Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Chiques Challenge 2017 - Race Report...err Challenge Report

August 12, 2017

I've come to look forward to this event each year. It helps to set me straight and remind me why I do any of this, for the fun of it. This is the seventh year for the race and I've had a blast at every one of them.

The event is aptly named, because I'm not really sure it's a race; it is however a challenge. To get to the finish line you need to cover about 4.5 miles on foot and about 2.5 in a kayak. Each year, since the event's inception in 2010, has seen different conditions that have helped to shape the challenge beyond covering the required distances. Weather conditions, river levels and even a local tragedy have come into play as each mid-August has rolled around.

Personally each race has been different, because most every year I've had at least one family member participate with me. The Chiques Challenge conveniently falls on the same day as Janice's family reunion, so most years it's been easy to conscript relatives to go along with the fun.

The Conrad-Sanker Crew 2017

One year we had five of us and only one year did I do it alone. This year I would be running and paddling solo for a second time.

Debbie & I Enjoying The Heat & Humidity Last Year
The humidity at last year's challenge was no joke, Janice's Sister Debbie and I did it together and I'm sure she'd attest to the fact that the heat and humidity had you sweating while standing still. This year it was only about 80° and the Pennsylvania August humidity was there, but somewhat bearable. Janice went with me and after 7 years she knows the drill quite well, drop off my kayak at the launch, drive to registration, get my race number and drive up river to the start line at the Marietta River Park. Just before the start I downed a bottle of water and ate a Clif Bar Clif Shot Energy Gel, so on top of a Banana and a Clif Bar Organic Energy Food I had at home, nutritionally; I was all set.

The start was a little different this year for a couple reasons. Pretzel City Sports does the timing and if you know them, you know Ron Horn. Ron has been at the start each of the previous years adding his own unique touch to pre-race announcements. This year unfortunately he was away working a different event on his schedule, so his color commentary was sadly missed. In all of the past years a woman from the Susquehanna Valley Chamber Of Commerce was the race director and speaker and she was absent as well. Another obvious difference was the small field of participants, with only 77 registrants and that's counting both relay team members.

Nothing else was different though and soon we heard "go" and off we went down river on the Northwest River Trail. It's a multi-purpose paved trail that leads the runners to town where the race swaps the trail for the streets of Marietta.

I'm not a fast runner to begin with and I've spent many of the weeks leading up to this little run trying to regain some sort of fitness level from injuries; so I had no idea what to expect for a pace I could hold onto while I careened toward my kayak. I heard my watch beep for the first mile, but I couldn't bring myself to look to see just how slow I was going. All I knew was that my heart rate felt sustainable so I wasn't going to change anything. If I couldn't sustain it, I'd slow the heck down.

Build It And They Will Run

I started at the very back of the pack. I'm used to ultra starts where my positioning at the start line means very little for me and I didn't want to be in the way of those fasties who planned to fly from the gun. With all that said, I did have fun chasing and passing other runners through the first couple of miles. I eventually came up behind three guys who looked my age, in fact I could've sworn I heard  them exchange their ages (and they were in my age group). One guy almost immediately blew up and dropped from our group, but the other two looked like stronger runners than me so I was encouraged that I was hanging with them. I figured if I could stay with them to the kayak, I might survive. Soon my plan dissolved as they both of them started to struggle each at different times. One guy was taking brief walk breaks and the other guy was yoyo-ing up and back, going behind me then ahead of me. That went on for a little while until I found myself permanently in front of them. I wanted to follow their pace and now somehow I was the pacer.

Heading To The Kayak

We came through a final turn and I saw Janice taking photos, I also felt my heart rate spiking. I knew I couldn't handle the kayak, much less paddle efficiently arriving with my heart in the red so I walked 4 or 5 strides until it felt under control. In that short break both guys passed me, but that short break was also all I needed and I quickly passed them and with a burst that separated me from them significantly. I never saw them at the kayak transition or again until they finished.

I had registered early so my number was 5 and that meant my kayak was in the front row of boats, closest to the river. In fact I had a straight shot to the boat launch. That's where that advantage seemed to fizzle as there was a bit of a traffic jam at the river's edge. A young woman was taking a long time to get in her kayak and the guy next to her forgot to put his life vest on and it was tangled in his bungees and his paddle. My kayak's 14 feet long and just heavy enough that it's not exactly maneuverable so when I needed to go around these folks to the other side of the ramp, I'm sure it wasn't exactly graceful. Soon enough though I was in the water making a wake and heading down river to Columbia's River Park. The woman who was at the launch was in a kayak like I hadn't seen before and she wore a helmet. She also paddled way out river right when the finish line was on the left. She went so far out, I was concerned she may not have known where the finish line was at all.

Getting in a kayak to paddle after running is an interesting transition. You go from using your legs to using your upper body. If the transition isn't odd enough when you start to fatigue, it doesn't seem to matter which muscle group you're using; you're tired all over. The river was high from recent rains and making the paddling easy as many of the rocks were submerged below. I passed a few folks in the kayak who simply seemed like they were running out of steam. Two guys were clearly there for the fun of it and/or paddling a kayak was not their thing, so passing them was most fun because the fun they were having; laughing and yelling "you go dude". I think that was code for, "you go old man". [Those fellas later approached Janice asking if she had a photo of them leading the race. They said they went out fast in hopes of being captured actually leading at some point, knowing they wouldn't win.]

Here They Are, #43 And His Buddy Over
His Right Shoulder Clearly Winning :-)

Soon I was floating across the finish line and again this attempt fell short of my goal to someday finish this thing under an hour (I was bummed about that for almost a second). I quickly realized Janice wasn't there at The Columbia River Park. I had seen her in Marietta, but now that I thought of it I didn't see her at the boat launch. She goes to an overlook to take photos, but it's difficult to see people up there from the river, but she definitely wasn't at the finish. Now all kinds of things were going through my head, keys locked in the Jeep? an accident?...thankfully she eventually showed up and jokingly said I had gone too fast for her to keep up. While I was running with those guys, a volunteer fire person there for traffic control (I think) was driving a pickup truck along side us as we ran. She was driving quite slowly (our running pace) and shadowing us and it was really unnerving. I eventually asked her to go ahead of us or behind us. I'm not sure she heard me as she gave me a bewildered look. She did however drop back behind us. Well, apparently Janice got stuck behind that same truck and was unable to get to the boat launch in time. When leaving the overlook she again got stuck behind slowpokes, but that's a lot better than some crisis that my brain was imagining.

We stayed for the raffle and awards. Again, I didn't win a raffle prize, but I did get a nifty medal for being the 2nd fastest guy in my elderly age group. We took some time to play Pokemon Go and then headed home to enjoy the family reunion...a successful day!

Next up for me, The MD HEAT Race 50K! :-)

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Pity Party Is Over - On The Rocks 50k Race Report

This is a somewhat wordy blog post, there's some personal stuff in it
and some of my commentary may be offensive to some
If you're not up for that, scroll down, maybe look at the pictures
and go for a run instead. ­čśů

July 15, 2017

Sitting on my butt wondering when I'd get up again without pain or difficulty is not my idea of a good way to spend my day. Last year I ended my season that way with a hospital visit included and this year my season went off the tracks with injury again.

An injury in mid-April resulted in a DNF and an additional injury at The C&O Canal 100. That painful injury was later determined to be Baker's Cyst and its affects drug out through May. In June, I stepped up to the start line of the Laurel Highlands Ultra (my all time favorite event) extremely under prepared and my DNF for that day was awarded after just 39 miles.

Tough day on the Laurel Highlands Trail.

I tried to be positive by focusing on the fact that I was soon going to the beach for vacation. I had no races registered until late August and you can't DNF a race if you haven't entered. I'll go to the beach and jump start my training with some leisurely flat coastal running mixed with clamming, crabbing, kayaking and all that other stuff you do on vacation. What could go wrong? Well...I did get to do some running, but I also got some sort of ugly intestinal virus that stole a full 24 hours from my vacation and added five more days of no running while my gut stopped rumbling. Speaking of my gut, if there's one thing I've never learned to do, it's controlling my appetite while injured. Even when not running, I still eat like a runner and the calories pile up instead of being burned. So yep, here I am, fat and out of shape and wondering what to do.

Being extremely discouraged, somewhat depressed and wallowing in self pity; were all constants and that's just not my way. I wasn't enjoying this non-running life at all. Even on days when my knee wasn't sore, I seemed to have lost the desire to run and I certainly didn't want to write about it. I ditched this blog thing and ducked social media. Things got even worse when I read an article in Trail Runner Magazine titled "How Not To Be An Asshole". That story made me start to question so much about my favorite past time. I run in the mountains for fun and I know that I grow with every trek. I don't believe I've ever lost sight of that, but I found however that, primarily through social media, I see plenty of runners who enjoy that same past time for seemingly different reasons. Constant humble bragging, name dropping, spouting off about finishing times, podiums, PR's and belt buckles (drama drama drama). Just a whole lot of "hey look at me!", especially on freaking Strava. [Note: I ditched out of all Strava Clubs just for that reason, prior to reading this article] Being happy and proud of the things you do is pretty normal (I think), especially if self promotion is necessary (like if you're sponsored); but there's a way to do that without being a complete ass. I write about myself and my running, but I've thought I've done it from the right perspective, but oh damn, am I an asshole? (please don't answer that) I quickly scrolled back through my electronic past to see how bad I've been, to see if I was indeed that "world class jerk" described in that article. This investigation was doing me no good, I was only getting more bummed about the current state of my trail running. Knowing I was an asshole on top of that would do me no good at all. So I accepted that I probably have been that asshole and reverted back to my pity party instead.

One day Janice asked, "isn't there a 50k you could enter, kind of as a first step in starting over?". I heard, "even though you're fat and stumbling, you can still finish a 50k, right?". I've often thought that if I can't just get up in the morning and run a 50k, I've completely fallen off my ultra running planet of fun and I should just pack it in. I quickly decided, without telling Janice of course, that packing it in was my chosen route. F this, I'm not having fun anymore, I've dug myself a hole I can't climb out of, it's definitely time to find a new hobby. My pity party was in full swing complete with wings, pizza, beer and any other gut building food you can name.

The Ocean City Maryland Weather Was Perfect
...Too Bad My Belly Didn't Cooperate

Sick in bed at the beach, sweating in the A/C and wishing I could just go to sleep, I picked up my cell phone and saw a reminder email from Ultrasignup that the registration deadline for the On The Rocks Trail Runs was approaching. When Janice had suggested the "go run a 50k" plan, On The Rocks was the race I considered because it fit my schedule. Completely dehydrated from numerous bathroom visits, my body felt empty and beyond fatigued and I put the phone down and closed my eyes. I wasn't going to run that race or any other for that matter.

As I was drifting off to sleep, I heard a television commercial for Ancestry.com and I started to think/dream about my Dad. It was just last year while at the beach that we learned the DNA test results that determined the identity of my Dad's biological father. Fast approaching was also the first anniversary of his passing. No I didn't sleep, I was now tossing and turning with thoughts of my Dad. It didn't take long for me to realize that I couldn't think of anything my Dad had ever quit except for smoking. He wouldn't be wrapped up in self pity, it just wasn't his way.

Mom & Dad, newlyweds 1944.

My Dad was born in a farm house sitting-room in Cape Girardeau Missouri in 1923. He grew up during the depression not knowing his Dad and oft times was left with Aunts and Uncles to help tend their farms. His feet were wide, Triple E, from usually not having shoes to wear. Dad was a Marine in the South Pacific during WWII where the conditions were never good, deadly as a matter of fact. After the war he and Mom came back to settle in Harrisburg Pennsylvania. With little education, he worked his way up from Technician to General Manager while raising three kids.  I rolled back over, picked up my phone and registered for the On The Rocks 50k and I promised myself (and my Dad) that no matter how bad it got, I would finish the run, I would not quit and I would enjoy every step of it; I'd have fun.

Yeah I chose On The Rocks because of scheduling, but I also knew the complete butt kicking it would provide. That type of ass tanning you need to open your eyes and snap out of a funk. The race is put on by York area ultra runner, Scott Newcomer. Anybody who knows Scott knows that the easy way out is not his choice and I consider him firmly on that next level evidenced in his recent finishing of the HURT 100 in Hawaii. Scott's race at Rocky Ridge County Park clearly reflects his tough running nature. I had run the event twice previously when the circuits through the park were only 9 miles, so the longest event then was a 30k. New mountain bike trails have been cut and now Scott had enough trail to offer a legit ultra distance 50k. ( Races with options for one or two laps are also available) The new route was advertised to provide 4500' in climbing. There are no crazy long climbs, but plenty of that nagging steep stuff that sends your heart rate soaring. On The Rocks is an apt name as very little of the course is not littered with rocks and those hills start early and don't spit you out until the end of the lap. This race would be exactly what I'd need to end my stupid pity party.

Race morning, my backyard was socked in with thick fog. Mojo and Mollie went outside, the lights came on and our fence was just barely visible in the mist. I remembered Scott's email stating the weather man had given us a reprieve and it wasn't expected to be as humid for the event. He seemingly jinxed himself as someone had definitely turned the humidity dial up, not down. It had poured in the York area the night before and the York County Parks folks are pretty strict about trail conditions and this race is the only one I know of with a rain date. I checked email and apparently the rain wasn't bad enough to postpone the run so I went about my typical morning race prep. Mollie snored next to me on the sofa while I took in calories from a couple of ClifBar Organic Energy Meals, a banana and an orange. Janice and I hit the road for York as the sun rose and the fog started to burn off.

The course has four aid stations (including the start/finish area) and Janice and I had a plan for her to meet me at Aid Stations 1 & 2 as they were positioned near each other and walk-able for her. I wore a hydration vest as it made it easy to carry two bottles and a bunch of Clif Shot Energy Gels and Clif Bloks Energy Chews. I had mixed six bottles with Tailwind and I planned to get two full ones at the end of the first two laps. Janice was carrying ClifBar Organic Food packs and Mama Chia Squeezes I'd eat when I saw her on the course.

There were only about 50 or 60 runners around the start line for the 50k. Scott was quick to point out the weather man's humidity mistake and after brief announcements we were off. I hung at the back of the pack and soon found myself on the end of a string of runners that included Gary Bowman from over in Lancaster County. I stayed on the back to not get in anybody's way and I established what seemed like a sustainable pace (slow). Once I got warmed up a little, it was quite evident that the morning's humidity was immense. By the 5 mile mark I was drenched as if I had just gotten out of a swimming pool. It climbed to near 90° and the humidity matched. A couple of aid stations had ice, I stuffed in the pockets of my shorts and wrapped it in a handkerchief and wore it around my neck. Anything to keep cool.  That first lap went well I guess, I didn't see Janice at any of the aid stations, but they were well supplied and I was carrying my food so I was fine. [Janice was catching Pok├ęmon in the park. At time of this writing she still has a Pok├ęmon in a gym there. She's definitely a skilled Trainer.] She did meet me at the end of the first lap with two more (cold) bottles of Tailwind and after sucking down a ClifBar Organic Energy Food and a Mama Chia Squeeze I set off for 10.5 more miles of heat, rocks and hills. Lap two was full of mistakes. After barely a quarter mile I lost sight of the trail markings. What seemed like the logical route lead to a cliff. I had run through this section previously with a group, so on my own I didn't recognize anything. I soon figured it out and was moving again. The whole lap was full of wrong turns and second guessing my direction which wasted a bunch of time. There was one point on a climb where I was faced by runners from one of the shorter races descending the hill so I was sure I was going the wrong way. I turned around, but soon I ran into Gary so I knew I had been going the correct direction. It was fun to see Brian Dibeler, another York County trail runner when he blew past me running the two lap event. I heard later his son ran the single lap race (that's awesome).

Lap three started off well, I saw Tim Shealer (another member of the York County trail running tribe) standing near the aid station. I remarked I was happy that I was beating the cutoff time for starting the last lap. He said Scott's not real strict with his time cutoffs, but I just wasn't interested in being "that guy". Janice handed me my final two bottles and I started the grind that would be lap 3. Now it was down to managing these hills and the heat for one last trip. Janice met me at Aid Stations 1 and 3 which was a huge help in the final push (struggle) to the finish.

It was hard to enjoy the well groomed start/finish
area as it came after a draining ascent.

Rocky Ridge County Park is well used and the trails had been busy all day with mountain bikers and hikers. I had less than a mile to go and I was making the descent that sets up the final climb to the finish. I came to an intersection where a woman with with four teenagers were standing deciding which way to go. I made a left turn and soon realized I wasn't seeing trail markings. I had run nearly the entire third lap without a mistake and now I was looking for the course. After a u-turn and now facing the woman and the kids, she said, "if you're looking for those orange marker things, they're back there" (where they had been standing)...gee, thanks...they had been standing on the arrows on the ground and they blocked my view of the ribbons as well. No big deal, I was back on track and moving my way to the finish.  Thankfully the timers were still there waiting for me and my day was done. Awesome event, well run and with great volunteers. This is a tough 50k and it's not your typical lap race. The laps are 10+ miles long and the terrain is so diverse, you're never in that "oh, this again" mode. This was the first year for the 50k and the field was small, but word will get out, this race is the real deal. Put it on your calendar for next July.

My kick in the ass had been delivered in the form of the On The Rocks 50k. My plan had worked, as every time I faced pain or exhaustion or frustration, I remembered my Father. July 14th may be Bastille Day in France, but for me it's forever the day I lost my Dad. So on this July 15th, I remembered so many of the stories he told. If you knew my Dad, you know how long his stories could be (yes, that's where I get it). I thought about his chasing the pigs that got out on his Aunt's farm in Missouri, moving from house to house as a kid, his dog named Strong Heart and an enormous farm cat named Oscar. He told about starving when his Marine Corps unit was forgotten with no resupply on Kumejima Island. The struggle on the trail was eased with thoughts of all the time he gave me, coming to my football games in high school and college, driving me and my friends to run 10K's, my bicycle races and that one time I ran a road marathon.

No hill, no amount of rocks or humidity could measure anywhere near the life challenges my Dad withstood. Focusing on him made it easy to keep my commitment and make it up the last climb without self pity and zero "whoa as me". Thanks Dad!

I've got a lot of work to do, but I feel I'm back on track and running again. Thanks to Janice's idea I got the kick in the tail I needed to get me off the sofa. Thanks to ClifBar and Zensah for nutrition and compression. Next up is the fun Chiques Challenge with the MD HEAT Race shortly after that. Everything between now and October 14th is preparation for the Oil Creek 100. Thanks for reading this far and I promise to work harder at not being that trail running asshole.

Yes, we made it to The Dauphin County BrewFest afterwards!

Monday, May 1, 2017

Still Looking For That "Real" 100 Mile Finish - MY C&O Canal 100 Mile DNF Report

April 29, 2017

I returned to the C&O Canal 100 this year, the place where my only 100 mile finish has been recorded. I returned with the hope of improving on some things that went wrong last year. In 2016, because of the weather conditions, I spent nearly 2 hours over a couple of aid station visits.

I don't care much about finishing times or placing. I don't even speak the runner language. I really don't understand much when I hear other runners yammering on about their intervals, speed workouts, tempo runs, Fartleks, etc. To me PR stands for Puerto Rico. I don't run hill repeats, much less drone on about them, I can't stand hills; why would I repeat them? Why not just run hilly routes? I just can't take myself that seriously. My approach to events is therefore much like my approach to running.

After events, I try to look back and focus on simple details that matter to me:

  • Did I have fun?
  • Was Janice there?
  • Was I efficient?
  • Did I finish?

Last year I finished but I wasn't efficient, Janice wasn't there and I only sort of had fun. This year I was determined to be better prepared(efficient). Most importantly though, I wouldn't be running unsupported, Janice would be with me. She's the most amazing woman and crew person I know and she'd be there to make sure everything went right. I'd be efficient, I'd finish and we'd have fun.

The C&O Canal was operated from 1831 to 1924 and the old mule towpath has evolved into a modern day 184 mile multi-use trail. Walkers, runners, cyclists, hikers, backpackers and kayakers looking for access to the Potomac clog the trail on sunny days. The history along the distance is amazing and certainly worth exploring. [This year I noticed some sort of ovens along the path and just up river from that was a cave.] I recommend checking it out, take a bike or do it on foot, have a look around and you'll probably realize quickly that you'll need to come back because you need more time. The path is flat as a board and running 100 miles on it can be mind numbing and deceptively difficult. I somehow figured out how to get to the finish line last year, so I guess I figured out the challenges that come with this surface that feels like a 1970's-era high school cinder track.

A couple of conditions would be different this year.

  • The obvious difference became apparent as the weather forecast matured. In 2016 my fight was with hypothermia from chilling temperatures and 13 hours of rain. This year the battle would be with temperatures in the high 80's. I know how to prepare for heat and humidity so I didn't feel this would be a deal breaker. [the high recorded during this year's event was 89° - that temperature coupled with the humidity created a jungle-like feel under the tree covered portions of the tow path] 
  • The big difference this year, was my health. Eighteen days before the event, I strained my right calf muscle. It was painful, it was stiff and most of all it prevented me from running during those days leading up to the race. Not running for that type of time span is never my plan, even when leading up to a 100 mile run. 

I tried everything I knew to do with the injury. Nothing was really working and I know that rest is the key to this type of recovery, but did I have enough time? All because a driver allowed her car to drift backwards when I was behind it, I was left to wonder if I should even make the trip to this start line. I saw that our local Fleetfeet store was hosting a Physical Therapist and all were welcome to come "Ask The PT". I decided to go ask thinking he may have a suggestion that I hadn't thought of or read about. Sure enough he did, he recommended stretching to encourage the muscle to repair. I'm not a runner who stretches, but I know how to so I commenced with regular calf stretches and almost immediately saw improvement. Two days before the trip to the C&O Canal, I was walking pain free and the stiffness had seemingly gone. I was pretty psyched,  after all; this would not just be a trip to packet pick-up to get my t-shirt and leave. Standing at that start line now was becoming a very real thing again. [Note: Mockingly, the day we packed up for travel, my calf muscle started to hurt again - pain and stiffness similar to the original]

This is a DNF report so I won't blather on about everything; every step I took, the food at the aid stations, or the course. It's an awesome event, go run it and find out. Why did I drop? Why did I end up on the "DNF" list? In a word, injury. No it wasn't the three week old calf strain. It probably was related to it however. It was quite hot during the race and a normal reaction to excessive heat is that sometimes your feet swell. I recognized that and knew I needed to loosen my shoe laces. I sat down on a fence and retied both shoes and when I stood up, my left knee would not fully extend. It felt like somehow my hamstring or some ligament back there was now only half as long as it should be and it came with an awful pain. When the race started, to accommodate my strained right calf I adopted a somewhat choppy stride. I was able to run and with just a little pain vs. a lot. I was psyched, I was running and I felt good about completing the 100 miles. I'm willing to guess that new "choppy" stride resulted in my now also new back-of-knee pain; a reciprocal reaction to favoring my right leg . If I stopped moving for any time at all, my knee was nearly inflexible for about a mile. I could sort of run, but it was a limping run which was now affecting other joints, mainly my hips. After mile 50 I was reduced to a pathetic limping stumble. I didn't even know that back-of-knee pain was a thing and now it was taking me out of a race. When I reached the start/finish area which doubled as the 59.6 mile aid station, I turned in my number.[Note: While writing this, the back of my left knee is slightly swollen and quite tender to the touch. I'm icing it with high compression currently and Janice put KT Tape on it to help me walk.]

When I dropped out Janice was not happy. All kinds of things were flailing through her brain, the one she repeated the most was that she somehow jinxed me. I've been to this race three times and I only finished the one she didn't attend. There couldn't be anything further from the truth. I get such a lift from Janice being at my events. I don't even have to see her, just knowing she's there looking out for me is indescribable. Finishing this race last year without her made it feel like it never really happened, like it wasn't official or legit. She wasn't there taking pictures or feeding me or refusing to hug me because I stink so badly or any of the other things she does while I'm spending all day running. I'm still looking for that "real" 100 mile finish, the one that has Janice along the course and standing at the finish line(avoiding my sweaty, filthy, stinky hug).

Thanks again to ClifBar, Tailwind Nutrition and Zensah for their support in keeping me going.

Keep Smiling No Matter What Happens

Next up is a fun family bike ride in New York City. We will be riding the Five Boro Bike Tour on Sunday May 7th, It's going to be awesome!

...by the way, I did have fun, I was sort of efficient and Janice was with me; not finishing was my only detail I missed...

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

High Water, Hills, Deep Mud & A Thousand Diapers. - My Dirty Kiln Trail Race Report

April 8, 2017

Fun Run At Canoe Creek State Park
*Photo Taken By Mike McNeil

Out of the blue one afternoon I received a Facebook message from Todd Lewis, an ultra running friend from Altoona Pennsylvania. He told me I needed to come run his club's race, The Dirty Kiln Trail Half Marathon; he was sure I'd love it. He even offered me a coupon code to use when registering. I should probably pause and explain something about Toddzilla (as he's known).

Toddzilla, Mr. Picklepower Himself

Over time, Todd and some of the other guys who are Allegheny Trail Runners have become friends. We've had some pretty good times together. Probably more importantly in the world of ultra running, we've been through some pretty tough times too. Those challenging experiences or rough patches during ultras have a magical ability to draw people together. This was just a thirteen mile race, but heck if Todd was going to go out of his way to invite me; I was going to run his race. I don't have anything scheduled until the C&O Canal 100 at the end of the month, so as long as I can get through it uninjured, it'll be a fun training run with friends.

Somehow Janice and I thought it was be a good idea to go to the Harrisburg Senators' home opener Friday night before the race. It was barely 39͒ and the winds were howling around our left field seats. Yeah, it was bitter cold for baseball. We were freezing so we only made it through the 5th inning and the Senators got clobbered [Ironically they were playing the Pittsburgh Pirates affiliate Altoona Curve]. I was starving when we got home so I had the brilliant idea of eating an entire frozen pizza in hopes of dumping some carbs into me before bed. It probably wasn't a great idea because after a night of tossing and turning, 4:30am came pretty quickly.

The scenic two hour drive to Canoe Creek State Park went quickly. I was pretty psyched to see the place, as neither of us had ever been to the park before. I was barely out of the Jeep and heading to pick up my bib number and I ran into Todd. As a race director, he was busy of course so after a warm welcome and a big hug; I got out of his way. Heading to the registration table I ran into the ATR's Chief Entertainment Officer and Vol State Crazy, Elmo Snively ­čśÄ. He was working the event as well and sent me off with an, "enjoy the hills". Previously Todd had told me to bring my poles and now, "enjoy the hills", I was now wondering what hills were waiting for me. Heading back to the Jeep I saw one of the day's Life Guards, Ralph Smith driving a van with Elmo and Todd heading out to their positions on the course. Ralph of course said something like, "____ this, we're going for a beer"...honestly it sounded much better than running up hills.

Ralph "Budman" - Skilled At Making Arm Warmers Into Leg warmers.

Janice and I were both out of our element here, we're both used to much longer events. In fact, when I told her I had signed up for a half marathon, she laughed at me. She wondered why I would drive two hours to run just 13 miles. She understood when I told her who's event it was. Janice asked if there was a map of the course and we couldn't even find a map of the park. It was April and the park's busy season hadn't yet begun, so most of the facilities were still locked up for the winter. The majority of those in attendance didn't need a map, they're from the area and quite familiar with the park. Janice was just looking to maybe see me along the course somewhere. I only ever ran one trail half marathon and I really didn't even know how to prepare for this distance. I'm used to planning nutrition, hydration and gear needs over a period of many hours. I ate my normal breakfast (a banana and a couple of ClifBar Organic Breakfast Meals), but that was probably just out of habit. Just before the start I gobbled down a ClifBar Gel and sucked on a salt tablet and I was carrying a bottle full of Tailwind so I figured I was good to go. I had trekking poles with me and Adam McGinnis, another of my adopted ATR Brothers, helped me to find a place to stash them so I could pick them up for the second/hilly lap. Ben Mazur was standing near the start line with his megaphone at the ready and after a few thank-yous and Ben-like remarks we were off.

The Bens Ready To Get Us On The Trail
I was immediately awoken from my ultra runner trance, as I mozied through the tall grass I quickly realized how fast everyone else was starting out. I noticed that Matt Lipsey(Matthias Lipshitz - the eventual race winner) was up ahead and had already separated himself from the pack.No one was near him and we really weren't even out of the start area yet. I tried to step up my pace and I immediately felt like crap. My breathing was ragged and my legs felt heavy, I looked at my watch and my heart rate was pegging. What the heck? Man was I in the wrong place, what had Todd gotten me into? I'm hardly ever in a hurry, much less run fast; now what? I never even warm up before a race, I usually have all day for that; not today.

Janice Got A Shot Of Me Still In The Same Frame As Matt

I backed off my pace and even walked a couple of strides on a little hill until my breathing and heart rate felt normal again. Before I knew it we were queuing up to cross a stream. There were two stream crossings on this course which meant if you chose to run the half marathon (there was also a 5 mile race option) you crossed each one twice. I over heard a Park Ranger watching the waders say, "this is the highest I've seen it for this event". Thursday prior to the race, most of Pennsylvania had gotten dumped on by a major rain storm. This stream was high and it was flowing quickly, but it wasn't very wide so we were through it quickly.

The course went around the lake at Canoe Creek State Park and the first lap was just over five miles, so if you were running the 5 mile event; after one lap you were done. There was really only one climb on that first lap. For the half marathon the second lap repeated the first four miles until being diverted to a different section of the park for the remaining mileage. This year the race was being called the Dirt(ier) Kiln Trail Race as the majority of the course was mud. Some of it was that deep sucking mud that will pull your shoes right off your feet. I learned my lesson at the Algonquin 50K and my shoes were tied nice and tight. There was an aid station just before the second water crossing and Elmo and another volunteer were at the ready with runner's needs. I was surprised there was an aid station in such a short run, but if there wasn't; who knows what Elmo may have been up to otherwise? The second water crossing was where Ralph was stationed standing in the water at the ready if anyone fell or got into trouble crossing the creek. [Even after seeing photos, I'm still not sure what Ralph was wearing to stay warm as the water was quite chilly.] Todd was there too, directing traffic so the turn wasn't missed.

The Second Stream Crossing
*Photo Taken By Bradley Pike

The first lap was fun, and as I entered the start/finish area I looked for my poles and my other water bottle. Janice told me she hadn't seen anyone else using poles so I ditched them and took off to start the second lap. I was feeling good, but I was still running conservatively as I knew there were climbs here somewhere. I splashed through the first stream, asked Elmo for a cold IPA, his aid station was all out, and then I got to the second stream crossing. To that point I had been running behind two young guys and passed them when it seemed they stopped to place their lunch order with Elmo.

Adam Making A Splash
*Photo Taken By Bradley Pike

Lifeguard Ralph greeted me again and said, "it's all hills from here Perry, right in your wheelhouse", honestly I thought he knew me better than that. Hills? Can't stand hills! The second time through, there was no Todd telling us to turn, in fact we went straight leading right to the first climb.

Playing In The Water With Ralph
*Photo Taken By Liam Clarke
I knew I only had about four miles to go so I decided to have some fun. I had left those two guys at the aid station drive through window and I looked over my shoulder to see they weren't chasing. I looked ahead and saw a guy in a red shirt and decided to see if I could catch him. I passed him and the game was on. The following hills provided quite a few others for me to try to chase. There was one runner who changed my private little game though. I passed him on a climb and shortly thereafter he passed me on the following descent. This was not in my plans. That happened at least one more time with him before I finally passed him for the last time. I caught a few others and I was surprised how some were really struggling on these hills. Don't get me wrong, some were pretty steep, but I also believe some of these folks had gone out way too fast and hadn't saved anything for these climbs.

Dirty Kiln Elevation Profile
Business In The Front/Party In The Back
I passed another guy who also passed me going downhill. What the heck, was I being a wuss going downhill? I passed him on the next climb and he followed me through some rocky stuff where I saw Todd standing. I think he was there to mark coordinates in case anyone fell off the mountain here. We were up in the air and the view was amazing. Todd asked me how I liked their little mountain, I think he could tell I was loving it. On the next downhill that guy was still with me and I decided to run him off my heels and keep him behind me and gap him more on the climb I could see coming. It worked and he fell off my pace and now I could see my next and final target. There was a young woman ahead of me and I passed her on the climb. I'll be damned if she didn't pass me right away going down the next hill. I worked to hang with her pace and I passed easily on the next climb. I looked at my watch and recognized some terrain so I knew we had to be near the finish so I decided to run away from her too and soon I found the finish line alone. I know the folks I passed had no clue I was playing a little game in my head, but I sure had a blast using them as incentive to push myself on those climbs.

The Hills Behind Me & The Finish Line In Sight

A Dirty Kiln

Surviving the finish without injury, Janice and I decided to look around the park. I told her about the amazing kilns we had seen on the course and said she needed to see them. I sort of knew the direction to go to find them and she had eventually found a park map. Canoe Creek State Park is laced with limestone which was dug up and reduced to Lime for use in the booming iron and steel industries of Pennsylvania. The ruins of two 1900's era lime kilns are still in the park. The kilns we visited had been operated by the Blair Limestone Company between 1891 and 1916 and are still quite intact. These particular kilns produced Lime for Jones & Laughlin Steel. The quarries that produced the Limestone were behind these kilns and up the hill. We didn't go to the quarries, I wasn't real interested in going uphill anymore that day. Looking at the map though, it seems we ran very near them during the race.

Pretty Cool Things To Run Past In A Race

Kilns Viewed From Above

We also couldn't site see too long as we had a very important date after the race. A surprise diaper party was being thrown for Elmo at a nearby restaurant. Elmo and Mikalee (recently Sainted) are expecting a baby girl in May. Ben Mazur had tipped me off to the party and Janice went to work Friday night making a diaper cake for the occasion. We made our way to Marzoni's and found a pretty good sized group of jovial trail runners yucking it up with everyone's favorite Tennessee road-side sleeper Elmo.
Proper Diaper Party Attire
Elmo And 1000 Diapers

Matt Lipsey brought an adult diaper for Elmo to wear, it was a diaper party after all. I was starving, so Nachos, a Jalapeno Popper Bacon Burger and Marzoni's Avalanche IPA satisfied that need. We seemingly overwhelmed the pie-eyed waiter (I blame the Bens - yes there were two), but we survived his inattentiveness and had a good time anyway. It was tough to part company with these nuts, but we had to head back to Harrisburg and besides, I'm sure I'll see them on the trail soon enough.

While the Allegheny Trail Runners I call friends run ultras, it looks like their real skill is putting on awesome events. The Dirty Kiln Trail Races kicks off their year, The Rock'N The Knob Trail Challenge is in September, Sweat For Vets Powerclimb 5K/10K is in November and they have group runs throughout the year. They're focused on fun and quality events and they're good runners too. Check out their website http://www.alleghenytrailrunners.com/ and go run their events!

At the time of writing this, I'm nursing a strained right calf. Out for a routine lunch run, I ran behind a car waiting for traffic to clear, it drifted backwards and I took a terribly awkward step to avoid being hit. That clumsy landing brought a shooting pain up the outside of my right calf muscle and I spent much of that run's remaining three miles walking. Yes I'm running a hundred in just a few days so it's rest, ice, ibuprofen, Arnika cream and compression socks for me. I will rehab, I will be at that start line. See you all after the C&O Canal 100.

Hey look! Bonus stuff!

Check out Ben & Elmo's Brew2Brew 100K Adventure:

Elmo's Blog Post - https://elmosendurance.wordpress.com/2017/04/17/brew2brew100k/
Ben's Blog Post - https://bendivertsthenorm.wordpress.com/

Friday, March 10, 2017

Be Sure To Dress For Success - Naked Bavarian 40 Mile Race Report

March 4, 2017

My new Naked Bavarian Growler goes nicely with my Dirty German Pint Glass!

Loading up the Jeep to head to Leesport, my weather station out back reported 18°. We've been having some pretty wacky weather in Central Pennsylvania with many unseasonably warm February days, temps in the 70°'s and almost no signs of winter like real snow. Today's cold snap was certainly March reminding us that it can come in like a lion.

Heading east enjoying an absolutely beautiful sunrise, my dashboard read 23°. At least that is until I exited Route 78, as the second I was heading south on Berks County country roads, we lost 5° and it was back down to match my back yard's 18°. It was definitely cold and wind chills weren't even being considered. Arriving at Blue Marsh, the ground was still covered with fresh powder from the previous day's massive snow squalls.  Yes, I obsess about the weather and when I'm planning to spend most of a day trail running; I suppose I obsess even more. Chatting with Rick Martin before the race start, the weather and how it would dictate what we wore was most of what we talked about. Dressing for the cold or adverse weather in general can be a crap shoot. I thought I had it figured out, I had a long sleeved lycra base layer on under a ClifBar wicking t-shirt. I had light weight fleece gloves and just a light running cap to avoid over heating with my favorite Patagonia wind jacket on top. I begrudgingly wore an old pair of comfy compression tights to keep my legs out of the wind. I prefer to wear shorts for a lot of reasons, but mostly for the pockets so I can carry stuff. I was certain I had compiled the perfect ensemble to stay warm, but not too warm.

<While writing that first paragraph, I realized I was again doing what I did for most of the race; obsessing about the cold.>

A Frigid Start Line Waiting For Runners

I returned to Blue Marsh Lake to run the Naked Bavarian 40 miler. I ran it last year and had a blast so I was back. The trails at Blue Marsh are awesome, I love running there. That and the simple fact that Stephan Weiss' ├ťberendurancesports events are top notch runs. Most years, one of his outings has been on my schedule. Stephan's style of race directing is probably what impresses me the most. He's constantly hustling to get things ready, but still talking with anyone who comes his way. Late in the afternoon, I was thanking an aid station volunteer and commenting that I couldn't believe how the volunteers had withstood the howling cold wind at that stop. As we chatted about how the salted potatoes kept freezing, up walked Stephan. I was near to the last of the runners, the sun was getting low in the sky and there was Stephan; out there in it. He chimed in about the wind chill, but quickly changed the subject to encouragement as I still had about 4 miles and some nagging hills before I could be done.  ├ťberendurancesports has races all over the calendar so I'm sure you can find one that fits yours. Whether it's The Blues Cruise, The Dirty German, The Naked Bavarian or his new race the Naked Prussian, go run one of them.

Blue Marsh Lake, also the scene of The Blues Cruise and Naked Prussian is a gem of a place in Berks county, just outside of Reading Pennsylvania. The Army Corps of Engineers did it right here, in the 70's the lake was formed by damming up the Tulpehocken Creek for flood control purposes, creating an 1,100 acre lake on a total acreage of 5,000 acres of land. The boating, fishing, swimming and sun bathing are huge hits to its visitors, but the 36 miles of trails is my favorite feature. Most of trails are quite runnable with enough climbing to keep you honest. The now closed Blue Marsh Ski Resort caps off the north end of the lake, that's certainly a nice hill. In the Naked Bavarian, you get to climb it twice.

Lining up to start, I ran into Phil Perkins and his Wife Kate from West Chester. I had met Phil here last year and we ran much of the day together. We laughed about the fact that last year while I thought I was chasing him at the end, it was in fact the opposite. He was behind, I had lost contact with him at an aid station and I was sure he was ahead of me. While chatting, I couldn't ignore that I was shivering and I couldn't wait to get running so I'd warm up. Stephan gave us a quick "Go" and we were off. Sure enough I fell into a group with Phil leading the pack. I could see Rick Martin strung out much further ahead up the trail. I got into what felt like a comfortable pace quickly and I also wasn't as cold anymore. At about the 1 mile mark I saw Phil off the trail doing something with his hydration belt. I was looking at him and just about to ask him if he was ok and I toed a rock and took a dive. I landed hard on my left knee, but what was worse; all of a sudden I felt cold again.

On some of the ridges and other exposed areas, the wind was howling. Looking back on it, I'm sure I was dressed too warmly and I was sweating more than was good for me. So then when I would hit a windy section, I felt dangerously frigid. I was also letting the cold get in my head and I was thinking of nothing, but how cold I was. We climbed the ski slope hill near the 10 mile mark and I got even more over heated. I should've taken off the wind jacket, but now it was too late for that. Next came what I was afraid was the final nail in my frozen coffin. At the aid station at the base of the ski slope descent my left glove and handheld got soaked with Gatorade. I think I wiggled the bottle when the volunteer was refilling it for me and now my glove was soaked with freezing cold liquid.

My left hand was now so cold it was painful and mentally after that I was doomed. I couldn't think of anything, but getting warm. In my mind I was going through the things I could do once I reached the Jeep before I started the second lap. Thinking about the dry clothing I had in my gym bag (which wasn't much). I was thinking about getting warm and eating before restarting. I was at least obsessing about something other than hypothermia.

I reached the last climb before the Day Use Area (Start/Finish) and I was greeted by the big smile and encouraging words of Phil. I expected to see Rick before him and now I wondered how Rick was doing. Shortly after that, further up the hill, Rick approached; somehow he had gotten behind Phil, but he was fine(hell he was great, he won his age group).

I arrived at the Jeep, grabbed a coke and a couple ClifBar Organic Meals and hopped in the front seat and started the engine. I quickly downed the Coca Cola and immediately started to feel sick/light headed. I was pissed, first I'm freezing and now I feel like I'm going to pass out. I got out of the Jeep and started to unpin my number to go to the start/finish crew to announce my DNF. As fast as I had that thought though, something turned me around. I realized I really hadn't done any of the things I had thought of to resurrect a finish out of this debacle. My brain was obviously not working very clearly at this point. I grabbed a towel, dry shirts, a different jacket, a dry hat and a warmer pair of gloves. I got changed and while the Jeep was warming me up I sucked down those ClifBar meals. Thankfully I had another(dry) handheld as well, so I stocked it with ClifBar Gels and Bloks along with another bottle full of Tailwind. Now that I was warm and dry, I began to think about just how long was this finish going to take. Last year I finished in just over eight hours and I knew with how I was feeling, that was out of the question. I wondered if I had enough left to get done in under ten. I of course was still scatter brained, as I started in the direction of the trail I realized I needed to do a u-turn as I had left all that nutrition sitting on the passenger seat. My brain was fried, but perhaps that's the state I needed to be in to run 20 more miles.

(Photo Borrowed From Facebook)

The start of the second lap was fun, I got to see the ever-cheerful Tim Nash and shortly after that I saw Ron Kappus as I was starting up a hill. I told him to catch up, I'd walk. He was quick to inform me he was doing the 20 miler. (he's obviously much smarter than me.) I came face to face with dozens of runners nearing their 20 mile mark. Seeing a runner in a full-on Tinky-Winky costume was awesome for the psyche, but then I saw the dude just wearing a pair of shorts (still having trouble unseeing that). Most runners greeted me with a positive remark, but one made it clear that she wouldn't want to be me (as I had another lap to do). I got to see Ron's better half as Jo Kappus passed and after just a couple short miles of socializing, I was pretty much on my own. In fact, I ran most of the second lap alone which is what I prefer. If I'm struggling, I'd much rather manage it by myself. Surprisingly, my new impromptu clothing combo seemed to be working and the temperature had come up to 32°, so that helped as well. The wind was still howling on the ridges, but I was in survival mode now. I didn't care about much else, but finishing.

It felt good to get over the big climb at mile 30 and then I just had to plow through the final 10 miles. As I neared the finish line, I couldn't help, but notice how empty the parking lot was. The kind finish line volunteer handed me a very cool growler for finishing and told me there was still some food left. I smiled and declined and told her I was just going to crawl in my car. She returned a smile of understanding as she looked like she was freezing.

Through all my haziness, I never forgot to intake calories and I think that's what kept me from quitting. Through the day I ate a couple packs of Shot Bloks and numerous gels. When my tailwind was gone, I refilled my bottle with aid station Gatorade and drank their Coca-Cola. I know that if I would've let my calorie intake slip, the affects of the cold would've won out. Ironically, I finished exactly 1 hour slower than last year. The funny thing was, my first lap when I was feeling awful was much faster than my second when I was actually feeling ok. I'm not sure how long I sat in the Jeep between laps. It was just about noon when I arrived, finishing the first 20 miles in just about 4 hours and about 25 minutes later I was heading out for lap two. It doesn't matter now, because that time at the Jeep was obviously part of the necessary equation that added up to me finishing.

The moral of the day is that even with experience I still fall victim to my own rookie mistakes. The lessons I learned at this race were mostly not new, but I promise they won't need to learned again. To jeopardize why I was there, to nearly turn in my number and DNF, to come close to harming or injuring myself just because I simply didn't think it through enough to wear the right stuff is just stupid. I ran two 50K's towards the end of last summer where the heat was stifling and I struggled to finish under cut offs. It's now crystal clear to me that cold can have the same effect. The bad days, the races that don't go well, the DNF's; I think all of those things exist to remind me that I only do this because I love it. Otherwise, if I didn't; all it would take would be one shitty freezing cold day in whipping winds and I wouldn't be back.

Next up for me, I'm returning to the C&O Canal 100 to see if I can finish again and improve on some mistakes/lessons I learned there last year. Somebody once said, "I have to try again...can't waste lessons learned".

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

A Day At The Beach - My Algonquin 50K Race Report

February 11, 2017

"We pride ourselves on being the longest
50K on the east coast", Trent Swanson, Race Dictator.

I believe it was November when I stumbled on this new race in the Pocomoke City Maryland area. There wasn't much of a web site, but it was listed on Ultrasignup so I thought it must be legit. Janice and I had never visited this corner of Maryland, so it was an easy decision to go check out the Algonquin Cross County Trail 50K. I registered and I think the next time I checked their web site, the race was already sold out. Yeah, it filled up quickly.

I never have high expectations when entering a first-year event, but with that said; I do like to be part of their maiden endeavor. As the race date was nearing, the buzz of activity on the race Facebook page grew. It became quickly obvious to me that Trent Swanson, the Race Dictator (no, that's not a typo), and his merry band of runners from the area were a close knit bunch with fun being their primary focus. I've been to events that have strong support from local running clubs and the race and pre and post race activities can end up being dominated by clicks and runners from out of the area end up feeling alienated. That definitely didn't happen with this bunch.

(Thanks to Michael Perry for the photo.)

Packet pick up was at a brew pub in Salisbury. I had overestimated our travel time from Harrisburg and we ended up being early, but shortly after our arrival; volunteers appeared carrying boxes of supplies and swag. Janice and I jumped in to help carry boxes and she even helped to hand out hats until a volunteer showed up.

A Natural Volunteer

Hopper's Tap House is a pretty cool set up. Hoppers is a pub with a pretty diverse selection of craft beer mostly from the region, but they don't have food.

That's not an issue though as their surrounded by restaurants:
  • DaNizza Pizza - Janice got the Classic Margarita - awesome!
  • Wingin' It - Wings with Signature Flavors, Share-ables & Soon-To-Be Famous Fries
  • Smokin' BBQ Grille - I got an Angus Burger & Fries - pretty damned good!
  • Melted - gourmet grilled cheese bar serving soups, salads and cold pressed juices to accompany your grilled cheese sandwich. Breakfast daily, too!
They share an open area with tables (complete with corn hole). Get a beer, get some food and find a table. Pretty chill place for a pre-race packet pick up. Being early didn't suck either, the first 10 runners to pick up their packet got a free beer. Packet pickup turned into a well attended social event...this first-year race had nailed a great kick-off.

The race offered some pretty fun swag, a trucker hat, a long sleeve race shirt, stickers and a very cool mug for finishers under the eight hour cut off. (Those finishing after the cut off were threatened to have their mugs smashed.) The course logistics were pretty well dialed too. Trent had volunteers and park staff everywhere. On horse back and on ATVs, course marshals were everywhere, you were not going to get lost or in trouble too far from support. Hell there were even a couple of drones in the air. One of the coolest things was the course map. A local volunteer had it digitized (I make that sound so easy, I'm sure it wasn't) and with a phone app called Avenza Maps, exact coordinates could be tracked to locations on the course. With that app I was able to give Janice pretty accurate coordinates for each of the aid stations and unlike some other ultras, she didn't get lost once.

Race Day - We had a hotel room in Pocomoke City about 10 minutes from the start line. After a winding foggy drive we were at a very dark Pocomoke River State Park. I was hoping daylight would start to peak through the fog as I hadn't brought a headlamp for running. Daylight did eventually make an appearance and after race announcements we were off. We rolled out on a short section of road before hitting the Algonquin Cross County Trail.

Pocomoke River State Park is located in the 15,000 acre Pocomoke State Forest between Pocomoke City and Snow Hill Maryland; about a 45 minute drive south of Ocean City. The park is located on the Pocomoke River and the race started and finished at the Milburn Landing area. Started in 2014, The Algonquin Cross County Trail is relatively new as I was told some finishing touches were just put on it last year. The forest is typical of the seashore forests of the mid-Atlantic with scrubby Pine trees, White Dogwood and Pink Laurel, but Pocomoke is known mostly for its stand of Loblolly Pine and for its cypress swamps. Everybody talked about the fishing here, but we were also told visiting in the winter was wise as the Chiggers and Ticks in the summer can land you in the hospital. Assateague, Chincoteague and NASA’s Wallops Island are right nearby and Janice discovered historic Furnace Town even though it was closed for the season.

Game Time

The course was an out and back with a bulge in the middle, as in the mid-section of the course was different coming and going. Early on I heard runners joking about a little bump in the terrain, saying, "yep, there was the hill". Another runner then asked if there was any climbing at all and the answer was "nope", this course was board flat. That doesn't mean it was boring, but it does mean it was fast. I had the sense that on this course, one of those fast guys (not me) would finish under four hours and sure if the winner didn't come in at 3:59:44. The trail was quite runnable and perfect for first time trail ultra runners. The changing environment is what kept it interesting (for me anyway). We rolled from forest trail, to forestry road and we even ran on an actual road briefly. The biggest obstacles on the day were pretty sizable mud puddles. I'm not one to try to skirt mud puddles as you usually end up in some other trouble, so I typically plow right through them. I didn't expect the depth of the mud though and in the first small pond I ran through, I lost a shoe. The mud sucked it right off my foot and it seemed to take forever to get the damned thing back on. At the next big puddle I attempted to get around it and that's when I learned about the Pocomoke River briars, those razor sharp thorns quickly had me sliced and bleeding. From then on when I saw water, I slowed to a walk and went through it. I didn't lose my shoes and I didn't lose anymore skin. The biggest surprise on the day for me was the sand, I'm not sure where it began, but it was legit sand and it seemed to make up much of the "top" of the course. I quickly took to trying to find the most packed sand to get the best traction. It didn't make up for hills but it was a challenge just the same.

I learned a long time ago that the challenges the course presents are only part of the challenge of ultra running. The outside, non-race affects are there too and they're often tougher to overcome than a hill or a water crossing. This race's non-race affect was Bronchitis. A few years ago I learned that I could finish a 50K with Bronchitis, I tried to drop out of the HAT Run; but Janice and the Race Director talked me out of it. So on this day I knew that no matter how bad the coughing, weezing, gagging, spitting, retching and gurgling got; I could still make it to the finish line. The coughing started around mile 7 and considering I had had it for weeks (yes, I took the anti-biotics) I already knew some things to avoid that could ruin my day. The biggest thing was that drinking anything that was syrupy, like Coca-Cola would induce coughing, so drinking soda at aid stations (which I usually do) was out. I was carrying Tailwind in a bottle and ClifBar Gels and Bloks Chews. The ClifBar Organic Meals I had for breakfast went down fine with no induced coughing, but after I ate my first gel; it started. Runners around me had to be extremely annoyed and/or grossed out by my ongoing hacking and coughing and spitting. I apologized often. Shortly after the turn around at mile 16, Janice gave me a shot of cough medicine and I thought that would be the silver bullet, but instead it hit my belly like a lead balloon and I had a stomach ache for the next 2 or 3 miles and all the while still coughing.

Sucking Down A ClifBar Gel

Enough on that flemmy subject, I still enjoyed the day. I did my best to hang onto a sustainable pace and considering my split at 16 miles was 3:02 and I finished 3:08 later, I think I was successful. This was my first event as a Zensah Brand Ambassador and that added some zip to my step. My nutrition was definitely screwed up because I was afraid any intake, food or drink, would induce coughing. The aid stations looked awesome, they were staffed by local run clubs and they all looked to be having a ball, but I completely skipped them to avoid the temptation of eating something that would induce that day-ending coughing/barfing fit. I did stop at the last two aid stations, but only to drink clear water. I feel bad because skipping those aid stations meant I didn't really get to thank those volunteers. Hopefully they'll see this, Thank you!

At Least I'm Smiling

This photo says it all, Janice waiting for me & ready to swap out handhelds.
(Thanks to Michael Perry for the photo.)
Loaded down and having to listen to my nonsense,
Janice should write a book on ultra crewing.
(Thanks to Michael Perry for the photo.)

Janice kept me stocked with a full handheld restocked with gels. Over the six hours of running, along with about 4 bottles of Tailwind, I only ate 4 or 5 ClifBar gels and half a pack of ClifBar Blok chews. I could feel that imminent bonk all day as I typically eat much more calories than that.

Thanks ClifBar
Hey Look, Here Comes The Guy With The Bloody Knee

The Finish - I can't say we weren't warned, but 50K came and went and the finish line was nowhere around. I had hoped to finish under 6 hours and I did achieve that for a 50K, but this course is proudly "the longest 50K on the east coast".

(Thanks to Michael Perry for the photo.)
My Mug - All In One Piece

My watch measured 32.7 miles when I crossed. Trent was there, I thanked him for not charging extra for the bonus miles and others piled on and heckled him and his jovial response was, "hey, you guys ran it". He was right, if you crossed that line, it was all your fault, but at the same time; the party was on him. I got my mug (unsmashed), took a shower (yes there was a shower in a bath house next to the finish - that was freaking awesome!) and then we joined the party. Home made pulled pork and some delicious IPA on draft (there was a bunch of other food too), I knew I ran 32.7 miles for some reason and this was my affirmation.

Group Shot

After a bight to eat, it was a true trail event with previous finishers crowding around the finish line to cheer on the rest. I over heard a woman explaining to another that this was her first trail event and first ultra. She said she had asked her sister-in-law, who was a trail runner, what she could expect from her first. She said she told her, you've now joined a whole new family, a movement...you will not understand it until you've run with these people...she told her friend, "now I understand". With that said, back in one of my first ever trail events the race director told the group at the start, "if you see someone fall or somebody who needs help, help them",..."unless of course they're in your age group". I had fallen on one of the sandy forest roads, a tree root jumped up and grabbed my foot. A guy running behind me asked if I was ok as I was walking to get myself back together. I told him I was ok and he asked if I had any salt or pickle juice as he was cramping badly. I quickly offered up salt tablets. I finished my day chasing him to the finish...yep he was in my age group...

Known Hazards

The Road Trip - We eventually had to say goodbye to Pocomoke River State Park and we headed north as we planned to stay the night in Rehoboth Beach Delaware. After a brief detour through Ocean City looking at rental properties we made it to Rehoboth. I've always wanted to visit the Dogfish Head Brewery, but we missed a turn and wound up at our new favorite place in the area, The Crooked Hammock Brewery(we first visited there last June). We gorged ourselves to live music and then called it a night.

Sunday we enjoyed more of the mild February weather and strolled around Rehoboth, having lunch at the original Dogfish Head and making some purchases at The North Face Outlet Store.

Before hitting the road home we stopped in Milton Delaware to see the current/new Dogfish Head Brewery, had some tasty samples, filled a growler and we were on our way.

We got lucky with the weather, this could've been a tough weekend and really it was quite enjoyable. Go run the Algonquin 50K and pray for that same weather, as I can see this flat fast course turning ugly if it was covered in ice and snow along with frigid temperatures. Travel time from Harrisburg was under 4 hours, so it's not too far, but a perfect distance for the excuse to have a mini vacation in February.

A Very Cool Truck

Some fun stats posted by Trent Swanson, Race Dictator:
  • 68 of the 113 finishers were first time ultramarathoners (That's 60%)
  • Alexander McRae was the first ultra virgin to cross the finish line in 4:53:05 for tenth place 
  • The difference between first and second place was 20 minutes and 42 seconds. 
  • Grizzly Adams was the first person to sign up for the race at 6:15am on the day registration open... Aug 1st ...
  • Six other people signed up the first day (Melissa M Wilson, Jason T Chance, Larry Watson II, Mark Swift, Vanessa Junkin and Matt Jones)
  • Amy Noonan was the last person to sign up. She signed up at the packet pickup after asking "Can I pace for 15 miles"... in which I responded "Why don't you just run the whole thing"... And she did. It was her first ultra and her longest run (her previous longest was 18 miles) - signed up at 6:31 pm and a little over 12 hours later she was running. 
  • The runner who lives the closest to the race is Larry Watson II. He loves less than a 10k away and still decided to drive to the event. 
  • The runner who lives the furthest away is Jason Swanson.. who lives 2784 miles away in California. He had a good reason to join us. 
  • The largest age group was 30-39 (38%) followed by 40-49 (36%), 50-59 (12%), 20-29 (15%), 60-69 (2%) and under 20 (2%). 
  • The youngest runner was Tori Fears completing the course at the young at of 17.
  • The oldest runner to complete the course was Eddy Godfrey, who is 63 and finished in 35th place.
  • Mean Finish Times
  • Overall: 6:25:38
  • Women: 6:54:36
  • Men: 6:10:10
Historic Furnace Town (apparently closed for the season):

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Next Up The Naked Bavarian 40 Miler, Blue Marsh Lake, Leesport, PA