Friday, November 7, 2014

Cloudsplitter 50K

The Russell Fork River, flows through southwest Virginia and southeastern Kentucky and over time has carved a canyon into Pine Mountain now called, Breaks Canyon. Each weekend in October the Corps of Engineers releases water held in the Flanagan Reservoir into the Pound River and the flows jump from an average 200 cfs to 800-1000cfs. This annual release turns the otherwise sleepy town of Elkhorn City, KY into boater Mecca. Since I happen to live with a boater, I find myself camping and hanging out with our paddling family each year, either in the Breaks Interstate Park or at “Rat Hole”, a riverside camping area.

I’ve had fun exploring the trails inside the park and also bushwhacking down to the rapid El Horrendo.
El Horrendo Class V Rapid- Russell Fork River
The trails are gnarly and steep as they plummet into the Russell Fork Gorge.  The Pine Mountain Trail, across the river from the Breaks, runs along the Kentucky-Virginia border following a geological fault line high above the river.

I had never made it over to that side of the river to explore so when I heard about Cloudsplitter I was intrigued, but scared. Knowing the difficulty of the trails I had been on, I could only assume Pine Mountain would be equally as bad. The website warned of the difficulty, offering a generous cutoff of 40 hrs for the 100 miler and bragged of a 2,000’ gain in the first 5 miles. They offered a 25k, 50k, and 100k as well, all out and back on the Pine Mountain Trail from the Elkhorn City Baseball Park.

I had signed up for the Odyssey 40 miler in September knowing that we would be doing our annual Russell Fork family campout the first weekend in October. I wanted to fit a race in before Masochist in November, a tune up if you will. I hadn’t raced since Promise Land in April so I had surely forgotten how, right???? We had an unexpected death in the family and a funeral to attend the weekend of Odyssey so Cloudsplitter became my backup plan. We were already headed that way so it worked out perfectly.

We decided it would be best to camp in the Breaks Park Friday night to avoid the late night party scene at Rat Hole.  I slept very well, only waking once around 2am to the sounds of heavy wind/rain (please let that stop before 8am!).  We woke at 6am, broke camp and rolled into Elkhorn City with plenty of time to check in and get  geared up.  Luckily the rain had moved on and it was shaping up to be a beautiful fall day. I said some quick hellos to the few people I knew there who were all running longer distances, the gun was fired, and we were off!

After a couple of turns on the pavement we hit a gravel road and then the climbing began as we connected with the Pine Mountain Trail. Basically an old rutted out, rocky, double track road, it reminded me a lot of the section on the Iron Mountain Trail we call Mock Hollow. It wasn’t easy climbing, and I imagined it wouldn’t be much fun on the return trip either.

The PMT is marked with green blazes and somewhat tricky to follow at times. The group I was running with came to an intersection at the same moment the lead guys came running back to that same intersection after taking a wrong turn.  There was a large set of boulders sadly covered in graffiti and several paths shooting off in different directions, a tree with a green arrow, and a bunch of confused runners.  After a couple minutes of bumbling around we figured it out and continued on, I made a mental note, hoping not to make the same mistake on the return trip.

Soup Beans, Rat Hole Campfire, Sunday River Run
The sounds of an ATV that had been looming in the background for awhile finally caught up with us and passed only to stop a short distance ahead. They dropped off a small cooler and water jug and turned around… guess that’s supposed to be the first Aid Station @ 5.3mi???  I think one person in our group stopped, but most continued on thinking they would just hit the next stop at 8.0 miles. 

I had assumed this would be a lot of steady up then hit the turn around and it would all be downhill from there! Sort of a mini Mount Mitchell. I quickly learned this would not be the case! There were a lot of steep ups and downs, nothing long, but nowhere to really get into a good rhythm.  Finally we were on top of the ridge line and things started to open up into some amazing views! check em out here: Race Photos. I’m glad I didn’t carry my phone or I would still be out there taking pictures. Running across huge slabs of rock, views of Virginia to your left and Kentucky to your right, the VERY cool fall breeze whipping around, it was pure bliss!

Pike County is one of the nation’s largest coal & natural gas producing counties and evidence of that was all around us during the race. We passed by gas pipe lines, ran under giant high voltage electric power line transmission towers, and saw a giant mountain top removal site, as the mighty Russell Fork glistened in the sun below.

Speaking of energy, I began coming up on some folks who were starting to drag a bit and questioning when we would ever get to an aid station. Any idea of mileage I asked?  “14 according to my watch,” he said. What!! We’re almost to the turnaround for the 50K, did you see the 8 & 12 mile aid stations?? Nope!

Luckily I had switched from my original plan to carry a handheld at the last minute and went with my hydration pack, because here we were 14 miles into the run and had not seen an aid station. I questioned whether I would even know I had come to the turnaround point if no one was there. We continued climbing and a short time later saw the 50K leader coming down the trail! That’s a good sign!

There was an aid station set up at Birch Knob (15.6) so I took of my pack, filled my nearly empty bladder, pulled out some more GU’s and a pack of natures bakery fig bars, had a sip of ginger ale and headed out. I felt as if I had been there way too long, but quickly reasoned it was ok since it was the only stop so far.

It was great seeing everyone on the way back. Cari and Netta were both looking great and still smiling! People were super nice and encouraging, but also very curious how much further for the aid station. I knew it was going to be lonely on the way back so I enjoyed the passing company while I had it and then focused on moving forward. Someone told me I was 10 min. behind the second guy so when I felt lazy and caught myself walking on easy stuff I would pretend I could possibly catch him.

I felt much better on the return as far as following the trail, the aid stations at 5.3, 8 and 12 had been setup so I grabbed a cookie at 12, rolled through 8, and asked for soda at 5.3, but they had none.  I caught up to some of the 25k runners and enjoyed chatting with them a bit, but was mostly super stoked to be running healthy and feeling good. I dropped back onto the gravel road and wasted a minute trying to decide which way to go…. Down looks good :)

Thankfully at the pavement there was a sign with an arrow and each turn through town was marked! I had just been following on the way out and was worried I wouldn’t be able to navigate back to the finish so this was a relief. I could see the ball park and it was a downhill finish! I crossed the field and could see the clock, with no time on it? Someone at the finish handed me a medal and I wandered around a bit regrouping. I realized after looking down at the medal, they thought I was a 25K finisher, so I asked to switch and told them I thought I was the first female/3rd overall in the 50k? They couldn’t pull the times up, but agreed that only two other guys had finished the 50k so I received my award then headed to the car.

The guy parked next to me, Nathan Snyder had also run the 50k, so we shared our thoughts on the race then walked over to get some food:  A huge cauldron of soup beans hanging over a fire, bbq that had been smoked there overnight, homemade cornbread. We sat in the grass waiting for others to finish and were joined by the 4th place finisher Tom Atkins, who oddly enough was also from Abingdon, but lives in Oregon (small world).  After sitting there for quite a while we began to get a little concerned that no one else had finished? They had to hit the road and I decided to grab a shower since I would be camping another night.

It was quite chilly out so that hot shower felt fantastic even if it did happen to be in the most bizarre, old school locker room ever!  As I walked back to the car I was happy to see some more 50k runners coming in before I headed back to reunite with the paddlers back at Rat Hole.

There are certainly some things to be ironed out as with any first time event, but I’m sure Cloudsplitter will continue to grow. If you’ve never traveled to this area, I would highly recommend it. The hospitality was unbeatable and it was great to see so much community support.  Everyone wanted to tell you how much they loved their home and those mountains we were playing on and were happy to share it! With the Pine Mountain Trail, Great Eastern Trail, The Breaks Interstate Park, and the Russell Fork Gorge as well as many other paddling/hiking opportunities hopefully this community can lean more towards an outdoor recreation based economy as coal production slows. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

3's a Magic Number

Terrapin Mountain 50K is one of my favorites, a great mix of technical single track and gravel forest service roads that will not disappoint in challenge or beauty.  Terrapin seems to mark the end of winter in my mind and ushers in spring after a long/cold winter. It's exciting to forget about bundling up, and just run unburdened by all the layers of protective winter gear.
Start 2010
I slept great Friday night, but woke without the pre-race jitters? where was that extra adrenaline rush that was going to propel me through the day? I was struggling to wake up which isn't usually an issue. I'm very much a morning person, but I couldn't stop yawning on the way to Sedalia. I checked in, got my bib, enjoyed chatting with some folks, decided not to wear arm sleeves, got my race vest (check), handheld (check) and soon it was time to line up. I spotted Bill Gentry and we were just chatting it up when reality struck, GONG!!GONG!!GONG!! Clark came up with the genius idea of using a huge suspended gong to signal the start of the race, it certainly gets your attention :)  I hit the road and scanning the crowd realized I was pretty far back from the sea of runners up ahead. The first four miles are a steady climb up to the Camping Gap AS so I tried to keep telling myself, it's early, don't get carried away and start too fast! I enjoyed a quick word with some folks along the way, soaking up the positive energy of sharing a day on the trails with so many amazing people. I wasn't feeling particularly strong or relaxed on the climb, so luckily Andrew Simpson came along and helped take my mind off the task at hand, talking R2R2R and other running plans for the year.  I knew once we got to camping gap we had a great section of downhill and I could relax a bit.
Heading down to AS 2 Goff Rd. 2012
Other than a knife stabbing pain in the middle of my back that I suspect was the result of playing disc golf on my lunch break Friday, I enjoyed the 5 miles down to the Goff Road AS at mile 9.4. Met some new people along the way and I was happy Rick caught up with me here as we've enjoyed this section together in the past and had some catching up to do. I topped off my bottle at Goff Rd. then started playing the "run to the next pink ribbon" game. Long sections of uphill gravel road that I don't like, the ones that you could run, but really feel like walking instead (you know the ones)  I tend to pick points to run to before taking a walk break. I could see Andrew up ahead, quickly moving out of sight while I slogged along. I was looking forward to the single track coming up so I just turned on some tunes and pressed on... walk, run, walk, run repeat. We still have a long way to go, relax, be patient, have fun riding the waves of highs and lows....
I enjoyed the single track section, but also had a sense of dread in the back of my mind,  knowing the climb back up to Camping Gap was looming near. The single track spit us back onto the road and the fun of dancing over rocks and roots faded away. Three long miles back up to camping gap and gravity was no longer on my side.  When we play on opposing teams I usually loose the battle.... yep, I was loosing for sure, mostly walking with a weak jog thrown in here and there for good measure. I could see Andrew up ahead again, so I would try to catch up, but instead fell further behind. I came back into camping gap (16.4) alone, but boy were the volunteers there amazing and their enthusiasm lifted my spirits. A lady met me below the aid station, took my bottle, filled it and ran it up the road to me with a gel in her other hand in case I needed it! now that's service! I never stopped moving.
2011-the fun single track
After all that climbing, you'd think one could catch a break, but no! you're still not done, the fun is just really beginning (eye roll) is this whole race uphill? and you still have to come back to camping gap a third time after this lolli-pop loop around the white oak ridge trail. I was still alone and making my way up the road (stick) of the lolli-pop when I started to see the front runners coming out of the loop!! always fun to see the fast guys flying along, helps keep ya honest, "they would have run this hill, right"? I turned off the road and started climbing into the loop when the slightly snowy, little muddy, grassy hill sucked the life right out of me.
 I heard voices coming up  from behind and before long Alexis and her buddy caught me and left me in the dust. I tried to hang close behind in the loop, but once we got headed back down to the road they were outta sight, the trail was rough and muddy and I could not get in a rhythm. I hit the road and was happy to once again have a bit of gravity on my side and run again. I was surprised when Alexis came up again from behind? she had taken a pit stop and was saying she was having issue with a bit of cramping. It was certainly getting warm and I was also trying to figure out salt/fluid intake. We've not had many days in the 60-70 degree range to acclimate.  We ran along cheering on the other runners going into the loop and before I knew it we were back at camping gap for the third and final time!
Fat's Mans Misery 2010
I topped off my bottle, grabbed a salty hot potato and started the relentless climb up to Terrapin Rock!  The person behind me was using some snow to cool off and I was more than happy to join in~ why didn't I think of that? I picked up big handfuls and basically took a snow bath, it felt so good to wipe away the salt and cool off a bit. I put some down my shirt and held some in my swollen hands. I have to admit the urge to eat some was quite strong and I started dreaming of Popsicles. We finally reached the top, scurried out to the edge of Terrapin Rock and punched our numbers, barely getting to glimpse the amazing views. I had passed Ann Stanley earlier and Alexis was very close behind, but they were the only females I had seen all day. Somewhere along the way I thought I had been told I was running in 6th so I knew I had to take advantage of the next downhill section to stay in the top 10. Luckily my legs were feeling pretty good on the downhill and I was moving along fairly well. I slipped going between some rocks and put my arms out to brace myself, the forward momentum of my body almost wrenched my arms out of socket, (I felt that for a week). Fat Man's misery didn't seem so bad after that!
Coming out of  fat man's I caught Siobhan (who I met later learned is doing the BEAST, you go girl! and did MMT for her first 100, badass) I love all the downhill from the Terrapin summit, but then comes the painful part where you have to do an out and back to the final aid station.. I saw Dennis climbing back up from the aid station as I was going down and not far behind Beth and Marc! whoopwhoop! got me even more excited to see them and know we were headed into the final miles.
I had enjoyed chatting and being around lots of people during the decent from Terrapin, but I found myself alone on the last section. I decided to just enjoy some tunes and keep focused, walking as little as possible. I knew Alexis was close behind and would be just as determined for a strong finish. Probably a mile later I caught up to Beth, she was also plugged in and focused. I sensed she might not be feeling well so I just dropped a couple words and let her be, hoping those feelings would soon pass. I wanted to stop right there, give her a big hug, chat about how the day had played out up until that point, but I knew we needed to really work hard those last miles!
I'm always amazed at Terrapin and Promise Land in particular at how I can have so many highs and lows and feel like I've been totally spent multiple times throughout the day and then still after 30 miles, hit the road and still seem to have some gas in the tank. I always see the 1 more mile to go sign, look at my watch (if I have one on), note the time in my head and try to remember the number so I can calculate the pace, but once I cross that finish line it's the last thing on my mind. Whether it's a 10 minute mile or a 7 minute mile, it feels amazing to know that soon you'll be done, all those down times and negative thoughts will fade away and you're left with all the beautiful moments of the day.  Along with those beautiful moments I got to take home a PR, 5:28, and 3rd female!
I'm hating that I didn't take a single picture this year, but it was fun digging through all the past years and taking a trip down memory lane.  Thanks to Clark and all the wonderful volunteers for the huge amount of work that keeps us coming back!

Finish 2009

Maybe 3 is the magic number????....
3rd Female at Holiday Lake 50k,
3rd Female at Black Mountain Marathon
3rd Female at the Shamrock 4 Miler
3rd at Terrapin 50K
all while age 33, if it had been 2013 I would really be freaked out ; )

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Russian Roulette

Running Races in February is a lot like playing Russian Roulette, the chances of dodging the bad weather bullet are pretty slim. If you sign up for two races in February the odds are even worse! I'm testing the odds again in 2014 and so far I'm not winning :)
 Holiday Lake 50K was my very first ultra. I ran a 5:35 in 2008, then I came back in 2009 thinking I could knock some time off, but battled an IT band issue slowing to 5:57. 2010 was a snow year and I hit an all time low of 6:49. I cursed every snowy slip-sliding step, ankles bashing into the ice crusted trenches and sucking every ounce of energy I could muster. I swore off HL after that year, every time someone would mention running it I would come up with a list of excuses a mile long..... it's so flat..... I don't like out and backs,  it's too close to Mount Mitchell, two races in February is too much, too risky!
I made it three years before someone was able to change my mind. A conversation with Beth Frye about running plans for 2014 made me realize it was time for a re-do at Holiday Lake. I needed to go back and wash that bad taste out of my mouth. I love running Terrapin, Promise Land, and Masochist, so it seems silly to miss out on completing the LUS series because of Holiday Lake. "Sure let's do it", I agreed, then realized that instead of the two weeks that traditionally lie between Holiday Lake and Mount Mitchell this year there would only be ONE! This should be interesting....
Snowy Run Thursday Morning
I built myself up, started to get excited about a potential PR at HL, happy to leave the bad attitude from 2010 behind! Then the snow came....I was so excited about getting out of work early Wednesday, then waking up to our offices being closed on Thursday!! I went on a snow day run testing my new screw shoes, then skiing with friends....who had time to think about the reality of running a 50K??? Then it all started to sink in! That snow isn't going anywhere, it's going to be 2010 all over again!
Thursday night I secretly wished Horton would cancel the race. I decided immediately I couldn't keep slipping into that negative thought pattern. Positive thinking = positive results. This WAS going to be a good weekend! We were staying at a neat B&B in Appomattox and having dinner there Friday night, and the main goal was to just get through it in one piece, uninjured going into Mount Mitchell the following weekend. "We are so very lucky to even be able to participate", I told myself, "don't take that for granted".
No pressure just a fun weekend! That is exactly what we got!
We had a great time Friday catching up and enjoyed our dinner, slept great and woke relaxed and ready to go. Smooth sailing getting to the camp and parking, only one final decision left. Screw shoes????
I put screws in some old Montrail Fairhavens and tried them out on Thursday and they just didn't seem to make a difference in the amount of snow we were dealing with. I had decided not to wear them, then thought maybe I should put them in my Masochists which are my normal go-to shoe just in case I changed my mind. At the last minute on Saturday morning I decided why not wear them? If they help a little at some point along the way it might be worth it? there might be some icy spots? crunchy layers? The last minute race jitters swayed my gut feeling not to wear them and I started in them, reasoning that at the half way I could change them if need be.

X-Country Ski Fun on the Virginia Creeper
I enjoyed the early miles, "playing" in the snow, but there was no mistaking it for fun, it was clearly going to be work. Muscles that are usually just along for the ride would have to participate in order to get through this, we were all over the place getting tossed around by the slick uneven surface. It was exhausting just trying to pick the path of least resistance. We hit the first section of road which was a welcome sight, a chance to actually open up and run (aahh!) I firmly planted my right foot to get some speed going and upon impact I felt a sharp pain in the front of my right  foot, **** ****!!!! Several four letter words spewed from my mouth. I felt the screws! I thought I had felt them earlier, but on the snow it was much more manageable, on the pavement not so much. Beth encouraged me to just try and put it out of my mind so I adjusted my stride and just tried to find soft patches of ground to land on. It was mainly just one in the front of my right foot that was a real threat, no biggie, right? It's merely a puncture wound :).
We came into an aid station and got to see Tammy, I chatted with her then I turned to see where Beth was and saw Jeremy Ramsey. He said something about getting out of the aid station first? I laughed thinking we were just trying to get through this thing, I'm sure we're miles behind the ladies out front. We took off and caught up to the guys ahead of us who also mentioned something about thinking we were the first females?? everyone must be confused? We started seeing some of the front runners and making our way back around the lake, I was excited to be done with the first half and seeing some familiar faces run by was uplifting. Cheering on the front runners briefly took my mind off the tiredness. Two females caught up to us and we all came into the turn around close together. I felt pressure to get in and out quickly so I grabbed some food from my drop bag and asked Tammy to grab my extra shoes in case the screw situation got worse. I was shocked to realize at that point we really were in first and second leaving the turnaround? Once again it was fun to cheer on the incoming runners and navigate the narrow single track, but once we got past I felt the wind leave my sails. I stumbled and fell. I put my hands down in the icy cold watery slush and soaked my gloves. I had left my extra pair in my drop bag because I had taken them off early on and had been annoyed just carrying them, but now I had no backup. Beth to the rescue! She dug out her extra pair and hooked it up! We just put our heads down and tried to stay steady. The power line section was freaking brutal, you could see ahead forever and the footing was horrible. I was having flashbacks to 2010, we had to just laugh it off, stay focused.
Marc Griffith caught up to us on the road and it was a nice distraction to chat with him for a while, I was feeling taxed. He told us Holly was close behind. I told Beth that I was so happy with how we had just kept up a consistent pace for so long in such crazy conditions, that if we could just hold onto top ten I would be ecstatic. I was definitely feeling the burn, but every time I would try to take a walk break it felt harder to walk than it was to "run", "slog" whatever you want to call it so I would press on.
Holly passed us at some point and I expected others would be close behind. We got to the single track back around the lake and I was happy to let loose a bit on the downhills and flats but the hills were not my friends, I had nothing left for them. One little baby hill stopped me almost dead in my tracks, I heard Beth catch up and I turned back to check in and see how she was doing, but it wasn't Beth, it was Alexis. I said hi, we exchanged a few words and she passed. I kept her in sight but catching her didn't seem likely. Even if I could get to the road close enough to chase down the pavement, I was afraid of such intense pounding with the screw shoes.
 I hit the road and  took a deep breath, just tread lightly but as fast as you can without puncturing a hole in the bottom of your foot!! Click, click, click, click I cursed the decision to wear the screw shoes all the way to the finish line. All the hard work, freezing cold mud puddles, slips, slides, missteps, post holing, and struggles to keep moving, quickly faded away as I crossed the finish line, happy to be uninjured and 3rd female. It was great to see Beth finish her 1st HL with a huge smile on her face. We had worked hard and enjoyed actually running a race together, most races we're very close in finishing times but often don't see each other for much of the race.
 Only time will tell what challenges we'll face at Mount Mitchell, even with all the warm weather and rain in the forecast there will likely be a good bit of snow and ice to deal with. We may dodge the weather bullet on Saturday, but the remnants of this past weeks storm I'm sure will make me once again question why I chose to play Russian Racing Roulette in February again!
Happy Campers

Thanks to Horton and all the volunteers out there who make it possible! thanks always to Tammy our loving trail mom, head handler extraordinaire! and I vote Frank Gonzalez best trail cheerleader of the day! he was cracking me up out there. If you don't believe that there were really 34 miles of snow, check out some of the other reports and photos of the course.

Gear: Smartwool Long Sleeve quarter zip
Old Navy Capri's
Injinji Wool knee socks (Sadly it was their last tour of duty and I can't find them anymore)
Montrail Masochists
Nathan Intensity Hydration pack
Fuel :  Vanilla Gu and some FIG bars from Nature's Bakery, I had just picked up at Sheetz for a snack on the drive up, stashed the extras in my drop bag and ate two packages on the return trip. They were awesome! super tasty and sat well on my stomach. Hope I can find some before for next weekend.