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)
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|
|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|
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
|Coming Into Aid Station #3 & Still Smiling|
|I Just Like This Photo|
|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|
This Man Ran With Me, Ate My Salt Tablets, Beat Me,
Read My Blog and Even Better Yet, He Remembered Me
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 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!)|
|Clay With The Finish In His Sights|
|The Mug Hand Off|
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|
From Facebook, some fun facts provided by Trent Swanson, Race Dictator:
59 first time ultramarathoners finished the race
Oldest Female Finisher: Gloria Stephens (64)
Youngest Male Finisher: Jonah Miller (15)
Youngest Female Finisher: Catherine Raley (22)
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
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 only one runner: Connecticut, Florida, Maine, New Hampshire, Mississippi, and Vermont
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
1 exhausted Algonquin race crew
|Altra Lone Peak Track On Rehoboth Beach|