Sunday, April 29, 2012

The value of Drymax socks

Recently I folded clothes after a wash and while pairing socks scattered over my bed I scanned through the various Drymax pairs I own.  Among them were the Drymax Trails, Lite Trails (¼ crews and mini crews) and Maximum Protection Trails.  I matched up the socks and placed them into a drawer along with the others.  At this point I scanned the other Drymax pairs already lying in the drawer.  I pulled them out and unmatched pairs attempting to find holes, signs of wear or whether I could even tell which individual socks I’ve run 100 mile races in.  It dawned on me that I have never thrown away or gotten rid of a single pair of Drymax and on this day, for the life of me, I couldn’t even tell an older Drymax sock from a new one; much less a new pair of Drymax from a pair that I ran a 100 mile race in last year.
In 2010 I accidentally wore the same pair of shoes at Wasatch that I ran with at Western States earlier in the summer.  This was a huge mistake because after 30 miles at Wasatch my feet were hurting- from the balls of my feet up through the metatarsals.  They ached.  The shoes no longer offered the same protection and comfort that they used to- especially while I ran through some of the more rocky sections of the Wasatch course.  Running 100 mile mountain races with a lot of elevation gain and loss take a lot out of a shoe- any shoe.  I will never run more than one 100 mile race in a single pair of shoes ever again.  I knew it then but, like I said, this was an accident.  Point is, shoes are obviously one of the more costly items we runners churn through each year.  The more we run and race the more we wear out our shoes and need to replace them.  In my experience, Drymax wear much differently than a pair of shoes.  They last longer.  I would have no problem running multiple 100 mile races in a single pair of Drymax.  That’s right, a single pair.  I am that confident in their durability.
If you’re like me you place a certain amount of value on the hard earned money you bring home at the end of the day.  Saving your money is paramount and so is spending it on products and services that are worthwhile and lasting.  I’ll be honest, Drymax socks are not the cheapest running sock on the market but they last like no other I’ve ever known.  Drymax feel good on your feet and protect them from moisture, blistering, hot spots, etc.  In fact, Drymax is so confident in their product that they offer a customer Guarantee.  Plus, they’re made right here, in the good ole USA.  If you’re in the market for new running socks think about giving Drymax a try.  I’m confident your feet will thank you.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Shuffling the race deck

Finally, I’m down from the will-I or won’t-I run Massanutten fence.  And my decision is that I am not going to run it.  Western is the focus through June and that means not sacrificing torn quad muscles and critical training weeks that would otherwise occur if I chose to run the race.  The irony of running Massanutten, and all the pain that goes with it, is that I really enjoy the race- which is basically why I have been hesitant up until now to relinquish my entry.  This event gives me a great deal of pleasure, especially in the weeks post-race while my shredded feet and quads are on the mend.  In those weeks my mind constantly swims backstroke, reliving the rocky moments of running 102 miles through the Massanutten Mountains.  For now, though, I have decided to assume the role of pleasure delayer through June and patiently wait the days and weeks until Western comes and goes, so I can spend the first few weeks of July reliving that race in my mind as the cherry 100 of 2012.
In the meantime, I will run Promise Land tomorrow.  This event comes highly recommended from everyone I know that has run it.  This year the field is stacked with competition and comprises the largest number of entrants ever assembled for an ultra in Virginia.  Plus, it’s a hard, beautiful course- so I hear and read- and to finish on the podium will require following the route on a red line the entire way.   I’m trying not to think about it; when I do my hands start shaking.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Proposed area FKT routes

There are a handful of commonly known and popular mountain trail running routes near Charlottesville that have been on my mind for some time.  These routes are well documented in books, maps, online, and with on site trail markings.  Each route offers varying terrain- some with big climbs-, scenic views and technical footing.  Plus, their proximity to populated areas via main roads with convenient parking lots further enhances their popularity.  These routes are so well known among the Virginia hiking, trail and ultra running set that is surprises me how few, if any, FKTs have been set on them.  And those routes that do have FKTs are in need (in my opinion) of new contesting.  I hereby propose the following routes as prime real estate for those looking to create new standards on the Virginia FKT mountain trail scene.
Old Rag
Loop route: Starting at the upper parking lot "Ridge Trail Trailhead" -> clockwise loop starting south along the Ridge Trail to the summit of Old Rag -> to Saddle Trail -> north on Weakley Hollow Fire Road -> to Upper Parking lot.  Total mileage:  6.8 to 7.  Total elevation:  2,500+.  See map of course here.
Starting off with a bang here because not only am I unfamiliar with an FKT of any sort on this route but because Old Rag is one of Virginia’s premiere day hikes.  Old Rag offers a challenging initial summit climb, ridgeline bouldering and a fast descent.  At first the descent is very technical and all switch backs, then it opens up completely to a fast few miles of gravel road downhill.  Surely, a fun way to finish off a race or speedy attempt of any kind.  In terms of an FKT, Old Rag is short enough, yet equally long enough, and technical enough, to level a playing field among runners of all skill sets, including speed hikers, climbers and the hard-nosed, mountain ultra runners (like yours truly).  I’ve hiked, speed hiked, run and speed run this route well over a dozen times through the years but never once kept a log of how fast.
A typical view from atop Old Rag.  Gaby, early Fall '03.  Photographer: me.

A somewhat atypical rock formation atop Old Rag.

Getting in my 8 hours, several years early.
Priest and Three Ridges
Route: Route 56 car lot -> north on AT -> loop counter clockwise on to Mauhur Trail -> back to car lot on 56 (12ish miles). -> Then south on AT straight up to Priest summit ridge meadow and right back to car lot (10 miles).  Total elevation:  8,000+. 
In Virginia, for ultrarunners, the Priest and Three Ridges is synonymous with “Hardrock training”.  Moreover, the hallowed ground of the Priest and Three Ridges (and TWOT for that matter) is big mountain trail running in Virginia.  It doesn’t get bigger and it doesn't get much badder.  I’ve only run the Priest and Three Ridges twice and I can’t wait to go back.  Fortunately, the trailhead is located only an hour’s drive from my house so hopefully this summer I'll get in a few more visits.  I heard recently Jonathan Basham once completed the route in the 3:56 ballpark.  I also heard David Horton, Bradley Mongold and a handful of others have run the double.  I wonder if anyone has logged more loops on Priest and Three Ridges trails than Horton?  I can’t say that I’ll ever make it to the Priest and Three Ridges fresh enough or wanting enough to challenge a sub four hour circum-out-and-back loop yet, I fully acknowledge, running anything under four uninterrupted hours on this route would require an intense race pace effort, at a minimum.
The Priest.  Photo courtesy of Virginia Trails Adam.
TWOT (The Wild Oak Trail)
Loop route: description here.  Total mileage:  25.6.  Total elevation:  8,000 to 9,000.

In 2011, Harrisonburg's David Frazier established a new one-loop TWOT record, in the counter-clockwise direction, in 4:22.  Mike Morton and Courtney Campbell once equally held the single loop record in 4:23.  This loop (part of the Grindstone course) definitely piques my interest.  Iron-Keith Knipling maintains the 4-Loop record in 27:11.  Dennis Herr's TWOT event is the place for an FKT effort because if you're skilled enough to run under 4:22 it would be nice to have a witness!
David Frazier, slightly nervous about his record run yet to begin?  Photo by Quatro Hubbard.

The Ring (or The Reverse Ring)
Loop course: the route here.  Clockwise or Counterclockwise.  Total mileage: 71.  Total elevation:  God knows.

The best option for an attempt at The Ring/Reverse Ring is to actually sign up for The Ring.  May as well get aid while you go for the FKT, no?  As of February, 2011 Dan Rose is the current record holder of The Reverse Ring.  14:57.  He re-set Keith Knipling’s 2009 Reverse Ring time by a whopping one minute.  Keith still holds the record for The Ring.  14:46.
Mary’s Rock via Buck Hallow
The route: map here.  From the parking lot on the east side of SNP at the bottom of 211 (just west of Sperryville) -> straight up Buck Hallow Trail -> cross Skyline Drive -> Meadow Spring Trail -> north on AT -> summit Mary’s Rock.  Total mileage: 5ish+/-.  Total elevation: < 3,000.
What list of FKT proposals would be complete without a pure climbing route up a mountain?  Mary’s Rock via Buck Hallow is a solid option.  The route is mostly runnable, though very technical.  I’ve run this a handful of times.  My best ever time on this route is 50:15 (in conjunction with a long run, and while wearing a hip pack and two full 20oz. bottles).  I believe a sub-45 minute job would be nothing short of amazing.
Appalachian Trail inside Shenandoah National Park
The route: northern SNP boundary near Front Royal -> south to the southern boundary at Jarmin Gap.  Or a reverse of that.  Total mileage: 100 +/-? 

The Grand Puba of all Virginia trails in our area National Parks: The AT inside the SNP.  Though I’ve had this route on my mind for about two years I also know David Frazier and Andy Jones-Wilkins are equally interested in staking an FKT claim.  Sue Johnston ran this route just recently and reminded me that the AT at the northern SNP border does not begin at the Skyline Drive Entrance Station south of Front Royal.  A quick glance at an SNP map reveals that the AT within SNP technically begins at a park section panhandle just north of Low Gap.  To keep an AT SNP FKT effort pure, this means extra miles in the beginning hiking to the start.
Sophie Speidel's report from last year's three-day AT SNP fun run details the route as 111 miles.  I'm not sure if her route includes starting from the panhadle section I mentioned above.  I also think she and company continued down to Rockfish Gap, instead of ending their AT journey at Jarman Gap.  That said, I'm not sure what the exact mileage figure is; much less the elevation gain/loss.  I've heard and read stories of a few others doing (and attempting) this route, too, (including the only true official FKT runner I know of, Matt Kirk) however I know of nothing that makes a new, commanding FKT standard seem out of reach.  An eventual faster (than Matt's), race pace FKT benchmark of this route is only a question of who will do it and when.
Rivanna Trail
As of February, there is a new Sheriff in town.  Step right up, ladies and germs!

Other notable Central Virginia FKT options
Vicki’s Death March.  Kerry’s Death March.  Brown Town Loop. If interested in running or knowing more about these loops I suggest doing your homework and joining the VHTRC.
What else?
What other worthy area FKT options am I missing?  Does this stuff even matter to Virginia mountain trail runners?  To me, it does.

Monday, April 16, 2012

2012 Bull Run Run 50 race report

I love returning to run a race that I ran the previous year.  There is almost no better benchmark to gauge one’s fitness than to return to a familiar course, give it another shot and see how the measurements shake out.  This year I fully expected to return to the Bull Run Run 50 (BRR) in better shape than last April, when I ran 6:44 and squeaked out a second place finish by a whisker’s distance.
The race began at 6:30am sharp with a “go!” from RD, Anstr Davidson, and moments later it was just me and Brian Rusiecki, apart from the field.  We disappeared into the woods from Hemlock Park, race start and finish area, and ran down the first long hill towards the Occoquan River.  11 minutes into the race, following Brian too closely down the hill, I executed ankle roll number one.  Apparently in the blur of Brian’s back and North Face running belt and bottle right in front of me I failed to see one of the million little booby trap rocks lying in wait to snag a toe or hang a heel.  The limping began immediately and so I backed off the pace until we reached the bottom of the hill and the river.  I never said a word- at least I thought I hadn’t- because I didn’t want to expose a weakness to Brian.  Though he figured something had happened I later realized.  By the time we crossed the first creek the conversational sounds of trailing runners were not far off but there were no sightings of anyone in our rear view.
The ups and downs of the tall bluff hills and single track came and went.  Brian and I chatted.  My ankle throbbing subsided.  Brian led with a strong pace and I was content to hang on his wheel.  We reached the first aid station, then ran the final few miles to the out and back turnaround where we couldn’t help but notice Jason Lantz only a minute or two off our rear.  By the time we reached the second aid station we each felt strong and warmed up.  The cool morning air slowly warmed up, the sun shinned.  It was a beautiful day for a long run in the woods.  Seeing so many runners coming at us as we made our way back to Hemlock was a nice pick-me-up.  It’s definitely a good thing to see and be around other runners in a race.  That is what competition is all about, of course.  Sometimes out front in an ultra the only company a runner has are the volunteers when passing through aid stations.  It’s not always easy to know how I’m really holding up when all alone.  By comparing myself to others on the course I know- I’m either stronger or not, feeling better or not, etc., etc.  Not long before the short and steep climb back into Hemlock to round out the first out-and-back section of BRR at mile 16 I looked up to a friend and race volunteer, Tom Corris, standing by the trail and as I did rolled the same ankle a second time.  Ouch.  I was not happy about the first roll.  This second one really ticked me off.  I limped along again for a few moments and this time Brian knew what was up.  Oh well, so much for keeping a lid on my weaknesses.  Brian would eventually pull away in the race anyway I figured, I only wanted to contain him from doing so for as long as possible.
Up the hill we went to Hemlock.  Mile 16 at BRR is the only place where a runner can access a drop bag and so some sort of calorie carrying waste pack is a must from this point forward.  I guzzled coconut water, switched out a hand held, clipped on a waste pack loaded with Clif gels and chased Brian back into the woods.  Funny thing is Brian mistakenly thought I was already gone and so he was chasing me.  I wondered why he ran out of there so fast!  My watch timer read 2:02.  We again reached the Occoquan River, only this time turned left and followed it south.  Moments later the bluff hills returned.  They kept us company and kept us working all day.
When it comes to running, short distances or long, I’m fairly certain in knowing my weaknesses.  Speed is one of them.  Ultras provide an excellent competitive landscape for runners lacking in speed because so many other strengths frequently play a role.  Over the next several miles Brian continued running hard and I held on.  I never felt as though the pace was so blistering that I might fall off or blow up but I also knew that if I wasn’t chasing Brian I wouldn’t be running this hard on my own.  It was an eye opener for me in that now I understood where the lead guys and gals in many races –short and long- go to, mentally and physically, to deliver the kind of top performances that they do.  Some refer to it as the ‘pain cave’.  Brian and I were not quite there, I figured, but we were knocking at the cellar door.
I’ve always been more or less content to plop along in races a few places or so off the lead and not deal with the mental stresses and physical pain that follow a ‘pain cave’ effort.  Or maybe I always thought I was already in that place, only for me the basement levels didn’t reach quite as deep underground as they do for others.  I realize now that is not the case.  One can always go deeper, only in order to do so one must surrender completely- surrender to the pain, surrender to the idea that things might not work out and- even more importantly- believe that things will work out.
Foutainhead aid station at mile 28 is a lively place of volunteers and race spectators.  It is also the final aid station before reaching the notorious “Do Loop” and the final looping terminus of the southern turnaround section at BRR.  As Brian and I neared Fountainhead Jason Lantz caught us.  He was running well.  I figured Jason had either (a) slept the night before unlike last year at Grindstone or (b) wasn’t hungover unlike at Massanutten.  Or perhaps he was faster thanks to a lighter and shapelier hair load.  Either way, the boy came to play and I was annoyed that I would now have to chase two runners instead of one.  Shortly after Fountainhead I stopped to leak and Brian and Jason pulled away from me in an instant.   Damn it.  For 30 miles I work my tail off chasing a runner, stop for 20 seconds and then must spend the next 25 minutes or so chasing them back down.  Argh!

Brian and Jason entering the Do Loop.  Photo by Stefan Fedyschyn.
Entering the Do Loop.  Photo also by Stefan Fedyschyn.
Heading into the Do Loop is when I caught back up to Brian and Jason.  We plodded our way through the nasty, up and down, cambered, unrecognizable, leafy trail sections that is the Do Loop.  Brian continued to set the pace.  Eventually, finally, we made it out.  Exiting the Do Loop is what Tough Mudders must feel like after a shower.  It feels so good to be done.
Overall I knew mine, Brian’s and Jason’s time was good in shape, though we did slow a bit in the Do Loop.  It put a hurt on us, no doubt about it.  We blasted through Fountainhead a second time, at mile 38, and not long after the actual “race” unfolded.  I ran out of Fountainhead first until moments later Brian yanked the reigns from me to assume the lead, which he would hold for the remainder of the day.  Shortly after, the three of us spread out.  Jason slowly peeled off from my rear.  Brian had more pep on the hills and slowly disappeared out front.  He went on to finish in 6:14.  As I said, I waited all day for Brian to pull away.  Could I have dug down another level and held on?  Perhaps.  But most likely still I would have finished second anyway, just with a slightly faster time than 6:23.  Jason finished in 6:34 after apparently barfing several times on the course.

Coming into Wolf Run Shoals inbound.  Photographer extraordinaire: Bobby Gill.

Same thing.

Brian, bringing it home.  Photo by Bobby Gill.
A second place finish overall and first place male team finish is something I am very proud.  Last year I came in second but my time this year was faster.  The course this year was also dry and tacky, unlike last year, but the temperatures were considerably warmer.  All in all, I think the test results prove that I am more fit than last year and that is nice to see.    
As it turns out, my time was the 5th the fastest ever on the course and fastest ever non-winning time.  (For what it's worth...)  Hopefully one year I can show up at BRR in really good form and win.  We’ll see.  At this point, it’s on my goal-list.  Or at least it would be if I had one.
Aliza Lapierre crushed her own course record and finished 7th overall in 7:05.  She is a Salomon team runner and a super strong one at that.  The two times I saw Aliza on the course she appeared in control, content and completely unpressured.
The remainder of the day was spent chillin’ in the sun, eating, drinking, socializing and being merry.  The post race bbq at BRR was probably the best post-race party scene I’ve ever enjoyed after an ultra.  Maybe it is because I have so many friends in VHTRC and WUS who were in attendance it seemed there was an unlimited number of people to catch up and share war stories with.  It was an excellent day of running and socializing at BRR.  The race is such an enjoyable, friendly, well organized event.  It has me thinking hard about MMT and what a waste it would be not to run it.

Racing feels good.  Finishing feels great.  Photo by Bobby Gill.
Left to right: me, Brian and Jason.  Photo by Bobby Gill.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The other 50 miler this weekend

If you read Karl’s blog it would appear that all the king’s horses and all the king’s men will be at the Lake Sonoma 50 this Saturday.  My brother Paul is running the race also, so three cheers for Cornbread.  I think the runner with the freshest legs and sharpest racing tactics will win this one.  It will be a burner, no doubt.  Good luck to everyone in Cali.
On the right coast, we’ll have a bit of fun ourselves this weekend at Bull Run (BRR).  WUS teams of course will be in full effect.  Check out the team line up here.  Similar to last year’s BRR I chopped off the training volume as of Saturday so hopefully I'll have some pep in the legs.  The temperatures are forecast as warm for Saturday and that will definitely be a factor this early in the year.
Since moving away from DC, and if you read Ultra Running Magazine, it might appear that I have lost my WUS stripes; as if my letters are literally being stripped from me.  Come Saturday, ready or not, heat or not, I’m bringing my game.  Gotta earn that “S” back!
Surprisingly, this did not cause a humorous stir inside WUS.  Nope.  Nothing. Not at all.  Zippy.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Cville 10 Miler and Recovery

Yesterday at the Charlottesville 10 miler I had a breakthrough race for 2012.  Not because of any sort of brilliant or super speedy performance but because the race, being 10 miles of rolling pavement, is a challenging early season fitness test.  One that doesn’t just qualify speed, endurance and racing smarts but also verifies recoverability- or at least it proved as that kind of race for me.   After a three mile warm up in darkness to arrive at the race start before the 7:10am gun, I eventually finished the race in a time of 1:01:56 for 21st place overall while somehow also managing to come in first in my 35-39 age group.  The finish also gave me a 10 mile road PR, though it was only my second attempt at the distance.  All good things, I think, especially considering how damn hilly the course is.  Though, again, I realize it was certainly not a brilliant or speedy performance.  I got smoked by the fast road boys yet again.  I always have and I always will at these kinds of events.
During March, I often felt like my volume and recovery were locked in a dueling tango and each day’s run felt sluggish, as if the kinks were never quite worked out from the previous day.  With three months of mostly consistent running in the books for 2012, I feel like things finally clicked yesterday in terms of my volume and recovery reaching some sort of parallel.  And so I was able to show up at the 10 miler, even with a big week of running under my belt and sore legs, and put together a hard effort with comfortable ease.  Bingo!  Like the promise of spring, recovery turnover has returned.  The magic recipe of mixing equal parts volume with recovery is the ultimate truth in ultrarunning and racing success.  It also happens to make training more fun because feeling good each new day, while getting in quality runs and improving is what we all strive to do .  This is no secret.  The only secret is how to unlock this truth within ourselves, each new season.