Sunday, July 31, 2016

Allegheny Front Trail Run - Seneca 50K Race Report

July 30, 2016

Show up unprepared and you've prepared yourself to suffer. That's just one of many lessons I've learned from ultra running. I've also learned that suffering isn't necessarily a bad thing and in ultra running it comes in many manifestations and always results in personal growth. The sooner you realize that ultra running is nothing more than maintaining forward movement through highpoints and lows, the better off you'll be.

This was the fifth year for The Allegheny Front Trail Run. In previous years the event has conflicted with Janice's State Softball Championships so I've not run it. This year they fell on opposite weekends so a week ago I got to watch Janice and her Ridgerunners Softball teammates take 3rd in their ASA Class E Women's tournament. The heat the women endured was immense. That heat lasted into the week to follow and finally broke at week's end. Race morning it was in the 60's, a welcome change from the 90's we had been living with. While I'm talking about weather, I'll just cover it all and get it out of the way. The temperatures weren't bad, but the humidity was an obvious reminder that it was indeed July in the Pennsylvania mountains. Around 10am it started to rain lightly and all that seemed to do was contribute to the humidity. A couple hours later a legit thunder storm blew in and the large rain drops and breezes provided a little relief from the humidity. The thunder storm passed and the humidity returned and it even got warmer for the end of the day.

My running in preparation for this event has been a mess. I'm not one to follow any training formula, I've always refused to take it that seriously. I run for fun and the stuff I experience along the way. I know all the words that runners use, how can I ignore them? Fartlek, Tempo Run, Hill Repeats, Recovery Run, etc. are terms I hardly understand so I certainly don't use them. Speed work out? Intervals? You have fun with that, I'm just going for a run. I'd rather spend time talking about the deer I saw during a run than regurgitating my PR's. I guess I do sort of have a simple formula, I try to run a lot and in the past few months; that formula has been interrupted quite a bit. Life in the form of family, work and health stepped in and made sure I couldn't get in the runs I've needed to show up at Black Moshannon State Park prepared to run a 50K. It's ok though because I knew that going in,  I had zero delusions. I also knew that I'd learn nothing from not showing up. Running the Seneca 50K would be a fun training run on a new-to-me trail and I'd get a nifty t-shirt too.

Black Moshannon State Park is part of the 43,000 acre Moshannon State Forest and it's located in the next valley over from State College. The park is 3,394 acres of forest with stream fed bogs and Black Moshannon Lake. The natives named this watery place “Moss-Hanne,” which apparently means “moose stream”, couple that with the blackness of the flowing bog waters and you've got the park's name.  Driving to the start in the morning I could see the valley was filled with a magical thick cotton ball fog. I stopped three times for deer in the road. The third stop the deer wasn't much of a deer at all, in fact it was just a tiny fawn. It was unique in its markings as well, it's entire hind end and back legs were white. After checking me out for 30 seconds it finally bounded off into the brush.

The race is truly a grass roots event. Information on the web site is sparse and participation has been just as sparse. Last year only 29 ran the 50k and in the prior years, the largest field of runners was only 18. More folks need to check out this mid-summer run. It starts and finishes at the Mid State Airport and circumnavigates the park on mostly single track trail I would describe as 100% runnable. There wasn't much info listed about the aid stations, in fact they're called check points. With support on the course being questionable, I used a hydration vest ample enough to carry everything I needed to complete 31 miles. I carried ClifBar Shot EnergyGels, Bloks Energy Chews and a couple Organic Energy Food packages (THANKS CLIFBAR!), just like I would if I were running 31 miles back home in Stony Valley. Knowing the area was networked with flowing streams, I even packed a pre-measured package of Tailwind if I refilled my bladder. I basically prepared myself to run self supported. Upon arrival I heard other runners asking about  the aid stations and there was a map showing that the longest distance between aid was about 6 miles. It really could be run with a handheld. It was going to be hot and humid and I knew to survive I'd need to keep hydrating so I stuck with my self supported plan. It might've been over kill, but I wanted to finish.

Two cars were parked over the chalk on the parking lot that read "50K Start" so we started next to them and with little fanfare we were off. The connecting trail leading to the Allegheny Front Trail was a mellow grassy path. The Allegheny Front Trail offered passage through all the different environments that make up the park. I consider the majority of it runnable with just enough climbing and technical stuff to make it challenging. I started out feeling fine, but after a fall I took on an extra-cautious approach and really backed off my pace. It was probably for the best anyway, in my poor state of fitness; that slow pace was my sustainable reality and probably ensured I made it to the finish line. The last mile offers a boardwalk through a bog filled with Blueberry bushes and yes, it's July and the berries were ripe for the picking. Single loop or point-to-point ultras are tough to find and this one's a gem, it's one big loop that brings you right back to the airport for a lunch and cold beer afterwards. I couldn't be happier with the result of my training run in Black Moshannon State Park. Everything I do between now and October is targeted at finishing the Oil Creek 100 and this was my first step in that preparation.

My Father passed away two weeks ago. Someone told me, that the busy time that surrounds a loved one's passing negates your ability to grieve, to really take it in, to come to grips with it. I didn't grieve, hell no I celebrated my Dad's incredible life, but I probably needed some time for taking it in and coming to grips with it. This 31 mile run in the forest would be the time I needed with my Dad, my thoughts and our memories together. Moshannon State Forest is a beautiful place, I'm not sure if my Father ever visited there, but I know he would have been in awe as I was with the diversity it presents. I started my day there getting stung by a bee. It didn't just sting me, it clung to my leg and continued to do its thing. Instead of stopping and pulling the angry little guy off my leg, I tried to do it and continue to run. I'm sure you know where this is leading, yes I caught a toe and face planted. I landed heavily on the ribs already aching from a bruising fall a week ago. While on the ground the little bugger continued to sting or bight me. My Dad would've been shaking his head, laughing and saying, "all you had to do was stop a second and pull it off your leg...". Yeah my dad appeared every where along this course. There was even a rock that was in the shape of a classic head stone that someone has scrawled R.I.P. on it in chalk. There were neat little sections where the forest canopy was so dense with a cloud cover that matched that the result was near darkness on the trail. I once visited Lithuania and there I was told a tale that these dark spots in forests were havens for the little people(Elves/Fairies), spirits and especially spirits of loved ones. While the little people were there for mischief, the spirits of your loved ones were there to safely guide you through that dark region. Dad loved ferns and the trail cut through numerous stands of tall pines and the forest floor was filled with beautiful ferns growing in a carpet of Pine needles. In that setting Dad had me surrounded. The perseverance I learned from my parents got me through a tough day. I can't recall anything my Father ever quit, he was a firm believer in keeping commitments and follow through. If you start it, finish it. Give it your best and be certain not to miss the lessons any endeavor provides. Dad wasn't a runner, but he is now as he's keeping pace with me every mile; in my heart, in my head, right over my shoulder. Sweating, stumbling, laughing and bleeding right along with me.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Highlands Sky 40 Mile Trail Run - A Run Across The Sky - Race Report

June 18, 2016

Obligatory Pre-Race Photo With The National Forest Sign
The Highlands Sky 40 is one of those events that's been on my radar since I first learned about ultra running. The race site says, "this is not an easy ultra" and it boasts of the varying natural beauty on the course. Challenging, beautiful and add the fact that it's a point-to-point event and I'm there. It's an extremely popular race and it's registration was filled soon after it opened on New Year's Day.

The Monongahela National Forest near Davis West Virginia provided the setting for the day. If you think Davis is in the middle of nowhere, you should see where the start line was. Janice and I left the Canaan Valley Resort in the dark valley mist and headed out in search of the grey metal bridge where we were told the trek would begin. [Janice made the trip this time, meaning I would have her support as crew on the course. The last three ultras I was without her and that sucked.] After a short drive down a narrow winding road we came upon the bridge, found a place to park and waited for the start. Shuttle buses from a local guide shop dropped off the rest of the runners and soon we were running down the road headed to the trail head.

Smile For The Caamera

I was a little anxious about this course, after 2+ miles on the road, the course climbs significantly until it reaches an aid station at about 10 miles. After that initial big climb and a brief descent, the trail climbs again. Those two ascents really weren't complete until we reached the aid station around 20 miles in. After seeing that elevation profile, I decided to use trekking poles.

Just A Little Climbing To Start The Day

Much to my surprise, the initial climb was pretty manageable. Much of this climbing featured switch backs. Yes we were gaining a good deal of elevation, but unlike back home in Pennsylvania, we were switching back instead of going straight up and over the mountain. I opened up my trekking poles, but I was in such a close bunch that I couldn't use them effectively. After a couple of attempts, I ended up stowing them in my pack.

I was going good on the first climb, until the grade kicked up steeply around six miles. The next mile or so bit into me nicely and my pace was slowed. I also started to realize something didn't feel right. My right foot felt like it was sliding around. First I thought my shoe had come untied. I tried to look at my foot, but no problem was easily visible and it was tough to look as I moved with the pack up the single track trail.

The First Water Crossing

I then slipped in some mud as I was entering a stream and I could've sworn my whole foot had come out through the side of my shoe. I kept moving and decided to figure it out when we reached the aid station.

Coming into the aid station, I was feeling good again after that bad patch in that steep stuff. I was feeling strong, but at the same time I was noticing odd pain in just about everything on my right side. My right toes, foot, knee, hip; hell my right shoulder was even hurting. I stopped at the aid station and took off my pack so I could make sure my poles were secure and that's when I looked down and noticed the hole. The inside of my right shoe from just behind the ball of the foot to just in front of the heal cup had torn in a line. It looked like a defect in the fabric because of its straight line. The side of the shoe had completely failed and the shoe was now providing almost no support and my foot was clearly visible through the gaping hole.

This was a remote aid station and no crew was allowed. No one had any duct tape or a spare pair of size 12s. This sucked, I try to anticipate everything that can go wrong, but I didn't see this coming. I expect my shoes to get soaked and muddy, but not fall apart. The Altra Lone Peak 2.5 is my favorite and I consider it extremely reliable. This pair had just over 200 miles on them so I in no way expected them to meet their demise 8 miles into a 40 mile run.

I Took A Dip At This Water Crossing When Tension Came Off The Rope
The Ice Cold Water Felt Great :-)

I'm not sure how many total ultras I've run, but this would be my sixth this year. After so many you come to realize that the challenge isn't actually in the distance, the terrain, the course conditions or any of that other naturally expected stuff. The true challenge seems to come from those extra twists that life throws into it.

Life had already done a good job of setting me up for failure heading into this event:
  1. I had been experiencing Supraventricular Tachycardia(SVT). May 16th I underwent a Cardiac Ablation to alleviate that condition. My condition required my being awake during the procedure and to tell you it was painful and uncomfortable doesn't do it justice. It was a success and after that I couldn't do anything physical for a solid 7 days. My heart felt brand new and the real recovery was the healing of the tiny incisions on my thighs.
  2. Just as I was feeling about 98% healed, I got a stomach virus that took me out of commission for about 36 hours. I got so dehydrated, I dropped 12 pounds. Two weeks before an ultra and I'm sick as a dog and can't run.
I weathered both of those storms and with a lot of rest and just a tiny bit of recent running, here I was in the mountains of West Virginia. So now I guess life was pissed that I had beaten the heart surgery and the ugly belly draining virus so my shoe exploding was my karma twist for the day. Today's "real challenge" would be to run 30+ miles with just one good shoe.

I decided the only thing to do was to keep moving, so off I went. It felt like I was wearing a sandal on my right foot. If you know that flexed state you might keep your feet in when wearing sandals, that's what I was doing with my right foot. I was trying to avoid my big toe or really, my whole foot from pointing out through the 6" hole in the side of my shoe. Going downhill, when putting the most strain on the shoe, was the toughest. This added stress on my foot was obviously the source of all the right side pain. My swollen IT Band looked like a fist on the outside of my knee and my hip felt like I had been hit with a baseball bat.

Arriving At Aid Station 4 - 19.7 Miles
And The Beginning Of The Road Across The Sky

I met up with Janice at the 4th aid station just shy of 20 miles. She swapped out the bladders in my hydration vest and reloaded my ClifBar supplies in her true Indy Pit Crew style. I showed her my shoe and she couldn't believe I didn't have another pair in the Jeep. In fact, I had only brought one other pair of shoes and I had no intention of needing them so they were left in the hotel room. Yep, brand new Altra Lone Peaks back in the air conditioned comfort very near the full roll of duct tape I had left there as well. The shoes on my feet weren't old or already damaged, this shouldn't have happened; but it did and to make it worse, I was not prepared. I know what you're thinking, Janice could go get the other shoes and meet me with them at the next aid station. The race only allowed crew at two aid stations and our next meeting would come with only 4 miles to go.

After asking unsuccessfully for duct tape at the aid station, I took off on "The Road Across The Sky". It's a forest service road across the high valley and the race director had forbidden crews from driving across it to eliminate traffic around the runners. That driving prohibition also ruined any hope of Janice getting the shoes to me. the insulting part was while Janice followed the rules and didn't drive on that long dusty forest road, the general public never got the memo and we were passed by dozens of cars. Trucking along, a runner came up along side of me and asked if I was the guy looking for duct tape and handed me a few feet of duct tape.

If any of you are ever in King North Carolina shop at By Foot Sports and tell him I said hello and thanks again for the duct tape!

Thankfully, aside from being hobbled by the exploded shoe, I was feeling ok or I might've considered dropping. I've learned that no matter how bad I'm feeling or how bad things are going, if I keep eating and drinking I can keep moving forward. I did do something a little different this day. I was drinking Tailwind and eating ClifBar ClifShot gels and Bloks Energy Chews as usual, but for this run I decided I'd prefer to rely on more substantial food from the ClifBar menu. At aid stations 3, 4, 6 and 7, I ate ClifBar Organic Energy Food. I alternated between the Banana Beet With Ginger and Banana Mango With Coconut and at Aid Station 7 I ate one of the larger meals; Sweet Potato Sea Salt. The calories and nutrients those meals pack augmented the days nutrition nicely and they're an excellent alternative to all the sweet gels and chews  - THANK YOU ClifBar, I'm not sure how I ever fueled without you! I've also discovered how much I love Chia Squeeze energy packs by Mama Chia. Janice found them for me somewhere and they're now a favorite on the trail and they pair perfectly with the ClifBar organic goodness. I hardly used the aid stations' supplies at all. I ate their watermelon and drank coca-cola, but that was it. I'd be remiss if I didn't say thank you to the nice gal who wrapped my shoe with duct tape at Aid Station 5(it stayed wrapped for a few miles). And for the record, the watermelon at Aid Station 6 was the best...bright red and ripe...yum!

The Dolly Sods Was In Bloom

Once we were off that hot dusty road, we turned out onto the Dolly Sods High Meadow. It was sunny and in the 70's. The constant sun exposure was starting to wear on runners around me. I noticed more lingering at Aid Station 6 than at the previous stops and even with my altered stride, I was catching and passing others as we headed towards Bear Rocks. Then it was my turn, I popped out onto an enormous boulder and couldn't find a trail marking. I wandered in a circle briefly and was soon joined by another semi-lost runner. After a few minutes and a few dozen curse words about the missing ribbons, we both saw a ribbon blowing in the hot breeze way off in the distance across some more boulders. That slow time in the brilliant sun hit me hard and nothing seemed to be helping me through it. I made it up to Aid Station 7 and we were high above the Canaan Valley below. I could see the ski slopes that were near the finish line and that was encouraging, but I still needed to shake the sunshine induced fatigue. I ate more watermelon and drank coke. The coke was actually hot and I nearly barfed. I reloaded my bladder with their Tailwind and it was semi-chilled. I drank a lot of it as I descended away from their little mountain-top oasis. I also found some shade, so I stopped running and walked briefly while out of the sun. The hydration and cool shade combo brought me back and soon I was running again.

After a mild climb up the back side of a ski slope, passing under the snow making jets, we turned back into the shady forest. After seeing only one initial ribbon, all I saw was white wooden signs with red arrows painted on them. I followed them, but the longer I didn't see a ribbon, the more my confidence that I was on course dropped. I had gone for quite a while with no trail marking and I was just about to turn around to back track when I saw a ribbon blowing on a tree limb in the distance. That feeling when you think you're off course sucks. Soon I was descending a hill known as "Butt Slide", making my way over and around mountain bike terrain features built into the hill. I eventually popped out onto a gravel country road heading to Aid Station 8. Janice was there waiting for me with a hydration refill and most importantly, a shoe swap.

My Lone Peaks RIP

With just 4 miles to go, I now had a complete pair of shoes. I was now running better than most of the day. The irony was the pain that came from the ripped shoe was now replaced by a different pain that came from adjusting to the new shoes. Thankfully it didn't last and soon I was heading down the last short downhill to the finish line behind The Canaan Valley Resort.

Sunburned & Done For The Day
(Check Out Those New Shoes!)

This was the only event I've been to where you get 2 t-shirts. One comes with your race packet and you have to earn the second one by finishing. I was impressed by the pre-race dinner that was served at the resort, but conversely there wasn't much to eat at the finish.  I didn't care, Janice and I headed to the cooler in the Jeep for an ice cold Mountain State Brewing Co. beer of our own.

Bonus Bloggery:

I need to talk about the place where The West Virginia Mountain Trail Runners choose to host this run. Arriving Friday, I was struggling to keep my eyes on the road as the scenery was quite distracting. The Canaan Valley Resort is recently renovated and proved to be a beautiful place to stay. I knew we'd want to see the area too so instead of driving 4 hours home right after the race, I had booked an extra night's lodging. It was a very nice new room with a little balcony overlooking the valley from the third floor, so the view was great.

As we entered the grounds we were greeted by these two young Bucks drinking from a mud puddle along the road. Deer were everywhere, hunting was not allowed in the park.

The big deal about the place is certainly not the resort hotel, but the natural beauty of the area. Nearly all of the race takes place in the Monongahela National Forest. The race traverses basically two different sections of the forest. The start occurred in a deep valley at a bridge across the Red Creek near Lanesville. The climbing out of that valley was full of Spruce, Fir and Ash Trees, Stinging Nettles and stream crossings with ropes. Side hill trail was lined with ferns and steep drop-offs and the canopy above was thick. The rocky trail reminded me of home in Pennsylvania in many spots, but in other spots it was truly unique. Much of the trail was a deep rut with a mineral soil bed, lined with Mountain Laurel and that deep rut held lots of water. We ran through varying depths of water and wet mud in many sections in those first miles.

While the first half of the race rose up through dense forest, the second half emerged on a forest service road known as the Road Across The Sky. While the first miles were mostly under thick tree cover, most of the remaining miles were exposed to the sun. The Road Across The Sky passed numerous trail heads and vistas. When we reached the other end of our 7 mile traverse, we left the road onto The Bears Rocks Trail and we were now in a completely different environment, The Dolly Sods. The Dolly Sods is a high meadow with open rock formations, named for a German(Hessian Soldier) named Dahle who settled there after being released as a Revolutionary War Prisoner. This high plateau did not disappoint, like the forested section, it also had many water filled bogs. The rock formations were stunning with their odd shapes formed by thousands of years of wind. The cool rocks were only rivaled by the stunning vistas. When we reached the northwest rim, the view of The Canaan Valley Resort State Park and The Canaan Valley Wildlife Refuge was pretty darned amazing. During that entire trip across what seemed like the top of West Virginia, the popularity of the Dolly Sods was evidenced in the dozens of hikers and backpackers exploring this high plain. They seemed to be everywhere and mostly stopped in the shade reading maps as it looked like the network of trails across that high flatland could get pretty confusing. The environments experienced during this race made it quite clear why I choose to run in events like this.

After the race we went to downtown Davis, a small town that's center of this outdoors universe. Most vehicles had racks with mountain bikes, kayaks or both. We ate burgers at the Black Water Brewing Company (the beer was ok and the food was bad, but they're new so hopefully it'll improve) and we stopped at Stumptown Ales (cool place with great beer) for a brew and some good conversation before heading back to the hotel.

The Start Line - A Sleepy Place The Day After The Event

The next day we went exploring. Janice wanted to see the Road Across The Sky and Black Water Falls State Park. We drove the forest service road I had run the day before and stopped along the way to take in a vista looking to the south over what seemed like endless valleys and mountains.

Janice Practicing Her Selfie-Stick Skills
Along The Road Across The Sky
Checking Out The Vista
Along The Road Across The Sky

We descended down off the mountain adjacent to where we had turned onto the Bear Rocks Trail the day before. What we didn't know was that by driving down into that valley it would take an hour to get back to the resort. The cool thing was that during that drive we saw the crazy looking Seneca Rocks which looked like a haven for rock climbers. After circling back to the Canaan Valley we made our way down to Black Water Falls State Park.

Black Water Falls

If you visit the falls, be sure to stop at the lodge and pick up a map. You have to ask for the map, not sure why, but they're kept behind the counter. We played around at a couple of vistas overlooking the gorge and then we made our way down to the spots where you can view the falls close up. Certainly a must see when you're there.

The Security Guard at Hellbender Burritos

Last, but not least and certainly a highlight of the trip we made one last stop in Davis for lunch. Hellbender Burritos is the spot to eat in Davis. Saturday night after the race, we drove by and there was quite the crowd outside waiting to get in. I'm sorry we didn't stop and get in line as I would've gladly eaten there twice. Sunday at lunch, there was no wait and man oh man was it good. (Thanks for the recommendation Leon!) We even got a burrito to take home for Cody.

Throw your kayak and mountain bike on the car, throw in your trail and climbing shoes and head to's a paradise!

Thanks For Checking Us Out
See You On Our Next Adventure!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Glacier Ridge Trail 50 Race Report - Ya' Gotta' Have Heart

May 14, 2016
Sunrise Over Lake Arthur

Barely two weeks after bumbling across the finish line at the C&O Canal 100, I found myself standing at the start line for the Glacier Ridge Trail 50 miler. I was full of mixed feelings, I felt that because I took very little time for recovery I didn't belong there, but at the same because of my preparation I did belong there. The truth was that because I made a very simple mistake in scheduling, I was forcing myself to attempt something I may fail. Janice once said that 50 miles had started to feel like a short distance for me, but believe me I don't take 50 miles or any distance for granted. With that said though, I've run the distance a few times and by now I know what to expect and what I need to do to get to the finish. This time though I had handicapped myself to a point that I might not see that finish line.

As I drove on the PA Turnpike west towards Pittsburgh, I knew that I needed to follow through if for no other reason, but to punish myself for making such a stupid mistake. Have you ever looked at the calendar and you looked at a date at the end of one month and then a date in the next and it appeared that there was a lot more days in between than there really were? Ok, maybe you haven't, but that's what I did. I thought I saw more time between events and I registered for both. It's that simple. I could've stayed home and wasted the money I had spent, but that would never have set well with me so now here I was looking for The Jennings Environmental Education Center near Slippery Rock Pennsylvania. 

Roadside Snowman Near Moraine State Park

When I think of glaciers I really don't think of Pennsylvania. The fact of the matter is that four continental glaciers creeped to a point just north of the present day Moraine State Park. While these advancing glaciers formed other lakes in the region, Lake Arthur at Moraine was formed by the damming of Muddy Creek in 1970. The Glacier Ridge Trail runs take place at Moraine State Park and along with the 50 miler, there's a 50k, 30k and 50 mile relay. The Glacier Ridge Trail itself is 14.8 miles long and runs from the west end of the park along the banks of Lake Arthur to the Jennings Environmental Education Center and it's part of the much longer North Country Trail. The course is kind of Y shaped with about 8,000' of elevation gain. The start/finish is at McDanels Boat Launch on Lake Arthur and follows the Glacier Ridge Trail to Rt. 528, a main road that runs through the park. That point is also the location of the main aid station where drop bags were allowed as we would visit that point three times during the run. From there the course headed to the Jennings Environmental Center and returned to 528 after a loop through the center's beautiful trails. After a second visit to Rt. 528, it was time to head out on the second out and back on forestry roads to form the other part of the Y. After a return to the Rt. 528 aid station and a retracing your steps back to the boat launch on the GRT, the 50 mile route was complete.

I traveled out Friday afternoon and visited the Jennings Center to pick up my race packet. They were also offering a pre-race dinner, but I didn't eat there. Instead, I ended up at The Pig Iron Public House, a fun little Gastro Pub next to my hotel in Mars. College graduations in the area made finding a room closer to the start impossible, but it was no big deal; a 30 minute drive in the morning would be fine.

This has become my favorite pre-race breakfast - thanks ClifBar!

I found the start line at the boat launch easy enough, got my timing chip and put my drop bag with the others and waited for the start. I know no one in the area and I only knew one guy running this race, David Lister, and coincidentally when heading to dinner I passed him on the highway. What are the chances? We exchanged waves.  I caught up with him before the start, we laughed about seeing each other on the road. We also sort of laughed at me for having just run a hundred and I had the pleasure of meeting David's brother Patrick. I had hoped to meet the newest Lister, but Skyler, David's new baby girl hadn't come to the start line.

After brief instructions and a reminder to not stray off the trail in the Jennings Center, we were off. At 6:30 the weather was beautiful, partly cloudy and low 50's. I knew however the weather would change and we were likely to be running in rain most of the day. To stay warm when the weather turned, I wore a long sleeve lycra layer under my ClifBar t-shirt. I began to think it was a mistake, because I got pretty warm quickly.


The perfect weather lasted about 75 minutes when the rain started and that's when my body temperature did a u-turn, now I was getting cold the wetter I got. As we descended to the Rt. 528 aid station we were only 10 miles in and now on top of being cold, my quads felt like someone had driven pikes into them. The short break since my last ultra was definitely rearing it's ugly head in the form of sharp pain in my thighs. As I arrived at the aid station, I was ready to quit. I noticed a large tarp keeping something dry, I realized I was at the aid station with our drop bags. I asked a couple volunteers, but I quickly learned that the drop bags were self serve and they didn't seem to be in any order. I eventually found mine and replaced the tarp to keep the others dry. I reloaded on ClifBar gels and Bloks, ate a ClifBar Organic Energy Food packet, dug out a full bottle with Tailwind and put on my Patagonia wind jacket. It really wasn't that cold, but I was soaked and the jacket provided the layer I needed to keep going.

I took off towards the environmental center and now the steady rain was having its affect on the trail. It was now a real slop-fest so if I wasn't going slow enough on my fatigued legs I was now at a glacial crawl in this soup. It was along this stretch where I saw David for the first time since the start, he was trailing in second place by mere seconds. The well groomed trail through the Jennings Center was a nice reprieve from the mud and much of the flora and fauna we were warned about not trampling was in bloom and beautiful. There was an aid station there too, so after a brief stop to eat peanut butter and jelly and orange slices, I headed back the way I came to the 528 aid station for the second time. I gobbled down another ClifBar Organic Energy pack, contemplated quitting again and got moving again before I did. For the next stretch I had packed a second handheld so I could carry two bottles as the distances between aid were a bit longer here and I knew I'd probably be drinking more at this point. So far the course had been entirely single track trail and this out and back section was on old forestry roads and the mud was getting bad. The hills were the worse, you were either slipping trying to climb them or slipping trying to avoid falling down them. I saw David along this out and back too and this time he was in the lead with no one close behind.(David went on to win - congrats sir!) This section also had a special little treat included at it's turn around. With a little more than a mile to its end, there was an aid station and from there you had to climb to the top of a pipeline trail where a telephone book was hanging from a pipe. The turn around was unmanned so to prove you made it, in true Barkley Marathons fashion you needed to rip a page from the phone book and return with it to the aid station. To make it a legit homage to the Barkley, I even took the time to find the page that corresponded with my race number.

Page #49

I showed them my page and got out of that aid station as quickly as I could as some woman who was volunteering asked me twice if I was going to be ok. If I looked bad enough to be pulled from the race, I was not going to give her an opportunity to ask a third time. The muddy roads back to Rt. 528 and the mud bog called the Glacier Ridge Trail made for a slow death march back to the finish line. My last visit to the 528 aid station I ate extra and took a ClifBar to munch down while I moved. I had been pretty happy I hadn't fallen in the mud all day and within less than 3 miles to go, I slipped and fell 4 times going downhill. Your feet would start to slide and there was either a tree to grab or there wasn't.

I finished under the cut off time, my slowest 50 mile run to date. In that mud I would've been slow anyway, but I did myself no favors having minimal rest in my legs. Again, I credit my disciplined nutrition intake for keeping me going, no matter how slow - thanks ClifBar! I got my nifty finishers award, warmed by the fire and took a shot at hosing some of the mud off me. I did at least get my hands clean enough to use my phone to call home to let Janice know I was alive considering I finished long after expected. I was wrecked so I decided to find a room and drive home in the morning. I survived, but I'll never make a scheduling mistake like that again.

Tuesday(May 17th) I got home from the hospital after having a Cardiac Ablation on Monday. For more than a year, I've been experiencing frequent periods of rapid heart rate (SVT). After trying to self diagnose and explain it away, I brought it up to my doctor during my annual physical. After a couple of Cardio Vascular visits and a couple tests, Monday's procedure was recommended. I won't go into the ugly details, but to complete the ablation I needed to be awake and the pain and discomfort was excruciating. It felt like I ran another ultra and it was a tough one. I can't say enough good things about the Doctors and Nurses at The Hershey Medical Center, they took great care of me and I even got see my favorite RN, Katie Keller when she and Janice came to visit Monday evening before Katie started her shift. The good news is that my heart now feels amazing. The surgeon said that I had gotten so used to the minor episodes (PVCs) that I had learned to live with them. Now I should feel like I have a brand new heart. He also suggested I should really notice a difference while running. The other good news is that I have to rest for 7 days without exception, so I'll definitely be recovered for The Highlands Sky 40 mile ultra next month - which is next up on my Ultra-A-Month Club Membership Plan. :-)

Stuff I used at the GRT 50:

Altra Lone 2.5
Superfeet Insoles
Injinji Trail 2.0
Pro Compression Calf Sleeves
Pearl Izumi Running Shorts
Adidas Compression Shorts
2XU Long Sleeve Compression Top
ClifBar T-Shirt
ClifBar Trucker Hat
Patagonia Houdini Jacket
Suunto Ambit3 Peak HR
Nathan Quik Draw Plus
The North Face Handheld Bottle

Friday, May 6, 2016

C&O Canal 100 Mile Endurance Run Race Report - Redemption Run

April 30th - May 1st 2016

The C&O (Chesapeake & Ohio) Canal along the Potomac River was used from 1831 to 1924 to haul mostly coal from mines in the Alleghenies. The towpath runs from Cumberland Maryland to Georgetown, Washington D.C.. Today the old towpath is now a multi-purpose trail maintained as the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historic Park. That towpath accommodated me from early Saturday morning until lunch time Sunday as I made my second attempt to finish The C&O Canal 100 Mile Endurance Run.

Lockhouse 28

The race starts and finishes at Manidokan Camp and Retreat Center, a United Methodist retreat perched on a hill above the Potomac near Knoxville Maryland. This isn't a trail race, but there is a very short "real trail" used to get runners to and from the canal towpath. It's a steep trail with a little bit of everything, it's technical, it's slippery and it crosses a stream at the bottom a couple of times. Runners get to experience this little rugged climb/descent at the start, the finish and once up and down at the 60 mile mark. Other than that, the course is board flat. The course is three out & back segments. The first out & back heads towards Cumberland Maryland and makes up the first 20ish miles and then there's a 40 mile out and back in the direction of Washington D.C. that's repeated to total the 100 miles.  In between those two 40 mile journeys, runners climb/descend that steep trail back and forth from Manidokan. There are 7 aid stations, 3 available for drop bags. Along with the regular aid station offerings, Tailwind Nutrition and VFuel were available on the course.

In 2014 the flatness of the towpath was my undoing. Without changing terrain and hills to climb, I was running faster than I could ever hope to maintain for 100 miles. When I arrived at Manidokan after the first 60 miles, I felt sick and ready to pass out.  I tried to continue, but at Lock 34 I was still feeling crappy and my headlamp wasn't working properly so I got in the Jeep and Janice drove me to the Keep Tryst Aid Station where I turned in my number and walked away with the shame and pain of my first DNF. With that memory tattooed on my brain, I came back to the canal with a plan. It was simple, I would run a slower comfortable pace. I struggled with doing that in training however, so I set up a pace screen on my GPS watch (Suunto Ambit3 Peak) to monitor my discipline. To start I would try to run nothing faster than a 12 minute mile and I knew fatigue would eventually take care of any speedier yearnings. More on that later.

Along with starting out way too fast, I also neglected my nutrition last time. ClifBar came through with another amazing delivery of organic goodies to keep me going. This year thanks to ClifBar, caloric intake would not be ignored, I carried ClifShot Gels and Bloks Energy Chews in my pack. My drop bags had more of the same for reloading along with ClifBars, Crunch Bars and I also included ClifBar Organic Energy Food packets. I can't say enough about the organic energy food series, I started my day with one of each of their new breakfast flavors before I left the hotel and ate one of the other flavors with each visit to my drop bags (6 times). They taste great and they're packed with great stuff you need. My favorite flavor is a toss up between Banana Beet With Ginger and Pizza Margherita. I can't thank ClifBar enough for their support, I'll say it again; they're easily the coolest company on the planet!

Organic Breakfast

The aid stations didn't disappoint in the nutrition arena either. The spreads at these stops were off the charts, maybe the best Aid Station offerings I've seen. Each visit I gobbled down watermelon, orange quarters and peanut butter and jelly. I also became enamored with pierogies, my new aid station food of choice; especially those served up by Bert Salter. I use Tailwind Nutrition for hydration and I know they say it's "All you need, all day. Really.", and I believe them, but psychologically I can't let go of actually eating something as well. Anyway, knowing the race was providing Tailwind was cool, but I didn't want to rely on their supply so I also measured out the mix for my hydration bladder and packed that in my drop bags as well (it turned out I used none of my own, the race even had the caffeinated Buzz to get us through the night). I can't mention the aid stations without commenting on the volunteers. I've seen tons of aid station volunteers over time and the folks along this course put in an unrivaled effort. The kindness, selflessness and the countless genuine supportive gestures had me awe struck. These people never waivered, not at the start, not a 4am in the driving rain. These volunteers were extra important to me this year, as I was running without my loving crew to look after me.

 2014 Logo by Pennsylvanian Ultra Friend Todd Lewis

Pre-race briefing

Standing waiting for the start, I recognized a runner I spent much of the day with at the Naked Bavarian and this time we actually introduced ourselves. His name is Phil and he said that he had also DNF'd here, but last year in the horrible winter-like weather conditions they experienced. We were both on a mission to redeem ourselves. The race started off just as planned with a mellow opening run around the grounds of the camp. I ducked into the porta-john and as I exited to descend to the towpath, I heard a woman say, "you shouldda' thought of that before the race". I just smiled and headed down the hill, thinking, "this must be her first ultra as a spectator".

My pace felt good, I wasn't struggling to maintain it and I wasn't taking any of the regular bait to speed up. I heard a runner ask the distance at the Dargan Bend Aid Station. The volunteer responded, "18.8 miles", and my watch matched up exactly. We arrived at the Keep Tryst Road Aid Station and I saw a sign with the current distance as 25.7 miles, but my watch showed almost 30. I asked a volunteer about it and he said it was accurate as far as he knew, but I wasn't the first runner to ask. I got about a hundred feet down the trail and my watch beeped for the next mile and again about a half mile later. I was pretty certain something was up with my watch, but it seemed like the pace it was displaying was accurate. A little further down the trail I thought, wait if the GPS isn't working, the pace can't be correct (duh). I ran for about a minute without taking my eyes off the pace screen and the number was bouncing all over the place, even flat lining.

Leaving Dargan Bend Aid Station

At the Lander Aid Station, my watch didn't match their sign either, but that wasn't important. The critical fact was that after some quick math I realized my pace was too fast. I was running a fine pace for 33 miles, but I had 67 still to go. Lander was staffed by If The Shoe Fits employees who were all ultra runners and the volunteer wearing the Hellgate 100k hat said he has the same problem with his watch in that area of the towpath. I was running an unsustainable pace, just like 2014. I thought it felt a little quick, but my watch had said otherwise. GPS signal can be affected by various factors.  I noticed how the environment had changed from the upper portion of the trail to this lower section. Now the trail was right along the base of rock outcrops and cliffs and of course the trail was directly adjacent to the river, both natural features that can screw up your vital connection with the necessary satellites. I also noticed that when the pace was flat lined, it coincided with when a freight train was passing, which was often. Yes, I had a lot of time to think about this and yes it had really gotten in my head. My pace was doing a fine job of sabotaging my finish here again.

It should say, "Too Fast, Scenic and Festive".

I took some measures to hopefully salvage my finish. The time on my watch was working fine and there were mile markers along the trail. The race doesn't start at mile zero though so I took note of mile markers at turn-arounds and aid stations and monitored my pace that way. I also interspersed periods of walking, it slowed my pace and switched up my muscle usage (on this flat course, the different parts of your legs don't see any variance in usage). I also maintained and maybe even increased my caloric intake. With all that said, I still came through the 50 mile mark too soon. All I could think of was, I was going to feel spent when it was time to start that last 40 miles so I increased my walking in the last 6 miles leading to the camp. It had already started raining so I planned to get in my Jeep and change into different clothing for running through the night in the rain. What I didn't plan was just how long that would take. A Jeep Wrangler isn't a roomy changing room and I was pretty wet. Stripping off soaking wet clothes, getting dry and getting re-dressed took 45 minutes. That unplanned time seemed a blessing in disguise as the break gave me a real bounce. I knew the time and I knew that even if I was feeling completely worked, I could still beat the 30 hour cut off. After gobbling a bunch of food I headed back down the hill to the tow path.

Now it was dark and the rain switched from steady to down pours and the temperature was about 50° and felt even colder with the winds. Yeah, it sucked. On top of that I was starting to feel sleepy. I was awakened once by stumbling in an erosion hole on the river side of the path. I got to the Brunswick Aid Station and grabbed all the caffeinated ClifShot Gels I had in my drop bag and put them in my pack. I had already been running on Tailwind Buzz, but it didn't seem to have much affect on my grogginess. The few minutes it took me to do that exchange seemed to get me through that sleepy patch so I took off again. The ClifShot gels with caffeine were doing a fine job, but twice more I hit patches where the sleep monster was on my heels. The bizarre visual affect caused by running with a headlamp in driving rain seemed to only make the affect of sleep deprivation worse and I was hallucinating like Hunter S. Thompson "somewhere near Barstow on the edge of the desert". I was seeing buildings in the wilderness, shadows the size of large birds in my headlamp beam and crazy beams of light that looked like lasers at a Pink Floyd concert. It was pretty crazy to the point that when I saw real stuff I had to wonder. I saw a real Skunk and then a real family of Raccoons crossing the trail. One of the adult Raccoons stopped and watched me as the last little one disappeared off the trail and into the darkness. I was certain they were real, because neither the adult Raccoon or Skunk had anything to say. I did however find myself talking to the Marbled Salamanders and countless Frogs that were every where enjoying the rainy night on the trail. None of them responded to my greetings, which I guess was a good thing.

I stumbled into the Lander Aid Station (73.3 miles) and needed to sit down, but realized I had chosen the chairs they had been designated for runners who needed medical attention so I started to move when a voice said, "sit wherever the hell you want Perry". I thought, "oh my God, now the voices know my name." Nope, it was ultra buddy Bert Salter, he lives nearby and was volunteering. Bert finished here the year I DNF'd. He quickly produced a hot cup of coffee. It was great to see Bert, what a spirit booster! I stayed the time necessary to drink the coffee, eat a few Pierogies and explain that Janice wasn't with me, but off riding the Five Boro Bike Tour in New York City. He said he had seen her post on Facebook earlier and got the sense she wasn't here as my signature trusty crew. Without a crew, it's a great feeling to see a familiar smiling face especially when the going is getting tough. I headed back out into the storm and Bert promised he'd see me on my return trip.

Janice, Bill & Govan in NYC for The Five Boro Bike Tour.

I made it to the Noland's Ferry Aid Station (80 miles) where a father and daughter duo were taking care of runners like we were disaster victims and I guess in a sense we were. In the cold driving rain Hypothermia had become a real concern. Clothing was stripped off and dried or changed and you weren't heading out for your last 20 miles until you had been warmed by the propane heater. I know I saw them around 4am, but I really hoped I'd see them again at the finish just to thank them. Those two may have saved my life, I can't thank them enough. I headed back out into the rain now clad in a huge garbage bag for extra warmth and protection from the rain. Funny, I spend money on the best gear and my health may have been spared by a garbage bag.

I was running and walking and as daybreak appeared the rain slowed to a drizzle and I soon arrived back to the Lander Aid Station. Bert was still there and asked me what I needed and I asked for a pair of scissors as my garbage bag needed to be shortened. At it's current length I looked like I belonged in the New Order video for the song True Faith. He produced a butcher knife and started to cut, asking me to "apologize to Janice in case I cut something I shouldn't". Everyone had a good laugh and I was back on the trail. At about 10 minutes to 8, I heard a loud thunder clap and the next down pour began. Our reprieve was over. It rained most of the rest of the day. With about three miles to go the rain stopped and just as I was about to make the turn to the finish the sun actually appeared. A crazy ending to a very long slow survival effort.

Lance Dockery, the Race Director, was there at the finish with a small group cheering and I received my first hundred mile belt buckle. He tried to shake my hand and I sorta' missed, I was a mess. That moment meant so much, although it was incredibly slow; it was my first 100 mile finish and 100 miles for me was certainly a big effort. Persevering through those conditions made it mean even more. I avoid using overused terms, but the ridiculous weather turned this into an epic event.

The rain was relentless. It started around 7:30 Saturday evening and it was raining when I left the last aid station heading to the finish. My pacing screw-up almost physically took me out of the race and the rain did the same mentally. I consider myself a pretty upbeat guy, but the constant down pour had me pretty depressed at points. I just wanted it to stop. Those mental rough patches were far worse than the fatigue or the sleepiness. I thought about my family, my dogs, anything to change my mind when the rain was getting in my head.  I kept thinking about our trip with our boys to Scotland and the horrible weather during the race there. That was just a half marathon, but pouring rain and 70 mph gusts made it insane. Musing on that gave me a little strength to get through these conditions as well. For me, the mental test that came from this rain was life changing.

My physical survival was mostly because I kept up my caloric intake and for that I have to thank ClifBar. So often times when running for extreme periods of time, certain faculties begin to falter like your finger dexterity. At this event I experienced none of that. People asked me why I was wearing a ClifBar hat and shirt and I responded because it's their products that fuel me to finish lines. I can't say enough good things about their products, the company and the ClifBar family who have been so amazing in their support.

Finisher's buckle & my soggy ClifBar trucker hat

Gear I used:

Altra Olympus 1.5 (first 60 miles)
Altra Lone Peak 2.5 (last 40 miles)
Superfeet Insoles <Orange> (2 pairs)
Injinji Trail 2.0 (2 pairs)
Pro Compression Calf Sleeves
Adidas Compression Shorts (2 pairs)
Favorite Old Brooks Running Shorts (day)
CW-X Compression Tights (night)
Champion Sleeveless Lycra Base Layer (day)
The North Face Arm Warmers (day)
2XU Long Sleeve Compression Top (night)
ClifBar T-Shirt (2)
ClifBar Trucker Hat (day)
Manzella Winter Gloves
Reebok Winter Gloves (2 pairs) (3 pairs of gloves wasn't enough in the relentless rain)
Outdoor Research Novo Watch Cap (2)
Patagonia Houdini Jacket (race premium from the year I DNF'd - I came back to earn my jacket)
Princeton Tec Apex Extreme Headlamp (275 Lumens - got a call from NASA that my headlamp was keeping the crew of the International Space Station awake)
Knuckle Lights (4) (on't run in the dark without them - thanks Knuckle Lights!!!)
Ultimate Direction PB Adventure Vest 2.0 (slight overkill, but it allowed me to carry more stuff without having a crew)
Paltypus 2L Big Zip Hydration Bladder
Suunto Ambit3 Peak HR - (sually quite reliable, but it struggled here)
Spot Messenger (so Janice could see where I was)
Hefty 55 Gal. Garbage Bag (vital, 100% water proof and sorta' warm)

Just keep smiling...

Just some of the lessons I learned:

  • My drop bags were packed well with nutrition, but I needed more clothing changes to battle the weather.
  • You can run through sleepiness, don't panic.
  • Keep up the caloric intake and you may just survive.
  • In private, it's ok to talk to amphibians you only just met.
  • Don't be bummed by a shitty time, you finished...

Next up for me, The Glacier Ridge 50 in just a few days - I should be recovered by then!

Thank you to Kevin Sayers for taking and sharing his photos at the Dargan Ben Aid Station.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Naked Bavarian 40 Miler - A Conflicted "Race" Report

March 6, 2016 Leesport, PA
The Naked Bavarian in its second year bills itself as "A back to the basics low fee trail run". With a registration fee of $30/$35, I think you'll be hard pressed to find another ultra with such a low rate per mile. I ran the 40 mile race, but 20 mile and Trail Marathon options are available as well. The event is put on by ├ťberendurancesports (Stephan Weiss). I've run his Blues Cruise 50k, The Dirty German 50k and now The Naked Bavarian. Yes, Stephan is from Bavaria and his events are guaranteed to be fun and you're assured they're well run. Stephan is more of an event host than typical Race Director. He's quite approachable and present throughout the events. You can expect fun German music playing, good German food afterwards and if you get swag or any type of award, they're also all German themed.
Naked Bavarian, don't Google it at work...

The Naked Bavarian, like The Blues Cruise takes place at Blue Marsh Lake near Leesport, just outside of Reading Pennsylvania. Blue Marsh (actually Blue Marsh National Recreation Area)is a man made lake as a result of the damming of the Tulpehocken Creek. Blue Marsh was the name of the little town that existed there before eminent domain took it and flooded it in the interest of flood control. As you circumnavigate the lake, you see remnants of the old civilization; like abandoned roads and ruins of old structures. The place is hugely popular in the summer for swimming and sunbathing on the beaches and boating and fishing on the 1100 acre lake. Thirty-six miles of trails are popular as well, attracting hikers, runners and folks on horse back.
Forty miles seemed like a logical progression for me in my ramp up to running the C&O Canal 100 in a few weeks. The Naked Bavarian is a 20 mile lollipop course so for 40 miles, you get to enjoy it twice. I've run two other shorter trail races at Blue Marsh along with the Blues Cruise, so I remembered that the trails were pretty mellow/extremely runnable and elevation gain was just enough to keep you honest on pacing.
The weekend before the event, I came away from my Sunday run with a sore right knee. I tried running Tuesday and it was still pretty bad so I did the unthinkable and took time off. The day before the event I took Mollie and Mojo for a 6 mile jaunt on Blue Mountain, just to assess the state of my knee. My two four legged doctors deemed me fit to race. Had a nice 92nd birthday dinner with my Mom (Dad's 93rd is coming up in a few days) and went home to mix Tailwind bottles and that's when the wheels came off my planning...Janice got sick as hell.

As Saturday evening went on, her sniffing and coughing became non-stop. All night she coughed and sneezed. I can't remember the last time I saw her this sick. When I woke up to eat breakfast, I could feel the heat coming off of her, she had a pretty good fever. There was no way I was expecting her to come with me. She seemed so sick, I wondered even if I should go at all. I kissed Janice goodbye and left her in bed with Mojo and Mollie to hopefully sleep off the crud that had taken control. I've never run an ultra without support. Janice is my crew and she's the best. In the 40 miles, you pass through 10 aid stations and they were all accessible to crew. I had mixed enough bottles that if I needed, I could get a new one each time I saw her. That plan was now out the window.

Early morning at Blue Marsh, overcast and chilly.

I got to Blue Marsh nice and early and got a parking space very near the start/finish. One of the volunteers at registration confirmed that 40 mile runners did need to come completely to the start area before starting their second lap so I set up my Jeep as a drop bag/aid station. I would carry one bottle of Tailwind and revert back to relying heavily on ClifBar gels to get the calories I would need. In the handheld, I also carried ClifShot Electrolyte Hydration mix in handy single serving packets they gave me. I knew there would be water at the aid stations so I could mix my own and not rely on whatever they had. I could visit my Jeep after 20 miles to reload and do it all again.

It was pretty chilly at start time, my dashboard thermometer read 34°. I had on warm gloves and a long sleeve 2XU compression shirt on under my Clifbar t-shirt. With the temps expected to climb to the 40's, shorts were fine for the day. In between every thought, I was wondering how Janice was. I was hoping she was sleeping soundly and getting better. I saw speedy Clayton Bouchard at registration and I saw that his Wife and dogs were with him and again my thoughts went immediately to Janice sick at home. I ran into Tim Nash and Rick Martin, which was cool; they accused me of taking PEDs as I chomped down a salt tablet. Then I saw David and Ashley Lister and their dog and my thoughts went right back home to Janice and our dogs. I realized then that it was really bugging me that I was there without her. I had to keep telling myself that she'd be fine and that this was good practice as I was running the C&O Canal 100 crewless.

Thankfully I didn't have much time to dwell on it and after a brief welcome from Stephan, we were off. The first miles passed quickly and it really wasn't until after the climb at 10 miles that I settled into a comfortable sustainable pace. While the early (and late) miles in the stem of the lollipop have numerous nagging hills, the course offers one sizable climb up the back side of what used to be the Mt. Heidelberg Ski Slope. I ran through the initial two aid stations, but stopped at the third to top off my Tailwind with clear water and I ate an orange slice. I forced myself to drink most of it before reaching the next aid station so I got clear water and mixed ClifShot Hydration in my bottle and repeated that at the aid station 3.5 miles from the start/finish. Staying disciplined with taking in salt, GU Electrolyte Capsules and ClifShot gels my nutrition went pretty well on the first lap.

I was running up the road towards the start/finish and I heard my name and I turned to see Leon Lutz and his daughters out "cheering on the tribe" as he says. Just a kind exchange with the likes of Leon was the perfect thing to lift my spirits. Seeing him also changed my mind about missing my best friend who was home coughing and wheezing. From that point forward, if I had a thought about her I wondered what she would be doing if she were with me. When I saw friends along the way, like Clayton, Tim, David, Ashley and Rick, I used it as a positive lift. Thankfully my brain had turned around.

Moving along on lap #2*

When I run an ultra, I do exactly that; I run it and I don't consider it a race. Sure, afterwards I'll look to see how I shook out amongst the other runners, but to me an ultra is really nothing more than an extremely long training run with clock timing. This time was different for a couple reasons. First, the race director had sent an email that said to check the list to make sure we were on it. I checked and I noticed something on the page I had never seen before; ultrasignup assigns a "Target" finishing time for each registered runner and I got 9:05. I thought, wait a minute I can cover 40 miles in less than 9 hours so I left the start with a chip on my shoulder. Second, throughout the first lap and into the second, I noticed I was basically running with the same runners. This happens at every event, but as the second visit to the climb at 30 miles drew closer I began to wonder if I could go faster and get away from them. So now I had my second motivation to go faster. There was a climb in a farmer's field just before the ski slope and I decided to see if I could open a gap on them. I did and I was able to maintain it. I actually felt like I was racing. As I got closer to the finish, fatigue was taking it's toll and I consciously thought about doing just enough to maintain the gap, but not too much to implode. I beat the hell out of that 9:05 projected target and I outran some folks who I'm sure didn't even notice, much less care. (I hope they didn't notice anyway as I probably looked pretty foolish racing for 50somethingth place)

41.4 miles...ya' gotta' keep smiling*

All in all it was a good day on the trails for me. It took 10 miles, but I eventually slipped into a pace I could maintain and even though I slowed toward the finish, I escaped without a catastrophic visit from the pain monster. The hills just before and after the start/finish seemed to take a bigger toll than the bigger climb at the ski slope. The rest of the course is a pleasant site seeing trip around the lake with well stocked aid stations manned by worthy volunteers. Like at The Dirty German and The Blues Cruise, the majority of the volunteers are from the Reading based Pagoda Pacers Running Club. They're definitely a class act. My Plan B nutrition plan went well until I realized on the second lap that I had no more ClifShot electrolyte mix in my handheld (I found it later on the ground behind the Jeep, right where I had dropped it). I drank Gatorade the rest of the way and ate orange slices at the aid stations and I was fine. (Note: I also resisted the yummy Great Lakes Brewing Sampler at the aid station at the base of the ski slope descent.)

That magical aid station at the base of the ski slope*

The temperature got up in the 40's and when the sun was shining it was a beautiful day to be on the trail and it was pretty cool to see so many members of the "tribe" out enjoying it too.  I highly recommend this low/no frills race, I give it an A+ the whole way around.

Other stuff I used:

Pearl Izumi running shorts
ClifBar Trucker Hat & HeadSweats ClifBar Visor - thanks for the cool stuff ClifBar
SportHill lightweight gloves (2nd lap)

Stephan said, "ya ya and it really works! When the weather's nice the
pretty lady comes out and when the weather's bad the man comes out."

For those wondering, I got home and even though the dogs kept a close eye on her, Janice wasn't any better; in fact she missed work Monday. As I write this she's starting to feel better.

Next up for me on my Ultra of the Month membership is the C&O Canal 100 in Knoxville Maryland. I'm returning to avenge my 2014 DNF.

*Photo note: No Janice not only meant no crew, it meant no fun photos, as she's our family photographer. Huge thank you to Christopher Hand and Caroline for kindly lending their photographs.