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 Tailwind.com. 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