running & cycling

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Massanutten Ring
September 3-4, 2011

I had absolutely no business even attempting this run. My ankle was tender and I hadn't made it through a long run in over two years. My 100 mile attempts had come up short since 2008. I should have just accepted my fate as a 50k to 40 mile runner...but I still had the bug.

I spent the night in Front Royal, just 15 minutes from the start. I only knew a couple of the runners but a fair number of the volunteers. There was essentially a one to one ratio between volunteers and runners. Past initiates into the Fellowship of the Ring did most of the volunteering so they knew precisely what we had signed up for and what hell we'd be put through.

I was familiar with much of the Massanutten Trail and would soon get to experience the remainder. I figured the Ring would be easier than the MMT 100. I'm not so sure anymore. There is less climbing on the Ring (~14,000 vs. 19,000) but that doesn't tell the entire story. The rocks and boulders are relentless. The trail is an absolute challenge just to follow at night. The tedious nature of constantly searching for the trail is mentally exhaustive. 32 runners started. Many would fall victim the trail's nightmarish rock, boulders, heat and humidity. The forecast was for humidity and 93--yikes!

We started up the wrong way, promptly turned around and went in the right direction. Stay on orange is what we were told, otherwise, we were all on our own. The first mile is a gentle grade with more dirt than rock. There wouldn't be too many more miles like this. Another wrong turn was made by a long line of runners. I looked at the right direction but it wasn't properly marked so I followed. everyone turned around and I found myself at the front, where I really don't want to be heading into a 1500 foot climb.

This climb almost destroyed me at MMT100 in May, but was also a great triumph for me at MMT100 in 2007. It was the final climb in the 102 mile race where I moved up from #50 to finish at #43. This climb treated me well again. I took my time and stayed close to the group. I knew I was nearly last by the top but that mattered little as I passed a several runners on the levels and descents.

Rock, rock, rock was the order of the day--an appetizer of gravel, a salad of stones; a boulder and roots for the main course and a dessert of rock candy

I cruised along and hit a nice downhill. This is where I shine and today was no different. I put some space between myself and the group behind me. They quickly caught up as the trail turned into an old road bed with large gravel, of which I'm none too impressed.

Most everyone passed me up on the second climb. I moved along fairly well and was not concerned. At the top of the ridge it becomes a rockercoaster of bunny hops and I galloped like a gazzelle. One part sends you off the ridge where it really gets a bit hairy. One slip and down about 50 yards you go. I took it easy on this, especially since I tweaked my Achilles here once before.

The trail hits the ridge again and soon the first aid station is encountered. Several runners were still milling around. i loaded up and headed out. 13 miles down in 4:02.

I expected things to get easier from here. They did not. The climbing on the ridge was far more substantial than I'd anticipated. The heat was getting to me and I was forced to crawl up the hills.

The last runner caught me and passed me well before Kennedy Peak. We played cat and mouse for the next several miles. Kennedy Peak nearly broke me due to the heat. I told myself to hang on until the night. It might finally cool off.

The descent to the second aid station was gradual on an old road bed. The trail then turned into single track I went ahead of Mark, and cruised into the aid station. 25 miles down in 8:10.

The next section was marked with bugs, bugs and more bugs. Gnats swarmed me most of the way up the four mile climb. It wasn't steep but it went on forever. The heat was still beating me down. I grudgingly continued, thinking that I'd be done at the next aid. The top of the ridge couldn't come quickly enough. I started to move with more hast down the other side but as soon as my momentum got going I had to take a left and climb some more.

I entered into a cove which was wet and slick. I stumbled and slid down a ways and then heard Mark ahead of me. I sped past and then really started moving well. Down I went until the bottom of Waterfall, where I caught Miranda. Waterfall is a half mile climb which rises 950 feet. It's almost like climbing the steps of a skyscraper. I quit no less than three times on this climb. Everyone passed me yet again and I was beat by the time I made it to the top. There's an easy half mile from there to the aid station--a good thing as I likely would have dropped if it had been right at the top.

I changed shoes into a more rugged pair. I knew what was to come and it wasn't pretty, plus nightfall was just a short while away. 34 miles in 12:02.

Kerns Mountain doesn't have any big climbs but it does have the highest concentration of rocks I'd ever encountered in my life. The trail starts out easy but doesn't stay that way. It soon becomes rocky and begins a neverending ascent and descent of the ridge. It undulates on either side for a while and then climbs to the other side, teasing and mocking you like the masochist you are.

I went ahead of Miranda and into the darkness. Others had chosen to stay at the the aid station and tend to their wounds, be they physical or bruised ego. The trail became more difficult to follow. It vanished in some spots, awash in a sea of rocks, all possible routes appearing equally feasible.

I saw a bright light ahead and knew it had to be Mark. I soon caught him and swiftly moved past. He was struggling to find the trail in the dark even with a super bright headlamp. I had to keep moving or I could face possible cutoff time issues. Getting stopped for a cutoff on this race was not an option for me. I floated on down over the rocks until the next intersection. It did't get much easier here except that I now had gravity on my side. I was soon stumbling more frequently but felt strong as I made my way to the aid station. I got word that Miranda had dropped up on the ridge and would be possibly hours until she made it down. Mark was nowhere to be seen. I assumed no one behind me would continue. 40 miles in 13:44.

Short Mountain was up next. This has a ferocious reputation but I have never been bothered by it, in fact I rather enjoy it. The first mile is easy and the climb isn't all that bad either. It has much in common with Kerns but has much more dirt so you're not on rocks the entire time. It also goes up and over repeatedly for a couple of miles but then eases into a fairly normal, rocky trail. I made good time the entire way.

The descent off Short carries on a bit too long but at least it moves well. Upon coming out to the road, I saw another runner, Mike. He was lost so I straightened him out and we headed to the aid station. Mike didn't continue and I was all alone again. 48 miles in 17:50.

The climb from Edinburg starts gradually, then gets steeper and proceeds over a couple of false summits. It wasn't as taxing as I'd expected. The cooler night air certainly helped in that regard. There was much more over the top action on this segment. The trail stayed below the ridge for longer periods. The terrain was less rocky than the two previous sections but there was still much more rock than there was dirt.

On a descent, I passed up a guy named Jeff, who was plodding along very slowly. I scurried past and continued into the endless void of rock and darkness. Two side trails came and went. an owl's eyes shone in the dark. A snake startled me. It appeared to be a copperhead but on closer examination I concluded it was not poisonous. Just a bit more to go. Finally, the old landslide opening on the left appeared. I admired the unobstructed view into the valley and the lights from the towns. Two hundred more yards and Woodstock Tower. 56 miles in 21:27.

The humidity was bad all day and night. This led to an unimaginable ultra funk. This funk seeps into every race but it reared its ugly head early on at the Ring...and it kept getting worse. I actually offended myself. I can't imagine how the volunteers felt.

The shortest section on the course awaited me. I was still alone but didn't have to be concerned with a big climb. This part consisted of more over the ridge and back running/hiking. I changed shorts since chafing was becoming annoying and changed back in a half mile as the other shorts just made issues worse. The night was getting to me and I became sleepy but kept on moving at a decidedly slower pace. The trail off to the right appeared and I stumbled down to Powell's Fort. 100k in 23:45.

The last section was 4 miles up and 4 miles down. It was mostly road bed for the climb. I detest road sections but this was actually a welcome sight. I sputtered up the road and around the reservoir. The road climbed gently until the very top, where it became washed out and fairly steep. There's a radio tower on Signal Knob and a nice lookout. It was hazy but on a clear day, DC would be visible.

I thought it was 4 miles to this point but it was only three. Single track climbed another mile near Meneka Peak. I was warned at the last aid station that this was a notoriously rocky section, even for Massanutten standards. They weren't kidding! My feet were in perilous pain. I tried to land midfoot rather than on the balls of my feet. The grade was gentle on the downslope but it was rocky.

With less than 4 miles to go I was given a new lesson in bouldering. For the next three miles, there were was more time spent in boulder fields than on rocky trail. It took large steps to traverse the fields, the kind of step you've simply lost the desire to make. I would love this in the reverse ring but after 68 miles, I'd had enough. A woman from the last aid station came up from the finish and offered encouragement. It helped but there was still work to be done. Finally, a switchback and the boulder fields were no more. The last mile was incredibly dry and the sun was beating down on me. Shade soon became a luxury. Gravity came to my aid and I picked up the pace a bit. The pines disappeared and a hardwood forest emerged, always a good sign. One more switchback and soon I could hear cars speeding by. The parking lot was ahead. I had joined the Fellowship of the Ring!
71 miles in 27:29.

This run appeared to be more difficult than SCAR. The climbing was a bit more moderate at around 14,000 but the endless rocks and boulders really take their toll, especially at night, where it becomes so tedious and mentally taxing just trying to follow the trail and then not fallin g down. I managed to stay on my feet the entire time despite numerous slips and over 100 stumbles. I recommend this only for someone who wants an absolutely incredible challenge as there is little support from others. This a true solo endeavor, just like SCAR.

I later found out that only 12 of the 32 runners completed the Ring. I finished


Monday, April 25, 2011

July 24, 2009
Smokies Challenge Adventure Run

After I heard about a crew taking on this beast, I decided two days beforehand to join them. Mohammed Idlibi, Matt Kirk, Mike Day and his daughter met up for a pre-race dinner in Bryson City, and then headed toward Fontana to start the adventure just after sunset.

Matt waited for a midnight start but the rest of us began around 9:00. We crossed Fontana dam and started up the road. We then ascended on trail. I fell behind about 200 yards in. My only goal was to finish. I took my time and hiked all of the climbs.

Toward the top of the first climb, I heard multiple owls letting out their eerie calls. It is other worldly being in the middle of nowhere at night, hearing these fabulous creatures. They make no sounds with their wings but make up for it scaring the bejeezus out of hikers.

After being alone for a long while, I saw some lights ahead. I thought that I was gaining on mike and Mo but it turned out to be hikers coming toward me. That was unexpected in the least.

I passed the first trail junction and had a little downhill. I finally got in some running. The trail became moderate with small climbs and small descents. I was starting to enter cruise mode and then a noise startled me. A bear was off the trail about 20 yards or so. That's not generally a problem but I heard the bear circle back and follow me from a distance. I'd never experienced a bear tracking me before.

The noise behind me ceased and I trudged on through the night. Mountain after mountain, up and down, repeated repeatedly. Eventually, I came into a clearing with a series of heath balds, called Spence Fields. Views opened up on either side and the lights of the towns shone brightly.

Daylight slowly crept up as I approached Thunderhead Mountain. The east side has a steep, rocky downhill, on which I slid a good deal but didn't leave my feet. Daylight tends to have an energizing effect on me so I picked up my pace a bit.

I soon encountered a shelter where Lily, Matt's fiancee, was staying and had water all ready for each of us. I filled up and headed out, knowing that Matt was soon to be nipping at my heels, despite having started several hours after the rest of us. Evidence of wild boars was prevalent for the next quarter mile. They had rooted all around the trail, doing substantial damage to the undergrowth. I have still yet to actually see one.

On a steep climb nearing Silers Bald, Matt caught up to me. he hiked with me for a bit and then continued on his quest for the fastest transit of the Smokies. I struggled up the series of climbs which culminates in the ascent of Clingman's Dome. It started to get warm and the sun beat down. The false summits were getting to me and I was out of water. I knew the aid at Clingman wouldn't still be there when I made it. It looked like the end of the line for me.

When I made it to Clingman's, I searched for aid but it was nowhere to be found. I was, however, greeted by two megaultrarunners and friends who just happened to be doing some hiking with family, Susan Donnelly and Rob Apple. They only have about 800 ultras under their belts, collectively.

I hoped to find water on the trail and decided to continue. The trail between Clingman's and Newfound Gap is by far my favorite section of trail. It's lush and scenic with assorted mosses and is thick with red spruce and Fraser Fir. At a side trail, I considered heading down to a shelter and a spring to refill but didn't want to add an extra mile to do so. I continued on the AT and heard a trickle. It was a glorious sound and it flowed out of the ground like a spigot. I experienced the very best water of my life. I was on the verge of calling it a day, parched and dehydrated, and this super clean water was flowing from the source. needless to say, it energized me and took off with a renewed vigor. An extended downhill greeted me at the optimal time. I finally started to make some good time!

I ran into some hikers and talked with them for a few minutes. Upon hearing of my endeavor, they were impressed and aghast at how ridiculous an endeavor it was.

The trail moves well coming into Newfound Gap, but I was still in for one more surprise in the final half mile. I was cruising along and heard a little snap of a branch to my left. I turned, did a double take and stopped. I noticed a bear about six feet away, sitting on top of a bush. She snarled at me, a first for any bear. I then noticed why as there were two cubs just behind her. I started jogging again and left them all alone. I soon found myself at Newfound Gap.

Mike Day was there as well as Greg Paige. Mike had called it a day but Mohammed and Matt were still on the trail. Greg saw to it that I got my stomach filled and had everything I needed to continue on my journey. I was feeling outstandingly well and didn't have to think about whether I should continue. My body said go so I went on my way.

I was done with the ridiculous climbing and looked forward to some more level running. I conveniently forgot just how much more climbing there actually was. I took my time and rested on the frequent boulders. I ran into Susan and Rob again. They would take on the Smokies themselves in the near future.

It took a good while to reach the Icewater Shelter. From there it did level out a bit and Charlie's Bunion was coming up soon. The Bunion is loaded with rock outcroppings. It's a fantastic place to explore but is also quite dangerous. I didn't stick around long and headed on down the trail.

Nightfall wasn't far off. I'd hoped to have just ten miles after dark but wound up with about 20. By the time I approached Tricorner Knob, it was getting dark. The sunset seemed to last forever and was visible almost constantly from the trail as it headed north a bit. The last vestiges of the sunset faded into black and I was in for another long night on the trail.

It got extremely dark and the foliage became thicker and thicker. Some of these seemingly impenetrable peaks must be traversed for the SB6K. Fortunately, I could stay on the trail for SCAR.

The mountains tallied again as I inched closer tom the goal. I'd done this section in reverse previously and I recalled a much smoother and flatter trail. They always seem this way when I'm fresh but I now had 50+ miles on my feet, which were really starting to feel the pain. I'd done 80 miles at Mohican five weeks prior to SCAR. It was muddy and there were many deep stream crossings, leading to blisters, epic blisters. The blisters on the balls of my feet became so large that they were no longer just on the bottoms of my feet. They had crept up along the sides of my feet as well. My feet still had no entirely healed even after five weeks.

The pain increased and I had to start sitting along the trail more frequently to relieve the pain. I felt every rock on the trail and it was getting difficult to continue. I seriously expected to spend at least several hours in a shelter. At less than six miles to go I decided to tough it out and finish. The last climb just about killed me but then it was all downhill to the finish.

I started doing more running and my speed increased dramatically and soon I found myself losing control, heading for a major wipeout. I slowed down a bit but continued to move faster than I had all day and night. It took longer than anticipated to reach the bottom of the descent. It just kept going and going. Every time I thought I was finished, the trail extended itself. Eventually, I came to the road and my journey was complete. There was no fanfare and even nobody there to greet me. I was a little unnerved at the lack of anyone at all, expecting Mohammed and Matt to be camping there.

I sat down for a while and then lay down, trying to sleep. I felt like an easy target for any wild animal so it was tough to even nod off. I did get some sleep and awakened at daybreak. Mike Day and family arrived shortly thereafter and we headed home.

I had done it with just two days prior to think about it. 18,500 feet of climb and 71 miles of trail and rock. I'd done it 99+% by myself. It's actually tougher than some hundreds.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

March 21, 2009
Bushwhacking Journey in Old Fort

I met up with Matt, Patty and David Kirk, along with Lily Chang-Chien and Uwharrie for some morning trail maintenance. We worked on clearing a trail in Mackey Mountain Bear Preserve. The road we hiked to the trail involved a precarious stream crossing on two cables, one for feet and one for hands.

We cleared foliage nad in some places searched for the actual route. I got in a nap at one point. We had lunch and then Matt, David, Uwharrie and I headed up a steep slope to begin our journey. I took lead like I like to do when the trail is faint. My legs got scratched but that's merely collateral damage. After a significant amount of climbing, we reached a maintained portion of trail. I'd approached this from the other side years ago but turned back at this point.

We headed down the other side toward Curtis Creek campground. I took off, blazing down the mountainside, through numerous switchbacks and lush greenery. I stopped at the waterfall to wait for everybody. Soon, it was off again and into the campground.

From there, we headed up Snooks nose, a repressingly steep hike which gets worse the further you go. I couldn't keep up with them on this stretch. The downhill was a different matter. I blazed down again and came up to a section of private property. Covert operations were in effect. We traipsed through someone's yard and found the trail, across a small creek and up a steep grade.

We climbed up, grabbing roots and saplings and entered onto the trail. This was Star Gap and took us up to Jarrett Creek road. We opted to continue on singletrack until it was apparent we were moving away from the road so we backtracked to Jarrett Creek rd. I lost them at this point and knew there was no way I'd catch them on a road.

I plodded along until I got to a point where the road doubled back on itself. I bushwhacked down a fairly steep bank and onto the road. One more bushwhack cut off nearly a mile. This one wasn't nearly as easy. I cruised down a ways but then entered a rhododendron hell. I climbed up and over myriad entanglements, eventually reaching the road, but not before I fell backward on my butt.

It was just another mile to the car. We went to the finest Mexican joint in Old Fort, which is actually a bit better than any Mexican place in Asheville.


March 22, 2009
Doughton Park Trail Run (16 miles)

Annette Bednosky invited all comers to join her on either a 16 mile trail run or a 32mile trail/road run. We all opted for the trail run. I picked up Matt Kirk and Uwharrie and we headed up north.

Matt and I had just tackled some challenging trails the day before in Old Fort. We arrived late but they waited for us. Doug Blackford and an ultra newbie joined us for the run.

I took my usual position at the back of the pack but moved along pretty well. A open spot led us over a little hump and then up the first climb. This was a rocky ascent, leading to the finest view of the day.

I trailed the group until the big descent. I cruised down the trail with reckless abandon. It felt fantastic to be able to open up all the way again. Finally, all joints and muscles were in top form.

I ran with Uwharrie, who kept cutting switchbacks to catch me. Eventually, I got ahead of her and she couldn't catch me. The views were tremendous but I was focused on speed. I waited at the bottom for everyone else and then I knew it would be a hike back up to the top.

On the way home, Matt and I stopped in Boone for a meal and to hit up a nice brew store. We didn't go home empty handed.


Tuesday, March 31, 2009

March 7, 2009
Seven Sisters Summit

Chris, Adam, Wendy and Jim joined me on the third annual Seven Sisters run. This is more of a hike than a run. Over the course of 14 miles, the total elevation change is approximately 9,000 feet, with much of it being extremely rugged.

I stayed with Jim, who was unfamiliar with the area, and the rest went ahead. On the rocky crag of Lookout, we met up with Adam, but Wendy and Chris were nowhere to be found. Adam went ahead to catch them since they had likely missed a turn and continued on trestle.

I soon went on my own again as Jim assured me he'd be able to follow the course. The rest of the way I'd be by myself. It was nice to take in the sights and go at my own pace. The steep ups and downs didn't bother me.

The views were tremendous! Every summit afforded a clear view of other mountain ranges. The view from Walker Knob was the most stellar, looking out over Black Mountain and the Swannanoa range.

I was running low on water despite filling up midway. Thankfully, there was snow here and there so I filled my bottle at every opportunity. The temperature had warmed considerably and I would have been in major trouble without the snow. I noticed only one pair of footprints in the snow, which concerned me a bit.

I reached Greybeard, the high point of the journey, at 5400 feet. Views were senational to the north and the east! After relaxing a while, I headed back down and onto the Westridge trail. This is very technical with some boulder hopping and fancy footwork. Fortunately, it's on a downward trend, so it's a little easier on the lungs.

Many view spots exist along Westrigde and I took them in. The Asheville watershed lies along the trail and the reservoir is visible below. At one point, there is a very convincing visage of the old man of the moutain. The nose is formed by one rock while the head is of a different one, giving a bit of a Pinocchio effect.

Heading down from the ridge, I came across another wonderful view spot. I soaked up a few rays and took in the views, then headed down. The last bit of trail becomes exceedingly steep, with a few rocks at 60 degrees. My Innovates handled the rocks well and gripped even at that angle.

A short road section led me back to the car. It took about 4:20 to do the loop. Adam had left but Chris's and Wendy's vehichles were still there. They came in shortly afterward. It turned out they'd down about five extra miles due to numerous wrong turns. They had passed Jim several times as well. Chris and I enjoyed grub at Camino's, which is once again a top notch eatery, due to new ownership.


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

February 28, 2009
Mount Mitchell Challenge

The weather appeared to be a non factor again. The forecast two days out called for 50's and mild weather. That changed on Friday, when rain, high winds and snow were forecast. My wardrobe plan would have to change.

I arrived close to start time so I didn't get to talk to everybody before the race. Rain was falling so I wanted to limit my time in it. That way I was warm at the start.

We started up Cherry Street and out onto Montreat. It was quite comfortable despite the steady sky tears. I ran with Bryan Hill for a while and Adam Hill cheered us on as we passed through the stone arches of Montreat. I slowed up a bit and met up with Travis Cowan. We stayed together on Rainbow road but then he went ahead.

I didn't push it on any part of the climb. The weather was miserable but I didn't let it get me down. My pace was slow and deliberate so I could save some for the downhill.

Nearing the Parkway, I was informed by search and rescue that the time cutoff had been changed. I'd been through two aid stations since the decision was made and no one communicated anything whatsoever about the change. I had made the official cutoff time with over 15 minutes to spare but was prevented from ascending Mt. Mitchell due to high winds and snow.

The purpose of having this race in February is to throw in the wild card of potentially severe weather. Some runners did suffer from hypothermia. The addition of drop bags at the Parkway aid station would have eliminated this problem.

I ran into Bryan Hill right before the aid station and he ran back to it with me. Our race was over so there was no hurry to finish up. We hadn't planned on running a marathon so the return trip plodded along at a leisurely pace. I helped out a woman who had lost all dexterity in her fingers. She couldn't open her pack. Hours upon hours of rain tend to render simple tasks impossible.

At the second to last aid station, I met up with Bedford Boyce. We trotted out the rest of the course together. It still meant plenty of time on our feet so it wasn't a lost cause.


Monday, February 16, 2009

February 7, 2009
Uwharrie Mountain Run
41 miles

Uwharrie was a return to the site of my very first ultra, in 2006. That attempt took every ounce of determination I could muster just to toe the finish line. I felt confidant but unsure of how I'd perform this year. Last year featured a worn out body which had slept in a car at subfreezing temperatures and a lost contoact, which resulted in a cyclopsian run.

The weather at in Asheboro was cozy, nearly 50 degrees as I left. I opted for a hotel this year and that got things rolling smoothly. The temperature at the start was in the mid 30's. Uwharrie is loaded with microclimates.

I started off a little quicker. I've noticed that I start off too slowly I never get up to speed. Lisa Arnold and I compared notes about this phenomena during the race. On the first climb, I knew Ihad overdressed a bit. The air was much warmer on the hilltops but the valleys remained cold throughout the morning.

I moved well and continued to do so. Eventually, I met up with Lisa Arnold, and we stayed together most of the run. At one point, I was leading a train of four runners and I took a spill, rolling comically but jumping right back up with a renewed vigor.

I also ran much of the first half with Walt Robinson and Quattro Hubbard. I knew running with Quattro would keep me moving at the pace I wanted to maintain. Walt was fairly new to ultras and we ran off and on together for the entire day.

I saw Charlie Roberts about a mile and a half rom the turn, which was a very good sign. Shortly afterward, Doug Blackford and Rick Gray passed. I was exstatic that I was only a short distance behind them.

My goal of hitting the midpoint at 4:20 was right on target. I made the turn and headed back. Chris Shields was finishing up his 20 mile run. Mike Day caught up with me after an extended rest at the turn.

I was on my own for a good part of the second half. Walt went ahead and I saw no one for a few miles except for 20 milers. On the first big climb of the second half, Claire Oberg caught up and I could not stay with her for long. She was the sixth place woman at the turn and wound up second overall.

I kept moving and expecting to run into problems. I never did! I had a few slowdowns but never hit the wall. Mentally, I was inspired, and physically, I had only minor pains, which went away. My right ankle and hamstring had been tweaked but were holding up well.

After an extended period in isolation, I went straight where I should have turned. I noted the potential confusion on the way out but completely forgot about it and added a few hundred yards before I realized I was off trail. In the meantime, Quattro pulled ahead.

On a very long stretch, I approached Lisa Wilber. We traded on the ups and downs and eventually caught up to Lisa Arnold again. I stayed close to both of them. At the final aid station, I left ahead of Lisa A. and tried to catch the guy in the purple shirt, who appeared to be struggling. He was moving faster than me so I gave up on that notion. Lisa caught me again and we just moseyed up the last climb. My goal of ten hours was well within reach.

We took our time on the descent, not expecting to catch anybody. The rock gardens seem much larger and more numerous on the return. It's very easy to hurt a foot or ankle as I had done in 2006. After the rock gardens, I spied the guy in the purple shirt. I had tracked him like a one armed man and was set to pounce. I told Lisa that I was going to catch him before the finish, less than a quarter mile away. It took all of 10 seconds to make up the 50 yards between us. 50 yards ahead of him were Walt and Lisa W. I went after them and blew past like a freight train. Two more turns and then I did something incredibly stupid! There is a 90 degree turn just five yards from the finish line. I turned the oppoosite way, with a high rate of speed and pulled a 270. I could have easily wound up hitting a tree or at least taking the flagging down. Fortunately, i was facing the right direction and high stepped across the line.

I made it in 9:44, a new personal record by 1:21! I'd never broken 11 hours in two tries before, 55 out of 84 finishers and about 100-105 starters. This was just the confidence boost I'd needed.


Monday, December 22, 2008

December 20, 2009
Art Loeb Trail Adventure Run

The 8th running of ALTAR saw a large group of over 20 runners. The weather looked fairly mild again with the warmest start. Some rain and wind were expected, which would be magnifies significantly at the higher elevations.

I picked up Kevin Lane and headed south of Canton to Camp Daniel Boone. Some folks were just tearing into some spaghetti. We said our hellos and joined the feast.

The cabin has seven bunkrooms, a bevy of showers, a full function kitchen and a large lodge room.It's just about the perfect place to start and finish an ultra.

I wound up bunking with Charlie Roberts, David Horton and Jennifer Pharr-Davis. David is one of the most revered ultrarunners of all time. He has held the AT speed record and still owns the Pacific Crest record. In addition, he puts on the Lynchburg Ultra Series, the most popular ultra series in the east. Jennifer just set the female AT speed record this year. I followed her blog throughout her journey. It was nice to meet her in person. Ultrarunning has the most accessible superstars. You usually can't tell who is an ultrarunner by sight and even the most elite are friendly and supportive. If they have major egos, they hide them well.

We followed the buddy system to make sure everybody made it through. There are few exits and a wrong turn can mean a life threatening situation. I was paired up with Dennis Michel, a 61 year old heart attack survivor. He had just run a sub 4 hour marathon so I didn't expect him to drag me down. He didn't. I had trouble staying with him.

The trail starts out flat but soon starts climbing and doesn't stop climbing for long for 17 miles. At mid elevation the town of Brevard recedes and views of Looking Glass Rock get more impressive. It's nice to watch the play of light off this enormous granite outcropping throughout the morning. It's a favorite of rock climbers. I did a follow up run to the summit the day after ALTAR in 2006.

At Gloucester Gap, we got some company in the form of Scott Brockmeier and Liz Bauer, followed closely by David Kirk and Andy Ritger. I stayed with Scott and Liz for the first of the truly hellacious climbs. Pilot Mountain starts out in a relatively difficult fashion but becomes much more steep. The switchbacks hit a 30% grade briefly. We simply took our time and enjoyed it the best we could. Instead of looking toward the summit, we looked back at what we'd accomplished in such a short time. The escarpment approaches 75 degrees and appears even steeper! The layout of the first 13 miles presents itself for those who want to see what has so far been attained.

Pilot Mountain has a couple of false summits, which are an enormous energy zap. The yoga I've been doing helped to calm me and keep my mind off of the horrendous climbs still awaiting me. After two false summits, we finally crested and I rested and took in the view. Everyone got ahead of me but I wasn't concerned.

I could see five bodies making their way down the numerous switchbacks. I got a burst of energy and started to close in on them rapidly. I unleashed the dinosaur in me and B-Rex picked up steam, knocking down trees and gobbling up trail. At the bottom of the descent I was again by myself. My knees held up and I felt absolutely fantanstic!

I got to a shelter on the next climb and rested for a bit. Scott and Liz quickly caught me and we searched for a spring to refill. We were off again on another ridiculous climb up to the Parkway.

Eventually, everybody caught and passed me. I took some rest breaks and wasn't too concerned with bringing up the rear. I just wanted to be near other runners at the top of this climb.

Everyone was having a snack at the Parkway when I reached them. It was getting windy and it had started to sprinkle. I put on my raincoat and trudged up my final climb.

A mile later, Patty Kirk and Melinda Daye had water and food for us. The plan was for no aid stations, in part because it's very easy to call it a day after the brutal climb.

I opted out of traversing the balds, in part to get out of the wind and in part because I didn't wan't to be stuck out after dark again, in the rain. I followed the road to the Ivestor Gap trail and took that to the Shining Rock Wilderness.

The rain fell faster and may have had some sleet mixed in. I tried to avoid puddles and keep my feet reasonably dry. It became increasingly difficult but I made it to the horse trail with fairly dry feet. This descent is much prettier than the normal ALTAR drop through the mud. It begins in a spruce forest and then drops through beach, hemlock and mixed hardwood forests on its gradual descent to Daniel Boone.

The only drawback from this route was the dearth of blowdowns. In most cases, they were minor but there was one monster of a tree which took considerable off-trailing to surpass.

I wound down until I came to a stream. The trail deadended so I figured a ford was in order. Across and down a bit, I noticed someone running so my feet would be soaked but there couldn't be much further to go so I quickly crossed.

Seeing another runner pumped me up. I'd hiked most of the last six miles so I had had plenty of recovery time from the beastly climb. This was also excellent trail with a slight drop and enough rocks to make it interesting. I plowed past Andy and Dennis and then David and kept going. This was the fastest I'd run in quite some time. It felt fantastic to run at 8 minute pace again, even if it was downhill.

Eventually, I approached the camp. I made it off the trail in 9:44, which was a personal best for ALTAR, but the easier descent likely took off 1 1/2 hours, so it wasn't truly my fastest.


November 27-30, 2008
Shenandoah and Pandapas runs

I'd met up with Melissa Beaver for a 9 mile run in the Iron Mountains and then got together over Thanksgiving for a series of runs. We started with an AT/ Neighbor mountain run. I did about 6 and she did a bit more. We followed it up with a hike in Whiteoak Canyon. The trail dropped alongside a series of waterfalls. This is a popular destination so it was good to hike it as opposed to running it.

Back in Blacksburg, we hit Pandapas for two days of running. The first day was an out and back along Poverty Creek, followed by a run around the lake. I logged about 7 easy miles. The following day climbed up Snake Root and down Jacob's Ladder, followed by Poverty Creek and another lake run. I logged about 9 miles, but these weren't as easy as the day before.

There was ice coating the trees at the highest elevation. I didn't get to run with Melissa for much of it. She's quite a bit faster than I but I hope to be able to saty with her for longer periods in the near future.


November 1, 2008
Shut-in Ridge Trail Race

I kept my goal reasonable this year. The primary goal was just to finish under the cutoff. 4 1/2 hours would be nice but didn't much matter to me. I was feeling recovered from a year of overtraining and two nagging injuries.

I started out very slowly, managing to stay ahead of just several runners over the first few miles. Slowly, I passed several more. I experienced long periods without seeing anyone else. I climbed slowly and trotted the levels. I made it to the halfway point to be greeted by Adam and Suzanne Hill. She was the second half sweep.

I continued to plod along, thinking 4 1/2 could be a reality. The last two miles quickly turn that perceived reality over on itself. These last two are legendary in their difficulty, but are easier if you've taken it easy to that point. After giving all you have for 16 miles, the final push turns many runners into whimpering blobs, barely able to put one foot in front of the other.

I made it off the trail under 5 hours, but just by 11 minutes. Three straight finishes despite severely lagging times. Adam paced the final two and we all went out to Papas and Beer for a fine Mexican dinner.


October 11-12, 2008
New River 50k & Dupont Marathon

This was my volunteer weekend. I traveled to Fries, VA, to help out Annette with her inaugural 50k race. This took place on the very flat New River rail trail. I worked at the primary aid station. I stayed in a house right by the start/finish and spent the eving with Annette and George and David and Patty Kirk.

Morning came quickly and I tried to assemble my group of volunteers. We rode out with the forst service and set up all of the goodies for the runners. Many friends were racing so I got to see a multitude of friendly faces.

There was a lull between the outbound and inbound traffic so we went out on a fantastic rail bridge and hung out in the sun. I got to talking with one volunteer, Melissa Beaver and we hit it off rather well.

We made our way back to the station and readied ourselves for the returning runners. They came in slowly at first but soon we were again inundated. It was fast and furious but also very enjoyable.

Afterward, I got to know Melissa a bit better and knew she was someone I needed to be in touch with. The entire experience was well worth it for me and there was a bonus on top of it all.

That Sunday, I worked the primary intersection at the Dupont Marathon. I acted as traffic cop, signaling directions and attempting to avoid collisions. This was my frst ever marathon, in 2005, and I'd volunteered in 2006. There is a waiting game at the start but once they start coming, things really take off.

Watching the dynamic of the front runners and how they gain or lose is something I rarely get to witness as a middle to back of the pack runner. Everyone passes the intersection five times so we get a different view of the race each time.

Some interesting sidebars; a geo cacher came by and was looking under some rocks right next to us. People use coordinates to find stashes and take something from the container and leave something in its place.

Another incident involved some horse riders, who were less than congenial. Despite knowing there was a matahon in progress, they chose to ride on the course without regard to the runners. Horse riders have right of way on trails which allow horses but one rider gave absolutely no respect to the runners and trotted out in front of a couple of them. She acted like she owned the trail. I called out to alert the runners, since it was a somewhat blind intersection, and another rider complained about me hollering. I had a few choice but polite words for her. The next group of riders was very polite.

All in all, things went well. I paces the second to last runner to within 200 yards of the finish and then went back to pace the final runner for about a mile to within 100 yards of the finish. The Dupont Marathon had been her first ever maraton the previous year, at age 50, and it was her second marathon this year. She beat her time by one minute this year.


Oct. 4, 2008
Looking Glass Loop

This was to be a 40+ mile trek up the Art Loeb Trail, the Mountains to Sea Trail and the Monutains to Sea alternate. It's a neatly packaged loop but I saw it as taking 12+ hours to complete and opted to start up top. I left Charlie Robert's vehicle at Black Balsam road, after relaxing in the surprisingly warm sun for a couple of hours.

I started out before noon, so I could get a head start and take my time. My goal was to enjoy every bit of the run. I would start out hiking and run when I felt like it. My feet had recovered from the metatalsalgia issues and my knees felt better but still flared up on occasion. Starting out slowly seemed to benefit the knees and as a bonus I could take in more of the trail, as I had been on the first portion of the MTS only once before and had never done a six mile stretch of it.

The trail starts on a slight decline, occasionally following an old railbed. It's been washed in portions but much of it is still intact. Soon, switchbacks lead down to a trail junction, which leads to the Graveyard Fields area. A gorgeous heath tunnel then swallows you up in a sea of green. The rhododendrons are mature and emit odoriferous decaying scents which are most pleasing to the olfactories and help to energize. I sped up and surprised some hikers. I'd heard voices for some time but took a while to prove that I wasn't simply hearing voices.

Shortly thereafter, I happened upon a group of senior hikers. They were surprised at how fast I was moving downhill and I was impressed just to see them out hiking. The trail then opened up into a mixed forest with a fair number of large trees. I had thoughts about visiting Yellowstone Falls but opted to pass and save the extra mile.

It was then downward toward Skinny Dip Falls. I'd been here only once, in support of Adam Hill, on his Pingman's quest in 2007. I was pushed off a rock into the swimming hole, which made for a nice photo. Matt Kirk was slated to start here and finish off the run with everyone else. I missed him by about an hour but expected him to reach me at some point.

I was very pleased with the decision to skip the arduous Art Loeb climb. I still had some climbing in store but nothing like that 7,000 feet of climb. I only do that once a year, at ALTAR.

The trail crossed the Parkway and 276, skirting the Blue Ridge escarpment, until the alternate MTS turns right and heads toward the Pink Beds. There's a short bomber descent and then it stays flat for a while.

I expected to see someone come from behind but there was no one. I moved quicker than I thought I had and soon started a gradual climb up toward Black Mountain. I was unfamiliar with this portion as well but recognized a few spots. It had to be the correct route but I still couldn't help to wonder if I'd taken the wrong trail.

Things got steeper and gnarlier. Some mountain bikers were coming toward me at about two miles an hour. How they navigated the ridiculous rock formations is beyond me. Reaching the top of Clawhammer, I enjoyed a brief downhill but to my dismay, Black Mountain loomed ahead. Both peaks are quite rocky and steep.

The other side of Black Mountain was a bit smoother and made for an extended, enjoyable descent. As I enjoyed the drop, dog tags rattled from behind. Uwharrie had been sniffing me out just like she had at the Bartram run on New Year's Day. Matt Kirk wasn't far behind. We ran together for just over a half mile but my lungs didn't permit me to stay with him. The rest of my body felt strong but I'd forgotten just how much effort it took to downhill at a rapid pace.

The downhill went on for miles, one of the better downhills I've run. I made it out well before dark, which was in doubt about seven miles earlier. The rest of the gang, Mohammed, Charlie, Matthew and Adam met us in the parking lot. Mohammed, Charlie, Matt and Lily dined in Brevard.

I got in 24 miles with a bunch of downhill. My knees held up and everything felt right. It was evident that I wasn't in the best of shape but now things could progress as I was again running without pain.