Sunday, September 25, 2011

Race # 15 - Uber Rock 50k, Wintergreen Resort, VA

Uber Rock 50k
8:00 AM
Wintergreen Resort, VA
Time: 6:07:27
Placed 31st Overall; 11th place Age Group

Where do I even begin? If you read my previous post, you’ll know what I put in to getting to this day, and running my first ultramarathon. Now, the day has come and gone, but I have the memories to last me a lifetime.

First of all, I have to thank God for giving me the ability, talent, strength, courage, willpower, and everything else, in order to do what I did. I am so lucky to be able to go out and do things like this.Second, I have to thank my wonderful, loving wife, who sacrificed her Friday, and Saturday, to go to Virginia and follow me around to each aid station while I do what I love to do: run through the woods. She sacrificed her time to help me accomplish a goal I set out to do six months ago. I can’t thank her enough.I love you, Summer.

Next, I will say that today was one of the best days of running I have yet to experience. I did everything I’ve learned to do leading up to the race, and it paid off BIG TIME. My goal for the race, besides finishing, was to do it under 7 hours. With the last minute course changes, which knocked out about 1,200 feet of elevation, I set a secondary goal of 6:30. So those were my goals, and you’ll learn later whether I met them.

The day before the race, we met up with a couple of guys from RWOL I had talked to who were also racing. Bob was racing the 50k with me (on his home turf), and Chris was doing the 100k. We arrived in time to see a lot of the elite runners be interviewed by Bryon Powell from, one of the editors from Trail Runner magazine, and Andy Jones-Wilkins. It was very interesting to get their take on the race, hear about what they’ve been up to, and just be in the presence of some of the best ultrarunners in the world.

The night ended with a Q&A session where Andy Jones-Wilkins put each runner on the spot and asked a few questions, and then they offered it up to the crowd to ask something. Of course I had to asksomething. I told them I’d be running my first ultra, and if they could give a new ultrarunner one piece of advice, what would it be. Alison Bryant said “hydrate, and eat as much as you can”. Eric Buckley told me, no matter what, keep moving forward. He also said that as long as you keep moving, you’re getting closer to the finish. If you stop to sit down, the longer you sit, the more stiff you get, and the closer you get to stopping. Both were good pieces of advice.

When the panel discussion was over, we got up and were about to head out when someone tapped me on the shoulder. It was Ian Sharman. Apparently he wanted to say something but didn’t have the chance.He said to go out slow. I knew this. After reading Relentless Forward Progress by Bryon Powell, I had heard all of what everyone told me. But I had a follow up question. When do you know when to pick it up and get out of the ‘slow’ mode? He said with about 10 miles to go. If you feel good, then pick it up. He said if you go out slow, you will get passed. But if you conserve, you will still have the opportunity to pass people in those last 10 miles as they may not have much left in the tank. I thought it was very kind of him to take the time to tell me that when he could have just called it a night and headed to his room. I really appreciated it. After that we headed back to the room and after about 45 minutes of lying awake sort of restless, I fell asleep and the next thing I knew, it was morning.

When I awoke, we packed up our stuff, I had my normal pre-long run breakfast (diet mtn. dew and a pop tart), and we checked out and headed down to the Start/Finish area. The elite runners were scheduled to go off at 7:00 with the rest of the 100k runners going off at 7:15 (not sure why they needed a 15 minute head start (kidding)). Then the 50k/half marathon runners were going off at 8:00. It was crazy again to just be at the same race as these guys (Roes, Mackey, Wardian, Sharman, Jonathan Basham the Barkley winner, etc.) Once they set them off, they made a lap around the parking lot and then came back through the S/F line a second time. I don’t know why. Apparently it was a ‘parade lap’. But I got to thinking, if they went across the timing mat one time, then came across a second time, wouldn’t it start, then stop the clock? Who knows? Not for me to worry about. And just like that, they were gone, only to be seen by me later in the day.

Now, for the good stuff. I had trained with Accelerade, so even though they had a multitude of Clif products, I decided to stick with what I know (don’t do anything new on race day!). I did partake in the Clif gels, and Shot Bloks (I ate the heck out of those things). Then as 8:00 rolled around, we got in position, and we were off. We headed through ‘Ridgley’s Fun Park’, a place where kids play during ski season, and then across a ski slope and onto the first trail. I was going slow, just as planned, and getting passed, just as planned. No big deal. We then get to the one mile mark, and I start to notice a guy in front of me swatting at the back of his legs. Then I thought I heard him say something about deer flies and I hate those things. But I hadn’t felt them yet. There was a lot of commotion amongst the runners in front of me and then I figured out what was going on. I felt a sting on the inside ankle bone of my right leg. I look down, and there was a yellow jacket stinging me through my Smartwool socks. I swatted him away and then kept on moving with the stinging sensation throbbing for the next few miles. The first thing that came to my mind was the ‘bees’ scene from the Tom Hanks movie, The Burbs. Turns out, someone had disturbed a nest, possibly in the ground, and a lot of people got stung, some multiple times including one girl who was 11 years old, running the half marathon. Not a fun way to start and I could only hope that was the worst thing that happened to me. Luckily, it was.

After this section, we continued down and ended up crossing over a very rocky section. With all the rain that moved through the area on Friday, everything was very slick. So I made sure to take it easy through this section because those rocks would’ve hurt had I fallen. We then got to the first uphill section of trail and spent the majority of it walking behind some folks, not in a hurry, trying to remember to keep it slow.We emerged from the woods and onto a paved road that went up to near the Wintergreen summit. I ran part of it but then walked and ate a gel, trying to remind myself to slow down!!! (Man that’s so hard!) The roads would be a battle all day. The race was never advertised as a ‘trail’ ultra, but I guess I just assumed it was given it was on a ski resort and in the mountains.

Coming up to the first aid station, I was thrown off. The website had shown it being at mile 5.5, but my watch said 4.6. I had hoped it would not be like this all day. I switched out my Accelerade bottle for a new one and grabbed two packs of Shot Bloks. I ate one on the next trail section, which led us back through the part of the resort close to the S/F line. Some volunteers directed us out onto the main drive that brings you to the top of the mountain. We were to take this road down a little ways and then pick up the trail on the left. Once I got there, I saw a girl coming up the road from the wrong direction. Apparently, she missed the trail and ended up going a mile out of the way and had to back track a mile to get back to the trail. Not sure how she ended up missing the orange flags marking the trail. I saw her later, after I finished, and she had dropped and said she got off course again at some point.

Once we hit this trail section, I got stuck in a line of traffic. There were about seven of us and a couple of girls in the front were just holding a conversation, and it seemed like we all had to keep the governor on so we didn’t run in to each other. Eventually they let us pass and myself and another girl were zooming through the single track. It was a nice piece of trail and the technicality of it was similar to what I had trained on, so I felt I really excelled on that part. I also felt like I got in my groove at this point, about six miles in. Then we hit the dreaded road (yes, the roads, again). Wintergreen Drive is the main road that takes you to the top. It’s about three miles long, but we only had to do about two miles of it going down.Not to fear, the entire three miles were waiting for us at the end, as we have to come back up it to get to the finish. More on that later.

Once we reached the bottom, there was a massive one-mile climb that included some 15% grade road.This was walked by almost everyone. Some brave souls ran parts of it, but not me. The next aid station, Reed’s Gap, was at the top of this hill and that served as the turn around point for the half marathon. So there were plenty of folks barreling down the steep road and I gave my usual “good job” or “good stuff” or “looking good” remarks to them all. Once I arrived at Reed’s Gap, I grabbed a couple of PB&J triangles, a potato, and a fun size snickers. I ate it all and headed off. My stomach did not seem to agree with all of that. I honestly think I had eaten too much in the first nine miles. I walked a little bit as Summer pulled up beside me to video a little bit. We were now on the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP), headed for the White Rock aid station.

The BRP section was about 4-5 miles of roads, slight inclines and declines, so nothing major. It was so foggy for most of the way though, it was better (for my legs and my safety), to get off the road when cars came by. Had it not been foggy, we would have had some spectacular views, not only on this section, but the entire day. Oh well. When we arrived at the White Rock aid station, it was nice to get off the roads. I knew we had trail leading down to Sharando Lake and I was looking forward to that!
This trail section was gradual downhill almost the entire way and a little rooty here and there. As I got about a mile into this section, I began to see other runners, both 100k and 50k, coming back in the opposite direction. The single track made it hard for all of us to pass each other so I generally tried to get out of their way, especially if they were 100k because they had a lot further to go than I did! As I reached the end of this trail, we ran through a grass field, I had my picture taken by one of the photographers, and down a steep bank via some manmade steps. Then we ran through the campground to the aid station.This aid station served as two. We entered, but then had to run about a mile around the lake, and then hit it again as we leave. This was around mile 18 or so and I was feeling good at this point. I ate some, switched out bottles, and headed off. I knew I had this uphill trail to get me back to the White Rock AS.Aside from a nature break, I ran almost the entire way, except for right at the end where I walked. I got to the aid station, had a picture taken with my wonderful crew (wife), ate a little and had some mtn. dew, and decided I was going to run the rest of the way to the finish. I was at mile 22, with 9 to go, and I was going to give it everything I had. Let it all hang out. Finish what I started!!!

As I left the AS, I was alone. I don’t mind being alone while running. I don’t have to talk to anyone and I can concentrate on running. I was back on the BRP and it was again, foggy. Eventually I saw a person ahead and noticed he was walking, and then would run a little. As I reeled him in, it was a guy and the girl doing all the talking on the trail section at the beginning that didn’t let people pass. I kept my stride and pace, and passed them. I kept trying to pick up my pace on the downhills but I could tell my legs were getting tired. I made it to the Reed’s Gap AS for the last time, made a quick stop and told Summer I was ready to kill it. Four miles left. Time to see what I’m made of.

Remember that mile long hill I walked up in the first half with the 15% grade? Well, it was now time to go down it. I didn’t go all out, but I ran pretty hard, and my legs took a beating. Let’s just say that when I got to the end, I was actually happy to be going uphill. And here’s where I dug deep, and figured out just what I had left.

Three miles. All uphill. Wintergreen Drive. I had trained on Pilot Mountain and a couple of times, have ran from the bottom to the top via the roads. That’s about 2.5 miles. So I just told myself, this is just like Pilot, but a little longer. No I hadn’t done that training on Pilot after doing 27+ miles, but I tried to just put myself in the zone and convince my mind to convince my legs to do it. So here I went. Running. Up a hill. On a road. For three miles.

The first guy I passed told me I looked strong and I just said great job, man. Then I passed another guy walking and he told me I was nuts for running. At one point I saw a guy on all fours with a friend tending to him. A car stopped and he asked if they could take him to the top. Not sure what happened with him. I probably passed a total of 7 or 8 people, most of them telling me I was crazy and wondering how I had anything left to do that. I just put my head down and ran. Did it hurt? Well yeah! Did I want to stop? I honestly only think there was one small instance where I thought about stopping.

But then, I started to feel what I thought may be cramps in both legs. I knew I was close. I was praying that I could just make it to the top, as the last ¼ mile was downhill. Finally, I reached the turn. No one in sight behind, or in front of me. I gave many thanks to the man above for getting me through this. And I almost came to tears, as I knew then I was going to beat my goal. I pounded the downhill, the muscles next to my shin bones screaming at me every step I took. I then took a right through one parking lot and was just hoping that Summer was ready for me (I was getting there earlier than I had planned). The fog was really thick so it was very hard to see any runners as they came through the chute. But when I got close enough, I could see her waiting to video my finish. I crossed the line in 6 hours, 7 minutes, and 27 seconds. Not only had I met both goals, I blew them out of the water.

For once, I was proud of myself for what I did. If you know me, you know I’m very hard on myself and I can always find something negative in everything. At this point, besides the yellow jacket stinging me, I could think of nothing that went wrong for me on this day. This was truly an event in which the stars aligned for me. I ate well. I hydrated well. I paced well. And I FINISHED STRONG. What more could you ask for? Well, I’ll tell you.

I grabbed some food and changed clothes and awaited the 100k winner. Geoff Roes made a slight comeback after Michael Wardian went off course for a total of 10k and ended up winning the Ultra Race of Champions. Michael took second and Matt Flaherty took third. Geoff and Michael were interviewed and the elite finishers all sat around talking about their race as us ‘citizens’ looked on. Dave Mackey and Scott Gall, both who had dropped at some point in the race, showed up as well and I was fortunate enough to get my picture with them and Geoff. I also thanked Ian for his advice and told him I put it to good use and came out with the race of my life. He didn’t mind posing for a picture either.

So that, my friends, is the story of my first ultramarathon. I couldn’t have scripted it any better. I can’t think of anything I would have done different. I may never have another race that goes as well as this one. But this was truly a day I’ll never forget. Thanks again to my loving wife Summer, who even drove us home and let me rest. And thanks for reading. Enjoy the pics!

Pre-race chatting with some new friends

About to start!

Coming in to the first aid station

Very foggy on the BRP coming in to White Rock AS

Second stop at the White Rock AS, posing with my wonderful crew!

Back on the parkway. Alternating between road and grass

I made it! I ran the last 8.5 miles, including the 3 miles up the final hill.

Video of me crossing the finish line.

Finisher's medal

Posing on the award platform

Geoff Roes being interviewed by the race director after his UROC win

Trail Runner magazine interviewing Geoff

Mike Warding coming across the finish in 2nd place (after going 10k off course)

Geoff and I after the race

Dave Mackey, myself, Geoff Roes, and Scott Gall after the race

Ian Sharman (4th), Matt Flaherty (3rd), and Geoff talking post-race

Mike Wardian talking post-race

Myself and Ian Sharman

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Uber Rock 50k Pre-Race Thoughts

This weekend I will be attempting my first ultramarathon. The Ultra Race of Champions (UROC) is a 100k race being held in Wintergreen, VA. Alongside the 100k race, there is a 50k and half marathon. I will be running the 50k in an attempt to test the waters in the ultramarathon scene and see how I fair.

I first found out about this race somewhere around February/March after finishing my first (trail) marathon, the Pilot Mountain Payback. What drew me to it was the fact that they were inviting as many 'elite' runners they could, in an effort to make this a race a true 'Ultra Race of Champions'. I wanted the opportunity to meet some of them and share some of the same trails as them, as I may not get this opportunity again. The prize money is another thing to help lure the runners in, with a $10,000 purse and $2,500 going to both the men's and women's winner. Geoff Roes, current course record holder at Western States, is among the runners and is also on the board/panel of folks who invited the other elites to join the race. I hope to potentially meet some of these great runners while there this weekend.

Once I decided I wanted to run this race, my training increased. I was going extra long on the weekends on the trails nearby my house. I ran up and down Pilot Mtn. on these runs numerous times. I ran eight long runs of 20+ miles since the last weekend in May. In June, I had long runs that were 23.2, 21.5, and 26.2 miles respectively, all in back to back to back weekends. In July, I ran long runs on back to back weekends of 28 and 26.2 miles. Due to vacation schedules and cut back weeks, my other weekend 'long runs' were somewhere in the range of 10-18 miles. My final long run came 5 weeks before this race and was truly an eye opener into the eyes of what ultra running seemed to be. After completing roughly 24 miles and returning to where my car was parked, I had a decision to make. Do I continue and do another loop as originally planned? Or do I bow out after a near fall and say, 'well I guess 24 miles is enough'? Without much hesitation, I took off up the mountain again. I ended up with my longest run to date, both time on feet, and mileage. 30.75 miles in 7 hours and 9 minutes. This was truly a breakthrough for me as I wanted to give up, but didn't. I will definitely use this to remind myself that it can be done.

My training for this race (and the 40-mile ultra I have also registered for, conveniently waiting for me 3 weeks out from UROC), also had me run some very high mileage weeks (for me). I ran anywhere from 40-80 miles per week, and one week where I hit 91 miles. Then came the tapering period. Not ever doing an ultra before, I didn't know how to taper. All I knew was to decrease mileage. So I stopped running doubles, and cut my long runs back to 14-17 miles, and only ran 40-50 mile weeks. The week of the race (now, as I write this), I've ran just a couple miles each day to keep my running streak alive. My legs feel so fresh. They feel like they haven't ran in forever! Which is kind of true given the aforementioned training I did. But I guess that's a good thing, because I'm ready to run.

My goals for this race are obviously, to finish, but I hope to finish in under 7 hours. With the last minute course change, I don't think it will be a problem. This change has decreased the elevation gain from 7,600 ft. to 6,400 ft., so that will be an advantage. And the five mile (potentially muddy) uphill ending is out of the picture and replaced by a three mile ending on pavement with a slight downhill at the end. I now mentally am making a secondary goal of 6 1/2 hours to complete the race. I guess we'll find out soon enough!

I hope to be writing a successful race report following this milestone race of my short, but hopefully to be long, running career. I've gone running!