Trail Monster Running

Visit the official TRAIL MONSTER RUNNING website for information on upcoming group runs, local trails, trail races and more, including the Pineland Farms Trail Running Festival and the Bradbury Mountain trail Running Series.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Blackstrap Hell II - Race Report

Jeff claims that Blackstrap Hell is "the way running should be". I totally agree. He has managed to capture the essence of Trail Monster Running in an event right in our own back yard. This is a free race, on a course with some of the most varied and difficult terrain you could possibly pack into 10k. To make it even more interesting it's structured as a reverse pursuit where the slowest runners (or those who typically enjoy the trails the longest) start first and the fastest (or those who want to get it over with the quickest) start last based on estimated finishing times that Jeff calculated from previous races.

I have the advantage of being one of the few people who gets a sneak preview of the course since it's just down the road from where I live and I helped Jeff mark the course along with James and his daughter. Actually, I'm not sure that this is an advantage, sometimes it's better going into races like this not knowing how much more difficult things are going to get.

The night before the race Jeff revealed the start order, which predicted my finishing time at 57 minutes and had me setting off with Ryan, Chuck and Bob. This seemed about right to me, Chuck and I were very close at the Mountain Epic race in October, Bob was well ahead of me there but I did finish just ahead of him at the Bruiser, and Ryan has been working on shorter faster runs lately which I thought would help him put up a good fight.

There were 34 runners starting the race this year, up quite a bit from last year. I got to see a little more than 20 other runners set off before me, individually or in small groups. Emma was running today, but because she's still recovering from a long lingering knee issue she decided to help pace Linda through this race and the two of them were the first to set off. Running up and down big hills on technical, slippery trails is not usually considered good for knee problems, but Emma just could pass up the opportunity to run this race.

Shaun making his way up the long first climb

Similar to last year we had a major rain event just before the race, but I was a bit sad to see that water levels had dropped significantly the night before the race and it turned out to be drier than last year. We all still got wet feet just walking to the start line, but the stream crossings were definitely easier this year. Chuck set a quick but manageable pace at the start and I followed along the mostly flat single track. When we got the the first climb, which lasted about 1/2 mile and gained about 350 feet, there was a little back and forth as we negotiated the terrain. Ryan was still right behind us when we reached the "pinnacle" but on the first downhill section of the race, which is technical rocky terrain covered with wet leaves, Chuck and I pulled away. Faith in our feet and a lack of fear helped us open it up on the downhill stretches, Chuck usually gets ahead of me on stuff like this but I managed to stay close this time.

Sara, Erin and Christine demonstrating the correct technique for puddle running

Over the next few miles Chuck and I passed a few other runners, in theory no one should be passing during this race and we'd all finish together. A little more than 3 miles into the race we bumped into Bob who was running down the trail towards us. He was supposed to start with us but couldn't find the start area so he parked somewhere else and set off into the woods, without any idea of where he was going. I'm not sure if it was luck or skill that he managed to find us, but he ran with us for the second half of the race.

Linda on the roller coaster gas line trail

This was my first hard running effort since Stone Cat and I was very happy that everything seemed to be in fine working order. For a variety of reasons (including a messed up right calf) I hadn't been doing much running in the three weeks since my 50 miler, and none of it was fast so I wasn't sure what to expect. Actually what I did expect was for Chuck to run away from me and for a handful of people who started after me to come flying by at any moment but neither happened and I felt great throughout the race.

Erik and Django on the last long uphill

Last year's race finished with about a mile of fast downhill on wide power line trails, but Jeff had recently been building new single track trails off the power lines so he included this as the last mile of the race. Although not as cruel as the O-Trail there was a bit of that flavor about this new trail. Just when you think that you're almost to the bottom of the hill the trail takes a sharp turn and runs you back up again, or when you start thinking you're almost out of the woods you turn around and head back deeper in. Chuck and I passed a handful of runners on this stretch, it definitely felt like everyone was coming together at the end. At some point near the end I managed to sneak past Chuck on a corner, I could see Jim up ahead but he was trying just as hard to stay ahead of me as I was to catch him. Jim crossed the line 10 seconds ahead of me and Chuck was right behind.

The wicked steep course elevation profile

I finished with the fifth fastest time overall, although I'm sure I would have been further back if several other runners hadn't gone off course and ended up runner longer. I was very happy to run well and feel good, especially amongst the good company of my fellow Trail Monsters.


time: 55:59
distance: 6.23 miles
pace: 8:59
place: 5/31 finishers 34 starters

weather: sunny and warm (for November), mid 40's

conditions: slick mud, wet leaf covered rocks, stream crossings, big hills...

gear: Inov-8 Mudroc 280, wool socks, shorts, singlet, Moeben sleeves

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Return to Bradbury

Since hunting is allowed on the East Side of Bradbury Mountain State Park I haven't run there at all during the month of November, although other Trail Monsters have been going on Sundays, I just never go out there. I had been suffering from serious Bradbury withdrawal and decided that I needed to get out there on Saturday, and although it was still hunting season I figured we'd be okay if we stuck to the West Side trails where hunting isn't permitted. I wore some of my most obnoxiously bright colors to be sure I'd be seen just in case.

Given that this was the day before Blackstrap Hell II I didn't want to go out for too long or push the pace so I planned a relatively easy jaunt around one lap of the Breaker course. I say relatively easy because this has to be the most difficult loop within the whole park, no mater what pace you run it at it's never really going to be easy.

Emma came along but instead of running she brought our new Border Collie puppy Bolt for a hike up the mountain. She's only nine weeks old but we figured it wasn't too early to start getting her used to the Trail Monster lifestyle. In case anyone is wondering, she's named after Bolt. Not Bolt. We will wait about a year before taking her out running with us, but until then she'll be spending plenty of time walking in the woods with us.

Jim, Chuck and Lily came along for the run on the very wet trails. I was expecting mud but we were probably the first ones out on the trails since the torrential rain we received the day before so it was mostly puddles of clear water than we encountered. We managed to meet up with Emma on the summit and then headed off onto the Tote Road trail. From here I decided to jump onto Krista's Trail, a nice section of single track that I'd only run once or twice before, but I had forgotten how long it was. When I realized that Emma would probably be finished walking with Bolt long before me I decided to take a shortcut back the parking lot. Chuck joined me but Jim and Lily took the long way back.

It was great to wet my feet again on the trails of Bradbury and I was glad that Bolt made it all the way up to the top, although Emma had to carry her part of the way down. The pace actually felt quicker than the 10:27 that my Garmin reported, so I was glad that I didn't end up going any longer. I've had a lingering tightness in my right calf/achilles ever since Stone Cat and I didn't want to push it too much right before Blackstrap Hell II. I've found it hard to get back into a rhythym with my running since the Stone Cat 50, partly due to being busy at work and at home with a new puppy, but there seems to be a bit of a funk that I need to shake off and hopefully running hard at the race tomorrow will help do that.

time: 47:23
distance: 4.53 miles
pace: 10:27

weather: cool, overcast

conditions: wet, big puddles

gear: Inov-8 Mudroc 290, wool socks, shorts, long sleeve shirt, singlet, hat

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Pineland 10k

A bit of a delayed write-up here, just trying to get back in the swing of things, and this is still not a race report for Stone Cat.

Following Stone Cat I decided to take a full week off from running to let myself recover. Normally I like to have an "active recovery" but given my work schedule during the following week, and the severely strained right calf muscle I was feeling for several days, taking a full week off seemed like the right thing to do. At about mile 14 of Stone Cat I tripped and manage to catch myself before falling but in the process made a sudden movement that caused my right calf muscle to completely lock up and I ended up falling down anyway. I massaged the muscle, swore a lot and managed to get back on my feet fairly quickly, but for the rest of the race (36 miles) it didn't feel quite right. As soon as I finished it got very tight again and didn't want to be forced into moving right away. It was actually pretty tough to take that much time off, and I almost didn't manage to go the whole week. I really think that a couple of easy runs would have helped.

But the way things worked out I didn't get out for a run until Saturday morning when I met Jim, Shauna, Jamie, Lily, and Dom at Pineland. My plan was to get in as close to 10k as possible. Erik and I are cooking up plans to expand upon the Pineland Farms Trail Challenge and turn it into a multi-day event with the addition of some shorter distance races, so I wanted to check out a possible 10k course. We started the way all the races currently do, basically from the YMCA onto the Campus Loop, up by the Visitors Center, down to the River Loop to the Yurt. This was about 3.5 miles of mostly downhill running, a great fast way to start a short race.

At this point everyone else was running longer and continued onto the Valley Farm Loop. I turned back on the other half of the River Loop and began the long gradual climb back up towards the YMCA. By this point I was starting to feel some tightness in my calf creeping up on me, but everything else was feeling fine. The pace was pretty comfortable, a little under 9's but that felt pretty easy on the mostly dowhill trails. By the time I reached 5 miles on the back side of the Camups Loop (with some steep climbs) I was really feeling some discomfort in my calf but decided another mile or so wasn't going to cause any damage and I really wanted to know how close this route would be to 10k.

It turned out to be just over 10k by my Garmin measurement, which might actually be a little longer than the race course because I started and finished from the YMCA parking lot and not from where the race would actually start and finish. But to be honest, I'm not really concerned if my 10k course is slightly long. Anyone who cares that much about precision course measurement shouldn't be running trails.

Although my calf acted up it still felt great to get out for a run, good weather and good company (at least for half my run).

time: 57:01
distance: 6.3 miles
pace: 9:02

weather: upper 40's, overcast

conditions: mostly dry, leaf covered trails

gear: Inov-8 Mudroc 280, Smark Wool socks, shorts, t-shirt, Moeben Sleeves, hat

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Stone Cat 50 Miler - Not a Race Report

Last weekend I ran the Stone Cat 50 Mile Trail Race. This is not a race report. I wish it was but I just can't seem to find the time to say everything that needs to be said about this race. I will summarize by saying two things:

1- This was probably the best race of my life.

2- I couldn't have done as well as I did without the help of a lot of people.

I should clarify that I may have an unusual definition of what makes a good race. The 50k race that I ran three weeks ago was not a good race, despite finishing first. Stone Cat was a good race because I set myself a goal that I honestly didn't think I had any chance of coming close to (breaking 8 hours) and even though I didn't meet my goal I came closer than I thought I really could. I usually go into a race with three goals, one very optimistic, one very realistic and one to cover my ass. Typically I fall in the 'realistic' range, but many of my races so far this year have fallen in the 'cover my ass' category. This is the first time I can remember where I actually came close to my optimistic goal.

The other part of what made this such a great race for me is related to #2 above and will take a long time to explain, and will eventually appear in my full race report, but for now I want to thank all the people who helped me come close to reaching my optimistic goal. My fellow Trail Monsters have provided amazing inspiration and have been the best training companions, helping push me to places I never thought I could go. I was also grateful to see so many TM's come down to the race to support me and Mindy as we ran. It makes such an incredible difference to have friends lending a hand and providing encouragement during a long race.

This is a photo that Emma took at mile 45 of the race, just before she started pacing me to the finish. I am very lucky to have her as my wife and in many ways I feel like I owe everything I have achieved in running to her. She was my inspiration to start running, she paced me at my first 10k in 2001 and has been there for every milestone I passed since then. If it weren't for a lingering knee injury brought on by her stellar performance at Pineland earlier this year she would have been out there running with me, or more likely in front of me. For now she still holds the 50 mile record in our household, she has set the bar high but I'm still reaching for it.