Monday, October 26, 2009

An Easy 20

Ok, it was an easy 15 followed by a not too difficult 5, but one year ago I would never have imagined using the qualifier "easy" in front of a 20 mile run. I am slowly becoming what back then I thought of as one of "those" runners. Of course if you believed the runners quoted in last weeks NY Times, I am one of the people ruining the marathon. Hey, I train just as hard for my marathons as any middle of the pack runners. I do long runs, tempo runs, intervals on the track, and hill repeats. But since I have not been blessed with fast genes (my brother managed to get all those), my time is a "joke" and I don't deserve a finishers medal or T-shirt. That article really got me steamed up, even though I know it shouldn't. The plus side is, I saw one letter to the editor that I really got a kick out of:

To the Sports Editor:

I couldn’t agree more with the women’s cross-country coach Adrienne Wald, who said, “It’s a joke to run a marathon” in six or more hours.

In 2007, at age 70, I completed my 32nd marathon. I take great pride in telling people I did it in 2 hours 245 minutes 28 seconds.

Peter H. Reader

Portland, Ore.

That definitely put a smile on my face. I guess there is a reason I've done 4 ultras this year and only 2 marathons. Ultra runners are much more all inclusive and welcoming. Although I do wonder how many hundreds of marathoners the writer had to interview to find the two elitist snobs that were willing to have their remarks quoted. I've only run across one jerk in real life who said after I told him my time of 4:58, "oh, you took your time, then." Of course I athlinked his ass when I got home and saw that he had only run one marathon and his time was 4:38 and he was 24 years younger than me at the time.

Wow, this post had a lot more ranting than I had intended, but at least now I can concentrate my efforts on my next event. The Peachtree City 50K in less than two weeks!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Cumberland Trail 50K Race Report

This year has been a year of firsts for me. (Not bad for a 50 year old!) Every time I accomplish a new challenging task, I think, it can't get any better than this. My first marathon, my first ultra, my first 8 hour run. This race did not disappoint either. It was my first trail ultra, I was expecting to be tested both physically and mentally, and I was. And when I crossed the finish line, once again the thought that crossed my mind was, "It doesn't get any better than this!"

When I got to the race start it was dark with a light rain. Susan Donnelly gave us last minute instructions, lined us up behind the bicycle that would lead us down the paved path to the actual trail part of the course and we were off. I quickly established myself at the very back and settled into an easy pace. Within a mile we were on single track and starting our way on the Cumberland Trail. I think that running in the dark with a headlamp actually helped me out. I couldn't see far enough ahead to see the massive climb. All I could see was the next several yards, and anyone can climb 10 yards. After about 45 minutes I could hear the workers at the first aid station cheering, they could see my headlamp working its way up. The aid station workers were all fantastic, I think the volunteers at this race outnumbered the runners.

The next section was the steep climb up Cross Mountain. As it was still pretty dark, I didn't feel overwhelmed by the 2000' climb in the next 2.5 miles. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other. I remember a lot of rocks stairs, log stairs, slipping, and my glasses fogging up. One interesting side note, in these conditions my glasses were a very effective heart rate monitor. Every time my heart rate got above 160, my glasses would fog up. This section took me about 1 hour and 15 minutes, and boy was I glad to get to the top.

The next section was listed as 1.6 miles, but I think it was a little bit longer. I don't remember much and it took me about 33 minutes.

Now we come to what I call the middle section. It was 6.5 miles between aid stations. Initially downhill with some runnable sections, stream crossings, technical running. Then it was uphill and we turned off the single track on to an ATV trail that climbed the second major climb of the course. There were several runnable sections, but I found that my lack of trail running held me back. I was very tentative, especially on the downhill sections where I could have made up some time. It was on this section that I added about a mile to my run. The trail came down to a stream, then turned left to cross the stream. I failed to make the left turn and continued straight ahead. I was now on what I think was a jeep trail that was very flat and fast. I remember thinking about all the time I was making up flying down the road. After about 5 minutes, I started thinking, "wait a minute, I think this is too easy". I looked for trail markings (the trail was very well marked, I don't think you could go more than 50 yards without seeing some kind of marking) and didn't see any. Then I looked down for muddy foot prints (I was at the very back, remember, and there were always muddy foot prints to follow) and didn't see any. Oh crap, I missed a turn. I got out the course description that I was carrying with me, nope, this wasn't on the course description. So, I turned around and ran back. When I got to where I went wrong, I saw that not only did I miss about 4 red streamers and flags, I also crawled over not one, but TWO logs that were placed across the wrong way that I went. So, I crossed the stream and continued on my way. I almost started beating myself up about the lost time, but then I said to myself, "hey, look at the bright side, the way back is going to be one mile shorter!" I was about halfway through this middle section when the winner, Byron Backer came racing down the trail. I think his DNA should be tested, because I think he is part mountain goat. He won with an incredible time of 5:26. As I moved up the ATV trail, I started to see the other runners coming down, and by this time I was asking variations of the question, "Am I there yet?" Finally I could see the heads of the aid station workers about 30 feet directly above me, I remember thinking of asking them to lower a rope to help me climb the last bit to the aid station. This middle section took me over 2 hours. I guess I did cause some consternation while I was on my little detour. Sweeper Rob had passed me while I was off course, so when he arrived at this aid station and I hadn't been through yet, they started wondering what had happened to me. So when I arrived, I could hear shouts of "She's Here!"

Finally we got some "rest" from the technical up and down workout. This next section was on a gravel road and then through a meadow to the turnaround point. Near the turnaround was the highlight of the run. A huge mama elk was in the meadow for the entire race, just standing there watching the crazy people run through her territory. I would guess I passed not more than 50 feet from where she was standing. This easy 4 mile section took about 50 minutes.

The return took me just about as long. Even though it was net downhill, my tentative inexperience running trails kept me from making up any time. There was never a time where I felt that I couldn't do it, but there was a question of how long it would take me. Sweeper Rob Apple saw me looking at my watch a couple of times and he told me not to worry about cutoff times, but I still wanted to make a good showing. Finally, I got to the paved greenway into Cove Lake State Park, and knew I would finish. I actually started choking up with emotion at this time as I looked at my watch and saw that I had been accomplishing "relentless forward motion" for more than 10 hours, longer than I had ever done before. Then at last, I saw the finish line and the crowd cheering for me! I felt a fantastic sense of accomplishment as I crossed the line (even though my finish line photo may not look like it). Susan congratulated me and handed me my finishers award, an awesome SIGG water bottle with the race logo. Then, I got not a congratulatory handshake, but a big hug.

Post race refreshments included pizza and soda and I got to talk to some very experienced ultra runners and get advice on future races and training.

All in all an awesome experience, everything I was expecting and then some.

Now, how did I do with goal accomplishment? Lets review:
1. Don't get eaten by a bear. Check
2. Don't get gnawed on by smaller mammals. Check
3. Don't get bitten by any reptiles. Check
4. Don't get shot by over-anxious hunters. Check
5. Don't get lost. I'm going with a famous historical Cumberland Trail dude by the name of Daniel Boone and say I wasn't lost, just bewildered, Check
6. Don't fall down more than 3 times. There were a few times on some steep climb places where I slipped and did a slow lowering of my center of gravity, and a couple of times I pitched forward and caught myself with my water bottle, but I never did a full velocity fall on my knees or butt, so I'm saying Check
7. Don't break any bones. Check
8. Stay hydrated and electrolyted. Check, I think this is my strong suit, I was able to eat and drink the entire 10 hours and never had any stomach issues.
9. Successfully accomplish peeing and maybe pooping in the woods. Missed this one, I didn't have to stop once for bodily functions.
10. Run (or at least shuffle fast) into the aid stations. I missed this goal at one aid station, the one that had an almost vertical climb to get to.
11. Smile at the aid stations. Check. I couldn't help but smile at the loud cheering reception I got as I approached each aid station (being the last person may have had something to do with it).
12. Thank the aid station volunteers. Check
13. Stay positive. Check. I think this is my second strongest asset.
14. Make all the cutoff times. Nope, I did make the turnaround time, but my inexperience on downhills kept me from making the next two.
15. Finish within the 10 hour time limit. Nope, although the official time limit was increased to 10.5 hours.
16. Finish with a smile. Check (even though the picture looks like a grimace, trust me, its a smile!)
17. HAVE FUN! Check, CHECK, and CHECK!

Now for everyone that has stayed with me this far, here are some pictures courtesy of Van Young and Ray Smith.

OK, I don't have the technological skills to post their pictures on my blog, but you can see them here and here. Please go take a look, the course was absolutely gorgeous.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

I Did It!

I finished the Cumberland Trail 50K in 10:16. Boy that is a tough course. Although Race Director Susan is a sadist, she is a sadist with a heart of gold and presented me with my finishers award, even though I was 16 minutes past the cutoff. I accomplished 13 out of 17 of my goals, not bad for picking one doozy of an ultra for my first one. Full race report to follow.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

One Week To Go

I'm in taper mode and have extra time to think about my upcoming Cumberland Trail 50K. This run will have a lot of firsts for me. Its my first trail ultra, the first race with cutoff times to worry about, the first race where I'll need a headlamp, the first race that I'll probably finish last, and a whole lot more. I'll be the first to admit, I'm in way over my head with this race, but I'm determined to finish within the cutoff time since the race director says the finisher awards are going to be great.

So, in light of the challenges that face me, I've come up with a list of goals for my first trail 50K.

1. Don't get eaten by a bear
2. Don't get gnawed on by smaller mammals
3. Don't get bitten by any reptiles
4. Don't get shot by over-anxious hunters (It's apparently bow-hunting season)
5. Don't get lost
6. Don't fall down more than 3 times
7. Don't break any bones
Boy I sure have a lot of don'ts!
8. Stay hydrated and electrolyted
9. Successfully accomplish peeing and maybe pooping in the woods
10. Run (or at least shuffle fast) into the aid stations
11. Smile at the aid stations
12. Thank the aid station volunteers
13. Stay positive
14. Make all the cutoff times
15. Finish within the 10 hour time limit
16. Finish with a smile

And the number one goal: