Monday, April 19, 2010

Woods Ferry 24 hour run: The Unexpected

This past weekend, I ran the inaugural Woods Ferry 24 hour run outside (way outside) Chester, SC. This is one of Terri Hayes’ races and one in which she was celebrating by running her age in 24 hours. This race, for me, was primarily an opportunity to raise some money for The Butterfly Fund (see earlier post) but to also banish some ultra demons that have been hanging around with me for awhile. I had not finished a 100 or a 24 hour race since Grindstone, almost a year and a half ago.

Course Description
The course was a ten mile loop, basically a figure 8 on a stick. The trails (like in northern Virginia) are named for colors and the sequence was purple, blue, yellow, blue, purple. That was a bit confusing, but once you did a loop, it was not difficult.
Most of the course was single track, with some double track, and about a mile of gravel road that you could opt for that paralleled a section which ran through a power line cut. The trail was pretty rough, with lots of roots, a few rocks, and a lot of hoof prints which had hardened in the mud. (The trails are used as horse trails). The terrain was very hilly, with very few flat areas. The climbs and descents were not long, but they were frequent. There were around four pretty steep climbs, but they were short, in comparison to mountain runs.
The day started off warm. Sections of the area had been burned, and some areas were exposed with no shade. There was a breeze blowing in some areas, but by midday, it was very hot. By mid-afternoon, though, there was some cloud cover, and it got pretty chilly at night.
The terrain and the heat made it a pretty slow course. My earlier prediction that there would be several 100 mile finishers would not hold up.

My run
It was another good day. I was very relaxed, and knew that for every mile I covered, I was making $8.20 for The Butterfly Fund. It was nice to see a lot of familiar faces and I enjoyed talking to different people on the first couple of loops. After that, everyone spread out and I spent the next several loops solo.
My energy level stayed pretty steady and whenever my stomach started to have issues, I just slowed down for a little while. I avoided a lot of sugar and caffeine and that seemed to do the trick. After the first loop, I settled into a pattern of what hills I would walk and I didn’t deviate from the pattern the whole race. I slowed down a little each loop, but remained between 2:00 and 2:30 all day, until my last couple of loops, when I was pretty tired and had already realized that nine loops would be the most I could get in under the time limit.
After the first two loops, I was having some issues with breathing, and I think it was because I was running with people and inhaling a lot of dust. After that, it was fine, despite the high pollen.
For the first time, I ran farther than 50 trail miles in my lightweight road shoes (Brooks Ravennas). After a couple of loops, my toes started to hurt some from the downhills, but I guess they got used to it and didn’t cause any more problems. I had figured I would need to change out of the shoes early on and switch to beefier trail shoes, but all I did was readjust the lacing at one point. After 90 miles, I have no blisters or sore spots.
The high point of my run was when Tony arrived at mile 70 and ran with me. He hasn’t run much in the past four years because of knee and other issues, but he has started to run a little in the past month. He has probably logged about 20 miles in a month, but still ran 20 with me this weekend. On more than one occasion, I would watch his light slowly disappear up a hill, before he realized he left me far behind.
I used 5 hour energy, gels and chomps, and ate “real” food at the aid stations. I ate a half a chicken sandwich a couple of times and cream cheese crackers went down really well (although are hard to eat and run). Powerade didn’t work for me, and the Heed tasted like I imagine a cactus to taste like.

My review
I had a great time. Terri Hayes made it a very low-key, relaxed event. Families came and hung out and even ran some loops with their runners. With the campground right next door, some people went and took naps and then came back to run more. Some events are rather tense with strict rules about what you can or can’t do, but this was more like a fun run atmosphere. The aid station workers were all extremely helpful, including the cross country team that manned the outlying aid station. Although I dislike running in circles, the ten mile loop was not bad, and the figure 8 format, with the different trails linked together, kept it from getting too monotonous. You had the opportunity to see different people at different parts of their run, and it was nice to see the race director out there getting her birthday miles in in the middle of the night. I wouldn’t change anything about the race, but I would recommend making sure you have everything you need before you head there. I think the closest pizza place was over an hour away.

What was unexpected
1. The location. I didn’t know that there were areas in South Carolina so far removed from “civilization.”
2. The race entry fee. There was none.
3. The aid stations at a race with no entry fee. Great stuff. Pizza, soup, brownies, lots of Hammer gels and bars, potatoes, crackers, fruit, soda…
4. The terrain. South Carolina. Once you get out of the upstate foothills, it’s flat, right? Nope.
5. The difficulty. It’s a 24 hour run. Ten mile loops. If it all goes good, I should be able to get 100 miles in. It all went good. I barely got 90 in.
6. Doing more miles than anyone else and winning the race, on top of raising $739 for charity. Who would have thought it?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The $820 Run

A few years ago, Stephanie, one of my cross country runners was diagnosed suddenly and unexpectedly with cancer. The team and I organized fundraisers, as did the school and community, but it took two or three weeks to get everything going. In the meantime, the family was getting hit hard with expenses; just one of her prescriptions cost $700. Other students in our school system had also been hit with tragedies and on my long runs, I began thinking that we ought to set up a fund in our school system that would give immediate aid to students in such situations. I kept thinking about it and didn’t do anything until last year (when I was prodded by butterflies…another story). I asked my colleagues what they thought about it and as result The Butterfly Fund was born. (Stephanie won her battle, by the way, and within a year came out and finished a 5K).
This year the Fund has given out two $500 disbursements. The first went to two elementary school sisters who, in the same month, lost both their home to a flood and their father to a stroke. The second went to three siblings who had already lost their father, and then just lost their mother, Marna Peck, a teacher at my school, to cancer.
The Butterfly Fund has been funded almost exclusively by the teachers and staff of our school district. The goal was to have $1500 in the fund and give out $500 disbursements when necessary. Obviously the Fund has been depleted this year and teachers and staff have been trying to bring it back up. Sarah Lowell raised some donations from her Nantahala Fria race and other teachers give what they can when we pass the hat, but we still needed a little more money.
So, I presented the idea to my faculty that I would run a 24 hour race and asked if they would sponsor me for each mile I ran. (They know that I have run 100 miles in under 24 in the past, so I wasn’t trying to slip something by them). I was hoping to get just a couple hundred dollars, max, because everyone had already emptied their pockets to help Marna’s family. To my surprise, when I totaled up the pledges, if I can cover 100 miles, the faculty will donate $820.
At Wood’s Ferry, then, next Saturday, I hope to plug along strong and steady enough to collect that $820 and refill the coffers of the Butterfly Fund. And then hope we never have to use it again.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Sweet H2O 50K

This year, I have been looking for races that were closer to home that wouldn’t require an overnight stay. In years past, I have not really looked at Georgia and South Carolina races because, well, it’s flatter and hotter... isn’t it? But I took a look at the Sweet H20 50K in Lithia Springs, Georgia and was pleased to find that it was just on the other side of Atlanta, under three hours away. So at 3:30 a.m. Saturday morning, Alan and I left Tony sleeping and resting up for the first day of trout season and headed south.

Atlanta traffic on Saturday morning was light and we arrived at Sweetwater State Park in plenty of time to pick up the cool tech t-shirt and a number, get ready and head to the start line. I was pretty relaxed, as this was really a training run for the 24 hour run in a couple of weeks.

Lithia Springs was one of the areas Sherman visited and to connect the race to the area’s history, the starting gun was actually a cannon fired by a group of Confederate reenactors. The large crowd recovered from the shock and headed down a paved road out the park’s entrance and onto a highway. We passed by a couple of lakes (where the fishermen were asked dozens of times, “Have you caught anything, yet?) and finally onto the trail.

The couple mile paved run did allow everyone to spread out a little so there was not a big traffic jam as the crowd hit the single track. The trail was nice and rolling, padded with pine needles and running was easy, until the rappel down the sides of the spillway. Okay, it wasn’t really a rappel, but you did have to lower yourself down a rope down the concrete side of a spillway, run across the shallow water, and pull yourself back up the other side. Then it was back to the nice, soft, rolly stuff, interrupted by a couple of short, steep rocky and rooty descents.

The trail then followed the river, which had some serious flooding earlier and there was a lot of loose sand and debris in places. There were a lot of very rocky and rooty areas, some hills, but it was all runnable. The course finally veered away from the river on a flat, runnable trail. (I almost gained twenty places here as a crowd has missed a turn-off and was back-tracking to get on the correct route.)

After a run through a grassy area punctuated with very short, very steep drops to little creeks and back up, the difficult part starts. After a steep climb up a gravel road, you are treated to a view of hill after hill with little tiny people going up each one. If you are from the mountains, picture the power line cuts minus the power lines. It is clear-cut with a rocky clay trail that follows the very steep hills and very steep descents. It is as steep as anything I have run, but thankfully, much shorter. The longest ascent probably only took five minutes or so, but it was in the full sun and the repeated climbs wore you down.

Finally, you reached the top, ran through a pleasant area with shade and a breeze, crossing over “the top of the world”, which afforded a nice view of the Atlanta skyline to the next aid station. This area included a mile of out and back so you had an opportunity to see some of the people ahead of and behind you.

Then it was back to an area where there actually were powerlines with a couple of steep hills, and then down to river again, up a trail to the next aid station and back to the start/finish area on mainly single-track with a little gravel road mixed in. You then repeated that 15 mile loop, with the exception of a detour across the river and back. The race crew had long ropes stretched across the river, probably a hundred yards or so wide. This was an area of some almost waist-deep, cold whitewater, and you pulled yourself across the river, to where a rescuer was waiting on the other side. Then it was up another hill, and back down, and once more across the river.

The powerline cuts were even more fun the second time around, as you are around mile 25 or so. Once more, over the “top of the world” and back, down to the river and eventually finishing at somewhere over 33 miles, I was told. A barbeque dinner was waiting, along with a large group of people cheering the runners on.

This was one of those rare races where everything went right for me, except for leaving my water bottle at home. Despite the heat, my electrolytes stayed in balance and I remained hydrated (thanks to my high-tech Sam's Purified Drinking Water bottle). I used gels the whole time with the exception of some oranges, bananas and pretzels at aid stations. I had no stomach distress, either during or after the race, my asthma gave me no problems, and my energy level remained high. I probably passed 15-20 people on the powerline cuts on the last loop. Even though all the snow running didn’t help my speed this winter, it certainly made me stronger. I wore my Brooks Ravennas (road shoes) which happily worked very well on the rough and rocky terrain. Despite all that, I still felt like I was moving pretty slow, but steadily. I was happy with a 7:03 for a 33 or 34 miler and I was surprised to find that I had finished 51 out of 155 finishers, 9th in the women, and first in my age group. Not too bad for a training run!

The race well very well organized, all the aid stations had lots of goodies, everyone was friendly and helpful, and you ended up with a nice tech shirt and a tech hat. It was a challenging course, hot, yes, but not flat!

And Tony caught a 4-pounder, along with several other trout. A good day all around.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Not the Official Crowder's 50K

A couple of weeks ago, I ran the “unofficial” Crowder’s Mountain 50K. Aaron Ligon had organized a F.A. style run since this year the official race was on hiatus. Around 20 people showed up to run various distances, although most opted for the 50K.

It was a beautiful day, although pretty hot considering I had still been running in snow the week leading up to Crowder’s Mountain. The run started at the Linwood parking area, as the original race had done and followed the forest service up towards the top of Crowder’s Mountain. But instead of heading down the stairs, this route took a fun, rocky trail down the mountain and towards the park office and visitor center.

After leaving the park office, where Aaron and friends had left a cooler full of goodies, you followed the Ridgeline trail out to the 16 mile point at Kings Mountain and reversed course. The route included some steep climbs and descents with rocky terrain along with some rolling trail with a nice runnable surface. There were views along the way and a nice climb to the top of Kings Pinnacle. All in all, a very nice trail to run with rocky terrain that you wouldn’t expect right outside Charlotte. And as an added bonus, the route back included the long stair climb from the original course.

I finished pretty slow, 7:10, but I wasn’t in a big hurry and I enjoyed the run. Aaron and his friends did a nice job of organizing the run and providing better “aid station” fare than most regular races.