Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Quest For The Crest 50K- 23,000ft of Elevation Change; What I learned from this race

This past Sunday, I ran the Quest For The Crest 50K in Burnsville NC. Burnsville is right beside Mt. Mitchell. Mt Mitchell is the tallest mountain on the east coast at 6,683ft (2,037m). While my friends from the Western United States laugh at the elevation of Mt. Mitchell, the difficulty comes from how technical the trails are with boulders, rocks and roots from hell. The steepness of the ascents and descents make the course almost un-joggable. Notice I used the word joggable instead of running. Many of the ascents and descents rise and fall with 20% or more being the norm.
Martin at mile 28

Video Link of the Course- Check It Out

Before I start complaining about how technical and hard the race was, the biggest draw was the views from the top of the mountains.

Quest for the Crest 50K Website Link- Check It Out

The race is advertised as the hardest 50K in the US. Speed Goat 50K has slightly less elevation change and run-able trails according to 2 runners I spoke with during the race. When you are hiking up hill, you have to time to talk between breaths of air. In fairness, Speed Goat 50K is at a higher elevation which means less oxygen to work with than Quest for Crest 50K. Quest for the Crest 50K punishes the runner by making you scramble and climb up big rocks all day where you are not able to run. When going downhill, I called it rock jumping as you are falling down the decline hoping to catch the next rock.
This is what the easier downhills looked like

T-Shirt Logo

You Tube Video Link of the Course by Kelly Cooper

I entered this race based on its description as the hardest 50K. 3 years ago I started running longer distances in order to see how I matched up mentally against tough events. I am a runner first who likes trails. The most successful racers at this race where trail people first who liked running if the trail allowed it. They looked like they were hovering over the rocks swiftly going uphill and downhill and could have cared less about their race time.
Course Map- Click to Enlarge

My "A" race for the fall is the Uwharrie Mtn. 100 Mile Endurance Race. Uwharrie is considered a technical course. After running the Quest course and using it as a comparison, Uwharrie looks a lot easier. I knew this race was going to be a stretch for me and a great core strength test. My main consideration after 3 miles was to finish the race and not leave injured. Because the race is a part of the Sky Runner Series, you had to carry a whistle, poncho and emergency blanket. All 3 of the safety items easily fitted between both my bottles with my Orange Mud HydraQuiver Vest Pack 2. It is a great way to carry 2 big bottles on your shoulders without any bouncing instead of a hydration vest which has cooked my back in previous races.
Orange Mud Hydra Quiver 2 Vest

The course is extremely remote so it was necessary to carry at least 44 oz of water. The aid stations at the top of the race had only enough water to fill up 1 bottle. Some racers brought a filtering system to fill up from the creeks we crossed all day. The volunteers did a great job of keeping us going. Some of the aid stations took the volunteers over 2 hours hiking so we could have drinkable water during the race.
Trail Pic

The trails without rocks and boulders were overgrown so being able to lift your knees while jogging gave you an advantage. I fell 4 times through the race and consider myself lucky. I wore compression sleeves for the first time on my shins for protection from brush and rocks.
Trail Pic

As I normally do in races, I focused on my heart rate to help me not over exert myself and bonk. My normal aerobic zone is 135 to 145 bpm where I am comfortable talking and breathing. The first 3 miles had an approx a 23% grade of climbing with the aid of my hands. I used my hands the entire race to help me with the climbing. I looked at my heart rate and it was at 159 bpm and I was doing a 22 minute mile. For perspective, I ran Umstead 100 miles (16 hours and 37 minutes) at an average of 141 bpm. I felt like I was hardly moving and my heart rate was beating hard like I was running a 10K on the road. My average heart rate for the 32 miles was 158 and the Quest For the Crest 50K race took me 10 hours and 1 minute to finish. I regularly run 50K's on an easy course in under 4 hours and my heart rate stays around 145.
Trail Pic

Trail Pic

There were 4 aid stations over 32 miles and as usual I spent less than 30 seconds in each one as I filled my bottle and kept moving. I carried all the food / fuel I needed. I am proud of my effort on the up hill sections as I was able to move through other runners. When it came to down hill and rock jumping, I was passed by what seemed like the whole field. Young runners would just fly down the "trails" bouncing off rocks and jumping over roots with descents at least 15%. 2 foot step downs were the norm and I just was not able to gain much speed going downhill. The little voice in my head kept reminding me that I have a family to support and didn't need to run downhill with reckless abandon.
Trail Pic

Trail Pic

My training was not enough to be successful at this race by my standards. 

Here is my normal training schedule: Swimming at least 90 minutes on Monday & Friday to help my body recover, Running 7 miles or more on Tuesday through Thursday, 3 to 4 hour run on Saturday and 2 hours on Sunday. I also ride my bike 7 miles to the Y each day. At lunch Monday through Thursday, I go to the gym and spend at least 30 minutes on the stair master with my 20lb weight vest. I also do a 30 minute squats, lunges, dead-lifts, & plank routine 2 times a week. Based on the soreness I am feeling 2 days after this event, my training was not even close to being enough. 
Trail Pic

The winner was a young man (early 20's) who finished in 5:59 minutes to beat the professionals in the field. He told me this was his first Ultra race. He ran straight down hill (approx. 25% decline) for the last 4 miles in under 28 minutes to break 6 hours and get the extra $300 bonus. He lives with his parents and likes to run in the woods. I love his carefree attitude about running with friends when there is a local event.
Trail Pic

Overall I am happy with my effort and time. I got to see parts of the NC Mountains I have never seen and the race gave me a new enhanced perspective of what is considered hard. All my gear worked flawlessly. My nutrition and pacing allowed me to finish strong. The last 1/2 mile is flat and I ran that portion at a 7 minute pace because I was so happy to be finishing and finally able to run.

Gear I used

My next race is Dust to Dawn 50 Miler Link- Check It Out. Night race around Ft Bragg (Pinehurst NC) on the roads. I am looking forward to seeing how much time I can take off my time from last year when I won the race in 8 hours and 1 minute while stopping to be sick 3 times during the race. 

As Mom always told me when I was young, "you will not set many records but you will keep em watching."

Monday, May 18, 2015

Rattler Trail Marathon: Running on Rocks and Roots

I went to the Rattler Trail Marathon (May 9th) at San-Lee Park in Sanford NC with little to no expectations. I had a flair up with my arthritic hip on Tuesday before the race. The only thing I did fitness wise was swim 36 laps (1 mile) on Friday. I was well rested but had no idea how the hip would hold up during the race. My only thought going in was to take little steps so I would not extend my stride and stretch something which would cause more downtime. 

The race was put on by Dan Paige who is also the race director for Uwharrie 100 (link) in October. Dan is an accomplished ultra runner so he knows how to put on excellent events with all the details handled. The race offered 3 distances- 10K, Half and Marathon. Everyone started at the same time. 

Dan and Amanda Paige

The course comprised 3 loops around the lake at the park.  The bike trails are single track, twisty and constantly turning with all the rocks, roots and boulders you could ever want to run over by choice. There were not any significant climbs but you were constantly going up and down all day. The race was free with donations going towards rebuilding some of the park that burned in the past. Beautiful facility. Well worth the drive to enjoy the park. Two minutes off the highway 421 By Pass.

I saw many of my friends from the Southern Pines Ultra Club (Link) and Mangum Track Club (Link). The race started and we were off at a fast pace. As always, I wanted to watch my heart rate as a guide for not going out too fast. My aerobic threshold is 135 to 145. At the Umstead 100 miler, my heart rate averaged 141. Based on the short distance of a marathon, I wanted to keep my heart rate between 155 to 160 which is pushing the limits. The temperatures got up to 86 degrees which made the race more challenging to keep the body cool and keep the heart rate down. I run mostly in the morning so I am not used to running in the heat. Three miles in and my heart rate was 166 to 170 so I knew I was going too hard and needed to slow down. I was able to pass most of the slower runners and got my heart rate down to 162. I never was able to get below 160 the whole day. I decided to stop worrying about heart rate and focused on not letting it creep up any higher than 170 on the climbs. I figured if I bonked from going out too hard then I would learn more about my limits. 

"The only way to discover the limits of the possible is to go beyond them into impossible" Arthur Clarke

I brought my own food and drink to carry during the race. I am a big believer in taking the thinking out of the equation and being self sufficient. I don't want to face any decisions in the race other than to keep going hard. The marathon race was 3 loops so I brought 3 bottles of water/fuel mix, a gel bottle and a couple of Clif Bars to munch on. During the race I ran up to my cooler, grabbed a bottle and I was back at it. Most other racers were waiting for their bottles to be filled up. It is time this 49 year old could not afford to give up compared to the youngsters I was racing. 

The course was super technical. I had to watch every step and I still managed to trip and fall 6 times. One time when I fell I landed in the creek beside the path. The cool water felt good. I felt like I was trail dancing as very few steps were normal. Because of having to take smaller steps to dodge obstacles, my hip held up well. I tend to push hard when I am racing and often don't pay attention so I was leading the marathon at mile 9 until I got off course for 1.5 miles and then I was in 3rd place at mile twelve. I kept thinking to be patient and run my race. As long as I did my best that day, I would be more than happy with whatever place I ended up. At the end of the second loop I passed the leader as he waited to get more water in his bottle and food. I took off and he got within 5 minutes of me at mile 18. I finished strong and was able to finish in first place by 25 minutes. The heart rate is the only thing I watched and if I respected it I would have some energy at the end of the race. I also want to give a shout out to Cherie McCafferty from the Mangum Track Club for winning the marathon for the ladies.

I highly recommend the race for trail lovers. 

Quest for the Crest 50K Link

My next race is "Quest for the Crest 50K" in Burnsville NC. It is billed as the hardest 50K in the US because of the 11,200 ft of climbing and 11,700 ft of loss in 50K. There is 22,900 ft of elevation change. As a manner of comparison- Speed Goat 50K out west is thought to be one of the hardest 50K's and it only has 11,000 ft of vertical gain and loss. I have been getting on the Stair Master for 45 minutes at lunch with my weighted vest in addition to running around 65 miles and swimming during the week. This race is going to be a climb fest for me. Racers are coming from around the country to run this event. I will be thrilled if I finish in the top half of the racers. 

Gear used:

 Orange Mud
Orange Mud Link
Xtend Link
Skechers Link

"Limits like fears, are often just an illusion" Michael Jordan

Monday, May 11, 2015

Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Race Recap: How I took off 7 hours off my 100 mile time (16:37) in one year

Last year, I had some running highlights: Running 3:00 at the Boston Marathon, Finishing my first 24 hour race with 103 miles (second place) and winning a 50 mile road race in June. I also ended the year on a low note as I was not able to train more than 30% due to a piriformis hip injury that started in August. I was in denial and just never gave my hip time to heal. What should have taken 2 months ended up taking 4 months to get back to feeling well enough to train. The blessing of this set back is I learned to swim laps and cross train (Lunges, Squats, etc.) which was lacking from my training and contributed to my running injury due to lack of core strength.


I started the year off with a coach for the first time after seeing the improvement other runners were having with a structured & balanced approach. Caleb Masland of Bonk Proof Running has agreed to help me which will introduce periodization to my training scheduled based on my races in the first half of the year and my “A” race (Uwharrie 100) in October. I am not running more miles but am doing more variety in the running workouts and at least 3 strength / core workouts a week. I also have become a big fan of swimming laps. I have found swimming to be a big advantage for runners. Swimming gets your heart rate up while your lower body recovers from the pounding of running. Swimming also gives a good upper body strength workout. I am currently swimming on Monday and Friday mornings before work. I do most of my cross training (lunges, squats, stair-master, free weights with a 20lb weight vest) at the gym during lunch. The other key aspect of Bonk Proof training is your recovery/adaptation days should be easy and the hard days should be really challenging as running each day at the same intensity.

 My training leading into the Umstead Endurance Race had been good. I went and ran at the course 2 times including a 38 mile long run by myself. I was consistently running 70 to 80 miles a week on 5 days while swimming 2 days a week. The week of the race, I had intentionally scheduled some business travel and we had an unexpected situation come up with a family member that took all my time. I did not run a mile for 5 days leading up to the race on Saturday. It was a blessing as I was healed and feeling rested.

My goals were in this order: Finish, Break 24 hours, Break 20 hours and if I really dreamed big and everything worked well I thought I had a chance to break 18 hours.  One of my Hero’s from Charlotte Mosi Smith had run 17:06 last year so I knew breaking 18 hours would be a stretch for me. I wanted to take all the thinking out of the equation and spend less than 1 minute at my own aid station per 12.5 mile loop. The race is made up 8, 12.5 mile loops on a rolling hill course. The course is on carriage paths which are smooth so all you have to do is run. Easy in theory.

I arrived at the course Friday afternoon to setup my own aid station with table to hold my bags, cooler and a chair to hold my clothes. I wanted to save time by not stopping at any of the 4 aid stations per loop. I only stopped at my own aid station to grab a new bottle (brought 8; 1 for each loop) using the Orange Mud handheld.

The Orange Mud Handheld is my favorite for 3 reasons:

·        Hand strap is adjustable so I can fit my entire hand including my thumb which gives more support.

·        The outer sleeve is flexible and is easy to switch out bottles without having to remove the lid of the bottle

·        The outer sleeve has pockets and holds a bunch of stuff (salt tabs, gels, etc)

My liquid fuel during the race was Scivation Xtend Endurance in Green Apple flavor. The carbohydrate drink mix is gentle on my stomach, gives consistent fuel for long events, and tastes good. It also has a bunch of BCAA (Branch Chain Amino Acids) in the formula which helps with recovery and keeping your body from breaking down muscle for fuel during long events. I would use 1.5 scoops per 20oz bottle which gave me 150 calories. Xtend is available on Amazon.

My goal was to consume 300 calories per hour. I would carry in my vest a Cliff Bar and a bag of trail mix to each on each loop. After loop 2 (25 miles) and the rest of the loops (3 to 7), I started to drink a vanilla flavored Ensure drink with 300 calories. I would grab the small bottle from the cooler and drink it before I left the start finish area. After lap 1, 3, 5& 7 I consumed a Vespa Gel pack to help encourage by body to use fat at the main fuel instead of just carbohydrates which is the reason I never bonked (“hit the wall”) during the race.

I also carried a gel bottle with me to help with consistent energy. I hooked the gel bottle to my waist band and filled it with 3 gels of Hammer Chocolate Espresso (50 grs of caffeine) and enough for 2 oz’s of maple syrup. Mixed together the combination was gentle on my stomach and I did not get sick of it like I have with the thick Hammer Chocolate Espresso in the past.

The weather was perfect as it never got above 50 degrees and we had a consistent 10 miles per hour wind which kept my core body temperature low which made it easier to push late in the race. The start of the race was 30 degrees Saturday morning and it was forecasted to get down to 26 degrees late Saturday night which was more reason to push hard so I could finish as early as possible.

I had looked at past race reports and thought if I could run the first 50 miles (4 loops) around 2 hours per loop (9:36 pace) then I had a shot at breaking 18 hours. In practice, I had run my 3 laps in under 2 hours per lap so I knew on a good day it was possible. I had been training going down 12% on the treadmill for 60 minutes to strengthen the quads and be able to run all the hills during the 100 miles. It is a tough workout.

The Umstead Endurance Race is sold out every year in less than 6 minutes. You have to be at a computer when the noon comes around in the fall. It is the best run race I have ever been a part of. They offer a 1000 mile finishing buckle once you have completed 10 finishes. Umstead offers 2 finisher buckles for 100 miles. One for finishing under 24 hours which says “100 miles in 1 day” and the other says “100 mile finisher.” The aid stations have just about every food you can imagine to help runners finish under the 30 hour cut off. An added bonus of finishing Umstead 100 miles is being able to enter the Western States lottery.

My plan for the race was to take the thinking out of my plan and just run. I wanted to keep my heart rate in my aerobic range of 135 to 145 beats per minute. I knew the first 50 miles I would feel like I was holding myself back and saving some energy for the last 50 miles. On my watch, I only followed 1 thing which was my heart rate. I never looked at pace throughout the race.  There is 1 downhill on each loop where I would accelerate so my heart rate would not dip under 135. I was really happy how fast my heart rate would recover after each hilly section. A couple of times I saw my heart rate get up to 150 on the steep hills and I would slow down until I got back into the zone. Many racers passed me in the early laps because they were feeling good. Later in the race, they were getting lapped as they had used up all their energy. The reason I only care about my heart rate is it keeps me from running too fast because I feel good at the start of the race and end up paying for it later on. I adjust my heart rate goals based on the distance. In a race of marathon length I will try to keep my heart rate at 160 bpm. A fifty mile race I will focus on staying at 150 to 155 bpm. As long as I stay hydrated and consume enough nutrition (300 to 400 calories per hour), my aerobic engine should carry me to the finish.
The last 4 laps (50 miles) of the race can be with pacers. This was the first race I had pacers to help me continue to push hard. I ran with members of the Mangum Track Club Bryan H Hojnacki from Charlotte on lap 5 & 6. Eric Fogleman from Alberdeen paced me on lap 7 and Carl Douglas Hunt. from Wilmington paced me on lap 8. Umstead provides pacers for the final laps. I will use pacers whenever it is possible in the future. Big advantage.

Time: 16:37:29 (9:59 per mile)

Lap Times (12.5 Miles)
Lap 1: 1:52 (8:52 per mile)
Lap 2: 1:53
Lap 3: 2:01
Lap 4: 2:05
Lap 5: 2:04 (9:55 per mile)
Lap 6: 2:07
Lap 7: 2:14
Lap 8: 2:20 (11:12 per mile)

I wore Injinji 5 finger socks and Skechers Ultra shoes. I did not change my socks or shoes during the race. My lightweight vest is by Nathan.

Overall it was a good race and I appreciate all the thoughts and prayers.

My Upcoming races are:
·        Rattler Trail Marathon: May 9th- Sanford NC

·        Quest for the Crest 50K: May 30th- Burnsville NC

·        Dust to Dawn 50 Miler: June 27th- Pinehurst NC

·        Grandfather Mtn Marathon: July 11th- Boone NC

·        Death Before DNF 50 Miler- August 15th- Black Mtn NC

·        Table Rock 50 Miler- September 26th- Morganton NC

·        Uwharrie 100- October 24th- Troy NC