Racing season is over for the year for me, unless one of my friends somehow convinces me otherwise. My last race was one I wasn’t really planning to run for sure. Once I decided to run the race I actually got pretty excited about it. The race was Last Rebel Survivor presented by Rebellion Running.
Last Rebel Survivor is a last person standing style event in the vein of Bigs Backyard Ultra. Everyone runs loops of the same course until only one person can continue. The spin on this event is that with each lap completed the time you have to complete the next lap decreases. The course was a 1 mile loop on local trails. The race begins with 20 minutes to complete a lap and decreases by 1 minute after each completed lap then after about 10 laps it decreases by 30 seconds for each lap that follows. Each person is eliminated when they either fail to complete a lap in the allotted time or fail to start the next lap.
The more I thought about this event the more I became intrigued about the strategy of how best to run this style of race so that one could last the longest possible. Is it best to go as slow as possible and even walk on the early laps so that you are exerting yourself as little as possible or is it better to run at a good pace and have plenty of time to rest between laps? What strategy will keep you freshest the longest so that you have energy to push yourself harder when the time to complete a lap gets shorter and shorter?
Race day ended up being pretty chilly and I opted for a slow paced run that allowed me to keep warm through exertion and get back to the start line with time to rest. The downside was that since I started off at a run I got sweaty early and got cold because I wasn’t exerting myself enough to stay warm or constantly to stay warm so unlike everyone else who was removing layers as the race went on I actually added a layer. I had no expectation that I would win the race, but I wanted to see how long I could last before I could no longer complete a lap in the designated time. I was really hoping to complete at least 10 laps which would be around 10 miles and would be my longest run by 4 miles since September 7. Unfortunately, things did not go my way. It seems the rocky terrain struck my foot just right to aggravate this tender spot I had near my heel and cause pain to spread along the outside edge of my left foot. The pain got worse as each lap went on and got to the point where I could barely push off my left foot and any side to side movement of my foot was quite painful. I was averaging around 12 minute miles until the last lap I completed where by the end I couldn’t really run at all. I called it a day and dropped after about 6 miles.
I didn’t want to chance causing a more serious injury. The whole plan for the last few months has been getting healthy and staying healthy, so the last thing I wanted to do was get hurt and derail all the work I have been doing. It was really frustrating to struggle due to an injury at this event. So much of my running this year has been a struggle. But I did manage to find some positive in the early exit.
I had been planning to document the event as I ran with my GoPro, which I did and I planned to photograph what remained of the event after my day of running ended with my DSLR. My early exit simply allowed me to spend more time doing something else that I truly love, photographing the running community I love. Although, it did hurt a bit to hobble around to get into position for photos I wanted to take. Maybe the early exit was a blessing in disguise because I really like the images I was able to capture. Who knows how much if any I would have been able to photograph if I had kept running even if I was healthy.
The good news is my injury seems to just be soft tissue strain of some type. It wasn’t swollen or bruised post race and did some icing and soaking and a few days later it feels much better. Still painful but definitely better.
The winner ended up running around 20 miles I believe, 19 laps completed. This was such a fun event to be a part of as both a runner and a spectator. I can’t wait to run an event like this again. Also Rebellion running gave the most unique awards to the winners that I have seen. They received a cool cape with an awesome logo on it that they can wear. I am all for unique awards that can be used in some way.
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.
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As I have begun creating more and more photography and media while out trail running there is always this thought in the back of my mind, what if I trip or fall while I am out there running with my camera?
I love combining my love of photography with my love of running, however I wonder if it might be hazardous to my equipment or to myself to do so.
Part of the goal of running with my GoPro and using it to capture photographs for long periods of time is to try and capture the unexpected moments. I want to capture the things that I could never possibly be ready for if I was just sitting there watching and waiting to take a photos. If I am taking a photo every second I can capture hopefully everything that happens on a run, not just a moment in time.
During Worlds End 50K I was taking photographs with my hand held GoPro camera and all of these concepts came crashing down together, quite literally. I was recording the scenery during a descent and I sliped on a rock and my foot slid out from under me and I went down and smashed my knee into a large rock. Luckily I was not hurt. My camera equipment was not hurt. And I managed to capture the whole thing on film. Check it out.
This series of images depicts exactly what it looks like to be moving down a trail taking photographs and then fall while still taking photographs. I got back up, checked my self to makes sure I was OK. I checked my camera to make sure it was OK. You can see that pretty clearly as I look right into the lens. Then I keep moving down the trail and taking photos.
I sometimes worry that I might distract myself with my camera while recording images and that might be the reason I fall. As I become more experienced with both running and using my camera at the same time this becomes less and less of a concern. In this instance it was pretty clear that I did not fall due to being distracted by my camera. I was moving pretty slow and I was not looking at my camera at the time. I definitely just slipped on a slick spot on a rock and my foot slipped out from under me. It could have happened to anyone.
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These are the words that echoed in my head during the last half of the Worlds End 50K. Completing the Worlds End 50K under good conditions is no easy task. This year was made even more challenging by an injury I sustained earlier in the year, which I just could not resolve. The injury continued to nag me especially on long runs. When I initially signed up to run this event again I was hoping for a challenging but enjoyable time out on the trails enjoying nature with no real time goal in mind. But as things turned out I got a lot more than that.
As start time for the race approached at 7:00 AM I knew that I was not 100% but that is all that I knew. I knew that I could run to some degree, but I had no idea how fast or how far I could run. I knew that at some point this journey was likely to become a struggle. The plan was to take the beginning of the race a little easier than I did last year in hopes that this would help prevent my injury from flaring up for as long as possible. The injury I was working with seemed to be some sort of muscle tightness in the hip/groin/glute regions. I could run for a time but then eventually on long runs it would become tight and painful. I was really hoping that the combination of a reduction in running, extra rest, and extra stretching and flexibility work I had been doing would allow me to go farther without the pain becoming too severe.
In the opening miles of the race I set off with two of my friends. We stayed together for a large portion of the beginning of the race. My legs felt pretty good. I was able to run pretty comfortably. I was going at a pace that I was pretty happy with. The worst thing that happened to me in the first part of the race was when we were scrambling over the rocks and I reached out my hand to push off the rocks , not because I was stumbling or falling or anything like that, just as an extra surface to push off of for some extra push up the steep rocks and I managed to jam my right index finger straight into the rocks causing some very significant throbbing pain that would last the rest of the race and is actually still aching now over a week after the incident.
Aside from the unforced error of smashing my own finger against the rocks all on my own. The first ten miles went about as well as I could have possibly imagined. A short while before the second aide station I began to feel the fatigue setting in around my injured leg muscles. I was still running with one of my friends and I told her my leg was getting fatigued and I didn’t think I could maintain this pace much longer. I was going to only get slower from here on out. We ran together a little longer then she decided she felt really good and was going to pass me while she was running that high, and I am so glad she did because she ended up having a great race and I would have hated to have held her back.
I arrived at the second aide station tired but in good spirits. It was the perfect time to see our crew, and they were fantastic the entire day. I told them how I was feeling and that I was probably only going to be getting slower from here on out into the race. It took me over 2.5 hours to get to the second aide station at mile 10 and considering how I was feeling things were going well. Being out on the trails for 2.5 hours and traveling 10 miles and only just now feeling that my injury was slowing me down but was not yet painful was a significant win for me. That was farther and longer than I had been able to go on any of my recent long runs without any pain or discomfort. I think that the constantly changing course terrain actually was a benefit in that. It allowed the muscles that are fatigued/injured to rest and recover to a degree while other muscles are more active over certain parts of the course.
I knew the next 9 miles until I saw my crew again was going to be tough. The 9 miles between crew able aide stations was probably more downhill than up. Under normal circumstances that would be welcome, but with my leg issues descending was a challenge. These nine miles were a mix of running and walking and as time went on it shifted ever more to walking with a little bit of running. In the past one of my favorite parts of this course was a steep and technical decent down to where the mile 19 crew access aide station is. I think that this time around I essentially walked down this descent. Due to my leg issues I think my descending times were probably even slower than my times on the flat sections. This was a challenging section of the course due to the obvious difficulty of the course itself plus my increasing soreness in my compromised leg muscles. I really enjoyed the section down by that water that eventually leads into the mile 19 aide station. I reached this aide station and was able to see my wife, who was part of our crew team. I told her I was pretty sure I was essentially done running the course. It would basically be a hike from here on out. My leg was too painful to sustain any significant amount of running. She asked me if I wanted to stop and I assured her that I didn’t need to stop. I could get it done it would just be slow and painful. I sat, chatted, reapplied SNB, and changed my socks and shoes, then ate some food. Putting on dry socks and shoes felt sooooo good. It was really an uplifting experience after all the wet and muddy conditions.
As I left the 19 mile aide station and began to climb I was really enjoying my nice warm dry socks and shoes. Then all to quickly it happened. A HUGE pit of mud, followed by more and more mud. I took more effort trying to keep my socks and shoes as dry as I could and avoid as much mud and water as I possibly could. This is not something I typically worry about during a trail run particularly a race, but with the slow pace I was going and was going to continue to go and how good it felt physically and mentally to have dry feet I felt it was worth the compromise in time to keep myself happy and as comfortable as possible. I was not in this to make a time goal of any kind at this point. I was in this to simply finish and to finish I need to maintain any high I could get for as long as I could get that high and dry feet were the best thing I had going for me at that point.
As you leave the mile 19 aide station you begin to climb. In my mind, because I hate climbing, this section was remembered as essentially a 3 mile long single switch backing climb with no break in it. There is a lot of climbing on this section of the course, but you do descend for a bit and you actually end up in this beautiful valley with a stream and many waterfalls. This confused the crap out of me. I did not remember this at all. Despite following the trail markers all the way I could not shake the feeling that I must have gone the wrong way. I was completely alone on the course. No one to ask if this was the right way. No memory of this section. I was afraid that somehow I had gotten onto some section of the 100k course or took a wrong turn and looped back around onto a part of the 50k course I already covered or something. I was becoming completely illogical. I essentially began to have some sort of panic attack. I literally ran back and forth on that section of course a little bit trying to decide if I should go back the way I came until I saw another runner to ask if I was still on course or until I got back to the aide station I had recently left. I was kind of freaking out. I had never felt like this out on a trail before and I had been on plenty of trails all alone before. I had to do essentially the mental equivalent of slapping myself in the face, and almost did the physical version, to try to get my mind to snap back and allow myself to think clearly. When I was able to regroup I made the determination to keep moving forward in the direction I had already been going. Keep following the trail markers and move forward. Eventually I would see runners or reach an aide station where either they would confirm my fears that I had gotten off course and I would DNF there. Or they would allay my fears and confirm that I was indeed on the correct path of the 50k course. Perhaps subconsciously I was hoping to DNF there so I could quit this journey that would surely become more painful as time went on.
One good thing that came from this heightened anxious state was that along with the anxiety came a flood of adrenaline that allowed me to run for quite a good little stretch. More than I had been able to do at any other point along that stretch. Eventually that faded and I was back to essentially walking and still worrying about where exactly I was, but I kept pushing forward. What really saved me here was my initial plan for this race, which was to capture as much of this race as possible on camera. I had two GoPro cameras, one hand held and one chest mounted, and I had my small Nikon camera in a pocket on my race vest. I harnessed these tools and took my focus off running and focused on photography. This is the only section where I actually stopped and took still photos using my Nikon camera. It really helped me to settle down once I took my mind of of the race and focused it elsewhere. There were so many gorgeous stream scenes and waterfalls in this area that I simply couldn’t’ stop to capture them all with my Nikon so I used my hand held GoPo to try to capture them on camera while on the move.
Eventually after one big clime I arrived in an area that I recognized and realized that I was approaching the mile 22 crew accessible aide station at Canyon Vista. I was so happy and tried to jog it in to the aide station. I was so happy to see my wife and her partner in crime on our crew at this aide station. I told her about the crazy adventure I just had through that relatively short 3 mile section of the race. I told her that in all likelihood I would finish in around the 10 hour time frame if I kept the pace I was expecting from here on out, essentially a walk/hike the whole last 9 miles.
This last nine miles of the race were the toughest nine miles I’ve ever covered. They were tough physically and mentally. One of the biggest challenges was my pace and what that meant for the “race”. I am not fast. I am a pretty solid mid packer. Getting passed by people is nothing new to me especially at the beginning of a race, but usually once I settle into a consistent pace I can sustain I generally run with the same group of people juggling back and forth in position when each person hits a pot that is their strength or where they feel good and can pass and then fall back. And you just keep shuffling around with the same people for the most part with the occasional person passing and leaving you behind. During this nine miles I was consistently passed by people and there was no catching back up to them and shuffling back and forth in position. They passed me and before too long were out of sight. This continued right up through the last few miles. It is just tough mentally to be falling farther and farther behind where you would have liked to be. What was really tough is when the time clicked by past the time that I finished last year and I was still nowhere near the finish line. That was very disheartening.
The next biggest challenge was a combination of my leg muscles getting increasingly sore and tight and all of the mud that was on the course. It was difficult if not impossible to even walk fast because of the mud and the slipping and sliding that it caused. It just caused increased pain in my leg. So anywhere I could not get good footing, everywhere, I had to essentially walk at regularly casual pace because if you tried to push off at all to propel yourself forward you slid in the mud and that caused pain in my leg. If the ground was stable I would have been much better off. The conditions of the course were conspiring against me.
When I began to hear the sounds that indicated I was nearing the sixth and final aide station I was a little relieved. But that relief began to fade as that aide station seemed to keep getting farther away like a mirage in a desert. I could hear the raucous fun that was being had at the aide station but it was taking forever to actually arrive at that aide station and my perseverance was running low. I just needed to get there so that I knew I was close to the end. I knew that once I got to that aide station there were fewer than 4 miles to go. Then it would just be a matter of time. Finally out of the woods emerged this mystical aide station that seemed to be intentionally evading me as I wound my way through the woods hearing the sounds of merriment and food awaiting. I filled up my water and ate some food and headed out along the trail to finish this thing.
Last year I hated this section of the trail because it is relatively exposed compared to the rest of the course. You get a lot of sunlight here. I was expecting that due to the warmer weather this year on race day I would hate this section even more. To my surprise this might have been the best section for me out of the last 9 miles of the course. It was warm in the sun but due to the fact that I was going much slower than anticipated I did not get overheated. Also, probably due to the fact that it is a wider more exposed section of trail the ground was much drier and firmer. This allowed me to walk at a faster pace. I could actually push off the ground without slipping and sliding. So I was essentially trying to compete in the speed walking/hiking portion of the race for me. It was much more welcome than the pace I had been going. Essentially my fastest times since the beginning of the race were during the last 3 miles. At this point I began to look at my watch and see what time it was and try to calculate how long it would take me to finish and see how fast I needed to go to finish in under 10 hours. Even when you are hurting and going slower than you want you can still set yourself goals. My goal was finish in under 10 hours now. That helped me push it through to the finish. It gave me that extra drive and motivation to keep pushing as hard as I was physically able to at that point. As I was moving down this relatively flat relatively dry section of trail I kept thinking about trying to run, but I also knew there was a big decent awaiting and then it was flat to the finish. I really wanted to be able to do something resembling running when I crossed that finish line. I decided to conserve my energy and conserve the injured leg muscles as long as I was able to make a decent pace that would likely get me in to the finish in under ten hours. I was able to hobble down that final decent and be in some sort of running like posture down that final stretch and across the finish line. Finishing this race felt so good. It felt so good to be done. This was the hardest thing in running I have done to this point. Just persevering to be able to finish any way I could. Being able to hug my wife after finishing and then going to sit in the water at the finish was the best feeling.
Aside from the actual physical pain the hardest thing for me was that I could not really enjoy the part of trail running that I enjoy the most and that this course provides a lot of. I love to run downhill. I love descents. Unfortunately the way my injury was manifesting itself was as a limitation to my muscles that stabilized and pushed off from the hip region of my right leg so I really could not run any descending sections aside from the first major descent, which I really enjoyed. The course due to the mud even made relatively flat sections tough and limited my ability to do much of anything there. So that really left climbing. I do not really like climbing. I am not bad at it. I just don’t enjoy it. It is probably my least enjoyable aspect of trail running. It really can wear me out and leave me drained for whatever comes next, which probably just means I need to dedicate more work to it. But as it goes climbing was the one thing that I was left with being able to do at any kind of pace I would have had under normal circumstances. The pain I was experiencing did not really manifest itself in climbing. Must be the muscles that I was having difficulty with were not as involved in climbing as other parts of running.
Let’s talk about the mud and water. This was the most extreme mud and wet course I have every run on. I ran a 25k where it rained essentially the entire time. I’ve run Sehgahunda 3 times including this year which most people seemed to consider the muddiest yet and I have called that race the most muddy until now. At Sehgahunda the extreme mud is essentially limited to specific areas you can anticipate. At this year’s Worlds End the mud and water was everywhere. There were very few areas where your feet could dry off and then even if that happened it was rigfhtg back into the mud and water. There was essentially no good footing until the final 3 miles of the race where at least by the time I go there the course had dried out some. The descents were made even more difficult because the trails were muddy and where the trails weren’t muddy or there was rocks and roots instead of mud, the rocks and roots were wet and often slippery. You could not trust your footing to the rocks and roots. There was no real obvious strategy to get good footing even at the slow pace I was moving along the trail. I even managed to slip on a rock and fall on a descent. Not a terribly fall but IU did shed a little blood on the trail this year. This was by far the most difficult trail conditions I have every run on and it coincided with the most difficult race course I have run to date not really what one wants on their best day really not what one wants when they are less than 100% healthy but it is what I got and I did my best to overcome it.
I hesitate to really call anything an injury, but for lack of a better word that is what I am calling what I am dealing with. It doesn’t feel like an actual injury to me. At least not the type of thing that a person would call an injury in daily life. This issue I am having does not really impact me in carrying out my normal daily activities. It doesn’t even necessarily prevent me from running. It really just prevents me from training hard and training as hard as I feel I need to, to complete the challenges I have set before me. So I guess as it relates to running it is a running injury, but not anything more than that and for that I feel fortunate.
I am the kind of person that stubbornly refuses to get medical treatment unless absolutely necessary. Just ask my wife, she will confirm it. I have been extremely fortunate in my life to have very few occasions that actually required medical intervention. I have been very fortunate to be relatively healthy throughout my adult life and I am very thankful for that. So, now that I have this issue cropping up that while in the grand scheme of things really is a minor issue I am finally seeking and getting medical treatment for my condition. I have been getting treatment from a chiropractor and a massage therapist and I have my first appointment with a primary care doctor that I plan to continue to use since I was probably 18 years old. Sadly the only reason I am actually getting this treatment is because I have a huge race for me quickly approaching. I am running my first ever 50 miler at the Finger Lakes 50’s in Upstate, NY and I need to be as close to at least physically healthy as I can be especially since I will likely be to some degree under trained. Wish me luck.
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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.
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Recently I participated in the Sehgahunda trail event at Letchworth State Park in upstate NY. This is the third time I have participated in this event. The first time I participated in the event I was part of a relay team. The next year my friends and I all decided we would run the trail marathon. This year my best friends and I ran together as part of a relay team. We were all at the event with our extended running family from the SOAR running club, a youth running club in upstate NY. There were teams of youth running the relay together, teams of adults and youth running together, and solo runners running the full marathon.
My original plan for this event was to run almost the complete marathon. I wanted to run with my friends as they ran each of their legs and shoot photos and video of them running. Then I would also complete my leg to finish out the relay and create photography and video footage of my leg as well. After suffering a setback in my training during my last race I had been forced to take time off to rest and let my leg recover. I knew I would no longer be able to execute my plan as I had previously wanted. I would not be able to run the majority of a trail marathon right now. After some time off I tested my leg out on some local trails and after a recovery day I felt well enough that I thought I would be able to run the 9 mile leg of the relay. I wasn’t sure how fast I would be but I was pretty confident that I could get it done.
We all met up at the start line and watched our friends set off on this adventure. IT is fun to have so many friends to cheer for. I would be running the second leg so we headed out for the check point where I would meet our first runner and then set off down the trails. I was as ready as I was going to be. Our first runner met up with me and passed the relay bib to me. I put it on and headed down the trails. Getting from the check points down to the main trails through the woods is one of the most challenging aspects of this event. The trails leading to the checkpoints are nothing like the trails leading through the woods. I really enjoy the sections of trails that run through the woods. They are challenging but mostly runable. Even in less than desirable conditions one can run most of the course when down in the woods. I managed to move down the trails at a moderate pace. I tried to take it a bit easier descending and ascending the many ravines that comprise the main feature of these trails that make it so interesting and beautiful.
You run down the trails for a while and then you dip into a steep ravine and pop right back out on the other side. This occurs over and over again along the course. Then there are many sections where you run down a relatively smooth section of trail and you can just look out over a gorge section nearby. These trails are nice and scenic if you love the woods. I really enjoy the 9 mile leg of the relay. I think it is the best section of the course.
As we awaited the final leg of our teams race to start our members were also keeping tabs on the progress of the other teams. WE learned that one of the other teams had failed to make the cutoff time to continue on in the race, meaning their other runners would not be able to run. My kind hearted friend decided without a second thought that she would give up he spot on our relay team and allow the other youth runner who was not going to be able to run to take her place and run the final leg of the relay for our team. So we started with a slightly different team than we finished with, but it was still a fun adventure.
Let’s talk about these trails. One could say that there was some mud this year. Let’s just say there were some footing issues. There was significantly more mud than I had seen in my past experiences. Our friends who have run the race 5 and 6 times have said this was by far the worse mud they have ever seen. Sehgahunda seems to have a reputation for significant levels of mud on the trails leading up to the checkpoints and aid stations that are up out of the woods. This year was no different, but it seemed significantly worse. It wasn’t even like running through mud it was like thick brown soup or pudding. There was no footing to be had. Especially on the way down back into the woods from the aid stations it was so much of a run as a semi controlled constant falling down the trail without ever fully hitting the ground. You just slid along in the mud going wherever the mud took you. I found it better to just ty to go with the flow rather than try to direct myself down a specific course in the mud. It was just not happening. Even on the trails that ran through the woods mud was a significant issue. There was mud and standing puddles of water even on those trails, which I had not experienced in the past. This made the race even more complex and challenging. I am very glad that I did not decide to run the full marathon this year, which I had been contemplating when registration started.
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