Monday, March 30, 2015

March Marathon Madness

Well, March was certainly a fun month of running. I lead pace groups for three marathons in a span of 13 days and was within 42 seconds of my target time for all three. I also never positive split a course by more than 18 seconds. I will try to add a few more photos from the events later, but for now here are some short recaps.

Newport News One City Marathon. 3:45 pace leader. This was the inaugural year for the event.

(Early part of the One City course. Photo credit Newport News Daily Press)

Distance: 26.69 miles
Total Time: 3:44:38
Pace: 8:25
First half: 1:52:10, 13.35 miles
Second half: 1:52:28, 13.34 miles
Weather: Low 40's at the start. Low 60's at the finish.

Course Difficulty: A few small hills in the beginning and around miles 15-16. Not much shade the second half, and some wind in the more exposed places. Overall, a pretty flat and fast point to point course.

Course Scenery: Quiet and pleasant roads the first half and then opening up to a more city like feel with some scenic stretches by the water.

Crowd Support: Honestly, better than expected. The first 10 miles are fairly quiet, but the final half felt pretty energized with schools, clubs, and bands cheering along the course.

Logistics: Not bad, though there was some confusion with shuttle buses in the morning. Some volunteers seemed inexperienced to handle typical marathon related questions. A couple finish line volunteers came across a bit snappy and rude to tired runners. Not fun running 26.2 miles and the first volunteer you meet has an attitude. Otherwise, 99.99% of the volunteers were amazing.

Pre-race: Chilly wait in a parking lot with no place to stay warm. Some people waited 90 minutes due to the time gap between getting dropped off by shuttles and the marathon start.

Post-race: Very windy and chilly by the waterfront. Not fun if you are cold and sweaty. Free beer and pizza hit the spot. Layout was good, but very muddy due to rain the day before. Live entertainment was good, but far too loud.

Bling: The medal was fairly nice. It's a runner going through the victory arch, which is exactly how the finish looked. A nice nod to the city of Newport News.

Highlights: Giving a high five to Elvis, helping a 63 year old man named James qualify for the Boston Marathon, and being a part of an inaugural local event.

(Photo credit One City 26.2)

Shamrock Marathon. 3:45 pace leader.

Distance: 26.46 miles
Total Time: 3:44:18
Pace: 8:28
First half: 1:52:01, 13.30 miles
Second half: 1:52:17, 13.16 miles
Weather: High 40's to mid 50's. Winds 7-15 mph.

Course Difficulty: Flat and fast, with the exception of sometimes heavy wind. However, this year, the wind was a non factor for most runners. The only hills are the short climbs over the Rudee Inlet bridge at miles 2.5 and 9 and some slight inclines in Fort Story. The final 10k of the marathon is a net downhill with a fast finish on the boardwalk.

Course Scenery: A nice mix of oceanfront board walk, open road, military bases, and downtown Virginia Beach. Good variety, though some will find places like Fort Story a bit mentally draining.

Crowd Support: Pretty good, aside from the quiet six mile stretch on Shore Drive and Fort Story. Even without spectators there are enough fellow runners, soldiers, and volunteers to keep you energized all day.

Logistics: Good. Parking is still a bit rough, and expo parking can be an adventure, but still better than what you'd see at a race with 30k runners. The mile from 4 to 5 is still long at 1.20 miles and the mile from 5 to 6 is short at 0.90 miles.

Pre-race: It can be a cold and windy wait for folks, though many people huddle inside hotels and around a few fire pits to stay warm.

Post-race: Fantastic. Free beer, good food, and awesome live music inside a huge beachfront tent. Honestly, it's one of the best finish line parties I've experienced.

Bling: The medals were unique this year, but still nice, and plenty big. The black and glittered green looked better in person than in photos. The challenge medals were simply beautiful, especially the King Neptune.

Highlights: Shamrock, aka J&A Racing, treat their pace leaders extremely well and granted us access to the VIP tent all weekend. I had a lot of fun hanging out with the rock star pace team from Minnesota, which included talented runners Dan LaPlante, Jim Winkels, Don Sullivan, and Ben Drexler. I also got to hang out with running luminary Bart Yasso, US Mountain Running Champion Joseph Gray, and one of the owners of Yuengling.

(Chilling in the VIP tent. Photo credit Bart Yasso).

(Myself and Ben Drexler showing off our Whale Challenge bling. Photo credit Ben Drexler @_6run2)

(The sweet Running Etc. pace team shirts)

Emerald Isle Marathon. 4:00 pace leader.

(I'm somewhere in the middle of that pack. This was when we merged with the half marathon, and only 8 runners with me were marathoners. Photo credit SOS Photography)

Distance: 26.50 miles
Total Time: 4:00:03 (Had to stop 10 seconds to avoid traffic a mile from the finish, otherwise I would have been under 4 hours)
Pace: 9:05
First half: 1:59:53, 13.22 miles
Second half: 2:00:10, 13.28 miles
Weather: Hi 30's to low 50's. Wind 10-25 mph.

Course Difficulty: Surprisingly hilly, especially through the neighborhoods from miles 2-7. The out and back final 10 miles are mostly flat, but still lots of undulations where the running path overlaps entrances to stores and shopping centers. Strong head wind the final 8 miles, and the last mile is a rather hilly and windy bike path. Far hillier than you'd expect so close to the ocean and lots of turns the first half.

Course Scenery: A bit disappointing considering how beautiful Emerald Isle is. The most pleasant parts were watching the sunrise over the huge houses in the beginning and the few miles along the oceanfront road from miles 12-18. However, running the bike paths and main roads was fairly uninteresting, and you never actually see the ocean or beaches from the course because they are always obstructed by houses.

Crowd Support: Non existent, other than the friendly volunteers. The marathon only had 200 runners, which meant we were extremely spread out. We did merge with the half for six miles, which was the only time we ran with a substantial crowd, but after they turned back we were alone again. Other than some locals, runner's friends and family, and curious people who came out to their yards, there wasn't much crowd support. If you run the full, just plan for a fairly quiet day.

Logistics: 6:30am start meant we ran the first few miles in the dark. Not super safe on an unlit bike path, and several runners tripped on bumps and/or ran into dividers on the path. Parts of course were not closed to traffic and you have to be mindful of turning cars and traffic lights the final 5-6 miles. Other busy intersections and crossings were, however, managed well by volunteers and police officers. Mile markers were spray painted on the ground and sometimes easy to miss, though there were a handful that were marked with small signs. Lots of turns on the course, but volunteers were at all of them, and the combination of color coded arrows and signs made the course easy to follow.

Pre-race: They had a tent with heaters to stay warm which was nice. Parking was close to the start/finish, which meant a nice short walk.

Post-race: No food at the finish, other than water, bananas and mini Cliff bars. The only "real" food was a burrito truck you had to pay for. Granted the burritos were good, but it didn't thrill runners that their only option for food was buying something from a vendor. There was a post-race banquet, but it was at 5pm, which was a good 5-7 hours after most people finished their events. Unless you were staying the entire weekend, and staying nearby, it was not feasible to stick around and come back at 5pm. They should have just had the reception going as runners were finishing so we could have access to food and entertainment right then. Hopefully they didn't waste a lot of food on no shows, because it didn't seem like many people went.

Bling: A fairly traditional medal and basic. Not small, but small compared to what medals look like nowadays.

Highlights: Running with a steadfast pack of 8 runners for 16 miles. Of that group only one, Catherine doing her first marathon, was able to stay with me. We ran the final 8 miles together until I urged her to run ahad at mile 24. Her goal was to finish her first marathon under 4 hours, and she did so by finishing 30 seconds ahead of me. Well done! I also loved the guy with the hand crank bike. Despite all the hills and half dozen speed bumps he was always grinning.

Anyway, I had a fun 13 days. I realized my body is definitely capable of running marathons at easier efforts every weekend if it wanted to. But, that's not my goal. My only objective was to help other runners reach their objectives and I hope to continue that by pace leading many more marathons and halves to come.

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Graveyard 100- A Very Special Race

Good races are not hard to find, but truly special ones are far and few between. Sure, there are plenty of fun and well organized running events out there. There are events that hedge more on their history and lore to drive the race experience, rather than the experience in and of itself. But, once in a blue moon you find an event, sometimes by accident, that ends up being the diamond in the rough we all hope to find.

I wholeheartedly believe that Brandon and Heather Wilson's Graveyard 100 is such an event. I think great race experiences comes down to the elements of challenge, course beauty, creativity, and race support. All too common these days is the culture of seemingly valuing the bling and swag of an event more than the personal journey that transpires between the start and finish lines. I totally get it if people are all about cool medals, chip timing, aid every two miles, and live runner tracking, but sometimes it's refreshing to see an event that values the "test" of what running a 100 miler is, and not all the glitz. If you want to voyage into the unknown, where the reward is in the miles in between, by all means the Graveyard 100 is for you.

The Graveyard 100 is not meant to be an easy race to finish. Many ultras, not that it is a bad thing, now cater to runners to ensure nearly everyone finishes. I've even witnessed established older ultras adding more aid and tweaking logistics to make it easier for runners. Don't get me wrong, but isn't one of the alluring factors of an ultra supposed to be that it isn't easy? And yet, some people seemingly have the attitude of wanting to do something hard, but in the easiest way possible. Again, there's nothing wrong with that, but one reason the Graveyard 100 is special is because it is not that kind of race.

I like that regardless if you are an elite, back of the packer, or prior champion, there is no certainty you will finish this race. It all comes down to risk versus reward, and in that sense the Graveyard 100 offers some incredible rewards. I think if you ask any person, myself included, how they felt when presented their Graveyard buckle, they would say with a tired satisfied smile, it was well worth it.

I love that Graveyard is the hardest "easy" 100 miler you will likely encounter. People see the flat elevation profile and say "piece of cake!" Crewed runners see that they can receive aid from their crews every 4-9 miles at water stops, and think "this shouldn't be too bad". There are no big climbs, no mountains above 10,000 feet, no technical rocky sections or river crossings, and yet the percentage of people who drop is higher than at most "harder" one hundreds. Why is that you wonder? For those that have been on the course, well, you know the answer.

This race is a crucible in numerous capacities. It will test your mind, and for some it will torment their mind. You will start at the north end of Currituck, see sunrise as you pass Currituck sound to your right, and run through small coastal towns like Corolla and Duck. You'll think "this isn't too bad". Then as your legs start to experience the initial onsets of fatigue you will pass through Kitty Hawk and Nags Head. You can see miles down the road and miles behind you. This is usually when it hits you that this is going to be tougher than you thought. Runners ahead fade into nothing more than little dots on the horizon and you'll swear those mile post signs can't be accurate. But, they are.

After 45 miles you will exit the creature comforts of society and begin your adventure into the land of dunes. This is where the isolation begins. You will pass the Bodie Island lighthouse to your right, cross over the iconic 2.5 mile long leviathan that is the Bonner Bridge, and into Pea Island. After this, you are in the second half of the race, but the hardest is yet to come. You'll see mirages on the road that look like shiny wet spots, but as you continue on you'll see nothing but more road. Depending on the year, you may be running on sand, into a flood plane, or completely dry asphalt. You might get hit with a light sting of fine sand swirling through 20 mph winds or intense sun radiating from the blankets of off white dunes. Embrace this stretch that transports you from the land of the ordinary and into a magical world of sand and ocean. Ten miles later you will finally get a faint glimpse of Rodanthe in the distance.

For most runners, Rodanthe is where reality starts to set in. This is where most drops occur, and at 100k into the race, this is where the real journey begins. At this point, the long miles have started to take their toll, and 9-16 hours of exposure to the sun, pavement, wind, and cold have depleted even the heartiest of souls. This is also where good planning can mean the difference between a finish and yet another DNF. Warm dry clothes are invaluable, but the lack thereof can mean a turn for the worse. Uncrewed runners have even bigger thoughts to consider. They've gone 18-22 miles between full aid all day, but now must endure the longest stretch without aid at just over 24 miles. The mental battles to quit, or keep going rage on. For some it's an easy decision to end their day, and for others it's a long debate whether they want to venture back out into the chilly night for another 8-12 hours. Time to get some hot soup, patch up those blisters, grab that extra layer, and adjust the headlamp one more time.

From Rodanthe to Hatteras it's a long lonely dark road. Runners battle to stay positive and deal with the monotony. Salvo and Avon provide slight respite from the tunnel vision developed by running a solitary strip of tar while being guided by the small light of a headlamp. Local cars that previously whizzed by every few minutes, some alarmingly too close, are a now a rare sight. Every once in a while you'll see headlights in the distance and swear they aren't moving. Believe it or not, that "stationary" car in the distance is actually moving towards you at 55 mph, just from five miles away. If you are lucky enough to have a clear night, take a moment to look up and soak in that splendid night sky. It's amazing how many stars you can see when there's no ambient light around. Then, you'll see lighthouses and the blinking lights of water towers on the edge of your view and you now know to absorb the fact you will not get there for another two hours.

(Hatteras night sky. Photo credit coll100ertexample.blogs)

If your brain hasn't numbed by the time you reach the final aid station at mile 87, it might by the time you finish. After leaving Hatteras lighthouse, which will feel like forever to reach, you will experience more of the same in regards to never feeling like you are getting closer to objects in the distance. It's a double doozy if you are not familiar with Hatteras as it will seem like forever to reach the finish, even when you know it's less than 5 miles away. At this point, you pretty much just want to be done and off your feet. For some it will still be night and for others it will be the next day. Years like this one you'll get to witness a rare sunrise accompanied by a setting full moon and be reminded of what a special journey you are about to finish. Finally, before you've even realized it, you will be at the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum and be handed your buckle by race director Brandon. You will likely be too tired to assess what you just did and only be thinking of getting warm, getting a shower, some food, and going to bed.

(2015 Champion Marco Bonfiglio with race director Brandon Wilson. New course record of 13:01. Photo credit John Price)

The next day you will wake up sore, have some new blisters, and probably a few less toenails. Then you'll remember everything that you went through to lose those toenails, to get that winter sunburn, that gritty sand in your socks and those two swollen feet. Then, you'll take a glance at that buckle and hopefully you'll give a little smile and realize it was all so worth it.

(Ultra legend, past Champion, and 2015 2nd place, Valmir Nunes. Photo credit John Price)

(photo credit Brian Burke)

Like I said, the Graveyard 100 is a special race. I think anyone who has ever finished it will say the same. It's the reason I have been involved with the event every year since its inception. I have been an inaugural year solo participant, a staff member trying to recruit talent like Mike Morton, Valmir Nunes, and Olivier Leblond, a race photographer, aid station volunteer, pacer, and crew member. I can honestly say I am thrilled to see how far this grass roots event has come along. For Brandon and Heather this event truly is a labor of love for you, the runner and running community.

The Graveyard 100 also has drawn a wide variety of athletes locally and internationally. The event has now had four different champions representing four different countries; the US, France, Brazil, and now Italy. This year's event also saw America's 2nd fastest non track 100 miler with Marco Bonfiglio's incredible 13:01. Only Ian Sharman's 12:44 at Rocky Raccoon in 2011 is faster. Valmir Nunes also ran one of the fastest American 100 milers by someone age 50, or older with his 14:20. It should be noted that Marco recorded a distance of 161.9km on his gps, or 100.38 miles, and he stopped for ice cream during the race, which means he most likely could have run under 13 hours. The bottom line is, whether you finished in 13 hours or 29:59, amazing things are bound to happen at the Graveyard 100.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Virginia Beach Distance Series 100k

It's been a while since I could say a race went well, or surprisingly well. All of my ultra PR's are fairly old, set between 2010 and 2012, but I knew my fitness and endurance are better now then when I set them. However, instead of improving on those I've had a lot of lackluster results due to poor strategy, not being recovered enough for races, or just being out of shape. Ultimately, I had a lot of "okay" races, but nothing that stood out.

The Virginia Beach Distance Races, the brainchild of local running guru John Price, consisted of a 50k and 100k distance. The course was designed to be fast and circled a USATF certified 2.31+ mile loop around a local golf course. The 100k would do 26 laps, plus a 1.64 mile out and back at the beginning. The 12 hour cut off was the same for both races and gave runners ample time for the 50k, but made it challenging for the 100k, which was probably why only three people finished. Though flatter than any trail ultra I have ever run, the course had enough little bumps and turns to keep you from getting lulled to sleep. For reference, the course was definitely fast, but not as fast as a typical road marathon course, or a place like the Dismal Swamp bike path. Per usual for Virginia beach, we also had a stiff headwind for about a mile of each loop. To top it all off, the weather couldn't have been more beautiful for a February 8th day. Morning temps were in the mid 30's and rose into the 60's by the late afternoon.

I was originally signed up for the 50k, with the goal of breaking 3:50, but switched races the day before to test my chops at a quicker 100k. 100k courses are hard to come by, and finding a fast course is even harder so I jumped at the opportunity. I did, however, wonder if I was going to regret switching, given my training was for the 50k, and not nearly specific enough for a 100k. In the past year, I have transitioned from 9 years of exclusively running trails, to exclusively running roads purely due to geographic location. It's funny how I used to be the trail runner who would suffer at road events, but now I believe I am actually stronger at running road ultras than on mountain trails. I guess part of switching to the 100k was to see if that was true.

As for my race, I didn't really have any concrete goals. But, if I did have a last minute goal, it was to qualify for the legendary Spartathlon ultramarathon, which required a sub 10:30 100k finish time. The qualifier is good for three years, but since the qualifying time drops to sub 10 hours next year, I figured to make that my makeshift goal. If anything, I figured my strategy would be to at least PR my 50 mile time and then shuffle through the last 12 miles and hope to get under 10 hours.

6:30am arrived and we were off. Sunrise had not yet arrived, but it was just bright enough not to need headlamps. For the first 20 miles I was on autopilot and tried to stay smooth and relaxed. I did start out a little fast and gradually pulled back the effort to around an eight minute pace. Things were good until about mile 20 when I started to notice I was developing some tightness in my hamstrings. This forced a handful of short stretch breaks, which continued all day, though I still managed to reach my marathon split in 3:29. I had plenty of time in the bank, but the increasing discomfort had me strongly considering stopping at 31 miles, as another 35 miles no longer looked appealing.

The battle with the doubt monster lasted a few more miles and I decided to just get to 50k, reassess how I felt then, and reminded myself that this was nothing uncommon for this distance. Looped courses can make dropping so inviting that it can cause people to quit when they don't have a good reason to. So, I ran a few more miles and hit the halfway point in 4:07, which was a 50k PR, and it helped put some much needed mojo back in my race. Typically, it's never good to PR a shorter distance within a significantly longer race, but the pace was a good 17 minutes slower than my goal 50k time, so I wasn't too worried. I'm just glad I was able to push through the temptation of bailing early.

(Photo Credit VA Beach Distance Races. Getting in some quicker miles early in the day)

(Photo Credit VA Beach Distance Races. Coming through the start/finish checkpoint)

The rest of the miles just rolled by without much thought. Sometimes thinking too much is worse than thinking too little. My hamstrings were still fairly tight, and every few miles I would stop and stretch a bit. I spent a lot of time just enjoying the nice February weather and seeing my fellow runners on the course. 40 and 45 miles had passed, and after six hours my primary motivation was now to set a 50 mile PR. I briefly considered pushing the pace to see how fast I could hit my 50 mile split, maybe in the 6:55 range, but realized it wouldn't be prudent to jeopardize a solid 100k time by running a fast 50. Not worth the risk of a blow up with 12 of the mentally and physically toughest miles remaining. I came through lap 21, roughly 50.6 miles in 7:05:05 for the big PR, but still had five laps to go.

Those last couple of hours were tough. Most of the 50k runners had finished, so the course was very empty and we weren't allowed to have pacers. You couldn't rely on a lot of distractions or fellow runners to help push you through the discomfort. It really became a battle between me, my thoughts, and the solitary strip of six foot wide pavement. Just four laps to go. Now three. 57.6 miles completed in 8:12. I do some quick math. If I could cover the last two laps in 48 minutes, I could break 9 hours. I was shocked! For most of the day, I had been anticipating a significant slow down, maybe a 9:30 finish time, but I had been chugging along. My legs were getting pretty heavy and at times my muscles felt on the verge of cramping, but I dug deep.

59.9 miles down. 8 hours and 32 minutes elapsed. One last lap to go. I was already feeling it during the previous lap, but on this one I had to dig in a little bit deeper. I'm not going to lie, those last few miles felt a little rough. All I wanted to do was walk, or find an excuse to walk, but knowing I could break not just 10 hours, but also 9 was enough motivation to stay moving. One foot in front of the other. I turned into the final stretch past the golf shop and made a hard right turn for a sprint finish. I crossed the orange cone marking the finish line and tagged the stop button on my watch. 8:53:45. A 1 hour and 25 minute 100k PR. Three ultramarathon PR's in one day.

(Photo Credit VA Beach Distance Races. Finishing 62.1 miles and realizing I had just run under 9 hours)

I knew I had it in me, but this was still a pleasant surprise. I had needed to run the last 4.6 miles in 48 minutes to break 9 hours, and I ran them in 41. To put it in perspective, this was like running back to back 3:43 marathons and then a 10 mile cool down in 1:27. The crazy part is my marathon PR was a 3:33 only 11 months ago, and today my marathon SPLIT was 4 minutes faster.

Obviously, I know there are guys out there running faster than this in the mountains and at altitude, or folks like world 100k champion Max King running 100k in 6:27, which is at my 5k pace. Even the top women are running 7:30 to 8 hours. However, for me, it was the first time in the past few years I had seen progress, and it reminded me that after a decade of running, I am still capable of improving.

I also know I can run faster, as I admittedly went into the 100k with a slight mental block thinking 10 hours was where my ability was, and never considered running sub 9. I didn't specifically train for a 100k either. As the race progressed I stopped thinking about what my split goals were, didn't worry how much ahead of them I was, and ran based on how my body felt, not my brain. I think sometimes the expectation that we are going to fatigue, slow down, and even walk a lot in the waning miles of a race can become a self fulfilling prophecy. Now that I have broken through that mental barrier, at least up to 100k, I am somewhat curious what I could do if I focused from the start on running fast. I can already think of 4-5 minutes lost that weren't necessary (ie talking and stopping to eat vs running and eating), and another 4-5 if I had a crew, which seems really trivial, but it's good to know fitness wise I was probably capable of a low 8:40's time. Good to know for future goals. Perhaps on another fast course, with more specific training, I could see possibly running 20 to 30+ minutes faster. That's a time I would have never entertained before this race, but after a few years of sub par running, I am ready to think bigger again.

(First time off my feet all day. A well earned little break)

(With race director John Price just a few minutes after finishing)

The approximate splits:
13.1 miles: 1:43
20 miles: 2:36
26.2 miles: 3:29
31 miles: 4:07
50 miles: 6:59
62.1 miles: 8:53:45
Time at aid: About 10 minutes, and mostly in the second half.
Overall pace: 8:35
Running pace: 8:25
*Note: One runner recorded 32.26 miles on her gps for the 50k. This would indicate roughly 64.5 miles for the 100k?

Thank you to all the volunteers who were out there today, Running Etc. for their support, John Price for directing a fun new event, and my friends Jon and Virginia who stayed to see me finish. If this event continues next year, I definitely encourage runners to come check it out. The looped course wasn't as monotonous as anticipated and you got to give and receive a lot of support to your fellow runners during the day. Time for a beer, and then a nap. In that order :-)

(Love this photo of me and my friends Jon and Virginia, who ran the 50k, enjoying some post race rest and unseasonably warm winter sun)

-Gels every 25 minutes (Honey Stinger and GU Roctane)
-S Cap every hour after 4 hours (4 total)
-A few handfuls of pretzels
-Approx 2,200 calories consumed during race
-Pre-race Little Debbie brownie (530 calories)
-Post-race Samuel Adams (150 calories)
-water, Gatorade, and some soda

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Short Gear Reviews of Stuff I am Using

Basically, this is not a comprehensive gear list, but rather some short blurbs regarding products I have used the most in the past couple of years. These are not full reports on each item, but simply quick recaps of my thoughts after using them. On the plus side, everything I will mention has been already put to use, so you'll actually be getting a post performance review of the products. Also, I am not a sponsored athlete, so other than being a fellow runner, I have no biased agenda in favor, or against any brands. As far as product pricing, I bought most of my items online, so they were most likely bought at a significantly discounted price compared to retail. So prices are unlisted. Lastly, there may be some items that are discontinued, but you never know, I have had some good finds on ebay.

First off, some size referencing. Below is a photo of myself and Dean Karnazes. Dean is listed at 5'8" and 154 lbs. I typically tell people I am about 5'8" to 5'9" and between 150-155 lbs. Essentially, based on those stats, Dean and I should be almost identical in stature. Interesting... Moving on. My shoe size is typically 9 or a 9.5 and most of my athletic attire is men's medium. As for speed, I am a middle of the pack runner.


Quick note on pack selection: In 10 years of running, like many people, I have probably gone through a half dozen hand held bottle designs and just as many for hydration packs. My preferences seem to change from one month to the next and I have gotten frustrated trying to figure out what to use. Today, I have a more refined methodology of choosing my hydration and it really comes down to four questions to ask yourself before going for a run.

1. How long will you be running? This is not a matter of distance, but rather time. On a 40 degree road run, I might carry 10 ounces of water for a 15 miler, or none at all for distances under 10 miles. However, a 15 miler on a 95 degree day in the mountains might require a 40-50 ounces of water, as you will be losing fluids at a higher rate and for a longer time.

2. Will you have access to water? Self explanatory. If you are on trails, is there a reliable source of clean water available like a stream, or natural spring to refill? If you are in a city, or town, are there water fountains, or bathrooms you can use? If it is during a race, how often are the water stops, 3 miles between, or 10?

3. How much weight do you really need to carry? I see this scenario often. A race has water stops every 5 miles, but people still wear 70 and 100 ounce hydration packs. I understand for some it is easier not to fuss around with refilling, but in reality, the amount of energy you are using to carry the extra weight will slow you down more than stopping to refill. Also, consider this. When you carry too much water, you will work harder, sweat more, and thus require more liquids. It's a cycle that ultimately leaves you more fatigued and has you keeping excess weight on your legs. Carry less, sweat less, and work less. Sounds easy, but it can be tough to find a balance.

4. Other than liquids, will you need to carry other items? Common sense. Bigger packs with additional storage will weigh more than minimal packs with less storage. The question is what will you need to carry? Is there a need for rain gear, or additional clothing if the weather changes? Will you need to carry a headlamp, extra food, a cell phone, or even a camera? If it is a race, will there be access to drop bags, so you don't need to carry everything all at once, and will you be able to discard any items you no longer need?

(Salomon Skin Pro 10+3)

Pros: The pack was lightweight, durable, and had a decent, but not a ton of room for gear. It had straps for poles and the mesh side pockets were easily accessible, even for someone with poor range of motion in my shoulders like me. The pack could also hold a 50oz bladder, and/or two 20oz bottles in the front pockets like the Ultimate Direction packs. If you chose to just use bottles in the front, the storage capacity in the rear could be expanded so you could stash extra gear. The pack had a secondary compartment, so even if a bladder was used, you had another place to stow things. Salomon packs do an amazing job with having a more vest like fit, which is very snug, yet comfortable.

Cons: The price. Salomon stuff ain't cheap. I had issues with the strap clips coming undone, loose, or sometimes falling off completely. Also, adjusting the Velcro shoulder straps was a chore, and not fun if it came lose during a race. Thankfully, it never did, but adjusting for added clothing layers took some time. Wearing bottles in the front pockets can also get really uncomfortable after a while. I had bruises on my ribs after a few races because the tightness needed to keep the pack from jiggling too much was too tight for the round contour of the bottles pushing against me. Salomon and Ultimate Direction need to pad the part of the bottle holder on the chest side, and also come up with a better ergonomic bottle design, so a round bottle isn't pushing against your chest. Lastly, nothing on the pack was waterproof.

Best uses: Longer runs over 15 miles, trail running, and mountain running. Good for races, especially if you need to carry extra gear/clothing, where you might have 2+ hours between aid station.

Score: 8 out of 10

(Out There AS1 day pack)

Pros: Tons of features for a day outside, or a 47 mile day in the Grand Canyon. It has places (some waterproof) specifically for mountaineering gear and can hold a tent, helmet, axe, and more with room to spare. The pack's frame balances well and makes use of both the shoulder and hip straps for added storage. Most packs sadly neglect this opportunity. The AS1 easily holds a 100oz bladder, perfect for when I did rim to rim to rim in 110 degree heat, and has slots for 6 additional 20 ounce bottles. The small waste pockets are removable, but also big enough to hold a lot of food, and also something heavier like a camera. Even with a full pack, the weight distribution is great, and I found my shoulders and hips still felt good after 15+ hours in the pack.

Cons: Hard to find. I got lucky and saw this on a clearance rack in Telluride for $25. It retails for $170. Getting the right fit takes a little while, and I don't know how well it would work for someone with a smaller build and narrow hips and shoulders. It's also comfortable enough to run in, but wouldn't recommend it for more than a couple miles at a time.

Best uses: Longer day hikes of 20+ miles, or multi day hikes.

Score: 9 out of 10

(Ultraspire Kinetic)

Pros: Really innovative design and light weight. The pack moves with your body and is one of the most comfortable packs I have ever worn. Maybe more so than my old favorite the Nathan HPL20. The two bottles hold 25 ounces each, which nice in place of a 1.5 liter bladder, but also nice if you want just water in one bottle, and a sport drink in the other. I like bladders, but you have to commit to only one kind of fluid. Probably the best feature of the Kinetic is the use of storage on the waste strap and shoulder straps. Again, I don't know why companies don't utilize these places more for pockets. Essentially, you can access all your food and hydration without ever having to take off the pack. Also, after some experimentation, I found you can put little 10oz bottles in the top two shoulder pockets, still have the hip pockets available, and use the empty bottle slots in the back for additional storage. Finally, this pack breaths incredibly well with the open shoulder area, and the lesser known fact the fabric is stitched in a way that leaves a nice gap at the small of the back for air. You can also run with just one bottle if you aren't going as far.

Cons: Bottles are hard to access, especially for someone like me who does not have a great range of motion in their shoulders. I have to use two hands and twist the pack to make it work. I would have liked to be able to retrieve and put back the bottle with one hand. Maybe if they placed the bottles higher, like the Orange Mud Hydraquiver packs, access would be less an issue? Also, a slightly larger back pocket would be nice, or at least one big enough for a jacket in case the weather turns.

Best uses: Runs up to a marathon, or 50k in cool weather, and 20 miles in warmer temps (half those distances if using one bottle). Good for day hikes of 20 miles in the cold, or 15 in warm weather. Also well suited for races where aid might be 1 to 2+ hours apart and specifically 100 milers where carrying extra food is necessary.

Score: 8.5 out of 10

(Amphipod RunLite)

Pros: I used to only run with hand held bottles, but stopped after realizing that years of running with 20 ounces of water in one hand was probably causing some issues with my mechanics, and perhaps leading to injury. The RunLite offers a nice hands free alternative, which I like especially on technical trails where I can balance better, but also to have less hindered running mechanics, as stated above. The RunLite can also be accessorized with add ons like additional bottles and storage pockets. It's great to have access to everything you need all on your waste. Grabbing water and food on the go is probably the easiest with this belt than any other option.

Cons: The bottles slid around the belt too much and sometimes were a pain to get back into position. The belt as a whole also slid around a lot and sometimes only stayed in place if I was sweaty, or the belt was secured too tight to be comfortable. As the bottles age, mine are less than 11 months old, even when they "click" into place, they can still come undone. I recently lost a bottle, and never even noticed it had dropped off my hip, and it's not like I was wearing headphones, or zoned out. It was just that unnoticeable. Finally, though one "pro" is that the belt can hold 5-6 bottles, anything more than 3 of the 10 ounce bottles is too heavy and jiggles too much. No storage for clothing, but obviously a waste belt won't have much, or any.

Best uses: Two bottles: Runs up to 20 miles in cool weather, or 10-15 in warm weather. Good for races with aid every 45 minutes to 1 hour and for when you want to run faster with less weight.

Score: 7.5 out of 10

(Nathan Firecatcher)

Pros: Incredibly lightweight at 10.6 ounces. It is essentially an improved version of the Nathan Minimist vest, which had less storage and where using a 1.5L bladder was less practical than advertised. The Firecatcher is better designed for compatibility with a 1.5L bladder and also has 2 straps, instead of one on the Minimist, for added support. If you choose to only use the two 10 ounce bottles, the empty bladder pocket is big enough to stow a jacket, and you still have an electrolyte pocket and mesh pocket surprisingly big enough for 4-5 gels.

Cons: The breathability of the back area, especially with a bladder, isn't great, but still better than the Nathan HPL20. Not sure how well it will fit smaller runners. It does not come with a bladder and it might have been nice to move the electrolyte pouch up and have a second mesh pocket underneath it.

Score: 9 out of 10

Best uses: If using just the two small bottles: Runs under 15 miles and races with access to aid under 45 minutes to 1 hour. With 1.5L bladder: Urban runs up to 50k, mountain runs up to 20 miles in warm weather, and races where access to aid is 2+ hours. Good for ultras where you want to run faster and carry less weight.


(North Face Ultra Trail Guide)

Pros: Only 9.6 ounces, but they have held up well on rugged terrain. I wore these for rim to rim to rim, and although my quads were shot from 11,300 feet of climbing and just as much descent, my feet felt good, even while carrying a days worth of supplies. The traction is good and the gusseted tongue provided some comfort and help keep debris out. I see these lasting beyond the average 300 miles for sure, and after 150+, they still feel new.

Cons: Not super comfortable on roads, but they are not a road shoe anyway. If you use them in a trail race where you transition onto a section of road for a while, these will do the job, but not ideal.

Score: 9 out of 10

(Pearl Izumi E-motion N1 Road)

Pros: Pleasantly lightweight at roughly 7.7 ounces and very breathable material. The low profile and 4mm drop encourages a nice forefoot landing. Use of firmer rubber that runs length wise down the outsole allows for a nice natural roll through each stride.

Cons: The outsole is very stiff and the shoes definitely slapped around too much for my liking. The N1 reminds me a lot like a wider version of the first generation New Balance Minimist Road, and it just doesn't cushion the way I would have liked. Also, the super soft fabric in the toe box makes the N1 feel bigger than it really is, or maybe it actually does run a half size too large. Normally, I don't mind firmer shoes as long as you feel like the energy is being given back, but I don't sense that in the N1. I want to like these, but honestly, I don't.

Score: 5 out of 10

(Nike Lunaracer 3)

Pros: A classic lightweight and well cushioned road shoe. I wore these and set back to back marathon PR's in 2014. The cushion is light, but also provided substantial relief from 26.2 miles of pavement. Nike states they are 6.3 ounces, but they don't feel much lighter than my 7.7 ounce Kinvaras. After 3 marathons and roughly 300 miles, I expected the lightweight sole to wear out and the upper to start ripping, but they held up.

Cons: Laces could be better, and I felt like I had to adjust them too much for a good fit. The shoe also tended to run a little narrow, which was fine for me, but maybe not for others.

Score: 9.5 out of 10

(Adidas Energy Boost 2)

Pros: Fairly lightweight at 9.7 ounces and ideal for a half marathons to ultras. The "Boost" foam, which at a higher heel stack height, actually absorbs enough to create a nice forefoot strike. Very efficient forefoot strikers, however, probably won't see much return on energy. The flexible upper is very comfortable and literally seamless. The Energy Boost is one of the most comfortable shoes I have ever worn and both of my pairs are holding up well after 100+ miles on each.

Cons: Expensive. Sometimes the arch feels a bit narrow and the shoe can get a little tight near the toes due to the thicker, but stretchy fabric in the upper. Heel to toe drop is a bit high, and the shoe does not have a low grounded feel. Though light, the Energy Boost is probably still too heavy to use for shorter road races like 5k and 10k's.

Score: 8 out of 10

(Hoka One One Clifton)

Pros: Very light weight, and a nice deviation from the heavier clunky Hoka models. Even the Bondi B Speed, which was once advertised as Hoka's "fast" shoe felt cumbersome and unsuitable for faster runs. Thankfully, the Clifton can be used for fast runs as well as long casual runs. While the cushioning isn't like the original Hoka designs, it is still surprisingly good for a 7.7 ounce shoe. It reminds me a lot of a Saucony Kinvara on a slightly higher and more plush platform. The rocker design offers a nice stride transition and although the shoe looks like it has a massive heel, it's merely an illusion from the design, and the actual heel height is fairly reasonable.

*Update" 2/22/15* Wore the Cliftons for a road 100k. It was my longest run in the shoes, which now have about 200 miles on them. The Clifton felt comfortable all 62 miles, and I never once considered changing into another pair of shoes. The lightweight, combined with extra cushion, helped my stride feel light early on, but also protected after 40, 50, and 60+ miles of harsh pavement. With now 200 miles on them (all road), they have actually held up better than expected. I anticipate getting at least 400 miles out of them. Makes me feel slightly better about paying $129 for them, though I wish Hoka made a sub $100 shoe for American markets. Hoka and Salomon have gotten us too comfortable seeing $130-$170 as an acceptable pricepoint for shoes.

Cons: Expensive. Questionable durability with the soft foam outsole. I am already seeing wear on the heel, and I don't heel strike, and things like small pebbles are starting to wear out the bottoms. While my Bondis and Stinsons easily eclipsed 600 lifetime miles each, I am doubtful these will see even half of that, and less if you attempt to use them on trails. Also, the lacing is very narrow and lacks a top lacing loop, which I fixed by simply added two new holes at the top. The ink on the tongue will also bleed onto your socks after the first few runs.

Score: 8 out of 10

(Montrail Rogue Fly)

Pros: This shoe is actually what I had hoped for in the Rogue Racer. At 7.7 ounces it's one of the lightest trail shoes on the market. The hex shaped lugs provided better traction than expected and the cushioning feels more like that of a road shoe. Actually, it's pretty much a road shoe with a slightly more traction friendly sole. It's even quite comfortable for road runs as well. The Rogue Fly was my go to shoe for 2014 and I wore them for three 50 milers, a trail marathon, and a 100k. It wasn't until after the 100k that the shoes developed a tear in the side that ultimately led to their retirement. The Rogue Fly is versatile enough for a 10k cross country race, or even a 100 miler. Probably my favorite trail shoe since the discontinued Pearl Izumi Peak 2.

Cons: Not good on rocks, wet, or heavily technical trails. The cost of the light weight is at the expense of foot protection. Though they lasted through races like the Hellgate 100k, they would not be ideal for something like the Massanutten 100.

Score: 9.5 out of 10

(Brooks Ravenna 4)

Pros: Not much, other than they are a generic stability shoe that can be used as a fill in when I don't want to put mileage on my other pairs. The Ravenna is probably better suited for heavier people, or for use as a cross trainer.

Cons: Poor cushion given the thickness of the heel and forefoot. The shoe is advertised as 11.1 ounces, but my guess is that they are at least an ounce heavier. The shoe is clunky and the higher stack height has no benefit other than added weight. Not a good shoe for running faster and honestly it felt uncomfortable even jogging in. If the additional weight provided more cushion, I could see using the Ravenna for recovery runs, but it doesn't, so it's been designated only for walking, casual wear, and going to the gym. Honestly, it's built up shoes like these that weaken people's feet and led to the minimalist post Born to Run craze of a few years ago. They also run a half size too big.

Score: 2 out of 10

Coming soon, a review on clothing n such.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

My First 5k

Yup, you read that correctly! After 102 marathons and ultras, I completed my first official 5k race on New Year's Day 2015.

Given that my race reports for ultras don't end up that long, one could rightfully assume a report for a 5k would be a mere handful of sentences. But, instead of a five sentence recap, I added some flavorful details to what would otherwise be a bland story of a 3.1 mile slog on pavement. So, without further adieu, here is a 5k race report. Drum roll please!

My first ever 5k was the Hair of the Dog 5k in Virginia Beach. The race, however, offered a formal wear division that meant we could race in typical New Years attire, or pajamas. Anytime I can dress like an idiot, or in this case a very stylish idiot, and run at the same time I jump at the opportunity. I figured the option of wearing pajamas would be too much of a cop out for a "formal wear" division since most pajamas are fairly lightweight and pretty easy to run in. No, no, no. I had to be Formal if I wanted to stay true to thine self and thy formal wear division.

Pre-race day I paced back and forth through my wardrobe. So many choices, so little time. Ah, I spotted a black suite that I hadn't worn in years, but it still fit and looked brand new. "007 reporting for duty", I rehearsed to myself in the mirror. No time for games though as I paired it up with a white and blue striped Ralph Lauren dress shirt and a Sponge Bob tie. The pairing was indeed odd, like Simon and Garfunkle, peanut butter and jelly, Elaine Page and Susan Boyle, but it said I'm fashionable, and I live in a pineapple under the sea. Everything looked good, but it was not yet complete. I added the razzle dazzle of a striped tie, some leftover Christmas spirit with a Santa hat, a jazzy pink plastic wine cup, and some cool shades that declared "For those about to rock, we salute you."

The race itself went by quick. When you are used to running up to 10 hours at a time, 20 something minutes goes by quicker than the flutter of a hummingbird's wings. The first quarter mile was way too fast, and I discovered just how much a pain in the ass running in a suite is. The scarf blew into my face, my suite jacket slid off my shoulder every 3.8 steps, and wearing 4 lbs of dress clothes is akin to running with 500 helium balloons. All of that while running half the race into a 10-20 mph headwind and trying not to look like an ass clown sliding over patches of frozen bike path. Still, I managed to persevere and pass runner after runner that each echoed the similar sentiment "Damn, I just got passed by a guy in a freakin' suite!".

(Photo credit Mettle Events. Passing yet another overwhelmed and unsuspecting victim despite wardrobe malfunctions that would make Janet Jackson proud)

The miles wore on and I swear I spent more energy trying to constantly adjust my wardrobe than on actually running. There was much waling and gnashing of teeth. "Crap, this stupid Windsor knot is coming loose!". At mile 2 a strong gust of wing sent my scarf flying off 100 feet behind me. For a split second I wondered whether to run back and get it, or just to let it go, let it go (insert Idina Menzel cameo, or as John Travolta would say, Adele Dazeem). I made up my mind and ran back to salvage my beloved wool partner in crime. 20 seconds lost. Not much if running any other distance, but cataclysmic in a 5k. At 2.5 miles we hit a wall of wind, crossed a raging 5 foot wide puddle, and veered into the final home stretch.

With one final push, one last adjustment of my outfit to look good for finish line photos, I crossed the finish line with glorious purpose. The sky opened up, a beam of golden sun poured through the clouds, and cherubs showered the earth with the manna of victory. First place in the formal wear division. All my wildest dreams had come true, and out of a whopping 8 people in the formal wear division, I rose from the ashes like a great Pheonix and indulged in glory.

Yeah.....So, that's kinda how my first 5k went. Oh, and I got a medal and a t-shirt. Booyah!(R.I.P. Stuart Scott)

(The spoils of victory)

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Last Loop Around the Sun- A Look Back at 2014

2014 was a good year, but not without it's sobering reminders that life is both short and fragile. After the Boston Marathon bombing rocked the global running world in 2013, the deaths of Meg Menzies and Cameron Gallagher created waves that rippled through local communities and expanded to unfathomable distances. In death, as in life, we remembered why living life to the fullest is essential in a world where tomorrow is never a guarantee. I was also reminded that running is just....running. A mere part of life, but never life itself.

2014 was the year I decided not the pursue anymore 100 mile races for foreseeable future. As part of my desire to be a better steward of my body and be able to run 40+ years from now, I made an ultimatum about the quantity of races I do, but more importantly the distances of said races. Too many 100 milers, in my opinion, are the gateway to many preventable future injuries. In the past five years I have literally watched healthy runners decompose into people that are either barely able to finish races they once did with ease, or not finishing at all.

This past year I also made a conscious decision to disconnect from the ultrarunning scene. What I mean by that is this: In the past I have found myself too caught up in what others are doing, whether it was reading race reports, blogs, facebook, or just wasting time looking at ultrarunning websites. In doing this, I found myself comparing and contrasting my life as a runner too often, and eventually coming to the realizing I was losing touch with my own personal convictions for running. Some might think I've been giving the ultrarunning community, which I was very involved in at one point, the cold shoulder and I am just being unfriendly. It might also seem hypocritical that I still ran 5 ultras in 2014, but alas, most of them were well off anyone's radar. In recent years, I've also witnessed a huge increase in the number of running clubs, teams, cliques, and subgroups that make trying to find a seat at a pre-race dinner feel like trying to find a seat in a middle school cafeteria. My only issue with all these groups is that for every person that gains a sense of family, inclusiveness, and comradery from a group, someone else probably feels exactly the opposite. This observation would only be mere assumption, except for the fact I know people who feel excluded and unwelcome for those same reasons. It used to be that just being an ultrarunner was enough to feel like part of the family, and I hope that hasn't been lost. Of course, I still like to chat and catch up with friends if I see them at races, but hours and hours of ultra/running talk probably won't happen. These days I'd rather just enjoy the experience of being out in nature during a race, calling it a day, and then going home to relax and have a beer before bed.

In 2014 I stepped out of my comfort zone and tried some new things. Becoming an Ironman was a huge bucket list item, and it's something I am very proud of. With essentially no experience in the water, or on a bike, it took a different kind of focus to shift from 9 years of just running to working my way into becoming a capable, albeit not fast, cyclist and swimmer. Four months of hard work paid off, and now I can officially call myself an Ironman for the rest of my life. In addition to the Ironman, I also mustered up the nerve to attempt my first road marathon since 2009 and also successfully lead my first marathon pace group. Who knew that going into the year with a 3:33 marathon PR that I would be pacing a 3:45 group by November as a fairly relaxed effort.

In total, 2014 will end with nearly 2,600 miles of running (well short of a PR), a marathon's worth of swimming, and almost 1,000 miles of cycling. For comparison, prior to this year, in 32 years of living, I had probably not swam more than 5 cumulative miles in my life, nor ridden more than 150 total miles on a bike. I also completed 8 running events I had never done before and completed an epic 47 mile Rim to Rim to Rim double crossing of the Grand Canyon. One of my unintentional, but frequently reoccurring themes of 2014 was to try new things. In doing so, I think it's helped enable me to enjoy running and sports it a more complete capacity than I had in a while. There were also some big milestones this past year. I completed my 100th ultra/marathon and also celebrated the 10th anniversary of my first ultra. Putting into words and thoughts what I have learned in just over a decade of running and life brings me to what next year might look like.

So, what goals do I have for 2015? Historically, coming off the exuberance of a good year, I have overtrained, overraced, and ultimately had a bad year. This pattern, sometimes affected by a series of freak injuries, has been fairly consistent since 2009. With so many interesting races popping up I need to be wiser about listening to my body and letting go of temptation to run every cool event that piques my interest. I also need to remember that our bodies don't have much more than 4-5 full out race efforts (tops) in them per calendar year, especially when the races are 26.2 miles or longer. Following my own advice, I will probably run at most two harder efforts in the spring and fall, and maybe one during the summer. Any other event will just be for fun, but even just for fun events will probably be limited to a handful of 50k, or shorter races. That being said, I have nothing of note committed to my calendar for 2015. I may try to achieve a few running goals like a sub 4 hour 50k, or qualifying for Boston, but again I am not putting pressure on myself.

Speaking of myself, I am planning on focusing much less on me in 2015 and much more on others. I hope to volunteer, cheer, crew, or do photography at more events than I actually participate in. For a good solid year, I'd like to not making running all about my goals, my running successes and failures, my training, but instead lifting up others to be the kind of runner/person they want to be. This will also mean another big list of "firsts" in that I will be immersing myself in the world of "shorter" local road races. While I have mostly dwelled in the subculture of trail ultrarunners, I am excited to be a part of a different subculture of the sport I love. While in previous years I have increased the amount I volunteer and crew/pace, I really want 2015 to set a precedent for the future.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Make a Wish- Hellgate 100k

When you see a shooting star, it is usually tradition to make a quiet wish to yourself. The Geminid meteor shower, caused by debris from object 3200 Phaethon, gave runners on a certain magical night plenty of opportunities to make such wishes. Of these, some included just wanting to finish the Hellgate 100k, finishing the Beast series, wishes to the family of a fallen soldier and friend, or the simple wish to make it through another journey. Like Cinderella once said, a dream is a wish your heart makes.

It was a late autumn eve, and one could say it was the kind of night that could bring back the nostalgia of childhood campfires, scary stories, and smores. The time was moments after midnight in a silent stillness that only a secluded mountain forest could provide. It was chilly, but not cold, and actually a bit warm compared to other years. The only noise to be heard was the frantic and excited clammering of 148 hearty souls and a cluster of volunteers and crew people. Though being dropped off in the middle of the night, in the middle of Nowheresville, VA could be hauntingly ominous to some, for me it was a warm homecoming to the Blue Ridge mountains that I called home for over one third of my life.

I've run over 100 marathons and ultras, but none of them were the Hellgate 100k. I've been a sweeper at Hellgate, a crew member and pacer at Hellgate, and I've even applied twice and been accepted twice to run. However, twice I've had to withdraw before even starting the race. Deep in my gut, I knew 2014 would be the now or never year for running this fabled race, and so for the third time I mailed in my entry. My mail in application was initially the standard 8x11 form from the website, but was noticeably closer to an 8x9 when I actually mailed it. What happened to those bottom two inches of my application, you ask? Simple. I cut them off. In hopes of beefing up the possibility of getting selected to run, I originally wrote that I wanted to run sub 12:30 and claim a men's top 10. Then, the reality of several things occurred to me which changed my mind. One, I have not run a mountain trail in over a year, and two, I live in arguably the flattest part of Virginia. I could run 20 miles in any direction from my apartment and never gain more than 100 feet total. Not the best training for a race with 13,500 feet of climbing and technical running. I've also never even come remotely close to a top 10 in any of Horton's races, so that part was also a bit of a reach. So, instead of reprinting my application, which I couldn't do at home anyway, I got out the scissors and removed any delusions of grandeur from my application. In my personal opinion, Dr. Horton had no good reason to let me into the race given my two previous Hellgate withdrawals and the fact I haven't done anything in a while that suggested I could finish. Much to my surprise, for the third time, my entry was accepted.

If you wanted a race report full of details about what food was eaten, what clothes were worn, or what the splits were, this probably isn't the report for you. I'm sure in the ensuing weeks plenty of other runners will share their stories in the kind of detail that will cover all these bases.

As an aside, this year's Hellgate started on what would have been my grandmother's 95th birthday. Her inspiration exactly 10 years ago, while she was battling cancer, is what pushed me through my first ultra. She was the first inspiration that allowed me to dig deeper than I ever physically thought I could. Her spirit is much of what I believe the spirit of Hellgate, ultrarunning, and to a greater degree running the good race is about.

I will say that my Hellgate experience was much like the pursuit of a beautiful woman. A beautiful woman named top 10 male that is. At first she was the unapproachable beauty across a dimly lit ballroom. We exchange quick flirtatious glances. Surely she's out of my league, but I've never been one to shy away from a challenge. However, the crowd between us was far too dense and there were far too many eligible suitors to make any kind of move plausible. I could only admire her from afar as I became a second tier bystander to the symphony of roots, leaves and rocks. Behold, a serpentine trail of lights leading up to Petite's Gap. This orchestra is just tuning up. The dances and partners were many and the element of the dance floor ever changing. With the bitter windy chill of Floyd's Field she takes a step back. A brisk Paso Doble over leaf strewn rocky trails, a slow Mambo with the a gentle climb, and a Rumba with the dipping and sweeping trails entranced by the curvature of the mountain. 37 miles in and the sunrise reflects a familiar twinkle in her mysterious gaze. "13th male" she whispers to me, but laughingly taunts with a "But, you are still a distant arm's length away." I work to find the footing, to find a groove, and never once unlock eyes with the dame so close.

Sacrebleu!? What dost appear before thine eyes but the beauty herself. 46 miles into this dance and she has shrugged off not just two, but three bachelors. From far across the room she has made her way through the masses and into my arms. I finally have her. 10th male. For the next hour we float along in a harmonious Tango. Up close she's more beautiful than I had previously pictured, but, something was off. I could see it in her eyes that their was a vacantness, a lack of empathy, and she was beginning to distance herself from me. Though we continued to Waltz hand in hand, I knew I was losing her. Over 11 hours on our feet, and just as swiftly as she swooped into my arms, another man had just as easily stolen her away. Beauty can be both cold and fleeting, and perhaps more so when so unceremoniously left for another.

And just like a banshee in the night, the mystical temptress of a men's top 10 dissipated into an ephemeral mist. The multitudes came and went, and by multitudes, I mean 9 people. My energy was still surprisingly strong, but the legs had grown weary. Up a final mountain and down a final hill. The orchestra was now playing its final notes. One last stretch of road into Camp Bethel and into the outstretched arms of the composer himself, Dr. David Horton. The dance was over.

As I looked back at the night and day, I realized that like Cinderella at the royal ball, it was only a matter of time before my chariot turned back into a pumpkin. I also realized that while I was momentarily enamored by the deceptive charm of a top 10, that the only dance that really mattered was the 66.6 mile duet with myself and the Hellgate 100k. She was the real beauty on that Van Gogh(esque) starry night, and one that never left my side no matter what mountains were crossed, what streams were waded, or what cold mountain roads traversed.

But who was she? Who is Hellgate? I'd like to believe she is many things. She's the culmination of a year's worth of running, races, life, and the people who make it. She is the reminder of why we push ourselves, why we keep doing what we do, and what it takes to dig deep. She serves as that reminder for all those who finished, as well as all those who could not. In future years I look forward to spotting Hellgate at the royal ball and asking for another dance.

Bonus Question. Did I get lost during the race? Answer...sorta. I Had some trouble finding the trail in the deep woodsy section after Floyd's Field. I chose to wait and run with another runner, rather than go ahead and get super lost. I also got turned around during a potty break just before Bear Wallow and ran backwards on the course a few minutes before I realized I was back at a creek I just crossed. Small mental error due to lack of sleep, but thankfully no major blunders. Hellgate was a course so well marked even I could follow it with 99.7% accuracy.

(Photo credit Frank Probst. Finishing my first, but not last, Hellgate 100k)