Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Promise Land 2009, MMT long training runs are done.

Like Bull Run Run, this was my 3rd time running Promise Land.  And like Bull Run, it is one that I hope to return to again and again.  A Horton event, Promise Land measures at a bit more than a 50K (34.3 miles on my watch).  Held in the end of April, the red buds are always blooming, and the tree are just beginning to really green.  PL is arguably one of the most scenic ultras in the area, and while I had considered not going after a hard effort at BRR last weekend, I decided I'd be more comfortable with one more last long run before MMT.   I was surprisingly not sore after BRR, and PL has a couple of good quad-trashing downhills.  The course features a few good climbs and descents; the website claims about 8000 feet of elevation gain over the 34 miles (and the same in descent). 

The forecast was for upper 80s or low 90s and the weather didn't disappoint.  What started out as a warm day, just continued to get warmer.  Many runners camp in the field that is by the race start/finish, and this year we decided to camp too.  It made for a really easy morning, as the run starts at 5:30, which means an early morning regardless of where you're coming from.  I was chilly when I went to bed, but was surprised to wake up to temps that were already about 10-15 degress or so warmer than the night before..  I actually didn't mind the heat until the final climb up Apple Orchard Falls, where it started to feel a bit steamy.  

For me, I have 2 favorite sections of the course.  The first is the first big downhill/rolling section which is along a grassy fire road up near the Blue Ridge Parkway.  The sun has just risen at this point in the run, and the views of the blue ridges off to the right are spectacular.  My second favorite is the climb up Apple Orchard Falls.  It's the final big climb, and passes along a beautiful stream and then climbs up an impressive water fall and a set of wooden steps that didn't seem as long as I had remembered. The water seemed to be up this year, and the falls were even more spectacular than I remembered.  

I went into it as a final long run before MMT, and vowed to myself not to run it too hard.  I didn't feel like I really pushed it, just had a good last long run, and finished up right at 6:00, which is about 10 minutes faster than I ran it in last year.  The finish is a long downhill road section (the same section you climb at the beginning) and it felt good to cruise down the last 3 miles or so to the finish.  I ended up as first loser, as Horton likes to mention (2nd female), about 10 minute behind Bethany.  Bethany ran strong the entire day, and I lost sight of her around mile 20 and never saw her again.   Sean represented WUS well by winning in just over 5 hours, and Vicki Kendall turned in a great performance in winning her age group and running a huge PL PR of 6:49.  Vicki is going to have a great MMT.  

It feels good to be done with long runs, and I plan to spend the next 3 weeks resting up for MMT.  I feel like I've put in the miles for the most part, with 4 long runs of 50 miles, 31 miles, 50 miles and 34 miles in the past 5 weekends.  The main thing I worry about is my lack of training on MMT trails this winter.  I plan to do one more run on them this weekend, but at this point, there's not much I can do.  If nothing else, hopefully my winter of heat training in El Salvador will compensate for my lack of rocky trail training.   Bring on the heat!  

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Bull Run Run 2009, I love the VHTRC!!

This was my 3rd year running the Bull Run Run 50 miler--I've run it every year and it's a favorite. I won BRR in 2007 in what I considered to be a bit of a fluke (lucky day), and slogged through it painfully last year on dead legs after having run a fun down-hill 35-miles in Bolivia the weekend prior. I was hoping for somewhere in between this year...a solid training run for the MMT 100 coming up in a month.

I had no intention of 'racing' BRR; I hadn’t even decided to run it until a couple of weeks ago, and decided to run it because I hoped that two 50 milers and two 50Ks scheduled within a period of 5 weeks would be enough to get me feeling in shape for MMT. I also planned to hit 80 mile weeks for 3 weeks in a row, with BRR coming on the Saturday of the second week, sandwiched in between the Chocolate Bunny and Promiseland 50Ks. I haven’t actually quite hit that goal, ending up with 77 miles the week of Chocolate Bunny and 75 miles the week of BRR, but pretty close. I'm not a mileage whore--80 miles is about as high as I get. So, I had no plans of running hard, but somehow in the first mile, got into the lead and then just never backed off. I'm still calling it a training run, just more of a tempo-paced training run than I had planned for.
I felt strong on the first out and back (16 miles) and really enjoyed the first section of trail. I’m not sure if I have ever even noticed the bluebells in years past, or at least they hadn’t caught my attention like they did this year. They were in their full glory and were stunning!

I started to worry a bit around Hemlock (start/finish) when I realized I was going to have enough Gus to get me to about mile 30. I hadn't thought about gear until the morning of, and had some gear issues--brought along a Nathan bladder for my Camelbak--so used a handheld water bottle instead. Lately I've been sticking to an all Gu diet on short runs (did I just call 50 miles a short run?), especially on a warm day like Saturday. It's hard to cram more than 3 gels into my handheld pocket, and any more than 2 gels in my skirt weigh it down to the point of falling down. An issue. So, I had 5 gels along for what I was hoping to be a sub 9 hour run. Not so smart. But there is always aid station fare.

I felt generally crappy from about mile 20-30. I was having some abdominal pain and decided that I have a hernia, and then just focused on that for a good 10 miles along with some butt/left hamstring issues, which bug me normally. I probably should get the abdominal pain checked out, but the pain went away after about mile 30, as good pains often do, so I stopped thinking about it, and enjoyed the Do-Loop. I got a gift of Gus from Bryon upon entering the Do-Loop, so my concerns of bonking were lifted. The Do-Loop kind of sucks, in general, but didn't suck as much as I had remembered it sucking in years past. It's a lot of short steep ups and downs with heavy leaf cover that makes footing a bit tricky, but it's only 3 miles, so ends sooner than later.

Upon exiting, I asked where the next woman was and was told that Justine had entered the Do-Loop 16 minutes back and that Keith was 30 seconds ahead of me after the Do-Loop. That motivated me to pick up the pace a bit to widen the lead and to catch Keith, as I'm never anywhere close to Keith. I passed Keith at the Fountain Head AS (38) on the way back without even realizing it, so then continued to chase him on towards Wolf Run Shoals (40), where I eventually figured out that he was behind me. I felt really strong from the Do Loop (mile 35) until about mile 43. Luckily Greg Loomis caught up with me at about that time, and we pushed it in the last several miles together. I like to run alone, but it was nice to have Greg's company for those last hard miles. He made the last 5 miles go by much more quickly. Greg and I finished together in 7:34.05, good for 8th overall, 1st female and just a couple minutes shy of Anne Lundblad's course record. The warm weather affected many people, but being that I wintered in El Salvador where it was 80-90 degrees and sunny every day, I had a bit of an unfair advantage.
And in other exciting news, the WUS Pink Mafia team of Keith Knipling, Brian Schmidt, Todd Walker, Justine Morrison and I cleaned up in team competition, beating our nearest competitor by a ways. Hence the obnoxious pink offit I'm wearing above....
Bull Run is a good course for me. It's hilly, but run-able, and technical enough to not be boring, but not so technical as to require much rock hopping, although there are a few short rocky sections along the river. The aid stations are top notch, with great VHTRC volunteers/friends, and the party at the finish line is always fun--good food and catching up with friends. My apologies to aid station workers I encountered from Hemlock to FountainHead, as I was a bit grumpy. This was Anstr's first year as RD, and he and his fabulous volunteers pulled off another great BRR. I teared up at some point in the last 5 miles, maybe in pain, but also in thinking about how much I love the VHTRC--what a great group of people! I really missed the club while I was in El Salvador (although I love my ES running group, too).
Regarding BRR, I will definitely be back. In 2007, I felt my win was a bit of a fluke/lucky, and that I'd never be able to approach that effort again. While I ran a good time this year, I didn't feel great throughout, and feel like I could go faster on a good day.

Maybe a lesson learned is that I do better when I don’t think about a race at all. I tend to get nervous about races, and for that reason, don’t love racing. Being that I didn’t plan to race, I wasn't even slightly nervous. I don’t think that this particular tactic will work with MMT next month, as it is hard not to focus on the 100 mile rock-fest that is MMT, or go into it as a 'training run,' but at least in 100 miles there is plenty of time to settle nerves.
Now it's off to a truly slow effort at Promise Land 50K++ this weekend, which I plan to take at a leisurely pace and enjoy the views.
(Photos courtesy of Aaron Scwhartzbard and Quatro Hubbard)

Monday, April 13, 2009

Chocolate Bunny 2009, Smokey Edition

Every Easter Eve, Tom (and now Kirstin) help put on a fun, yet kinda crazy, low-key event, known as the Chocolate Bunny 50K. You finish on Easter, regardless of whether you run it in 5 hours or 15, so all finishers receive a chocolate bunny. The run starts around sunset, and covers what are some of the rockiest parts of the MMT 100 course. It's a great way to get in a long night run, with support, and is a spring-time favorite. This was my first complete chocolate bunny. I had run the first 2/3 of it 2 years ago, but had chosen to not run the entire thing so as to not run a rocky 50K the week before Bull Run Run. I'm running BRR again this year, so I opted for the full bunny. I'm shooting for 3 80 mile weeks in a row, with a 50K (bunny), 50 miler (BRR), and 50K (Promise Land) thrown in for long runs. 80 miles is as much as I ever do in a week, so hope that it will be enough to be in decent shape for MMT next month.

Back to the bunny. The run starts at mile 58 of the MMT course and finishes at mile 89. The first climb is a good one. Not too steap, not too rocky, and most of it pretty runnable. It's not runnable for me during MMT, but at the start of a run, it's mostly runnable. The trail in general is pretty nice until a bit of a gnarly section down into Moreland Gap, which is the start of Short Mountain. Short Mountain is one of those sections on the MMT course which gets a lot of hype. For many, Short Mountain comes after sunset, which adds to the challenge. My goal at MMT is to be on Short Mountain before dark; not necessarily done with it, but at least on it.

The first time I ever 'ran' Short Mountain, I thought it sucked. I was with Michelle Harmon, and we were several hours into a 40 mile run, and both hating life. We kicked nearly every rock on Short Mountain, and I remember discussing with her that I had no desire to ever attempt MMT. Hah.

I remember running Short Mountain a couple of other times, and thinking that it got way more hype than it deserved....not much of a climb, and the rocks weren't really that bad. And last year during MMT, I remember stumbling over some rocks on Short Mountain, but don't remember thinking much of it, besides being happy to get off it and to arrive at Edinburg to sample some of Brenda's famous potato soup. Ymmmm.

I really had little recollection of the giant rock pile that is the ridge line of Short Mountain, but it sucked again on Saturday. It didn't help that I had 2 dim lights (meant to replace my batteries, but ended getting the new and used batteries mixed, and had 2 dim lights as a result), and that my feet/ankles were having some unhappy issues, but I again questioned the sanity of MMT while on Short Mountain on Saturday.

After Short Mountain, life gets better. Sean had mentioned to me earlier in the run that he really liked the section on Powell's, which I remember having hated during MMT. That section he was referring to was the same section where I had fallen last year during an MMT training run, which resulted in hand surgery. This time I enjoyed the section into Woodstock and the memories of my month at work typing with one hand seem to have faded.

Getting into Woodstock, means 5 miles to the finish, along a ridge line that is not too gnarly, but also never seems completely runnable, with a steep, fun down hill into Powell's Fort. I was expecting a bon-fire and beer, but instead was greeted in the parking lot by Sean, who had finished almost an hour earlier and a bit after Keith (who had driven back up to Woodstock), and who was by this time, shivering. After all, it was 35 degrees'ish, and after running for 30 miles and then standing around in shorts in a parking lot full of locked cars, he was understandably cold. Luckily, for both he and I, my dear new Bridgette has heated seats, so we soon had toasty bums and were snacking on a big vat of party mix, while we awaited other runners.

I must say that the run put a healthy dose of fear in me for MMT, as I had truly forgotten just how gnarly and technical some of those stretches are. Luckily, I'm not sore today, and was able to run commute, so my feet and ankles seem to be recovering fine. I do need to find me some new shoes in the next month, as I wore my old school hardrocks, which felt stiff and clunky. Wondering if any of the other participants had lingering effects from the controlled burn that had been done the day prior? On Sunday, I could barely talk, and felt as if I'd smoked a couple of packs during the run. Kudos to Tom and Kirstin and their band of merry volunteers! As always, your support is much appreciated. It was great weather for running, but a cold night to be volunteering. It was a nearly perfect night (minus Short Mountain) to be out running in the mountains, under a nearly full moon.