Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Stone Mill 50 Race Report - A Fun Finish For A Fresh Start

I had been having a fun year of running. The high point was surviving The Laurel Highlands Ultra in June - 70.5 miles in 19:34 - there's something about finishing cross-eyed and hallucinating at 1:05am that can leave you on a high spot. I was stoked, training was going well and I even won my age group in a short race in August. Then September rolled around and without warning, the wheels came off. When you're running an ultra you're wise to be able to recognize a rough patch as just that and you push through it. Don't let it stop you. Somehow I failed to recognize September as a rough patch and I let it stop me. I let a whole lot of things that come with running bother me and I let that frustration stop me. I scratched from 3 races and completely stopped running. I had no real idea why, but that made sense to me at the time considering I have no real idea why I run in the first place. For about 3 weeks I sat on the sofa eating chips and drinking cans of Coke 3 at a time. I was having a blast, just me and the dogs chilling and eating chips. Taking naps was also a newly learned skill. Along with building a lovely waist line, I was reaching new heights of annoying Janice. I came to learn that she cherished those days when I'd disappear for 4 hours to run in the forest. Oh well, I'd just need to learn better ways of keeping my non-running self out of her way so she could still enjoy her "me time".

One Sunday, Janice went somewhere to do something with some girls from her softball team and I started to feel like my lard ass was sinking a little extra deep in the sofa that day. The dogs were sleeping off whatever container of snacks we had polished off and I realized I needed to run. It was that simple, I needed to run. I got off my butt and went for a run - did a lot of walking as the climbs on Blue Mountain hadn't taken off the same days I had, but it was a run just the same. The next day I was right back at it, in fact I ran every day for the next 20 days straight. Over the next 32 days, I ran 31 times. Some of those runs were awful, but for some reason I was running again. I got back to running with Mojo and Mollie too! I even found a couple of short trail races to hop in for fun, got my butt kicked like always, but they were fun.

Somehow when I was going through my "I'm done with running" period I had forgotten to tell the nice folks of the Montgomery County Road Runners Club that I wouldn't be at the start line for their Stone Mill 50 miler in November. After all, the conflict with the date of that race was one of the stressors that sent me spinning out of running, how could I have forgotten to ditch this race too? Now here I was running again. Sure I was carrying a bunch of extra pounds and I hadn't done any much needed long runs, but what could go wrong? The date seemed to be opening back up so who cared if a slow 15 miles was my longest run in many weeks? Yep, I burned some Hilton Honors points and just like that we had lodging and a November 50 miler was back on my calendar.

We packed up the Jeep and left Cody home to take care of Mojo and Mollie. After a short fight with DC Metro traffic we were at Fleet Feet Gaithersburg picking up my race number. Pretty cool timing as we ran into Janice's co-worker Matt Sinopoli and his friend Gene Gignac who were also running the next day. My only real concern at that point was if Matt would leave any finish line food for me. After a tasty dinner and brews at The Dog Fish Head Alehouse, we were off to the Hilton for some much needed sleep before the 6am start.

Pre-race prep at Dog Fish Head Alehouse

The morning went fast, the over-night rain stopped and after announcing some cool stats on what states runners came from (35 from PA), the race director said a very unceremonious "go".

One last headlamp adjustment.

Heading out to the 2.? mile turn around I heard guys talking behind me, put 2 and 2 together and soon realized I was somehow running in front of a Western PA contingent, Ben Mazur, Adam McGinnis and Todd Lewis - runners I spent the day leap frogging with during Laurel Highlands. A three man freight train.

Adam McGinnis, Ben Mazur
and Todd Lewis 
The Western PA Limited

It was dark so I wasn't looking at my watch, but I kept hearing comments about our average pace and although I felt fine, I knew I was going too fast. I think Todd was immediately behind me and I felt like I was running from a speeding car - these guys were going good, too good for me to maintain. Finally the sun was coming up so I used wanting to take my headlamp off as an excuse to pull off at the top of a small hill. Phew! As they flew past I thought, "now I can slow down and run my pace". 

Well that all sounds good, but I got caught right back up in the excitement of the race. I was hitting aid stations ahead of schedule causing Janice to miss me at the first one(no big deal) and I had to wait for her at the next(I needed to get rid of a shirt and my headlamp). Waiting a few minutes helped, it seemed to calm me some and drop me into a pack of runners closer to the pace I needed...or so I thought. I had told Niece and Nephew Heather and Jim they may be able to see me at the aid station near the Potomac at 11:00am and then 11:45am at the Stone Mill. I hit the marathon mark well under five hours and now I had just come through the 29 mile Stone Mill aid station just before 11 and was on my way 45 minutes ahead of my planned pace. There would be no way I could survive this pace.

Towing two shirtless guys into an aid station - they sure talked a lot.

Most of the aid stations were only a few miles apart so I chose to run with just a hand held.
Janice refueled me at each aid station with a full bottle and made sure I took two bottles when the next stop would be further than the others(some had 6+ mile gaps between them and in the later miles I was sucking down the liquid). I stuck to my schedule of a gel and an Endurolyte every hour and I used buffered salt tablets twice in the 50 miles(result=zero cramping). At the aid stations I made sure to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwich quarters and a piece of banana here and there - I drank a lot of Coke and Mountain Dew too.

Matt - Chocolate Chip Cookie Connoisseur & Gene - Refueling with Gatorade

I took a few extra moments at the Stone Mill aid station and trotted up the next couple of
ascents at a very easy(slow) pace and I was encouraged by hitting the 50k mark in about 5:50 - that was much closer to where I wanted/needed to be. Unfortunately it became quickly evident that I was not slowing down by choice anymore, fatigue was ruling at this point. I had hoped to finish at 10 hours or 4:00pm and at a later aid station I told Janice that goal was falling seriously out of possibility. I had 7 miles to go and it was 2:30, my pace had slowed considerably and I explained that I felt I was going to miss that mark. I was pushing hard, but I didn't have much left. I knew it was slipping away, but I felt I could really know how much time I could salvage when I got to the aid station at 48 miles. Much of the day, my trusty Suunto Ambit2 S watch hadn't been jiving with the aid station distances so I was relying on what the volunteers or signs listed as the distance. Well, I reached that aid station and I heard a volunteer say "you're doing great, just 3 more miles". Me and two other runners quickly asked, "what mile is this?" and "just about 47" was what we got. The race web site had labeled this last aid station as being at 48 mile and I know it's just a mile and I was going to miss 4:00pm whether it was 2 or 3, but to me that announcement was crushing. I was managing my physical and mental fatigue based completely on having 2 miles to go at that point. Fatigue totally took over and my next 3 miles were a mess.

I started to hear traffic and soon enough was I popping out of the woods onto the sidewalk we crossed in the morning darkness. I knew the High School and the finish line was close. After a short run along the street a nice volunteer directed me back into a forested area and I could see steep hills looming and before long I was looking up at the finish banner, but it was perpendicular to where I was. I heard Janice and others yelling my name. It was sort of confusing about how to get to the finish, but soon I heard the race director yell, "run to me" which meant run straight up a steep grassy hill. It was maybe only 40 yards up, but it was enough to bring flashbacks of running hill drills in football. I muttered some expletive to myself, but just had to laugh at that hill. As the exclamation point at the end of 50 miles it was easy to resolve to walk that last short distance.

Coming out of the woods one last time.


Crossing the line I was greeted by a volunteer with wire cutters to cut off my timing tag. When I explained it wasn't on my shoe it was in my pocket, the gentlemen doing the timing simply said, "not good" with a cross look - oops. I tried to explain that I expected to need to change my shoes, but that fell on deaf ears - didn't matter, I soon saw Janice and quickly recognized Heather and Jim who live in Virginia not too far from Gaithersburg. What a very cool surprise, having them at the finish. I hadn't seen them since the Goretex 50 Mile at the DC North Face Endurance Challenge in June 2012. I now knew who those other voices were yelling my name when I was at the base of that nasty hill.

The next day I read an article that said 80% of runners go out too fast at the start of races, so at least I've got company. The Stone Mill 50 offers an easy course. With nothing more than rolling little hills and nothing technical, "easy" is the only label I can give it. Heck, we ran more than a mile on a suburban sidewalk and 3 miles on the flat C&O Canal towpath. The 2 trails the race uses snake through suburbia, one minute we were hearing loud sirens nearby and around the next turn we were greeted by a beautiful buck. Hunters were there too, decked out in full camo carrying their bows on the hunt for Bambi with a couple hundred crazies running through their hunting ground. I was surprised by the amount of water crossings - my feet were wet much of the day. I saw a helmeted woman on horseback, but I also ran through a Starbuck's parking lot. The Seneca Creek and Muddy Branch Trails are beautiful and their gentleness will tempt you to run outside of your ability - take it from me, DON'T DO IT! After all, it is still 50 miles long. All in all, I'm happy with my finish, I got in with a 10:34ish - 89th of 179 male finishers & 115th of 252 overall finishers. 

The biggest deal? >>> I beat sundown and as Jim said, "in November that's hard to do".

Janice found fun while chasing me from aid station to aid station.

I now have completed 2 of the 3 events I found interesting when I first learned about ultra trail running. The Laurel Highlands and The Stone Mill 50 both caught my eye because of their closeness to home. I remember reading The Stone Mill site thinking the drawing of the old mill was very cool and I thought it had to be a fun event because it seemed to sell out in a hurry. Of course, just like Laurel Highlands, at the time I was confident I'd never enter such an insane endeavor. The third event that caught my eye? The 3rd was the JFK 50 and I've accepted I'll never run it and that's ok, I'm having more fun than all those miles on the towpath could ever provide.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

On The Rocks Trail 30k - Cyclops Race Report

When I was in my late 20's an optometrist told me he saw tiny cataracts in my eyes. He told me not to worry then, but I'd need to attend to them in about 25 years. Well, here I am 20+ years later and the cataracts had grown to a point where they had to be dealt with. In May I had the surgery done on my left eye. Dr. Ernst of Schein, Ernst Eye Associates performed the procedure and the surgery and recovery went so smoothly and the results were so amazing, I couldn't wait to have my right eye fixed. I had my right eye scheduled for the beginning of this month and Janice's first question was if I'd be fit to participate in the two events I had scheduled the same month. I reminded her how smoothly the first process went and assured her I'd be fine. Famous last words...

Long story short, there was a minor complication with my right eye which kept me on the table a bit longer, but more critically it evolved into a rough patch in the recovery.

Two days after surgery was Janice's family reunion weekend which meant our annual participation in the Chiques Challenge. This was the third year for the light hearted event and unfortunately due to injury our team of five was dwindled to three. Yep, it was the slow old guy with Niece Becky and her boyfriend Grant. A couple of twenty-something speedsters who can clip off a 3:30 marathon. My only goal was to see how close I could stay with them during the 4.3 mile run so as not to make them wait for me on the 2+ mile kayak stage. No matter what, we finish as a team and in numerical order by bib. (pretty serious event!) I held my mile time under 8 minutes and hit the water just a coupla-three minutes behind them. We had a blast, finished together and I went to watch Janice's co-ed softball team play two games before heading off to eat too much at the family reunion. Sunday was spent in a camp chair watching The Ridgerunners play five more games and take 2nd in their end-of-season playoff. All was good, I had a new lens in my right eye and I had a great weekend.

Monday told a different story. I awoke with a cloud over my eye accompanied by an annoying irritation. I was raised that if I could walk I went to school and I now typically wait till the grim reaper is ringing the doorbell before I call a doctor. I couldn't see through the soup on my right eye and the irritation wasn't to be ignored so I pulled the trigger and called the doctor. As a result of the complication during surgery, pressure had built in my eye. After two doctor visits and no running I was beginning to wonder if my assurance that I'd be fine for the On The Rocks 30k was pre-mature. I had one more appointment scheduled for Friday, but I couldn't take it anymore so I went for a run on Thursday. It was just my typical lunch hour 10k, but this time with no useful vision in my right eye. As I completed the first mile, suddenly I noticed I was seeing better. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon, but something had changed. I closed my left eye and I could actually see with my right eye. As the miles went by my vision seemed to get clearer. When I got back to the office I was reading everything I could using just my right eye. I was encouraged and decided that unless the doc said no, I would be at the start line on Saturday.

I wanted to return Rocky Ridge County Park because last year it was announced that this year would be run in the opposite direction essentially making it a different race. The York Road Runners Club with Scott Newcomer as race director put on a good race. It's also a fund raiser for the nearby Margaret E. Moul Cerebral Palsy Home. The event offers a 5k Walk, a 10k and a 15k and 30k. The 15k & 30k runners start together on the same route, the 30kers simply get to do the loop twice. Scott Newcomer's a trail and ultra runner and he lists the course difficulty as a 6 or 7 out of 10 because of the running surfaces and the elevation gain . On The Rocks Trail Run is an appropriate name as it has a few portions where you pop out of the woods onto a gravel path, but the majority of the course is typical Pennsylvania rocky technical trail. Throw in 3,000'+ of climbing over the 30k and it adds up to a tough day.

Running with folks who are doing half as much, I have to keep an eye on my pace from the start to avoid getting sucked into their quicker pace. This year we took off heading west with a good bit of downhill to get us started. In short order though we were winding through the rocks to climb our first nagging hills. I felt good, saw Janice at a road crossing and seemed to be managing my pace and nutrition/hydration just fine. My Suunto Ambit2 S said I was slightly ahead of last year's pace enough to make me happy, but not too fast to make me concerned.






At the 7 mile mark there was an aid station and a bit of a downhill which lead to a long climb which lead you to the final climb before the start/finish area. Those two climbs slowed me and I was disappointed when my pace seemed identical to last year's. Those climbs also emptied my handheld so I was now wondering if I would see Janice with my other bottle or would I need to go to the refreshment pavilion to refill. Seeing an aid station canopy on the power line crossing before the start of the second loop filled me with positive energy and I passed another runner as we finished the climb into the start/finish.



I got to refill my bottle, smile for Janice and her ever-present camera and I started lap two with a new found energy. Before I knew it I was back on the opening downhill and feeling and going good again.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~FACE PLANT!...mmmph...


Yep, I stepped on a loose rock that rolled under my right foot and quickly I found my head and chest making intimate contact with the earth. I didn't roll, it was more of a chest skid and after hitting my head I was definitely seeing stars when I got back up on two feet. I found my visor promptly, but my handheld flew a bit further and happily the runner I had just passed eventually came along and lent another set of eyes and found my bottle. She offered her concern and I seriously contemplated walking back to the start finish which was not far at all at his point. I thanked her, but assured her she shouldn't waste anymore time helping me and she was off down the trail. My head hurt, my chest hurt and I was now realizing my right arm had slid though a patch of stinging nettles and it was on fire from their venom so...I did the logical thing and decided to stop feeling sorry for myself and got going again - break time was over.


A fast limp turned into a walk and soon I was back to running. Somehow I had drank my entire bottle shortly after the spill and I was jones'ing for the next aid station. I eventually got my act together, re-caught the woman from the crash site and actually caught and passed a few others as well - very uncharacteristic of me, I'm typically the caught, not the catcher. I came upon a runner sitting on a rock complaining of immense cramping - I felt like a street corner drug pusher giving him an electrolyte tablet. Youngsters working the next aid stations stared at me in wonder - Janice was at the southern observation deck waiting with a handheld full of Nuun and she gave me that same look - I really didn't know just how much I was covered head to toe with dirt from my downhill chest skid.


Before I knew it I was leaving that last 14 mile aid station and heading towards the final climbing. Suddenly a runner appeared out of nowhere hot on my heals and I thought, "where the heck did you come from?". In an event like this you come to learn where other runners are around you, you have a loose inventory in your head and this guy was not on my list. It seemed to anger me, this guy was going to pass me and I didn't want that after fighting for the meager position I had established. His pursuit lit a fire in me and not only did I run him off my heals, but my new found energy/pace had me passing other runners in those final miles(also very uncharacteristic of me).



Covered in dirt and with my bib number flapping, I crossed the finish line with a 5 minute improvement on my time from last year and I successfully defended my 50-59 age group win as well. I was even happier to find out that this year there were actually others in that age group (last year I won as the only old guy - kinda' left-handed).



Great/tough race at a beautiful park supporting a wonderful program - go run this race next year folks!


Today my ribs hurt to the point that an easy run is tough, but the good news is that my post eye surgery recovery seems to have begun in earnest. Not to worry, I'm sure I'll be able to take deep breathes and I'll have brilliant vision when it comes time to run The Susquehanna Super & Ultra Trail Run next month.


No, none of those runners are me...just another cool

photo Janice snapped while patiently waiting for me to finish.

Posted By Blogger to Perry's Trails at 8/20/2013 06:08:00 PM

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Laurel Highlands Ultra Race Report - Running With/From The Old Man Of The Mountain

Growing up in Central PA, the land of Park Barner, I have known the word "ultra-marathon" since my youth. I remember my Dad pointing out Mr. Barner in the grocery store one time . Back then the idea meant nothing to me. I had no clue. Fast forward to 2008 and Karl Meltzer's Appalachian Trail
attempt and that "ultra-marathon" word came back to me. At that time I started reading all I could about trail and ultra running and of course I stumbled upon the 70.5 mile Laurel Highlands Ultra. Back then I was loving backpacking taking an annual section hike on The AT, about 100 miles in 6 or 7 days. I thought, certainly The Laurel Highlands Trail sounds beautiful, but who would be insane enough to cover it end to end in one day. I had only thru-hiked one trail and that was the 31ish mile West Rim Trail and I did it leisurely over a weekend. My backpacking was evolving into something
strange, I'd finish each day in my tent wishing I had gone further. It came to a head when I
hiked The AT section from The Delaware Water Gap to Bear Mountain and I had miscalculated
everything and finished a day early (no I didn't figure it out, it was pointed out to me over the
phone by Janice as she told me which hotel to check into so she could come retrieve me the next
day) That was 2009 and in 2010 I ran my first ultra length trail race (The 28.4mi Susquehanna
Super Hike & Ultra Trail Run), I hadn't even run a marathon yet, but I was hooked. So here it is
2013 and I have run a few 50k's, a couple 50 milers and I was looking for something a little
longer that wouldn't conflict with Janice's softball tournament held annually on the first weekend in June. Well there it was, the historic Laurel Highlands Ultra; the second weekend in June and in Pennsylvania. Who was insane enough to try to cover it all in one day? Me.


Janice checking out The Youghiogheny River.


The falls in Ohiopyle, PA.

The race starts in beautiful Ohiopyle, PA. A haven for outdoor play. The raging white
water is the main lure, but the lands surrounding the roaring Youghiogheny offer endless
possibilities for outdoor fun. If you haven't visited, you need to. Stop at Wilderness Voyageurs
and arrange a white water trip. I recommend shooting the rapids in a "Duck", it's a hoot! You'll have a blast. We found a place to stay at the nearby Lodge At Chalk Hill, an old motel that was being refurbished even during our visit. Our room had a brand new TV, fridge, microwave and toilet. For 80 bucks a night, it was exactly what we needed. Right next door is the Christian W. Klay Winery, perfect for a pre-dinner wine tasting. The weather was pretty crappy or we may have returned to see the live band later. Looked like a good time. Hidden back a country road was Fabrizi's Restaurant which made for a perfect fueling place. I highly recommend finding it and eating there. We made a quick trip to Ohiopyle to play tourist and check out the rapids and the falls and then it was back to the lodge to pack up hydration vests before trying to get some sleep.

At The Lodge at Chalk Hill. That deck overlooked a small lake.

A new visitor center is being built in Ohiopyle on the location used as the start line. That made
for minor parking mayhem, but it was no big deal considering the 70.5 mile field is limited to
130 runners and there were only a few relay runners starting at the same time. Janice was perched
up on an observation deck meant for viewing the waterfalls and I was positioned near the back of
the pack determined to not get in the way of the fast folks. There was a brief prayer said and the
next word was "Go".

As I took my first step and I realized I hadn't taken allergy medicine or Ibuprofen. Janice said
the Jeep was unlocked so I stopped and gobbled it down. I was now the absolute last runner out of
Ohiopyle. No big deal, I had all day to establish a position/catch up. Little did I know I was
about to get caught behind a traffic jam when the trail kicked up just past the guide shop. I was
behind guys who were talking about where to get breakfast after thy finished at 3am and another
couple who wondered if they'd make the time cutoff at the first check point. I'm not fast, but I
knew I didn't want to be starting this way. (mistake)

5:30am the back of the pack.

I had done some homework on this trail, but I never found a worthy elevation profile. Elevation
gain is very important to this old guy's planning. I knew there were 2 small climbs followed by a
much larger climb all in the early miles. I thought I was prepared for these hills and I felt ok
even as I charged up the big climb. The big climb ended up being longer than I expected and I
needed to back off on my pace before the top. There was an aid station at 11.6 miles. I have 2
Nathan hydration vests and Janice was prepared to swap out my empty for a full one at the check
points. She stood ready with a full pack at that aid station and I told her I'd hang to the one I
had till the checkpoint. With 2 miles left to the checkpoint, my bag went dry.(mistake) I had
hoped to reach the first checkpoint (19.6mi) in four hours and I arrived about a half hour late,
but I was still ahead of the cutoff and I felt fine.

My job on the day was easy, all I had to do was follow a well blazed trail with every mile marked with a cement pillar for 70 miles. Janice on the other hand had to find her way up and over the Laurel Highlands Mountains. Janice had her GPS with her, but we were relying heavily on the locations I had saved to the mapping software in my phone. (mistake) The remote region provided no cell signal in most places and roaming in all the others, draining the batteries in no time at all. No problem, we have one of those power inverters you plug in your cigarette lighter and it provides A/C power, so she could charge batteries right? Well that inverter decided to die a smoky death as Janice was now also running out of gas because I hadn't filled the tank (mistake) after the trip from Harrisburg. Needless to say when I met up with her at the second checkpoint (32.3mi), she had the most sour look on her face and I knew the day had become a nightmare for her.



Arriving at Checkpoint #1.


At that point I was at about seven and a half hours. I was almost at the half way mark and still
under 8 hours so I assured her that I was still after a decent finishing time and I took off
(mistake). Back to that elevation profile I never really got a good look at. The hills between there and
the next checkpoint hit me hard. On the tiny little DCNR elevation profile image they looked like
little rollers, but in reality they were serious hills (for me anyway). The time added as I
neared the fourth check point (46.4mi) plus the look on Janice's face equaled this race just
wasn't worth it. I love running, but I consider it an extremely selfish act and if I get the hint
that my running is ruining someone else's day, I have a tough time continuing. Going home happy
is far more important than making it to any finish line. I knew what I had to do so when I
arrived at the checkpoint, I explained to Janice that if I wanted to drop out I had to do it at a
check point. All I had to do was unpin my number and we could go the hell home. I had just
traveled the last 14 miles at a snail's pace and she was having a crappy day, but she refused to
support my dropping out. She said, "if you feel good enough to continue, you need to finish".

I had a hot spot on my left foot so a volunteer gave me some duct tape and I was good to go. A funny thing happened at this checkpoint, I sat down on a metal folding chair (the kind you might see in a school or church) to take off my shoe and the chair sunk about six inches into the mud. (Oh well, I thought it was funny. Guess ya' had to be there) Janice made a plan to meet me with dry socks at the next checkpoint and I was back on the trail. I was in no way assured that I was doing the right thing by continuing.

Happy to have survived to another checkpoint.


Checking the aid station for something good to eat.

The trail leading to checkpoint #4 (57.1mi) was far more welcoming (with less hills) and I was back
to running consistently. As I arrived at that last checkpoint it was getting dark and with 13
more miles to go I again suggested calling it a day. Again, Janice was having none of it. At this
spot she had one of our camp chairs and I changed my socks. I started the day in Drymax and would finish the day in Darn Tough - seemed appropriate. I had gone all day in a pair of Salomon XR Mission shoes and the thought of changing into a dry pair of Mizuno's seemed like a good idea, but my feet were a bit swollen and the fit is different and they weren't going to work so the Salomon's went back on. I had run all day with GU Roctane in my hydration vest, but for the last section I had asked Janice to fill two Nathan bottles with NUUN. One bottle was in a handheld carrier and I stuffed other in the pocket on my vest. There was one more aid station at 62 miles, but crew didn't have access. My plan was that I could drink those bottles and still have a full hydration bag to get me down the mountain to the finish.

Off I went, 13 miles to go in the dark following the beam of my Black DiamondStorm headlamp. I
had never run this far in the dark and I was now running when I'm typically in bed falling asleep
to the news. I was concerned I'd meet the sleep monster everyone talks about, but instead running in th edarkness turned magical as I lit up the dense forest. I had been eating a gel on the hour and taking a Hammer Nutrtion Endurolyte electrolyte tablet(or two) on the half hour. GU Chomps and PowerBar Gel Blasts filled in the gaps in between. I ate whatever looked appetizing at the aid stations. I like peanut butter and jelly and I reached for what I thought I thought was PB&J and it turned out to be bologne and cheese. It was in the same container with peanut butter and jelly and I obviously didn't look close enough. Nope I didn't barf. In the last hours I just couldn't stomach anymore gels. I ate only one more between the last checkpoint and the finish.

Running in the dark I paced along with a woman in a Newton hat for a while until I had a clumsy
painful fall at about the 65 mile mark. After getting going again I fell in behind 3 guys who had
made a wrong turn. They were walking and I joined their walking parade on a little climb, but
after that the trail leveled out and I had promised myself (and Janice) that I was going to run wherever I could so I told them I was going to run. Two of them (a runner and his pacer) went with me, friendly guys from Ohio. They chuckled at me when I told them I was running this event because I wanted to go further than 50 miles. I was asked "why didn't ya' pick some easy 100k instead of this tough thing?" We caught back up to the woman in the Newton hat, she had had enough of the rock dance in the dark and was walking in hopes of finishing healthy. We all understood. Soon the lights of the finish line were glowing through the trees. The fellas with me were psyched to pick up the pace to the finish. I wanted to finish on my own so I let a little gap open and finished a few seconds behind them. I got to take in that "I did it feeling" and before I knew it the race director was reaching out his hand in congratulations and handing me the coolest wooden trophy with a "70" on it.

It's after 1am and the race director was there to greet me with a hand shake & huge smile.

I made a lot of mistakes with this race, but the biggest was that I didn't do thorough research
on this trail. I knew about the early ascents, but I thought it would be easy sailing after that. I've since learned that the LHHT climbs more than 11,000' and descends the same amount across it's 70 miles, sapping your energy on the way up and chewing up your quads and your toenails on the way down. I have since decided that LHHT really stands for Laurel Highlands "Humbling" Trail. I obviously read too many flowery blog posts about wonderful days on the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail with the beautiful ferns and sweet smelling Mountain Laurel. I should have checked those authors' finishing times. Well here's mine, it took me 19 hours 34 minutes and 23 seconds to reach the 70.5 mile finish line. The old man of the mountain who lives somewhere between Mile 34 and Mile 48 kicked my butt for not paying him the respect he deserves. I'll never go to an event without knowing everything I can and I'll always respect the mountain or the mountain will eat me.

All done & more than ready to be collected by an equally exhausted Janice.
Now I could quit.

Posted By Blogger to Perry's Trails at 6/18/2013 06:41:00 AM

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Dirty German 50k Race Report - Run-Suffer-Repeat

Memorial Day Weekend, a time for cookouts, parades and opening swimming pools. Our holiday
weekend in the Harrisburg area was kicked off by a windy chilly Friday. Undeterred by the
inclement weather, Janice and I went to watch The Harrisburg Senators beat The Reading Fightins.
The stadium thermometer read 49°F and there was a towering wind blowing straight out to left field
where we were sitting. The Senators took advantage and hit three homeruns to the "cheap seats" we
call home at the local minor league ballpark. The cold windy weather persisted into Saturday (my
52nd birthday) so we postponed any cookout/party-like festivities. We took the dogs for a walk on
the mountain and that's when I noticed the ugly feeling in my lower gut. (perhaps the hotdog I had at the ball game) Like any malady, my first approach is to simply ignore it so we went to some friends' house so Janice could decorate for a bridal shower. I acted like it didn't feel like I had a bowling ball in my stomach and ate all I saw and I knew the nasty sick sensation would just go away. Of course step 2 after ignoring it is over eating, because everybody knows eating a bunch of good food will push out the bad. Ok, that didn't work either and now it was time to try to sleep, actually past that time.

I guess I've gotten this far without mentioning that Sunday I was entered to run a 50k at 8am in
Philadelphia. Yep, the grand plan was to get in one last long run on Memeorial Day Weekend in
preparation for the Laurel Highlands Ultra in 2 weeks. So here it was 3:30 Sunday morning, I
haven't really slept and there's no way I can maintain my race day ritual of eating an actual
breakfast a few hours before start time. The sick feeling in my lower abdomen was there to stay
and 127 overnight visits to the bathroom did nothing to relieve the discomfort. I started to
question everything at that point. Coffee tasted bad, Luna Bars were the only thing that seemed
palatable. I was also able to eat a banana and Gatorade was ok too. Why was I up for a race I
didn't care about, if this was March I would be back in bed. This was a training race in May and
I just couldn't scratch it. The dogs looked at me like I was insane.

With Janice at the wheel and me feeling feverish, we hit the road and I napped away a good bit of
the ride down the PA Turnpike to Penny Pack Park in Philadelphia. We arrived at The Dirty German
Endurance Festival and the air was all abuzz with the typical pre-race energy, but all I wanted
to know was if there was a line for the porta-johns. I picked up my number, visited my buddy john
a couple times and got busy prepping a couple handhelds with gels, chews and tabs. Nuun Tri-Berry
and Lemon+Lime would be the hydration mainstays of my day; however long it may last. No, nothing had improved in my upset belly; so on little sleep and with very little calories in my system I
stood waiting for the race director to get us on the way. I waited and wondered if I'd make it to
the first aid station (3miles).

I always get a kick out of the roadies who are so amused by the informal start of a trail
race. The race director simply yelled "Go" and I followed all the shiney Asics "Gel-something or others" across the park lawn to the trail head. There were three events on the day: 25k, 50k and 50 mile. Considering I was using this as training run for a 70.5 mile race in 2 weeks; I thought 50k would be a smarter distance than 50 miles for me today. The 25k and 50k runners ran together for the
first lap while the 50 mile folks had an extra little loop to do before they joined us on the trail.
I started a little fast trying to get warmed up and a feel for if I'd make it past the first
mile. I was feeling surprisingly ok, but I was going faster than I wanted. The course was so flat
and the trail so non-technical, it lent itself to speed so I had to keep telling myself it wasn't
a 5k. After the second aid station around mile seven I decided that the speedsters in the Boston
shirts and cute matching Reebok outfits were just going to have to go on without me tagging
along. Janice was there and I'm not sure, but she looked a little surprised that I was continuing and
not asking where the car was and how long till we'd be home. I fell in behind two women who were
maintaining a pace that worked for me so I forced myself to stay behind and not pass. I had
finally found something that made the upset stomach go away, running. I was pretty pleased with
myself, I just might finish this thing. I looked at my watch, saw I was just passing 9 miles and promptly rolled my left ankle. It was a bad one. [I broke that ankle a few years ago and it didn't heal correctly. There's a chunk off the end of the Tibia which makes it unstable and perfect for rolling at will.] While I'm used to twisting it and walking/hobbling a few hundred yards till the pain subsides, this one had an odd twinge in the front of the ankle on top of my foot. It was a false alarm and in about a quarter mile I was able to run again. The wheels had indeed come off though. When I rolled it, I felt immediately like I was going to empty my stomach in both directions. That didn't happen
thankfully and yes I was running again, but I had a sharp pain with every footfall and my mile
time slowed considerably. Oh well, I reminded myself I was here as a shake down cruise and I just
needed the training run. Janice intercepted me a couple more times, I told her the ankle news as
she got great photos of me walk/running.

I reached the start fnish area and now I was in for another test. Mentally I can't stand running
laps to begin with and now here I was feeling like complete crap with another lap staring me in the face. Easy, all I'd have to do was go over to the timing table and tell them it was all a mistake and I really only meant to run the 25k. That's when I heard Janice yell, "one down, one to go". Damn! Back to my original plan, another 25k lap, but not until I visited my buddy John again. (no, no stomach improvement) The second lap didn't start so well. I tried to kiss Janice and missed and then I made an
immediate wrong turn onto an incorrect trail. Thankfully another runner saw me and yelled. That
was to become a theme. At this point I was really feeling the lack of sleep and calories. I was
really slowing down. All day I had been gobbling Gu Gels on the hour and Hammer Nutrition Endurolytes tabs on the half hour, washing it all down with Nuun. I was able to eat a piece of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and orange slices without fowl effect. I dumped Coca-Cola and Mountain Dew in on top of it all. Cokes a comfort food for me and I've convinced myself that I benefit from the sugar in the Dew.

The trail runs along the Pennypack Creek. It's a pretty place and all pretty easy running.
Heck, a couple of stretches were paved. The only hills were easy ones towards the end of the lap.
The course was marked by pink construction ribbon and white powder arrows on the ground. The
first lap was a synch surrounded by all the 25k runners, but much of the second lap I was running alone and ribbons were disappearing. After that first bone head  wrong turn to start the lap, I made three more and one was pretty bad. I followed another runner up a hill and around a bend until
we dead ended on a busy suburban Philadelphia street. We had missed a turn, ribbons were gone and
a family of four out enjoying the nice weather with their bicycles had been standing on the
right-turn arrow.


My best 50k time to date was a 5:50 and this course was so easy, there was no reason why I
shouldn't have buried that time. So here are my excuses: I felt like that dung beetle who had
rolled the dung ball all day, my left ankle felt like it had a nail driven through it and that
last wrong turn had added just enough time that I missed by 1:45. Oh well, refocus, I was there
for the training run. The silver lining was that I was able to run nearly 6 hours feeling sick
and in pain. I've always believed that much of ultra running is being able to suffer and continue
and The Dirty German 50k presented an opportunity to practice that.



The day ended fabulously, I sat down on an old rickity bench and Janice handed me a Nathan
bottle, but this one wasn't full of Nuun; it was an ice cold Lager disguised to not upset the
park rangers. I didn't go near the yummy looking post race German food and we hit the road so
Janice could make it to the bridal shower.

I went for an easy road run today, my ankle's still just a bit swollen with some lovely purple
coloring. All in all I think I'm right on schedule to go have fun at the laurel Highlands 70.5
Mile Ultra. It's gonna be a hoot - stay tuned!

Posted By Blogger to Perry's Trails at 5/29/2013 08:41:00 PM

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Edinburgh Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon - TeamREFUEL Goes To Scotland!

Sunday April 14th I ran the Edinburgh Rock 'n' Roll HalfMarathon, without exaggeration; the toughest road race I’ve ever run. The race was the culmination of an amazing trip to Scotland provided by TeamREFUEL. I apologize in advance for the lengthy blog post, but considering I got to fly across the Atlantic to run a race; I didn't want to leave anything out.


HOW IT HAPPENED: Last spring I won sponsorship from TeamREFUEL. Team members were also eligible for 3 grand prizes after the 2012 season and one was a trip to Edinburgh Scotland to run the Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon, complete with flight, lodging, free race entry and spending money. Janice and I agreed that Edinburgh would be a cool place to visit and last July I somewhat jokingly said, “Honey, we’re going to Edinburgh”. She of course said, “Yeah right, we’re not going anywhere”. After an active 2012 running season, completing 12 events flying the TeamREFUEL colors, I received the email congratulating me and announcing that I was selected to go to Edinburgh. I couldn’t believe it, but that’s how it happened.


GETTING THERE:  I can’t report on this race without mentioning the travel to Scotland. We decided to take our teenage sons Cody and Nathan with us. We got our passports in order, bought the boys' plane tickets, packed their skateboards and with our dogs Mojo and Molly happy at the kennel we were all set to go. The afternoon of departure I looked at The British Airways App and saw that the first leg of our trip (the flight to Chicago) was canceled due to weather. I called the airline and we found a replacement flight to London through Philadelphia. Good to go, right? Nope, they called back to tell us our commuter flight to Philly got delayed and there would be no way we’d make the connection to London. We went to Plan C which was hopping an Amtrak train to Philadelphia. A kind neighbor/friend gave us a lift to the train platform, bought tickets from the conductor and we were off to 30th Street Station to catch the SEPTA line to the airport. Phew! Yep, we made it and everything was OK, right? As we waited at the gate I noticed that the severe thunderstorm was now bearing down on Philadelphia. We boarded the plane, but it was too late. The driving wind and rain shook the jet and we sat on the runway for more than 2 hours. I’ll spare you the part about us now needing to be re-booked out of London to Edinburgh, but ironically we were now late enough to use the original connection we would have used had we flown from Chicago. Thankfully Janice worked in the airline industry for 16 years and I traveled way too much in a previous career. Rookie travelers would have ended up in a Motel 6 outside of La Guardia, eating bad takeout and left wondering how to get to Scotland.

One Last Hop To Edinburgh


BEING TOURISTS: As soon as we hopped on the double-decker bus at the Edinburgh Airport, we were in full-on tourist mode. I think we all said in unison, “The cars are on the wrong side of the road!” We wound through neighborhoods, past small shops and beautiful cathedrals and then the Edinburgh Castle came into view for the first time. Perched high on a hill, it was an amazing sight. Just past the Scot Monument we got off the bus and we were on foot for the first time in Edinburgh, dragging our bags to the lovely ApexWaterloo Place Hotel. “On foot” would become key to the next days. I’ve read guidance to not get caught up in touring while traveling to an exotic place to run a race. Everything we wanted to see and do in Edinburgh was in walking distance. Sure I kept an eye on leg fatigue, but I’m not one to taper for a race, so off we went. I enlisted the advice of on an old friend from Scotland who provided an aggressive itinerary of things we needed to experience while on his home turf. We visited the Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace, Grassmarket, The Royal Mile, The Canongate, Cowgate, Calton Hill and Old Calton Cemetary, The Dynamic Earth Science Centre, walked up the Crags, learned the story of Greyfriar’s Bobby, made it in time for the One O'clock Gun, ate Fish n’ Chips at The World’s EndPub, descended Jacob's Ladder wandered in an out of Edinburgh’s countless “closes” and “wynds” and I’m surely forgetting a bunch of stuff. To say I rested my legs for the race would be an out and out lie. We got in some serious mileage; I should have worn my Garmin and logged it. To sum it up, we saw as much of Edinburgh as we could and we had an absolute blast doing it! (I have to mention that because the cars travel on the other side of the road, we found ourselves looking the wrong way when crossing streets. I was nearly whacked by a cab while out for a run and I lost count of the times I yanked Janice from the path of doom.)

Cody, Nathan & William Wallace

Janice & Cody High Above The City At Edinburgh Castle

"All done at the castle, let's go get my race packet"




EDINBURGH WEATHER: It was spring time in Scotland, a time to shed winter’s layers and admire blooming daffodils, right? This year however the Scots were experiencing one of their coldest wettest springs in quite a while. We arrived on a chilly grey day and that was pretty much the theme of the next day too, with temperatures in the low 40’s and a bit of drizzly rain added in. Listening to the weather forecasts in the UK only made it worse, 5° Celsius sure does make 40°F sound extremely cold.  Amazingly the Saturday before the race the sun came out and other than a building wind, with the temperatures in the upper 50’s it was quite a nice day. Those winds that came to visit on Saturday stayed for Sunday and they invited their friends “Howling” and “Hurricane Force” to join them. That leads me to my real race report.

Packet Pickup At Run4It on Lothian Road


ROCK N ROLL SURVIVAL: Race day was finally here. During breakfast I stepped outside to see how hard it was raining. It really was only a drizzle at that hour, but the wind was not to be ignored as it ripped the hotel door from my hand and I watched a cabby chasing his hat down the sidewalk. Janice and I took the 1 mile walk to the start line village as the winds picked up. The winds swirled and subsided and rains poured down just before brilliant sun would then burst through the clouds. I knew it was a bad omen when I saw porta-loos (porta-johns) blown on their sides and smashed. Race crew was scampering. Thanks to the weather, things obviously weren’t going as planned. I looked at the wind-ravaged main stage and I wondered if the event would survive. Janice had to hoof it back to the hotel to retrieve a forgotten memory card for her camera (yes, she made the trip twice) and I sought refuge at the VIP tent. The pouring rain and screaming wind was constant now, but oddly every now and then it would take a break and the sun and a beautiful rainbow would appear. After a brief respite, it would be back to near hurricane conditions. Janice made it back to the VIP tent telling me she had re-instructed Nathan and Cody about where the bands would be playing and what time they needed to be at the finish line. I wondered if they would actually leave the security of the hotel.

Porta-Loos In A Bad Way


The MC with the brilliant Scottish accent called for all runners to get to their starting pens (corrals). Janice found a vantage point at the base of Arthur’s Seat and I found my way to corral #3. The weather had created an environment of semi-panic. Runners were streaming into the start at the front and trying to make their way to their corrals through corrals already filled with runners. You’re assigned to a corral based on your forecasted finishing time and your bib number. My number was 3434 and I watched as runners with numbers as high as 8,000, 10,000 and 12,000 hopped over barricades and lined up in the front corrals. I assumed they wanted to get to their race started in hopes of getting out of the driving rain sooner. With all this dire wind and rain, at 50°F it was at least somewhat warm. I wore my TeamREFUEL short sleeved jersey with a sleeveless base layer, arm warmers and shorts. As I waited there hopping from foot to foot to a booming mashup dance mix of local favorite sons TheProclaimers “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)”, I had a fun memory of old buddy Adrian explaining their lyric about “havering” (Scottish for talking foolishly or babbling). I was watching Janice juggle cameras and take on the wind and pelting rain on the hill without the aid of a few thousand runners around her and I hoped our boys stayed in bed. We all laughed as a dozen young guys ran up the grassy hill to pee and avoid the scary porta-loos. Just as I was enjoying these rain soaked day dreams, that strong Scottish voice came over the PA system and announced that he had some bad news for us and then he paused. I thought, “oh no, here it comes, the race is canceled due to the conditions, we came all this way…”. Moments after his pregnant pause he went on stating that due to the deteriorating weather, some things needed to be “sorted” on the race course and our start would be delayed. Now I’ve never been delayed by a race director, but I have been delayed by airlines and we all know how that turns out. After about 5 minutes (this guy clearly never worked for an airline), we were told the countdown to start the elite runners was imminent.
Never Did Find The Pot 'O Gold - Perhaps It Blew Away



"Hi Honey!"


In short order, my corral was at the line and we were off. I knew the opening miles were flat/downhill so I went out quick to get out of the corral crowd and get warmed up. We wound through neighborhoods heading toward Leith, passed by 2 bands rocking on in spite of the conditions and we then came to the water front. We were now exposed to the real winds for the first time as we ran along the Firth of Forth. There was a DJ along there and he was encouraging the runners, but then he decided to announce that sustained winds were 60kph and gusts were maxing out at 110kph. I was running next to a couple wearing Canada shirts and the man converted those numbers to MPH, I didn’t need to hear that, I knew those wind speeds sounded immense. My pace was increasing and slowing based on the winds. I knew now that any strategy of maintaining a steady pace was gone. I changed plans to drop my mile time anywhere the wind allowed and just gut it out in the head wind sections. I knew I was putting out the effort for an 8 minute mile in places, but my watch showed 8:30 or slower. Cross winds were no friend either, I saw smaller runners stumble and fall and twice my right foot was blown into my left mid-stride. Managing my pace based on the winds also meant running the hills differently. Did I forget to mention the hills? Yep, while the first few miles were flat and fast much of the rest of the course snaked through the old city and over the hills it’s built on. Instead of cruising the climbs I was going to need to push up them when the wind allowed. There

was also that downhill on the back side of Arthur’s Seat that many talked about later. There was such a crazy tailwind, you couldn’t slow down. I saw 6:03 on my watch and wondered if I’d have much left after sprinting down this thing. It was nuts, runners were actually leaning backwards trying to slow their pace.
It was very cool to run through historic Edinburgh, but the coolest was to finally arrive at that last downhill which was even somewhat protected from the wind and find Cody, Janice and Nathan around the last turns at the finish line. In fact in the last few hundred meters, Nathan and Cody chased along after me with their iPods filming my last steps between The Scottish Parliament Building and Holyrood Palace towards the finish*. There’s just nothing better than having the one’s you love waiting at a finish line.

Soaked To The Bone & Stopping My Watch at 1:47:24



It was unfortunate that the winds caused such mayhem at the race expo at Holyrood Park, so much so that the headline band wasn't able to perform for concerns for their safety.
*With all my whining about the weather, I was able to manage a 1:47:24 finishing time, just slightly more than 2:24 off my 1:45 projected time. (I secretly told myself I’d be happy with a 1:50 while climbing one of those cobbled hills, so I’m elated with my time.)


BOSTON: Normally it doesn’t take me a week to post a race report, but this one has special circumstances. It’s been difficult to write about something so special to me during such an upsetting time in the US and the running community. We arrived at O’Hare on the way home to see televisions plastered with a bomb blast. All we saw was smoke, international flags blowing and crowd mayhem. While overseas, the UK was a buzz about the millions of pounds being spent on Margaret Thatcher’s funeral and we wondered if a protest had gone wrong. We soon found out about the tragic event in Boston that continued to unfold into the week. It was shocking to know that just the day before we were all at a finish line together and I was incredibly thankful we were all safe and ok. 


CHOCOLATE MILK ACROSS THE ATLANTIC: Yes I refuel with low fat chocolate milk. It’s been my recovery drink of choice for quite a while now. It is truly “MyAfter” and I recommend it to all. Janice was surprised when I told her it was not likely that there would be any chocolate milk at the finish line in Edinburgh. Accepting that challenge, she promptly froze a container of low fat chocolate milk and packed it safely in her checked bag. While they had all sorts of goodies at the Rock 'n' Roll finish line and VIP tent, chocolate milk was missing, but I had mine thanks to Janice! My TeamREFUEL attire didn’t go unnoticed, even in Scotland. Every race in the US, someone calls me the "Chocolate Milk Guy" or asks if I have any so it wasn’t a surprise that the accents of people commenting in Edinburgh sounded to be more from New Jersey or Ohio. One young Scottish fellow did tell me I was his rabbit and he chased my chocolate milk jersey down off the Mound to the finish. That was cool!

You Can Count The Rock N  Roll Marathon Folks For The Coolest Medals



This was an amazing experience and I can’t thank the kind people at GotChocolateMilk TeamREFUEL and The Rock 'n' Roll Marathon Series enough for getting us there, hosting our visit and providing me the opportunity to run a race around such a cool city!

Heading Home

Posted By Blogger to Perry's Trails at 4/23/2013 06:51:00 AM