Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Fun and Mud at the Finger Lakes Fifties

Running through the first cow pasture during the first loop.
The 25th anniversary edition of the Finger Lakes Fifties was held on Saturday, July 6, 2013. I had heard about the race for years from friends who have run it and finally decided to check it out myself. Registration for the race opens January 1st of every year and it fills up quickly so I had to make a decision early in the year. I decided to sign up for the 50 mile version, although you can change your mind mid-race and drop back to the 50K. The course consists of three 25K loops, with an extra half mile baby loop at the end if you do the 50 miler. There is also a 25K option, although you have to register specifically for that as it starts at 8am versus 6:30am for the 50K/50 mile options.

Faith and I drove up on Friday afternoon and had reserved a room at the Red House Country Inn, which is actually located on the course, on the only paved section of road that is on the course. This inn was 1.5 miles from the start/finish so it was the most convenient place to stay that didn't involve pitching a tent. There was a group of others from State College that were also staying there. All of them were just doing the 25K except for Tara Murray, who was taking on the 50K.

On Saturday I got up at 5am, ate some Cheerios, and Faith drove Tara and I to the start. The morning was already warm, probably around 70 degrees, and humid. We met a few other 50 milers from State College, John Fegyveresi and Rich Bundro, near the starting line and chatted till it was time to start. The race started and we were off. My goal was to stay in the 9 to 10 minute per mile range as long as I could and see what developed. I've been having a lot of calf trouble, especially with the left one, and I was very concerned that it wouldn't last 50 miles, let alone 50K. I was trying to take it as easy as possible on that left calf.

The majority of this course was single-track, with some double-track, dirt road, horse trail and just about a 1/4 mile of blacktop thrown in. It had rained a lot the weeks before so mud was a major issue. This was the muddiest course I have run, although the Vermont 50 was pretty close a few years ago. The trails that horses were allowed on were in the worst condition for running and they just got worse and worse with each successive loop. All in all, however, the course has a pretty good variety and was enjoyable to run. There are three cow pastures where you actually have to open and close gates behind so that the cows don't get out. These are kind of the signature parts of the course. The one pasture gave great views of the Seneca Lake valley as we were up in the surrounding hills of the Finger Lakes National Forest.

I ran a 2:33 split for the first 25K loop, which is about what I wanted to do. My calf had been bugging me some, especially around mile 13, but the pain had faded a little so I was hopeful. The announcer said I was in 10th place (including 50K and 50 milers since everyone could still choose at that point) when I went through the finish line at that point. I still felt pretty good, although it was getting hotter. I had carried a water bottle from the start and I started to fill it with ice at every aid station, as well as putting ice in my hat to try to keep my core temperature down. Most of the aid stations were about 3 miles apart so it was easy to keep icing up. I was eating some PB&J sandwiches, eating Pringles, and taking in some Heed as well. I started to gradually pass some other 50K/50 mile runners during this loop and kept up a decent pace. My second loop split was 2:41.

I got to the end of the second loop and had to decide. It was really hot by now and there are parts of the course that aren't shaded to the mid-day sun so I knew the last loop would be the most brutal. My calves were still in decent shape and hadn't really gotten any worse during the second loop. I really didn't have a good reason to quit, so I felt like I needed to keep going and complete the thing. I changed my shirt and hat, put on more sunscreen, grabbed some food and walked out of there. The first mile of each loop was downhill and I started running after I was done eating and felt pretty good. Then I hit the uphill. My legs were very unhappy about this. It was going to be a 16 mile grind and it really hit me at that point.

So I ground it out. I ran when I could but I took more walk breaks on the uphills. I started to take a lot longer at aid stations. I'd drink multiple cups of soda with ice and ate watermelon before moving on. I've been in worse shape in races before. My stomach was okay. I could still grind out a run, even on most of the uphills. The section of road and horse trail from mile 11 to 14 of every loop was the worse. There is a lot of gradual uphill and the horses had the trail really chewed up. There was no shade towards the end of this section so it was also the hottest. I finally made it through here for the last time and knew I was almost done.

I made it back to the start/finish, did my 1/2 mile baby loop and finished in 8:30. I'm fairly happy with the time. I was hoping to do a little better but I wasn't really sure what kind of shape I was in. Course conditions were tough, although the winner was within a few minutes of the course record.

I was as spent as I've ever been after successfully finishing a race. I found a shady spot and lay there and just kept ice on my head to try to cool down. I hadn't had issues with cramping on the race course but I could feel that my legs wanted to cramp now. An older guy came through 15 minutes after I did (just finished the 50K) and I was laying there with my eyes closed and I heard him start to throw up near my head. The medics were coming over to assist. I tried to stand up to move and started to cramp. I ended up crawling away backwards just to get a little more space. I was kind of pathetic.

Fetal position recovery method.
I am very appreciative of my wife and the other State College runners who brought me ice and food while I was recovering. They all looked way too fresh, however. That is one of the great things about trail races: many of the other runners just hang around to offer support and encouragement to their fellow runners, well after their races are done. It is a fun atmosphere and even though there is certainly competition occurring (which I definitely enjoy), the camaraderie of runners is a big part of the event.

When I finally got back to the Inn and took a shower, I about went through the roof and realized how badly I had chafed. Even though I had used Body Glide liberally before the race, the humid conditions and being constantly drenched in sweat are difficult to deal with. This one will take a while to get over.

All in all, it was a fun weekend. I'm not sure I would do the 50 mile version again so soon, but I could be convinced to do the 25 or 50K. The course is enjoyable and it is well organized and the people are great.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Pocono Run for the Red Marathon

Holy Cats! I had a ridiculous run today. This was the first time I ran the Pocono Marathon, and this year the course was changed due to a bridge closing. The course features about 1500 feet of drop. This year the drop was steeper and there were bigger hills in the middle of the course, so I believe it is probably a slower course than most years, although overall still a fast course. The roads were also open to traffic the whole way, which I believe is different. When I saw this news about a month out from the race, I wasn't wildly happy about the changes but what could I do at that point?

The day dawned to drizzle and a humid 55 degrees by the start time at 8am at the Pocono Raceway. While the prevailing winds are normally from the west, today they would be in our face the whole way from the east, about 10mph. While my brother Jim is the big weather-obsession guy, I was somewhat obsessed this week. After trying to break my PR last year at Boston, I was just hoping to stay out of the 80s today. The weather actually was decent. I don't think we hit 60 degrees while I was running and the wind was somewhat lessened by all of the forest that the course ran through. We did get the full force in our face sometimes, especially at the beginning, but it certainly could have been much worse. I felt pretty good, temperature-wise.

My goal was to start out at a 6:32 pace and hold on as long as I could. I was shooting for a sub 2:57 if I had a good day, a sub 2:59 if I had a bad day, and at least hopefully sub 3:00. It has been 5 years since I ran my PR of 2:58:59 at the Vermont Cities Marathon and I was hoping better training would compensate for being 5 years older.

After I actually got started I decided to try to hold about a 6:30 for the first 11 or so miles. The first part of the course is definitely the fastest and I figured the steep downhills would trash my quads and make the hilly second half slower. I was able to stay right on plan through 11, with some miles in the 6:20s but most miles in the lower 6:30s. I settled in with another guy who was trying to qualify for Boston at 3:05. I figured he was going out way too fast but I didn't want to ruin his game plan because I didn't know what kind of shape he was in so I didn't give him any advice. He ended up fading back when the uphills started.

When the steep downhill began, I got passed by about 8 or 9 people but I let them go and figured I would pass them back later. They were pounding down the hill with reckless abandon while I was trying to preserve my quads by finding that space in between braking too hard and letting fly and pounding too much. I think my experience with steep downhills in trail races is helpful in this kind of situation. One-by-one I believe I did reel them all back in when the uphills started, except one guy who I could see but never caught. That guy actually passed me twice as he stopped to tie his shoes in the middle of the downhill.

When the hills came, some of them were long and I couldn't recover my pace for the mile in many cases. When it was flat or downhill, I was still hitting my lower 6:30s but when the mile was averaged out I was in the 6:40s and occasionally over 7:00 when there was a long hill or multiple hills. I hit the halfway mark in about 1:26:30, which is less than 45 seconds off my half marathon PR. I was really pleased with that because my legs still felt fresher than they ever have at this point.

The miles and hills went by and I continued to feel strong and began to believe that I really had a chance to do something special. I got to 18 and decided to pretend like 22 was the end of the race and to really keep pushing until then. I ran 6:32, 6:22, 6:33, 6:38. Four miles to go. I couldn't believe it. I was fairly confident that I would PR by now. That is when both calves started to hurt. They weren't painful but they felt like they were on their way to cramptown. I just kept running and hoped they would hold on.

Finally it started to feel difficult. There were still smaller hills and I was struggling a little to get over them quickly. Mile 22 was 7:02. The next two were 6:44, 6:45, and then another 7:01. With a mile and a half left, I got passed by a relay runner and tucked in behind him for a couple hundred yards. I did not want to let anything in the tank this time. My calves were starting to feel worse and I was feeling a little light-headed. I just had to get to the track (the race finishes with a lap around the Stroudsburg High School track). I cranked out a 6:36 mile and then came to the entrance to the stadium.

Realization hits and a smile begins as I approach
the finish line.
I hit the track and kicked it home. I rounded the corner and could finally read the clock and it had just turned to 2:54. I could not believe it (I don't look at overall time on my GPS, just mile pace and overall pace). I sprinted to the finish and crossed the line with a fist pump. The time would be 2:54:30, good enough for ninth place overall (not including relay teams) and a four-and-a-half minute PR! Two years of preparation and bad luck with the weather a year ago at Boston had finally come to this. I was really a little overwhelmed with it all. I couldn't stop smiling and my wife, Faith, probably thought I had gone mad.

So I ask myself what the difference was. I think there are many little things that added up to a good day. Last year before Boston I felt like I was in the best shape of my life. This year I feel like I am in equally good shape. I have been doing a kettlebell program for the last three months and this has really strengthened my core, calves and hamstrings, and upper body. Trail races this spring have really worked my leg strength, especially quad strength with running the step downhills at a fast pace. Having difficulty walking after Hyner and Greenwood Furnace was actually a good thing, training-wise. I believe having a 34 mile ultra two months ago and a marathon five weeks ago helped to prepare me for those last five miles.

About three weeks ago I read about a breathing technique where you breathe in for three steps and then breathe out for two steps. This means that your first breath out every cycle is on a different foot. This made a lot of sense to me and I gave it a try. I felt that it helped with my pacing and my tempo runs this spring using that technique were faster than normal. I believe good sleep and good eating the week leading up to the race are also very important and I was able to do that this time.

And then there are the magic shoes. I just purchased some nice lightweight racing shoes. I had some new ones for Boston last year, the Mizuno Musha, which I loved but I felt didn't have enough cushioning for the marathon. My legs felt a little beat up in the second half of the race and I thought that the lack of cushioning was at least partially responsible. A week ago I got a pair of Asics Gel-lyte 33 shoes and they felt good and weigh about 8.5 ounces for size 9.

Finally, I believe in dumb luck. I don't know why I feel great some days and bad other days. The body is a wonderfully complex and mysterious thing. Last weekend I had the flu and actually passed out on Saturday night and this weekend I had rebounded and felt great. So many things beyond my control could have gone wrong but they didn't this time. You just have to go with what you are given and do the best you can. I feel fortunate to still be running and feeling well at 47. It could certainly go the other way at any time and I will try to appreciate what I have while I still have it.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Hyner Trail Challenge 2013

According to Proverbs, "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall." This was my third year of running Hyner and it is one of my favorites, but today I would learn the lesson mentioned above. In spite of that, it was a good day. I like the 25K distance and the course features one of the best views around. The climbs are tough and the descents are technical: what could be better?
The 50K runners at the start

The day was cool, just over 40 degrees, and overcast. It was actually pretty good running weather, although fairly windy when exposed on the climbs and we got a little bit of sleet/snow during the day. The 50K runners started at 8am and then the 25K runners got going at 9am. There are about 1000 runners in the 25K, which is a large amount for a trail run. The race is on road for a little more than a mile at the start so there is time to get spread out. I lined up at the front before the start and chatted with the young bucks around me. Jacob Loverich, last year's winner, was back and I knew no one would touch him if he ran half-decently. I didn't see the guys who were second and third last year and that made me the next fastest returning runner. The three guys that beat me at Mile Run (Brock Waughen, Eric Marshall, and Adam Russell) were all there, however, and I knew they were all running really well and I would have a hard time keeping up with them, especially on the first climb.

Jacob Loverich, eventual winner, is the first 25K runner
to get to the top of Humble Hill.
In reverse order of finish, Eric Marshall, Brock Waughen
and Adam Russell are the next ones to the top.
We ripped off a 6:15 first mile and Jacob was already 50 meters ahead of everyone else. Then we hit the singletrack (Cliffhanger Trail) and we spread out some more. Brock, Eric and Adam were together in a chase group and I and a few other guys were back a little further. Finally the climbing began and the mud and 100 50K runners who had already chewed up the ground made it tough to find good footing in spots. I wasn't sure how my legs would react to running Boston on Monday but I was going to go for it until they wouldn't go anymore.

That first climb is one of the toughest around but the views on the way, and especially at the top, almost make it worthwhile. I took a Gu at the top and some water and then hit the downhill. That is the last that I would see of any other 25K runners that day until finishing. There was a runner who was right behind me at the top of the climb but as soon as we started the downhill I lost him. The first downhill isn't really technical but it is steep in a few spots so it is helpful to have run it multiple times before. My quads were taking a pounding but I was just hoping they would last 16.5 miles.

I got to the bottom and started up the second climb. I was passing a few 50K hikers at this point. One lady said, as I ran past, "Go get those young'uns!" I guess I really do look/am old. Oh well. I felt pretty good today on the climb, in fact better than last year. I got to the top and started the long rocky descent of Post Draft.

I really like this descent. It is mostly a side-hill trail and there are lots of rocks and roots but it isn't too steep. I can really fly down it. I started to think about this as I was descending and congratulating myself for being as fast as anyone on this descent. Call it hubris, arrogance, or a haughty spirit (see first paragraph), but that quickly bit me in the butt. My trailing toe caught a rock or root or something and the next thing I knew I was flying horizontally and trying to break my fall. My left hand hit first and then both knees and then I rolled. It is a weird feeling and it happens so quickly that your reactions are just pure instinct. I ended up face-down on the trail, hanging off the edge, and quickly taking stock of my body. I got up and my hand was skinned and bloody and both knees were bleeding pretty well, but not gushing. Everything else seemed to be okay so I started running again, cursing my arrogance/laziness. I felt okay so I sped back up and made sure I was picking up that back foot.
Fifth to the top, I had to hold onto my hat
to keep it from blowing off.

Meira Minard, winner of the women's 25K.
By the time I reached the bottom, I had gotten over the post-fall adrenaline and gathered myself for the final climb. I actually felt pretty good and I think I got up this faster than last year. I reached the top and started my least favorite part of the course, a relatively flat mile or so at the top of the mountain. Usually my legs are so hammered that this is a struggle, but this year I actually made pretty good time and felt fairly strong yet. Who knows why? I got to the last descent and ran it hard. I was very careful to pick up that trailing foot again and finally I reached the road successfully and ran hard for the last mile to the finish. I finished in 2:30:31, two minutes faster than last year, which surprised me.

I stayed for awhile to watch friends come in and enjoyed some of the best post-race food anywhere. I wasn't sure what to do with my "hamburger" knees but I tried to wash them off as best I could and just let them be until I got back home. It was another fun day on the trails. Jacob Loverich did win the men's race again in 2:19 and Meira Minard won the women's race again in 2:44.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Boston Marathon 2013

Laura with stroller on the way to the expo.
The Boston Marathon has always been about celebration for me. It is a 26.2 mile long party with 25,000 of your friends and another 750,000 friends-for-a-day lining the course. It is an achievement to get to Boston so it is a celebration of hard work and a day to enjoy the crowds. Other than last year, I always ran the whole thing with someone else and at a slower pace than my qualifying time. That is not to say that it isn't painful at the end. One thing I have learned over the years is that a marathon always comes down to pushing through the pain and tired legs at the end, no matter what pace I have run it at.

This year I was excited to be running it with my niece, Laura. I had run the 2011 Harrisburg Marathon with her and she had qualified there with a 3:28. This was her first Boston Marathon. She had just had her first child at the end of December so she had less than four months to get back in marathon shape, which is pretty incredible. We were staying in my Uncle's apartment in Jamaica Plain (JP) so we met there on Saturday evening around 8pm. She, of course, had husband Randy, daughter Eliana, and a ton of baby stuff with her.

Future Boston runner.
She'll grow into the shirt.
Sunday morning I went downtown to watch the mile races that the Boston Athletic Association always holds. After the races, Laura, Randy and Eliana met me and we went to the expo to get our race bags. We didn't stay long because it is crowded and the stroller didn't fit in so well amongst all the people. We caught the "T" back to JP and ate lunch at the City Feed & Supply, a nice grocery deli that sells natural foods. I really enjoy the area around my Uncle's apartment. There are a bunch of nice cafes, little grocery stores and good places to walk. We ate supper at Bertucci's and a big plate of spaghetti and bread made me happy.

Laura and I discussed having Randy drive us out to Hopkinton so we could avoid getting up so early to catch the marathon buses to the start. I kind of thought Laura should get the whole Boston Marathon experience, which includes waiting in bus lines and the long ride to Hopkinton, and I felt bad about having Randy and the baby drive us all the way out there and wait in traffic to get back. We decided to leave the apartment at 6:30am, take the T into Boston Common and get the buses. This was later than what I normally leave, which concerned me a little. I knew Laura has a different concept of time than what I do so I decided to just go with Laura time.

Great Uncle Jeff (I don't feel that old)
tickling some piggies.
We got off the subway at Chinatown and came across huge lines for the buses. The half an hour earlier that I normally arrive apparently makes a huge difference. We were walking through the common trying to decide what line to get in when we heard our name called out. There were good friends of ours, who I was hoping to run into at some point, Sonya Weber-Peters and Dwight Yoder and families. We chatted with them and this helped to pass the time as the line slowly got shorter.

We eventually got to the buses and got to Hopkinton. The Athlete's Village was jam-packed and the port-a-potty lines were huge but we had to take care of business. After finally getting through those lines, we didn't have to wait long at all before we had to leave and start the walk down to the starting line. As we were heading out, we ran in to my friend and co-worker Sarah Farrant and her virtual friend in their matching running skirts. We quickly said "hi" but we were running late and I knew it would be close to the start of the second wave when we got there. We got into our corral and within two minutes we were underway. I usually eat a bagel and banana at the Athlete's Village before the start but I hadn't had time to do it this time so I was a little worried about not having enough to eat. The Boston start time of 10:00/10:20/10:40am is always a difficult one to handle, nutritionally.

6:15am race morning.
It was a great morning to run and we settled into an 8:20ish pace. At mile 5 I saw guys holding out pizza so I ran over and got a piece. It was kind of gross but I felt better to have something in my stomach since 6am. The crowds all along the route were the normal great crowds of Boston. There is nothing else like it that I have experienced. The walls of sound at Wellesley and Boston College are incredible. I get so much energy from the people, especially the little kids holding out their hands to slap the runners "five."

I started to feel Laura's pace slow before we got to Newton (mile 15ish). I asked her if she was feeling okay and she said "what difference does it make?" Her legs were feeling sore but otherwise was okay (did I mention she just had baby at the end of December). I was feeling good; there wouldn't be any bonking today. After cresting Hearbreak Hill we just had the last 5 miles of what is my least favorite part of the route. Here our pace slowed more. This part of the course contains some downhill and flat sections, with a little uphill mixed in, but it just seems so long and difficult, probably because of where it is in the race. We eventually turned onto Boylston where more loud cheering greeted us and hit the finish in 3:47, an excellent effort for being less than 4 months post-pregnancy (Laura, not me).

After getting our food and bags, we headed for the subway for the trip back to JP. It was then that the day turned tragic. We heard a loud BOOM, followed shortly by another one. My first thought was "that  doesn't sound good" but there wasn't anything that we could see and Laura was struggling a bit to walk to we continued to the subway and got on it. A lady on the subway was talking on her cell phone and said something bad had happened downtown. When we got back we turned on the news and watched the bombing story unfold.

Originally we were going to stay over Monday night but we eventually decided to pack up and leave that night. Officials were encouraging people to leave town and they basically shut off downtown, including the T. It is unimaginable to me that someone would plant bombs amongst random people and set them off. I'm not going to go into a political rant because we don't know yet who did it and why. For now, suffice it to say that there are some cowardly people in the world that really don't deserve to be part of the human race. I am sure the marathon will live on and will continue to fill up. It is impossible to stop the kind of nonsense that occurred Monday but that won't stop the celebration of life and health that is the marathon.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

2013 Mile Run Trail Challenge

The start of the race with Marshall and the two
Waughen brothers in front.

The first local trail race of the season took place March 30 near Lewisburg. The Mile Run Trail Challenge is a half marathon with some good vertical and plenty of rocks. I like the course and the half marathon distance. For some reason I was really nervous before this one. I had been fourth last year and I knew I had a shot to win it so I guess that had me excited. The temperature was good this year, about 40 degrees, but there was snow on the north side of the mountains, up to 3" in spots, which made footing slippery in spots.

The race starts at 10am, which I appreciate, because it takes me about an hour to get there and I don't have to wake up so early. The gun went off and the Waughen brothers and Eric Marshall went right to the front. I was behind them, followed closely by David Lister, John Johnson and Adam Russell. Eric and the brothers began to pull away and I let them go. I felt like I was expending too much effort and worried it would come back to haunt me. I figured I'd let them go and maybe I would get lucky and be able to catch them at the end. 

Running into the first aid station.
At the first aid station, I stopped and David and John passed me. I settled into an effort and eventually Adam passed me as well. It was a good day for running, although the snow made it a little more difficult. I was able to pass one Waughen brother, Derek, about halfway in. The next three in front of me missed a turn at one point and I was able to tag onto the back of them. During the biggest climb around mile 9, David let me past as he was having traction issues. I didn't really want to pass, because then I knew I was going to have to run scared the rest of the race, but I went for it anyway. Shortly after the top of the climb, I was able to get past John as he was having major leg cramps.

With four miles to go I just started cranking as hard as I could, knowing I was being chased by really good runners. The descent after the last aid station goes over the same ground as the original ascent and it is rocky and about three miles long. There was no snow here so I could really press, in spite of the rocks. I finally got down to the tunnel and couldn't see anyone behind me or in front of me.

I thought my foot was going to hit bottom right here.
This year the race went under both lanes of Route 80, which was new. In prior years it just went under the westbound lane. The tunnels have creek water in them about 4-6 inches deep but are concrete so you can take them fast. I hit the end of the second tunnel and expected to put my foot in 6 inches of water and exit to my left but my foot kept going. There was a four foot hole that I just stepped in! I went into my neck and scraped up my knees good on the rocks. I floundered for a bit in the icy water and finally found my footing and got out onto dry (well, muddy) ground.

Nope, it didn't.
The last half mile was tough, as always, because it it uphill on road and I just trashed my legs with three miles of furious downhill. I made it to the finish in a time of 1:52:12, good for fourth place, and looked down and both legs were bleeding and I was soaked with cold water. What more could you want after a trail race?

Brock Waughen had ran a gutsy race and was able to hold on for the win in 1:48:48 over a hard-finishing Eric Marshall. Adam Russell finished just three seconds behind Eric. In the women's race, Ashley Moyer was able to take this first race from Meira Minard. That is going to be a fun competition to watch as Ashley is running really well and Meira is super-competitive.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Seneca Creek 50K

Dave and I leading the pack early.
This year's running of the Seneca Creek Greenway Trail Marathon and 50K was held last weekend. I traveled the three hours down to Maryland for my third year to run this gem on the outskirts of Washington DC. This year Blake Cohen traveled with me for the first time. We left State College around 4:30pm and got stuck in spring break traffic for 30 minutes until we got to the four-lane. We stopped at a small italian restaurant in Harrisburg for some pasta. I ordered some spaghetti and was informed by the cook that "we don't have pasta tonight, just pizza," so we split a pizza.

We stayed at a motel about 15 minutes from the finish. I was in bed by 10pm and up at 5am. The run is point-to-point so we drove to the finish and caught a bus to the start at 6:30pm. The day dawned cool (30 degrees) and breezy. We were at the start at 7am and had to stand around in the cool air for an hour before the race started. I was dressed for running and just had an extra garbage bag over me so I was uncomfortably cold. If the forecast had been for colder weather, I probably would have stayed home. I'll admit to being to being more of a cold wimp with every passing year.

The long time race director, Ed Shultze, had retired last year so there was new leadership this year, Harvey Sugar. Everything went well, just like before. The race is only $25 for non-club members and there is no shirt or medal. The aid stations are decently stocked, however, and the volunteers are good. The trail is great, very runnable but rolling, and muddy in spots, with a few stream crossings. You can decide halfway into the race whether you want to run the marathon or 50K. The 50K takes a loop around a lake. The marathon is actually around 30 miles and the 50K is close to 34 miles. This year the race ran in the opposite direction of years past due to parking issues at the finish. This made it uphill instead of downhill so I figured I was looking at another 10 minutes or so of running from my time last year.

I had to bust on Dave because
whenever we got to a photographer he
was in front of me.
After finishing fourth last year, I looked around before the race and saw that the first three from last year were not here. I'll admit that I thought about the possibility of winning the darn thing if I had a good race and no one too fast showed up. Having thought that, however, I also knew that someone faster always shows up.

We started off at 8am with about a mile of road and Blake led as we broke off onto the single-track. After about another mile, the pace wasn't quite to my liking so I made the pass and led until just before the first aid station at mile 6. At this point, two young brothers in red, white and blue shorts took off and I never saw them again. A few others made the pass also and suddenly I was ninth, but I didn't worry about it at this point. I wanted to run my race and figured I would pull at least some of them back in by the end.

I fell in about the same pace as Dave Stango, from near Philly, and we would run together until about mile 22. We took turns leading, depending on how we were feeling. At times, I struggled to keep up and other times I pushed the pace a little. I wanted to try to keep contact because it was great to run with someone and the miles flew by. We discussed previous races and strategies and whatever else came to mind.

At mile 22, I had been struggling to keep up a little, but I came into the aid station and got out first. I figured Dave would catch right back up with me but I didn't see him again until the end. I started to struggle in the next 10 miles as the legs got heavier and my stomach wasn't really happy with me. I was consistently pulling other runners in and passing them, however. By this point, everyone's legs are feeling heavy. With about 7 miles to go, I knew I was in fourth but I had asked someone at an aid station and found out the red, white and blue boys were far ahead. There was another runner in between us somewhere but I just bore down and tried to keep my cadence going.

Enjoying the trail and the company.
Yeah, that is Dave's arm in front
of me again.
The question "why am I doing this again" kept coming to mind as the suffering increased. I was ready to be done. Finally I was a mile from the finish. I spied a guy in the distance but I was pretty sure he was a marathoner and at that point I didn't care. He saw me and increased his pace so I wouldn't overtake him. He didn't have to worry. Most of the last two miles were uphill, the last mile on pavement, and I wasn't chasing anymore. I crossed the line in 4:54:23, twelve minutes slower than last year. Given the change in course profile, I would guess that it is about an equivalent effort with last year, although I think if I would have had someone to push me in the last 10 miles like last year (where were you Meira?) I would have knocked off a few minutes.

It was a good day for a run in the woods. Although it is the shortest ultra, 50K is not easy because the pace is so much quicker than longer runs. I may be back again next year for this one. The day did not go so well for Blake as he struggled with bad cramps and eventually DNFed. Some days you feel good and some days you don't. You rarely know at the start what will happen. That is some of the lure of running and also some of the frustration. Every day is full of promise. Just keep running and you will have that good day.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Death Valley - Final Thoughts

One of the many interesting formations in Death Valley.
January 14 - Tomorrow we all fly home after six days in the desert. It has been a good time to get to know each other and ourselves better. For me, there aren't too many opportunities to do this kind of thing and I had no idea how it was going to turn out. I was worried about being sick, as the week before I had cold symptoms. I was worried about getting injured and not being able to complete the trek, because I have never done anything quite like this before. This week was my highest mileage week by far (140 miles) and I hadn't really done the training I was hoping to do. Even though there was a lot of walking as we traveled, the longer time on our feet had consequences of its own in foot soreness and exposure to the elements.

What can I say?
I am very thankful for all of the planning that Marvin did. He had it all mapped out and I basically showed up with sneakers on. Even with that planning, we were a little fortuitous to have put in some extra miles the first three days or we might have had a problem getting to the Whitney Portal and back before it got dark. Some things you just have to make up as you go along and go with the flow. Death Valley threw wind and cold at us but I guess it could have been worse.

I am also very thankful to have had Doug along as he was an excellent guide. He has done a lot of geological field work in Death Valley and knew the area and its history well. Every day was an education as we discovered how the valley and mountains were formed and where the fault lines were and many other things. It was clear that he loves the area.

I was privileged to run with Marvin and Jim as they are both tough nuts and the conversation along the way was interesting and funny. Even though both of them were dealing with injuries, I never had any doubt that they were going to finish the trek. As the youngest of the three, I had the advantage of a younger body and youthful exuberance (I can't say that very much anymore) but they put up with me anyway.

Too much technology and only one
outlet at Panamint Springs Resort.
Is there any kind of take away from this? Perhaps. We are all capable of pretty cool things if we put our mind to it and stick with it. I think it is important to continue to challenge ourselves as we go through life (it doesn't have to involve running 140 miles) in order to grow and not be stagnant. Lack of cellular service for most of the run was also a good thing, as far as I'm concerned. It is good to just be in the moment sometimes.

Death Valley is a beautiful and rugged place. When I drove through it three years ago in the summer, my goal was to see it and then get out of it (it was hot). I did not realize how much there is to see and do, however, and I missed out on so much. I only saw what was along the road. I would like to come back and spend some more time here and explore all of the side canyons and dunes.

The information from my GPS each day is below. The scale is different for each graph so it can be deceiving to just look at them without noting the scale. The first day was mostly flat. The other days included significant climbs, the likes of which I don't see in Central Pennsylvania. The pace listed is our moving pace (not including stops) and certainly isn't fast, but it got us to the end.

And to the nuts who run this race every July in less than two days, my hat is truly off to them. I certainly have renewed respect for their accomplishment. They are truly inspiring.

Here is a video I through together of the run: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xWzFGzrnM_o.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Death Valley - Running Day 4

The long trek from Lone Pine with
the Alabama Hills in the foreground.
January 13 - Done! What a day. The trek started from Keeler at 3610 feet on the far side of the valley from Mt. Whitney and finished on the Mt. Whitney portal at 8360 feet. The weather was the wildcard as forecasts kept changing the night before. It ended up being quite cold all day. The temperature was 10 degrees as we set out at 7:20am but fortunately there was no wind. Jim's and Marvin's hydration packs froze up within minutes but I was carrying bottles and was okay. As the sun rose it warmed up quickly but I don't think it ever got above freezing. The sun felt good and the sky was a brilliant blue that made the snow-capped mountains stand out.

We made good time into Lone Pine (about 15 miles). We did stop at our motel in Lone Pine for a quick re-supply. The climb through the Alabama Hills (where many movie westerns are shot) to the base of Whitney was a beast of a climb. It was not as long as the last two days but it was relentless, with a steady steep grade and hardly any turns, and it was at the end of the day (starting at mile 15). We each picked our own pace and just ground it out.

The road beyond the base of Whitney was closed to vehicles so we met Doug there and he decided to hike up as far as he could as well. It was 3.6 miles from there to the Portal, and we would have to hike back down, making a 30 mile day. We had hoped to avoid making that far of a hike back down but the snow on the road made it a necessity.

Jim hikes to the Portal with Mt. Whitney
looming in the background.
As we climbed the temperature started to get colder. It was also clear that the sun would duck behind the mountains before too long and make it even colder. We kept a steady pace and ground out the miles. The views of the valley were incredible, as well as the views of the mountains above us. At about 7000 feet the show grew steadily deeper. This part of the road was in shadow much of the day and soon we were on two feet of snow. Fortunately, there had been enough snowshoers and hikers before us that we could hike fairly easily without sinking into the snow with every step. We had Yaktrax along but didn't have to use them.

Finally, after a couple more switchbacks, we arrived at the Portal. It was a great feeling of accomplishment to reach our destination. Badwater Basin seemed like a long distance away, both in time and miles.The trail to the top of Whitney broke off to the right but I'll have to save that for another day. I made the requisite snow angel, did a little Gangnam style dance, we took a few pictures and then we hiked it out of there. The sun was ducking behind the mountains and it was rapidly getting colder. We met Doug on the way down and he turned around and followed us down. We drove back, got cleaned up, went out for a burger and fries, and finished it up with ice cream.

After 135 miles it is great to have real trees and snow.
I do have to mention that Marvin cut through a parking lot in Lone Pine on our run, thereby violating the rules of tangent-running. He somewhat made up for it by pumping gas when the rest of us were too cold and wimpy to get out of the car, but it still just wasn't right. :-)

My legs actually felt better today than yesterday. Running was easier and they weren't quite as sore. I felt lucky to only have one blister bother me through the 139 miles and not suffer any major injuries. Jim had some shin split trouble today and the foot Marvin injured in the fall was a constant hassle for him but they both ground it out. Jim said the pain "kept him in the moment." I guess that is a good thing.

I make the all-important finishing snow angel at the Portal.
During the trek, my daily sustenance while in motion was 60 ounces of fluid (mostly water), two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, a handful of Pringles, two peanut butter cups, and a handful of peanut butter M&Ms. We were on our feet for 8-9 hours a day. A breakfast of a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios and a dinner of pizza or a burger with fries rounded out the day. I'll be ready to eat something else for awhile, although the above worked great for me and I had no stomach issues.

Doug makes the trek up Whitney.
Jim enjoys the warmth of the last of the sun on the way back down.
Tomorrow we travel back to Las Vegas and we all catch flights home on Tuesday morning. This has been a good vacation and I have been reminded again that there is no better way to see a place than on foot. Having said all of that, I don't ever have to do this entire trek again.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Death Valley - Running Day 3

Obligatory start of the day photo.
Jim and the Joshua tree.
 January 12 - Today I learned the desert can be a really cold place. After a reasonably good night at the Panamint Springs "Resort," we woke up to 20 degree temperatures for the start of our third day. We got started at about 7:15am and were greeted with a 15 mile climb and a stiff wind in our faces.

Today's climb was not as steep, overall, and not as long as yesterday's climb, but the weather was not as favorable. As we got close to 5000 feet the road leveled off and was rolling for many miles. This was high desert and we had nowhere to hide. The wind, while not nearly as strong as day 1, was tough because of the cold.

We finally got our last glimpses of the Panamint Valley and saw the Sierra Nevada range and Mt. Whitney in the distance. The snow-capped peaks were truly impressive against the clear blue sky. After what seemed like a long time at the top, we finally began the long descent towards Keeler. The descent is not nearly as long as our previous descents because Keeler's elevation is 3610 feet.

After 35 miles we finally ended up at Keeler, where Doug picked us up and drove us to our motel in Lone Pine. Tomorrow we will have 15 miles of relatively flat running before turning onto Portal Road and beginning the ascent of Mt. Whitney. Overall mileage tomorrow will be about 27 miles, although we will most likely need to walk back down a mile or more after we reach the portal because the road may be closed to vehicles due to snow.

First good glimpse of Mt. Whitney in the background.
We were all a little more quiet today as the going got a bit tougher. There was a lot of walking as the little tweaks from the previous days began to manifest themselves as more frequent and painful aches. All of the pavement is a killer. I have been trying to walk in the dirt on the side of the road as much as possible but there was less shoulder today and the road on much of the route was heavily banked due to the hairpin turns. My feet are beat up but I only have one blister so far, which is good. Marvin's foot has been giving him a lot of trouble and has made him limp earlier every day. I believe we will be fine tomorrow but there will definitely be some pain.

Last long stretch of road into Keeler, our stopping place for
the day, with the Sierra Nevada range on the left.
The sights during the first three days have been excellent. Although there isn't a lot of vegetation around, the shift in plant life and colors of the earth and mountains have been interesting. It was great to see the Joshua trees today. The rock and snow of the Sierras stand in sharp contrast to the dry environment that we have been through. I am looking forward to the experience of the climb tomorrow, as long as I wake up and can still walk. I'm not exactly looking forward to the 16 degree temperatures forecast for the morning but what can you do?

Friday, January 11, 2013

Death Valley - Running Day 2

Ready to start day 2.

January 11 - The day dawned clear and chilly. After a relatively good night of sleep, I felt a bit sore but was refreshed and ready to go. The motel at Stovepipe Wells was a decent place, although the walls were thin, but the beds were good. We ate breakfast around 6:15am, got packed and ready to go, drove the seven miles back to where we stopped the day before, and were running by 7:30am.

What a difference a day makes. The irony of it being much colder in the southern California desert than it was at home in Pennsylvania today was not lost on us. The saving grace, however, was the lack of wind. It was virtually non-existent. This was great because yesterday we had to take extra care with various bodily functions. I swear that when I peed some of it never hit the ground. It blew away and evaporated. It also took me a little practice to get the snot rocket technique down (back to the wind, head back). We were ready for calm.

When you come across the only cornfield in
hundreds of miles, you've got to take advantage
of it, even if it is the devil's.
We had a little downhill (about 3 miles) when we started but then the long climb began up to Towne Pass at 4956 elevation. The climb began below sea level and climbed for 18 miles. This is the longest sustained climb in mileage I have ever done and is just a monster. The climb up the Grand Canyon north rim has more elevation change but it is steeper so it is over much more quickly.

We walked most of it. It was a long slow slog. It did offer great views of Death Valley as we climbed and I kept turning around and walking backward to soak them in. The fighter jets constantly flying over our heads provided some diversion as well. The temperature on the climb was mid to upper 30s. I can't imagine doing it in the summer during the actual race in temperatures well over 100 degrees.

We finally crested the pass and were greeted with a somewhat more painful task of negotiating the steep downhill. We ran some and walked some; neither one of them felt particularly good on the legs and hips. Numerous times Marvin would take off at a sub-8:00 minute pace for half a mile and Jim and I would struggle to keep up.

These are the great dunes near Stovepipe Wells. I
would have liked to hike out on them but that
will have to wait for a different trip.
We finally could see our destination of Panamint Springs Resort on the far side of Panamint Valley but it looked a long way off (and it was). After making it to the floor of the valley we still had six miles of flat and then uphill running/walking. We pulled into the "Resort" around 4:30pm, finishing a long day of 38 miles. Marvin's original plan was to stop 7 miles earlier but we felt okay so we banked a few miles.

Panamint Springs Resort is no Stovepipe Wells. There is no electrical lines coming in so everything runs off a generator or gas. Our room had a little space heater in it that wasn't turned on and it was cold. There was one receptacle in the room. We took showers (thankfully the water was hot) and went to eat at the restaurant. The restaurant was cold but the 10" pizza I ordered and completely consumed and the Coke hit the spot.

This should be our longest day. Tomorrow we will look to do 34 miles or so, depending on how it goes. We will then spend the night in a real town in a real motel at the foot of Mt. Whitney.
Finally at the top.

Death Valley - Running Day 1

Badwater Basin.
At the start.
January 10 - Today I learned that the desert can be stinkin' windy. We left Pahrump, Nevada, at 5:15am for the hour and 45 minute drive to Badwater. As we drove, we realized that their was a strong wind outside as we went over Jubilee Pass and down into Death Valley. We arrived at Badwater at 7am, got out of the car and were immediately buffeted by the wind.

You've got to love pit toilets. I thought I would make use of the one there before we ran and soon ran into technical difficulty. It was so windy that when I threw my toilet paper down the hole it came right back up at me and landed on the floor. I tried again with the same result. Finally I threw it down and slammed the lid shut and that was that. 

We got our stuff together, took a few photos, and headed up the road by 7:30am. Even though it was just after daybreak, Badwater is tucked against the mountains on the eastern side of the valley so it took a long time before we actually saw the sun.

Fortunately the wind was behind us. The weather service was calling for 25-30 mile per hour sustained winds in the valley with gusts to 50mph. I believe we got it. It was nice having it behind us, but even with that it just felt like we were constantly getting beaten up. My muscles were constantly bracing against it.

The road from Badwater going north is definitely rolling with broad sweeping turns in it as it winds around the alluvial fans that come down from the mountains. There are also perfectly straight stretches that disappear into the distance. The scale of the valley is so grand that distances are very deceiving. This will be our flattest day of running but it definitely was not flat. There just aren't any steep climbs. The one climb was over two miles long but only rose a few hundred feet in elevation.

After about 17 miles we got into Furnace Creek, the first glimpse of civilization in the valley. We had been making decent time with the wind at our back, but weren't pushing it. In the distance in front of us we could see dust storms and virga (rain that doesn't reach the ground). I wasn't exactly looking forward to running through blowing dust worse than we had already run through, but what could we do? It was where we had to go. 

We stopped at Furnace Creek for about 20 minutes. There is a campground, general store, museum, park service office and some other things there. I got some iced tea in the store and we sat and ate a little food. Where we were was sheltered from the wind so it was a nice spot for a break.

It started to feel cold right before we left and as we ran off we discovered why. The wind had completely shifted 180 degrees and was now hammering us in the face. The temperature had probably dropped 10 degrees. Coming into Furnace Creek I was thinking about taking off my jacket because it was getting warm but now I wished I had gloves because I was cold.

Furnace Creek.
I have never run into wind that ferocious. The gusts were just ridiculous. At that time, I couldn't quite imagine doing that for another 17 miles. We did a lot more walking now, as it was just difficult to run when the road turned directly into the wind. Doug met us at about 21 miles and I got some Gatorade to take with me and we kept going.

Marvin's original plan had us stopping after 30 miles today. We had decided that we would probably go further, but we weren't sure how much further. I thought it was stupid to go further in that wind, but I shut up and decided I would do whatever the other two wanted to do. Doug met us again at mile 31 and we told him to meet us at the turn-off for Scotty's Castle at mile 34.

We finally got there, and after Marvin contemplated going another few miles, we finally jumped in the car and headed for our motel at Stovepipe Wells.

I feel relatively okay after one day. I thought the windburn might be worse than what it is. My hips are a little sore but it could be worse. Having said that, it will be tough to get up and do it again in the morning. I am looking forward to a good supper and turning in early.
Finally getting above sea level on the 2.5 mile climb.

Just got back from supper. The waitress put a birthday candle in my vanilla ice cream. The ice cream wasn't that good but it was still a good way to end the day.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Death Valley 2013 - Prelude

Doug and Jim wait for Marvin's plane to arrive.
January 9, 2013 - It is all Marvin's fault. I wouldn't have thought of such a hare-brained scheme myself. About a year and a half ago Marvin Hall floated to me the idea of running the Badwater Ultramarathon Course for fun that winter. What could I say but "I'm in." I mentioned it to my brother Jim and he was immediately gung-ho to do it. After initially looking at January of 2012 and not being able to coordinate schedules, we put it on the calendar for January of 2013.

The Badwater Ultramarathon is a 135 mile road race that has been held in July for many years. The course starts at Badwater Basin in Death Valley, the lowest point in the U.S., and finishes on Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the continental U.S. Originally the race went all the way up Mt. Whitney (over 14,000 feet) but at some point that was disallowed so now it finishes at the Whitney portal at about 8300 feet. The actual race is in July when daytime temperatures run up to 130 degrees (crazy!) and runners have 48 hours to complete it.

Our plan was to take four days to run the course (about 34 miles a day) and do it in January when temperatures generally top out around 70 degrees (a little more sane). Marvin was able to convince a friend, Doug Miller, who had significant experience in Death Valley working with Penn State, to be our support. There aren't many lodging establishments along the course so we would run to a certain spot each day, be picked up by Doug and drive to a motel, and then drive back to where we stopped in the morning and start again.

Jim shows off emergency rations.
Yes, I know we have taken the wimpy way to run this. Real men like State College's own John Fegyveresi, who completed the actual race last summer (and more impressively the Barkley Marathons last spring), run it in less than two days when it is 110 degrees and if he were doing it our way he would probably camp in a tent. But what can I say, I guess I am only somewhat adventurous (I won't speak for the other two because I know at least Marvin is a hardier soul than I am).

I flew out to Las Vegas today and am sitting in a motel room at Pahrump, NV, about to turn in for the night. The three of us met at the airport, drove a few hours, got some groceries and now here we are. In the morning we are planning to leave at 5am, drive the hour and 45 minutes to Badwater, and start running at daybreak (7am). We will run at least 30 miles, possibly further if we feel well after 30.

I just hope I feel better tomorrow. I feel like crap after all that flying and my body clock is messed up and I've been fighting a cold for the last week. Whine, whine, whine. Having said all that, I am glad to be here and anxious to get started in the morning.