Friday, November 9, 2012

The Pinhoti 100 and/or 40

First off, congratulations to Neal Gorman on his win at Pinhoti! You can read Neal's account of the race at his blog-

Now for my account:

To make a long story short, I dropped at mile 40 of Pinhoti. For the full story, read below:


When I signed-up for Pinhoti, I knew there was a good chance I’d be heading down for the race without a crew or pacer. To account for this, I slipped into a lone wolf training mentality. I wanted every run to be an exercise in mental toughness, fully owning a decision to cut a run short or forcing myself to press on towards my goal mileage. I trained hard (and I think smart) and gained a level of fitness I’ve not previously known in my running. Strong runs at Martha Moats Baker and a solid 12/22/28 back-to-back-to-back at Sugar Hollow/Sherando/Priest-3 Ridges had me feeling confident. I added a few more solo long runs during September and October and by taper time I was ready to go.

Pre-race prep was good. Both Friday night and Saturday morning I was eerily calm. I’m usually pretty amped up/nervous immediately before a race, but I had zero nerves this time. I felt I had trained hard and I knew I could go the distance. I wasn’t aiming for one of the coveted Western States qualifying spots, I was just going to run my race, so I didn’t feel I had anything to worry about-I knew I could cover the distance.

The race started and I fell back into a very conservative pace with a huge mule train of runners. The pace was slower than I felt like going, but I wanted to make sure I went out slowly, so I held my spot in line for 45 minutes. After 45 minutes, I really felt like spreading things out a bit, so I passed and started to run my own pace. Eventually, I caught glimpses of Mike Mason rounding switchbacks up the trail, and I decided to latch on. Denise Bourassa (who won the women’s race and set a big CR) and Mitch Pless joined as well to complete our foursome.

Our group rolled together at a still conservative pace. The trails undulated similarly to the stretch of the RT between Ivy and Fontaine and the running felt easy. It was a beautiful morning and I was loving being out on new trails and looked forward to a full day in the wilderness. I was most excited that my finicky stomach was feeling solid! I was almost afraid to acknowledge that, but I couldn’t help but feel excited that perhaps this would finally be the day that my stomach held strong…then everything changed.

Somewhere around mile 20 I felt the first rumblings of nausea. I had been on top of everything fueling wise, so I thought I had perhaps taken in a few too many calories, which I’ve done before. I decided to hold off on putting anything further in my stomach for about 15 minutes to see if that settled things down. It didn’t. Taking an s-cap often made things come around a bit when this happened, so I did that. No dice. I forced in more calories and that only made things worse.

Pulling into the mile 27 aid station I was happy to see Cristina and her parents who made the trek down to crew for me. We swapped out bottles and they filled my pack with some water. All I could muster to the inquiries of how I was doing was that I thought there was about to be a whole lot of puking. I was right.

Out of the aid station I walked for several minutes, trying to get my stomach to settle. I popped a ginger pill, pulled off the side of the trail and proceeded to puke like crazy. Of course I felt way better after puking and I thought it was a good resetting point. I let my stomach rest for another 15 minutes, walking and running easily and I then started rehydrating and slowly getting more calories in. I then made two discoveries- I couldn’t really stomach my mixed powder drink and my pack was only filled with 10 or so ounces of water. This was the longest section of the race and we’d been warned by the RD to carry at least 40oz. of fluid or else we’d be in trouble. I stopped for a minute and considered turning around and going all the way back to the last aid station to fill my pack with more water. I opted against backtracking and pressed on. 

The ginger pill had stayed down (I could tell by the warm feeling in my stomach), but my stomach continued to get worse. I ran out of water and walked almost the entirety of this stretch to the next aid station. When I finally made it to the mile 34 aid station, I parked myself in a chair hoping to turn things around.

I sat in that chair for a long, long time. I took tiny sips of water out of a Dixie cup trying to get something to stay down. A nurse in the aid station really wanted to give me an IV, which I repeatedly declined. I don’t think I was that bad off, I think she just wanted to give someone an IV! After about 20 minutes in the chair sipping cups of water, I stood up, ready to walk the entire 5 mile climb up Mt. Cheaha. I took three steps out of my chair and was immediately forced into the bushes to puke everything back up. Back to the chair.

At this point runners were streaming through the aid station. I didn’t care at all. All I wanted was for my stomach to feel better. Again, I felt better after puking, so I stocked up water and some oranges and started up Cheaha.

I walked the entire climb at a mere shuffle. It sucked. When I reached the top of the Cheaha I saw Sean Andrish. Sean was great and tried to rally me, but I wasn’t having much of it at that point. I saw Cristina and co. when the mile 40 aid station mercifully appeared. They had bottles ready to go and I waved them off, handed my pack off and told them I needed to sit down and try to get something to stay down.

Cristina sat with me on a rock in the shade. I again slowly sipped some fluids. Then I crouched in the leaves with my head between two boulders puking profusely. I told Cristina I can keep doing this, but I’m not going to make it much farther on this routine. I hadn’t kept anything down in over 4 hours. The day was already hot and it was on its way to 86 degrees.  I saw zero reason to put myself through that fate. I walked to the aid station captain and made it official, my day was done.

I was comfortable with my decision to drop at that time and a week later I still feel the same. Now I’m just dealing with the frustration of coming to terms with my stomach and going back to square one to try to figure things out.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Update on CAT Activities and Fun

It has been awhile (July!) since we have written anything on this blog, but the Charlottesville Area Trail Runners have been busy training, racing, pacing, and having fun!  Below, we post a collection of short write-ups by CAT members on what we've been up to for the last four months.

Before turning to the write-ups, here's a list of the great training runs we now have going each week.  Note runners of all levels are welcome at these outings and that we have a "no drop" policy, in that we wait for everybody. So come out whether you are fast or slow, and new or old to trail running:
The reason we do the Thursday Happy Hour run.
  • Sunday Sixer.  Starts around 8 am from a variety of locations, usually within the city limits of Charlottesville. This 5-7 mile run is a great way to meet new members of the group on the weekend without joining a longer mountain run.  These days, these runs are usually headed up by Nick Hamblet or Barb Shenefield (see Barbara's write-up below).
  • Tuesday Pantops Run.  Starts at 6 pm from Frost Montessori School. Runs up trails on Pantops mountain, usually lasting 4 to 9 miles, with a decent amount of climbing.  The usual run organizer for this run is John Gulley. A headlamp or flashlight is required for this run during fall and winter months.
  • Wednesday No-snooze Run.  Starts at 5:30 am from Slaughter Recreation Center.  This is a 4-6 mile hill-training run, utilizing the ups and downs of Observatory Hill (O-Hill) trails to do hill repeats and hill fartleks.  The usual run organizer is David Smith. A headlamp or flashlight is required for this run during fall and winter months.
  • Thursday No-snooze Run.  Starts at 5:55 am from McIntire Park (West) in the parking lot near the softball field. This is a nice recovery run for those doing hills earlier in the week. This 4-6 mile run winds its way in and around roads and trails connecting to the Rivanna Trail.  The usual run organizer is Nick Hamblet (see Nick's post below). A headlamp or flashlight is required for this run during fall and winter months.
  • Thursday Happy Hour Run.  Starts in the area of 5-6 pm time from Whole Foods Market as a recovery or Thursday double run, lasting 4-5 miles on the nearby Rivanna Trail.  The run finishes in about an hour in time to enjoy outdoor live music, pitchers of beer, and food at Whole Foods Market on Thursdays.  This run is sometimes weather and schedule dependent, so check in with the CAT email list each week to see whether the Happy Hour Run is a go.   

Now, here's what has been happening in the CAT world over the last couple of months:

Sunday Sixers
by Barbara Shenefield

Barb Shenefield (far right) and Sunday Sixer runners

Recent Sunday Sixers have explored the Old Mill Trail alongside the Rivanna, down to the remnants of Charlottesville's Industrial Age locks, canal and aqueduct. Or ventured into our newest State Park, Biscuit Run. Recent wildlife sightings: Eastern Box Tortoise; Golden Orb Spiders; Red Fox.

I enjoy hosting this run when other CATs are off conquering mountains. My version of the Sunday Sixer is an in-town, or close to town, trail run. As is always the case with the Sunday Sixer, pace is easy. We wait at intersections if you are hanging back - maybe it's 'cause you're busy talking :-). Personally, I like to introduce people to area trails and to the pure joy of trail running. It's being close to nature. It's being easier on your joints than the road is. Some may not feel comfortable on the trails alone. So join us Sundays at 8 am.

No-snooze Thursdays
by Nick Hamblet

No Snooze Thursdays: Damn they're early - and they're still not as early as Wednesday's version! We've been meeting at McIntire Park pretty regularly for a few months now for this morning run. We started with 6am, but moved the start time up a few minutes to 5:55 so that folks with kids had some extra time to get back. Darker mornings have accompanied the start of the school year, and, in fact, for the last few weeks it's still been not quite light when we finished.
Nick Hamblet (2nd from L) with other CAT runners

We've had a good crew out for these runs, and I want to thank Chris Engel and Christian Dahlhausen for being so consistent in coming out each week. We've settled into a nice regular loop, heading out from McIntire toward the "Whale Tale" Art in Place installation along Rte. 250, running back behind the elementary school and through Greenleaf Park, then hitting the hill up Oxford Road before heading back down on Blue Ridge Road to pick up the Rivanna Trail behind the Bodos on 29. From there, we take the RT to 250 and either head back along 250 for a 4ish mile loop, or keeping going on the RT around to Brandywine (or further when they weren't doing construction) before heading back to McIntire park. 
These mornings will be getting colder, but hopefully we can keep on No Snoozing through them. It hurts getting out of bed that early (for me anyway), but once you're out there, you realize just how great it is to start the day with a trail run with friends.

By Drew Krueger

My memory of the 2011 running of Catherine’s was pretty simple: It was HOT! The heat overshadowed what was otherwise an absolutely top-notch event. So, when Catherine’s 2012 was held under cool, drizzly July skies, I couldn’t have been happier!

VHTRCers and CATs at Catherine's 2011
The weather for the day alone was a fantastic respite from the oppressive heat and humidity. Add in the option to run 30 miles through the mountains with friends and enjoy an unsurpassed post-race party, and for me, Catherine’s 2012 hit the pinnacle of what trail running is all about!

If you haven’t been to a VHTRC fat ass event yet, make it a priority to do so next year. The events are top-notch, and a whole bunch of fun!

More info:

By Drew Krueger

As trail runners living in central Virginia, we are blessed with an abundance of great trails to explore. We all have our regular, pound it out, sections of trail, but we also have our special spots. For me, TWOT (The Wild Oak Trail) is becoming that special place. It’s the scene of my lowest point in running-struggling up the Little Bald climb during Grindstone in 2011. It’s also the scene of one of my highest points in running-cruising down the Little Bald Climb during Grindstone in 2011! I have also done a few solo runs on sections of TWOT, a few runs with friends on TWOT, and I also ran the Martha Moats Baker (MMB) fat ass, which takes place on parts of TWOT, in 2011. 

I absolutely loved running MMB in 2011. It’s a fantastic course, and it’s just special being out there. I anxiously signed-up to run MMB again in 2012, and was happy I did! 
Christian (L) and Drew (R) at the 2011 Martha Moats Baker 50K
Leaving the TWOT lot, Neal Gorman, Josh Finger and I climbed together up Little Bald. The morning was cool with a nice breeze, and it simply felt great to be out in the mountains on such a great day. It was one of those great days of running where no moments really stick out as the great moment of the day, instead, it overall was just one of those great days.

Neal, Josh and I all ran together into the Dog Grave Yard aid station. After the aid, Neal suggested we pick-up the pace a bit and shoot for a sub 6hr finish. I laughed at Neal’s suggestion, having run MMB in 7:50 in 2011, while running slowly and relaxed. We were informed that the course record (CR) for MMB was 6:56, so a sub-6 finish certainly seemed ambitious. At any rate, we hammered the next section to the third aid station, dropping Josh during that stretch.

Once we hit the arduous climb up Groom’s Ridge, I knew I needed to pull back a bit and try to push in some calories for the last bit. Neal kept on the pace and set a blistering CR of 5:36, while I came in ten minutes later at 5:46. We had to cruise back to Charlottesville immediately afterwards, so we unfortunately missed out on the always great post run festivities.

More info:

CAT Summer Social, August 25th, 2012
by Christian Dahlhausen

"CAT" Abby joined for a trail run
Setting up Pavillion #2
To celebrate fellowship on the trail and having most of the humid days behind us we organized a summer social at Walnut Creek Park. We started off early in the morning with group runs (naturally) on the park's trails. Showers were predicted that day, but it stayed dry for most of the morning. Despite the weather forecast (we are trail runners after all) we had great attendance across different pace and distance groups. Following the run we socialized with drinks, potluck-style breakfast, brunch, and BBQ, and shared stories from the trail. We even attracted some roadies for this relaxed event. It's fantastic to have such a great running community in town to share friends & fellowship with.  This will certainly not be the last social and we are looking forward to keep it going! Happy trails.

Re-fueling at the potluck after the runs

The Best and Worst Grindstone 100 So Far! October 5-6, 2012 
by Marc Griffin

Editor's Note: On October 5th, starting at 6 pm, Marc ran his 5th Grindstone 100 mile race

My training this year has been great, I have been running faster and felt stronger than ever going into Grindstone!  My goal this year was to finish under 30 hours, which I have never done.  Even if it was 29:59:59 I would be happy.  So the night before the start, I stayed up late and slept in the morning of, got up, and went to the pre-race briefing at 1pm.  At one point Race Director Clark Zealand asked all the rookies to stand, there were a lot of first-time 100 mile attempts happening this year, I hope all had a positive experience.  From there, Clark called out the names of this year's door prize winners and I actually won a pair of Patagonia shoes!  So far, 2012 Grindstone was off to a good start.  I went back and set up my tent and got things all set, and then laid down just to close my eyes and get off my feet for a little while.  I knew sleeping was out of the question this close to race time since the nerves were already kicking in.  
Aid station worker at Lookout Mountain
Well before I knew it, 5pm came around. I got up, dressed, and got ready. In a blink of an eye it was a few minutes to 6pm.  I walked around, spoke with some people, and then the countdown began.  The first 5 miles we mostly ran since these are probably some of the easiest trail miles of the race.  The first aid station came and then the test of endurance started.  The next two climbs were tough, Elliot’s Knob and Crawford Mountain.  I felt great and climbed with ease.  I ran with Bill Potts for most of this and I felt very comfortable.  Soon Bill turned it up a notch and left me in the dust.  This is where I started running with Alex Hall and another gentleman.  The three of us stayed together until the turn around and had some good laughs.  Not sure if the jokes and comments were that funny or if it was because we were on a 7 mile climb up Little Bald at 3am in the morning.  I got to the turnaround still in darkness, which I have never done before.  I am usually two aid stations back when first light hits, so I knew I was way ahead of my previous splits. I was running really strong and was actually on pace for 26 hours at this point.  

On the return trip, things were going well until mile 60ish.  Then the wheels fell off!  I was chafing badly and things just shut down.  I made it into North River Gap aid station (AKA, the TWOT parking lot), and was very happy to pick up my pacer, Christian Dahlhausen.  Just standing there in the parking lot, my legs were shaking and throbbing.  This is the closest in 5 years of running Grindstone that I almost quit and went home.  
Things were bad, but Christian got me out of the aid station and we started up the next big climb.  This climb up to Lookout Mountain is one of the worst of the race, it is steep and long and comes at mile 67ish.  We got up and over and Christian got me running when I didn’t want to.  Every slight downhill or flat he said,  "Lets go!", and made me run.  Boy, at that moment I was hating him!  But, this was the best thing for me and Christian did an amazing job.  So we headed down Dowells Draft trail and I started to feel better, so we picked it up.  We were “flying” down the trail at one point and Christian asked if I wanted to know how our pace was, I said sure and figured we were running at least 8 minute miles or better, but he told me it was an 11 minute/mile pace. They sure felt faster to me…lol.  So we hiked and jogged and climbed back over Crawford and back over Elliot’s Knob.  I actually got to climb Elliot’s Knob on the way back in the light this year, again I have never done this before, it’s usually dark way before the last aid station.  Boy is this an advantage, the trail is very rocky and to do it in the light makes it so much nicer.  So we get down near the bottom of Elliot, which is relatively flat, so I start jogging, thinking I am doing at least 10-12 min miles I look over and Christian is just walking beside me like its nothing.  Your perception sure is off after running for 26ish hours. 
Finally, we make it to the last aid station and there is only 5 miles between me and finish number 5.  Those last miles are the rockiest, most technical and long five miles of my life.  After kicking every rock on the trail we make it back into camp and around the lake and in to the finish.  Usually, when I finish around 30 hours, it puts me in at around 1am or so.  This year it was nice because there were people at the finish and spectators to cheer me in.  I think I need to run this race faster every year!  My finishing time….28:07:20, over two hours faster than my best time.   

I was so happy, I hung around the finish for a bit then started to get cold so I walked up got showered and off to bed.  I woke up the next morning, saw a few people just finishing up in the rain and got some breakfast.  This year because it was the 5th year of Grindstone and 5 of us have done it and finished each year, Clark gave us a special buckle.   Not sure I could wear it because it is so big but it sure looks great, like I said, it was my best Grindstone because of my finishing time but my worst since I don’t think I have suffered like this in any of my previous attempts.  This year I went for it, it was a risk but I wanted to try. Heck, if I didn’t have that bad spell from miles 60-75, who knows I could have shaved another few hours off my time!  
Thank you Christian for getting me to the finish thanks Bob, Drew, Sofie and Neal for cheering me on and giving me advice!  Bring on number 6!

Grindstone Pacing, October 5-6, 2012
By Drew Krueger

When Neal Gorman told me he was thinking about signing-up for Grindstone, I immediately volunteered to pace him for the final 36 miles, if he was interested in having a pacer. Neal took me up on my offer, and I eagerly anticipated cruising the back roads along the Va./W.Va. border all night following the action of the race until it was time to start my pacing duties.

Neal came in second place! The race itself is Neal’s story to tell, so I’ll leave that up to him.

Neal has 100 milers figured out. I don’t have any distance figured out! Needless to say, I was excited to hang with him and see how he does it, and what, if anything, I could pick up for watching him race this distance.

Neal certainly didn’t need me along for the ride. I didn’t have to spur him on, tell him to toughen up, or anything of that nature. My pacing duties more or less felt like we were out on a training run together, talking about anything that came up, with me occasionally giving Neal estimated distances to the next aid and describing upcoming sections, where I could.

The fastest four at Grindstone 2012 (Neal 2nd f.r.)

Neal ran a heck of a race, and afterwards it was fun to listen to Karl Meltzer (famed 100-mile racer and Grindstone 2012 winner) and Neal talking about how the race unfolded, neither of them sounding like they had just busted their tails for the better part of a day, shattering the old course record in the process!  

Sophie Speidel also has a great Grindstone report from pacing the women's 2012 winner, Jennifer Nichols. See here.
CAT Jenny Nichols (L)

Hot TWOT, October 13, 2012
By David Smith

Because of all the great things I had heard from my fellow CATs about TWOT (The Wild Oak Trail) training runs and races, I was really psyched to try a run out for myself.  As others have written above, the TWOT area is home to a lot of VHTRC events, including the (cold) TWOT 100, Hot TWOT 100, Martha Moats Baker 50K and the Grindstone 100 miler.  TWOT lies in the mountains of the George Washington National Forest, on the western side of the Shenandoah Valley, just north of Churchville, VA. The official TWOT 100 (the "Cold" TWOT) is run in February and consists of four 26-mile loops of the entire TWOT.  Most runners opt to do only one loop, so that it turns out to be a one-marathon distance training day in the mountains.  I signed up for the Hot TWOT, run at the beginning of October of each year.  Long time VHTRCer, Dennis Herr, is the race director for both TWOTs and he was wonderful to finally meet.

David (2nd from L) at Hot TWOT 2012

CAT members Christian Dahlhausen and Kate Stephenson also ran Hot TWOT but started at 7 am and cut their run a few miles short to get back early to Cville.  I started at the official start time at 8 am with the "bigger" group, consisting of about a half dozen of us. The race took place on a beautiful fall day, with sunny temps starting in the 40s and climbing into the 60s.

To put things quite simply, TWOT consists of a lot of climbing.  Over the course of the day, I was reminded of that Escher drawing in which a square stair case appears to be going up forever.  Although the course was a loop, it seemed to consist mostly of going up, I think. The climbs included Big Bald, Little Bald, and steady ups and downs over Grindstone Mountain. Actually, besides the climbing, the course was great. It involved a lot of ridge running and I like running on ridges, but it did mean following a lot of mountain contours up and down, up and down. As it turns out, there were also some big descents, many of them quad-bustingly steep. 

I finished in around the time I guessed I would finish, 7 hrs and 42 minutes.  Importantly, I finished with that endorphine-enhanced peace I get from running long in the mountains on a beautiful day.  Nothing can beat that!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Sophie's Death March

This past Saturday, after the Derecho rolled through, runner friends of Sophie Speidel gathered from far and wide to run "Sophie's Death March." Runners from (at least) Harrisonburg, Richmond, the D.C. area, and a few CAT Runners joined in the fun. Look at that group!

Water bottles in the front indicate camera-woman Sophie
Marc Griffin, who ran the Eastern Divide 50k the week before, drove to Cville in the wee hours of the morning, and the two of us then met up with Stuart Brown by the airport up 29, before making our way over to the Whiteoak Canyon area in the Shenandoah National Park.

The loop begins with a 5 mile climb with ~3000 feet of gain from the parking area up to Hawksbill, the highest point in the SNP. Sort of a rough start, but the trails are great, and Marc and I settled into a nice relaxed pace behind the really speedy group. Mostly our goal was just staying on trail, as I've only done this loop once (and with folks who knew where they were going), and Marc missed a turn last year and ended up a few miles south of where we were supposed to be. So we took our time, stopped at intersections to check our maps, and managed to make it to the top without issue. Climbs might hurt a bit, but the views are almost always worth it:

Looking West(ish) from Hawksbill
Looking East(ish) from Hawksbill
We couldn't quite see it, but apparently if you knew what you were looking for up there, you'd have been able to see the smoke from a wildfire in the SNP, another 20+ miles North.

Anyway, shortly after we started down from the summit, we ran into Regan, Jack, and Marlin, and decided to run with them. So we spent a few more minutes hanging out on Hawksbill, and then made the descent down to the Appalachian Trail. It was somewhere around here I started thinking I could probably be happy ducking out from the full loop (~24 miles), and just doing 17ish. Sophie's loop had us taking the AT up to Skyland, where there's a lodge and we were able to refuel (despite the power being out). As we gathered back up, Regan convinced us that the long loop really wasn't that much longer, and was totally worth it, so off we went. North on the AT, we skipped the little out and back for Stony Man, and just kept on chugging along to the turn for Corbin Cabin. With most of the climbing out of the way, I was feeling pretty decent on this section, and as a group we were able to keep up a pretty solid pace. I was walking hills I didn't need to be, but as this was going to be my longest run since January, with only an 18 miler a few weeks earlier, I was guessing things were going to fall apart for me.

Though temperatures were forecast to be up near 100, we had a nice early start, and the storms the night before seemed to have helped keep things a little cooler than expected. Getting up a couple thousand feet also helped the temperature, and there were some lovely breezes at Hawksbill and along the AT. I don't remember what time it was we would have been starting back down off the mountain, down the Nicholson Hollow Trail, but it was definitely starting to heat up. Fortunately, this section of trail has lots of stream crossings, which we were happy to stop and cool off in. The water was delightfully chilly, and helped keep us moving. In one of the last crossing before hitting the Weakley Hollow fire road, we actually saw a water snake, which was pretty exciting, if not too worrying.

The fire road was the section I was least looking forward to, and part of the reason I wanted to cut my run short. It's a 5ish mile section of dirt road (which was sort of a relief, as I thought it was more like 8 miles), but the first half is all uphill, with the final nearly 1000 feet of climbing for the day. Last year I was in much better shape and managed to push through this section pretty well, but this year was much happier to walk more than I "ran". At the top, the road hits the Old Rag fire road, where the shortcut would have dropped in. Despite my fears, and general apathy about running the hill, nothing really fell apart for me, which I was very glad for. The final two mile descent was pretty sweet, and Marc and I ran into Stuart who had opted for the 17 mile loop, on account of his "fascist" foot, which worked out pretty well for getting back into the car at the finish.

One of the nice parts about the finish, for this run, is the little creek right at the parking lot. On the way in, I thought it looked pretty barren, but apparently it was enough to keep hot and tired runners happy:

The other good part about the finish was that this was very similar to other VHTRC outings I've been to, with a great tailgate at the end. The park rangers were reasonably impressed.
Typical VHTRC post-run
After a relaxed hour or three of great food, camaraderie, story telling, and watching Gary Knipling bounce around and keep everybody smiling, we three CAT Runners headed home, eager to return again next year.

Gary, still a bundle of energy after several hours on the trail

Friday, June 29, 2012

Eastern Divide 50K


by Marc Griffin

Joe Doherty, Jack Broaddus and I stayed at the Holiday Inn in Christiansburg, it was much cheaper than Mountain Lake, plus Mountain Lake has no air conditioning.  So right there I didn't think I could make it, Canadians don’t do well in heat.  It was a short drive to the start and we arrived in plenty of time to catch the buses.  This is a point to point race, so you park at the finish and they bus you about 30 min to the start.  The start of the race is at a nice rest stop with flush bathrooms and running water.  After socializing for a bit, we were all gathered at the start and waiting on the start gun.

As soon as the race starts you start climbing, nothing too bad but it was a steady climb.  You pass a great waterfall and make your way around to the top of it.  This is where my first detour happened.  I was sitting in around 6th place and I could see the leaders when the trail was straight. Well, as I came around a corner, the course arrows looked to me to point to the right.  I followed the arrows, which took me down to a river about a quarter mile down.  The race director told us there was no major water crossings so I knew I had taken a wrong turn.  I made my way back up the climb, figured out the right way, and got to the first aid station, where they informed me I was now in 20th place.  So I picked up the pace, especially on the climbs, and made my way back up to 8th by the time the next few aid stations rolled around.  Really, most climbs were very runnable and most of the course is either on jeep road or old fire road except for the first 5 miles and the last 7 or 8.

andtheyareoffSomewhere around aid station 4 or 5 is where my second detour took place, I was feeling good and just blew right through a set of arrows.  Of course, it wasn’t on a flat section so once I realized I had made another wrong turn I had to climb back up (again) to where I needed to turn.  I fell back to about 12th place this time and had no one to blame for this one but myself.  I picked off a few runners and was in 10th place with about 4 miles to go. I started cramping up pretty bad and tried all the tricks I knew to stop the cramping, nothing seemed to work so I slowed and got passed.  I ended up in 12 place which I am happy about since this is my highest place in an ultra of this size.  I know I could have done better if I hadn’t taken the wrong turns and taken better care of myself.  Lessons learned!

All pictures from race website:
Overall, I believe this was a very good event.  The run was fun, had a few good climbs, some trail, some roads (no pavement), and quite a bit of rolling terrain.  It was much harder than it looks on paper, but not all that bad.  The finish line and after party was very nice, it had plenty of hamburgers, hotdogs and cold drinks.  They even arranged our tents so we had some shade and everyone seemed to be having a good time.

Hopefully we can get a good CAT group to go down next year!

Here are the race results and here are more photos.

Monday, June 11, 2012

A Trail Work Evening

After this week's Sunday Sixer (look at this awesome group!),

Thomas was generous enough to join me for some trail work on the Rivanna Trail. I've got a goal of making the section from Quarry Park to the Woolen Mills runnable this summer - before all the weeds die of natural causes for the winter. I want to be able to run through and feel reasonably confident that I won't get poison ivy (or rub up against too many thorns, itchy grass, nettles, ...).

I've gone out a few scattered times, and was pleased to find that the sections I'd already done didn't look too bad. This means we mostly got to start where I left off:

I actually did go backwards from here, for a short stretch, trying to tear some ivy up by the roots. While I was at it, Thomas made great progress:

You can actually see the rocks, if you try to run through!

All tolled, we're about 50-100 yards closer to the Woolen Mills than when we started. I'm optimistic that the section we're on is one of the rougher sections, and future trips will cover more ground. Here's where we left off:

Despite being sunny and nearly 90℉, we were mostly working in the shade, so it really wasn't too bad. That said, the creek sure did look like a tempting place for a dip:

Thursday, June 7, 2012

2nd Annual Flip Truck FA

How it all started, 2011

Last June, the Flipped Truck Fat Ass was born. To read the account of that run, see the blog entry from June 8, 2011. I said then that you could mark your calendars for the first Sunday in June, 2012, for the second running. True to my word, Marc, Jason, Nick and I gathered off coal road last Sunday for the second edition.

This year’s run was less eventful than the run last year, but just as enjoyable. If you haven’t run out at Sherando yet, you owe it to yourself to explore some of the best trails our area has to offer. Similarly, if you haven’t made it out to a CAT group run yet, you owe it to yourself to hang out with some of the coolest trail runners our area has to offer …

The nice thing about the Flipped Truck run is that we run a figure 8 course, which is basically two 16 mile loops, so you don’t need to commit to the entire 50k distance. 

Mark your calendars now for the 3rd running of Flipped Truck- First weekend in June, 2013!

Some pictures from the run on Sunday:

Looking east on the climb up Kennedy Ridge

Kennedy Ridge Jeep Road

About to start the steep descent down to Mill Creek Trail

Jason, Marc and me discussing something totally epic, undoubtedly

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Summary: CAT Talk on Exercise Associated Hyponatremia

We were privileged to hear a talk from Dr. Mitchell Rosner on Exercise Associated Hyponatremia (EAH) this week. This is a condition where an athlete has low sodium levels in the blood during or after an endurance event. Some people may show little or no ill effects due to EAH, perhaps just some nausea; however, for others this can result in more severe nausea, confusion, seizures, and even death in some documented cases. It has become more common in the last 20-30 years as athletes are encouraged to hydrate liberally, without proper attention to keeping sodium levels up. Dr. Rosner covered some specific cases, causes, avoidance, detection, and treatment of EAH. While the cases were fascinating, I'm going to primarily summarize the causes and prevention of the condition, as that is what athletes have the most control over. Some of the data is from (at least) 2 years of analyzing Western States 100 mile runners.

- Simply put, don't over hydrate. Drink 400-800 ml (14-27 oz) of fluid per hour max. Thinking in terms of a marathon, this is probably 4-6 ounces at each aid station for a typically laid out race (depending on your pace). For an ultra, this might be a typical handheld bottle per hour. Times between aid stations vary too much to even try to generalize consumption. More than that dilutes the sodium in your blood. Sports drinks don't have enough sodium to provide much help, you'll still be diluting. Drink to thirst. The recent advice to drink early and often is bad. There's also no need to over hydrate the day before and the morning of a race. Drink to thirst. I know I already said that.

- Take salt to increase the sodium content. Salt is the key to prevent EAH. Endurolytes, S Caps, etc, have other electrolytes as well, and those may be needed for other factors. This talk really was limited to EAH. Gels don't have enough sodium to help much for this, though I just checked my Gu packages and Roctane has 3x the sodium of normal Gu. I always wondered why that was marketed to ultra runners, now I see why. On a hot day, you'll need to drink more to replace fluids sweated out, so you'll need more salt. To my recollection he talked in terms of a fast food style packet or two of salt per hour. When I look at my Endurolytes bottle, it says 1-3 per hour. Ultra aid stations should always have salty foods available, so take advantage of them.

- NSAIDS (Advil/ibuprofen and Aleve/naproxene) reduce the kidneys ability to process blood and often result in decreased sodium content. He said a number of times not to take them before or during, at all. I asked about taking a minimal amount, and he agreed that it reduced the risk, but also probably wouldn't be enough to help with the pain. I also asked about acetaminophen/Tylenol, and he said that didn't cause issues related to EAH. However, this talk ONLY covered EAH and I believe Tylenol can affect your liver, so do your own research and be careful with this.

- Sometimes you will stop processing water and it will slosh around in your stomach. Beware of this because when you stop or your system otherwise recovers and you start processing the water, it will further dilute the sodium content. I think this is why sometimes people have serious problems with EAH following the race. It follows that you should continue taking salts as you rehydrate after the race.

- People asked about dehydration, and he pretty much indicated that hydration isn't as serious of a problem and it is easily corrected by taking more fluids. I want to be careful here and not underplay dehydration. Again, 400-800ml/hour is not a small amount, so don't think you should barely be drinking.

- Losing salts through sweat is a factor as well, though Dr. Rosner said the salt concentration in sweat isn't as high as you'd think. Simply replace the fluids lost through sweating, but take more salts if you're taking more fluid.

So to summarize prevention in endurance events (over 4 hours), supplement your salts, don't over hydrate, and don't take NSAIDS such as Advil or Aleve.

Detection is very tricky, because many of the signs of EAH present similar to those of dehydration and/or heat exhaustion. The only real indicator is a device to actual measure sodium levels in the blood, and such a portable analyzer costs $5K. He thinks every endurance race should have this device. I have no idea which ones do.

- Symptoms such as cramps, salty face, swollen fingers, confusion, dizziness and urine color aren't reliable signs of hyponatremia. However brown/red urine is bad, but that can be hard to tell from dark urine indicating dehydration.

- Weight (weighing more after an event) is a decent indicator of a problem, but still not that reliable. Unless you really eat a lot, you should weigh the same or 1-3% less. If you're >4% over start weight, you're probably at higher risk because this indicates you've taken too much fluid. One study showed this well, but in another it didn't correlate too well at all. One of the studies, I forget which one, was from Western States runners.

After all this, the incidence of serious problems with EAH is still pretty low. Unfortunately there is no set formula to say exactly how much to take as everyone is different. Ideally you could measure your inputs and take your sodium levels before and after and event and adjust accordingly, but most of us probably won't have that chance. He said to learn what your body needs and what has worked for you and what hasn't.

Treatment is to get more salts back into your body, either orally or with an IV of 3% saline solution. Recovery can be rapid. The difficulty is that if the problem is identified as dehydration and the typical lower saline IV solution is given, it dilutes the sodium even more and makes the problem worse. Of course if you are out of it you probably won't be questioning what the medical staff is doing to you, thus I've focused on prevention here. However, if you're assisting a friend at the finish or pacing or crewing during a race or working an aid station, be aware to push salts and not just fluids and also be aware of the runner's mental condition.

Anyone who was there or is knowledgeable about this, please correct anything I got wrong or omitted. This is an important topic and the information needs to be accurate.

Bob Clouston

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Mount Mitchell Challenge 2012

Mount Mitchell (Elev. 6,684 ft) is the highest peak east of the Mississippi and lies close to the Great Smoky Mountains of which many of them are over 6000ft. Imagine the Blue Ridge Mountains on steroids (including many more peaks). This was the 15th time of the Challenge (40mi) and Black Mountain Marathon (26.2mi). Both events share the same course, the marathon turns around at the Blue Ridge Parkway. About 400 runners signed up for both races that started at the same time (7am) in Downtown Black Mountain. Following two race reports from Christian and Drew.

Drew and I were lucky and got picked in the lottery for the challenge. Cristina's parents live close to Black Mountain, so we drove there together a day early to be well rested before the race. The spring-like weather in the area was quite nice and gave us a (false) notion that Mt Mitchell might be a pleasantly warm run. We found out however that a cold front was on it's way. It sounded serious when the race director at packet pickup said that there might be a chance that both (marathon and challenge) could be cut short to a total of 17mi if the weather doesn't cooperate and park rangers don't feel it's safe to approach the summit.

After following the weather reports the night before we were still unsure what we would get up for at 5 am. A Facebook update from the race director mentioned 9F and 70mph winds during the night at an aid station. I don't think that I was ever outside at 70mph winds. What fun! The race seemed very low-key, when we approached the "starting line" that wasn't one. We just grouped with the rest of the 400 runners at the base of Cherry St. The sparse race info we got before mentioned something about race briefing at 6.45am - however there was no "official" in sight until 6.58am. The race director gave a brief "Ok, let's go!" (or something in that fashion) to start the race.

Mount Mitchell Challenge Elevation Profile (from

I didn't know much about the course other than we run up a mountain and down a mountain. The first 3-4 mi we were on roads towards the trail head. Drew, Kevin Smith and I kept a quick pace on the road to avoid any bottleneck at the trailhead. My left shin started to hurt like I had a shin splint (I had this on an off a couple of days prior but only on pavement. I thought it's my body telling me that pavement is not made to be run on and I should the heck get back on a trail). The pain eased off once we hit the trail behind Montreat College. The double track trail wasn't congested at all and the climb was gradual but runnable. The more we ran up, the better you could see the sunrise behind the mountains. Very pretty! The temp was chilly but not too bad, no winds due to protection of the hollow we went up.

There were aid stations every 4-6mi so there was plenty of places the refuel - stocked with basics like M&Ms, chips, pretzels, bananas, oranges, Gatorade, water. I was hoping for some potatoes as they seem to sit well and fuel good during races, but no luck. I carried Perpetuum Solids, S-Caps! and a gel or two in my hydration pack (without bladder) which along with bananas at almost every aid station consisted of my race nutrition. Like potatoes, bananas sit well too and provide a good fuel during a race. Probably my second choice. Every once in a while I ate some orange quarters to amp up my hydration.

Cloud-filled hollows – photo by Steve Dixon for the Asheville Citizen-Times
The Toll-road trail widened to an ATV-trail with plenty of rocks, more technical than I imagined but runnable most of the time. My Inov-8 295's were just a little short of cushioning so that my feet started to hurt pretty quickly. Chatting with a few people along the trail, the sun being up now and gorgeous views over the mountain range provided good motivation. I sometimes think of long distance races like a journey where you meet all kinds of people and get to see beautiful sights. It makes the race less a race and more pure enjoyment.

I arrived at the half-way mark (turn-around for the marathoners) on the Blue Ridge Parkway that was closed due to winds and ice which was nice so I didn't have to worry about traffic. So far the pace was good and I thought I didn't walk too much. Now the real climbing was about to start. The first part was a little more flattish, the wind picked up and brought some mean chills. I later heard that the gusts were about 40mph. FUN! Then a steep 1000ft single track climb to the summit slowed me down quite a bit. Some parts were pretty technical and not runnable at all, and some parts had thick ice patches that I tried to circumvent. I followed a guy who did the challenge 3 times and the last year broke his shoulder on this very part of the race. I figured it might be safe to keep close as I was sure he had not forgotten the exact spot to best break your bones. 

Made it to the summit in 9F
We made it, the summit! Breathtaking views! I took a minute to take it all in and looked forward to the downhill to come. It was pretty windy and cold up there, luckily the aid station was in a heated ranger station of sorts. This allowed to defrost my water bottle. I took about 3mins or so to re-fuel, hydrate and defrost. Figuring I could catch up quickly on the down hill. And I did. The immediate steep downhill was a fantastic. Soft pine forrest ground, switchbacks and technical for at least 2mi made it a blast. I just skidded once but could catch myself before falling. Immediately thereafter a mile or so climb up a gravel road. The last climb of the race...

View from the summit of Mt Mitchell
The next section was rather boring, about 4 or 5 miles on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Ugh! pavement! I managed about 8-9min pace. My legs started to feel a little tired. The road section seemed forever but after I finally hit the aid station I knew that the rest should be a fun, gradual 12mi downhill. I think I have never before run for so long only downhill so I was unsure if my legs would keep it up. Turned out they did, just my feet felt beat up. I think I might have even bruised the side of my right foot. Pain is temporary I thought. During the last 12 mi I slowed down a little but kept a fairly steady pace. The ice patches on this stretch were mostly melted by now, so I didn't have to pay attention too much.

At the second to last aid station I was unsure what I wanted and asked what these cups with foam on top have in them. They said Beer. BEER?. Yup, beer!. Sweet! I took a cup or two. What better hydration could you get nearly to the end of a race, I thought. Great!

Ok, 5mi to go - can't be that a bad. By now my I could feel what 12mi downhill do to your legs. They hurt (despite beer). I slowed my pace on the final downhill yet again. Then we winded through neighborhoods on mostly pavement again, yuck! Finally arriving at a lake and the finish line. Yes! Finished in 6:24h. Not what I was hoping for (sub 6) but still content. Overall I had no or only little problems with stomach, nutrition or legs. Quite happy with the race.

Post-race food was great though. Beans, Hot Dogs, Chili, Slaw, Hot Tea, Water, Coke, Chips, M&Ms etc. It was a fun race and went without any major hitches. I felt the course markings could have been a little better (more streamers) and a short pre-race briefing would have been nice. Otherwise great race!


The Mt. Mitchell Challenge was full of uncertainties for me. I joked with Cristina prior to the race that I was breaking the golden race day rule by trying all kinds of new things on race day: I had bruised the balls of my feet when they went numb on a run over a month earlier, so I was wearing a new kind of shoe, which I had only logged a long run of 16 miles in, I was relying on a paper thin jacket I’d never worn to keep me warm in what promised to be cold conditions, and I was using a fueling strategy I’d used on a few training runs that lasted a couple hours, but nothing beyond that. Coupled with the new gear, I was worried about my feet since they were a bit bruised still, I’d had a lingering pain in my knee for the last week, my training had been a bit erratic leading up to the race, and my legs had felt trashed for the last week and a half. All that added up to not having a ton of confidence that things were going to go well on race day.

In addition to my own doubts about my physical well-being and new gear, I was completely blind on how the course ran, what the trails were like (where they technical or smooth?), and due to uncertain weather predictions, we were unsure until the race started whether we’d be running the full 40 miles or a weather shortened course only 17 miles long (part of me was hoping we’d be running the 17 mile option!). Standing at the starting line, I asked Kevin Smith what color the course markings were-he was in the same boat as me...we’d figure it out on the trail, right?

I guess feeling so ill-prepared and uncertain could have been really stressful and unnerving. For some reason, however, I found this approach really refreshing. I had no expectations for a finishing time, and I told myself that I was just going to go out and run each section as it came to me, not worrying about what was ahead at any point.

The weather at the start of the race was decent, around 28 and windy, but the air at the start line was filled with a palpable sense of trepidation as we wondered what the conditions would be like on the summit. We were told that the previous night the temperature atop Mt. Mitchell was 9 degrees with 50 mph winds!

The race started at the base of Cherry Street in downtown Black Mountain. I liked the low-key vibe of the start-no start line, banner or fanfare-just a bunch of spandex clad runners mulling about waiting for someone to yell ‘Go!’

With a quick briefing from Jay Curwen we learned we were running the full 40 miles, and we were off! The first few miles of the race were paved roads through the towns of Black Mountain and quaint campus of Montreat. Christian, Kevin Smith and I stuck together and we talked about our recent races and what we thought we could expect to find, weather wise, on the summit of Mt. Mitchell.

After 3 or 4 miles the pavement yielded to trail and we started to climb in earnest. The climbing tapered off a bit after a mile or so, and I alternated between running with a 9-time veteran of the Challenge, who filled me in a bit on the course, and a woman from California who wanted to come run the race so she could visit her sister, who lived in Asheville.

The beginning sections of trail were great! We ran under arches of Mountain Laurel, which sheltered us from the wind. The trails were non-technical double track, and I was able to avert my eyes from the trail to take in some views of the gorgeous morning unfolding in the mountains around us.

There was a fairly steady stream of runners stacked up on the trail as both the marathon and Challenge runners started at the same time. The front pack of Challenge and marathon runners had taken off early on the pavement, and I was happy to watch them go!

The weather conditions were great on this stretch, and I was able to unzip my light jacket and feel comfortable. As we progressed up the Toll Road (which is dirt trail) towards the Blue Ridge Parkway, runners started to spread out a bit. I had no idea who was running what race, what kind of place I was in, and was perfectly content to just keep running my race as I had planned to do. The conditions were still great and I was enjoying the stunning panoramas along this entire stretch as we climbed towards the Parkway.

As I neared the Blue Ridge Parkway (and marathon turnaround), the wind started howling down the trail. Strong gusts pummeled us as a harbinger of what we’d be encountering from the Blue Ridge Parkway to the summit.

I hit the Parkway in 1:58, and as the marathon runners turned around, things thinned out a bit. I saw I had closed the gap on the Challenge veteran I had run with earlier in the race a bit-he was about a minute ahead. A quick look back down the Parkway revealed the woman from California about a minute or so back. The race still seemed young, so I was happy to just keep running my race.
We were running into a headwind on the Parkway, which at times was very strong. The hood on my jacket whipped like a flag in the wind and I leaned forward hard and put my head down to keep moving. During one particularly strong gust, the wind suddenly changed direction and I almost fell on my face because I was leaning so far forward! A few miles of being beaten down by the wind on the Parkway, and the course peeled off the pavement to the Buncombe Horse Trail, which provided a bit of respite from the wind.

Up until this point my fueling had been going well. I had been taking a gel at least every 30 minutes, popping a new packet in my glove for at least 10 minutes before it was time to take it to let it heat up a bit. However, once we hit the Parkway, the temperature dropped precipitously. I started to hear ice in my water bottle clank around, and soon my bottle froze solid. I needed water to wash down the gels, so at this point, my fueling came to an unexpected halt.

Those who’ve followed my races know I’ve struggled to find a fueling strategy that works consistently for me, and with each race, I’m learning a bit more about how to keep my energy steady. Leading up to this race, I learned that when I lapse in fueling even a bit, my stomach shuts off. Learning this was a big leap for me! I knew going in to this race I had to eat early and often, as they say. However, as my bottle froze up on the way towards the summit, I realized I could be in for some trouble.

As I was starting to feel a bit low, energy wise, I heard footsteps crunching through the frozen mud/grass behind me. The woman from California had caught back up. Having someone else with me provided a needed boost (after a post-race introduction, I learned the woman I was running with was Rory Bosio). Rory and I chatted and ran the remainder of the Buncombe Horse trail, passing the veteran I’d been chasing all day as he filled his bottle from a stream. The section of trail was fairly flat, but had quite a bit of running water/ice/boggy mud to be carefully navigated. We eventually reach the summit trail, and Rory set the pace as we ran/talked/power hiked up the steep, technical and icy final mile to the summit, which we reached in 3:19. The summit was cold! I looked up the summit weather conditions after the race, which showed the conditions around the time we summited as 10 degrees air temp, -10 windchill, and 40 mph wind gusts!

Reaching the summit (Picture by citizen-times)
After summiting, we stopped off in the heated ranger/aid station. Rory was smart and asked the volunteers to help her out with all that she needed (her hands were so cold she couldn’t move them much). I was ready to get moving again, and stupidly didn’t think to take the time in the heat to take down a gel or two while I had access to water. I left the aid station and told Rory I’d see her in a few minutes, fully expecting her to catch up to me.

The mile and a half section off the summit was steep, very technical, and icy…which made for some fun ‘running.’ It probably would have been smart to slide off the big boulders on my butt during this section, but I ran and jumped off the boulders with some reckless abandon and had fun! By the time this section ended, I felt like I’d been worked over by a jackhammer, and I was happy when it ended. I knew that we had one long climb remaining at this point, which I dreaded. My hip flexors were really tight, and running the climbs was starting to get challenging. Knowing it was the last climb, I put my head down and ran up the mile long climb and smiled as I topped the hill and pulled into the aid station. I took a few swigs of coke, thanked the aid volunteers for braving the cold, and took off for 18 miles of downhill fun!

I maintained a decent pace down the Parkway. I thought it may take people a bit of time to get their downhill legs going after all the uphill, so I wanted to make sure I got moving on the downhills from the onset. I knew there were a few Challenge runners somewhere behind me, and I wanted to make sure I didn’t settle into cruise control on this section.

The return trip on the Toll Road got rough when I started bonking with about 12 miles to go. I managed to stomach half a gel here and there in the early miles on the way down, but I could tell my stomach was too far gone. Bonking is sadly all too familiar territory, so I didn’t feel too mentally anguished over this development (is it troublesome that I’m starting to feel confident with my ability to hang on and grind it out?). I settled into my standard routine of slamming coke in the aid station, holding on for dear life until the next aid station and repeating as necessary until finish.

As I closed in on the aid station around mile 30 or so, the volunteers complimented me on my nice beardcicles (I’m sure they were much more impressive at the summit!) and told me I was running in 4th place for the challenge. I had not had any idea of my position all day, so this was a welcome surprise. With this information, I had a bit more focus for the rest of the race, now determined not to get passed from behind for lack of effort on my part.

I was bonking really hard, but at this point it was all about getting to the finish! I pushed about as hard as I could and didn’t let up until I was half way around Lake Tomahawk and I could see both the finishing chute and that nobody was going to catch me from behind.

I crossed the line in 5:45 for 4th place. I felt a huge sense of satisfaction for having a good race when I was so uncertain about so much coming in to the event. The best part was that all the new stuff I was concerned about worked out great, save for the fueling issues.

Per usual, the CAT support leading up to the race was huge. Christian and Neal pulling me out on weekend mountain runs really helped me get in the early season training I needed to have a great race.

Mt Mitchell Challenge 2012 by Mohammed Idlibi

More info:
History along the Mt Mitchell Route

Citizen-times photos