Tuesday, September 29, 2009

What it's all about

It's about the mountains. It's the power and the peace of those old mountains. It is air and sunshine and weather and nature. Daylight and darkness. Wind and water. It's about being part of it rather than just passing through. It's getting closer to where I came from, all the while moving and getting closer to where I want to be. --Alan Gowen

The days leading up to an ultra---especially a 100 miler---are hectic and nerve-wracking but also weirdly calm and peaceful. My organizer gene (thanks to my mom) got me packing, sorting, writing pace charts and crew instructions, filling gel flasks and baggies last week so now all I have to do is re-confirm travel plans, run a little each day, sleep a lot, and eat healthy food. My students have caught wind that another Shining adventure was afoot (pun intended,) so today I was busy sending out directions to the race course to my lacrosse team and their parents, at their request. So cool to have their support!

Alan's wonderful quote up at the top continues to inspire me. It is about the power and the peace of those old mountains. It will also be about the wind and the water: the forecast is calling for rain all night Friday with temps in the 50s. Ugh-oh. Time to pack and re-pack the rain gear and extra dry clothes and the gloves. GLOVES! Who would have thought about gloves last week, when it was 80 degrees?

AJW has given me strict instructions on how to approach this race. There will be no napping, sitting, or whining. I have the best pacer and crew on the planet and they know what I need. All that I need to do is be smart and let the race come to me, and I need to remind myself what a long day and night it will be and that ANYTHING can happen. I need to be flexible and welcome the weather conditions as something that will help me ( I tend to run much better in cool weather). Most of all, I need to be mindful of what it's all about: striving to meet a difficult challenge in a beautiful setting surrounded by close friends and family. Wow. How lucky am I?

Friday, September 18, 2009

It's that time again!

view of Shenandoah Mountain from Chimney Hollow Trail, mile 18 and 82 of the Grindstone 100

Last Sunday, three weeks out of the race, Rusty, Quatro and I went out to the course and biked and ran a little. Actually, Rusty biked and Q and I ran. I brought the trail shears so I could clear the trail a bit at the top of Chimney Hollow, and we were pleasantly surprised with how good the trail looked as compared to the training run a month ago. Clearly mountain bikers and others had been up there and cleaned up quite a bit.

Today, Horton called me to ask about trail conditions since he was going up there with Clark, and they are cleaning up the North Mountain section and Chimney Hollow. Tonight they will run from Elliotts Knob to Dry Branch and then tomorrow to TWOT parking lot. He asked if I wanted to join them, and while it sounded fun, I declined. It's time for me to rest up and get ready for this baby!!

Taper time.

Last year I wrote a post about the taper after attending an informative session on marathon tapering at Ragged Mountain Running Shop. While I won't rehash that post here, I always like to write about the taper. It's a time for examination and reflection, as well as getting down to brass tacks and to start packing, planning, sorting. The homework is done and it's time to get ready for the exam!

This past week I sent my pacer and crew all the Gstone information they could ever need. Michele is my pacer. She has won races from the half-marathon to 100 miles and is one of the most experienced ultra chicks I know. I told her that I will need her to keep me focused, fed, hydrated, and out of the chair. Michele and I made a great team at Highland Sky last June when we finished third together, and I am really looking forward to her company out there...I know we will have a grand adventure together! The photo below was taken at the end of Highland Sky...sums it all up for me.

Marlin is my crew. He is also a fast 100 miler runner and knows what it takes to run this race---he ran it last year in a hair over 25 hours. Nice. Like Michele, Marlin will be committing his entire weekend to helping me, and I know he will do a great job moving me in and out of the AS quickly. Last year I took a lot of time -- up to 15 minutes in some spots-- at the AS, and a big goal for me this year is to minimize AS time. I know he will do a great job!! In this pic we are at the finish line of MMT 2009. He was so strong in those last miles---I hope I can be as calm and in control as he was at the end of that race.

This weekend, two weeks out, I will run on some of my favorite local courses with lots of downhills to trash the quads one more time. At the end of Grindstone last year, I could not run downhill and I vowed to do a better job training the quads this year. This summer I've really worked on my downhill form (thanks to some great tips from AJW) and gotten in some steep downhill training, including the weekly hill repeats. This morning Hallie, Leisa, Heidi and I ran up and over Fox Mountain which is a gradual 7 mile climb up, and then we came back over for 14 total miles. Tomorrow it is back to Carters Mountain and Secluded Farm. I ran this course two weeks out from the race last year and it is a perfect distance---about 12 miles with lots of steep climbs and descents.

I am getting very excited about the race. I can't wait to spend an entire night and day on those awesome trails! Here are a few pics of the course to set the stage...

Chimney Hollow Trail (mile 82 and 18)

Crawford Mountain Trail, miles 16/84

trail from Little Bald (miles 45/55 to Reddish Knob (mile 50)

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Cool training runs, part 2: The Wild Oak Trail

Earlier in the summer I decided I would write about some of the gorgeous and challenging mountain trails that I love to train on. In June I blogged about Three Ridges and The Priest, and this past weekend we ran on The Wild Oak Trail as part of a 33+ mile training run for the Grindstone 100.

The Wild Oak Trail is affectionately known in the VHTRC as TWOT. Like Three Ridges and the Priest, it gives trail runners a huge bang for their running buck, as it offers a full day of running on smooth single track, rocky downhills and big, big climbs. Total elevation gain over the 25 miles has been reported to be at least 8,000 feet, with the highest point, Little Bald, at 4,351 feet. My best time for the 25.6 mile loop is around 6:45 in cold weather, and my best time in hot weather is 7:11. I always like to run a loop of TWOT as part of my final 100 mile race preparation, because I know the trail will not lie: either I am fit and ready to run 100 miles, or I am kidding myself.

The Wild Oak Trail was created as a National Recreation Trail by the Forest Service. According to the Forest Service website, "Loggers, farmers and cattlemen lived in the area about the trail before the land was purchased between 1915 and 1935." The trail is part of two very challenging endurance events: The Shenandoah Mountain 100 Mountain Bike Race and the Grindstone 100. The TWOT 100, a low key fat ass run hosted by ultra legend Dennis Herr, is held twice a year (a Cold TWOT and a Hot TWOT). Only 6 runners have ever finished the TWOT 100, which boasts similar total elevation gain to Hardrock---around 32,000 feet for 100 miles. Keith Knipling currently holds the CR for the TWOT 100, set in 2007.

Vince and Bobby Gill atop Hankey Mountain, before we descended Dowells Draft trail

A loop course such as TWOT is a fun challenge, as it presents the question of which direction to take. Yesterday we took the clockwise direction because it would allow us to add on a 3.5 mile out-and-back section from the Grindstone course early in the run. This section, the Dowells Draft Trail, is often the place where TWOT newbies mistakenly get off trail. It is easy to confuse with the TWOT loop since it merges with TWOT at the top of Hankey Mountain. During Grindstone, Dowells Draft comes at miles 22 and 79 in the race, and I suspect that any west coast runners who run Grindstone would liken it to the trails in California: smooth, shady and winding at a perfect grade. Yesterday it took us 30 minutes to run down and 40 minutes to run back---we were able to run the entire climb back as the grade is perfect for an easy, aerobic hill running effort.

Dowells Draft (right): one can run it like a "marble in a slot" ---Scott Mills

The road crossing at mile 10 (or, in our case, mile 17 because we added Dowells) is a perfect place to leave water and other aid. This is an important place to tank up as the next section up Big Bald includes a 50 minute climb and another 2 hours until aid at Camp Todd. Bobby, Marc, and I worked hard on the climb up Big Bald and only had to stop once (that's Bobby Gill below):

After cresting Big Bald we descended down to the North River, where our friend Vince Bowman had kindly left enough water to get us back to our cars in once piece...temps were now into the 80s and we were feeling it. The refreshing waters of the North River cooled me off a bit before the 45-minute climb up to Little Bald, but Marc and Bobby opted to cross the river and pose for pics instead of submerging (big mistake, fellas!).

The climb up to Little Bald was a mostly silent gut-check this time around. At this point in the loop, you are either feeling good or you feel like crap and wish you had bailed at Camp Todd for a ride back on the road. I was testing Perpetuem Cafe Latte in my bottles and was very pleased with the taste and how I felt. Two thumbs up for the Perp! We did have a few choice words for Little Bald but were nowhere near as bonkey as our friend Mike Frazier, who was running a counter clockwise loop with Vince and his brother. We came upon them at the junction where the SM100 and Grindstone courses merge with TWOT at the top of the bald:

Poor guy. He had almost no water left in his hydration pack and couldn't keep any down. We gave him some of ours and wished them well on the descent to the river, where fortunately they had left their car. At this point I was ready to roll down the 7 miles to our cars and call it a day--we had already been out for 7:15 and I knew we had about 1:25 more to go. This downhill from Little Bald was a perfect ending for my last big Grindstone training effort---it is part of the course (coming at mile 60 in the race) and unrelenting---a great quad trasher, which is exactly what I was looking for. We made it back to the cars in 8:45, very satisfied with our 33+ mile adventure!

4 weeks until race weekend...I am feeling good and ready for the taper, and looking forward to spending some time on the Wild Oak Trail in race mode!