16 August 2010


Pre-Race Thursday
Half of my running group left Huntsville, AL Thursday night right after work to make the 5 hour drive up to Highlands, NC. Highlands is not only very close to the finish line of the Laurel Valley White Water Run, it also happens to be the location of Richard and Mike's uncle's vacation home. Man, how did I get so lucky? We arrived shortly before midnight and went to bed pretty quickly. I was already showing signs of pre-race jitters, I could barely sleep. I was packing and repacking my race pack in my mind more than I like to admit.

Pre-Race Friday
I woke up pretty early the next morning and could not wait for the day to be over. The race wasn't until Saturday so Friday was just another day before the race and I couldn't wait for it. I wasn't able to nap, too nervous, but I did hydrate and carbo load. Mike and James arrived around 4:30PM and once they unloaded their bags, we quickly started to compare packing lists, gear bags, food items, race fuel, etc. Everyone started with significantly different approaches in regards to what might be required. If you were to apply a label to my running buddies and I based on our initial race inventory lists, you would refer to Richard as "The Minimalist", James "The Boy Scout", Mike "The Perfect-ionist" and myself  "The Clueless". After comparing packs and items, we all started to make some adjustments and our packs' contents started to look a little more similar. The following items ended up in my Salomon XA Pro 10+3 pack at the end of the day:

1x Ultralight Adventure Medical Kit (Used after the race)
1x Digital Camera (Used twice during the race)
1x Katadyn Vario Water Filter Pump (Used twice during the race)
1x Injinji Crew Socks (Didn't change during the race)
8x Ibuprofen (Used 4 during the race)
20x S!Caps (Used 14 during the race)
6x Propel Beverage Mix (Not used during the race)
4x Nuun Beverage Tablets (Used 1 during the race)
2x Gatorade Beverage Mix (Used 1 during the race)
2x Honey Stinger Organic Energy Chews (Used 1 during the race)
2x Clif ShotBloks (Used 1 during the race)
2x Sportbeans (Used 1 during the race)
2x Honey Stinger Gels (Used 2 during the race)
2x GU Energy Gels (Not used during the race)
1x Clif Shot Energy Gel (Not used during the race)
3x Peanut Butter & Honey Sandwiches (Used 1 during the race)
2x Gatorade Bottles (Used 2 during the race)
1x 2l Water Bladder (Used and filled twice during the race)

After a very nice pre-race pasta dinner with our gracious hostess for the weekend, we all called it a night around 8 or 8:30 PM to try to catch some sleep. Our alarms would ring at 3 AM and everyone wanted to at least try to get some rest. I ended up double-checking my gear one more time and figured my pack had to weigh at least 15 lbs. That would weigh heavily on me late in the race...that I was sure of. But I shouldn't run out of food and drinking supplies as my running buddies nearly did when they ran this race in 2007.

Race Day
Wow, the alarm went off at 3AM Eastern Time and I was amped and ready to go. Luckily, my obligatory pre-race coffee was already brewing. We figured it would take us a little under an hour to get to the race start, so we left the house at 3:45 AM. Well, we were almost right. Using their collective memories of where they went three years ago, we arrived there just before the 5 AM start. Just enough time for a pre-race team picture (see below) and a quick wiz.

I am the handsome guy in the green shirt;-) Richard is on my right and James and Mike are on my right. It's easy to tell our moods from the look on our faces. I am the only one showing a slight level of nervousness being a first timer and all, but we are happy and excited to be here. The race director Claude Sinclair offered two start times, 5 and 6 AM, to give some folks extra time on the course, if they needed it and we opted to take it. 5AM would give us an extra hour of cooler air out of the sun and this was a very difficult course with lots of elevation gains, almost 15,000 ft to be exact. That type of elevation profile lets this race compete with some of the serious 100 mile races. Only difference, the 100 milers actually spread this type of elevation gain over 100 miles instead of 35.
Let me somewhat preface this report with the comment that I am geographically challenged and I have no short or long-term memory for geographical names and locations. However, I am quite capable of following white blazes and I was lucky to be running in very capable company as well. I believe one of my running mates (James) is actually an Eagle Scout, so you know we were prepared for absolutely anything. I am not sure what all made it into his race pack, but I know the initial inventory list included not one but two knifes, a fire starter, duct tape, and a 2ft rope among many other things. While I managed to figure out the purpose for most of the things on his list (I had enough time on the trail), I am still not sure about the 2ft rope. Maybe he figured I'd like to hang myself once I'd realized what I'd gotten myself into. Then again, one simple step to the left on one of the rather narrow sections of the trail would have taken care of that in no time;-) In short, we were ready for anything and everything.

We picked up our "race bibs" from Claude (he is known to recycle left-overs from other/previous races, hence the interesting looking example in the picture at the top of this report) and put on our headlamps just in time to get to the starting area at the bottom of the infamous stairs. If you have ever run this race before, you would know why the starting line of this race could not have been more appropriately placed. As I soon found out, the climb up the stairs at the race start immediately set the tone for this race as there would be more, much more, stairs than I could or would care to count, only to finish the race with the most serious climb of stairs anyone can imagine. Right before 5AM, we all assembled around Claude who had handed a musket to someone to fire the shot to start the race. After a "misfire" the gun went off and so did our group of runners, straight up the first of many sets of stairs, followed by the 5AM sweeps, who were receiving last minute instructions.
It was pitch black and our first miles were rather slow, but we were moving. We wanted to avoid early trips and falls and Richard's ankle injury and my calf injury required a conscientious effort to watch every step and to start slow enough to get our muscles and joints warmed up. The 5AM group of runners consisted of about 20 or so runners with their headlamps bobbing up and down on the mountain trails above and below us. While the temperatures were rather low and comfortable, the humidity was quite high. After just two miles, Richard and I were already discussing the amount of sweat we were both dealing with. We also noticed a mist or fog that, coupled with the headlamps, almost gave us the illusion of blurred eye vision. It was a very strange feeling to say the least. But I was excited to be out there. I had heard so much about this race and now it was finally my turn to give it a try. The goal was to finish and not DFL.
We slowly trotted along, careful not to misstep into the abyss. It was awesome to trek up the hillside in total darkness, the headlamps ahead and behind us being the only thing visible to anyone. By 6AM we had covered a little over three miles, and I was feeling great. I knew everything until now was easy and it would only get harder. Around mile four we made our first creek crossing over Laurel Fork Creek. Due to the rain the previous night, it is worth mentioning that all man-made structures along the trails (bridges and stairs) were extremely slippery, requiring us more than once to grab a hold of a handrail, if one was available, to avoid a slip and fall. I am still not quite sure how the leaders make their way across these slippery structures. Maybe they take the approach we opted for later in the race after the downpour started, which was to "skate" across the bridges. Unfortunately, I did not attempt to skate across the rocks that caused my first ever "official" fall. I almost went for a split if it hadn't been for my left knee breaking my fall. Yes, it hurt, but only briefly. Thankfully, some of the bridges had just recently been updated and metal grids on top of the wooden surfaces actually provided some serious traction for most of the major creek and river crossings to prevent any additional disasters. While were consistently ran a pace between 17-20 minutes per mile for the first five miles, we picked up some serious steam over the next two miles, averaging just over 12 minutes per mile while running this entire sections alongside Laurel Fork Creek or criss-crossing over it. Miles 8-11 were at a consistent 15 minute pace.
At mile 11, we started approaching Lake Jocassee and we would run along the lake for quite some time, until we approached a bridge crossing around mile 13. At this point, we made our first water refill stop and I put my Katadyn Vario Dual water filer pump to the test for the very first time. I refilled my empty 2 liter hydration bladder and tried to eat a PB sandwich, but I could only muster to eat about half of it. I decided it would be better to stick to gels and such for the remainder of the race. We crossed Toxaway Creek at the North end or head of Lake Jocassee and continued on our way. Now the tough part of the race would begin, well sort of. We immediately started to climb for about 2 miles, but were able to pick up speed again for miles 15-20. By the way, when I say speed I mean 14-16 minute per mile pace...and that describes mostly downhills. At LV, running uphills is nearly impossible, unless you are an elite runner. But that's just my opinion, I could be wrong;-) As nice as it felt mentally to run this pace, it was also at this point that I realized that I had some serious foot/shoe issues. Mike pointed out to me that I had what appeared to be some serious overpronation issues while he was following behind me as we were climbing up one of the many hills. Funny thing is, I do not normally overpronate...ever! But here I was, my Inov-8 295s looking like, well, like I have been overpronating in these shoes for years even though I've only run about 150 miles in them. No other running shoe of mine has ever been worn that way nor have I ever been diagnosed as an overpronator and I have had my gait analyzed numerous times. Anyway, I would pay a heavy price for this issue as the downhill "crashing" quickly turned the outsides of both of my heels into a nasty blister (see pictures below of lefty and right foot).

It is worth mentioning that I wore Injinji socks as well as having applied a layer of Hydropel to both of me feet. I will have to abandon using the 295s on anything beyond a trail half marathon distance as this is the second time I had blisters from wearing these shoes after running more than 15 miles. Oddly enough, a fellow runner commented that he has had the same issue with the 295s in past races and that he moved to another model with much success.
As a result of these blisters, I started to slow down even more on the downhills, trying to avoid any additional damage to my feet, if that was possible. Luckily, the goal of our group was to finish, nothing else. We made it to mile 21, the infamous Horse Pasture River in a little under 9 hours, still feeling pretty good and ready to take a little break while refilling our bladders (and this time my two bottles as well) while sitting by the river and refueling with some fruit and other goodies. It was at this point of the race that we were passed by numerous runners, but that was ok, we were feeling good and we wanted to keep it that way. OK, maybe 30 minutes of sitting around was a little excessive, but hey, we had fun. Richard and James must have forgotten the rule of praising the weather before a race is over. No more than 2 minutes after they commented on how lucky we have been with the weather in general, a serious downpour cut our picnic short. It also made me cancel my plans to put on some dry socks and to put moleskin on my blisters. After all, what good is it to wear dry socks in the rain? We packed up our gear and started the final third of the race, straight up some more stairs. We started a pattern of 2 slow uphill miles followed by 2 faster yet still slow downhill miles for the next 9 or 10 miles. It was during this stretch that I encountered a massive low hanging tree limb across the trail head first. I hit it so hard with my head that my upper body ricocheted back. I think I even spotted stars for a brief moment. I was a bit wobbly for the next mile and started to yawn profusely for a couple of minutes. Well, there was only one way out anyway so on I went. Of course, I never heard the end of it after the race about how I "ran straight into a tree". That's when I approached the final river crossing, which signals the last and toughest climb of the race. Our group had decided about 2 miles back, that some of us would try to break the 10 hour mark while the others would continue on at our usual pace. Well, I couldn't help but at least try to break 10 hours, so I went for it. Oh, I was feeling it all the way to the river. I figured, cool, now it's just another mile or so and I will be at the finish. After all, I could already hear the rushing water of the Whitewater River, even though I could not see anything. Boy was I wrong. After turning right after seeing the river right in front of me, I ended up running for what felt like eternity anxiously waiting to see the final bridge that would indicate the final climb. It never came, at least that's how it felt. When I finally reached the bridge, I was beaten and the 10 hour goal was out the window. I experienced all of these highs and lows within a single mile along the river. It just seemed like it took forever to get to the bridge. Now, the real fun began. First, I had to figure out how to get over the bridge. Well, the huge bolder in front of the bridge had a white blaze on it so I guess I was supposed to climb that. Wow, did I look stupid crawling up that bolder with no energy left at all.
The following describes a one-sided conversation that went on in my head from the time I stepped onto the final bridge across Whitewater River: "Oh great, the other side of the bridge has another bolder to slide down on. At least it has a white blaze, too. Now, I just have to figure out where to go from here. Ok, the hole to the right is the only escape route I can see here so that's where I'll go. Are you kidding? Please tell me that ladder looking set of stairs isn't what it's going to be like all the way up. I know the guys said this was gonna be tough, but come on, this is ridiculous. Oh good, a trail. Never mind, more stairs. OK, just remember, these things are going to keep going and going...and going. Don't stop climbing and don't start thinking about it until you see Claude indicating that you are done. What did the guys say again? The finish line is at the top of the stairs. That should be easy enough, then. Ok, I must be getting close now. Maybe not. Why is there a rail on this bridge on the side of the mountain but not on the cliff? Just keep it steady. Come on, more stairs? Oh good, switchbacks, that must mean I am getting close. Great, more stairs. Wow, they even put in some new stairs just for me. Almost there, I can hear people talking, this must be the finish line. 9:58 and some change and I am almost at the top. Awesome, not only do I finish, I get my sub 10 hour finish. There is my fiancee waving at me. Awesome, I've made it. What? Where is everybody? I have to do what? Run another quarter mile to the pavilion? Come on! Really? Well, so much for my sub 10 hour finish."
I arrive at the pavilion running like I am in the chase for a podium finish, absolutely ecstatic to have made it. James arrived there 3 minutes before me to finish in 9:48 hours, awesome job! Richard and Mike follow about 20 minutes later, feeling great, well, at least they looked great.

Final Thoughts
This has to be the coolest ultra race I have participated in. While it was slower than any other race that I have run, the fun factor here outshines them all. The Jocassee Gorges and the trail in general with all its creek crossings, bridges, beautiful trail sections and scenery were just amazing. I will definitely be back next year, if Claude will have me back. Being German, I wasn't familiar with Ginger Snaps at all. I had read so much about them in previous LV race reports and I could not wait to finally taste them. Are they candy, are they like German Schnapps (you know, a strong alcoholic beverage)? I didn't know. Well, now that mystery has been solved for me as well. I quite enjoyed those cookies. I know a lot of people have said that I would be sick of stairs after this race. Nothing could be further from the truth. Next challenge, actually counting these stairs during next year's race.


  1. loved the report dude.

    You asked for advice and comments on your writing and I think you've got it down pretty well - but - one suggestion would be to break it up in small chunks (paragraphs) for easier readability.

    Way to go brother. I remember seeing you guys on those series of step climbs after Canebreak and y'all seemed to be doing well.

    Rock on!

  2. @Run 100 MilesThanks man, your comments are very much appreciated and helpful. I have the tendency to ramble on and it shows in the way my paragraphs run on as well. BTW, barely recognized you at the finish due to the long "hairdo" you are sporting these days compared to Strolling Jim, where I briefly crossed paths with you at one of the "aid stations". Hope to see you at an upcoming race.



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