Friday, February 29, 2008

(Almost) Alone on the Pinhoti

This past Monday, I got in one of my key long runs in preparation for Oak Mountain. Jason had been raving about the Twisted Ankle Marathon in Summerville, GA, which is about 90 minutes north of Atlanta. So, I chose to make my way up to Sloppy Floyd State Park.

Bird's eye view of the race course.

However, instead of air filled with anticipation of a race start, I found a park that was completely desolate. Not one other soul there. Perfect! The Twisted Ankle race starts in the park and then goes up to a ridge where it connects to the Pinhoti Trail, which connects Alabama to the start (end?) of the Appalachian Trail here in Georgia.
You want trail? You got trail right here!

I started straight up the ridge. There really is nothing like starting a long run with a nearly two mile uphill. The Pinhoti was beautiful and had all types of terrain. Single track, double track, fire road, horse name it, it was there. Some portions of the trail, though, aren't used very much as evidenced by the leafs running ankle deep.

I didn't encounter anybody for almost three hours until I ran into a couple of horsemen. It was a good thing, too, since one of them had just fallen off the horse! He was literally lying on the ground face down when I got there. Fortunately, they were only about a hundred yards from their trailer. I stayed with them for about a half hour to make sure he was ok and then took off.

Overall, I spent over four hours out there. The run beat me up pretty good, but I'm starting to feel much better prepared for Oak Mountain. A perfect Monday!
A view of the ridge from Sloppy Jones.

P.s. For any of you considering the Twisted Ankle Marathon: sign up! Those are beautiful trails. (The half is full already).

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Running at the Top of the East

Similar to Addy and Ed, my lady and I went to B&B to celebrate Valentine's Day (one week late) at the wonderfully secluded Butterfly Creek Inn near Columbus, NC in the Appalachian foothills. We slept lots (13 hours the first night!), ate too much and generally had a wonderful time.

One of the days we were up there, we went for a long drive and ended up on top of Mt. Mitchell, which at 6,684 feet is the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi. I had been here before years ago and it was awfully crowded, but it was completely desolate when we were up there. Only one other car. We did see a couple of bikers who were pulling weights (!!!) riding to the top. (I still can't believe the weights thing, but I saw it with my own eyes.)

Since it was late in the day, I decided that this would be the perfect opportunity to get my run in. I would run down the mountain for a few miles while my lady would drive along and take pictures and videos. Lots of pictures and videos. What follows is a photo- and videographic study of my running.

Clearly starting off above the clouds.


That would be another hairpin turn

On the dark side of the mountain

almost done

Let's finish it off with a video:

You can see that I wasn't really running that fast. Maybe 70% effort. I had a big training run planned a couple of days later and (wisely) saved my legs.

All in all, with the lady driving alongside me, I felt like I was in the Tour de France (except that I was on foot and in North Carolina, not Alp d'Huez).

Monday, February 18, 2008

Running from Despair (NYT)

The New York Times ran a fascinating article about Wings of America, a youth development program for American Indians that uses running as its core activity.

The power of running continues to amaze me every day.

Read the article here.

P.s. Here is Wings of America's mission statement as well as some of the successes they have had directly from their website. Great stuff!

Mission Statement
The mission of Wings is to enhance the quality of life for American Indian youth. In partnership with Native communities, Wings uses running as a catalyst to empower American Indian and Alaskan Native youth to take pride in themselves and their cultural identity, leading to increased self esteem, health and wellness, leadership and hope, balance and harmony.

Programs Measurement
A Wings survey conducted in 2000, showed a 99% high school graduation rate, with 94% of our participants going on to college. Results of the survey indicated that overall, WOA participants are attaining a higher level of education, have lower incidences of arrests, less use of alcohol and illegal drugs, are having their first child a year or two later than average, and they are more physically active and maintaining healthier lives than their same-age peers in the larger American Indian and general populations.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Valentine’s Day, Trail Running!

Thank you for showing me the way. Thank you for picking me up when I’m down. And thank you for putting me in my place when necessary. I’ll see you again in a couple of days and we’ll spend some quality time together.


p.s. My lady rarely reads this blog, so I should be able to get away with this post. Rest assured I will celebrate with her, too.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

A Mountain of Fun at Red Top Rumble 11.5m

The Red Top Rumble 11.5 mile race is one that I have been looking forward to for quite some time now. Not only is it held on some of the most scenic trails near Atlanta (Red Top Mountain State Park), but a number of my friends would be joining me on this beautiful, early spring morning.

However, I was a little anxious when I woke up on Sunday morning. The debacle at Runnin' the Rocks the previous week had my confidence level at an all-time low. Would I be able to run well and finish the race strong? I really wasn't sure.

MJ, Kelly, Matt and I met up to carpool. Kelly was running late because of some unexpected road closures and we were going to give her hard time. However, when she got out of her car with a mullet wig, none of us could keep a straight face. We all just lost it!
We're pretty serious around here.

After a short 45 minute ride, we arrived at the Iron Horse Trail head and checked in. Janice Anderson was among those manning the check in station. We chatted for a little bit. It turns out that Janice finally got surgery on her leg and is hobbling around on crutches now. Feel better, Prez!

At the start we also met up with David Newman who would be running with this dog, Maco. After some quick instructions from the RD we were all off.

MJ, Kelly, Matt, Brian, Maco the dog, Newman and yours truly (after the race).

I was ready to get into a groove early knowing that the first 3+ miles would be the least challenging. After a few minutes, I settled in right behind a guy who I see at seemingly every race I go to (his long hair and tye-die shirt make him hard to miss). We chatted for a bit and would zig-zag the entire race and caught up afterwards as well. I may see him at Oak Mountain next month.

The weather was perfect (40s and sunny), the scenery breathtaking and the company outstanding. One of my favorite songs came on and I was contemplating how very fortunate we all were to be running out there that morning. (Here is the youtube version of that song, in case you're bored).

Soon after, we entered the first aid station, where I ran into Jason Rockman. After a quick hello, I was off to the connector trail for about .5 miles (from Iron Horse to the camp ground) that GUTS members had been working on for weeks in preparation of this race. That was the only technical section of the race. However, from here on out, the trails would either go up or down the whole time. They will hit you pretty hard if your quads aren't ready for it. (Thankfully, mine were holding up very well today.)

Course profile as captured by my Garmin.

I was chugging along well but was always holding back just a bit, because of my experience the previous week. In the end, I had plenty left in the tank and probably passed seven or eight people on the last 1+ mile. I was happy with my finishing time (1:35) even though it could have been better. Today was all about fun and enjoying the time on the trails.

One after another, the rest of the crew trickled in. All of us made it under two hours. I was pretty proud of those guys, since it was the first trail race for all of them.

MJ finishing strong... was Matt.

Kelly all smiles after the race.

At this point, I need to say a big THANK YOU to RD Jaydene Reardon and all of the volunteers. The race was superbly organized, the trails perfectly marked and fluids as well as moon pies were aplenty. Also, thank you to all those who helped out with the trail work. It's a great addition to the park. This was the firs time the Red Top Rumble was held. Hopefully, we can have it again next year!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Summer in Winter

A quick business trip has taken me down to Orlando, FL. I used to live near these parts (actually, further south in Fort Lauderdale), so I always enjoy coming back "home." Right now Florida is experiencing a mid-Winter heat wave with temperatures in the mid-80s! It was kind of fun to shed all my winter gear and be soaked after just a few minutes of running. But I've had enough. Summer running is not my favorite, and I can't wait to get back home. See you at Red Top this weekend!

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Runnin' the Rocks 10k

This is the tale of a race that went all wrong. A race on a day that just wasn't my day. But let's start at the beginning.

Runnin' the Rocks is a brand new trail race in Georgia and part of the (also new) xterra Trail Race Series. My girlfriend would run the race with me and we headed out to Conyers getting fired up with some Coldplay during the 45 minute drive. In all seriousness, we had a very mellow approach to the race. Trail races in Georgia are few and far between, which was one of the main reasons I had signed up for this event. However, I did want to do well and give it my all. I was a little concerned about a hard 11 miler (with 3,000+ elevation gain) I had run the previous afternoon. That workout would later come back to haunt me.

The race was held at the Georgia International Horse Park, which is also popular with local mountain bikers as those trails served as the site of the Olympic mountain bike races in 1996. It was a chilly morning with temperatures hovering around the freezing point. About 250 runners gathered to take on this course, which I imagine was new to most of us, since these trails are usually reserved for our mountain biking friends.

The t-shirts were surprisingly well-designed. Less race shirt and more SoCal hip. Maybe I can hang out with those cool kids from The Hills now!

I started the race out feeling good. My legs weren't sore at all and I passed the 2 mile mark at around 14:30. And then something happened. I still don't know what it was, but all of the sudden it felt like my legs were gone. I couldn't make it up any hills anymore and started the painful process of walking up every incline...and there were a lot. None of them major, but they just kept coming one after another...just as they should on a mountain bike course.

The continuous hills as captured by my Garmin.

Scores of people passed me. Young, old, skinny, not so skinny. There must have been about 100 of them. I never recovered. It took me over 40 minutes to cover the last 4.2 miles. Everything felt strange, sort of like I was running with somebody else's, much weaker, legs. It was hard to be frustrated, hard to enjoy the beautiful scenery. The only thing I am proud of is that I never felt sorry for myself (which was difficult). It was an off-day and I knew it. As a matter of fact, I had run the more challenging 11 miler the previous day at a faster overall pace than this race. Again, I still don't know what happened. My legs never fell sore, just weak. The 55:13 finish time was about 15+ mins off my normal 10k time.

Once I finished, I walked back to find my lady cheering on all the other runners passing me. They seemed to appreciate that. I guess, there isn't much crowd support during trail races.

I'm still trying to figure out what happened and a little worried about next week's Red Top Rumble.

My thanks go out to the race organizers and all the volunteers. The race was superbly organized. I have never seen trails so well marked and left the event very impressed! I would recommend to anyone to consider to run in any of the two upcoming xterra races.

These guys put on good races.

p.s. I forgot my camera. Maybe that resulted in some bad karma?