Sunday, October 25, 2009

2009 Xterra Monte Sano 15km

2009 Xterra Monte Sano 15km
Huntsville, AL
October 25, 2009

New to Monte Sano in 2009, the XTERRA Alabama Trail Run Series adds a medium distance race to our favorite trails. The second event in the series, the Monte Sano 15km brought out the best trail runners from the area to the state park on a cold October morning to compete for top honors. Directed by Dirty Spokes Productions of Georgia in collaboration with Huntsville Track Club and Sorba of Huntsville, everything was set for this event to be an exciting race.

The loop course would prove to be challenging for runners of all abilities. I personally designed the course for Tim of Dirty Spokes. Sticking true to my masochistic love for hill climbs, the course traversed some of the best trails on the mountain and featured a brutal up hill climb to the finish that helped to decide the winners of the Men's and Women's race. In case you would like to run the course, here are text directions on each turn and the elevation change in each section.

This inaugural event had a great turn out, as 152 runners toed the line adjacent to the Ranger's Station in the state park at 8:30am. From the gun, it turned into a two pack race. Brandon Mader took the early lead followed closely by David Riddle. I paced the chase pack made up with David O'Keefe and Tim Vinson (all from Huntsville) and Joshua Horsager from Columbus, Georgia. Running out on the short road section, we passed through the bikers parking lot and hit the Sinks Trail. I wanted to be in 3rd leading into this trail, knowing that others were better downhill runners and that I needed to keep them behind me early. We dropped 220' in less than 1/4 mile on technical switchbacks of the Sinks trail before making the hard right onto Mountain Mist and heading toward the north. This section of Mountain Mist trail has some slight climbs and is very rocky. The time of my first mile was 6:20.

The next mile was all about running as fast as possible while watching my footing on the rocky trails. With the recent wet/cold weather, many leaves had already fallen to the trails, making the rocky difficult to pick out. Plus with the cooler temperatures on race morning, my eyes were watering and for the most part I was choosing my footing based on memory of the trails.

For equipment, I had selected the light weight inov-8 roclite 295. I had used this shoe at every distance up to 50km this year, so there was no reason to deviate from what was working for me.

I think that it was Joshua who fell down behind me in this mile as I heard a crash and scream. I yelled back to him to make sure that he was OK but kept running. He had been with me step for step, so his misfortune helped to open up my lead. My second mile was a touch slower at 6:44 pace, which included a small climb up toward O'Shaugnessy Point and out onto Goat Trail.

As we got to the the end of Goat Trail connector (where it comes close to War Path Ridge Trail), Joshua had caught me and I let him pass by on the corner. He had been closing ever since his fall and I knew that it was just a matter of time. With his pass, I fell back into 4th place. He surged passed me, but as we made our way down past the trail head of K2, I stayed with him closely. We ran stride for stride through mile 3 at a pace of 7:02.

The 4th mile started with a 75' climb in the first 1/10th mile and I could tell that he was slowing down on the climbs. I took advantage of a wider section of the trail and passed him on the left. Always getting a lift from passing, I picked up the pace and surged ahead. I figured that the others would have a hard time passing him by as the trail narrowed, so I tried to hold the surge and put additional distance between us. Tim eventually passed and O'Keefe went with him, closing the gap on me before the end of the 4th mile. The hard pace from the early miles was getting to me a little as I slowed slightly, clocking a 7:34 mile.

Next up was the Three Benches aid station at mile 4.3 before heading down and around Keith Trail. I refused to look behind me but I could constantly hear footsteps no matter how fast I ran. It seemed like I was controlling the pace of the pack. Riddle and Mader were long gone so it would be a battle for 3rd place. Coming around the southern bend of this ridge, we encountered the first sustained climb. I powered up and managed to hold 7:14 for the 5th mile.

The next mile was a tale of two sections; the first part was slightly rolling yet fast and the second section was a short climb up to Stone Cuts Trail and then a technical downhill toward the Sinks again. With the 100' climb in the second half and technical footing coming back down, I would run my slowest mile at 7:38.

Tim was now trailing me closely and after making the hard left onto the Sinks back toward Three Benches, he passed me by, pushing me back into 4th place. I tried my best to cover the distance of his move, but before long he had put significant time between us. As he passed, he remarked that he would see me again on the hills. Looking back to Mountain Mist training, Tim would crush the downs and I would catch him and pass by on the climbs; those were our individual strengths. He must have been running sub 7 pace because my 7th mile was 7:08 as we came back through Three Benches and he held a strong lead.

As we left the aid station, it was only a few strides before I had caught up with Tim and he let me pass by. I didn't make a significant push up the climb to Mountain Mist, partially because I was somewhat fatigued from running all out down into the Sinks to stay with him. Plus I knew that I had plenty of climb left to go at the end if I needed to make a significant move. By the crest of the hill, I had a small lead, but nothing that any of the guys behind me couldn't eat up if I flinched. I decided that I was going to start my final surge earlier than planned and go into sprint mode back to the Bankhead Road crossing. I thought that I could drop the other guys with a sub 7 and then be able to relax on the hill climb. Well I did run my sub 7, lapping a 6:52 and had confidence in my plan; that was until Bankhead, where the trail turned up and I saw that O'Keefe and Tim were tight on my trail.

Rob Youngren gave me a nod as he and Brett Addington pointed the way up the trail toward the finish. I don't remember exactly what he said, but his meaning was 'to run the hill like we had in training - steady up the lower half and then sprint the top with no recovery.' I have him the nod back and put the plan into action. Now would be the time for me to execute on my strengths, which are hill climbs, and getting back up to race speed at the crest with no recovery. I held a steady pace on the lower portion of Cold Spring up the middle table and then gave it whatever I had left on the top half. The top half is a walking section for most, as the loose footing and rocky bed make running it nearly impossible. As the sign indicates, it is a dangerous ascent.

Reaching the top and passing by volunteers Luke Hobbs and Chris Brahm, I was struggling to not gasp for air, but I could tell that I was not the only one of our pack who had good hill running prowess. I refused to look back to see which one of the chase pack members it was, as it didn't matter to me. I had one job and that was to run all out, leaving nothing behind and give it everything I had all the way to the finish. The 8th mile was an astounding 7:34, including the hill climb.

Now on the top rim of the North Plateau around the campground, I increased my stride length and powered through each step. I refused to back down and would not be overtaken. If whoever was behind me was going to pass, they were going to have to hurt to do it. Coming across the overlook and seeing volunteer Eric Fritz, he gave me a look that told me I was ahead, but it was by mere steps. I jumped off the road back onto the trail and ran through the soft sand up toward the cabin road. I would only have to hold on for a hundred meters through the narrow trail that lead back to the pavilion and the finish line. I continued to hammer the pace, never looking back, never showing any sign of weakness, and in the end, I held onto the lead.

I ran the last 1/2 mile of the race in 2 minutes, 54 seconds; that is 5:48 pace on technical trails. My overall time was 1:07:02. I had bested David O'Keefe by 4 and 1/2 seconds. I commend him for covering every move I made, staying with me while I sprinted the flats, hammered the climb and then ran all out toward the finish. I had just enough to hold him off and earn a 3rd place overall. As I crossed the line, I was dizzy from the intense push and completely spent.

It was a hard race; maybe my hardest effort of the year. I had never run that fast on any of those trails, as typically I spend my time training on them, or running ultras, not running road tempo pace. But it was my overall conditioning that I had built for Stump Jump that enabled me to get back to race pace at the top of every climb and the hill repeats that were the details behind this story.

As I mentioned, the late hill climb also helped to solidify the victory of David Riddle over Brandon Mader. On the women's side, it was Rachel Eidson of Birmingham that powered through the climb to top the skills of Barb Saunders.

Top 6 results

Place Name Time
1 David Riddle - 1:01:11.80
2 Brandon Mader - 1:02:17.20
3 Eric Charette - 1:07:02.50
4 David O'Keefe - 1:07:06.80
5 Tim Vinson - 1:08:25.10
6 Joshua Horsager - 1:12:15.10

Official Results Link

2009 Xterra Monte Sano 15km - Press Release


October 27, 2009 (Huntsville, AL) -- Inside the winding, wild Monte Sano State Park, Rachel Eidson and David Riddle finished first at the inaugural XTERRA Monte Sano Trail Run this past Sunday. The 15-kilometer event was race number two in the new 2010 XTERRA Alabama Trail Run Series and attracted runners ranging in age from 17-64 from five surrounding states.

In the men's race, Huntsville locals filled the podium with Riddle, 29, claiming the top spot in 1:01:11. Brandon Mader, 26, and Eric Charette, 35, secured the second and third places with their times of 1:02:17 and 1:07:02 respectively.

With only 17 seconds separating the winners of the women's race, it all came down to a strong finish for Birmingham's Eidson, 25, breaking the tape in 1:27:48 just ahead of runner-up Barbara Saunders, 51, from Harvest, Alabama. Huntsville's own Rebecca Flournoy, 36, rounded out the top three in 1:35:50.

As the second race in the 2010 XTERRA Alabama Trail Run Series, runners were eager to earn points toward their season totals. Those ending the series with the highest totals will be crowned XTERRA Regional Champions and be awarded free entry to the XTERRA Trail Running National Championship next fall.

Up next is the XTERRA Oak Mountain 10-kilometer Trail Run recently announced for March 14, 2010. Shelby County's Oak Mountain State Park sets the stage for this beautiful and challenging race to kick off the New Year.

Also coming up is the December 6th XTERRA Trail Running World Championship, and all Alabama runners are invited to participate. No qualification is necessary, and with a venue like Oahu, Hawaii's Kualoa Ranch, where they filmed major productions such as Jurassic Park, Godzilla, and LOST, this is one race athletes will not want to miss. For more information about the XTERRA Trail Run Series, visit

Saturday, October 17, 2009

2009 Liz Hurley 5km

2009 Liz Hurley 5km
October 17, 2009
Huntsville, AL

Official Results

17:01 and 5th Overall of 515 in the Men's race and 1st M30-34

Saturday, October 3, 2009

2009 Stump Jump 50km

2009 Stump Jump 50km
Chattanooga, TN
October 3, 2009

To soak in sweeping views of the Tennessee River Gorge while running above the cloud line along the rim of Signal Mountain on some of the best trails in the east amongst national class talent in perfect temperatures with great race management is the best way I can describe this race. In its 9th Annual running, Stump Jump 50km by Rock/Creek is a classic and should be on every runners future race calendar.

2009 has mostly been an ultra running year for me and this race marked my 6th ultra of the season and served as my fall goal race. That meant an actual training plan, specific training and a taper! For a few years I have wanted to run this race but honestly was a little afraid of the stellar competition that made their way from all over the country to run this race. I finally felt like I had the type of conditioning and experience required to place at the top of the leader board.

At just before 8am after a short warm up, I moved forward to the start line from the back of the pack through the nearly 350 runners. At the front were runners from Rock/Creek Race Team and the Vasque Trail Team. I was the lone runner wearing Team inov-8 gear. After a few race instructions from Matt Sims, we were off and running.

Photo Courtesy (c) Lucas George 2009

With a race of this size it is almost required to have a road start and let the pack thin out before hitting the trails. For us, we ran 6/10ths of a mile on the road before ducking into the woods. The pace was fast from the gun, lead by Brian Dayton, Josh Wheeler and Nicholas Selbo. Behind them where a few other Rock/Creek Race team members and then I was in a small chase pack. With my GPS battery low I knew that I would be running on feel and the first mile felt hard! We rolled through it at sub 7 pace.

I was running alongside another guy and chatting a little through the 2 mile mark but then I pulled away on a downhill section that I knew would last for another 2+ miles out to Mushroom Rock.

In this race there were several keys to my success. The first one was advanced course knowledge. This summer in the Stage Race, we ran the first 6 miles of the course and then on a later trip, Joey Butler, Eric Fritz and I came out to run the middle 20. Knowing that the two miles out to Mushroom Rock was on a jeep road and very fast helped me to create some separation before running through the first aid station.

Photo Courtesy (c) Lucas George 2009

After shouting out my race bib number of 1234 to the aid station working, I made the hard left at the rock and began the 400' drop on technical switchbacks down to the famous swinging bridge. This is a great section as after crossing the creek you immediately climb back up 450' to another ridge at 1750'. Being a strong climber I was able to regain the gap I had on the next runner that I lost after having to empty my already full bladder. After dropping back down to 1400' at the Suck Creek Road crossing I think that I was running in about 7th place as we hit the second aid station.

Turning up the road and back onto the Cumberland Trail I was able to catch a glimpse of the runner ahead of me. Another key to my race success (#2) is that I run better when chasing someone. Periodically seeing a flash of his red jersey from time to time kept me pushing hard as we ran along the rim of Signal Mountain. On the flats or downhills he would pull ahead slightly but on the climbs I would chip away at his lead. This went back and forth for another 2 miles through the 8 mile mark where I finally passed him.

A key to my race success (#3) is that I run better when being chased. After passing the Team Salomon runner, it gave me a rush of adrenaline and helped me pick up the pace until he was no longer in sight. In doing so, I also moved up into 6th place, though I wouldn't have confirmation of this until later int the race.

About a mile before the next aid station at Indian Rock House, I could hear another runner come up from behind me. A few minutes later I could tell that it was David Rindt, winner of the 2009 Mountain Mist 50km. David ran 4:07 in Huntsville besting a talented field. Mountain Mist was my break out ultra as I ran 4:32, or 25 minutes behind David. David and I talked a little as we ran along about the race and as we crossed the power-line cut (which is actually underground phone line) we had the most amazing view of the river that was completely engulfed in fog, yet we could see across to the ridge on the other side. David and I both remarked that it was the best view of the day. David looked strong and was pushing the pace so when we came to Indian Rock House aid station at mile 10.6, I let him set the pace in front.

From Indian Rock House it was about 2 1/2 miles to Snoopers Rock and the next aid station. The section had a small climb, followed by a 300' drop in elevation over the next mile before it rolled along with plenty of ups and downs. David had pulled ahead and out of sight pushing me back in 7th place. I decided not to stay with him and run my race. I had settled into a nice rhythm with pace and I just wanted to hold it for the middle section. The welcome reception at Snoopers Rock was pretty cool as the aid station workers shouted all in unison which gave me a little lift. It was hard not knowing how far I had run or how long it had been. I just kept running as hard as I could sustain. I didn't know it, but I had about 19 more miles to run.

Here is a view downstream on the river from Snoopers Rock overlook.

Here is a view upstream on the river from Snoopers Rock overlook.

After the Snoopers Rock Aid, the course turned inland and headed west away from the river. This is a very runnable section but feels like "No Man's Land" as you are in complete seclusion on the Mullins Cove Loop for about 4 miles before hitting the Hailey Road Aid station. After the first mile we were again along a ridge line along Mullins Creek, running in and out of coves. It was around this time that I could start to hear some chatter behind me, so I figured that I had at least 2 runners talking with each other close by. I felt like I was running steady, but they must have been getting faster as the voices got closer and closer.

Popping out of the woods on Hailey Road it was nice to see people again. I love ultras for the seclusion but I also like to see people along the way. The lead into this aid station is up a steep rocky dirt road (road is a lose term here) which as I remember from our summer trip here, lead to another technical climb that I was dreading. At this aid station I was ready for some more Subtle Strawberry Heed, but all they had was Poweraide and water so I went for water. The guy who filled my bottle said that I was running in 6th place. I didn't know for sure that back at Indian Rock House that I was in 7th place but I was pretty sure I was, so someone must have dropped out.

The volunteers were cheering and clapping for each runner so as I left I could tell how long it was until the next two runners came through; it was only about 2 minutes until they arrived, through I don't know how long they stayed there. Just after that, I heard two more runners come through which meant that places 7, 8, 9 & 10 were all within earshot of me. Referring back to #2 key to success, running well when being chased, I tried to run strong up the first climb as opposed to walking, which really would have been nicer.

The next 3 1/2 miles made up the 3rd hardest section of the course (Suck Creek in both directions were 1st and 2nd) as there is a 250' climb from Haley Road, followed by the 'Rock Garden' and then another 350' climb back to Indian Rock House. The Rock Garden is a section of the course where you run along Short Creek and hop from rock to rock. These rocks are down in a deep hollow where there is no sun and the shifting rocks stay damp with plenty of moss on them. That meant that for better than a half mile of stepping from rock to rock it was slow going. I was wearing the inov-8 Roclite 295 which proved to be the perfect shoe.

I stepped on each rock with confidence that I would not slip as the rubber compound on the tread literally grips to each rock even after a few hundred miles of use. After the race I had a conversation with another runner who chose another trail shoe for the race but commented on mine, that he wished he had selected them instead because of the amount of wet rocks. I think that this shoe was designed for this course.

Coming out of the darkness and climbing back up onto the flats, the two runners I had heard miles earlier finally closed the gap and one of them passed me just before the aid station above Indian Rock House. I noticed that he had some dirt on his shoulder and commented about a possible fall. He said that he was a triathlete (and not a trail runner) and had taken a nasty spill earlier. Falling behind him meant that I was again in 7th place. The runner still behind me of the twosome turned out to be David Rindt. As we ran through the aid station and Jamie Dial shouted some words of encouragement, David said that he had taken a wrong turn earlier which set him back. Going back to key #1, course knowledge, I knew that after leaving the Indian Rock House descent, there was a wooden sign that pointed to the right and reads "Trail ->" We had come across this turn on our summer run and in one of the few turns on the course that was not well marked, I knew to turn right. So with about 11 miles to go, David and I left the aid station together. I asked an aid worker what time it was and they said it was about 11am. I think that we started a few minutes after 8am, so we had rolled through about 21 miles in less than 3 hours.

Key #3, running better when being chased, held true over the next 5 miles. I remembered to when David passed me at this point on the way out and how I backed off the pace a little; I didn't want that to happen again. I ran with much more reckless abandon on the technical sections (rocky descents) and pushed harder (on the climbs), refusing to back off as we went back toward Suck Creek Road. David stayed very close for a few miles but after passing the powerline cut together and now seeing the fog gone and an amazing view down to the river and over to Raccoon Mountain, I noticed that I couldn't hear him any more. I did not look back to see where he was as this would be a sign of weakness. I was getting a tremendous lift from running ahead of the Mountain Mist winner and the closer we got the next aid station, the harder I ran. From talking with Jamie after Mountain Mist, he said that David was an amazing climber and I knew with 2 steep climbs to go, that he could easily run me down so I held my strong pace.

I took a full bottle of fluids and began the first climb. A policeman working traffic control said that the time was ten 'till 12, so I had been running for 3 hours and 50 minutes through 25+ miles and had a tough 6 miles ahead of me. As I crested the first climb, I spotted the triathlete that had passed me at mile 21. I quickly closed the gap on him and noticed that his shirt was even more dirty than when I saw him earlier. He said that he had fallen just after passing me and he thought he had broken his arm. I noticed him favoring it and after passing him, I could hear him wincing in pain a few times. I was now back in 6th place. While it was unfortunate that he fell and was now slowing down, I had put myself in a position to take advantage of the situation and move up on the leader board.

From the plateau, back down to the swinging bridge and then climbing back up toward Mushroom rock, I moved as quickly as possible. I wanted to break 5 hours, which meant that I needed to average about 11 minute miles for the last 6 miles, which would seem difficult given the course profile.

Surprisingly I made it to Mushroom Rock much faster than I thought I would. This meant that I had only 4+ miles of runnable trails to go, albeit still up hill for the next two miles. I took one last full bottle of Heed and pushed on after mentioning to the volunteers that they should ask the triathlete about his arm to make sure that he was ok. Knowing endurance athletes, they don't always think straight when competing and I was worried about him.

I was more than four hours into the race and I felt stronger than I had all day. My last key to success is that I took all of my fluids and fuel at timely locations throughout the day. I never felt week, or thirsty or developed cramps. I had stayed with Powerbar Cola Gel Blasts, Heed, Water and S! Caps.

Somehow I was getting stronger and stronger late in the race. Key to success #5 was that I was properly trained for this race, having done specific training for this event and was properly rested with my 2 week taper off of a 140 mile / 9 day training stretch. I really think that logging all of those miles on long runs and doing tempo runs and track work were now paying off.

Still not knowing my pace, I ran as hard as I could until popping out on a road crossing with what I thought was less than a mile from the finish. The course marshall on the crossing said that it was another 2 miles to the finish. I was a little overwhelmed as I was pushing like I was almost done and now I had to keep it up for another 15+ minutes. I was still running a little scared like I was being chased closely so I stuck to my hard pace. Just before popping out of the woods with 6/10ths of a mile to go, I saw another runner ahead of me. It was one of the Rock/Creek Racing Team members that went out hard early on. He was struggling on a short climb and I flew by, getting another adrenaline rush from the pass. As we came out to the road, we ran back uphill around the school toward the finish. I picked up the pace again, now running near top speed, not wanting to get passed back. I had worked my way into 5th place overall, which is where I would finish as I sprinted down the chute and heard Matt Sims announce my name to the crowd.

My final time was 4:44:35 and looking back over the recent race times on the revised course (since 2006 when the start/finish line was moved, making the course longer) I had the 12th fastest time recorded. I was about 30 minutes behind the winner Josh Wheeler. Vasque runner Brian Dayton was 3rd OA and only 12 minutes ahead of me.

Photo Courtesy (c) Lucas George 2009

What an amazing feeling as I accepted the finisher medal to have completed the course in well under 5 hours and in 5th place; all in a race that I had been intimidated by in the past to run based on the difficulty and tough competition. I joked with Matt that I felt good enough to turn around and do it again in reverse! He said that the double had never been done, so maybe that is an option in 2010 for the 10th running?

When I signed up for a post race message, the gal asked me 'what hurt?" I felt guilty when saying 'nothing!' I just got a light stretch but I had no aches or pains whatsoever. I did see David after the race and he commented on how he was impressed that at mile 21 I picked up the pace and got stronger when I pulled away from him. It wasn't until then that it sunk in to me that I actually pulled away from David Rindt!

So I owe this performance to being well rested, properly trained, having the right footwear, fueling properly and running well while chasing and being chased. It was the combination of these factors combined together that helped push me to a 5th place overall finish at one of the largest 50km races in the country with 243 finishers.