Friday, September 13, 2013

Blue Ridge Relay 2013

Anticipation had been high for the months leading up to the latest edition of the Blue Ridge Relay. Over the past few years, Knoxville Track Club (KTC), Asheville Running Collective (ARC) and Charlotte Running Club (CRC) had stamped their authority on the event and had some memorable clashes but never had all THREE teams really battled against each other in the same race.

This year, KTC had eschewed their usual presence at Hood To Coast to concentrate their efforts on Blue Ridge and with 13/14: 5k guys everywhere you looked, had undoubtedly the fastest 12 man squad on paper in Blue Ridge history. ARC, the dominant champions of the previous two races had assembled potentially their fastest ever squad and were loathe to surrendering their crown to any 'out of towners'. CRC, only able to field a ten man squad last year after the epic race with ARC in 2011, were quietly putting together the strongest team in their history adding Blair Teal (2:20 marathoner), Joey Thompson (UNCG graduate/stud), Jesse Mcentire (recent arrival in Charlotte from the hills of Brevard) and App State alumni Mike Mitchell and David Brinkley to their already talented and motivated ranks.

Facebook team pages had been established, newspaper articles had been written, the stage was set for an epic battle and a three-pronged attack on the elusive 20 hour barrier.

Over the next few paragraphs I will provide an overview of the race that followed from my perspective as the lead off man for the CRC team....

CRC ready to roll (Brad Popple, Rocky Falcone, Paul Mainwaring, Josh Baker, Mike Mitchell, Blair Teal, Mike Beigay (captain), Jesse Mcentire, Dan Matena, Billy Shue, Joey Thompson, Joe Lanser, David Brinkley)

Away we go

At 1:30pm Friday afternoon, myself, Javan Lapp (ARC) and Elijah Shekinah (KTC) were unleashed down the mountain to set the ball rolling. 153 other teams were already heading towards Asheville on their own journeys. 4 miles downhill, all downhill. Just under 20 minutes later, according to form and expectations, ARC handed over in first place with a very small lead over KTC and CRC. From a personal point of view I was happy with the leg. To legitimize my presence on the team after only confirming my availabilty a month before I figured a sub 20 minute performance was needed, to only be a few seconds down on the other 2 teams an added bonus. I jumped in the van, my feet burning from the impact on the downhills and we headed off to see how the second leg was playing out.

Leg 2 is also predominantly downhill and is traditionally reserved for the strongest runners on the team as this rotation includes the glamour leg 14 on Grandfather Mountain. The three horses of their teams were on course.

7.5 miles and 37 minutes later Billy Shue was quietly warming up a few hundred yards away from the exchange zone. All of a sudden Blair Teal came powering around the corner and Billy had to sprint to the start line to get there in time to take over the baton. The CRC man had smashed the previous course record and left two supremely talented rivals in his wake. A new BRR star had been born.

Over the next 6 legs CRC consolidated and extended their lead, with 5 new team leg records being added to the two already established by Mainwaring and Teal. Brad Popple showed he meant business on leg 8 by beating the all time leg record and the last addition to the team, David Brinkley, bashed out a great leg along the river. CRC clearly meant business but knew there was a long time to go, we were only a quarter of the way into the race.

Original team member David Willis paid us a surprise visit on leg 6/7!

Brinkley ready to roll on leg 9

Leg 10 saw the first pause for thought for CRC. In the midst of running the 8th team leg record out of 10, Josh Baker felt his calf tighten significantly. Close attention was going to be necessary to ensure he could power through his other two legs. Additionally, the studs of KTC were beginning to make their presence felt. Nick End, 2:19 marathoner, had knocked a three minute hole into CRC's lead, which was now down to about 4 minutes, with Asheville not far behnd and still very much in the race.

We were now just over 5 hours into the race and beginning to catch up with the rest of the teams. As darkness descended, Jesse and Joey bashed out two solid debut legs and now every member of each team had run. It was time for Vans 1 to set out again. The drama and unpredictability of night racing was about to begin.

Van humour

Night running

It was my turn again. I felt pretty decent warming up for my run. The burning feet had cooled down and my legs felt pretty fresh. Good job too as the first two and a half miles of this leg out of Blowing Rock were straight uphill! I tried not to red line so I could take advantage of the more forgiving second half of the leg and ended up doing a pretty good job, finding out later that I had extended our lead over KTC while only losing a small amount of time to 3rd place ARC. Now is as good an opportunity as any to congratulate my Asheville counterpart on his performance in his first BRR. Armed with 2 new course records after this race, Javan will surely be a fixture in the Asheville team for years to come. Elijah, meanwhile, lost a few seconds to me on this leg but beat me comfortably on the other two legs. Such was the depth of quality in this year's race that even team leg records were not always enough to hold off your rivals.

The glamour leg

As mentioned earlier leg 14 is often seen as the marquee leg of BRR. Featuring just over 10 miles of gradual uphill on Grandfather Mountain, the 60 minute barrier had only been breached once in the race's history. Soon that amount was trebled. Blair Teal continued his dominating form, knocking nearly two minutes off the previous course record in 58:01 and unofficially passing 35 other runners. Roadkill indeed. Mark Driscoll, last seen by CRC runners during his sub 25 8k showing and victory at the Club's own 8k event, turned in a fantastic 59 minute performance and the KTC runner only just missed the 1 hour mark. Wow!

Yippee Ki Yay

Now it was Billy's turn again. Armed with a mile PR in the 4:50 range, Shue somehow flew down his c. 2 mile leg in a new course record of 9:56, shouting "Yippee Ki Yay" as we passed in the van! Van 1 continued to knock down every CRC record one by one. When the dust had settled after the race, it transpired that 16 of 18 CRC Van 1 records were taken down and Joe Lanser got in on the act on leg 18, putting yet another overall course record in CRC's hands. Halfway through the race and it appeared only navigational errors or injury could stop CRC now. The potential for both were not insignificant, however. KTC and ARC had already made a couple of small errors and were both now about ten minutes back fighting nip and tuck over second place.

Mistake proof?

Virtually every race in BRR history has been impacted by teams going off course. In the night hours especially, when tired and cranky runners are more liable to miss turns or local kids have seen fit to move signs around, teams often make navigational errors and run off course. This year proved to be no exception, with both KTC and ARC going off course on a couple of occasions. To the eternal credit of CRC no such errors were being made. Over the next 6 hours through the middle of the night, a combination of people taking close individual responsibility for knowing their leg directions and help from fellow van members saw CRC extending their lead even while KTC and ARC were occasionally running significantly faster leg times than the CRC team up the road. In the midst of this it should also be noted that Josh had notched another course record for the team, putting to bed any doubts we had about his calf.

A significant moment in the race came at about 5am Saturday morning. 15 and a half hours into the race, speedy veteran Rocky Falcone passed the last remaining runner in front of his team on the course. Now not only were CRC leading the race by a solid margin, they were also the team furthest along the course in the race, with over 7 legs of the race still to run! As van 1 finished off their stints and sat back in the van to rest their weary legs, van 2 were pumping themselves up to finish off the job.

Mountain Goat

The last 6 legs of the race all have their own unique characteristics and often provide the most exciting racing of the event. First up is the infamous Mountain Goat stage which features 5 miles of uphill, turn after turn, Alpe D'Huez style. Last year, CRC's Aussie Mountain Goat, Dan Matena, had broken the course record in a famous performance made even more impressive by the fact that he had to run 4 legs during the race. With only two legs behind him this year Dan was on a mission to break his own course record and further consolidate CRC's lead. And he didn't disappoint. Climbing the hill in complete darkness and isolation, Matena rolled a new course record. He was so far ahead of his scheduled time that Brad had to be rushed to the exchange zone in time to be handed over to. "Aussie Aussie Aussie" indeed!

Leg 32 takes the teams down the mountain they have just come up! Of particular note this year was the fact that CRC were so far ahead of course record pace that it was still pitch dark as Brad took off down the mountain! Normally the day is dawning as leg 31 is being negotiated. As the first few miles of this leg unfold over steep downhill rutted gravel paths, more than one CRC team member was concerned that Brad was running so fast in the dark that he may slide off the mountain! As it was Brad made it safely to the bottom of the hill and maintained his close to five minute pace for the few miles along the valley floor. As he handed over to Brinkley for the last time after an awe inspiring average 5:05 pace for 9.5 miles (this having already run 12 miles on his other two legs remember!) Brad crashed to his knees, completely spent, everything left out on the course in the name of CRC. He literally had to be carried to the van.

Behind him, though, word was coming through of an epic fightback from KTC's horses.....

The grand finale

Up next was 'the nipple', known for its 13% grades both up and down, one of those legs that while driving it in the van you can scarcely believe your runner will conquer it. As Brinkley passed us he was taking it in his stride. We drove Josh ahead to the next exchange zone and waited.

We had noticed that the KTC van was pulling into the exchange zones closer and closer to us. We hadn't really paid much attention to the lead we had during the night, we were just concentrating on getting the legs done and not making mistakes. Unbeknownst to us, KTC had made another navigational error and our lead had stretched to over 15 minutes. Our lead was like a red rag to a bull however. First, team captain Ethan Coffey, two course records already safely up his sleeve, absolutely massacred the Mountain Goat stage I just described, making it to the top in just over 40 minutes- 4 minutes faster than the record that had stood at the start of the race! Not to be outdone, Kyle Stanton beat Brad's time by over two minutes. These two new records may be very long standing. KTC were not going down without a fight and behind them ARC continued to head towards their fastest ever time on the course, ready to pounce if either of the teams ahead erred.

As David's expected arrival time passed we started to get a little concerned, we were so near but so far from victory. KTC were pressing. It transpired that David had suffered cramps at the top of the nipple and was unable to push as hard as he would have liked on the downhill section. What a warrior though, gutsing it out to minimize our losses. He passed over to Josh and we timed the gap to KTC at 10 minutes. With three legs to run, realistically we weren't going to get caught, but your mind starts playing tricks on you at this point. On leg 34 we knew that Josh had it all to play for against KTC stud Nick End and we also knew that on the fast last stage ahead, KTC had a 3:58/13:50 closer!!

No need to panic, Josh actually put time into Nick on leg 34, yet another team leg record and what a time to do it! Jesse headed up the ridiculously steep two mile section of leg 35 and we could taste victory at last. After another sterling leg from debutant Mcentire it was left to Joey to bring it all home. We headed down the mountain into Asheville in our vans and parked up, ready to accompany Joey over the finish line in the time honoured BRR tradition. As he came around the corner still focussed on the job at hand it finally dawned on us that we were going to win! We ran in behind him, cheering as we went. And guess what? Yes indeed, the cumulative time was 19 hours and 58 minutes. The previously untouchable 20 hour barrier had been breached.

CRC, Blue Ridge Relay Champions 2013.

Joey Thompson leads home the victors


After the obligatory team photos we waited for our valiant adversaries and congratulated each other on our performances, mutual respect abound. KTC came home in 20 hours and 7 minutes, ARC in 20 hours and 25 minutes, just outside their previous course record. Later on, after some deserved refuelling and napping, members of all three teams were seen sharing beers and war stories at Wicked Weed and various other Asheville establishments. You don't see that in many other sports! Roll on Blue Ridge 2014 when surely even more legends will be written!

ARC hand over the belt they had taken from CRC at the Winter Classic 8k in January. Firm friendships and rivalries formed, the next battle to hold on to this belt is bound to be intense!

Awaking with sore heads and legs on Sunday morning, CRC were greeted with the day's headines

Sunday, June 16, 2013

On a more positive note

After the doom and gloom of my last few posts at least this week I can be a bit more positive. I started running again on Wednesday and 4 runs and 26 miles later the achilles appears to be standing up well and continuing to improve. A few more days of balancing between caution and active recovery and I hope I should be good to go again. Never count your chickens when you're reading this blog however...

Sunday, June 9, 2013

One step forward, two steps back

3 weeks ago I was really happy with how training was coming along. It was a Saturday morning and I was jogging back from PDS track having completed another successful workout with 60 miles and a really strong long run also in the week's bank. I was suffering from a cold but apparently fighting through it without it getting any worse. With a day off ahead I was hoping it would clear up and I could start another good week of training on the Monday.

Monday morning came and I could barely get out of bed. For the rest of the week I felt awful; tired, drained, sinuses messed up, painful pressure in my head. I didn't attempt to run a step until Memorial Day the following week. A six mile slog later and hoping I had turned the corner. Tuesday to Thursday I did some more easy running and my sinus infection cleared up and it looked like I could resume proper training again. On the Friday night I lined up at the start of the Office Party 5k which I had already paid my entry for a few weeks earlier when it had been postponed because of an anticipated storm that didn't even materialize. I wasn't expecting much, just wanted to get through it and use it as a hard workout to get me up and running again.

Unfortunately it was 85 degrees, sunny, breezy and humid and the race was miserable! My second mile was 5:54, a pace I ran for the entire 26.2 at Richmond a couple of years ago. I finished in 17:55, a new personal worst! On top of this it transpired that I had strained my achilles/calf during the race. I haven't run a step in the 9 days since that race and am feeling pretty down with running at the moment! The calf is feeling better and based on my experience of these issues I should back on my feet by the end of next week at least but this has been another setback I could barely afford. Back to square one, more like back to square half :-)

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Update from the sidelines

My mileage for this week will read a big fat zero! I've been continuing to suffer from what has turned into a nasty sinus infection and swings from painful sinus pressure to general fatigue and soreness have kept me pretty much confined to the couch. I am hoping to go for a jog in the morning but it will all depend on how I feel when I wake up- the morning seems to be the worst presumably as I have spent the night horizontal and all the gunk in my head has nowhere to go. If I am still feeling bad on Tuesday I will go the Docs. I was meant to go on Friday but child care arrangements proved an obstacle with Lisa out of town. I am entered in a 5k on Friday but that is looking out of the equation at the moment. The only reason I would consider doing it anyway is because if I miss it I can no longer complete the Series the race is part of which finishes with Thunder Road Marathon in November. To cheer myself up in the mean time I have found this race that takes place while I am in Sydney with work for three weeks in July!

Monday, May 20, 2013

A bump in the road

Today I took my first sick day off from work in I don't know how long! I woke up various times in the night feeling absolutely horrible and sure enough when I attempted to roll out of bed to lace them up and get out there this morning my body said an emphatic "NO!" and thrust me back into the comfort of my bed. I have barely eaten all day and have spent most of it in bed nursing a fever and aches and pains all over my body. This evening I feel slightly better but unless I see a dramatic improvement overnight I can foresee another day home from work, which I hate, and obviously another day off from running (that will be three in a row as I took my usual Sunday off as normal). All I can do is wait for this to pass and then take it easy for a few days before launching back into the hard training again.

That hard training was just starting to bear fruit. I've been nailing my workouts and long runs and was finally starting to feel some wheels under me and look forward to racing again soon. Hopefully this will just prove to be a minor setback along that route

Friday, May 10, 2013

Morning Runner

This week has been a planned ‘down week’. I have been able to sleep in a couple of mornings, run a couple of times after work and generally just try and recharge the batteries a bit. My two worst runs though this week have definitely been the ones I did after work! Monday I was planning on running early but heavy rainstorms were passing through so I put my run off to the evening. Then Thursday I had planned to run late so that I could be all hot and sweaty for the weekly ‘Runners Yoga’ class I am doing while they offer it. Both runs pretty much sucked! Sitting at a desk all day clearly converts my lower limbs into even more inflexible objects than they usually are. My attempts at post run strides and drills were particularly laughable both these days.

The rest of the week has been more positive. Tuesday I headed to the track with Mike, Aaron, David and Joe and did the 12 * 300m session that was the ‘shock to the system’ Coach had referred to. These were done all around the 52 second mark (last couple a bit faster) with 1 minute walks back to the start between each. I felt pretty smooth doing these although I definitely had to dig a little as the workout went on and running at mile pace for the first time in a while has subsequently left my hamstrings and groin feeling a little fragile. The next day I was able to knock out a solid 12 mile ‘long run’ and all that is left for me for the remainder of the week is a 4 mile tempo effort that I have on the plate tomorrow lunch time for which I will be joined by good friend and erstwhile training partner Jay!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Saturday to Saturday 70

Solid 8 days of training in the books. 70 miles, 2 tempo runs, mile repeats, 15 mile long run, 1 * drills and strides, 1 yoga session! The latter probably the most significant item. Went to a free class for runners after our Try Sports group run on Thursday evening. Having run 15 in the morning and 5 miserably sore miles with the group, these 20 minutes were the best of the week! I felt rejuvenated in both the leg and spirit department and was able to knock out a decent run Friday morning to make it 25 miles in 24 hours and a solid LT tempo effort in the park today (2*3 miles with 2 minute recovery in 17:04/17:03).

I get tomorrow completely off and then a 'cutback week' next week. Coach has yet to reveal what exactly is in store for me. I asked and all I got was "next week will be a down week on the miles (but probably some added intensity to shock the system a bit). Just want to keep you on edge!"