Wednesday, December 28, 2016

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

November 12, 2016

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

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

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

Blunder #1:

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

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

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

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

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

Blunder #2:

Smiling & Climbing Out Of Aid Station #2

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

Blunder #3:

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

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

Blunder #4:

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

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

Blunder #5:

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

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

I was a dizzy, semi-blind mess; sitting on my ass. In true trail ultra fashion, every last runner who was near when I fell stopped and surrounded me in an attempt to help. I wish I knew all of them, because I'm not sure if I got to really thank them. A woman offered her phone, but I said I just needed to get up and Rick Martin said, "I'll take care of him". The hand of Paul EncarnaciĆ³n appeared and I was back up on my feet. I walked at first and then was able to run again. Rick and Paul and another guy stuck with me. I was running, but with the lump growing above my left eye, I was afraid my day might be over early. My vision was going bad, the forest was flattening out and turning grey. Queasiness came and went, but an awful light headed feeling settled in and I needed to walk. I convinced Paul and the others who had piled up behind us to continue on and I'd be fine. They all passed, but Rick; he was concerned and determined to stay with me. We were still about two miles from the aid station when I finally convinced him that I'd be fine walking it in. I reminded him that I had self-extracted over much longer distance back home in Stony Valley, so Rick finally agreed and took off running promising that he'd let Janice know what had happened. Soon I felt a hand on my shoulder and heard, "hey old man how's it going?". It was Ron Kappus and I was in a bad way, the look on his face  was priceless when he saw my growing eye socket. I asked him to tell Janice if he saw her. Now I had two messengers, one of them was bound to see her. I walked for about a quarter mile, but started to get cold so I went back to running to keep warm. I was moving fine, but the light headed feeling wouldn't pass.

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

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

In The Jeep And Headed To The ER

Blunder #6:

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

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

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

Some parts of the day were awesome:

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

Rick Stahl At Riffle Ford Road Aid Station

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

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

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

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

Rick Stahl Finishing Up His First 50 Miler

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

  • Geoffrey Hemgen cruised into the finish at 10:47 to the cheers of his family waiting patiently at the school. His son in the Ravens jersey won the adorable award on the day.
  • Ron Kappus came into the finish at 10:53 looking like he had enough left for another 50.
  • Todd Lewis took care of the Lake Loop on his return trip and got across the line in 10:57.
  • Paul EncarnaciĆ³n, another of my heroes on the day, finished in exactly 11 hours. I wonder how much time my mishap added to his time. Thanks again Paul, see you on a trail soon!
  • Bert Salter came in with a time of 11:25. I'm not sure what I was doing when he crossed the line, but I missed him. Sorry Bert, I still owe you for those late night/early morning C&O Canal Pierogies!
  • Jo Kappus and Ralph Smith joined me on the DNF list. Each had a physical issue that ended their day early.
That's Todd Lewis Finishing Another Stone Mill 50 (shrugging his shoulders)
The Goofball In Front Of Him Had Just Sprinted Past Him In The Final 100 Meters
Yep, That Guy Won The Jerk Of The Day Award...Ya Just Don't Do That
Finish Line Etiquette

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

Insert Your Own Caption

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

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

ClifBar Organic Energy Food - A Product Review

Sucking down a Sweet Potato With Sea Salt
at the Oil Creek 100
I've posted very few product reviews here, I guess it's not really my thing; I write this blog mostly to share my experiences. A few things have come my way though and I've felt it necessary to talk about them. The Organic Energy series from ClifBar is definitely worthy.

First I need to state that all of the Organic Energy Food products I use are given to me by ClifBar. At the same time though, they provided them to support my adventures and never required me or even asked me to do this. I thank them enormously as often as I can. So in a way, this post is just me saying one more time, "thanks ClifBar, you're the coolest company on the planet!".

ClifBar Company has a whole host of products, most widely known are their signature ClifBar. Last year they introduced me to their Organic Energy Food. I took to them immediately, they're an excellent alternative to the common trail running fair of gels and chews that can get tiresome after eating them for many hours. I first used them on an attempt to thru-run the 140+ mile Horse-Shoe Trail (May 2015).

The Organic Energy Food packs are much like eating a mini meal. The four original flavors were Pizza Margherita(160 calories) and Sweet Potato With Sea Salt(200 calories) making up the Savory/Salty category along with Banana Mango With Coconut(100 calories) and Banana Beet With Ginger(110 calories) as the Refreshing Fruit Flavor options. Pizza Margherita and Sweet Potato With Sea Salt come in a larger 120 gram packet while the Banana Mango With Coconut and Banana Beet With Ginger come in a smaller sized 90 gram packet. This past year I've wrestled with which one is my favorite and right now I believe it's the Banana Beet With Ginger. 
They're a bit larger than the typical gel or chew package so carrying them can be a challenge. I can however see them fitting fine in the pocket of a cycling jersey. At the ultras I've run this year, I've mainly been putting them in drop bags or Janice hands them up to me as an extra special refueling treat. I do however carry them on long training runs in the mountains as I'm usually wearing a more substantial hydration pack that can accommodate them easily. Those who followed Scott Jurek's 2015 record setting Appalachian Trail run may have noticed him enjoying these meals while taking breaks with his wife Jenny along the way.

The ClifBar site says this about them: "The next generation of sports nutrition. Inspired by the home recipes of Team ClifBar athletes, each recipe is designed to provide endurance athletes with energy from real food ingredients like those they could find in their own kitchens, satisfying cravings for either real fruit or salty comfort food."

Pizza Margherita is based on Scott Jurek's Long Run Pizza Bread Recipe. Sweet Potato With Sea Salt comes from Stephanie Howe's Sweet Potato Bowl Recipe. Their actual recipes are available linked off the ClifBar site and they look extremely yummy.

They list these "Flavor Notes" for them as well:
  • For long distance activity
  • Made from real food ingredients
  • Satisfying Savory/Salty Flavor
  • USDA Organic, Non-GMO, Gluten Free, Kosher
Refreshing Fruit Flavors in the smaller 90g package.

Banana Mango With Coconut uses Troy Wells' Banana Bread With Coconut recipe as a guide while Banana Beet With Ginger looks to Scott Jurek again with his Banana Beet Ginger Recovery Smoothie recipe. Those two recipes are also available on the company web site along with these "Flavor Notes":
  • For any distance activity
  • Made from real food ingredients
  • Refreshing Fruit Flavor
  • USDA Organic, Non-GMO, Gluten Free, Kosher
So those are the original flavors. In case you hadn't heard of them, now you're up to speed. What I really want to talk about are the two newest flavors just introduced this year. a spring time delivery of ClifBar goodness arrived on our doorstep and these two new items jumped right out at me. I didn't recognize the packaging from before and then I noticed they were labeled "New". They're Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal and Banana Cinnamon Oatmeal, each packed with 140 quality calories and they've become my main pre-race go-to breakfast items.

The larger 120g packages.

The morning of an event, I'm usually up a few hours before the start time. I like to have a couple cups of coffee, maybe eat a banana and most recently I was eating a toasted English Muffin with some kind of nut butter on it. Good energy stuff to wake up the body long before you hear "GO!". In April and May I ran a 100 miler and a 50 miler and for those events, I ditched the muffin with nut butter for these new Organic Energy Food flavors and they became permanent part of my pre-race breakfast formula for the rest of 2016. (and yes, I eat one of each)

Like the "Savory/Salty" flavors, these two also come in the larger size pouch. The fact that they require no preparation is a huge plus. If you're waking up in a hotel room, a tent or your Jeep, all you need to do is unscrew the cap and you have breakfast. Growing up during the era of the Apollo Missions, I could definitely have envisioned Neil Armstrong having these for breakfast before his "one giant step". It doesn't matter where you are or what type of facilities you have available, you can have breakfast.

Scott Jurek gets credit for both of these versions of oatmeal and there's a fun interview with him linked off the product page. The interview includes some pretty cool insight from him, I recommend reading it.
  • I recommend the breakfast recipes 2-3 hours before an event and eat the others during your adventure.
  • I like to gobble one of the fruit packets when I know a big climb is approaching. We all know how eating during a tough climb can be a big mistake. They're a good dose of energy when and where you need it and they seem to carry a bit further than a gel or chew. That of course is all completely anecdotal and my opinion.
  • When I know I've got a long runnable stretch coming up where I want to extend and not have to think about eating I go for the savory/salty flavors.
  • All three categories of these Organic Energy meals are smooth energy food and a welcome alternative to gels and chews.
When running ultra marathons it's important to find things that will make the endurance and suffering more tolerable. Alternatives and variety in nutrition that work can prove to be that extra edge that gets you to the finish line. You're always looking for a new arrow for your quiver. Just like gear; your shoes, clothing, pack; your nutrition selections need to be precise and correct. Sure I still eat tons of ClifBar gels and chews and I still gobble PB&J, watermelon, bananas, etc. at aid stations. Running for hours and eating the same stuff continually can turn into an ugly gag-fest. Sometimes you just get sick of choking down the same thing over and over, especially the sweet stuff. At the same time though, if you're used to eating something that doesn't upset your gut or make you barf, you've got to stick with it. Changing something or adding something new can be a risk. Puking your guts up can easily end your day early. ClifBar Organic Energy has become a welcome addition to the things I already eat. One more arrow in my nutrition quiver; additional yummy fuel packed with quality calories that agree with my gut.

Just find our orange Jeep aka the rolling ClifBar aid station ;-)

Find them at a store near you or find me at a race (next up is the Stone Mill 50). I recommend you give them a try. If you have questions, please post a comment; I'm happy to reply.

Monday, October 17, 2016

I Suggest You Try Something You Could Fail - My Oil Creek 100 DNF Report

October 8, 2016

"If you are going to face a real challenge, it has to be a REAL challenge.
You can't accomplish anything without the possibility of failure." - Lazarus Lake

A couple years ago I attempted the Oil Creek 100, it didn't go well and I got in the Jeep and went home after only 62 miles (2 laps). I was back this year to right that wrong.

I was pretty psyched to get to Titusville. Last time I was sick and knew my chances were limited. It was pathetic, everyone else was greeting and socializing and I was hiding and faking that I felt ok. I didn't want to be there at all. This time I felt great and couldn't wait to see the folks I knew would be there.

It was like a family reunion of sorts. Janice and I got to the Titusville Middle School, got my race packet and ran into Tim Nash who was there to pace a friend. We got checked into the hotel and in short order we were at the Blue Canoe hoping to be seated. Standing at the bar I heard my name, turned around and found Adam McGinnis and Todd(zilla) Lewis sitting right behind us with family and pacers. The only person missing from this crew was Ben Mazur (who hadn't arrived yet). It's fun seeing everyone, I really enjoy trying to remember how we all met. Ron Kappus introduced himself and I told him I was pretty sure we had met at Laurel Highlands. Trail running is a tribal thing and the bonds that grow from it are lasting.

Janice's Rolling ClifBar Aid Station

Janice and I arrived back at the Middle School, it was 4am and we had a plan for the long day ahead of us. The Jeep was loaded with supplies and my drop bags were stocked with clothing changes. Janice was there to work her crew magic, but I was hoping she'd figure out how to get some sleep so I had the drop bags as nap time back ups.

The reunion resumed. I ran into Jeremy Hand from back home, he geared up, slathered in Vaseline and ready to roll. I found Todd and Adam and grabbed a seat with them. Ben soon wandered in and we agreed to a pace to start the day. John Delcalzo from Ohio stopped to say good morning. John and I finished Laurel Highlands together in 2013. There were others as the day went on. Out on the course I got to say hello to Jamie Clark and Martin Speece, also from the Harrisburg area; they were running the 100k. Danny Mowers from Chambersburg, also running the 100k, came smoking past early in the event. Danny went on to take second. I ran for a while with Victor Susol from Linesville, another 2014 Laurel Highlands buddy.

Tom Jennings, Race Director

It had been quite warm in the school, seemingly foreshadowing for the run. After brief announcements by Tom Jennings, the Race Director, we headed out to the start line. Adam, Ben, Todd and I stuck together, but when we heard go I lost them in the crowd. The course opens on streets and continues onto a paved multi-purpose trail before its turn into the forest. There is a slight hill early on and most in front of me started to walk. I saw it as easy and a nice way to get warmed up so I continued to run. It turned out to be a good move because I soon found the western PA threesome and we were back together again.

This would be Todd's fourth attempt to finish this race. Todd like most runners lets the race excite him and he runs out of his skin early and something goes wrong late. I felt like it was our duty to keep Todd in check so his day didn't end early. So sticking together was important, at least early on. It wasn't hot, after all it was October in Western Pennsylvania, but it was warmer than normal at start time and the heavy humidity in the first miles was more than noticeable. It was switching on and off to a fog and mist and it felt like running in the shower.

5am And We're Off

The first miles after the paved section are tight single track with numerous nagging climbs. On the first lap, you can count on the pack still being together and patience is critical. Attempting to move up is futile and probably not worth the effort. We were running four in a row until some guy pushed by me and tried to squeeze past Adam, but couldn't. So now we had a fifth, an interloper in our band of brothers. A short time later at about the 6 mile mark (yes I looked at my watch as I was getting up), some guy came around me with a tree soon to be his dance partner so he had to abruptly cut back into line. He came right across my stride and took me down. I hit hard with an F-Bomb peppered grunt. I popped right back up seemingly ok and the dude didn't say "sorry", "you ok?", nothing. I hope his dick move was worth it. Later I'd figure out that the knock I took to my left knee and ankle was quite a wallop. The fall also damaged my trekking poles and rendered them useless. The climbs on this course are the type that I like to use poles and now all I had was useless aluminum so I ditched them in my drop bag at the Petroleum Center Aid Station. (Shout out to Black Diamond, my warranty replacement poles are on their way via FedEx)

As we rolled closer to the second aid station at the Petroleum Center we really only had to reel in Todd a couple times when he strided away from us. We did however realize we were getting into the 14 mile aid station earlier than expected. For me, I was a lot earlier than expected and I had out run my crew. Any deviation from what's considered a sustainable plan is a threat to your finish. Janice knows that and I knew she'd be bummed that she missed me. I started to leave with Todd and Adam and I remembered my plan to eat at this aid station so I turned around and returned to eat their food. It wasn't the ClifBar stuff I had planned to fuel with, but it was much needed calories. Ron Kappus said, "Perry you're going the wrong way", but I was secretly hoping our orange Jeep Wrangler might appear while I gobbled down watermelon and peanut butter and jelly.

Janice never showed, I knew she'd be pissed, but I took off. The climb immediately after that aid station is called Heisman Trophy Hill. Yes this is the home of the oil industry, but it's also the boyhood home of John Heisman the creator of the Heisman Trophy. Just before descending to the next aid station on Miller Farm Road you climb Ida Tarbell's Wrath, a steep off camber twist up through the trees.

Happy As Hell To See Janice On Miller Farm Road

I was feeling fine on these uphill challenges and as we popped out onto Miller Farm Road, there stood Janice and I felt immediately better. Crew is not allowed at this aid station to avoid an unmanageable traffic snarl. Janice parked at a distant gate and walked in to the trail head. She's a genius at finding road crossings, no matter how remote. She's even more genius at bending the rules. I gobbled a quick organic ClifBar snack and chugged a Mama Chia drink, gave her a kiss telling her I'd see her at the middle school. Our short conversation did not exclude that I was going much faster than planned. I told her I was reigning that in and I apologized for missing her at the Petroleum Center.

The climbs after the aid station and the remaining miles leading to the middle school passed without incident. I seemed to have calmed down and I was running at a comfortable pace. I still arrived at the middle school ahead of schedule. I saw Todd leaving the school and when I got in, Janice pointed out that Adam was there too. I had another ClifBar Organic Meal washed down by Mama Chia. I ate a ton of watermelon while Janice refilled my hydration bladder with Tailwind. All I had to do now was collect Adam and get on the trail again.

50K Done - Adam arriving back at Titusville Middle School
With Crew & Wife Kelly Keeping a Close Eye

Yummy Sweet Potato With Sea Salt
ClifBar Organic Meals Rule!

Sometimes It's Fun And Games...The Best Times

We moved together in the opening miles of our second lap until two girls who talked too much bugged Adam and he picked up his pace. I was still trying to be conservative and let him run away. I eventually ditched them too.

Arriving At The Petroleum Center Aid Station
Lap 2 - 45 Miles

I arrived at the Petroleum Center Aid Station and saw Adam preparing to head out. I was stoked that we were there in under 12 hours. I had planned to change into my clothing for night running, but I was conflicted as it certainly wasn't night yet and it really wasn't cold either. I did it anyway. I changed everything, I went from shorts and a sleeveless t-shirt to tights and a long sleeved base layer under a t-shirt. I carried a wind jacket and gloves. I changed packs too, from a basic Nathan hydration vest to much more substantial Ultimate Direction pack. My concern was getting over heated on the ensuing hills.

The following climbs went well, I was perspired, but I wasn't overheating. Around 7:30pm it became dark enough in the forest that I dug out my headlamp. I noticed immediately that now I wished I had my trekking poles. It was dark and my cautious pace through the rocks was slow. I'm not sure why I was being so conservative, maybe it was the fall earlier in the day, but I was all but tip toeing.

I got into the middle school, Janice was there and wide awake. She got calories in me and was urging me onto lap three. At this point, somehow doubt jumped into my brain and right out my mouth. I said, "honey I don't know if I have this". I don't know why I was doubting myself, but I was. I finished eating a Clif Nut Butter Filled Bar and started the lap anyway. I didn't get off the school grounds and realized I was wet and cold and not equipped to do 14 night miles with temperature continuing to drop. I turned around to find Janice. She eventually heard me yelling her name and she had a "not this again" look on her face. That look went away when she realized I wasn't dropping I just wanted a dry shirt.

I started out and immediately heard a guy behind me yelling my name. I turned around to figure out who he was and it turned out he was yelling Terry to a runner just ahead of me. Soon I was tagged onto the back of a new three man train of Terry, Dylan and Mark. Dylan had run the 50K previously and Mark had come to pace Terry to his first 100 mile finish. Somehow at this point, Adam and his pacer were behind me. They caught us and passed us. I arrived at the first aid station and there was Adam again. He said he had a nap and was ready to roll. Now we were a group of five, Dylan stayed at the aid station and now Adam and his pacer joined us. I had dreaded the climb after that aid station (Switch Back Mountain) and sure enough, it bit into me hard. I couldn't stick with the pace of the group. I did catch them at the top, but they picked up their pace again and I was dropped for good.

On my own, now I knew I just needed to grind it out. I was still ahead of cutoff times and moving, I could do this. Suddenly, like someone clubbed me I fell asleep. I stumbled to one knee and thought, "shit I gotta' get this under control". I was bobbing and weaving and going slow as hell. I stopped a couple times, leaned on a tree and closed my eyes for 30 seconds or so, but nothing was working. The sleep monster had hold of me. Runners were catching me and asking if I was ok as they saw me stumbling. I knew I needed a nap, but I also knew my slow pace now had me dangerously close to cutoff so if I took a nap I'd get pulled. The math wasn't with me, I knew arriving at the Petroleum Center Aid Station, I probably needed to drop. It was misting or at least extremely foggy or something and I couldn't see a damned thing. I crossed the timing mat and went to look for the Jeep, but Janice appeared in seconds out of the darkness. We walked to the Jeep and I told her if I was continuing I needed to change shirts again. I was cold and my slow pace wasn't keeping me warm. I then looked at my watch and saw I had only 48 minutes till the 5am cutoff at this aid station. At my pace it was inevitable that I'd be pulled at the next aid station, pulled where I wouldn't have a ride. My decision was made, Janice tried to talk me out of it, but we walked back into the aid station and at only 75 of 100 miles I officially dropped out.

We got a little sleep and went back to the finish to see how Todd and Adam had made out. We missed Todd, but got to chat with and congratulate Adam on his finish. Todd had finished too, his quest for the Oil Creek 100 was finally done. Ben Mazur joined my category and had dropped as well.

Chatting With Sleepy Adam - The 100 Miler

This was a tough one for me. I promised myself if I failed this time, I wouldn't return. The Oil Creek 100 had beat me fair and square. In the week since the run, social media has been lit up with tons of stories of everyone's Oil Creek experience. Friends have tried to encourage me by saying they'd be happy with 75 miles and I've been told I have nothing to be ashamed of. I never said I was ashamed, I'm not. Quitting unfortunately is part of the reality of attempting something that pushes your limits. To hell with comfort zone, I'm talking about going to your outer space and shame just isn't part of it at all, but disappointment certainly is. For all those who would be happy with 75 miles, well I can only say this; I went there for 100. To all of my friends, I truly appreciate your kind words of support. Your love and sincerity is immensely humbling. Every time I hear from you I'm amazed by your caring statements and true offers of support. To everyone else, I suggest trying something different, something you could fail.

For the week since the Oil Creek 100, the pressure I felt from reading other runners' stories has been crazy, but I've resisted and stuck to my pledge of not repeating it. I had even hoped and planned that this would be my last year of ultra running. I miss my back pack, tent and my kayak, but then I read Todd Lewis' race report and I simply caved. I will continue ultra running in 2017 and with a pack full of lessons learned, I will try again at the Oil Creek 100.

Next up though, I still need to finish up 2016 with the Stone Mill 50 next month.

Some tentative plans for 2017:

2/11/17 Algonquin 50K Pocomoke City MD
3/4/17 Naked Bavarian 40 Miler Leesport PA
4/29/17 C&O Canal 100 Knoxville MD
5/7/17 TD Five Boro Bike Tour New York City, NY
6/10//17 Laurel Highlands Ultra Ohiopyle, PA
10/2017 Oil Creek 100 Titusville, PA

Random scenes from The Apple Fest, Franklin, Pennsylvania:

For those who might not know who Laz is, here's a quote from Michael Jordan:

"I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."