Monday, June 20, 2011

Chattanooga Mountains Stage Race 6/17-6/19/2011

Fun in the creek: mile point 21.5,day 2
This post could have 2 subtitles, and I am not sure which I like better: A week's vacation in less than 3 days, or Bruise & Blood = Blessing in Disguise.
(Yet more on that later...)

The Chattanooga Mountains Stage Race is 60 trail miles divided over 3 days and 3 mountains all less than a 30 minute drive from downtown Chattanooga, TN.

Never having run a stage race before, and not having done much homework about this event, I did not leave Thursday after work with much of a plan. I had a duffel of running clothes, gear, and shoes, some groceries and a room reserved at Chattanooga’s brand new hostel, The Crash Pad.

Cool sign welcoming adventures.
Newly open, this hostel features "green" and sustainable building and an environmentally and socially responsible attitude and practices.
I choose to try out the hostel as I didn’t look forward to spending lots of hours alone in a campsite or motel room after running for a few hours in the morning. I figured with my own sleeping room at The Crash Pad, I’d have privacy and I looked forward to getting to know some of the other runners as the lodging was filled this weekend with only runners and supporters of the races. Indeed, this proved to be an excellent place to stay. That evening I met Joe, Dan, Ted, Wendy and many others. During the weekend I enjoyed several conversations with Wendy Grant Oates who is a runner, yet volunteered like crazy all weekend long this time around.

Day 1, Raccoon Mountain, 18 miles

This course circumnavigates Tennessee Valley water storage facility on Raccoon Mountain wavy, single track mountain bike trails. It is not a technical course, but rather packed dirt, banked switchbacks and well drained trails. Part of the course is so very squiggly it is called The Intestines and I could see runners on all sides traveling in all directions. I thought from above it probably looked like a choreographed dance!

At race start runners were asked to seed ourselves appropriately as we had only about 100 yards before going to single track. I got near the front of the pack and went into the trail with 25-30 guys and gals ahead of me. I had no desire to start the day off sprinting so I wound up being part of a running chain for a mile or so. This kind of running was not my style so I eventually worked around several folks and found a bit more freedom to do my own pace.
Aaron Saft and Dan Mueller (eventual winner of each stage and overall) run on the typical trail of this stage. Photo courtesy of Rock Creek
Several of us switched places yet were holding a solid steady pace until I tripped around mile 7ish and figured I should be a bit more conservative. I think Dorsal Fin got prematurely active and talked me back into picking up the pace and I did.

Without warning, a mile or so later, I bit the dust hard. No warning, no reason. I landed right knee on the ground, right elbow on a rock. I cried out in surprise and pain. Two runners just ahead of me came back to offer assistance: John from Mississippi and another kind man whose name I do not recall. I did not know if I was hurt or not. I feared since I landed on the bruise from Rothrock I did some real damage. I cried a little and tried not to hyperventilate as I got up and tried to jog . I couldn’t jog and hyperventilate at the same time, so jogging won out and soon as was running slowly the ups and flats and limping the downs. By the time I arrived at the 3rd aid station at mile 13ish, I’d found a truly conservative running rhythm and was enjoying the run again, just being extra careful to continue to land on my feet!
Top of Raccoon Mountain looking east to Chattanooga. Photo courtesy of Rock Creek.
 I finished stage 1 in 2:30:31, totally surprised to find that I was first woman. Natalie Sims, who I passed in the early miles was in minutes later and Leslie Becht just minutes after that. I hoped my knee would let me continue to run as I was looking forward to racing with these 2!

Complete results for all stages and final here.

Finish line activities abounded. There was massage: 10 minutes for $5, a great deal!, Ice baths in garbage cans filled with ice and water, medic tent, food, music and general merriment. We learned North Shore Yoga in town was offering a special yoga/stretch class for $5 to runners each afternoon at 3pm.
Talented massage therapist Christian worked like crazy on many runners after each stage. Her work was an important element of me feeling good this weekend. Reach Christian Stegall at 423-504-3011. She does good work!
Rouge Racers, Drymax lightweight trail socks, pacer advance short, moving comfort sports bra, wicked lite tank top, Nathan Quickdraw Plus bottle.

Fuel: 1 bottle lemon-lime Clif Shot drink mix, 2 margarita shot blocks, 1 bottle Heed, 7 peanut m&ms. Post run fuel: water, Clif Builders Bar, followed by regular food an hour  later.

After leaving race site, I spent the rest of the day going to yoga, hanging around The Crash Pad, icing my knee, napping, eating,  and later in the evening more hanging out as the Crash Pad hosted a short gathering each night for all runners. Bed by 10pm.
Kitchen of The Crash Pad. Notice the concrete floors, expertly crafted counter made of reclaimed wood!
Race director Randy Whorton (in orange)  addresses his runners during Friday evenings gathering at TCP.

Day 2, Lookout Mountain, 22 miles

Fellow hostel resident Ed Lent and I carpooled over to race central. The adventure started early as my little Toyota Echo carefully navigated the big ruts and potholes which led downhill to the parking area of Lula Lake reserve. If the drive in was any indication, this course promised to have some good climbing and technical sections!

The general layout of this course:  5ish mile loop, run out, another loop, run back and repeat the 1st loop in the opposite direction. The race started on a gravel road downhill and runners quickly spread out before entering steep single track about a mile in. The loop varied with climbing and descending, double track ridge running, single weedy trail, and enough rocks to keep things interesting.
I don’t remember much about the rest of the course, only that I was thrilled the leg was working! There was more climbing and descending and somewhere out there, even while being careful, I relaxed enough to experience the freedom of flight. I just love to run! I did fall, just enough to get dirtier-not to draw blood or do any damage, thankfully!

After passing the last aid station and entering into the last loop I thought I heard people cheer for Natalie. If that was the case I had less than a minute on her and didn’t want to loose my position. So I took more risks and ran faster and nothing bad happened! Yay! Later I learned that wasn’t Natalie I thought I heard after all, yet the thought pushed me to finish in 2:56:44. I was tickled to be feeling good!
Ed chillin' post stage 2
While waiting for massages, Natalie and I talked and I shared with her that I was planning to go to yoga and then try to find the place my sister used to live near Manning Street. She told me she used to live in that part of town. When I asked how long ago, she responded, “Thirteen years ago.” Then her eyes widened, she put her hand on my shoulder and said, “You are Cheryl’s twin, I see the resemblance now.” Go here for a post I wrote a year or so ago about Cheryl.

Natalie used to live on the street just above Cheryl and they were fond of each other as neighbors. Natalie remembered Cheryl’s kitty Rudy. Matt, Natalie’s husband whom she was dating at the time also knew Cheryl. She and I talked for several minutes and I felt gifted to have Natalie in conversation about Cheryl. This connection and remembering was an important and deep part of the weekend. In a wordless way, I felt part of me had come back home for a little while.

The post race recovery activities repeated the day before. Clothing, shoes, and gear the same,except I wore a new Mountain Hardwear jersey the Malina Tank.

After yoga I walked over to the neighborhood Cheryl and Natalie lived in, yet a thunderstorm rolling in very quickly drove me to run-in flip flops a  mile back to my car. Returning to the neighborhood in the car, I still didn’t find as the driving rain and electrical storm was in full force and proved to be too distracting for house hunting.

Another mellow, social night at The Crash Pad: food, wine, companionship, brief runner gathering watching a slide show of the days events, knee icing and bed by 10pm.

Day 3, Signal Mountain, 20 miles.

This is the stage I’d heard the most about with such words as nasty, killer, slick, breathtaking, gnarly, and horrendous used to describe it. In honor of  the  reputation I switched to Mountain Masochist for footwear this day. This run also had much more of a back country, wild feel than the others.
Aid station view...courtesy of Rock Creek
 This indeed was a very slippery and technical run. Down up, repeat! The storms the night before blew down many trees on the previously cleared trail and left everything absolutely soaked. I even decided to run with just a sports bra (an infrequent thing for me during a trail run) as I knew everything would be wet from sweat or rainwater in minutes.

I moved very cautiously through the wet rocks this day and did not fall on the trail, but rather took a turn at going down on my butt on one of the slimy swinging bridges. I had to laugh it turned out I shared the fall with another runner who plopped down just beside me. He made a quicker recovery and dashed ahead. I moved carefully the rest of the way across.
Despite having to be so very careful, I had a wonderful  time out there this day. It was beautiful and rich with the diversity of a healthy eastern forest. At one point I quipped out loud that I was glad we didn’t have to name all the plants out there into order to be official finishers. The runner just behind me agreed. Yet just for fun during the slog out of the Tennessee River Gorge I wondered if I could name at least ten. As it turned out that took only a few minutes: Eastern Hemlock, Mountain Laurel, Maple, Sourwood, Sassafras, Christmas Fern, wood violet, Poison Ivy, Virginia Creeper, Tulip Poplar and so on!
 Again, the miles proceeded quickly. I was told Sarah Woerner was wayyyy ahead, I could only feel pleased for her. Sarah is young, tough speedster who wins events from 5k to 100 mile trail races in the Southeast.  Before race start I invited Sarah to New River Trail 50k  with a comp entry and I do hope she will come.  I was not in a spot to race Sarah, yet pleased to be focused at this time only on staying on my feet, staying happy and getting to the finish line as close to Sarah as I could!
Finishing Stage 3 on Sunday morning
 I did finish in 2nd, about 6:30 behind Sarah and earned 1st place in the overall stage race with a total time of 9:02:07.
Annette, Sara Woerner and Natalie after Stage 3.
Sharing an ice bath after stage 3.
Stage Race (60 mile) Top 3 results:
Dan Mueller, 25, 6:58:59 (race record)
David Workman, 40, 7:36:09
Daniel Hamilton, 23, 7:46:28

Annette Bednosky, 44, 9:02:07
Natalie Sims, 37, 9:29:36
Leslie Becht, 27, 10:19:24
Feeling really tall at the podium!
This weekend in Chattanooga felt like a week’s vacation to me! The Crash Pad was just what I was looking for in clean, quiet, adventurous accommodation. $5.00 yoga, $5.00 massage were great. I really appreciated meeting Natalie and Wendy and so many other fine folks and runners. 
Of course the best part was getting to run each morning at 8am! The fall I took on day 1, I believe may have been a “blessing in disguise”. I was forced to slow down and be cautious the last 12 miles of that day. I think  the lack of Dorsal Fin for the remainder of day 1 and much of day 2 helped me have legs so I could really appreciate the morning at Signal Mountain on day 3. Thank you to the race directors, all the volunteers, kindred spirits in running, fine folks at The Crash Pad for this wonderful life-filled weekend!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Staying Conservative at Rothrock Challenge 30k June 4, 2011

Entering the Longberger Trail at mile .75 of Rothrock Trail Challenge 30k, 6/4/2011
 As noted in my last post, my clear goals going into Rothrock 30k were:
  1. Not re-injure my healing knee by falling on it. (Falling hard directly on my left knee may mean out of the running (even though being "in the running" is not yet official... for World 100k-not yet certain-but I am too close to take risks!)
  2. Acquire points for the LaSportiva Mountain Cup
  3. Be recovered and ready to train by 6/7.
Strategies to achieve these included:
  1. Give Dorsal Fin a day off (ie: not race)
  2. Be smart and efficient with fueling, aid and running/hiking transitions
  3. Remind myself that to race would be to be greedy and in the past, greediness has led to bad things (injury)
I’d heard that Rothrock was an exceedingly technical course-Jen, one of the race directors, when I met her after Bear Mountain 50M  last month compared it to Bear Mountain-just shorter. Now after running it, I agree-a junior Bear Mountain 50M and baby Massanutten 100 (without dirt roads).
The course was fabulous and technical and I want to return when I am not running skittish as to fully appreciate the rockiness of the possibilities here! Yet I get ahead of myself… cool is that? note that the event directors do not recognize participants as runners, yet as Registered Crazies!

I left Jefferson, NC at 2:20pm on Thursday. This was a ½ day for students in Ashe County Schools and faculty were permitted to leave after students vacated the building. I drove for 6.5 hours (would have been less if there was not a car fire and a 2-lane closure on I-77 North that I got stuck in),  and wound up in Hancock, MD for the night. After staying at a 39.99 Super 8 which I recommend only to those who like little mice and lots of ants in their rooms, I ran for a little while on the Western Maryland Rail Trail and C&O towpath before continuing the 2.5 hour drive to State College, PA.
Western Maryland Rail Trail...beautiful  with tons of community support...C&O towpath just seconds away!
 Friday afternoon I drove out to Rothrock State Forest and did a little scouting of the markings and terrain. Marked with orange flags and arrows.Check! Rocky.Check! Rooty. Check! Swampy and wet. Check! The makings for a fine 19 mile adventure.

Race morning, fueled on coffee, English muffin and banana I drove the 18 minutes from my motel to race start. I could have camped closer for free-yet I do so enjoy the convenience of having electricity, wi-fi and an easy way to make coffee. Ten years ago I would not have been caught dead wasting 50 bucks on a motel room..and perhaps in another few years I’ll think the same way, yet for now, I enjoyed watching race videos on wi fi, a warm shower, cup of cocoa and mattress before sleeping on Friday evening!

The race started at 8:05 am. Despite my commitment to not race, I placed myself near the front –about 25 people back knowing that after .75 mile or so we’d go to single track and I wanted to be able to run as much as possible w/o being in a pack. And off we went.

I have little specific memory of the whole event. I ran carefully and with lots of caution. Running this way is not as fun as being carefree and racing-actually it was quite stressful for the first 12 miles or so until I got used to the trail and my self-prescribed approach for the day. Then after relaxing, I found the idea of just running and not racing, quite fun and freeing! The eventual 4th place girl and 6th place girl and I exchanged places several times.

I do remember getting Gatorade at AS #2 and making the mistake of not tasting it…I feel badly for those who came after me as I think I was given all the Gatorade sugar and little water. I sipped for carbohydrate,yet wound up tossing most of the fluidly syrup after a mile or so. A great reminder to sample what I am taking before committing to it. Fortunately going w/o fluid for an hour did no harm this day.

This day I ran strong ups-I didn’t have worries of falling and taking a digger on my left knee. I ran and timidly made my way down the rocky parts and across the mucky/rocky flats…though blessedly, experience of the day gave confidence and the descents got more fun and less timid as hour 3 approached!

I am sure the area is beautiful. I could sense it though my other senses, yet my sight was glued to the ground and rocks in front and /or under me.

Thankfully, only a tiny flesh wound as a souvenir!
With a mile or so left to go and girl #4 within sight…BAM! I fell. Dork! I was daydreaming. Dork! It wasn’t a bad fall or even on my left knee, yet it shook me up enough that I gave up my secret hope of catching girl #4. The little digger kept me honest and I finished 5th woman, 3:40:53, 29 minutes behind 2010 and 2011 winner Meira Minard, 37 of State College, PA and 57 seconds behind 4th place Caitlin Strahota, 25, of Wellsboro,PA. Ashley Moyer, 23 of Oley, PA was 2nd in 3:21:58 and Alison Bryant, 32 of Elkin, NC, 3rd, bettering her 3rd place time from last year by over 16 minutes to run in 3:29:37.

Jason and Alison..both tough cookies who run  with LaSportiva, rockin for 3rd place and living in NC!
On the men’s side, State College’s Jacob Loverich was 1st: 2:37:34, Matthew Byrne 2nd: 2:40:05 and Jason Bryant rounded up top 3 with 2:45:27. The first masters was Allen Evans, 47 of Beaver Dams, NY in 2:58:08.

There were 299 finishers all together! Full results here.

3rd place Jason Bryant from NC...Refueling pondside??? Oh you make us laugh fast guy!

Byron Powell, Alison Bryant, Jason Bryant and Me after 3 of the 4 of us jumped in the pond!

Massage practitioner John and I after a great post race therapy! The school he works for: Integrative Bodywork Therapeutic Massage gave complimentary massages for runners. If you live in the area, please contact these folks: or 814-234-4700. Icing on the cake and fuel for the 9 hour car ride! Thank you John!
The finish line area was a celebration of fun, food and camaraderie. Great weather made for a very fun post-race party! Running, rocks, great peeps, massage, food, beer, no bugs, what could be better?
Post-race massage and playing bartender as we waited for the froth to subdue...
This was a fun and excellently executed event! I only earned 11 points towards the series standings...yet life is life and body is body and I am happy for what I experienced!

I have never felt "old" during ultras...yet must admit, these shorter races running against (or like today, between) much younger women have reminded me that a 20 mile run and 50 miler are in seriously different categories! So be it. I am not getting younger, yet am eagerly learning and participating as I unfold the story of this lifetime!

Shoes, Clothing and Fuel (from the ground up)
Shoes: Montrail Mountain Masochists, men size 9
Socks: DryMax Trail
Shorts: Mtn Hardwear Pacer Advance Short (style from 2010)
Bra: Patagonia sports top
Tank: Mountain Hardwear wicked lite tank (uniform 2010)
Nathan Quickdraw Plus waterbottle
Carried and ate 1 bottle Clif Shot drink, 6 margarita shot blocks
From aid stations: 1/4 bottle gatoraide syrup, 1.5 bottle h20, 2 PB&J squares..
Post race: 1 12oz beer, 2 slices  cheese pizza!

Next up (if the universe is willing!) Chattanooga Stage Races 6/17-619!