"Perhaps the genius of ultrarunning is its supreme lack of utility. It makes no sense in a world of space ships and supercomputers to run vast distances on foot. There is no money in it and no fame, frequently not even the approval of peers. But as poets, apostles and philosophers have insisted from the dawn of time, there is more to life than logic and common sense."
- David Blaikie

Friday, October 29, 2010

Foothills Trail (FHT)

I'm starting to get my act together for a shot at the Foothills 77 Mi Trail on Nov 20th. Here's some more info about the trail and history of the run.

I've got USGS maps for the Table Rock, Eastatoe Gap,  Reid and Cashiers quadrangles up in my office and have ordered the Tamaassee and Walhalla quadrants just East of Satolah. I don't think the course strays into Satolah, but may need that one too. There's an actual trail map available at the Foothillstrail.org site that I ordered, 'cause the trail ain't on the USGS maps!

Jason Sullivan tells me the FHT is marked very well and they just added over 30 new trail signs about a month ago.  The only two tricky sections are the 9 miles along the Chattooga (Burrell's Ford to Cheohee Rd.) and three miles between Virginia Hawkins & Laurel Falls. The trail is blazed well, even through these sections, but there are some sharp turns to watch out for. 

Here's Jason's description of each section:

1.  Table Rock (14.5 Miles) starts with a steep 4 mile climb, levels off, then steadily climbs to Sassafras Mt. (SC's Highest Peak).  After this, you have 5 miles of nice downhills.  Possible aid points at 9.5 and at the end of this section.  

2.  Laurel Valley (33.5 Miles) begins in a gravel parking lot off HWY 178.  This section is very strenuous and remote.  There are no support areas through here so you need to stock up before heading in.  After the initial climb from the parking lot you will have some nice runnable single track & fire-road for about 8-9 miles. There is a tough climb at the end of the section that brings you out at Whitewater Falls around mile 48.  

3.  Whitewater Falls to Burrell's Ford (12.5 Miles).  3 mile switchback climb out of WWF which takes you to a road crossing called Sloan's Bridge.  Support can be had here.  Some of this section is technical, but after the initial climb from WWF, there are no more major climbs in this section.  As you leave Sloan's Bridge you head gradually uphills towards the Fish Hatchery which is about 3.3 miles.  Aid can be had here too.  From here there is an awesome 3.5 mile downhill section towards Burrell's Ford where you meet up with the Chattooga river.  Aid is possible here too.

4.  Burrell's Ford To Oconee State Park (16.3 Miles).  There are no major climbs in this section either.  However, the trail does get rather technical in places along the river.  There is no support areas through here until you reach Cheeohee road about 9 miles in.  The trail is moderate to easy for the final 6-7 miles.

So, Aid/Crew Access is avaialable at:
-Sassafrass Mt. 9.7 Miles
-Laurel Valley Access  14.5 Miles
-Upper Whitewater Falls 48 Miles
-Sloan Bridge 52.6 Miles
-Fish Hatchery 56 Miles
-Burrell's Ford 60 Miles
-Cheohee Road 72 Miles
That section through Laurel Valley looks like the hitch... 33.5 miles without aid is never anything to sneeze at. Going to have to add a new water purification system to my birthday wish list!

Now to round up some crew!

Hanging out with Laz / Thoughts on The Barkley

I was fortunate to have some time on Sunday morning after Laz's Backyard Ultra to hang out with him (and his little dog, Little) and enjoy the "backyard" at a somewhat slower pace. We talked about the race, dogs, the caves around his property, some stone steps that he's working on and... The Barkley.  Laz has a beautiful home and one of the coolest "yards" I've been allowed into.  Some pictures below from the morning.

The Barkley conversation left a mark...

I have been interested in The Barkley for a while now but have been non-committal about taking any kind of real shot at it. For one thing, it felt a little presumptuous to intend to actually finish. Especially without ever seeing the course or talking about it with someone who did. (I have met finishers Horton, Wood and recently JB, although we didn't talk about Barkley).  I thought the "fun run" (3 loop, 100k for "women, children, and wimps") might be a good goal, but that otherwise it might just be fun to go in prepared for and expecting humiliation (which is to say, not prepared at all). I think there have been >700 people now that have attempted the Barkley since 1986 and only 9 finishes within the 60hr cutoff. No shame in not finishing then, right?!

Well, right, but here's the thing. You still have to step correct. For me, this means some specific training and learning as much about the course and area as possible before race day (around April Fools Day). And, it means setting out on race day with the intention of not giving up. Flipping the grit bit. After talking with Laz about the vibe at Frozen Head when someone actually finishes... seeing that gleam in his eye when he talks about those who have... well, it's clear this challenge deserves nothing less than 100%. 

So, keep a close watch on your license plates my NC friends.

Description of The Barkley from a bootleg copy of the entry form...

"What is it you are looking for in a race? Do you want huge crowds of gushing admirers? How about sumptuous aid stations, with a huge selection of goodies? Do you want to succeed and think of yourself as god-like? Maybe you want sympathy and consolation in the event you should fall short? Perhaps you are seeking well-marked, broad, and smooth footpaths? You might even be seeking an event where your pacer can hold your little hand and coax you thru the rough spots? Then throw this away and take the Barkley off your race list.

On the other hand,if you are looking for a racing experience that has been compared to being punched in the face for 60 hours, if you truly desire to be bruised, cut, battered, and left to lonesome hopelessness, on godforsaken trails in the middle of no-where, in the middle of the night, this might be the ticket. If you dream of clinging to a rocky hillside in pitch black darkness and/or impenetrable fog, in a freezing downpour, listening to your teeth chatter and wondering exactly where in the hell you are, then this might be just the race for you. If you want to return home to scorn from so-called trail runners without the nads to even read this entry form, you are on the right track. If you want to don your race-shirt at the next event, and have other runners move away from you, for fear they will be contaminated, this is definitely something to consider."

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Race Rebort: Laz's Backyard Ultra

Summary: 2nd place finish with 56.5 miles on a variety of running surfaces including bushwhacking, newly cut trails, fields, and some road. Some representative pictures of each of these below...
I felt most at home on the cut trails but really enjoyed the bushwhacking (despite nearly bleeding out after the first loop). The roads were not as scary as I had imagined, but still my least favorite. 

The lead pack including Will, Case, Carl and I set out on a good pace for the initial 2.5mi road section of the North Loop, arriving at the field and cut trail all together. The lead swapped around every time someone took a wrong turn here and I think I was a couple back when we crawled through a hole in a fence and began the singletrack section over some interesting exposed rock (picture to left). I danced into the lead and stretched it out a little through here. Case later remarked that I took off so fast on this section he didn't even notice I was gone. I think that was probably just because we were all watching our feet so closely! It was great toward the end of this section seeing Laz and some of the race volunteers as they cheered us through the woods. It took 49 minutes to complete the 5.5 mi North Loop the first time and then it was out on the more challenging terrain of the 4 mi South Loop. 

I burned a few minutes trying to figure out how to begin the South Loop, backtracking to the start at one point and shouting to Laz, "Hey, where's the course go?".  Definitely should have taken a look at the course before the race started. Will and Carl caught up to me here and probably had a good laugh as I was approached by a feral pit bull looking mongrel dog(i.e. the TN welcome committee ).  This thing would not leave me alone so I picked up and started swinging a big stick. Finally I got away and started bushwhacking my way through the briers and brush. Will was just behind me and we overlapped a few times as I would stop and scurry about looking for markers. (Note: Terrible race strategy to be out in front at this point!). I finally got back to the start/finish concluding the 1st full figure 8 loop in 1:30 (World Record). The race volunteers were a little shocked to see anyone and said, "did you miss a turn or something?!",  to which I had to laugh... "No, I missed about 10 turns, and had to backtrack to get back on 'course'"!

The next figure 8 started with a reverse direction North Loop. 20 or 30 minutes in I saw Carl and Will coming at me with Paul Melzer not far behind. First thought was: Hey, this is a reverse loop, right? They confirmed that it was, but that I must have missed a turn and got back on course going the wrong direction. This seemed unlikely to me at the time since I felt like I had always been following markers, but there are sections of the North Loop that are like cerebral cortex and I probably left course briefly and picked up markers again without even noticing. (Drat, burned my lead). Carl later said I probably picked up an extra .6mi. I have no idea. Carl and Will were engrossed in a conversation about something at this point and somehow I had gotten in between them and was making it harder for them to communicate, so I asked Will if I could step through. I kept a small lead back to the start and we all headed out together on a reverse South Loop. I finally regained some sense here and settled into a nice pace with Carl and Will on point. Much easier to follow them than find the markers myself! At this point we were already able to see the beginnings of a trail forming. (This would continue until later in the day someone described the South Loop as a "Superhighway" ... at least compared to the first pass through.) Will, Carl and I wrapped up this loop together and headed back out on the North Loop again in the initial CCW direction with Will and Carl gapping me on the road.
I lost sight of Will and Carl when we got to the field and singletrack sections of the 3rd North Loop. I was carrying 1 bottle here and thought I was drinking about half a bottle at the start/finish aid station, so I was surprised to notice that I was pretty dehydrated. This got worse as the loop progressed and by time I got back to the start I was in the ditch. Novice mistake. A smart person even tried to warn me about this and I still blew it. I happily accepted a second hand bottle here and spent some time trying to get some more fluids down. My North Loops at this point were 49, 1:04 and now 1:07, but I had been off course that 2nd one so my pace was slowing worse than it looks. 

One more South loop in 50 minutes and an out and back got me to the 50k in 5:37. My South Loop splits were 40, 43, and 50 - definitely some dehydration slowing me down there.

2 more figure 8s brought me to the 50M point in 9:23. I got my North Loops back to 1:01s and South Loops were very comfortably 50 and 56 with some walking and fw conversations with folks going the other way (John Price and Abi Meadows).  When I got back to the start Carl was wearing pants and lounging in a chair. I congratulated him on some fantastic running and let him know I wasn't quite done yet. I thought maybe he'd want to join me for another loop, but he was pretty satisfied with the day and his weekly mileage in prep for Mother Road 100 coming up.  Carl's the man. Vol State Winner a couple yrs ago and super nice guy.

I took one last easy North Loop in 1:16, doing some walking and taking in the sights. I went reverse direction from Will so I saw he was ahead by a couple miles and knew there was no catching him with time remaining. When I got back to the start I had 55.6 miles and Will had taken off on one more South Loop to try to get as close as he could to the 100k mark. Carl had a pretty firm grip on 3rd place but had to put his flip flops on and walk a couple of the .5 mi out and back sections to hold off Paul Melzer. I opened a Two Hearted Ale and joined the shenanigans, adding another mile for 56.6 total for a podium finish in my only race in 2010!

This weekend was a total blast. The course, the volunteers, the support, perfect weather... Great crowd of Hardrock/Barkley/Vol State veterans and up and comers. And Laz...the whole Cantrell Clan really including Sandra, Case, and Amy... just priceless. Couldn't ask for more in a weekend. Some very special people came together to support this madness. People who do this because it is simply what they enjoy doing with their time. Hoping to spend a lot more time with these folks in the years to come. Thanks all!

Final Results that Laz sent out:
1) will taggart 61 miles
2) joe lea 56.5
3) carl laniak 51
4) paul melzer 50.5
5) mark dorion 47
6) abi meadows 44.5
7) shannon burke 41
8) case cantrell 40
9) josh weisner 36.5
10) john price 35.5
11) leonard martin 33.5
12) thomas nagies 33
13) michael hall, iliana dimitrova, diane taylor, mike potter, susan thompson, stuart gleman, mike dobies, naresh kumar, mike melton, mike o'melia, mike samuelson, steve durbin 31

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Laz's Backyard Ultra

Getting excited about Laz's Backyard Ultra coming up 10/23. Not much known about the event yet since this will be the first year, but with Gary Cantrell at the helm it promises to be *unique*. 

The event will be sunup to sundown in and around Laz's property on a 9.5 mile figure 8 course including:
  • 2.5 miles flat & fast
  • 3.0 miles cleared undulating trail
  • 2.0 miles flat cow pasture
  • 2.0 miles uncleared hilly trail
After every 3 laps there will be a bonus 2.5 miles of flat fast road. (Some people like this kind of thing, but this worries me far more than "uncleared hilly trail").

Laz calculates that 50 km will consists of:
  • 10 miles flat & fast road
  • 9 miles "fast" trail
  • 6 miles cow pasture
  • 6 miles "slow" trail
50 miles would be:
  • 15 miles fast road
  • 15 miles fast trail
  • 10 miles cow pasture
  • 10 miles slow trail
And 100k is 50k doubled.... Math is fun!

No idea what to expect here. That's a lot of variety in healthy doses. Being not particularly good at anything may work to my advantage! I think I can handle the trail, the pasture, and the uncleared trail, but, okay, I've never run more than a couple miles on pavement at any given time. Seriously. I skipped the whole 5k, 10k, half & marathon thing and the thought of running 15-20 miles on pavement in one day is as mind boggling to me as Virginius Pass is to your average NYC Marathoner. So, good. Every good race pushes you out of your comfort zone a little.

Goals?? #1 Prove to the world that Polyester collared shirts are not only stylish, but are actually THE next big thing in endurance sportswear. #2  Win.  #3 Figure out how to get into Barkley.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Tap tap tap... is this thing on?

Hello? Testing, testing...

Wow, been a while since I've posted anything here. Not much to report this year. After having some arthroscopic surgery last year to address some meniscus issues I wound up taking a long, frustrating break. Lots of single digit mileage weeks. Some 0 mileage weeks.

Tried to rally in Jan... did an 8 mile run in the snow under a big moon (spectacular) and my knee was quite sore afterward. Drat.

Ran 13 miles in Feb.

Tried to rally in March... Fail. Longest run was pacing Robert "Kerndog" Kern 1 loop at Umstead 100. It was also great to see Warwick "Morph" Ames and Bill "Icarus" Vanca finish their 1st 100 milers. What a group!

April and May were not good (don't even ask). Finally, at end of May, with the help and advice of my Guru Physical Therapist Brian Beatty I got on the bike, refocused on PT and started running short distances every other day. We settled on August as the timeframe when I could start to think about doing any real training again.

By June I was feeling a little better. Paced my friend Jeff "Wackus" Patterson through his first 100 at Old Dominion. He did it! Awesome job with only 30% slowing in the 2nd half. Toward the end he was really pushing to get under 24 and calculating pace... just completely in the middle of it all. As much pain as he was in late in the race, I would have given anything to trade places with him.

Around the same time in June I got my arse handed to me on some group ride with bunch of people I didn't know (I will have my revenge on you people.) That fueled some hill repeats on the bike that brought back some cardio and leg strength and I started feeling a little better on the trail.

Mid July I was back at Hardrock to pace my friend Kean "Gumbi" Hankins. I was on the waitlist and actually got pretty close, but wouldn't have started. Seeing the views from Handies Peak in the San Juans fueled the fire some more. I talked to some marmots who were very nice. On one of the last days there I made the climb up to Grant Swamp Pass with Janet "Plank" Hankins and then in a moment of divine inspiration sprinted down to Island Lake, dove in and swam out the the island rock. "That wasn't a swim, it was a Baptism."

By the end of July I couldn't contain it any longer and set out on a spree of 20 milers every other day for a couple weeks. "Just until I get into shape" I said. And "I'm only running every other day." Slow. Cautious. Soft, even surfaces. Fitness came back quickly at first and then the excitement of being able to run was gradually replaced by the realization that it would take a loong time and a lot of hard work to get back to where I was mid 2009, let alone improve. Still, I was running again and could look back on my logbook and track my progress against old training run PRs and it helped to see improvements come in weeks that took months in '06 & '07.

Weekly long runs got longer throughout August. 20, 25, 30, 30. I discovered the all night run... put the kids to bed, go for a 7-10 hr run. Bit snakey at night this time of year it turns out. How this tactic escaped me in the past I'll never know! It's a thing of beauty when done right (trick is to stockpile sleep for a few days leading up to it). Having TrailHeads friends like Adam "Dorph" Byerly and Kurt "Snuffy" Rosencrantz out there all night made it pretty fun too.

Then in Sept, I logged two 40 milers in the same week rounding out 161 mile week. Time to sign up for something, but what? I saw an email on the ultralist from Gary "Laz" Cantrell about something he called the Backyard Ultra. I couldn't find any information (all the more interesting) so I sent him an email to ask when it would be (it's 10/23). No response. Next email from him on this to the ultralist had the date and the list of entrants, including my name! It's an 11 hr (sunup to sundown) race on mixed surfaces (more on that later). Ok... that's good for something different and I don't feel like throwing my name in the hat for any buckle races quite yet.

Wrapped up Sept with some great running and a beautiful wedding in
Telluride, CO. I got back to some of my favorite passes including Grant Swamp, Oscars, and Virginius. Then the last day went back up Bear Creek Trail above Ouray. This place gets harder and harder to leave every time!

started out well with some pacing at Grindstone for my friend Adam "Dorph" Byerly who completed his first 100 miler! Very cool course. Yes, I do a lot of pacing: It's fun, helpful, and very educational. I think I've paced something like 14 people now and learn something every time.

So, here we are, October 5th, the 1 yr anniversary of hearing that I would need arthroscopic surgery and some "time off". If my calculations are correct I'm about back to where I was in early 2008. Coming up on 1000 miles for the year (vs 2800+ in '08 and 2000 jan-aug '09).

Okay, that's the year to date. Bit of a brain dump, but there you go. Shorter posts from now on...