Friday, January 1, 2021

Fleet Feet New Year Run Challenge - My Happy New Year Report

 January 1 2021

Last year at this time, was pretty bad for me and my family. Actually 2020 started going bad early, for us the downward spiral really started in the waning days of 2019. Mom's health had taken a drastic turn for the worse and Janice and I found ourselves as care givers. Needless to say things like running a race became obviously unimportant and two events I had registered for were nixed from my calendar. If you knew Sissy, she never wanted to be a burden on anyone and she certainly didn't want me canceling plans because of her. I promised her I'd run them next year. New Year's Day came and went and Mom said goodbye to all of us, just a few days after that.

Of course not long after losing Mom, everything else about 2020 began to unravel. Looking back I'm thankful that I did get to actually run 4 real races and we as a family got to take a beach vacation and stayed safe and healthy through all of it. Honestly though, 3 of the races were back during the "it's a hoax" phase in January, February and March. (One event even had a rogue aid station where guys were mocking the virus, dressed in goggles and Tyvek jump suits and handing out Corona Beer. I hope they  no longer believe this is a joking matter.) 

The summer was spent running virtual events, The Suunto Factory Team ran a 4100 mile virtual relay, the distance from Helsinki Finland (Suunto's home) and New York City with handoffs to the next athlete using Zoom. It was a fund raiser for Save The Children. Virtual means you can run it anywhere, like the Frozen Heart 50k, which is hosted in Maryland and I ran it alone in the Stony Valley on a lovely 95° day where the Horse Fly to Runner ratio seemed like 3000/1. 

Had a blast with the Pickle Juice Sport Virtual Summer Series and those races were really all centered in Texas. I ran one of them in Ocean City, MD. My biggest challenge after the contingencies brought on by the pandemic was motivation. Without racing as a goal, it was tough just to get out the door. Putting those virtual races on my calendar were an attempt to push my fat butt out the door and run. It only sort of worked.

I looked for the two races I missed and found that Fleet Feet Mechanicsburg was hosting the New Year Run Challenge, so I immediately threw my hat in the ring. (I never did find a registration for the other race I scratched, The Last Mile in Duncannon PA, I think it got cancelled this year). 

I haven't been training seriously (hardly at all), work has been busy and life has been complicated. I never knew how much work being the Executor of an Estate could be. Never the less, a timed event like the Fleet Feet New Year Run Challenge would be perfect for an undertrained fat guy who really just wanted to have fun, run a few miles and give 2021 a kick start. It's format is to run a 2.2 mile lap starting and finishing at the Fleet Feet Mechanicsburg store. You have a 9am-6pm window to run as many laps as you like. Right after Christmas things changed, the race sent an email stating in short, "This year anything goes!".  The event was now basically a virtual event and the formal timed format was only optional for 2021. 

Initially I still planned to go to Mechanicsburg and run the course, but knowing that I had the option to stay home and run it in my own neighborhood soon became my choice. I typically never run on the road but I considered different loops I could run on our streets and going to bed last night I was set on a course. Getting up this morning, running at 9am after welcoming in the New Year at midnight didn't feel so great. I also watched the weather and saw that freezing rain was coming. With that, I completely changed my plan, after all, they did say "anything goes". I decided to go up to the mountain where I do the majority of my running and do what I call mountain top laps.

Blaze Orange.

I decided I'd run till I got tired, bored or till the freezing rain started. I got to the mountain top to find numerous cars at the trail head. I was happy to see Gary's old white van parked there. If you ever see a man, slightly older than me, walking up and down Blue Mountain Parkway, that's Gary. Dude's nuts. With little wind and waking to 22°, 30° felt pretty warm. Scarfed down a Hüma gel, washed it down with Pickle Juice and hit the trail. I didn't feel great, but I was running and soon I was a mile in at the power line, where I consider the beginning of the laps. My loop would take me up and over the power line ridge, making a right turn at the next intersection, up the rocky steps and right turn back to the power line and do it all again. That portion is just shy of a mile.

The power line summit looking South.

The power line summit looking North,

It was cool to meet Ryan Williams as he plodded down the rocky steps. Said, hey I think I follow you on Strava, are you Perry? We faced each other again while I was headed down the steep power line summit and he was going up. That little stretch of trail is nasty, it's steep going up and super sketchy with all the loose rocks going down. Thankfully it's quite short.

Some of the Rocky Steps.

Sketchy downhill.

The rain started a lot sooner than I had expected. I think I had run 4 mountain top laps when the freezing rain came in earnest. I ignored it at first, but knew I needed to get going. I wanted to get on the road and down Blue Mountain Parkway before it was iced over. So I ran one more lap to take some photos and called it a day and head home. [Fun stuff: the visor of my Boco Gear hat was frozen solid with ice :-) ]

I didn't run far, heck I barely ran 7 miles. I didn't run fast, I never run fast and climbing rocks is more fun than run anyway. I did however have a blast, I got out in the forest for a run on my favorite mountain top and today I can say I've run every day this year. 

Last year was pretty bad and we're still not in the clear but I can say that I'm going to work my tail off to make 2021 a good one. Hopefully Fred and Shelby will get to host the 2022 New Year Run Challenge without any weird contingencies, I'll be there and suggest you start your running year there too. Happy New Year all!

More Rocky Steps.

Slippery stuff.

Nearing the top of the climb - The Windy Section.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

My 2020 Algonquin 50k Race Report - 2019/2020: A Rough End Begets An Even Tougher Beginning

My Mom showing off her new Mt. Shasta jacket,

From a running stand point, 2019 wasn't one of my best years, a DNF in April and a smattering of injuries seemed to mess up my brain for the whole season. I screwed my head back on and I committed to having a fun visit out west to see Nathan and I was determined to have a blast at the Headwaters 50K. If you read my last blog post you know that the trip to see Nathan was magical and so was the race through their beautiful California mountains. I'll be damned, maybe 2019 wasn't a total loss.

High above Heart Lake and Castle Lake outside of Mt. Shasta CA

Arriving home from that trip, I was high as a kite and I felt absolutely bullet proof,  but that feeling only lasted a few days. I was out for an easy run on my home town mountain when I felt pain on the back of my right knee.  Three days later, Janice playing co-ed softball blooped a dribbler towards 2nd base and she heard a pop and she ended the day on crutches. Janice and I were bitten by sports injuries and at the same time my Mom was noticeably slowing down. If you know my Mom, all 4 feet 11 of her, you know she never did anything slow. Still living independently at age 95 and for the first time in her life she was showing signs that she wasn't 45 anymore. I ended up in physical therapy with Distal Hamstring Tendonopathy.

Pre-surgery selfie, the beginning of what
proved to be an excruciatingly painful day for Janice.

Janice greatly out did me with a ruptured Achilles Tendon requiring surgery and Mom at this point was concerning us. I told her that I couldn't believe that during a recent visit, the doctor hadn't recommend hospitalization. She shot back, "hospital? why?", "if I'm going to kick the bucket, I can do that just fine right here at home". Mom's appetite was falling off and getting around the house was getting tougher and tougher.

Needless to say, I had a lot on my mind. Two women I love were struggling and I wasn't in the best of shape to be of much help. I did what I could to fix myself while trying be a helper too. The guys at InspiredPT were great, Dan and Steve quickly saw where my pain was and developed a plan to get me back to running as soon as possible. Along with PT, I decided to register in some short fun races I could use as part of rehab while trying to keep my brain in the game.

SMT Turkey Trot  - The Turkey Trot Tri, which I selected by accident, meant I would get to run a 5k, but at about the mid point I had to eat a small pie, drink apple cider, grab a pumpkin and run with it to the finish.

Me & my pumpkin.

The Santa Shuffle - Yep, you guessed it, I ran a 5k in Harrisburg while wearing a Santa Suit. It was a total hoot and my Santa pants never fell down. [I was also registered for the Last Mile in Duncannon, PA and the Fleetfeet New Year Run Challenge, but I wasn't able to participate in either.]

December 18th, everything changed, Mom was in need of serious care and that day ended at the Hershey Medical Center ER. Man was she mad when I told her I had called for an ambulance. Mom was now on a journey and she wanted only one thing, to be well enough to go home, but Christmas would be at the hospital. Who knew that if you had a loved one stuck there for the holiday that the hospital hosted Christmas dinner? In an odd way, it was nice to share Christmas dinner with Janice and my Brother Larry in the hospital cafeteria. The doctors and nurses at the med center took such great care of her and eventually she got her wish and with Hospice Of Central PA, Home Instead and me learning how to be a home health aid, Mom got to go home. Mom got to see 2019 become 2020 and a few days later she turned off the television and Janice and I said what would be our last good night. It's been tough to start this blog, but now that I'm writing, it feels good to share. Dad provided the path, but Mom definitely kept us on it. We knew right from wrong, we knew perseverance, we had strength, we learned so many lessons because of Mom. To be so privileged to be 58 years old and still have my Mom was such a gift. At 95, she was finally ready to say goodbye.

Mom grocery shopping on her 95th birthday.
I have no idea what she did with that big loaf of bread.

Whenever I was late to visit, Mom just assumed I had been running. We'd be making her hairdresser appointment or a doctor appointment and she was always worried it would conflict with my getting to run. One time I took her grocery shopping after running in a cold rain storm. I was running late to pick her up so I showed up soaking wet, still wearing muddy shoes and tights and starving. That seemed to make Mom mad, so she made me get food at the store hot bar and sit down and eat while she started shopping without me. [She made me promise to never do that again.] My running, now that I'm old, seemed to scare Mom as much as it amused her. So she wouldn't worry I never told her about ultras until after I had run them. She did always want to hear about them and she knew running was important to me so she made it important to her. Now Mom was gone and I hadn't been running at all since she got sick. To know that I wasn't running would've really upset her, she never wanted to put anyone out.

The beautiful morning sun in Janice's lens.
Milburn Landing, Pokomoke River State Park, MD

For the past 3 years I've started my running year at Pokomoke River State Park at the Algonquin 50k and true to form I was registered this year too. I was in no way prepared, no miles in my legs and a huge gut. I had no excuse; I had to be there as I knew Mom would be watching and I couldn't let her down.

This year's Algonquin 50k would be different in a neat unique way as well. An old childhood friend, in fact one of my original childhood friends, Mike McCauley would also be making the trip to the Delmarva to run the race. Mike grew up literally right across the street from me and yes he also knew my Mom all his life. [How many kids who grew up as neighbors would become ultra runners later in life?] #weird

Packet pickup fun with Shane, Janice Me & Mike.
(photo stolen from Mike's Facebook feed)

The Algonquin 50k has made a name for itself with its battle cry of, "Mud or Blood". The course is at sea level and flat so in many spots there is nowhere for water to drain, which really is a great understatement. Some of the puddles on this course resemble small ponds and one is affectionately known as Lake Swanson, named for the Race "Dictator" Trent Swanson. All anyone was talking about at Hopper's, the sight of packet pick up, was the heavy rain that had just hit the area. The storm cleared out for the weekend but not until it had left plenty of water in its wake. Oh did I forget to mention the blood part? It's simple, if you choose to avoid the water and mud by wandering off the trail through the trees; you'll find yourself sliced and bleeding as the forest is full of razor sharp briers.

I'm not from Delmarva, but this event has a feel that I haven't experienced at others. I feel at home at this one, among friends. Often you go to races and you run into the regional clicks, whether they're all from the same town, region or running club and if you don't fit one of those categories; you're left standing alone waiting for the gun to go off. And at the finish line those same folks are all standing around, puffing their chests and boasting of their effort and surely you'll hear the letters PR, quite a bit. (to me PR represents the beautiful island of Puerto Rico) I'm sure those groups exist at the Algonquin 50k, but due to the atmosphere that's generated, and I have to say caused by the Race Director's personality; the event is focused on fun more than anything else. I've gotten to know so many people from returning for now my fourth year, that I feel a little embarrassed when someone calls me by name and I can't think of theirs (please accept my apology if you're reading and that's happened to you). The first year Janice and I met Gabe and Will  at packet pick up and I ran much of the day with Sara. Year two introduced us to the Air Force buddies, Shane and Clayton. Year three I spent much of the day running with Erin and Dani and I'm leaving out a bunch of folks, but you get my point. I'm not a social runner, I train alone and at events I yearn for those hours on the trail in solitude; so by much of my own doing I don't meet people at races. From the social event the packet pick up at Hopper's has become to the finish line where most everyone waits for the remaining finishers, some other events need to take a lesson.

New friends and old, just another cool bi-product of trail running.

Race day weather was mild, Trent was yet again denied his true winter ultra (maybe we'll see snow next year). Got to see Mike and Shane before the start and then I filtered my way toward the back, having no idea if I'd make it much past the first aid station; I didn't want to be mixing in with the folks who had actually prepared for this event. After words from the Race Dictator and the National Anthem, we were on our way. My run started off with a faux pas right away, I had been using the 'Sleep' feature on my Suunto 9 watch and I didn't realize that setting came with a "do not disturb" period and that didn't end till 8am and the race started at 7:30. I was maybe a 10th of mile in when I looked down at my watch and instead of data, there was a message on its face. I'm not sure what it said, but I stopped and restarted my watch and all looked normal. Now I was really at the back of the pack. (I no longer use the Sleep setting, I sleep pretty well and pretty consistently, I don't need to monitor it)

After a short stretch on a park paved road, the course turns onto the Algonquin Cross County Trail. The start of the trail is a mellow section, flat and with few obstacles; it's a nice warm up before tackling the water and the sand. Well this year was different, with the immense storm that had visited, this typically mild section of trail which has never had water or mud had both. With this as a preview the talk in the pack went right to wondering what the wet sections would look like. The water on the trail did not disappoint, entry to the aid station at Mile 4 which is usually dry had a fun pool of water; I say fun because it was fun to watch runners try to avoid it or splash through it. Out on the wet sections, pools of water were in new spots and many of the usual ponds were much longer than past years. There were so many big ones this year, I lost track as to which was Lake Swanson. It was more like the Great Lakes of Swanson this year.

Through the aid station at Mile 4...and still smiling.

I moved through the first aid station smoothly without getting in the tumult of the crowd and found Janice out on the road waiting with Pickle Juice. It was just 4 miles, but I was feeling better than expected; nothing hurt and I felt like I had already found a pace that I could maintain while I waited for the wheels to come off later in the race. Next up is Furnace Town, my favorite aid station on the course, simply for its cool historic name. Janice handed me Pickle Juice and I changed my gloves that had gotten wet when splashing through some crotch deep water. Janice also went to hand me a new bottle and that's when I realized that I was 10 miles in and feeling good, but I hadn't drank any Tailwind or eaten anything. I ate a Mama Chia Squeeze which hit the spot and I took off.

Uphill in sand...
#dreamcatcher #janiceshadow

Immediately after Furnace Town, the sand starts in earnest at the spot now known as Algonquin Beach. It's not just sand, it's actually on an incline (notice I didn't say hill, because there are none); sloped just enough to add to the difficulty of running in sand. I got maybe another mile down the trail and finally drank some Tailwind and gobbled down a Huma Chia Gel. I left Furnace Town saying I'd make a conscious effort to get some calories in me and I still forgot. A nutritional blunder like can ruin or even end your day.

Looking for The Greenbrier Spur Trail

With the festive beach party behind me, I now arrived at the mouth of the Greenbrier Spur, an out and back section, that for some reason really gets in my head. First it's an out & back so you end up retracing your steps which makes me nuts. Second you end up seeing runners who are ahead of you and behind you after you turn around and I have no idea why, but I find that mentally taxing as well. It's also at a point on the course where fatigue is becoming a factor.

The Goatman wears Altras.

To make matters worse, just before heading down the spur trail, I tripped and fell. This was my third tumble on the day (yes it was one of those days) and the worst. First I was pretty stoked when I realized that my face plant had landed just to the right of a tree instead of going headlong into it. Unfortunately though, I soon realized that my left knee took a nice hit and I could feel it getting sore and swelling. Before I knew it, the Greenbrier Spur and it's mind game was behind me and it was cool as I was able to see Mike, got to see Pete and even Shane who was running with Kyle from Altra.

Got to share some trail miles with Jackie, up from North Carolina.
She's quite an inspiration and a member of The Suunto Elite Team.

I think it's like 7 miles to the next aid station after the Greenbrier Spur and for some reason, in past years it's felt more like 17 miles and I've wished I was carrying 2 bottles through this section.  This year I planned ahead and had a race vest with 2 flasks.

I get NUUN Hydration stuff from The Suunto Factoryteam and I mixed those flasks with NUUN instead of Tailwind. Towards the end of races I start to reject Tailwind and having NUUN as an alternative seemed to work well and soon I was striding into the next aid station.

The party was raging at this stop, I could hear The Who, Baba O'Riley, "Out here in the fields, I fight for my meals" booming through the trees as I approached the break in the forest. Smith Island Cake, food, shots of Whiskey, whatever you wanted, they had it. I wanted a cup of sugary Coca-Cola, in fact I had 2 and they did the trick. Janice gave me Pickle Juice, took my vest and handed me a new bottle with Tailwind and Huma Gels in the handheld and I was quickly back on the move. Janice could teach a class on crewing.

In this next stretch I realized I was running with Erin who I finished behind last year. We talked about dogs, Josh who didn't come this year and her work with UPMC and their expansion in the Harrisburg area. The time passed which is nice, because it's always these late miles in an ultra that seem to never end. I stopped and walked a bit when I saw Janice at the last aid station which felt good.

Cramp free running all day thanks to Pickle Juice Sport.

I found myself behind two women who were so psyched to know that at 28 miles they only had 3 to go. They were so excited I had to tell them the final distance was more than 32 miles so they weren't let down when 50K passed and they were still running. I suggested they view it as bonus miles that Trent wasn't charging us for. They were in such high spirits, they took it very well.

Watching and waiting for me and the end of long long day.

Winding my way through the final muddy miles, I caught back up to Erin and soon we were heading into the finish. Kinda' strange (but neat) to be finishing with the same exact person 2 years in a row. As we neared the line, Trent knelt holding two mugs high, one for each of us. After a big Race Dictator hug, I stumbled around til I found Janice and promptly filled my new mug with cold beer and raised a pint with Shane and Mike. It was good day. I in no way assumed I could finish and something got me there, it certainly wasn't training. Maybe it was Mom. 💖

The Algonquin 50K finish line is the gem of this event. Beer, food and music blaring. An MC announcing your name as you finish. The crowd of those who have finished before you cheering. I would guess that more than 75% of the runners hang out and cheer. You're also faced with the fear that if you miss that 8 hour cut off, Trent will smash your mug. We did see mugs that didn't survive. More finish lines need to have this feel. I really don't give a crap about your PR, your place in the race, your mile time or any of that. This isn't road running, chill out, go get a beer and cheer for your brothers and sisters who are still finishing.

Next year will by 5th year toeing the line at Pokomoke River State Park, can't wait for registration to open! Go run this race, I dare you to not have fun. Register early too, because it has built a great reputation and it will sell out fast!

Trent The Race Dictator
"Roads Are Dead"

Next up for me is The Seneca Creek Greenway 50K.

Those folks that make the race a reality:

If you scrolled this far you must really be bored or you simply scrolled too far. Like the three previous years, Janice and I made a weekend of it and headed to Rehoboth DE for the night. This year was different, we drug Mike along with us. We had a hoot, so glad Mike joined us. Dinner at The Crooked Hammock, a brief Karaoke night at the wrong kind of bar and then a fun night cap at The Rehoboth Ale House. Of course we made Mike join us for breakfast at The Robin Hood Restaurant. 
Breakfast didn't stand a chance.
I was accused of licking my plate...

Big Oyster Brewing

He hit the road and we bought Grotto's Pizza to take home. After a quick visit to The North Face Outlet, a brief stop at Big Oyster Brewing Company and then Total Wine & More (no tax) near Wilmington we were eventually on our way home. Until next year!

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Wednesday, October 2, 2019

My Headwaters 50K Race Report With A Family Vacation Wrapped Around It

September 26th - October 1st 2019

Reunion With Nathan

I'll apologize ahead of time for the length of this post, but this was a trip of a life time and I was excited to try to capture a lot of it in a story. If you're a runner and want to just read the race report, scroll down, otherwise relax and enjoy our journey. I'll do my best to not make this a modern day web version of making you sit in my living room and watch my family vacation home movies.

We hadn't seen my son Nathan since I put him on a plane in Newark almost 4 years ago. Phone calls, text messages and social media might be nice, but you need to get your arms around the ones you love and the broader the gap in time between those hugs; the more urgent they become. This trip was planned for last year, but Mom's health took a turn for the worse and I couldn't rationalize being 2,000+ miles away even if she had been released from the hospital. With Mom doing ok at age 95 now in 2019, our trip to magical Mt. Shasta was a "go".

Five years ago, Nathan said to hell with college, packed a backpack and headed west. Beautiful Mt. Shasta in northern California was in his sights and the rest is history. He's currently living and working mostly in Southern Oregon just North of Mt. Shasta so we targeted Ashland Oregon (Medford Airport) for our coming and going. We made almost no plans for this trip, we were to visit Nathan and I was entered to run the Headwaters 50K in the hills outside Mt. Shasta; otherwise we were winging it.

Mt. Shasta From The Plane

Our journey west was awful, flight delays and missed connections made for a long day of travel and meeting up with Nathan just didn't happen. The flight to Medford, was probably the highlight of the day, as we flew right past Mt. Shasta, Black Butte and recognized the unique aerial shape of Lake Siskiyou remembered from maps. We did have a good meal in Ashland at The Standing Stone Brewing Company, tasty brews and they source much of their menu from their own farm - in Ashland? - go eat (and drink) there.

Me and the tall kid.

The next morning in Ashland was like magic, Nathan found us at our hotel, the previous day's travel frustrations were gone and the three of us started our fun together. Ashland is a beautiful town, home to Southern Oregon University, and numerous elite ultra runners have called it home as well; most notably Hal Koerner who's Rogue Valley Runners store is right on Main Street.

Lithia Park

Janice and I followed Nathan's lead as we took a stroll around Lithia Park, the largest in Ashland as it stretches from the downtown up to the headwaters of the Ashland Creek near Mount Ashland. The walk felt great after being stuck in cramped planes the day prior. The park gets its name from Lithium Oxide which is found in the creek water. After a tasty lunch at The Co-op and a quick shopping trip to Shop  N Kart, we were on our way south to the sacred lands of Mt. Shasta.

While Ashland reminded us of a western mountainous version of State College Pennsylvania, Mt. Shasta (incorporated in 1905) is tiny and seemed barely evolved from its roots. Many buildings are turn of the (last) century western US architecture and the shop we visited for my race registration was no different. At the last minute I changed our lodging from a Best Western near the interstate to the Mt. Shasta Resort which was much closer to the race start. Not knowing the place, it was a roll of the dice and we were pleasantly surprised at how nice it was. We were in a one room chalet in the forest, high on a hill above Lake Siskiyou with just an 8 minute drive to the start line. It was 83 when we landed in Medford and in one day it changed from summer to late fall with chilly temperatures in Mt. Shasta.

Headwaters 50K

Janice caught rainbows before the start.
I took it as a good sign.

When Nathan first came to Mt. Shasta, of course I checked out the local trail running community. It's a vibrant one, fed by runners from Southern Oregon and Northern California and host to numerous trail and ultra events throughout the year.  The Headwaters Trail Runs is my kind of race, a small grassroots event. There's a 30K and a 10K offered as well and the 50K which had a small field of just 35 runners. We started at the same time as the 30K which just about doubled the pack. After two years of looking forward to this race, I had trouble believing I was actually standing at the start line. It started raining lightly at sun up and as go-time drew closer, the passing showers became more frequent and some were steady. The rain coupled with the cool 39° temperature, made for an almost winter feel at the boat launch.

Ditching my Suunto wind jacket.

Garad, the race director, thanked all the volunteers, sponsors, supporters and said "GO!". I tossed my jacket to Janice and off we went. This may have been a small grass roots field, but I quickly realized it was a fast field as I looked at my watch at about a half mile to see it just ticking to 4 minutes. I learned  a long time ago that if you chase someone else's pace you may not finish your race. This was much faster than I wanted to sustain so I consciously slowed down. In no time I was the tail on the whip and running last or close to it as the entire pack disappeared quickly around the ensuing turns and hill tops. It didn't bother me a bit, it was just sorta' startling as I'm not used to being the only slow old guy.

Thanks to Cobi Krumholz for this photo.
(Love the rain drops captured by the shutter speed.)

The race started at the Lake Siskiyou Camp Resort boat launch area and we immediately found ourselves running on nice wide trails covered in Pine needles as we wound our way down to the lake. At the lake the trail took us through a very rocky area strewn with large "river rocks" and in a couple of places we crossed metal temporary bridges. This entire path looked as though it was the actual lake bed and probably submerged at other times of the year. On the other side of the lake the first climbing began, starting off gently on wide forestry/fire roads and those gentle climbs became more roller coaster-like as we got further into the forest.

Somewhere around 9 or 10 miles, reaching the top of a climb, the trees opened up and I was quickly reminded that I was running maybe the most beautiful 50K on the planet. The view of Mt. Shasta and Black Butte was over powering, it seemed that I could reach out and touch them (or they could touch me). It was also rather windy at that spot, ensuring my rain and sweat soaked clothing was quite cold by now.
Simple Elevation Profile
Go Up To Go Down

Speaking of over powering, coming to this event, in the back of my mind I did hold a small concern about the elevation and the possibility of altitude sickness. My home in Harrisburg, PA is at about 500' above sea level, the highest elevation my watch had ever recorded while running was just over 3100'. The Headwaters 50K starts at 3200' and reaches almost 6100'. Early on, I recognized that I could hear my breathing more than normal. Looking later at my watch stats, throughout the run, my average heart rate was about 10 bpm higher than usual. With that said though, my breathing never felt labored or I was never in any kind of respiratory distress and never felt like I was in trouble with a crazy spiking heart rate.


[Roads not recommended for a Chrysler Pacifica. Janice was definitely missing our Jeep Wrangler while making her way to and from the aid station perched high on that mountain.]

I was wearing the Ultimate Direction Race Vest, minimal, but enough storage that I could carry Huma Gels, Pickle Juice and 2 600ml bottles of Tailwind. The course essentially had 3 aid stations, 2 of which you visit twice; so really 5 spots to refuel. It was a brisk day so I was sure to thank all the volunteers hanging out at these remote spots, just so slow old men like me can enjoy a run through the woods. After reaching the second aid station around 13 miles, we were treated with an immense downhill, where part way down, the 30K runners made a left turn and bid us farewell. For the 50K we continued to drop till we hit water, the Headwaters of The Sacramento River and that's where the day's real climb began. I somehow missed the mention that we'd be crossing water, man ii was icy cold. I ran left past a sign that said "Right Turn", thankfully I was not alone here and another runner yelled to me and got me back on course. (Yes, of course it was a big yellow sign with ribbons showing where to go; some times you're just in the zone and running with your head down. I'm just thankful another runner was there to snap me out of my trail trance.)

Going up while the headwaters flow down.

We were now at what seemed like rock bottom and so began the day's real climb. On the charts it looked to be just about 6 miles and 3000' of elevation gain. I knew I just needed to manage it and not attempt anything stupid. After all, this climb had clogged my dreams since the finish of my last race, I in no way wanted my race to end here. While much of the running to this point had been on wide fire roads, this climb was rocky single track. In a couple of spots, the grade kicked up and it got steep, but for the most part it wasn't; it was just long. As we ascended away from the headwaters the drop off to our right down the gorge became deeper and deeper. The monotony of the climb was broken more than a few times by adrenaline-junky mountain bikers descending this perilous path. Bailing off the narrow trail down to the rushing water below would've hurt or maybe even could've killed. I leapfrogged with the fellow who corrected my wrong turn for a while and very near the aid station I caught another runner who was not enjoying the climb at all and his struggling in front of me slowed my pace temporarily until I found a wide spot to pass him. Near the top of the ascent was the next aid station and that was where Janice was allowed to be to assist/refuel me. (what the rental company doesn't know won't hurt 'em - don't for a minute underestimate a 2019 Chrysler Pacifica's rough road capabilities)

My first visit to the aid station, 
happy as hell to see Janice.

Janice resupplied me at the aid station, as both of my bottles were empty and I was out of Huma Gels and Pickle Juice. There was watermelon at this stop, which is my all time favorite aid station fruit. I swapped out my wet Suunto Trail Hat and kept moving. From here, the climb continues to its summit and after a five mile loop you come back to this same aid station for a repeat visit. As the climb disappeared back into the forest, significant snow was visible on either side of the trail on the trees and just about anything else that was in the shade. Very near the top, I saw a lizard lounging in the sunshine beating on the trail which was bordered by snow, an odd contrast. Soon I was back around to see Janice the second time. This aid station was manned by Ski Patrol folks and I mentioned the snow up above and one of the volunteers said it was dumping so hard earlier in the morning that running the race was in question.

After a 5 mile loop on top of this beautiful mountain, 
I'm back for my second visit...both bottles empty.

I no sooner left that aid station (with about 7 miles to go) and that stuff called Graupel began to fall. (looks like Dippin' Dots - mix between sleet & snow)  As I reached the short climb to the next aid station, first I saw a basketball size rock roll off the hill side. Rock slide signs were common along the highway, but actually seeing one was kinda' cool. Then I saw an extremely dark black cloud over the rise. As I reached the top and saw the aid station, I  realized it was a huge black cloud. High winds picked up and what was wimpy Graupel was now a legit snowfall. I asked which way to go and one of the aid station volunteers said, "that way, unless you want to get a ride back with me". I wasn't interested in his offer of a ride, I hadn't come here for a DNF. I was sure to thank them all and went the direction he pointed.

Snow Up High

This long descent was the hill that had lead to the headwaters. The first time down it, a volunteer had told me the second time down I'd be turning left where the 30K runners were turning. At the top of the hill where the snow was blowing was at just about 4900' and as I dropped about 1500 feet or so, that blowing snow turned into cold rain. Now I was on the hunt for that left turn and I was paranoid that I had missed it. I even stopped a couple of times, because I just didn't remember this downhill being quite this long. At one point I decided that even if I was off course/lost I'd keep descending because that was definitely the way off the mountain and out of the forest. I'd probably never be seen again, but at least I wouldn't be climbing this huge hill again. Eventually I was rewarded with the left turn, marked very well with ribbons and a sign. My heart rate went back to normal, I could stop my hesitant running and enjoy the rest of the downhill.

Out of the forest and heading for the finish line.
Thanks to Cobi Krumholz for this photo.

Soon I was retracing the opening steps of the race and returning back around the end of the lake to the finish at the boat launch in the rain.  Unfortunately the post race party was pretty well quashed by the difficult weather and considering I was the next to last finisher, hardly anyone was around. Janice was there though and there were a few crazies in cars cheering like nut jobs as I came into view. I had an awesome plate of Lasagna and a couple of tasty beers, thanked the race director and we were off to get me out of my soaking wet clothing.

If you're from Southern Oregon, Northern California or simply find yourself near Mt. Shasta at the end of September, run this race. I'm afraid that all races I'll run after this will be a complete snore. These forests and mountains are gorgeous and you never know where Mt. Shasta will peak out above the rest of the scenery as that mystical mountain is always right over your shoulder. Loved every minute of it.

Mt. Shasta
Haven't run many ultras that made it to the downtown bulletin board.
(outside Berryvale Grocery

The day after the race, the weather was calling the shots as far as what we could do and when we'd want to do it outside. Rain was to return around lunch time and it was still a bit chilly. Nathan wanted to show us Castle Lake, he told us a funny story about the day he decided to swim across it and thought he'd die if it weren't for a submerged tree he used to rest before finishing the swim.

The day started out sunny.

We followed Nathan out of town and soon found the road that climbed to Castle Lake a mountain lake at about 5400' above sea level. With all the cars at the parking area, it was obvious this was a popular hike. Janice was snapping photos and one of us asked "so where's Heart Lake?" and Nathan pointed straight up and smiled.

Castle Lake at lake level.

We hit the trail toward the Mt. Bradley Lookout that climbed gently away from Castle Lake. The easy walking path soon changed to rocky technical steep hiking and each time we thought we knew which rock was our destination, Nathan would point out one that was even higher.

Castle Lake down below.

Eventually we reached a point where we actually knew which boulder he was pointing at, the wind was picking up and the dark clouds we were racing were now quite close. Janice said she didn't need to go the last stretch to our pinnacle and decided to wait just slightly below. I didn't want her to do that, but she convinced me to continue on with Nathan. That didn't minimize my concern for her in the deteriorating conditions, especially the cold wind.

Black Butte in the distance.
The ever present Mt. Shasta in the clouds.

Nathan in his favorite spot. 
Janice and I needed no explanation.

We reached the high point Nathan loves to visit and we had a beautiful view of Heart Lake, Mt. Shasta, Black Butte and over the adjacent ridge to the neighboring mountain range. The wind was whipping at this point and my 50K-yesterday legs were completely fried and I noticed a very easy/walk-able trail we could use to descend. We agreed to use it however we'd need to go back the hard way so we could collect Janice and just then she appeared on the peak with us. It was snowing lightly and when Janice saw the easy trail, she joked that Nathan had taken us up the hard way on purpose as pay back for all those hikes we drug him on when he was little. She quickly named this hike Nathan's Revenge. 😁

Heart Lake

The descent back to the parking was full of fun chatter about mushrooms and all the amazing flora and fauna living on this mountain. The red woody Manzanita looked as though it had been painted red in the light of the dull cloudy sky. Nathan remembered to point that the tree submerged in Castle Lake that may have saved him from drowning.

We had decided that because the weather was taking a foul turn that we'd spend the afternoon driving and visit the Redwoods near the coast the next day. After a quick trip to downtown Mt Shasta to get souvenirs and a stop in Weed for Weed souvenirs we were on our way to Ashland again.

Crescent City & The Giant Redwoods

The Redwood forest we wanted to visit is the northern most in California and right next to the Pacific Ocean near Crescent City, CA. To get there from Mt. Shasta meant driving north back into Oregon to head west across Oregon and around the mountains just to re-enter California and end up at the coast. As we got closer to Crescent City the winding road in the dark and fog/drizzle was unnerving. Towards the end of the drive, the road was cutting right through the Redwood Forest and the massive trees were looming in the darkness as our headlights hit them. Their size was just astounding and somewhat spooky in the dark illuminated by our lights.

Eventually our 2+ hour drive was done and we found ourselves at the Oceanfront Lodge, another roll of the dice hotel reservation that didn't turn out half bad. The sound of a coastal warning horn and the smell of the sea made it obvious even in the darkness that we had made it to the coast.
With Tsunamis as recent as 1964 & 2011, 
this sign in the hotel was a bit foreboding.

The Oceanfront Lodge perched right above the rocky breakers seemed like a structure that has existed on this spot for quite a long time and remodeled as time went by. I asked, but English was a challenge for the staff I found and they didn't seem to understand what I was asking. A woman told me it had been a Hampton Inn, but I meant more like what was it in 1905?

The foggy morning brought amazing views of the sea and of course I had to go down on the beach. The quaint old lighthouse is a sightseeing focal point of the town and we were within an easy walk of it.  I thought that I was seeing clouds lifting as the sun became higher in the sky, but later while walking with Janice it was evident that what I thought were clouds was actually the outline of the nearby mountains through the fog. The mountains and the sea in one view isn't something I'm used to seeing. We had left the enchanted Mt. Shasta to visit yet another enchanted land, tribal home of the Tolowa and Yurok, and another tiny town brimming with history and endless natural beauty. Janice and I were able to walk over to the lighthouse, but when Nathan finally got out of bed the tide had closed off the walkway and it wouldn't be accessible until the next low tide.

My cell phone video hardly does it justice.

Nathan pointed out a skate park very close by and asked if we minded if he skated for a while. We left him at the skate park while we took a short drive up the coast to Point St. George. The waves there weren't the ankle breakers we see back east, they were legit; just what you'd expect on the California coast. At least one surfer was out cutting up the soup.

Zoomed in, in hopes that you can make out the shapes of the Sea Lions.

On the drive back to get Nathan we stopped at another point and we could clearly hear the barking of Sea Lions on an island too far to see without binoculars or long lens. Janice got some shots and when you blow them up, sure enough the island was teaming with Sea Lions enjoying the sunny day free from humans on their little island paradise. Eventually we made our way back to the skate park to the sound of Nathan's JBL boombox pumping Psy Trance for everyone to enjoy, watched him finish his session and soon we were all on our way to the Redwoods.

As we strolled the trails among the Redwoods, we kept saying, "that's the biggest one we've seen so far". And that went on the entire time to the point that we were laughing at ourselves. No photo or word can truly describe their immensity. 

The Redwoods stretch to the south down the California coast and we were about as far north as you can get in the state. Not even 10 miles from the Pacific Ocean, the big trees we got to experience were in the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park which is also part of and managed together with the National Park. 

Dwarfed by a mammoth dead fall.

We started at the Visitor Center to get some guidance from a Ranger and then we visited the Simpson-Reed/Peterson Grove trail and the Stout Grove Trail. The Ranger referred to the Simpson-Reed/Peterson Grove as Jurassic Park, it hadn't seen a fire or flood in 150 years so the forest bed was soft with layers and layers of forest debris. Thick beds of needles and decayed vegetation; it just looked ancient and footsteps were silent. Alternatively, the Stout Grove Trail winds through a grove of Redwoods positioned next to The Smith River, exposing it to flooding that cleans the forest floor making for a more pristine environment. Coastal Redwoods are not only the biggest of the giants, but Redwoods live typically 500-700 years, while some of the trees in these two groves were said to be in excess of 2,000 years old.

The famous Stout Redwood Tree.
Height 325' Width 16.7' Volume 12.966 ft3

The Ranger told us to explore the trees and to let out our inner-child. Nathan and Janice got inside of roots and hollow trees and I climbed onto and walked across a dead fall. We were surrounded by neat things. Stuff like the Rainbow Tree that got bent over the trail and rooted again on the opposite side and now has another tree growing out of it, nurse trees which are dead falls that now provide a whole new environment from their decay, trees hollowed by lightning and further decay; big enough for us to walk into, etc. It was funny to see enormous ferns and clover that seemed huge in an attempt to compete with their giant neighbor Redwoods. We were certainly like children walking through this cathedral of a forest with our mouths gaping in awe of these natural wonders.

Rainbow Tree

Climbing on a dead fall.
A Nurse Tree - the dead supporting new life.

Fresh Powder After The Race Day Snow
(Mt. Shasta from the plane on our way home)

Leaving all this magical natural beauty behind was tough, but nowhere near as tough as saying goodbye to Nathan. Leaving him to live through yet another tough Northwest Winter had us fighting back tears as we said goodbye in Ashland. This was a trip that has left such an impression on Janice and I, the experience with nature was unmatched, but even more unmeasurable was our experience with Nathan in this distant mystical place he calls home. The three of us had genuine fun together, we laughed so much. The fact that much of what we did and saw really wasn't planned seemed to make our experiences even better. Hopefully the time till our next reunion is not nearly as long. Thanks for reading this far, I hope you enjoyed our trip.  :-)

💚 See you soon Nathan! 💚