Friday, March 10, 2017

Be Sure To Dress For Success - Naked Bavarian 40 Mile Race Report

March 4, 2017

My new Naked Bavarian Growler goes nicely with my Dirty German Pint Glass!

Loading up the Jeep to head to Leesport, my weather station out back reported 18°. We've been having some pretty wacky weather in Central Pennsylvania with many unseasonably warm February days, temps in the 70°'s and almost no signs of winter like real snow. Today's cold snap was certainly March reminding us that it can come in like a lion.

Heading east enjoying an absolutely beautiful sunrise, my dashboard read 23°. At least that is until I exited Route 78, as the second I was heading south on Berks County country roads, we lost 5° and it was back down to match my back yard's 18°. It was definitely cold and wind chills weren't even being considered. Arriving at Blue Marsh, the ground was still covered with fresh powder from the previous day's massive snow squalls.  Yes, I obsess about the weather and when I'm planning to spend most of a day trail running; I suppose I obsess even more. Chatting with Rick Martin before the race start, the weather and how it would dictate what we wore was most of what we talked about. Dressing for the cold or adverse weather in general can be a crap shoot. I thought I had it figured out, I had a long sleeved lycra base layer on under a ClifBar wicking t-shirt. I had light weight fleece gloves and just a light running cap to avoid over heating with my favorite Patagonia wind jacket on top. I begrudgingly wore an old pair of comfy compression tights to keep my legs out of the wind. I prefer to wear shorts for a lot of reasons, but mostly for the pockets so I can carry stuff. I was certain I had compiled the perfect ensemble to stay warm, but not too warm.

<While writing that first paragraph, I realized I was again doing what I did for most of the race; obsessing about the cold.>

A Frigid Start Line Waiting For Runners

I returned to Blue Marsh Lake to run the Naked Bavarian 40 miler. I ran it last year and had a blast so I was back. The trails at Blue Marsh are awesome, I love running there. That and the simple fact that Stephan Weiss' Überendurancesports events are top notch runs. Most years, one of his outings has been on my schedule. Stephan's style of race directing is probably what impresses me the most. He's constantly hustling to get things ready, but still talking with anyone who comes his way. Late in the afternoon, I was thanking an aid station volunteer and commenting that I couldn't believe how the volunteers had withstood the howling cold wind at that stop. As we chatted about how the salted potatoes kept freezing, up walked Stephan. I was near to the last of the runners, the sun was getting low in the sky and there was Stephan; out there in it. He chimed in about the wind chill, but quickly changed the subject to encouragement as I still had about 4 miles and some nagging hills before I could be done.  Überendurancesports has races all over the calendar so I'm sure you can find one that fits yours. Whether it's The Blues Cruise, The Dirty German, The Naked Bavarian or his new race the Naked Prussian, go run one of them.

Blue Marsh Lake, also the scene of The Blues Cruise and Naked Prussian is a gem of a place in Berks county, just outside of Reading Pennsylvania. The Army Corps of Engineers did it right here, in the 70's the lake was formed by damming up the Tulpehocken Creek for flood control purposes, creating an 1,100 acre lake on a total acreage of 5,000 acres of land. The boating, fishing, swimming and sun bathing are huge hits to its visitors, but the 36 miles of trails is my favorite feature. Most of trails are quite runnable with enough climbing to keep you honest. The now closed Blue Marsh Ski Resort caps off the north end of the lake, that's certainly a nice hill. In the Naked Bavarian, you get to climb it twice.

Lining up to start, I ran into Phil Perkins and his Wife Kate from West Chester. I had met Phil here last year and we ran much of the day together. We laughed about the fact that last year while I thought I was chasing him at the end, it was in fact the opposite. He was behind, I had lost contact with him at an aid station and I was sure he was ahead of me. While chatting, I couldn't ignore that I was shivering and I couldn't wait to get running so I'd warm up. Stephan gave us a quick "Go" and we were off. Sure enough I fell into a group with Phil leading the pack. I could see Rick Martin strung out much further ahead up the trail. I got into what felt like a comfortable pace quickly and I also wasn't as cold anymore. At about the 1 mile mark I saw Phil off the trail doing something with his hydration belt. I was looking at him and just about to ask him if he was ok and I toed a rock and took a dive. I landed hard on my left knee, but what was worse; all of a sudden I felt cold again.

On some of the ridges and other exposed areas, the wind was howling. Looking back on it, I'm sure I was dressed too warmly and I was sweating more than was good for me. So then when I would hit a windy section, I felt dangerously frigid. I was also letting the cold get in my head and I was thinking of nothing, but how cold I was. We climbed the ski slope hill near the 10 mile mark and I got even more over heated. I should've taken off the wind jacket, but now it was too late for that. Next came what I was afraid was the final nail in my frozen coffin. At the aid station at the base of the ski slope descent my left glove and handheld got soaked with Gatorade. I think I wiggled the bottle when the volunteer was refilling it for me and now my glove was soaked with freezing cold liquid.

My left hand was now so cold it was painful and mentally after that I was doomed. I couldn't think of anything, but getting warm. In my mind I was going through the things I could do once I reached the Jeep before I started the second lap. Thinking about the dry clothing I had in my gym bag (which wasn't much). I was thinking about getting warm and eating before restarting. I was at least obsessing about something other than hypothermia.

I reached the last climb before the Day Use Area (Start/Finish) and I was greeted by the big smile and encouraging words of Phil. I expected to see Rick before him and now I wondered how Rick was doing. Shortly after that, further up the hill, Rick approached; somehow he had gotten behind Phil, but he was fine(hell he was great, he won his age group).

I arrived at the Jeep, grabbed a coke and a couple ClifBar Organic Meals and hopped in the front seat and started the engine. I quickly downed the Coca Cola and immediately started to feel sick/light headed. I was pissed, first I'm freezing and now I feel like I'm going to pass out. I got out of the Jeep and started to unpin my number to go to the start/finish crew to announce my DNF. As fast as I had that thought though, something turned me around. I realized I really hadn't done any of the things I had thought of to resurrect a finish out of this debacle. My brain was obviously not working very clearly at this point. I grabbed a towel, dry shirts, a different jacket, a dry hat and a warmer pair of gloves. I got changed and while the Jeep was warming me up I sucked down those ClifBar meals. Thankfully I had another(dry) handheld as well, so I stocked it with ClifBar Gels and Bloks along with another bottle full of Tailwind. Now that I was warm and dry, I began to think about just how long was this finish going to take. Last year I finished in just over eight hours and I knew with how I was feeling, that was out of the question. I wondered if I had enough left to get done in under ten. I of course was still scatter brained, as I started in the direction of the trail I realized I needed to do a u-turn as I had left all that nutrition sitting on the passenger seat. My brain was fried, but perhaps that's the state I needed to be in to run 20 more miles.

(Photo Borrowed From Facebook)

The start of the second lap was fun, I got to see the ever-cheerful Tim Nash and shortly after that I saw Ron Kappus as I was starting up a hill. I told him to catch up, I'd walk. He was quick to inform me he was doing the 20 miler. (he's obviously much smarter than me.) I came face to face with dozens of runners nearing their 20 mile mark. Seeing a runner in a full-on Tinky-Winky costume was awesome for the psyche, but then I saw the dude just wearing a pair of shorts (still having trouble unseeing that). Most runners greeted me with a positive remark, but one made it clear that she wouldn't want to be me (as I had another lap to do). I got to see Ron's better half as Jo Kappus passed and after just a couple short miles of socializing, I was pretty much on my own. In fact, I ran most of the second lap alone which is what I prefer. If I'm struggling, I'd much rather manage it by myself. Surprisingly, my new impromptu clothing combo seemed to be working and the temperature had come up to 32°, so that helped as well. The wind was still howling on the ridges, but I was in survival mode now. I didn't care about much else, but finishing.

It felt good to get over the big climb at mile 30 and then I just had to plow through the final 10 miles. As I neared the finish line, I couldn't help, but notice how empty the parking lot was. The kind finish line volunteer handed me a very cool growler for finishing and told me there was still some food left. I smiled and declined and told her I was just going to crawl in my car. She returned a smile of understanding as she looked like she was freezing.

Through all my haziness, I never forgot to intake calories and I think that's what kept me from quitting. Through the day I ate a couple packs of Shot Bloks and numerous gels. When my tailwind was gone, I refilled my bottle with aid station Gatorade and drank their Coca-Cola. I know that if I would've let my calorie intake slip, the affects of the cold would've won out. Ironically, I finished exactly 1 hour slower than last year. The funny thing was, my first lap when I was feeling awful was much faster than my second when I was actually feeling ok. I'm not sure how long I sat in the Jeep between laps. It was just about noon when I arrived, finishing the first 20 miles in just about 4 hours and about 25 minutes later I was heading out for lap two. It doesn't matter now, because that time at the Jeep was obviously part of the necessary equation that added up to me finishing.

The moral of the day is that even with experience I still fall victim to my own rookie mistakes. The lessons I learned at this race were mostly not new, but I promise they won't need to learned again. To jeopardize why I was there, to nearly turn in my number and DNF, to come close to harming or injuring myself just because I simply didn't think it through enough to wear the right stuff is just stupid. I ran two 50K's towards the end of last summer where the heat was stifling and I struggled to finish under cut offs. It's now crystal clear to me that cold can have the same effect. The bad days, the races that don't go well, the DNF's; I think all of those things exist to remind me that I only do this because I love it. Otherwise, if I didn't; all it would take would be one shitty freezing cold day in whipping winds and I wouldn't be back.

Next up for me, I'm returning to the C&O Canal 100 to see if I can finish again and improve on some mistakes/lessons I learned there last year. Somebody once said, "I have to try again...can't waste lessons learned".

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

A Day At The Beach - My Algonquin 50K Race Report

February 11, 2017

"We pride ourselves on being the longest
50K on the east coast", Trent Swanson, Race Dictator.

I believe it was November when I stumbled on this new race in the Pocomoke City Maryland area. There wasn't much of a web site, but it was listed on Ultrasignup so I thought it must be legit. Janice and I had never visited this corner of Maryland, so it was an easy decision to go check out the Algonquin Cross County Trail 50K. I registered and I think the next time I checked their web site, the race was already sold out. Yeah, it filled up quickly.

I never have high expectations when entering a first-year event, but with that said; I do like to be part of their maiden endeavor. As the race date was nearing, the buzz of activity on the race Facebook page grew. It became quickly obvious to me that Trent Swanson, the Race Dictator (no, that's not a typo), and his merry band of runners from the area were a close knit bunch with fun being their primary focus. I've been to events that have strong support from local running clubs and the race and pre and post race activities can end up being dominated by clicks and runners from out of the area end up feeling alienated. That definitely didn't happen with this bunch.

(Thanks to Michael Perry for the photo.)

Packet pick up was at a brew pub in Salisbury. I had overestimated our travel time from Harrisburg and we ended up being early, but shortly after our arrival; volunteers appeared carrying boxes of supplies and swag. Janice and I jumped in to help carry boxes and she even helped to hand out hats until a volunteer showed up.

A Natural Volunteer

Hopper's Tap House is a pretty cool set up. Hoppers is a pub with a pretty diverse selection of craft beer mostly from the region, but they don't have food.

That's not an issue though as their surrounded by restaurants:
  • DaNizza Pizza - Janice got the Classic Margarita - awesome!
  • Wingin' It - Wings with Signature Flavors, Share-ables & Soon-To-Be Famous Fries
  • Smokin' BBQ Grille - I got an Angus Burger & Fries - pretty damned good!
  • Melted - gourmet grilled cheese bar serving soups, salads and cold pressed juices to accompany your grilled cheese sandwich. Breakfast daily, too!
They share an open area with tables (complete with corn hole). Get a beer, get some food and find a table. Pretty chill place for a pre-race packet pick up. Being early didn't suck either, the first 10 runners to pick up their packet got a free beer. Packet pickup turned into a well attended social event...this first-year race had nailed a great kick-off.

The race offered some pretty fun swag, a trucker hat, a long sleeve race shirt, stickers and a very cool mug for finishers under the eight hour cut off. (Those finishing after the cut off were threatened to have their mugs smashed.) The course logistics were pretty well dialed too. Trent had volunteers and park staff everywhere. On horse back and on ATVs, course marshals were everywhere, you were not going to get lost or in trouble too far from support. Hell there were even a couple of drones in the air. One of the coolest things was the course map. A local volunteer had it digitized (I make that sound so easy, I'm sure it wasn't) and with a phone app called Avenza Maps, exact coordinates could be tracked to locations on the course. With that app I was able to give Janice pretty accurate coordinates for each of the aid stations and unlike some other ultras, she didn't get lost once.

Race Day - We had a hotel room in Pocomoke City about 10 minutes from the start line. After a winding foggy drive we were at a very dark Pocomoke River State Park. I was hoping daylight would start to peak through the fog as I hadn't brought a headlamp for running. Daylight did eventually make an appearance and after race announcements we were off. We rolled out on a short section of road before hitting the Algonquin Cross County Trail.

Pocomoke River State Park is located in the 15,000 acre Pocomoke State Forest between Pocomoke City and Snow Hill Maryland; about a 45 minute drive south of Ocean City. The park is located on the Pocomoke River and the race started and finished at the Milburn Landing area. Started in 2014, The Algonquin Cross County Trail is relatively new as I was told some finishing touches were just put on it last year. The forest is typical of the seashore forests of the mid-Atlantic with scrubby Pine trees, White Dogwood and Pink Laurel, but Pocomoke is known mostly for its stand of Loblolly Pine and for its cypress swamps. Everybody talked about the fishing here, but we were also told visiting in the winter was wise as the Chiggers and Ticks in the summer can land you in the hospital. Assateague, Chincoteague and NASA’s Wallops Island are right nearby and Janice discovered historic Furnace Town even though it was closed for the season.

Game Time

The course was an out and back with a bulge in the middle, as in the mid-section of the course was different coming and going. Early on I heard runners joking about a little bump in the terrain, saying, "yep, there was the hill". Another runner then asked if there was any climbing at all and the answer was "nope", this course was board flat. That doesn't mean it was boring, but it does mean it was fast. I had the sense that on this course, one of those fast guys (not me) would finish under four hours and sure if the winner didn't come in at 3:59:44. The trail was quite runnable and perfect for first time trail ultra runners. The changing environment is what kept it interesting (for me anyway). We rolled from forest trail, to forestry road and we even ran on an actual road briefly. The biggest obstacles on the day were pretty sizable mud puddles. I'm not one to try to skirt mud puddles as you usually end up in some other trouble, so I typically plow right through them. I didn't expect the depth of the mud though and in the first small pond I ran through, I lost a shoe. The mud sucked it right off my foot and it seemed to take forever to get the damned thing back on. At the next big puddle I attempted to get around it and that's when I learned about the Pocomoke River briars, those razor sharp thorns quickly had me sliced and bleeding. From then on when I saw water, I slowed to a walk and went through it. I didn't lose my shoes and I didn't lose anymore skin. The biggest surprise on the day for me was the sand, I'm not sure where it began, but it was legit sand and it seemed to make up much of the "top" of the course. I quickly took to trying to find the most packed sand to get the best traction. It didn't make up for hills but it was a challenge just the same.

I learned a long time ago that the challenges the course presents are only part of the challenge of ultra running. The outside, non-race affects are there too and they're often tougher to overcome than a hill or a water crossing. This race's non-race affect was Bronchitis. A few years ago I learned that I could finish a 50K with Bronchitis, I tried to drop out of the HAT Run; but Janice and the Race Director talked me out of it. So on this day I knew that no matter how bad the coughing, weezing, gagging, spitting, retching and gurgling got; I could still make it to the finish line. The coughing started around mile 7 and considering I had had it for weeks (yes, I took the anti-biotics) I already knew some things to avoid that could ruin my day. The biggest thing was that drinking anything that was syrupy, like Coca-Cola would induce coughing, so drinking soda at aid stations (which I usually do) was out. I was carrying Tailwind in a bottle and ClifBar Gels and Bloks Chews. The ClifBar Organic Meals I had for breakfast went down fine with no induced coughing, but after I ate my first gel; it started. Runners around me had to be extremely annoyed and/or grossed out by my ongoing hacking and coughing and spitting. I apologized often. Shortly after the turn around at mile 16, Janice gave me a shot of cough medicine and I thought that would be the silver bullet, but instead it hit my belly like a lead balloon and I had a stomach ache for the next 2 or 3 miles and all the while still coughing.

Sucking Down A ClifBar Gel

Enough on that flemmy subject, I still enjoyed the day. I did my best to hang onto a sustainable pace and considering my split at 16 miles was 3:02 and I finished 3:08 later, I think I was successful. This was my first event as a Zensah Brand Ambassador and that added some zip to my step. My nutrition was definitely screwed up because I was afraid any intake, food or drink, would induce coughing. The aid stations looked awesome, they were staffed by local run clubs and they all looked to be having a ball, but I completely skipped them to avoid the temptation of eating something that would induce that day-ending coughing/barfing fit. I did stop at the last two aid stations, but only to drink clear water. I feel bad because skipping those aid stations meant I didn't really get to thank those volunteers. Hopefully they'll see this, Thank you!

At Least I'm Smiling

This photo says it all, Janice waiting for me & ready to swap out handhelds.
(Thanks to Michael Perry for the photo.)
Loaded down and having to listen to my nonsense,
Janice should write a book on ultra crewing.
(Thanks to Michael Perry for the photo.)

Janice kept me stocked with a full handheld restocked with gels. Over the six hours of running, along with about 4 bottles of Tailwind, I only ate 4 or 5 ClifBar gels and half a pack of ClifBar Blok chews. I could feel that imminent bonk all day as I typically eat much more calories than that.

Thanks ClifBar
Hey Look, Here Comes The Guy With The Bloody Knee

The Finish - I can't say we weren't warned, but 50K came and went and the finish line was nowhere around. I had hoped to finish under 6 hours and I did achieve that for a 50K, but this course is proudly "the longest 50K on the east coast".

(Thanks to Michael Perry for the photo.)
My Mug - All In One Piece

My watch measured 32.7 miles when I crossed. Trent was there, I thanked him for not charging extra for the bonus miles and others piled on and heckled him and his jovial response was, "hey, you guys ran it". He was right, if you crossed that line, it was all your fault, but at the same time; the party was on him. I got my mug (unsmashed), took a shower (yes there was a shower in a bath house next to the finish - that was freaking awesome!) and then we joined the party. Home made pulled pork and some delicious IPA on draft (there was a bunch of other food too), I knew I ran 32.7 miles for some reason and this was my affirmation.

Group Shot

After a bight to eat, it was a true trail event with previous finishers crowding around the finish line to cheer on the rest. I over heard a woman explaining to another that this was her first trail event and first ultra. She said she had asked her sister-in-law, who was a trail runner, what she could expect from her first. She said she told her, you've now joined a whole new family, a will not understand it until you've run with these people...she told her friend, "now I understand". With that said, back in one of my first ever trail events the race director told the group at the start, "if you see someone fall or somebody who needs help, help them",..."unless of course they're in your age group". I had fallen on one of the sandy forest roads, a tree root jumped up and grabbed my foot. A guy running behind me asked if I was ok as I was walking to get myself back together. I told him I was ok and he asked if I had any salt or pickle juice as he was cramping badly. I quickly offered up salt tablets. I finished my day chasing him to the finish...yep he was in my age group...

Known Hazards

The Road Trip - We eventually had to say goodbye to Pocomoke River State Park and we headed north as we planned to stay the night in Rehoboth Beach Delaware. After a brief detour through Ocean City looking at rental properties we made it to Rehoboth. I've always wanted to visit the Dogfish Head Brewery, but we missed a turn and wound up at our new favorite place in the area, The Crooked Hammock Brewery(we first visited there last June). We gorged ourselves to live music and then called it a night.

Sunday we enjoyed more of the mild February weather and strolled around Rehoboth, having lunch at the original Dogfish Head and making some purchases at The North Face Outlet Store.

Before hitting the road home we stopped in Milton Delaware to see the current/new Dogfish Head Brewery, had some tasty samples, filled a growler and we were on our way.

We got lucky with the weather, this could've been a tough weekend and really it was quite enjoyable. Go run the Algonquin 50K and pray for that same weather, as I can see this flat fast course turning ugly if it was covered in ice and snow along with frigid temperatures. Travel time from Harrisburg was under 4 hours, so it's not too far, but a perfect distance for the excuse to have a mini vacation in February.

A Very Cool Truck

Some fun stats posted by Trent Swanson, Race Dictator:
  • 68 of the 113 finishers were first time ultramarathoners (That's 60%)
  • Alexander McRae was the first ultra virgin to cross the finish line in 4:53:05 for tenth place 
  • The difference between first and second place was 20 minutes and 42 seconds. 
  • Grizzly Adams was the first person to sign up for the race at 6:15am on the day registration open... Aug 1st ...
  • Six other people signed up the first day (Melissa M Wilson, Jason T Chance, Larry Watson II, Mark Swift, Vanessa Junkin and Matt Jones)
  • Amy Noonan was the last person to sign up. She signed up at the packet pickup after asking "Can I pace for 15 miles"... in which I responded "Why don't you just run the whole thing"... And she did. It was her first ultra and her longest run (her previous longest was 18 miles) - signed up at 6:31 pm and a little over 12 hours later she was running. 
  • The runner who lives the closest to the race is Larry Watson II. He loves less than a 10k away and still decided to drive to the event. 
  • The runner who lives the furthest away is Jason Swanson.. who lives 2784 miles away in California. He had a good reason to join us. 
  • The largest age group was 30-39 (38%) followed by 40-49 (36%), 50-59 (12%), 20-29 (15%), 60-69 (2%) and under 20 (2%). 
  • The youngest runner was Tori Fears completing the course at the young at of 17.
  • The oldest runner to complete the course was Eddy Godfrey, who is 63 and finished in 35th place.
  • Mean Finish Times
  • Overall: 6:25:38
  • Women: 6:54:36
  • Men: 6:10:10
Historic Furnace Town (apparently closed for the season):

See What You Get For Scrolling This Far?
Next Up The Naked Bavarian 40 Miler, Blue Marsh Lake, Leesport, PA

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

All Aboard The Blunder Bus - My Stone Mill 50 DNF Report

November 12, 2016

This blog post has taken me quite a while to write. I've been taking a lazy off-season approach to both running and blogging. To be honest I haven't felt much like writing or running. I started 2016 believing this would be my last year of running ultras, I changed my mind, but forgot to tell my psyche and my body. I'm registered for a February 50K so I definitely need to get running and snap out of this funk, so here goes.

I picked the Stone Mill 50 to be the race to wrap up my year. I've run it twice before and I know it's a fun course. Completely runnable, no crazy climbs, party-like aid stations and a dirt cheap entry fee. If I were asked if I knew of a 50 miler good to be your first, I'd pick this one. Yes, as 50 milers go, I'd call the Stone Mill 50 an easy one.

Janice and I got to Gaithersburg, picked up my race packet, checked into the hotel and in no time we were at Growler's Brew Pub having a fun dinner with Ron and Jo Kappus (ultra runners from the New Jersey tribe). Good conversation about kids, dogs, softball, calories, beer, etc. and with an early morning start we headed off to our respective lodging.

Blunder #1:

My morning started normally, woke up at 4:30, got a shower, got dressed to run and ate a banana, a couple ClifBar Organic Food meals with coffee while Janice got ready to spend her day crewing. I like to get to events an hour before start time, so with an 11 minute drive to the start line, I wanted to leave just prior to 6:00. For some reason(s) I can't recall, we left a few minutes later and arrived at the elementary school at about 6:15. It was a chilly 36° so I wanted to go into the school, use the restroom, re-tie my shoes, drink water; basically complete my pre-race ritual. I walked into the auditorium and a man and woman were there chatting and they looked at me strangely as I entered wearing a race number. I said good morning and the woman asked me if I was ok. I responded that I was just coming in to get warm and the man said/asked, "you missed the start". You may have noticed that I mentioned I've run this race twice before. You would think I would've remembered that it started at 6am. He rushed outside with me to see if the timer could still record my start time, but the timing mat had already been turned off or disconnected or something (I'm not sure exactly how they work) I couldn't believe it, my day was done before it started, but all of a sudden the timer guy said, "give me a minute and I can set it back up". The other man asked if I knew how to get to the trail and I did. I ditched the bottle of water I was hoping to drink, put my headlamp on and took off when they said the mat was set.

I've been running organized races much of my life, so I have no excuse for making such a rookie mistake. As I headed out the road section before the trail head, it was all making sense now. I was wondering why we'd need headlamps for a 7am start. I also wondered why the cutoff times seemed pretty aggressive, bordering on unreasonable. At 6am, needing a headlamp made sense and a 6pm cutoff did too.

I was running down the sidewalk now with about a 20 minute handicap and beginning to wonder if my answering "yes" to knowing where the trailhead was, was a correct answer. I remembered the trail started just beyond a bridge. I saw a bridge and crossed it, but saw no trail. Thoughts of turning around, DNF'ing, sitting down on the curb and crying, etc. all crossed my mind, but instead I laughed at myself and kept running. After climbing a hill, I saw another bridge and then I noticed the familiar radio towers across the street and now I knew I was still going the right way.

I came upon a race marshal who's job was done and was heading back to the start. He told me Mike was waiting for me and would run with me to at least the first aid station. I thought, "hmm I may be stupid and 30 minutes late to this point, but I don't need a babysitter". Mike introduced himself and he fell in behind me. Conversation lead in a direction that I asked, are you the "sweep" and his answer was "yes". This was no way to start the day, having the guy who at any moment could tell me my day was done running on my heals. As most runners who volunteer to sweep events, Mike was a super nice guy and he even called ahead to let Aid Station #1 know they'd have a late customer. As we approached the aid station, Mike told me that the cutoff time for this point was 7:05 and it was only 7:01. he was trying to be encouraging, but I saw 4 minutes as way too close for comfort.

Janice was there and told me I was catching up, I told her I loved her, tossed her my headlamp and kept going. Barely a tenth of a mile further, I caught a female runner who was basically walking fast and soon after that another female and then I caught a man. I felt like I was actually catching up as I passed a few more runners. I didn't tell any of them that I started 20 minutes late, I didn't want my encouragement to be their discouragement.

Blunder #2:

Smiling & Climbing Out Of Aid Station #2

Technically, Blunder #2 came after the second aid station. It sits at the base of a small climb after a stream crossing. I was psyched to see Janice there; as I continued the climb, she yelled up to me if I had seen Rick Stahl. I couldn't figure out how she thought I could've seen him considering he started on time (foreshadowing for Blunder #3). I reminded her that he had to be way ahead of me. I was behind a woman with a guy behind me and there was a larger group of runners up ahead. We started to loop back around in the direction of the aid station and I began to notice we were essentially running in a circle and about that same time I realized we hadn't seen course markings in quite some time. Yep, we were off course. In retracing my steps I realized I had added about 3/4 of a mile, so it wasn't that bad. When we got back to the course I realized we had turned right when we should've gone left. The course was marked fine, but we were all playing follow the leader and all it took was one of us to miss the trail markers.

Blunder #3:

Re-entering the course, I saw Bert Salter approaching and I asked him how he could've gotten behind me. I asked if he had gone off course and he hadn't. I heard a voice say, "we didn't do the lake loop" and I responded "oh, didn't you?" and that same voice shot back, "no, you didn't do the lake loop". Yep, I had missed a critical turn for a new section of the course. Here the voice saying this had been running behind me at that missed junction, knew we missed the turn and said nothing. I won't call him out, but I think he saw a short cut to get himself back in the race after spending way too long with his girlfriend at the first aid station. (Yeah, I guess I just called him out.)

Now I knew why Janice thought I should've seen Rick. Now I knew why I was seeing runners, who I knew should be way ahead of me, coming into the second aid station behind me. I had spotted myself about 2 miles and even with going off course, I was mixing in with runners who I would've been with if I started on time. It pissed me off that had dude said nothing, knowing full well we were skipping that section. Freaked out about being late, being lost and now I had cheated. I thought I could possibly make it up on the way back, but how would I figure how to make the correct turn backwards, I was sure it wouldn't be marked in the other direction.

Blunder #4:

This blunder was probably the only one that sort of makes sense. In my semi-frantic haste, I was running ragged. It wasn't that my pace was too fast, but it was all over the place. I couldn't settle into a steady stride. Worse than that, I was ignoring fueling. I realized I had now run about 14 miles without drinking or eating anything. I gobbled down a Strawberry ClifBar ClifShot Energy Gel and washed it down with Tailwind. I've found that starting your nutrition late in an ultra can be disastrous. I was hoping that wasn't the case today.

[An odd note here: My right arm felt numb. Trying to tear open that gel, I had to use my left hand and my teeth. My right hand simply wasn't working. Hand swelling during running isn't uncommon, but my whole arm seemed affected. My arm was very cold, but I still had no idea why it felt numb. At the time, it freaked me out a little, but looking back I'm sure it was just the cold. In my haste to get started I left a wind jacket on and I was wearing arm warmers as well. I was dressed too warm for the day and my perspiration had gotten extremely cold. I ditched the jacket eventually, but should've taken off the wet arm warmers as well.]

Blunder #5:

There was a section where I could see a good distance behind me and a long string of runners. I was pretty sure I saw Rick Martin from back home. The trail switched back and I got a better look and was sure it was Rick. I eased up on my pace and after about a mile he was close enough for me to yell out to him. He said, "Perry? Did you pass me?". My quick answer was, "no, I cut the course...I cheated".

Soon we were running together, wondering where Rick Stahl might be, wondering about my numb arm, talking about my cutting the course. We had turned into a line of about 12 runners and somehow I was on the front setting the pace. I felt good, I was still wondering how I'd find the lake loop on the way back, but I was having a good run with friends now and in a second that was all shattered and I was trying to focus and get up off the ground. I was running strong up a small hill littered with lime stone and I caught a toe. Falling on an incline means the ground comes up to meet you a lot faster. I saw the rock coming, had no chance to catch myself and planted my left eye right on it.

I was a dizzy, semi-blind mess; sitting on my ass. In true trail ultra fashion, every last runner who was near when I fell stopped and surrounded me in an attempt to help. I wish I knew all of them, because I'm not sure if I got to really thank them. A woman offered her phone, but I said I just needed to get up and Rick Martin said, "I'll take care of him". The hand of Paul Encarnación appeared and I was back up on my feet. I walked at first and then was able to run again. Rick and Paul and another guy stuck with me. I was running, but with the lump growing above my left eye, I was afraid my day might be over early. My vision was going bad, the forest was flattening out and turning grey. Queasiness came and went, but an awful light headed feeling settled in and I needed to walk. I convinced Paul and the others who had piled up behind us to continue on and I'd be fine. They all passed, but Rick; he was concerned and determined to stay with me. We were still about two miles from the aid station when I finally convinced him that I'd be fine walking it in. I reminded him that I had self-extracted over much longer distance back home in Stony Valley, so Rick finally agreed and took off running promising that he'd let Janice know what had happened. Soon I felt a hand on my shoulder and heard, "hey old man how's it going?". It was Ron Kappus and I was in a bad way, the look on his face  was priceless when he saw my growing eye socket. I asked him to tell Janice if he saw her. Now I had two messengers, one of them was bound to see her. I walked for about a quarter mile, but started to get cold so I went back to running to keep warm. I was moving fine, but the light headed feeling wouldn't pass.

Rick Martin Arriving At The Pennyfield Lock
Aid Station - The Bearer Of Bad News

Soon I saw the C&O Canal and shortly after that I popped out onto the gravel road that lead to the Pennyfield Lock and the towpath. I was running fine, but I wasn't feeling fine. I saw Janice in the distance and yelled her name, I yelled a couple of times, but she seemed to either not hear me or something as it seemed she was walking away from me. She heard me, she knew I was coming, she was putting together an ice pack for my head. My chair was already set up at the Jeep and Janice retrieved two women who were race volunteers, each with medical experience. I was shocked at how certain they were that I needed to stop my race and they were going to call an ambulance. I still hadn't seen my head, but I thought, "shit I must look bad". I was trying to do the math about making the cut off times at my slowed pace and I realized that I couldn't even think straight much less do math. I was a mess, my run was done. I gave them my timing chip and they recorded my dropping from the race. We convinced them I wouldn't need an ambulance and with the name of a local hospital we were off to get me some medical attention.

In The Jeep And Headed To The ER

Blunder #6:

We found our way to the Shady Grove Adventist Hospital Emergency Room, recommended as the closest. It seemed like a nice place, but the receptionist person seemed to have no sense of urgency and she was asking the most innocuous questions. I made it past her without incident and with two new wrist bands I was soon being interviewed by Ingrid, an overly efficient triage nurse. I assured her I fulfilled all, but one of the common concussion symptoms and my real concern was if I had a hole in my head. She agreed, ordered a CAT Scan and sent me back to the waiting area. I sat for 90+ minutes and decided to ask if I had been forgotten. (yes, it was a Saturday, but no; it wasn't busy) I told the sleepy receptionist that I wanted to leave if I wasn't going to be X-Rayed soon and she basically gave me a stare and asked another nurse to talk to me. She had only a slightly higher sense of urgency. I found it funny when she said she was concerned my skull could be fractured and assured me I had been referred to their fast track team, but that fast track CAT Scan team was really swamped so it could take a few more hours. Two out of the three employees I dealt with were useless. An elderly gentlemen came in with a pretty serious looking laceration on a finger. He made a quick puddle of blood while lightning behind the reception desk asked him his favorite color. After I came back out to waiting area he too reappeared. His finger was wrapped in loose bandages, but it was obvious he also was sent to wait for further care. They need to remove the word "EMERGENCY" from their sign; this is clearly just a room.

I'm sure the folks who referred us to this place meant well, but don't go there expecting urgent care. (Note: In an effort to appease Janice and my Mom, early Monday morning I visited Community General Osteopathic Hospital near home and I was CAT Scanned and released in about an hour with no skull fracture. I did however receive a semi-insanity diagnosis after I explained that I was running 50 miles when I fell.)

Much Better Service At My Home Town ER
It Was Funny How They Seemed To recognize Me...

Some parts of the day were awesome:

Mistakes and mishaps all done for the day, Janice and I were now on a mission to figure out which aid station we should visit to see the rest of the tribe still out on the course. We made it to the Riffle Ford Road Aid Station to see Rick Stahl, Rick Martin and Todd Lewis.

Rick Stahl At Riffle Ford Road Aid Station

Todd Lewis Trying Not To Laugh At My Expanding Forehead
Rick Martin At Riffle Ford Road
While I'm Locating His Drop Bag

From Riffle Ford Road we relocated to the finish line to cheer on our friends as they finished. I got a real taste for what Janice goes through when she's crewing for me. The standing and waiting in anticipation is nuts. I love her for doing it...can't believe she still agrees to do it, much less still loves me afterwards.

Hanging With My DNF Brother Ralph
We'll Be Back!

The wait at the finish line was a lot of fun watching the friends and family gaze off to the last turn where runners appeared for their final jaunt to the finish line. The turn was probably a quarter mile away so you could only sorta' recognize runners when they made the turn. As they got closer though it was so cool to see the excitement swell in their folks waiting for them. Cheering, homemade signs, cow bells ringing, kids, dogs; man that stuff is priceless.

Rick Stahl Finishing Up His First 50 Miler

  • Rookie Rick Stahl nailed his first attempt at the 50 mile distance with a rockin' 9:43 finish.
  • Rick Martin had another great day. This was just his second 50 miler and he won the Men's 60-69 age group with a time of 10:32.  If he hadn't had the misfortune to be right behind me when I face planted, who knows what his finishing time might've been. I can't say enough about his insisting to stick with me when I was in obvious trouble. Thank you Rick, I owe you!
Rick Martin Crossing The Line

  • Geoffrey Hemgen cruised into the finish at 10:47 to the cheers of his family waiting patiently at the school. His son in the Ravens jersey won the adorable award on the day.
  • Ron Kappus came into the finish at 10:53 looking like he had enough left for another 50.
  • Todd Lewis took care of the Lake Loop on his return trip and got across the line in 10:57.
  • Paul Encarnación, another of my heroes on the day, finished in exactly 11 hours. I wonder how much time my mishap added to his time. Thanks again Paul, see you on a trail soon!
  • Bert Salter came in with a time of 11:25. I'm not sure what I was doing when he crossed the line, but I missed him. Sorry Bert, I still owe you for those late night/early morning C&O Canal Pierogies!
  • Jo Kappus and Ralph Smith joined me on the DNF list. Each had a physical issue that ended their day early.
That's Todd Lewis Finishing Another Stone Mill 50 (shrugging his shoulders)
The Goofball In Front Of Him Had Just Sprinted Past Him In The Final 100 Meters
Yep, That Guy Won The Jerk Of The Day Award...Ya Just Don't Do That
Finish Line Etiquette

From the finish line we scooted over to the nearby Dogfish Head Alehouse Restaurant for dinner with Rick and Stacy Stahl and Rick Martin. We got in there just in time to be seated quickly before the waiting area gorged with folks who got a 1 hour wait. Good food, good beer and good stories. A great way to celebrate Rick Stahl's first 50 and Rick Martin's age group win. For me, it was a celebration of the end of a fun year of running. No, wrapping up 2016 with 2 DNF's and a huge lump on my head was not what I had planned; but I finished 9 of the 11 ultras I entered and 2016 saw my first 100 mile finish...I'll gladly stay focused on the positive.

Insert Your Own Caption

Next up for me is the Algonquin 50K in February so now it's time to get back to training.

Happy New Year!

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.