Thursday, September 1, 2016

Forgive me. I just copied this from Trail Runner Magazine. It is by Alex Kurt, August 31, 2016. This really hits home since I spent 5 years trying to get in Hardrock. When I finally did get in, I blew my chance by getting sick and loosing hours the first day. I ended up getting stuck below the summit of Handies by a thunderstorm and missing the cutoff at Sherman. Despite all that, it was still on of the most amazing experiences of my life and worth every bit of the effort it took. I am now planning on getting qualified again and maybe someday!!!!!

How - and for Whom - the Hardrock Lottery Works

The exclusion of a three-time winner from this year's Hardrock 100, and a small women's field, prompt a look into the logic of the iconic race's lottery

The famous "hardrock," which Hardrock finishers kiss in lieu of crossing a finish line. Photo by Paul Cuno-Booth
Imagine looking forward to a race for a whole year, training for it, tapering for it and traveling to it, only to learn that—contrary to everyone’s expectations—you won’t get in off the wait list.
It can happen at the Hardrock 100. And this year it did—to three-time champion and six-time finisher Darcy Piceu, no less.
She says it was exactly as hard as it sounds.
“It was a pretty deep sadness, I’m not going to lie,” says Piceu, 41, of Boulder, Colorado, who has three runner-up performances—one of those in 2015—in addition to her three wins.
“I put the training in, and I had a backup plan with a crew,” she continues. “I packed drop bags like I was going to run.”
Piceu understands her exclusion from Hardrock, which traverses the San Juan Mountains, starting and ending in Silverton, Colorado. (Trail Runnerwas a media partner of the race in 2016.) “Of course, I’m sad and bummed, but there are so many people who have been waiting to get in, who have been bummed not to get in plenty of times before,” she says.
The runner-up in the 2015 men’s race, Mike Foote, also applied unsuccessfully this year. Similarly, he says he accepts the race’s lottery process.
“Though I would have loved to race this year, I know that the only way to get into the race is through the lottery, or winning the previous year,” says Foote, 32, of Missoula, Montana. “Hardrock is a special event that makes each and every participant feel equal and like family. I believe the lottery is an extension of that ethos, and I fully respect that.”
Still, with more applicants and interest than ever in this bucket-list 100-miler, it’s worth looking at how the lottery works and what it says about Hardrock’s core philosophy.

Unlike many top ultras, Hardrock has no separate entry system for elites, other than the two returning champs. Darcy Piceu, a three-time winner and three-time runner-up, didn't make it off the wait list this year, contrary to expectations. Photo courtesy of Smartwool

The Lottery, Explained
So how does that lottery work—and is it working for the right people?
One hundred fifty-two spots are available for roughly 1,500 applicants. The only guaranteed entries are reserved for the men’s and women’s winners from the previous year; without a title to defend, Piceu had to cross her fingers like everyone else—sort of.
As a “veteran”—someone with five or more Hardrock finishes—she still had a better chance in the lottery than those hoping to run for the first time, or those with fewer than five finishes.
In the veterans’ lottery pool, 44 runners with five or more finishers vied for 35 spots, according to Blake Wood, Vice-President of the Hardrock Board of Directors and a 20-time finisher. Each runner’s number of tickets matched his or her number of finishes.
Another 70 spots were held for entrants with between one and four finishes, and only 47 for “never-ran” applicants. Those in this highly contested group get additional tickets in the lottery each year they apply and don’t get in, increasing their odds; they can also earn tickets by volunteering at the race and doing trail work.
(On August 27, Hardrock announced that it would lower the total number of runners slightly, from 152 to 145, with 33, 67 and 45 spots for veterans, one-to-four-time finishers and never-rans, respectively.)
The two winners’ entries are counted against whichever lottery pool those runners would have entered, based on their number of finishes.
“Hardrock strives to strike a mix between all three groups,” says Dale Garland, Hardrock’s race director. “‘Elite runners go through the lottery, same as everyone else.”
Each group also has its own wait list, so veterans who are wait-listed must hope for fellow veterans to drop in order to move up in line.
In addition, Hardrock’s website says the race has up to five discretionary entries each year, meaning organizers can add runners who did not get in through the lottery, “to correct perceived omissions in the lottery, such as a runner that has tried for many years to enter, or who has given exceptional service to the HRH, or that Hardrock thinks will bring added interest to the run.”
Those awarded a discretionary entry must have qualified for the race and applied for the lottery, and their names are not disclosed.

The Veterans' Wait List: A Formality, Until This Year
While the one-to-four-finishes group has more available spots, the veterans’ pool has a much smaller group of applicants. Wood says this year's 44 runners applying for 35 spots represented a typical veteran applicant pool, and that all of the veterans on the wait list typically get in.
So when Piceu found herself seventh of eight wait-listed runners, she didn’t think it was a reason to fret.
There was some movement, and she jumped to third in line. But she would remain there. With a month, then a week, to go, her position did not improve, and she realized she was probably not getting in.
“Everyone was very surprised, including [Garland],” Piceu says. “I guess I was part of history. Just not in a way I would have hoped.”

The Place of “Elites” at Hardrock
Late in 2015’s dramatic race, Anna Frost lost the lead she had held all day to Piceu before rallying to win. Piceu’s second-place time, 28:57:07, was a new personal best on the course.
This year’s women’s race lacked that sort of excitement. Frost, defending her title, held a steady lead over runner-up Emma Rocca nearly the entire race.
“The fact that [Piceu] was left out of this year’s race, it just does not sit right,” says Fred Marmsater, 41, a photographer based in Boulder, Colorado, who has long covered the race (including for this magazine). “It left [Frost’s] most serious competitor for the women’s race out of the run. The women’s race was basically determined by the lottery.”
Many high-profile trail races, including the Western States 100, the Pikes Peak Marathon and the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, have separate entry systems for “elite” runners, in order to ensure strong competitive fields.
Hardrock bucks that trend.
“At this point, there really isn’t much concern or interest on behalf of the Board of Directors or myself to make Hardrock the Super Bowl of 100-milers,” says Garland.
In addition to logistical reasons—and permit limitations—he points to the race’s identity. The “family” of long-time Hardrockers, who comprise much of the field and drive the race’s grassroots culture, is at least as important to the race as elite competition, Garland says.
“If we deepened the field of competitive runners, it would come at the expense of someone who may have been waiting years for their chance to run Hardrock,” he adds. “I don’t think that’s fair.”
Marmsater, by contrast, suggests that longtime veterans, rather than elite runners, are the ones crowding out first-timers.
“If you’ve [finished the race] ten times, maybe it’s time to let someone else have a go,” he says.

A Woman Problem?
The men’s field was comparatively deep this year, given the small overall number of participants. Two-time defending champion Kilian Jornet of Spain dueled for nearly 23 hours with Jason Schlarb of Durango, Colorado; they wound up tying in the second-fastest time ever on the clockwise course.
On their tails in third was two-time Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc winner Xavier Thevenard of France, who shared the lead for much of the race. Fourth was Jeff Browning of Bend, Oregon, who had finished third at Western States in June.
Accordingly, Piceu’s single critique of the Hardrock lottery system was that it doesn’t do much to get more women on the starting line.
“I think the real desire, for me, is just wanting a bigger field of competition for women,” she says.
At this year’s race, only 16 of the 152 entrants were female—10.5 percent. “That’s pretty common [at Hardrock], and I wish there were a larger women’s field,” Piceu says.
In part, this is due to few women applicants—Garland says roughly 16 percent were female.
And, generally, more men than women participate in ultramarathons. A 2011 year-end review in Ultrarunning magazine put female participation in the sport at 27 percent. Similarly, found that, of those who used the site to sign up for ultras in 2013 and 2014, women accounted for 27 and 29 percent, respectively. Women comprised 22.5 percent of 2016 Western States 100 finishers and 18.8 percent of 2015 Leadville Trail 100 finishers.
That could mean fewer women have qualifiers that would allow them entry in the Hardrock lottery, or have the interest in running Hardrock in the first place.
“Of course, there are less women applying, but it has to be intimidating to even apply when you look at the start lists to see who’s running and see that there are only 16 women,” Piceu says.
She adds that she doesn’t have an exact solution in mind, but that keeping a pre-determined percentage of the field open for women’s entries could be a starting point.
“Based on the number of applicants, they could give 15 or 20 percent to women,” Piceu says.
“I think our number of women applications will continue to rise as women continue to experience success here,” Garland says, adding that holding a certain number of spots for women is contrary to the idea of an objective lottery – even if that lottery already favors certain non-gender factors, such as previous finishes or past volunteer work.
“I did do some anecdotal surveying, primarily with women, about this very question during this year’s run, and the general consensus among them was that they were not in favor of allocating or reserving spots for women,” Garland adds. “The women I asked thought that allocating or reserving a certain number of spots would be unfair to the whole idea of a true lottery, and if we were going to spend time ensuring that women were equally represented, our time was better spent to working toward getting more women to apply.”
“Some women I talk to are adamant about allocating a certain percentage of the field,” Piceu says, “but others say you have to let the lottery be what it is. It’s a slippery slope, and hard to argue with what the race stands for, that it’s authentic and everyone, no matter how fast or slow, is acknowledged.”
However the lottery evolves, one thing is certain—the allure of Hardrock will endure.
“I hardly ever keep coming back to the same race year after year, but this one keeps me coming back,” Piceu says. “The San Juans are a special place, and it feels like coming home to me.”

A personal insight into the lottery system for Hardrock. Do I have a problem with the system? Yes, but only because I will probably never get in again. In view of the very limited number of slots available, what can they do? Then there are the logistics of getting supplies to Engineer, Pole Creek and, of course, Krogers. Those three Hardrock aid stations are in extremely remote areas of the San Juan Mountains. Everything has to carried in and back out. In 2012, I was the Aid Station Captain for Engineer Aid Station, located at mile 53 (clockwise year) and at 11,500 ft, just below timberline. We drove a rental SUV to the top of Engineer Pass (No small feat in itself) at over 13,000 and Marye Jo and I carried almost all the necessary supplies down, over a mile, to the aid station location. The real fun was water. We hiked up about 800 yards to a small creek above the aid station, filled 5 gallon jugs and carried it back down to be purified. We used over 50 gallons of water. That's a lot of trips up and down the mountain.

That's me carrying a load down to the Engineer Aid Station. Above is Marye Jo waiting for the 4th runner to come through Engineer. Hal Koerner, eventual winner, came through about 5:45 in the afternoon. Runners continued coming through until 7:30 AM the next morning.

It was a very long and very cold night. At one point we thought we were about to hit by a storm. The wind blew down our "tent" so to speak, and smashed out Coleman Lantern. Fortunately we had a backup. Between Runners everyone sat around the campfire trying to stay warm. Then, we had to carry everything back up 1,500 feet and over a mile, back to the top of the pass to our car.

Was it worth it?
Absolutely!! I would do it all over in a minute. However, don't ask Marye Jo!

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Blood Rock 50 Mile - November 19th

Well, since the last post everything has come together for the new 50 Mile, 50K and 25K Race at Oak Mountain State Park. In fact, in 2017, we will host a 100 mile race at OMSP. Below is our Logo. Pretty cool!

By the way, watch for our ad in Ultrarunning Magazine this month.

Yes, the 2016 race will be November 19th and it will be tough. The 50 Mile will have over 9,300 ft of elevation gain, but the real story is how hard some of those climbs are. We have moved the start to the Fishing Center Pavilion at the north entrance to the park. The 50 mile, 50K and 25K will all follow the same course deep into the backcountry at Oak Mountain State Park, including dropping off the backside of Double Oak Mountain on a virtually unknown, long abandoned wagon road. Below is the new map of the 50 mile course and the elevation profile.

The 100 Mile in 2017 will be two laps of this course. The race next year will start at the Cabins on Tranquility Lake. We will reserve all 10 cabins for the race and they will be available for rent race weekend. Registration is now open for this years race at

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Changes for the 2016 and 2017 Southeastern Trail Series

Over the last year I have been considering options for creating a 50 Mile Race at Oak Mountain State Park (OMSP.) Although the park is almost 10,000 acres and has well over 50 miles of trails, it’s hard to come up with a route that “flows” smoothly and will be fun to run.

I have two goals for the 50 mile course and race. First, create a single loop course that does not repeat any trails. That one will be tough and require permission from private landowners outside the park. The map below is a 33 mile loop we may use in 2016. Using the course map below, the 50 mile runners will have to repeat 17 miles of the first lap. This course was measured using Google Earth. By zooming in as close as possible, I was able to follow the actual trails in most places. Over the next few weeks I plan to get out to the park and measure various sections with my GPS and find out just how close the map is.

Second, the real motivation for coming up with a 50 mile loop for 2017 is to add a 100 mile race.  In my events application to OMSP for the 50 Mile to be held in 2016, I explained my hope to be able to have a 100 mile race in 2017. We cannot get official approval until we file the race application in November of 2016 but everyone at the park seemed really excited about the idea. Even if we can’t get permission to use private property for a portion of the race, we already have a 33 mile loop and I am pretty sure I can come up with a 40 mile loop within the park.

I really don’t like using bike trails and paved roads but again, there is no other option. The course will use the Lake Trail and Rattle Snake Ridge Trail but those are very nice trails and I enjoy running them. We will also need to use the Red Trail starting at the South Trail Head going all the way up to just above Blood Rock.

Starting last summer I began running sections of potential trails for the 50 and measuring various trail combinations. After the first of the year, I plan to measure all sections of the course below and get a total length. Then I will be able add or delete whatever it takes to get the length right.

The course will be difficult. At least two long sections will be on “Bandit Trails” that will be fairly hard to negotiate. One of these trails will be a tough, tricky climb up to the top of the northwest ridge of Double Oak Mountain. That said, I hiked up that trail on 12/22, right up through the cliff band over piles of soaking wet leaves in light rain. I then went back down the same way I came up. I survived!! There will be another section of Bandit Trail below Peavine Falls but this one is not too bad. 

Below is my “First Draft” map. We will see how it comes out. 
This map was drawn with the start at the Cabins. the 2016 race will start at Redbud Pavilion

The following is a turn by turn description of the course for Birmingham runners that are familiar with Oak Mtn State Park. As I said, until I actually measure it, this is just my best guess!
The race will NOT start in the Cabins as planned. Four of the Cabins are already rented so the race will start at Redbud Pavilion instead. For the 2017 race, we will reserve all the cabins for 50 and 100 mile runners. I plan to be standing at the door of the OMSP office when they open on Friday, November 17, 2016 to reserve all 10 Cabins. I figure 100 mile runners would like the idea of getting up, eating breakfast in their own cabin, walking a few yards to the start and using their cabin as a private aid station during the race.

In 2017 the race will start at the Cabins on Lake Tranquility pictured below.

The 2016 race will start at Redbud Pavilion at 6:30 AM with a loop around the BMX track then take a left on the “Chimney Trail” to the “Dog Cat Snake Trail” and over to the North Trail Head (NTH.) From the NTH, runners will cross Findley Dr. to the NTH parking lot, then take the trail back to the campground. They will run through the campground and cross over to the northwest side of Oak Mountain Lake. Runners will then following the trail along the shoreline, cross the spillway and continue heading northeast along the lake shore on the gravel road. At the end of the gravel road, enter the paved road and continue straight ahead, past the north toll-booth to the road across Lunker Lake Dam. (3.68 Miles)

From there the course follows Findley Drive about 1 mile back south to an old roadway that turns off to the left along a small creek. This trail starts at the parking area with just enough room for two or three cars. This parking area is 0.4 miles north of the North Trail Head. (There will be a water only aid station here.) The trail follows the creek to a fork where two small creeks merge. Runners cross the creek and angles left following the creek upstream through an old quarry cut. Just before the spot where the creek running straight down Double Oak Mtn makes a left, (this is the creek you have been following upstream) the trail turns right and goes straight up the mountain paralleling the creek.

Continue uphill through a very rocky area covered in boulders to the base of the cliffs. The trail climbs through the rock band to the left side of the cliff face, then angles right up to the crest. The course then follows the ridge crest heading southwest. Near the end of the ridge, the trail turns left across a short shoulder and up to the Eagle Nest Overlook Trail. Follow the trail along the crest, then down the hill to the left and connect into the Blue Trail heading back to the NTH. At the trail head, follow the Yellow trail back to Maggie’s Glen, switch to the White Trail for ½ mile to the Cabin Trail then through the cabins and back to Redbud Pavilion Aid Station. (9.5 Miles)

Leave the aid station heading up the paved road toward Findley Dr. After about 100 yards, go left onto the bike trail, past “the Rock Garden” and left on the Yellow Trail. Stay on the Yellow Trail, past Redbud Pavilion, up past Tranquility Dam and around the lake on the southwest shore. At the end of the lake, take the trail to the right, up the hill to the ruins of the Chapel in the old scout camp. Turn left on the gravel road. Stay on the road past the cabins being renovated and up to the top of the hill to the overhead, wooden, Camp Tranquility sign.

Just before the sign, go left onto the Thunder Trail for the long climb to the top of the West Ridge of Double Oak Mtn. At the top of the ridge, go right on the White Trail and down to the Bike Road along the crest. Immediately turn right back onto the start of the Thunder Trail for a few 100 yards. At the intersection with the Yellow/White Connector Trail, go left on the connector for the steep descent down the mountain. Stay on Y/W all the way to the bottom and just before reaching the Group Camp Road, go left onto the Yellow Trail. Follow the Yellow Trail, heading southwest until you come to the paved road leading up to the Wildlife Center. Go right down the hill to Terrace Drive and to the Marina Aid Station #2. (15.0 Miles)

The Marina by the Marina Aid Station

Leave the aid station heading northeast on the paved road across a short section of lake, then turn left onto the “Lake Trail.” Follow the Lake Trail, across the dam to the intersection with Rattle Snake Ridge Trail and go right. Follow the RR Trail all the way around until it finally coming out at the south end of Double Oak Lake. Follow the paved road a short distance then along the shoreline, across the beach, through the patio area and back to the Marina Aid Station #3. (19.6 Miles)

The Lake Trail around Double Oak Lake

Leave the AS heading southwest along Terrace Drive to the Wildlife Center Trail on your left. Head up the trail going through the boardwalk for 1/3 mile until it intersects with the Yellow Trail. Go right on Yellow to the second intersection with the Jekyll n Hyde Trail and turn left. Follow Jekyll N Hyde down the hill to the Peavine Falls Road. Cross the road and go left on the bike trail, “Mr. Toad.” Follow the bike trail up the Johnson Mountain trail, then cross the paved road to the BUMP Trail. Follow BUMP all the way up the mountain and up past “Blood Rock.” Just past Blood Rock take a sharp right onto the trail leading back to the Peavine Falls Road and the gate on the end of the Red Bike Road. (I think the call it the Red/Green Connector)  At the Peavine Rd, go left down the hill staying on the Peavine Falls Rd to the Peavine Falls Parking lot and the Peavine Falls Aid Station. (27.3 Miles)
Peavine Falls

Leave the PVF Aid Station headed northeast on the white trail. Just as the white trail turns left runners will go right down a faint trail angling downhill to the south. Follow the trail until it crosses Lower Peavine Creek and turns left heading north up the opposite side of the creek. Continue climbing up past the stone overlook, then continue uphill until the trail merges into the Blue Trial. At the intersection, go right heading northeast along the Blue Trail. Continue on Blue for a little less than 3 miles. Go left at the intersection with the Orange Trail heading down the mountain. Stay on The Orange Trail across the Red Fire Road (bike trail) and back up the hill to the intersection with the White Trail. Go right down the White Trail.

Follow the white trail along the ridge, over Shackleford Point and along the crest for about a mile. The white trail drops sharply downhill and continues down until it joins the Yellow Trail. At Yellow turn left and follow the Yellow trail for about a mile until Yellow makes a sharp left and crosses a creek just above Tranquility Lake. Where the Yellow Trail turns left, runners continue straight ahead keeping the lake on your left. Follow the trail back to the Cabins and continue on the paved cabin road. Circle around the lake heading back left along the northwest shore of the lake, still keeping the lake on your left. Continue around the lake on the gravel road to the paved road at the BMX track. Go left down the road and back to the 50K finish. (33 Miles) Fifty mile runners will go through the Cabins Aid Station and continue back out on the course for 17 more miles. Just what that 17 mile loop will be is yet to be decided.

At this time I plan to leave the race date where it is but I may make a few adjustments by next year.

Monday, November 30, 2015

The Tranquility Lake 50K Trail Race

The Tranquility Lake 50K & 25K Trail Race - Final race of the 2015 Southeastern Trail Series
Saturday, November 21st was the third running of the Tranquility Lake 50K at Oak Mountain State Park in Pelham, Alabama, just south of Birmingham. We had absolutely perfect running conditions with temps in the mid 40’s at the start and beautiful blue skies all day.

MRuns (Suman Silwal) picture just before the start of the Race.

We had 164 registered runners and about 150 starters. Runners make a short loop around the BMX track to spread out before hitting almost a mile of gnarly, narrow trail up past Tranquility Lake Dam, around the lake and up to the ruins of the old chapel at Camp Tranquility Scout Camp. From there runners follow the Group Camp gravel road up to the entrance of the camp then downhill on the camp road for another mile where they again enter the single track, Yellow/White Connector Trail for the longest climb in the park.

A shot of the sun coming up over Tranquility Lake as runners climb up along the dam just a few hundred yards after the start. I don’t know who took this, but if it is your picture, please let me know so I can give you credit.

Just over 2 miles into the race runners start the difficult, 630 ft. climb in just under a mile to the top of the West Ridge of Double Oak Mountain. Our mountain may be small by western US standards, but you will not find more difficult trails to negotiate anywhere. Once on top of the ridge, runners follow the Red Bike Road for a couple of miles along or near the top of the ridge before heading up the Green Trail over to the Peavine Falls Aid Station. Everyone had better stock up on water here. It’s a very long 6.8 miles to the next water at the North Trail Head.

After leaving the aid station runners stay on a wide gravel trail for about ½ mile before the very steep, treacherous descent into Peavine Falls Gorge. The trail loops around almost under the fall which was really pretty after several days of rain earlier in the week. Runners then follow Peavine Creek downstream for about 200 yards before starting up the short but very steep climb out of the gorge.

Peavine Falls by Lisa Booher

As runners leave the gorge they enter the Blue Trail for the 5 mile run to the north end of the park. The Blue Trail climbs slowly to the East Ridge of Double Oak Mountain, then along the ridge for several miles. The trail then abruptly drops off the ridge downhill for a short distance to the Eagle Nest Overlook trail where runners make a hard right for another short but very steep climb up to the overlook ridge. After a short run along the ridge runners start a very difficult, very steep descent down from the overlook to rejoin the Blue Trail about a mile from the North Trail Head.

At just under 13 miles from the start, runners finally reach the Water Only aid station at the NTH and begin the final 3 mile segment. After running along a very gentle section of trail for a couple of miles they return to Tranquility Lake and follow the shore line all the way around the north and west side of the lake, through the State Park Cabins, past the old dam and back to the Start/Finish aid station. That is the end of the race for 25K runners. The 50K’ers get to do it all again.

The Tranquility Lake 50K is the final race of the Southeastern Trail Series and is the race that determines the Series Winners. The STS consists of a Short Series and a Long Series with 6 separate points races, each with a short or a long race option, and one race, The Run for Kids Challenge, with one short race (a 10K) and two long race options (a 50K and a 12 Hour Race.) The points earned in each race are totaled at the end of the year and Points Champions get some really cool stuff including Salomon Jackets, gift certificates and entry into all 2016 Southeastern Trail Series Races.

This was the third year of the series and there were no surprises as Lisa Booher and Suman Silwal won the championship. In fact, Lisa and Suman have won the championship all three years. Things were a lot closer in the Short Series with Brian Boatman and Kay Estes winning the Short Series championships with outstanding performances in the Tranquility Lake 25K.

Lisa Booher and Jason Wheat, first overall in the 50K

This was the most successful year ever for Southeastern Trial Runs. All of our races grew significantly and it has been so much fun to watch our regular runners make huge improvements over the three years of the Trail Series. Some of our regular runners in the trail series started with very little running experience and have made great improvements in strength and endurance. Many have now run their first Ultra with us. Many have gone on to finish their first 100 mile race. It is great to be able to share in the success of all those that have participated in our races and cheer them on to their own personal victories and successes.

Great Job EVERYONE. I can’t wait until next year!!

The first race of 2016 is the Lake Martin 100. We only have three Lodge Rooms Left. If you want to stay at the only lodging close to the start better reserve a room now.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Building a new section of Green Trail at Oak Mountain State Park

 A progress report

The largest state park in Alabama is Oak Mountain State Park with almost 10,000 Acres and over 50 miles of "Official" Trails. The old Peavine Falls Trail, the Green Trail, leading from Terrace Drive near the Treetop Nature Center over the west ridge of Double Oak Mountain and down to Peavine Falls is in bad shape. The trail was built many years ago and the first mile of the trail, up to the Red Bike Road, the fire road, runs almost straight up the mountain. The lower half of the Green Trail is in pretty good condition but the steep final climb up to the fire road, about 300 to 400 yards is badly eroded and very difficult to hike or run.

Over the last few weeks Steve Cloues and I have scouted a new route up the mountain to replace the section that is in such bad condition. Three weeks ago I marked and cleared the proposed route. Friday and Saturday, June 26 and 27, I completed the first half of the trail from where the new trail leaves the existing Green Trail over to where the new section of trail crosses the Jekyll and Hyde bike trail. Here is the report I have created.

Trail Work Report on the New Section of the Green Trail
June 26 and 27, 2015
The new section of Green Trail is now usable starting from where it cuts off the existing Green Trail over to where it crosses Jekyll and Hyde Bike Trail. The steep sections of traverse coming down off the ridge are narrow and my need additional widening. Below, the section of trail that is completed is marked in Transparent Green over the Red Line indication the new trail route. The section approaching the Red Fire Road (marked in red only) is yet to be completed.

The following pictures were posted on Instagram as I cleared the path and created trails Friday and Saturday. I will try to get back up this week and use the weed-eater to clear out some of the dense undergrowth on the trail down from the Red Fire Road. We are tentatively planning a BUTS work party on July 11 to try to finish this section.

Green Trail along the ridge near the beginning of the new section.

The steep section coming down off the ridge.

The two images above of the narrow section along the traverse off the ridge.

Where the new section of Green Trail crossed Jekyll and Hyde Bike Trail.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Tailwind Update - Quest for the Crest 50K

The “WORLD’S HARDEST 50K” and Tailwind
If you want to add a new dimension to your running life, give this race a try

The article for last month’s newsletter was primarily about using Tailwind, the all in one ultra runners drink. Well, I now have a new experience with Tailwind to report on. A few weeks ago I ran a race that billed itself as the “The World’s Hardest 50K.” That’s a pretty big statement considering races like Speed Goat 50K in Snowbird, Utah and OCC (Orsières - Champex - Chamonix) one of the Ultra-Trail Du Mont Blanc races in the Alps. I know the Race Director from the “World’s Hardest Race” and he is a bit of a showman. I knew the run would be hard but I also assumed this “Hardest Race” stuff was mostly “hype” to promote his race.

Over the years I have run what I thought were pretty tough 50Ks like Stump Jump 50K in Chattanooga, Mt Cheaha 50K and Mountain Mist on Monte Sano in Huntsville. I have not run any races in Europe or Speed Goat with its 11,800 ft. of elevation gain over 32 miles, but I have run two races in the Wasatch Mountains in Utah, one of those races passed along the back edge of Alta Ski Resort which joins Snowbird. The trails in the Wasatch Mountains are steep and technical in places and some of the climbs are huge reaching elevations greater than 11,000 ft. Nothing I encountered in the Wasatch compares to the course for the race I ran on May 30th in North Carolina, near Mt Mitchell.

The race was the Quest for the Crest 50K and the Race Director’s statement was not hype. This is a totally insane race. I loved it, now that it is over. It was a 50K, that’s 32 miles, which took me 11 hours, 21 minutes to run. That's almost exactly the same time it took me to run the 2014 Lookout Mountain 50 Mile which is a very difficult 50 miler. The Quest may well be "the hardest 50K on earth even though the elevation of the Quest is significantly lower than the other races in Utah and the Alps. Until I find a harder 50k, I have to agree with Sean, this is the toughest! 

There is a lot of climbing in both races, just check out the elevation profiles of each, below.

The Elevation Profile of the Quest for the Quest
The one thing that makes the Quest for the Crest course so difficult is the terrain. For example, the 2.7 mile stretch marked as "Tough" on the elevation profile above, to me, was harder than the two, 3,000+ feet climbs that preceded this short section. This was a section consisting of steep scrambles up and over short cliff bands and large exposed boulders, then steep treacherous scramble back down. In some places there was the potential for a very serious fall. In a few places, a fall could be fatal.

A couple of shots from the 2.7 mile Ridge of Black Mountain (the "Tough" Section)

The above shots were taken on the way over the mountain after the first climb, still early in the morning. The following shots were taken later as I started across the rugged 2.7 miles stretch of ridge referred to as "Tough" on the race profile.

The clouds were swirling on the "lee" side of the mountain.

Then there was the extremely steep section on the final climb up Mt. Mitchell called the "Switchbacks from Hell." And they were. By the time runners reach the switchbacks they have climbed and descended in the neighborhood of 15,000 ft. By this time, my legs were "shot!" The switchbacks started about mile 22.5. I estimated the 6.5 mile climb from Colbert Ridge Aid Station at mile 17.5 (Bottom of Hill before final climb) to Big Tom Gap Aid Station at mile 24 would take two hours. It took almost 2.5 hours. 
When you are using Tailwind it is not a good idea to make a big mistake estimating the time between aid stations like that. I had extra water in my hydration pack but I had not correctly connected the hose and couldn't get any water out, and I didn't want to take the time to stop to fix it. I even had extra Tailwind I could have mixed in with the water in my pack. I kept thinking, "I must be almost there." Consequently, I rationed the water in my bottles to "stretch it out" until I finally reached the top. I paid for the bad decision not to stop and fix my water supply over those last 30 minutes of the climb. By the aid station, I was getting dehydrated and totally out of energy. On the steep climb up to a turnaround, one half mile above the aid station, my legs started cramping. Fortunately I carried extra electrolyte caps, just in case. If I had stopped, correctly attached the hose and added Tailwind to the extra water, I could have continued strong to the top feeling good, no, feeling "OK" (I would still have been zapped) and would not have had to deal with cramp.

Once runners reach the Big Tom Gap AS they have to make this hideous climb straight up a washed out gully to the turnaround. This thing has 515 ft. of elevation gain is less than .5 miles. Then you turn around and come back down. The good news, from that point to the end, the trail is virtually flat or downhill all the way to the end. After leaving the aid station runners start an almost flat, 2 mile traverse around Mt Mitchell's Eastern Face. Then they start the descent. Now the Bad News! The descent is really tough. It is rugged and steep and technical in places. In reality, if this descent were early in the race it likely wouldn't be that big a deal. It is only 4.5 miles. By this point, it felt more like 8 miles. It took me about an hour and 20 minutes to make it down.

A couple of borrowed pictures from along the ridge

Like I said, the trail marking was great and the scenery spectacular.

Will I do it again? Absolutely. This is one of those races you love and hate at the same time. Would I recommend it? Absolutely! I would recommend it to anyone that is comfortable with big, difficult climbs and "sporting" trails. (Sporting is a British term for trails/climbs that scare the hell out of you!) The course was extremely well marked. You never have to wonder if you missed a turn. Sean had also cleared miles of trails with a weed eater and chopped off thousands of limbs. The views are spectacular (along the ridge) and the Rhododendrons were blooming. Well done Sean Blanton.

Again, I used Tailwind and only Tailwind. Other than the stretch near the end where I didn't want to take the time to get my hydration pack working everything went perfectly. Even after that, by the time I had gone a few hundred yards beyond the last aid station headed down the mountain, I felt good again and ran all the way to the end. The only thing I consumed during the race, other than Tailwind, was three "half" PBJ sandwiches, a few potato chips and three "half" bananas. (Not even my usual cookies) That's it. Give Tailwind a try. If you live in the Birmingham area or within a reasonable drive, try it at one of our upcoming races. Tailwind is our race sponsor in 2015 and we have it at all races, premixed in the exact ration needed. Fill your bottle before the start and drink nothing else during the race. It works.
When using Tailwind, you can’t “stretch our” your water/Tailwind mix. You should start by consuming 20 to 24 oz. every hour. Adjust your consumption to your needs. If you drink less than you need, you will crash!

Our next races are:
Hotter 'N Hell Trail Race, July 25th at Oak Mountain State Park. The race starts at 8:00 AM at the Cedar Pavilion. 9 Mile or 18 Mile Race options.

Ridge 2 Ridge Trail Race, September 5, Oak Mountain State Park. The race starts at 8:00 AM at the Redbud Pavilion. 10.5 or 21 Mile options.

Birmingham Mountain Stage Race, September 25, 26 and 27, First stage at Ruffner Mountain and starts at 8:00 AM at the Ruffner Mtn Visitor's Center (Run one stage or all stages.)

Tranquility Lake 50K, November 21, The race starts at 7:00 AM at the Redbud Pavilion at Oak Mountain State Park. 25K or 50K race options.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Some Exciting New Products for Ultrarunning

(They work for just road running too)
Since I purchased my first pair of Trail Shoes back in 2005 or ’06 I have seen a lot of changes in the sport of Trail Running and ultra running. I actually had to drive to Chattanooga to find a store that had a selection of trail shoes and a knowledgeable sales person to help choose that first pair. For fuels, there were GUs and Gels and Hammer had energy products designed for bike racing that worked OK for trail racing, to a point. Electrolytes were pretty much limited to capsules you swallowed every hour or so during a run or race. All this worked OK, Usually!
If you needed a hydration pack, you purchased a small hiking pack from an outdoors store. Things like water bottle holders and jackets you purchased from the local road running store or hiking store. Back then, I actually make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to take on long runs and I threw in a few cookies. (Well, I still take cookies.)

As I mentioned, many of these products were designed for endurance biking events, especially Hammer Products and there is one big difference between a 5 hour bike race and a 5 hour 50K run. A bike rider’s upper body stays fairly stationary on the bike during a ride. The legs do almost all of the moving. In a run, your upper body is bouncing up and down with every single step. When your body bounces up and down, so does your stomach. If what you consume during the event is not absorbed almost as fast as you take it in, all that stuff starts sloshing around and your stomach rebels. You will likely spend the rest of your race battling nausea.

The electrolyte caps work great as long as you remember to take them on schedule. In reality (reality being the middle of a very long race, 10 hours, 20 hours, 30 hours, etc…) you will likely encounter two problems. First, after hours of running your mind just doesn’t function at peak performance. If a runner is using electrolytes, (salt caps,) and plans to take one cap per hour every hour, you will likely have no problem for 4 or 5 hours. But, as the day or night wears on it is really easy to get off schedule. Is simply becomes difficult just to keep up with the time. I have looked at my watch and noted it was 10 minutes until I need to take a salt cap. The next time I was aware of looking at my watch it was 10 minutes past when I should have taken the tablet and I had no idea if I actually took the capsule or not. By hour 22, I would be doing good to remember what I was supposed to do on the hour, every hour.

The second problem many people have with electrolyte caps is that they become very difficult to swallow late in a race. Most of us have no problem early in a race swallowing capsules. Throw one on your tongue and take a big drink of water and it’s gone. Now, fast forward 15 or 20 hours into a race. If you do remember that you need to take a salt cap, you put it on your tongue, take a big drink of water and capsule goes nowhere or worse, it causes you to gag and you spit it out. Once I get to the “can’t swallow a cap” stage, that’s it for the “salt caps,” I have to get electrolytes some other way or not at all. Without electrolytes your body does not absorb water very quickly so the water you drink starts sloshing around in your stomach. “Nausea!”

Several years ago, NUUN came up with a tablet you just drop into 16 oz. of water and your electrolyte mix is perfect. As you drink your water/NUUN tablet mix, you get exactly the right amount of electrolytes. This sounds simple and works great in training runs. (By the way, training runs, especially those very long training runs, are where you sort out your ultrarunning plans. It’s where you find out what works and what doesn’t, what you like or don’t like and what you can eat and what you cannot eat. Then you go to an ultra and realize what worked great in training runs really doesn’t work in an ultra. On to plan “X” or “Y.”) For me, the NUUN tablets worked great in training runs and short races. Then I tried them at the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 in July 2011. Mid-afternoon, 9 or 10 hours into the race, I started feeling sick at my stomach. I realized the ratio of NUUN mix was way too strong. It tasted awful. I poured the mix out before the next aid station and started over with the correct ratio.

Sometime around 9 or 10 PM, 15 or 16 hours into the race, I stared feeling sick again. This time my mind was somewhat dysfunctional and I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. I ended up having to walk most of the night. Just before arriving at the Bull Wheel Aid Station on top of Diamond Hill Ski Resort about mile 71 I finally figured out the problem. Once again the NUUN tablet ration was way off. I had walked for 6 or 7 hours before I realized why I felt so bad.

The reason I was having trouble keeping the ratio correct was because I was wearing a hydration pack with a water bladder in the pack. It was difficult to determine exactly how much water was adding at the aid stations. Basically I was just guessing. At night, it’s even harder to judge the amount of water added. Each time I added water I would throw in the correct amount of additional NUUN tablets, per my “guess.” With each aid station stop the mixture became a little stronger. The change was so subtle I never noticed it until the water became undrinkable. Too much salt is just a bad as not enough salt. They both make you sick. I dumped the water out of my Hydration Pack and filled it with straight water and took salt tablets the rest of the race with no problems what so ever.

 Marlette Lake and Lake Tahoe from the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 Course

Just one of many snow fields along the crest of the Tahoe Rim Trail.

I don’t like to waste water at aid stations because in all remote aid stations water has to be carried in, or in some cases filtered from streams or collected from springs. In some extreme cases, such as Kroger’s Canteen in Hardrock, snow must be melted and sometimes carried up the mountain several miles. At these aid situations, water is a valuable commodity not to be wasted. To use NUUN Tablets I would have to find a way of accurately measuring the water added. It was simpler just to carry salt caps and remember to take them.

Until about 6 months ago I continued to use nothing but Electrolyte caps and an energy drink mix. Then, in the Pinhoti 100 this year, by sunset, I was no longer able to swallow electrolyte capsules and things went downhill quickly. I decided it was time to find something new.

Several people had told me about a new product called Tailwind. It is a drink mix that combines carbohydrates, electrolytes, and since you mix it in water, hydration all in one product. I decided to give it a try during my training runs for the Lookout Mountain 50 Mile in December. The stuff worked great. I ran Lookout Mountain consuming nothing but Tailwind and finished over an hour faster than the previous year with absolutely no stomach issues and I felt strong to the end. I have used Tailwind in two other trail races this year, Mountain Mist 50K and the Grand Viduta Stage Race, (a three day race) plus the Mercedes Marathon, also this year with great results. Yes, I carry a water bottle even in road races. I only had to slow down for water at aid stations three or four times in the entire Mercedes Marathon. I like to drink a little when I am thirsty, not just when I am passing through an aid station.

Tailwind is available in large, multi-serving packs on the left and in individual serving sizes, on the right. The small size is a great way to find out what flavors you like. Read more about Tailwind at Give it a try, even in a road race.

There is still the issue of the mixing the correct water/powder ratio. Running with hand held water bottles or the correct hydration pack can solve that problem. With the ever increasing popularity of ultrarunning, more and more companies are focusing on new products for Ultra runners. Two of those new products are shown below. On the left is one of several new hydration packs introduced by Salomon over the last couple of years. On the right is one of the new packs produced by Ultimate Direction. These packs have two bottle holders on the front and these particular packs have room of a hydration bladder in the back compartment. That extra water could come in handy for very long training runs or if you are running a race with long stretches between aid stations, especially if it will be hot. I discarded the small, blue collapsible Salomon bottles and use my Ultimate Direction 20 oz. bottles for both packs. It’s easy to mix Tailwind in a bottle and keep the ratio correct. These packs are both light and comfortable and the Salomon pack even comes with a “heat shield” to keep the water from making you cold in cold weather or to keep you from making the water hot in hot weather. (That’s a smart heat shield!)

                    The Ultimate Direction Pack                                   The Salomon Pack