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. 

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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!

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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.