Monday, July 29, 2013

"Race Report": Catherine's FA 50k Trail Run

by Crozet Running Club - John Andersen
This past Saturday Dan Spearin, Jeff Lysiak, and I all proudly represented Crozet as we traveled to the northern reaches of Massanutten Mountain to run Catherine's Fat Ass 50km trail race.  For those of you unfamiliar with what a "Fat Ass" event is, it is essentially a low-key run usually put on by a running club or bunch of friends with no entry fee, no bibs, and generally just nothing official about it at all.  There are Fat Ass events all over the country and this particular event was unofficially hosted by the Virginia Happy Trails Running Club, an awesome trail running club centered in Northern Virginia.
I knew a few other runners who were going to be there but I have to admit I was a little concerned over the lack of detailed prerace information available.  I am a planner, but I was getting the feeling I was going to be "going with the flow" for this one.  The only prerace info we got an email sent on Wednesday that mostly stressed the need for "  Good beer.  More beer is a good thing.  Again GOOD beer.  Cold and good beer is best!".  Also in the prerace email were some words of encouragement; "I have not had a chance to do trail maintenance this year, so be prepared for the unexpected."  Hmmm, what were we getting ourselves into?  Well the one thing we did know was that it was going to be HOT!  Like 95 degrees and humid hot.  Despite all the common sense warning signs of catastrophe (running 31 miles on rocky trails with over 6000ft elevation in 95 degree heat with questionable trail markings...) we headed off truly excited for an adventure.  We knew it was going to be a good day when we saw a bear in the middle of Jarmans Gap Rd not even a half mile from home! 
We got to the race early and after meeting and greeting with some other runners, we gathered together for the prerace briefing.  Turns out one of the forest service road access gates was closed so the race director was unable to access parts of the course and thus the course would have to be redirected...and would also have one less aid station... and would not be marked at all.  Crap.  He then went on to verbally give the new course instructions,  "....take the red trail up to the purple trail, then turn down the orange trail, then go up the hill, then down the....".  Seriously?!  I can't remember that!  I shrugged to the person next to me who shrugged back.  Crap.  Go with the flow
PictureThe course "map". Seriously.
As I was trying to process this information, the race director yelled out "ok, Go!" and people starting running towards the single track trail that left the parking lot.
This was rapid decision time regarding my goals for this race.  First, let me preface that like many a Fat Ass event, there really was not a competitive vibe here at all.  I would say pretty much everyone there was out there to have a good run and a great time.  That's actually the beauty of the trail running world in general - it just seems overwhelmingly laid back and fun.  So I must say despite the uneasiness of what exactly I was getting myself into, I was in great spirits and ready to have a great run - my first ultramarathon distance mind you! 
Despite never having actually ran over marathon distance, I was never worried about the distance itself.  I have been racking up plenty of weekly mileage and elevation where finishing 31 miles itself wasn't going to be the challenge.  The real question was "how hard can I push myself and for how long?".  For some reason I really wanted this question answered today.  Oh yes, it would be answered!
I jumped out onto the trail and eventually caught up with the front runners.  About a mile into the course we saw a little bear cub jump out of a tree and run away.  Good sign #2!  Two miles in, we came to a trail intersection.  A few of the guys who had run the course before decided that they wanted to run the original 50k course, not the new 50k course for the day.  Apparently in a fat ass, the course is negotiable... Thus, those of us who had no idea where we were in the first place decided to follow the original route guys and there began my detour entitled "Oh man, I chose the wrong guys to run with...". 
Running with me were Keith Knipling, who has run over 130 ultramarathons, and Neal Gorman, an elite ultrarunner who currently holds the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning course record (the fastest cumulative time running the Western States 100 miler, Vermont 100 miler, Wasatch 100 miler, and the Leadville Trail 100 miler all in one summer!).  WTF was I thinking!!  Ok, to give me credit, Keith was feeling pretty tired from running a bunch of hundred milers this summer and Neal has been recovering from a nasty virus.  It seemed like it was shaping up to be a nice run...

The first 4 miles took us 1900 ft up to Bird Knob overlooking the Shenandoah Valley below.  There we met up with Martha and Dave, two runners who seemed like they were also up for an easy day.  After climbing for 4 miles, the prospect of an easier run was more appealing...
After a few miles of running over rocks the size of cats and dogs, we came to a gravel road which we would run on for the next 7 miles.  This is when I overheard Neal say something to Martha like "well, we can't win all of our races like you Martha...".  "Wait a minute" I said, "is Martha also some kind of super elite runner?".  Turns out Martha has been busy over the past few years winning first place and setting course records in everything from half marathons, to the Charlottesville Marathon, to the Highlands Sky 40 miler this summer.  Meanwhile we're burning up 7 minute miles on this gravel road....  Oh man, I picked the wrong people to run with..We finally came to the first aid station which was a blessing.  I filled up with water, threw down a Gu, and quickly ran into the nearby stream to douse myself with its cold refreshing water.  It was starting to get pretty hot.  Keith had told us to leave him a while back and Dave wasn't feeling well and decided to cut his run short.  It was now me, Neal, and Martha.  First time ultrarunner with two first placers.  And by the way none of us knew where exactly we were going.  The folks who knew the route had now bailed.  Fortunately a few of the guys at the aid station gave us great directions for the next 10 miles of trail and we were off.  As the gravel road began to climb, we kept running, passing by several groups of runners who I thought were wisely walking.  Oh man, I picked the wrong people to run with...After several miles of uphill on the gravel road, we got back onto what was perhaps the prettiest and most treacherous trail of the day.  This trail literally went straight up a stream called Morgans Run.  At times, there was no trail, you just walked in the middle of the stream until you saw something that looked like a trail.  Did I mention all the rocks were as slick as ice?!  But by this point, about 15 miles into the run, anything that got Neal and Martha to slow down was a good thing, even if that meant walking up a river.
Finally the trail left the stream and we were running again.  Suddenly Neal (in front) starts screaming and takes off in a sprint, slapping all around him.  Right behind him Martha starts doing the same.  In an instant, I see the reason and was too late to stop.  A huge hornets nest had fallen earlier and broken open right in the middle of the trail!  For some reason I couldn't stop and just sprinted right through it, like running through fire.  Hornets hurt!!  The three of us sprinted for a few hundred yards and took inventory.  Several stings each, but everyone ok.  All agreed that hornets suck.
We finally got to another "aid station", which was Gary Knipling standing next to Pitt Spring - literally a 3 foot wide spring in the ground.  He had a big pitcher in his hand and told us all to bow down as he "baptized" us with the cold water from the spring.  This was one of the best things I have felt in a long while.  "Can I drink from the pitcher Gary?" I asked...I didn't care that it came from some untreated mountain spring, it looked so clear and cold that I couldn't resist and drank about half the pitcher.  Best glass of water I've ever had.

A few more miles of gravel road running until we reached the last "real" aid station.  I learned that elite runners do not mess around at aid stations.  I had heard so much about aid stations at ultras, with a buffet laid out of soda, Gatorade, cookies, watermelon, chips....but alas, I chose the wrong people to run with...I would just quickly fill my bottles then run to the nearby stream and douse myself in water while they quickly ate.  Then I would hastily shove a Gu in my mouth as I followed them out of the aid station.  It was really getting hot by now, up in the 90's for sure and SO humid.  I could feel that the heat more than anything was starting to get to me.  We were now at about mile 20 and I knew I was entering that special "mental" zone in a run and had to hang in there.  But then we turned onto the purple trail.
The purple trail, as advertised in the limited prerace information, was evil.  It climbed 1600ft over four miles, the last two of which were just plain hell.  We had picked up another top notch runner Matt Bugin (who just won the Bel Monte Endurance Run 50k this year...oh man..) and Matt, Neal, and Martha seemed unfazed by the heat and elevation.  I was starting to physically bonk.
Mentally, I was actually ok.  I was pushing myself really hard which was my goal of the day.  However despite my pushing they were pulling away ever so gradually.  For most of that climb I was about 2-300 yards behind.  I was getting so hot that I was getting chills and goosebumps.  Bad.  At that point, I knew I was starting to bonk.  Oh how I just wanted to stop and sit in a stream for a while.  What the hell is wrong with these people?  Arent they hot?  Why are they just running right by that stream without getting in and laying down?  The last mile of the purple trail was so steep that it was just switchbacks and you had to have your hands pushing your knees down while you hiked.  I was redlining. 
I remembered something I had heard Ian Torrence say on a podcast once though.  He said you can always unbonk.  He also said to remember to focus on what you're good at.  So, even though I had no appetite, I ate two Gu's and drained my second to last bottle of water.  I decided just to run my own race at that point and gave up on my goal of hanging with these elite runners.  WTF was I thinking?!
And then, the purple trail ended!  I felt like I had just gotten rid of a demon.  The trail turned straight down a rocky hill for a few miles and the elites were nowhere to be seen.  But I fancy myself as a good downhill bomber and decided to bomb away.  Although I'm sure by that point my version of bombing down a rocky trail looked more like a 90 year old man going down stairs...  As I kept on the downhill, something great happened...I unbonked!  I was suddenly back to having fun, feeling some energy and wouldn't you know it somehow caught up to my group again.  The next 7 miles were all mental.  As we slowly descended back down the mountain it became hotter and hotter.  It felt like we were running down into a sauna.  I was overheated, out of water, and my legs were done.  But I had somehow hung with some incredibly talented runners for 30 miles.  I make no illusions that I am at their level - they could have dropped me in a second if they were racing.  But I certainly met my goal of pushing myself for this distance to see what was there.  And there I found the great reward of running.  I wasn't competing against anyone or even for a certain time.  It was just mind vs. body for 5 hours and 45 minutes.  Not many times in our busy lives do we get to feel the true thrill of accomplishment and when we do it is something to be cherished and remembered. 
There was no finish line or big clock.  Just a couple of tents filled with people who gave you a big "Ayyyyeee!" when you arrived and wanted you to sit down and hang out for a while.  We sat in the heat, talked about running and whatever and cheered our friends as they finished their mind/body battle in the heat.  Nobody got lost, nobody got heat stroke.  It was a great day! 

Monday, June 17, 2013

Highlands Sky Long and Bloody Race Report

by Bob Clouston

Highlands Sky is a tough, technical 40 (41) mile race in and around West Virginia's Dolly Sods Wilderness and finishing at Canaan Valley Resort State Park. The word is that it runs more like a 50 miler, even though the profile doesn't look all that imposing after 2 early climbs.  My plan was to start conservatively and not exhaust my legs in the first half, and make up time in the flatter/downhill, less technical second half.  What I didn't expect was the punch that would put me on the canvas mid-race and nearly KO me.

I arrived shortly before the pre-race pasta dinner in the lodge, which should be nice after the renovation is done.  Rooms in the outbuildings look like they haven't been updated since the 80s, but mine was adequate.  Sat with Tammy and Rick Gray and some other VHTRCers at dinner. Tammy offered a ride with them to the start in the morning, which was convenient and appreciated.

The weather looked good, high 40s to around 70 and dry.  But there had been a lot of rain, and we were told the course would be wet.  Quite an understatement.

The race started at 6am with 2 miles on the road to spread out the field before we hit single track trail and the first muck and the first climb, about 2300 feet over 6 miles in the Monongahela National Forest.  The first mile or so was pretty gentle and the pace seemed slow but I held back and let a few people by while passing only a couple.  The grade increased, and in some places water was pouring down the trail, the path of least resistance.  There was some stinging nettle, but my calf sleeves protected me well.   It gets cooler as we go higher, and the clouds and fog keep it very comfortable.  Somewhere in here we have the first of 3 major creek crossings, which are running fast enough that the guide ropes are very welcomed.

At around 4700 feet we top out and drop to Roaring Plains, still above 4000 feet.  A few sections are dry, but there are long sections of shoe-sucking mud and/or ankle deep water.  Many try to find higher spots to run on but it seems like a lot of effort is spent hopping from side to side and trying to keep balance.  I'm already soaked so I mostly just straight-line it when there's not an easier way to avoid the hazards.  A couple times I step in knee deep holes but no harm is done, and once I catch something and land almost spread eagle in the mud, just barely keeping my face out of it.  For road runners looking at finish times and wondering how they can be so slow for barely more than a marathon and a half distance, imagine running on a road with long stretches of rain filled potholes, and having to either run through them or wear out your legs hopping between them on muddy ledges not even a shoe width wide in many places.  Or running in a muddy roadside ditch after a long rain might be more accurate.  Tack on 5400 feet of climb and 4800 feet of drop for good measure.  I knew it was a tough race, I didn’t realize it would be this bad.

Finally aid station 2 comes after 8 miles, and I refuel on continue on.  For the first half I use my Nathan Endurance Vest with 70 oz bladder of water, and a 10 oz bottle that I'll refill every aid station and mix with Perpetuem.  Hammer Gel for nutrition, and Endurolytes for electrolyte replacement.  The only solid food I eat is a couple Zone Perfect bars and whatever looks good at aid stations, usually banana chunks and pretzels.  In the second half of the race the aid stations aren't as far apart so I swap my vest for my Nathan Trek waist pack which holds a 20 oz bottle that I mix with Perpetuem.  I also carry an all-purpose bandana, ginger and Imodium pills in case of stomach issues, a blister patch, and a small packet of lube in case of chafing.  Fortunately all I'll need today is a couple of the ginger pills, and the bandana.

After AS 2 and Flatrock Plains comes a big drop, 1200 feet over 2 miles.  The water was annoying on the climb and flats, but on the downhill it's treacherous.  I take my time making my way down, and I'm not the slowest one.  I'm watching my step so carefully that I take a branch to the face and it actually ends up between my teeth!  Luckily it's not sharp so it's funny.  Finally it levels off and climbs 1000 feet in 2+ miles to the next aid station.  I still feel good and I'm running where it's not too steep, able to run more uphills than I had been in training.

A short climb after AS 3 and we're on Red Creek Plains.  In some places the views are open and incredible.  Also incredible is how much water is up here.  The trail is almost always either a foot under water, in 4 inches of mud, or very rocky.  You can run it,  but very slowly and you can't lose focus and let your mind drift.  I trip in one place and once again catch a low branch between my teeth.  Never had this happen before, and now twice within an hour or two!

Finally, about a mile from the next aid station the trail dries out and is much more runnable.  I take stock and as difficult as the course has been, I'm still in a good mood and have been for the entire race.  There will still be some rollers but the climbing is really done, and most of the technical sections are behind me.  The mud and water have slowed me but my legs don’t feel tired.  I've never had a good race beyond a 50K, but maybe this will be it.

And then it happens.  My foot catches the lip of a rock and before I can even get my hands out, BAM!  Face plant right into a rock.  I see stars and am stunned.  I had heard some guys a bit behind me so I don't even try to get up.  A few seconds later 2 or 3 of them come up and pretty quickly realize this was a hard fall.  They tell me my nose is bleeding, but I figure out its on the bridge and not from inside.  I worry about my teeth but I feel with my tongue that I didn't chip them.  I talk with them and assure them that I'll be ok and will just walk to the aid station to get checked out and they start to move out, but first one of them checks my eyes and all seems fine.  All pretty standard stuff for trail runners to do, but still I am very appreciative that they did stop to help.  I saw the guy I talked with the most after the race and thanked him again, and he was very happy and a bit surprised to hear that I finished.

After my standing 8 count, I continue on, and even jog a bit, though I'm spooked by the rocks.  I soak my bandana with water and hold it to my nose but there doesn’t seem to be much blood.  I get to the Road Across the Sky a bit before the aid station.  Crew is allowed here and I see Tammy driving as she's heading out, which confirms that Rick is ahead of me as expected.  She yells some encouragement and then her eyes get wide as she sees my face so I know it doesn't look good.  She tells me after the race that she wanted to stop but was afraid I'd use it as an excuse to drop.  That actually wasn't even on my mind but it's still good tough love.

I had my drop bag here and I had hoped to switch packs and move out pretty quickly but I figure sitting for a minute is a good idea.  A volunteer offers a wet wipe to clean my face, and even though tradition says to wear your blood proudly, I figure I ought to clean it and make sure it’s not flowing.  I also decide to take time to change into dry socks even though my feet feel ok.  My shoes (Inov8 319) are doing well so I slip them back on rather than switch.  I burn about 10 minutes here, but I feel like I'm good to go with my smaller pack and my mp3 player for the dirt road section.

The Road Across the Sky goes for over 7 miles across the Dolly Sods, which is a designated wilderness area.  Logging and a major fire years ago took out the trees, and with the rugged weather what grew back looks more like northern Minnesota or Canada than anything this far south.  There are breaks where the views are wide open.  For race purposes, what you have is a rolling non-technical packed dirt road where you can make up time, but it's dead straight and pretty imposing to see how much of it you have in front of you.  Plus it's very exposed so the sun can take it's toll on a hot day, but today's there's a breeze and it's not that bad, and it‘s not buggy.  It takes a minute to loosen up from sitting too long, but I'm able to crank out an 8:30 mile on one stretch, though I haveto walk more stretches of the uphills than I'd like.  My mp3 player stops after about 2 songs.  Apparently it bumped on in my bag and drained the battery.  My legs are starting to give out, and my nose is throbbing some.  The fall is still on my mind too much and I'm wondering if I'm using it as an excuse to take it easy, or I really am physically affected, but in any case I'm spiraling down.

Finally we're off the road and into the Dolly Sods on the Bear Rocks and Raven Ridge trails.  It's beautiful open highlands, with views in all directions.  I think how nice it would be to curl up with a book under a shade tree and take a nap.  It's mostly runnable with some muck, but my legs just don't want to go.  I clock a 17 minute mile and vow I won't have another.  I almost hold to my promise, but in the wrong direction with a 17:57 mile.  Then 2 more in the 17s and then a couple more even slower. When I look back at why my time was so slow, this is the place I had the most control over.  I stop caring about time and just enjoy the views, but I'm not in a very happy place for these miles.  I won’t quit, but I really, really want it all to be over.

Aid station 7, and they promise downhills after a short climb.  Someone comments that we have 90 minutes to run 8 miles to break 10 hours, and I shake my head and know I can't do it.  But wait!  The race director said we were routing around a "butt slide" section on the ski slopes since Timberline didn't want us ruining the bike trails in the mud, so the course is probably really 40 miles, not 41.  7 miles, I can probably do in that time.
I struggle on a rock hopping section and people appear from nowhere and pass me.  I hang onto them for awhile and they sail away.  We get to the top of Timberline Ski resort and start down a ski run, and the running starts to come easy for me.  I'm starting to reel back in many of those who have passed me.  So many of them were encouraging when they passed me, and I try to return the good will.  Back on another dirt road, and the final aid station appears at mile 36.9, confirmed by my GPS watch.  A sign says 4.1 miles left.  So is it really 41 miles, or 40?  I hope for the best and run with short walk breaks.  A paved road section should feel good after such difficult terrain, but it always seems tough in a trail race.  At least it has some good views of the mountains we‘ve put behind us.  We run a grass trail parallel to the highway, but it's so marshy and slow that I know I can't make it if it's 41.

The park road comes, and I try to remember how far it is to the lodge, and I know we loop around to get behind the building.  Mile 40 is approaching and just ahead I see a sign that says "I mile left".  So, it is 41, and a bit more.  My watch says 9:52 and seconds aren't displayed, so I'd have to run sub 8 for the final mile+.  We leave the road and the trail rolls and there are still some mucky sections.  I run what I can because I want to finish strong, but the 10 hour mark passes and I can't see the finish.  Finally it comes into view, and I cross at 10:04.

Overall, even though my time was slow, I'm happy that I finished pretty strong and nothing was really hurting.  My feet usually hurt the worst on a rocky course, and they actually feel pretty good.  This really was like a 50 miler, by far my toughest run since knee surgery last year, and I made it.  I’ve proven to myself that I can do everything I did before the torn ACL, just not quite as fast.  The course was by far the prettiest I've run on.  I can definitely see coming back, hopefully on a drier day!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Shenandoah National Park Weekend

by Marc Griffin
Day 1, Mile 0
A friend of mine -- Charles West -- heard about a group of people that were heading up to attempt to run the entire Shenandoah National Park section of the Appalachian Trail, which is 110 miles, in 3 days beginning Friday, May 24th.  Knowing that I am up for anything and a little crazy, he forwarded the email on to me.  I have been looking for something a little bigger to do this year and this sounded perfect.  I immediately emailed Matt Smythe, and I was in.  The plan was to stay Thursday night in Front Royal, get up early and be on the trail at 6 am to cover the first 38ish miles on Friday.  After we finally found the trail head we took our “before” picture and set off around 6:15am.  There were 4 of us total, Matt, Amie, another Matt, and myself.  It was cool but very nice running weather.

The first day came and went with easy running mixed with quite a bit of hiking.  It was hard to hold back and not run too fast, especially on the beautiful down hills.  As we got closer to Skyland Resort where we would spend the night, the temperature started to drop and the wind picked up a lot!  We got to Skyland around 4:30pm took showers and had a great dinner at the restaurant there.  The second day came very quickly and we set out around 6:00am.  It was cold and windy; I put on as many layers as I could but could still feel the wind through everything. 

The trail was beautiful and I was still feeling pretty good.  This day would be approximately 44 miles and some of the toughest trail of the weekend.  I felt pretty good until we hit Swift Run Gap which is Rt.33 coming out of Harrisonburg.  These mountains were big and just one after another.  Somewhere in here we saw our first bear, it ran at first but then stopped about 50 feet off the trail and just watched us.  We sat there for quite a while just watching him.  It was a mutual attraction.  We slowed down quite a bit in this section but continued on and finally made it to our campsite at Loft Mountain Campgrounds around 7:30pm.  Luckily, we had the best crew in the world -- Matt’s mom and dad.  They had ordered food for us before the Loft Mountain kitchen closed at 7:00pm.  By the time we washed up a little and set up our tents, it was time for bed and time to try and stay warm.  Who would have thought the temperatures would get down below freezing this close to June! 

The third and final morning came very quickly and we were again on the trail by 6:30am, finally the wind stopped and the sun and warm temperatures came, it was a very nice change.  We only had 27ish miles to cover and we took our time and enjoyed it.  We came into Rockfish Gap at approximately 2pm and had a small celebration.  It was sad to see it end. 

I really didn’t know any of the runners or crew going in but we had such a great, epic experience together.  It was cold, it was rocky; we suffered together, cheered each other on, and celebrated together. What more could you ask for?  I heard a few whispers about doing another adventure like this continuing south from where we left off next year, I’m In!!!!!!
Day 3, Mile 110

Run Recap
  • Distance – 110 Miles
  • Total time on AT – 31:15:00ish, over 3 days
  • Wildlife – two bear, tons of deer, turtle, frog, eagles, hawks, grouse
  • Blisters – two, very small, not really an issue
  • Temps – everything from 75 degrees to below freezing with winds up to 40 mph

Sunday, April 28, 2013

My First 100 Miler

by Jason Farr

 I went to Raleigh, NC on April 6, 2013 with the goal of running my first 100 miler in 24 hours. Well, the last part didn’t happen, but I never lost sight of the fact that actually finishing was most important.

The Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run consists of 8 loops; each loop being 12.5 miles with approximately 1,000’ of vertical gain, or 8,000’ over 100 miles. The plan was to run each of the first 4 laps in 2.5 hours and come through 50 miles in 10:30. I went through 50 miles in 10:31, but the first two laps were each around 2:15. Classic rookie mistake; thinking I could “bank” some time by running what felt like such an easy pace early on, only to suffer later!

The course is run on amazingly soft trails through a beautiful state park. Although the course is all “runnable,” it’s definitely not flat. In fact, the “rolling hills” felt like mountains by the last two loops! My nutrition consisted of simple things that I knew I could stomach; mostly Perpetuem, gels, bananas, melons, potatoes, PBJ, and pretzel sticks. As it got later, darker, and colder, I really enjoyed the warm broth and even some some coffee at the Aid Stations.

The weather was great but dramatically different during the day and night. Saturday afternoon temperatures were in the low 70s with what felt like blazing hot sun. I even shed my shirt during the 4th loop! Low 70s don’t seem hot, but in early April, it was by far the warmest day I’ve experienced since before winter. During the night, temps dropped into the mid 30s. Between slowing down and my body’s seeming inability to regulate temperature - or do much of anything after 20 hours of running - I definitely felt the cold.

The first three loops (about 50k) were easy. Although I went out too fast, it never felt hard, and I enjoyed talking with people as we clicked off the early miles. In retrospect, I should have been even more relaxed and worried less about time and pace. Still, what felt so easy early on was faster than the plan I had set for myself. Lesson learned; stick to the plan!

Umstead allows pacers after 50 miles and my wife Lisa joined me for the 5th loop. Since I had started “feeling the miles” during loop 4, her presence was a welcome relief from the emerging aches and pains. But around 57 miles, things started going south. I discovered blisters located in identical places on the inside of each big toe. Lisa ran back to the AS (about 1/4 mile) for band-aids while I drained the blisters using the safety-pins from by bib-number. We carried on, but after that, pretty much everything hurt. I took a little extra time after loop 5 (100k). It was getting dark. My stomach hurt. I had blisters... and more than 50k to go! But after a full change of clothes, a Red Bull and an Alka-Seltzer (miracle drug!), I was ready for the night!

The folks who organize Umstead go out of their way to help people finish 100 miles. For example, volunteer pacers are available for runners who don’t bring their own crews. Although I had Lisa with me for the fifth loop, she (understandably) wanted to sleep a few hours so that she could join me for the last few miles during the early morning hours. I wasn’t sure if I wanted a pacer - particularly a complete stranger - but with fullon darkness and increasing pain, I figured a little company couldn’t hurt. A local runner named Mike Forte joined me through much of the night. He was incredibly patient and encouraging; running when I wanted and walking when needed. We seemed to talk about everything imaginable, which really helped take my mind off the pain and absurdity of running at three o’clock in the morning. Thanks, Mike!

Sometime during the 6th loop, probably around mile 68 or 70, things got really hard. Coming into the 7th - and next to last loop - it was clear that breaking 24 hours wasn’t going to happen. A few thoughts came to mind; one was what my friend (and race volunteer) Charles West told me when I expressed concern about going too fast after lap 2. He said, “you’re not racing, you’re completing.” Pacer Mike echoed that sentiment and reminded me that finishing 100 miles - regardless of time - was still an incredible accomplishment. I realized that I could literally walk the last 30 miles and make the cutoff time of 30 hours. What difference did it make if I was 24:30 or 29:59? I came to finish 100 miles, and I didn’t want to risk that by getting greedy over my finishing time. So I slowed the pace and alternated between 4-5 minutes of easy running and 2-3 minutes of brisk walking. Doing this, I still managed a decent pace, but more importantly, started feeling better!

I headed out for the last loop fully confident that I could finish. With a renewed sense of purpose, I put in my earbuds, got lost in some tunes, and even picked up the pace a little. I met Lisa again after a few miles and her excitement and company was a great boost! She laughed at me as my “running” resembled a drunken stopper, weaving side to side along the trail. She informed me that I was wasting a lot of energy by not going straight. She also made me keep eating as my stomach was in full-on revolt. By that point all I could really digest was broth and coffee from the Aid Station. I did force down one or two gels, but with the finish so close, I mostly just relied on whatever fumes were left in the tank and kept moving forward.

Reflecting on the whole thing, it’s clear that I made a lot of the classic rookie mistakes. Went out too fast. Took too much time through aid stations... especially between each loop. I also had no idea how my body would respond after 14 or 15 hours. Still, I learned a lot of lessons. Some say the golden rules of ultrarunning are “eat before you’re hungry, drink before you’re thirsty, and walk before you’re tired.”  Well, I followed the first two rules really well. But you can’t “bank” time, in a 100 miler. The extra thirty minutes I gained by doing the first two loops fifteen minutes faster than I planned was completely gone well before the 100k mark. It’s also important to maintain forward progress. I lost large chunks of time between each loop. There’s a fine line between taking care of yourself and wasting time. I’m glad I addressed my feet (blister) issues early, but I know that I could have been quicker between each loop and through the Aid Stations.

Even though I had hoped to finish in the dark, experiencing the second sunrise was surreal. With a mile or two to go it was clear that I would actually accomplish my goal. As I ran down the trail toward the steps leading to the finish line, I choked up a little and was overwhelmed with emotion. I forced myself to run up the steep trail leading to the finish line feeling both ecstatic and obliterated at the same time. The clock said 25:47, but that didn’t matter. I had done it! I had run 100 miles!

Running 100 miles became a journey of curiosity and self-discovery. Could I do it? What would it be like after 100k? All I can say is that strange things happen when moving forward on foot for that long. I don’t know why some of us willingly subject ourselves to such ordeals, but whatever our reasons, and whatever it was that happened to my mind and body out there in the middle of the night, I liked it.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

When I am closest to death I am the most alive...

GDR finisher award
...that was the motto of the Georgia Death Race. This past Saturday (03/16) Marc Griffin and I were lucky to be part of the inaugural Georgia Death Race (GDR). A point-to-point race in the north Georgian mountains (from Vogel State Park to Amicalola Falls State Park), supposedly 60mi long, and approximately 15,000 ft of elevation gain. (As we found out later it was about 65mi long but who counts...).

Sunrise after the first 3hrs
On Saturday at 4am about 182 runners toed at the start. Race director, Sean Blanton aka Run Bum, gave a quick speech and off we went into the 60F warm night. Since this was an inaugural event and (as we know) weather in the mountains can sometimes be unpredictable we had a list of mandatory gear to carry throughout the race. Thermal top, waterproof rain jacket, gloves, hat, headlamp, food ration, 22oz water can get heavy after many miles, especially if you don't use them. Day temps were above 70 and felt pretty hot in the sun.

Switchbacks? What is that?
Having had mere mediocre training weeks before, and solid 2 weeks of taper prior the race I wasn't looking for record pace. This was my first time in the Georgia mountains, I just wanted to enjoy the race and fellowship on the trail. So I tried to keep a relaxed pace throughout. That wasn't all to difficult as there is 11,000 ft elevation gain in the first 38mi. Also switchbacks don't seem very common there, many trails went straight up the mountain. Ugh! The other 22+3mi were on mostly rolling gravel roads.

The race went pretty good for me, I kept up to par with nutrition and hydration and enjoyed breathtaking views the ups and downs had to offer. Despite the gnarling terrain everybody was
in good spirits, and up for chats as one would expect in a trail race. I ended up running the last 12 mi or so with a new trail friend, Lee Shane. This was great since my legs were fried after the early mountain miles so it was easier to trade walking in favor of running. Lee and I took turns motivating each other to keep shuffling and finished after 15:22hrs.

Final mile during sunset
It was surely one of the hardest races I have done. The elevation, high temperatures and pounding on the gravel/hard packed dirt roads tax your legs. I'd say its like Hellgate 100k condensed to the first 38 GDR miles, followed by 25 mi of Mountain Masochist.


Run Bum's motivators along the trial
Georgia Death Race, I now know why it’s called this, I felt like death hit me with a baseball bat by the time I finished the race.  It seems the State of Georgia does not believe in switch backs.  I went into the race thinking that it can’t be as hard as the race director is making it out to be.  I was also thinking that there is no way it could be harder than Hellgate….boy I was wrong!

We started the day with the biggest climb of the race that lasted about the first 5-7 miles.  Then the pain started, for the next 31 or so miles we went straight up and straight down each mountain we came to.  The climbs were approximately one mile in length but they were steep, and the descents were just as steep and knee pounding, and they came one right after another, no flat in-between.

After the first 38 miles of all single track it turned into fire and service roads for the remainder of the race.  The word is next year he found more trails to connect and the course will be changed a little to get more trail near the end of the race.  Either way these dirt and gravel roads were a blessing.  You could finally relax and well by this time mostly walk, but at least it wasn’t as steep.
Run Bum's motivators teases along the trial

The final mile was another adventure, you lost 1500 feet in less than a mile, yes this hurt quite a bit.  Lastly the race was said to be 60 miles but the lady I finished with had 65.4.  This wasn’t really a big deal except during the heat of the day it got up to 80 degrees and I ran out of water between aid stations thinking it was only 6 miles but it felt more like 8 or 9.  I ended up finding a stream and drank from it and cooled down.

Cut off times this year were 28 hours but I see next year it will be 24 hours, which gives you plenty of time.  Over all it was a great race, especially for the first year.   I am sure lessons were learned and things will be a little different next year.  I would recommend this race but make sure you train for relentless STEEP hills.

Hanging bridge along the way

Lots of streams and rivers on the course

Sunset finish

Monday, February 18, 2013

Holiday Lake 50k++ Race Report

Well, my first ultramarathon is DONE, and out of the way!  After my great performance at the Route 66 Marathon, (before Thanksgiving), I took 2 weeks off for some "easy paced" runs, to stuff my face full of turkey (and anything else of nutritional and non-nutritional value) before I started training for my first ultramarathon, theHoliday Lake 50K++. From the beginning, I approached this ultra as a "chill" type of pressure, just get your miles in, don't bonk and most of all...cross the finish line standing up.  Sound easy for 32 miles?  Sure! :-)  I got the training in, but the "meat" of my training was in the final 6 weeks, consisting of running the Holiday Lake course, running the Rivanna Trail in C'ville, and Wednesday O-Hill sessions with the CAT group. 

Pre race dinner:  Lots of carbo-rich foods and my favorite...cheesecake (I wish I got a second piece of cheesecake, instead of the second piece of lasagna).  So many Patagonia jackets in this crowd of ultra-folks...i think it's more than I've even seen inside Blue Ridge Mountain Sports!   After the pre-race briefing (where the theme was "If you don't see yellow tape on the're LOST! And you're stupid." The race director, David Horton, was quite a hoot.  After the briefing, he had a quick Q&A session for any ultramarathon newbies (a lot of us in the room), ranging from topics as what to eat at the aid station, how to keep motivated (Horton's recom:  Walk with a don't stop), and how to use the bathroom while running (I'm not making that up). 

Race morning, pre-race: The start line was LITERALLY outside my cabin.  2 bananas, a clif bar, and some weak coffee (sorry, I'm a coffee snob).  Hit the bathroom one more time...exit said bathroom with 2 minutes before gun time (after the national anthem and a quick prayer by Horton), and we're off!  Race temps:  low 20s, no wind.  Attire: My lucky red hat, my favorite NYC marathon gloves, mittens, 2 long sleeves, armsocks, and shorts. I'm thankful the predicted 15 mph wind wasn't present! 

Usually, the next lines of my race reports include mile splits, but not this time.  Race morning, I decided to PUT away the ol' Garmin GPS and just go with the trusty Timex Ironman Triathlon.  I knew the aid stations were about 4 miles it made for easy math to calculate my average splits.  I wanted to just ENJOY this one.

My fellow training buddy TJ  and I were literally the LAST two up the first hill. Horton suggested the night before that newbies WALK that hill, from the start line until we got into the woods.  We took that advice to heart.  It was wall to wall people until 30 minutes in (from being in the back of the pack). 
Miles 1 to 4:  Just trying to get the motor going.  TJ and I spilt about 30 minutes in...he stopped for bathroom break...he told me to go on.  Admiring the sunrise as we made our way along the course. 
Miles 4 to 8: The course thins out...meeting people along the way...most of the people I encountered had done an ultra or Holiday Lake before.  I realized I'm OVERhydrated.  So, taking a nature break every 4 miles became routine from here on. 
Miles 9 to 12 - my fastest 4 mile section.  Can't explain that...many downhills (which later would become uphills).  Doing my best to not FLY down these hills, and risk breaking something.  I decided against taking salt tablets or eating potato chips at the aid stations...rather; I brought pistachios to eat/get my salt intake.  And when I wasn't taking a GU, taking an electrolyte capsule.  The lead runners are coming my way...they're making it look easy. 
Miles 13 to 16: I started hearing cheers from across the lake, so I knew the end of the first loop was soon!  The course gets narrow coming I stopped for faster traffic to pass by (and made sure I didn't fall down the side of the trail into the lake).  I went off course very briefly...when I saw the trail I was on went STRAIGHT into the lake!  Thankfully, it was only a few yards of the course.    End of loop 1: 3:06 minutes (cut off for the first loop was 3:45).  In and out, after donning a dry shirt and refilling my Camelbak. 
Miles 17-32 are just the loop, in reverse.  With every significant hill on this course, I reduce my speed to a fast walk...and take in some fluids or eat some nuts.  Glen (my traveling buddy, a couple months out from the completion of his 50 marathons/50 states under 4 hours tour), runs this loop with me. He's keep me entertained along the way...laughing....and keeping me from thinking about what madness I'm putting my body through.  I tell him the tricks I've been doing to keep myself motivated on the first loop...and making him aware of a some stream crossings.  We encounter lots of mud on the second loop, which is easily cleaned up by stream crossings.  Sidenote:  I POWERED through a stream crossing...literal gallop through it.  The runner behind me exclaimed "Dude! That was hard core!!!!"  Well...wearing smart wool socks helped!
On the final mile, I catch Kathryn, a fellow C'villian.  I told Glen (and I think she overheard) that once we get to the pavement, I'm putting the hammer DOWN and getting to the finish.  There was an orange marker, stating it was a mile until the finish. I looked at my watch and saw that a 6 hour finish time was out of the picture (I didn't have a time goal in mind....though a 6 hr finish would have been great).
After passing 55 runners during that second loop (thanks Glen for counting...I'm still amazed!), I crossed the finish line in 6 hours 3 minutes (and some seconds).  I wasn't beat up when I got to the finish line...I was surprised! I finished the second loop in 2 hours 57 minutes...9 minutes FASTER than my first loop.  I was shocked.
Things I learned: 
- Running without the GPS was a blessing.  Not worried about the pace.  I wasn't chained to technology. I ran by how I was breathing and how my body felt.
- Speed really does kill! As does pavement.  The softer surface and slower pace were also a blessing over 32 miles. 
- Race week fueling and race day fueling plan: it passes!  Salmon and veggies early in the week and a low carb diet until 2-3 days before the race got the old carbs out of the system, enabling to build up a great supply for race day. 
Things that motivated me:   
- Friends and family that thought I was crazy for attempting my first marathon 12 years ago...and even crazier (18 marathons later, ha ha) for going for my first ultramarathon.  It was a challenge to break through to the next level.  I know many were cheering for me; despite this crazy goal!
- This hymn, which I learned from my days in a Mennonite High School. So appropriate:  It's called Guide My Feet.
- Thoughts of my Tita Kelly, my aunt and my godmother  She died last month at the young age of 77.  A massive heart attack.   For 32 miles, I carried a picture with her in my Camelbak.  When I felt tired,I thought of her and her family...and for my extended family, as we continue to grieve.

Will there be another ultramarathon for Andrew, you ask? Mmmmmmmm....there is a possiblity. I just won't say the % of that possiblity.  :-)
Andrew Zapanta

Monday, January 28, 2013

Sunday 18.5er & Updated RT Turnsheet

This past Sunday we did another group training run of the whole Rivanna Trail. Following the post-run-report from organizer Neal:

This morning's loop was a huge success.  11 runners braved the cold temperatures at Riverview at 7am and cheerfully made their way around town on the Rivanna Trail in the counter clockwise direction.  Near the Park (after passing Barracks area) we linked up with four other runners who had started the loop earlier than 7am.  So there was 15 of us in total!  There were a few planned early drops but most everyone finished and finished strong.  The fun continued post-run at Beer Run.  There happened to be a New Belgium rep dinning with his daughters behind us and, thanks to his brief conversation with Jason, graciously offered our group a complimentary round of their new Imperial Coffee Stout, which many of us happily accepted- including yours truly.  It was tasty.

Also, the footing on the trails this morning was the best I have ever experienced on the RT.  Zero mud.  Everything was frozen solid and super tacky.  Three cheers for those low temps!

Having run the loop twice in two weeks with several people  I truly think there are going to be some real surprises time wise come a month from now.  Personally, I won't be that surprised.  There are some strong runners in this group.  But I do think several people are going to surprise themselves.  

Nick created a fantastic turn sheet of the whole loop, so that folks wont have an excuse to get lost in the future

This is a bit late for folks hoping for some descriptions this morning, but hopefully it'll still be useful to somebody some day. Also, hopefully, I'll work to incorporate useful bits into the RTF's map - so if you've got comments, questions, suggestions, corrections please let me know. Please don't get mad at me if you get lost while trying to follow these directions. And these are just my notes, not anything official from the RTF.

I'll start at Riverview, and generally go around counter-clockwise, finishing back up at Riverview.

Riverview - River Rd: At Riverview Park, there are two trailheads out of the parking lot, both heading out on paved footpaths. One would be if you continue straight, the way you came in to the parking lot, the other goes off to the right, heading toward the playground area and Rivanna River. You can take either, they both meet up after a short while, and there are some un-paved cut-throughs between them. The trail will be a paved walkway for a few miles, and basically follows the river (which'll be on your right), passing under route 250 at one point. Eventually you'll pop out at a field with some soccer goals set up. You can continue following the trail, or you'll see a parking lot off to your left - you can head up there and turn right on the road that's there (River Rd). If you stay on the trail, it'll go just a short bit through an area with some small trees, close to the river bank, and then there will be signs pointing you to the left. That trail heads up a hill, then runs along a fence at a VFW building until you get to the road (River, same road), on which you'll turn right.

River and Locust: Head up the hill on River, and at the stop sign at the end of River (at the top of the hill), turn right on Locust Ave. That'll head downhill a little bit, and come to a T-intersection. Turn left at the intersection, onto Locust Lane, and then take your first little road to your right, Megan Ct. At the end of that short little road is a sign for the RTF, on the right.

Locust - Holmes: From there, the trail heads downhill for a short bit, to get down to Meadow Creek. Once you get there, you'll continue along with the creek on your right, eventually popping out of the woods into a clearing with the creek on your right but curving left in front of you, and houses up the hill on your left. Follow that clearing, staying between the houses and the creek, with a few hops across some drainage areas as you go. In this section, keep to the right side of the clearing. Shortly before getting to Holmes (the first and only road crossing), the trail and clearing generally veer right, and once they do you'll be able to see Holmes ahead of you.

Holmes - Melbourne: After crossing Holmes Ave, pick up the trail in the gap in the guardrail. This trail follows the Meadow Creek (on your right), with a cleared strip of land on our left. The single track eventually dumps out onto the cleared stretch, and you continue on, keeping the creek on your right. Once the creek turns left, the clearing ends and you go left into the woods, back on single track. This continues for a short bit, eventually crossing under Park St at its intersection with Melbourne. Just after crossing under the road, the single track is closed, and you must go left, up to Melbourne Rd.

Melbourne - Meadowcreek Parkway: Once you get to Melbourne road, looking left you'll see the intersection with Park. However, you want to go the other way, heading instead to the light at the Meadowcreek Parkway. You'll make a right at the parkway to get on the paved footpath following the parkway.

[[McIntire spur: Instead of turning right at the parkway, you can continue straight on Melbourne. You'll go up a hill, and over a bridge across the train tracks. Just after that bridge, there's a Rivanna Trail sign on your left, leading down some stairs, and you'll see Charlottesville High School in front of you (with the baseball diamond the closest thing to you). If you head down those stairs, and stay generally left, there's a patch of trees between the railway and the baseball diamond. You can either hop on a short bit of singletrack in that clump of trees (which quickly comes back out into the grass), or just stay between the trees and the baseball field on a trail that heads down the hill. This trail shortly crosses into the woods, followed at the bottom of the hill by a creek crossing (where there's concrete pillars, so you wouldn't expect your feet to get wet). Continuing to follow this singletrack, you'll eventually get to a spilt where you can go left past a bench, or stay right. If you go left, you'll go up slightly to a paved footpath, which you can take left to get into McIntire park, or take right to cross the creek and get to Charlottesville High (or stay straight to reconnect with the singletrack). If, instead, you stay right on the singletrack, you'll cross under this bridge, and when the two trails reconnect you go right, and cross another creek (where you might, actually, get your feet wet). After that crossing, stay right for the singletrack (or go left, and shortly come to the new paved trail, which will reconnect with the single track after a short distance), and continue following the singletrack through the woods. You'll cross a few small wooden bridges, and eventually get to a cement pad, right near where the paved trail comes back in. Continue on, and the trail will narrow slightly, and head up a little hill, with 250 above you on the left. This trail comes out where 250 and Meadowbrook Heights intersect, with the "Whale Tail" installation of the Art In Place in the clearing. If you continue on, following 250 (with it on your left), you could cross Hydraulic Rd, and then pick up the Rivanna Trail again there.]]

Meadowcreek Parkway - Railroad: Continue on the paved pathway, with an eye to your right to hop back on singletrack. If you end up going uphill on the paved pathway, you've gone too far (but the two meet up again, so it's ok). The trail here stays basically along the Meadow Creek (on your right), and there's a short steep hill to get you back up to the paved pathway when the two meet again. The singletrack and paved path meet at a large bridge for the parkway (above the trail) with a smaller footbridge for the paved path off to the right. If you were to go right on the paved path, it would wind its way uphill, eventually ending at the intersection of the Parkway with Rio Rd. However, to continue on the Rivanna Trail you do not want to do this. Unfortunately, at the intersection of the paved path with the singletrack, under the bridge for the parkway, what you do want to do is somehow find your way to the other side of the railroad tracks. Standing on the paved path, with your back to the singletrack, you'll be looking at the bridge for the parkway. Just past that is the train tracks, at the top of a quick hill, and the creek is on your right. The creek passes under the train tracks through a culvert, and generally the water is not more than 2-3 inches deep, and the creak bed is even. Alternatively, steep trail can be found which goes up the steep embankment to the railroad tracks and back down the other side. Unfortunately, neither of these options is condoned.

Railroad - Brandywine: If you should happen to find yourself on the west side of the railroad, north of the creek (looking away from the railroad, the creek is on your left), the trail follows another cleared strip of land, which has a few bushes and things planted. After a little wooden footbridge (the second), you find yourself on the creek bank of the newly completed creek restoration project. The trail is not well defined here, and the footing is a bit uneven and over a netting, but you just want to follow the creek. It'll cross a paved pathway, running perpendicular to the creek at one point - going right would take you to Greenbrier Dr, going left would take you across the creek and to Jamestown Dr (where you could follow brown RTF blazes back to Charlottesville High, if you wanted (quickly: Jamestown becomes Lester Dr, which T's at Kenwood. Turn right on Kenwood, follow it around to the right, up a hill, then turn left on Melbourne Rd)). However, to follow the RTF loop, continue straight, with the creek on your left. Before long, you'll get to the three-way intersection of Brandywine Dr (going left, or straight-right-ish) and Greenbrier Dr (going right, sorta back the way you just came).

Brandywine - Hydraulic: At the Brandywine/Greenbrier intersection, the trail continues in the cleared strip of land, sort of like where Greenbrier Rd would continue, if it didn't end at that intersection, with the creek still on your left. A few hundred yards down that strip, look for a rock-hop creek crossing on your left, which has a cable strung up between the trees to aid your balance. You want to cross the creek here, and then veer right (so that the creek is now on your right). The trail moves a little bit away from the creek at this point, with woods on both sides of you (and houses up your hill on the left). There are no real trail intersections here, although some re-routing as the creek restoration project was in progress has provided some options at one point. As long as you're continuing on with the creek on your right, houses up the hill on your left (and aren't getting in people's yards), you're still on the right track. Just before the trail gets to Hydraulic, you can either go left, and up a quick hill to get to the road, or stay right, pass over a short rocky section, and then walk through a tunnel underneath Hydraulic Rd.

Hydraulic - Morton: After crossing under Hydraulic Rd, continue on the singletrack (creek on your right), coming to a set of stairs which take you up to near the intersection of Hydraulic Rd and 250. At the top of the stairs, go right, following the concrete sidewalk, until just after crossing the bridge, where the trail turns left and heads down to the creek where it passes under 250. Underneath 250, you'll be walking on some cement blocks which are starting to deteriorate, so watch your footing. After coming out of the tunnel, the primary (green) trail basically follows the creek (now on your left), eventually coming to the RTF tool shed (which will be on your right) near the Meadowcreek gardens. An alternate (brown) trail will branch off to your right, but reconnects with the main trail before the RTF shed. The trail is close to the creek after the shed, and parallels a gravel driveway. The two come together at Morton Dr.

Morton - Barracks: Turn right on Morton, and continue to the light at Emmet St (the intersection where Bodo's Bagels is). Cross Emmet, and continue straight on Earheart (Cavalier Diner on your left, Asian market on your right). Near the end of that little road you'll see a sign on your left for the RTF, at a wooden bridge. Crossing the bridge, the trail continues for a few yards and then crosses a chain link fence at a gate. The gate is rarely locked (though it is, occasionally). Once in the fenced area (if the gate wasn't locked), turn right and follow the gravel path. While you're still in the boundary defined by the chain link fence, there will be a right hand turn leading you out of the fenced in area, which you should take. Just after coming out of the fenced area, you'll cross a little wooden bridge, and will see a road ahead of you (or to your right, depending on how quickly you look for it after you get off the bridge). Go out to the road (Cedars Ct), turn left, and follow it to its intersection with Barracks Rd. The trail continue straight across Barracks Rd from this intersection.

Barracks - Leonard Sandridge: At the trail head off Barracks, you'll go up a short flight of stone stairs, and then the trail goes to the right. It veers left shortly after that, then right across a wooden bridge (which can be fairly slick in wet conditions), and left again. It then follows the creek (on your left), for a little while. When you get to another wooden bridge (with "monkey bars" overhead), you can cross it and go left to hop off the trail at UVA's "The Park" at North Grounds. Alternatively, you can cross the bridge and go right to follow a spur trail, which connects with the main trail again in about a tenth of a mile. The main trail, however, doesn't cross this bridge (the monkey bars bridge), and simply continues on with the creek on your left. After curving to the right, it then does cross a different wooden bridge, this one with some flower pots built in. The trail then continues on a sort of gravel access road, eventually going up a short hill at a land bridge over the creek. The primary trail, at this point, continues straight. [[However, you could cross the land bridge. If you did, you'd come to the intersection with the trail from the monkey bar bridge (coming in from the left), and would also have the option of going right, to follow the trail up the hill. This trail is marked with green RTF blazes, and is parallel to the primary trail, which stays lower, and closer to the creek. If you decide to take this trail up the hill, the trail is easy to follow, and staying right at all the trail intersections will keep you on track.]] The primary trail and the alternate (hilly) route meet back up after a few tenths of a mile, and then continue on until a short steep climb up to Leonard Sandridge Rd.

Leonard Sandridge - Old Ivy: Cross Leonard Sandridge, and cross the wooden footbridge to continue on the trail. There are no trail intersections in this next section to worry about, just continue on until you get to the next road crossing, which is Old Ivy Rd. The final hill before Old Ivy can get quite muddy.

Old Ivy Rd - Ivy Rd: Unfortunately, there's another train track in the way of what you want to do to follow the trail. If you were to cross Old Ivy and then turn into the second driveway (for Ivy Stacks, not UVAs Printing and Copying Services), and then follow that driveway straight/right, then just before it went left behind the building, you'd be able to look across the train tracks at the light which is the intersection of Ivy Rd and 29. Just next to the fire station, across Ivy from where you're standing, is where the trail picks up. You might even see a little trail leading you across the tracks and down to the road. The shortest road detour at this point is to turn right on Old Ivy, cross over 29, left at the stop sign, under the train tracks, and then a left at the light onto Ivy Rd.

Ivy - Fontaine (O-Hill): If you find your way to the fire station, on the south side of Ivy at its intersection with 29, the trailhead will be on your right (looking at the fire station, from the road), ducking immediately into the woods. From here to the next road is one of the longest uninterrupted sections of trail, if not the longest. Largely the trail is well marked, but there are numerous side trails to distract you (and you're certainly welcome to wander). If you are following the trail (which parallels 29 (in a windy manner), generally off to your right) and come to an intersection and see no trail blazes, turn right, and you'll be set. You may end up on a side trail briefly, but will connect with the RTF loop in short order. Eventually the trail comes out to Fontaine Ave, with the research park across the street (entrance at the light up the road to your left), and route 29 to your right (over Fontaine Ave).

Fontaine - Stribling: The trail picks back up directly opposite Fontaine Ave, in a patch of woods. It winds up a hill, and then back down, in an area with lots of evergreens, and a nice soft surface. Owing to the lack of undergrowth, the trail may seem ill-defined at times, as it meanders through the trees, but it's usually pretty easy to follow. On its way back down the hill, you'll end up crossing a fence on a wooden ladder. The trail then climbs back up to the road, and you want to continue on the road down the hill. Just after crossing a creek on the road, look for the trail on your left. Head down the embankment, and follow the trail, which keeps the creek on your left. There's a spur to your right that will take you up the hill, and comes back in and connects with the main trail just before the trail crosses the creek. At the creek crossing, the creek will head through a tunnel under some railroad tracks, and you can either rock-hop across, or walk across the black pipe. On the other side of the creek, the trail continues through a bamboo grove, and you should watch your feet for bamboo that was cut a few inches above ground level. The trail comes out to Stribling Rd, which is a dirt road, in sort order.

Stribling - Sunset: At Stribling, turn right to go under the train tracks, then take an immediate right on what appears to be (and is) a gravel driveway. Take another immediate right onto the trail leading down into a grassy field. The trail generally follows under power lines, and then hits the gravel driveway again. When it does, turn right on the driveway, and then look for an immediate left to continue on the trail, before the driveway crosses a little wooden bridge. The trail then makes a left to follow the creek (on your right), and in short order goes right at a rock hop to cross the creek. On the other side of the creek, you go up a short little hill, and then the trail goes left (where the power lines overhead continue straight). The trail then follows the creek (now on your left), and just before coming out on Sunset Ave there's a small creek crossing with a rock hop (but the main creek will still be on your left).

Sunset - Azalea Park (on roads): At Sunset Ave, turn left and follow the road. It will eventually come to a bridge with some barriers that only permit foot traffic. Cross the bridge, and continue straight on Sunset Ave (the trail DOES NOT turn right and go into the woods again here). Continue up the hill on Sunset, eventually taking your first right on Brunswick Rd. Follow green RTF signs along Jefferson Park Circle (basically clockwise along the east half of the circle), and then onto McElroy. Continue down McElroy, and it will eventually hook around to the right, where you want to turn left on Middleton Ln. Cross Old Lynchburg Rd on Middleton Ln, and then make your first right on Mobile Ln. Then look for a narrow pathway on your left, between the first two houses (or second and third, depending on where you start counting from). The trail then turns right on the paved footpath and continues downhill. Just before the paved footpath pops out in Azalea Park, look for the trailhead on your left, where you can continue on some singletrack before entering the open fields of Azalea Park. This trail will come out near the community gardens.

Azalea Park - 5th St: At the end of the (newly) paved parking lot, with the community gardens in front of you (and Moore's Creek to your right - which you'll basically be following until it hits the Rivanna River, almost back at Riverview Park), a gravel driveway continues along the gardens. Follow this driveway, with the gardens on your left. At the far end of the gardens the driveway goes left, but the trail turns right, down an embankment to the creek. The crossing at this creek has some cement pillars and some rock hops, and a short, steep set of stairs at the far end. At the top of the stairs, turn left and follow the singletrack, with the creek on your left. This will eventually take you out to a clearing, and you want to basically aim for the far left side of the clearing. Near the end of this clearing, watch out for a bit of a pothole in the ground! At the end of the clearing, the trail continues underneath 5th St, through a culvert with loose sand footing.

5th St: After crossing under 5th St, the singletrack continues away from the road for about 10 yards, and then turns left on an old paved path. It then crosses a wooden bridge and makes a right, continuing as single track through a short section of trees, and then a bit of grass and weeds, with the creek on your right. The trail pops out behind a gas station, and crosses Bent Creek Rd, continuing to follow the creek. After crossing the road, you continue under some power lines, and at the third power line the trail heads left, up the hill to 5th street (a trail does continue straight, but this is not part of the Rivanna Trail). At 5th street, turn right, cross Harris at the light, and stay on the sidewalk along 5th. At the bottom of the first hill the road crosses a creek, and just after the creek crossing the trail turns right, taking you away from the road.

5th - Jordan Park: The trail away from 5th street follows the cleared strip of land, with the creek on your right (at the moment there's construction vehicles at this trailhead). There's a little wooden bridge over a drainage creek at one point, and the trail (and clearing) goes to the right from there, with houses up the hill on your left. Shortly after this, the clearing goes around to the left, but the trail veers off to the right down a little incline, and then turns left to follow the creek (still on your right). After a little bit the trail meets back up with the cleared strip of land, but then in about 100 yards there will be a wooden footbridge to your right, and the trail will hop back into the woods. Eventually you'll come to another rock-hop creek crossing, and then pop out at Jordan Park.

Jordan Park - Avon: The trail stays on the edge of the clearing of Jordan Park, keeping the park on your left. As you get closer to the road (6th St SE), look for the trailhead ahead of you, a bit on the right. Singletrack takes you between the creek and a collection of mobile homes. Just before coming to another road (Avon), go left to go up to the road. There, turn right and take the road as it crosses the creek, then cross the road. There's a trailhead just a few yards up the hill, shortly after the metal guard rail ends.

Avon - Riverview Park: Follow the trail away from Avon, back down towards the creek, and then along the creek (now on your left). At one point the trail makes a sharp right, away from the creek, and then a slight hairpin to the left, heading up a hill. Toward the top of the hill you may find some trail intersections, but following the green blazes will keep you on track. Taking trails which head left, down the hill, will take you to a bridge, which you can cross to get into Quarry Park (this bridge is being replaced, so this crossing may not be available at the moment). Following the green blazes, and skipping Quarry Park, the next road you come to is Rt 20. The trail crosses under Rt 20 at this point. After this, you just continue following the creek (on your left), eventually crossing under Moore's Creek Ln (for the water treatment plant - you may notice a smell in this section), and then coming to an apparent dead-end at the train tracks. This is the wet part. Cross the creek, going through the water, under the train tracks high overhead. On the far side, the trail goes up the hill slightly, and then around to the right. In about a hundred yards the trail goes left up a little hill to put you on E. Market St. Turn right on Market, then take your first right on Riverside Ave. After going down the hill and through the road narrowing, the entrance to Riverview Park is on your right.

Thanks both CAT's, Neal & Nick, for adding to our great (trail) running community!

Happy Trails,