Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Deca Iron Report

i finally found a minute to report from the double deca and deca iron races being held in Monterrey, MX. The races began on Sunday, Nov. 14th. This year, the format is continuous, all of the swim, then all of the bike, followed by the run. I arrived last Thursday and have been busy ever since. The continuous format places a lot of stress on the equipment, and I have been doing a lot of bike repairs, in addition to providing support for Wayne Kurtz. Wayne is competing in the deca iron triathlon, 24 miles of swimming, 1120 miles of cycling, and 262 miles of running (10 marathons). As of Tuesday morning, he has completed six marathons, only four more to go. These are the toughest though, as everything hurts. The weather has turned hotter, causing us to change strategy, running during the night and sleeping through the hotter part of the day. The course is a 1.2 mile loop, and the back side begins to get shady around 3:30 in the afternoon. We are sleeping a few hours before midnight, and then a few hours at noon, it seems to provide the best results. Although at this point, just moving is a win. As in past years, the main struggle is keeping Wayne eating. It is a constant struggle to keep up with the huge caloric expenditure. Christian, from France was the winner in the deca race, finishing in just under 20 hours, only about eight hours off of the world record. In the double deca, it is close at the top, with four men within a few hours of each other. They are still on the bike portion, with about 250 miles still to go. We are seeing lot of unusual bike problems. Gregor Sundin, from Sweden, had his rear derailluer shifter break, so we fixed the bike in a single gear so that he could continue to ride. Once he stops for a sleep break, I will try to get the shifter repaired. It may not be possible. The folks from Denmark have an entire team of Helpers, and we have borrowed a few things from them. They have a bike mechanic, but he took a few days off, so he is not around to help with repairs. They also posted some video from early in the race, you can see it by going to decatri.dk. It is all in their language, but look for the link on the page that has video in the word. Check out the swim video, with Gregor using only one arm, it had us all laughing.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Racing season has begun

Now that the snow has melted it is time to get out and see what our winter base training has wrought. Our good friend Ted Ricci, who is now representing Pittsburgh in the great state of Texas, provided this race report from the Grasslands 50.
Here is a link to the results:
Grasslands Trail Run
(BTW, there is a runner named Freeman who DNF'd, obviously no relation : )

Last Saturday I participated in my second 50 mile event called The Grasslands Trail Runs( including 1/2 marathon, marathon, and 50 mile distances) put on by the North Texas Trail Runners. The races are billed as a good introduction for first time trail runners because of the gently rolling terrain of the course. The conditions this year made it anything but gentle. It had started raining heavily overnight. It was about 38 degrees at the start and still raining hard. It got colder as the day went on the rain turned into rounds of sleet and snow. I felt like I was home in good old PA rather than North Texas! The 7am start in the dark was tough because the trail was completely washed out. Runners were slipping and falling everywhere. Once it got light and the runners spread out, I was able to set into a deliberate pace. Due to the conditions it was impossible to run large sections of it. It was a mud fest. Brown mud, red mud, white mud, sandy mud, clay mud, soupy mud, rivers of mud. Variations of mud I had never seen before. The course was a series of loops that returned to the start/finish area. Almost every other runner would stop, take off their shoes and change their socks after each loop. I didn't bother. Due to bouts of frost bite early in my life, my feet are overly sensitive to the cold (just like Rick's description of what happened to Chuck at the Iditarod). My feet turned somewhat numb from the start which I have become accustomed to. Fortunately it did not get cold enough where I was at risk of losing any toes but it was cold enough to take the edge off where I couldn't tell how much mud had caked up in my shoes so it didn't bother me.

I must admit I had a few thoughts of just packing it up because of the ridiculous conditions. But I asked myself what would my ultra running mentors Rick and Dan do? They wouldn't quit! They would find a way to deal with the conditions and push on. After I determined to push on, I became concerned about making the cutoff. Fortunately I hooked up with a guy named Michael Terrel. He was an ex-military guy who had spent years on the Adventure Racing circuit so extreme conditions where up his alley. We worked together to make sure we made the cutoff. Once we did that, there was no doubt about finishing.

Around 84 people signed up for the 50 miler, only 70 bothered to start it, 7 finished --that's an amazing 90% failure rate!

Why do we do this? It is hard to describe to others the satisfaction we receive for persevering through extreme conditions. Am I ready to do the Laurel 70 miler? I don't know, but this race certainly went a long way to prepare me for it when I attempt it someday.

Happy running!

Great report Ted. You are always welcome to come and run the Laurel race.

Lou D. kicked off the local racing scene with the JC Stone 50k last weekend, and the Umstead, Bel Monte and Fools Run are this weekend, hopefully there will be some race reports to post from those events.

I talked with Tim Hewitt who just finished his fifth trip to Nome on the Iditarod Trail. He and Tom Jarding both beat the foot record there, with Tom knocking an amazing 1 1/2 days off the old record. Tim could not catch Tom this year. I try and get a post about the Iditarod later this weekend.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Iditarod Update

One never knows what to expect along the Iditarod Trail and this year was no exception. The Pittsburgh folks started out strong, but the wet and warm trail conditions took there toll. Chuck had to scratch at mile 130, due to what he thought were blisters. Just dropping out of this race can be a nightmare. First he had to arrange a ride with a bush pilot from the Winterlake Lodge back to Anchorage. At the airport, all flights were booked solid for four more days, due to spring break in Anchorage. Chuck was able to find a compassionate airline worker who helped find a single seat on a plane to Seattle. Once in Seattle he got a flight back to Pittsburgh, via Chicago. All this on very sore feet. The doctor said frostbite was the reason for his pain, and that if he would have continued, he would have lost some toes. Go figure, the weather was almost balmy this year, but wet feet lower ones tolerance. That, and apparently he must have had a mild case of frostbite last year, and the tolerance got even lower. He is back home recovering after a disappointing run.

The others are still moving along the trail. Just before Chuck scratched, Tim went ahead of Loreen and Rick to try and catch up to Tom and Eric. Tim managed to catch Tom and Eric in Rohn, but then turned around and went back to make sure Loreen got over Rainy Pass and down through the Dalzell Gorge safely. There are spotty reports out of Rohn, so we will not know the whole story until after they finish the race. Rohn is nothing more than an airstrip and a log cabin in the Alaska Mtn. Range. It is only inhabited during the two weeks of the Iditarod. Tom and Eric finished in McGrath on Saturday morning, they had a very fast race. Tim, Loreen and Rick are now somewhere out on the Farewell Burn, we will not hear about them until they reach the village of Nicolai, probably sometime today. Word is that Tim has twisted an ankle, but we don't know how severe it is. The Farewell burn got its name after a large forest fire swept through the Farewell Lakes area years ago. It is 90 miles of open territory with numbing cold and strong winds. In years past, there was a bison camp where you could stop, rest and refuel. They were just a couple of walled tents, with a wood stove, but they were like a five-star hotel to us. This year, the tents are gone, so finding a safe, sheltered place to rest is very difficult. Once in Nicolai, they will be on the home stretch with just the 50 miles along the river to the finish in McGrath. Loreen is assured of being the first woman on foot to finish in McGrath, as the other woman dropped out of the race back at Finger Lake. Loreen will have to hurry if she wants to beat the course record she set back in 2008. Hopefully we will get a favorable report later today.

Monday, March 1, 2010

And They Are Off

The 2010 version of the Iditarod Trail Invitational began Sunday, February 28th, beginning at Knik Lake Alaska. There will be many ways to keep up with the racers this year. Craig Medred from the Alaska Dispatch is reporting from along the course as he visits the various checkpoints. You can find him on Facebook and Twitter. There are also links to his reports on the Alaska Ultra Sport website. Craig's first Twitter report stated that the trail was blown away across Flathorn Lake, scattering the racers across a wide swath. Once across the lake they will cross the Dismal Swamp, then follow the Susitna and Yentna Rivers to the first checkpoint. The temperatures on the rivers can drop dangerously low with a constant headwind. Most will try to make it to the checkpoint without stopping.

There are reports of very little snow going over Rainy Pass and down through the Dalzell Gorge. The lack of snow means that there will be open water to negotiate if they can't get the ice bridges constructed. The ice bridges are made by putting down a base of branches which are then covered with snow, which then freezes solid enough to allow racers to cross. This portion of the course is very beautiful and is one of the reasons we are drawn back to compete every year. The racers will be treated to wildlife sightings, glaciers and ever changing trail conditions.

There is also very little snow across the Farewell Burn, which could mean up to ninety miles of pulling sleds across dirt and rocks. Of course, these conditions would be very good for the cyclists. As always, the conditions can change in a moment so we will have to wait and see what the racers encounter along the historic trail.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Spring can't be far

With winter still hanging on in the Pittsburgh area, local ultrarunners have found many ways to cope during the recent record snowfalls. Folks traveled to Texas for the Rocky Raccoon 100, to Florida for the Lean Horse 100 and to North Carolina for a long training runs. The Pittsburgh area will once again be well represented at the Iditarod Trail Invitational with Tom Jarding and Tim Hewitt doing the full 1100 mile race. Loreen Hewitt will be attempting to lower the course record in the 350 mile race, a record that she already holds. Rick Brickley and Chuck Struble will also be competing in the 350 mile "fun run". Rich Cook will be in New York for the inaugural Beast of Burden 100 mile race. It looks interesting, and I have to admit, I thought about heading up there this weekend to do it.

The ultra running season gets underway locally in a few weeks with the J.C. Stone 50k in North Park. You can find race information on Facebook, and on Lou's race page. Just do a search for the jc stone 50k. I will be there helping out. If you are looking for a spring tune-up race, this a good one to do. It is a fairly flat course, run on good roads and has lots of support.

We are still snowshoeing a lot in Boyce/Mayview Park. We had the trails worked in well last week. Enough so that we could actually run on them. But the recent thawing and new snow have left them pretty rugged, so we will be out packing them down again this weekend.

Keep training hard during this inclement weather, you will be thankful you did once the days turn warm.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Arrowhead 135 - Race Report

The Arrowhead 135 winter ultra began on Monday, February 1st in the city of International Falls, MN. I met up with Eric Johnson from Ogden, Utah at the MN/STP airport and we made the 300 mile plus drive up to the start on Saturday evening. After checking in we stopped by the hotel bar to chat with a few of the other racers who were hanging out that evening. We met a racer named John who was drinking few Jameson's. We saw him at the pre-race dinner on Sunday and he stated that he had a pretty good headache.

Sunday morning was spent preparing our gear, getting last minute supplies, eating, resting and finding our way around town. There is a mandatory gear check that everyone must attend, which was a new experience for me. While I have done the Alaska Ultra Sport twice, where they trust your judgment when it comes to gear and food, the Arrowhead requires a minimum amount of survival gear and food. The gear check went like an assembly line, you had to put all your gear on a table, then Don (the gear checker) would make sure that all of the required equipment was there before weighing it all. I threw my food bag into the bin at the last second, which was a good thing, since there is also a fifteen pound minimum. All tolled, my gear and food weighed in at seventeen pounds. Some of the required gear included a -20 rated sleeping bag, bivy sack, 3000 calories of food, a stove with 8 ozs. of fuel, reflective gear, blinking lights, whistle and matches. I got a chance to talk with Pierre, the race director, who designs tools for Park Bicycle Tool Co. and got some interesting insight as too how bike tools are designed. He even showed me the latest bike stand that he designed, it will be on the market soon. I also met Jon Storkamp, who had the foot division course record prior to the 2010 race. He had a lot of good information to share.

After the gear check we all headed over the the VFW where the pre-race meeting and dinner were held. The city of Int. Falls was really happy to have the race start there, and the Mayor, Chamber of Commerce President and a city council member all welcomed us to their fine city. We even got a cool Int. Falls pin that read "The Nations Icebox" which I eventually misplaced. There were the typical pre-race announcements, don't litter, look out for wolves and moose, keep your number visible, you all know what that is like.

The Monday morning start was pretty typical for an ultra race, every bike and sled in the pre-dawn parking lot had blinking red lights fore and aft, it looked like Christmas in the lot. The temps were around minus 20 degrees, with a clear sky, almost full moon and no wind, perfect conditions for racing. We let the bikers lead us out from the start and it did not take long for the field to string out along the trail. The trail itself was a route that is groomed for snowmobile use, about twenty feet wide, smooth and packed. The state grooms almost two thousand miles of these trails throughout the state. One can ride their snowmobile from town to town, stopping to sleep, eat, shop or anything else you can think of.

The first checkpoint was at thirty five miles, and was a general store/gas station along the road. I reached it in just over ten hours and stopped to enjoy some hot food, refill my Camelbak and talk with some of the many racers. The place was total chaos, there were racers lying in all of the aisles, resting, eating, drying out their clothes and deciding whether to abandon the race. I think many folks underestimated the requirements of a winter ultra. Many were waiting for their clothes to dry in the dryer that the store had for our use, while debating how they might fare without the luxury of a dryer later on. I got a chance to talk with Marco, who won the Badwater 135 in 2009, he did not speak English, and I did not speak Portuguese, but we were able to communicate a little bit in Spanish. I do know that he was cold.

After twenty minutes or so, it was time to get moving, as the sun was down and the temperature was dropping fast. I wanted to get out and get moving before it got too cold. I was somewhat surprised to encounter hills after leaving the checkpoint, I thought that Minnesota was flat. I later found out that the hills would continue from thirty five miles all the way to the one hundred fifteen mile mark. I hoped to make the halfway checkpoint at Melgeorges resort in another twelve hours, but the hills and need for sleep got the better of me. There were shelters along the trail that were spaced about ten miles apart and they made good bivy spots for us. They were just three sided structures with a roof and a place to build a fire if needed. I found an empty shelter with a fire going and decided to take my first rest break of the race. It was about midnight and I decided to just do a "shiver-bivy" or "shivabiv" as Eric called it. Instead of getting into my sleeping bag, I would just put on my down coat and sleep by the fire until it died down and I would wake when I started to shiver. This was a good plan, except instead of just shivering, both of my calves cramped, awakening me to much pain. I quickly set off so that I could warm up and stretch my legs. The shivabiv lasted about an hour, so later in the night I began to fall asleep while walking. I came upon another shelter which had a nice fire going and lots of folks sleeping. I was going to stop and sleep, but when I asked how far to the checkpoint, the answer was "about eight miles". I decided to keep moving and sleep at the checkpoint. After another hour, I came across some snowmobiles who were busy transporting racers who had abandoned the race, they told me is was still another ten miles to the checkpoint. Since I was sleepwalking a lot, I decided to take five minute naps instead of stopping to sleep. I finally arrived at the checkpoint just after dawn on Tuesday.

The second checkpoint was a nice cabin at Melgeorges Resort on Elephant Lake. It was warm, comfortable and busy. There were people coming and going constantly. I tried to sleep upstairs, but the din of the many folks downstairs kept me from actually falling asleep. After about forty-five minutes I decided to take my leave and just sleep on the trail if need be. I got something hot to eat from the kitchen, refilled my food bag from the drop bag we had there and headed out. I found myself traveling with Doug from South Africa, Carles from Spain, and one of the skiers for the next few hours. All were strong racers and we made good time as the day was calm and the trail was fast. As the sun went down on Tuesday, I caught up to Jim O'Brien who told me he was not feeling well, had not been able to keep food or water down, and was now getting cold. It sounded like a sure case of hypothermia setting in so I offered him my down coat, as he already had all of his extra clothing on. The map indicated that there was a shelter coming up in a few miles and I told him I would go ahead and get a fire started there. He arrived at the shelter just a few minutes after me, we realized that the fire pit was not in front of the shelter, so we just went without a fire and set up inside the shelter. Jim decided that he was going to withdraw and get a ride out. Doug arrived at the same time and we tried to talk Jim out of quitting, saying that he still had plenty of time to get in his sleeping bag and try to rehydrate. He insisted that he would not be able to make it. I don't know why, but I had my cellphone with me. We called the Crescent Bar, which had an advertisement on the back of the map and they said it would be about an hour before someone could reach us. Doug and I decided to take the opportunity to sleep while we waited for the snowmobile to pick Jim up. Once we were on our way again, Doug and I began to catch many of the other foot division racers. We passed six or seven racers during the next twenty miles. Sleep deprivation again got the better of me and I had to stop and rest for another hour before the TeePee checkpoint. Doug went on ahead, and I only caught sight of him again coming out of the checkpoint.

Just before the final checkpoint, the course dropped out of the hills and across a swamp, where the temperature dropped below minus twenty. I stopped at the checkpoint only long enough to refill my Camelbak for the final twenty miles. I wanted to keep moving while it was still dark and would sleep a little just before the sun came up. I made the last critical turn and headed for the finish. The final few miles passed quickly as there were signs along the trail for lodges, restaurants and of course the casino, where we would be finishing. I arrived at the finish in 11th place in the foot division and was escorted into the casino hotel where the race had a hospitality room for the competitors. There were 45 starters in the foot division, of which 19 finished. Marco, whom I met at the first aid station, finished a few hours behind me, just goes to show how much of a factor the weather can be.

The Arrowhead 135 is a great race, especially for someone who would like to get winter ultra running experience. While the low temperatures remain a constant danger, there is plenty of support along the trail and race management keeps tabs on every racer along the course. There were snowmobiles patrolling the course at all hours. This is one race I will return to do again.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Arrowhead 135

Just returned home after racing the 2010 Arrowhead 135 winter ultra. The race began in International Falls, MN and ended near the town of Tower, MN. This was my first attempt at this race, and I finished 11th in the foot division. I traveled with Eric Johnson from Utah, who finished 2nd in the foot division. We enjoyed the warm hospitality of the folks in International Falls, and all along the trail. I will add a race report and some pictures after I get my gear and my thoughts organized.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

January Ultra

A few folks from Steeler Nation took a road trip to Cleveland this past weekend to run the Race for Regis, formerly know as the Winter Buckeye 50k. Tanya Cady designed a new course, with a new start pavilion, and we were not disappointed. The format was similar to the old run, multiple loops of five and eight miles. This made for some tough running as the trail softened up under the feet of a few hundred runners. There was plenty of ice at the beginning, creating quite a bottleneck within the first mile. After those of us with spikes in our shoes got through the icy section, the trail thinned out and made for a nice day of winter running. The aid stations were well stocked and manned by upbeat volunteers. I wasted quite a bit of time, stopping to talk at each aid station, mostly answering questions about the course changes at Laurel this year. Actually, it was nice not to have to worry about running fast, as Chuck and I were using this as a training run for our upcoming arctic ultra's. I did not get to chat with all of the folks from Pittsburgh, but saw Mike F., Michelle W., Dan and Sharon S., along with Eric G. and a few others. We were not able to stay around long after the finish as we had things to do at home. As usual, I wore my Steeler gear and took a bit of ribbing from the Cleveland folks. It was all in good fun and I certainly look forward to racing against those guys. Many will return the favor by wearing their Browns gear at the J.C. Stone race in a few months.

Pierre Oster sent a link to an article about the Arrowhead race, you can view it here: Arrowhead 135

I have started updating the website for the Laurel Highlands Ultra. We have decided to keep it a point-to-point race, with a detour of about six miles to get across the PA Turnpike. We have been talking with the Park Manager and hope to get the DCNR to designate the detour as an official trail detour. If we can get it designated as such, then it saves us from having to get all the special use permits for the road section. For those of you who have signed the petition and have called or written to our state representatives, I thank you. And please, keep the pressure on the state to get the bridge replaced. It will take a few years to get it done, but it will be worth it.

We also have added a three person team relay race to the 50k race at Laurel. We hope this will encourage more folks to give trail running a try. Check out the Laurel Ultra website for more details.

Don't forget about our next fun run, the Mingo Mingle coming up in a few weeks. Dave and Sarah Micklo will be hosting this fun run and it will be a lot of fun. We will be starting at one of the pavilions in Mingo Creek County Park. I will update the GPS coordinates when Dave verifies which pavilion we will be using. We will have a generator and stove there to heat up some food, so bring something to share with the rest of the runners. And don't forget to bring some warm clothes to change into after the run so you can stay comfortable while telling a few stories about the trails.

We are also adding another fun run to the growing list, a trail run in March at Raccoon Creek Park. Jon Gift will be our host and I will add a webpage with directions and more information as soon as I get time.

Don't let the cold weather keep you all indoors, winter is the best time to get outside and lay down the base training for the racing season ahead. If you learn to handle adverse winter conditions, then showing up at the start of a race when it is cold and rainy will not be an issue.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Recover From The Holidays Recap

Our annual fun run is becoming quite a tradition as 75 folks came out on a cold and blustery day to start the new year and new decade. The temps were in the low teens all day with plenty of ice on the trails. Don, Ken, Chuck, Mark and I were out on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday to mark the course. We wanted to find a way to eliminate the asphalt portions of the course and Don succeeded. We had the Boyce/Mayview park pavilion as the run headquarters, and people brought all manner of food and drink for everyone to enjoy. Jeff Bowden was not feeling well enough to run, but he braved the cold for five hours as he staffed the start area, serving food and hot beverages to cold and tired runners. Cam Baker brought a torpedo heater which was put to good use. With the cold temperatures leading up to the event, we anticipated a low turnout, but we were pleasantly surprised by the number of runners who showed up. I guess a fun run with some friends trumps cold, snowy weather. Bob and Jim from Youngstown and a few other folks from Ohio made the trip east and had a fun time. Those of us who brought warm clothes were able to hang around and wait for everyone to finish, which ended up being about eight and one-half hours, when Don K. and Sue W. finally reached the pavilion. Our next fun run will be the Mingo Mingle in February. The info can be found at laurelultra.com/mingo_mingle.htm. I will send out a reminder as it gets a little closer.

I finished putting the finishing touches on my Arrowhead 135 sled and got out for a test run with the complete gear kit that I will be using in Minnesota. Everything worked perfectly, now I just have to finish working on the motor and I will be set for the race which begins on Feb. 1.

We are having a meeting on Sunday to decide what course will be run at Laurel this year. There has been a lot going on this week with respect to the bridge closing. We should have more answers after the meeting and I will post an update early next week.