Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Almost Barkley - A Tale of Elevation in Southern Ohio

Southern Ohio Ridges
I've been on a kick lately.  A kick of propping up Southern Ohio and the rugged, steep terrain that is to be had here.  I guess in some sort of way, I am trying to justify my sense of actually being able to train for mountainous, rugged races.  My training may not translate to do well in these races, but I like to crunch the numbers and find correlations.  I'll never be able to find the altitude, or the long sustained 5 mile climbs, but I believe I can find the total elevation gain if I try hard enough.  A lot of ultra runners don't know much about Southern Ohio, so I'm going to try to write this post to highlight what I love so much about it!.

Southern Ohio doesn't have a mountain as far as the eye can see.  In fact, the high point of the largest hill in Southern Ohio sits at a mere 1350 feet.  In Athens, where I do a lot of running, that highest point is just 1070 feet.  A small bump of altitude compared to the 14,000 foot summits in Colorado or even the 6000 foot mountains along the Appalachian Mountain range.

I would like to know exactly what Lazarus Lake was thinking when he set out to create what is now considered the hardest 100 mile race course in the world.  There is a reported 59,100 feet of elevation gain for the 100 miles.  That is about 26,000' more than Hardrock, which is also considered one of the hardest 100 miles races in the world.  Some might say that I really don't want to know what Laz was thinking, it is to cruel of a place to go and those thoughts are reserved for only crazy people.  However, I keep thinking about how the hardest 100 mile course is not in Colorado, and it's because someone sought out to do something that is a little crazy and non-traditional.  The Barkley course is not traditional, and some runs I do in Southern Ohio are not traditional in the same way, but it gets you the element a lot of people are seeking.

Lets look at some statistics that might not mean much, but sort of drives my point across.  Lets take sections of different courses/routes, find the stoutest hill/mountain on an elevation profile, and run up and down that hill/mountain until we get to 100 miles.  Can you guess where these five scenarios come from?

These stats come from either .KML files of race courses that I have obtained or actual runs that I have run.  The .KML files are then overlayed on Goggle Earth.  Scenario #2 comes from a trusted written account from an online blog where the author quotes the Race Director.  Granted, this data may not be 100% accurate, and not 100% the "best" scenario, but I'm not a GPS and GIS expert, so don't hold me too it.

Scenario #1:
  • Gain 3000' in 1 mile - running up and down makes it 2 miles
  • To get 100 miles, I would need to run up and down this stretch 50 times.
  • In total, I would gain 150,000' of elevation.
Scenario #2:
  • Gain 1600' in .88 miles - running up and down makes it 1.76 miles
  • To get 100 miles I would need to run up and down that stretch 56.82 times.
  • In total, I would gain 90,912' of elevation.
Scenario #3:
  • Gain 240' in .17 miles - running up and down makes it .34 miles.
  • To get 100 miles I would need to run up and down that stretch 294.11 times.
  • In total, I would gain 70,586' of elevation.  
Scenario #4:
  • Gain 3597' in 3.5 miles - running up and down makes it 3597' but in 7 miles
    • Running from 10,423' at 27.9mi. to 14,026 at 31.4mi.
  • To get 100 miles I would need to run up and down that stretch 14.29 times.
  • In total I would gain 51,401' of elevation.
Scenario #5:
  • Gain 2335' in 4.06 miles - running up and down makes it 8.12 miles
    • Running from 2127' at 4.79mi. to 4462' at 8.85mi.
  • To get 100 miles I would need to run up and down that stretch 12.32 times
  • In total I would gain 28,767' of elevation.

Were you able to guess where each of these scenario's are from?  Here are the answers:

  • Scenario #1 is from the 3,000 foot incline starting at the rocky gulch drain on the West side of Mt. Elbert to the summit just one mile later.  This is the incline of the Nolan's 14 route.  
  • Scenario #2 is a depiction of The Barkley Marathons course grabbed from Matt Mahoney's website where he quoted race director Lazarus Lake.  He described this hill in that post.
  • Scenario #3 is in Southern Ohio!  This hill, though only gaining 240' feet is only .17 from the bottom to top.  I run this hill frequently and multiple times when I really want to hurt.  
  • Scenario #4 is from the Hardrock 100 course, running up to Handies Peak from Road. #30 on counter-clockwise years.
  • Scenario #5 is from my most recent race, Grindstone 100, running the steep gravel road up to the summit of Elliot's Knob.

What Southern Ohio does not have in long sustained climbs, it makes up for in short, very frequent and steep climbs.  An elevation profile of most trail runs in this area look like a jagged saw blade.  In Colorado, after running up a mountain for 5 miles, you usually run down a mountain for the next 5 miles.  In that 10 mile span, you will have already crested 25 hills in Ohio.  

I'm not trying to prove one region of the U.S. as any better than another when it comes to training.  Each place is its own and has many benefits.  I love running up mountains as much as the next person.  And as we can see from the scenario's from above, you could do some serious elevation gaining if you ran up and down the West side of Mt. Elbert over and over... way more than you could get anywhere else.  However, when you approach things a little differently, do something a little out of your comfort zone, a whole new world can open up!
Southeast of Longs in Colorado.
Introducing Ridgeateering.

At some point in time, someone had to of run up a mountain for the first time.  This might have seemed like breaking the norm, pushing through a new barrier.  Now, running up mountains is really common.  In the same way, I have been really into a new form of running here in Southern Ohio.  I call it Ridgeateering.  I am doing it more frequently, but still only once or twice a week, and in some way I feel a bit goofy out there doing it.  But, after each time, I am left feeling drained but invigorated!  Every once in I while a get a friend or two convinced to do a trip with me.  

In short, Ridgeateering has two principles:  seek the most hills and do it in the shortest distances.  This means getting off of designated trails and into the deep hollers that people don't frequent often, and when you get to a ridge, instead of running along the top, drop off the other side and go up the next hill.  

Obviously, this presents a moral dilemma of not being environmentally friendly.  Trails are in place to get people contained and getting off trail has possible negative impacts on the land and nature.  I try to be apathetic to this dilemma and I wouldn't want the masses to be doing it.  The best time to do it without impacting the land as negatively is during winter and when the ground is frozen.  Plus, you have a clearer forest without the overgrowth.  If I had more of a decision in land use management the trails would be designed to get this sort of terrain, but they follow valleys, take a long time to climb to the ridge, then stay on the ridge for a long time.  That is the traditional trail design method.  

In the Google Earth image below, I've plotted and ran a new trail that is highlighted in pale yellow.  The red lines are pre-existing trails at Strouds Run State Park in Athens, Ohio.  The elevation profile of the pale yellow line is also shown, and it gains almost 2500 feet of elevation in 4.6 miles.  This is about 7-times more elevation gain than a typical 4.6 mile trail run on the pre-existing trails.  There is really no way of getting this sort of elevation gain without Ridgeateering.              

So there you have it, my environmentally immoral, non-practical, sub-standard attempt of reaching new elevation gains in Southern Ohio!  Okay, so it's not too bad, at least, I hope not.  But I do hope to show that you can go out and do something non-traditional and not loose out one doing some really grueling and exciting things, even if you don't live in the mountains.  I always like to eek out every bit of what a place has to offer, explore every low point and every high point in the forest, and see what I can make of it.  In the past year, I've made ridgeateering and it's been a lot of fun!

And as a fitting ending, I'll give a shout out to my newest sponsor UGo Bars!  They have a great slogan of "Where Will UGo Today?" that I think we all need to seek to answer with exciting and adventurous stories.  The great folks, and avid adventurers, at UGo make such a healthy, whole, and fresh energy bar for athletes.  They are a Midwest company from Bloomington, Indiana and it's an honor to represent UGo and join a stellar crew of other athletes!  #WhereWillUGo?      

Happy Ridgeateering!


Saturday, January 17, 2015

Ultra Running as the NFL

Lets use our imagination for a bit... lets imagine Ultra-Running was like the NFL.

Ryan Ghelfi and Ian Sharman have blogged and written about the need to introduce team scoring in ultra-running as way to make it more interesting, exciting, and perhaps more followed.  I've enjoyed reading and following the discussion.  While I don't agree with everything being thrown around, I feel lively discussion on any topic is beneficial for the sport.  I love the sport of ultra-running, or should I call it MUT Running (what are we calling it these days in America?), so anything that might add to positive progression I am all for.  So here is my idea's on how to get Ultra-Running to be as good at America's favorite sport, the NFL.

The National Football League (NFL) is the most watched and followed form of sport entertainment in the history of America.  It is crazy to see the ratings of NFL games, especially the Super Bowl.  Whatever people may say about leagues like the NFL, the reason it so popular is exactly because of the NFL.  At some time in the past, a group of people formed the National Football League as a governing body to represent the sport they all loved.  Whatever quarrels we may have with such organizations (especially now with the NCAA), they are the reason those organizations are so successful.  Now I can imagine at the time, people were griping about how money can ruin the sport of football, and make it too big, much like we hear with ultra-running.

The NFL is made up of 32 teams.  Each team is in an American city, with a mascot, colors, and all that fan connection stuff.  Each team has a rich owner, a GM, head coach, assistant coaches, trainers, other support staff members, and then the players.  These players, although they represent their team and city, also have sponsorship's that are not directly part of the NFL, such as Nike, Gatorade, Beats, Cadillac, and so on.

Let's imagine that there were Ultra-Running teams scattered throughout America - they would all be a part of the Ultra-Running League, or the URL.  We would have the Bay Area Bombers, Boulder Flat Ironers, Silverton Hardrockers, Auburn Cougers, Bozeman Bozo's, Bend Slow Twitch Muscles Lynchburg Highlanders, Athens Ridgeateers, Flagstaff Lizards, Ashland Rogue Runners, Bloomington Bloomers, Ithaca Lakers, and many more cities with amazing mascots.  So now there needs to be some rich person in each of these cities to initially finance a team, coach, and others things that are needed, like a few good stretching ropes and maybe a dry place to stretch, but that's not even needed.  All the other companies like Solomon and North Face stay out of the team business; they just work on sponsoring individual athletes, kind of similar to Nike and LeBron in the NBA.  But this is the URL, so Nike isn't the top company, yet.

Once the teams get popular it is all up to the fans to build it up so the URL can have million dollar television contracts on FOX and ESPN.  This way the owners can pay the coaches and the runners huge salaries, but not guaranteed salaries because we wouldn't want to waste money on all the injured runners on the team.  We'd just cut him and tell him to try out the Australian Ultra-Running League.  Things would get real interesting and provide lively discussion on ESPN when international runners like Kilian come over to join the Ashland Rogue Runners.  He went there because the owner wanted to boot Hal Koerner because he was on too many magazine covers and lost sight of the teams goals.

Storylines could be very entertaining for the fans - oh the fans.  These fans are diehard URL fans.  At one time they were even diehard ultra runners, but the URL branded every single ultra in North American and only kept the top-tier races for URL season.  Since there were no more ultra races, the actual rate of ultra runners decreased because those kind folks got tired of running longer than 26.2 miles "just for the fun of it."  Without belt buckles and aid stations, they just went back to spending that time watching Bryon Powell anchor ESPN.  Needless to say, these fans continued to be invested in ultra running by attending all the URL events, and watching it on TV when they couldn't attend.  The fan base was loyal to their local team, the Auburn Cougars so much so, that AJW's singlet was the most purchased singlet in the league even after he was retired from the URL for 10 year!

Here's to the growth of Ultra-Running in America!  I'll join you and sit back and relax on my couch on a Sunday afternoon to watch the last 10 miles of the hotly contested 2040 URL Championship.  If I'm lucky, my kids will be running for my local team, the Athens Ridgeateers.

Happy Trails,

*Note:  I am in no way mocking anyone who is calling for team scoring in ultras, I hope it didn't come across this way!  This is just a humorous bit, mostly mocking the NFL, and imagining a what a crazy world it would be if it was Ultra-Running instead of football.  I realize this would not and could not happen with ultras!  

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Sock Sponsor + Hydration Sponsor!

I'm super stoked to announce that I'll be partnering with a couple brands for the 2015 year!  It is always nice to have the support of trusted companies as I train and race in Mountain Ultra Trail Running and that is exactly what Swiftwick and SOSRehydrate is.  

Swiftwick has the best socks for ultra runners, plain and simple.  I've been supporting Swiftwick long before they started supporting me, so I was super excited that they chose me to be one of their sponsored athletes.  Just a quick story on the sock front: in 2011 I ran my first 100 mile race at the USATF 100 Mile Trail National Championship at Burning River 100.  I did well in the race but my feet did not.  I didn't know much about socks back then so I wore just a plain pair of what I thought were good athletic socks.  100 miles later, my feet were pruney, with blisters, and several black and missing toenails.  Fast forward to 2012 when I won a pair of Swiftwicks at the Mountain Masochist 50 Mile Trail Run.  I've worn Swiftwick during every ultra and for all of my long runs since, and I can't remember the last time I have had a blister or foot issues.  I trust this sock because my feet don't even know they are there.  #beswift #dowhatmovesyou

SOSRehydrate is a newer company that has engineered a fast-acting electrolyte replacement and hydration drink that helps combat dehydration caused by intense physical performance.  SOS was made by elite athletes and engineered by a leading doctor.  I was excited to try this stuff back in December when I first made a contact, and was really impressed with it.  It can sort of be likened to an IV drip, which is good because when running ultras or after intense training, it is vital to get rehydrated and not dehydrated.  An added benefit is that the citrus and blueberry flavors taste good.  Blueberry is my personal favorite.  #SOSRehydration #realhydration #4runnersbyrunners      

Check out Swiftwick for awesome socks and SOSRehydrate for your hydration needs.  Follow their social media sites - click on their logo for their website!