Monday, December 12, 2011

Hoka One One Bondo B review

The Bondi B is the road shoe made by Hoka One One.  Although these are some wild looking shoes they are quite mild compared to other models and color options.  This is a far cry from the minimalist shoes I had been wearing most of 2011. Out of the box these shoes look huge but are actually VERY light. 

Here is Hoka's Story:

Hoka One One is the brainchild of two gravity sports enthusiasts Jean-Luc Diard and Nicolas Mermoud. Both men have been adventuring for as long as they can remember, and their trail running experiences have taken them across the globe.
Both Jean-Luc and Nicolas are committed to the values of freedom and enjoyment and feel that this is integral to the running experience whether running on the trail or in the city. With this in mind they started to look at the variables that affected the performance of different types of runners.
They quickly came to an important conclusion; fatigue, impact and muscle strain were challenges that runners of all stripes had to deal with every day. So Jean-Luc and Nicolas came up with a brilliant idea, why not design a shoe that would help to alleviate these problems - so that freedom and enjoyment could be guaranteed every time you go running!
From that idea Hoka One One was born. The word Hoka is derived from the ancient Maori language and roughly translates to "now it is time to fly". That's just how it feels to run in a pair of Hoka One One shoes; with each and every step your foot takes flight.
Today runner's from around the world are learning about the benefits of Hoka One One, they have been used by marathon winners. 50 mile, 100 mile and even 2000+ mile ultra-runners as well as runner's just like you or I who want to enjoy running, perform at their peak and feel that important sense of freedom whilst maintaining top physical performance and protecting against shocks, jolts and injuries.
So put your best foot forward, it's time to fly!

So when these shoes first hit the ultra running scene I was very skeptical and even found them humorous.  Months pass and I see more and more reputable and far more experienced distance runners swearing by these shoes.  I'm speaking of average joe's like myself not the sponsored runners with a vested interest.  I mean why would an average ultra runner by a shoe that retails for a whopping $169.00 and run ultra distances in these shoes if they were not very satisfied. 

I stayed away for a while hoping it was just a fad but my future race plans made the Hoka's worth a closer look.  I'm training for my first 100K, the Fuego y Agua, in Nicaragua.  I am needing to increase my weekly mileage quite a bit and I'm prone to injury when doing so.  I'm not comfortable running roads and I hit the trails 90% of the time.  I hoped to try the Bondi B's to increase my road miles. 

I purchased the shoes online as there are no retailers within a few hours drive of my home.  At this price I was quite nervous about the fit.  I wear a 10 in basically everything I slip my feet into.  The Bondi B's are sized strangely and I was advised to go a half size up to a 10.5.  I did just that and the fit has been perfect so far.

I know enough already... how did they perform?

Day One: 
I hit the treadmill for two miles to ensure fit and comfort before heading outside.  I followed this up with a bit over 4 miles on the road with a good bit of ascent and descent.  Initial opinion out of the box was they have zero flexibility.  Once on the foot the flexibility seemed a non factor.  First mile outside seemed overly cushy and strange and almost felt like I was cheating.  The feet seem confused by all the cushioning.  I bombed down a paved hill with no shock to the normal areas.  This was a definite plus.  I did experience an unexplained tingling in my feet almost like a going to sleep feel but this went away on future runs.  6.2 miles total on this first day.

Day Two:
First trail run was taken on my favorite trails at South Mountains.  I found they soaked up gravel and smaller sharp rocks like they did not exist.  I was careful on the roots as I was leery of turning an ankle.  I found a little difficulty in climbing steep mountain trails with these shoes.  Keep in mind this is the road version and traction is not designed for this use.  They just don't climb like my Montrail Mountain Masochist that usually run in.  I was heading down the most technical and steep trail in my area and found these shoes are horrible on trails covered in leaves.  That is leaves on steep descents.  Feet slipped out from under me and I came crashing down the hill.  Finished with 6.32 miles with just under 2000' of vertical gain.

Day Three:
My first true road test.  Remember I hate running the roads.  I heading into town at night and ran 10.55 miles at an 8:34 pace.  I never really pushed it to hard but this was very nice pace for me.  I ran the entire way with pure enjoyment and no discomfort.  I never cursed the roads like I always do but instead just wanted to keep running all night. 

Day Four:
I hit the mountains again for more trail testing.  Just over 10 miles and 2300' of gain.  Hoka's did very well but I took the leaf covered downhills a bit more cautiously.  Most of the run I was experiencing a great deal of tightness in my lower back and found myself with bad form and hunched over most of the run.  At the time I no idea what this was and thought maybe I was just fatigued and my form was causing my back to go tight.

I wake up the next day and my back is totally screwed up!  I keep telling myself it can't be the Hoka's.  I've had lower back injuries in the past and felt confident this was not a reaction to the shoes.  My best guess is the day I slipped on the leaves I strained my back on the fall.  I was forced to take a week off from running as the pain was that bad. 

I'm back to running a week later in the Hoka's although still with some back pain.  I can't remember the last time I fell on the trail and then the first trail test in the Hoka's I fall and get injured. 

The lessons learned here for me are that the shoes have limitations on the trail and technical terrain.  I will stick with the Montrails for now for much of my trail running.  As far as the road, fire road, and treadmill running I absolutely love the Hoka's up to this point. 

A few more things about the shoes design before I close. 

Not a big fan of the laces as I find them to burly and stiff and hard to get a tight knot. 

The colors and overall appearance of these shoes still have a long way to go. 

For a road shoe they perform very well on trail other than traction issues described above.

The price point is tough to swallow but others state they last many more miles than the average shoe.  The verdict is still out on this one. 

I end a run with legs feeling fresh and no foot pain.  I wake the next day feeling ready to run. 

The folks over at Hoka are definitely onto something here and I'm looking forward to what is up next for this company.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Drymax socks review

A very long overdue review of my now go to sock for trail running.  I guess I started using Drymax socks about a year ago.  At that time I was still very new to running and was running in the Injinji toe socks.  I was offered some free socks to try out from my friends over at .  I was very comfortable running in the Injinji socks but I'm always ready to try different gear. 

I've now been wearing the Lite Trail for hot weather use and the thicker Trail Running version for the cooler season. 

The Lite Trail has seen extensive use by me and has lasted a long time with no wear holes but after a year they are starting to thin out in the heel and need replacing. 

The thicker Trail Running version are 1/4 crew high.  They always seem like to much sock when I put them on but they are very warm and comfy and have never given me any problems.  While I have not put has many miles into these they are certainly durable.  They look brand new after a years use! 

I'm not one to have a lot of blister problems but with these socks I've not had a single blister.  I've run about five ultra marathons in Drymax to date and will continue to use them with my upcoming races. 

I've yet to try the Maximum Protection model and I'm eager to see if they live up to the price tag.  I still have several pairs of Injinji socks around but they seem so flimsy they see little use these days.  If I'm not running in Drymax it is because I have not got around to doing the laundry and had to resort to whatever else I had clean.

Stand out points for me are:

I've been blister free
Socks have great durability and longevity
Designed specifically for trail running
Manufactured about 30 minutes from my home.

I highly recommend these socks for trail running and ultra running. 

Check out for Drymax socks and other cool products. 

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Duncan Ridge Trail 50K

Race director Robert Lewellen described this course as possibly the toughest 50K in the southeast.  This was enough to get my attention.  I guess I will never learn!

I came into this race pretty comfortable with my training.  I knew this would be a tough day with tons of climbing so I placed no time goals or pressure on myself.   My gear choices for this race would prove to be both good and bad by the end of the day.  I wanted to experiment with the use of trekking poles and thought this course would be perfect testing grounds.  With my hands tied up with the poles I needed to utilize my Nathan hydration pack for fueling.  My ultra running experience while using a hydration pack to date as been horrific... why did I expect today to be any different?

I loaded the pack down with two liters of Gatorade and a handful of Gu's and Scaps, etc.  Arriving at the starting line I knew I was carrying more weight than I should with a 4 mile climb in the first seven miles of the race.

The race started on time and me and my buddy, Tim Worden, cruised out of Vogel State Park trying to stay in front of the majority of runners.  The race would turn to single track after the first quarter mile and we did not want to get log jammed in.  Tim and I knew we would have our own demons to deal with all day and both understood we would run our own race.  I never anticipated we would split from each other so early but I guess I pushed forward early on due to adrenaline.

The thing with a single track course is that you can easily get sucked into running a faster pace than expected.  With runners on your heels you keep on plugging away.  I passed quite a few runners early on as the downhill sections were very easy for me and I just let it flow.  Aid station #1 was around mile 3.5 and AS#2 was about 8 miles in just after the major climb.  With cool temps and 2 liters of Gatorade in the pack I cruised through both aid stations without slowing down.  This was part of my plan however the other part of the plan was to be drinking some of that 2 liters rather than just hump it over these mountains all day.  This error would catch up to me on the back half of the race.

I had no idea how many runners were out in front of me since so many made the turn for shorter 30K race. I wondered how Tim was doing with this being his first ultra.  A tough choice for a first ultra but with the trails we train on I was confident in him.  The climbing was tough for sure but I felt my training had me well prepared for that.  The most challenging part of the course for me proved to be the leaves and how difficult it made the descents.  Aid station #3 came and I stopped to refill my pack and grab some grub they had on the table.  I'm not sure how much fluid I drank up to this point but I was getting way behind on intake and not even aware of it.  I hate using a pack for this very reason because I never drink enough.  I'm usually to conservative fearing I will run out and never really knowing how much is still in the pack's bladder.

The turn around point was only 2.5 miles from this aid station but it proved to be the longest 2.5 I can remember.  My spirits were still very high though as I had yet to run into the race leader heading back and new I must be doing pretty well as far as positioning goes.  As the leader comes into sight I start counting each runner that I cross paths with till I get to the turn around point.  I figured at the half way point I was running somewhere around 15th-20th position out of about 70 starters.  It felt cool to be running this well but my body was starting to declare that it could not keep up with my enthusiasm.  Oh yeah why should it when I failed once again to properly fuel it during a race!

I started to get those ever so familiar muscle twinges that come with dehydration and muscle fatigue.  I mistakenly considered this was the toll the climbing was taking on me rather than a hydration issue.  I stopped for a pee break around mile 20 and was surprised to see my urine was dark orange to light brown.  From here on my race went all to hell!  I started getting passed quite often as my running became very uncomfortable for me.  The discomfort I was feeling was in the bladder and in my junk!  I did not panic but I was very concerned.  For the last 12 miles of the race I had a constant feeling like I had to urinate but I could not even make a drop.  I starting trying to up my hydration but it seemed the damage on this day was already done.  I just wanted to get this race over with and drink a beer!

I spent the last several miles just really mad at myself for all that had gone wrong with what should have been one of my best race performances.  I got "chicked" in the last 1/2 mile to add to my frustrations.  I shuffled along into the park and crossed the finish line with the satisfaction of finishing the toughest 50K in the area but still completely frustrated with the way it all worked out.  I crossed the line in 33rd place with a time of 8:37:52.  With about 70 starters only 54 finished before the cut-off.  The winning time was 6:10 which is slow by 50K winning standards which only proves just how challenging this course really was.  My Garmin showed just over 10,000' of elevation gain spread over 31.86 miles.  A good day or a bad day I still walked away with the opinion that this was the toughest 50K in the southeast!

I changed out of my cold and soaking wet clothes into something warm.  I grabbed a few micro-brews from the cooler to have ready for Tim as he crossed the line to celebrate his first ultra.  I was of course also hydrating heavily with the proper fluids to try bring me back to normal.  The four hour ride home for Tim and I was a tough one after a long day in the mountains.

I highly recommend this race for those sadistic folks like myself that search out those extra challenging races.  You will not be disappointed by how well this race is put together.  I can't end without stating how awesome all the volunteers were.  I left the race forgetting that this was it's it first year... it was run that well!

As soon as Tim and I got in the truck we both said this was a one and done race.  In true ultra spirit I decided about two days later I must return in 2012 and correct where I went wrong and tear this trail up!

Note to self... don't procrastinate on writing these reports!  There was so much more detail to be shared about this race but I'm ready to move on to the next adventure.

Gear note:
The trekking poles used were Leki Micro Sticks.  I plan to put together a review of these in the coming weeks.

Tim Worden's podcast about the race
Race Results
My Garmin Data

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Laurel Valley Ultra

I could try to describe this course but I would not be able to do it justice.  I attached this description below as it is fitting.  Make no bones about it though Laurel Valley has to be experienced to truly understand it!
"Laurel Valley Whitewater Ultra is not for the faint of heart. Claude Sinclair, self proclaimed leader of the Runner from Hell running club, conducts the Laurel Valley Ultra every August. It is a very tough and grueling course that traverses over 5000 steps and several major climbs on the Foothills trail in North and South Carolina.
However, the runner is rewarded with many beautiful views of water falls and scenic trails throughout the event. By all means the fact that you have to provide your own aid does make the event rather challenging. It is almost required that you either use iodine tablets or filter your water in some way while out there on the course. There is also supreme camaraderie throughout the event. The trails are always gorgeous and surprising. There is lots of foliage, rocks, roots and rivers crossed by beautiful suspension bridges.

Of course, that is the beauty of Laurel Valley, you have to finish. There’s not a way out, no short cuts or turns to get you off the course. Once you leave Rocky Bottom, S.C. you have to continue on until you reach the parking lot above White Water Falls. People do get into trouble out here. It is rumored that some participants slept on the course last year. There’s always the threat of rattlesnakes, bears, boars, bees, falling and a really good case of giardia. " 

 I might add that there is about 8000 feet of vertical gain over the course which is somewhere between 35 to 40 miles long.  

This race was not on my calendar this year but it pulled me in a little over a month before it's running.  I have not run an ultra or any race for that matter since Mount Mitchell Challenge back in February.  I suffered a tibial stress fracture during the winter and had to take about 6 weeks off from running to heal up.  My return to training came to another halt when I was hit with achilles tendinitis holding me down for another few weeks.  With injuries stacking up I kept the calendar clean and just focused on enjoying running through the summer with no plan.  
Around the first of July I got hit with the Laurel Valley itch and was eager to attempt it for the first time.  For those unaware to run this race you must apply and meet the race directors prerequisites.  One of those prerequisites is to have completed a 50 mile ultra.  I'm still a novice at all this ultra stuff and have completed three 50K's, a 40 miler, and a 50 mile effort during a 24 hour event.  So technically I had never competed in a 50 mile race.  I gave it a shot and sent in the application anyway and hoped for the best.  

Race director, Claude Sinclair, was gracious enough to let me run but as with all rookie entries you must run as a race sweep.  I did not mind this at all as this would keep my adrenaline in check  and keep me from going out there and bonking which could be life threatening on this course.

Skipping ahead to the night before the race where I went out with family and threw back some high gravity IPA's and a table full of appetizers.  The perfect pre-race diet... for disaster.  I was able to get to bed around 10PM but unfortunately I would be getting up at 2:30AM to make the drive to Rocky Bottom for the start at 5AM.  It was going to be a long, long, day but one I would not soon forget.  

I picked up John Gregg, a runner from Alabama, who needed a ride to the start and was staying at a hotel in Easley.  We chatted about running and what we might be in store for today on the trip to the start.  We had never met before but I enjoyed his company and the conversation.  John and I would both be running as sweeps as we were Laurel Valley virgins.  

 We arrive in the middle of no where and it is pitch black out.  Head lamps are turned on as soon as we exit the vehicle at the Laurel Valley trail head.  I meet Will Brown who is 65 years old and has run this race about 15 times.  This guy is a retired Coronal in the Marines and has run all 35 Marine Corps Marathons!  Will Brown (sweep captain), John Gregg, Greta Dobe, and myself would be the 5AM sweep team.  After a history lesson from our race director about outlaw John Wesley Hardin he aims his six shooter in the air to fire a shot to signal the start.  Oops... the humidity affected the powder charge and the gun never went off.  I was hoping that would not be a bad omen of things to come.  
We started up the first of many steps into the darkness of the never ending trail.  As sweeps we must help all runners needing aid and stay behind the last racer to ensure everyone makes it out ALIVE.  I understood it would be long day but the pace we were moving at concerned me as we would never make it to the finish before the park gates closed for the night.  We walked the first 8 miles which took us almost 3.5 hours.  Shortly after sunrise the 6AM sweep team caught up to us and it was decided by the two captains that those feeling perky could go on ahead at their own pace.  

I jumped at the chance and John, Greta, and I joined Bill Keane over the next several miles for some nice running.  Bill is 67 year old and was competing in his 255th ultra marathon!  Our group stayed together until a water stop before the big climb up heartbreak ridge.  Someone must have lit a fire under my ass because I accelerated all the way up this climb and then bombed down the extremely steep descent towards the first sighting of Lake Jocassee.  I was feeling great and moving with ease but soon realized I was all alone.  I questioned my options but decided that I rarely feel this well in an ultra and kept pushing on.  

I really felt like from mile 15 to about mile 30 that I was running at my best.  I was quite surprised by how many runners I was passing as this is not a common occurrence for me.  My training over the twelve weeks prior to race week was very light.  I averaged just 21 miles a week over that period.  My guess is that all my heat training and the fact that half my mileage is running up and down mountains had really paid off.  

I actually enjoyed all the stairs, climbs, and downhills.  I was running along ticking off the miles and hills thinking how this course was the perfect for me.  You will never see me running a flat ultra as that type of running is flat out boring to me.  I'm really a better hiker than runner so it is these tough mountain ultras that suit me best.

I must have crossed 20 bridges over this course and took many opportunities to lay or sit in the raging waters to cool off before moving on.  I was filling my bottles up with river water whenever needed and treating the same with iodine tablets and a NUUN.  Somewhere around mile 30 I entered that nauseous state I have visited in ultras previous.  It starts with no longer being able to stand the taste of the GU's or my NUUN flavored water.  I trudge along with the expectation of vomiting at any moment.  The moment does not come soon enough and my pace begins to slow quite a bit.  Several miles of suffering go by and then it arrives.  No not the finish... but me vomiting four times followed up with a few more dry heaves.  Then the fear sets in that I just lost a ton of fluid and nutrition and dehydration will creep in.  All the while it is relentless forward motion even while still heaving!  

I recover from the nausea partially and pick the pace back up.  Wayne Downey and Tom Gabel are not far behind me and even though I started an hour earlier than them I do not want to be passed.  I bomb down a descent and create some separation and I'm feeling good once again.  That is until I have to stop on two occasions to let them catch up to me because I'm at a trail crossing and do not know which direction to go.  I've lost my momentum now and nausea is setting back in and fatigue is heavy overall.  I know the end is near but it never seems to arrive.  

At last I make it to the boulder scramble crossing over Whitewater River and begin the final ascent up to the parking lot.  During this period a heavy rain rolled in and took me from overheating to being chilled to the bone.  The trails were like little flash floods.  Every climb on this course was enjoyable to me but this last one just whooped me.  I sat down on a rock halfway up and felt helpless.  That was short lived when I heard other runners a few switchbacks below me.  One foot in front of the other.  It is almost over.  I arrive at the Falls overlook and just at that moment Jason Sullivan appears right behind me.  I ask him how much further and he states "where here".  We run in the last 1/8th of a mile together.  

I think I may have been the first of the 5AM starters to finish.  I think back on how much I loved this course and how it suits me.  I realize that my training mileage was very low and how much time I believe I can take off my finishing time next year!  Despite the nausea and getting sick I suffered no cramping and my legs felt incredible all day.   My legs seriously felt ready for 50 today but my head and stomach disagreed.  

I was glad to be done but actually missed being out there as soon as it was over.  I continued feeling sick for about the next hour.  Once I was able to get some solid foods down the nausea went away.  I had a 2.5 hour ride home and was dreading it.  The day began at 2:30AM and I arrived home at 8:30PM exhausted.  

 Waking up the day after my legs still feel great and I do not feel like I ran more than a 5K.  As luck would have it though I did not walk away injury free.  My nagging bout with sesamoiditis has flared up to the extreme now and I can't push off with my left foot at all.  I will be taking a week or so off from running to let it heal before training begins for the next adventure... Duncan Ridge Trail 50K down in Georgia. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

Patience has never been my thing

So I ran three ultramarathons in the first two months of 2011.  For many runners this is no big deal but for me this was a tough schedule.  I accomplished this while only averaging about twenty miles of running a week for the last four months.  In terms of training for ultra racing this is well below recommended mileage to prepare.  With a two year old daughter and a seven month old son my training time is tough to come by.  Training for a 5K is one thing but training to run 30-40 mile races is incredibly demanding.  I entered all three ultras this year injured, undertrained, or both.

The outcome to all of this is a tibial stress fracture that brought all training to a halt the day after I completed Mount Mitchell Challenge.  Within 24-48 hours of the injury I could not put weight on my left leg and could not walk without the boot I received from Ortho Carolina.  I suffered greatly for the first week and wore the boot as much as possible.  I healed enough  at the close of week one that I could function enough to go without the boot while at work.  I'm sure my doctor would not recommend this but life goes on and in my line of work injuries bring question to your "fitness for duty".

I'm not known as a patient person and this injury has really tested me.  I have not run for three weeks now and have no plans to for at least another three.  At the beginning of week three I started back cycling which my doctor agreed would be okay so long as I was not pedaling through pain.  I'm hoping this injury will force me to become active once again cycling.  I could definately reap the benefits from the cross-training cycling would bring to my running.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Mount Mitchell Challenge 2011

The buzz of the alarm of my cell phone woke me out of a half-sleep at 5:30AM.  I look around and see my wife and the kids still asleep.  It was going to be the start of a long and beautiful day of mountain running.  This would be my first run at the Mount Mitchell Challenge and I repeatedly question myself on how I got to this point.  Running only began for me a year and half ago.  I'm by no means fast or gifted at running but what I am is hard headed, strong willed, and full of determination.

The MMC is one of the most prestigious ultra marathons on the east coast that attracts an elite level of runners something I certainly am not.  The field for the Challenge is maxed out at 200 runners and the online registration filled in under two minutes.   The MMC is a 40 mile race that climbs from the town of Black Mountain through Montreat and then all the way to the summit of Mount Mitchell.  Mitchell is the tallest peak east of the Mississippi.  Of course once you have reached the summit and you have to run 20 miles back down to Black Mountain.  The race is always held in late February and it is expected that you will face harsh weather.  Snow, sleet, 50+mph winds, and hypothermia are all on the minds of the runners and the medical personal on scene.  I prepared myself mentally and physically for the worst of weather but we had received come race day was some of the best this race has experienced in 14 years.  Understanding that weather conditions on Mitchell can change drastically at any time I dressed in several layers.

Elevation profile

I drive the 1/2 mile from the hotel to the start of the race at the bottom of Cherry Street in Black Mountain.  I say my good byes to my wife, Amy, and the kids and make my way into the crowd of runners.  I look around and see the familiar faces of Stan Austin and Rick Spencer.  I realize I will not see them after the start of the race.  Rick has great endurance and and has been here before.  Stan is way to speedy for me to keep up with.  Running 40 miles by yourself seems lonely but it keeps me in the zone and focused on getting back to the finish line.  I train alone and so racing alone seems more comfortable to me.

Downtown Black Mountain pre-race

And so the race begins promptly at 7AM and off we go running up Cherry Street the first hill of the day.  The first few miles are uneventful and cover about 3 miles of paved road to Montreat.  I despise road running and just want to hit the roots, rocks, and hills, as soon as possible.  As I pass under the rock bridge leading into Montreat I wave to Amy for a picture.  I can hear Mackenzie in the stroller yelling "that's my daddy".

Passing under the rock bridge into Montreat

We soon find ourselves on some very nice single track trails that are very easy going but jammed up with runners.  A few miles tick by and I begin to worry about my largest concern of the day.... making the cut-off.  The cut-off for the race is at the 3 hour point at the end of the Toll Road.  I notice I've run the last few miles with the same two guys.  I ask them if we are on pace to make the cut-off.  They felt comfortable that we were so I hung with them for awhile.  The pace was relaxed and I became concerned it was to much so.  With a few miles left for the cut-off I trudge off picking up my pace.  I made the cut-off with ten minutes to spare.

A short stretch run on some pavement and then I turn off onto the Buncombe Horse Trail.  This trail was difficult for me and it cost me a good bit of time.  The winter thaw had left this trail a mud bogging mess and at many times I was ankle deep.   After this section comes Commissary Trail and the slow and technical hike up to the summit.  This trail was gorgeous and felt like something out of a novel.  The fragrance of the evergreen trees was overpowering.  My progress on the trail was slow but steady.  My breathing was a little labored probably a combination of fatigue and altitude.  I reached a point where it began getting icy and considered getting out the Yaktrax for traction.  I chose not to use them as I was fatigued enough that having more traction was not necessarily going to cause much improvement in pace.  The ice and snow section was short lived and before I knew it I was viewing the summit observation point of Mount Mitchell.  I touched the summit sign marker and got my race bib marked to signal completion up to this point in the race.  It was optional to continue another 50 yards to the observation point.  I chose to do so as I worked hard to get here I might as well enjoy a moment before the descent.  The view here is 360 degrees of mountain glory.  I was ticked at myself for not bringing a camera to capture the moment.

The descent begins on a very steep and technical trail that had a few icy spots left.   This trail would have been fun after a few miles on the legs but after 20+ miles it was tough.  This section opened up onto a gravel road that climbed back up for about a mile.  I decided to walk this mile even though it was very runnable.  I was very hot at this point and exposed to the sun.  Why I did not shed my long sleeve shirt at this point I'm not sure.  The next aid station arrived and I filled my bottles and grabbed a handful of salty chips.  For the next several miles I ran downhill on a paved road.  The angle of the road was tough and was killing my ankles and forced me to run on the grass shoulder when possible.  This was one of my least favorite parts of the race.  With that out of the way it was back onto to the Toll Road which is more like a very rocky logging road. The pounding over the last couple miles on the paved road caused my lower left leg to begin throbbing with pain.  This was the all to familiar injury that I had an MRI on a few weeks before the race.   Heading down the Toll Road I kept pace with this one runner.  We switched lead over each other for a few miles.  At some point he was must have hit a bad point in his race as he dropped off and I never seen him again.  All day I had been looking forward to the mystery aid station that was said to have a keg of beer from Black Mountain's own Pisgah Brewery.  Unfortunately I passed through that aid station without noticing an offering of beer... oh well there will be plenty after the race is over.  I make my way down the absurdly steep paved Appalachian Way back into Montreat.  Making a left the course puts you onto a nice town trail along the creek which sure beats running the road all the way into Black Mountain.  I was very happy to be running these last miles and not having to walk.  I passed a few runners heading back towards Lake Tomahawk.  As I arrive at the Lake I pass Amy and the kids at the playground and she starts snapping photos while I pass.  It is a half mile loop around the Lake with everybody watching so there is no walking here.  I must finish with some sense of pride and dig deep to keep a decent pace building speed as the finish arrives.  Crossing the line in 8:21:59.  Mackenzie, my 2.5 year old daughter, runs to me with arms out stretched wanting me to pick her up.  She has no idea what I have just went through and it does not matter.  Being welcomed like that is so special and something I will cherish forever.

Almost there

A hug for daddy

With about 200 starters there were only 129 to finish the challenge and I was proud to be one of them.  I ran this race very conservatively based on my lack of training and knowledge of the course.  Looking back I know now how runnable this course is and with better training and cooperation of the weather I'm confident I could shave around 45 minutes off my time.

Many things went well for me this time around.  I suffered no significant nausea and zero gastric issues.  I have been using Ultra for my electrolyte drink mix which I realize now is way to sweet for me.  For this race I carried two bottles and consistently filled one with water and the other with Heed or Gatorade.  Some stretches of the race my stomach was very thankful for just plain old water.  I took about an S-Cap an hour.  I consumed a handful of chips at each aid station and ate about 5 gels during the course of the day and a pack of Rock Blocks.  I broke a cardinal rule in running ultras... never try anything for the first time on race day that you have not tested in training. I have a hard time during races consuming solid food and after a while I get nauseous with all the gels.  I needed something to solve this issue and decided to try a product (on race day) called EFS Liquid Shot.  The taste was a little sweet but it packs a ton of calories and electrolytes in one flask.  I consumed this Shot around the half way point and it really helped me get over the hump.  I need to experiment with this product some more but so far so good!

The race is over it is time to refuel and begin assessing the damage to my left leg that I'm now noticeably limping on.  We finished the day off with some dinner at My Father's Pizza which is always a nice choice when in Black Mountain.

Will I run this race again?  If I'm lucky enough to get a spot next year then I will surely be here!

Monday, February 14, 2011


I have run only one time since the Sultan 50K on 1/29.  The one run I have had was a nice half marathon though the mountains.  This run however brought to the surface a painful lower left leg injury.  I have had discomfort about 2-3 inches above the ankle that started after Harbison 50K on 1/08. 

The discomfort was mild but after the half I ran at SM State Park I was in serious pain.  I was about sure I was suffering from a stress fracture of the lower leg.  A stress fracture would mean no running for at least 4-6 weeks and would keep me from running Mount Mitchell Challenge on 2/26.  I stopped my training runs completely and visited Carolina Orthopedic.  I was not optimistic....

My Doc stated he also believed it to be a stress fracture but an MRI would be the only way to know for sure.  He said the MRI was not necessary but I insisted as I needed to know if running Mitchell was still a possibility or not.  I had to cancel my spot at Shut-In-Ridge due to an IT Band injury last November and I was getting depressed at the thought of dropping from Mitchell as well.  This close to the race a refund was not possible. 

The last week has been long and very stressful.  I lost my 93 year old grandmother and flew up to Boston for the service and to be with my dad.  Losing a family member quickly changes ones perspective on what is really important.

I arrived home yesterday and I received a call today with the results.  No stress fracture but more than likely a stress reaction to the lower leg.  I need to test things out with a few runs but it looks like Mitchell is a go. 

My training plans for this month did not go as planned but I'll try to suffer through another ultra marathon just for the challenge of finishing.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Raven Rock & Saddleback 13.1

After a handful of days of rest and recovery from the Sultan 50K I needed to get back to training.  I set out this morning on a punishing course that I thought up on the ride to the trail head.  I've run these trails countless times but I have never put them together in the route I had planned for today.

The run started at the Cicero parking area at South Mountain State Park.  I sat in my warm vehicle for about 5 minutes struggling with motivation to get moving.  I considered the limited time for training left until Mount Mitchell Challenge and quickly cut the car off and entered the cold morning air.  The air although cold is so refreshing and smells clean and fresh with the Jacob Branch rolling by within view.

I began with the easy run along River Trail to the the main parking area before heading up the first climb on Little River Trail.  I climbed Little River to the highest point on the Turkey Ridge.  I was clearing my self out to help with breathing with the efficient means of the snot rocket.  The cold air lately has been doing a number on my sinuses and I realized I was now suffering from a nose bleed.  Nose bleeds are never fun but are a real pain in the ass while trying to run.  Fortunately I was able to keep moving and get it stopped up.  On the descent I picked up the Raven Rock Trail which would be around 1.5 miles of steep climb.   Slowing working my way up the mountain I reach the all to familiar trail head of Saddleback Ridge.  I have a love and hate relationship with this trail.  It truly is the best trail I have for training but I have never been able to tame her yet.  Saddleback Trail is about 3 miles of wide single track.  I begin the descent with a comfortable and controlled pace.  I start to feel a throbbing pain in lower left leg just above the ankle.  This pain has been light but still present since the Harbison 50K.  I had no difficulties with it in last weekends race and grew confident that it had faded away.  The mental game of the onset of a running injury starts to play with my head.  I reach the bottom of the trail and gather myself for a moment before beginning the 3 miles back to the top of the ridge.  I'm moving along fairly well considering how tough this route was to this point.  The pain in my leg is growing and so is my concern.  Reaching the ridge it is all downhill from here back down Raven Rock to my vehicle.  I try to keep the speed in check on this steep grade as the leg feels very tender and I'm not sure what damage is already begun.

I arrive at the vehicle with about 12.5 miles in and opt for a easy run around the parking area to finish out with nice 13.1.  This route had over 3000' of ascent and another 3000' of descent.  I can sometimes become obsessed with numbers but I'm sure I'm not alone. 

Appointment made for Monday at Carolina Ortho in Mountain View.  I'm afraid I already know the diagnosis but I need proof before the reality of it all sets in.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Sultan 50K

I must preface that a year and half ago when I began running I never thought I would be running 32 miles through game lands with a crown on my head.  I discovered the Sultan 50K by accident when searching for additional trail info of the South Mountains.  I read about this birthday run for Mohammed after stumbling upon Annette Bednosky's blog.  I remember clearly thinking these people have lost it running 30 plus miles, in shorts in the winter, wearing crowns!  Keep in mind at the time I was barely running two miles at a time on the treadmill.  After reading more blogs written by local ultrarunners I became inspired to join the insanity.  My wife will vouch for the day I came to her and said I want to run ultra marathons through the mountains.  She looked at me in that way many husbands would understand and questioned my logic and asked "you think you might want to try a 5K or something first"

Somehow on January 29th, 2011 I find myself amidst some premiere trail runners at the bottom of Roper Hollow Road.  The crown has been issued and fitted to my skull and shall not be removed till I complete the course!
Matt Kirk delivering the course briefing

Steady climb right from the start

This course is very challenging and has somewhere over 6000' of elevation gain with about equal the descent.  I am fortunate to know the course as the South Mountains are where I do almost all of my running.  It was great to see so many runners enjoying the trails that I call home.

Course overview by Rubitrack & Google Maps

Elevation profile
I started out very conservative and power hiked most of the climbs through the game lands section which covers 10.5 miles.  As soon as I hit the state park boundary I had new found energy and and fell into a comfort zone being in such familiar territory.  I was able to pass about a half dozen runners which was unusual for me and I was hoping I was not getting over confident.  Once making the right turn onto Upper Falls Trail I knew things leveled out and I could make up some ground for the next 3-4 miles to the aid station and turn around point.  I see Mad A, Grand Kirk, and several others already on the return trip and I look at my watch... I knew they were on a course to break 5 hours.  The steep and technical descent down the backside of the Falls Loop is always a tough trail for me.  It began to take it's toll on my ankles as I run down the trail like an out of control skier making his first run on the moguls!  I reach the bottom and cross the bridge and see my wife and kids on the trail waiting on me.  I quickly discard my gloves and arm warmers as I was burning up at this point.

Shedding layers on an unseasonably warm day

I arrive at the aid station and turn around point in 3:01 which I was more than satisfied with.  I take a peek at Sultan's cake but can't find an appetite for solid food at the moment.  I feel bad for not partaking in the birthday festivities and gloom over the boner points I will receive.  I begin to struggle with my Nathan hydration pack as I always seem to do.  With the very much appreciated help of a volunteer, Charles West I believe it was, I manage to get filled up for return trip.  I down an Ensure and a 5-Hour Energy and grab a handful of gels from my drop bag.  My wife, Amy,  takes a few precious pictures of me and my daughter Mackenzie.  And just like that before I can think of other options I am off to finish what I started.

I was her king for the day but she will be my princess for a lifetime
Heading back out after the turn around

Things slowed down considerably on the back 16 as expected.  The heat was becoming a little uncomfortable and I was overdressed.  Climbing the last hill on Upper Falls Trail around mile 19.5 I develop stomach issues.  I'm forced to make a pit stop and and very glad to have brought those baby wipes.

Mile 22 I start to feel the first twitches in my legs and know that some cramps are developing.  Let the mental battle begin!

Thoughts race through my head... why am I doing this... this will be the last one... forget about Mitchell... you can still get your money back...

Up to this point I had been consuming a gel and an S-Cap an hour.  Somewhere around mile 20 I tried to eat a gel and just could not get it down. I had now gone about 1.5 to 2 hours with no calories and was starting to feel really zapped. 

Mile 24 I am feeling really nauseous and need fuel... I squeeze a gel into my mouth and try to wash it down quick.  I gagged on it and spit it out before swallowing.  The next thing I know I'm vomiting.  After three clean outs I rise and I'm aware the nausea will more than likely pass now.  The frightening part is knowing how much hydration I just lost and I still have 8 plus miles to go.

Just keep moving forward....

I'm now noticing that I'm not really sweating anymore which is never a good sign.  The legs are starting to spasm a little more frequently and I'm having to alter my stride a bit to keep from locking up.

I see Richard Lilly and Angie Burns a quarter of a mile ahead and I use them to pace me for awhile.  That worked for several miles but then they faded away and I am solo again.  I try to keep things as steady as can be and begin hoping for a sub seven hour finish. 

I'm now on the final 3 miles which is mostly downhill and I'm ready to be done.  I round the final corner and here some hooting and hollering.  I'm either at the end and there are still runners there cheering or I've run into a hunting party thrown by the Roper Hollow Mountain locals.

Then I hear "do a cart wheel" 

It is over 6:57:19 and I'm beat and very nauseous.  I am very thankful to have been a part of a great event in my favorite mountains.  I stuck around and chatted for a few minutes but really wanted to get home.  I drove off without really saying farewell as I just was not feeling well.  Sadly I had to make two roadside stops on the way home due to nausea and vomiting.  Arrived home and slowly refueled and re-hydrated the body.

Woke up the next day feeling much better and the legs felt surprisingly well.

Sights are once again set for the next challenge....  Mount Mitchell

The Sultan himself earning great bonus points on his birthday run

Happy Birthday Mohammed and thanks for a great run!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Snowy run at South Mountain

My pre-dawn long run never happened as I struggled with motivation to get up and enter the cold.
Waited till it warmed up enough for running in shorts and Mara and I took off to SM. The park roadway was closed due to ice so we altered our route. Very slow pace and I really did not care for a change. Lots of hiking and taking pictures of Mara in the snow. We looped in the High Shoals Falls Trail and this really slowed us down with the conditions on this tough climb.

Water levels in the creeks are starting to rise so I had to wade shin high across one at about the four mile mark. After that it was time to get moving to generate some heat to keep the toes from getting to cold.

Had my first problems with the Yak-Trax today... they did not provide traction well enough in the slushy snow... the Yak-Trax on my left foot kept stretching forward and extending out over the top of my foot.
I think I will purchase some Kahtoola Micro-Spikes before Mount Mitchell Challenge... stopping to fix these Yak-Trax every so often is to frustrating!

Release & Run dog collar/leash review

I'll admit I found out about this collar and leash gadget on the annoying  FB ads to the right of your screen.  I passed up on it for several months thinking it was not worth more attention.  The ads kept popping back up so I looked into it further.  Release and Run is a dog collar with a built in four foot flexi type lead.

Looking over their website and reading some other reviews I figured it was worth a try.  The product is made by a guy who appears to be an avid trail runner himself.  The product itself was a little costly at first glance at $34.95 for a larger dog plus shipping.  With that in mind if it meets my needs it is worth every penny.

The concept is basically a nylon snap buckle collar like any other.  It has a small 4' retractable lead attached with a nicely sewn together sheath that houses the retractor and leash handle.  I would have liked to have seen the nylon collar made of thicker nylon material for the larger dogs.

The handle is very lightweight and just the right size to run with in your hand and it not be bothersome.  When retracted it goes automatically into the sheath leaving just enough sticking out to grab when needed in a hurry.  It does not have a lock out feature like a regular flexi-type lead so there is a little constant pressure on the dog but nothing to restrictive of it's movement.

I ordered mine to use on my trail runs where leashes are required.  The catch for me is the rules are always the same... dog must be attached to a leash under 6' in length.  Well with this I have that covered even if I'm not holding the end :)

This collar really is a great device and after over 16 years in the dog training business I have tested and utilized countless products.  I highly recommend this to anyone who hikes or trail runs.  It lets you get to the trail head an just beyond on leash.  Get out there with less trail traffic and just let go off the handle and off you go hands free but with the peace of mind that the leash is already attached and ready to go if needed.

After only two runs with my shepherd I am happy I made this purchase.  I also opted for the hunter orange to add some dog safety when she is distant from me and doing her deer impression bounding through the woods.  Truthfully I never let her out of my sight but safety is still a concern with all the hunters around my running trails.

I have no financial interest in this product... however if they read this I would love another collar sent my way for the review :)