Saturday, March 26, 2011

Race Report: Terrapin Mountain Half Marathon

Terrapin Mountain 50k and Half-Marathon. I ran the half. 3250 of elevation gain and loss over 13.1 miles. Check out the elevation profile here.

This all began months ago as I was planing out some runs and races I'd be interested in doing, I had originally planned for this weekend to run the inaugural Martinsville Half marathon, but soon switched plans. Thinking about the Martinsville race, it would be a new event and because it was in Martinsville it could possibly ensure limited attendance, and potentially an age group top 3 finish (possibly unrealistic goal, I'm not as fast as I used to be). But because I view the Terrapin Mountain half and 50k as a "special" event and one that intimidates me, I wanted to take on the challenge.

Going into this weekend, I was half dreading it and half excited. In end, I feel accomplished, encouraged and satisfied. Everything we want after a race. I must add that to know that many involved with this race are fellow Christians, it just makes it that much nicer to be there.

 The idea of camping out on the Sedalia Center property (Race headquarters) sounded like a good time, but knew it would have been a cold night, and thinking about how to organize that with Lydia and Pauly (17 months old) I wasnt so sure. Being in Roanoke, I was only an hour away from the event so I decided to drive. Of course I left later than I wanted, but got there at about 6:10. Thankfully I was able to get behind another driver heading in the same direction (I could tell by the stickers on the back of the Jeep FJ), and I soon joined a trail of cars headed in....

Here's the reason you show up to a race early... you dont want to have to stand in line to get your race number and packet, and then stand in line again to hit the bathroom. It was dark and it was cold, and my head is telling me all that I dont want to hear. but I'm trying to figure out what exactly to wear and what layers, and will it warm up at all? there was a 30% chance of rain in the forecast too. While waiting in line, I'm looking around for the 2 people that I knew I could recognize (but dont really know me) and to see if I knew any one else. I got back to the car and got dressed and soon the announcements began. I returned to the pavilion where everyone was collected and listened to the announcements, made final detail changes to what I was going to wear and was wondering if it was even going to be light before the race start? I diddnt bring a head lamp, and I diddnt want to run with one for 15 mins, and then have to carry it the entire race. Thankfully the 7AM start time was perfectly set so the daylight came in time. After announcements was a simple word of prayer (thank you), and we all headed to the starting line.

As we are all standing in front of the banner that said "Terrapin Mountain 50K and Half-Marathon" Dr. Clark Zealand, Race Director said over the PA something to the effect of. "Ladies and Gentleman, welcome to Terrapin! That mountain you see just beyond the sign overhead is Terrapin Mounatin" I soon felt a rush of excitement and fear all at the same time. But I was so stoked to be taking on this challenge.
Start line with Terrapin mountain on the horizon

The course began with a GONG and a cheer from the 300+ crowd. All runners for the 50k and half started together. There is a video of the race start HERE. The first mile or so was on road and a slow steady, up hill. This changed to a dirt road, that could be driven if one really desired, but the higher up we went the less drivable and steeper it seemed getting more and more narrow. There was a creek crossing or two. The first of which, I was surprised with the number of runners that just went right through the water. hoping to stay dry for the majority of the race, I hopped from rock to rock, and the guy ahead of me mis-stepped and fell in, but I made it OK.

The first stop, and Aid Station would be an area called Camping Gap. This would be 4.1miles in. honestly I was surprised how soon it came. I was having a good time. I had my headphones and iPod Nano on me, and available, but never used them during the race, except for some video I took.

One big lesson I learned - and I was really hoping to accept this... is how much walking is really embraced by the ultra racing community. I believe in my experience as a runner, and the races I've entered in the past as well as the thoughts that are in my head - I dont like walking. I admit that to not fully run a race used to feel like a defeat to me. So, I was glad to see how many runners in this group were what I'd call "smart runners" and it's OK to walk. My friend Anita has been encouraging me with those words, and I've been accepting it. Today, it was sure nice to walk up those climbs and everyone else walked them too. (this really changes my perspective on ultra running) Looking back, I think I could have run more than I did, but not ever knowing what was before me, I was unable to assess if I could push it to run on some of the climbs or not, I wanted to run smart rather than run fast.

Once the runners made it to Camping Gap we were greeted by a huge group of volunteers and what would be my first of 2 aid stations on the course for the Half-Marathon. There was Mellow Yellow and Coke, and many bowls of various food items. Mini Reese's cups, of which I grabbed one, m&m's, some small bites of like a honey bun or danish and many other items, I think this was the stop that had small cuts of sandwiches too. I stopped a moment took some Mellow Yellow and a Reese's cup, then headed in the right direction.

The 50k runners and the Half-runners split ways at this point. I was lead to believe from reading other race reports that this was the top of the hill for the moment... Well that may be true for those on the 50k course, but not for this course. I think this is where the climb REALLY began. Honestly What I had run/hiked up to this point, was hat I would say is potentially run-able by a strong runner. but what was to come, personally was not "runnable" (if that is even a word). It got steeper, but it wasnt for long.

The first of 2 "orienteering punches" was at the very top of this last portion of the climb on a small out and back portion of the trail. It was in a hard to get to place, as I had to climb over a few rocks to find something that I diddnt even know what I was looking for. Apparently an orienteering punch is a lot like a hole punch, but instead of a hole it pokes a pattern of pin holes in a small square. i punched my number, and the pull tag from my number, cause I diddnt know where I was supposed to punch.

Fat Man's Misery
Next was a sign to tell us that an infamous part of the trail was coming up "Fat Man's Misery". I had heard of this area, and looked it up online, but the pics diddnt do it justice at all. It was more narrow than I had thought, and It's not only fat man's misery, but it's tall man's misery too. I had to drop down a couple rocks to get into the narrow gap between 2 rocks, and then squeezing through, then duck under a rock... wow! what fun. The rock was quite coarse and can easily remove skin, even from the palm of your hand.

Apparently the next orienteering punch was at this point, but I totally missed it (perhaps that is what the woman ahead of me said that I diddnt understand, something about "there's the other punch!" But onward I ran. Finally I felt that I could actually run for a while.

What goes up, must come down and indeed it does! Training for a race with such elevation change, takes training on the climbs, but training on the downhills too. So, a descent begins. and as it continued, it got steeper. At times it is controlled falling. I tend to concentrate on heel strike when running downhill and of course footing. Always on trails with questionable footing, I'm trying to read ahead 2 steps at all times. On the downhills I'm hyper-focused, because everything happens that much faster, as I dont take very long strides on questionable terrain, because I trust my footing much less. I'm passing a couple people and feeling good about it.

So I heard of the area they call "The Rock Garden" and I knew when I got there. Large rocks that shifted with each step. scary, but I tried to keep up a good pace. It wasnt long after this that I passed a woman who was limping along the way, she said help was on the way and she had apparently twisted an ankle. I learned later she was the current course female record holder, and managed to twist both ankles within a short time. I felt her disappointment.

After a screaming downhill was the second or two aid stations. I was now 7.6 miles in. I recall this station more clearly. It seemed like even more food that last time. I wanted to stay a while and just pig out on the brownies and sweets they had there, but I sampled some NUUN drink (I've been wanting to try that stuff), and ate some potato chips (for the salt). So much for the rule of "dont do anything new on race day" but I think my changes of food were minor and I was "only" running 13 miles.

The rest of the course, if you observe the elevation profile was able to be run most of the entire distance, and I had I studied the course more, I may have attempted to do that, but I still walked some on the steeper parts. but observing others and how they performed on this part, they ran it all. (goal for next year!) The trail was rolling and curved to allow you to see other areas of the trail ahead and behind you (and other runners if close.) There was a couple creek crossings, one of which I took the option instead of rock hopping, I balanced over a fallen tree... possibly not a good idea when your head is spinning and you're breathing hard. It was at one of these creek crossings that I ended up dipping my toe in as I ran over it. I felt the water penetrate and spread over my toes, but once it settled, I never knew it was wet.

I knew I had a good distance from the guy behind me. Until a different guy ended up on my heels which really surprised me. He was running very well. This to me is more evidence that I wasnt running as I could have for this portion. Additionally the guy ahead of me at the beginning of this area, was never seen again, so he ran it well also.

The last mile and a half or more was all downhill and then turned to the street. There were no mile markers on the whole trail. So, I'm trying to remember just how long this final stretch would be, and I'm picking up my pace, but then I see a sign that says one mile to go. I was thinking it was less than that, but I kept on. I slowed a little, but soon picked it up again when I felt it was only a half mile left. I finished strong and pleased at 2:31:39 which was an 11:34/mile pace. When I saw that the clock read close to 2:30, I was quite excited! That was a goal, but I diddnt know if that was realistic or not, not having been on the course.

Crossing the finish and getting a high-five from Dr. Clark Zealand
It was nice seeing the other runners come in. Especially seeing the first finishers of the 50k. The course record for the 50k was beat by 11 mins! One of my many goals with this event was to learn how ultra runners run. Which in the first 4 miles, I was able to assess this to an extent.  Dr. David Horton asked me after the race if I was planning to run the Promise Land 50k (scheduled for April 23). I made an excuse of not having run my first marathon yet, but he encouraged me that it wasnt necessary. Despite what many runners believe, a marathon doesnt have to be a pre-requesite for an ultra.

The meal afterward was pork barbecue, green beans and cole slaw. There was veggie burgers as well.
 The prizes were very high end including Patagonia and Nathan items, and race entries to upcoming events.
Of course my big goal for this summer is to run the Mountain Junkies' Conquer The Cove Marathon. but I'm still not sure if I'll be able to train enough for it, and I may end up doing the 25k... we'll see.

A couple hours after the race, I have no blisters, minimal chafing, but knees that are quite sore, the point of discomfort is on the outside of my kneecaps. I'm staying hydrated and eating frequently.

Thank you to all the volunteers and helpers that made this event what it was. Thank you also to those that provided good conversation and smiles and memories along the way.

Other Terrapin race reports:
Visit the eco-x blog and there's a whole list that I just diddnt want to repost all of them here, when you can just go there.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Reach beyond

As I was using Google to see if my own blog shows on a search, I found the phrase "more than pace and stride" in a blog called "Reach beyond. Accomplish within. A blog about healthier living. I think this blog is no longer tended to, as it lacks any recent posts. It was active from 2005 to 2008, but only one post in 2009, about how he was headed to his first marathon. I am curious how that story ended.

My point is not that the phrase I choose for my blog title was found elsewhere, but that it was used in quite an inspiring post on this blog about the stories behind those running the Boston Marathon in 2008.

» See article

...and if I may quote this unknown blogger, I love how he used the phrase :
"It seemed everybody was running for a cause - some for charity, some for family members, some for themselves and some even just for fun. Whatever the reasons, the day spent in front of my television reinforced my belief that running is about so much more than pace and stride - running asks, "can you?" - we provide the answers."

How very true. Thank you for that.
I find myself asking myself that very question when it comes to running... Can I?

So often my longer runs are plagued with doubt, I feel victorious when I have accomplished any task in the face of doubt or resistance. Dont we all?
So after conquering that long climb, throw up your arms and shout, no one is watching and if they are - maybe they will be inspired to seek the same.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Good article on race nutrition (from

Lately, I've desired to learn more about how to remain nourished while running. I've been asking other runners what works for them, and reading online. I ran into a great article which I found at They have a nice list of running related articles, most leaning toward distance and ultra related info.

» See article
Written by exercise physiologist Bill Henderson, MD

I found many things interesting and informative in the article. Judging by the comments that follow this piece, and another which he wrote on that site (on Running Economy), his informative and educational writings are appreciated by many readers, of which I am one.

The article was written mostly with his thoughts about preparing for a multi day race, the Marathon des Sables. Which is a 6 day, 151 mile race across the Sahara desert in Morocco. (crazy right? few sill disagree.) The article covers, nutrition comments and advice for pre-race, race-morning, intra-race, post-race, and selecting the right carbs.

Carb-loading to me simply meant eating a ton of carbs the evening before a race. Dr. Henderson clues the reader in on a carb loading technique which I've not heard before. This includes carb restriction a few days prior to your race, and running low on carbs. The intent is to deplete the body of glycogen stores in the liver and in the muscles. which stimulates glycogen production and storage, so when you eat a heavy carb mean the evening prior to your race you have maxed out intrinsic energy production and supplemented with your diet. He says that this can potentially carry a runner a full marathon's distance, but I get the impression that he doesnt advise it. He lists the pros and cons of such a technique and speaks of it's limitations in a multi day race as well.
Finally he advises to not only "top off" your carb stores, but electrolytes and sodium as well. increasing sodium intake for 3 days before the day of your race.

The morning mean before a race is best consumed 2-3 hours before the race (in another location in the article he states to eat a heavy complex carb meal 3-4 hours prior). Personally I find this a great difficulty. For example, I'm soon to join a race which starts at 7AM. The location is about an hour away and pre-race check-in ends at 6:30 when the race announcements begin. so if I'm hoping to hit a nice breakfast 2-3 hours before that, I'll be eating at 4 or 5AM... but isnt sleep important too?
I figure the best advice in this situation is the commonly spoken, "dont do anything new on race day" which is often good advice.

During the race, ultimately he suggests to consume up to 250calories an hour if possible, and eat as many carbs as possible. Of course this is tailored to the individual and is complicated with fighting off nausea commonly seen from eating too much while on the run.  I'd say that for non ultra races, and for those that wont run too much further than an hour, to tailor this information to your needs, but it is quite educational none-the-less.

He explored into the choices of carbs and talked of the combination of maltodextrin with fructrose as superior to either by themselves. this promotes me to become more conscious and read more on what I'm eating myself. This combination allows for more carbs to be absorbed and available for your body faster, sounds like the right idea, doesnt it?

The discussion on recovery foods, I found interesting as well, as I too dont always feel hungry after a race, and it seems that the harder I run a race, the less hungry I feel afterwards. his advice is to still eat! As your glycogen stores need to be restored ASAP. You are best served to eat large amounts of carbs immediately and at 15-60 minute intervals for up to the next 5 hours! I think I'm under doing it. He discussed the inclusion of protein as well as carbs, and spoke of the carb to protein ration of 4:1 that you can find in more modern sport drinks.

I've used Accelerade which I know believes in this 4:1 ratio, but cant say I have a tangibly positive experience with it. I just got a lot of it cheap and used it during last summer. it diddnt hold me back, but I'm not sure how much it did or diddnt do for me. I used Amino Vital for a couple months because I won some in a race and it tasted nasty, but again, hard to see an appreciable difference.

As I continue to pursue some personal education and advice on this topic, I think that as each of us progresses in our adventures, our demands change. What works for one season may need to change for another. and the next year, hopefully we will be running more and again our needs will change.

I personally have been using Gatorade in my hydration pack. Consuming a Cliff bar in thirds, pre-run and a third mid-run about every 45 mins on runs over an hour and a half, then usually another third or half afterwards. I ran only a couple times with a small bag of raisins and m&ms on a recent long run that was planned to be over 2 and a half hours. It took 3 hours to finish my route. I have had success with these foods, but I admit it is all experimentation. I have used GU gels in the past, because I got a hold of some, and I knew they would be offered in an upcoming race. I'm always looking for other items to try out. I am curious about other products, including NUUN tabs, as I hear about it often from other runner blogs I run into.

I would love to hear from others about what works for them.
Keep reading, keep learning, keep running. See you out there.

Interesting to point out that Jeff Galloway in THIS portion from his book about running injury free from 2002 suggests to not carb load the night before, and not to increases salt intake either... Jeff is an accomplished athlete, Olympian and author. He knows what works for him, but I am more likely to follow Dr. Henderson's advice, as it is closer to what I've been doing in the past and having some decent success with.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


I've desired to start this long ago. My goal for this blog is to document my running progress, share what I'm learning and provide some race reports for my area.

I often find myself looking online to get detailed info about races that I've never entered before and most often that info is hard to find. Perhaps I can provide that info for others.

I anticipate that the most difficult part will be to keep it all current.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Race Report: Montvale 10 mile

I started this blog after these events below, so I am back-posting about them, after the date. This is a recollection of the events even if a few weeks later.

The Montvale 5 mile and 10 mile. I ran the 10 mile. Another excellent event from the Mountain Junkies.
Photos used by permission from the Mountain Junkies LLC Facebook page

This was my first time running this race, and the first time running at this park. The Montvale park and it's trails are maintained by Kenny, the same guy who takes care of the trails at Bedford, where the Mountain Junkies host the Trail Nut 10K and Half marathon (May 7th, 2011). What a guy, I must say. He shows up at the races, seems to have good communication with race directors and makes an overall good impression. I remember him from when I ran the Trail nut last summer, and I was sure to approach him and shake his hand to say thank you prior to the race as well. He was there to make sure all went well and assist with parking etc. The work he puts in to the trails is much appreciated. We should be glad Bedford County's parks and recreation recognizes the value in having him there.

So the area of the race headquarters changed location from previous years and since I wasnt there previously, I cant compare, but this year's race headquarters seems to be a work in progress for the park. It was sufficient, but underdeveloped yet it's future seems so promising, I really want to attend next year. The parking lot was gravel, but enough parking for the 150+ runners in attendance. There are cement slabs placed around to serve as the foundation for what is soon to be built there. These will likely be pavilions, picnic shelters and the like.
Montvale Park, This area is still under development.

I had expected the race to be a little less hilly that the previous Explore Park event, but I was mistaken. During the morning's packet pickup I asked Gina Gilbert (Race Director) about how "hilly" the course was and I got the expected answer that It was "rolling", and yes it was. I was hoping for an elevation profile on it, and since there wasnt on on the site or any mention of elevation, I assumed it was flatter than the other Mountain Junkie events. I really wish I had a Garmin Forerunner watch or smartphone so I could obtain this info, not only for my personal knowledge on various runs, but also to help communicate about events such as this.

There wasnt much to say about any specific important climbs, but it was slow and steady. There was definitely hills but I diddnt feel that there was a "big climb" along the course that was hard to run through.

The week had given us much rain previously, so there were areas that were wet and a little muddy but nothing horrible at all. The course changed slightly from the previous year and a short conversation with someone who had run it last year (so I could get an idea of where the start was) I was told that last time they ran through a fairly "boggy" area, but we diddnt run through any such area this time.
And they're off!

During pre-race announcements delivered by Josh Gilbert (Race Director) Runners were advised to not run through the volunteers at the area where the 10 mile runners begin the second loop. This was the first event that I have been in where someone was gong to mark my race number after a certain part of the course was completed. Runners were advised to not run over the volunteers, but that is almost exactly what I did. At the checkpoint, I was not thinking at all, I was just in a daze. One of the volunteers had begun to run after me, but I soon understood and turned around. I think the person in front of me at the moment must have been doing the 5mile or something, because I dont recall seeing them mark her number. It diddnt take but a second and I was back on my way.

At one point in the race, when I found myself catching up with another runner. I made myself stay behind them for a while and match their pace so I wouldnt overdue it. I would qualify this as "running smart" Opportunities like this present themselves in many races and I find that I run a better event by sticking alongside others from time to time while running. At times they help keep me running faster, and at times they help me stay a little slower. it depends on what I feel I need for that race at that time. And plus, when possible, I like the conversation.

I crossed some walkers as I was coming out of the woods and back on the common trail. I had first thought someone may have been an injured runner, but was soon assured things were OK. I know Josh has said something in the past about hoping to have more walkers enter the Mountain Junkies events, so I hope to see more walkers as well.
Me rapidly approaching the finish line.

I felt that I finished strong and was excited to be getting in 10 miles, as it had been a while. My training had taken a set back more than I had desired. Part due to a busy schedule, part due to weather and part due to feeling like I should taper a bit before the Terrapin Mountain half.

The Mountan Junkies always have creative awards for the age group winners.

I enjoyed the post race spread of food! Which the Mountain Junkies are quickly becoming famous for. The ever popular homemade chocolate chip pumpkin bread, Salazon chocolate (which is very good and has a salty surprise), the usual bagels but with peanut butter, and Nutella available too, bananas, local cookies (I think Drew's cookies), trail mix etc.

I'm hoping to enter again next year.
Thank you to the Mountain Junkies and all the volunteers for another great event.
It's good that there is no rule about men running in kilts, cause I saw atleast two, I know.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Race Report: Explore Your Limits 10k

 Explore Your Limits 5k and 10k, put on by Mountain Junkies LLC
 I ran the 10k.
Photos used by permission from the Mountain Junkies LLC FaceBook page

I always love the excitement at the events with the Mountain Junkies. Thank you so much to Josh and Gina... and all the volunteers that made the day possible!

 Prior to this event, I had been running at Explore Park (mile post 115 on the Blue Ridge Parkway) learning the trails and the elevations in the month or two prior. It was almost silly that I had not been out there much before this, cause I've been running the trails around Mill Mountain and the Chestnut Ridge Loop countless times. There are a lot of miles of trails out there and many more miles that can be made outside of the marked trails.

I diddnt know the exact course for the 10K and it wasnt posted with much detail on the Mountain Junkies website, but it wasnt where I had thought it went. The parts of the 10k course that I did run previously, I had been running in the wrong direction. So, being able to anticipate hills or rocky sections etc. was limited. It was almost as good as not having run, but not really. I came to learn during pre-race announcements that the full course isnt "advertised" online because a portion of it is on private property and the Mountain Junkies have access to it on race day only. So, now I understood. As the Mountain Junkies are usually very good at giving info on the course and trails.

The 10k runners started 10 mins before the 5k runners. Once we left the start line, we did a short loop and then ran back through the start line from the opposite direction. This was a GREAT design. As we all ran back through the start line, the 5k runners were there to cheer us on, very nice!

The first half of the 10k loop was the same as the 5k loop. This took us through much of the Explore Park historical areas. See Explore Park is shut down. It was an expensive venture that Roanoke took on. It existed as a sort of living museum of primitive culture. Restored historical structures, a working tavern and grist mill among the buildings to see. The park had a promising future at one time, but it was around 2007-2008 that it closed, leaving only the trails left to enjoy. These trails are "intermediate, twisty, rolling IMBA style single track".

I was pleased with how I ran.
I was pleased with my pace being under 9 min, and I never really that fast on trails. I am pleased with my performance. Glad that I ran every hill with some energy, passing people always feels nice in a race. I've been working on my confidence with long strides on trails and especially on the downhills, and I see how that payed off today. Climbing takes endurance (to keep pressing on), descending takes confidence (to increase stride and speed). I dont recall the elevation of the trail, but toward the end of the 5k mark was the real hill that left everyone talking. it pressed on for what I would guess to be less than a half of a mile, leaving you forgetting what beauty you just saw. But atop the hill was the parking lots, and soon after the finish for the 5k runners, and the split back off into the woods for the 10k runners to take on the Endurance Loop. which twisted and rolled and twisted some more. It may be of the more twisty trails I've been on.

I had brought along with me my sister-in-law, and it was her first trail race, she even beat her PR 5K time from a previous road 5k! nice! And she won a $10 gift cert at Walkabout Outfitter too!

I enjoy seeing all the familiar faces and making friends and just being outdoors. Having my wife and baby there to cheer me on as I pass back through the crowd was priceless, as well as having my son wanting to hug me at the finish despite the sweat and mud and panting breath.

Montvale 10M is next. and I'm keeping my event registrations coming in, in advance. I'm all ready in for the Montvale 10M... and I got the check wrote and envelope sealed to be mailed on Monday for the Mill Mtn Mayhem. Which by the way, for those still reading - that's one heck of a course! in case you havent run it before.

For those not running the next 'Junkies' event, how about volunteering? I'm hoping to volunteer for the Fab 5k in August.