Saturday, December 21, 2013

Rush Running Company

A while back my local shop, Rush Running Company, was nominated as one of the 50 best running stores in the entire US of A. This is an annual competition sponsored by Competitor and Running Insight. After intensive review and research of all nominations a few fortunate shops were chosen for closer inspection. We made the cut. As a result a film crew was dispatched to Bentonville, AR to document things. They went to the shop to interview folks and came out to Ol' Tiger Track for the regular Monday night Rush Hour. Before the day was over the word was that Rush Running Co had made the final four. This was big. 

The next day I called Mike Rush to get his thoughts on the whole deal. Needless to say the guy was excited. He thought it would take a number of years to reach this level. It then crossed my mind that maybe he doesn't realize how good this shop is.
Maybe I shouldn't be surprised he doesn't get it?
Me: "Mike, are you able to see from inside the bubble just how damn good your shop really is? Can you step back and see it objectively?"
Mike: "Well, I think our customer service is pretty good. Yeah, well, it's good. But I think what really sets us apart is how the store looks. It's open and clean, not cluttered, customers can easily see what we have..." and blah, blah, blah...

I realized then that Mike was not able to see the forest for the trees. Seriously? A good floor plan is what makes you one of the best in the game? I'm here to set things straight. If a store has great customer service and is involved in the community that's all well and good. Rush Running Co is so much more than that. 
Yeah, not surprised at all
It doesn't matter whether you are a fresh faced and slightly scared rookie runner or a gristle filled veteran, if you are willing to lace 'em up and toe the line Rush is there to support you. Wanna set a 36 minute PR in a 5k or run a 5 minute mile? Rush has you covered. Have plans to knock out 5 marathons in 5 days or throw down at Western States 100? Rush ain't scared. Need help finishing your first half marathon or losing 150 pounds of body weight? Rush says "Bring it!" These are all true by the way. The enthusiasm, dedication, service and passion of Rush Running Co is second to none. And when I refer to Rush Running Co obviously that includes Ali and Mike Rush. It includes all of the store staff. The race team also gets thrown into the mix. The combined force of these elements is undeniable. If that's all there was to it that would still be a great story. But there is yet more...
The Real Boss
And this is the part that I believe Mike and Ali are not able to see. The gal that wanted that 36 minute 5k PR, she followed the plan provided by Rush and worked hard. And she got it. The guy that thought a 5 flat mile was a good challenge? He busted his butt for 12 weeks over the summer with twice weekly track workouts and came so very close with a 5:14 effort. At the age of 44. Five marathons in five days? Done. Conquering WS100? Check. Finish that first half mary? Yes, hundreds of times over. Losing more than 100 pounds? Sure thing, with more still coming off. And Rush Running is there every step of the way. Rush Running sees the potential in folks that individuals have not yet realized. That potential is polished day by day and step by step. Sometimes it is high fives when passing on a trail. Other times  it is a shout out while driving by on the road. It includes screaming across the track if you slack on the back stretch. It is hugs at the finish line. It is an arm around the shoulder and whispers in the ear of being capable of more than you know.

All these folks and so many more have taken those accomplishments and carried them away tucked inside of themselves. Those challenges overcome in running instill a sense of confidence and achievement. Make no mistake about it, that positivity spills over into other parts of their lives. In essence, they become better people. If she can complete that half marathon what else is she capable of? Through hard work and focus if he can touch that 5 minute mile what else is possible? And so on and so forth... That's powerful stuff folks. That's life changing stuff right there.

I have lived in a few different places and have run in each of them. Dallas, Ft. Worth, Chicago, College Station, Fayetteville (before Rush Running) and Joplin. The magic never happened in those places. Since finding Rush Running Co I have gone places I never imagined I would go to run. The piney woods of East Texas, the mountains of Tennessee, the Rockies, the Grand Tetons, the Smokey Mountains, all across the Ozarks, Ouachitas and beyond. And I want more. I have met some of the finest folks that walk the earth and some of them have become my closest friends. The Goats, the race team, the familiar faces at the track. I get shout outs of "Rush Running!" in places I have never been when wearing my gear. I have seen snow capped peaks, clear mountain streams, the beautiful colors of autumn in the Ozarks, groves of Aspen trees, thick Pine forests, boulder fields, the high desert at sunrise and sunsets over the ocean. I have seen things so overwhelming that I had to stop in my tracks to soak it in. I have memories to last me a lifetime. I imagine there are lots of shops that can help you become a better runner. Places that give training advice and maybe hold group runs. What I am talking about is carefully investing in the lives of customers because of a passion for running. It is being a good steward of the gift and sharing it with others. I am a better runner but more importantly a better person. Thank you. 

That is why Rush Runners are so damn loyal to the brand. And that is why we will not stop until Rush Running Co is on top. To Ali and Mike, we are so very proud of you. We already knew what others are just learning. To Drew, Jenny, Ryan, Andrew, Marilyn, Rachel, Harry, Trae, Heather, Travis, Taylor, Nick, Jamye, AnneMarie and others (sorry if I left anyone out), you are on the front lines day in and day out and make it happen. Your contributions do not go unnoticed and I hope you understand the positive and powerful impact you have in the lives of people you serve. To my fellow Goats and Rush Running Race Team members, I am honored to be counted among you all. I consider myself very fortunate to be a part of it. The running community in NWA is not only alive and well but is as diverse and dynamic a group as you will find anywhere. At the heart of it all is Rush Running. Thank you Rush Running Co for all you do for so many. Cheers!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Coe Project Update: Halfway Into the Pain Cave

My summer project of speed is now at the halfway point and it is time for me to review my progress. Five full weeks down and five more to go. In general terms this has been tough. Duh. There are some positives and some things that are frustrating. By this point Mike has a solid feel for what the focus will be for the remainder of the project. It took a handful of workouts to determine where the biggest bang for the buck will come from. The date for the Farmer Mile has been changed too. A couple of extra weeks was added to the training. An 8 week schedule has now become 10 weeks. In a nutshell, this is what I know...

I have averaged just over 40 miles per week. I hit the track once per week during weeks 1 and 2 and now do work there twice weekly on Monday evening and Thursday morning. Monday is the grinder with longer intervals and target splits below goal pace. Thursday I get an easier session with shorter intervals and goal pace splits. My other days of the week have gone as planned with easy paced maintenance and recovery runs and a "long" run on Saturday of 10-15 miles. Striders a couple times per week, always on dirt or grass.

Inadvertently I have knocked out a few "streaks" since I began. That certainly was not a goal. It is the result, I think, of wanting to do as much work as I can to improve my chance of getting a good time on my mile. I am a 5 day a week kind of guy. Sometimes 6 if I need to push volume. Somehow I opened this project with a 13 day streak before taking an off day. Then it was a 14 day streak before the next day of rest. And then another 14 day streak of work. I began with the idea that I wanted a "shakeout" run the day before a workout. And a "recovery" run the day after a workout. With 3 workouts a week, well, that doesn't jibe out so easy. One of the more important lessons learned is that my non-workout days have to be easy. If not I pay for it on the track. And the track is where the work must be put in. On that end I took my rest day this past week on Sunday in hopes of being fresher for Monday. No running but I did bike 10 miles at a moderate effort level. I think it worked pretty well for me. Looks like I will be taking the next few Sundays off and hitting the two wheeler instead of lacing up the whips. 

The streaks and speed work have left me feeling physically beat up most of the time especially since beginning the twice weekly speed work. My body went from zero speed work to a few miles of near all out sprinting each week in short order. And doing it in the heat of the summer hasn't helped. Again, easy days have to be easy. Thankfully I have stayed on course in terms of being injury free. There have certainly been some aches and pains. That is to be expected when stepping outside the comfort zone. One thing that has helped in that regard is the maintenance work that is now routine. Before the project I wasn't a big believer in regularly taking time to do the little things like warming up, cooling down, stretching, foam rolling, form drills and strength work. But I knew to be successful at this I would have to be smarter than before. Now the little things matter. I feel guilty if I skimp on them. I also feel it in my legs. The lunge matrix and dynamic stretching are pretty much daily routines now. Form drills and strength work after runs have helped as have a couple of yoga like sessions per week. I am careful to warm up and cool down or I feel it. 

I have dropped a couple of pounds. My walk around weight is about 164# these days. The slight feeling of fatigue is a bit of a concern. I have experienced some trouble sleeping at times as well. Especially following Monday evening track sessions. Perhaps that is why I have long preferred to run in the morning. Last night I used some melatonin to help out. I think it worked pretty well. 

Adding much more volume will be difficult. Perhaps even ill advised. Instead, I will try to add some cardio with some bike work and using the pool. I have found that my dynamic stretching routine can be done in the pool and it becomes a relaxing strength routine with the resistance of the water. After 5 weeks I am able to hold pace a bit longer and I don't fall off the cliff quite as badly during intervals. My biggest challenge is the mental aspect of running fast. Track work is a very different beast from ultra training. The acute discomfort of track intervals is quite immediate. A couple of times my throat has hurt on Tuesdays from breathing so hard on Monday. In the middle of repeats I find my brain telling my body it can't happen. A glance at my watch and I can see that I am near correct pace but my Central Governor keeps persisting that I must slow down. One of the reasons for doing this was to work on breaking down that barrier. I haven't been successful yet. I do feel that baby steps have happened in that direction. I need more of those baby steps over the next 5 weeks. 

Week One
Monday 400m @ 1:07 and 3x200 (:35, :34, :36) 
Tuesday 5 miles @ 9:01 pace
Wednesday 5.5 miles @ 8:13 pace (8 strides)
Thursday 4.5 miles @ 8:16 pace (4 hill repeats)
Friday 5 miles @ 7:50 pace
Saturday 10 miles @ 8:55 pace
Sunday 7 miles @ 8:23 pace (6 strides)

Week Two
Monday 7 miles @ 8:06 pace (no speed per Mike)
Tuesday 6 miles @ 7:52 pace
Wednesday 5 miles @ 8:20 pace 
Thursday 5 miles @ 8:45 pace
Friday OFF
Saturday 12 miles @ 8:23 pace
Sunday 5 miles 8:29 pace

Week Three
Monday 2 mile w/u and 2 mile c/d, 1k ladder down splits 1k @ 3:27, 800 @ 2:41, 600 @ 2:04, 400 @ 1:20 and 200 at :37
Tuesday 5 miles @ 8:44 pace
Wednesday 7 @ 8:10 pace (8 strides)
Thursday 2 mile w/u and c/d, 10x400 target 1:20 w/ 1:00 rest period. Splits were 1:28, 1:18, 1:16, 1:19, 1:18, 1:20, 1:21, 1:22, 1:23 and 1:24. 
Friday 6 miles @ 7:56 pace
Saturday 10 miles @ 8:54 (6 strides)
Sunday 5 miles @ 8:25 pace

Week Four
Monday 2 mile w/u and 2 mile c/d, 2x800 (2:35 and 2:45), 400 @ 1:22, 600 @ 2:02, 2x400 (1:16 and 1:17)
Tuesday 7 miles @ 10:28 pace (EZ trail run)
Wednesday 4.5 miles @ 7:57 pace
Thursday 1.5 mile w/u and 1.5 mile c/d, 10x400 target 1:20 w/ 1:00 rest. Splits were 1:19, 1:20 (x3), 1:18, 1:20, 1:19, 1:18, 1:19 and 1:21. 
Friday 15.5 miles @ 12:09 pace (tough trail)
Saturday OFF
Sunday 5 miles @ 8:36 pace

Week Five
Monday 1.5 mile w/u and 1.5 mile c/d, 800 @ 2:38, 2x400 (1:20 and 1:20), 600 @ 2:04, 400 @ 1:22, 600 @ 2:02. 
Tuesday 7 miles @ 8:50 pace
Wednesday 5 miles @ 8:30 pace
Thursday 10x400 target 1:20 w/ 2:00 rest. Splits were 1:20, 1:18 (x3), 1:19, 1:18 and 1:19. Only had time for 7 intervals, had to get back to work, wicked hot and got sunburned too. 
Friday 3 miles @ 9:05 pace
Saturday 11.5 miles @ 8:08 pace
Sunday 3.5 miles 8:54 pace

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Coe Project

If you follow my training via Twitter or Facebook or here on my blog (Thanks Dad) then you know that I have been working on some weird "project". Likewise, if you regularly attend the weekly Rush Hour speed sessions at Tiger Track in Bentonville you might be wondering, "Who is that pasty skinned dude doing something different from everyone else?" (Thanks Whitney). Well, it is my Summer carrot...
I thought I could provide some details for this idea here so that I don't have to keep explaining it to people that ask and have them stare at me blankly or hold back the laughter. Yeah, I'm that guy usually pulling off back to back weekend runs of 20+ miles and traveling to Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri or Tennessee for trail races. This time last year I was rebuilding my base following the stress fracture. My first race back was the Pumpkin Holler 50k (Tatur) over near Tahlequah where I bagged a top 10 finish and a new PR. Next up in December was the Rock Creek Series Lookout Mtn 50 miler in Chattanooga where I found a very lonely, dark place to die before being pulled to the light by David Newman for my worst race ever (but a great learning experience). February found me back in the Lone Star State for the Tejas Trails race known as Rocky Raccoon where I once again tackled the 50 miler and bagged another PR. In April I erased my newly set 50k PR with a new one at Frisco Trail 50k (OMRR) in Missouri and earned a top 3 finish. Then I blew myself away with my time at the Bentonville Half Marathon with a huge 18 minute PR. Then this month I grabbed a top 5 finish and new 25k PR at War Eagle. Coming off of that streak I was hungry for more PRs. Namely for the 5k and 10k distance. Based on my new half mary PR I began some workouts for the 5k distance. I was not able to finish any of the workouts. Oh yeah, I could nail it for a couple or 3 miles but then my legs would quickly turn to lead. Sure, I could run 50 miles at a given pace but try to speed things up for a 5k and I was done. My aerobic base was great but the lactate threshold was anemic. 
So I gave up and decided to just run over the Summer. No specific training, no races, just run. That lasted about two weeks. I read this article at about the mile being America's classic distance. You see, I'm a carrot guy. I need something to shoot for to stay disciplined in my training. The thought of stepping outside my comfort zone was appealing to me. I floated the idea past Mike Rush, owner of Rush Running and former NCAA 800m animal at the U of A. Mike knows my running background. He knows my strengths and weaknesses. He laughed at me. He asked what my goal time was. I told him 5 minutes flat. He laughed harder. He asked "Why five minutes?" and I told him "Because it sounds good." I had to pick him up off the floor. OK, I didn't do that but he did laugh. I explained the reason why. How I wanted to not just set new PRs for 5k and 10k but to blow them away. The reason those first fast workouts were cut short, he said, was because I had worked backwards as far as I could from all of the big volume training for my ultras.  There was no turnover, the engine couldn't rev high for very long. If the goal was to crack new ground in shorter distances then I would need to go forward in my training, not backwards. I needed to start from square one. He asked what my best time was for a mile. I told him I ran "4:50 something back in high school. You know, 1987." He shook his head and told me to meet him at the track the following Monday. He needed some numbers to work with and was gonna make me run hard. 
So I showed up. He wanted me to run a 400 as fast as I could. I knew a 5 minute mile is 4 x 75 second laps. I figured I had go sub 70 to have any type of shot at it. I had no clue if it was possible. For motivation, Matt Blaty offered to rabbit for me. Matt is a former NCAA stand out at Cal Poly Pomona where he set records that remain intact to this day. He was All American in 1980 and once ran a 30:16:00 in the 10k. Sick. Mike says "Go!" and Blaty is off like a scalded cat. I'm thinking "Holy $#@!". He instantly gets 5 meters on me but I manage to hold it there all down the back stretch. Then we hit the turn. Halfway through it my legs were burnt toast. I began throwing my arms out front in an attempt to keep my momentum moving. Probably looked more like flailing. He began to pull away. By now I could hear some of the Rush Runners yelling at me and cheering. I wanted to die. My legs felt so damn heavy. We crossed the finish line and Mike asked for the time. The answer was "77" and I thought I had just embarrassed myself. Then "No, wait, I mean 67." I do the quick math and realize that is 4:28 pace and that Mike might be surprised. I was. Mike then says he wants us to do 3 x 200 repeats all out with a 400m shuffle for rest. We knocked those out in 35, 34 and 36 seconds. More proof that my legs had turned to concrete. After an easy cool down I asked Mike what he thought. His realistic projection was 5:10-5:15 and anything better than that was icing on the cake. And yes, he was a bit surprised that I ran a sub 70 on the 400. 
But you know what? The goal is not the final time on August 12th (yes, just 8 weeks of training), that is almost irrelevant. The process is what is important. That is the focus. I am really stepping out of my comfort zone here. I know if I want to get that 18 minute 5k time and sub 40 minute 10k and get my BQ marathon it is going to take work. But it is possible. I also know that doing this will require smart training. I will need to monitor my body physically in new ways. I will have to incorporate regular strength work and stretching. All the stuff I normally blow off and disregard. After chalk talking it with Mike the plan for the first two weeks looked like this:
Regular runs of 5-7 miles at a comfortable to comfortably hard pace. If the body says slow down then slow down. Just get miles for now. One long run of 10-12 miles weekly. Again, allow the body to dictate the pace. Striders 2-3 times per week, 6-8 x 110 meters and build up to 75-80% effort on them. In other words, not all out but comfortably hard right at the very end of the stride. In addition I complete a lunge matrix before every run that takes about 4 minutes. I have been vigilant about taking time for proper cool downs. I have taken time to stretch when needed and try to closely monitor for any signs of breakdown. It has been a long time since this body went hard. Wait, that sounds wrong. You know what I mean, my body ain't used to running 400s and stuff. 
So week 1 looked like this:
Mon: LM (lunge matrix), 20 min w/u, 400x1, 200x3, 15 minute c/d down and GSM (general strength work)
Tue: LM, 5 miles @ 9min pace (recovery run)
Wed: LM, 5.5 miles @ 8:15 pace, 8 striders
Thu: LM, 4.5 miles @ 8:15 pace, 4 x repeats Fishback Hill
Fri: LM, 5 miles @ 7:50 pace
Sat: LM, 10 miles @ 8:55 pace, several surges during middle of run
Sun: LM, 7 miles @ 8:20 pace, 6 striders
Total: 41 miles in 5 hours and 37 minutes 
After two weeks I am contemplating a name change for this from the Coe Project (in honor of the great miler Sebastian Coe) to Project FT. The FT could stand for "fast twitch" or on other days it could stand for "F*** that!" I like the sound of that. 

Friday, June 14, 2013

War Eagle Trail Festival 2013

2013 race logo (hand drawn by Ryan Holler)

Coming off of my surprising time at the Bentonville Half back in April I knew that I should be able to carry a pretty good pace through the 25k out at Hobbs. Scouting the competition it looked like a sub 2 hour time would be needed to get a podium spot and take home one of those coveted handmade Indian head trophies. Ultrasignup had me projected to finish 26th overall and run a time around 2h26m or so. Pffftt! That made the Farmer a bit angry. I went out a couple of weeks before the race and ran the course at about 90% effort or so and bagged a 2h15m running time with just a couple of short stops. Thanks to David Newman for actually crewing for me that day. How cool is that? The cold water at Piney was much appreciated. 

Mike Rush & Trae Etheredge battle in the 25k (photo by Luis Escobar)

As race day approached RD Jeff Genova made an announcement that Luis Escobar, trail running photography guru and a pretty bad ass runner, was coming to NWA to shoot pics at the race. Some of you may recognize his name from the best selling book Born to Run.  As a bonus, Luis was generous enough to present his incredible photo essay, Running With the Tarahumara, the night before the race at the Bentonville Activity Center. The photos are amazing and the stories that go along with them are compelling. Luis was an open book and the audience was fortunate to get a glimpse into a world that few Westerners have experienced. Thank you Luis, Korima, my friend. To learn more about Luis and his work check out his website and enjoy. I found Luis to be extremely genuine and generous. Make sure to look through the shots from the race, absolutely beautiful work. 

This is the third year for the current format of the race that includes 10k, 25k and 50k distances. Like last year I opted for the 25k. Why not the ultra? Well, I didn't have the desire to train for a 50k and the 25k was the more attractive carrot for me this year. More on that in my next post, stay tuned. Last year I finished 16th (2h25m) with so so training coming off the stress fracture. I certainly had a better base this year. My training was not focused as much as I simply ran after the Half and averaged about 40 miles per week. I did some hill work and tempo runs but stayed off the trails mostly to allow my ankle time to heal. Regardless, I felt pretty confident heading into race day. The last two years the story was the heat. But this year the forecast was for rain. A lot of rain. As in 4-6 inches the morning of the race and a good chance of severe weather. Mother Nature did not disappoint. The predawn sky on the drive out past Beaver Lake was lit up with lightning flashes as the rain fell. Fortunately, the park staff opened the visitor center early so that we could stay dry. I found a spot in the back of the nature room and got my stuff ready. The start was delayed about 30 minutes due to lightning. After wrapping up my routine I walked around and visited with some familiar faces and met some new ones. After some words from RD Jeff Genova and Mike Rush the 25/50 group headed outside to toe the line in the grey, rainy morning. 
Another great shot from Luis Escobar

I took up position near the front as I had decided to use the Tom Lane method at the start. This entails sprinting the 70 meters or so to the trail head and running as though your hair is on fire for the first 1 1/2 miles before the hill out of Van Winkle Hollow. Apparently I need to work on that as Tom was, like last year, off like a greased dart well in front. No worries as I was in the front of the pack. I love running in the rain. It makes me feel alive. Despite the downpour these trails handle water very well. My initial plan was to take things relatively easy until the climb above War Eagle Valley Overlook and then pick it up from there. No need to red line things in the first 4 miles, right? Well, it was pretty much pedal down from the get go for me. I had the sensation that my body and brain agreed on a pace that would be maintained for the entire race and it was go time. Climbing out of the valley I began to pass guys that I normally would not pass. Now, they were doing the 50k but I still would not see them under normal conditions. I pressed on and continued to pick runners off. About 4 miles in Jeff Erickson caught me from behind. He and I would race one another to the finish. 
Me at the Tatur Station. That's the fastest lawyer in the land, John Nobles, in the background. Notice the swim goggles. At the table is Dana Childress trying to make me eat Pringles. Photo by the Trail Zombie Ken Childress. 

The first aid station is 6 miles in and it was good to see Taturs Ken "TZ" and his wife, Dana, as well as the wounded Sled Dawg, John Nobles, from the Tatur group in Tulsa. A quick refill of my bottle and a slice of pb&j and I was off on the heels of Doc Erickson. We kept the pace honest and I'm not sure if I was pushing him or he was pulling me. I think more the later. The guy can climb smooth and strong. I kept thinking I might get him on a downhill section but I could never pull away. The next section to Piney we ran quick and smooth. At Piney fellow Rush Goats Aaron and Dave were manning the aid station, always good to see some running buddies. Topped off the bottle again and the Doc and I shagged out. At this point I thought we should be top 5 overall but I wasn't sure. We couldn't see anyone in front of us but there were two guys hanging with us. I could tell from their breathing that these two guys were working hard. I thought the descent back into the hollow might be a good chance to drop them and maybe pull away. We hit the switchbacks and the Doc and I got froggy. We quickly dropped one of the hangers on and by now the other was breathing really hard and his footsteps were becoming heavy. I know I glanced down at one point and saw a pace in the 7 minute range. We pressed on and the other guy fell off. It was now just the Doc and me. We flew through Townsend Ridge AS without stopping and it was confirmed that we were 4th and 5th. I mentioned to Doc how I liked the sound of that. He agreed. By now we were passing some 10k runners. 

The 2013 finisher's medal. That would make a nice belt buckle. Hmmm....

As we approached the turn at the bottom of Van Winkle Hollow and the long climb out my legs were feeling the burn. Doc and I hit the climb together and about 1/3 of the way up I felt the explosion. Boom! I had pushed it over the limit. The Doc continued on and I glanced behind me. I saw nobody across the hollow so I got to the crest as best as I could. Once there I began running again and well. The Doc had a good gap on me and I only had maybe a 1/2 mile to close it. No chance. I put my head down and tried to close it out as best I could. My time was 2h05m07s and good enough for 5th place overall. Choke on that Ultrasignup. We nearly caught the 3rd place finisher. I can honestly say that it was one of the most enjoyable racing experiences I have had to date. I crossed the finish line and shook hands with the Doc. 

I want one. 

Next year, I'm getting one of those trophies. I want one. 

Great weather, beautiful trails, excellent company, hot fried catfish, cold PBR, awesome shag carpets, the sickest shirt and medal design I have seen (shout out to Ryan Holler) and a free pair of Sole Sport sandals. 

For more info on the War Eagle Trail Races check the website below
or follow on Facebook

Both the 25 and 50k races are a wee bit short in terms of distance. The 25k clocks in with about 1,400’ of vertical and the 50k around 3,000’ total gain. I would highly suggest making a weekend trip of it if coming from out of town. There are some great family friendly attractions in the area including the world class Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the new Rogers Aquatic Center (water park), the 21c Hotel, War Eagle Mill and Cavern, and some outstanding local eateries. And don’t forget the Bentonville Square where you can check out the Farmers Market and First Fridays for some fresh food and kid friendly entertainment. 
25k course elevation profile

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Bentonville Running Festival Half Marathon Race Report

It has been a long while since I bothered to document a road race. However, this day deserves some reflection. The festival includes a 1 mile fun run, a 5k and the feature, a half marathon. All courses begin and end on the beautiful downtown Bentonville Square. A number of generous local organizations and businesses including the Parks & Recreation Department and Rush Running along with an army of willing volunteers makes this a top notch event. Packet pick up was very well organized (I even volunteered for a couple of hours on Friday) and there are plenty of aid stations. And if you're into it the swag bags are stuffed full of goodies, the shirts are pretty sweet and the finishers medals are blingtastick. 
I missed running in it last year due to the stress fracture but I was tapped to drive the pace car which was a first for me. In 2011 I ran it for the first time and logged a 1h54m time. It was my first half marathon as I had never bothered with that particular distance. On that day I started super slow and then tried to run the final 5 miles like my hair was on fire. In years past this course was known for two things. The wicked downhill on Oakwood about mile 9 and the climb past Crystal Bridges to Compton Gardens in the final mile. 2013 would be different as Oakwood was eliminated and the course moved to Walton Blvd for a gentle 1+ mile decline to the Bark Park. In my opinion this is a change for the better. As for Crystal Bridges, that should never change. I love that hill and run it as often as possible. My Garmin showed 320' of vertical gain with pretty much all of it coming in the final 3 miles. 

The race benefits the Parks & Rec Department, a most worthwhile cause. Aside from the miles of trails and numerous parks they maintain, during the Summer they host several different camp programs for kids. A training group was established for the half marathon last year and led by Rush Running. It absolutely blew up this year and at times we filled the Activity Center to the hilt. I was able to join in on several of the training runs to help encourage the participants. It is inspiring to me and the other Team Rush members to mentor these aspiring runners. The program features a race specific training plan, group runs, tons of freebies, talks about various running topics, friendships and the chance to hear Mike Rush repeatedly scream your name. 
Since I had come off of a long training matrix to prep for a 50k last Fall (Pumpkin Holler) and a couple of 50 mile races over the Winter (Lookout Mtn & Rocky Raccoon) and bagged a new PR for each distance I knew I was in good shape. What I wanted to work on coming off of RR50 was some speed. I planned my Spring race schedule to be mostly road stuff for the simple sake of changing things up and stressing the body in new ways. So the trail shoes went to the corner of the closet and I dug out my road kicks. Not that I ignore the dirt, that will never happen. For months I ran exclusively on trails and now I would run a majority of my miles on hardtop for a while. And start some speed work. I thought 1h45m for this year at the race would be a good goal to set for myself. 
After a few weeks of training I realized that 1h45m was selling short. I could do better. I was knocking out mile repeats at 7:25 pace with no problem and completed a 13 mile tempo run with 6 miles between 7:30 and 7:20 per mile. I changed my goal to 1h40m and maybe, if things went really well, 1h38m on race day. The consistency and volume I ran November through January was paying dividends. So as race day approached I was quietly confident for a significant PR. 
As the crowd grew in the Activity Center yesterday before the start a buddy told me a mutual friend and very strong runner, Craig Adams, would be pacing a friend of his to a 1h40m time in the half. I found Craig at the start and asked if I could tag along. I thought I could cruise with them at a comfortable pace and then, if things felt right, crank it up about mile 7 or so. I have always been one to err on the side of caution with regards to pacing to avoid the blow up. On that topic, about 2 weeks before the race, Mike Rush told me something that stuck in my mind. Mike thinks I hold myself back. He said I should shoot for 1h35m. What he said was something right out of the Rush Book of Running Strategy... 

"Just go big. Real big. You might have a spectacular blow up or you just might blow your own mind. Either way, you have a great story." Mike Rush

Would you take running advice from this guy?
I feel good as I took the time to warm up by jogging for several minutes, did some short strides and dynamic stretching. It feels awkward being at a starting line and not having two handheld bottles and pockets full of gels. I find a spot next to Craig and his buddy Warren. And we are off running from The Square. Mile 1 clicks off at 7:18, mile 2 at 7:16. I know that's below pace for a 1h40m finish. We knock out a 7:22 over the hills on Tiger Blvd and along McCollum into the wind. Through Glen Brook and Memorial Park we lay down a 7:15 mile into the wind. Doubt began to creep in my mind. I wondered if this was too fast to hold on? I backed off the pace and ran a 7:23 towards the old Ice House and found myself pulling ahead of Craig and Warren. It was now me and Geoff, a buddy that rode with me to the race. He ran 1h33m the past two years so I knew he was strong. Why was I running with him? My pacer was now behind me. I need to back off some more I tell myself as we clip off mile 6 at 7:15 pace around the old fair grounds. 
That's when I decided I belonged here. I would either, as Drew Connor says, raise my shield high in victory or be carried home on it. It was along the cemetery I told the voice in my head to piss off. One way or another I was going to have a story to tell. I looked at Geoff and said the next few miles are a net downhill. Let's get busy.  It worked. Mile 7 @ 7:05, mile 8 @ 7:05, mile 9 down Walton Blvd @ 6:58 and mile 10 @ 6:51 through the Bark Park to Slaughter Pen.
I knew the last 3 miles back to The Square would be where the magic happens. This is where it might hurt. Mile 11 was a 7:06 pace and Geoff fell off the back a bit. Mile 12 was 7:08 pace. I lost count of how many runners I passed from the Bark Park and along the stink plant using the "rubber band" visual aid. All that was left was the climb up Crystal Bridges and then the finish to the Square. I've run that hill at least 100 times over the last 3 years. I did repeats on it two weeks ago. I hit it with purpose. After the first kicker I wanted to stop at the A Street parking lot and look for an oxygen tank. I kept going and passed more runners. On the flattish section before the bridge and Compton Gardens I took a few deep breaths and focused on form all the way to the top. Knee lift, pump the arms, steady and strong. I threw down a 7:28 pace for mile 13, that's pretty good. I cleared Lawrence Plaza and turned to the finish stretch. It was done. 
My official time was 1:34:30, an overall 7:12 pace, good enough for an 18 minute PR, 8th in my age group (damn you Ryan Holler) and 50th overall. That should tell you this race is pretty competitive. Perhaps the stat I take the most amount of pride in is the fact that my final split, from the 15k mark to the finish, was the 26th fastest out of nearly 1,500 runners. Everybody wants to finish strong. At Pumpkin Holler I struggled the last 5 miles. At LM50 I wanted to drop at mile 38 and even my PR at RR50 was marked by a bit of a sketchy final 8 miles where I lost time. But today I finished like a guy that knew what he was doing. And the fact that I threw it down like that on the toughest part of the course makes it even better. 
Thanks to Craig and Geoff for keeping me honest on the course. Thanks to Mike Rush for challenging me. Thanks to the City of Bentonville, Parks & Rec and all the great volunteers for a top notch event. I am fortunate to be surrounded by a talented group runners that openly give loads of crap but also encourage, share and motivate.
Lessons learned:
*The power of the mind cannot be underestimated 
*Consistency + Volume = Results
*Specificity in training is critical
*I'm faster than I thought

Next up? Frisco Rail Road 50k on April 27th. Going for a sub 5 hour time. 

Friday, February 22, 2013

Rocky Raccoon 2013 Race Report

"It's an eating and drinking contest with a little running mixed in."
"Earn this."
"Git your $#!*!"

These were the mantras I used as I returned to Huntsville for round two with Rocky Raccoon. The second was my favorite. Just a reminder to me that it wouldn't be easy and to make good on the sacrifices others had made, namely my family, for me to toe the line that day. I ran it last year as my first 50 miler and was pretty happy with the results. Especially given the rain filled mud fest it turned into on race morning. In 2012 I finished in just over 10 hours and within two weeks was sidelined with a stress fracture in my foot. I wanted to return in 2013 and give an honest effort at a sub 9 hour finish. Despite my horrible race at Lookout Mountain 6 weeks before RR I was confident in my training and ability to get the job done. I was determined to eat and drink more than I had at any race before. I was determined to earn it, even if it meant suffering. I was determined to get mine.
In the words of Capt. Miller from Saving Private Ryan

As with last year Friday evening was spent with friends, both old and new, at Homestead on 19th for dinner. And same as last year both the food and service were top notch. The group was split evenly between a NW Arkansas contingent and some Taturs from Tulsa. Always enjoyable to break bread, share stories and laughs  with like minded folks. Of course the topic of race day concerns came up. My biggest concern was the expected high temperatures reaching the mid 70s. I hadn't run in anything even close to that in months.

Otherwise there were no pre-race jitters to note. I lined up with everyone else simply wanting to go out and do my thing. I quickly found it interesting just how different the course looked from last year when every step required attention due to the footing and mud. I settled into a comfortable pace and watched as several others passed me and noticed how hard each was breathing. I knew I would see most of them again down the trail. Within a few miles I came across Jon Wilson from Missouri. We had met the day before at the race briefing through mutual friends. This was his first 50 and he had the same time goal as I did so we latched on to each other. We kept one another honest, not too fast and not too slow.
Shannon, me and David on Sunday morning

My strategy was to stop at every other aid station and that's what I did. A gel every 30 minutes, Heed in the handheld bottle (not my preference but that is what they offered), regular nips from my flask of Liquid Shot and that's it. I had forgotten my fuel belt back at home and Edward, one of the Taturs, allowed me to use an extra he had. Better than showing up to a race without your shoes, right Tim Harrington? The first loop went off without a hitch and I came in to Dogwood feeling good at 2 hours and 45 minutes. A little faster than expected but no real worry. I knew I could ease off just a bit on the next one. The fuel belt I borrowed wasn't working quite right so I dropped it there, refilled my bottle, gobbled a couple of S! Caps, fresh gels and grabbed a fresh flask. I was out quickly for loop two.

John and I stayed together for much of the second loop too. And as I expected the further we went the more folks we reeled in that had passed us at the start. This loop was highly unremarkable. My splits stayed even and I continued to feel comfortable. About the only thing of note is witnessing a runner, female, operating a breast pump while running on the trail. Not sitting at an aid station but while moving on the trail. That was a first. And Jon Wilson is my witness. Sorry fellas, no pics of that for you. It did begin to get warm on the back half of the loop. I knew staying on top of hydration would be key. My Garmin died. No big deal, in fact I expected it. Everything would be done be feel from here on in. I continued to do my best to drain my bottle between stops as well as 2 gels every hour. I finished the second loop feeling OK at 2 hours and 55 minutes. I was beginning to feel a good hot spot under a toe that I expected so I decided to take a quick look. Not a blister yet so I just cleaned the dirt and grit off, applied some Slik by Skin Strong and changed into a pair of clean socks. One more to go and I had some time in the bank. A full bottle, a new flask and a couple of more S! Caps, fresh gels and I was off to finish this thing.
A little pre-race ritual that gives me good juju

I rolled through Nature Center as I had on the first two loops without stopping. Somewhere on the way to Damnation my stomach decided to throw a party. It began rolling and suddenly it felt that everything I had consumed was just sitting down there. I had the sensation that perhaps I should just puke to empty it out. In addition I began to feel a twinge in my hamstring. I more or less expected that as I had been feeling it in the weeks leading up to the race. What I didn't plan on was the cramp developing in my left butt cheek. That was another first for me. Two weeks before RR I rolled an ankle on a training run worse than I ever had in the past. In fact, I had rolled the same ankle 6 times in about 10 weeks. I assumed the hammy and butt cheek issues were related to compensating for the weak ankle.

The scene at Damnation went something like this...
"What do you need?"
"I think I need to puke."
Volunteers scatter
I didn't puke, just kinda wondered if I should.

That's when Fred Thompson stepped in. He quickly asked me some questions and assessed my condition. As he was doing this I realized that I was no longer sweating (except for my nose). The skin on my face, neck and arms was gritty and dry. I had a slight headache and those twinges of cramps. When in the Hell did this happen? He prescribed some Endurolytes, filled my bottle with ice and Heed and I downed a gel in front of him. The conclusion was that we would re-assess when I returned there in about 3 miles. I left Damnation at 2:04PM so I had 1 hour and 56 minutes to cover the last 10.5 miles and get my sub 9 hour finish. Given the way I was feeling I knew I couldn't waste any time. I left as best as I could.
The Damnation crew, that's Fred throwing the deuces. (photo by  Deborah Scharpff Sexton)

Shannon was leaving Damnation as I had rolled in and looked kinda worked over. By my foggy ultra math he was at mile 46 of the 100 miler. I caught up with him on the "hill" about a 1/2 mile out and walked with him for a minute or two. He was feeling a little rough and I tried to gather some mojo for him and from him. After we walked that first kicker at the bottom I ponied up and began moving again. It simply didn't feel good. I could tell my hot spot was now a raging blister. My abdomen was cramping. My butt cheek was barking at me and I didn't have any juju to move with a purpose. I knew I had to be tough mentally here. I knew what was wrong (dehydration) and I was doing all I could to fix it. I told Fred that I would try to drain my entire bottle before I returned to Damnation in about 3 miles. Since I left at 2:04 I felt if I could get back there by 2:40PM I could try my best to finish under 9 hours. I moved the best I could but it really began to feel like work. I took a number of short walk breaks (20-30 seconds) trying to muster something up. I finally made my way back to Fred and Damnation. The bottle was empty. My stomach still felt bad. So did everything else.

"What time is it?"
"It's 2:46."

Dammit, it was gone. Seriously, a long 46 minutes to cover the 2.7 miles on that little loop? The gig was up. I knew the sub 9 hour finish was not going to happen. But I could still PR. I told Fred I wanted to sit for 5 minutes and drink as much as I could and cool down. I just felt so hot. They counted down the time for me and at 4 minutes I got up and began to make my way to Park Road and the final 8.5 miles to the finish. The first couple of miles were rough but as I reached the top of the double track and turned back into the trees I felt better. By the time I reached Park Road things were coming around again. Not great but better. About two miles from Dogwood I got some energy back and started actually running and not jogging. It hurt but I had some mojo working for me. I made the final turn and could see 9:26:XX on the clock. I tried to finish strong and overheard a couple of comments as I cleared the chute that my pace was good. A mix of disappointment and satisfaction.
Heading out for second loop (photo by

I had missed my goal by hitting a rough patch for 8 miles on the final loop. The time I banked on the first two loops was given back and then some. But I still had a 40 minute PR and felt that I battled mentally pretty well. Much better than I did at Lookout Mountain in December. I really don't think I could have run any harder. I am happy with my effort. Now could I have run smarter? Yes. My fueling was spot on the first loop and damn near on the second. I got off track the last loop when the GI went south but by then it was hydrating that was the priority. I needed more electrolytes and missed the early signs that I was behind the curve there. But bagging a 37th overall in a big race like Rocky Raccoon is nothing I can complain about. I am still convinced that there is a sub 9 hour 50 miler in these legs.

Thanks to the entire Tejas Trails crew, the wonderful volunteers and HSP staff for another memorable weekend in Huntsville. Congrats to all the Goats and Taturs. My man, David Newman, cruised to a sub 24 hour finish in his first 100 miler. Shannon McFarland gutted out a gritty final loop to finish another 100 miler under duress. Stormy Phillips also battled demons out there and brought it home. Mark Riley was stellar and threw down a wicked race. Mark Den Herder proved yet again he knows what he is doing. Russell Bennett had a 2+ hour PR in the 50 miler. Congrats to Amelia and Jeff Elbert on a strong first 50 miler. Jon Wilson, cheers to you for keeping at it and thanks for all that good company.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Lookout Mountain 50 Race Report

Stock photo of Lookout Mountain

Me: "Hey Mike, how you feelin' buddy?"
He was noticeably limping.
Mike: "I rolled my ankle bad before mile 20, It hurts like Hell. How you doing?"
Me: "I think I'm done, probably gonna drop here."
Mike: "Don't you {+@&!%& drop Reeves."
He was serious as he began the climb to the trail head to return to Lula Lake.
So was I. 

I intentionally sat on writing this race report for a reason. I felt I needed some perspective that only time would bring. Then the holidays got in the way. It has been a little more than two weeks and it's now time. Why perspective? Because this race, on one hand, was the single worst performance I have ever turned in. And on the other hand it is now one I can hang my hat on. 

The Race

I knew going in that this course would be a challenge. All one needs to reach that conclusion is to read race reports penned by previous contestants. The amount of vertical is respectable and sections of the course are pretty technical. The fact that most would be finishing in the dark just made it all the more interesting. I signed on to join fellow GOATS Mike, Aaron, Dave and David much less as a race and more as an adventure. But those of you that know me realize that is a difficult distinction for my brain to make. I had stuck to my training plan with just a couple of bumps in the road due to an illness and a Thanksgiving trip. My focus 50 is in February at Rocky Raccoon but I "gave" myself this race as my birthday gift. I expected it to be tough mainly due to the distance but had no doubt about finishing. 

Can't take credit for this one either but funny. 

The GOATS met at the start all decked out in our sweet animal print tech shirts ready to go. Mike (Tiger), Aaron (Bald Eagle) and Dave (Wolf) would be off the front and David (Bear) and I (Owl) settled into the back of the crowd. The start/finish sits atop Lookout Mountain on the campus of Covenant College above Chattanooga. My initial reaction to seeing the mountain the day before was "That's a big ass hill." The course would wind down one side of the mountain and eventually back to the top after about 22 miles and then do the same thing on the other side for the final 28 miles. It was chilly and windy which means it was pretty damn cold. I think everyone hid from the wind as long as possible before the start. By the time it all started I was ready to move and warm up. 

(L to R) Mike, Aaron, Dave, me and David (Photo by Mr. Denson)

I won't bore you with a detailed course description, just the memorable highlights. After the gun sounded we ran through campus to the trail head where all had to hit the brakes. You know how that goes. Like trying to fit 10 pounds of sausage into a 5 pound casing. David and I patiently waited our turn and settled into a shuffle along the narrow single track. We covered a good distance along a scenic cliff face that was pretty technical and required vigilance. Eventually we turned down the mountain and began the long descent to the first aid station. Somewhere along the way I lost my wing man but felt the pace was very comfortable for me. I rolled through Craven's House AS (mile 8 and 1h36m) pretty quickly and continued to the next. This section was quite runnable and I continued to feel very settled in and comfortable. At Nature Center AS (mile 15 and 2h57m) I wasted little time, just top off the handheld and grabbed a few pretzels. Leaving the AS I saw some runners on a different trail close to the course. I assumed they were the 10k folks. Less than 100 yards from the AS I turned left up the mountain and some others followed me. I went about 1/2 mile before seeing a photographer. He looked at me and kinda made a funny face. He then informed me he thought I was on the wrong course. Nice. I turned and went back down. Sure enough, I missed a turn. There were course markers but they had all been knocked down into the damp ground. I yelled back to the AS to tell them they had people going off course and to mark the turn better. Just remember, if you are running this race, turn right leaving Nature Center.

That's me and my owl

The next section climbs back to Covenant College. Yes, it is long but most of it is actually runnable. Miles 18 and 19 were the steepest with about 1,000' of vertical gain. I power hiked those and passed a lot of people going up that climb. Too many? Again, I never felt like I hit the red line, I simply moved with purpose while keeping comfortable. I was feeling pretty good as I rolled back to the start/finish and headed for my drop bag. I had covered 22.5 miles so far in about 4.5 hours. I was expecting about 11 hours total for the race so I was OK with that so far. Maybe a little fast so I'd just slow it down on the last leg a bit. I didn't feel as though I had withdrawn too much from the savings account. It was still breezy up there and it didn't take long to get chilled. I grabbed my gels and slurry and packed them away in my belt. Topped off my fluids, ate some grub and then headed out.

Aaron rolling to a Top 40 finish

The course drops to Lula Lake. This is where my body first began to give signs of something amiss. Not to worry as Lula Lake AS is easily the most beautiful spot on the course. I stopped for a few minutes to enjoy the money shot and to try and collect some mojo. At this point I began to know it could be a long day. Leaving here I soon found myself climbing, literally, back up. This is Eagle Cliff and it includes ropes permanently attached to guide a person both up and down the super sketchy, technical portion of trail. The next 4.5 miles includes a healthy dose of climb. Except for the rope section it is neither steep nor technical. It just goes on for a while.  For me, it was a total grind. Along the way to Long Branch I lost my mojo. I'm pretty sure it was in the tornado section of the course. It sucked the life force out of my body. All of those quick changes in direction, elevation and uneven footing worked me over. I began to feel a couple of blisters and my legs were dying quickly. Apparently it was too much for my Garmin as well as it died along the way. As I slogged into Long Branch I saw Mike. He tried to give me a boost but he was obviously fighting his own demon by then. A post race diagnosis of a split peroneal tendon would explain why for him. At the pavilion I saw Aaron and his dad. Aaron looked pretty fresh. I found a volunteer and asked for a refill and then tried to find some grub that looked appealing. I thought maybe a little break and downing some extra calories might help out.  I think I stayed there for about 15 minutes. I'm not sure. And I really didn't care. Eventually I found the muster to carry on. As I was heading out I caught sight of Dave coming back off the loop. He looked a little worked over but still looked better than I must have been looking. On the lollipop back to Long Branch I found myself pretty much alone but I seemed to be moving OK. And it hurt. I had officially found the pain cave. I grabbed on to a group of four that all seemed to know one another and were from the area. I figured that would be a good way to not go off course again. They did all the talking while I just listened. If I had to guess I would say that 4.5 mile loop was about 3.5 miles of net elevation loss before a mile climb back to the AS. I had done a lot of thinking over those few miles. I was done.

Dave representing with the GOAT shirt

I found another volunteer and asked about dropping. As my luck would have it the sag wagon had just left the scene to take a couple of DNFs back to the finish. He said it would be a while before I could catch a ride. I decided to wait and see. I called David. Yes, I had my cell phone. For the first time I had taken it along. This was at the request of Mike Rush. He thought it would be a good idea if we could send updates on our progress to Drew back at Cencom in Bentonville to be posted on the Rush Running Facebook page. So I called David. I'm not sure why. He didn't answer. I had last caught sight of him as I returned to the course at mile 15. A couple of minutes later my phone rang. I told him how I felt. He didn't try to talk me out of it at the time. As best we could tell he was about 30 minutes out or so. I decided that I would sit and wait for him and see how I felt then. So I sat down and began my quiet little pity party. It was then that I heard a voice. It was a volunteer. His name is Jarret Kinder.

My man, David, rockin' the Grizzly

I figured my ride had arrived. He asked me if there was anything he could do for me. Did I need anything to drink or eat? How was I feeling? I told him my quandary. He took my handheld and filled it up for me. He then told me I looked cold (the sun was dropping low). I realized I was cold. Quite cold. He offered up some hot noodles. I accepted. It was good. He then offered up a thick blanket. It was good too. I sat down on a patch of ground and waited. He came back a few minutes later and checked on me. He reminded me that Lula Lake was only 4 miles away. He said he thought I could make it that far no problem. I knew if I did make it there that I would be all in as there was no way I was dropping 8 miles from the finish. Funny what a difference 4 miles makes. I thought about it for another moment. I began to gather my gear and saddle up. I saw the drop bags for my GOAT buddies that had already moved on and I knew they wouldn't be coming back to retrieve their leftovers. I raided them and stashed a few gels and took Mike's leftover Gatorade powder to make my own. Jarret must have seen something. He came over again to give me some last minute mojo. As soon as I took that blanket off I felt cold again. He offered up his jacket. A really nice and cozy Salomon model. He told me to find the RD at the finish and return it to him. Not many folks would just give away a $200 jacket to a total stranger. He did. No questions asked. And then it clicked. By accepting his offer I had to finish. Otherwise I would feel like a total tool. And right on queue David strolled by. He didn't stop. He didn't even say anything. He just gave me a look. A look that said to me that it was time to piss or get off the pot. He turned away and kept moving along the course. Just before dropping out of sight he gave one final look. I hurried to get my belt on. I was all in.

The Bluff Trail (photo by me)

It took me a 1/4 mile or so to catch up and we hit the trail head together. David had been much wiser about pacing and effort. This was not his focus race either. He was using it, much like me, as a training effort for Rocky Raccoon where he will toe the line for 100 miles. We discussed the return to Lula Lake and the setting sun. We wanted to try and make the rope section before dark. We were gonna have to move to get that done. That meant running tornado alley again, back up the big ass hill before dropping to Lula Lake. I pushed as much as I could. It was a slow mix of jogging and walking. David pulled me along. We didn't make it before dark. About a mile from Lula Lake we had no choice but to turn on the head lamps. And that meant navigating down Eagle Cliff in the dark. David fell once. He still owes me a beer.

Lula Lake (photo by me)

Into Lula Lake AS, topped off the bottle, drank some soda and ate some grub. The blazing camp fire there called to me. I stood there for a moment, mesmerized, before turning and heading up the hill. It was a slow grind getting back up there. We power hiked most of the climb and passed some others. About two or three miles out I got some energy from nowhere. I began to run. This was not a jog. It was running. I navigated around some folks on the tight single track along the creek and up the final section to the road. By then I could hear the PA system at the finish. Once again I was all alone and I had an ominous sensation. While going through a parking lot I saw a guy at his car. He looked to already be done for the day. He looked at me and asked if I had already finished. When I answered negative he told me I was off course. I turned and headed back down the road. I could see lights coming up the trail but where did I miss a turn? Almost all the way back to the dirt trail I saw the power lines and recalled my mistake. Remember, after hitting the road near the finish turn left under the power lines. All those folks I had passed the last couple of miles I had to re-pass again. My lamp was fading and there were some wicked washouts along here but I just wanted to be done. Then the Christmas lights along the chute and a short rise to the finish line. My time was 12h40m which was about 2 hours off of my expected time. The first loop took me 4.5 hours for roughly 23 miles. The final 27 miles would require another 8 hours.
The first 30 miles and 6 hours of elevation. Trust me, there's more. 

Here is what I have decided my mistakes were, in no particular order. I was a bit too zealous in my pace for the first loop and didn't stick to my plan of keeping it mellow there. Although I never felt I was pushing myself it was too much for the long haul. The final result would show that. Looking back on my training I realized that it was missing something. I was now worried for RR50. I didn't see the work that would get me where I wanted to be. With help from Mike Rush that issue has been addressed. I really missed the mark in terms of my fueling. I never felt crappy in terms of GI distress or cramps and physically my feet and legs were pretty good. For me it was an energy issue. After adding up what I expended and what I consumed there was too wide a gap. I got behind the 8 ball and stayed there for too long. Early in training I made a decision to hydrate with water only. While that may work for some and even work for me on shorter training runs up to 4-5 hours the proof is in the pudding that for an ultra it does not work for me. My struggle to finish Pumpkin Holler, despite the PR, back in October only proves that more so. I probably missed out on about 100 calories an hour by drinking water instead of something like Gatorade. After several hours that caught up with me. I was terribly bummed at my performance and time. But looking back now I can see that I finished another 50 mile race against the odds. I was really down in the hole at mile 30 and gutted out another 20 miles to finish what I had started. That's what I hang my hat on today. 

Props to Aaron and Dave for finishing strong in their first 50 mile race. Little surprise there as both of those guys are nothing short of horses. Congrats fellas. Respect for Mike as well for pushing aside the pain and besting us all for a legendary run despite the injury. The guy is not afraid to hurt. A special shout out to Jarret from Rock Creek. You provided much more than a warm jacket. I owe you some mojo. To my wing man, David, I owe this finish to you. I was pulled along from Long Branch and back up that hill twice by you. I hope to return the favor tenfold. 

Now for the fluff. Thanks to David's brother, Michael, for opening his house near Nashville to us on the way out and back. It was nice to have a warm, comfortable bed and a place to clean up. Thanks also to Aaron's family who hosted dinner for us Friday night in Dalton. Great grub and lots of laughs. You'd be hard pressed to find a finer group of folks. 
My first ultra in the Hokas and I have to say they did great. The sizing is maybe off a hair (too short) thus the blisters but my feet felt pretty damn good after 50 miles. Balaga wool trail socks all the way, love 'em. Slick by Skin Strong on all the tender bits prevented any chaffing and keep the blisters to a minimum. Super easy to re-apply at the turn, just a couple of quick sprays and I was good to go. The "slurry" fuel (First Endurance) suggested by Luke Nelson worked great. I simply needed more. I wish I had left a refill of it at Long Branch. About 6,300' of vertical, some sections technical but most were pretty good. The Bluff Trail can be tricky but for me tornado alley was the killer. Solid volunteers, good organization and the best swag I have ever seen. A Patagonia tech tee, a nice hoodie, a beer glass, the medal and the RD gave me a sweet Smartwool shirt that I really like. And, yes, I still have the owl shirt. 

The Gag

Gandolf posted this "enhanced" photo of Mike after CP50

Before the race Rock Creek announced via their Facebook page the chance to have a special announcement made for any runner as the finish line was crossed. All you needed to do was send it to them and they would take care of it. I had an idea. I thought us GOATS were worthy of such recognition. I contacted them and offered some insight on the GOATS including nicknames. Furthermore, I had a practical joke in mind for one, Mike Rush. The RD was all over it. Mike dishes it out as well as anyone. And to his credit he takes it just as well. I knew he would be a good sport about it and it might provide some comic relief for us.

Our fearless and slightly off kilter leader, Mike
And his take home souvenir. That's blood under the skin and that's what a split peroneal tendon looks like.

Some reading this may be aware of Mike's effort at Collegiate Peaks earlier this year. He had a tough go of it to say the least. So in Mike's goodie bag a special prize had been placed. It was a package of men's undergarments along with a letter stating that race officials were concerned and thought it best that he consider wearing said garments on race day. It also reminded him that human waste should be deposited away from the trail and water sources. And then as he approached the crowd at the finish line on race day he heard the following over the PA system...
"Now coming down the chute, out of Bentonville, AR is Mike 'Chocolate Thunder' Rush!"  
He was a good sport about it as expected. And for being so tolerant the RD gave him a Salomon pack. 

Descending Eagle Cliff in the dark (photo by ultrarmhc)