29 July 2008

White River 50 - Race Report

White River 50 Race Report

I could go the rest of my life without climbing anything else (mountains, stairs, the corporate ladder, etc.) and I'd consider myself a happy man.

What a tough course. At the pre-race course briefing the RD said that "the course has two hills." Then he pointed to the mountain to the left of us and said that was number one and pointed to the mountain to the right and said that was number two. When did mountains become hills? Gulp.

I wanted to try something a little different with this race. I've always been one to start real slow and then see if I have anything left at the end. Usually I do and make up a lot of ground during the last section of races. This time I wanted to push myself a little more at the beginning to really test what kind of shape I was in.

My main goal for the race (and every one of my races) is to finish injury free. My second goal was to finish under 12 hours (the cut-off is 13). I thought this was a realistic goal. 11 hours? 10 hours? Really, I wasn't sure what to expect. I've run two other 50 milers but those where on relatively flat courses. The White River course was going to be the toughest course I'd ever run.

Section 1: Miles Start-3.9
My legs have been feeling pretty good most of the summer and I was still on a runner's high coming off the Iceland trip. I worked myself toward the middle of the pack at the start. The first part of the course is very flat relative to the rest of it. There's a section around a gravel airstrip before it heads to some single-track through the forest. Everyone's legs feel good at this point and everyone wants to start off fast, it seems. Usually I work real hard to stay back and save my legs but I decided to stay with the middle group for as long as I can and see how it went.

[Video from the start of the race. If you watch it five or six times you might be able to find me running by in a black shirt and orange hat.]

My dad paced a friend during a 100 miler back east a few months ago and the advice she gave him was something to the affect of "run when you can, walk when you have to." I wanted to practice this philosophy during this race. (Is it good to try something new on race day?) So instead of forcing myself to take walk breaks every mile or so I went with the flow and ran the entire first section. I reach the aid station at mile 3.9 in around 37 minutes. I knew there was a lot of climbing to come so I thought surely it must be okay to run "when I can."

Off we go.

Sadie and Shasta hanging around
camp with Jeanie. This was Jeanie's
first time coming to an ultra and I
was very excited that she was there.

Section 2: Miles 3.9-11.7
Sometimes you think you're in good shape and then you realize there are mountains on a particular course that you happen to be running on a particular day. The first time you call it a hill I'll laugh. The second time you call it a hill I'll break your nose with a dictionary, and then give it to you so you can lookup the definitions of mountains and hills. (So I looked it up and a mountain is a natural elevation of the earth's surface that's larger than a hill -- and a hill is a natural elevation of the earth's surface that's smaller than a mountain. That's no help!)

Climb and climb and climb. There was a point that I remember thinking that it would be nice to have slept through the alarm so I could still be in the hotel room sleeping. My legs are still feeling pretty good, though, and I'm keeping pretty good pace with most.

Section 3: Miles 11.7-22.1
This was a spectacular section of the trail that can only be described with these:

From several overlooks you can
see the airstrip where the race started.

Simply a beautiful course.

Some of the views didn't seem real.
Like this one of Mt. Rainer (14,411'.)

A run with a view.
[Courtesy of Glenn Tachiyama]

Section 4: Miles 22.1-27.2
This section was all downhill through some amazing forest scenery. I was glad to be going down after all the climbing and ran most of this section. It felt good. Soft trail. Nice cover from the sun. Mostly by myself. But no animals. Not once on the entire course did I see a rabbit or squirrel or bear. I heard a few birds but it was kind of surprising not running into anything.

The section before I passed my dad, who took the early (5:30am) start and he seemed to be struggling a bit. Washington DC doesn't have many "hills" to train on and he was hurting. I was hoping he could get to this section with something left in his legs because I knew he'd love it. Turns out he did but he didn't make it to the 27.2 mile aid station before the cut-off. This course doesn't give any freebies. We decided the next running trip we were going to make was going to be to a location where we'd be able to run some trails together without having to worry about a race or cut-off times. Just something we could go and enjoy the part about running that we love together. I'm proud of what he's doing. I see in him what ultra running is all about. One person versus the course. It's beat him a couple times, but he's won a few himself. He'll keep going back for the fight.

Mile 27.2 aid station.
The best watermelon EVER!

Section 5: Miles 27.2-31.7
So...much...pain. Just...wanted...to...take...up...knitting...,...like...immediately.

Up up and away. After making it to mile 27.2 in under 5.5 hours I had visions dancing around my head about the possibility of breaking 10 hours. I mean, c'mon, I was over half-way done with the course and the "hard" "hill" was already over with. The next "hill" was the "easy" one and after that it was like 13 miles of downhill cruising to the finish line. 22+ miles in 4.5 hours - why not?

This is where I found out where my true fitness level was at. About two miles I sat down on the side of the trail and...heck, I don't remember what I was doing. I was just beat and exhausted. No more climbing please.

No pictures from this section. Too...tired.

Section 6: Miles 31.7-37
More climbing up to mile 37 and I didn't think I would live another day. Seriously. I didn't want to, anyway.

And this is when my stomach started acting up. I was having trouble stomaching anything at the aid stations, even water. Though I was forcing water down. Mountain bikers were flying by and I kept asking for a ride but they always just laughed thinking that I was joking. Seriously, guys, can you please give me a ride I'm so tired.

I took another break on the trail. This time for a bit longer. Long enough to take out my camera and take a photo of some trees. Sweet.

Me and these trees are friends now.
We bonded.

I eventually kept moving and finally made it to the top of the "easy" "hill." I'm in the best shape of my life but was given a reality check by this course.

Does the smile fool you?
[Courtesy of Glenn Tachiyama]

View from near Sun Top.
The parking lot at the airstrip
(the race start/finish) is
barely visible in the distance.

Volunteers at these events are
always unbelievably amazing.

Section 7: Miles 37-Finish
After Sun Top there was a brutal 6 mile section down a gravel road. It might have felt good to someone who still had something left in their legs, but I was losing anything I had left fast. Mentally it was nice finally going down. But physically...well, I guess no matter how I put it it was definitely better than the climbs before it. So I guess I'll stop complaining. :)

I had to make a couple emergency pit stops in the woods. My stomach has never been this upset during a run or race. I ate the same things I usually do: pb&j, fruit, chips, a bit of chocolate, etc. I'm not sure if it was race related (probably) or previous night's dinner related (maybe). I'd like to get a handle on my fueling if I ever want to go longer than 50 (I do).

After the final aid station there was just over six miles to go along the White River. My spirits got a bit higher knowing I was getting close. This was the most technical section of the trail. Lots of roots and rocks and sand and slippery descents.

Along the White River nearing
the finish line.

At this point I'm thinking I have a chance to break 11 hours. But the trail kept going and going. Possibly the longest 6-mile section anywhere. On and on...

It wasn't until I was a couple hundred yard away that I could hear the finish line and the clapping and yelling. I was just hoping there wasn't another lap around the airstrip.

[Video of my completion of the White River 50.]

10:52:25. 122 out of 238 starters. Official results. I'm enthusiastically satisfied with that result. Dad and Jeanie were waiting at the finish line with a beer. Yes. And I was enthusiastically looking for someplace to sit down.
Me and my dad
after the race.

I'm going to rest a bit more. Maybe take a day or two off before I start planning the next big adventure. I want this race to really soak in.

Keep running!


26 July 2008

Super-Duper Quick White River 50 Update (from super-duper cold hotel room)

It was a beautiful, tough course! I finished in 10hr 52min. Dad had to drop because of a missed cutoff. Full report coming soon.

Keep running!

Scott "Glass Knees"

18 July 2008

Iceland Ultra Marathon - Race Report

"Nonsense," I said. "Those rain clouds will burn off within an hour."

I was confident, of course, that what I said was true. I'd been in Iceland long enough - four days - to be an expert on Icelandic weather and quite sure that the morning clouds always burn off "in minutes." They had each day we were there and those days turned out to be sunny, mildly warm, and rather lovely. So why would I expect otherwise this morning?

"No sense carry my rain gear if I won't need it. Heck, I'm wearing quick-dry clothing if it starts to rain." I threw my wet-weather stuff back in my bag. I like going minimal anyway. As my starting wave was directed to the line I nearly threw my long sleeve shirt and gloves to my sister thinking that it would be warm enough in an hour or so that I'd just be carrying them instead of wearing them. No one else was taking off layers, though, so I kept mine on. Turns out this was the smartest decision I made all day.

The only luxury that I really missed not having for my nearly two weeks away was access to weather.com. This may have been the first time I've ever gone for a run without seeing the weather forecast (at least four times) before I go out for the run. I'm kind of neurotic like that. Email? Surprisingly easy to live without. ESPN.com? Moderately easy to do without. Cell phone? Wonderfully amazing to be without.

It will warm up, right?...

The Laugavegur Ultra Marathon (July 12, 2008) enjoyed its largest participation in its history - nearly 250 runners. To accommodate for the larger than usual numbers they broke the starters into four different group to help ease some of the congestion in the early mile climbs. I was in the third group and we started ten minutes after the leaders.

Start of the trail. Normally this 55km stretch is hiked in four days.

Running is fun, isn't it?

The first few miles are climbing. There will be more elevation gain in this section that any other part of the course and I try to focus on going slower than I feel like I can. My legs have been feeling as good as ever the past few weeks and I wanted to fight the urge to shoot out too fast. This section of the course is great for pacing yourself because with all the climbing there was a congo line of runners and not always places to pass even if I wanted to.

I felt like I was in a dream. The landscape is definitely something from another world. My new challenge was to fight the temptation to stop and take a photo every 50 yards. What I hadn't anticipated was the amount of strain that I was going to put on my neck just by looking in every direction. Several times I turned around - while trying to keep running - in the congo line just to catch glimpses from another angle of the ground we'd just covered. Lava fields, boiling hot springs running through snow, greens, yellows, rock, grass.

A few others had cameras and took photos every now and then. But most everyone else seemed to brush aside the beautiful terrain so they could focus entirely on the race! I began to feel guilty for even running. This is a trail that should be taken in over several days - not hours.

An early climb.

Looking back. The race began in the
valley in the background.

And then the rain began. First just a drizzle. Then the wind picked up. And we climbed higher and higher on the mountain and into those darn rain clouds that for some reason didn't burn off like I was sure they would. Then it started getting cold. The skin on my legs were turning red and ice started forming on my gloves and beard. I thanked myself for keeping my long sleeve shirt on. It may have been a much different race without it.

The congo line began to spread a little thin and then we started hitting a bunch of snow and it tightened right back up. My legs were feeling very good and I was ready to finish with the climbing so I could move down from the clouds. But we kept going up.

There was a lot of snow in the higher elevations.
Cloudy, but still some amazing views.
I can't image what these colors would
look like if the sun was shining.

A long stretch into the void.
The trail had disappeared so you
just had to put faith in the footsteps
in front of you.

The first aid station was about 11km into the race. A bit skimpy compared with the other races I've run. Just water and pieces of banana. I think there may have been a sports drink too. The race packet made it clear that the aid stations would be minimally stocked so I was sure to bring some salt tablets and shot blocks to supplement. It feels like I say this in every race report, but I still feel that my weakest point with my running is fueling myself. I'm a minimal fueler. I carry as little water as I can get away with and as little food as I can get away with. Maybe when I shoot for a 100 in the future I'll have to figure something else out. But I guess I'm doing okay with how I'm doing it now.

A few kilometers after the aid station the trail finally started going down. The rest of the course would be a "gradual" downhill to the finish. This next section was my favorite part of the course. And yes, it's still cold and raining.

From this ridge were some of the most
spectacular and surreal views I've ever seen.

Looking back down the trail and across
the river we had to wade through.

The designers of this course weren't familiar with switchbacks. The ups were straight up and the downs were straight down. There are advantages to this, I suppose. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, etc. But, man, it sure burns the quads on those straight downs.

There were several small river/stream crossings along the rest of the course. At one point the wind (and cold and rain) had picked up so hard that a group of about six or seven of us were literally huddled together as we ran across a ridge on the way down to a river. My feet have never been so cold as they were crossing these rivers. I don't know what the exact temperature was but it had to be in the low 40's most of the race. Maybe colder. And most of the streams were coming from glaciers that you can see up the mountain. The water must have been 32.5 degrees. After a couple crosses my feet were so numb that the only thing I could feel was the top of my shoes against my ankles. A couple hundred yards or so later I could wiggle my toes again. It's no wonder I came down with a cold.

Long stretch across black fields
of crushed basalt. This was a good, flat(ish) section
where I could stretch out my legs.

The third and final aid station was about 15km from the end. I had hit a low point and needed a serious boost. To my wonderful delight this aid station was stocked with chocolate! Wahoo! I stuffed my face, talked with a few thru-hikers ("You're doing how much of the trail today?), and took about a five minute rest. But it was still raining and cold and I wanted to get to the end as soon as I could so I headed back down the trail.

I had the boost that I needed and decided it was time to see how much I had left in my legs. I pushed pretty good from here and felt good most of the way. It's always a mental boost, too, to have something left in my legs at the end because I start passing several other runners.

One section down in a canyon there was a wet, steep, rocky descent where you needed a rope to virtually rappel down a small section. It was fun.

Looking back at another
valley the trail runs through.

I started running past a lot of hikers. A lot. Most with full packs. I was amazed at how supportive they were of the runners flying by on the trail. They respectfully stepped aside and most of them clapped and cheered as the runners ran by. It would have been very easy for them to be annoyed that 200+ runners were hogging the trail. Surely they weren't making good hiking time having to step aside for all of us.

"Only 5km to go!" some volunteers yelled about 7 or 8km out. Well, it sure felt like more than 5km. I was getting a bit tired at this point and was sopping wet and cold. I was ready to finish and as quickly as possible.

This was a neat view along a ridge
near the end of the race.

There was a surprise waiting for us after the final river crossing - trees! After 30+ miles of treeless lava fields we were suddenly shot into what seemed like a jungle. It was the weirdest thing. Another person yelled, "Only 2km to go. Maybe 3." I mentally rationed for 4.


Soon there were spectators on the trail, so I knew I must be getting close to the end. Their cheers and encouragement pushed me through the last bit until finally I turned the corner and saw the finish line. My sister, Megan, was waiting at the end with a big smile on her face and a big warm jacket on her back. I was jealous.

Crossing the finish line - finally.

It was a great race. My official finish time was 6:53:33. Ten minutes past the clock time. Official results.

There was a bbq afterward with nice big steaks that tasted so good. So good.

I looked through my photos from the race and I took over 60! Hopefully you've enjoyed my picks for the post.

Now I need to go get some rest because a week from tomorrow is the White River 50. My dad is in town and will be running the race too.

Keep running!


17 July 2008

Quick Update on Iceland Trip

I just returned last night from Iceland. Wow, what a trip! The race - and the rest of the trip - was amazing. I hope to have a full report posted very soon.

I finished the 55k in 6:53:33. Official results.

Here's a quick preview of some of my photos from the course:

01 July 2008

Pre-vacation vacation...and then I'm off to Iceland!

I love summer.

I've been running, but have also been away from my computer for awhile. Jeanie's not going to Iceland with me so we've been enjoying a pre-vacation vacation at this place:

Ah, summertime. Isn't it great?

In other news:
I'm leaving Friday for my post-pre-vacation vacation - Iceland! I'm meeting my sister and my best friend in New York and we're going to a Yankees-Red Sox game Saturday afternoon at Yankee Stadium. Then we're jumping on a train to Boston to see the Red Sox play the Minnesota Twins on Monday night at Fenway Park. My best friend's heading home and then my sister and I are off to Iceland for the next eight days.

The ultra (55k) is on July 12. My legs are feeling very good. My main goal for the race is to get through without hurting myself. The White River 50 (mile) is only two week later. Looks like it will be a wild July. :)

I'm anticipating that my next post won't be until I'm back home in a couple of weeks. I'll try to swing by and say hi before I leave.

I hope everyone's having a wonderful summer.

Keep running!