a double feature weekend: sewanee cx

cx

Time for some more mud!! On Sunday, Scenic City Velo was hosting a cyclocross race up on Monteagle. Wanting to support the local club and have some fun, I made the trek over. Since I had friends staying at my house for the Lookout Mtn trail races the day before, I didn’t get an early start and have much time for a warm up. I got registered, pinned on my number, got ready to get on my bike and… where is my damn helmet? BIG oops! Huge thanks to Kym for letting me borrow her helmet.

The Women’s B race had 8 of us starting. The beginning was a short gravel road, before we veered off onto muddy grass/trail – not much time to really get into position. There was some twisty, muddy corners that moved into a series of chicanes on one of 2 hills on the course. It wasn’t until the double barriers that I was able to pull away from Grace (having a ton of fun in her first cx race ever). I tried to hold onto a few Cumberland Transit girls through the next section of mud, that ended with a hill that definitely required a dismount; however, I was having so much trouble clipping into my pedals that I lost a ton of time on the straightaways. (I had this problem at Cross-a-nooga too, but had totally forgotten to look into the issue – actually hadn’t been on my bike since then!)

The rest of the laps were pretty much the same. I did spice things up on my third lap when my rear wheel totally washed out and I went down sliding. Luckily the mud wasn’t too thick or wet there… Anyways, local collegiate cyclist Stephanie got her first cx win, with Kristi nabbing second. Great job! I finished 5th, not too bad for minimal practicing and racing the day before. I’m really looking forward to the Rome Winter series in January. The challenge with the cx races is that they are so spread out, all over GA and TN. (and TN and AL too)… it’s hard to justify driving a few hours for a 3o min race. Rome should be close enough to have some fun and not eat the whole day traveling.

a double feature weekend: Lookout 10k

10k

Saturday Dec 18th was the final date in the 2010 Rock/Creek Trail Series – the Lookout Mountain 50 mile and 10k trail races. With temperatures starting in the upper 20s and only climbing into the mid-30s at best, you were going to suffer a bit no matter what distance you chose. I’m focusing on a race in Feb (the Mt Mitchell Challenge again), so the 10k was my fun for the day.

The race started & finished at the Covenant College athletic fields. The first part of the race (map here) followed their cross country course – despite the hills, it was a pretty fast section. Then we turned onto the powerlines and the “fun” (not!) began. Powerlines just are never fun. In adventure races, it always meant thick, nearly impassable underbrush. Thankfully in a trail race there is at least a trail to follow, but big climbs (and descents) are the norm, with a service road that doubles as a creekbed during storms (watch out for deep ruts). It’s never particularly scenic either. After we followed this for awhile, the finish was near – just 2 (big) climbs left. I had kept a girl that passed me earlier within sight, hoping that she may crack a bit on the climb and I would surge past. Well, it didn’t quite play out as I imagined. Somehow that first hill energized her, and at the top she grew wings and darted through the trees. Dang. My next hope was to just hold on to my current position (top 10 I believed) and make it to the end. That last climb took everything out of me. Thanks to Robert of Wilderness Adventure Photography for capturing the pain and agony I was experiencing. As if that climb wasn’t hellacious enough, we had another 250 agonizing meters of pavement before we hit the actual finish line. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so completely done (& sick) before.

After getting into some dry clothes, racers huddled around a bonfire to keep warm until the awards. One of my friends up from Athens, GA (who didn’t decide to race until she caved to peer pressure race morning) took the overall female win with a speedy 46:29. I finished 7th, in 52:58.

That night, Carol and I swept the last section of the 50 mile race, from Lula Lake to Covenant College. (Yes, while I was staying warm and working inside, all those ultra runners will still out there running!) All the racers made it in safely, making for a great close to another race. (Yeah for no search & rescue in sub-freezing temps!)

Thanks to WildTrails and Rock/Creek for the great event!

race day gear:
Patagonia beanie
Smartwool NTS short sleeve shirt
Patagonia Capilene 1 silkweight long sleeve
Patagonia Nine Trails jacket
Lululemon Run Inspire Crop tights
Smartwool socks
Vasque Mindbender shoes
Buff
Mountain Hardwear powerstretch gloves
Ultimate Directions handheld with Banananuun!

georgia-cross in tennessee

cx

Well, some do consider Chattanooga to be a suburb of Atlanta, so I guess we qualified enough to host the latest race in the Georgia-Cross cyclocross series. Vantaggio hosted the event and designed another awesome course out at Camp Jordan. I had pre-registered, so despite the 21+ miles, 4.5 hrs of trail running the day before, I gathered my gear and headed out. I was running a bit late and didn’t get to pre-ride the entire course, but got some good tips about navigating the slick areas and how deep the sand pits were.

The Womens B race had 8 ladies start. The first part of the course included a ascending steep slick hill, followed by a chicane on this same hill. Not having been on my cx bike lately and not having practiced stuff like this (esp after rain), I chose to dismount early and run it. Despite my sore feet, this was a good, time-saving decision for me – I held my place, if not passed nearby riders. Quick remount, then a long section with some twisty cornering. In the middle was a tricky barrier right before a runup – it was angled in such a way that we were dismounting on the downhill so we could turn and jump the barrier. Luckily everything happened smoothly, although I had visions of not unclipping and faceplanting while sliding down the muddy hill. :)

Continuing on: More technical turns with some room for some speed inbetween… a double barrier (that not everyone cleared, as you can see from the photo above)… then a double feature sandpit. yes, one right after the other. It was deep stuff too. A good majority of people weren’t making it all the way through. Since I hadn’t been able to pre-ride this, I played it safe, dismounted, and ran through both, carrying my bike. This is where I was able to save time and get a gap on a few ladies behind me. The only problem was the sand jamming up in my cleats. I had one heck of a time clipping in after this (slipped off the pedal once and jammed it right into my Achilles. Not advisable!!)

The course was 3.0k, so we hit it about 5 times during our 30 minute race. I finished 5th, happy we didn’t have to go 45 min like the A race. This definitely did me in for the weekend! I had a blast though, which is what racing cross is all about. Definitely looking forward to more this season!

(hoping to have some pictures posted soon, but so hard for me to get to on the weekdays)

Upchuckin’ thru the woods…

upchuck

This race has become a bit of a legend in it’s few short years. As the race website says…. “Let us reiterate: this is seriously difficult.”  To enter, racers wishing to tackle this course had to submit a video stating why they should race – from Ray Jay (& his wife Jay Ray), to the daughter saying she wants her dad to have another throw-up shirt, we knew these racers would have the humor they needed to tackle one of the toughest 50k’s they’d attempt. (Check out the videos here.) But would they have the fitness?? (If not… well, the Grim Sweeper just might catch them!)

Now, before you think that I earned major badass points for completing this race, this was just a volunteer day for me. My mileage isn’t back up to 50k worthiness, and I don’t want to push my ITB too far too quick. Besides, good races don’t happen without good volunteers! I started my duties Friday night by baking 4 doz “anti-upchuck power cookies” and a few loaves of molasses oat banana bread to fuel runners at mile 18. We had a good crew stationed here – great volunteers, cheering supporters, and helpful rangers. Once Kathy (pictured above) came through, I paced her for an hour on the Soddy Segment of the Cumberland Trail. The hour run back made for a great run on a beautiful day.

On the way back I passed the Sweep and was quizzed on who I remember passing. Hmm..  In particular, he was looking for one individual that hadn’t checked in at the last aid station. Unfortunately I hadn’t seen him. Once I got back to my post, we talked with the ranger on what to do. It was closing in on 3pm and racers could still take another hour or two until they reached the finish line. We could wait… as it was possible he slipped by without getting checked off our list, but then we’d be playing nightfall – an entirely different ballgame for a search. With thoughts of the search party I nearly had to form at this year’s STRONG Adventure Race, we figured it was best to go ahead and run the trail backwards to the runner’s last known point – a concrete bridge 6-7 miles up the Possum Creek Gorge segment. (yeah, the hardest one…)  At least we had daylight working with us right now…

Another volunteer joined and the rangers promised to pick us up a the other end. We ran and hiked, calling for the runner. We passed a group of hikers that had hiked this entire section, but they had not seen him either. Shortly before we arrived at our pick up point, I received a call – the runner had hitched a ride back to the start. Phew!! Hearing his story, he definitely got turned around and once he finally backtracked onto the course, the sweep had gone through and the previous aid stations had already been torn down. Thankfully the day had a good ending…. although my legs might have a different idea after my run time doubled. (well, nothing like diving right back into the miles!)

shut-in ridge trail run

©Paul Christopher

I have a bad habit of doing the same races over and over… The problem is, I’m just so in love with a few of them that I can’t even consider not toeing the start line. The Shut-In Ridge Trail Run is one such event. My annual autumn trip to Asheville for this ass-kicker also provides me the chance to visit friends I don’t see often enough, and if I’m lucky, some awesome fall foliage. The race starts at the Arboretum, following a forest service road and dreamy singletrack as it parallels the Blue Ridge Parkway, ending 17.8 miles later at the trailhead to Mt. Pisgah. (but only after it sends you up, up, and up the hellacious, quad-busting, cramp-inducing, I-might-have-to-crawl-on-my-knees-to-make-it-to-the-top climb the race is known for.)

Unfortunately this year the leaves fell early; however, Mother Nature gave us a surprise instead – SNOW! While this was exciting, it did pose some challenges: namely, where would the race end? The Blue Ridge Parkway closes once winter weather hits. The alternate road is a scenic, twisty, steep one that would make most cars groan if any snow & ice accumulated on it. Race morning the rumor was the Mt. Pisgah parking lot was a sheet of ice. With the race being a point-to-point, it looked likely for us to run a shortened course (this has only happened 1 time before in the race’s 31 year history).

We gathered with anticipation at the start line for the official word. Norm said…  We’d run the full thing! Their hopes were that once the sun had warmed things up, the road would be a non issue. However, they reserved the right to amend the course at any time during the race. With that caveat, we were off! My goals for the day were modest. Some crazy fatigue I’ve been having kept my training a bit random. I just really hoped I had enough energy on race day to make it to the top :)  Of course getting a course PR would be preferable, but I wasn’t sure how likely that would be today.

The trail was thick with leaves, hiding the rocks and holes and making some steps treacherous. Add to that some slickness due to melting snow and I knew it wouldn’t be a record setting day. It was, however, a beautiful day on the trails! Bits of snow dusted the mountain laurel and a few gold & red trees decorated the forest kept my mind off the burn in my legs as we climbed higher and higher. Somehow I made the perfect choice in clothing (details below), which made the journey perfectly comfortable (until perhaps the last 15 min when the wind starting biting). I did wear a small pack since I didn’t have support along the way. This would definitely save a bit of time, but the pack doesn’t bother me so it wasn’t a big deal.

©Erin Brethauer

The final climb (s!) were as brutal as I remembered. I fell back a little here, but was happy to keep forward momentum (not everyone accomplishes that on this section!). The temps dropped, the wind picked up, and I was definitely happy the end was near. One woman crept up during the last quarter mile, so I had to work a bit to hold her off! My finishing time was 3:47 – faster than last year, but not my best time on this course. The Curwens & Browns were cheering me on and taking pics at the end (and then a Citizen-Times photographer got this awesome shot of me.. haha!) I was ushered into a warming tent – a godsend! However with so many people inside, my muscles were aching for some space. I grabbed the prized finisher’s shirt and headed to our van to get some dry clothes on. Big thanks to Monica and Lorrin for changing my socks when my legs started cramping up and bringing me the carton of Doc Chey’s peanut noodles (great race sponsor!)

If you haven’t done this race, it’s a must-do at some point. It sells out early every year, so keep your eye on the website for the summer registration announcement. Just don’t send in your money before me :)

Gear List:
Icebreaker 180 wool short sleeve shirt
Patagonia Nine Trails jacket
Pearl Izumi Arm Warmers
Buff (UV!)
Mountain Hardwear  Power Stretch Gloves
Insport tights
Smartwool socks
Vasque Mindbender shoes
Nathan running vest
Nuun + Clif Shot Bloks

Great pics from the Citizen-Times and more on Jus’ Running’s Facebook page

new england autumn

fall

Well, the tail end of it at least. Despite Delta’s best efforts to delay my visit (& subsequent return), I caught a few late leaves while exploring some great trails.

The pic above is from the Mattabesett Trail (I think). It is a 50-mile section of the newly-formed 800+ mile long New England Trail (part of which is also known as the CT Blue Blazes Trail.) I didn’t have much time to explore (Anders was on a road ride), but what I saw, I liked! After an initial steep rocky ascent, it evened out a bit to some very runnable, beautiful singletrack. I can’t wait to explore this trail system more in the future!

We also had a few spins around Tyler Mill, both on foot and wheels. I’d really love to get out here on a “modern day mtn bike”, as the beast I’m borrowing must weight at least 10 lbs more than my Lynskey, and the front suspension has long ago stopped working. But, 2 rough wheels are better than none, and it was definitely fun to be out there. I’m not sure what I’d compare these trails to in the southeast – not as groomed, lots of trails crisscrossing, with everything from dirt road to big drops, creek crossings and more. Definitely easy to get lost out here!

Can’t leave out our other favorite place to stop – Gouveia Vineyards. Unfortunately they were sold out of their Cabernet Franc, but we indulged in some other deliciousness.

Anyways, the next trip should coincide with some white stuff on the ground – really hoping to check out this place!

finding some miles

Soddy Creek section of the Three Rivers Gorge segment of the Cumberland Trail. A great run… it’s been too long!

demo days

trail love

The local running shop paired up with The North Face to put a spin on our regular Wednesday night trail runs. We met at FastBreak, where TNF had a bunch of the Single Track shoe for us to test out and take for a run. I got there a bit late, so some of the women’s were already snatched up, but I was able to find a 9.5 to test for the evening. I was warned the ran about a 1/2 size small… I’ve been dancing a bit between 2 sizes, so these were pretty close to what I needed. The length seemed good, although the toe box a bit more narrow than I’m accustomed to. However, the sides have a stretchy mesh that is quite forgiving, so I gave it a whirl.

The turnout was fantastic! We usually get between 5 and 15 people at the runs, but we had at least 25 tonight. Our destination was Stringer’s Ridge – a 90+ acre conservation area just minutes from downtown Chattanooga. The trails are undergoing much work. We’ve been running on them for years, but until recently the land was threatened to be developed. Thankfully with the Trust for Public Land’s help, the area is now safe, and being preserved for the future. I haven’t been out here in a few months and was impressed with the conditions. A lot of people have been busy working hard! (Now if I can just find my way around the maze of trails….)

Back to the shoes! We probably covered 6 miles on a mix of conditions – pavement, old asphault, dirt trail, dry crumbly rocky dirt roads, with lots of leaves and roots thrown in. I found the shoes to be a bit cushy like a road shoe, which was perfect for the harder surface; yet the “ESS Snake Plate” protected my foot from the rougher stuff we encounted. In general, it was a bit more neutral of a shoe than I’m used to, but I still felt comfortable in them. I don’t know if it would be my go to shoe for ultra distance stuff, but could definitely see it fitting into my shoe lineup for shorter  runs. Definitely worth checking out! They were also voted 2010 Gear of the Year award from Outside Magazine & 2010 Best Debut award from Runner’s World Magazine, if you need a more professional recommendation :)

Back, after a summer of R&R&R…

racing

Yes, it’s been a long time since my last post. I had run my first stage race and my body rebelled. It was a long time in the works (the problems started back in Feb), and that fun little adventure put me over the edge. Enter the first R – Rehabilitation. I tried a few different types of therapy. I think the first 2 worked at getting the inflammation of my ITB down and breaking up any scar tissue that was developing. I tried some Rest, but little bits of aggravation told me that the problem was still not fixed. Trying not to get too frustrated, I went to yet another therapist that was going to attack things from a different angle – biomechanics. (hence their name, Chattanooga Performance Biomechanics and Rehabilitation).

We started with an analysis of my gait – both walking & running, barefoot & with several types of shoes. The verdict?  I had a ton of crossover with an added twist, that with repeated motion (say…. 60 miles?!) was going to keep my ITB tweaked. The answer was simple: just change the way you move. I want to type, “easier said than done”, but I have surprised myself. Yes, it’s been several months of rest, exercises, & stretching diligence (with lots of yoga, cycling to try to occupy my excess energy), but I can tell a HUGE difference.

The miles are slowly starting to build back up. I did the Greenway 5 mile race in August and at the time, that was the longest I had run since the stage race. I’m now prepping for the StumpJump 11 miler – nope, not the full monty 50, but these 11 miles will hopefully have a stout effort behind them (and a little bit of speed if I’m lucky).  It’s hard not to jump up to the big mileage races of fall, but I’m trying to further my patience.

So what else did I get to do while in this downtime? Well, not train much in the blasted heat that just would not leave. (Talk about timing an injury right!) I did get to do a lot of race spectating & supporting for Anders in his quest to tear up the south’s road racing scene. (mission accomplished!)

Now that the weather is starting to cool off, mileage will ramp back up, with my lucky entry into two of NC’s hottest races – the Shut-In Ridge Run and the infamous Mt. Mitchell Challenge. (Yes, the 40 once again, as long as the body’s feeling up to it!) In between, I’m hoping to catch a few cyclocross races in the region and hopefully improve a bit with that madness.

Stage race, Day 3: Perseverance or Stupidity?

Endurance athletes are a different breed. We like to go long, thrive in the hours upon hours of time in the woods, be it on foot or bike. We push past our comfort levels to get “there” (wherever there may be). I’d like to think we are fairly intelligent and wise, preparing adequate nutrition, hydration, and clothing for our adventure at hand. Then comes our bodies. Yes, we train consistently (and hopefully smartly) to ready ourselves for longer, harder, & further. We often push through the pain, but take notes of the little aches we feel along the way. Sometimes, decisions must be made.

For me, the first decision came at mile 8 of Stage 2. My knee was officially not cooperating – to the point I could not ignore it. Do I DNF today? pull out of the whole series? attempt tomorrow? I found a happy medium in the fact that I could still walk halfway normally, so while quite slow, I did finish that day. And, it kept me in the running for an overall finish.

©Mark McKnight.

Sunday came… with not a fantastic sleep and no appetite. The only plus I had going was my body & feet felt pretty good since my exertion level the day before was all but nil. Today would be a very challenging 20 miles. Starting from the soccer fields on Signal, we’d run thru the gorge to Suck Creek and back to Mushroom Rock. That itself would be considered a tough run; making it miles 42-46 of a 60 mile race is just cruel. There’s roughly 1250′ of elevation gain and another 1250′ of elevation loss during this section – and I’m not sure which was worse! Regardless, it did a number on my knee/ITB, and from here on it would be mostly hiking. (although I have to say, I’m developing quite the power hike :)  We stayed on the Cumberland Trail to Edward’s Point, then on to Signal Point. I’d run small sections that were mostly flat and not technical – nearly nonexistent out here. Then came the infamous Rainbow Lake section we scouted last week. Talk about slowwww going. At least most everyone was slow during these sections.

Since I came into day knowing I’d walk a lot, and that my only goal was to finish, I was in much better spirits than yesterday. People could see me struggling and ask if I was ok…  Sometimes I said yes, sometimes sorta… but that I knew I could finish. Doubt never entered my mind. The last 4 miles were a highlight. A new section of trail meandered by a creek, where some of the race staff (friends of mine) were camped out, encouraging folks with offers of cold beer and cold creeks. Since I wasn’t in it for the time, I indulged. I took a can, walked out to a lounge chair they set up in the middle of the creek, and took a seat. I’m not one for cheap beer, but damn, did that frosty Miller High Life hit the spot! While I was kicking back, Wendy & Mary came running through, so I hopped out and tagged along with them for the final few miles. It was great to finish up with some friends – the support was mutually appreciated, as the last 2 miles really felt like double.

I was thrilled to finish the stage, even if I was 2+ hrs off my anticipated time. It was a different experience, one I hope I can improve upon in the future. As for my knee…  Did I make the right decision in continuing on? Afterall, I knew 30 miles into a 60 mile race it was just not right. Call it Perseverance or my Taurean Stubborness; I just don’t like to quit. I guess only time will tell if it was a stupid decision, but I’ll do what I can now to rest & mend my body. I think my bikes have missed me anyways :)

Huge thanks to Rock/Creek Outfitters, Wild Trails, Smartwool and all the volunteers for another wonderful event!


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