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. 😅

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 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 Pokémon in the park. At time of this writing she still has a Pokémon 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!


  1. Great post. Glad to hear you are on the mend (physically and emotionally). For the record, never considered your posts "asshole-ish" but get that there is a fine line between an earned sense of accomplishment and where that perception might start. Always intrigued and inspired by your journey. Best of luck on upcoming events!

  2. Great to hear you're back on the ultra-wagon. Good luck at Oil Creek. Hopefully, I'll see you at Stone Mill in November.