Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Injured Runner

June 5, 2016, I woke up and decided to go on a 20 mile bike ride.  I had been nursing a sore knee for the last week and had eased off of running to let it heal.  I did my ride that morning.  Nothing unusual happened.  Speed was average.  I felt good.

June 6, 2016, I went to work and felt like I had a pulled muscle in the small of my back, on the left side.  By Monday night, I felt it in my left hip.  Still not feeling a whole lot of concern, I ran my Stick over it, put some heat on it, and went to bed.

June 7, 2016, I woke in the middle of the night and noticed that it hurt for me to lay on my left side.  Still in a semi-sleepy state, I just blew it off and rolled over.  At 4:30am that morning, I woke up for work.  When I went to get out of bed, I could barely walk.  Pain shot down the left side of my lower back and left leg, stopping at my knee.  Still not that concerned, I hobbled to the coffee pot to start my day.  I knocked something off of the counter and I tried to bend over to pick it up.  That is when I realized this was not a normal cramp or something I could just walk off.  Pain shot up and down my back and leg, more intensley this time.  I hobbled back to bed and told my wife that I didn't think I could go to work.  I planned to lay in bed a few more hours and then go see my chiropractor, thinking I had something out of allignment in my back.

By 6:30am, the pain had intensified to a level that I could no longer tolerate.  I told my wife that I felt it was time to go to the ER.  The pain was so intense, I was literally nauseaus, and had to drag myself to the bathroom and throw up several times from the pain.  Afterwards, I lay on the bathroom floor, feeling unable to get up.  I changed clothes on the floor, as best I could, and then took a tortorous ride to the ER.  The diagnosis............Sciatica.  A slightly bulged disc in my L5 and what I would learn later, my L4.  After many pain shots, steroids, anti-inflammitories, etc...I left the ER that afternoon a non-runner.  I was hobbled.  Although my pain had been reduced from a 10 to a 3 or 4, I was nowhere near back to normal.  I was confined to my bed and stayed on a steady flow of pain pills and muscle relaxers.  Even after all this, I still felt I would only be down a week or two and then return to my normal life.

As time went on, I began to realize that my normal life was on hold indefinitely.  I had gone back to work, but even that was a task.  My back pain had subsided, but I was still on pain pills, and although they helped to a degree, by the end of my work day, I was walking like I had a wooden leg.  My knee no longer bent.  I had to tolerate a constant barrage of shocks to the medial area of my knee, all day long.  My quad throbbed all day long, and my skin was so sensitive to the touch, that wearing pants all day long was literal torture.  I began to come to the realization that this was not normal injury, and it may be some time before I would resume normal life, if ever.  I began researching my injury online.  Sciatica didn't fit the bill for the sypmtoms I was having.  After a lot of research, I learned that the problem may have initially been Sciatica, but I was now having problems with my Femoral and Saphenous nerves.  These nerves run down the front of my quad and into the medial part of my knee, which was exactly where my pain was.  I was certain this was my problem.  (This was later be confirmed by a Neurologist, who noted a bulge in my L4).  Now what to do about it.

After researching a variety of therapies, I gave Active Release Techniques (ART) a try.  I had to drive 100 miles to get it, b/c there were no doctors in my area that were certified in these techniques.  Basically, ART is a series of complex stretches that are done, while the nerve is pressed on in certain areas during the stretch.  People with injuries similar to mine have had success with these techniques. My first session was brutally painful.  I had no flexibility in my joints.  He worked my nerves from my Sciatic, to my Femoral and Saphenous nerves.  With each session, I felt a reduction in pain and had more mobility.

July 23, 2016, I am still in recovery.  I no longer walk with a limp and my pain is near 0.  The shocks to my knee are mostly gone and my knee numbness is minimal.  I ran 1 mile three times this week.  Each time feeling stronger that the time before.  I am still a long way from running a half marathon, much less an ultra, but I am not ready to throw in the towel yet.  I will keep pushing forward and hopefully, I will be able to be a runner once again.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Rouge-Orleans 2015

The Rouge-Orleans is a race I have been having on my bucket list since it's inception in 2011.  It is run on the levee of the Mississippi River from Baton Rouge to New Orleans, covering 126.2 miles.   For one reason or another, I always put it off until "next year".  I nearly did that again in 2015,  but my wife convinced me that I should sign up, since I was already in pretty decent ultra shape.  So after completing a few "test" 30 milers on the road, which is a distance I usually reserve for trails, I decided to enter.  I had little time to organize a strategy and crew.  As always, my wife Erica would be my primary crew person.  I also enlisted two pacers, Eric de Ronde and Heather Schilling, to pace me for the last 45 miles.

My race day began quite early.  I started in the second wave, which began at 3am on Saturday, February 14.  The Running Gods blessed us with clear and moderate temperatures for the race, and no rain.  My only concern would be the temps getting into the 70s on Saturday.

So, at 3am, on Valentine's Day, about 10-12 runners stood next to the USS Kidd waiting for their race to begin.  Before we started, the race director informed us that 3 solo runners, who began in the first wave the night before, had already dropped.  That is not the type of story you want to hear before you even start.  All the same, our race began in the dark, to little fanfare.  A few family members and friends, a 10 second countdown and the sound of the starting air horn.

My goal time for this race was 30 hours.  Starting in the second wave gave me 35 hours to finish.  My first priority was not to go out too fast.  I started at an 11:00 pace and I intended to run that pace for as long as possible.  The first 15 miles or so I shared with 3 other runners, Dan Smith, Geoff Landry and Seth Jones.  I knew Dan and Geoff from other races, and they had both run this race multiple times, so, it was good to feed of their experience.  They stopped for a bathroom break about 15 miles in and we lost sight of each other.  I came across a woman named, Rebecca around mile 20, and we ran together to the first aid station at mile 26.  After talking to her, I learned we had run a lot of the same races in Texas.  She was running a solid 11:00 pace, and quickly left Aid Station #1.  After I organized myself and returned to the levee, I watched as she got smaller and smaller, before finally disappearing.  This is the point the real race began.

Although I have a few 100 mile races under my belt, this race added several more difficult mental and physical barriers to itself that I had never encountered.  There was the distance (obviously), the flatness of the course, and the loneliness.  The loneliness came first.  After parting ways with Rebecca, I saw only one runner for the next 45 miles.  I could literally see miles in front and behind myself, and see no one in sight.  In a race like this, the contact of another runner can literally pull you out of a slump, just with a little conversation.  This, I did not have.  It was just me and the levee.  The one runner I saw was the only relay team that started in our wave.  After he passed me, I was alone again.  All the other relay teams started in later waves, and as I reached each relay exchange point, they were empty.  Erica met me at certain exchange points to refill my hydration pack and give me hot food.  She was my only human contact for a long time.

This picture says it isolation!!!
By 9am, the sun was well above the horizon and it began to get hot.  By 11am, it was over 70 degrees and the sun began to drain my energy, way to early in the race.  There was not an ounce of shade on the levee.  I was totally exposed.  By mile 40, the sun was really taking it's toll on me, and my pace had slowed substantially.  I had to take many more walk breaks than I should have at that point and negativity began to creep in.  I did get some motivating texts from some of my running buds back home, but that did little to lift my spirits with what I knew to be ahead of me.  It was early in the race, I was overheated, and I had about 80 miles left to cover.  It seemed hopeless, and I wondered if I had what it took to finish this race.  In a 100 mile race, mile 50 is a mental barrier crossed, because you know you are on the downhill side of the race.  As I hit mile 50 at Rouge-Orleans, I my heart sank into despair as I realized I was still 13 miles from even being halfway done.

When I made it to Aid Station #2 (Mile 55), I got some food from Erica and popped a couple of Aleve and a Red Bull.  This definitely gave me the jolt I needed.  After about 45 minutes from leaving the aid station, I began to feel the effects and started running stronger.  It was between 2-3pm and the sun was beginning to go down, taking the high temps with it.  Finally after 60 miles, my mental game kicked in.  I rolled past mile 75 feeling rejuvenated and confident.  I knew at this point, I was going to finish.

At Aid Station #3 (mile 81), I met with Eric and Heather for pacing duties.  They would take turns running with me until the end, which was a huge pick-me-up, since I had only seen 2 runners since mile 26.  Around mile 90 we ran into a group of juvenile delinquents riding 4 wheelers on the levee.  Normally, this would not be a big deal to me, but there were about 20 of them, they had obviously been drinking and they were riding aggressively and yelling lots of profanities at Heather and myself.  We were totally defenseless against their stupidity.  We had just passed by Rebecca, who I hadn't seen in a really long time, and they were heading her way.  She was alone, and I feared for her safety.  Luckily, they passed her by, just as they did with me and Heather.  I was relieved to see her come back into sight.  Shortly after, Eric took over the pacing duties so Heather could get some sleep.  By now, over 90 miles in, I was exhausted and I started having foot problems.  I ran in my Altra Paradigms for about 45 miles and then switched to Hokas Stinson Tarmacs.  I was still wearing them, but the smaller toe box was jamming my little toe inward and the pain became overwhelming.  I couldn't wait to get to Aid Station #4 to change back to my Altras.  When we hit mile 100, I realized I just achieved a new PR.  I had covered 100 miles in 21:59:18.  Exceeding my best 100 mile time by nearly 2 hours.  I guess the lack of hills helped out after all.  When I hit the 24 hour mark, I had covered nearly 106 miles.  One other uplifting aspect was that the remainder of the race was paved.  No more gravel.

When we hit Aid Station #4, I was in Hell.  I was cold, sleepy, exhausted, my feet hurt, and I still had over 20 miles to go.  Yet another life-sucking mental barrier was knowing that after over 100 miles of running, I was still a marathon away.  Eric and I started again, moving much slower, as my exhaustion had gotten the better of me.  I was very sleepy and I was hallucinating like never before.  Bushes became statues and animals.  The lines of the road seemed to float in front of me.  And the flat road looked like up-hills.  I thought about trying to work in a short nap at the aid station, but then put it out of my mind.  We were about 2 miles from meeting Heather again, and I told Eric I may have to take a brief nap at the next exchange.  Shortly after, my hallucinations got to be too much for me to ignore.  So, for the first time ever, I took a nap during a race.  I laid down on the cold road and told Eric to wake me up in 5 minutes.  That road felt like a tempur-pedic mattress and I fell asleep instantly.  When Eric woke me, I felt like I could have been asleep for hours and not known it.  That short 5 minute nap saved my race.  My mind was clear again and the hallucinations stopped.

About mile 114, Heather joined me again and we continued on.  By now, I would try my best to run, but it was more of a meager shuffle.  I had nothing left.  We finally started to see more runners at this point.  Mostly relay runners, who passed us with vigor.  They were easy to pick out.  They were clean, happy and moving with a purpose.  The solo runners at this point looked like zombies.  I began checking my map distances and doing the math (as best I could in my current state of mind.), and determined the course was long by over 2 miles.  I do prefer a longer course to a short course, but at this point it was a death-blow.  Eric picked me up at the last exchange and paced me the last 4.8 miles.  We walked mostly.  I was totally out of gas, and those last miles seemed as long at the entire race. 

When we got to Audubon Park, Eric turned me loose and I ran to the finish, covering 128.3 miles in  30:42:27.  I was done.  Good enough for 5th place overall and 1st in the 40-45 age group.  I missed my goal time by 42 minutes, but I didn't care.  It was a success story for me.  I was presented with my finishers buckle, finishers medal and a gator head.  I also got the best hug ever from Erica.  She is my strongest supporter of all, and she is as crucial to my races as anything.  After the finish, I thanked Eric and Heather for getting me to the finish line and complimented them on a job well done.  I took a baby wipe bath, changed clothes and went into a near coma-like state as Erica drove us home.

Eric, myself, Heather, and Erica.

This was a great race for me, filled with the usual highs and lows that come with every ultra, but, I think this was my toughest race ever.  The distance, the heat, and the solitude were all huge mental obstacles that I had to overcome in order to finish.  Ultra-running is as much mental as it is physical, and I don't think I could have completed this race, if not for being able to tap into the experience I've gained from previous races.  Rouge-Orleans is not a race to be taken lightly, and it is certainly not for the first-time 100 mile runner.  It is a widow-maker.  A breaker of men (and women), and of spirits, and it is an experience I will never forget.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Through Hell and Back!- Running the 777 Inferno

As a resident of the Alexandria/Pineville, LA area, the trails of Kisatchie National Forest are my home.  I have run them all, more times than I can remember.  Usually, anytime there is a trail race on "my" trails, I take part.  Even though it involves me paying money to run the same trails I can run for free any other time.  I just like taking part in promoting these trails, and bringing outsiders, who have never run them, into the fold.  Enter the 777 Inferno.  A spin-off from last year's "Out n Back" series, which offered distances of 5K, 10K, Half Marathon, and a 25.3 mile lolli-pop loop around Kincaide Lake, the 777 Inferno broke new ground by taking the 25.3 mile route of the Out n Back, and making it race #1 of a very intense stage race. 

The 777 Inferno would consist of three races of 20+ miles, run 12 hours apart, on the 7s (7am, 7pm, 7am).   Race #1 would be 25.3 miles around Kincaide Lake, Race #2 a 22 mile out and back route on the Caroline Dormon Trail, and Race #3 would be a point to point route on the Wild Azalea Trail.  A lot of miles, close together, compounded by the LA heat and humidity.  This would not be an easy weekend.

As this race got closer, my intentions were to do some two-a-day runs, a lot of hot weather runs, and run all three routes (one route each morning) at least one time before the race.  That sounded great didn't it?  Well, life quickly got in my way, and really none of that happened, with the exception of a few hot weather runs.  I did log some 20+ milers, but no two-a-days, and my plan to run all the routes in one weekend never came to pass.  To top it all off, I had strained my back the Sunday before the race, and was in a pretty good amount of pain.  At times, I was unsure if I'd even be able to run.  But, after a couple of trips to the chiropractor and a week of no running, I felt I was in good enough condition to try, even though physically, I didn't feel as ready as I would like.  After you have run a certain number of ultras, you learn to compensate your physical training with mental toughness, which is what I would have to do.  I wasn't quite where I wanted to be with my preparations, but I would muscle through it with my will power. 

June 21, 2014 
7 a.m.     
Stage #1      
Kincaide Lake
25.3 Miles

Stage #1 was definitely the busiest race of all.  In addition to this being the first stage race, it was also the Out n Back race series as well.  5Kers, 10Kers, and Half Marathoners, all lined up with the 777 racers to start the day.  The sky was clear and the temps were in the 70s.  My plan was to moderate my pace, and keep myself cool.  Unlike last year, when I totally overheated and walked a large portion of the last 6 miles. 

Day1- 777 and Out N Back starters.

All went well on this race.  It is a route I have run many times, and I know on a good day, with good temps I can run it in around 4:30.  I didn't want to be that fast, but I wanted to do better than last year's 5:15.  The route was pretty clean, and with the exception of the 3 very inexperienced mountain bikers on the trail, which would constantly pass me, but then seemed to have to stop for a rest break every 1/2 mile, only to be passed by me again, everything was going well.  Even as the temps climbed into the upper 80s, I managed to stay cool and hydrated, and finished with no problems in 4:44:44.

A little conversation and cold beer afterwards, a quick trip home, shower, ice bath, food, nap, return for the next race.  A sequence that became my new religion over this weekend.

June 21, 2014
7 p.m.
Stage #2
Caroline Dormon Trail
22 Miles

Caroline Dormon, the girl I love to hate.  I had never run this trail until I started prepping for this race, because I was always more attracted to her much better looking twin sister, The Backbone Trail, which has the same starting point, but heads in the opposite direction.  Caroline Dormon is a trail that is lacking in many ways.  Primarily a horse trail, it is wildly unkept, and judging by the condition of it, has very little foot or bike traffic.  Poorly marked, overgrown, unusual turns, re-routes, choppy/rutted portions left by the Forestry Service, a deep creek crossing with no bridge, cross trails all over the place......Need I go on???  I had run this trail 3 times prior to this race, and I had yet to complete an out and back crossing of it without getting lost.  Each time I went, I would drop yellow flagging along the route, so I knew I was on the right trail.  The spookiest part of this stage is that 3/4 of this race would be run at night.  As if I needed another challenge!!  The probability of someone getting lost or taking a wrong turn was high.

A dwindling crowd starting Caroline Dormon.
We started at 7 p.m., as expected.  A smaller group this time, as there were only stage racers now, and people had already started dropping.  I hadn't been on this trail in a month, but I had a definite advantage over everyone else, b/c I was the only one who had ever run the course.  The trail was as expected............shitty!!!!!  The Forestry Service decided to help us out by bush-hogging portions of the trail.  This actually made things worse, b/c now we had to deal with tractor ruts, in addition to the already poor conditions.  Whatever!!!!!!!  Just move forward, I told myself. 

I felt pretty good at first and moved well the first few miles.  I covered about 7 miles before having to turn on my headlight for the first time.  We got to a crucial, and easy to miss, turn shortly after, only to find that the flagging I had strung across the trail to block a wrong way, had been removed by someone.  Forestry Service, I guess.  This turn was nearly invisible, and I knew people would miss it.  I looked for flagging on the side, but it was gone.  Not long after, I picked up 2 runners who had missed that very turn.  They saw my headlight and yelled at me to see if I was on trail.  I waited for them to come to me, so they would be on course.  After that, we were in a tight pack of 4, which ran together all the way to the turn-around. 

The way back was a little tougher.  A lot more walking.  A lot slower pace.  My day was beginning to catch up to me.  When I got to the aid station, with 5 miles left to go, I was nauseous.  So, after a brief session on my hands and knees, puking by headlight (which seems to be my preferred way of puking during a race), I was off again.  Feeling a little refreshed after clearing my stomach.  I made it to the end in 5:21:15.  Certainly not setting any PRs, but at least I didn't get lost.  No time to socialize tonight.  It was already 12:30, and in a few short hours, race #3 would be starting.  We left quickly, so I could go home and get some sleep.  I also learned that quite a few more runners dropped during this race.  The numbers continued to dwindle.

June 22, 2014
7 a.m.
Stage #3
Wild Azalea Trail
26 Miles

The final day!!!!  24 short hours ago we started this expedition with 15 solo runners, 3 relay teams, and some 2 race runners.  For a total of around 22 total.  This morning we had 9.  6 solo, 3 from relay teams.  At this point, all of the relay teams had a member who did not complete and entire leg of their race, but the members who had this leg were still running it, as they should have.  Everyone moved a little slower on this day.  Runners were tired, sleep deprived, beat up and cut up from running the 2 prior races.  And where did this race begin???  In a parking lot, next to a cemetery.  Quite befitting, b/c we all looked like death.  After battling Caroline Dormon last night, I was happy to run Wild Azalea, which is my favorite trail.  I knew I wouldn't have to worry about getting lost.  All I had to do was stay cool, hydrate, and get to Valentine Lake to close this day out.

Final day.  Last idiots standing!

We started with 2 miles of road, which was a nice way to loosen up, then it was the hills of Wild Azalea.  My new trail partner, John Hansen, was on my tail, as he had been for the other two races.  We run at a similar pace, plus I think he was using me for my familiarity with the trails.  No worries!!!  It's always better to suffer in pairs. 

Wild Azalea was fairly uneventful.  I was moving slower; and rightfully so.  On a normal day, with moderate temps, I can make this crossing in 4.5 hours.  I was figuring on 6 today.  I just ran aid station to aid station, and stayed hydrated and cool.  Erica met me at Twin Bridges Rd, which was about 15 miles in.  I was able to sit, eat a little, and cool off for my final push.  I wasn't eating as much as I should.  I could no longer stomach gels, which had been my primary source of nutrition over the past day and a half.  After a 10 minute rest, I was on my feet again.

John had pulled ahead of me at this point, which was ok, because I certainly didn't have the strength or the will to try to catch him.  So, I made my way on my own.  I caught up to John in the last 5 miles.  He was fussing b/c his cigarettes were in his truck at the start, and he wouldn't have them at the end.  Yes!!!!!  You heard that right!  A smoking ultra-runner!!!  Anyway, at this point I was running in half mile segments.  Half mile sign to half mile sign was how I advanced.  It was after 1 pm, and I was hot and exhausted.  We finally came to the fire tower near Valentine Lake, which meant a half mile to go.  John slowly pulled away from me again, finishing about 2 minutes ahead of me.  I crossed the finish in 6:29:16.  After enduring Hell for a day and a half, I was done.  I had covered 75 miles in a combined time of 16:35:17.   I was greeted by the Forge Crew, Erica, and my run bud Lee, who had come to see me finish.  But, all I wanted to do was lay down and cool off, which I did.  Once I got cooled off, I was able to enjoy a little food and a cold beer.  2 of the 3 relay runners also completed the Wild Azalea course that day.

Post race dying time.
Best sign of the day!

When it was was all said and done, of 15 solos runners and 3 relay teams, only 3 of us would complete the entire race.  All solo runners.  Ed Melancon in 1st, Me 2nd, John Hanson 3rd.  Although these courses, when run individually, are only of moderate difficulty, couple that with the short break in between each, lack of rest, and the heat, and you have a pretty difficult race.  Thanks to Jeff Beck and Forge Racing for putting on another "ass-kicker" of a race.  Thanks to all the volunteers, and to my wife, Erica, for crewing me and supporting me. 

Only finishers: Ed Melancon (1st), Jeff Beck (Race Director), Me (2nd), John Hanson (3rd).

John, the incredible, smoking ultra-runner.


-Ed Melancon- 1st Place

7 a.m. Kincaid Lakeshore Trail 25.4 mi 4:22:31
7 p.m. Caroline Dormon Trail 22 mi 4:21
7 a.m. Wild Azalea Trail 26.2 mi 5:24:34
Total Time: 14:07:26

-Lane Gremillion- 2nd Place

7 a.m. Kincaid Lakeshore Trail 25.4 mi 4:44:44
7 p.m. Caroline Dormon Trail 22 mi 5:21:15
7 a.m. Wild Azalea Trail 26.2 mi 6:29:16
Total Time: 16:35:17

-John Hanson- 3rd Place

7 a.m. Kincaid Lakeshore Trail 25.4 mi 4:49:23
7 p.m Caroline Dormon Trail 22 mi 6:32:35
7 a.m Wild Azalea Trail 26.2 mi 6:26
Total Tine: 17:21:58


Monday, May 19, 2014

Pacing Thunder Rock

A few months ago, I got an email from Edie Riedel, asking if I would be interested in pacing/crewing her at the Thunder Rock 100 near Chattanooga, TN.  A very interesting proposition for me b/c rarely does a "flat-lander" from LA get to run on such mountainous terrain.  I was able to juggle around my vacation time at work, and within a few days I was on board.  I would be running in the Blue Ridge Mountains in a few short months.

I didn't really follow a specific training plan for this.  All I did was maintain my long runs of 20+ miles, usually twice per weekend, and maintained a few junk miles during the week, on the road.  Despite my "fly by the seat of my pants" training plan, I was feeling exceptionally strong on my training runs, and I capped off my training with a quadruple crossing (30 miles) of the Backbone Trail, with no problems.  I was confident I could pace Edie for 50 miles with minimal issues.

We traveled to Chattanooga on a Thursday, and marveled at the mountains as we got closer to Tennessee.  When you live in a state with a max elevation of around 500 feet, mountains become awe inspiring.  We went to the race briefing and met up with the rest of the Forge Racing crew who would be manning the Quinn Springs aid station at mile 83 of the race.  Edie was also part of a 3-person team that Forge would be sponsoring, to also include Ed Melancon and Brian Novak.  At the briefing we got all the details of what to expect from the trails, and some motivational speak from a few ultra runners.  On Friday (May 16) at noon, the race would begin.  Randy Aymond was the crew/driver, and I was the crew/pacer.

The race began on a long, wooden suspension bridge, overlooking a rocky river in Ducktown, TN.  Befittingly, right before the start of Thunder Rock, we were greeted with a "thunder storm".  It only lasted a few minutes, but there could not have been more perfect timing.  The weather was unseasonably cool; about 50 degrees, and overcast.

Randy, Edie, and Me
Once the runners were off, we set out to the Thunder Rock aid station at mile 5.5 to watch our runners pass.  We saw Ed and Brian come through.  As soon as Edie came into this aid station, it began to hail.  What crazy weather we were having.  Before we would see her pass again at the Reliance aid station at mile 25, it would hail once more and rain twice.  In between storms we were battling cold winds and then hot, sunny spells.  The weather was quite unpredictable all day.  Once Edie entered Reliance,  Randy and I headed to the Servilla crew point, which was the half-way point.  We had lots of time to kill, so we had lunch in the "cultural mecca" of Ducktown, saw a few sights and then found a parking spot at Servilla and dug in for a long night.  Randy had brought along an inflatable mattress, which I tried to get some sleep on before my pacing duties began.  I could not get comfortable, and slept very little.  Before I knew it, it was 1am and Edie was entering Servilla.

After a good systems check, we were off.  The course broke me in right away.  The first 5 miles from Servilla to the Iron Gap aid station was a jeep road with over 1,000 ft of climb.  It just kept going up forever.  We maintained a steady walk/run combination, keeping Edie's desired pace.  As we were on our way up the mountain, we crossed paths with Ed, who was already on his way down.  We spoke for a minute and parted ways.  We got a little downhill running on the way to Bullet Creek, which was one of the best aid stations out there.  They had everything you could imagine, and were super-excited to help all of the runners.

Shortly after we left Bullet Creek, Edie began to complain of stomach issues.  By the time we had reached Starr Mountain, Edie was very nauseous and cold.  I had packed a thermal blanket with me, and I wrapped it around her legs, as an aid station worker wrapped her in a heavy blanket.  She was freezing and shaking uncontrollably.  Then she looked at me and told me she didn't feel she could continue.  I knew those words did not come easily from her, so I knew she had to be in agony.  It was nearly 6am, and the sun was beginning to rise.  I tried to convince her to continue to the next aid station and then re-evaluate, but the next aid station was a long 9 miles away.  She felt if she'd continued, her stomach issues would force her to walk the entire way, which in reality would have made her miss the mandatory cut-off time.  So as we sat in the cold, wet, 40 degree morning, I prepared to call it a day.  Edie told the aid station worker checking in runners that she was dropping.  Our race was over.

Then Edie surprised me, when she asked me to keep running.  I immediately refused, telling her we were a package deal, and if her race was over, my race was over.  She told me that we had come a long way to run this course, and she really wanted me to continue, so that between the two of us, we could complete the length.  I was hesitant to leave her at such a vulnerable time, but she was insistent.  So, with a heavy heart, I gave her a hug and continued running.  My intent was to, at least, make it to the Forge aid station on the other side of the Hiawassee River.  That was the 83 mile point of the race.  I wasn't sure I could go any further than that, due to my lack of sleep.

I was still pretty fresh when I started out on my own, so I was running at a much faster pace than most of the runners I encountered.  They were at mile 70.  I was at mile 20, but they didn't know that.  They must have thought I was super-human to have so much energy that late in the race.  One thing that did concern me was that I was a pacer without a runner.  There was no way for the aid station crews to account for my whereabouts, and if I got lost, the only people who would even know I was missing would be Edie and Randy.  I was certain that if I was identified as a "bandit" I would be asked to leave the course.  So I got an idea to be a pacer for any runner I caught up to who didn't have one.  When I found a solo runner, I would check their condition, give them some much needed company, and then leap frog to the next runner.  When I got close to Iron Gap again I latched onto a runner, explained my situation, and asked if I could run him into the aid station.  He had no problem with that, so I brought him in, filled his hydration pack, and took care of any other needs he had.  Once we pulled out of Iron Gap, I bid him farewell and continued on.

My trip from Iron Gap to the Hiawassee River was another 8.5 miles, but it went much quicker.  I was now running down the mountain, and for the first time since I started running at mile 50, I was actually running on trails, not jeep roads.  The trails were soft and wide, with just enough downward angle to let me fly.  I made up quite a bit of time, and at some points I had to moderate myself, so I wouldn't run out of gas later.

I reached the Hiawassee River aid station around 9:30am.  I had no runner to latch onto this time, so I would just have to see what they would say.  They, of course, asked for my number, which I explained I did not have.  They were cool with it, and treated me like any other runner, allowing me to graze off of their aid station.  I got to the river crossing which consisted of a rope and pulley system to assist the runners crossing.  A long cable extended over the river, with several ropes hanging from it.  All I had to do was grab on to a rope and walk across.  The water was waist deep and very cold.  It definitely woke me up from my fatigued state.  The water was also very clear, and I could easily see my feet as I stepped over the rock-littered riverbed.  After I made the crossing, there was another smaller river crossing, which I was not expecting.  It had a rope system too, but since it was only knee-deep, the ropes weren't necessary. 

River Crossing #1
River Crossing #2

After crossing both rivers, I reached Quinn aid station, which was manned by Jeff Beck and the Forge crew.  They had an awesome aid station, with lots of food, music, and most importantly, familiar faces.  It was a real boost to see people I knew.  Randy and Edie had also made it there, and I was happy to see she was doing better.  Edie said it was 10 miles to the McCamy aid station, which was mile 93 of the race, and the final aid station before the finish.  She said if I wanted to continue, they could pick me up there.  It didn't take much convincing at that point.  I had already told Edie before she had dropped, that there was two things I was looking forward to on this course, 1) crossing the Hiawassee River, and 2) making the climb up Oswald Dome.  I made few adjustments, grabbed my trekking poles and was off.

Oswald Dome was a 2,200 ft climb over 4 miles.  It was full of constant, climbing trails that wound around the mountain, 45 degree switch-backs, and narrow single track that in some places could send a tired runner tumbling several hundred feet, if they stepped just a few inches too far off the trail.  I quickly learned the value of my trekking poles, and I was thankful I had brought them along.  They made it much easier to navigate the constant steep climbs, and gave me extra stability on the narrow trails.  There were very few places that were flat enough to run on this portion.  It was slow going, and it took me 1 hour, 30 minutes to make the 4.3 mile climb (Elevation 3,100 ft).  It was exhausting!!!!  When I reached the Oswald Dome aid station, I was greeted by some very enthusiastic volunteers who had full body costumes, one was a rabbit, one a monkey, and one a mouse.  I, again, had to go through my explanation as to where my runner was.  Once they verified my story, they were fine with it.  One of the workers said it was a little over 5 miles to the McCamy aid station, and it was all downhill from there.  Welcomed words to my ears, so I didn't waste any time.

As I started down Oswald Dome, the trails were behind me, and I was back on jeep roads.  I didn't intend to keep using my trekking poles, but I found they were quite helpful going down the mountain, and I quickly developed a rythym that allowed me to run and use the poles at the same time.  The trek to McCamy wasn't all downhill.  There were still several climbs to be made, and I thought about how I was duped by the aid station volunteer that told me it was all downhill.  Maybe in a car, but not on foot.  It took me 1 hour, 15 minutes to cover 5.6 miles down a mountain that it took me an 1 hour, 30 minutes to climb.  I saw Randy's truck at McCamy, and jumped in.  The day was over.

Although, this race certainly didn't turn out as we had intended, I still felt a great satisfaction of being able to run the remainder of the course.  Although I was very hesitant to continue on without Edie, I was glad she convinced me otherwise.  I was able to really challenge myself, and it made me realize how far my skills as an ultra-runner had progressed.  I ended up logging 44.4 miles that day.  My energy level, body and stomach all felt good, and I felt as if I could have easily gone further.  Ed and Brian both finished the race.  Ed, in a very impressive 22:21:19, and Brian, in 27:31:20.  Both should be proud for conquering such a tough course.  According to Edie and most other runners, the most tecnical, and scenic, portions of this race were in the first 30 miles.  I would have liked to have experienced those portions too, so I guess there will be a Thunder Rock 100 in my future as well.  I will allow a few years to go by to allow them to work out a few kinks that popped up during the inaugural race, before I plan a return. 

Thanks to Edie for inviting me on this journey.  It was an honor.  Thanks to Randy for crewing, driving, navigating, and everything else.  Thanks to Jeff, and Forge, for putting together a great team and aid station.  It was a great weekend, and one I will not soon forget.

Run on friends!!!!!!!!!!


Sunday, May 4, 2014

Breaking The Backbone

As I continue to prepare myself for my pacing duties at Thunder Rock 100, I increasingly try to challenge myself with my training runs.  It is quite difficult to prepare for a race in mountainous terrain or even terrain like the Texas Hill Country when you live in Louisiana.  So my best means of preparation for terrain like this is the widely unknown trail known simply as "The Backbone". 

This trail is a little gem, hidden deep within the confines of Kisatchie National Forest, in the little North Louisiana town of Provencal.  A trail that more closely resembles Arkansas than Louisana, The Backbone is an "ankle-turners" worst nightmare.  This trail consists of 7.5 miles of tough terrain, with lots of steep ascents and decents on large, rock-covered hills, rock-covered flats, sandy flats, and more roots and uneven ground than you ever want to see on a trail.  It is a very unique trail, which resembles no other trail that I know of in Louisiana.  Even her fraternal twin sister, The Caroline Dormon Trail, is a far cry from the terrain of The Backbone.  Even though these two trails share the same trailhead, and are separated only by one highway, the differences between them are astronomical.  It is almost like The Backbone is from another planet.

 So on Friday, May 2, 2014, I set out to do a quadruple crossing of The Backbone, for a total of 30 miles.  Good prep for Thunder Rock.  However, this would be no easy task.  It is difficult enough to run one out and back out there.  I was intent on doing two.  I started at 6am, and wanted to be done by 12pm, giving myself a 6 hour window for completion.

I had not run this trail since mid-February, when we had a rare opportunity to run it while it was covered in snow, so I had no idea what the condtions would be like.  The trail was fairly clear and runnable, which was a little surprising from a trail that prides itself on minimal upkeep due to it's "wilderness trail" designation, and leans very heavily on the trail users for upkeep.  What does a "wilderness trail" designation mean?  It means that there are no mecanical devices allowed on the trail.  All cutting and clearing must be done with hand tools.  Not even mountain bikes are allowed on the trail.  I finished my first out and back leg in 2:47.  Not a bad time for 15 miles on this course.  At the end of this lap, I re-fueled on a turkey sandwich and replenished my water, in preparation for my next 15. 

I was quite surprised that my energy level was still quite strong as I entered my third crossing, and I made it to the other side one second faster than my second crossing.  As I made my way back on my final 7.5, I did begin to tire some.  The heat was now in the mid 80s, and the hills, rocks and roots all seemed a little bigger.  Even though I was a little slower, I still felt good at the end, and that is an encouraging sign that my trail running has gotten much stronger in the last few months.  When I got done, I cleaned up and found a nice shady spot to have a little post-run food and enjoy my accomplishment of crossing The Backbone 4 times in one morning; something I haven't done before.  Tough runs are tough for a reason...........They make you better.

7.5 miles per crossing
#1- 1:21:47
#2- 1:25:12
#3- 1:25:11
#4- 1:35:32                 

Total Time: 5:47:43
Total Miles: 30


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Wild Azalea Trail Challenge 50 Mile

January 4, 2014

I have been running the Wild Azalea Trail for about 4 years now, since I discovered the joys of ultra-running.  I have run every inch of it many, many times, and I guess you could say I am the local WAT expert.  I doubt anyone has more time or miles on WAT or it's connecting trails.  A few years back I joined a few locals to do a point to point of WAT (24 miles).  It was just a fat-ass training type run, where we all met up at one end, ran a point to point, and had someone bring us back to our cars. 

Last year Brad Colwell and Spencer Martin got the idea to make it an offical, but still "bare bones", race, and the Wild Azalea Challenge was born.  Last year's race was 27 miles (2 miles on pavement, 24 on WAT, 1 on Valentine Lake Trail).  The cost, $10.  What a deal!!!!!  There was a solo category, a relay, and a mountain bike category.  It was just supposed to be a local thing with 15-20 participants.  Well, 15-20 quickly ballooned to over 50, and the race was nearly overwhelmed, as the pre-dropped aid boxes were quickly exhausted with so many unexpected runners.

For 2014, they added a 50 Mile race to the series, and upped the entry a little ($20 for the 27, $40 for the 50).  Still a pretty good deal for a race over marathon distance.  The addition of a 50 Mile race really peaked my interest, as I have been wanting to do a double crossing of WAT for a while, but never did, because of the difficulty of running 50 miles, point to point, unsupported.  There was only one problem........I was already signed up for the Cajun Coyote 100 Mile on December 7th.  A very short 27 days from the start of the WAT Challenge.  I wasn't sure if my body would be ready to take on 50 miles, so soon after running 100.  However, no one has ever accused me of being smart, so after a week and a half lay-off after Cajun Coyote, I was back on the trails, trying to get my legs back in shape.  With time in short supply, I managed to do two 20 mile runs, and a 13 miler, on trails, two weeks prior to the race.  The week before the race, I ran some "junk miles", just to keep my legs loose.  Also, while I was running those few trail runs, I was also clearing and marking portions of the race course.  This is something I enjoy doing, b/c I consider WAT to be "MY" trail, and I want people who run here to leave with a good impression, and more importantly, come back. 

The actual WAT, on paper, is 26 miles.  I say "on paper", because even though the actual trail is 24 miles, for some reason, the designated parking area for the trail that is located in Woodworth, is 2 miles from the actual trail.  I never understood why the official parking area is so far from the trail, but it is.  That is where the 27 milers would start their race (Woodworth to Valentine Lake).  For the 50 milers, we would start at Valentine Lake, run the first mile on the Valentine Lake Trail, and then run 24 miles of WAT, and back.  All trail, no road, which is what I like.  The one disadvantage of running races from two ends of the trail is that I knew at some point I would be hit with a barrage of trail runners and mountain bikers heading in the opposite direction.  WAT is mostly single track, so this would cause a small disruption to my rhythm. 

Race morning was cold.  27 degrees!!!!  We had 10 entrants in the 50 mile race.  6 from Louisiana, 2 from Texas, 1 from Alabama, and 1 from New Jersey.  Yes.......New Jersey!!!!  That is the power of the internet my friends.  There were around 90 participants in all races combined.  Being the only person in the race with any real familiarity of the trail, I volunteered to lead the pack during the first 4-5 miles of pre-dawn running, so no one would accidentally get off course.  Once daybreak came, the pack spread out, and the race was on. 

I felt surprisingly strong, especially on the first 20 or so miles.  I was running faster than I should have, as I always seem to do during a race.  I always say, I will hold back on the first half of the race, but then I get caught up in a pack of runners, and my competive spirit tells me to keep up.  So was the case here.  When I was less than a mile from turn-around point in Woodworth, I crossed up the first 3 runners, making there way back.  When I got to mile 25, in 4:26:32, my drop box was nowhere to be found.  Since the volunteer who had our drops, didn't anticipate us getting to the end so fast, he missed the first three runners, and drove to the next road crossing with our drops.  In the mean time, I was still able to fill my hydration pack, and suck down some hot chicken broth.  Also, the runner in 5th place, Elena the Jersey girl, caught up to me.  When I got to mile 27, I finally was able to get in my drop box, dump some clothes, suck down a Red Bull, and get on my way.  Elena left only a minute before me, and I was sure I'd catch her, but I never did.  She is a running machine!!!!

By about mile 30, I was really beginning to tire.  I normally refer to this feeling as a gorilla on my back.  However, this race, it was a coyote on my back; a Cajun Coyote.  My body quickly reminded me that I had run 100 miles only a few weeks ago, and it had decided that I was an idiot, and therefore needed to run much, much slower.  I did a lot of walking those last 20 miles.  I followed my usual strategy of running the flats and downhills, and walking the hills.  In many cases, walking the slightest hills.  My body was really exhausted, and I could feel a sizeable blister forming on the outside of my right, big toe.  My nutrition remained pretty good all race.  I ate a lot of V-Fuel gels, Ensure, and some fruit, snickers, etc... from the aid boxes. 

When I finally hit the connecting Valentine Lake Trail, I was pretty much running on fumes.  I knew I only had one mile to go, so I tried to run as much of it as I could.  I texted my wife, and let her know I was a mile out. 

As I approached the finish, I could hear a lot of yelling and cheering.  I could hear people chanting "Grem", "Grem", Grem"!!!!  Who could be cheering for me?  There should have been very few people even left at the finish.  When I finally got closer, I could see my wife, daughter, and a large chunk of the Mud-n-Guts (Lafayette, LA) trail running group, chanting my name.  It's funny, because this was the smallest ultra I'd ever run, but I had the most crowd support at the finish.  Normally, my finishes consist of my wife, the race director, and a few finish line hang-arounds, so it was nice to have a cheering section. 

I crossed in 10:17:03.  A little slower than I intended, but good enough.  A kid working the finish line asked if I needed anything, to which I gave my usual post-race reply.......Beer!  I got my finisher's shirt, cap, and bandana, drank my beer, ate pizza, and closed out the day.  It was a nice race, with perfect weather, and a check off my bucket list.

When it was over, all 10 of us finished the race.  First place finishing in 8:27:49, which is pretty respectable on this trail, because there are quite a lot of hills.  I finished in 5th place.  Elena Makovskaya, our "Jersey girl", finished in 3rd place, as the only female 50 miler, and logged a negative split.  This was a training run for her upcoming 100 mile race.  Ultra-running knows no gender bias, and Elena proved that by kicking the butts of most of the men, including me.  I think she impressed everyone with her performance.

Now, I know I say this every time I run an ultra, but I really intend on taking a little recovery time for myself, and I will try to keep my runs to reasonable lengths.  However, I know that it won't be long before the trails will be calling my name, and I'll be out there again.  I can't help it.  I don't know how to not run.

Crossing the finish line at the WAT Challenge.







Saturday, December 14, 2013

A Snapshot of Cajun Coyote 100M 2013

I wanted to do a brief blog of my 2013 Cajun Coyote 100M experience, but nothing too drawn out, so here it is in "bare bones" form.

The night before, I slept horribly.  We opted for the group cabin option, which was nice b/c we were already in the park, but not so nice b/c of the noisy mattresses.  No one in that cabin could flinch without their bed making a noise.  I don't think anyone slept good that night.

I set myself a pretty lofty goal of a 22 hour finish, and I hoped to keep my laps on a 4 hour average for as long as I could.  I got caught up in the excitement on Lap #1 and finished way too fast, 3:14:30.  This, in turn, caused me to finish my next two laps slower than I intended.  Lap #2 was 4:07:33, and Lap #3 was 4:35:05.  At the end of three laps, I was still averaging around 4 hours per lap, but I was pretty sure Laps #4 & #5 would be slower.

I also had visitors during these laps, which is rare, b/c I'm normally racing out of state.  At the end of Lap #2, my parents and my daughter, Lauren, came to visit.  At the end of Lap#3, my bud Harris and his better half came by, as well as Lauren surprising me by staying for the rest of the race.

My parents, Erica and Lauren.
Me and Harris "HH" Hatchett.

A few miles into Lap #4 I began to get nauseous.  Something I ate was not sitting well with me, and despite my best efforts, my stomach was winning the battle.  I did a lot of walking on this lap, b/c when I ran, my stomach felt even worse.  At miles 15 (75) and 19 (79) of this lap, I was on my hands and knees, puking my guts up by head light.  This lap also offered a light, foggy mist, which fell most of the lap, so in addition to being sick, I was also cold and wet.  Also, for some unforseen reason, my handheld flashlight went out, and I couldn't get it to work, so I was down to just my head light.  Finished Lap #4 in 5:44:31.  Total elapsed time was 17:41.

At Lap #5 I picked up my pacer, Billy McRae, who is a well established marathoner and iron man.  I had hoped to work him pretty hard for this lap, but my nasty stomach left me weakened and slow.  He coddled me for the first half of the lap, but as my nausea began to finally lift, he kept the foot on the gas, making sure we were running any flats or downhills, regardless of how slow my run pace was.  At around mile 90, the rain begain to fall.  It was light to moderate, and it would come and go.  Luckily, I was freezing at the end of Lap #4, so I brought my rain jacket for warmth, not anticipating that I'd need it to stay dry.  I guess the Running Gods to look out for every now and then.  With 2 miles to go, the rain was HEAVY!!!!  No sugar-coating it.  It was really coming down, and I was so glad we were near the end.  My rain jacket came in very handy then.  The hard rain did motivate me to run faster, and we finished my last lap in 6:02:18, for a finishing time of 23:44; not exactly the way I wanted to finish, but a win is a win, right?  This was my 3rd 100 Mile finish, and I did it 10 days shy of my 40th birthday.  Not a bad way to close our a decade!

As always, I want to thank my wife Erica for crewing me, Billy McCrae for pacing me, my family and friends that came to the race, all the family and friends that supported me via FB, text message, etc..., and to Forge for putting on a great race.

At the finish with Forge "Grand Master" Jeff Beck.

Me and my pacer Billy McRae.
The family.