Saturday, February 17, 2018

Water, Mud, Sand (Repeat) - My 2018 Algonquin 50K Race Report

February 10, 2018

Those who know me well, my running friends and those who have to listen to me know that 2017 didn't go so well after April. A series of nagging injuries without true recovery resulted in 3 DNF's, 1 DNS and a finish to the year in the care of a physical therapist. A few things did go well in 2017 and one of them was The Algonquin 50K, so much so that the day registration for the next year's race opened, I signed up. (in April)...

In November I wrapped up PT feeling good and anxious to get back at it and nearly immediately strained a calf muscle, got sick for a week and then strained the other calf muscle. Yep, the new year was off to an awesome start. I was pretty certain we wouldn't be traveling to Pokomoke City in February.

January came to an end and I had run a little bit that month and I was feeling healthy, but at the same time I was 25 pounds over weight and hadn't done a long run in months. I'm not sure why, but something clicked one Saturday after an extremely slow 6 mile run on the mountain, I asked, "what was the worse that could happen? DNF? Finish outside the cutoff and have my mug smashed?" (notice I kept my consideration of injury hidden from my sub conscious questioning) I decided that I had so much fun at the race last year that a DNF or smashed mug shouldn't prevent us from having a fun weekend in DELMARVA.

We hit the road to Salisbury Maryland for the packet pickup for the race. We basically retraced our steps from last year, right down to ordering the same food. By the way, if you're in or near Salisbury, stop at Hopper's Tap House. Hopper's is an interesting format for a restaurant, it's a pub with a large open air pavilion attached with picnic tables, umbrella tiki bars, palm trees, ceiling fans and huge TV's. I'm sure in the warmer months it's even more awesome.. The pub doesn't serve food, but they have an awesome selection of regional craft brews. The tasty food is offered up at restaurants that are attached to the atrium, there's a pizza shop, a wing joint, a burger place and a BBQ/Smoke house.

When we arrived there was already a line of runners picking up their bags of goodies. This year an Altra Running rep was there and we talked about the improvements of the Lone Peak down through the years as I waited my turn in line. Soon Trent Swanson, the Race Dictator, noticed me and told the volunteers they could find me listed as "Mr. Sponsorship" (this year I picked up two new ambassadorships with BOCOGEAR and Pickle Juice Sport). It was great to see Trent, he's a big reason to go to this race, a warm guy with a quick wit! This year's race bag came with a free pair of Injinji socks, they're what I wear so that was a cool bonus.

The seating at Hopper's is pretty communal, in fact last year we met Will who works at NASA and larger than life Gabe (aka Captain 'Merica) all because of that seating set up. So often we'll travel to a race and I'll know no one and it's difficult to mingle as the running clubs typically stick together, not here. Soon a couple of young fellows filled two of the other seats at our table. Clay and Shane, Air Force guys stationed up at Dover AFB, who were new to ultra running. I assured them they'd have a blast and wouldn't you know Gabe stopped by to say hi and they ended up having a mutual buddy. We had laughs and good conversation before we all headed off to our lodging in Pokomoke City.

I'm not sure why, but I felt exhausted when we reached the hotel. I guess that was a good thing because I actually slept well and bounced out of bed with my alarm the next morning. I ate a Monk Pack breakfast and a banana, mixed a bottle of Tailwind and stuffed some gels in my handheld and considered myself ready to go. We headed off to the start line and after a hello from Trent, Sarah and her husband Ben said hello, I spent a good bit of time running with her the last year. She remembered me as being supportive after she had taken a spill. I remembered it differently, I thought I had jinxed her because I had fallen previously. Soon our presence was graced by Gabe in a whole new costume for 2018. Minutes before the start we found Clay and Shane with Clay's Wife Liz and after handshakes, introductions and questionable photos with Gabe we were standing on the park road waiting for "go!".

The PG Rating Went Right Out The Window With Gabe's Arrival
Clay Getting Last Second Guidance From Gabe,
While Liz Looks On In Wonder (or something)

Trent banged the horseshoes on the gong and our merry bunch of runners headed to the trail head. As we rounded the bend near the Ranger Station, Clay was right next to me. We got passed by a guy dressed as the Goat Man complete with a Bear Bell and music playing loudly. It was cool to be running with Clay, it kind of took my mind off of all the things that would probably go wrong very soon. Strolling along at an eleven and a half minute mile, I even told Clay I planned to just continue with whatever my legs were giving me and allow fatigue to slow me down naturally.

I'm not a talker when I run and I don't appreciate hearing others' music either. So now here I am running along talking to Clay and his phone was playing music. For some reason it all felt fine. Maybe it was because our conversation wasn't continuous jabber like some runners do and maybe because his choice of music could've been mine (Levon Helm, Johnny Cash, etc.). Last year I remember a guy running along blaring Metallica, yeah I worked hard to get away from him.

The Goat Man (or something)

Clay Still Feeling Good At Aid Station #1

Clay and I stuck together through aid station #1 (4 miles). It was cool to see that his Wife Liz had found the aid station and was there with Janice. After that the course follows a paved road briefly, then a sand road and then it turns onto a double track trail. We had been leap frogging with a group of women and it was at the turn onto the trail that I went inside and Clay went wide and a gap opened up because the bunch of five women got between us. I was able to look back and see that the gap wasn't growing so I assumed we'd join back together further down the trail.

Pickle Juice At Aid Station #1

The chronology of the trail is difficult to piece together, but I believe it was here where the first real water appeared on the trail. I saw a woman who had passed me earlier, now mincing her way through the forest to avoid the muddy water. I knew she had to be being sliced up as the woods were full of tiny briers with needle-like/razor sharp thorns. I told those around me that the water was my preference and that walking was a good bet, as running could almost ensure your shoes coming off. One of the puddles was mammoth and has become known affectionately as Lake Swanson after the Race Dictator Trent Swanson. Another was quite deep coming well up over my knees. It was fun to tromp into the frigid water wondering where the hole might be and would you lose your balance when you found it. I have no idea how many pond-like puddles there were, but there were many. The race is at sea level and considering all the surrounding coastal waters, there just isn't much opportunity for run off of ground water from rain and snow melt.

Shane Arriving At Furnace Town & Loving Life!

Arriving at the Furnace Town Aid Station I saw Liz and I told her Clay couldn't be far behind me. She asked if he was hurting and I didn't think so. Janice of course had me back on the trail with a full bottle in her Indy Pit Crew style. My first handheld had Honey Stinger gels in it and I found that while I like them, I just don't get the bounce I get from the Clif Bar products. Yes, Tailwind really contains everything I need, but my brain still wants to eat. I also, until this event, had always been a salt tablet guy. Yes, I'm well aware of the benefits of pickle juice, but I had never relied on it solely for cramp avoidance. They're now supporting me with product so I went all in and ditched the salt tablets. Janice had Pickle Juice Sport drink for me at each aid station and yes, I made it through the entire day 100% cramp free.

Janice's Rolling Aid Station With Pickle Juice Sport, BOCOGEAR & ClifBar

Right after Furnace Town, the real sand started and the sun came out and it was suddenly warm. I peeled down my arm warmers and planned to ditch my gloves. At about 13 miles fatigue was taking control. The wheels hadn't come completely off, but I was now in management mode to survive to the finish.

The course is a big lollipop and at mile 15 you basically turn around and there's an aid station there that you visit twice. Janice collected me and resupplied me, taking my arm warmers and gloves as well. This aid station had the most awesome slider-size hamburgers - I ate two! I hadn't seen Shane all day and there he was seated doing something and Liz was there helping him. I know what it means to sit down during an ultra, so my only hope was that he'd get back up and keep going.

That's Not A Homeless Person Sitting Amongst Clothing Donations
That's A Brand New Ultra Runner With His Crew

I got a little confused here because the course then continues to a parking area for a U-turn and then heads to the Pusey Branch  for an out and back portion. That out and back section destroyed me last year and for some reason I thought it had been eliminated for this year. With all that said, to be running it really got in my head again this year.

Coming Into Aid Station #3 & Still Smiling

After turning around at the river, I saw Shane so he was up and going again and now to hopefully see Clay. I saw him just before the aid station, he was power walking, but he was moving and that's all that matters in an ultra. I gave him all the encouragement I could muster and we both moved off in opposite directions. Janice greeted me at the second pass of that aid station (mile 19) and with a full bottle and a dry hat I was headed towards home.

I Just Like This Photo

The wheels really came off on this stretch, I was feeling tired and walking felt like the most efficient mode. After aid station 4 the route is retracing trail and for some reason that got to me and my motivation was at a low point. I decided that when we made the turn onto new trail I would step it up and start running again. I stuck to that plan, left a woman I had been walking and talking with and I was now moving again. I was pretty warm at this point, my handheld was empty and I couldn't remember where the next aid station was. I was a little panicked at mile 23 thinking I'd need to go 5 more miles with nothing to drink. Thankfully I passed a runner who knew we had an aid station coming up very soon, further panic avoided.

Aid Station #5 - Mardi Gras - Mile 24.5 #fried

The next aid station was quite a party with a Mardi Gras theme, complete with whiskey and beads. In fact step one in getting aid here was first accepting Mardi Gras beads. I gulped down 2 cups of plain water and Janice was there with my resupply.

These Volunteers Had The Party Raging In Full Affect

I gave her my beads and started to head out when a guy stopped me, shook my hand and said he had run much of the last mileage with me last year. He further said, "you saved my life, you gave me salt tablets and you wrote about it". I reminded him of the lesson, always be sure to help other trail runners in need; unless of course they're in your age group. After a good laugh I was back on the trail.

This Man Ran With Me, Ate My Salt Tablets, Beat Me,
Read My Blog and Even Better Yet, He Remembered Me

My gut was sloshing like an aquarium from the water I drank and just as I was thinking of that I caught a toe on a root and did a full-on Super Man complete with a nasty hard landing on my left side. The pain in my ribs was debilitating for a few seconds while I searched for my handheld that flew off into the woods. I eventually got going again with rib pain as a new found challenge. I stayed focused that I only had 6-ish miles to go, just like my daily lunch hour 10K's (yes, I was trying to stay positive).

The trail dumps back out onto the sand road and the stick of the lollipop course begins it's return to the start/finish at the Milburn Landing Area. After the brief stretch on paved road you arrive at the last (also the first) aid station. Janice gave me one last shot of Pickle Juice and another handheld loaded with Tailwind and Clif Bar CLIF SHOT Eergy Gls and BLOKS I was off to enjoy the remaining miles of pleasant single track. We came to a junction in the trail and it was roped off guiding runners to make a right turn onto the Milburn Landing Trail (a route change from last year). This stretch was mind numbing as you were sort of curving out and around the start/finish and the sounds of the finish line were quite apparent through the trees. It sounded like the finish was 100 yards away, but the never ending mud on this last stretch made it feel like 100 miles. Making matters worse I saw a small group of runners behind me and I dreaded being caught. I'm not sure why, but for the last 3 miles or so I played cat and mouse with them doing everything I could to not let them pass me. With one last shoulder check, I knew I had won that one person head game as I saw Janice waiting at the finish line.

No More Mud - All Done
I Had To Include This Photo, It's My New Favorite
(Thanks to Chris Demone)

I've run a bunch of 50K's and never did I start one thinking I wouldn't finish. This day's run was in great question, honestly I felt I had no business being there. I had joked that if I finished it would be a miracle and if I finished under the cut-off; it would certainly ensure the second coming. After Janice greeted me, I looked around for Christ, I'm sure he was there somewhere. I didn't see the son of God, but I was soon welcomed by Trent waiting with an awesome finisher's mug.

Pretty cool that the guy who devotes so much time to this event is there to congratulate each and every runner as they arrive. As a back of the pack runner, I often never get to meet race directors, much less speak with them; they're surrounded by a clique of runners or so absorbed in something or they may not even be around. Trent's not only there, he's offering himself up as a friend would. Pretty special dude.

I hobbled my way over to the pavilion and Janice got my mug filled with an IPA and we joined the cheering for the remaining runners as the 8 hour cut off drew near. I saw runners I recognized from the trail finally finishing their day and soon we saw Shane approaching. Shane was running like a charging bull as the 8 hour cut-off was chasing him. He made it and not only did he make it, he was the last finisher under the cut off, which comes with the horse shoe award and this year a free pair of Altra running shoes of his choice.

Shane Made It! (I borrowed this photo and I don't remember from whom, but thank you!)

After 3:30pm ticked past, Trent took a mug a ceremoniously smashed it. Everyone booed and cheered and jeered.
Clay With The Finish In His Sights

As runners wandered in, each of them got mugs and soon we recognized Clay approaching; he had grinded it out and finished his first 50K, his first ultra. Eight hours didn't matter, he survived the test and yes; Trent was there to give him his mug.

The Mug Hand Off

At dinner Friday night I told Clay and Shane that what they were about to do would be nothing like any other running event they had experienced. I urged them to have fun, to carry their phone and take photos. The fun and the real people you meet running trail ultras, for me, is what it's all about. There were plenty of first timers at the race, but I got to know these two crazies and that made it all worth while.

The Algonquin 50K is a great event for a first timer, a runner on the mend or for the ultra runner who just wants to kick off their year. Flat and fast, sure; but the never ending mud and standing frigid water will also always be there to challenge you. And even with course changes, at 32+ miles; it's still the longest 50K on the east coast. Some year if Trent Swanson gets his wish, it'll actually be a winter ultra with cold temperatures and maybe snow. Last April when I registered I thought I'd be that runner kicking off his year, but instead I was the runner on the mend desperately needing a long run. The fun Janice and I wrap around this event will probably keep it firmly planted on our February calendars to come.

Heading To The Showers

Next up for me is the HAT Run 50K next month. Yes, it'll be in a park, but it won't be a walk in the park for this runner attempting to return to fitness.

From Facebook, some fun facts provided by Trent Swanson, Race Dictator:

Just the numbers:
159 finishers
9 DNFs
Fastest Time Male: Aaron Ellison 4:05:19
Fastest Time Female: Maria Miller 4:44:54
Average Finishing time: 6:35:02 (The most average runner... Brent Keeney 6:34:23 by one second over Matt Jones 6:35:40)
Average time difference in runners’ speed from last year: + 2 minutes and 25 seconds
51 runners returned who ran last year
59 first time ultramarathoners finished the race
Oldest Male Finisher: Eddy Godfrey (64)
Oldest Female Finisher: Gloria Stephens (64)
Youngest Male Finisher: Jonah Miller (15)
Youngest Female Finisher: Catherine Raley (22)
Best improvement in placing from 2017 to 2018: Todd Bellamy went from 109th place last year to 40th place this year.
Best improvements in time from 2017 to 2018:
Todd Bellamy by 2 hours 10 minutes and 47 seconds
Anthony Romano by 1 hour 35 minutes and 24 seconds
Ashley Crouch by 45 minutes and 52 seconds
Time between first and last Finisher: 4 hours and 53 minutes
Runner who traveled the least to run the race: Josaline Brittingham (4.5 miles)
Runner who traveled the furthest flying: Jason Swanson (2,810 miles)
Runner who traveled the furthest driving: Lisa Lisa Rachel Brown (720 miles)
States with the most people: Maryland (91), Virginia (22), Pennsylvania (20)
States with only one runner: Connecticut, Florida, Maine, New Hampshire, Mississippi, and Vermont
2 lake crossings
Over 70 volunteers
13 horse riders followed the runners at different points. They worked in pairs.
12 Rangers helped with the race
A little over 300 flags placed to mark the trail
12 two liters of Coke consumed on the trails
20+ gallons of TriFuel
8 gallons of pickle juice consumed on the trails
Over 70lbs of boiled potatoes from Five Guys devoured on the trails
20lbs of bananas eaten on the trails
8lbs of Bacon
5lbs of Scrapple
A fifth of Jack Daniels
5 Smith Island Cakes (yeah we needed more)
72 Oatmeal Pies
10 dozen donuts from Dunkin’ Donuts
7 gallons of Chesapeake Bay Farms chocolate milk consumed
20 gallons of beer thanks to Michael Piorunski!
115 sliders 🍔 eaten
2 Superhuman creatures running... The Goatman and Tattooed Gabe
1 exhausted Algonquin race crew
I knew those three stats classes would come in handy one day...
And that’s my race report

Altra Lone Peak Track On Rehoboth Beach

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Chiques Challenge 2017 - Race Report...err Challenge Report

August 12, 2017

I've come to look forward to this event each year. It helps to set me straight and remind me why I do any of this, for the fun of it. This is the seventh year for the race and I've had a blast at every one of them.

The event is aptly named, because I'm not really sure it's a race; it is however a challenge. To get to the finish line you need to cover about 4.5 miles on foot and about 2.5 in a kayak. Each year, since the event's inception in 2010, has seen different conditions that have helped to shape the challenge beyond covering the required distances. Weather conditions, river levels and even a local tragedy have come into play as each mid-August has rolled around.

Personally each race has been different, because most every year I've had at least one family member participate with me. The Chiques Challenge conveniently falls on the same day as Janice's family reunion, so most years it's been easy to conscript relatives to go along with the fun.

The Conrad-Sanker Crew 2017

One year we had five of us and only one year did I do it alone. This year I would be running and paddling solo for a second time.

Debbie & I Enjoying The Heat & Humidity Last Year
The humidity at last year's challenge was no joke, Janice's Sister Debbie and I did it together and I'm sure she'd attest to the fact that the heat and humidity had you sweating while standing still. This year it was only about 80° and the Pennsylvania August humidity was there, but somewhat bearable. Janice went with me and after 7 years she knows the drill quite well, drop off my kayak at the launch, drive to registration, get my race number and drive up river to the start line at the Marietta River Park. Just before the start I downed a bottle of water and ate a Clif Bar Clif Shot Energy Gel, so on top of a Banana and a Clif Bar Organic Energy Food I had at home, nutritionally; I was all set.

The start was a little different this year for a couple reasons. Pretzel City Sports does the timing and if you know them, you know Ron Horn. Ron has been at the start each of the previous years adding his own unique touch to pre-race announcements. This year unfortunately he was away working a different event on his schedule, so his color commentary was sadly missed. In all of the past years a woman from the Susquehanna Valley Chamber Of Commerce was the race director and speaker and she was absent as well. Another obvious difference was the small field of participants, with only 77 registrants and that's counting both relay team members.

Nothing else was different though and soon we heard "go" and off we went down river on the Northwest River Trail. It's a multi-purpose paved trail that leads the runners to town where the race swaps the trail for the streets of Marietta.

I'm not a fast runner to begin with and I've spent many of the weeks leading up to this little run trying to regain some sort of fitness level from injuries; so I had no idea what to expect for a pace I could hold onto while I careened toward my kayak. I heard my watch beep for the first mile, but I couldn't bring myself to look to see just how slow I was going. All I knew was that my heart rate felt sustainable so I wasn't going to change anything. If I couldn't sustain it, I'd slow the heck down.

Build It And They Will Run

I started at the very back of the pack. I'm used to ultra starts where my positioning at the start line means very little for me and I didn't want to be in the way of those fasties who planned to fly from the gun. With all that said, I did have fun chasing and passing other runners through the first couple of miles. I eventually came up behind three guys who looked my age, in fact I could've sworn I heard  them exchange their ages (and they were in my age group). One guy almost immediately blew up and dropped from our group, but the other two looked like stronger runners than me so I was encouraged that I was hanging with them. I figured if I could stay with them to the kayak, I might survive. Soon my plan dissolved as they both of them started to struggle each at different times. One guy was taking brief walk breaks and the other guy was yoyo-ing up and back, going behind me then ahead of me. That went on for a little while until I found myself permanently in front of them. I wanted to follow their pace and now somehow I was the pacer.

Heading To The Kayak

We came through a final turn and I saw Janice taking photos, I also felt my heart rate spiking. I knew I couldn't handle the kayak, much less paddle efficiently arriving with my heart in the red so I walked 4 or 5 strides until it felt under control. In that short break both guys passed me, but that short break was also all I needed and I quickly passed them and with a burst that separated me from them significantly. I never saw them at the kayak transition or again until they finished.

I had registered early so my number was 5 and that meant my kayak was in the front row of boats, closest to the river. In fact I had a straight shot to the boat launch. That's where that advantage seemed to fizzle as there was a bit of a traffic jam at the river's edge. A young woman was taking a long time to get in her kayak and the guy next to her forgot to put his life vest on and it was tangled in his bungees and his paddle. My kayak's 14 feet long and just heavy enough that it's not exactly maneuverable so when I needed to go around these folks to the other side of the ramp, I'm sure it wasn't exactly graceful. Soon enough though I was in the water making a wake and heading down river to Columbia's River Park. The woman who was at the launch was in a kayak like I hadn't seen before and she wore a helmet. She also paddled way out river right when the finish line was on the left. She went so far out, I was concerned she may not have known where the finish line was at all.

Getting in a kayak to paddle after running is an interesting transition. You go from using your legs to using your upper body. If the transition isn't odd enough when you start to fatigue, it doesn't seem to matter which muscle group you're using; you're tired all over. The river was high from recent rains and making the paddling easy as many of the rocks were submerged below. I passed a few folks in the kayak who simply seemed like they were running out of steam. Two guys were clearly there for the fun of it and/or paddling a kayak was not their thing, so passing them was most fun because the fun they were having; laughing and yelling "you go dude". I think that was code for, "you go old man". [Those fellas later approached Janice asking if she had a photo of them leading the race. They said they went out fast in hopes of being captured actually leading at some point, knowing they wouldn't win.]

Here They Are, #43 And His Buddy Over
His Right Shoulder Clearly Winning :-)

Soon I was floating across the finish line and again this attempt fell short of my goal to someday finish this thing under an hour (I was bummed about that for almost a second). I quickly realized Janice wasn't there at The Columbia River Park. I had seen her in Marietta, but now that I thought of it I didn't see her at the boat launch. She goes to an overlook to take photos, but it's difficult to see people up there from the river, but she definitely wasn't at the finish. Now all kinds of things were going through my head, keys locked in the Jeep? an accident?...thankfully she eventually showed up and jokingly said I had gone too fast for her to keep up. While I was running with those guys, a volunteer fire person there for traffic control (I think) was driving a pickup truck along side us as we ran. She was driving quite slowly (our running pace) and shadowing us and it was really unnerving. I eventually asked her to go ahead of us or behind us. I'm not sure she heard me as she gave me a bewildered look. She did however drop back behind us. Well, apparently Janice got stuck behind that same truck and was unable to get to the boat launch in time. When leaving the overlook she again got stuck behind slowpokes, but that's a lot better than some crisis that my brain was imagining.

We stayed for the raffle and awards. Again, I didn't win a raffle prize, but I did get a nifty medal for being the 2nd fastest guy in my elderly age group. We took some time to play Pokemon Go and then headed home to enjoy the family reunion...a successful day!

Next up for me, The MD HEAT Race 50K! :-)

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Pity Party Is Over - On The Rocks 50k Race Report

This is a somewhat wordy blog post, there's some personal stuff in it
and some of my commentary may be offensive to some
If you're not up for that, scroll down, maybe look at the pictures
and go for a run instead. 😅

July 15, 2017

Sitting on my butt wondering when I'd get up again without pain or difficulty is not my idea of a good way to spend my day. Last year I ended my season that way with a hospital visit included and this year my season went off the tracks with injury again.

An injury in mid-April resulted in a DNF and an additional injury at The C&O Canal 100. That painful injury was later determined to be Baker's Cyst and its affects drug out through May. In June, I stepped up to the start line of the Laurel Highlands Ultra (my all time favorite event) extremely under prepared and my DNF for that day was awarded after just 39 miles.

Tough day on the Laurel Highlands Trail.

I tried to be positive by focusing on the fact that I was soon going to the beach for vacation. I had no races registered until late August and you can't DNF a race if you haven't entered. I'll go to the beach and jump start my training with some leisurely flat coastal running mixed with clamming, crabbing, kayaking and all that other stuff you do on vacation. What could go wrong? Well...I did get to do some running, but I also got some sort of ugly intestinal virus that stole a full 24 hours from my vacation and added five more days of no running while my gut stopped rumbling. Speaking of my gut, if there's one thing I've never learned to do, it's controlling my appetite while injured. Even when not running, I still eat like a runner and the calories pile up instead of being burned. So yep, here I am, fat and out of shape and wondering what to do.

Being extremely discouraged, somewhat depressed and wallowing in self pity; were all constants and that's just not my way. I wasn't enjoying this non-running life at all. Even on days when my knee wasn't sore, I seemed to have lost the desire to run and I certainly didn't want to write about it. I ditched this blog thing and ducked social media. Things got even worse when I read an article in Trail Runner Magazine titled "How Not To Be An Asshole". That story made me start to question so much about my favorite past time. I run in the mountains for fun and I know that I grow with every trek. I don't believe I've ever lost sight of that, but I found however that, primarily through social media, I see plenty of runners who enjoy that same past time for seemingly different reasons. Constant humble bragging, name dropping, spouting off about finishing times, podiums, PR's and belt buckles (drama drama drama). Just a whole lot of "hey look at me!", especially on freaking Strava. [Note: I ditched out of all Strava Clubs just for that reason, prior to reading this article] Being happy and proud of the things you do is pretty normal (I think), especially if self promotion is necessary (like if you're sponsored); but there's a way to do that without being a complete ass. I write about myself and my running, but I've thought I've done it from the right perspective, but oh damn, am I an asshole? (please don't answer that) I quickly scrolled back through my electronic past to see how bad I've been, to see if I was indeed that "world class jerk" described in that article. This investigation was doing me no good, I was only getting more bummed about the current state of my trail running. Knowing I was an asshole on top of that would do me no good at all. So I accepted that I probably have been that asshole and reverted back to my pity party instead.

One day Janice asked, "isn't there a 50k you could enter, kind of as a first step in starting over?". I heard, "even though you're fat and stumbling, you can still finish a 50k, right?". I've often thought that if I can't just get up in the morning and run a 50k, I've completely fallen off my ultra running planet of fun and I should just pack it in. I quickly decided, without telling Janice of course, that packing it in was my chosen route. F this, I'm not having fun anymore, I've dug myself a hole I can't climb out of, it's definitely time to find a new hobby. My pity party was in full swing complete with wings, pizza, beer and any other gut building food you can name.

The Ocean City Maryland Weather Was Perfect
...Too Bad My Belly Didn't Cooperate

Sick in bed at the beach, sweating in the A/C and wishing I could just go to sleep, I picked up my cell phone and saw a reminder email from Ultrasignup that the registration deadline for the On The Rocks Trail Runs was approaching. When Janice had suggested the "go run a 50k" plan, On The Rocks was the race I considered because it fit my schedule. Completely dehydrated from numerous bathroom visits, my body felt empty and beyond fatigued and I put the phone down and closed my eyes. I wasn't going to run that race or any other for that matter.

As I was drifting off to sleep, I heard a television commercial for and I started to think/dream about my Dad. It was just last year while at the beach that we learned the DNA test results that determined the identity of my Dad's biological father. Fast approaching was also the first anniversary of his passing. No I didn't sleep, I was now tossing and turning with thoughts of my Dad. It didn't take long for me to realize that I couldn't think of anything my Dad had ever quit except for smoking. He wouldn't be wrapped up in self pity, it just wasn't his way.

Mom & Dad, newlyweds 1944.

My Dad was born in a farm house sitting-room in Cape Girardeau Missouri in 1923. He grew up during the depression not knowing his Dad and oft times was left with Aunts and Uncles to help tend their farms. His feet were wide, Triple E, from usually not having shoes to wear. Dad was a Marine in the South Pacific during WWII where the conditions were never good, deadly as a matter of fact. After the war he and Mom came back to settle in Harrisburg Pennsylvania. With little education, he worked his way up from Technician to General Manager while raising three kids.  I rolled back over, picked up my phone and registered for the On The Rocks 50k and I promised myself (and my Dad) that no matter how bad it got, I would finish the run, I would not quit and I would enjoy every step of it; I'd have fun.

Yeah I chose On The Rocks because of scheduling, but I also knew the complete butt kicking it would provide. That type of ass tanning you need to open your eyes and snap out of a funk. The race is put on by York area ultra runner, Scott Newcomer. Anybody who knows Scott knows that the easy way out is not his choice and I consider him firmly on that next level evidenced in his recent finishing of the HURT 100 in Hawaii. Scott's race at Rocky Ridge County Park clearly reflects his tough running nature. I had run the event twice previously when the circuits through the park were only 9 miles, so the longest event then was a 30k. New mountain bike trails have been cut and now Scott had enough trail to offer a legit ultra distance 50k. ( Races with options for one or two laps are also available) The new route was advertised to provide 4500' in climbing. There are no crazy long climbs, but plenty of that nagging steep stuff that sends your heart rate soaring. On The Rocks is an apt name as very little of the course is not littered with rocks and those hills start early and don't spit you out until the end of the lap. This race would be exactly what I'd need to end my stupid pity party.

Race morning, my backyard was socked in with thick fog. Mojo and Mollie went outside, the lights came on and our fence was just barely visible in the mist. I remembered Scott's email stating the weather man had given us a reprieve and it wasn't expected to be as humid for the event. He seemingly jinxed himself as someone had definitely turned the humidity dial up, not down. It had poured in the York area the night before and the York County Parks folks are pretty strict about trail conditions and this race is the only one I know of with a rain date. I checked email and apparently the rain wasn't bad enough to postpone the run so I went about my typical morning race prep. Mollie snored next to me on the sofa while I took in calories from a couple of ClifBar Organic Energy Meals, a banana and an orange. Janice and I hit the road for York as the sun rose and the fog started to burn off.

The course has four aid stations (including the start/finish area) and Janice and I had a plan for her to meet me at Aid Stations 1 & 2 as they were positioned near each other and walk-able for her. I wore a hydration vest as it made it easy to carry two bottles and a bunch of Clif Shot Energy Gels and Clif Bloks Energy Chews. I had mixed six bottles with Tailwind and I planned to get two full ones at the end of the first two laps. Janice was carrying ClifBar Organic Food packs and Mama Chia Squeezes I'd eat when I saw her on the course.

There were only about 50 or 60 runners around the start line for the 50k. Scott was quick to point out the weather man's humidity mistake and after brief announcements we were off. I hung at the back of the pack and soon found myself on the end of a string of runners that included Gary Bowman from over in Lancaster County. I stayed on the back to not get in anybody's way and I established what seemed like a sustainable pace (slow). Once I got warmed up a little, it was quite evident that the morning's humidity was immense. By the 5 mile mark I was drenched as if I had just gotten out of a swimming pool. It climbed to near 90° and the humidity matched. A couple of aid stations had ice, I stuffed in the pockets of my shorts and wrapped it in a handkerchief and wore it around my neck. Anything to keep cool.  That first lap went well I guess, I didn't see Janice at any of the aid stations, but they were well supplied and I was carrying my food so I was fine. [Janice was catching Pokémon in the park. At time of this writing she still has a Pokémon in a gym there. She's definitely a skilled Trainer.] She did meet me at the end of the first lap with two more (cold) bottles of Tailwind and after sucking down a ClifBar Organic Energy Food and a Mama Chia Squeeze I set off for 10.5 more miles of heat, rocks and hills. Lap two was full of mistakes. After barely a quarter mile I lost sight of the trail markings. What seemed like the logical route lead to a cliff. I had run through this section previously with a group, so on my own I didn't recognize anything. I soon figured it out and was moving again. The whole lap was full of wrong turns and second guessing my direction which wasted a bunch of time. There was one point on a climb where I was faced by runners from one of the shorter races descending the hill so I was sure I was going the wrong way. I turned around, but soon I ran into Gary so I knew I had been going the correct direction. It was fun to see Brian Dibeler, another York County trail runner when he blew past me running the two lap event. I heard later his son ran the single lap race (that's awesome).

Lap three started off well, I saw Tim Shealer (another member of the York County trail running tribe) standing near the aid station. I remarked I was happy that I was beating the cutoff time for starting the last lap. He said Scott's not real strict with his time cutoffs, but I just wasn't interested in being "that guy". Janice handed me my final two bottles and I started the grind that would be lap 3. Now it was down to managing these hills and the heat for one last trip. Janice met me at Aid Stations 1 and 3 which was a huge help in the final push (struggle) to the finish.

It was hard to enjoy the well groomed start/finish
area as it came after a draining ascent.

Rocky Ridge County Park is well used and the trails had been busy all day with mountain bikers and hikers. I had less than a mile to go and I was making the descent that sets up the final climb to the finish. I came to an intersection where a woman with with four teenagers were standing deciding which way to go. I made a left turn and soon realized I wasn't seeing trail markings. I had run nearly the entire third lap without a mistake and now I was looking for the course. After a u-turn and now facing the woman and the kids, she said, "if you're looking for those orange marker things, they're back there" (where they had been standing)...gee, thanks...they had been standing on the arrows on the ground and they blocked my view of the ribbons as well. No big deal, I was back on track and moving my way to the finish.  Thankfully the timers were still there waiting for me and my day was done. Awesome event, well run and with great volunteers. This is a tough 50k and it's not your typical lap race. The laps are 10+ miles long and the terrain is so diverse, you're never in that "oh, this again" mode. This was the first year for the 50k and the field was small, but word will get out, this race is the real deal. Put it on your calendar for next July.

My kick in the ass had been delivered in the form of the On The Rocks 50k. My plan had worked, as every time I faced pain or exhaustion or frustration, I remembered my Father. July 14th may be Bastille Day in France, but for me it's forever the day I lost my Dad. So on this July 15th, I remembered so many of the stories he told. If you knew my Dad, you know how long his stories could be (yes, that's where I get it). I thought about his chasing the pigs that got out on his Aunt's farm in Missouri, moving from house to house as a kid, his dog named Strong Heart and an enormous farm cat named Oscar. He told about starving when his Marine Corps unit was forgotten with no resupply on Kumejima Island. The struggle on the trail was eased with thoughts of all the time he gave me, coming to my football games in high school and college, driving me and my friends to run 10K's, my bicycle races and that one time I ran a road marathon.

No hill, no amount of rocks or humidity could measure anywhere near the life challenges my Dad withstood. Focusing on him made it easy to keep my commitment and make it up the last climb without self pity and zero "whoa as me". Thanks Dad!

I've got a lot of work to do, but I feel I'm back on track and running again. Thanks to Janice's idea I got the kick in the tail I needed to get me off the sofa. Thanks to ClifBar and Zensah for nutrition and compression. Next up is the fun Chiques Challenge with the MD HEAT Race shortly after that. Everything between now and October 14th is preparation for the Oil Creek 100. Thanks for reading this far and I promise to work harder at not being that trail running asshole.

Yes, we made it to The Dauphin County BrewFest afterwards!

Monday, May 1, 2017

Still Looking For That "Real" 100 Mile Finish - MY C&O Canal 100 Mile DNF Report

April 29, 2017

I returned to the C&O Canal 100 this year, the place where my only 100 mile finish has been recorded. I returned with the hope of improving on some things that went wrong last year. In 2016, because of the weather conditions, I spent nearly 2 hours over a couple of aid station visits.

I don't care much about finishing times or placing. I don't even speak the runner language. I really don't understand much when I hear other runners yammering on about their intervals, speed workouts, tempo runs, Fartleks, etc. To me PR stands for Puerto Rico. I don't run hill repeats, much less drone on about them, I can't stand hills; why would I repeat them? Why not just run hilly routes? I just can't take myself that seriously. My approach to events is therefore much like my approach to running.

After events, I try to look back and focus on simple details that matter to me:

  • Did I have fun?
  • Was Janice there?
  • Was I efficient?
  • Did I finish?

Last year I finished but I wasn't efficient, Janice wasn't there and I only sort of had fun. This year I was determined to be better prepared(efficient). Most importantly though, I wouldn't be running unsupported, Janice would be with me. She's the most amazing woman and crew person I know and she'd be there to make sure everything went right. I'd be efficient, I'd finish and we'd have fun.

The C&O Canal was operated from 1831 to 1924 and the old mule towpath has evolved into a modern day 184 mile multi-use trail. Walkers, runners, cyclists, hikers, backpackers and kayakers looking for access to the Potomac clog the trail on sunny days. The history along the distance is amazing and certainly worth exploring. [This year I noticed some sort of ovens along the path and just up river from that was a cave.] I recommend checking it out, take a bike or do it on foot, have a look around and you'll probably realize quickly that you'll need to come back because you need more time. The path is flat as a board and running 100 miles on it can be mind numbing and deceptively difficult. I somehow figured out how to get to the finish line last year, so I guess I figured out the challenges that come with this surface that feels like a 1970's-era high school cinder track.

A couple of conditions would be different this year.

  • The obvious difference became apparent as the weather forecast matured. In 2016 my fight was with hypothermia from chilling temperatures and 13 hours of rain. This year the battle would be with temperatures in the high 80's. I know how to prepare for heat and humidity so I didn't feel this would be a deal breaker. [the high recorded during this year's event was 89° - that temperature coupled with the humidity created a jungle-like feel under the tree covered portions of the tow path] 
  • The big difference this year, was my health. Eighteen days before the event, I strained my right calf muscle. It was painful, it was stiff and most of all it prevented me from running during those days leading up to the race. Not running for that type of time span is never my plan, even when leading up to a 100 mile run. 

I tried everything I knew to do with the injury. Nothing was really working and I know that rest is the key to this type of recovery, but did I have enough time? All because a driver allowed her car to drift backwards when I was behind it, I was left to wonder if I should even make the trip to this start line. I saw that our local Fleetfeet store was hosting a Physical Therapist and all were welcome to come "Ask The PT". I decided to go ask thinking he may have a suggestion that I hadn't thought of or read about. Sure enough he did, he recommended stretching to encourage the muscle to repair. I'm not a runner who stretches, but I know how to so I commenced with regular calf stretches and almost immediately saw improvement. Two days before the trip to the C&O Canal, I was walking pain free and the stiffness had seemingly gone. I was pretty psyched,  after all; this would not just be a trip to packet pick-up to get my t-shirt and leave. Standing at that start line now was becoming a very real thing again. [Note: Mockingly, the day we packed up for travel, my calf muscle started to hurt again - pain and stiffness similar to the original]

This is a DNF report so I won't blather on about everything; every step I took, the food at the aid stations, or the course. It's an awesome event, go run it and find out. Why did I drop? Why did I end up on the "DNF" list? In a word, injury. No it wasn't the three week old calf strain. It probably was related to it however. It was quite hot during the race and a normal reaction to excessive heat is that sometimes your feet swell. I recognized that and knew I needed to loosen my shoe laces. I sat down on a fence and retied both shoes and when I stood up, my left knee would not fully extend. It felt like somehow my hamstring or some ligament back there was now only half as long as it should be and it came with an awful pain. When the race started, to accommodate my strained right calf I adopted a somewhat choppy stride. I was able to run and with just a little pain vs. a lot. I was psyched, I was running and I felt good about completing the 100 miles. I'm willing to guess that new "choppy" stride resulted in my now also new back-of-knee pain; a reciprocal reaction to favoring my right leg . If I stopped moving for any time at all, my knee was nearly inflexible for about a mile. I could sort of run, but it was a limping run which was now affecting other joints, mainly my hips. After mile 50 I was reduced to a pathetic limping stumble. I didn't even know that back-of-knee pain was a thing and now it was taking me out of a race. When I reached the start/finish area which doubled as the 59.6 mile aid station, I turned in my number.[Note: While writing this, the back of my left knee is slightly swollen and quite tender to the touch. I'm icing it with high compression currently and Janice put KT Tape on it to help me walk.]

When I dropped out Janice was not happy. All kinds of things were flailing through her brain, the one she repeated the most was that she somehow jinxed me. I've been to this race three times and I only finished the one she didn't attend. There couldn't be anything further from the truth. I get such a lift from Janice being at my events. I don't even have to see her, just knowing she's there looking out for me is indescribable. Finishing this race last year without her made it feel like it never really happened, like it wasn't official or legit. She wasn't there taking pictures or feeding me or refusing to hug me because I stink so badly or any of the other things she does while I'm spending all day running. I'm still looking for that "real" 100 mile finish, the one that has Janice along the course and standing at the finish line(avoiding my sweaty, filthy, stinky hug).

Thanks again to ClifBar, Tailwind Nutrition and Zensah for their support in keeping me going.

Keep Smiling No Matter What Happens

Next up is a fun family bike ride in New York City. We will be riding the Five Boro Bike Tour on Sunday May 7th, It's going to be awesome! the way, I did have fun, I was sort of efficient and Janice was with me; not finishing was my only detail I missed...