Schicked, Gabelled and Doomed at Laurel Valley

As you will find from many of the race director’s photos, the underlying theme of the 2009 Laurel Valley Whitewater Race was, “Thank God that’s done.” – usually coupled with runners rolling in to the finish; faces looking like they wanna puke; flopping down flat on their backs, with arms and legs stretched out wide, chest heaving up and down, and mouths babbling some colorful, somewhat incoherent speech.

Followed up 30 minutes later with, “so, uhhh, what’s the date for next year?”


A perfect combination of sweet and salty

Courses like Laurel Valley illustrate the true nature of ultrarunning for me.

You get it all:

  • Incredible beauty
  • Lush forest
  • Roots, big rocks, little rocks, slurpee mud, pine-coverage
  • Punishing heat and humidity and sun…
  • …but with ice cold rivers, creeks and lakes
  • Tight, technical ridge running
  • Straight-up-steep, old skool east coast climbing
  • Punishing (and I mean punishing) descents
  • 3000+ railroad tie stairs along the trail
  • Waterfalls
  • Hand-over-hand climbing and jiving
  • Wide trails, skinny trails and “barely-a-trail” trails
  • Veteran runners, newbies and handfuls of sweeps
  • 100% unsupported – you are on your own – no aid
  • Ambiguous, no one knows for sure how far it is
  • A certain respect that must acknowledged in order to safely come out on the other side
  • No guarantees

That’s a lot of trail goodness jam-packed into somewhere around 35 miles.


Party at the Pizza Inn

Ok, so maybe it wasn’t a party, but since a bunch of us would be stealing a little corner of floor space at Byron Backer’s house, meeting at the Pizza Inn in Traveler’s Rest, SC just made good sense – gathering as a group, swapping ultra stories, and fueling up on loads of pizza.

In attendance was Jim Musselmen, Jonathon Savage, Bedford Boyce, John Teed, Mike Melton, Byron & Irene Backer and me, probably the least overall experienced ultrarunner in the crowd, but damn happy to be included none-the-less.

3:15 comes mighty early

Laurel Valley is a point-to-point race. This means that some runners have to leave cars at the finish of the race, and then catch a ride from another runner back to the start – all before the race begins.

Jonathon Savage and I rode to the start with Bill Keane, a 13-year Laurel Valley race veteran and terrific story teller. This would be Jonathon’s first Laurel Valley and it was a kick listening to Bill give Jonathon “the lowdown” on the race course and what to expect. Must have worked because Jonathon took second place overall.

Bill is adamant that the race is 40 miles; as for me? I’m not so sure – but who’s gonna argue with a dude who’s been running the race since I was back in my 20’s washing dishes in South Florida?

We got to the start at 5:50 a.m. with 10 minutes to spare until the start. I shook some hands, introduced myself to some newbies, and blinded a few folks with my overeager and early illumination of my headlamp.


…and as usual Byron Backer grabbed the lead like it was a blistering fast 5K.

A post-race email pretty much sums it up

Well, I could go turn-by-turn, like most race reports, or I could be a little more abstract.

With this being the third time I’ve run Laurel Valley, I thought I’d share an email that I wrote late at night to the ultrarunner email list.

I figured that, being ultrarunners, they could understand the emotions that were swirling around in my head. Here goes…:

Ya know what my problem is?

(by the way, I’m so interested in sharing my problem that I’m willing to endure the wrath of a trying-to-sleep wife, lying next to me with a pillow over her head, hurling comments at me to stop banging the laptop, go to bed and to quit being inconsiderate …but still I write…)

But my problem is I gots no damn memory.

Can you relate?

I lay here thinking about how am I going to break it to my CEO that yeah, man …I got accepted into another one of those “goofball races”.

I think about how much “fun” I’ll be having trotting through some new forest, on some new trail, all the while trying to keep myself hydrated, fed and coherent.

Naw, I don’t remember two days ago when I threw my bottles down on the ground, frustrated that my body was hurting so much that I couldn’t fight off the runner who just passed me one mile from the finish … huffing and puffing and tired and sweaty and beat-up and scraped-up – feet hurt, hammies tight as guitar strings, out-of-water …but with water around me, just too much effort too refill so close to the finish.

shirt stuck to me – annoying me. Ripping it off and swearing it’s not littering, …it’s “trail magic”. Yea sure, my stinky, sweat-soaked  shirt is gonna be someone else’s trail magic.


But that wasn’t all – I cussed at every climb after the horse pasture bridge.

I complained that this stretch or that stretch was killing me – that I must have made a wrong turn – where’s that $%#@! white blaze?

Sometimes I was so hot that I’d stagger, foot half-teetering over the logs alongside the trail …logs that are probably along that ridge so people don’t topple over, but I was close to topplin’.

My head would swim, and I’d sorta laugh in an insane, introspective conversational laugh that would feel funny at first – a little weird after a couple of minutes.

Time to collect myself and continue.

Stop skipping creeks you idiot – prune juice-colored pee means you need some fluids, fool.

Damn that guy that said “if you keep up this pace, you’ll break eight hours”

Damn him!

Now that’s burned in my brain

Making me make bad decisions…

…or at least, hard, difficult ones.

Yeah, I forget about all that.

Running into the finish area like a kid chasing the ice cream truck, I barely hear the claps and hoots and hollers, running straight to Claude…

“Did I get in under eight?”



Sorta hoping Doom’s guess of 8:05 was just a tired, climbing man’s mistake.

But just like that, all the tough stuff disappeared.

I felt awakened. Fully alive.

Cascade Crest is two weeks away.

so I lay here…

thinking about new trails

new forests

new challenges

new excitement

new people

all reciting much the same when they meet me – “ohhhhhh, you’re that dude from the ultra list”

“yup. I’m here to get my run on.”

I forget how bad running long distances hurts me.

Mostly because I think without running long distances “I” might hurt me.

I like the Runners From Hell

the meaning is for real.

Great – so, anyway, what in the heck does that post title mean?

Schicked, Gabelled and Doomed?

During this year’s race, I ran 90% of the day completely alone, always looking over my shoulder – and looking ahead to see if I could pick anyone off along the way.

While I was lucky enough to pass a few folks, I especially remembered getting skewered by the following folks:

  • Richard Schick: No competition here. Rich passed me about 5 miles in to the race and I never saw him again. Damn that Rich Schick …I’m gonna get him one day. Did I mention he’s 60? What an athlete!
  • Tom Gabell: Tom is the race director for the Hinson Lake 24-hour race. Tom particularly made it tough because I saw him coming into the horse pasture bridge as I was leaving. I knew if he caught me, it would be a clear indication that I was slowing down …or that he was speeding up. I think it was both, and when he approached a couple of miles later, I tried to stay with him, but he dropped me like a bad habit.
  • Fred Dummar: Everytime I see Fred, I can’t help but yell “DOOOOOM!” – I was so happy to meet Fred in person, but not-so-happy to get passed by him in the last mile of the race. I did find some climbing legs, and regained my lead just before the finish, but that’s probably a little cheesy… BTW, the “lovely Mrs. Doom” is not just a Fred catch-phrase, she’s a great lady.

So there ya go…

Long live the LV.

Long live the Runners From Hell.

“Trotting Hotties”, A Hot 2 Trot Race Report

I mean, come on …who wouldn’t want to run in eighty+ degree temps?

…with extreme humidity?

…around a one mile loop?

…for eight hours straight?

As ultrarunners, we call this a “fun day”.

And, we even pay to do it.

Hot 2 Trot Towel

2009 Hot 2 Trot 8-hour Race, Decatur, Georgia

Waking up at 6:00 a.m., I rushed to the computer to check the weather. All week the high temperature reports, the humidity and the possibilities of rain were all over the board. No one really knew what to expect for this year’s Hot 2 Trot race; but one thing was for sure – it’s the first week of August, in Georgia, so you can pretty much count on hot temperatures, extreme humidity, and a collection of insane runners milling about at the Clyde Shepherd Nature Preserve in Decatur, Georgia.

The Hot 2 Trot race is a timed running event. Runners are given eight hours to run around and around a 1.12 mile trail loop in an effort to collect as many miles as possible.

I’ll break the loop down for ya like this:

  • Section 1: the bridges: this first section begins with a cedar covered trail entrance that takes runners across a series of very slippery wooden bridges. Stepping up onto the bridges becomes a challenge after about 25 loops. This section also contains the one and only hill that ascends about 12 feet – but that’s a tough ascent, again, after about 25 loops and more.
  • Section 2: the straight-away: This is a long, straight and super lush trail section that has both deep cover-up and sun-exposed portions. For the first couple of loops, this portion feels short and sweet – but somehow gets longer and longer as the race progresses. After 36, one-mile loops, I have this entire section burned into my skull.
  • Section 3: the punisher: After a mile of heavenly trail, runners are dumped out onto the road for a short trot back to the start. Lots of runners walked this section – but I chose to run it every single time – not because I’m cool, but because I wanted to get it over with…

1.12 makes for a short race report

So, what can I say? It’s not like most ultramarathons where I get to travel long distances, across a wide variety of terrains and environments. This was mostly a test of mental resolve.

Personally, having just completed the White River 50-mile Trail Championships near Mt. Rainier in Washington, I was tentative about doing Hot 2 Trot. I had almost resolved to just showing up, running one loop, and then watching the front runners beast it up.

But as usual, by Wednesday, I had talked myself (with a little helped from some other GUTS members) into running 40 miles. For one, race day was my birthday, turning 39 years old, and every ultrarunner knows that you must run your age in miles on your birthday. Plus, local runner “Three-kids-Tony” offered to pay my next year’s Mountain Mist 50K entry if I nailed 40 miles.

It was on.

Finishing up 40 miles at the 2009 Hot 2 Trot

A race report in bullet points

So, as this year’s race report, I’m just going to try to remember some cool and interesting tidbits that made the Hot 2 Trot a fun way to spend my 39th birthday. *Beware – this might only be interesting to local runners and GUTS members, but here goes:

  • Team Beth, dressed in matching outfits.
  • The constant screaming as runners would belt out loud screams, usually resulting in a string of various hootin’ and hollarin’ to keep every one fired up and stoked.
  • The slick bridges made for some challenging obstacles. I busted my ass a good 2-3 or times on that first slick bridge, plus I tripped over the exact same root section, near the bridges, about 4 or 5 times. One dude saw me do it twice in a row. {sigh}
  • Watching the leader {name drawing a blank}, and John Obst, Kate Brun, Bryce and Matt Kahrs loop the field over and over and over. This crowd, minus a hurt Matt Kahrs, all clocked 50+ miles.
  • GUTS leaders Janice Anderson and Sally Brookings took time out from volunteer/aid station duties to run a few laps with runners during the heat of the day.
  • Matt Silva’s tremendous support lap after lap after lap – Matt recently ran the Vermont 100-miler where he kicked some serious butt and rep’d Georgia proud.
  • Lane, Sally, Janice, cold-water-dude (I need to know this guy’s name), big Rahn and so many others were all over the place ensuring that runners had everything they needed for each loop. Especially during the later hours. when things start to get ugly – or comical, depending on your perspective.
  • Social stuff – seeing the same people loop after loop allows for lots of catch-up time with other local ultrarunners – although after about 25 laps, I wasn’t much for chattin’.
  • The HTFU temporary tatoos were mighty popular. Love me some HTFU.
  • David Ray’s great attitude every time you see him. …(and thanks to David for my HTFU button birthday present)
  • Andrew Edwards rocking the yellow and black, bumble-bee tights – Tights? in the summer? Trip dog.
  • Jeff Bryan and Gary Griffin coming up from Florida an taking a chunk out of the course themselves.
  • Colt and Matt hanging around to watch me complete my forty miles even though I know they wanted to go home.
  • Li’l Wayne loggin’ a phat 34 miles, adding to his confidence going into Laurel Valley next weekend.
  • Vikena – perhaps 2009’s most improved ultraunner.
  • My wife showing up to catch my last lap, and getting to shoot me finishing my 40th mile.

…and so much more (but my bullets are getting really long and very “local”)

It’s a wrap

At seven hours, five minutes (7:05) I achieved the day’s goal and finished up 40 miles. It was a real struggle fighting that heat, and more so the humidity. During the noon time portions of the day, you could actually see the steam on the trail – like running in the steam room at the gym. Hot, man.

Really hot.

But as I pushed it up the road for my last lap, my friends Colt, Matt, Tony (I think) and my wife were all standing there yellin’ for me and taking photos. I gots some good ol’ peeps in my crew.

A couple of GUTS goofballs

Congrats to all the runners for incredible performances all around, but especially the top five-ish who all pushed into 50 miles and more.

The Hot 2 Trot is a great local event, and driving home from the race I couldn’t help but feel all stoked and proud at being part of this unique club of insane runners.

Rock on.

or should I say, “Get some!”

Blog Tag Interview: Christian Griffith

From Ultraholic member, Alan Geraldi:

It has been awhile since us Ultraholics and friends have played that old game called Blog Tag. Here is how it works (or should work in theory). I pose a few questions, answer them and then tag three other blog owners to answer the same questions, and so on and so on (they also have to tag the person who tags them).

Christian Griffith Blog Tag Interview Answers

1. Do you have a favorite race you ran this year – if yes, which one and why.

Picking a favorite race is hard for me because I tend to be very emotional about my races, and at all kinds of different levels. I loved the White River 50-mile trail championships because I had never been that far north in the Pacific Northwest, and I fell in love with Seattle, the mountains and especially Mt. Rainier.

I loved the Keys 100 50-miler because for one, I love the Florida Keys and for another, I had a great experience running with my best friend and wife as my crew. (and I got to meet good ol’ Alan in person)

I would also have to mention the Landsford 50K as it was my fastest 50K to date at 5:05.

I’m sorta known for calling all my races, my “favorite race”.

2. Have you selected any race goals for 2010?

I’m sorta winging it for 2010. I can’t possibly do everything I want to do, so sacrifices will have to be made. I am running across Georgia in March 2010 and considering VolState as well.

3. Did you discover any new (non-race) trails this year?

Why yes I did – The SCAR – The Smokies Challenge run which takes place in the Great Smokey Mountains on the Appalachian Trail. This is a VERY TOUGH section of the AT. Lots and lots of tough climbing. We went from Fontana Dam to Newfound Gap – about 42 miles.

4. Why do you run?

I have an addictive personality. I read Dean Karnazes’ book and immediately felt the sentiment of current life frustration coupled with a very unique challenge I could sink my teeth into. I never really ran seriously before June 2006 – and now, I can’t imagine life without it.

5. There are extreme ultramarathons – Spartathlon, Run Across America, Badwater, etc. are you planning any?

I am doing a Run Across Georgia, 100% self-supported in March 2010. Eventually, I would like to do every difficult ultra that exists today. That’s my mission – to complete everything at least once.

6. Favorite food during ultras and favorite post-race food?

I can eat anything during runs. Gatorade will give me stomach cramping issues if I rely on it for me than a few cups throughout the day. I LOVE Coke & Mountain Dew during races because I don’t drink them normally – the rush I get from them is incredible + they are delicious.

Post race is tough because I recently began a more vegetarian eating style and can’t have that post-race steak that I crave so much. Fish works pretty well, and also vege burgers and pasta dishes.

7. Are ultrarunners part of your life outside of races?

Not so much. I wish that was the case, but my family life is so demanding that it seems I only see my ultra friends when we are running, racing or traveling to a running adventure.

8. What do you consider the most beautiful ultra course you have run?

Man… so many “different” levels of beauty, but Superior Sawtooth 100-miler was really gorgeous with lots of varying beauty. White River 50-miler near Mt. Rainier was awe-inspiring, and of course, my all-time favorite race – Laurel Valley – is typical lush-as-hell, southern trail running.

9. Favorite race director?

Claude Sinclair. I feel almost a family connection to the guy and have from first contact. Can’t explain it.

10. What is your longest streak at running the same race?

I have only been ultrarunning for 3 years, but I have done SweetH20 50K three times, Mountain Mist two times, Mount Cheaha two times, this weekend will be my third Laurel Valley, Hot2Trot two times …probably some more sprinkled in there.

Who’s Tagged Next?

As an East Coast member, I don’t know a lot of theUltraholics personally, so I’ll tag:

Bob Becker, Jennifer Huffman-Swift, and Diane Forrest