Sunday, October 21, 2012

Oil Creek 100 Mile Ultra

Middle of Leg 1.
This past weekend I traveled to Titusville, PA, to run the Oil Creek 100 mile trail race. I went to run with my brother Jim and friend Sonya, who were making their first attempt at a race longer than 50 miles. They chose Oil Creek because of the proximity and the time of the year was convenient. I wanted to support them in some way but was originally thinking I would just crew and pace them. After talking to Jim about it, he said his preference was for me to run the whole thing with them. After my disasters at Massanutten and Laurel Highlands, I was a little reticent to sign up for another 100 mile race, but eventually did it. 

This was back in June, and as time went on, I wavered between pacing and running it all. After a tough 50K on the Allegheny Front Trail at the end of July I became even more convinced that pacing would be the best option. My training this fall then went downhill and I was struggling to hit 30 mile weeks since mid-August. The double-whammy of coaching high school soccer and my job at the school district, which is always ridiculously busy in August through October, had me struggling to get adequate sleep and still train for an ultra. Then I ran the Megatransect Trail Marathon two weeks ago and I had no legs starting at 12 miles and bonked hard at 20 miles. Towards the end of that run I made up my mind that I would only pace at Oil Creek. I just didn't have the legs to do a 100.

End of leg 1.
When I got home from the Mega and sat around for a couple hours, I started to second guess that decision. So there I was, on Friday evening, at the Titusville Middle School, picking up my race packet with Jim and Sonya and thinking nervously about what the morning would bring. After a decent, although somewhat restless night of sleep, I woke up at 3:30am, ate my Cheerios, and got ready for the day.

Giving a colorful leaf I found on the trail to my
Great-Nephew Jaren (I am old).
The morning was clear and cold, with the temperature around 23 degrees and a bit of a breeze going. The Oil Creek course consists of three 50K loops of the same trail followed by a 7.7 mile loop to finish. There are four aid stations: the start/finish area at the school, about 7.5 miles to aid station #1, another 7 miles to aid station #2 (where there is crew access), about 8.5 miles to aid station #3, and then another 8 miles back to the middle school. The course is mostly single-track, with a little double-track thrown in, and a couple miles of every loop are a paved bike path between the middle school and the trailhead.

Jim is still smiling at the end of leg 1.
At 5am, we walked out of the middle school, the horn sounded and we were off. Jim and Sonya's race strategy had them looking at about a 27 hour or so finish. When I first heard this a month earlier, I was a bit scared as this was completely uncharted territory for me. I have never run past 22 hours and the thought of having to be on my feet for at least another 5 hours had me concerned. It seemed to me it would be much more difficult because of accumulated fatigue and possible sleepiness. But in this race, I was just along for the ride so I tried to prepare myself for a long one. I just hoped my legs would hold up and my stomach would cooperate (it never does). Secretly I hoped to try to bring them home at a quicker pace than they were anticipating.

We started off at an easy pace. I told them to not even think about going below a 9 minute per mile pace, even at the beginning, and to walk all the ascents. We hit the trailhead towards the back of the pack and began the first climb. The trail is nice single-track from the start. It basically climbs to the top of the ridge, runs along the top with rolling ups and downs, and then drops you back down into an aid station. Each leg is similar in this way and there are four legs. We all agreed that leg three was our favorite. It has some really nice sections of double track that run through hemlock groves and it is just beautiful. The deciduous trees were colorful and the falling leaves around us were a nice touch. By the time we got back to the start/finish area, the temperature had warmed up to be in the 40s.

We ran the first two 50K loops pretty well. Jim had some IT band trouble starting during the second loop, so anything that was steeply downhill began to present some difficulty, but overall we were making good progress. Sonya was also having some pain behind her one knee that started to bother her and affect her stride (turned out to be a strained hamstring). The first lap was completed in about 7:30 and the second lap in about 8:10, which is about a 15:16/mile overall pace. Jim and Sonya had planned on about a 27 or 28 hour finish so this was right in line with that and left a lot of wiggle room to get in under the 32 hour limit. The best part for me was that I had no stomach trouble up to this point. Generally I have had my problems before mile 62 so I was quite pleased with how I felt. During the second lap I did start to feel bad when I sat down too long. I actually felt better when we left the aid stations and were on the move again.
Picking up our pacer, Jason.

My nephew Jason was going to pace us for the last 39 miles and he was waiting for us when we pulled in at the end of the second loop. We took a little time at this aid station to change clothes and shoes, use the facilities and eat. It was about 9pm and we knew we would see the next sunrise before finishing the third loop. I sat here again while changing shoes and waiting for the others, and again I started to feel kind of bad. The miles and the time on my feet were starting to take their toll. The thought did enter my mind about how nice it would be to just stop here and call it a day, but it was a fleeting thought because I wanted to help Jim and Sonya in any way that I could to finish and I really felt good enough that I didn’t have a good reason to quit. The idea of leaving a warm place for another 12 hours of running when you could be sleeping is a bit daunting.

But eventually we all started out again. It was great to have Jason along, because he was a fresh pair of legs and a fresh mind. The psychological impact of picking up a pacer, especially at night I believe, is huge. We were all tired and he had fresh conversation and a certain perkiness that helped to carry us along. The going started to get slower as we got into the first leg. The miles were adding up for all of us (except Jason). The night running also made it more difficult. 

We discovered at the beginning of the race that Sonya had won the battle of the lumens. Jim had the dimmest light, I had a 100 lumen lamp, and Sonya showed up with the Daymaker 5000 (okay I made that up), a 200 lumen, 4 AA battery monster of a light. I literally got sunburn on the back of my legs from her following me during the night, honest. Okay, that is a lie, but only barely.

We went through aid station 1 okay and started the monster climb on leg 2. This is where the race started to get interesting. First Sonya went silent and I could tell she was dealing with some kind of demons. We had to walk more. As we got closer to the second aid station, I talked with her and she said she was feeling dizzy and really sleepy.  I told her she needed Coke or Mt. Dew and some quick sugar (Peanut butter cups or M&Ms) for a quick hit as well as some longer lasting carbs to sustain her. And then the rain started, about 3 miles or so from aid station 2. It was a soaking rain that was steady and unrelenting. Fortunately, the night temperatures never got below 50 so the rain didn't make it too cold and miserable. We pulled into aid station 2 wet and tired and woozy (Sonya).

We spent some time at aid station 2. They had a heater and Sonya sat down beside it and we started to load her up with sugar and caffeine. I was still feeling okay and was able to eat well. I didn’t change clothes because I figured I would just get wet right away again. The rain did not stop. Sonya started to feel better and we left aid station 2 for the last time.

We made some decent time initially but then it got slow again. Jim was pretty silent by this time and wrestling with his demons (and IT band). Jason and I were involved in conversation and it helped to pass the time. This was the nicest leg of the race but in the dark it was impossible to tell. Halfway into the leg Sonya started to bonk again and she had to tough it out into aid station 3. The rain finally started to subside as we got close to the aid station. This time I told Sonya to do the same thing as before but to take chocolate with her so she could keep putting it down and hopefully hold off another bonk. This aid station had pancakes and I enjoyed some.

We left for the last leg of the circuit and with a steady dose of chocolate Sonya was good for the whole leg, except her hamstring became more of a problem. At this point we were basically hiking it in, but it looked like we were still in good time to get under 30 hours, if nothing majorly bad happened. It was getting light again so the hiking/running became a little easier, although the rain had made the trail muddy. We made it without any major issues back to the start/finish area and only had 7.7 miles to go.

Walking in the final mile with crew in tow.
It was not as difficult for me to leave this time because the daylight and the fact that I knew we only had about 2 hours to go had lightened my spirit. I was still eating well and not feeling sleepy. I went into the school to use the bathroom and saw local trail runner Ashley Moyer sitting in there eating breakfast. I had heard from someone at aid station 2 that she had won the women’s race and was third overall in 19.5 hours. I went over and congratulated her and talked for a few seconds before continuing on. She took 5 hours off her previous year’s time and set the course record. It was a fantastic race for her. Now I don’t feel so bad about her beating me at the Mega two weeks before. She is in great shape.

We headed back out for the last loop. I started to get delirious and sang loudly all of the lyrics I could think of (which is rather limited) from a cornucopia of songs. I was feeling good and getting stronger. Soon we hit the “Hill of Truth” and I decided I had to run up it all while talking to it. Jason was behind me and thought I had lost my marbles because he heard me talking to nobody. Maybe I had. I waited at the top and when everyone was up we soon hit the trailhead and there our support crew was waiting. It is a little over a mile from the trailhead to the finish and we walked it in with everyone. It was a good way to finish. An 1/8 of a mile from the finish, we tried to jog it in, with limited success, but finished together in 29:33:58.

Sonya smiling at the finish line.
Jim and Sonya were hurting, but 100 mile finishers! It is an amazing accomplishment and a triumph of perseverance and the mind over the body. I was happy to get my ultra mojo back. I was certainly tired but felt pretty well overall. My feet were beat up more than anything else. I had a number of blisters that were bugging me for the last 30 miles. Before the race, when I realized we were going to see two sunrises, I was anxious about what that kind of time would do to me. In the end, I felt better than I ever have for a whole 70 mile or longer race. Now the only question is, was it the slower pace or the cooler weather? I wish I knew. I suspect both contributed, but is one more important than the other? I was able to eat well at every aid station and never really had any kind of stomach distress. That was great!

My food for the race included (approximately):
  • 1/2 PBJ
  • 5 grilled cheese sandwiches
  • 3 pancakes with syrup
  • 1 slice of cold pizza
  • 1 banana
  • 1/2 tall can of Pringles
  • 4 ounces of peanut M&Ms
  • 72 ounces of Ramen with chicken broth
  • 36 ounces of soda (Coke, Ginger Ale and Mt. Dew)
  • 130 ounces of water
  • 2 Endurolyte tablets (electrolytes)
  • 4 Gu packets

I will definitely consider running Oil Creek again, although maybe not the 100 miler. A 50K and 100K are also available. The trail is beautiful, the start/finish area at the middle school is great, and the volunteers/aid stations are fantastic. It was a great adventure.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Nashville Trail Running

Marcy on the trail in Percy Warner Park.

I was in Nashville for a family vacation last weekend and discovered a gem of a resource for the road runners and trail runners in the city. The Percy Warner and Edwin Warner Parks, on the southwest side of the city offer many miles of road and trail within 20 minutes of downtown. I had contacted the Nashville Striders running club before traveling to Nashville to find out if I could join in a group run while I was there. I had one scheduled for Saturday morning with some locals but ended up not getting into the city until Saturday night so I had to bail out on that run. 

Instead, I found my way to the parks (the two parks border each other) on Sunday morning and struck out on my own, using a park map to figure out how to get about 12 miles in. I strung together a 4.5 mile loop, starting in Percy Warner Park, with the 1 mile connector to Edwin Warner Park, a 2.5 mile loop there, back on the connector, and then finished with an additional 2.5 mile loop in Percy Warner for about 11.5 miles total.

The trails are heavily used, mostly single-track, and not very rocky or rooty (at least compared to trails around here). The terrain is hilly, with not very many flat stretches, although they are definitely just hills, not mountains. There were many other hikers and runners using the trails, along with their dogs, but when you are on the trails you feel insulated from the surrounding residential area. On Monday morning, the whole family went to the parks in the morning and my daughter and I did the 4.5 mile loop while the other three hiked the 2.5 mile loop. I went back on Tuesday morning and did both loops in the opposite direction by myself. 

I was quite happy to find this great trail resource within a 15 minute drive of the city. I enjoy going to a new area and finding the trails that they have available. It helps give some variety to the regular daily runs around home.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Three Strikes and I'm Out

What makes a person persevere at one time and quit at another? The Laurel Highlands 70 mile trail race was this last weekend, a race that I have DNFed the last two years in a row. The title of this post was supposed to be "Third Time is the Charm" but, alas, it is not.

After my DNF at Massanutten, I wasn't sure that I wanted to do this one again. In the end I signed up and tried to make the necessary corrections to be successful this time around. Last year I attended my son's graduation the night before and didn't get into the motel at Ohiopyle until midnight. This year I got there at 8pm and was in bed by 9pm. I got pretty good sleep the week before and was feeling good overall. This year I had pacers waiting for me at mile 46. My brother Jim and friend Sonya were there and would take turns pacing me until mile 57, where Tara would be waiting to pace me the rest of the way. I had spent a few weeks trying out a new nutrition/hydration plan and felt that I would be able to stick with it for a good part of the race. The only negative thing going in was my hard effort at Rothrock the Saturday before. I knew my legs wouldn't be completely recovered but felt that my legs have never been the issue at ultras, just my stomach.

It was nearly a perfect day for running. The race started at 5:30am and the temperature was in the mid 50s with highs to be in the lower 80s. We left Ohiopyle and hit the trail and I settled into a comfortable mix of walking and running. The bulk of climbing at Laurel Highlands is in the first 7 miles as you scale the ridge. The rest of the race stays mostly on the ridge, although the course still rolls somewhat and there are some tough, although relatively shorter climbs.

I rolled into the first aid station feeling good, in fourth place overall. I wasn't expecting to be that close to the front as I really wasn't pushing it, at least I didn't think so. I was mixing my own drink so it took me a few minutes to get that done and a few guys caught up with me while I was there. The next aid station was at mile 26, in the Seven Springs area. I was keeping up with the hydration/nutrition fairly well, drinking about 18 ounces of an Infinit mix every hour. This was to supply my hydration, calories and electrolytes in an easy to process mix. I did start to notice, however, that I was always on the edge of my belly feeling full. I kept sipping at it, but couldn't drink very much at a time because I felt slightly bloated. I wasn't too uncomfortable, but it was kind of bothersome.

My legs definitely felt heavy when I got to mile 26, but I kind of expected that. My energy was decent and my stomach was decent, so I couldn't complain too much. I was still running in 4th place and didn't have anyone behind me that I could see. There was some pretty good climbing to get into the aid station at mile 32 and I was pretty tired when I got in. During the next leg I really started to get heavy legs and my stomach became more bothersome. I wasn't nauseated but I was full and it just didn't feel great. I had to keep loosening the belt from my hydration pack because it kept getting tighter. I decided I would sit in a chair for a few minutes and rest my legs and maybe let my stomach do some processing. I sat down at the mile 39 aid station and drank some Ginger Ale and just chilled out for about 10 minutes. Numerous runners passed me here. Suddenly I felt bad and got up and went behind the aid station 10 yards and started throwing up. Fortunately, I didn't pass out, but I did throw up a large volume of liquid.

After I was done vomiting, I went back and sat in the chair, trying to decide what to do next. I wasn't sure what I should try to eat or drink. I had them fill my bottles with ice and water and tried to eat a little PB&J. I definitely felt better to get rid of that stuff in my stomach, so I had some more Ginger Ale and headed down the trail. It was only 7 miles to the next aid station, where Jim and Sonya were waiting, and I thought I could get there. I knew I was done with the Infinit mix and probably wouldn't be able to eat anything else, so I was running on borrowed time.

I definitely did not get any better in the next few miles. I did a lot of walking. At one point, I just sat on a log for a good 5 minutes and decided I would drop out at the next aid station. I didn't want to do it, but my legs were so heavy and I just wasn't making good time. I wondered what the heck I was doing here and just wanted to end the suffering. It wasn't fun. I eventually got back up and stumbled down the trail as it was my only way out. About 4 miles out from the mile 46 aid station, I stumbled across Jim and Sonya. They were getting in some additional mileage before pacing me in preparation for their first 100 mile race in the fall. I was so happy to see them and it definitely lifted my spirits. I told them I was probably going to drop and Jim started working on my psyche to change my mind. I started to feel a little better, just talking to them and being with them, so I started to run again on the flats and downhills. I definitely rallied a little. I began to think again that I could do this. They let me run ahead, as they weren't supposed to be pacers yet, and I rolled into the next aid station.

In a last ditch effort to get some calories in my system, I had told my brother to get me a milkshake. I knew there was an ice cream place a mile down the road from the aid station because I had milkshakes in defeat the last two years. He wondered whether that would be good for my stomach but I was hoping it would rally me and give me some needed calories. I sat down and waited for him. He eventually showed up with the milkshake and I drank most of it. It did taste good, but my stomach was fairly full again. I was starting to have second thoughts about continuing, because I still wasn't feeling all that well. I stood up and immediately felt a little light-headed. I went behind the aid station and felt the nausea coming again. I kneeled down and threw up another large volume of liquid. I decided to lay down for awhile to see what would happen. I lay there awhile and then my left calf, which had been bothering me since mile 5, started to cramp. I thought about the 11 miles I had to next aid station and how long that was. Jim tried every trick in the book to convince me to continue, including saying, correctly, that I only had to go 1 mile, not 11. I still wavered a little, but then I pulled the trigger. Done. DNF. Dang.

In retrospect, I wimped out this time. In my other DNFs at Laurel Highlands and Massanutten, I had real concerns about my safety. I was worried about passing out in the middle of the trail. This time, I felt better (despite the vomiting) than I ever had at this point in the race before. My legs, however, were heavy, I was suffering and I just wasn't having fun, so I quit. I couldn't get over the 11 miles to the next aid station. If it had just been 5 or 6, I think I would have kept going. I didn't want to be 5 miles in and want to quit and have to walk it out.

So what is the answer to my question in the first paragraph? I think part of it was that I asked myself why I was running this race and I had no answer. At my first 100 at Burning River, I felt worse between miles 60 and 80 than I did here (I threw up twice and passed out there), but I never questioned why. I've seen pictures of myself and I looked terrible. Even though I was concerned that my condition would force me out, I don't remember even considering dropping out. I just kept walking/running. I was there to conquer the 100 mile distance and complete the race. At the Vermont 100 last year, I felt pretty bad between 75 and 85 (although probably the best of any of my ultras longer than 50 miles). For some reason, I don't think I questioned "why" there either. I just kept going.

At Massanutten and Laurel Highlands, I did a lot of questioning why I was doing this stupid thing which made me feel terrible. I've already completed the distance so what am I trying to prove. I once said that if running trails for 20 miles was fun, running them for 100 miles was just more fun. I'm going to say now that just isn't true. 20-30 miles is fun, 100 miles is just 65 miles of suffering after the fun part (in my experience the last 5 miles have been pure joy and transcendance).

For most people who try it, running a 100 mile race will be the most difficult thing they ever do. You have to understand that going into it. Is the amazing feeling of accomplishment at the end worth the suffering? I think it is one time, for sure. Beyond that, I'm not so sure. Especially in light of some recently revealed research on endurance running and what it does to the body, I'm not sure that it is a good idea to do a lot of these long ultras. I've never said that I want to, and only have done a couple a year. I'm not sure that I want to do any more. Certainly not without having a good reason "why" going into it (apparently "finishing what you started" is not a good enough reason for me). I think I would even write it down in my own handwriting so my crew could produce it at the appropriate moment, when I have "trail-brain" and just want to end the suffering.

I am signed up for one more long ultra this year, the Oil Creek 100 in October. I was planning to run it with Jim and Sonya, to support their effort. Now I am wondering if I would be better support if I just crewed them and paced them at the end. If I don't know why I am doing it, I might just drag them down in the last 50 miles.  On the other hand, I will most likely feel a lot better at a slower pace and might be able to help them through the rough spots, although they will get tired of me telling them to "just walk faster."

These are a lot of ramblings and I don't have all of the answers. It would be so much easier if I didn't have so many stomach problems. I know it is common, because of the body using its resources to support running instead of digesting food, but it just makes it miserable. I'm in no rush to figure it all out right now. For now, I am busy just kicking myself for quitting last weekend. That will keep me occupied for awhile.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Rothrock Challenge

Road into aid station 3. Lister, Marshall, Kimmel and I.
 I love the sound of rain on a metal roof. In fact, it is one of the reasons that I put a metal roof on our house. Friday evening the heavens opened and the cacophony of sound overhead was deafening. I sat there, enjoying the sound, and also wondering what this was doing to the trails in Rothrock State Forest. The Rothrock Challenge was Saturday and there are sections of the course that are always wet to begin with. Bear Meadows is always swampy and this rain was certainly creating shoe-sucking, runner-eating mud. Oh well, the best thing to do is to embrace the weather you are given and go with it. There would not be any effort to keep my feet dry Saturday; I was going to enjoy wallowing in the mud.

The day dawned cool and overcast. Temperature was ideal in the mid-50s with some wind and clouds. I drove the half hour in to Rothrock and got there about 7:00am, an hour before the race start. After getting my number I relaxed in the car until about 15 minutes before the start. After a 5 minute warmup I went to the start and waited with the other 350 runners for Craig Fleming, the RD, to start the countdown. My plan was to go after it today and see what I could do this year. Last year I ended up in 8th place but I hadn't run too hard from the start.

The race started and we were off. The first half mile is on road so there is some time for the mass of people to thin out a bit before hitting the single-track and the first brutal climb up Spruce Gap. A group of 3 runners, including last year's winner, local runner Jacob Loverich, and last year's 2nd place finisher Jason Bryant, broke out in front with a larger group of us following. We hit Spruce Gap and thinned out even more quickly. I got passed by a couple runners part way up, including the first place woman. I was disappointed to see that it wasn't Meira Minard, but thought she would still have plenty of time to catch up. Towards the top of the climb I passed a couple of the guys back and fell in behind the first place woman. Not far in front of her were two other local runners that I am often chasing, David Lister and Eric Marshall.

Me and David.
We finally reached the top and started the rocky, steep descent that is Kettle Trail. I just tried to keep vertical on this descent (the rocks were wet and slippery) and then took the sharp right at the bottom onto Longberger Trail. I felt good and was trying to push myself a little. I didn't pass anyone and we kept our order going into the first aid station at Bear Meadows. The next stretch around Bear Meadows was the wettest. Some of the "puddles" (most of them were too large to call puddles) were fairly deep and there is no way around them because the Rhododendron are close on both sides. It was kind of fun splashing through these and I let out a whoop at one point.

After the climb out of Bear Meadows we joined the Mid-State Trail and occasionally I could see the first place woman in front of me. After awhile I suddenly came across Eric Marshall. He was trying to fix some of the trail flagging (Eric does a lot of the work on helping to maintain the trails and set up the race) and said that someone must have pulled some of it down. I had noticed that we were in a section that wasn't as well marked as this race normally is. I suggested there wasn't much he could do at this point and to just tell them at the next aid station. He ran off in front of me and I tried to hang onto the back of him.

David and Me.
We soon hit the next descent and I was able to catch glimpses of Marshall, Lister and the first place woman on the way down. We got to the bottom and all ran up the short stretch of dirt road to the second aid station together. I filled up my water bottle and headed up the trail after Lister and the first place woman. Eric stayed and was telling the aid station volunteers about the trail marking situation. I felt a little guilty about passing him while he was trying to get the trails fixed but I figured he would be back on me shortly.

After another climb we started the long descent into Shingletown. I still felt good so I started pushing it. I passed the first place woman and Lister in one dash and then pushed a little more to try and put some distance between us so that I could get out of sight. Eventually I couldn't see them anymore so I kept hammering. We climbed up above Shingletown, followed the ridge for a little while, and then started the steep descent into the 3rd aid station. It was then that I heard something behind me again and turned around and saw Lister not far behind. I tried to hurry, took a wrong step and careened off the trail into the boulders. Luckily, I was able to keep my footing and not crash, and I recovered and got back on the trail. At the aid station I stopped to refill my water bottle and David dashed past and started the ascent up the boulders of the Shingletown cliffs.
I just can't shake him!

I followed quickly and caught up with him. We chatted as we climbed, but I was concentrating on my line up the boulders and soon pulled ahead of him. This climb kicked my butt the first year that I ran this and I bonked at the top. I felt pretty good this year and was able to start back up pretty quickly at the top. I knew David was right behind me so I was pushing pretty hard. Of course I ended up kicking a stone really hard with my right big toe and bit the dust. I was able to catch myself with my hands and didn't hit the ground too hard, but my toe definitely hurt. I scrambled back up and continued on. Every time I looked back, David was right there, about 10 yards behind. I could not shake him, and I was pushing pretty hard. I didn't know how long I would be able to keep this up.

A descent off Bald Knob, a run along the creek, and then an ascent back up to the top, and he was still there. It seemed like I could put a little ground on him on the climbs, but it wasn't by much. I was not walking much of the climbs at this point, because I didn't think I could afford to. A quick descent followed by a short climb brought me into the last aid station, with David about 20 yards behind. I didn't stop for water this time (I had a enough left in my bottle) and started right up the last ascent. I had been hoping that this was steep enough that I could walk a lot of this but when I got on it I realized that I should be running most of it or I would be giving away time. Darn! I had been pushing pretty hard for awhile now and was ready for a break, but I realized there would be no more breaks until the end if I wanted to have a chance against David. He has generally owned me in races, especially at the end, and I wanted a chance to come out on the positive end for once.

Last climb out of aid station 4.
I was not gaining ground, however, and when I started on the last descent he was 20 yards behind me and slowly gaining ground. I ran as hard as I could, on the edge of losing control, but darn him, he was still there. We got almost to the bottom and I yelled back to him something about giving me a break but he was relentless. This was exciting, I have to admit, and I have rarely been in this close of a competition at the end of a long trail race. We hit the pavement for the last half mile and he was right behind me. As we started up the gradual incline of the road, he pulled up beside me and I complimented his running, all the while trying to think of the appropriate strategy to beat him in the end. With 1/4 mile to go, I didn't want to lost touch with him, and he didn't seem to have enough left to bury me, so I hung on. I thought that I'd wait until we make the turn with 100 meters to go and then pull out everything that I had left. We hit the turn and I bursted with everything that I had left. I quickly gapped him and just kept sprinting until I crossed the line.

Sprint to the finish.
I kept running while taking off my watch and timing chip, hit the dock of the lake and jumped into the lake. As I was going under, I realized that I was out of breath and needed to breathe so I opened my mouth and tried to breathe while I was under water. Big mistake, obviously. I took a mouthful of lake water, panicked a little and tried to get to the top as fast as I could. I came up sputtering and coughing and breathing hard. Eventually I got my breath again and got closer to the shore where I could stand. I just stood there in the water, bent over, and trying to recover from the sprint and the water in the lungs.

After a minute, I walked over and shook David's hand and congratulated him on a relentless race and a fun morning. I was surprised that I had come out on top this time, and that I felt so good and had so much left at the end. After the failure of Massanutten, this one felt good. This is one of the reasons that I love trail running. The competitors are good people, overall, and it has been fun competing with guys like David (and women like Meira) this last year, even if they have kicked my butt most of the time. They are fun to run with and fun to compete against. This is also a great, well-organized race, and the Flemings and volunteers are to be congratulated for the great job that they do.
Tired, but happy.

Speaking of Meira, she ended up having a tough day and took a big spill early on and injured her back. She did finish but was unable to successfully defend her title. Jacob Loverich was able to successfully defend his men's title. I finished in 4th place, about 15 minutes behind him. I changed clothes, got a massage, ate some good food, took advantage of the Sheetz truck, and then watched as some of my friends came in, one after the other. It was a good day for me and gives me a shot of confidence going into the Laurel Highlands 70 miler this weekend. Thanks to Jeff Lister and John Fegyveresi for the photos.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

MMT: The Next Morning

I'm an idiot. It is the next morning, there are still many people out on the mountain, and I am already thinking of what I need to do differently to be successful the next time. Last night I said there will be no next time. But if I could just figure out what to eat, it would all be different. There has to be a solution out there that I just haven't found yet. Or, maybe I just need to go with what got me through two 100s, plan on vomiting and/or passing out, and get on with it. The problem is, the passing out and vomiting, if done in that order, is potentially dangerous, especially if I am alone at the time. I don't want to put myself in that situation, which is ultimately why I dropped out yesterday. I have taken myself to that edge before, and I knew that is where I was heading yesterday. If I am going to run any more of these things, I have to be willing to take a DNF, rather than put myself in a dangerous situation. Preferably, however, I'll figure something out that works and my odds of success will increase.

These 100s take a pretty big investment from me: planning time, training time, money, physical and psychological effort. I'd like to have a better chance of success. Could I just buck up and be persistent and stick with it until I finish? Maybe. But when this could result in a really dangerous situation, it isn't worth it to me at this point in my life. Am I just trying to justify my DNF? Maybe, but I don't think so. Being smart and properly evaluating what is going on is important. Some people are so driven that they don't do this and it ends badly for them. I don't want to do this. I'm enjoying too much what I've got right now that I don't want to jeopardize it.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Oh, Massanutten Mountain

 I got "lucky" this year and made it through the lottery for entry into the Massanutten Mountain 100 mile trail race (MMT) near Luray, Virginia. This spring I attempted to train both for speed (Boston Marathon) and distance (MMT), not being sure how that would work out. The speed part definitely worked (3:01 at Boston) but after today I am not sure that I adequately prepared for the MMT.

Part of my crew.
I felt pretty good this week coming into the MMT, although my left calf was injured sometime in the last week and I don't know when. I was worried about this and took a couple days off. The weather looked to be great for race day(s) and I was excited about that. I find that the 100 mile distance really weighs on me psychologically, however. It really is a heck of a thing to attempt, and I always approach it with a combination of dread and excitement. This one was no different. Since I've done the distance successfully a couple of times, I questioned why I was attempting it again. I don't have that same motivation as the first time. I figured I might as well give this one a good go and see how fast I could do it, rather than just trying to finish. I knew there was a possibility that could end badly, but it was something to do.

I was trying out a few new strategies, from a nutrition and hydration standpoint. The other two hundred mile races that I have run have had some really bad spells with vomiting and passing out and the like and I was trying to avoid this. I was going to try to get most of my nutrition with gels (Mandarin Orange Gu), taking two an hour, and drink water with Elete electrolyte additive. I had kind of tried this strategy on a three hour training run and it went okay so I hoped I would be okay for something longer. I expected to eventually not be able to take any more gels, and would have to add in some other food of some sort (PB&J, etc.).

I woke up at 2am this morning, to eat a bagel with peanut butter and jelly. I really didn't want to get the whole thing down, as it seemed like a lot, but I figured I needed the carbs. At 2:45am, Marvin Hall (my planned pacer for later in the day) drove me the half hour into the race start. It was about 45 degrees out and a beautiful morning/night with a quarter moon hanging over the valley between Massanutten and Green Mountains. I got out, put on a light jacket and hydration pack and went into the tent to wait for the start. At 4:00am, the race started.

I felt pretty good initially. The start of this race is a long climb up to the top of Short Mountain, but it wasn't too steep and I ran nearly all of it at a decent pace. The first 4 miles were road and then it hit the single-track for 8 miles to the first crewed aid station. Shortly after starting on the single-track, I caught a rock with my trailing toe and went down. It wasn't too bad and I just scuffed up my hands. I really enjoyed this section, with only my headlamp for illumination. It was very rocky, at least as rocky as the Central PA trails, and this made it interesting. The whip-poor-wills were singing in the dark and as the light broke the towhees started in.

After a nice long downhill rocky section, which I really enjoyed, we got into the first aid crewed aid station at mile 12. I was in the top 10 at this point and feeling pretty good. When I pulled out the bladder from my hydration pack, however, I realized I had not been drinking as much as I should have. I thought I was doing okay, put I really wasn't liking the taste of the water. I think it was a combination of the motel water, bladder taste, and the Elete. Anyway, I filled it up again and took off.

Jonas and I running into Elizabeth Furnace (mile 33).
Over the 8 miles to the next aid station, I still felt pretty good but I was not able to get down as many gels as I was planning on. I still couldn't drink as much as I should have been drinking. In spite of this, I was passing people. I think I passed three or 4 guys during this stretch and actually came into the mile 20 aid station in fourth place.

It started to get ugly on the way to the next aid station, however. My legs were weak and I still wasn't able to eat or drink appropriately. I knew I was starting to run a deficit on nutrition and hydration that it would be difficult to come from, but trying to eat or drink was making me nauseous. This was too early in the race for this to be happening. Aaah! It wasn't supposed to happen this way. When I got into the mile 25 aid station, I had to take some extra time to try to allow my stomach to settle. I got passed by a bunch of guys here. I walked for close to a mile coming out of the aid station.

I was looking forward to the next aid station at mile 33 because it is the first place that I would see my family/crew. It was a long slog, however, but i was able to pick it up a little on the last long descent into the aid station and felt half decent coming into the aid station. I did hit the ground hard at one point, after tripping over a tree root, but there was no damage other than a dirty shirt. I spent some time at this aid station again to try to allow my stomach to settle. I started drinking soda and eating PB&J. After a little time sitting and a clean shirt, I headed back out. I had spent too long here but once again I felt I needed to let my body divert some resources to my gut.

Stumbling into Shawl Gap (mile 38).
The next section got even tougher. I dropped the hydration pack for a handheld water bottle bottle because the section was only about 5 miles. The water tasted better and I drank more but I ate nothing. There was a good climb followed by a good descent but my stomach started cramping on the descent and it became difficult to run. I weekly ran into the aid station and thought about dropping out. I wasn't feeling terrible yet, but knew with my inability to get calories in that I would run into trouble soon if I didn't turn it around. I decided to lay down for 20 minutes to see if that would help. I was able to drink Ginger Ale but took no food. The laying down helped a little and I eventually walked away from the aid station, hoping for the best.

The next 3 mile section into Veach Gap (mile 41) was all dirt road and I had to walk most of it, even the downhills, as my stomach continued to cramp. I was determined to not spend much time at Veach Gap, and I drank some more soda, thought about dropping out again, and got up and headed down the trail. The next aid station was 9 miles away, with a nasty two mile climb to start, and I knew it might be a problem to make it that far with little caloric intake. I started the climb, and it was the toughest so far, got near the top where there was an incredible view of the valley below, sat on a rock and contemplated my options. The climb had taken a lot out of me and I still had 7 miles to the next aid station. I seriously doubted my ability to make it without passing out and there would not have been an easy way to get me out. The day had gone wrong far too early and I didn't see it turning around any time soon. I just didn't think it was safe to continue so I got up and headed back down the trail the wrong way.

I probably passed a dozen runners on my run of shame down the mountain. I finally reached the aid station and had them call my crew to come pick me up. On the way back to the motel I acquired a milk shake and enjoyed it. I took a shower, took a nap, and I finally felt like eating again so we ordered in Pizza Hut for supper. I enjoyed it.

I feel bad for quitting. I had pacers lined up, people wishing me well, and a day full of promise at the start. I thought I ran within myself and had a real chance to have a good performance here. It did not turn that out way. What are you going to do? There are good days and bad days. This was the latter. I didn't even enjoy the trails, which overall were nice, after mile 20. I don't feel like I need to come back and prove anything. I've done the distance, although not here, and while this was a tough course, it wasn't that bad. It is now 10:30pm as I write this and the ridiculous thing is that if I hadn't dropped I would still be out there on that mountain. If it had been a good day, I would still be out there running for another 3 hours. That's just stupid (by the way, I have about 48 hours of leeway here were I can say anything and then take it back later).

Friday, April 27, 2012

Hyner Challenge

Pre-race chatting.
Has someone been slipping something in my water? There is no way that I should have felt as good as I did on Saturday at the Hyner Challenge (25K trail race) five days after running Boston. Last year I ran Hyner seven days after Garden Spot Marathon and Hyner kicked my butt. This year I had less rest and my quads were more beat up from the downhills of Boston. I definitely still had soreness in my legs...but they could still run, for some reason.

I figured at some point during the race my legs would get heavy and I would slow down but, after my experience at Boston, I figured that I might as well give it a go and see what happens. The weather was nearly perfect with the temperature in the 50s and overcast. Hyner starts with a 1/8 mile steep downhill and then runs on a flat asphalt road for about a mile before hitting single-track and starting to climb. If you are looking for a good time, it is best to run a quick first mile because it can be difficult to pass for awhile on the single-track. I started out at the front but immediately got passed by 30 people at the start with their irrational exuberance. I looked down at my Garmin when we hit the road and saw that I also had been a little exuberant as I was running a sub-6 pace. I eased up a bit, but not much, as I wanted to get past many of these people. I felt the soreness in my legs immediately but was just hoping they would wait to crash for 16 miles. I was hoping for a top ten finish here, but was prepared for it to get ugly and be much worse. I was a little astonished after the first mile when I looked down and saw I just ran a 6:15 mile.

Finally we hit the single-track and I settled in behind Eric Marshall. He is a good trail runner and had kicked my butt in races all last year, but I had at least been in the same neighborhood as him in time, so I hoped to stay close to him for awhile. The second mile is fairly flat single-track before you turn the corner and start the big climb to Hyner View (about 1200 feet in less than two miles). We started passing people going up the climb and I was able to mostly stick with him. Partway up the climb it flattens for a short stretch and I still felt good so I passed him on the run and kept going. I finally reached the top and had to look back and enjoy the view for a few seconds before turning and hitting the aid station.

Next comes a steep 1.75 mile descent that I was worried about. I knew this would be a quad-pounder and was just trying to avoid braking as much as possible without losing it on the steep parts. I made it down to the aid station at the bottom and someone told me that I was in about sixth place, which surprised me because I hadn't realized how many people I had passed in the first two miles. I then began the long second climb which is a gradual ascent along a creek bed for a three miles before rising more sharply for a mile to the top. Last year my legs had given out in this section and I had a long slow slog to the top. This year, they still felt good and I was making good time. I was hopeful that I could continue my good pace. The aid station at the top had a large crowd of spectators and I've got to admit that it was a bit of a rush to run through there, still feeling good.

I knew I could run the next downhill section, Post Draft, at a good pace. It is about a two mile long gradual, rocky descent that can really be hammered if you aren't afraid of rocks. I took off and as I got close to the bottom I saw two guys ahead of me. I picked up the pace as much as I could and finally caught them at the bottom. There is no reprieve here as you immediately start up the last steep mile ascent, culminating with the appropriately-named S.O.B., a short 50 meter hand over foot scramble up a gas line cut. I passed the other two runners at the beginning of the ascent and tried to put some quick distance between us. My legs still felt amazingly springy. I finally reached S.O.B. and just tried to stay on the mountain (not necessarily a given here) to the top.

The start of the 50K race with the real men and women.
I hit the last aid station, where they told me I was fourth, took my last Gu and took off. The next two miles is a mostly flat dirt road on top of the ridge, before you hit the single-track again. Last year I just wanted to walk this section, as my legs were dead. This year I still felt good and was able to reel off a couple miles at around a 7:30 pace. I was hoping I could reel in two of the guys in front of me but all I knew is that they were multiple minutes ahead of me and I couldn't see them. As soon as I hit the single-track and started the last two mile descent I pounded the downhill. I was just hoping to catch a glimpse of them at some point. In spite of running a 6:57 for the last full mile, I never did see them. I finally made it to the finish in 2:32:22, three minutes out of second place and 14 minutes out of first. I had been contemplating doing a somersault as I crossed the line but when I got to the finish there were a lot of people and I wimped out. Congratulations to Meira Minard, who reclaimed her title this year (after also running Boston five days ago) and Jacob Loverich, who added another impressive win to his resume.

I was ecstatic at the finish. My legs never gave out on me and I took 22 minutes off of my time from last year. I am not sure what the difference is between last year and this year, but I am running so much better. I would hypothesize that it is the weight work that I am doing, since that is the major difference in my training. I have been doing P90X routines three or four days a week since the beginning of February, working on my upper body, core and lower body, as well as some yoga. Thank you, Tony Horton. I feel so much stronger at the end of races and apparently recover pretty well, also. Whether it is the water or the weights, I don't care, because I am having fun and feeling good.

Now on to concentrating on my preparation and last few weeks of training for Massanutten.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Boston Marathon 2012

Kicking it to the finish on Boylston Street.
I'll admit that I am a little disappointed with Boston this year. I had a great winter/spring of training and felt like I was in the best shape I've ever been in. I went to Boston with a goal of beating my PR (personal record, in my case 2:58:59) in the marathon. Although I don't feel that Boston is a good course to set a PR in, I felt I had the fitness to do it. The two things that I knew I had no control over, however, were the weather and the way I would feel that morning (while I have some control over how I feel, there is a certain element that is uncontrollable).

A week out from the race, the weather forecasts started to get ugly. The temperature forecast kept climbing every day, finally topping out at a forecast high of 89 degrees for Patriot's Day. The actual temperature at the start in Hopkinton at 10am, according to the BAA web site, was 79 degrees, and it ended up being 85 degrees when the men's winner finished just after noon. I can certainly attest that between noon and 1pm, it definitely felt hotter.

The other issue was that midweek before the race I felt a cold coming on. A sore throat and cough soon settled in and by race morning, I woke up with a headache as well. This was not supposed to happen, but quit whining and run already. I thought about checking myself for a fever, but I didn't really want to know at that point.

With the forecast in mind, I changed my goals a little. My main goal now became to re-qualify for Boston by at least 10 minutes (less than 3:15) so that I can run it next year with my niece, Laura. After much thought, however, I decided I would still go out at close to my original goal pace (around 6:35 per mile) while it was still relatively cool and see how I felt along the way. After all the training, I didn't just want to give up on running a fast race. I told myself, however, that if it started to get difficult, I would back off the pace so I wouldn't overdo it in the heat. I did still want to finish, at least.

At 9:30am, as we walked to the starting line in Hopkinton, we could definitely feel the heat. I sought shade by the side of the road, rather than getting into my starting corral right away, and I sat down on some wet grass to wait until it got closer to the starting time. I saw one of the other Nittany Valley Running Club members, Andy Cunningham, who had qualified with the exact same time that I had, and called him over. We sat in the shade until 10 minutes before the start and then got in our corral (number 3). I had never actually started in my assigned corral at Boston (I had always went to the back of the first wave and let everyone else get a good start before I went so there would be more running room) so I wasn't sure how crowded it would be at the beginning. The gun went off and we were on our way.

Andy and I ran together at first but there wasn't much running room right away. After we talked about our desired paces, he wasn't interested in running quite as fast as I wanted to so we ended up separating fairly soon. The first two miles I could not run the pace that I wanted to (6:30-6:35) because there were just too many people. It would have taken extra effort to run faster and I was okay with taking it a little easy because of the conditions. After the first two miles, however, I was able to settle into a faster pace and started getting some miles in the 6:30s. At Boston, there are aid stations with water and Gatorade every mile so I started with a strategy of getting Gatorade one mile and then water the next. The Gatorade I would drink (while walking to the side because I never like getting it up my nose, which is what happens when I try to drink while running) and the water I would dump on my head. Fortunately, I never confused this.

After the first 5K however, I was drinking Gatorade every two miles and getting water and dumping it on my head every mile. I was determined to try to keep my core temperature down, especially in light of my cold. The frequent walking while drinking definitely cut into my time as those miles when I drank my splits were slower. My goal was to run comfortably and not try to make up time. I did not want to push it early and pay for that later.

Every few miles, I made a point to do a body check and see how I felt. Surprisingly, I continued to feel pretty good as the miles added on and did not feel like the heat was dragging me down. I was hoping to get through Wellesley (about 11 miles), at least, at a pretty good pace (sub-3:00) and then see how what I could do. I got a bump from the Wellesley screaming and cruised though the halfway point in 1:28:53. I was pretty excited about this, especially because I was still consistently churning out miles in the 6:40s. By this point I was taking water from spectators whenever I could and dumping it on my head. I knew the Newton Hills, and eventually Heartbreak Hill, were coming up at miles 15-21 and would undoubtedly slow me down but I felt ready for the challenge.

I hit the first couple hills and took them in stride. I even through in a 6:28 mile at mile 16 for fun. The hill before Heartbreak, however, took a little out of me. I knew Heartbreak was going to kick my butt a little, but I was determined to just steadily work my way up it, take what it would give me, and then see what I could do on the other side. I did not want to redline it any point when attacking the hills and have a really ugly end to the day.

A 7:29 mile up Heartbreak did take some of the wind out of my sails, but I was able to reel off another 6:50 mile on the back side so I had some hope for keeping it going. The next four miles, however, would see the distrance and the heat catch up to me. Although miles 22-24 show and elevation drop of 150 feet, I will say that it doesn't feel like it at that point in the race, at least not to me. It is rolling, and then the last two miles are overall flat, while rolling. My headache, which had largely been absent up to this point, came back and I really started to feel the heat. My legs were heavy and I guess you could say I was hitting the wall. I knew at this point that unless I really pushed it, I was not going to get under 3 hours, so I decided to just get home without pushing it. It was, perhaps, the easy way out. Is it also the smart way out? Maybe, I don't know. I would like to push through one of these some time but this day was probably not the day to do it.

I "limped" through the last two miles. I saw more than one guy being carted off on a stretcher during this time, so close to the finish. I hit the turn onto Boylston Street and cranked it up for the last straightaway. The crowd noise is so amazing at this point, that it just carries you to the finish.

I was pretty ecstatic to cross the line with such a fast (for me) time. I wouldn't have believed you if you had told me that I would run a 3:01:58 on a day this hot. I really don't know why I felt so good so deep into the race. I am definitely not heat acclimated yet. It was a brutal day for so many. Most people I know ran at least 20 minutes slower than they typically do. I was smart about trying to keep cool, but so were so many others that did not have such a good day. I managed to score some ice in my hat, at one point, that sustained me for awhile. I also managed to grab an ice pop from a kid in the Newton hills (he was handing them to runners, honest) that was a pick-me-up. I'm not sure what the overall lessons are. Perhaps good hydration, keeping the body cool, and just taking what you can while you can is important.

Having said all that, I did physically feel pretty beat after this one. I was eyeing up places along the street to go to pass out and vomit, if necessary, because I felt a little vomitish. I found a concrete bench to lay on for a little while, until my head cleared up a bit. I was also eyeing the wheelchairs with desire. The bag of chips was helpful, but nothing else, in their food bag (why do they have such a crappy food bag after this race with as much money as you pay to run it).

This will probably be my last fast road marathon of the year. I may run one more road marathon with my daughter in the fall. I would still like to make a new PR, but given my age of 46 I realize that I am trying to outrun father time. It may not happen, and that is okay. I'm not willing to spend as much time as I used to pounding pavement for speed when the trails are so much more fun. Speaking of trails, now I have four days to recover before taking on the Hyner Challenge 25K again on Saturday. It could be ugly, the way my quads feel now, but it will be fun.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Mile Run (Tiadaghton) Trail Half Marathon

I've been looking forward to this one since last fall when I ran it in the snow. It is the first local trail race of the year and there was a good turnout of close to 300 runners, despite the dreary weather. The temperature was in the lower 40s and there was a fine drizzle and fog the whole time. I made a wardrobe change at the last minute to a thicker long sleeve shirt and gloves. The gloves came off a few miles in but the shirt was perfect.

This race has a 10am start which is a nice change from starting early. This course has lots of rocks and they were wet and treacherous. We started out with a 1/4 mile dash up a dirt road before hurtling into the woods on some rocky singletrack. One guy behind me apparently hurtled a little too much and went down with loud cursing and crashing. He probably slipped on a wet rock and for the next 13 miles I was very careful with where I stepped when there were rocks around.

I started out in about 10th place but felt good and started to work my way up during the first climb. About five miles in Pat Singletary caught up to me on an uphill stretch and I figured that would be the last I would see of him. He is a much better runner than I am and can really crank on the uphills. His only weakness is the technical stuff, which is how I was able to get ahead of him in the first place. The middle part of this course is not too technical but the beginning and end are tough.

I hit the last aid station at about mile 9 and still felt good. Unfortunately there is a steep, but not too long ascent, right after the aid station. As I got close to the top, I could see a lone figure in front of me. When I reached the top I started pushing to see if I could catch him. I gradually caught up to him and then on a long straight stretch I could see Pat and another runner up ahead. I passed the first guy and then we reached the long  3 mile descent to the finish. I knew it was technical but I just started flying. I flew past Pat and the other guy and danced through the rocks.

I finally got down to where the trail was supposed to cut back out to the road and to my horror saw that they had changed the finish. The course now went straight up the mountain over large boulders with no trail, just orange ribbons marking the way. I started climbing and this part was really treacherous. After climbing part way up the mountain, the course turned and took me horizontally along the mountain and then eventually dropped back down. Finally I was back on real trail.

After the obligatory dash underneath Route 80 in a tunnel where the stream ran, I hit the road and ran the last 1/4 mile uphill to the finish. I still felt strong, much more so than the last two times I have run this race. I finished in 4th place in 1:46.

It was a lot of fun again but I wouldn't mind running it in dry conditions some time. The course features a good mix of single-track and ATV trail with some steep ascents and descents to make it interesting. This is one race I plan on doing whenever I can.

The only downside this year was that I missed running the Garden Spot Marathon, which was also today. Some of my family ran it and my daughter ran the half marathon. I've got to say, though, that this was much more fun than pounding the pavement for 26 or 13 miles. Next up is Boston. I feel like I am in some of the best shape of my life, but of course there is no guarantee that will translate to a fast time on any given day. The weather that day and any number of other things can make a marathon turn ugly.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Seneca Creek 50K

Meira, Pat and I at the first stream
crossing, when I still had legs.

Pat Singletary, Meira Minard and I traveled down to Maryland to run the Seneca Creek Trail Marathon/50K, which took place this morning, and those two sure know how to crush the last 10 miles. The advertised distances in this race are just wrong: the marathon is about 30 miles and the 50K is almost 34 miles. The Race Director knows this, of course, but that is part of the charm. We set out to do the "50K" but you don't really have to decide until mile 16, when the "50K" people take an extra 3.5-4 mile loop around a lake. Of course while you are doing this, some of the marathoners are getting in front of you on the main trail and you have to get around them later on.

You've got to love a race where the Race Director starts the race by saying "Is everyone here? Okay get out of here!" The three of us started out together and they took the smart/conservative route for those who have never gone that distance and didn't push the early pace. I got around a few runners a mile in and thought I'd try to push it a little to see what would happen. I was hoping to run a similar early pace to what I had run last year, but not bonk in the end like I did last year. My legs, however, started to feel heavy early, around 6 miles in, and I soon discovered I probably wasn't going to be able to hold as good a pace as I had last year. A little more tapering probably would have taken care of that, but this wasn't necessarily one of my goal races (those would be Boston and Massanutten) this spring so I hadn't done a proper taper.

Meira coming out of the stream.
Meira, Pat and I actually ended up running a similar pace after the first few miles and around mile 17 or so I saw them in the distance through the woods and it seemed that they were starting to catch up to me. I tried to pick it up a little because I was afraid if they caught me I would not be able to hang on to their pace. By mile 23, however, I figured it was inevitable and I would rather run with them and waited for them to catch up and let them lead so I wouldn't be in their way. The next 10/11 miles were quite a ride. 

They were running a great pace for the end of a trail ultra and looked good while my legs were feeling a bit beat. I believe their strategy of holding off a bit at the beginning was paying off for them. I just tried to hang on to the back of the train and not let go. What happened next was kind of fun. I got to watch while they took turns in the lead and went on the hunt. We'd see some unsuspecting runner in the distance and I would say to myself, "Oh shoot, here we go again." The pace would quicken, I would struggle to keep up, and soon we would blow by that runner and head for the next. Finally one older gentleman refused to let us pass. He tried to stay in front and block our attempts to pass, but he had to eventually give up. Meira and Pat were on fire. They would drop me going up hills and then I would struggle to get back in contact going down the hills. I kept telling myself to just hold on for another 1/4 mile and then repeated that.

Another stream crossing.
Finally we made it to the finish line in 4:42 and ran across together (okay, Meira beat us by 1/2 a second), in 3rd, 4th and 5th place, beaten only by nipple-ring man and some other guy. As we were sitting around eating the race food afterward, it was admittedly fun to hear a number of guys say something to the effect of "I thought I was doing okay and then these three blew by me." This year the trail was about 2.5 miles longer than last year but Meira even beat the women's course record for that shorter course (and was close to beating the marathon course record when it was only 27.5 miles long).

And then there is Pat. Someone please explain to me how a guy who has never run farther than 16 miles at once in his life can more than double that distance in a race and crush the ending. It defies conventional wisdom. After today, I wonder why I'm doing longer training runs (oh yeah, I do kind of enjoy them). I understand that he normally runs a faster pace than me so the pace was easier for him, but still, it was twice as far!

It was truly a pleasure to run with these two, although I'm going to feel it for a few days. I wouldn't have finished nearly as well without them pulling me. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention the shoe-sucking mud. It had stormed the week and night before and the trail was a mess. It kind of added to the fun.

Pat and Meira.
Mud on the back of Pat's legs.