Monday, April 30, 2012

Promise Land 2012 or Running with Miss Leah

 I thought about titling this post  "Two Races in One" due to the Jeckyl and Hyde nature of the days weather but we'll get to that later. As I posted in my preview, I was hopeful for good weather and conditions and that my recovery from Umstead would allow me a shot at a course pr.
After emerging from my tent at 4:30 am before the start it appeared that at least the weather would cooperate. It was in the upper 40's, clear skies with a million stars overhead and a forecast of upper 60's with only 10% chance of rain. Oh yeah !

 With about 10 minutes to go I headed over to the starting line eager to began the day's journey. I lined up with Jenn  the Ultra Angel but I knew we probably would not be spending much time together on this day. I had the splits from each aid station from my 2007 course pr written on my arm so I could quickly tell if I was on pace for a good run. Promptly at 5:30 am after singing the National Anthem and a prayer from David Horton we headed up the gravel road in the darkness for the first 2.6 miles to aid station one at Overstreet Falls. The road is flat for the first quarter mile but then gradually begins to climb becoming ever steeper as we ascend to the trailhead.

  I tried to run as much as possible until the gradient became too steep and then settled in to a strong powerwalk. It's really hard to judge how you feel and how the pace is going on the section so I was very happy when I passed by the aid station and I was exactly to the second  for that first split compared to 07, arriving in 42:07. I didn't need anything so I immediately started up the steep and rocky trail that would take us to the top of Onion Mt. Within moments I heard a young lady behind me ask how if I had run this race before. I replied that yes, this was my 6th time racing. She then said this was her first ultra and would I mind if she paced off of me.  Without looking back I told her that she was welcome to run with me as long as she wanted.

  It's a good thing I enjoy talking and running with people because she sure was full of questions about not only this race and the course but running in general. After a few minutes I could tell she seemed to be breathing pretty hard and my initial thoughts were that she was in way over her head and I would be alone again before too long but she seemed like a really nice young lady and I was glad to have the company. By now the sun was rising and I was pointing out some of my favorite views and describing the next section of the course. I couldn't feel much better at this point if I had to and in these early miles I was feeling confident of having a good day.

  As we ran along on the grassy Glenwood horse trail I felt I was making good time. We were having a great conversation interrupted occasionally as I would pass or be passed by one of the many friends out on the course. This is a longer than advertised section  and I was explaining "Horton Miles" to her when we finally came within sight of the aid station at Reed Creek. Leah seemed to be in a rhythm now and running well so for the first time I glanced back to see what she looked like since it seemed we were going to be together for awhile. At this point it was still all about me and my quest for the course pr so I was in and out of the aid station quickly but she was determined to be my shadow so she followed me out  while stuffing some food in her mouth.
 I was almost 4 minutes behind pace now which was a bit disappointing but I still felt good so the quest for the pr was still on. We began the climb up to the top of Apple Orchard Mt still chatting away. She must have had a hundred questions about everything and I was happy to answer them and encourage her. She told me she had only run one marathon before so now I was really thinking she was in for a rude awakening before long. By now the day was gorgeous with the temps rising but still very comfortable or in a word, perfect for the race.

  We made a good effort going up  to the parkway and then ran strong all the way down to Sunset Fields. I felt great and she was still my shadow matching me step for step as we came into the aid station. I lost yet another  2 minutes in that section so once again I was in and out very quickly with Leah right behind me. As we once again entered the rocky single track I told her my story of "dancing" through the rocks and in a few minutes she said yep, it looked like I was dancing. Well she was doing a fine job of staying right with me despite her lack of experience. The questions continued and I continued to describe the course as we moved along finally reaching one of my favorite sections of the course where the trail parallels the whitewater creek down to the Cornelius Creek Aid Station. This section is so beautiful and every year I wish I could spend hours slowly walking down to the creek, playing in it and taking pictures but even taking a glance is risky business on this rocky downhill trail.

  We enjoyed crossing the creek and cooling off the feet and soon enough we were into the aid station. I saw my friend Charles West there and he asked me how I was doing on time. Well, I had lost yet another 4 minutes despite feeling great and running well .I guess feeling good is a  lot slower when your 5 years older at my age. I was now down 10 minutes and a pr was out of the question but I still felt great so I was going to keep going as fast as possible and still have a shot at a decent time and maybe my 2nd best at least.

  The next mile or so is a flat gravel road so I was running pretty hard hoping to make some time. For the first time Leah was starting to mention that her legs were getting really sore and tired so I told her that was completely normal after that long downhill pounding we had just finished. I could sense that she wanted to walk some  but I told her there would be a chance for a little breather when we hit the White Tail trail. She did really like that section and before long we were at the Colon Hollow aid station where once again I lost 2 minutes off the pr.

  It was soon after leaving the aid station that I think I had unknowingly began to lollygag a little. We were enjoying a great conversation and she was still peppering me with questions. We enjoyed a good laugh over the joke of how I became "Ultraman" I told her all about my Angels and when she asked if I'd ever run Boston I got a bit emotional as I told her Karla's story. 6 years now and every time I tell it to someone new I get choked up. About this time she confided to me that she didn't ever finish that marathon she had ran had but dropped out at mile 21 with heat exhaustion. About this time that we heard the thunder and in just a few minutes the rain began to fall along with the temperature.

  I could tell she was tired but was still in great spirits and I guess it was somewhere about this time that my focus went from running fast to seeing to it that Leah made it to the finish. I began to run and told her we needed to keep it going now. Within just minutes it seemed my hands began freezing and before long we were soaking wet. We finally we made it into Cornelius Creek for the 2nd time losing a whopping 11 more minutes off my goal pace but by now it didn't matter. I started heading back towards the bridge and was waiting for  Leah. She lost sight of me and thought I had left her behind  but I wasn't going to do that to her. Not now with just the last big climb to go.

 Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Apparently someone had told her about the steps and how tough they were but since she was not familiar with the course my description of where they were was not helping her too much. We began the steady climb trying to run a little bit while we still could before it got too steep and rocky. It was raining pretty hard now and the higher we climbed the colder it got and I was beginning to worry about hypothermia, not only for me but especially for her because she was just wearing a racing singlet over her sports bra so I know she had to be cold. The trail was getting very muddy  and treacherous in spots now and I kept looking back to make sure she was still right behind me.

 We finally made it to the falls and I would have loved to have taken some time to enjoy and take some pictures but I knew we had to keep moving as the conditions continued to deteriorate. Ok Leah, now here are the steps !  See, they aren't that bad and look at that beautiful view ! Yes the worst is over but there is still a lot of climbing to go before we reach the top.

   Well, normally the worst is over but today it just kept getting colder and getting windier the higher up the mountain we climbed and to make matters worse the dirt had become a mud with the consistency of chocolate pudding making for some slow slippery progress. Leah was still right there but she mentioned she was getting a little dizzy feeling. I knew that was an early sign of hypothermia as well as low blood sugar but all I could do was keep climbing and encouraging her along and that we were almost to the top. Surprisingly we made it to the top under those conditions only 6 minutes slower than on my pr day. I think the cold was really motivating me to push it  so we could head down to hopefully warmer temperatures.  The rain had stopped but the wind was blowing and I was freezing so a quick gel and some coke and time to roll !

   We had a slight downhill   for 3/4 mile and then the last little climb for about half a mile back to the top of Onion Mt. I told her that now it really was all downhill and she had it made. About that time there was a bright flash of lightning with a quick crash of thunder as another storm hit right on tip of us. Leah flinched and asked if we were going to be alright. I told her, well the only thing we can do about it right now is to run and pray. She took me at my word and the girl took off ! The trail going down here had turned into a river of mud covering the rocks beneath. I was trying to be careful but still trying to keep up. She looked back a couple of times and asked if I was alright and I assured her I was coming, just trying not to get hurt. She opened up about a hundred yard gap on me but we both passed several people that were not even trying to run on the treacherous trail.  I was finally able to close the gap and was just a few steps behind as we came off the trail and onto the steep downhill gravel road.

  I had been needing to pee for a long time so I finally stepped off to the side thinking I would have no problem catching up to her now that I didn't have to worry about the footing. Boy was I wrong. Within a few minutes she was out of sight and I was running just about as hard as I could. After a few minutes a man caught up to me that was from Raleigh and I fell in pace with him. Finally in  a few minutes I spotted Leah up ahead and could tell I was closing the gap. Just past the mile to go mark I caught up to her. She was happy to see me and told me to go on ahead but I slowed down and told her, no were finishing this thing together.
and that is what we did.

 I thought that feeling as good as I did  that I would be disappointed with the time but it turned out to be a very enjoyable day thanks to sharing it with this 19 year old young lady from Va. Tech. Despite the rough conditions over the last 3 hours she never whined or complained and I was so proud of her gutsy performance. This rookie exhibited all the necessary attributes to be an Ultraman's angel for sure. It was truly a pleasure to meet her and spend the day on the trail with her and I know that there is nothing she won't be able to do if she puts her mind to it.

 Saw this elevation comparison for Promise land and Boston. this kind of puts it in perspective next time someone says Boston is a "tough " course.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Off to the Promise Land

The Promise Land 50K++ that is. This is one of my favorite races so I'm really looking forward to going back and racing it while I'm in decent shape. The race is held in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virgina just North of Bedford over a very rugged and scenic course. See pictures here.

 This will be my 6th time racing the course and one year when it didn't fit my racing schedule I swept 25 miles of the course. I ran my best time back in 2007, running 7:11 that year but then I was not able to return until 2011. Of course last year was just 5 days after running in the Boston Marathon so my goal was to just have fun and run as much as possible with my friend Jenn. you can go back to the blog archives from last April and see the videos from that one. To give you a comparison of the difficulty of the course, my 50k pr is 4:44 compared to that 7:11 here

. I've been feeling great and seemed to be recovered from the 100 miler 4 weeks ago so I'm hoping to run well this year. The plan is to get the first big climb done and see how I'm feeling. If all is well then it's game on and I'll shoot for a course pr. I've got my splits from that 2007 race so as long as I'm close I'll keep pushing. But if I'm not feeling that good or way off the pace I can still enjoy the beauty and have some fun.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Umstead 2012- A look back

It's been three weeks now since the race so I've had a lot of time to look back on it. Not much time for writing though due to a busy time at work. Although my time was a little disappointing to me, over all it was a really great weekend in so many ways. I think that one reason I can look back so positively is because m recovery has really been a bit amazing to me. By Monday after the race I was not feeling much more soreness than if I'd done a long training run and was walking around normally. By mid-afternoon I ran across the parking lot just to see if I was really feeling that good. Gave serious thought to going for a run after work but I decided to play it smart and rest a few days. i waited until Thursday and then went for a 4 miler and was almost shocked at how good I felt. No pain and my pace was about normal for my easy runs. A week later I put in a normal 45 mile week of training and followed that up this week with another 45 miles. Sweet !
Once again I must thank Blake and all the staff ad volunteers that make this race so special. It takes a tremendous amount of time and effort to put on an event like this and do it as well as they do. I'll be looking forward to once again being one of those volunteers for the next few years and maybe I'll give it another shot in 2016 or so. Other than my own race, it was a lot of fun keeping up with the training of quite a few local runners that were either going for their first 100 or giving it another shot after a dnf last year. Congratulations to Charles Akers, Jeff Sackoroff, Shannon Johnstone, Lauren Wilkins and Linda Banks as well as the 64 total first timers. Oh and no I am not forgetting one very special first timer, Amy Surrette. I think that watching Amy finish was more satisfying to me than my on effort out there. I had the pleasure of meeting Amy nearly four years ago, not long after she moved to Raleigh. At that time her longest race had been a half marathon and she was hoping to run her first full marathon that November. She asked to join with me and my Angels on our long training runs and soon we became friends. I decided that I would run the last portion of that race with her and it was there under tough conditions and under-trained that I saw she had something special about her spirit and tenacity. I guess I was a bad influence on her along with the other Angels as well as several others in the local community because a year later she was headed off to run her first 50k at Derby. Soon after she asked me if I thought she should do the Boogie as her first 50 miler and without hesitation I told her I had no doubt she could do it. Despite some who would doubt her, she not only finished but made it look easy. So when she said she wanted to do the Umstead 100 this year I was committed to giving her all the encouragement and advice I could as we continued to train together nearly every weekend as well as the occasional weekday run. Well, she once again proved her great spirit and determination in a gutsy performance that moved many to tears. Yep, I'm mighty proud of this young lady and so happy to have her as a training partner, friend and Angel. I'm linking to her report on her blog here for your reading pleasure.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Me and Umstead. Part 8. The 2012 Race

As always there was much excitement in the air as I arrived at Camp Lapihio for the Friday evening check in and spaghetti dinner. It was a wonderful afternoon and early evening for catching up with old friends and getting in the mood for an adventure.. Everything was going well with my training and I was brimming with confidence as the eve of the race approached with my only concern being how the weather would turn out for us.

Rain. Hmmmm, not what I was hoping for as I made the drive back to the park early Saturday for the race. At least it was a warm rain in the upper 60's but my real concern was what would happen if the rain stopped. Oh well, nothing I could do about it so no need to spend anytime worrying about it. I made my last minute preparations and headed over to the start. I lined up with Amy and gave her some last minute advice and planned to stick with her for the first couple of miles before it would be time for us to go and chase our separate dreams.

Things went as planned and just about the two mile mark she slowed down and sent me on ahead. The rain was not heavy, just light and steady and it was really a non issue for me at this point. Lap one went exactly as I had planned. I was feeling great, and hit my time goal of 2:17, just like I had practiced it. I was using my car for my drop bag because part of my plan to save time was to stay out of the lodge until the race was over. It is a time sucker in there with too many people to talk to and and too cozy when the going gets rough. Jenn the Aid station captain in training was there to greet me and I gabbed a bag of food to carry with me and was out in about 1 minute.

The next couple of laps were just about the same with the light rain continuing and my splits close to what I wanted them to be. Everything was going well, my energy level was good, the legs had adjusted to the task at hand after the usual tiredness that kicks in around mile 25. I did feel a blister coming on my right big toe since the 2nd lap but it was just a minor irritation that I chose to ignore. I was also developing a hot spot on the left forefoot but I chose to ignore it also and hope for the best.

At this point I had been hoping it would remain overcast with some drizzle all day to keep it cool but by the time I was heading out for lap 4 the sun was breaking through. As I feared the temperature rose and the humidity stayed very high. I don't think it ever got hotter than the upper 70's but with the humidity it felt stifling along the trail, especially on Turkey Creek. I tried to slow down and back off the effort hoping that I could stay close to my goal during the day and maybe pick up the effort once the sun set. My time for that lap was over 15 minutes slower than I hoped for and already I knew my fantasy goal for 21 hours was not going to happen but if I could just hold it together the 2nd half the pr was still likely. I did get a new 50 mile pr of 10:02. It may seem odd to break a 50 mile pr in a 100 miler but my previous best was halfway in the 2007 Rocky Raccoon 100. Although I have done quite a few 50 milers , they have all been on tough courses or under tough conditions. Maybe someday I can find a fast course and a cool day combined.

So anyway, back to this race. I had made the decision to allow myself some pacers for the first time and about a week before my buddy Jerry Paul called and asked if he could come run a lap with me. We haven't had a chance to run together in a couple of years so I was happy to have him come join me for lap 5. As we started out I was still feeling ok and hoping to run well but it still felt awful out there. I was moving along well but as we approached the Turkey Creek aid station I could feel the wheels coming off. I took a few minutes to try and gather myself and get in fluids and some calories but nothing seemed to be helping.

I was doing some suffering on North Turkey Creek and my nemesis , the spasming diaphragm kicked in full force making my life miserable. I assured Jerry that I was not dying despite all the noises, the struggling breathing and all the moaning and groaning. By now I was really not having much fun and if I couldn't get this turned around soon dropping out was beginning to sound like a really good idea.

One great thing about this race are the many wonderful volunteers and I am lucky to know so many of them through my connections with this race, the ultrarunning community and the NCRC. Every time through the aid stations I had people looking out for me and lots of cheering. Also due to the out and back spur and the return trip on Reedy Creek Road from Graylin to the Camp, you get to see so many of the other competitors many times through out the day. Lots of support out there and it was especially nice for me to see several of my friends that were either running their first 100 or seeking redemption from dnf's last year.

Of course my training partner and dear friend and Angel, Amy was the one I was most concerned with. I feel partly responsible for getting her into this stuff and I was thinking of her quite often throughout the day and even in my current misery on lap 5. I had seen her several times on the spur and she was looking good and moving well in good spirits. This time though as I was I nearing the turn back to camp she was not looking too happy. I stopped long enough to give her a hug as she told me about having major blister issues and having to spend a long time in the lodge having them tended. I felt bad for her but tried to give her some encouragement to continue and then I ran on back towards camp.

My time for that lap was way too slow and now it would take a miracle for me to turn things around and still get the pr. I could still do it IF I didn't slow down anymore. The humidity was still stifling and I was struggling to get calories and fluids in. The stomach was just shutting down and not processing what I was putting into to it so I sat for a few minutes and tried to eat some soup before heading out on lap 6 by myself. I said goodbye and thanks to Jerry and then headed out knowing that darkness would be coming soon and hopefully cooler temps.

Let me tell you. Lap 6 was awful. The breathing and spasming issues just got worse and I had mentally lost the desire to continue. The one bright spot of this lap was as I was running down the hill to the aid station on Turkey Creek in the darkness I heard the voice of a real angel, my first grand-daughter Aurora ! My son Jeremy and wife Mandy had come out with the whole family, Johnny, Nick, Aurora and Ariel to see Grandpa. Thanks to my meltdown and slow times I was about 2 hours behind what I had projected to be there so they had been waiting all that time. I sat down for about 10 minutes with them while super volunteer BD Sechler took care of getting everything I needed. I really hated to have to go but I needed to get moving so they walked with me until I disappeared onto North Turkey Creek.

The rest and soup didn't help and the rest of the lap stunk and I was miserable. I debated over and over again with myself about dropping out. If I didn't have Lisa waiting to run lap 7 with me and knowing how we had planned it and looked forward to it for so long I don't know that I would have been able to face going out another lap. I finally finished lap 6 and Lisa was ready and raring to go with me. I sat long enough to eat half of a cheeseburger and while we were waiting to head out someone gave us the latest weather report. No rain expected, a cell over Greensboro so we should have a clear night. Boy howdy was that ever wrong.

It was still rather warm around 11pm and I was still sweating in the thick humidity but Lisa was smart enough to convince me to let her carry a long sleeve shirt just in case. Well, we got about 3 miles out when the big thunderstorm hit. Great weather forecast. It was an impressive show for sure although never quite as exciting as the Boogie last June. It did rain very heavy for awhile and it was a cold rain but thankfully it stopped before we got to the aid station. The shirt Lisa had brought for me was soaked but I had another in my drop bag so I dried off and changed shirts and just before we headed out it began raining again. So happy we hadn't gotten out on the trail before it hit and gotten me soaked again. We got some trash bag ponchos from the volunteers and then headed out in the rain and darkness.

I was still feeling like crap and still having the spasms and about to have a total meltdown on those steep North Turkey Creek hills. On the last climb I had to sit on the resting stump to let things calm down and Lisa waited patiently for me. This was not the way we had envisioned this going but Lisa is an awesome friend and an awesome pacer and her company was invaluable while I wallowed in my misery. After a few minutes it was time to move on and get back to camp. One more lap if I could just hold it together.

Lisa would have loved to have gone on my last lap with me but she has Boston coming up and it was in her best interest not to go out for another lap. I sat down at the main aid station and decided to eat a hot dog before going out. This last lap was going to be special in many ways. Most importantly I would get to share it with Karla, my Marathon Princess ! I was wearing my hot pink gaiters and had gotten dozens of compliments and comments all day and into the night. Several times I was able to share the story of my reason for getting them in the first place back in 2006 and how I was going to have the honor of wearing them with Karla to finish the race .

I warned her as we started out that it was going to be a long slow lap and I was going to sound like I was dying and not to worry about me. We stopped by my car so I could grab my vest because it was chilly now and I was not moving fast enough to stay warm any longer with just the shirt. Although I felt horrible and continued to have meltdowns and all the other problems it was wonderful to share it with Karla and she was great company. Slowly but surely we counted down the miles. I was hoping that the hot spots on my feet would not be a problem but halfway down powerline with 3 miles to go I felt an explosion of pain on my right forefoot that brought me to a screeching halt. In a minute the pain subsided enough that I could continue running down the hill but I was sure glad I didn't have much further to go.

Just as we were about to make the final turn at the fountain to head back to the finish I saw Amy walking towards us with her husband Andy. She was in tears and my heart was breaking for her. Her feet hurt so bad but I knew she had no quit in her. I just hugged her again and mumbled something that I don't remember about getting through this last lap and then left them to put an end to my own little misery.

I did surprise myself and ran up the last hill to the finish and looking at the pictures it hardly looks like I had done anything. I was of course a bit disappointed with my time but glad that I stuck with it and got another finish. I spent a few minutes talking to Joe Lugiano at the tent and then after some pictures with my angels I finally went inside the lodge to rest and eat an omelot before hitting the showers.

I was shocked to find a honking big blister on my big toe and wondered how it fit in my shoe especially without popping. It supplied many moments of entertainment to friends and spectators while I waited for Amy to come in.

It was a joy to finally see her come running up that last hill hand in hand with Andy. A very emotional moment for a lot of us that know her.

That's it for now. I don't expect I'll be running this one again anytime soon. Next year I'll put my volunteer hat on once again and find some other Spring race to run.