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2019 Fontandango 50 Mile

Submitted by Rush   2/11/2020   1581428943   0 Comments

Writing this up almost a year after the event. I finally made it back to the Fontandango 50. This race was my first attempt at 50 miles back in 2015, but that year I went out too fast and stopped at 30. As a consolation, I did come in 3rd at the 50K distance, but I'd never DNF'd before and that nagged at me so it was great to come back and knock this 50 miler out.

The race is 5 loops around a 10 mile loop of single track and some road grade. The terrain is mostly rolling with a few short steeper sections and one brutal mother of a hill at mile 8 that feels damn near vertical on the 5th lap. RD Aaron Saft was at the start/finish line every lap cheering runners on, offering encouragement, smiling and telling jokes.

My plan was to start out easy, stay comfortable until 30 and then see if I could push some in the final two laps. The last lap was my fastest of the day. I finished just after darkness fell super elated to have come back and managed the race much better the 2nd time.

In 2015 I got up super early the morning of the race and drove 2.5 hours from my home. This year, I booked a room at the Fontanna Village for Friday and Saturday nights and that made the experience much easier.

I finished in 12:14, 15th out of 51 finishers and 2nd in my age group.

2018 Quest for the Crest 50K

Submitted by Rush   9/4/2018   1536096846   0 Comments

Or - how I felt bad from the minute I stepped off the bus.

This year's QftC was preceded by days and days of rain, to the point that a portion of the race had to be rerouted on race day to avoid what had become a potentially dangerous creek crossing. The course was reduced to miles and miles of inundated trails running like creeks, shin deep puddles, and shoe sucking mud. If the conditions weren't bad enough, this was the first race I've ever done where I felt like crap from the very first step. Not the way you want to start a 32 mile, 12,000+ feet of climbing kind of day.

The weekend before the "hardest 50K in the east" as RD Sean Blanton calls this race, I'd done the Cradle to Grave 30K. I took that race very easy except for hammering the last 4, very flat miles. I think that effort took more out of me than I realized. In addition, there was no warm up time before the Crest started. We got off the shuttle bus, lined up and boom, we were running. The morning was warm with 100% humidity and I could tell immediately I had very little in my legs.

We log jammed up Woody Ridge, people slipping and falling in the mud. Topping out on the Crest Trail was spectacular as always. The descent down Bowlen's Creek was uneventful and the climb back up was tough as I had no energy or pop. The sawtooth Crest trail with it's endless short steep climbs and drops was challenging to move with any sense of speed. Dropping down Colbert's Ridge trail I heard someone talking about the 12:15 cutoff time. 12:15 ???? What??? Then I remembered Sean coming onto the shuttle bus at 4:30 in the morning and making announcements and somewhere in my sleep deprived brain I then recalled him saying something about adjusting the Colbert's Creek Rd cutoff to account for the course change. Holy crap, this was going to be close! I'd never, ever, run anywhere near to an aid station cutoff, but as I emerged off the Colbert's Ridge trail, a guy with a clipboard said, "Number 361, you have SIX MINUTES to get out!" In what felt like only a few seconds he bellowed, "You've got FIVE MINUTES to get out!" And so on. I scrambled with my drop bag. Stuffed as much food in my face as I could and got out with three minutes to spare; heart hammering, feet slapping down the pavement.

We ran up Rock Creek Rd about a mile and half, and cut back into the woods. At the next aid station I did some math and realized that I'd have a much more generous window to make the next cutoff. So began the long slog up Buncombe Horse trail; still nothing in my legs, though I do recall starting to pass a few people. The climb up Big Tom Spur was brutal, but only a harbinger of scaling Big Tom and Mount Craig with their near vertical rock faces. On top of Craig, you can see the Mt Mitchell parking lot and a very cheery photographer told me that I only had one more mile to the aid station. I started to pick up steam a little.

The Mt. Mitchell aid station was where I finally found my mojo. I had some good food and cold Coke, but I think it was knowing that the bulk of what was left was downhill that flipped my mental switch. Likewise, I had done this section a couple of times recently so I knew exactly what the terrain was like. My legs felt strong and my head cleared as I powered up to the observation tower and began to pound the 5 mile descent. True to form, the skies opened up just as I was entering the Black Mountain campground. I sprinted as hard as I could go to the finish, where Sean greeted me with a high five, a pint glass, and a wooden finisher's medal. I said, "man, I've never felt so bad for so long, and I've done THIS race before." The post-race food was plentiful and delicious. My friend Aaron Saft won the thing. My young friend Tim, who I saw many times running up and down Bowlen's Creek trail in the weeks leading up to the race, finished 9th.

This race is amazing. I've done it twice and now, with the full route approved by the State Park, it has reached its full, glorious, leg-crushing, potential.

Return to Woody Ridge

Submitted by Rush   3/11/2018   1520776695   0 Comments

I hadn't climbed the unrelenting steepness of the Woody Ridge trail since May of 2015 during the Quest for the Crest 50K. In preparation for that race, I climbed the 2.5 mi, 3100' elevation gain four times, then again on race day. I can't really describe how steep this trail is other than saying it gets to nearly 70% grade in a few places.

I started up the trail at 7:30 this morning, mostly hiking but running where I could. At 30 minutes, I hit what I call the boulders where the trail just gets insanely steep. This morning that's also where the snow line began and I trekked up through 3,4,5 inches of snow. Without trekking poles or YakTrax, the going was slow. The temperature was around 40' and the air was dead still, until I reached the Crest Trail then POW!! the wind was unbelievable. Deep drifts of snow and a dark sky in the west as I traversed over to the Bolens Creek trail. I ran the four miles down to the bottom, touched the gate, turned around and headed back up. When I reached the Crest trail an hour and thirty eight minutes later, the clouds were sitting right on top of the mountain and everything was socked in.

Descending Woody Ridge with several inches of snow was downright treacherous and I had two hard falls. I'm convinced I'm ready for trekking poles.

15 miles round trip, 12,000' of elevation change.

BEST Father's Day

Submitted by Rush   6/18/2017   1497796437   0 Comments

I spent this Father's Day with my son in Chapel Hill, NC. We got up early and did a sweaty 4+ miles together in the Carolina North Forest. He's only just started running on trails and to share this experience with him was a real treat.

Photo: Father's Day 2017 - Carolina North Forest Run

50 at 50

Submitted by Rush   5/23/2017   1495574328   0 Comments

I had set a goal for myself: finish a 50 mile trail race in my 50th year. At 12:40 am on Sunday, May 21st, 16 hours and 40 minutes after I started, I accomplished my goal.

I've seen the Cruel Jewel described as "the hardest 50 in the east". At 56 miles, with 17,969' of elevation gain (and the same amount of drop), that point is hard to argue. 130 people started and only 76 finished. Despite midday temps near 90 and a massive thunderstorm that broke just as night fell, I managed to finish 23rd overall and 2nd in the Men 50-59 age group.

I arrived at Vogel State Park at 5:30 am on Saturday and boarded the bus that would shuttle us west to the start at Camp Morganton in Blue Ridge, GA. As we were approaching the camp we passed several of the 100 mile runners. Their race had started Friday at noon and these folks were just hitting their halfway turnaround. A very humbling site and we all whooped and cheered for them. We had about an hour before the start so I had plenty of time for a long walk, short jog and some limbering before we were gathered to the start, given the minimalist safety instructions and then we were on our way through the warm, humid morning.

I had attempted on previous 50 miler, the Fontandango 50 in March, 2016. I went out too fast and decided to drop at 30, something I've long since regretted. In preparation for the Cruel Jewel, I ran a trail marathon in March and a trail 50K in April, running both at a very conservative, near 50 mile pace. These were both exercises in mental and emotional discipline. I wanted to pin on a number, line up in a group, and be ok with letting everyone go and just moving as comfortably as I could. I did finish the marathon strong, running the 4th fastest split of the day over the last five miles. I figured this race would take at least 12 hours to run which meant finishing at night. I did several late evening training runs that meant starting tired, and running through the transition of day into night. I felt very prepared going into this race.

My plan was to start very conservatively, meet my crew at mile 30 (my crew was FANTASTIC) and see how I was feeling. If I felt well, I'd push more and see if I could improve my position. I think the strategy worked. At the first aid station I was in 81st place. At mile 30, I'd moved up to 47th, and finished 23rd. My head, gut, and attitude stayed strong all day and into the night. I encountered many other runners really struggling on the long climbs; hollow eyed, soul searching and some just sitting on the trail. At mile 30, Wilscot Gap, I met my crew who had a chair ready and all my gear laid out. I changed into my Altra Torins, which gave a really nice lifting feel to my legs, and left feeling full of running. (The Torins however are a road shoe which was totally fine on the dry trail. However, a couple of hours later, the trail was a muddy torrent complete with scurrying salamanders.)

This was the first event I ran without using gels. Over the last several weeks of training, I'd transitioned toward more of a fat adapted regimen, drinking plain water and using RX bars every 2 hours rather than gels every 30 minutes. My energy stayed great all day with no spikes/falls and no GI issues. This fueling switch worked extremely well for me.

The day was not without its share of challenges. Around 1:00pm I came to the four mile stretch that runs along gravel fire road and paved state road. The midday temps rose and the thick trail canopy was gone. As night began to fall, I was in the longest gap between aid stations, the 7.6 miles between Fish Gap and White Oak Stomp. The sky got very dark, the wind picked up strongly and soon torrential rains were blowing sideways as the skies would occasionally light up with lightening. Luckily the temps didn't plunge as I did not bring any kind of jacket with me. Soaked to the bone, headlamp illuminating the new creek that had recently been the trail, I pushed on. I saw two headlamps in front of me and over the next few minutes I noticed they were not getting any closer but they didn't seem to be farther away either. I decided those folks were moving as well as I was (I don't think anyone passed me after mile 10 or so) so I decided to push hard for a short time and catch up. I'm glad I did. We formed a three man train that ground over one of the hardest sections of the course through dark, rainy, foggy, muddy trail. The aid station crew at Stomp were ready (ALL OF THE AID STATION CREWS WERE AMAZING) with hot broth and grilled cheese sandwiches. We got out of the rain for a few minutes, tanked up, topped off, made sure the station crews had our numbers (looked longingly at the warm camp fire for about a second) then plunged back into the darkness, making for Wolf Creek, the 10th aid station (which is just an unmanned water drop). The 2000' descent into Wolf Creek, the trail turned into a mud slick, was challenging.

One of the runners and I stayed together to the finish. Steven P. from Asheville. Super nice guy. We crossed the finish line together, having had more rain fall on us as we approached Vogel. My crew was at the finish line waiting for me and the finish was everything I imagined it would be. I let out a loud, "FIFTY AT FIFTY, YEAAAAAH" celebration scream.

This event is super well organized by dumassevents (Dahlonega Ultra Marathon ASSociation). The course is well marked, the aid stations well stocked and plentiful. Beginning at Camp Morganton and ending at Vogel State Park allows for ample parking and access to facilities. I will definitely run more of this group's races. I'm looking at the Bull Mtn 100K in October!

I committed to this race like I had no race before. In January, I totally gave up alcohol. Over the next several months I stopped eating wheat, corn, and most grains as well as caffeine. Likewise, I almost totally cut out processed sugar and most nightshades. What did all this do? I feel absolutely certain that it improved my sleep, reduced inflammation, improved my gut, improved my recovery, and just helped me feel better overall. Another factor that helped me have a great race was my local terrain. The 3000' climbs up to the Black Mountain Crest trail and the super gnarly sections of the AT near where I live were the perfect preparation for the Cruel Jewel's Dragon Spine. During my hard training runs I would say out lout to myself, "Rush, this is what it is. Steep hills and tired legs. This is what it is and you are finding a way through it." During the race itself, I talked to myself about being grateful, running full of love, how happy I am to be alive. Keeping a positive attitude, focused primarily on gratitude, definitely contributed to having a fantastic experience. And my crew. My crew were just super supportive, flexible, and kept me wrapped in love. Also, Aaron Saft of FootRx Asheville, gave me the day-glo yellow "Foot Rx Trail & Ultra Team" shirt. I love that shop and I wanted to represent them well.

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