Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Hinson Lake 24 hour race report

by Bryan Hojnacki

Life is like a long distance run. Most of the time you're looking forward, but occasionally you look back at what you've covered… You know there will be obstacles throughout the journey - but deep down, you know you can handle anything that comes your way. Most importantly... you keep putting one foot in front of the other and let 'NOTHING' stand in your way!!

So all race reports start somewhere. Spring of 2010 I'm out on a trail run with The Sultan, and David Potroski. We stop at the Rock House for a break and I hear them discussing this 24 hour run in September. " It's the best 24 hour party."  "You can't run a marathon for 24 bucks."  Wow 24 hours, who does that? That's made for men like Dean K. and Scott Jurek.

All men dream: but not equally. "Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible." TE Lawrence

Maybe I could do this. I get home and look it up. DAMN! same week we are going to Disney. Oh well maybe next year.

So January 2011 rolls around and I set 2 goals for the year 2011 miles for the year, and to run the 24 at Hinson Lake and make 100 miles.

Training is going well, I'm putting in my 36+ a week and working 50 hours a week. I'm on target until April. April Fools on me. Random Vertigo." You need to slow down, take some time off, give up coffee, cut back on salt, get more sleep." Said all the doctors.

Once I came to realize the worst that can happen is I get dizzy and fall down. I start my training again. Just when I get back up to a 13 mile long run WHAMM! I get another episode and I have to take a few days off.

As the summer ticks by I still keep Hinson Lake in sight. I know my training will never get up to a 20 mile long run or a 6 hour long run like it should. I figure I've paid; if I make 20 and bonk out I'll be happy.


So I roll through August my longest run being 15 miles. Then September long run of 11 miles where I nearly break my everything by tripping on a root.  SH#$%! 2 weeks out. Maybe I can still walk 40.

Lucky I heal quickly. Do some short safe runs until Wednesday before and chill out Thursday and Friday.

Thursday the forecast starts calling for rain. I'm gonna need some gear. I request to borrow a pop up canopy to keep all our food and stuff dry. Thank you Leo and Brent for the help.

We drive down Friday. Derrick and Gabby, his daughter who has offered to crew for us. Neither one of us have ever done something like this so all the help we could get was needed. Uneventful drive out 218 to skip traffic on 74. As the GPS winds us through Historic Rockingham we are amazed at all the historical houses.

We find Tom's house and pick up camping directions and our race packet. Shirts, engraved glasses and a shopping bag all with the race logo. Cool swag and no crap from a ton of sponsors I won't visit anyway.

We get to the Moose Lodge and set up camp, help a few others with tent set up. We mingle with other runners until around 10pm and decide to get some sleep. We might need it for the run.
 It was perfect weather to sleep under the stars.  I started to sleep in my chair and decided the air mattress will be more beneficial than waking up with a pinched nerve.

4 am we are all awake. We kick around the camp for a bit and decide to break camp and find the Lake.

We pull in about 5ish and find a place to park. We walk around the dam for a bit and decide where to set up. Not much room to set up 2 10X10 canopies. So we set one up against a large tree to keep it from falling in the lake. The other canopy was a bit smaller so it fit. The ground was soft from all the rain so the stakes pushed right in.

After clearing all the gear from the car and setting up, Jason arrives and sets up. He brought the rain with him.  Others arrive and others wake up. The sun rises and we stir around waiting nervously for the start.

You are wearing gaiters. Right?   Is a question about 20 people asked. "No I don't have any and it's making me nervous I already have sand in my shoes." Good luck, the grit will grind your soles to the bone. I'm confident my Merrell Trail Gloves will cary me all day, but worried about the grit.

About 10 minutes to start I see my favorite vacuum cleaner/shoe store owner Peter Asciutto from Vac and Dash.

He has gaiters on.
" You should be selling those here" I tell him.
"I am, 20 bucks" he replies.
I run to my car and grab him a 20. Best 20 I have ever spent.

 A rainy start

Praying this won't be a washout, we start. We cross the bridge and stop at our tent to get water and gel. Derrick and I take off like this thing is a 5k we are blowing past everyone. I start thinking wait a minute these people walking and kinda trotting have done this before. I better slow down. I slow to about a 9 min pace but think maybe this is even too fast. At 9:30 I had in 7.5 miles.

 I start reading the ultra shirts. Umstead, Start slow then taper off, and my favorite "We are trained professionals, don't try this at home." I pass Peter and slow to chat with him a bit. Then a shirt catches my attention ' Outer Banks Graveyard 100" Wait a minute, I read race shirt etiquette. If you didn't run it don't wear it. This race won't even run until March 2012. Turns out the guy is the RD and he thought what better place to promote a 100 miler than at a 24 hour run. Turns out about 6 people had that same shirt.

The laps and miles start blending from this point. So I start thinking about how I can make this happen. Primary goal is a marathon or better. I told my wife I would go in 10-lap or mile sets and take breaks in between. After my first 10 I still felt really good so why not keep going. At that point I decided to simplify things. Don't think about it and go with the flow.

Hey Mike!

 Keep it simple, drink each time around, eat when you're hungry. I grazed my table almost every lap. No need to sit still feel good. I had Gabby set me up with a half scoop of Gatorade mixed in a few water bottles. I would either carry one or dump it in my handheld. Every few laps Gabby would walk a loop with her Dad. About mid afternoon we came in to find one of the canopies destroyed. The wind had picked it up and mangled the top.

What the *^%$##. I borrowed this thing. After careful exam by me and with some help from everyone we managed to push it as far closed as we could get it. Off to the trash. We decided to take down the other one just in case.

I decided no use in dwelling on it and put my energy back into the run. I decided to change up the music and listen to a sermon. A little bit of grace goes a long way. The Power of grace carried me through the next few hours. Karl Lentz from Hillsong New York is an amazing speaker. 11 am and I hit my 13.44 A 3 hour half Marathon.

 Hey, there goes Mike

Most of the laps blend together, I chat it up with runners make a few new friends. Listen to helpful advice from the experienced runners. Talk about shoe selection, what and when to eat. Other races they have done, where there from.

Popsicles,  thanks I need that cold boost. Lesson learned can't run with a Popsicle. The food table was ever changing through the day. Cupcakes, gummies, chips, orange quarters, bananas, burgers, pizza, chicken, water, Gatorade, coke, Mtn Dew. The RD really puts on a world class event. Amazing this was only $24.00 to get in.

Hokas? Those things look like the anti-minimal shoe. Everyone that had them looked like they were dragging their feet. But they all say they are great. They remind me of moon boots from my childhood.

The Garmin is dead at 30 miles. Its only 4pm. I'm not sure why I was using it I guess to keep the pace. I plug it into the car charger and thought OK I'll take a nap while it charges.  I sit and take off my shoes for the first time. One toe nail won't be making it and one small blister between my toes.  I have Tom fill my bucket with cold hose water and soak them for a few. While I was sitting I decided I still feel good. I take a couple ibuprofens and apply some Body Glide to the feet. I lace back up and I'm off.

Hey Mike!

I decided to just run to the music. No way of really keeping pace I just went with it. On one lap I stopped to check the progress of my Garmin and found a tennis ball in the van. I did the next couple laps bouncing the ball between hands and just running to the music. It was a fun distraction. Not sure what other runners thought. Had the music cranking.'Baby Please Don't Go', 5:59, Ted Nugent, 'Are You Gonna Be My Girl', 3:37, Jet, 'Born To Run', 4:30, Bruce Springsteen,
'Pick Up The Pieces', 4:01, Average White Band, 'Who Do You Love - Medley', 6:03, The Doors, 'Soul Kitchen', 7:15, The Doors, 'Walking On Sunshine', 3:49, Katrina & The Waves

There goes Mike!

Run a bit, walk a bit, eat a bit, everything kind of blends together until dark.

Hey Mike.

I call home at 7:30 to tell my daughter goodnight, I'm at 41.25 miles. I tell my wife I'm farther than I have ever been and will be done soon to get some rest.

I eat some chicken dipped in salt and have some soup that I mix with rice I  had. I hook up with Peter and were off. Oops, maybe the soup and rice wasn't a good idea.

I head back out and its getting dark. 'In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida', 17:02, Iron Butterfly starts playing on my I pod. WOOOHH, dude. It just woke me back up. Derrick and I just ran a lap way to fast. He sits down and says I can't go that fast again. I couldn't help myself  I still have 12 minutes of this song left I gotta keep going. The drum solo blew my mind. Between the music, the glow sticks and all the reflective stripes on every ones running gear I was  in a trance. Could be the start of my bonk. Another One Bites the Dust

Was that Mike?

10 PM I hit my 50 miles. 3 more laps and I have a double in. I haven't seen Derrick or Jason in hours. I get in my next few laps and then it hits. I better lay down as I have come and went farther than I should. I can quit now.

I grab a blanket and my stick and go on the porch where they are giving massages. I found a spot and took off my shoes. Blister was getting bigger. I decided to lay back with my feet up for a few and let the acid out. The massage lady asks me if I'm ready. I said why not. She works on my knee for a bit and found nothing wrong. So I ask her to work on the calves. I wanted to scream!

I laid back down and fell . I woke up frozen so I wandered around for a few got a hoodie out of the car and some long pants, and another blanket. When I woke up around 1:30 or so another runner was getting ready to lie down a few feet away. I throw an M&M at him but miss. He looks over and I asked him if he had been looking for me. "No" he says. I decided I would get up and see how I felt. I took my stuff over to the runner while he was stretching. I put the pillow down then went to hand him my Stick.
He looks up and says "Whats this for?"  
"Oh shit, you're not Derrick"

In my altered state I mistook him for my running partner.

Well, that was a bit odd. Now I'm awake. Maybe I can put in some junk miles. I put on some dry gear and lamp up.I decided to keep the long pants on and go with a LS top. I had some chicken broth and and dug into the cooler. Half a block of cheese and a chicken breast with a few chips. Chatted with Kenny for a bit, then we ran a lap or two.

 I asked a girl I had met early in the day if I could keep her company. And we were off. We finished a couple laps and I had to explain to her I couldn't hear well. My hearing aid was wet and kept beeping. This happened a lot through the night. During the day it was easy to run and not talk because I had my iPod. Overnight I didn't want to use music, its scary enough out there when someone passes you and you hear them shuffling along.

Hey Mike!

As I stop to get a drink, Alyssa was sleeping without a blanket. So my next lap I grab one out of the van and covered her up. My next lap I grab a sleeping bag out for Gabby who is in the tent freezing. Imagine that me crewing for my crew. But where is Derrick? As I  finish another l look for him on the porch. Sure enough this time I know its him cause he's sleeping on my stuff. I wake him up and chat a minute to find out he had nothing left in the tank. I change my shoes and batteries. My left  foot was hurting again so time for some cushion. I decided on the Nike Frees. This was good and the pain went away.

Then I hooked up with Jason and Katie they were just heading out. I think we did 4 or 5 laps together. I told them about my light stick games. Try to touch each one when you run past. The I got the idea to count them - 131. Number 100 hung right in the middle of the path. This became my beacon I knew when I saw it I was almost back. For some reason the body was working well. I started looking at the lap chart and doing some math. 4 hours left and 2 laps per hour I had a chance at 70 miles.

Hey Mike! Nope Jason.

Sometime about 6ish I came in and the girls were awake. I asked Gabby for her phone number so I could call her as I was coming in. I wanted her to get some pics of me. When I came back in I asked Alyssa if she could pace me a couple laps to get my goal of 70. I look at the lap chart again and see I have been looking short. I need 3 to go over 70, 2 more will only be 69.9.
So we head out I'm pumped to have someone to run with. She held nothing back for me. We did 2 laps in the time I was doing one alone. I thanked her and asked if I could take my last one alone. I grab a glass of Coke and a water bottle. I wanted to call home it was around 7:20. We talked half way through the lap. I could tell my daughter felt proud and my wife thought how will he ever recover and why was this a good idea.

Hey Mike!

I finish the lap about 7:45 and Katie is saying 'you gotta do this'.  Tom gives me a banana and explains the rule - drop it when you hear the horn.  " But wait I just wanna eat this I'm hungry" I pass a couple. He is running backwards holding 2 beers for them like a carrot in front of a rabbit. We laugh a bit but I keep moving. I pass another guy dragging it out and I said let's do this together we can make it all the way. I keep looking at the time. Walk some run some.We pass a few others. I tried to motivate them Then the horn. 1.38 out of 1.55 almost made it.I finish by running it in. DONE 71.44 + the banana lap.

After some cheers and a banana to eat I sit. I finally remove the shoes.  As I was sitting I see them dumping the coolers from the aid station. I had them fill my soak bucket with the rest of the ice and I filled it with some water WOW! that's cold. It was like an ice burn more than bath. I joke with Jason about my blister. I decided to name it Troy. Just because it was bigger than him.

I look around and the only thing left of out set up is me, two chairs, and an ice bucket. Derrick and the girls had everything packed up. Thanks.

 Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. It’s not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing. - ...Muhammad Ali

Nothing in pre-race training and planning can define why I went so far so long. I think taking the don't think approach helped. I'm happy with my  shoe choice. And the grazing plan worked well.

Now as I'm sitting here thinking the pain in my left foot may be a stress fracture. I'm debating next year. What can I do better, what did I forget to pack. Can I ever find a better crew and pacer. The Lashway family were amazing. I was told Alyssa even paced with Mike for a while. Thanks to Jason and Katie for the overnight motivation. Thanks to the people at the aid station and scoring table that made you feel welcome, and like a champion after every lap.

Oh speaking of Mike for those who don't know who he is. He set a course record with 163.9 miles in 24 hours. This is second year winning this event. He made it look easy.

"Beyond the very extreme of fatigue and distress, we may find amounts of ease and power we never dreamed ourselves to own; sources of strength never taxed at all because we never push through the obstruction."
- William James, Philosopher

"do or do not, there is no try"
 - yoda

'Hillynite': Recap Of The 2011 Hiddenite Half Marathon

by Bobby Aswell

Going into this past weekend, the only time I’d ever heard of Hiddenite, NC was on a television segment featuring rare gemstone finds.  Known worldwide for its gems, Hiddenite was named after one of the first explorers to discover the gemstone hiddenite in Alexander County, NC back in the late 1800’s.  An extremely rare green and transparent gemstone, hiddenite is most often transformed from its natural form into beautifully cut gems.  After the half-marathon this past Saturday, the town of Hiddenite should also be famous for its ‘mountainous’ road races!

Natural piece of hiddenite
Before going to bed Friday night, I decided to travel to Hiddenite Saturday morning to run their half-marathon.  With an 8:30 am start, and only a 50 minute drive from my house, I was looking forward to not having to get up before dawn to travel to a race as well as looking forward to a good workout.

One thing I've learned after 20 years of racing is that when a race application actually uses the word ‘hilly’ in their course description, watch out because you’re in for a doozy of a course!  Hilly is one thing, mountainous is another!  This course was insane! Long grinding hills, one after another, with the last 1 ½ miles being brutal at best!

Registration and packet pick-up was held at the Hiddenite Elementary School near the finish line.  With only a $30 race day fee, including t-shirt, this was a great deal!  I arrived early, registered, and went back to my Jeep to relax a little before getting into ‘race’ mode.

A point to point course, the half-marathon starts at the Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in Taylorsville and finishes in front of the Lucas Mansion in Hiddenite.  Transportation to the starting area is provided by the race via shuttle vans.  About a 20 minute drive, our van left for the church at 7:50 am giving us a preview of a portion of the course on the way. Out in the middle of the country, the scenery is mostly farmland with several beautiful pastures mixed in along the way.  Throw in all of the hills and this was going to be fun!

We arrived at the church with runners gathered in the parking lot waiting for the start.  After scoping out the field, I had a feeling this was going to be a lonely run so I grabbed my headphones to keep me company.  After using the facilities several times, I was ready to go.  Around 8:40 am, we headed down the road to the actual starting line about ¼ mile away.

With a starting temperature of 65 degrees, 100% humidity, and some serious hills, this was going to be a tough race!  After a short speech from the race director reminding runners that the course was hilly, especially the last 2 miles, he counted down from 10 to 1, sounded the horn, and we were off!

A slow starter in my old age, several runners ‘took off’ ahead of me.  About a ¼ mile later, I moved into 2nd place and stayed there until we hit the first downhill where I took the lead and never looked back!  At this point, it was just me, my headphones, and the hills!  Not just any hills, the kind that really wear on you:  long and grueling climbs one after another (think Morehead St. in Charlotte).

After running several miles, I had no idea how much of a lead I had over the 2nd place runner.  Not one to look behind me in a race, I waited until the out and back section at mile 6 to check out my competition.  At the 7 mile turnaround, I had a 3 ½ minutes on the 2nd place runner.  Relaxing a little, I realized that unless I totally fell apart, I had a good chance at winning the race.

The climbs continued one after another and really started wearing on me.  As I neared the 11 mile mark, I realized what the race director was talking about when he described the last 2 miles!  Visions of ‘The Bear’ came to mind!  These weren’t hills, they were mountains!  I thought to myself, ‘you gotta be kidding me’!  Time to suck it up!

After some serious huffing and puffing, I finally crested the last hill with the finish line in sight.  Man, was I glad to see it!  With arms in the air, I crossed the line in 1:30:27, nearly 6 minutes ahead of the 2nd place finisher!  This was definitely one of the toughest road half-marathons I’ve ever run!

Post race, glad to be done!
After the race, I enjoyed walking around the festival and watching several skits before picking up my award.  This was a great small town event: cheap entry fee, nice t-shirt, excellent awards, and, best of all, a great workout!

If I had more time, I would’ve liked to stick around and try my hand at finding some gemstones but duty called so I headed back to my Jeep for the journey home.  I enjoyed my first visit to Hiddenite and may go back to look for some gemstones, and maybe, just maybe, conquer some hills again!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Area Man's Uneventful Run is Punctuated by a Car Wreck

by Chad Randolph

So there I was, finishing up an otherwise uneventful run through Davidson this afternoon.  I crossed Concord Road at Grey Rd. and was running toward downtown.  Just after crossing over Woodland St. I noticed a dark silver Honda Accord heading east come to a complete stop well before the pedestrian crossing.  Seeing as I was the only pedestrian around and wasn't crossing, I wondered why he stopped, especially with six or so cars behind him.

After about three seconds he floored it and took off at a furious pace.  "A**hole", I thought, probably lost and showing his embarrassment by gunning it.  Seeing as the residential area has a 25 mph speed limit, I was pissed off by his vulgar display of power.

Less than five seconds later I heard a crash that sounded just like a chase scene in a movie.  Brakes, twisting metal, and broken glass.  I stopped and turned around to see the Accord flipped over on its roof in the middle of the road!  And on the left side in Chris Alexander's yard was a white panel van.

Locals on hand to assist before the fire and police arrive.
I turned around and started running to the scene, which was about four blocks back.  When I arrived there were already several local residents at the scene, stopping traffic and assessing the damage.  The driver of the Accord was pinned upside down but didn't seem too bad off.  I crawled in the back and immediately noticed a couple of child car seats - not a good sign.  Fortunately, I didn't find any evidence of children.  I helped pull open the driver's side door and very quickly the Davidson Fire Department and Police arrived to take over.

I'm not entirely sure what transpired during the five seconds I had my head turned, but it appears that the driver of the Accord swiped the white van at a high rate of speed and then flipped.  As for motivation, I guess it'll come out in the police report.  The driver of the white van appeared to have some cuts on his face and ended up being transported to the hospital, as well as the Accord driver.

What's the moral of the story, from a running perspective?  First and foremost, always be aware of your surroundings, even if you're on the sidewalk.  Secondly, be prepared to help out at an accident.  Through the auspices of Girls on the Run I recently took CPR and first aid.  Fortunately I didn't have to put my skills to the test, but there's always the next time.

Be careful out there!

Q:  Did you get that from trail running?
A:  Nope, from crawling around the inside of an overturned Honda.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Race Recap: The Run for Green Half Marathon

By Dave Munger (originally posted on his blog Mungerruns)

When I signed up for the Run for Green Half Marathon in my home town a month and a half ago, I knew I'd be taking a bit of a risk. Temperatures for a late-September race in Davidson, North Carolina could end up being in the 70s or even 80s. But as race day approached, it was clear those fears would not be realized. Instead we had nearly perfect weather, 55 degrees and overcast. A slightly cooler day might have been preferable, but given the alternative, I wasn't complaining.

I arrived at the town green at 6:50 a.m. and spent 20 minutes hobnobbing with the locals. Despite having lived here for 17 years, somehow I'd never been in a race in town; I'm not used to knowing 20 or 30 people at a road race. As I mentioned yesterday, it's a hilly course, with the toughest hills on the last half. Indeed, the total elevation gain for this half-marathon is more than what I expect to see for the Richmond full marathon in less than two months.

I lined up about three rows back at the starting line, next to fellow DARTers Mark Ippolito and Tommy Wagoner.

I told them I was planning a 7:30 pace and that sounded good to them. I also chatted with Richard Hefner, AKA Old Runner, and Allen Strickland of Allen's Road to Boston. Kevin Ballantine was also there. Kevin and Allen are lightning fast, but they were pacing friends, so wouldn't be running this one all-out.

The first mile was downhill, so as the starting gun went off I took off at about a 7:00 pace, planning to slow down later. Mark and Tommy stayed with me and we were running fairly close to Kevin and his partner, whose name I didn't get. After a mile, we hit the first uphill and still felt pretty good so didn't slow down much. Then it was down, down, down, for another mile and a half. Splits for Miles 1-3, 7:08, 7:22, 7:17.

Now we were heading into River Run, and its rolling hills that are short but can be quite steep. A woman, who I later learned was Krista Schoenewolf, passed us, saying "I've been trying to catch you for four miles!" I guess that was supposed to be a compliment. As we ran, we started to wonder when we'd see the elite runners, Kalib Wilkinson and Molly Nunn, both contenders for the US Olympic Trials. Since the course was an out-and-back, we'd definitely get to see them leading the way home. The hills rolled along, and I was expecting to start to feel the need to get back to a 7:30 pace, as I had planned. Meanwhile we also seemed to be getting ahead of the mile markers; everyone's GPS was beeping a considerable distance past the markers. That means the pace recorded by our GPS timers would be slower than the official time — always a comforting feeling! Finally we saw Kalib around mile 5.5, looking very relaxed as he crushed the course. At the six mile marker we saw Molly, surrounded by three guys, including DART's own Tim Richter, who also looked quite strong. Splits for miles 4-6, 7:16, 7:17, 7:09.


Right around the end of Mile 6, we turned onto the final section of greenway, one of the few fairly flat parts of the course. Now we were seeing quite a few runners headed the other way, including DARTers Kathy Rink and Matt Williams.


We hit the turnaround and started back into town, and then I really began to realize how many folks I knew in this race. I saw Terry Ake, Tristan Van Vuuren, Gabrielle Craig, Julie Alsop, Chris Flaherty, Eileen O'Flaherty, Keyne Cheshire, and probably a half-dozen other who passed by too quickly for me to remember.

Julie and DARTer / husband Jeremy

Eileen and family
This got me pumped, and I started to put out a bit more effort as we started back into town. River Run is considerably lower than downtown Davidson, and so once you've run down into the place, you have to climb back out. Despite the hills, Tommy and I maintained a solid pace. Mark dropped back a bit, and Kevin started pulling away from the guy he had been pacing. It looked like I wouldn't be able to "beat" Kevin in this race. But I did seem to be gaining a bit of ground on Krista. Maybe I'd be able to pass her back before we reached the finish. Splits for miles 7-9: 7:16, 7:14, 7:16.

Next we'd be hitting the biggest hills of the race. Ahead of me in the distance I saw Richard, who had predicted yesterday in the comments on my blog that I'd be passing him around mile 8 or 9; he was doing considerably better than that. The first steep hill came and went and I still felt pretty good. Then there was a gradual downhill before we started the final ascent. I passed Richard on this section and told him he was on pace to run sub-1:40, which seemed to please him. Tommy had now dropped a little behind me. I reached the water stop before the notorious hill on Patrick Johnson Lane. Though I still felt good, I stuck to my plan of grabbing a cup of water, taking it to the bottom of the hill, and drinking the whole cup as I walked up the hill. As soon as I finished, I went back to full stride and made it to the top. The toughest part of the hill is the fact that you don't get much relief afterwards; it's a short downhill, then a long, gradual uphill to the finish. Somehow I managed to keep up the pace fairly well. Splits for miles 10-12: 7:09, 7:09, 7:22.

Just over a mile left, mostly on a gradual upslope, and somehow I found the energy to get going even faster. Krista was still ahead of me and I thought I might be able to catch her. I focused on solid, even strides, and picked up the pace. The final 200 meters or so is a dramatic uphill, and I ran as hard as I could all the way across the line, but I never managed to catch Krista. I was a little frustrated with that until I looked down at my watch. My final time was 1:33:30, including a 6:42 pace for the last mile!

Thanks, Bobby Aswell, for getting this picture of me crossing the line.
My goal had been a 1:38, so I shattered that, along with my previous PR of 1:43. Tim, Chad, Jeff, and Jeremy were there to congratulate me at the finish. Then I got to watch Mark, Tommy, Terry, Keyne, and several others cross the line as I ate a banana and rehydrated.

We had heard that the Flatiron Taphouse would be giving away free beer at the finish, so Tim, Terry, and I headed over and each got free small cup. It was the first time I'd ever had a beer after a race, and it wasn't so bad. Then Terry bought everyone another round — full pints this time. Normally I can handle drinking a pint and a half of beer without much of a problem, but this time I found I felt quite loopy. I guess that's the difference between drinking beer on a relaxing afternoon and drinking it after finishing a punishing half-marathon. While I enjoyed the beer, I don't think I'll imbibe after a full marathon when I'm almost certain to barely be able to walk, with or without a beer.

Then Matt showed up with his prize and told us they had already announced the awards, so we hurried back to the finisher's tent to find out if we had won anything. Indeed, we had. Here is a summary of the DART take:

Tim Richter: 5th overall, 1st master, 1:24:20
Matt Williams: 7th overall, 1st age group, 1:26:31
Kathy Rink: 3rd female, 1st master: 1:29:46
Dave Munger: 1st age group, 1:33:31
Tommy Wagoner: 1:34:34
Mark Ippolito: 1st age group, 1:35:55
Terry Ake: 2nd age group, 1:39:14
Julie Alsop: 2nd age group, 1:39:53
Chris Joakim: 1:51:31
Tristan Van Vuuren: 1:54:47
Lori Ackerman: 2:01:26
Eileen O'Flaherty: 2:34:16

Let me know if I missed anyone!

My GPS measured the course at 12.97 miles, just a little short. That's within the margin of error of GPS, but even assuming it was correct, my pace of 7:13 for the race would have given me a time of about 1:34:30 over 13.1 miles, still a PR. All in all a great day of racing; I guess all my hard training over the summer paid off.

The photos here are all courtesy of Chad Randolph, who was a race volunteer; at the starting line I realized I still had my phone, so I gave it to him and he took some great shots!

My GPS record of the race is below.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The mother of all recaps: The Blue Ridge Relay 2011

By Dave Munger

The first, but hopefully not the last, DART relay event is over. 10 of us — 7 longstanding DARTers and 3 new initiates — agreed to join forces to conquer the formidable Blue Ridge Relay, a 208-mile course that takes 24 to 36 hours to complete. The race has 36 legs, starting nearly a mile above sea level in Grayson Highlands State Park in Virginia and winding through beautiful, mountainous backroads to Asheville, NC.

Our team rented two passenger vans to transport the runners and met up in Davidson at 7:15 Friday morning, packing up loads of gear and heading northward. Van 1 (The Brown Bomber) would carry runners 1-5: Kurt Graves, Dave Moore, Stephanie Sawyer, Chris Brown, and Dave Fischli. Van 2, (The Silver Bullet) carried me, Chad Randolph, Rodney Graham, Marc Hirschfield, and Mark Ippolito. On a standard 12-member team, each runner completes three roughly 10K-length legs, a total of about 17 miles. Since we had just 10 members, six of us — all of Van 1 plus myself — would complete four legs, and the distance each runner ran over the course of the event ranged from 16 to 30.4 miles.

Only one van is "active" at a time -- all of Van 1's runners run their legs, and then Van 2 takes over and the Van 1 runners get a break. Unfortunately the breaks last only about three or four hours, part of which is needed to drive to the next transition zone, so there wasn't much opportunity to rest up before a van needed to get started again. Fortunately, at some point adrenaline kicks in; I rarely felt sleepy during the almost 28 hours we were on the course, despite getting less than an hour and a half of sleep.

After a quick pit stop at Starbucks, we beelined to Grayson Highlands and parked at the summit. The first order of business was to decorate the vans, and a look at our competition showed we were woefully underprepared in that department. We had a few window-painting pens, but others had decorated with inflatable animals, movie posters, and kitschy TV-inspired themes. My favorite was "team Rerun," from the 1970s show "What's Happening." They even had red berets and suspenders for every team member. We did rock some awesome team T-shirts, though, as evidenced by our team photo at the start:

Marc H, Dave Munger, Mark I, Rodney, Stephanie, Chad, Dave F, Chris, Dave Moore, and Kurt are ready to roll
Kurt would be handling the first leg, a 1,000-vertical-foot descent four miles to the entrance of the park. He took off at 11 a.m. with six other runners, at a blistering pace:

Kurt would soon leave nearly all these runners in the dust
Kurt absolutely demolished the leg, running down the mountain at a 5:39 pace to finish his leg in 21:54. My van, the Silver Bullet, maintained intermittent contact with the Brown Bomber via text message, but now we needed to head straight for Exchange Zone 5, where I would be running in about 4 hours. While Dave Moore's Leg 2 headed another 1,276 vertical feet down a gravel road.

We followed the Brown Bomber for a couple miles on this route before turning off; this photo gives you some idea of the terrain we were running and driving on: 

The Brown Bomber (at right) heads down while a lost runner's van makes its way up the hill
Meanwhile, Dave Moore, nearly made a costly mistake. He missed the turn from the highway onto this gravel road, but fortunately a runner who was behind him saw him and yelled at him to turn around; he had run perhaps an extra 800 meters and was able to quickly get back on course. Despite the mishap, Dave burned it up on his leg, running 7.5 hard miles in a 7:33 pace, including the extra time for the wrong turn.

While the crew of the Silver Bullet enjoyed lunch in West Jefferson, Stephanie was out running the first major uphills of the race, a 5.2-mile leg that included 400 feet of climbing. She finished in 40:11 for a 7:44 pace, keeping us ahead of schedule for the race.

Next Chris took the bracelet and cranked out 6.9 tough miles, including 643 feet of climbing, in 49:24 — a 7:10 pace.

As the Silver Bullet anxiously awaited the Brown Bomber's arrival, Dave F took off on Leg 5, a 5.2-miler with 344 feet of climbing. Dave had told me before the race that he could probably only manage an 8-minute pace in a 10K race, despite having run the entire Thunder Road marathon under that pace last fall. He said he was recovering from an injury, so he probably wouldn't be very fast. I was a little skeptical that he'd be that slow, but as team captain, I thought it was important to take the runners at their word; they knew their bodies better than I did, right?

I had crafted a detailed projection of our team pace, taking into account the terrain, the runners' abilities, and the wear and tear of a long race. So far I had been quite accurate; on each of legs 1 through 4 my estimate was within a minute of the runner's actual time. So I felt fairly confident that Dave would arrive something like 43 minutes after he started his leg, around 2:30 p.m. I took my time warming up, with an easy 3/4 mile jog up the start of my leg and back, arriving near the starting area about 10 minutes before I expected Dave to arrive. The Brown Bomber was there, and everyone was looking out for Dave, but I was probably 20 yards from the official exchange zone.

Suddenly Stephanie shouted "THERE HE IS!"

Could it really be? He was 6 minutes early! I ran over to the exchange zone and grabbed the bracelet from Dave, who had been standing there for several seconds. Then I started sprinting up the hill. Dave had actually finished his leg in 37:05, 6:35 faster than my projection. Finally I looked down at my Garmin and realized I was taking this hill at a 6:30 pace. My leg was a hard 5.2-miler, with 722 feet of climbing spread across two steep hills. I slowed to an 8-minute pace. My goal for the leg was a 7:31 pace, and I figured I'd do the uphill sections at an 8-minute pace and the downhills at a 7:00 pace.

In moments I heard footsteps behind me. Was this how it was going to be, getting passed on my first leg? As the runner passed me, he said "Are we having fun yet?"

"Not yet," I replied. "I'm saving it for the second hill." I had studied the profile of the course and I knew that, while Mile 1 was a tough uphill section, I needed to save something for the 450-foot climb from Mile 2.5 to Mile 4.5. But as we ran along, I noticed that the other guy wasn't really gaining ground on me. He was about 50 feet ahead of me, and the gap seemed to be decreasing rather than increasing. In another minute or so, I was passing him back. I tried to stay calm and confident all the way to the top of the hill. I finished the hill, and Mile 1, in 8:08, a 350-foot climb. Then it was downhill on a gravel road, and I just tried to let my legs carry me as fast as I could. I passed a runner on this section, my first "road kill." Mile 2, a 450-foot descent, was done in just 6:38. Mile 3, half down and half up, was 7:43. Then the big hill started. I was laboring for breath as the hill just kept coming. Would I need to stop and walk? I tried to focus on good posture and good breathing, and I finished Mile 4, with its 212 feet of climbing, in 8:18. Then it got steeper. Breathing got heavier, and I wondered if there was any point to running. I knew that the grade would get as steep as 8 percent. Was it worth it to walk? Finally I gave in and walked for 30 seconds. I started running again, and almost immediately was laboring for breath. I promised myself I'd run for 3 minutes and then walk. I looked down at my watch and saw that only 90 seconds had passed. 

Holy sh-- this was hard. 

Finally I caved and walked again, this time for 60 seconds. Then I started running, even though the hill was just as steep. Suddenly I was at the top of the hill. Now I was cursing myself for walking so long. I picked up the pace. My legs felt like rubber, but I didn't let that slow me down. I kept building up speed as the hill got steeper. Only a half-mile left. I saw the "exchange zone" sign, usually around a quarter-mile from the finish, and tried to run even faster. Finally I saw Chad waiting for me, and Marc, Mark, and Rodney cheering me on. I strode hard to the finish and handed off to Chad. Marc got a nice picture of me in full stride:

I didn't even notice that van behind me...
I finished the leg in 7:36, a little slower than my projected pace of 7:31, but within 22 seconds, so overall I was pleased. But after that effort I started to wonder whether I'd have anything left for the next leg.

Meanwhile Chad was off and running on his first leg, the 7th leg of the race. His 5.4 mile leg was a little less hilly than mine, with 367 feet of climbing and 594 of descending, so I had projected a 7:10 pace for him. We drove past him hooting and hollering and waited for him at the next exchange zone. Here he is arriving:

Nice tan!
He completed the leg in 40:49, a 7:34, and was a little disappointed because he had lost 2 minutes to our projected time. We assured him it wasn't a big deal but he vowed to do better on his next leg.

Next up was Rodney, who had an "easy" 4.6-mile leg with 148 feet of climbing and 361 feet of descent. But as Kurt aptly pointed out on numerous occasions, no leg is really easy because you're going all out, every time. I projected a 7:17 pace for Rodney, and he finished in 33:29, a 7:26 pace. We were still within a couple minutes of our overall projected time. Not bad!

Next was Marc. He was feeling rather unsure of himself because he hasn't had a great running year; he was injured in the Disneyworld Marathon in January and still hasn't regained his form. He felt he was the slowest runner on the team and was letting us down. We told him that what mattered to us was just that he give it his best effort. His first leg was a 5.2 miler, and I had projected a 10:00 pace for him. He ended up doing an 11:21 pace, and was feeling very down at the end of the leg. I told him that the pace doesn't matter and that he had given it a solid effort. But secretly I thought he could do better. We were now about 8 minutes behind our projected pace.

Mark Ippolito next took the bracelet for the first "Very Hard" leg, a 7.9-miler with a lot of gravel roads and 663 vertical feet of climbing, including a 400-foot hill in Mile 3 and 4. He came in at 65:26, a 7:59 pace, within 3 seconds of his projected time!

He handed off to Kurt and the Brown Bomber crew, and as we were packing up, we saw the Charlotte Running Club / Try Sports team pull in to the lot. Despite the fact that they had started two and a half hours behind us, they had nearly caught up! Paul Mainwaring, one of Charlotte's best runners and a great runblogger, hopped out of the van and immediately recognized me, despite the fact that we only know each other because of our blogs. He told us that CRC was about 3 minutes ahead of their rivals, the Asheville Running Collective. This was going to be some race for first place — both teams were trying not only for the win, but also the course record. After a few minutes, Paul went back to chat with his teammates, and the Asheville van pulled up. 

One of the Asheville guys promptly introduced himself and told me they were only behind because one teammate had eaten too much candy and gotten sick during his leg. He was confident they would be able to make up some ground on this leg. We decided to wait and watch the exchanges of the top two teams in the race. We were not disappointed. In about 10 minutes, the CRC runner blazed into the exchange zone and handed off to the next runner, who took off at an inconceivable speed. Not long after, the Asheville runner came flying in, and his teammate took off even faster. These teams were breathing down each other's necks, going absolutely all-out.

After all the excitement, we were ready to eat, and hit up Mellow Mushroom in Blowing Rock for some fantastic pizza:

Yum! Too bad we couldn't have beer, too!
Meanwhile, Kurt was taking on a challenging 6.3-mile leg 11, with 518 feet of climbing. He completed it in 44:56, an amazing pace of 7:08, a minute faster than his projected arrival time.

He handed off to Dave Moore, who had an even harder 7.9-mile leg with 663 feet of climbing. Dave finished in 67:00, an 8:29 pace, 1 minute slower than projected.

Dave gave it to Stephanie, who had a hard 7.1 miler with 486 feet of climbing. They were following highway 221 around Grandfather Mountain, and it was now dark. Maybe the darkness slowed Stephanie, or maybe she was holding back a bit, knowing her Leg 33 would be one of the toughest in the race, but she finished in 60:51 for an 8:34 pace, 3 minutes slower than projected.

Stephanie handed to Chris, who was running the notorious 10-mile Grandfather Mountain leg. This leg had the most climbing of any leg yet — 866 feet, and very little downhill relief. He finished in an 8:29 pace, just 8 seconds per mile off of his projected 8:21 pace.

Next up was Dave F. He had a 2.3-mile downhill leg and by now had realized he was in better shape than he had thought. He burned into the town of Linville with a 5:29 pace. He was going so fast he failed to notice that he had actually passed through the exchange zone! Once again, I wasn't expecting him, and he had to run back and give me the bracelet. Still, he had run over 4 minutes faster than his projected pace for this short leg.

Now, at 11 p.m., it was my turn once again. My leg was an "easy" 3.4-miler, with a fairly steep 266-foot hill from Mile 0.5 to Mile 1.5, and downhill to the finish. I decided since the hill spanned two different splits, I'd try to keep every split under 7:30. I kept the pace under 7-minutes for the first half mile, then hit the hill. It was harder than I thought, but I reminded myself that this was a short leg and I'd have downhill soon enough. I finished Mile 1 in 7:27 — just barely under my goal. At the start of Mile 2 I wondered if it would be possible to keep my pace fast enough. I was slower than an 8 minute pace. But then I felt myself going faster. Maybe the hill was flattening out. I couldn't tell if I was going uphill or downhill, but each step seemed a little easier than the previous one. Near the end of the mile it was obvious I was going downhill, and I started to run all-out. My pace for the mile ended up at 7:06. The downhill kept going, and I kept speeding up, completing Mile 3 in 6:41. Now the finish was just .4 miles away. Or was it? I kept running at top speed, but I couldn't see the exchange zone. Thinking about the mishap with Dave, I realized that it might be a good idea for me to yell something as I approached the exchange, so Chad would realize he needed to be ready. Finally I realized that I should be yelling "Chad," and just at that moment the finish line came into view. I yelled, and Chad waved at me. We had made contact. I sprinted in and handed off to him. My final bit was run at a 6:23 pace, and the Garmin clocked my pace for the whole leg at 7:01, so I easily beat my 7:14 projection.

Or had I? My total time for the leg was 24:47, slower than my projected time of 24:34. As it turned out, either my Garmin's mileage of 3.53 was off, or the official race measurement of 3.4 was off, but either way I hadn't quite made my time. And I also didn't have any road kills on the leg. Grrr.

But Chad was on a mission. He wanted to beat his projected time for this leg. Here he is getting ready for his leg:

Runners wore tons of reflective gear — and needed it on dark country roads
This leg was a 4.9 miler with 500 feet of climbing, no easy task. Chad easily beat his projected pace of 7:46 with a 37:14 effort, an average pace of 7:36.

Next up was Rodney, who had a dizzying 1,217 feet of descent in a 5.9-mile leg. To add insult to injury, there was a steep 250-foot climb in Mile 4. Rodney mastered it, matching his projected pace of 7:49 almost exactly, with a 45:54 finish and a 7:47 pace.

It was past midnight, and we'd just completed 18 legs of the 36-leg course. We were halfway done! Rodney handed to Marc, who had a 4.3-miler. Once again, Marc was feeling down, and was concerned about his final leg, his hardest. As we drove past Marc, he said he had seen a couple dogs and was looking spooked. There was little we could do but shout encouragement and head to the next Exchange Zone.

Somehow, throughout all this excitement, Rodney had become the team's champion sleeper. Nearly as soon as he hopped into the van, he was splayed across his bench seat. I don't know how he did it. He slept through our shouts, through bumpy backroads, through almost anything.

As Marc arrived at the exchange zone, he was once again disappointed in his pace, finishing in 48:44, 6 minutes slower than projected, an 11:20 pace.

He handed off to Mark Ippolito, who had another very difficult leg: 7.5 miles, with 673 feet of climbing. The elevation profile of the leg made it look like there was just one significant hill, at the end of the leg, but as we drove along it, we could see that there were really several steep hills, each bigger than the next one. Mile 6 was a solid, steep grind before the route finally descended back to the exchange point. Mark beat his projected time by a minute, but looked horribly spent at the end of his leg. He had run the challenging leg at an 8:07 pace.

Rodney slept through all of this.

Now we had just over two and a half hours to drive to the next transition zone, try to get some sleep, and get ready for my next leg. The transition was at Red Hill Baptist church, and there were tons of people and vans there. We actually had trouble finding a parking spot, but eventually found a space right in front of the sanctuary. I noticed the porch was carpeted, and suggested we sleep there. Marc, Rodney and I decided to get our sleeping bags out, while Chad and Mark stayed in the van. I set my alarm to go off in an hour and a half and tried to get some sleep. Rodney was asleep before I had finished arranging my gear.

Meanwhile, Kurt was running an easy downhill 2.3-mile leg. He whipped through it at an amazing 5:37 pace, two minutes better than projected!

Next Dave Moore had a hard 5.6 miler, and he beat his projection handily as well, running it in 46:07 for an 8:14 pace, two minutes better than predicted. 

Stephanie took the bracelet next for another hard 5.6 miler, again on dark country roads. A few miles in, she saw a coyote, perhaps tracking a deer in the forest. She was completely alone, and soon noticed that the coyote now seemed to be tracking her. She tried to call her van to come and scare the coyote away, but she had no phone coverage. There was nothing to do but just finish the leg, which she did, with the coyote following her for two miles. She completed the leg in a 52:01, showing an impressive bit of resolve until she finally collapsed into the van.

Chris took over for a downhill 3.2-miler. He was projected to run it fast, in a 6:13 pace. He ran quickly but not quite that fast, completing the leg in 22:00 for a 6:53 pace.

Chris handed off to Dave F, who had been destroying his projected times on every leg. This time was no exception, as he ran 4.3 miles over rolling hills in 30:57 for a 7:12 pace.

Meanwhile I had been ahead at transition zone 25 trying to get some sleep. Runners and vans kept arriving and departing, so my sleep was fitful at best. At about 4 a.m. some women had the liveliest, chatteriest conversation I'd ever heard. Hello?!? Do you realize some people are trying to sleep here? Finally at about 4:25 I gave in and got up. I jogged a few warmup laps around the parking lot, attached my blinker lights and reflective vest, and headed down to the exchange zone to wait for Dave. Rodney, naturally, was still asleep.

Our exchange was better, but still not perfect, as Dave ran by me once again and I had to catch up to him and make the exchange. But I got the bracelet quickly enough and dashed off into the darkness. I knew the 4.5-mile route had two hills, one at about Mile 1 and another at Mile 3. But what I couldn't remember is which hill was bigger. After running the downhill first mile at a 7:15 pace (and passing a runner almost immediately), I saw the first hill. I hoped this was the big one; it looked plenty big. I tried to maintain a sub-8-minute pace, and somehow I succeeded, cresting the hill and finishing the mile at a 7:52 pace. The next mile was a solid downhill and I cruised past three more runners, at a 6:44 pace! Finally I hit the second hill. Halfway up, I realized this was the big one. It was much steeper, and full of switchbacks. Looking back at my Garmin record of the leg, it involved 266 feet of climbing before finally cresting and starting downhill. I was slower than a 9-minute pace for portions of the hill, but by the end of the mile I had sped up to an 8:18 average. Just a half-mile to go, and I finished it at a 7:06 pace. This time my Garmin recorded only 4.41 miles, compared the 4.5 mile estimate we got from the race officials, so I had officially made up for my previous leg. According to Garmin, my pace for the entire leg was 7:29, slower than the projection, but I came in at a 7:21 pace if you went by the official race map. Either way, I'll take it. As before, I yelled "Chad" as I approached the exchange zone, and our exchange went off without a hitch.

Chad's next leg was a 9-miler, with a downhill start and a long, gradual uphill finish. It would be the last leg in total darkness, and Chad handled it with ease, finishing in 70:41 for a 7:51 pace, a minute faster overall than his projection. This was Chad's last leg in the race! Just 10 legs to go.

Chad handed off to Rodney, who had a hard 7.4 miler. It was just starting to get light as Rodney started  in a chilly fog, but because it wasn't yet 7:30, the race rules required him to wear a full set of reflective gear and lights. He crushed his projected time by three and a half minutes, finishing in 62:36, for an 8:28 pace.

Rodney passed the bracelet to Marc, who had been having a bad race up until now. This was the leg he had been dreading, a 7.5-miler with several hills. But I knew he could make his projected pace of 11:05 per mile if he just kept a steady 10-minute pace and gave himself a 60 second walk-break every mile. We headed up to exchange zone 29 to wait for him on a gorgeous mountain morning.

Beautiful scenery abounded on our final day
It was an idyllic valley with the sun just cresting over the ridge to the east. We kept checking for Marc, hoping he'd show up at his projected arrival time of 9:22, but prepared for him to be late. Finally, at 9:20, he came around the corner, running determinedly towards the exchange. He handed off to Mark I at 9:21, ahead of his projection! He had done it!

Marc checks his watch after handing off to Mark
Mark finally had an "easy" leg, a 4.4-miler with 203 feet of climbing. 

Chad shouts encouragement to Mark as we drive by
Mark's projected pace was 7:45, and we were expecting him at exchange zone 30 by 9:56. We drove ahead to meet the Brown Bomber for the final major transition. Mark brought it in in 7:32 per mile, at 33:07 for the leg. 

Dave F and Chris wait for Mark
This was everyone's last chance to hang out with the Brown Bomber's crew before the Silver Bullet headed to the finish line in Asheville. I'd be transferring to the Brown Bomber at this point and the six of us would finish the race.

Rodney and Chris wait for Mark
Eventually Mark showed up and handed it to Kurt for the notorious Leg 31, a 6.5-mile, 1,430-foot lung-busting ascent that ended in seemingly endless switchbacks. I had projected Kurt to finish it in 57:30, but all projections are out the window on such a long, steep climb. I hopped in the van and Chris drove us to the top, stopping next to each runner we passed to ask if they were okay or needed anything. The runners looked uniformly exhausted, and "runner" was really an optimistic word at this point because most of the time they were walking. The grade, at 6 percent, wasn't prohibitively steep, but because it was incessant it was nearly impossible to run the whole way.

There was a pack of vans waiting at the top, and everyone yelled encouragement to any runner who made it. Finally we saw Kurt round the final corner and we shouted him home. He had completed the leg in 62:00, faster than most of the others around him but a little slower than projected. The rest of us were just grateful it was him running the leg and not us!

Kurt hands off to Dave Moore
Next Dave Moore had a 2,093-foot descent on a gravel road for a 9.4-mile leg. He took off at a fast pace and never let up, and when we met him at the bottom he had completed it in an average pace of 7:46. He had run over 30 miles, the longest distance of anyone in our group, with a whopping 4,133 feet of descent, nearly double the thigh-pounding of any runner on our team. He said the hardest part of this leg wasn't so much the downhill as the flat stretch on hot pavement for the final three miles.

Dave handed to Stephanie, who had another extremely challenging leg: An 833-foot climb up a 13 percent grade. Then she'd have to run down an equally-steep, switchbacked hill for a mile and a half to the finish. As we drove up, we saw lots of walkers and practically no one running. Frankly, it's nearly impossible and much less efficient to run up a grade that steep. We stopped at the top of the hill to cheer her on, and several runners passed before she arrived. When we told them they were at the top, they could hardly believe us, so we had to repeat it several times: "This is it! It's all downhill from here." It was really something to watch their facial expressions change when they finally realized they'd get to start downhill.

Finally Stephanie arrived, looking amazingly strong for what she had just accomplished:

Kurt had to lie on his belly to get this amazing shot as Stephanie crested the hill
We goaded her on with coyote calls, which seemed a little cruel, but I think she cracked a smile as she started down the hill. We drove down to the finish line so Chris could get ready for his leg. Stephanie arrived, still looking strong, and handed to Chris ahead of her projected time, running this tough leg in 49:40 for a 9:33 pace. She had passed five runners on the hill!

Chris dashed quickly down the hill for his 4.2 mile leg. As it turned out, he started a little too quickly, because the leg ended with a tough 250-foot uphill and he was reduced to walking a couple times. He finished the leg in 32 minutes flat, for a 7:37 pace, about 2 minutes slower than projected.

Next Dave F headed out for yet another extremely difficult leg, with a 951-foot climb up an 11 percent grade over two solid miles. Once again we drove past many "runners" walking up the hill before arriving at the Blue Ridge Parkway for the final 2.2 miles of the leg, where gorgeous views and a downhill finish awaited. Dave called it the most brutal, but also one of the most beautiful runs he had ever done. Once again, Dave was early finishing his leg, by nearly three minutes, for an 8:55 pace, but this time I was ready for him and our final handoff was completed without a hitch.

As captain, I got to assign myself the final 6.7-mile downhill leg into Asheville. But first I'd have to run a mile and a half uphill, over 240 vertical feet. I wanted to take the uphill pretty fast, knowing my lungs, if not my legs, would get a rest on the downhill to come. The hill was a little steeper than I thought it would be, though, so all I could manage was an 8:05 pace for Mile 1. Finally in Mile 2 the hill crested and started heading down, very gradually. I picked up the pace as much as I could, and finished Mile 2 in 7:09. This was downhill running, to be sure, but it wasn't as steep as I remembered from our drive-through last week. Mile 2's elevation loss was 104 feet. Mile 3 started the downhill in earnest, with 191 feet of descent, which I complete in 6:54. Somewhere along here I was surprised to see a runner ahead of me. I hadn't remembered a lot of runners making exchanges before I did at the exchange zone, but I was glad to have a target for passing, and easily got my sixth road kill. Mile 4 didn't seem quite as steep as Mile 3. It even felt like it might have some uphill — was that an illusion? Not according to Garmin, which indicated Mile 4 had 244 feet of downhill but also 53 feet of uphill. I finished it in 7:09. During Mile 5 I spotted another runner in the distance; he seemed to be moving at a faster clip than my previous road kill, but I was definitely gaining on him. I tried to pick up the pace a bit and completed the mile in 7:04. 

Finally at Mile 6 the hill really started getting steep. It was still runnable—about a 10 percent grade— but running it required all-out abandon. Since there were only 1.7 miles to go, I decided to go for it, at last catching and passing the runner I had seen, just as another runner appeared ahead. Road kill #7 congratulated me on my good running, and I told him I thought we'd both pass the next guy. Sure enough, this guy wasn't going nearly as fast and I passed him easily. I finished Mile 6 at an unbelievable (for me) 6:21 pace. That is not just the fastest mile I've run in a race this long, it's the fastest I've completed in any road race, ever. Sure, I was helped by 455 feet of downhill, but it's still amazing to me to be able to run that fast for that long.

Soon I emerged from the beautiful tree-lined residential street I had been running on and into the heart of downtown Asheville. Suddenly I was running on busy city streets. Fortunately, there were plenty of race volunteers to point the way. I knew there was a pernicious bit of uphill before the finish line, but it was actually a bit of a relief not to be running downhill anymore, so I kept a pretty good pace. Before long, I could see Chad holding a team T-shirt for me to change into as I approached the finish line. Even amid all the excitement, Rodney managed to snap a picture of the change as Stephanie watched on:

Need a Port-a-Jon? That will have to wait until later
Shortly after, the entire team joined us, and we raced across the finish line! I had completed the final 0.7 miles in a 7:18 pace, even with the shirt-change. My overall pace for the leg was 7:08, which I think would be a PR for me at the 10K distance. Here's the team photo at the finish line:

Overall, we had finished the race in 27 hours and 58 minutes, for an average pace of 8:03 per mile. We were exhausted but exhilarated and exuberant at what we had accomplished. As the remaining teams crossed the line, I congratulated my Leg 36 road kills, and the second guy I passed actually thanked me for motivating him to run faster. 

We finished in 35th place out of 120 teams, and 3rd among the 5 teams with 10 members like our own. It was an amazing, breathtaking experience. Is it too early to start thinking about next year?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Andrew Lovedale Access To Success 5k Recap

by Charles A. Willimon,  aka Chas

The morning of Saturday, September 10th was a beautiful early fall day, and a great day to run a 5k cross-country style race. This race was the inaugural Access to Success 5k at the Davidson College cross country trails. A2S is a recently incorporated not-for-profit organization started by former Davidson basketball star Andrew Lovedale to provide clothing, shoes, and other needed supplies to impoverished youths in Lovedale’s native Nigeria. While Lovedale could not be physically at the event, he did communicate with patrons real-time from Paris via Skype for the duration of the day’s activities. Another notable Davidson alumnus—NBA star Steven Curry—came out to emcee the race. Also in attendance were Davidson basketball coach Bob McKillop, and freshly inaugurated Davidson College president Carol Quillen.

Due to the volume of runners, the men’s and women’s races started 30 minutes apart. Each race started from the Baker Sports Complex parking lot for spacing purposes. The route included about 200 yards of asphalt, a left turn onto the practice football field behind the sports complex, and then 2.6ish miles of fine gravel trail before finishing on the same practice field. I knew the route like the back of my hand because I had run several workout runs on these trails over the past few months. I was shooting for a 21:30 time, which would have paced me right around 7 minutes per mile.

Bobby, Jim, and Chas
Also representing DART in the men’s race were Bobby Aswell, Jr., and Jim Crotts (editor's note:  other DARTers in attendance were Natasha Marcus, Angela Knox, Tristan Van Vuuran, Chris Flaherty, and maybe a few more).  All three of us secured spots near the front of the pack. Stephen Curry fired the starting pistol, and we were off at a very fast pace. Several young, long-legged students shot past me and vied for front-running positions. I’m a pretty small guy (5’7”) with a proportionately quick stride (about 95 strides per minute), so I did not have much hope of keeping up with these tall guys out in the open. Hills, especially uphill climbs, are my strong suit. Glancing at my watch to keep pace, I eased back a little and let the passers pass and bided my time. Bobby passed me shortly after we entered the trails. He was keeping a healthy pace, and I knew him to be a seasoned runner. I was eager to see how he would finish.

The trails started with a pretty dramatic downhill, and then there were a couple of turns before the course popped out into an open corridor that was cleared of trees for power lines. This largely straight section had a series of rolling hills. Jim passed me here, but I kept him within sight. After the hills, at about the first mile marker, we took a right at a fork in the path to go under a canopy of tree cover. The middle mile of the race was mostly flat, but it wound around from side to side to make a squiggly loop. I gained ground on Jim and eventually passed him, but not without a fight. Having done mile repeats with Jim a month earlier for speed work, I knew he liked to hold on to his position very tenaciously. Today was no different. He bolted back ahead of me for 100 yards or so. Jim and I spent most of the middle mile like this—trading positions back and forth. We passed a few other runners in the process.

My pace for the second mile was 7:23, which disappointed me considering my first mile was 6:49. I still had energy enough for a late race kick, so I dug in just past the second mile marker and overtook Jim for the last time. Shortly after, the route took us back out into the hilly corridor and we reversed the path from the first mile. I could see three runners spaced out ahead of me on the hills, so I decided I would put targets on each of them to goad my pace. The first runner faded back to me fairly quickly, but the second runner had a very long stride. On the uphill that was to come, my shorter legs would give me an advantage over his long turnover, so I waited patiently. Sure enough, on the steep uphill leading to the trailhead, I made short work of this taller runner, and I set my sights on the last runner ahead of me. Had the race been 200 meters longer, I might have caught him, but I was glad he was out there in front of me to make me drive harder. My final full mile was 6:46, and my official time was 21:15, which was ahead of my goal, and good enough for a PR pace of 6:52 minutes per mile. Not bad for a trail race!

Jim finished with a 21:55 time, and Bobby had come in at 19:45, which was fourth place overall. The winner was a high school track athlete who ran a time of 18:09. The awards ceremony would not start until after the women’s race, so Bobby and I took the opportunity to work in a nice, easy, two- mile cool-down run through the beautiful Davidson campus. The jog brought back a few memories of my time there as a student ten years ago. After a short raffle and a brief address by President Quillen praising Andrew Lovedale, Stephen Curry, and all the supporters of A2S, Coach McKillop announced the winners and the awards of the men’s race. Bobby and I each won 1st place in our respective age groups.  While there were no medals, our winning earned us each $20 in gift cards to Omega Sports—which I promptly spent on running gear after the race.

Chas stepping up to claim his award
The A2K 5k was a great race for a great cause. In order to learn more about the foundation or to make a donation, go to http://a2sfoundation.org/Access_2_Success/Home.html. As we used to say during my time at Davidson: “It’s a great day to be a Wildcat!”

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Finished the Blue Ridge Relay!

Team D.A.R.T. finished the Blue Ridge Relay today at 2:58 p.m., about three minutes faster than our projection, finishing in a time of 27 hours and 58 minutes. What a race! There were plenty of highlights and lowlights, and they will be covered soon in a recap post. I'm utterly and completely exhausted, but thrilled that our relay came off without a hitch.

Sorry for the lack of updates...

Marc Hirschfield is now on leg 29 out of 36. We're doing great, within two minutes of Team D.A.R.T's projected time for the Blue Ridge Relay race so far. Unfortunately, we have had very little access to the Internet, which has made updates nearly impossible.

Basically, when we have had time to update, we haven't had signal, and when we have had signal, we haven't had time to update.

Highlights so far: sleeping on the front porch of a church, fantastic pizza in Blowing Rock, Stephanie facing down a coyote, Chad getting doused in the groin with soda by local hoodlums in the darkness, and spectacular views at every turn.

Friday, September 9, 2011

DART BRR results so far

On leg 1, Kurt ran an amazing 21:54 over 4 miles, a 5:30 pace down the mountain.

Leg 2, Dave Moore ran a strong 56:40 over 7.5 miles despite a wrong turn!

Leg 3, Stephanie mastered a hilly 5.2 miles in 40:11

The DART Blue Ridge Relay Run: semi-live!

Here we all are at the start! Kurt Graves, Dave Moore, Stephanie Sawyer, Chris Brown, Dave Fischli, Dave Munger, Chad Randolph, Rodney Graham, Marc Hirschfield, and Mark Ippolito

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

XTERRA Fisher Farm Park 10 Mile Trail Race Recap

By Charles A. Willimon, aka Chas

This past Sunday was an exercise in spontaneity for me.  It was the day before Labor Day, and XTERRA was holding the finale of their 3 race trail running series at Fisher Farm Park in Davidson, NC, which happens to be 10 minutes from my house.  I had seen this event on the calendar in several different places, but among my fairly active running community, it wasn’t really showing up on anyone’s radar.  I registered for the event only 2 days in advance, which is pretty last minute for someone like me.  Therefore, I had no real plan to train specifically for it.

Fisher Farm
The race was a nice departure from my comfort zone.  There were 5 mile and 10 mile events from which to choose.  Having just raced in a 5 mile road race a couple weeks prior, I registered for the 10 miler.  Besides, I had designated Sundays as my dedicated long run day, and I wanted to get at least 10 miles in to keep up with my marathon training schedule.  I figured that 10 miles at a hard race pace would be as good for my fitness as 14 or so at an easy pace.  I would turn out to be right.  Also, this was my first real trail racing experience.  I had run many workout runs on the Davidson College cross-country trails, but those trails are nice, wide, plush, well maintained fine gravel trails with just a few rolling hills, and minimal twisting and winding.  Here at Fisher Farm, we would be running on the hard-packed red clay dirt of the mountain biking trails, with lots of profound elevation changes, drop-offs, tree roots, and a predominantly single-track course.

I usually like to have a pace and total race time in mind when competing in road races, and I usually have plenty of time to set some goals, but I was a fish out of water in this race.  First, the terrain was such that I figured it would add at least 30-45 seconds to my minute/mile pace.  Second, 10 miles is an odd distance for me.  I feel I can pace myself pretty comfortably for a half-marathon, and I can run a 10k at a hard pace from the gate and finish strong.  These are two different approaches I have for two very different distances—and 10 miles is smack-dab in the middle of them.

On race morning, I showed up at Fisher Farm Park very early.  As often happens with me, I was the first runner on site.  Volunteers were setting up the finish arch and setting out clipboards for race-day registration.  Even though it was 6:40am, and packet pick-up was to start at 7am, the nice folks at XTERRA waved me over and checked me off so I could pick up my goody-bag.  Inside, along with the usual promotional fliers, there was an XTERRA pint glass, a nice technical running shirt, and a couple of GU gels.  The goodies almost made up for the race fee alone.  Shortly after I arrived, fellow DARTer Todd Hartung drove up.  His participation was one of the factors that convinced me to get off my rear and run this race.  Todd’s training schedule was such that this race would be quite a taper down for him, but his race calendar was a lot more packed than mine.

As dawn broke, it turned into a beautiful morning at Fisher Farm.  The open meadow just past the parking lot had a thin layer of fog that was slowly retreating.  The temperature was still cool enough to give me goose pimples, but I knew that would not last.  After chatting with Todd about our respective training schedules and upcoming runs, I took a few easy laps around the meadow, more out of boredom than the need to warm up.  Other runners started following my lead and doing the same.  After about a mile of slow warm-up run, I munched down some GU chomps and did some strides and dynamic stretches.  Tim, the race coordinator from XTERRA, ran the event like a well oiled machine.  He explained the route and the spacing process several times over the PA system as the clock approached the start time of 8:30.  The route was to follow a 0.45 mile loop around the open meadow for spacing purposes, and then the length of the combined green circle and blue square mountain bike trails with about 1/8 mile worth of the advanced black diamond course just to throw in some extra technicality.  The five mile racers would complete one lap and then turn back into the open area for the last 100 feet to finish, while the 10 milers would do two full laps of the trails.  There were water stops at mile 2.8 (which also was mile 7.8), and 5.2, right before the second lap would begin.

Todd and I found starting spots close to the start line.  At precisely 8:30, Tim blew the starting horn and set off into the clearing on his mountain bike as a trail blazer.  Here is where I committed one of history’s classic blunders.  No, I did not start a land war in Asia…but I did shoot out of the gate at way too hard a pace for a long distance race.  Out of the field of nearly 200 runners, I strode around the meadow and into the woods in 4th position.  I knew from my first 100 yards that my pace was too fast, but my own hubris kept me from slowing down too much.  The first half mile of the trails was generally downhill, but there were plenty of ups, downs, loose rocks, and tree branches.  At my given pace, I felt at times like I was in more of a controlled fall than a downhill run.  I kept the 3 front runners in view for the first 1.5 miles, but it was clear that at least 2 of them were pulling away.  I could notice from the tight switchbacks on the course that I was at the head of a small pack of maybe 20 runners, and the rest of the field was farther back out of my view.  I tried to maintain my pace for as long as I could, and prolong the inevitable fade from the front of this pack.

Shortly before mile two, the track took us into the challenging black diamond section of the trails.  I scampered up some rocky hills to keep within reach of the speedsters, and I turned a corner to find a rather dramatic drop-off that was pretty much a hop from a boulder.  It was too late to slow down, so I thought my most sincere mountain goat thoughts and hopped right into the path.  An especially brazen shirtless runner in orange shorts and neon green shoes flew nimbly by me on this drop and set out towards the front runners.  I was just happy to make it down without incident…this time.
With Orange-Shorts out in front of me, I knew I was in 5th position overall—still a lot farther ahead than where I am used to being in a group this size.  However, I could feel the breath from the small pack of runners at my heels.  Most were just waiting for a convenient time to squeeze by me on the crowded single-track.  One of the front runners had fallen back within reach, and I swerved around him to open up some space ahead of me.  Many runners behind me did the same.  At about 2.5 miles, the pack began to disperse.  3 very fast looking ladies passed me in rapid succession.  They appeared to be racing as a group and keeping pace with one another very well.  A handful of men passed me shortly thereafter.  At this point, I had to remind myself that some of these runners were probably racing the 5 mile event.  There was no use in trying to keep ahead of them.

Just before the 3rd mile was a water station.  I have never been good at grabbing water during a race.  I snatched a cup, managed about half a sip, and then tossed the rest as near to the garbage bag as I could.  For all the good it did me, I probably should not have bothered.

I was relieved to no longer have a small pack of runners chasing me, and I enjoyed nearly a mile of setting my own pace, even though I could sense a tall figure gaining ground from behind.  At about mile 3.5, I was passed by all 6 feet, 4 inches of Todd Hartung, who was very polite as he nimbly squeezed by me on the closely wooded trail.  I was not surprised to have Todd pass me; he is a very efficient and versatile runner for someone with such a broad-shouldered frame.  “Tear it up, Todd!” I cheered to him.  He encouraged me to keep up with him, and I did for quite a while.  At the 4th mile, the winding trails gave way to a spacious straightaway.  Todd and I each in turn overtook one of the men who had passed me a couple of miles back.

What goes down must go up.  The early drops in elevation along the course meant that there would be some pretty painful climbs before we started our second lap.  I kept pace with Todd, and even closed on him a little, but he began to pull away from me as we started climbing the winding hill up towards the trail exit/entrance.  The climb was tough, so I focused on Todd ahead of me and tried to forget the fact that I would need o complete this climb again in 40 minutes or so.  I kept Todd in view as far as the end of the first lap (mile 5.2).  There I took a 20-step walk break at the water stop to make sure I got a whole cup down.  There were a couple of other runners closing in, so I decided not to dawdle and I plunged back into the woods for a second round of trails.

Like the first lap, my second go-around began with some faster-than-comfortable rapid descents on tired legs.  Having run one lap of the trails, I knew how to pace myself and what to expect.  I also knew that there were a lot more people behind me than there were in front of me, and I was determined to keep it that way.  The difficult black diamond portion of the lap loop definitely slowed my pace on this lap.  As gingerly as I tried to handle the big boulder drop-off, I ended up taking a spill and scraping the fleshy part of my shin.  I was up and on my feet again in no more than a split second, and the adrenaline kept me from any distracting pain, but I was sure my shin would be stinging later.

The wages of trail running
There was no further sign of Todd ahead of me, so I focused on the approaching footfalls from behind.  A younger runner in a black shirt and red shorts was closing on me, or so I could tell from my sideways glances on the trail’s many switchbacks.  When I reached the mid-lap water stop, I did not want to slow down for want of keeping my adrenaline up.  As a result, my last water take was about as unproductive as my first.  At 8 miles, Black Shirt closed to right behind me.  He still had gas in his tank, and I was waning, so I figured he would fly by me right away.  He certainly had plenty of opportunities for an easy pass.  Instead, he stayed behind me and kept me within arm’s reach.  Maybe he was more tired than I thought…or maybe I was keeping a faster pace than I had anticipated at this late stage in the race.  His being there certainly drove me to push harder.  It was almost a mile later before Black Shirt passed me and darted ahead.

There were others who were within reach of catching up to me, but I was determined not to lose any more positions in this race.  From here on out, the track was uphill and very technical, as it had been at the end of the first lap.  I dug into the hills and tried to milk every breath for what it was worth.  While I could not get a good look at my next pursuer, I was pretty sure I was putting distance between me and him (or her).  No one would pass me from here on out.  As I emerged from the wooded trails a final time and made a hard left toward the finish arch, I noticed my fiancée on the sideline cheering me on.  Since I did not know she would be showing up, it was a huge boon to my energy.  I caught her hand briefly as I made my final sprint through the finish line.  Todd was there at the finish to congratulate me on a good run.  Final time: 1:20:56.  Average overall pace: 8:05 minutes per mile.

Chas at the finish
I was pleased with my time and pace, especially considering my lack of experience with a real trail race.  My time was good enough to earn me a medal for second place in my age group.  Todd finished the race very strongly.  His 1:18:09 time allowed him a first place medal by a nice margin in his age group, so we represented DART very strongly that day.  Thankfully, Todd and I are in different age groups.  The black shirted runner who passed before mile 9 had made a nice finish and passed Todd in the last quarter mile of the race…much to Todd’s chagrin.  Todd and I both remarked on how well he must have paced himself from the start.  As we hung around to listen to Tim present all of the awards, I noticed that the sure-footed mountain goat in the orange shorts was the overall winner in the 10 mile event.  I did not feel so bad having been passed by him in such an acrobatic manner.  More power to him!

Chas (L) and Todd (R)
Since I am writing this recap a couple of days after the race, I can say that there are three take-home messages I gleaned from the event.  1) I need to pace myself appropriately for distance and terrain, or I will pay for it on the back end.  2) Trail running teaches me—through soreness—about muscle groups I never knew I had.  Also, a scraped up shin for my part, and a turned ankle for Todd at mile 9 are reminders of the unpredictability of the trail.  3) Most important of all: trail running is fun!  I still love to road race, but it’s exhilarating to get out of town, get dirty, and run through the woods on variable surfaces.  I will be running more trail races very soon.  Up next on my calendar is the Andrew Lovedale Access 2 Success 5k on the Davidson College cross country trails.  Should be a breeze!