Saturday, December 29, 2012

A Guide To Navigating The Wild Azalea Trail

I know there may be a few "out of towners" coming to run the Wild Azalea Challenge next week, and even some locals who are not so familiar with the trail, so since I am a Wild Azalea Veteran, so to speak, I decided to do a little blog on some of the things to look out for while on the trail.  Wild Azalea is a great trail.  It is 24 miles long and runs from Valentine Lake to Woodworth.  Although the trail has been recently cleared of most fallen trees and has been freshly marked, there are a few areas of concern that you should be aware of.

First off, the trail is marked throughout with yellow dots on the trees.  Two dots indicates a straightaway and 4 dots indicates a hard turn.  There are also mile markers every half mile.

You are on the trail.
Hard Turn.

This one area has a lot of blue markings.  Just ignore them.  There are yellow markings as well.  You are still on course.

We will be running the trail in reverse, from Woodworth to Valentine Lake, so the mile markers will go from mile 24 to mile 0.

The first area of concern is just past the mile 19 marker.  There is a steep downhill and you will see this.

Just past Mile Marker 19.

When you get to this scene, you will see a creek to your left, and you first perception will be to go forward, past the marker and eventually cross the creek.  You have to pay attention here b/c that is incorrect.  The right route is to take a hard right turn.  There is a tree with 4 dots there, telling you to turn, but it is easy to miss.  This will take you through on of the "jungles" of Wild Azalea.  These are the low lying areas that have a lot of natural springs and is wet all the time.  I call them jungles b/c during the summer the vegetation in these areas is far greater than anywhere else.  Unfortunately, this half mile stretch after the turn is probably the most poorly marked area of the trail.  Just continue to go forward, take your time and look for the marks.  They are there.

Somewhere around mile marker 17.5 there is a creek crossing.  The markers will try to take you across the creek.  Keep in mind, there is only ONE creek crossing to navigate over, and it is very small.  If you get to an area that you think you should cross a creek, STOP and look for a bridge.  With the exception of one area, there will be a bridge to cross.  Anyway, when you get to this spot, it will seem like it wants you to cross the creek.  This is kind of right, because there used to be a bridge there, but it was damaged and recently removed.  It was replaced by a nice, new bridge that you can see from that area, but it is new and the trail has not really been cut well to get to it.

Where the bridge was.

New bridge in the background, visible from the old bridge area.

When you get near the mile 17 marker, there will be a lot of downed trees and you will have to make a hard right to stay on the trail.  You will have to go through a few fallen trees, but the sign is visible before you turn.  Again, you have to just stop and look.

You must run through these trees to stay on the trail.

Same scene.  Mile marker in background.

As I said, there is only one creek crossing that you have to jump over and it is very small.  Here it is.

Somewhere around mile 16.

Just as I do, most of you will use the mile markers as "confidence markers".  One that is difficult to see is the elusive mile 15 marker.  The reason is because you will get to a point between mile 15.5 and mile 15 where the trail will split.  It is marked going both left and right.  Don't be alarmed by this!!!!  Either trail will take you where you need to go.  If you go left, which is the original path on the trail, you will pass the mile 15 marker.  If you go right, you will still pass the mile 15 marker, but it will be high and to your left.  You probably will not see it.  As I said, it doesn't matter which one you take.  The split is only for a few tenths and they both join back with the trail.

About one 10th further, you will come to the mile 14.5 marker.  It is right at the edge of a hard right turn and is driven low in the ground.  I don't know how it got there, but just know you will run for another nine 10ths before getting to the mile 14 marker.

Mile 14.5 will be low to the ground and out of place on the trail.

After mile 14, it is pretty much smooth sailing.  Right past the mile 11 marker you will come out to an opening, with a parking lot on the left.  This is the exchange point for the relay.  If you run the first leg, you will cover 13.1 miles.  The second leg is 10.9 miles.  There is a major highway near the parking lot which is Twin Bridges Road (or Hwy 488).  To continue, you have to cross this road.  This begins the second leg of the relay, or for those running the whole trail, mile 13.1.

Right after mile marker 11.  Parking lot on left.  Relay exchange point.

Run to the stop sign and cross Twin Bridges Road.  The trail will be on the right, when you cross.

After this, the next major landmark will be Evangeline Camp.  You will come to it between mile markers 9 and 8.5.  You will come out to Messina Road, which will be a wide, dirt road.  Watch for the marks.  They will take you to the left and down the road for a few 10ths.  You will see Evangeline Camp on the right.  This is by far the most clearly marked area of the trail.  It is often used by runners and mountain bikers, so it gets a little more attention than the rest.  From this point on, it is smooth sailing.

Evangeline Camp.  Right before mile 8.5.  There are also vault toilets at this point.

When you see the Gardner Fire Tower, you are 1/2 mile from victory.

After this tower, when you are about two 10ths from the finish, you will see the road and the parking area of Valentine Lake.  The trail head will be on the right, and you are done.

I ran the entire length of the trail on 12/29, so I could see what type of condition is was in.  Although, there are a few areas to pay close attention too, the trail is in the best shape it's been in years.  Remember, this is a large and long trail.  It is pretty rustic in some areas.  There are a few fallen trees and a little brush to run through at certain points.  Remember the markings.  Stay on the yellow dots.  If you go more than a 10th and no longer see any dots, STOP and look around.  If you don't see them, you may have gone off trail and need to back track.  If you you take your time and pay attention to your surroundings, you should have no problems, even if you've never run there.

If you are running the relay, the first leg is 13.1 miles, and the second leg is 10.9 miles.  Although the 13.1 mile leg is longer, there are less hills and climbs.  The first 5 miles are pretty flat.  The hills don't start until mile marker 19.  On the second leg, you get less mileage, but more hills and difficult climbs.  So although one leg is longer than the other, the distribution of hill work kind of balances both legs out.  I don't think one leg is any easier than the other.

If you are running the whole trail, the last 8 miles are the most difficult.  By that point your calves and hamstrings will be on fire.

I'm not trying to spook anyone.  I just wanted to give those who have never run, or have rarely run this trail an idea of what to expect.  There will be many experienced Wild Azalea runners to tag along with if you have doubts.  Also cell service is available in most areas of the trail, but there are a few dead spots.  The trail is a full 24 miles.  It is not short and the mile markers are spot on.  During this time of year, a gps device is very accurate b/c there is not tree cover.  When I ran the trail, I logged 24.1 miles, and that is only because I dropped a pair of gloves and ran back to get them, and forgot to stop my watch.

Here is the Garmin Connect profile of the trail:

See you guys in a week.

Run on friends,


Sunday, November 18, 2012

Who ARE You??? - An Ultra-Runner's Observation Of Other Ultra-Runners

As I laid in bed this morning, still basking in the glory of my Cactus Rose 100 finish last month, I started to think about the sport itself and the people who are involved in it.  Ours is a very secluded sport.  A gated community that is known by few, witnessed by fewer and participated in by even less.  They say only 2% of the population will ever complete a marathon and only .001% will complete an ultra.  Where do I get these percentages from ???  (Nowhere.  I made them up.  But in this day and age, people seem to love stats and percentages.)  In all honesty, I don't know what the percentages are, but if you've toed the line at an ultra of any distance, you have already attempted and possibly completed more that just about everyone else in the general population.  Anyway, as I was thinking about the sport, I began to also think about the wide array of people that show up to and/or participate in ultras.  They vary in age, sex, skill level and certainly come in varying degrees of shapes and sizes.  What does an ultra-runner look like???  Well......with this blog, I will sort of answer that question.  I have compiled a list of the varying types of people and personalities that I and most everybody else, have seen at one time or another at ultra-marathons.

Now, I know these days, we live in a very "politically correct" society, where everyone is a winner and there are no losers, and everyone's feelings must be taken into account before any words are spoken.  Taking into account our society of sensitivity, I have written a disclaimer in tiny print for all who dare to read on.

Disclaimer:  This blog is one man's opinion.......Mine!!!  Although some of my observations are accurate, much of this blog is SATIRE.  If you do not know what the definition of satire is, I encourage you to surf over to another page.  This blog was written to be funny and pokes a little fun at many of the running types in it, including myself.  When I use the term "guy" in my descriptions, I mean male and/or female.  Just as they describe "mankind" as all members of the human race.  Just like that!!!  If you are hyper-sensitive, thin-skinned, wear your heart on your sleeve or any of that other stuff, LOOK AWAY!!!!!  GO TO ANOTHER WEBSITE.  Thank You!!!!

Now, if you have scrolled beyond the disclaimer, and have a sense of humor, please read on.  As I said, this is just a little compilation of all the different types of people that I have observed at races over the past years.  You may find that you fit into one or many of these categories.  I know I do.  Hope you find this amusing....................................

The Serious List:  

The Elites-  These are the (mostly) sponsored athletes who are there for one win races.  These are your Scott Jureks, Timothy Olsens, Tony Krupickas, etc...  They are the cream of the running crop, and although you may see them, most people rarely run along side them, unless you count the brief 2 seconds it takes them to pass you, as they lap you yet again. 

The Speedster-  Not quite an Elite, but no slouch either.  These guys still win races, especially the smaller ones.  They keep the elites moving faster, as they constantly nip at their heels for bragging rights of beating an Elite.

The Veteran-  This is usually an older runner who has run that particular race 10 -15 times.  They know the race director, the volunteers, the local runners, etc...  Everyone seems to refer to them by their first name.  The are they guys who have longevity and the best people to solicit advice from.

The Everyday Runner-   This is the "Regular Joe", who trains hard, runs 5 - 7 days per week and is very dedicated.  Usually finishes races from the middle to upper percentiles.  Runs multiple races per year.

The Race Walker-  Never runs a step during the entire race, but always finishes before the cut-off; sometimes before people who are running.  Tough as nails and full of determination.

The Old Timer-  This is the runner that is usually in the 70 - 80 year old category.  Doesn't move that fast, likes to use trekking poles and always compliments the young "whipper-snappers" on a strong run performance.  Years and years of experience to share.

The First Timer-  The name says it all.  We've all been there.  First ultra, lots of questions, lots of nerves, a little unsure of what to expect.  These are the types that need a little help and mentoring, that everyone is always willing to provide.

The More Humorous List: 

The Naked Guy-  This is the guy who runs the race wearing only shoes and the shortest, tiniest pair of running shorts available, regardless of the temperature.  (See Timothy Olsen & Tony Krupicka.)

The Bearded Hippie-  The name says it all.  They are the "Grizzly Adams" of the ultra-running world.  Haven't had a haircut or shave in an inordinate length of time.  However, all the extra hair doesn't seem to hurt their running abilities.

The Naked Bearded Hippie- Just a combination of the two prior entries.  There seems to be a few at every race.

Little Mary Sunshine-  This is the lady who is always smiling, has sprinkles of glitter on her body, and seems to be tip-toeing through the tulips with every step.  She always has some kind words for every runner she passes, and everything about her says positivity;  from her hot pink running skirt, down to the jingle bells on her shoes.  There is very little that could ever happen during a race that can break her spirits.

The Anal Retentive-  This is the guy that follows a strict training plan, from which he never deviates.  He accounts for his time, mileage, calories, etc...  He has his projected splits written out in advance, and either carries them on him, or has them at the start/finish.  Everything is calculated.  Nothing is left to chance.  (Sadly, this is me.  I can't deny it.)

The Costume Runner-What??? It's not Halloween?  Doesn't matter.  This is the guy that seems to want to be the topic of discussion of all the runners.  The "Hey did you see that guy?" guy.  Usually has some kind of crazy outfit or hair-do.  More common in marathons, but they do seem to pop up at an ultra from time to time.

The Really Loud Headphones Guy-  The type of runner that says, "If it's too loud, you're too old!".  Likes to crank out his tunes.  You know it because, you can hear them from 10 ft away.  The kind of runner that makes race directors cringe, because they can become unaware of the goings-on around them.  They can't talk to you without taking out one of their ear buds, and if they try, they yell at you, because they assume that the music is blaring in your ears too.

The Conversationalist-  This is the runner who always seems to have plenty to say, regardless of what point you are in the race, and whether you want to hear what they have to say or not.  They like to sidle up to you during the race and take the conversation way beyond the casual banter of passing runners.  They have all the time in the world to share their story with you, and don't mind tagging along with you for 10 or 15 miles, or to the next aid station.  Although, I enjoy talking with other runners during the race, there is also too much of a good thing.  Silence is golden sometimes.

The Barefoot Guy-  There is one at every race.  Usually runs one of the shorter races offered in the series, but at times will try the 50 or 100.  Never seems to be concerned about the temperature, race conditions, or terrain.  Sometimes they finish, sometimes they don't.  I always cringe at the thought of one of them catching a root with their bare feet exposed, in really cold temps.

The Plaid Shirt Guy- I personally prefer the moisture-wicking material, but to each his own.  These guys seem to like to wear plaid, for whatever reason.  Maybe because the shirts or light and airish, or maybe because they can unbutton them.  Either way, you always see these guys at races.

The Mildly Out Of Shape, Recreational Runner-  This is the guy who runs the occasional 5K and 10K.  Not overweight, but not the typical runner's body either.  Signs up for an ultra-distance race, thinking "How hard can it really be?".  Some may finish, but more will drop.  You will often hear them saying, "What the hell was I thinking when I signed up for this???".  I think we've all shared that sentiment at one time or another.

The Greatly Out Of Shape Non-Runner-  Sign up for an ultra, thinking they can walk the distance, because, after all, it's just walking, right???  The odds are definitely stacked against them.  Although, they get my respect for trying, it is hard to understand why someone would jump into the deep end of the pool without first learning how to swim.

The Tourist-  Usually, someone running a course for the first time.  I did it this year at Cactus Rose.  I spent the majority of the first lap taking in the sights and snapping pictures.  At one point some of the runners followed me to an overlook point, and I had to steer them back to the course b/c I was just taking pictures.

The Back Of The Packer-  They may not be fast, but they are not to be taken lightly.  Although, they are not setting any records, they finish the majority of the time, and that is all that counts.

The Unprepared Guy-  Not necessarily an inexperienced runner, but for some reason, this guy shows up on race day with much less than what is required.  He is the guy who borrows food, batteries, salt tabs, etc...  (Sadly, I've been this guy too.)

The Fashionably Late Guy-  Shows up 20 minutes before the race, gets his packet and runs.

The Extremely Late Guy-  Over-sleeps, gets lost, whatever.  He shows up during or after the start.  He is in disarray b/c he is late.  Still runs, but not feeling on his game due to having to rush to the start.

The Motivator-  This is the runner or volunteer who always says how great you look, no matter how really bad you look and feel.  They say things like, "You're almost there!", even though you are only at mile 60 of a 100 miler.  Everything is good, and the glass is always half full.

The Tech Junkie-  I-pods, cell phones, GPS watches, and in my case a mobile charger for my GPS.  These runners have more wires coming out of them than a roadside bomb.  (Guilty on all charges your honor!  Sadly, again, this is me.)

The Purist-  The total 180 of the Tech Junkie.  Shoes, shorts and maybe a stop watch.  Just meat and potatoes baby!!!!!!

The Weekend Warrior-  This is the rowdy, loud guy, who usually shows up with a group of friends.  He likes to cook, eat and drink a lot of beer.  Usually runs one of the shorter races in the series, so he can get back to cooking, eating and drinking beer.  Loves the race environment as much or more than the race itself.

The Self Motivator-  These are the people who you come up behind or cross up around a curve in the trail and find them talking to themselves.  Hey......I do it myself.  Whether it's singing songs, repeating your mantra, or cursing yourself out.  Whatever gets you through the race.

The Fashionista-  Usually a woman, but not always.  They show up  with $200 worth of running clothes on, have brand new, clean shoes, right out of the box (Probably purchased b/c they matched their ensemble, as opposed to their usefulness during the race.), hair fixed, make-up and perfume applied.  They usually run one of the shorter races of the series, because they don't want to get too messy.  A stark contrast to the usual "rag-tag" trail runner attire that most of us wear.

The Leaner-  Usually, someone who is in some type of pain, but opts to keep going.  They move as fast as their body will allow, with that distinct lean to one side.  They are determined to finish.

The Walking Dead-  These are the people you see crossing the line right before or after the cut-off time.  They are exhausted from being awake for 30+ hours, and have that empty, glazed over stare.  They no longer talk or eat.  All they know it to keep moving forward and getting to the finish.  "Quit" is not in their vocabulary.

The Support List:

The Race Director-  The "tough as nails" salty dog, who has been around the block more than a few times.  He is the guy that makes it all happen.  He takes care of the things we rarely see, and don't know about.  His is a thankless job, and although he is happy to shake your hand and give you your finishers award when you cross, he also has the balls to pull you from the course when he knows you have had enough, from exhaustion or for medical reasons.

The Volunteers-  You see them at the aid stations, the finish line, and everywhere in between.  They are there to help you succeed.  They show compassion, but have no problem kicking your ass out of an aid station, if you stay too long.

The Support Crew-  These are the families, wives, friends and fellow ultra-runners, who help to keep you on track and give you the things you need from your drop bags.  A good crew is an essential part to success.

The Pacer-  This is the guy who gets you to the finish.  Sometimes a friend, sometimes an absolute stranger.  They play the role of motivator, supporter, and at times, even babysitter;  telling their runner when to eat, drink and even where to step, when needed.  A good pacer is invaluable.

The Medics-  These are the people you rarely see, and you should be thankful for that, because if you see them, they are usually standing over you.  

The Cowbell Person-  If you run ultras long enough, you will eventually find this person at the finish or along the course.  The distinct ring of the cowbell is heard at many races.  Not sure how it originated, but is seems to be a fixture at most races.

Whew!!!!!!!!!  I'm tired.  I know this was lengthy, and I hope I didn't hurt any feelings.  This was intended to be light-hearted and should be taken as such.  Remember, I am just a Tech Junkie, Anal Retentive, Self-Motivating, Everyday Running, sometimes Unprepared Tourist idiot, who just happens to run ultras.

Run on friends.