Friday, November 22, 2019

Trail Running Resurrected at the Mendon 50k

...and we're back!

Just like my distance running, this blog is rising from the dead after a months-long hiatus. In short, it had been a frustrating five months with an ability to perform to my expectations. During that span I accumulated several average to mediocre race results and often felt awful on any runs longer than 60-90 minutes. I'm not an uber competitive guy and don't dwell much on race times, but I still expected to run a higher volume at a faster average pace and feel good about it. The drop in performance left me with little motivation to run, read about running, or write about running. All the fall ultras I'd had my eye on—the Watergap 50k, Tussey mOUnTaiNBACK, Can Lakes 50-mile road race, and yes, even the Midstate Massive Ultra Trail 100—were no goes. Pushing myself that hard would have been a terrible idea, so I decided to leave all these races for another year.


A week and a half before the Mendon Trail Runs, I had an appointment with sports medicine physician Andy Getzin.  All of my blood tests—white blood cell count, inflammation markers, iron and B12 levels—came back normal. Dr. Getzin more or less told me to listen to my body and ease back into things.

A few days later I tested my endurance by running 37k (23 miles) on my 37th birthday (consuming only water and Gu Birthday Cake gels for posterity). The pace was slow and my legs were tired near the end, but overall it went okay so I signed up for the

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

The Pine Creek Gorge West Rim Trail

I first learned about the Pine Creek Gorge West Rim Trail from Phil Maynard last year after he hiked it with his son over two days. He described it as smooth and fairly fast, unlike most of the technical, rock-strewn singletrack that winds its way through the Pennsylvania Wilds. Phil ran a south to north  FKT on the West Rim earlier this year, which re-piqued my interested in making this adventure run happen.

I'd only been down to the PA Wilds area once, when I ran the Eastern States 100 in 2017. That race covers only a few miles of the West Rim Trail, near the trail's southern end. My friend Amelia and I decided to head down on a weekday to run the trail end-to-end, an impromptu 50k. We drove to Pine Creek Oufitters, an outdoor gear and rental store in Wellsboro near the West Rim's north end. The store offers shuttle rides to the opposite end of the trail (or other drop off points on this and other trails). For us it was $40 for the 30-minute ride. They let us park the car at the north terminus parking lot on Colton Road instead of having us leave the car at the store. This way we didn't have to run an extra mile on asphalt at the end to get back to the store. Other possible transportation arrangements include parking a car at each end, or for the more adventurous and multi-sport inclined,

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Things I'd Do For a Pint Glass: The MMT 100

On paper the Massanutten Mountain Trail 100 didn't look all that intimidating. The 18,500 feet of elevation gain, while significant, isn't all that monstrous over the 100-mile distance. The race website, however, fails to reiterate just how many large rocks have been tossed across the trails in the George Washington National Forest.

By all accounts, Massanutten is a somewhat easier course than the Eastern States 100—less technical with a several K feet fewer in elevation change, and without the switchback-less, scree-laden, 1,000-foot climbs. Training had been going well. In fact, it was the best training block I've ever had for a 100-miler, as detailed on a previous post

The MMT course is essentially a 100-kilometer loop around the ridge surrounding the George Washington National Forest, followed by a marathon-distance loop to the south, then a few miles down a road to bring it all back home. The course makes frequent drops down the ridge to aid stations at road crossings; this is where most of the elevation change comes in. There are a few sections with two to five miles of dirt road at a time, but otherwise it's all singletrack. 2019 marked the 25th straight year of the Virginia Happy Trails Running Club's marquee event.

MMT welcome sign. 

***

I arrived to the starting line at Caroline Furnace Lutheran Camp already in a handicapped state.

The afternoon before the race, I attended Hayley's grandmother's funeral, then drove seven hours straight down to northern Virginia to arrive around 9:00 p.m. I missed the expo, pre-race briefing, etc., but was able to get my bib and mug shot that night. The drop-bag drop-off deadline had already passed, but I'd made special arrangements with the Race Director and his drop-bag coordinator to leave my three bags in a bin behind the drop-bag transportation truck. (RD Kevin Sayers was very accommodating when I explained my predicament in an email a week earlier. More on this later.)

Pre-race mug shot. PC: Raj Bhanot
I then made my way to a stuffy bunk bed cabin shared with a dozen other runners. The lights were already out and I fumbled my way onto a top bunk, trying not to wake anyone although I doubt there was much slumbering anyway. Snoring, lack of fresh air,

Thursday, May 9, 2019

A Few More Loops at the Thom B, 'Cuz Why Not?

The Finger Lakes runner's Club's Thom B Trail Runs is local, low-key race around Hammond Hill State Forest. The marathon comprises three singletrack loops, plus a mini loop at the end to even out the distance. The event also has one-loop 13k and two-loop 26k options. The small field size and 20-minute drive from my house made the marathon ideal for a final long effort even though I was a week into my three-week taper for the MMT 100. I'd run this race twice before, in 2014 and 2017 when the longest distance was a four-loop 52k instead of the marathon, and I've run the main loop dozens of times in training.

The Thom B is small enough that I thought I had a shot at winning—or at least winning the men's race. That is, until Ian Golden showed up at the start as a last-minute entry. Ian's been running well as of late, and in March he took the win at the inaugural Castle to River 50k against a pretty solid field. I also didn't expect to keep up with Ellie Pell, though I knew she's in training mode for the Buffalo Marathon later in May. I'd been running pretty well myself this year at the smaller, local trail races, and have learned enjoy and feed off of a competitive mindset, even if a race only has a few dozen starters. I also hoped to score some big points in an attempt to win the FLRC 2019 Stonehead series.

From the gun, Ian quickly took off up the rocky dirt road and vanished in the fog as he turned onto the trail. I expected to never see him again. I wanted to run the race at about 90% effort, and even at 110% I knew I'd have no business trying to hang with

Friday, May 3, 2019

Massanutten Mileage

Here we are at the start of May. The area's flora is quickly brightening and well on its way to full bloom. Trail surfaces are drying up and daylight hours are increasing. In other words, it's a great time of the year to come out of hibernation and step off the roads onto the trails.

The following are scattered thoughts on what has been my strongest training block to date.

***

At the time of this writing, we're only 15 days out from the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100, which happens to be my focus race for the first half of 2019. This past weekend (April 27-28) I completed a huge training block for MMT and am now in the midst of a three-week taper. I think this has been the best training block I've ever had, for any race or distance, and am feeling very confident about breaking 24 hours at Massanutten.

Starting the third week of December, I began the training block with a series of two or three tempo interval workouts per week for five weeks. I followed that up with a string of several 70- to 80-mile weeks, mostly on roads and occasionally on a treadmill. I largely avoided snowy, icy trails so that I could increase my cardiovascular fitness with tempo intervals and steady paced, medium length runs. The treacherous footing on trails would make the pace so slow that I wouldn't be able to benefit from

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Palmers Pond FatAss 50k

As part of my buildup toward the Massanutten 100, I signed up for the Palmers Pond FatAss 50k out in Almond, New York. Colin Bailey and Michael Valone decided to resurrect this gem, continuing with the no-fee, no-frills, no whining mentality of a true fatass trail run. (Just google "fat ass" if you don't know the term.) In fact, 2019 was only the second year of the event, following the inaugural 2016 run and a two-year hiatus. Registration was free on UltraSignup, but due to permitting, there were a limited number of spots and it "sold out" quickly back in January. The only fee of any sort was to bring something to share at the course's sole aid station.

The course comprises two different loops that are each run three times. The West Loop measured about 5.1 miles on my watch and was somewhat more forgiving terrain, while the East Loop measured 5.4 miles and had more mud, more hills, and a half-mile bushwhack section. The race HQ slash aid station sat roadside in the middle of the forest, where we'd pass through following each loop and have access to our gear in our cars, if needed.

The DEC trails around Palmer's Pond State Forest are all ATV- and snowmobile- friendly—in other words, wide, smooth, and not all that steep. This is a stark contrast to all the singletrack DEC trails I'm used to running around the Ithaca area.

The real challenge here was the mud. The trails would make for some fast 50k times when dry, but early April's heavy rains turned the race into a 32-mile mud run. What I thought was a likely PR was instead one of the toughest and slowest 50k races

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Trail Methods Last Runner Standing

With the ever increasing interest in Big's Backyard Ultra, there's been an uptick in events with the last runner standing (LRS) format. The general idea is that runners repeatedly complete a loop in a specified amount of time. The field is narrowed down as runners are eliminated when they miss cutoffs or refuse to continue for another loop. Eventually, the last runner who doesn't time out or quit is declared the winner.

Every October Big's Backyard Ultra in rural Tennessee takes the LRS format to the extreme. In 2018 alone, overall winner Johan Steene totaled 283 miles and took nearly three days to do so, narrowly outlasting perhaps the world's top female ultrarunner, Courtney Dauwalter. Until a few years ago, this race, along with the format, was widely unknown. The indefinite time limit, the lore of race director Lazarus Lake, and the resiliency of the race's top competitors have lead to more and more media coverage, and hence a surge in interest. Big's now has a series of qualifying races globally that mimic its format, with the winner from each granted an automatic entry into Big's.

There are a number of smaller, less extreme races that follow the LRS format, one of which is Trail Methods Last Runner Standing. Eric and Sheila Eagan, experienced RDs who also direct Many on the Genny and several other races, are the race directors for TMLRS. 2019 was the third edition of the race.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Frozen Branch 50k

The Frozen Branch 50k & 25k is put on by Scott McGee and Jeff Darling, architects of the increasingly popular Twisted Branch 100k. Frozen Branch runs from miles 42 to 58 on the TB 100k course, stopping in Urbana at the location of Twisted's final aid station. Frozen Branch 25k-ers finish here, with loads of hot greasy food at their disposal, while 50k-ers have the pleasure of slogging it another 16 miles back to the start at the Evangeline Shelter in Urbana State Forest.


This race is about as old school as an ultra can get these days. The event was capped at 40 entrants between both distances, with 12 finishers in the 50k and 18 in the 25k. (It's an increase from the two and seven finishers, respectively, in the inaugural 2018 race.) The entry fee was low, there were no fancy prizes, sponsors, or swag, and there were no course markings aside from the permanent orange and white blazes along the Finger Lakes Trail. Upon check-in, each runner was randomly given a playing card from a standard deck in lieu of a bib. At the 25k turn-around, we'd be given another card to match the one we started with in order to prove we completed the whole course. Runners lined up and the lucky SOB in front of me received the Ace of Spades, while I had to settle for the jack of the same suit.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Snowshoe Racing Debutante

Wintertime in Upstate New York can be conducive to a number of outdoor activities. Cross-country and downhill skiing are abound, along with winter hiking. With the volume of snow dumped across the region this winter, one thing that became difficult is trail running. With that in mind, I signed up to race in snowshoes for the first time.

The Finger Lakes Runners Club holds a snowshoe race on Hammond Hill annually, always the day before the Super Bowl. The Super Frosty Loomis Snowshoe Race 10k course is essentially the FLRC's Thom B course run in reverse, minus a 1.5-ish mile section of red-blazed singletrack on the forest's southeast side. The event has a 5k race concurrently with the 10k. At 1,700 to 2,100 feet elevation, Hammond Hill always has more snow than the surrounding valley at this time of year.

I was originally hoping to run Goose AR's Cast-a-Shadow 6-Hour race on this day instead, thinking there might be little enough snow west of Rochester that it would become a trail race sans snowshoes. (As it was when I ran Cast-a-Shadow in 2017.) But nope—it was full-on snowshoe season this year at CAS and I was unable to find a pair to rent or borrow on short notice. I instead