Thursday, February 25, 2021

New Year - New Goals?

 Sort of - From a running perspective, many of the races/events in 2021 are carry-overs from 2020 where COVID-19 took its toll on the world, not just running and racing.

For me, 2020 was a year of high mileage, relatively speaking higher mileage than normal. In July I set a goal of running 2020 miles. At the time I was 50 or so miles behind pace. Each week, subsequent to July, I was chipping away to get on pace. I hit 2020 miles in early December and end ended up with 2080 miles, more than I have ever run in a single year. Part of the reason for not running as many miles during racing/event years is because of the pre-event taper and post-event recovery. I didn't have to plan those periods in 2020. I believe consistency is what fuels the fire. For me, 2020 was full of consistency running nearly every day - some easy, some hard, some in the rain, some in the sun, some in the cold, some in the heat. Some people on social media running groups needed races to remain motivated. As much as I missed the events, I found out that I didn't need them to enjoy running and to remain consistent and motivated.

I am not a fan of virtual events unless they have some theme to them. For instance, Blue Ridge to Beach over a period of time was fun to track and envision running across North Carolina. Running through the decades by the producers of the Baltimore Running Festival was fun for visiting the 60s - 00s. I also got my wife involved in those.  I did have to run the Baltimore Marathon as a virtual event to keep my 20-year streak alive and my wife made that a memorable event. She was a great crew for me as I ran 26.2 miles through our neighborhood. See photos below.

So for 2021, deferments have filled the schedule along with a significant new goal - The Yeti 100 miler. It is still going to be a challenge for large events to operate in the Spring. My first event was to be the Salem Lake Frosty 50K. Having run this event - either the 25K or 50K - other years, I was looking forward to starting the year with the 50K. COVID changed the race from in-person to modified in-person, meaning, to complete the event, you had to run the actual course anytime Saturday or Sunday on the scheduled weekend. It was to be self-supported. I felt trained enough to give it a shot so on a nice Saturday morning I traversed the 4 loop course in 5:56:15 which was a PR for me in the 50K, of course unofficial, but accurate.

So far, one 2021 event for me has been affected; the Cincinnati Flying Pig has moved their event from early May to late October. The Blue Ridge Marathon appears to still be happening with COVID restrictions in mid-April. It is probably too early to determine the fate of the Black Mountain Monster 24-hour in early June. Since I help with timing for Bull City Running, two events are still scheduled - the Florence Fourth and the Mountains-to-Sea Trail events in March and April, respectively. I have also signed up to volunteer at the Umstead 100, working Wednesday-Saturday and pacing early Sunday morning. This will occur in late March.

As for Fall, when more events will likely proceed, still with COVID restrictions, it will be a full Fall. The Yeti 100 is the last weekend in September (as well as Hinson Lake 24-hour). Two weeks later, the 20th running of the Baltimore Marathon and then the potential of the Cincinnati Flying Pig event the last weekend in October. On November 6th, the Tideland 24-hour is again on the schedule for both Cindy and me.

As for goals, I would like to run 2021 miles in 2021. Although I missed being the youngest in my age-group in 2020 at 60 years old, I hope to be competitive for age group awards in some events as a 61-year-old.  Of course, one major goal is completing 100 miles in some event, whether in a 24-hour or the Yeti 100. One of the other goals is to volunteer/pace which will occur at the Umstead 100.

I have also committed to co-leading a run club at our local brewery/bottle shop, the Glass Jug. This should be fun to engage and build a community of runners/walkers who also enjoy craft beer.

Before ending this post, here are some photos of the virtual Baltimore marathon which my wife Cindy made quite special.














Monday, July 20, 2020

Running During a Pandemic

After the Black Mountain Marathon, ran on February 29, I had a few days of an achy body and two weeks of coughing. Cindy also came down with what turned out to be bronchitis, we think. Of course, I am generally sore after a marathon and sometimes have a bit of cold as the immune system is compromised. At that point, we were only hearing bits and pieces about COVID-19 since our own republican government was calling it a hoax. To this point, the hoax has killed 140,000 Americans and 100's of thousands of humans across the world. In mid-March, states were shutting down with stay-at-home orders. I felt like myself again and started running. Cindy was still struggling and finally was able to get a doctor's visit who provided some relief from bronchitis.

As every running event was being canceled, my running picked up as a way to stay healthy, to proactively recognize breathing issues, and generally just get outside. In the Spring I had two marathons scheduled; Blue Ridge and Flying Pig, my second Blue Ridge, and my 6th Flying Pig. The Blue Ridge Marathon canceled but deferred runners' registration to 2021. The Flying Pig postponed until October but provided multiple options for participating: virtually, defer to October or defer until 2021, 2022, or 2023. When I reviewed my registration, I noticed that I had registered twice. This is what happens when you run multiple marathons a year and you can't remember what you registered for. So, for one registration I deferred until October and the other one I deferred until 2021. However, since the October date is one week before the 20th Baltimore Marathon, of which I have participated all 20 years, I may drop to the half-marathon if I run at all. The other event planned was the Black Mountain Monster 24-hour event on June 6. It was eventually canceled for 2020 with our registrations be deferred to 2021.

So what's a runner to do in a pandemic where the order of the day was to stay-at-home? Well. run! I am not keen on virtual events. Except to support an organization and the people/companies involved in producing them, from a running perspective, it makes no sense. However, to go run a marathon anyway on the day you were supposed to run a marathon, sure, might as well keep up the training and give it a go. Make it interesting in some way.

The All Streets Parkwood Marathon

The Blue Ridge Marathon was supposed to be on April 18. On March 16 it was canceled. I had just started running more seriously after the two weeks bout of coughing and aches. At that point, I thought about running a marathon on that date anyway but wasn't sure where to run it. I would need some way to have aid stations. Last July I ran 17 loops (1.5 miles each) around the lake I live on having my truck set-up at the end of the driveway as an aid station. But, I didn't feel like running that many loops. A couple weeks before the marathon date, I decided to run every street in Parkwood, more precisely, a portion of them. That day I ran 14 miles. The next weekend I ran the rest of the streets so that I could figure out 26.2 miles. I would need to add a couple of extra miles to get to 26.2 but it would encompass all the streets in Parkwood. Plus, I could use my house again as an aid station and have my wife meet me at another place for aid, thus 3 aid stations every 7 miles and then at the finish.

The Loopin' Lake Marathon

On the weekend of what would have been my sixth Flying Pig Marathon, which was canceled, I decided to do the 2nd Loopin' Lake Marathon around my home on Parkwood Lake. The loop is 1.5 miles so 17+ loops. I would pass my house each loop and could easily set-up an aid station in the back of my pickup truck just like I did in the summer of 2019. It was a perfect day to run. The temperature was 56 degrees and dew point 51 degrees. I added two smaller loops so that I could finish at my house. My time was 4:14:17 although had an elapsed time of 4:22:33. This was my third unofficial marathon but hey, 26.2 miles is still 26.2 miles!

Since March 9

Since March 9 it has been 144 days of pretty much staying at home. I don't mean this literally as we have taken the dogs on rides and walks, have run and walked, did grocery shopping, and visited three restaurants. Although some have struggled with motivation to run the very act has kept me sane and engaged. Frankly, its the most miles I have run in many years and likely at the end of the year will be the most I have ever run. Two races are still scheduled: Hinson Lake 24-hour and the Baltimore Marathon. Of course, with the crazy surges in cases due to irresponsibility of people and the pure lack of leadership and care nationally, likely, these will be canceled as well. So here is what I have been able to do since March 9.

  • Ran 128 out of 144 days 683.88 miles
  • Ran 2 unofficial marathons
  • Ran 8 unofficial half marathons+
  • Ran a high of 52.08 miles in one week
  • Currently on a streak of 28 consecutive days of running and 29 runs
I miss the race experience no matter the distance. I was also hoping for some age group awards having turned 60 on February 28 and being the youngest in the age group. For now, I will just do what is safe. My new distance goal for the year is 2,020 miles. It is a stretch to keep it going through the rest of the year but I think we all need stretch goals right now we will never know when our health is snatched from us, particularly these days when people care less about others.

Run strong, Run Healthy.

Friday, April 10, 2020

60th Birthday Surprise - In More Ways Than One - Black Mountain Marathon

It was my first marathon as a 60-year-old, a day after my 60th birthday. and on Leap Day 2020. Overall, my 109th marathon. I wanted to run something difficult to show, as a 60-year-old, I could still get after it. I thought that the Black Mountain Marathon would fit the bill - did it ever. I also wanted to make it a nice birthday weekend with my wife Cynthia Anne. The Arbor House B&B sits right on Lake Tomahawk just across from the finish. So, I registered for the race the day registration opened for the marathon (40-mile Mount Mitchell Challenge was sold-out) and made a reservation at Arbor House. All set! This was all done back in September, five months prior to the event.

On November 2nd, I did the Tideland 24 Hour event, 80 miles, 24 hours. Not long after the event, I had a bit of an injury in my calf. I took some time off to let it heal and on Thanksgiving, I ran a tough half-marathon (Skinny Turkey) and won 2nd in my age group as a 59-year-old in a time of 1:51:29. I felt really great with that performance although I still had to closely monitor my calf and run slightly different making sure I didn't hit the downhills too hard and strain he calf again. In mid-December, I struggled again with a groin injury and after a couple of false starts (always coming back too early) it put me out of commission for much of late December through mid-January. With Black Mountain at the end of February, and the difficulty of the course with elevation and being on a trail, I thought that there was no way I was going to be trained in time.

The Decision

In mid-January, I decided to cancel my registration and let someone else on the wait-list participate. I also canceled the B&B. I explained to both that due to injury and the technical nature of the course, I did not think it was safe to participate.  That same week I started light running again and ran 30 miles. I looked for other races in mid-March but it was eating me up inside that I could not do Black Mountain. I had not heard back from the race director but I did get a cancellation from the B&B having to eat a $50 deposit. After a week of pondering, I decided that if my registration had not been canceled, that I was going to give it a go. I contacted the race director again and fortunately, he had not gotten around to reviewing my email and was in the process of looking at my information. He said that he hadn't canceled me yet and if I still wanted to run, that he would see me at the event. Great! Now, for the B&B. I looked on Arbor House's website and the room that I canceled was still available. Yay! I reserved the room again and asked if they could apply my original $50. They did. Again, all set!

Training

I am not one to cram for marathons but because I run so many a year, I feel like I am generally trained or at least have a solid base for a 26.2-mile adventure. It's not like I am going to win but I am pretty confident in a solid finish. Well, not this time. With only 6 weeks until Black Mountain and not having run much in the 3 weeks prior and at least 5 weeks interspersed with groin pain, I wasn't as confident. Feeling better and not having pain in my groin, I put in weeks of 48, 45, 42, 40 and a taper week of 18 miles. The only training that I could not get much of was elevation gain. Since Black Mountain included elevation gain of 3300 feet on the trail up to about 5300 feet, I knew that this would still be a challenge. I also bought a Salomon Adv Skin 12L vest and trained some with it on the Umstead park trails knowing that there would also need to be some self-support in what they call the back country.

Weather Watching

The weather for the Black Mountain Marathon and Mount Mitchell Challenge is ALWAYS the true challenge. I watched closely starting 10 days out, of course, knowing, the weather changes so drastically that is was a bit futile. the weather a few days before was going to be beautiful, the temperature near 60 and sunny. The trail was void of any snow due to the mild winter. However, the weekend looked like snow was very much a possibility as well as temperatures in the 20's. Running up a mountain on rocky trails was going to be challenging enough but doing it in the snow with temperatures below freezing? Hmm, needed to be prepared! I still had hope.

Thursday

It was quite a nice day driving from Durham to Black Mountain but the forecast was ominous for race day. We drove past Black Mountain to Asheville for packet pickup at Black Dome Mountain Sports. This is where I found out that the 40-mile challenge was canceled due to the forecast of snow and that everyone would be running the marathon. The race director said that they were expecting 9 inches of snow and single digits from the Blue Ridge Parkway to Mount Mitchell (the highest peak east of the Mississippi). The National Park Service was closing the park. The race had to use ATV vehicles to get volunteers and supplies to the aid stations for the marathon. The volunteers also had to camp overnight in single-digit temperatures.  OK, so I won't complain about running. Volunteers (at all races) are amazing. We were given our race number, shirt and a pint glass with a ticket for a brew at Pisgah brewing.

We ventured back to Black Mountain and checked into the lovely Arbor House. The Lookout suite overlooked the lake and the path that runners would take to the finish. It was a large very pretty room. The innkeepers were very friendly and certainly tuned into the needs of the runners. For that weekend, everyone staying was related to running. After getting settled, we ate at Fresh - Wood-fired pizza and pasta. A quaint little place with tasty pizza and local brews.


Our view from the Lookout Suite overlooking the finish


Lake Tomahawk


Wood-fired pizza



Friday (Birthday)

Friday morning at breakfast, we met a few runners, a father, and a son and their support person (wife/mother). The father was the oldest runner last year and again this year. It was the son's first marathon. Wow! What a doozy for a first marathon! To make matters worst, he was from Houston, not known for their mountain ranges. Two other runners were arriving Friday evening.  After a leisurely breakfast, we explore Montreat and Black Mountain. The course includes Montreat and running through the college. We strolled around and it was getting noticeably colder. We visited downtown Black Mountain stopping in Vertical Runner and having lunch at North Fork Kitchen. We made our way back to the B&B and hung out for a bit. The weather report was still chancy and it was getting a bit cloudier. Cindy didn't want me to open presents yet and we also had 6 cupcakes to devour.

Beauty of a day

Montreat Colleage


Montreat College

Dam at Lake Susan

Downtown Black Mountain

Big

Local running store

North Fork


Surprise, surprise, surprise!

Cindy told me that she was going down to get a cup of tea. OK, sounds good. When she returned, opened the door, there was my nephew Shawn surprising me to spend the weekend! I was shocked. It's not like he hadn't surprised me before at a race but to drive 7 hours to hang out (particularly on my 60th birthday)was quite a special treat. I was so happy to see him, being with my two favorite people in the world. It was great! A little bit later, it was time to open gifts. Shawn brought me some really nice brews from Cushwa's brewing. OK, he knows me all too well. Cindy did something truly amazing. She sent pictures of my 50 states' marathons that I had completed and had a blanket made from them. It was truly special! Of course, she is special! Beer and running, perfect together, from my two favorite people, my wife, and my brother in arms. Later we went back to Fresh and had pasta, the pre-marathon meal for every runner. After returning from dinner, Shawn and I went to the runner briefing. It was a full house at the White Horse and there was a nervous excitement in the air. After returning to the B&B, having cupcakes and hanging out, it was time to prepare for the morning adventure.
Shawn surprising me

The best gift ever - bibs from 50 state marathons



Back ar Fresh

Still nice the evening before

Runner's meeting


I laid everything out on the floor. multiple shirts, gloves, buffs, knit hats, base layer, wind pants, Smartwool socks, trail shoes. I then packed my vest; water bottles, chap stick, hand warmers, additional gloves, buff, and socks, GUs, food bars. The weather called for snow, winds, temperatures in the low 20;s. Of 108 previous marathons, I had never prepared like this. I never needed to.

Figuring out what I was going to wear

Laying it all out


Race Morning

When I awoke at 4:00 AM and looked outside, I was shocked at how hard it was snowing, how much it was blowing and how easily it was laying. I guess I had hoped that the weather report was going to be wrong and that most of the snow would be higher up the mountain. I kept looking outside to see if it was slowing down. It wasn't. As it got closer to saddling up and choosing clothes, I knew that it was going to be most of them. The straight temperature was 22 and I suspect in the teens with the windchill. So, I went with 3 shirts and a wind/waterproof jacket, base layer of pants and wind pants, a pair of gloves and finger-less mittens over top, the Smartwool socks and Saucony Peregrine trail shoes. I also had La Sportiva shoes with me but I was going to wear them with exposed rocks. There was nothing going to be exposed on this course; even the roads leading up through Montreat to the single-track trail were snow-covered for the most part. I saw on social media that locals from within 30 miles away were canceling because the roads were treacherous getting to Black Mountain.

After Shawn arrived, we headed to the start. We sat in the car while it snowed and watched other runners running down the road to the start from wherever they had parked. As we headed to the start line on Cherry street, the wind blew the snow sideways at times. This was definitely going to be an adventure. Even on a good day, I was hoping to break 6 hours where my normal marathon time is around 4:10. I am not a great trail runner so I knew that I would need to compensate. I also thought that with snow coverage, the rocks would not protrude so much so maybe it would be easier. Not!

Waking up to this

And this

Waiting to walk to the start

A little help from my bro

Happy crew

Crazies - nearly 400 of us

The train sepot

and off we go


The Race (or adventure, or hike, or...)

With little fanfare, "Go" was shouted and off we went for a few miles on the road. There were a few exposed places but generally, the road was snow and ice-covered. I ran slowly and easily. As we made our way up through Montreat College; the road got steeper. It was now time for 5 miles or so of single track trail. This was the most treacherous part of the race. As we climbed up the mountain, the trail was slippery and with little room for error in some places. I ran where I could and walked to stay safe in places. With no snow, this part may have been pretty run-able. We then got to a short set of stairs. A backup ensued because the stairs were ice-covered and treacherous literally some having to slides down on their butt's. OK, made it down and then the trail got steep going up and people sliding back. I caught one lady with my hands on her back to help her up. Another treacherous spot was so sloped you had to go across on your butt sideways. Maybe it was just us mid/back-packers but it was a challenge. Finally, after 5 miles of trail and 2 miles of road, we reached the first aid station. I was so relieved. I had some coke, a Gu, chips, and a cookie. This started the double-track section which was up the mountain for the next 7 miles with more snow, up to 5 inches as we climbed. The view was beautiful from the mountains and the snow really did make it special. Certainly, it was an adventure and for me, it turned into a hike/run.  The second aid station came after the next 3 miles and then we climbed another 4 miles to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Ramon noodles awaited and I was so thankful for the volunteers. I asked one guy to get a dry buff and dry gloves out of my pack for me. He so obliged and put the wet stuff in the pouch. OK, over halfway at 14 miles in about 3 1/2 hours.

Entering Montreat

Still on the road up through Montreat Colleage

Getting closer to trail

and on the single track trail

Following

Where'd everyone go?

Getting up the mountain

Some people using hiking poles

farther up the mountain

The treacherous stairs down and up the other side

Amazing volunteers!

Entering the back country and taking numbers to make sure you come out of the back country. The lady in front here also has her birthday on February 28 - odd running into her




First aid if needed






At each aid station, I called Cindy to let her know where I was, how I was doing and expected finish time. I had estimated halfway that I was going to be closer to 7 hours. Now, I had to run back down the mountain to that first aid station. On my way up the mountain, the sun started coming out. The snow had stopped and it was pretty. So, on the way back down, the farther I got down the mountain, more of the snow had melted and the rocks were exposed, there was more water also with the melting snow. It was a mix of mud, ice, snow, and rocks. How fun! There were sections that I ran for periods of time and then mixing it with some hiking. When I got to the middle aid station on the way back and tried to call Cindy, the phone wouldn't go on. I think the cold got to it and drained the battery. Again, I wanted to give her status or how I was doing and my ETA at the finish. I continued down the double-track trail knowing that the larger aid station was only a few miles away. Once I got there, I had chips, cookie and coke. It seemed to be my staples for the day.

The next section was the steepest section of a course that I have ever ran. For the next two miles or so, I was jamming my toes into the front of my shoes and my knees were exploding. I was so happy to get off that section of the course which took me down through Montreat. The remaining course was easy trail, road and green-way but after 23 miles of what I just experienced, there ain't nothin' easy. One saving grace was that all of the snow that we ran through in the beginning was gone and the sun was shining. I was looking forward to the lap around the lake to the finish line and seeing Shawn and Cindy.

I get to the cinder path that goes around Lake Tomahawk to the finish and although I wasn't able to call Cindy, I was still close enough to my finish time that I thought that I would see them. While running on the path toward the B&B, I saw a man holding a duck, I stopped to pet a dog, and then waved at the B&B if for some reason they were still there. But, I really thought that they would be at the finish.  When seeing the finish line and the clock at 6:47 I figured that it was close enough to 7 hours, that they would be there cheering me on, especially for my birthday run. I crossed the line and I did not see them. I didn't hear anyone. It was so anti-climactic. I walked partially around the lake and back to the boathouse, past the guy holding the duck. I didn't realize that the food, drink and our finisher's fleece were all in the boathouse. I got my hot dog and kept looking for them but nowhere in sight. Finally, I tried my phone and it had 2% charge. I called and said that I had been done for 15 minutes. Frankly, it was funny and fitting for the day. The finisher's fleece was quite nice.

Not me but shows a runner on the path in front of the B&B

Pretty finish

Finally meeting up with Shawn and Cindy :)


Shawn asked if I would do it again. At the time I said, likely not, but after more thought, and after surviving the experience in probably the most difficult conditions (although I think cold rain would suck more) I think I would do it again. Sometimes the hardest most challenging races are the experiences you remember most. I will likely not forget about this one. They are considering moving it to April to have a better chance at good weather but in some ways the variability of the weather adds another dimension of difficulty. Although for the Mount Mitchell Challenger's it eliminate their race.

The Day After

Breakfast, the day after, was filled with stories from the other runners. It was fun to hear the challenges, the good, the bad and the ugly. I think I experienced it all and isn't that the point? To experience it all?

Just race day had snow
How pretty



Overall, it was a great weekend!

The best


the three amigos - race crew