Tuesday, April 29, 2008

An Interview With Karl Meltzer

Name: Karl Meltzer
Residence: Sandy, Utah
Birthplace: Philadelphia, PA
Years Running: 30
Running Accomplishments: 49 Ultra wins in 93 starts.
23 100 mile wins, most on earth by a trail runner (all trail races)
Awards: 2006 Ultrarunner of the Year, 2006 Everest
Award. More can be found on his BIO page on karlmeltzer.com

This is Karl Meltzer. Those of you who know him from the Ultra-running world, know him simply as, "Mr. Amazing." Karl is undeniably one of the best ultra-runners in our country, which is why there is little doubt that he'll break the record he is challenging this coming August. On August 5, 2008; Karl will beging his journey on Mount Katahdin in Northern Maine. He'll run approximately 2,175 miles south to Georgia where he hopes to become the new holder of the Appalachian Trail Speed Record.

I am humbled and honored to have had the opportunity to speak to Karl about his up coming adventure. Here is what he had to say:

SJ: What Made you Decide to take on the AT Record (why do you want to run it)?
KM: I figured I would try and raise the bar a little instead of running so many 100s. The AT is a new challenge and putting pressure on myself to succeed makes it that much more interesting. I have also talked with friends over the past few years about how cool it would be to do something like this and track it efficiently so everyone can watch me suffer. It makes for a good story, even if I don't succeed.

SJ: Have you been in contact with any of the previous record holders for advice?
KM: No I haven't... why? I like to plan things myself and see if I can succeed. It's my personality really. It's like having pacers...no thanks.

SJ: How are you planning on coordinating aid throughout your run, will you have a crew?
KM: I will have an RV with a small crew (yet to be determined) The RV is all set, the crew is being worked on. Backcountry.com is the driver of the whole project as they have backed me up financially as well.

SJ:How many days do you think it should take you to complete the run?
KM: I am trying to do it under Andrew Thompson's record of 47 days, 13 hours, 31 minutes

SJ:What sections are you most concerned about?
KM: Not concerned about anything really, but Weather in NH and Maine are the key places I hope to zip through (so to speak).

SJ: What sections are you most excited about?
KM: Can't wait to run in the Smokies, I'll be able to smell the barn there, I hope to still be moving well.

SJ: How much does weather play a role in this attempt?
KM: It'll play a huge roll if it stops me. If it's just raining, I'll be prepared.

SJ: As a NH native, are you worried about the weather in the White Mountains?
KM: Its the same as above above. Not concerned really, it is what it is...uncontrollable factor.

SJ: So tell me about your gear? What shoes will you wear?
KM: La Sportiva Shoes, Nathan Packs, Moeben Sleeves, Ryders Eyewear Sunglasses (when needed), Powerbar, First Endurance Products, NUUN, Red Bull. Dunkin Donuts Blueberry muffins.

SJ: Any neat gadgets we can expect to see?
KM: I will be using a satellite communication device sponsored by SPOT, we are hooking this up as we speak. The website whereskarl.com will have more info as we move forward on the technology.

SJ: Can we follow your progress from home?
KM: Yes, You will be able to follow my progress almost live with podcasts, live commentary, (I'll have a mini microphone the size of a news person's, and a camera too, micro sized) Again the website whereskarl.com will be the command center for all to watch. We also will have a map on that site where you can click on the line following the AT and all kinds of interesting stats will pull up. It's freakin' awesome.

SJ: Will you have any pacers we may know?
KM: I don't have any "pacers". Noone paces me, I set my own pace, to be blunt! I have a few friends hiking/running with me. I will not allow extra people to tag along, or I'll have to drop them somehow.

SJ: Whats your favorite kind of trail magic?
KM: I don't think I can discuss that, but music is my friend

SJ: How do you think the other AT travelers/hikers might feel about your run?
KM: Many on the AT will welcome the attempt. For those who oppose it, then so be it, I won't be distracting them in any way as I blaze by them. Ultimately it will be fun to watch on the internet once we get going and if I am on record pace or not.

SJ: Why North to South?
KM: Andrew has the record in this direction, it makes it fair comparing my run to his.

SJ: Why the late start?
KM: I have other committments right now with the Speedgoat 50k on July 26th, and I want to run Western (WS100) fast as well, so the combination of both (if I do break the record) will be an outstanding and full year.

SJ: How will this run affect your running plans for the rest of the year?
KM: I just won't run races in the fall

SJ: Any future plans to tackle any other long distance trails?
KM: Not yet, but it's in the back of my mind. It depends how this goes. With all the logistics involved, and the money it takes to do this, it would be hard to say I'll do it every year....probably not.

SJ: Why did you decide to get away from conquering 100 Milers and to conquering the AT?
KM: Bigger Challenge, higher bar

Myself and the rest of Team Sherpa Ultra-Running wishes Karl all the best on his record attempt this summer. You can check in here for commentary on his adventure as I hope to be joining Karl on his adventure's through New Hampshire. GO KARL!


Rocks Part 2: The Presi-Traverse

If you missed part one you can view it HERE.

The Presi-Traverse

This is the Presidential Range of New Hampshire’s White Mountains. The “Presi-traverse” typically starts at the Appalachia Trailhead on US Rte 2. Runners then take any variation of Trails to the summit of the first and Northernmost Peak of the range, Mount Madison. From here, you travel south over the rest of the range. Runners are free to choose which peaks they travel up and over or you can decide to go around. Traditionalists like myself always go up and over each 4,000’ peak that counts on the AMC’s FTFC List. I also tend to get every bump in between.

Runners are free to decide which direction they travel. Some have been known to go from South to North. Southbound travelers have 3 decisions to make towards the southern terminus of the ridge. You can head down Crawford Path after bagging Peirce. You can head down after bagging Jackson. Or you can go all the way to Webster. The variation of mileages in continuing on to Jackson or Webster is minimal, however, the elevation gain and remaining sunlight is key in the decision process. I have also made the traverse longer in my times doing it, by running over to Isolation on an adjacent ridgeline and back. This easily made for a 31 mile day. The Traditional Traverse from Rte 2 to Jackson and down is 20 Miles with over 8,500' of elevation gain.

Factors: The Weather. 90% of the entire traverse is done above tree-line with little room for bravado. If foul weather moves in it will do so quickly. Not to mention that there are limited places for one to escape back down into the cozy confines of the Trees. New Hampshire’s Mount Washington is the highest peak in the Northeast and situated in such a way given the typography and movement of air currents, that it is home to the worlds worst weather. Average wind’s blow at hurricane force and of the 365 days of the year, the summit is in the fog for over 300 of them. Locals refer to it as THE ROCK PILE.

The geology of the range including and north of Mount Washington is vastly different than that of the range south of Mount Washington. On the north you’ll find rocks half the size of a luxury car. The rocks are sharp and jagged. They hurt to hold on to, they hurt to fall onto and you can’t avoid them. Moving is slow here except for the experienced few. From Rte 2 to Madison Hut Isn’t bad, but once you have to move between peaks, its an all out horror show.

To the south, the rocks are still numerous but more forgiving. Certain sections of the alpine gardens up high toss baby and chicken head rocks your way, perfect for ankle rolling. Moving briskly is a chore and should be done with care. Finally, the southern peaks (Jackson and Webster) are home to rock slab and krumholz. Back in tree line, you have to avoid a litany of roots and small rocks, stone steps and water bars as you try to run without breaking anything on tired legs.. to the terminus of the adventure.

I've done the traverse 3 times and you'll find one report below. I have also done many variations of the traverse. I've done the Northern Presi's Only, Southern Presi's Only and so on. I've trained here countless times and in all seasons. Just another day of running in the GRANITE STATE. I'll rely on these rocks also at MMT.
Here is a Presi-Traverse FAQ
Here is a Youtube Video
Here is another video
Old Report:
Report from 8/11/07

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Rocks Part 1: The Pemi Loop

This is a picture of the Twinway at its junction with the Bondcliff Trail, high up on the slopes of Mount Guyot some 4,000 feet above sea level. The rocks you see... are the trail. There is no single-track here, just a whole load of what NH's nickname is derived after.. Granite.

I've run on and trained on this section of trail specifically on various occasions over the last 4 years. This section of trail is by far my most favorite place in the entire world to come and train. Its rugged for many reasons, beyond which what the rocks can give me. The weather here is vicious. New Hampshire's mountains are home to the "Worlds Worst Weather" and the alpine tundra here is only seen in one other place in the world and thats the arctic tundra.

The trail leading up to this place is on one of my favorite training runs, "The Pemi-Loop." A 35 mile mountain run which I have yet to break 10 hours on. A run that starts with a 3,000+ foot climb up a mountain after a short 1 mile run. The loop continues with crazy ups and down around the "loop" which includes the famous and well travelled Franconia Ridge, The Garfield Ridge (seen above in the fog), the Twinway, Bondcliff and Wilderness Trails. The Garfield Ridge trail is a storied trail often considered one of the toughest 5 miles of the entire Appalachia Trail. Trail so rugged that on my first time there in 2005, I cried and begged for it to relent. The last time I was there, I made quick work of the ridge and reveled in the agony inflicted there.

(Franconia Ridge)

These are my training grounds. They call this the Granite State for a reason. The rocks here are like no where else. I've hiked them, crawled them... and I've run them. This is what I rely on to get me through MMT.


You can read my old trip reports at the following links:
2007 Pemi Loop Run
2006 Pemi-Loop Run
(Next Up: The Presi- Traverse)

Friday, April 25, 2008

RR: 2006 Rachel Carson Challenge

The time has finally come... ULTRA TIME. What I trained all spring for. I ran in all kinds of races on road and trail. Races from 5K's to 14 milers, to 1/2 and whole marathons. Whatever it took to get me in shape for the Ultra Running season and to perhaps give a go at actually competing. I had NO clue what I was getting into, in driving allll the way to Pittsburgh, PA for a race... but a CHALLENGE is what I was looking for. 

So.. one day while scanning a running site I frequent, I found out about The Rachel Carson Trail Challenge. They describe it as "a 34.58-mile long, one-day, sunrise to sunset endurance hike on nearly the entire brutal Rachel Carson Trail. Unlike a footrace, the "challenge" is not to "come in first" or "win", but to endure, to finish the hike in one day. This time, the Challenge starts in Harrison Hills County Park at sunrise, 5:50 AM, and ends 34.58 miles later in North Park. The deadline for finishing is sunset, 8:54 PM or 15 hours, 4 minutes." HOWEVER.. there are about 40-50 ultra-runners who converge on this challenge every year to take it on as a run and see how they measure up. This year, I would join them. 

Last weekend I thought I would train for this event by running the Presi-Traverse with Isolation. A 30.2 miles trip with over 12,000' of elevation gain. After completing that trek I was confident in how I would fair out in Pittsburgh. I joined one of the challenges messege boards so I could get to know some of the folks out there. The thought behind this was that they could offer some support out on the course when they saw the guy from New Hampshire wearing all red (This worked). But I also kept hearing about how DIFFICULT the challenge actually was. Then.. I finally got to see the Elevation Profile. It looked like this: 

Not only was it 34.58 Miles long.. but there was 9,867' of Elv. Gain and 9,746' of loss over the course. I'll try and describe it's different levels of difficulty as we go. But to start I'll tell you that it was laid out mostly along power and gas lines. :shock: 

Saturday, June 24, 2006 

4:15 AM: The alarm goes off and thankfully it has stopped raining outside. The sun has yet to rise and a groggy Sarah and Mom are rolling out of bed. They came the 600+ miles with m to Pittsburgh to be my support crew "Team Sherpa." I knew they would be valuable in a challenge such as this, but I didn't know just HOW valuable. More on this later. After we all splashed cold water in our eyes, we loaded into the support car and headed for Harrison Hills Park in Natrona Hights, PA. 

5:20 AM: We arrive in the parking lot to see a few HUNDRED hikers getting ready for the day. This is THEIR Presi-Traverse and they have all decided to pound it out today. As I duct taped my feet and laced up my shoes, we were amazed by the cars filling into the park.. and then the buses.. 4 or 5 of them FILLED with hikers. "My god" I thought.. "how the hell am I gonna get by all these people on the trail?!" After filling up my bottles I had Sarah do a HUGE favor for me. I've been having trouble getting NEW shirts made up for the team so people can see WHY I run.. so instead.. out came the Magic Marker. Sarah then wrote on the backs of my legs "CURE DIABETES." I felt so honored to be able to run this distance and take on this challenge in the name of diabetes... it makes it all worth while. 

We all headed for the pavilion where I was to check in. It was here that I got my first look at the maps and to figure out how this would go. Basically, I was about to run 34.58 miles up and down powerlines and gas lines, through mucky muddy woods, thorns, poison ivy.. GOD! IT WAS THE TEMPLE OF DOOM.. the ultimate Obstacle course! A challenge it was going to be indeed.. and I felt GREAT! I gave Sarah a kiss, mom a hug and told them I'd see them at checkpoint 1. I gave Sarah my list of points on the course and the time I wanted to be there by. Basically I would try and complete the challenge doing a pace of 4.1 miles an hour over its entire length. This had be finishing in 8:18 I thought this goal would be TOUGH to meet for sure, so I set a max goal of 10 hours. 

After some stretching and attaching my running tag onto my right side, I was scanned in at the start with a starting time of 5:45 AM and off I went on the trail. There were 572 participants partaking in this event, only about 50 of us were running but still a hearty field of runners indeed. But as I carried on through the fields and trails of Harrison Hills park, the hundreds of hikers were hiking single file down the trail with their own hopes of finishing this challenge. It was looking to be a great day with overcast skies and a cool morning. Only bummer so far was the 97% humidity. But regardless, I started running through the weeds around the hikers in hopes to reach the thinner ranks of those who started earlier. 

For a time near the beginning I was running with a VERY tall man from Central, PA. This was his first ultra-experience. At 6'3 and about 290 lbs, his 2 knee braces looked more like tiny face clothes. He was excited about the challenge but said he hoped to only make 30 miles. I tried to encourage him to finish the event regardless with the mindset "run when you can, walk if you need to and crawl if you must... but just finish the damn event!" I parted ways with him and entered the first section of power lines. 

As I approached the first hill... all I could do was stop and slowly start walking. I looked straight up at this thing.. and I mean.. STRAIGHT UP and said to a nearby hiker "it's gonna be a LONG day." We laughed as I headed up the first hill. After cresting this first hill I got a view of what ELSE was to come... STRAIGHT DOWN... Followed by... STRAIGHT UP! Oh man.. what did I get myself into?! 

I started singing songs and carried on along the trail, either way I needed to get to the end and even better.. checkpoint 1 some 6.9 miles after the start. So.. I hustled up the hills and ran down as best I could. For the entire day the trail would be lined by thorn bushes and poison ivy. After cresting the second hill I began to BARREL down it's other side. On my way down the hill, another young guy looked to be running the race. He had a slack pack and stopped to look up as he heard me coming. I yelled "On your left!" as runners normally do when about to pass, and he ignored me and stepped out in front to continue running. Next thing I knew.. we hit a dip where the downhill stopped and the next uphill IMMEDIATELY began.. both at about an 85 degree angle. The young guy tried to jump the dip.. and just as he did I did. Well.. he didn't land so well and fell landing on his stomach.. then... I landed on top of him. OPPS! I felt soooo bad, but then again he didn't allow me to pass. So.. we both collected ourselves and appologized and I continued on up this next hill. I looked down and my knee was a bloody mess. Yup... 4 miles in and I'm all cut up, bruised, soaked from the wet weeds, muddy from a spill and wondering if I would even make it to the end of this thing. 

At mile 5, I emerged off of a power line and onto a paved road. The yellow blazes we had been following on trees and telephone poles were now on guardrails and... well.. telephone poles. I got out my cell phone and called my crew to let them know I was about a mile or so out of the checkpoint and to get ready. I was WAY ahead of schedule (about 45 minutes ahead) and overall feeling good. As soon as I hung up the phone.. it rang. I have a specil ring for when Mt. Drew calls me and it was him. It was GREAT to him from him and the conversation was kept short. 

As I ran into Checkpoint 1, I went to the volunteers of the event who would scan my tag and check me in. Sarah and Mom had taken my empty water bottles and filled them up for me. I 2 bottles I had Gatorade Endurance Formula and in the other 2, WATER. I grabbed some powergels for my pack, and had one while there. Chewed some oranges and had a banana before giving Sarah a kiss and heading back out onto the course. From here... more of the same... UP and downs. 

People throughout the day would recognize me from their messege board. "Hey! Red shirt, red shorts, red hat... you must be the guy from New Hampshire!" Yes.. yes I was and I was beginning to enjoy their event out here in PA. They people were nice for the most part. Everyone kept asking me "how do you like it, isn't it tough?!" Well... how do I answer that. Certainly it had it's degree of difficulty but I wasn't struggling with it by any means. It was actually quite enjoyable. All I could say to them was... there are no sharp jagged rocks and no roots to go around or over so.. I can't really compare it to what I'm used to. It is difficuly in places but I wouldn't call it brutal or agonizing by any means.. 

But then again... how about this description.. ALL of the hills were like South Tripyramid Slide. A mix of crushed coal and slate with SLICK SLICK Mud/Clay. So... throw all that on tripyramid south slide and thats what it was like. TWO of the hills were like EXTENDED versions of Owls Head and Tripyramids North slide. It was quite amazing trying to hustle up these sections withouth slipping and going backwards. This is where the TRUE challenge takes place. The REAL breakneck was all of the thorn bushes. My legs have over 200 scratches and knicks in them from all the thorns, I look like I ran through a shredder. 

I found myself running along a high ridge overlooking the Alegheny River. I was hoping I hadn't missed Checkpoint 2 where the Team was waiting for me. As I rounded a corner I heade something in the grass.. it was a deer that had been sleeping. I awoke him and it was pretty neat to see him go bounding off into the woods. Then, I ran into an older gentleman on the trail. He had a bow saw around his neck and was out painting the blazes on this high ridge. We traded pleasantries and I thanked him for his trail service. He resonded with, "I'd rather do this than that!" We laughed and off I went. 

It had been awhile without seeing the Powerlines but then they re-appeared. I saw some signs leading us away and into the next checkpoint. It was still over cast as I reached the 14 mile mark. Mom was sitting at the bench helping one of the volunteers make PB&J sandwhiches. The lady whom she was helping had peanut butter allll over her hands and she said, "Look it moisturizes." Sarah refilled my bottles again, and I munched on a rice krispy treat and some more fruit. I even cracked open a coke which I drank half off before heading out. 

From Checkpoint 2 to 3.. it was more of the same, but the trail was now becomming VERY hard to follow. The powerlines were also home to dirt bikers (as they are out here in NH) and some of them were out. Many times as I was crusing down a steep hill concentrating on my footing, the trail were diverge off to the left about 3/4 of the way down and I ended up having to turn around and walk back UP the hill to find out where it went. Following the trail was starting to become the BIGGEST challenge.. but I used it to my advantage. I was starting to notice that many of the other runners were becomming disoriented and irrate with the difficulty of following the trail. I decided I would take the extra time in tricky areas but to keep moving at a good clip to give myself some distance from the others. The sun had come out around Mile 18 and it was HOT! 85 degrees with 97% humidity.. it was unbearable. I could see on the other runners faces that even though this was not a "race" persay, there WAS a comeptition going on. 

As I crested the tallest hill... I looked down... STRAIGHT Down.. and my phone rang. "Hi Hunny." Yup.. Sarah could see me and as I glanced wayyyy down below.. I saw the cars. It was Check Point 3. There was no running down this hill as it was all click clay. In fact.. I even fall and slid down about 300' of it on my rear. I was all cut up and bleeding like a bull at the bull fights. As I got into the checkpoint I asked Sarah to refill my bottles and mom to get me the pedialyte. Pedialyte is great for infants in electrolyte replacement.. it worked WONDERS for me today. 

On my way to CHKP 4 I was running along a road and got my shorts caught on the guardrail. My shorts ripped and I was not a happy camper. But it was ok.. I was feeling great and knew I would go the distance. CHKP4 was at the 26.68 Mile mark.. JUST over a marathon which puts it into Ultra-Land. As I ran in I was greeted by applause from the checkpoint volunteers. Apparently I am just the 3rd person to enter the checkpoint! SAY WHAT!? Sarah and mom worked to cut the tather off my shorts and refill my bottles. I used the porta-potty that was their as it was taking more energy to hold in my waste than it was to get rid of it. I hadn't been peeing as much as I would have liked either but then again, when I had it was clear. So.. I felt like I was well hydrated. It was time for the final push. For the 3rd time in the race I came to a woman in a car who was running support for her husband, she kept giving me gatorade and potatoes with Salt. All was good and greatly appreciated. 

The Final 8 Miles. 

After having Chocolate covered espresso beans I left chkp 4 and headed for the finish. A LOT of runners passed me while I was at the chkp so I was hoping to catch most of them and distance myself more. The next 2 miles was on gravel roads and I used the gravel up hills to run.. the other runners could only walk but I had some juice left. I passed about 5 of them right off the bat and was feeling great. 

I ran across high farm fields but no more powerlines. Through dark woods I went. At stream crossings I stopped taking time to rock hop and just plowed through. I was on a mission. I had only been looking at my watch for distance and ignored the time. But the further along I got... the more sore my legs were getting. Around Mile 31.. I passed whom I thought was the leader.. and right after the push to get by him.. I hit the wall... I was in a certifiable low digging deep to find some inspiration. 

I saw a family fishing in a stream and asked if anyone had run in front of me. 2 runners about 45 minutes ago.. Damn! Well... time to suck it up anyway.. and finish this thing proudly. So... I started singing and drooling and my brain slowly turned to mush. I guzzled my gatorades for electrolytes... and all of a sudden I was a pee machine. In the last 4 miles of the race I peed some 12 times.. swear to god! I even decided to stop stopping and peed while on the move. (Don't recommend, it's messy) At Mile 2 I popped out of the woods and to a railroad crossing. I lost sight of the trail markings and in a tried hazy state.. was confused and now.. dejected. Another runner came out and pointed which way to go... I had dropped a place. 

But I continued to run with all I had and at Mile 33.. as I walked UP the final uphill... I stopped slouching and stood tall. I drank the last of my water and gatorade and thought of why I did this today. I ran 34.58 miles and over some real rugged terrain... got all cut up.. for thos who cannot do it. I did it for those with an affliction that may or may not be of their own doing. I do it for Sarah and all of the others with diabetes. Nothing felt better than to run into a checkpoint and have someone take a picture of my legs with the writing "Cure Diabetes" on them, then tell Sarah how inspiring it was. Because inspiration is something I also strive to inject into others souls. They say it right out here in PA, "the "challenge" is not to "come in first" or "win", but to endure." 

I came to a road and there was Mom and Sarah. I gave them my fanny pack and they pointed to where I needed to go. I ran down a road and turned into some woods before emerging over small stream and saw the final yellow volunteer shirts. It was the end.. the finish line.. I was so happy! I LOVE Ultra Running.. I get a chance to break myself down and rebuild.. rediscover more about who I am.. there is NOTHING like it. I'll NEVER be able to describe to you the MENTAL aspect of these events. And I truly wish I could. 

I then found out I was the 6th runner to come into the finish area. HOWEVER... because we all started at Varying times... we all had a varied finishing time and place. 

I ran the 34.58 mile course in 8 Hours 4 Minutes and 41 Seconds. 
Hard work pays off as I finished this event in 3rd place over all. 
I ran with all I had... fought through the lows and revelled in the highs and I FINALLY... competed in an event. 

Officially... only 133 of the 576 whom started the challenge finished! :shock: 

Here are the pictures 

Here is a Newspaper Article on the event. 

So... with that.. we head into 4th of July Weekend where I take on the Huts Traverse. Next Ultra is on July 22nd out in New York. But I can't wait to see some of you Sunday in the whites!! This traverse is a CELEBRATION! 

Monday, April 21, 2008

DRB 50K.. or so.

Saturday marked the 10th or 11th running of the Don't Run Boston 50K held anually in the Blue Hills Reservation South of Boston. The Blue Hills Reservation is a federal reserve which contains quite a network of intermingled trails. Every time I have gone to the Blue Hills I have run the same route, The Skyline Traverse. What a pleasant thought it was to be able to explore the park a little more.

Just 6 days after surrendering at 100 Miles at McNaughton park, my plan was to head to the Blue Hills to say hello to many old friends, put some more faces to names and just enjoy the day at New Englands first of the year Ultra-Marathon. By no means did I plan on running the entire race as running here at all was an added treat to my current recovery. I showed up at the Houghton's Pond parking lot and saw many of the runners all ready there! I pulled in and immediately gave my good friend Paul Kearney (RunLongVT) a welcome hug and a Long Trail Blackberry Wheat. I then saw Ryan Prentiss who I hadn't seen since Stonecat and offered him the same type of frosty brew for when they completed the day.

The runners all started coming over and contributing their additions to the community aid station pile. All of your typical aid stations foods were present. I contributed water and gummy bears, the small price of admission. As we huddled around for the pre-race meeting, Steve Pero pointed out to us all that I had run 100 Miles the weekend before to which I added that if anyone found me on the trail to just drag me aside so no one trips on me.

As the race started I tried to hang with Paul at a leisurely pace. It was pretty evident early on that Paul was running MUCH faster than I. So I yielded to his desires and let him head out on his way. Thank god I did because in the end, Paul finished the race in 2nd place with a time of 6:21! WAY TO GO PAUL! I hung back with Chris Martin, Craig Wilson, Damon Lease and Jamie Mialkowski. We were all running a comfortable laid back pace and this is all I really wanted to do.

The Blue HIlls trail network is home to some nasty gnarly trails. Rocks, roots, briars taking over the trails and many many short steep ups and downs. It was like reliving last weekends nightmare all over again except for the missing mud. Though, I admit.. I did not miss it! The reason I wanted to follow Paul was because he had a map. Once he took off, it was pretty evident that I had no idea where to go, and thankfully the group of runners I was with were veteran to this race. RD Howie even ran some with us. I really enjoyed the company.

As the sun continued to rise over the horizon, the heat really got crankin out on the trails. A light breeze blew across the tops of the baren knobs, and in the woods the heat continued to get rise. On the overly rocky sections, the heat coming off of the rocks was intense! Temps rose into the mid 60's by mid race with much hotter temps on the rocks. I loved it, as heat (and humidity when available) are my favorite conditions to run in. It was nice to get dirty, dusty and down right sweaty. These are the conditions I long for!

After cresting out onto the Skyline Trail, I knew the course to the 13 Mile mark by heart. Chris and I ran together as I really took it to the rocky downhills, as I continue to prepare for Massanutten Mountain. I Love rocks, they don't scare or intimidate me one bit and this was pretty evident through the ease of which I coasted across them. As we reached the 13 mile Aid station, I let Howie know that I had had enough fun and would be heading home. Chris had run 3 miles earlier and was dorpping at 16. Craig and Jamie went ahead with Damon as they dropped out later. Damon went on to finish.

While standing at the Aid Station, we noticed Bob Mathes come in with Chris Haley. Chris had fallen somewhere on Blue Hill and broke his pinky. The bone had actually pierced through the skin. Bob (a Doctor) moved the pinky back into a more normal position, cleaned it up and taped Chris up for his trip to the hospital. I certainly hope he is well as well as his little finger. He didn't even appear to be in any pain.. quit a tough dude. Way to go Chris!

So.. 13.5 miles total in just over 3 hours. Probably about 2,800' of elevation gain in the short distance. Some great training on rugged terrain, I got to hang with some great folks and see some people I hadn't seen in awhile. Just a great race all around. Next time I hope to show up rested and run a little further in this classic New England, Grass Roots, bare bones ultra.

Un Official Race Results
Times truncated to the minute
1. Bob Mathes, NH 6:04
2. Paul Kearney, VT 6:21
3. Jeff List, MA 6:26
4. Garry Harrington, NH 6:35
5. Chris Shanley, MA 6:44
6. Steve Pero, NH 6:45
7. Ryan Prentiss, MA 6:57
7. Thomas Mikkelsen, MA 6:57
9. Damon Lease, VT 8:54
(18 starters)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

RR: The McNaughton Park 150

The Skinny:
Race: McNaughton Park 150 Miler
Where: Pekin, Il.
When: April 11-13, 2008

Results: Dropped at 100 Miles
33 Hours and 33 Minutes Elapsed

Pictures can be found HERE

On April 11, 2006; my grandfather and best friend assed away from Cancer. On that day I held his hand as he passed on to a better life. On April 11, 2008; he held my hand as I toed the line to try and conquer 150 Miles at McNaughton Park in Pekin, IL.

McNaughton Park is in itself a pretty challenging course. 10 mile loops of short and steep hills the entire way. However, those of us who have run here know full well that any kind of foul weather easily makes this course the most underrated 100 mile course in the country. Unfortunately for this weekend, it would be one of those foul weather years… again.

In 2007, I ran this race as my first 100 Miler and was now returning to try and tackle 150 Miles. No matter how far I would make it, I only had 48 Hours to do so instead of the race cut off of 52 Hours. Sarah and I needed to catch a plane home on Sunday so we could both go to work or school on Monday. Regardless of this point, I showed up ready to run and take on the mud beats of McNaughton.

Here is how it went...

The Race:
Lap 1: Miles 0-10

The starting siren went off and like a giant herd of sheep we were off and running down the first hill. It was cold as we run together in a pack, if nothing else than to simply try and feed off of each other’s warmth. A few guys are really taking off down through the first field and I ask them, “Hey is this a 10K?!” I couldn’t believe how fast some people were running, especially with 149.8 miles to go. It was evident who had thought this race out as they ran comfortably through the field and took their time easing into their own groove

I settled in with Al Kader from Brooklyn, NY. Al and I met last year at the Grand Tetons 100. We had fond memories there and decided to stick together for a while here at McNaughton Park. We talked a little bit about how things have been and how excited we were for the race, but our chatter was soon drowned out by silence. The wind whipped across the countryside at about 30mph with higher gusts. Temps hovered around 40 and the wind had quite a bite to it. The course was damp and muddy from rain in the days prior to the race, and it continued to fall in sporadic bursts.

The hills were kind of sloppy but nothing like last year and I was relieved. Rumor had it, the winds were supposed to die down tonight and the possibility of showers had decreased. (Oh how I wish the forecast had been right.) At the first creek crossing I noticed that a tree had fallen victim to erosion and was leaning half way across the creek and in the water. I walked over and walked along the trunk, onto a branch and jumped to safety without getting my feet wet. If I could only continue this through out the race, it would be a huge help!

We wound along the ravine bed until reaching the hills. Golf Hill is the steepest and a rope is set up along trees in order to help you pull yourself up the steep and slippery slope. Last year I went 65 miles without using the rope, this year I knew better and used it on every lap. As we topped out on the hill, we had just enough time to catch our breath before we ran down and up and down and up a few more. The course was in pretty good shape considering and we were all well on our way.

The course is as always well marked with yellow ribbons, compliments to Andy Weinberg who spends the better half of a few weeks ensuring that we all know which way to go. The course itself is one big 10-mile loop which has us weaving in and out of varying areas, constantly walking past places where you can see where you’ve been or where you need to go in the coming miles. It really is an intricate design, one that only a silk worm could replicate in the making of some odd sweater.

As we made our way through the next field, we ran past the small cemetery and I knew Heavens Gate was next. Heavens Gate is the aid station at Miles 6 and 7.5 and has its own loop. It is manned by the running Buffalo runners of Illinois. These folks are top-notch runners who exemplify the true meaning of trail running. Their kind and gentle spirit and copious amounts of enthusiasm and encouragement is yet to be matched anywhere through my experiences.

As I ran into the aid station I gave a big yell, “Buffaloooooo!” They yell back and we immediately commence into discussion about where my whitey tighties were. Even though I had lost a bet over the Super Bowl, trying to remain warm and continue to be able to run this race was more important than settling a bet. They were sure to air their disappointment on each recurring loop. After a quick snack we headed down into the Heavens Gate Loop, down and along the river-bank, back up to the field and by the aid station again. From here it is 2.5 miles to the start/finish.

Al and I trudged through the next set of fields, which were pretty saturated on this side of the course. Slick mud and standing water made for a miserable time with the footing. We only hoped it didn’t rain. All ready we were experiencing some passing showers and chilly winds. The last thing we wanted was more rain. We headed back into the woods, looped around this next section, through 2 more fields and arrived at the next creek crossing. We stopped to investigate the scene and realized there was no way to avoid being wet. I rolled up my pant legs and headed into the water that was shin deep and freezing cold. On the far side of the creek bank was a soupy mess of mud and slop. We trudged through and made our way up the last series of muddy hills to the start/finish line.

Sarah and Rachel were ready to do the pit change at the start/finish. Boost, gels, refill the bottles, stuff the pockets, warmer clothes, put the hood down and away I went. The transition was quick as Al and I were quickly on our way. What an amazing crew I had.. and dedicated!

Lap 2: Miles 10-20
Round and round we went again. Al and I stuck together through the Totem Pole aid station (mile 3 on the loop). As we passed through here and headed down through “The Beach” I noticed Al slow down a bit. I looked back to see if he was ok and he seemed fine. I continued on through the 1st crossing and looked back on the other side. Al seemed to have disappeared. I figured he had stopped to use the restroom so I kept moving along. (Later I would find out that Al had fallen victim to hypothermia very early in the race. He passed out and crashed on the trail. He woke up and shivered his way to the start/finish where he called it a day at 20 Miles. Though I thought about it all race long, the serious threat for hypothermia during this race was very real and a dangerous risk. Thankfully Al is fine and looking ahead to his next race.)

I myself felt pretty lousy during the second loop, like as if I was bonking. My gels and boost weren’t sitting in my stomach well at all and other foods all ready seemed very unappetizing. I hoped to shake the funk pretty early and pushed through it as best I could. The passing showers were starting to become more frequent, mixing with snow and the winds seemed to pick up before they decreased. It was cold, miserable and running alone made for some pretty depressing feelings on my behalf. What was I doing out here? I was not with it and felt disconnected from the race. I hoped as time went by things would change.

Lap 3: Miles 20-30
I had been having trouble with my nutrition plan and finally had it figured out. I was eating too much too early and eating it fast. In order to fix the problem and allow my body a chance to digest what I had all ready fed it, I began to stagger my eating of gels and drinking of boosts and my intake of Electrolyte tablets. As the miles clicked by I slowly started to feel better until I was running comfortably and feeling up to the task. I was amazed at how long it takes me to get into the groove during these races. Its not uncommon for 18-23 miles into a run is where I finally start to feel good. I’m not sure if this is good or bad but judging by how I felt during the race, I’m going to say bad.

Either way, I was feeling much better. I settled into the run and continued to make the rounds. As I ran into the start/finish area, I was skipping along with a huge smile on my face. I was in my element and having an amazingly fun time. During my pit stop I grabbed my headlamp and did another layer adjustment before taking off once more. A young man by the name of Al offered to pace me and I asked him to join me for lap 5, until then… it was off on 4.

Lap 4: Miles 30-40
I ran the 4th lap alone dreading the occurrence of the setting sun. The night time hours are my worst and something I am desperately trying to improve upon at these types of events. I ran most of the lap alone, saying hello to the stray runner I would run into from time to time. I made it across the first stream crossing before needing a headlamp which was good and in fact, I ran around the 10 Bears Loop before I finally needed to turn it on. Ran and snow showers continued to fall only now at a more frequent clip than before. The rains were getting increasingly more chilly and the winds slowly began to die down. As the sun set, I felt a real sense of isolation. I was VERY lonely and all ready wishing I didn’t have to run tonight. All I wanted was to lay down in my tent next to Sarah and dream. But I still had work to do.

As I reached the start finish line I changed my shoes and socks. I had been wearing a pair of Inov-8 Roclite 310’s. The shoes are pretty narrow which would be fine on a dry course, but the soggy conditions caused a greater amount of foot swelling and pruning. My big toes and little toes hurt. As I changed socks I covered my big toe one my right foot with Vaseline. I knew it had blistered on the bottom all ready, something I had hoped to avoid. I wore my last pair of Injinji toe sock and threw on my warm Darn Tough Coolmax Cushion Socks, my feet felt instantly warm and up to the task. I then learned that Sarah’s friend Rachel had fallen ill and was asleep in their tent. My crew of two was now a crew of one, Sarah was obviously worried and tired as was I. Its funny how she continued to worry about me and the race and all I could think about was my crew. She hurried me along and I left with Al. Al came down from Michigan to pace Jeff Christian in tomorrows 100 Miler. I suggested he could run one or two laps with me and then rest up for Jeff. Everything worked out fine.

Lap 5: Miles 40-50
Al and I took off down the trail. I was still feeling good and moving along at a decent clip. I continue to walk up most of the hills and run when I had the chance. My feet were starting to hurt and I knew my big toe had a bad blister on it. I decided to keep pushing through it as long as I could. As we went on into the night, the more I slowed down as my vision is not the best even with a headlamp.

At the first creek crossing we caught up with another runner. He was preparing to trudge through the water until he noticed Al and I take to the downed tree. The runner then decided to follow us and asked my pacer for some assistance. My pacer told me to run ahead and he would catch up. So I took off running and walking eventually making my way up to the top of Golf Hill where shortly afterwards I had caught up with a female runner. I told her my pacer was behind me with another runner and he was going to catch up with me soon. Quite a ways down the trail and in the Sheridan section neat the hairpin, my pacer was running AT me asking me if I had “Done a loop ta loop?” “No man, I followed the course with this other run here, looks like you guys cut the course!” I was totally bummed out to find out that the runner he had stayed with went off the course and ended up ahead of us. I was now faced with a morale decision to make. Do I tell the aid staff at Hevens Gate? Or just let it go.

As we ran into Heavens Gate, I saw the runner there. We know each other, I just don’t see the need to mention his name here. In front of the aid crew I told him, “Hey.. I was ahead of you after the 1st creek crossing. How did you get in front of me without passing me? Looks like you cut the course!” The runner immediately got irate and confrontational about it, “I would NEVER…” Of course I knew he would never intentionally do such a thing but the fact is that he DID do it and its unfortunate. McNaughton Park in the dark can indeed be a tricky place but you’d figure by the 5th lap, you’d know where to go!

Lap 6: Miles 50-60
I was very sleepy during lap six. After the totem pole aid station, I went down the trail running when I could. I was all over the place, weaving in and out like a drunk driver. My eyes were heavy and starting to close. As we ran down onto the beach, I fell asleep briefly and woke up quick enough o catch myself from hitting the dirt. I got a good laugh out of it and pressed on.

When I reached Heavens Gate at the conclusion of the loop there, I laid down underneath the aid station table to try and close my eyes for 5 minutes, hoping it would help me get to the start/finish without falling asleep again. After 5, I jumped up and saw a female runner eating from the table. She would head off into the Heavens Gate loop as we left it and we continued on our way. The weather was horrible now. Off and on showers had now turned into a steady rain and snow shower. I was freezing cold, tired, my feet killed and I still had to get them wet at the crossing again. The winds hadn’t died down yet as promised and the trail was getting increasingly more difficult to negotiate.

After making it through the creek crossing I had made the decision that my current best course of action was to take a few at the start/finish to recollect myself. I was all ready 2 to 3 hours behind my planned pace. I was now down to no pairs of Injinji toe socks and one more pair of shoes. Given the weather and the course, I was going to have to decide if the 150 was even attainable at this point.

We got to the start/finish and I was told that the female runner who I had saw at Heavens Gate as we were leaving had just been through the start/finish about 15 to 20 minutes ago. That seemed odd to me because she never passed me as well. I knew I was tired but I wasn’t missing runners coming on by. Turns out, she never even returned to Heavens Gate after her loop there and she had cut the course by 2 miles!

I sat inside the tent and thanked Al for his company. I was now 60 miles into the race and knew that 150 miles was quickly getting out of reach. I was tired and physically spent from dealing with all the mud. The amount of energy it takes out of you is large. I decided that I needed to figure out how the hell I was going to even make it to 100 Miles never mind 150! So.. I took off my shoes and socks, put on a dry pair of socks and decided to lay down for 2 hours to allow my feet a chance to dry.

Lap 7: Miles 60-70
There was no sleeping during the 2 hours I lay there in the cold morning, listening to snow/rain and sleet hitting the top of our tent. Rachel was vomiting in my crews tent so Sarah opted to lay next to me. Rachel would be leaving in the morning so my crew of two was going to officially be a crew of one. My feet dried well in the night and as morning came, I asked sarah to find Andy and ask him if he had any spare pairs of Injinji’s which thankfully he did. I heard the countdown for the 50 and 100 mile runners as they were on their way.

I put the socks on, a new set of Darn Toughs and my last pair of dry shoes. I also put on a different jacket and my rain pants. Thank god I come to these things prepared for the worst. As I left the tent and headed for the trail, I grabbed my fleece bear hat. I’ve had this neat little hat for years. As much as I was disappointed I had decided to not go for the 150, I still wanted to continue having a hell of a time making it to 100. SO with a smile all bundled up, off I went, slipping and sliding down the trail, chasing all of the runners who were now REALLY tearing up the course along the way.

As I made it to the Heavens Gate aid station, a man by the name of Curt Lowry. Curt had introduced himself to me a few times all ready during the race but when he did I was either too out of it, too tired or too hurried to really hold a conversation with him. He was well into his own 50 mile adventure when he made a point to stop and come over to introduce himself again. We shook hands and I listened to him speak. I just have to say that Curt is one top notch guy and what he said to me there in the field at Heaven’s Gate really touched me. I was humbled and moved to tears as I continued on down the trail all choked up by what he said. As I know he’ll read this, I want to say Thank you Curt. Thanks so much for your encouraging words.

At the 2nd crossing I went up stream and down stream looking for another downed tree or a branch to cross on. I knew that if I got my feet wet again, the race for me would be over for good. My feet are covered in mud. My shoes weigh a ton, I’m still freezing cold, tired but motivated to get 100 Miles in. I backed up and ran full steam across the water picking each foot up quickly. A cameraman caught the action and when I got to the other side he told me he’d never actually seen a man walk on water. My feet… we dry! I knew next time I wouldn’t be so lucky.

Lap 8: Miles 70-80
Back at the start finish I get the refills again and pick up two garbage bags for the next time I got to the river crossing. I was in need of a pacer to keep me moving along. Scott Gregersen volunteered to pace me a lap. Scott is in the 50 mile race himself and I feel terrible that he is going to end up with a 4 hour loop helping me out. He didn’t seem to care though as we were on our way.

Rain and snow continues to fall, temps are in the mid 30’s and the wind has thankfully died down. Unfortunately, the continuing precipitation made the course worse and worse as we went along. We were not at the point where I could honestly say that this years race conditions were worse than last years. The mud had the consistency of peanut butter and getting up and down the hills took every ounce of energy I had in me. I was covered in mud and the fun level was starting to decline.

We continued to run into fellow runners, or they ran into me on their way to their respective finishes. Brian Gaines, Travis Liles… and a few other runners whose names I forget. I was so humbled by the encouragement given during this loop. Everyone who passed me by that knew me, gave me a pat on the back and encouraged me to keep going. When I told them 100 would be it for me, some would stop, turn around and pat me on the back and still give me a “way to go.” I learn something new about myself during each race, but I think during this race, I learned more about people. In a time in my life where I continue to question the good in people.. people showed me that they are indeed good.

Creek crossing #2.. I put my legs into garbage bags and tenderly crossed the stream. Once on the other side, I put rocks in the bags and tossed them back across to Scott so he could keep his own feet dry. Unfortunately, Scott wasn’t so tender and poked holes in the bags. It was pretty funny actually. Jeff Genova was hoping to come up from Arkansas to pace me some during the race. Unfortunately, his daughter got injured earlier in the weekend and he was not going to make it. I had decided on my way back to the start/finish that if he wasn’t there to come out with me for the night, that 100 miles would definitely officially be it. I was barely holding on to hope for a 150 mile finish.

Lap 9 and 10: Miles 80-100
As I reached the start/finish I was told that Tracy Thomas had showed up and she was prepared to pace me if I wanted it. Boy did I! I grabbed 2 new garbage bags and found Andy Weinberg the RD. I told Andy that Lap 10 would be my final lap and that 100 miles would be enough for me. Andy wasn’t too happy to hear this and told me to see how I felt then. I had made up my mind long ago though, and was determined to get to 100 miles and enjoy just that.

For the next two laps, I really enjoyed Tracy’s company. She had to endure not only the course, but my flatulence. She endured waiting for me to apply Vaseline constantly to horrific chafe. She heard terrible corny jokes. But most importantly, Tracy lent and ear. We talked and talked about our sport and our lives. And I even got to tell her why I was running. I really missed my grandfather, and even though 100 Miles would be it, I could hear his voice in my head telling me how proud of me he was.

100 Miles… This would be plenty in these conditions. The amount of effort and the totality of the epic journey I embarked upon just to make it that far was incredible. I started to slip and slide down the hills, I even fell a few times. I continued to keep my feet as dry as possible. At Heaven’s Gate, Tracy chugged some Bud Light and on lap 10 I joined her with a small cup of Heinekin. She pushed me to the finish, keeping me upright and talking. We walked into the night as every steo I took grew increasingly more painful. My feet were blistered and sore. My quads felt like someone was ripping them off the bone. My knees hurt from trying to negotiate the mud. In 4 weeks, I’ll endure more pain at Massanutten Mountain Trails 100, I have nothing to prove to anyone, 100 Miles here… 100 Miles in the mud, muck and slop was enough. The shear thought of another 50 miles, anther night of rain and snow, was just too much to handle or overcome.

More runners came passed and tried to get me to keep moving forward in the 150. I didn’t want it enough to continue on. I am so thankful for Tracy’s help and she somehow found the need to thank ME for having her come along. No no Tracy.. all the thanks go to you.

After 33 Hours and 33 Minutes, I ran across the finish line of my 4th 100 Mile finish. Of all of them, this effort was the hardest and this race the toughest. I was exhausted and relieved. I was tired, cold and wet. I was muddy. I was done. As I was congratulated by my friends from the Midwest and Sarah, I was harassed by Andy Weinberg and Mike Halovatch. They were trying to motivate me to keep going on the course, which I appreciated. But at the same time, I felt it really took away from what I actually HAD accomplished and it really hurt my feelings quite a bit. It is what it is, I’m young, there will be other races and future years. I’m in no rush to do anything I’m not ready to do or not motivated to do.

I’m so thankful for all of the friends I’ve made over the years from the Illinois area. I really have to thank everyone for their support and encouragement through out the course of the race. As I said earlier, typically I learn something about myself during races. I learned at McNaughton this year that I have nothing to prove to anyone and that I am my own boss and I control my own destiny. I learned that even though the stack against me is high, even though there will be struggle, I CAN keep moving forward. But most importantly, I learned that there still is plenty of good in people and when they show you… it feels REALLY good. These are the people I will surround myself with in my life. These are the people who will help and encourage you to live, to laugh an to love. Thank you Illinois.. and thank you everyone!

Now the question remains... Could I have done it? I honestly, 100% think that if the weather was warmer and the trails were drier, I could have done 150 Miles no problem!

Next Up: Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 - Front Royal, VA - May 17!

My Laps:
Lap 1 1:53:51.26 11:23/M 10.000
Lap 2 2:11:23.02 13:08/M 20.000
Lap 3 2:25:38.14 14:34/M 30.000
Lap 4 2:38:08.97 15:49/M 40.000
Lap 5 3:06:30.69 18:39/M 50.000
Lap 6 4:13:11.88 25:19/M 60.000
Lap 7 5:04:38.76 30:28/M 70.000
Lap 8 3:45:01.12 22:30/M 80.000
Lap 9 4:02:53.18 24:17/M 90.000
Lap 10 4:12:38.78 25:16/M 100.000

Friday, April 4, 2008

Ultra Gear (P4): Crews and Strategies

Welcome to Part 4 of my Ultra Gear and Performance Series.
Click HERE to Review Part 1: The Outter Layer
Click HERE to Review Part 2: Nutrition and Hydration
Click Here to Review Part 3: Medical and Misc.

Here in Part 4 I will be discussing Crews and also giving you a little insight into my race strategies in finishing 50 and 100+ mile races. I will even give you a little bit of insight into my training program so you can get a small idea of what I do to prepare for these events. I want to reiterate that I am NOT a doctor nor am I an expert by any means at any of this. I, like yourselves, am an experiment of one. I am simply relaying to you all what has worked for me over the last 3 years of Ultra-Running. While what works for me MIGHT work for you, it is simply my hope that you will find this information helping in devising your own plans and in turn, helping you to finish your first ultra whatever the distance may be.


Above is a photo of my crew at the 2007 Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run. From my own personal perspective and from the various perspectives of others, my crew was THE BEST during this event. My crew consisted of (From L to R) Paul Kearney (RunlongVT on running forums), My fiance Sarah Chretien and my brother-in-law Mike Robinson.

Choosing a Crew:
This is a pretty important decision to make. Who should be on my crew? Choosing the wrong people who mean disaster for you late in a race. What I mean by this is, if you choose the wrong people for your crew, they could serve to be more useless than useful. I always choose the most POSITIVE thinkers that I know. You want people who are going to encourage you through-out the race. Being a crew member is a HUGE responsibility and you need people who won't have a problem being dedicated to YOUR success and their boredom for the next 24-36 hours. Remember, it is as much an endurance event for your crew as it is for you. Choose the people you know can do the job and do it well. Choose the people you know who will remain positive and choose the people you know will actually enjoy themselves doing this HUGE favor for you.

Prepare Your Crew:
As you begin asking folks to be on your crew, make sure you make it very clear to them exactly what they will be doing. "Well, pretty much I need you to stay awake for 24 hours or more, aside from a few cat naps, and drive all over gods creation bringing my essential gear to various checkpoints." While this doesn't sound exciting.. this is why you must pick positive thinkers. The same type of people you know can make well out of any situation. It is imperitive that your crew understands what is expected of them and what they are getting into. Make sure there are no surprises.. SCARE THEM NOW so that on race day they won't be scared then (of such things as vomit, blood, blisters, chafe, etc.).

Crew Binder:
I have a blue three ring binder that goes to EVERY single race no matter if it is a 50K, 50 Mile or more. This binder is the "crew Bible." This binder serves as your main communication piece between you and your crew in the moments that you guys are not together (ie. As you are running the race). Page 1 of the binder starts with a spreadsheet. The spreadsheet has 7 columns. 1.) Aid station Names, 2.) Miles IN, 3.) Miles To Go, 4.) Miles to Next Aid/Handler and column #'s 5-7 are for split times for each aid station given a particular goal and (/) Time of DAY it should be that I am arriving at the given aid station providing the race started on time.

So.. For instance.. I'll use Aid Station #3 at the Vermont 50 as an example.(This would be Row 3 of the Sheet)

Aid Station MI MTG Miles to Next Aid/Handler Sub 9Hr Pace/Time of Day (6AM Start)
#3: Skunk Hollow 12.5 38.57 8.1 / 22.7 2:12/8:52 AM

Of course the sheet would possess appropriate rows for aid Stations 1 and 2 and 4 through 11 as appropriate. What I have tried to do is just give you an idea of what the sheet looks like. My crew knows at all times how many miles I've had between aid stations. They know how many miles IN I will be when I see them and how many miles to go before I see them Next. They can relay this important information to me during the race so that we can prepare for the next section of miles ahead. I typically do not ask how many miles I have left because frankly.. It doesn't matter! What matters is continuing to move forward regardless of the circumstances. Knowing how many miles to the next aid and handler stations is important and deciding what I might want to bring with me while on the run. For the VT50 this year I had three goals. One was Sub-11 Hours, the others were Sub-10 Hours and Sub-9 Hours. Above you see the race run time for Skink Hollow providing I am on pace for a sub 9 hour finish.. and what time of day it should be at the LATEST when I arrive. I make sure that my crew knows that the Pace time is the MAX TIME for that aid station and that I could arrive earlier so be prepared.

Below the spreadsheet for the Vermont 50 was a list of the three handler stations I would arrive at. I then listed a set of instructions for each aid station. For instance, Skunk Hollow said:
Skunk Hollow:
Inform - 22.7 Miles about 4 hours to next Handler Station
Eat 2 Gels - 1 Boost - 1 S! Cap - Refill Bottles - 2 Gels in Handhelds - 4 S! Caps in baggy in HH

At the bottom of the page is a list of Other: instructions I think are necessary for their knowledge.

There are no questions. My crew knows EXACTLY what to do at Skunk Hollow and they do it well. Everything it laid out for them in black and white. They get the binder the night before the race to look it over and ask questions then. Race day is all about efficiency! The less time you spend at an aid station, the quicker you'll finish with a time more suitable to your ultra-goals! For the Vermont 100, the bind is MUCH more complex yet just as easy to read. Each aid station has it's own page where the same information is relayed onto paper just on a larger scale. The longer the race the more there is to do. The more instruction is needed to ensure my crew knows what to be ready for and what to expect. There is NO room for error. If anyone wants a copy of my VT100 Aid Station Pages.. please e-mail me. Happy to share! Sherpajohn@gmail.com

The Binder (Cont.):
I include a welcome letter to my crew which is pretty much a nice letter thanking them for being a huge part of my adventure. I explain to them a little about the race, what my goals are and what I expect out of them in their helping me achieve my goals. I then list a set of rules for them to follow just to keep things organized.

I then print a few pages off of the races official website which typically includes the race guidelines and weekend schedule. The General Race Rules and Information, Runners Rules and Instructions, Directions to start finish, Information and Medical Checkpoint procedures (when applicable), a list of ALL of the races aid stations per the race website, Directions to each handler station as well as a print out of the handler guidelines for the race. I also include a few pages of information that I pulled off of the internet from various sources which really sums up what a crew is through the eyes of others.

I put a LOT of time into the binder and it really does pay off. My crew knows exactly what to expect on race day, they know where they need to be, by what time and how to get there. They know what to do when they get there. They know how to care for me. They have ZERO questions and above all else.. all of this combined helps my crew HELP ME succeed in the race. THIS IS THEIR PURPOSE! Take the time to help them so they can help you!

Take Care of Your Crew: (And in turn make sure they take care of themselves)
You need to make sure that your crew brings with them everything and anything that is going to make them comfortable. Camp Chairs for the endless waiting they are about to partake in. Make sure they are comfortable. Make sure that they know to stay fed and hydrated themselves. Again... they are going to be awake just as much as you are (or close to it) and their health and sanity is actually more important than yours! If your crew is degraded, bored ,uninterested, tired, groggy, cranky, hungry or tired.. then how are they to help you when YOU are degraded, bored, uninterested, tired, groggy, cranky, hungry or tired? Invite them to bring a book, magazine, cards, games whatever they need to stay entertained. They are essentially the SS Moveable camp-out! Make them a map of the area so they can take off and get food if needed. I like to make sure my crew has a case of Long Trail Ale. They can drink at leisure, be merry, be happy and feel rested. They only need to feel stressed for 3 minutes about every 2 to 3 hours. ; ) So take care of your crew and they in turn will take care of you!

Training for a 100 or 50 mile event is probably the most conversational and controversial aspect of Ultra Marathon running. It is the ONLY subject where everyone is an expert. Well, I am proud to say that I am NOT an expert nor do I claim to be. I am simply a runner who has great success in achieving my goals. Furthermore, we are all, again, an experiment of one. What works for Scott Jurek does not necessarily work for Karl Meltzer. And what works for Karl Meltzer doesn't necessarily work for Anton Krupicka. All three men train different given the amount of time they have to train, where they live and a select amount of other variables.

I am a 26 Year Old born again college freshman struggling to juggle a full work load at school. I have a part time job and also struggle to maintain free-time to share with my significant other and my family. This balance is VERY delicate and must be considered greatly when trying to determine what training program is going to work for you. Also keep in mind that as you evolve as a runner, so to will your training programs. Your body will continue to adjust (+ or -) to what you continue to put it through. Be mindful that you are NOT a machine and even though you CAN accomplish incredible things, your body is still very much in need of critical care and nurturing.

Here is the list of Weekly Milages leading up to my current race which takes place in 6 days (The McNaughton Park 150 Miler).
January: 30, 57, 55, 67 Total: 209
February: 42, 52, 34, 63 Total: 191
March: 39, 51, 46, 68, 41 Total: 245
April: 33, RACE

I try and use a type of training known as periodization. Periodization is best explained by looking at the example of January through February. The only difference is that I really cranked my miles up a bit faster than is recommended per the program. According to the program, you should only really increase your weekly mileage by 10% at a time. However, again, there are many variables involved on how much and when I can run, what I have planned and living in New England the biggest factor during these tough months is THE WEATHER. Trying to stay injury and illness free is a real chore. I know it is because so far I made it unscathed and ready to race. You'll see by starting with the first week in January that I ran 30 Miles and then upped my miles and held it steady in the mid 50 mile per week range. I ran 55ish miles for two weeks and then increased again to 67. After the 67 mile week I pull pack and run 42 miles. I do this cut back in order to keep training, keep moving and to allow my body a little bit of breathing room to rest.

I then increase from 42 back up to 52 and then cut back again to allow for MORE healing during the training process. This course of action is what I believe helps keep me injury free. After the 34 mile week I'm back to 60+ miles followed by another drastic cut-back. and I continue with this right along up until race day. This is a VERY small and short example of the thoughts on periodization. Typically I'd like it to look more like the following:
January: 35, 40, 45, 50
February: 40, 55, 60, 65
March: 50, 70, 70, 50, 30
April: 15, RACE
Now that I look at it, I would have loved it if this is what it really looked like. However roller coaster-ish my training has been, It has still been effective. I feel ready to go, rested and healthy. Maintaining this status is what works wonders for my attack on the race mentally. Here is what a typical week of training looks like:
Mon: Off
Tues: 8
Wed: 8
Thurs: 4
Fri: 4
Sat: 12
Sun: 15
This was second week of February which saw 51.51 miles of running. The 15 miles on Sunday was actually a local half marathon I tacked a few miles onto pre-race. The key during mid week runs is to work on cadence, leg speed, stride and going through the motions. The Weekends should be reserved for long runs and back to back long runs if possible. as we continue on through the training program you should be increasing your long runs as you go along - mainly on ONE of the two days: Week 1: 12, Week 2: 14, Week 3: 16, Week 4: 18, Week 5: 20, ETC. I also try to run at LEAST ONE 50K (official race or journey run) per month.

This really is all there is to it. Running is running. It is NOT rocket science. If you want to be faster you have to practice by running faster. If you want to run longer you must practice by running longer. Just keep in mind that anything over 4 hours is doing you more harm than good UNLESS your goal is to get "time on your feet." Time on your feet training is why hikers tend to be some of the better ultra-runners. Also, hikers have the ability to really motor up hills where as runners turned ultra-runners tend to run out of steam on the hills. Again, this is just my opinion and why I find that things work for me. The only way to learn is to get out there and practice. Practice BEFORE race day, NOT during the race.

Lastly, I highly recommend that you DO do some hiking or at the very least, practice "power-walking." Most of the people with the sub-24 hour 100 mile times have the times they do not because they run up all the hills.. in fact, not many ultra-runners can or even do run up the hills. The key is that they've practiced power walking. Power walking, though not running, keeps you moving and moving expeditiously forward. Also, try and read as much information as you can about the race you are about to tackle. There isn't a race in this country that hasn't be written about somewhere. Get on running forums, get on the Ultra-List e-mailing list serve and ASK QUESTIONS. Once you have an idea of what kind of terrain your race is going to have, find a place where you can train on as identical to the course as possible. This will help you be prepared both physically and mentally.

These are the basics of training. Start out slow. You are not going to wake up tomorrow and run 100 miles. I started running in 2004. I ran my first 50K in July 2005, my first 50 Miler in September 2006 and my first 100 miler in April 2007. I ran many races in between each distance and made sure I was comfortable with my "mastery" of each distance before I moved along to the next challenge. This in and of itself is what helps me stay injury free and burn out free. I have enjoyed the sport more, I've met more people and I continue to have a passion to move forward. This is key.

Race Stratagies:
My race strategy is simple. I walk ALL of the uphills early and run them late only if I can. I run as much as the downs and flats as possible and if I can't run.. I walk. If I can't walk, I shuffle, if I can't shuffle.. I crawl. Remember, these races are 90% mental and 10% physical. While in a race I have wanted to quit MANY times. But the question is as I read it somewhere recently, "The question of finishing lies within two options: 1.) I Can't or 2.) I Won't." You need to decide, BEFORE the race even starts, just what you are about to go through to get to the finish line. Under what circumstances will you throw in the towel and anything below that... you keep moving forward. THAT is the strategy. I have made it a commitment to myself that the only way I will stop during a race is if it poses a serious threat to my life and/or future well being. If I'm going to suffer today or for the next week.. to hell with it.. LETS GO! Nobody says you have to run the entire race so don't even try. If I have 30 hours to cross the finish line... then I have 30 hours to cross the finish line.

I always make three goals before a race. Goal #1 is always to Finish. Goal #2 is my reasonable time goal which for the VT100 I had set at 26 hours. And Goal #3 is my "Get out of town" time goal which I doubt I can make, which for the VT100 was Sub 24 Hours. With the proper training, my crew prepared and on the same page and my own pre-race preparations... I am confident in accomplishing all three goals. it wasn't far into last years VT100 that I knew today was the day and the "get out of town" goal was going to be met. Everything was working like a well piled machine and let me tell you... this increased my level of enjoyment IMMENSELY.

So take the time and THINK about what you want to accomplish. Lay out your plan from top to bottom. Do your homework. Read read and read some more. Ask questions. Get involved, get others involved and the fruits of your work will fall into your basket. Running is a completely primitive sport. Remember that you are only racing YOURSELF and no one else. Who cares about your time, who cares who you beat.. just beat yourself and achieve the achievable. If it all comes together and you respect the activity and the plan, you too will get what you see below.

The Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run Sub-24 Hour Belt Buckle.

Well this is it. The last point in this 4 part Ultra Series. Recovery per request from David in Atlanta. Recovery for me is pretty simple. Ultra-Running (especially on trails) is vastly different than your road running nightmare. The amount of pain inflicted on your body in a marathon is much greater than that of a trail ultra (IMHO). Therefore, your recovery time is shorter. I'm not alone in these beliefs again.. ask questions of my fellow ultra runners. They will tell you the same. How else does some people run multiple 100 milers per year?

After a 100 Miler; days 1 is usually spent sleeping and just laying on Couch Island. I like to try and return to normal eating habits AND keep the food down. I also like to talk to people and make sure everyone knows I am ok AND make sure that I can have an opportunity to share my adventure with as many people as I can. (This could also be a travel day). I also try and get in a nice warm bath with epsom salt in the tub. This helps relax my muscles, relieve my body of tension AND clean any blisters or wounds I might have. Day 2, I am typically still walking around very tenderly so I keep the walking to a minimum still. Continue to rest and get back into my daily routine in terms of food, drink, work, etc. I also take another epsom salt bath. Day 3; though I am still not good enough for a run I start walking around town. Today's walk is a slow walk with Sarah thanking her for her support and being "normal people" again. Day 4: I'm back to eating and drinking right again. My legs feel much better and though I am still only walking, I am walking a bit faster around town.

Once my blisters are healed I get back to running by starting off fairly slowly and beginning to work towards my next race. After this months McNaughton 150 I have about 4.5 weeks until my NEXT 100 Miler in Virginia. A week of Recovery, two weeks of training and a week of tapering. Then we race again. The training I do during this time period is critical. Its all I have to prepare for the next event. I must be careful not to push my body into it if it doesn't feel like it is ready yet. Being smart is much better than being tough. Listening to your body is KEY through all of this from start to finish. (That said, I don't know an ultra-runner who truly listens well)

This concludes my 4 part series on Ultra-Gear and Performance. The information provided was done so to provide you with the tools necessary to accomplish your own ultra-goals. It is my hope that you have found them helpful and/or inspirational. Ultra-running is NOT something you just jump into. It requires patience and respect. Do your homework and take your time. Formulate your own plan and remember that whether it be in life or in the race... KEEP MOVING FORWARD. I am more than happy to entertain any and all questions and will most likely answer your questions in future posts. Please contact me anytime by e-mailing me at Sherpajohn@gmail.com

I'd love to hear about your own adventures and hope to meet many of you in the very near future. If you see me at a race, please by all means.. Say Hello.

Until then
Happy Trails!