The Battle for Black Rock 36 Mile Race
Chris Anderson (ITL Coached Athlete)
December 6, 2014
(Chris enjoys some rest after the Black Rock 36 Mile Trail Run)
Let's start way back. As a chubby kid in the 5th grade I had to run a mile for the presidential fitness test. The sit and reach was my specialty, but you can't just nail one discipline. I trained with my mom at the YMCA and ran a 13+ minute mile. Needless to say I hated running. After that, I found my way as a competitive swimmer at Swim Atlanta through high school. After college in 2006, I found myself way overweight and miserable. I lost 100lbs in 2007 and found running. For the next six years I would run maybe 10 miles a week on average. I ran the Peachtree Road Race twice and the Buckhead Sizzler once (now the Big Peach Sizzler). I fell in love with trail running in 2013 and decided to run an ultra marathon in 2014. I found the 36 mile Battle for Black Rock in Northeast Georgia on the internet and signed up. I had just gotten back from Mt. Rainier and the 9,000 of vertical gain in the three 12 mile laps at the Battle for Black Rock got me excited. Maybe too excited. Training began on July 4, 2014 at the Peachtree.
I initially followed a marathon plan that had me ramping up from 25 miles a week to a peak of 50 in 16 weeks. I had 22 weeks to train so I planned on following that plan and then adding mileage the last six weeks. My training was going fairly well and then I was invited to a track workout with ITL by Tisha Sheridan. I showed up not knowing what to expect and was greeted warmly by Adam Heiser. He showed me how to run pickups and gave me a solid workout. I had a blast. I continued coming to some workouts with ITL and then ran the Big Peach Sizzler with them on Labor Day. The atmosphere that ITL creates is indescribable. Everyone is so pumped to be there and it is contagious. I immediately emailed Adam when I got home that I, in fact, wanted some coaching. He set me up with Coach George Darden.
A few people asked me what training was like. I would describe it as marathon training with two long runs on the weekend ("stacked" training) instead of one. The last two months of training, I was running anywhere from about 50 miles per week and up to 62 miles a week. 50 mile weeks usually started with George saying "backing off a bit" in Training Peaks. Dude…really? My weekends would range from 28 to 35 miles. Recovery was crucial during the last three months of training. I was running 10 hours a week and had to warm up properly and recover even better. I began having some hip issues in October and I managed it throughout training with some crucial advice from George (and a lot of massages). The track workouts on Tuesday mornings and the Thursday morning Brookhaven runs were something I looked forward to every week. Adam, Chris and the ITL crew would routinely support me on trail runs on the weekends. Adam would push me and Chris would always run that extra mile with me I began tapering in late November and ran the Atlanta Half Marathon on Thanksgiving Day as my last longish training run.
(Chris and Coach Adam chatting after a local race)
A last note on training: George not only loaded the mileage on but the workouts were very focused. I had complete trust in his design and embraced it. There would be brutal weeks of running but I'd still be telling my wife that I would run all day, everyday if I could. The fact is, you still have to want it. The plan is there and the ITL team is right there with you the whole way. But you still have to want it. It is a big sacrifice and my body had not experienced anything close to what I put it through. I would routinely get up at 4am to get miles in before getting to a Thursday ITL workout. I'd drive hours to run on trails in North Georgia with my wife and dog.
I got my nutrition plan down with George the week before my race. I needed to take in about 200 calories an hour through GUs, Clifbars, Shotbloks, and aid station fare (cookies, coke, chips, etc.). There was an aid station at the start line and one almost half way through a lap at about 5.5 miles. I planned to carry a handheld water bottle throughout the race. My shorts had 5 slots for nutrition (The North Face Better Than Naked Split Shorts – the best). I had a drop bag with extra socks, nutrition, water bottles, and clothes for any sort of situation. My wife and one of my co-workers drove up the night before to race and stayed at a friend's cabin just outside of Mountain City, Georgia. My wife and her friend were going to run one 12 mile lap. My coworker and I were running three laps for the 36 miler. I went to bed anxious, nervous, and fighting a cold.
(Plan on getting a little dirty when you are running trails)
I woke up at 3:30am to pouring rain. I got dressed, ate a bagel with peanut butter and a banana. We drove about 20 minutes to the base of the mountain and saw that it was covered in fog. It took us an extra 20 minutes to drive up the mountain because of the rain and fog. I registered, set up my drop bag, and then went to sit in the car to stay warm and dry. At 6:15, we assembled and we were off. We started in pouring rain and intense fog. I immediately realized that my headlamp would be useless reflecting off of the fog. We ran about a mile down the trail and took a hard right to ascend part of the mountain. I took my headlamp off and held it as low as I could to see the ground. We rose about 400 feet and then immediately started to descend about 900 feet in a couple of miles. The trails were terrible. They were completely washed out and total slop. I would routinely go ankle deep in mud and need to pull on roots to get up hills. There were two creek crossings before we got all the way down and ran around a lake to the first aid station. I felt pretty good on the first lap and took a few chips, half a PBJ sandwich and refilled my water bottle. Next began big 800 foot climb. Once to the top, there is a bit of a flat spot and then you descend all the way down and do it again on another ridge. After some switchbacks, you begin the final ascent up to the start (another 900 feet). The back half of the course is fairly remote and there was running water coming down the trails. I made it back up and managed to pass a group of people. I felt great after one lap. I refueled with half a Clif bar, some Coke, and some chips.
My nerves had left me and I picked it up a bit from an effort standpoint here. I got aggressive with the down hills as the sun had risen and I could actually see the trails. After a creek crossing, I took a hard fall and slid about 10 feet down an embankment off the trail. That woke me up! I crawled back up using tree limbs and roots and did a self check. Did it hurt? Yes. Did I do any damage? No. I ran around the lake to the aid station and refueled with some chips, a PBJ sandwich and some Coke. I even sung Jingle Bells while refueling with one of the aid station volunteer's daughters. I took off up the hill. The last half of the second lap was a low spot. I was alone, very tired, and my quads were toast after pushing the downhill. I managed it, sang some more songs, fell a few times, and got to the start line.
I wanted to sit down but new I couldn't because I may not get back up again. I got some food down, drank some coke, and took off. Most people were dropping at this point and I knew I had a long ways to go. The third lap is kind of a blur. I was alone the entire lap aside from the aid station. The trails were even worse than the start and I just focused on one foot in front of the other. I was exhausted but found myself smiling a lot on this lap. I would get really pumped up (actually fist pumping into the air…alone) and then want to lie down and take a nap. I would pick out a rock and make that my goal on a big climb. After endless switchbacks, I got to the top and basically sprinted to the finish. I'd love to know what that "sprint" pace was but my watch had died at that point. I'm sure it was comically slow. I crossed the line in 9 hours flat and sat down and tried to comprehend what had happened. My body was so used to working that I could not sit still. Finishing was an incredible feeling and the culmination of a lot of hard work. It is a feeling that I will remember for a long time.
(Chris smiling as he finishes the race)
I had logged 1,024 miles the prior six months to my race. I needed to build this base and it worked really well for me. I could have been about five pounds lighter to be at my race weight. My nutrition worked out really well and I was able to eat and drink the entire race. I wish the conditions had been better but am proud that I was able to suck it up and finish. George, Adam and ITL were crucial in my success. My solo block of training was beginning to become mindless miles. George focused me in a way that I comprehended and bought into immediately. His knowledge of endurance sports is nothing short of amazing.
Why do we do endurance sports? The answer is different for everybody and is typically very personal. I love it because I love to suffer. I am not a very fast runner but I can really swallow pain (the good kind of pain). The more I suffer, the better I feel. I take pride in my ability to transmute struggles into every breath and every step. I love the low spots of a race or training. Unfortunately, we live in a world that worships comfort. There are strollers for dogs! In my opinion, the human body shouldn't live that way. I will never win a race but I know that I can go further in tough conditions. Am I a better person after all of this? I'd like to think so. I am still very sarcastic, so I haven't changed that much. My wife can attest to this.
(Every great athlete is backed by a great support)
My plan is to recover and let my body heal a bit before I start training for my next race. I would like for it to be the Leadville Marathon in Leadville, Colorado. It is a beautiful course starting at 11,500 feet with a lot of elevation change. A stretch goal is to finish a 50 mile race by the end of 2015.
Many thanks to George Darden for the training plan and inspiration (You saw his Kona finish…come on people!). Adam Heiser and Chris Nasser are incredible for what they do at ITL. They are great athletes but even better human beings. You know this from the moment you meet them. Thank you to the entire ITL crew and my wife, Brooke, for supporting me throughout the many hours of training. Remember, you can do anything that you want. Give into the process and enjoy it!
(Chris and his support crew/fellow trail runners)