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.