Synchroblog: Why Do We Run?

Friday, April 18, 2014

In second installment of UltraVT synchroblog, I was tasked with coming up with a topic that "had a little controversy" and would ultimately promote good discussion within our group.  I suppose one neat thing about participating in the synchroblog with a group of likeminded college students is that, as intellectuals, we can appreciate and embrace differences in opinion without feeling like our beliefs or values are being challenged.  That's the beauty of the entire thing; new perspectives promoting and fostering a rich dialogue among friends.

The topic I decided on, as seen in the title, is Why Do We Run?  This has been an underlying theme in many of my posts and one that I attempted to tackle in an open conversation last spring, Lets Talk Running Motivation.  One excerpt from that post that helps set the tone for the discussion:

I have a personal struggle with motivation that teeters on an unhealthy addiction.  I often have a feeling of guilt until I cross off that days mileage.  It made me think.  What drives me to run? 
I think it is important to reflect and reevaluate periodically, taking a step back see the bigger picture.  I'm excited to read what my peers have to say as I think it is a challenging topic but relevant as ultrarunners because of the inevitable "but why do you run so far?"

What role does running play in your life? 

For me, it is important to continually remind myself that running is something I do and NOT who I am.  This is a big one in my opinion, especially in our generation, because we keep such busy schedules and are so driven to climb the ladder or get to the next "thing" that we hardly stop to enjoy the moment.

For instance, last Sunday morning I completed a massive accomplishment by finishing my first 100 mile race.  A race that I devoted a huge amount of time, energy, and money toward...and it was over in the blink of an less than a day?!?  You know what I mean.  Michelle and I discussed before Umstead 100 that I would NOT sign up for another race in the week following Umstead.  Rudy, without any knowledge of this discussion, made sure to tell Michelle to "not let me sign up for any races the week after."  I'm proud to say that I didn't.  That's not to say I didn't look but I didn't pay for or actually sign up for any races.  Small victories.  The point being that, we are often too quick to think about what's next that we rarely stop to appreciate the things we have, or in this case have recently accomplished.  I think by not signing up, I savored the success of completing my first 100 mile race in a stylish fashion.  Further, I would argue that I'm the happiest I've ever been following a race.  I spoke with Kristen about this on our run on Sunday morning, the post race depression.  After months of planning, training, and hard work the event is over and far too often is over in a fashion that does not meet our idea of "success."  We justify our performance by telling ourselves "I could've done this differently" and "I should've trained this way" never being satisfied with our performance.  I believe this is an inherent trait of runners, specifically runners who consider themselves "endurance athletes."

Running, in this way, is both productive and equally destructive.  The coin is two sided; races and events serve as source of focus and drive when motivation is lacking to train and simultaneously act as selfish pursuits of achievement that are detrimental to relationships, professional goals, and social lives. I spoke with some friends about this in early February as I expressed my concern about how selfish training for a 100 mile race is and the toll it was taking on all three of the above mentioned aspects.  Training placed an additional, and entirely unnecessary, burden on Michelle to pickup my slack while I spent hours running each weekend.  It was entirely unfair.

So why continue to do it?  Simple: mental balance.  Now, I understand all the aforementioned selfish training and unfair talk in the previous paragraph is enough to warrant hanging up the sport altogether.  But since I began running again in late 2011, I've been a happier and more balanced individual than I can ever remember.  Getting out the door, even if only for a few miles, gives me an opportunity to clear my head, unwind from a long day, and personally reflect on my life and behavior.  It's my thinking time. Selfish?  Absolutely.  But do I feel that I am a better friend, son, teacher, and fiancĂ© (soon to be husband) because of it?  There's not a doubt in my mind.  I don't think anyone, or at least very few, individuals who run 100 miles races and put in 60+ mile weeks can do so unselfishly.  The compromise then is choosing and pursuing races that allow for a resemblance of balance.

For me, I need to ensure that running has it's place within my life without taking it over.

When did you start running and why?

I started "running" during my sophomore year of high school when I went out for the cross country team in the fall of 2002.  I thought of myself as fit and quickly learn just how unfit I was. The team was a blast and we had a few kids on the team who were amazingly talented and naturally gifted with absolutely zero focus and dedication. Huge potential squandered. They made every practice hilarious, mainly because we were high school guys and everything inappropriate seemed funny at the time (why do I want to coach HS again?).  In the spring I decided to participate in track and field and fell in love with the sport.  I choose hurdles, despite my scant 5' 3" build, and quickly fell in love with the feeling of flying through the air over hurdles.  I'm not sure if I was driven or simply had a chip on my shoulder but I managed to make it to states my senior year and place 7th, good enough for all state honors.

Part of the reason I choose to leave my job as an engineer is so that I could coach at the high school level with the desire to help kids find a love of running, or at least pursuing an active and healthy lifestyle.  Once I got to college, I would go out for runs sporadically but never with any idea of "training" or consistency.  Eventually, a friend persuaded me to sign up for a half marathon, the Yuengling Shamrock half, which I thought I was going to die after.  In the fall of 2009 after completing the Journey of Hope, I decided I was fit enough to run a marathon.  Little did I know that cycling fitness doesn't necessarily translate to running fitness.  I swore I would never do it again.

The real catalyst for me signing up for my first ultra was my best friend Jeff sending me a link to Sabrina Moran's blog, who attended William & Mary at the same time that he did.  I was hooked and quickly signed up for my first ultra, another terrible idea, the North Face 50M, which I eventually reduced down to the 50k and ran in the summer of 2012.  The past few years have been a whirlwind of growing as a runner, specifically developing confidence in my fitness and ability to run beyond my self-imposed limits.

If you could only run one last run, where and with whom would it be and why?  

When I met Michelle, she wasn't a runner but in all fairness neither was I.  The first few times we tried running together were...well...disastrous.  Running partners need to run the same pace and our paces didn't mesh well together.  However, over the years, we've run together when I haven't been training and it has been AWESOME.  She knows it's my favorite thing to do together.  I know it's one of her least favorite things.  We're working on finding a happy medium.  I digress.  If I had one last run, or could only run one more time before both of my knees gave out, I would want it to be with her someplace beautiful.  Just a fun run along the water or a canal or in some new place we've traveled to.  Spending time doing what I love with the person I love most in the world.

Which is better, trail running or road running?  Why?

Tough question.  I came from a road running background transitioning to longer trail ultras after running my first half marathon eventually my first full marathon.  A lot of the runners I know ran a trail 50k as their first long distance race and completely skipped over the marathon distance.  I LOVE the feeling of running through closed city streets in a massive road race where you feel like for a few short hours, runners own the roads.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, the ultrarunning community is SO much more close knit than the road running community.  We endure and suffer together, traversing massive mountains and covering grueling distances.  Trail races are limited by the number of runners a trail can accommodate and consequently are more intimate experiences.  Road running has my heart but at the moment, trail running has captured my attention and drawn me in.  I have a lot of lofty goals involving trail races and really only one that involves road racing, qualifying for Boston.  I suppose that's why I think trail running, and ultra distance racing will continue to keep me entertained for the foreseeable future whereas Boston may be more of a "bucket list item."

Groups or solo?

Deep inside, I'm fiercely independent but when it comes to running I find strength in others around me, whom often believe in me more than I do myself.  UltraVT is a petri dish of inspiration.  I think the following tweet after Monday night's group run sums up my opinion on the matter:

So there you have it!  The second installment of UltraVT Synchroblog.  All most of us will be publishing this Friday morning.  Be sure to click on the links under the UltraVT logo on the right side of the page as everyone else updates their blogs.  Writing this post has been an excellent opportunity to organize and consolidate my thoughts into coherent opinions.  And they're just that.  Opinions at the moment.  Perhaps I'll read another runners post and change my opinion.  Maybe not.  Either way, I'm excited to do another one.


2014 3.2 Run In Remembrance

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

On Saturday, Michelle and I participated in the 3.2 Run In Remembrance held, on the Virginia Tech campus, to remember and celebrate the lives of 32 Hokies that were tragically taken from us on April 16th, 2007.  Although Michelle had participated in the run twice before, Saturday was the first time I elected to participate in the run.  I'm not sure why...or how(?) I missed participating in the run in years previous but after signing up and then not running last year because of a friends wedding, I made certain to put it on our calendar this year.  When Michelle and I discussed the run last week before Umstead 100, I told her I may have to walk it but that I was going to do it!  Fortunately I managed not to ever really be sore this week recovering from Umstead 100 and as a result was able to go out and #HaveFun running with Michelle.

On Friday, after a busy day with the middle schoolers, Michelle and I drove to campus together and headed over to packet pickup at War Memorial Hall.  I foolishly only took one photo, which came out funky as some guy walked in my panoramic shot:

I digress.  The packet pickup was silly efficient! Appropriate for an engineering school huh? Each participant was given a QR code that was scanned using an iOS device (not too sure here because it looked like iPod touch with a larger scanner handheld attachment on the back that they have/had at Apple stores) that when scanned notified the volunteer whether to distribute a ticket for the free t-shirt.  All told, we spent about 3 minutes actually inside of War Memorial and about 10 walking to and from each way.  There were banners to sign and write on as well as "bibs" to write your reason for running.  After packet t-shirt pickup, we ran a few errands in Downtown and while we waited, grabbed a sweet tea lemonade at Starbucks, perfect to cool down!  While sitting there, I noted that in to months to the day, we will be husband and wife!
One awesome thing about the Run In Remembrance is that it does not start at a silly early time.  The RecSports department at Virginia Tech has decided to keep the race casual, meaning that it doesn't actually start until 9AM, with the large group photo taken around 8:45.  This was super nice because I was able to get up and lounge around, have breakfast and a cup of coffee, and then run to the start of the run.  I met Michelle at the start and we headed over to where people were assembling to take the VT photo on the Drillfield.  This is a good time to mention that I decided to bring the GoPro with me to film the run and in my distracted state trying to get a neat shot of everyone forming the VT, I lost sight of Michelle into a sea of maroon and orange.   Fortunately once the crowd dispersed, I able to find her and after only a brief reprimanding...continue my filming duties.  However, I was much more conscious to always keep and eye on her.  Whoopsie!

The photo above was taken from a helicopter above the Drillfield.  I thought it was pretty awesome how quickly they posted the photo because by 11:52 the photo was on the Virginia Tech Facebook page and I had tweeted it out!

Michelle and I at the run start.

After the photo was taken, we headed over to where the run was set to begin in front of War Memorial Hall.  We would then follow the Drillfield clockwise down toward the Duck Pond and then hang a right on West Campus Drive before veering onto Duck Pond Drive.

This year marked the first year they did not release balloons, which was good and simultaneously disappointing.  I understand the reasoning but they do make biodegradable balloons now and the sight of thousands of maroon and orange balloons lifting up is pretty awesome (at least the pictures I've seen anyway).

At the start, there was a sea of maroon and orange, the two best school colors in my opinion.  Over 8000 runners were signed up to run and I'm sure even more decided to run the day of, which is possible because there is not a timing system or fee to enter the run.  Nope.  The run is entirely free!  

The view at the bottom of the Drillfield near the Duck Pond.  To say that the weather was picturesque is a massive understatement.  The trees are just beginning to bloom and they made for gorgeous pictures along the run route.

Lots of participants were breaking the first rule of any running event, wearing the event t-shirt during the run, but because this run and not a race I think we can let them slide on this one.  I'll chalk it up to showing Hokie Pride!

Looking back down West Campus Drive.  On the left in this photo, is the newly renovated Davidson Hall that resembles a periodic table of elements when looked at in a profile view from the left.

It was here that there was a bit of a bottleneck as we condensed from three lanes of road to two.  It was funny to watch some of the runners jump over the guardrail only to realize that they were later trapped at the edge of the Duck Pond.

The view of the route along Duck Pond Drive.

Eventually, we made a left onto the first of three "hills" on the course, which you see in the video below where I get a shot of the cadets caring the massive telephone pole(?) The hill leads up to The Grove, which serves as the university president's residence.  It has an awesome view of the Duck Pond and campus!

At the top of The Grove:  You can see here that lots of folks walked the hill (which was perfectly fine) but you can also see the cadets beasting it up the hill with said telephone pole.  

At the bottom of hill leading down from The Grove, we made a right back onto West Campus Drive, now going the opposite way away from the Drillfield and after the second small "hill" on the course enjoyed a flat section heading toward Washington Street passing by Litton-Reaves Hall and a few dorms, as well as McComas Hall, one of the two gyms on campus and home of VT RecSports.

One of the coolest parts of the run, aside from the overwhelming emotions that are unavoidable, is the opportunity to run through the tunnel entering Lane Stadium!  Almost equally as cool is the opportunity to run down the home sideline on Worsham Field.  I did mistakenly place about two inches of my foot on the grass and was quickly ushered off and told to move along.  I suppose Tech does spend MILLIONS on that grass.

After exiting Lane Stadium, the route cuts back behind the East Stands up the final hill of the course into Stadium Woods,  a 11-acre of old-growth forest home to numerous 250-350 year-old white oaks.  A quick right onto Washington Street followed by an immediate left onto Kent Street led to the long sustained downhill seen below.

As we passed by War Memorial Court, commonly known as "the Pylons" and War Memorial Chapel, we entered the finishing straight lined by spectators and runners waiting for friends and family to finish the run.

After crossing the finish line, we headed over to meet our friend Julie and her friend Kelly, whom we had run into out along the run and talked for awhile before finding water and pizza!  Domino's at 10AM?  Yes Please!

I spent most all of the afternoon editing video I had taken during the run to produce the video below. I'm extremely proud of how it came out and feel like I learned a lot about what shots work and which don't as well as how to avoid reduce shaky camera issues.  Make sure to watch the video in HD and feel free PLEASE comment on, thumbs up, and share the video.

I even learned how to get video onto Instagram that is not on your phone, which requires a bit of...finagling...but created a pretty neat little teaser/trailer for the video.  

All-in-all it was an amazing and fun run and a great way to start off our weekend!  I'm disappointed that I haven't participated before but it'll be on our calendar for the foreseeable future.  Ideas were tossed out for making the run a real 32 for 32, which would require us starting super early but doing the last 3.2 with everyone else.

Thanks to RecSports for an amazing event and to all the volunteers who were out there ensuring the run went out without a hitch today!


Top Ten Moments of Umstead 100 Endurance Run

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Over the weekend, I received an outpouring of support and congratulations for finishing the 2014 Umstead 100 mile endurance run.  While I fully intend to write a proper race report, I realize that reading about running around a loop eight times doesn't appeal to a lot of the folks who sent support my way on Saturday and Sunday.  Further, I understand the value of such race reports in the weeks preceding a first 100 mile attempt but realize they have their time and place.  Instead, I bring you my ten favorite moments (and then some) from this past weekend in what I can only describe as 18 hours and 47 minutes of elation.


I arrived at the headquarters aid station (HQ AS) after my third lap at 12:40pm, just as things were starting to heat up for the day and when one of the volunteers mentioned they had snow cones, I gladly accepted the offer.  These were not your average chipped ice with store bought syrup.  No sir.  Umstead 100 would not stand for that. No, these were made with love and prepared early in the week, see for yourself:

Yes.  That is 25lbs of sugar they reduced to make simple syrup for the runners.  SO MUCH thought goes into every aspect of the race.  The pancake mix and cinnamon raisin french toast were also equal labors of love.  I opted for lemon lime on race day but I had the option of four or five flavors.

9.  Power Phrases.

In the weeks leading up to the race, Michelle asked what she could do to help me succeed on race day.  I gave her one task, aside from telling her "Do not let me quit," which was finding and making power phrases to give me each lap.  Before the race, she put on my first band, "Make It Happen," while we sat at the table over breakfast.  For each subsequent lap, she taped on one additional band and by the end of the race my wrist looked like this:

Note in the background the Vuvuzela (and buckle!) that was sounded as I entered the headquarters aid station each lap.  The two orange power phrase bands came from Jordan and Rudy and said, "Embrace the Pain. 75 Down" after lap 6 and "Not Dead, Don't Stop. 87.5 down."  These were awesome!  If a negative thought entered my head I looked down at these and used it to get me going again.  My aunt Jan even sent in a power phrase, "Remember that guy that quit? Neither does anybody else."  

8.  "There's a raffle after the race and one of the prizes is an industrial tortilla steamer"

Rudy joined me for miles 65-75, see number 5 below, and somewhere around the lap he pulled a pretty good prank on me that was a much needed laugh.  Rudy: "Hey, did you hear there's a raffle after the race tomorrow morning?  I think it's at like 10AM.  One of the prizes is an industrial tortilla steamer!"  Me:  "Wait! What? NOOOO"  Call me gullible.  I suppose one can hope right?

7.  "You'll see the pine needle where we start to walk."

I marked points on every hill/incline/mound/elevation gain on the course early in the day with landmarks (i.e. specific trees) so that later in the day I would continue to run to those landmarks in an attempt to keep the same effort throughout the day.  The last real hill before returning to the headquarters aid station was on a big open road without a distinguishable tree to indicate a point to start walking.  However, there was a pine branch that was in the middle of the road that I used to mark about the halfway point of the hill.  I told Jordan this on our first of two laps, so around 86 miles in.  He had a pretty good laugh and didn't understand how I could mark the course with A pine needle.  I suppose in my tired state I didn't do a good job explaining what we were looking for, nonetheless I LOVED seeing that pine branch each lap.

6.  "@RBSherfy is KILLING me"

The last lap was all business.  Make it to the middle aid station and by 17:30 and then finish sub-19, which I felt was achievable considering that I had done the back half in close to an hour every lap.  We ran all the downhills and POWERHIKED the uphills.  I forgot to mention that Jordan crushed the Mountain Lake Hell Climb Saturday morning and then drove down to Raleigh to run 25 miles with me.  Can you say BEAST?


So I come into the headquarters aid station after my fifth lap, now 62.5 miles in, and Michelle is not at the car and nowhere to be found, which wasn't an issue because the aid station volunteers took care of everything I needed.  When I left the aid station, Michelle was at the car and dressed to run with me, which didn't make any sense because she was not planning on running because of IT band issues.  She said Jordan would be around the corner on my way back but was parking the car.  We did the out and back airport spur, so the first two miles of the course and when I came around the corner RUDY pops his head out from around the gate to which I reply, "YOU'RE SUCH A LIAR!"  Rudy had planned on coming but as we were getting on I-81 on Friday afternoon, I received the text below letting me know he wasn't going to be able to make it.

To say that it was an AWESOME surprise would be a huge understatement.  I suppose I'll let him slide on getting my hopes up about an industrial tortilla steam, so perhaps my reaction was accurate?!? but it was awesome having Rudy with me on lap 6.  He pushed me to start 10 feet earlier then my marked trees, go a little harder on the hills, gave me a random fist pound every now and then to keep my spirits up, GOT ME TO DRINK FLUIDS AND TAKE GU, and basically left me in much better shape for Jordy who I was going to run laps seven and eight with.  We had a blast, laughed, and enjoyed doing what I love doing, running with friends.

4.  Notes of encouragement from family and friends.

Michelle really exceeded expectations here.  I mentioned above that I had asked her to make power phrases to take with me for each lap (See Number 8 above) but she took it upon herself to collect notes of encouragement from friends and family.  Each lap she would give me a new note to read, on my long walk out of the aid station up the hill while I ate food.  Some were hilarious and others were encouraging; all were very special and kept me going.  I carried most of them with me during the run (as long as they fit)!

3.  Tammy, Rick, and the countless other runners, crew, and volunteers who gave their support.

I would argue the camaraderie between ultra runners is unparalleled.  I met Tammy at Terrapin Mountain and she let me know she would be at Umstead this year, a comforting thought knowing there would be at least one familiar face at the race.  However, I did not have the opportunity to meet her husband Rick, a now seven time Umstead fininisher, who perfectly compliments her warmheartedness and welcoming attitude.  Michelle spent the majority of the day with Tammy, which was so nice and thoughtful making her feel welcome when she didn't know anyone else at the race.

Throughout the weekend, I was overwhelmed by the hospitality and warmth everyone showed us both at the aid stations and out on the course.  It was incredible how supportive other runners were when you would pass them on the either the airport spur or on the section shared between the outbound and inbound loop.  Shout outs to Rick, Mike Pastore, and two gentlemen whom I don't know their names but met before the start (Richmond and Alexandria).

2.  PARENTS!?!

Whenever I entered the area where Michelle and Tammy were setup, along with lots of other families and crews, I shouted VUVUZELA!!! to let them know I was coming because I couldn't see around the bathroom pavilion in the photo below.  When I rounded the corner after my second lap, I shouted Vuvuzela quickly followed by "PARENTS?!?" in disbelief of seeing MY parents standing with Michelle and Tammy!  It was such a surprise to come around the corner and see them there with Michelle.  Michelle was ready with the camera and captured my surprise as I came down the hill and obvious excitement of seeing my parents, whom I hadn't seen since the holidays.

They made the 4+ hour drive each way to see for maybe 15?!? minutes of time in the aid station.  Unfortunately, they had to drive back and work on Sunday, which further makes their trip that much more special.  They spent 10 hours in the car to see me for 15 minutes.

1.  Crossing the finishing line and being welcomed by Michelle, Rudy, and Jordan.

If only I could bottle the elation and euphoria of this moment and save it for a rainy day.  I wasn't even really all that concerned about having completed the race as much as I wanted to let those three people standing there, who had given so selflessly and generously their time and support, a hug and express my gratitude.  I'm pretty sure I gave them all a hug...and maybe a kisses too?!?  I simply felt overcome with gratitude and appreciation for having Michelle, Rudy, and Jordan there in that moment.

 Elation.  Joy.  Overwhelming euphoria.


Two days post race, I'm feeling surprisingly well and not too sore.  Sure my feet hurt but considering the event I'd say that's to be expected.  I do have a slight confession though.  In the weeks leading up to the event, I was living in fear in many ways.  Fear of the unknown.  Fear of getting sick the week of the race.  Fear of stepping on a pine cone the wrong way when walking Gillie and rolling my ankle.  When I crossed the finish line, it was like all of that fear had been taken off my shoulders and I had accomplished something associated with a full-load of self-induced pressure.

Little things post race that are/were awesome:

As I stood around the finish line chatting with everyone, someone mentioned cinnamon raisin french toast was inside and asked if I would like some.  I had been thinking about it all week since I had seen it on Facebook.  It was delicious!  Can you tell I'm excited about it?

Post race, they had a fire inside the headquarters aid station building for participants who were struggling and for other runners to get warm by.  The fire felt amazing and made the french toast taste even better.  The photo kinda looks like a jerk photo though as I sit there looking at my buckle next to people laying in cots (that kinda look dead?).

I might not have openly admitted it but I really Really REALLY wanted to go under 24 hours.  The are four belt buckles that finishers can earn including the one below, 100 Miles - One Day.  The other three are Champion, 100 Miles, and 1000 miles for 10 time finishers!!!  

I've been wanting Five Guys since I did a training run with Geff way back on February 19nd but exercised self-control to not get it because I know it's not good for me.  However, I was determined to get it on Sunday after the race and Michelle drove there as our first stop.  I received the above text from Keely, which I thought was appropriate and also incredibly accurate.  I suppose I'm kinda predictable in that way.  Hey! What can I say?  I like to eat so I run a lot!

Michelle laughs but I genuinely had fun the entire day (except the 30 seconds I got sick leaving headquarters aid station starting lap 5) but it was a fun and enjoyable experience.  I didn't feel miserable or like I wanted to stop and with the amazing support crew I had, support from runners and volunteers out on the course, and a surprise visit by my parents the day went by in one enjoyable euphoric blur.


Letting GO of Control - One Week to Umstead 100

Saturday, March 29, 2014

This time next week, I will hopefully be somewhere in my third 12.5 mile lap around Umstead State Park.  At this point, logging a long run would be foolish and trying to squeeze in a few last nervous runs seems pointless.  I simply intend to get in a few easy runs this week and then rest and relax.  The hard work has been done and I have to trust in that.  That's the problem though.  Trusting in myself and my training.  I suppose that I have an issue letting go of control and being okay with what is happening in the moment.  Next Saturday, I will have to adapt and recenter myself numerous times to tackle the moment, something I've been mentally preparing over the past few weeks.  WHO AM I KIDDING?  I'VE BEEN MENTALLY AND PHYSICALLY PREPARING FOR THE LAST 4 MONTHS!  I'M GOING TO CRUSH IT!  Stopping is not an option.  Pain? BRING IT ON!

I've been back and forth for weeks about whether or not to have a pacer or ask a group of the Ultra VT gang come down and crew me.  I've been worried about the pressure of having others invested in my run and the "what if" factor.  What if?  WHO GIVES A CRAP ABOUT WHAT IF?  Ultimately, Jordy Chang is coming down sometime Saturday after he crushes the Mountain Lake Hell climb.  I'm privileged to have such a great friend.  Rudy, has also volunteered to come down and help me through  my first hundo.  Super pumped!  He also sent me the below quote, which I really like!
"I have found that if I can keep present, acknowledge my feelings and move forward from that point I can work through just about anything." -- Krissy Moehl 
I've also been reading through motivational phrases and generating a list of things to say to myself when things get "dark" next Saturday.
  • Fake it till you make it.  
  • Make it happen.
  • More run, sooner done.
  • Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
  • You can have results or you can have your excuses.  You cannot have both.
  • This too shall pass.
  • Slow progress is better than no progress.
  • Ask yourself: 'Can I give more?' The answer is usually YES. - Paul Tergat
On Sunday, I stumbled upon a #UltraChat on Twitter that was addressing this exact question.  Below are some of my favorites!


  • What's you go to power phrase?
  • How do you dig out of "dark" places in a race or ultra?
  • How do you handle letting go of control?


2014 Terrapin Mountain Race Report

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The verdict is still out.  To run or race an ultra?  That is the question.  For me, I have very little experience with the latter, having only "raced" my first ultra at Holiday Lake, but running Terrapin Mountain this past weekend was SO much fun that I have trouble believing turning myself inside out for 4+ hours of misery "racing" could beat it.  That being said, it took every ounce of self control I had to not race or at least run hard this weekend.

When I signed up for Terrapin Mountain, I knew that it would be my last long run before Umstead 100 two short-weeks later.  I was also very aware that I would not be running hard but instead would be out for an extended effort getting time on my feet in the gorgeous hills of Virginia.

Friday began with the "semi-simultaneous" publishing of a synchroblog with Ultra VT.  The posts were awesome and I think it helped everyone get super excited about the weekend ahead.  If there was a buzz word that stood out reading all of the posts, it was INSPIRING!  However, I decided to do a little experiment and copy and paste every post (twice) to create a Wordle and confirm:

Sure enough, Inspiring appeared although not as large as I expected.  During the car ride to Holiday Lake, Jordan Chang and I were discussing how awesome it is to have a group of friends that can just jump into a marathon or ultra for a fun weekend adventure.  I digress.  

After dropping Gillie off at Michelle's parents (Thanks again Marvin and Cindy!), I headed north toward the Sedalia Center in Big Island, VA, which served as the race start/finish and location for camping/packet pickup.  The drive is super easy, something I'll miss living in Richmond come this fall, and gorgeous to boot!  I arrived a little before 7PM and quickly spotted the Ultra VT crew who were "tailgating" the race.  

The caravan left Blacksburg around 4PM and by the time I had arrived in Big Island the group was in full team bonding mode. Somehow...the idea of a sleeping bag race came about.  What ensued could only happen when you put 10+ ultra runners together who can't run and have an excess amount of energy. Most of the other campers...who...erm...were less boisterous than our group found the event amusing and can even be seen taking photos of the event unfolding in the video below (0:59 in the right of the frame).  Yes,  I documented the entire thing and put together the four clips to make a little video, Ultra VT Shenanigans:

eVenTually all of the excitement died down and I began preparing the Outback for bed.  About half of the team camped under the stars but my 50+ deg. summer bag would've made for a cold night.  Holiday Lake was the first time I camped in the Outback and I managed to figure out a pretty good system for a decent nights sleep.  The rest of the evening was spent stargazing and identifying constellations.  Seriously.  It was pretty awesome!  I busted out the Sky Guide app that uses the accelerometer in the iPhone to determine which way the phone is being held and then shows the constellations/planets in view.  I felt I upheld my teacherly duties for the evening.  The constellations identified included: Gemini (with Jupiter!), Orion, and Ursa Major.  I headed off for bed around nine and quickly dozed off after an exhausting week of student teaching and training.

I awoke early on Saturday (after several snoozes of the alarm), emerging from my warm car around 5:30.  There was coffee available at the pavilion, which I indulged in and then quickly headed off to find the restroom to take care of business for the day.  Around 6:50, we decided it was time to head toward the start and ditched all of our warm clothes in the cars.  I debated for a good five minutes as to whether I felt like carrying a camera for the entirety of the run.  In retrospect, I suppose I could've given it to Kristen or one of the other Ultra VT folks who were not running but were cheering at aid stations if I decided it was too cumbersome.  I somewhat regret not having a camera to document all the fun that was had but without a vest the heavy camera would've been a nuisance.  

Keely, Trevor, Nelson, and I on the descent down
from Camping Gap (mile 5.5ish).
Photo courtesy of Kristen Chang
The race begins on a road and then quickly begins to climb to the first aid station (mile 4) Camping Gap, which we would see twice more before the days end.  I found Hannah and Keely, two talented freshman ladies who have awesome ultra running futures ahead of them, on the climb up to Camping Gap and spent most of the climb with them chatting it up.  We would run the first 13ish miles together before separating climbing back up to Camping Gap for the second time.  On the climb up, I was talking about teaching and another runner who I would spend a good part of the day with joined in.  Trevor, just earlier in the week was offered a position to teach at Virginia Tech in the education department.  Small world!  Awesome to welcome another Hokie to the Virginia Tech family and continue to grow the awesomeness that is Ultra VT!  We were also joined by Nelson (right in neon) who now resides in Greensboro and was a FSU Seminole, I told him we wouldn't hold it against him as long as he didn't start tomahawking!

Upon arriving at Camping Gap, I grabbed a few orange slices, gave my number to the volunteer, and began the sustained 5 mile descent down the other side of the mountain.  The miles were quick here (9:00, 8:12, 8:45, 7:53, and 8:05) but I thought running slower would've been more detrimental to my legs than letting gravity take me down the mountain.  About halfway down the mountain we hit the second aid station (which also serves as the fourth) and continued on after grabbing a few chips.  At the bottom, we hit the third aid station that marks the start of the second sustained climb on the course.  The climb begins on road before jumping onto single track and going up and over a little peak before dropping back onto the second aid station we had just run past.  This meant that we were then going to go back up the long sustained climb we had come down earlier to Camping Gap.  Confused?  I drew you an awesome map to clarify!  Red arrows are outbound and blue are inbound.

Good? Good.  Until this point, I had been running with Keely and Hannah but they felt like hiking and I wanted to make it up to Camping Gap so I continued on (slowly) but still jogging with a soft J. On the way up the hill, I met Kathie Colling who was having a tough go of it and was ready to quit.  I stopped and chatted about everything and anything other than running.  I was super pumped to see her come across the finish-line later in the day despite being getting physically sick multiple times in the race.  #Grit.  Further up the climb I met Shannon Howell, who was running her first ultra and was taking a photo of the gorgeous view across the valley.  She rocked her first ultra!

I came into Camping Gap aid station happy and smiling and high-rived Rachel Corrigan who had just run the half-marathon and Mike Jones who was cheering everyone on.  Horton came over and yelled at me telling me that it was a race to which I replied "I'm running Umstead in two weeks" and he said "oh.  Okay." but in true Horton fashion then added "but why would you run that race?" I grabbed some food and headed out onto toward the WOR (White Oak Rim) loop section of the course, miles 17-22, that overlaps with a portion of the Promise Land course.  Its during this section that we hit the peak elevation of 3720' feet!  Along the long climb up to the peak (just below the Blue Ridge Parkway) I ran with Shannon some more and also met Bob Clouston who knew Guy Love.  I took it pretty easy on the way up but let myself have a little fun on the way down and caught up with Trevor and Nelson from earlier in the day.  We chatted about Umstead and they both gave their input on running a 100 (much appreciated!).  We ran together back into Camping Gap aid station for the third and final time of the day and I made the stop a quick in-and-out grabbing food, thanking volunteers, and heading UP the trail toward the summit of Terrapin Mountain and Terrapin Rocks.  Clark, the RD (race director), likes to have runners use a punch to mark their bib showing they were at certain points on the course, perhaps an homage to orienteering roots.  Their were two punches on Saturday, although one was broken before even the first 50k runner arrived, darn half-marathoners!  

Terrapin Rocks - Photo courtesy of Clark Zealand
Fat Mans Misery - Photo courtesy of Clark Zealand
I caught up with the runner ahead of me on the way up to the summit of Terrapin Mountain, who offered to let me through, to which I quickly responded "you look so familiar" and then quickly placed him as Kevin Townsend, the race director of Iron Mountain ultra, which we ran back in August.  Kevin and I chatted and ran together for the next four miles and I heard all about his recent trip to Hawaii (sounds awesome!) and also picked his brain for advice on finishing a 100.  The half-marathoners really destroyed the course below Terrapin Rocks, the outcropping of rocks near the summit of Terrapin Mountain that has an outline in the shape of a turtle - hence the name of the mountain, which made the descent a little dicey.  After Terrapin Rocks, and finding a broken and useless punch at Fat Mans Misery, we descended off the mountain down toward the final AS of the day.  The last aid station is at the bottom of an out-and-back descent, which means after the aid station there is a little half mile climb or so before turning onto one final section of trail.

Red Arrows toward AS 6.  Blue are after visiting AS 6 out-and-back.
Right about the time I got to Terrapin Rocks, the temperature began to become noticeably warmer and although I wasn't pushing hard being active out in the heat takes a noticeable toll, compounded by the relentless and steep descent off Terrapin Mountain.  When I came into AS6, nothing looked appetizing but I grabbed an Oreo, some chips, filled my bottle with half-water-half-Gu/Clif?, and took my first cup of Coke.  It continues to amaze me what Coke will do.  I let Kevin run up the trail and enjoyed taking my time eating my food as I walked back up the hill to make the final turn onto the trail that would take us back to the start.  I reasoned that I had held back all day and that a few miles of fun wouldn't hurt me.  I started jogging with the only objective to catch and beat the Naval Academy runners ahead of me.  After passing them, I opened it up and just had fun cruising the downhill into the finish.  Turning back onto the road after seeing the 1-mile left sign I could see four or five runners strung out in front of me and decided I would put down a solid mile to see how the legs felt.  I passed four or five runners in this short section.  So much fun!  I rounded the turn toward the finish to cheers from Ultra VT who had staked out prime spectating location.  The best part was feeling good and knowing I had A LOT MORE in the tank.  "Used but not used up" as the Umstead 100 runners packet puts it.

Photos courtesy of Kristen Chang

The race was a total blast and I had a ton of fun.  It's awesome to reflect back on the number of awesome runners I met during the run and the camaraderie that surrounds the Horton/Eco-X events and larger ultra running community in general.  After crossing the finish line and receiving my finisher shirt, I grabbed some awesome BBQ that was brought in on-site, (wish I had grabbed a picture), and cheered on the rest of the Ultra VT crew as well as the other runners I had met out on the course (Kevin Townsend, Bob, Nelson, Trevor - our new VT professor, Kathie, and Shannon).  Of course, the vuvuzela was in full force and we made a tunnel for the later Ultra VT runners that finished.  I snagged this photo on Kristen's phone that I thought appropriately captured the atmosphere:

Daniel (bottom left) WON the half-marathon in a time of 1:55:02!  Also of note is that the Hokies had 4 in the top ten: Rudy 2nd, Darren 3rd, Jordan 5th, and Guy 7th.  One interesting thing about the result is that the top 5 finishers were all 25 or under.  Look out old guys!

Photo courtesy of Kristen Chang
George Wortley uploaded a 10 minute video with a bunch of snippets of Ultra VT runners and a neat opportunity to check out the course including Camping Gap aid station.

Finally, as always, the Strava run details are below for those curious to check out splits and stats like elevation.

As my first Eco-X race, Terrapin Mountain set the bar pretty high in regards to course and fun factor. Will I be back next year? Definitely!  Will I be racing or running?  The verdict is still out on that one!

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