Saturday, July 13, 2019

Heat, Humidity, Hills & Horseflies - My Allegheny Trail Runners Trail Fest 12 Hour Race Report

July 13, 2019

Start of the first lap with Elmo.
(No sanity present in this photo.)
(Thanks to Momentum Photography.)

Not finishing the C&O Canal 100 at the end of April left me in a funk. A state of not wanting to run at all. I told a friend that I felt lost on trails that I've run for years. I also came away from the C&O Canal with a funky injury to my right foot so my brain even had a tangible excuse not to run.

On The C&O Canal before the sleepmonster came to visit.

I needed an event in the future that I could look forward to, an event that could lead me back to where I needed to be. I saw the Allegheny Trailrunners were hosting a "Trail Fest" offering three different timed events of 3, 6 and 12 hours. I had always wanted do a timed run so I entered the 12 hour event. If nothing else it would be a good chance to catch up with my friends from that part of Pennsylvania.

May 2019

The month of May was as if it didn't happen. It hurt to even tie my right shoe and I think I barely ran 30 miles the entire month. June rolled around and I got off the pity party sofa and started training again. June also came with more head-space therapy in the form of an extremely relaxing visit to the beach with Janice, Cody and our Moms. I hadn't had any long runs to speak of since the sleepy 75 miles on the C&O toe path, but while driving to Bald Eagle, PA I felt trained enough to have some fun for half a day of moving on the trail.

The Trail Fest, in its first year, was held at Camp Anderson Boy Scout Camp in Bald Eagle Pennsylvania, just outside Tyrone, about half way between Altoona and State College; yep - sort of in the middle of nowhere. Camp Anderson has quite the story behind its current existence and it's now open to public use. Having been to numerous Boy Scouts Camps during my life I envisioned mellow camp paths that lead from camp to camp or merit badge station to merit badge station. Easy walking paths, so even the oldest and least fit of Scout leaders can handle it. My guess was that if I had 12 hours on that type of terrain, my goal would be 50 miles.

I made a brief visit to the main lodge that was buzzing with Scouts wearing their Class A uniforms preparing for their closing camp fire ceremony. Just up the road from there I found Ben Mazur, the club president and race director, sort of sitting in a car making a last minute sign of some kind. Gimpy with a broken toe he was hobbling around and eventually found his way to a chair off his feet in the shade. I was extremely early because I wanted to be able to park near the course, so I could both sleep in my Jeep and use it as my own mini-aid station during the run . Nobody was there yet, but Ben, Mark and Scott who were setting up and I felt confident I'd get the parking spot I wanted; so I handed off a good will six pack of beer to Ben and headed up the road to get dinner.

Race Director Bribe

I'm not going to name the place where I ate, because  I think they knowingly poisoned me. I had seen it after I got off the main highway and it was not far from the camp. It was one of those places that when an outsider walks in, all conversations about the second amendment are interrupted and every head turns to look. I don't know if it was the pastel green #hümabeing t-shirt I was wearing or my choice of socks, but while I sat at the counter I felt at least one person was staring at all times. I watched the weather channel, ate my Fireman's Burger and hit the road back to camp.

Injinji - thanks Ray!

My Camp/Aid Station

Got back to camp, decided on a parking spot next to a big pile of rocks, set up camp and made my way to the pavilion that would be the next day's aid station. There was spaghetti for everyone and I had stomach space so I ate again hopefully ensuring I was fueled for 12 hours of running. The number of Allegheny Trail Runners and other trail runners was now growing and to top it off, everyone's favorite Vol State Roadside Sleeper; Elmo Snively arrived. After a couple of fire side cold ones, I crashed for the night in the back of my Jeep.

Just after 5am, I woke up with a horrible rumbling in my lower stomach. I needed to get up and get to the bathroom which was about a half mile away. I hustled and I made it without incident, but now I felt worse and my stomach felt completely empty. It was a cool morning in the 60's, but I was perspiring like I had a fever. Normally I eat at least a light breakfast before an ultra, but my gut was in a bad way; so eating was out of the question.

Registration went smoothly and it was cool to see how the number of runners had grown. I pinned on my number and made sure to wake up Elmo, who was sleeping in his car parked next to me. The start/finish area was buzzing as the trail fest took shape. Brush Mountain Running & Outdoors was there, a fixture at Allegheny Trail Runners events.  The North Face was a sponsor and Appalachian Outdoors from State College was there representing them. Standing Stone Coffee from Huntingdon was there pressing some tasty dark brew and food was available in the main hall.

(Thanks to Momentum Photography.)

Furrer Beverage would be there later with cold beer for post race partying. Lance from Momentum Photography was there bright and early snapping photos while the event took shape. I enjoyed a cup of coffee and chilled with Elmo while waiting for our turn to take the trails.

The three hour runners took off first and we waited through the six hour crew as well and then it was our turn to begin our 12 hour day circling the camp. Prior to the start, the feverish sweating had passed, in fact the coffee went down well. I rolled out trotting along with Elmo comparing our plans for the day. Elmo was running in sandals with KT Tape on his feet where he expected hot spots or blisters. No they weren't sandals designed for running, they were basically men's sandals like you'd find at Walmart. Elmo said he was on The Couch to 12 Hour Training Plan as he had literally gotten of the couch the day before.

We weren't even around the large parade grounds when the fever sweat returned and my gut was needing another visit to the bathroom. We were about a half mile into our first lap and I was already ducking off the course looking for relief for my rumbling belly. This process would repeat itself 2 laps later, so three laps into the run, my body was empty of nutrients; I was now a bonk waiting to happen.
Early morning sunbeams.
(Thanks to Momentum Photography.)

I felt better, no more fever and no more upset stomach; but I knew to keep going I would need to consciously force-feed myself. I ran the first 4 laps carrying nothing, but after that, every lap I carried a bottle and stopped at my Jeep and dosed with Tailwind, Huma Chia Energy Gels, Pickle Juice and whatever else got near my mouth. It was also about that time that the temperature and humidity began to build. I had equipped myself with a small cooler of cooling towels in an ice water bath and those things are a God-send on hot humid days. These breaks typically took 1-2 minutes and I was back on my way. Through the day, I drank 6 bottles of Tailwind, 6 bottles of water (and that doesn't count the times I refilled at the sink outside of the camp bathhouse), 6 bottles of Pickle Juice, 3 cans of Coke, 2 cans of Mountain Dew and 2 cans of Red Bull. I ate 8 Huma Energy Gels, 2 packs of Clif Bloks, maybe a dozen Pierogies at the aid station and as much watermelon as I could stomach. I was refusing to bonk or dehydrate.

This was my first event wearing the new Suunto Factory Team gear.
I was told I looked like a walking billboard...mission accomplished :-)
(Thanks to Momentum Photography.)

And about the course, the night before the run I heard a woman say she was no longer expecting to get 50 miles now that she had seen the rocky part in that hilly section. I almost I hurt my neck when my head whipped around, "rocky part?"..."hilly section?"... Others who were there, mainly race organizer folks, dispelled this rumor of hills and rocks; but on the first lap it was evident that the back side of the course was tough. The route did begin at the main lodge of the camp with a gentle lap around a large field before disappearing into the woods.

"In and around the lake" ~ Yes
(Thanks to Momentum Photography.)

At that point you were greeted by shoe sucking mud and soon you were scooting along the lake, before crossing through the camp over a damaged bridge that bounced and up a little hill and around the shooting ranges and a chapel. From there the course was back on a camp path that had recently been filled with fine loose gravel, which was nearly as fun as running on loose sand. Reaching a road, the easy camp path part of the course was over and the hills began. The first time we hit the hills I still felt awful and I wondered if I'd even complete a marathon. Just before the climbs started, there were small trees that had been cut off to make the trail, with about 3 or 4 inches still sticking up. Many, but not all had yellow caution tape wrapped around them. I found one that didn't have yellow tape and I fell hard. Now 26 miles was even in question. After I began my twelve hour eating and drinking fest I changed my mind again and went back to hoping for 40 miles...the 50 mile goal was definitely gone though.

In a hurry it got hot and humid. I read afterwards that the official high for the day in Tyrone was 88° and the dew point wasn't far behind. Thankfully the weather archive I checked didn't list the "feels like" temperature, but I'm sure that index was in the 90's. I had a good plan in place for that and it seemed to work. Hyper hydration and dousing myself with ice water every lap kept me going.

(Thanks to Momentum Photography.)

I did eventually catch up to Elmo again and we walked a lap together. Walking a lap wasn't too much slower than my running a lap so it was cool to spend the time with him. I was bitching about the horse flies and he told me I need to eat more garlic. I had started the day wearing a trailhat and changed to a visor, giving the horse flies easy access to my bald head. I switched to a trucker hat to try to win that battle, but they were biting me right through my t-shirt. (Mark Lauber did hook me up with insect repellent later, which worked wonders) By now Elmo had some pretty serious blisters and to make matters worse, he was pissed that some other guy had already dropped out and now he couldn't finish last. Elmo was also bitching about the hill and he aptly named it "Stupid Hill".  I asked about the subsequent hills and he said, "it's all Stupid Hill". I had other names for it. Commiserating with a fellow goof ball ultra runner did feel good.

It was around 25 miles I started to feel seriously fatigued from the heat so I took a little longer visit to the Jeep, but I still hoped for 40 miles. My Suunto 9 watch wasn't matching what Mark had come up with when he made the official measurement of the course and that coupled with having no idea how many laps I had run, I wasn't real sure how much more I needed to reach 40 miles. Any ultra runner will tell you that it's a bad idea to try to do math while you're running; let your crew do it. Well, I was crewless and clueless so I just kept moving and I decided I didn't really care about the distance and focused on the fact that I was having fun.

Each lap ended with passing by the main lodge where others who had already finished the shorter events were hanging out and cheering on those still running. Ben Mazur was there as well and on every lap it seemed he had a different name for me; Jerry, Larry, Barry, Hsrry, etc. There was that temptation to quit and party, but the fun encouragement also kept me going. Ralph and his wife Monica appeared on one of the laps so I knew the beer for later had arrived, but still I avoided the temptation to stop.

(Thanks to Momentum Photography.)

Yes I used my Jeep as a personal aid station, but there was an official aid station as well and the cheering those folks provided made it impossible to quit. I ended the day officially with 21 laps or 37.59 miles (my watch had 38.88 miles, but who's counting?). It was just what I needed to get back to running.

After waiting for the last couple of 12 hour runners to finish, Ben had a nice awards ceremony with plenty of food and yes, cold beer. Every finisher got a cool pile of swag and their distance was announced. This was the first year for this event and I'm sure Ben will tell you that first-year headaches were plenty, but it was still a great success and I'm sure in future runnings it'll only get better.

One of my highlights was the wildlife on the day. I saw a small Bear out on the course (I saw a larger one later as well when I was changing clothes to drive home). I did drive home that night, many stayed to camp another night and party around the camp fire. I highly recommend coming out to next year's trail fest.

Another highlight and I'm sure some didn't even realize what this photograph was. On one lap, just after the lake I saw an enormous Heron fly up from the stream and then I saw Lance with his camera. He said he didn't think he got a shot, but here it is. I'm not sure if anyone other than the two of us saw it, great shot Lance!
(Thanks to Momentum Photography.)

New sticker from the trail fest.