Wednesday, November 2, 2016

ClifBar Organic Energy Food - A Product Review

Sucking down a Sweet Potato With Sea Salt
at the Oil Creek 100
I've posted very few product reviews here, I guess it's not really my thing; I write this blog mostly to share my experiences. A few things have come my way though and I've felt it necessary to talk about them. The Organic Energy series from ClifBar is definitely worthy.

First I need to state that all of the Organic Energy Food products I use are given to me by ClifBar. At the same time though, they provided them to support my adventures and never required me or even asked me to do this. I thank them enormously as often as I can. So in a way, this post is just me saying one more time, "thanks ClifBar, you're the coolest company on the planet!".

ClifBar Company has a whole host of products, most widely known are their signature ClifBar. Last year they introduced me to their Organic Energy Food. I took to them immediately, they're an excellent alternative to the common trail running fair of gels and chews that can get tiresome after eating them for many hours. I first used them on an attempt to thru-run the 140+ mile Horse-Shoe Trail (May 2015).

The Organic Energy Food packs are much like eating a mini meal. The four original flavors were Pizza Margherita(160 calories) and Sweet Potato With Sea Salt(200 calories) making up the Savory/Salty category along with Banana Mango With Coconut(100 calories) and Banana Beet With Ginger(110 calories) as the Refreshing Fruit Flavor options. Pizza Margherita and Sweet Potato With Sea Salt come in a larger 120 gram packet while the Banana Mango With Coconut and Banana Beet With Ginger come in a smaller sized 90 gram packet. This past year I've wrestled with which one is my favorite and right now I believe it's the Banana Beet With Ginger. 
They're a bit larger than the typical gel or chew package so carrying them can be a challenge. I can however see them fitting fine in the pocket of a cycling jersey. At the ultras I've run this year, I've mainly been putting them in drop bags or Janice hands them up to me as an extra special refueling treat. I do however carry them on long training runs in the mountains as I'm usually wearing a more substantial hydration pack that can accommodate them easily. Those who followed Scott Jurek's 2015 record setting Appalachian Trail run may have noticed him enjoying these meals while taking breaks with his wife Jenny along the way.

The ClifBar site says this about them: "The next generation of sports nutrition. Inspired by the home recipes of Team ClifBar athletes, each recipe is designed to provide endurance athletes with energy from real food ingredients like those they could find in their own kitchens, satisfying cravings for either real fruit or salty comfort food."

Pizza Margherita is based on Scott Jurek's Long Run Pizza Bread Recipe. Sweet Potato With Sea Salt comes from Stephanie Howe's Sweet Potato Bowl Recipe. Their actual recipes are available linked off the ClifBar site and they look extremely yummy.

They list these "Flavor Notes" for them as well:
  • For long distance activity
  • Made from real food ingredients
  • Satisfying Savory/Salty Flavor
  • USDA Organic, Non-GMO, Gluten Free, Kosher
Refreshing Fruit Flavors in the smaller 90g package.

Banana Mango With Coconut uses Troy Wells' Banana Bread With Coconut recipe as a guide while Banana Beet With Ginger looks to Scott Jurek again with his Banana Beet Ginger Recovery Smoothie recipe. Those two recipes are also available on the company web site along with these "Flavor Notes":
  • For any distance activity
  • Made from real food ingredients
  • Refreshing Fruit Flavor
  • USDA Organic, Non-GMO, Gluten Free, Kosher
So those are the original flavors. In case you hadn't heard of them, now you're up to speed. What I really want to talk about are the two newest flavors just introduced this year. a spring time delivery of ClifBar goodness arrived on our doorstep and these two new items jumped right out at me. I didn't recognize the packaging from before and then I noticed they were labeled "New". They're Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal and Banana Cinnamon Oatmeal, each packed with 140 quality calories and they've become my main pre-race go-to breakfast items.

The larger 120g packages.

The morning of an event, I'm usually up a few hours before the start time. I like to have a couple cups of coffee, maybe eat a banana and most recently I was eating a toasted English Muffin with some kind of nut butter on it. Good energy stuff to wake up the body long before you hear "GO!". In April and May I ran a 100 miler and a 50 miler and for those events, I ditched the muffin with nut butter for these new Organic Energy Food flavors and they became permanent part of my pre-race breakfast formula for the rest of 2016. (and yes, I eat one of each)

Like the "Savory/Salty" flavors, these two also come in the larger size pouch. The fact that they require no preparation is a huge plus. If you're waking up in a hotel room, a tent or your Jeep, all you need to do is unscrew the cap and you have breakfast. Growing up during the era of the Apollo Missions, I could definitely have envisioned Neil Armstrong having these for breakfast before his "one giant step". It doesn't matter where you are or what type of facilities you have available, you can have breakfast.

Scott Jurek gets credit for both of these versions of oatmeal and there's a fun interview with him linked off the product page. The interview includes some pretty cool insight from him, I recommend reading it.
  • I recommend the breakfast recipes 2-3 hours before an event and eat the others during your adventure.
  • I like to gobble one of the fruit packets when I know a big climb is approaching. We all know how eating during a tough climb can be a big mistake. They're a good dose of energy when and where you need it and they seem to carry a bit further than a gel or chew. That of course is all completely anecdotal and my opinion.
  • When I know I've got a long runnable stretch coming up where I want to extend and not have to think about eating I go for the savory/salty flavors.
  • All three categories of these Organic Energy meals are smooth energy food and a welcome alternative to gels and chews.
When running ultra marathons it's important to find things that will make the endurance and suffering more tolerable. Alternatives and variety in nutrition that work can prove to be that extra edge that gets you to the finish line. You're always looking for a new arrow for your quiver. Just like gear; your shoes, clothing, pack; your nutrition selections need to be precise and correct. Sure I still eat tons of ClifBar gels and chews and I still gobble PB&J, watermelon, bananas, etc. at aid stations. Running for hours and eating the same stuff continually can turn into an ugly gag-fest. Sometimes you just get sick of choking down the same thing over and over, especially the sweet stuff. At the same time though, if you're used to eating something that doesn't upset your gut or make you barf, you've got to stick with it. Changing something or adding something new can be a risk. Puking your guts up can easily end your day early. ClifBar Organic Energy has become a welcome addition to the things I already eat. One more arrow in my nutrition quiver; additional yummy fuel packed with quality calories that agree with my gut.

Just find our orange Jeep aka the rolling ClifBar aid station ;-)

Find them at a store near you or find me at a race (next up is the Stone Mill 50). I recommend you give them a try. If you have questions, please post a comment; I'm happy to reply.

Monday, October 17, 2016

I Suggest You Try Something You Could Fail - My Oil Creek 100 DNF Report

October 8, 2016

"If you are going to face a real challenge, it has to be a REAL challenge.
You can't accomplish anything without the possibility of failure." - Lazarus Lake

A couple years ago I attempted the Oil Creek 100, it didn't go well and I got in the Jeep and went home after only 62 miles (2 laps). I was back this year to right that wrong.

I was pretty psyched to get to Titusville. Last time I was sick and knew my chances were limited. It was pathetic, everyone else was greeting and socializing and I was hiding and faking that I felt ok. I didn't want to be there at all. This time I felt great and couldn't wait to see the folks I knew would be there.

It was like a family reunion of sorts. Janice and I got to the Titusville Middle School, got my race packet and ran into Tim Nash who was there to pace a friend. We got checked into the hotel and in short order we were at the Blue Canoe hoping to be seated. Standing at the bar I heard my name, turned around and found Adam McGinnis and Todd(zilla) Lewis sitting right behind us with family and pacers. The only person missing from this crew was Ben Mazur (who hadn't arrived yet). It's fun seeing everyone, I really enjoy trying to remember how we all met. Ron Kappus introduced himself and I told him I was pretty sure we had met at Laurel Highlands. Trail running is a tribal thing and the bonds that grow from it are lasting.

Janice's Rolling ClifBar Aid Station

Janice and I arrived back at the Middle School, it was 4am and we had a plan for the long day ahead of us. The Jeep was loaded with supplies and my drop bags were stocked with clothing changes. Janice was there to work her crew magic, but I was hoping she'd figure out how to get some sleep so I had the drop bags as nap time back ups.

The reunion resumed. I ran into Jeremy Hand from back home, he geared up, slathered in Vaseline and ready to roll. I found Todd and Adam and grabbed a seat with them. Ben soon wandered in and we agreed to a pace to start the day. John Delcalzo from Ohio stopped to say good morning. John and I finished Laurel Highlands together in 2013. There were others as the day went on. Out on the course I got to say hello to Jamie Clark and Martin Speece, also from the Harrisburg area; they were running the 100k. Danny Mowers from Chambersburg, also running the 100k, came smoking past early in the event. Danny went on to take second. I ran for a while with Victor Susol from Linesville, another 2014 Laurel Highlands buddy.

Tom Jennings, Race Director

It had been quite warm in the school, seemingly foreshadowing for the run. After brief announcements by Tom Jennings, the Race Director, we headed out to the start line. Adam, Ben, Todd and I stuck together, but when we heard go I lost them in the crowd. The course opens on streets and continues onto a paved multi-purpose trail before its turn into the forest. There is a slight hill early on and most in front of me started to walk. I saw it as easy and a nice way to get warmed up so I continued to run. It turned out to be a good move because I soon found the western PA threesome and we were back together again.

This would be Todd's fourth attempt to finish this race. Todd like most runners lets the race excite him and he runs out of his skin early and something goes wrong late. I felt like it was our duty to keep Todd in check so his day didn't end early. So sticking together was important, at least early on. It wasn't hot, after all it was October in Western Pennsylvania, but it was warmer than normal at start time and the heavy humidity in the first miles was more than noticeable. It was switching on and off to a fog and mist and it felt like running in the shower.

5am And We're Off

The first miles after the paved section are tight single track with numerous nagging climbs. On the first lap, you can count on the pack still being together and patience is critical. Attempting to move up is futile and probably not worth the effort. We were running four in a row until some guy pushed by me and tried to squeeze past Adam, but couldn't. So now we had a fifth, an interloper in our band of brothers. A short time later at about the 6 mile mark (yes I looked at my watch as I was getting up), some guy came around me with a tree soon to be his dance partner so he had to abruptly cut back into line. He came right across my stride and took me down. I hit hard with an F-Bomb peppered grunt. I popped right back up seemingly ok and the dude didn't say "sorry", "you ok?", nothing. I hope his dick move was worth it. Later I'd figure out that the knock I took to my left knee and ankle was quite a wallop. The fall also damaged my trekking poles and rendered them useless. The climbs on this course are the type that I like to use poles and now all I had was useless aluminum so I ditched them in my drop bag at the Petroleum Center Aid Station. (Shout out to Black Diamond, my warranty replacement poles are on their way via FedEx)

As we rolled closer to the second aid station at the Petroleum Center we really only had to reel in Todd a couple times when he strided away from us. We did however realize we were getting into the 14 mile aid station earlier than expected. For me, I was a lot earlier than expected and I had out run my crew. Any deviation from what's considered a sustainable plan is a threat to your finish. Janice knows that and I knew she'd be bummed that she missed me. I started to leave with Todd and Adam and I remembered my plan to eat at this aid station so I turned around and returned to eat their food. It wasn't the ClifBar stuff I had planned to fuel with, but it was much needed calories. Ron Kappus said, "Perry you're going the wrong way", but I was secretly hoping our orange Jeep Wrangler might appear while I gobbled down watermelon and peanut butter and jelly.

Janice never showed, I knew she'd be pissed, but I took off. The climb immediately after that aid station is called Heisman Trophy Hill. Yes this is the home of the oil industry, but it's also the boyhood home of John Heisman the creator of the Heisman Trophy. Just before descending to the next aid station on Miller Farm Road you climb Ida Tarbell's Wrath, a steep off camber twist up through the trees.

Happy As Hell To See Janice On Miller Farm Road

I was feeling fine on these uphill challenges and as we popped out onto Miller Farm Road, there stood Janice and I felt immediately better. Crew is not allowed at this aid station to avoid an unmanageable traffic snarl. Janice parked at a distant gate and walked in to the trail head. She's a genius at finding road crossings, no matter how remote. She's even more genius at bending the rules. I gobbled a quick organic ClifBar snack and chugged a Mama Chia drink, gave her a kiss telling her I'd see her at the middle school. Our short conversation did not exclude that I was going much faster than planned. I told her I was reigning that in and I apologized for missing her at the Petroleum Center.

The climbs after the aid station and the remaining miles leading to the middle school passed without incident. I seemed to have calmed down and I was running at a comfortable pace. I still arrived at the middle school ahead of schedule. I saw Todd leaving the school and when I got in, Janice pointed out that Adam was there too. I had another ClifBar Organic Meal washed down by Mama Chia. I ate a ton of watermelon while Janice refilled my hydration bladder with Tailwind. All I had to do now was collect Adam and get on the trail again.

50K Done - Adam arriving back at Titusville Middle School
With Crew & Wife Kelly Keeping a Close Eye

Yummy Sweet Potato With Sea Salt
ClifBar Organic Meals Rule!

Sometimes It's Fun And Games...The Best Times

We moved together in the opening miles of our second lap until two girls who talked too much bugged Adam and he picked up his pace. I was still trying to be conservative and let him run away. I eventually ditched them too.

Arriving At The Petroleum Center Aid Station
Lap 2 - 45 Miles

I arrived at the Petroleum Center Aid Station and saw Adam preparing to head out. I was stoked that we were there in under 12 hours. I had planned to change into my clothing for night running, but I was conflicted as it certainly wasn't night yet and it really wasn't cold either. I did it anyway. I changed everything, I went from shorts and a sleeveless t-shirt to tights and a long sleeved base layer under a t-shirt. I carried a wind jacket and gloves. I changed packs too, from a basic Nathan hydration vest to much more substantial Ultimate Direction pack. My concern was getting over heated on the ensuing hills.

The following climbs went well, I was perspired, but I wasn't overheating. Around 7:30pm it became dark enough in the forest that I dug out my headlamp. I noticed immediately that now I wished I had my trekking poles. It was dark and my cautious pace through the rocks was slow. I'm not sure why I was being so conservative, maybe it was the fall earlier in the day, but I was all but tip toeing.

I got into the middle school, Janice was there and wide awake. She got calories in me and was urging me onto lap three. At this point, somehow doubt jumped into my brain and right out my mouth. I said, "honey I don't know if I have this". I don't know why I was doubting myself, but I was. I finished eating a Clif Nut Butter Filled Bar and started the lap anyway. I didn't get off the school grounds and realized I was wet and cold and not equipped to do 14 night miles with temperature continuing to drop. I turned around to find Janice. She eventually heard me yelling her name and she had a "not this again" look on her face. That look went away when she realized I wasn't dropping I just wanted a dry shirt.

I started out and immediately heard a guy behind me yelling my name. I turned around to figure out who he was and it turned out he was yelling Terry to a runner just ahead of me. Soon I was tagged onto the back of a new three man train of Terry, Dylan and Mark. Dylan had run the 50K previously and Mark had come to pace Terry to his first 100 mile finish. Somehow at this point, Adam and his pacer were behind me. They caught us and passed us. I arrived at the first aid station and there was Adam again. He said he had a nap and was ready to roll. Now we were a group of five, Dylan stayed at the aid station and now Adam and his pacer joined us. I had dreaded the climb after that aid station (Switch Back Mountain) and sure enough, it bit into me hard. I couldn't stick with the pace of the group. I did catch them at the top, but they picked up their pace again and I was dropped for good.

On my own, now I knew I just needed to grind it out. I was still ahead of cutoff times and moving, I could do this. Suddenly, like someone clubbed me I fell asleep. I stumbled to one knee and thought, "shit I gotta' get this under control". I was bobbing and weaving and going slow as hell. I stopped a couple times, leaned on a tree and closed my eyes for 30 seconds or so, but nothing was working. The sleep monster had hold of me. Runners were catching me and asking if I was ok as they saw me stumbling. I knew I needed a nap, but I also knew my slow pace now had me dangerously close to cutoff so if I took a nap I'd get pulled. The math wasn't with me, I knew arriving at the Petroleum Center Aid Station, I probably needed to drop. It was misting or at least extremely foggy or something and I couldn't see a damned thing. I crossed the timing mat and went to look for the Jeep, but Janice appeared in seconds out of the darkness. We walked to the Jeep and I told her if I was continuing I needed to change shirts again. I was cold and my slow pace wasn't keeping me warm. I then looked at my watch and saw I had only 48 minutes till the 5am cutoff at this aid station. At my pace it was inevitable that I'd be pulled at the next aid station, pulled where I wouldn't have a ride. My decision was made, Janice tried to talk me out of it, but we walked back into the aid station and at only 75 of 100 miles I officially dropped out.

We got a little sleep and went back to the finish to see how Todd and Adam had made out. We missed Todd, but got to chat with and congratulate Adam on his finish. Todd had finished too, his quest for the Oil Creek 100 was finally done. Ben Mazur joined my category and had dropped as well.

Chatting With Sleepy Adam - The 100 Miler

This was a tough one for me. I promised myself if I failed this time, I wouldn't return. The Oil Creek 100 had beat me fair and square. In the week since the run, social media has been lit up with tons of stories of everyone's Oil Creek experience. Friends have tried to encourage me by saying they'd be happy with 75 miles and I've been told I have nothing to be ashamed of. I never said I was ashamed, I'm not. Quitting unfortunately is part of the reality of attempting something that pushes your limits. To hell with comfort zone, I'm talking about going to your outer space and shame just isn't part of it at all, but disappointment certainly is. For all those who would be happy with 75 miles, well I can only say this; I went there for 100. To all of my friends, I truly appreciate your kind words of support. Your love and sincerity is immensely humbling. Every time I hear from you I'm amazed by your caring statements and true offers of support. To everyone else, I suggest trying something different, something you could fail.

For the week since the Oil Creek 100, the pressure I felt from reading other runners' stories has been crazy, but I've resisted and stuck to my pledge of not repeating it. I had even hoped and planned that this would be my last year of ultra running. I miss my back pack, tent and my kayak, but then I read Todd Lewis' race report and I simply caved. I will continue ultra running in 2017 and with a pack full of lessons learned, I will try again at the Oil Creek 100.

Next up though, I still need to finish up 2016 with the Stone Mill 50 next month.

Some tentative plans for 2017:

2/11/17 Algonquin 50K Pocomoke City MD
3/4/17 Naked Bavarian 40 Miler Leesport PA
4/29/17 C&O Canal 100 Knoxville MD
5/7/17 TD Five Boro Bike Tour New York City, NY
6/10//17 Laurel Highlands Ultra Ohiopyle, PA
10/2017 Oil Creek 100 Titusville, PA

Random scenes from The Apple Fest, Franklin, Pennsylvania:

For those who might not know who Laz is, here's a quote from Michael Jordan:

"I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Real Trail Running - Possum Glory 50K Race Report

September 10, 2016

The  3 Amigos - Al, Donny & Mike

Have you ever met a group of folks who you immediately knew were good people? That's the feeling I got the day I walked into The Tri County ATV Center to pick up my bib number for the Possum Glory 50K. While I had communicated with Mike Weaver, Donny Bowers and Al Lockard online, meeting them face to face was something special. A "hey let's go for a run" or "hey let's go get a beer" (or both) kind of special. Along with Al's Wife Candi, this friendly group made up the race director corps for this first annual event. (I unfortunately didn't get a chance to speak with Candi) While this was the first year for this race, these guys aren't rookies. Not only do they all have ultra finishes under their belts, they were the team behind the now defunct Punxsutawney Ground Hog 50K. I never got to run the Ground Hog before a property ownership change put it out of business so I registered to see what this first annual 50K had to offer (there were 25K and 10K events on the day's agenda as well).

I've used the term grassroots when describing another ultra I ran this year. This race was the next step from that and I'd have to label it simply as "real". The race was sponsored by Team Red White and Blue and from the moment I arrived at the ATV center, I knew that this event would have zero pretense. This would be "real" trail running. First, let me tell you a little about this Tri-County ATV place. The club was started 16 years ago and offers ATV enthusiasts a place to ride their machines legally. Most of the vehicles I saw were not your everyday ATV, these things looked souped up and capable of climbing a wall covered with mud. I was thankful they listed their coordinates on their web site as I was skeptical about finding the place using a "street" address. Yes, it was in the middle of nowhere. With that said, I couldn't get over how much I felt at home.

I arrived and there was a food auction taking place in the main building, so not to stroll through the auction crowd I walked around the building to find Al Lockard on a four wheeler. I knew I was in the right place.

In the back door and I quickly ran into Mike Weaver and Donny Bowers who made a bit of a to-do about the fact that I had been the first person to register for their new event. Yes, I was given bib #1 and they even gave me an additional t-shirt for being first. The race already was giving two t-shirts, so I walked away with a haul of three. The auction looked interesting, attended by a wide variety of folks from the countryside. I was tempted to stay and maybe bid on a case of Slim Jims, but I needed to go find supper so I headed back to Ebensburg where I had found a hotel room.

Pre-race early Morning At The ATV Center

The Possum Glory Mascot

Having visited Friday in the daylight certainly made the drive back to the ATV Center in the morning easier. After three stops for Deer in the road and a stop to give a fellow runner directions, I was soon drinking coffee and waiting for someone to say "Go!". The race directors buzzed about while radios crackled and volunteers loaded up aid station supplies. The food auction was gone and now the Possum Glory Endurance Runs had center stage. After some brief announcements we strolled up to the start finish and with little fanfare, Mike said go and rang a cowbell.

The course opened with a gradual climb away from the ATV center. It seemed like a nice way to get warmed up as I watched a few others ascend away from me. One runner in particular had separated from the bunch and when I arrived at the top I found a half dozen runners standing and wondering which way to go. Donny Bowers was there on the phone making it clear that the race markings had fallen down over night. He soon told us to turn left. By now we were all a bunch, less one who had seemingly disappeared into the forest going the wrong way. We made the left and toddled down a considerable downhill section only to be stopped at the bottom by caution tape blocking the trail. We could hear Donny yelling for Joe (the runner who had continued) and we yelled to him that we were stuck. In short order we were turned around and headed back up the hill. The left turn we were to take came after entering the woods, Joe had gone the right way. A couple folks bitched and they were quickly told to chill out as this was trail running. Back at the top, Donny was there and terribly apologetic for the mix up. I high fived him and told him it was an awesome start. I looked at my watch and estimated that the wrong turn had added about a 1/4 mile and for me had set the theme of the day.

The terrain that we would deal with all day was soon evident. These trails were built for rock crawling ATV's and not for running. If you run on the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania, these trails looked a lot the same, but maybe rockier. If we weren't picking our way through rocks, we were splashing through deep standing puddles. I decided early that fording the tiny ponds was better than trying to skirt them as they were surrounded by extremely slippery mud. The only other feature besides rocks and water was the hills. My watch recorded 5,000' of elevation gain which isn't a crazy amount, but it was the form of the hills that mattered. A few of them were like running up sliding boards and it seemed like they were at times one right after another.

During the race announcements an apology was given because it was advertised that there would be no loops. It turned out that maybe the ATV trails didn't exactly provide enough to host a 50K so we did end up retracing our steps in a couple of places. A short loop (about 1.5 miles) and a long loop (about 5 miles). Both included brutal climbs and I noticed something interesting, on both of the loops the second time through felt noticeably easier. On the first lap of each of those loops my brain knew I'd have to endure these climbs again. On the second laps I knew I was done. Each loop started with an aid station, which was cool and the volunteers kept track of your laps as well. I have to mention that both aid stations had watermelon, which is my favorite aid station food at summertime ultras.

I got through this course as fast as I could. I realized early on that it would be a day of grinding it out, certainly nothing pretty. I just had to keep finding ways to get through the rocks and up the hills. I also added a slight extra challenge by going off course a couple more times. I came to an intersection with signs that read "Outgoing" and "Incoming" with arrows. Because I didn't know the course I didn't know which I was. Was I "Incoming" or was I "Outgoing"?  I made the logical turn and began a muddy climb. There were "Two Way Traffic" signs on the climb and soon I second guessed myself, turned around and headed back down the hill. I got back to those signs that were mocking my ignorance and stood there a second until I said "F it" and turned around and went back up the hill. If it was the wrong turn, I'd probably find out soon enough. My other directional gaff was on the first lap of the short loop. I was on top of a hill feeling good and running along daydreaming. I was kind of in the zone and I did notice orange markings on two trees, but it didn't even register and I ran between them. After a short while of seeing no more orange markings, I finally woke up from my little trance and turned around. Now I was starting to wonder about making that 8 hour cutoff for the finish.

The long loop had a power line climb that was exposed to the sun. Oh yeah, I guess I forgot to mention that it was hot as hell too. The husband and wife duo at the aid station at the start/finish of that loop were great. They refilled my hydration bladder and stuffed me with watermelon. As much as I enjoyed them, I was stoked to not have to visit them a third time. As I exited that area headed for home, Al Lockard was there at a water stop and he had an obvious sense of urgency about him. He hustled me out of there telling me I had only 55 minutes to make the 3pm cutoff. He said I had about 3.5 mile to go, easy right? Well, it was 3.5 more miles of climbing in the heat and it opened with another uphill stretch exposed to the sun. Eventually I found my way through those last hills and I figured out where to turn for the finish. I must've been a pathetic sight running for all I was worth down that last hill trying to beat the cutoff.

Donny Bowers yelled "yes" when I asked if I was making it, but I didn't let up. I was worked, but I made it and a really nice guy standing there at the finish asked what I wanted to drink. He mentioned various things, but I only heard beer and he quickly produced an ice cold can of Busch Light. Best damned Busch Light ever...actually it was only the second one I'd ever had, the other was at the Mayor's House (a backpacker hostel along the AT in Unionville, NY) This being a Team RW&B event, the beer guy asked if I had run for someone. I said, "no". Realizing what I said, I quickly changed my answer and told them about my Dad; Marine Corps WWII Veteran who had just passed away in July. Donny kindly assured me that I had made my Dad proud and he hung a finisher's dog tag around my neck.

Donny asked me what I thought of the course and I told him this was my fifth 50K this year and hands down the toughest. The relentless rocky and muddy terrain and the short steep hills just one after another made for a thorough ass kicking. I ran it in preparation for the Oil Creek 100 and I believe it went as planned. Another oven-like day filled with stumbling up and down hills powered by ClifBar. A bonk on this course would've been disastrous and ClifBar Shot Energy Gels, Bloks Energy Chews and Organic Energy Food fueled me through to the finish.

Afterwards, the ATV Center was buzzing with volunteers, runners and ATV folks who were preparing for some upcoming event. There was acoustic music by Kevin Dale while food was served, washed down by some lovely craft beer by Levity Brewing from nearby Indiana Pennsylvania. Yes I went from Busch Light to a yummy IPA and a tasty Saison (if you're ever in Indiana, Levity Brewing is a must visit for sure). This was the first year for The Possum Glory and they definitely made their stamp on Pennsylvania trail running. Need a September 50K? An Oil Creek practice run? Go get your butt kicked at the Tri-County ATV Center. Good people and tough trails.

Justa' Pooch Hangin' At The ATV Center

Friday, September 2, 2016

On The Road To Recovery - MD H.E.A.T. Race Report

August 27, 2016

Not even a month ago the waters rose so fast that without warning the tragedy now known as the Ellicott City Flood ripped through the historic Main Street destroying properties, tossing cars, and mounding up silt. The truly tragic result of the raging Patapsco River was the loss of two lives. Two people out enjoying a nice evening with loved ones. It's reported that the waters came as if a dam had burst, many were able to narrowly escape the surprise attack, but two were not and their lives were taken.

Janice and I needed to eat dinner and we attempted to eat in Ellicott City, but it was impossible. We were turned away by police. Main Street was still blocked and the one restaurant we did see was packed. Hopefully no seats at The Judges Bench is a sign that the city is making strides toward recovery. The Ellicott Mills Brewery was having a fund raiser and that's where we were trying to go. Thankfully I read on Facebook that the brewery fund raiser was a success.

I found this info online:

•Donations for merchants and residents:
•More information can be found at

This old backstop near the start/finish tells the tale.
Those leaves stuck to the chain link show the high water mark.
Flood debris was all around.

That same Patapsco River formed the spine of the body that was the MD HEAT Race course. The race wandered the network of trails lacing up, around and across the Patapsco Valley State Park near Elk Ridge Maryland. I met Nick Yeates, the race director, 5 years ago at The Megatransect and we ran into each other again at The Tussey Mountainback 50 miler just three weeks later. Nick was a huge fan of the Megatransect and his hope was to create his own version near his home in Maryland. This was the 5th running of the MD HEAT Race. The course is a 16ish mile loop, twice for the 50K runners and one lap for the 25K crew. Terrain of all kinds to include a slippery boulder scramble through a stream and one climb that was kinda' nuts (I wonder if anyone was able to run it). There were three aid stations out on the loop and for the 50K, the start/finish was also an aid station. (Aid Station #1 wasn't in place for the 50K, so the first 8 miles you were biggy)

I had the luxury of having Janice with me as crew for this run. Due to parking restrictions at the park, runners and others were asked to park remotely at a nearby Park & Ride and use a shuttle bus to and from the race. Janice and I decided that dropping me off at the start and her meeting me at Aid Station #2 was our best plan of attack. It was a good plan until we found out how far into the park the start line was and we were greeted by a Ranger blocking the gate. He was quite nice though and he let us pass when I assured him that I was being dropped off and Janice would be on her way.

The start area was buzzing as the first shuttle bus had just dropped off a load of 50Kers. Volunteers were setting up as Nick and his Dad circulated ensuring everything was in place (with the awesome hats they were wearing, they were easy to pick spot - sorry I don't have photos to share)  I stashed a drop bag at the pavilion as we'd pass through there to start lap 2. Janice sat in the Jeep toiling over maps. Trying to make sense of a map of the park compared to the map of the race course. We weren't real sure where the aid stations were and if they were even accessible by car, so as Nick said "Ready, Set, Go!" I was just hoping I'd see Janice somewhere around the course. I really wasn't concerned, she's a pro at this crewing thing, I'm no longer amazed when I see her pop up in the remotest of spots. Besides, if she couldn't  find me, cell signal was good here so I'm sure she would've just practiced her Pokémon hunting skills playing Pokémon Go.

Through this tunnel the first climb awaits.

The race rolls out through some easy park grounds and on a park road before making an abrupt right turn through a cool little tunnel and into the forest. The short stretch on the road was funny (for me), I had a guy running right on my heels breathing forcibly...kinda' like an old locomotive. I moved to the other side of the road and he matched my steps and stayed right behind me breathing like a Heifer next in line at the slaughter house. Annoyed, I stepped off the road into the weeds and stopped. It was fun to watch the twisted look on his face go by, seemingly wondering what I was doing. Not sure what that was all about...maybe he thought he was drafting...I just have to laugh at some people's running habits.

Hills came early and often, but the majority of the trail was runnable and shaded. The trail does pop out onto power line clearings where the sun was brutal, especially as the day went on. Numerous stream crossings became welcome allies as I was carrying an old bandanna and dipping it in the cold water and squeezing it over my head became the day's air conditioning. It did get hot, I believe we ventured into the 90's and the humidity wasn't far behind.

The trail dumped us out onto this paved path for a
short distance till we reached the Swinging Bridge Aid Station.

Crossing the swinging bridge.
Dirt + Sweat = Mud

In my last few trail events, I've been doing a fine job of finding things to trip over and this day was no different. I heard someone approaching fast behind me on single track. I looked over my shoulder to see if they needed to pass and in no time I was tripping and rolling on the forest floor. That was around mile 7 so when Janice met me at the swinging bridge/the 8 mile aid station, I was covered in dirt adhered by sweat. She was quick to tell me I stunk more than normal leaving me wondering what it was I actually rolled in. The road to that aid station was actually closed and Janice whispered to me that she had "sweet talked" her way past the road block and drove in. Janice got me quickly back on the trail, climbing the hill behind the aid station.

The swinging bridge through the trees.

For me, the swinging bridge leading to the aid station was a highlight of the course. The Orange Grove Flour Mill operated along the Patapsco River from 1856 until it was destroyed by fire and effectively put out of business in 1905. The factory was then crushed by Tropical Storm Agnes in 1972 (I'm old enough to remember it's rage when it passed through my hometown of Harrisburg). Today the one cool remnant remaining is a swinging bridge over the river very near where the factory operated. The factory workers' homes were on the opposite side of the river and the original bridge was constructed by the company to make it easier for them to get to work. The current restored bridge was constructed by the Maryland DNR in 2006. It's certainly worth seeing and crossing. It's a suspension bridge with a wooden plank deck hanging from thick steel cables and couplings. Janice met me on the factory side and we bounced across to the aid station together.

The second half of the loop seemed to have less climbing and around mile 13 there was another aid station staffed by colorful volunteers. Their theme was from the movie Cast Away complete with inflated Palm Trees and Tom Hanks' buddy Wilson keeping watch on the goings on. Janice met me there as well, she said it was an easy park and walk into the forest. I swapped out my hydration bladder and had some yummy frozen Mango concoction at the aid station and I was on my way again.

Just a cool tunnel.

My nutrition had been going quite well until now, fueling with ClifBar Gels and ShotBloks and washing them down with Tailwind, but at this point I made a huge mistake. The bladder Janice gave me was right out of our cooler and the Tailwind in it was ice cold. It was now pretty hot and I was like an addict, I couldn't get enough of this ice cold drug. About 3 1/2 miles later I was at the start finish where I had stashed 2 frozen bottles of Tailwind. By now they were cold liquid and I chugged one, downed a ClifBar Organic Energy Food pack and a Mama Chia Squeeze and stashed the other bottle in my vest and started lap two. Janice wasn't there and I soon saw why, the road to the pavilion was now blocked and only those with reservations were allowed entry. The course pops out of the woods into a small parking lot and I saw our orange Jeep and Janice was there reading the map, what else? I'm not sure what I was thinking, but I decided to finish that second bottle and threw it in the Jeep. That's about 40 ounces of Tailwind I drank in just a matter of minutes. It was hot and it felt good, but now my stomach felt like a fish bowl and I couldn't make myself run. The discomfort from the bloat was immense and I ended up walking much of the next mile or more. I started OD'ing on cold liquid around mile 13 and I was a wreck until about mile 18 or so. Aid Station 1 (mile 20ish) was in place for our second visit and I actually felt like I could actually run again. I drank far more than my body could process, I didn't drive myself to Hypernatremia, but that stupid rookie mistake took a major chunk out of the middle of the my run.

Applause for the "Trail Banditos" - excellent course markings!
Didn't go off course once.

The second lap was a quiet adventure as I found myself leap frogging with a young guy and gal for much of the remaining mileage, but the trail otherwise seemed empty.(I learned later that 21 of the 50K starters decided to call it a day after the first hot hilly lap.)

My second visit to the Swinging Bridge Aid Station,
that injured runner shuttle wasn't there for me.

Janice met me again at the aid station at the swinging bridge and this time she had figured out the trails and had walked. I gobbled another ClifBar Organic Energy Food pack and a Mama Chia Squeeze as an injured runner was picked up by the Race Director. Janice and I agreed that she should go to the finish area as I'd be ok with the ClifBar food and Tailwind I was carrying and the support from the Cast Away Aid Station at mile 30. The Cast Away crew did me a solid and refilled my bladder enough to get me to the finish and it felt good to know the day in the heat was over as I crossed the line (It didn't hurt that the "coolest" volunteer of all was there waiting with a freeze pop).

I've forgotten to mention "The Wall". No, not the Pink Floyd album, but an actual stone wall that stood between you and the finish line. With a bout a tenth of a mile to go the course settled right in close to the river and I haven't learned why it's there, but there's this ancient stone wall that seemed between 10 and 12 feet high. It runs perpendicular to the river from a rock outcrop so my guess is that it was built to manage rising waters. Yes, runners were expected to get over it. On the first lap I crossed it with two other runners who told me it was much easier this year due to the river silt mounded up by the flooding. That fact didn't make it any easier getting down the other side, especially on the second lap on tired legs. I wanted Janice to see the wall, so afterwards we took the short walk there. She not only got to see the wall, two finishing runners appeared as she was snapping photos of the monstrosity. We switched quickly to cheering mode and I think the one woman really appreciated the help getting down off that thing without incident or injury.

The Wall

The fun at the finish line was unrivaled by any other event I've run. It started with a freeze pop, Janice got to hose me down and there was abundant yummy food along with various ice cold craft beers. This is the only race I've ever run that actually has its own Brewmeister. Hat's off to Jeremy Swan and his home brews that worked so well after 32 miles in the heat. If you've been wondering about his race, wonder no more, go run the damn thing! Cheers!

**********MY YEAR SO FAR***********

It's been an interesting year for me. I've crossed a bunch of finish lines and I can't thank Janice enough for putting up with me through everything.

I've joked that for 2016 I bought a membership to the Ultra-A-Month club and it's been a fun challenge to attempt to complete one per month. I'm not fast, in fact some of my finishing times have been laughable, down right embarrassing. Embarrassing or not, I'm proud that I've finished every race I've started this year.

Huge thank you to ClifBar for their amazing nutrition support. I know that no matter how bad it gets, if I just keep eating ClifBar stuff, I'll have the fuel in the tank to survive to the end.

The year hasn't been all happy finish lines. My heart decided to remind me that I'm 55 years old and surgery was required to stop the episodes of SVT that were stopping me in my tracks. A heart rate of 260 bpm is pretty darned scary...glad it's gone. Huge thank you to the doctors and nurses at Hershey Medical Center, I now feel like I've got a brand new heart. Wednesday before this race I had a follow up appointment with the Cardiologist, my BP was 120/80, HR 52 bpm and I had an EKG and an Echo Test that the doctor said showed my ticker was good for at least another 50K.

My heart was a challenge, but the ground shaking event of my year has been losing my Father. At 93 years old Dad passed quietly one night in July. For 55 years I called the most kind supportive man  I've ever known, Dad. He's gone from this planet now, but he's now more present than ever. My Dad's death could've been a setback I guess, but instead I saw it as inspiration to live on as strong as possible knowing he's over my shoulder keeping watch every step of the way.

This year my running has had numerous interruptions and set backs, but I feel my training is getting back on track and I'm well on the road to recovery.

2016 Events:

1/16/16 Phunt 50k Trail Race Elkton, MD 6:26:09
1/23/16 Frozen Snot 13.5 Mile Trail Run McElhattan, PA 5:52:29
2/20/16 Frozen Heart 50k Callaway, MD 6:14:38
3/06/16 Naked Bavarian 40 Mile Leesport, PA 8:11:23
4/30/16 C&O Canal 100 Mile Knoxville, MD 29:03:26
5/14/16 Glacier Ridge 50 Mile Portersville, PA 13:24:26
5/16/16 Cardiac Ablation Hershey Medical Center Hershey, PA
5/25/16 My 55th Birthday
6/18/16 Highlands Sky Trail Run 40 Mile Davis, WV 11:14:36
6/4/16 Colin's 5K Run Central Dauphin HS XC Course Harrisburg, PA 27:05
7/14/16 Daniel Eugene Ligon passed away after an amazing life here on God's Earth.
7/30/16 Allegheny Front Trail Run 50k Philipsburg, PA  8:16:34
8/6/16   5th Annual CD/CDEast High School XCTeam Challenge 5k Harrisburg PA 27:49
8/13/16 Chiques Challenge 4.5 Mile Run/2.5 Mile Kayak Columbia PA 1:22:12
8/27/16 MD HEAT Race 50k Elkridge, MD 7:56:32

Next up:

9/10/16 1st Annual Possum Glory 50k Ebensburg,PA
10/8/16 Oil Creek Trail Runs 100 Mile Titusville, PA
11/12/16 Stone Mill 50 Montgomery Village, MD

One more 50K in preparation for the Oil Creek 100 and a 50 miler after that to round out the year.
I guess my Ultra-A-Month membership was only the 11 month package...

Colorful Patapsco Valley Mushrooms - crewing an old slow
ultra runner can be pretty boring...