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' Überendurancesports 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.  Überendurancesports 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 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):

See What You Get For Scrolling This Far?
Next Up The Naked Bavarian 40 Miler, Blue Marsh Lake, Leesport, PA