Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Gorge Gambler & 2017 Wrap-up

As 2017 is coming to a close, it would appear that my blogging has suffered. For the 1st half of the year, I managed 8 posts and this will make only my 4th in the past 6 months. And in fact, only my second in the past 4. In looking at those numbers and timing, I see life events having a substantial impact on how I see myself and feel motivation-ally. As someone who values stability, the company I work for having been acquired in July really has set off a chain of uncertainty in usually very grounded area of my life. And while I have some other personal matters that fall into the same category, it all has gotten to be a bit much to handle at times. To hear Peg comment that I didn't seem like I was enjoying running should tell you enough.

Still, many times, I managed to win the hard battle to get out of bed in the morning in order to go into the office or even out the door for miles. And when I say battle, I mean it. You've heard me talk of anxiety and stress in my postings before so it really should not come as a surprise. Let me say, mental health really makes a big deal in our lives as well as the events during our developmental years that shape the environment of that mental health.

While all of that is important, that is not my intended focus on this 'year-closing' entry, so allow me to change gears....

Going into 2017, one of my goals was to hit a sub 8 hour 100K. For a number of years, I have managed to hit at least one PR a year. Last year was an incredible 50 mile PR at Brazos Bend. So it seemed fair to target the 100K distance for 2018. Early in the year, I tried to go for it at Iron Horse in Florida where I DNF'd due to knee issues. I opted to hit the roads in CT at Lake Waramaug (only to have a series of events derail even getting to the race). (Twisted Branch happened but that was never a part of the 100K PR chase. Not on that course.) Next came plans for Bear Chase in Colorado in late September that due to financial circumstances, I opted to not do. This lead to a narrowing number of options really, one of which was flying to Houston on what would be this upcoming weekend to do 31 laps on a 2 mile paved course. In a cost analysis, I decided to not do the Houston race. So, in leiu of options, I decided to create my own race where the 100K was an available distance.

From this in mid-October, the Gorge Gambler was born.

The Gorge Gamble was to be an old-school event. No fancy shirts. No medals. No big red timing clock. You would get a start/finish time and a course. You'd record your own times. Since, my goal of the event was to be able to run a 100K myself, I wanted a time limit that would enable people to possibly run a 100K themselves. So I decided on 12 hours. But knowing my intention was about goals, I wanted to give people options to get 50K and 50M goals. This led to the format of the race being that everyone starts off running the 50K and once they reach the 50K distance, they can either stop or continue. At the point, 50M is reached, they are no longer in the 50K results. Same goes for up to 100K.

Because travel cost was a motivating factor of me creating the event, I decided to hold it in the Wissahickon Valley Park. Basically, this is my training ground. Now the park is a gorge. It has a gravel fire road (at one point in time an actual road of the times) called Forbidden Drive that cuts through along the length of the park with other trails in the upper reaches of the gorge. For a quicker course, I opted to create a 10K loop (ended up being 6.3 mile) utilizing much of the drive. However, I added a loop on the far end to mix up course allowing participants up onto one of the less technical (but still technical comparatively speaking) upper trails.

Once all this was set, including the date of December 9th, I opened registration where interested parties had to request invites for sign up. This was done to simple prevent a mass rush of entrants as I capped the field size to 40 people. My reason for the cap was to keep the event low-key and minimize our impact on the park's upper trails. In the end, 20 people signed up over the course of registration. With some withdrawls and no-shows, we ended up with 15 starters.

In the weeks leading up to the event, I still had my own training and racing. Between my last entry on October 11th and the Gorge Gambler, I had 5 runs, 4 of which were of the 5K distance. The other was the Bucks County Marathon, notable for mention here for winning it for the 4th straight year and in my second fastest time on that course. (Which is still 7 minutes slower than my CR.) Also, I had my yearly trek to Maine. Didn't get the usual dose of mountains but I expanding my routes and got to enjoy lots of sites. So DESPITE all the instability I was feeling on the whole, my sense of ability for my 100K was going well.

For the last week of lead-up, I spent it sending emails to registrants and getting together what I felt we should have as a basis for our single aid station. Namely, a folding table and digital clock for time recording. There was a little nervousness about the table as it arrived late but thankfully the bulk of the work was already set. Aside from race day, the biggest thing I needed to do was mark the loop section that used the technical trail. Since, we could be out after dark, I had some reflective strips as part of the markings. I kept the markings limited. Now, when I marked the section is the interesting part. My goal was to do it Friday morning on the 8th after 6am. Well, I ended up doing it at 3:30 am. Our TV decided to meet its death at 1am with a sparkling pop that tripped our main breaker. It made me unsettled to where I wasn't sleeping. So, I said might as well go marking. And I have to say, the moonlight was so strong, I didn't even need my headlamp. It was a gorgeous stroll in the woods at a time I really should not have been there.

Anyways, come race morning, I woke up briefly 4 hours early worried about the snow forecast. I hadn't considered an alternate course for safety. I decided worse case, I could take care of it last minute as pure out and backs on Forbidden Drive. Thankfully, at 6am, the snow had not started. Whew. I arrived at our starting location, 30 minutes before our 7am start. My timing here was not the greatest and it resulted in a delayed start by 15 minutes. Out of everything, I'd say this was the only error of the day as the RD.  Eventually, at 7:15, I gave the official commands, started the official digital kitchen timer and off people went, myself included.

For the first loop, I ended up running with Josh Finger. Having him present really was good for me to run a balanced first 50K to possibly be under 4 hours but not insanely under to blow up. I'm not going to go into the details of every loop but I will say my biggest concern on the first loop was making sure the markings were still present. They were! Loop two was hoping nobody got off course. Seems like a win here as well!  After 4 laps, I was on target for a sub 6 hour 50 mile! Yet, on lap 3, the snow started to fall. It was not an issue so much for my first 50K but my 6th lap began to slow enough to take me off of that sub 6. Still, lap 7 became the point where I was on par with a close to 8 hour 100K split. It was doable. Physically and mentally I was having up and downs. All to be expected. What I really did not expect was the slowness of the pace while maintaining consistent effort. My miles thanks to the snow where 45 seconds to 1 minute slower. I knew I would have to have a quick 8th lap knowing I would need to finish 50 miles in around 6:24 to be at 8 hour pace. Turns out I was off that mark at the end of lap 7, I just hadn't done the math well. It was just a little too slow of a split. With the continued snow slowing, I split 50 miles (50.4 actually) in 6:37:10 and called it a day.

The day was taking it's toll on others as well. Five people called it a day before 50K. And by the time I finished, only 3 other runners were still out there. One of them finished there day in the 50K only 7 minutes behind me. This left two people out there. One was Trishul Cherns and the other Jameson Kloeckner. Trishul was working on his 50K. Jameson decided he was having a blast and opted to do 50 miles. He would be the only other person to finish a distance greater than 50K at the Gorge Gambler.

At this point, the park was rather quite and empty. Rather magical because it is so beautiful in the snow. To stay away from the cold, changed out of my running clothes and spent some time in the truck. I was now getting to enjoy RD duties. I had to shoo some teens away from the results/aid table when one of them picked up the timer. (Which was adhered to the table by a magnet. While the table was not metal, I tapped a metal scraper to the table to the timer had something to stick to.)

Now, this is where I should say, I knew about half of the people participating in the Gorge Gambler. So, I believe that allows me to say this, it is only fitting that the two final people out there were those two whose spirits just radiate positivity.

Eventually, it all came to an end as Trishul finished his 50K and Jameson closed out the event with his 50 mile finish. For one of these two fine people, it was their first time in the Wissahickon. For the other, it is like home (maybe not the section of the park we used but still some familiarity.) To me this is part of what this event was about, sharing a place I love to those who may not have experienced it before and for those who have, provide something new.

Sure from a personal standpoint, not hitting 100K was a bit of a disappointment but I was either going to be near the time goal or not. Once I wasn't there was no need to go beyond 50 Mile. But in reality, the biggest victory, I personally had from the Gorge Gambler was the success of hosting an event.

Results have been posted to Ultrasignup.

However, let me take a moment to congratulate the male and female 50K champs: Nathan Spencer and Kristen Rosser.

Now, will the Gorge Gambler happen again in the future? Right now, yes. It is possible, I change the date but it will be back. Aside from the possible date change, everything else will stay the same. Well, maybe next time, I'll start it on time. Hopefully, a few more people will be able to come out.

With this, we seem to have reached the end of my year. My personal goals are taking a few weeks off. It's been some time since I have taken a large swath of time to recover. And the remaining time to the end of 2017 will be the largest non-injury rest in some time. Goal wise, I didn't hit any PR's but had some notable achievements. I managed to set an FKT. I ran 3000 miles in the year. Won the Bucks County Marathon for the 4th year in a row. Persevered through a horrible day at Twisted Branch. Went back to World's End. Won TGNY 100. I'll take it.

2018, I've already some plans to expand my horizons. Right now, racing in Scotland is going to be huge. And there is a certain ax I need to add to my collection. (No, it is not Eastern States. It's World's End 100K.) I'll aim for similar mileage. Tackle another 100M. The rest of it will fall in place.

I'd like to close this year out by thanking some really important people who made a dent one way or another.

Peg - For putting up with everything! Running, work, well....everything.

Pat McCloskey - You may not realize it but you're encouragement for me to run some races gives me that occasional push I need.

David Walker - You're just a no-name (he's in on the joke) who puts on bad-ass races. You also stepped up to offer emotional support. For that I will forever be grateful.

Rob Goyen - Honestly, you are one of the most inspiring people in my life. It may be silly but when I set up the Gorge Gambler, I thought about you encouraging people to achieve their goals.

Kat Bermudez - Just thank you. Everyone should have a friend like you.

And everyone else that has been a part of my life, I thank you all as well. Onwards and upwards.

(Shameless self-promotion: if anyone knows of any companies that you think would make a good sponsor fit, let me know. I might even be using their products already but never thought of approaching them.)

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Falling into Racing....

Does politics have a place in running? Well, in this case it does. I'm presently getting to write about running as I sit here listening to a lecture from an American Political Thought Since The Civil War.

(Ok, so I've just had to switch over to The Bronx (V) album since I was feeling a bit of writer's block. Too much deep thought.)

Anyways, so what has been going on since my last entry after Twisted Branch? Well, the short version is that I have done some ultra running mixed in with some shorter races. 


  • Run Germantown 5K - (1st) - 9/9
  • Alternative Half Marathon - 1:13:59 (1st) - 9/10
  • Boulder Field 50K - 3:55:10 (2nd) - 9/16
  • Holy Child Academy 5K - 17:07 (1st) - 9/23
  • Water Gap 50K - 3:30:21 (1st) - 9/30
  • Tomm May 5M - 28:28 (1st) - 10/7
  • Rest in Peace 5K - 16:44 (1st) - 10/7

While on the whole, those are not bad results, there are a few things that make it a bit rockier than they look. For the first race, Germantown, the course was a mess and not one runner in the whole event failed to run the proper course. With that as my first race after Twisted Branch that was not a great start to the fall racing season. Thankfully, the Alternative Half Marathon the following day was one of those spot on races. (Again, a Pat McCloskey RunBucks race to the confidence rescue!) My result at Boulder Field is the one that frustrated me probably the most as I wanted to win that race but I failed to get it all together. Now I will say that I was in 3rd for a lot of the race after trying to drop everyone without success for the first 11 miles when I dropped positions. I eventually clawed back to second with less than a mile to go. (That's the good there.) However, there are times I don't feel good about losing. This was one of those. (The negative here.) 

Emotionally, I was on a roller coaster here. I was also unsettled about plans to go to Denver for a 100K race. (Finances and stress played huge roles.) 

Luckily, I had the HCA 5K on my slate as that has been a race I've done well at before. And while I won it, my time was my second slowest on that course. It did not help that the timing clock was a minute faster. Since I do not wear a watch for 5Ks, I felt good seeing 16:07 which would have been my second fastest at this race. Except when I saw the online results at home (and confirmed), it was a kick in the pants to have been so slow. 

Normally the fall is when everything fires on all to feel this out of whack was not good.

After some thought, I made the decision to scrap Denver and save the money. Thanks to Ian Golden & Red Newt Racing, I was provided the opportunity to do the WaterGap 50K , which here was slightly longer as a 32 mile point to point on the McDade Recreation Trail. I'll say this was my second best performance so far this fall. Rolling through entirely alone from go at 6:34 pace. 

At this race, I tried two new racing shorts and running band. Recently, for my road kit, I started running in BOA split shorts. I was losing some luster with my Puma shorts in my trail/ultra kit and during race week I got another pair of BOA split shorts that I would wear for the first time at this race. Also, I was going to be running with the Naked Running Band to hold my Nathan ExoDraw bottle. I had done some short runs testing this set up but this would be the first hardcore test. I wanted to be hands-free but not use the Nathan Peak this go round. Still, I kept the strap attached to the bottle in case it would bounce too much or flop out. Not even a worry! Plus, I was able to keep my ShotBlocs upfront in super easy access! 

Originally, this past weekend, I was only going to do Rest in Peace since it is down the road from my house and I won some money last year. It is a 5pm start which is late (and this year the start time of our block party) so I could add another option if I desired. One popped up on the Wednesday. A 5 miler in NJ at a race that I last did when I last won the Atlantic City Half Marathon for the second time. Back then, they gave cash awards but this year it was 150 to RoadRunnerSports. That was enough incentive for me to drive the hour to double up. In the end, I'm slightly disappointed with my time but that is because while a certified course, the markers at 4 miles and the turnaround were wrong causing the course to be long. My immediate thoughts about my time was along the lines of being frustrated with my short distance performances. Having raced in the morning, I didn't expect to top last year's RIP 5K time. I thought I'd be in the 17's. Yet, I dipped under and actually tied my time from 2016. Out of my fall season this is the best direct gauge since it is the only race I have run each of the past two years. Hopefully, that will translate to the start of some more consistent performances. 

In the upcoming weeks, I have a few short races that I've done before and in one instance I might double up. 

Aside from that, I'd say there is a bit of uncertainty as to a fall A-race. There were a few times this past weekend, I was asked about what I have that is big coming up. Right now, while there are races, nothing that I would define as the big one. Primarily, I've been providing myself with some internal frustration about an inability to find a speedy 100K that I could go sub 8 hours by year's end that is not going to be too costly. I want to say Houston Running Festival would be the best candidate but spending for flights is not really the smartest decision. Then factor in race fees and a car prices me out of my current comfort zone.

Rolling this goal into the early part of next year, which is something I would have considered in the past, sadly does not work for PTO reasons. 

With roughly two and a half months left in the year, I feel fit and that is good as that will enable me to feel good about whatever options I do take to get in one more 'major' performance.

Maybe also, the weather here in Philadelphia will get a bit more consistently fall-like. I do feel that might have something to do with my thoughts towards my inconsistent performances. (HCA and Tomm May were also the two hottest races this fall.) 

That's it for now folks. Not my finest of crafted artisan updates but a small sampler nonetheless.

See y'all out there.... 

Monday, August 21, 2017

Twisted Branch Trail Run - Lessons & Reflection

If there was ever a race that I kept asking, are we there yet, this is that race. I wanted the sensations of this self-imposed torture to be over.

62+ miles in and I am laying down just off the side of the trail trying to settle myself. There is less than a mile and a half to go and I'm at one of the worst places I have ever been in a race. I'd been dry-heaving for a spell at this point. My body was spent and broken. I'd been using a branch on and off again throughout as a 'nature's trekking pole'. Now I had two and I wasn't even climbing. Despite not having the race I planned, there was a shot at a respectable sub 13 hour finish and top 5 placing. There was an hour and eighteen minutes to cover a supposed 4.5 miles with a big climb coming out of the last aid station (58.2 mile). Yet, here I was now, taking 3-5 minute laydowns on the trail to move a couple of hundred feet before rinsing and repeating all because I could not stop the urge to dry-heave when moving upright.

How the heck did I wind up here like this?

To answer that question, we have to go back to last May. I had targeted World's End as a challenging 100K A-race but never made the starting line due to a bout of anxiety. Still wanting to challenge myself, I looked into the Twisted Branch Trail Run up in NY. It was the 100K distance I had missed out on at WE. And to boot it was sponsored by Montrail. I entered the race. Going in, I was fit and ready to go only to not make the starting line. While sleeping my truck, around 1am, I woke up with half my nose swollen. Opting to be medically cautious, I immediately drove home.

So this year around Feb, the race director, Scott Magee reached out to me to see if I was interested in participating in this year's race. My response amounted to something along the lines of HELL YEAH!!! This immediately became my summer A-race. I was excited to see what I could do on this course. Also, Twisted Branch fit in nicely with other plans leading up to the event except until they didn't.

Apparently, the time between February and August is a long time where anything can happen. Heck, the time between mid-June when I ran TGNY 100 and mid-August is a long time. It was within this span, that the seeds to me laying on the trail were borne. Except, I didn't really know it.

It was in this span that my life stresses severely spiked. Or at least the stress levels spiked for me. Another person might have reacted differently. Without bogging down in those details, three main things happened. Deck added onto the house (planned financial stress but still stressful for me nonetheless), important project at work thrust on me suddenly on the day I return from a mini-vacation and my company being acquired. Other stress points did too but I'd rather not write all day on what gives me stress. (You've probably already heard enough in the history of this blog.)  I started to unravel. At one point, Peg mentioned to me that it didn't look like I was enjoying running. Let's face it, I wasn't enjoying much period. (And I'm confessing I was not my best self. I just didn't realize it. Just keep going.) With these stress points, I was spending a lot of time in the 'fight or flight' phase. It's incredibly taxing on the body and doesn't resolve itself quickly, even if you think you move past it.

Anyways, I was still looking forward to the race and felt confident that I was fit. Going in, I felt I could win and at worst top 3. Considering there was prize money this year, it gave me extra incentive to throw down. Of course, I had to get to the race site first. For this, it was going to require 5 hours of driving. Ugh. It could be I've done too many of these drives or just hate long trips in the car but it was the part of this I was looking forward to the least. With having to get up to Hammondsport for the shuttle to the start/camp on Friday night by 6pm, I opted to leave my house around 10am so I could read and relax a bit. Settle myself down from the drive it you will. After having to stop at three stores to pick up Shot Blocs (REI had them while the two cycling shops where I have gotten them in the past were out, in addition to another cycling shop and running store being out earlier in the week), I was on the PA Turnpike NE Extension on my way. After driving throw some scary rain with a gas refill and Arby's fry stop, I made it around 4pm where I relaxed in the back of the truck for a bit.

Eventually, I caught the shuttle out to the overnight camping at Ontario County Park. The location to camp was awesome. Arriving at 7pm to get my bib and catch an 8:15 race brief made it a tad later to settle in than I would like. Especially, since I had to set up a tent and have everything ready for a 3am wake-up, dress and repack for a 4am start. A little reading and Sudoku relaxed me until it was time to sleep. I slept well and woke up nervous but ready. I had decided to race with my Nathan VaporKrar pack with ExoShot bottles filled with Tailwind upfront. In the upper pockets, I had my ShotBlocs. I also had my Nathan Hipster on in the event the ShotBlocs bothered me where they were located. (Never ended up needing to transfer.) Shoe wise, I went with Montrail FKT's. I knew the course had various terrain and heard the stories of the course beating people up (Hello, 44% finishing rate.) and felt it would be the right shoe. I had considered going to LaSportiva Vertical K's but given the rolling of the course and the feeling the shoes a bit too tight for my liking in that moment of decision, I left them 'on the shelf'.

4am hit and we were off. A small group of us formed single file pretty quickly. It was a friendly talkative group and that made me happy. There was talk about shoes. The trail ahead. Rich Heffron and I did some chatting about Philadelphia. Around the first aid station, Jim Sweeney pulled away on a long road section. He was locked in. Rich and I gained on him as we were together, until we were no longer. My race all changed with a simple down tree. For whatever reason, I am not entirely sure, going over that tree spiked the sensation of anxiety. For me, I feel that in my chest/heart. From a couple of years ago when I was knowingly running with anxiety and dropping out of races, I knew it was not necessarily a level of my ability or being over/undertrained. However, I did not come up to Twisted Branch to DNF. Immediately, I went into manage mode. Mind you, I am not even 12.5 miles in to the beast. This was way too early but I figured I could recover. Keep running smooth. Keep the sensation down (which in the middle of the race, I referred to as my heart rate spiking.) What I really needed was to get into a rhythm. One big problem with that. This race does not allow for much rhythm if you are not on. It is the perfect opportunity to just be flailing endlessly. And to be honest, that is the way to describe my day. Decent patches mixed with horrible patches. If you look at my section splits, 4 sections, one of which is my last, were attrocious. Otherwise, it was not all that horrible of a race. But when those bad sections cause you to lose 20+ minutes to the top 3, you are in for it. I was in for it.

After the second aid station, Scotie Jacobs passed me. I just couldn't even muster any sense of keeping contact at that point. Then I got into a groove on a downhill only to miss a right turn. During my backtrack hike up the hill, I was passed falling into 5th. In fact, I was behind two other people making the turn as I picked back up the trail again so I was in 7th. Eventually, I moved back up into 5th and yo-yo'd with Seth Almekinder (now a 3-time race finisher) throughout much of the next few aid stations before pulling away some after The Patch AS around mile 35.6. At no point was I really enjoying much of anything. Normally, I feel like I'm taking in the scenery even if the day is rough. At Twisted Branch, I was so far into the suffer well, I was not even taking mental pictures for my memory bank to appreciate.

I kept adjusting my goals. Going in to the race, it was win. Then it was place third. (A sub 11 was also included in there.) Now it was make it under 12 hours. I told myself make it 40 miles in 8 hours and I have a shot maybe. Still I was thinking 14 hours was more realistic.

When I hobbled my way into Bud Valley at just before 40 miles, I got a surprise. Pat Heine, another member of the Pennsylvania trail/ultra runner community, asked if I wanted a pacer. Considering where I was, it was a most welcome offer. I said 'sure' and after downing some coke, we were off. Right off the bat, I pretty much laid out the landscape: my day sucked, looking likely at 14 hours and my pace is crap. Not to mention I was still continuing to have 'anxiety spikes'. When they got bad, I would sit on a log or rock to re-center myself. Somewhere in there I apologized for being slower than my normal self. Pat was a sport. He was originally crewing/pacing a friend of his who dropped out. Having Pat did give me a boost as evidenced by the third fastest segment time of the day to the next aid station. Mike Welden who say me at AS3, remarked I looked better when I reached AS 8 at Glenbrook. Of course, I followed that with a lousy segment that may or may not have been the one where I sat down at a cemetery in the middle of the course. What I do remember is having to sit on a log in a spot that Pat ran into people he knew. It was also in this segment that I laid down for a couple of minutes on the side of a gravel road stretch. For everything Bud Valley to Glenbrook was, this was almost the complete opposite. One thing that was decent feedback was, when I was moving, I moved well. Just I couldn't keep it consistent. Arriving at Lake David took forever. However, I managed to string two decent sections together. Pat told me when hit 6 min pace for a couple of segments.

At Mitchellsville, I sat down and got some coke on ice along with some great course info what lied ahead. A short 3 mile section and a 5 mile stretch. The 3 mile stretch was my favorite of the day (here is one of the rare mental images of the course, I have) despite going left when I should gone right again. This cost a minute or two. Still, as we neared the last aid station, the potential for a sub 13 was out there. I had an hour and twenty minutes to go 4.5 miles (gonna say it now....BS this stretch is longer.) I felt good and told Pat I was going to power up the climb that stood before us. And using one of nature's handy poles, I was. Then at some point, things went south. Bad. Mentally, the course broke me as I didn't know at what point the descent began. And then, physically, I wanted to dry-heave. Still we moved. Periodically, I was asking Pat how far we had gone (I don't race with a GPS watch) and pace. Both figures pointed to still a good shot at sub 13. We hit the little road section before the final switchback down on the Triad Trail. Or course, we hit the Triad Trail and it is not fully downhill and I'm done. I just shut down. I'd been stopping to dry-heave before we hit the road but now I needed to do that AND lay down on the trail. I was trying to search the landscape to see how close to the bottom we were but I couldn't find it. It just looked too far. With that, I broke. Seth ended up passing me with less than a mile to go. And then as I laid down what ended up being around 1/2 mile from the finish, two more people passed me dropping me to 8th. I was toasted. I was not using two branches to keep me up and moving. Not too fast or I would begin to dry-heave again. Eventually, the finish was in sight. And instead of running it in like a moment of glory, I walked with my branches accompanied by Pat over the line. The final section took me 1:58 minutes. For perspective, Seth finished 27 minutes ahead of me for 5th after being 13 minutes behind me coming out of the last aid station. I will say finishing by the lake is pretty cool and I think I would have appreciated it more on a different day.

Upon dragging my carcass over the line, I took off my pack and laid down. Scott, the RD, got me some ice to put under my neck. I can't remember who said it but I was told to also try to get some under my armpits for cooling me down. Not going to lie, it was pleasant just laying there. Whatever was going on around me really didn't matter. I didn't have to get up because at that point, I didn't have anywhere to go. My suffering was over.

Really have to thank Pat Heine immensely for offering to be a surprise pacer. Pat was the hero of the day. I really would not have been able to finish the way I did without him. Even with my needing to dry-heave, lay down, whatever, he did keep me moving. Mentioning how long I was down for at moments was an incredibly helpful nudge. He was a breath of fresh air and allowed me to not be in my own head for the 6 hours and 25 miles on the course together.

Also, want to thank Scott Magee for organizing such a well run event. Sure, some of the logistics for solo folks between the start/finish is hard, especially with a 4am start time, it appeared to have gone off without a hitch. Sorry, I couldn't put on a better show. Of course, I don't think that matters with the show Jim Sweeney put on in crushing the course record by 50 minutes! Thanks so much for having me.

Many many thanks to the volunteers. All of them were beyond incredible. They really made an impact in getting me to the finish.

Now, when I started this blog post, I included 'Lessons & Reflections' in the title. Much of what I have said tackles my reflections of the race as those in the moment points but not necessarily the real crux.

Trust me, this is going to be short.

  • Running after/with anxiety is hard. It might be a sign to scale back. This is one of those lessons I think I know but keep forgetting. Pushing through is counterproductive.
  • Usually, on a bad day, historically, I've taken the DNF. I'm proud to have pushed through to finish. While not the redemption I wanted, it got me there unlike last year when I never saw the start. I adjusted as needed to throughout. 

That's it. Told you it would be short. Those really are the biggest takeaways worth noting.

Where do I go from here?

Originally, I planned on another 100K at the end of next month out in CO. It is flat and multi-loop. Considering still going out and doing a different distance. I'll take the next two weeks to see. A vacation in the woods is around the corner. Those always help so it would be foolish to completely write off the 100K but right now if I had to guess, it is likely a 50K if I make the trip.

Chances are getting in another 100 Mile in this year is probably too much for me. I need to cut some stress load and the logistic worry of planning for one might be completely counterproductive to the long term.

At this moment in time, I might just need a season of local 5K's. (Let's be clear this does not rule out any long races. I just probably should not be doing 1-2 drive a month of 3-5 hours.) Little travel and less time from a race perspective might be what I need. To circle back around to Peg's comment about looking like I'm not having fun, I need to get back to that fun. You could say there is more to life. I just don't always remember that with tunnel vision.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Pinchot Trail - An FKT?

So in life no everything goes according to plan. Some of us handle changes better than others.

(I am personally in the latter category. I dislike changes to running plans and have a tougher time than I should with them. Lingering physiological effects remain until I claw myself to a solution to acclimate as best as possible. This does not always go smoothly.)

Without getting into a ton of details, my intentions to race my final pre-Twisted Branch tune-up at the Allegheny Front Trail Run were not able to come to pass. (Logistics are hard and stressful. I do not always handle stress too well.) Of course, I needed to do something that would work my mental race prep and effort. I needed to keep the plan. Due to a lack of options, I dug into the idea of an FKT.

After a survey of my friends, I settled on running the Pinchot Trail that is a part of the Pocono Plateau. Unlike the other options I had considered, it was 2 hours away as opposed to 4. Various sources for the trail listed it between 23 and 26 miles. Going by the posting at the trailhead, I'll call that the official non-GPS length of 23 miles. A slight bummer on the lower figure because 26 would be closer to the planned 50K. However, that tidbit was something I wouldn't really find out until I took the two hour drive on Saturday morning.

Hey! Guess what? Spoiler alert, I drove two hours up to Pinchot State Forest and the Pinchot Trail on Saturday morning.

Drive up was rather smooth. I listened to Adele and Lady Gaga on the way up. As I pulled into the parking at the trailhead, two other people were getting ready to start a hike. I would pass them on the trail later on. First things first. I had to gear up. I put on my old La Sportiva Vertical K's. I considered using Inov-8 Trail Rocs but opted for lighter and what I felt would be better grip. Fluid wise, I was going to be drinking Tailwind from my Nathan ExoDraw. Originally, I was thinking about an older larger Nathan bottle. (I don't even remember the model since I've had it for 5 years.) In the end, I settled for the soft flask primarily for the ability to have less bounce if I tuck it into the waist of my shorts. Solids would be in the form of ShotBlocs.

Things I knew going in: Blazes were orange. Parts of the trail were overgrown (thanks to David Stango for that info). I'm in Pennsylvania.

Things I learned before I started: 23 miles and not 26. (Oh well, guess I'll be done sooner.)

I was getting a later start than I wanted. Ideally, I would have been starting at 9am but 9:30 wasn't too far off. Plus with 3 less miles, it would work out, right?

Going in my expectation/goal for the 26 was under 4 hours.

At around 9:30, I hit the start on my GPS and off, I went. Within the first mile, I passed a couple that had been camping and the two hikers I saw in the lot. Shortly after, I popped out on the first intersection with an orange turn. I was confused. I didn't see the next blaze up. I pulled out the map I had on me and it looked like I was to go straight and bear left. Since there was some blazes on the right side of the tree I was staring at, I picked that route and went straight until I saw an orange diamond blaze marking a snowmobile trail. I know some places share uses so I figured I found the right way. However, I was not really seeing orange blazing. Then eventually I saw two posts with it. I continued without issue until I saw a car in a camping area. I was troubled by this. I hit a gravel road where I should have been able to go straight but could not. So I went left up the road. Eventually, I saw an intersection that had orange blaze on the right. At this point, I figured I went the right way.

Until...I stopped for a moment and looked left to see the trail I should have come up. Apparently, I messed up that original intersection. Knowing, I would not be satisfied with making up the route since it would not meet my criteria for why I was there, I headed back to where I started on the trail I missed. Not wanting to expend too much, I walked the bulk of this. Or I should say bushwhacked because this was clearly overgrown. The trail was below but the vegetation came over the trail making it so hard to see. Eventually, on my return, I saw the hikers and campers again. And also learned where I went wrong. When I popped out and went right, if I looked 300 meters mile up the road, I would have seen some orange. Not expecting it to have been that far. D'oh.

Anyways, I made it back to the trailhead. (5 mile warmup) I reset myself and my GPS. I swapped shoes and socks as my feet were damp. Plus, it was a tad rockier than I expected. (I expected rocks but a little more spacing.)

Just shy of 11am, attempted to go out again. Within the first tenth of a mile at the trail registry, my GPS dumped. Reset number 2. Satellite resync'd with the GPS and off for the third try. I moved through the first mile a little easier since I know some of the footing a tad better and definitely was moving better when I knew to go left off Powder Magazine. Up Sassafras Hill again was bushwhacking. At least I knew it was coming. Most of the time, I was looking through brush to avoid tripping over a rock or root. Eventually, I popped out to where I caught my mistake before at the junction with the North Line Trail. At first this opened up for a bit and made me think I would run some quick length. Yeah right. Back into the woods and being careful to not misstep. It was here on the downhill, I passed the two hikers from earlier in the morning. I commented how they probably are wondering what the heck I am doing and told them I was trying to rush the loop in one go as fast as possible. They were amazing I was staying upright on the rocky terrain. For much of what is referred to as the north loop, the brush had sizable sections of overgrowth. I'm glad I went counterclockwise for the trail as it would suck bushwhacking after 15 miles. I'd be sure to face-plant.

After around 6.8 miles, I hit the White Line trail which has a nice gently grade and which made me feel like I was moving. That is until I crossed into the lower South loop where I immediately hit some swamp trail. Following a mushy mile or so, I hit a patch of gravel rd (Tannery Rd) where I ended up missing a right turn into a deer enclosure. I didn't go too far off and realized quickly. Honestly, not sure why we go through the enclosure since we pop back out onto the same road less than a 1/4 mile later for the largest gravel road segment of the day. A quick right onto the Choke Creek trail starts out nice and straight and then gets a little twisty. The coverage was good. Despite it getting hotter, I was in the shade more that the north section which seemed to have more exposed sections. (It still had a lot of shade.)

Choke Creek was nice to be running along the creek. It was running so strong, it was like a mini river and a little 'flooded' as evidenced by where the trail was in relation to the water. (Like right next to it and visible signs of the banks having covered the trail). Now I was getting a little tired here and began to check my maps more to see how long I had to go. At the end of the day this would cost me more time than I should have lost. (In other words, there is meat still on the bone to be taken off the final time.)  At every intersection, I was trying to figure out where I had just gone. Also, the trail began to get rockier again. or at least it was seeming that way to me. It was either nice running or rocks. Never the two shall meet. I was clipping a rock or two here or there a tad more. I felt fine energy wise but was experiencing some mental drain. Not knowing the trail, I was working mentally harder guiding myself to not get lost and pace properly. I was trying to expect everything. What I really expected was some more butter. HAHA.

Eventually, I hit out to Bear Lake Rd for the final mile or so back to the trailhead. I was happy to hit the parking lot but had to keep going until I met the registry where I started. In the end, I tapped out/clocked in at 3:47:01 for a GPS reading of 21.65. Now, with the foliage, I'm sure it will skew the reading some. I would imagine it would amount closer to the 23.

That said, I'm glad I completed the loop and set the initial standard. Can it be done faster? Absolutely. I reasonably think 20 minutes can come off this time. Maybe I'll go after it again now that I know the trail. Maybe I'll do it in the spring when the temps are cool and the vegetation might be a bit less. Fall might be hard if leaves end up covering the trail. Still, I'm glad to have accomplished this in the face of adversity the trail itself through at me. Having to start 3 times tested my mental ability. I knew I would not be bearable for people if I failed. Now did this accomplish everything I needed it to? I'm not sure. I'm trying to figure that out. For's the data.

Pinchot Trail FKT - 8-5-17

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Why, Oh, Why, TGNY

Lets face it, we ultrarunners have problems. We do stupid things. Some of them are stupider than others. Of course, when we sign up for something we are most certain it is a fantastic idea. Until the point where we actually register. Then, we might be thinking inside, 'I immediately regret this decision!' (Please go back and read that last part in Ron Burgandy's voice if you did not initially. It's fine. I'll wait.)

Back at some point earlier this year, it might have been January, some chatter was going on amongst my friends about TGNY100 registration opening. It might have been Juliette who mentioned it that prompted me to go....'Oh, what the hell'. I signed up for it.

Now what did I sign up for?

I signed up for the wonderful idea of running 100 miles in New York City. (Let the record show, TGNY stands for The Great New York 100, which has both 100 mile and 100 kilometer options.) Except, I didn't exactly sign up because I got wait listed. Still, I had heard that people tend to move off the list around April and I turned out to be 7th in line so I anticipated joining the fray.

Still, even wait listed, I thought, 'what did I just do?' Despite, Karl Meltzer's saying '100 miles is not that far', it's far. Or maybe a more apt statement is that is a lot of miles to run on foot. In this case, on pavement in New York City nonetheless. Sure, I've done a fair number of ultras but the 100 mile distance still makes me nervous. On some level, I fear it. And I would say that is because of inexperience. Right now, 100 miles is still kind of an unknown. Yes, a couple of years back, I won Umstead in a solid time. Still, I my other attempts at the distance have been mixed (and I'll even say Umstead did not go according to plan) with a 10+ hour break after mile 90 in my debut, a DNF at Eastern States in my third and an event switch down to the 50 mile before Brazos Bend. In fact, it has been nearly two years since I toed the start line of a 100 mile. Running 100 miles was something I wanted to, needed to try again. It is part of my journey.

Anyways, after the initial signup regret, I seemed to put it in the back of my mind until April.

Turns out, movement on the list does occur and I was offered a chance to the dance. I took it. Now, I had another bout of  'questionable decision making'. Even more so because now I was indeed registered. A funny thing about the timing is that I moved off the waiting list prior to Bryan Court 100 (60K) where I would be seeing both RD's Phil McCarthy and Trishful Cherns. No escaping TGNY! Actually, it was helpful to see them at BC100 because it gave me a chance to talk with them. And I will say Trishful really drilled it home to me that being alert and having the directions accessible was important. In other words, if one does not pay attention, it is easy to get lost. TGNY is not multiple loops in Central Park, it is one big 100 mile loop through 4 of the boroughs. (Staten Island is omitted.)  So, yes, getting off course would suck. Last thing, I would want to do is end up in Yonkers or worse, New Jersey. (As a born and raised native of the Garden State, I can make that joke about NJ.)

With TGNY100 officially on the schedule, I thought, better get some longer races in. Luckily, I had plans to do just that with 100K at Jack Bristol. Except as you know that didn't happen. However, I got doubly lucky by managing to get into Dirty German 50 Mile a couple weeks later. Following that up with some redemption at Worlds End in the 50K, I was at least feeling good about my mental state running. So, I definitely was going into TGNY on a positive note.

In the weekend sandwiched between Worlds End and TGNY, I strategized and organized my gear. What I knew for certain that because of all the pavement, I would run in Hoka Clifton 2's and use my Nathan VaporKrar vest with soft flasks upfront. Fueling would be with Tailwind, water and Clif ShotBlocs. I had questions about keeping cool and how I should carry the mandatory cell phone. With the latter, I opted to use my Nathan Hipster. For the former, I decided to put the bladder in my pack not for water but ice so I could keep my core cool. Also, I tossed a hat into my gear for the put ice in the hat, hat on the head routine. All that much, I knew. However, a few things still needed to be figured out like transportation and lodging.

Initially, my thought was to get two nights in NYC (preferably Midtown East/Times Square area) and take the Megabus up. Now, the Megabus options were easy, affordable and plentiful. Hotels on the other hand....Holy Paycheck! No matter what, it was looking like two nights would be costing me around 400 bucks. I looked at that like 150 bucks too much to be spending when I wouldn't be spending much of that time in the room. Of all the things, I really wavered back and forth on regarding TGNY, it was the hotel. It was also here, I took the biggest gamble. Considering, in the final email instructions, it was noted 100 mile finishers would have a place to shower and quick nap, I opted to only book one hotel night and get a late night Megabus. Eventually using a Hotwire gamble, I got a decent price for Friday night that ended up being at the Sanctuary Hotel in the Times Square area. In fact, it was less than 500ft from the start, which meant, I could wake up at 4am and take my sweet time getting ready for check in and the 5am start. On the back end, I booked a Saturday night (really Sunday morning) bus departing near the Javits Center at 1:30am. For those doing math at home and adding a reasonable time buffer to get from Times Square to the bus, I had 19 - 19 1/2 hours to complete the 100 miles. No pressure. (Actually, it was only a little bit because since the bus is cheap enough I knew I could book a 6am bus if I missed the 1:30)

On top of all that, I still had to work on Friday! I'm lucky enough my office is near the Megabus stop in Philadelphia and I have the ability to do some work via remote. Knowing I would be able to be connected to the internet (either via mobile or Megabus internet) I would be able to work on the ride up to NYC and in my hotel room. So in essence, I spent a half day in the office and handled the rest of my business on the road.

Eventually, I made it up to NYC around 3:00 and got to my hotel around 3:30. My plan for the rest of the day was simple. Once in the hotel room while finishing up any work, lay out all the morning things I'll need like Tiger Balm, TrailToes and hairgel, get my VaporKrar dialed in, figure out how to carry my cell phone and determine which socks to wear with my shoes for the race. After doing that I could go eat. Being in NYC, I knew what dinner was going to consist of. Pizza. No brainer. If you know me, I am a pizza snob and it is really hard to get bad pizza in NYC. Now, I will say if you go to a chain like Dominos or Pizza Hut in NYC for pizza, you are missing out in life. In fact, it might be a life fail. Anyways, I walked up to one of the many variations of a Ray's Pizza and got three slices along with a lemon iced tea to go. My eyes were bigger than my stomach. Third slice ended up being overkill. And in a case of my own life fail, I essentially wasted that last slice only getting a couple bites before maxing out. Under normal circumstances, I would have gorged. Having to run a 100 miles the next day is not a case of normal circumstances.

Clearly, you can see talking about pizza is more important to talk about first other than how I did get the pack, cell phone and socks in order. Priorities. Since, I'm sure you are curious, I'll go back. For the socks, I ended up opting for a pair of thin Smartwool Run with the Cliftons as that was the set up that felt the least constrictive at the time. With the pack, I went with ExoShot bottles up front. One loaded with Tailwind. The other with water. Considering it was going to be warm, in case I needed to wet myself (not in that way), I could use the water. One of the reasons, I went ExoShot instead of ExoDraw was because I got get them in and out of the pockets easier for refills/drinking. In the far front pockets, one was the directions and my own sheet of just the aid station locations while the other had the strap for an ExoDraw in the event I wanted/needed to change up on the fly. The back 'pass through pocket' I had extra baggies of Tailwind. In the bladder sleeve, I had the empty bladder. And in the other outer, I had an extra singlet. The upper front pockets had two sleeves of ShotBlocks each. One also contained some SaltCaps while the bonus in the other was a Metrocard, ATM Card, Cash, Insurance Card and ID in the event something happened. Now with the cell phone, I determined the Hipster was the way to go with that. Here, I was a bit savvy too. I used the sleeve from the ExoDraw to house the cell phone. In essence, it was some cushion. Also of note, wrapped in sandwich bags were the cell phone, cards and directions.

With dinner and gear in final order, it was time to chill with a shower and good book. Or was it? After getting back to my hotel room around 6pm, things were a little different. There was more lobby activity and when I got to the room itself, I could hear a low bass sound permeating. (At 5pm, when I left for grub, it was not there.) Oh, yeah that's right, I was on the 7th floor, the one right below the rooftop bar. It wasn't all that bad so I only gave it a little thought at the time as I settled in, showered and gave Peg a call. Following that, I made myself comfortable on the bed to start reading Wildfire Loose: The Week Maine Burned by Joyce Butler. I was a bit scattered so I didn't read nearly as much as it as I wanted. Partially this was because the bass was getting louder. At one point around 7:30-8pm, I called down to the front desk to ask what time the music goes down. I was told around 10. Since, I was getting up at 4am, 10pm was fine by me that meant 6 solid hours of sleep. Honestly, had I been told 1am or something like that I would have asked to be moved. Granted it was the last thing I wanted to be doing since I was all laid out for the morning. I went back to reading a bit. I started to doze some and it was around 9:30 and the music seemed to be gone so I opted for sleep then and there.


Sleep didn't work out quite as well as I planned. I dozed at a lull as the bass returned and bass is the one thing my ear plugs do not block out completely. At that point, I became unsettled. Noise and room temp started to send me down a rabbit hole of tossing and turning. By 10:15, the music was done completely but I had an incredibly difficult time regulating myself back to sleep. I didn't know if I wanted the air for the room on or off and if on....just constant on or the auto setting. Let's say, while the bed was super comfy, having nerves about running 100 miles did not make it easy to settle down. In the end, after spotty sleep, I finally settled down around 1:30am. That's right folks. Instead of a good 6, I was in for 100 miles on 2 1/2 hours. I'd be lying if I said I didn't think about DNS due to the sleep. Yet, I will say, having laid all the gear out all set up and being so close to the start is probably what saved me because I could get as much rest as possible despite everything since getting to the Times Square TKTS booth was a whopping 4 minute trip.

Before I knew it, 4am arrived. While, I am a morning person, 4am still is tough as hell to get moving but moved I did. Got myself all presentable like and around 4:25 walked over to check-in for the race. At that point, check-out had not occurred. I purposely did not do that on the way to check-in because I wanted to be able to have bathroom access if needed. So after check-in and a few minutes, I went to take care of business. Following those final preparations, I officially ended my stay at the Sanctuary.

Apparently, in my plan for relief, I missed the group photo. A tad bummed about that but I did get back in time for instructions from Phil and Trishful. It was also here that I was really able to say hi to Otto and Jurgen. (I had already said hi to Eliot, Trishful and Phil). Things started to move quickly. Before I knew it, it was go time.

Start Line: TGNY
PC: Richard Chung

Off we went...a group of crazy ultrarunners planning on running either 100KM or 100 Miles. (Big difference is that the 100KM folks get to miss out on all the Brooklyn action on a day that just happened to include running on the boardwalk in Coney Island on the day of Mermaid Parade. Curious? Google it.)

PC: Richard Chung

Now let me say, NYC at 4-5 in the morning is such a quiet place even if the city never does truly sleep. It has a urban beauty that I admire in these periods.

As we strode up Broadway towards Central Park, two of us already kind of started to separate from the rest of the field. Clearly, I anticipated being one of those people but my companion was of no real surprise to me thanks to the age of internet runner stalking. Off all the people also signed up for the 100 mile, Matt Collins is the one person I knew capable of a good time. He's more experienced at 100's than I am not to mention a really good marathoner. It was really good to have the company. Any part of a 100 miles that you can easily run with somebody else makes time go by so much quicker. Yes, we as athletes want to be better than the people we are racing against but in the ultra community, it is not the same cutthroat mentality of the road running or track world. One way it was really helpful to have his presence as we got to begin navigating looking for the yellow arrows that would mark most of our route. Sadly, not long after Grants Tomb, Matt needed to use some local park facilities. I figured, he would make it quick and catch up pretty quickly so I kept going. It wasn't like we were going light speed. Still, it was a while before I would see him again. Matt caught up to and passed me in Van Cortlandt Park around 11.5 miles in. At this point, I stopped at a fountain to wet my head and get a drink of water. Not that I didn't have water on me because I did but way tap the bottle when I could kind of get it from the tap. I kept his distinctive orange singlet in view and caught up to him farther down the trail. For the next 10 miles or so, we would do some yo-yoing bits. I blew through the 15 mile aid station and he passed me at the 20 mile pit stop where I got some ice for my hat.

Another half mile beyond the aid station at mile 20, is when I would say the biggest change happened. We had an arrow to cross the street. Upon seeing it, I began to cross but saw Matt still had not. I began shouting to get his attention. It appears he went to cross farther up but because we running an urban ultra with traffic, timing could be tough and he looked to have been caught for a few prior to crossing. While this would not be the last point I would see Matt, it was the last point during the race we'd have any contact.

Maybe it is clear what the outcome is going to be from a result level but remember sometimes, it is not about the finish but how you got there. And at this point, my journey had close to 80 miles left. Some of those 80 miles were really nice and smooth. For example, the little lollipop stretch around Pelham Bay Park was good. One of things that I thought about through here is how Pelham Bay was just one of the sites I would be passing through that Peg worked on during her time working alongside the NYC Parks Dept and other contractors doing ecological restoration work. At mile 25, I almost missed my first turn. Thankfully, something didn't look right to me. We could call it my spider sense tingled. I pulled out my map and it appeared I was near a turn so I backtracked. To the other side of the street that is. I had missed the arrow on the sidewalk showing me to go right onto Middletown Rd. It was bound to happen but made me thankful that I really embraced Trishful re-enforcing paying attention and having the directions.

We had to follow/find these things.

At the other end of this stretch of street was another aid station, this one at mile 26. (This was the farthest stretch between aid in the whole run). I got some coke and water and was on my way. I had hoped for some ice but no such luck. Really up until this part of the race, most of our running was on NYC Greenways. Middletown itself was an outlier at that point. Our next mile would continue this trend of Greenway running. As the greenway was along one of the interstates through the side, I got to pass behind one of the Dunkin Donut/Gas Stations. For whatever reason, I thought it was kind of cool. Quite possibly, it was just another sign of being in a city but not all in the same moment. Part greenway, part expressway. Since there was some snaking on this patch, I tried to see if I could spot Matt. I couldn't. Not at that point anyways. That would come 7 miles (approx mile 33.22) and more than an aid station later when I....

Stopped at 7-11 for a Slurpee. Yes, you read that right. I stopped to get myself a Slurpee. This stop was not nearly as quick as I hoped. Or I should say, it felt like it should have gone quicker. Now, I could have been a glutton hitting the 44oz but I opted for conservation and only 22 oz. Normally, I also mix Cherry and Coke but Coke was my only option so Coke. I also bought a bottle of water and poured that over me. I was feeling warm and was making a point to keep my core temp down as much as possible. (At the 50K aid mark, I was able to get more ice too.) After the eternity of my quest, I was a little off my bearings. At the intersection, where the 7-11 was, I was actually to make a right and left, where I thought left and right. Since I didn't see a right near the turn I thought, again, I used the trusty TGNY directions to regain my bearings and set myself on course.

It kind of goes like this. Want a Slurpee, get a Slurpee

As I crossed the intersection over the Leggett Ave bridge, I was able to look down Garrison and see Matt's orange in the distance. Guess, I'm jogging with this slurpee. Unless, you are an expert do not try that at home. Slurpee runs are not for the unqualified. My specific Slurpee run ability goes back 20 years when I would do workouts that included stops to a specific 7-11 and get 44oz Slurpee's to run with for miles. So this was like riding a bicycle.

The Slurpee running was the easy part, the directions for the next mile had me off balance. I had to check directions a few times before getting on the Randall's Island pathway before saying farewell to the Bronx heading into Queens to check off the third of four boroughs where 40% of the run would take place. My highlights here included running along the World's Fair Marina promenade (would say this was my favorite waterside running stretch) and through Alley Pond Park. Alley Pond Park was also the host location of the 'half way' point aid station. I hit this junction in around 7:15. To me this was spot on pacing. I wasn't going too hard or too fast in my opinion. Throughout, I was making sure to keep a look out for any arrows and if I had a concern, take the time to pause (which I continued to do) and consult the directional sheet. Here, I got some more ice as the Marina aid station did not have any. Also, I lightened my load some ditching the baggies of Tailwind I had in my vest. I wasn't drinking it so much. I was primarily using water, gatorade and coke for fluid while I consumed Shot Blocs every 45 minutes.

PC: Richard Chung

In some ways, everything was going according to plan. And then not only did I need to consult the directions but the route map itself! Around 54, there is an expressway overpass crossing that following made me REALLY question if I was on the right track. The directions didn't work for me and I didn't feel like a backtrack. Thankfully, I had an offline GPX Viewer program where I previously loaded the route. It showed I was on the right course and got me in the proper direction. I get some GPS watches allow you to load routes to follow. I do not own such a watch (I do own a GPS watch just not that kind) and in fact was running with an old school Timex Ironman. Let it be known that this is the ONLY time, I had to consult anything other than the arrows and the direction sheet.

Here is also when the rains came. And come they did in buckets. As I got though the next aid station and entered Flushing Meadows towards the famous Unisphere, the ponding on the course was bonkers! At one point there was a spot that went up to my knee! It even had a little whirlpool!!!! Still, I was happy about the rain. It was refreshing and cooling. Considering ice was hit or miss, the wet was a welcome relief. As the soaking diminished, I popped up at the Forest Park combination aid station/finish where I surprised Trishful. I had reached 100KM in 8:58:10, right around where I wanted to be. Here I asked for anti-inflammatories and downed more soda shots. Now, TGNY allows for a dropdown finish which I could have taken here. Not this day. I told Trishful I was continuing on. The way I thought was I had 10 hours to finish before making my bus became an issue. Plus, with around only 60KM to go, I thought I could do 6 hours. Boy, was I wrong about that.

TGNY became a tale of two races here. A solid 100KM that I hit comfortably without breaking too much stride even when direction checking and a horrid suffer fest where I got caught at more crossings than earlier and really hit people country. Still, I managed the best I could, around 2 miles later, I hit a Speedway for their version of a Slurpee. This time, I went 32oz and the cherry and coke blend I so enjoy. For whatever reason, I allowed myself some walk break here and that set off a bad precedent on this stretch which included the longest continuous straight of the whole run...Cross Bay Blvd. On the Blvd, right before we go up and over the forever that is the Addabbo Bridge, is another aid station. Third in a row that I hit without ice. Thankfully, I was still hitting the slurpee and working on my core temp. I gave my number of 26 and moved on. Since this was an incline, I walked it as I had much of the inclines in the run. I was trying to save my body some. Eventually following a few more turns and another little bridge, I hit Rockaway Beach. (Of course, I had the Ramones song in my head then and even now as I type this portion of the epic you are reading.) Rockaway Beach also meant the mile 70 aid station right before hitting the boardwalk. Again, I asked about ice to be shut out. But I poured some water on me.

On the boardwalk, I hit the bathroom to make sure things were ok. I was doing absolutely fine in the hydration department according to my nature's call check. I managed to pick a good tempo on the boardwalk. It was helpful to have the streets intersecting being numbers I could count. Exiting the boardwalk, different story. I'd say the we were hitting my least favorite portion of housing stock on the route. It felt very alone and uninspiring. Ugh. I walked some here. I was feeling down. Thankfully, I dragged myself to the fine folks at the Jacob Riis aid station at mile 75! Plenty of chairs to beware of but they had ICE! I pulled out the hat from my pack so I could get some in it to plop on my cranium.

Three quarters done in around 11:30. Pace is suffering some but not horribly. Any sub 15 was not happening, not that I was planning on it at all. But I could do 4 1/2 hours for 25 miles, right? Not so fast whipper snapper. The next 5 miles were bad. I started walking more. It was more running/walking that felt alone. TGNY was become more about that thing between my two ears than my feet. Running along the Belt Parkway in a construction zone with gridlock traffic also was not making me feel as 'pep in my stepy' as the greenways were earlier. Emmons Ave gave me back a little bounce even if I was having to run around some people before I hit Aid Station 80 helmed by Trail Whippass' own Brandi! More nada on the ice but more coke to fuel the system as I shuffled off. Really sucking here but moving. It took me an hour the last stretch. But I would be bound to come back. (Bonus, I was now on the final sheet of directions!) I had the Coney Island boardwalk ahead. That breeze from the ocean. The spring of the boards. Yeah, right. Hitting the boardwalk did nothing at the onset. Something I initially was excited about....was not able to embrace it as much. After maybe a half mile, I did regain some running and that was good but I was hitting the crowded sections near the Cyclone, Wonder Wheel, and Luna Park. Still, weaving gave me a groove to get into. Plus, I had a plan on hitting the Wendy's right before the 84 mile pit stop for a bathroom break and cold coke with ice. Since I was striking out more on the ice front, I wanted to take things into my own hands. And I will say half the plan at Wendy's worked, the bathroom half. The line for ordering was of the WTF variety. It was long. I opted to skip it and move on. I crossed the street and went around 100 yards to the Bensonhurst Park aid station. More coke, no ice. Popped two anti-inflammatories. Now you would think, having 4 miles along the water would be fantastic. I would think so too. However, I'd say 2 out of the next 4 miles, I walked. I didn't want to go farther. I wasn't about to quit but I was not enjoying life at all. I managed to pick up some steam towards the end of the stretch just in time for mile 90 and another aid station! I gave my number of 26. Plus, they had ice! I doubled up on the ice in the hat and now down my back.

Coming up was the second longest straight.....4th ave.

4th Ave started on an uphill trend so I walked it and my plan was to eventually run as I could use the clicking off of the street numbers to inspire me. I thought I'd walk maybe 5 blocks. I did about 20. Yeah, I was dragging. Following a way too long period, I got one foot moving in front of the other wish some semblance of a pace. With the dips on the sidewalk at the intersections, the narrowness of the sidewalk itself and having to semi-dodge people, this was a much more challenging stretch than I anticipated. On a positive note, turning off of 4th ave after 3.42 miles meant I had less than 7 to go. I was beginning to manage more running than walking again. Still not my best pace but alright. I was doing lots of checking behind me worried Matt would roll up on me any moment because of the long walk stretches I had recently. Maybe it was the people but I was in a better spot. President St around mile 94.2, gave us the chance to go through a block party. Now, dodging the kids running around playing tag on a busy sidewalk along Court St was the toughest dodging of the day. Seriously, not the best place to be playing that. Visions of being taken out by one of the children did dance in my head.

PC: Wade Lambert

Borough Hall brought with it a lot of excitement! Aid station folks were waving galore. I was now around mile 95. The sun was down and it felt cooler. All I had left to do was go up and over the Brooklyn Bridge and up through Manhattan back to Times Square. Sub 16 was out the window. I was hoping to now finish 17 hours in. Considering we'd be hitting a bridge uphill, I very much anticipated my body would want to walk. Not the case. I was running the uphill. The lights of the night and the energy of people about on the evening pumped me up. Sure I didn't want to swerve around any. Surprisingly for the most part, didn't have to as I stuck over to the bike side. And once I hit the downhill side into Manhattan, it felt like I was booking! There was another runner out for their stroll ahead. I made him my target. My pace felt like the fastest it had been since around 100KM!

Like that...I'm in Manhattan! 3 MORE MILES!!!!

I'm making the lights, clawing my way up to the middle of the island. I pass Canal. I pass St. Marks. There goes Union Square! Oh hello, Broadway! We meet again for 25 more blocks. Now that I'm done with all my turns, I can focus on the street numbers. Before I know it, I'm eight blocks away in Herald Square. 7 blocks. 6 blocks. I can really see Times Square now. 5 blocks. 4. Three. Two. 1.

And....I get stuck at the stop light literally across the street from the finish line. I can see Phil waving. A finish tape drawn. It is taking forever for this light cycle to pass.

Eventually it does and the final steps are filled with a sense of joy. I finished 100 miles through NYC without a crew (but with lots of help from the aid stations) and managed to win the darn thing.

PC: Eliot Lee

Final time.....16:19:19.

Not a PR but considering that TGNY is a very unique beast of a race, I am happy to have the third fastest time. And I needed to as Matt finished strong some 23 minutes back in 16:42 and change.

Admittedly, I missed Matt's finish. After making sure to call Peg as I sat on the ground in the middle of Times Square, I took full advantage of shower and hap time at the 100 mile finish bag hotel location. Of course, pictures with Phil presenting my buckle and award were had. Also, Nick, one of the great folks welcoming people at the finish, and Phil got me a Dr Pepper from the Walgreens behind us when asked if there was something I needed. Nick along with Eliot escorted me to the room.

PC: Ricardo Hijar

Let me say, it felt so good to take a shower and get clean clothes on. I laid down for some rest on the floor. Over the time of my relaxing in the room, I got to see Matt and congratulate him on his finish as well as third place finisher Camilo. Other folks were a blur but all welcome conversation. Eventually, around 12:50, I had to head out. I had a 1:30 am Megabus to catch. I walked over with my bags of stuff to the Jacob Javits Center for the long ride home. Unlike most trips on a bus, I could not comfy to sleep or even get in a comfy position. That was not the worst of it, Back home in Philly, I decided on the walk to the Megabus, I'd catch a cab from 30th St Station home. Apparently, none of those exists at 3:30 am. No way was I going to wake up Peg. Because I happened to ride my bike to work and the station on Friday, I had that as a means to get home. Let me tell you that 6 mile bike ride was some of the hardest peddling ever. And since I live uphill, I walked with the bicycle up the hill for the final 3/4 mile. Finally around 4:15-4:30 (time is but a blur at this point), I walk in the door. Amazingly, I don't disturb Falcon, our dog. Pawnee, our cat comes to greet me. After another 20 minutes or so, I just lay on the couch not really expecting to sleep and catch a few winks my TGNY journey done.

Jurgen and Otto - Because I love this photo
PC: Richard Chung

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Worlds End Ultramarathon 50K: A Round of Redemption

To beat a horse that has already been dead, buried, dug up and reburied a few times on here, for the past couple of years I've been putting in a lot of work building myself back up mentally. In conjunction with that process, I've talked openly (or at least I feel I've tried to be open) about when I stumble and flat out struggle inside my head.

Well, this past weekend, on the 2017 edition of National Trails Day (which is funny because to us trail runners, everyday is trails day), I took part in the 50K race at Worlds End Ultramarathons and got to work on myself. 

If you recall last year in the middle of May, I had been slated to run the 100K at Worlds End. I got up there only to suffer an anxiety attack that more or less resulted in a Did Not Start. It also was the time, that despite the downturn related to my racing, I had a wonderful weekend hiking around the park. So, when registration opened for the 2017 edition of the races, I opted to start out on a quest for redemption on a smaller scale by tackling the 50K. You could say that in some ways, 2017 is shaping up to be about continuing my personal reclamation project particularly when my Dirty German 50 Mile finish gets factored in. 

Two consecutive ultras that were 'setbacks' previously where I was seeking a bit of redemption. I don't want to call them failures because I've learned and grown from those experiences. (Plus, as I just said, last year I really had a wonderful weekend at Worlds End State Park. Kind of hard to call that a failure when I still had a good time.)

Anyways, enough of all the recap of recaps.....on with the show!

Unlike last year, when I stayed in one of the rustic cabins and we had the Nissan Versa, I had a campsite with plans to sleep in the back for the truck. Other differences were a later arrival and NOT picking up my packet the night before. Admittedly, I wanted to avoid too much socializing. Mainly, I wanted to relax by reading. Of course, I say this only to swerve you. How so? Well, turns out, my site randomly was across from where pals Angie and Heather were camping. Now, while we did a bit of chatting, it was not much as I did sit down to read quite a bit before settling in for a bedtime around 10pm. Since the 50K didn't start until 7am, I could treat it much like a normal night which keeps the nerves calm. Yet, I will say, I did largely expect to be woken up by the masses headed to the 100K start at 5am. Before I got to that point, around 12am, I was disturbed from my slumber by a camper pulling into the site next to mine. Mind you, I also had earplugs in. It took me an hour to go back to sleep. Maybe that is why I managed to end up sleeping through all the 100K people moving about. I woke up around 5:30 to the sounds of rain on the top of the truck cap. I quickly got myself ready and drove over to the Cliff Pavilion area of Worlds End to get my bib and relax some more.

While, I had a goal to be low-key before the start, I ran into Ryan Espulgar (who was crewing this year) and John Johnson (who came to watch the show). I will say seeing familiar faces is really nice. John was excited to be on the spectator end. (He is also the only person to have won both the 100K and 50K here.) 

With the weather being a bit spitty, I kept dry and warm in the back of the truck. I even laid down for a 20 minute nap. The weather also solidified my hydration choice....go with a single Nathan ExoDraw bottle. I had thought about also using an ExoShot which I could stuff in the waistband of my shorts. I would be snacking on ShotBlocs all day that I kept in my Nathan Hipster. Shoe-wise, I decided for more grip on the wet rock with a pair of LaSportiva Helios instead of my Montrail FKTs. More importantly, this time, I remembered SOCKS!!!! Granted, I was running one big 50K loop instead of 3 loops in a monsoon, this was still a memory victory. Being all prepped, I rolled over to the start area just in time for the pre-race brief (the point of the day we were reminded to be cautious of wildlife) where I saw Papa Trail himself, Dylan. As we lined up, I started to bounce the bounce. I was ready to roll. I knew what was coming at me from spending part of last year on the course and John letting me what I expect in stretches. Basically, telling me I can open it up in a fair number of spots. 

Like that...we were off.....

To help thin the field before hitting singletrack, Worlds End starts off with around 3/4 of a mile of pavement and maybe another 1/4 of dirt road. From the gun, I asserted myself on the rest of the field. (No, I did not sprint out like I was a child in a local 5K who thought it would be cool to become a moving roadblock.) This part of the course, is the one that I remember the most from hiking around last year so I knew it was going to be a climb and have good technical bits along with some beautiful scenery. 

Image result for butternut trail worlds end
Butternut Falls

Coming out of the Butternut Trail loop, the real fun starts as we turn onto the Loyalsock Trail segment that is also the High Rocks Trail where we got to go across High Rock Falls where a photographer was just setting up shop, meaning no cool photos of me here. But I can share one of my buddy Dylan!

Image may contain: outdoor, water and nature
This is Dylan crossing High Falls

By this point, I knew I was up by a minute. At the start of this trail stretch there had been a crowd of people making noise so as I passed, I glanced at my watch and waited to hear the next bit of noise to check again. Visually, it meant, I was alone for now. On a day like this, I was more than happy to be solo through here. It allowed me to enjoy the scramble up the rocky climbs so much more. Once I reached the top, I knew I could open it up some but not as much as I would have liked. With the weather having been damp in the state of Pennsylvania recently, the ground had not fully dried out before RD David Walker sent a couple hundred people out to run trails. Hello, mud! I have to say the mud was the most frustrating part of my day as I would get into a good running grove only to encounter a swath of mud that if I was not careful would suck my shoes off. So that meant my day was going to be a tad more challenging. Still, since John Johnson thought I could go sub 5 hours, I'd give it a go. However, by the time I made it to the second aid station where I refilled my bottle with Tailwind at 10.5 miles in 1:42, I knew it was not that likely. As a matter of fact, I mentioned to John that the course was running slow due to the mud as I was speeding out of the station like I was trying to out run a black bear. (Thankfully, no black bears were encountered by my eyes.) Later on, I would find out, I had a 5 minute lead at AS2. It could have been and should have been more since I did make a navigational error on a patch of trail that intersected a fireroad. (In short, I made a right instead of a left, figured that out quickly and then missed the trail in the other direction. Best part of this was I did not panic at the errors.) 

For the next stretch, the terrain aside from the mud was really runnable. John reminded me that it was so that was in my head! And I will say it was. Yet, I did need to stop a couple of times because I was having pain on the top of my left foot. The tongue on my shoe had slid over and was digging in to the point of discomfort. Eventually, I had to untie and re-tie my shoe to loosen. My overall pace was dropping and by the time I hit the Worlds End Aid Station 19.3, I had a shot at the sub 5. (Took time to do another Tailwind refill) That didn't last too long as the climbs between Worlds End and Canyon Vista were probably my slowest all day. However, one of the enjoyable aspects was I really begun catching 100K runners much more often. It just added a little spark each time. Plus, it is helpful to know that if I possibly fell down the side of the trail, someone may come along that could be of assistance. Once I topped out at Canyon Vista, I saw Ryan again who said the next aid station was being run by the Pagoda Pacers, who I know a number of because well we run a lot of the same races. I don't want to say that out of people that I had a home field advantage but things like that give me the allusion of one. (Which also adds a bit on the pressure scale.)

By now, I'm roughly 4 hours in with 9 miles to go. In my mind, that sub 5 is gone. Thinking also that the course record was 5:04:xx, I didn't think I would come close to it. Still, I kept going. My goal was to finish and win. I was clearly going to do the first unless something really tragic happens. People I were passing mentioned/asked that I was first in the 50K. I confirmed I was in the 50K but never felt comfortable saying I was first. After all, there is no real placing until the finish line. And in my head, I had no idea where second was, so I was not going to jinx myself. 

(For the life of me, I cannot recall if it was between AS 3 and 4 or AS 4 and 5, that I passed Heather and Jesse, who was doing his first 100K.)

Following a longer stretch than expected (my head had different thoughts about reality), I finally reached the party that was the Coal Mine aid station. Of course, the first person I see and hear is Mike Yoder! I grab more coke to chug. I got told to throw cups down and essentially just get out of there since I only had around 3.5 to go. Let the record show I handed the cups to someone before taking off. Also, it was either excitement or my stink that made them rush me out. I mention the stink because when I passed a couple of folks not longer prior to this aid station, I heard talking behind me that sounded like a conversation knowing that I was coming because of my smell. I certainly hope that was not the case but I will say I was very alert to any smell I might have been giving off. A smell, mind you, that I was definitely noseblind to if existed. So now, I'm slower and stinky running in the most sunny portion of the 50K for me all day. A very runnable section that took me a little longer than I should have to get hauling on. Eventually I did and it was glorious! I began to get excited for myself that I was going to finish. Not only was I going to start a race at Worlds End this year, I was going to finish! Time wise, sub 5 had passed which meant the CR had passed. As I was bombing the last downhill (that some 50K runners were starting to go up after I directed them the right way), I really began to feel this weight lift. I charged hard under the road, behind the snack shop and into the finish.

Just like that I was done, with a beep of the timing mat. The finish area was pretty quiet. They didn't realize I was coming in. So, after I crossed the finish, I took my disgusting body over to the Loyalsock Creek to cool off some. I dipped my legs in the water and scooped some to pour on me. As I was taking it in, David came over. He got word that I finished and was near the creek. My finish burst his goal of him not missing anyone. However, he had more important matters to tend to like runner safety and overseeing the event. 

My watch time was 5:12:47. It was going to be the second fastest time on the course. I was happy about that. While a course record would have been nice, it actually was not a primary goal. My primary goal was to redeem myself for last year. This race was about my physical ability working with my mental ability. It was about the thing between my two ears, my brain. 

Still, with my mind telling me I stank, I drove the truck back over to the campground to take a shower. It was a glorious shower with surprisingly warm/hot water! Sadly, because I needed to clean off and took forever doing it, I missed Dylan finish in second. He also was gone by the time I got back! So, I apparently dragged my arse there. Bummed I didn't get to say goodbye. That said, I did get to witness lots of other finishes of the 50K. Some people I didn't know, some I did like Angie and Ben (Rock N the Knob RD). Saw Anthony and Joanne who called it a day at 19 miles. In essence, I was now hanging out. Eventually, it worked out for awards to be presented. It was during that point, I learned how wrong I was about the course record. Instead of thinking I missed it by 9 minutes, David mentioned I missed John's record by a minute (more like 1 min 20 sec). Oh well.....I still was happy.

With a drive home ahead of me, I called it a day an hour before the 100K beasts started to come in. I'm sorry I didn't get to congratulate them in person, especially those I knew running. (So let this be my formal public congratulations to all of you.)

Again, I left Worlds End with it etching itself as a special place to me. Last year, it was special for all the wonderful time I spent with Peg there. (I was telling Angie and Heather about the rock formation on the Canyon Vista trail. The one not called the Rock Garden!) This year, it is special for different reasons.

My hope is to return to run the 100K. I've been told that other 50K section is a lot worse. It is the type of physical challenge I like. Lets get the mental on the same page.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

More like the Extra Dirty German....

Sometimes, I look forward to sharing my thoughts about my running and get ideas of what I want to say only to not write things up in time or forget the cool catchy yarn I want to spin.

We can call this a clear mix of the two. Since last time I threw up on this blog, I've added races of 60K, 5K and 50M all the while working to stay focused on running. I'll tell you it has been hard. Allergies finally hit. A planned race was not doable for issues with the truck. And work got super stressful! The latter which required some serious overtime. Most of these were grouped around the start of May. This has enabled me to dub May, not exactly my best month. A few years ago, I had three ultra DNF's which I followed up last year with super stress from having my whole routine thrown out the window by serving practically two weeks on a jury. This led to stress causing a late DNS at World's End. Yeah, May....

Anyways, I've been managing fairly well this year. My sleeping rhythms (whether a good night or bad night) have me up running before 6am (sometimes a shade after). With the early sun, I've been able to do these morning runs mainly on trails. Most of my training has been within the Wissahickon lately. While I do not usually do my 20+ milers through there on the upper trails, on the day of my aborted race, I spent 3 hours cranking out some enjoyable footfalls. You might say that right now the runs through there have been centering. Sure I do a little pavement here and there on my morning runs, but I find myself dipping onto the trails.

Of course, I do not expect y'all to come here merely to read how I train but want to know about some racing. As I mentioned above, I've done three notable runs. The first was the 3rd edition of Bryan Court 100. Prior to this year's April edition, it was last held in Dec 2015. It is 100 laps around a .38 mile double cul du sac street. The brainchild of my friends Jurgen and Otto, it is not so much a race despite official results with awards and finisher medals but a good time to do a long run with friends. I needed the mileage considering I had just been moved off the wait list for TGNY 100 in June. And one of the things I hate to do by myself all the time are super long runs. (Anything about 20 as a training run moves into that category.)  BC100 was exactly the experience I hoped for. Got in miles. Got to hang out with people. Great day!

Now originally, I was going to follow up BC with Lake Waramaug 100K. Mid-week, I started to get hit with stress at work and that turned into anxiety surrounding the race, Luckily since I had not signed up, I opted to do a different race, Ironmaster's Challenge. It was closer by an hour, on trail instead of road, and I could sleep in the truck for free the night before. Not to mention, they had race day registration. Unfortunately, I never made it out to the race. The afternoon prior to my departure, the truck started running really poorly. It's an old truck so we expect some tempermentalism from it. However, the difference was this time the Check Engine light was on. Still I departed around 7pm to head out to Pine Grove Furnace. Considering, I had some time for the truck to settle down (since sometimes warming up does the trick), I told myself if the truck was not running right by the time I would hop on the PA Turnpike, I wouldn't go. This ended up being the case and the truck ended up in the shop twice the following week to correct the issue.

Mentally, I pushed through and did my 3 hour run through the Wissahickon getting in 22 of the 31 miles I had planned. Having almost bagged the run before 5 miles, this was a boost and led into a solid week of training and a 5K.

Sure, it was Broad Street 10 Mile weekend but I was doing a 5K because I was not signed up for the 10 miler because I had ultras on my slate. (Hello, conflict!) So I dipped my toes into speed again and went back to the Alex Wake Memorial 5K held at the Baldwin School. For whatever reason, this year the race felt smaller than when I did it back in 2014. (At least I think it was 14 and not 15.) Last time, I had won a gift card to Bryn Mawr Running Company and was hoping to do the same again. And considering without any present shoe sponsor, I planned on building up some cash to get a new pair of shoes. In fact, I had not only my previous gift card from this race but a second gift card to the store. In the end, the race ended up being 7 seconds slower than my previous winning time. A bit of a bummer but I did get another BMRC GC which I promptly went to spend after the race. Again with TGNY in mind, I got a pair of Clifton 3. I would have got the Brooks Hyperion for a road flat too but they were out of my size. (Amazingly, I also found out one of the old GC that I thought was for 50 was for 100!)

Lets call this starting to feel good!

And feeling good I was. In the week leading up to Alex Wake, I got into the Dirty German 50 Miler. I was going back for two reasons. I needed the miles with not doing the end of April ultra and a bit of redemption for 2015 when it was one of my May DNF's. The forecast looked good. Cooler temps! (Unlike the sufferfest of heat last time.) However, as the race got closer cool temps became cool temps and a Nor'easter!

Thankfully, the RD, Stephan green lit the race to continue.

Now, while feeling guilty for the mud running that was likely to occur, I was pleased as punch to be running this race in the rain. It is a little more suited to my liking.

With the forecast, I elected to bring a tent to the race (held in Philadelphia's Pennypack Park) to stash my stuff so that I would have dry gear, shoes to change if need be, my hydration.....

Let me say right now, I was very happy with this decision. Once the tent was set up, I stayed not only dry but warm as I did the final moments of prep. Bottles filled. Check. Shoes laid out. Check. Glide applied. Check. Bib pinned. Check. Socks....socks. Where are my socks? Search through the bag. How is it, I have everything else but my socks? Deep breaths. Apparently, somehow the extra socks I tend to leave in my ultra gear bag for races were not there. Now, I had one pair of slightly damp socks I wore to the race. Troubleshooting in the spot. I needed to determine my best combination options. Best non-sock shoes in this weather? I immediately identified my Montrail FluidFlex as the best draining shoes and thus the best choice for no socks. Considering my FluidFlex II's looked too shiny, I figured no sense to use those. That left me with LaSportiva Vertical K and Helios. After working with what fits best with my Farm To Feet socks, I decided to go with the Vertical K. In fact, I opted to start the race with this combo and go to the Montrails if need be. The Helios were comfy enough to walk around in post race without socks and the best candidate to keep me warm after. Crisis adverted. At least for now.

Fueling wise the plan was simple. 3 laps. 3 bottles. For the first lap, I would go with my Nathan SpeedShot Plus followed by Nathan ExoDraws for each of the last two. I would keep Clif ShotBlocs in my Nathan Hipster throughout the race. I would say this worked out wonderfully. No issues with this plan.

A couple of minutes before the start, I popped out of the tent, scurried to do my business and make it to the start just as Stephan was giving instructions before we went off. (Following a countdown of course.)

Like that we were off as the first race of the race (50K started 30 minutes after us and 25K an additional 30 minutes later). I got a few words of encouragement from people I didn't see. (Quite possibly all my friends staying dry who were doing the shorter races.) This encouragement prompted the runner a few strides ahead of me to ask if I was...well who I am. I confirmed this. Turns out the runner, whose name is Jameson, had heard about me through Peg during his own training in the Wissahickon. Small world? Probably not in this case considering...same city.

Anyways, it appeared we would be running together for some time. (I'd say we opened up a good gap from the start never really thinking about anyone behind us.)

1st lap....check out lap 3 later (it is of the same section)
Photo: Christopher Mortensen

Now the benefit of being out front for the first race of the day is getting the best trail conditions possible for the day. And of course, all the surprises nobody else has experienced yet. The first of which was the initial Pennypack Creek crossing due to a bridge detour. That creek was angry and it was still early. The rain was only going to make it worse later. I uttered something about fearing it on later loops. Aside from that one stretch, the first loop was rather uneventful. Tried to stay away from any giant puddles, run the drier edges and not push the pace too much. Jameson and I were pretty inseparable for that lap until he made a pee stop (sorry to out you but it is the nature of these) near the finish. Not long after I left for my second loop, he caught up and were we back together. This time we both discovered the creek crossing had been rerouted over the bridge. (Stephan later said the creek was really high on the 25K runners. Clearly. adding to the need to reroute on the fly.)

Also, it was obvious, that the course was going to be muddier and slower this go round. (It would be on this loop that I would slip twice.)

Buttery Singletrack
Photo: Renne Farrington Wentz

Maybe it was the rain but I did mention that I thought we might have missed a section between aid stations 2 and 3. For some reason, I felt like we had not done part of the course that you run in both directions. Our time on the first lap felt fast at 2 hours. I mentioned if we did miss it, I would run it twice this lap to make up the difference. (Which would be three actually since it would be correct time, back out to do it again and do it again.) Thankfully, I was wrong. I apparently my brain did not process one straighter stretch as the section I thought we missed. (This is the stretch right after AS 1 and right before AS3.) And yet, on the first loop on the way into AS 3, a group of runners asked if they were going the right way which I assured them. Because I will say this, despite the rain, the ground trail markings help up really well!

Following the 'repeater section', Jameson started to become a little elastic in his contact. Still we were together. Talking a little less but still together enjoying the weather. At one point, Jameson blew by me on a stream crossing. I was taking them careful. We hooked back up and it was through here that I started to distance myself from him. To be honest, I enjoyed the initial company but I'd rather not talk about my running in the middle of a race. So I was happy to be left to my own devices. It wasn't like I was alone with other runners around.

Eventually heading back to AS1/AS3, I could see that the aid station moved a little as the creek was now creeping up over the banks onto the paved path. Thus, reminding me to be happy about not having to cross the creek like the first loop. The rest of the loop was uneventful aside from working to pass people on slippery muddy singletrack. Loop 2 was 13 minutes slower than Loop 1.

During my start/finish pit-stop, I saw Sean from the Wissahickon Wanderers who ran the 25K. I was focused on getting back out so I didn't say much other than it beginning to suck a little as I took an ibuprofen and switched bottles for the last time.

On this loop, I hit what really is AS1 but with it being so close to the Start/Finish, less than a 1/4 mile, I am not calling it that. Here, I grabbed a swig of Coke and for whatever reason a Keebler-esque Fudge Cookie. Boy did that taste yummy! Much yummier than the trails looked. Lets call it what it is....a mudrun at this point. Water is really ponding on the trails. Especially those closer to the creek. Anyways, I felt good enough. Yet, as I got close to AS1, I started to crave those cookies again. However, it had been moved again due to an ever increasing creek overflow and it would have required extra steps, so I skipped it. Now, I was feeling like I was running through water. Some stretches it was either take the mud slopes or the water stream. Usually, I went with the latter as it ran quicker from a terrain standpoint. When it was a river on the path, that was a different story. That sucked! It created loads more resistance. I would say out of everything with the race, that is what made it super slow the third loop. Honestly, I was amazed I still got traction running at all!

3rd Lap - Another paved section under water
Photo: Christopher Mortensen

For the first time all day, I hit up AS2 for Coke and I grabbed 3 of those fudge cookies. Delicious!

Someone caught me eating all the cookies....(actually AS1/3 guest host)
Photo: Jeff Landerkin

More running through mud and water......

Photo: Kevin Minteer

AS3......course reroute!

The creek is now flooded to the point we now had a manned road crossing. (Stephan along with the volunteers did a great job looking out for the safety of the runners and making changes on the fly.)

Of course, I did not realize this at first. The downhill into AS3 was clearly different but I thought that reroute was for safety of sliding into the aid station. But if you are moving the course closer to the snack table, you bet I was grabbing cookies and coke before attempting to ford the path. Yes, I was going to go through the creek. My biggest worry was a Canada Goose floating right in my pathway. That is until, the volunteers shouted to me that I had to go up now. OH!!!!

Photo: Melissa Lin

I will say the changes made for a much more exciting memorable race. I was enjoying it expected I was starting to feel a little tired and sore. Not to mention cold. For my first lap, I ran with a tech-shirt over my singlet but I shed that before the start of lap 2. My singlet felt warm for much of the race as I was not overheating. However, with getting a little tired, I was feeling like I needed to be out of the rain. I wanted to be done and dry.

While the end could not come soon enough, it did arrive. My last lap was around 2:39. I finished the 50 Mile in 1st place in 6:52. Considering the conditions, I can't say a bad word about the time. I had an enjoyable run. Thanks to the tent, I had a place to change into dry clothes and warm up. Warm felt so good! And the Helios did a good job warming my sockless feet up. While I got no blisters on my feet, despite adding some protection for groin chaffing, I got a little tenderness.

It would have been a blast to hang out longer post race but it was still raining. The hour I did spend was really pleasant. Luckily, I got to see Stephan one last time on the way out. He did an amazing job!

And he has already organized a trail maintenance day post race because of our impact on nature in those conditions! That is hugely considerate and respectful.

Ok..I've waffled long enough now. In the end, I was happy to have done well and get in a good 50 miles. I would take the Nor'easter conditions over 95 degrees with humidity any day of the week.

From here on out, I focus on quality training for Worlds End 50K in 2 1/2 weeks before TGNY 100 two weeks after that. It is a big stretch but one I am feeling up to the challenge. Much more so because I got to take part in the Dirty German this year.