Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Stone Steps 50k

Some of my thoughts going into the Stone Steps 50k were to shake a bit of the funk from my Leadville 100 DNF and to rekindle some of the joy that long distance trail running brings to my life.  Since Leadville I have had zero consistency in my running (my longest run being 10 miles) and have felt my overall fitness slip.

The game plan was to leave early, early, early morning (like 2 am early) and head down to Cincinnati, so that we could be running by 8am.  After about 2 hours of sleep, I got ready and made my way over to pick up Andrew...we then headed over to Steve's place to car pool.  I was pretty exhausted on the drive down to Cincinnati.  I am not sure if it was due to the little bit of sleep that I had been getting over the past week (Of course I was new to this father stuff - Kendall would only be 10 days old on race day!) or if it was just because I had only been able to get two hours of sleep.  Once we arrived at Mt. Airy Forest we picked up our race bibs, changed into our running gear and then headed to the starting line to get instructions for the day from David Corfman - Race Director and 2010 Sub 48 Hour Badwater finisher.

Tara sent this image to me on the morning of the race!
Boasted as Cincinnati's hardest trail run, the 31 mile course had some 10,700 feet of quad numbing grade.  Basically the course set up as a figure eight - 4 large loops of 5 miles and 3 small loops of 3.5 miles, with a aid station located in the middle.   So, shortly after the race director's briefing he yelled "GO!" and we were on our way!

My goal from the start was to try and get upfront, so that I wouldn't get caught up in all of the traffic, due to the single track trail.  Once we hit the single track, I settled into a comfortable pace behind Alice Essinger (whom later that day, would be the women's first place finisher).  The pace felt sustainable as we carefully planted each and every footstep on the rocky rooted terrain.  The course's 5 mile loop contained two of the biggest climbs of the day - Stone Steps and Gummy Bear Hill (we would repeatedly hit these steep 300 foot climbs 4 times in the day).  Once we made our way out of the first 5 mile loop and into the aid station, I quickly looked for some GU's and electrolytes.  Having found neither, I settled for some bananas and oranges, then off I went on to the course's 3.5 mile loop.
One of the many bridges that you  would cross during the day
The start of the 3.5 mile loop descended a few hundred feet.  Suddenly, I heard a loud scream behind me.  I stopped and looked back, only to see Alice limping.  I asked if she was alright or needed help and she mentioned that she had heard a "snapping" sound coming from her ankle...but she was just going to tough it out!  I was like damn, alrighty then and so, I continued on!  The 3.5 mile loop was a bit faster, consisting of a mixture of open grassy fields, asphalt and dirt and rock single track with one major climb about half-way into the loop.  I was starting to feel the effects of not being in shape and needed energy to sustain the pace that I was running.  Once I arrived at the aid station I tried to eat as much of the solid natural food that was laid on the table - mostly bananas and oranges.  At this point, I remembered I had left some GU's and electrolytes in the car, so I asked Steve's daughter, Kylie, to go and get my bag...and that I would be back in about 50 minutes.  
Andrew H. nearing the top of Stone Steps
So off I went for my second loop on the 5 mile stretch.  I could already feel the effects of being low on calories (due to stomach nausea), so I thought that I better slow my pace a bit.  Shortly after entering onto the single track trail, I noticed that Alice was about 30 seconds ahead of me and running real solid - that ankle must have worked itself out!  I really enjoyed running down to the base of Stone Steps - it was really exhilarating to allow gravity to do the work...the only thing that I had to concentrate on was where my next footstep would be.  Once I arrived at the base of Stone Steps, I immediately saw Alice on top of the hill finishing her climb - this would be the last that I would see of her.  Climbing these sort of steep climbs, one can't help but to think...only two more times!!!  At the top, I gathered my breath, then continued to run the technical gap between Stone Steps and Gummy Bear Hill.  It's crazy, but this gap between the two major climbs on this loop seemed to take longer to run as the day wore on!  After climbing up Gummy Bear Hill, I could feel my energy depleted - my breathing was heavy and the climb was much harder this go around!  Knowing that the aid station was less than a 1/4 mile away, I just focused on getting there to get my bag from Kylie.  Once, I arrived at the aid station Kylie mentioned that she couldn't find my the bag.  I didn't have a whole lot of time to waste, so I told her that I had laid it on the front seat and that I would be back in about 50 minutes.  So, before I headed out for my second lap on the 3.5 mile loop, I grabbed a handful of bananas and oranges...and again my stomach felt horrible.
kylie helping me stay alive

Once out on the trail, my low energy and poor fitness level was becoming more apparent.  The sections that were once moderate in difficultly became increasingly more difficult.  At mile 15, "Elvis had left the building!!!"  It was here, where I had to just focus on getting back to the aid station...with hopes of regaining my calorie intake, settling my stomach and getting some electrolytes.  Upon arriving at the aid station I found Kylie with my bag of goodies!!!  I ate about four GU's and three S-Caps! and again more bananas and oranges. 

As I headed out for lap number three of the 5 mile loop, I was stratagizing just how I was going to survive another 15 miles on just two GU's.  Shortly after I accessed the dirt single track I regained my senses a body started responding well to the calories and electrolytes, but this would be short lived!  Soon I found myself at the base of Stone Steps looking up and climbing and cramping...and climbing...and cramping...and climbing!!!  I just kept pushing upward through the pain - thinking that I would only have to do this one more time!!!  Once at the top, my thoughts shifted on getting to Gummy Bear Hill...and again this gap between Stone Steps and Gummy Bear Hill seemed to get longer as the day went on.  On the way down to the base of Gummy Bear Hill I ate my last GU, knowing that I would be burning some serious calories on the climb back up.  I was pretty content with how I handled this loop, based on how I was feeling - no one passed me nor did I pass anyone.

Steve R. killing it!
and me getting killed!!!

Colors were at their peak in the Mt. Airy Forest
When I arrived at the aid station I was surprised to see Andrew dressed in his street clothes.  Andrew decided it would be best not to finish the race, due to a ongoing injury that he sustained a month prior at a trail marathon.  Seeing Andrew hanging out at the aid station really started playing games with my head...I wanted to give up!  I decided not to act on my thoughts, but to try and eat as much as my stomach could handle and then head out for my last lap on the 3.5 mile loop. 
Unfortunately, the day continued to get warmer and warmer every lap!   As I headed into the forest on the single track the wheels started falling off big time!!!  Runners started passing me, the easy sections became difficult and I was walking more often.  The lowest point in the race came when I was consumed with thoughts of giving up and heading back.  At that moment, I approached a downhill section and saw a group of four runners ahead of me...I quickly shifted my focus to running all of the downhill and trying to catch up to the group of runners that were in my view.  By the time I reached the bottom of the hill I had passed all four runners...and I started feeling better.  I kept making small goals until I got back to the aid station.  Once there, Andrew wished some words of encouragement and again I tried eating what my stomach could handle.
only one more loop!!!
The last lap of the 5 mile loop was finally here!!!  As I left the aid station and headed out to the dirt single track I noticed a truck parked with it's tail gate down fully stocked with GU's, muffins and electrolyte drinks.  I wondered if this was some sort of hallucination!!!  As I approached the tail gate I asked the gentleman sitting on the hood of the truck if I could take some of his aid.  He said "Of course you can, I am the unofficial aid station".  So I grabbed five GU's and a electrolyte drink and said "Thanks!", as I headed to the trail head.  Later, I confirmed with Steve and Andrew that what I saw was real...and they too, had seen the truck parked with all of the goods laid out on the tail gate!!!  These calories would do the trick over the next five miles.  Through the last five mile section I would pass three runners, only to be passed by two of them at the end.     

I crossed the finish line in 6:19:02, placing 32nd overall and 11th in my age group.  I have mixed feelings about my performance.  I really enjoyed the technical nature of the course all day.  Early in the race the concentration needed for footwork allowed the miles to go on by quickly, while later in the race it gave me something to meditate on rather than focusing on the pain and discomfort that I was feeling. 

I am a little disappointed that I underestimated the difficulty of the course and that I didn't respect the distance.  I had absolutely no game plan with regards to eating and fueling - I sort of thought that I could just wing it and grab what was at the aid stations.  Looking back at it, I am grateful that I hung in there and just finished it...even though I was only plodding along.  Also, I was really appreciative of Andrew's encouragement on my last go around - that seemed to have helped!

Even though there was no finishers medal...and the race shirt swag had a spelling error on it...and they ran out of post race potato soup, this is a race that I will do again...mostly, because of it's challenging course, low entry fee and the camaraderie of the participants running it!   
Post race at the WAFFLE HOUSE...there was like one of these fine establishments at every exit!
Me, Andrew and Steve
Salty Me, David Corfman- Race Director and Steve

A closer look at the race director's belt would reveal that he and his course are BADA$$E$!!! 
freinds - Emily & Todd from Kentucky doing well!!!



  1. Great report Keith. I feel the same way after every climb of the steps..counting down the number of times I have do them again!
    One correction: The race director (and Badwater Finisher) is David Corfman. Greg McCormick did the timing for the race.

  2. Thanks for the feedback on the race director's name...I must have still been low on electrolytes when I met him!

    ...and yes, loop courses always kill me, I would much rather have a point to point.

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