Tuesday, August 13, 2013


I originally planned to drive up to Morganton and camp at Mark's house Friday night, since Mark lived only 10 minutes from South Mountain State Park.  However Jade's last minute consignment shopping means I get to stay home with the babies on Friday night.  So I woke up at 2:30am on Saturday morning and left the house at 3:30 am for the three and half hour drive to the race.

Somewhere near Burlington, I realized I had left my wallet back at home.  My car was down to a quarter tank at this point.  I could turn around and go home but that means I would start late, way late, like and hour and half late.  I went to a gas station and started talking to the gas station manager about options.  I told him I knew my credit card number, but he was pretty iffy about that without any kind of photo ID.  Finally it dawned on me that I may have send a scanned photo of my driver's license to someone in the past so I started searching on my phone for past emails and hallelujah, a scan of my driver's license and my credit card!  He saw that scan and finally decided that I was likely not a credit card thief.

Pulling into South Mountain State Park at 7 am, I noticed all the towering ridges around me.  It seems like the road leading into the park followed the bottom of a steep valley.  The impression I got is every trail here goes UP.  As I collect my race packet and get my hydration pack ready, I looked around and realized everyone I see seemed really fit.  Seriously this is the fittest group of runners I have ever seen at started of a race.  Every one is lean, and every one is ripped.  It made me really question why I'm even here.  I don't belong to this group!  I'm a slow plodder, and everyone around me seemed capable of running in circles around me.

Race briefing
Bigfoot!  We tag his head to finish. 
We started with a bull horn blast and ran across the parking lot and I intentionally settled into the very back of the pack of 50 runners.  The trail immediately starts to climb and I settle with the back of the pack into a power hike.  The race is divided into five sections, Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta and Echo.  Alpha section is just under 6 miles, with the first 4 miles climbing on a rugged steep jeep road, then the course drops off the side of the mountain on a steep technical single tracks dotted with slippery steps.  Here I met Kathy from OBX, where the biggest hill is the Wrights Brother memorial mound, and she pulled away from me while bombing down the mountain.  How in the heck did she train for this?

Alpha section: 5.65 miles, 1,700' gain, 1,700' loss, 1 hour and 20 minutes.

At AS1, my legs were a bit wobbly from pounding down the mountain.  After refilling my pack, I took off down Bravo section with three other runners in a loose pack.  The first mile and half were fairly mild with only 300' of elevation gain and two cool creek crossings.  Then it turned upward in a mad 30% grade along an ridge line.  Here I manage to let everyone get ahead of me, since it was useless try to keep up.  Fortunately the madness was short, not even a quarter mile but climbed over 450'.  Then the course emerged onto a decent jeep road and gently climbed to 2'600 ft before a long quad pound descent back to the same aid station.  By now my legs were ready for a massage, with quads and IT bands screaming on the downhills and hips and calves screaming on the uphills.

First creek crossing

Still happy since I didn't know about the climbing ahead of me.
Rachel pulling ahead on the 30% grade single track trail around mile 7.5
The view on the top is gorgeous but we didn't get to see much of it
Another creek crossing on a log bridge
Creek crossing near end of Bravo section.  
 Bravo section: 8.52 miles, 3,000' gain, 3,000' loss.  2 hours and 15 minutes.

The friendly volunteer at AS2 promised less hill for Charlie section.  He was right, at least for the first 1/2 mile.  Then we hit the waterfall part, where a section of super steep stairs climbed to the top of the falls.  My strategy for the stairs was to do 10 steps, then rest, then repeat.

Trail just before the waterfall
Crossing the base of the fall
Dreaded stairs, which climbed straight up for 350 ft.
Charlie wasn't done after the waterfall yet.  I met a runner named Wayne from Georgia and we climbed more moderated grade jeep trails (like 15%) for awhile, then dropped off along a single track into a cool creek valley before climbing steeply away from the creek.  Wayne was bothered by leg cramps so he couldn't down hill much so eventually I left him.  I get passed by Jake who had gotten lost and ran extra 9 miles in Bravo section and still manage to pass me by mile 17.  After the long climb along the single track trail, I ran gingerly down a steep jeep trail for a mile to protect the quads from cramping and came across a beautiful creek with a beach along it so I took the opportunity to cool off and laid down in the creek and thoroughly chilled myself.  5 minutes later, I was overheating again because the damn trail decided to climb another 500 ft to the end of Charlie section.

Charlie section:  6.23 miles, 3,250' gain, 2,100' loss, 2 hours.

AS3 is located where the trail pops out onto a private road.  I met a couple in the aid station and they looked as fresh as at the start of the race, and the woman is wearing a pair of sandals!  I couldn't imagine how she could run these trails in them.  Delta section follows the road for about a mile with no shade and it's 1:30 or so in the afternoon, and temperature hovering around 90'.  I was more than happy to see the course re-enter the woods at end of the road and starts down the mountain along a gentle single track.  Normally this kind of trail and terrain would mean fast times, but with quads completely shredded, I could only manage to plod along at a snail pace with occasional walks to relieve the pain in my legs.  Finally the sections comes to an end with a godsend creek crossing to cool off and a short out and back section to AS4.

Delta section: 4.98 miles, 870' gain, 2,100' loss, 1 hours 8 minutes

The fine folks at AS4 promised me there are only two climbs left in Echo section but was vague on the details.  A thunderstorm approached as I took off down the short out and back spur and crossed the road to start the first climb.  Within minutes, the storm came down and the jeep trial became a creek.  On the other hand, I was no longer overheating.  I actually got a bit chilled from the driving wind and rain, and probably from the fear of getting hit by lighting.  Later on I would find out another runner actually saw a lighting splitting a tree no more than 50 yards from him.

20 minutes later, running scared, the storm finally settled into a nice rain.  The trail turns down the mountain along a slippery single track and I caught up to Rachel.  Rachel is also from OBX.  I honestly can't think of a good reason why someone from OBX would choose to run this race.  We stuck together for the next few miles as the trail once again turn skywards toward another long climb.  We marveled how it is possible to cram these many hills in a 50k.  Super relieved to hit the summit, we started slowly jogging down the hill, then the trail disappeared.  More accurately disappeared downward.  The steepest downhill in the entire race lay between us and the finish.  500 ft down, in about a third of a mile of slippery muddy trail at very end of the race caused us to mutter more than a few curses.

I was super relieved to discover the final half mile of the race is flat.  Flat!  Holy cow!  I rocketed toward the finish line moving at a lightning pace (hmmmm.....about 9 min pace...lol) and touched the Bigfoot's head at 8 hours and 45 minutes.

Echo section:  6.02 miles, 2,300' gain, 2100' loss, 1 hour 44 minutes.

It's gonna be a long drive home Sunday, especially after 5 beers, 3 sangria's and staying up until 2am on Saturday night.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Annihilator 50k preview

There isn't really much to say about this race, except that with 5 hour cutoffs at end of Bravo section (4700ft up/4700ft down), 8 hours cutoff at end of Charlie section (6700ft up/6700ft down), my chance of DNF this weekend is excellent.  Maybe I should bring more beer instead of running hydration since beer will more likely to be consumed after an early missed cutoff.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

SCAR Flyover.


Monday, January 21, 2013

Weymouth Suprise

I can come up with a training plan for any situations, including some rather hopeless ones.

Following my shoulder surgery in middle of  October last year, I took about 5 weeks off from running.  To keep me from going insane with boredom, I joined a gym and started walking on the treadmill.  So this formed the basis of my new training plan.

Training plan 1: resume running in middle of November for one and half weeks with intense focus, then attempt a half marathon PR on Thanksgiving Day.  Reasons why this plan should succeed: my legs ought be fresh, probability of overtraining is zero, and walking on the mill is the same as running (!!!)  Reasons why this plan should NOT succeed: too many to list.  Result: held PR pace for 2 miles then crashed and burned spectacularly.

This is what I looked like at finishing line, with my nephew Vincent pacing me the last 1/4 mile.  He raced the 6K earlier and waited an hour near the finish to run me in.

Those final agonizing steps in the finishing chute
Immediately following the failure of training plan #1 is the end of semester stretch at pharmacy school so I was side tracked from creating training plan #2 and also got side tracked from doing much running.  After the last final exam, training plan #2 got kicked into action on December 15th.  Weymouth Woods is 5 weeks away and winter break is 3 weeks long.  So it's natural to train super hard for 3 weeks during the break without interference from school, then taper for 2 weeks for the race.  Plan called for 3 x 60.  At least it's not the shortest training plan ever.  Plan #1 (see above) claimed that title.

Week 1: 57 miles in 5 days.  A bit short of goal but with two weeks remaining there should be plenty time to bring the average back up to 60.  Week 1 started with a 25 miler tripping on LSD and ended with a 10 miler on speed.

Week 2: 62 miles in 6 days, including 29.5 miles at Boxing Day Are You Kidding Me FA event where I decided to start super slow and race a 10k at end.  It was painful.  This week is also special that I spent a total of 8 hours running in cold cold rain.

Week 3: 47 miles in 5 days.  The inevitable blow up for attempting such an ambitious running schedule.  I did two 11 milers on Falls Lake trail to prepare my feet and ankle for the famous Weymouth roots.  By the middle of week 3, both calves feel like they're about to seek new owners.  I had no choice but to convert a planned 25 miler to 10 to avoid jumping over the cliff.

So I didn't necessarily complete the ambitious training plan but came close with 166 miles over three weeks for an average of 55/week.  This is about 98% higher than my average training week.  Didn't someone famous said something about the 10% rule?  Well, I can't find that link anymore.

I also promised my physical therapist that I will only run during the daylight and walk once it gets dark to avoid potentially injury my right shoulder again.  She's not particularly happy about me running this race at all and really didn't like how long this race is.  She wants to know why I didn't pick a 5k.

On race day, Kristen and I stopped by Waffle House to lubricate our GI's for the big day.  This is Kristen's first ultra and she's super pumped.

Lap one had me plodding along and finishing in 55 minutes.  I was fairly happy, it was about 2 minutes faster than 2011, and my heart rate is nice and low.  It was warming up rather quickly so I shed my fleece vest.  Lap 2 and 3 were done both in 53 minutes and I got really excited since I'm now over 15 minutes ahead of 2011.  Hmm....could a PR be possible, even with walking at night?  But toward end of lap 3 I noticed my heart rate creeping up.  Even slowing down does not seem to help.  It took me the entire lap 4 to figure out the cause of the cardiac drift.  I drank only 22oz of fluid (one full bottle), in 18 miles.  Hmm...holy crap, I somehow got myself dehydrated even though I don't feel that way.  Quick solution is needed, so I consumed two bottles of fluid on the next lap, and then noticed my fingers are tingly and a bit swollen.  Holy crap, now I'm hyponatremic.

I continued to consume my Perpeteum mix at rate of 1.5 bottle per lap but now added a Saltstick capsule each lap.  The disadvantage of doing this quick hydration is I had to hydrate trees often, twice per lap for the next three laps.  By lap 7, most of the symptoms had disappeared, I felt somewhat better, and heart rate settled back down.

At end of lap 6, I grabbed a burger from the main aid station.  I did not realize it was a veggie burger until I bit into it on the trail.  Oh well it couldn't hurt so I ate it, and within 5 minutes my stomach turned into a steel knot.  Ouch ouch ouch.  I begged for some hot liquid at the far end aid station and got some ramen noddle soup.  It wasn't bad but I couldn't stomach the noddles so I just sipped the hot liquid along the trail.  It took two more cups of soup to eventually made the steel knot in the stomach to feel tolerable.  What heck is in a veggie burger?  My GI can't tolerate fake proteins!!!  No more solid food for rest of the race.

By lap 8, I was getting pretty tired, and my hips and legs are achy, stomach is ok but not great, and even though my heart rate stayed even, my entire body just feel like a big turd of dull pain.  Though I pre-taped my feet this time, I started  to feel there maybe issues developing down there that I rather not deal with since I couldn't bend over enough to touch my feet at this point.  Somewhere along lap 8 I decided I need an appointment with a psychiatrist to figure out why I choose to abuse myself this way.  Seriously thought about sitting down and called it a day at end of the lap.

At started of lap 9, the psychiatrist showed up in the form of Tait, a fellow runner.  We had ran together for a lap earlier in the race and it was good to run with a familiar face again.  The doctor's solution to my problem is to discuss his plans and his upcoming 100 miler attempt at Graveyard 100.  We swapped stories and I shared my lone attempt at 100 at Umstead in 2011.  By end of lap 9, he had came up with a mental plan for me to deal with the remaining laps.  Do one lap in the light, and then only 4 laps in the dark to the finish.  Any morons can do 4 laps in the dark, so it ought to be easy.

The doctor's wife showed up at end of lap 9 to pace him for a lap, so I bid him farewell.  It turned out his idea of pacing is a bit more involved.

Tait's wife "pacing" him on lap 10
Lap 10 ended at 9:40 on the race clock and all the sudden I wondered if 14 hours would be possible.  It'll take 1:05 average lap time over the the 4 night laps would get me to 14 hours.  Two years ago I averaged 1:17 at night, and even on the final lap when I went for the kamikaze lap, I still only managed 1:08.  So four laps of 1:05 at night is out of the question.  I relaxed knowing I most likely will still break my previous PR of 15:20 without trying too hard at this point, and grabbed my ginormous Fenix HP11 headlamp and took off on lap 11, the first full lap in the dark.

What a difference the Fenix lights combination makes in night running!!!  Previously I ran with Black Diamond Storm headlamp which is a really nice headlamp but seeing roots and rocks at night sure is difficult.  Since everyone else ran with similar or even dimmer headlamps, I always assumed night trail running is about guessing where the roots are rather than seeing where the roots are.  Last year at Weymouth, I watched Gene storming the course at night with his Fenix HP11 like it's daylight and end up buying the light after the race to try it.  Somehow Fenix mis-threaded one of the straps on my HP11, and for the next 10 months I couldn't figure out how to comfortably wear the super heavy battery pack on the back of my head.  I just assumed Gene's head/neck is just that much tougher than mine.  Yes I'm not that bright.  I finally figured out that the strap was not threaded correctly two months ago.  The second element of this combination is the handheld.  Over the years I have heard multiple people say having a handheld light at night helps with roots but I didn't want another thing in my hand so I ignored them.  James Plant had tremendous success last year at Weymouth with his Fenix E21 handheld light, so I finally decided to give it a try and bought it, and promptly tossed it in the drawer for a whole year.  So the combination of HP11 and E21 debuted at Weymouth this year, and it turned night to day.  The HP11 has an optional diffuser and I played with different combinations on lap 11 and found that I liked it best to have the HP11 with the diffuser pointed a bit out in the front to give me a good idea of what's coming up, and the E21 in my right hand pointed just in front of my feet to give three dimensional view of roots that I'm immediately about to step over, which leaves my left hand free to perform rocket blows and other bodily functions.

I did not bother to check time during the laps the entire race.  So I had no idea what lap 11 time was going to be.  When I came into the finishing area and saw the race clock at 10:45, I did a double take and had to do the math twice in my head to make sure I didn't screw it up.  1:05 night lap?  Is that possible?  Because I did not push on that lap whatsoever.  That lap was spent on working out the best way to use the two lights, and I also ate a bowl of hot grits again at Doug and Jimmy's 3 Minutes Hostel.  I noticed another curiosity that first surfaced at Mountain Masochist back in 2011 and again at Hinson in 2012, where once I get past 10 to 11 hours of running, it became harder and harder to get the heart rate up.  Lap 11 was only about 30 seconds slower than lap 10, but my lap average heart rate dropped from 137 to 135.  I still can't explain this.  Regardless, a 1:05 night lap without killing myself was a complete surprise.  The lighting solution I had must have made a far bigger difference than I thought possible.  All the sudden 14 hours is not only possible, but very doable at this rate.  Like throwing a switch, my body and mind changed mode immediately, and instead getting a cup of chicken noodle soup like I had been doing since lap 6, I grabbed a small piece of pumpkin bread and rushed to my gear and chugged a bottle of Starbucks Frappuccino and hurried out of the aid station.  Frappuccino was a big gamble consider the stomach trouble I had earlier, but with 14 hours all the sudden on the table, I had to risk it.

Running through scenarios for the last 3 laps in my head as I pick my way through the rooty section in the first quarter mile, I figured if I could do 1:05 on lap 12, then a slight speed up on lap 13 before going for it on lap 14, I should have 14 hours with a few minutes to spare.  All along lap 12, I keep reminding myself do not speed up, do not speed up, do not speed up.......be patient and wait for the next lap.  A sub 14 is big enough goal, don't get greedy and go for more and crash.  However I did not stop with Doug and Jimmy's for grits this time but ran through their aid station for the first time during the race to save time.

About 1/4 mile past Doug and Jimmy's, the Fenix E21 in my hand dimmed.  Oh crap!  I have a set of Sanyo Eneloop 1900 mAh rechargeable AA batteries in the E21, and a set of 3100 mAh Energizer Ultimate Lithium in the HP11 headlamp.  I figured the E21 is rated at almost half the lumen as the HP11 so the smaller capacity battery should be ok.  But I did not consider the effect of the cold temperature on batteries.  The Ultimate Lithium's claim to fame is cold temperature high drain application.  I immediately noticed how much harder it was to see roots.  After a few hundred yards of this, I yanked the HP11 off my head and used it as a giant handheld and was immediately rewarded with good depth perception again.  Running through the timing once again in my head, I decided I need to be super efficient at Aid Station to not blow the 14 hour goal.  Even though the to do list is fairly short, I did not want to screw it up.  I need a crew for the first time in the race.

Crossing the timing mat once more at end of lap 12, the clock showed 11:50.  Perfect, another 1:05 lap.  I saw Linda at the aid station wrapped in blanket cheering me on, and I yelled (sorry Linda) at her to grab a piece of pumpkin bread and meet me at my table.  I frantically changed the batteries in the E21 as Linda came over and I told her to fish a bottle of Frappuccino out of my gear bucket and open the lid for me.  I wasn't gonna risk another set of the Eneloop batteries again, so I popped in my remaining Ultimate Lithium batteries in the E21 and chugged the Frappuccino from Linda like a freshman chugging his first beer on spring break then bolted for the trailhead.  I had stopped drinking from my waist belt water bottle two laps ago and forgotten to ditch it each time, and it was bothering my already troubled stomach and sure enough I forgot to ditch it again.  Without no time waste, I tied the belt to the post guarding the trail head and ran into the woods on lap 13, with a piece of pumpkin bread dangling from my mouth.

My promise to my PT to not run in the dark had now morphed into not running in the dark in the rooty sections.  Once I got through the first mile and half, I hit the first smooth trail and decided to do a bit of fartlek to get my body warmed up for the the final lap.  Here and there I picked smooth trails and hills to pick up pace and still cautiously went through rooty sections and downhills.  Near the start of lap 13 I felt something pop under the left foot's tape and I really did not want to have another blister ruin my race again so running hard downhill was out of question since that just aggravated whatever is going on under the left foot.  Without stopping at Doug and Jimmy's once again, I finished lap 13 at 12:53 on the clock.  Lap time is 1:02.

I seriously considered not stopping at the aid station, but realizing there is a good chance of bonking without additional calories.  The fastest source of calories is once again Frappuccino, all 180 kcal of it.  Taking off on lap 14 burping Starbucks, I was filled with adrenaline knowing this lap is going to be exciting, and is also going to be painful.

Shortly into the final lap, I passed Kristen and Darryl.  Darryl had paced Kristen for the past 6 laps after volunteering at the main aid station all morning.  I told Kristen she looked awesome and thanked Darryl for taking care of my friend.  At Doug and Jimmy's, I stopped to thank them for taking care me the entire day.  They are simply amazing, manning that remote station all by themselves for the entire 20 hours, and smiled and helped every one of us all through out the day and the night and provided amazing drinks and food. At the second to the last hill, I power walked past another runner and we briefly exchanged cheerful notes and found out we were both on the final lap.  Half way up the hill, I started hearing his footsteps behind me catching up.  I have no idea who he is, however I sure don't want to be passed by him at this point, so I took off running up this hill for the first time in the race.  I felt bad doing so but also really really wanted to finish ahead of him for some reason.  This means I had to run up the last hill, the worst freaking hill on the course.  Running up that hill on a good day is not fun.  Running up it at end of a 100k is just a cruel joke.  It's payback time.  Last year I somehow convinced Gene and Lauren sprint up that hill on their final lap.  Should have known back then it was bad karma.

Crossing the finishing line in 13:48 is just unreal.  Coming into the race without much of a goal except to finish and not hurt myself, then shaving 92 minutes off my PR.  I have no clue how it happened.

Happy to be done!
The best news of the day: not a single text from Jade.  I had made plan with her that if she's not feeling well and potentially go into labor, text me and the worst case it'll take me about 2.5 hours to get to Rex Hospital (1 hour to finish the lap to check the phone, then 1.5 hours to drive). There is no reason so suspect she may go into labor early and our OB said she's looking great the previous week.  But with twins at 31 weeks, anything is possible.   I had made arrangement to have a friend drive her in if anything happens.  Each lap when I checked my phone and do not see a text, I breathed a sigh of relief.

I hang out between the aid station and the lodge waiting for Kristen to finish.  She's just amazing.  Her first marathon was only 10 months ago at Umstead, and here she is finishing her first 100k!  Kudos to all the people that took her under their wings during the race: Linda, Darryl, Tom, and Ray!

Kristen smiling with her finisher's award after over 18 hours of running!
Race numbers:

Time Distance Lap time Lap distance Lap pace Avg HR Max HR
0:54:42 4.59 0:54:42 4.59 11:55 135 152
1:47:44 9.06 0:53:02 4.47 11:52 137 146
2:40:51 13.53 0:53:07 4.47 11:53 139 152
3:35:58 18 0:55:07 4.47 12:20 142 151
4:32:12 22.47 0:56:14 4.47 12:35 144 155
5:31:35 26.94 0:59:23 4.47 13:17 141 151
6:32:06 31.41 1:00:31 4.47 13:32 140 154
7:31:24 35.88 0:59:18 4.47 13:16 141 152
8:35:16 40.35 1:03:52 4.47 14:17 138 150
9:40:14 44.82 1:04:58 4.47 14:32 137 168
10:45:53 49.29 1:05:39 4.47 14:41 135 146
11:50:40 53.76 1:04:47 4.47 14:30 136 146
12:53:08 58.23 1:02:29 4.47 13:59 138 147
13:48:40 62.7 0:55:32 4.47 12:25 144 167