MMTR 50 – I’m Still Broken Apparently

You may last recall reading about my case of anterior tibial tendinitis that forced me to drop at mile 86 of the Grindstone 100.  Sad, I know, but you shouldn’t have had that much pity for me since I had planned in advance for a week of recovery in sunny Hawaii (Ironman World Championships were going on at the same time, coincidence?).  Lo and behold, three days post-DNF and I was back to walking and running like nothing had happened.  There must be some magical healing properties in those Hawaiian waters!

Being all healed up, I now had a chance to complete the Lynchburg Ultra Series (LUS), with it’s final race being the Mountain Masochist Trail Run 50 miler in Lynchburg, VA.  In the interim four weeks I did some light running and got up to a long run of a mere 14 miles (in comparison to the ~50k training runs that had been frequent in my schedule).  All was feeling good and I was ready to redeem my DNF, just had to make sure I took it easy and didn’t hurt myself.

Fast dudes at the start line

Easier said than done.  The race consisted of many open jeep and fire roads with only marginal climbs, which of course leads to lots and lots of fast and hard running, sort of like those pesky road marathons that I keep hearing so much about.  Well, having run 86 miles only four weeks prior, my legs started to fatigue pretty early, probably around mile 20 or so.  But no worries, fatigue is tolerable and I know how to deal with that beast.

Chris Miller (Beast Series leader) and yours truly

The real problems came around mile 26 when the tendinitis from Grindstone started to come back ever so slowly.  Now this wasn’t the excruciating pain that made me drop and left me unable to walk, but it was in the early early stages of its progression from what I could tell, so I paid careful attention to it.  After a couple miles the pain became more evident and I could clearly see that it wasn’t going to go away.  Yes, I could have run on it for a few more hours and made it to the finish and gotten my LUS award (a sweet sweet Patagonia puffy jacket nonetheless), but forcing myself into greater injury and a longer and longer rehabilitation process during the winter months did not seem like the right decision for someone like myself who yearns for a long and fruitful ultra career.

So, at mile 35 I DNF’ed from my second race in a row.  It sucks, but I like to think that these DNF’s are the result of a good head on my shoulders and I will prosper in future races from making the right calls in those of the past. There is always next year.

I had a good time hanging at the finish line, and this allowed me the chance to grab some pics of friends coming in to finish.  Oh, and there was a common saying that I heard from those who had just run Grindstone: “Ouch!” Oh yeah, looking forward to next year’s pain already!

Me, Sophie, Jenny and Justine at the finish

Annette Bednosky showing off her entry in the Best Blood category

And there you have it, the less than stellar end to my less than stellar 2009 race season.  I have decided that even though the tendinitis pain has once again disappeared and I’m back to running like normal, running the Hellgate 100k in a few weeks would not be wise.  Instead, I’m going to cross-train and strength-train while keeping the mileage low for a bit.  2010 will be my redemption year!

Here are the rest of my photos from the race on Flickr.


Grindstone: My first 100, My first DNF

Showing up to Camp Shenandoah on Thursday evening, everything was quiet and there wasn’t a soul in sight. It seemed as though I was the first runner to arrive and that gave plenty of time to scope out the best location for our campsite. After setting up, crewmember Derraugh and I wandered around camp and eventually found some folks working in the kitchen area. Not wanting to use the camp stove, they graciously let me heat up my dinner in the microwave (salmon and sweet potatoes). Camp and dinner plans were right on track, everything looking perfect for the following big race day. Shortly thereafter we ran into Clark Zealand, David Horton, Jeremy Ramsey and Rebekkah Trittipoe who had all been working hard to get the course marked. Rebekkah shared some knowledge of 4 bears she had spotted up near Dowell’s Draft earlier in the day, Jeremy praised Hellgate for all the good schwag, Clark discussed race logistics, and Horton was his usual troublemaking self. It was a good way to kick back before getting a good night’s sleep.

Ten wonderful hours of sleep later, I woke to find that the empty camp had transformed overnight into a bustling community of ripped quads and drop bags. I joined in on bag-organizing fun, had some breakfast (2 hard-boiled eggs and a sweet potato since I know you were dying to know), and wandered around some more to share the anxiety with my 100-mile brethren. I checked in, lounged in the hammock, found the rest of my crew (Jen Jacobs, Kristine Davis and coach Mike Broderick), got dressed, applied liberal amounts of BodyGlide, and did whatever it took to kill time before the 6pm Friday start time.

Jen, Derraugh, Me, Kristine and Coach Mike
Clark wishing me luck before the start

With a couple minutes to go, we all gathered behind the start banner. The giant totem pole stood just ahead of us as if to say “come on, hug me… but please run 102 miles first.” I was raring to go and the nerves were as strong as ever. With just a couple seconds before the gun, Karl Meltzer turned around to ask “Joe Clapper’s not here, is he?”. (Background: Joe Clapper has led every 100 miler he’s ever run for at least some portion of the race… this usually consists of him sprinting ahead like a Kenyan for about 5 seconds, then dying back down to 100 mile pace. Bragging rights are bragging rights, yes?)

And then everything got real… 3, 2, 1, see ya!

And they’re off!

We ran across the field and clockwise around the lake. Coach Mike had advised me to go out fast the first few miles so as to avoid any traffic congestion as we approached Elliott’s Knob, the first and probably toughest climb of the day. Even with this advice, I was still surprised at just how fast folks were pushing it in the first couple miles. The terrain looked flat, but judging from the perceived effort and elevated heart rate, there was definitely some incline to be had. “Not so bad” I thought to myself. “This will make for an easy downhill to the finish.” If only…

Not remembering the exact mileages from the training runs, I expected to hit the climb up Elliott’s within a mile or two. Then we hit Aid Station 1 (AS1), Falls Hollow, at 5.18 miles in. My heart-rate had been up there since the get-go. Ok, so maybe pushing it until Elliott’s wasn’t the best idea after all. I topped off my pack with some water to prep for the 9.45 miles until the next aid and headed out. Talking to Jared Hesse for a bit, we both agreed that although the pace was easily runnable, it would not be sustainable for 24 or so hours. Time to slow it down a touch.

The climb up Elliott’s was welcomed with open arms. Truth be told, my uphill running is lacking compared to those at my level, but where I lack in ups I compensate on the flats and downs. Such is the life of a 175-pound ultrarunner, taking advantage of gravity when the opportunity arises. Gotta play your cards how they are dealt. Making it through Dry Branch Gap, AS2, was rather uneventful, just trying to normalize the pace and heart-rate. Slowly but surely I was getting there.

Dowell’s Draft aid station, minus all the people
Coming into Dowell’s Draft, mile 22

Approaching Dowell’s Draft, As3 (mile 22.1), the trail finished with a short uphill climb into a sea of lights and spectators. Being the first opportunity for runners to meet with their crews, everyone and their mother was there, packed tight and still full of energy. Not wanting to waste time at aid stations and still being early in the race, I quickly found my crew, swapped my Nathan pack (water) and handheld bottle (Hammer Perpetuem for calories) for fresh ones and off I went. In and out without actually stopping, faster than them fancy schmancy Nascar drivers! Mike ran with me for 100 yards or so to check on how I was doing and offer advice. I relayed my heart-rate concerns but assurred him I was not getting into the groove. All was well.

And into the groove I got, so much that I honestly don’t remember Lookout Mountain, AS4. I do however, remember coming into the following aid station, North River Gap, or as those of us in the VHTRC affectionately know it – The TWOT Lot. Running down the brief section of road and into the aid station, I gave a holler so my crew knew it was me. Ok ok, I may have yelled out “I love TWOT!”, but who said you couldn’t have some fun at these things? Knowing that the long sections between aid stations were now over, I switched my Nathan pack and handheld for my 2-bottle GoLite waistpack. It was a nice relief on the shoulders. I declined the offer for the iPod and opted for the calmness of nighttime wildlife. Coach Mike ran ahead with me once again, this time warning of possible trail sabotage up on Little Bald. Although concerning, Little Bald was one of the few spots in the race I have run past on multiple occassions, so I wasn’t too worried about getting lost.

Refueling at TWOT
Switching to my waistpack at TWOT

The climb up Little Bald was steep but manageable. I made a conscious effort to “hike with a purpose”, pumping my arms as I made my way up. When I arrived at the top of Little Bald, just as expected the course took us off to the right. Ok, so the aid station should be right around here somewhere. My GPS says I’ve already covered the distance and I’ve only got a sip or 2 left from my allotted fluids. Sadly, the trail kept going and no aid station was appearing. Scenarios ran through my head. What if there was some funky turn to get you to the aid station and my assumed knowledge of the trail made me blow right past it? Should I backtrack? What if I re-ran that small section on my way back? Would I have enough fluids for the 4.5 miles to Reddish Knob?

And then, like an oasis in the desert, an aid station appeared in the middle of the trail, nowhere I thought it would be. Coming in I had no idea if it was Little Bald aid station or Reddish Knob, all I knew is that it was fluid and calories. It was in fact Little Bald and I hadn’t missed a step. Definitely a relief! I grabbed my dropbag, refilled the Perpetuem and downed 2 cups of Mountain Dew to get a different flavor in the mouth (plus some caffeine even though I was feeling perfectly energized).

Adam Casseday, the #2 seed, was leaving the aid station as I was coming in. I knew something was up. He shouldn’t be this far back. After a couple minutes I caught up and he explained that he was having trouble keeping things down and he was just going to make it to the next aid station and drop there. He hadn’t taken in any calories in 20 miles and he was well on his way to a serious bonk. I offered some ginger root capsules to help settle his stomach, and he reluctantly accepted. With the ginger caps also came some words of encouragement and a plea to not drop, at least to give the ginger some time to work its magic. It was, in fact, a little less than halfway into a 100-miler and things could still make a full 180. Rest assured, Adam went on to finish 9th place overall and under 24 hours! Talk about a comeback. [Remember that one the next time you’re feeling like crap early in a race!]

I let Adam do his thing and he encouraged me to go on ahead. After a little more downhill came the paved road section of the course. I’m not normally “against” running on roads, but wow did this pavement hurt. Every step was a painful thud reminding me why I love trail running so much, and also reminding me that I had run a very difficult 40-something miles thus far. I had expected Karl to pass way earlier, but to my surprise I didn’t see him until mile 46.5, about 10 hours in. Thinking about it now, that timing makes perfect sense as he was continually gaining his lead time on the rest of the pack. Either way, Karl was looking strong as could be expected. In the #2 position was my good buddy Mike Mason, and as I passed him yelled out the same words of encouragement I did at MMT: “Mike Mason I want to have your babies!” Don’t ask why, it just seemed like the right thing to do at the time, and he laughs when I say it.

The Reddish Knob aid station was a glorious sight, not only because it signified the near-end of the pavement, but it was also an opportunity for me to stop and get out the pesky debris that was rubbing on the bottom of my right foot. Despite this sitting down, I blew on through and made it up the summit of Reddish Knob. Horton happened to be there at the time, standing at the ledge of the parking lot and looking out at the beautiful harvest moon. I ran up behind him and gave him a big, sweaty, man hug – his favorite! (That was the running gag for the weekend, by the way, so feel free to give Horton man-hugs anytime you see him!)

I headed back down to the Reddish aid station, didn’t stop this time since it had only been 5 minutes since I last past, and within 2 miles I met my crew at Briery Branch Gap. This was not an aid station, but crews were allowed to access runners here since it was the closest they could get to the turnaround. Briery Branch was last year’s turnaround, but it had now been extended 1.4 miles out to Gnashing Knob due to recalculation of distances… or maybe Clark just felt like he needed to add in some Horton miles. Either way, it was more climbing and more miles. Fun! I dropped my waistpack, picked up a single handheld bottle and made it quickly up to Gnashing Knob. Halfway done and 11:13 in!

My first time through Briery was quick, but the second time through I took my time, for no other reason then to spend some quality time with the folks who were going through a sleepless night just for me. I did some stretching, ate some mango slices (my new favorite aid station food of all time, so delicious!) and of course had to listen to some heckling from Q who had now joined the late-night crew party (who invited that guy?)

Stretching and eating at Briery Branch

Sadly, the return to Briery meant the return to additional pavement on the way back to Little Bald (now mile 58.7). It was, however, great seeing all the familiar faces on the way back, cheering everyone on and getting encouragement in return. This was also an opportunity to gauge how far back and how strong those were looking behind me. If I was seriously competing (which I wasn’t, #1 goal was to just finish), this would have been great logistical intel to plan out the second half of the game.

I made it back to the Little Bald aid station right as the sun was starting to light up the sky. Perfect timing because I had planted my sunglasses and hat in my Little Bald drop bag! Not knowing if I was to be running when night fell again, I kept my headlamp and flashlight in posession so I could hand them off to the crew when I next saw them at the TWOT Lot. It was a bit awkward running with sunglasses, a hat and a headlamp but I managed. Also awkward at Little Bald was me trying to force down a breakfast burrito. I knew it would be questionable to try and stomach such substantial food, but let’s be honest I’m a fat kid at heart so I couldn’t say no. It made it’s way down, and so did I (down the trail that is).

About a mile outside of Little Bald I passed Gary Knipling, one of the most fun and genuinely nice and caring people in the sport. Gary is the true essence of ultrarunning. 65-years-young and going for his 22nd 100-mile finish with the biggest smile on his face. If that doesn’t make you love life then I don’t know what will. He cheered me on, I did the same for him, and off we went in our separate directions.

Life was good, I was in 9th place overall on my first 100-miler, feeling great in terms of nutrition, energy and fatigue levels, and on pace for a sub-24 hour finish at possibly the hardest 100 on the east coast.

And then it hit me, pain in my left anterior tibialis tendon.

Effin A. I sat on my feet to stretch out the tendon, and while it seemed to help a touch, it didn’t put out the fire. Then came the extremely steep descent down Little Bald. 8 miles of anterior tibilias tendon pounding. No bueno. No bueno at all. Again, effin A! (I did, however, notice that I shaved 10 minutes off my 100k PR as I made my way down the mountain.)

I came into the TWOT Lot aid station (now mile 66.5) and instantly knew the game was changing. I was still in 9th place, I was still on track for a sub-24 hour finish, but there was now a big honkin’ wrench thrown in my spokes and it would be questionable if I could remove said wrench over the next 35 miles. I immediately sat down, explained to the crew my concerns and tried to massage out the pain… to no avail. Oh well. I knew that finishing my first 100 was going to require some serious toughness, so here comes the time to grit and bare it. I knew that this would possibly mean throwing out hopes of maintaing my top-10 position, but the #1 goal was to finish and I was determined to finish, even if it took me the entire 38 hours. Coach Mike appeared, ready to start pacing, and off we went, not knowing what to expect.

Coach Mike taking care of me while I apply duct tape on a nip

Pain, that’s what I should have expected. As soon as we headed out of TWOT the pain got increasingly worse. I was, however, able to run through the pain without significantly slowing down my pace. So far so good. Still in 9th, still moving forward. As they say, If the bone’s not showing, keep going… right?

Well, as we trekked the 5.45 miles to the Lookout Mountain aid station (now mile 72), it was painfully obvious (no pun intended) that ice was going to be necessary. “Nope, our ice guy just left to go get something so we don’t have any right now.” NOOOOO!!!!! “Oh wait, yes we do, nevermind.” Phew, close one. We put some ice in a baggie, then a trash bag around it, then loads of duct tape. The cold seemed to numb the pain a bit, but clearly I was still facing a huge dilemma. Hopefully the ice would be enough to last the 8.35 miles to the next aid at Dowell’s Draft.

I knew the last 3.5 miles of trail before Dowell’s were smooth rolling singletrack, but those 5 or so prior just kept throwing endless amounts of small but relentless hills that I was having one hell of a hard time negotiating. ” Nonetheless, we pushed forward, albeit slower and slower with every step. Mike gave me his iPod, cranked some Grateful Dead, and I was able to get into a groove that resulted in a solid 40 or so minutes of strong running down into Dowell’s Draft aid station.

Dowell’s was also the first time during the race that I was able to see my mom, dad and sister who made the long trek to come cheer me on. My sister proudly displayed a sign that said “we love #7” and I was greeted with the loudest cheering section of the race thus far. If only I could have greeted them with the same enthusiasm I had carried up until my descent off Little Bald. Instead, I sat down and begged for more ice. Lots and lots of ice (ooh, and some mangoes too).

My momma loves me, awwwww
The gimped foot

I seriously considered dropping right then and there, but what kind of ultrarunner would I be if I once again had to ditch my 100 miler goals for the year (the first time being MMT, dropped 3 weeks prior due to ITB injury), and to top it off, ditching my goal of finishing the 2009 Beast Series. Well, the answer to that question is “a smart ultrarunner”. Moving ahead exacerbated the anterior tibialis pain beyond belief.

It was 7.5 miles to the Dry Branch Gap aid station. I was able to swing another good 30 minutes of hard running, surprisingly still in 9th place and only slightly slower than 24-hour pace. Perhaps my injury wasn’t as bad as I had imagined? No, definitely not. The ice melted and I was now able to feel how intense the pain actually was. It was clear that every step I took, although closer to the finish line, was also another step towards a longer recovery once this whole fiasco was over. The climb up Crawford Mountain put me at a snails pace, literally planning each and every step.

Running (for the last time) up Crawford Mountain

Folks behind me finally started catching up and passing as Mike and I slowly walked up Crawford. Adam Casseday blew by, running at a ridiculously fast uphill pace! I was so proud to see that after the condition I had last seen him 10 hours prior.

When we reached the top of Crawford it was 2.8 to the aid station. Ok, we can do this. Mike decided that the name of the game was now “get to the aid station, rest, ice, elevate, immobilize the foot and reassess my capabilities”. Sounded easy enough, but it wasn’t.

Descending Crawford was possibly the most painful movement I have ever experienced. I was unable to plant my left foot on the downward slope. I tried walking sideways, but that was only marginally less excruciating. I tried walking backwards (yes, honestly) and the pain was still just too unbareable. I tried butt-sliding, but that only got me a few feet. Mike then found me a big walking stick that I could use like a crutch. Still, only marginally less excruciating.

Me and my stick, coming down Crawford

An hour after starting our descent down Crawford and we still had 1.7 miles to the aid station and 15 until the finish. Mike and I both knew what the right call was. I had given my absolute 100% best and pushed through the pain. Injury is the only thing that should ever stop you in a 100-miler, and I was now faced with the option of maybe finishing Grindstone and maybe being able to run again, ever, or call it quits at mile 85 and live to see my 100-mile dream come true another day.

“If I go ahead and get outside assistance that disqualifies you.”

“Go ahead, Mike. I’ll try to make forward progress in the meantime.”

And just like Mike disappeared into the distance, so did my dream that I had worked so hard for all year long…

C’est la vie. Not every race is perfect, and everyone has to DNF at some point. For me, I guess I got my DNF out of the way early, and in this case it didn’t just stand for Did Not Finish, it also stood for Did Nothing Fatal (to my running career). You live and you learn. I learned that even though I didn’t do it on this attempt, I have what it takes to conquer a 100-miler, and I have the ability to do it fast and strong. I have tasted the 100-miler and I absolutely cannot wait to taste it again. My injury will heal, I’ll crosstrain, do extra strength training and stretching, and I will be back…

…I will be back with a vengeance.

Useful race links:
My race splits
Photos from my crew (Flickr)
Photos from Wendy Marszalek on the course (Flickr)
Photos from Coach Mike (Facebook)

And of course, a huge thank you to my extremely supportive, helpful and understanding crew: Jen Jacobs, Kristine Davis, Derraugh Ewchuk and Mike Broderick. Without you guys I would not have made it as far as I did as fast as I did. I am eternally grateful to each one of you!

Grindstone 100 preview

It’s t-minus 1 day until go-time for my first ever 100-miler, the Grindstone 100. I’ve been scrambling to get things prepared, and as of last night at 11pm I think I have everything packed and ready to go. I’ll be ducking out of work early today and heading down to the race start to set up camp, then hopefully sleeping as much as I can before the 1pm pre-race briefing. After the pre-race briefing my crew will start arriving, I’ll hand off my bags, and at 6:00pm EST the show starts.

“Beginning at Camp Shenandoah, this out-n-back course ascends and descends Little North Mtn before climbing over 2400ft in 4 miles to the summit of Elliot Knob. The course then proceeds north following the ridgeline of Great North Mtn crossing over to and following the Wild Oak National Recreation Trail before continuing north to the summit of Reddish Knob. Runners continue north to Briery Branch Gap before retracing their steps (without summiting Elliott & Reddish) back along the course to Camp Shenandoah.”

Aside from MMT, Grindstone is dubbed “the hardest 100-miler east of the 100th Meridian.” It’s 100.73 miles and 23,200 feet of net elevation gain and pure mountain-climbing, quad-busting fun. Actually, using the pace sheet given out by Clark (the Race Director), adding up distances between aid stations totals 101.85 miles. I would guess that these discrepancies are due to remeasuring and the fact that the course has been extended roughly 1.4 miles at the turnaround, adding extra mileage and extra climbing. Hoorah!

Am I prepared? I sure as hell hope so. I’ve been seeded with lucky bib #7, so if that isn’t motivation to kick some ass, I don’t know what is. Training went very well, as shown with a strong run at Where’s Waldo 100k and a quick recovery thereafter, and now that temperatures have cooled down a bit with the arrival of fall, running feels much much easier.

Here is a rough plan of my gear and nutrition for the race:
– Nathan HPL 020 pack with Camelbak bladder for carrying water
– Ultimate Direction handheld bottle filled with Hammer Perpetuem (cafe latte flavor) for calories
– S-caps every hour or 2 to balance electrolytes
– Brooks Cascadia 4 shoes with blue Superfeet insoles
– Drymax socks (these will be a blessing for when the rain comes)
– GoLite packable windbreaker for rain protection
– Moeben sleeves in case it gets chilly at night
– Brooks Element shorts
– Brooks running hat
– Tifosi sunglasses
– Garmin Forerunner 310XT (19.5hr battery) and 305 (14hr battery) for heart-rate, time and mileage
– Petzl MyoXP headlamp and Fenix L2D flashlight
– and of course, my blue VHTRC shirt. gotta represent!

As for race goals, it’s my first 100 miler so priority #1 is just to finish. Aside from that, I’m shooting to run somewhere in the 26 hour range. I’ve been seeded as bib #7, and last year runner #7 ran a 23:11… yeah I don’t know about that one! But honestly, it’s a honor to be seeded at such a high placement and I don’t expect to finish that far up front. Then again, I tend to have pretty conservative estimates on my race times, so you never know what might happen. Just need to make sure there’s fuel left in the tank for Masochist and Hellgate so I can finish up the Beast Series!

Welp, here goes nothing…

Race Report: Promise Land 50k

Promise Land 50k
Race #3 of 6 in the Beast Series
April 25, 2009

Wow am I late to post this race report. Mea culpa. After dealing with an ego-crushing performance at Promise Land, I had to face the facts and make the (smart) decision to drop from MMT, thus pushing back my hopes and dreams of running my first 100. I was so caught up in this decision and worried about getting my ITB better that I totally forgot to write a recap.

I have since forgotten most of the little details from that day, so instead here are some pictures with random commentary.

Some speedy mofos – Amy Sproston, Bethany Patterson and Keith Knipling
Why do Horton’s races always start so early?

A few days before the race I was out on an easy 8 mile run when my ITB started to act up again. I thought it had been fully healed since I was able to run Terrpain Mountain a few weeks back with no problems. I guess I was adding on the weekly mileage a bit too fast. Knowing that the ITB was being problematic, I knew that today was going to be a tough one, but I also knew that if I wanted to stay in the Beast Series, I had to at least finish under the cutoffs.

My two goals for the year were to 1) finish MMT as my first 100 and 2) complete all 6 Beast Series races. Running Promise Land was going to possibly exacerbate my injury, but if I didn’t run it then I was definitely out of the Beast and there was no guarantee that I’d be healed for MMT just three weeks away. I decided on running Promise Land to at least stay in the Series, and if all went well then I could still do MMT.

I forced myself to start towards the back of the pack so as to not be tempted to run fast. It also was a nice chance to run with folks whom I normally don’t see until post-race activities. So off I went, slowly making my way in hopes that the pace would please the knee.

Heading into Aid Station #1 after climbing for ~4 miles right from the start

The first few miles weren’t that bad. It was dark but all the runners were pretty close together. I found myself running/walking with Martha Wright and Q. They both promised to crack the whip and keep me running at a conservative pace. Taking it slow seemed to be working and I wasn’t losing too much ground because it was all climbing and everyone was walking. After a few more miles though, despite my best efforts the ITB started to ache with every step. Crap.

I have to give it Promise Land, it was a nice looking course.
Me. Smiling despite the pain.

The ITB pain would come and go a few times during the first 15 or so miles, and during the times when I was able to run it was actually pretty enjoyable. There was a very scenic section of rolling jeep roads that I recall being gorgeous, but somewhere around this point I noticed an unusually high amount of moisture on my back? “Why am I sweating so much? Wait, why is my sweat cold??” Apparently the bladder in my Nathan pack had sprung a leak and was slowly draining itself down my lower back and soaking my shorts. Awesome!

I did my best at the next aid station to make an impromptu repair with the ever-useful duct tape. Unfortunately duct tape doesn’t hold up well in wet conditions so I was stuck wearing a useless pack (ok ok, it did a graet job of holding my gels). Luckily my good friend and fellow Brooks athlete Alisa Springman came to the rescue and lent me one of her handhelds. I was saved!

From this point on I did a mixture of running (with pain) and walking (when the pain was just too much). This was quite frustrating because I felt fine in terms of cardiovascular and muscular endurance, but the acute ITB pain had become so intolerable at times that I wasn’t able to bend my leg, so I looked like a peg-leg pirate with a totally straight leg that had to be swung around. I’m sure it was fun to watch, but it definitely was not fun to endure.

Again with the nice views

I ran with Q and Alisa for a good while. Q is someone I don’t normally get to run with, so that was nice, and Alisa is normally a speedy one but she had just run 100 miles at McNaughton 2 weeks prior and then 50 miles at Bull Run the weekend before this race. Alisa and I discussed plans for Badwater (I’ll be pacing her there this summer) and Q and I discussed… who the hell knows, probably making fun of people and talking about bourbon (he’s quite a fan). We actually did talk some serious stuff though, and when discussing my injury and race plans, this is where I made the decision to drop from MMT. Q agreed that this was a smart move, and from that point on I felt like I had lifted a huge weight from my shoulders because now there was no pressure to perform in the coming weeks. All would be well and I would be recovered soon enough.

Me and Q resting at the waterfall.

These bastards came after the waterfall… and with my pegleg it seemed like they went on forever.

A few miles after the waterfall and the steps, we made our way back to the wide open aid station on top of the mountain pictured below. We had been there earlier in the day as well (sorry I don’t know names or mileages at these points, I’m more of an MMT guy myself).

Alisa and some others refueling after a long climb, getting ready to start running again.

After topping the mountain we headed back down for the last quarter or so of the race. Most were relieved to be given the opportunity to run once again. I was not so lucky, and proceeded to walk down.

After passing the final aid station, the pain in my ITB magically disappeared and I was able to run for the first time in what seemed like ages. It was roughly 4 miles to the finish, all downhill, and I ran every step of the way. This is probably the only time during the day when I felt the horrible heat that I was expecting so much from. It wasn’t all the bad, but after conferring with others afterwards, I think my experience was the exception.
Crossing the field and approaching the finish line

As I approached the finish line, I could hear Horton on the microphone announcing “Here comes Bobby Gill – living up to his #9 seed”. Not really the greatest of things to hear when I was enjoying a rare brief moment of satisfaction just for being finished with the damn race under the cutoffs. I clearly was nowhere near #9, probably more like 109, but whatever, I was still in the Beast Series (although with some pretty slow times) and the only pressing goal I had was to rest and heal up.

My finishing time was 7:30:05. This is actually faster than I had thought I would run. I was anticipating more of a death march and coming in right under the cutoff. I guess my walking pace is quite fast, so that helps.

So there you have it, my Promise Land race report. Very anticlimactic and it was only a month late!

Race Report: Terrapin Mountain 50k

I took a risk this weekend and raced knowing that my IT band was still in healing mode. I had to because Terrapin Mountain 50k is the 2nd race in the Beast Series and, aside from finishing MMT, finishing the Beast Series is one of my goals for this year. With plenty of visits to the PT and equal amounts of time spent stretching and foam-rolling at home, healing has steadily moved along and two days prior to the race I was able to get in an 8-miler with little to no pain.

This was the inaugural 50k at Terrapin. Last year they ran a marathon, but in actuality the mileage was a bit higher than 26.2, so instead of shortening it to be legit, Clark Zealand (the RD) did what any decent ultrarunner would do and he added an extra mile or three to make a nice challenging 50k.

That’s me – #5. I guess they didn’t realize I’d be taking it slow(er) today.

Rain was forecasted for all of Saturday. As I slept in my tent the night before the race, I was constantly awoken by loud surges in the rain’s intensity – never a good sign. By some amazing turn of events, mother nature called it quits just before daybreak and we were graced with a dry start. I snuck in to the middle of the pack, hoping it would trick me into running a conservative race, but as we made our way out of the lodge and into the mountains I slowly found myself passing a good number of people. I was somewhat expecting to be passing folks though. Coach Mike had formulated an ITB-friendly gameplan for me: run the uphills and walk the downs. So I did, passing everyone who sticks to the normal ultra routine of walking the uphills. It was actually quite entertaining because going up I would pass the same 10 or so people and then on the downs they would all pass me. We yo-yo’d back and forth all day long, and eventually, to qualm the “this idiot doesn’t know how to run an ultra” thoughts that were most definitely running through their heads, I would explain that I in fact had a method to my madness.

Trying to walk the downhills is tough, so I shuffled/power-walked instead.

The course itself was challenging yet fun. Plenty of climbing, roughly 8k feet of it, and despite all the rain from the night before, there wasn’t nearly as much mud as anyone had thought. Contrary to what the attached pictures show, most of the day had us running through jeep roads or single track. There was even a section towards the end that was MMT-esque with jagged rocks that made for impossible fotting. The final ascent up Terrapin Mountain was steep and gnarly as well, and to prove we were there we had to punch our bibs with two different orienteering punches that awaited us at the top.

The course was well marked and, being a first-timer on these trails, it took me onto portions of the Promise Land 50k and Hellgate 100k courses, both races in the Beast Series that I will be running this year. I don’t remember much of the specifics from the course, probably because I was concentrating so hard all day on my ITB to make sure it wasn’t hurting, but it definitely felt great to be out there running in the mountains, and it especially felt good to be running pain free. On some of the downhill sections, the gradient was so steep that I couldn’t help but move at a not-quite-walking, aka running, pace. When I would do this, my ITB would quickly chime in with a hint of pain as if to say “No no, remember what Coach Mike told you!” I quickly got the picture and went back to shuffling downhill, repeating to myself my mantra for the day: “It feels good. Don’t f@#k it up.”

FOG, FOG and more FOG… all day long.

Speaking of f@#cking it up, I somehow managed to drain my GPS battery before the race and I also forgot my camera battery sitting on the charger at home, so if you were wondering where my usual array of pictures, maps, and elevation profiles are at… sorry boss, not this time. (By the way, all pics courtesy of eco-X Sports).

Clark cheering me on as I finish. The camera guy missed our sweet high-five.

I finished in 5:41:43, 27th place out of 148 starters. Not too shabby for just trying to complete the dang thing under the cutoffs to stay in the Series. All in all, I’d have to say that Clark and the rest of the eco-X crew put on an extremely well organized race with great schwag and cool logos (who doesn’t love cool logos?!). I am definitely looking forward to running more out on these trails and running more eco-X events in the coming future.

And now that I’ve got my legs back, it’s time to make up for that month of lost training!


Race Report: Holiday Lake 50k++

Holiday Lake 50k++
February 14, 2009
Appomattox, VA

On Saturday I ran the Holiday Lake 50k++, the first of six ultras I will be running this year that comprise the Beast Series. The “++” after the 50k indicates that these miles (or kilometers in this case) aren’t standard issue miles, but they are in fact Horton miles. Horton miles are special because even though David Horton is a Ph.D., he apparently does not know how to measure distance properly. This particular 50k measured out to be 32.3mi on my GPS, but previous versions of the course were known to run upwards of 34mi.

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Runners gathered at the 4-H Center the night before the race for a pasta dinner and typical Horton antics. In addition to being the location for the race’s start, middle and finish, the 4-H Center features a full cafeteria, bunkhouses and hot showers – the perfect amenities for a race.

Horton giving the Friday night pre-race briefing

Saturday morning gave us an early race start, 6:30am, so it was necessary to don the headlamp if you wanted to avoid tripping on roots in the dark. Too bad I brought my cheap headlamp that had a nearly-dead battery. It was worthless. I think I would have been better off carrying a jar of lightning bugs.

Marc Griffin and myself at the start
T-minus 1 minute or thereabouts

After a group-singing of the national anthem, Horton yelled go and we made our way into the darkness. The first 0.6mi was on paved roads so I used this time to find and situate myself behind a runner who was running my pace and had a bright light that I could mooch off of. That plan seemed to work pretty well and as soon as the sun poked its beautiful head out I started picking off runners with my favorite phrase: “on your left”. Temperatures started in the low 30s and slowly creeped into the 40s as the day progressed – perfect weather for fast running.

Lately I have been running plenty of 50k’s but they have all been run at a slow and easy pace for MMT training. Today I was taking a different approach and giving it my all to assess my current fitness level. My previous 50k PR was a 5:18 set at Potomac Heritage in October (my first ultra) and I know I have gotten faster since then, so my goal was to shoot for sub-5. I focused on keeping my heart-rate at the appropriate levels and not worrying about my placement among other runners.

I wonder how fast I would have been had I not carried a camera and took pics?
Sunrise on the Holiday Lake course

The first lap (a tad more than 16 miles) was flat, fast and fairly uneventful. I ran straight through the first two aide stations, quickly filled my water bottle and grabbed a piece of banana and PBJ at the third and was on my way. At one point I came across Jeremy Ramsey, winner of last year’s Hellgate 100k and member of the Inov-8 ultra team that was rolling deep at today’s race. Passing him seemed out of place for a newbie like myself, but I just assumed he was having a bad day so I continued on my way and thought nothing of it. As I got closer to the turnaround, the front-runners started passing by and, although I didn’t care about my placement, I started counting runners to keep my mind off the somewhat hard pace that I had been holding. One, two, three… eight, nine, ten, TURNAROUND. Seriously? Just 10 people ahead of me? I thought I was going to be counting to 30, not 10. I was in 11th place?!? Well then, looks like this race just got interesting.

At the turnaround Horton was yelling something at me but the only words I heard were “top 10”. Hmmm, temptation to push the pace was calling, but I held back and stuck to my plan. At the next aide station I stopped to fill my bottle and again Horton reappeared, this time proclaiming “Bobby, you’re in 11th place. You’re the first loser! The next guy is 1.5 minutes ahead. Go get him!” I’m not one to disregard orders, especially those coming from the Race Director, so off I went up the hill, this time with a bit more pep in my step. Screw the original plan!

Running around the lake, on Valentine’s Day. Holiday Lake – get it?

After about 2 miles I caught sight of the 10th place runner. I slowly picked up my pace so that I could eventually pass him in a comfortable pace without sprinting. The overtaking occurred just after the next aide station. He had slowed for a cup of water and I kept at full speed since I was carrying all I needed. I kept a strong pace to get some distance and get out of sight so he wouldn’t be tempted to re-take 10th. I looked back periodically and the plan seemed to be working.

Image courtesy of Andrew Wilds Photography

During the last few miles, the strong pace and the flat course had me wishing for a hill so I would have an excuse to walk for a bit. Ingesting a GU packet every 45 minutes seemed to be working in terms of energy levels, but now my right hamstring was just barely starting to cramp. I had been taking an S-cap electrolyte pill every hour, but with this cramp I popped another and it seemed to help slightly. Then, with a mile to go I came upon a small hill came and I relished in the opportunity to walk. It felt marvelous…

…until I looked back and saw someone just 100 feet behind me! F*CK! I suddenly got that adrenaline kick that is all-too-familiar from my skydiving. This sprint up the remainder of the hill was a good start, but with the high of an adrenaline kick comes the low as it fades. I felt the energy drain out of me as the runner (Graham Peck) slowly approached and overtook me. I had just enough energy to muster out a “damn”, but with that Graham gave a wave of the hand and said “come on!” – he wanted a fight!

We busted out our 6-minute-mile paces (no joke) and gave 100% effort to the finish. He pulled ahead by about 100 feet, and as we turned onto the pavement it was a half-mile downhill battle to the finish. I leaned into the hill, and with what seemed like no fuel left in the system, I was running off of pure grit and determination in hopes of earning a top-10 finish. It was the longest half-mile I have ever run. Thoughts of tripping and the resulting carnage crossed my mind. When I thought he had won it, we approached a steeper section and I once again leaned into it, taking full advantage of gravity and the extra weight that I carry around compared to other ultrarunners. Graham looked back as I started to close the gap. With maybe 100 yards to go and 75 feet between us, reality sunk in and my 11th place finish was finalized. I crossed the finish in 4:10:50.

Finish line shot courtesy of Andrew Wilds Photography
Holiday Lake 2009 results

The feeling of defeat in the fight for top-10 hurt for maybe two seconds until I realized I had shaved an hour and eight minutes off my previous 50k PR! It was the hardest effort I had ever given in a run, probably by ten-fold, but damn did it feel good to completely blow away my sub-5 goal!

Me and Horton – the man, the myth, the runner
Justine Morrison – fellow VHTRC’er and overall female winner
Inov-8 Team members: JB, Kevin Lane, Clark Zealand and Jeremy Ramsey

Q and me sporting the lovely Valentine-themed finisher’s shirts

Final standings:
11th of 257 starters and 248 finishers (final results)
7th in age group (age group results)

One down in the Beast Series and five to go. We’ll see if my beginner’s luck holds up…