Wednesday, December 22, 2010

2010 Hellgate 100K

"For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with the birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves. Eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. For we were saved in this hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance." Romans 8 : 22-25

I don’t know if doing something 3 years in a row makes the event a habit or a ritual but for the third year in row, on the second Saturday in December, at 12:01am, I found myself standing at the beginning of the Glenwood horse trail anticipating the start of the Hellgate 100K. This year there were 126 anxious runners at the start and following the traditional singing of the National Anthem and a prayer we were off on our 66.6 mile “Special” journey of the soul. It was about 22 degrees at the start with clear skies and a good forecast for Saturday, the best weather in the three years I have run this event. The trail was in great condition and the stage was set for a great race.

The Hellgate is unlike any other ultra-event that I have competed in. I have only been doing this for about three years but the group of runners that assemble here for this race are a gritty, determined, and tough bunch. Dr. Horton advertises this as a “Special” race and for me the “special” has been something different each year- the journey down the trail has been different each year but the feeling as I enter Camp Bethel for the last stretch to the finish line has been the same, the feeling of accomplishment.

Coming off of a year of injuries that started after the Bull Run Run in April, included a DNF at 38 miles at Western States and ended with 3 months off to heel a stress fracture in the left tibia, I was unsure how the race would unfold. The first stretch was uneventful, as the heard thinned out and everyone settled into their pace for the night, the stream crossing prior to the first aid station was not even that bad. I was able to run a good portion of the climb up to AS 2, Petite’s Gap and crossed the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRPW) in good shape. Of note, due to some new gates that the park service installed and some icy road conditions, crews were not permitted until AS4, Headforemost at mile 22-24 (depending on whose mileage you trust).

So I started the rugged downhill after crossing the parkway and tended to run fairly cautious and conservative. The trail still had a good 2-3 inches of snow on it but the footing was pretty good and before I knew it I had dropped out on to the dirt road and the long climb up to Camping Gap, AS3. Approaching Camping Gap at about 2:45am I saw that the Liberty University crew had the aid station well stocked and they were energetically and efficiently getting runners fueled up and back on the trail.

The longest stretch of the course was made longer this year due to the relocation of AS4, it measured just over 10 miles and it took a long time to get there. The highlight of this leg was the 2 mile downhill to Overstreet Falls. This is a pretty rugged trail but there was a good 5-6 inches of snow cover that tended to even out rocky sections and allowed for a smooth descent to the road. Last year climbing the road up to the aid station I ran in to a severe bout of sleepiness and was literally sleep walking up the hill, fortunately that did not happen this year and I ran into AS 4 just after 5:00am. I was able to meet up with crew (Mom, Dad, and my oldest daughter, Ashley), drop the camelback that I was carrying and get down the trail to Jennings Creek.

The long, persistent descent in to AS5 is where my lack of downhill training started to materialize as my quads began to scream at me. This was a long leg and I was starting to feel the effects of nearly 7 hours of running. As I ran in to AS5 I met the crew again fueled up, dropped off my headlamp and started the long climb up to Little Cove. The sun began to rise on the climb out of Jennings Creek but the temperature did not. It seemed to even get a little colder in the early part of the morning. I noticed that my pace was starting to drop off and the downhill running was becoming more painful, quads and hips were not feeling good at all.

Knowing the I was starting to fall off of my normal pace was not the motivation that I needed going in to the next leg and by the time I started down the single track portion of this leg I was starting to have serious doubts about continuing on past Bearwallow. As I started the last big climb and headed across “the devil’s trail” I had all but confirmed that I was going to call it day at AS7. I had all sorts of good, rationalized reasons: my legs hurt, my hips hurt, I had finished twice before, and 100 more good reasons. So, as I walk in to Bearwallow I told the crew that I was done, to which they toldl me that they don’t think so. What they said and what they were thinking were two different things, they were thinking “No way pal, you drug us out here in the cold at midnight-you are going to get your butt down that trail, suck it up”. Which is, reluctantly, what I did.

Leaving Bearwallow there is big 2 mile climb and then about 1000 in and out sections of the trail as you traverse the side of the ridgeline. It took a long time for me to slog my way through this section but my attitude had changed from wanting to drop to wanting to get to the finish and be done. So as I came in to Bobblet’s Gap I told the crew that I was physically feeling worse but I was going to push through. There were 14 miles left and I had plenty of time. The next leg of the course is known as the forever section, probably because this is Dr. Horton’s biggest measurement error on the course, under estimating the distance by more than a mile, so his 6.6 miles is really closer to 8.

This leg starts with a 2.5-3 mile downhill on a dirt road and I was moving slow and hurting. Once I got to the single track I knew that I had three big climbs and a final descent into Day Creek. About half way up the first climb I pulled off the trail for an environmental break and noticed that although my urine was clear, there was a nice red tint-blood. I have never had this happen and it concerned me. I had about 4 miles to go so I kept drinking and moved slowly down the trail. Once again the mental demons came out and talked me in to dropping at the last aid station.

As I came in to Day Creek, I told the crew what was happening and that I didn’t want to push the condition, this time they didn’t try as hard to push me on. However, much to my surprise, my daughter Ashley, was dressed in her running gear and ready to escort me the final six miles to Camp Bethel. Fortunately, others did not give up on me as quick as I had given up on me. Adam Casseday had some words with me and basically said “you’ve got 3 hours to go 6 miles, take it slow and get to the finish” – thanks for the push. The other determining factor was that Ashley was willing to run with me (she is not a runner) although I wasn’t really running at that point. It was at this point that I took an internal survey of “why do I race?” I race for the Glory of God and the fact that He allows me to go these distances; I had forgotten that fact and needed some coaxing from a godly man to get me moving. A piece by Ralph Waldo Emerson from his essay entitled “Circles” describes well what was going through my head:

"It is the highest power of divine moments that they abolish our contritions also. I accuse myself of sloth and unprofitableness day by day; but when these waves of God flow into me, I no longer reckon lost time. I no longer poorly compute my possible achievement by what remains to me of the month or the year; for these moments confer a sort of omnipresence and omnipotence which asks nothing of duration, but sees that the energy of the mind is comensurate with the work to be done, without time."

“Don’t wish it were easier, wish you were better” – And Ashley and I started up the “Redemption Road”. I was tired, my legs hurt, and I wanted to be done, so I kept moving. I’m not a big talker on the trail but it was nice to have the support on the final leg. As we crested the ridgeline and crossed the BRPW, I knew we had about 3 miles to the finish-downhill. I started to run and was told by Ashley that I really wasn’t running, it was more like a fast walk-so we picked up the pace a little and before I knew it we had crossed the 1 mile to go marker and had the entrance to Camp Bethel in sight. For the third year in row God gave me the strength and endurance to cross the finish line of the Hellgate 100k, this year He also strengthened me through the assistance of others to which I am eternally grateful.

This race is special, and it’s special to each and every runner for a different reason. Be it a habit or a ritual, I know where I plan to be on the second Saturday of December, 2011. Thanks to Dr. Horton and all of the diehard volunteers and a special thanks to my crew and family and finally to the One whom goes all of the Glory, God.

God Bless and Semper Fi,

Michael Huff

P.S. Don't let anyone tell you that Hellgate won't change you. Just look at the before and after pictures below!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Bull Run Run 50 Miler

Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10

Saturday, 10 April, was the 18th running of the Bull Run Run 50 mile trail race and the third year in a row that I was fortunate enough to be able to participate and complete this event. This race is run along the Bull Run-Occoquan trail in Fairfax County and is a mere 10 minutes from my house, so this is definitely a backyard event for me. I do a lot of my training on these trails and it was great to see more than 300 other runners get to share in its beauty. The run is sponsored by the Virginia Happy Trails Running Club (VHTRC) and they do a great job each year. This has become a major Ultra event on the east coast.

We could not have asked for a better day for running; “This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalm 118:24. The temps started in the low 40s and rose into the mid to upper 60s with low humidity throughout the day. The race started promptly at 0630 and it started out fast. Now with every race there is some strategy, for this event I like to get out a little fast so that that I can get ahead of an inevitable traffic jam that occurs at a very narrow and rocky section of the trail, just prior to the 2 mile mark. I was able to do this but in my haste I think that I kept the pace a little to fast for the first section of the race, fast for me anyway.

The first 16ish miles of the race, or the up river section, went very well and I was very much enjoying the day. As I approached the turn around in Bull Run Regional Park I started to see the lead group coming back down the trail. Leigh Schmitt was leading and he was flying down the trail, he would eventually go on to win and set a new course record in 6h:09m. I was able to complete the up river section and get back into Hemlock in 2h:39m, just a few miles behind the lead pack.

The next section of the course started the 11 mile down river stretch to Fountainhead Park, with a couple of aid stations in between. I was continuing to make good time and everything was feeling good. It was during the section that I realized I was running this race at my 50K pace, more on that later. After passing the marina aid station after 5.5 miles I had a 4 mile stretch into the famous Wolf Run Shoals aid station. These guys are known for their ever changing annual theme, this year it was “The Wizard of Oz” (reference the picture) and as usual the service was great.

The Fountainhead Loop is about 10 miles long and includes the shorter 3 mile Do-Loop . The Do-Loop aid station is at mile 32 and I hit that at 5h:25m, a real good 50K time for me. Everything was feeling good but I was noticing that I was dehydrated and starting to play catch-up. I was able to complete the Fountainhead loop in 1h:50m and start back up river at the 6h:30m mark, which was about 10 minutes behind my time last year.

I was still moving good but could definitely tell that I was slowing down and the last 12 miles seemed like the drug on for 2 hour and 26 minutes. About 44 miles into the race my left knee started to hurt a little, which was new for me. It was a discomfort at the time but nothing that raised to much concern. However, as I type this morning my concern has grown to fear as knee has gotten progressively worse. I have been icing and elevating since Saturday but think I will be consulting the Doc today. I was able to complete the race in 8h:56m, which was not my fastest time on the course but it was under my 9 hour goal time and it was a great day to be running. I was able to run fast enough to get to my son’s baseball game, always a good motivator to keep moving.

I have continually praised God for the ability to be able to run in some of the events that I have completed over the past 3 years and have relied on Him to provide direction, purpose and protection for my running; He has never once failed me. So as I work my way through this knee injury, I ask for your prayers for both a quick recovery and patience. Run Strong!

God Bless and Semper Fi,

Training for 5-11 April: Weekly Mi (78.1), Monthly Mi (109.6), Yearly Mi (697.0)

Mon: 5.2 mi – PRECOR EFX 546/Upper Body lift/ABs
Tues: 10.5 mi – WO&D Trail AM Run Commute / ABs
Wed: 7 mi – Roosevelt Island
Fri: 5 mi – Bull Run Trail Marking
Sat: 50.4 mi-Bull Run Run
Sun: Recovery

Monday, April 5, 2010

Easter Morning, Son Rise Run

“. . . Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for He is risen, as He said. Come see the place where the Lord lay.” Matthew 28: 5, 6

Yesterday was the celebration of a great event and the opportunity to renew and re-energize ourselves for the rest of the year. I was able to get in a good run at the Bull Run Conservancy and watch the sun rise on what was a glorious day.

As I left the parking lot and headed up into the Bull Run Mountains, there was a bright half moon still hanging in the sky and it was a perfect 60 degrees. I took the run at a nice slow pace and enjoyed a little over 2 hours and 13 miles preparing myself for the rest of the day. The final part of the run was up to the top of High Mountain where the views towards the west were awesome. The sun was fully risen in the east and shown brightly down into the valley below. I was looking toward the Massanutten mountains that I will be running through in 6 short weeks.

This run capped off another good week of training leading into the Bull Run Run 50 Miler coming up on Saturday. I have been feeling pretty good and able to remain injury free. I am going to try and run under 9 hours at Bull Run, but we will see what the day brings. The beauty of the race on Saturday is that the start/finish line is only about a 10 minute drive from my house so I don’t have to worry about the travel plans and transit times.

Easter is the culmination of a season of remembrance and sacrifice in the Church year and serves to remind us of the incredible gift that Christ has given each of us. As I remember His sacrifice; I think of all that I have to be thankful for and those that I am thankful too. We are not called to be mere spectators in this world but active participants. God has a mission for each of us and I continue to pray for wisdom and guidance as I try to figure out exactly what mine is. Run Strong!

God Bless and Semper Fi,

Training for 29 March-4 April: Weekly Mi (52.7), Monthly Mi (243.8), Yearly Mi (618.8)

Mon: 5.2 mi – PRECOR EFX 546 / Upper Body Lift / ABs
Tues: 8 mi - Potomac Heritage Trail
Wed: 8 mi – WO&D Trail PM Run Commute / ABs
Thurs: 10.5 - WO&D Trail PM Run Commute
Fri: 8 mi – WO&D Trail AM Run Commute / Pull Ups / ABs
Sat: Off Sun: 13 mi-Bull Run Conservancy

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Terrapin Mountian 50K

“Inspiration, move me brightly. Light the song with sense and color;
Hold away despair, more than this I will not ask. Faced with mysteries dark and vast, statements just seem vain at last. Some rise, some fall, some climb, to get to Terrapin.”
The Grateful Dead: Terrapin Station, July 1977

I usually lead off my race reports with a biblical quote but in this case, being a closet “Dead Head”, I could not resist a quote from The Grateful Deads, Terrapin Station. However as the tunes of the Dead were filing through my head on Saturday, I remained forever “Grateful” that the Lord provided me with another opportunity to run in the beautiful mountains of Virginia and open my ears to hear: “The voice of the one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain brought low; the crooked places shall be made straight and the rough places smooth.” (Isaiah 40:3,4).

I ran the Terrapin Mountain Marathon in 2008. This was the second year that the race was run as a 50K and it was a great opportunity to run on some trails during the daylight that I had only run in the dark. The race started at 0700 from the Sedalia Center with a loud bang of the gong. It was a little cold at the start, about 28 degrees but it would warm up to 50 by the end of the race, perfect day for running. The 50K runners and the half marathoners started together and ran the first four miles to Camping Gap. The race started out on pavement for about a mile, then switched to dirt road and finally dumped out on to a trail for the last 2 mile climb to the first aid station.

After hitting Camping Gap for the first of three stops it was down, down, down for about 5 miles. This section was run on some of the Hellgate 100K course. It was nice to see it in the day time because during Hellgate I usually hit this section of the course about 0230 in the morning. This section was all on dirt roads and a little pavement and moved very quickly but I was careful not to overdo the downhill. Once we got to the Goff Mountain aid station we started the slow climb back up the mountain. Again we started on dirt road and after about a mile we got back on the trail to the next aid station and then the steady climb, on dirt road back to Camping Gap (16ish miles).

Leaving Camping Gap for the second time we headed out to the White Oak Ridge loop, which was 6 miles and covered some trails that will be used in the upcoming Promise Land 50K. I was feeling pretty good at this point and was able to run the loop in 1 hour. Coming back into Camping Gap for the last time I knew that I had one last big climb and then a lot of step, rocky downhill trail up ahead.

I left the aid station at 1100 with 22 miles under my belt and started the hard climb up Terrapin Mountain. The views from the summit were awesome, you could actually see the Sedalia Center and the finish line from the rock outcropping. Playing off the adrenaline rush of being on the summit I picked up the pace on the downhill and made good time in to the last aid station. With 5.5 miles to go I knew that I was going to be able to finish under 6 hours and in fact was able to run the last part of the course on a 10 minute per mile pace and crossed the finish in 5h:43m (results).

This was the second race in “The Beast” series and is 7 weeks out from the Massanutten Mountain 100 miler. At this point in my training I am feeling good about my conditioning and am looking forward to the Bull Run 50 miler in two weeks. The Race Director, Clark Zeeland, and his volunteers did an awesome job with the race. The only drawback for me is that most of the races in this series are about a 3 hour drive from my house in Fairfax, so it’s a little disappointing when the total time in the car exceeds the time spent running on the trails; a small price to pay. The Lord continues to keep me healthy and I continue to feel His joy as I run and for this, as always, I give Him all of the thanks and the glory. Run Strong!
God Bless and Semper Fi,

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Elizabeth’s Furnace 50K

“But the land which you cross over to possess is a land of hills and valleys, which drinks water from the rain of Heaven, a land for which the Lord your God cares; the eyes of the Lord your God are always on it, from the beginning of the year to the very end of the year.” Deut. 11:11-12

It was good to be back in the mountains. Over the past couple of years I have had the chance to run in some pretty challenging weather conditions; 100 plus degree temps at Western States, sub zero temps at Swinging Bridge 2009, 6 inches of snow at this years Holiday Lake and on Saturday--the mix of constant rain and melting snow led to some spectacular flash flooding at Elizabeth's Furnace. First off, thanks to the VHTRC, Mike Bur, Quatro Hubbard, and the hearty volunteers that battled the weather to ensure that we had good support during the race.
The Weather Channel was forecasting 2-4 inches of rain throughout the day and looking at a raging Passage Creek as I drove to the start at Signal Knob parking lot, it looked like the Front Royal area already had their fair share of the wet stuff. We started at 0700, in a light rain, with about 50 runners. The trail quickly turned into a stream and after about a half mile my feet were soaked and would remain that way for the rest of the day. The first 4-5 miles of the course is a steep climb up to Meneka Peak, a mile across the ridgeline and a 2 mile drop into the first aid station. The gameplan for the day was to try and continue with the success I had the previous week at Seneca Creek and start out slower and try to maintain a constant pace for the entire race. I felt like I was able to pull that off.

This being a Fat Ass event, the aid stations were a little more spread out than a normal race. Runners were expected to be a little more self sufficient, especially for the "big loop" section of the course. The big loop was about 13 miles with two big climbs. Leaving the first aid station I headed down the purple trail, or should I say the purple stream, over to the Mudhole Gap trail. We were briefed about the Mudhole Gap trail in the pre-race meeting--there are 5 "stream" crossings and the stream is about knee to mid-thigh high. Normally this stream is a foot deep, gently flowing and can be forded by stepping on rocks--NOT ON SATURDAY. As I came up on the first crossing I stopped and thought to myself that this could go very bad with a wrong step. Not only was the stream deep, but it was flowing fast-real fast (refer to pictures). Long story short, the first 4 crossings were all about the same, mid thigh to waist deep 15-20 feet wide and raging, the last crossing was wider but not flowing quite as fast, all of them presented a significant challenge.

Having run this race two other times I knew that the worst of the stream crossings were behind me, now it was up to Three Top Ridge and about 3 miles of rock hopping. This section of the course is extremely tedious due to the amount of rocks and boulders on the trail, this is true Massanutten running. After coming down off of Three Top I started another climb up to Signal Knob and back to Meneka Peak and then a good 5 mile downhill run to the Elizabeth's Furnace parking lot and the 22 mile aid station. I came in there at 4h:45m and was hoping to run the small loop in about 2 hours.
The small is 9 miles and has a huge climb up the Sherman Gap trail. The first mile of the small loop runs parallel to Passage Creek, fortunately we didn't have to cross that. However, the creek was running so high that it was spilling onto the trail in multiple locations and ensured that the feet stayed plenty wet. The climb up Sherman Gap was tough but I was feeling pretty good and still taking in calories. Once on the ridge, there was another round of rock hoping to Shawl Gap and then a steep 3 mile descent back to the parking lot.
The last .9 miles of the course parallels the Fort Valley road back to the Signal Knob parking lot. I crossed the finish line at 6h:47m soaking wet and very pleased with the condition I was in. I grabbed a bowl of chili and started to hear some of the stories from the trail, there were some who got to the stream crossings on the Mudhole Gap trail and turned around and still others that got swept down the stream for a while as they were attempting to cross. There is always something that sticks in your memory from these races and those stream crossings will remain with me for a while.
It was awesome to see the power of nature at work and I found myself thinking how lucky I was to be able to see Gods wonderful creation up close and personal. I ran this course alone from about the 3 mile point to the end and during that time I had plenty of opportunity to reflect on many things. It’s good to feel secure in the grasp of a loving God and to once again realize the importance of a strong Faith and Family. Run Strong!

God Bless and Semper Fi,

Monday, March 8, 2010

2010 Seneca Creek Greenway 50K

"Be anxious for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God." Philippians 4:6

The Seneca Creek Greenway 50K is in the books. I ran this race on Saturday and could not have asked for a better day to run. First of all I have to say thanks to Ed Schultze and his great group of volunteers, especially those who contributed to the trail clean-up the week prior to the race -- awesome job. The Seneca Greenway Trail is a runners trail. Starting in Damascus, MD and ending at Riley’s Lock on the Potomac River, the course is a net downhill run and even with some snow, ice and mud, it ran pretty fast.

I was lucky enough to have two of my daughters follow me down the course and provide some crew support. It really warmed my heart that two teenagers would be willing to get up early on a Saturday and follow their old man around Maryland. I have said it before; I am a lucky man to have such a wonderful family that supports my ultrarunning habit -- THANKS.

We started the run at 0800 from the Damascus Park. Due to the trail conditions, Ed had offered an early start option at 0700, so the total of 300+ runners were spread out pretty good and congestion was never a problem. It was about 30 degrees as we left the park and ran downhill for about the first mile on paved trail to the creek. Once on the trail it was single track all the way until the last mile at Riley’s Lock. The goal for the day was consistency, I wanted to try and run similar splits for the entire race. I started this race way to fast last year and paid for it in the end.

Coming in to the first aid station, at 7 miles, I was just over a 9 minute pace (1h:4m compared to last years 54 minutes) and just where I wanted to be. My youngest daughter, Abby, had the camera duties and was very good at snapping shots at each of the aid stations, while Ashley gave me a fresh bottle and I was down the trail.
Aid Station 2 was at about 11 miles; I was staying right at my 10 minute pace and covered the distance in 40 minutes. Quick aside on nutrition; I have been struggling fiercely with caloric intake during my runs, stomach just doesn’t want to cooperate. I have been a big fan of Ensure drinks and have used them for over 2 years, well Saturday I tried some Odwalla Superfood Products and they seemed to work great. The fruit smoothie drinks were loaded with potassium and the protein drink contained a whopping 33g of soy protein. These drinks combined with some early Hammer gels, water and SCaps seemed to do the trick. Throughout the race I drank 2 of the 16oz fruit smoothies (320 calories a piece) and 1 chocolate protein drink (500 calories) and I had consistent energy all the way to the finish.

Aid Station 3 is the Clopper Lake aid station and the split for the marathoners and the 50Kers. The loop around the lake is about three and a half miles and I was sticking to the 10 minute pace, finishing in 35 minutes. With 13 miles to go, I was feeling pretty strong.

This next section of the trail is where I lost it last year. From Clopper Lake to Riley’s Lock the trail is marked every half mile with wooden markers. Last year just after the 12 mile marker the course left the Seneca Creek Trail for about 2 miles and then rejoined just prior to the 11 ½ mile marker, I wasn’t expecting this and it really got inside my head. This year that section of the course was not in use due to the trail conditions so the mile markers were accurate all the way to the finish. Not that the extra distance was a problem last year it was the psychological impact of thinking I was further down the trail than I was. If the Rifleford loop had been in effect this year I would have been mentally prepared.
Maintaining my 10 minute pace, got me into aid station 5 (25.5 miles) about 15 minutes earlier than planned and I caught the crew sleep in the parking lot. No worries, quick refuel and onto the final 6.5 miles. This section of the trail was very muddy but nearly all of the snow cover was gone and I was once again able to keep on pace. I broke off the trail with 1 mile to go and heading into a strong finish at 5h:07m which averaged out to be just under a 10 minute pace. It was a good day. Thanks again to Ed and all of the volunteers -- Great Race!!
With the MMT100 just over the horizon on 15-16 May, I am feeling pretty good about my running. I think Saturday gave me two steps forward on the nutrition front, now I just need to hold that ground. I have a pretty heavy race schedule for the rest of this month and into April and continue to pray for guidance and wisdom I try to prepare my body for the upcoming events. The Lord continues to bless me and keep me injury free. The support of my family, motivation of running in faith and for the pleasure of Christ along with the knowledge that my efforts are contributing to fundraising for Injured Marines is all of the sustainment that I need. My next event is this coming Saturday, Elizabeth’s Furnace 50K - - back to the mountains. Run Strong!
God Bless and Semper Fi,

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Holiday Lake 50K+

“But you, O Lord, are a shield for me. My glory and the One who lifts up my head.” Psalm 3:3

Last Saturday I ran the Holiday Lake 50K in Appomattox, VA. This is the second time I have run this race. The first time was two years ago. This year would prove to be a much different experience from the last time, not only was the course changed but there was about 6 inches of snow on the ground. We have had an incredible winter this year in Northern Virginia, so I guess it was fitting that we ran the race in the white stuff. I was grateful to Dr Horton, the race director, for not giving in to the “snowmaggedon” hype and not cancelling the event. Dr Horton had been sending threatening emails all week, warning of the heavy snow on the trails and impending slower times. He said that no one would be setting personal records this year and then laid down the ultimate challenge by asking if we were “Man Enough” to face the course. Well, with a challenge like that you have to run, Honor is at stake.

The race started at 0630 form the Holiday Lake 4H Center, which is about a 3 hour drive from my house, so I felt comfortable leaving at 0300. However, just north of Richmond it began to snow and with deteriorating road conditions I arrived at the start with about 5 minutes to spare. In traditional Horton fashion, we said a prayer and sang the national anthem and then we were off. As we ran up the hill away from the 4H center, it was obvious that I was not the only one affected by the early morning snow; a lot of folks were still arriving and would join in at the end of the pack.

The course follows the road for about .6 miles and then takes a hard right turn into the woods and we stay on trail for the rest of the 16 mile loop. I was running in about the 40th position or so and as we got onto the trail I discovered that this was going to be a slow day that was going to call for some patience. Even with 40 or so runners in front of me breaking trail, I found that I was not able to stay within others tracks and I was continuously stomping down new snow. After finishing the first loop I would find out exactly how much of an impact the snow was going to have. The first four miles seemed to go by quickly, as everyone settled into their pace and tried to figure out the conditions. The snow was still coming down and it probably gave us about an inch of fresh powder to contend with. The views of frozen Holiday Lake and the snow covered forest were incredible.
The first aid station came and went and I felt like I was settling into a pretty good pace. At about 6 miles we came up on a good size stream crossing that helped to ensure that our feet would stay wet for the entire race. I stopped to refill water and get a bite to eat at the second aid station (about 8.5 miles) and then it was off to a section of the course that I thought was the most difficult, a two mile stretch of trail that followed some power lines. The trail was a little more open and the snow was about 2 to 3 inches deeper. This section really took some life out of my already tiring legs and slowed down the pace even more. It was nice to get back into the woods. Aid station three came at roughly 12 miles and I got a little more to eat and then pressed onto the 4H center.

The last 2 miles of the loop are run on the opposite side of Holiday Lake and once again the views were great. With about a mile and half to go we started to see the leaders coming back for the return loop, they were looking strong. I could not imagine having to break trail for the entire race but these guys were trucking right along. I got to the 16.5 mile turn around at about 2h:50m, fueled up, and hit the trail to retrace my steps on the return loop.

Typically, it’s motivating to get to see everyone in the field as you run back on the loop but this year the snow trail had become a very narrow ditch that required a good bit effort to get out off the way of oncoming runners. So this was an additional energy drain for about the next two miles and coming into the 20 miles aid station I knew that my energy reserves were tapped. Heading out of the aid station I walked up hill for about a half mile before I started slowly running. This section of the course would be the slowest of the day. The temp had warmed into the high 30s and there was a little bit of melt occurring, however this just turned the trail into a slushy, muddy mess that was just as tough as the powdery snow on the first loop.

As I came up on the power lines I was hopeful that the trail had been pounded down, it was in better shape but still very difficult. Having made it through that section it was a welcome sight to roll into the 24ish mile aid station and know that I just had eight miles to go. I ran through the big stream again and it surprisingly warmed my feet up and melted all of the ice that had accumulated. Following the stream there was a good hill that I took some time to walk, my energy was gone and I was moving very slow.

I finally got to the last aid station and with 4 miles to go I tried to keep a consistent pace, albeit slow. I made it down to the lake and eventually popped out of the woods and onto the road a short .6 miles from the finish, which was all downhill. I crossed the finish line at 6h:24m and felt like I had just finished a 50 mile race not 50K. The snow on the first loop really had and impact on the second half of the race. The snow forced us to use some muscles that typically are not stressed this much. I really noticed that my ankles and hips were very sore and would remain sore for a couple of days.

I would like to thank all of the volunteers that braved the conditions and took care of us crazy runners throughout the day. I would also like to congratulate all of the runners that crossed the starting line, even with the conditions the finishing rate was very high which shows a great commitment and dedication to finishing what you started. Holiday Lake is a race that a lot of folks use as their introduction to ultra running and for those first time ultra runners that persevered, welcome to the club and I hope to see you again on the trails. Run Strong!

Photos from Doug Sullivan

Semper Fi and God Bless,

Injured Marines Semper Fi Fund

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Swinging Bridge 50K

“… if ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” John 8:31,32

I started off 2010 Ultra Running season this past Saturday with the Swinging Bridge 50K Trail Run in Bear Creek Lake State Park, just outside of Richmond, VA. This was my second year running this race and I must say the conditions were much nicer this year. Last year it was -2 degrees at the start, this year we were greeted with temps in the low 30’s with it warming to almost 60 during the race. Once again Kevin O’Connor (former Marine, thanks for your service) did an outstanding job as race director and the volunteers were first class, thanks for your support.

There were two distance options for this race, 35K and the 50K. The course is laid out with two out and back sections. The first section is about 10.6 miles, which gets you back to the start at the 35K mark and the second section is a 5 mile out and back for the full 50K. 30 runners would complete the 50K on Saturday. The course was almost 100% single track trail and was marked very well this year and I managed to stay on the course for the entire race, however a couple of runners were not as fortunate. We had a couple of stream crossings that kept our feet wet for the majority of the day.

We started right on time at 0800. The first section was just over 5 miles to the first aid station and I was running at a very comfortable pace. The trail was mostly gentle hills that were fairly short and mostly runable. It took an hour to get to the first aid station. The trail continued toward the “swinging bridge”, however the course was changed slightly this year and the turn around was just short of the actual bridge. I reached the turn point in 1h:40m.

We retraced our steps back toward the start / finish line and I got back there in 3h:24m. I took about 3 minutes to refuel and refill the water bottle and then I was off on the 5 mile out and back. Leaving the aid station they told me I was in 8th place and despite my effort to move up in the standings, that is where I would finish. The second part of the course, in my opinion, is tougher than the first. I wanted to finish this section in 2 hours or less. I hit the 5 mile turn around at 4h:28m and pushed hard on the return trip. I was rewarded with exactly 2 hours on the second section for a finishing time of 5h:28m (results).

I am still finalizing the rest of the schedule for this year but it looks like it’s shaping up to be a busy season. My next race is the Holiday Lake 50K on 13 February. Once again this year I am racing in support of the Injured Marines Semper Fi Fund. This is the third year that I will be supporting this great cause, over the past two years we have raised over $10,000.00 and hope that this year will be just as successful, our Marines deserve that. As I continue to pound out the miles on the trails I need to constantly remind myself that the Lord is my strength and that through His glory I can continue this mission. Run Strong.
Semper Fi and God Bless,
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