Sunday, August 31, 2014

Labor Pain

My friend Michael talked me into doing an endurance run, an event with a time limit rather than a distance, e.g. run for 6 hours. The one we went to was the Labor Pain 12 Hour Endurance Trail Run in Reading, PA.

Pretzl City puts on some fun events - I've done a few: Chilly Cheeks, Mt. Penn Mudfest. Even better, a few other friends were also going - Carrie and Cindy. Michael also brought his son Graham along, but Graham didn't run as he was recovering from an injury.

Michael was from the area, so we even lucked out and were able to spend the night at his friend's house and not have to drive up that morning.

We arrived at the race and staked out a table in the pavilion area. It was already warm while we were setting up our stuff.

The race began and I hung back, not wanting to get trampled by the faster runners and knowing that typically these events wind up having a funnel effect the first place we enter the woods. Sure enough, about half a mile into it, we were all waiting patiently to get on a trail.

I ran a fairly easy pace and felt OK, but the trail was rockier than I thought it would be. There were various minor hills, short sections of the road, and overall it was a relatively clear trail except for chunky rocks. No stream crossings! By the end of the first lap, it was hot and humid and I was thinking that I'd be happy with the marathon distance.

This event has a cool premium - clothing embroidered with the milestone distance you completed. Milestones were 26.2, 50K, 40M, 50M, and maybe something higher like 100K for the absolute trail running animals. If you didn't hit a milestone at all, you'd just have the item with the race logo, which is also cool. So my initial goal was 50K, but by the 3rd lap it became a marathon.

At the end of lap 3, I decided to wait up at the pavilion for Michael and/or Cindy. As it happened, they both showed up almost simultaneously, so we all started lap 4 together. Michael said he wasn't feeling well and planned to stop after lap 4. Cindy and I ran together and by the one aid station on the course, had run several minutes ahead.

We talked and both came the same conclusion: today, in the heat and humidity, a marathon was the new goal.

Lap 5 brought some relief from the sun and heat... it rained on us for a few minutes. The rain didn't really cool anything down unfortunately. And it passed but a few clouds lingered which was nice.

2/3rds through our lap 5, Carrie passed us on her lap 7 (!!). She said she was scaling back from 50M to 40M and disappeared around a corner. She zoomed by so quick I think I heard a Doppler effect in her voice!

Cindy and I entered the pavilion and finished up our lap 5, which meant we just had to run to a turnaround for the marathon. Shortly into the trail we came up to a tree with the "marathon turnaround, after 5 laps" sign, touched it, and headed back. At this point, oncoming runners would yell out congratulations, since we were running backwards and they knew we were done with whatever distance we had planned. Basically the marathon and 50K had turnaround points.

Overall it was fun, hot and humid (but then, the weather is uncontrollable), and I'm looking forward to receiving my embroidered race premium. The race cycles between hoodies, jackets, and fleece vests - this year happens to be the fleece vest year so that will be nice in the fall/winter.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Signal Knob

It's been a long time since I wrote in this blog!

Over the past few years my athletic interests shifted towards trail running. It is nice to get away from crowds and traffic, fun to be outdoors, a great workout due to challenging terrain, less monotonous due to that same challenging terrain (roots, rocks, streams, hills, etc.), and I like the sense of exploring.

Last weekend, my trail running friend Mike planned a trip out to the Massanuttens, the north part near Front Royal. The area is referred to as "Elizabeth Furnace" or "Signal Knob" and quite a few events use those trails. Elizabeth Furnace is one such event (named for a blast furnace that operated in the 19th century) but there are several others. After hearing so much about the Massanuttens and its various events, and those trails, I was excited to check them out myself!

We drove down with another friend of his (Gretchen), and met another at the parking lot (Kate), so we were a group of four getting ready to run a 10-11 mi loop along the Massanutten orange-blazed trail.

Heading out of the parking lot we started a long climb towards "Signal Knob". It was rocky and fun, and overall we were holding a pace somewhere in between hiking and running. Come to think of it, there is substantial overlap between trail running and hiking. ;)
This shows the typical rockiness of the trail. I can run but slowly and carefully, and in any case on a trail I wind up power-walking a hill anyway. These were too steep and too long to run the entire way up!
Mike is a fast hiker and went up ahead to take a pic of Kate and me as we came along the trail a few moments later. Here I am wearing my Annapolis Half hat from the inaugural 2011 event, which has some red vents on the side. I think it makes me look like I have horns. Anyway, I was determined to run this section of the trail and didn't see Mike taking pics until I got closer to him. Kate is behind me partly hidden by a tree.
Later he took a great pic of me and Kate descending a trail towards the end of our ~11 mi loop. I like how you can see the leaves changing colors at the top of the trees.

Back at the Signal Knob parking lot, we took a few moments to eat and drink, before loading up and driving over to Elizabeth Furnace which is very close. The goal there was to run/hike a trail named "Shermans Gap" which links two longer trails together. It's mostly a climb right up the side of a mountain, with switchbacks.

Mike thought Shermans Gap was about 5 mi round trip, so we figured we'd hit the top at 2.5 mi. At that point in the run/hike, 2.5 in, we knew we weren't near the top at all - no view of the sky through the trees, and the trail visible in front of us continued on.  We were barely into the steep section, so all of us groaned a little bit... but nobody wanted to stop. All of us were ultra trail runners, we had plenty of water and food, and going an extra mile or so was no big deal. We'll just be able to tease Mike in the future about that "5 mi route" that actually turned out to be 7. To be fair, it was off his memory and he hadn't hiked it in a few years.

Shermans Gap was steep, and is part of a few 100 mi races: Massanutten 100, and Old Dominion. The mind-boggling thing is on the Old Dominion course, it comes towards the end of the race, mi 80 or so. Basically runners enter the aid station at Elizabeth Furnace late in the run, already tired, knowing they are facing a huge climb in the dark. So a percentage of the runners that drop the event do it right there. Anyway, our run turned into a hike and the relentless climb stretched ever upwards. We got slower, stopped to talk to some hikers who were lost (they were a few miles away from the site they were trying to get to, along a different trail), and resumed grinding up the mountain.

I got a burst of energy and decided to get to the top, or at least a place that was close enough - there wasn't really a scenic overlook at the top of this particular climb, so when the trail leveled off onto the ridge is about where the top is. I thought the others had enough and didn't want to resume climbing after talking to the hikers. I figured we were close to the top because we could see the sky through the treetops.
I reached a tree marked as the intersection of three trails: orange - Massanutten; blue - Tuscarora; pink - Shermans Gap. And I decided that was the top for me, took a few pics, then headed back down.

 Mike, Gretchen, and Kate were about 100 yards from the top and when I told them close it was, Gretchen and Kate also determined to "summit". Mike was fine so we took a break while waiting for the ladies to return.

After they came back, we started the descent to Elizabeth Furnace. Once in the parking lot, we loaded up and drove into Front Royal, VA for some Mexican food - we were all starved. And it was delicious, or we were hungry after burning off 2000 calories or so, haha.

 The two hikes combined were 17.4 mi in 5:46 moving time. We averaged around a 20 min/mi pace, which is more of a fast hike than a real running pace. Good times! I'm looking forward to returning and exploring more of the trails on the Massanuttens.

Our loop from the Signal Knob parking lot and trailhead:

Our out-and-back from Elizabeth Furnace parking lot: