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    Sunday, March 28, 2010

    Trail Race Report Spring Backyard Burn Race #3 at Fountainhead Regional Park

    Today's race was great because I was able to get my wife out to watch me run. She shot some solid pics and stood around in the unseasonable cold Spring morning to watch me run. The course was solid and in good condition. It rain more like a fall than a spring race. There were a lot of leaves down on the trails and the recent rains had everything damp and moist. The creeks provided some cold times!

    Although I finished well at 3d place I think my race could have been better. My pre-race went well; plenty of sleep, good breakfast, and of course coffee. Once I checked into the start I went out for my usual warm-up run. My legs felt flat and I knew it would be will power and not speed driving them around the course today.

    The combination of last weekend's race effort and some hard gym sessions with some solid runs during the week left me a little under-recovered. Thankfully the next race is not for two weeks. Although I am about to start ramping up my mileage for my season's "A" race, the 24hr Adventure Trail Run on 1 May in Prince William Forest Park I will have more time before the last race of the Backyard Burn to recover. I plan to use it wisely. Currently I am in first place in the overall points standing and another good effort could see me clench first overall.

    Tuesday, March 23, 2010

    2010 Spring Backyard Burn Race #3 Course Preview

    The course for this weekend's race is at Fountainhead Regional Park, which is situated along the banks of the Occoquan Reservoir in Western Fairfax County. This park is beautiful and feels surprisingly remote for being so close to Washington D.C. The racecourse consists mostly of hiking trails (including the Bull Run Occoquan Trail), horse trails, and old dirt roads.

    This is a moderately technical and fast course. The race begins in the main parking lot and runs down the paved entrance road for approximately a half-mile over rolling hills. The course then dives offroad and runs along some excellent singletrack over a wooded ridgeline. A short but sharp descent brings the racers to an intermittant stream crossing with its subsequent climb. Last year there were a number of tumbles at this creek crossing. The course then climbs out of the draw and loops through more of the scrub oak forest before merging back into the ridgeline where you run out the same way the track entered the woods.

    Once crossing the entrance road the course follows alongside the road for a little ways before going back into the farther reaches of the park. The race course from there until the finish is a series of rolling ups and downs with numerous stream crossings. The course feels very isolated on these back stretches because the numerous draws keep the majority of runners out of view from each other.

    After dropping down to run beside the Occoquan Reservoir for a short distance the final stretch climbs quickly back up to the ridge top and runs over a few small hills before bursting out of the woods and literally directly into the finish chute.

    Hopefully the weather will hold and it will be cool yet dry this Sunday. Stay tuned for the race report.

    Sunday, March 21, 2010

    Trail Race Report Spring Backyard Burn #2 at Hemlock Overlook

    Today was a brilliant first day of Spring on which to have a trail race. The temps at race start were in the low 50s and warmed quickly as the sun came out. The sky was perfectly blue too!

    My pre-race routine went very well. I actually got to sleep and logged about seven hours of z's prior to the race. This is a highly unusual set of circumstances. Made it out to Hemlock Overlook early with enough time for a solid warm-up as well. My usual warm-up consists of some stretching, coffee, a slow 15 minutes run (when racing at or around 10km), water, and then a bathroom stop.

    The race start was fast because as always the Ex2Adventures' courses have a prologue that does not count for the race distance, today it was 7/10 a mile! The key to the prologue is to get people a little strung out before the single track. I was in the initial dozen people or so off the front and make the prologue, including a wet part across a dam and a short steep climb in good style.

    The course then headed down a dirt road before turning back onto single track that began down in a draw and then wound its way down to the river. The river sections on this course are great. Literally boulder hopping just by the water with some flats to make up the lost time. At about the two mile mark the course climbed up away from the river. This first climb is long and steep. It broke my speed and the photographer got some very unflattering shots of me I believe.

    Then the course runs back past the start area over a small hill and down to the river. Proving Newtons law a rather long climb awaited me after another short fast riverside section. This was a challenge today but I ran strong through the hill. After the long hill you cross a few meadows and run along some single track that wraps around a small hill before it dumps you into a fireroad about 200m from the finish.

    I was neck and neck at this point in a dead sprint with another race for first place. We were both sprinting hard to the finish....but he got me at the last stride to take first place. I cannot complain, I raced well and ran strong for a second place finish in 40:31. A long extra second on my time!

    Saturday, March 20, 2010

    New hooves!

    Placed a special order last week at VA Runner in Woodbridge for a pair of New Balance MT 100s. I have been wanting to try this shoe for a long time and finally decided to get some now that my Montrail Mountain Masochists need replacing.

    Looks great and I love some of the features of this shoe. Although I will probably not run in it until Monday afternoon the trail running blogosphere has plenty of reviews in case you are curious. Here is an excellent in-depth review from the blog Run 100s.

    Special thanks to the staff at VA Runner and in particular Owner/Runner Jeff Van Dorn. It is service that keeps me driving about 30 miles round trip to buy shoes from Alexandria!

    Sunday, March 14, 2010

    Today's race postponed - sad face

    Late yesterday I received an email from the Backyard Burn Series race director. Apparently the Bull Run River which much of the Hemlock Park running course runs directly beside was flooded.

    The director's email said, "I just returned from running the Backyard Burn course at Hemlock. At least 200 meters of the trail down by Bull Run is under at least 2 feet of moving water."

    Although last year's Highland Sky 40 was conducted in a deluge of epic proportions the racers at an ultra are a little different than the mix of weekend warriors who show up at a local trail run series. Since I have been fighting a sinus cold all week I definitely do not mind and plan to get a few more speed sessions in before the race is made-up on 21 March - next weekend.

    Thursday, March 11, 2010

    2010 Spring Backyard Burn Race #2 Course Preview

    Sunday's race will be at Hemlock Park in southern Fairfax County. It is a really nice park situated on an old farmstead. The terrain varies greatly - steep short hills, scrub oak forest, and open fields. The southern edge of the park is bounded by the infamous Bull Run Creek; farther upriver is where the famous Civil War battles were fought.

    The race starts with a very fast slightly downhill prologue that follows a dirt road before winding between some old farm buildings. The course crosses a small field and then runs along the sides of a farm pond before hitting the first short hill. This portion of the race was very fast last year!

    After crossing the same road the race started down the course goes into the trees on some relatively tight singletrack as the course winds down towards the Bull Run. Once along the creek the route becomes very "technical," literally running riverside over a very narrow rocky path.

    This portion of the course ends with the longest climb of the day - a series of two steep climbs that bring the runners back level with the farm. Into the singletrack around a series of fields the course picks up speed as you cross several open areas and then race around the farm pond againt to the finish.

    Last year I finished 5th at this course with a time of 40:15 for 5.8 miles. I am hoping to place into the top five again; although it will be hard to earn another top three podium finish like last week!

    Sunday, March 7, 2010

    Trail Race Report Spring Backyard Burn #1 at Wakefield Park

    The race went very well. Weather was perfect, starting out in the mid-30s but feeling like mid-40s in the sunshine after about a quarter mile into the run! The course was adjusted somewhat for the recent heavy snowfall because it is run on a mountainbike trail and some of the north facing trails were still covered in ice/snow.

    I ended up liking the re-routed course even better than the original. Mile number 4 was a huge up and over and up and over again hill before a flat dual track mile into the finish. It definitely got the runners and racers' attention.

    My time was good - 35:51; as always subjective on trails but about three minutes faster than my last race on this course. I finished third in my age group and eight overall out of a couple hundred runners.

    Now the hard part is a race coming up this next Sunday. It means I will have to pay particular attention to my training this week to make sure I do not put too much speed into my legs so that I am relatively fresh for another hard effort this coming Sunday. It was a great race and thank-you to Ex2Adventures for another excellent event.

    Thursday, March 4, 2010

    Arla's Saga Classic Blue Brie

    Recently, I was looking for a decent bleu cheese and came across Arla's Saga Classic Danish Bleu Brie. Having never tasted this particular cheese I purchased a five ounce wedge. This cheese's quality was surprising and a superb value for only five dollars. I would not hesitate to buy this product again.

    I unwrapped the cheese an hour before serving so it would warm to room temperature. Although chilled, the aroma had a gentle pungency without being overpowering with a fresh earthy mushroom fragrance. The thin off-white mold rind was tasteless and did not detract from the cheese. The pale off-white color with a slight yellow tint highlighted the marbled dark mold veins. When cut the double cream cheese texture is soft.

    This cheese tastes simply and straightforward, as expected from a mild bleu cheese. It starts tangy with a vibrant mushroom flavor, but not your average kitchen sliced pizza topping. The taste reminded me of wild German Steinpilzen. A very mild briny finish accentuated the crushed peppercorn crackers and grapes served with the cheese.

    I would not hesitate to buy this cheese again in the future. The cheese paired well with a Riesling and Pinot. The earthy flavors were complimented by the sweet wines. The Saga Classic Bleu Brie is a great daily cheese and inexpensive enough not to warrant a special occasion.

    Wednesday, March 3, 2010

    2010 Spring Backyard Burn Race # 1 Course Preview

    The first race of this year's edition is at Wakefield Park in Annandale, VA. The course is the least hilly of the four courses on which the race series is held. Generally it runs fast from start to finish throughout the entire race.

    The course begins with a short prologue that is approximately a half-mile on pavement. This portion of the course is FAST. By the time the trail makes the sharp downhill left-hand turn to descend to the Cross County Trail the field is spread out from the turn back to the start point!

    The cross country trail follows double-track through a tall grass field for another half-mile. The second mile snakes around and between the lower softball fields and makes for some fun running on the grass. I am normally in the first few folks through here and the tall grass leaves you soaked.

    At just over 1.5 miles the trail turns toward Accotink Creek and runs into the woods before it runs along the creek and doubles over on some fast rolling hills and switchbacks. One particularly gnarly section is a very "technical" stretch of head sized boulders.

    The trail breaks back out of the trees after 4.5 miles of racing. The last mile winds through some high grass fields under some powerlines on downhill switchbacks before joining back up with the Cross Country Trail. This takes you back to the ballfields where there is a very short but slightly upward slope to the finish.

    The race is not long and is not anywhere fancy; but Ex2Adventures puts on great events that are a lot of fun. They also help me get some good race-pace speed work in during the early season that easily piggybacks on my training plan with my earlier in the week long runs.

    During my last race on this course I finished in 5th place. Check back this Sunday for my results!