Sunday, September 21, 2014

Rick O'Donnell Trail Run

A sizable number of Patapsco Trail Junkies showed up for the Rick O'Donnell trail run in Greenbrier State Park.

Our group was planning on distances from 2 loops to 6 loops (50K) to however many would fit into 8 hours. I was thinking about 4 or 5, depending on how it was going. I really wanted to do 6 but knew my training wasn't exactly up to supporting that ;) at least, not in an enjoyable fashion. I had run a marathon a few weeks ago but caught a minor flu/cold (thanks a lot, open office floorplan) and fell a bit off my schedule.

This event featured a 5.22 mi loop that runners could either do once, or as many times as they could in 8 hours. The first loop was pretty crowded, but that's because 75% of the runners just did one loop. For loops 2+, it was nearly empty!

I started running with Gretchen, a fellow PTJ member, and I mentioned that I thought it was pretty suspect that a trail could be measured to 2/100 ths of a mile accuracy. That's just... beyond belief. I think there is a deeper symbolism - perhaps Rick O'Donnell, who the race is a memorial for, was born on May 22 or something along those lines.

The initial path led along a paved trail, then over grass, then onto a nice flat single track. I thought to myself, this is going to be fantastic, but then we hit some loose, small rocks. And this terrain dominated the rest of the loop.

The trail wound around, and every turn was very well marked. We hit a few rollers and then a major climb which is obvious from my GPS elevation data. Gretchen and I were together until this point, where she climbed the hill in a faster gear than I climbed the hill. ;)

Soon she was out of sight but that was fine; everybody needs to run their race and I was being careful due to my ankle, and getting over the final few days of being sick.

The trail was well forested, so there never really was a good view of the surrounding area. We circled a lake, but could only see it near the start/stop/aid station. The weather was pretty good, just a bit on the warm side but not too bad, and I just concentrated on footing while running along and enjoying the event.

The single aid station was phenomenal. It had everything: 5 flavors of Pringles, small potatoes, watermelon, Swedish fish, gel and protein bars, salt, gatorade and water, tons of snacks (red licorice, M&Ms, pretzels), quartered PB&J sandwiches, pickles, etc. I mentioned the pickles and a volunteered offered to pour me some of the juice - I've read pickle juice is a great fuel for ultras, but I declined since I've never tried it and figured the middle of an event is not the place to start. People were also cooking burgers for finishers - remember this was a timed event so people could stop whenever they wanted and therefore would want food throughout the event. I should have taken a picture of the tables they set up, I had a mental checklist and everything was there and then some when I scanned over it.

On my loop 3 I caught up to a fellow runner and we chatted a bit - she is in an event I'm signed up for as well that is coming up in November. I also caught up to Chris, who was in PTJ as well but I never met him in person until earlier that morning. I had a burst of energy and eventually pulled away.

At the aid station I had to take a shoe off and remove a small rock, which somehow got in there even though I had my Dirty Girl gaiters on.

Loop 4 was tough. (See Garmin info; I took a lap split at the aid station and I was dragging along on loop 4 compared to loops 1-3). My legs were a bit stiff, and I started stumbling on roots and rocks. I caught myself from falling 2 or 3 times before the big mid-loop climb. About this time I decided I would just do 4 loops since I didn't want to trip and/or pull a muscle catching a fall, all of which seemed more likely since I was getting tired and my calf was stiffening up a bit.

Some of the trickiest terrain was near the end, coming off the red trail onto orange (which fed into the paved trail section leading by the lake). It was downhill with roots and rocks, so I was extra careful. I didn't want to do 19 mi and then twist my ankle right at the end! Fortunately I didn't and when I reached the aid station I told the timer I was going to stop.

After resting for ~30 mins or so, drinking some chocolate milk and munching some food, I made my way up to the parking lot. I was hoping to see some others while waiting there but I decided to go before getting too tired (I drove myself in the morning, since I didn't know how many loops I was going to do).

Later, I was happy to NOT have a headache. Often after a long training run or race, I get home and have a dull headache in the evening. I figured it was due to dehydration but even after drinking tons during a run, I would still get them. After reading and searching, I saw somebody ask this question on the Trail and Ultra Running Facebook group - and the general consensus was: headache due to low electrolytes. Aha, that makes a lot of sense. Up until recently I was using a pack with a reservoir, which I would fill with water. So even with eating/drinking salty stuff at aid stations, I could see getting low on electrolytes. At last week's Dam Half, I tried Nuun tablets in the bottles. Unfortunately I still got a headache but that was likely due to only using 1 tablet per bottle when I should have used 2 (new pack has 20 oz bottles).

For this run, I used 1 scoop of Tailwind in each bottle. The recommended amount is twice that, but I find that much Tailwind concentration gives me a stomach cramp - perhaps this is something to get used to. Anyway, drinking all of both bottles plus having some extra salt at the aid station (Pringles, pretzels, salt on a watermelon slice), and I had no headache. I'll be sure to keep trying various combos of electolyte supplements to nail this issue. For example, next training run I'll try two Nuun tablets per bottle, etc.

Anyway, it went well and I think most of us would be happy to return to the event next year. It was low key and well supported and not too far away. The trail was challenging with one large climb halfway through the loop, an opportunity to work on hiking speed. ;)

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Dam Half

My friend Michael talked me into doing this event, largely because the premium was a hoodie. A small group planned to do it, but for various reasons (work conflicts, injuries) it was just Michael and me.

The event was about 60 miles outside Harrisburg, PA, which would have meant a really early wakeup call for a drive up that morning. Or, getting a nearby hotel. Fortunately, our friend Matt's mom lived nearby and let us stay over the night before. Nothing like saving a little money and avoiding a super long day of driving the morning of the event!

We arrived at R. B. Winters park in time to see the marathoners start at 7:00 am. Our race was at 8:00 am so we had plenty of time to pick up our hoodie, bib number, eat a little bit, and gear up.

For me, this was my first event using my new UltraSpire Kinetic pack, which I intend to replace my trusty Nathan with. The Nathan is a great pack, but it is a reservoir/bladder system which has some advantages and disadvantages. Advantages include ease of drinking - the tube is easy to use while running. Meanwhile, the Kinetic holds two bottles, which are harder to get to while on the move. I usually need to slow up to get and replace a bottle.

For that disadvantage, a bottle system has a lot of great advantages. Bottles are easier to top off during an event. Bottles are easier to clean; bottles can also hold different liquids (one plain water, one sports drink - the reservoir can be cleaned but I still don't want to put sports drink into the reservoir). Bottles are easier to leave in drop bags for mid-race replacements. And the big reason I want to switch to bottles - they don't freeze. Last winter, I had the drink tube on my Nathan freeze solid 3-4 times, twice at events, twice on training runs. That's not fun to deal with! What I had to do is redo my outer jacket, putting it over the pack. Eventually, the extra layer helps melts the tube and I can drink again... this takes about 30-45 mins though.

Anyway, Michael and I lined up with about 330 other half marathoners and started off at 8:00 am. It was crowded for the first bit, like most trail events, but this race stayed that way for a solid 5 miles. We ran a small loop past the start, then popped out on a road and went right into a trail - so the usual bottleneck/funnel effect took hold.

The forest was fantastic, and the trail was extra-thin. Trail runners talk about single-track... this was more like half-track. Still, there was good footing and a fair amount of rocks. Michael and I settled into the pace the people around us were running - given the thinness of the trail it was pretty much impossible to pass. To be fair, we were moving along about the pace I'd have run anyway. It just felt a little crowded at times - I like a little more space between me and the runners in front of me and behind me.

The first climb was a line of people stretching out of sight:

We marched up a long time... and as I would find out later, this was the small climb. ;) Now the one drawback was the conga line also walked down the other side - I'm not the fastest descender, but usually I can move a little faster than walking down a hill.

This course was well marked, insanely so. Plus, it was uncomplicated as the basic shape was a rectangle so aside from a few small turns (the F1 racing term "chicane" comes to mind) it was basically run straight for a few miles, take a 90 degree turn and repeat. But the course had ribbons all over the place, even after turns when there was no other trail that forked in to get lost on. Anybody concerned about navigation would be fine here as the only way to get lost was to embark on some serious bushwhacking.

The first aid station was around mile 5, and this was an opportunity to leap frog some people in the race line. We had spread out a little bit by this point, but it is always good to be quick through a station. After grabbing some pretzels, cookies, and a bit to drink, we headed off.

Right after this aid station were two bigger climbs, and a few people were stopping to rest midway. I snapped another pic.

This climb, like the previous one and next one, was straight up and straight down. Literally, there was no switchback or anything, just up and then down. Maybe that's one way to keep mountain bikes and horses off the trails!

The next aid station was mile 8, with 2 climbs since mile 5. At this point the trail widened out into a double track with clear ruts for an occasional truck. It was a gradual uphill through the woods and we walked a bit before picking it up again and running. By this point the field had spread out so no more conga line of runners, which was nice. We ran through more pine forest, by a stream; this section was scenic, peaceful, and relatively easy.

After another road section and aid station (or maybe two, I forget) we walked up a road to the big climb on the event: a hill/trail named "Stairway to Heaven". It was a monster climb, twice as big as the previous ones, straight up with no switchbacks, and at the top there was a small boulder field to cross!

The steepness and length of this climb aren't apparent in the picture. ;)

I needed some careful footing over this section!

Once past the boulders, it was a nice downhill back to the finish. The food spread at the finish included some great barbecue, pizza, and birch beer/root beer/cream soda.

We had a great time - the volunteers were great and the course was scenic and challenging. We're already talking about going back next year for the full, which is sure to be tough.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Gunpowder Keg

Gunpowder Keg is a low key "fat ass" style trail race put on by the Baltimore Road Runners Club (they have a trail race series in addition to lots of road races). The distances for this year's event were 25K and 50K (two loops). Since I needed to get some miles in, I figured why not drive out for this event; it was fun last year with a group, but it would just be me going this time. It cost a $5 donation to the park to enter the race, what a bargain!

It was hot and humid again, kinda weird since the summer wasn't too bad in this area, but we had a heat wave over the last week or two. Normally, the hottest week of the summer is in July or early August, not the first week of September.

Anyway, the race course was similar to last year's event, except it started differently: rather than bottleneck/funnel entering the trail from the parking lot, we ran down a paved path (the same paved path that is the finish), back up an old road, and then into the trail. The great advantage with this is the hill climb naturally spread out the field, avoiding the bottleneck.

I ran with a friend I hadn't seen in two or more years, Kim. In fact, I'm surprised she recognized me. It was fun to chat a bit and hear about other planned events. By the time we hit the first unmanned aid station (2-3 mi in), she dropped back and I pressed ahead.

I saw two women running ahead of me, dressed in matching Charm City Run outfits. Every time I got close to them, I'd slow up and take a picture, so I didn't actually catch up to them until after the 2nd aid station, near the bridge.

This section of the course was scenic, since the trail was right along the water. In fact, almost too close - one bad foot plant and you could also slide right into the river. So I ran carefully, making sure I didn't step into an eroded trail section and kept an eye on rocks.

I chatted with the two women - they asked me if I had done this event before, and I had the previous year. One asked if it was true about the bees, she had a friend that refused to come because of the bees last year.

I told her that was true. Last year, I was running along with a group and somebody ahead jumped on a log in the middle of the trail. Unfortunately, that stirred up a nest of yellowjackets (I'm not an insect expert but I'm pretty sure it wasn't bees) and we wound up running through a minor swarm. Out of 7-8 people running together, everybody got stung once, some more than that. I was stung once right on the kneecap. Later in the race, I was running with another woman when we came up to another nest. We could see them swarming like a cloud right over the trail. At this point, the trail was near the river and the woman looked at the swarm, looked at the river... and jumped in to walk around them. I followed her after thinking about it a few seconds. More stings avoided!

Anyway, I told the two woman this story, and in some unlucky timing, we literally hit a swarm 5 minutes after that, and I was stung on my left thigh. Everyone else was stung as well. Argh!

Later at the aid station at the bridge (the course looped back), I told them the bad news: we hadn't even gotten to the places the yellowjackets were last year. Fortunately, there were no more incidents for the rest of the race.

The route crossed York Rd, where there was another aid station. I chomped down a few snacks, refilled water, and continued. This section of the trail was scenic and shady, but also had some hills. Footing was tricky as the trail wandered close to the river as well.

By around mi 10, I was starting to feel the heat and humidity. There was a shallow stream crossing, and took the opportunity to splash water on myself, dip my hat into the water, and put it on. That kept my head cool for a few minutes and felt really good.

Back at the York Rd aid station, we just had 1 - 1.5 mi left to go. I knew there was a long gradual climb ahead, so it would be some work to get back to the finish. After doing that and getting to the paved trail the race started on, I noticed another modification - our path up was on a new trail that cut the switchbacks.

At the top the race officials/volunteers asked if I was going out for a second loop (i.e. doing the 50K). I probably said no too quickly, and they tore off the timing section of the bib.

I do like this event and the trails are nice. I'm just thinking that visiting in the fall/winter might be better, to avoid stings from yellowjackets.