Hellgate 100k on marginal training

Hellgate 100k
66.6 miles – 13,500ft elevation gain
12:01am, December 11th 2011
Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains

You may have noticed a lack of recent race reports.  This is due to the 5 months it took for a bad case of IT Band syndrome to heal up after my debut 100-miler back in June.  Not knowing how long it would take the ITB to heal, but knowing that Hellgate fills quickly, I sent in my application and thankfully secured my slot.  Then came the day when I was back to 100% and ready to start training… with Hellgate only 2 months away.

Hellgate elevation profile

Hellgate elevation profile - courtesy of Keith Knipling

Normally giving myself 6+ months for an event like this, the next 2 months became an n=1 experiment on how much fitness could be gained in an extremely short period of time.  I made some bold jumps in mileage but paid careful attention to the body so as not to overdo it.  All seemed well and I was able to peak out at 60 miles/week for 3 weeks, along with some fairly regular Crossfit for strength and flexibility.  Not perfect, but not too shabby given the circumstances.

Race day came and at 12:01am on a cold December night we headed out into the darkness of the snowy Virginia mountains for 66 miles of “fun”.  The field was stacked with names like Karl Meltzer, Jeremy Ramsey, David Goggins, Keith Knipling, Chris Reed, Aaron Schwartzbard and many others who have put me to shame on more than one occasion.  I knew from the get-go that a top 10 finish was out of the picture, which is quite unfortunate given the sweet Patagonia swag at Horton races, particularly this one, but nonetheless I had a daunting task ahead of me.

Hellgate 100k start

The start - that's me in blue behind Goggins

Rather than recounting details of the course, I’ll defer to Aaron and Keith‘s wonderfully detailed course descriptions.  All you really need to know, though, is that 100k =62.2miles.  Hellgate 100k = 66.6miles with 13,500ft elevation gain.  We start at midnight, purposefully cross through streams when bridges are accessible, and there have been multiple accounts of runners suffering from corneal edema (i.e. temporarily losing their vision due to a freezing of the fluid buildup in their eyes).  In other words, this race is awesome and right up my alley (totally serious).

Corneal Edema

An example of corneal edema - cool, huh?

The first 25 miles or so were rather uneventful.  It was cold, the stream crossings were low so my feet remained dry early on (though the couple inches of snow quickly changed that), and I started off at a fairly fast pace since I was feeling good.  I was in 6th place for a little while, but I knew that since I was racing with little training that this would soon fade.  It was still nice while it lasted, knowing that I was racing one of the toughest 100k’s out there and ahead of Karl Meltzer and David Goggins.

Around mile 25 I started getting a sharp pain in the distal medial section of my quad, down near the knee and possibly my MCL.  I considered dropping before things got worse, but after DNF’ing at Masochist one month prior (nothing physical, just tough to race when dealing with the loss of a friend/mentor) and having not started Hellgate last year due to not being healthy, I knew that I had to give it everything I had and get that DNF monster off my back.  Onward…

My pace slowed significantly due to this pain and I started getting passed, first by runners I knew couldn’t be far behind (Jason Lantz, Jordan Chang, Harland Peele), but then by guys I had never seen before.  I was now in a new group of runners that I don’t generally see in races.  There is no faking it at Hellgate; you get put you in your place.  As the pain worsened, so did the temptation to drop.  It seemed like the smart thing to do, after all.  Arriving at aid station #6 (mile 37ish) just after dawn, I whole-heartedly attempted to drop.  Another 8 hours of running did not seem tangible given my current fitness and new potential injury.  Unfortunately, my buddy Jaime was running the show and he would have none of it.  “You can drop, but not at my aid station. Besides, we don’t even have any chairs. Keep going.”  Crap.  Onward…

After a long 8 mile stretch to the next aid station, the pain wasn’t getting any worse but I realized I had completed 2/3 of the race and I had invested a significant amount of time and miles to get where I was.  A finish was now tangible, and although it would hurt and I’d possibly be worsening my new quad/knee pain, the pros outweighed the cons.  Onward!

Not looking too chipper - mile 46 (photo by Sophie)

After a relentless 8 mile climb to the next aid station, I caught up with Jack Kurisky, a good VHTRC friend who always happens to be there when I need that extra encouragement to push myself, and we ran together for the remainder of the race.  It was rough, and at many points I encouraged him to go on since he was clearly holding back to run with me, but like the dedicated friend he is, he stayed with me and kept me moving.  During the “forever section” (it honestly feels like it lasts forever), Mario Raymond came flying by like a bat out of hell.  I honestly have no idea how he consistently does this, but it’s not the first time he’s come blazing past me late in a race.  I tried to keep up with him for all of 30 seconds then quickly realized that was a stupid move.

At the last aid station, Jack and I passed Goggins who was heading back to his car.  Shawn, my borrowed crew from Mario, informed me that Goggins had twisted his ankle just prior to making his way in and he needed to do some adjusting before moving on.  Bummer, but I now had a legitimate chance at being able to say I beat Goggins, someone who is known for being one of the toughest ultrarunners out there.  Yes, he was injured and not performing at his best, but neither was I so it’s a legitimate claim.

With 3 miles of climbing and 3 miles of descent to the finish, Jack and I kicked it into high gear, constantly looking over our shoulders so as not get passed.  As we crested the mountain, we realized a sub-14 hour finish would be possible if we were able to maintain 7:30’s to the finish.  Possible?  Yes.  Probable?  No.  Still, we tried…

Jack and I - mile 64

Jack and I at mile 64 (photo by Sophie)

We pushed hard and maintained closed to 7:30’s, but with one mile to go I realized I had miscalculated the mileage and sub-14 was out of the picture.  We entered Camp Bethel and veered our way to the back.  The finish line came in sight, and as we got closer a few folks made their way out into the cold to cheer us on.  We crossed the finish line together, finishing in 14:03:41 and tied for 20th place.

Finishing my first Hellgate (photo by Keith)

Many thanks to Jack, for sticking by my side and pushing me to run when I wanted to stop; Horton, for putting on such a phenomenal race that I will surely be back for next year (adequately trained, too); Mario, for letting me borrow his crew-man Shawn; Shawn, for driving our butts to and from the race and crewing for multiple runners at once; Keith, for providing all the helpful advice needed to prepare for my first Hellgate and for taking this awesome picture of Best Blood; and Jaime, for not letting me quit at his aid station despite my best efforts.  I finally got that DNF monster off my back, and after a few weeks of recovery I’ll be back for a solid 2011.

My first Hellgate… mission accomplished.


Goodbye, coach: a tribute to Mike Broderick

This past Friday, four weeks to the day after being diagnosed with stage 4 Non Small Cell Lung Adenocarcinoma (lung cancer), my coach and ultrarunning mentor passed away.  A former pack-a-day smoker and trial lawyer, Mike Broderick discovered running in the late-90’s and quickly cleaned up his act, eventually quitting the law game altogether to pursue his passion of coaching runners.  Sadly, it appears that the damage was already done.

Mike crossing the line at the Western States 100

As recently as June, Mike seemed healthy and happy as ever, running the Western States 100 miler in a time of 26:53.  It wasn’t until September that he noticed some chest pains while running a marathon, so he went to the doc to get checked out for pneumonia.  Conditions quickly changed over the next 4 weeks, but Mike remained positive throughout this time and he greatly cherished the outpouring of support from his running family.  A team of his marathon trainees running the NYC Marathon were able to raise $35,000 for lung cancer research during his short battle with the disease.

Mike at MMTR 50-miler

The thing is, Mike wasn’t just a coach who wrote you up a training schedule and sent you on your way.  He had a fire in him about running (the Grateful Dead, too) that shined through whether he was coaching, running, or doing both at the same time.  He took me under his wing and introduced me to the world of ultrarunning two years ago at the Potomac Heritage 50k, and this simple act has had such a profound impact on my life that I will never be able to thank him enough.  He trained me up for my first 50-miler, paced me at my first 100-miler attempt, convinced me to skip work on a Monday so that we could run an impromptu 50k from his house, but most importantly, he shared his passion so that I could cultivate my own.  Everything I know about running, I owe it to you, Mike.

Nothing like a gloved Vibram to get your ass in gear for running 100 miles

Thank you for everything, coach.  The shared stories, the lessons learned, the countless miles and the countless smiles.  Although your life was taken too soon, there is no doubt that you have changed the lives of so many for the better.  Your legacy will live on, and just as you always have been, I know you’ll have my back with every step.

Happy trails, Mike.

Michael Patrick Broderick
November 6, 1956 – November 5, 2010

2010 Old Dominion 100 Mile Endurance Run results and splits

I received the full results and splits from Old Dominion in the mail yesterday.  And yes, that refers to snail mail.  Like I said in my race report, OD is old school.

In an effort to provide more OD data than what is currently available online to potential runners, I have scanned the 4 pages of splits and uploaded them below.  Click to enlarge.  Enjoy.

54 runners toed the line
23 runners finished under 24hrs (official finisher w/ buckle)
7 runners finished 24-28hrs (official finisher w/out buckle)
1 runner finished 28+ hrs (non-official finisher)

Runners #1 - 30, miles 0 - 47.7

Runners #1 - 30, miles 47.7 - 100.1

Runners #31 - 54, miles 0 - 47.7

Runners #31 - 54, miles 47.7 - 100.1

An insight on my 100-miler recovery

I really miss running.

It’s been three weeks since I ran my first 100.  I had heard that 100-miler recovery varies depending on the individual, but for a first time you can expect to be out of the game for quite a bit while the endocrine system recovers.  Fair enough.

During the race I ran on a pained arch in my left foot for 35 miles.  Immediately post-race I could tell this arch would be the limiting factor in my recovery.  Yes, my muscles were tight and walking resulted in a stabbing sensation in my quads, but I’ve had that feeling before.  The arch was an injury (my posterior tibial tendon to be precise), and as I’ve learned from the countless tendon injuries over the last two years, you have to be patient with the natural healing process.

I’ve been going to physical therapy and, after two weeks, the posterior tib finally progressed to the point where it doesn’t hurt when walking.  Sweet!  So, with my therapist’s advice, off I went for a 2-mile test run.  I am happy to report that the posterior tib held up wonderfully with only marginal discomfort at one point.

…BUT, during this test run I discovered some pain in my right IT band.  WHAT THE HELL?  Apparently during the 35 miles of running on an injured foot, my compensation with my right leg caused some IT problems that are only apparent when running, and since I haven’t run since OD I haven’t noticed it.  Bummer.  So, the left posterior tib is just about back to 100% but I am now rehabbing the right IT.  It doesn’t seem too bad and I anticipate another week of rest will do the trick.

In the meantime I am doing what I can to cross-train.  Lots of good time in the saddle, more time in the pool than I typically care for (I prefer to breathe when exercising), sauna time (to prepare for Badwater pacing duties in 2 weeks), and finally, after an 8 month hiatus, I’ve gotten back in the sky!

Back to my student days (Photo by Ahmed Kurtom)

(Note to skydivers: No, I didn’t have to go through AFF like you might be thinking from the shot above.  That would be cruel and unusual punishment for a former instructor.  I just thought it would be funny for my first jump back to do an AFF exit and see if I could do the whole AFF dive flow off the hill.  Success!  We then ditched the flat flying and did some good freeflying the rest of the day.  5 jumps.  Looking forward to getting back up there this summer… as training allows of course.)

100 Miler Redemption?

If you couldn’t already tell, I didn’t get in to MMT this year.  C’est la vie.  Instead, I’m off to the mountains right now, heading out to run the Old Dominion 100 Mile Endurance Run tomorrow.  Let’s hope this 100 goes better than the last!  Stay tuned for a race report next week.

Old Dominion 100 trail marking

OD 100 trail markings

2010 Promise Land 50k

Promise Land 50k is the 3rd of the 6 races that comprise Beast Series and the last of the Beast 50k’s that make for a fast and furious Spring schedule.  Last year I ran Promise Land while dealing with on-again off-again IT Band issues, so this year coming into the race healthy meant I could expect an entirely different experience.  With the beauty of the course, the extremely stacked field and the awesome post-race party, I was greatly looking forward to this year’s race.

I carpooled down with Keith Knipling and Mario Raymond, two good friends who, in addition to giving me a run for my money at our weekly WUS runs, will be giving me a run for my money in this year’s Beast.  Mario and Keith set up camp while I opted to sleep in the Element, a precautionary measure on my part given the forecasted showers for the entire weekend.  Raindrops hitting the car woke me at various points in the night, but in morning the only evidence of rain was some humidity that would die off as soon as the sun rose.

At 5:30am the race started and we started the 2.6 mile climb up to the Overstreet Creek Road aid station (AS1).  Not wanting to deal with a light for mostly just a climb, I followed other front-of-the-pack’ers who guided the way and set a nice fast pace.  Jordan Whitlock and Jake Reed pushed the pace hard from the get-go and quickly faded into the distance as they took the lead.  Seeing Jake, a first-time ultrarunner, running with Jordan and without a water bottle, I thought for sure that I would be seeing him later in the day keeled over on the side of the trail.  Without giving too much away (ok, giving it all away), Jake went on to win his first ultra with a very impressive 4:49.  I believe he scored a water bottle somewhere during the day, but that remains unconfirmed.

Promise Land aid station #1

AS #1 in the dark - mile 2.6 (pic from last year)

I did my best to stay true to my #5 bib seeding and held 6th place as we continued climbing, this time on trail, for another mile or so out of AS1.  The sun poked its head out as I crested the first climb and started a 3-mile downhill section.  Since I’m a heavier dude (compared to elite ultrarunners), I fly on the downs and can really gain some time with my gravitational advantage.  I caught up with Jeremy Ramsey and Brian Schmidt after a bit, but as soon as an incline would come along they would pull away.  The terrain became a rolling jeep road and we shuffled between 4th and 6th place for a few miles.

Around mile 8, while the 3 of us were running single file I caught a toe on a rock hidden by the overgrown grass.  I faceplanted and impaled my left quad on another conveniently placed rock, resulting in a nice bloody gash across my thigh, a bloody knee, pebbles that I have yet to remove from my palms, and a throbbing sensation that came with every activation of my quad.  I was worried that this acute injury to my quad, combined with the expected trashing of the quads that would come later in the day, might produce the perfect combination for rhabdomyolysis and consequently ruin another beautiful Promise Land for me.  Thankfully the pain lessened over the next couple miles and I was able to pass through AS2 (mile 9.7) while continuing racing as planned.  Rather than trying to ride their coat-tails, I decided I needed to run my own race and they pulled ahead out of sight.

The climb to Sunset Fields (AS3, mile 13.7) was rather uneventful, but afterwards we were greeted with a fun, fast and technical descent.  This was my favorite section of the day.  I love the adrenaline kick that comes from bombing down a steep technical section.

Somewhere around here, out of nowhere I passed Jeremy who has barely off trail taking care of business (TMI, I know).  Since he was running shirtless and now had his shorts around his ankles, this crouched down naked muscular figure looked like the Terminator as it appeared from the lightning.  Laughing, I said some choice words of encouragement and went about my business of running while he tended to his business of… not running.  He caught back up shortly thereafter before we got to Cornelius Creek aid station (AS4, mile 17.8).

During a flattish road section Jeremy seemed to be slowing, talking about how he wasn’t feeling it today, so I upped the speed and did what I could to put a gap between us before the eventual monster climb up Apple Orchard Falls.  Knowing that I am a stronger downhiller than a climber, I was positive that the climb up Apple Orchard Falls would be the determining play of the day where I would blow up and Keith, Mario, Jack, Micah and a slew of other great runners who were probably only minutes behind would leave me in the dust.

A bridge. No idea where on the course.

Shortly after Colon Hollow aid station (AS5, mile 20.8) you get a little bit of climbing as a precursor to the Falls.  Right as this climbing was starting, Schmidty, Jeremy and Jonathan Bryant all blew by me.  See?  I had predicted that this was coming. The real climbing up Apple Orchard came as we left Cornelius Creek aid station for the second time (now AS6, mile 25.9).  Getting to Cornelius Creek requires a brief out-and-back that lets you see who is immediately in front of and behind you.  Schmidty and Jeremy were only a few minutes ahead and, to my surprise, there was no one on my tail.

Starting the climb up Apple Orchard Falls

Starting the climb up Apple Orchard Falls

Knowing that the fast guys were all saving their energy to dominate on this climb, despite the fact that I didn’t see them on the aid station out-and-back, I did my best to run as much of this climb as I could.  This goes against the typical ultra rule of “walk the ups and run the rest”, but I am quickly learning that when in the front of the pack you don’t get to relish in as many walking breaks.  Sigh.

This 3-mile climb starts out gradual with lots of small waterfalls to your left.  Every hundred feet or so there was a large rock step that would throw you off pace.  Then it got steep and technical, at times going over large boulders that required navigation on all fours.  After you conquer the technical stuff you are rewarded with a beautiful big waterfall and a wooden boardwalk that goes around it.  Last year I was taking my sweet time so I hung out here and relaxed for a bit.  This year I was on a mission and instead I just made sure to turn my eyes from the trail to the Falls for a second.  You gotta take what you can get, right?

Immediately after the Falls come the steps.  These aren’t just any steps, these are 176 oddly-spaced steps that you must climb after running 29 miles.  Fun!  (Farouk told me there were 176, so I blame him if this count is off).

Apple Orchard stairs

Apple Orchard stairs - 176 of them

I saw Schmidty just ahead as we were both slogging through the steps.  I caught up with him and, since there were only a few miles to go, figured that instead of battling it out for placement we could run the last few in together.  We continued climbing together for a bit, but just before Sunset Fields (AS7, mile 29) he mentioned that he had a knot in his glute that needed some stretching and he didn’t want to hold me up.  I told him to stay strong and continued on my way, back in 5th place.

I came into Sunset Fields extremely surprised that no one had caught me.  Throughout the entire climb I had been looking back every minute or so to see who was in hot pursuit.  I don’t know if it’s dumb luck, hard training or a combination of both, but at this point in the race there were only 5 miles of downhill to go and I could confidently say that I had my top-10 finish in the bag, much better than I had anticipated.

It was a quick 2.5 miles of descending trail to the last aid station, Overstreet Creek Road (AS8, mile 31.4).  I blew right through without stopping and then came the painful 2.6 miles of steep downhill road to the finish.  It’s painful because it’s so steep that it’s hard to NOT run sub-6 minute miles.  I was running what seemed like 5k pace, not 50k, but I saw this as a good thing because ultimately it was some additional leg-trashing that will get me in better 100-miler shape.

The descent finally ended, I came across the field of the Promise Land Youth Camp and crossed the finish line in 5:07:40 and in 5th place overall.  I honestly have no idea how I pulled this off, but it sure is a great feeling to come so far in less than 2 years of ultrarunning.

Best Blood pose

Showing off my Best Blood at the finish

I was also awarded Best Blood for the gash across my thigh.  In the end, I walked away with a pair of sweet Patagonia shorts that all finishers were awarded, an awesome embroidered Patagonia Nine Trails messenger bag for being a top-10 finisher, and a comfy red embroidered fleece blanket for Best Blood.  I definitely got my money’s worth from my entry fee on this one.

After a quick “ice bath” in the stream and a shower, I thoroughly enjoyed hanging at the finish line and enjoying the post-race camaraderie.  Everyone and their mother runs this race (roughly 300 runners), so there were plenty of VHTRC, West Virginia, Lynchburg and Pennsylvania friends in attendance.

I really love this race.

Stephanie, me and Martha post-race

Stephanie, me and Martha post-race

Full Results
Additional Promise Land Stories & Pics

Chocolate Bunny 2010

Chocolate Bunny is quickly becoming my new favorite holiday tradition. What better way to celebrate Easter than by running 26+ miles on gnarly MMT trails with good friends in the middle of the night? If ultrarunning is my religion, then the mountains are my church and running the night section of the MMT 100 course seems like an adequate way to pay homage to the trail-running gods… or something like that.  Or maybe I just love this run because you get a chocolate bunny at the finish line?  Yeah, that’s probably it.

It was a beautiful night with temps in the 80’s. About 30 folks showed up to run the supposed 26.2 miles of the MMT course, the section commonly known as Gap-to-Gap (roughly miles 69-95 of the course).  We started just before sundown and ran into the wee hours of the night.

While running with Mario Raymond, the two of us missed the turn onto the purple trail and continued running downhill for a mile and half or so.  This turned a long 11 mile stretch into an even longer 13.5 mile stretch that had us begging for fluids by the time we reached the second (of two) aid stations.  Aside from that one small mishap (and it seems we weren’t the only ones to miss a turn), everyone had a great time while polishing up on their rock maneuvering and mountain climbing skills.

All in all it was an absolutely beautiful night with bright stars filling the clear sky and abundant rocks filling the not-so-clear trail.  It had been a few months since I had been out on my beloved MMT Trails, but as with every run out there the pain just makes me love these trails even more.

I finished up around 1:00am, running 28.65 miles in 6:03 – definitely not the fastest run out there but not bad considering the additional mileage. I was the 3rd one in behind Sean Andrish and Keith Knipling.

Now if only I could actually get off the MMT waiting list and be able to run the damn thing…

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