Saturday, December 28, 2013

2013 Recap - Adventure vs Competing

2013 has been a great year. I've pushed myself further than I ever thought was possible (even grabbed my first ultra win), slept in my car more times than any person probably should, met some amazing people, drank some outstanding beers and wines... but as I sit here, sipping on my coffee, counting down the last remaining days of 2013... I can't help but ponder next year. What adventures await?

My journey into trail/ultra running has been at times... hard. Not hard in the sense of the endless hours I've spent gallivanting down root covered single track... or the thousands of miles I've frolicked through the thick, humid southern woods. No... you see that's the easy part. The hard part for me has been the internal battle... do I keep it adventurous... or transition into competing? This all stems from a silly round ball I picked up as a kid...

Yep that's me during an interview at the College World Series... University of Montevallo... NCAA Div II All American closing pitcher...  tattooless and clean cut... hard to believe eh?

If you are wondering about the interview picture and why I have ice on my left shoulder and not my right... it's because I struck out the last guy to clench the Regional series in Texas to take our team to the World Series... and I ended up on the bottom of the dog pile... to this day my shoulder still goes in and out of place... thanks for that one guys... :)

I've been part of a team my entire life. Baseball and basketball are team sports. Don't get it twisted... trail running and ultra running are just as much team sports as the above... you've got crews, pacers, family, friends, and running groups... all there to support you. However... the main difference? In the end... it's only you out there. No one makes you get up, stumble around the house in the dark to scrounge up a cup of coffee... all the while praying that you have headlamp somewhere in the car. You are the one that has to muster up the strength to step out into that cold or humid weather and knock out the miles.

Here's a brief recap of this past year's races:

Black Warrior 50k - 5:22
GA Death Race 100k - 18:55
No Limits 5k - 19:40
Sweetwater 50K - 5:53
Cruel Jewel 56m - 15:20 (1st overall)
Silver Rush 50 - 9:57 (50m PR)
Still Hollow 1/2 - 1:48
Stumpjump 50k - 6:04
Ruffner 21k - 2:21
Pitchell 100k - 18:48
Cyclocross 5k - :23 (1st overall)
Bearly Ultra 27m - 4:28 (2nd overall)

I raced a pretty good bit... probably could have raced more... but instead, I decided on more weekend adventures! What doesn't show in the race list is all the sunrises and sunsets I caught, the wonderful moments I spent with my closest friend on the trails, the week long Gatlinburg vacation with my wife, parents, sister and her family where I threw down close to 70+miles, the Gatlinburg Mancation that I took last month, or the +6hr Pinhoti adventure where we ended up being saved by Boys Scouts with a water filter...

It's so hard to compare racing and adventure runs... both have something special about them. Usually, there is a story or memory surrounding the race that was more meaningful than the actual race itself.

The GA Death Race:
This was my first 100k. I didn't know what to expect. I finished, but what I remember most about this trip was the training runs with my buddy Steve...

looking at elevation charts in the Hiker Hostel with Willy, the last 20miles that I walked with a retired Army Ranger... leap frogging the entire day with a newly required friend Angela... meeting tons of people that I would stay in contact with over the course of the year. Yea... it was awesome to finish that hard of a race, but it was the journey that I remember most.... well... and the bacon grilled cheese at mile 47... yea... mostly just the bacon.

Sweetwater 50k:
Fun race... I officially met my ultra running friend Cecilia for the first time... but what I remember most was setting up camp next to an RV in an otherwise empty Wal Mart parking lot, and freezing my butt off as I walked inside to fulfill my Twizzler and chocolate milk cravings (I may have been pregnant at the time...).

Cruel Jewel 56:
This was my first official ultra win. What I remember most is being told by a doctor that I had walking pneumonia a week before the race, leaving later than expected to get to our campsite (thanks for arresting someone Chuck...), and instead staying in a sketchy motel... (I find myself in some pretty sketch places...)

I also remember emails of support right before sunset and getting a text from Chuck at 6am... well it was really a message from Angela reading "Hurry your ass up! You're winning!"

And why yes... that is a beer in my hand at 7am... wanna fight about it?
Silver Rush 50:
This was my first trip out West. Leadville is beautiful. What I remember most? It wasn't my 50m PR...


But a few other things...

1) One of my best friends completing his first 10k in Denver

2) Throwing down 12 miles on Green Mt the day before Leadville and watching an amazing lightning storm from the summit...

Still Hollow 1/2:
The race was meh.

Not a very interesting course, but that's not what I remember. I remember meeting Erin and Salomon runner Greg Hexum at the hostel...

going on an additional 13m run on the StumpJump course after the race and hitting downtown Chattanooga with Greg and maybe having a few too many brews :)

Pitchell 100k:
Just amazing. Probably the best and most adventurous weekend of my life... (if you want to know more about this experience look back to previous posts)

So that brings us here. The end of 2013. I can honestly say I took a completely different approach to trail running this past year. In 2012 I was caught up in the amount of miles I was putting in, which lead to injuries and frustration. This year I decided to concentrate on getting as much time outside and time on my feet as possible. So after the Death Race... I stopped "training." I just ran. I followed a simple routine. I ran just as far as I felt like running. If I felt like running hard... I ran hard... if I felt like running an hour... I ran an hour... if it was 4hrs... I ran 4... if I didn't feel like running... I didn't. I signed up for races that looked extremely hard and just did them. I did my best to taper for said races... fail. Nothing changed in my routine. I tried to run long at least twice a month (20-35mile runs) with just a bunch of enjoyable running in between. And you want to know something? I found myself enjoying day to day running so much more.

With no set training schedule and no expectations... I was always simply running in the moment. The sunrises were brighter, the sunsets were sweeter, the post brews more delicious... everything clicked and made sense. For me... this is trail running.

I'm going into 2014 with zero race plans at the moment. I have a few in mind, but nothing is set in stone. I'll probably keep with the hippyish, free spirited, adventure seeking type of trail running I did this past year and just race hard when I feel the need. But still... there's a little part of me that wants to buckle down and compete.

So for now... I will continue to run and live my life the only way I know how...

"If I ever told anyone about my life, they would think I made it up, like fiction."

No matter what it may be... just go all out in 2014. Try new things... push yourself to a different level... enjoy every moment!

Till tomorrow...

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Inaugural Bearly Ultra

Let me paint you a picture...

It's a few days before Christmas, I'm alone in an Applebee's booth with a winter lager, a bacon cheeseburger, slow Christmas music playing and everyone is staring at me...

In reality it's really not as bad as it seems. My wife is out of town and my buddy Blake just left the restaurant, so to the incoming diners... I'm that depressed, lonely guy, that has to eat alone for the holidays. I'm really happy as can be and just downing calories, going through the normal night before an ultra routine. Usually it ends there... however, I promised Kati's sorority sister Leila I'd go out for a drink with her. I met her and a few of her friends for a few beers. "I'm not taking that." Clink. I took it. Baby Guinness shots shall not be passed up. Delicious. A quick stop by Wally World for some silky Santa boxers, a mistletoe headband and then it's time for bed.

The Bearly Ultra was the first official race from the BUTS group (Birmingham Ultra Trail Society). The BUTS community has been around a little over a year and it has BLOWN up thanks to some amazing folks. They've hosted tons of group runs, cookouts and have set up some of the most amazing aid stations at races like the Pinhoti 100. Needless to say... a freakin awesome group to be associated with.

After a few words from Dan (RD) we set off on the 27 mile adventure.

Dan's the one standing on the ladder... and a big thanks to local trail runner Chris Ferrell for pointing out how Dan looks like The Vulcan.

I started off a lot faster than I had intended, but I didn't want to get caught in that middle pack where it could get congested. The first few miles were spent chit chatting and catching up with a few BUTS members. Despite putting in a good amount of miles through the week, my legs felt strong and fresh. I started the climb up to the first aid station located at mile 4. What makes the BUTS aid stations the best? Dance music. "Relax, don't do it, when you want to go to it" blared from the speakers. I got up to the top and felt like I should kill the Prime Minister of Malaysia... instead... I opted for some gummy bears and banana slices.

The next few miles were rolling jeep roads with a few long stretches, so I picked up the pace a little bit. The only thing that broke up the loop was a quick out and back to Grace's Gap. I really like this section despite being so short. I hit Grace's Gap and saw my buddy Suman ( on the return trip. He smiled and said I had better pick up the pace because he was coming for me. I hit the gravel road and ran down until it opened up into the 2ish mile powerline trail back to the start/finish area. I filled my bottle, grabbed a banana and headed back into the woods.

At this point in the race it felt like an every day run. I was running alone like I normally do. The silence was broken by the delightful screams of a group enjoying the Red Mt zip line course. It's always good seeing people outside enjoying themselves! I winded up and down through the park enjoying the singletrack until I started the climb back up to the aid station. From my understanding... a new type of twerking was created sometime since my last visit...

I left the aid station and again picked up the pace during the next few miles. I came face to face with Suman again on my return trip from Grace's Gap. "I'm gaining on you!" When I came out of the woods and onto the powerline trail, I big gust of wind and mist hit me. It misted all the way to the start/finish area. I quickly filled my water bottle, grabbed a banana and a Little Debbie snack and headed out for the final loop. And yes... I somehow managed to wear the mistletoe headband the entire race...

I few miles into the loop I started to feel my legs tighten up a little. I've not raced since October and haven't really pushed myself that hard in a while. My right achilles was also giving me some problems. I think it mostly had to do with me switching shoe brands. I've always ran in Salomons, but I can't seem to find anything from the new line that feels right. I recently switched to Brooks Cascadias. I love them so far, but they're a little less rugged than my old Salomons.

I knew I had a decent lead over Suman, but Suman is fast. He can kill some flats and it made me a little nervous because after the aid station the course had a lot of open, flat areas for him to gain ground.

I cruised into the aid station at mile 22, filled my bottle, stretched a little and headed out for the last 5 miles of the race.

On the back side of Red Mt park there's a long straightaway. I got close to the end and looked over my shoulder. Suman. You could see that neon shirt from a mile away. Ugh. I started to pick up my pace. I came up on my buddy Drew Morton who was well on his way to completing his first ultra. We exchanged a few words, but Suman paranoia was creeping in so I had to jet. I hit Grace's Gap and headed back to the gravel road. Looking out over the powerline trail I knew I had it. 2 miles lay between me and the finish line. I had to stop and stretch a few times the last 2 miles because I had pushed it pretty hard since I left the last aid station. I walked up the final hill and smiled as I crossed the finish line.

I finished 2nd overall with a time of 4:28, 7mins behind Bo Martin. I had a blast racing, catching up with some old friends, and hanging out with the BUTS gang. Hopefully, now that I've got a new job and more of a set schedule, I'll be able to attend more BUTS events and get the opportunity to race/volunteer more!

For now... I'm about to grab some wine and dive into the chicken and dumplings that have been brewing in the crock pot the last few hours...

Till tomorrow...