Sunday, February 27, 2011


My plan for running the Hashawha Hills 50k was to enjoy a local race with friends from VHTRC and get in a solid early season training run.  As the race unfolded something more- and in some ways less appealing- actually happened.
For starters, the best news: Gaby won the race as first female.  She also came in 5th overall and lowered the woman’s course record time to 4:45.  Hot damn!  The race course consists of two 15.5 very hilly loops, most of which runs over technical to moderately technical woodland single and double track trails.  Despite the icy conditions on the first loop Gaby managed a steady pace, however by the second loop, when much of the ice turned to mud, she became quite tired (having not officially tapered for the race) yet still managed to run well.  I couldn’t be more proud of her.
My experience on the other hand unfolded a bit differently and left me with questions.  After a brisk first loop running in the lead from the start pretty much in lock step with D.C. area local runner Oliver Leblond I bonked pretty bad right at the beginning of the second loop.  As I made my way up the initial hills during the second loop I momentarily considered DNFing, though in better judgment decided against it, and for the remainder of the race managed damage control to keep myself moving. 
Running the first loop with Oliver was a challenge but we managed to keep each other honest.  I pushed him on the down hills and he kept me in check on the climbs.  I could sense the reserved energy he possessed on the climbs with his graceful hamstring lifting running up the hills.  Each hill I ran up however had me thinking when I would be forced to slow my pace.  Last week’s schedule prior to Saturday’s race day, beginning on Monday, included four purposeful ‘training runs’, five runs altogether, for a total of 50 miles, and thanks to the addition of a lightning fast, 30 hour door-to-door trip from D.C. to Los Angeles and back beginning Tuesday evening I was far from fresh by the time Saturday morning rolled around.  In fact, as Gaby and I pulled away from our D.C. abode at 5:15am en route to Westminster, Maryland, site of the Hashawha Hills 50k, I sipped my coffee and commented how I didn’t feel right in the head- as if I were coming down with something.  Instantly I thought back to my back-to-back germ-infested flights a few days prior; I was paranoid about having caught a bug.
Oliver and I finished the first loop together in 2:01 and after a brief stop at an aid station began the second loop in 2:02.  Moments later he began pulling away and I knew this was the time when my pace was forced to slow.  I felt achy, developed slight a headache and felt slightly nauseous.  Eating and drinking was not a problem but it simply didn’t help me feel better; nor did walking up hills.  I’ve never DNFd a race and I wasn’t about to this time either.  I also figured since a second place finish was all but secure, given the proximity of the closest trailing runner, as long as the wheels didn’t completely fall off then I was content with that.  Oliver went on to finish smartly in a course record setting time of 4:09 and I eventually finished 2nd in 4:24.  His second loop of 2:07 makes for a decent split ratio though he commented after the race that he likely would have run the first loop slower if it were not for me pushing the pace.
As a result of the race and of feeling sick the night and day after (maybe I came down with something after all?) my question is this: is it wise to train through a race?  I am talking about a long race like a 50k, not a 5k or 10k.  My focus race for the first half of 2011 is the Massanutten Mountain 100 in May.  Everything up until then is centered on having fun and will be designed to prepare me for that race.  Last week my training runs consisted of base building prep work for Massanutten and running the Hashawha Hills 50k was incorporated efficiently as a component of said training.  The 50k distance is certainly no walk in the park and to reach one’s potential in that distance a taper is an obvious must.  I had the opposite of a taper.  The problem with training through a race is that once the race begins, instead of following through with the initial plan of getting in that training run, my thoughts change to actually wanting to give the race a go.  And instead of competing, because I am tired, I end up suffering.  Is it worth it?  Is it worth only showing up to a race if you’re fresh so you can do just that, and race?  There is likely no right or wrong answer to this question and I imagine there are many schools of thought on the topic.  It does have me thinking about future races however and whether or not I would like to go into an event tired or not and therefore not able to compete, or at least reach my potential.  I’ve done so much of that in the past year and it would be nice to actually train and taper properly for a race, give it my all, and not suffer the emotional distress afterwards knowing that I didn’t prepare properly and, as a result, didn’t perform to my potential (much less suffer).
The tail end of this post may seem negative or a bit narcissistic.  That is my intent.  One of the primary things I like about running is that it is a constant journey of self-discovery.  Every run provides a lesson and an experience. One of the fun byproducts of running for me is measuring improvement.  After all, isn’t that part of being human?  Wanting to be a better person?  Running is no different.  My point is that if race results are in some respects a measurement of improvement for a runner then trying to run well and come away with fast times at each race should be considered important.  For the past few years that I’ve trained and participated in endurance sports, more recently in ultra running, the cumulative annual experiences have all been different.  I am proud to proclaim that each year the experiences have gotten better and better but as time has shifted so has my goal line.  If the goals change the training must adapt and so should the race schedule.  I doubt I’ll make any changes to my schedule this year since I’m already ecstatic about the adventures yet to come but I still plan to let the lessons from the Hashawha Hills 50k soak in and, hopefully, eventually, they’ll make me a better person and a better runner.

On to a rosier topic, the race itself is a good time and I recommend it.  Click here to see why.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Here it comes: Ultra Race of Champions

Registration for the country’s newest 100k mountain ultra marathon opens March 14th: the Trail Runner Ultra Race of Champions, or UROC.  The race, taking place in the Virginia Blue Ridge Mountains on September 24th, has been in the works for quite some time and is designed as championship race for elite ultra runners.  Without repeating much of the relevant details one can read on the race website or on the lead sponsor’s (Trail Runner Magazine) website, the bottom line is this: expect top domestic runners (like Geoff) and hopefully some international talent to duke it out over generous purse dinero.  The race will not have a lottery and at this point there is no capacity limit so expect a solid, competitive field.

Now, just because UROC is a “championship” race does not imply runners of all abilities are discouraged from registering.  It is just the opposite: runners of all ability are welcome.  Especially those new to ultra marathoning.  In fact, aside from the 100k distance option there will be 50k and half marathon distance trail races, known as the Great Eastern Endurance Races, or GEER.  GEER has been around for a while.  UROC on the other hand is completely new.  As are the trails upon which UROC will be held- they haven’t been raced on before.

So, what’s it going be?  Are you going to show up and go head to head with some of the best in the sport?  Or are you going to show up simply for the energy, excitement, the chance to challenge yourself with something new and, better still, enjoy Virginia’s beautiful early fall season, running over ancient mountain 100k, 50k or half marathon course trails?  I hope it’s one or the other.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Running at altitude

Do you still exit the house with a hat and gloves on morning runs?  I do.  We are still in the throes of winter.  This perhaps means some of you lucky folk have yet to cash in that winter ski vacation.  And for perhaps even the luckier maybe you’re headed out west to enjoy big mountain, powder, high altitude skiing.  I thought of you when borrowing space from Greg Decent’s weekly Running Column in the Vail Daily and guest-penned a brief article on running at altitude.  Basically, I offer a few suggestions (from my own experiences) on how to make the most of your runs while doing battle with oxygen debt.  It was published last week in the Vail Daily.  Follow this link to read it.

Much has been written on the widely studied practice of endurance training and racing at altitude.  It is a fascinating topic, to say the least, and one of which I am no expert.  Because I am a lowlander from Washington D.C. running while at altitude mostly means seducing the beast; I simply try to find a comfortable rhythm while my lungs search for oxygen as I plod along in the thin air.  Other than the few simple suggestions I offer in the column what additional recommendations can any of you offer to a runner from sea level hoping to get in some decent runs while vacationing at altitude?  What practices do you employ?  I am interested to know.

By the way, how killer is it that the Vail Daily publishes a weekly running column?  Only in an active town like Vail…  As much as I love reading the Washington Post each morning the editors would never think to offer such pleasure to a reader like me.  Note to the Washington Post editors: skip the regular Metro Section traffic report column once in a while and publish something original like hyper-local, motivating, educational information on fun topics, such as running, for the ga-zillion runners in the D.C. region that populate our streets and trails.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Old Dominion 100

Admittedly, I am something of a newbie to the whole ‘ultra running’ thing.  I’ve put quite a bit of miles on these legs over the past few years and made great new friends along the way.  I’ve run on old trails and new trails, run with old studs and young studs, run old school races and newer ones.  But still, as fast as this sport seems to be evolving each ultra that I have run, I think, maintains a vibe that feels quintessentially old school.  It is my ultimate hope that this ‘feeling’ never changes no matter how many new races, runners or sponsorship dollars come down the pike.  In my experience, no race maintains such a feeling quite like the Old Dominion 100.
It was on the first Saturday of June 2008, on the second recorded hottest day of the year, for the entire year, when I ran the Old Dominion 100- my first 100 mile and only two months out from when I ran my first ultra, the Bel Monte 50 mile.  It wasn’t even until a week or two after Bel Monte that I decided 100% to line up at the Old Dominion; trained up I was not.  The heat and humidity was unbearable.  There was no wind, there was no rain.  At mile 50 I came down with a severe case of shin splints in my right leg.  I ran on.  At mile 75 my right shin looked like it had a golf ball sticking out of it just above the ankle.  I ran on.  At mile 88 I ran off course.  Determined to finish I eventually found my way back on course and ran on.  Proudly, I finally finished and my life was forever changed.  My race report still lives at  Read it here.
I wear my well-earned Old Dominion silver buckle with pride to this day.  In fact, it is my favorite buckle.  Not just because of the experience but because it actually is the coolest buckle I have seen on the market.  Don’t just take my word for it.  The Old Dominion 100 begins at 4:00am the first Saturday of every June.  Sign up this year and earn one for yourself.  See what it feels like to run the second oldest 100 mile race in the United States, second only to Western States.  Soak in Virginia’s luscious early summer green scenery and rural mountain vistas through Fort Valley.  And leave your pacers at home because, save for a few craggy miles between mile 75-85 or so, they’re not allowed.  Plus, the Old Dominion 100 has a 28 hour cut off.  The Old Dominion is an old school race, on a runner’s course. 
Unfortunately, for several reasons for which I am too new school to understand, the Old Dominion’s popularity has waned in recent years.  Emotions, politics and other race options are all to blame.  No matter, the Old Dominion stands.  Sponsor-less, change-less, family managed still, the race is ready for old comers and new comers alike.  I am so grateful to have the Old Dominion in my backyard and can’t wait for June to give it another go.  My goals this time around will be much different than in 2008 and thankfully I already know of a handful of strong runners rumored to show up that will help push me to reach them.  The Old Dominion is a worthy race, be-fit of any strong runner.  Come on out and let’s give each other a go on the first Saturday in June.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Mostly great news

Starting with the not so great news: I was rejected during this weekend's Hardrock 100 lottery.  I didn’t even make it on to the wait list.  Certainly Hardrock, of all the top lottery entry races out there, likely even more than Western States, is a tough, tough race to gain entry.  Hopefully I’ll get a shot to toe the line in Silverton some other year.  Strangely, rather than feeling dejected I am somewhat relieved.  Relieved not to have to shuffle other ideas around because of this one race.  Relieved not to worry about how-am-I-gonna-acclimate to make it through this thing.  Plus, in the end, race lottery entry wise, I am two for three in 2011 since I was recently awarded entry into the Bull Run 50 in April, awarded entry some time ago into the Massanutten Mountain Trail 100 and, with a heavy heart, yanked my name from the Wasatch registration prior to this past weekend’s lottery picking.  Two for three is very good in my book so I definitely do not have much to complain about.  In fact, I am excited for those runners who gained Hardrock entry.  I look forward to sitting in my comfortable chair Friday, July 8th, sipping coffee in the morning, and logging on to Hardrock's website to see what bold and brash runners dare to rush the pace early on.

Since Hardrock is off the table I decided to part with the $295 and sign up for August's famed Leadville Trail 100.  It is official, as of 9:19 EST this evening, I am in Leadville.  (Um, registration for Leadville was $250 in 2010, by the way, for those who keep track of such things).  After Massanutten in May, comes the Old (School) Dominion 100 in June, then Leadville late August, followed by the GEER 100k in late September and, ultimately, the Grindstone 100 in October.  Come Fall these legs will be nice a tired.  No matter, they remember how to recover from last summer and, together, we’re up for another adventurous year of racing.

Another slice of overwhelming news is the good people at VHTRC during yesterday’s annual awards ceremony rendered on to me 2010’s prestigious Male Ultra Runner of the Year and Male Performance of the Year awards.  It feels tremendous to be honored by such great people; people I look up to in so many ways.  VHTRC is in a class by itself, with a long history of producing high caliber, high performing runners, and to have my name etched on computer screens for years to come as 2010’s winner is amazing.  I know now that these awards will carry even more meaning for me in the future which is somewhat strange to think about since it already feels so great.  Thank you very much VHTRC!  By the way, for the statisticians in the lot check out recent year winners hereRecognize any names?  Um, I think so.  These runners are legit.  Goodness gracious, how about Amy Sproston… With this year’s hardware that makes for three consecutive years as Female Runner of the Year.  Way to go, Amy!

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

February 1

As much as I enjoy winter it is always a relief to close the books on January.  February, our shortest month, means negotiating even fewer days until the return of spring, arriving in the D.C. area by the end of March or the beginning of April.  Bring it on!

Today, being February 1st, also means the March issue of Trail Runner Magazine is now in circulation, soon to land in mail boxes and at newsstands across North America.  If you are a subscriber be sure to check out the Take Your Mark article, penned by yours truly, on trail running in our Nation’s Capitol.  In the story I also featured a few local must-do VHTRC races and a few local trail running studs.  If you are not a subscriber run, don’t walk, to your local running store and secure a copy.

To put us in the mood: ubiquitous scenery in D.C. during early Spring, the Cherry Blossoms.  Another must-see event.