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......