Saturday, August 4, 2018

The Swarmy of Northern Virginia - My DHRT 50K Race Report

August 4, 2018

Massive Kudzu vines along the trail. 
[Yes that haze eventually lifted]

An Ultra I Should Be Able To Finish

In my quest to return to the fun of ultra running, I decided that I needed to find a race of ultra length that was within my current fitness level (fat & slow). I had read about the Dahlgren Heritage Rail Trail 50K because of elite runner Michael Wardian's exploits there. Not only has he won the race, but he put it on the ultra running map by setting the record for the fastest 50K run on a dirt trail. Billed as flat, 100% "runnable" and falling perfectly on my running calendar, I was in. The race is limited to 200 runners and I saw that its biggest year had 89 finishers, so it also fit the grass roots race definition that I prefer. No crazy hype, just a bunch of folks who want to go for a long run, get timed and maybe get a nice t-shirt.

It's Run On A Rails Trail?

The Dahlgren Heritage Rail Trail 50K is run on the Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Trail. (I've got no clue why there's a disparity in the names.) The trail is the remains of an old railroad bed that was opened July 1st 1942 to move guns and munitions to the nearby Navy Proving Grounds in Dahlgren [today known as Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division] during WWII and it was abandoned after the war. 

This trail creation came with struggles dating back to the railways original inception. In 1941 the owner of Ferry Farm [George Washington's birthplace] pulled the survey stakes vowing that the railroad would not cross the historic property. The Vice President of General Motors and owner of the nearby Sherwood Forest Plantation also successfully blocked the railroad from his property. Then there's the African American Little Ark Baptist Church, the tracks ran right through their cemetery and no one blocked that intrusion. Hmm...discrimination maybe? 

"The cemetery at Little Ark Baptist Church. 

The unmowed section represents the tracks' former location."

Photo by Dawn S. Bowen, University of Mary Washington | UMW · Department of Geography 

Author of Building a Trail and Connecting a Community The Establishment of the Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Trail.

In recent years the rails trail creation was plagued by the NIMBY population and their concerns of what the trail would bring to their back yards. Hopefully those challenges are all in the past for this rail trail. Living in Central Pennsylvania with numerous rails trails around the area with seemingly more popping up every year, it's hard to understand the resistance to this project.

Yes it's billed as a rails trail, but don't get the idea that it's some well groomed trail of crushed stone. The DRHT is actually quite rugged in places. In the race director's note he mentions "look up, fall down" and I can attest to that. At the start of the trail, for a short distance there are actually still tracks present. Along the entire length of the trail were rocks, roots and some railroad ties still poking up out of the ground. Wide enough to drive a care in some places while down to narrow single track in others. One section really stood out as the hills and trees along there were covered completely with Kudzu vines. It's not the typical rails trail and I was delighted to realize that I wouldn't be running some monotonous paved multi-use trail with playgrounds and ball fields every few miles.


Travel to Fredericksburg was quite painful with traffic jams due to accidents starting as early as Harrisburg and then the parking lot labeled "Rt. 95 South" all combined to turn my 3 1/2 hour trip into 5 hours. With the extended travel time I ended up being 25 minutes late (missed) the mandatory trail brief with the race director. Luckily he was still there and I was at least able to pick up my race packet. [Note - on the trip home I was stopped by another traffic accident near the identical spot near Thurmont Maryland] I hustled over to my hotel and began the hunt for supper. The internet steered me towards the historic downtown and Spencer Devon Brewing for my pre-race burger and beer. I had no clue that it was Restaurant Week in Fredericksburg, but it sure seemed like all of Northern Virginia knew about it and they might've all been there. The brewer told me this is such a popular event that people visit from Washington, DC and Richmond. The sidewalks of town were jammed and so was parking. The town looked packed with historic and cultural things to see, but I now considered myself running late so I'll have to return some day to see it. I had the Red Goat Burger, outstanding and the Spencer Devon brews were spot on as well.

A Beer Hunter's Paradise

With dinner done and a quick stop at Total Wine & More to do some Virginian beer hunting*, I was back to the room to finish assembling a couple of drop bags and crawl in bed for a 4am wake up.


*beer hunt·ing  
bir/ /hən(t)iNG/
noun: hunting; noun: plain beer hunting; plural noun: plain beer huntings

1. the activity of hunting locally brewed craft beer especially for sampling and enjoyment of beer unavailable in one's home area.

2. the activity of hunting game while drinking beer - definitely not recommended and most likely against the law in your region.                                                                                                                 

Welcome To The Jungle

I was up earlier than normal on the morning of the race. I had set an alarm for 4am and I woke up looking at the room clock showing 4:03 and I was mad my alarm hadn't gone off, but happy I hadn't over slept. About 30 minutes later while eating breakfast, my alarm went off and now I realized the hotel clock was about 35 minutes fast...oh well so much for that half hour of sleep.

Leaving the hotel, I checked the weather and it looked as though the temperature was listed twice. It was 73°/73° and with closer examination I realized that second temperature was the dew point. Stepping outside it felt as if it was raining and it wasn't. The air was nasty.

Before coming to the race I chatted with local ultra running buddy Rob Tidwell, he and I have run a couple of ultras together and if I have a Virginia question, he's my contact.  He made mention about the flies on the trail. I paid little attention to that comment until hearing the race briefing which included an in depth description of these pesky/painful Deer Flies that inhabit the area. About that same time a race volunteer approached and helped me to stick a deer fly patch to my hat. Back home our forests are full of large Horse Flies this time of year. These flies were smaller, but apparently still had a painful bight.

Still having a few minutes before we started I went back to the Jeep and applied a generous dose of Deep Woods Off. I also stashed Deep Woods Off towelettes in my race vest for reapplication later.That stuff is horrible [toxic] and I've learned to hold my breathe while spraying it, but it seems to keep most bugs away.

About two miles into the run, a woman running near me pointed out that she had six Deer Flies on her tape. I checked my tape and I only had one. The thing was tiny and sure enough it was stuck like glue to that magical Deerfly Patch. I looked again about three miles later and my tape was gone. I was sweating so badly I guess it lost its adhesiveness so I unknowingly littered.

My Boco Gear Ambassador Technical Trucker Hat
Equipped With A Deerfly Patch
With my tape gone, I was on my own with the flying biting pests. Surprisingly I really wasn't bothered by them. I saw plenty of runners around me though who looked like Ninjas, Karate chopping the air to keep the flies away while I ran long un-accosted by the swarm. Deep Woods Off  seemed to be doing the job.

"Air You Can Wear"

For me the true swarm was the heat and humidity. The air was bad from the beginning, but something changed around mile 9 and it suddenly got even worse. The sweat dump was now at a maximum level and my only adjective for breathing was "tight". The extra thick air lasted about two miles and at mile 11, just as we passed under Rt. 218, it was as if someone had opened the window and the air went from awful back to just "bad". In the dim light of morning, I really couldn't see the surroundings, but on the return trip the sun was out. Now I could see that the stretch of trail East of Rt. 218 had low lying swampy water on both sides and the oppressive humidity was definitely ratcheted upward with that water around. The good air side of the bridge had no swamp, but was lined with open fields just beyond tall trees.

I had stashed a drop bag at the two spots they were allowed. Rob couldn't run or come to the race that day, but I got to say hello to his daughter Becca volunteering at the 15.5 mile turn around. I dug in my drop bag to resupply and I also changed my soaking wet shoes, shirt and hat. Dry clothes, although short lived, on a hot humid day can feel awesome.

My trusty drop bags.

I've never been a fan of runners who do silly stuff during a race. The group of runners stopping in the middle of the trail to take a photo, runners with ear buds who have no idea you're there and trying to pass or worse, runners playing loud music from their smart phone; they're absolutely certain you wanted to hear Eye Of The Tiger. Well I was alone just after the turn around and I decided to do something goofy and I called Janice using the phone feature in Facebook Messenger. I wanted to say hello and let her know I was going good. At first we couldn't figure out the video part, but I eventually got to see her out on a walk with Mojo. I was hustling along the border of the cemetery on one side and cows and one enormous bull on the other side talking into my phone. For a brief moment it felt good to be one of those running goofballs. 

Keeping The Body Going

Janice couldn't come along to crew me on this trip so my run was semi-self supported. I wore my go-to Ultimate Direction race vest stocked with bottles of Pickle Juice along with ClifBar gels and chews. I carried two 600ml bottles full of Tailwind and I refilled them with water at aid stations . I also had little vials with pre-measured Tailwind in my drop bags, so at those points I was able to remix Tailwind.

Those are actually paint containers I found at a hobby store.
(Good luck getting them past TSA though.)

With the day's heat and humidity, cramping was a definite possibility. I lost count of the amount of little Pickle Juice bottles I drank to stay hydrated and cramp free. (I was also sure to share plenty of it as it always seems to cause conversation..."eewwww...pickle juice...does that stuff really work?")

I used so much Pickle Juice at this event, I was stoked to come home
 and find a resupply had been delivered while I was out of town.

I can't talk about keeping going without mentioning the volunteers on this course, they were a true boost on a nasty hot day. All of them were upbeat and extremely helpful.
  • I'm pretty sure his name was Neil, but the same guy who gave me Deer Fly Tape before the race was also at the turn around and he insisted on helping me and mixing my bottles. He reminded me I was still 45 minutes ahead of the cut off as I casually tied my shoes. I think he would've tied them had I let him. With his kind help I felt like I did have a crew. 
  • The nice lady at the first (and last) road crossing with the huge smile on her face, standing in the humidity of the morning and the blazing sun of the afternoon. 
  • All the volunteers who stuffed ice down the back of my shirt deserve some sort of award. Getting near me couldn't have been pleasant so I can't thank them enough, the ice was awesome. 
I made sure to thank all of them, especially on the return trip as the heat was cranked and their encouragement and support was priceless.

Vic the Race Director getting set to send
us on our journey in the long green tunnel.
(Pretty sure the person on the right is Rob's Daughter Emily)

Made It Back To The Jeep

My day on the Dahlgren Rail Heritage Trail was less running and more managing. I started out too fast, but luckily recognized it early and consciously slowed myself down. I kept my head at aid stations and used my drop bags wisely. (keeping my head in the game is usually Janice's job) I did find something to catch a toe on and launch a somersault. My graceful tumble included a thump to my head, but it wasn't enough to stop my day. 

I came to King George Virginia with very low expectations. I wasn't certain I could even finish, but I still decided on a goal just so I knew I was making progress on my return to fitness. I hoped that once I decided I felt good enough to run 31 miles, I would shoot for 7 hours as the day's benchmark. (I felt good enough to finish around mile 6 by the way) Every half mile there was a marker. Mile markers can make you insane (just go run the Laurel Highlands Ultra and you may understand), but for some reason the markers here were my friends and I played a simple mind game with them the whole second half of the run. Being an old rail bed, it's as straight as an arrow in places and when the finish line came into view it seemed to take forever to get there. I was surprised that I actually crossed the finish line under 7 hours (goal achieved).  I got to say hello to another of Rob's daughters Emily who was doing the timing. I asked her to please be sure tell her Dad I survived and I wasn't the caboose.

As I sat changing out of my soaking wet clothing I heard a woman say, "wow it's 91°" and then she said, "but at least it's only 85% humidity" and laughed.  I couldn't be happier that I survived those conditions and extremely happy knowing I had taken the next step in bouncing back from a bad patch.

While writing this blog post I learned that my next event, The Chiques Challenge had to be cancelled due to unsafe river levels, so my next adventure will be the Headwaters 50K in Mt. Shasta California. Can't wait for that trip!

Soaking wet, bloody & muddy.
The perfect end to a day.
#bocogear #picklejuicesport #zensah #ambassador

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Hey Look, I finished A Race - My Quadzilla 15K Race Report

July 15, 2018

Turn Your Hat Around And The Rain Runs Down 
Your Back Instead Of In Your Eyes
[Photo borrowed from the Quadzilla Facebook page - thanks!]

I Really Needed To Finish A Race

That's really an understatement. For me, 2018 hasn't been a good year for running. I wrapped up 2017 in Physical Therapy, got healthy enough to finish the Algonquin 50K in February, but since then my running, fitness and health took a spiral. I won't detail the maladies, but since March I DNF'd a race, DNS'd another and withdrew from two more. So to say my brain really needed to finish a race is grossly understated.

The Quadzilla 15K is a race I've known about for years, but due to its short distance and key time during the summer running season; I never considered it. My training has been nearly zilch and I wasn't registered for any July races so this 9 mile contest was suddenly a legitimate option for me to begin to get my running back on track.

The Race Starts When?

I've made some race registration blunders in the past. My biggest oops was the year I scheduled a 50 mile race just 2 weeks after a 100 mile event. Yes, I finished both, but the 50 mile run turned out to be my slowest ever and I was so exhausted after the finish I felt it was unsafe to drive home. This mistake wasn't quite that bad.

I looked up the race online and after mulling it over for a while I decided to throw my name on the start list. It might've been a couple of days later I decided it might be smart to look at the race details. All I knew was that it was in Lehigh County somewhere and it was 9 miles long. There it was right on the race web site, the start time was 7:30am and that somewhere in Lehigh County was nearly 90 minutes away from home. Yep, to get there with time to get my number and ready to run I'd have get up and leave home at "0 Dark Thirty"; certainly not what I would plan for a 9 mile run had I been paying attention. Dolt!

Pretty Cool Race

The intriguingly creepy Mothra Twins. Had there been a 
Japanese version of Eraserhead, they'd be in it.

  1. I was always a Godzilla fan. I still have my son Nathan's VHS tapes we used to watch over and over. My favorite was the one with Mothra, I think Nathan preferred Mechagodzilla. I had no idea why the name was chosen, but a race called Quadzilla just sounded like it had to be cool.
  2. Quadzilla is run on trails at the Trexler Game Preserve and the start/finish is at the Lehigh Valley Zoo. I was stoked to check out the zoo after the race.
  3. Lehigh County is the home of long time trail running buddy Tim "Nash Dash" Nash. I saw online that he was running it again this year, so it would be cool to see him as well. (I guess I could've listed Tim 1st)

Race Day

Up at 4 AM for breakfast and on the road at 5:15 (Out Of My Brain On The 5:15 came immediately to mind as I drove east). The Rt. 81/Rt. 78 portion of the drive was a synch. The winding roads between Rt. 78 and the zoo were a different issue. I missed two different turns as the GPS and the actual road didn't seem to match up exactly. I wasn't running late and it certainly was a beautiful area to be lost in so after a couple of u-turns ("Recalculating") I made it to the zoo.

I had just gotten my race packet and sat down on the front bumper of the Jeep to pin on my number and it started to rain. I think many runners will tell you that during the days leading to a race, weather is their number one obsession. I'm no different, but for some reason I had no clue what the weather was to be for this race. It's July in Pennsylvania so heat and humidity are a given, I had no idea it was going to rain. I jumped in the Jeep and had fun watching the others scramble to get out of the rain. Soon it was time to find the way to the start line. The rain had stopped but the sky still looked quite angry.

Cool place for a race.

An Awesome Reason To Run

I'm always happiest to run a race when I know my race entry is going to be used by a worthy cause. On the race web site, it states "100% of the proceeds go to our HCM Foundation service programs to help local patients and families battling cancer." Of course in my fog of hurrying to enter this race, I hadn't noticed that fact; much less looked into the foundation.

The Race Director, Mike Marsteller, addressed the group before the start and took the time to explain the foundation, how it came about and what it does today. Mike was just a baby turning one when his Dad Harvey was taken by Colon Cancer. H.C.M. (Harvey's initials) was founded to provide the support needed by families impacted by cancer. After all, this was a life lesson of Mike's, growing up watching his Mom, family and friends persevere through life after losing his Father.  So as an adult Mike recognized this unmet need and HCM has been helping since 2009.

Mike talked about a patient who wasn't doing well and he had been accepted into a trial treatment program in Pittsburgh. The round trip to Pittsburgh came with costs and the struggle to pay them. HCM stepped in to help him with gas cards to help him travel to and from those treatments. I'm a man in my 50's and Mike's brief speech went right to my heart and stayed on my mind throughout the day. Check out their web site and give what you can.

What's In A Name

I saw Tim Nash just before the start and his word of advice was, "don't be afraid to hike". He explained that while the course had been rerouted for this year, he understood that it was just as hilly as the old course. He might've said the word "steep" three or four times. So now I knew that the name Quadzilla was referencing the damage done to my quads by day's end.  Oh well, I'm not afraid to hike up hills and as a matter of fact I consider myself pretty good at it.

Race announcements complete, I moved to the very back of the pack to get out of the way and soon we were running. On the back of the race t-shirt it reads, "I eat hills for breakfast" which I found funny considering my love/hate relationship with hills. But here I was, 7:30 in the morning and shortly after the start line we made a U-turn up a hill. So I guess I was literally having hills for breakfast.

The race opens on a brief stretch of road as the course exits the zoo and very soon we entered the forest.  The heat and humidity was evident to me and my heart rate and breathing was a mess in the opening mile. That thought of "what the heck am I doing here?" crossed my mind as I considered turning around. We hit a steep climb and oddly my heart rate and breathing seemed to settle and I was passing folks who weren't hiking quite as quickly as me. At this point, the pack was still quite bunched up so if you moved up at all you typically passed 3 or 4 runners at a time.

[Photo borrowed from the Quadzilla Facebook page - thanks!]

After the first climb we descended quickly to find the first of two water crossings of the day. This wasn't just a trickling stream, it was a legit wide creek. Not deep or swift or anything, but it was pretty wide. These shorter trail races seem to attract road runners looking for a taste of off road running. It's fun to hear their comments and reactions when they realize they're actually expected to run through flowing water and get their beloved running shoes wet and muddy. The exit of the creek was a narrow slippery steep little climb to return to the trail. I got stopped behind a significant bottle neck at this spot and I was happy to get moving again heading up the next steep climb.

That second climb was no joke. I saw runners fading all around me simply because they didn't want to admit they couldn't run it. I passed a few bent over with hands on knees huffing and puffing while I power hiked up the climb. My heart rate was soaring and I was huffing and puffing too, but for me; hiking was definitely the way to go for this big climb. I believe this is where the "Mother Of The Beast" was located on the course. It was announced that this year's route had cut out a climb from the past called "The Beast", but we wouldn't be disappointed by this year's replacements. No sooner had we reached the top of that craziness and the trail fell away like a sliding board and a swift precarious descent was our reward for surviving to the top.  I could feel that down hill chewing up my quadriceps, so I tried to stay conservative knowing we were barely two miles into the race.

I believe we were somewhere near the 6 mile mark at a spot where we transitioned from meadow grasses back into the forest when the angry sky decided to lose it's patience with us as we were obviously taking too long. A lightning flash followed by a loud thunder clap seemed to announce the oncoming down pour. Now we were having real fun! In the morning's humidity, I was already drenched in sweat so the shower meant mostly that I might cool down a little. That 6 mile mark was also the point where it felt like I was actually warmed up and running well. Lightning was quite evident as much as you tried to ignore it. I wonder about the poor volunteers standing out in this mess and I hoped everyone was ok. I had a bout with lightning while mowing the lawn when I was a kid, so I figured the percentages were with me on this day. In any event cresting the tops of hills with lightning striking made for some nervous runners.  A woman behind me asked if anyone knew if we were at least half way and she was over joyed when I told her we had less than 3 miles to go, as she mumbled something about the last bolt seeming quite close.

We had climbed his Mother earlier and now we had one last torturous climb called Son Of The Beast. Yet another humbling climb that drained much of any remaining energy of many of the runners around me. I knew we weren't far from the end so I put my head down knowing that this too would pass. On the final hill top two brave volunteers promised us that it was all down hill to the finish. At most races that's nothing more than a cruel joke, but these guys weren't kidding and I remembered the race director talking about the last half mile being down hill. I had hoped before this event to be able to finish in 2 hours. With a half mile still to go I was dangerously close to missing that goal so I took off with everything I had left. I had passed two women and on the finishing straight I thought people were cheering my finish. When I heard someone yell "catch that guy" I realized they were cheering for the two gals who were now giving chase. Didn't matter, it was encouraging for me too and I held them off and finished just under 2:01. As far as I was concerned my two hour goal was met.

A Six-Pack For Tim "Nash Dash" Nash


Up at 4am, I ate my typical pre-race breakfast; a banana, a Munk Pack breakfast and lots of coffee. Just before start time I drank a Pickle Juice shot and stuffed another one in my Nathan handheld. I carried a bottle full of Tailwind and planned to just top it off with water at the aid stations (yes there were aid stations for a 9 mile run). I had a couple of Clif Bar Energy Gels and a pack of Bloks Energy Chews in the pockets of my shorts. During the run I ate nothing, and might have drank a whole bottle (not sure). I'm glad I carried that Pickle Juice, early on I realized I was dumping fluids and in that heat and humidity, cramping was a real possibility. Coming over the second hill top I felt that twinge of an oncoming cramp and it was in the big muscle on the inside of my left thigh. I downed my little bottle of brine and never had the concern again. The stuff works and I was sure to hook up Tim with some before I hit the road. A couple of runners who were parked next to me asked about the Pickle Juice sticker on the Jeep and asked if I thought it worked. I gave them some too, telling them to see for themselves.

Just Another Step On The Way Back

It was good morning in Schnecksville and I even made it home in time to see two of Janice's co-ed softball games. It was just a 9 mile run, but I took away encouragement that I was heading in the right direction away from injury and set backs. The biggest positive was that feeling when I hit 6 miles and felt warmed up and ready to run all day. That's how most ultras go for me and that's what I'm looking for. Next up for me is the Dahlgren Heritage Rail Trail 50K near King George, VA; just another step on my way back.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Water, Mud, Sand (Repeat) - My 2018 Algonquin 50K Race Report

February 10, 2018

Those who know me well, my running friends and those who have to listen to me know that 2017 didn't go so well after April. A series of nagging injuries without true recovery resulted in 3 DNF's, 1 DNS and a finish to the year in the care of a physical therapist. A few things did go well in 2017 and one of them was The Algonquin 50K, so much so that the day registration for the next year's race opened, I signed up. (in April)...

In November I wrapped up PT feeling good and anxious to get back at it and nearly immediately strained a calf muscle, got sick for a week and then strained the other calf muscle. Yep, the new year was off to an awesome start. I was pretty certain we wouldn't be traveling to Pokomoke City in February.

January came to an end and I had run a little bit that month and I was feeling healthy, but at the same time I was 25 pounds over weight and hadn't done a long run in months. I'm not sure why, but something clicked one Saturday after an extremely slow 6 mile run on the mountain, I asked, "what was the worse that could happen? DNF? Finish outside the cutoff and have my mug smashed?" (notice I kept my consideration of injury hidden from my sub conscious questioning) I decided that I had so much fun at the race last year that a DNF or smashed mug shouldn't prevent us from having a fun weekend in DELMARVA.

We hit the road to Salisbury Maryland for the packet pickup for the race. We basically retraced our steps from last year, right down to ordering the same food. By the way, if you're in or near Salisbury, stop at Hopper's Tap House. Hopper's is an interesting format for a restaurant, it's a pub with a large open air pavilion attached with picnic tables, umbrella tiki bars, palm trees, ceiling fans and huge TV's. I'm sure in the warmer months it's even more awesome.. The pub doesn't serve food, but they have an awesome selection of regional craft brews. The tasty food is offered up at restaurants that are attached to the atrium, there's a pizza shop, a wing joint, a burger place and a BBQ/Smoke house.

When we arrived there was already a line of runners picking up their bags of goodies. This year an Altra Running rep was there and we talked about the improvements of the Lone Peak down through the years as I waited my turn in line. Soon Trent Swanson, the Race Dictator, noticed me and told the volunteers they could find me listed as "Mr. Sponsorship" (this year I picked up two new ambassadorships with BOCOGEAR and Pickle Juice Sport). It was great to see Trent, he's a big reason to go to this race, a warm guy with a quick wit! This year's race bag came with a free pair of Injinji socks, they're what I wear so that was a cool bonus.

The seating at Hopper's is pretty communal, in fact last year we met Will who works at NASA and larger than life Gabe (aka Captain 'Merica) all because of that seating set up. So often we'll travel to a race and I'll know no one and it's difficult to mingle as the running clubs typically stick together, not here. Soon a couple of young fellows filled two of the other seats at our table. Clay and Shane, Air Force guys stationed up at Dover AFB, who were new to ultra running. I assured them they'd have a blast and wouldn't you know Gabe stopped by to say hi and they ended up having a mutual buddy. We had laughs and good conversation before we all headed off to our lodging in Pokomoke City.

I'm not sure why, but I felt exhausted when we reached the hotel. I guess that was a good thing because I actually slept well and bounced out of bed with my alarm the next morning. I ate a Monk Pack breakfast and a banana, mixed a bottle of Tailwind and stuffed some gels in my handheld and considered myself ready to go. We headed off to the start line and after a hello from Trent, Sarah and her husband Ben said hello, I spent a good bit of time running with her the last year. She remembered me as being supportive after she had taken a spill. I remembered it differently, I thought I had jinxed her because I had fallen previously. Soon our presence was graced by Gabe in a whole new costume for 2018. Minutes before the start we found Clay and Shane with Clay's Wife Liz and after handshakes, introductions and questionable photos with Gabe we were standing on the park road waiting for "go!".

The PG Rating Went Right Out The Window With Gabe's Arrival
Clay Getting Last Second Guidance From Gabe,
While Liz Looks On In Wonder (or something)

Trent banged the horseshoes on the gong and our merry bunch of runners headed to the trail head. As we rounded the bend near the Ranger Station, Clay was right next to me. We got passed by a guy dressed as the Goat Man complete with a Bear Bell and music playing loudly. It was cool to be running with Clay, it kind of took my mind off of all the things that would probably go wrong very soon. Strolling along at an eleven and a half minute mile, I even told Clay I planned to just continue with whatever my legs were giving me and allow fatigue to slow me down naturally.

I'm not a talker when I run and I don't appreciate hearing others' music either. So now here I am running along talking to Clay and his phone was playing music. For some reason it all felt fine. Maybe it was because our conversation wasn't continuous jabber like some runners do and maybe because his choice of music could've been mine (Levon Helm, Johnny Cash, etc.). Last year I remember a guy running along blaring Metallica, yeah I worked hard to get away from him.

The Goat Man (or something)

Clay Still Feeling Good At Aid Station #1

Clay and I stuck together through aid station #1 (4 miles). It was cool to see that his Wife Liz had found the aid station and was there with Janice. After that the course follows a paved road briefly, then a sand road and then it turns onto a double track trail. We had been leap frogging with a group of women and it was at the turn onto the trail that I went inside and Clay went wide and a gap opened up because the bunch of five women got between us. I was able to look back and see that the gap wasn't growing so I assumed we'd join back together further down the trail.

Pickle Juice At Aid Station #1

The chronology of the trail is difficult to piece together, but I believe it was here where the first real water appeared on the trail. I saw a woman who had passed me earlier, now mincing her way through the forest to avoid the muddy water. I knew she had to be being sliced up as the woods were full of tiny briers with needle-like/razor sharp thorns. I told those around me that the water was my preference and that walking was a good bet, as running could almost ensure your shoes coming off. One of the puddles was mammoth and has become known affectionately as Lake Swanson after the Race Dictator Trent Swanson. Another was quite deep coming well up over my knees. It was fun to tromp into the frigid water wondering where the hole might be and would you lose your balance when you found it. I have no idea how many pond-like puddles there were, but there were many. The race is at sea level and considering all the surrounding coastal waters, there just isn't much opportunity for run off of ground water from rain and snow melt.

Shane Arriving At Furnace Town & Loving Life!

Arriving at the Furnace Town Aid Station I saw Liz and I told her Clay couldn't be far behind me. She asked if he was hurting and I didn't think so. Janice of course had me back on the trail with a full bottle in her Indy Pit Crew style. My first handheld had Honey Stinger gels in it and I found that while I like them, I just don't get the bounce I get from the Clif Bar products. Yes, Tailwind really contains everything I need, but my brain still wants to eat. I also, until this event, had always been a salt tablet guy. Yes, I'm well aware of the benefits of pickle juice, but I had never relied on it solely for cramp avoidance. They're now supporting me with product so I went all in and ditched the salt tablets. Janice had Pickle Juice Sport drink for me at each aid station and yes, I made it through the entire day 100% cramp free.

Janice's Rolling Aid Station With Pickle Juice Sport, BOCOGEAR & ClifBar

Right after Furnace Town, the real sand started and the sun came out and it was suddenly warm. I peeled down my arm warmers and planned to ditch my gloves. At about 13 miles fatigue was taking control. The wheels hadn't come completely off, but I was now in management mode to survive to the finish.

The course is a big lollipop and at mile 15 you basically turn around and there's an aid station there that you visit twice. Janice collected me and resupplied me, taking my arm warmers and gloves as well. This aid station had the most awesome slider-size hamburgers - I ate two! I hadn't seen Shane all day and there he was seated doing something and Liz was there helping him. I know what it means to sit down during an ultra, so my only hope was that he'd get back up and keep going.

That's Not A Homeless Person Sitting Amongst Clothing Donations
That's A Brand New Ultra Runner With His Crew

I got a little confused here because the course then continues to a parking area for a U-turn and then heads to the Pusey Branch  for an out and back portion. That out and back section destroyed me last year and for some reason I thought it had been eliminated for this year. With all that said, to be running it really got in my head again this year.

Coming Into Aid Station #3 & Still Smiling

After turning around at the river, I saw Shane so he was up and going again and now to hopefully see Clay. I saw him just before the aid station, he was power walking, but he was moving and that's all that matters in an ultra. I gave him all the encouragement I could muster and we both moved off in opposite directions. Janice greeted me at the second pass of that aid station (mile 19) and with a full bottle and a dry hat I was headed towards home.

I Just Like This Photo

The wheels really came off on this stretch, I was feeling tired and walking felt like the most efficient mode. After aid station 4 the route is retracing trail and for some reason that got to me and my motivation was at a low point. I decided that when we made the turn onto new trail I would step it up and start running again. I stuck to that plan, left a woman I had been walking and talking with and I was now moving again. I was pretty warm at this point, my handheld was empty and I couldn't remember where the next aid station was. I was a little panicked at mile 23 thinking I'd need to go 5 more miles with nothing to drink. Thankfully I passed a runner who knew we had an aid station coming up very soon, further panic avoided.

Aid Station #5 - Mardi Gras - Mile 24.5 #fried

The next aid station was quite a party with a Mardi Gras theme, complete with whiskey and beads. In fact step one in getting aid here was first accepting Mardi Gras beads. I gulped down 2 cups of plain water and Janice was there with my resupply.

These Volunteers Had The Party Raging In Full Affect

I gave her my beads and started to head out when a guy stopped me, shook my hand and said he had run much of the last mileage with me last year. He further said, "you saved my life, you gave me salt tablets and you wrote about it". I reminded him of the lesson, always be sure to help other trail runners in need; unless of course they're in your age group. After a good laugh I was back on the trail.

This Man Ran With Me, Ate My Salt Tablets, Beat Me,
Read My Blog and Even Better Yet, He Remembered Me

My gut was sloshing like an aquarium from the water I drank and just as I was thinking of that I caught a toe on a root and did a full-on Super Man complete with a nasty hard landing on my left side. The pain in my ribs was debilitating for a few seconds while I searched for my handheld that flew off into the woods. I eventually got going again with rib pain as a new found challenge. I stayed focused that I only had 6-ish miles to go, just like my daily lunch hour 10K's (yes, I was trying to stay positive).

The trail dumps back out onto the sand road and the stick of the lollipop course begins it's return to the start/finish at the Milburn Landing Area. After the brief stretch on paved road you arrive at the last (also the first) aid station. Janice gave me one last shot of Pickle Juice and another handheld loaded with Tailwind and Clif Bar CLIF SHOT Eergy Gls and BLOKS I was off to enjoy the remaining miles of pleasant single track. We came to a junction in the trail and it was roped off guiding runners to make a right turn onto the Milburn Landing Trail (a route change from last year). This stretch was mind numbing as you were sort of curving out and around the start/finish and the sounds of the finish line were quite apparent through the trees. It sounded like the finish was 100 yards away, but the never ending mud on this last stretch made it feel like 100 miles. Making matters worse I saw a small group of runners behind me and I dreaded being caught. I'm not sure why, but for the last 3 miles or so I played cat and mouse with them doing everything I could to not let them pass me. With one last shoulder check, I knew I had won that one person head game as I saw Janice waiting at the finish line.

No More Mud - All Done
I Had To Include This Photo, It's My New Favorite
(Thanks to Chris Demone)

I've run a bunch of 50K's and never did I start one thinking I wouldn't finish. This day's run was in great question, honestly I felt I had no business being there. I had joked that if I finished it would be a miracle and if I finished under the cut-off; it would certainly ensure the second coming. After Janice greeted me, I looked around for Christ, I'm sure he was there somewhere. I didn't see the son of God, but I was soon welcomed by Trent waiting with an awesome finisher's mug.

Pretty cool that the guy who devotes so much time to this event is there to congratulate each and every runner as they arrive. As a back of the pack runner, I often never get to meet race directors, much less speak with them; they're surrounded by a clique of runners or so absorbed in something or they may not even be around. Trent's not only there, he's offering himself up as a friend would. Pretty special dude.

I hobbled my way over to the pavilion and Janice got my mug filled with an IPA and we joined the cheering for the remaining runners as the 8 hour cut off drew near. I saw runners I recognized from the trail finally finishing their day and soon we saw Shane approaching. Shane was running like a charging bull as the 8 hour cut-off was chasing him. He made it and not only did he make it, he was the last finisher under the cut off, which comes with the horse shoe award and this year a free pair of Altra running shoes of his choice.

Shane Made It! (I borrowed this photo and I don't remember from whom, but thank you!)

After 3:30pm ticked past, Trent took a mug a ceremoniously smashed it. Everyone booed and cheered and jeered.
Clay With The Finish In His Sights

As runners wandered in, each of them got mugs and soon we recognized Clay approaching; he had grinded it out and finished his first 50K, his first ultra. Eight hours didn't matter, he survived the test and yes; Trent was there to give him his mug.

The Mug Hand Off

At dinner Friday night I told Clay and Shane that what they were about to do would be nothing like any other running event they had experienced. I urged them to have fun, to carry their phone and take photos. The fun and the real people you meet running trail ultras, for me, is what it's all about. There were plenty of first timers at the race, but I got to know these two crazies and that made it all worth while.

The Algonquin 50K is a great event for a first timer, a runner on the mend or for the ultra runner who just wants to kick off their year. Flat and fast, sure; but the never ending mud and standing frigid water will also always be there to challenge you. And even with course changes, at 32+ miles; it's still the longest 50K on the east coast. Some year if Trent Swanson gets his wish, it'll actually be a winter ultra with cold temperatures and maybe snow. Last April when I registered I thought I'd be that runner kicking off his year, but instead I was the runner on the mend desperately needing a long run. The fun Janice and I wrap around this event will probably keep it firmly planted on our February calendars to come.

Heading To The Showers

Next up for me is the HAT Run 50K next month. Yes, it'll be in a park, but it won't be a walk in the park for this runner attempting to return to fitness.

From Facebook, some fun facts provided by Trent Swanson, Race Dictator:

Just the numbers:
159 finishers
9 DNFs
Fastest Time Male: Aaron Ellison 4:05:19
Fastest Time Female: Maria Miller 4:44:54
Average Finishing time: 6:35:02 (The most average runner... Brent Keeney 6:34:23 by one second over Matt Jones 6:35:40)
Average time difference in runners’ speed from last year: + 2 minutes and 25 seconds
51 runners returned who ran last year
59 first time ultramarathoners finished the race
Oldest Male Finisher: Eddy Godfrey (64)
Oldest Female Finisher: Gloria Stephens (64)
Youngest Male Finisher: Jonah Miller (15)
Youngest Female Finisher: Catherine Raley (22)
Best improvement in placing from 2017 to 2018: Todd Bellamy went from 109th place last year to 40th place this year.
Best improvements in time from 2017 to 2018:
Todd Bellamy by 2 hours 10 minutes and 47 seconds
Anthony Romano by 1 hour 35 minutes and 24 seconds
Ashley Crouch by 45 minutes and 52 seconds
Time between first and last Finisher: 4 hours and 53 minutes
Runner who traveled the least to run the race: Josaline Brittingham (4.5 miles)
Runner who traveled the furthest flying: Jason Swanson (2,810 miles)
Runner who traveled the furthest driving: Lisa Lisa Rachel Brown (720 miles)
States with the most people: Maryland (91), Virginia (22), Pennsylvania (20)
States with only one runner: Connecticut, Florida, Maine, New Hampshire, Mississippi, and Vermont
2 lake crossings
Over 70 volunteers
13 horse riders followed the runners at different points. They worked in pairs.
12 Rangers helped with the race
A little over 300 flags placed to mark the trail
12 two liters of Coke consumed on the trails
20+ gallons of TriFuel
8 gallons of pickle juice consumed on the trails
Over 70lbs of boiled potatoes from Five Guys devoured on the trails
20lbs of bananas eaten on the trails
8lbs of Bacon
5lbs of Scrapple
A fifth of Jack Daniels
5 Smith Island Cakes (yeah we needed more)
72 Oatmeal Pies
10 dozen donuts from Dunkin’ Donuts
7 gallons of Chesapeake Bay Farms chocolate milk consumed
20 gallons of beer thanks to Michael Piorunski!
115 sliders 🍔 eaten
2 Superhuman creatures running... The Goatman and Tattooed Gabe
1 exhausted Algonquin race crew
I knew those three stats classes would come in handy one day...
And that’s my race report

Altra Lone Peak Track On Rehoboth Beach