Saturday, November 30, 2013

Vicki's Death March - 2013

On Friday, I joined up with a group of other VHTRC members to run the 10th annual Vicki's Death March, a scenic run through some of the best trails in Shenandoah National Park.

My thermometer read 20 degrees at the start, so there wasn't much lollygagging.  Quatro Hubbard offered a few comments and made sure everyone had turn sheets, and then we were off.  The group quickly broke into smaller groups according to ability and desire.

After a long push up White Oak Canyon with its spectacular waterfalls, my group found itself pondering whether conditions would allow us to keep going up to Hawksbill Peak, the highest point in the Shenandoahs, or jump on the Appalachian Trail and cut things short.  We saw more footprints going up than coming down, and decided to give it a go.  I'm glad we did.

While the running should have been mostly downhill from there, we were also a section that got very little sun, and the ice made the footing treacherous.  Happily, I only slipped and fell once.  On some of the steeper downhill slopes, my hip was giving me trouble, a holdover injury from the Stone Mill 50 two weeks before.
At about mile 13 I left my group go on ahead while I stopped to take a few pictures.  Despite my best efforts, I never caught them again.   Without their guidance, I found myself frequently referring to the turnsheet, determined to cover the entire course.

 When I got back to the car, I discovered that my group had stopped in at Skyland Resort (mile 15.6) for pie and coffee, and then taken a shortcut back.  Indeed, many of the more experienced runners took advantage of the day to run longer or shorter routes, according to their own pleasure.  In fact,  as I discovered while looking at my GPS track later, I managed to put a couple of extra miles on, most of it around the Stony Man cliffs and again while looking for an unmarked path to the Corbin cutoff.

All in all a fantastic day.  Thanks to Quatro and the other VHTRC members who organize this outstanding run.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Washington, DC Area Ultramarathon Reviews

This year, I have run three ultramarathons in the Washington, DC area: the North Face Endurance Challenge 50-Mile (June 1, 2013); the Athletic Equation 12-hour Adventure Trail Run (September 21, 2013); and the Stone Mill 50 Mile (November 16, 2013).

Rather than writing up a blow-by-blow of each race in its entirety, I thought I'd suggest some of the pros and cons of each race for those who are looking to run 50 miles (or so) in the DC area next year.

The North Face Endurance Challenge 50-Mile

  • Big Name.  The North Face Endurance Challenge is a big name race, as far as 50-milers go.  While local favorite Michael Wardian won the 2013 race, top competitors come from all over the country.  In addition to rubbing shoulders with the greats, you'll get treated to a lively sendoff and a serious finish line festival. 
  • Scenery.  Every other photograph of race is of the short section that requires rock hopping high above the Potomac gorge, but frankly, the entire course is beautiful, which runs along the wide Potomac and then in the hills of Great Falls national park, is amazing.
  • Swag.  The race costs $90 if you register on time, but it comes with some serious swag, including a high quality silkscreened technical shirt, socks, and a water bottle.  And, yes, a medal if you finish.
  • Spectator Friendly.  There aren't many ultras that pass four times by a big grassy picnic area where your family and friends can chill out and have a good time.  This is one of them.  
  • Course.  The first fifteen miles of this race is mostly flat, luring many runners into a marathon like pace.  They pay for it when they hit 20 miles of steep hills and gravelly fire roads and the aforementioned rock hopping.  The fact that three repetitive loops are required doesn't help.  Then, its 15 more miles to get back to the finish line.
  • Weather.  To make sure that the Endurance Challenge lives up to its name, schedulers put it in early June, when the weather in Washington, DC is anything but great for running.  The weather can be above 90 degrees and humid, as it was in 2013, or it can be very rainy, creating a mud-fest like in 2012.  Don't be hoping to set any PRs.

The Athletic Equation 12-hour Adventure Trail Run

  • Flexibility.  This could be a fifty mile race, but it doesn't have to be.  The goal is to run as many 6.5 mile loops as you can, in under 12 hours.  Some runners are here to rack up the miles, while others are happy to knock out a fast 20 mile and be home before noon.  So, decide what you want to do, and don't worry about anyone else.
  • Ideal Weather.  While late September can occasionally get a little warm, this generally is the perfect time of the year to be running in a T-shirt and shorts.  
  • Aid Stations.  The beginning/end of the 6.5 mile loop is a rollicking loop with music blaring and an ever changing array of food throughout the day.  (The pierogis, in particular, were awesome.)  If you have your own supplies, this means you can also hit your drop bag every 6.5 miles.  Midway through the course is a self-serve water stop, so you can run all day carrying just a single water bottle.  
  • Spectator Friendly.  Your friends and family will basically end up tailgating in the parking lot, but they do get to see you come by every 6.5 miles.
  • Value.  For $85, you get a pretty low-quality t-shirt.  You'll also get a pint beer glass if you finish.  I wouldn't call this race a bargain.
  • Repetitive.  There's a lot to like about a 6.5 mile loop - the aid station, seeing your family and friends - but by the end of the day, they get pretty boring.  A couple miles of long straight fire in the middle of the loop don't help.

The Stone Mill 50 Mile

  • Price.  Only $35 for a 50-miler?  That's unheard of.  I don't care that there's no swag.  At this price, sign me up.
  • Course.  The course is essentially a lollipop, with 20 total miles of out-and-back, and a large 30-mile loop in the middle.  While you're not exactly out in the wilds, there is plenty of scenic natural beauty, and something new to see around every bend.  And if you want to set a PR, this is the place to do it.  The course is 99% non-technical, and mostly soft underfoot (except for a mile or two of suburban sidewalk.)  Lots of soft rolling hills (and one brutal hill at the end!) to keep different muscle groups engaged, while giving others a rest. 
  • Aid Stations.  With 11 aid stations, you'll have a place to stop, on average, every 4.5 miles.  Sure, some are better stocked than others (and those that are well stocked are amazing with everything from hot soup to quesadillas to Knob Creek whisky), but regardless its nice to know there's always a friendly face and fresh water around the corner.  And the volunteers here were uniformly the best and most supportive of those at any of the three races.   
  • Camaraderie.  Maybe its the low key nature of the race, but I just met a lot more cool, friendly runners here than during any other race.  
  • The Basics.  Sure, the price is great.  But having only a single toilet for men at the start of the race meant a lot of runners were late to start.  Similarly, not having access to drop bags until mile 29 meant really loading up my pockets and hoping that I didn't need a change of socks.  This is a race that demands self-sufficiency.  
  • Late Year.  Running late in November makes for cool weather, which is great, but legs can be tired from other races.  It also makes for icy streams (and I lost count of the number stream crossings.)  It also means that many of the runners had to finish in the dark.     
Of course, there are other 50-mile races in the area that I haven't yet run, most notably the Bull Run Run 50-miler, in April, and the JFK 50-Mile in November, which is the granddaddy of them all.  I hope to report back on some of these next year!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Autumn Trail Running in Rock Creek Park

If you haven't yet gotten your fill of fall foliage, there's still time to get to Rock Creek Park.  The trees in the valley are mostly bare, but up on the western ridge they are glorious.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Troubleshooting a Blank Screen for a Garmin Forerunner 110

I had a birthday a few weeks ago, and am now the a happy owner of a Garmin Forerunner 110. Overall, i'm very pleased with it - it's much more convenient than wearing my iPhone on an arm strap, and I love having my pace and time information available to me on my longer runs. But the experience hasn't been completely smooth; my computer doesn't always recognize the watch right away, forcing me to repeatedly connect and disconnect the watch to the computer.

One time, connecting and disconnecting the watch to the computer caused my watch's screen to go blank. It became completely unresponsive. Panicked, I turned to the Google and found this great article on BruSimm. It summarizes all of the solutions available out there and concluded with a crowdsourced solution that worked for me:
Brusimm reader Steve G said he didn't have good luck with any of the first four suggestions, but he called Garmin, who added this new aspect to the potential fixes:
  • While the watch is connected to the charger,
    • Hold the light and start/stop buttons at the same time for 20 seconds.
  • In addition, connect the watch to the clip BEFORE connecting it to the charger.
    • When the clip is being connected and then unconnected, it causes problems for the watch.
Be sure to click through for the entire article for good information. Hope this helps anyone else out  there that might have the same problems.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Best. Headline. Ever.

While I've enjoyed the moonshots and hot streaks as much as the next person, I can't say that I've ever been a huge Mike Napoli fan. However, that all changed this weekend:
Mike Napoli drunk, shirtless on the streets of Boston
You have to click through for the pictures. Priceless.