Saturday, June 11, 2011

Old Dominion 100 Mile Endurance Run

For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Romans 8:18

Last Saturday morning, 4 June 2011, at 0400, as I stood at the starting line of the Old Dominion 100 Mile Endurance Run, I felt more prepared than I had for my previous 100 mile attempts to complete the distance. Unfortunately, the distance was not the competition for this race, the clock was. The OD100 is the second oldest 100 mile race in the country; this was to be the 33rd running of the event. Back in the day, to get the coveted 100 mile belt buckle runners had to complete the distance in less than 24 hours. Well over time and as we have become a more sensitive/feel good society most races have opted to award a buckle to all of those who finish within the cutoff time of the race, not Old Dominion.

My best 100 mile time coming into this race was 26h:26m on the Grindstone 100 course in 2008, so to win the buckle I would have to improve my personal best by almost 2h:30m. My preparation was strong, I had run most of the course in different training runs, I had some big mileage weeks, I was not injured and most importantly I had an attitude of success and a realization of why I was running this race. So here’s how it went.

68 athletes toeing the line at the Shenandoah County Fairgrounds in Woodstock, VA, temperature was in the mid 50’s with a little humidity in the air. We started with a lap around the outside of the horse track and then took to the darkened streets of the town. The pace was easy and the miles started to click away, the first aid station was a water only stop at 2.7 miles on the outskirts of downtown. The course took a right turn and headed to the base of the Massanutten Mountains. After another 2ish miles we crossed the Shenandoah River and started the first of the advertised “14 significant climbs” up to Woodstock Gap and the second aid station.

As I came into the aid station the sun was already starting to brighten the eastern sky and you could tell it was going to be a beautiful sunrise leading into a great day. From Woodstock Gap (7.2 miles) we had a nice 3 mile downhill run on gravel, country road to the first trail section of the race and aid station 3. This 3 mile section of trail was the only trail portion for the first 32 miles of the course. Old Dominion was holding the tougher sections for later in the race.

My pace was ahead of schedule, the temperature was still very cool, and the humidity was dropping as I ran into the first pit crew stop at 19.7 miles. My wife Debbie and my kids formed the crew for me during the race and they did a fantastic job supporting me throughout the day and night. Debbie got me everything I needed, told me I was about 25 minutes ahead of schedule and reminded me not to go to fast. I tend to go out like a lion and fade to a lamb, to be successful today there could be no fading.
The next section was all country roads through some beautiful old farms and great countryside. I uncharacteristically opted to run with my IPOD for this section. I think it helped to pass the time on a non-technical section of the course. I was able to keep a good pace and stayed right with my time card on this stretch of the course. There were three aid stations placed about 3 miles apart and they were manned by some enthusiastic volunteers, mostly local folks who had been associated with the race for a long time. This added to the grass roots/family environment feeling of the entire event.

So coming into pit crew stop 2, which is just over the 50K mark (32.5 miles), I was surprised to see an elapsed time of 5h:32m. That would have been a good time for me in 50K race but as the first part of a hundred I thought that I might still be going too fast. The next part of the race is a 15 mile loop back to the same pit stop. A significant portion of this loop is trail with two major climbs.
So off I went on the first climb up to the Luray Overlook about 1.5 miles of trail and then a quick 1.5 mile descent down the road to the Duncan Hollow Trail. This started a 5 mile gradual climb up to Scothorn Gap. The trail started off as a nice single track and then turned into an ATV trail and then back to single track. There was an aid station about 2.5 miles into the trail that the volunteers had driven motorcycles into and brought bottled water in backpacks, I’m glad they were there.

Although the humidity was staying low I could definitely feel the temperature beginning to rise. The final couples of miles, up to the gap, were tough and seemed to drag on forever. I finally reached the gap a little behind schedule and started the 2 mile trail descent to the first medical checkpoint at Crisman Hollow (43.2 miles). I was down about 6 pounds at this point but was feeling very good and pressed on for the continued descent to Four Points and pit crew stop 3.

The Crisman Hollow Road descent was a 5 mile downhill on gravel roads that took forever to complete. Eventually I got into Four Points and met up with the crew (48 miles). I was still ahead of schedule, under 10 hours. The crew did another great job of getting me in and out quickly. The next 9 mile section was all road and I once again opted for the IPOD. From Four Points the course climbed 3 miles to Moreland Gap, about half way up this climb there was a line spray painted across the road with 50 MILES written on it-Half Way in 9h:45m.

There was an aid station at the top of Moreland Gap with some incredibly energetic kids (I needed to harness some their energy). I fueled up and continued to climb along the Moreland Gap Road. This section saw a dramatic slowdown in my pace as the heat of the day started to take its toll. Although a good portion of the road was shaded whenever I got into the sun, it was hot. I finally got to the top of the road and enjoyed a good 2 mile downhill into pit stop 4 (56.5 miles). I was feeling tired and this was the first time I choose to sit down. I needed a cold towel on my head and shoulders to try and cool down. The crew did their job and kicked me out of the chair and down the trail.

The next section was the Peters Mill Run ATV trail, this was the only portion of the course that I had not previously been on and had no idea what to expect. Well let’s start with a climb and climb we did for about 2 miles up a pretty exposed trail-feeling the heat. Once I topped the hill the rest of the trail was downhill into Little Fort Valley, about 5 miles. The trail was fairly well covered and the slope was gradual. I was able to keep a good pace and had the opportunity to get wet in a couple of shallow stream crossings; this helped to keep the morale up. I came into pit stop 5 (64 miles) at 13h:10m and again opted for the chair. As a side note: My best time for the 100K distance (62.2 miles) was 13h:56m and here I was at 64 with a 100K personal best-Praise the Lord.

The goal for the next section was to get to Elizabeth’s Furnace, pit stop 6 (75 miles) by 2000, it was 1720 when I left Little fort Valley and I was projecting 2h:30m to cover the next 11 miles. The crew was going to take the opportunity to run into Front Royal and get something to eat and then meet me at Elizabeth’s Furnace.

How about we start with a climb, up Woodstock Tower road we go for about a mile and then a repeat of miles 8-10 from the morning. I was moving good and looking forward to getting into the Mudhole Gap aid station to replenish my water. Prior to getting into Mudhole I tried to stomach a Hammer Gel, no luck; stomach revolted and purged all contents. This unfortunately would start to become a trend but luckily did not affect my performance too much. As I pulled into Mudhole I was informed that they were out of water but that it was on the way. Didn’t have to wait too long and had the opportunity for some great conversation with another Christian Brother. The water came, I refilled, and left feeling reenergized (more by the conversation than by the water)-God is Good.

Mudhole Gap Trail went fast and then onto the forest service road and the fast continued. I was amazed at the pace I was able to keep and as I looked at the time I saw that I was about 25 minutes ahead of schedule. After about 3 miles I turned off onto the Bear Hollow Trail still way ahead of schedule, then onto the Tuscarora Trail and downhill into Elizabeth’s Furnace. As I approached the Fort Valley road crossing I saw Debbie and the crew pulling into the parking lot, what timing. I arrived at the pit stop (75 miles) at 1930, 30 minutes ahead of schedule and feeling good as I got ready to attack the toughest section of the race.

I have been up Sherman Gap many times and I knew what I was getting into. I knew it was rocky, steep, and slow but up I went and slowly I went. The goal was to get to the top in one hour, well I missed that by about 20 minutes, much slower than I thought-good thing I had come in early on the previous leg, almost as if Someone knew I would need the extra time… curious. So, 3 miles to the top and then 3 miles to the bottom. The trail down the backside is terrible, steep and rocky for the first 1.5 miles and then it gets a little better. Well just after I started the descent I caught a rock with my right toe and took a hard fall. Luckily, I was able to get my hands out in front of me and didn’t hit my head. I just rolled over on my back, turned off my headlamp, and looked at the stars for a minute-man it was peaceful. After I came back to reality, I did a quick system check and everything appeared to be good to go, so downhill I went.

The climb up Sherman Gap had taken most of my water but I knew that there was an unmanned aid station at the bottom of the trail. As I came up on the aid station I saw that there was just one 5 gallon jug and wouldn’t you know it, it was empty-not good. There was 2 miles to go to the next full service aid station and that was a long 2 miles for me. Fighting off cotton mouth for 2 miles, I finally got to the Veach East aid station and took a good 10 minutes to rehydrate and prep for the next climb-Veach Gap. I started to watch my time slip away but had to take care of the machine if I was to have any chance of completing the mission, this was the low point of the race for me.

After seven cups of mixed Mountain Dew and water I started the second to last climb on the course, Veach Gap. It started slow and I was getting concerned about the slow pace when all of a sudden I came out of the low I was in and started to push hard on the last, long switchback to the gap. My trick was to set a constant cadence, look directly at the ground in front of my feet, count out 50 paces and then look up the trail for the next chem light. I just kept moving at the same pace and count all the way to the top.

My prayers were answered, my attitude was great, and I started to hit the 2 plus mile downhill section hard. I came into Veach West, pit stop 7 (86 miles) behind schedule but with 3h:30m to finish in under 24 hours. I knew that I had it.

All I wanted to do was filled my water bottles and get down the road. It was 0030 in the morning and the crew was fired up, although I had taken a long time on this section they could feel the positive energy that I had and they knew I was going to get it done.

The rest of the race was on roads, with one more climb ahead I started out at a slow but consistent pace. I moved on schedule up to the last pit stop at 90 miles, gave my wife a kiss and told them that I would race them back to Woodstock. They had about 25 miles to drive and I only had 6.5 miles to run-they beat me.

I moved pretty well up the last climb to Woodstock Gap and then pounded hard for the 2.5 mile descent to the Shenandoah River. Once I got to the river things slowed down a little, as I evaluated the condition of my body against the amount of time I had left to complete. This resulted in a little more walking in the last 5 miles of the race. I was still able to run the downhills but the uphills and flats were mostly a walking event. Heading back into Woodstock, the crew met me at Water Street (2.7 miles left) and told me they would see me at the finish.

I weaved my way through the dark streets of Woodstock in the reverse order from that which I had run out less than 24 hours ago. Mixing in a little running with the walking, I kept my eye on the time and knew that I was in good shape. Coming up the final hill before the Fairgrounds I had my last stomach revolt which ended with 5 or 6 solid dry heaves and let me know that I had given my all in this race and nothing was left in the tank and I mean nothing. I crested the hill and entered the fairgrounds for a final lap around the horse track and crossed the finish line at 0309, for a total time on course of 23 hours and 9 minutes in 27th place, all for His Glory.

After having some time to absorb the impact of the race I have to continue to praise God for giving me the ability to achieve the goals that I set. Not only was I able to finish the race in under 24 hours, I was able to improve my 100 mile personal best by 3h:17m. We like to think that we are in control of our own destiny and that we can change the outcome of events through our own actions but the bottom line is that we are at mercy of a sovereign God. He has a mission and purpose for each of us and He reveals that purpose to us as we prove ourselves ready and worthy to receive it. All things happen for a reason and I know now more than ever that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” Phil 4:13.

I would like to close by saying thanks to the Race directors, Volunteers, fellow runners, and my excellent CREW. The clock was the competition and it was a very worthy opponent-100 miles in One Day is worthy challenge-The Challenge was accepted-the Competition was won-May all the Glory be HIS.


Semper Fi and God Bless,

Michael Huff


Sunday, May 1, 2011

Promise Land 50K++

“On that day I swore to them that I would bring them out of Egypt into a land I had searched out for them, a land flowing with milk and honey, the most beautiful of all lands.” Ezekiel 20:6

Well the Promise Land Youth Camp in Bedford, VA is not filled with milk and honey but it sure was filled with good people and great food last Saturday when I had the chance to run the Promise Land 50K++. This is another of Dr David Horton’s Lynchburg Ultra Series Races and a spring classic in Virginia. As with all of Horton’s races the distance is not as advertised and there are always some “Horton miles” thrown in for free. The race starts and finishes at the Promise Land Youth Camp and with an early 0530 start, I headed out Friday night for the 3 hour drive to Bedford. I got a late start from Fairfax and ended up getting in to camp around 2100. Having missed most of the evening’s festivities, I got checked in for the race and headed to the car to turn in for the night.
It rained on and off all night and the temps dropped into the low 50’s but by the time we stepped off at 0530 the rain had all but stopped and it would not return for the rest of the race. The first 4 miles or so of the course is a 2300’ climb up and past Overstreet Falls and up Onion Mountain. It starts out mild on a paved road which degrades to a slightly steeper gravel road. When state maintenance ends the road gets significantly steeper and then you hit the trail for the last mile and a half. Once on top of Onion Mountain we hit the smooth, grassy trails of the Glenwood horse Trail and part of the Hellgate course and just like on the Hellgate course this is where some of the Horton miles are hidden. This takes you into aid station 2 (~10 miles) and the kickoff of the next big climb up to the high point of the race on Apple Orchard Mountain, just over 4000’.

Crossing the Blue Ridge Parkway, in a very thick fog bank, we were done with climbing for a while and from the top of the course we started the constant descent to the "Dark Side" and the lowest point on the course. The first couple of miles were a gentle descent on a dirt road that paralleled the parkway into AS 3 (Sunset Fields, ~13.5 miles). At that point we jumped on the very steep Apple Orchard Falls Trail to the Cornelius Creek Trail to AS 4. This 5 and a half mile, 2500’ descent went fairly quick but it took a toll on my quads and hips. Passing AS 4 the drop continued for another 2 miles down a gravel road until we finally hit the bottom of the course.

Leaving the road we started the climb out of the “Dark Side” on the White Tail Deer Trail. After about a mile of mostly uphill trail we came into AS 5 (~21 miles). This aid station is famous for having ice cream sandwiches and this year was no different. Unfortunately, my stomach was not going to cooperate with ice cream so I passed and continued on. The next 5 miles are a hard section of this race. It is a gradual uphill along grassy jeep trails and gravel roads. The good news for me, on this day, was that the sun was just starting to peak through the clouds and the temps were still relatively cool. Mentally, this section seems to go on forever and as it follows the in and out contours of the landscape it is hard to see what is up ahead, so if you’re not mentally prepared for this it can be very frustrating. Finally the trail takes a hard turn to the right and you know that you are on the final stretch in to the aid station.

Returning to the Cornelius Creek AS (both AS4 and 6), the good news is that we had less than 8 miles to go to the finish, the bad news is that we had the smack down 2000’ climb UP Apple Orchard Falls. I was now 26ish miles into the race and my legs were still feeling pretty good. The first mile or so of the climb up the falls trail is a semi runnable (for me) but once I got to the falls proper it was a hike all the way back up to Sunset Fields. I was hoping to make it up the section in less than an hour but it ended up taking 1h:5m and it was just as brutal as the last time I ran this race three years ago. The benefit of all the rain we had was that the creeks were full and the falls were beautiful. This offered a momentary distraction to the steep slope of the climb. Topping out at Sunset Fields (AS 7) was a great feeling and I knew that I only had one more small climb and then a 4 mile downhill to the finish.

Although the four mile downhill sounds nice, after 6 plus hours of running my legs ability to absorb the downhill pounding was severely diminished. Needless to say I would have liked to have made better time moving downhill but was satisfied with the pace I was able to keep. Coming down Onion Mountain and into the final aid station I could smell the barn. I motored past the aid station and started down the dirt road toward the “Promise Land”. I passed the one mile to go marker and before I knew it I was turning into the Promise Land Youth Camp and be greeted at the finish by Dr. Horton (6h:41m).

It was fitting that this race was run on Easter weekend. The descents and ascents of the Blue Ridge Mountains were symbolic of the sacrifice that Christ made for us on Good Friday and His glorious resurrection on Easter Sunday. During the race, the hard climb up to Apple Orchard Mountain could symbolize Christ’s hard climb up Golgotha to the place of His crucifixion. The descent down Cornelius trail, to the depths of the “Dark Side”, represents Christ’s descent into Hell. The struggle along the long and winding, grassy road reflects His hard fought battle to atone for OUR sins. The tough ascent up Apple Orchard Falls symbolizes His resurrection and rise from the DARK into the LIGHT, for us it was the light of Sunset Fields. And it was with the glorious feeling of resurrection that we ran, with joy and confidence, the final downhill section into “The Promise Land”. Many thanks to Dr. Horton and all of his great volunteers, this was a great run.

For His Glory,

Michael Huff

Friday, April 22, 2011

"Trust in the Lord with all of your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all of your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight." Proverbs 3: 5-6

I know that it’s been a while since the last post and I wanted to let everyone know that the 2011 Ultra Running season is underway. This year has started off well, to date I have completed 4 Ultras (Willis River Trail 50K, the ICY 8 Hour Adventure Run, Seneca Creek Greenway 50K, Bel Monte 50 Miler, and The Sweetwater 50K). My next event is this coming Saturday in Bedford, VA – The Promise Land 50K.

This is the fourth year that I will be supporting the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund and I have included a link to the 2011 fundraising page below, it has changed from last year’s site . Over the past 3 years we have managed to raise approximately $14,000.00 due to gracious contribution and support. I know it's a rather difficult time, financially, for everyone and to ask someone to give is even more difficult. But we are getting more and more injured service members back. We had over a dozen double amputee or higher injuries come into Bethesda Hospital this past couple of months! This fundraising effort is helping them. It's going to be a complicated time for them and the Semper Fi Fund is able to make a major impact on their lives when it matters the most.

Since I started working with the Semper Fi Fund, more than 4 years ago, I have seen them grow as an organization. Due to their streamlined structure they are able to keep overhead very low – at 5% – which allows more of our donations go where they are truly needed.

The basic ideal that drives the Semper Fi Funds effort is simple: as much as these American heroes have sacrificed, they deserve the best care and support available in their hour of need. Injuries are often severe, and the road to recovery or rehabilitation can be long and costly. Many of those that the Fund work with must have their homes modified, or even move into a new home designed to accommodate a serious disability; adaptive transportation is needed. The list goes on and on, and so do the bills. That’s where the efforts and support of the Semper Fi Fund come in.

Since establishing this fund in 2004, they have issued close to 26,000 grants totaling more than $46 million to thousands of our heroes and their families. Clearly, the program is working. But our challenges are actually increasing, especially due to the level of severe trauma sustained in areas like Afghanistan and Iraq.

Tax-deductible contributions make up the lifeblood of the Semper Fi Fund. Whether the donation is large or small, a one-time gift or ongoing endowment, you have the power to make a real difference, here and now – no matter where in the world you live.

I have dedicated my running effort s, once again, to those that protect and serve. This year’s goal event is to complete the Old Dominion 100 Mile Endurance Run on the 4th and 5th of June. I have a couple more races prior to this event and then I will attempt to complete the run in less than 24 hours. I will try and do a better job updating the blog site with race reports.

Thanks again for all of your support, please join me in spreading the Semper Fi message and supporting this noble cause.

God Bless and Semper Fi,
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