Sunday, April 24, 2011

Buck Hallow

This past week started off with a bang in Boston as I watched Gaby cruise to a PR finish on tired legs, a bum IT and nine days out from a 3rd place performance at the Bull Run Run 50.  Gaby’s realistic goal was to reel in a sub 3:30 and damn if she didn’t cross the line in 3:29:55.  Cheers to her for hanging tough the last few miles after her IT had given out and energy spoils were all but depleted.  And, again, thanks to the good people at JetBlue, our generous and courteous travel, accommodations and race registration benefactors for the long weekend, per Gaby’s fortunate winning of the JetBlue Boston Marathon Extra Mile contest.  For me, as a spectator of the Boston Marathon for the second year in a row, it is easy to see why the race enjoys such an illustrious reputation.  The energy and the atmosphere throughout the city for the duration of the event is nothing short of electric.  Plus, any opportunity to visit New England, particularly in the warmer months, is an opportunity worth taking.
The beginning of this past week also signaled the four week countdown to Massanutten, which meant I only had two weeks of real training left, followed by a two week taper.  So, on Monday, the mile piling continued.  Also intermixed in the week I included a little fast stuff.  Some hill stuff.  Three two-a-days.  Three days over 20 miles.   And, finally, culminated the week this morning, with- I am somewhat embarrassed to admit- 143 miles in total.
Aside from running 143 miles (which is a significant marker for me and more than I have ever run before in a week or would like to continue running on a weekly basis) and spectating Gaby at the Boston Marathon, two other memorable running events stick out from the week.
1.       The first annual WUS Donut 10k (more like 6.9 miles).  Martha organized a real treat for WUS runners on Thursday night with a hilly, out and back dash to DuPont Circle, on a dog legged shaped course, from WUS HQ whereby runners must stop midway, scarf down six Krispy Kreme glazed donuts, then turn around and run back.  Not only did I consume eight donuts midway in a grossly fast time but also then cruised to race victory where upon I enjoyed a final victory donut, bringing the total to nine.  Admittedly, competition at the Donut Run was a little light.  Not many of the real eaters, fast WUS runners or fast runners who can really eat were in attendance.   Hopefully they’ll show up Thursday for the Beer mile, which, again, Martha is hosting.  My status as first place finisher at the Donut Run, says Martha, elevates my seeding to #1 at the Beer Mile.  A few dozen runners are poised to show up so Thursday may or may not be a two-a-day for me.  Meaning, I’m brining my game, WUS peeps.  That is all I have to say about that.
2.       36 miles, three back-to-back 2,750 foot tempo climbs straight up a very soppy, technical Buck Hallow Trail to Mary’s Rock and 9,000 feet of climbing in total added another solid long run to the bank yesterday morning.  Another run like this next weekend and it’ll be all she wrote for training runs until sometime after Old Dominion on June 4.
Speaking of Old Dominion, I was told first hand by another runner (a definite contender) that he is registering for the race.  I truly hope so.  It could be that this year the field at Old Dominion will be the most competitive it has been in years.  This is exciting news.  Unfortunately we’ll never know who all is running until the night of since the Old Dominion race director doesn’t post an entrants list.
And, finally, speaking of Buck Hallow, the title subject of this post, this is a very special place.  No matter how many times I’ve managed to leave my DC house on a Saturday morning in pre-dawn darkness and rain, heading west bound for the Shenandoah National Park (SNP) and the Buck Hallow trailhead at the base of Thorton Gap along the south side of Route 211, I am always in awe once I arrive to discover a ceasing rain and an opening sky.  I find it hard to ignore this kind of fortune and am very grateful for it.  The trails themselves here in this particular section of the SNP, however, are not for the faint of heart.  They are steep, at times very technical and cross in many directions the deeper into the forest one goes.  A map is a must.  A few water bottles and proper food supplies are a must.  Sure, you can keep a run short with an out and back or a loop up to the Appalachian Trail and back, but then you miss out on the real treasure this area has to offer for trail running.  This treasure includes bursting streams and waterfalls tumbling down the hallows, with water suitable for drinking at high elevations (in my opinion), well maintained and debris-free trails, 3,000 foot climbing or descending options, access to the Appalachian Trail and, best of all, unspoiled and wild mountain-scape vistas with no visible human built obstructions.  I have run 30+ milers at Buck Hallow on several occasions and each time barely scratch the surface in terms of covering available (and realistic distance) terrain options (from my car).  In fact, to this day, there are so many miles of trails I have yet to experience because they finger off in so many directions and seemingly go on forever.  Another treasure at Buck Hallow is the Thorton River.  This crystal clear, spring fed river, which crashes down the mountain gap, often paralleling 211, flows right by the car lot and offers an excellent ice bath after a long day on the trails.  If you live in central, northern or western Virginia, or are a visitor to the area, and have yet to visit Buck Hallow I strongly encourage you to do so.  Buck Hallow, without a doubt, has made me a better runner and after each time I visit I depart with even greater appreciation for the SNP and the mountains in Virginia.  I am confident it will do the same for you.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Matt Woods show

Saturday morning's Bull Run Run 6:30am race start came and went in a hurry.  So did Matt Woods.  Matt pulled away so fast at the start all I could do was admire his effortless stride for only a few moments until he was gone into the woods.  David Frazier and another runner [with a beard] immediately gave chase and I began running in earnest with fellow WUSsie, Aaron Schwartzbard.  Aaron and I ran the first few miles together and carried on a bit about various trivial things until he slowly dropped back and I found myself running alone.  At this point it was mile five or six into the day's task, running 50 miles in the woods, I was in fourth position and was in mood to push hard in an attempt to catch the lead pack or put distance on Aaron and the others not far behind.

It was also on this section of the course when the nastiness began, and by 'nastiness' I mean mud.  The previous few days of rain saturated the lower lying valley trails.  Roots, rocks, logs, etc. I don't mind.  What I do mind, however, is mud.  The first section of Bull Run is an out and back with a turnaround at mile 9.4, aptly named "Turnaround".  Not long before reaching the turnaround I see the front runners coming back towards me and timed David, running in third, with a 6:15 gap on me.  David was moving along sprightly seconds behind Matt and the other runner and I was more or less surprised to see how efficiently each of them negotiated the mud.  Shortly after the turn around- here is why I don't like running in mud- I managed a serious f*k up and superman slid on to the muddy trail, muttering "ssoooonnn offf aaaahh biiitttccchhh" as I slid on my chest and belly across the soupy spring soil.  Several runners coming towards me in line for the turn around witnessed the entire act.  Hopefully it provided a good lesson in proper foot strike management for them, in addition to comic relief.  For 10 years growing up I was a baseball player.  Every spring and summer that is what I did- I played baseball.  I can tell you with 100% certainty that I never pulled off a more perfect slide in all my years stealing bases or attempting to maneuver around catchers going for home plate.   My slide eventually came to a halt and I rose in shock gazing at the mud pie I had just made of myself.  I then started running again.  Not much else I could do.

Covered in a slowly drying mud cake-like shell, I ran back in the direction I had just come, eventually completing the out-and-back section as I passed through the start area, Hemlock - mile 16.6.  From there on I continued running alone, occasionally catching glimpses of Jack Pilla and Adam Hill in the distance cresting over or running down a bluff from whence I had run only moments earlier.  Somewhere around mile 20 I passed a runner (whose name I still do not know) and found myself in third position.  I figured holding pace with Matt Woods over the preceding miles likely did him in but wasn't ready to count him out so I kept my head down and pressed forward up and down the hills.

At Fountainhead aid station, mile 28.1, I was 5 minutes behind second place, which I figured was David.  The Gu gels and Cliff blocks I ate throughout the race tasted good and everything else felt pretty good so, again, I kept my head down and pressed forward.  Shortly before I entered the Do Loop Matt was on his way out, breezed by me and said "that sucked".  "That" being the notorious "Do Loop" section of the Bull Run Run course, of course.  "Great", I thought.  Not more than 10 seconds later I looked up and saw David 150 yards up the trail.  I sensed he was gathering his energy a bit before pressing on through the Do Loop.  I entered the Do Loop aid station, mile 32.5, as David exited then caught back up with him moments later.

It was at this point that David and I set about running together for the remainder of the race.  I stayed on his heals through the Do Loop, which consisted mostly of narrow, poorly navigable trails and steep gullies.  Upon exiting the Do Loop I responded in kind to David, taking the reins at the front and from then on we continued pushing each other up and down the hills and back along the muddy trails paralleling the Occoquan river.  We were intent in our shared purpose: thwarting Jack and Adam's surging attacks at our second and third positions.  It was still possible to see them from time to time on distant bluff trails, trailing hungrily for position.

The remaining miles of Bull Run went by quickly and like all good things the end eventually came.  David and I climbed the final ascent back to Hemlock, and ran side by side for the remaining half mile.  Was a jockeying for second about to ensue?  I wasn't sure.  The pace naturally picked up until the finish line was in sight.  As the revelers cheered us on I looked at David and asked "should we give them a show?"  As he opened his mouth and before he could complete his first syllable which began with an "Eeehhhhh..." a wide open, quad bursting sprint broke out between us with 100 yards to go.  My heart beat shot up and I felt the heat pulse through my chest, arms and legs like an electric current.  I was a foot or two in front of David but he caught up to my immediate right within seconds.  The finish line was so close.  Bull Run Race Director, Anstr Davidson, was standing directly on the finish line about to get run over as the two of us steam rolled directly towards him.  With a final kick of adrenaline and another wave of surging body heat I stepped on the gas with whatever I had left and crossed the finish line with David immediately to my right.  I collapsed onto the ground seconds after crossing the finish line, actually somewhat sad the race was over, but definitely glad not to be sprinting any longer.  Did I actually finish ahead of David and come in second place?  I'm not sure.  I don't think so.  We tied.  The good news is David is running Massanutten next month so we'll have another opportunity to run with and against one another.  (Other Massanutten runners take note: David will be a contender.)  I hope to God not to replicate a finish like that, with David or anyone else, after 100 miles running through the Massanuttens.

David Frazier and I, stride for stride, sprinting to the finish.  Look close.  He is immediately to my right.  Photo by Robert Fabia.
Long before I finished the Matt Woods show was over and I learned that a new course record belonged to him in a time of 6:08.  Pretty amazing, I think, considering the muddy conditions over so many miles.  Gaby finished as 3rd female in 8:06, which is also a stellar accomplishment.  Our buddy and fellow first-place-winning WUS Coed team member, Ragan Petrie, finished as 2nd female in 7:52.  Annette Bednosky won the race with a time of 7:39.  Such impressive times for the top three ladies!

All in all, considering the state of my training and lack of proper tapering for the race I am pleased with the result.  Plus, my body has never felt so good immediately following a 50 miler and that is a healthy sign for a soon-to-begin long summer of 100 mile races.  In the Bull Run Run 50, the VHTRC continues to demonstrate its reputation for quality races and even better post-race parties and socializing.  This race is a classic for several reasons and a must-do for any and all devoted front, mid or back of the back-type ultra runners.

Inspecting what is left of the mud shell, amusing Quatro and David.  Photo by Robert Fabia.
Aces!  Matt Woods, a happy WUS.  Photo by Robert Fabia.
Me, Gaby and Ragan.  WUS Coed team, sans Keith Knipling.  Photo by Bobby "Cross Fit" Gill.

There's Keith.  Photo by Robert Fabia.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Woodley Ultra Society!

Saturday’s Bull Run Run 50 team event should add even more levity to what will be a great time on local trails in Northern Virginia.  The registered Woodley Ultra Society’s (WUS) teams will have other cohorts scrambling; esteemed [de facto] WUS Prez, Keith Knipling, caused something of an in-group hullabaloo thanks to resourceful last-minute runner allocation aimed at vanquishing all other companies.  Here is the page for all of the registered teams.  Keith, Ragan, Gaby and I represent the coed team front as, you guessed it, “WUS Coed”.  Kerry, Justine, Michele and Zsuzsanna comprise the WUS female squad, creatively titled “WUS Female”.  The male squad, of which there are two, “WUS” and “WUS2” (we need a new name czar), round out the entire WUS ensemble with Aaron, Matt, Mario and Mitchell on one team and Doug, Tom, Art and Joe on the other.  The biggest stand out named above has to be Matt Woods- look for him to cross the finish line first in my estimation.   The other runners named above are all strong and hopefully everyone is excited and ready for a good time and a valiant effort.  Saturday will be my first go at racing Bull Run, much less running over the trails, so I am doubly excited.
The plan for the next few days is to trim down the mileage prior to Saturday and attempt a mini-taper, if that is possible.  I fully expect not to be tapered but do plan to run strong for as long as I am able and to serve “WUS Coed” to the best of my tired legs’ abilities.  Sunday morning’s run, followed by a rather intense yoga session at Down Dog in Georgetown, capped a healthy training week at 112 miles.  On 6am Saturday morning I arrived at Buck Hallow, just west of Sperryville, Virginia off of Route 211 in the Shenandoah National Forrest.  It was dark still so I ran to the top of Route 211 without a flashlight, crested at Skylike Drive, then branched south on to the Appalachian Trail and up to Mary’s Rock to catch the sunrise; it did not disappoint.  This venture also rewarded another prize: not far below the ridgeline two inches of fresh powder laid ready in wait.  From the top of Mary’s Rock I cruised back down along the east side hallow trails practically to the base of Old Rag then up again to the Appalachian Trail, north back to Mary’s Rock, and finally down the technical 3.5 miles or so to Buck Hallow.  30 miles, 5 hours 20 minutes, 7,500 feet or so of climbing and I was back at the car.  Overall, it was another glorious day in the Blue Ridge Mountains.  I maintained a casual and pleasant pace the entire way and enjoyed the scenery as much as possible, which explains why I managed to roll my left ankle for a second time in only three days.  Thankfully it feels much better and doubt it will be much of a concern by this weekend.  Saturday’s last romp in the snow for the winter of 2011 was as equally surprising as this evening’s very warm run in a singlet.  Go figure on the spring weather around here.
Here is a neat little tune aptly named Blue Ridge Mountains, by Fleet Floxes, which –in the video- pictures many a mountain that are distinctly non-Blue Ridge.  But I’ve always enjoyed this little ditty.  And here also is to the many more runs in the Blue Ridge Mountains this spring, summer and fall.  Snow, heat, rain or sunshine, it doesn't matter, I'm looking forward to them all.