Friday, November 28, 2014

Bourbon Chase 2014 - Ultra Speakeasies

October 10-11, 2014.  In this, the sixth edition of the Bourbon Chase, the Speakeasies would look a little different than in previous years.  Of course there would still be some bad facial hair, butt cheeks hanging out of speedos - sure, but this time there would only be one van full of assholes tackling the 200 mile course.  The Speakeasies run of dominance came to an end in 2013 when a super-stacked team waxed us by over thirty minutes (see last year's Bourbon Chase post).  We still had a great time, but the emphasis on putting together 12 guys, all super-fast, to contend for the win was less appealing than it had been before. Rumbles of contending for the ultra record began before the 2013 race was even completed.  The 2014 team slots (now that there were only six of them) filled right away.

Get to run twice as many legs within the same time frame?  Hell yeah.  I was in.  So was team captain, brewmeister, bourbon barrel/barnwood artist, a.k.a. Fat Jesus - John King, ultra-superstuds Scott Breeden and Troy Shellhamer, and a pair of tough marathoners and "I'm going to beat your ass on every training run" kinda guys - Mike Meyer and Josh Heird.  And, the icing on the cake, our driver was former Hansen-Brooks athlete Ryan Sheehan.  Our driver was arguably the fastest person on the course and he was driving our sorry carcasses around.  It was going to be a good night.

An unusual scenario for us was starting in the second-to-last group (teams are seeded in reverse order beginning early Friday morning with the fastest teams starting late Friday evening).  The only team starting at 7:00 was Primal Sport Mud (our opponents from last year), and we were in the large 5:30 group of twelve or so teams made up of 12-man open, coed, corporate and one other ultra team.  Our goals were pretty simple - don't get caught by the Primal guys and beat every other team on the course.

So we did.  The ultra format obviously left considerably less time for recovery, but I couldn't have imagined how much less.  Pretty much, as soon as you get done, cooled down, get changed, and think about eating something, it was time to go again.  By the time the sun was coming up, it became clear that we were running sub-six minute pace for our average and were potentially going to be catching every single team before we reached Lexington.  For the last leg, the Speedos came out.  Actually, I think King wore his most of the race, but they are a fun way to rally for that last push.  I was dying pretty badly by the end of my last leg - 35.6 is the total distance I would cover - many of my last miles creeping up over 6:30.  Lucky for me, a few of the other guys continued to drop sub-6's.  Ended up being the first team to Lexington, in the overall we wound up 2nd to the Primal Mud 12-man team (but we were glad they didn't catch us), ran 20:29 for 200 miles (6:08 pace).  We won the Ultra division by over three hours and established a new course record for a six-person team.

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Big Turtle

8 day thru run on the 307 mile Sheltowee Trace Trail.  

Almost exactly a year has passed since I abandoned the Sheltowee Trace Trail.  Toe infected, ego deflated, and mad at the seemingly uncontrollable circumstances that had pulled the rug out from under me, I dialed up my life-line and limped away.  People were excited about the attempt, and I felt as though I had let all of them down.  I was determined before the trail was even in the rear-view mirror that I was returning, but I spent a long time figuring out why I so badly wanted to run this trail again - at all.

After much reflection, I decided that this attempt would be all about awareness.  An awareness of my own self and what is going on in my mind and body is why I do all of the running that I do.  An awareness for those friends and family, my athletes and students, and all of those that need to know that people actually get out and try hard things made me want to try again.  But mostly, I wanted to raise an awareness of this amazing trail.  People need to know that within the Daniel Boone National Forest and Big South Fork Recreation Area lies a rugged and beautiful resource, a 307 mile mix of all of the reasons that I love trail running.

Plans for this year's attempt came about not long after I proposed to my gorgeous fiance.  Emmy and her friends began making their bachelorette party plans.  When asked what I wanted for a bachelor party, I didn't pause.  I got Emmy to get me there and take the support responsibilities for the first day.  I hit up my best man and brother Nick (and cartography major!), as well as my good friend, mountain bike trail guru and backcountry stud, Chad Irey to be my support crew.  The stage was set.

Headin' in.

Wednesday, June 25th - Northern Terminus to Clear Creek Campground (48 miles)
Following a good night's sleep in a king bed in a Morehead hotel, it was to the terminus.  Overnight rain made the early going cool and slick, but the miles were ticking off pretty easily and I was on my way to our first rendezvous at Hwy 799.  I concentrated a lot on good early day nutrition knowing that a 48 mile day was going to be a little demanding.  Gu gels, then Chomps, consistent mix of water and Gu Brew electrolyte drink would be the recipe for the entire trip.  At 799 I found Emmy napping in her car and she took my bottles to refill while I ran on across I-64 and into my first fire road.  Emmy caught up, handed off the bottles and we parted ways again as I entered a twelve mile piece north of Morehead.  The first six of that section is really fast fire road, the last six is affectionately known as the roller coaster for it's brutal ridge-top climbs.  By early afternoon I was back at Emmy's car, fueling up for the second crossing of I-64 and the trip to Cave Run's Stoney Cove. This is where I pulled the plug on my first day last year after a long wrong turn left me and John King running hours of road to get back on track.  Better decisions this year had me arriving at Stoney Cove on time and strong enough for 10+ more miles to Clear Creek.  I was disappointed to find that the Forest Service had closed this section to mountain bikes while leaving it open to horses. Wish I could say this was the last time I finished a segment ranting about hating horses and horse people, but it's not.  Forgive me equine community - I will be attacking you periodically throughout this post.  The section of trail from Stoney Cove to Clear Creek used to be a destination we would drive to from Cincinnati to go riding because of the sweet mix of double track then tight single track.  Now it's miles of stagnant muck and horse crap.  But, closer to Clear Creek it got better then dropped off the ridge, and I was 8+ miles above the average I needed to keep.  Took a great swim in Clear Creek Lake then Emmy and I waited for Nick's arrival.  We traded off the gear from her vehicle to his and she was headed back to our new home in Bardstown.  I promised her I wouldn't die out on the trail denying her a wedding and future children - runs like this are not about running away from anything but more so running back to someone.

Six miles out in either direction. 

Thick.  Headed to Stoney Cove

Sweet reward.
Thursday, June 26th - Clear Creek to Red River Gorge (35 miles, 83 in)The climbs out of Clear Creek get steep pretty quickly and start to reveal that you're entering more "cliffy, gorge-ish" territory, evidenced by a sweet little arch in the first hour.  The trail is smokin' rocky singletrack which shows more and more peeks of exposed sandstone and sweeps between some huge boulders.  After a long bombing descent, then crossing over FR100, the trail climbs back up and eventually opens up to an area the map labels as "Gravel Pit".  It appears to be a mix of logging operation/private land and is where I made a big wrong turn last year eventually landing me in some nice man's yard who pointed me the way out to Hwy 36 when I was supposed to be hitting 1274.  This year, I trusted the compass (and much improved blazing) and nailed it.  Met Nick, refueled and it was on through an easy paved section down Clifton Creek Rd., which eventually dissolves back to quadtrack and climbs out to Tarr Ridge for some more asphalt.  Spent some time walk/jogging the wrong way due to some serious road construction on Hwy 77 which made the entire area unrecognizable, but a nice fella on a backhoe sent me the right direction.  It's quick moving across Tarr Ridge and down to the Corner Ridge trailhead.  From there it's a big drop all the way through the Clifty Wilderness Area.  You can smell Red River Gorge getting closer as the elevation effortlessly falls away.  Once down in the gorge proper, it takes a bit more grunt to earn the miles to the Red River itself.  It feels as though you're close to the suspension bridge for miles and miles of up and down, in and out of tight trickles feeding Gladie Creek, wrapping around the base of Cloudsplitter - those miles are deceivingly hard.  Finally, I popped out on 715, ready for some resupply.  Nick was down the road looking for cell service, and I planted myself on a rock and enjoyed not moving for a little while.  This is where my second day ended last year, and this year I was determined to make it across the gorge, which, thanks to a much bigger day one, was easily within reach.  Once my fluids were topped off, it was over the Red and climbing toward Chimney Top Ridge. The trail doesn't actually go to Half Moon Rock or Chimney Top but I think the arch I photographed is Half Moon Arch, but don't take my word for it.  The trail turns west and eventually tops out on Pitch-em Tight Ridge and then Tunnel Ridge.  All of the surface through this section is either grippy bare sandstone or firm, pine needle covered sweetness.  From there it's a short piece south to cross over the Mountain Parkway and one last drop in to Whittleton Branch Trail.  My destination was Whittleton Branch Campground, and despite a little mud and really slick boulder hopping in the creek, it was an easy descent to end the day.  Rolled in to a very busy campground full of Boy Scouts and other tourists but I was pretty ok with the amenities including a shower house and quick access to Miguel's Pizza.  Miguel's is the climbers' hub for the gorge and they make legendary pizza.  Nick and I looked at photos and poured over the maps for a little while.  I thoroughly enjoyed our pie and spending time with a beloved brother who I don't get to see enough.
Arch near Clear Creek.
Nick's shot.
Half Moon Arch - I think.

Friday, June 27th - Red River Gorge to Turkey Foot (43 miles, 126 in)
My third day last year was when things started to fall apart - everything I ate or drank was quickly vomited back up and I crumbled, missing a huge section of trail, arriving at Turkey Foot in a truck - not on foot.  I knew the next 48 hours would be pivotal, and was determined to make it work.  I had noticed a distinct redness around my left big toenail that was "greening up" quite nicely.  Emmy and I had discussed the potential of having a script ordered up by Dr. Durall (Tony - my future father-in-law).  This was no time to act like something wasn't wrong.  The combination of a recently damaged toenail and stagnant water crossings had started brewing up another infection.  The night prior, I couldn't deny that my pulse was evident in my toe and only there.  So, as Nick and I headed toward Natural Bridge, I put in the call.  By the day's end, there was an antibiotic waiting for me in London.  If I was thinking, I would've started the trip with a bottle of that stuff in my bag, but Tony had saved the day and my ever-worsening toe would soon be seeing some relief.  Nick and I started our Friday with a nice stroll to the top of Natural Bridge, took lots of photos, then parted ways.  To keep with the plan, I needed to reach Turkey Foot Campground, and making reasonably good time for the remainder of the day would be key.  Once south of the Natural Bridge, the trail gives way to more adjoining private lands, hundreds upon hundreds of nearby oil wells, and eventually reconnects with pavement at Standing Rock.  For the second year in a row, I topped off my fluids at their church and motored on toward Greeley and Little Sinking Creek.  Following a nice creek-to-ridge climb up out of Sinking Creek, the quadtrack trail turned back into road and I was soon refueling at the back of the truck where Hwy 52 and 399 split.  This is where the trail is now detoured on to 399 all the way to Heidelberg, and it is where my wheels came off a year ago.  We made a plan to deal with the midday sun - Nick would drive between a mile or two up the road, and pull over to hand up some ice water out of the bottom of the cooler which I would carry and douse myself with until our next meeting, switch bottles, repeat.  I washed down some electrolyte pills with some chicken broth and was on my way to Heidelberg.  After our third or fourth meeting I knew the long descent to the Kentucky River was close and I told Nick to head for the blue bridge.  I made it to the Heidelberg Park feeling good and enjoyed a long lunch in the shade.  From there it was south toward Cressmont along Sturgeon Creek and quite a bit more road/gravel road.  This is where I missed my one and only segment of trail.  I knew the Trace turned right off of the road, I tried to count the forks in the road and to use the maps to make sure I wouldn't miss what I heard was a hard to find section.  I walked way, way up what I think was Hale Ridge Road - not it.  Watched for every turn off, saw nothing, dropped south, still nothing, and suddenly hit a road.  Looked at the map and my landmarks and soon figured out that I was standing on 587 right in front of Stonecoal Cemetery.  I paced back and forth for a few minutes and decided not to back track looking for the trail and took 587 up and over Farmers Ridge.  This is the one and only segment of this entire trail that I can say I have never seen.  It's not but a couple of miles, but damn it broke my heart not to get it.  However, after reaching Arvel feeling pretty spent, I still had nine miles of unknown to get to Turkey Foot.  I think I made the right call - and ran considerably further than what I got credit for!  Left Arvel at 6 p.m. and the next three hours was a pretty slow moving mix of briers and blow downs.  It was beautiful trail, was never a complete beating, and did get better as it got closer to Turkey Foot.  But, it could certainly use some maintenance (spoke with Steve Barber and they are actually hitting that segment very soon to prepare it for a hiker challenge).  Before dark, I was greeted by another already-set-up-campsite and dipping my legs in War Fork Creek.  Another big day down - pivotal day went the right way.
Natural Bridge

Leaving Arvel heading to Turkey Foot.

Saturday, June 28th - Turkey Foot to the 49er at I-75 (43 miles, 169 in)
I had, at this point, made huge improvements to the previous year's attempt.  No getting in vehicles, no skipping ahead, no falling behind.  Did have an all too familiar blowing up toe to deal with, but even that seemed to be handled with the help of my fantastic family and support crew.  Turkey Foot to I-75 would be another long day, but I was confident and feeling strong.  The impending segment was one that I had covered probably more than any other, albeit I was usually on a mountain bike.  We arranged to connect for an early refuel on 421 north of McKee.  Caught Nick napping again and we did a quick top-off and headed for S-tree.  This was more very familiar territory and the STA has made some huge improvements in the form of "trail hardening" using interlocking concrete pavers.  They sorta resemble the biohazard symbol and there are thousands more in stacks awaiting their placement.  This section is open to ATV's and certainly shows the years of wear and tear.  S-tree used to be another destination for mountain bike weekends with its whoops, berms and flowy doubletrack, but I wouldn't bother anymore.  To many big puddles due to the throttle-jockey crowd.  At least there are no big slow downs, and I was quickly through S-tree and headed down to the Horse Lick Creek Watershed.  Thank goodness I had talked to Steve Barber and he had just sent a hiker challenge group through there.  Many of the STA blazes have been removed by morons drunk on two-stroke fumes, and he had placed some new marks to show the way.  I got really lost down in Horse Lick last year and with only one turn around in a wall of nettles, I made it through pretty easily this time.  Nick was on his way to a Kroger in London to pick up my script and we were tentatively going to meet along the road on 89 or 490 in Lamero near Livingston before beginning a final 15 mile push.  He came driving up right as I hit the road having already made it to London and back - another perfect hookup.  I knocked out the road section in a steady rain, looking forward as I enjoyed the next trail segment last year prior to getting drilled by a scary storm.  The rain was much more tame this year, and from the road, it drops away then climbs through beautiful singletrack to Hazel Patch Road then Wildcat Mountain Ridge Road.  Nick was waiting at the Wildcat Mountain Civil War monument, and from there it was only about five miles and almost all downhill to the oasis that is the 49er - Shangri la, I like to call it.  The camping is terrible, but the showers are sweet, the people watching is amazing, the laundry was really convenient, and the food, well it's a trucker rest haven for good reason.

Almost to the 49er text to Emmy.

Sunday, June 29th - I-75 to Mouth of Laurel Boat Ramp/Cumberland River (33 miles, 202 in)
Things look a lot different leaving the 49er than they did 15 years ago - well, the biscuits and gravy seemed the same, but...  last year I didn't take one step south of this point.  Steve had talked of this area called Cromer Ridge and what he called "steeplechase".  This area outside of Livingston used to be a 4x4 mecca with trails splintering off in every imaginable directions, sandstone rock gouged out by transmissions, and few and far between blazes.  Now what Steve was talking about made sense.  It is a Restoration Area and the "steeplechase" was the countless trees that the Forest Service had intentionally dropped across the trail to repel the off-road motorheads.  It has worked.  While it's not the fastest moving stuff due to a lot of overgrowth (sorry to disappoint Steve and his vision of me flying over the hurdles), it isn't too long before you're off the ridge and entering what I affectionately call Fern Gully.  During this section through Hawk Creek and in the approach to Hwy 80, the trail gets really, really good.  The kind of stuff I live for - increasingly cliffy, tight, technical and runnable.  I got to my first refuel of the day at Hwy 80 absolutely grinning.  That segment was a nice little taste, but the approach from the North into the Cane Creek WMA is pretty big green space.   Nick and I decided to try for a hookup at The Narrows Road (FR 119) and it was in the interim that I got the most lost in all eight of my days on the Trace.  Things were going swimmingly for a while but went wrong somewhere between Pond Ridge and Van Hook Branch.  The weather was picking up, and I was covering a heck a lot of miles just not in the right direction.  Eventually I topped out a long climb (after passing a number of No Trespassing signs and seeing no STA signs) and ran into a very nice man driving down his driveway as I was admiring his garden.  At first he thought I was heading North, and kinda chuckled when he figured out that I was going south saying "people don't usually get lost going south."  His directions, though, were sound - "go all the way back down, you'll cross a branch, you'll cross another branch, and when you cross your third branch, start looking straight ahead and you'll see your diamonds and turtles."  It sounded way too easy as I felt like I hadn't seen a turtle blaze in hours.  I went back in, it started storming, and I quickly found my mistake.  A huge deadfall laid over the trail and guided all traffic through a sweeping turn directly onto the wrong the trail.  If I had to do it ten times - I'd get it wrong ten times.  Once I was sure I was on the right trail and going south (which took a while longer than I should admit), it was pouring.  The kind of rain that I was scared might cause flash flood conditions.  The water turned the trail into a river flowing brown over my feet as I climbed what felt like 1000 vertical feet.  Got turned around again on some fire roads very close to 119 and eventually found Nick waiting at 119.  I had just put in a call to tell him not to worry as I was running way behind, and it was a good thing as he was just getting ready to leave figuring he'd just missed me.  I needed the fluids and a minute to dry out.  From there it was down into Cane Creek and Pounder Branch and more torrential storms.  It was a cool way to experience this little piece of Fern Gully as there's lots of water down there anyway.  The couple of stream crossings without bridges were getting pushy with whitewater but it was a fun and safe passage throughout.  Saw two groups of hikers huddled under rocky overhangs as I just slogged by in the pouring rain, loving every minute of it.  By late afternoon I was rolling up on the trailhead at 192 and the Laurel Lake area.  Chad was there, and he and Nick had already switched over almost all of the gear.  This was the moment that I pulled out my iPhone's Ziplock and realized it was full of water. I didn't freak too much as the phone was in a Lifeproof case that had saved it from a washing machine before.  Then I opened the charging port door on the case and water poured out of it.  Phone dead.  From this point on, I would carry a camera and would have no cell contact with my support.  Nick and I said goodbye, Chad and I picked out our first hookup of the evening and discussed camping options, and I was off to knock out the super fast, easy, eight miles around Laurel Lake.  It was a little surreal seeing little kids on the trail, hearing motor boats, and smelling grills.  But, I made it to the dam, and we decided that the circus of the Holly Bay Rec Area would be our best bet.  I headed on toward the Cumberland River and Chad rolled back up the road to nail down our campsite.  It had been many years since I'd seen this segment and it was insanely technical, rocky and slippery all the way to the Mouth of Laurel Boat Ramp on the Cumberland River.  Even though we would have to drive back to this spot to start in the morning, I was thrilled to have made it so far over so much super-demanding terrain and to be looking out at some big water.

Made it to the Cumberland.
Monday, June 30th - Mouth of Laurel to Alum Ford (40 miles, 242 in)
We picked up our lakeside camp at Holly Bay and drove back down to my ending point at the edge of the Cumberland River.  This section is long and hard, and I knew it well from many trips over the last 20 years, both on foot and by bike.  We decided Chad would just leave his truck at the Falls regardless of which way he rode, and I had extra keys - that way I could re-up and leave him a note as to when I came through.  I was making pretty good time despite a lot of blowdowns and some thick growth on the lesser used sections of the trail.  It was also getting harder to deny that I had some significant lower leg pain going on.  It was pretty bad by the end of Saturday, really making itself known by the end of Sunday, and now was feeling a little like someone was hitting me with a hammer just above my left foot and moving up my shin.  It had started to swell noticeably on Sunday and I just hoped it was a little strain that would soon let up.  After rocking through, Fishing, Bark Camp, and Dog Slaughter creeks I was favoring the left leg way too much.  I made a quick stop at the Falls for the obligatory photo and found the truck.  Chad was somewhere out on his mountain bike, and I waited out a hard shower in the cab eating whatever I could get my hands on.  Harder compression sounded like it would feel good on the leg so I found some duct tape and tightly wrapped from just about my shoe to about halfway up my shin.  The next section on the other side of the river was a new one to me and it is phenomenal.  It's part of the Cumberland Falls State Park and has some intersecting trails just past which I ran into Chad coming the other way.  He headed back for the truck having been stoked by his first day of riding, and I continued south with the river on my left.  The trace rolls around Blue Bend, then goes by some long rapids, then McKee bend.  As it reaches Thunderstruck Shoals, and shortly after passing a few campsites that look more like permanent residences, the trail turns hard west and climbs out to Hwy 700.    Chad and I hooked up on 700 and I topped off readying for another unknown section over to Hwy 27 near Whitley City.  This piece turned out to be gorgeous stuff and even though it was intertwined with some horsey segments it also had a lot of foot traffic/bike only sections that were sweet.  I ran into Chad again riding back toward me and we topped out the trail to reach the trailhead near 27.  I grabbed a bag of soup and filled up my bottles.  It was 8 p.m. when I passed Flat Rock Church and headed in to one last piece through Yahoo Falls and on to Alum Ford on the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River.  This is why I knew Chad would be the right guy to have in the support role.  Not so much that he would have my camp and dinner ready, which he did, but that he would be ok waiting through hours of darkness while I hobbled in.  And dark it got, foggy too.  My headlight beam was enough to follow the trail with but running was not really an option.  It wasn't really an option in terms of energy levels either, so I just kept it moving best I could and was soon paralleling the river and entering the Yahoo Falls area.  Pretty cool to go by the "Niagara of the South" (Cumberland Falls) and KY's tallest (130 feet I think) waterfall in the same day, although I couldn't see Yahoo Falls.   The last time I saw Chad, I told him it'd be 11:00.  Rolled into camp at about 10:45.  The GPS Chad threw in my pack and the guidebook both said it was 40 miles.  Tired, left lower leg hurt a lot, but a darn good day.

Huge overhangs 

Tuesday, July 1st - Alum Ford to Great Meadow Campground (26 miles, 268 in)
Opting for some extra compression in the form of arm warmers stretched up my legs plus calf sleeves seemed to help my swelling legs.  The run down to Yamacraw Bridge was about 6 1/2 miles and I made super good time on the easily runnable trail beating Chad to the meeting place.  Didn't really need anything, but the next segment was a doozy and was a little fuzzy as we encountered lots of storm damaged sections through there during our Millennium mountain bike trip.  So I waited for him and we tentatively mapped out a support spot between where we were and Hemlock Grove.  The trail I entered was a little overgrown as it was pretty wide open and eventually gave way to some big climbing leaving Grassy Fork and climbing up and around Devil's Knob, Grassy Knob and on to Laurel Ridge.  I ran into Chad on some fire road right as I was pulling out my maps.  He was following a local older fella who was super-knowledgable and friendly.  He was helping one lost guy find another lost guy and within minutes had us both pointed in the right direction (although different directions) and we were headed to Great Meadow.  I never really could get it going this day, just kinda stayed in a fog and plodded along.  Once I finally got by Peters Mountain and dropped down by Hemlock Grove then on toward the campground.   It was here I had my first experience with a bear (other than watching them from a car or a condo in some mountain resort).  This time I was in a pretty tight creek with tall rock walls and thick mountain laurel - heard a big grunt and saw a large black mass bashing through the brush.   Couldn't believe how fast he or she was able to get through such thick and steep terrain, and could hear every thumping footstep snarl as it climbed away - just glad it was more scared than I was. Made it to Great Meadows unscathed, saw Chad and crossed Rock Creek to join him.  We opted to drive down to the end of Rock Creek Road as it was looking different than it did 14 years ago with a new gate right at the State line.  We scoped it out, crossed the creek again and found the trail.  My options were to go back to Great Meadows and run back to there or just do it in the morning.  I was feeling kinda whimpy so I opted to leave those few miles as the start to my Wednesday.  We scored a sweet (and free) camp spot on Rock Creek and worked at getting to bed early.  Spent some time icing sore spots and enjoyed eating another fantastic meal Chad concocted, this time in the daylight!

60 ft. waterfall

Toenail finally popped

Power food
Wednesday, July 2nd - Great Meadows to Leatherwood Ford / S. Terminus (39 miles, 307!)
Aimed to make an earlier shot of it since I was a little uncertain of how I'd feel following something of a down day and having much unknown terrain between me and Leatherwood.  Still got out pretty late - that's just how I roll.  First thing was to drive back to Great Meadows, crossed the creek and started right where I had left off the day before.  The few miles to the State line and on to the connection with the John Muir Trail took a little longer than I hoped but I was getting pretty amped about what might lie ahead (the day prior I hated the idea of having to go so much further into Tennessee). The trail used to turn West with the John Muir and end in Pickett State Park.  Now it turns the other way, still running along with the John Muir, and heads up to Divide Road.  Met Chad coming toward me just down from Divide Road and we were both loving the trail we had seen so far in TN.  He continued along the same way I was headed and we both just geeked out on how pristine this section was.  It was unreal how fast I was going and how perfect the trail and the scenery was (and was headed to an overlook!).  Chad finally forced himself to turn around and we picked Bandy Creek as our next and final rendezvous.  The trail topped out with stunning views, steep ladders, piles of scat - this was heaven!  From there it was bomber descent all the way back to the Big South Fork of the Cumberland.  Once down there, as Steve had warned me, it runs along with some horse junk.  However the Trace and John Muir have sections cut up above the equine nightmare.  It's new and rough but anything is better than the muck and destruction left by horses.  For as fast as I had been going, I went pretty slow through this section, took in some nutrition and tried not to grow too infuriated with the horse people that had left the trail that they had already destroyed to venture on to higher ground to destroy more trail.  I realized that much of this, and many other, trail networks would not exist without horse people.  But, it cannot be denied that horses destroy everything they walk over - probably because the people sitting on them are not affected by the mud and ride when they shouldn't.  It's like the argument that guns don't kill people -people kill people.  Well, horses don't kill trails, but stupid people riding them do.  Ok, I'm done.  Back to how wonderful this place is.  Actually it's phenomenal the job they've done to make it so good for everyone, and it is evident hat most of the trail users (equine included) are not stupid but responsible users.  Anyway, after following the river down to the Station Camp crossing, the trail goes the other way and heads west toward Charit Creek Lodge.  It's tough to make much sense of mileages in this area because the Trace kinda piggybacks many of the existing trails so I was guessing for something in the middle.  Charit Creek is a very remote cluster of cabins, a lodge, a barn and I gather is for rent.  It was empty when I got there and I explored quite a lot.  And, they had running water at an outside sink!  Topped off, I headed toward Bandy Creek.  I ran into Chad sitting off the side of some fire road/horse trail intersection just up from Bandy - he had been there over an hour.  We ate and topped off for one last section.  Next time I'd planned on seeing Chad was the Southern Terminus.  Bandy is a big camping complex accessible by road, which luckily the Trace skirts around.  And, it does so on more killer singletrack.  From there, turns up Northeast and climbs some more killer trail 'til it re-intersects the John Muir and begins the final couple mile drop down the river to Leatherwood.  I ran into Chad hiking up and we enjoyed walking a nice clip for the last two miles.  Although I had some visions of running into some sort of well marked terminus with my arms raised - it was much cooler just to roll out easy and enjoy my friend's companionship.  The end is as anticlimactic as I was afraid of, as the Trace is really just another blaze hung on Leatherwood Ford signage.  The low water bridge is even closed forcing hikers to come in the last 200 meters on the road - blah.  But, that's kinda how it felt once it was done - it wasn't a crazy big deal.  It was fun, it was challenging, and it was rewarding, but real quickly my feeling wasn't one of elation or conquest.  It was a simple and soft satisfaction.  We cleaned up in the river, ate a little something, and drove away.

The turtle and John Muir


Charit Creek Lodge

Last big view.
My focus on the goal faded as I didn't have to keep myself so in tune with what came next, with what my body was feeling and making sure I kept putting right in front of left.  I didn't have to push, my legs hurt, and my heart swelled - but, not swollen with a sense of pride or triumph.  It swelled with another longing.  A longing like the one I started with, but this time to hug Emmy and my son, Lane.  A longing to share my experience.  A longing to raise the awareness of this jewel.  Whether or not people read all of this, responsible users and advocates need to experience the Trace.  Be it the whole thing, a little run or hike, or even on a bike, quad or horse.  This trail is amazing, and I can only hope my experience will lead to a heightened sense of awareness.

Last time over the BSF

The last turtle

I typically have pretty skinny ankles and feet.

At the lake and on the mend.
Steve Barber cell - 606-386-3636 (Steve has been a huge help to me)
Maps -
Forest Service trail guide (out of date) -
Scott "Taba" Ward's thru hike guide -

Shoes - Brooks Cascadia 9's
Shorts - Brooks Infiniti, HVAC, and tight shorts
Shirts - various Brooks sleeveless, Salomon T, vintage custom
Socks - Swiftwick, Ininji, Smartwool, Feetures
Leg Sleeves - Salomon, then Brooks arm sleeves under them for the last two days
Headgear - Headsweats GU visor and various Buffs
Hydration - Nathan pack and handheld, Amphipod handheld
Nutrition - GU Tri-berry gels, Chomps, Brew 2x sodium electrolyte drink, Endurolyte capsules (washed down with chicken broth everyday)

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Pistol Ultras - 50k racing 24 miles pacing

PR's aren't something that I dwell too much on.  Well, I can tell you exactly what all of mine are from every distance from 5k to 50 miles without hesitation, but I don't ... ok, fine.  They are important to me.  Personal records, I believe, are one of the most crucial considerations when goal setting and provide every runner an attainable target or an accurate (even if ugly) truth.  My palmares have a couple of anomalies - my half marathon time is decent and my 50k is terrible.  The latter is so bad because the only 50k I've ever run is Lovin' the Hills.  And, as everyone who has run there will attest, it is brutal.  

So, to start off 2014, I thought I'd try to get that shiny new PR on my resume.  In fact, I'll go ahead and make my "A goal" public this time (as public as my small readership is anyway).  In this calendar year, where I will soon turn 40, I'm aiming to set new PR's from 5k on up.  

The Pistol Ultras offer 50k, 100k and 100 mile options on an elevenish mile lap course that is all paved greenbelt.  Sounded like the perfect place to make that fast 50k happen.  Just how fast?  Well, that was looking like it would be a "see how it goes" scenario.  Since signing up back in December, it has been a busy few weeks.  I splashed through the Otter Creek Trail Marathon, winning in absurd conditions two weeks ago.  Then I endured, I mean enjoyed, the holidays - spent a lot of time in the car, ate pretty much all the wrong stuff, and trained minimally.  Also, I found out that my buddy Troy Shellhamer (ultrarunning stud you'll hear lots more about) was doing the 100 miler.  That was when one of those bright ideas flickered in my dim head - race the 50k then come back and pace Troy for the last two laps of his hundred - that sounded like a good idea looking forward to more trail ultras this winter and spring.  

Part of what drew my attention to the Pistol initially was that it took place in Alcoa TN which is pretty much greater Knoxville, which is where my girlfriend, Emmy, has moved to pursue her doctorate at UT.  That made the entire plan feasible.  The weekend fit between Holiday commitments and being back to work, and her house was less than 30 minutes from the venue.  Perfect.  

We met up with Troy and his ace crew, Stephanie, at the pre-race meeting on Friday night and enjoyed the low key atmosphere of the event.  Troy's attitude toward the race was similar to mine - neither of us were feeling recovered enough to bust huge results (Troy just finished 3rd at the Lookout Mountain 50 Miler in December and had been sick), but we were both drawn by the idea of knocking off fast ultras on this flat-ish well supported course.  

It was cold even after the sun came up. has a unique feature in that it ranks runners that are registered for events, although it seems wildly inaccurate at times.  But, I did know that at least one guy, Ethan Coffey, had 3 hour flat 50k speed (that's faster than my marathon pace by a lot!)  All three distances start together, and I was interested to learn who my companions would be.  All I knew was that I didn't want to go out with Ethan at sub 6 minute pace.  There was a 50k relay as well, so a few guys toward the front were handing off after one lap.  Turned out we rolling along at about 6:15 - 6:20 in a bunch of about six or so guys and they all knew one another.  Coffey was one of them, and last year's winner came running up from behind us a couple of miles in exclaiming "gettin' rolled up on the greenway!"  He was just out for a workout and had to fly past the entire field to catch us because he missed the start (he won in a solid 3:17 last year).  It was cool cruising along in what felt like a brisk group run with the relay guys joking about their fitness and eventually falling off.  A couple of them ran in college, and they bragged a lot on Stewart Ellington who is my age and was an All-American at UT.  I enjoyed their company as they reminded me a little of the Speakeasies crew from Louisville - they laughed about drinking and made fun of those who they had lost to marriage. 

The course was an out and back in two directions with small loops on either end - a little less than 9 1/2 miles one way and a little over 1 1/2 miles the other.  As we approached the start/finish 9+ miles in, I grabbed a handheld bottle of GU Brew to carry around the short side of the lap to make sure I was getting plenty of fluids and Ethan started to pull away.  I was surprised I saw the guy at all, and it was evident he was going to be doing some big negative splits.  Stewart stopped at the aid station, and so I found myself in the gap and pretty fine with slowing down a little, chewing cold GU and sucking down fluids.  Came back through the start, dropped my bottle with Emmy, and headed out solo in 2nd - or so I thought.  

After of mile or so of lap two, Ethan, who apparently had stopped for a bathroom break, and a new relay guy came rolling up.  The new relay guy was really conversational for a few seconds, explaining that he was out to get some sub-6 tempo work in, and they motored away.  My ailing sore spots - low back, hips and hamstring - were tightening up pretty badly throughout that second lap, and I just tried to keep it steady at what felt like 6:20 range (there were no mile markers and I don't wear GPS).  Emmy had another bottle ready for me and I repeated the same fluid routine at the end of lap two and headed out for the third.  

Stewart, who was earlier talking about wanting to return to low 2:20 marathon shape, was moving fast behind me as I could see him on many of the out and back sections.  I had no illusions of holding him off as my lower half continually hardened up throughout that last lap.  My gauge on time was a little screwy with the odd mileages, and doing the quick math wasn't really making any sense in my frozen brain.  The turn around on the long end of the lap was a little earlier on lap three for the 50k'ers, and Stewart blew by me before we reached it.  I didn't know for sure whether or not we were having to do the end loop again as I approached the finish line.  In fact, my pace had slowed so much that I thought for sure another mile and a half was awaiting me.  But, once I  got to the spot where Emmy had been handing me bottles, and she wasn't there, it started to look like 31 miles had come and gone.  Thank goodness.  Wound up 3rd in 3:22, 6:30/mile pace.  Not bad for having pretty crummy legs, and I had grown some amazing beard-cicles.  Time to get put back together for two+ laps with Troy later that night.

Not sure if I was finishing, but glad to find out I was in 3:22. 

Promoter Will Jorgensen has made this a stellar event in just its second year. 
Crazy sport where this guy gets support and post-race hugs from a gorgeous girl like this.  
First step on the road to recovery - free massage.
 After a little care on the massage table, we got our game plan together with Stephanie (Troy's crew), and headed back to Emmy's.  Enjoyed some Thai food, an Epsom bath with jacuzzi jets, and a nap.  Didn't really sleep too much, as I was constantly checking the online updates for Troy's progress and swapping texts with Stephanie.  Reports were that he was looking good, he and Brian Pickett were moving up the leaderboard, and his splits were pretty consistent.  I was shooting to get back to the venue ready to run with him from the start of lap eight of nine laps.  By the time I was back to the venue, it had gotten dark again and his lap times were creeping up a little.  Actually he was late enough coming off of the big loop of lap 7 that I ran back out the course to find him.  Didn't go too far before I ran into Arthur Priddy who I met over the summer, and he scared me a little when he said he had seen him not too long ago going the other way.  I think I misunderstood because of the looping as to what he actually meant, and while we walked together, Troy emerged out of the darkness.

He looked pretty good, was upbeat, and had certainly readjusted his pace based on how he felt and what he left to do - damn near a marathon.  He was unwavering in his approach.  He dropped his bottle for the short end loop of lap 7 and loaded back up as we came through to start number eight.  I've never paced anyone in an ultra before.  Heck, I've never even been to an event where they offer anything over a 50 miler, and, thank goodness, he's crazy strong.  Troy has an amazing resume and some very elite results, but this wasn't going to be one of them.  He knew right where he was, what he had to, and he was going to be happy with just knocking off another 100.

Occasionally I'd stop to pee or to enjoy the plenty at Woody's aid station (an oasis like I've never seen in a race), and I was always amazed at how far and fast I'd have to run to catch up to Troy.  That made me (and I think him) very confident in how well he was doing.  The pace was slow, but we were still running and the goal of finishing never seemed in jeopardy.  We made the miles go by talking about life and joking about the absurdity of what he was doing.  I'm not a really ra-ra kinda guy and didn't figure Troy was the sort that needed someone telling him he was going to make it.  He said that getting through laps 6 and 7 he was just telling himself that "after that it's just gonna be a long run with Matt."  So, that's all I had to give him.  And, honestly, once I was over 50 miles for the day, his pace was all I wanted - and he had been out there running 45 more miles than I had!  After our first lap together, his only request of me was this - "Can you run next to me or maybe a half step behind so I don't feel like I'm getting my ass kicked?"  No problem, buddy.

Dude is tough and has a revolver.
Troy knocked it off in 18 hours.  Not bad for coming in under the weather, racing in freezing temps and three weeks after a podium finish in a hard 50 miler.  He wasn't elated with his time, but I think was pleased with his execution overall.  His nutrition was dialed, pacing himself for the way he felt was spot on, and he exhibited all-around badassery when it got hard.  People freak out all the time about the running I do, but I always tell them "no, the guys I know are badasses."  This guy is one of the toughest I know.  Congrats Troy.

For me, the Pistol was a pretty good day - 55 miles total, a 50k PR by an hour and 40 minutes, got fantastic support from Emmy, and got to support a friend's amazing effort.  Liking 2014 so far.