Sunday, December 29, 2013

Otter Creek Trail Marathon 2013

The story of the day for the 2013 edition of the Otter Creek Trail Marathon, 16 and 8 milers was RAIN.  I woke up in the wee hours of Saturday morning to a deafening roar of rain on the metal roof of my small house.  Inches of rain were falling.  On the way there, more fell.  Once in the park though, the rain backed off which made getting to registration and prepping to run much more doable.  The crowd was noticeably light, and who could blame all of those who stayed home.  The trail system at Otter Creek is old and well built, but we had gotten an absurd amount of rain, and more was coming.

All three distances start together, and the perennial short distance ace, Murphy Sheets, rocketed off the front.  Behind him, a gaggle of young guys tore through the first mile or so, but things were sorted out pretty quickly.  A 16 miler I don't know, Ryan Althaus (wearing a Gopro and running for a fun lap), and I made up the lead group of three (well minus Murphy) by the time we were dropping in to Otter Creek itself.  The trail was holding up surprisingly well.  Huge puddles greeted us occasionally, but much of the trail surface wasn't too bad.  Midway through that first lap, it started to rain again - hard.  I enjoyed catching up with Ryan and the miles went by quickly.  We dropped our companion on the climb to the ridge and wrapped up lap one.  I had hit the ground only once and Ryan caught it on the Gopro - see attached.

Ryan peeled off to ditch the camera and said that he might come back out to try to catch me.  I wanted to run fast enough to ensure that wouldn't happen (not that I didn't want his company).  So, I just kept hammering on in the increasingly saturated woods.  The major descent on the second lap wasn't too bad, but the thing I noticed from the top of the hill was this spider web appearance on the forest floor.  It was whitish muddy water flowing down the hill on every trail and deer trail through the woods.  Otter Creek itself was becoming engorged and the trail surface along side it was like those first few steps when you're running into the ocean.  I had another couple much more spectacular wipe outs and made it through lap two feeling pretty solid - well mostly wet, but strong.

Lap three was all about just getting it behind me.  My body was fatiguing a little due to the strange foot placements and the all-over-core/back engagement that it takes to get through such terrain.  The two major water crossings were getting hairy.  As I approached the first - a back-filled spot with a set of wooden stairs in it, I noticed that two runners were skirting around it by climbing way up the hill which looked much sketchier to me.  Then once I saw the stairs, well the stair, I realized I was going for a dip.  I waded in to almost my waist and then climbed up the submerged staircase.  A volunteer, Mike Ford (who is an accomplished ultra runner) was running backward down the trail from his post at the Blue Hole aid station to make sure no one drowned at that spot.  One other crossing, which was just a matter of skipping over a few rocks just two hours earlier, was a pushy and loud rushing creek of white water by the third lap.  Things were getting hairy, and I was glad to be getting done.

I tried to maintain a decent clip through the second half of that last lap, but my body was feeling pretty worked from the strangely taxing water running that I had been doing for three hours.  The course had disintegrated to muck, standing water, or more frequently - running water.  Running uphill was more psychologically taxing because it appeared you were also going upstream.  But, when I got close to wrapping up that last lap, I realized that my time wasn't that bad.  In fact, I ran one minute faster that I did there last year.  Crazy.  It was bar none the wettest trail race I have ever done, on foot or bike.   I love Otter Creek.  It was my first marathon in 2008, and I've enjoyed every return trip since.  This one will go down as one of the best, most challenging and most rewarding ones yet.

Huge kudos to Cynthia Heady and Headfirst Performance for another fantastic event.  I love their races, partially because they're just great races, but mostly because Cynthia and Todd are wonderful people (and Cynthia's soups are to die for - sometimes I feel like I die a little running to reach that soup!).  

Next up, trying to rip a 50k PR at The Pistol then getting recovered quickly to come out and pace Troy Shellhamer for the final 20 miles of his 100 at the same event.  Hoping the Kentucky boys represent!  Happy New Year. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

White River Marathon for Kenya

Road marathons are one of my favorite disciplines in competitive running.  Sure a trail one would be much more enjoyable - a trail ultra even better, but there's something cool about racing this distance that deserves respect yet it is short enough that you can feel like you're running pretty darn fast.  Much less distance is much less fun - burning lungs, lactic acid dripping out of your ears - yuck.  However, much longer feels so much slower, especially on the mixed terrain of a trail ultra.  The marathon is like running the knife's edge.  Go a little too fast and it'll cut you, slow down too much and you can't get that time back. It's probably the event that is most driven by goal time - the PR, the BQ, the sub-5, 4, 3 hour, the Trials cut-off, or the Moose Mug.  Whatever it is about this discipline, it provides unique challenges and, when run well, huge rewards.

About 700 of us ready to roll. 
Each time I toe the line I have goals.  Sometimes I share them, sometimes I don't, and often I have various levels of what I want to accomplish.  Call them A, B and C goals.  I'll usually tell anyone my C goal - finish.  Even the B goal, if I'm feeling confident - PR (2:42:12 in this case) - I may let people in on if they ask.  But the A goal is one I prefer to keep a little closer to my chest, however it is the one that's first and foremost in my mind.  It's the one that usually will take a little risk, and, in the case of the road marathon, can result in missing the B or even C goal if it goes badly.  Last Saturday it was to run a 2:39.  I entered the White River Marathon for Kenya in Cotter, AR.

This race should be a "must do" for anyone who can possibly make it to northern Arkansas in late November.  It just happened to fit for me - post XC season and close enough to drive to, perfect sounding course (flattest, fastest as advertised on, small town atmosphere and following the White River, all sounded like good reasons to give this one a shot.  My girlfriend, Emmy, and I made the rendezvous at her family's cabin on Lake Malone and prepared for the haul to Arkansas the following day.

Friday was about a 7 hour day in the car, but I can't complain as Emmy drove the entire way allowing me to squirm around in my seat and kick my feet up.  We made the packet pick-up at Cotter School with about five minutes to spare but knew that we would have to come back and pick up my chip in the morning anyway.  It's comforting, though, to know exactly where you're going, and we even drove the double-out-and-back course.  After a hilarious and infuriating battle trying to locate some healthy carbs in Mountain Home, we eventually found a Thai restaurant where we scored some take out and got in bed at a decent hour. 

The course is unusual in that it leaves the school, drops about a half mile to the White River at Denton's Ferry then follows the river for another six plus miles to the first turn around.  Everyone runs back to Denton's Ferry and the finish line area, full marathoners turn around and go back out while the halfers finish.  No one goes back up the hill.  Marathoners head back out the out-and-back, which just goes a little ways further out to make up for the lost distance of the starting downhill.  The forecast looked pretty good for marathoning, not so much for my support, but ideal for a hard effort.  Blustery would best describe the day.  No hard headwinds in either direction, but consistently breezy and about 35 degrees.

The plan was simple, run nothing faster than 6 min/mi and nothing slower than 6:10.  I don't wear a GPS and never have - I actually enjoy doing the math mile by mile to figure out exactly how fast I'm running.  The field consisting of 5k'ers, 1/2 marathoners and full marathoners started together dropping down the hill out of Cotter.  Two 5k guys bombed down the hill and the rest of us settled in and got comfortable.  I had two young guys right with me who I soon found out were both running the 1/2.  We talked about pace as we rolled down the road and got a big chuckle when we hit the first mile marker in 5:42.  Whoops.  Then we came by the 2 mile marker in about 12:00 - too slow.  Finally by the 3 mile, we had it lined out to 6:01 pace and would pretty much keep it there.  A younger fella came off about at about 3 or 4 miles in, and my remaining companion was a 23 year old D2 runner, named Max, from a small college in MO.  His XC team had just missed Nationals, which is why he was in Arkansas running a 1/2 marathon.  He was a really smooth runner, and he mentioned perhaps running the full instead if he felt good, but decided by mile 8 or 9 that it was going to just be the half for him.  Shortly thereafter, he wished me luck and I was heading to the finish/turnaround alone.  Emmy was positioned at the entrance to the finish cul-de-sac with a bottle of GU Endurolyte Brew (the 2x sodium variety) so that I could run that short distance with the bottle and get good drinks then drop it back off as I came back out.  It worked flawlessly, and I had the first half behind me in well under 1:20.

Negative splitting is not my forte but I knew that a big positive split would be detrimental.  I didn't have any cushion to speak of and just had to keep knocking off miles.  6:05 was my mantra.  The double out and back format sends you back past your fellow runners a lot and they were all super-supportive.  Almost every single person I went by had something encouraging to say.  I would usually just give them the thumbs up and motor on - not that I don't like to say nice things back - I just couldn't spare the breath.  The miles went by fast.  The things that had been hurting through the past training cycle began to flare up again, but nothing was debilitating - nothing was slowing me down.  I considered pushing harder, then thought about how bad it would suck to break down in that last 5k.  I'd feel bad for a minute and considered slowing down, then thought about how awful it would be to miss my goal.  The river valley narrowed and I could eventually see the finish area off in the distance.

2:39:34 officially.  Felt pretty good about it for a moment as I enjoyed the high fives from the crowd and the hugs from Emmy.  But, by the time I was slipping into my sweats, I was wishing I had dug a little deeper - taken a bigger risk.  That's what is so enticing about running on that edge.  I stayed far enough on the safe side that day and ran a PR by almost three minutes.  I know I can go faster.

Got about 90 seconds recovery before I was answering questions. 
Gear and nutrition were dialed.  Brooks Launch shoes, Brooks ID singlet, Brooks Infiniti short, Brooks arm sleeves.  Two dollar Wal-mart gloves.  Craft base layer sleeveless.  Two GU Roctane gels (Island Necar), one bottle GU Electrolyte Brew (Blueberry Pomegranate 2x sodium).

Here's some media coverage:

Made it into one of those cool news write ups on

White River Marathon for Kenya (prev Mountain Home Marathon for Kenya) - Nov 23 - Cotter, AR
Matt Hoyes, 39 of Bardstown KY, earned the 2013 White River Marathon for Kenya with a 2:39:34 performance. He was previously won the Otter Creak Trail Marathon, and was also second there in 2012. He was also runner-up at the 2013 Eagle Creek Trail Marathon and third at the 2012 Rock 'n' Roll St. Louis Marathon. Mike Wendel, 50 of Chatham IL, was the runner-up in 2:54:15. Brad Atkins, 25 of Blacksburg VA, was third in 3:01:52.
Patricia Schaefer, 31 of Springfield IL, claimed the women's title in 3:12:59. She was sixth at the 2013 Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon in April. Jenna Griffith, 43 of Marion IL, took second in 3:28:07. Taking third was Ashley Dahlman, 27 of Marion IL, in 3:32:43.
Complete Searchable Results Here!

A local newspaper article from Mountain Home Arkansas:

And, the galleries page from

After 10 years at the helm, founder and race director (and Ironman triathlete) Laurie is stepping down.  This was only my first year, and I know she will be missed. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

TNHSXC 2013 Recap

Year two began with high expectations.  Following our Class 1A debut as a newly opened high school in 2012 (boys team qualified for State as well as one female - Sadie M.) the stage was set. All of our student-athletes were returning as we had no senior class last year, and we were moving up to Class 2A and south to Bowling Green's Region 2 following a KHSAA region realignment.  Our team had grown in numbers and would peak by season's end at 32.  Most of the fastest core boys were the same, but the back half of our varsity girls squad was made up of many new smiling faces.
What happens when I leave my phone in the office - thirty or so random photos.
Our course was shaping up. 
The season began early with summer practices firing up in early June.  Attendance was outstanding, and I was already anxious for season to start (maybe not the school year, but the season).  The training plan was laid out, base miles were accumulating daily, and I was spending countless hours on the Cub Cadet after practice (often between my runs) mowing the XC course.  By the time our mandatory "dead period" came around, we had set goals, and I was feeling confident in our kids' abilities to carry on toward them.

We enjoyed free tickets to a L'ville Bats game thanks to my friend (head groundsman) Tom Nielsen.
School starts early 'round here, first week of August usually, which made for a long month of after school training sessions before our first contest on Labor Day weekend.  The new Region alignment had us competing at Ephram White Park in Bowling Green for our Regional Championships, and the only chance we would have all year to run on that course was August 31st.  Not really what I was looking for when scheduling the first meet of the year, but we loaded up and headed south.  The course is primarily gravel, which the kids did not like, but they ran pretty well despite the oppressive heat and humidity.  Hope S. made history as the first TNHSXC runner to ride in an ambulance as her body went into complete shut down due to her strong effort.  By 3:00 a.m. I was home in my bed.

Labor Day itself was the second running of the NDurance 5k here in Bardstown put on by my friend (who I coached under for six years) Dan Bradley.  My guys ran really well, especially Jarrett who ran right off my shoulder until we hit the track with 300m to go.  I managed to out kick the sophomore (he did race two days prior), and the effort was enough to get us across the line in 16:55 and 16:56 respectively - Jarrett's first trip under 17.  Things were shaping up.

The start of the first Popsicle Race four years ago.
Pictured are numerous TNHS and NCHS runners that now drive to practice! 
We hosted a number of events throughout the XC season.  Our three race series named the Weeknight Warfare XC Series and the fourth year for the Popsicle Races Youth Series would keep us hopping.  The first night of Popsicle Races saw 86 of Nelson County's youngsters brave 1, 2 and 3k courses on a quest for popsicles.  The series has ballooned to five races and has been the introduction to running for hundreds of kids.  Check out  The Weeknight Warfare Series saw great competition on three Tuesday nights.  The first one saw a lightning delay cancel the boys varsity race, but the second two came off without a hitch.  Tremendous school and parent support led to stellar events at a venue that I am very proud of.  Our kids took home a lot of hardware including team trophies despite the increasingly strong competition.  The third race, our Senior Night, saw eight full varsity teams toe the line.

Very proud and sad to see them go.  
Our harriers continued posting great results all season long, times were dropping consistently, and the Regional rankings held steady.  Boys were 4th in Region 2 2A and girls were hovering around 8th. From the night race at Run for the Gold in E'town, to the huge Trinity/Valkyrie Invite, to Hillbilly Run (best local finishers in boys and girls!), to the new races (for us) at Gatorland and Fast Cats (both were pretty bad beatings), our team battled through tough training weeks often racing on tired legs.   It was time for us to hit the key races, rested and ready to best the PR's that we had already bettered.

The MKAC All-Conference Team members - Jarrett and Tyler.
A cool Tuesday evening in October at the Hillbilly course was the setting for our Mid-Kentucky Athletic Conference Championships.  Our boys team minus two key soccer players (playing in their Regional tourney) lined up ready to throw down in what would be a tight battle for the runner-up spot.   Missing our usual number 3, we placed third only missing the Runner-up trophy by four points (we eventually forgave Nathan).  Varsity girls were a solid 5th and the middle school boys (future looks bright!) were fourth.  Two middle schoolers earned All-Conference honors and two high school boys also ran their way onto the All-conference team.  All that was left was one last race at the Central KY Meet of Champs (tune up for a few Region team members and last race for middle school).   Most of our Region team was resting that weekend awaiting the next weekend's Regional Championships - our most critical race of the year. 

Here's some of the Region crew.  Boys did it again - back to STATE!
While we would love to assume our spot at the State meet is guaranteed and to be able to place all of our emphasis on tapering for State, we had to qualify out of a competitive region (and against bigger schools than last year).  So, for the second year in our two year legacy, we honed our training on Region with a goal of qualifying for the State meet.  And, for the second year in a row, we did.  The boys qualified out of Region 2 2A by nabbing the 4th place team spot (top five teams qualify).  The girls ran a solid meet, and while we had hopes of running a few individuals into the five slots for non-team qualifiers, we narrowly missed.  Their season came to an end, but the boys would march on to Lexington with one more week to prepare.

It's an honor to get to go to the State Championships in any event, and our distance runners were the only ones to reach that pinnacle in any sports in 2012-13 (Boys XC team, one XC girl, two 1600m individuals in track).  Once again they proved to be the best student athletes at their respective sport at all of Thomas Nelson High School.  They represented TNHS well as they placed 19th out of 26 teams.  Our seed was 15th, and our goal was 10th.  So, we went four spots in the wrong direction.  I'm chalking it up to another growing opportunity and a fantastic season with new runners, new PR's and loftier goals for next year. 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Bourbon Chase 2013

The Bourbon Chase is a 200 mile overnight relay that follows Kentucky's historic bourbon trail, and it is hands-down the most fun event that I do all year.  The camaraderie, the hype, the trash talking, the not wanting to let your crazy-fast team down, all plays into making me amped to perform my best for this race.  The event starts on Friday morning with the teams seeded as those to take the longest departing Jim Beam first.  My team, who I joke (but not so jokingly) about being so good that the addition of one or two more fast runners will leave me invited only as a driver or waterboy, was one of the three teams starting in the last wave at 7:00 pm.

Ready to roll.
The Speakeasies had won the first four installments of this annual throw down - I joined the team last year after racing against them the three previous years.  This year, however, there were two more threatening teams - and the Old Timers.  We knew most of Draftmag's top guys, and Michael Eaton (very good elite) we expected to be the biggest ringer.  The excitement amongst our crew elevated daily as we shaved down into our absurd mustaches made final preparations.

A little early for No Shave November.
Wound up looking like the Butcher from Gangs of New York.

After much begging, I got my legs of choice, the number two slot.  I wanted it so badly because the first segment (Leg 2) ran right past the school that I teach and coach at.  I actually spent numerous afternoons running the route backward and forward, getting more geeked up all the time.

It's hard to run easy past these.
Our lead guy, Danny (superb 1500m runner who has paced countless sub 4 minute miles) put a little gap on his guy once he kicked in the afterburners after a fairly easy start (Danny had to get coach's permission to run and wasn't killing himself until his last leg).  It was already dark when I started, and I did my best not to blow up starting too hard.  I knew the route, knew we needed every second and wanted to throw down my best effort.  The pace felt fast but doable, and I noticed that I could no longer see my guy's light behind me.  Once out on Hwy 245, I took a few recovery breaths and got on the gas.  The cheers from my XC guys that came out to cheer me on gave me that last push that I needed.  Wound up running under my 10k PR (which isn't very good) on a 6.4 mile leg.  Put two minutes on the Drafmag guy and worried a little if I'd be able to go that hard again. 

Leg 2 - 6.4 miles - 35:57 (5:37/mi.)
Seeing this race unfold is one of the coolest parts of the relay format.  We knew we'd be better in some spots and knew we'd give time back in others.  Our third, King, guy gave up some time to a very good post-collegiate Kenyan, Breeden (ultra running super-stud) was pretty even with his guy, Danner was overtaken but held strong, and Burtel kept the deficit to about 1:30 as we passed off to van 2.  Draftmag's 7th runner was Eaton and he stretched out the gap on one of our fastest guys, Mike.  After that, we weren't getting any more updates and kinda figured we were getting hammered on.  Our van rested at the exchange at leg 13 and awaited van 2's arrival.  Little did we know, Drafmag's number 8 guy, their captain Kevin, had gotten lost.  Despite being down 4 minutes at last check, we were now up about 6.  We knew this was not safe distance as they had already been taking time back.
My second leg, number 14 was a 5 mile open highway drag into Danville.  I felt pretty good about putting more time on my man and tried to put in my best time trial.  Set my second PR of the night:

Leg 14 - 5 miles - 28:30 (5:42/mi.)
The only time I got to see Eaton run was when we drove past him on Hwy 127 - what Mike had close behind him was a 6'2"ish guy with unbelievable turnover gunning him down.  I think Mike held him off, but the only update that we got from van 2 while we waited at Four Roses Distillery to start our third rotation was "we're getting our asses kicked!"  Super-fast guys on our team running the hardest legs were losing time.  By the time van 1 started again and Danny started leg 25, we were over 10 minutes down.  Ouch.

Maintaining that XC, never say die mentality, I went out crazy hard for my last leg.  Not even 10 minutes in I heard the worst imaginable sound - a train whistle.  I was running about 200m away from the railroad crossing when I saw the gates go down.  Our competition was on the other side of those tracks and I had to wait over 4 agonizing minutes.  Even though I had no illusions of catching those guys, I went all out for the remainder of my leg - the kind of running that leaves you feeling like you're about to burst a blood vessel in your head.  It was torture, but after about 25 minutes on the road, my Bourbon Chase was done.

Leg 26 - 3.9 miles - 25:00ish - (???/mi. - stopped by train for 4 minutes!)
The end result was a second place finish.  I don't think we were ever credited the time for the train, but it wouldn't have mattered.  The gap was over a half hour.  Regardless, the Speakeasies are a great bunch of friends who hang and run together all the time.  We were outgunned by a team of stellar runners and my hat's off to those guys.  Our journey was an incredible one, and I'm forever proud to have run with the Speakeasies.  The talk is already swirling about running in the Ultra format next year (twice the distance for half the runners) which is much more my style.  Hope I get the invite.
An amazing bunch of guys.
The photographer is actually taking a pic of the bib number, but the caption should be so much better.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Eagle Creek Trail Marathon

First and foremost I have to thank Carrie from St. Louis, MO (read on to find out why).

Second, huge kudos to Sheri and Planet Adventure - she was super helpful, and their entire crew puts on a wonderful event.
Interesting photo angle - jumping some concrete drainage ditch.
Any of you'all out there that know me very well would probably agree that social media is not my thing.  Evidenced by my less than one year old foray in the world of facebook, which usually consists only of checking out the Brooks ID team group and ignoring friend requests (I don't even know what my "wall" looks like).  I did put one photo of me running in the dark when I first set up a profile just so I didn't appear as a little blue head on the Brooks group page.

So what's this have to do with Eagle Creek?  Well, I decided a few weeks ago that I was coming around from my 140+ miles on the Sheltowee Trace Trail and might like to get one last hard race in before school starts and XC season begins in earnest.  A week or so out from the race, I checked online at their prices and field size limits and thought "Heck. 650 runners seems like a lot of slots to fill even for a big metro area.  I'll wait a little while."  The weekend prior I even called the promotion company's number and she (I think Sheri) informed me that they were down to about a hundred and to check their facebook page the next week.  And, I did on Thursday, and it was closed!  However, I saw a lone comment.  It was from Carrie.  She wasn't able to attend and was looking to possibly transfer her entry.  Could this little blue box with a tiny little photo of someone I didn't know somehow get me into this event?  I replied.  Actually, through our correspondence, I think I doubled my previous total number of facebook comments.

A couple of hours later, a couple of direct emails with Carrie and Sheri, and it looked like I was in.  Friday afternoon I was on my way up I-65.  Six-thirty Saturday morning I was rolling into Eagle Creek with a bib in hand, anxious to see how I'd fare knocking off a hard 26.2.

It's an interesting format in that there is a full, half and quarter marathons, and it's an out and back course with a small loop on the outer end.  There is not too much elevation change and there are a number of wide fast sections.  There are however quite a few log crossings (presumably to discourage mountain bikers) and three sets of wooden stairs, well twelve if you count seeing each four times.  The views around the lake were beautiful. it was unseasonably cool for early August, showers from the night before made the humidity super high, and the trail surface was pretty sweet.  Seemed like a good day for a fast time as we rolled away from the start for lap number one.

Ran with Kelly (super strong trail ultrarunner from KY) for the first half of the first lap, and we enjoyed some conversation even though the pace felt pretty quick.  Somewhere out on the loop, I rolled away applying a little pressure and decided to see how I'd feel just hitting the open sections a little harder.  By the end of the lap I had close to three minutes on Kelly, but noticed that many of the other full marathoners were close behind.  One looked so fresh and fast that I asked him if he was doing the full as we passed one another running opposite directions.  He was.

I was doing the math, a sub 1:41 half was 3:22 pace.  Told myself  "you've done 3:19 on a course with climbing - this is doable - don't falter."  Progressively through that lap my hamstrings grew tighter despite what I thought to be adequately regimented sodium and electrolyte intake.  Each hammy balled up at separate points, and I knew that I was simply running to try and not get caught.  Found myself looking back a lot as I grew slower ad slower.  Atop one of the staircases I had a good vantage point.  Unfortunately in my view was Keith Harris looking really fast.  What seemed like two seconds later, I was yielding the trail to him.  Tried to stay close for as long as could, mostly in an effort not to lose any more places as I knew my hopes for a good time were shot.  The long causeway did me good as I stayed pretty close to his pace, but once back in the woods, he was gone.

Keith put on what I would describe as a "how to run a marathon clinic."  He did a five minute negative split - I went over ten minutes positive.  I hoped to be able to report to Carrie that I had used her entry to win and set the course record.  Well, I came within five minutes of both.  Considering I didn't think I was going to be racing on Thursday mid-day, it wasn't a bad weekend - 2nd place, 3:32.

And, I just accepted Carrie's friend request.

Fast twitch muscles don't fail me now.  Jump.  


Well run race by Keith.  I just got finished and he's already go his shoes off!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Sheltowee Trace Thru Running Attempt

Emphasis on "attempt".  That said, I'm writing this with my infected toe and swollen legs elevated on a coffee table, safely snuggled into my girlfriend's couch in Lexington.  Didn't want to give away the ending, but most of those close friends following me already know that I took a rescue home after my fourth day on the trail.  So, for those of you still interested in some story and photos of this beautiful backcountry, I'll start over at the beginning...

Day 1 - Northern Terminus to Stoney Cove.  (38ish miles)

At the Northern Terminus. 
The trip started days earlier with errands to outdoor stores in Louisville and making it look like Christmas morning in my little house.  A bit of cushy camping gear for Emmy's first night roughing it, a few new gearhead items, a new Kentucky Atlas/Gazeteer, a digital camera and a Lifeproof phone case were all checked off the list.  Those, plus my already ridiculous pile of gear and food were loaded in the Subaru Saturday evening, and Jack and I started heading East.  Felt good to finally walk away from the safety net of my house.  We met John who was already in Lexington and napping on Emmy's porch.  Fattened up on some Bourbon 'n Toulouse and Graeter's ice cream, I busy-bodied around until way too late into Sunday morning considering our 8 a.m. trailhead eta.

Steve Barber, the Executive Director of the Sheltowee Trace Association (STA) and his other half Karen, met us at the trailhead for photos and a quick interview (which can be seen at the STA's facebook page).  They were excited for us and full of questions mostly revolving around the running aspect of the endeavor, as they're already quite familiar with big hikes and the trail as a whole.

Off a little before 9, John and I tapped out the first few singletrack miles with relative ease.   An unseasonably wet July had us joking if a kayak trip wasn't more logical as our feet dipped into what would usually be dry creekbeds almost immediately.  I was confident, having just run this section a week or so earlier, but it was before our first road crossing at Dry Branch that I got us lost.  John wanted to err on the side of caution and I kept plowing ahead until we began dropping 100's of vertical feet.  Too committed to go back at that point, we just hoped that the road we popped out on might be Dry Branch or somewhere close.  Well,  it was close, as in it was in Kentucky.  I had gotten us more than 90 minutes of hard road running away from the Trace and John really kept it together and didn't bury me in one of the countless cemeteries that we were passing (although I know he wanted to kill me).

Finally having made back to Dry Branch and our beloved trail, it was on to Morehead.  We cruised through the new gates which we re-locked going through private farmland, then the trail's first suspension bridge at Holly Fork, then a big climb from the creek to the ridge and we were at the water drop that we had stashed at 799 (14 miles in).  We assessed the gravity our earlier mistake (my mistake) and what realistic goals for the day were looking like.  Refueled, it was down Fr-977 for the 12+ mile push to Morehead.  We tapped out the miles of fire road and I called Emmy to let her know to back up her rendezvous plans 10 miles from Stoney Cove to the McD's/BP near I-64 at US 32.  Following a long fire road approach, it's a 6 mile sawtooth ridgeline that punishes you all the way to US 32.  I kept telling John not to get too excited about the fact that we could hear the highway as I knew it was a mirage having fallen for it a week or so earlier.  The climbs steepened and rocky downs got looser as John and I both saved the need for dental repair following hard toe kicks on fast downhills.  Finally, that last descent got there and we closed in on that first hook up with Emmy at McDonalds.  I think John said "I've never been so glad to see those bleepin' arches" as we rolled up.

Running an extra 10 road miles to earn his 27 or so trail miles had John felling content with his effort for the day, and Emmy drove him back to the terminus as I headed on to Stoney Cove.  Some very pretty (and easy) road miles are followed by some really ugly (and dangerous) road miles on US 60 then another sweet trail up and over one last big hump for the day.  A quick soak in Cave Run Lake and it was off to Twin Knobs campground for Emmy's first night sleeping in a tent, at least in her adult life.  Her "I love NOT camping" tote bag said it best, but she was a trooper and we enjoyed a beautiful night on the edge of Cave Run.
John crossing Holly Fork.
6 miles out one way or the other.
John's last chance for a shot with the turtle blaze.
Over Triplett Creek and into some field before the trail gets good again.
Ahh.  That was a long 38 miles.

Day 2 - Stoney Cove to Red River Gorge.  (37ish miles)

Goodbye Emmy and Stoney Cove.  To the Gorge!
Climbing out of our cushy new camping digs wasn't easy, and my departure from Cave Run didn't happen until much later than I'd like to admit.  Once on the trail, it was up and out the wide multi-use rollers leaving the lake and onto some good singletrack heading into Clear Creek Lake (the previous day's tentatively optimistic goal).  It took quite a bit longer than anticipated and Emmy was standing out on the road watching for me as I popped out of the woods near Clear Creek's picnic area and iron furnace.  It had gotten hot, and it was a long stop before I was back on the trail for what I knew would be a hard piece into the high country heading toward Red River Gorge.  The rollers gave way to legitimate climbs big exposed sandstone.

After getting lost in an area of logging or mining or something, I popped out on US 36 thanks to some good directions from local weed-eating his yard who reassured me "everybody gets messed up back there".  I was supposed to come out around the corner on 1274 and Emmy drove to meet me and provided a much needed air-conditioned lift down 77 to where the trail turns off again to enter the Clifty Wilderness.  Another 10 mile pull was ahead, and it looked like crossing the gorge to reach Natural Bridge SP might be a stretch.  Sure enough, getting to Red River was all I had in the legs.  After the long gradual downhill from the ridge, the trail gets into that groove of kicking your tail without gaining any real elevation as it dances in and out of the creases of the Clifty Wilderness.  Once I finally popped out on 715, my legs were toast and the day was pretty much gone.  Two days in, and I was 10 miles of Red River Gorge country away from my goal.  But, I was back in Emmy's embrace and the agenda included Miguel's pizza and a night at Hemlock Lodge in Natural Bridge State Park.  Could be a lot worse.

Looking back at Cave Run Lake.
Snaking through the first BIG rocks.
Selfie with a cool arch (the other one of these where I am not smiling makes me look like a cadaver).
A taste of gorge country to come.

Day 3 - Red River to Heidelberg.  (31ish miles)
Ready to head over Natural Bridge.
Having to backtrack 10ish trail miles to start my day wasn't ideal, but a good shower, sleep and all-I-could-eat breakfast at the Hemlock Lodge had me feeling pretty good.  Getting food in toward the end of each previous day had been challenging at best, and I tried to be optimistic about my gastro-intestinal issues that the first 75 or so miles had put my system through.  Legs weren't too bad, and I was over the suspension bridge at Red River and climbing toward Pitch 'em Tight at a good clip.  Pleasantly surprised by how uneventful the trip thru the gorge was, I called Emmy when I popped out on Tunnel Ridge Road to make sure she was up from her mid-morning nap and ready to meet me at Natural Bridge's trailhead.

"That was the shortest I've had to wait yet" she exclaimed as I rolled up to the 4runner.  I high-fived her and started refueling quickly with my energy levels feeling great.  The state park trails were full of people for a weekday, and it made me think of the Hillary Step on Everest as a line of people waited to get through Fat Man's Squeeze on the way up to Natural Bridge's top.  OK with the rest, I awaited my turn and fielded questions from the curious tourists.  Even took a photo for some really nice folks on top of the arch.

I somewhat enjoyed the company as I knew the trail would quickly get much more remote once south of the park.  Beautiful sandstone ridges provided good grip and better views, and they eventually give way to roads.  It is in this stretch that I've seen some of the most hidden homesteads.  Having pushed my next rendezvous with Emmy, Josh and Tom back to US 52 and 399 meant I had a really, really long way to go.  There is little distinction between a trail, a road and a driveway though this section as all of them have sandstone peeking out and are barely wide enough for a wagon, let alone a truck.  Bailed out by a water supply at Standing Rock Church, I knocked off the last section including one huge climb south of Greeley, on which I started trying my phone, knowing my crew would have been waiting for a long while.  Finally I got some bars as I topped out the ridge and got ahold of Emmy who was riding around with Tom and Josh sniffing out the next section of trail.  They came back toward me and let Tom out of the truck to run back toward me with a fresh bottle of water.  It wasn't more than a couple of minutes before I looked up and saw Tom, trekking poles flying, coming toward me.  Went a little further and looked up to see his truck.  They had just dropped him off and I was almost out of the woods.  Thank goodness.

It was cool to see the entire crew together and they had seemingly been having fun together, sharing stories, and figuring out where I was supposed to go from there.  I called Steve Barber at that point and took a pretty long rest as I was feeling a little cooked.  He told me that it was a road detour around 399 to Heidelberg, and that I was looking at about 9 miles or so to reach the blue bridge.  Then it would be another big piece to Turkey Foot and the campsite that Tom had already set up.   I gave big hugs and kisses to Emmy as she was heading back to Lexington after about 48 hours as my sole support person.  I was in good hands as Josh drove the truck in short increments up the road waiting on me and Tom to run/walk by ready with ice cold water each time.  Unfortunately, my feeling strong and adequate quickly gave way to headache, cold chills and nausea.

Having already smashed 22 or so trail miles, I felt like the rolling road down to Heidelberg was just a formality before we'd get back to business on the trail.  Turned out to be nine of the longest miles of my life.  About half way through the vomiting started.  I was kinda glad Emmy didn't have to see me like that, and I knew that if it weren't for Tom and Josh, that I would've been in a world of hurt.  Physically vomiting is not very fun, but psychologically it really messes with your ability to carry on knowing that all of your recent caloric intake and hydration needs are puddled on the road.  It was all I could do to not get in the truck during those last few miles.  I simply handed Tom my bottle which he would run over to Josh as I power-walked my sorry ass down the road.  He would be back with me what seemed like seconds later with a refill, and I was really happy to have his companionship and Josh's cool southern "goooood job, maaaaan" every time I passed by.  I made it across the blue bridge and was completely done.  Now far from goal pace, it was one of the darker points in the journey.  Full of uncertainty, it was a surprisingly long ride in the truck to Turkey Foot.  Once there, I collapsed in the tent for some quick r and r.  Tom was a gracious host and worked hard to prepare me for the next day.  Time to decide what that was going to look like.

Trail through the gorge is sweet.
Whittleton Branch Trail recent storm damage.
Cute waterfall on Whittleton.
RRG behind me.  Feelin' good.
View from the top.
Tom's first big 200 meters away from the truck.
To Heidelberg.  Turned into a walking / puking affair. 

Bad shape.  And short of the my goal.
Tom working hard to ready me for the next day.

Day 4 - Turkey Foot to the 49er. (27ish miles)

South of S-tree.  The first of many - big fords, not blazes. 
Tom and I spend a lot of time the night before looking over the maps and considering distances versus days left I had to play with.  I made the decision to skip ahead.  A thru trip it would not be.  Sadly, I opted to skip the end of the previous day's section to Turkey Foot that I was going to have to backtrack for and this day's section from Turkey Foot to S-tree.  Both of them I had mountain biked a lot in the past, and Steve and Karen told tales of horrible mud bogs slowing hikers to a standstill.  I opted to keep my future crews heading for their original rendezvous points and leapt ahead to S-tree following a much needed stop at the Dairy Queen in McKee.

My goal for the day was simple - run little or none, get through 27 or so miles of hiking to reach I-75, recharge, re-energize, reset the system.  A couple of small crossings through Raccoon Creek (I think), then it's into Horse Lick Creek, which the guidebook and the locals refer to as simply Lick Creek.  My feet had been taking a beating the whole way due to the unreal amounts of water out there for mid-summer, and I was almost knee-deep in Horse Lick countless times.  Met a really nice local and his family somewhere in those bottoms full of ATV trails and swimmin' holes, and he sent me in the right direction.  Eventually, I popped out on 89 where Horse Lick empties into the Rockcastle, and where Tom was supposed to leave me some water before he headed back to L'ville.  I wondered how long before he had been there due to the amount of ice still left on the ground on this hot day.  Regardless, I was stoked to have the water and the soup, as I filled up my carrying capacity then took off down the road with a gallon in one hand and a bag of soup in the other.

89 runs into 490 at Lamero (or "marrow" as I heard a local put it) before the trail breaks off again toward Wildcat Mountain.  Thinking about the previous day, I worked to down the entire gallon of water and a bag of soup during the few miles of road.  The next section of trail was a nice reprieve from the blistering asphalt and turned out to be one of the prettiest and recently maintained sections that I saw.  A storm rolled in shortly after I had passed all the protective overhangs, and, by the time I reached road again, I was completely soaked but feeling lucky that I had avoided all of the "widow-makers" that were blowing out of the trees everywhere for the previous hour.  A friendly lady pointed me down Hazel Patch Rd., but I was really hoping she might offer up some porch.  Time to make it to the 49er, and I started to run a little again.  On to Wildcat Mtn Rd. on through to the historic Civil War Battle site.  From there it was a mostly downhill five mile stretch to the 49er.  I had a dry bag of gear waiting for me there that Tom had dropped off on his way home (well, out of his way home) and the accommodating truck stop was the oasis that I had been thinking about all day.

Once close enough to I-75 to smell the exhaust, I powered up my phone and called Emmy to let her know I was pretty much done for the day.  Then I got a voicemail from Steve Barber.  He was telling me that the Trace below Laurel Lake through Cumberland Falls was impassible and would have to be detoured around.  That made me feel like my decision to skip a prior piece was ill advised.  But, a smokey truck stop greasy spoon with showers was in sight and my cares slipped away.  As I approached, I scoped out where I might camp that night with my lean-to set up, and thought about what my first dinner was going to be.

Wasn't long after I shed my shoes that one of the truckers looked down and said, "Man, you better take care of you feet or they're gonna rot off."  I shrugged him off and knew that they looked worse than they felt and I always have black toenails.  Shortly after my country fried steak breakfast platter was cleaned up, my shower was ready.  It felt great, even if it did cost ten dollars.  I think I was supposed to say that yes I was a driver.  Instead, I said, "No, I'm a hiker."  Regardless, I sat down and ordered dinner number two.  That's when I started paying a little more attention to my right big toe.  I had forgotten that I rammed it into a rock on the first day as my feet always look terrible.  But, now that they had dried out, the condition became more clear.  As the rest of them started to look more normal, this one looked more red, more tight, the nail more green and suddenly I realized that my flip flop was collecting a sticky ooze.  What the hell?

I knocked around, called Jack (knew he'd want me to carry on), tried to call Steve (got no answer, but wanted trail updates), and called Emmy (knew she'd worry about infection in my toe and would be willing to rescue me at any hour).  I burned up phone battery looking up WebMD and sending my text updates to my friends and family.  Back and forth I went.  Hours passed by, I hadn't moved toward camping, hadn't called for a bail out, and I was just watching my toe turn green and began to feel my pulse throb in it.  Infection for sure.  Within the hour, the 4Runner was rolling up and I was rolling away from the Sheltowee Trace.

Aid drop 101 by Tom Nielsen.
Gorgeous trail behind this sign.  12 more miles to the 49er.
Hard to tell which is the hurt one.
That's not normal.
I wasn't even away from the trail before I started scheming my return.  Much could have gone better, many mistakes were my own stupid fault, but feeling like I was disappointing those folks rooting for me was the only part that really bothered me.  I had a wonderful four days of running with great friends and beautiful, challenging trails.

The following day, my concerns were justified as everyone at the urgent care center looked wide-eyed at my feet.  Was even ordered an X-ray, but felt pretty sure I hadn't broken the toe, which I hadn't.  By the time I was beginning my antibiotic regiment, the ooze had turned brown and smelled like death.  I think I made the right call.

Goals reset - knowing that trail is now 315ish miles long (I was planning on 280), I'll shoot for 8 days.  I'll spend more recon days practicing each section.  And, I'll be at the trail work day happening at S-tree in two weeks.  Time to give back some time to this trail that's already given me so much.  And, a HUGE thank you to my support crew.  Jack, John, Tom, Josh and especially Emmy.  Thank you so much.  Hope no one feels like it all was for naught, and that you'll all return with me soon.

To whoever has that FKT - you still have it.  I'll be back to try for it soon.