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