Saturday, April 19, 2014

Race Report - 2014 Cookie Dash 5K

Always the best tech shirts at this race:-)
This was my first short distance "race" event in quite some time, almost 2 years to be exact. I had run other short distance races since I started my recovery, but I had been taking it easy, not trying to push at all. My main goal was just to return to running, not to break any personal speed records. My recovery had been going well and my return to ultras had gone extremely well for me personally as well. I ran my first ultra since my return from my health woes in January of this year at what I would call a "leisurely pace". I managed to get a finish and I my endurance base and speed continued to gradually improve from there. A month later, I started to put more focus on my diet, which I had been neglecting for the most part. Just like most people, I had gained a few pounds every year since high school, but my running had kept that gain somewhat in check. So when I started to see some positive results in my training, I figured why not improving my diet as well, since it was about to be time for another annual check up with the doc.

As I had noticed in the past, just running isn't enough for a healthy body, the diet plays a major role as well. So when I started my "clean eating" routine in early February, the pounds started to come off. I continued to slowly increase my weekly mileage to an average of 50+ and I continued to feel great. In fact, I recovered so much faster than usual. I had replaced one meal a day with a 500 calorie vegetable/fruit smoothie after hearing about and finding a deal for a NutriBullet online. I have no financial interest (NFI) in the marketing of this product, but it has really helped me with eating better. In fact, I have a couple favorite smoothie recipes that I will try to share on this blog later.

Anyway, eating better had really improved my performance and recovery. I barely had sore muscles after my training runs anymore, it that wasn't due to taking it easy on any of my runs. In fact, I started to add short "tempo" runs into my training, nothing formal, just picking up the pace significantly on one of my weekly shorter runs. To my surprise, I was laying down some training run PRs...not just post injury, but actual overall PRs. Was I actually getting faster than I was before? I was hopeful, but the real test would be an actual race and I wasn't quite ready to find out. To be honest, I was afraid I'd fail. Training continued to go well and I was wondering when that progress would come to a screeching halt. So I kept putting off to actually "race" a shorter event. Until the Cookie Dash 5K came around.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw Regena's post about having run the course and how flat it was, "probably the flattest course in Huntsville" in her words. Hmm, a flat fast course? Maybe I should just give it a go? Even if I failed at my goal (sub 20 min finish or maybe even sub 19:42, which would be an all time PR), I could still use it as a gauge of where I currently was regarding short distance speed.

So I made up my mind and shortly after, I told my running buddies about it. Even though I am an overposter, I didn't post this personal goal, again thinking that I already put enough pressure on myself without the need for any added "pressure" of putting it out there on social media. The weekend before the Cookie Dash, I had a fantastic experience at the SweetH2O 50K on Saturday followed my running the Bridge Street Town Centre Half Marathon with my wife on Sunday, so I felt pretty good about myself come Cookie Dash race week. After all, it's "just" a 5K, right? That feeling of self confidence lasted until Tuesday. Then I started to wonder, how can I be sure I'm ready to push my goal pace in a 5K? Am I really fast enough to run sub 20? An actual PR? How can I know for sure? So I started googleing for some advice. Very quickly, I found McMillan's website offering a 2 part speed training session to gauge your 5K goal pace. Since I was already in the last week before the 5K, I had to skip the second target workout, but the first workout would be sufficient to see whether I should be ready to run PR pace for the 5K.

My family easter picture from the Cookie Dash finish area:-)
The workout called for 3 sets of 3x 400m (0.25 miles) intervals. The first set consisted of 3x 400m intervals at my 5K goal pace (6:15 min per mile pace) followed by 100m recovery jogs (8:00 min per mile pace). After the third interval, I would jog for 400m before starting the second set, which required the same workout at 6:12 min per mile pace per interval followed by 200m recovery jogs. I followed the second set of intervals with another 400m recovery jog before increasing my pace by another 3 seconds yet again to 6:09 min per mile pace. The recovery jogs were 400m each in this third and final set. I wanted to be sure I was ready, so my actual pace was faster than the required target on most of my quarter mile intervals. At the end of this workout, I was confident that I could try for a PR at the Cookie Dash.

When we lined up at the starting line, I wanted to make sure that I wasn't too far up in the field (to avoid blocking the fast guys) and not too far back (to avoid early tripping in a field of almost 600 runners). I remember asking a couple of guys ahead of me in the starting area about their goal finishing time. I decided to try to make sure to keep them in sight, if I wanted to stay close to my goal pace. I also made sure that my favorite little training tool (GPS watch) showed my overall average pace prominently on my first data screen. Realizing that the GPS watch distance often differed from the actual distance, I decided to try to make sure I kept my goal pace at 6:10 to give myself a small cushion in case my watch was way off the actual distance. As it turned out, that was very important, indeed.

The entire Fleet Feet Racing team was obviously lined up ahead of me along with some other faster guys and when Regena sent us off running, I tried to stay relaxed early and not get sucked in too much. I kept checking my watch often early on and I completed my first mile in just over 6 minutes, feeling extremely comfortable. Just half a mile later, I was still feeling great, but I was now laboring and breathing heavy. I remember thinking, I don't think I would be able to carry a conversation right now...definitely not training pace:-)

Eric Fritz ("el presidente") and David Rawlings were ahead of me seemingly running my goal pace, so I decided I'd stop checking my watch so much and just try to stay with them. We were about 2 miles in and I was feeling great. I passed David just before we entered the greenway and I stayed close to Eric. In case he didn't know it yet, he helped me tremendously in my PR attempt. It truly helps to find someone of similar pace to run with or run behind to keep you going...until it is time to decide where you want to finish this race:-) I was starting to fade a little and so was Eric, I believe. With about half a mile or less to go, I decided to pass him. I really didn't ant him to do the same to me, so I realized I had to not only pass him, but pass him strong and continue to push...probably all the way to the finish. Passing him went as planned, but just a few seconds later, I started to get some stitches in my right side. Oh great, that's what you want for the last quarter mile of a race. I tried to relax my breathing and my body while holding on to my pace. I expected Eric to pass me again any second. That made me try to speed up a little more. Now I have to hold on until the finish. It felt like forever. I saw the finish line, but I just couldn't get there fast enough. Crap, this is hard! I kept pushing and when I finally crossed the line, my watch read 19:28 (new PR!) and Kathy Youngren gave me a congratulatory pat on the back. Which I accepted...just not very gracefully. I started dry heaving a couple of times as soon as I stopped running, reminded of why I don't eat breakfast before racing. I'm sure Kathy appreciated it too:-)

Final thoughts, I believe Huntsville has a new fastest 5K course. Regena and her crew of volunteers and bakers did a fantastic job, from course creation, to race organization, to cookie fueling before and after the race. I am already looking forward to next year's event, hopefully less nervous about racing a 5K, but still wanting to go after yet another PR...all while staying healthy and raising awareness of the danger of blood clots, DVTs and PEs and how to possibly recognize and prevent them.

A new PR!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Race Report - 2014 Bridge Street Town Centre Half Marathon

My favorite pic of my wife and I. No need to zoom in to see us both smiling war to ear:-)
The local inaugural Bridge Street Town Centre Half Marathon was part 2 of my weekend of running adventures. After running the SweetH2O 50K just outside Atlanta, Georgia on Saturday, I had signed up for this half marathon to pace my wife to what hopefully would be a new PR for her. My body was a little stiff on race morning, especially my quads were shot, but I was hoping that I would be able to keep up with my wife once we started actually running. Thankfully, that's exactly what happened.

Close to 1600 runners had registered for this first time event, which shows a real desire of local runners for more and more local races, even longer distance events. There pretty much is a local 5K or 10K every weekend, but longer distance races are much harder to find. So I was glad to see another half marathon added to the local racing calendar. I had initially signed up right after the registration window opened, but by the time my wife started to consider running it, the race had already filled up to capacity. So I was glad when Suzanne Taylor reopened registration for an additional 90 spots, which were gone after just 30 minutes or so, but not until I grabbed a spot for my wife:-)

We arrived at the race start at the Bridge Street Town Centre about 30 minutes prior to race start. Parking was aplenty, so we just kinda roamed around and hung out in our car for a good 15 minutes prior to the start. Once we started lining up in near the starting line, we realized just how many runners were participating in this event. We decided to line up somewhere between the 2:15 ("cause there's no way I'm running a 2:15" my wife's exact words) and the 2:30 pace group.

The race start went off without a hitch and we got underway. I decided to stay next to my wife but just behind her to make sure she was setting the pace and really that's all I had to do all day. So much for her needing a pacer;-) I just made sure I stayed next to her keeping her entertained with my race blabber from the previous day.

After looping the Bridge Street Town Centre, we finally went onto one of the main research park roads to start our "big loop". What I really appreciated about this race course is the complete lack of monotony. There were plenty of turns and no single section stood out as being too long or boring. Quite the opposite, this race was a whole lotta fun! The miles kept ticking away and my wife continued to run really well. She kept a pretty steady pace and while some folks started walking late in the race, she kept pushing the pace, actually getting faster. As a result, we saw the 2:15 pace group coming into view just ahead of us with a little over half a mile to go to the finish. That's all it took for my wife to find another gear. 1 minute later, we had passed the 2:15 pace group and my wife was on her way to a new PR. As we made the final turn and approached the finish line I took a look at my watch. My wife had run a 15 minute PR in only her third half marathon ever and her first in almost 2 years and I got a nice Weekend back to back run in in the process.

Two hours after we got home, my wife was online looking for new races. Three hours later she had registered for her first trail race, a tough 25K in June. I think someone caught the racing bug:-)

Worthy of a Facebook profile picture update:-)

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Race Report - 2014 SweetH2O 50K

A great shot taken by one of the race volunteers. A beautiful day and course, indeed.

... or Tails From the Front of the Middle of the Pack

I signed up for this one as my 50K for April, one race in a line of "local" monthly 50k-50M races I put on my calendar in training for the Pinhoti 100 Miler in November. I ran this race for the first and only time three years ago, long before I had my "health issues". Since I consider everything prior to Pinhoti 100 in November a training race, actual racing isn't really on my mind, but I have been noticing that I've steadily been getting faster since puttin' on my ultra running shoes again earlier this year. My initial thoughts of "wow, I'm just glad to be out here running ultras again, DFL or not" have slowly turned into "$h!t, I might actually be getting faster than I was before my reconstructive ankle surgery, multiple DVTs and bilateral pulmonary emboli, yeah buddy!"

So while I am keeping those things in mind, it has been feeling great to see some improvement. Of course, these things didn't happen on their own. If you know me even just a little, especially if that little is usually through Facebook, then you know that I'm a bit of an oversharer when it comes to the things I do. However, I did not post my most recent health and fitness goals publicly, because I have struggled in the past to really follow through with those same goals. While I could use my inability to be as active as I wanted to the past year as an excuse for my gain in weight, in all honesty, it was more related to my chocolate, gummi bear and anything high in carbs in general addiction. Why do I call it an addiction? Because I wouldn't go a single day without munching on either of those. When it was all said and done, I had gained 20 lbs and my body fat was pretty high as well. So I turned to what I call clean eating; no empty carbs, no sodas, no candy, no fast food, no fried food. I'm not really dieting, I just cleaned up my eating and I am watching my net caloric intake. And the results speak for themselves. I have dropped almost 20 lbs over the last 50 days and close to 30 lbs since early January. I actually hadn't seen my weight this low since my senior year in high school and my body fat is getting veeery close to single digits.

I can't wait to get my annual blood work done to see the impact, if any, on the usual culprits of bad news. While I have never been in any real danger of high blood pressure or high cholesterol, they have been a little too high for my personal comfort in the past considering my life long levels of physical activity. However, I never ever watched my diet, so this will be an interesting experiment. But enough about this, let's talk about the Sweet H2O 50K, one of the harder 50Ks in the Southeast for sure.

I arrived in Atlanta, GA late Friday afternoon after taking 4 hours to make my way from Huntsville, AL through the city's notorious rush hour traffic. My buddy Timo and his wife were kind enough to put me up in their new digs, an apartment in a rather nice neighborhood of ATL. After joining them at a Greek restaurant for dinner, I decided to try to head in early for the night to get some rest before a race day...and it would be a hot one for sure, IF you believe the weatherman;-)

I got up at 5AM on race day, drank my mandatory cup of Joe, took care of the necessities and headed out to Sweetwater Creek State Park in Lithia Springs just outside of Atlanta. I thought I'd be one of the first peeps to arrive, but I was wrong. The parking lot was alreadt plenty busy and lots of runners milling around in the early morning darkness. Volunteers were directing traffic efficiently and I parked within 2 minutes of arriving at the park. I decided to head to the race headquarters (main pavilion, a closed building with an actual bathroom) and pick up my race packet before heading back to my car to get ready.

Coming down from the gas line section towards the end of the loop. 
Because I knew it would be warming up quickly and because I have the tendency to sweat a lot, I decided against a single hand bottle and went with the race vest with two bottles in the front, instead. I really like my Ultimate Direction AK Race Vest and I plan to write a review about it soon. With about 10 minutes to go, we all started to line up for the 7:30 AM start. I saw quite a few familiar faces from the local GUTS crew before the RD counted down for the race start. There had been quite some changes to the race course from last year and from the last time I ran this race three years ago. For one, the major creek crossing had been added back into the race on the second loop. More importantly, a certain local celebrity by the name of Tyler Perry had purchased property adjacent to the park that the previous owner had graciously agreed to make available for the race in previous years (at least that's what I was told). This was no longer the case, so the course had to be rerouted and when has anyone ever seen a race course get easier when it has to be rerouted...or shorter for that matter. This race would be no different:-)

The first change occurred right after the race start. In previous years, runners had about 2 miles or so to run on the road and to jockey for position before entering single track trail. This year, we had .5 miles to get were we wanted to end up in the Conga line before entering a short "bushwacking" section and single track trail. Since my training had been going well and since I wanted to have more as a goal than just finishing, I decided that I wanted to try to either finish top 20 or in under 6 hours. So when we took off from the start, I made sure to count of the runners ahead of me and to slide in somewhere in 20-25th position. It turned out I would stay in that spot for most of the day.

After a half mile of road running, we entered a rough trail section along the lake. It was actually pretty nice, just not very runable. I had checked out the elevation profile from 3 years earlier and from the looks of it, there would be lots of hills and serious ups and downs. So when I kept running at a much faster than planned pace, I kept wondering when those hills would start. We had passed the "creek crossing" after about 2 miles into the race, but we wouldn't actually cross the creek until the second loop. I distinctly remember that I had been running for almost 8 miles without walking a single section. Wow, at this pace, I am going to blow my goal out of the water, I thought. I felt pretty confident. Oh oh, that should have been a sign, but somehow I never remember those things from previous races. Anyway, I continued to move well and ahead of schedule. We finally started to hit some hills giving me an excuse to speed hike a bit and get some fluids. A continued to run. And then we hit the gas lines. Oh what fun. Actually, I didn't mind it too much...yet. Then we entered the new section of very hilly jeep road, which was nicely covered in soft wood pine chips or whatever you'd call that. It was really soft and almost springy. It felt pretty good. I had been running on my own for the most part until this section, where I finally caught up to Joel Tapley, who introduced me to Spurgeon Hendrick running right along side him. What alucky coincidence, Spurgeon's brother Shar (a fellow Huntsville runner, in case you somehow did not know;-) had actually asked me to say hello to him up while I was out here running.

It is a small world indeed as I had previously seen Spurgeon's posts on the Ultralist, but I had never met him in person. Both Joel and Spurgeon were running rather well, while I started to feel the impact of the continuous ups and downs. The course had turned from "oh this is not so bad" to "aw man, I'm really supposed to do this twice?" When we all finally arrived at the out & back aid station, I was glad to take a short break in the shade while filling up my two bottles. I was starting to go through two bottles easy between aid stations and I was now taking 2 SCaps every 45 minutes. The day was warming up quickly and the humidity showed it's ugly mug as well. My sweat rate was extremely high and I had no desire to crash and burn because of dehydration, lack of fitness? sure, no problem, but not because of something that I can control within the race. No sir! So I continued on that schedule and it worked for me. Throughout the day, I only use 2 honey stinger gels, 2 bananas, a couple of orange slices and an ice-cold popsicle, that gave me an oh so nice brain freeze.

I had started to slow down a bit, but I was still well on schedule for my sub 6 hour goal, or so I thought. I completed the first loop (exactly 15.5 miles or 25K) in 2 hours 45 minutes, which would give me 3 hours 14 minutes to break 6 hours, which is almost 30 minutes extra on the second loop. Oh yeah, easy-peasy, I thought. As I passed the you guy with the bullhorn cheering runners on, I remember him yelling "just 2 miles until the creek crossing". Awesome, I thought. I'm about ready for a nice cooldown in the creek. My legs will love it. Just as promised, we arrived at the creek crossing, this time not passing it but rather grabbing one of the ropes that were strung across the creek before entering the water and actually crossing it. While the water generally stayed just above my waist, there were a couple of moments when you could and would slip with the water rising to your chest, so the two rescue divers that were in the creek at all times were probably a good idea. I wasn't really sure what to expect from the course once we crossed the creek. Did we just come right back? Would we cross an adjacent bridge? Those questions were answered when someone informed me that we had a challenging 2.5 mile loop to complete before returning and crossing the creek for a second time. It was a challenging loop indeed, some climbing some fast running, but also very pretty.

Once we returned to the creek, I was ready for another cool off. But I also started to wonder, where were they going to cut off 2.5 miles from the second loop. They had to somewhere, right? Surely. Otherwise, this course would be about 3 miles long and that doesn't happen, right? So I kept thinking to myself, they probably cut off a section near the finish line. But as I continued my race, I slowly came to realize that there is a very good possibility that this race is just going to be long. That also meant that there was no way that I would break 6 hours on this course, not at my current pace and there was no way I was going to run a negative split on my second loop, no way Jose! That realization made me slow down even more as soon as we hit the first hills on the second loop. What had felt like flat runable terrain on the first loop now looked like it was worthy of a speed I did  just that.

Just after I hit the gas lines the second time, I started to catch up to Joel again, who I thought was long gone. I also noticed on the out and back section that the lead runners were passing me in the opposite direction at around the same time they had done so on loop one. That meant they (or at least some of them) were slowing down, too. Ok, I thought, I might not hit sub 6, but maybe top 25 is still in the cards? I continued to run whenever I could and I separated myself from Joel just after the out & back aid station. I had caught a second wind, briefly. I now entered the gas lines, a short but brutal section of ups and downs that put the power lines to shame. I kept moving well, or so I thought, until Joel and Brooke (?)  passed me and left me in the dust. That really hurt me mentally, I thought I was moving and here they passed me like I was standing still.

Alright, forget about it and keep on moving. When I finally arrived at the last aid station before the finish, I had a quick chat with the fellas that were manning the station. Their positive vibe definitely cheered me up a bit. And what one of the guys said next, really made me perk up. "Looks like there are still at least about 100 runners behind you". What? How many runners are ahead of me, I wondered. "Looks like you might be in the top 20, if I'm counting right." Say what?!? I gotta go! Thanks boys. I took off, Joel and Brooke couldn't be too far ahead, so maybe I can try to catch them again. I kept a steady pace, I figured I can keep it together for another 3-4 miles. And I did. I finally caught up to Joel, Brooke and another runner who looked like he was struggling with the heat with about 1.5 miles to go. Joel and Brooke passed the other runner and shortly after, I made my move. I always feel kinda weird passing anyone with a mile or so to go in any race distance, especially ultras, but at the end of the day, it is a race. Do I stop for other runners in distress? Always! But I also am competitive by nature. The fact that I had missed out on a few top 20 finishes just because I decided not to push in the final half mile of a race really made me push this time. I wondered, what if this guy is in the 20th spot? So I pushed hard...pushed past him quickly and continued to push. I didn't want him to change his mind and suddenly start running or chasing after me:-) With a half mile to go, I caught up to Joel and Brooke. I was laboring hard at this point, but I was moving faster than them, so I decided on one more push. Surely, the finish line must be right around the corner, right? It wasn't, but as I started to slow and resigned to the fact that they would probably come back and pass me again, I finally spotted some spectators. Surely, that must be it. That must be the finish line. Alright, one last push and let's just see how I did. I crossed the finish line in 6 hours 54 minutes, much slower than I had hoped, but not bad for just over 34 miles on a hot and humid day with no less than 5000 feet of elevation gain alone. When the RD handed me my finisher's card and hat, I was ecstatic, 18th place overall out of 140 starters.

One of the new sections of the course, I believe.

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 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:-)