Wednesday, May 18, 2016

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

May 14, 2016
Sunrise Over Lake Arthur

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

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

Roadside Snowman Near Moraine State Park

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Page #49

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

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

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

Stuff I used at the GRT 50:

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

Friday, May 6, 2016

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

April 30th - May 1st 2016

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

Lockhouse 28

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

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

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

Organic Breakfast

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

 2014 Logo by Pennsylvanian Ultra Friend Todd Lewis

Pre-race briefing

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

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

Leaving Dargan Bend Aid Station

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finisher's buckle & my soggy ClifBar trucker hat

Gear I used:

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

Just keep smiling...

Just some of the lessons I learned:

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

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

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