Monday, October 25, 2010

Power Hour

As a veteran college student might do, I decided to work the power hour into not only my weekend routine but try to incorporate it into my Monday schedule as well. Getting off work at 5:00 PM first I decided to get ready for this epic event by filling my tank at Owens. Never do a power hour on an empty stomach. Who else to mentally prepare with then my best bud Brandon, VT PBR power hour champion. After dabbling in some Farms & Fields sweet potatoes, broccoli and pork I was ready.

Off to McComas to see how far I could run in one hour! I stepped onto the treadmill with two gu's, two granola bars, a bottle of water and a bottle of Gu Electrolyte Drink. I wanted to start slow and slowly increase my heart rate over the length of the run so I set it on 1.0 incline to make up for the lack of wind resistance and a speed of 7.7 mph. I would wait for my music or runners high to naturally increase my pace and when I found myself running into the treadmill hand bar I would move the speed up 0.1 or 0.2 mph. At 40 minutes I was at a pace of 9.2 mph and realized that if I kept going I could very well manage to run the farthest I ever have in an hour. With 6 minutes left I was going 10 mph and with 2 minutes I had it up around 11 mph. Yes the treadmill was shaking, yes people were looking at me like I was insane. I wonder why, granola bars and gu wrappers were flying left and right.

Totals on the Day -
Miles = 8.95 (almost!)
Time = 1 hour
Calories = 1170
Elevation = 370 ft

Shoutouts - Congrats to all of my friends Kim, Lisa, Suz, Adam, Matt and any others who ran the Army Ten Miler this weekend!!!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Grindstone 100 Race Report

Sure, I like the race.
Sure, I like the t-shirts.
Sure, I like the medals and free gear.
I even sort of like the raw potatoes with salt,
And you better be damn well sure I like the chicken noodle soup.

You know what I didn’t like?
I didn’t like thinking about heading back to the city.
I didn’t like leaving those people.
Those are good people.

Those people running in front of me,
Next to me, and behind me.
Those people not running at all.
Those people waiting in their cars.
Those people in Mario Costumes and masks,
Those smiling people in the middle of the woods,
Those people fill me up.

You know what doesn’t fill me up,
My Blackberry,
My 8 AM Microbiology class,
And inhaling transit bus fumes on the daily walk to class.
My body doesn’t need those things.

Here’s what it does need,
It does need that winding single track trail,
It needs the Shenandoah air,
It needs the loose rock and crisp wind,
It needs to feel wild and free,
It needs to be out there, from sunset to sunset,
And you better be damn well sure it needs some chicken noodle soup.

Grindstone marked two firsts for me. One, it was the only 100 mile race I’ve completed with any elevation. The only other being the 2009 Keys 100. Second, it is the only time in my life I’ve ever eaten 24 cans of chicken noodle soup in 24 hours.

I arrived on race day at the Boy Scout Camp a big ball of nerves. Out of all the school work I needed to be studying it seems that the only two things I could memorize for the week previous to the race were the bright orange elevation chart that I had placed over top of the dashboard in my car and the number 24479 (the area code for Swoope,VA to type into

Every inch of nerve drained out of me by the time we had ran around the lake and were all falling up the first steep muddy slope. It felt so good to be out there running away from all the other daily pressures. I took out fast, per usual, but it felt too good to hold back. The first summit was one of my favorite parts of the race as Brian Schmidt and I came back down Elliott Knob we just barely caught the end of the sunset and I knew it was something I had worked hard to see, but maybe a little too hard? Feeling comfortable I kept up the pace and suddenly was realizing that as long as I was keeping this pace there wasn’t even time to think about what was to come, every step was . . WHAM . . . epic face plant/180/6 foot trail slide, you’d think I had just pulled of a great skateboarding stunt. . .as I was saying, every step was important. Loose wet rock, hidden roots and darkness made for quite the fancy high stepping down the backside of Elliot Knob. After my spill and from lack of planning ahead more (using a nutrition drink that had not worked so well in the past) my stomach was anything but settled. We all know what comes next, yes, a few red light headlamp trips off to the side of the trail and furthermore nothing in my stomach until the next aid station. Thinking ahead a little I decided not to waste any reserve energy I might have by running fast this early on in the race and took it nice and easy into Dowell’s Draft at mile 22. I spent quite a bit of time here but was feeling a bit light headed and needed to eat, eat and eat!

I felt a little better leaving Dowell’s Draft after downing some chicken noodle soup and potatoes but waited until after Lookout Mountain and a BBQ sandwhich (what an AID station!) to really get going again, not to leave out a little kick in the butt from Clark, “time to get going Henry!”

Cruising into North River Gap I was still trying to completely refill my stomach and managed to do this with yet again some more soup here and quickly headed out for the second big climb. I had not seen anyone at this point for 15 miles and decided to power hike the climb and my thoughts went as follows . . .

“I left the aid station 15 minutes ago, and this is the first cheer yet, really?, no way that person(s) are going to go sprinting up this thing and gain fifteen minutes on me in this section, power hike it to Little Bald Knob and then start running, conserve a bit and hold this place, really? noone is sprinting up this thing..”

Boy was I wrong. My second favorite part of the race, Sandi (first place female) and another runner come TRUCKIN by me. Yep, I got served. Not only did they catch up the fifteen minutes but gained about another 20 on me. It was not only shocking but got me fired up to see their enthusiasm.

Upon reaching Little Bald Knob cold and dehydrated I pulled into the aid station immediately to be served 20 questions about my current state. Although slightly overwhelmed I took their advice and drank and ate some food and was astonished when a held out hand said, “I’m JB, what’s your name?” Immediately, I was glad I took his advice. This JB, running Aid at Little Bald Knob had finished the Barkley this year when I had gone just to watch. How cool to see such a renowned runner out there working an aid station. That was humbling and brings me back to what I wrote earlier about good people in this sport, because I know he was not the only one! I must say Team Inov-8 showed up in style at Grindstone in many respects. (PS. To the little Bald Knob Aid, pancakes and breakfast burritos? Are we trying to put Hardees out of business? That was incredible.)

JB got me on the road and there was nothing more satisfying then knowing we were doing some ridge running for the next 15 miles. Reddish Knob was cool to see in the dark and very easy to tell which way was West Virginia due to the lack of photons. At the halfway point I sat down for a quick potato and what do you know another Barkley runner, Carl Laniak. So great to finally put some names to faces after reading loads of race reports and stories about you guys.

After meeting up with my parents on the way back down from halfway, eating some Subway, and getting all refilled (the fact that I have failed to mention my crew thus far into the race report is a serious failure on my account) the sun started to rise just as I was getting back to Reddish Knob. Somehow it seems Clark always does a good job of giving you an excellent view somewhere during the race that you just sort of feel like sitting down and taking it in for a bit (this happened at Turtle Rock in Terrapin as well!). I resisted the sight seeing and kept on trucking on back to the top of the scariest downhill in the race, back down to North River. I walked a good deal of this section in effort not to take a huge dive down the mountain in my delirious state and watch my goal of a finish at the Beast float away and about 75% of the way down my buddy Andrew (pacing for the next 14 miles) had come up to meet me. WHAT a huge help. He had on his Vibrams and for the next 14 miles I was pretty perplexed at how he was managing to run these trails in them. Andrew, I have to thank you here for the conversation we had about “mind over body” as we were running. It will stick with me for a long time, thanks for the push.

Coming into Dowell’s Draft, Dad consistently reminded me to eat and drink (a saving grace later on) and we met up with Galen who would pace the last 22 miles. Although 22 miles sounded like 222 at the time, I knew time it was only a drop in the bucket at this point. While being careful to prevent me any injuries, Galen set out a nice strong hiking pace up the last few climbs where we caught up to and even passed a few runners. The good conversation with Galen was non stop through the last twenty miles and I can’t imagine what it would have been like solo.

After cresting the last ridge just outside the Boy Scout Camp I could feel the adrenaline coming and we started a swift power walk back into camp, and of course, running the last mile thinking back to how “mental” these races really are.

I could not be happier with my Grindstone weekend, my awesome parents along with Galen and Andrew for their support, the whole eco-x race production and lastly with all the wonderful people I got to meet out there, you all are what makes this special.

-Henry Wakley

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Off to the Keys

It's time for year 2 of the Keys 100 , follow Henry's journey on twitter:

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Relay For Life

Virginia Tech Relay for Life! Something I've looked forward to since the beginning of the school year. A huge congratulations goes to Whitney Law and all the other volunteers and exec members that put on such a great event this year.

Virginia Tech ended up once again not only being the largest college relay for life but raising a total of
$544,759.71, cheers Hokies!

I used relay for life to serve as a training run this year for the Keys 100 coming up in just over a month. Setting out with a goal of 60 miles for the night I started out very strong with the help of some good friends to run with! Thanks Molly and Jackson! My splits were looking pretty decent running 5 miles at a time as this is the total amount of laps I could count on my hands. I figured out a system of counting quarter miles on my left hand and miles on my right, so every 5 miles I would have to stop and record my distance.

As usual Relay was a very entertaining event with people constantly fund raising selling anything from games of water pong, to kisses and glowsticks. The first 15 miles was a breeze with all the commotion going on around and plenty of awesome music put on by multiple good bands and acapella groups performing. I even ran pretty strongly until about mile 25 and then we had to stop for a few ceremonies in which I got cold and afterward just could not find my zone again. All in all though after thirty miles I quit, no excuses. I tried to come up with all the reasons in the world why I had to stop
  1. Work at 9 AM tomorrow, it was already 2AM
  2. It was cold
  3. My feet hurt
  4. Growing weary
  5. People were leaving and it wasn't as entertaining anymore
All in all. I quit. Could I have kept running? Yes. Did I keep running? No.
This is the never ending battle an ultra runner faces of mental stamina versus physical. 99% of the time its not about how long your body can hold up, its about how long your mind can hold up. So I did half of my projected goal, and will be taking on some serious training runs this next week to make up for the miles I wimped out on over the weekend.

Totals on the Day -
Miles = 30
Time = Around 6 hours, including ceremonies and what not
  1. Jackson and Molly thanks for running some laps with me. I was grateful for that.
  2. Everyone who participated at Relay! We rocked that event!
  3. The other guy who was out there running 32 miles.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Terrapin Mountain 50k Race Report

Note to Self: When you sleep on a piece of plywood in the back of your dad's pickup truck in 25 degree weather, the last thing you want to do when your 5:45 alarm goes off is stay in "bed."

After changing into my running gear in my sleeping bag I carefully climbed out of my frost ridden cabin. The challenge of not touching the cold grass with bare feet must have provided quite an eloquent display of ballet for any folks arriving early in the morning to the Sedalia Center. After getting on all my race gear, checking in and properly stretching out I went for a quick warm up jog. The air was crisp.

Clark Zealand (RD) stepped to the side of the starting line, raised a huge beater and struck the gong to start the race. I started out in the front pack, yet holding myself to stay behind a runner with a team Inov-8 Jersey on. The race did not start fast and as we ran towards the base of Terrapin Mountain, you could tell why. Many of these people had been on the course and knew what the next 30 miles would bring, others had just seen the elevation profile. Either way, everyone was conserving.

Within a mile we started the climb. In the next 4-5 miles we would climb 2,500 feet. This climb was not forgiving and paying close attention to the four or five folks in front of me I quickly realized that power hiking was just as efficient as running at certain points along the climb. By mile four I was running alone with five people in front of me. Having not had the half marathon race split off yet I was quite pleased with my position. I could hear the Aid station up ahead and was psyched. The end of the climb was at the aid station and we would next drop over the other side of the ridge for a 5 mile downhill taking us right back down 2,500 feet. Coming into the aid station my time was 41 minutes. A solid 10 minute/mile pace up the hill.

After eating and drinking a bit the wonderful volunteers sent me off down the backside of the ridge. Sure that I would gain some time on the lead pack on this section and having learned that two people had split off for the half marathon, I was currently running in fourth. The downhill was on a gravel road, and it was fast! I ended up running a 6 minute 13 second pace for the next five miles bringing me into the aid station at mile 9.4 with the pack of three leaders heading out just a few hundred yards up ahead. Another quick stop for some necessary refueling; for what was next would prove to be the toughest part of the race.

The next ten mile section of trail would climb 3,500 feet. I had told myself that I would take the first climb a little slower in order to be able to run this whole section. I did not run this whole section. The first half of the climb went very well and my legs were feeling like pistons, strumming along pushing me up the mountain. As we dropped into the 3rd aid station I stopped for a banana, dropped it as I was peeling it and it fell in a plate of sugar. I laughed in my runners high and spouted out "banana covered with sugar, even better!" The volunteers said "no, no!" and I took a big old hungry bite out of it. The banana was not covered in sugar. The banana was covered in table salt. We all had a good laugh and off I went for the second half of the climb.

Having already run down this gravel road about an hour ago I soon grew weary of it and began power hiking again, keeping careful watch on any that may be coming up behind me. Still noone? I came into aid station #4 and was never happier to be off that gravel road and very pleased with having been by myself for 14 miles now and still holding 4th. As I set up the last 3 miles of the climb I heard David Horton shout out some motivational tidbits and got charged up for the 6 mile loop WHOR (White Head Oak Ridge) loop. By far one of the most beautiful parts of the course. The old fire roads had been overgrown with grass and the climb to the top was gorgeous, including some patches of snow! Just as we were hitting the top two runners approached me from behind and passed by. I got pissed. Super pissed. Was I really going to have another race that I start out fast and let people pass me the rest of the time?? We were now at mile 19 and the end of the 10 mile climb. I was NOT letting these guys out of my sight and they could feel it, joking with me a few times that they were going to push me off the ridge. I stuck with them all the way to the sixth aid station and we approached our last climb. Terrapin Mountain. Another 700 ft of elevation. Another runner was approaching from behind and the four of us ran together for the next few miles.

Coming out onto Terrapin Rock was probably one of the most difficult parts of the race. It was one of those spots that you just wanted to sit and enjoy the AWESOME view, but no! we had to go sprint down the backside of the mountain and run 8 more miles! After a short glance we hit the trail again quickly coming up on a super fun part of the run called Fat Man Squeeze Tunnel. It was a narrow passage in between two rocks for about twenty feet and it lived up to its name . .EVERYONE had to turn sideways to get through.

What came next may have been the scariest or possibly most fun part of a race I have ever experienced. We ran down the backside of Terrapin Mountain dropping 3,000 feet in just about two miles. I passed back by the two guys in front and moved back into fourth place on this section. It was by far the most out of control running I have ever done. One wrong step and I could have ended up flying for a good 20 feet before I hit anything, which would have most likely been a huge rock. Lets put it this way, when I reached the bottom of the descent I have NEVER been so happy to see an uphill section in a race before. Gravity was no longer in control.

The last 5 miles turned out being very difficult for me as my legs were starting to cramp yet I was still trying to move efficiently to stay in front of the two guys on my tail. We went over multiple small creek crossings and finally Darryl Smith finally caught up with me again, found his final punch and I never saw him again until the road into the finish line. I was determined however at this point to hold fifth, I had accomplished my goal of being consistent through the race and was not about to give it up at this point no matter how bad it hurt, and boy...boy did it hurt. The last mile of the race I had to concentrate solely on one step at a time and constantly telling myself that I only had five minutes left to finishing my best ultra to date. I crossed the finish line alone in fifth place in a time of 4:52:22, just 2 minutes off setting a PR for my 50k time. The next two hours I soaked up the sun and enjoyed the awesome bbq meal they had prepared for the finishers.

Looking forward to the Virginia Tech Relay for life this Friday which i'll be using to train for the Keys 100 coming up in 40 days! Hope to see everyone out there, come run some laps with me!

Totals on the Day-
Miles = 31.1
Time = 4:52:22
Shoutouts - David Horton, thanks for the motivation throughout and after the race
- Darryl Peterson and David Peterman, didn't get to talk much but it was nice running back and forth with you guys for 10 miles. Darryl, nice kick at the end there!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Spring time!

Now that it is spring time I won't be using the treadmill quite as much. For my training runs I'll post up a map of the route and a little summary of its difficulties in my daily totals. Anyone interested in some good routes around town check them out!

This run starts out pretty flat near the entrance of the Huckleberry Trail, circles around through campus and runs through the south rec fields reconnecting with the Huckleberry Trail. After doing the loop back to the start of the Huckleberry the run starts up Clay Street and gets pretty intense going up the largest hill in town limits. Once you get to the top though its a great view and smooth sailing from there on out. Fly down Harding avenue as you are now looking down on the cap to the Graduate Life Center in the distance. Once you hit Patrick Henry there's only a few speed bumps left to get over and not to mention a great view of the Appalachains to the west. Circling around back through campus, the run ends with a nice sprint down Washington St.

PS. If you didn't get a chance check out the article from the CT Tuesday!

Totals on the Day -
Miles = 8.9
Time = 64 mins 38 seconds
Check out my route here!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Good News From The Doc!

So I went into Sports Medicine Doctor Siegel's office today to try to get a diganosis of the knee problem that has been bugging me ever since before Holiday Lake. He had me go through about 16 different leg motions and took some X-rays and the final result . . . . . the IT band once again! I couldn't have dreamed of hearing anything better come out of his mouth being terrified going in there that I might not be able to run for months or need surgery. So I got some anti-inflammatory cream and a couple pages of stretches to do to loosen the darn thing up and got right to it at McComas. It was still a little tight once I finished my run but nothing like it has been the past month so things are looking up for the rest of my 2010 schedule!

Totals on the Day -
Miles = 7.58
Time = 1 hour
Shoutouts = Liz, your proposal made my day, I just hope I don't talk your ear off.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

You win some, you lose some, and then sometimes you face plant in the mud.

Alas! It's Friday, March 12th and finally heading out of Blacksburg on spring break! Worked all spring break to save up a little cash and now the fun part, Land Between The Lakes 60k. A nine hour drive later I was fortunate enough to have found some folks Michael and Crystal in Paducah, KY that were going to let me couch surf for night. This was my first couch surfing experience but it turned out great, in fact, i'm afraid to try it again this worked out so well. Michael and Crystal, by coincidence were mountain bikers and gave me the low down on the Canal Loop trail and what I had in store for me on my run the next day. I got to bed around 10:30 or so and set 4 alarms for my 4:45 AM wake up.

Arriving at Grand Rivers, KY Saturday morning my mind had been set on breaking the course record for the past week. After all coming home with a 1,000 dollar purse would be pretty nice. I got to the race start 30 minutes early and long story short, lesson #1, this will be the last time I bank on using race port-o-potties to take care of my needs before a race. A little tidbit of wisdom to any racers reading. Use the bathroom at the closest gas station to the race start before you arrive. Race port-o-potties WILL have a line and the people in line are not in line to go #1, if you catch my drift . . .or maybe i hope you don't after waiting in that line.

So I started the race, mentally prepared this time but not physically. Sadly enough, to toe the starting line, I had to leave the bathroom before it was my turn. I thought not much of it at the time as I had done great in Alabama with a similar situation.

The race consisted of a 23k, Marathon, 60k, and 50 miler and all 350 of these people started at the same time. Sticking up in the front of the pack, the race started pretty fast but this was typical for me and I was comfortable with my pace knowing that most of the guys ahead of me were probably in the 23k. Coming through the first mile I was at a 6:45/mile pace, a bit fast for my goal pace of 7:19/mile so I cut back a bit as we entered the 11.1 mile canal loop which we would now do 3 times. The fanny pack I was wearing ended up being a tad bit bouncy on my back so I dropped it off at the second aid station and grabbed some Jelly Belly Sport Beans for the road, yummm. My pace felt all to comfortable and I was psyched mentally because I hadn't felt this motivated to stay in the lead of a race for a long time! A runner caught up to me and we were back and forth on the uphills and downhills for a while, him catching me on the downhills and me pulling away again on the uphills, the monotony of it was almost calming. Here I will give you a little trip through my brain at this point . . .

Calm, calm, ooooh pretty Kentucky lake, calm, calm, oooh fun single track trail, calm, calm, oooh tasty gu energy drink, calm, calm, man this is perfect running weather, calm calm, this trail couldn't be more fun, hop over a root, zoom around a banked turn. . .calm, calm, ouch, OUCH , WTF, stomach cramp, oh no, I should have waited in the port-o-pottie line, ouch ouch, aid station up ahead you can make it, OUCH OUCH.

Well, all in all, I did not make it to the aid station and was challenged with obstacle number one . . stopping and finding a place to use the bathroom that would not be right next to the trail. Ok ok well we won't go into detail here but this always makes an ultra race interesting. Getting back out onto the trail I found myself running right in front of a pretty intense looking runner and felt like he had a great pace going so I tried to stick just in front of him.

We ran along for a good two miles and crested a hill with a huge radio tower and this is where I had my dream come true. Throughout all of the ultras I've run I always see people coming across the finish line with bloody knees or elbows and have read so many stories about nasty spills and wondered just how does this happen so much? Well I can tell you now, it happens real quick. I went from "Henry with a runners high sprinting down a muddy trail" to "Henry face full of mud and mud all over his water bottles while lying sideways watching people run by" faster than you can say "Can't touch this". It was a true epic fail kodak moment but probably the most fun I had all day. I got back up and tried to run probably looking a lot like like this guy and held with it until the next aid station where . . yes . . i needed another bathroom break. Once again, details excluded but I will never be having a Chai Latte the night before a race again.

At this point I was 13 miles into the race and at a time of 1 hour 42 mins. I was running just over my goal pace, problem was with all the stops, once again my trusty knee had locked up and I was forced to make a decision. Try to run and risk injury for the rest of the season? Or suck it up, walk the rest of the way and drop down from the 60k down to the marathon distance. Well I decided to walk and as irritating as it was seeing my goals for the day fade away after such a long drive, the second half of the race ended up being a great experience thanks to a few folks.

Walking along I got a bit fed up with the amount of trash that I saw along the trail. Trash from this race alone! Therefore I designated myself as the official Energy Gel Pack/Heed Energy Cup/Various Nutrient Bar trash picker upper. This is one thing I have recently not been so impressed with at ultras. The trail side is not your trash can for the race and many of the people that pick these races do so because of the surroundings, lets keep them gu energy pack free already!

On the other hand I have always only had good things to say about people I meet at these events and I continue to do so here. As I was walking my second lap of the Canal Loop I would say at least 90% of people asked me if I was doing alright, 50% of the people asked me if I needed an ibuprofen or offered me various ultramarthoner essentials, and a few people even stopped to talk and walk with me. Two people stood out in my mind on Saturday.

First was a man that came running by and asked me "you doing alright?" I said, "yeah, yeah just locked up my knee" so he said "well which race are you running?" . . "I was signed up for the 60k but i think I'm just going to have to do the marathon" . . . as he faded off into the distance he shouted back "You know, that's the amazing thing about what we're doing out here, you're JUST going to do the marathon!" This runners comment and congratulations to me coming through the finish line put a lot into perspective for me on the second lap and throughout the car ride home.

Second was Dean Deziel. Dean came running up behind me towards the end of my second lap and shouted my name. I immediately turned around thinking "who the h*ll in Kentucky knows that I am here??" Dean walked with me for a few minutes and we shared stories from the Holiday Lake 50k++. Often being one of the younger participants in the ultra races and trying to work my way into a sponsor I wonder a lot about how I fit in and if all the efforts I am putting in will finally add up. Dean was full of enthusiasm and only had inspiring and encouraging things to say that also helped put these things into a new light for me.

To sum up the race I ended up walking the whole second lap with my knee locked up. I dropped down to the marathon race instead of doing a third lap to complete the 60k and finished in a time of about 5 hours and 56 minutes. Walking across the finish line I thought I had lost complete confidence in myself and my goals at these races yet thinking back to the things that people said to me throughout this race I realized... that you win some, you lose some, and then sometimes you face plant in the mud.

Totals on the Day-
Miles = 26.2
Time = 5 hours 56 mins 40 secs
Shoutouts - Dean Deziel, nice to meet you and thanks for your words of encouragement. Also, cheers for challenging yourself to do the 60k, you're a great runner to have out there on the trails.
Michael and Crystal - Thanks again for the couch surf! I'll make sure I get to an international soccer game ASAP!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Totals on the Day -
Miles = 8.2
Time = 59:46
Calories = 940
Elevation = 640 ft.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Keep It In The Bag

Mom, Dad, and I headed out of Blacksburg around 11 AM for the Talladega National Forrest with absolutely no qualms about leaving the cold, snowy and windy Blacksburg tundra.

So on the ride down to Alabama I was thinking over some of my mistakes and lessons from the last race. Number one, be mentally prepared. Check. This marked one year of ultra racing for me and my favorite race to date and I was psyched to go back and work for a little redemption from last year when my IT band locked up. So good, I'm already on the right track with learning from my mistakes of last year and to add on luckily pops had rented out a cabin for the whole family to stay in so I would not be bunking in my Nissan Stanza for the night. Two goals down and we're not even out of Virginia on.

Following the 8.5 hour car ride we arrived at the top of Alabama, just as I remembered it from last year and the cabin was amazing. Stopped by packet pick up real quick and eagerly dumped all of my new goodies out on a bed in the cabin . . whats this? Montrail Ultra Cup? Why is this race listed on this sticker? Well, ends up that I did not realize that the Cheaha 50k this year would be part of a competitive series held by one of the #1 trail running shoe companies. That means, yes, a big step up in the competition. Quick pasta and chicken sandwich dinner and off to bed to get some rest for the 5:30 wake up. EARLY in the morning I realized I had fixed another goal from last race. Not by charging my cell phone and setting all 28 alarms, but rather by bringing Mom along (she woke us up at 5AM because we forgot to bring the cream cheese for bagels), love you Mom.

Moving along to the race. We showed up to the trail head about thirty minutes before the start. There it was the Mount Cheaha 50k sign that you start under and don't see again until your at the top of Alabama. I stretched a bit and tried to stay warm in the car (starting temp was about 35 degrees) until 5 minutes before the race start. The race director came over the speaker and told front runners to move to a suitable position because immediately after the start the trail funnels everyone into a single track for about 3.5 miles. The picture above (thanks to my sister for all the awesome photography over the weekend!) was taken just before the start right after this announcement. The cool part about the photo, the 9 people you see in front ended up coming in within the top 15 places, just goes to show that everyone knew exactly what they were capable of!

Onto the race already!!

There is no better way to start a race in Alabama, in the beautiful Talladega National Forrest, 10 miles from the not so beautiful Talladega Speedway, than with the sweet sounds of Lynard Skynard. Yes, to start the race they blast Sweet Home Alabama. When you hear the music, boy you better start runnin. I tore out in front as usual but feeling alright and came down into Aid Station #1 at 3.5 miles running just in front of two guys. Here starts the climb, aid station #1 to aid station #2 is in my mind one of the hardest parts of this race and it comes at you quick. I decided to drop back my pace and not even attempt to keep up with the two guys that came through the aid station with me, they were running at a phenomenal pace. A good choice, one of them one the race with the closest person behind him coming in over 30 minutes later. Congratulations, Dane Mitchell. I took it very easy between the first and second aid station as to not burn out all my energy as I had the previous year but I did give up a few places and was running in 5th coming into aid station 2.

Oh no...Aid station 2. The marker of the start of my least favorite climb of the whole day. I decided to power hike the section and gave up two more places. Now running in seventh I started getting a bit bummed...last year I had run in first until mile 19! Well there's no room for negativity in an ultra and the last thing you can do is try to compare races, EVERY ONE IS DIFFERENT. I got to the top of the climb and it was game on. Having studied my elevation charts before the race, the next 15 miles of the race were the fun runnable trail that you have to take advantage of. I decided to try to hold my place and it worked pretty much all the way from mile 9-19.

Dreaded, heinous, mile 19. I started feeling a cramp coming in my hamstring and decided to stop to stretch. Here's where I learned my biggest lesson of the day. Never in an ultramarathon, can you drift off and let your mind wander, or you will pay the consequences. Well it happened, my mind was wandering and instead of stretching my hamstring I stretched my quad...totally wrong muscle. From standing on one leg i put my left leg back down to the dirt and the second it hit the ground so did I. You would have though I got hit by a shock wave I fell so fast. I really don't even remember falling. This had only happened one other time in my life and it has to be the most embarassing moment of a race. I was lying, face up directly in the center of the trail, praying, that the number 10 runner was not going to come around the last turn. Well after relaxing and having it cramp up two more times, there he came. Once again though this is why I love this sport, the guy didn't laugh, didn't run right on by, he paused and said . . you aright? you need a GU? Knowing I'd be ok in a minute or two I waved him on by but the cool thing about this sport is that I have no doubt if that guy and I had been fighting for first and second place he would have done the same exact thing.

Coming out of the cramp I made the best decision to date in any race that I've run. I decided to sit back and take it easy and walk to aid station #4. Being an all downhill section . . I can't describe how hard it was letting ten runners breeze by without wanting to at least just try to keep up but I held strong to my plan and walked it in to mile 22.5 hoping that my leg would be rested enough to compete the last 9 miles.

Leaving aid station #4 I picked up behind a super nice guy that was running at a pace I felt like I could handle and decided to stick with him for now, soon enough though I ended up in front of him after he took a few steps down a wrong trail. Then I saw another guy ahead in a white t-shirt and thought "maybe I could slowly catch him?" Learning my lesson with not letting my mind wander off I took careful attention to each step I was taking as to not irriate my cramped leg again. One mile down the trail, I was passing a guy in a white shirt. I kept on truckin. We reached mile 25 where you come out onto a dirt road and yet again I saw a black shirt, a quarter mile up the road. By the end of the dirt road, I was passing the black shirt. I have NEVER passed someone in an ultra before, this was a huge accomplishment. Up until now its been RUN RUN RUN really hard in the beginning and between miles 20-30 people come passing by me as I'm walking trying to recover my energy. I came into Aid station #6 in 14th place with 3.5 miles left and Dad told me two guys were only 2 minutes ahead. How would I fare on BLUE HELL?

Blue hell is a section of trail at mile 29 that is 900 vertical feet in one mile. Hands down my favorite part of any ultra that I have ran to date. I ended up passing three people in this mile reaching the highest point in Alabama feeling more accomplished then I have in any race. The third guy I passed ended up sprinting by me in the last mile of the race, and cheers to Marcus, it was a heck of a sprint to the finish with you.

Final time and place. 5:17:52. 12th place. 48 minutes and 10 places better than last year

The Cheaha 50k once again holds its place as my favorite trail run, much of this to do with the excellent organization of Todd Henderson. A race will always reflect its director and I have no doubt that the Cheaha 50k will continue to grow bigger and bigger over the years so thanks again for a great race Todd and all the volunteers all the way from the EMS and the Ham Radio to the Virginia Tech Hokie Alum at aid station #4. Hokie Nation!

Here is a link to all of the other lovely pictures that my sister took of the race and park!
And another link to the race results!

Totals on the Day -
Miles = 31.1
Time = 5:17:52

Thanks Mom, Dad, Hannah, and Mark for being a great support crew and motivators! Mark, looking forward to having you out there next year :-)

Cheers to Dane Mitchell for an AMAZING time of 4:00:25 and for smashing the course record by 30 minutes!

Congrats to DeWayne Satterfield for setting a new PR for himself on the course as well!