Sunday, April 22, 2012

Huntsville Final Tune Up

Decided to head out to Huntsville for the last long run before Miwok.  Simply gorgeous morning for a quiet run in the woods.  The plan was to do the Rocky Raccoon 100 20-mile loop.  Nearing the Nature Center and the 3-mile mark, I decided to explore a broad utility cut nearby.  I had checked it out last summer when it was still under construction and recall some nice hills.  As I was heading out the cut, I saw a runner ahead coming my way.  Turned out to be Robert King, who was getting some hill work in for Hardrock.  He said the 7 Hills Running Club out of Huntsville dubbed this the 7-Hills Trail.  He estimated it was about 2.5 miles end to end, for a 5-mile out and back.  He also mentioned that there were some excellent hills ahead.  

"Seven Hills Trail"

Not so sure about the 5 mile part, as I think it's probably closer to 4 miles round trip, but Robert wasn't kidding about the hills.  Lots of excellent rollers and a couple of hills that are easily the biggest in the area (on the longest, it took 2 minutes at a fairly chippy pace to make it from top to bottom.  Obviously, not Colorado, but it's definitely a great place to come for some good up & down. 

End of the road - Elkins Lake

Back in the park proper, I tried to keep an honest but comfortable pace as long as possible.  Soon enough I found myself at the Dam Road Aid Station site about to head out on what I think of as the Heaven & Hell Loop.  About six miles total, it heads out the perimeter CCC Trail - that's the Heaven - one of my favorite sections.  Fairly straight, lots of fun rollers, a sense of isolation, and pretty good footing throughout.  I ran nearly all of this section.
CCC Trail - The Heaven of the Heaven/Hell Loop
All good things come to an end, though, and I found myself deposited out of Heaven and into Hell - the long stretch of the Chinquapin Trail between the spillway and the boardwalks.  I loathe this section.  Where Heaven is straight and predictable, Hell is twisted up like a small intestine and the footing sucks in places.  Despite these feelings, I was still having a nice run and arrived at the spillway in good spirits.  

Chinquapin over the spillway

But while the mind was clear and light, I started to experience some pain near my right achilles, a problem that has cropped up a couple of times near the end of a few of my runs lately.  I hoped it wouldn't slow me down too much and forged ahead.  Back at Dam Road, I started walking while I had a GU and some water and prepared for the long stretch to the Park Road crossing.  When I started moving again, the achilles/ankle was definitely unhappy, and halfway down the one-mile stretch of Chinquapin, I was reduced to walk. 

Chinquapin nearing the Park Road

Spilling out back on the fire road, I toyed with the idea of pressing on, but decided against it.  Two weeks out from Miwok, the last thing I needed was to force the issue.  So I didn't.  Hiked most of the 2 miles of so back to the car, and while I was a little frustrated, even the achy ankle couldn't completely dampen such a wonderful morning in the woods. 
Dogwood heading in

Monday, April 16, 2012


(The carrot)

The second 50K in a week was predictably sucktastic. After a couple of successful short runs earlier in the week confirmed that my legs still worked post-Hell's Hills, I commited to slogging through Hog's Hunt. This decision was based almost wholly on the need to beat the legs up real good before Miwok. Lo and behold, I got exactly what I came for. As "race" day approached, it was clear that the weather would be challenging. Pulling into the park at about 6:00 a.m., my car thermometer registered a balmy 75 degrees. And this wasn't a dry 75. Parked near the aid station and walked the half mile or so to the start, chatted with some folks for a few minutes, and then we were off. Exactly the same set up as the previous week: Pure Grits and DryMax on the feet, 20oz handheld and a small Nathan waist pack for fluid/electrolytes/calories.

The first loop was not especially memorable. There was a small pack for the first mile or so, but once we crossed the road at the Nature Center, things had spread out nicely (which would be the case for the rest of the day). RD Paul Stone emphasized hydration in his pre-race spiel, and he talked the talk, with water available at roughly the 2, 4, 6, 8, 12, 13, and 15.5 marks of each loop. This obviously allowed lots of idiots to run while carrying little or no water. The aid stations themselves were lean with respect to food items (no pb&J), but most had Coke, and often there was ice (which was lovely on the second loop). By the time I left the second aid station at mile 8 and hit the dreaded 2-mile portion of the Chinquapin Trail (aka Trail From Hell), I was running alone. I mean ALONE, as I saw NO ONE for over a mile and half. I was still feeling fine, so this really wasn't all that unpleasant. Soon enough, I hit the TREX aid station and was heading for the last couple miles of the loop, which was completed in a hair under 3 hours.

A quick turnaround (so as not to seriously contemplate dropping at this point), and loop 2 was underway. It wasn't long before the heat and humidity worked me over and continuous running became difficult. By the time I hit the first aid station (manned by Joe P & crew), I was pretty run down. The 2-mile stretch of fire road back to a lovely mile-long stretch of singletrack was, as always, mentally taxing. But I was content to take things as they came. I saw that Stefanie B and Tim L were a few minutes behind me and my goal was to slow enough that they might catch me by the Trail From Hell, as I did not look forward to negotiating it alone in my present state. Unfortunately, I found myself pretty much alone once again, with only an ocassional biker or hiker to break up the godawful monotony of the heat-induced near death march. After what seemed like an eternity, I staggered into the TREX aid station with less than 3 miles to go. I lingered for a bit, enjoying a cold Coke and some ice, and then headed back up the trail. As I was heading up, Stefanie was heading down to the aid station, and I was content to walk for a bit and let her catch me, as some chit chat and mutual suffering would make the last half hour pass more quickly.

At least that's what I was thinking initially. Once the Coke settled and I was feeling a bit refreshed, I decided not to wait. And I began to run. Certainly not fast, but I was running more than walking, spurred on by the drive to just get the damn thing done. Among the mind games I started to play was "finish before Stef." Why? It wasn't a competitive thing, really. Getting chicked doesn't bother me in the least. It was just about motivation to get the legs moving. As I started to near the last mile along the Park Road, I realized there was an outside chance of coming in under 6:30, but for some reason that didn't really stoke the fires and while I managed to run (painfully) on the downhills, the ups and flats were little more than typical death march pace. Then, maybe a quarter mile from the finish, who should run up on me but friggin' Stefanie. You have got to be kidding. She told me to "come on" and I did, assuming we'd shuffle in together, but as we hit the final straight-away down the utility cut, she picked up the pace. My response: "you have to be fucking kidding me." But she wasn't. And it was on. 10 min/mile pace quickly became something much faster. As the finish line approached, I felt that I probably had a little more pure speed (very much a relative term) than she did and I pushed ahead at the very last second to "win" by . . . well, a second. In reality, a fun way to finish a not so fun run. 6:29:39. Post-run was spent at the TREX aid station with a cold beer, happy to not be one of the very back-of-the-packers still making their way to the finish on a tough day.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Hell's Hills 50K

(h/t Henry Hobbs)

6:23:55. 51 out of 134 finishers. Given my lack of consistent training and the warm conditions, I'll take it. The lead up to race morning was uneventful. Had a nice dinner with friends Arlene and Freya (who both had nice 25K runs) in Bastrop, followed by a typically bad hotel-room night's sleep. Got to the race site in plenty of time. Parking was a breeze and I soon found a spot with the TREX-ers along the start/finish chute & we chilled until 6:00.

Joe lined us up, said "go", and we were off. Normal, no-nonsense Joe start. The morning was mild, a little humid, but really very pleasant. While it was dark for the first 30-45 mins, the moon was nearly full and bright. The course pinches pretty quickly onto singletrack, so the early miles were a conga line affair. But the pace wasn't bad and it felt good just to go with the flow and not think about much. Once the sun came up, the crowd had spread out and I fell into a good groove, running near Mariela for much of this loop. The first aid station (5.7 miles in) came and went quickly with an elapsed time of 1:05. Not bad considering the crowded start and a couple of early miles in the dark. Felt solid through the next section and was delighted to see the riotous show of wild flowers in the open meadow right before the next aid station - Tunnel o' Pines. Again, in and out quickly, and on to one of my favorite sections, a mile-long, straight section of soft trail and fun rollers. Maybe 2 miles from the end of the loop, I take my only fall of the day on a slight downhill, and I go down hard. So hard that the top of my water bottle (which braced my fall) is blown off. Mariela, who is running right in front of me, turns around, notes that the fall sounded "hard" and continues on. Tough love. The end of the loop arrives in 2:57 or so, and after grabbing a couple extra Gu's and filling the bottle, I'm out for loop two.

Chatted with Kim on my way out (who was running the 50 mile, of course - no wimp runs for her), and then started plugging away. The legs were feeling okay, although the hip flexors were tightening up pretty good (possibly an after-effect of my spill). Still, I managed to make the 5.7 miles to the first aid station a full minute faster than loop 1, and I headed out toward Tunnel o' Pines feeling alright. Alas, that was not to last. Somewhere around the 23 mile mark, the engine began to overheat, and continuous running became difficult. It wasn't a full-on bonk only because I didn't let it get to that point. I knew I still had a considerable distance to cover and the last thing I wanted was to death-march it all the way in. So I mixed in more walking. It was around this time that Mariela passed me and attempted to get me moving again. And I did for a couple of minutes, but the "check engine" light came on and I had to let her go. So it went - some walking, some running. Hydration was good. Electrolytes were good. Stomach was fine. Legs . . . they still worked but were quite tired. The heat was the issue, and there wasn't much to be done about it other than manage the best I could. Tunnel o' Pines was a most welcome sight/site, what with Henry Hobbs manning a cold-water mister - oh my, hard to explain how good that felt. Left TOP seconds after Mariela, but I had no intention of trying to stick with her. It was all about survival from here on in. Hung out with a group of folks moving about the same pace (slow). We'd walk the rollers up and shuffle down. The flats were a mix of shuffling and walking, as we passed one another in a game of musical chairs. Finally hit the fence line that tells you the end is near and I was happy. Had been trudging along with a guy from Waco named Mark - nice guy - and as we neared the final 1/4 mile, we walked a bit solely to have enough energy to "run" when we turned the final corner. Yes, it was that sort of day. Crossed the line, grabbed my medal (pretty cool one, btw) and shortly thereafter settled down for a rest, small talk, and a beer. All in all, a good day. Next up: Hog's Hunt. Or not. We'll see....