Thursday, April 10, 2014

Review - Skechers GORun Ultra Running Shoes



It's been a while since I have written a product review of any kind and I've certainly tried a lot of new (and some not so new) products since my last blog post about running related products. Today, I am writing about one of the running shoes in my current rotation, another spin of the "never ending quest for the perfect running shoe carousel". The Skechers GOrun Ultra. This will be the first in a series of three shoe reviews. I call this the trail & road running shoe review in the space of shoes with maximum cushioning or "Hoka vs. Altra vs. Skechers".

There were a couple of reasons I opted to give these shoes a try. First, they came highly recommended from a couple of local ultra and long distance runners (both male and female), whom I look up to as a runner. Second, because of the sheer number of shoes I've gone through in said "quest", I appreciated the fact that these shoes were listed with an MSRP of only $80 USD. Skechers has since raised the MSRP to $90 USD, which I have never seen done before for a shoe that has barely been in the market and has not had had any upgrades to justify its price increase. I can only speculate that it is due to the strong demand this shoe has seen since its introduction just a couple of months ago.

I received my very own pair of GOrun Ultra men's running shoes in a size 10.5 just directly from the manufacturer's online store just a couple of days prior to the 2014 Mountain Mist 50K, a technically challenging trail ultra marathon. I had found a 20% off and free shipping coupon that made this a very economical purchase, to say the least. As is typical for me, I decided to try these shoes on race day. It's just something I do and I justify it by something I read online stating that "breaking in" new running shoes is no longer necessary due to the materials and manufacturing methods used today. More importantly, there is no better feeling than slipping on a brand spanking new pair of running shoes on race day morning. It somehow gives me a boost of self confidence and that extra boost coupled with a good training base (if I happened to train) makes for a great race.

I have attempted to summarize some of the product details provided by the manufacturer. The Skechers GOrun Ultra shoes come with an enhanced Resalyte cushioning midsole and a more rigid Resagrip outsole. According to various internet sources, Resalyte is an injection molded compound and Resagrip is a hardened version of Resalyte, but I am not going to be discussing different compounds and their chemical structures. This review will focus solely on my experience of running in these shoes. The manufacturer's description goes on to state that the GOrun Ultra shoes come with aggressive traction control GOimpulse sensors on the outsole to allow for superior control on any terrain. The shoes weigh in at 8.7 oz for a men's size 9 and a 4mm or 8 mm heel drop without or with optional insole, respectively. 4-way stretch on side panels adds comfort in a shoe that promotes a midfoot strike.

My first impression of the shoes straight out of the box? These shoes don't look like they are anywhere nearly as cushioned as the Hokas. But looks can be deceiving. While I didn't measure the stack height or the thickness of the midsole, I did notice upon further inspection that the top half of the midsole was the same color oas the upper of the shoe, thereby giving the impression that the height of the shoe is half of its actual height. It makes the shoe look less...uhm...Hokaish.

My second thought was just how light this shoe actually felt. It felt a lot less clunky than the last pair of Hokas when I pulled them out of their box. When I put them on my feet on race day, they felt great. The upper was soft and felt just right all around my foot. Having had serious reconstructive surgery in my left ankle (peroneus brevis tendon and sheath), I am acutely aware of any shoes that rise too high on the outside ankle bone. This was not the case in the GRUs. When I took off running, I noticed the springiness in the shoe, it felt like I had extra bounce in my step, it felt great. I kept running. 3 to 4 hours into my run, I started to pay closer attention to how my feet and legs felt. My limbs were starting to wear from the run, so if there were any issues with this shoe, they would start to appear soon. While the shoe continued to perform very well, I did notice on the more technical terrain sections, that the thing that makes these shoes great, the soft midsole, also presented a small issue on more technical terrain. I started to feel extremely pointy rocks in the bottom of my feet and that is not something someone with the occassional mild case of Morton's Neuroma wants. While the GRU is marketed as a long distance road AND trail shoe, I do believe it would benefit from an actual rock plate of sorts to minimize the impact on a runners feet on extremely technical terrain.

Overall, the shoes felt very stable on my feet. Only a prolonged side sloped section of trail started to give me the feeling of the sole of the shoe physically sliding sideways under my foot. Again, I believe this to be the result of the extremely soft midsole that provides such a soft ride overall. It is a trade-off I am willing to make at this point, but it is something I would want addressed in future models.

I also noticed that while the toebox didn't look any wider or roomier than other running shoes, I did not end up with any black toenails in my last two ultra marathon events, which is a clear indication to me that this shoe does indeed have a wider/larger toebox...which is a very good thing!

Overall, I give this show very high ratings for short and long distance runs, both on the road and on trails, but there is definitely room for improvement. First, a rock plate and a slighly firmer midsole might provide the protection and stability needed on any terrain, no matter how technical the surface. A firmer midsole might also extend the overall life of these shoes, which I currently would not expect to last anywhere near 400 miles, which shouldn't be expected for a shoe at this price point anyway. Second, I did end up with a small worn spot on the upper of my left running shoe, which initially only looked like a light abrasion in the shoe upper. However, the following run this tiny spot turned into a 2 inch gash in the upper (hard to see, but visible in picture above). No, I did not clip a rock or a root to cause this. But even with this experience, I still went ahead and purchased another pair to replace these. However, I did send my pair of used GRUs to the Skechers QA department in hopes that it will allow them to continue to improve the upper....and hopefully provide a replacement;-)

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Race Report - 2014 Savage Gulf Trail Marathon

Cool tech shirt logo and a bandanna with trail map to boot:-)
This race was a last minute decision. I had already registered for a local 10 miler, when Cary convinced me that this Savage Gulf Trail Marathon is not to be missed. When I finally googled the location and saw the pictures, I immediately went to ultrasignup.com to get registered.

I decided to take Friday afternoon off, so I could join Cary and a group of folks from Huntsville, Franklin and Chattanooga at a primitive group campsite located right at the start and finish line of the race at the Stone Door Ranger Station at Savage Gulf State Park. Folks brought a ton of food for a pre-race cookout and luckily, or so I thought, I wasn't going to have to set up my own tent, since Cary invited me to stay in his tent. I'm not sure if my memory left me for a moment or what, but it didn't remember Cary's favorite bodily function when I agreed to share the tent with Sir Fartsalot.

Cary assured me the next morning that he didn't relief himself of any post-digestive particulates in respect of me. Honestly, I don't remember much from that night, my memory is extremely hazy. I think Cary unleashed a silent but deadly Blitzkrieg of flatulence on me, putting me out of my misery for the rest of the night and allowing him to indulge in his favorite activity at will.

There were about 15-20 of us camping out, but there could only be one winner of the "most wicked tent" competition and that prize went to Daniel Lucas and his "floating tent". If you think this is one awesome way to camp out, give Daniel a holler or look him up on Facebook. He is a redistributor for these awesome shelters.

Winner of "Coolest tent" at the pre-race campout.
My alarm went off at 6AM and 30 minutes later, I had packed up my sleeping bag and other gear and was ready to get my run on. Packet pickup started at 7AM and by 7:50AM, folks were lined up at the starting line rearing to go.

A musket was fired to signal the start of the race and 80 or so runners took off on one of the toughest, prettiest and most challenging trail marathons in the country. After barely a mile into the race, runners were greeted by this view to our right as we were running along a ridge (many of the pictures below courtesy of Sarah Coleman).

Amazing views while running along the ridge line.
One only had to turn their head to the left or right to see one amazing vista after another. I would've continued to take mental pictures of the scenery, but trail runs apparently require one to keep their eyes on the ground on front of them.

Another amazing view from the ridge line.
After just 3 miles, we arrived at the top of Stone Door, the namesake of the area and the ranger station. While this was the most prominent site in the park, there were lots of other amazing sites along the race course.

The entry just above the Stone Door.
This natural rock crevice represented the start of our descend to the bottom of Savage Gulf.

View from lower section of the Stone Door.
While I appear to be holding up everyone behind me, there were actually just as many runners ahead of me:-) This was just the warmup for our quads.

Leading the train down through Stone Door:-)
Most of the race course was pretty technical in nature, either you were climbing or you were navigating moving rocks and boulders. The picture below shows one of the few flat non-technical sections of the course. Considering the difficult and technical nature of this course, I decided to start the race as conservatively as possible without being slow. I had set an "A" goal of sub 6 hours, but wasn't really expecting to hit that. My "B" goal was to beat Cary's time from last year;-) Nothing like a little healthy competition (heck, unhealthy works for me, too). If all else failed, just finishing without bing in pain or misery was my "C" goal. I decided to hang with Tony Scott, who was running pretty solid for not having run much the last few weeks. Cary was somewhere behind me. I figured he was running a smarter race than me. I actually felt on occasion that I was holding on to Tony rather than run with him. But 9 miles or so into the race, I decided to pass Tony to run on my own for a while.

One of the few "flat" sections of the course.
There were some runnable sections and some ups and downs before I came upon the next and probably most popular site on this course. Throughout the race, I had to cross multiple suspended bridges across various creek beds, but this bridge was a little different.

Suspended bridge crossing with view of waterfall.
Once I stepped onto the bridge and turned my head to the right, I saw a beautiful waterfall. The flora and fauna was completely different in this little area, which I presume is due to the high level of moisture in the air.

Kodak moment #1.
As I crossed the bridge and turned my head to the left, I saw this trail uniquely carved into the wall. If you ever wondered why people run trail races and spend hours on end in the middle of nowhere, this is the reason why. Places like this always remind me why i do this and as soon as I cross the finish line, I am ready to look up another awesome place to run at.

Kodak moment #2.
The many suspension or hanging bridges all along the trail are another unique feature of this race. How can one not have the biggest smile on their face.

One happy runner!
As I neared the final 10K distance of the race, I was starting to run really low on energy. I knew I had another major climb left and my GPS watch had played a trick on me, showing me 2 mile more than I had actually run. That meant my pace was actually much slower than my watch was showing and that I had 2 more miles to run than I thought. Argh!!! I finally got me over this mental hump when my watch stopped getting a GPS signal altogether. What the heck, so I decided to just focus on the time, I was 4 hours into the race and I had about 2 hours of hard running left, if I wanted to finish in under 6 hours. Since I didn't know the actual remaining distance, I just tried to keep effort steady. I would reassess my goals once I arrived at the final aid station at the top of the last big climb with 4 miles to go to the finish...or so I thought.

Beginning of the climb to the finish.

When I completed the final climb and saw the aid station, my watch showed 5 hours 32 minutes. Oh well, 6 hours was out of the question now. No way was I going to run 4 miles in 28 minutes. And then the ranger at the aid station said the words that would ring in my head for the next 26 minutes "Only 2.9 miles to go to the finish and all of it runnable." Whaaaaa? Oh crap! If I've got anything left in my tank, I can actually break 6 hours. So off I went, passed one runner, then two and then there was Will Barnwell standing there waving and telling me "Just 1.5 miles to go! Get it done!" I barely had a breath left to say thanks. I kept pushing...longest 2.9 miles ever. And then the trail finally dumped me onto the final .15 mile road section to the finish. And who do i spot just ahead of me, Marc Davis. It's on! Unfortunately, he heard me huffing and puffing behind him and I had to concede victory for 29th place to Marc. Well done, Marc!

The finish area had plenty of food and I didn't see a single runner that didn't have a big @$$ smile on their face. A huge thanks goes out the the entire staff of rangers, who put on a top quality event. If there is just one thing I would suggest for next year, it's finisher's medals. A trail marathon of this magnitude "deserves" a finisher's medal. I am glad Cary convinced me to sign up and I am already rearing to sign up for next year. I see a 5:30 in my future:-)

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Race Report - 2014 Delano Park 12 Hour Race

Cool race swag NEVER gets old!
 The Delano Park 12 Hour Race has become an annual tradition for my wife and I. While neither of our most recent training regimens had really prepared us to run for 12 hours, we do go every year to have fun, meet up with friends and get in some miles along the way. As always RD Jon Elmore and his wife along with a great team of River City Runners volunteers put on another fantastic event. Special props to the weather as well, it was perfect.

I had decided earlier in the week that I would treat Delano as a 50K training race. It was only my third ultra since coming back from some health issues and while I had been having some solid training runs, my base wasn't what it needed to be for me to run for 12 hours without risking injury or having to take off from training for a week after the event. I figured a solid 50K would be a great goal, especially as my prime event for this year is going to be my third attempt at the Pinhoti 100 in November. I plan to treat every race until that date as a training run and there was really no reason to push distance at this stage of my training.

So while I had set a distance for this day, I was still wrangling with a time goal, not for any purposes other than keep me motivated and focused while out there running laps. So the day before, I started playing with the pace calculator at coolrunning.com and after plugging in different times, I decided to shoot for an average pace of sub 10 min miles. I wasn't confident that I could hold it, but why set goals if you know they're easy.

My wife and I got to the race start around 5:15AM and the place was already packed with runners jockeying for parking spots close to the "track". I managed to grab the last "good" spot where I was able to back up our SUV to the track and set up a canopy right next to the track. After greeting some fellow runners, Anya and I huddled up in the car for a few more minutes before the start of the race. The race started as planned and we all got going.

I was trying to decide whether I would try to run with my wife or Jerry or Cary or Benj or Greg, but after just one loop I quickly realized that everyone was going to be running very different races. Some of us were running the 50 mile distance, others were going for 12 hours, yet others were going for 50K.

On that note, a huge congratulations to Benj's dad for completing his first 50K ultra marathon! Freakin' awesome!!! While I am congratulating folks, a special congrats goes out to my wife, who has now completed at least 50K at each of the last three Delano events. Not too shabby, baby!

So I set out to get settled in my target pace, just under 10 minutes. While I did go closer to 9 min miles, I slowly adjusted my pace to hit the goal pace. I decided to run 10 miles, then eat a honey stinger gel and drink a bottle of fluids ad then continue, and then rinse and repeat. I did that and my pace stayed consistently on target, until just after mile 26 or 27. I started to slow down because I required more water breaks as the day was heating up. That meant longer walks to stop the slushing in my stomach after guzzling down and entire bottle of Gatorade. But I kept my eyes on the prize, whenever my overall pace started to click closer to 9:50 pace, I started running again, always with the goal to get back to that target pace and for the most part, I succeeded on every lap. When I finally crossed the finish line, The clock showed 5 hours 7 minutes for the 50K distance, which is likely an all-time unofficial PR for me, since I never raced that distance before on a flat course. Considering my current situation fitness wise, I consider this great progress! Goal reached!

On a final note, congrats to my buddy Cary Long, who dealt with some serious knee issues and still managed to reach his 50 mile goal for the day. I can't wait to crew you to your first 100 mile finish at the Thunder Rock 100, buddy! Congrats to my training buddy Jerry Abbott, who also finished the 50 mile distance just like he planned. Again, looking forward to crewing and pacing you at the Double Tap 100 next weekend! It's gonna be awesome! Congratulations to Gregg Ellis for hitting his target. He's been coming back from a serious injury as well and he's been running like nothing ever happened, just amazing! Finally, congratulations to all the top performers, especially Rob Youngren, DeWayne Satterfield and Beth McCurdy. You guys are what many of us runners aspire to and I fell pretty lucky to have been introduced to ultrarunning being able to sharing the trails with you.  

As my bother captioned this photo on FB "The Beauty and the Beast"

Don't forget, March is Blood Clot Awareness Month. Hit me up if you'd like more information on how to recognize this often silent killer or if you'd like to find out how to do more to raise awareness of this cause. I never tire of talking about it, so if you see me at a race, please ask me about it. I work with the National Blood Clot Alliance as part of their team of NAThletes (endurance athletes that participate in various running, cycling and swimming events) in their campaign to "Stop The Clot". I'd like to make as many people as possible aware of the risks of DVTs and PEs. Believe it or not, but endurance athletes in particular are in a high risk group, especially immediately following a big endurance event. Shoot me a message or comment and I will gladly provide more information. See you on the trails!

My wife completing her 50K threepeat!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Race Report - 2014 Mount Cheaha 50K

The North Alabama contingent.
My Unofficial Official Return to Ultras
After making it across the finish line of an ultra marathon for the first time in more than 12 months at the Mountain Mist 50K last month, I was feeling pretty good about having a shot at finishing my first attempt at the Mount Cheaha 50K. I was feeling so good, in fact, that I decided to finally break out my new racing attire, my polka-dotted running shirt in support of the National Blood Clot Alliance in the fight to "Stop The Clot", but more about that at the very end of this race report.

When I crossed the finish line of the Mountain Mist 50K, I was pretty beaten up physically and mentally after taking almost 8 hours to make it. So I started to doubt my decision to register for Cheaha. Then again, I didn't really have anything to lose, so I decided to put in some quality runs between Mountain Mist and Cheaha...just as soon as I got over that cold I got right after Mountain Mist. Nothing like hitting a few snags trying to derail your plan.

Since I had only had 2 really good weeks of running since Mountain Mist, I figured I'd treat Cheaha just like another long training run, allowing me not to taper and take full advantage of another week of running, kinda. I did a 10 miler and 12 miler on Monday and Wednesday, respectively during the week of the race. I also made sure that every training run since Mountain Mist had at least 100 ft of ascent and descent per mile, allowing me to get as much climbing in as possible before tackling what is arguably the toughest 50K in the Southeast with somewhere between 6000-7000 ft of climb. It also happens to be one of the most beautiful trail races out there, taking you along 30 miles of pristine single track trail just before you climb to the top of Alabama (the top of Mount Cheaha, the highest point in Alabama) where the finish line is located just in front of Bald Rock Lodge.

Getting to the Race
While the race was only a 2 hour drive from Huntsville, I decided to drive down the afternoon before the race, because the logistics for this race kinda require it. It's a point to point race, requiring participants to either make their way to the race start on their own or to take the free shuttle from the finish to the start of the race at 6AM the morning of the race. Either way, I would've had to leave no later than 3:30 AM to make it in time. Thanks, but no thank you!

Cary Long AKA Hot Wing Runner, had kindly offered to not only give me a ride to the race, but also let me crash in his family's hotel room. I initially accepted, but later declined citing my desire to give him and his family their well deserved privacy. Honestly, I just didn't want to sleep in the same room as Cary. You know what I'm referring to if you've ever run behind him. I could only imagine what happens when he has access to and makes use of an actual toilet. No, thank you.

So instead, I decided to live it up. I remembered this city's slogan "What happens in Oxford, AL stays in Oxford, AL", so I checked in to the swanky Super 8 Motel. The staff was so friendly, they had already turned on the lights in my room before I even entered. Actually, I kid, the hotel has just been remodeled and was extremely clean with friendly staff to go along with it. Unfortunately, this place didn't resemble the Bates Motel at all, like I had hoped (after all, that would've made for a much better story). Remember this place when you're coming to Cheaha next year, low price ($50), clean updated room, great service.

Race Day
My alarm went went off at 4:45 AM, leaving me enough time to fix and drink a cup of coffee and take care of my other pre-race needs before driving my car over to Cary's hotel just before 6 AM. Tony and Christy Scott were kind enough to give Cary and I a ride to the race start. Thanks again, guys! Cary, Gregg Gelmis AKA photographer extraordinaire and I walked our tails over to their hotel to catch our ride. The drive to the race start was quite uneventful, Gregg only got us lost once;-)

Just after we arrived at Porter's Gap Trail Head for the start of the race, the shuttle school buses arrived with the majority of the runners. Luckily, we got to use the porta potties just in time before the mayhem that is 300 runners competing for 3 toilets ensued. Now it was time to mingle with fellow runners from near and far before taking the obligatory picture under the race banner. As always, there were quite a few Georgia GUTS runners, but the Birmingham BUTS runners were represented as well. With all these entertaining acronyms, Benj, Cary and I figured it's high time to introduce the newest chapter of "We Run Huntsville" the NUTS runners (North Alabama Ultra and Trail Running Society). It's an idea, anyway.

Cary being his usual self.
After some comments from RD Todd Henderson, folks lined up under the banner for the race start. Todd asked slower runners to line up in the back to allow fast runners to charge ahead and not get caught up in the congo line that would ensue a mere 50 feet after the race start, where the single track trail started. I decided to line up in the back of the pack. My strategy for running races this year is to just finish them and to try to finish them feeling good, so the back of the pack is the perfect place for me in this phase of my running life.

Cary and Benj lined up somewhere to the front of the mid pack, while Ryan Harbaugh AKA Newbie Ultra Runner and I rolled up the field from the back. We were sent off just after 7:30 AM. My goal was to stay under the 9 hour cutoff and the conga line would make sure that I didn't get any ideas of starting too fast.

Me and Ryan in the back of the pack.
The first few miles were relatively uneventful, it was slightly cooler than expected at the start with temps in the 40s, but the weather forecast called for highs in the upper 60s for the day, which would actually feel hot. I had been on the Pinhoti trail before during a couple of unsuccessful Pinhoti 100 attempts, but that race runs the trail in the other direction, so the entire course felt new to me, aside from the painful Pinhoti 100 DNF reminders brought on by the Cheaha aid stations that were located in the same spots as . It didn't matter what direction I came from, I immediately recognized them. Hopefully, Mount Cheaha 50K was just a prelude for my third attempt at a Pinhoti 100 finish in November, my big race for this year.

I continued to run with Ryan for a while, but as I was trying to pass some folks to get off the train in order to run at my own race pace, I ended up losing sight of Ryan. Sorry, buddy, I really wanted to run together a little longer than we did. As I was working my way up the field, at a very slow and easy pace, I caught up with another fellow runner and FB friend, Gregg Ellis, who's had his own health and injury woes to deal with and who is also on his way back to a full recovery, I'm sure. Thanks again, Gregg, for the company along the trail. Glad to see you finish strong!

The night before at the race packet pick up, I also met a fellow from Denmark, Michael, who happens to live just a few hundred miles north of where I grew up and where most of my family still lives. A Disney song comes to mind: "It's a Small World, After All!" Ha! Try getting that song out of your head by the end of the day. I bet you can't!

Just after I caught up with Gregg, we came up just behind Michael and the three of us ended up running together for a while. I started to feel the urge to step of the trail to pee, but I enjoyed the company, so I decided to wait. When I couldn't wait any longer, I decided to just run ahead, build a small cushion, step off the trail and be done in time before they caught up with me. Just as I turned back to the trail, I saw a couple of guys in red shirts and I figured one of them must be Gregg. Well, I was wrong and I wouldn't see him again until much later. And I didn't see Michael again until the finish line. On that note, it was good to catch up with you and exchange stories, Gregg! And Michael, I will try to Facebook or Google stalk you, so we can connect! I hope you had a great experience running your first ultra in the US, and the Mount Cheaha 50K no less!

I continued to run at a slow and steady pace, walking serious hills and running the rolling hills and flat sections (there weren't many of those). There were a couple of fun creek crossings and really not a lot of mud to speak of. Unfortunately, due to my slow pace, Gregg and Tony were already heading back from the big creek crossing and I think I might've actually startled Gregg as I was running by them on their way back to the trail head. Thanks again to both Tony and Gregg for taking a couple of snapshots of me running, much appreciated!

My new buddy Michael from Denmark.
I ran most of the second part of the race on my own and I figured it was time to break out the iPod Shuffle. I had added a couple of newer songs in addition to my "go to" ultra running playlist that largely consists of AC/DC's Greatest Hits. A couple of songs provided just the perfect soundtrack to this race. First, there was Daft Punk's "Get Lucky". How can you not feel lucky as you are running the Pinhoti trail with these amazing vistas of the surrounding hills and mountains. Yeah, yeah, I know, not exactly what the song's referring to, but who cares. It definitely worked for me.

And then there was the sections that is lovingly referred to as "Blue Hell". Call it karma, coincidence, whatever, but as I approached the bottom of this section of "trail", if you can even call it that, AC/DC started blaring "Hard as a Rock" through my headphones. Next followed "Highway to Hell". I couldn't make this up. So I started climbing this thing with a huge smile on my face. No joke, while I am always happy to be out there running, I usually do not expose my teeth for a smile unless I sense a photographer nearby. This smile was real, this smile was sincere and I had a blast! I cannot describe it any other way! Everything felt perfect in that moment. I wasn't tired, I wasn't ready to be done, I was just happy to be out there and doing what I was doing, just happy to be able to do what I was doing. I even passed a couple of guys during the climb.

When I finally neared the top, I made another new ultra running friend, Michael Bloom. We chatted for a while and he asked if I minded if he stayed with me for a while. Did I mind? Heck no, I just didn't want him to be held back by my slow pace. So we decided to stay together and finish together. He started to pick it up and I just tried to hang on (Michael, for not having run more than 10 miles at a time this year, you sure kicked my butt on that last stretch!). Another big climb and a short trail section later, we were dumped out onto the road leading to the finish line. As the announcer shouted out our numbers, I knew I did it and when I checked my watch, I realized that I was actually going to finish in just over 7 hours, comfortably below the 9 hour cutoff. Thanks again #93 for running with me for the last section of the race!

Crossing the finish line with Michael Bloom.
Jerry Abbott AKA Mister Consistent, Cary and Benj as well as most other Huntsville runners had long finished by the time I crossed the finish line, but I couldn't have been happier. I felt great, I wasn't in pain and I had had a great race, period.

Yep, that white stuff is salt.
Aftermath
I hope you're still reading this, because before I conclude this "short" race report, I wanted to mention my new polka-dotted race shirt again. As most friends and family already know, along with my ankle injury a little over a year ago came a near brush with death due to multiple Deep Vein Thromboses (DVTs) in both of my legs and Pulmonary Emboli (PEs) in both of my lungs that had developed as a result of that injury, putting me in the hospital for a week, resulting in an extensive rehab and recovery phase and making me extremely thankful for the family and friends I have. For this and other personal reasons, which I gladly share with folks in person, I had decided that if I got to continue to run, that I would do so in honor of other PE and DVT sufferers and to raise both awareness and funds for the National Blood Clot Alliance and to support them in their fight to "Stop The Clot" in any which way I can.

I consider my continued ability to run a privilege and raising awareness for this very personal cause is my way of being thankful. Please feel free to hit me up at an upcoming trail run or race and I will gladly share with you the ways you can exercise prevention for yourself, your family and your friends as well as learn how to recognize when someone might be suffering from DVTs or PEs. And just in case you're thinking this cannot happen to you, think again. I had no genetic markers nor was I otherwise predisposed to blood clotting disorders. Yet, it did not keep me from being affected. Furthermore, only 2 out of 3 people affected by PEs are as lucky as I was. We actually get to tell our story.

I encourage you to make a small donation for this worthy and, in my opinion, underserved or under-appreciated cause. Click on the donation link in the upper right corner of this blog and visit the National Blood Clot Alliance website to support my efforts as a NAThlete in the fight to "Stop The Clot".

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Race Report - 2014 Mountain Mist 50K

Our entire ultra training group before race start.
This is my first ultra marathon finish race report since 2012, when what seemed like a minor ankle injury during a soccer match just 4 days after my second Pinhoti 100 attempt turned into something a lot more major and complicated. Less than 12 months after what hopefully will have been my last surgery and hospital visit for a while, I was able to toe the starting line of the Mountain Mist 50K.

I wasn't really prepared to run this race. I was making progress in my recovery, but I continued to take two steps forward and one step back. Just 2 weeks before the race, I went back to my ankle surgeon to check on an issue. Thankfully, he reassured me that everything had healed perfectly and cleared me to run. Unfortunately, an intense one week work related class kept me from training yet another week and before I knew it, race day had arrived. Further reassurances from some of my fellow training buddies whose training hadn't gone according to plan, either (read: severely undertrained is an understatement) convinced me to try to run. The goal was to finish under the 8 hour cutoff, so I would get an official fourth finish at Mountain Mist.

I met up with Rich at his place at 6:30am to make sure we wouldn't miss the 7am race start check in. It seemed Mike was running late, so my antsy @$$ decided to head up the mountain ahead of them to get checked in and mingle with some of the familiar out of town runners that I hadn't seen in a while, most of them GUTS runners from the Atlanta, GA area.

Our entire training group had signed up for this race: Jerry Abbott, James Duncan, Ed Johnson, Mike Trice, Richard Trice and myself. Thankfully, everyone made it in time for our obligatory pre-race group photo. Half of us were ready to PR and the other half was ready for a long day in the woods.

Ed, Jerry and James lined up near the front of the pack while Rich, Mike and I found the tailend of the field. I planned to run conservative from start to finish. It had worked perfectly for me during the Rocket City Marathon and it was in line with my new mantra, keep it slow and steady, speed is not important right now.

The race course had been modified this year to allow for a larger field of runners and to allow the front of the pack to spread before entering single track trail that would make passing more difficult. However, this approach really only worked for the front pack. The back of the pack continued to create trains at just about any uphill and downhill section of the race.

The three of us in the back kept to our slow pace and it worked. None of us really had a serious drop off in physical or mental determination to finish this thing. Well, if we did, none if us verbalized it. The result was a long trail run with a positive attitude and engaging conversations through the day. The only complaints to be heard were related to the windchill that would frequently chill us to the bone throughout the day and keep us from shedding ANY of our three to four layers.

As the day progressed and I realized that I was likely to finish this race, I became even more enthusiastic. I was still able to run ultras after all and I was actually able to finish them. I realized that I might still be an ultra runner after all, albeit without any speed. Who cares, I can work on speed later. Rich and Mike were a large factor to me finishing this thing as I'm not sure I would've stayed the course for almost 8 hours without their company and reciprocal encouragement. The scenery provided an amazing backdrop to our adventure with frozen waterfalls, and the ever popular stone cuts. It made climbing waterline trail and the other sections almost "a walk in the park". Well, it was a walk based on our actual pace:-)

When we started to hear the cheers at the finish line about 1.5 miles out, I started to get choked up just a little. We all relied on each other to finish today's race from start to finish, so it was only fitting that we decided to cross the finish line together, not holding hands in a "Kumbaya" kind of way (we wanted to maintain some type of manliness), but next to each other nonetheless. We were the last of our training group to finish, but it seemed today provided to be a challenging race day for all of us, with times slower than initially anticipated. However, a finish is a finish and that is all that mattered to me. After all, I am one of the ones lucky enough to be able to be out here, period. Hopefully, there are many more ultra attempts and finishes in my future. With friends and running buddies like these, I don't see why not:-)

First ultra marathon finish since my return thanks to the Trices.


Jerry ran so fast, he was gone when the last of us finished:-)