Friday, February 7, 2014

Rocky Racoon 2013

My experiences at the Rocky Raccoon 100 this year led me to write a race report much less about the race itself and more about the events around it.








Flash back to circa March 2013.  My good friend and weightlifting buddy, Ken Burnham, approached me about running a half-marathon. His brother-in-law from Atlanta was running the Disney marathon the following January. We hadn't been weightlifting as consistently recently, muscles were quickly turning to fat; this would be a good way to stop that.  I responded with an F-bomb. "Are you crazy? Who wants to run that far? Our weekly 3 mile jogs are plenty to stay in shape." It took him nearly a month to shame me into taking up the challenge. And soon after I began the journey into distance running.









Flash forward to 10 months later in Orlando. At mile 11 somewhere in the Magic Kingdom, Ken looked over at my labored breathing and decided to dust me then and there. I finished in 1:46, with Ken several minutes ahead. I was furious at losing and immediately asked for a rematch 2 weeks later at the Hops (now Gasparilla) Half. There, he pulled his calf around mile 4. Good-hearted friend that I am, I never broke stride, beating him by 10 minutes. And I was hooked (the running bug did not hold Ken as it did me).  4 weeks later I ran the Clearwater Marathon in 3:58 and an obsession was born.  While I give him grief about it occasionally; I owe Ken in a big way for pointing me down this path.  Without him I would not have had the amazing experiences of the last 10 years, nor meet the coterie of wonderful people.








Flash forward another 10 years later to the 2014 Rocky Raccoon 100. Never having attended an ultra before, Ken (he and wife Nancy now live in Dallas) agreed to be my crew. For a rookie crew, you could hardy ask for better support. I got repeated emails on the days leading up to the race as he checked and double-checked the packing list. The entire drive down to Huntsville Friday, he picked my brain on what to do and when. By the start of the race, he was comfortably set up at the finish with everything we needed.  He spent the day talking to other runner's families and rooting on his new friends.  While not currently an active runner, I knew the long time athlete and competitor in Ken would enjoy this environment and event.







I came to Huntsville trying to break 20 hours. I felt really good coming off Ancient Oaks and Croom Zoom, and had high hopes. Alas, the weather did not cooperate. The temperature started at 62 with high humidity, rose to 76, and never felt like it cooled off (until a cold front moved in an hour after I finished). I ran really well the first two 20 mile loops, completing them in 3:39 and 3:45 with quick turns after each. But the heat finally caught me in lap 3.










I fell hard twice (Andrea is right, it really should be called ROOTY Raccoon) early in lap 3; and then lost my head shortly after. I kept forcing salt, sugar, and fluids; but was bleeding time as I tried to pull it together.  Sweat poured off of me at every step, and my head felt like I had vertigo. At the end of third lap (4:05), I went straight into the aid tent and sat down. I just needed a few minutes to cool off and recover. But when the nurse heard me tell Ken I had only peed twice in nearly 12 hours of hot running; it was clear she was not letting me leave until she was sure I'd be OK.  I was served mashed potatoes and several cups of Pedialyte and asked to get them down before departing.  All the while, with Ken chirping in my ear, "Come on Andy, you have to get going."  Ken wanted 20 hours as much or more than I did.







I started lap 4 and got my stride back easier than I anticipated.  I re-gauged my goals and focused on beating 21 hours. I figured a 4:30 in lap 4 and a 4:45 in lap 5 would get me comfortably in.  Lap 4 came in right on plan at 4:29, and I felt really strong down the stretch with a final lap of 4:35 for a total time of 20:49:21. Ken and I celebrated with a couple post race beers and left quickly when the cold north wind finally started to blow. I wasn't disconsolate on not hitting 20 hours. As Andy Mathews texted me shortly before the start: "You can't control the weather, you can only control Andrew. " I feel good about my time.   I especially feel good about how I maintained in the conditions, moving up the leader board in each lap. After lap 1, I was in 144th place, and from there moved up to 92nd, 68th, and 54th in successive laps, finishing in 45th place. And the best was yet to come.







Flash forward to Monday morning.  After spending the Super Bowl with Ken and Nancy, I had to fly to New York City for work Monday morning. But prior to my departure, 8 inches of snow arrived in New York to further dampen departing Bronco fans' spirits. My flight out of Dallas was greatly delayed and I took up residence in the airport bar.  Ken had a later flight and joined me a little while later. We were recapping the race once again when he looked over at me and said "You know I watched everything at the race, and couldn't help thinking, I might be able to do that..."    Time will tell just how good this weekend turned out.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Pinhoti100 - November 2-3, 2013


Pinhoti Race Report  - 11/2-3/2013 

 
I finished Pinhoti in 23:34:40, my 11th 100 mile finish.  I went to Sylacauga with the stretch goal of breaking 24 hours on a course that has beat me up twice before, and all the stars aligned for me.  My training went well, including a 10 day vacation of hiking and running in the canyons out west, and 4 days of running in the mountains of Virginia while visiting my parents.  I stuck to a diet for the first time in I don't remember how long.  Going to the race 10 lbs. lighter than my last race had to make a difference. 

 Race day conditions were near perfect, with temps starting around 40, rising into the 50s mid-day and dropping down to the high 30s the following night.  I pushed the pace (for me) right from the start, trying to stay close to the 24 hour pace chart I had set.  I took one nasty fall at mile 9, toe-hooking a rock and managed to come down hard on my knee and elbow, cutting both.  I felt the knee for the rest of the race.  I was close enough behind Patrick Bene for the crew to still see me at the early aid stations.  Dave Bracken, Vinnie, and George Buffington (who runs the best crew stop ever) let me know that everyone else (Andy Matthews, Nick Bach, Sean Connolly & Amy Costa) were all looking good and that Patrick was pulling away. 

I had one brief down spot from miles 29-31 where it got real hot and I started to lose my head a little bit.  But I took some endurolytes and sugar and pulled it back together fairly quickly.  The only real downer of the day was coming into Adams Gap at mile 55 to see Patrick sitting in a chair, done for the race.   I tried to cajole him to rest an hour and start back up; but he had dug too deep, too early.  Fortuitously for me, his loss became my gain as I inherited his excellent crew and pacers who were jonesing to go.  Dave ran with me the next 30 miles over the hardest part of the course.  It is some very pretty, but wickedly difficult terrain, particularly going up and over Horn Mountain.   We ate up the miles by seeing who could tell the longest stories (it was a draw).  

Vinnie picked me up at mile 85 and brought me the rest of the way in.  By this time, a sub-24 hour finish was looking very doable and I just needed to finish steady.  Unfortunately for Vinny, I had put on headphones by this point and withdrew into my own head just trying to keep going.  We had one brief scare when we didn't see a race marker for nearly 10 minutes; but we fortunately didn't miss a turn.  We hit pavement with 3 miles to go and he induced me into dropping the hammer (what was left of it anyway) for the final stretch.  23:35:40 and 31st place.

Andy got his first 100 mile finish in 2 years, Nick got his first 100 ever, Sean finished only an hour behind me, and Amy got in for her, what was a long training run.  Even Patrick's first DNF could be looked at in a positive light (read his post).  As usual, the RV ride up and back was a blast (I may only enter races that are in driving distance).  Looking forward to recovering and then gearing back up for Ancient Oaks in 7 weeks.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Cruel Jewel 100 May 17-19, 2013

I’ve had a miserable run of losing race lotteries recently.  I’ve lost the Western States lottery 4 years in a row.  I was very excited about qualifying for the Ultra-Trail Mont Blanc in Switzerland, Italy & France, but I lost that entry lottery as well.  I wanted to take a third shot at breaking 28 hours at Massanutten this year, but failed to get my entry in on time and was so far down the waiting list, I never had a realistic chance of getting in.  But after having a successful time at the Georgia Death Race in March, I was all in for the inaugural Cruel Jewel which shared some of the same trail.  104.6 miles with 60,000 feet of elevation change and nearly all the race on single-track.  With a little prodding, I was able to get Patrick Bene to sign up as well.

Patrick was able to get George, George, Dave & Vinny to all join us as pacers & crew.  We loaded up the RV Thursday morning and headed north.  I have come to believe I do these races almost as much for the break from responsibility and routine, as I do for the event itself.  On the ride up, we watched movies, exchanged stories, and generally acted like we were 25 years younger with nothing more important in our lives than being ready for the next set of final exams (except we now discuss wives and children instead of girlfriends and professors).  We arrived at Vogel State Park about 2 hours north of Atlanta just before dusk and settled in for the evening.  Our camping spot was only a stone’s throw from a babbling brook.  Vinny built a small fire, and we spent a quiet evening enjoying the respite from civilization.
 

Because it has a 48 hour time limit, the race was scheduled to start at 2:00 PM on Friday.  Patrick and I slept in until 8:00 AM, and awoke to a breakfast of eggs, hash browns and bacon cooked up by Dave under the trees.  Vogel State Park is at the turnaround for this out and back race, so the group went for a short hike on this far end of the course.  After a good deal of nervous fidgeting and re-packing race supplies, we headed off in the minivan (we had towed behind the RV) to the start/finish at Camp Morganton near Blue Ridge.  We checked in, getting customized bowling shirts for entering the race and gawked at the outlandish finishing belt buckles which include a line representing the race elevation chart.  We HAD to finish to get one of these.  Willy Syndram ( Race Director), gave a pre-race briefing to our very small group an hour before the race started.  This was the inaugural running of this race, and with the course difficulty, he had a small group of 23 runners signed up, of whom 21 toed the line at 2:00 PM.
 
I started the race with my new Garmin Fenix watch on my left arm which is advertised to have a 50 hour battery life.  But because I had not had a chance to test it, I ran with my Garmin 310XT on the right arm to keep track of pace.  The first 2.7 miles of the race are on pavement leading to Deep Gap.  It was mostly uphill, with a 450 foot climb, so there was a lot of walking, even this early in the race.  Our crew of 4 pulled alongside with the minivan door open singing the Muppet’s ‘Mahna-Mahna’ song through a bullhorn to send us off.  We waived goodbye knowing we wouldn’t see them again until the first crewed aid station at 8:30, just before nightfall.  Patrick’s and my plan was to average 20 minute miles with would bring us in to a 34:52 finish.  Our goals were to finish (Good), break 36 hours (Better) and if we felt good, come in under 34 hours (Best).  We planned to run well within ourselves early knowing this long demanding course would take its toll over time.
The second leg of the course is Deep Gap, a 5.8 mile loop that started with a 300 foot descent, an 800 foot climb and then a 500 foot descent.  We tried to take it as easy as we could, but kept finding ourselves finishing miles in 13-17 minute splits.  Even the first major climb of the race (1,400 feet) on the Weaver Creek section was offset by the following 1,000 foot drop and we kept banking time.  I fell twice early in the race.  The first was a toe hook on a stump that resulted in a clumsy somersault and roll across my shoulders.  I managed to continue the roll back up onto my feet and keep running without Patrick having to stop behind me.  The second fall was uglier as my foot slipped, and I dropped down hard onto my hands giving a painful jolt to my hands, lower back and knees, all at once.  Fortunately, it was my last fall of the race.   We reached the Stanley Creek aid station 20 miles in over 2 hours ahead of pace.  But the crew was there, re-energized us and off we went.  The next 3 miles was pavement and we ran easy 10 minute miles, getting even further ahead of pace.

We crossed the Shallowford Bridge, ran alongside the Toccoa River for a half-mile, and then turned onto the Benton-Mackaye Trail and began climbing into what was the first tough section for me.  In quick succession, we climbed Free Knob, Garland Mountain, Brawley Mountain, Bald Top and finally Tipton Mountain with descents to the gaps between each.  It was late afternoon, the temperature was the hottest of the entire race, and this 7+ mile section really took it out of me.  We had caught Will Jorgenson at the last aid station and spent most of this section running and chatting with him.  I had met Will at several previous races, most recently finishing just behind him at the Georgia Death Race in March.  He runs with trekking poles, and used them well as he pulled away on the final descent to Wilscot Gap as Friday night darkness began.

The Tampa crew was here again, and we refueled with Boosts, solid food, and whatever else we could chow down quickly.  Willy had told everyone at race briefing that the first 30 miles to this point were easy compared to what was to come.  He did not lie.  I had run the remaining 25 miles to the turnaround at the Death Race in the opposite direction.  But that was the first section of that race, on fresh legs.  Now I had 30 hard miles already in, and had to do this section twice, once in each direction.  The next 50 miles is the hardest thing I have ever done. 

We were now on the notorious Duncan Ridge Trail and this section is called the Dragon’s Spine.  Look at an elevation chart for this trail and it is not hard to understand why.   Over the next 13 miles, we would climb Rhodes Mountain, Chinquapin Ridge, Gregory Knob, Payne Knob, High Top, Fish Knob, Clements Mountain, Akins Mountain, West Wildcat Knob, Buck Knob, and finally Buckeye Knob before descending to White Oak Stomp.  It was one wicked climb up over 3,000 feet, one after another, separated by knee shattering descents.  What makes it particularly hard is the lack of switchbacks.  Normally trails built on steep slopes wind their way back and forth up the mountain in a punishing, but doable climb. Not here.  The sadists who built this trail followed the ridgeline throughout, straight up and straight down.  It was hard in March, but that had been in daylight and temperatures were in the 40s.  Now it was dark, hotter and brutal.  And then the weather changed.



Sometime in the night (exact times are no longer clear in my head, nor were they then) it began to rain.  It was a light rain at first and pleasantly cooling.  But it soon began to come down in earnest.  The trail got wet and muddy, footing was difficult, and we began having trouble seeing the trail markings.  What we thought was fog, turned out be clouds when I realized we only saw it at higher elevations.  The wind was blowing, so we had misty fog blowing hard left to right, with heavy rain falling down from above.  At times I could barely see the trail at my feet.  The trail throughout the course was mostly runnable, but at the higher elevations became more rocky.  On one steep descent, Patrick slipped on a rock, and slid several feet downwards on his butt.  He stood, covered in mud from his heels to his back.  Another time, he tried to stop at the top of a large flat rock to pick his route down.  But he slipped, and skied 10 feet down the rock back to hard ground.  He was soon quoting a line from Armageddon, “Worst, scariest possible environment ever.”  We agreed, the solo runners would have a really hard time keeping their spirits up through the night in these conditions.  Remarkably, as hard as it was, our moods didn’t turn – yet.  To my disgust though, my new Fenix ran out of battery here, less than 16 hours into the race.  I had enjoyed being able to constantly monitor altitude on one watch and pace on the other.

After the White Oak Stomp aid station, it was only 7.5 miles to the turnaround at Vogel State Park.  There was a 750 foot climb to Coosa Bald, the highest point on the course, and then a long 2,000 foot descent to Wolf Creek.  Patrick had been having trouble all night with elevation sickness.  He had read in Runner’s World that lowlanders like us, could have trouble anytime we went over 2,500 feet.  I wasn’t affected as far as I could tell, but every time we approached 3,000 feet (which was a lot), he had trouble breathing, and got light-headed.  He handled it well until the descent off Coosa Bald.  At some point in the heavy fog I missed a turn.  We had to back track and search for the route, adding an extra mile to our run.  We made the long descent unsure we were on track, I choked back tears thinking our race could be over, and Patrick lagged behind just trying to stay on his feet.  After one last 800 foot climb into Vogel, we stumbled into the turnaround cabin exhausted.

Dave & George had cooked breakfast sandwiches and were waiting for us.  The aid station volunteers were great, and we were encouraged to find that we were 4th and 5th in the race overall.  The 2nd & 3rd place runners had taken a 90 minute nap at the turn and had left just ahead of us.  We had completed 58 miles (55 on the course info) and had 49+ left going back (the return lap skips one out & back section).  I gave Dave both watches to recharge, he gave them back to me at White Oak Stomp several hours later.  We took our time before heading back out just after daybreak and walked uphill for a while with Vinny joining us as our first pacer.  Patrick encouraged me to go ahead of him now that Vinny was with him, and I finally took the bait on the next downhill.  But the longest climb of the race back to Coosa Bald did me in.  I walked uphill for over an hour, feeling my tank bleed dry.  I shook my head when I saw the easy turn we had missed in the dark and fog just hours before.  I started the descent to White Oak Stomp and just couldn’t shake the cobwebs, making terrible time in a relatively easy section.  100 yards before the aid station, Patrick passed me, rejuvenated and ready to go.

Dave joined us as a second pacer from that point, and amazingly ran the last 43 miles of the course.  The steep ascents and descents on the Dragon’s Spine really took it out of us now.  Occasionally we would stop mid-ascent, bent over, trying to recover our breathing and heart rates.  Vinny really struggled with the altitude through here, and eventually fell back before we made it to Skeenah Gap.  When Patrick was feeling well, he ran much stronger than me.  He pulled away from me both descending and ascending and I had to work really hard to catch him again  Midway through the 5 miles to Wilscot Bridge, we caught the third place runner who was walking and struggling.  When Patrick saw the chance for a podium finish, he dropped the hammer and left me in the dust again. 

I managed to catch him not long before the aid station, and we sat down preparing for the 7.5 mile multi-climb section to Shallowford Bridge.  We took our time at this aid station and just as we were about to leave, Will Jorgenson surprised us by descending off the trail just behind us.  Patrick took off like he had been shot out of a cannon, he was not giving back his spot that easy.  It took me nearly half an hour to catch him and Dave again.  Patrick soon had another down period, and I took point for the first time in hours.  Not long after, we crested Brawley Mountain, passed the fire tower, and I started the next descent.  After a bit, I realized I had not heard Patrick or Dave speak for several minutes.  I slowed to a walk and called behind me a couple times.  When I did not hear a reply, I decided Patrick was still recovering, but I didn’t want to wait.  I trotted down the hill thinking they would catch up soon, if not on that section, on the 3 miles of pavement ahead where Patrick would be much faster than me.  But the longer I trotted, the better I felt. 

I made great time all the way to Toccoa River, Shallowford Bridge, and Willy was at the aid station telling me I looked great.  I hustled through the aid station and was able to run fairly solid all the way to Stanley Creek where our crew awaited.   George, George & Vinny made sure I had everything I needed, pumped me up with encouragement, and pushed me on my way telling me to hold onto third.  I had just over 13 miles to go, and this would be the last time I would see them.  As I headed into the woods, I looked back up the road, surprised not to see Patrick or Will approaching.  I found out later, Patrick had run out of water at one point, lost a bunch of time recovering, and fell over an hour behind.  Will came through about 20 minutes behind me. 

I was juiced now, even as the sun set on the race for the second time.  I wanted third place badly, I’d never finished that high in a hundred miler (I was 5th at the 2010 Arkansas Traveler for my bachelor party)  I ran the shallow uphills, strided the steep uphills as hard as I could, and pounded the downhills with everything I had left.  I tried using Patrick’s tricks of shunting thoughts of pain to the side.  The only thing that mattered was holding pace.  I got more than a little loopy down the stretch, repeatedly thinking I could hear Patrick, Dave and Will talking just behind me.  I looked over my shoulder dozens of times expecting to see them overtaking me.  I ran scared, and I ran as fast as I could. 

I hit the Deep Gap aid station gasping for air.  I quickly refueled and hit this 5.8 mile loop.  I knew that Patrick and Will would both likely be on the loop when I returned to the aid station and I’d be able to know how close behind me they were.   I noted the clock time, and realized I had an outside shot of breaking 34 hours, my stretch goal.  I had made up huge time on the last three sections.  Running the loop backwards from the start of the race, I humped up the 500 foot climb as fast as I could and took the 800 foot descent even harder.  It was rough going as the previous night’s rain had turned the previous day’s wet spots into flowing streams across the trail.  My head kept playing tricks with me, as I tried to figure out a shortcut back to the aid station.  The entire loop goes around a loud mountain stream; and I frequently (thought I) heard Patrick and Dave just behind me.  More than once, I turned off my flashlight to peer into the darkness and catch them sneaking up on me.  I then became convinced they were running in darkness to lull me into slowing; so I pushed even harder.

But when I approached the last aid station, Dave and Patrick were both there, Patrick in a chair cleaning out his shoes.  He was clearly suffering and just trying to pull it together for the finishing push.  The aid station volunteer told me Will had come through just 16 minutes behind me though.  I knew Will was strong enough to have cut that lead in half on this loop.  That meant I might have as little as a 6-8 minute lead with just under 3 miles of pavement left.  I was in full flight panic mode as I raced to the finish.  I turned my flash light off when there were no cars, I didn’t want to give away my position to Will.  I turned onto the Camp Morganton driveway and sprinted to the finish in 33 hours, 38 minutes, third place overall.  George, George, and Vinny cheered me across the line and I immediately went inside to cool off and recover, elated. 
 
 

Will Jorgenson crossed the finish line just 10 minutes behind me.  That made the final push even more rewarding for me, as I now knew for sure I had needed to push every step of the way to stay ahead.  I took a hot shower, ate some pizza, and waited for Patrick who finished in 5th place in 35:47.  He had vomited on the Deep Gap loop and just held it together to finish.   After he cleaned up, George made the 45 minute drive back to Vogel State Park and we all collapsed into bed in the RV around 3:30 AM.

Last I heard, maybe 11-13 runners had a chance of finishing, but final results have not been posted yet.  This was a brutally difficult course, and one I would highly recommend.  The course is fantastic, although I measured it at 107.5 miles (not including our bonus mile, giving us 108.5 total), a little longer than advertised.  While the ascents and descents are harder than anything else I have run at this distance, it is completely runnable.  There are few spots with so many rocks that you can’t run consistently.  The views from twenty something different peaks and ridgelines are magnificent.  The sound of mountain streams and bird songs dominated the air.  Willy had everything well organized, the aid stations were all great, the course was well-marked.  I don’t think there is any doubt it ascends to being the second most difficult race east of the Rockies behind the inimitable Barkley.  I will hold onto how good it felt to run the last 22 miles the way I did for as long as possible.  Unless my work and life schedule dictate otherwise, I will be back next year. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Georgia Death Race - March 16, 2013

Progress. That is the best word I can use for how the weekend went at the Georgia Death Race. I didn't set any personal records, or post a top-10 finish, or anything else spectacular. But I had a really good race and satisfying result. It was real progress towards accomplishing the things I want to do as a runner.

Last year, I beat myself up running a handful of hundreds, three of them on very difficult courses; Massanutten, Black Hills, and Pinhoti. I've grown to love the mountainous courses with lots of true single track running. For me, nothing compares with running in the middle of nowhere, winding up and down slopes through various habitats and climes. But training in flat Florida has left me ill-prepared for the heart-thumping climbs and quad-shattering descents these races present. They leave me battered and bruised, and crawling in for slow, dispiriting finishes.

For 2013, I resolved to run easier races. But then I saw the posting for the inaugural Georgia Death Race, a 60 mile jaunt through the mountains north of Atlanta, with 30,000 feet of elevation change. My plan was to take the family to our house in the mountains of western North Carolina for Spring break and get one good week of hill training in before the race.

Georgia Death Race

I also started lifting weights with my legs for the first time in nearly a decade. I have been reluctant to do any leg training in the gym for fear of damaging my knees with too much weight. But I had to try something different if I was going to keep signing up for tough courses. Over the past several months, I've worked my way up to 10 sets of really light weights, but lots of reps (25-35) per set. I've done a mixture of deep squats, hack squats, legs extensions and calf raises; all trying to build strength for steep ascents and descents.

Two weeks ago I ran the Long Play 33 1/3 mile race at Croom and ran surprisingly well. There aren't a lot of hills on that course, but my legs felt strong throughout and I was almost an hour faster than I had anticipated. I kept up with the leg workouts and came into the Death Race feeling like I had a chance to perform better.

After convincing Sandra that running the "Death Race" did not mean I need to sign a new Will before leaving, Greg Vannette and I headed north Friday morning. Other than getting stuck on a mountain road for an hour while the police investigated a fatal motorcycle accident, the commute and pre-race preparations went well. Dahlonega, GA is a cute mountain town with a real outdoor sports bent and a number of nice restaurants (we took a chance and ate Mexican).

The race director, Sean Blanton was engaging and definitely had put a lot of work into preparing, including marking the entire course himself.  Sean's briefing was amusing as he went through a list of do's and don'ts, or "You could die out there." We were required to carry a headlamp, thermal top, gloves, thermal hat, rain jacket, space blanket, and emergency whistle at all times during the race. You could not check in if you didn't have everything on the list. If you were caught on the course without those things, you would be DQ'd. I had bought a new Camelbak, removed the bladder, and carried the required race articles in there. I also wore my Nathan belt for my water bottles and normal race stuff conveniently at hand without being on my back. I was a little worried about the extra weight, but it worked out well; I was comfortable all day.

The race starts at Vogel State Park in the parking lot. The 4:00 AM race time temps were a surprisingly balmy 55 degrees, albeit windy, so it still felt chilly. After a half-mile climb on pavement, the race turned onto single track with a long, rocky, and often wet 3 mile downhill. On at least a dozen occasions, we had to leap across narrow streams of water. From there we started a long series of climbs up to Coosa Bald punctuated by brief descents to Locust Stake Gap, Calf Stomp Gap, and Bull Gap.

It was here I began to understand the cruelty of this course. Apparently, the trail blazers here years ago had no understanding or respect for the wisdom of switchbacks. Switchbacks usually mean you are on a steep grueling climb, but the back and forth across the mountain face reduces the rate of ascent to something less than soul-sucking. Not here. These bastards ran the trail straight up. Spring foliage is not out yet, so you can see quite a distance through the trees. At times, I would look ahead and see runners 1/4 mile or more up the trail, bent over, holding their knees; and know I had 10-20 more minutes left in the climb. Even with temps dipping into the low 30s on the windy side of the ridge line, I had sweat pouring off of me as my heart tried to leap out of my chest. But my legs were surprisingly strong and I resolved to keep my feet moving forward, no matter how slowly.

Somewhere in here, I passed Michelle Matys on a climb who looked liked she was doing well. But I did not see her again during the race. After climbing Coosa Bald, Whiteoak Stomp, Buckeye Knob and Buck Knob in quick succession, we dropped into Mulky Gap and a crewed aid station at mile 12.5. Just before we got there, I heard the local runners behind me comment we had just finished mile 13 and only had 51 left. Wait a minute. I thought this was a 60 mile race, not 64?  My Garmin registered 13.3 as I came into the aid station and refueled with Greg.   I told him my pace was going to be closer to 18 hours, not the 16 hour stretch goal I had been hoping for, this course was just too difficult.

The aid station volunteer, as well as another runner told me the next 8 mile stretch was the toughest on the course. I resolved to stay smart, and not over press, regardless of what it meant to my time. The crowd had thinned out, so I put on my iPod and lost myself in the music most of the rest of the day. And this section was as tough as advertised. We climbed Akin Mountain, then Clements Mountain, Fish Knob, Parke Knob, Payne Knob, and finally Rhodes Mountain. I alternated between trying to keep my heart rate below 190 on the climbs, to trying to make my feet move fast enough to not fall on the descents.

Finally, the trail turned down towards Skeenah Gap and AS4. The aid station was the end of a short out and back, so the first 1.3 miles out of the aid station was a climb back to Rhodes Mountain which I did with a young guy, Zack from Birmingham, AL. I was spent at the top, and took a minute to regroup, drink, and pee before trotting ahead. I was almost 23 miles into the race, and my overall pace had slipped to 17:20. I soon felt much better though and started to run more freely. While we climbed Licklog Mountain and Wallalah Mountain in this stretch, it felt easy and I started gaining back time.

Just after Tooni Mountain, I came over the wooden foot bridge at AS5 (mile 25 the course map, but over 28 on my watch) and saw Greg for the second time. I told him I felt great and was quickly on my way. The next 15 miles just flew by as I continued to run well. I talked to two other local runners along the way and confirmed that their consensus was this is a 64 mile course, not 60. I mentally added an hour to my projected finishing time, but still had a sub-17 hour goal for the 60 mile mark.

At mile 34 (actually 38), the course switches over to forest roads until the final mile of the course. With smoother terrain, I really started to run well. I had not been passed since around mile 20, and resolved to pass as many other runners as I could during the last half of the race.   I flew down the Silvermine Ridge descending to the Winding Stairs aid station at mile 40 (44). Greg met me again here telling me he would race ahead to Jake Bull at mile 47(51) and run backwards to pace me into the aid station from there. By now I was really gaining confidence and running strong, and he was barely a mile out of the aid station when I met him coming the other way.

By now, I was really starting to understand what a great day I was having. My legs were surprisingly strong after 40+ miles and I still had leg drive on the uphills. Many times while running alone, my thoughts can wander and dwell on family issues, work situations, whatever. Not today, any time a distraction popped into my head, I put it aside immediately and refocused on the race. More than any other race previously, I was completely "in the moment". It was a truly great feeling.

The Jake Bull aid station had bacon. So I took a minute to wolf down several pieces, as well as a bacon and cheese sandwich. I bragged about how good I felt, I had not had a real low spot all day. Bad Karma coming... I had caught Will Jorgensen here also. I've met Will at several previous races including Black Hills and more recently Ancient Oaks. We ran/walked most of the next 6 miles together, talking away, distracting myself from my bruised feet and various other sore spots. But a mile into the leg, I hit my first low. I should not have opened my mouth earlier, it was an instant jinx. I was light-headed and weak.  I let Will pull ahead while I walked, taking in salt and sugar. Within minutes I recovered and set about catching him and pulling ahead.

After Jake Bull, Greg raced ahead in the truck to the finish at Amicalola Falls State Park and raced backwards to meet me. He caught me about a mile out from the last aid station (mile 55/59). We trotted into the Nimblewood Gap aid station, I refueled one last time, and we set out quickly. Greg told me it was about a 1/2 mile of steep uphill and then mostly downhill to the finish. He also told me I was somewhere close to top-30 in the race.  I broke into a run on the downhill and soon hit the 60 mile mark in 16:01:10. I was elated at having come so close to 16 hours and used the positive energy to pick up the pace. To my surprise, I still had drive in my legs and the next 3 miles were amongst the fastest in the entire race.  I bombed the next 35 minutes, even running the short uphills.

Then bad karma hit me again. I was just telling Greg how well marked the course was and that I had not missed a turn all day. In the very moments those words left my mouth, we were running past the final turn of the race. We soon discovered the error and backtracked slowly in the dark until we found the turn. I checked my watch as this happened, I went an extra 0.4 miles and lost about 8 minutes.

We ran into Will just as he was missing the turn as well and we brought him along with us. The final 0.8 miles of the race is a punishing 1,000 foot descent on rocks and roots. Will surged ahead using his trekking poles for safety. My quads finally revolted and I came down at a much more sedate pace, satisfied with the day's performance. I crossed the finish line in 17:11 with 65.1 miles on the Garmin. I compared notes with other runners, and 64-65+ miles was the consensus.

Maybe the only disappointing thing about the entire race was the finishing spread. It was typical aid station fare of chips, pb&j, and fruit.  None of thiswas appealing at this point, I wanted real food.  I cooled off, threw on my sweats, and we left fairly quickly.  But not until collecting my finisher's award, an engraved railroad spike (Sean says you have to be tough as nails to finish this course) which looks excellent in the trophy case.



We raced to Dawsonville to get sushi before the restaurant closed, I took an ice bath, and was in bed by midnight, a great day.

As always, it was great to have a close friend as crew and pacer. I am looking forward to returning the favor to Greg soon as he rebuilds to race shape from his knee injury last year. Looking back on the race, I am just thrilled with how strong I ran; the weightlifting seems to be making a real difference. I still have work to do to be able to go to a Mont Blanc, Wasatch, or Massanutten and post a good time. But this was a big step in the right direction. Progress.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Pinhoti 100 November 3-4, 2012

Where do I start with this one? I am now 2 1/2 days removed from completing the race, and as usual, my emotions are still a swirl. This is not going to be my typical race report with a chronology of events from start to finish, the race just doesn’t unfold that way in my head this time.

 Monday, 11/5, 7:00 PM
I made the mistake of trying to work today. I almost always take the Monday following a hundred miler off, but I felt like too much was going on and tried to work anyway. Without much luck or productivity. It is early evening, the kids are in the living room finishing their homework, and I am lying in bed like a beached whale with little hope of returning successfully to the sea. I am so tired I can barely keep my head up, I feel like a herd of elephants is resting on me. I want to fall asleep (for my fourth nap of the day), but shooting pains in my feet keeping me writhing around the bed. I am tired, frustrated, and in complete disbelief that I keep doing this to myself. What the hell? I love running. There are few things I’d rather be doing than running. I drive Sandra nuts every time a picturesque scene comes up in a movie, on TV, in a commercial, in a magazine, wherever. My response is pure Pavlov’s dog, she can say the line before I do: “I want to run there!” I love running long distances, and I even more love running on trails and seeing new places. But none of that means I have to enter hundred milers. 50Ks are a great challenge. 50 milers leave me tired, but satisfied. I can recover from those races fairly quickly. I don’t lose time from work, I don’t feel like death warmed over. I am too old for this, I can’t recover fast enough anymore. I need to break this cycle of despair, find a better outlet for my energies. If I can just get some good rest tonight, I’ll think clearer on new outlets tomorrow.

Sunday, 11/4, 8:45 AM
I am moving down the side of Old Talladega Highway at a snail’s pace. I have run 100 miles, and have just about a half-mile into the high school football stadium and around the track to the finish. I’ve figured out I can walk the last mile and still break 28 hours. I know from the last aid station that Patrick Bene finished well ahead of me and is probably either in the RV taking a shower, or in the rec center eating a post-race breakfast. When we separated 3 hours ago, he know I was done-for, there was no reason to expect me to finish. Sure there would be a handful of people at the track in the early morning mist and light rain. I just needed to cross that finish line, even if none of them knew me. I put my head down and broke into a trot, no one was going to see me walk it in. As I cut through the fence towards the stadium, a dozen people started cheering, I trudged on. But then I turned the corner and saw our crew, George & George on the track. I picked up the pace when I realized “my people” were there. Finishing had become as important for them as it had me. My heart leapt when Patrick came back around a corner when he heard them call my name. I race across the finish line. 27 hours, 55 minutes. No impressive time, but I finished. Todd Henderson, the race director handed me my buckle, a gold-plated affair, nicer than any of the other races I have run. Patrick and I limped towards each other and embraced in a bear hug. We had both finished, both done what we came to do. At that moment, I loved him like a brother again. We ran all of a Vermont 100, several 50Ks and numerous marathons together, all stride for stride. That had been our plan today as well, but I had sent him ahead at mile 88. It is hard to describe the bond that forms when you run those distances together. But we both felt it now and were overjoyed to be successful – and done.

 

Sunday, 11/4, 2:00 AM
We are over 75 miles in, somewhere past the never ending climb to The Pinnacle aid station where GUTS gave us friend-egg sandwiches off the grill which rank among the best meals I’ve ever had. We are meandering through various small climbs and descents on our way to Power Line aid station at mile 79.5. Patrick has been struggling with equilibrium for hours. First he needs salt, then he needs sugar, then he needs fluids, then we need to repeat. It feels like we haven’t run ten consecutive minutes since sunset 8 hours ago without him breaking into a walk and whining about one of those needs. Our aid station breaks have gone from 2-3 minutes, to 10 minutes plus as he lays there trying to recover. In fairness, the conditions were tough. The temperatures hit 85 in the midafternoon, and didn’t drop below 70 that night until just before dawn. I had sweat pouring off of me the entire night. Patrick isn’t going to make it. I knew his ironman training wouldn’t translate into a solid hundred miler, not without more trail runs. I am just sick of him at this point. Why won’t he just quit and let me get going on my own? He is killing my time. I bark for about the eightieth time, “Come on P! Let’s get going!” I turn around 30 seconds later, he is still lagging fifty yards back. “Come on! Let’s Go!” His reply is clear. “Fuck you. Can’t I take a second to get some sugar in me?” I grit my teeth and bite my tongue, I am furious. We pull into Power Line and Patrick insists on another sit down break in the tent. I eat some food, refill my bottles, check my Endurolytes, all in under 90 seconds. I am ready to go. But I look over at Patrick and he is fighting back a sneeze and hasn’t even begun to refuel. I sit down next him in sullen silence. On his 8th sneeze, I am tempted to tell him he wouldn’t be sneezing so much if he had trained better. Finally he is ready to go and we set off down the rocky jeep road towards the last descent. Patrick tries to start a conversation but I don’t respond. “What, are you not talking to me now” I lied and responded, “No, just trying to get my head together for this leg”. We run in near silence for an hour.

 Friday, 11/2 – 11:00 AM
We are in the RV headed north and west towards Sylacauga, the finish for the race. We started yesterday and spent the night in a Cracker Barrel parking lot just south of Valdosta. We are going up with George Cobb and George Buffington as crew. Neither is an ultrarunner or has been to a hundred mile race before, but they are looking forward to the challenge. Patrick and I are plotting strategy and logistics. Okay, I will be more honest, I am planning strategy and logistics, and running each and every phase of the race planning by Patrick. And then changing it again. I’ve been to this course twice before. I DNF’d at mile 86 in 2010, and in 2011 I helped pace Greg Vannette over his last 59 miles for a sub 24 hour finish. I know this course, I know the training we put in, I know what a reasonable time goal should be 26-27 hours. But the camaraderie of the drive, the anticipation of the challenge, the spirit of the competition with Patrick all get to me. We plan out how we are going to finish in 24 hours. We are great athletes, we can do this. We just have to race smart.

 Sunday, 11/4 – 5:00 AM
We’ve just come down off the ridgeline to the Bull Run aid station at mile 86. The generator ran out of gas, so there are no lights and no hot food. But George and George are there like clockwork. It turns out they had gotten into the spirit of the competition as well. They were determined to be the best crew on the course. They led a caravan of other crews to each aid station, and then raced to the tents to position two chairs for us closer to the camp fire, closer to the food and drink than everyone else. They had drink refills ready to go. They offered Boosts, Starbucks double-shots, Monster energy, food, salt; you name it, they had it. In typical ultra-fashion, as the race wore on, we became more needy, and our voices more shrill. And they would jump up and race off to grab whatever we needed, without question. It was unquestionably great crewing, made all the more remarkable for their virginity.



This was the first time they had seen us in over 5 hours, and I looked (and felt) like crap. We both knew now our race strategy had been poor, to the extreme. We went too hard, for too long, too early. We did not have enough left in the tank for down the stretch. Before I could consider a DNF at the same place I dropped 2 years ago, I jumped up and started walking down the trail. Patrick soon caught me and we tried to set a decent pace. But I just couldn’t pull it together. My head was swimming, my legs were dead, there was no run left in me. Even as daylight broke, I could not find any energy. I finally convinced Patrick he had to go ahead, I was going to jeopardize him making the 30 hours cutoff. I promised him I would keep going (I was lying), but he had to move. He took off, and I kept walking. My heart began to sink. I was going to DNF this stupid course again. For the first time in 25 hours I had stopped sweating, now I was cold. I put on a long sleeve shirt for the first time since the first 10 minutes of the race. I check my watch and calculated how much was left in this 4 mile leg. If I got to the next aid station by 25:40, I still had a legitimate shot of finishing in under 30 hours. If not, as I predicted, as I was done. I trudged onward at a slow walk.

 Saturday, 11/3 – 10:00 AM
We are still in the early stages of the race, there are still bunches of runners together. As usual, Patrick and I have a group around us. His voice carries (just ask the deer who I NEVER see anywhere when we train together), and he remains so damn positive (except when his sugar level is low), that we attract a crowd at nearly every race. I don’t have to say much, I just egg him on. And the banter ensues. People ask how long we keep this going, and I tell them we are just getting warmed up; Patrick will talk for 30 hours if he is allowed to. George and George said we became known at the aid stations as “The Green Shirt Boys” as we both wore lime green shirts that day. Patrick would announce his race number coming into each aid station as if speaking through a bull horn. “THIRTY-SEVEN!!!” I like to think we give a lot of energy to the runners around us. But in truth, I think we feed off that energy as much as anyone, it is fun running in those crowds. Talking to all the runners from different places is a big part of the fun. Anastasia from Ohio who had just completed the Mid-Western Slam, was working on her sixth hundred of 2012 and friended us on FB just hours after the race. Young Andy who had to be 6’ 4” and had 5 different pacers to bring him in the last 59 miles, including his wife for one leg. Jason, of the Slug Club, who finished his first 100 last year at Pinhoti while weighing 280 lbs. and was back this year to try his luck at 230 (he finished behind Patrick and ahead of me). It is amazing how many miles can get eaten up in just good conversation.



 Sunday, 11/4 – 6:25 AM
To my amazement, aid station 17, Rocky Mountain Church has just come into view. This is 90 miles in, there are less than 11 left to go. I have been walking and shivering for what seemed like forever. It is a very small aid station with no crews allowed. There was one vehicle, a small tent, and 2 volunteers. I was 15 minutes ahead of my self-imposed cutoff and started to reconsider dropping. As I approached they asked me how I was doing.
“Not so well, I have been walking for an hour.”
“Well you are almost done, just over 10 miles to go.”;
“My legs are toast, I am not sure I can keep going.”;
“Well, it is just the two of us here. There is no one to drive you, you can’t stop here. Would you like some coffee?”;
“I don’t need coffee, I need to stop.”;
“You can’t stop here. Here is your coffee.”;
I drank the coffee, took my last ibuprofen and stared down the road where they pointed I should go. I gave it a try. After a minute I started to trot as it was a slight downhill. After a few more minutes my legs loosened up and I started to run. Soon I was passing runners who had passed me on the previous leg. Then I passed runners I hadn’t seen since earlier in the race. I realized I was even running the uphills. I had new legs. I was going to finish! I don’t know where it came from, I never know where it comes from. But I was back on the high and cruising in. The elation at this realization is always a wonderful feeling. I can do this.

 Tuesday, 11/6 – 6:30 PM
I am just finishing my race report. I am left with just as many questions about myself as I had going in. Am I an elite athlete who just finished his ninth hundred miler, and fourth this year? Or I am fooling myself with another weak performance, well off the goals I set for myself? Am I building a stronger sense of fortitude and perseverance as I continue to find ways to pull myself out of a mid-race funk? Or do I still have the weak disposition that puts me in jeopardy to begin with? Wouldn’t a stronger person pull through those lows with less self-doubt and loathing? Am I building my personal karma by being a proponent of these races, and reaching out to the runners around me, giving (sometimes unwanted) advice and encouragement to those less experienced than me? Or do I remain a self-centered and impatient jerk who lashes out at this best friends at moments of weakness in races?

I don’t have clear-cut answers to any of those questions today. But I know a little more about myself than I did going in. I have a little more self-awareness of what I do well, and what I do extremely poorly. Maybe over the long term, that will add up to positive change. In the interim, I know a few things. Nothing else challenges me the way these races do, I can’t think of anything else that will cut me to the quick and force me to come to grips with the questions above as running hundred does. I believe I have become a better father, a better husband, and a better employee through running. And I know this: Patrick and I are both qualified for Massanutten and Western States for 2013, and we are both entering the lotteries for each. I hope one or both of us get in. I look forward to running with my friend again.
 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Travel Run Update #5 – Salt Lake City / Wasatch 09/13/2012 – 09/15/2012

We arrived home from Napa Monday morning.  I had just enough time to unpack, repack, and head back to the airport 2 hours later to go to Dallas for work.  Two days of meetings there went very long and I did not run as I had hoped.  But no worries, I will be back there next week for pleasure and plan to run Lake Grapevine.  From Dallas, I headed out to Salt Lake City for more meetings.  I have never been to SLC before, but I had been on the ground less than an hour before I decided I was in love with the place.  The vistas are spectacular, especially the Wasatch front to the east, and there are trails, paved and unpaved everywhere

Thursday morning I had meetings, so had no time to get up into the mountains.  But I set out from my hotel and within ½ mile was running along the Jordan River Trail which bisects the city north-south and is 39 miles long.  The trail is flat for most of the distance, so the easier terrain made for some faster (as always, this is a relative term for me) running.  Sometimes the trail ran right next to the river, sometimes it meandered away with dozen of yards of cattails and river grasses in between.  I couldn’t believe what a natural setting it made right in the middle of the city.  Up above, I could see the mountains in every direction (except Great Salt Lake itself, well off to the northwest).  And around me, it appeared I was in the country.  I passed cow fields and horse pastures, with both stopping to watch me pass by.   The river way could easily be called a bird sanctuary as there were thousands of them, of every kind, passing overhead and drowning me in their calls.  Just before my turnaround 6 miles south, I even saw a red fox cross the trail ahead of me just after passing several deer.  12.1 miles in 1:45, this was my fastest run of my travels.

Less than 24 hours later, I was back at it Friday morning.  This time I arose early and started pre-dawn from the entrance to Bells Canyon west, and just a little north from my hotel.  The trailhead starts at 5,200 feet and eventually climbs to over 11,000 feet and the peak of Thunder Mountain.  I knew I didn’t have time to get all the way up and back down before work, but I thought I could make much of it.  I soon knew I was wrong.  The websites I had read described alpine meadows, and I had visions of open fields with long vistas, like Julie Andrews in Sound of Music.   Less than a mile in, the trail turned into one long, mad rock scramble.   I didn’t so much run or walk, as I did hop.  I was feeling both the climb and the altitude as I ascended, and had to stop around the 7,300 foot mark.  By now, the sun had just risen and I had a beautiful early morning view back down into the valley.


I turned back down the mountain, and found I had a harder time going down than I had going up.  Most of the trail parallels a stream cascading down the mountain.  The running water, and little waterfalls proved a frequent, and often dangerous distraction from focusing on my footing.   I eventually reached the base of the rocky section and looked back up the trail into the canyon Ihad just climbed. 


Only 6.5 miles in 2:10 of running.  But as I drove back to my hotel, I was amazed this kind of trail was accessible less than 15 minutes from the center of the city, and I would be on time for work afterwards.  Just 8 hours later, I was headed out for a Friday afternoon jaunt up another mountain.  This time I was headed west and south and intended to run the BST trail which meanders around the foothills along the edge of the Wasatch without nearly as much elevation change.  I figured I needed an easier run to recover from the morning’s effort.  But less than ½ mile in I saw a sign for “Copper Canyon Logging Trail”.  Looking up, I could see the switchback going straight up the mountain. 


I suddenly had a flashback to running the Vortex with the “harder / easier” signs.  And as all FURs know, always choose Harder.  So up I went.   At first, I thought I would only go up for 30 minutes, and then return back down to run the flatter sections.  But 45 minutes passed, and then an hour.  Each time I crested a ridge, I would see another slope that didn’t look too far ahead and I pressed on.  Soon I passed the 2 hour mark of climbing and had finally reached my alpine meadows.  Lone Peak was just ahead and above me.


It was spectacular.  But I knew it was probably several more miles of trekking and a couple thousand feet above me.  I looked back and saw the sun headed down towards the Uinta mountains to the west.  I was running out of daylight.  I had a flashlight with me, but didn’t particularly want to descend that mountain in the dark.  I had climbed from 4,800 feet up to just over 8,600 when I turned back.  I descended faster than I thought I could, and still had time to do a quick 2-mile jaunt on the flatter sections in the fading twilight. 



 11.5 miles in 3:48 this time, with over 4,000 feet of elevation change.  I felt great.  Less than 10 hours later, I was back in the car, Saturday morning, headed for another run.  This time, I went to Dimple Dell, which bisects the city east/west, and was less than 5 minutes from my hotel.   The park is a deep ravine through the valley that was not suitable for housing.  So instead, it became another beautiful park with miles and miles of single track crisscrossing it. I danced back and forth across the stream at the bottom in the pre-dawn light and spooked a huge, 8-point buck just in front of me.  I am not sure why he ran, he outweighed me by 100 lbs. and his rack would have gored me through and through.  Alas, I could not get the camera out in time for a shot.   On the way west and then north through the L-shaped park, I found there were 4 primary trails (with many other connectors and offshoots).    


One followed the stream at the bottom, one followed the hillside near the bottom, a third tracked the ravine closer to the top, and the last tracked along the top on flat ground.  I stayed on the third trail as much as possible which wound in and around one bluff after another and up and down dozens of little ascents.  At the far north of the park, I circled around and down into the ravine at the bottom and returned alongside the stream.  I was having so much fun, I took every offshoot trail I could find and often found myself doubling back to repeat.  13 miles and 2:42 later, I was back at the rental car with just enough time to shower and get to the airport for my return to Tampa.  13 miles in a city park, and I don’t think I even saw half the trails. 

In the end, I did 4 runs in just over 48 hours totaling 43 miles and almost 7,000 feet of elevation change.  All of that was within 30 minutes of downtown and the airport.  I am in love with SLC.  And the Wasatch 100 just moved way up my bucket list.

Travel Run Update #4: Napa Valley 09/06/2012 & 09/08/2012

We spent the next week in Napa and Sonoma valleys, touring wineries, and doing what you are supposed to do there.  We rented a house just outside of the town of Napa in Wild Horse Valley.  We were at the very end of the road, tucked away in the hills on a horse farm next to a lake, with no noise and no neighbors.  The owner told me about a trail he had created over the years that led to the ridgeline behind us and overlooked Napa Valley.  He said you can see all the way to Mt Helena in the north end of the valley, and to the south, you could see to San Francisco Bay (and supposedly on a clear day all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge).


Unfortunately, my intake of the Napa product line led to me only running two mornings.  But one chilly morning I did run up and along the ridgeline as suggested.  He had cut a rough trail, so the going was slow, and I got pretty scratched up from the bushes.  I tried a number of the game trails that cut across it, only to hit dead ends when the trail required a creature much shorter than me to pass.  5 miles of rocky ups and downs later, I  was back at the chalet and ready for my next winery.  On our final morning, I decided to run the road down towards Napa, and back.  The first mile was a little bit of ups and downs, and I worked up the pace slowly, trying to overcome wine grogginess.  But the road descends 1200 feet towards the valley floor in the next 2 miles, and I was soon pounding down the pavement at breakneck speed (for me) trying to hold the switchback curves on the road.  I reached 3 miles in just under 23  minutes and decided that was far enough.  I turned and headed back up the hill and was soon huffing and puffing.  The return trip took 35 minutes, over 50% slower than the descent.  6 miles in 58 minutes total.  Only 2 runs in 6 days in Napa, but I was happy with the effort.