Saturday, March 23, 2019

The Neighbor Kid, The Other Perry and The Bear Attack - My 2019 HAT Run Race Report

March 23, 2019

Growing up you don't have a clue about what you'll be doing when you're a grown up. Playing football with Andy and Michael in the McCauley's front yard gave me no hint that two of those three carefree kids would choose ultra running as a hobby 40+ years later. Michael (now known as Mike) and I have somehow decided that stumbling around on forest trails for hours on end is a good choice for an adult past time, (Andy, now A.J., was obviously the smart one of the trio).

Mike's a couple years my junior and he's also somewhat new to ultra running, but not at all new to running. He got his true ultra running baptism at the Devil Dogs 100K in December. Seeing his Facebook post that he had moved off the HAT Run wait list made me chuckle, as he and I would actually be running the same event. Kind of cool to be running an ultra knowing a guy I've known for as long as I can remember would be there too. Competition? No not at all. Mike's at that point in running where he's still trying to run fast and me, yeah I'm at the complete other end of the spectrum; I just want to enjoy the scenery and finish under the allotted cut off time.

I had been to the HAT Run before. In 2014 I ran with such an awful cold, that I really didn't have fun. And last year's story had an even worse ending. Days before the race, the region got a dumping of snow. The day of that storm was the same day the pull cord on my Mom's snow blower broke. My time to clear her snow was limited so I shoveled as fast as I could and I somehow strained my back. I went to the HAT Run anyway, made it to the first aid station and got a ride back to my Jeep in the race director's Jeep. My back was spasming and tightening up with extreme pain so my 2018 HAT Run was a DNF (my first and so far only 50K DNF). I was coming back this year to first of all have the fun I missed in 2014 and to avenge the DNF of 2018.

This is the 31st edition of the HAT Run 50K, it's held at Susquehanna State Park near Havre de Grace Maryland. 30 years of experience has ensured that this is a top notch, well run event. The format is basically two 13.7 mile laps of the park after an initial short loop of about 3.6 miles.  There's enough elevation gain to get your attention (4,300') and while there is some road running, the majority is scenic trail with enough water crossings to keep your shoes clean. Unique to this event is the start format, similar to cross country events.

The Classic Cross Country Start

I had been hanging out where runners pass through to get to the start line, hoping to see Mike before the event. Janice kept telling me he's probably already down there and she was right. I walked along the front of the mob until I saw him. We had some good pre-start chit-chat and when the horn blew to send us on our way I could only hope he'd save some finish line food for me.

We rolled out across the pasture in front of us and then across another before entering the forest onto single track. We passed by the start finish/finish. looped back around and found ourselves passing back through the start/finish to send us on the start of the first of the two laps. On that first pass, I saw Tim Gavin, one of the Race Directors, and I told him I would not be needing a ride in his Jeep this year.

Picture In Picture - the results page actually has time synced video of the finishers.
This is the first pass through the start area.

During the opening loop is when I spotted the "other Perry". A few years ago I ran the Frozen Heart 50K and one of the highlights was getting to meet and run with another guy named Perry. I haven't met many, in fact I only knew one other and that was back in high school. Perry Rapp is from southern Maryland and somehow I recognized his mop of hair as he blasted past me. I yelled, "hey Perry, it's Perry", he recognized me, we exchanged "hellos", I told him to not let me slow him down and he took off. I knew at that point, second place in the "Guys Named Perry" category would be the best I could do. Funny thing, I saw Janice just before re-entering the woods and I said, "hey, the other Perry is here" and some guy standing near her said, "funny, he just said the same the thing about you".

Rolling into the wooded trail, I was starting to feel like I may be establishing a pace I could maintain all day. Unlike the last race, the first few miles were not a muddy quagmire; they were quite dry and runnable. Considering last year's race was in question up till the last minute because of a crazy snow fall, these trail conditions were awesome. This year's weather feature was high winds. It had been windy all night and I thought the forecast was for them to die down as the day went on, but they never did. In the forest they were nearly non-existent, but in the farm fields they were strong. It was pretty cool when they were at your back, you could really feel the push. That wind was an easy battle, I wore a wind jacket and zipped it up when I was in the wind and unzipped it when I wasn't.

Susquehanna State Park is a combination of farmland pastures and heavily forested hillsides. Running through the park, you just feel the history emanating from its grounds. Its nestled along the banks of the Susquehanna River just before it pours into the Chesapeake Bay at Havre de Grace Maryland. The race starts and finishes at the Stepping Stone Farm Museum.

The course winds through a camp ground with cabins and right through a restored historic section with a working grist mill. On the two major climbs on the course, the view of the river is pretty amazing. My favorite along the course is an amazingly huge American Beech Tree on top of one of the many hills you climb.

Photo Borrowed From MD DNR

There's an aid station near the start/finish and a lower aid station that is really two aid stations. You visit all of them twice and the one near the start you pass by three or four times depending on whether you count the opening lap. The aid stations were well stocked and staffed with runners knowledgeable of what you were going through and what you need. If you continued on with an unmet need; it was probably your fault. At this type of race, a 50K where Janice can see me often, I really run on Huma Gels, Pickle Juice Sport, Clif Shot Bloks and Tailwind.

Chugging Pickle Juice - One Of Many On The Day
Intriguing Water Sharing Setup Between The Two Adjacent Aid Stations

Janice has crewed me so many times that she doesn't even bat an eye at taking care of me. She hands me a small bottle of Pickle Juice and new handheld. The handheld has a Huma Gel and Clif Shot Bloks in it and the bottle is full of Tailwind. Typically late in a race I'll look for something to actually eat like Peanut Butter and Jelly or Perogies. I do rely on aid stations for extra sugar in the form of Coca Cola and/or Mountain Dew. I'm not one of those runners who stands at an aid station gabbing with volunteers chomping on Gummy Bears and talking about what I bought at Costco last night. In fact, those folks drive me nuts, "get outta' the way, I want a PB&J"is what I'm thinking, but never say. No matter what's being offered the volunteers who staff these aid stations can never be appreciated enough, and I'm sure to thank them.

Huma Chia Energy Gel
Pickle Juice Sport
Perfect Together

The camp ground on the course is the opening to a fast downhill road section. I don't recall how long it is, but it's short enough that it doesn't drive you crazy and long enough that it can buy you back some time you might've lost out on the trail. That road section dumps you back into the lower half of the twin aid station which is followed by two serious climbs. I remembered those climbs and knew I'd just have to gut them out. On the first lap I found myself on the front of a string of about ten runners, exactly what I didn't want. I kept saying, "you need to pass, just say the word" and I got no takers. All I could think was, "damn these guys are as slow as me if my pace is ok".

 After the first climb, the trail delivers you to the restored historic area with the grist mill, but there's no time to enjoy it because you quickly go right back up a steep little climb to start the second ascent. That short little climb was sloppy mud with water running down it, lovely. On the first lap I recognized that area and remembered that the course was different those years ago, but I couldn't determine what was different. The more important thing was I remembered that Janice had met me here and she wasn't there this time and my bottle was nearly empty After the second climb, there were water jugs just before a road crossing so I was able to top of my bottle. I was concerned those jugs wouldn't be there or they'd be empty on the second lap so I asked Janice to meet me at the grist mill the second time around.

Surviving the climbs, the course soon points you back at one of the fields leading you back to the start/finish area. Janice was waiting there and she and I walked through the aid station and she walked with me till the course re-entered the forest. I told her, "now for the hard part" as I now got to do it all over again on lap two. I must admit that during the second lap I kept expecting the wheels to come off. My spring training has been sub par at best and I just didn't have the confidence to think I could complete this event without something going wrong. Like clock work, with Pickle Juice and a replacement handheld, Janice met me at the next aid station and then the next and she found her way to the Grist Mill as well.

More Coca Cola Please

I cleared that second climb and while entering the last muddy field before the finish, I realized that I hadn't imploded and I was going to finish under the cut-off. The icing on the cake was, with about 200 meters remaining I heard a voice give a cheer and that voice even said my name. I looked and didn't recognize him at first, but it was "the other Perry" and he ran with me to the finishing chute. As we were under 100 meters, Perry said, "and now for your finishing sprint". I assured him that he was looking at my finishing sprint already. That was fun.


So yes, I avenged my 2018 DNF and had the fun that I didn't have when I ran here in 2014. No nasty cold to cough my way around the 50K and no huge snow storm to complicate matters. Next up for me is the C&O Canal 100 Mile Endurance Run.

Oh yeah, the Bear attack? Yeah that didn't happen. What did happen was that I got a scratch from a thorn on my left thigh somewhere in the first three miles. On the first lap descending to the water crossing, a volunteer asked, "did you fall already?". I assumed he was talking to someone behind me and looked over my shoulder. He said, "no I mean you, look at your knee". The tiny little scratch was dumping blood nicely and it seemed to bleed most of the day. Fast forward to near the end of the run, my knee is now covered with blood and two young guys volunteering at a road crossing commented on how "bad ass" my bloody knee looked. I chuckled and admitted it was merely a scratch from a thorn. They protested loudly and said, "Tell no one! Clearly a Bear attacked you! Stick with that story!" So there you have it, yes I was bloody and yes, those two made me laugh, but no a Bear did not attack me (thankfully).

There was however a real close encounter with wildlife on the first lap. After crossing a creek, you cross a road and then ascend away from the road on some switch backs. I was in a long string of runners at that point and I heard a woman up ahead yelling something and a lot of rustling in the brush at the same time. I had just figured out she was yelling "DEER!" when I saw the white tail bolting through the brush. I thought, "wow that's something I haven't seen at a race before" and just then another Deer decided it didn't like our company and also bolted. This one however went in the other direction and ran right between two runners. Neither were hit, but it was close. That really happened. :-)

Tasty Post Race Brew

Two unfortunate negatives on the day:

  • Surprisingly, my friend Mike's Jeep got broken into while he was running and his wallet was emptied.
  • I'm pretty sure I saw a woman cut the course and hang out to cross the finish in a time that wouldn't raise suspicion. Not sure why anyone would do that...just stupid...and yes, I know her bib number.
The 2019 HAT Run Hat by Boco Gear

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Mud/Bonk/Total Botch - My Seneca Creek Greenway 50K(27.7 Miler) Race Report

March 2, 2019

Photo by D. Reichmann

Looking for a low key grassroots 50K, The Seneca Creek Greenway 50K seemed like a perfect choice. I've run the Stone Mill 50 a couple of times and much of that course uses the Seneca Greenway so I'd even be semi-familiar with the route and besides, The Montgomery County Road Runners club put on a lot of events, so low key or not, I knew they'd have it dialed.

After my last outing (The Algonquin 50K) I visited the dentist to have a broken tooth extracted. After the tooth-pull I was prescribed something called Clindamycin and quickly I realized that I was staying in the bathroom more than any other room. It took me a little while to put two and two together and then I noticed the side effects listed on the bottle. So I've got a race coming up and I can't keep any food in me. Worse yet, I started to feel terribly run down. I contacted the dentist and was told the alternative antibiotic would probably affect me the same way. I made the decision and ditched it. I lost about 6 pounds and I was still looking for a full night's sleep. Getting prepared to travel to Gaithersburg, Janice asked me how I felt about the race, would I be able to run without frequent porta-john stops (that's not exactly what she said, but I'll spare you her crude idea of humor :-) )

Pretty psyched that the race didn't start till 8 am and my hotel was only a couple of minutes drive from the start. Staying on the 12th floor in a seemingly sparsely populated hotel, I thought it was odd that room next to me was occupied. I knew because when returning from dinner, I heard them; they were loud. My dreams of sleeping in were dashed at 3am when I was awakened by yelling and screaming coming from the hallway. Checking out I was informed of some sort of "altercation" that had occurred. So much for sleep. 

While we were getting another dose of snow back home in Harrisburg, in Gaithersburg it rained steadily all night. We had already received an email from the race directors advising the trails would be muddy and this rain was guaranteeing an absolute slop-fest. The race website and follow up emails described offering a 50K and a Marathon option, along with detailing aid stations and cut off times and locations. Runners also had the option to decide their distance at a "Decision Point" near the finish. That point also had a cut off time and missing it meant you had to choose the Marathon and you'd not be permitted to run the additional distance for the 50K. 

Number pinned on and sitting waiting for the start, I felt like taking a nap. My 3am wake up call(fight) had me yawning. Janice called me (she didn't make this trip) and thankfully, talking with her seemed to wake me up a bit. It was no longer raining, but the damp temps in the 30's had me shivering while listening to the last minute race instructions. 

They went over the cut-offs and the "decision point" and considering I never plan on missing cut-offs or dropping, I only sort of paid attention.After the singing of our national anthem, fiddling with my hat; I dropped it in the mud. I had no idea the foreshadowing at hand.

After a brief run on a paved park road we were soon turning into the woods and onto single track trail. The mud began immediately and it was that slippery kind of mud that robs total control from your feet. Running along, it became common to see someone ahead of you suddenly lose their footing and landing on their butts. Or you'd hear the "whoa" behind you and you'd know someone had just bit it. Seeing this also made it obvious that it was only a matter of time till it was you getting back up from the slimy muck.

Ice on the sides, mud down the middle.
Photo by T. Bryant

In any ultra, the first few miles are my time to get warmed up and settle into a pace. These muddy conditions allowed for none of that. In fact the lack of footing, to me, was terribly discouraging. Four straight miles of slipping and sliding along. I was going so slowly that I wondered if any improvement was possible. Yes, I questioned whether continuing was worth it.

Slick tilted bridge

I slipped and fell a couple of times, but the second one was the worst. We were crossing one of many small wooden bridges and this one in particular was pitched with one side higher than the other. It wasn't just slimy, it had remnants of ice as well. In my lackadaisical way, as I crossed that bridge I noticed a large bird flying high over head and calling loudly. I didn't recognize the bird or its song so I was distracted and yes, I slipped and hit hard, The guy behind me said he thought I was done as he had seen my head bounce off the tilted planks. If anything, it was a not so gentle reminder to pay attention and that if I wanted to go bird watching I'd need to do it another day 

Photo by T. Bryant

I did recognize much of this trail. It seemed in places that I might've been going the opposite direction as the Stone Mill 50, but I noticed many spots that seemed quite familiar. During the entire run, The Seneca Creek is quite evident. It's either right next to you, you're crossing it or it's not far over the next little hill. At about the 11 mile mark we came upon a sign that warned of a dangerous water crossing. Now we had already either tromped through numerous stream crossings or crossed bridges and none of the water really looked dangerous. This sign even went as far as to direct hikers one way and horses or bikes the other. We rounded a bend and swollen by the over night rain, this creek crossing was definitely legit. I'm about 6 feet tall and based on the depth on others' legs I wasn't concerned. 

Photo by T. Bryant

As I approached the stream bed to take my turn to wade, I noticed a small woman reaching out to a man's hand for help. She might've been 5'4" and the depth and current were a real concern for her. The water was slightly above my knees and swift. She commented that she had never done anything like this before. I tried to assure and encourage her to take solid steps and not be in a hurry. Before exiting up the other creek bank, there was something submerged we had to step over and soon she was reaching out for a second hand, mine, to ensure she didn't go for a swim. We all made it. I looked back as those behind me were wading and thought a rope would've been nice here. That might've been the sketchiest water crossing I've ever experienced.

Arriving at the Berryville Aid Station
Photo by M. Hoebeeck

At the 15 mile mark was The Berryville Aid Station and I had a drop bag there. My butt was dragging and i was hoping I'd get a lift by refueling there. The descent to the aid station had large steps cut into the hill side made of large timbers resembling over sized railroad ties. They looked slippery as ice so I did my best to avoid stepping directly on them. A young woman in front of me had taken an awkward step and kind of stumbled. In an attempt to not run up on her as she slowed, I did step right on one of those slippery steps and I went down hard again. This one hurt, my left side from my hip up to my shoulder really took a hit. 

Merely a flesh wound.

Knowing the aid station was now quite close, I got up out of the mud and went in search of my drop bag. 

Photos by M. Hoebeeck

I had some alternate/dry clothes in the bag along with more Huma Energy Gels, Pickle Juice, Clif Bar Shot Bloks and a full bottle of Tailwind. I swapped out my bottle and proceeded to change into a dry shirt, wind jacket, hat and gloves. 

Hitting the trail, t
hose dry clothes really gave a me a lift and I felt like a million bucks.I had decided on a new approach to the mud, I was now running right through it instead of wandering off the trail to avoid it. I found myself passing groups of runners at nearly every mud bog as they slowed to figure out how to navigate around it. Somewhere around mile 20, There was a road crossing with some snacks and water. I topped off my bottle and here I realized in my haste to change some clothes, I forgot to grab gels, Pickle Juice or anything else. I was wearing a hydration vest, but I was now basically out of all my nutrition and the next real aid station was about 7 miles away. In few miles of feeling refreshed, I had passed numerous runners and now they were all passing me as my bonk was in full swing. This lack of calories hit me hard and I was now struggling. I felt like I was going backwards.

This was only my second race wearing the new Suunto 9 watch, which is an awesome device. On a major positive note, when I fell on that icy bridge, I walloped the watch face against something hard: probably a post for the railing. I looked at the glass expecting the worse and there wasn't even a scratch. On a funny note, when I fell on those slippery steps I had difficulty getting up at first. I think the cuff of my glove pressed and held the center button on the watch. Leaving the aid station I looked at the watch and it was in a menu I didn't recognize. It seemed as though I was in an area of the watch settings where you would set thresholds for pace and heart rate. While running, I couldn't figure out how to escape that menu. Eventually I found my way back to the current exercise and I thought, "phew, I can now put my brain back to running". Then the messages and alarms started. I'm not sure what I had set, but my watch was now telling me to slow down or speed up, coupled with an alarm every minute or so. At first I let it bother me, but as I started feeling crappy as my calories waned; it became amusing. So I spent the rest of the run with my new awesome watch sounding like a video game. 

The things you see along a trail.

As the miles piled up I was wondering where this "decision point" was and what I would do when I got there. I was running with a couple of guys, my watch read 25.3 miles and I asked them if they knew where this "decision point" was considering a marathon is 26.2 miles. They laughed and said they had heard the marathon was more like 27 miles, almost 28. The good news was they said an aid station was coming soon. 

We dumped out onto a road briefly and I recognized the location as the next aid station is also an aid station on the Stone Mill 50 course. My watch already had 27.3 miles, so now I was really confused and I was sure that this aid station must also be the "decision point" I'd been seeking. I was there with about 15 minutes to spare so I started shoveling food, cameling-up on liquid and I sat down on a chair while a kind volunteer refilled my bottle. I heard a runner ask where the finish was as her watch already had 27 miles. I laughed to myself, but then I  over heard a guy telling a runner, "you can run an eleven minute mile, you can make the decision point". I asked the woman who refilled my bottle if this was that ever important point and she said, "no sorry, it's still about a mile up the trail". 

After cursing a bit, I got up from the comfy chair I was in and hit the trail, pretty well knowing that I was doomed and would miss that next cut-off. I got to that most sought after intersection, I was three minutes late and the kind volunteer directed me up the last painful hill to the finish line. I felt like absolute crap, coming back from a bonk never feels good so I was never happier to miss a cut off time. When I crossed the finish line my watch showed 28.5 miles, the longest marathon I've ever run. Kneeling down to unlace the timing chip on my shoe, I cramped, the first cramp I've experienced since becoming a Pickle Juice Sport Brand Ambassador. That cramp was certainly a painful reminder to never forget my Pickle Juice again. Another kind volunteer helped me with my muddy timing chip, gave me a race magnet and told me to go have a beer.

Photos by B. Jacobs

Just beyond the finish line there was a pavilion with awesome home made hot soups and beer from a new-to-me local craft brewery; Waredaca Brewing Company (tasty IPA!) 

The beer and a couple mugs of soup put me back on earth so I gathered my well stocked drop back, found my Jeep and hit the road home. 

I went to Seneca Creek State Park to run a 50K, screwed that up and dropped to the Marathon and ended up with credit for a 27.7 Miler (that was 28.49 miles long). I can honestly say that's a distance I've never run before. It's better than a full on DNF I guess. I'll take it, fun, challenging day...just another training run with a t-shirt. If you're looking for no frills 50K put on by a group who's events are truly top notch, go run this one. Next up is the HAT Run 50K at Susquehanna State Park near Havre de Grace Maryland on the 23rd.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Stay Positive & Keep Moving - My 2019 Algonquin 50K Race Report

February 9, 2019

This blog post has taken longer than usual, but sometimes real life gets in the way and delays this online stuff. Just happy I'm focused enough to not shove real life aside to accommodate my goofy web ramblings.

It was February and that meant it was time to make the trip to Pokomoke City Maryland for the Algonquin Trail 50K. This would be it's third year of existence and my third year running it. I haven’t repeated too many races, but this one’s fun so I was going back for more.

Hey look Trent, I didn't 
fold my number!

Just a few days before the race an email from the race director arrived outlining the cut off times for the race. January 29th I snuck out for a lunch run on the mountain and fell hard on ice I didn’t see under fresh snow. (Yep, I had left my Kahtoola Micro Spikes in the Jeep.) 

The mark you make when you find 
the ice under the snow accidentally.

Considering the pain I was now in, I had no confidence that I could beat those cut off times. I don’t know why, but I contacted Trent (the race director) and told him that due to injury I’d be struggling to meet those cut off times. I think it just made me feel better to tell somebody. Tuesday before the race I attempted to run a mile just to gauge the pain in my rib cage and see if there was any chance, I could manage it for 32 miles. It felt ok, it didn’t hurt until I sat back down at my desk to work. This was not exactly the way you want to feel just days before a race.

I didn't know how to spell koozie before this post.

Packet pick up at Hopper’s Tap House in Salisbury was the fun party we’ve come to expect. I got my race number and pile of race swag, dropped off some Pickle Juice for the registration table and did my best to ignore my busted up ribs. 

Pickle Power!

Gotta' love a race that gives away Injinji socks!

This year’s race sold out so there was an extra fun crowd of runners milling about, talking running and drinking good beer. Hopper's is a cool place, if you're ever in Salisbury, I highly recommend it. We were starving so we might’ve eaten too much. I won't describe all the different menu items we consumed, but they were all quite tasty. Packet pickup for the Algonquin 50K is a definite "swagapalooza"! All done at Hoppers we took the trip south to Pokomoke City and our lodging for the night.

50k-ish just about says it.

I had tried all kinds of things to fight the pain. I even went over to the dark side and got some CBD cream, but it offered no relief. I’m not a fan of the debilitating feeling that comes with pain medication. Typically, when I’ve had an injury, I don’t bother to fill the prescription pain meds. I was either really wimping out or this pain was immense. It hurt most when trying to sleep. To sit at my desk I kind of had to perch my butt on the every front edge of my chair. With Opioids being all over the news, I was beginning to understand how someone  could become dependent/addicted to pain killers; I just wanted a night's sleep.

A wise man once said, "Don't believe the hype!"

For race day, out of ideas, I fell back on over-the-counter Aleve and Janice put Biofreeze on my back. On top of that I decided that a positive attitude was the only other thing I could apply. Looking back, I know that when I’ve DNF’d in the past, it’s been that positive attitude that was missing. Allowing pain, injury or sickness to overwhelm my thinking ended my day early on too many occasions and I decided that would be the last reason if I unpinned my number this time.

Up and out of bed, it was now time to decide what to wear. The day prior I was walking around in shirt sleeves in Salisbury; it was nearly 60°. As Friday night became Saturday morning that temperature was cut in half. I went outside briefly in shorts and a long sleeve t-shirt and decided I’d wear shorts with layering up top. Then I went to the lobby to find coffee and I ran into another guy from Pennsylvania, Bart Yasso, you may have heard of him (aptly his bib number for the day was 800). Our conversation went from talking about the race to talking about the weather. He said, “you waste too much energy keeping warm” and he’d be going slow so he was wearing pants and a running vest. I admitted to him that he had changed my mind and the decision to wear tights vs. shorts was made.

Janice and I made the drive to the Milburn Landing area and got ready for the "Race Dictator" to say “go”. Dosed with two Aleve and covered in Biofreeze I made my way to the back of the pack so I could just roll out at a slow pace and get a feel for how my day would unfold. There was  now a stiff breeze blowing so the temperature in the low 30’s felt cold. I decided to start with a wind jacket, and I could hand it off to Janice after I warmed up. The Conch Shell was blown and as the pack started moving it became evident that this year’s field was indeed the biggest so far. After just two years of existence The Algonquin Trail 50K had definitely arrived in its third.  It was sold out and showed off a hefty starting field. 

Here we go..

The single track in the first 4 miles was good for me to get a feeling for how to manage the constant ache. Keeping my upper body as still as possible seemed to be working. I did find myself swept up by the pace of those around me and I might’ve been running slightly faster than I wanted to. I arrived at the first of the aid stations and I felt surprisingly good. I hadn’t truly warmed up and it seemed that every time we came upon a windy stretch I was second guessing ditching the jacket. Janice handed me a bottle of Pickle Juice and a replacement handheld. I was carrying a bottle filled with Tailwind, a Huma Gel and a packet of ClifBar Bloks. I rolled out of that aid station still wearing the jacket, figuring I’d get rid of it at the 10-mile mark when I’d see Janice again.

Huma Gel - All Natural Chia Energy Gel

After the aid station at 4 miles the single track is exchanged for a short stretch of paved country road and then a long stretch of forestry road and then double track trail before re-entering the forest and returning to narrow trail. I’d have plenty of space to run at my own pace without someone on my heels pushing the pace.

It was on one of these wide stretches that I realized the beginning of leap frogging with two women runners had begun.  Backpacking on the AT I learned the expression “in your bubble”. While you’re hiking along you move at your pace, you pass other hikers and those same hikers pass you. Typically, at the end of the day you all end up at the same camp and it happens all over again the next day. During an ultra that same phenomena kind of happens, but I’ve never experienced it like this day. I met fellow runner Rob Tidwell that way at the Stone Mill 50. Somewhere around mile-15 we ended up together and finished the 50 miles side by side. He and I even ran an entire 50K from start to finish together. This wasn’t like that, these gals were in my “bubble”, we weren’t running together; they were either somewhere up ahead or somewhere close behind. In any event, I used my placement in relation to them to know that I was maintaining a steady pace.

I cruised into the Furnace Town Aid Station still feeling ok, Janice refueled me, I drank another Pickle Juice and she had me on my way in no time. It might’ve been here that she mentioned in both a disciplinary and a warning tone how little I was drinking. I drink a lot before the start of a race, so I don’t usually start drinking until 6 miles. Here I was at mile 10 and I was handing Janice my second nearly full bottle, I had only taken a couple of sips. I also probably wasn’t eating enough either, I had only downed one Huma Gel and this would be my second aid station where I didn’t even look at their food. Looking back on it those were mistakes, but at the time I felt fine. I didn’t ignore Janice’s pointing it out though, so I tried to keep it forefront in my thinking along with the pain management that was dominating my thoughts. Once again, I was on my way still wearing my wind jacket.

Arriving at Furnace Town

I do need to talk about the aid stations on this course, they’re awesome. They’re staffed with bunches of amazingly dedicated crazies:

You may notice the common thread of 'running' in those groups, yep they’re all runners, know running, know what you’re going through and therefore know what you need. The aid stations were stocked with a wide variety of stuff to eat and drink. Pickle Juice was available at a couple of them and I believe Tailwind was at all of them.   There’s actually six of them as you visit two of them twice. 

Just after Furnace Town the real sand begins and there’s this other crew, Vira Maria Ogburn and Sabine Boggs, who I guess are an aid station too. When I passed by, they were handing out Leis, jamming to Bob Marley and offering up Margaritas and Tequila shots. Beach party was more accurate I suppose, but like the rest they were having a blast. While I’m mentioning amazing volunteers, there’s another group that impress more each year and that’s the Park Rangers; they’re everywhere. They’re on horseback, scooting past in four wheelers, in pickup trucks and manning road crossings. It might be my imagination, but it seems that each year the corps of Rangers has grown. No matter where you were on the course you’re never too far from a Ranger, definite course security. They’ve certainly got it dialed.

This year I struggled in the sand. In the past years I was able to find a track of packed sand through this section. This year I couldn’t find that packed sand, it was mostly loose legit beach sand, and I couldn’t maintain a rhythm. Thankfully that sand doesn’t last too long. There were other course differences this year. The first two years the standing water on the trail and the accompanying mud was shoe sucking. This year wasn’t dry, but by comparison it wasn’t nearly as muddy as in the past. Another big difference was the colder temperatures than past years. I’m not one to try to skirt water, there’s no use; the mud on the edges of puddles is usually the most slippery and in Pokomoke River State Park if you stray too far off the trail you will be sliced by the man-eating briers that grow amongst the Pines. (some say if you go way too far, you’ll end up as the Goat Man’s dinner, but that’s another story}. The cold temperature did affect my approach to the water. I waded through the first few puddles, but soon realized how cold my feet were getting and they weren’t warming up. After that I did my best to minimize dunking my feet. I thought about changing shoes and socks and Janice was prepared in her Indy Pit Crew way, but I changed my mind and stuck with the pair of Altra Lone Peaks and Injinji socks I started with. 

Photo Borrowed From Facebook - Taken by Joe Andrews

All day I had been hyper vigilant to avoid anything that could cause a trip and fall. Pokomoke River State Park is full of Loblo
lly Pines, Holly and Dogwoods and the trail is crisscrossed by their roots. Considering the soil is often sand or a sand mixture a lot of the roots become perfect trip wires as the soil erodes away. Minimizing the movement of my upper body while running seemed to be doing the trick and the pain in my rib cage was bearable. I was scared to death of what could happen if I had a fall. 

Still smiling before the Green Briar Spur

After the 3rd aid station there's an out and back section of the course called the Greenbrier Spur. On the way back you revisit that same aid station at just shy of 20 miles. Coming into the aid station there were some guys along the trail who I had seen at the other aid stations and one of them spoke to me. I looked to respond and caught a toe on a protruding root, sending me head first into the sand. Yes, I hit head first and I was pretty dazed and it took me a few seconds to get back to my feet. Before I could, Janice came over and of course told me to get up and keep going. I guess I'm just happy she didn't expect me to do some push ups or something while I was still on the ground...nothing but tough love from my girl. The crazy thing was, the fall didn't hurt my ribs. I got up and we walked to where she had my resupply stuff, I drank a Pickle Juice and got another handheld. Just then an aid station volunteer came over and asked how i was and that he was an ER Doctor. I knew right away I needed to tell him I was fine and get out of there before he started recognizing symptoms. So of course about 3 miles down the trail I tripped again and this time I didn't fall, I caught myself. The act of catching myself hurt far more that the headfirst dive as all the muscles in your back is what keeps you upright when you feel yourself falling. Thankfully there was no one around to witness this mishap or hear my audible groaning. I'm sure Janice would've definitely had me doing push ups that time.

Pain from the stumble, looking for whiskey

Pulling into the next aid station, I remembered that this one was the ultimate party station and they had whiskey. I never drink whiskey, much less during an ultra, but I had read others proclaiming its pain killing affects so I sought it out. Janice dosed me with Pickle Juice and swapped handhelds and then she heard me ask for whiskey. The guy gave me an actual shot and I downed it. The aid station volunteers cheered and I got an "um, ok?" from Janice. She's seen me drink whiskey once (Cody's 21st Birthday) and here I was downing Jack Daniels with about 8 miles to go in a 50K.  The warm feeling as it went down did not disappoint and even if it was merely a placebo affect, my back pain was back to manageable.  

Arrival at the last aid station meant only 4 miles to go. Oddly Janice looked at me and said, "you got this". I'd find out what that actually meant later. The last mile or so of those four is on the Milburn Landing Hiking Trail which is a diversion from the route used at the start. That diversion was added to the course last year and I was remembering the nasty mud in that section and really considered sticking with the Algonquin Trail and not turning for that muddy mess. I arrived at that intersection and couldn't do it. It wouldn't really be cheating, it wouldn't be cutting the course and I'd end up in the same spot, but I made the turn onto the Milburn Landing Trail anyway. I guess I was rewarded for my honest decision, because like the rest of the course, the mud was nowhere near as bad as last year and soon the finish area was in sight. 

Of the two gals I had leap-frogged with all day (Dani & Erin), one was right in front of me and the other wasn't far behind. Trent Swanson The Race Dictator was there handing out finishing mugs and the challenging day of pain management was finally done. I got to see Gabe, another Algonquin 50K friend and looked at him and said, "I did it". He said Janice had told him about my ice skating adventure so he understood my surprise at surviving. He was happy I had made it too. Crossing the finish line at the Algonquin 50K means the party was starting. With a warm fire place, hot soup and local craft beer; the adjacent pavilion is the perfect post race shindig. This year I made it to the showers while there was still hot water, I missed getting to see the finish of the final runners, but I made it for the group photo. We bid farewell to Trent, hoping to see him at a Shorebirds game this summer and we headed to Rehoboth Beach for the night. This race has truly become a mini winter get away for us. 

2019, 2018 & 2017 - my collection is growing

I'm not sure when it was, but Janice admitted to me later that considering the pain I was in; she didn't think I'd start the race, much less finish. She had mentally prepared herself for a pointless trip to the Delmarva...I'm glad it didn't end up that way. That positive attitude was my secret weapon and I plan to stick with that plan going forward. Next up is the Seneca Creek Greenway 50K near Gaithersburg Maryland.

Couldn't happen without these fine folks!
Photo borrowed from Facebook - Posted by Trent Swanson