Monthly Archives: October 2011

Knobstone Mini Marathon

After running the Grand Canyon and the Bourbon Chase relay on consecutive weekends I thought it might be a good idea to take some time to recover before running the Monumental Marathon on November 5th. Then after a weekend with no long run I started feeling good and figured I was primed to set a PR for a trail half marathon. So I decided to run the Knobstone Trail Mini Marathon this past Saturday. Recovery is overrated.

I had run this race twice. The first time was in 2005. I was a novice trail runner then and tripped and stumbled my way to a 2:12 finish time. I ran it again in 2007. I was a little more seasoned on the trails by then and ran a 1:56. Both physically and mentally I am in better shape now than I was in 2005 and 2007. My initial thoughts were that I could certainly do better than 1:50 and maybe if all conditions were perfect I might beat a 1:45. This is a fairly rugged trail with a few significant hills as well as an overabundance of roots and rocks patiently lying in wait to ruin your day. A couple of months ago one of my running buddies broke his hand while we were running on this trail. He hit a wet root just right and down he went. He was a trooper though and ran at least another 10 miles with a broken hand.

The weather Saturday morning was ideal; cool, clear, and calm. It seems like it had rained all week until Friday but the trail was pretty firm, virtually no mud and the creeks were low. In the first few miles on one of the downhill switchbacks there were lots of wet leaves on the trail so I was being a little cautious through that section. There was one other downhill switchback with wet leaves about 4 miles in, right before the trail crosses Low Gap Road. I used extra caution in this area as well. Other than those two sections the trail was in great shape.

I was determined to start strong and try to run hard all the way to the finish. As I was standing at the start line, I looked down and noticed the guy next to me wasn’t wearing any shoes. I said, hmm, no shoes. He said something about this being his first time on trails or this trail. Don’t remember exactly what he said. I could tell from the condition of his feet that he was used to running barefoot. I wished him luck. After a long speech by some member of the Hoosier Hikers Council we were off.

As planned I went out fast. Except for the tricky downhill sections with wet leaves I was running pretty hard most of the time. A couple times I would catch someone and then stay behind them for a time, catching my breath and waiting for a good spot to pass. I passed several people along the way. I caught up with Mr. Dino right where the Low Gap intersects with the Tecumseh course. At this point the Knobstone Mini is going the opposite direction along the initial gravel road section of the Tecumseh Trail Marathon. I’m guessing this was maybe 7 miles or so into the race. I still had a long way to go but was feeling good so I really hammered along this gravel road. There is a nice steep climb right after you cross back over Low Gap Road. I thought I might not have any gas left by the time I hit that hill but didn’t care. I was determined to push myself as hard as I could. If that meant burning out early then so be it. Turns out I had plenty of gas left as I powered my way up that hill and started to pick up the pace again as the hill started to level.

Eventually the course turns off the gravel road and back onto some single track. At this point there is around 4 miles to go and it’s in this section I started passing walkers and runners who were finishing up shorter distance races. Most of them were very polite and moved aside to allow easy passing. I was running behind two other guys doing the mini. I sort of wanted to run a little faster but took a few minutes to catch my breath. At about 10 miles the course leaves the Low Gap Trail and crosses over the road to the Mason Ridge trail. At this point I passed the two guys who were ahead of me. My watch said about 1:23 so I would have to run a final 5k (approximately) in about 22 minutes to beat 1:45. I felt good and though I could do it. I could smell the barn and adrenaline was taking over. When we do training runs we never run on Mason Ridge. I had forgotten how many roots there were and how technically challenging that section is. I rolled my right ankle so far around that I almost went down. The ankle felt fine but the jarring my left hip took worried me a little. There is a nice little hill on Mason Ridge and I really hammered it up the hill to work the kinks out of the left hip. As I reached the top of that hill I started to wonder if maybe that was a little too much hammering but by now I was close to crossing back over to the Low Gap Trail where I would retrace part of the trail I had already run over.

By now there were many runners to pass who were going through this section for the first time. Again most of them were very nice and allowed me to pass easily. At this point I was a man on a mission. I was determined to beat 1:45. As I was closing in on the finish I looked at my watch and saw a 1:43. I was still far from the finish and for a moment started to think beating 1:45 was out of the question. Just as quickly I started singing “Don’t Give Up”, a song by Shawn McDonald. I started pushing myself about as hard as I ever had at this point in a half marathon. There are about 4 steps to go up to get off the trail and onto the parking lot and road to the finish line. I groaned loudly as I pushed up those stairs. I could feel my calf starting to cramp. I hit the road and was pushing as hard as I could. I thought I might vomit. After 20 or 30 yards I could finally see the finish line and I thought no time to vomit, run faster. I crossed the line and hit the stop on my watch. I was breathing too hard to even look at my watch. After a few moment, still breathing hard I looked at my watch, it read 1:45:59. I just looked up at the sky, all choked up and silently said thank You, God. I did not beat 1:45 but I didn’t cross over into 1:46 and I beat my previous best time by 10 minutes. What a beautiful day to run through the woods.

Rim 2 Rim 2 Rim

On Friday morning we spent some time exploring the rim and doing some recon of the South Kaibab Trail

Native Americans called the area around the Grand Canyon, Kaibab which means mountain lying down. John Wesley Powell was the one-armed, Civil War veteran, geology professor, explorer who gave the Grand Canyon its current name.  Before Powell mapped the canyon, the few Americans who knew it existed referred to it as the Big Canyon or Great Canyon. I can imagine Powell thinking “Big” and “Great” did not do justice to the natural wonder. Grand doesn’t quite seem grand enough either but I suppose if we strung together all the appropriate adjectives, speaking the name might be as challenging as running the canyon from rim to rim to rim. South to north then back north to south is exactly what I and several of my friends did October 1st.

This wasn’t a race so I tried to tell myself there was no need to hurry, just take my time and enjoy it. Easier said than done. I was inspired and motivated. Once under way I could not quench the inner desire to see just how hard I could push myself. Our plan was to start out at 3am on the South Kaibab Trail. There were 13 runners in our group but Greg was planning to turn around at Phantom Ranch.  I was sharing a room at Maswik Lodge with Ray and Tom and we turned the lights out at 7:30. We had the alarm set for 2am. We had all our gear ready to go so we would just need to get up, get dressed, and drive to the trailhead. I woke up at 1am and couldn’t fall back to sleep. I grabbed my cell phone to check my email. My daily devotional email was there so I read it. If you don’t think God speaks to us then you just aren’t paying attention. The devotion was based on Isaiah 40:31.

Yet those who wait for the LORD
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary.

I was inspired before receiving this devotion but to get this verse on this morning was a huge boost.

Ray, Tom, and I were ready to go by 2:30. We were antsy so rather than sit in the room we drove to the trailhead and waited. The others showed up just before 3am. I was out of the car and ready to go. The few minutes the others took to get ready felt like hours. From where we parked it was nearly a mile to the trailhead. After a little more waiting at the trailhead we were finally on our way. Ray took the lead and I was right behind him. I didn’t think the pace was too fast but our group quickly spread out. We stopped after less than a mile at Ooh Aah Point to regroup. We stopped again at Cedar Ridge where there was a bathroom. Not really a “bathroom”, there was no running water but it was better than a port-a-potty. It was pitch black out and we had trouble finding the trail out of Cedar Ridge. Ray was in the lead again and once again the group was spreading out. After a short time both Ray and I stopped to pee again (third time in less than an hour). A few of the guys passed us and the pace slowed a little. We reached Black Bridge and crossed over the Colorado in about 2 hours.  Just a few minutes later we were at Phantom Ranch, 7.1 miles. We filled our water bladders and were waiting for the tail end of the group to catch up. After what seemed like an eternity, Ray and I couldn’t stand it anymore and we started up the trail toward Cottonwood Camp. Light was beginning to creep into the canyon so I stowed my headlamp and the handheld flashlight I was carrying.

L to R: Me, Ray, Tom, Rick

The trail between Phantom Ranch and Cottonwood Camp was all uphill but not very steep so we ran most of the way. After using the bathroom and loading up with water the rest of the group began to come in to Cottonwood Camp. Tom replenished his water supply and left with me and Ray. After Cottonwood Camp the trail was still not too steep so we continued to run most of the time. There was another bathroom and water source at Roaring Springs. This is where the trail starts to get a little steeper so the pace slowed as we were now walking more than running. At some point after leaving Roaring Springs we crossed paths with Rick and Bill, who were running from north to south. I think this is when Ray and I decided to unpack our trekking poles. Tom had started using his at Roaring Springs.

The sun was now shining brightly and it was beginning to warm up. There were plenty of places on the trail with shade and there was a cool breeze at times. The thermometer at Supai Tunnel said it was 80 degrees. From here there were only about 2 miles to the North Rim trailhead. The trail was very steep though this section. I was really pushing pretty hard taking full advantage of the trekking poles using my arms to take some of the work away from my legs. I started to pull away from Ray and Tom. I was carrying a prayer that a friend had written out for me (a copy, the original being too precious to risk losing). I found a nice shaded spot with a great view of the canyon below and stopped to read the prayer again.

…I pray Jeff will be captivated with all Your majestic beauty, he will see and be blanketed with Your love and peace…

The lyrics to Captivated, a song by Shawn McDonald were on the back of the paper so after reading the prayer I sang the song. Tom and Ray caught up to me and we continued our trek up to the rim. When I reached the trailhead I could not believe how good I felt. I have finished 20+ mile training runs and thought I might die. This was perhaps the most difficult 21 miles I had ever done and I felt great. Ray came in just a few minutes behind me and Tom was just a few minutes behind Ray. Several others from our group also arrived.

Some of the group at the North Rim trailhead

the trailhead for almost 30 minutes already. Ray was the only one ready to go so he and I hit the trail running. There were a few sections that were too steep to safely run down but much of the trail down to Phantom Ranch was very runable. Except for a couple stops for pictures and to replenish our water we ran all the way to Cottonwood. By now the lyrics to Captivated were running on a continuous loop through my mind where they remained until the finish. A couple of times I tried to switch to another song I enjoy singing while running, but my mind seemed to automatically switch back to Captivated. Shortly after leaving Cottonwood Ray said he wanted to walk a little. I was starting to wonder how much I had left in my tank so a little walking sounded good. After a brief break we again started running. A couple of miles from Phantom Ranch, Ray said he was wearing down and would need to walk some more but he encouraged me to keep going. I knew he was just tired and not in distress. There were many other hikers on the trails and the rest of our group would be coming through so I didn’t feel too bad leaving Ray.

This wasn’t the worst spot, but lots of wall hugging going on along the upper section of the North Kaibab Trail.

When I reached Phantom Ranch I was well-worn out myself. I sat there for several minutes drinking water and taking in some fuel, a Hammer Espresso Gel to be exact. Mmmm, good stuff. I had 7 miles to go; almost all of it uphill so after making sure I had a full load of water I left Phantom Ranch. I walked most of the short distance to Black Bridge. Once on the bridge I knew it would be my last piece of level trail until the finish so I ran across the bridge and through the tunnel on the other side. I again unpacked my trekking poles for the long hike up to the rim. About 40 minutes up the trail my legs and arms started shaking. I was feeling a little nauseous. I didn’t feel like eating but with two or three hours of hiking to go I knew I could not make it without taking in some fuel. I stopped for a minute or so and drank some water and took some electrolytes. I continued up for a few more steps and realized I was in immediate need of a toilet. Unfortunately I was at least two miles from the

You can bet I was hugging the wall here. Ray offered to take my picture if I would climb out on the rock sticking out. Uh, no thanks.

nearest toilet at Cedar Ridge. Lucky for me I was at a point where there were some bushes and dirt on one side of the trail where I could dig a little hole. By this time most of the day hikers were off the trail so I had a few moments of privacy. After filling the hole and completing the necessary paperwork I started to feel pretty good. I ate all the remaining Perpetuem tablets I had and soon afterward my legs and arms stopped shaking. I was not feeling great but just kept putting one foot in front of the other. I reached Skeleton Point and knew I only had about three miles to go. From Skeleton Point the trail didn’t seem as steep. Then up ahead I could see the bathroom at Cedar Ridge. Only 1.4 miles to go. I soon came to Ooh Aah Point, only .75 miles to go. Adrenaline is now completely taking over. I can see the switchbacks that lead to the trailhead. Then the rim, I am finished. Feeling a little choked up. The sun was about to set but I was too exhausted to give it any attention. Total time was 14 hour 47 minutes. Including the time I waited at the North Rim my trip across was 7 hours 52 minutes. The return trip was 6 hours 54 minutes. I wouldn’t say I was running any faster on the way back; I just didn’t spend as much time sitting still.

The bad news was that Ray, who had the car keys, was about an hour behind me. It was cooling off and starting to sprinkle. The good news was that I finished in time to catch the shuttle bus back to the lodge. After a hot shower I headed over to the pizza pub. Greg, who ran just past Phantom Ranch and back and Mike D who ran to Cottonwood and back were already there. I ordered a large supreme pizza and a 20 ounce Fat Tire Ale. While I was on my way to devouring half the pizza, Ray appeared in the pizza pub. Eventually Tom and all but two of the group made it back. After reaching the North Rim, Charles and Phil realized they would not be able to make the return trip and were lucky enough to hitch a ride back to the South Rim, a 210 mile trip by car.

Now for some technical runner geek stuff. I carried about 3700 calories worth of fuel including: 1800 calories of Hammer Gels, 400 calories of Perpetuem Solids (chewable tablets), 960 calories of Snickers Bars (comfort food, otherwise not a great fuel choice), and about 500-600 calories of peanut butter filled pretzels (both a comfort food and good run fuel). I also carried Enduralyte Capsules for electrolyte replenishment. When I finished the run I still had about 1100 calories of Hammer Gels and 320 calories of Snickers left over. So, I consumed approximately 150 calories per hour which is pretty typical for me in long runs but probably at the low end of the range where I should be. I don’t feel like I suffered from a lack of fuel but a few hundred more calories of gels consumed would not have hurt me. I don’t know how many Enduralyte Capsules I consumed but it seems to have been sufficient.

As I write it is now Tuesday and I am feeling pretty good. The only sore spots are my calves. Sore is perhaps an understatement. Yesterday I had a noticeable hitch in my step. Feeling much better today. At this point it is difficult for me to imagine how I could ever top this run.

Up next is the Bourbon Chase Relay. It starts this Friday. The race starts at the Jim Beam distillery in Clermont, KY and finishes in Lexington, KY. 12 runners, 200 miles. Each runner does three legs. My three legs add up to 18 miles. I think the calves will be ready.