Wednesday, March 11, 2015

How to be an Ultra Runner

I just couldn't resist posting this video. "How to be an Ultra Runner" by TrailAndUltra
Forget the Blog, this is all you need to know.


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Tranquility Lake 50K

No Tranquility in Hotly Contested Series

This article just came out in the March issue of Ultrarunning Magazine.
Perfect Day, Awesome Runners, The Best Volunteers on Earth, It just doesn’t get Any Better!
Beautiful Picture of Tranquility Lake by Olivia Affuso
We could not have asked for better conditions for the final race in the 2014 Southeastern Trial Series.
Temperatures were in the mid-40s at the start with beautiful clear skies all day.
Over 150 runners toed the line November 22nd for the 7:00 AM start at 10,000 acre Oak Mountain State Park, in Pelham, Alabama, just south of Birmingham. Most people think of Alabama as rather flat, that is, unless have run trails in the area. Located just at the tip of southwest tip of Appalachian Mountains, our hills may not be very tall, (Double Oak Mountain, which runs the length of Oak Mountain State Park, rises only a little over 600 feet above the surrounding terrain) but what it lack in size, it makes up for in shear ruggedness. Tranquility Lake 50K is actually two races, a 25K, one loop of the 15.6 mile course and the 50K, two loops.  The 50K course had 4,390 ft. of elevation gain and is 93% single track trails with only about 2 miles of gravel roads closed to cars.

The run starts with a spectacular but very short climb up the trail along the spillway of Tranquility Lake to the top of the Dam.  From there, runners follow the western shoreline for about 1/3 mile before another short climb up to the old Boy Scout Camp, Camp Tranquility, now being restored. They follow the gravel road up another hill to the entrance of the camp before starting the very fast one mile descent to the first real climb, the Yellow/White Connector. This rugged trail climbs 600 ft. in about 3/4 of a mile. Runners then head southeast along the West Ridge Trail for three miles to the Aid Station at Peavine Falls Parking Lot. From there, the course follow the Blue Trail for about 5 miles along the East Ridge of Double Oak Mountain before dropping down to the North Trail head and a water only aid station. The West Ridge Trail and the Blue Trail offer spectacular views, especially the West Ridge, where you run along the ridgeline itself. It is not a good idea to spend too much time sightseeing while running up there. Sections are very rocky.
Tranquility Lake D
The descent to the North Trail Head is a bit tricky with a few steep sections and lots of loose rocks and roots. From the trail head, runners follow relatively docile trails with gentle climbs for the final 3 miles back to the Redbud Pavilion and the finish for the 25K. For 50K runners this is the location of the next aid station before heading back out on the second loop. Near the end of each loop runners circle the east side of Lake Tranquility called the Old Lake at Oak Mountain.

The Southeastern Trail Series is a series of 7 races in the Birmingham Area. The series starts in April with a 5K and 10K and builds throughout the year, culminating in the Tranquility Lake 50K. The series is designed to transform road runners to trail runners and help short distance runners finish their first ultra.  Runners earn points based on their time for each race run in the series. Going into the final race of the series, the 50K, the 3 lead women were separated by just two points. The lead four men were less than 10 points apart. This was going to be a very competitive race.

Donna Arrington came into the 50K leading the series by 0.783 points over Lisa Booher, our 2013 Southeastern Trail Series Points Champion. Vanessa Stroud was just 1.4 points behind Lisa. We knew this was going to be a race to the end. Donna and Vanessa had run the Pinhoti 100 just three weeks before giving Lisa a slight advantage and she took that advantage winning the Women’s race by almost 25 minutes (6:02:54) over second place Donna Arrington (6:27:21). Beverly Brower, of Jackson Mississippi, took third in 6:29:20 and Vanessa Stroud came in fourth at 6:49:54. Lisa is the 2014 Women’s Points Champion in the Southeastern Trail Series.
Left to Right, Vanessa, Lisa, Donna and Beverly
On the men’s side, John Brower of Jackson, Mississippi, took first in 4:47:59 and set a new course record. Second went to Douglas King of Marietta, Georgia in 4:58:19. Third place was taken by Todd Lytle of Mineola, Florida in 5:02:10. Two of the three men competing for the Southeastern Trail Series Championship, points leader, Suman Silwal and second place Mark Beggs, also ran the Pinhoti 100 three weeks earlier. The first of the points championship contenders to finish was Mark Beggs in 5:47:45. Logan Cook, third in the point’s championship, finished in 5:58:43.  Suman finished in 6:21:14 but his points lead was just too much for anyone to overcome.  He is our 2014 Points Champion for the second year in a row.
Left to Right, Logan, Suman and Mark
 For more information on the series and individual races, including the Lake Martin 100, check out our website,

By David Tosch, RD

Friday, February 27, 2015

2015 Lake Martin 100 & 50 Mile Endurance Run and 27 Mile Fun Run

The Lake Martin 100 is less than a month away. To make things fun this year, Karl Meltzer is running the 100. This will likely be his 36 victory in a 100.
I think we have the best looking, hand crafted buckle I have seen.
As many of you know, the Second Annual Lake Martin 100 Mile Endurance Run is March 21 and 22. This is one of the best "First 100's" in the United States. There is also a 50 Mile and a 27 Mile Fun Run. Both are perfect for your fist attempt at ultra distance. Although the course is hilly, the 100 has about 12,000 feet of elevation gain, the 50 has 6,000 ft and the 27 mile about 3,100, that is an average of only 120 feet per mile. The thing that makes this elevation gain manageable for everyone is that almost all of the hills are less than 100 feet. The course is made up of a bunch of small hills. That's pretty gentle by almost any standard in the southeast. Plus, there is nothing technical anywhere on the course.
If you would like to learn more, here is a link to the Lake Martin 100 Website.
If you are thinking about signing up, Register today or Saturday. All entry fees increase on March 1.
Register at

Another thing that  makes the course easy for a first time ultra runner is the layout of aid stations. First, there are only 2 aid stations, yet you will never go more than 8 miles away from the next aid station stops. You may ask, how can that be. Well, the course is laid out in the shape of a figure "8" with one additional loop. Where the loops meet, at the red dots on the diagram below, is where the aid stations are located. The dot on the left is the Cabin Aid Station and Start/Finish. The red dot on the right is Heaven Hill Aid Station.

The race starts at the red dot on the left, the Cabin Aid Station. Runners, in effect, go over the top of the middle "0" to the red dot on the right. (the first aid station stop, Heaven Hill 1) They then circle around the "0" on the right and back to the red dot on the right. (the second aid station stop, Heaven Hill 2) Runners will then circle around the bottom of the middle "0" to the dot on the left (Cabin Aid Station 1) then around the "0" on the left and back to the red dot. (Cabin Aid Station 2) Race planning is a snap, especially since the Cabin Aid Station allows you to have anything you want at the aid station. That is, you or your crew place you drop bags where you want them or leave them in your car near the Cabin. We don't have to handle your bags so if you want to haul in an ice chest, feel free! Your supplies are never very far and you don't have to figure out where in 18 aid stations to put a critical item, like headlamps. There is no need to time running and walking cycles. The hills will tell you exactly when to walk and when to run.

For your crew, the drive from the Cabin AS to Heaven Hill AS is only about 3 miles. You may also
go to the Willow Point Cutoff Trailhead at the far north end of the course, only about 6 miles from the Cabin. Crew may also go to the Wilson Road Trailhead at the South end of the course, just 3 miles south of the Cabin. Crew can potentially meet their runner 6 times per 25 mile lap. (Crew is not allowed into Heaven Hill AS but Adamson Road Trailhead is just a few 100 yards away from the AS on the course and you may meet your runner there)

The course follow the the lake shore and meandering creeks for miles. The trails are 100% single track, carriage paths and gravel roadways most of which do not allow cars. The only paved section is the first 300 yards from the Cabin Start to the Green Way and the Stables Loop Trail. Returning to and leaving the Cabin Aid Station you will be on a sidewalk for about 300 yards, but that's it.
Here is a link to a Video of the 2014 LM100 Preview Runs on YouTube.
Below are pictures from along the course:

Start of the Lake View Trail near the Stables

The Big Way Trail

A section of trail along the South Loop

Along the Lakeside Trail

View from the trail.

Another section on the South Loop

Morning mist on Lake Martin

The SpringHouse Restaurant at Russell Crossroads. Just down the road from the start.

The Stables at Russell Crossroads.
 The next series of pictures were taken at the Preview Runs on the course.
A section of trail along the Lake View Trail
The Big Way Trail headed for Adamson Rd. Trailhead.

The Green Way Trail. This is one of the limited access roadways for electric vehicles, runners/hikers, bikes and horses only.
The 2-Day Loop Trail above the lake shore.

Another shot along one of many creek crossings on the 2-Day Loop

This is the Cabin at Russell Crossroads, location of the Start and Finish and the Cabin Aid Station.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Run Your First Ultra Anew

I am about to start up the old Run Your First Ultra blog again.  With the Southeastern Trail Series (STR) taking up so much time these days it is hard to find time to write blog posts. If you are not familiar with the Southeastern Trail Series, we started STR here in Birmingham in 2013 to help runners move form running 5K and 10K road races to running an Ultra.  The Series starts in April with a short, easy race and builds over seven months to running "Their First Ultra," The Tranquility Lake 50K, in November. (That sounds like a good name for a blog.) From rather humble beginnings we have grown to almost 600 runners participating in the series this, our second year.

Our 2015 Trail Races put on by Southeastern Trail Runs:
*Race 1 - March 7 - Village 2 Village Trail Race, Mountain Brook - 8.6 miles
*Race 2 - March 21 & 22 -  The Lake Martin 100, 50 and 27 Mile Trail Races
Race 3 - April 11 -  Tranquility Lake Trail Race, 3 miles or 6 miles.
Race 4 - May 2 - The Run for Kids Challenge - 10K, 50K and 12 Hours.
Race 5 - May 23 - The Memorial Day Race (Memorial day weekend) 6 and 12 mile.
Race 6 - July 25 - Hotter 'N Hell Trial Race - 8 miles or 16 miles.
Race 7 - September 5 -  The Ridge 2 Ridge 10 and 20 mile race.
Race 8 - Sept 25, 26 &27 - The Birmingham Stage Race, 3 Days-3 Mountains-53 Miles.
*Race 9 - October 17 - The Birmingham Track Club Trail Race, 4, 7.5 and 15 miles.
*Race 10 - October 31 - Run for Down's Syndrome - details to come
Race 11 - November 21 - The final trail series race is the Tranquility Lake 50K and 25K
*Races that are not trial series points races.

That keeps us pretty busy!

I have started a new Instagram site called TrailRun101. I intend to use the Instagram site to post short videos of trail running tips. The videos will be tied to blog posts. I plan to do short blog posts one or two times per week, starting with the basics.

So much has changed over the last few years that I think it is time to start "anew." I will get this up and running in the next few days.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

North Face UTMB

If you haven't seen this video, The North Face: Ultra Trail du Mont-Blanc 2013 - Epic Momentsit is great, with Tim Olson and Rory Bosio. Take a look. This is a professionally filmed and produced video from North Face.  Be sure to click on the little "Gear Icon" in the lower right and select "HD 1080p" for best quality and select "Full Screen."

The North Face: Ultra Trail du Mont-Blanc 2013

If you enjoyed the video, please share it with your friends.

Here are a few screen shorts from the video

The Start in Chamonix with 2,300 Runners

Pretty amazing scenery.

Runners in the Alps at night

And the finish back in Chamonix.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

2014 The Hardrock 100 - The End and the Beginning

The End – Hardrock 100, Starting at the end.
Sometime in the late morning of early afternoon of July 12th I topped the ridge of Grouse/American Pass at 13, 020 ft. and 60.9 miles into the Hardrock 100. I was feeling good and knew I had a good chance to finish. As I came over the ridge however, I looked 1.4 miles straight across the basin to Handies Peak, the 14,048 ft. high point of the Hardrock Course. The summit of Handies is my next destination, 2.8 miles away by trail. I was very concerned to see a large storm sitting over the north shoulder of Handies and it was starting to rain and is always the case at that elevation, sleet on me. I headed down off the ridge as quickly as possible but it began raining harder as I descended. I reached some large rocks and stopped to take off my pack, untied the rain jacket from my waste, put the jacket on, replaced the pack and again started down. Just a minute or two later I saw a bright flash and knew lightning had struck somewhere near the peak. I was heading into a large open basin with lots of snow fields so I returned to the rocks, again took of my pack and dug around until I found my poncho. I put the pack back on, pulled the poncho over my head and sat down to wait out the storm. After 15 minutes of so I realized the storm was slowly moving of the northwest so I took of the poncho and continued the descent into the basin.

Looking west back down Grouse/American Pass toward Grouse Aid Station about 2.5 miles below.

 Looking across American Basin at Handies Peak.  The first storm is building just to the left.

The trail drops down about 700 feet then crosses the basin to the steep western side of Handies.  The skies to the east had looked threatening ever since the first storm moved off and there was light rain falling again.  As I started up western slope the wind picked up significantly, it became darker and much colder and it started raining and sleeting.  I continued up a couple of switchbacks when I noticed people running down the trail toward me.  The basin is far above timberline so you can see for miles in all directions except east where the storm was developing.  The mountain slopes up at about a 55% angle so all I can see were the clouds flying over the ridge several hundred feet above me.  I continued up until I met the first group of people running down.  They said it looked like a very bad storm was building to the east and moving this direction.  I decided it was time to take caver again except the side of the slope was devoid of any shelter.  I continued up the trail to the next switchback and climbed into a 3 foot deep gully with a few suitcase size rocks in it.  Again I removed the pack and dug out the poncho.

By now it was getting pretty unpleasant so I used the poncho like a tent and pulled my arms and legs under it.  I sat down and made a mental note of the time and figured I still had time to reach the next aid station, Sherman, before the cutoff if this storm moved off as quickly as the last.  As I sat there trying to keep the rain and wind out from under the poncho I watched 3 or 4 groups of hikers that had come down from Handies, climb up and over Grouse/American Pass. I was concerned as they started over the pass because they were again upon a ridge and lightning strikes ridges. I was just a bit jealous too.  They were on their way down the mountain out of this mess and thought I probably should have followed them down.  As I kept checking the time and realized my chances of making the next cutoff were rapidly vanishing.  At some point I decided I was going to wait out the storm if it took hours.  I wanted to go over Handies if I had to sit there until dark.  After all, I had my headlamp and flashlight with me.

After sitting there 45 minute the rain began to let up and it started getting lighter.  I hadn't seen any lightning for a while so I decided it was time to see what was happening on the other side of the mountain.  I stood up, leaving the poncho on this time, grabbed my trekking poles and started up again.  I was still 800 ft. below the summit and the trail became very steep the last 450 ft.  As I reached the ridge where the trail turned straight up to the summit, I could now see to the east and it appeared I was in a gap between storms so I decided to make a quick dash for the top.  (At 14,000 ft. my quick dash was anything but quick.)

I was at 63.7 miles and at the high point in the race, Handie's Peak at 14,048 ft.  At the top I took the time to get a few pictures and videos then headed down the extremely steep descent toward the next aid station at mile 71.9, 8.2 miles away. At the time, I didn't know exactly how far I had to go but I was sure I could not make the cutoff.  Just in case, I really pushed heading down the steep sections.  I didn't think I would ever reach timberline 2,200 feet and 2 miles below the summit. When I final reached Burrows Park with 4 miles to go and less than 40 minutes I gave up and told the aid station people I would withdraw so they could pack up and go home.  If I stayed in the race all the way to Sherman everyone would have to wait another hour for absolutely no reason.  (Hardrock aid station rules.)  My race came to an end 28.6 miles short of the finish.

Looking across the Basin from the top of Handies. The trail entered the basin at the far right and dropped down to the grassy area, lower right and then up near the lake at center before climbing to ridge on the lower left. You can see why I didn't hang around the summit of Handie's very long!

This is looking down the way I am headed to Sherman.  I was hoping the storm straight ahead stays away until I can get off the mountain.  It did.

Upon returning to Silverton that afternoon I learn two hikers had been killed and several others injured by lightning in Rocky Mountain National Park, one on Friday and one on Saturday.  After arriving home I read an article about one of the lead runners and his pacer having a near miss on Handies when lightning struck the top of the mountain while they were on top.  The lightning hit close enough to blow out Adam Campbell’s headlamp.  Unshaken by the incident, Andy went on to finish third. I only hope it doesn't take 5 years to get in again! 

The Beginning – Silverton to Telluride
This may be a convoluted way to write a race report , starting at the end, then doing the beginning, but somehow it seems to fall in the order of significance.

I learned two new things about the HRH that I didn't realize despite coming up here for 5 years and spending a lot of time on the course.  First, the sheer length of the descents is hard to comprehend and seem a bit overwhelming. You must really hurry down or run down miles of, in some cases, extremely technical, steep terrain. (It is much like going down the Blue Trail at Oak Mtn, where you drop off the ridge near Kings Chair, but instead of taking a minute or two to get down takes 2 or 3 hours.) I have hiked up plenty of mountains in the San Juan’s so the climbs were no surprise.  The descents were much more demanding than I had expected.  Second, the stream and bog crossing are continuous.  My feet were never dry after Mineral Creek at mile 2 with the exception of a few miles after Ouray Where I changed shoes and socks.

The Race
I woke up at 3:50 AM just before my alarm went off as I frequently do. We were staying in a very old hotel called the Grand Imperial Hotel in downtown Silverton.  I am sure it was an elegant in its day and is still nicely maintained, considering. I got dressed for the race and went downstairs to “Grumpie’s,” the restaurant on the ground floor for breakfast. Grumpie’s opened at 4:30 AM race morning with a full breakfast buffet and I ate a full but small breakfast of one egg, two slices of bacon, a biscuit, orange juice and coffee.  I was ready to go! We went back up to the room, I brushed my teeth, put on my Salomon hydration pack and hat and headed out the door.

The Grand Imperial is located one block from the race start in front of the Silverton High School Gym. Marye Jo and I hiked over to the gym to check in and wait for the start.  If runners don’t check in between 5:00 and 5:45 AM they lose their slot.  I checked in about 5:10.  Didn't want to take any chances.  Then I sat down to wait.

About 10 minutes to 6 AM we walked out, took a few pictures, said good bye and waited.  It’s funny.  I was very nervous the previous day.  I think most of my nervousness was actually a fear of oversleeping and missing the start, hence, losing my one chance in 5 years.  Once we walked outside I was ready to go. 

The race starts innocently enough with a short climb up a gentle hill heading up to the “Miners Memorial” just above town.  

We then follow a gravel road downhill to an old railroad bed for a mile or so.

We dropped off the hill, cross Hwy 550, the Million Dollar Highway, so named because of the millions of dollars of gold in the roadbed itself.  We then crossed Mineral Creek and began the climb up to Putnam/Lime Creek Ridge.  This was the first climb of 13 to reach over 12,000 of elevation.  That was also the last time I had dry feet until I reached Ouray at about 12:45 AM at mile 44.

This first part of the climb is pretty gentle although a few sections below timberline pass through what I think are “rock glaciers” that were a bit of a challenge, mostly to avoid hurting an ankle. 

The Rock Glaciers are a bit tricky to cross, especially with trekking poles.  I just carried mine.

Timberline in Putnam Basin, 11,800 ft.

Close to the top

The flowers along the trails in the alpine basins were beautiful, like these Columbine flowers.

Putnam/Lime Creek Saddle, The first pass over 12,400 ft.
Looking back down toward Silverton in the first picture and into Cataract Basin in the second.

We will cross the narrow saddle between the two horseshoe shaped chasms.

We crossed the saddle just above the cliff band and headed for the ridge on the other side of the basin. 

And our first significant snow field.

After the short climb to the top of Cataract/Porcupine Saddle we started the descent to the KT (Kam Traverse) Aid Station located at mile 11.5. It took me 4 hours, 15 minutes to cover the distance. Below is a picture on the descent to KT.  The traverse  is visible above the lower cliff bands on the far ride, lower right.

A little closer shot of the traverse just above the red colored cliff bands.

After the Kam Traverse the trail climbs to Grant/Swamp Pass, one of the most spectacular views of the entire course or anywhere in the San Juan's for that matter. This climb is fairly gentle until the final 500 or 600 yards to the pass.  

      The Kam Traverse is covered is wild flowers and has spectacular views back toward Silverton.   

Just a typical creek crossing.

The final climb up to Grant/Swamp Pass.

Grant/Swamp Pass, mile 14.9 at an elevation of 12,920 ft.
Island Lake from the top of the Pass.

Looking across to Oscar's Pass, our next pass, on the far ridge near the right side of the image.

  The climb up was easy.  The descent was another story. It can be described as a controlled fall or an out-of-control slide.  Either fits just fine. This is a 400 yard totally frightening skid. The best way to do this descent is step in a pile of river-rock size gravel and just slide down with the rocks for 10 or 15 feet. When you hit something solid you stop, take another step and slide down another 10 or 15 feet. Do Not Fall Forward!! 

The next 4 pictures are from trail marking not the race. I was not about to try this with a camera in my hand.
The last shot before starting down.

We actually all made it down alive.  Most of us did lost a little skin on the way.

The next aid station is Chapman Gulch at mile 18.1 and 10,190ft.  The descent down to Chapman is relatively easy (other than that first 400 yards) and the aid station is located in a huge grove of Aspen Trees. Chapman's is located just about a mile above the town of Ophir.  After the AS is where the fun begins.
Looking back up Swamp Canyon toward Grant/Swamp Pass on the descent to Chapman's.

After Chapman's Aid Station the first mile is pretty gently with only about 300 feet of elevation gain.  From there the trail begins to kick up significantly.  In the final 2 miles the trail climbs 2,660 feet over some of the most difficult terrain in the race.  And then, there are the two snow fields that have to be traversed.
The "very nice" trail up to Oscar's Pass.

More of that "very nice" trail.

The very nice trail with the treacherous show field thrown in. (Another do not fall spot!)

Oscar's Pass, Mile 21.3 at 13,140 ft. 
Top of Oscar's Pass looking back to Grant/Swamp, just right of center. Ophir pass road is left of center.

Oscar's Pass looking into Bridal Veil Basin.

The other side of Bridal Veil Basin looking at the Wasatch Saddle, our next destination.

There was a bit of snow int he basin.

After Oscar’s pass we entered Bridal Veil Basin for about half a mile then over the Wasatch Saddle into the Wasatch basin on the Wasatch Trail. Seems a bit odd since the Wasatch Range is in Utah towering over Salt Lake City. However, there is a mountain called Wasatch Mountain above the trail. This is the start of the 6.1 mile descent, dropping 4310 feet into Telluride.

Entering the Wasatch Basin.  Telluride Ski Resort's Gold Hill Lift is visible on the middle ridge, just below center.  The lift poles of Revelation Bowl can also be seen on the ridge above Gold Hill.

On the way down to Telluride,

Further down the beautiful Wasatch basin.

 Along Bear Creek, Telluride, headed down into Telluride. Town is just visible at the bottom of the canyon.
This is Bear Creek Telluride.  There are three "Bear Creeks" on the Hardrock Course.

Looks like Telluride must have an ongoing Cairn building competition about one mile above town. 

This is someone else's picture of the Telluride Aid Station but it is a pretty cool place.