Friday, December 25, 2015

Looking back at 2015

I felt like Icarus flying too close to the Sun this year, going after races that were on orders of magnitude much more difficult than anything I have ever attempted in the NUT 100K and Wasatch Front 100 Mile.  The climbing of these races never seemed to end, and the cut-off monster was breathing down my neck every step of the way; Ultras of moderate difficulty and with generous cutoffs can lead you to a false sense of surety in the belief of your abilities to “outlast” these races through stubborn force of will alone, until you run straight into an immovable Mountain that turns your legs into lead.  Outlasting is what I’ve been mainly focusing on for the past 4 years, as I first chased distances to the 100 Mile mark, then focused on races with a lot of climbing, all the way to my first Mountain Hundred at Bryce Canyon; speedwork was always an afterthought as I piled on the miles and vertical during training, but I could no longer simply outlast these difficult races, I had met my physical limit.  Now I have to ask myself, do I want to continue pursuing the most difficult races out there, and could I ever muster the will to put up with all the training that’s necessary to have a chance at the them?

I train hard to be in the mid to back of the pack at Ultras, but at the same time, I’ve never been as dedicated towards it as some people can be.  During peak training weeks, I normally put in 50+ miles of training, with spending long back to back weekends on the trails, it’s hard to see myself doing anymore; yet I see other runners doing the same, while dragging tires, or running in the afternoon heat instead of the morning, or putting in 60-70 Mile weeks, or regularly doing blistering speedwork, or do all manners of weight and cross training, or all of the above...and I just can’t picture myself ever being that dedicated, when it’s all that I can do just to keep up with my own rather modest training regiment.  Of course, those who are doing more advanced levels of training are aiming much higher than my pedestrian goals of merely finishing these tough races, but when it comes to a race like Wasatch, being an Ultra Pedestrian is no longer enough, I need to dial the intensity way up, and for a lot longer periods if I’ll ever have a chance at these races...whether I have the will to do so, is another story.

I believe Willpower is a finite resource, for most of the year I’m in the 30s Mile/Week fitness and sanity maintenance mode, to bump that any higher would require more dedication, and more dedication usually means making more 5am wake-up calls throughout the week, and that’s just not something I can easily maintain for long stretches, unless there’s a huge race ominously around the corner that forces me out of bed.  From four years of pursuing Ultras, I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s only a short several months window where I have the will and drive to really dedicate myself to high level training, and hit those 50+ mileage weeks consistently before a big race.  Afterwards, my training and dedication crashes for months, either due to injuries or burnout, and it’s always a struggle to start up again.  2015 has been a particularly challenging year due to the huge come down I experienced after completing Bryce 100 Mile the previous year, and especially after spending nearly half a year trying to overcome a groin injury that kept me to limited miles; the struggles (including the absolutely horrible weather in the beginning of the year) were just too much to overcome to take on an even more difficult challenge in Wasatch…I couldn’t find the motivation to push myself extra hard to train for that race before it was too late.

Looking back at 2015, I sorta wished I had never gotten into the lottery for Wasatch, I clearly could’ve used a down year after chasing ever longer and higher Ultras so intensely for 3 years prior, but at the same time, even with all the DNFs, I’m glad I got to experience the races that I did.  If I hadn’t gotten into Wasatch, I most likely wouldn’t have entered the highly difficult NUT 100K as a way to challenge myself, and wouldn’t have had that out of body experience of having your mind, body, and soul being absorbed into the moss and fern covered towering old growth forests running alongside the North Umpqua River; also I wouldn’t have had the excuse to drive all over Oregon for a few days and visit the awe-inspiring Crater Lake as well. If I hadn't gotten into Wasatch, I wouldn't have experienced the majesty of the Wasatch Mountain range, climbing them was the highlight of my year by far, and it's kinda hard to say being able to spend 61 glorious miles on those Mountains was a disappointment. Finally, if I hadn't gotten into Wasatch, I wouldn't have tested my limits like never before, and subsequently know it's no longer has to be raised significantly if I'm ever going to return to Wasatch for another attempt.

I’m still undecided on what to really do for 2016, a huge part of me wants to take a step back from chasing Mountain Hundreds (not quite ready to jump back into that meat grinder...), and focus on having fun and exploring other more moderately difficult races in the 50 Mile to 100K distances that I’ve always had my eyes on.  So far I’m already signed up for Big Bend 50 Mile in January and the Sean O’Brien 50 Mile February, training runs for another go at a Hundred Mile at the beautiful Zion 100 in April.  I still desire a race in the Mountains though, and if not a 100 Miler, a 100K at Kat’cina Mosa or the Tushars 93K (both races are pretty much shorter versions of Wasatch) in August sounds great too, at least I know I’m capable of handling the climbing at those distances.  Whatever I end up doing for 2016, I know I have to focus on continual improvement (speedwork, seeking more training partners and groups to hold myself accountable, or maybe even a coach...), because once you’ve experienced the races that I’ve participated in this year, you’ll never want to stop chasing them.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

2015 Wasatch Front 100 Mile Race Report

This all started around mile 90 something at Bryce Canyon 100 Mile last year, as I was climbing up the final thousand foot ascent to finish that race, I found it remarkable that my legs could keep going up, even after 19K ft of climbing and no longer being able to run many miles ago; so that’s where the bright idea that I could potentially finish one of the hardest and oldest Mountain Hundred races in the world popped into my head.  For the past 3-4 years, the Wasatch Front 100 Mile Endurance Run has been this mythical beast of a race that always seemed so impossible for me to even consider (the name “Wasatch” sounds like some legend to me now…); I just remembered stumbling across its website one day and being instantly hooked with its tagline “100 Miles of Heaven and Hell”, and then being both awed and dismayed by photo’s of its majestic Mountain course and the sheer difficulty of it’s description that promises to “test out the endurance of any runner”.  I mostly shoved all thoughts of Wasatch back into the recesses of my mind afterwards, shunting it into the category of races that are “Possibly 5 years down the road…”, while I worked my way up through the Ultra racing world and trying to build a solid foundation from which I can make a successful attempt someday at all those legendary Hundred Milers I’ve dreamt about.  As the years went by, I found myself being more drawn to Wasatch, and other Mountain races like Hardrock, to the point that they served as a sort of “North Star”, where every race I entered was a stepping stone towards those races; Hardrock is still in my “Impossibly Hard” category of races, but the possibility of Wasatch was getting closer every year, and after completing Bryce, I knew I had to give the race a shot.
As the lottery entry date for Wasatch grew closer, I still didn’t entirely believe I had a good chance of completing Wasatch, that I still had a ways to go before I felt I had the experience to handle such an immense challenge; so partly to work through my doubts, I wrote a huge piece on my whole thought process in signing up for the race, “A Pessimist dreams of the Wasatch Mountains”.  Afterwards, I would accept whatever fate the Wasatch lottery Gods decides for me, threw my hat into the race, and got picked for entry a month later...I was mortified.  I had over 7 months to train for Wasatch after being picked for the lottery, the same amount of time I spent training specifically for Bryce Canyon, more than enough time to get ready for the race if I played my cards right, I figured.  Having managed to finish a tough Arkansas race, the Run LOViT 100K earlier this year in February, uninjured, I was finally convinced that my long festering injuries from Bryce Canyon was behind me, and was looking forward to ramping up my training in two phases.  Phase 1 was to rebuild my speed and endurance in order to tackle an Oregon race, The NUT 100K in June, that had very aggressive cutoffs to meet, afterwards, phase 2 would mostly be power-hiking repeats in order to survive the endless climbs of Wasatch; nature wasn’t quite agreeing with my first plans however.
On my NUT 100K race report, I wrote about how North Texas (where I live), and most of the State, received historic amounts of rain and flooding throughout the spring months, leaving practically no trails to train on for months on end.  My reluctance to run on pavement, during lightning storms and torrential downpours mind you, exacerbated the problem and resulted in a DNF at the NUT 100K.  Woefully under-trained by the summer, it almost seemed hopeless with only around 3 months to get ready for Wasatch, but I had one glimmer of hope left heading into Wasatch, and I would take to it with abandon.
My entire plan for Wasatch depended on conditioning my arms and shoulders over the summer months to utilize my trekking poles more effectively over longer distances, because after the NUT 100K, where I only had one brief training run prior with the poles, I realized just how much of an advantage they were in surviving long climbs…but they were murder on your shoulders and arms if you’re not properly trained with them, as I found out in just 20 miles of that race in Oregon.  Also, since I couldn’t train for speed and endurance much during the beginning of the year due to all the floods, I figured my only hope was to double down on power-hiking repeats over the summer in order to survive the long climbs and grind it out to the finish.  Starting in mid June, I gradually brought up the amount of weekly climbing I could handle from around 5K ft of gain/loss, all the way up to 12K ft of gain/loss by late August, and hitting just about the same gain/loss for Hardrock 100, around 34,000ft gain/loss, for that month; all while suffering in the miserably hot and humid Summer months of Texas…it was good training for a potentially hot race in Wasatch I told myself, while I was trudging up the same handful of what passes as hills here in North Texas, at Cedar Ridge Preserve, for 7+ hours in the heat each weekend.
I was responding well to the poles, and felt like I could keep climbing forever with them, no matter how fatigued my arms and shoulders felt.  There were a couple things that worried me going in to Wasatch though, first was a minor ankle sprain that I incurred during the second to last peak training week, four weeks out from the race, which forced me to completely shut down all running during the taper period in order to fully heal the ankle.  I prefer a gradual ramp down in mileage during the taper period, heading in almost completely cold (I did do some long hiking trips during those weeks), was not something I’m use to.  Also, I had gone through two Black Diamond Distance Z (first the Carbon fiber, than the Aluminum) trekking poles during those heavy training months, they just couldn’t survive the abuse of the Texas heat and humidity, I suppose.  I loved how ultralight those Black Diamond poles were, I absolutely could not risk having one break down on me again during the middle of Wasatch though, so I sprung for a pair of Leki Micro Vario Ti Core-Tek Aluminum-Copper poles, a brand known for their rock solid reliability, but at 18.5 ounces per pair, they were nearly half a pound heavier than the Black Diamond’s were, and during the later stages of Wasatch, I felt every one of those extra ounces.
Arriving at Salt Lake City the day before Wasatch for the pre-race meeting and placing drop bags, I was out exploring the local park the gathering was being held at, Sugar House Park, which had a magnificent view of the Wasatch Mountain range in the distance.  While there I ended up losing track of time while trying to get a better unobstructed view of the Mountains, and had to sprint about a quarter mile in order to catch the last half of the pre-race meeting; bad idea it turns out, to sprint (which is something I almost never do) on cold legs that had been tapering for the past 3 weeks…  The morning of the race (a friend whom I was staying with drove me to the race), inexplicably, that little sprint left my legs already feeling sore before I had ever step foot on the Wasatch course!  The first four and half miles of Wasatch was one of few flatter and runnable sections of the whole course, I was planning to warm up my legs here, but fretted the whole time that I started out the race with a huge deficit after my dumb mistake with the sprint the day before.  Soon though, the huge 4-5K ft climb up to Chinscraper at mile 9 and half was coming up, and hopefully that long 5 mile long slog up the Mountain will stamp out the initial soreness.

Foreboding Mountains in the distance...
The night-time and early morning views of Salt Lake City under neath were fantastic.

The moment I had been training for all summer had finally arrived, I was particularly fearing this first monster climb of Wasatch, and is one of the main reasons (the other being the climb up to Brighton…) why I had been power-hiking with the trekking poles all summer like a Madman.  Not only is there NOTHING like this in the flatlands of North Texas, you also only have 7 hours to make it to the Francis Peak aid station at mile 18 and half, which doesn’t sound like anything to worry about, but I later learned after the race that there was a record amount of DNFs this year from people missing that first cutoff!  With cool morning temps in the Mountains, and strong and rested arms, I broke out the poles and went to work; my objective was to make it to Chinscraper in 3 and half hours, and with the early traffic jam during the first couple miles of the race with 300+ runners crowding onto the single track trails, I was already running quite behind.  The whole time up, I felt like a machine built for this specific task, as I was averaging a steady and brisk pace in the low to mid-twenties for the 5 mile trip up, and started to pass many other poor souls without trekking poles (I did feel like cheating a bit…but whatever) for the first time in the race.  I met my initial goal for the race just under my target of 3 and half hours, right after crawling up the 45+ degree angle cliffs to make it up to Chinscraper; after enjoying some views of the Mountain Valley below, I pressed on.  

On the way up to Chinscraper...
...there were many spectacular views to be had.

Looking down from Chinscraper.

For the next 5 miles, I was already starting to sweat the cutoffs (a recurring theme for the rest of the day), as I was making the up and down climbs on top of the Mountain ridgelines at just over 9K ft altitude, where I was getting a taste of what’s to come; the trifecta of tough climbs, high altitude, and the ever increasing heat under the exposed sun.  My heart was exploding inside my chest trying to keep a steady 20+ minute pace on these tough climbs, while I was practically hyperventilating trying to suck down enough oxygen up there to feed it.  I was finally able to relax upon reaching the 4 mile smooth dirt road downhill to Francis Peak Aid Station at mile 18 and half, and with my legs feeling better with the initial soreness at the start of the day stamped out, I cruised down to make that first cutoff with an hour to spare.  

Starting to see the Great Salt Lake in the distance.
Stopped for my only self photo of the race.
Still more climbing to do...

One of the Francis Peak Radar Domes overlooking the Great Salt Lake
My jaw was constantly dropping from these amazing views of the Wasatch Mountain range extending on to the horizon...
On the dirt road down to Francis Peak Aid Station

The trip to Bountiful B aid station at Mile 24 was pretty uneventful, but it was approaching noon when I left Francis Peak, and after a few more hours I found that I just couldn’t run much anymore.  All the flat dirt roads were entirely exposed, and most of the time, a brisk power-walk was all that I can manage to keep my heart-rate under control.  More of the climbs on this section, and on towards Grand Peak Trail junction at mile 31, were thankfully under tall Spruce, Fir, and Aspen trees, and there were even some creeks along the way that I could cool off in, but that didn’t make the climbs any easier, as I was huffing and puffing away, like the Little Engine that could, in peak afternoon temps in the low 90s.  I wish I could have taken more pictures along this pleasant wooded stretch (a nice break from all those magnificent Mountain views...), but once I started on the many frequent climbs here, I had to keep the momentum going till I reached the top of a hill, and didn’t want to stop and pull out the camera for a photo.

This section was a good mix of flat open dirt roads...
...pleasant forest covered sections...
...and tough climbs.

The descent from the peak of that long climb at just under 9K ft altitude on Mile 31, towards the Swallow Rocks aid station at mile 34 and half was a very frustrating one.  The trails were very overgrown, and it was hard to see where your foot was landing; many small rocks were hidden underneath all that overgrowth and that kept my pace short, choppy, and conservative in fear of exacerbating my earlier ankle sprain.  So, instead of hoping to extend my buffer from the cutoffs on the long downhills, I reached Swallow Rocks with only about an 1:45hr to make the next 4 and half miles to meet the hard cutoff at Big Mountain Pass at 14:30hrs.  Fortunately, the trails were a lot smoother along the way, and the 800 ft drop down into the Big Mountain Pass Aid Station in about a mile was mostly smooth switchbacks that was very fun to descend; I came in and out of the Aid Station (grabbed my headlamp and a pullover sweater from my drop bag) with about 26 minutes to spare, and hoping to extend that cutoff cushion with a big descent coming up in about 3 miles, but little did I know, I’ll be reaching what’s known as the armpit of Wasatch.

These sweeping views along this section never gets old...

After a couple of tough 300-400 ft climbs over a few miles that I thought would never end (kept thinking the descent was just around the corner...), I came out of forest cover and back onto the Mountain ridges with one last opportunity to take in the amazing views of the expansive Wasatch Front Mountain range during the sunset; the photo’s below perfectly captures the reasons why this flatlander from Texas pushes himself so hard to be in the Mountains, to experience the joy, awe, and majesty that one only can after traversing 40+ Rugged and Mountainous miles to earn those views.  Afterwards, nightfall quickly arrived, right on time to experience possibly the worse 3 miles of the entire course, where you descend steeply over a thousand feet across a minefield of baseball size rocks and loose dirt that will repeatedly put you on your ass.  I was using my trekking poles a lot on the downhills here to keep myself from slipping too much, and was so afraid to run over this extremely technical section in the dark and with fatigued legs, that I power-walked the entire three miles to the Alexander Ridge Aid Station, and promptly sat down thinking my race was over if I had to go through a brutal section of trail like that again.

Among the many imposing climbs along the ridgelines...

The joy, awe, and majesty of being on the Wasatch Mountains in one photo.

I had never done so much power-walking for a race in my life up until this point at Wasatch, I power-walked for large stretches in the brutal afternoon heat when running was no longer an option, and I power-walked some more through endless miles of overgrown technical trails that were too dangerous to run, and then I power-walked over even more dangerous and extremely rocky trails at night, guess what I never trained for when it came to Wasatch?  That’s right, power-walking, I trained endlessly for the climbs and a fair amount of running for this race, but never power-walking, and it was placing pressure on muscles and bones that normally don’t get activated much.  So when I sat down at the Alexander Ridge Aid Station, my legs started to fall apart from the crushing fatigue due to power-walking a good third of the race, possibly.  I took a little more time than usual to leave that aid station, after sitting for awhile eating hot broth with crackers trying to get some life back in my legs.  The Volunteers there assured me the next 5 and half miles to Lamb’s Canyon was pretty smooth compared to the previous three, so I got up with around 2:40hrs left in the clock, but still feared I may not make it to Lamb’s Canyon with any meaningful time cushion to rest before I had to get out of there to beat the midnight 19hr cutoff.

Boy was the the first two miles or so out of Alexander Ridge the most boring section of the course, and if you’re ever planning to do Wasatch, plan on doing this section at night, because there’s really not much to miss here; it’s just an extremely overgrown jeep road that’s used to service oil pipelines, and goes in a disconcertingly long straight line for two miles before you get back onto single track trails.  With flat trails and the temps dropping fast at night, I was running again at a brisk pace until the trails gradually started climbing again, and after really not using my poles much for the past six miles when it was mostly descents and flats, I started to notice just how fatigued and sore my arms and shoulders were beginning to feel, making very nervous about tackling the huge climbs past Lambs and onward to Brighton.  When I reached the 50 Mile mark, I was dismayed at my time of just under 17 and half hour, when I was initially hoping to hit Lambs, another 2 and half miles away, at under 17 hours total…I stumbled into Lamb’s Canyon Aid Station half ready to quit.

Lamb’s Canyon looked like a M.A.S.H unit filled with stricken faced runners, and their crew and pacers, all contemplating whether to press on or drop, all knowing of the demoralizing climbs ahead in the dead of night awaiting them while they try to keep one foot ahead of the cutoff monster.  When I came into Lamb’s, I knew that if my friend was going to be there, I would have dropped and asked for a ride back, because my quads were being hit with the onset of soreness on top of massive fatigue, and in my past experiences, my legs weren’t going to last much longer in those conditions; it was after 11pm though, way too late to have seen her while she was volunteering there earlier.  Instead, with amazingly 45 minutes left before the cutoff, I got my drop bag and sat down and bided for time by eating ramen, slowly putting on more layers, and chatting with the volunteers there; hoping a 20-30 minute rest will return some life back onto my legs to continue.  As the midnight cutoff was fast approaching, one by one, I saw runners, some who were previously looking half dead, resurrected from their death-chairs and marched off into the night, and while I still didn’t feel like my legs were adequately recovered, I got up myself and finally left Lamb’s 15 minutes before the cutoff.  Whether I was up to it or not, the Upper Big Water Aid Station was 8 and half miles away at mile 61, and if I couldn’t finish the Wasatch 100 Mile...well, the unofficial “Wasatch 100K” doesn’t sound so bad as a consolation prize...and not like I had a ride back anyway.

I felt like I had made a huge mistake the moment I left Lambs, the first two miles out was all pavement that felt extremely hard on my feet after over 52 and half miles of trails, and I sorely wished I had packed my pair of the maxxed cushioned Altra Olympus in my Lamb’s drop bag, instead of the one I had all the way at the Brighton Aid Station at mile 75.  With the cold wind blasting in my direction from being at the bottom of this canyon, so glad I packed those extra layers, I walked the entire two miles of pavement with another runner in his 60s with his pacers; periodically he would heave over and not sure if he could continue, I wanted to suggest he should turn back to Lamb's but held my tongue, and this continued on a few times when we finally got off the pavement and onto the big hump of a climb on the way to Upper Big Water.  On the climbs, I finally trudged on ahead of them, thinking I would never see him and his pacers again, but after a short while of struggling on the climbs with my shoulders starting to get achingly sore from using the poles so much, the 60 something year old surged ahead of me and I never saw him again; who was the old man now, I thought to myself, wanting to cry. 

I just experienced a complete meltdown the rest of the way through to Upper Big Water, with my entire body being hit with crushing fatigue and soreness, I couldn’t even manage a power-walk anymore and started to sit down for a few moments on every log I came across to recover my legs and question my sanity.  The steep trip down from this climb was laughably slow, as I had to use my trekking poles for balance and braking, taking me nearly an hour and half just to inch down the mile and half long descent!  Once I made it onto the hard pavement of the road, I was full on zombie mode to make the long and demoralizing 3 mile trip, and thousand foot climb, to UBW; nearly falling asleep on my feet many times along the way and wanting to hail a ride from the passing cars to the aid station.

Officially, I arrived at Upper Big Water Aid Station at 23:04 hrs, 4 minutes over the cut off, and had no choice but to DNF...not that I wanted to continue anyway if I managed to squeak in just under it; mentally and physically, I was too broken to continue.  At UBW, there was a chair at the DNF drop circle waiting for me to heat up by the stove, a half dozen other runners were passing the time there waiting for the last shuttle to drop us off to wherever we needed to go.  Pretty much all of us wanted to drop at Lamb’s, but just had to make sure and remove all remaining doubt that there was any way we could’ve made the climb up to Brighton, otherwise known as the Morg, by death marching the incredibly long 8 and half miles to UBW; if you’re struggling mightily to make the big climbs here, there’s just no way you can fathom soldiering on to Brighton and beyond, making the DNF all the more justifiable.  Once the shuttles arrived, and dropped us off, one of the runners there gave me a ride back to my friend’s place; not the ending to Wasatch I was hoping for, to say the least.

I truly thought I had this one, I had never trained harder for a race, I felt like a man on a mission tackling hill repeats for 7+ hours each weekend in the godawful Texas summer for nearly 3 months straight; I wanted to fully experience and finish Wasatch so badly, that the suffering itself in training became oddly...enjoyable, as if it was my whole purpose in life to prove myself worthy enough to the Wasatch Mountains in order to transcend across it’s majestic range for a 100 miles.  In the end, either it wasn’t enough, or it was just too much, as the training I was putting myself through left me utterly exhausted by the time I tapered 3 weeks out from Wasatch, and also left me with a sprained ankle to mend.  Looking back now, at all the months of training leading up to Wasatch, I have so much areas of concern to mull over as I try to pinpoint what exactly went wrong, and how best to overcome those challenges if I’m ever going to make another run at Wasatch.  I realize now that it was a mistake to focus so much of my training on just the final 3 months before the race, I blame the horrible weather for much of the first half of the year for that, but in all honesty...there was laziness and denial on my part too, that I could keep pushing off the huge commitment I had gotten myself into till the weather was dry enough to train on the trails again, when I clearly knew I should have just sucked it up and join a gym for treadmill training that would’ve done much to improve my speed and endurance during the year; my DNF’s at the NUT 100K and earlier at Ouachita Trail 50 Mile made that point clear enough.  

Other little things, like using heavier hiking poles that I wasn’t use to before the race, when I should’ve heeded the oft-repeated warning to never try anything new during a race, never rang more true, when using the poles very late into the race sent piercing shockwaves to my shoulders everytime I striked the ground.  I shouldn’t have worn my Altra Lone Peaks 2.0 to start Wasatch, when past experiences always resulted in my legs breaking down past the 50 mile point due to less cushioning; I decided not to wear my Altra Olympus, which got me through Bryce Canyon 100 last year admirably, because of fears of exacerbating my prior ankle sprain due to the high stack height of the shoes on technical courses, but with all the power-walking I was doing, the huge cushioning would’ve helped tremendously in preserving my legs past Upper Big Water.  Which reminds me, I seriously need to put more emphases on the necessity of training for power-walking in Hundreds, you think I would’ve figured this out by now after 3 previous Hundred attempts (2 finishes, one DNF), but it’s just not something you ever consider, until you find yourself not being able to do nothing much other than power-walking in the middle of a tough Hundred Miler.  With so much of my focus on Power-hiking, and my newfound emphasis on Power-walking, I can’t keep forgetting to throw in good ‘ol speedwork into the mix either, especially to get my heart-rate going, as my heart wasn’t use to being so over-taxed while making those huge climbs at high altitude and heat.  

I should have researched Wasatch more, other than just looking at the elevation profile (I partly feared knowing too much would lead to paralysis...ignorance is bliss), I may have realized the necessity of all the points I laid out above if I had done so.  I also have to face the sober reality that maybe I just wasn’t cut out for Wasatch, that I had simply bitten off more than I could chew.  I knew from the start that Wasatch was a huge gamble before I ever entered the lottery, that it would’ve been a grinding war of attrition while battling cutoffs all day, and maybe that mindset was my first huge mistake.  A back of the pack strategy is a fool Man’s game, it leaves no room for error and terrible racing conditions, from the get-go I should have believed that under the best of conditions I could’ve finished the race in 32-33 hours, leaving enough of a buffer for the terrible conditions and bad luck should it come on race day; of course, I may not have entered Wasatch in the first place if I had that mindset, knowing that I was not physically capable of such a feat at the time, my impulsiveness of wanting to experience Wasatch clouded my judgment, and I ended up having no choice but to rely on such a risky gambit to finish.  

One last thing I realized that I desperately needed to finish was a Pacer, someone that I could’ve focused on, rather than on my doubts, and to prod me along whenever I wanted to sit down on a log and weep; in hindsight my legs were only part of the problem, mainly my will to continue just wasn’t there to push me through the most difficult spots in the race. I was awed by the older runner, with his pacers, pushing ahead me when it seemed like he couldn’t make it another mile just moments before, and after the race, I knew just how much of a miracle worker a good pacer can be, when a friend managed to gut through a finish just under the final cutoff, making Wasatch his first ever Hundred Mile finish, as amazing as that sounds.  I had asked a friend, who previously paced me before, kicking my ass all over an Arkansas race a couple years ago, but she couldn’t make it at the last moment; I thought of asking around for locals willing to pace me through the dreaded night portion (the friend who I was staying with at Utah, may have been able to pace me the final 25 miles if I had made it), but I have a stubborn go-it-alone independence streak when it comes to Ultras, and decided I could tough it out...a final costly mistake.  

The Wasatch Front 100 Mile Endurance Run has been a mythical creature that I’ve been chasing for nearly 4 years now, so not being able to finish this race has been a huge blow to my ego after training and hyping the race so much leading up to it.  As with all tough DNF’s, my experience at Wasatch, most especially, has been a valuable one; there is simply no way to take “shortcuts” with this sort of Beast, like I tried and failed to do with pushing all my heaviest training into just 3 short months, I needed to be 100% committed the moment I entered that lottery, and not accept any excuses along the way, any less effort would most likely lead to failure.  I vow to come back to Wasatch someday to finish this race, it may not happen next year, but when I feel I’m fully ready to make a successful run at it again, and I certainly have lots of mistakes and shortcomings to ruminate over before that happens.  As I wrote in the beginning of the year, in my “Pessimist dreams of the Wasatch Mountains” post, when I pictured what my ideal Mountain Hundred would be like, a brutally tough and just as gorgeous and majestic of a race, Wasatch had exactly fit that description to a T, and I heard the last 25 miles of the race was even more of an incredible’s something that’ll be dreaming about running some day for a long, long time.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

2015 The NUT 100K Race Report

It's been a rough first half of the year, filled with fits and starts, desperately trying to find the momentum to carry myself out of the post Bryce 100 funk of injuries and overall fatigue, that's been plaguing me for over half a year. I thought I had found it after completing Run Lovit 100K in February, but a slow recovery and buildup after the race, combined with the beginning of a heavy season of miserably omnipresent rain and thunderstorms to greet us in the normally dry Spring months in Texas, led to another disappointing DNF at Ouachita Trail 50 Mile in March; where I missed the cutoff at Mile 26 in a muddy and sloppy course. No matter, I came out of OT50 uninjured, no harm, no foul, still plenty of time to regroup in the months ahead I thought to myself, but the rains, to my utter dismay, never stopped falling throughout the months of April and May; by never stopping, I'm meaning historic One Hundred Year flooding of biblical proportions, enough to completely fill up all of our bone dry reservoirs and lakes (and then some), due to years and years of drought and record temperatures, and enough to cover all the land mass of Texas in 8 inches of water. Like I mentioned in my Cedar Ridge Preserve overview, all the trails here in North Texas closes when wet, meaning for months on end, all the hundreds of miles of dirt trails here was effectively reduced to maybe 3 miles of open, if barely runnable and muddy, trails at Cedar Ridge Preserve, the one place that stays open; even then, they had to section off all their major hill areas, leaving me with little to no option for serious hill training to prepare for my biggest test yet of the year, the North Umpqua Trail 100K in Oregon.

The North Umpqua Trail 100K, or NUT for short, was actually my third choice for a challenging mid-year 50 Mile to 100K race to help condition my legs for the main goal race of the year, the Wasatch Front 100 Mile Endurance Run in September; when I couldn't make either of my first two choices due to a work conflict, the Cruel Jewel 50 Mile or Jemez Mountain 50 Mile, I found the NUT 100K on Ultrasignup and was instantly taken with the chance to run on some gorgeous Oregon trails and making a whole sight-seeing trip out of the whole affair. I've always had a lifelong fascination with Oregon, and spent a better part of my youth trying to make my way there through the game, “The Oregon Trail”; so to be able to finally visualize that land of natural splendor of scenic Mountains, Valleys, Rivers, and arable farmland that was the end goal of that classic game, which frustrated me to no end due to all the deaths of Tuberculosis and Cholera I had to endure, was an exciting prospect. Though I had my reservations that I could complete a tough race like the NUT 100K with over 11K ft of climbing (around 8K descent) and a very aggressive cutoff where you had to make the first 46.7 miles in 12 hours, I had over two months to train, enough time I convinced myself...and then the rains came, and came, and came.

When push comes to shove, I like to consider myself to be a dedicated runner when it comes to pursuing hard physical and mental training to endure Ultras, you have to be when you live in North Texas that's normally extremely hot and humid 8 months out the year, but I can be as discouraged and lazy as the next guy when it comes to the rain, especially when it closes down all the trails you normally train on, and there's not much options for recreational pavement trails either. So as the rains kept pouring with no end in sight, I kept putting off the high volume training till the next week (and the next week...), and stuck to boring flat pavement runs when I desperately needed the trails and hills; after a month went by like this, I started getting desperate. If all of the North Texas trails are effectively reduced to a mile or so due to closure, than screw it, that's just what I'll have to do; during one of my peak training runs, I ended up completing over 50 micro third mile loops in the rain at Cedar Ridge because that was effectively all that I had to run on with a modest hill bump. Times like those, I wish I would have just shelled out for a gym membership to run on an incline treadmill, but it was too late for that, the taper period had already arrived and I was extremely under-trained for the NUT 100K.

I came close to canceling the whole trip to save on the extra traveling expenses that would incur if I went (though airplane tickets had already been bought and not refundable...), I convinced myself though that I could at least try to make the 12 hr, 46.7 Mile cutoff (making the trip more justifiable in my eyes), because from the course profile below, it just didn't look all that intimidating. The first 40 miles of the course barely rises a thousand ft in altitude, and all the rolling hills in between didn't seem all that hard...but I should know by now that a small course profile picture rarely accurately displays the true difficulty of a trail; I ended up under-estimating the climbing I would be facing by half the actual amount. Besides really wanting to see other parts of Oregon after the race (especially Crater Lake), I had recently snagged a pair of trekking poles on sale, the Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z that I wanted to test out over the Ultra distance; so with all those rationale in mind, off I went to journey towards the Oregon Trails...well, fly anyway, and hope I don't somehow get Tuberculosis on the way there.

From the North Umpqua Trail guidebook found here -

The NUT 100K is a point to point 64 mile race along the North Umpqua River, the race started at 4am, but I had to be at the shuttle bus at 2am to travel from the finish area at the Lemolo Lake Resort all the way to the start at Swiftwater Trailhead; after a long and scenic drive from Portland International Airport (flew from Dallas the day before the race), it didn't make much sense to get a motel room for just a few hours, so I napped in my rental car at a rest stop (first time for everything!) for a couple of hours till they started busing. While a bit sleepy at the start, I quickly woke up when the race started in the chilly pre-dawn hours of Oregon (was so jealous of the weather coming from Texas already), the first three miles was a series of smooth and fast rolling hills, that I was taking way too fast, till you reach the base of the first big climb of 600+ ft; great time to slow things down and break out the trekking poles. Since getting the Black Diamond trekking poles, I have gone on exactly one training run with them, and was still working out the proper mechanics, especially on how not to be that one guy with the poles swinging them wildly about, threatening to skewer anyone who comes within a 5 ft radius. So I quickly learned how to use them as compactly as possible, on the steep climbs I was facing, I shortly swung the poles with both arms forward, making it easy to power myself up with both arms, and never stepping far beyond the poles before I brought it forward for another swing to keep my body upright and those behind me safe from the tips; while on the downhills and flats, I carried them around like a Hunter would a Spear, with the tips pointing down and the poles resting on my shoulder.

In the over three years since I've been running Ultras, how have I managed to survive without these poles, I thought to myself, as I was powering myself up the 600+ ft hill with shocking ease, it was like night and day climbing with the trekking poles, all of a sudden I was able to unlock the extra horse power of my upper-body to make it up these normally quad-busting hills, and relieving a lot of extra pressure on my feet and joints in the process. Which had me thinking, why don't more people use trekking poles at Ultras that feature a lot of climbing? I was the only person I saw at the NUT 100K who were using them (of course, being a back to mid pack runner, I don't come across many people), and even at Bryce 100 last year, I only came across one other person using them. Maybe it's the annoyance factor of having to carry them around and always having to be mindful of others around you, maybe it's the Masochistic mindset a lot of Ultra-runners have that keeps them from using them (and one I can certainly relate to, after spending a year running Ultras in a pair of Vibrams), or maybe it's the fear of falling on the poles and puncturing your spleen, whatever the case, I'm actually relieved that more people don't use them, because can you imagine the chaos of a crowded single track trail filled with absent minded runners flailing those pointy sticks all around you?! You'll quickly lose an eye out on the trail if that were the case, in the mean-time, being the responsible trail citizen that I am, I will gladly use the leverage that trekking poles provide you on those steep and never-ending climbs.

Once I had finally made it up the first big climb of the race, daylight had started to illuminate the trail, and on the descent, I was treated to an awe-inspiring view of a sweeping old-growth forest of giant Hemlock and Douglas fir trees stretching on to the Horizon; coming from Texas, such a view was not possible, I truly was in Oregon now I thought to myself, and would have cried if I weren't racing down a steep technical downhill stretch leaving no time for such deep introspection, instead I let out a loud "whoo!" and enjoyed the long trip down after a tough climb. From that point on, I was just blown away by lush fern lined greenery of the trail and picturesque views alongside the North Umpqua River every step of the way, and even said as much to the volunteers at the first aid station I came across at mile 7.8. The trails continued on being like a dreamscape I've always had of running through the towering old-growth forest of the Pacific Northwest, maybe it was the early morning haze and lack of sleep that was still affecting me, but I was having a bit of an out of body experience, as if my soul was being absorbed back into the forest itself. What snapped me back to reality was a series of tough hill climbs of 200-300 footers past the first aid station, and lasting all the way to the second one at mile 15.8; with my trekking poles and strong early racing legs though, I was averaging a solid 14-15 min/mile pace through a very hilly first quarter of the race, and was looking forward to the next five and half miles of relatively flat trails to make up even more of a time cushion, but then the trails got really technical and had other plans.

Have to stop using the high contrast setting on my camera when the Suns out, but these are a couple of the fern covered trails you'll see out on the trail.

The next five and half miles to the third aid station was a beautiful stretch of trail that ran right along-side the bottom of the river, offering up a continuous stream of scenic and up-close views of the wide and rushing North Umpqua; flanked by valleys of towering trees on either side, any photo taken here would be worthy of a post-card. Unfortunately the trails got super technical with jutted, sharp, slippery, and loose rocks nearly the whole way through, I couldn't make up much time as I thought I could, as I found myself frequently picking my footing carefully over all the uneven rocks, slowing down my pace to no faster than in the more hilly sections earlier. I was wearing my Altra Olympus, with a high stack height due to all their cushioning, I had to be extra careful over the rocks, even then, ankle tweaks and jolts was unavoidable, and the handful of times they happened over this section, it slowed me down further and started the breakdown of my feet and legs. Upon reaching the third aid station, and 21 miles into this race, I was sensing that I was in trouble heading into a long 8.7 Mile stretch to the next aid station, but I still had about an half hour cushion on the 12hr cutoff, and was looking forward to more climbing along the riverbank cliffs where I can use my poles more often; so I grabbed the last of three gels they had left (my one complaint of the whole race, seriously, they should have had more gels, felt bad for the people behind me) and embarked on the punishing death march ahead.

Trail along the bottom of the North Umpqua River

From the official race photographer, lots of other great photos here -

By now the sun had started to reach it's peak, and temperatures were climbing into the high 70s, balmy weather when you're coming from Texas, but running alongside the river and it's cliff-banks were a lot more exposed to the direct sunlight, making it even hotter, and with it raining so much recently in Texas, I wasn't as acclimated to the heat as I use to be. No matter, with the next four miles being a series of tough climbs, I was looking forward to a slower and steadier pace, and to use my arms more to climb and take some pressure off my acking, rock beaten feet, and hope they recover for more running later on when the trails start flattening out again; I just wished my arms and shoulders would've agreed with the plan. As I've mentioned earlier, this is only the second time I have ever ran with the poles, and I was using them pretty aggressively on a very hilly course, powering myself over thousands of feet of climbing by this point, my upper-body was not use to the sudden exertion and was getting more worn out and sore as the miles and climbing progressed. Also, the trails never got any less technical, breaking down my feet and ankles, and quad muscles that were over-compensating for the rocky trail surfaces even further; add in the ever increasing heat, and you've got the trifecta of trail misery in tough climbs, painful rocks, and a punishing Sun. As I was obsessing over my rapidly shrinking time buffer, I just couldn't make up anymore time over the hilly and technical terrain with my body starting to experience a full meltdown, by the time I dragged myself up over undulating hills along the cliffs to reach the Mile 30 aid station, I knew my race was what's another 3 and half more miles to drive that final nail in the coffin.

You know what, I traveled all the way from Texas to be here, may as well go out with no sense of uncertainty that I could’ve finished that race under any circumstance, even if they had increased their cut-offs. That moment of certainty came when I had to climb over several large fallen trees on the trail, it was comical how much I had deteriorated, with my arms no longer functioning due to over 30 miles of tough climbing with the poles; I had to flop on my belly over the trees, nearly pulling a muscle in my shoulders in the process, I was relieved no one was around to witness my hilariously failed attempt at being an American Ninja Warrior. I mainly walked and hiked the last 3 and half miles to drop at the mile 33.5 aid station, soon after, the last runner behind me, being escorted by the course sweeper, arrived to drop as well; a little consolation prize that I wasn't the last person on the course at the time, I suppose.

For how under-trained I was heading into the North Umpqua Trail 100K, and despite not meeting my consolation goal of reaching the 46.7 Mile mark, I was pretty happy and surprised with how far I had made it, considering how badly I under-estimated the climbing I would be facing. I figured there would be no more than 4K ft of climbing during the first 40 miles, by mile 33.5 my Garmin ended up reading 6-7K ft of climbing, double the estimate; finishing that distance, with that much climbing and the course being so painfully technical, in a little over 9 hours...I'll gladly take it, all things considered. After this race, I'm a little bit more hopeful than I am terrified about my prospects at the Wasatch Front 100 Mile in September, while all the recent rains have left me feeling under-trained, I'm not feeling injured or worn out anymore, so maybe all the rest during the rainy months was secretly a good thing, while I head into the final 2-3 month training push. I'm also more hopeful of being able to survive Wasatch's insane 26K+ ft of climbing due to how well the new trekking poles performed, I barely had much hill training heading into the NUT 100K, and still managed to knock out nearly 7K ft of climbing over 33.5 Miles, in just over 9 hours...pretty impressive when it comes to how I would normally perform in a similar race. 

I now have a clearer picture of what I have to do in order to get ready for Wasatch due to my experiences at the NUT 100K, and with hopefully drier summer weather, I just have to execute my plan, and hope it's enough to survive that Monster Hundred in Utah. So, despite the DNF, I'm glad I went ahead with the race, the NUT 100K was a beautiful experience, and I'm hoping I can run it again soon to see what else I missed, I heard the second half of the race was even more gorgeous, or "brutiful", on how many of the people there was aptly describing the race. Finally, I got to knock out a childhood goal of visiting Oregon someday; I only spent a few days up there, so couldn't see too much, just driving down many of their scenic highways would make a great road-trip alone, but the one other place I spent a lot of time at the day after the race was Crater Lake, and just paying a visit to this calmly powerful, sacred, immensely beautiful, and piercingly blue lake was worth the trip alone.

Crater Lake

See you guys at Wasatch.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Running towards the Mountains at Cedar Ridge Preserve

I've mentioned Cedar Ridge Nature Preserve in Dallas so much throughout my various race reports, on how the trails there were crucial in helping me get ready for all my toughest Ultra Trail races that I’ve faced, even Hundred Milers over Mountainous trails, that I hadn’t considered writing a separate blog posting about my preferred training grounds until a friend who works there asked me too.  Seeing how I’ll be spending even more time on the trails at Cedar Ridge in the coming months while training for the hardest race of my life in September at the Wasatch Front 100 Mile Endurance Run, it may be helpful for other runners reading this if I elaborate on how I use the trails at Cedar Ridge for training, and why I love the trails here so much, that I hardly even consider running anywhere else in Dallas.  Packed within Cedar Ridge’s five and half mile main loop of diverse and beautiful nature trails, you’ll find some of the most technical (rocks and roots) trails and quad-busting steep climbs in all of Dallas, as well as truly enjoyable flatter sections of twists and turns and gnarly downhills, where if one throws caution out the window, the dangerous and exhilarating sensation of flying through the trees and dancing over rocks and roots can be an incredible experience that seems to never get old, no matter how many times I’ve ran here.

I've always thought this profile looks like a Running Man...

I discovered Cedar Ridge in 2012 when Endurance BuzzAdventures held their inaugural trail racing event there, the Cedar Ridge 36K, now re-formatted into a timed night-time series called the Fossil Valley Endurance Run; up until that point I mainly ran on roads or on trails that were made for Mtn Biking that makes up the majority of what you’ll find in North Texas, they’re mostly flat trails with long and gradual climbs suitable for biking, Cedar Ridge, on the other hand, was made strictly for hiking (no more having to worry about suicide bikers on downhills!) and it showed in the quad destroying climbs I encountered for the first time.  For just a 36K race, it took me 5 and half hours to finish; I was so beat up afterwards that I would not dare come back to Cedar Ridge for nearly a year.  It was only my first year of running trails and Ultras, and my focus at the time was on flatter trails to build up distance and speed, but I never forgot about my beat down there, and vowed to come back when I started to chase more difficult Ultras.

Climbs like these...
...and fast rocky and rooty downhills is not advisable for novice trail runners.

The next year was a messy and unfocused one for me, I finished my first 100 Miler at Rocky Raccoon, got terribly injured afterwards for a couple months, then ran over half a dozen Ultras in the Texas Hill Country area (plus a few more in other parts of the State), and spending the moments in between either recovering or injured from those races.  After just basically signing for any new Ultra that was coming up in a few weeks, and believing it would be enough to carry me through my upcoming toughest challenge yet, I was smacked hard back to reality and earned a painful and inglorious DNF at the Cactus Rose 100 Mile, later in the year.  That DNF was a turning point for me, it laid bare all my weaknesses such as poor climbing legs that couldn’t handle the steep climbs of Cactus Rose, and lackluster and unregimented training methods that frequently left me injured and undertrained leading into the race; if I wanted to get serious about chasing all the Mountain Hundreds I’ve been dreaming about, I needed to put up or shut up, afterwards my full attention was turned back towards Cedar Ridge to help get me there.

I did eventually venture back into Cedar Ridge earlier in that year, though never trained seriously while there for reasons listed above, but with my sights set on redemption at a Mountain Hundred, the Bryce Canyon 100 Mile in June of next year, I was ready to move into Cedar Ridge over the weekends to train…I also had no where else to go during those months.  The late fall and winter months in Texas are miserable and often wet, while every other trail in Dallas closes with so much as a drop of rain from the sky, Cedar Ridge come rain, sleet, or snow, is reliably open.  I understand and fully respect the need to close down the trails when it rains, especially with the hard-packed dirt trails we have down here, and sometimes wish Cedar Ridge did the same, as deep ruts people leave behind on muddy trails can become dangerous ankle breakers to run on when they dry, but I was surely thankful I had somewhere to go during those dreary months to train.  When it rains and the trails are wet, I avoid most of Cedar Ridge, and train almost exclusively on a nearly half mile stretch of incline with about 135ft of vertical gain, on their Escarpment trail.  The Escarpment is made up of mainly gravel and loose rocks, and thus doesn’t get as horribly muddy and slippery as the rest of the trails there, and is a great way to train your legs to run up and down long and gradual inclines.  A friend, who did repeats there to prepare for Western States 100, refers to it as the “Horrible Half”, and after months of running almost exclusively on this one incline over the weekends, I can see why…  I was relieved for the dryer months of spring the next year, because I was finally able to spend all my time on this one steep hill at Cedar Ridge that I crucially depended on to help me take on the Mountains.

I let out a little sigh reaching the bottom of the Escarpment each time...

Hill repeats is the unglamorous side of training for Ultras, if someone told me early on, that in order to get ready for those Mountain Hundreds, I would have to climb the same handful of hills, up and down, over and over again, for dozens upon dozens of repeats, all alone, week in and week out, ad nauseam for months on end, because the majority of North Texas trails are flat as pancakes, I may have chosen a different hobby…but I can grow quite obsessive when fixated on an idea, and grew to love the hills at Cedar Ridge, which never seems to get any easier, even after climbing them a thousand times already (probably more…).  One of the biggest hills at Cedar Ridge, and what I refer to as the “Mountain of Dallas”, is the Fossil Valley Hill (on the Fossil Valley trail section) at around 125ft in vertical in just .1 to .2 miles; with 3 routes up and down this hill that I alternated through, all of varying steep gradients, it became my default hill to strengthen my power-hiking muscles while I was trying to rack up as much vertical feet of gain/loss as possible to prepare for Bryce Canyon 100 Mile last year, sometimes doing nearly two dozen repeats and gaining up to 4K ft of climbing in one day.  Yes, it can become monotonous, but if you embrace the monotony, it becomes almost meditative as the miles and time pass by.  When I got really bored, I threw on a Podcast or Audiobook, with the predictability of climbing just one hill over and over again, you don’t have to focus as hard on the trail.  In a favorite article that I read over at, it waxes poetic over finding “That One Hill” that perfectly suits your every need for training purposes, in order to get you to where you’re determined to go, and Fossil Valley Hill was the big mound of dirt and rock that I lived and died on for the first half of 2014.

"For these hills are the places that make us fit, keep us honest, and give us just that little glimpse, in the midst of our very regular lives, of all that is extraordinary about running in the mountains."

Repeats at Fossil Valley Hill, at just a mere 125ft high or so, allowed me to conquer Mountains, over 19K ft worth of them at Bryce Canyon 100 Mile.  I’m not suggesting that this is the only hill in all of Cedar Ridge, or North Texas for that matter, to help you train for Mountain races, but it has the rugged surfaces and steep gradients needed for the Mountains; the parking lot is also just a short mile away for refills from your car, so it was convenient for me to train there, but as I’ve had more time to explore Cedar Ridge, and all it’s side trails and shortcuts, I’ve been able to map out new and less monotonous training routes.  One in particular that I’m quite fond of, is a route that I’ve dubbed the Cedar Ridge Twin Towers, because it combines two of Cedar Ridge’s biggest hills in one 2 mile long figure 8 loop (with one bonus mid-range hill in between).  I start by heading down the Escarpment incline, then when the trail forks, turn left to head towards the big Red Oak Hill climb, afterwards take a shortcut to Fossil Valley trail, at the base of the hill, I prefer taking a right for the steeper climbs, then head down Trout Lilly trail and back towards Escarpment to repeat; when all said and done, this 2 Mile loop packs in nearly 400ft of elevation gain/loss, all on the toughest trails Cedar Ridge has to offer, and mostly under the shade, which is important in the sweltering spring and summer months of Texas. 

Prepare yourself for some serious climbing when you see this sign.

Top of Fossil Valley Hill
The climb up Red Oak Hill...
The view from up top of the Observation tower at Red Oak Hill

Fun times running the Twin Towers...

While I mainly utilize Cedar Ridge for training and quad-busting Power-Hiking repeats, there are days where I’m not in Mountain training mode, and just want to head out for a pleasant run, or with friends, the main five and half mile loop (start at Possumhaw trail, and just keep taking the left turn) at Cedar Ridge is a great way to tour all there is to offer here; there are many other challenging mid-range hills and scenic stretches throughout the trails that I didn't cover (Possumhaw and Cedar Break trail, especially), and running the whole loop is still a very tough workout with around 700ft of elevation gain/loss in total.  I would also have to emphasize that this trail is part of a Nature Preserve and serves as a habitat for many wild animals and birds, and what I love to do most is head out there as earliest as possible on the weekends (opens at 6:30am) in order to beat the crowd of hikers and families on daytrips, as well as the heat; there I can usually count on a blissful hour or two of hardly seeing another human being on the trail, while I’m being completely immersed in nature and serenaded to a chorus of songs from wild birds.  North Texas is an endless sprawl of cities, suburbs, pavement, and ugly strip malls, our options to get away from it all is depressingly limited if you’re not willing to drive an hour or two to head out to a nature park for the weekend; thankfully Cedar Ridge Nature Preserve is an oasis of beautiful and challenging wilderness in the South Dallas/Cedar Hill area, and for Trail Runners, especially, a place to train for and dream about running on the Mountains.

Random photos showcasing some of the beauty of Cedar Ridge below: