Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Oak Barrel Half Marathon Race Report

Last year's Oak Barrel Half Marathon left me with mixed emotions. The event itself was exceptionally memorable due to the unique location, the ever-present southern hospitality, and the meticulous nature of the race organizers. My performance, however, was limited by a bout with stride shortening sciatica. With last year's race fresh on my mind, I returned with a healthier body and higher expectations.

My faithful racemate, Jeremy, and I returned to the Courtyard in Franklin that was located mere feet from a pre-race stout at Boscos Brewery. There was a time when I would not have even considered a beer the night before a long race. Now I cannot fathom a pintless pre-race nutrition plan. It is funny how good fortune can alter the perspective of a mind bridled by superstition.

Luckily, Mother Nature cooperated by supplying a pleasant sun-filled, cool, and breezy day. The sun rose midway through the hour long drive to Lynchburg and, by race time, had raised the temperature into the low 40's. The air continued to warm into the 70's, but most of the nearly 1100 runners finished well before it became uncomfortable.

Jeremy and I raced off toward Whiskey Hill at just under six minutes per mile. We were in sixth and seventh place for most of the first four miles. Two guys broke away early and three more gapped us by a dozen meters on an early hill.

During the parabolic climb up 1.4-mile long/385-foot high Whiskey Hill I moved into fourth place. It wasn't like I was flying. That fifth mile was a 7:10. In fact, I wondered if the other racers' more judicious climbing would allow them to run me down late in the race. Before the sixth mile mark, however, I recovered from the climb, moved into third place, and opened a gap on fourth.

Accept for when a mongrel dog chased me, nipping at my ankles, for about a hundred meters, I ran the rest of the race alone. The top two guys were completely out of sight on the winding roads. They literally beat me by a mile! Both of them finished in the low-1:13's and one of them had just turned forty. What amazing performances on a tough course that was likely two or more minutes slower than a flat course.

The fourth place finisher, Joshua, had returned from service in Afghanistan only two weeks earlier. He had fallen back on Whiskey Hill because his treadmill training had not prepared him for such a climb. His race may have been the most impressive of the day!

I opted to leave the gloves, hat, and sunglasses behind. The gear included Polar tri shorts, Polar singlet, and Nike Lunaracers. And, of course, I wore the Polar RCX5 with the G5. (Jeremy experienced his first race with the RCX5.)
The polarpersonaltrainer.com RCX5 data file 
I am excited to report that expert pre-race manipulations kept the sciatica from acting up and that this allowed me to finish strong with the last five miles at just under 5:50 pace. My final time of 1:19:30 was a course PR and it achieved my goal of a sub-1:20.

As I wrote last year, this is a unique and high quality event that is worthy of a "must do" list. The course is scenic, challenging, and rewarding. Expert race management and an abundance of kind hearted volunteers create an alluring and relaxing ambiance.

Jeremy and I took the opportunity to visit the Jack Daniels distillery again where we met the master distiller, rested our legs, and talked to several other runners. From there we went back into the square for some shopping. I found a unique piece of gear.

Jeremy and I left Lynchburg mid-afternoon. We then stopped in downtown Nashville where we enjoyed a meal at the Big River Brewery before spending some time walking around and taking in the music, people, and views. Our most perplexing problem of the day was determining which of the great beers to imbibe. We solved it, but then we had to extend our visit to walk of the brew.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Spring Break - Asheville, NC

Well, this one has certainly been delayed by life. Deadlines at school and life in general have kept me from the keyboard. I will keep the message short and let the pictures tell most of the story. This trip was similar to previous trips in that it included both foot and bike challenges that were followed by visits to Asheville.

As has become a norm for me, I stopped first near the NC/TN state line to run up Mt. Sterling. The 6.2-mile Baxter Creek trail winds from the Big Creek Campground (1780 ft) to the summit of Mt. Sterling (5820 ft). I wish that I could run up this mountain every day. In fact, if I lived close enough, that is what I would likely do. What an odd wish that is, given that I would then reach a normal month of mileage in less than a week. Hey, that is what mountains do to me.

A rare smooth section! 

From inside the fire tower.
The ascent of Mt. Sterling took just under 1:14, which crushed my PR of 1:19. No wonder I started to weaken a bit just before the summit. A late afternoon start, a blue sky, and a budding forest had some sort of a synergistic effect on my effort. As usual, I am wondering how fast a REAL mountain runner could ascend this trail. I ran up in Polar tri shorts, a cap, and those fantastic Brooks Pure Grits. I wore the Polar RCX5 and a Nathan 1.5L vest loaded with water, gel flask, camera, a light jacket, and a head light. I pulled a tech shirt onto my soaked torso shortly after reaching the summit.

Map of my favorite 10K as generated by the Polar RCX5/G5
Polar RCX5 heart rate file for the Mt. Sterling Run.
Once on top I met up with a couple of kind hearted men who were hiking the Benton MacKaye Trail end to end in order for one of them to write an article for a national park publication. We talked until I started shivering and the hikers became concerned about me making it back down before sunset. My own worry about getting back down (packed a jacket and a head light!) was centered on the fact that I might move slowly if I fell or turned an ankle. It turned out that I also PR'd on the descent, reaching the far side of Big Creek in 46:43. The total time of 2:00 destroyed my previous best time by more than 15 minutes. All of those hills are paying off! Bring on the Bighorn!  (Ha ha! It is going to crush me!)

A night of refueling in Asheville was followed by a morning playing tourist along the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP). I paid another long visit to the Folk Art Center where I watched a man make decorative brooms out of broom corn he had purchased from Mexico.

Then I drove to the top of Mt. Mitchell where I parked the RAV and pulled Kristy from the back. We then cruised down and down and down, dropping more than 3000 feet, through the cold air. We covered the smoothly paved 5-mile Mt. Mitchell road and  more than 3 miles of potholed BRP in less than 14 minutes. From then on it was a roller coaster ride as I rode a total of 45 miles en route to the Linville Falls visitors center. That monster ride was my longest in three years and it involved 9100 feet of ascent and 10,600 feet of descent. Someday I will get something other than a 21-tooth cog for mountain climbs. Someday.

Map of BRP ride as generated by the Polar RCX5/G5
Undulating BRP creates a dramatic Polar HR file!
Old Time players at Jack of the Wood.
Photographer did not expect this pose.

Lunch mate - quite the beggar!
The rehab that night took place at Jack of the Wood, of course. The combination of a massage, a cold stout and live Old Time music works wonders on fatigued muscles. Walking around downtown afterward likely helped with the recovery, also.

The final big event of the trip was another visit to the Biltmore Estate. This time I arrived early enough to tour the grounds, the winery, and the mansion. What an impressive piece of history! I wondered if the chess set on display was Napoleon's actual set. If so, cool!

Oak Barrel race report to follow soon. ST