Sunday, April 12, 2009

Training Run Report: Chocolate Bunny 50k

The days leading up to this year's Chocolate Bunny were somewhat nerve-wracking. The Park Service had scheduled to do a controlled burn in the area we were to be running, so we didn't know if the usual Chocolate Bunny route would be runnable. As if running a 50k on MMT trails in the dark isn't hard enough, I don't think a cloud of smoke and smoldering tree branches would have worked to the runners' advantage. After careful deliberations with the Forest Rangers and a good rainfall the night prior to the race, Race Director Tom Corris got the email out indicating that the original Bunny route was a go.

The route was to take us from Route 211 East to Powell's Fort Camp, aka miles 58.4 to 89.3 of MMT100. This run is perfect training to get accustomed to running the nighttime portions of the MMT course. You get to run it on fresh legs and rested (if you like), but still in the dark so when you're hallucinating at 3am on race day, you at least know that the dancing gnomes up on Short Mountain were not there during your previous encounter.

Runners gathered at Powell's Fort Camp and carpooled to the start at Route 211 East. We got in a quick group picture, contemplated how much the temps were going to drop throughout the night, and we were off at 7:45pm.

2009 Chocolate Bunny runners

Robin came up from GA to visit DC and run the Bunny for her MMT training

We had 9.3 miles to cover before our first aide station (by the way, I am noticing I spell it "aide" and not "aid"... is there a difference? Do I care? Do you? Didn't think so...). We had a decent climb for the first 5 miles or so, then some downhills and a nice easy cruise up Crisman Hollow Road, followed by another ascent up Jawbone Gap Trail. Amongst others, I was running with John Cassilly during this section, and previously during MMT Training Run #2 he led us off-course at this very spot. Needless to say, we were very astute to make sure we didn't do any unnecessary miles as we came up Jawbone.
Vince Bowman and Robin Meagher running on one of the few MMT road sections

I got into the first Aide Station of the night (Moreland Gap) in a little over 2 hours. Robin had fallen back a tad, so I waited for her to catch up since I knew Short Mountain was next on the agenda and it's never fun going that alone. I spent probably 15 or 20 mins at the aide station, plenty of time to cool down and realize how cold it actually was outside. I thew on my longsleeve, refilled my hand-held bottle with Hammer Perpetuum (possibly using this as my nutrition during MMT), admired the unusual sight of Kiristin Corris wearing bunny ears and posting to Twitter with race updates, then headed back out onto the trail.

Me to Kirst: "Did I just get twotted?"

Short Mountain is notorious for the ungodly amount of rocks that cover the trail. The climb up Short Mountain isn't difficult in the slightest, but after 8 miles of closely-spaced and deliberately-placed steps (wow, that rhymes) and some serious inversion/eversion of the feet, it is obvious to see why a good number of people drop from MMT immediately following this section.

Heading up Short Mountain

So sue me, it was dark.
A few miles into Short Mountain, I noticed that I was starting to get into a funk. Perhaps it was the combination of the late hour and not moving at my preferred pace, but I knew that I needed to pick up the pace a bit and zone out to get back into the game. I pulled away from the group and was now alone with my thoughts (and my flashlights too, I guess). At one point as I was running along the ridgeline I looked out to the west and saw the lights of the houses in the valley. It reminded me of a skydive I once did at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve in Eloy, AZ - silent, dark, and with a gorgeous view of the lights below in the distance. After a minute of staring out into this, I remembered I was supposed to be running and I got back to it.

Typical view for the night, although the flash lights the trees too much and takes away from the beauty out in the distance.

Coming down off of Short Mountain and into Edinburg Gap for Aide Station #2 of the evening, the crew was noticeably more quiet. Maybe it was the lack of twittering? Perhaps, but at this point I knew I too was starting to feel the late-night drowsiness so I sat down and popped a caffeine pill (along with a ginger root pill and an electrolyte pill - if only I had glowsticks to make the picture more complete). The caffeine seemed to perk me up and the ginger calmed the hints of an uneasy stomach, so off I went to make the ascent up to Woodstock Tower.

Camera flashes in the eyes do not help with night vision, FYI.

The initial climb out of the aide station was a bit slow moving, but once on top of the ridgeline the footing was noticeably easier than Short Mountain and that equated to a much quicker pace. I got into a nice groove, passed a few folks and sang to myself to keep my brain from wandering (the rocks were turning into turtles, so I could definitely tell I was getting tired). At one point I ran into Brad Hinton running towards me. He had been holding down the #2 spot in the race, but apparently had gotten lost and turned around, losing over an hour due to backtracking. After passing a few runners and wondering why there were so many hikers out at this time of night, he finally recognized me as a familiar face and quickly turned himself around and headed in the right direction. He later dropped at Woodstock Gap, the next aide station, but I don't blame him with all the extra mileage he got in.

Aside from the frequent tripping on rocks and dropping of my flashlight and almost losing it as it rolls down the mountain, I made it through Woodstock Gap aide station rather uneventfully. I took another video during the final 5 mile stretch, but forgot that my headlamp looking into the cmaera wouldn't make for the best footage. Oh well, at least there is some commentary to go with it.

Blah blah blah, it's dark and I'm tired.

The final few miles seemed to go on forever, but I eventually came to the final (and steep!) downhill section. I had been able to run down almost all of the downhills of the night without disturbing my ever-healing IT Band, but this section was just too steep so I was forced to walk. I arrived at the Powell's Fort Camp parking lot a little after 3:00am, received my chocolate bunny from Tom (hence the race name), and finished with a time of 7:25. Not my best time for a 50k on MMT Trails, but given the darkness, my healing ITB and Short Mountain, I'd say that I'm pleased with it. It was an absolutely gorgeous night out and the Bunny went off without a hitch.

I enjoyed the spaciousness of my new car and rested for a bit while I waited for Robin to finish up. As you can see from the bloodshot eyes in the shot I took on the drive home, I clearly could have used a bit more rest, but I made it home safely so no complaints. Right now it is way past my bedtime on Sunday night and I should be sleeping to make up for last night, but I have priorities and I need to please my adoring fans (ha!). Thanks to Tom, Kirstin, Kris, Kristine, Walker and all the other volunteers for sacrificing their Saturday night (and Easter morning) so that we could enjoy our jaunt through the woods!

Bloodshot eyes - a byproduct of running, my natural high