Saturday I take on a challenge that not only did I never think I would take on I never even knew such a thing existed. Even when I started running I wasn’t aware of anything beyond a marathon. Discovering the world of trail running and ultra marathons has been a mind blowing experience. I have gained so much since this adventure began.
This year of training and running has been different in a lot of ways from my past several years of running. Training for and taking on new challenges. Fear, doubt, anxiety. Physical setbacks. All of that is in the rear view mirror now. Well, all of it except the anxiety, but it is mostly nervous and excited energy to just go do the thing.
The waiting and planning and organizing are hard for me. None of that is my strength. I can Do the training. I can go Do the race. I struggle with the effort involved in the planning phases. If someone would just put me on the start line and point me in the right direction and say go, that is all I really need. Taking on something like this requires a whole different level of effort on different planes.
Thankfully I have a great crew that will be down there supporting me and taking care of me. People I can talk through things with and that help my make sure I am prepared. They do things like send me packing lists to help me make sure I don’t forget anything.
I am as ready as I am ever going to be to get out there and take on this 100 mile adventure at the Pine Creek Challenge. Let’s go do this thing.
I continue to bounce around and have ups and downs in my 100 miler training even as the race itself draws ever closer. This does not help to reduce my anxiety of taking on this challenge. After my regular short weekday runs my hip bursitis seemed to be flaring up a little bit, so I took an extra rest day going into my weekend long run which was going to be Sunday this week because I wasn’t going to be running on Saturday either this week.
Saturday was my planned “rest” day for this week of training. And by rest I mean getting up at 1:30 AM to drive 1.5 hours to meet up with my friends and stand on my feet for about 18 hours to help crew for them at the Twisted Branch 100k. It was amazing to be part of this event and help my friend and cheer for them as they crushed some huge goals along with all our fellow runners. It was a great experience and it was great experience for my upcoming race. I got to feel what it would be like to be awake and on my feet for as close to 24 hours as possible without being at the actual race. So I think that was invaluable experience in a way.
Then I followed up that long tiring day of “rest” by getting up in the morning and going for what was supposed to be a 15 mile long run. My GPS on my Garmin watch went a bit haywire, telling me at times my pace was as slow as 58 minutes/mile. And as I was trying to practice executing my race day strategy of running a mile then walking a minute to recover, when I was walking my Garmin said I had no pace and wasn’t ,moving at all. Like I know I am not speedy but I am certainly not that slow. It was very frustrating to deal with that issue while trying to practice my race strategy. But I think maybe that will also be helpful experience as I get closer to race day because for sure over the course of a 100 mile race everything will not go to plan and I will just have to deal with those frustrations as best I can. While GPS malfunction are really the least of my concerns during the race it was probably a good thing to deal with some mental frustrations that can really get into your head during a training run and just have to push through that and get out of your own head and focus on things you can control and think about how your body feels as you run instead of looking at the watch for guidance. While I am not sure of the exact mileage for that run I know how much time I ran for and it was right about the amount of time it should have taken to run 15 miles at the pace I was planning to go, so I am sure I was close on my distance.
I also practiced a little bit with my nutrition. I ate 1 GU gel that I will have in reserve. I ate some salt potatoes and flour tortillas as well and they all seemed to do fine. It was also nice to have cold water the entire run because I took a 2 liter bladder that I had frozen the water in.
There were so many little things about this weekend’s training that made it unique and hopefully a little bit of exactly what I needed even though ideally it wouldn’t be planned this way. Another one of those things were the trail conditions. I went and ran on one of our local rails to trails type paths that is essentially flat and smooth with just a slight grade you climb as you turn around to go back to the start. As I started and got into the more wooded section of the nice scenic trail I remembered that we had recently had some pretty serious thunderstorms. I started to wonder if the trail might be blocked by downed trees. Sure enough there were some trees on the trail. Luckily not so badly as to completely block the trails but I definitely had to slow down and be careful going around and over tree trunks and branches a total of 6 different times. It would be less of a difference if I was training for a trail run on more mountainous rugged trails that would force you to slow down like that, but the upcoming race is on a rails to trails area that will hopefully, barring any downed trees there, be flat and smooth at the Pine Creek Rail Trail.
Then I decided that since I had been sore previously and I had an unusual “rest” day, I took a rest day after my long run when normally I would get in a short run the next day and then rest. I am really just trying to be healthy for my upcoming race more than anything else at this point.
One step closer to 100 miles.
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If you are interested in taking on a challenge, check out the Pine Creek Challenge. They offer a 100 mile, 100k, Marathon, and relay option.
I headed down to the Pine Creek Rail Trail for my second training run on the site of the upcoming Pine Creek challenge 100 mile event in September. The plan was to start in Blackwell, where the end of the out and back section of the 100 mile distance is, and run back towards the start finish line area. The goal for this run was 20 miles at a little faster overall pace than I am planning for the race itself. I would be running 1 mile then walk for 1 minute and repeat that every mile.
This was my second 20 mile run of the week. Something I had never done before. This was also only my second 20 mile run of the year that was not a race which were the only two other 20+ mile runs this year. This also ended up being the most miles I have run in a week all year. Maybe not the most traditional way to be training for a 100 mile race with less than a month to go. I was a little nervous it would go badly, but it went fine. And now that I am feeling much more confident and healthy I can start to taper a bit and reduce mileage. I think I will add in some biking. Then I plan to essentially rest or at least not run the entire week before race day.
Last practice run I ran in my Altra’s and didn’t really like how that felt so on this run I wanted to try out road shoes since the trail is pretty firm. I ran in my Saucony Kinvara 9’s. The run went pretty good as 20 mile long runs go. No major issues. A little soreness in the areas where it is to be expected. A little soreness in my hip which is to be expected at this point. But overall I was pretty happy with the run. The road shoes felt much better.
I won’t be running the race in my Kinvara 9’s though because they have over 200 mile son them and I cannot find anymore in my size at this point. I did manage to find a pair of road shoes with a similar profile to the Kinvara’s but with a little more cushion and a little wider toe box tha tI will try out for my next long run. Then hopefully I will have my footwear for the race solved.
I have found that 3.5 hours is apparently how long it takes me to drink 2 litters of water while out for a run. So that will help in planning for what I need to do on race day to manage my hydration. I have really started to think more in depth about how I am going to manage everything on race day and that makes me a bit more nervous. It’s funny because the running itself doesn’t really bother me as much. I know it is going to be hard and take a lot of toughness to finish, but planning for all the other aspects I need to have in place to make it happen makes me a little rattled. Luckily I have a great crew that will be out there to support me.
The weather was perfect for this run. It was so nice and the scenery was beautiful. I am really excited to see the whole course on race day with some early fall colors and then run on it at night.
It is now less than a month away. I will be lacing up to attempt to run 100 miles and this has been a crazy year for my running so far. I set bigger, higher, more challenging goals than I ever did before. I suffered my first running related injury, hip bursitis, which is still nagging me. I DNF’d my first attempt at 50 miles due to the heat. And in really only my second year of trying to have any form of structured training I have struggled for various reasons to meet the standards of training I wanted to get for this adventure.
Now that everything else on my calendar as far as running goes is behind me I am really trying to focus on this huge challenge ahead. I have been wanting to get down to the Pine Creek Rail Trail all year, but have been unable to due to my inconsistencies in training. But I finally made it happen. I really wanted to see it and feel it. I needed to get a sense of what it was going to be like running there all day and all night and possibly longer. I wanted to feel how that trail would feel under my feet. I wanted to test out what shoes I might want to wear on this adventure. (FYI I still don’t know).
My plan for the day was to run the trail from the starting point for the race for the Pine Creek Challenge and run 10 miles out and 10 miles back. It might sound silly to say I wanted to know the trail conditions, I mean it’s on a rail trail after all, but all the trails I have been on have a different feel to them. Some are soft, some are more gravely, and some are pretty firm. Getting this knowledge could help me to plan for the appropriate footwear. I have run most of my races in the same style of trail shoes and my preference would be to run the Pine Creek Challenge in that same style of shoes as well. I have loved Altra shoes for the past several years and I am currently running in The Altra Superiors. However, after running 20 miles on the Pine Creek Rail Trail I am not sure if that is the best option for this race. The trail is pretty firm. I think I need footwear that may be more along the lines of road shoes with more cushion and less tread. As I ran I could just feel the tread of the trail shoes under my foot because there was no softness for them to sink into. Over the last couple of years I have been doing most of my road miles in one specific model of shoes, the Saucony Kinvara, currently the 9’s. So I think I might use something more like that style of shoe for this race, but right now it is still up in the air.
This was also ended up being my first 20 mile long training run of the entire year partly due to injury and partly due to other factors. I was excited and nervous to get out there for a 20 mile run. I have been feeling pretty good. I have been running consistently but keeping the mileage and effort relatively low to minimize risk of aggravating the injury. Last week I broke 16 miles up into 3 different runs, 10 miles, 3 miles, then 3 more miles at night to see how it would feel to absorb that many miles on my hip. It seemed to go pretty well. So I was encouraged going into this run. As far as my hip bursitis went this run went really well. Of my entire body system my old achy ankle bothered me more than anything else. My hip felt pretty good and mostly painless until the last few miles when there were moments of tenderness. They were not intense and did subside so that is encouraging. Nothing like what I experienced back in May. I think this will add an additional element of challenge to this event but I don’t think it will prevent me from finishing at this point.
The one other strange concern I ended up with by the end of the run had to do with my hydration pack. I have been using this pack all year for all my long runs and my long races with no problems. But, for some reason during this run it was rubbing on the center of my chest. The left upper section where the straps are able to be adjusted up and down and there is a herder plastic there just kept rubbing to the point where at times I was holding it out off of my chest while I ran. I tried different strategies to try and get it to stop while I was running to no avail. I did not want to stop and meddle with my pack during this run. It ended up leaving an inch long red raw mark on my chest. Needless to say I will have to do some work to dial in the fit of my pack before race day. Luckily there are adjustments I can still make.
I am planning to head back out on another run on the trail soon.
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Last year after running my first two 50k ultra marathons I decided to take the next “logical” step and test myself out at the 50 mile distance. Perhaps many people would not see any of this as logical but it made sense to me. I wanted to find a race that suited my preferences. My first two 50k races were very different from each other. One being very flat and one being much more rugged with a lot of climbing. I did not feel like either of those things suited me well for a 50 mile adventure. I really needed something in between, not flat but not too much climbing either, I needed to find something in my Goldilocks zone. I also didn’t really want to travel too far. I didn’t want to have to worry about any extra logistics other than the running of the race. So that obviously limited my options as well. But as it happens just the right race takes place not too far from where I live and even better I had some experience at this race. The Finger Lakes Running Club puts on the Finger Lakes 50’s race each year. This event is comprised of races of 25k, 50k, and 50 miles. I had already run the 25k in 2017 as my first ever 25k, so I was familiar with it. The biggest downside to this event is that it is held on the first weekend of July, and I do not generally do well running in the heat. In my first experience at this event I guess I was fortunate that it rained the whole time so that I did not have to deal with the heat.
Finger Lakes 50’s is a loop course event. Each loop is approximately 25k. So for the 50 miles I would run 3 loops, plus a half mile baby loop to round out the 50 miles. I was a little concerned about the course being loops because of the temptation to drop at the start finish line after the conclusion of each loop especially if I was struggling. I tried to reframe this as loops being a positive aspect of the race. I convinced myself that it would be good to get more familiar with the layout of the course as things went on and know what the course conditions were like out on the course. FYI course conditions can change mid race.
I was able to “convince” one of my best friends to go on this journey with me. And by convince I mean I casually mentioned that I was going to do it and then she was “convinced” to do it as well. We both have run the same two 50ks together and shared many miles of running and training and adventure. We are similar runners, so our plan was to run this thing together and share the miles, the adventure, and the suffering.
We spent the first half of the year trying to pretend that at some point we were going to be running 50 miles. We focused on all the other races we had planned. Once we both completed our 50k in June Finger Lakes 50’s loomed large. In mid April I had developed a some sort of injury to my hip/groin area that had not recovered by Worlds End 50k in June and really hampered me there. I already had tried just cutting back on training some prior to Worlds End. So, post 50k the only realistic option for me was to try and get some type of treatment for my issue and rest as much as I could and hope it would recover or I would never make it through a 50 mile race.
I went and saw a primary care doctor for the first time in about 20 years. I started a prescribed medication other than antibiotics for the first time. I began massage therapy treatment with Soul Ease. I also received chiropractic treatment from Market Street Chiropractic. Orthopedic doctor’s opinion was that it was likely hip bursitis.
The hardest part about trying to recover is that I was really cutting back my running, especially my long runs because that is what aggravated the injury the most. So since the goal was to rest it and not aggravate it I was not testing it either so I had no idea how it was going to respond on longer runs. Just over two weeks prior to the race I decided I needed to try to get a little feedback regarding my injury and test it out. I went for a long run on the Interloken Trail, a side branch of the Finger Lakes Trail and also a location of some of the trails I would have to run during the 50 mile loop race. I ran my planned 13 miles and I was pretty happy with it. I had no major issues. So for the next 2 weeks I did minimal running including zero running for the 5 days leading into the race. I wanted to maximize my chances of being healthy. I figured my best chance at completing this race was to be as healthy as possible. I could grind out the miles on tired sore legs if I at least had my health. After all my very first 50k trail adventure was a solo adventure on the Finger Lakes Trail with very little planning and no training and my longest run prior to that was a 25k, what could go wrong? That is was I kept telling myself at least.
So with less than ideal training and while recovering from an injury I embarked on a 50 mile race. Good idea? Only time would tell.
Race day arrived and it was going to be a hot one. As start time neared the temperature was around 70 degrees. 70 degrees is the temperature around which I start to be unable to sustain my running. Most of the races I have done in this temperature range have not gone great for me. The high temperature for the day would end up being around 88 degrees. Far hotter than I would choose to run in.
The 6:30 AM start time arrive and we were off. Down the gravel road we went and shortly we took a right into the woods and onto the trails. Pretty early on in the first loop before the first aid station there is a long downhill section that is on a gravel road. On a shorter race or at least a race of a distance I was experienced with this is the type of section I would love and run hard down to pick up time. In my one and only other experience on this course I ran down this road hard and was passing people, but that was a 25k race. With close to 50 miles still to go that did not seem prudent on this go around. We talked about how we wanted to handle this section and just decided to run casual, not trying to run hard but not putting on the brakes either. We just let gravity do the work, gaining some speed on some steeper sections and then letting speed dissipate on lesser grades.
As we made our way around the loop the first time the heat and humidity intensified. We played it cautious trying not to burn out before we got to where we needed to really hit cut off times. Especially in open exposed areas and other areas that felt particularly hot we took it easy and even walked. We walked when we otherwise could have run in order to save strength for later on. We were trying to strategize to mitigate the effects of the heat. If we felt like we needed to go easier we did just that without hesitation.
One good thing about the heat the past several days and on race day was that the trails were remarkably dry when the race began. They weren’t totally dry, but much improved from when I had been out in the area on a training run. This made running when we wanted to a much easier thing to do and made walking at a decent pace much easier too. When I was out on the trails two weeks prior there was significant water on the trails during the first loop of the course there was almost no water and not even much of anything that could be called mud except in a few spots.
We complete lap 1 in 3 hours and 35 minutes. That left us around 4 hours to complete a second lap. We took stock, refreshed ourselves, ate and drank, and then headed back out into the heat for lap number 2. At this point I was pretty confident we would get our first two laps done within the cutoff of 7 hours and 45 minutes. As lap two wore on the heat and humidity did not relent. I was having difficulty eating much of anything solid. At aid stations I ate watermelon and drank whatever non water fluids they had for calories, and I was able to eat some of the salt potatoes I had with me, but I wasn’t able to eat any of the other food I had been relying on for fuel that I carried and none of the other food at the aid stations were appealing. As the heat continued to wear me down I exchanged my hat for a buff that I could put ice in. Then at a later aide stations I added another buff so I could carry even more ice. Eventually, shortly before the half way point on loop 2, I gave up everything extra I was carrying just to try and keep from overheating. I gave up my food and I even gave up my camera gear which is saying allot for me considering I am a photographer who documents everything and that was the plan for this race.
Shortly after the half way point of the second loop I really started to feel the effects of the heat. As we ran, my hands started to go numb and I began to feel a little light headed and dizzy. I said I needed to stop running and walk for a bit. We walked and I recovered enough to run after a while. Unfortunately the same symptoms returned and we continued this walk run approach. My friend was not going to just leave me there in the woods even though I encouraged her to do so. We arrived at the first aide station after the half way point and I tried to regroup. I added as much ice as I could. I put ice in both of my buffs and in my shirt and in my shorts to try to cool down. The effect of the cold from the ice on the extreme heat of my body made me a bit dizzy and took me a moment to recover from. I used more ice at this race than I had ever used before at a race and more than I had thought I would. It was a necessity. It was the only thing allowing me to keep going. Unfortunately the ice did not last very long once you started running again. It lasted only mere minutes in the heat. After getting more fluids and fuel I needed more time to recover. I told my friend to go without me. I know she didn’t want to leave me at that aid station, but I knew that she did not have time to spare to wait for me and could not afford to move as slow as I would likely be going once I started off on the trails again. She looked back, frowned, then she went on without me.
I regrouped and then headed back out on the trails myself. I was moving slowly on the trails. The heat and humidity were nearly unbearable for me. Then it happened. First a trickle and then the skies opened up and a deluge of rain burst from the skies. In a matter of minutes everything was soaked. I was getting what I desperately needed. The rain cooled me off significantly. Not only did it help me physically but it lifted me mentally as well. It rained so intensely that the trails quickly flooded. It was like running up a stream. the trail conditions quickly converted from nearly pristine and dry to possibly worse than the conditions in 2017. I ran. I don’t know how fast I ran but I ran as fast as I could. I felt better and stronger than I had since the beginning of the race. I surged forward knowing that I had to beat the clock. I ran at a pace that took my breath away and eventually required me to walk and catch my breath. I repeated this run hard as you can then rest approach trying to surge through the storm. I was running so much better at this point that I actually passed a few people which would have been unthinkable even a few minutes ago. The change in weather and course conditions were so uplifting and provided such a sure of adrenaline with the chance to chase the clock that I completely forgot about the pain in my hip that had begun to bother me again. I kept looking at my watch thinking that I might actually be able to complete the loop in time to move on for a third loop. Could I actually do it?
The whole race my wife had been at each aide station to cheer us on. My friends husband joined our crew stating on the 2nd loop. When I emerged through the woods in the torrential downpour and arrived at the final aid station my wife was there in the pouring rain cheering for me as she had been all day. My friends husband had gone ahead to continue crewing for her up ahead of me as she continued to race the clock as well. As I arrived at this last aid station there was a new face there. Another of my friends had arrived to cheer me on and crew for us in this crazy storm. Seeing another familiar friendly face at the aid station helped to lift me up. They asked me what I needed. I just took a cup of coke. I told my wife I thought I still had time to make the cut off. It was then that she had to do the most difficult thing and break the news to me that I wasn’t going to make it. I had two miles to go, JUST TWO MORE MILES to complete the second loop. But I only had 9 minutes to get there. On my best days on completely fresh legs I couldn’t get that done. There was no way I could make it. My day was going to come to an end without even starting a third loop. As I write this I am fighting back emotions and tears are welling up in my eyes. This was not the outcome I was hoping for.
Despite the news that I could not possibly make the cut off I was determined to push through as hard as I could to what would be not the start of my third loop but my finish line. I somehow summoned the strength to overtake a few other runners on the road with me. I continued to run down the road, towards the end of the loop. I knew that the news of my imminent finish was demoralizing because as I headed down the road the pain in my hip that hope had vanquished returned more painful than I had felt it the entire day. I tried to push through it. I ran as hard as I could for as long as I could, but what was the point. I wasn’t going to make it in time. I walked and relieved the pain. Then when I could I resumed running again. This section of gravel road felt longer than any other stretch on the course even on the first go around, it felt interminable on this final approach before ducking back into the wood rounding the pond and emerging at my finish.
I don’t know if I would have been able to make the final cut off at the 10 and a half hour mark, but I wish more than anything that I had had the chance to find out. If you finish the second loop but do not finish in time to start a third loop they credit you with a 50k finish which is nice, but that is not what I was here for on this day. I was here to push myself to new limits. I was here to run more miles than I had ever run before. I wanted to get out there and try for that third loop more than anything. I would have rather start the third loop and not finish but run more miles than ever before then to finish my 4th 50k. I was here to test my limits and in some ways I did test my limits just not in the way I had hoped for. Apparently when I rolled into the last aid station I was not doing as well as I thought I was. My crew at that aid station told me after the race that I was a bit unsteady and wobbly during my time at the aid station and also appeared to be wobbly after I left the aid station and started running again as well. I did not get the result I had hoped for but I got an experience like nothing I had experienced before. Pushing through pain again, fighting off heat exhaustion, having a resurgence in the rain, and running with fun and joy when previously it had dissipated.
There is nothing better than taking on a new challenge like this race and having my wife and friends there to cheer me on. Running through most of my race with one of my best friends was the only way to take on this new challenge. I am so grateful that she went along on this crazy ride with me. I am even happier that she did make the cut off to start a third loop and then the final cut off to be able to finish that third loop. And I am overjoyed for her that she finish that race and that I got to cheer her on for that third loop and see her finish. That made the day a good day. Seeing my friend overcome the adversities I could not and succeed at this race that stopped me in my tracks was what I needed after not being able to finish. Having our other close friends there at the end was also a blessing. They were there to console me and cheer and celebrate her accomplishments. I am fortunate to be a member of this group.
It is really easy to second guess myself about this race and how we approached it. Should we have run harder on the first loop especially in places we took it easy? Should we have moved through aid stations faster? Should I have started taking on ice sooner? Should I have worn the arm sleeves and filled them with ice as I had planned to? Should I have not carried as much as I did for the first loop plus? What could I have done differently to produce a better outcome for myself? These are all pointless questions because there is no way to know how a change in any one thing would have effected everything else that occurred that day.
Looking on the bright side I learned a lot about myself. I learned that I can maintain enough fitness to run a 50k without a whole lot of training between races. I learned that my hip while not completely healed is actually getting better. I was able to run much farther in this race before experiencing significant pain than in my last race. I learned that if I ever run another long summer race I need to have a real strategy for dealing with the heat. I learned that I can run a 50k without having to change my shoes and have no major issues as a result. I learned that I still have not found socks that my toes will not poke a hole in. I continue to learn that I have a lot more to learn.
One of my goals with this race aside from finishing the 50 miles was to capture as much of it as possible on camera. I carried 4 devices for this purpose: my cell phone, a chest mounted GoPro, a hand carried GoPro, and a small mirror less Nikon camera in my pack. I was not taking many photos in the beginning because I wanted to save it for later when I was tired and needed to take my mind off things especially on the third loop. Then I realized what if there is no third lap. When I evenutally realized I had not been taking many photos and that I would be giving up all my camera gear at the next aid station I just turned on my chest mounted GoPRo to capture as much as I could of the race until the memory card fillled up.
I utilized my chest mounted GoPro the most because it was the easiest to use in the circumstances. I used my hand held go pro a few times. I took a few shots with my cell phone in just one spot. I never even took my Nikon out of my pack. The lack of photo taking was due to the heat and humidity requiring all my energy to just remain focused on the race. There really wasn’t much time where I felt comfortable enough to either stop and take photos or to just make the extra efforts to use cameras. Plus as I ended up losing to the clock there really wasn’t time for it anyway. An even more disappointing factor is that after not finishing the 50 miles I got home and uploaded my photos to the computer and for a variety of reasons, many of which are beyond my control a lot of the photos did not turn out well. So that was extra demoralizing.
The day after the race I needed to do some recovery. I tried to recover with Avital’s Apiaries products I was given to test out. I soaked my sore and tired legs in a hot bath with Avital’s Apiaries Recover Bee bath fizzies. I used their Recover Bee soap. Then once I was done tired soaking my legs I gave them a rub down with Avital’s Apiaries Recover Bee massage oil. After that my legs did feel a little better.
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Round and round they go. When they’ll stop, nobody knows.
I have been fortunate to be involved with quite a few races over the last several years. Some as a volunteer. Some as a runner. Some as a photographer. Sometimes I’ve been involved in more than one way at a given race. My good friends were putting on a race to help support our local youth running club, SOAR. I wanted to be involved in the event and support them in their efforts.
The race was called The Monster Brant Hill Challenge put on by Rebellion Running. It was held at Newtown Battlefield State Park in Upstate, NY. The race format was a timed loop course event. The runners would have 3 hours to complete as many laps as they could or wanted to. I had only ever participated in one timed loop course event before and I enjoyed it more than I expected. I had never photographed an event held in this format before.
I started off photographing some impressive younger youth athletes that took on the one hour youth course.
I was very intrigued as to how this format would lend itself to photography. My normal process is to scout out what I think will be the best location on the course to take photographs and stake out a position there and photograph every runner as they pass me by. The format of this race lends itself to so many different possibilities that it threw me of my game a little bit.
One thing I did differently was set up a GoPro at the aid station taking time lapse photos every second to record the runners as they made their nutrition choices. The cameras recorded over 14,000 images which I have not even begun to go through yet, but it ought to be interesting. Also, it is highly advisable to turn off the camera after the event so you don’t have thousands of empty frames to look at and delete. And you should pick up said GoPro so the race crew don’t have to bring it back to you after the event. There are always new wrinkles and things to learn from.
I began the event by photographing the runners as they took off down the trail at the start of the event. Then I moved around to the other end of the loop and went up the trail a little ways from where the loop ends so I could photograph runners completing their first lap. Then I moved back to where the end of the loop was and the aid station was set up to photograph runners as they made the turn to continue for another loop or stop for some aid.
I decided to make my way around the loop in reverse so that the runners would be approaching me as I walked up the trail. I stopped and photographed each runner from wherever along the trail I encountered them. This was really cool to be able to feature a large portion of the course in photographs. It also allowed for runners to be featured in different ways as they were covering different terrain on the course. They were able to get photographs on flatter faster sections where they felt better as well as on the tougher sections. I really enjoyed the variety of different photographic opportunities that were made available by being able to move throughout the course without missing any runners.
As I made my way around the course I stopped in a few key spots to photograph all the runners as they came through. These key locations were on the climbing section of the course. I know runners really hate having their picture taken during the tough climbs on a course but as a photographer I always feel like they make for some of the best photographs because they really show the blood, sweat, and tears that the runners are putting into running the race. You can really see the runners working and see the determination etched on their faces as they climb. Also, going out on the course more gave me a better appreciation for the conditions on the trail that the runners were dealing with.
I think this having so many opportunities for photos during one race also allowed the athletes to have more fun with their race photos at this event.
Photographing this type of event also freed me up to be more creative and take chances with some photography. I really strive to get a quality photograph of every runner at a race so I don’t like to do things that might cause that not to happen. But on the loop course I knew I had already seen all the runners multiple times and I was confident that I had good photographs of everyone. I used my smaller camera with a wider angle of view on the trails to photograph the runners on the trails as they passed by me. The goal of the photographs was to pan with the runners and shoot at a slower shutter speed than normal to create a sense of motion as the runners move. This sense of motion can be generated in the background as I pan the camera with them and in the runner’s body’s as their arms pump and legs strike the ground and push off. This series of photographs will have a more artistic feel to them. They most likely will not have a crisp image of the runners in many of them.
Now I have really come to like this race format as both a runner and a photographer. I am looking forward to photographing another event like this and sparking some even more creative ideas.
So, I did something new this year. I ran two races in one weekend. I was expecting it to be a challenge, but I was not expecting the layer of challenge that nursing and injury coming into the weekend presented. I survived the first race of the weekend, Sehgahunda ok. I was tired and a little sore, but no major issues. I was still able to run. So on to Chief Wetona we went.
I met up with my friends and upon walking up the hill to the packet pickup/start finish I noticed a bit of a twinge in the area of my leg where I had been feeling discomfort. That did not make me feel hopeful. On top of everything else it was shaping up to be quite a warm day. It was nearly 70 degrees as start time approached with a high in the 80’s during the day. I do not generally do well in the heat. Between being a little banged up and the heat I was really unsure of how I would perform on this course. I had no idea what to expect given this was my first time running this race. I was prepared to spend a long, long time out on the trails. I told my wife how long I thought I could end up being out there so that she would not be worried if I was not done sooner.
As the 14 mile race began and we headed down the downhill road that lead to the trails I was determined to take it easy in the beginning and feel things out. See how I felt and make adjustments as I went along. I really tried to focus on pacing myself and not pushing too hard especially in the early stages of the event. My original plan was to photograph this event using my GoPro cameras as I ran. I have one GoPRo that I use attached to a chest mounted harness, but with the heat I decided that was not a good idea because I didn’t want to do anything else that would make me hotter. So, that left me with the hand held GoPro which works well for me. After we got a little way into the beginning of the race I decided to shoot some photographs with the GoPro. I turned it on and it began beeping at me and giving me an error message that there was no memory card in the GoPro so it could not record anything. Turns out that after Sehgahund I returned home and downloaded those photos and I forgot to put the memory card back into the GoPro. Sometimes, no matter how many times we do things we still make boneheaded mistakes. There was another option. I could use my cell phone, which in a lot of ways actually takes better photos than the GoPro does. It is just not as easy to use and handle during a run as the GoPro is. So I learned that my GoPro with its handle will fit in the zipper pouch on my vest and that I could successfully get my cell phone in and out of my pockets to take photos during the event. It actually worked out that knowing it was hot and I was banged up and would not going to be going all out on the trails so I was able to take the necessary time to make the use of my cell phone work.
I enjoyed this race much more than I expected. My leg cooperated fairly well. I had some discomfort but could run. I took it easier on some sections I would normally like to run hard down the descents but with the leg issue and the heat I did not want to push myself too hard. This course was probably my favorite course I have ever run. There were challenging climbing sections, but nothing too steep or too long that it totally sapped my strength. There were descents that were runable and not too technical. I would have loved to push myself harder down those had I been healthier. There were many great runabale relatively flat sections of trail. A feature I feel like is often missing from too many races. The amazing single track sections cut into the side of the hill were fantastic. They made for a challenge in that they were pretty narrow, especially with my large size 14 feet and the fact that I was running in Altra’s with their wide toe box. I don’t think I can adequately express how much I really liked this course and wish I was feeling 100% for the run. I took my time at aid stations and made sure to stay hydrated. I felt way better than I expected to in the heat. As I neared the end I was starting to feel fatigued and hot. As I approached the surprise 4th aide station an amazing volunteer called out to me and asked what I needed. I told him I just needed some water pour on me. He grabbed a gallon of water and came out into the road and poured the water over my head as I walked by. That was just what I needed to get me to the finish line. That volunteer was a life saver. All the volunteers were great and the race director did a great job putting on this event.
I finished in a time I was pretty pleased with all things considered. My friends and I gathered at a picnic table in the shade. We ate the great food provided to us. We enjoyed the amazing weather that most of our spring so far had been lacking. And we talked and hung out and enjoyed having time to spend together and enjoy the things we love. Friends, Food, and Trail Running. It doesn’t get much better than that.