Bradley's View

Bradley's View

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Looking Ahead In The Rearview

     To me, the holiday season/New Year's shuffle is a really funny time.  It is often associated with unruly, stress-inducing shenanigans , copious amounts time in the car, social fatigue that is often attributed to too much family time, among other symptoms.  Yet I also find that it is also the time that I am most adequately composed to truly pause and reflect on the year past and not-so-distant future that is the year ahead.  If I was to try to do this on, say, August 12th, I would probably find myself reflecting on the summer and the kick-off of autumn but so caught up in the conveyor belt of calendar days that I can't truly recalibrate my mind to focus on all that lies ahead in the light of what has happened; looking ahead in the rearview, you might say.

     I can say comfortably and confidently that 2011 has been the best year of my life.  I've set and achieved goals: 1) running longer distances  2) running faster 3)running faster over longer distances 4) graduating from college 5) exploring the place that I live.  Meanwhile I came face to face with nearly unbearable difficulties and disappointments (namely an injury leading to months of not running followed by an grueling, unwaveringly demanding semester of school).  There is no doubt that every experience, positive and negative has shed a great deal of light on me and my character, something that will indudablemente aid me in plotting plans to achieve the moderately-rational, whimsical dreams I consistently conjure up.  Which brings me to the coming months:

     Guiding myself into a consistent training regime has me with high hopes leading into 2012.  I lay them out so forwardly as this with hopes of providing reinforcement in the coming months when the going gets tough.  Like they always say, "when the going gets tough, the tough run through it" or something like that...

  •      In January I plan to tackle a couple of ultra-distance endeavors.  First, the Tanawha Marathon followed a couple of weeks later by the Sultan 50k+.
  •      February will be headlined by the Rattle My Heart 50k.
  •      March will be the culmination of several months of work with a goal of traversing the 77 mile Foothills Trail in under 20 hours.
  •      In April I intend to join the WNC Trailrunners in another running of the Linville Gorge Madness Marathon
  •      June will feature an adventure to upstate NY to visit the in-laws and run in the Finger Lakes 50 with intentions of topping my personal best.
  •      July and August have no adventures to note, but lots of training...
  •      September 14th I am going to embark on my first ever 100 mile run in Steamboat Springs, CO, the Run Rabbit Run 100
  •      Confession:  Though the 100 seems monumental in my running "career", I think of it as more of a training run.  All of the above is simply preparation for the running of the Pitchell 100k++!!

     Though brief, bland, and trite, that was one of the more fun things I've ever written!  Every day is exciting!  My new year's resolution, I am deciding right now, is to try not to let my head and heart get too far ahead of my body.

    Like some wise man once said, "You cannot dream yourself into a character; you must hammer and forge yourself one."

     That being said, I go into the new year with a newfound diligence regarding my training which hits on but is not limited to, milage, minutes, mental and physical fatigue and ongoing issues.  Using this I will learn more about this body-machine thing I've been blessed with and how I can make it run most effectively.
      I have the utmost confidence that with the incessant love and support of my beautiful wife, Melissa, my family, friends, and others I meet, this will shape up to be an even better year than the last.  And I'm sure the running will continue to improve, too.  Especially as long as I have great running companions who are always going to be a few strides faster than me (i.e: Adam, Luna)!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Week In Review: 12/19-12/25

It finally feels like winter is coming! I didn't get a long run in this week, but was able to get in several runs and a whole lot of enjoyment while exploring new trails through snow and ice up in upstate NY.  A great week that has ended with a tender left shin and a desire for a long run as I get back to the Asheville area.

12/19- Monday
      AM- 5 miles in about 42 minutes with Luna around my parents neighborhood in Winston-Salem.  IT-Bands were quite uncomfortable, nothing felt quite right...

12/20- Tuesday
      Rested in hopes of shaking off the sluggishness felt during the last two runs

12/21- Wednesday
      AM- Slugishness shaken!  ~7.5 mile Fitness Test in Bent Creek in 54 minutes.  First 3 or 4 miles with Mike Jackson, Luna was there through and through.  Felt great about the day's work- could easily go faster.
      PM- 12 miles biking around West Asheville with Lauren

12/22- Thursday
      AM- 6.4 miles in 1:40ish up and down Looking Glass Rock with Melissa and Luna.  The rain waited to come in until we had arrived back at the car.

12/23- Friday
      AM- ~7 miles of bushwhacking, running the Parkway and MST with Tim in 1:50 around Craggy Gardens
      PM-  4 miles with Luna at Carrier Park in 26:20

12/24- Saturday
      14 hours of driving to arrive safe and sound in upstate NY
12/25- Sunday
      AM- 4 miles with Luna in 35 minutes.  Great running through the snow in about 13 degree weather!
      PM- 5.5 miles with Mel and Luna in about 50 minutes- left shin really aching during this one...
      A very, very, merry Christmas!

Me and the ladies in front of Grass Lake.
Running on thin ice... literally.

Totals(just running)-39.5 miles, 6 hours 50 minutes

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Week In Review: 12/12-12/18

     I've gotten in a really fun week of running while working a few hours at the Black Mountain Running Company, graduating from college, and spending some quality time with a while lot of family: immediate, in-laws, and out-laws alike.  So here's the recap:

12/12- Monday
    AM- 7 miles in 1:10 at Salem Lake with the dad and Luna
     PM- 5.5 miles in 40 minutes around Lake Tomahawk with Luna

12/13- Tuesday
   PM- .55 miles... Should have eaten after trying to run...

12/14- Wednesday
    AM- 9 miles in 1:12 at Bent Creek/Arboretum with Luna.  Great morning workout, finished strong.

12/15- Thursday
    AM- 2.5 miles around the Black Balsam area with Mel and Luna in about 30 minutes.
    Later in the AM- 2.5 miles on the MST from Elk Pasture Gap in 15:30

Mel on the move!

Someones in a hurry...

12/16- Friday
     PM- ~6 miles in 51 minutes with Adam at the Blue Ridge Assembly.  Climbtastic, mudilacious, and funboyant.

12/17- Saturday
    AM- Graduation!
Got it!

12/18- Sunday
    PM- ~14 miles at Salem Lake in 1:50 with Luna.  First loop in :56, second in :54.  Good even effort.  The Inov-8s became less agreeable as the run went on.  IT-Bands were unhappy...

 47 miles, ~6 hours 30 minutes

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Week In Review: 12/5-12/11

     I decided to bounce back the miles this week after completing my first ultra distance in sometime.  Next week I intend to breech into a 40 mile week and I don't foresee myself looking back after that.

12/05- Monday
After working up a nagging stone bruise and at the pleading of lingering fatigue in the legs from the Art Loeb, I elected to take this one off and start the week on Tuesday.

12/06- Tuesday
AM- Grocery Run (quite literally) with Mel and Luna, about 2 miles in 20 minutes.  Wore the Mizuno-clunkers to pad the bruise, it felt alright
PM-4.2 miles in 28:09 at Carrier Park.  Tested out the new Inov-8 Roclite 285s with little irritation to the stone bruise.

12/07- Wednesday
Where did the time go?!  With final projects and papers due Thursday, I just couldn't get a workout in.

12/08- Thursday
PM- 5.5 miles in 50 minutes, mostly on trail around UNCA with Mel and Luna in the Inov-8s

12/09- Friday
PM- ~7 miles in 53 minutes at The Dump with Adam and Luna, about mid-way through the stone bruise made its presence known

12/10- Saturday
AM- ~13 miles in ~2:40 with plenty of elevation (~3500 ft?) in Monteat.  Exhausting, stone bruise quite tender by the end.  Great running with some WNC Trailrunner folks.
Check out Lindsey and Tim's video and blogpost here!

12/11- Sunday
Day of relaxation with a heavy dose of inspiration watching Unbreakable at Fleet Feet Winston-Salem.

~31.75 miles, ~5 hours 15 minutes

Monday, December 5, 2011

Art Loeb Trail Adventure Run

Watch the video footage and view photos from the run!

       Like a kid on Christmas Eve, I was, on Friday night; restlessly resting my body as my mind was running way ahead.  Next thing I knew it was 4:00 AM and I was eating breakfast and putting myself in my Saturday morning's finest: running tights, shoes, and something to keep the ears warm.

       Only six days prior the plan had come into being(thanks Asheville Brewing Company!), and here we were at the Davidson River Campground poised for a 6:00 AM start on what would prove to be a day-long run of the 30+ mile 9000+ elevation gain route that is the Art Loeb Trail.  Hayley, Damien, Lindsey, Tim, Rob, a couple of dogs, Kirra and Luna, and myself took off at 6:00 on the dot.  Melissa gave us encouraging beeps of the horn as she drove away from Pisgah National Forest after dropping us off.

      We followed closely the glow of our headlamps as we wound our way up the initial climbs and descents while taking the time to glance down at the lights of the buildings and cars that looked like reflections of the stars that shined so pretty and bright that night...  Then it was daytime...

      The warmth of the sun came and went as we wrapped around from the east to the west of varying peaks and bobbed along ridges.  During the first 18 miles of the run we would be knocking out the vast majority of the climbing for the day.  After the burly climb up Pilot Mountain, which resulted in a beautiful view allowing us to really relish in the fantastic weather we'd been blessed with, and the ascent to the parkway we were ready to rest a bit.

      Rob and I had biked in on the Blue Ridge Parkway the day prior and dropped off a few gallons of water and some snacks, which we graciously indulged in upon arrival.  After a 20 minute or so break we took off again, legs and bodies feeling mostly rejuvenated.  A short and steep ~500 ft climb immediately following the break humbled us immediately.  Fortunately the flat stretches that followed enabled us to stretch out the legs and find a rhythm for a while.

     The ascent up the balds (Black Balsam and Tenant Mountain among them) led to awe-inspiring views.  After a brief stint of bushwacking after taking the wrong trail out of a confusing intersection I found myself mentally and physically drained.  Hopping down the wildly technical trail from rock to rock wore heavily on my feet, which were scarcely protected by the minimalist Nike Zoom Streak XCs I'd elected to wear, and I felt an inkling of a stone bruise beginning to form on my right forefoot.  I continued pushing forward with Rob for a couple or three miles through an overpowering desire to curl up and take a nap (we'd been on our feet for over 6 and a half hours at this point).

     Rob was moving strong despite having legs decorated with cuts from the bushwacking excursion and it was in his best interest to move ahead of me while his energy was still at a high.

    The next 5 or 6 miles were grueling and technical, most notably the stretch through the Narrows.  At last I arrived to Deep Gap along the side of Cold Mountain.  From here I knew it was about 3.5 miles downhill to the terminus and surely I could run it strong(I had been looking forward to it for hours).  But, alas, a combination of 8 hours of hard work and continual pounding of the stonebruise I'd worked up made managing even 12 minute miles a daunting task.

     Slowly but surely, I made it down the exquisitely beautiful trail, which was consistently cut by chattering streams and wonderful waterfalls, to arrive at the Daniel Boone Boy Scout Camp in a time of 8 hours and 45ish minutes.  Rob and Luna had been there for about 15 minutes and, within an hour or so, the rest of the crew arrived and we enjoyed some Cold Mountain Winter Ale from Highland Brewing Company at the base of the namesake mountain.

      Some things I learned on this endeavor:
       1) Last minute adventure runs are a good idea
       2) There is nothing that helps recovery from a long day like good food and laughter with a group of great friends
       3) Luna is a more incredible runner than I will ever be
       4) Wearing racing flats on a mountainous ultramarathon does not serve my feet well in the long run(no pun intended)

Sunday, November 27, 2011

6th Annual Bent Creek Gobbler

      It was a pleasure, as always, to gather with a group of WNC trailrunners new and old for the 6th Annual Bent Creek Gobbler.  The run is designed as a ~50k that runs in a figure-8, the first loop is about 16 miles and the second is about 14.  The weather was impeccable and the forest beautiful.

      Having run the Turkey Strut just a couple of days prior, I was uncertain as to how many miles my body would be interested in putting on and how hard I would be able to run due to the lingering soreness in the lower legs.

       We took off at about 9:30.  I ran with the speedsters in the lead pack, Luna wouldn't have had it any other way.  The first couple of miles were great, rolling along South Ridge Road slowly gaining elevation.  Shortly thereafter I was deterred for 6 or 8 minutes to wait for Luna while she pursued a deer for who knows how far down the north face of the mountain.  By the time she returned we fell into place with the other group of runners who brought with them smiles and great conversation.  Upon reaching the Mountains-to-Sea trail at its intersection with Hard Times Road, Luna and I worked hard up the climbs on our way to the aid station where we refilled the water bottle and met up with Jason and his dog, River.

      Jason led the way for the next few miles with the two dogs at his heels and me trailing their tails close behind.  We had a speedy march up a couple of climbs and enjoyed the fantastic descent heading down Truckwheel Mountain to one of my favorite stretches of trail- the ~4 miles from there up to Bent Creek Gap.  Around here I took over the lead position and pushed the pace on and off with the dogs and Jason running as strong as can be, which provided great motivation to keep me working hard.  About a mile or so out from Bent Creek Road we came up behind Brandon and Matt and hung with them until we reached the ~2 mile descent back to the start/finish area.

      After a few minutes of trotting on the downhill my arch-enemy, the IT-band, began to make its presence known so I turned to its kryptonite, running fast.  Luna and I turned up the speed to what was likely a sub-6:00 pace for the last mile/mile and a half to reach the start/finish after about 2 hours and 6-8 minutes of running.

      After scarfing a bit of food, contemplating the state of my IT-band, and being beckoned by beverages being chilled in the babbling brook, I elected to call it a day and not pursue the full 50k.

      As always, the post-run gathering was a delight Momma-Kirk got a nice fire burning and there were beverages and snacks to suit every taste.  The only breaks in conversation and laughter were to cheer for runners who were finishing the first loop and eventually those who finished the full 30 miles.

      It was the last big group fun-run of 2011 and a huge success.  Definitely looking forward to getting faster and stronger as we move forwards to all the great runs plotted out for 2012!


Friday, November 25, 2011

A Calligram

Turkey Strut

      We awoke to a beautiful Thanksgiving morning in Winston-Salem.  The pre-run breakfast/snack slowly settled as the thermometer creeped its way up to 40 degrees.  Melissa, my dad and I laced up our shoes, reproached our already aching bodies and jogged a mile warm-up from the house to the starting line.

      It was certainly a family affair!  At the start/finish area there were 800 people; families, dogs, strollers and the likes in all quarters.  I lament to say that I did not realize dogs' participation was permitted until after the race was over, so Luna did not get to join in on the fun.

      The course was 5k with a few good climbs and through familiar terrain winding past my alma mater and through the neighborhood of my teenage years.  I had the pleasure of running into a couple of friends of old from the lacrosse team at Reynolds as well as a number of other friends and acquaintances.  It is always a pleasure to return home.

     During high school I had been a member of the Cross-Country team for a season, though I elected to practice(train) only a couple of times a week manifesting a PR of a whopping 22:22 5k.  That was the last 5k that I had run, about 6 years ago.  Needless to say, my intentions were to wipe that time off the slates and replace it with something, ideally, around 20 minutes.

      And we were off!  The race poured downhill for the first mile or so before entering a climb-descent-flat combo and a final mile to get us back up to the starting point.  I unfortunately do not have a good internal gauge of pace, so I found a rhythm after the initial descent that didn't allow me to get winded but also did not allow anyone to pass me.  I maintained this pretty comfortably, working really hard on the climbs and using flat sections or descents to recalibrate my heartrate.  After the last climb, a little over a quarter mile from the finish probably, fatigue really began to set in.  But great folks out cheering, among who were my mother, my aunt, a cousin, and Luna, made it a painless push to the finish.
      I managed to pull in at 14th place with a 19:14 finish time(~6:12/mile), which was good enough for 1st place in the 20-24 age group.  I could scarcely have been more delighted with the morning.  My dad and Melissa were both able to surprise themselves out there as well running their personal bests!!

      As you may expect, we had a recovery meal to remember with about a dozen family members crowded around the table giving thanks for each other and the wonderful communities and endless opportunities life brings our way!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Short And Sweet!

     Last week I caught wind of the FootRx Asheville Cross Country Series.  Unfortunately, by the time I came up to speed, so to speak, there were only two races remaining.  So, with my recent speed work(of sorts), I decided that a shorter race could be a great way to test myself and serve as a nice diagnostic test for what I can ask of myself and what goals I can set for the next months of training.

      So race #9 of the series it was.  The stage was Jackson Park in Hendersonville.  Another place worth checking out if you find yourself in the area.  The course was very much a cross country course featuring running through grassy fields, a couple of short stints on asphalt, and predominantly on wide trails.  The race was a 6k, about three times shorter than any race I'd run prior.  Given my inexperience in running short distances I was aloof as to what to expect with regards to my performance, but I knew I'd work my hardest.

      At the starting line I met a few of the runners and was informed as to who the top-runners in the group would be, and then the race had started.  I found myself seeking to stay on the tail of the two notorious frontrunners in the group and was able to keep the gap within about 15 yards for the first kilometer where a cramp led to a little faltering in my speed.

      As we entered the woods I was able to regain a little peace of mind and began to push myself through a couple of quick kilometers.  In the open spaces the two leaders were still in sight, but I didn't have a whole lot more to offer that would allow me to catch them.  Thus, I settled into to a pace that was still very quick for me hoping to ensure that I wouldn't be passed by anyone.

      In the final kilometer or so fatigue really set in and the cramp in my side returned more vigorously that before.  But through the final couple of hills I was able to keep up a reasonable pace and come to the finish line just where I had started, in 3rd place!

      Running "fast" in a race was a very new experience for me.  I have always worked hard in races from half marathon to 50 miles and, don't get me wrong, it exhausts you, but to keep up a fast pace throughout a short race brings about a totally different type of fatigue.

      It felt great to finish.  The top two performers put on an amazing show finishing twenty seconds apart in the mid-22 minute range.  I pulled in two minutes behind at 24:48 (~6:21/mile) with the forth place finisher arriving a minute and a half after me.

      It was a great race to be apart of, a million thanks to Aaron Saft and the rest of the FootRx for the preparations and cheering they provided before and during the race.  And a million congratulations to all of the runners that worked hard and got to enjoy a beautiful day on a beautiful course.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Back On My Feet And Headed to Arkansas

     Have we discovered the silver bullet to avoid the frustration and pain of IT-Band injuries?  Doubtful.  But the last couple of weeks have been wonderful for me.  After foam-rolling myself to tears at least once daily, dedicated stretching/yoga every morning, and several hot baths, I was starting to see promise at the end of so much aggravation.  Adam and a couple of other running blogs led me to believe that running fast could thwart the symptoms of my injury that I was sure to experience after only 3 miles of running slow(er).

      I elected to heed these (potentially) wise words and give it a whirl.  Now, I must say, I've never been one for running "fast".  I tend to keep at conversational pace and run around a 7:20 pace for a half marathon.  So venturing into the realm of high-heartrate and jelly-legs was something new for me.  I tried to keep the majority of my workouts below a seven minute pace for a couple of weeks once I discovered the potential that this approach held.  At first I experienced several days of sore calves, as expected, but every workout I noted that my breathing became more controlled and I was able to find a rhythm in my stride and body motion that just made it feel easier.
      I took this mentality of speed over sprawl with me out west as Melissa, Luna, and I made our way to Arkansas to celebrate the marriage of my cousin, Matthew, and his new wife, Ana.  I must take this time to insert that I absolutely love my family and family get-togethers are always such a joyous time.

      Anywho, after spending some time in Arkansas and getting to run the trail in Jonesboro a few times (and hopping on the treadmill in the hotel), we took advantage of our time in unexplored territory and elected to do some adventuring in Western Kentucky.  We met up with my dear friend Blake and a new friend, Whitney, and spent the day climbing some relatively unused crags.  It had been a while since any of us had climbed so we did a few 5-8 sport routes and called it quits.

Climbing in Dawson Springs, KY

      Once we arrived back at Pennyrile State Resort Park where we were to camp and I immediately laced up my shoes and grabbed my headlamp for a night run.  The five of us (12 legs) headed down to check out the lake before sunset.  What a gem that park is, and a beautiful time of year to be there.  After playing some rigorous fetch into the lake for at least 30 minutes, I considered myself warmed up to depart on the run.
      This run was a ~4 mile loop around the lake that featured a few hills for the conquering.  It felt absolutely incredible.  Running at night is like that- just using one small headlight to see the ground 5 feet in front of you and simply relying on having faith and strength enough to push off with confidence into the darkness.  I truly felt as though I was riding the wind.

Warm-up Fetch Session

     The next day we started back east, only to stop again two short hours later at Mammoth Cave National Park.  After driving through the fantastic fall foliage across the rising and falling of the never-ending hills, the arrival at the visitor's center left me dumbfounded.  How can a park so beautiful as this, with so many opportunities for camping, hiking, running, biking, and horseback riding,  and the world's longest cave(392 miles of mapped cave, and much more that is in the process of being mapped) be so evidently underfunded and under appreciated (as far as numbers of visitors is concerned).  But, alas, that is the case.  I would encourage anyone that finds themselves in the area to devote a couple of days to it.

The Frozen Niagara Formation

     We took a tour of the cave under the guidance of an incredibly knowledgeable and passionate guide and spent the rest of the day above ground.  Here we, surprise surprise, decided to go on a run to get to see as much of the park as we could in the little time we had.  The first two miles of the run I had great company in Mel and Luna, but then I went ahead to finish the last 6 miles on my own and the two ladies headed back from whence we came.  I ran fast and hard and through discomfort and I loved every second of it.  What a peaceful way to meditate and pray running can be!  My performance on this run left me feeling very confident in my ability to preform well in the FootRx Grand Prix race only five short days away back in Asheville.

Mammoth Cave National Park

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Running through September

       It is to say that I ran most of the way through September...  After my Vibram Five-Fingers were ripped to shreds in Spain (after only 3 1/2 months use?!) I was overjoyed to return home to a pair of running shoes.

       The weekend following our return to the States was the weekend of the Dupont Waterfall Bonanza!  Neither myself nor Melissa had been training to run much of anything, but after spending a week in Quetico Provincial Park paddling and portaging for up to ten hours a day, we felt adequately prepared to take on the 10 mile option in the beautiful Dupont State Forest.

       The day before, however, we decided to camp out in Pisgah National Forest.  After an afternoon thunderstorm passed I decided to do a time trial up and down the Looking Glass Rock Trail.  After a few months in which injury loomed over me and Vibram Five-Fingers were my only choice for running shoes, it felt absolutely incredible to soar down the side of the hill.  My finishing time was right at 1 hour and 2 minutes for the 6.2 mile up and back.

Looking Glass Rock
       The Waterfall Bonanza the following day was a blast.  As usual its always great to get together with the old friends and new of the WNC Trailrunner crew, and of course to swim in waterfalls.  On this run Melissa almost doubled her longest run distance!  Incredible woman, she is!

Enjoying the Dupont run with Charles and Lily

     After getting such lovely runs under my shoes early in the month, it only made sense that I would keep pushing myself to explore more trails and log more time on my feet.   Unfortunately, after spending many sunrises running with Luna on the Shut-in Trail and several other great runs, I was poised to meet certain disaster...  I can't say that I didn't see it coming after going from zero miles (running) a week for the last three weeks to a week of 45 and a week of 40.  Sometimes its just tough to control your natural instinct when the world is just becoming increasingly beautiful and fall weather is knocking on the doors of your imagination.

Always in good company.

     Needless to say, the IT-Band aggravation that occurred left me unable to run for an undefined amount of time.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

III CxM Trail Los Guájares

A long delayed, but much needed blogpost is finally here:

   Los Guájares (if you like maps, follow the link) is a trio of tiny pueblos in the province of Granada, about 40 minutes away from the city of Granada and 15 minutes from the coast.

   There is a remarkable microclimate in Los Guájares which allows tropical fruits to flourish brings a wonderful aroma to the air and sweet delicious foods to the table.  It also means that you can eat very well while running.  There is a river that runs along the valley floor separating the three pueblos.  Rising on all sides are beautiful mountains that have a rugged, jagged appearance.  Once you enter the hills you can find potable water within a couple of kilometers in every direction.  Truly a runners paradise.

    Anyways, I had the pleasure of participating in the third edition of Trail Los Guájares.  This was easily the most well organized, accommodating-yet-simple, beautiful-yet-grueling race I've ever participated in.

    All credit for this goes to Ángel, the race director, and Edith, his partner in crime, who put on a fantastic race and were so gracious as to host us for over a week.  Two of the most interesting and generous people I had the pleasure of meeting in Spain, who are certain to remain our friends for a very long time.

    Ángel, having run in over 150 marathons and ultras in his running career ranging from the NY and Chicago Marathons to the UTMB, has seen more than his fair share of race-dos and race-don'ts and did a fantastic job of throwing together all of the right things to create a race to remember.

    The race itself was a blast!  As I've told many people, I have never run a worse race in my life, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.  I was beyond underprepared for the 22km +1600 meters of elevation gain endeavor after taking a couple of months prior off of running following the Bel Monte 50 miler.  I also contributed, against my better judgement, to my under-preparedness by electing to wear my Vibram-Fivefingers on a course which was technical beyond anything I'd encountered prior.  That is a mistake I will never make again because the trails riddled with rocks and unforgiving sharp plants ripped the so-called running shoes open in four places leading to their permanent demise.

     The beauty of the course was truly indescribable.  The first kilometer wove through the labyrinth streets of the pueblo with folks cheering left and right.  The first exceptionally burly climb came just before kilometer 4.  It wasn't very long, but the steepness made running up it completely impractical.  There were a few climbs for which this was the case.  And as the race wore on,  I had to change my strategy due to the pain in the soles of my feet from running across rocks for two hours.  I suppose it was the beginning of a stone bruise, but running steep downhills landing on gravel time and time again was doing me a lot more harm than good.  I was passed by many many people on the downhills, as I elected to walk them.  After stream crossings, running through more pueblo streets, through groves of almond and olive trees, the race culminated with another monstrous climb and a quick pass by an old Moorish fortress dating back to about 1100 AD(really old).
     After the race the entire pueblo(all 300-500 people of it), came together for a pot-luck style party.  The main plaza was packed with people, food, beer, and dogs.  After the award ceremony, in which I was awarded a beautifully painted plate in honor of being the youngest participant and the participant who traveled the furthest(I was the only non-Spaniard).

     The race will be happening again next year, the course changes every year.  I did have the pleasure of hiking next years course and it just might be even more beautiful and even more difficult.  If that doesn't appeal to you there is also an ultra-distance race in the works of about 65-75km.  HERE is a link to some photos of the tentative ultra course which overlaps greatly with both this year's race and next year's, check it out.

    If anyone is planning a trip to Spain in the near future or needs a good excuse to plan a trip to Spain, this is is.  Thanks for reading.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Correr por España

Greetings from across the pond.  There is another blog that you can reach by clicking on my picture on the side that will tell you more about whats going on here in Spain and will feature some other pictures.  This, my friends, is all about running.

    On the drive from the trainstation to where we would be staying, we passed a couple of trails marked for walking and I deemed this a fantastic opportunity to bring up a question that had been on my mind since we had first been in contact:  "Are there trails around here I could use for running?", I asked.  "Trails for running?", Caroline, our lovely host replied, "Wherever you see a path, road, trail, olive grove, or whatever, you are welcome to run or hike."  My jaw nearly hit the floor.  Let me paint a picture for you:  Town, olive grove for kilometer after kilometer, town, more olive groves, top of a mountain, olive groves, olive groves, town.  That is pretty much what can be seen from any decent vantage point in the area.  Which means, that it is permissable for me to run ANYWHERE.  There are no barbed-wire fences dividing olive grove from olive grove, no bitter farmers biting at the bit to boot you off their land.  There are just vast tracks of land to be explored. 
     If that is not enough to appeal to all runners, consider this: if, during a run, one grows fatigued and doesn't have a Clifbar or the likes handy, they can quickly grab an olive for nourishment, maybe a fig better suits their taste, perhaps a pomegranate will provide proper refreshment, or maybe they just want to add some life to their water with a fresh squeezed lemon.  Either way, everywhere you go you find yourself surrounded by tasty treats. 
    In my two mornings here, I've spent about two hours running.  I've enjoyed the complete silence, except for the distant (sometimes close) cries of roosters, the racing of rabbits and hares, the stumbling upon dogs, but above all, racing the sun to the top of the mountain of my choice.
    I am throughly enjoying my surroundings, with the liberty to take any turn I'd like as long as I'm willing to run up a mountain to figure out where, in relation to me, the little white village is situated the groves.  The never-ending hills are proving to be a fantastic training ground for the race I'll be running on the 25th to the south of Granada.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Bel Monte 50 Miler

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…. 

           In the three weeks leading up to Bel Monte I had been plagued with occasional calf pain and a nagging left knee to top it off.  This resulted in my confidence plummeting a few weeks out from race day.  I’ve heard that self deprecation can be the most debilitating of all ailments after the start-gun fires.  Fortunately, a strong run the weekend prior with a great group of runners (Seven Sisters Summit Run) gave me just the spark I needed to rekindle my enthusiasm for my first 50-miler.

            For the four preceding days my mind had not wandered far from the impending challenge.  Though I knew my body capable, I had race expectations and goals in mind that were weighing heavy on me.  Having only raced in a couple of races, none exceeding 13.1 miles, in my year-long running career, the prospect of a race (especially of 10+ hours in duration) seemed daunting amidst my expectations.  In an effort to alleviate this stress I made a trip to Jus’ Running in Asheville, a trip for advice instead of merchandise (its free!!).  Here I stated my goals: a top ten finish and sub 10-hour time.  In reply, I received conflicting words of wisdom.  Emily suggested hanging out on someone’s heels and ensuring that no one got too far away that I couldn’t catch them later.  Dan’s advice, on the contrary, was to gun it, run with the top of the pack and let the phantom footsteps behind me fuel me forward.  Though neither pitch sold immediately in my mind, I left feeling more confident about the race.
We had a hoppin' good time in Charlottesville!

           Friday, the day before the race, Melissa, Luna, and I made our way to Charlottesville.  Upon arrival, we met up with Daniel, a dear friend whose close proximity to the race location had been the deciding factor in electing to run it.    We had a Mellow Mushroom “snack” of pizza and sandwich around 2 and a pre-race pasta dinner around 7:30.  We spent the night with my pseudo-aunt and uncle.  Their beautiful home was located about 35 minutes from the race venue, I can’t thank them enough for their hospitality.  I ended up getting into bed around 10:30, far later than I had hoped. 

            Fortunately, I was able to fall asleep pretty quickly and just as quickly I was awake again.  4:00 was the time, bagels and bananas were the crime.  The next hour flew by and we were off to Sherando Lake Recreation Area.  The time before the race passed in a flash, I missed the pre-race briefing because doodies duties called in the Port-a-Jon line. 

            6:30 struck and Gill and Francesca, the race directors, did a roll-call as everyone stood on top of a dam, headlights shining, running in place to keep warm.  I don’t know where my head was, but I (though standing in the front of the pack with my head practically in the megaphone) didn’t hear my number when it was called and didn’t realize it until the next number was called.  That says something about my state of mind that morning, I was truly living in a dream.

            There were many fantastic runners surrounding me at the start, I had no idea where I would fall into the mix after a few hours passed, but I knew that I was going to work my hardest and enjoy the heck out of it.

            The start was a blast.  I pushed ahead as much as I could on the way off of the dam to ensure that I wouldn’t be stuck behind many slower folks once we hopped on the singletrack.   That proved not to be a problem at all, for the first couple or three miles I was running in second place behind a fellow named Brain (he would go on to run an incredible race and finish 2nd).  It wasn’t too long before Mark and another fellow scooted past me.
Mile 5, preparing to shed some layers.

            When I arrived at the mile 5 aid station following a pretty solid ~1000ft climb Melissa, Dan, and my dad were psyched to see me briefly as I shed my shirt, gloves, and hat and took off running, met by dumbfounded glances from spectators who informed me that it as only 34 degrees out.  I was felt like I was on top of the world at this point and was told I was running in 4th place.  Shortly after this aid station I passed a 50k runner and continued with a little bit of climbing before starting on a 6-mile descent to the 13.1 mile aid station.  I was passed by a 50 miler through this section and then matched pace with another 50k runner for the remainder of the descent.  

      This was the third aid station of the day, and became he third one that I passed without receiving any fuel.  It was delightful to see Mel, Dad, Dan, and Luna here, I hoped that their cheers would carry me through the next potentially lonely 24 miles before I saw them again at mile 37.  Mel gave me a mini-Cliff Bar and three gels for this stint.  On my way out of the aid station, the fellow with whom I had been running grabbed my shoulder and said, “Promise me you will slow down, I am the 50k lead right now.  This is your first 50 miler, so you need to pace yourself”.  Thus, I had no hesitation to stop and take a gel and use the restroom about a mile out from the aid station and was no discouraged when I was passed by two 50 milers.

            This section, which was miles 13-17 and miles 33-37 was rolling gravel road.  I found it pretty easy to loose steam during this section but kept trucking.  At the 17 mile aid station the 50-milers take a 5 mile round-trip out-and-back over a little mountain, it makes for a solid 1200 ft of gain.  In this section I was passed for the final time by a guy who thought I was a nut-job for running half naked (he was probably right). 

            I decided that the initial ascent would be a fantastic time to take another gel.  Here is a brief side-note about me and ‘Gu’: I only take the tri-berry flavor.  Why?  Because I’ve never taken another one, so why bother trying?  Anyways, the weekend prior at SSSR Adam had been ranting and raving about the new Cherry-Lime flavor being the most delicious thing he’d ever tasted.  Thus, I decided to try one.  I ripped off the lid and injected the packet into my mount only to vomit it back out as soon as it hit the back of my throat.  Thanks, Adam.  I’ll stick with Tri-berry.
This is what we were up against, 11000 ft net gain.

            The out-and-back was comfortable(besides throwing up) and when I reached the aid-station again they praised me for making great time through that stretch.  The next aid station was about five miles away.  Four and a half of which were a steady incline and half a mile of which was a monstrous climb.  I reached the top and wolfed down some snacks, filled the water bottle and plummeted down the mountain.  I was heading back from whence I came(save the 5 mile out-and-back) to meet the crew at mile 37.  This was among my best running of the day, for the next 7 miles I felt completely rejuvenated, running like I had just started.  Then came the gravel road…

           The rolling hills of the gravel road were just unreasonably wearing.  My feet grew tired of the rocks underneath, my body was growing fatigued through and through, but I knew there was food waiting for me… And then a six mile climb…

           I was greeted with cheers and horrahs by many people at the aid station.  I think I appreciated it, but my mind was so focused on the fact that I was standing at the foot of six miles of relentless uphill and that I still had another half marathon to run that I did not express my appreciation very well.  I knew I would be moving slowly up this section, and figured it would probably be best if I put a shirt on.  Mine was unavailable, but fortunately my lovely wife was willing to literally give me the shirt off of her back. 

           I climbed and climbed and climbed, when it finally began to level off I was delighted to find that my muscle memory was so keen that even when my muscles were so fatigued I was able to convince myself that I was running strong.  I grabbed some more food at an aid station with 7 miles to go, and then ran three miles very well.  Then things went downhill, literally.

           I had planned to be able to fly through the last four miles(two down the mountain, two on pavement in the park), but a fall and a couple too many hard steps on my knees rendered me incapable of doing so.  In retrospect, it hurts to think of the minutes that walking two downhill miles must have cost me, but it was a learning experience. 
Not feeling too hot at mile 48.

            The final aid station was two miles out from the finish line, I emerged from the woods with a bloody knee and bloodied here I got my final words of encouragement from my fantastic crew and set off running.  Then groaning.  The feeling in my knees was unprecedented, and I hope it never happens again.  Fortunately, I was able to fall into a groove of sorts and finish the last two miles strong(relative to what could have been).
Finished the run in great company!

            I was given a finishers medal and told that I finished in 9th place.  The clock read 9 hours and 53 minutes when I crossed the line.  Though the day was incredibly demanding, physically and mentally, I feel like I came away with more than I left out there.  I can’t properly express my gratitude towards the crew:  Melissa, Daniel, my dad, Peter and his friends, Max and Joe; and towards Laura and Ross, who so kindly put up with all of us for the weekend, and of course, to everyone cheering my one from afar.  I very much look forward to running another 50 miler in the near future. 
Dan, Mel, me, Dad, Peter (and Luna), Max, and Joe

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Mount Pisgah Marathon

     I had two main sources of inspiration for embarking on this run:
  1) Spending last weekend in and around the Foothills Trail providing aid for and cheering for the various runners daring enough to pit their strength and wit against the daunting 77-mile Foothills Trail and the wretched weather that greeted them at the starting line.  A display of enthusiasm and effort such as I witnessed never fails to inspire me to soar to new heights- which brings me to my next point...
 2) The seasonal closing of the Blue Ridge Parkway had seriously inhibited my ability to meet my weekly panoramic view quota; and I figured there was no better way to find a view that would suffice than to get to the top of a mountain. Rather, the mountain; the mountain that towers over Asheville beckoning to me each day as I weave through I-240 West traffic.  So Mount Pisgah it would be!

Mount Pisgah appears as the tallest,
most central mountain in this photo.

       The stage was set: start at Bent Creek Gap, 9 miles later catch the sunrise from Mount Pisgah, run back to Bent Creek Gap.  I was able to sell this pitch to Rob Rives as a fun, scenic, not even twenty mile run, with the promise of great times and great weather.
      Rob spent the night with me and Melissa Friday.  Once 5:00 AM rolled around Saturday morning we were up and at 'em finalizing and double-checking the contents of our packs for the journey.  My pack had a phone, camera, four gels, two Clifbars, and a liter of water.  Rob's was packed in a similar fashion featuring his choice energy/protein snacks and about 2.5 liters of water.  The disparity between our water quantities was slightly unnerving to me, and as Rob is a far more experienced ultrarunner than I, I figured I was being foolish and resolved to make my drinks few and far between.
    We arrived at Bent Creek a little after 6:00 only to discover that our passage up to Bent Creek Gap was closed to vehicles due to snow and mud.  We exchanged glances; I mentioned the idea of choosing a different route, dismissed it as quickly as it came, and unanimously concluded that we would be starting from where we were, just up the road from Hard Times Trailhead.  We were getting to Mount Pisgah, and that was that.
     We were off.  It was dark.  It was cold.  It was awesome.  Upon our arrival at Bent Creek Gap the sun's rays were just creeping over the horizon bringing beautiful reds and oranges to counter the still-starry westside of the sky.  The ascent from the car was just under 4.5 miles meaning we'd be taking on an extra (nearly) 9 miles for the day.  The prospect of this was both exhilarating and intimidating.  But Mount Pisgah lay in wait and off we went.
First signs of light.
      A few miles later we reached the top of Ferrin Knob.  At the end of the awesome, but burly climb Rob's backside and the surrounding woods took on a brilliant hue of red; I turned around to see the sun peering over what seemed to be the edge of the earth.  Looking southward, Mt. Pisgah was being graced with it's first rays of sunlight; looking northeast, Asheville looked as if it was coming to life.  It looked incredible, the Craggies rising up beyond it and the Blacks towering higher still beyond those.  It was funny to look down and see the host of so many training runs(Town Mountain Rd etc...) appear as but mere moguls on the steady slopes rising beyond the French Broad.

Rob raised the sun up for us...

      I had little trouble conserving water early in the run.  The tube of my water bladder was frozen closed disallowing the consumption of any water for the first 10 miles or so.  I suppose it was a blessing in disguise, however, as when we finally returned to the car I still had water to spare!
      We took our time on the run.  We ran and hiked quickly uphills and flew like the wind on the downs.  Our arrival at Elk Pasture Gap pitted us against some serious hills to close the last three miles of our trip out.  The final three miles featured nearly 2000' of elevation gain.  At some point early in these climbs I remember Rob saying, "You know, Anton Krupicka would be running 8:30 miles up this"- talk about a morale booster.
      Regardless, we ran at our speed and made it to the top!  For most of the trail to the summit we found ourselves following a set of footprints.  They looked like a dog's prints, but the owner's prints weren't present.  So I guess we'll never know exactly what animal was responsible for them.  We took our time walking up and down Mount Pisgah, focusing on refueling and rehydrating.  We greeted the summit's platform with whoops and hollars and "Praise the Lords", snapped a photo, and got on our way.  We arrived at the summit after about 3 hours and 9 minutes of running.
The view from the top.

     The run down was a blast.  Few things compare to the feeling of running down a winding trail.  The rush that you feel committing to each step after a mere millisecond's planning, the flush of pain to your palm after you use a tree trunk to swing yourself to the bend in the trail, the submission to momentum as gravity makes you move at speeds and in ways you've never dreamed are all irreplaceable.
      We moved pretty quickly on the way down.  Tightness in Rob's hamstring slowed us a little bit, but on a whole the run was significantly easier due to the elevation loss.  Running back down Bent Creek Rd from the gap was slightly monotonous.  But we made it, at last.  Our goal had been to complete the task in under six hours and we did just that.  We crossed the marathon threshold, completing a total of 27 miles, according to Garmin, and finished 10 minutes before 6 hours.
    This is an adventure that I will certainly replicate in the near future.  Just how fast can we do it?
After a good morning's work, we were ready for lunch.