Thursday, April 29, 2010

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Volunteering at Mohican Forget the PR 50k

David, Ralph, Katie, Steve, Leigh, Lindsay, ?, Me

As I stated in my last post, I ran my Forget the PR 50k race last weekend at Mohican State Park because the official race was the following weekend and I would be volunteering. I had planned on going up after my work day on Friday, but the weather had set in and they were calling for high winds and a possibility of hail. Since I wasn't needed until Saturday morning, I decided to spend Friday night in my own bed and wake up early to be at Mohican by 10am instead.

Saturday Morning
At 8am I woke up and left the house to meet up with Don, Rob, and Kim at their cabin at 10am. We got all jacked up on coffee and went our separate ways. My duty was to mark the Purple loop with flags and white lime to help runners stay on the course. After my love/hate relationship with the Purple loop, this was a perfect choice for me. I knew this loop by the back of my hand since I'd screwed up on it so many times in the past. :) I took my hospital boot off and tied up my work boots real tight so that I could walked the course with a canister of lime and a handful of orange and yellow flags. It was a beautiful day to be out marking the course, and I had a blast.

After we had all marked the course, we met back at the Start/Finish to pack the aid station boxes full of supplies. It was a lot of fun, and I had a great time hanging out with other volunteers that showed up to help. Rob didn't cut any corners when it came to ordering supplies and there was plenty of food and drinks for every runner at every aid station. I really learned a lot about what goes into a top-notch aid station.

Once the aid station boxes were filled, the runners starting coming in to register for the race. Rob opened registration from 5pm - 7pm on Saturday, and we had quite a turn out! It was quite chaotic at first, as many runners pile in at once. We struggled keeping them all organized for about 20 minutes, but then we figured out a good system and it got easier.

After registration, all of the volunteers headed back to Rob's cabin for a feast. We all had a great time and shared various running stories. It was a lot of fun to hear some of the adventures that go down in a 100 mile race. I met a lot of cool people and really enjoyed the day!

Around 8:30 or so, I was starting to get pretty tired. Don and Betty Baun were nice enough to offer their backyard to me to setup camp. I headed over there around 8:30 and got everything setup. It took me all of about 10 minutes to get everything in order, so I decided to start a fire and just chilled out for about an hour or so before calling it a night.

Sunday Morning
It was way too cold to get good sleep. Each time I turned my head, the coldness of the pillow would wake me up. I woke up at 12, 1, 2, 3, 4, a few times in between then finally at 5:15 (thanks to the Crazy Rooster that Nick told me about last year). :) Once I got my tent broke down, I headed over to the cabin for some donuts and other sugary breakfast items before heading to the start finish where runners would be showing up shortly to register for the race. We did a lot of things before the runners got there, then when they started piling in, I sat next to Elizabeth and Michelle and we got runners to sign their wavers. Once the waivers were signed, Kim and Betty would hand them their race packets. We moved through the line pretty quickly. I saw a lot of familiar faces at check in and had a great time.

Moments before the 50k start

Starting Line

When it was about time to get started, Rob got up on his truck and gave the rules of the race. He introduced all the sponsors and explained some of the tricky parts of the race. Once he had briefed everybody on the course, Don Baun got up and had some words to say. Don asked everybody to keep their eyes open and really enjoy the beauty of the course. He is so right, sometimes people get caught up in the race itself that they don't see the actual beauty of the forest. Don gave a few good words of advise and then counted down the runners for the race. Off they went, the 50k runners were moving through the course! The 25k runners would start their race in 30 minutes. Therefore, we hung around for a while and then sent them on their way at 8:30.

Don Baun

Covered Bridge

After the 25k runners left, I took Fred (he's a beat up pylon) to the Covered Bridge, and met up with the other aid station volunteers. The theme this year for the covered bridge aid station was M*A*S*H. So we all wore our finest camo's.

This was my first volunteering experience and I was quite honored and surprised that Rob asked me to be the "Course Marshal". It sounded pretty important, and I guess to think about it, it was a pretty important role. However, each person at this aid station played a key role and my role was just one of many. The biggest difference between my role and the others was that I would be wearing an orange vest. Basically, whenever somebody had any question about where to go, I would be the one to go to; they weren't to 'trust' anybody else. :P The 50k runners would be coming through the covered bridge 3 times, whereas the 25k runners would come through exactly one time.

50k front runners at the start

My vest came in handy a few times, as there was a lot of traffic at the covered bridge, so I got to "use my authoritay" to stop traffic as runners came out of the woods. The only thing I was missing at times was a whistle and a billy club.

The Covered Bridge aid station was on the ball. Two of the runners that I met last week on the race (Steve and David) were manning this aid station as well with their wives (Katie and Leigh). Ralph was the aid station captain, and Lindsay was on her toes the whole time tending to the runners needs. Katie and Leigh ensured that every runner was accounted for and their time was recorded. They could tell you where any runner was at any time. Ralph ensured that the food supplies were up to par and made sure that nothing ran out. Steve, David, and Lindsay were all there to see to it that the runners were taken care of as soon as they entered the aid station. As the runners were approaching the aid station, the crew would find out what the runners needed before they got there so that they would be ready with water or Heed. I, of course, just stayed visible to all runners and managed traffic as best as I could. I was able to save a few runners races with my eagle-eye skills. But other than that, I just had a great time talking with runners and cheering them on.

The Race
One of the most exciting parts of being at an aid station volunteer is that you get to see the actual race. Especially being at the Covered Bridge (again, runners came through here 3 times). We saw all the excitement of the race. The front runner was Shaun Pope, and he made it look effortless each time he came through our aid station. Second place was last year's winner, Jay Smithberger. The race between Shaun and Jay was awesome. Shaun was 5 minutes ahead of Jay as they came through the aid station the first and second time. The third time through, Jay had picked up 3 minutes on Shaun. There were only 2 minutes between them at mile 27. Shaun came through the last time looking pretty spent, but Jay came through looking strong and ready to make his move. Ultimately, Shaun won the race by 1 minute!! I later heard later that Jay might have caught up to him, but took a bad spill (blood, mud, and all) with only about 2 miles to go and lost his momentum. It goes without saying that both guys kicked butt!

D'Lyn and Luca

Another great thing about volunteering is that I got to see was my running buddies come through. I saw Mike McCune (The Dillon Runner), Mark Carroll, Mike Keller, Gianluca Blengio, Tim Harber, and many others. Mike McCune was coming off of a knee injury and this was his first race since it had happened. He looked strong each time he came through and he finished with a very respectable time. It was great seeing Luca, Tim, and Mike Keller as well. Mark Carroll ran a hell of a race! This guy came into the aid station the second time and looked like he was pretty much ready to kick ass til the finish. Sure enough, he did; coming back into the aid station for the 3rd time he had moved his way up the chain of runners. This man is a machine. Mark finished very strong and he proved that he's a force to be reckoned with. Great race man!

Post Race
After Matt (ie. "The Michigan Sweeper") came through our aid station in his high fluting kilt :), we knew there was nobody else out there. Matt was a volunteer that ran behind the last runner and his job was to pick up all of the flags on the course. I can't imagine how hard that job must have been for a non back-of-the-pack runner, like Matt. As he came through the last time he said that he's mostly been walking all day; not much running at all. Once he left, we immediately broke down our station and picked up all the trash. It took a total of about 15 minutes. Once we broke down, I went back up to the Start/Finish to help with a few final things and say good bye to Rob and crew. After 8+ hours of "feet time" I was happy to sit back in my car and make the hour drive home...

Congratulations to Rob, all the 50k and 25k runners, and a great job to all volunteers. This was an amazing experience for me and I look forward to doing it again next year. It was nice to be on the other side of the race for once. Most all runners (with the exception of a few) were very appreciative and friendly to all of us. This experience gave me a whole new appreciation as to what the volunteers do before, during, and after these ultra races.

Oh yeah, Rob, here's that picture I took the morning of the race. I fixed it up a bit because it was pitch black; it turned out "kinda" cool actually. :)

Rob Powell (Forget the PR Race Director)

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Forget the PR Mohican 50K Race Report

This weekend was the Race Directors Race for the 2nd Annual Forget the PR 50k Trail Race. This race would be my first ultra since my defeat last year at the Mohican 50 Mile Trail Race. I was not well trained for this race at all, but knew I could do it if I put my mind to it; which I did. The biggest difference in this race from every other race that I've ever ran is that it was going to be my first race as a minimalist runner. I wore my Vibram Five Finger shoes for the 30+ mile run through the woods.

This was a special event, not only for me, but also for my good buddy, Dan. This would be Dan's first Ultra Marathon, and he did it surprisingly well... almost effortlessly at times. Way to go Dan!!

Here is an overview of the journey I'll be talking about:

Alarm Clock - 3:30AM
The alarm goes off and I get up and cook myself an egg sandwich and fill my thermos full of piping hot coffee. I get out the door by 4:15am and make it up to Mohican State park by 5:25am. The plan was to meet Dan at the covered bridge so that we could park his car there to be our own personal aid station throughout the race. Rob had actually planned to have a rolling aid station for all of us runners, compliments of Mike and Jen Patton and company. However, Dan and I would be starting earlier than everybody else, because I'm (what some call) "slow". Therefore, Dan and I would be starting 2 hours before everybody else.

Oh yeah, Dan got a $100+ ticket on his way to the Covered Bridge this morning. He was going 80+ MPH in a 55 MPH zone. Funny thing was that I was on the phone with him when he got pulled over. He showed up in good spirits and it gave us a good story to laugh about at such an early hour. Again, "Way to go, Dan!". :P

Starting Line
Dan and I scurried around and tried to get everything ready for our own personal start. We started at 6:03 AM, sharp. :) It was pitch black outside still, so I had my headlamp. However, I only had one (but not two) headlamps for our trek through the wilderness. We had some good laughs before we even got started and we were pretty excited for our full day of running. The first part of the race was all uphill, so we did a lot of slow jogging and walking for the first few miles...

Miles 1 - 5
As I said it was very dark, and we only had one headlamp. Therefore we tried numerous ways to figure out the best system so that we could both see the treacherous terrain up this big hill. I realize now that minimalist footwear and rough terrain don't mix well with darkness. I beat up my toes in the first 2 miles of our race pretty bad. I got both pinky toes (right foot and left foot), and then around mile 2 I kicked a rock with my big toe REALLY hard, and it went numb for a while. I knew I got it good as soon as I did it, but there was no stopping now (in my book). We were on course for 29 more miles, and the sun was starting to come up. :)

About 2 miles after the toe cruncher, Dan and I made a wrong turn and went about 3/4 of a mile out of our way due to bad navigation on my part. There was a section where I thought we had to turn and head to the Hickory Ridge aid station, but after we got on the path for so long, I realized we screwed up and we had to turn around. This mistake tacked on an extra 1.5 miles to our total mileage, but we were still in good spirits. I'm glad I caught it when I did!

Miles 6 - 10
Hickory Ridge was right around the 6 mile marker, and we saw where the other runners had setup water for their rolling aid station. We both had enough water and gels to last us, so we just pushed on through. Nothing too adventurous happened through here. The sun was out and the other runners would be starting their race very soon. We had some beautiful scenery that kept us occupied through this section of the Orange loop, and we just enjoyed the quiet forest. Plus, there were some very nice downhills coming up soon and then we would be at the Covered Bridge.

Miles 11 - 15
The Covered Bridge is the main aid station and runners visit it 3 times during the race. This was our first stop, and we stocked up real good. As we were approaching it, Dan ran ahead and got it unlocked so that he could get all the drinks and food ready. We refilled our water bottles, ate some PB & J sandwich slices, some chips, some cookies, and off we went...

The next section was the difficult, yet fun and extremely beautiful, Purple loop. This section winds through some technical roots and up a little stream over big logs and muddy puddles to a nice little water fall deep in the woods. My foot was kind of throbbing through here, but I just focused on left foot, right foot. For once I wasn't looking forward to climbing the cool root system at Little Lyon Falls. It's my absolute favorite part of the Purple loop, but I knew that I was going to have to really flex my right foot to make it up the root system, and I wasn't sure how that was going to feel... As we approached it, I just went for it and it wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be. It was a lot of fun, like it always is. :)

From the root system, we jogged up the road past the dam and made our way to the Blue loop. The blue loop is nothing more than a bad joke from Rob. :) It's a muddy horse path that winds through the woods, brings you close to a beautiful lake, sling shots you around the Lodge, and then puts you back on the same muddy horse path back to the Purple loop. It wasn't bad at all, actually and I really enjoyed it. I remember last year, it had just rained or something and there was no escaping the mud. However this time, it was not as muddy, but enough to remind me how funny it was last year. :)

Miles 16 - 20
Around this time, we were waiting to see the front runners from the 8am start group. As we were coming off of the Blue loop back on to the Purple loop we ran into two runners named Steve and Dave. They were looking very strong, and we exchanged greetings as they were just making their way up to the Lodge. Once we got back onto the Purple loop, we saw a bigger group of runners and I yelled out a WOO-HOO to them as they were making their way up the road. We exchanged some encouragement and then Dan and I headed down to the Big Lyon falls.

We made it back to the Covered Bridge and filled our water bottles once again, and chugged down some Gatorade. The next section was mostly uphill to the Fire Tower...

Miles 21 - 25
This section was mostly up hill to the Fire Tower. There isn't anything really technical about it, other than the fact that it's mostly uphill. There's a nice flat section at the beginning, but then it gets pretty grueling as the hills get longer and steeper. We made it to the Fire Tower around 12:15 PM and the sun was right above us. It turned out to be a beautiful day, and we were past half way done with this race.

After the Fire Tower, we made a wrong turn... We were supposed to turn left onto the mountain bike trail, but instead we kept going strait; mistaking the "left turn" for a left bending turn in the horse path. I spoke with Rob two days earlier on the phone, as this section was a little sketchy to me, and even after he explained it to me, I still screwed it up. We went one way for about 1/4 mile, then turned around and headed back, only to screw it up again and went an even different different left!! The good news is that I was "somewhat" familiar with where we were, so we just improvised to get back onto the Red Loop.

Around this point, my feet no longer hurt. The pain had moved up into my shins. Actually, I'm lying, my feet still hurt, but the pain in my shins were much worse. Therefore, the pain in my feet was just an inconvenience, the pain in my shins was excruciating. Not only that, but our little detour involved some pretty big rocks and I was in my big dumb VFFs. Oh well, c'est la vie!! I did a lot of hobble-walking through here...

Miles 26 - 31.1
On our way back to the Covered Bridge, I saw Mike Patton coming up the path and we stopped and talked for maybe a minute. He told me that Rob and the others were right behind me and should be coming up any minute. About 1/2 mile later we had made it back to the Covered Bridge for our last time. Dan was already there waiting on me, and so was the "rolling aid station" that Rob had told me about. Some of the girls at the aid station noticed my VFFs and it turned into a discussion. I basically told them that it's one of the dumbest things I've ever done. :) As we were leaving the aid station, I knew that the next section was going to be very slow for me. But, make note that I was still smiling, and was determined to finish this thing:

The last leg of this race was very hard. Each step seemed to get more and more painful. Dan and I walked together for a while, but I could tell that I was slowing him down. I would try to do a "shuffle jog" but whenever my foot got turned just a little bit, it sent a sharp shooting pain up my shin. Not only that but both feet were severely bruised on the bottoms. The brusing wasn't so bad because they were (border-line) numb by this point. However the shin pain was almost unbearable. I truly believe that had I gotten on all fours and crawled I would have finished faster, but I just hobbled along and paid close attention to every root and rock on the trail so that I wouldn't touch it with my right foot.

By the time I had gotten to North Rim trail, I was convinced that I was in dead last place. This kind of brought me down a bit, beings how I got a 2 hour head start of everybody else. I knew that Dan had already finished too, because I was less than a mile from the finish line, and he left me maybe half an hour ago. I sat down for a few minutes on a big log and let my feet have a break. After about 3 minutes of relaxation, I decided to just get it over with. I stood back up and started hobbling up the hill again. Almost there!! The closer I got to the finish line the higher my spirits got. I knew that all my buddies would be there and best of all, I could finally sit down and relax. :)

Finish Line
To spite my feet, I decided to do my hobble-jog to the finish line. Running is really the only way to finish a race in my book. I crossed the finish line after running a little bit more than needed and an amazing time of:
9 hours, 43 minutes, and 32 seconds!
By far my slowest race, ever! Honestly though, all of that pain and all those bad thoughts went away once I saw the shelter with the other racers sitting and enjoying the post race meal. Once I finished, I got some food and sat down for some ice cold refreshments and "hot off the grill" barbecue ribs!! Rob gave us all our belt buckles and t-shirts, and congratulated us on a successful race.

Post Race Drama
While I was driving Dan back to his car, I got pulled over by Mohican trooper. I was going 34 MPH in a 20 MPH zone. DOH! It's pretty ironic that Dan and I both got in trouble by the law on this day. Luckily, my cop let me off with a warning. She gave me a little lecture and sent me on my way... Charm goes a long way, no matter what some of my high school teachers might have told my Mom. :)

The Day After
I had some pretty nasty chafing (sorry, it's true), but Chickweed Healing Salve is a wonder-cream!! Seriously people, buy it and use it! I'm 100% healed of all discomfort after about 10 minutes of extreme burning while it was "working". As for my feet: both feet are severely bruised, and I'm in a hospital boot with crutches. I have the boot on my right foot, but almost need a boot for both feet. My left foot is getting all of the weight now, but it hurts too.

In hind sight, maybe I probably should have worn actual running shoes. (?) No, actually I'm glad I did the barefoot approach, for I know that this race made me a lot stronger from it. Unfortunately, it came with a pretty big price tag; my mobility. I'm basically on "bed rest" until this coming weekend, when I have to volunteer at the "official" race. Lucky for me I have my beautiful wife, Jennifer, attending to my every need...

Jennifer if you reading this, I need more coffee please. :) J/K