Thursday, December 22, 2016

Closing the chapter on 2016....it wasn't a dumpster fire of running.

As my finals days as a 36 year old come to a close, it is fitting to sit back and reflect on the past year running wise.

(Since my birthday is a mere few days before the end of year, I can get away with this as an end of age and year review.)

If you recall my views on my 2015 from a racing/running perspective, you’ll remember I thought it was sub-par. You’ll also remember that I felt I destroyed my confidence. As a result of those two aspects, my overarching objective for 2016 was to build myself back up as a runner. In some ways, it was like beginning all over. Each race was thought of in terms of ‘do I feel confident in performing well’ and ‘will this move the needle of my confidence in a positive direct’. For the most part, it was a good mentally healthy approach.

I’d say my approach worked well. I did not have a DNF in 2016. I did have 4 DNS (Seneca Creek Greenway, Worlds End 100K, Twisted Branch 100K, and Indian Creek Fifties) and three of those were due to questions of illness.

From a numbers perspective, (which will make this a lot shorter, call it my gift to you), I did the following this year:

  • Started 26 races ranging from 5K to 100K.
  • Won 23 of those races.
  • 14 races took place off road.
  • 9 – 5ks
  • 2 – 50M
  • 1 – 100K
  • 2 – Marathons (One trail/One ‘road’)
  • 5 – 50K
  • Won at least one race in each month of the year.
  • Dipped back under 16 minutes in a 5K. (Squeaked in with a 15:59)
  • Raced in 7 states.
  • Won the Bucks County Marathon for the third straight year (and now have won half of them.)
  • My biggest surprise was an unexpected sub 6 hour 50 Mile running 5:51 and change at Brazos Bend. (Especially since I was not chasing a sub 6 this year like I tried last year.)


All of these results, I believe have me pointed back on a good path going into 2017. One regret is not getting to run the 100 mile at Brazos Bend. However, without that question of a looming illness, I would have not changed to the 50 mile and set my PR. And to be honest, I was thinking of a road 50 mile to go for sub 6 in April that I no longer have to subject myself to. YAY!

Moving forward, I’ll shoot for 6-7 ultras. This year I had 7 and that seemed to work well for me. I don’t see a need to run one a month like I did in 2014. Plus, 7 spaced out allows me to enjoy other races that I can use as ultra speedwork. Plans are also to travel out of the Northeast for a race or two. Time-wise, I’ll take what is given to me. Overall, I’ll be happy if I can set at least one PR in the year.
Since nothing really is set in stone for my schedule, I’ve got nothing to share on that front. And you know what? That is fine by me right now. I’m going to enjoy the remaining days of 2016 with some light running.

Before I sign off, I do want to say that very little of what I accomplished this year would have not been possible if not for the support of Montrail and Nathan Sports products. Being dialed in on footwear and nutrition/hydration delivery made pre-race prep a snap.

Also thank you to all the people who read this blog, support me in racing and support me in life. My life is fuller because of it.  (Of course, one rises above the rest. I think we all know who she is at this point. J )

Originally when I sat down to do this post, I thought I’d find a way to be much wittier than this has been. For that I offer sincere apologies. 2017 will bring a return of ramblings. 


Until then….lets at least secure Betty White in bubble wrap. 

Monday, December 12, 2016

Breaking at Brazos (Warning: Epic Read)

So my season finally culminated this past weekend at Brazos Bend in Texas. As you may be aware, originally, I was slated to charge hard after the 100 mile. Well, in the world of not everything goes according to plan, a few days (Wednesday) out I changed my distance down to the 50 mile. My primary reason for this was I serious thought I was coming down with some illness that would impede my ability to run what I am capable for 100 miles. To be honest, I even thought 50 miles might be a stretch. However, flights were booked and the last thing I wanted to do was end the year with not even bothering to show up to race an event I was looking forward to.

With that said, my goal at Brazos was to just run a good 50 mile time. If you were to ask me my goal, I would say sub 6 but in reality, I seriously thought that would be a big stretch. Hey, I wasn't feeling 100% but I knew inside that I could at least finish 50 miles.

Anyways....on with this tail....

Mid-afternoon on Thursday, I met up with ultra-badass Maggie Guterl, who was running the 100, (you may or may not know her as Maggatron) at the Philadelphia Airport for our travels down to the Houston, Texas area. (I won't bore you with details of our layover in ATL, rental car pick-up...etc.)

Eventually, we arrived in Antarctica, I mean Texas. It bares mentioning that somehow temperatures in the 30's followed us down South. Definitely a little shock to the system. Especially considering, Texans don't seem to know how to handle cold weather. Thankfully, neither Maggie or I were going to be stuck out in the cold as for the first night we stayed with Maggie's friend, Kehl, (it is pronounced like the superfood kale), and his wife Mariah.

On Friday, it was difficult to leave to leave the comfort of blankets and fireplace at Kehl & Mariah's. (Is this really a surprise? You should know by now my love for blankets and fireplaces. All that was missing was hours of reading, which I did not do nearly enough of this past weekend.) More or less, the bulk of Friday was getting settled at our hotel (30 minutes from Brazos Bend State Park) and packet-pick up. As part of going to pick-up, Maggie and I met up with Caroline Boller for a shakeout run. We all discussed our goals. All of them may or may not have been met continue to find out....

Originally, my plan was to fuel during the race with Tailwind and use ShotBlocs. Race Director supreme, Rob Goyen told me he would have some for me since I still feel weird about small bags of white powder going through airport security. Anyways, I was feeling a bit out of my comfort zone so I opted to fall back on a variation of my original fuel method.....Gatorade & Water. Something about this plan felt calming. In the past, I added pedialyte to my mix. This time, I opted against it. Using Lemon Lime Gatorade, I filled all my bottles with a 2/3 Gatorade, 1/3 Water mix.

This is as good a point as any to talk about gear. I went in with:

2 Nathan ExoDraw bottles with 3 Tropical Punch and 3 Orange ShotBlocs taped to the bottle.
Nathan Peak waistpack w/ two flasks should I need the extra fluids later.
Montrail FluidFlex.
Smartwool socks

Since there is nothing special about my shorts, singlet and underwear, I don't think you need to know those specs.

With throwing caution to the wind and still aiming to take a crack at sub 6, my plan was to wear my Garmin GPS watch. That way, I wouldn't do anything too stupid.

After a meal consisting of Panera's Grilled Cheese & Tomato Soup, I did get in some reading of my giant 800 page Theodore Roosevelt book (Wilderness Warrior) that talks about TR as a conservationist and naturalist, (Loving it!), before some shut eye.

Race morning, Maggie and I drove over to Brazos Bend State Park. While I was starting at 7am, Maggie went off at 6am. Maggie was going to be under the good care of her friend Nicole. Once we arrived, we hauled our gear over to a canopy and table being shared by Jeff Miller. (I didn't get a chance to thank you for this! I know you were using it because it was yours but it was helpful to have a good visual place for stuff in the perfect location.) Maggie went off to finish her prep and I went back to the rental to lay down for 45 minutes. Hey, it was still cold out. Sure, I was going to warm up once I started running but I wasn't running yet.

Those 45 minutes went by way too quick! Around 30 minutes before the start, I changed into my race shoes and socks. (I had a pair of FluidFlex II's as a backup in case I needed a shoe swap or if the FluidFlex didn't feel right on race morning.) Upon grabbing my GPS and turning it on, I got a surprise: LOW BATTERY. Yep, it drained in travel. I had charged it prior to leaving Philadelphia because I didn't want to bring the bulky charger in my already overfilled bag. Trusty Timex Ironman it is! With 3 loops, I at least could do easy math in my head on a per lap basis. Additionally, I remembered Aid Station 1 was around 4.1 miles in and Aid Station 2 was 9.2. None of the other markers I had committed to head but what my brain could contain would do.

Nicole offered to help me out too with anything I would need which was great having a support system. Mainly, bottle refills.

Following a little musical pump up of In Flames and Tower, I was as ready as I was gonna be. About 2 minutes before the start, I went up to the start line next to Caroline. With it being still cool, I was wearing a tech shirt and gloves. As soon as the final countdown ended, we were off. I went out fresh and comfortable. It was kind of surprising considering how I felt earlier in the week. During the first little out and back section of the course, as I was coming back, to my right a pack of wild pigs was running. They even decided to make a hard left and cross the trail we were running! They did after I passed. No word was mentioned about anyone getting taken out so I figure no runners or pigs were harmed during the course of that encounter. Near misses, yes, but nothing more.

And to think, this way we were told to pay more attention to the alligators that may be along the trail. Yes, gators!

As I made my way into the first AS, I was under 7 minute pace and thinking to myself, SLOW DOWN! Too early for that. So while I was comfortable, I was trying to be wise and not tax myself too much this early on, especially since I didn't know what the course was like. It was my first time on much of the course, aside from the small portion from the prior day. Around 6 miles in, I shed my shirt tossing it to a gent after I asked if I could. I kept the gloves on.

At aid station, two, much of the same mentally about pace. Too quick. Yet, now I was beginning to think, just accept it. Now, I was also making a note mentally how long it was taking me to get from the second aid station to the longer Sawmill section out and back. It was going to be the only way later on that I could be able to gauge my pace through the section.

With our canopy station, right before the lap finish, I swapped my first ExoDraw for the second, making sure to take one of the remaining ShotBlocs from the first bottle to consume immediately. My first lap split was around 1:53. HOLY MOLY!!! Might have been a hair too fast. In fact, MINUTES faster than my goal. I was aiming for closer to 2:00. Still I felt good. (And it was here the gloves literally came off.)

On the short out and back, no pigs happened upon me. However, I got to see Caroline was also crushing the course not far behind me. Oddly enough, the second lap was much like the first! Was feeling a smidgen harder but I was not feeling like I was red-lining. And my splits were fairly consistent with the first loop. (Maybe a tad faster.) It is worth noting that on the second out and back to Sawmill, I got the best surprise of the WHOLE weekend. My friend Laura was running in the Half Marathon race. It has been years since I saw her. She lives in Denton which is hours away from Brazos. Seriously, it put a pep in my step. (Rob, your race is bringing long lost friends back together! Okay, not lost but you get the point.)

Finishing up the second lap, I made the pit stop. I didn't swap bottles, I topped off. Why I didn't grab the second? My brain told me it was going to not be comfortable. I had a comfortable grip. (Yes, it sounds stupid but that is where my brain was.) Really, what I should have done is just grab the second along for the ride. In retrospect that might have been the wiser thing to do. And while I had the Peak available, I was past the point of wanting to dead stop to put it on. I did feel some cramping coming on in my quads making me fumble through my bag trying to find the baggie with my Advil. Thankfully, Nicole and Jeff's crew dug up some quick out for me.

3:46

Now, I was 14 minutes under 6 hour pace. I was feeling pumped from passing the start/finish. Yet, no longer after that I started to begin sway. At the turnaround point, it was like a dead stop feel that my legs really did not want to move again. That right there was my oh-no point. Signs were now clearly beginning to point downward spiral. Still, I kept moving. Maybe not as fast. And certainly not much ahead of Caroline who was in the midst of a race for the ages. Around a mile after the turnaround, I had to walk. We had a slight minor headwind (or that is at least how my body was reading it) and I was feeling light headed. My body needed a breather. This went on for a minute or two. I downed most of my ExoDraw. I'd say, I don't think I would have been able to recover from the spiral if not for that decision to walk and drink. Sure it meant, I had to stop and take aid at 4.2. It was easy to decide because I knew I would be able to get Gatorade. My split here was 3-4 minutes slower than my prior two trips. 1/4 of the way through the loop and survival is in effect.

At the same 6 mile mark where I earlier tossed my shirt, I got the second coolest surprise of the weekend, Fran, the dinosaur! Laura brought her prehistoric friend with her. Luckily, I still had enough in my legs to not be eaten. Fran did look a little hungry. Still a small child would have been a more sizable meal than my skin and bones.

Fran is looking hungry. PC: Trail Racing Over Texas


Caroline was now on my heels. In fact, around 40 miles, she passed me. She was obliterating the course. Did I try to keep her in sight? Yeah. Did I? For a little bit. Caroline is an amazing runner who knows how to close. Throughout the rest of the race, she increased her lead. So yes, she won. (More on that later because after all this is about my race at the moment.)

At the 9.2 mile aid station, I was if math served me correctly, 7 minutes slower than the prior two loops. I couldn't afford to give back any more time to God of the Clocks if I wanted sub 6. With such a time in sight, I wanted it. I moved as fast as I could. Yes, I hit the 9.2 mile and Sawmill aid stations for coke shots on the way out. I needed the jolt. I was on fumes. Sure it was costing me time but doing otherwise would likely have put me further in energy debt (as I'm calling it.)

 Once that finish line was in sight, I knew I was going to do it. With time to spare! Crossing the line, I stopped my watch at 5:51:26. A 15 1/2 minute PR off my previous 6:07 best. (Might be one of the top 50 mile times in the country this year. Have to wait and see on that.)

Going into 2016 after the struggles I had last year, I honestly never would have expected this performance. Can I improve on it? Time will tell. At least, I don't have to race a road 50 mile to go under anymore. (This will make 2017 much more fun since a possible race just got dropped.)

Now about Caroline's result. It was an American Record for 50 miles on trail. She ran 5:48:01 winning the race outright!!!! In our conversation the day before she shared she wanted sub 6. Did she ever get it! It is a privilege to have witnessed so much of it. (After all, I didn't get to the finish in time for that. I was busy at that moment.)

High Five with the American Record Holder!    PC: Trail Racing Over Texas

Her time shattered the previous best from back in 1994! Plus, it was Caroline's 42nd Birthday! Talk about giving yourself a big 'ol present!

Also, her time bested the previous overall course record men or women at Brazos Bend by 9 seconds! Fastest ever!

I'm biased by that is the Ultra Performance of the Year for Women in my eyes.

Of course, Brazos Bend still had a little 100 miler going on. You know, Maggie's race.

Well, I was a horrible friend for a little bit as an hour after my race, I went to the hotel for a shower, check in back home, clean clothes and a little rest not in the back of a SUV.

Three hours later I was back and got news Maggie was on pace for the women's American trail record of 14:22 in the 100 mile! HOLY! Instantly, I'm the edge of my seat wanting to witness more history. Also, Nicole told me that Maggie was now leading the whole 100 miler! Wow, this was exciting. It was dark now but the air was definitely electric. Everyone was routing for her.

She finished her 5th of 6th laps with around 2:20 to go 16.67 miles. It was doable but gonna be close. Her Trail Racing Over Texas teammates Jeff Ball and Katie Graff were going to split pacing duties. Every single moment she was out there we all wanted to know where and how much time she had. The suspense!

Eventually, we got word that she was having some problems of the puking variety. Still she was going to PR and run a huge time that was going to put her on the all time list. While the fastest two times came and passed, Maggie turned in the 3rd fastest 100 mile on trail and 7th fastest overall regardless of surface with her 14:47:02 (it was 6th at the time but bumped to 7th after a WR later that day.).

As if that was not enough, like Caroline, Maggie now owns the fastest time ever by anyone in the 100 mile at Brazos Bend.

I wish I could say that the day after was nearly as exciting but lets face it, it was a struggle. Maggie and I definitely were rocking the sore runners shuffle. We did go back to watch the finish of the races for a fitting end to the race related portion of the weekend.

You can imagine what traveling back home was like. I'll leave that to your imagination because I've written a lot and want to do some thanks.

Total thanks first and foremost has to go to Peg. She is my biggest supporter and I don't do this without her.

Rob, Rachel and the rest of the Trail Racing Over Texas folks! You made me feel welcome all weekend long.

Second thanks for Rob to believing in me to think I could run a fast time at Brazos. Sorry it just wasn't in the 100. Next time.

Maggie who is just too awesome a friend and without her this PR never happens. Thanks for introducing me to Rob after Viaduct. PA Power!

I would be remiss to not thank Nathan Sports and Montrail for making products that work for me.


Ok....signing off now. And....spent.




Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Bucking Batona.......BB round 1

As November comes to a close, my mileage is going into a nice taper, a taper made smooth due to the hard work put in earlier this month with a pair of races: Batona 50 and Bucks County Marathon.

Originally, the Batona 50 was not on my schedule for this year until as I mentioned in my last entry. I suffered from altitude sickness causing me to bow out of the Indian Creek Fifties. Thankfully, I was able to join the biggest field in the history of the event (in part to the move from a January date to one the first weekend of November). A quick primer on the event, the Batona 50 is a pair of races run in the Pine Barrens in NJ along the event's namesake, Batona Trail. It contains a 53.4 mile and a 50K distance. The former runs the entire length of the pink blazed trail and the 50K stops at Bataso Village. As the current FKT holder of the trail, it also was a chance for me to try shaving off some time. With the ideal weather, I wanted to run by feel and hopefully go under 7 hours. Now, one aspect the winter helps with is the sandy trails which are more solid. On this day, the warmer temps had the sand a little more 'sandy', which impacted me later in the day. 

Peg was kind enough to join me for the event and be my crew. We were able to bring Falcon so he could enjoy the Pine Barrens. In the lead up, I prepared a chart of aid stations she'd meet me at and a time line giving travel times so she could possibly enjoy the day some. She told me after that getting from location to location was a bit tougher not giving her all the 'downtime' I anticipated.

Arriving in the pitch black dark, I checked in with RD Angie, saw Denis and right before the start saw David Stango, who had a great race at Eastern States this August. (His write-up of the event was even featured in Ultrarunning Magazine.) With it being so dark, I started with my Nathan Halo Fire headlamp. By the first aid station, I didn't need it but still wore it since I was dropping it off with Peg at the second official aid station. In the early going, I was moving well. Since I was trying to do better than my 2014 time, I had my Garmin GPS on me. For the first half of the run, I was amazing. I blitzed through the first 21.5 miles. However, it was the 12 mile section following that I began to hurt some. I'd say on the whole trail, this portion was my worst. The trail felt so overgrown in spots and started my slowdown. Sadly, once I hit that slowdown, I had trouble getting moving the same way. Also, it started to get a tad warmer and on this stretch I ran out of Tailwind 2 miles out from the aid station. During that stretch, I ended up doing a walk break clocking a horrid 13 minute mile. It might have been my slowest mile of the day. 

Just before the AS, David Allara came up behind me. He was volunteering on the day and getting some run in. I really enjoyed the company for this stretch and put some pep in my step. Unfortunately, it was short lived until the AS. I refilled my ExoDraw and swigged some of my jug of Tailwind. This next stretch was not as long but I was still slowing. I was barely holding on to the chance of a sub 7 hour time. It was in this stretch that I missed my first turn. I caught it quickly but lost probably a minute or two. And then, when I hit the road, despite knowing where I was going from the past, I still questioned a marking because it seemed to me that the route was being re-routed. It was not the case as I eventually heard shouts from the aid station. Another minute or two gone. Looking back, I took way too long at the station. Partially, my not jogging the distance to the truck bed where my fluids and ShotBlocs were. However, I did get some shots of Coke to drink in addition to Tailwind. Sub 7 was hanging by a thread and was lost not long in the home stretch as I missed another turn losing a minute. Any boost I got from the fabulous support at the aid station, I lost. Also, I was encountering more sandy conditions or at least felt like it to me. Still, I pushed on sections I felt I could move really well on. Thanks to new mile markers along the trail, I knew how much I had left. When I had a mile to go, I pushed and harder when I had 1/2 a mile to the finish with Angie, Peg, Denis and Falcon. In the end, I lowered my time to around 7:11. I was a bit spent. Denis hooked me up with a Gatorade. 

Due to Peg and I going to see Lewis Black later that night, after 20 minutes, we began our trek back to Philadelphia. While I know I left some meat on the bone, I am happy to know I was still able to take 7 minutes off my previous time. I managed to split around 6:45 for 50 miles. Not insanely fast but a nice modest split.

Now 8 days later, I had another long race on my schedule, the 2016 Bucks County Marathon. The previous two years, I had won the event, so with a chance for a three-peat in a marathon, I had to be in. After all, how many times in life, will I be able to say I have a shot to three-peat at a marathon? How many people ever get that chance? Not that going for three was not pressure enough, the RD Pat McCloskey put an image of me during my initial win on the bib (along with a magnet). So here I was at the start in my RunBucks singlet, with #1 and my image on my front. Weird? Just a bit. Cool but weird.

My goal was simple. Win. Sure, I would like a good time around the 2:39, I ran last year. With a bigger goal race on the horizon, I had to be smart. This led me to be more conservative at the gun. 6 minute pace was my objective. And pretty much through 21 miles, I was on it. At the turnaround, I had my watch clocking in 1:18:45. (An evenly run race would be 2:37:30) The last 5 miles, I began to tighten up and slow down. Eventually, I crossed the line in 2:41:47, a couple minutes slower than last year's winning time. And 4 minutes slower than my first half. So basically, in the last 5 miles, my pace got really close to 7 minutes. Ugh. At least I can say, I've won half of the Bucks County Marathons. Surprisingly, I did not feel good after. Probably the worst after a race in a long time. Not sure if I had a illness bug lingering and not know it but my GI was not my friend. Matter of fact, before leaving Washington Crossing to go home, I threw up in a PA DNCR bathroom toilet. Lovely. Better after than the race and awards, I guess. Not sure why it happened. I did feel a little better after but wise to have not hung around. 

Since both of those races in the first half of the month, I trekked up to Maine for some Thanksgiving vacationing. Got a bit of a recharge with reading a few books, including the Ryan Sandes Trail Blazer book. (Highly recommended.) Also, went for a few hikes and some lovely runs. Only managed one run up Pleasant Mountain (and on the Cell Tower Trail at that) due to some cold slick conditions. Probably for the best as it forced me to not pound myself with each run. I explored some snowmobile trail and fire roads a bit more. Of course, with it being hunting season, blaze orange looked good on me. 

Sadly, all good things come to an end and I've returned to Philadelphia. For the next couple of weeks, I'm in taper for my final big race of the year. Until that write-up......

Monday, October 24, 2016

Fallout: Coming Down to Earth

With a title including Fallout, you might think I'd be talking about the post-apocalyptic video game series. If you did, you'd be wrong because the apocalypse has not happened...yet. However, it is about a 'post' event chronicling.

Let me take you back in time to just after Boulder Field. Around that time, I decided to do some schedule shifting. I opted on the weekend of November 5-6 to do a 50K called Fire on the Mountain in MD as opposed to traveling to Nashville for one that same weekend. I had done the last FOTM and loved it. This year it is coming back as an out and back as opposed to a point to point. I'd say this year's version is going to be a beast. As a result, of this decision, I still wanted a 50 miler before FOTM as part of my Brazos Bend prep.

Following some internet searches, airfare checks and all around logistically number crunching, I decided to fly out to Colorado and run the 50M distance at Indian Creek Fifties. My trip was going to be a 4 day weekend with the race on the 2nd day followed by camping/hiking the remainder of the time. To say I was excited was an understatement. I was very much looking forward to racing in the mountains and hiking. Not to mention, sitting at a campground reading.

All was going smoothly until the day before my traveling began. In fact, it started right not long after I had officially registered. I had waited in the event work threw me a curveball causing me to not go. Apparently, I was naive to think one wasn't coming. Around an hour before my workday ended, one plunked me in the head. Pretty much, a get it done ASAP situation. Considering, I was going to be remote as I traveled it made the work project tough. It set me into full on anxiety attack. Before it swallowed me whole, I left the office telling myself, I'll somehow get it done as I traveled. Still, it freaked me out and on my ride home, my head was thinking of the ways, I can make traveling easier. I opted to just get home and finish it remotely. At home, I can use two screens which really was needed to complete my task. Despite getting it done timely, I was having a tough time calming myself from the anxiety. In fact, it lasted into my attempts of trying to sleep before I had to wake up at 4am to be driven to the airport.

On the plus side, I had my bag packed a week in advance!

Traveling out to Denver was easy. And the first 4-5 hours was good after landing. However, to cut to the chase, I ended up getting altitude sickness. I had not expected it considering I'd been around and above the elevation before. To spare you, I ended up having to bail on the race and came home the next day.

In short, it was a wasted trip. My options were limited. I could have stuck it out with possibly a headache the whole trip (as I still had one on the day of my return). That was something, I didn't want to risk. How much fun would be to just camp and not hike? To me, not much. I was not looking to spend the time in a movie theater. In looking at flights, I couldn't try an extra day because no Sunday flights were available.

Did it stink to not get the trip, I wanted? Absolutely. That said, I do aim to go back out there. I will just add extra time to the beginning in case, it happens again.

On the plus side, I had a wonderful Sunday hiking in the morning with Peg in the Wissahickon and exploring Tyler State Park in the afternoon. Plus, on Monday, we saved a couple of hundred dollars on paint for the house because I was home!

Still, my schedule was now out of balance. I saw the 50 miler as an important distance to complete. I knew I had the option to race Stone Mill on Nov 12th. However, I felt that would be a little too close to Brazos Bend. Thankfully, the race directors of the Batona Trail 50 allowed me to join the new 'Fall' date on Nov 5th. Unfortunately, that knocks out FOTM. In an attempt to have cake and eat it too, I looked for a 50K this past weekend (Oct 22-23). All those close ones were full. However, a little out of my usual range was the High Bridge Ultra down in Pamplin, VA. Being able to register day of, helped keep it in mind. However, the 5 1/2 hour drive did not appeal. Especially since I would have needed to finish and drive straight home after the 50K. For some reason, I thought it was doable.

Reality set in Friday that it was not a wise choice for me due to the timing. It was going to push my limits driving. Wiser heads prevailed and I abandoned the idea. However, I let myself approach the idea of racing the 50K through the week. So for the second week in a row, I was not doing something I initially told myself I was. Granted we are talking two different sets of circumstances. Still, this was enough to get me really off balance. I immediately lost motivation to do a long run. I really did not want to run a long run solo in the area I always run. Factor in the 24 degree temp drop from Friday to Saturday and it just stacked up. More or less, I was becoming my own worst enemy. I wanted to do something but nothing appealed to my need of being long.

Denver Fallout was coming to a head!

Being so far down the rabbit hole, I didn't want to even socialize and missed the street block party.

Later in the evening, I took a look at Sunday's area events and noticed one that was a longer race that was cheap. Hotfoot 8.8. It had a 5K, 8.8K and 8.8M. I told myself I could get 12 in easily if I did the 8.8M. At that point, anything over ten felt uninspiring solo. Likely because it was running in my head within the framework of my usual local runs. Then, before bed after I decided to give it a shot, I realized if I did the 8.8 a second time I'd get 17.6 right there. Add my warmup and tack on a hair more, I could hit 20 miles. Mentally that would be a step in the right direction.

Sunday morning, I managed to get myself together and get out the door to the race. After registering, I went for my warm-up and got hit with some nasty wind. It was enough to make me question being able to run fast during the race.  Luckily, during the race, I was able to keep it together. I managed a modest pace considering the trouble with the wind. (5:44 avg) It was the fastest pace in any of the distances. Upon finishing, I quickly threw on a shirt and regular shorts (over my racing shorts) to head out for a second loop. Wind wasn't as bad during the second loop but the hills did suck a second time. (Oh, I neglected to mention this course was hilly. It was hillier than some trail ultras.)

In the end, I got my 20 miles in. Whew. I would not have been able to do it without the existence of the Hotfoot 8.8 race. On top, of the race serving as an avenue to get my 20 miles in, it is a top notch event. There was a beer garden and hot food. Amazingly, there was still eggs after my second loop! I missed awards but it was worth it. I got to get a few glasses of PA Dutch Birch Beer too. I didn't quite tap the keg of it. In some ways, the event because it was hosted by the Fort Washington Fire Dept 88, reminded me of the Jimmy D 5K. It was such a good feeling to have and doesn't let me forget how much the Jimmy D race meant to me.

These 20 miles while not the 50K (or even the 50M) I had expected to race, I feel much better going into Batona that I would have without them. And ultimately, I feel this keeps me on track for a good showing at Brazos Bend.




Saturday, October 15, 2016

Tragedy of Errors

Sure, most people like to say Comedy of Errors but I'm not here.

Around a month ago, I had begun looking at racing a 50 miler in Colorado around an hour from Denver. It was called the Indian Creek Fifties and seemed like a perfect fit for me. Elevation, climbing and a new challenge. Coming off of Boulder Field 100K, I felt this would be a great race for me to do. I started to make arrangements with hotel, camping, rental car and flights.

Plan was fly out early October 14th and return home late on October 17th giving me around 4 days in the area. Day one would be working remotely in a hotel. Day two would be the 50 mile race followed by camping. Day three would be hiking in the Front Range and camping. Day four would be downtown Denver.

Everything was in place except registration in case work threw me a curve ball. Both my managers were out so I had to work remotely meaning anything I couldn't get done on the 13th had to be done. Well, an hour after I register on the 13th, slammed with work that I need two monitors for. This sent me into an anxiety attack. It was 4:30 and I NEEDED to make changes in our system ASAP. I left the office in a panicked state. On my bike ride home, I began to think about how best to make it all work and begun to settle down. However, damage was done, I was having an anxiety attack I could not quell physically. My body was racing. Even hours after I managed to make the changes at the home office. Sleep became hard. Not good for a 4am trip to the airport.

At least I got right through security at the airport on the 14th.

Now while waiting for the flight I got to check some emails and saw I received 3 emails from the RD of the race. Most notably, a course change and the removal of one major aid station. Oh noes. I didn't plan on carrying fluids for 13 miles between aid stations. Even though I had a pack with me had I needed it. Looks like I was going to. All of this information was not on the website and nor FB page.

Flight ended up being delayed by 20 minutes but arrived on time. Early in fact but the gate was occupied so we had to wait on the runway.

Light rail travel was easy to Stapleton. Car pick-up went as smooth as possible. In fact, best rental car experience ever. From there, I headed to Walmart to get some camping supplies like tent, sleeping bag and a chair. I was using my Rest in Peace 5K winnings for that stuff. I also bought some provisions. Why not do it at once? Then before going to the hotel, I stopped at Boulder Running Company for Tailwind and Blocs. From there it was easy check in at the hotel around 11:30.

My room at the Courtyard Tech Center was smooth and it had a real lovely courtyard that the room opened up to. I unpacked and got my gear together for race morning. Mixed up Tailwind. Split up Shot Blocs. All set....

Then....a headache. I didn't think much of it at first but after an hour it wasn't going away. I was losing my appetite. Then, I got nauseous. It hit me slowly but surely...altitude sickness. Advil didn't help with the headache. Ugh. I was hoping a few hours would make it pass since I was surprised by it considering I had spent time at 5000 and 6000 before, Quick trip to Target for Nyquil and Pepto Bismol. It is now 4pm local time. I took both and then more or less slept for the remainder of the evening. The nausea settled and the headache improved some. It was good to not feel like death considering I was coughing up bad stuff prior to the Pepto. Still the headache lingered. Later half of the night I was a bit unsettled.

Still had time to pass before my 4am wake up for the 50 mile. As it got closer, my head still was out of it. Yeah, I think I'm done. But I opt to go run around the hotel for a few laps. See how that would feel. Didn't feel good so I knew racing was out. Especially since the race was to climb up 3000ft in elevation. Now I had to figure out, do I stay until Monday with things or go home. I checked Sunday flights on Southwest in the event I could use one day to check it out. No Sunday flights. It was all or nothing. I was leaning towards cutting my losses and going home.

I did a check of any park nearby and found one. I drove to Cherry Creek State Park. Parked and went running. It felt nice to physically do something but I wasn't all that right. I got about 2 miles in total and during that effort my headache started to come back. That sealed it. Home.

If I couldn't do anything physical like hike or run, the trip was not going mean anything other than sitting at a campsite by myself. Sure camping solo was part of the plan but when not feeling good and not able to do the things I planned. Yeah, it makes sense to not be there. Luckily, I was able to reschedule my Monday departure and pay only 27 more. I got 24 of that back from cancelling camping.

I drove the rental car back to the place expecting to pay the original cost or close to it. Amazingly, they did only charge me for the one of 3 days I reserved the rental. That was good. Oh, before that I returned all the camping gear. Not losing as much as possible. Flight was a wash and Rental was 2/3 cheaper. Making the race the only lousy waste of cash here.

Since dropping off the car, I also had the pleasure of just missing the light rail to the airport. Fine because the next was only 15 minutes later. However, once I got through security, I got a message saying my flight was delayed until 3:35. It was 11:15am. Ugh.

For the record, I still feel a tad out of it. Nausea is gone and I've eaten a little but I feel exhausted with a headache.

So in the end, I spent some cash for a memorable experience that was not the happy one I wanted. And in fact, cut short by more than two days.

Oddly enough, I think if the work had hit before I registered, it all might have been different.

Luck of the draw. Or not.

I'll be back to this area. While I didn't get to what I wanted, I know I still want to experience it. Some places have to be treated differently.

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.)