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  • 01/17/15--15:30: 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,
    wmo


    *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!  

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    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!

    wmo

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    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
    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    

    Pre-Race
    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!
    #WhereWillUGo?

    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.  


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  • 04/23/15--22:27: 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!
    WMO
    __________

    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

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    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.

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  • 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 SwifwickSocks (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 DirtWire.tv)

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    Coming into the year I was really interested in a few of the early Western States Golden Ticket races.  I was originally registered for the Bandera 100K in January but I came down with a 3 day flu that put me out for a few days the week of the race; so I quickly changed plans and entered the Black Canyon 100K hosted by Aravaipa Running in Arizona.  This would be a great option to go for a "Golden Ticket" and an opportunity to race in a desert environment which I had never done.  Plus, Aravaipa Running and Jamil Coury put on quality events on great courses.  I was excited to race for the first time in 8 months as well!
    LEAD-UP
    Leading up to the race there were some great names dotting the registration list.  A legend like Hal Koerner, former UROY Sage Canaday, fast road marathoners like Chris Mocko, and other recent top trail runners like Ryan Kaiser, Paul Giblin, and about a dozen other names I wasn't as familiar with.  It was shaping up to be a hot race, not just with fast runners, but literally hot temperatures in the Arizona winter.  I was keeping an eye on the weather forecasts and about two weeks before the race Phoenix only saw highs in the 50's for several days but as the race approached the forecasted temperature kept rising.  Race day temperatures called for high-80's - only about 80 degrees higher than the single-digit temperatures I came from in Ohio.

    EARLY-MILES
    The course is known for being a tale of two halves.  The race starts in Mayer, AZ at an elevation of 4000' but runs mostly downhill to around 2000' in the first 50K.  The second 50K then provides many little up and downs with a couple longer climbs.  This makes the first half of the race fast, and the second half much harder.  I had a pretty good grasp on last years winning splits and didn't want to go much faster, or faster at all, then their times as many of last years runners faded hard in the last half.  My goal was to hopefully conserve for a stronger second half and hope a fast pace gets the front runners like the previous year.
    The grind starts in the second 50K.
    With someone like Sage Canaday in the race I feel like everyone sort of lets him dictate the early pace.  Once we started though I could tell there were a few others who wanted to push the early miles.  I settled into a pace that was still faster than last years winners miles but still nowhere near the front pack.  As Hal Koerner posted on social media later that day, this was a road 100K pace!  The winner of last years race, Ford Smith, went through the first 50K in about 3:50:00 so I was a bit taken aback when I was at 3:45:00 through 50K and in about 9-10th place!  The front group of Sage and others ended up already being about 10 minutes ahead and we were all on an alarming course record pace.  Below is a comparison of my first 50K mile splits compared to last years winners first 50K mile splits.

    Ford Smiths first 50K (2015 winner) splits

    My first 50K splits.
    THE MIDDLE 18
    I continued running well until about mile 34.  Charlie Ware and we had been running much of the race together but he slowly pulled away from me on a rocky and technical downhill at around this point.  Running into the short out and back section to the Black City Canyon Aid Station (mile 38), I saw that Charlie had already gaped me by about 6-7 minutes!  By this time, the temperature was already reaching 80+ and people were starting to feel those early fast downhill miles.  I came into the aid station in around 8th place after learning a couple guy had dropped out and after passing a runner shortly out of the aid station, I settled into 7th place.

    I was feeling it by this point however.  But the interesting thing is, I think everyone else was feeling it just as much as I was.  The more I struggled for the next miles, the more I kept thinking someone, or many, were going to start passing me.  I was walking on the uphills, even walking easy flat trail.  I wish I could go back and get in the straight mindset during these miles but this is the challenge of ultras - some people have this innate or learned ability to be super present with themselves and be able to push through rough moments.  My best races I have been able to do this.  My legs were feeling pretty good, I was staying well hydrated, but the sun was frying my brain and making it hard to think clearly.  I just wanted to be done.  I knew I was not going to be done however for several more hours.  Eventually I got a hold of myself.
    Running in the desert the day before the race!
    THE LAST 12
    While the last 12 miles were anything but fast (just compare my splits to Sage's), I was at least feeling good and running most of the way.  Nothing special happened.  No one tried to pass me or I didn't see anyone in front of me.  I just got to mile 50 and started to sense the feeling of being finished.  I had been running since mile 38 without seeing another runner - still in 7th place.  I didn't know how close anyone was in front but was also pretty confident that if I just kept running, and since no one passed me during my slow 18 mile stretch, that I would make it to the finish no worse than 7th.

    That is what happened.  As I ran into the last 2.5 mile section (the only part of the course that I ran on the day prior) I was feeling good and even able to run a few sub-8 miles!  The Western States Golden Ticket was out of the picture, but I was finishing a grueling race in an unfamiliar environment.  I stayed in 7th place overall behind 6 super-tough guys, and finished in around 9:17:06.

    THOUGHTS
    The desert was a tough place, and far from the single-digit temperatures that I was training in during Ohio's winter.  I hate to use the high temperatures as an excuse but I won't lie and say it didn't affect me.  All in all though, I think I handled the hydration part pretty well.  I wonder how some of the locals handled it.  The desert was also much different than most Eastern Ultras that are lush forests with shaded trails and green vegetation all over.  Besides the tall slender cactus and sparse juniper, there wasn't much growth above my head to provide shade.  These open and exposed vistas are certainly alluring in its own way however.  But there was a sense of loneliness in the desert during the final 26 miles when I didn't see any other runner.

    The early pace was fast!  I knew it would be this way - and there is probably no getting around having a much slower second 50K than first, but my splits were alarmingly opposite.  Charlie Ware, who didn't pass me until around mile 34 ended up getting second place - his strong second half of the race was still much slower than our first half, but he executed the smart race that I had hoped to and battled tough during those hot and hilly middle miles.  And Sage Canaday was just on a different playing field winning the race by almost 50 minutes and setting the Black Canyon 100K course record by over 40 minutes!  Huge congrats to those two as they now make their way to Western States 100!  Anyone who managed to stay strong and finish on this grueling day deserves mad props!
    Some sections of the Black Canyon Trail were rocky like this!
    THANKS!
     I really appreciate all the support from back home and the friends and family that follow my ultra running adventures.  This was the longest I'd been away from home without baby Fern so it was tough not seeing her or Bobbi for 5 days.  They are constant sources of motivation in race.  I had a good time hanging out with Virginia/Ohio compadre Rudy Rutemiller and meeting his friend Dylan from Flagstaff.  We all stayed in a hotel together along with Ezra Becker from the Bay Area.  Rudy, Ezra, and I all finished the race which was a nice accomplishment and Dylan crewed and paced with Rudy the last 12 miles.  Their Bay Area running community vibe is infectious and something I look forward to seeing more of in SE Ohio!

    This was a super well organized and directed race by Aravaipa Running and Jamil Coury and his crew.  I've been wanting to run one of their races for a long time.  The trail running community really shows at the aid stations and post-race festivities.  Some of the best aid stations I've experienced!  With the hotter than expected temperatures they were on top of getting water and ice to runners, and did great getting my bandanna filled with ice at each station.  Amazing organization and I'd recommend their races to anyone.

    And thanks to my sponsors UGo Bars, Swiftwick Socks, SOS! Rehydrate, Julbo and Honey Stinger for supplying products and support that directly help me get through a race like this and the training leading up and recovery after.  Having these brands along make the preparation much easier and allows me to just focus on giving it my best during the race!

    NEXT
    I am currently registered for the Georgia Death Race 68 Mile on March 19, which is another Western States Golden Ticket race.  A big part of me wants to stop holding Western States up so high as a goal and just go off and run other races and wait for the lottery to get in, but the allure of participating in the most historic 100 miler has me pulled in.  So I will be toeing the line in Georgia looking for a top 2 finish - a race that I finished 2nd in last year when it was not a Golden Ticket race!  I will try to repeat and build on a strong race from last year.

    I was also selected in the Cascade Crest 100 Mile that will be August 27.  I really look forward to seeing this course and region.  The Cascade Crest course seems to be my type of course!

    Happy Trails
     

    A highlight video by Aravaipa Running:

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  • 02/22/16--09:30: U.S. Olympic 100 Mile Trials

  • With the Olympic Marathon Trials happening a couple Saturdays ago I couldn't help but dream about what a 100 Mile Trail Race would look like as an Olympic sport, and subsequently having a U.S. Olympic 100 Mile Trials event that selected the 3 males and females to represent America at the Olympics.  This idea will probably never happen in our lifetime, but it is fun to think about what a 100 mile event would look like at the Olympics.  I just don't think there is enough countries represented in ultra marathon and 100 mile distances to warrant it as an Olympic sport.  The sport is growing however, so who knows, maybe an ultra marathon at the Olympics will happen someday.  

    I also remember in 2011 when Geoff Roes started a discussion about "The Championship Race."  It is kind of funny going back and reading his post and the comments on it, as ultra running has grown so much and taken on new structures and ideals in the past 5 years.  But as Geoff called for in 2011, "a true championship race in American Ultrarunning,"we have still not seen it.  Races such as the Ultra Race of Champions (UROC) and Run Rabbit Run 100 have started since then offering higher prize money and attempting to attract "championship" caliber fields, and while organizations such as the US Skyrunner Series and USATF Championship Races create a "championship" feel at their races, there is still no "true championship" race in American Ultrarunning.  In my opinion, traditional ultramarathons like Western States 100, Lake Sonoma 50, and The North Face 50 Mile EC have all been the most competitive fields for American Ultrarunners.  This article and graph from UltraRunning even confirms what the most competitive races were in 2015.

    UltraRunnings findings for most competitive races in 2015.
    The fact is that there is no one race per year (or every four years like the Marathon Trials) where ALL of the top ultra runners in America show up to compete for something worthwhile.

    I am not saying we need to have this type of event.  The argument of whether an elite race like this is good or bad for our sport has long been overplayed in past discussions, but for the sake of imagining a bid for running in the Olympics in a 100 Mile Trail Race, we need to have such a race.

    Most individual sports (golf, tennis, running, etc.) have events where ALL of the top athletes in that sport are competing.  Golf and tennis have the four majors, running has the major marathons and Olympics every four years.  In ultra running, when was the last time all of the top 10 vote-getters for Ultra Runner of the Year raced in the same event?  I'd venture to say never!  It is probably rare to even have more than 3-4 of the top 10 vote-getters at the same race, except for maybe one or two of the races from the chart above.

    If the Olympics had a 100 Mile Trail Race event, then ALL of the top American Ultrarunners would toe the line in the same race at the same time every 4 years at the U.S. Olympic 100 Mile Trials.

    This is exactly the case of the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials.  Throughout the 4 years between marathon trials events, each major marathon sees a dozen or more elite American men and women per race, but it isn't until the Olympic Marathon Trials that ALL of the top American men and women compete against each other.  If there was a 100 mile race with the same incentive of making the Olympic team, I would argue that we would see the same thing every 4 years in ultra running.  Could you imagine!?

    QUALIFYING METHOD
    The Marathon Trials has a simple method of time standards for runners to achieve in order to qualify for the Olympic Trials.  100 Mile Ultra Trail Races cannot use this method because of the variability in terrain at different races.  So, there needs to be some sort of method to select the runners who would compete in the U.S. Olympic 100 Mile Trials.  This method would need to be worked out, but it may be based on wins and placement in selected races, your ranking by one of the established ranking systems, or application/resume based.  I think placement at a selected list of races over the course of 2-3 years would fill the team well (like top 10 of certain races qualify, etc.).  

    SELECTION METHOD
    Having one race on one day to select the top 3 males and females to represent America makes for such a compelling story.  Even ultrarunners were watching the marathon trials a couple weeks ago!  This makes for a dramatic way to select a team, but really, it is the fairest, least-ambiguous way to send a team to the Olympics.  The U.S. Olympic 100 Mile Trials would need to have the same selection method in order to get ALL the top ultra runners in one race.  Sure, some runners would be injured and some would have a bad day, but that all adds to the drama of a "championship."

    TIME FRAME
    Just like in the marathon, the 100 Mile Trials would need to take place every four years.  If the Olympics are in the summer of 2020 per-se, then the 100 Mile Trials would need to fall sometime before that date giving qualifiers plenty of time to recover and train for the Olympics.  The Marathon Trials are in January so I would guess 100 milers would need even more time to recover, plan, and train for the Olympics.  Maybe a date in September or October of the year before the Olympics is when this 100 Mile Trials should be.

    LOCATION & COURSE
    The location of the U.S. Olympic 100 Mile Trials would need to alternate every four years.  It could either be bid on from current events like how the Marathon Trials is or Local Organizing Committee's (LOC's) could form to create an entirely new race every four years.  This might be the best option since the 100 Mile Trials course would need to mimic the Olympics location.  For instance, the 2020 Summer Olympics are in Tokyo so the U.S. Olympic 100 Mile Trials would need to be similar to the 100 Mile Course in Japan, which would already be plotted out by the actual Olympic Organizing Committee.  The terrain, elevation, etc. would all need to as closely as possible match the Olympic site.  This is all assuming a typical trail 100 mile, with singletrack trail, runnable terrain, and variable elevation changes.  This 100 mile race would not be on a road or track.  

    LOCAL ORGANIZING COMMITTEE'S 
    Imagine an all-star line-up of reputable race directors getting together to plan and put a bid in for a U.S. Olympic 100 Mile Trials hosting right.  There may for 2-4 LOC's from different regions of the country making a compelling case to hold the 100 Mile Trials at their location.  This competitive bidding process would bring out the best course, planning, and logistics and ultimately be the best operated 100 mile around.

    KEEPING THE SPIRIT OF ULTRA RUNNING
    Ultra running is know for its community and ability to put the most elite men and women in the exact same race as those runners not competing for top places.  This is one aspect of the sport that needs to remain in tact even if a U.S. Olympic 100 Mile Trials takes place.  To do this, it could be structured just as the Marathon Trials are, by having the elite race on one day and the "pedestrian" race on the day after.  This structure would encourage more spectators at the 100 Mile Trials and then allow those spectators to run the exact same course the next day.  I think this would really keep in line with the community and spirit of the sport.

    This is a fun dream, isn't it?  Who wouldn't want to see Rob Krar, Timothy Olsen, David Laney, Sage Canaday, Dakota Jones, Seth Swansen, Dylan Bowman, Jeff Browning, Ian Sharman, Jason Schlarb Hal Koerner, Mike Wolfe, Alex Varner, Zach Miller, Max King, Jorge Maravilla, Mike Wardian, Scott Jurek, Anton Krupicka, Mike Foote, Nick Clark, Yassine Diboun and the 100 or more top American men as well as Madga Boulet, Stephanie Howe, Rory Bosio, Kaci Lickteig, Larissa Dannis, Krissy Moehl, Nikki Kimball, Michell Yates, Darcy Piceu, Aliza Lapierre, Cassie Scallon, Denise Bourassa,Sally Mcrae, Meghan Abogast, Pam Smith, Caroline Boller, Jodee Moore, Joelle Vaught, Amy Sproston, Pam Reed and the 100 or more top American women ALL compete in the same race!?

    Comment below and discuss!

    Happy Trails [and Trials]

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  • 4th Place - 13:09:44
  • Strava Data (Garmin Forerunner 310xt)
  • Photo's by WeRunHuntsville

  • Last year I ran the Georgia Death Race on a reversed course that made the race much easier.  This year the course was switched to its original direction, plus an extra 5 miles of harder, technical trail was added near the end.  In 2015 the young and quiet Andrew Miller slowly pulled away from me over the last 25 miles of the race; I still ran a solid race though in 10.5 hours.  With the harder course this year everyone's time was much slower, and it took me nearly 2 hours and 40 minutes longer!  The young kid though, still under 20 years old, didn't miss a beat and instead of letting me hang around for 40 miles, he blew the race right open 5 miles in.  I never saw him again and he repeated as champion earning a Golden Ticket along the way.

    The race now, meant going after that coveted second and last Golden Ticket, which in my estimate, at least over a dozen guys were vying for, me being one of them.  Second place stayed closer longer, but around 10 miles the less-than-one-year-old ultra runner, Caleb Denton, made the pack look slow on a steep North Georgia Mountain downhill.  After Caleb left us, the East-coast veteran and UROY Top 10er Brian Rusieki, Hokie Ultra Runner Darren Thomas, and myself ran 3-5 for a long time.  We chatted and had a good time catching up since we are all familiar with the east coast and Central Virginia ultra scene.  I ran about 60 miles with Brian at the 2014 Grindstone 100 before he pulled away and beat me by 25 minutes, so I knew he was a very strong contender here.       
    Still early, still with Brian and Darren.  Photo by WeRunHuntsville.
    Running down into the Skeenah Gap AS (mile 21.5), the only out and back segment of the point-to-point course, we were able to see how far Andrew and Caleb were ahead of us.  I estimated that we were 12 minutes from Andrew and 6 minutes from Caleb.  While it sounds like a lot, 12 minutes was hardly anything to get overly worried about on a course like this one-third of the way through.  I was still feeling super-chill and knew exactly what was in front of us.

    Last year the easy part of the course was at the beginning.  This consisted of about 30 miles of gravel/dirt fire roads of long ascents and long descents; I thrived on it, cranking sub-7 miles.  This year these sections were at the end of the race - my thought for race planning was to conserve energy and do some work on the fire roads in the last 30 miles of the course.  I knew if I still had some legs no one in the race could out run me.  As much as I pride myself on challenging, steep, technical mountain trails, the fact is that my raw speed is what I am best at in this point of my career.

    In the next section Darren stepped to the side of the trail to take a leak and I figured he would come back pretty soon but I never saw him again.  I later learned that he messed up his achilles shortly after and had to drop at mile 47.  Now it was just Brian and I for a long while.  When I saw my crew for the first time at the Point Bravo AS (mile 28) I was still feeling fresh in 3-4 place with Brian.  As we were leaving the aid station together we saw another runner come in who we had seen earlier on the out and back section.  He looked good and had made up a lot of ground in the last 7 miles.
    Still running uphills at this point, but soon to hit it.  Photo by WeRunHuntsville.
    Brian and I worked together in the next section but the new runner quickly caught up to us and passed.  Brian was in front and didn't seem to want to go with him and I was still feeling good so I went with him on the quick downhill.  I soon caught up and learned his name was Dominick Layfield from Park City, Utah.  We chatted a bit and it was apparent that we were feeling about the same, running pretty quickly on the downs and flats and power-hiking most steep uphills.  Progress reports were sparse on the top two runners so I was still happy with being in 3-4 place and still moving pretty steadily along the trail.  It wasn't until Dominick pulled away from me a couple miles before the Long Creek AS (mile 41) that I hit a abrupt low point.

    Low points always come.  Some more abrupt than others, some less low.  This one that hit was bad.  Like, things were going well and then I was going to drop out at the next aid station, if I ever reached it.  I sat down for about 30 seconds when I arrived to Long Creek AS.  I drank some ginger ale and mountain dew.  I still had 7 miles to Winding Stair where my crew would be.  The funny thing is that this is when the fire gravel/dirt roads started - the exact point of the race that I was looking forward to reaching so I could start to make up ground on the top 2!  I guess the age old realization that nothing ever goes to plan in an ultra is the truth.
    baby Fern checking on me.
    An avocado was about the only thing that sounded okay.
    I ran okay downhill but then had a 2.5 mile uphill into Winding Stair AS (mile 47) to see my crew.  I was in a horrible mood as I slowly walked up a runnable grade.  I was beating myself up about letting the thought of dropping out in my head.  When I finally reached the aid station Bobbi was there with baby Fern and my sister Becca.  I immediately sat down on the blanket - I just wanted to take my shoes off.  The aid station workers were great trying to get me fixed up but I couldn't even think about eating - eating was long in the past.  It was all ginger ale and mountain dew and the occasional potato chip at this point.  As I sat there on the blanket I told Bobbi that she needed to convince me not to drop out.  The conversation went something like this:
    Me: "You need to really talk me out of dropping out right now."
    Bobbi: "You can't drop out, you're doing great, you're in 4th place!"
    Me: "I don't feel like it..... I'm tired of running."
    Bobbi: "Tomorrow you will regret it if you drop out."
    Me: "It doesn't matter.  Why would it matter to me if I drop?... it's just a race."
    Bobbi: "Well you'll be a grump to be around and I don't want to drive all the way back to Ohio with you if you're going to be a grump."
    Me: "................."

    That was about the end of that conversation.  I guess she convinced me because I started putting a new pair of shoes on and finishing my third mug of ginger ale.  I stood up and meandered over to the aid station table.  The ladies there were great, but I still couldn't eat anything, just drink sugar.  All in all I took 11 minutes at Winding Stair before finally moving on.  I hugged Bobbi and Fern and started running.  No real chance to drop out now.

    After leaving Winding Stair AS there was a steep 3 mile down hill that I knew was coming - I decided to push hard on this section in attempts to wake my legs up and start rolling.  This amazingly produced 6:33, 6:22, and 6:59 miles from 48-50.  Unfortunately this didn't last forever but I was at least making relentless forward progress.  Out of Jake Bull AS (mile 53) I relished a couple miles of faster road miles before starting the long climb up Nimblewell Gap.  I remember this section from last year when it was still early in the race going the opposite direction downhill; I ran 4 consecutive 6:30's miles.  This year it literally took over twice the amount of time going uphill as I struggled to maintain 15 minute hiking pace.  I probably only managed to squeak out 3/4 a mile of running over the 4 mile hill.  It dragged on and on until I watched the sun start to fade.
    Photo by WeRunHuntsville.
    One of the only good things about taking much longer than planned for this years GDR was seeing the sun set over the distant mountains - it was beautiful.  The rugged North Georgia Mountains are no-joke.  They test your will, your mental and physical abilities.  I always feel better for going through it.  Whether it takes 10.5 hours to traverse through the mountains, or 13 hours to cover the same ground, I always feel better.  Being up on the ridge as the sun set, I was content.  The race didn't end like I hoped, but I had 7 miles to finish and knew I was okay.  I was just in the mountains doing what I love to do - I set out on these journey's knowing exactly what could happen, and what likely would happen.  It feels really good to be able to do that, no matter what the outcome is.  I wasn't going to Western States, not this year, but it didn't really matter - I had a beautiful daughter and a wife that convinces me to do the right thing when things get rough waiting for me at the finish line.  And on that note the sun dipped below the horizon a final time, I turned to face downhill, flicked on my headlamp, and started to run.

    MO


    Always relaxing at the beginning to catch up but soon turned to all-business.  Photo by WeRunHuntsville.
    Photo by WeRunHuntsville.
    Photo by WeRunHuntsville.
    Trying to grind 60 miles in.  Photo by WeRunHuntsville.

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    The Mohican 100 Mile Trail Run was my staple 100 mile race last summer and once I didn't gain entry into Western States 100 this year I set my sites on Mohican again.  Having won the race last year I wanted to go back to see if I could defend my title and run a faster time.  Last year the course was super muddy, so I wanted to see how different the course ran on a dry year, and as the race approached we had a long dry spell in Ohio so it was prime for fast trail running.  Mohican is a fairly low-key 100 miler (despite being one of the oldest ultras in North America), so I never felt like I had a target on my back or any pressure to perform.  I knew the only way to run well again was by focusing on my own race and executing the plan and paces I laid out.

    Photo by Butch Phillips
    Loop 1
    The race started out in the Mohican Campground and a large pack of runners soon found the solace of the singletrack.  Last year I immediately found myself in second place but this year I stepped back a bit and posited myself well behind a pack of leaders.  One aspect I focused on were my splits from last year.  Even though 2015 was such a muddy year I still managed to break the CR on the current course (altered in 2006 to have less road), so I knew what I was working with.  Although there is always a chance that someone would run lights out and break away early in the race, I was pretty confident the race wouldn't start until the second half.  

    We rolled into the first aid station at Gorge at the same time I ran that section last year, except this year there was at least 6 guys ahead of me.  This was fine by me at this point - my goal was to tone it back some on the first lap becauase last year I was too fast and paid for it on the second lap.  So the goal was to be steady the first lap and keep the second lap more consistent opposed to last years huge positive split.  

    After spending a few minutes in the woods for a pit stop, I found myself just outside of the top ten twelve miles into the race.  Soon though I began passing people and moved up into the top 4, and shortly after Covered Bridge (mile 15) I hooked up with Andrew Snope and Ron Wireman and at the next aid station I found out the person who we thought was leading the race must have stopped, or got lost, so we were now commanding the lead.  At this point I was still in cruise control and was glad to see the time-split was 10 minutes slower than last year as Ron and I ran into Mohican CG aid station to complete our first 27.3 mile loop.  Having a slower first lap, I was hoping, would set me up better for the rest of the day.

    Loop 2
    I can't remember where I lost Ron but soon I was alone in first place, and at this time felt like I was rolling along pretty well.  My times compared to last year were starting to get faster on the second loop, so I was executing just like I wanted to.  Even though I felt like I was in the driver's seat, running down the dam at Pleasant Hill Harvey Lewis caught up to me.  I had only realized Harvey was in the race at the starting line but definitely know how strong of a runner he could be.  Harvey won the iconic Badwater 135 in 2014.  That along with his list of other accomplishments had me on edge when he pulled up to me.

    I latched on to Harvey after this moment to finish out the second loop but from miles 45-54 I could get the sense that Harvey was feeling much better than me.  The temperature had risen a lot since the morning miles and I erroneously failed to grab a second bottle from my crew at the previous aid station so I ran low on water for two long segments.  I spent a lot of time in the Mohican CG aid station at mile 54.6 to make sure I was staying cool and hydrated.  I was about 22 minutes faster to this point compared to the previous year, so my first two long laps were much more consistent this time, but I was feeling the heat, both from the weather and from Harvey.  As I continued to take my time in the aid station, Harvey was quickly out with his pacer.
    Loop 3
    There is almost always bound to be low moments in a 100 mile race - sometimes they last for 2 hours, other times they may be shorter low moments but more frequent - this was the moment for me.  From near 52 miles, before completing loop 2, until mile 62 was the low moment that I have come to expect.  I think keeping an in-the-moment perspective in low moments can really benefit when trying to rebound and come out of it to regain momentum.  There is a tipping point - it's the moment in a race where you've committed to going for it, numbing the pain, when all discomfort morphs into your sanctuary.

    I walked the majority of miles 54.5-62.  The section from Mohican CG to the Gorge Overlook was over 10 minutes slower than on the first two laps, and when I picked up my pacer, Robert Wayner, at mile 58, I was only briefly able to snap out of it before spiraling into a fit of walking.  When I rolled into Fire Tower at 62 I was on fumes - I half jokingly told Bobbi that I was not having fun - but at this point I knew deep down that I had crested the tipping point.  I was golden.  I just needed to get up and start running again.  Word at the aid station was that I was 12-15 minutes behind Harvey, meaning he put over 1:30 per mile on me in 8 miles.

    Before leaving the Fire Tower aid station I sat down and changed shoes.  It was a short sit-down break, long enough to change shoes and drink and eat some more.  When I got up, I headed into the woods with Robert to cut across the short loop and down to Covered Bridge.  This section was mostly downhill so I decided to push it hard to see if I could get the wheels spinning.  Luckily they came back to life, and in that section I regained the confidence to go for first place.
    Loop 3, falling behind, changing my shoes to try to break out of the funk.
    It was nice having Robert there to pace.  Just like last year with pacer Nick Reed, having someone to simply have small talk with helps eat away at the miles - before too long we had made it to the Hickory Ridge aid station at mile 71 and I was told I was still 10 minutes behind Harvey.  Since I had only gained a couple minutes on Harvey in the previous 8 miles I relegated myself to continue pushing hard, but believing if I were to catch up to him, it would probably be late in the race.  At that point I was feeling really good coming out of Hickory and began to drop the pace.

    I am not sure if I was moving along the trail really fast, or if Harvey was having a low patch in the next section but about 3 miles before the completion of loop 3 Robert and I were simply chatting as we ran along the trail and suddenly I spotted Harvey around a bend in the trail ahead.  I was literally shocked.  I was feeling good and hoping I was gaining, but I never imagined I would catch him so early, especially if the AS workers at the last stop were accurate about me being 10 minutes behind.

    My first reaction when spotting Harvey was to do what I did last year - sit and wait. This was almost déjà vu at this section of the race last year, where I finally caught Nate Polaske to move into first place.  I spotted Nate at around mile 70 and eased up for several miles so I could wait for a good moment to move into first place, which wasn't until mile 77. When I saw Harvey it was around mile 74, and I started having flashbacks of last years battle with Nate. This time I knew I needed to capitalize on how I was feeling in the moment, so I whispered to Robert that I was going to go by Harvey, and do it with authority.

    I didn't need to change gears to get around Harvey, but a true testament to his grit is that he latched on and moved with Robert and I.  This is when "racing" a 100 miler becomes "racing." At this point, 75 miles into the race, we were moving faster than we had all day.  I started running harder and harder, pushing the short little rollers that I had walked on the previous lap as we came into the Mohican CG area.  Harvey was hanging tough behind me and I had doubts that my race tactic was backfiring, and that I was going to bonk from this hard effort, but I had committed to breaking away from him so I continued pushing.  After one more uphill and downhill push I glanced back and I couldn't see Harvey anymore.  I was finally in first place alone but continued to push hard.  The mile 77 split from my Strava data shows that my fastest mile of the day came at mile 77 for a 6:56, the mile that I broke away from Harvey.
    All business with Robert in the last lap.
    Loop 4
    The last time my crew saw me I was over 10 minutes behind Harvey and sitting on the ground at the aid station looking pretty beat up - so when I came *sprinting* into the Mohican CG aid station at mile 78 in first place it must have been pretty exciting.  Just like last year I came back from the low of loop 3 and regained strength before the fourth and final loop at Mohican.  I was all business in the aid station and quickly grabbed what I needed.  At this point, Robert, my crew, and I had our aid stations stops pretty well-oiled.  Just before getting to the aid station tables I hand Robert my bottles and he would fill them with ice and water.  In the meantime I grabbed several cups of soda and salty foods while my crew refilled my bandanna with ice and restock my gels and anything else I needed in my pack.  This stop was less than 90 seconds; I wanted to get out and begin my last loop before Harvey came in.

    I was able to get out of the aid station before Harvey saw me.  This was a competitive tactic that I hoped would put some doubt in him thinking that I had gained so much ground in a short period of time.  I knew I still had work to do though, as anything could happen in the last 22 miles of a 100.  Robert took a little break from pacing here so I had about 8 miles by myself before he would rejoin me to the finish - this was the same tactic I used last year, being confident to handle 8 miles alone at this point, and then joining a pacer again would give me another mental boost in the last 14 miles of the race.  I ran virtually every step from Mohican to Gorge Overlook, had another fast and well-fueled aid station exchange, and again ran almost every step from Gorge to Fire Tower at mile 86.  Feeling strong here was so uplifting, as the previous lap I struggled mightily.

    My thoughts here turned into running as much as I could, as I knew the more I ran meant I was either remaining the same or gaining on anyone behind me.  The strength I had on the first 8 miles of the last lap was really encouraging as I hooked up with Robert again to begin the last 14 miles.  There was a lot of positive self-talk going on between Robert and I so the mood remained light and relaxed; I was getting reports that I was over 15 minutes up on Harvey.

    The last 14 miles clicked by fairly quickly.  At this time I was passing 100 milers on their 2nd or 3rd loops and it was great getting encouragement from them.  I felt so in control of myself, mentally, physically, and nutritionally.  When we had to flip the lights on around mile 95 I noted that last year the headlamps were needed around mile 88 - this meant I was much faster than my time from last year.  When it got dark I was still pushing the pace pretty hard, but would cautiously slow down over some of the more technically segments.  I tripped and stumbled once with a few miles to go but mainly felt comfortable maintaining a consistent running pace.

    Coming into the last mile on road is a great feeling.  I remember the overwhelming sense of achievement last year in this finishing stretch.  This time around it was more a sense of validation, as I came back to defend what I did last year, and a validation to myself that I could go faster.  I swung around under the overpass to cross over to the finish area, and clocked in at 16:51:22, running over and hour better than my CR time from last year on the current Mohican course!
    Photo by Butch Phillips.
    I want to thank my crew, as they continue to get me through these ultras.  Bobbi and Becca have become quite the tandem, with Baby Fern there as well providing inspiration.  More of my family is able to come to Mohican and my mom and dad were at every aid station for help.  Once again, I relied heavily on my pacer to help pull me out of low patches - Robert ran 38 miles with me at Mohican, his longest run ever!  Now, he is thinking about doing a 50 miles - how awesome!  The Mohican community is awesome and it's a privilege to be a small part of the long history of this race.  I don't know if I will be back next year, but Mohican will always be a race that is a part of me.

    Finally, I need to give a huge shout out to the running community that is growing and thriving in Southeastern Ohio.  We have a good thing going in Athens, Ohio with community running group Team Run Athens and new specialty running store Ohio Valley Running Company.  I represented OVRC on my singlet, as well as my great sponsors Swiftwick, Ugo Bars, and Cocoa Elite but it is the support of the people in the community that I think about and feel inspired by while running the race.
    Photo by Butch Phillips
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    Photo by Butch Phillips.
    Photo by Butch Phillips.
    Photo by Butch Phillips.


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    Early in the Cascade Crest 100.  Photo by Glenn Techiyama
    My last blog post was a race report from the 2016 Mohican 100 Mile Run - even though I've been absent from the blogosphere I've run another 100 mile race as well as a road marathon that I never found time, or set aside time, to write a race report.  And here recently I completed the historic JFK 50 Mile Run for the first time.

    Before reporting on JFK I'll write a quick synopsis of what I've been doing since the Mohican 100.

    Last year after the Mohican 100 I knew it was a time for a break from running.  I could sense my body breaking down and mentally I was beginning to loose the motivation and drive to compete.  Even though I ran a great 2015 Mohican 100, winning and setting a course record, I told myself during the race that I was going to take an extended time off from running. So last year I didn't run a step in July, August, and much of September.  This time off gave my body a chance to heel and recover from a lot of imbalances as well as give my mind some time off from the daily pressures I placed on myself to train at a high level.  Luckily the time off allowed me to find the joy in running and I came back with a lot of motivation and perspective.

    Since last fall I've found a good balance with running.  Even though I'm busier than ever with being a father, husband, working full-time managing Ohio Valley Running Company, and directing two spring trail races, my motivation and drive for running has been at an all-time high.  A lot of this is attributed to the growing running community in Athens and SE Ohio.  Having the support from OVRC, the runners that regularly come to group runs, and most importantly, the flexibility that my family gives me to train, has a huge impact on me.  This growing community is what it's all about, and it really helps keep everything level while training and racing.
    Before the start of Cascade Crest getting a hug from baby Fern.
    Cascade Crest 100 Mile

    12th Place - 22:15:25
          -Strava Data (watch died at 75mi.)

    After another satisfying Mohican 100 run in June, I geared up for the Cascade Crest 100, a one-loop mountain 100 with over 20,000 feet of elevation gain traversing the Central Cascades in Washington State, just north of Mount Rainier.  This was a race that I gained entry in through the lottery in January, so part of the charm of CCC is the small field of runners, plus the beautiful region and history of the race.  I won't go into an in depth race report like normal but I'll break down my race at CCC here:

    Cascade stripped me to the core.  I've tried to focus on getting out of my comfort zone a couple times a year with mountainous races on terrain that I'm not aptly able to train on in SE Ohio.  The inability to train in the mountains shouldn't limit us in reaching epic places.  Having good races at the Grindstone 100, and two years at the Georgia Death Race at least showed me that I was able to hold my own in the mountains, but those races are in the Appalachia Mountains, terrain I'm much more used too.  Cascade ended up being a new challenge.

    Things went great for 70 miles.  I started conservatively at the beginning running much of the race with Hal Koerner and Gabe Wishnie.  My main focus was easing into the course, adjusting to the big climbs as I moved on, and setting myself up for a strong finish.  This worked out great, as I started around 15th place, moved into the top 10 near the Hyak AS at mile 54, and then after a long uphill to Kecheelus Ridge I bombed a downhill and averaged under 6:30 pace for 5 miles going into the Lake Kachess AS at mile 69.  This strong 20 mile section moved me into 4 place and I was feeling good, especially since I was picking up my pacer Nick Koop.

    Unfortunately for Nick, we didn't do a lot of running after he started pacing.  I traversed the "trail from hell" about as good as I could, still feeling fresh, running from one blowdown tree to the next on the ridge above Lake Kachess.  I was still in 4th place at the Mineral Creek AS at mile 75, but it was the long gravel road climb to No Name Ridge that zapped me.  The feeling came over me very quickly, and I began to regret the 6:30 miles coming off  Kecheelus Ridge.  The next 15 miles were a struggle, and it coincided with the hardest part of the course, "The Needles." This was the first time in an ultramarathon that I needed to lay down on the trail, and I did this several times.  I would just tell Nick I needed a few minutes, turn my headlamp off, and lay down on the ground in order to regroup, only to bounce back up when I became too cold.

    Tired, weak, completely vulnerable on the mountain - this was everything an ultra does to you.  I was passed by a lot of people, and there was nothing I could do about it.  I walked, and paused, and continued walking, even on downhills through all of the needles.  It wasn't until the sun started to rise, and a jolt of encouragement from a first-place Krissy Moehl at mile 95 that I was able to start running again.  Fortunately I was able to finish the last 5 miles running, and finish strong, but I fell back to 12th place, with the winner being the course!  I'm super glad I ran Cascade Crest 100, and loved everything about the race - I came away with some great experiences and memories in the mountains!
    Coming into the finish at the Columbus Marathon.  Photo by John Meadows.
    Columbus Marathon

    8th Place - 2:34:30
          -Strava Data

    After the Cascade Crest 100 I had 7 weeks to recover and gear up for a faster cycle of training for the Columbus Marathon, and then another 5 weeks before the JFK 50 Mile.  My legs surprisingly came back pretty quick after Cascade considering it was my second 100 mile in the summer.  I jumped up in mileage quick and started throwing in faster workouts.  One key workout 2 weeks before the marathon was a 20 mile run, with the first 10 at normal pace on hilly trails, and the second 10 on flat pavement where I started at 6:10 pace and inched by way down to the mid 5:30 and 5:40's before being able to close in 5:07 on the 20th mile.  This workout, and a couple other similar race pace work gave me a lot of confidence going into Columbus.

    I had a mile by mile plan for the Columbus Marathon.  I was running with former Shawnee State teammate Joe Stewart and we wanted to work together for as long as we could running faster splits throughout.  Joe's goal was to get under 2:40:00 and so we set our first half-marathon to be at 1:19:20.  This would put us ahead of his goal and also allow a faster time if we felt good.  6:00's felt really comfortable early on and soon we decided to start running in the 5:50's.  We nailed our first 13.1 miles at exactly 1:19:20 like we had planned.  Once we crossed over to the second half of the course we stayed together for another 5 miles and started to dip into the 5:40's.  Joe dropped off a bit but I pushed on feeling great.

    Running a conservative first half really played a difference in being able to finish hard.  In past marathons I ran aggressive at the beginning and always faded.  This marathon was a complete opposite when it came to pacing.  As the temperature warmed and we made our way into the last 10K of the course I began passing more and more top runners who were noticeably struggling.  I continued to get faster and locked in on 5:30's pace the last 6 miles, and surprisingly moved into 8th place overall at the finish!  2:34:30 earned over a 4 minute negative split from the first half to second.

    The time didn't surprise me as much as being in the top 10 did.  Being a ultra runner, and Columbus being just 7 weeks after my second 100 miler of the summer, I didn't think I'd be able to hang with the top road runners in Ohio.  With this race being the key workout leading up to JFK, I gained a lot of confidence and started to reevaluate how I wanted to race it.      
    Shortly after the Team Ohio Valley Running Company finished JFK.  Photo by Luke Kubacki.
    JFK 50 Mile

    3rd Place -5:56:01
          -Strava Data

    JFK is one of the "must-do" ultramarathons in the United States, with rich history and a big field of runners, it's a race that every ultra runner needs to put on their bucket list and experience.  Being from the Eastern United States, and only a 4.5 hour drive, JFK has definitely been on my radar but due to other races and being later in the year the timing never worked out.  After Cascade Robert Wayner and Mike Cooper, two local runners and training partners, and I started discussing signup up for JFK and making a trip out of it with our families.  After taking a couple weeks easy post-100 in early September I had 10 weeks of training to prepare for a fast 50 miler.

    I knew I had the base to put some good work in before JFK but the biggest challenge would be switching gears from a slow mountain 100 to a flat and fast 50 miler.  10 weeks is a short time to turnaround and switch gears like this but I felt like after a couple easy post-Cascade weeks I was able to focus on some faster specific pace work.  The Columbus Marathon 5 weeks before JFK was the perfect tune-up and workout to see where I was with running fast.  As the race approached a few fast names emerged on the entrant list, including all the hype with Jim Walmsley going for the course record and adding to his stellar year.  This would be a good one!

    Trusting pace and training is crucial in a race like JFK.  Unlike the varied terrain of most trail ultra's, especially in mountains, you can really plot out a race plan with pacing during the different sections of the JFK course.  I poured over the results, splits from previous top runners that are provided on the JFK website, as well as past-runners' Strava splits.  This started to paint a picture for what I wanted my plan to be on race-day.  There were a few ways to go about running JFK.  What to do, attack the first 16 mile trail section and hope you have the legs for the 26.2 miles on flat towpath, or conserve on the trail and then go at the towpath hard?

    One of the biggest things that helps was having a chance to preview the first 20 miles of the course with Mike and Robert.  We drove over four weeks before the race and ran from the start in Boonsboro, MD to Harpers Ferry so we could preview the 16 mile trail section.  This gave us a good idea of what the terrain, uphill, and downhill was like on the hardest part of the course.  The trail section can be pretty rocky in some parts so it was really nice we didn't go into the race blindly.
    Maneuvering the switchbacks at Weverton CLiffs on the Appalachian Trail at mile 15 of the JFK 50 Mile.  Photo by  Paul Encarnacion

    Appalachian Trail Section - First 16 Miles

    The fastest split I could find for the first 16 miles was in 2012 when Max King broke the CR.  Dave
    Riddle and Max both began the towpath around 1:45:00.  Last year Walmsley was under 1:50:00 and I knew he would be going through faster this year.  I didn't want anything to do with being that much under 2:00:00.  When I previewed this section of the course, not running hard by any means, I entered the towpath around 2:15:00.  I knew after that easy effort I could be around 2:00:00 without overtaxing myself so that was the goal.

    When the race started a large pack formed up front.  Walmsley shot off much quicker and literally had 40 seconds on the entire race in the first mile and almost 2 minutes before entering the trail for the first time!  He was flying.  I focused on the rest of the guys and found myself in the back of a long singltrack line in the top 15.  Once we hit the long uphill road section that took us to the highest point of the course I began to pass a few people here and there, and shortly after entering the Appalachian Trail again, I skirted by two more runners and moved into 2nd place.

    Being in second place this early was fine by me.  I had a couple guys right behind me but I would rather be in front seeing the trail ahead of me than behind a few bodies blocking the technical sections.  This position held the same for a long time until Anthony Kunkel ran by me as we started the downhill going into Weverton Cliffs at mile 13.5.  This 2 mile downhill featured 1,000 feet of elevation loss and a lot of switchbacks, and would be the last such downhill, and dirt trail of the day.

    I went roaring through the 15.5 mile aid station at Weverton Cliffs, only a quick bottle swap from my crew, before letting the energy of the people surrounding this location carry me the last half mile down to the towpath.  I was right on pace, arriving on the towpath in 1:59:50, 7:29 per mile pace.
    The best crew member we have, baby Fern, waiting at Weverton Cliffs at the 15.5 mile mark of the JFK 50 Mile.  Photo by Luke Kubacki
    The C&O Canal Trail - 26.2 Miles
    Running the Columbus Marathon five weeks before JFK makes this 26.2 mile section seem much more reasonable.  Pacing is key on the towpath.  There is 26 miles of controlled, level, smooth, crush gravel terrain ahead.  Normally this may be a monotonous task, but having the Potomac River flanking the West side of the towpath, along with being in competition mode made this stretch easier.  Anthony Kunkel was within eyesight when we entered the towpath, maybe 30-40 seconds ahead, and no one was within sight behind me.  I knew I set myself up for a podium finish by hitting exactly what I had planned for the trail section.

    The plan on the towpath was to start conservative near 6:40 pace for the first 5 miles, then drop down to the mid 6:30's for the 5 miles after this.  I thought if I maintained these paces early I could finish the last half of the towpath in the 6:15-6:20 range, running a similar way to the Columbus Marathon, except for about 30-40 seconds per mile slower.  This plan would put me just under 2:50:00 for the 26.2 mile on the towpath, which I felt was super reasonable.

    Unfortunately I deviated from the plan soon after getting onto the towpath.  The first couple of miles were spot on just under 6:40.  Anthony was still in front of me and I was feeling really fresh.  It wasn't long after this I started seeing 6:16, 6:15, 6:18, 6:17, 6:15 on the watch.  I was 25 miles into the race and already jumped down to the mid-6:10's.  This may be inexperience or stubbornness, or just being stupid, but I completely shot my race plan.  At the time it seemed like the right thing to do.  I told myself, "you have to take a risk to get bigger rewards" or "this feels easy, you'll easily be able to maintain this pace."

    Part of that little voice in my head is correct.  Sometimes you have to compete, get out of the comfort zone to make something special happen.  At the time I felt great, and I averaged 6:23 pace from miles 16-34, so if I were to finish that off I would have been 3 minutes under my goal of sub 2:50:00 on this stretch.  Unfortunately I started to feel it near mile 35 and the pace became much harder to maintain.  Having 15 miles to go felt good but I started to realize running 6:20 pace would not be happening anymore.

    During this stretch I was also bouncing back and forth into second and third with Anthony Kunkel.  We were both feeling comfortable at those paces and it ended up being a good battle for a bit.  We both started fading a bit after 35 miles, trying to keep it in the 6:40's but when I started to struggle a bit more in the last 3 miles of the towpath, into the low 7:00's, he pulled away from me and was out of site when we made the hard right-hand turn onto the paved county roads at mile 42.

    At the end of the towpath, even though I didn't hold it together like I hoped I would, I finished the 26.2 mile stretch in 2:54:00. an average pace of 6:38 per mile.
    Mile 38.  Last crew stop, and I told them, "I'm starting to fall apart."
    Rolling County Roads - The Last 8 Miles
    The last 8 miles on gentle rolling county paved roads can be tricky.  I knew about the initial climb up and out of the river valley from the towpath, but depending on how one felt, the last 8 miles could either go really well or really bad.  One person I looked at and wanted to mimic was Dave Riddle and his race splits from his "then" record-setting run in 2011.  His first 16 miles were nothing special at 1:55:00, and his 26.2 miles on the towpath that year was 2:53:00, just one minute faster than mine.  What he did great in 2011 was close the road section in about 53:00!  This put him at 5:40:00, but very easily could have been 5:50:00 if he had run what most people run.

    For me, the wheels were already falling off before entering the road.  Anthony had put a gap on me to where I couldn't see him, even on straights, but I kept pushing and thought I could still break an hour for the finishing stretch and I would have been happy with it.  All 8 miles were a struggle.  It's not that I was struggling running 7:30 pace - luckily stepping back into that zone was easy, but I wanted to push and it seemed like anytime I'd get down to 7:00 pace I would tighten up.  I did what I could, looked over my shoulder a couple times, and even peered as far up the road as I could for Anthony showing any signs of weakness (or even Jim Walmsley ;).), but he never came back to me.  Fortunately a hard-charging Mike Wardian was just enough behind me that I didn't see him when I looked back.

    My road section time, which is about 8.4 miles. was 1:02:23, an average pace of 7:25 per mile.

    When it was all said and done I ran 5:56:01, good for third place 34 minutes behind new JFK record holder Jim Walmsley and four minutes behind Anthony Kunkel who ran a strong last 10 miles.  Iron Mike Wardian came in just three minutes behind in fourth place.
    Just after finishing the JFK 50 Mile, embracing baby Fern!  Photo by Luke Kubacki.
    JFK Reflection
    Looking back on the race I am honored to have joined the list of 33 runners who have broken 6 hours in the 54 year history of the JFK 50 Mile, as well as being the 22nd fastest runner in race history.  Events that are draped in history, with stories and memories from the many years before, are really important to me, and to be able to be a part of that means a lot.  It was also really cool to be in the race that Jim Walmsley arguably ran the single-best American ultra race in history.  It will take some time to see if his performance is held up as the best performance in ultra history, but I think it at least ranks up there as one of the best, and will add to his legendary 2016 year.

    Still, I can't help but think that I left 5-10 minutes out there.  Who knows what would have happened if I stuck to my original pace plan on the towpath, but I would have liked to have found out if it meant I would have felt better during the last 8 miles.  My thought is even if I would have ran the same exact time on the 26.2 mile towpath, but starting out slower and easing into a faster pace, I would have run onto the road with momentum instead of just holing on.  Regardless, it makes me hungry for more at JFK and I really hope to be back soon!
    Top 10 men.  Photo from Mike Wardian.
    Thank you!
    I can't think my family enough for the support during training and at the race.  Bobbi and Fern were troopers as I often came home after dark when I needed a couple hours after a 8-hour workday to get the mileage in.  I averaged close to 100 miles/week in the 7 weeks leading up to JFK, so that's a 12-16 hour time commitment each week.

    My crew support was off the charts!  Having Robert and Mike along for the trip meant having three crews at each stop!  Fern had Robert and Ali's two kids to play with on the weekend, and Athens friend Luke Kubacki traveled with us for his first ultra crew experience and he was a huge help, including providing some great photographs that we'll be able to cherish forever.  Thanks Luke!  As always, my sister was along as part of the crew, and solidifying her role as an experienced ultra crew leader.

    Also a big congrats goes out to two good friends and OVRC runners Mike Cooper and Robert Wayner.  Mike just started running about 3 years ago and progressed all the way to finishing 13th at JFK and sub 6:40.  This was Robert's first ultra marathon and ran an incredible debut with a 17th place sub 6:50 finish!  Team Ohio Valley Running Company was second place overall in the Male Team category, behind only a team assembled with Walmsley, Wardian, and Koerner -- but we were the first "real" team, with runners from the same city!  

    My biggest sponsor is Ohio Valley Running Company, new running specialty store in Athens, Ohio, and where I manage day-to-day.  Owners Jonathan Bernard and Ariana Davies area gracious enough to think that supporting me will help grow the brand of running in SE Ohio!  I strive to represent the brand well, and also represent the growing running community in Athens and SE Ohio. #OVRC #RunAthensOH

    Swiftwick socks have been with me for three years and on my feet for four years in every single ultramarathon I've run and probably almost every single run I've completed in that time.  It's a brand and sock that I trust almost more than anything when it comes to my race day kit.  UGo Bars, Julbo Singlasses, and Cocoa Elite are brands that have supported my ultra journey with quality products and gear.  Their help is much appreciated - if you want to learn more about any of these companies, click their logo on the right side of this page.
    It's the Walmsley show, get in line!  All photo's below by Luke Kubacki.
    The Crew!
    On the podium with Race Director Mike Spinnler.
    Watching their dads run.

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    2017 Promise Land 50K++

    Results - 4:31:16
         Strava Data

    The Promise Land 50K++ has been a staple race on the east coast for many runners over the past 17 years.  Race Director David Horton, and the entire trail and ultra community that's been built in Central Virginia, has created a race that offers a beautiful course and a low-key but yet inclusive pre- and post-race atmosphere.  Like many races in the Lynchburg, VA area many of the runners will elect to camp at the start/finish area giving the race a close-knit feeling that makes ultra running special.

    My first experience at Promise Land, which is 3 miles longer than an actual 50K, was in 2012 as a spectator.  That was the year Eric Grossman set the course record, coming from behind and passing a young Kalib Wilkinson in the last 6 miles, and dipping under Clark Zealand's course record from 2002.  This was a major goal for Grossman and he had come up short of the course record several times in previous years.  I still remember the emotion Grossman displayed after finishing the race that year, breaking down in tears of a mixture of exhaustion and accomplishment.

    Since that year of spectating I've wanted to run Promise Land and experience the course, atmosphere, and challenge of the competition.  From the time I lived in Virginia for a bit I had been on every section of the course on training runs a time or two.  Seeing Grossman's performance was inspiring to me; Grossman was a huge influence in my ultra running beginnings and was one of the first mentors I had when starting to dabble into long trail running.  I wanted to go for his course record, and use it as a tribute to the positive influence Grossman has had in my life.      

    An early wake up announcement from Horton on the bullhorn got the camping field buzzing as people emerged from their tents or RV for the 5:30am start time.  I've camped at races many times but for Promise Land my wife and I both were running the race, and our 2 year old daughter slept between us in our 2-person tent.  Grossman wrote about his fitful night of sleep in his campervan with his then 2 year old daughter in his 2012 race report.  Fortunately for my wife and I our daughter slept brilliantly and we got a full nights sleep (as much as that is for a 5:30am start).  Big props to my sister for watching Fern during the day and even toting her around the course!

    The race starts on a 4 mile gravel forest road gaining over 2,000 feet until it reaches the first trail.  It was cool and dim but the forecast was calling for a very warm day.  After the race Horton said this was the second hottest Promise Land in the 17 years but this year might have been harder because of higher humidity.  I had a close eye on Grossman's CR splits and was content letting one runner go ahead, out of sight, and settle in behind a few others.  Once we entered the trail Sam Chaney, who was making his ultra debut, and I settled into 2-3 together.  We ran the grassy road into the Reed Creek AS at mile 9.7 where we finally saw the first place runner.  Sam and I were quick in and quick out and moved into 1-2.

    At this point in the race I was happy with my own effort and position in the race, but I was already 6 minutes slower than Grossman's CR pace.  I knew I wanted to go out a bit conservative and gain ground on his ghost later in the race but being 6 minutes back really showed me how hard he pushed from the gun.  Heading across the ridge to Sunset Fields at mile 13.7 Sam opened a gap during a gravel downhill.  The section after Sunset was a steep, sometimes technical, downhill for 4 miles.  I felt good flowing down the singletrack and was able to catch up to Sam and we ran into Cornelius Creek AS at mile 17.8 together.

    Grossman's Ghost:  2:10:00;  Me:  2:18:00

    After Cornelius Creek Sam and I crushed a few low 6 minute miles on a gravel forest road before entering "The Dark Side." I knew this section of the course could be a deciding point in the race; The Dark Side isn't the hilliest or most technical section of the course, but it's remoteness and closed in feeling can really press on you.  Colon Hollow AS is mile 20.8 and the most remote point of the course.  Leading into this aid station Sam and I were still running together but I began to feel stronger on the uphills compared to earlier in the race.  After leaving Colon Hollow I pushed ahead and began to open a gap into first place.

    Grossman's Ghost:  2:30:00;  Me:  2:41:19
    The ultimate experience in running is when you morph into a flow like state and are able to see yourself from a "birds eye view." Around mile 22 I started to really feel that flow.  Even though I had only run these trails once or twice before, and 5 years ago, I had deja vu moments where I was remembering the terrain and distinct physical features of the trail.  This flow state carried into one section of the course I was looking forward to the most, Apple Orchard Falls.  Apple Orchard Galls is a 2,000 foot climb over 2.9 miles that starts at mile 26, meandering in and out of the falls on rocky technical trail that includes wooden steps and scenic vistas.

    I was still 10 minutes behind Grossman's Ghost heading into the big climb, and knew based on his splits that this was the section I could gain some ground.  I figured the course record was out of reach at this point but knew if I kept pushing hard up the climb and tried to make up some of that time it would take a lot of effort for anyone behind me to catch up.  Fortunately I had the legs to grind up the falls and only needed to walk on a couple of the steep wooden steps.  When I reached Sunset Fields at mile 29 with 5 miles remaining I had gained a few minutes on my CR deficit but was still 7 minutes back.  The last 5 miles are all downhill, getting to run down the same gravel road that the race starts up.  After a few 5:30 miles I came into the Promise Land, 5 minutes slow than Grossman's CR Ghost, but in first place and given it a solid effort. 
    After finishing I got to hang out with my daughter at the Promise Land camp, soak in the creak, and clean up while we waited on Bobbi to finish.  She did great coming in under eight hours.  It was awesome seeing her put in a lot of hard work, running early in the morning before work and still being a great wife and mother.  This was her third 50K, second in the two years after having Fern, and the hardest course she has run.  We stuck around until all the finishers had come in before tearing down our camp, capping off a fun weekend in the mountains.  

    Promise Land 50K++ is a special race.  The beautiful course that presents a lot of difference variables for the runner, the classic ultra and Horton atmosphere, and all the participants and volunteers make this a true gem.  I didn't quite reach my "A" goal but I am really happy with the outcome and that I was able to push hard while feeling good and giving the course record an attempt.  Maybe next year I can go back and try it again!

    Happy Trails

    2017 Athens Ohio Marathon: 50th Year

    Results - 2:38:28
         Strava Data

    Two weeks before Promise Land I toed the line at the 50th consecutive running of the Athens Ohio Marathon.  This hometown race is the longest consecutive run marathon in Ohio, and I didn't want to pass up the opportunity to run this anniversary run.  I've been on the event planning committee for for several years and wanted to be a part of the local running growth in Athens.  Plus, the race served nicely as a training race leading into Promise Land and summer races.

    The main goal was to run with Mike Cooper for the first half and help him set a marathon PR.  Mike has been a great addition to the running community.  He started running for the first time at age 32 and in just three years ran his first 100 miler and has become one of the strongest ultra trail runners in our region.  His previous marathon PR was 2:52:xx and I'm happy to report that he ran 2:47:xx for 2nd place.

    I ran with Mike for the first 14 miles before starting to drop the pace.  My legs responded nicely and I was able to move into the 5:40-5:50 range, with some 5:30's near the end, after running the first half between 6:00-6:10.  It's always nice to feel good at the end of a marathon and to win in front of a hometown running community.  I really enjoyed seeing my friends and people I've met at Ohio Valley Running Company on the return side of the out and back course.

    If you're looking for a spring full or half marathon with around 1,000 runners I suggest checking out Athens.  The course is FAST, FLAT, and scenic as it runs in the Hocking River Valley along the Hockhocking Adena Bikeway after starting in beautiful Uptown Athens.  It's a great event.

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