Monday, July 6, 2015

2015 Mohican Trail 100 Mile Race Report

  • 1st Place - 17:59:15 (CR on current course)
  • Strava Data (Garmin Forerunner 310xt)

  • The Mohican 100 Mile Trail Run is an event I had been looking to run since I started running ultra marathons in 2010.  The long history of the race (26th year and "5th oldest ultra in the US"), being located just 3 hours from where I live, not to mention the superb forest the course runs through, made it a fine choice for a summer 100 mile this year.  With Mohican State Forest being a short drive, and in Loudonville, where many of my grandpa's side of the family still reside, I had a full force of family members that were able to support me and enjoy their first ultra experience.  My wife, baby daughter and I also had a bed to sleep in with great hospitality and meals from my Aunt Judy who lives literally just 2 miles from the race start.  This aspect of the weekend was awesome and made it a memorable one. 

    I was also looking forward to being a part of a race that was going on its 26th year (a long time for 100 milers).  A race with history always embodies the aspect of trail and ultra running that I enjoy.  There are stories, people, and moments through the years of these races that make it special.  Surely, more races will start building on their own history, but these "old" ones might last to be most historic.  The course was altered in 2010 from the original one, now including 95% trail -cutting out some road sections of past- on 4 repeating loops (two at 27 miles and two at 23 miles).  The old course is reportedly much faster with some road sections, so Courtney Campbell's CR at 15:11:00 seemed out of reach.  My plan was to work on how I felt, crunching numbers in my head, and try to stay consistent all day long and execute on not just pace but fueling and hydration.  
    Early start line of the 26th Mohican Trail 100.  I'm in there under the "L" and "T".  Photo by Butch Phillips
    Loop 1
    The race morning was a cool and wet one.  The original mid-90's forecast of a typical Ohio summer became more mild as the race approached, but it also brought in rain.  After a conservative start on 1 mile of pavement through the park campground we entered the smooth lush singletrack that we would be on for 95% of the race.  Nate Polaske started much faster than the rest of the race and he was out of site when we entered the trail.  I was running behind two more runners in 4th but within 3 miles I excused myself around them and was just behind Nate.  This early move foretold a tale of the next 18 hours of the day.

    While Mohican is one of the oldest 100 milers in the US, there are typically only a handful of runners that break 20 hours.  I knew this - I wanted to be one of those runners in this years race - but I always knew in the back of my mind that it could be any number of people running any time.  I settled into "my own race" at a pace that was comfortable for 100 miles.  The rain was coming down above, but the dense forest kept me dry.  It was wet, but not bad at this point, and I was enjoying the forest with firm trails.  A deer dashed across the trail ahead of me, birds sung their morning songs as the sun started streaking through the trees.  For several miles I felt as if I was on a typical Saturday morning run with the group in Athens - fresh and easy.  Coming into the Fire Tower AS at mile 9 I caught a glimpse of Nate and soon after I slipped by him to be in the lead.

    I didn't necessarily want to be leading a 100 mile race at mile 10 - I had envisioned running with a small group of guys with the pack dwindling, but now I was alone with 90 miles ahead of me.  I pressed on and opened up my stride when the course allowed, on what was still firm trails in the rain. I enjoyed the far side of the long loop when the trail went up a dense gorge at Lyons Falls.  This included a vertical wall scaled by climbing roots.  I noted however the trail beginning to get muddy when there were signs of horse tracks.  I wondered how this would be on the next loop after some 700 runners (also from 50 mile and 26 mile races) passed through.

    A few miles after the Covered Bridge AS (mile 14.8) I strangely entered a low funk, and I was aware enough to wonder why I felt so bad.  My stomach was upset, I needed to stop to alleviate that feeling, and I was just overall fatigued.  I thought for sure that Nate would be running up behind me but after the two longest sections between aid on the course (5.6 and 6.9 miles) I ran into the Mohican Campground AS (mile 27) feeling lousy in 4:05:00.
    Still, practicing patience.  Photo by Butch Phillips
    Loop 2
    My dad asked how I was feeling and I said I wasn't feeling as good as I had hoped to at this point in the race.  Being just a fourth of the way through 100 miles and feeling bad isn't necessarily a great sign.  But, I've been through this before so I just put my head down and headed out for the second loop, still in first place.  The aid station stop must have done the trick because once getting back on the trail I regained my energy and form.  Like the start of the race, the first 9 mile section really lifted my spirits.  It was only 9:30am so I enjoyed a forest waking up, now all to myself.  This first section of trail also has a nice flow that I am accustomed to training on in SE Ohio.

    As I made my way through the back section of the course at Lyons Falls the trails were much different than the first time around.  At this point it had been raining since the race started, very hard for a couple hours.  The trail was muddy and slick, and sure to only get worse on the 3rd and 4th loops.  I reevaluated my pace, and the safety of how I trampsed down the trail because I imagined this would certainly play a large part in finishing times for not just me but everyone who was racing.

    As I popped down over Pleasant Hill Dam (mile 41), I noticed a lot of people hanging around looking over the spill way.  There were a couple dozen search and rescue workers scouring the river in boats, along the shore, and on ATV's.  At the next aid station I learned 3 high school aged kids had jumped into the spillway the day before and two had died and one rescued.  They were searching for the body of one.  This shook me a bit, and I thought how selfish it was that there were 700 runners out doing something they enjoyed while we ran past family members watching to see if their sons body would be found.  I felt a bit guilty, and I definitely reminded myself to keep perspective and that what I was doing was voluntary and how I couldn't take it for granted.  This helped in the low moments.

    Once again, as I finished the loop, I was in a low funk.  I was still leading going into the Mohican Campground AS for a second time (mile 54) but as I switched out gear, Nate came strolling into the AS as well.  He wasted no time and was out before I was.  I had led from 10 to 54 miles, but it was apparent that my slow second loop (4:55:00) was not just from the mud.  Nate caught up a lot of ground on me in the second loop.  I headed out still feeling low, and unsure of whether or not I would see Nate again.
    Along with the rain and mud came the warmer part of the day.  The race was also starting to heat up!  Photo by Butch Phillips
    Loop 3
    Loop 3 was grind time.  Mentally, I was happy to be over half way through with the course and only have the 2 short loops remaining (46 miles).  I was also looking forward to connecting with my pacer at mile 62.  Nick Reed traveled all the way from Lynchburg, VA just to pace me.  I first met Nick when I was teaching at Ohio University and he was one of my students in a Trail Running class.  He is from Ohio but has since moved to Virginia for a job, and is a strong trail runner with a couple 50 milers under his belt.  It was amazing for him to be so supportive of my race and being fine with a long drive to Ohio for the weekend.

    I didn't feel as good on the first 9 mile section of the loop as I did on the first two loops.  I could tell I was losing ground on Nate.  Coming into the Fire Tower AS (mile 62) to meet my crew I learned I was about 5-8 minutes behind the leader.  In a way I was relieved to hear I was still within 10 minutes of Nate, and hoped that having Nick join me would boost my energy and focus.  It took a little time to regain strength but having Nick there to chat with and keep me honest started giving me more of a drive forward.  The mud was worsening on the course, and the pace was slowing, but I could tell that my legs still had a lot of energy left and I was ready to "be on the hunt."

    Running out of Covered Bridge AS (mile 65) I was ready to tackle the section of trail that had been hardest for me all day.  This is why I chose Nick to pace me during the last 15 miles of the loop, and was planning to use him again on the last 15 miles of loop 4.  I didn't see Nate until shortly before the Hickory Ridge AS at mile 71.  I knew I was running strong leading up to that point but I was actually surprised to see him so soon.  At this point, I was ready to strategize and make the right decisions.

    After talking it over with Nick I decided to hold back as much as I could and wait to make any drastic move on Nate and after initially spotting Nate and his pacer through the trees ahead, I held back to the point for them not to see me.  I am not sure how long I went without being detected by Nate and his pacer, but eventually as I purposefully walked into Hickory Ridge AS Nate was too close not to catch.  As he took his time in the AS, so did I, because I felt it was too early to make a push for first place.

    So after Nate left, I continued to make sure I was properly fueled and left some 30 seconds after.  At this point, I sensed I was feeling stronger, but I still felt it was too early to make a move for first.  I shadowed Nate the next section onto Mohican Campground AS.  He was always in view ahead, and occasionally I would  be right behind him, and sometimes I would drop a little ways back.  It was fun for me to be in this position to "race" 100 miles 3/4 of the way into the race, and I liked trying to determine what was in my competitors head and how he was feeling.

    Finally, as we came within 2 miles of the final loop, and popped out of the trail onto a gravel uphill, I pulled even with Nate as we power-hiked.  It must have been a great scene, with Nate and I grunting up the hill, and our pacers flanking us on our outside.  I actually felt good enough to be running up this hill but remained patient.  We remained side by side into the Mohican Campground AS (mile 78).
    Pacer Nick Reed and I coming into the Covered Bridge AS.   Photo by Butch Phillips
    Loop 4
    I am an emotional runner, especially in 100 milers.  This can either be a strength or weakness depending on where my mind is.  A lot of thoughts pass through my head in the darkest moments of 100 miles and it is how I manage them that dictates how well I move on.  It becomes less about the physical ability and more about your mental strength of being able to propel your body forward.

    So when I headed out for my final loop of 22 miles of Mohican, I reached in for strength, sometimes even speaking out loud to myself.  I thought about my dad who was there crewing with the rest of my family - he was 4 weeks into daily chemotherapy and radiation treatment for colon cancer that had been diagnosed in May.  The mental and physical struggle he had to be enduring was unfathomable, but still continuing to stay strong and continuing normal activities.  I thought about my 2.5 month old baby girl who was with Bobbi following along the course - I drew inspiration from seeing her beautiful little face at the crew points.

    I was in the lead now.  Nate was walking out of the aid station and I ran by him into the trail.  I decided to go without a pacer until the last 15 miles of the course so I was alone.  I also made a decision at this point to push hard and go for it.  Since my legs were still feeling fresh I told myself that the more places I ran, those were moments that I was either maintaining or gaining the lead I had.  So I ran.  This 9 mile section through the loops first two aid stations became the sweet spots on the day for me.  I ran every step from the Campground AS to the Fire Tower AS at mile 86.  This was actually more running in this section than I had done even on the first loop of the race.

    When I arrived at the Fire Tower I learned I had been 5 minutes ahead of Nate at the previous aid station so it was reassuring that I had gained 5 minutes in 4.5 miles.  I knew that lead had not been cut into on the next section to the Fire Tower AS because I had kept a similar pace.  Now I was able to pick up Nick again to run the final 15 miles with me and knew that if I just continued to do what I had been doing, I could close this race out.

    The final 15 miles was mainly uneventful.  It is not that it came easy - I was hurting for sure - but it was actually fun.  My mind was fresh, which was crucial, and that was enough to keep my body going forward heightened sense of awareness on all fronts.  Darkness came onto the course, and our headlamps were switched on, and I plodded forward.  I chatted with Nick, went through low moments where I was silent, thinking about all the things that help motivate and propel me forward in dark times.  The mud was even sloppier on the fourth loop, which eased my mind in thinking that it would make it harder for anyone to run me down.  There was just so much one could do in certain sections of the course that was muddy - so I made sure I was on the upper end of getting through those sections.

    I was never 100% sure I was going to hold the lead until about one mile before the finish when the course entered a back road and the final paved walking path.  I had Nick looking behind me for the last 5 miles "just to make sure."  The last thing I wanted was to be working so hard and to be caught off guard by someone grooving in the last section.  My watch had died a few miles before the finish line, so I didn't worry about my time or pace - I just had to run hard.  I ran hard onto the road and walking path, through the tiki torch lit finishing stretch, and finally, was confident in my day.  I crossed the line with many aunts and uncles, parents, grandpa, sister, my wife Bobbi and baby daughter in 17:59:15, a record on the current Mohican course!
    A blur through the night with less than 7 miles to go.   Photo by Butch Phillips
    Thank You!
    What a wonderful day full of much support.  My wife and sister continue to be the go to best crews for many of my ultras, as well as my mom and dad who were at every stop.  It was also extra special to have my grandpa and many aunts and uncles who are from the Mohican area to follow along and cheer from start to finish!  Really, winning and having a successful day was just a little of the icing on the cake.  Also a huge shout out to UGo Bars for their continued support and also to SOS Rehydrate.  After sort of botching my hydration plan at Quest for the Crest 50k a few weeks before, I had a continual flow of SOS all day at Mohican which left my legs feeling great all the way to the finish!  Thanks to Honeystinger energy gels for fueling all 100 miles - many gels and waffle crisps were consumed as my main food source during the race.  And my sponsors Julbo and Swifwick Socks (still the best ultra sock - no blister even in mud caked and soggy feet, amazing!).  I am also glad to represent the Blue Ridge Outdoor Magazine athlete team, and am grateful for their support of local athletes.  I wouldn't have stayed as strong and mentally fresh as I did in the last 40 miles of the race with Nick there pacing me.  He ran 30 miles just to keep me on track!  It would have also been impossible without great aid stations (the 3 hot cheese quesadillas I had at Covered Bridge were awesome!) and all volunteers of the event.  It was a great race and I am glad I was a part of Mohican.
     A driving force to come home too!  Photo by Butch Phillips
     Photo by Butch Phillips
     Nate came in 40 minute behind me.  It was a true race most of the day.  Photo by Butch Phillips 
     Photo by Butch Phillips
     Photo by Butch Phillips

    (Great highlight video made by

    Wednesday, June 3, 2015

    2015 Quest for the Crest 50K Race Report

    This year was the inaugural running of the 50K version of the Quest for the Crest, also marking the second race in the 2015 U.S. SkyRunner Ultra Series.  I performed well with a 2nd place finish in the first race of the series in March at the Georgia Death Race 68 Miler, and wanted to get another good result at Quest to add to my points in the series standings.  After feeling really good with the challenging GDR course, I was feeling confident about running the Quest, and excited to see the rugged Black Mountains up close.  

    The Race
    After an early wake up time of 3:55am Josh Arthur from Boulder and training partner Tim Sykes and I left the "Duck Cabin" to drive to the finish location at the base of Mt. Mitchell (highest point East of the Mississippi, 6684') to be shuttled to the start line.  The start line was about 20 minutes away in the middle of a country road.  

    The course was simply laid out.  3 climbs of 3,000+ feet each and 3 descents of 3,000+ feet each.  Besides the vertical gain and loss, the trail is extremely technical in most sections with rock outcroppings requiring using hands to scramble up, roots, and dense forest vegetation, making only a few short sections that were truly runnable.

    The race started on a half mile road section before entering the trail.  There was no flat start.  The first 3 miles was the course of the Vertical K (VK) race that took place the previous morning where Joe Gray ran an impressive 36 minutes.  Fitting over 3000' of vertical gain in under 3 miles isn't easy to do, and it requires the route to go straight up with no reprieve of the punishing ascent.  From the very fist mile my legs didn't feel very good.  This wasn't a good sign.  Even when the terrain was smooth enough for my competitors to run up, I found myself still in my slow powerhike mode.  I brushed it off as just being from the initial uphill shock and hoped I felt better once I descended.

    Once we crested the ridge there was about a mile section of flatter terrain with spectacular views.  Even though this was flatter, it quickly became evident that running was still a struggle due to a grassy overgrown trail with rocks hidden beneath.  On the long downhill into Bowlens Creek AS (mi. 7.5), I was finally able to open it up a bit and hit 3 consecutive sub 7:30 miles.  I passed a couple of runners and led a train of about 5 guys barreling down right behind me.  This section was relatively smooth compared to the rest of the course, but I had to ride the fine line of not bashing the quads too badly because there was still a long ways to go after the turnaround.  Strangely, even though I was happy to be running faster, my legs didn't feel quite right.  They were still feeling heavy and lacked any spark that I hoped I had on race day.

    Turning around going back out of Bowlens Creek to the ridge again required another 3000' climb, one that I hoped would include more running.  While it was smoother than the starting climb, I still had trouble getting into a rhythm going uphill.  Tim, who I had passed on the downhill, passed me while running and I had to start powerhiking again.  We had similar training coming into the race, but it was obvious that he was feeling much better than I was on the climbs.  After an hour of climbing the 4 mile ascent we crested the ridge and after a couple miles it was time to make the long and technical downhill of Colberts Ridge.  Caleb Denton and Ron Brooks had caught up to me at this point and we also ran into Tim who was struggling on the technical downhill terrain.

    The Colberts Ridge descent starts around 6100' and makes its way down to 2700' in just 4 miles.  I took a minor fall after misjudging some wet roots hugging a rock outcropping.  My legs crumbled underneath of me and I found myself on my back against the near vertical rock.  After a few moments of evaluating myself I realized I had only scraped my arm on the rock and I was otherwise fine.  Looking back I think this made me a bit hesitant the rest of the downhill.  I let Caleb and Ron go around me and tried to manage the technical downhill alone without the pressure of having two runners close on my heels.

    After the worse of the steepness and rocks thinned out, and about a mile before the aid station, I tried to push hard on the smoother section.  As I was running downhill my right quad suddenly seized up.  I had to stop on the trail to massage it and try to loosen it up.  After popping a quick gel and S!Cap I was able to get going again, but in my mind I questioning how I could go on if this was happening so soon in the race!  I rolled into the Colbert Ridge AS at 18.2 miles knowing I lost a lot of ground on the challenging downhill.  After the race, I found via Strava segments that I ran 10 minutes slower than 4th place finisher Scott Breedon on this 4 mile downhill alone.  This just doesn't cut it, and leaving the AS, I knew that I was out of the running for a top finish.

    If any solace came, I told myself I just had one more hill to go.  I ran strong out of the AS trying to hit the next long ascent harder since it wasn't as harsh of a grade.  Before the real climb began there was a short downhill where my left quad seized up in similar fashion as my right one a couple miles before.  Again, this took about 3 minutes of standing in the trail before working it.  It seemed like popping a quick gel and S!Cap worked again, but the pain and locked up feeling had me worried about the last 12 miles of the race.  I was only a mile past the aid station and I had to really fight the urge to not turn back and drop.      

    The Quest
    It is in moments like these that I question why I run ultra-marathons.  Up to this point in the race, I had no real enjoyable moments.  Even in the first mile, I was not feeling good and I hurt more than I wanted to just 18 miles into the race.  After the race I told myself that it was a mistake that I even attempted the race, that I wasn't prepared for this type of terrain, that I couldn't train for this stuff therefore I couldn't compete.  But, now after a couple days to savor the race, I realize that this type of race is the reason I run ultra-marathons.  To quench an urge to get outside of my comfort zone, do something harder than the typical.  Yes, I was under-prepared for the technical and steep downhills (my quads were evidence of that), and there were moments of decisions testing my willingness to go forward, but these are moments that I sit and think about at night.

    Sometimes it is not just about running races that you are good at.  When I'm honest with myself, I know I am better suited at rolling courses like Ice Age 50 where I am able to keep a consistent running movement.  While it is good to harness what you are good at, I have a love for mountains.  It is a way for me to test my limits, physically, and more so mentally.  This is a large reason I continue competing in ultras, to see what I can do, an experiment.

    Getting Better
    Soon after my quads seized up for a second time Hillary Allen came prancing up the trail behind me.  She was the lead female, and by my view, she must have been pretty far ahead because she was moving up the mountain with ease.  We had met the evening before and I knew that she had won the US SkyRunner series in 2014.  When she caught me I told her I wanted to try to help her along, but in reality, I needed her to help me.  So for about 4 miles I ran/hiked in front of Hillary trying to make more positive progress.  Chatting with her along the course took my mind off my sore legs and eventually we reached the summit.  Hillary ended up leaving me for good on the short out and back up to the highest point on the course.  In this section I also saw 3 of the guys that I had been trailing for most of the race about a mile ahead of me.

    We ran on top of the ridge for 2 miles after the Big Tom AS before making the final 3000' drop in the last 4 miles.  After running a couple sub 10 minutes miles (!!) on top I passed Michael Barlow who was having a hard time with his legs.  Oddly enough, I started feeling like I had more energy and strength as I finished the race than I did starting the race.  Although I didn't run the last downhill with any alluring speed, I was happy to be running without my quads seizing up and to have the focus to push harder at the end than I did in the first half of the race.  I didn't pass anymore runners, but I was reminded why pushing through the rough patches are worth it in the end.

    I ended up finishing 9th place overall, 8th male, in 7:15:42.

    Thank you to sponsors Ugo Bars, Swiftwick, SOS Rehydrate, and Julbo for the support!  It is great to have you along for the ride, even in the rough patches.  While I didn't finish how I hoped to in this race, it is still always a great day to spent time in rugged mountains such as those in the Black Mountains.  I was able to meet some new friends and compete against some men and women who really ran great at Quest!

    Now, it is time to recover as best I can in three weeks before I take on the Mohican 100 Miler on June 20th, in my home state!  I am still drawn to the 100 mile distance more than other races and looking forward to my 4th one.

    Friday, April 24, 2015

    Baby Fern and Race Directing

    Family - Fern Amelia just 5 days old.
    What started as a routine pregnancy check-up for my wife four weeks before the due date, turned into an unforgettable night and a memorable week.  I remember the doctor saying somewhat surprisingly even to herself, "I think you're... actually... in labor?!"  Just a day before April 1, I thought this might have been an early April Fools prank - but after the instruments were hooked up to my wife's baby bump and seeing the contractions on paper, reality was setting in that baby Fern Amelia was coming early!  

    Bobbi and I found out we were expecting our first child in late August of 2014.  The due date was projected to be April 26th - to me this was not just a figure of 8 months away, but also the month of the Iron Furnace Trail Run that I organize and direct.  In fact, last year the inaugural running of IFTR was April 26 - how fitting.  Although I was already toying around with the idea to change the date of the race for the 2nd annual running to an earlier weekend in April to avoid other similar events in the area, this news was a definite confirmation that I needed to do so.  After searching for a suitable weekend to host IFTR, I decided on April 4, 2015 - not only was this a "free" weekend in the calender for similar events in SE Ohio, but it would also ensure that if Bobbi delivered a little early, I would still be in the clear... or so I thought.

    On that Tuesday afternoon as Bobbi, myself, and a nurse walked across the hospital sidewalks to the O'Bleness Birth and Delivery Center, many thoughts were running through my mind, as expected for any about-to-be-new parents.   Wow, I'm going to become a father tonight!  Oh man, I'm not even close to being finished with the new baby room.  How has Bobbi not felt contractions or even noticed that she is in labor?!  Maybe they are wrong about this... IFTR is in just 4 days - there is so much I need to do to pull this event together!

    From here things moved by quickly.  Thoughts about anything but Bobbi and our baby girl on the way vanquished.  This was a reality that was unexpected in that moment but one that I simply had to be in.  I had been preparing to be a father for 7 months, but in the span of 2 hours, I made myself get into the mindset that I am becoming a father and this was how it was going to be.  The night passed quickly, family arrived and waited, and at 10:45 pm on March 31 Fern Amelia Owen was born.
    My first picture with my baby girl!
    Fern was born at 6lb. 10oz., but still premature and jaundiced.  While she was born healthy, doctors and nurses still wanted to monitor her.  Besides the jaundice and concern over losing a little more weight than typical, Fern was healthy, a blessing and something cherished.  Bobbi did such a great job during delivery and certainly has made me respect all mothers - it is such a intense process but Bobbi handled it so strongly and bravely.

    With the jaundice and weight concern, Bobbi and Fern had to stay in the hospital for a few days.  I slept there as well.  In the meantime, I was running (literally) back and forth from one place to another getting last minute IFTR duties in order.  The course still needed to be marked, shirts picked up, awards picked up, bib numbers assigned and arranged, van of equipment and gear packed and loaded, aid station and post-race food purchased, shuttle bus confirmed, and so on.  There are some things, as a race director, that I just cannot avoid doing last minute.  Races of this type and size typically follows a pretty straight forward schedule with tasks being marked off Monday through Friday of race-week.  Typically, having your first child is not listed on that schedule!

    At any rate, since this was such a unique situation, so many people reached out and offered a supporting hand to ensure IFTR still operated smoothly.  So I need to give a big thanks to my immediate family members who took a hold of some of the reigns and helped tackle some tasks while I tried to spend as much time as I could with Bobbi and Fern at the hospital.  Plus Bobbi's mom and family was always with her when I had to be away from the hospital.  My sister, Becca, did a tremendous job at handling registration and participant information pre-race and on race-day.  She was a huge help.  The participants were also vital in their support - I hesitated to announce the big news thinking it would be "more professional" to not mention it, but then I realized that this is what the trail running community is all about.  I needed their support, and once people learned about the birth of Fern just four days prior to the race, I got that support.
    Race Day at the 2015 Iron Furnace Trail Run.  Photo by Dale Starr.
    Although lacking sleep tremendously, including going to bed around 2:30am on race morning and waking up 2hrs15min later, I was wired and exciting for race day to be there!  Race day is the best day (next to the solitude of course marking day)!  Still though, among the race day excitement and rushing around, the thought of Bobbi and Fern, who had just spend a fourth straight night in the hospital, was constantly on the back of my mind.  I tried to be fully absorbed in race-day duties, but how could I be in a time like this.  It panged me that I wasn't able to be at the hospital with them.  But when I received a text before noon from Bobbi saying that they had just been released from the hospital, it was a huge relief.  Her parents helped accompany her home and I only wished that I was able to make that trip home with Fern as she entered the big new world for the first time.  

    The 2015 Iron Furnace Trail Run was a great day, growing in size tremendously from 79 finishers last year to 144 finishers this year.  I continue to get exciting to see and be a part of the growth of trail running in SE Ohio.  I have plans for hosting more races and longer races (ultras!) through SEOTR in the future.  I love seeing people finish a race being downright fatigued and vulnerable, but still saying they loved the experience.  I like to think that I do little in giving them the experience except for setting up a date, time, and location.  The course and trails speak for themselves on race day.  And then there are the exceptional volunteers of the race that make everything run smoothly for participants.  Thank you to all, it is so appreciated on my behalf.
    The start of the 2015 IFTR.
    When I finally arrived home on Saturday night to see my wife and daughter, the days emotion had yet been topped.  The overall emotion of the week, then race day, to finally be concluded, and being able to sit at home holding what matters most, is what made my motivation to direct this race even more surreal and that moment at home holding Fern was unmatched.  This type of motivation had not been felt in the past, but being a father is all the better, and I cannot wait for all the new memories to come!

    Thank you all for your kind words and encouragement at IFTR and since!

    Happy Trails!

    Fern Amelia Owen

    In other news, I had a great opportunity to be interviewed and profiled for an article in The Athens News.  The article profiles my experiences in ultra-running and my vision for trail running in SE Ohio.  Check it out online here:
    The Athens News Article - Happy Trails  

    Photo by Dennis Powell, The Athens News
    Photo by Dennis Powell, The Athens News
    Photo by Dennis Powell, The Athens News

    Wednesday, March 18, 2015

    2015 Georgia Death Race 68 Mile Race Report

    This past weekend I ran in the opening race of the 2015 U.S. Skyrunner Series at the Georgia Death Race 68 Miler (GDR), that ran from Amicalola Falls State Park to Vogel State Park in the North Georgia Mountains.  Aside from GDR being the first race of my 2015 year, and the first race of the Skyrunner Series, I was stoked to get down to see and explore the mountains of North GA.  This area is probably a bit unrecognized by a lot of ultra runners around the US, but it is a trail mecca, with the course crisscrossing the Appalachia Trail, and running on the Benton MacKaye Trail and Duncan Ridge Trail.  These distinguished trail systems are all well-used by hikers and other outdoor recreationalists and maintained and treasured by local trail associations and other constituents.  What it is known for by runners are the dramatic ups and downs, lack of switchbacks, and unrelenting steepness.  This rugged and wild terrain definitely became evident during my race!

    RunBumTours hosts the GDR and Sean Blanton (aka RunBum), the race director, touts the race as death itself.  Although I wasn't much into the pre-race antics that went back and forth on the Facebook event page about the course "making you die," "etc., etc., etc." it was certainly evident that this was the "personality" that was wanted to be portrayed about GDR, and evidently there were a few hundred folks who like that sort of thing.  I tended to just focus on what was real and present, like the actual course, logistics such as the elevation profile, distances of climbs and where they came along the course, etc., in my pre-race planning and not get caught up the the hype of death race.    
    Training for the Georgia Death Race 68 Miler started once I resumed running after the Grindstone 100 and Columbus Marathon double I ran back in October.  This ended up being 19 weeks of solid and uninterrupted (for the most part) training leading into GDR.  I guess in summary of training, I ran less mileage that what I am typically used too, ran hard hill workouts almost once a week, and nailed a few really long runs in the 3-6 weeks prior to the race.  In regards to the mileage being lower than I am used to, I hit 95-98 miles four weeks and less than that in all other weeks.  While this still may seem high, it is much less compared to the 130 mile weeks I was putting in around this time last year leading up to Ice Age 50.  I also took 19 days completely off from running in the 19 weeks leading up to GDR - some weeks I took 2 days off, some I ran all 7 days.  All of this has been an effort to be more fresh and to set up a long year of racing instead of just fizzling out from over-training as I have been susceptible of in the past.

    I focused mainly on specificity in the form of hills in my build up and workouts.  Although living in SE Ohio doesn't give you any hills over 400' in total ascent, I still focused on hills in the way of repeats and different drills such as bounding and springing.  Even if I lack the "mountain training" I am starting to feel confident in being able to at least manage mountainous courses like Grindstone 100 and Georgia Death Race.  I also tried to run a lot of elevation in just my normal days of running, and I had a lot of weeks with over 10,000' of elevation gain.

    You can see all of my training over on Strava    

    The week of the race presented some interesting news from the GDR.  Due to conflict between local trail associations, the USFS, and other problems, RunBum was forced to alter the course, and the choice was made to reverse the route direction.  Originally the race started at Vogel SP and ended at Amicalola.  With the change it started at Amicalola and ended at Vogel.  What this did was make the runnable 30 miles of gravel road at the start of the race instead of the end like previous year.  This left the last 35ish miles on the grueling Benton MacKaye, Duncan Ridge, and Coosa Backcountry Trails.  The notion was that this way would be harder.  I was a bit flustered by this at first, because I had spent weeks studying the course, layout, etc., and then 4 days before the race everything was changed, but within a few minutes after the announcement I simply just planned for the course in the new direction because there was nothing else to do.  The real work from this situation was from the race committee and volunteers who had months of planning "rerouted."  My main concern with the new route was staying controlled on the runnable first half of the course and not go out too fast when I was feeling fresh. The start time was also shifted to 8am instead of 6am.  

    Something else that came up pre-race was my selection of shoes.  Shoes are probably the most important piece of gear when running ultras, more so when running in mountains, and as the race approached I didn't feel comfortable racing in any of the shoes that I was training in.  So, a week before the race I ordered a pair of New Balance 110v2's, and although I had never worn this model, NB was a brand that I typically fit well with and have experience with.  Well, in the two runs that I did with them on Tuesday and Wednesday before the race they rubbed a nasty blister on my right pinkie toe, and it hurt every step.  This tight fit was not going to work.  So, I packed 4 pairs of shoes for the race to decide later.  On the trip down to Georgia from Ohio, I wanted to stop at a few stores to try to find some Montrail Rogue Racers in my size.  It has been hard to find the Rogue Racers in my size since they are no longer being made, but when I find a pair I usually grab them up because they have been my favorite shoe to race in.  Fortunately, and luckily, the first store we stopped at in Ashville, NC, Black Dome Mountain Sports, had 4 pairs of Rogue Racers on their sale rack and one in size 12!  A couple small shakeout runs before the race, and they were ready to go!      

    I couldn't decide on shoes...
    A rainy start at Amicalola Falls SP
    The Race
    The race was pretty calm in the early goings, but still featured some stout climbing.  We departed from the Amicalola Visitor Center and almost immediately started climbing up Amicalola Falls stairway, which was over 600 steps and nearly 1000 feet in less than a mile.  From there we all dropped back down to the starting area on a gravel forest road before going right back up on a paved park road for nearly another 1000' in a mile.  During these first 3.5 miles and 2000' of gain, I mainly just focused on conserving energy.  Everyone hiked up the falls and then I transitioned from hiking to running up the long paved road.  I hooked up with Travis Macy from Evergreen, Colorado for the first part as we were going about the same speed.  Coincidentally it was Travis who I borrowed a handful of salt tablets from just 15 minutes before the start of the race, as I was quickly going from one person to another searching for some since I had forgotten my bottle was empty!  That helped!   It was nice getting to know him in the first part of the race.  He told me about a new book he has just published called The Ultra Mindset and I'm looking forward to reading it.

    We continued to go uphill for another 700' on muddy forest paths to the Nimblewill Gap Aid Station at mile 7.5 at a controlled but still sub 9 minute pace.  After the aid station it was a 9 mile downhill dropping almost 2000' before entering the Jake Bull aid station.  Although I was still focusing on being in control of pace, and limiting downhill quad pounding, I felt good enough to pull away from the guys I had climbed with and ran the next 4 miles at around 6:35 pace.  The grade leveled out a bit and I maintained 7:00 pace until the next climb.  In this section I ran into Andrew Miller, an 18 year old from Corvallis, Oregon, who has been running ultras since the age of 14, and who was one of the race favorites according to what I had seen.  We chatted a bit and rolled into the Jake Bull aid station.

    Andrew seemed like he was pretty calm and methodical in his running, and when we started the 6 mile, 1500' climb up to Winding Stair Gap we comfortably matched each others pace.  I am probably 8 inches taller than Andrew, and 8 years older, but we seemed similar in how we approached racing.  As we jockeyed back and forth up the gravel Winding Stair Gap Rd. we came across the cycling race that was taking place on the same road we were on.  We had been warned about this, and it was a bit interesting running up the hill the same speed or faster than the bikers.  I chatted with one lady who was astonished that were were running further than their 50 mile ride.  Of course, on any downhills, dozens of bikers came barreling down, brakes squealing, the red mud flying.  It was somewhat nerve-racking thinking that I could maybe get run over by a biker.
    Coming into an early aid station with the eventual champion.  Photo by Victor Mariano
    As the climb steepened near the end, I stopped to relieve myself and Andrew passed me.  I had no urgency in catching back up so I casually ran into the aid station and replenished my supplies with Andrew about a minute ahead.  At this point David Kilgore was somewhere even further ahead in 1st place.  I had heard he is a 2:17:00 marathoner and that he was a contender.  Kilgore set off on a fast pace and it seemed reckless, but anytime there is someone ahead in a race, you need to at least keep check of them.  At this point of 23 miles, I knew the race was far from over.

    More downhills and frequent uphills on forest roads and paths went on for the next 6-7 miles before getting onto the Benton MacKaye Trail (BMT) and the first singletrack of the day.  Andrew and I once again exchanged places a few times and was always pretty close to each other going into the Point Bravo aid station at around mile 40.  I was really enjoying the singletrack during this section, and still focusing on fueling, hydrating, and staying relaxed.  Andrew seemed to be climbing much better than me at this point, but then I could gain a little on downhills or any gradual sections.

    At Point Bravo I got word that I was just behind Andrew and 8 minutes down on Kilgore.  It didn't seem like he had been gaining on us a while now, which made me think that carnage was setting in.  I was just hoping I wasn't carnage as well.  Climbing out of Point Bravo, I feel that the course drastically became harder and that the real race began.  A look at the elevation profile shows the steepness and frequency in the climbs after mile 40, with all of it being higher in elevation than the first half of the course.
    Climbing out of Point Bravo at 40 miles I began feeling that uncomfortable lactic acid feeling creep into my legs making them feel heavy when climbing uphill.  Andrew was climbing better than me and now I was feeling the hurt on the climbs.  Most of the climbs required power hiking from all runners, and I was just trying to make sure Andrew wasn't power hiking faster or running sections that I couldn't.  I was frustrated that I didn't feel good running uphill, as I usually feel much better going up, even if slow, than I do going down but during GDR I experienced the opposite.  With eight miles between Point Bravo and the next aid station at Fish Gap I wanted to make sure I stayed present and stay aware of what I needed.  My mental focus began to think less about "racing" and more about how to take care of myself and persevere.

    Although I was heavy going uphill, my legs were strangely still fresh.  I was propelling forward with strength over downed logs, shifting well between rocks and roots.  About a mile before Fish Gap aid station at mile 48 I caught a glimpse of Kilgore ahead on the trail.  He was noticeably haggered, staggering up the 20-25% grade mountain.  I gained on him quickly as I was running and gave him some encouragement as I passed.  He barely uttered a sound.  I glanced back a bit later when I was further up the hill after hearing a voice and he had called someone on the phone.  His day was done and I was in 2nd place.

    Although I was encouraged to move into 2nd place, I learned at the Fish Gap aid station that Andrew had put about 12 minutes on me in the 8 miles from Point Bravo and was now 13 minutes ahead!  I thought it was incredible that he must have ran the toughest part of the course to this point so strongly.  From Fish Gap to Mulky Gap just 2 miles away where my crew would be waiting, I set my sights on what was ahead.  Since getting onto the Duncan Ridge Trail (DRT) some 3-4 miles earlier from the BMT, it was noticeable that the DRT was much more rugged and "wild."  I knew there was still even more rugged and steep hills ahead, especially going up Coosa.

    At the Mulky aid station my crew was waiting and so was RunBum, the RD.  I was told that Andrew was now 15 minutes up on me, and I didn't wait long before heading out.  I heard RunBum make some comment about me being a "flatlander" as I headed out for the trail.  Being known as a flatlander running 2nd place in a mountainous 68 miler was fine by me at this point in the race :)

    I ran out of Mulky hard with the intention of trying to gain ground on Andrew in the 4.5 miles to White Oak Stomp aid station.  Now that there was about 13 miles left in the race, being down 15 minutes to first place, if I couldn't make up distance now, there would be no chance unless Andrew really hit the wall.  This would still have required over a minute per mile faster in order to catch him.  So I put my head down and just sort of got over the dead leg feeling as I climbed more hills than I had since getting on the singeltrack 20 miles earlier.  I felt confident that no one else was gaining on me, but was warned by RunBum that some guys might be coming strong.  Running into White Oak Stomp the guy at the aid station told me I was 5 minutes behind Andrew - BUT the lady with the clipboard quickly corrected him and said I was still 15 minutes back!  No time lost to him in this section, but also no progress in cutting into his lead.

    Now there were 9 more miles to the finish, with the hardest climb up and over Coosa Bald, and the highest point on the course at 4200+ feet.  After Coosa, there is a quad-crushing 2200' descent in just 4 miles.  The climb up Coosa was about a mile in 19 minutes - I was pretty happy with this.  On the way back down I started to feel that ache in my quads but I was so close to the finish now that I just let go and ran hard.  I still stayed pretty slow on the descent because of some technical sections but for the most part I was happy to have the legs to run down decently.

    At the bottom of the long descent was the last aid station at Wolf Creek, mile 60 with about 3.5 miles to the end.  I was still about 15 minutes behind Andrew and I gave up hope on catching 1st place.  I was happy with 2nd place at this point, but still wanted to run the last 3.5 miles strong in case someone was coming from behind.  With still an 800' climb over the next 1.5 miles I set small goals of running hard for 2 minutes and then walking for a minute.  After doing that a couple time I realized my legs were fine enough to just slow it down and keep a steady pace all the way to the finish.  Running into Vogel State Park was a nice feeling, as the finish of every ultra is, to see the hard work be rewarded with the finish line.  Andrew had finished approximately 20 minutes prior to me, with over an hour off of the old course record, and I was 2nd place in 10:47:00.       

    Top 3 Men
    Post Race
    We spent a couple hours at the finish line.  I received my railroad spike for finishing and a cutting board.  I was happy to see Travis finish in 3rd place just 15 minutes behind me and know that it was a good thing that I ran hard the last 9 miles.  It wasn't until we were pulling out of the parking lot that 5th place was finishing.  I like to stick around after races longer but I was getting cold and chilled and wanted to get back to the cabin to get a hot shower and then food.  When I was trying to get to sleep with a restless mind and body, I suddenly got super-chilled and developed a fever.  My body was hot but I felt cold inside.  It wasn't a very good feeling.  To make things worse my stomach felt turned upside down like I needed to puke, but I couldn't.  I was a bit worried with how I felt, and started to wonder what could be wrong.  Bobbi gave me some fever reducer medicine that she found and luckily I was asleep in no time.  When I woke up, no signs of fever and I felt normally, besides some soreness.

    A few days after GDR now and I feel like I do after a typical race of this distance.  My muscles are fairly recovered and I am happy that no injuries developed.  The worse part is a black toenail caused by jamming into a rock early in the race.  I've tried to get some active recovery in and going to rest a bit more before running again.  The next race is the Quest for the Crest 50K, second race of the US Skyrunner Series, about 13 weeks away.  Time to get fully recovered before putting the training in for the Quest!

    A big thanks deserves to go out to my wife Bobbi and sister Becca for trekking all the way down to Georgia with me and crewing during the race.  They were only able to see me at 3 aid stations but the support and chance to get some replenishment was much needed and appreciated.  The race staff, even though thrown off a few days before the race with changes, had everything under control on race day.  The course was marked great, and the aid stations were prompt and encouraging.  It is also really amazing to have all the support and encouragement from back home in Ohio from family and friends.  I think about it during races and it helps when I'm out on the trail.  I also want to thank Larry and Patty Clay, Bobbi's relatives who happen to live 10 minutes from the finish line, for opening up their home and giving us a place to stay before and after the race.  This made things very comfortable!  Lastly, I want to thank my sponsors who provide a lot of support to make training, racing, and recovery a lot more efficient and possible!
    • UVU Racing:  You Versus You - some of the most high quality apparel for runners that worked perfect during GDR.
    • Ugo Bars:  Since working with Ugo I've really enjoyed eating such a healthy and natural nut bar almost daily, especially right after runs and workouts.  I've developed a nice craving for the new Wanderlust Bar
    • Swiftwick Socks:  I wore the Swiftwick Performance Two's during GDR and didn't have any problems on my feet except for jamming my big toe on a rock on a technical downhill. Otherwise, my feet were top-notch after another ultra with the wicks.
    • SOS Rehydrate:  I've been training with SOS since the new year and I've been really happy with it so I implemented into my race strategy for the first time at GDR.  To be exact, I drank 88 oz. of SOS during the race and after most training runs since December!  It went down smooth and I never got tired of it, and think it helped rehydrate my body on the humid day.       
    • Julbo USA:  With all the snow Ohio had in February, it was nice to have Julbo there for protection from the bright snow reflection.  I'm looking forward to hitting the summertime trails with the Julbo Dusts because they feel and look so good! 
    • Honey Stinger:  It has been great training with Honey Stinger products since the new year.  During GDR, I really keyed in on taking the Organic Waffles early in the race so I would feel comfortable taking gels later.  All in all, I stayed on top of my nutrition all race the the Honey Stinger taste was great.   
    • Blue Ridge Outdoor Magazine:  BRO Magazine has recently formed their first-ever BRO Athlete Team to support some local athletes of the Blue Ridge area.  Although I'm on the fringe of the Appalachian Mountains, they have added me to the team and I'm honored to be a part of it.  Check out their website and pick up one of the publications.