Thursday, September 22, 2011

Lake Griffy Revisited

Last night I ran starting at the SRSC (Student Recreational Sports Center) down to the parking lot at the IURTP (IU Research and Teaching Preserve) just above the hill on Heady road going down to Lake Griffy.  I run this route all the time, and often run the short IURTP loop trail (1.2 miles or so) around Huckleberry Ridge and back to the lot before running either back to the SRSC or down the "big hill" on Heady road to the lower North Griffy trails.

This time my friend Alex was waiting at the IURTP parking lot to also get some miles in and we ran the first part of the Huckleberry loop almost to the end.  It was at the back side of the loop that I finally (after six years of going back there) noticed a small almost invisible trail veering off to the left and dropping down the ridge.  I kept telling Alex, "this is the like the trail discovery of the year", "I can't believe it", etc.  I think the feeling would have been the same if as a kid I would have found a previously unknown secret passage at home.  The trail was right before the single big tree at the end of the flat part of the trail that heads downhill quickly to the lake.

Griffy Trails with additional trail connectors somewhat marked

I actually do not think the map above is even accurate as it seemed like we found more loops going out toward the lake than were marked. There were probably two or three more loops if I remember correctly.  We came out on the grass over the dam right by the dog park and ran across the dam to North Shore loop and then on the North Shore trail all the way to the Heady road causeway and finally ending by going up the "big" hill.  Although probably not exact, Alex had his GPS which indicated a route total of 6.2 miles.

So, I guess if anyone has ever wondered if it's possible to stay on trail all the way around the lake . . the answer is yes.  Next time I'll have to look for a good way to get from the Wetland or Lanam trail over to the IURTP trails and get back to the gravel IURTP parking lot going around the east side of the lake as well.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Hocking Hills 60K

My running buddy Ted gets the credit for finding and suggesting we run this race in Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio.

An analysis of the Hocking Hills 60k reveals some surprising facts:

  • The race has now been run 33 times, beginning in 1979.  It is quite literally the same age as I am.  This makes it the potentially (according to this list) the 46th oldest still running ultramarathon in the world and 11th oldest in the United States, right behind the Western States 100.
  • The entry fee is a mere 25 dollars, making it one of the cheapest ultramarathons I am aware of.
  • This "trail race" contains probably 30 to 40 percent road.  The first five miles of each 20k loop are mostly on a road climbing out from the start at 900 feet to 1060 feet, followed by 1.1 miles of continuous elevation decline back down to 800 feet, followed by a turn onto the gravel “Steel Hill”, a 250 foot climb following up with more pavement and a steady climb to mile 5.
  • Competition varies widely from year to year.  A winning time in 2009 was 4:36 while more recently (2010) a winning time was 5:27 (ultrasignup)

20K Loop

I had originally planned on running this race with my friend Ted, but due to an unexpected injury I didn’t think he was going to be able to make the race.  Luckily, as soon as he started running again I didn’t even have to convince him that an “abbreviated” training plan could work.  Ted began with a one week mileage build, capped off with a 24 mile trail run, followed by a one week taper.  Ultra training in 2 weeks!  The next stroke of good luck was that two other friends, Scott and Emily also decided to run and that gave us an excellent crew for a camping (see Katie’s pre-race blogging) / trail running adventure.

Race Start

I began race day with my usual 5AM wake up, followed by two slices of wheat bread with cashew butter, a banana and some camp stove brewed coffee.  By 60k race start (7AM), we were all up and ready to go at the Hocking Hill State Park lodge (Start/Finish).  My stomach was churning and I attempted to get a morning bathroom break with no success.  The race start was announced . . my stomach churned more . . . Emily had a knee pain . . . Ted had never run farther than 26 miles . . . and I saw Scott puking over by a fence behind the lodge.  I was excited but not supremely confident.  Clearly I had miscalculated in my recommendation that we get dinner at Skyline Chili the night before.  Thoughts of an ill selected dinner consumed my mind, while I paid absolutely no attention as the ranger talked through all of the course directions and instructions.  And so began the 33rd running of America’s 11th oldest ultramarathon.

The Hocking Hills course consists of three 20k loops, and the first one began with Scott, Ted, and myself shuffling along a flat grass path in the middle of the pack.  We hit the road, started the “Category 5 “ climb and quickly moved up a few spots on the rolling portion of road.  Our first 1.1 mile descent on the road felt great, but we talked about the toll it was going to take on us by the third lap.  There was plenty of speed to be gained in the descent, but it would come with a price in post-race quad soreness.  The sun was shining, the temperature was likely around 55 degrees, and 30 minutes in I had my first gel (lemon lime non-caffeinated) which tasted delicious.  All my questions about how I would feel during this race were gone, and I felt fantastic about running with friends at an almost comfortable pace.


  • Nathan Hand Bottle:  I used my Nathan hand bottle again for this race stuffed with 4 GU gels in the pocket to be restocked after each loop and subsequent stop by lodge/car.  Carrying enough water was no problem as there would be four aid stations scattered throughout the 20k loop.
  • GU No Caffeine/1X/2X:  At the first stop I would switch to 1x caffeinated chocolate.  At the second stop (before the final 20k loop) I would switch to 2x caffeinated Jet Blackberry.
  • Endurolyte Salt Capsules:  I also kept the hand bottle pocket stocked with four Endurolyte salt capsules.  I refilled the Endurolytes at the car as needed after each loop as well.  I would take one each hour, and have plenty to share if anyone else wanted one. 
  • Lunar Racer 2:  Because of the road portion and descents I without hesitation opted for wearing the Lunar Racer 2 again in this race.  I was also thrilled that according to my somewhat vague mileage records these shoes were likely to crest the 1000 mile mark during this race!

Down Pavement and Up Gravel: Steel Hill

Steel Hill and Misdirection

After the descent, we happily submitted to speed/euro hiking up the 250 feet of gravel “Steel Hill” and got back on the paved road at the top.  After some more rolling pavement we finally hit a grassy fire road in the forest.  We also quickly caught most of the lead pack that we had let go ahead at the race start.  This portion of the loop was a soft and very easy gradual descent.  The ground was mostly dry and the humidity was quite low.  We settled in for a few up and down climbs, a brief visit to the road, and finally onto some single track dropping down to the lake.  It was here that we ran on a land bridge across the lake and climbed up another hill only to find no further evidence of the trail.  We scoured the area fruitlessly and then went back to the side of the lake where we had started.  It was here we picked up on a ribbon off in the distance on the same side of the lake as the single track had initially emerged.  All the runners we had passed had somehow gotten by us going the wrong way without even a sound, so this was somewhat frustrating.

After we finally went the right way at the lake, we followed more single track and then a long rocky and technical climb up to the campground.  We then ran through the paved campground road (this reminded me exactly of Dances With Dirt) and connected back onto trail before we knew it.  About this time Scott needed a “bathroom stop” so we slowed up and I started contemplating when mine would come as I was feeling some stomach pain.  I decided to wait for our stop at the lodge after the loop was complete.

After some more trail and a climb up some stairs we reached the paved road leading to the lodge and the end of the first 20k loop.  This was mostly a long gradual climb on pavement followed by a descent down to the lodge.  The “jarring” steeled my resolve to hit the lodge bathroom as quickly as possible.  I ran in, and most disappointingly found probably 15 other runners in line for two stalls.  This wouldn’t do, so I just turned around and ran back out to catch Scott and Ted.  We started loop two with more of the same "almost" comfortable pace but I was still somewhat preoccupied with my stomach issues that were unresolved.  It was great to have some friends to talk to in this case so that I didn’t think about my stomach too much.  I have a vague idea that we may have finished the first 20k loop in around 1:40.

2nd Loop

The second loop felt as great as the first, and I think we all stuck to a pretty basic plan of eating a gel every 30 minutes and refilling water when needed at aid stations.  Again, it absolutely flew by and I was comfortable with the fact that I was running a slightly faster pace than I would have without Scott and Ted.  We again caught back most of the runners from our missed turn, and I finally got a quick restroom stop in by the time we got to the campground again.

I noticed that the turn by the lake we had originally missed on the first loop now had an additional two huge neon orange arrows marking it, so perhaps we weren’t the only ones to make this mistake.  As we got close to the lodge we even saw Katie finishing her 10k and having a great time.  She ran next to me for a little and that gave me another mental boost coming into the descent to the lodge.  I have little recollection of our split finishing the 2nd loop but it went by quickly and I felt quite fresh after having already “run a marathon”.

3rd Loop

As the third loop began, things started to go noticeably awry.  I felt my perceived effort level on the first climb spike considerably as I tried to quickstep up the hill, this time following behind Ted and Scott.  I started to settle into a rhythm again as we reached a short grass trail between the first section of road and the long 1.1 mile road descent.  At this point Scott shot up ahead a bit, and Ted's countenance bared the same tired expression as my own.  There was no way we were going with him.  As we rounded a corner of the grass trail we saw Scott now at least 150 meters ahead.  We both yelled out a "Go Scott!" and kept at our pace.

This time when we reached the road descent we couldn't see Scott up ahead.  This was good news, as I was definitely pulling for him to crush the third loop and catch the few remaining of the field ahead of us.  Ted and I both slowed our rate of road descent from the first two loops.  I gained a few feet on occasion from Ted but had no desire to push faster at this point.  The plan at this point was to ease through the road portion, caffeinate, regroup, and give the trail portions of the third loop a hard push to the finish.  We reached Steel Hill which gave us both a welcome "hike" break and time to ingest more caffeine.  Ted and I reached the top, and by the time we hit the trail I started to get excited.  It was about this time that I started "whooping" occasionally when we went downhill and really feeling great.  The scenery was occasionally noticeably beautiful in my caffeinated and endorphin drunk state, but with a now more sober reflection I still think Brown County is much more scenic and has comparable elevation changes.

We also passed a few more runners here, and caught a runner who ran with us or just ahead for a few miles.  He had actually finished twenty seven 100 milers and was using this as a tempo run for another in three weeks.  He was over 40 and definitely personified the friendly and "old guy strong" ultra runner.  We figured out pretty quickly he was just enjoying himself for a little hanging back with us, as once he took off he was far out of sight the rest of the race.

One Final Push

I surged with Ted following up the final long rocky climb to the campground.  I felt very good. After reaching the top, my exuberant climbing changed quickly to malaise on the flat pavement and I started shortening my stride.  This time Ted waited up on me a bit.  By the time we hit trail again we were back to running full tilt and soon climbing the stairs to the final road climb.  The last road climb was tough for me to push on and I wanted to settle in comfortably but Ted kept pushing me to go hard.  Encouragement worked and we pushed hard up the long climbing stretches and turns.  The finishing descent seemed to be around the corner but I was wrong each time I guessed we were done and kept pushing the climb.  We finally hit the descent, picked up to a 10k like finishing pace and ran exactly through the finish at the same time.

Finishing Time - 5:16:12

I was happy to see Katie and Scott, and couldn't get enough orange gatorade.  Katie had gotten out the camp couch and got to relax while waiting on the rest of us.  Scott had probably hung back with us too long but crushed the last lap and the other runners to gain almost 20 minutes on us.  Ted and I tied for 7th place overall with Ted beating all five of the other runners in his age group.  I had a great day but I mostly would remember this race for Ted nailing the finish of his first ultra with two weeks of training and seeing Scott shift into his next gear around a corner and literally just jet away after having already run a full marathon.  It's fun to run with guys that can push you.

The plethora of distances (5k/10k/20k/40/60k) makes it easy to bring a large group of runners out to the race.  Katie definitely had a great time running the 10k.  It was mostly trail and point to point, so it worked out well for her to wear her favorite new minimalist shoe, the Merril Trail Glove.  This was also her longest "race" distance so that is a milestone for her too!

My quads are sore this week, but I can still run.  I probably won't go back to Hocking Hills 60K next year but I would definitely recommend this race as it's never flat, extremely varied in terrain, fast, cheap and logistically simple due to the three loops.  

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Hocking Hills Pre Race: "Lexus"

I was really excited to finally be able to introduce Jeff to some fellow coworkers on Friday when he came and picked me up shortly after school let out on Friday. A lot of them couldn't get over the fact that he was really going to Ohio to run 60 kilometers. It was sure to be a good time for all of us.

They were even more amused when I said my final "goodbye" and came back into school about 2 minutes later with Ted, who has the same color hair and runner-type stature as Jeff but is two feet taller (give or take), and wondered:
A) Did Jeff just grow two feet?
B) How did I pick up another man that fast?

Ted drove us in his faithful Subaru (partially because the Prius turned out not to have nearly as much cargo space as we thought it did) and we were also accompanied by Emily and Scott. All four of them were planning on running the 60K and I had high hopes for at least finishing the 10k. More about that 10k later, but, mind you, that's my longest racing distance, ever. It was a daunting thought!

So off we went. Jeff navigating in front with Ted, and me in the back with Emily and Scott trying to muster up some of my almost-lost four years of French pretending to "help" Emily do some 17th century translating. Scott had the joy of studying anatomy- a class that I am thankful was never required by the ed school. Now, had Scott or Emily been in need of some assistance for their music class that focused in playing the recorder, I definitely could have been their man!

The topic of our various ages quickly came up and we all found it amusing (except for Jeff?) that Jeff is pretty much exactly 10 years older than Scott and Emily. Not soon after, Jeff forever sealed his "old man" status with the rest of the passengers by needing to stop for a restroom break not 20 minutes after we'd left my school and also not 20 minutes after he'd used the fancy-pants "staff only" bathrooms there. After a variety of purchases (to include Perrier, Gatorade, chips, nuts, and bubble gum- the stuff of champions!), we were off- for real this time!

I won't bore with the details, but I can recall the remainder of our trip involved the following things: Catchphrase, radio tennis, the coining of the term "dozer" (one would have to ask either Ted or Emily how to properly use it; there was some disagreement on proper usage), and Skyline Chili (one would have to ask Emily about this, there was also some disagreement regarding Skyline). After about 6 hours including stops and some front-seat navigator swapping, we made it.

We had reserved a walk-in primitive camp site in the Hocking Hills State Park about 2 weeks before the race and Jeff had the confirmation email to prove it. We pulled into the parking lot and walked the 40 feet into the grass trail where our campsite was. We quickly found out, thanks to a few nerdy ultramarathon runners who come equipped with LED headlamps, that our spot was occupado. Ugh! By that point, it was well past 9 and dark. It was bedtime! We were all ready to get a good night of sleep before starting the next day at 5 or 6am.

It worked out (for the moment) in that the next spot over was unoccupied. We left most of our gear in the car and grabbed all of the necessities (flashlights, tents, sleeping bags, this, and somehow Catchphrase got in the mix), set up our two tents within 15 minutes, and were all drifting off exhausted after all of our fun we had on the trip out.

Enter: Lexus* (*names have been changed)


Jeff and I peeped our heads out of our awesome new marital tent (Thanks to Aunt Annie, Uncle Joe, and crew!). Jeff: "Oh, we're sorry! We got here and someone took our spot, so this one was empty and we got set up here." We then heard some griping from faceless people (it was THAT dark!), but a kind woman said, "Oh, well, we don't mind sharin' tonight since you're already here." Appropriate gratitude was expressed toward our new neighbors and we zipped up our tent, ready to drift peacefully off to sleep.

I'll be the first one to say, I'm pretty easy-going with sharing spaces with other people and making necessary accommodations to make everyone feel at home. I'm a people person and (hopefully?) an unobtrusive house guest. But, at the same time, I am a terribly light sleeper when I first lie down to sleep. I usually have my "white noise" app blaring on the iPhone dock in our room. Nature sounds are nice, too, like the crickets and locusts we had just been enjoying while falling asleep. Jeff, on the other hand, can fall asleep with the TV on or with me facetiming on my phone with whomever will listen (Leith!). We BOTH had a little trouble getting to sleep that night, as did Ted, Scott, and Emily in their tent.

1) It took this family about TWO hours to set up the circus tent that they had brought with them. This process was accompanied by "Lexus" (the only name we caught), being bossed around by her (we think) sister and warning her not to get hit in "bathing suit" areas (this a family blog) areas of her body by the tent poles. Several times.

2) We also got to know a little about the family's travels through Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge on a recent vacation. This account was of course laced with expletives and exchanges that were just too much to handle! At one point, we heard the park ranger come talk to them about how noisy they were being and also asking if all four tents on the site belonged to them. We only could hear the family's responses because the ranger was speaking in a normal "past 10pm at a campsite" voice. We aren't sure what happened with that.

3) When all was settling down and it sounded like they finally had their HUGE tent up, it was time to drive the tent stakes into the ground. I think at that point I heard Emily, from her tent, say, "Are they building a house?!" There were a good 20 minutes of metal hitting metal hammering sounds echoing throughout the park. I also heard Ted complain about a "dozer" around that time.

4) Ahhh, finally, everything was settling down after the "hammering on railroad tracks" sounds stopped and I felt like I could finally, finally fall asleep. As mentioned earlier, I do enjoy nature sounds, but I really do prefer them to come from the wild, rather than Lexus' brother. We were serenaded by his "natural" sounds and the family's laughter for another 20 minutes or so. During the serenade, Jeff also managed to make the Catchphrase go off. I'm not sure how that happened, but if you have ever played, you know how loud the game is!

Finally, we could get to sleep, only to be woken up by the dad's snores that were strangely arhythmic. Five or ten minutes would pass without so much as a nose whistle and then it would sound like we were sleeping next to my very noisy classroom pencil sharpener (you know the kind).

Needless to say, after comparing stories in the morning and thinking about the timeline of events, none of us got more than around 3-4 hours of solid sleep on Friday night. We were ready to race on Saturday morning!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Summer Recap

We had a wonderfully busy summer, and now that school has started (Katie teaching and me working at IU) things have settled into a bit of a routine.

My running in late May, June and July can be easily summarized by mostly low mileage squeezed in between:
  • Recovery from DWD50
  • Our wedding
  • A lazy week in Mexico
  • A mostly losing two week battle with "traveler's sickness" starting the day we got back from Mexico
  • Lots of weekend trips including New Jersey, Ohio, and Tennessee
  • Red Eye Relay (I ran 25 miles worth of the hilliest roads north of Bloomington in the middle of the night with a bunch of other sweaty runner dudes)
  • My first attempt at a "running beard" went pretty well so I hope to bring it back again sometime.
  • A 9 day running "break" to sort of reenergize before putting in some big miles for fall races

Katie on the beach in Playa del Carmen

Red Eye Ultra Team

Running Beard

Katie and I have started running some trails together as well.  We've both enjoyed this but I think having run with me more on the road, Katie especially likes being able to lead and "block" me on a single track to force me to run her pace.  We've run together so far on trails at:
  • Brown County State Park
  • Lake Griffy
  • Deam Wilderness
  • "Secret Trail" at the dead end of Sheffield Dr. connecting to Kerr Rd.

My fall race plans are a little up in the air at this point but definite races right now are:

Depending on how things go with my mileage build I might consider:

Finally, I got through a few running books this summer.  Here are a few I read that I wouldn't hesitate to recommend:

The Hocking Hills 60k is this weekend so I'll hope for a good race report to add!