Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Swinging Bridge 35k / 50k AKA Willis River 35k & 50k Wilderness Trail Runs

The event used to be called Swinging Bridge, but since the race route no longer takes runners to the swinging bridge, the name was changed to Willis River.
Date: January 14, 2012.  
Location: Bear Creek Lake State Park in Cumberland, VA
Event: 50k (35k and 50k distances offered)
Presented by: Richmond Road Runners
Event Website: HERE
Cost: Only $25Other race reports on this event: Lost In The Woods Running (Mike Bailey)

It seems like you don't have to search much to find the expensive races, but to find the events with less fuss not only do you have to search deeper, but you have to register quick too.
Not only was Willis River 50k a cheap event (same price for 35k and 50k) but it was also full many weeks before race day.

A first REAL ultra?
I ran 50k for the first time at Hinson Lake's 24 hour event. I completed the 50k in 7 hours. That was my main goal, 50k. This was in late September. My total miles for the event was 55 miles.

I ran 50k for the second time at the Crooked Road 24 hour event. The structure of the day did not allow me to keep time like I did at Hinson. My total miles for the event was 62 miles.

Believing that I could cover the distance, I did feel a little concerned that it was a measured distance and a bit less supported than a 24 hour event. (had good aid stations, but not the FOOD that you get at those 2 24 hour events). Thinking to myself that it would be different as I'd likely log in many more miles alone, rather than shared with whomever was on the loop course, that you get at those 24 hour events. Still I was confident that I could, and would.

Pre-race research
Of course I researched as much as I could for the event. I found limited info. One of the most helpful sources I found was a race report from Mike Bailey, whom I had just shared the course with at the Crooked Road 24 hour event. He wrote a report on his blog after he ran it in 2009 in blistering cold weather.

Weather omg!
The event takes place in January... in 2009 (see Mike's blog above) temps were as low as NEGATIVE 1 degrees! I'm learning that the course has some mandatory creek crossings where you WILL get wet. I'm excited and nervous both. I would much rather submit myself to such conditions at an organized event, rather than on my own training run somewhere all alone. I figured worst case is I sign up, waste $25 and not run, but either way, I was going to be there before I decided to DNS (Did Not Start).
Dead Last finish is better than Did Not Finish which is even better than Did Not Start. 

I prepared for the cold temps by buying my first pair of running pants. OK they are tights, but I researched around and decided on Patagonia Speed Work Tights. Retail $69 affordable and a simple design, no external pockets or fancy anything, just quality material.

I also bought a Smartwool neck gaiter and headband. When worn together is could simulate a balaclava, which is pretty much a ski mask. 

I had recently upgraded my gloves from simple polyester liners to a much nicer Mountain Hardwear momentum running glove.

I was concerned about what the weather would bring, and there was only one thing I could do about it, and that was to prepare. I made sure some cold training runs took me through water so I could run with wet feet and I tried not to let the cold weather hold me back in my running.

Plans - driving arrangements
After I assembled a list of those that might be attending, and learned what running friends would indeed be running this event. I began to talk with them about their past experiences there and how to prepare. We also made driving and traveling arrangements. I was excited to be invited to ride with Josh and Gina Both of them having run this race previously were able to offer a lot of important support.

The drive up and pre race prep.
Meeting early on Saturday AM in Roanoke, we were on our way. Josh, Gina, Dru, Mike and myself. I was thankful to not have to drive. Josh having made everyone some muffins, I think they were chocolate chip banana nut, pretty good stuff! Wish I had one now actually. Discussion about who ran what race, and comparing ultras and some talk about who really knows how to put on a good race. We all seemed to enjoy one another's company and conversation.

Race headquarters was in a nice heated building with restrooms (additional "john's" outside) and water fountains.

Arrival was just over an hour early. Perfect. Packet pickup and time to dress, prep the body and mind. Rid of all the pre-race heebie-jeebies, take pre-race pics and enjoy a lot of nervous chatter and reunions. 
Photo courtesy of Tom Rickard, Mike is missing from the pic.
Questions about about what items of hydration to bring. Wear a pack, or just the hand held bottle? I opted for the hand held bottle as I knew there would be an aid station every 5 miles so I could refill.

The course - weather, trees, mud and water

The new name of the event includes that it is s "wilderness trail" I believe that is to let others know that is may be a bit unmaintained in places, and possibly difficult to follow. The course mostly followed white blazes on the trees, and there were white streamers tied to trees every so often, especially in the difficult areas. I think the white was hard to see, I'd prefer a brighter color. It was obvious that the course had some preparation to it. There were a couple areas that made me feel like we were being used to forge a new portion of trail rather than following an established trail.

I heard it many times, and I must say it here as well (and if you hear one thing about the course other than the potentially cold temps it will be this) but there are many down trees that every runner must step over or climb over. These provided nice breaks in the running though. Well, I thought that at first, but after you get a good number of miles under your feet, your legs don't want to lift that high off the ground!

Other than temps and trees there was mud and water. At various times in the past 3 days leading up to the race it rained. I was thankful it wasn't raining today, but the rain left countless mud pits and filled up the creeks just right. Mud pits so deep that the ever present leaf covered trail became shoe sucking black dirt soupy sections that at first you try to dance over, but soon enough you tie in and just tromp right through. I still don't know how I'm going to clean those shoes.

The creeks included many countless crossings, perhaps 10 times? Not all of them required you to submerge your feet, but a couple of them did for sure. At this race and for this time (another day might be completely different) you could find some areas that would put you in as deep as mid calf. Usually there was a better option. Personally after all the mud, it was kind of cleansing to run through cleaner water. The cold temps of the water only penetrated for a very short time. I wonder if that was in part because I was wearing Smart wool socks, and I've read that wool stays warmer when wet than other fabrics? Who knows.

35k complete stop or go?
I was aware that this course didn't have a lot of elevation, but then was surprised that it has 1800 vertical. I would have considered it more flat than that. It had plenty of simple short ups and down (muds and puds - multiple ups and downs, pointless ups and downs).

After 5 miles out the first aid station. Aid stations were stocked with only water and soda for drink. food included cookies, m&ms pretzels and potato chips. Gummy items and I forget what else.

It was nice that before the turn around, I could see the lead runners as they pass. I was excited to see that Josh was in 3rd place at about that time, and not far from the guys ahead of him.

After returning to the start and completing the 35k. Many choose to call it quits, but I knew what the plan was and I was determined to stick to it. I knew I had 5 more miles out and 5 more miles back. I was feeling good having crossed the line in under 4 hours. I rested a moment and refueled at the aid station, then went back down the trail. It was good to see some friends in our group (Mike and Walker) there resting after having completed the 35k a while ago.

Once I headed back in tot eh woods for the final leg of the 50k. I noticed who came into the aid station behind me. He eventually passed me.

The final 10
I think the last 10 miles were more attractive than the first 20. Arriving at the turnaround aid station. I was pleased to be seeing some greenery and a nice river not too far away. I stopped at the aid station. the Race Director was there encouraging the runners. I thanked him for his work on putting the race together. I enjoyed some m&m's, Pringles, one Advil and I forget what else.

The first 5 of the last 10 were heavily hiked. The last 5 of the race, I felt stronger than the previous 5, and I ran more than before. Perhaps it was more downhill? I do know that I think the last 10 miles were more hilly than the first 20. That could be perception though too as my legs were quite tired by that point. There was definitely less mud water and down trees. it was easier to run without interruption. There was a section of forest road (well, there was a section on the first out and back too) which was a nice change of pace for a short time.

It was again exciting to see the oncoming runners. Constantly wondering how well Josh was running, I finally saw 2 figures emerging through the woods toward me. Josh was in the lead!!!

The runner that passed me in the final 10, never got too far ahead, as I could tell from the turn around how far ahead he was.

At the finish
As I was nearing the last mile. I came up on the runner that was behind me before I began the last 10. We enjoyed one another's company and conversation for that last mile. I really appreciated that as I had so little conversation during this run. We crossed the line together.

It was great to see familiar faces at the finish and Gina there to take my picture. It made me feel right at home like I was at a Mountain Junkie race. Pictures at moments like that are priceless, Thank you!

The clock read something short of 6:30 and I was pleased that it was below 7 hours, but soon thought that it took an extra 30 mins to cover 10 miles, when on the first half of the race I ran 10 miles every 2 hours. Despite my instant negativity, I enjoyed the moment. Soon I asked how the end of Josh's race turned out, and I was happy to hear that he won! His first ultra win!

Driving home... 
After a short cool down, food was on my mind. I knew the other in my group were waiting only on me and ready to go. I wanted to refuel. I partook in what the aid station at the finish had to offer, but knew I wanted more. Soon we were in the car and headed down the road.

Like the good husband, I make contact with my wife. Soon to learn that Lydia is at the race and looking for me! What a nice surprise! She had arrived about 15 mins behind what may have been ideal. We had the option of turning around to meet her, or just to stop at a gas station and let her meet us there. I was thankful for my friends for waiting for me, and the finish would not have been the same without them there. I was also glad to see my family happy for me and providing comfort.

Things I did differently - NEW products
Not too much to say here. I'm getting a little more consistent with what I do at long runs now. I have enjoyed the Salt Stick caps. I'm convinced that they help ward off cramps and assist in keeping me hydrated. I began taking them much less than suggested, but now I'm taking them as suggested with one an hour. I would have had some electrolyte product (Gatorade or NUUN) in my bottle on any other given day, but today this is where I did things differently. I'm trying out a line of products by Visalus Sciences. I used PRO in my bottle, which is a powder to mix in water. I did this for my first and 3rd bottle refills. It is recommended not to exceed 4 servings a day, so I felt that 2 was conservative in testing out something new. How did it work? I'm not sure. It surely did not hinder me at all. It tasted better than plain water. I know it lacks the electrolytes in other products, as it is an energy product not electrolyte replacement drink, but then again I'm taking the Salt Caps for that. I will continue to use the PRO and see how I feel about it.

PRO is only one item in a long list of products from a company which I have begun to work with. I am promoting their products to be used for a 90-day challenge after you set a goal for 90 days. Is it weight loss or athletic performance, go to my website at eliminate and learn more about these awesome life changing products. I have seen it effect the lives of others, if I had not, I would not be talking about it here. Check it out.

What is next?
Holiday Lake 50k in 4 weeks. I am confident as this trail claims about 2000 ft in elevation, just slightly and probably not even noticeably different that I just ran. I have not committed to the entire Lynchburg Ultra Series, but I do want to do it. I've even signed up for Terrapin Mountain 50k in March, the second event of 4 in the series. I ran the half-marathon distance at Terrapin in 2011. I am excited to return there in 2012 for the full experience.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Frozen Toe 10k

Date: January 7, 2012.  
Location: Along the Chestnut Ridge Loop Trail in Roanoke, VA. The start and finish is at New Hope Christian Church
Event: 10k (actually 6.15 mile) trail run
Presented by: Mountain Junkies, LLC
Event Website: HERE
Other race reports on this event: Cardioholics Anonymous, Running because I can, Doug Falls

Yet another fine event courtesy of the Mountain Junkies.
Up and coming Mountain Junkies. Josie, Bentley and Sutton
Photo courtesy of the Mountain Junkies
We met at the New Hope Christian Church on a Saturday morning that was much warmer than the previous 2 years. I ran this event last year and there was a couple inches of snow on the ground. This year, unseasonably warm, but welcomed.
Courtesy of Brandie Bailey

Courtesy of Brandie Bailey

Despite the fact that my favorite Race Directors were told that they could not maintain the trail prior to the race (something about it being on national park property, I think) it was still in very nice shape for the race.

The absolute coolest thing about this event, was the excitement that it brought. The vibe there was such like it had been a long time since many of us had seen one another. Of course it was October since the last Mountain Junkies event. Some of us have run together in one form of another since then, but it was sure nice to all be together again and with many new faces as well. This event's registration was full at 300!

The days leading up to the race. All I could think of is how fast could I really run this loop? The Chestnut Ridge Loop Trail (CRL) is as "home court" as it gets for me. I've run this trail more than any other in my whole life, but I know many others can say the same thing. I prefer to access it from the parking area just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, near the Roanoke Campground. The trail does loop around the campground.

So many time I set out to run the CRL fast, and come in at 52 mins. Another day, I'm sure I broke 50, but no, 52 mins. Another day I thought I'd take it easy... sure enough 52 mins. Is it a magical place? Some would wonder.

Not long ago, I ran it in 50 mins. It was an attempt at running it fast. Of course the weather was much cooler than previous times I attempted to run CRL fast.

I am surveying my friends and seeing who will run it at which planned speed. Some I knew I couldn't hang with, and others I thought I may be able to. I think I choose wisely.

At the starting line
I think I choose wisely because I stuck with Doug Falls for the first 2 or 2.5 miles. Which wasn't easy to do for most of it. but once we got the main hill for the course, I figured if I was still with him at that time, that it would be at this point that I would pass him, and it was. I really enjoy running with Doug. He is faster than me on average, but I'm learning that I'm faster than him on hills. We run well together. We push one another. That is the way running friends should be. I always look forward to running with Doug.
Phil on the other hand... I mentioned at the start something about keeping up with him at the very beginning, until we got to the trail. HA! He was gone from the start!
Courtesy of Brandie Bailey - pretty awesome pic of the race start

The course is along the Chestnut Ridge Loop Trail. one of my favorite places to run in town. It is so close to the hospital and downtown, you can be there in minutes. This trail makes you feel like you are deep in the woods, but then you realize you are on the outskirts of a campground and a neighborhood here and there. You cal feel like you are far away, but you never really are. The loop crosses the Blue Ridge Parkway in 2 locations. For the race we went under the parkway at a cross road as the National Park Service didn't want runners crossing the parkway at a race.  The elevation profile for the course is below, courtesy of the Mountain Junkies, LLC whose website I STOLE the image from.

Elevation gain and loss is right at 800 ft. The biggest most noticeable climb is from mile 3 to 3.5. The final downhill is a nice ending. nothing too horrible on this course as long as you are used to running hills. If all you are used to is flat roads, then this event will prove to be a tough one... but if you are really up for a steep Mountain Junkies race. Check out the Mill Mountain Mayhem. There is no question why it is the lowest attendance of any of their events. It is quite intimidating. I have a race report on it from 2011 HERE. Interested parties will have to wait until April to run it.

So... how did the race go?

I really felt settled in to a pace after the hill climb at mile 3.5, in fact my plan was to push it harder than normal until before the hill... settle down a bit to save some juice for the hill. Run the hill slow and steady as I normally do, and then after recovering from the hill try to settle into a flowing pace, but something consistent with those around me.

I noticed that very little passing was happening with those around me. I felt that this was a good sign, that I had placed myself well in the starting crowd, and that I ran the first portion of the race at the correct pace, to have settled in to the pace that I did, that there was little to no shuffling going on.

Last year I started out slow, and it was just a mess once on the trail. Passing on single track isn't easy. Fortunately many parts of the trail are wider than single track and allow for passing.

The last portion of the loop flowed nicely. Knowing the terrain I was on, I could easily prepare for what was ahead. I settled in, maybe a little too well.

The last mile or less
I found myself behind the 3rd female overall. I was pretty excited to be that far up in the overall results that there was only 3 ladies running ahead of me. I was reviewing in my head the goals I had for this race. I had no number for the time I wanted to see on the clock. I just knew I wanted to run it harder and stronger than I ever have run on that trail, and by this point in the race, I knew that I had accomplished that. I also wanted to try and place well in my age group. Knowing I would not likely make top three in AG, but I still wanted to run strong.

At this point in the race I had settled in to the thought that my mission was accomplished. I looked ahead on the turns and saw no competition ahead of me. No apparent age group runners in what I would this would be a catchable distance... and so I settled in. I shouldn't have let this happen.

The final stretch
Finding myself behind the 3rd female overall, I was pleased with my performance... until. I had concluded that I wouldn't blatantly pass this lady. I had thoughts that it might be rude to do in the final moments of the race...until. I was happy with how I had run and knew any age group competition was not in reach and so I figured I would take this pace to the finish right behind this lady.... until.
Photo courtesy of the Mountain Junkies

Out of no where she and I were passed. Immediately I thought 2 things "Oh no you don't!" and "He might be in my age group!"I kicked it from there to the finish and even though I passed the girl whom I had committed myself to not passing, the important thing is that I passed the guy that passed me in the final stretch. He didn't end up being in my age group after all.

Immediately after
It hit me that I should have run that last half mile downhill a bit harder and suddenly I began to think of next year. How come after conquering a course stronger than I ever had, I begin thinking of next time. Me and the CRL have an interesting relationship. There is a lot of training left to do there... I'm not done with it. Not at all. I think that is what hit me at that moment. I began to tell myself "Good job, but you can still do better"

I found a couple running friends and had some quick post race conversations. I grabbed a couple of bites to eat... of course chocolate chip pumpkin bread! A Mountain Junkie post-race staple. then off to the car I went as I had an assignment.

Post race assignment
My wonderful Mother-in-Law had been sick all week, but she still agreed to watch the kids for us as we ran this race. So instead of coming to the race with them, she stayed at the comfort of our place and I was to pick them up. The plan was right when I was done running my hear tout, to go home (Across town) pick up 3 kids and return to the race! Sure no problem, right?
Josie and I after the race. Courtesy of Brandie Bailey
It worked out quite perfectly actually. I called to let her know I was on the way. When I arrived the car was loaded with babies and accessories! I jumped from one car to the other and was back on the road. If this was in between stages at a triathlon, my Mother-in-Law would be the best crew EVER!

Returning to the event
In the car I had my 2 children and my nephew. During the time I was gone Lydia and Ruth both finished the race and had time to cool down. Then I show up with the kids. I think it worked out perfectly. I'm thankful that Connie watched them for us and allowed us to have the fun that we did. Conversations, awards and eating. Post race not only included the typical fruit and bagels and drink, but also Salazon salted chocolate, chocolate chip pumpkin bread, Dru's cookies, and WARM apple fritters. Where in the world can you get post race goodies like that?!?!?

 We were of the last to leave and just couldn't get enough of the Mountain Junkie love that was so apparent in the air. Lydia even said to me after the race that she wanted to go run!

What is next?
One week until the Swinging Bridge / Willis River 50k. It will prove to be a cold, wet and challenging run. I'm glad there is a group of us from the Roanoke area going, so I will have familiar faces around me. That is always a plus.

Thank you to Mountain Junkies, LLC and to all the other Mountain Junkies that ran on this day! What fun times are ahead. If you were there and didn't sign up for the RNUTS series, the price went up after today.