Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Boulder Field 100K & Other Musings

Two months. Surprised that it has been that long since I've written anything for this blog. But that is the reality. I know since the Cayuga entry that I've intended to post. Guess for one reason or another I never got around to it.

For the past couple of months, I know I had intentions of doing it after my vacation in July that I dubbed 'training camp' and then after Twisted Branch 100K. Neither of those happened. I didn't even do it after MD Heat 50K. Why did it take so long? I'd say inconsistency or a perceived inconsistency.

A few recap nuggets:

My July vacation running up in Maine (both in Denmark and Acadia) and up Mt Washington didn't feel as prosperous as I intended. Yes, I finally made it up Mt Washington thanks to rocking Montrail Trans Alps. But that was the highlight. Sure I did other runs but they all felt off in some way.

After returning, I ran the Allegheny Front Trail race and took 2nd to Adam Russell. I ran well early, decent late but horribly in the middle. Poor shoe selection on my part. I went with the FluidFlex when I should have gone FluidFlex ST to get some rock protection. However, this was probably one of the most beautiful areas I've run. By the end, I really was taking time to experience my surroundings.

Twisted Branch 100K ended up before it started. I took a DNS because around 1am the morning of the race's 5am start, I experienced some really sudden swelling in my nose. The whole right side 'ballooned' that concerned me so that I immediately started to drive back home to Philadelphia from NY. It was a bitter pill to swallow because I was ready to tango. I had my Nathan Fireball pack loaded upfront with two Nathan ExoDraw (if you liked the ExoShot model, you'll want these when they become available, right now I've been lucky to test them) bottles and all the Shot Blocs I needed. However, I thought I might have been experiencing some dental abscess forming as I had recently had some dental work done. Thankfully, it wasn't but took much of a gamble to have run.

Following the DNS, I knew I needed an ultra. Thankfully, MD HEAT in Maryland had slots available and was only a weekend following the 100K. Granted it was only 50K, it started late enough and was a short enough drive I could sleep at home. This worked to my benefit. In short, it was a good course that had some technical sections I enjoyed and some climbs that made you work. Ran a shade over 4:30 for a new course record. Originally thought I missed it but I was incorrect on what Gabriel Rodriguez's existing CR was. For this race, I used the FluidFlex II. Totally destroyed them. Kind of surprised since I didn't notice and deterioration in the feel of the shoe but I blew out parts of the upper. This was a nice test of fitness.

Still even with the benefit of a solid effort, I've been struggling with getting in long runs on the weekends. It could be the surprising extension of higher temps. I suck at heat running. It doesn't like me and my body doesn't do well in it.

Going into September, I had a planned race down in Dalton, GA called the Georgia Jewel. My aim was to race the 50 miler. I booked flights through Southwest, paid the entry fee and made car and hotel reservations. My primary objective was to run somewhere new and in a race that would be slightly under the radar. As I still am approaching this year as a mental build up towards Brazos Bend 100 in December, I have to feel like my race experiences are going to serve the purpose I need. Around Labor Day, it started to become apparent, traveling down the Jewel was going to be a much more stressful and costly endeavor than was healthy for me. It took me about another week to decide if I was going to change my plans. Ultimately, I decided to withdraw from Georgia Jewel. I knew it would mean missing out on a visit with the Merritts.

(Only sunk cost was the entry fee as the car and hotel had not been paid yet. The airfare being with Southwest gave me a 'credit' to use somewhere else.)

In the end, I opted to try my hand at a new 100k called Boulder Field up in Hickory Run State Park. Logistically, it benefited me. A little over 1 1/2 hour drive from my home in Philly meant I could sleep at home the night before. Sure, there was a free camping option but fearful of a repeat at Twisted Branch, I needed the creature comforts. My partner, Peg, really supported me. Without her, I would not have been able to do the race. She was spending the weekend down the NJ shore and managed to swing taking our handsome dog, Falcon, with her. (Not to mention, she rented a car through the Enterprise 9.99 Weekend Special, that enabled me to have the truck) As we also have a bird named Smoothie, she prepared his meals so I was able to change out food as I was heading out the door. Feeding our cat, Pawnee, required quiet so she didn't try to gobble breakfast at 2:30 am instead of her 7am time slot. Yes, both Pawnee and Smoothie would need tending to later but as long as I made it home by 8pm, all would be well.

Driving up the Northeast Extension of the PA Turnpike at 3am is sweet. Cruise control in slippers. Yes, I like driving to ultras in slippers if possible.

Made it up in good time. Immediately after I parked, I was greeted by fellow 100K runner Derek Schultz. I grabbed my bib at registration and headed the few steps back to the truck to get my chair and gearbag. As I made my way over to the start to do final prep, I saw the RD, Stephan Weiss. Having running a number of his races over the years, he puts on top notch events and is a hell of a nice guy, even if we have to be subjected to German music. But it would not be an Uberendurancesports race without it. (Note: If you know my musical tastes, I like a number of German acts.)

Per my normal practice, I set up my camping chair and got to work. With the course being two 50K loops made up of a 12 mile loop and a 19 mile loop, I knew I would have access to my pit three times. As such, nutritionally, I planned on using ExoDraw bottles filled with Tailwind inside and some ShotBlocs taped to the outside. I was starting with one bottle and at the start of the second 50K, I would swap. If all went bad, I had a Nathan pack at the ready. (Gonna keep this secret but just wait until early next year, you'll want this pack.) Based on Stephan's final email, I opted to wear on my feet the Montrail FluidFlex FKT's due to the rocks we were bound to encounter. With the 5am start, I wore my Nathan Halo Fire to light up the night.

Following a last minute scramble to the bathroom, the field of 50 or so 100K runners were off. We began with a fire road into the start of the 12 mile loop. For the first mile, it was wide trail running. In fact, it included a bit of road until we hit some real singletrack. Derek and I ran together and chatted it up. At one point, I did ask if he had a headlamp. He did but I couldn't tell. That's how powerful the Halo Fire is! We kept an honest pace considering the trail was barely two feet wide. Eventually, we came to the first aid station where we saw familiar faces before entering a 4 1/2 mile loop that I would define as the toughest part of the course. Especially at night! I'd say much of the climbing in the 12 mile loop was here. Derek took a spill at one point and I nearly bit it a few times on the aptly named Switchback Trail. Once we popped off that trail, both of us were back at the aid station. The remainder of the 12 mile was easy even if we did go onto the technical Shades of Death trail. But since it was light out, it was not as bad. This trail took us back to the fire road we started on. This meant the 12 mile loop was done. It was slow at around 1h 55min. Still Derek and I managed to get back before the 50K went off. This enabled us to see a few friends in the 50K quickly. Both of us paused here. I topped off my bottle and took a few swigs from my 1/2 gal bottle of Tailwind. Saw Jim Blandford helping out. I waited for Derek since I really was enjoying running with him. After all, who wants to be alone for 62 miles? I didn't like that idea.

The start of the 19 mile was nice as it passes by the lake/beach area. We moved through a camp area and I took a pit stop at a port-o-john. Derek did the same. (Yep, I just shared that.) He did use a different unit. It was not long after this that the course, really opened up with the sweet stuff. It was some nice double track that you could open up some on. Not all out crazy on or you would bite it but I felt comfortable with my pace. Sadly, it was here that Derek and I split up. It was a nice relationship while it lasted. Slowly, the gap between us grew. At that point, I knew I was about to spend the rest of the day with mainly my own thoughts. Much like the other aid stations thus far, I ran by the first one on the 19 mile loop. Simply put, the course was so runnable I didn't want to stop my momentum considering I knew I would be hitting some technical not longer after. That technical part began on the aptly named Boulder Trail. This was the lead up to the namesake section of the race, the Boulder Field. It was a good primer trail as it was rocky making you stay alert.

Eventually, there in all its glory....the Boulder Field. Our path was marked with large cones. I'd like to think I handled moving across nicely. I tried to keep a rhythm but a few times I had to pause. Absolute blast of a time to be honest since it is so unique. And once done, the reward is an aid station! This one I stopped at. I gulped down a couple of cokes and was on my way. I believe this might have been the Stone trail. It had some stones for sure. I will say much of this section is a blur. Maybe it was the least remarkable of the course? I'm not sure. It was runnable but felt long. I was thankful to hit the last aid station (not counting the S/F) on the loop and not be hit by a car. Yeah, Brett, looking at you! Just kidding, I was never in harms way. I topped off my Tailwind with some water and chugged a coke and gatorade before speeding off. While in hindsight this section had some downhill, mostly along the powerline, what sticks with me most is the uphill on this stretch. You come to a road which already is like a bummer and then....it's going up...like forever. Ugh. Hated this. And once you are off the road, it is still going up. Somewhere during this I might have been cussing Stephan under my breath.

In a case, of all things must come to an end, the hill finally did. Following some trail we hit more dirt road before turning onto actual road back into the S/F area. If I had been doing 50K, I would have been done. But I now got to do it all over again. I changed out ExoDraws and ate a few Blocs. Jim asked if I needed anything to which I responded 'Have any grilled cheese?' Sadly, nope. Oh well. Heartbroken, I went out into the 12 mile loop again. At least this time I would be able to see.

(First 50K approx, 4:27)

At this point, I'm sure you're thinking, "Do I really have to read another epic on the last 50K?"

No. No, you don't because you've heard about the course. However, you get to hear about some of it.

Again, despite the light, the 12 mile loop section was slow. Maybe it was the existing 31 miles on my legs. Maybe not. The reality was that for the second time this loop was the slower loop. Did I walk some of the hills again like I did in the dark? Yep. Emptying the tank here would not have been wise. I hit the aid station both in and out of the 4 1/2 mile loop within a loop section. Michael Yoder told me 2nd had just left. It was Derek. In brief chatting, I mentioned it took me around 50 minutes to do the section, so we guestimated, I had 40 minutes up. Right there that made me feel good. I was running well. Second go, Shades of Death was not as bad. I was able to know the lines I was going to take around trees and over rocks. Amazingly, this loop was done only two minutes slower than the prior go around. (For those caring about numbers at home.... 1h 57min).

Back at the S/F area, I wolfed down two orange Shot Blocs. All day I had been going back and forth between the orange and tropical punch. (I like to squirrel them.) I gulped Tailwind and went out.

I began to do math in my head....I was at 6:20. All I had to do for a 10 hour finish was 3:40. 9 hours would be 2:40. I felt the latter would be pushing it. After all, going in my goal was 10 hours. I felt good about hitting that. Now, I began to say, might as well give it a shot to do sub 9. That would be big.

At this point I was feeling like garbage. Somewhat. 43 miles down. I was beginning to pass some of the 50K people who started two hours after the 100K. It was here I saw PHUNT RD, Carl Perkins. Unfortunately, he hurt an ankle meaning he had to call it a day. While I was in the sweet runnable portion, I felt a step slower. Bound to happen. Yet, I kept pushing. Again, I passed the same aid station on this section. Come the Boulder Field this time, it was a mob scene. Well not really but it still had people enjoying the field. Second time going across was just as smooth as last time because at the end I knew I was rewarding myself with coke and gatorade.

Much like last time, the next section was for the most part not so memorable. On the second 19 mile loop, there were two exceptions. First, it felt epic-ly longer. Second, no longer did I want any Shot Blocs. I was done with them or should say my taste buds had enough. Fine. I still had plenty of nutrition with the Tailwind and knew there was an aid station if I needed anything.

After forever, I made it to the last aid station. Hurrah! Not joining Brett and Ken manning the station was Mel!!!!! Ken asked if 5 miles seemed about right until the end since that is what they were telling everyone. I said around that and mentioned I hated the uphill. Poor 50K gal who came in when I was saying this appeared to have some heart sinking. (If not, it still makes for a lively tale.) Following some coke and gatorade, I was off. In order to go sub 9, I had 49 minutes to do it. I was gonna cut it close. Up until the hill portion, this loop felt exactly the same except I was passing 50K people here and there.

Now about that hill....it sucked worse the second time. However, since I was now racing myself for a sub 9, I tried to push. Yeah, I powered hiked a hair of the trail portion. Then the trail before the dirt road went on forever. In my head, I was thinking it is around a minute or two from here. Simultaneously, I told myself if I did not hit the dirt road in a couple minutes, it meant I lost the sub 9. That point came. No way I was making it. Alright, time to give myself a breather with a walk. I think I walked about 4 minutes. Oddly enough, almost to the dirt road. Once I saw that junction, I picked the pace back up. I looked at my watch. Amazingly, I had time! If I could hightail it, I had a shot.

Legs don't fail me now!

In rapid succession, I was off the dirt road onto the paved road making the final turns into the finish. Holy moly, I was gonna do it! SUB 9!!!!!

I crossed the line with glee.

Time 8:57:25.

Sitting in my chair felt so rewarding. I changed, loaded everything but the chair into the truck, ate some grilled cheese (finally) and hung out near the finish for a while.

Second came in over an hour later. It was not Derek. He would end up in 4th on the day, a shade behind the powerhouse that is Ryan Espulgar. (Sorry but you may be nicknamed Little Debbie but I just cannot call you that. My love of those snack cakes runs deep and too many people know I always have some at home or away.) Just a few weeks ago, Ryan won Labor Pains only a few weeks after finishing Eastern States! (Derek too finished Eastern States)

While I would have loved to stay all night, I did have to get home for the pets. Luckily, traffic was light and I made it home just fine to enjoy a Red Baron frozen cheese pizza.

So what's next?

A couple of options.....trying to see if I can get out to CO for a mid Oct 50 Miler. If I do that, I'll add a final Brazos tune-up closer to home with a 50K. Otherwise, I might head out to the windy city for Lakefront. Have to see where things settle.

At the end of the day, Boulder Field 100K delivered what I needed it to be. A good race with good effort. Most importantly, it is the farthest distance I have finished since Umstead last year. (Because since then the longest was the 60K worth of distance at the Bryan Court 100, where the 100 stands for laps. All the rest had been around 50K.)

Now you're up to date......for now. Lets hope it is not another 2 months before I have anything worth saying.






Tuesday, June 7, 2016

A taste of redemption - Cayuga Marathon

So this entry, evolved from attempting to write a short note about my Cayuga Marathon race. I tried to say something brief and realized it was not going to happen that way. Here we are, another rambling round of race reflective thoughts.

To put this year’s run into perspective, we have to go back two years to 2014. At that time, there was no marathon distance race, only the original Cayuga Trails 50. I was one of those expected to compete for a podium slot. Well, around 3 miles in, I suffered an injury that I hoped to run out but by mile 7, I knew my day was going to be done. It was my first DNF at an ultra distance. I did not handle it very well. However, last year, I had planned to go back for a bit of redemption. Thanks to the wheels beginning to fall off for my 2015, I did not even make the starting line.

Come 2016 and Cayuga was adding a companion marathon distance race. Instantly, I was intrigued at the shorter race. Mainly, I looked at the marathon race as one that would allow me to gain some confidence on the course and run a race with a little less pressure. Clearly, my first two years of relation to the race did not work out too well for me. I wanted to partake in the excitement of the festivities in a way that I best felt constructive to me.

While, I had not officially signed up until about 10 days prior to the race, it was always on my schedule. But part of the reason for the delay in registration was Worlds End. I didn’t know if I would be recovered. Since in the end, I didn’t run it, I was down. In checking all my camping options, I learned Treman State Park was all booked up so I reached out to Race Director Ian Golden to see if he could help. Turns out, there was an available spot in a cabin. YES!  I made arrangements at my job to do a half day on the 3rd so I could drive up to Ithaca in a timely manner. Last thing, I wanted to be doing was driving out of Philadelphia during Friday rush hour. However, by the time I picked up the rental car and left the house (since I had forgotten the EzPass tag), it was nearing the witching hour. I hoped to be on the road at 2. Ended up after 2:30. As I left, I texted Ian to get the cabin assignment. Considering, I don’t have a smartphone, I couldn’t check my email and missed the one sent to me while I was ‘unplugged’.

Thankfully, for the most part the trip up was really smooth. And because I knew in advance that the Ithaca Festival was happening, I took a route that avoided the associated traffic. Sadly, I did wind up arriving closer to 7. So, knowing that I was staying in Cabin 6 with Matt Flaherty, Jan Wellford (who was my pre-race 50 mile pick) and Andy Vermilyea was nice to know even if none of them were there. And originally, when I walked up to the cabin with my gear, I thought I was locked out. Matt did an excellent job making the unlocked cabin look locked. I nearly freaked out. Because, you know this is Cayuga for me. HA!

Eventually, I got in and left to go eat a Chipotle burrito.

Upon my return, Matt and Andy were back at the cabin. (No sign of Jan at the moment.) Since they were running the 50 in the morning, it was an early night so they could get up at 4:30. My alarm was set for 6:30 since my race started two hours after theirs. As we were turning in, Jan comes in. It was perfect timing. Earlier, Andy and I joked that he would show up at 1:30.

While, the rest of the gang was up for their 50, I pretty much slept through their activities. I got up a tad before my 6:30 alarm and got ready. Much like last time I was at Cayuga, I walked from the cabins over to the start area. Unlike last time when I had a roller cooler of things, I had a sack pack with shoes, shirts and nutritional fixings so the walk was much more pleasant. It was around 7 when I got to check-in and the area was quiet. You could hardly tell a race was already in effect aside from drop bags lining the walls of the hall. Spotted fellow WhippAss, Ryan Espulgar (and this year’s run all the races) already in the house. Chatted for a spell before I went off to do some bib pinning, bathroom usage and focusing. For the marathon, I was rocking the Nathan Peak Insulated filled with Tailwind and a little baggie of Shot Blocs on the front of the belt. For footwear, due to the infamous Underpass water crossing, I wore the original Montrail FluidFlex due to their superior drainage with a part of Smartwool socks that dry well for me.

A few minutes before the start, we got some race instructions from Ian as we hesitated lining up under the start banner. After some nudging we filled in the line. With the blowing of the horn, we were off for a marathon of pure….adventure. Enjoyment is not what I would use. While Cayuga is a beautiful course, it is tough. Still, I went to the front right away. My aim was to run controlled. Inside my mind, I had a lingering worry. I was worried I would hurt myself again before I got any farther than last time. My main goal for the day was completion. Sure I would like to win but that was actually secondary.

It was a constant replay in my brain of the moment, I injured myself two years prior. Still, I kept going. It was cool out so that was keeping me calm (enough.)

As I neared the aid station at Old Mill, the marathon does an extra mile loop to make the distance an actual marathon. Let me say, this section was cruel. You think, how can we get anymore hills, well, we did. The loop hits you with a nice climb and then diverts onto some fresh trail exclusive for use. All flagged with blue flags, I kept losing thinking I lost the course. Had it been more than a mile, I might be somewhere in Canada by now trying to find my way back. Thankfully it wasn’t and I made it into Old Mill and onto the portion of the course that was my last two years ago. I was still moving well (it was early). I figured I’d not see anyone until closer to the Underpass aid station. Well I saw plenty of action before it. One of the things I was excited about for in the marathon was getting to see the 50 mile unfold and cheer on people I knew like Jason Mintz, Adam Russell, Ben Nephew, Iain Ridgway, Elaine Acosta and Cole Crosby. Totally a blast to root for others in their race while doing my own. (Also, two people I didn’t know cheered me on by Philly and my name Mike. They turned out to be Michael Heimes and Sean O’Connor, who knew me from here!)

Eventually, I rolled into Underpass without stopping. Now, every step would be a new fresh experience. The weight on my back had been lifted as I passed all the points where I was before that related to the 2014 injury occurance. It was refreshing. I moved well through the next section to Buttermilk. Still while I moved well, it went on forever and because it was a lot of singletrack, it was tough running in the opposite direction of the 50 milers. I was happy to reach the point where it was a bit of a lollipop because it meant I was back in my own space running by myself where I didn’t have to worry about barreling over anyone so I could catch glimpses of the beauty I was surrounded by. Popping down to the Buttermilk aid station to look up and see the falls was gorgeous. The aid station folks were awesome as they shouted like the dickens to the massive line of people on the stairs (my path of travel) that a runner was coming and to move. The coolest part of my race was running up all of those stairs flanked by a large crowd of people. Think of those images of cyclists in the Tour de France riding up mountains with people within inches. It was like that.

Now I was heading back to Underpass but……

It was starting to get warm and the section back included some exposed sunny spots. I was running well but began to bake a little. And now I was passing people from behind….

Look over there! A whirlpool for me to jump in. Maybe, if I just hang over here I’ll avoid being sucked in.

So for the next few miles, I ran on the edge. I wasn’t feeling incredibly spent but knew I was losing energy to the heat. Now, eventual Cayuga Trails 50 (and USA 50 Mile Trail Championships) winner, Tyler Sigl was headed my way. So that meant, I was about to rejoin two-way traffic right in time for singletrack! The toughest part of singletrack was on a downhill stretch not too far from Underpass where I had to pass three people. Two were easy and as I was within 10 feet of the third, the gentleman fell. I stopped to see if he was ok. He had cramped up. I didn’t want to leave him. However the other two runners I had passed were there too and I was told to get moving.

Before I knew it, I was in the little patch right before the stream crossing at Underpass. The ground damp earlier had caked over showing clear signs of the suns effects and the rising temps. So, I said a big hello to the water taking time to cool off before going into the aid station where I stopped for the first time all day to top off my bottle. I was in and out pretty quickly. At this point, I started to wonder how much of a lead I had which played perfectly into the wall I hit. On the first real incline after Underpass on the way back, my legs told me to ‘bugger off’. I had to power hike what should have been a really runnable stretch. And when I hit the top, I had a tough time starting my running gear back up. OH NO!!!! Not now. Not this far out. In my head, I told myself if I have 6 minutes up with 3 miles to go that I would be good. Considering I had not really seen second all day, I thought I might have had that.

So now, I was beginning to lose steam and feeling a bit safe that I didn’t need to panic. I got some running going and during those patches I saw eventual women’s winner Connie Malcolm (who was awesomely supportive and encouraging as she was running her race.), Jason and Adam, who gave me a solid high five. All this was before Lucifer’s Steps which I was mentally wanting to rock but my tank was emptier than a California reservoir during a drought. Umph. I made it up. Whew. After, I had crossed the little stream crossing near Old Mill, I managed to look to the other side of the stream and saw a runner with a marathon bib. SECOND PLACE was right there!!!!!! It wasn’t 6 minutes. It might have been 2 if I was lucky. My race was about to get real. Cayuga was going to test me.

As I rolled through Old Mill, Ian asked if I needed anything…..a big nope. No time to stop Mr. Golden, I got a race hanging on by a thread. Any hope of relaxing on uphills was gone. I couldn’t take it conservative on steps. I had to give it all I had. And I did. Yes, I did have to power hike one or two little spots but if I didn’t my legs were done for. The sketchy wooden steps, I was going two – three at a time. Use the downs to roll into the ups, I was telling myself. Got to get to the crest of the hill we climbed on the way out. Is this it? It is!!!! Open it up, pal. Bomb this downhill. And I did. And every step hurt. I so wanted to be done. I knew I was going to be spit out on flat ground and would have to run easily a quarter mile to the finish. I was hoping it was enough and that I opened up some breathing room. The moment, I hit the final turn, I looked cross the meadow and second was right there! I had to run and run hard. From the sound of the horn, this race was mine for the taking. All day, I was out front. The last thing I wanted now was to lose in the final straight away.

There it is! The finish banner! I crossed it without being passed. I WON!!!! I did it.

As I crossed the line, I went straight to the ground, I was fried. Second place crossed like a boss not far later. After a few minutes, I managed to crawl inside the building and cool off. It took two ice packs (one on my chest and one on my neck) 40 minutes to bring my core down to a reasonable level where I felt revived. Whew.

Later on, I would learn that I had 4 minutes of a lead with 7 miles to go and held on by 12 seconds. My lead grew all day until those final 7 when I gave it all back. Well not all of it, I did have those spare 12.
Finish time: 3:41:46.

I hung around for a bit at the finish once I got back up. Until the idea was placed in my head about getting some Ben & Jerry’s. At that point, I went back to the cabin to get fresh clothes and the car to drive for some grub. Sadly the Ben & Jerry’s did not happen since I couldn’t find the Coffee Coffee Buzz Buzz flavor. On the bright side, Arby’s did have the Orange Cream shake! Oh year. I got that and a large order of curly fries. Delicious. Following my food quest, I went back to the finish and spent much of the rest of the day there since awards were to be at 5 (ended up at 6). But I got to talk with Ben, Iain, Ian, Ryan, Jan, Cole, the Rusecki’s and Matt (who took 3rd). Also, saw Elaine win the ‘coming in hot’ award. Sadly, I missed Jason and Adam.

Once things settled down, Matt, Jan and I went to Ithaca Beer Co. for food. Our original party of 4 (Natalie Thompson was joining us) turned into 11 as others including Dylan Bowman joined. Thankfully, we ordered with perfection and our server didn’t hate us all that much. Due to dinner taking longer than expected, any plans of a fire at Cabin 6 were dashed as we opted to call it a night. Early Sunday morning I left while the guys were sleeping. It would have been nice to join the morning shakeout run but I had a rental car to get back. And thus, closed my weekend. (I did get in a run as I dropped gear home first and ran from the rental place back home.)


Before I sign off on this epic, I want to take a moment and say thanks to Ian Golden for hosting the event. My relationship with all things Cayuga Trails has been tough. Two years ago, the 50 was my first DNF. Last year, it was a DNS (as part of a month of 3 other DNFs). This year, I eeked out a win in the inaugural marathon race that accompanied the main event. However, all along the way, Ian has been incredible supportive to me and the trail/ultra scene as a whole. He works hard at what he does to make all the events he is involved with top notch. So if you see a Red Newt Racing or Ian Golden attached to an event, give it consideration. 

Now to move onward and upward. (And maybe next time I'm at Cayuga it will be back for the main event.)

Monday, May 23, 2016

DNS Victory - Worlds End Ultramarathon

For those looking for the short version of my World’s End Ultramarathon 100K race report: Did Not Start

For those wanting a little insight how one could extrapolate a race report from something I didn’t start, please read on:

When is a loss, a victory? Normally, it is usually hard to extract the positive from the negative. Especially for me. However, my experience this weekend at World’s End exists as one of those moments where I can clearly gleam how I won.

(Let the record show that Jonathan Lantz actually won the 100K in an absolutely stunning time going sub 12 hours!)

Following my performance at Hyner, I felt really good about my conditioning and mental confidence. My objective was to continue that trend into WEU with a few smaller speed session races and managing my miles wisely. You might even say I had a plan. Preliminarily, the plan was to again run using my Nathan Peak waist pack filled with Tailwind and Shot Blocs. At designated aid stations I would swap out the empty bottle for a fresh one while also grabbing a reload of Blocs. Easy enough plan. Until….

The calendar flipped to May. Not sure the reason but almost from the get-go May put a kink into my preparations. I blame some aligning of the stars considering May was pretty rough on me last year with three DNF’s and a DNS all while being in the thick of buying a house. Keep that in mind. This year, May started with my annual call of jury duty in Philadelphia. For the first time, I had to report on a Thursday instead of the usual Monday or Tuesday. And in the only can happen to me, despite the room being half empty and a light load, I was the first name called all day for a jury panel. Every other year I have been sent home without being selected for a trial. Not this time. I was Juror #1 for a trial that according to the judge would consume the next week. Fine. Sure, I was two weeks out from Worlds End but I would have a full week before the race to go back to normal. Normalcy is key here. My personality is wired to not like change, particularly when it comes to impacting my training/preparation structure. (Ok, so I really did not like the initial jump from Office 2003 to Office 2007 either. My boss still doesn’t let me live that down.) While the time I could devote to tightening race parameters was narrowed, I still felt a good grasp of things. Until….

Trial moved into a second week. Not just for one day but three additional days. I was bugging out. Despite having all my physical gear ready, I started forgetting things like the 5am start time!!! And I still needed to sit down with Peg and go over what I needed from her as my crew. (More or less that talk was don’t let me quit in the middle of the race and swap out bottles at specific aid stations.) You could say I was having a tough time focusing. Now I was two days out!

Thursday, I was finally back in the office at work. I was looking forward to the environment. Just putting my head down and getting stuff done. Alas, car issues on the day created the possibility of needing to get a last minute car rental for the trip. In the end, we managed to get the car patched to drive to the race but for another chunk of time, my head was really anywhere but the race.
Sadly, Friday started out with more of the same. My original plan was to work remotely for half a day before driving up to World’s End. It is the same exact plan that I used for Hyner and really worked well. This time, however, work had a few big issues that were time sensitive. Not a typical Friday in my department. Ugh.

Basically, what I am saying here is that for the two weeks leading into World’s End, my head was anywhere but World’s End. At one point Friday morning, I gave serious thought to not driving up. I really knew I was behind the eight-ball when it comes to being 100% on my mental game. Still, Peg and I drove up because you never know if that switch can flip. Driving was pleasant. Our cabin was cute too. Things seemed to be looking like a go. We even went to bed before expected.

If only that meant a good night of sleep….it didn’t. After a few rock solid hours, I began to stir. And not in the ‘get up let’s go’ way but more of the ‘why is my neck feeling pinched, let me adjust the pillow, damn that is not working’ way. So my mind was alert and alive while it should have been shut down more than our government. To me this was the writing on the wall. Any trace of the hunger to start the race was gone. I viewed the moment as a final sign I wasn’t prepared. Since Peg and I were both up at 3:30am when we would have awoke anyways, we had a discussion about my decision. It went something like this:

Me: ‘Are you awake?’
Peg: ‘Yeah’
Me: ‘Not racing’
Peg: ‘Why? Is this where I should tell you to suck it up and do it?’
Me: ‘No, it’s not that case. I’m not ready for the race and starting to likely end up with a DNF would be bad for my confidence and against the progress I’ve been making since bottoming out at Steamtown.’

A bit more discussion happens but this is the general portion that gets to the point of probably this whole non-race race report.

My decision was not made in the vacuum of this one race and this particular point in time. It included the context of the past year that did a fair amount of damage to my confidence. And when I say confidence, I mean that feeling that I can go to the starting line and give it my all. For me, it also contains that thought I have a shot to win or at least achieve my goals no matter what gets through my way during the race. It’s the difference between a personal best and a personal worst. Going with the decision to race from where I was at most certainly would lead to the latter. Now you could say, how would I know if I elected to not start the race. It is probably the hardest part to explain because the answer from a measurable aspect was not attempted. You might say it was a gut feeling.

There’s no denying last year, I broke myself. It’s still too fresh and I’m still too fragile to think I’m completely hardened back up with the success I’ve had since the DNS at Steamtown. Because of that, I knew really the primary goal this year was to get myself back in order mentally as a runner. And I’ve made huge strides in doing so but I’m not willing to undo all the progress I’ve made at this point in time. (Even if it meant that I was to lose out on my shot at the PA Triple Crown.) It’s probably the greatest lesson I’ve learned as a runner and person.

One way, I can sit here and type this with a level of certainty is due to how I handled the day after I made the decision not to start the 100K. It can be summed up this way: I stayed. In the past, when I’ve had some less than desirable outcome, I wanted to be nowhere near the related race. Steamtown, I left before the race started. With Cayuga, I hoping the car and drove home. I couldn’t bear to be in those environments. This past weekend, not only did I stay but Peg and I ended up hiking 9 miles of trails in Worlds End State Park. 4 miles of which were included in the races. I wasn’t bothered by being on trails with flagging. What I experienced was being at one with the beauty of the natural surroundings I was in. Not only did I spend time hiking, at a few points in the evening, I ventured over to the finish line to watch finishers and talk to people I knew. I got to see John Johnson and congratulate him on his 50K win. Not to mention congratulate Jonathan on his 100K performance along with seeing Adam Russell gut out feeling sick to a tough as nails 3rd place finish. Got to talk to Ryan Cooper about his Cruel Jewel run while waiting for his wife Lori to finish an outstanding 2nd for the women. Sadly, I didn’t see all my friends finish their races but they were all in my mind.
Due to being able to be present, it reaffirmed an enormous comfort in my decision to not start. I’d be lying if it wasn’t shocking that I felt that way because it was surprising. It feels like a sign of growth that maybe I’ll only understand. It certainly puts me in a position to look-ahead and consider other possibilities with my year.

(Sorry Eastern States but I think you might be skipped for something more enjoyable. Maybe the Call of the Wilds. Right now, I’m thinking I might go up to Cayuga for the marathon distance. I have options, options that will hopefully continue to lead me on a forward path.)

Thanks to everyone for taking the time to read this report of a race that didn’t go as planned for me but showed me something more.

You could say the growth was the best part of my weekend because when we came home we discovered the refrigerator had decided it was finished. (Plus, today, we found out our car had been rifled through. Thankfully, nothing was taken.)

With my luck this May, maybe if I started, I would have broken my leg. Live to run another day…..

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Hyner Challenge 50K - Epic Entry for an Epic Race

3 weeks. It’s been about that long since my last entry. Normally, I would regale you with all the fun under the sun as a lead in. But we all know the truth. I’m going to mostly talk about the Hyner Challenge 50K.

Hyner has been on my radar for a couple of years now. Last year, I didn’t think I would be recovered enough from Umstead to justify doing it. Once it was announced that a PA Triple Crown of Mountain Running was being organized and that Hyner was one of the events, I signed up quick. If I recall, it might have been the first race of 2016 that I registered for. Clearly, the Hyner Challenge was going on the schedule as my first A race of the year.

Given the manner in which I epically destroyed my confidence as a competitive runner last year, I had to game plan how to get it back. That work started way back in October at Steamtown when I was so broken mentally that I opted to not start the race. I realized where I had fallen. Through a series of small races I began to refocus. I publically admitted my state. I got pushes from my friends. One of the biggest pushes was from Pat McCloskey, the RD of the RunBucks series. If he didn’t encourage me to run the Bucks County Marathon the way he had, I might be in a different spot right now. It was a good boost and led to me ending 2015 strong with BUS Trail Mix-Up, Bryan Court and Winter Solstice. Still, work had to be done and I go off on the right foot with Phunt. I began to feel a little like myself. But I knew something was missing so I began adding road 5Ks in the past couple of months. I needed a gauge and those have always been a nice measure for me. Two weeks out, I had what I considered a bad time at the Oreland 5K, clocking a 16:49 on a hilly course. My 5Ks were going the wrong way each getting around 10 seconds slower. (Oreland was my third of the year.) As a result, the week before Hyner, I wavered about what to run but opted to run the Ronald McDonald House of DE 5K down along the riverfront in Wilmington. Much like HAT was the ultra performance I needed, this 5K was the short performance I needed. I ran a 16:16 with some headwind. I was at a good point……

Lately, I’ve gotten really good about having my race gear all set aside in advance and that really was helpful going into Hyner Challenge week. Directions were printed. What I was going to eat the night before was decided. Thanks to the generosity of the RD, Craig Fleming, I had a place to sleep. (One of the things I neglected was getting my lodging in order in a timely manner. Hey, I was working on me for the race.) You could say, I was dialed in. I even adjusted my schedule so I could work a half day remotely on Friday so I didn’t have to come into the office and make the drive as relaxed as possible. (I even packed the car, Thursday night of 95% if what I was bringing to reduce my nerves.)

Friday, I got up to the Eagles Nest packet pick-up location around 5pm. On the way out of pick-up, I saw Maggie and Ryan pull in. It was nice seeing them briefly. I could have hung out some at their campsite but I opted for the quiet hermit route to the evening so I drive over to the Hyner Run Lodge (aka the only cabin in Hyner Run State Park). It was really nice and roomy. Upon arrival, I said hello to some of the others staying there. For dinner, I had Saag Paneer with Rice. After that, I curled up with a blanket in a chair and read a little of Empire of Mud. (It is a book about the early days of Washington DC and it’s development.) I would have read more but an influx of people arrived after pick-up closed for the day. After all, I was staying where race staff were. The remainder of the evening involved lots of wonderful conversation. And it was all very calming. Ok…maybe not all of it. There was talk of rattlesnakes maybe being out in nice hot weather.

We're going up that?! (Courtesy of Momentum Photography)


My sleeping set up was an IKEA mattress on the floor of the living room with my sleeping bag and pillow on top. I’d say it was the ideal way to go. I could have had a bunk but I didn’t expect one so I went with the set-up I had in my head. It was the way to go as I ended up getting a fairly good night’s sleep.

While I didn’t have the luxury of rolling out of bed right at the start, I wouldn’t have traded the 3 mile drive for anything. My morning was as chill as could be. I listened to a little combo of Brandon Flowers/Killers before the drive over at which point I switched to some Clutch. As I pulled into the parking at the Eagles Nest, I spotted one Bryan Slotterbach prompting me to roll down my window and yell to him. At this point, I park, grab my stuff and walk over to the start area. Now is when I start to see people I know. For me, I feel very low key. I’m socializing but not panicky about anything. I chalk this up to having planned gear out well. When I left the cabin, I already had my racing socks and shoes on. (Smartwool Run and Montrail FluidFlex II) I knew I was using the Nathan Peak Insulated waist pack. Because of that, when I woke up, I made sure to put on the Nathan Hipster at the same time. Personally, I have a weird fit on most things and I have to use the Peak all the way down at its smallest to get no bounce. Since it could dig into my skin a little, I use the Hipster as a buffer layer. It’s what works for me. Knowing, the 50K is a one loop course, I wanted to have the Peak for later in the race and not need to mix any Tailwind on the fly, so I had a handheld as well. Normally, I use a Nathan Speedshot Plus. However, with the amount of climbing and downhills, I wanted to actually get lighter during the race. That meant throw-a-way. So I went old school and took a 20 Oz soda bottle and made a tape handle/grip. For my shot blocs, I had a baggie taped to the front. Everything was in order. Now all I had to do was run the darn thing…..

Before the Dance (Courtesy of Bryan Slotterbach) 

Am I playing soccer? (Courtesy of Steve Goss)


Going into the race, thanks to the internet, I had a general idea of who my competition was. From what I was able to garner, Cole Crosby and course record holder Adam Russell were the two to beat. Adam had been on a tear coming in running some tough courses and performing really well. Cole has PR’s of 5:47 – 50M and 3:11 – 50K. He’s got wheels and can run well on tough courses. My race strategy was to stay close to Adam or Cole early on and hope I could pull away later in the race. Everything doesn’t always go as planned. To evidence this, the tape handle of my bottle broke within the first few steps of singletrack on the day. I had a decision to make. Decide to hold the bottle or ditch it way sooner. Neither was ideal. However, I did know if I ditched, I had a sleeve of Tailwind I could might in the zipper pouch of my Peak belt.

Holy Hills, Batman!



Hyner View (Courtesy of Momentum Photography)

Starting out, there was a good pack of 8 or so running together along Cliffhanger before we kick up Humble Hill as we trek to Hyner View. We started to shuffle around here. It was here, the wild card element came into play. Tommy Darlington took the lead towards the top. None of the rest of us matched the maneuver. I knew nothing about him prior. Turns out, he finished 2nd at Tussey Mountainback last year in 6:31. As Tommy disappeared, eventually Adam, Cole and myself settled into a sort of pack. I’d say it was a great group to run with. A lot of the credit for the vibe has to go to Cole. We were workmanlike and fairly communicative. It said we were all comfortable. My thinking this early on was that Tommy would come back to us. Hyner 50K has 5 major climbs so it was sound thinking. All three of us were running sensibly. At a few intervals we would stretch out some but always come back. Adam would smoke the technical steep downhills. Cole could open on the long straights.

And this was only the 1st climb! (Courtesy of Erman Anthony)

Dynamics of our group changed at the base of the third climb (mile 16) which really was an inclined along a rocky stream run. At the bottom, Adam dropped back a little. Cole was powering ahead in a running motion anytime he could. In my head, I told myself, I had to match Cole and not let him get away. I stayed close and we regrouped on the steepest part of the climb before some runnable trail leading into the mile 18 aid station. Another change took place here. Since I still had plenty of fluids on me, I kept going. See, I managed to get comfortable holding the 20 Oz bottle really early so it felt like no work to use it. Plus, on the sections I needed to powerhike, I was able to use the tie-band on the peak to hold it. Now coming down Sledgehammer (our 2nd climb) instead of going up it, I was expecting Cole to catch me by the bottom. To my surprise, he did not. However, our quiet all to ourselves trail time was about to end as we slammed back into the 25K course. (Hyner’s 50K course, runs the same loop at the 25K but around 6.5 miles does it’s 25K loop.)

I say slammed into the 25K because before my eyes, I saw a conga line of runners at a hiking pace along Johnson Run. Here, I did everything in my power to keep churning and moving. I was tired and doing a bad job calling out to pass. (For the record, it does not help when some participants have headphones in.) I took whatever lane I could. If it was a tight pass, I tried to say sorry. A few times, I glance back and saw Cole having to deal with the same issue. I was wondering if the leader was up ahead. I had failed to ask for any leader information at the prior aid stations. Clearly, this was not going to help if he was far enough ahead. Eventually, things began to thin some. I started moving a little better into the Team RWB aid station. (Recalling, I’m a bit foggy whether it was before or after but I saw Ryan during his 25K and asked if 1st came through. He said ‘nope’. I said something like ‘damn’.) Here, I finally finished off the 20 Oz Bottle and disposed of it in a waste bin. Now, it was time to run downhill calling ‘On Your Left’. Let’s just say, passing on single track that is on an edge of a run can be tricky dicky. Here, I thought I was doing it well. However, not as well as…….ADAM! Towards the bottom, right before the long switchback climb up to the top of S.O.B., I caught sight of him. He apparently caught and passed Cole gaining on me by crushing the downhill like Adam demonstrated earlier in our run.

Coming into the RWB station. Notice the Fancy Bottle. (Courtesy of William Bo Hagaman)

So after 27 miles, second place was going to come down to the last 4. Not only that but down to the last ‘hill’. Surprisingly, I was moving at a good clip. People were totally encouraging. They were even trying to tell me, I was the 1st from the 50K to come through. I always responded with someone else was ahead. Yes, I was being crushed and I knew it. Still, I was running the race according to plan. I was feeling good and when we hit the kicker on S.O.B., I was excited! Mainly for the fact that this was it for climbing. I scrambled up that sucker like I never scrambled before. Looking horribly pathetic on hands and knees trying to not slide backwards. After what seemed like the longest 100-150 meters, I made the top, took a brief pause, dumped a cup of water on me and then ran off. What I was doing, I would not really call running. My legs felt dead. The wide open trail was failing to rejuvenate them as fast as I needed. And I needed them to do it NOW! I knew my place could be lost once Adam gets to the top and moving. He knows this course. He has the Course Record. And most of all, he can fly on downhills!!!! Gotta get moving.

Eventually, my legs came back to me. Much slower than I wanted but I had not been passed and in a quick glance back, I didn’t see Adam. At this point, I was not thinking about Cole. Not so say, he could not be the one rolling up on me but I didn’t see him anywhere up S.O.B. Finally, I got moving again right before hitting Huff Run. Yes!!! Huff Run was the big downhill portion. I knew I had to pull out all the stops here. My pace became the fastest all day. Huff Run was fairly straight allowing to get a good bit of momentum. And since it was not full of a ton of 25K runs, I did not have to throttle back much. I tried to shout as much as possible that I was approaching to pass. I took gambles. I lived life on the edge. It was exciting! All I had to do was have some distance and 2nd would be locked up. I had no idea what it was because if I glanced back I was going to seriously get injured. After not enough fun downhill, Huff Run spit me out onto the road to lead me back to the start at the Western Clinton Sportsman Association club. As I made the left onto Rt120 to go over the Susquehanna, I glanced back to see if Adam had hit the road himself yet. I couldn’t see him. I had a sigh of relief. I could enjoy the final stretch. It was here, I looked at my watch. I was definitely going under the course record by a lot! However, going under was not going to set it today. Never did I see Tommy on the trails following Hyner View. As we hit the last little bit of single track up to the finish, I said screw it and hike the last incline. I jogged over the line in 4:32:12.

Maggie (she ran the 25K) greeted me at the finish. She thought I won. I told her no. Someone else was ahead of me all day. I tell a few more people this. Then a few questions appear because I was given the wrong finisher hat. I was handed the 25K one. Finally, everything gets cleared up when Tommy comes over to the bench I am sitting on. He tells me that he did 25K! Turns out he missed the turn up Sledgehammer. And nobody told him at the following aid stations. That meant…..I WON!!!! Holy cow. I took 17 minutes off of Adam’s CR and won an AX!!!!

Courtesy of Sophorn Choup

Totally put me on cloud nine. As I wobbled about, getting numerous cans of Orange Crush, both Adam and Cole came in. Adam finished just under 5 minutes back while Cole was 15. All three of us went under. Sadly, I missed watching them across the line. (On the women’s side, Rebecca Lewandowski took 5 minutes off of the existing women’s 50K record.)

I’m honored to have shared the trails with both of them. Adam, I get to see in a few weeks at Worlds End 100K. Cole is off to tackle Cayuga Trails 50M.

Sadly, there is only so much time in the weekend, so instead of another night up at Hyner, I had to drive back home to Philadelphia. Thankfully, the drive home went smooth.

In the it takes a village portion of this recap, I have to thank some folks: Craig Fleming, RD and his staff of volunteers who made this event so outstanding. Also, thanks to Craig again for the generosity and hospitality. Cole and Adam. I hope we brought out the best in each other on the trail. All my friends for putting up with my running. Thankfully, a lot of you do these crazy runs too. (Maggie, Ryan S, Bryan, Ryan E, Kiran, Casey, Jim…so many more)  All the fellow runners who offered support and encouragement telling me something I didn’t believe was true. Wissahickon Wanderers and Trail Whippass. Do I even need to say why? Nathan Sports. All about the Peak Insulated here from my hydration company of choice. Tailwind Nutrition. Never have to worry about bonks with you in my bottle and belly. Montrail. Many thanks for believing in this Flatland East Coaster.


None of this would be even remotely possible without Peg. No words can do justice. She allows me to do these silly things. Maybe I should blame her because she helped me tap into the types natural environments these races are run. On the other hand, maybe she deserves all the credit.

Monday, April 4, 2016

HATs Off, Pants Off, Dance Off - Recent Shenanigans

It's been around a month and a half since my last verbal rambling of words followed by more words supported by both vowels and consonants. Some of you might have been out there missing my musings. To those who have, the wait is over. To those that weren't, you had absolutely no wait because you didn't care. Maybe I should be sad about such lack of love from the internet but I've been listening to a lot of Napalm Death lately so all is right in the world.

So what exactly have I been up to since the Swamp 50K? I've been working on me. By that, I mean training and racing to help boost my confidence. Last year, I pretty much thrashed my 'I can beat you' mentality I could take to any race. Performances at Phunt and Swamp have helped put me in a positive direction to start the year but with Hyner 50K in April as my first target race of the year, I knew I had to do more. As a result, I opted to skip the Naked Bavarian 20 Miler on March 6th and sign up for Seneca Greenway 50K on the 5th instead. Part of my logic for this was I wanted to see how I would do on a somewhat familiar course that isn't as windy as Swamp was for 50K. (I won a prior point to point version of the race in 2014.) It also helped that it was a Saturday race and not Sunday. That's Meet the Press day!

Well, in short, despite some good lead up to the 5th, I got a cough the day leading into it. Still, I drove down to a Maryland Rest Stop on the evening of the 4th to sleep in the car. Got some decent shut-eye after nailing down making the back seat of the car level. However, woke up with a hack. Yet, I still drove to the race site. Parked went for a jog and nope. Was not going to happen. I got back in the car and drove back to PA. Also proceeded to not run for 3 more days. That's great for moral.

I was a little down but I knew I had a 5K coming up on the 13th on a course I'd run before. So once I resumed training I prepped like usual. The 5K was up near North Wales hosted by the Village Tavern. It is a lollipop course with some rolling hills. Previously, I ran 16:19 at the event but was unsure what I would do since I last raced a road 5K on Halloween of last year! Cutting to the chase, I won it in 16:30. Not bad. I'll take it.

Due to the rug being pulled out from under me with missing Seneca Greenway and Naked Bavarian, I had looked for another 50K to do. Choices were narrowed to Lt Stone near Pittsburgh and HAT in Havre De Grace, MD. One was 4 hours away, the other around an hour. One was open, the other sold out but with a waiting list. Still I put my name in for the waiting list at HAT not expecting to get in but a few days later, I was in! I said to myself....good, I didn't want to drive to Pittsburgh anyways.

(And the only people who had any idea I was running HAT were Peg and Kat.)

So this meant a number of things:

Only had to drive a little over an hour
A 9am start meant I could sleep in until 7.

Those are two very important things every now and again. And with still adjusting to Daylight Savings, really a bonus since I'd been sluggish all week waking up.

Come Saturday morning of the 19th, I woke up to some Brandon Flowers/Killers tunes before popping in the new Killswitch Engage album in the trusty Nissan Versa (even with the pesky Tire Pressure System light on) cd player for the drive down. Driving was smooth and knowing bathrooms would be port-a-johns (or Honey Pots as they get called in MD), I opted to hit the Chesapeake House rest stop. Plus, who doesn't like heated bathroom use?! Not longer after, I got to Susquehanna State Park aka the race site. Parking was easy. Getting my bib was a tad longer than I expected. Apparently A-E is a popular range of letters and the line surprisingly long. Made me even happier to have used the bathroom before arriving.

Once I had my race number, I grabbed my gear and walked over to the start/finish location which was around 1/4 mile walk. As usual on a multi-loop course, I set up my trusty camping chair. I was pretty locked in with my gear. I've been tightening my organizing and prep a bit that has made things a bit easier lately. One of those aspects has been having some Tailwind pre-made and frozen in the freezer. Not in my handheld bottles but empty Seltzer and Powerade bottles. This has been great since I don't feel like I waste it if I don't use it all. I just freeze it again.

As I was lacing up my Montrail Fluidflex shoes (opting to go with Farm to Feet socks), I ended up talking to one of the 'rabbits' the race has to lead out runners for the 4 mile mini-loop. It was good to know there were pacers to show the way early. And it was helpful to know they were not racers so I didn't do anything too stupid. Like go out at 6:30 pace. Well, before I knew it, that hour at the site went by quick as it was time to start running 50K. The HAT Run starts in a big open field in a scene resembling Braveheart. In a flash all 330 of us were off.....but......

My plan for a relaxing start did not go according to plan. Another runner went after the pacers. Shite. A put up or shut up moment from the gun. Yes, I had checked the list of entrants on Ultrasignup. I had an idea of what others might do but you really never know. My best course of action was to stay with the other racer and gauge the situation sooner rather than later. Thus, in pursuit I went. Dang, this is quick, I thought. Yet, it was still comfortable for now.

Before the 4 mile mini loop ends, we merge into the latter part of the large loop. At this junction, our pace setters split off so it was other runner and myself. After a little while, we made some introductions. Since it has been over ten days from the race, I cannot remember if it was on that first loop or into the second. Once the conversation did start flowing it was pleasant. I would out the other runner's name was Taran and that over the summer before an injury he was working on qualifying for the Olympic Trials Marathon under the 1:05 half standard. DAMN. At that point, I recall saying, to Taran that he'd likely drop me but I'll run with him as long as possible. It really was good running and chatting. We did so for the first 12 miles of the race. He led through the first 8 (which was the first aid station on the big loop) and we went into the second together at which point he dropped back for support. We bid farewell but I fully expected to see the young man again. And that kept me moving....

Despite knowing the last 5.3 of the big loops was the toughest part and could come back to haunt me the second time around, I pressed. I pushed just that tad bit quicker up the hills. I didn't do the stream crossing too well as I didn't find the line I really wanted. Still, I was feeling good. I came charging into the end of the big loop in around 2:09:xx. Having set up my aid, I went straight to my chair to refill my Nathan SpeedShot Plus Insulated with Tailwind and to grab more Shot Blocs. (I had been squirreling away them in my cheeks and drawing down on them as I ran.

Going into the race my goal was to be around 4 hours. I knew HAT tends to have times over 4 and it was while more runable than Phunt, it had more climbing so it was in some ways tougher. I now had around 1:50 to run a second loop to get under the mark. I was doing the math in my head, 8 minute pace and I can do it. 9 and not. Time to get it done. Knowing the first 8 of the loop is the faster, I took what the course gave me. I floated on the downhills. Eventually, I came barreling through aid station 1 again to hear Phunt RD, Carl shout my name. I waved and said 'Hi Carl'. He was a busy man making french fries for the hungry runners. The next section between aid stations had a nice two mile gravel/paved road portion. I could move there but I had to get through some rolling to get there. I wanted 45 minutes left once I into the last aid station. Also, while I had no idea where 2nd place was, I wanted at least 5 minutes for the last 5.3 miles. Keep moving. The hurt was starting. Eventually, I made it to the aid station to hear Carl's cheer again. At this point, I figured out that both aid stations were next to each other! Talk about smart organizing. So super spectator friendly too!

In looking at my watch, I had 46 minutes to finish under 4 hours. Previous loop, it took me 38 minutes to cover the distance I had left. But I was now starting to come up to runners on their first big loop. Climbing and passing is hard. To make it tougher, there was a large hiking group on the trail!!!!

THIS SUCKS!!!! On singletrack it is super hard to pass people spaced out let alone a 30 person group. Thankfully, the hikers were nice enough to call ahead in the group to have those farther up move over. So they did not pose much of a problem as they could have. Considering I was wanting the race done, this still was a bit demoralizing. Yet, I was not walking the hills and that was good but the cadence was a half step slower. Umph. I just wanted to get to the last field. It seemed forever and once I hit the last bit of road downhill, runners finishing their first big loop were weaving through the woods to my right. What a tease! I had 18 minutes when I hit the road so I booked as hard as I could. As I got to the final trail rurn, I saw Saul who I knew back from NJ and RVRR! Said hi as I made the turn and that was a nice boost. The boost didn't last long as I really wanted to be done. This stretch felt like it was taking forever! Thankfully, after what felt like forever, I was out in the last bit of field. The HOMESTRETCH!!!! I crossed the line in 3:54:36. A time I was very happy with.

It is worth noting that it was the first time under 4 hours in a 50K since May of 2014. YES!!!!

For finishing, I was handed a nice HAT hat and camping chair (the chair is humorous since I have my own already).

Around 5 minutes after I finished and was chatting with others, it started to snow/rain. Immediately, when that started, the temp dipped. Thankfully, I had plenty of clothes to keep me warm. I moved my chair to under some trees so I could watch other finishers come in, chat and not get damp. Awards were done around 2:30 after which I had to take off as Peg's niece was in town and I wanted to hopefully see her before she left. Mission was accomplished! In my more impressive performance of the day I made it back to the house around 2 minutes before she left. Sure it was a quick hello but for family you like, you do such things.

And such concludes......HAT.

(Unlike the performance of the race and drive home, this blog entry has been a snail. It took me ten days to start it and over 5 days to reach this point. I was going to talk about another road 5K down in Delaware but I'm skipping those details. And since I started this entry, I ran a 10K trail race called Swamp Creek Stomp that was quite a fun experience. In short, it was so muddy that I had to go from lets run this hard and fast to, let's not do anything stupid. Still managed to run a decent pace on the two lap course. The second was much harder because there were sheets of slippery mud. You can see photos of the event on the Upper Frederick Township Parks & Rec's page: Swamp Creek Stomp .)


Now less than 3 weeks until Hyner....when the real fun begins.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Into the Swamp: 20 Hrs of Florida

Okay, so it was more like 21 hours of Florida but 20 sounds cooler as a headline. But I'm getting ahead of myself, I should probably start at the beginning. (No, not the beginning of my life. Did you think I was seriously going to go there?)

Disclaimer: You might need 20 hours to read this....IT IS LONG. OOPS!

Following PHUNT last month, I had been aiming to do a 50K that was relatively 'fast' and local. The weekend after PHUNT, I was signed up to do the Eugene Buckhert 50K down in Delaware. It was to have been 10 5K laps in a park. Didn't happen. Why? A 22 inch snowstorm the night before/day off the race.

Strike one.

Still wanting to find a 50K,  I looked at the Mid-Maryland 50K in where else but Maryland. It was a 2 hour drive from home and had day of registration. Gnarly. This course was 5 10K laps. However, in between the Delaware and Maryland races, I got a little chest cold. So despite getting better the week prior to the race, once the forecast showed 20 mph winds and single digit wind chills, I erred on the side of health. In other words, I didn't want a repeat of last year's winter bronchitis.

Strike two. (Instead, let the record show, I went to the movies to see Deadpool.)


Now, we're pretty caught up to where things get interesting. Glancing through ultras for the weekend of Feb 20th, NJ Trail Series Febapple races popped up. Another two hour drive from home. A chance to see people I know. Yet, to be honest, the day of registration price was a bit steep for me. Totally understand why this is the case...it is incentive to register early. In the end, while considering it, it still was not tickling my fancy. You could say.....I was feeling 'eh' for it being what I needed.

And then, you could say fate pointed me in a different direction. In my daily mass of emails, I had one for a promotion from Frontier Airlines showing some cheap rates into Orlando. Remembering that I had seen on Ultrasignup some Florida races, I did some mapping and fare checking. Turns out, another 50K option reared its head....the inaugural Swamp 50K. The Swamp 50K was one of three races to be held at Graham Swamp Preservation Area on the MTB trails that are on the edge of area. A 100K and 10K were also on the slate.  Registration was still open but I had to act fast as you had to request an invitation and present qualifications to be accepted.

Thankfully, RD Dawn Lisenby accepted me in fast enough fashion that I was able to jump on some Frontier flight action. For 112 bucks, I was able to book round trip travel from Philadelphia to Orlando. (It was 88 dollars before I selected my seats.) The catch? I would fly out of PHL at 8:40pm Friday night and fly out of ORL at 8:55pm Saturday. Bonus catch: To avoid any baggage fee, I had to keep my gear to a personal item that could fit under the seat. Luckily, I had flown Frontier out to Minneapolis in September and already had experience with the biggest bag I could pack.

What I should emphasize here is that I booked my flight on 2/15. Yes, the Monday, the week of the race. (Only people aside from Peg, I told were my two bosses at work. Mainly, because I asked for a remote work day on Friday. This was totally covert.)

Considering my flight was not arriving into Orlando until 11:30pm on Friday and that I had around an 1 1/2 hours of drive time to the race location in Palm Coast, I had no plan to get a hotel room for the night. Instead, I opted to rent a minivan to sleep in that I could park somewhere without hassle. Thank you, Dollar Rent A Car for the 40 dollar total. Despite having slept in a vehicle for a race before, I was nervous this time as I was going to be in an area I had never driven before. (Last time, I was in Florida, I was 8.) All of Thursday and Friday, I was pretty nervous about it to the point I felt nauseous for the bulk of the time. Part of it is also, I have this fear of going through security.

Eventually, Friday evening rolls around and Peg (who I really could not have done this without her support and love) dropped me off at the PHL airport. Security was a breeze making me feel a bit better. However, my flight's departure was delayed 45 minutes. (Something that was not announced until it was our originally scheduled time.) This sucked. It meant, I was going to be getting into Orlando later and meant less sleep. Still, I had the flight to catch some Zzzz's. Nope. Despite having ear plugs in, I got maybe 30 minutes of shut-eye because of some young children doing what young children do on flights. Let's say, I arrived in Orlando tired and ready for some van sleeping. Well, being tired and behind schedule cost me some of my wits. At the rental car counter, I was asked about basic or full coverage and said basic. Instead, I should have said none. Why? It doubled my rental rate. I was too exhausted to deal with it so I just took it. (Looking back, I justify it by saying still was cheaper than a room.)

After going through all the mini-van options, I settled for a Kia Sedona since it felt comfy in the driver's seat. Sadly, I compromised on the sleeping comfort. The one vehicle with the best sleeper option, the Town & Country had the shifter on the dash and that was too much for me to handle. Driving out of the airport to Palm Coast was easy as pie. I got to relax using some cruise control pretty much all the way up to the 24 hr Walmart, I was buying a $15 comforter and two quarts of Gatorade at. (Now, despite the Walmart being near the race site, I was not sleeping in the lot there because an online search had mentioned this Walmart tends to not allow car-campers. I should say, I probably could have since a few vehicles in the lot clearly looked like sleepers.)

Eventually, I made my way to the Holiday Inn Express off of 100. Just avoiding a sheriff's car doing a sweep of the lot, I found the only parking spot away from the entrance I could. I pulled in, shut off the van and crawled into the back. Because I compromised on the van, I was bent around the middle row of seats. My legs came out between the middle of the middle seats angled towards the driver's side and my head was in front of the rear row towards the passenger's side. Ear plugs were in and comforter was pulled over. Time for shut eye. Due to nerves, expecting a tap on the window, it took me 20 minutes to fall asleep. It was now nearly 3am thanks to arriving late, the Walmart stop and finding the sleeping place. Once I fell asleep, I managed to get a solid 3 1/2 hours bringing me to 6:30 for an 8am race start. Upon waking, I drove over to the gas station next door and used the bathroom to freshen up. Plus, it gave me a chance to change into my race attire (mainly my racing shorts) without being too showy before heading over to Graham Swamp 5 minutes away.

Onto the race....

Upon arriving at Graham Swamp Preservation Area, I was met by wonderful volunteers holding down the fort at the start/finish aid station already working hard to support the hearty souls running 10 loops of 10K that started at 5am. Being that it was 7am now, the sun was starting to pop out but not enough to make it warm. Yet. After the RD arrived back at the staging area from a visit to the 'mid-way' aid station (ended up being 2.5 in, so not quite halfway), I picked up bib and t-shirt. Back in the van, I started listening to some music, rubbing myself with Tiger Balm (only the red variety for me), and taping the nipples. Once you chafe, you never forget the little things. Almost....

Aside from my shorts, I was going to begin the race sporting my Trail WhippAss singlet, Nathan Speedshot Plus Insulated, Smartwool socks and Montrail FluidFlex (the original model). My Speedshot was filled with Lemon Lime Gatorade instead of the usual Tailwind Nutrition since I did not have any single serve packs to take on the airplane. Baggies of white powder likely would have resulted in a delay back in PHL. So I was going old school. The pouch was filled with 6 Shot Blocs and an emergency Gu Gel.

Since this was a loop course, I was able to find a place in the shade to stash extra Gatorade, Blocs and Gels easy enough to access on each lap.

Before, I knew it, all of us 50K runners were called to the start for a quick course description in terms of markings. One ground for disqualification you don't really ever hear....going over the mountain bike obstacles can get you DQ'd. So in other words, don't do it. Let me say, if you think Florida is all flat ultra courses, run one on a mountain bike trail. For those who know it, it makes the 'Roller Coaster' section at Pennypack Park (home to many Uberendurance Sports events) nothing. This was like running 10k of roller coaster that wasn't just switchbacks but short up and downs. Less than a mile of each loop was straight. And even then it was roughly two sections of maybe 1/4 mile each. (It may be more but you get the point.)

For the most part, the red is what we ran....


As we started, I strode out to an immediate lead. I kept it pushing yet comfortable. A day before departure I stumbled upon an image of the MTB loop at Graham Swamp online and had seen a video of some riders on it. This kept me from being too stupid. I ran cool and collected. At least while it was still cool out I did. Later on, the temps would rise near 70 and there were a few patches on the back half of each loop that exposed us to sun. This worked for the 1st two laps where I had built a 5 minute lead. (My first lap would be the 2nd fastest lap of anyone in all the races all day.) Before I headed out for my third lap, I refilled my bottle with Gatorade (which stayed cool in the shade).


Lap three began the suck. I started to really struggle here. At the beginning of the lap, I started to feel irritated on my left heel. Apparently my sock choice was a problem on the course. Since there was a sandy element to a lot of the trail, it was getting up and scraping between my flesh and shoe. In other words, I had a small cut. Since I was only a third of a mile from the start, I had two thoughts: Go back and change socks or go on. I chose to suck it up and do the latter. Instead of increasing my lead, it was rather stable for the first 3 miles but decreased down to maybe a minute at the end of lap 3. So in 3.5 miles I have back 4 minutes. Hello, bonk! I felt fried. I made a decision here to pour some water over me and change my singlet into my blue NB top. I stuffed more Shot Blocs into my handheld pouch.



By now, I was officially being stalked. I expected to be passed by second place. And I told myself, if I was that I would not push myself more in the heat and do a lot more walking. Thanks to the switchback nature of the course, I got to view and talk to second quite a bit. He was calling me a beast and I was saying he's got this, while we both were saying how we were struggling. We basically went through the aid station on lap 4 together. I worked to stay ahead of him and by the end of the lap, I had opened some space again that I finished the fourth lap in the lead. But not by much....

Just off the trail....I did mention Swamp...here's proof

As I paused to drink more and cool myself with water again, I dropped into second. I was ready to let the man go, so much so when encouraged to go catch him, I may have said something to the effect, he's got it. Well, turns out his struggles were worse than mine at that point. It might have been a mile into the lap that I regained the lead I lost. I opened it up enough that I lost visual contact for much of the lap. Somehow, I had this! EXCEPT......

With around 1.5 to go, the gap looked a little too close. Regardless of how fast I wanted to go, I couldn't open up. I was spent and fried. All I could think of was hold on....just finish this race. Then, I hit the tree with a 5.5 mile marker. Knowing a chance existed I could be caught and did not want to lose in the last mile, whatever gear that was missing the rest of the day came on-line. I HAULED that last mile into the finish. My time ended up being 4:30:20. Second place, a runner named Frank, finished only two minutes back. In doing so, he broke his 50K PR by nearly 20 minutes!

At the end of the day, we both pushed each other on what is one of the most brutal courses around. Is it runable? Absolutely. However, all the switchbacks create a constant need for accelerating and decelerating that just pummel you.

Following the race, I had some great conversation, took a brief trip to the store and bought myself some Surge soda. (Thanks to Travis for letting me know I would find Surge in Florida!) Have to tell you, I was baked. My core temp was very high until I was able to suck down an ICEE. I ended up back at Graham Swamp for more conversation and to watch the 10K before 50K awards. Sadly, after the awards, if I wanted any time at the beach I had to leave. I made it to Flager Beach for about 20 minutes before having to drive back to the airport in Orlando. My time in Florida was coming to an end.

Victory Surge

BEACH SHOT!!!!

Really got lucky with the drive back as traffic flowed and rental return was silky smooth. Security took 20 minutes and considering the volume of people was super efficient. Airport dinner....note to self: Don't do On the Border. Too much red pepper aftertaste. While leaving PHL was delayed, I arrived back 30 minutes ahead of schedule. Peg picked me up mere minutes after exiting the terminal but not before running into Jackie who was coming back from LA. (By the way, didn't see Jeff. Did you leave him behind?)

So in a span of 30 hours, I went from Philadelphia to Orlando to Palm Coast and back all while running/winning a 50K on 3.5 hours of sleep in a minivan in a hotel parking lot.

That's an adventure......

Post race FL selfie










Monday, January 18, 2016

PHUNT always wins....

Ouch. I just noticed my blog posting numbers and last year I only did 11 entries! I'll chalk that up to the rough year. You know the whole, I really don't want to talk about it thing and put one's own head in the sand. So, 2015.

Anyways, 2016 is now in effect and the first race is out of the way. Like last year, I kicked off the racing season with PHUNT, a race hosted by the TrailDawgs running club. The race takes place down in Elkton, Maryland at the Fair Hill Natural Resource Management Area. Two years ago, it was still a fatass but under the guidance of Carl Perkins has become an official race. Also, two years back Carl ordered up 4 degree temps with 5 inches of fresh now on a 50K loop. After some tweaking, it is now a 25K loop that you have the option of doing once or twice.

Following last year's freezing rain year, I opted to sign up for just the 25K. I did this back last January when registration opening. Part of this was done for sanity as last year work hammered me in the weeks leading up to the race. (It was the end of our fiscal year and I work for a financial institution.)

About a week before the race this year, I thought about doing the 50K. Weather was looking good and I was feeling good about my running. I've been taking it easy on myself instead of pushing as soon as the calendar flips. One of my objectives in training/racing this year is to build myself up. That means in terms of distance raced and mileage. Kind of the quality versus quantity model. So the idea of doing 50K doesn't exactly jive with taking it one step at a time. Carl encouraged me to make the decision on race day. (At the end of the day, official race policy was everyone was given the option to do one or two loops. Your personalized bib had pull tags for each distance.)

Still going into race week, I was mentally thinking about doing a 50K while telling myself my body will decide if I was ready. As incentive, I told myself I would take Sunday off running if I did the 50K. That would lead to maybe going to the movies too.

Anyways, on Thursday, I prepped my gear and laid out my clothes for the 16th. (I find it is easier than doing it the night before.) I dumped some Tailwind into my Nathan handheld and Nathan Peak bottles. I was leaning towards the Peak for running since I can lose some the arm weight but wanted to have both available to me.

Race morning, I hoped in the car, put on Duran Duran's Paper Gods and began my drive to MD. I stopped on the way out of my neighborhood to put air in a tire that was a little low and add some gas to the tank. One of those was doable. Frustratingly, the air at the gas station was not on. Grrr.... However, I knew I had good enough air to get to to MD and knew I would be passing a Wawa with air in Newark, DE. So, I got air closer to my destination. But I got the job done. It's the little things that make one race ready and properly inflated tires are one of those things. Despite, the extra stops, I got to Fair Hill an hour before the race and scored a fine parking spot.

Once in the activity hall, I dropped my bag in a corner, got my bib and headed to the potty line. Let's say if the urge to go had come near Wawa, I would have saved some time but alas, I was in line for the men's room. Thankfully, I got there when I did and not much later. And at least it was a warm wait as opposed to the port-o-john option outside. Still I admit it was a little longer than I hoped. I'd say that impacted my pre-race socializing to near zero. I had bottles to fill with water and shoes to put on. I did those to Clutch's Psychic Warfare album. It was so rockin' I didn't even need to bust out the drum sticks. Shoe-wise, I opted to go with my Montrail FluidFlex. Not the II but the original. I had the FluidFlex II with me but I wanted a little lighter weight. Part of me had thought about bringing the Caldorado's to the race for the extra grip since there was bound to be some mud from the rain during the overnight. In the end, those stayed at home as I felt I could get away with the lighter shoe. And for the most part I did. Aside from a few sections, I maintained solid contact with the trail. Of course, one of the toughest sections was the first field we run the edge of. That was sloppy.

Before I forget, I should tell you I ended up going with the handheld as I couldn't get the Peak to sit comfortable enough and didn't have the time to play with it. Lesson: Get a run in with it on sometime soon as it has been a little while. Maybe I got a bit chunky since it felt like it was digging more than usual. (It always digs initially before settling in nicely. I'm just built weird.)

Just shy of 9am, Carl made announcements and led everyone out of the hall to the start with the sounds of AC/DC's Highway to Hell. Before we knew it, we were all lined up and ready to go. Some additional announcement's were made that I admit I didn't really hear. Then we were off. Not far out of the gate I took the lead. I really did not want to get stuck behind people on muddy singletrack so I saw it as little option but to go out front. Last year, I went out and went out hard only to not have a good day. This year, I did not push the pace as much. Part of this was, I still had not decided if I was doing 25K or 50K. For the early miles, I was going back and forth in my head. At the 1st aid station, I was thinking 25K still. By the second, I was leaning towards 50K. You could say at that point, I was feeling good. Then again, you could say that this section was the easiest to flow on. It had the least amount of rolling switchbacks. Those rolling switchbacks at Fair Hill will beat you up. None of the hills are hard but it is slightly roller coaster in some spots. After all the course does manage to somehow squeeze 2100 ft of gain/loss in 25K. (My friend Destrie had 4200ft for 2015's 50K and this year was the same course, just in reverse.) After the second aid station, I felt the course had some of the muddier sections. (Around here, I saw Ryan, who I thought was taking pictures, and tried to flash my Trail WhippAss singlet that was under my white-T. It was cold at the start and I wanted the extra layer. Also, turns out Ryan took video so I look super silly.) On the downhill after the course's covered bridge, I did some slipping. That made me think hard about what the course would be after another 400 people had a chance to pass through. And it was from there on out that I based my 50K decision more on the course conditions than how I was feeling. Maybe, it is because I have an ecological landscape architect at home but I just worry about the environment and felt bad running in the mud by the end since I'm sure we increased erosion damage to the Fair Hill trails. But I'll be the first to tell you, in the last 5 miles, were the course gets twisty again, my hips were not liking me. That really told me....be wise and do 25K today.

Getting to the last climb on a fire road was nice. I knew when I hit it, I was just about done and strode into the finish.

During the 25K, I managed to run comfortably and put in a two minute gap on second. I finished in 1:55:40 on some sloppy trails for an opening win to start 2016. (And while I did the distance I registered for, the fact I did not do 50K means, even in victory..Phunt ALWAYS wins.)

Following the run, I got to hang out with Ryan, Rodney, Emir, Maggie, Jackie and Jeff. Beforehand, I got to see Bryan and Mel. The veggie meatballs as part of the post race food were awesome. Probably, one of the best post race meal options for a vegetarian I'd had.

I'm already looking forward to my next race and building on a reasonable start to 2016. And for the record, I did do a Sunday run. I gave myself a break and only did 5 miles in the afternoon instead of a usual morning long run. But since I didn't do the 50K, I had to do something as I told myself only a day off if I completed 50K.

At least the run was done during the snow.....hopefully, the next race won't be in the snow.