Long long ago this year, I signed up for the race this entry is about, Fire on the Mountain 50K in the western part of Maryland.
It had been on my radar for a couple of years now. Back in 2012, when I was unable to do Steamtown, I really was looking for a way to take advantage of my fitness in a non-marathon but long race environment. Doing some internet searching, I came about Fire on the Mountain and Rock N The Knob (in PA). Both were the same weekend and after some thinking, I settled for the 30K of Rock N The Knob. (Did not regret that decision.)
Last year, I was geared on doing Harrisburg before a stress fracture derailed things.
But 2014 was the year I was destined to run Fire on the Mountain (or FOTM for short from here on out.) It helped that the RD, Kevin, had a deal of $20 registration around January. That sealed it as I sent in my check as soon as possible. Little did I know when I signed up that FOTM would be my 10th ultra of 2014.
With so many races that required focus this year, FOTM, while important, did not get a lot of attention until a few weeks ago when I realized I was hitting a gauntlet of races: Steamtown, FOTM and Stone Cat. Each of them being two weeks apart. Much of my emphasis was on a great Steamtown performance that left me little time to worry about logistics for FOTM, including lodging. I flipped back and forth between a Super 8 in Hancock or camping at the finish line/bus shuttle area. Eventually after a bad night of sleep on Friday before the race, I settled for the Super 8, where a number of fellow runners were staying. Oddly enough, I was not near them or saw them during my time there.
I rolled into Hancock around 6-ish and went off to find dinner. Being a vegetarian in this town did not seem to be a good thing as it limited my safe bets. Hardee's probably would have been the safest but that would have meant just fries. I thought about the Pizza Hut and almost ended up there. It was last option. After an attempted, find something to microwave at the local Sav-A-Lot, I ended up with a medium pizza and fries from Sheetz. Amazingly, not a total disaster. I knew I was risking it with the pizza but I had faith in Sheetz to be edible. In a pinch, I'd do that again.
Back in my room, I watched some World Series action and checking for any last minute race updates before hitting the hay. As much as I needed a good night of sleep, it was not to be. It was ok but not totally refreshing. But I had time to wake up as I had a 30 minute car ride to the finish/bus area and a 45 minute ride after that.
Thankfully, I did not get lost getting to where I needed to be since it was on some unlit roads. Upon my arrival, I checked in, got my number and went off into the woods for a little doubling down. After some freshening up, I confirmed with the RD that we could wear sweats to the start and they would get back to the finish. Since it was cold, I wanted to stay as warm as possible, especially since two weeks ago in Steamtown, the bus did not have heat. (This time that was not an issue.) Plus having a bag for gear to be returned, allowed me to listen to music on the bus ride out. As I was about to get on the bus, I looked up to the sky and saw the most beautifully clear sky in my life seeing so many stars that felt closer than ever before. But I could not stand in awe forever, I had to get on the bus.
During the ride, I listened to a combination of In Flames' Sirens Charms and Gary Numan's Splinter albums. I managed to relax and catch a few winks during the bus ride. Before I knew it, we were at our destination following a small walk down a dirt road to Point Overlook. Like many others, I went off into the woods one more time. A few minutes before the start, I shed my layers and put them in my sack pack loading it into the back of the designated pick-up truck. As we lined up, got last minute instructions and were about to go, a couple of stragglers arrived giving FOTM a brief delay in starting. After a spell, the official start commands were given.
At once the lot of us started down the dirt road we walked before merging onto a road for about a mile before we were to swing onto the red trail. (To avoid getting lost, our course instructions were given as Red Trail ->Green Trail -> Fire/Logging Rd -> Purple Trail. These came in very handy.) Down the road, I met Wade, who was running in his first ultra. As we turned onto the red trail, I moved to the front on the single track. We hit some downhill with technical footing and a lovely surprise of a downed tree. It was a few feet before the tree, I rolled my ankle. It hurt immediately and locked up. Wade and another runner passed me. I thought about dropping out right there. However, I felt, I might be able to loosen it and walked for around 30 seconds down the trail. I was moving ok and would continue to do so all day. However, my ankle injury did limit my flow and speed as I was uber aware to not take any risks on it. The red trail was far and away the most technical section of the day. Great fun that I would have loved more at 100%. But I moved on. Before the first major climb of the day, I passed the second place running and could see Wade ahead. With the steep grade, I had no intention on running up the hill and used my power hike technique where I put both hands behind my back. This works well for me. (And credit goes to Ben Mazur, who is the first person I heard use this method.) All along this trail, I would see Wade and then not see Wade. Typically, this was happening along the sections that I really took it easy on my ankle. Eventually, we popped off the red trail at an aid station before moving straight ahead onto the green trail.
It was on the green trail that I was able to run smoother. In fact, this was my best section of running the whole day. Granted I did take it easy on a lot of the dry water crossings due to the rocks. Around half way through this section, I caught and passed Wade. I slowly crept away. (Later on, I would find out he was having some stomach issues along with making a wrong turn causing him to drop out.) Right before the half way 'Oasis' aid station, I saw some orange blazes that freaked me out with a down directional sign. However, I saw a young girl, who was the RD's daughter, to my right so I went right up the uphill road.
YES! I made it half way and I was going at a much better pace than the first section of the race. I had an outside shot of the course record as I was in 16 and 2:23 with 16 more to go. (CR: 4:38 - Held by Brad Hinton, a tremendous ultra runner who I had the honor of racing at the OSS/CIA Nighttime 50M in June) At the station, I topped off my handheld with orange Gatorade before bounding off.
Knowing, the course going onto the fire/logging road section, I asked Kevin, the RD who happened to be at Oasis, how long the stretch was. 8 miles. I was either going to love or hate this stretch. However, it would be my best shot at giving me breathing room for the purple trail. I ran this the best I could. (The theme of the day.) My ankle being tight was no help pushing the pace. Despite, things, I managed to cover the 8 miles in a little less than an hour giving myself around 1:15 to cover the last stretch on the purple trail.
Going in, I heard the purple trail was the most runable. I would say without the leaves it totally would be. But with a rolled ankle and leaves covering much of the trail, I did not take it like I would. Mainly, I did not want to really do something stupid where I would not be able to race Stone Cat. Part of the decision to be cautious allowed me to enjoy some of the views I could see from the mountain top through the trees. Then again, at the same time, I was wondering which one would be the next to go up. (Answer: none, this was the last mountain.) This section had some great downhill that normally I would have flown done jumping side to side to avoid the rocks but I gingerly took the upper portion of downhill slow. Later on, there would be a more gradual downhill that I could find a solid strip of footing to flow down. Back when I hopped onto the Purple Trail, I thought I might be able to go under 4:30. For much of this stretch it was dangling there. With 3 miles to go, I knew I would have to high tail it in order to do so. I did not. Whatever, the reason, I just enjoyed the scenery of the final miles even if I just wanted to be done. The last hill before the trail's .5 marker, I hiked up, touched the marker and realized, I had the record. I cruised through the rest and out of the woods. In year's past, there had been firewood to grab for the final 1/4 mile. With Kevin, 450 miles from the site, a few minor things did not happen for the race. This was one of them.
In the end, I crossed the line in 4:31:59 taking 6 minutes off Brad's record. I was happy with that considering when I took off my shoes and socks, my right ankle was definitely swollen. (It really looked bad by the time I got home where it was more than a roll that happened. It was a sprain.) Originally, I had hoped to leave around 1pm for my 3 1/2 - 4 hour drive home. Didn't happen that way. What happened was one of the best things of ultras, sitting around with people talking and hanging out. I enjoyed soda and pizza for a few hours. At some point I had to leave, which was 3pm. I wanted to be home no later than 7 because I did want some time to see Peg before she left for NYC.
One thing I mentioned in the title, that I did not mention really was that earlier in the year Kevin announced this was to be the final edition of FOTM. He was unable to find someone to take the race organization on. While I am sad it is the final year, I am extremely delighted that I participated considering it had been on my docket for two years.
Maybe one day, the race will be resurrected and someone will break my CR. It is possible. I believe my ankle cost me 10-15 minutes out there. But that is whatever.
Now, I have another race to turn my attention to...Stone Cat 50.
When is that? Oh in a week of this posting. (Today is 10/31, Stone Cat is 11/8.)
Many thanks to RD Kevin Spradlin for his dedication to put on a race from 450 miles away from the site. Also: Kevin's daughter MacKenzie Spradlin for the photos she took, the aid station staff along with all the other runners who made this race what it was. I have plenty of good memories to last for a long time.
Fueling: Lemon-Lime and Orange Gatorade, Strawberry Banana GU gels and Black Cherry Clif Shot Blocs.
Shoes: LaSpotiva Helios. (Their rock protection saved my hide at FOTM considering my jacked up ankle.)
Friday, October 31, 2014
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Destination – Scranton, PA
Objective – STEAMTOWN Marathon
Goals: Top 5, Sub 2:30
A small bit of backstory:
Two years ago, I was scheduled to run the 2012 edition of this very same marathon. Training was locked in and come race week, I knew I was ready to rip through the course and go sub 2:30. Or at least that was the feeling early in the 2012 race week. At around 1am Friday night (technically Saturday morning), I ended up in the ER due to a violent illness that struck at the wrong time. However, it took such a toll, I had to withdraw from the race less than 24 hours before it started. My friend, Matt Byrne, would go on to win his third Steamtown title that day. It would have been great to run with him but alas…..
Flash forward to 2014:
After my 2:24:55 at Two Rivers in March, I reached out to the race committee requested a comp entry into the 2014 Steamtown Marathon. They honored me with their offer of the comp. Between the end of March and the start of October, I really shifted my running logging in long miles and an average of an ultra a month. After the 100K at Green Lakes at the end of August, I knew I had to kick it into high speed. While I dabbled to keep some sort races for foot speed, I knew the marathon would require loads of it. Marathon distance was not the worry. So for the entire month of September, I raced essentially a 5K each weekend. The first couple felt slower than I would have liked but by the end of the month at the Sloppy Cuckoo races, I felt locked in.
In the final week before the race, I was much more nervous than 2012. I didn’t know my competition like I had a couple years back and my identity as a runner was now as an ultramarathoner on the trails. Plus, throw in what happened with the ER and, yes, nervous. One of the few things I was feeling good about was camping the night before the race. I was going to be saving some cash and thus reducing the pressure to win any. However, Thursday night, my partner asked if we could still do the hotel room as she had a rough work week. Amazingly, I settled down quick and made a deal with her anout the room. So in the end we did stay at the TownePlace Suites in Moosic, PA.
Before leaving on Saturday, I found out who the contenders were. It was here, I felt a bit nervous. I had hoped for a top 5 but I was slated to be 6-7th by a few minutes based on projections. (I projected a 2:27. A split the difference between the Two Rivers time and the sub 2:30)
We drove up from Philly and arrived at packet pick-up at Scranton High around 3. During pick-up I grabbed a few gels that I was short (I had two but I race with four) and met up with Matt who was there with his Scranton Running Company. And I bumped into Mel Lancet who was also doing the marathon. I know Mel from Viaduct. That Viaduct family is a tight community. After pick-up, we headed downtown to see about some food and possible shopping. (Not for me but for her.) Kind of struck out on both accounts. But on the plus side, we got a sense of the finish line set-up and getting in and out of Scranton.
Not finding food was fine as we knew there was a Panera Bread across the street from our lodging. Once we checked into our room, that is where we went. I went simple with a classic grilled cheese and tomato soup. (Additionally, I picked up two slices of pizza from a place a few doors down to take back to the room.) While eating, I told my partner, what happens happens. I cannot worry too much about the race now. This was clearly a bit of lowering expectations and not looking forward to 26.2 miles of hard fast mostly pavement racing. Back at the hotel, we settled in for the night watching a small binge session of Breaking Bad. (We were in the middle of the final season. We have since finished.) After that it was in bed around 11pm for a 5am wake up as I had a 6am elite shuttle bus to catch.
The bus ride from downtown Scranton to Forest City was memorable simply because it was cold on the bus. Not freezing but I felt cold. On this ride, I got to see some of the competition for the first time. (Not everyone took the elite shuttle.) For most of the ride, I listened to In Flames’ Siren Charms and sat with my eyes closed, relaxing. 45 minutes later, we made our destination and were escorted to the classroom set aside for us. On the way into the high school building, I ran into Carl Albright, co-RD at Viaduct. Viaduct again on the weekend. (I would later find out another Viaduct-er, Joey Parente was there honoring his friend, Jim.) I said a quick passing hello before coming out and saying a real hello before I warmed up. After warming-up, I returned to the room to relax and found out there were W-9’s to fill out if we expected to win money. Initially, my thought was not to bother. After the preview, I had thrown out the idea of winning money. But on second thought, why not anyways. So I filled out the W-9.
Around 5 minutes before the start, I left the room to make my way to the line. Good thing I didn’t wait longer (as I was the last out) since I barely made it to the line before they started. (Later found out from the 3rd place female, it was started 3 minutes early.) For the first couple of miles, I was with a small group not far behind the leader, Fred Joslyn. However, around mile 2, this group split. A few dropped back and a few latched onto Joslyn. The lead group became 4 and I was stuck in ‘no-man’s land’ in 5th. At which point, I further expected to not finish top 5. But this did not do anything to get me to go slower. I just kept running. The miles ticked off. I could see the lead group pull farther and farther away. Eventually, I heard before the half, they had 3 minutes on me. A lot of this was after Carbondale, where I had to chop stride to go around a car. (It happens. Thankfully, Carbondale got me locked back in focus quickly with their support.)
For miles 14-20, I mentally wanted it over. My pace was starting to sag some. We were on roads I wanted off, praying for the trail section to come give me some relief. Eventually, they came and I was able to zone out. Around 16.5, I heard Matt cheering me on. It was a great push. I needed it and what better way to get it than from someone I know. In this stretch there is a section on some bike path that gave you a chance to see runners within a few minutes. It was here that I felt the first sense of being caught. 6th and 7th did not appear far off. Maybe 30 and 45 seconds up.
Around mile 20, I got a bit of a second wind in the form of seeing 4th place alone ahead. It was Brian Flynn and he looked like he was hurting. With 6th not far (in my head) behind me, I went for Brian. Not guns all out, catch and die myself but steady freddy style. My thought was I can end up hopefully in 5th still if I grab 4th. It took me a few more miles to catch him. I think it was around mile 22. Around the mile 23 marker, I saw 3rd place! It was Chass Armstrong. For a brief moment, I got excited but calmed down and took the same approach to chasing him. While I did not feel like I was going faster than prior, I was maintaining which was good enough to catch Chass on the downhill coming out of Greenridge past the mile 24 marker. It was here, I felt confident to make top 5. Now, it was to go for the sub 2:30 time. I was hanging on to it by a thread. I couldn’t go much faster and there was the last big climb before the finish still. However, up ahead in the distance, but visible, was Peter Kemboi in 2nd. I knew I didn’t have much real estate left but I was going to try to catch him. With around ¾ to ½ mile left, we hit the uphill. Peter is closer but still out of reach. My stride hits a wall closer to the top. Brian Crispell is there and gives me a verbal push of encouragement. I crest the hill and run down to the finish line. I do not catch Peter who finished 22 seconds ahead of me. Nor do I crack 2:30 as I finish in 2:30:03. (Fred Joslyn would repeat, winning in 2:22:37)
Normally for me, I would be really upset about the time. With the way the race played out I cannot be really since from mile 2 on, I ran by myself. If I was not so seasoned doing that from ultras, I do not think I would have done as well. My plan was to stop putting any emphasis on the marathon if I went under 2:30 for a second time. So I’m not retired from the distance yet. And I’m okay with that. I ran a smart race and managed to move up places in the closing miles.
Eventually, we said goodbye to Scranton as a celebratory meal at Waffle House awaited us. But I hope to be back next year.
Result: 3rd place overall
Up Next: Fire on the Mountain 50K (10/26)
Wednesday, October 1, 2014
After 4 straight weekends of 5Ks, I went back to up some higher distances. Not only that I went back to the trails as my final big lead-in for the Steamtown Marathon.
Sloppy Cuckoo is a series of races put on by Uberendurancesports (the RD being Stephan Weiss) in Philadelphia's Pennypack Park. This is the same venue that hosted the Dirty German Endurance Races back in May when I participated in the 50K. For the Cuckoo, Stephan puts on a 12HR, HM, Uber 10K (really 6.55) and 5K. For this year, Stephan introduced a triple challenge which consisted of the HM, 6.55 and 5K. Obviously, you cannot include the 12HR into the challenge. While floating the idea of adding the Cuckoo into my pre-Steamtown program, I initially thought of the HM only. As the race came closer, I thought about the Triple. After some Facebooking, the RD threw it out there that I could realistically quadruple. This made me think about it more. And after talking with Peg, I got the ok to go for it.
So this past Sunday, that is exactly what happened......I signed up for the Sloppy Cuckoo Triple Challenge. Peg was kind enough to drive me to the race with the intention to watch me run the HM and be back by the end of the 5K. From a timing standpoint, the HM started at 8, 6.55 at 11 and the 5K at 12:30. Knowing it would be a long day, I prepped like a mini-ultra. I had multiple trail shoes and racing tops along with a small camper cooler. Also, I brought not one but two camping chairs so I could put my feet up in between races. Due to the forecast of 80 degrees, I made sure to set up under a tree that would give me plenty of shade.
Before the race, I saw Joanna (who was hoping in the 12HR) and Rodney (also doing the triple). I suggested they set up under the tree near me for the shade. Most people who were doing the 12HR had set up out in the open. Yes, the majority had shade tents but not all of them.
As 7:30 hit, Joanna was off, along with Amy (who was running her 1st 12HR). Amy's husband, Emir was doing the HM. I had managed to say hi to Emir and Amy before her start.
As 8:00 neared, I saw Jonathan Cornibe. For the HM, I knew he would be my toughest competition. Jon is great on the trails and has been running tremendously as of late. My shot at the triple was not going to be easy. From the get-go, I ran to put distance between Jon and myself. After a small 2 mile loop, I had some lead. Enough thankfully that when my own dog, Falcon started running after me, he did not interfere with any other runners. Mentally, his pursuit threw me off my game for a good chunk of the race from that point out because of the worry that Peg was not able to corral him and something happened. In my head, I thought about stopped and taking him back. Thankfully, it did not come to that. In the end, I managed to break the existing event record in the HM in 1:23:29.
Now, I had to wait......and wait. During this wait, I used the bathroom a few times. As 11 approached, I worked to pump myself up. The heat was around much more than during the HM. At the start of the race, I nearly tripped three strides into the race. The way I look at the Uber 10K, I survived it. The switchback section made me dizzy. Amazingly, I won in 43:36. (My triple lead was over 20 minutes going into the 5K)
Before I knew it, the 5K had arrived and Peg was back to watch me run. It was a blitz, I flew threw this race in 16:45. Triple victory complete! (Combined: 2:23:51)
Strike that.....Quadruple victory as I also won the challenge since I took all three events outright. For my efforts, I took home two cuckoo clocks, two weather houses and one whistle in addition to some delicious grilled cheese in my belly. To wash it all down, I celebrated with a Coca Cola from Wawa on the drive home.
Three days out and I am flushing any tightness out of my system as I finish my final week of training before Steamtown on Oct 12. Going in, I feel really happy with my recent results. I'm ready to go....