Thursday, November 21, 2013

Mountain Masochist 2013 - Close Calls

The race that almost wasn’t. That is how I can describe MMTR this year. I had signed up quite a while ago but due to a soccer tournament my daughter was playing in and I was coaching in I almost did not go. As it turned out the tournament was downsized to one game and the forecast called for a lot of rain. I jumped on the idea the game would be canceled due to the rain knowing that if it was not the head coach was going to be there, so coaching was covered. On Wednesday I decided to go. Earlier in the week I had asked a good running friend Jon if he wanted to tag along and crew for me. As always he said yes. Race On!
We left on Friday afternoon for the drive to Staunton, VA. All the hotels in Lynchburg were booked or overpriced due to Liberty homecoming. Staunton was less than an hour from the start. It would mean skipping the pre race festivities, but that was ok with me. After a stop at REI and some Chipotle for dinner we arrived at the hotel and I got organized and was in bed by 10.
The alarm rang at 4 and I was up with no problem. We pulled out of the hotel by 4:30 and made a quick stop at Sheetz for some gas, coffee, and food. I have been really focused on low carb and high fat nutrition. This really seams to work well with my body. If I eat a bunch of carbs even 2 hours before running I have been getting a micro bonk 30 minutes into my runs. This led me to purchasing a cheese stick, 2 hard boiled eggs, and a giant cup of coffee. Jon thought I was crazy as I chewed down my first egg. It was pretty bad, so I left the second one. We quickly were back in the truck driving down I-81 towards the start. A few miles down the road there was a car on the right berm with its blinkers on. I drifted into the middle of the road to avoid the car. I failed to see the other car directly across the road blocking half of the left lane. It it had its blinkers on I did not see them. Luckily I was wide awake, see coffee above, and quickly reacted to not hit this car. I called 911 to report it as someone else might not be as alert and have a major accident. The operator informed me that they had multiple calls and police were inbound. I hoped this close call was not an omen for the rest of the day. All I could do was hope that more close calls would not have this type of potential danger involved.
The race started on time and 300 runners ran off into the predawn morning. I noticed many first timers around me. I wore a heart rate monitor and wanted to take it really easy early on. This is hard to do when 300 people are bunched together on a paved road. After we hit the single track I settled in for the long day. I took it really easy on the initial sections of the course. I know I needed to have fresh legs for the climb out of Parkway Gate and Long Mountain. I might be the worlds slowest downhill runner so the climbs are where my day is made or lost.
I ran the entire climb out of Parkway Gate by Heart Rate effort. I had in my head that I could not let it get above 160. I knew this might be pushing it a bit, but I was pretty confident I could manage 160 for some time, as long as I took some recovery. If I allowed it to creep up above this the wheels will start to fall off, at least that was my theory. During the climb there were many people around sprinting ahead and then walking. I wish I knew what happened to them. Many were very much out of breath after the sprint interval. Personally getting out of breath like this would have put me in a hole that would be difficult to get out of.
The run down to the reservoir was relaxed. Many of the people I passed on the climb blew past me. This was my recovery time. I have ran this race enough times to know what lied ahead. The road section up to Long Mountain Wayside is my personal Crux of Mountain Masochist. Never have I run this race and not had this section determine the outcome in some way. Back in 2008, my first MMTR there was an aid station half way up. After this aid station all I could think about was a truck driving by and me hitching a ride, ending my suffering. In 2009 the aid station was gone and my mind was focused on how hard it would be without aid. I ran a big PR in 2011 when I ran most of this section and felt great the entire climb. In 2012 I walked the entire way up and the rollers at the top. I think I must have been passed by 50 people and this ended my day. I know that if do well here and manage to not blow up I will have a good race. If I push too hard the second half will be a suffer-fest. If I take it too easy I will risk running against cutoffs the rest of the day.   For this reason I took it easy and fueled up on the run down to the Reservoir. I need to be prepared both physically and mentally to face this climb.
In reality my Crux is not much of a climb. It is all on a dirt road and climbs a little over 1000 feet in 4 miles. This is an average of 5% grade. It comes around 23 miles into the race. By Ultra standards there is nothing special here. Do not let these stats fool you, something about this section makes it formidable. I cannot quite put my finger on it, but trust me, do not underestimate it.

As I started the climb I know that I need to stick to my 160 BPM effort. I know if I could run all but the steepest parts at this effort it would be a good day. Half way up things were going well, but then I let me ego take over and I soon was hitting the high 160s and even 170 on the monitor. I had to slow it down some, but I had to push at the same time. Cutoffs were not an issue, but something inside of me said push. Luckily for me I soon hit the rolling hills at the top and my heart rate was able to settle back down under 160. I could feel some exercise induced asthma coming on. Did I push too hard? Would this slow me down to chasing cutoffs or even not finishing? It turns out this was just another close call on the day. Not as dangerous as the first one, but still could have wrecked my race. I think the few minutes that I gained by pushing hard were lost in the next section where I had to take it easy to recover. I do not think the overall outcome of my race was impacted much by this effort. 5 or 10 minutes, maybe, but who knows, not me.
The second half of the race was spent picking people off. My slow start was now paying off. Starting slow gives you the advantage of catching people as the day wears on. This can be a big mental high and is a strategy I recommend. This would be my first time running the new loop. Overall the loop was not as hard as I remember save the climb up to the top. It is not a hard climb, but it becomes more technical because you are passing people going the other way. It is well worth the effort as the view is spectacular. On a different day I could sit up and gaze for hours, but today was not that kind of day.
I always feel the race is winding down after exiting the loop. The run to Salt Log Gap is all rolling hills on a dirt road. The climb out of Salt Log up the road is steep, but short. As I climbed up this road the skys turned dark and it started to rain. I was regretting not grabbing a long sleeve shirt from Jon. I knew I would by pretty bad off it the skies opened up. Luckily the storm blew over, hypothermia avoided.
The section of trail to Porters Ridge is tough. It comes 40+ miles in and always seems to take at least an hour to complete. There are two short but steep trail climbs. Steep enough I was gasping for air. After you climb the second one there are rolling hills to the aid station. I remember back in 2009 I thought there was a cutoff at Porters Ridge. I also though I was not going to make it. I pushed this section hard with the fear of a DNF at the forefront of my mind. When I got to the aid station I learned there was no cutoff. I finished that race with 15 minutes to spare. This year I just wanted to get to the final section.
I love the final section of MMTR. It is a place where I could finally run with a little reckless abandon and not worry about effort level or pain tolerance. 3.6 miles, all downhill. An old logging road transforming into an old gravel road, transforming into an old paved road, transforming into a state highway, transforming into a finish line. I have always finished this race strong and this year was no different. I ran the entire way down and was thinking I could maybe break 11:15 if i ran really hard. This would take a 3+ minute record for this section, but why not go for it. I passed some racers walking it in. Most perked up and ran after me for a while. One guy took a hard fall, but hopped back up and was ok. My lungs really started to burn as I searched for the one mile to go marker. It did not come. My 11:15 goal had slipped away. I not set my mind on 11:20 and continued to push. I finally hit the 1 mile to go. A quick glace at my watch read 11:12. I would need to run an 8 minute mile to reach my goal. Normally this would be no big deal, but 50+ miles in it would be a big challenge. I had not run a mile this fast all day. I dug a little deeper and began to push it. As I passed the fish hatchery I felt it was going to be within reach, but not by much. Why do all mountain races have fish hatcheries? I made the turn on the the main road and could hear the finish line. I dug even deeper. I could see the clock and it was not good. I dug even deeper and did my best 100 meter sprinter impression to cross the line at 11:19:56. My final and most rewarding close call of the day.
This was not my fastest MMTR by any means, but it was my best effort. The new course is harder, more single track up front and the extension on the loop. The road section to start the old course allowed runners to bank a lot of time. I am not sure how much different this course is, but I think for a mid to back packer like me it is at least 25 or 30 minutes longer. Keep this in mind as you plan to run this race.
Lastly I want to think my Family for giving me the time and grace to train and participate in ultras, Jon for coming along and crewing me, Clark for putting on another great MMTR, and God for giving me the will to try and the ability to do these things.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

A Different Way to Carry a Camera or Smart Phone

I like to take my smartphone with me when I run. It functions as a camera and music player all in one with the added benefit of a map, gps, and phone if I need it (assuming there is cell service). I have a small Ipod Shuffle, but still find myself carrying the phone mainly for the camera on it. On long runs when I wear a pack it is easy to throw it in a front pocket. On runs where I carry nothing or a hand bottle it normally stays at home, until today.

Last night I found an old soft glass case. The kind with the clip on the side. I remembered reading this article on Anton Krupicka's blog a while ago. It is a FAQ and he states he carries a camera in a soft glass case tucked into his shorts. My phone was a little too wide to fit in the case, so I ripped the seam out and placed some Duct tape in the gap to make it big enough to hold my phone. Today on my 8 mile run I tucked it into my waist band on the side and off I went. It never bothered me and after a while I did not even notice it was there.

My biggest concern with this method is the moisture that builds up in that area, especially in the summer. My phone is in a waterproof case, so this is not an issue for me, but it is something you may want to consider before trying this out. Today's run was hot and humid and hard, so I generated a lot of sweat. At the end my phone and case were dry. The fake leather glass case did a good job keeping moisture away from the phone even through my shorts and shirt were fully soaked.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Wildlife - Bear on Copperhead Row

Over the past few months I  have been training pretty consistently for the Mountain Masochist 50+ mile race. Last year I started this race and DNFd at the midway point. I was very under-trained and went out way too fast. This years race will not be a repeat of that. Since I have been logging a lot of Hot and Humid summer miles I have seen a lot of wildlife. This includes the normal small game like squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, turtles, frogs, toads, birds. Nothing too interesting here. On a few occasions I have seen some picture worthy wildlife and in one case have a good story to go along with it.

The Copperheads

In early June I was out on a long run on the roads. There is an old road near my house that is closed to traffic and used as a running / bike path. I was on one of the seldom used and gated access roads. The days before had some very windy storms so there was a lot of blow down. I was wearing my subscription sun glasses, but they were steamed up so my vision was not perfect. As I ran along the road I got within 5 feet of the largest copperhead I have ever seen in the wild or captivity. I almost ran right over it due to the foggy glasses. Luckily I had my camera with me and snapped this picture. The average length is 2 to 3 feet according to multiple sources. This guy was at least 4 feet long. I wish I would have measured the leaf laying behind him for perspective. He did crawl away slowly once he saw / felt me.

A few weeks ago I was running on some dirt roads near my house and saw this copperhead from a distance. I had to stop and take a picture because he had just caught a rat. I would estimate he was a little over 3.5 feet long. A good size snake, but not nearly as big as the one above. I ran past him (or her) again 20 minutes later and the only part of the rat visible was its hind legs. I really wish I would have taken a second picture.

The Bear

While we were on our summer vacation a bear mauled our wooden swing set. We have a large black bear population where we live, so I was surprised, but it was believable, especially after we saw the teeth marks and black hair on it. So I had bears on my mind a few days later when I was on a long run. The road i was on is closed to traffic (same road as above) and I was on a very isolated part of it. I saw a bear running through the field beside the road. On the other side of the road is a canal, which is the boundary of a swamp. As the bear hit the road it started to jog right at me. It was not running hard, but just casually jogging. I put down my camera when it got 50 yards away and started to blow the whistle on my running pack. The bear did not even look and just kept coming. I think started to do a bear dance, yelling and jumping up and down. I finally got its attention, but it kept coming. I upped the intensity of the bear dance and finally it looked again and decided to jump into the woods. I can only assume it swam the canal and was off into the swamp. The picture was zoomed in pretty far, as I put the camera away at one point to start getting the attention of the bear. I was up wind of it, so it did not smell me. Bears have poor eye sight, so my best bet was yelling at it. In the end that worked well. Below are some pics from the swing set.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Signal Knob Run

I ran signal Knob and mudhole gap. Very uninspired run but got it in

Friday, August 24, 2012

Is Strength Training Important?

I consistently lifted weights from the time I was 16 until I was in my late 20s. Then I started training for Ultras and my passion for throwing around iron quickly transitioned into covering miles. I have tried time and time again to get back into strength training as I believe it could make me a better runner. Time and time again I have pledged to do better and take time from running to cross train. The problem is I always fail. I LOVE to run. I can wake up at 5 am to run in the dark and watch the sun come up, no problem. Getting up pre-dawn to lift weights, no thank you. I will take my sleep any day over that. Maybe my problem is rooted in the lack of progress I see when lifting. If I run consistently I see measured improvement in energy, endurance, resting heart rate, body fat, and the list goes on. When I would lift consistently I did not see any real improvement. So what if I could bench press 10 more pounds this month than last month. Big deal, what does that get me in the real world, nothing. Covering miles, now that is something useful in the real world.

It is not my intension to get scientific here. I am going to go on the assumption that strength training can make you a better runner. There are many extreme cases of this. Here is an article on a guy who only did the basic crossfit workout each day (with no additional running) and was able to run 80 miles in 24 hours. On his blog,, ultra author Neal Jamison has written about and shared others experience with crossfit and ultra running numerous times (here and here) including Adam Eidson's 5:19 finish at Holiday Lake after running only 7 miles in the prior 3 months. Those are some pretty amazing feats for non runners and there has to be something too it. I am not about to go and take up crossfit. No time or desire for that, but I think we can learn a lesson from this. Strength training is important.

Backing up that notion is an article written by Dr. Bill Henderson over on Dr. Henderson sites some studies where strength training of the legs made the subjects better at running. This is attributed to better running economy. I think we are on to something here.

So where does that leave us runners who despise lifting weights? I am a firm believe that to be a better runner you need to put in the miles. So we must find the balance between running and strength training. The balance where weights do not interfere too much with running and everything else we all have going on. This is a question we all must answer. As for me.... I will continue to have a desire to do some strength training, but must find a way to fit it in. Maybe just keeping it basic with pushups, pullups, core, and some lunges / squats will be enough. It certainly is better than nothing.