Isaiah 40:31

Friday, December 16, 2011

Hellgate 100k

In 2003, I was a sophomore at Liberty University.  I had Dr. Horton as a professor and I remember him talking about this 100k race he dreamed up.  He was going to start it at 12:01am (not midnight to eliminate any confusion on the start date of the race) in the middle of December in the Blue Ridge Mountains.  I remember thinking, “What kind of idiot would run this race!?”  Fast forward 8 years….
 Julie and I headed out to Camp Bethel at about 4pm on Friday afternoon.  It was a very bizarre feeling driving up interstate 81 knowing that in a few short hours I would be starting one of the hardest 100k races in the country.  I have my routine down for races that start in the morning, but what should I do for a race that starts in the middle of the night?  I was up at 430am for a full day of work Friday and then drove up to Virginia shortly after getting off.  I was concerned the long day of work I put in would affect my energy knowing I would be running throughout the night and most of the day Saturday. 
We arrived at Camp Bethel and had some time to catch up with some buddies before Horton’s pre-race briefing.  The briefing started off in typical Horton fashion with unflattering nicknames and your intelligence being questioned and moved into what we should expect during the race in a few hours.  After the briefing, Julie and I headed back to the car to finalize any last minute preparations and try to take a quick power nap.  Besides being concerned about the lack of sleep I would be working on, I was worried about Julie crewing for me by herself.  Mainly because of some of the mountain roads she would need to drive on and how the lack of sleep would affect her as well.  Luckily, a buddy of mine’s crew allowed her to follow them to each aid station throughout the night.
Before we knew it, 11pm had rolled around and it was time for the short drive over to the Hellgate Creek trail head, near Natural Bridge, VA.  I always thought Horton named this race Hellgate because of the level of difficulty but when I saw where the race starts, it all came together.   After the national anthem sung by all the runners and a prayer from Horton, we were off into the darkness.  My goal was to run the 6-7hours of darkness very conservatively and then when the sun came up if I was feeling good I was going to try to pick up my pace some.  According to Horton, the first third of the race was the toughest because it was the middle of the night and it had the most climbing, the second third was a little more technical but runable and the last third was the easiest.

Keeping warm until the very last minute.
Also, in typical Horton fashion, you cross two streams before the first aid station.  One being pretty small and insignificant, the second being a little more serious coming up to just below the knee.  I could see this being a little more of an issue in the years past when it was much colder, but I have to be honest and say it felt pretty good.  The weather, which in previous years has been much colder, turned out to be perfect.  I am not sure what the temperature was but if I had to guess it was in the low 30’s and maybe 20’s in the higher elevation.  I even ran without my gloves and hat for a while to keep them from getting wet with sweat so that if I needed them later they would still be dry.
The night running was actually very pleasant-good company to run with and the weather was cold but not uncomfortable.  I kept saying to myself, “This section is the toughest part of the race?  This isn’t so bad.”  There was one stretch between aid station 3 (mile 13.1) to aid station 4 (mile 21) where I started to feel the effects of the lack of sleep.  I was in the midst of a 3 mile climb up a gravel road and my eyes started to get really heavy.  Luckily for me, I got to the top and was rewarded with a nice, long technical downhill, my favorite.  Imagine yourself running down a trail with leaves up to your ankles.  Under those leaves are loose, softball to volleyball size rocks just waiting to catch your toe and send you falling, perhaps to end your race.  Now imagine it’s the middle of the night and you have been running for four hours already.  It was just what I needed to get the adrenaline flowing again and wake up before I got to the first major aid station.
There were two aid stations that runners would need to get to by certain times in order to be allowed to continue on in the race.  The first one is aid station #4 and the second is # 7.  I came into aid station #4 at 5:45am, 45 minutes ahead of the cut off-maybe a little too conservative.  I was feeling good but concerned that I was so close to the cutoff.  I spent a few minutes with Julie asking her if she had been able to get any sleep.  I drank about a quarter of my Hulk smoothie from Smoothie King (a must for any long race I do anymore), drank a Red Bull and ate some monster cookies.  I have to give a shout out to running buddy Marc H for the great recipe for these cookies-they hit the spot, big-time.  These cookies have oats, chocolate chips, M&M’s and peanut butter-all energy packed calories.  I left the aid station feeling good and was excited to see the sunrise in the next hour.
Still feeling good.
As the sun came up, I honestly felt like I had just started running.  I am not sure what I did or what I ate, but I felt amazing. (Maybe the monster cookies?)  I was able to run consistently for the next 18-20 miles.  I had to have passed at least 20 or more people in this stretch.  I came into aid station 7, which is the second cut off, at about 10:30am still feeling strong.  I had gone from 45minutes ahead of the cutoff at aid station#4 to 2 hours ahead at aid station#7.  I kept asking myself, “Can I keep this up for the rest of the race?  This last 1/3 is supposed to be the easiest!”  I saw Horton at this aid station and he told me ever so nicely, “You better not quit, wussy boy!”  I told him I was feeling great and there’s no doubt I would finish. He then told me something I didn’t really want to hear-“You look great!  Only 20 miles to go!”  For some reason, in my head I thought I figured out there was less than that so it was actually quite discouraging, especially since they were probably “Horton” miles.  (Horton miles are kind of like country miles, only longer.)  I only had two more aid stations and then the finish, so my goal changed to just make it to the next aid station.  Then came the section known as the “Forever section”.

Getting some advice. "Don't quit, wussy boy!"

Any kind of nickname like that in a race can’t be a good thing.  As I headed out of the next to the last aid station, I yelled back to one of the workers asking what the mileage was to the next aid.  They kind of chuckled and yelled back, “7-8miles.”  I made a mental note of where I was at mileage wise on my watch and headed on.  It started out with about 2.5miles of downhill gravel road and then switched onto single track trail.  It was actually a very nice, runable trail.  I kept telling myself, “This isn’t so bad.”  I ran for quite a while and actually passed two runners during this stretch.  The second guy I passed asked if I knew how far to the next aid.  I looked at my watch and we were at about 6 miles from the last station so I told him it can’t be too far.  I kept on going for what seemed to be 20 minutes.  I had to be getting close.

As I continued to run, I passed a lady coming at me from the opposite direction.  She offered me some encouraging words and then said, “You are only 25-30 minutes from the aid station!”  I seriously almost cried.  I pushed on and in about 20 minutes made it to the last aid station.   Who in their right mind said this is the easiest 1/3 of the race?   It was by far the hardest for me.  I don’t usually ever run with a MP3 player, but something told me to grab it from Julie at the last aid station.  I had actually already left and turned around to go back and get it.  I am so glad I did, it really helped me get through this tough stretch.

6 miles left.

The distance from the last aid station to the finish was about 6 miles-3 up and 3 down.  The 3 mile climb up to the Blue Ridge Parkway was not as bad as I anticipated.  I actually was able to run some of it, which made me feel pretty good.  Before I knew it I had crossed the Parkway and began the final 3 mile descent to Camp Bethel and the finish line.

This stretch was by far the most enjoyable for me.  There were no runners around so I settled into a comfortable pace and enjoyed the beautiful weather.  I took this time to really think about how great the last year had been.   I was about to complete my goal of finishing the Beast Series that I set for myself two years ago and it felt fantastic.  I also thought a lot about my dad during these last few miles.  I set out to complete the Beast Series to see how hard I could push myself but also to raise money for the American Cancer Society in honor of my dad, who lost his battle with colon cancer six years ago.  I know without a doubt that he would have loved to have been at all these races crewing for me.
Before I knew it, I was making the left into Camp Bethel and was only about a quarter mile from the finish line.  I crossed the finish line in 15 hours and 10 minutes, successfully finishing the Beast Series.  After a congratulatory hug from Horton and a few pictures with Julie, we went inside to get my Finisher’s Patagonia fleece and my Beast Series trophy.
The term “Special” gets used a lot for Hellgate but that really is the best word that can be used.  From the hospitality at Camp Bethel to the 12:01am start, it was a great experience all around.  Even though Horton will probably call this an easy year for the race, I will still be proud of my finish.  It has been almost a week as I finish this recap up, and if somebody told me I could rewind to last Friday and run it all over again, I would do it in a heartbeat.  There is just something about running these races that reminds me how blessed I truly am.  I wish everybody could experience what it’s like to run in the mountains under a moon so bright you can turn your head lamp off and see the trail illuminated by it’s light.  There was one section that really stands out in my mind as I reflect back on last week.  I am not sure what time of night it was but probably around 2 or 3 am.  I had just came to the end of a nice, technical single track trail that dumps you off onto a gravel road.  (This stretch is actually part of the Terrapin Mountain 50k ran earlier in the year)  As I started to climb up this gravel road, I was able to turn my head lamp off, and because there were no other runners around at the time, the only light I could see was from the moon and stars.  There was a beautiful creek running parallel to this road for about a half mile.  The only noise I could hear was the constant water crashing against the rocks.  So even though I was in the midst of a tough, 3 mile climb, it was certainly one of the many beautiful sections of this tough course.


I have to thank Horton for dreaming up this race 8 years ago and continuing to direct these great races every year.  Also, thank you to the awesome aid station volunteers who stayed up all night in the cold for us crazy runners.  Last, but certainly not least, I have to thank my amazing wife, Julie.  She stayed up all night in the freezing cold to make sure I got to the finish line. Looking forward to seeing here at 7 out of the 9 aid stations definitely gave me something to look forward to. (Even though she missed me at one of them because I beat her there).  I might have to make Hellgate annual Pre-Christmas tradition!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Grindstone 100

I had a very easy feeling during the 4 hour drive to Camp Shenandoah on Friday morning, most likely due to the fact that my gem of a wife was in the driver seat and had all of my needs for the entire race planned for.  I thought I would be a nervous wreck but everything for the race came together so well that I really had nothing to worry about.  My thought process was to just run my race, take one step at a time and enjoy the adventure.  My goal throughout the past two years has been to run and finish this race and I had been preparing for it ever since I first got back into running ultras in early 2010. 

My first goal was to finish the race but to also finish it healthy so I could continue in the Beast Series.  Second goal was to finish it in 26-28 hours, but being as this was my first 100 miler and not knowing what to expect, I was going to be ok if it took longer.  Horton told me during the Grindstone training weekend that it would be better for me to come to the race under-trained and healthy then over-trained and beat up.  I really took this advice to heart and since I work two full-time jobs, coming to the race undertrained was not going to be a problem.  I put in some quality back to back long runs on the weekends ranging between 20-30 miles each day.  Instead of going out for a quick 7 or 8 mile run during the week, as I often have to do, I opted to go to Gold’s Gym and get on the revolving stair climber for an hour instead.  Doing that for 2 – 3 hours a week I think really paid dividends on preparing me for the long climbs of Grindstone.  I also put in 54 miles over night during the Woods Ferry 24hr race in Sumter, SC exactly four weeks out. 

Only 23,000ft up and 23,000ft down.

The afternoon of the race was very peaceful and relaxing for me.  After the pre-race briefing I killed time competing in the Grindstone Arm-a-thon, an arm wrestling contest that several LU students organized.  I really loved this idea, but for some reason I guess the other runners wanted to conserve their energy so it never really got going full steam.  I decided to head back to the car where I took a 15 min power nap and then spent the rest of the time with my feet up enjoying the beautiful fall weather and the scenic Blue Ridge Mountains.  By this time, my father-in-law and brother-in-law arrived completing my crew, which also consisted of my beautiful wife.  Since we live in different states it was good to spend an hour or two with them catching up before I needed to start getting ready. 
Fighting off nerves or wasting energy??

Before I knew it, it was 5pm and I started getting everything ready.  I wore Mizuno Trail Ascend shoes, Powersox and Patagonia Trail 9 shorts.  I also opted to start the race with a 70oz Camelback so I would be sure to drink enough fluids with the plan of dropping it probably at the half way point.  Knowing the trails, since I did the Grindstone Training weekend, I also used a Princeton tech head lamp and decided to have a light-weight LED flashlight.  I would use the headlamp while climbing but would add the flashlight on the very technical downhill sections. 

My Crew:  Dad, Dan and Julie

After a word of prayer with my crew and snapping a few pictures it was time to get behind the starting line.  “Here I am, after two years of waiting, I am actually going to do this,” I told myself.  And in all honesty, I couldn’t wait!  All I wanted to do was get this thing started.  6pm hit and next thing I know, we are off.  I repeated what Horton had told me a few weeks prior.  My problem was going to be going out and wanting to race, he told me:  “Take it slow, run where you are suppose to run, walk where you are suppose to walk and make sure you have something left to run on the back side of the course.”  Meaning, take it easy on the climbs and take it easy on the long descents.  The first 22 miles or so I ran with two guys that I ran with during the Grindstone Training weekend.  They were running well and I found myself exerting more energy than I felt like I needed to at the time so at Dowell’s Draft Aid Station (the first crew access) I decided I would have to let them go and maybe I would catch them on the back half of the course.
It was 10:50 PM when I got into the first crew access aid station and it lifted my spirit to see Julie and Dad waiting for me with some personally requested items for replenishment and some motivating words.  They had everything I needed ready to go, which kept my time at aid stations to a minimum.  I drank some of my Hulk Smoothie, grabbed some Clif bars and changed into a long sleeve shirt and headed on my way.  While I was at the Aid station, a good friend of mine, Ryan came up to me and asked if I wanted to run together for a while.  Ryan and I have ran numerous races together and run a pretty similar pace.  He finished the Beast series last year and is attempting to finish number two this year. 
The next 14 miles went very uneventful.  There was a pretty tough climb coming out of Dowell’s Draft, but it being still early in the race and catching up with what was new with Ryan made it go by pretty easily.  Then there was a pretty long technical downhill heading into North River Gap aid station, which is crew access number two.  It was now 2:30am and I was still feeling really good.  Julie and dad were there waiting for me, but they informed me that they had gotten lost and it had taken them over 2.5 hours to get there from Dowell’s Draft.  Crew directions said it was only 11 miles and should only take 25 minutes.  They said that there were not too many road signs on United States Forest Service Roads.  My crew was not the only ones that got lost trying to get to this aid station, because Ryan’s crew was not even there yet, 3 hours later.
Again, they had everything I needed for me to get in and out.  I drank a Red Bull and some more of my Hulk Smoothie and downed some perogies which were being prepared fresh by one of the aid station volunteers.  North River Gap was the second place runners were getting weighed in.  I must have been staying hydrated, because I hadn’t lost a pound.  I opted for some gloves at this point because it was getting pretty chilly on the top of the ridges we had been running on and I knew we were only going to be going up until the turn around.  North River Gap aid station was probably the hardest point of the race because it was at the lowest point of the course.  It was a very long, technical descent to get into it and a long technical climb out as well and we would be doing it twice, the second time at mile 66.
After about a 10 minutes rest at the aid station, Ryan and I headed back out to a very tough climb.  Ryan, unfortunately did not get to see his crew and would now have to wait until the turn around to see them.  The next aid station was about 7 miles, of which all seemed to be up hill.  After a pretty tough climb we made it to Little Bald Knob.  I was greeted by JB, who happens to be one of 9 people to have ever finished the Barkley Marathons.  He grabbed my camelback off my back, asked what I was drinking, filled it up for me and then put it back on for me.  We were pretty excited about the fact that we knew we only had 8 miles or so until we reached the halfway point, but the downside to that was that we would have more climbing  to do to get there.
I kept reminding myself that we were going to be able to run down all of this in a few hours.  I was still feeling pretty good considering it was probably about 4 am at this point and I had been up since 6am the previous day.  I was really looking forward to getting to Reddish Knob because we were on pace to get there right at sunrise. 

Doesn't do it justice.

Finally getting to the summit of Reddish Knob was probably the highlight of the race for me.  We made it there at about 6:45 am, 12hours and 45 minutes into the race, and were rewarded with a breathtaking view.  It had been a perfectly clear night so you could see millions of stars because there was no ambient `light at all.  To make it even better, you could look to the east and see the beautiful, pastel colors of a sunrise just barely cresting over the mountains.  I could have stayed there forever.  It was so beautiful, I had to get on my knees and say a quick prayer.  I thanked God for giving me the ability to run the first half of this race and allowing me to see His beautiful creation in a way that very few people will ever get to experience.  I have to thank Clark for starting this race at 6pm. I have to think that he did that on purpose, so that we could enjoy this view.  From here to the halfway point which was also a crew access point was a few miles of pavement, which I thought would be a welcome change, but it was actually quite painful.
After a few painful miles on pavement, we came to all the cars of all the other crews who were waiting to see their runners at the turnaround.  I saw the Pilot sitting there but did not see Julie, dad or Dan.  We still had another mile and half climb to the turnaround and I really started to get worried that they all thought they had to climb to the top of the mountain in order to see me.  Not knowing where they were at, I decided they had to be up at the top, so I headed on my way.  After climbing for another 30 minutes or so I finally reached the summit and there they were.  They had made the one and a half mile hike up the mountain carrying all my gear.  I felt pretty bad, but they didn’t mind because they got to see the sunrise as well and I know they didn’t mind getting a little exercise and a chance to stretch their legs either.
I finished off my hulk smoothie while dad kinesio taped my left IT band.  It wasn’t bothering me too bad but the few miles of pavement that we had just ran aggravated it a little.  After spending about 15 minutes with Dad and Julie, I pried myself away from their company and the warm fire and started to retrace the long trek back to Camp Shenandoah. 
I felt fantastic all the way back to North River Gap, which was at mile 66.  The majority of the way back to North River Gap is all downhill and it really felt great.  My energy was good, my legs felt good and I was starting to really look forward to the remainder of the race.  “This isn’t so bad,” I kept telling myself.  Then I remembered what a good friend of mine told me before I left for Grindstone.  He told me, “Just remember, the race doesn’t start until mile 65.”
After a quad punishing, technical 3 mile descent into North River aid station I started having some pain on my right big toe.  When I ordered my new Mizuno Wave Ascends, I opted for a half size bigger because of an issue that I had with my new Waveriders being too tight.  I took my shoe off at the aid station and I had developed a pretty good size blister and had a bloody toenail, my first one of my ultra running career.  I guess I should have stuck with my half a size smaller.  There was nothing I could do about it now.  It was now a beautiful warm fall day and was just before lunch.  I changed shirts again and picked up my first pacer of the day, my brother- in -law Dan. You can actually pick up a pacer at the half way point but because I knew it was all downhill, I wanted to save him for the tough climb out of North River Gap.
After a few minutes we were off to begin the relentless climb up Lookout Mountain.  In my opinion this was probably the toughest climb of the race.  It was short but relentless and extremely technical.  On a side note, we were about half way up the climb, and I looked up and saw three mountain bikers flying down this technical downhill.  I could not believe how fast they were going down this mountain.  I give props to them because I don’t know that I would ever do that.
At this point in the race was when my Achilles started to bother me.  It was getting so tight on the climbs, and I felt like if I took a wrong step on a rock that it had the potential to rupture.  So I had to stop every few minutes and try to stretch it.  The good thing was on the flats and downhills it would loosen up and I was still able to run.  This cycle continued on until mile 80, which was back at Dowell’s Draft, where I could see Julie and dad again.

Dowell's Draft Mile 79

We made it back to Dowell’s Draft for the second time and it was a little different scene compared to the night before.  I spent a few minutes there stretching and trying to force down some calories, but really didn’t feel like eating.  (Bad sign number one)  From there Julie was going to run the final 22 miles with me and dad decided he wanted to run the next stretch to Dry Branch Gap aid station, about 6 miles.
And this was when the wheels fell off.  It was about 6 miles of all climbing and my Achilles was not too happy.  I had to find two sticks that I could use as hiking poles to get up these climbs.  And because I hadn’t been eating, my energy was gone along with my desire to continue.  I couldn’t possibly imagine walking the final 18 or so miles to the finish so I thought to myself: “Why put myself through that debacle. “ Julie, being the great crew that she had been for the past 20 hours, recognized that I hadn’t been eating.  She made me sit down on a fallen tree and eat a cliff bar.  I argued that I couldn’t eat it, but to no unveil she won.  Amazingly during this 6 mile death march, I didn’t get passed by one person.  Everybody else must be feeling as bad as me.  I had told myself all throughout the race that I didn’t care about what place I came in but it was weird to think I hadn’t seen a single person.
After spending about 5 minutes with my father-in-law stretching my Achilles, (who by the way is a Physical Therapist and gave me a great advantage having him on my crew), we decided to continue on.  We finally stopped climbing and after a mile or two of ridge running we began a short, but steep descent into mile 86 aid station.  The cliff bar really gave me some energy and because I was able to run some on the ridge my Achilles loosened up.  That was a big boost of confidence.  At the aid station my dad kinesio-taped my Achilles and that really seemed to help.  I ate some of my chocolate covered espresso beans and had another Red Bull and a Turkey and cheese sandwich.  I felt amazing!  Ultra-running really is about managing the highs and lows of the race.  You are going to have lows but it’s all about pushing through them because you never know how fast a low can transform into a high.
It was starting to get dark for the second time of the race and knowing it was a tough 8 mile stretch to the last aid station I put on another long sleeved shirt and grabbed my head lamp and Julie and I headed out for yet another tough climb.  This time I was feeling great and couldn’t wait to get this climb done.  I believe it was about 4 miles up Elliot’s Knob and then 4 miles back down.  It was a gorgeous climb up because the sun was just starting to set and it was a perfect fall evening.  I really enjoyed this stretch of running with Julie.  It was really cool to share this experience with her and I am so glad I have a wife that is supportive in my running addiction and that she enjoys to run as well.  We even talked about what would be a good first ultra for her.  Holiday Lake 2012??  J  We finally made it to where the trail turns off to the super steep downhill gravel road.  I remember climbing this about 24 hours ago thinking how nice it will be to run back down this.  WRONG!  The blister on my toe was not feeling good, neither were my quads for that matter, and three miles down this steep road were not going to help.  After a lame excuse of running, we finally made it to the last aid station.  Wow did it feel great to get there.  We saw Dan and dad there, but wanting to get finished, we only spent a few minutes and we were off.  5 miles left, how bad could it be?  I knew there was really only one more small climb left, nothing like earlier in the race and some technical single track and we would be running around the lake back to the finish in no time.
By now, I really was starting to feel fatigued.  It was honestly the first time in the race that I had felt tired from lack of sleep.  Bust just as I was starting to lose energy, I started to recognize where we were at.  Finally back on the Boy Scouts camp’s property and then the best sign I have ever seen.  “1 Mile Left.”
As happy as I was to see that sign, I still couldn’t muster enough energy to run.  Nobody was behind me so I was content in walking until I got to the lake.  But of course, after not seeing another runner for hours, here comes somebody flying up behind me out of nowhere.  Well, never being somebody to get passed at the end of a race, the adrenaline kicked in and we started to run hard.  What felt like a 6 minute mile was really like 10 minute mile, but it didn’t matter, I was not going to get passed.  We ran around the lake and back onto the road that leads to the Camp and that long-awaited finish line.
We crossed the finish line in 28:15, good for 21st place.  After hugging the totem pole and receiving my finisher awards and a handshake from race director Clark Zealand, I hobbled inside to the cafeteria to sit down.  The months of planning and training that went into running Grindstone was a success!  I completed my first 100mile race, which also happens to be the hardest on the east coast.  After all the planning I did, the one thing I forgot to have ready was a dry pair of clothes at the finish line to change into.  I was shivering uncontrollably and could not warm up.  Julie ran back to the car and grabbed me some dry clothes and we headed off to the hotel for the night.
I could fall asleep right here.

I had wanted to run this race for over two years and to finally accomplish it felt amazing.  I wouldn’t have been able to do it without my fantastic crew of my wife, father in law and brother in law.  They did such a great job, especially for not ever doing anything like this before. 
Ultra running has pushed me harder and taken me to places that I would have never dreamed.  I am thankful that God has given me the ability and desire to run.  I am also thankful to my wife and boys for sacrificing our time as a family on the weekends so that I could do long training runs.
Thanks to Clark and all the volunteers for making this such a special race.  Four races down and only two left to go in the Beast Series: Mt. Masochist 50 miler and Hellgate 100k!

The day after in my Patagonia schwag..

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Holiday Lake 50k++

2010 Holiday Lake was going to be my first ultra since 2003 when Dr. Horton convinced me to run Promise Land 50k.  2010 Holiday Lake was not ordinary.  The whole east coast had been hammered with snow that winter and because of that, Dr. Horton raised the cutoff from 8hrs to 9hrs.  This was the first time he had ever done this.  I prepared myself as well as I could mentally for what I knew would be an extremely difficult race.  I finished in 6:15, probably about an hour slower than if the trail wasn’t covered in snow.
 Fast forward to 2011.  I had a solid year of running in 2010 under my belt and was looking forward to running Holiday Lake again.  When I checked the weather for the weekend of the race, I saw that it was going to be beautiful.  Thankfully, they did not have any snow on the trail so I knew the conditions were going to be much better than last year.
Holiday Lake 50k++ is the first race in the Beast Series and is also the flattest and easiest.  The (++) designates that it is generally two miles longer than a true 50k (31.1 miles).  It started at the Holiday Lake 4-H Camp in Appomattox, VA.  The camp plays host for all the runners the night before providing us with a nice pasta dinner Friday night and lunches after the race.  Runners are also allowed to stay in one of the many cabins the night before to avoid a long drive from town the morning of the race.  Because the race starts at 6:30am, I have always taken advantage of staying in the cabins, even if I have to share them with 20 strangers.  The course is a double loop consisting of primarily single track and fire roads.  It is relatively flat with only a few short steep climbs. 
Thursday night, before the race, I got a message from former Davidson College cross country stud, Lance Harden, wanting to know if we could carpool up to the race because he had some car trouble.  I told him that would be fine but wanted to know if he had an idea of how long it was going to take for him to finish.  I wanted to know because I wanted to get back home pretty early to take my wife out to dinner Saturday night.  He had told me that it was his first ultra but he wanted to finish in between 4:30hrs-5:30hrs.  That is about the same pace as me but because it was his first 50k I was a little skeptical that he would be able to complete it in that time frame.  More on that later on.
I am not sure what the temperature was Saturday morning, but it was cold.  I knew it was going to warm up fast so I didn’t wear too many layers.  After a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem, with all the words, and a prayer by Horton, we were off into the darkness at 6:30am sharp.  For the past month, whenever I would run past 12 miles, my right IT band would really flare up and force me to stop.  I was very concerned going into the race that I would even be able to finish simply because of how my last few long runs had gone before the race.  The week prior to the race I did not run at all and really concentrated on my biomechanics and the alignment of my lower body.   My boss Bryan, at Fitness Together is a magician at helping me nip any possible injuries in the bud by focusing on the alignment of all load bearing joints.   Perfect posture says that your ankles, knees, hips and shoulders should all stack, vertically and horizontally.  Anytime there is a dysfunction in that rule, we are more likely to become injured.  When I first started working for Bryan, I was a little hesitant to believe that the alignment of the body would make that much of a difference but after a solid year of running and no injuries, I am a believer now.   I will do post more on that another time.   (
The first loop went very well.  I skipped the first aid station and only stopped to fill up my bottle at the second and third.  Holiday Lake has two creek crossings, and because the course is a double loop, you run through the creeks twice.  The first creek is very small and you can usually jump over it. The second creek crossing is quite a bit larger.  As I approached the second one, Horton and Clark Zealand happened to be there taking pictures and ridiculing those who tried to go across on rocks, hoping that they would fall and get totally soaked.  I decided to avoid the ridicule and just trudge right through.  Last year, because of all the snow, this creek was quite a bit wider and deeper, so it was not nearly as bad this year.  From aid station 3 to the turnaround is primarily single track so it gets quite tricky trying to run as all the people ahead of you are already on their way on the second loop. As I got close to the turnaround I started to count the leaders just to get an idea of where I was at placement wise. I started counting leaders as they went by and when I got to number 5, low and behold it was Lance.  I was amazed.  Running 5th place in his first ultra-marathon?!   As I was headed into the turnaround I decided that I would grab my iPod for the second loop.  This turned out to be a great decision because I did not get passed nor did I see anybody ahead of me for the majority of the second lap.
 After running almost the whole first loop, the second consisted of more conservative run the flats and downhill and walk the uphill’s.  Over the last few months I have run a number of 50k’s, but they were all pancake flat and on compact gravel trails, so my legs were more tired than I thought they would be.  Amazingly, my IT band had not bothered me at all the whole race.  I took two ibuprofen about 8 miles in as a precaution and going into the last aid station I still had zero pain. With four miles left to go in the race, I decided to really try to kick up my pace since I was still feeling pretty good.    I came across the 1 mile to go marker on the trail and really opened it up.  I finally came to the last .60 of a mile road section and opened up my stride.  As soon as I did, my right calf really started to cramp so I eased back off and coasted into the finish with a time of 4:40.00, good for 36th place (one under Horton’s seed of 37 for me, he’s pretty good!)
After I got my Horton handshake and a hug from my son Gavin, Lance came up to me wearing his nice Patagonia Top 10 Finisher’s jacket.  He then told me he held onto 5th place with a blazing time of 3:57.  Unbelievable!  I told him that I think he has found his calling.  I would love to see what this guy can do if he actually trained for one of these races.  I really felt dumb thinking that I was going to be waiting around for him after I finished.  He showed me.  Congrats Lance!!
Another fabulous race put on by Dr. Horton.  Thank you to all the aid station volunteers.  You guys did an amazing job.  The weather was absolutely perfect.  I could not have asked for a better weekend.  One thing I learned from this race is that I need to push harder and get tougher mentally.  Sunday morning my legs felt good enough to go for a run.  That tells me that I could have pushed harder.  I also need to get off the roads and actually train on more trails.  One down and five to go!  I am looking forward to Terrapin Mountain 50k on March 26th.
Thank you for all your support so far.  A total of $300 has been raised for the American Cancer Society through one race.  Awesome!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Conquering the Beast for Cancer

Dear Family and Friends,
       What started out as a hobby for me has evolved into a passion and has transformed into a desire to help others.  I started running in college, as a means of stress relief and exercise. Once I completed my first ultra-marathon (an ultra-marathon is a running race that's longer than the standard marathon's 26.2-miles), I was hooked.  I am always asked why I would ever want to run those kinds of distances.  My favorite statement that I hear is, “You run that far?!  I don’t even like to drive that distance!” My answer is always the same. Ultra-marathons allow me to experience God’s amazing creation from a different point of view than the average person, while giving me a sense of accomplishment from pushing my body to the limit. One of my favorite quotes on running is, “Trying to explain a runner’s high to someone who doesn’t run is like trying to explain color to a blind person
       My dad lost a long battle with colon cancer in 2005.  Soon after, I vowed to live a healthier lifestyle and inspire others to do the same.  I began personal training with the hopes of equipping my clients with the tools needed to live healthier, more active lifestyles.   My goal is to change people’s mindsets from, “Tomorrow I may” to “Today I will”.  According to the American Cancer Society, colon cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer and the third leading cause of cancer death in men and women in the United States.  However, it is also one of the most preventable and curable forms of cancer.  A few simple steps that can greatly reduce your risk of this deadly disease include: early detection, maintaining a healthy body weight, eating a balanced diet, and remaining active.           
        I am striving to complete a very challenging series of ultra-marathons over the course of 2011 known as “The Beast Series.  I will be running in memory of my dad, Irvin Alsop, to raise support for the American Cancer Society.  The series consists of six races in Virginia which include:  Holiday Lake 50k++ (31.1miles) on Feburary 12th,  Terrapin Mountain 50k on March 26th,  Promise Land 50k on April 23rd, Grindstone 100 mile on October 7th,  Mountain Masochist 50-mile on November 5th and Hellgate 100k on December 10th.  A few ways you could support the cause would be to donate a one-time gift, or to make a commitment to give after each race completed.  A small portion of the proceeds will go towards covering my race entry fees.  All remaining money will be donated to the American Cancer Society for Colon Cancer research to help find a cure for this disease.
        The Beast Series is one of the most challenging series of races on the east coast.  Because of the degree of difficulty, I will be running a number of other races throughout the year to prepare for the harder races in the fall and winter.  I have started a blog so you will be able to follow my training and races as I work towards this very challenging goal. The blog can be found at I will update the blog as often as possible with training and race recaps. I want to thank you in advance for all the support as we work towards furthering the efforts of the American Cancer Society.  As I embark on this journey through 2011, I want to encourage you to continue being active or make strides to become active.  Simple activities like playing tennis or going on evening walks are great activities to help your mind, body and soul. 

Thank you for your support.  I wish you all a happy and healthy 2011.
Jeremy Alsop

But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.  Isaiah 40:31

Please send donations to:
Conquering the Beast for Cancer
Jeremy Alsop
131 Peterborough Drive
Mooresville, NC 28115