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.


  1. Congratulations on a killer finish! I couldn't believe how fast you blew by me. I agree with you about the mud, that was the worst part of the day. And the 2nd 50k did definitely seem to be harder, but it could have been the fatigue. There were some massive climbs, at least one was endless and soul crushing!

  2. Congrats Mike! And yes I would agree the back 50K is no picnic. Nothing like hearing Yoder's voice echoing across those mountains hahaha!