Friday, October 10, 2014

Race Recap: StumpJump 50K

This race should have been called StumpRock, as there were many more rocks than tree stumps to contend with on this mega 50K course. Trail running is about exploring. It's about seeing new places and challenging yourself on different terrain. StumpJump was exactly what I needed to shake things up. It made me fall in love with trail running all over again.

I didn't know what to expect on the course. I heard that it was pretty runnable, but with 4,400 feet of vertical gain (which actually turned out to be more like 5,600), I knew there would be some power hiking tossed into the mix.

My weekend started out with traveling to Atlanta on Thursday to meet up with my friend Cathy, who was also running. On Friday, we drove up to Chattanooga and headed straight for the bib pickup. The pickup was suppose to be held at a park, but due to the threat of severe weather, they opted to move it indoors at a retail store. As it would turn out, all the forecasted weather blew out by midday. However, I think the decision to relocate was a smart move. Cathy and I made up for it by checking out the park after we picked up our bibs.

Nice to see some Nuun at bib pickup!
Where bib pickup was suppose to be held
The race didn't start until 8am, so we didn't have to get up too early the following morning. The start line was buzzing with excitement, albeit a bit chilly (not that I minded). There were a couple fires going so I stayed near one to keep warm.

A high five to Cathy to wish her well and we were off! I had no time goal for the run. I was just hoping to run strong throughout the day and work on my downhill running. It was pretty cluttered at the start which led to big running congo lines for the first half of the race. It was frustrating to be stuck in these long lines, but in hindsight it was for the best as it kept me from running too hard at the beginning.

Start Line
The course was a lollipop design, with the stick being about 10 miles and the delicious candy loop measuring in at just under 10. The stick was along the Cumberland Trail and the candy loop was on the well-known Mullens Cove Loop. Having never run the trails of Tennessee, I didn't have many expectations. Yet, what expectations I did have were blown outta the park! The trails were absolutely gorgeous. There were some fall colors, but for the most part it was still a very green and vibrant forest. In fact, the forest was so dense in some parts I wasn't sure what time of day it was anymore. Mullens Cove was full of beautiful, lush ferns. For whatever reason, I love running through them. Some rocks on the trail were coated with moss so I always had to be on my game. I caught my toe many times on the rocks and roots along the trail and finally took a nice digger around mile 24.


A good section of trail was along a ridge line near the Tennessee River. Unfortunately, the thick tree line covered most of the vantage points. I tried to sneak peak were I could, but taking your eyes off the trail for too long only spelled trouble.

The beautiful course scenery (Photo Credit: Wild Trails
The stick of the course had the most vert, but was still fairly runnable. Mullens Cove gave me a nice opportunity to lengthen my stride and punch in a few faster miles. The aids stations were stocked with the usual ultra fare and enthusiastic volunteers. My only complaint, the serving cups for liquids were very small (dixie cups). I'm not sure if this was in the race's effort to lower its environmental footprint, but my feeling is, if you're gonna put cups out, might as well use bigger ones. I had a water bottle full of Nuun and was wearing my hydration pack, so it wasn't much of an issue for me.

In addition to working on my downhill running, I'm trying to learn how to get through aids stations a bit more effectively (read: FASTER). I find that I can waste a lot of time at aid stations during trail races. At StumpJump, I felt I was doing a good job getting in and out quickly. However, this came back to bite me when I forgot to stop at my drop bag at mile 19 to restock my pack with Gu and Nuun. I realized my mistake shortly after leaving the aid station, but in my mind I was too far to turn around and go back to it.

I felt great for about the next 3 miles, but then I started to hit a wall and had no nutrition to fend it off. I never was able to dig myself out of the low I was in which made the last few miles of the race pretty rough for me. However, I find running through the lows is good practice. You're not always gonna feel fresh as a daisy on a run, so it's good to learn how to run through the pain and negative thoughts.

Soon enough I emerged from the trail and back onto the paved road that led to the finish line. I remembered from the start of the race that the finish was about a half mile from the trailhead, so I pushed hard and was able to sneak past a few runners in the process. I crossed the line in 6:21:07 tired, but satisfied. With the exception of forgetting to stop at my drop bag, I felt I ran a smart race. The course was a little short (not that I minded), but I feel the extra vertical made up for the missing mile or so.

There was nice BBQ at the finish and to my delight, they had veggie burgers! The only thing that was missing was a beer garden. Cathy came burning into the finish about an hour later looking super strong. She had only run her first ultra a few months prior, but I definitely think she has caught the ultra bug!

Overall, I was very impressed with StumpJump. The race staff was great and the course was beautiful. I highly recommend it!

Garmin Upload

50K fueled by Nuun
On a somber note, about a week before the race, UVU Racing Team Principal Basti Haag tragically lost his life doing what he loves, mountain climbing. I carried his name with me during my run and I'd like to dedicate this run in his memory. While I didn't know Basti well, his love and passion for the outdoors and his determination and drive to push his limits is something I admire. May he rest peacefully. UVU Director Gerhard Flatz wrote a beautiful eulogy for him and I encourage you to read it if you have a moment.

I also learned shortly after the race that a runner had collapsed on the trail. No runner ever likes to hear news like that and my heart sank after I heard of his passing. The runner's name is Eric Jacks and if you go to Wild Trails Facebook page, you can read a beautiful message written by one of his family members. RIP, Eric. The running community mourns with your family.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Race Recap: Reverse Goofy

I make a lot of stupid decisions. Like running a marathon. That was stupid. Then, I had the bright idea to run an ultra. Also stupid. So, leave it to me to be more stupid and run and marathon and a half marathon in the same weekend.

Okay, maybe I don't think any of those things are stupid. Perhaps I'm a masochist? A stupid masochist.

So, the reverse goofy...it's like Disney's Goofy Challenge where runners complete the half on Saturday and the full on Sunday, only I did it in reverse. Why? I don't know. Boredom? Curiosity? Adventure? A little bit of all 3?

The two races I decided on were the Abebe Bikila Marathon and the Parks Half Marathon. The marathon course was on the C&O Canal towpath; a flat, stone crushed trail that is wedged between the C&O Canal and the Potomac River. The Parks Half was a point-to-course in Maryland that started in Rockville and finished in downtown Bethesda.

The marathon set off at 9 under overcast skies. The temperature was pretty good (somewhere in the 70s), but the humidity was high and that was the real killer. I ran around a 9 min/mile pace and didn't plan to stray too far from that. I was aiming for a sub-4, but whether that happened or not didn't really matter to me. I just knew I needed to run easy so that my legs weren't completely toasted for the half.

I love when a marathon start line looks like a 5K
I found a nice rhythm and settled in for the 26 mile journey. Aid stations were abundant and I made sure to stay on top of my hydration. The course was a 6.5 mile out & back [insert fart noises here]. Out & backs are not my favorite and knowing that I would have to do it twice sucked, but whatever. I did my best to appreciate the scenery around me. The C&O Canal carries a lot of history and many of the old canal locks and lock houses are still standing, which is cool to see.

Towards the end of the first out & back, a light rain began to fall, not that I minded. I was already drenched in sweat. I finished the first out & back in under two hours and I was feeling good. I decided to up my pace just a touch, but was still being mindful of the next day. However, it was hard to ignore the competitive spirit during a marathon and holding back on my pace was an on-going challenge.

In hindsight, it was good I ran this race easy as many runners were suffering from the humidity. In fact, around mile 24 I came across a runner lying on the trail. I stopped to ask him if he was alright and he said he was very dehydrated. I unfortunately wasn't carrying any water, but he told me some other runners went ahead to the next aid station to tell the volunteers to bring him some. He was very coherent, but a little pale in the face. I asked for his name and told him I would make sure water was on the way. Not five minutes later I saw aid station volunteers running towards me with a gallon of water. I described the runner to them and continued on.

I crossed the finish line a few minutes under 4 hours and immediately went into recovery mode. I started stuffing food in my mouth (very cold pizza and a bagel) and pumped my body full of Nuun deliciousness. My legs were pretty stiff, but after a solid stretch session they felt better.

After the race I drove straight to the half marathon packet pickup to meet up with my friend Janine who was also running. I was still in my running shorts and when I went to pick up my bib, the check-in volunteer asked me if I had run to the pickup. I told her I didn't and that I had run earlier in the day. She then said, "Well, I hope you didn't run too far that you ruined your race tomorrow." All I could do was chuckle.

When I got home, I slipped on my compression socks, propped my legs up, ate, watched college football, and ate some more (I may or may not of eaten and entire bag of Sun Chips). I even indulged myself with a delicious fall beer. Beer has carbs too, you know. I also made sure to get up and move around often to keep my legs loose.
With a start time of 7, I was up and at it early for the half. My legs were definitely a bit stiff when I got out of bed, but nothing too crazy. I met up with Janine and her fiance kindly drove us to the start line.

The weather was much nicer for the half. The humidity was gone and the temperatures were in the 50s. I was looking forward to this race. Much of the course snakes through some really pretty park land. I wouldn't classify the course as flat or hilly, but it has a few rollers. The sun was just creeping over the horizon when I headed off.

I knew my legs would feel better once I started running and after about a mile they came to life. That's not to say my quads/calves weren't yelling at me, cause they were. But, in a way, it felt good. I feel a bit more alive on a run when I'm in a little bit of pain. Remember, I'm a stupid masochist.

I held myself back a bit during the first half of the race to gauge what amount of effort I could put in. In my head I was thinking that I would run around an 8:30 pace, but as mile 7 clicked off in 8:17, I knew my legs had a bit more life in them. So, I decided to give it a good go for the second half.

The last 6 miles were very enjoyable. I was doing what I love and feeling great. The weather was awesome, the birds were chirping, runner camaraderie was high and the course was gorgeous. I sometimes have to pinch myself to remind myself how lucky I am to be able to run. It's so easy to take the gift of running for granted.

Finish line in view, I gave it one last burst and completed my 39.3 mile weekend! The reverse goofy was a lot of fun and gave me a good taste of what stage racing would be like. While doing something this stupid might not be for everyone, I encourage you all to find something that presents a challenge and get after it! It keeps running fun and fresh.

Finishing up the half
The Breakdown
Marathon: 3:57:10 - Garmin Upload
1/2 Mary: 1:47:43 - Garmin Upload
Total Time: 5:44:53 (8:46 min/mile avg.)

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Sit down for a bit

The rugged trails of Massanutten
Recently I ran on the trails within the Massanutten Mountains. It was a particularly humid day and I was running a steep and technical section of trail. I never really felt strong on the run, but the endless beauty of the mountains helped divert my attention from the dismal run I was having. Yet, the deeper I got into the run, the worse I felt. Nausea set in and my attitude quickly changed from "I'm sorta having fun" to "This sucks." As the next mile clicked off on my watch, I found a nice rock and decided to plop down for a little bit.

I looked in the direction I came from and it brought the temptation of bailing and heading back to my car. However, looking in the other direction generated curiosity of what was around that next bend. Before I had sat down I was pretty sure that I was gonna bail. But, that curiosity of what was beyond the next bend overpowered me. The unknown beckoned and without giving it a second thought I was back on my feet and on my way again.

The rest of my run was amazing. The dense tree line that surrounded the trail opened up and offered amazing views that I would have never seen if I had decided to turn around. A heavy rain began to fall and brought a rush of cool air that reinvigorated me. Running along the mountain side in a downpour was incredible. I felt like a kid splashing through puddles. My senses were in overdrive and everything around me became more alive. It was simply awesome.

 Views like this make me happy. Notice the dark storm cloud rolling in!
When I finished my run I was so happy that I decided to press on, for had I not, I would of robbed myself of such an awesome experience. The moral of my post? The next time you're starting to fall out of love with your run, sit down for a bit. You might surprise yourself when you get back up.

 

Friday, September 5, 2014

Race Recap: Hood to Coast Relay with Team Nuun - Part Deuce

To read Part 1, click here.

"It's a two hundred mile relay made up of 36 legs. Each team has 12 runners, divided among 2 vans. Each runner completes 3 legs and blah, blah, blah..." ----> my endless explanation when I try (poorly) to explain what Hood to Coast is. I should just say, "It's a really big relay!"

Nuun had two teams, Lemon Lime and Wild Berry. I was on Wild Berry, rolling in Van 2 (Van Deuce) as runner 9. In van deuce was our trusty driver Vishal and fellow leg runners Kevin, Rachel, Amanda, Megan and Liz.

Friday morning began with my hotel roommates and Lemon Lime runners George (aka Jorge) and Justin bailing early to head to the start line at Mt. Hood. My van didn't have to leave as early so I used this extra time to relax and grab some breakfast with those that still hadn't left.

Van 1 at the start
At 10:30 we all piled into our van/new home for the next 30+ hours and headed off to the first van exchange (where runner 6 (Melissa) in van 1 exchanged with runner 7 (Kevin) in my van). We were hardly outside of Seattle when we hit traffic, then some more traffic, and yes, a little more traffic. We certainly weren't setting any speed records but with Vishal's expert driving and ability to carve through traffic like a knife through butter, we made to the exchange with time to spare before Melissa arrived.

Exchange 6 - Rachel, Kevin, Megan, Amanda, Liz, and Vishal
(Photo credit: Amanda)
Melissa exchanged with Kevin and the race had begun for van deuce! We headed up the road and screamed and hollered at all the runners out on the course. Seeing them really got my endorphins pumping. Finally, the race was here and I couldn't wait for my leg! We caught up to Kevin and gave him some much needed Nuun. It wasn't humid, but it was definitely a hot summer afternoon.

Runners on the road!
Kevin came blazing into the exchange and traded off to Rachel. With Rachel on her way, I headed back to the van to get ready for my leg. My first leg was mostly flat, but fairly long at just under 7 miles. It was also the first leg where the team vans couldn't follow along with the runners because most of it was on a bike trail. Soon, Rachel appeared over the crest of the road and handed off the snap bracelet (which served as the relay baton) to me.

Rachel finishing strong on her first leg!
Rachel and I created a little toe tapping routine for our exchanges.
(Photo credit: Kevin)
My pace was way too fast from the start, but the excitement of finally running took over. 2 miles and an unpleasant side stitch later, I started paying for my quick start. I slowed down a bit and became roadkill for a few runners (which drove me nuts). Yet, I knew I needed to save myself for my next two legs. The bike trail was pretty, but I'll admit it was a bit anticlimactic after all the amazing scenery I had seen on the drive down from Seattle. Soon enough I made it to the exchange where I handed off the snap bracelet to Amanda. Leg 9, done - 8:09 min/mile. Back at the van and it was a quick change into fresh clothes and replenishing my body with some Nuun goodness.

We reached Portland as the sun began to disappear behind the horizon. Portland was where the next van exchange was and where our 12th runner, Liz, would hand back off to runner 1, Elisabeth, in van 1, to start leg 13 of the relay. Make sense? Ok, moving on....

Me being stupid.
Exchange 12 - Portland skyline
With van 1 on their way to run legs 13-18, our van had some downtime before we had to meet up with them at the next van exchange. So, per the suggestion of my teammate Jenny, (who was in van 1 and lives in Portland) we headed to Laurelwood Brewing Company for dinner where I had an amazing plate of pesto veggie mac 'n' cheese. I wanted to eat all of it, but I was afraid if I ate too much my stomach wouldn't be happy with me on my next leg. For icing on the cake, Jenny also offered up her apartment for us to rest and SHOWER! Her generosity was much appreciated and being able to rest at her place instead of in a van was clutch.

Starting our night shift
A little after midnight we climbed back into van deuce and headed to the next van exchange. The overnight hours were probably some of my favorite during the relay. As physical and mental fatigue started to set in for everyone, our van antics and conversations got weirder and weirder. From our rap sing-a-long of Gansta's Paradise at 2am to our in-depth discussions of poo and farts at 5am. When you're in a van with the same people for over 24 hours, there are no filters. If something was on our minds, it was said without thinking twice. Laughs were abundant and gripes were few and far between.

Exchange 18
My 2nd leg (leg 21) began around 4am. Right before I was about to get out of the van to meet up with Rachel, I got real sleepy. I was worried that I wouldn't be able to bring myself from this haze and get my ass running when it was time. Van traffic was pretty backed up getting into the exchange and by the time I got there, Rachel was done and waiting for me. Her leg was a pretty brutal one and I felt bad that she was left waiting for me when she finished. Sorry Rachel!

Headlamp flipped on and a reflective vest adorned with forward and rear blinkers had me looking like a Christmas tree as I set off into the cool darkness of the Oregon backcountry. This would be my shortest leg (5 miles) and it was mostly downhill along a gravel road. I used the downhill and cool temps to my advantage and pushed the pace. As soon as I was moving I came out of my haze and set off to get me some roadkills! This leg turned out to be my most enjoyable. I welcomed the gravel road as I'll take dirt over pavement any day. In tow of each team van that passed by was a large dust cloud that reduced visibility and made breathing a bit hard, but I didn't mind. This leg had me thinking back to my nighttime hours during my 100 miler in June, which put a huge grin on my face. To me, this is what running is all about....being out in nature, getting a little dirty and running with pure joy. It was one of the most effortless 5 milers I had ever run. Leg 21 done - 7:27 min/mile.

As night turned to dawn, a light fog hugged the trees around us. It was so beautiful until 'Traffic Jam 2014' rudely interrupted the party. Unbeknown to our team, police had stop all van traffic flowing in and out of exchange 24, which was the next van exchange. The Hood to Coast website would later report (jokingly, I believe) that it was due to a driver falling asleep behind the wheel. I still don't know why the police stopped all the vans, but until we reached exchange 30, it was bumper-to-bumper traffic.

Traffic jam! Yours truly in the black hoodie in the lower left trying to figure out what the heck was going on.
(Photo credit: Amanda)
Exchange 30
It was early in the afternoon when Melissa exchanged with Kevin. With Melissa wrapping up leg 30, van 1 was done with their running duties and they headed to the finish line in Seaside to greet us and our anchor runner, Liz. Kevin ran a strong leg and then Rachel was off!

Rachel flying outta exchange 31!
I slipped on my running shoes and began to prep for my final leg. This leg would be my longest, just a hair under 8 miles. While my legs felt pretty fresh, I was a little worried how strong I would be able to run given my lack of sleep and calories. I anxiously awaited for Rachel's arrival at the exchange and when she came into view, excitement took over. Vishal offered to run with me and I appreciated his company as we set off.

There was no sense in holding back so I pushed with everything I had left in me. I had some tightness in my left hamstring, but I guess that's what you get sitting in a van for a day and a half. It was pretty warm out and it was definitely getting to me towards the end of the leg. However, I did my best to block out the discomfort by taking in everything that surrounded me. I was running through the beautiful Oregon countryside, constantly reminding myself that I wouldn't be running in a place like this again for awhile. I was surprised to see many locals sitting out in front of their homes cheering us on. Their support helped keep my pace up. The van stopped a couple times along the way to offer Vishal and I water and of course, Nuun! My teammates even snagged a couple great action photos!

Vishal and I
(Photo credit: Amanda)
Showing my wild face!
(Photo credit: Rachel)
Exchange in view, I gave it all I had. I handed off the snap bracelet to Amanda one last time. Leg 33 done - 8:01 min/mile. I was grateful to be back at the van to change out of my sweaty clothes and get into some much needed A/C. But, our race was not over yet. Amanda was on course and Megan and Liz were prepping for their final legs.

As we neared the coast line, a heavy fog quickly turned a beautiful afternoon into a gloomy day. Before I knew it, Megan was handing off to Liz to start the final leg of the relay! As we entered Seaside, I had mixed emotions. Half of me was so happy we were finally in Seaside but the other half was sad that this amazing journey was coming to an end.

We reunited with van 1 and made our way to the finish. Within minutes of reaching the finish line, Liz came into view and we all cheered her on to the finish! After Liz crossed the timing mats we joined her and ran across the finish line as a team. Hood to Coast Relay - done 10:03 min/mile team average with a time of 33:17:37!

Video of Team Wild Berry being welcomed to the beach party!

Success! Team Wild Berry at the finish!
(Photo Credit: Eric)
A race wouldn't be complete without beers at the finish. Cheers to a great race!
(Photo Credit: Eric)
What an epic relay! I cannot begin to thank Nuun enough for this incredible opportunity. It was such an honor to represent this amazing company at Hood to Coast. A HUGE thank you to Megan and all the other staff members at Nuun. Your hard work did not go unnoticed. You guys rock! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

I'm sure Ragnar relays have a similar feel to Hood to Coast, but let's face it, if it wasn't for Hood to Coast, there would be no Ragnar. There is a reason why Hood to Coast is known as the "Mother Of All Relays." Thanks to all the race staff and volunteers. You guys make an event like this possible. I'm so grateful that I had the chance to run this relay!

To all my teammates, it was a pleasure meeting and running with you. Each of you carried your own amazing life stories and I loved getting to know you all. I can only hope we get together for another run soon!

A relay isn't about one person, it's about a team.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Race Recap: Hood to Coast Relay with Team Nuun - Part 1

Unforgettable. If I had to use one word to describe my experience at the Hood to Coast (HTC) relay, that's what it would be. Never have I been on a trip where each hour was used to its fullest. It was non-stop from the moment I arrived in Seattle until I left. When I replay HTC in my head, it's a pile full of mushy goodness (that doesn't sound gross at all, right?). Each time I think about it I remember something else. But, something that sticks out the most was how appreciative Nuun was to have us out there to run HTC with them. To be honest, it was kinda weird to hear them thanking us for coming out because I was constantly thanking them for this amazing opportunity. I'm so grateful to be part of the Nuun family and felt very welcomed. Seriously, the folks at Nuun rock! It was also great to finally meet all the other ambassadors that I'd be running with. Needless to say, I left with many new friends.

This post will be a recap of my days leading up to HTC. Part 2 will be the main event!

Wednesday
I was up and at it at 3:45am so I could catch my 0-dark-thirty flight from DC to Long Beach and then onto Seattle. I arrived in Seattle around 1 and was quickly retrieved by Megan from Nuun and driven to the hotel where the team would be staying for the first couple of nights. After dropping off my bags I met up with some of my teammates that were just finishing up lunch at a brewpub. From there, we headed to Pike Place Market because that's what you do when you're in Seattle. We even made a quick contribution to the disgustingly famous "Gum Wall" under the market.
Pike Place - Jim, Rachel, Elisabeth, Susie, Lauren, Sean and Melissa
(Photo Credit: Rachel)
Adding our gum to the wall
That evening we all headed to the Seattle Sounders game and it was straight bonkers! The stadium was packed and so loud! It was an incredible atmosphere to watch a soccer match. I can only imagine what a Seahawks game is like here. I was excited to watch Clint Dempsey play, but was disappointed he didn't come onto the pitch until late in the second half. The match ended in a 1-1 draw, but the Sounders definitely out played San Jose. Oh yea, they played San Jose.
After the match, we headed to the hotel bar for a late dinner and drinks. Our hotel was literally one block from the stadium, which was awesome. By the end of the evening we were all laughing and having a great time. When you're surrounded by so many like-minded individuals, it makes for a fun atmosphere. It was easy to see that we were all gonna get along.
Part of Team Wild Berry Van Deuce - Megan, Amanda and Rachel

Thursday
No sleeping in for this team. At 8:30 we were all down in the hotel lobby getting ready for a team shakeout run along the Seattle waterfront. Having to deal with the summertime heat and humidity of DC, the cool Seattle morning made for a pleasant run. The run was great and definitely got me more excited for HTC! Greeting us upon our return from the run were boxes of delicious Top Pot Doughnuts. I had a huge boston cream doughnut and immediately filled myself with all the calories I had just burned and probably some more, just for good measure.
Shakeout run
Later that morning, we piled into the vans and headed across town to the brand spanking new Brooks Running Headquarters for a tour. Brooks had just moved into their new, eco-friendly space that same week so I'm sure we were some of first outsiders to see it. We all gathered in a conference room with one of their longtime shoe designers to learn how Brooks develops a shoe from the drawing boards all the way to our feet. It was an extremely fascinating presentation. Afterwards, we got a sneak peak at a few of the Spring 2015 shoes and I must say if you're a Brooks runner, you're gonna love what you see!


After the Brooks tour we headed to Pyramid Alehouse for lunch and some tasty brews. Following lunch we had some free time before decorating our vans over at Nuun so I followed Susie, Melissa, and Lauren on a mission to find a Target to get some last minute race items. After Target we went to Storyville Coffee at Pike Place Market. We thought about going to Starbucks because they are so rare in Seattle, but I think we made the right choice.
Coffee at Storyville with Lauren, Melissa and Susie (behind camera)
Pike Place
The evening was spent hanging out at Nuun, eating catered Chipotle, drinking beer, digging through our Nuun Energy swag bags, and decorating our team vans! I was part of Team Wild Berry Van 2 which quickly became known as Van Deuce! I didn't want the night to end, but also knew that the next day would bring the start of our amazing HTC journey!
Nuun HQ
Wild Berry Van Deuce!
Van Deuce showing off our Wild Faces! - Megan, Amanda, Vishal, Rachel, Liz, and Kevin
The Nuun HTC Crew
Click here for Part 2!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Running Hood to Coast with Team Nuun (plus Nuun Giveaway!!!)

A little over two years ago, my friend Jocelyn reach out to her followers on Twitter for a favor. That favor was in exchange for receiving a free tube of Nuun, she asked everyone to snap a picture of themselves with their Nuun in front of an iconic landmark in their city. Why? She was entering a competition to earn a spot on Nuun's Hood to Coast team. For her entry, she complied all the pictures she received and made it into a video collage. It was a cool video and sure enough, she won a spot on the team! I don't have a link to the video, but perhaps Jocelyn can help me with that?

Anyway, why am I telling you all this? That tube of Nuun she sent me was the first time I had ever tried this amazing product. From that point on, I was hooked. A year later, I became an ambassador for Nuun and now, more than two years after having my first sip of Nuun and learning about Hood to Coast, I too get to run this epic relay with Team Nuun and my fellow ambassadors!

What is Hood to Coast? Hood to Coast (HTC) is relay that starts at Mt. Hood (the tallest peak in Oregon) and traverses 199 miles west across the beautiful landscape of Northern Oregon until you reach the finish line in the quaint town of Seaside. In my opinion, HTC is the mecca of all relays. First run in 1982, it has now grown into one of most popular relays in the US.

Being an ambassador for Nuun is something I've really enjoyed. I love their company culture and watching how much they've grown since I've joined their ambassador team has been very exciting. I feel very lucky to be a small part of it. To get to represent them at HTC is a tremendous honor. Be sure to follow our team's progress race weekend (August 22-23) on Twitter/Instagram with #nuunhtc.

Also, in the excitement leading up to the race, I'm hosting a giveaway for your chance to win a 4-pack of Nuun! At Nuun, we are all about getting outdoors and living the #nuunlife. So, the next time you're out on a run, bike ride, hike, pushing the stroller or walking the dog, snap a scenic picture along your route.

To be entered to win, post your picture on Twitter or Instagram using #photo4nuun. Be sure to tag me (@dougcassaro) and Nuun (@nuunhydration) as well so we can see your entry. Best picture wins! It doesn't get much easier than that. The contest runs from now (July 22) through the end of the month. The contest is limited to those living within the US. Can't wait to see your pictures!

Stay hydrated!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Race recap: Bryce 100

31 hours, 19 minutes, and 20 seconds. That's how long it took me to complete my first 100 miler. During that time, I experienced just about every emotion possible. Joy. Excitement. Fear. Anger. Laughter. Happiness. Sadness. I could go on, but you get my point. When running an ultra, I feel very exposed. I'm pouring every ounce of energy I have in me which puts me in a very vulnerable state. One moment I might be happy and the next I'm cursing and want to have nothing to do with the race. While ultra running requires a large physical effort, the amount of mental stamina required is two fold. For, it is not your body, but your mind that will break first in an ultra.

I knew going into the Bryce 100 that this was not going to be an easy race. 19,000 feet of elevation gain at an altitude between seven to nine thousand feet is no joke. It scared the shit out of me. But, as I eluded to in my previous post, I knew I was ready. I felt strong and confident at the start. As long as I didn't get injured during the run, I knew I could finish. Having that belief in myself made all the difference, especially when things got rough, which it did, many times.

The race started without hitch at 6am on a cool, clear Utah morning. The sun had yet to make its appearance over the horizon, but the sky was already bursting full of beautiful dawn colors. After a two mile section on a wide ATV road, it was onto the single tracks. The course weaved back and forth and up and down through a maze of beautiful ponderosa pines. Before long, the course emptied out into Red Canyon and the unique hoodoo formations that make the Bryce landscape so special.

The course was a 50 mile out and back. The 50 mile race started at the same time as the 100 mile, so it was quite busy at the start. As soon as we hit the single tracks, the running congo lines formed. The runners around me were a chatty bunch. "You running the 50 or 100?" was a common question I heard. I tend to keep quiet and rarely strike up a conversation with those around me. Yet, if someone engages me, I will happily chat with them.

My main focus at the beginning of the race was to take in lots of fluid. Everyone told me that hydration was paramount when running at altitude. It didn't take long for me to settle into my groove at the start. I ran easy on the flats, walked the uphills and let gravity carry me on the downhills. I could definitely tell that my downhill running was much stronger. Instead of runners flying past me on the descents, I was flying past them. It felt good and bounding down the hills like a wild animal was a lot of fun!

Near the Proctor aid station (Mile 18) I felt a little pain in my right foot and immediately knew was it was, a blister. Sure enough, when I pulled off my shoe and sock at Proctor I had a nice one on the inside of my second to last toe. I couldn't believe it. I rarely get blisters and to get one not even a quarter into my race sucked. Thankfully, a fellow runner loaned me some vaseline and I slapped a nice glob over it. I also had placed one of my drop bags at Proctor so I took some extra time restocking my supplies and putting on a fresh shirt and new pair of socks.
The stretch between Proctor and Blubber Creek (Mile 27) aid stations was one of the longest stretches between aid stations at 9 miles. Many parts of the course here were lined with beautiful aspen trees. After one particularly steep climb through the aspens, the course opened up into lush valley full of green shrubs and wild flowers. It was gorgeous. The sun was now out in full force, but with temperatures in the 70s accompanied by the bone dry air of southern Utah, it made for comfortable running conditions. After stuffing my face full of deliciousness at Blubber Creek (thanks to whoever made the cheese quesadillas and rice and bean burritos) it was an 8 mile stretch to the next aid, Kanab Creek (Mile 35).

This section of the course was all above 8,500 feet, but to my surprise, the elevation didn't seem to affect my breathing at all. Many parts of the course here poked out near the rim of a canyon and gave my eyes plenty to look at and enjoy. My other drop bag was at Kanab and I again took some extra time to restock. The volunteers at each aid station were great. Before I could even ask for something, they were asking me if I needed anything. These guys make races like this possible. A big THANK YOU to you all!
Blubber Creek Aid. By far my favorite aid on course.
The nice part after Kanab was that the aid stations became more abundant at 5 mile intervals. A good portion of trail from Kanab to the Straight Canyon Aid Station (Mile 40) was downhill which let me lengthen my stride and increase my pace. I certainly wasn't stressing about my pace during the run, but it felt nice to put in a couple sub ten minute miles after the long and dragging uphill miles. Nearing Straight Canyon I noticed a guy off to side cheering runners on. "Nice job man, looking good" he said to me as I neared him. I then noticed that this wasn't just some guy standing off to the side, it was Hal Koerner. For those who don't know, in the ultrarunning community, Hal is one of the legends, having won the prestigious Western States 100 twice as well as a boat load of other ultras. So, to have him cheering for me was pretty awesome.
Heading out of Kanab
Heading into Straight Canyon
After a quick in and out at the Straight Canyon aid, it was a long 1,000+ foot climb to the next aid station, Pink Cliff (Mile 45). Minus the first mile or so out of Straight Canyon, this was pretty much a hiking section for me, but I didn't mind. After the fast miles coming into Straight Canyon, it gave me some time to recover. I remember from pictures I saw before the race that the views from Pink Cliff were beautiful, so I was eager to get up there. So eager, in fact, that I made a wrong turn. Doh! Thankfully, I didn't go too far off course, so it wasn't a big deal. Upon reaching Pink Cliff, my jaw dropped. This was the highest point of the course at well over 9,000 feet and the view was stunning.
Climb up to Pink Cliff
Leaving Pink Cliff, it was another 5 miles to the 50 mile turn at Crawford Pass. Almost halfway done! While this section was mostly downhill, I knew that I would immediately have to go right back up it. I reached Crawford Pass in under 13 hours, which was about what I expected. It was hard not to feel envy towards the 50 mile runners, knowing they were done and could relax. Part of me wished I was done too, but I knew that I still had another 50 miles to go. Let the mental games begin!
Pink Cliff
As I headed out of Crawford Pass, it was about 7pm and I knew I would only have about 2 hours of daylight left. It was my hope to make it back to Straight Canyon (Mile 60) before it was completely dark. I was looking forward to getting back to Straight Canyon because that's where my pacer (Rachel) would be joining me. The climb back up to Pink Cliff was slow, but overall, I was feeling good. I knew that after Pink Cliff it would be a nice drop back to Straight Canyon and I was looking forward to some faster miles.

Running down the small dirt road to Straight Canyon, I called out my race number to the aid station volunteers and immediately heard cheers from my friend Cathy (who had run the 50K earlier in the day), Rachel, and Sara (Rachel's friend). Seeing some familiar faces was great. I later learned that the dirt road to get to Straight Canyon was rather dicey, so an extra big thank you to Cathy and company for driving out to meet me. I warned Rachel to be ready for lots of hiking. I knew that there were a lot of hills ahead and running those wasn't in the cards for me.
Rachel and I before the start
The run (hike) back up to Kanab was slow, but having Rachel's company was nice. It was now completely dark out, but with clear skies, a near full moon, and our headlamps, it didn't seem too dark at all. In fact, at one point Rachel and I both turned out our headlamps just to see how bright the moon lit the ground. Looking up, a sky full of stars blazed brightly. It was awesome. How beautiful Utah is in the glow of the sun or the moon! The temperature had begun to drop, but as long as I was moving, it didn't affect me much.

I'm not sure if the darkness does weird things to the body, but I certainly lost the fire in my legs as the night wore on. After leaving Kanab (Mile 65), it was 8 long, long miles back to Blubber Creek (Mile 73). Once we reached Blubber Creek, I plopped down in a chair and knew that these last 27 miles were going to take awhile.

The stretch from Blubber Creek to Proctor Aid (Mile 82) sucked, plain and simple. I tried to run when I could, but my legs weren't having any of it. The life from them had been sucked away. Climbing the hills seemed to take forever. Rachel and I would soon joke that Bryce has never ending hills. They just seemed to keep going and going. Many times, I would have to sit down on a log and take a break. My mind was going in a million different directions. Thoughts of dropping entered my head. I was feeling miserable and I wanted nothing more than a warm bed to climb into. It moments like these when you begin to realize how important your goal is. Even though I felt like shit and didn't want to take another step, I refused to give up. Tired isn't an excuse to quit. As long as I could continue to put one foot in front of the other, no matter how slow, I would keep pressing forward. Each step brought me closer to the finish and I took comfort from that.

As we neared Proctor, dawn was on the horizon, which came as a big relief. I knew having some daylight would make me feel better, even if my legs didn't want to move faster. Reaching Proctor, I plopped down again near a bonfire they had burning. The warmth from the fire felt great and made leaving very hard. Sitting across from Rachel and I at the bonfire was Hal and his wife, which he was pacing for her run. I wanted to chat with Hal and tell him how much he inspires me, but the timing wasn't right. He and his wife were both doing their thing and I didn't want to disturb. Nonetheless, it was cool to sit and share a fire with such a great runner.

The last 18 miles contained very little running for me. Thanks to the very generous time cutoff (36 hours) I knew that I had plenty of time to make it to the finish. It was then that I began to realize that I might just finish this thing! However, my mind wouldn't let me believe that it was going to happen.

Rachel and I continued our trudge to the finish line. Even walking, the hills were so hard to climb up. Each footfall sent pain through my sore feet and up my tired legs. Yet, they were still moving. I'm not sure how, but there were. In any race, the will to finish will always carry you those last few miles. All the kinds words of support I received from my family and friends before the race were running through my head. I just had to keep moving!

With about a mile to go, Rachel and I spotted Cathy and Sara waiting for us. They had come out to greet and walk with us to the finish. When the finish came into view, relief flooded over. Relief that this race would soon be over. Relief that I was, indeed, going to reach my goal. I started to run again. I'm sure it wasn't pretty, but I wanted to cross the finish line running. 31 hour, 19 minutes, and 20 seconds after I started, I was done. As I sat in the finishers tent, looking at my beat up legs, the realization of what had just happened set in. I did it. 100 miles!

My thanks to everyone that supported and believed in me. Your words helped carry me to the finish and I'm forever grateful for all of you. I found it fitting that I finished this race on Father's Day and I felt my dad's presence many times during my run. He's always with me. This run was definitely for him.

Sweet handcrafted Bryce 100 belt bucket