, rolling dirt road in full sun. Decades ago, you could see the mountain tops to the left and right but today, it's grown in with lots of trees. Also commonplace from here on out were lots of blueberry and huckleberry bushes everywhere. They weren't ripe yet but soon would be. This is also bear country and those bushes will be ripe for the pickin' very soon. Seen along this stretch were lots of people with their trucks and bear-tracking dogs heading onto the trails to search for bears. We can attest to the bear presence, too. On the way to the start that morning, we took a wrong turn and lo and behold, there was a GIANT bear going through trash by a cabin at the Canaan Valley Resort. I am big guy at 6'2" and around 200lb and this guy/gal dwarfed me! I had never seen a black bear in the wild before until then. Wow!
Road Across the Sky

Road Across the Sky
This was a long stretch and whatever clouds we had dissipated along the way. I did meet a fellow runner from Pittburgh (Brian) and shared lots of great conversation with him. He knew the area well and told me a lot about what we were running through. This area of Dolly Sods is protected. Not even powered chain saws are allowed in here. It's classified as a National Wilderness area. As we ran, we got one aid station about halfway across the "Road" before arriving at Mile 27, the exit off the gravel road and onto the single track trail which ran across the plains until Mile 32.9. This section was my favorite, hands down. So many chances to stop and just soak it in. I tried often to shoot a text off to my wife to let her know I was good and my status but not even a slight signal could be found. It was the epitome of what I think of when I think of "God's Country." I truly felt blessed to be able to run through it and soak it in. I had turned off all data on my iPhone 5 during the run so I could take photos and it was working very well. I received a waterproof case...a slim one...for my birthday in April and it was the perfect companion for this run. I took a lot of photos along this section which had mostly dry trail but sections of water as well. The funnest part was when the trail disappeared and boulders as big as houses became the trail. Here are the highlights from this section.



















Arriving here at mile 32.9 was a relief. I was beat. Heck, I was beat at Mile 19.7 and the sun was full as could be now. But, it was a comfy temperature in the mid-70s and while I was tired, I couldn't be happier to charge on. At this point, I thought the course was 40 miles and not 41 so leaving here, I assumed I had 7.1 to go. Leaving AS #7, I headed to Timberline Ski Resort which due to requests from the local mountain bikers, the course was changed from running on the mountain bike trails and up the ski slopes to running DOWN the ski slopes...an event that this morning I still feel quite well. Showing up at the ski resort about a mile past AS #7, the steep decline began. I just knew as I went that I was thrashing my quads but I didn't care much as the end was near. I knew I'd suffer in the days following the race but for now, it was all good. Lots of expensive ski lodges paralleled the slope and it was a beautiful descent.

After leaving the resort, it was a mixture of gravel road both covered and uncovered. The one mental mistake I made here was thinking I was 3 miles from AS #7 to #8. Nope...more like 5 miles. I kept thinking I was about to arrive and didn't. Eventually, I arrived at AS #8 which was 4.1 miles to the finish. I was certainly mixing in walking and running for awhile now, depending on how I felt. I wasn't in pain but just at my energy's end. My philosophy during a race is to leave it all out there. I never, ever want to finish and think "I had more to give. I held back." I want to finish saying "I left it all out there. I  have nothing left." So that's what I did and after being out there for about 9 hours at that point, walking certainly happened but it was "with a purpose" and done in strong, brisk, arm-swinging way. The clock was ticking away, after all! Leaving Aid Station #8, I had to snap this photo. Dang, I just wanted to curl up under there with him/her!

This is where I realized the run was 41 miles. The entry sign to this aid station said 36.9 miles and I confirmed the exit sign was correct. Oh well...better an ultra be long rather than short, that's for sure. The remainder of the run was mostly on uncovered asphalt with the exception of a short grassy section with 2 miles to go and another grassy trail section before the finish. Slow but steady was the theme. In the end, though, I got my finish and my wife and girls were there to greet me. It was a nice downhill finish to make even the weariest runner look strong and fast. :-) I distinctly remember giving my wife a bear hug and saying "I left it all out there." I sure did but I loved the race. It really was a fantastic event from start to finish. I really don't think I'd change a single thing. Here I am at the finish:
Afterwards, I relaxed for awhile which equated to telling stories to my family while laying on the ground. I wanted to hang out at the finish until a fellow Team RWB (Red, White, Blue) athlete finished. She flagged me down early in the race and mentioned getting a finish line photo together. She didn't finish too far behind me and we did get together for our finish line photo. We both run for Team Red, White, and Blue. Team RWB is composed of athletes across the world who are veterans and run for wounded veterans. Once she finished, we both found out that we both are in the Navy. She happens to be a doctor who works directly with wounded warriors. Here is Rupa and me at the finish.
Afterwards, it was back to the room for a hot shower and dinner. Results did come out today and my official finishing time was 10hrs, 25min, 9sec and out of 163 finishers, I was 117th. Nearly 200 started the race. Full Results Here.
Great Patagonia finisher tech tee given at the finish line
In closing, I thought I'd share a few thoughts if you might be considering this race in your future:

1. Stay at the host ski resort. There aren't many options out there and there is a very reasonable group rate set up for runners. Plus, the finish line is there and the pre-race dinner and meeting. They are also finishing up a major renovation now. Next year, the whole resort will be like brand new.

2. Go to the pre-race dinner and stay for the meeting. Some races don't have good pre-race dinners and are a waste of money. Not the case here. Runners get the pre-race dinner free (family extra) and the meeting follows immediately. Lots (and I mean lots) of great sponsorship swag given away, too. I, myself, got a $50 gift certificate. I saw some awesome Patagonia gear given out.

3. Post-Race: there is a great burrito shop in Davis, WV, which is only 10 miles west of the resort. I highly recommend this for Saturday night's dinner. Local, great service, and if you're a craft brew fan, a small but very good selection. Afterwards, head back to the resort and relax. (Hellbender Burritos)

4. Sunday morning: instead of eating the buffet at $12 a person at the resort, head on out for the trip home via Davis, WV again and directly across from the burrito shop is a bed and breakfast which serves breakfast to the public. SUPER good! Good 'ol homecooked breakfast and my whole family loved it. (Bright Morning Inn)

Overall, I can't think of anything bad to say about the Highlands Sky race. With a trail race that often lacks a literal trail, the course was marked incredibly well. Every time I thought "Hmmm...I wonder where to go now?"...somewhere a red streamer was flying which marked the course and direction to go. From the pre-race dinner to the finish line, it was perfect. I really do like the bright yellow Patagonia finishers tech tee, too. Very nice quality and great artwork, too. Thank you very much to the West Virginia Mountain Trail Runners for a first class experience. I have already planned that in 2014, my family and I will be spending Father's Day in the West Virginia mountains once again.

My entire photo album of the race: on Google Drive // on Facebook (with captions)

Run Happy, friends!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Photos: 2013 Highlands Sky 40 Mile Trail Run

While I slowly write my race report, I'd like to share the many photos I took along the way with my iPhone 5. Back on my birthday, I received a waterproof case from my family which was the perfect piece of "gear" for my journey through the West Virginia wilderness. Oh yea, I finished in 10hrs, 25min. Race Report coming soon. Little tidbit: over 3300 feet of elevation climb in the first 19.7 miles. That's 11 football fields. :-) Until the report, enjoy the photos.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Bib #49

Good morning, friends. It's been awhile, I know....nearly 6 weeks since I wrote last. I won't say much today but I had to share a little something. I'll be running my capstone race of the year in about 48 hours from now, the Highland Sky 40 Miler in West Virginia. From a friend, "it's a 40-miler that runs like a 50-miler." Oh joy! But really, I am looking forward to it and escaping to a totally new area that I have never been to. As I ramp up the carbs today, the water, and all things good and cut out the crap, I got my bib number this morning: Bib #49. I have no idea where they came up with the numbering system as it follows no apparent pattern but this race is also my 49th marathon/ultra-marathon. (see my running "resume" on the right sidebar of this page...scroll down) I'm not superstitious or anything but I think that's pretty cool.

Here's one photo from the West Virginia Mountain Runners Facebook page of one section of the course...Dolly Sods.
Photo Courtesy of Daniel Todd
Since I can't yet speak first person of this area, I can only share what the race website says about this race. I think it kinda hit me about 48 hours ago...yikes! I'm not worried or afraid...I'm excited. I do know that I'm going to have to dig deep, though. I know I will persevere and be victorious...it's a state of mind...and that I know how to do.

Course Description from website: The point to point course begins near the Dolly Sods Wilderness Area on Red Creek in Laneville, WV.  Following a 2 mile paved section, the trail ascends to Roaring Plains, Flatrock Plains and Red Creek Plains into Dolly Sods. The course proceeds north along the Allegheny Front to Bear Rocks.  Here runners will turn west crossing Dolly Sods to the rim of Canaan Valley north of Timberline Ski Resort. A descent through Timberline  leads to Freeland Rd  and into Canaan Valley State Park. This is not an easy ultra, but very rewarding when completed!The course climbs a total of 5474 feet and descends 4856 feet and is basically in three sections;  the Plains, the Road Across the Sky, and Dolly Sods. Two significant climbs occur in the first 15 miles where a 2300′ ascent is followed by a 1700′ descent, and then another 1200′ climb. In the first half of the course highly technical (rocky), single track sections occur from mile 7-11 and 16-18. The Dolly Sods section has an exciting boulder-hopping stretch from mile 30-31. The course is 75% trail, 15% Forest Service road, and 10% paved road.   There are eight aid stations. You should carry fluids and fuel due to remote location and distance between of some  of the stations."

Here are the rest of the race details along with plenty of race tidbits to make my skin crawl: Race Details

You know I love photos so as I thought about the 12hr time limit and battery life...and photo quality...and carrying a camera, I realized that my iPhone 5 takes better photos than anything mobile I own...but dang, that battery life stinks. I did some research on how to extend it and found a bunch of tips. So, my plan is to use my new waterproof case I got for my 40th birthday and put the phone on airplane mode which shuts off all transmissions. It'll basically be nothing but a camera. Hopefully, that'll suffice for the journey.

So that's it, friends. I'll be sure to come back for a race report post-race. Also in my brain these days: 2014. I am tossing around a thought to go after the 2014 Midwest Grand Slam of Ultrarunning. It's a series of four 100-mile trail races. If I were to be doing it this year, my 2nd 100-miler would be on Saturday at Mohican State Park where many of my friends are running either the 100 or 50 miler or volunteering. I already have the full support of my wife if I decide to pursue this. More later. For now, it's all about the finish line of my 49th.

Run Happy, friends.