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's going 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 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.

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