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

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