Saturday, October 26, 2013

Guest Blog–Coach Shannon’s Tussey MountainBack Race Report

I mentioned in my own Tussey Mountain race report that I wouldn’t have been able to get my WS qualifying time without the coaching and advice of my good friend Shannon McGinn.

Shannon and I thought it would be fun to swap and share race reports. Shannon’s blog is called
“Creating Momentum!”

Newton’s second law explains how the velocity of an object changes when it is subjected to an external force. The law defines a force to be equal to change in momentum (mass times velocity) per change in time.

In other words, I was an object with not too much velocity. I needed an external force. Shannon was that external force. She Created Momentum. Smile

Please enjoy her write up, and please check her blog out from time time. It is filled with awesomeness.

[Shannon’s original post can be found here]


Tussey Mountainback, USATF National 50 Mile Road Championship, State College PA. 10/20/13

Course Review:  As I stood near the finish line I could hear runners sharing a wide variety of opinions about the race as they came through the finish: "The best course ever!" "That just sucked!" "That was the hardest thing I ever did!"  "The hills were horrible!!!"  "The hills weren't as bad as I thought!"  "The views were pretty." etc...

I really liked the course.  For a ROAD 50 Mile National Championship race it was a great course.  (If you want a trail race, you may prefer the USATF 50 miIe Trail Championship that usually takes place in March.)  This course seemed to weed out the unprepared and allowed those who worked hard to shine.  Unfortunately, I was one of those under-prepared and I felt that this course just ate me up and spit me out.

The race is one single 50 mile lap that has more downs than it has ups, but the ups are long climbs.  For example Leg 6 contains an 3.7 mile stretch of continuous uphill at I believe about a 7% average grade.  Leg 11 has a stretch that reached about 11% grade.  If you are able to run hills like that, you will get rewarded with an extremely fast time due to the blazing descents on runnable terrain that follow each up.  Out of the 12 legs, only 5 are uphill, with the worst being leg 6.  Three of those 5 uphill legs are in the first half.  Once you get to 25 miles, there are more downhill legs than ups left!  But leg 11 has the steepest of the climbs just before the final descent. Once over the last crest, the last 4.2 miles to the finish can be as fast as your heart desires.
The terrain is mixture of mostly gravel and asphalt road. I found the gravel roads to have single track-like sections of dirt where car tires pushed away the gravel.  It was much easier on my feet than running continuously on thick gravel.  At some point the gravel, which was large gravel, could be felt through my shoes.

The Race Director and his crew did a fabulous job of marking every mile.  I wasn't sure if I wanted to know this much information but I found it absolutely motivating to know where I was on the course.  There were also markers indicating 1/2 mile to the Aid Station before each of the 12 well-stocked pit stops. My only minor complaint is that they only served HEED as the sports drink.  They did have water and Coke (no Mt. Dew) so I basically ran the entire race on Coke, water, 3 gels, a few potatoes and some chips.  Each Aid Station supplied Hammer gel, potatoes, sweet and salty snacks, lot of drinks. Runners need to carry very little for this event.  If you need anything not supplied, you could use drop bags.

The elevation chart:

The night before the race Alanna pulled up the race website on her phone while we waited for a table for dinner. I scribbled on the back of a gas receipt which legs were up (1, 4, 6, 9, 11) and which were down.  I put an asterisk next to the hardest legs (1, 6, 11) and then committed the up legs to memory.  Sometime between dinner and bedtime I misplaced that receipt.

What to wear?
I pretty much packed a backpack full of clothing I could wear for any permutation of weather.  I checked the weather just before bed and it predicted that the rain would pass over night and leave the morning 37 degrees feeling like 33 with windchill.  It was supposed to fell like 33 for a few hours.  Wow.  I have not run in weather that cold in a long time.  The temps were to rise into the mid-40's by the time I should finish.  The only thing I was certain of was that I would wear my capri pants. (I could have gotten by with shorts).

I never use drop bags in races but I packed one for this one.  One lap ultras scare the crap out of me.  I actually have self-diagnosed myself as having some sort of revere claustrophobia.  I can feel perfectly comfortable inside an MRI (and get some of the best sleep of my life in them) but put me on a trail that is too long and the moment I realize that I wont be able to get out for hours and I start to feel trapped.

My main concern was actually  what shoes to wear? My last 50 miler in April started with me in racing flats.  I had assumed I would do that again.  But I was concerned I would feel the gravel through the thin light T7's and need to swap. But when? 25? 40?  Oh boy.  So I planned to leave a pair of Launch's in a drop bag somewhere between mile 30-35.  Then I decided to add a bottle of Gatorade. Then I added extra socks.  Then a zip lock of gels.

Then I realized this is stupid.  I know I am not going to stop for this stuff.  So I decided to just start in the Launch, forego the Gatorade, use the gels on the course but carry a few just in case they run out, and drink water and soda.  I grabbed my old Nathan's race vest and a 10 oz Nathan's quick shot bottle, to be filled with gatorade at the start, and put it in the pocket of my vest.  I grabbed 5 gels and dropped them in the other pocket.  That was it.  Done.

The Race:
Jim, Alanna, and I arrived early enough for me to decide that I did not need the hat and gloves I had on.  I wore a singlet under a long sleeve tech shirt and added my racing vest over the top.  Capris and my Brooks Launch completed the outfit and I was ready to run.  At 6:55 am, I got out of the car and headed to the starting line.  Just about 7 am we were running.

I ran the first 12-13 mile with a guy who was running his first 50.  He was moving well. We had the required conversations that runners have when the end up running together in ultras...  races, paces, goals, Born to Run, Vibrams,  how many races per year is too many, etc..  By leg 4 my stomach started to get upset and I decided I needed to walk the uphill on that section.  I let my running partner go, wondering if I would see him again or not.  I make a quit pit stop at the Aid Station just around 15 miles and just as I started heading back out I saw Christian.  He told me to hurry up and I took off with him.

Christian and I have run into each other at several races over the years, but never really spent much time running together. I was just starting to get into a negative place in my head when my stomach acted up, but seeing a familiar face perked me up.  We ran, we talked, and I started to have fun again.

I was having trouble with the climbs.  I was simply just not prepared for those types in hills.  I am a very busy flatlander and simply do not have time travel to hills to train. My heart was pounding in my ears and I decided that I needed to walk more than I originally intended too.  We paced ourselves up the hills and ran hard on the downhills making up a lot of time.

When we go to the top of leg 6, the worst leg and hit mile 25 just under 4 hours we knew we had an outside shot at sub-8.  In theory, it wasn't an unrealistic thought to think we could even split this race. After all there were more uphills in the first half than the second.  I declared that we should count how many people we can pass in the second half. At Mile 25 I felt like a super hero!
But by the time we hit Mile 32, I was starting to fall apart. LOL! I was tired.  My fueling was less than ideal. Since I cant drink Heed I was winging it.  I did carry that small 10 oz bottle of Gatorade for way too many miles before I started topping it off with water. I would down cups of Coke and water at each stop.  I did take 3 gels while I was out there.  I ate a few chunks of potatoes, about 5 potato chips, and two pretzel sticks. I don't eat or drink much of anything when training long slow distance runs of up to 20  milers and have found this very helpful in preparing me for long races.  The problem is sometimes I forget to fuel when racing but I have learned to recognize earlier than I used to when I need to take in some calories.
While quickly drinking a soda at the aid station, I glanced down at my shins and noticed both were swollen. It wasn't terrible but it was obvious and odd. I have never experienced this before during a race that I noticed and especially not one as a short as 32 miles.  I still had 18 more miles to go and now I was worried that something was going wrong.

At the 35 mile aid station, as I grabbed another coke, I noticed a small bruise starting to form on my left leg, just above the ankle. Oh Great!  I pressed around my leg and found that nothing actually hurt.  It made no sense at all?  Why am I swollen and bruising but nothing hurts?  It distracted and concerned me, but we just kept moving.  I whined to Christian about it and we both agreed that I would have been much better off if I had not noticed it at all.  I am sure this was just some odd reaction to all the pounding on the down hills.

Even though the course had less climbing in the first half, I was starting to run out of steam.  Christian and I continued onward together and although our pace faded we were still managing to pick off runners as we moved forward. Some of them got us back.  We reeled back in a few who blew past us early on.  But for a good part of the many many miles we ran together, it was as if Christian and I were just out together on some well-stocked extra long training run.  We simply ended up running miles and miles without another runner in sight.  Almost 180 ultra runners in this race and 110 relay teams and for large parts of this race we were simply alone out there for large chunks of mileage with maybe at most up to 4 others in sight.  It was peaceful and quite fun, especially when spotting beautiful views as we ran across the top of the ridge.

As we got closer to end of the race, Christian and I somehow managed to pass a few more people on the steepest incline. How that happened I cant explain. He was having some knee pain.  I was very worried about my cankles.  We were kind of a moving train wreck, but we were moving pretty fast on those descents!  I told Christian I don't know what place I am in but I want to try to hold it if possible. As we crested the last hill I wanted to run hard to ensure I didnt just give my position away. We really worked hard on that last descent.  At one point, I noticed my Garmin reading 7:17 pace!  We settled down and logged an 8 minute mile and settled in a little more for an 8:30. We continued to run and there was no one else in sight.

As we came around the final bend with less than a half mile to go, I notice a female runner ahead of a male runner. I started to pick up the pace and Christian called out, that's a chick go get her!  I started to pick up my pace and responded back to him that I think she is Relayer, but I kept pushing my pace trying to catch her, still not sure.  As we approached the finish area,  I pushed with all I had but there were cars in the road that I had to weave around a bit.  I just did not have enough time to catch her anyway.  She was an ultra runner and I was just too late.  She finished about 10 seconds ahead of me.

Although I know I ran as hard I could at this race, I am pretty sure if I train specifically for the hills I will be able to improve my time significantly. I am a little disappointed that I needed to walk as much of those uphills as I did.  But I understand that happened because I was simply under-prepared.  Now I know what to expect.

At the award ceremony I was very pleased to learn that despite my race being a lot slower than I had hoped to run, I still managed to place 5th Open USATF Female... which was good enough for prize money :)

Almost two months ago I got a message from my friend Jim P. asking if I have room on my roster for a new client.  I had just completed training two runners and I had room.  He asked if I could help him train for a Western States qualifier.  The window closes in November and he was running out of time.  He is living out in California now and had a few races planned out there, but when I looked at the results it seemed like Tussey was the best bet for a WSQ than any other option still available.

Jim wasn't even sure he was truly "coachable", reporting that his work life is too hectic, he can't plan regularly scheduled training weeks, sometimes he is on the road for days at a time, he likes to do his favorite run and that was important to him, he likes to makes decisions about his run while on the run based upon how he felt, etc...etc...  So he was going make things tough.  We only had 8 weeks!!!  So rather than give him a rigid day by day plan that he could not deviate from that would surely fail him, I instead devised a series of training RULES and EXCEPTIONS that he had to follow.  I sent him weekly plans that he could alter as long as he followed those rules.  The rules were complicated and devised to meet a criteria I needed him to meet and allowed him to move the less critical mileage around as needed. Jim loved this method and managed to complete every single thing I asked of him despite his unpredictable crazy schedule.  He was committed, dedicated and never once sent me a daily feedback email saying he skipped a workout.  He even did the obnoxiously horrific hill climbing treadmill workout I devised to mimic that ridiculously long climb ( more often than I actually did it... LOL).

After I finished I was a little panicked.  I knew there was a high percentage of WSQing finishers at this race, but as I stood at the finish line started to reflect on the fact that this course has a 12 hour cut-off.  This means that most who finish WILL WSQ, but many will get pulled and simply DNF.  The race results did not indicate how many starters DNFd so I had no idea what percentage of starters actually made the 11 hour cut-off.  I started to fear I may have misinterpreted the data and my mistake was going to fail him and there was nothing I could do about this now.

The awards ceremony was announced at 5 pm (at 10 hours into the race) and Jim wasn't in yet.  I was jumping out of my skin.  I was watching the finish area from the bottom of the hill where the pavilion was while also trying to listen for my name.  6 pm would be the 11 hour cut off, so at 5:45 I started walking up the hill to wait for Jim and Alanna.  I was hoping they would be together.

But as I walked towards the finish area, I saw him... walking down the hill towards me... exhausted! He did it!!!  He got his WSQ and a new PR!  I was so happy for him!  He worked so hard and he did it!  Shortly, thereafter Alanna was done too.

Time: 8:21
Gender : 8th Overall Female
Open Women 5th (for prize money that paid for the trip).

Monday, October 21, 2013

When the pain is worth it…..


Tussey MountainBack 50 mile race report.

I am sitting on a plane going back home to California from my former home state of Pennsylvania, my legs are totally trashed, I am sore from the neck down, but feeling smugly satisfied with the reward for my efforts over the weekend.

You see I qualified for the 5th year running for Western States 100. As a bonus, there was a 12 minute or so PR for 50 miles. YAY!


But wait, there is more….

Let’s go back in time. This year in general hasn’t been the best for running, and getting the WS qualifier was becoming elusive. Plan A was to run a sub 11 for 50 at Umstead in April. I did great until I fell apart at mile 42 – after which I just strolled it in.

Plan B was to finish 100 miles at the Tahoe Rim Trail. Nope, fell apart at mile 40 (again).

Pretty soon, August was about half way through, and I was running out of time, (the qualifying period ends in early November).

I was signed up for Dick Collins Firetrails 50, but anecdotal evidence from friends and reading previous results gave me the impression that this would be close to impossible for me to get in under 11 hours.

It came to a head sometime during the Run On The Sly 20 mile race on August 18th  – it was toward the end of that race that I decided that I needed help. I had already downgraded myself from the 50k to the 20, so was feeling bad about that, and then there was my minor melt down at about 15 miles or so into that run. I finished that run averaging a totally unspectacular 13:38 pace. Ugh. To get the WS qualifier, I would need to average 30 seconds per mile faster for 30 more miles. Impossible the way I was feeling at that point.

Ultimately, I decided to reach out to my friend Shannon (here is something I wrote about her several months ago) – she agreed to take me on and started putting a training plan together for me. She did however acknowledge that it was going to be a challenge to get ready for a sub 11 hour 50 mile run in just a couple of months. For my part, I promised that I would do everything in my power to complete the workouts that she prescribed, and in the manner that she prescribed.

Of the few WS qualifying runs that were practical that remained – we soon figured out that Tussey Mountain would be my best shot. Right time of year, a non technical running surface – and looking at the previous results, a huge percentage of runners came in under 11 hours.

Hills are my friend. Really.

Over the weeks – I mostly stayed off of the wonderful trails I have so close to me in favor of running the roads in my ‘hood. I really needed just about every mile to be better than 12 minute pace. There was simply no time to “build a base of long slow runs”. In my immediate vicinity, there are some nice hills – a couple of them, about 2 miles long. I became intimately familiar with them. Running hard down, power hiking up – eventually jogging up, and then finally running up them. The efforts were almost always medium to hard.

Test #1 a month or so into the training, was the Sierra Nevada Endurance runs, a Marathon that starts at No Hands Bridge in the Auburn State Recreation Area. The goal – under 13 minute pace. I struggled the last few miles – but had enough energy left in me to throw down a 10:30 mile at the end. I succeeded – 12:51. I was a little hard on myself, and slightly disappointed with my run, as I struggled to hold it between miles 16-22. But Shannon was happy.

The training continues, my legs were feeling the punishment – just a recovery ruin or two and then it was back to business. Pounding the hills of Camino, and reporting to Shannon daily.

The next weekend was a return to Hinson Lake for the 5th time– unlike previous years where I showed up and had no idea how my run was going to go – whether I was just going to run and have fun, or hang out with friends; no this year, I had been set specific goals. 35 continuous miles, sub 13 minute pace. 50 miles total over the whole 24 hours. I didn’t spend much time socializing for the first 7.5 hours. I had a mission, and ultimately succeeded, (barely), average pace was 12:58. Through the night, I did 10 easy miles, and then Sunday morning, did a hard 5 on tired legs at 11 minute pace. Both Shannon and I were happy.

My final test the following weekend was a pretty tough 21 mile trail race. Knowing the terrain on this course (there are two really steep climbs both over 1000’, one of them in less than a mile), I knew this would be tough to get in under 13 minute pace, but gave it a shot. 13:06 min/mile average. I was happy.

The last 3 weeks had been pretty high mileage, with some pretty hard efforts. Taper time. I was looking forward to tapering. My legs had felt almost continually heavy for the last 3 weeks.

Final test was one of my favorite trail runs near home. I had used this 7.1 mile loop as a guide to “monitor” my progress. I would go maximum effort and see where I was. Week 1 of my training – 12:14 pace. 2 weeks later, 11:36. And finally, the last week of training, 10:37 pace. There was no doubt Shannon’s medicine had worked.

Race day execution.

I am a geek, so using the amazing amount of data on the Tussey Mountain website, I came up with a plan, it involved spreadsheets, some calculations taking into account fade, and elevation gain and descent. My plan was to finish in 10:43. This would be a PR. I pinned my race day plan to my water bottle and ending up referring to it often.

An uneventful journey to PA and early Sunday morning, I found myself lining up at the start line, it looked like the weather was going to be perfect; cool and sunny. Other friends were there too, as well as Shannon, Alanna, Jessi, and Joey were also there ready to go.

The first 3 miles or so, pretty much all up hill felt good, the long hill training was showing benefit. I came in to the first aid station a couple of minutes under plan. Next was a long downhill section – again, the long hills paid off, I gained a couple more minutes against the plan. I was liking the course, the surface was great, and the hills so far weren’t bad

And so it went – some climbs, some descents, some flat. Follow the plan. I passed Joey at around 16 miles. He was also aiming for a WS qualifier. He was injured and nursing a bad hamstring – he was running smart and just aiming for sub 11. (He succeeded, 10:47)

The biggest climb was 3 miles long at mile 20. Again, I didn’t find it too bad, I power hiked most of it, jogged some of it, and still came in under plan for that section.

Half way, I was under still 12 minute pace average, and I was starting to believe that I was going to pull this off.

I passed Alanna about mile 28, she was struggling unfortunately with stomach issues. It was great to get some encouragement from a friend. (She finished very respectably also under 11 hours)

At 30 miles, the belief kicked in – I was 20 minutes ahead of my plan – this was significant in that I could do every mile one minute slower than plan and still make my qualifier with a PR.

35 – I was still on a 12 minute average pace. Now it became a case of just keep moving and I would make it. It would take a complete and utter disaster for me to fail. At this point, my legs were beat up, I was tired and sore, but happy with how the day was progressing.   I now made a conscious decision to start ‘withdrawing’ the time I had deposited in the ‘bank’. My mantra was “Relax Jimbo, you’ve got this, relax”. And I did. I took the foot off the gas and started visualizing the finish. Relax.

One climb left somewhere around 43 miles, sure I was slow going up it, but by this point I didn’t care, my mission was all but accomplished. Relax Jimbo, relax.

The last 4.2 miles are a gentle descent to the finish. This was fabulous because if time was tight, and if I had needed to, I would be able to haul ass down the hill to make sure I got the time I needed. But I didn’t need to. I just relaxed, jogged some and walked some to the finish. At one point, I thought I could go for it, and shoot for a sub 10:30 finish. But I just LOL’d  and said WTF? to myself, I didn’t care, I was going to get what I came for.

10:36 – a 12 minute PR and 7 minutes under “The Plan”


Tussey is an awesome race, really awesome. The  level of detail on their website is incredible and also extremely accurate (distances between aid stations etc.), and the course is amazingly well marked, every mile has a mile marker, which really inspires confidence (it would have been no fun to think I was at 48 miles and then realize that there were 4 miles left, especially when chasing a time – distance is no guarantee at some trail races.) The relay runners and their crews give tons of support – cow bells and “WooHoo’s” may seem cheesy, but it helps!

I had no interest in the scenery or the views, this race for me was all business. I was happy though that once I relaxed a bit, that I could take in the views and enjoy my surroundings. The leaves were at their peak for color and some of the mountain vistas were spectacular.

Post race, my legs totally seized up, it took everything I had just to move one step! I wanted to lie down, but knew I wouldn’t be able to get up without help, I wanted to sit, I wanted to cry, I wanted a beer, I wanted water, I wanted coffee, I wanted a cheeseburger; I didn’t quite know what I wanted to do.


I caught up with Shannon soon after I was done (who had finished several hours earlier – fast enough to win prize money; AWESOME!) It was then I got a little emotional. The last two months have been hard, really hard, and Shannon has been an amazing mentor along the whole journey, we hugged and I got a bit of a lump in my throat and a tear or two in my eye. I DID IT! I DID IT! I DID IT! YEAH!!! I know it was me who put in the miles and the effort, but I couldn’t have, wouldn’t have got there without her plan, guidance and motivation. Thank you! Thank you! What an amazing journey it has been!

So, now my name goes into the lottery for Western States 100 – My name will be on 5 separate lottery tickets, one for each year I have qualified and not been successful in getting in to the race. Maybe this year will be the year.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The awesomeness of Hinson Lake

I <3 Hinson Lake Ultra Classic.

I am not going to talk about my run at Hinson Lake – other than to say I had some very specific training goals and I met them.

What I am going to talk about is why Hinson Lake is not only the best value in ultrarunning, but it is the best in ultrarunning.Yep, I mean it, it is the best race out there. This is why I travelled from California back to North Carolina.

Tom Gabell started this monster 8 years ago, as he would explain it, as a gathering of his friends who want to run 24 hours. Or less. Tom always celebrated achievements, all achievements, whether it was someone’s first 5k, or Mike Morton’s 163.9 near American 24 hour record.

This year, (2013), Tom passed the torch along to his friend Jerry Lindstrand. The race didn’t skip a beat. It is still filled with awesomeness.

“….but 1.52 mile loops? For 24 hours? Are you nuts? I would get bored out of my mind”. Probably most people who enjoy small loop ultras have heard this kind of thing before. The thing I have found, is that the one thing that people who say this have in common, is that they probably haven’t participated in a small loop ultra, and certainly not Hinson Lake!

But here is what makes this kind of race special – where else can you set yourself targets – as hard or as easy as you like?

What other ultras can you get to watch the races at the front unfold?

Where else can you get to see elite runners triumph (or not triumph sometimes) time after time, loop after loop.

Where else could you get to hang out with friends both faster and slower than you – at the same time sometimes?

What about seeing 10 year old Drew running 50 miles?

And then there is this … [I truly hope that someone writes this story and sends it to Ultrarunning Magazine.]

A 24 hour all-you-can-eat-buffet, with burgers, pizza, soup, grilled cheese, cake,  cupcakes,gummi bears, etc. etc.

Schwag – t-shirts, pint glasses, foot soap (Thanks Rachel –, car stickers.

Volunteers that will do anything to help you reach your goal.

Tons of people smiling. Some still smiling at 2 am.

The atmosphere of a family reunion.

The joy of seeing goals being met and often surpassed.

Bellowing out “We all live in a yellow submarine” in the middle of the night while hanging out with Ray K

An opportunity to donate to the local no-kill-animal-shelter.

An on-call massage therapist for 24 hours.

A beautiful trail.

Beer laps.

A banana lap.

A beautiful sunrise.

And all for $24.

Looking forward to the last weekend in September 2014 already

photo 3