Thursday, November 17, 2011

Training by Racing

Back in September I decided to run three races over five weeks.  They were two 50K runs on week one and week three and a 50 mile run on the fifth week.  I thought this would be a great way to train and it was. (Of course, I didn't finish the 50 miler, but that had nothing to do with back to back to back races.)  I have decided to continue racing as often as possible.

Last weekend I ran two races.  Neither was as ultra, but together they were a marathon although I made a modification to the second race to make the combined total an ultra.  More on that later.

Last weekend there were two 21K races here in Birmingham.  The first, the Ruffner Mountain 21K was Saturday and the second was the Xterra 21K at Oak Mountain State Park on Sunday.  I entered both.  The Ruffner race had a lot of tough climbs with about 1,400 feet of elevation gain and some really rugged trails.  I ran 2:10:13 and came in 16 out of 115 starters.  I was happy with that.

The Xterra race was not quite as hard with a fairly flat first 4 miles but the 21K runners were running with 10K runners and we all got caught in the middle of the Duathlon runners that started 30 minutes after the 21 and 10K.  They were really slow and obviously not trail runners so I had to spend a lot of time jumping off the single track trail, dodging trees and sprinting around very slow runners.  Somehow in the middle of all that madness I missed the place the 10K and 21K split and I ran the final two miles of the 10K course plus an out-back section of the finish of the 21K before realizing I was not on the 21K course.

When a corner worker tried to direct me to the finish, I told her I had not run any thing close to 21 K and started back up the trail to find out where I went  wrong.  I started climbing back up the "yellow" trail and within 100 yards came to a "blue plate" with an arrow pointing back down where I just came from.  (The 21K was to follow blue plates and I had been following blue plates.)  Obviously, I got off course somewhere way back.  Then I ran over to the finish area and found the "main guy" from Dirty Spoke Productions and asked where I missed the turn.  He told me and I headed back up the Peavine Falls Road about half a mile to where I missed the split.  I hopped back on the trail after loosing about 30 minutes and running at least an extra three miles.  I was now dead last.  I ran as fast as I could and made up a lot of ground and actually ended up missing 3rd in my age group by 3 minutes.  My time of 2:38:53 and I missed an age group win by 17 minutes.  But I got in a good workout.

After failing to finish the North Face Endurance Challenge 50 mile race in Pine Mountain, Georgia, I came home and immediately entered the Lookout Mountain 50 Mile Race in Chattanooga on December 17th.  This weekend I will have my only hard run since the 50 miles on October 15.  I plan to run 6 hours with, I hope, 5 hours of hill repeats.  It is time to start getting ready for Hardrock.  The drawing is December 1st!!!

Then I will recover by running two hours Christmas weekend and 4 hours New Years weekend the jumping up to 8 hours on January 7.  On the 14th I will run 6 hours and two hours the following weekend.  If it looks like I am tapering again that is because I am.  On February 4th I am entered in the Rocky Raccoon 100 mile race in Huntsville, Texas.  This is one of the flattest 100s around and I am curious to see how I do.  Flat hundreds are supposed to be incredibly hard because you have to run so much of the time.

Here are a couple of pictures I borrowed of the RR course from Wayne Nelson's Blog.
 A picture of Anton Kurpicka at Rocky Raccoon.  Run #1  I have never seen a picture of him wearing a shit.  Must me a sponsor's shirt.

I think this is the Start/Finish area.  This is a five loop course.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Great Experience for Ultrarunners

I did something a little different a couple of weeks ago.  I helped with the Pinhoti 100.  Todd Henderson, RD of the Pinhoti was an invaluable help with the Run for Kids Challenge last year and I told him I would be available to fill in where ever and for as long I was needed.  He took me up on the offer.

Over the two weekends before the race I helped with trail marking which is a formidable task on a 100 mile long course like Pinhoti.  The course has about 75 miles of single track trails in some very remote sections of the Talladega National Forest in North East Alabama.  I had run the race in 2008 and the Mt. Cheaha 50K in 2010, which runs on some of the same course in the opposite direction, so I was pretty familiar with some of the more difficult sections to follow.  I still got lost a couple of times.

The race started at 6:00 AM Saturday, November 5th.  I arrived at aid station 4 about 9:30 to pick up the trailer with all the supplies for aid stations through 16, including water.  The trailer was a bit heavy for my little Lexus SUV but it managed. By the time I arrived at AS #4 Karl Meltzer had already gone through the aid station on his way to a new course record, 16:42:20.  I hooked up the trailer, which eliminated the rear suspension on my truck, and hauled the load up to the top of Mt Cheaha to the aid station at Bald Rock, mile 40.9.  I unloaded drop bags, water jugs and aid station supplies.  Fortunately, that make the trailer a little lighter and I shifted some of the weight to the back of trailer before heading down the other side of Cheaha, the highest point in Alabama.  (Did I mention I had no hookup for trailer lights.)

The first stop after Cheaha was aid station 8 at the Silent Trail, then to Hubbard Creek at mile 52 (about 4 miles up a winding, fairly rugged and very narrow gravel road.)  Next was Adams Gap at mile 55.34.  Here I had to wait a while because no one was there to start setting up the aid station.  From there I drove over another narrow gravel and rock road called the Talladega Skyway, down the ridgeline of the Talladega Range to Clairmont Gap at mile 60.  Next was Chandler Springs, Porters Gap (the start of the Cheaha 50K) at mile 68.8.  I skipped the next two aid stations and went to # 16, Bulls Gap at mile 85.63.

The trailer was now empty so I headed back to Adams Gap.  I got back about 6:30 PM and settled in to wait for the aid station to close at 11:00.  This is the "happening" aid station of the race.  They play very loud music that runners can hear long before the reach Adams Gap.  This is a drop bag AS and Adams Gap is manned by a bunch of very enthusiastic volunteers.  They have a lot of lights, hot food and a large fire going and a satellite TV set up to watch the Alabama-LSU Game.  This is also the aid station where runners are past the hardest sections of the race.  Unfortunately, it was very windy and cold on top of the "gap." (In the South, they are Gaps.  In the West, it would be a Saddles.  In Europe and Asia it is a Col.)

As aid stations closed they brought their leftover supplies to Adams Gap and I loaded them into the trailer.  Finally about 11:30 the last runners were through and I loaded all the drop bags and supplies from Adams Gap.  Four runners had dropped at Adams Gap that needed a way back to the start so 2 runners rode with me and two more followed in the car belonging to the "sweep" and we headed back over the road to aid station 11.  There we gathered up more supplies and two more runners and we were off to Sylacauga and the finish.

This plan would have been great except I did not know how to find Sylacauga.  I retraced the roads I had driven earlier while making deliveries to AS16.  Todd had drawn me a map of how to get to each aid station but I still made three wrong turns and had to make a "U" turn after driving a short distance and realizing I was not going the right way.  Every time I turned around the the guys following me in the sweeps car looked at me with a bit of concern.  I think they had some doubt they were ever going to get back to Sylacauga.  I did to!

Finally, we reached the road to aid station 16 and passed a sign, Sylacauga 12 miles.  We made it back.  I dropped off the runners and took the trailer over to the high school stadium (finish line) and unhitched it.  I also removed my headlamp from the back of the trailer.  Since I had no trailer light connections on my car I had taped an orange trail marking flag over the lens of my headlamp and tied the headlamp to the back of the trailer.  I was glad the car was following me.

I got back to the start/finish line about 1:30AM.  Todd had gone back out to remark some of the trail where someone had pulled up the flagging at a road intersection and a couple of runners missed a turn.  I headed back to aid station 13, Porters Gap to wait for it to close at 2:30 and pick up supplies.  I stopped at # 12 on the way to check on a friend Dan, running the Chandler Springs AS but he had packed up and gone by then.  I found out later that he had no help and ran the aid station all night by himself.  If I had  known this, I could have gone back and helped instead of standing around freezing at Adams Gap.

I waited at Porters gap until the sweep runner reached the AS about 3:00, picked up a couple of more runners that had dropped and headed back to Sylacauga.  One of these runners had lost his running partner who had dropped earlier and I made a trip out to the hotel and waited while he tried to find his friend.  We then went back to the start/finish where I left him and went to get the trailer and haul it over to the Rec' Department to unload the drop bags.  The drop bags were loaded in large garbage bags so Me and another guy carried them into the rec center and unloaded the them in an organized piles by aid station.

The cook was making breakfast and I was really hungry and sleepy so I decided to try to sleep a few minutes while waiting for breakfast.  I sat down for a few minutes and gave up on sleep so I got some coffee and checked on breakfast.  It was about 6:15 AM and there was no sign of breakfast being served so I gave up and headed back to Birmingham, about 45 minutes away.  I stopped by McDonald's and got an Egg McMuiffin, hash browns and orange juice and headed home.  I got home a little after 7:00 and did manage to sleep 3 hours, but I hate to waste a day so I got up and got busy.

Although I was exhausted and it took a few days to recover, it was a blast.  I met a lot of great people and had a lot of fun.  Now I have a problem.  I really want to run the race next year, but I want to help too.  I guess I will wait to see how things unfold next year.  If you haven't done so, volunteer for a major ultra trail race.  See what it is like to work you butt off all night long while freezing in the middle of nowhere to help other runners achieve their dreams.  It is truly a rewarding experience.