Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Frozen Snot 2016 - Been There Done That

January 23, 2016 McElhattan, PA

The Frozen Snot describes the event as "one tough booger" and the course was as advertised. For 2016 I've put together a pretty busy schedule of ultra running and for some unknown reason I also added the Frozen Snot to my calendar. At under 14 miles, it doesn't fit with my other plans for the year, but I registered anyway. Towards the end of 2015 (my year off) I realized that I had been doing a lot of trail runs with decent elevation gains and as the year wrapped up I set and achieved a goal of ascending more than 200,000' for the year. I think my odd excitement about all that climbing may be what moved me to take on The Frozen Snot, while it's nowhere near ultra distance it did offer more than 5500' of climbing.

So far we've had a classic El Niño extremely mild winter here in the northeast. The weekend prior to The Frozen Snot I ran the sunny Phunt 50k in shorts. As Monday's weather models started to develop, it became quickly obvious that our mild weather would soon change. Our Harrisburg forecast for the weekend offered up an epic blizzard while Lock Haven was slated to get barely 1-2" of snow. I called our hotel and added a second night in case we were stuck there. We got an early jump on driving and got to Lock Haven before any snow flakes appeared. We stayed at The Fairfield Inn in Lock Haven, which seemed like a very new property with nice amenities, and so did the West Chester University basketball teams who were in town to take on Lock Haven University. Friday night, we had a killer burger at a downtown dive bar named Uncle Albert's and stopped at the Broken Axe for some micro brews before walking back to our hotel. While we slept, barely half an inch of snow fell in Lock Haven while the raging blizzard back home was just gaining strength and beginning the dumping of 30" of fresh drifting powder.

The drive to the Army Reserve Center in McElhattan for the race start was interesting, I was following a pick up pulling an open bed trailer and the winds were howling. Suddenly an old fashioned television cart flew up out of the trailer and with little time for response, it was crushed under our Jeep. I swerved and dodged something else that flew out and decided it was time to pass. We got off the McElhattan exit and I made a wrong turn and after driving in circles briefly and one big healthy u-turn we arrived at registration. I was impressed by the nice Frozen Snot embroidered Marmot fleece that was in the race bag. The Army Reserve Center was bustling with hikers, yes hikers. I was surprised to see so many folks dressed as if they were going on a day hike.

The Start

The piper played and then we were escorted outside. I noticed a timing chip in my number as I pinned it on, but as the race director said "Go", I didn't see any mat as we crossed the imaginary start line. (I had heard him say that we were starting at the back of the building and finishing at the front, but didn't really know what that meant.) The event started with a road run to Zindel Park, the center of the days activities and location of the aid station. It was about a mile on the road and I took it easy and used it as an opportunity to get warmed up as it was only about 23° at start time.

This event requires you to have some sort of traction devices for your shoes and I really wasn't sure when I'd put them on. That little bit of snow we got over night made the initial portion of the first climb slippery enough, so I pulled off the trail after the first switchback and put on my Kahtoola Micro Spikes. Many portions of the trails used in this event, have names and it seemed that the true snot enthusiasts knew all of them. The first climb was called "Barb's Kiss My Ass", which I'm sure there's just some hilarious "had to be there" kind of story of how it got its name, but I frankly couldn't have cared less.

After getting my micro-spikes on, I was quickly in a log jam of extremely slow hiking. I probably couldn't have climbed much faster, but man this was slow. And of course I was followed by a guy who wanted to and eventually pushed by me only to stay right in front of me the remainder of the ascent. That opening climb also included a trail called the "Goat Path" which I remembered as having kicked my butt the one and only time I ran the Megatransect. We also continued onto something called "Goat Path Bonus" which the web site boasts as "adding 300 more feet of climbing". Oh boy. I was climbing so slowly, I actually got a little cold. During the slow schlog up that first climb(s) I noticed ice formed on my socks, shoes and the lower leg portion of my tights. I needed to get moving and generate some body heat, at that point watt generation seemed that it could be in the negative numbers.

I wore my regular trail running shoes (Altra Lone Peak 2.0) with 2 pairs of Injinji socks (one pair was an extremely thin liner sock which seemed to work well), 2XU thermal tights, a Reebok thermal base layer and a long sleeve 1/4 zip pull over by The North Face. I also used a Patagonia Houdini jacket, had 2 pairs of Manzella Gloves on as well (One pair was Polartec and the other a liner) and on my head I used a lycra balaclava from Bass Pro Shops (not very warm, but it keeps the wind off your skin and wicks moisture) with an Outdoor Research Novo Watch Cap on top of that. In a couple of exposed sections it was windy with blowing snow and I actually used the hood on my jacket for added protection.

After that initial climbing there was plenty more as we made our way around Mt. Logan, the first loop of this two-loop course. Everything was slippery from the dusting of snow. I saw numerous others fall, especially on the steep downhills. It was so common, I knew my chance to tumble was coming soon. We reached some crazy downhill thing referred to on the map as "Logan Direct" and it was a sliding board covered in a mixture of frozen dirt and snow crystals. Ropes were tied off to trees in an attempt to give you something to hold onto and hopefully control your plummet. I was with a group of 5 others and saw tons of magnificent falls. One guy fell and literally rolled 50 or 60 feet, he was a mess of flying gloves, hat and hiking polls. In the distance above or below you, you'd hear someone cry out and then see the color of their clothing skidding swiftly downward until something stopped them, a tree or maybe a rock or perhaps the person in front of them. I was maintaining about a 30 foot buffer between me and the guy in front of me . To stay upright I was trying to stay in the snow for better traction and holding onto Mountain Laurel and trees. I came to a stretch where I absolutely had to use the trail and it was my turn, I went quickly sliding on my ass and kept sliding. I made up the space between me and that next guy in mere seconds. I also put a knee into one of my trekking poles and bent it in the process. I bent it back as straight as I could and got back up and going again. A bent pole was better than no pole. I fell 4 or 5 more times before reaching the bottom of that sliding board the event organizers called a trail.

By now I was feeling pretty stupid about being there. These bushwhacked paths seemed as though they were created just so participants could yuck it up and boast about how difficult the terrain was over beers later. I was developing an extremely bad attitude by now.  I had run the Megatransect and thought the same thing then and said I'd never return, yet here I was in the same set of hills on the similarly contrived trails that Deer wouldn't use.

Earlier as we ran into Zindel Park, along the road there was a sign marking Chief Logan's Path and I was now certain that his spirit was looking down upon us and proclaiming in his native language, "what fools!". As those thoughts annoyed me, I heard the foreboding sound of sirens down below in the valley and through the trees I could see signs that we were soon at the aid station. Nearly 4 hours and I hadn't even gone 8 miles.

They Served The Best PB&J Sandwich In Clinton County

Toasty Warm

Arriving at the aid station, I was wondering if the second loop was worth it. As I ran (yes I was running here) closer to the aid station I saw Janice and quickly recognized Jeff Lister standing with her. That lifted my spirits immediately. I hadn't seen Jeff since I put him back on the AT in Clarks Valley last summer. It was good to see them both as I gulped down a bottle of fluid and ate a Peanut Butter & Jelly sandwich. Jeff's new dog Bella was sleeping in his truck, meeting her probably
would've made me quit the day's crazy endeavor as I'd have the valid excuse of needing to play with a puppy as my out. I was bummed that I didn't get to meet her. Jeff then told me that Janice had been quite anxious awaiting my arrival as she had heard news that someone was hurt out on the course. Jeff knew that a runner had indeed died from an apparent heart attack, but kept it to himself until I was standing there with them safe and sound. That tragically sad news was why we had heard those troubling sirens earlier. After hearing that news, I just wanted to be done. I finished eating, warmed a little by the fire and Jeff and Janice bid me farewell back out to complete the last mileage.

Jeff & Bella

Jeff & some goofball

Immediately after the aid station, the second and shorter loop began with a climb up a rock slide of slippery boulders the race organizer labeled "The Beast". When I did the Megatransect those years ago, it was the boulders where I went the slowest. I was nursing knee pain that day, but today I felt fine so I tried to get up that rock pile as quickly and efficiently as I could. I realized that on the steepest parts, which were common, I went fastest if I simply used my hands and sort of crawled up the rocks. The boulders were pretty slick, but I made it to the top without incident.

The hell that came with that climb was over and I needed to stop and adjust my micro spikes as they had twisted on my shoes. A couple of guys passed me there and each asked if I was "ok" and one said, "hey man, it's all downhill from here". I responded that I had heard that one before and he said that he was serious and the trail was rolling and easy to the road to the finish. As I descended running most of the remaining trail, it was the best I had felt all day. I was actually running, but I also came to realize that we had climbed that mountain of precarious boulders simply for the sake of it and again I felt stupid for playing into this mess.

"Bumbles bounce!"

The Frozen Snot volunteers amazed me. It was very cold, I don't think it got out of the 20's during the event. While many of them had fires burning at their stations along the course, there was one lady standing making sure you didn't miss a turn. I felt sorry for her, she was bundled up against the elements all by herself with no fire. She asked me how I was doing and I responded that I was fine and when I asked her the same she responded simply, "I'm cold". One crew we passed (twice)
had a volunteer dressed in costume, I'm not sure if they were The Bumble from Rudolph or a Yeti, but I definitely got a kick out of it. That costumed crazy person was also holding a sign that proclaimed, "Run Faster, I Farted"...loved it! I can't forget to mention the photographer Bill Crowell, how he flew his drone in that wind I'll never know. Be sure to check out his YouTube video. Pretty special folks out there encouraging us and keeping an eye on us. Thank you.

"Run Faster! I Farted!"

The rolling course that descended from the boulders in my opinion was some of the prettiest. I was surprised to see the reservoir coming up quickly making it obvious that I was reaching the valley floor. I really enjoyed those last miles that lead to the return to the aid station. I was now passing some others who looked as though they had completely run out of gas.
All Done In The Forest

As I came into the aid station area again, I soon saw that Janice was still there. That was a great surprise as I thought she had already gone to the finish. She took my micro spikes and my poles and I had an easy run back to the Army Reserve Center. It was cool to have runners leaving in their vehicles giving me the thumbs up or yelling encouragement as I was on the last road passing the prison. I was a little confused as to how to approach the finish line in the parking lot, but I figured it out.
Making My Own Path Through The
Parking Lot To The Finish Line

Unlike last weekend's race, this time I made it in time to enjoy the post race soup. The potato soup rocked! Janice and I headed back to the hotel. That hot shower felt amazing. We had no plans and almost no energy, but we decided to go watch her Alma Mater beat Lock Haven in basketball. The West Chester women won their game in double overtime so we got to see that finish and we were there to see the whole men's win as well (unexpected fun while snowed-out of our home town). Sunday morning road conditions were great and we got home to start clearing the mountain of snow in front of our house.

Next month it's back to running! Im headed to The Frozen Heart 50k in Callaway Maryland - looks like a fun grass roots race, gonna be fun!

Other stuff I used:

Ultimate Direction - Fast Pack 20 - made it easy to carry my trekking poles and micro-spikes
Platypus - 2 Liter Big Zip LP hydration bladder
Tailwind Nutrition - Berry (I carried a couple gels and a ClifBar as well, but didn't eat any of them)
Black Diamond - Distance Z Poles
Suunto Ambit3 Peak

This Kid Was Lethal At
The Free Throw Line.
I Don't Think He Ever Missed.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

No Snow, But Plenty of Mud - 2016 Phunt 50k Race Report

January 16, 2016 Elkton, MD

After taking a year off from ultra running, it felt pretty good to be heading to a start line to go run 50k in a forest. I had heard about the Phunt 50k for years, but never had the desire to run an ultra so early in the year. My plan this year is to return to the two 100 mile events I DNF'd in 2014 and I thought that starting racing early would be a good addition to my training plan* (*loosely used term). The Phunt is held at Fair Hill Nature Reserve near Elkton, Maryland; an absolute beautiful place. The event is known for its cold weather and the challenging trail conditions that come with it. A few years ago (2012) I ran in a North Face Endurance Challenge 50 miler in Virginia and the entire night before the event it poured. After a 3" rain fall, 30 miles of that course was nothing but squishy/slick mud and/or standing water. If the mud wasn't pulling at your shoes and caking on the soles, it was slippery and putting you on your butt. I wondered if I'd ever see conditions like that again. Well wonder no longer, welcome to Phunt 2016. I'm not sure how much it rained Friday night, but it was enough and coupled with the unseasonably warm temperatures; much of the course was mud. Squishy, ankle deep, slippery mud.

We found the place easily enough and it was less than a two hour drive from Harrisburg. The first thing I noticed when I stepped out of the Jeep was how warm it was, I was definitely over dressed. After a quick change, tights were ditched and shorts were on. My number was pinned on and we were just killing time till the start when Janice asked a passing runner (Bob Gross) if he had a sister Lynne, and oddly at first he said, "no", but with further nudging he remembered he did have a sister named Lynne and to make a long story short Janice told him that she had gone to elementary school with his sister and he was a year or so ahead her - small world. After Janice got to meet Bob's family (two daughters running and Wife keeping order/cheering/crewing), we walked outside to wait for the start. We had no idea where the start line was. After a short wait we saw the majority of  the other runners coming out of the other end of the building we had been in ( I totally forgot/missed Carl's pre-race briefing - woops). So we hustled over and followed the crowd. After a short walk we realized we were walking around the grand stand we had been standing next to. After completing our U-Turn we ended up right back where we had started from and without hearing any sort of warning, an air horn blast sent us on our way. I love starts like that, spare the formality, let's go! Grass roots ultra trail running at it's finest.

Arriving At Aid Station #2 Early In The Race

The course runs primarily on single track through forested hills. It crosses some pretty pastures and numerous streams and at least one real creek. The course is only 15ish miles long so for the 50k you need to complete the lap twice. I started out way too fast, but I felt good and decided not to worry about it and concentrated on slowing down gradually till I was at my 12ish minute mile pace. There are 3 aid stations along the route with the first one at just 3.8 miles so I ran through that one. The next one was at 7.something miles and I saw Janice there, but still had more than half a bottle so I didn't stop there either. Speaking of which, I ran the race carrying my trusty old Nathan Quick Draw Plus with either ClifBar Clif Shot Electrolyte Hydration Drink or Tailwind Nutrition. I should've probably grabbed a full bottle the first time I saw Janice, because I refilled with Hammer Heed at the 10 mile aid station and learned quickly that my gut doesn't like it - no worries, only 5ish miles till I'd be back at the start/finish where Janice would be waiting with my own hydration stuff.

Head For The Hills

Around the 6 mile mark, there was a spot where a guy was taking photos, he had a big white pickup truck playing fun loud music. I was checking out his truck/mobile dance party system when I noticed a woman ahead of me turn left so I followed. We were on a gravel road and we had broken into a hilltop field with a nice view. I was just noticing that there were no runners in front of her when I heard the yelling, "you're going the wrong way!". I looked over my shoulder and noticed runners turning right where she and I had gone left. Being the courteous trail runner I am, I yelled to her that we needed to turn around. I yelled and yelled again until finally she turned and she yelled back rather sharply advising me "I'm not racing, I'm just out for a run". I thought what a sweetheart and then was on my way to get back on track. I only added about 3/4 of a mile. I made sure to thank those who screamed at me to turn around.

I was slowing nicely, getting comfortable averaging an 11 minute mile when I hit a downhill around mile 12 that was a muddy sliding board and I slipped and couldn't recover. I landed nicely on my ass in deep mud. Would've been no big deal, but my legs simultaneously went into massive cramps. I was well hydrated and I had salt tabs in me, but the muscle clench when I tried not to fall seemed to send my legs into excruciating cramps. The cramps in the large muscles in my upper legs passed quickly, as did the cramp in my right calf; my left calf however was a different story. Yes, I ran the last 19 miles with a knot in my left calf that is still there now. No more concentrating on slowing down, I had been slowed down by good ole Mother Nature.

Needing A Refill At The End Of Lap One - only 25k To Go

It was kind of interesting to arrive at the start/finish to see all the 25kers with finisher medals around their necks and partying. It was tempting, but I had come to do the 50k so that temptation was quickly dismissed and after cameling up at the Jeep with Janice; I was back on the trail for lap number two. Janice knew her way around now and decided she needed Fitbit steps so she walked to Aid Station #1 and she swapped out my nearly empty bottle and I was on my way. With my belly swishing like a fish bowl, it felt good to be slightly over-hydrated. She also met me at the next Aid Station for another bottle swap. Yes, she's like an Indy Pit Crew. She's so efficient, I've had other ultra runners point it out to me with quite the jealous tone.

Another Aid Station, Another Refill

A Real Bridge Across The Big Elk Creek
Approaching The Finish Line - Day Is Done

On the 2nd lap I was really feeling the mud's affect on my stabilizer muscles. The extra work simply to stay upright in that slop really had me fatigued. That fatigue seemed to be going around, even as my pace slowed I was reeling in and passing folks in the closing miles. Simply put, that mud made for a tough day. I interchanged some walk breaks and made it back to the finish before the beer was all gone. (although I did miss the Lentil soup - damn it!)

Cool remains of some old structure along the course.

Cool course, completely runnable and while it didn't have any major climbing it seemed we were going up or downhill all day. The trail was very roller coaster-like - my Suunto Ambit3 Peak measured 3978' elevation gain over my 31.9 mi 50k. The version of the Phunt 50k I got was the muddy one, but I heard of plenty of other versions based on the conditions provided by the unpredictable January weather. The aid stations were plenty, nicely stocked and staggered nicely around the course so the furthest stretch between aid was about 5 miles - a handheld with some ClifBar gels on board worked well for me. I did stop a couple of times on the second lap and ate orange slices and drank Coca-Cola. The finish line was just as low key as the start, a couple guys making note of your time and a third guy handing you a cool medal and a Phunt 50k shot glass. After that it was all party with plenty of food and fun. I must say the post-race highlight for me was the wonderful little keg of "Cease and Desist" Brown Eye IPA by Chiques Rock Brewing - stellar stuff - loved it!

A Local Donkey

If you're looking for an event to get  your year kicked off, this is it. Great course and great people! I highly recommend running the Phunt 50k and if you're early season form isn't up for 31 miles you have the option to ditch out at the 25k mark, but if you do that, save some soup for me!

Other stuff I used:

Altra Lone Peak 2.0 - killer trail shoes
Superfeet Insoles
Zensah Ultra Compression Sleeves
Injinji Trail 2.0 - the only socks I trust with the care of my feet
Pearl Izumi Shorts (I like them because they have pockets)
Adidas Climalite Boxers
2XU Long Sleeve Compression Shirt
The North Face Mountain Athletics Short Sleeve Shirt
Boco Gear ClifBar Visor

Next up for me, 13.5 miles at the Frozen Snot in McElhattan Pennsylvania.

Other fun photos Janice took while patiently waiting for me:

Quartz Seemed To Be Everywhere - Cool Pink!
Just A Cool Barn
Janice's Point Of View Much Of Her Day - Watching & Waiting For Me To Arrive
We Ran Across This Covered Bridge Twice
Not Sure What This Stuff Is, But It Looks Cool