Stride Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP) Lesson, Brew Stash Bash, & Kayaking

Monday, June 18, 2012

WOW! It was an action packed weekend here in Charlotte, full of water (x3) and lots of eating! The weather was phenomenal and set the tone for a perfect weekend. I have to confess, I've been uncharacteristically sedentary since The North Face Ultra Endurance Challenge two weeks ago.  And it has been fantastic. My diet has been horrendous which usually isn't an issue when I'm logging 30+ miles a week running. I feel I made up for some of it this weekend.

Michelle and I made the most of the every minute this weekend, beginning early Saturday morning.  I had scheduled us a stand up paddleboarding (SUP) lesson for 10AM and decided we needed a good breakfast...really I just love eating and banana pancakes sounded amazing! I've been trying to be better about using all of the produce I buy. One way I have been able to accomplish this is by throwing fruit that is overripe into the blender and making smoothies. I almost always have bananas in the house, but sometimes its difficult to use them all before they go too ripe for my liking (I prefer them on the green side...not yellow with spots). I stumbled across a recipe via Pintrest that used overripe bananas for pancakes. Better yet, they're whole wheat. 

Banana Wheat Pancakes

Once we were all fueled up, we packed up the Subaru and headed north toward Latta Plantation which is on Mountain Island Lake about 15 miles north of the city. When I purchased the Groupon the details included a two-person evening/sunset paddleboarding lesson, but when scheduling the lesson I decided the earlier slot worked out best as we had plans to head to the U.S. National Whitewater Center for the Brew Stash Bash. More on that later.

We were the first to arrive at the put in location, which also happened to be where we took our kayaks Sunday morning. I introduced myself to the instructor who was unloading the paddleboards from his truck.  As soon as he mentioned his name, Luke Hopkins, I realized our instructor was also the owner of the paddleboard company, Stride. The company had caught my attention a few months back when I read an article in Blue Ridge Outdoors about best rivers, which quoted Luke about the New River as a favorite SUP run. What really caught my eye was the fact that the company is based out of Blacksburg, VA. Awesome! Buy Local. Eat Local. Be Local. The group was 8 in total, including the instructor which seemed to be the perfect ratio. After a brief on land lesson we were out on the water paddling but not standing up, instead paddling from a kneeling position.

Michelle kneeling to start

Eventually after a brief instruction on standing up the group bravely attempted standing, surprisingly with great success. To say that we had a blast would be the understatement of the century. I probably spent about as much time in water as I did on my board, not because of difficulty but because I was trying to challenge myself by walking forward and backward on the board.

This also proved an excellent opportunity to try out my new point and shoot camera. My old point and shoot survived 6 years, including a trip out west to Philmont in Cimarron, New Mexico and a summer in the back pocket of a sweaty cycling jersey cycling cross country. This purchase has been long planned for and while I waited (just over two years) they released two newer versions. I took a bunch of photos during the two hour course seen below. Two notes about the photos. I have not purchased a floating strap for the camera yet (all the reviews on Amazon say the smaller sections of straps break where attaching to the camera) so it was attached to my life jacket via carabiner. This made aiming/framing the photos more difficult. Second neat note is that the camera has a GPS feature and geotags each photo when taken (if the option is selected). This is useful and just really a cool bonus feature when viewing photos in iPhoto by place/location.

Everyone's first time standing up!

The inflatable Stride Airlite HD

Michelle dominated the balance aspect from the start.

After paddling around for awhile Luke suggested we play a little game by creating a really long train also known as the worlds longest paddleboard. Each individual pulled the person behind them onto the stern end of their board. We paddled around for a while together which ended up as us paddling around in a giant circle.  The fun thing about this was that everyones weight and movements were magnified through the train, so if one of us got wet, it was likely we all were!

Michelle being pulled up to form the "World's longest paddleboard"

"World's longest paddleboard"

At this point we began making very large circles.

The tricky part came when you had to detach yourself from the train, which was accomplished by moving to the back of the board lifting the front of your board off the train. I fell. Michelle didn't. Story of the day!

A really cool feature of the Stride SUP are rings on the edges of the boards, which can be used to add dry bags to the front or rear for longer outings (or optional kayak seat)...or to latch together two boards with carabiners, creating an awesome two person board!  I resisted the huge temptation to push Michelle off her board which was good because I needed her in my favor for the upcoming two person race. We didn't win...and almost ate it several times but managed to not fall in.

Michelle and my boards joined together via d-rings and carabiners.

Luke took some photos of us, pretty awesome start to our Saturday.

For the second hour of the lesson we were able to simply paddle around and try to hone our skills on the paddleboard. Michelle seemed to master moving to the back of the board and making a sharp tight turn...I managed to master the fall into the water looking silly. I did have a blast the whole time while doing it though, it was tough not to have a smile on your face.

The paddleboard provides an awesome platform for getting out on the water.  Stride paddleboards are inflatable and designed to be rugged for use in rivers where hitting rocks is likely. Portability is also a big advantage to inflatable paddleboards as they can be rolled up and easily thrown in the back of a car instead of having to deal with straps and a roof rack. In addition to just cruising the rivers, paddleboards are now being used for yoga. Some of our class decided to give it a try:

The class giving yoga a try on the paddleboards.

Michelle displaying her paddleboard dominance...


The class wasn't all work, Michelle managed to find some time enjoying the other uses of a paddleboard...

hard at work...or hardly working?

Eventually I agreed to entrust Michelle with the is waterproof after just doesn't float...yet.

A little after noon we paddled back to shore and thanked Luke for the awesome lesson. If your in the Charlotte, NC area (or near Blackburg or Roanoke,VA)  I would HIGHLY recommend looking into a lesson with Stride. The experience could not have been any better!

There is just something about being outside in the sun and out on the water that makes me think of grilling out. More specifically, hot dogs. That's exactly what I was craving as we were making the short 15 mile drive back from Mountain Island Lake. Michelle and I agreed that we would try to eat out less in an effort to eat healthier, but on a Saturday like this we couldn't help but stop to try Green's Lunch. Green's has been around in Charlotte since 1926 and somehow Michelle and I had not managed to try it (well the real reason is their hours are M-F 7AM-4PM Sat 9-2, a little tough for someone who doesn't work in the city). Additionally, I didn't even know they accepted cards until I just looked up their website (Yelp claims cash only). The place was pretty full when we arrived around 1, and after asking the lady what to order, Yelp say's they're the best hot dog place in town, hence why I thought of Green's to go for lunch.  We decided on a cheeseburger all-the-way (slaw, chili, mustard, onions, maybe some other stuff?) a chili cheese dog, and a hot dog all the way. $7. Can you beat that? I will definitely be stopping in again!

Green's Lunch. If you haven't tried it, you haven't lived!

For the second half of Saturday, on our 3x Water weekend, we headed out the U.S. National Whitewater Center (USNWC) for the Brew Stash Bash. The inaugural Brew Stash Bash was marketed as a "Carolina craft beer tasting" included beer samplings from 10+ North Carolina breweries and live music, free to the public ($5 parking fee). The USNWC is just a cool venue with the "river" flowing right behind the stage and plenty of large boulders for seating, it's perfect for concerts and provides a chill-relaxed-atmosphere.

When we arrived, parking was at a premium as folks arriving were being directed into employee parking only to find out the lot was already full. Luckily the Outback handled the off-road conditions, Subaru Love! The USNWC really is a great location for families, as it has not only whitewater rafting but also a climbing wall, zip-line, high ropes the Brew Stash Bash for all those overworked parents. Again, I brought my new camera to take photos and document the afternoon.

The picture above shows the zip-lines from a tower behind the stage.

Brewers Tents.

The Whitewater Center is pet friendly, four legged friends were abundant at the Brew Stash Bash and when we've been there on Thursday evenings for the Whiteater River Jam concert series (also free, $5 parking).

The dog enjoying the was pretty warm Saturday afternoon.

Staches all around - Christy, David, Michelle, and I

Finally we called it an evening and headed back toward town with a scenic detour on the way home, as I was not paying attention and missed the exit for I-77. All that time at the Whitewater Center made us work up an appetite and I couldn't think of a better treat then froyo. Froyo (frozen yogurt) is like the cupcake of 2011. Little boutique stores are opening all over the place, but with so many the prices are great and the serve yourself makes sure you don't get "Coldstoned." 

Sunday morning we decided to continue our water themed weekend and do a three-peat...errr...triple-threat-water-weekend....3x Water! This was only the second opportunity we've had to take out our kayaks as Michelle has been out of town for the past couple weeks. After our great experience at Mountain Island Lake Saturday morning, we decided to return and explorer further out into the lake, plus it was only 15 miles to the put in which worked well for our schedule.

Just as we were leaving the no wake area we saw a bunch of Canadian Geese. Normally I'm not a fan as they make a mess of our walkways at work, but out here in their element swimming, plus there were like 30 of them...and they can be vicious!

Our experience on Saturday paddleboarding made me envy the ease of getting in and out of sit-on-top kayaks and the ability to go play in the water when you get hot. We managed though, we found a nice shore to go swimming at and cool off! I'm really looking forward to taking our kayaks out to a river, not anything serious, just something with a current instead of being entirely responsible for my movement.

Garmin data from Sundays Paddle.  I forgot to take off my watch when we went swimming, almost killed my Garmin 310XT...again...the screen is still cracked from the Warrior Dash

With Michelle headed home in the early afternoon for fathers day, I found myself tempted to go out for a mountain bike ride. It is sad to admit that I had to literally dust off my mountain bike, as I haven't taken it out since last fall (August??). The whitewater center is an awesome resource, but I didn't leave the house for my ride until 5 and I didn't feel like driving the 20 minutes over there +paying. Instead I opted for Renaissance Park, a county park with 145 acres including baseball fields, an 18-hole frisbee golf course, and a solid trail system for mountain biking. As it was late in the evening, I only saw one other mountainbiker out on the trails toward the end of my ride. All-in-all managed to get in over 7 miles which was good considering it had been 9 months since the bike had been out.

 The Epic at Renaissance Park

It was an awesome weekend, absolutely jammed packed both days, amazingly enough it didn't really feel that exhausting, nor do I feel wiped today. I like to think all that recovery and binge eating over the past two weeks since my first ultra helped!


The North Face Endurance Challenge 50K Race Report

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The North Face Ultra Endurance Challenge this past weekend was my first ultramarathon, and although it's not a true bragging rights ultra (Those start at 50 miles), I was pumped with my finish and how I felt during the run. 

The short version: I had an absolute blast.  Beautiful course! Fantastic Support from the volunteers!

Long version:

I decided to register for my first ultra this spring after stumbling onto Sabrina Moran's blog (she recently broke the 24-hour American record and to sum it up she's amazing), she made ultra running sound fun and that's all it took. Now, when I first registered for The North Face Endurance Challenge (henceforth TNFEC) I signed up for the 50-mile distance.  After this weekend it wouldn't have been that bad...but after cramping at the Yuengling Shamrock Marathon in March I decided to transfer my registration from the 50-mile to the 50k (31 miles).

My training leading up to the race was good but not great. I was adapting a training plan for the 50 miler and trying to include sandwich runs (long back-to-back runs on Saturday and Sunday) but never really put together a decent weekend. I seemed to make excuses or simply chose to listen to how my body was feeling, I think running the Shamrock marathon in mid-March helped but I'm not sure how fitness carries over two months. Totals for March, April, and May were 93, 132, and 123 miles in 13, 18, and 17 hours and 11, 16, and 17 runs respectfully. I've found that I have commitment issues when it comes to the long runs.  Hopefully for the Marine Core Marathon this fall I'll have a training buddy to hold me accountable. 

I took off half of Thursday and all of Friday before the race to travel. I decided making the whole trip from Charlotte to Blacksburg on Thursday afternoon was our best option, as it allowed me to sleep in on Friday and not stress about making packet pickup/travel issues. THIS. WAS. HUGE. In the future I'll follow the same pattern, and spending extra time with the family was an added bonus. Around noon on Friday Michelle and I made the trip down to Georgetown for packet pick-up. My only complaint about the race, was the location of this packet pickup. Why did they choose Georgetown? There's a North Face store in Tyson's Mall which is closer to the race site and did not require pay parking.  Race organizers (if you're listening) in the future you should really move it away from this store as the only thing I picked up was my bib and included arm-warmers (t-shirts were screen printed and were not ready).

 The North Face Store - Georgetown

Only one away from 9-1-1. Thankfully no one had to call it.

Michelle and I made an afternoon out of the packet pickup and packed a lunch to eat while down in Georgetown. Afterwards we hit the shops.  The skies opened up on our way home which made the normal standstill traffic on 66W even more interesting. As a side note Sterling, VA did have multiple tornado clouds which we avoided by staying in Georgetown slightly longer. These storms that pounded the area Friday afternoon and during the night made for terrible horendous conditions on Saturday.

Photo credit:

On the way home from Georgetown Michelle and I stopped by the race start in Algonkian park. This is really the closest I could ask for a race to start from my house (4.1 miles door-to...erm...door-to-park). It was pretty boring as most of the stuff was collapsed/prepared for the evening storms, but it gave me an opportunity to think about the monumental feat I was about to undertake in just over 12 hours.

The race start all setup Friday afternoon post the first set of storms rolled through.

My mom cooked the family an amazing meal including: penne pasta w/ turkey meatballs and red sauce for me, salad, chicken, and a spinach and cheese tortellini for everyone else...I couldn't help but indulge a little. Afterward I laid out all of my gear for Saturday morning. Below is the photo of what I planned to have with me/what I need to remember to put on (i.e. body glide, band-aids, 3 packs of Clif Shot Bloks, and 18 Hammer Endurolyte pills in two separate plastic baggies). Michelle had a whole separate bag including a change of shoes, two extra dry fit shirts, band-aids, body glide, and extra Clif Shot Bloks if I needed them.

Funny site note - My trail shoes, Brooks Cascadia 7's, only had 10 miles on them before race day. Their mileage tripled.

Due to permit regulations for the race only the 50 milers could park at Algonkian Park, deservingly so, everyone else had to take a shuttle from the Loudoun Tech Center. The tech center is even closer to my house than Algonkian Park, and we arrived just after 5:15 Saturday morning. After waiting around for 30 minutes or so, with about 80 runners arriving in that time period, someone came and told us we were at the wrong spot and that the shuttles were just up the street. Oops! Fortunately I was familiar with the area and with Michelle and my mom in the car I decided to have them just drive me to Algonkian where they could drop me off. We wound up parking at the golf course and walking over to the start which worked out great since they would be leaving just after the 7AM start and wouldn't have to worry about taking a shuttle back to the Tech Center to then drive to Great Falls. So we broke the rules a little...I like to think of it as a home field advantage.

We arrived way to early, just before 6AM which left us standing around for about an hour,  enough time to make the necessary pit stops at the port-o-potties. At this point I just wanted the race to start, however, I was much more relaxed than other races as I knew it wasn't about going fast...instead just not stopping. 

Gorgeous sunrise just as we we arrived at Alognkian ~6AM. The 50 milers were required to have headlamps as they started the dark.

Checking out the race start.

All smiles at this point. Eager like a little schoolboy.

The scene at the race start.

About 10 minutes before we were to go off, Dean Karnazes came out to get us excited for the run.  He's a big name in the ultra running community and while I resisted the photo-op I couldn't help but be amazed at his muscle definition...guess that's the result of running across the country and completing 50 marathon in 50 days in 50 states. Baller.

Dean Karnazes. Nuff said. maybe I have a tiny man-crush.

At 7, we were off and I knew I wouldn't see Michelle and my mom for another 12 miles, well aside from about a quarter mile down the road after we made a loop around a soccer field and turned onto a paved path, then it was just me and the sloppiest-muddiest trail I've ever seen.

Ready. Steady.


Perfect morning for a little jog.

Take note of the spot light in the background from the 50 miler start.

See you in 12 miles babe!

The paved path lasted about a half mile before we turned onto a fire road and quickly hit an aid station, this was actually for the marathon relay later in the afternoon and would serve as the last stop for the 50 mile, 50K, and marathon races about 1.7 miles from the finish. Shortly after the first aid stop we hit the first creek crossing where keeping your shoes dry was impossible...and into the creek I went. Around the two mile mark (I was early) we found the Potomac Hermitage Trail (which I didn't even know existed) and followed the Potomac river through gorgeous scenery for the next 7 or so miles.  The heavy rain during the week leading up to the race and the night before made for a sloppy trail, add to that 250 50 milers having already gone through and what was left was an absolute disaster. Part of me felt really bad, as June 2nd was National trails day and here we were destroying an awesome trail with 1000+ runners covering the trail TWICE as the course was an out-and-back. The mud didn't really bother me, although it did slow down which I think was a blessing as you couldn't really push off as your foot would just slide out from underneath you, consequently it forced me to go out slow. The miles passed quickly as I talked with a guy I ran most of the first 10 miles with who was from Idaho (a Boston finisher from this years brutal heat), he later went on to take 8th.

I began eating as soon as the race started, finishing my first pack of shot blocks before the first "real" aid stop at 6 miles. I was also taking an Endurolyte (electrolyte) pill every 20 minutes, at this point I was three deep plus a bottle of Gatorade. The volunteers filled my bottle with Nuun, an electrolyte erin mix, I grabbed a few pretzels and headed down the trail. The way out to Great falls was pretty quick and I followed the unwritten rule of ultras by walking the two substantial climbs between Algonkian and Great Falls.

Race face on!

When I arrived in Great Falls the aid stop was happening! As the second aid stop on the course and the bag drop for the 50 milers (who were making THREE loops) there were a ton of spectators and crew.  Everyone was cheering on runners as the they entered the park and this was the first place I ran into some 50 milers and saw Michelle and my mom.

I grabbed a banana and a bag of quartered boiled red skin potatoes and enjoyed the atmosphere of the aid stop. I hung out with my mom and Michelle for a few minutes and assured them I was doing well and having fun (I was!) and then went on my way for my first and only (Thankfully!) loop of Great Falls.

Entering the Great Falls rest area!

No. I'm not picking my crack...well..sorta. They asked us to hold onto trash and "reduce our environmental footprint" I stashed my Clif Shot Blok wrappers into the pocket inside the back of my running shorts and emptied here.

Refueling with a banana and quartered boiled red skin potatos.

The 7 mile loop inside the park was pretty quick. It was comprised of paved gravel roads like the photos above, single track, and a few EPIC sections along 50'-80' cliffs no more then 12" from the trail. The photo below, courtesy of The North Face Endurance Challenge Facebook Page, tells all!

This section was just before the 19 mile mark and was simply breath taking, also scary enough that most runners took extra caution and walked most of it (it was almost all boulders).

Boulders. Lots. Of. Boulders.

When I arrived at aid station 4 (also #2) in Great Falls park I said hello again to Michelle and my mom, ate another bag of red potatoes (medium-high glycemic index) and changed socks and shirt. GREAT. DECISION. New socks and shirt was just what I needed and gave me a second wind, not that I was hurting at this point, but not much would beat a fresh pair of socks at that point...maybe Shake Shack...I'll get to that later. Feeling fresh, off I went to tackle another 12 (turned out to be 13) miles!

Having an absolute riot out there!

LONGEST. EIGHT. MILES. EVER! 8 miles was the distance from the aid station 4 to 5, because they moved the 6 mile aid stop from earlier in the day. My handheld was dry at mile 24 which meant I ran three miles without any electrolyte drink or pills, I thought I was done for.  Once I finally arrived I made myself at home and tried to play catch up, finishing a whole bottle of Nuun electrolyte drink, a few cups of Mountain Dew and Pepsi, and some salty potato chips. Yum! They let us know the next and last aid station was 3.3 miles, I was ready to be done, having now run 27 miles the longest I had ever run, the last three of which were without anything to took a lot of willpower to leave that stop. A volunteer kindly filled up my handheld with more Nuun, more trotting ensued. Shortly after aid stop 5 I had my one and only bad cramping spell of the race on a kicker of a switchback.  After some profanity and encouraging words from another runner just ahead of me who had also cramped I limped into a run for about 50 yards before hitting another even steeper uphill. The last five miles felt very long and slow, but when looking at Garmin data they weren't that bad, minus mile 29 which included the aid stop (a 14:55 mile, HA!).

At the last stop I only grabbed Pepsi, and knew I could trot the last 1.7 miles to the finish where my mom, Michelle, and my best friend Jeff would be waiting. As I neared the finish in the last half mile I passed a runner and gave him words of encouragement, he would eventually pass me and finish 4 seconds ahead of me. I decided it was a 32 mile run, and in a race like this, you run your race out on the trail not in the finishing shoot. He led into the shoot and I gave him his camera time. A great surprise was the last 200 meters, where my dad was waiting with everyone else (he's gotta be getting tired of watching me running as he's been at most races since high school, but he was there cheering me on. Thanks Dad!).

Last 200m when I spotted my family!

32 miles later...or so my Garmin says. New shirt.

Stoked to have finished my first ultra! 

Then the pain began to set in.

After crossing the finish line I took my medal and bottle of water (Really? No chocolate milk? Really?) and hobbled over to find my family. It was great to have them there at the finish cheering me on. I was just glad I was in a better mood then when I finished the Shamrock Marathon (angry/miserable face photo).

Finish area.

Crossing the line in the distance.

A few finisher photos were required. The next thing on my list was heading over to the recovery tent, unfortunately there was only one massage station (1000+ runners. REALLY?) but there were large cool water bucks to clean off in and ice buckets. Ice bathes are supposed to shock your legs and reduce the swelling/inflamation of your muscles after long workouts. Meb Keflezighi talks about them helping him recover after hard training and races in his book I just finished, Run to Overcome.  He's much more of a man than me, as I could only stand it for a few seconds (plus he's a two time about to be three time olympian with a silver medal, more of a man...I'd say so!).  I found some food and rounded up the group to head toward the shuttle, as spectators were still not able to park in Algonkian, we took the short 10 minute ride back to Loudoun Tech Center on a school bus.

I'm an ultramarathoner!

Just a little dirty...and this is after 3 more stream crossing on the way back.

Hip cramped raising my leg high enough to get in the "Arctic Glacier."

Cleaning up.

Thinking to myself..."This is a TERRIBLE idea!"

Michelle managed to snag a photo of the brief 30 seconds...or less I was in there.

Food. Pretty decent actually and they had a quinoa mix with fresh veggies that was Awesome!

As we were waiting for the shuttle, Michelle realized my shirt which had been custom printed was a small, when the tag on it said I requested a medium. After a little fuss from the folks at the table (Really guys? I just ran 32 miles, I didn't earn it?) Michelle came back with the right size. Saving the day again. That's my girl.

Screen printing the finishers shirts on site.  Sweet!

The rotating squares that are elevated are for the different distances...they are doing this for all race locations!

Fresh off the press.

Shake Shack had been agreed upon for weeks prior to race day. I was dreaming of the amazing burgers the entire race, which helped carry me through a few of the rough patches. After I was all cleaned up Michelle, Jeff, and I headed out to Dupont Circle in DC via the metro to grab some post-race-amazingness. I pigged out. A double Shackburger, and their burger of the day with spicy relish and applewood bacon...uhh..YES! And of course a chocolate shake.


I could not have asked for a better first ultra. The weather cooperated...for the most part (shaking angry fist at you sky for ruining the trails and sapping all my energy in sloppy conditions) with low humidity and low heat. Perfect. Michelle and my mom were awesome to have out at Great Falls and really kept me going seeing them twice during the race. Seeing Jeff and my dad at the finish was just icing on the cake, really great to have a supportive family and awesome friends! Truly blessed.

Strava data including all mile splits. Time only reflects moving time.

Mile splits.

The elevation data from the run, not a ton...only 1,574ft. elevation gain.

Cadence (Steps per minute), HR, and elevation. The drops in pink are where I walked or stop at aid stations.

I want to do it again next year and the post race survey indicated it could be in March, which would make for even better race long as they put an aid stop between miles 19 and 27! The championship/final location of the 6 race series is in San Fransisco on December 1st. I've got enough miles to fly for free if I were to book soon...and enough hotel points to stay for free...tempting...50 miler...maybe...guess you'll just have to wait and see!

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