Thursday, September 22, 2016

Real Trail Running - Possum Glory 50K Race Report

September 10, 2016

The  3 Amigos - Al, Donny & Mike

Have you ever met a group of folks who you immediately knew were good people? That's the feeling I got the day I walked into The Tri County ATV Center to pick up my bib number for the Possum Glory 50K. While I had communicated with Mike Weaver, Donny Bowers and Al Lockard online, meeting them face to face was something special. A "hey let's go for a run" or "hey let's go get a beer" (or both) kind of special. Along with Al's Wife Candi, this friendly group made up the race director corps for this first annual event. (I unfortunately didn't get a chance to speak with Candi) While this was the first year for this race, these guys aren't rookies. Not only do they all have ultra finishes under their belts, they were the team behind the now defunct Punxsutawney Ground Hog 50K. I never got to run the Ground Hog before a property ownership change put it out of business so I registered to see what this first annual 50K had to offer (there were 25K and 10K events on the day's agenda as well).

I've used the term grassroots when describing another ultra I ran this year. This race was the next step from that and I'd have to label it simply as "real". The race was sponsored by Team Red White and Blue and from the moment I arrived at the ATV center, I knew that this event would have zero pretense. This would be "real" trail running. First, let me tell you a little about this Tri-County ATV place. The club was started 16 years ago and offers ATV enthusiasts a place to ride their machines legally. Most of the vehicles I saw were not your everyday ATV, these things looked souped up and capable of climbing a wall covered with mud. I was thankful they listed their coordinates on their web site as I was skeptical about finding the place using a "street" address. Yes, it was in the middle of nowhere. With that said, I couldn't get over how much I felt at home.

I arrived and there was a food auction taking place in the main building, so not to stroll through the auction crowd I walked around the building to find Al Lockard on a four wheeler. I knew I was in the right place.

In the back door and I quickly ran into Mike Weaver and Donny Bowers who made a bit of a to-do about the fact that I had been the first person to register for their new event. Yes, I was given bib #1 and they even gave me an additional t-shirt for being first. The race already was giving two t-shirts, so I walked away with a haul of three. The auction looked interesting, attended by a wide variety of folks from the countryside. I was tempted to stay and maybe bid on a case of Slim Jims, but I needed to go find supper so I headed back to Ebensburg where I had found a hotel room.

Pre-race early Morning At The ATV Center

The Possum Glory Mascot

Having visited Friday in the daylight certainly made the drive back to the ATV Center in the morning easier. After three stops for Deer in the road and a stop to give a fellow runner directions, I was soon drinking coffee and waiting for someone to say "Go!". The race directors buzzed about while radios crackled and volunteers loaded up aid station supplies. The food auction was gone and now the Possum Glory Endurance Runs had center stage. After some brief announcements we strolled up to the start finish and with little fanfare, Mike said go and rang a cowbell.

The course opened with a gradual climb away from the ATV center. It seemed like a nice way to get warmed up as I watched a few others ascend away from me. One runner in particular had separated from the bunch and when I arrived at the top I found a half dozen runners standing and wondering which way to go. Donny Bowers was there on the phone making it clear that the race markings had fallen down over night. He soon told us to turn left. By now we were all a bunch, less one who had seemingly disappeared into the forest going the wrong way. We made the left and toddled down a considerable downhill section only to be stopped at the bottom by caution tape blocking the trail. We could hear Donny yelling for Joe (the runner who had continued) and we yelled to him that we were stuck. In short order we were turned around and headed back up the hill. The left turn we were to take came after entering the woods, Joe had gone the right way. A couple folks bitched and they were quickly told to chill out as this was trail running. Back at the top, Donny was there and terribly apologetic for the mix up. I high fived him and told him it was an awesome start. I looked at my watch and estimated that the wrong turn had added about a 1/4 mile and for me had set the theme of the day.

The terrain that we would deal with all day was soon evident. These trails were built for rock crawling ATV's and not for running. If you run on the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania, these trails looked a lot the same, but maybe rockier. If we weren't picking our way through rocks, we were splashing through deep standing puddles. I decided early that fording the tiny ponds was better than trying to skirt them as they were surrounded by extremely slippery mud. The only other feature besides rocks and water was the hills. My watch recorded 5,000' of elevation gain which isn't a crazy amount, but it was the form of the hills that mattered. A few of them were like running up sliding boards and it seemed like they were at times one right after another.

During the race announcements an apology was given because it was advertised that there would be no loops. It turned out that maybe the ATV trails didn't exactly provide enough to host a 50K so we did end up retracing our steps in a couple of places. A short loop (about 1.5 miles) and a long loop (about 5 miles). Both included brutal climbs and I noticed something interesting, on both of the loops the second time through felt noticeably easier. On the first lap of each of those loops my brain knew I'd have to endure these climbs again. On the second laps I knew I was done. Each loop started with an aid station, which was cool and the volunteers kept track of your laps as well. I have to mention that both aid stations had watermelon, which is my favorite aid station food at summertime ultras.

I got through this course as fast as I could. I realized early on that it would be a day of grinding it out, certainly nothing pretty. I just had to keep finding ways to get through the rocks and up the hills. I also added a slight extra challenge by going off course a couple more times. I came to an intersection with signs that read "Outgoing" and "Incoming" with arrows. Because I didn't know the course I didn't know which I was. Was I "Incoming" or was I "Outgoing"?  I made the logical turn and began a muddy climb. There were "Two Way Traffic" signs on the climb and soon I second guessed myself, turned around and headed back down the hill. I got back to those signs that were mocking my ignorance and stood there a second until I said "F it" and turned around and went back up the hill. If it was the wrong turn, I'd probably find out soon enough. My other directional gaff was on the first lap of the short loop. I was on top of a hill feeling good and running along daydreaming. I was kind of in the zone and I did notice orange markings on two trees, but it didn't even register and I ran between them. After a short while of seeing no more orange markings, I finally woke up from my little trance and turned around. Now I was starting to wonder about making that 8 hour cutoff for the finish.

The long loop had a power line climb that was exposed to the sun. Oh yeah, I guess I forgot to mention that it was hot as hell too. The husband and wife duo at the aid station at the start/finish of that loop were great. They refilled my hydration bladder and stuffed me with watermelon. As much as I enjoyed them, I was stoked to not have to visit them a third time. As I exited that area headed for home, Al Lockard was there at a water stop and he had an obvious sense of urgency about him. He hustled me out of there telling me I had only 55 minutes to make the 3pm cutoff. He said I had about 3.5 mile to go, easy right? Well, it was 3.5 more miles of climbing in the heat and it opened with another uphill stretch exposed to the sun. Eventually I found my way through those last hills and I figured out where to turn for the finish. I must've been a pathetic sight running for all I was worth down that last hill trying to beat the cutoff.

Donny Bowers yelled "yes" when I asked if I was making it, but I didn't let up. I was worked, but I made it and a really nice guy standing there at the finish asked what I wanted to drink. He mentioned various things, but I only heard beer and he quickly produced an ice cold can of Busch Light. Best damned Busch Light ever...actually it was only the second one I'd ever had, the other was at the Mayor's House (a backpacker hostel along the AT in Unionville, NY) This being a Team RW&B event, the beer guy asked if I had run for someone. I said, "no". Realizing what I said, I quickly changed my answer and told them about my Dad; Marine Corps WWII Veteran who had just passed away in July. Donny kindly assured me that I had made my Dad proud and he hung a finisher's dog tag around my neck.

Donny asked me what I thought of the course and I told him this was my fifth 50K this year and hands down the toughest. The relentless rocky and muddy terrain and the short steep hills just one after another made for a thorough ass kicking. I ran it in preparation for the Oil Creek 100 and I believe it went as planned. Another oven-like day filled with stumbling up and down hills powered by ClifBar. A bonk on this course would've been disastrous and ClifBar Shot Energy Gels, Bloks Energy Chews and Organic Energy Food fueled me through to the finish.

Afterwards, the ATV Center was buzzing with volunteers, runners and ATV folks who were preparing for some upcoming event. There was acoustic music by Kevin Dale while food was served, washed down by some lovely craft beer by Levity Brewing from nearby Indiana Pennsylvania. Yes I went from Busch Light to a yummy IPA and a tasty Saison (if you're ever in Indiana, Levity Brewing is a must visit for sure). This was the first year for The Possum Glory and they definitely made their stamp on Pennsylvania trail running. Need a September 50K? An Oil Creek practice run? Go get your butt kicked at the Tri-County ATV Center. Good people and tough trails.

Justa' Pooch Hangin' At The ATV Center

Friday, September 2, 2016

On The Road To Recovery - MD H.E.A.T. Race Report

August 27, 2016

Not even a month ago the waters rose so fast that without warning the tragedy now known as the Ellicott City Flood ripped through the historic Main Street destroying properties, tossing cars, and mounding up silt. The truly tragic result of the raging Patapsco River was the loss of two lives. Two people out enjoying a nice evening with loved ones. It's reported that the waters came as if a dam had burst, many were able to narrowly escape the surprise attack, but two were not and their lives were taken.

Janice and I needed to eat dinner and we attempted to eat in Ellicott City, but it was impossible. We were turned away by police. Main Street was still blocked and the one restaurant we did see was packed. Hopefully no seats at The Judges Bench is a sign that the city is making strides toward recovery. The Ellicott Mills Brewery was having a fund raiser and that's where we were trying to go. Thankfully I read on Facebook that the brewery fund raiser was a success.

I found this info online:

•Donations for merchants and residents:
•More information can be found at

This old backstop near the start/finish tells the tale.
Those leaves stuck to the chain link show the high water mark.
Flood debris was all around.

That same Patapsco River formed the spine of the body that was the MD HEAT Race course. The race wandered the network of trails lacing up, around and across the Patapsco Valley State Park near Elk Ridge Maryland. I met Nick Yeates, the race director, 5 years ago at The Megatransect and we ran into each other again at The Tussey Mountainback 50 miler just three weeks later. Nick was a huge fan of the Megatransect and his hope was to create his own version near his home in Maryland. This was the 5th running of the MD HEAT Race. The course is a 16ish mile loop, twice for the 50K runners and one lap for the 25K crew. Terrain of all kinds to include a slippery boulder scramble through a stream and one climb that was kinda' nuts (I wonder if anyone was able to run it). There were three aid stations out on the loop and for the 50K, the start/finish was also an aid station. (Aid Station #1 wasn't in place for the 50K, so the first 8 miles you were biggy)

I had the luxury of having Janice with me as crew for this run. Due to parking restrictions at the park, runners and others were asked to park remotely at a nearby Park & Ride and use a shuttle bus to and from the race. Janice and I decided that dropping me off at the start and her meeting me at Aid Station #2 was our best plan of attack. It was a good plan until we found out how far into the park the start line was and we were greeted by a Ranger blocking the gate. He was quite nice though and he let us pass when I assured him that I was being dropped off and Janice would be on her way.

The start area was buzzing as the first shuttle bus had just dropped off a load of 50Kers. Volunteers were setting up as Nick and his Dad circulated ensuring everything was in place (with the awesome hats they were wearing, they were easy to pick spot - sorry I don't have photos to share)  I stashed a drop bag at the pavilion as we'd pass through there to start lap 2. Janice sat in the Jeep toiling over maps. Trying to make sense of a map of the park compared to the map of the race course. We weren't real sure where the aid stations were and if they were even accessible by car, so as Nick said "Ready, Set, Go!" I was just hoping I'd see Janice somewhere around the course. I really wasn't concerned, she's a pro at this crewing thing, I'm no longer amazed when I see her pop up in the remotest of spots. Besides, if she couldn't  find me, cell signal was good here so I'm sure she would've just practiced her Pokémon hunting skills playing Pokémon Go.

Through this tunnel the first climb awaits.

The race rolls out through some easy park grounds and on a park road before making an abrupt right turn through a cool little tunnel and into the forest. The short stretch on the road was funny (for me), I had a guy running right on my heels breathing forcibly...kinda' like an old locomotive. I moved to the other side of the road and he matched my steps and stayed right behind me breathing like a Heifer next in line at the slaughter house. Annoyed, I stepped off the road into the weeds and stopped. It was fun to watch the twisted look on his face go by, seemingly wondering what I was doing. Not sure what that was all about...maybe he thought he was drafting...I just have to laugh at some people's running habits.

Hills came early and often, but the majority of the trail was runnable and shaded. The trail does pop out onto power line clearings where the sun was brutal, especially as the day went on. Numerous stream crossings became welcome allies as I was carrying an old bandanna and dipping it in the cold water and squeezing it over my head became the day's air conditioning. It did get hot, I believe we ventured into the 90's and the humidity wasn't far behind.

The trail dumped us out onto this paved path for a
short distance till we reached the Swinging Bridge Aid Station.

Crossing the swinging bridge.
Dirt + Sweat = Mud

In my last few trail events, I've been doing a fine job of finding things to trip over and this day was no different. I heard someone approaching fast behind me on single track. I looked over my shoulder to see if they needed to pass and in no time I was tripping and rolling on the forest floor. That was around mile 7 so when Janice met me at the swinging bridge/the 8 mile aid station, I was covered in dirt adhered by sweat. She was quick to tell me I stunk more than normal leaving me wondering what it was I actually rolled in. The road to that aid station was actually closed and Janice whispered to me that she had "sweet talked" her way past the road block and drove in. Janice got me quickly back on the trail, climbing the hill behind the aid station.

The swinging bridge through the trees.

For me, the swinging bridge leading to the aid station was a highlight of the course. The Orange Grove Flour Mill operated along the Patapsco River from 1856 until it was destroyed by fire and effectively put out of business in 1905. The factory was then crushed by Tropical Storm Agnes in 1972 (I'm old enough to remember it's rage when it passed through my hometown of Harrisburg). Today the one cool remnant remaining is a swinging bridge over the river very near where the factory operated. The factory workers' homes were on the opposite side of the river and the original bridge was constructed by the company to make it easier for them to get to work. The current restored bridge was constructed by the Maryland DNR in 2006. It's certainly worth seeing and crossing. It's a suspension bridge with a wooden plank deck hanging from thick steel cables and couplings. Janice met me on the factory side and we bounced across to the aid station together.

The second half of the loop seemed to have less climbing and around mile 13 there was another aid station staffed by colorful volunteers. Their theme was from the movie Cast Away complete with inflated Palm Trees and Tom Hanks' buddy Wilson keeping watch on the goings on. Janice met me there as well, she said it was an easy park and walk into the forest. I swapped out my hydration bladder and had some yummy frozen Mango concoction at the aid station and I was on my way again.

Just a cool tunnel.

My nutrition had been going quite well until now, fueling with ClifBar Gels and ShotBloks and washing them down with Tailwind, but at this point I made a huge mistake. The bladder Janice gave me was right out of our cooler and the Tailwind in it was ice cold. It was now pretty hot and I was like an addict, I couldn't get enough of this ice cold drug. About 3 1/2 miles later I was at the start finish where I had stashed 2 frozen bottles of Tailwind. By now they were cold liquid and I chugged one, downed a ClifBar Organic Energy Food pack and a Mama Chia Squeeze and stashed the other bottle in my vest and started lap two. Janice wasn't there and I soon saw why, the road to the pavilion was now blocked and only those with reservations were allowed entry. The course pops out of the woods into a small parking lot and I saw our orange Jeep and Janice was there reading the map, what else? I'm not sure what I was thinking, but I decided to finish that second bottle and threw it in the Jeep. That's about 40 ounces of Tailwind I drank in just a matter of minutes. It was hot and it felt good, but now my stomach felt like a fish bowl and I couldn't make myself run. The discomfort from the bloat was immense and I ended up walking much of the next mile or more. I started OD'ing on cold liquid around mile 13 and I was a wreck until about mile 18 or so. Aid Station 1 (mile 20ish) was in place for our second visit and I actually felt like I could actually run again. I drank far more than my body could process, I didn't drive myself to Hypernatremia, but that stupid rookie mistake took a major chunk out of the middle of the my run.

Applause for the "Trail Banditos" - excellent course markings!
Didn't go off course once.

The second lap was a quiet adventure as I found myself leap frogging with a young guy and gal for much of the remaining mileage, but the trail otherwise seemed empty.(I learned later that 21 of the 50K starters decided to call it a day after the first hot hilly lap.)

My second visit to the Swinging Bridge Aid Station,
that injured runner shuttle wasn't there for me.

Janice met me again at the aid station at the swinging bridge and this time she had figured out the trails and had walked. I gobbled another ClifBar Organic Energy Food pack and a Mama Chia Squeeze as an injured runner was picked up by the Race Director. Janice and I agreed that she should go to the finish area as I'd be ok with the ClifBar food and Tailwind I was carrying and the support from the Cast Away Aid Station at mile 30. The Cast Away crew did me a solid and refilled my bladder enough to get me to the finish and it felt good to know the day in the heat was over as I crossed the line (It didn't hurt that the "coolest" volunteer of all was there waiting with a freeze pop).

I've forgotten to mention "The Wall". No, not the Pink Floyd album, but an actual stone wall that stood between you and the finish line. With a bout a tenth of a mile to go the course settled right in close to the river and I haven't learned why it's there, but there's this ancient stone wall that seemed between 10 and 12 feet high. It runs perpendicular to the river from a rock outcrop so my guess is that it was built to manage rising waters. Yes, runners were expected to get over it. On the first lap I crossed it with two other runners who told me it was much easier this year due to the river silt mounded up by the flooding. That fact didn't make it any easier getting down the other side, especially on the second lap on tired legs. I wanted Janice to see the wall, so afterwards we took the short walk there. She not only got to see the wall, two finishing runners appeared as she was snapping photos of the monstrosity. We switched quickly to cheering mode and I think the one woman really appreciated the help getting down off that thing without incident or injury.

The Wall

The fun at the finish line was unrivaled by any other event I've run. It started with a freeze pop, Janice got to hose me down and there was abundant yummy food along with various ice cold craft beers. This is the only race I've ever run that actually has its own Brewmeister. Hat's off to Jeremy Swan and his home brews that worked so well after 32 miles in the heat. If you've been wondering about his race, wonder no more, go run the damn thing! Cheers!

**********MY YEAR SO FAR***********

It's been an interesting year for me. I've crossed a bunch of finish lines and I can't thank Janice enough for putting up with me through everything.

I've joked that for 2016 I bought a membership to the Ultra-A-Month club and it's been a fun challenge to attempt to complete one per month. I'm not fast, in fact some of my finishing times have been laughable, down right embarrassing. Embarrassing or not, I'm proud that I've finished every race I've started this year.

Huge thank you to ClifBar for their amazing nutrition support. I know that no matter how bad it gets, if I just keep eating ClifBar stuff, I'll have the fuel in the tank to survive to the end.

The year hasn't been all happy finish lines. My heart decided to remind me that I'm 55 years old and surgery was required to stop the episodes of SVT that were stopping me in my tracks. A heart rate of 260 bpm is pretty darned scary...glad it's gone. Huge thank you to the doctors and nurses at Hershey Medical Center, I now feel like I've got a brand new heart. Wednesday before this race I had a follow up appointment with the Cardiologist, my BP was 120/80, HR 52 bpm and I had an EKG and an Echo Test that the doctor said showed my ticker was good for at least another 50K.

My heart was a challenge, but the ground shaking event of my year has been losing my Father. At 93 years old Dad passed quietly one night in July. For 55 years I called the most kind supportive man  I've ever known, Dad. He's gone from this planet now, but he's now more present than ever. My Dad's death could've been a setback I guess, but instead I saw it as inspiration to live on as strong as possible knowing he's over my shoulder keeping watch every step of the way.

This year my running has had numerous interruptions and set backs, but I feel my training is getting back on track and I'm well on the road to recovery.

2016 Events:

1/16/16 Phunt 50k Trail Race Elkton, MD 6:26:09
1/23/16 Frozen Snot 13.5 Mile Trail Run McElhattan, PA 5:52:29
2/20/16 Frozen Heart 50k Callaway, MD 6:14:38
3/06/16 Naked Bavarian 40 Mile Leesport, PA 8:11:23
4/30/16 C&O Canal 100 Mile Knoxville, MD 29:03:26
5/14/16 Glacier Ridge 50 Mile Portersville, PA 13:24:26
5/16/16 Cardiac Ablation Hershey Medical Center Hershey, PA
5/25/16 My 55th Birthday
6/18/16 Highlands Sky Trail Run 40 Mile Davis, WV 11:14:36
6/4/16 Colin's 5K Run Central Dauphin HS XC Course Harrisburg, PA 27:05
7/14/16 Daniel Eugene Ligon passed away after an amazing life here on God's Earth.
7/30/16 Allegheny Front Trail Run 50k Philipsburg, PA  8:16:34
8/6/16   5th Annual CD/CDEast High School XCTeam Challenge 5k Harrisburg PA 27:49
8/13/16 Chiques Challenge 4.5 Mile Run/2.5 Mile Kayak Columbia PA 1:22:12
8/27/16 MD HEAT Race 50k Elkridge, MD 7:56:32

Next up:

9/10/16 1st Annual Possum Glory 50k Ebensburg,PA
10/8/16 Oil Creek Trail Runs 100 Mile Titusville, PA
11/12/16 Stone Mill 50 Montgomery Village, MD

One more 50K in preparation for the Oil Creek 100 and a 50 miler after that to round out the year.
I guess my Ultra-A-Month membership was only the 11 month package...

Colorful Patapsco Valley Mushrooms - crewing an old slow
ultra runner can be pretty boring...