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FLT Danby State Forest

I have been writing a lot about my trail running experiences. I hope you aren’t getting sick of it because it seems to be a growing trend, especially as I explore new trails. I’ve written about how trail running has allowed me to and encouraged me to explore so much more of the natural world that I love so much. Today was no different.

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Without running, but hiking instead the amount of distance one can cover on a trail in a reasonable amount of time is limited. If I was going to go for a hike would I choose to drive an hour to hike a few miles on some random trails in the woods or would I go to a well known state park where I knew that at least in those few miles I will be able to enjoy nice scenic views. I think I would probably choose a park. Nothing against state parks, I love them and go there frequently but that’s the point. I don’t see something new by doing that. There is less exploration.

Thanks to running I can cover 8 miles in a couple hours.   So that is 8 miles of state forest land I can explore and discover for myself for the first time. Being able to explore that much nature in a relatively short amount of time is worth it to me even if there aren’t any majestic views. That all lead me to choose to go explore the Finger Lakes Trail through Danby State Forest.

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I am not going to try to oversell Danby State Forest. I really enjoyed my time there, but I am sure it’s not for everyone. It is beautiful without being scenic, if that makes any sense. There are no grand waterfalls, or even small waterfalls that I saw along the FLT. There are no lookouts with wide open scenic vistas. You are in a forest just about all the time. There are trees of all sorts. There are roots. There are streams. There are flowers.  And there are countless little spotted newts that I did not stop to take photos of but had I been out on a hike I surely would have. Being in Danby State Forest means enjoying the simple little things about nature. I didn’t even see any people until I had gone about 12 miles of my 16 mile run.

The run itself was very fun and interesting. I really didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t look at the map other than to confirm I could get a total of 16 miles in and stay in Danby State Forest. I didn’t look at contour lines or anything like that. Maybe I should have, but I am glad I did not. If I had maybe I would not have done it. My first thought when I began running on the trail was “oh nice this is rather runnable, not very rocky, no big climbs looming.” Then I started to go down and down and down. This was in the moment fine by me because I love downhill running and the trails were very runnable and I really enjoyed it. But it was one downhill after another without much climbing back up in between. I was loving all the runnable downhills but in the back of my mind I kept thinking “This is going to be a lot of climbing on the way back.” And it was. The first climb I came to I felt like it wasn’t so bad, but then climb after climb just wore me down. By the end I felt like I was barely able to move. I ended up with over 3,000 ft of vertical gain which wasn’t shocking but I was really thinking it would be more in the 2,000 ft range. I really loved the first half of the run with all the open downhill running. I just need someone to pick me up after eight so I don’t have to go back up next time.

I am looking forward to continuing to explore the Finger Lakes Trail, but as I explore it more and more I will need to drive farther and farther from home to reach new trail sections so that might make further exploration a continually growing challenge, but I will find ways to get out there and keep exploring. Maybe at Twisted Branch 100k next year.

2018 Trailfest at Pinnacle

Last year the Southern Tier Running Club launched its first trail running event. I was so excited for this and I had to participate by running in the first ever STRC trail race. This year the STRC is launched its second brand new Trail Running event: Trail Fest at Pinnacle. I was equally excited for this event as well. I love seeing our running club grow and provide more events for our members and the rest of the running community. I did not run this event. I was able to be part of it in a different way.

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I started off the day volunteering and helping with race day set up. We had a great crew of volunteers out there making this event happen many of whom put in countless hours before race day. The Trail Fest at Pinnacle consisted of two races. The event kicked off with a 3.5 mile race and then that would be followed by a 7 mile race. Runners had the option of running one or both races.

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As start time for the 3.5 mile race began I took on a different roll. I would be providing race photography for the event. I was able to secure a ride out onto the race course to where I was ensured by our club member who designed the course that I would be able to capture some great images. He was right. It was a great spot. I was able to capture great still photos as well as time lapse footage and long video of the entire race. The best part for me as a photographer was that this location was where the 3.5 and 7 mile courses converged. So I could photograph the 3.5 mile race and then only readjust my set up a little bit and reposition and be able to photograph the 7 mile race without really even having to move much at all. I appreciated this aspect even more as the temperature rose to over 80 degrees.

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Although I loved this location for photographs I am not sure the runners appreciated me being there. For each race I was at the top of a tough climb. I am pretty sure some of the runners wanted to curse at me. No one really wants there photo taken as they struggle up a climb, but for me as a photographer it allows me to show what trail running is really about. It is about the grit and determination it takes to climb those elevation gains that others would avoid. It’s not always fast or fun but grinding out those miles with effort is what makes trail running the sport I love and other people love as well. Photographs might not be traditionally “good” photographs (My thoughts on that here: What IS a “good” Race Photo) but they show the amount of effort runners are putting into the course.

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Even photographing a race I make sure to get photos of a dog.

This year has really been about trying to add new dimensions to my race photography and many of the races I’ve photographed this year have allowed me to do that because of the way they were structured. This one was no different. Never before have I shot such long segments of video and time lapse footage at the same time as photographing a race. Never before have I secured a camera to a tree in order to record video from a different angle. I love being able to do different things for race coverage. I hope other people enjoy the variety of things I provide from races as well. As I am still processing the photographs from the race this post includes some of my favorites so far. Enjoy. I’d love to hear any feedback you have.

Sunfish Shuffle

Trying new things is often what life is all about. Even if your new experiences don’t go quite the way you had hopped they would. In my running and in my photography I enjoy trying new things. Sometimes things work out sometimes they don’t. Every year since I ran my first official 5k I have tried at least 1 new thing in my running.

The more people you meet the more new things you learn about in running. When I learned about the Sunfish Shuffle I wasn’t sure it was the kind of event I would be into. But the more I thought about it the more it intrigued me. The race is a timed race. So the race is over when the allotted time has elapsed as opposed to the race being over when you run a certain distance. The layout for the race was a 1 mile loop. Runners run as many laps around the 1 mile loop as they can in 3 hours. I had never run a race where the time determines the en of the race, nor had I ever run a race where you ran short loops around a course the whole time.

I began to think that this could be an interesting event. I could use it to gauge my fitness towards a possible road marathon in the future. I’d like to run around 4 hours, so I could see how many miles I could get to in 3 hours. I really wasn’t sure if I would enjoy running around the same 1 mile loop over and over, but thanks to the amazing location of this race, Sunfish Pond County Park in Canton, PA, there was gorgeous scenery to enjoy during the race.

Another added interesting point about this style of race is the very fact that you are running loops. Everyone who runs with their friends understands that you don’t always run the same pace. So, often times when you go to a race together with your friends, unless you specifically plan to run together, you don’t necessarily see each other during the race. But when you are running loops you get to see your friends as they pass you by or as you catch up to the, or as you converge at the aide station. The aide station at this race was amazing by the way.

My plan was to run out relatively hard at my half marathon PR pace from earlier this year since that is what I would need to do to achieve a 4 hour marathon. The goal being to just see how long I could continue that pace for. I was hoping to get in 19 miles as that would put me right on pace. As the race began I started off at a pretty quick pace for me, not really worrying about it as I felt fine. I apparently got sucked in too much by the faster group ahead of me because after looking back at my splits from the race my first 3 miles especially were significantly faster than I had wanted to be going. I felt good through the first half of the race. After the half way point the heat became a factor as it reached mid day. By mile 12 the wheels were stating to come off. I could feel myself getting more tired and getting slower. The heat really took its toll on me. The last several laps I ran I stopped at the aide station and loaded up the buff I was wearing with ice and ran with the ice hanging around my neck. I was getting hot. I do not run well in the heat.

At what I thought would be my last lap I stopped my watch then I looked at the timer and had about 15 minutes to go. I decided I could make at least 1 more lap even if I mostly walked. So I pushed on for one more lap. That ended up being one of my better miles for the end of the race. The race didn’t go as well as I had wanted I did not get to 19 miles, but I did get to 17.76 miles which is pretty good. It is actually the third longest distance I have run at the race. I also learned I can at least run faster for shorter distances than I would have suspected. Best of all I got to run in a beautiful place with my friends. We hung out some pre-race and then relaxed for a while after the race. That is another reason why I love running.

I Became An Ultra Marathoner

I woke up in the morning the day before the race and just could not get out of bed. I was so anxious. I couldn’t get out of bed and get the day underway. I just lay in bed thinking and trying to get a little more rest. There wasn’t anything much to be done. Finish packing the car and drop off our dogs at the kennel, then drive down to Pennsylvania to camp for the weekend and run a race. This was supposed to be a fun weekend. Then why was I so anxious in the morning?

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I think that was exactly why I was so anxious. This was supposed to be a big weekend for me, a fun weekend camping trip with friends and running a race. Not just any race though. This was my goal race for the year. It was something new to me. I didn’t know what to expect for the weekend, so I tried to hide in bed I guess. Eventually I got myself up got packed and we got under way.

My wife and I arrived at camp the day before the race and had plenty of time to relax and unwind a little. Later that evening we met our friends at bib pick up for the race. Then we had dinner at a great local place, The Forksville General Store. The food was amazing. Just the thing you need the day before a big race. Then we went back to camp and spent the night hanging out by the fire and enjoying each other’s company. One by one we turned in to get some sleep before the race.

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We all rose bright and early and headed over to the starting grounds for the race. We were there with plenty of time before the start of the race, which is fine and probably preferred by many, but for me standing around just waiting for something to happen makes me anxious. I prefer to be right on time and just start whatever it is I’m doing. So I was relieved when all the waiting and race director talking as over and the race started. The Worlds End 50k was under way. Finally my feet could start moving and my brain could stop.

I started the race out nice and easy as we ran down the road to get to where the trails started for this race. I was in no big hurry. I knew I’d be out here for plenty of time. When we got to the trails we started to climb. The first ascent is a pretty steep one. I am fine with going relatively slow up any climbs and that is really my strategy. Go slow up and conserve energy. But when there are spots that level out and there is room to run some I quickly got anxious and a little frustrated with the continued slow pace that was basically a walk. It shouldn’t have been a big deal. It was early on and I would have plenty of time to run, but I quickly found myself squeezing by people to pass o that I could go the pace that was comfortable for me. I didn’t want to go fast. I just wanted to go my own pace and I wanted space. I am sure some of the people I passed in the beginning because of my impatience passed me back later on.

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After that came a nice descent. It is fairly steep but it is also fairly wide trail and open in many places. It was a great spot for me to be able to just open things up and run down the hill at whatever pace my legs would take me. When I have a nice open descent like that my preferred way to run them is to just go with gravity. I don’t necessarily try to run hard down the hill by pushing my legs fast but I try to allow my legs to move at whatever pace gravity is pulling me down the hill. When you are my size gravity does a lot of work and provides a good amount of momentum to propel you down the slope. It really doesn’t even seem like work. It’s more like just trying to coordinate your legs to keep up.

When you get to the bottom of that fast descent you start right back up the hill again. You climb right back up a mountain for about another mile. Then once you arrive at the top one of my favorite feature of this race was a nice relatively flat section at the top where I could just run whatever pace was comfortable for me. I didn’t have to push. I didn’t have to really fight with gravity. It was like a nice casual trail run compared to the first several miles. Then after a nice gradual descent there is another quick climb going into mile eight.

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After mile eight there are several miles that are probably what I would call for this course most closely described as rolling hills would be on a road course except all the while you are navigating rocks, and roots, and plenty of mud. During this section you reach the second aid station, which is the first aide station that is crew accessible. There my wife awaits me with anything that I might need. Fortunately I still feel ok and don’t really need anything. I am plenty tired though despite it only being mile 10 of a 30+ mile run. I stop to eat some food at the aide station and talk to my wife for a little bit. My one remark was that “This is not Sehgahunda”, which is the race I ran two weeks prior and was my first ever trail marathon. That race was plenty challenging in its own right, but this was a whole new level. There I felt pretty good through 15 miles. Here I was tired by mile 10.

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The next crew accessible aid station would not be until around mile 19. There was plenty of varied terrain to cover between mile 10 and 19 when I would be able to see my wife gain and I would stop and talk for a minute. From mile 11 to 19 I got to run just about every kind of terrain one could imagine. There were relatively flat sections. There were hills. And there were downhills. There were roots. There were rocks. There were boulders. There were plenty of wet areas as well. The water took many forms on this course: mud and muck, puddles, full on bogs and marshy areas, streams and even waterfalls. My favorite part of this section was the steep technical descent that takes you into the aide station at mile 19. We had previewed this section a few weeks before the race so I knew what was to come. But when we ran it then we had much fewer miles on our legs. I was not sure what I was going to be able to do after around 17 miles had already worn down my legs. My plan was to run down it as fast as I could. I was wearing my GoPro on its chest harness and I knew this was either going to be epic or an epic fail and either way I wanted video evidence of this experience. I paused for a second at the top of the section to start the video recording and then down I went. I ran down as fast as I could while maintaining control. I stepped from rock to rock. Over and around boulders. Dodging roots and outcroppings. Many of my strides were more like leaps from side to side over and around obstacles. Watching my footing and making sure to find safe purchase. I plummeted down the descent. One fellow runner heard my thundering strides down the slope and moved aside and called out to me “Good Luck” as I careened by. He sounded sarcastic but I took it in stride, said “Thanks” and flew by. I think he seemed dubious that I should be taking this approach to the downhill. I caught up to another fellow runner who had passed me a while ago and he quickly moved aside so I could bound past him as well. I loved that section because it was a true test not only of my stamina but of my ability on a difficult technical section and I gave it my all and went for it. It was a fun and exciting section of trail to run during a race that had plenty of sections that were grinding.

At the mile 19 aid station I stopped to change my socks to prevent blisters. I also refilled my water bladder and added two more Nuun hydration tablets for electrolytes. I also ate some food that was provided by the aid station. I took my time and rested some as I changed my socks and ate and drank. I talked with my wife for a minute and gave her a kiss and then I was on the move again.

The three miles from the aid station at mile 19 to the aid station at mile 22 were the most difficult miles of the entire race for me. It was three miles of virtually all vertical climbing. Climbing is what I am weakest at. I really felt the fatigue set in as I made this climb. More than two-thirds the way up I really started to lose my energy and my motivation. I was felt like the climb had defeated me mentally. I just felt like I had nothing left in the tank. I had two vanilla bean GU’s with me and I really was hoping not to use them but they had caffeine in them and I felt like I needed any energy boost I could get at the moment. I really did not enjoy eating that GU. I basically choked it down. But eating it accomplished the goal. It gave me enough energy to get to the aid station at the top of the climb. I was very happy to get to that aid station where I could once again see my wife and eat some real food. It definitely helped to boost my mood. I took my time at this aid station talking to my wife, gathering my strength, and getting my mind right for the rest of the journey. Initially I thought it as odd to have two crew accessible aide stations so close together, one at mile 19 and another one at mile 22, but I was very happy that it was planned that way after I went through it.

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After mile 22 there was a good deal of varied terrain. There were downhill sections and uphill sections, but nothing too long or too steep in either direction. There was a combination of all the things that made this course great. Single track trails, trees, rocks, roots, mud, and water. To be perfectly honest after running for such a long time on such a tough course at this point everything kind of blurs together in the aftermath trying to remember it. All I know is that in the moment I was enjoying being out in the woods. I went over 8 hours without touching my cell phone. When was the last time I did that when I wasn’t asleep? This is what trail running is about. Getting out in nature and connecting with it. Enjoying the connection our body makes with nature as you traverse the course.

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Finally I arrived at the final aid station. I wasn’t hungry so I didn’t eat any actual food, but I knew it still could be an hour before I finished so I did have some tailwind to top off my fuel for the finish. As I rested for a minute one of the many friendly volunteers at the aide station jokingly asked “What are you still doing here?” I said “I’m enjoying all the hard work you all have put into this aide station.” And he responded “Then you should have a beer.” I normally don’t drink beer at a race. I actually don’t know if I have ever had a beer at a race. So I stopped and considered for a second. Then I agreed. I should have a beer. I am almost done. What harm could it do at this point? I will almost certainly finish. I am here to enjoy myself and have fun. So I did have half a beer at the aide station before I left. Maybe it was just what I needed to get me to the finish.

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After leaving the final aid station there is a long relatively flat section that looks like an old logging road or something. It is probably the most open and flat section of the whole course. I was so tired at that point. I could not keep up a steady pace to run, so I adopted a run walk strategy. Just pushing myself to run at all was a sheer force of will at that point so; I ran for as long as I could then I would walk some to recover and then pick up the run again and repeat over and over.

As I ran through this flatter section of trail I began to think. I thought about all the long hard hours of training I put into this. I thought about all the commitment and determination it took to arrive exactly at this point. I started to think about how this was the culmination of everything I have worked towards for the past six months. I began to get a little emotional as I ran along thinking all the deep thoughts one does when they finally realize that they are about to accomplish a huge goal that they have fully committed to. I felt the full weight of what this experience meant to me. It was fun and it was exciting and it was something I really wanted and I set my heart to it and I got it done. When I say I set my heart to it that is what I truly mean it took my heart and my will in order to get to this point. It is an achievement of a physical accomplishment, but it is not one you come to if your heart isn’t in it and if you don’t have the will to put in the work.

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I knew from the course map and elevation profile that I would eventually come to a steep decent before getting to the finish. I was a little concerned about how that part would go for me. I usually like to go as fast as I can on downhills. I feel like it’s the best strategy for me for many reasons. But when I got to this particular decent I was spent. There was no way I could run down this. This was no strait open flat hill. This was a steep twisty turvy and rocky vertical decent. If I tried to go fast my legs would crumble underneath the pressure of my momentum building up. I decided my best course of action was to pick my way down through the rocks, going as fast as I could but far from a run. Going slow down a step decent was no picnic. My toes were smashed in the front of my shoes, but I finally made it down. I felt like I literally dragged myself for that last little bit to get to the finish line. I felt like I was barely moving as I crossed the finish line and I think the video my wife recorded of my finish verifies that fact.

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I crossed the line and hugged my wife. I was finally done. I see my friends who were there, cheering. It was a great feeling.

Afterwards I was starving. The food was great. There was plenty of it and it tasted good. The beer was also the perfect thing after finishing a long race like that. It was a great post race experience to sit around and talk with your friends and cheer on runners you didn’t know as well as our other friends who finished. I told my friends I would do this race again just for the food.

I have run a fair amount of trails in our area and I have been out hiking even more trails and this area definitely ranks right up there as one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to. I loved all the scenery. It was amazing. I ran the race with two GoPro cameras to try to capture some of the experience. I had one GoPro on a chest harness and another GoPro that could be hand-held. I could have just stood and taken photographs forever. Every twist and turn revealed something new and unexpected. I would take a video or some photos of a section and then turn my GoPro off and then around the next bend would be another section just as beautiful and I would think I should turn my camera back on. If I did that I would probably still be there taking photographs. When we came for a preview run of some of the course I told my friends that if I don’t finish it’s because I am still out on the course taking pictures. It is that beautiful.

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If you are a nature lover like I am you need to get yourself out to the Worlds End State Park area in Pennsylvania. This area has just about everything one could ask for in nature scenery. You can hike up a trail to a scenic overlook and look out over the valley and across to another mountain that you can also hike up and be at the location you were just looking at from across the valley. There are endless scenic forest lands to wander through with all types of majestic trees. Throughout the entire landscape there are scattered rocks and outcroppings ranging from pebbles to giant boulders that you need to be on all fours to climb over. There are also many streams flowing through the woods and down the mountains. These streams create countless waterfalls that are just truly mesmerizing as they cross the green scape. There are sections of trail where you will cross the streams and waterfalls and you can get a real up close and personal look at them. There are so many I could not imagine how long it would take me to photograph them all, but I might go back and try some day. At the top of one mountain there is even a lake. Like really on top of all that amazing nature you get to run up to a mountain top lake. I’m telling you there is no shortage of beautiful sites in this area. The race course also has multiple sections where you run along a body of water that I am not sure if it is officially a creek or a river but it is big enough that you can dive right in and swim if you want. I know because I’ve done it.

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How can you beat all this? I experienced all this amazing nature all in one day. This is the type of adventure that might take weeks to experience on a normal trip. But thanks to the gift of running and how fortunate I am to be able to do the things that I do I got to do all this in a bit over eight hours. Not weeks. I saw all those sights in a third of a day. I love how much running has added to my ability to explore nature and enjoy the other things that make life worth living and that is really why I love running.

It is just a unique experience to be out in that type of landscape. World’s End is such a varied place of unique treasures with something new around every turn. I don’t know if I will ever top this experience.

I know these photos don’t do the scenery I have described justice, so I will try to link to some photos taken by others at the event. Check out these photos by Brian: Worlds End Photos. There are also these photos from Rusty: Worlds End Photos.

 

Running My First Trail Marathon

When I first started running I never thought I would be doing the things I have done. They were not things thst I wanted to do. Some of the things I’ve done I didn’t even know were things people do when I first started running. Like trail running; that’s a thing? Running a trail marathon; people really do that?

As I began to run more I met more people. I made amazing friends. I learned more about running and the amazing things that runners really do. I learned about what the human body is capable of. More importantly I began to learn whst my body was capable of. I began to push myself farther and farther, literally. First a 5k, then a 10k, then a half marathon, several half marathons. I began to trail run more and more and conqured those same distances on the trails and thn pushed farther to 25k trail runs. Looking for that next challenge. Looking for that next beautiful trail I could experience. Wondering where tht next trail would take me.

Last year I was invited to participate in the event that really set all this in motion. My friend invited me to particiapte in an event with her and a couple other firends. We would run the Sehgahund Trail Marathon relay together. Once again, this was a thing that I didn’t realize even existed at the time. This was sucha fun event for me. It doesn’t get much better than spending time out on the trails with your friends working as a team. I don’t know if my fiend will think if this event with as much appreciation for the path it has sent us down as I do, but for me it was a formative event that has helped lead me to where I am now.

After building up by running loner distances last year culminatiung with a chalenging 25k I returned to the idea of Sehgahunda. We had all begun running more and more trails and I thought what if we all trained together and ran the full solo Sehgahunda Trail Marathon together. I almost couldn’t believe the words that were coming out of my mouth, and I don’t think my friends could either at first. A marathoin was never something I had thougtht about wanting to do. But now that the idea had formed in my head I just couldn’t shake it.

I spent all winter training and continued into spring. As the day of the race approached I began to feel nervous and anxious. I really has no idea what to expect. I just had to hope my training had me prepared for this. My wife was going to be at the race crewing and cheering me on at the aide stations and check points. Even though I really had no idea how this race would go for me I told her that I felt like if everything went well and I felt good I thought I could be done in six hours.

My friends and I spent the week leading up to the race watching the weather forecast for race day. The two conditions we were hoping not to have for the race was for it to not be too hot and for it not to be too wet. If it was wet we knew the trails leading to the aide stations/check points would be muddy disasters. We were fortunate enough to not have heat, which for me is the worst possible condition. However, we had plenty of rain leading up to the race including rain the night before the race and it actively rained during most of the race itself.

The trails that take you to the aide stations/check points lead you out of the woods and generally into open fields. The fields were completely saturated with water. It was a mud-fest. There was standing water in areas. The mud was at least ankle deep on most of these trails. You just slipped and slid all over. You couldn’t get any footing. You couldn’t push off because your feet just slid out behind you. As a mid pack runner another problem is that half of the runners are ahead of you so they have all already trampled through this area and degraded the trail a great deal. The traffic out in front on these trails basically created a narrow steep rut of mud to run through. You couldn’t step off to the side because it was so muddy that you slid back down into the trench. Gravity was doing its job. And it got more complicated. Not only did you have to navigate the water hazards and the deep slippery mud these sections were out and backs with two way traffic going down a path that especially due to the mud was basically single track. Trying to continue to move forward without colliding with your fellow runners was not as easy as it might seem. Combine this challenge with the possibility of passing other runners going the same direction as you and it was even more difficult. It basically became more effective to divert so far off the designated path that you were basically out in a field of knee high grass. But even that wasn’t possible most places.

On the way to most of the aide stations/check points you were going up hill. So, you were working against gravity in ground conditions that made it very to push off or use any power or strength to propel oneself forward as the ground just continued to shift under your foot as you pushed against it. The factors combined to result in a lot of walking up through the mud. On the way down from the aide stations/check points you were presented with a different kind of challenge. The mud was obviously still there but instead of going against gravity you were going with gravity down the hill. And instead of the mud preventing you from pushing off of to propel yourself up, now the mud prevented you from planting your feet to slow yourself down and control your descent. It was like mud skiing except there was much less control of direction and footing than with actual skies on snow. You slid and splattered down the hill at the best speed you could manage without completely losing control and either falling or colliding with a fellow runner. I’ve heard running described as controlled falling and this was as close to that as I have ever felt. The fall was barely under control but felt inevitable. However, I managed not to fall on any of those sections.

I thought that the main trails that ran through the woods would remain mostly firm with only a relatively small degree of mud despite the rain. I even advised my friend against running in her trail shoes with more aggressive tread for better grip in the mud because I thought the main trails would not be so bad as to require it and the side trails up to the aide stations would be so muddy that they wouldn’t make a difference. Luckily she was smart enough to ignore me and follow her own instincts. The main trail was much muddier than I had anticipated. I lost a shoe in a mud hole in less than two miles. I saw all the runners ahead of me running around this muddy spot and I thought it made no sense to take the extra steps to avoid it since we were going to get plenty muddy anyway. I ran right through the middle of the mud I went through it just fine. I didn’t slip at all. Unfortunately though one of my shoes did not follow me through those several steps and remained lodged in the mud. Being early in the race I was still moving along at a decent pace and despite my shoes being tied as tightly as I could get them my foot slipped right out and I took several muddy steps with no shoe on one foot. Then I had to retrace my steps and shimmy my foot back into my shoe.

I love the trails that make up the Sehgahunda course. They are almost entirely single track until the last 4 miles. The trails twist and turn and wind their way through the woods at Letchworth State Park. You get to see and enjoy so much gorgeous woodland scenery. You can see out across the gorge created by the Genesee River at times. You run along sloping ravines as you traverse the forest. You you run down into than back up out of countless gullies created by water runoff over the years. I was actually pleasantly surprised that there wasn’t more water in the gullies considering all the rain we had been having and were currently experiencing during the race.

I didn’t really have a plan for the race other than do whatever it takes to finish. I didn’t have a set plan to try to average a certain pace or anything. I started out the race running whatever pace felt comfortable. I wasn’t running hard but I wasn’t holding back either. I felt really good the whole first half of the race.

The race has a fair amount of elevation gain overall but there aren’t really any particularly steep climbs, which is good for me because I am not good at climbing and it always seems to just suck the life right out of my legs for whatever follows. Despite there being no steep elevation gains there are still some really nice long gradual downhill sections where you can pick up some speed and run faster. I was able to use these features to my advantage throughout the first half of the race.

As I approached the first side station/check point, about 6 miles into the race, I caught up to a couple of my female friends who were also running the full marathon. So I was able to chat with some friends out on the trail for a few minutes. At the aide station/check point I got one of my Calorie Bomb Cookies, that I made from the recipe in the No Meat Athlete Cookbook, out of my pack and ate and drank there. I said hi to my wife who was there to cheer me on and crew for me. Then I was back off on the trail.

After getting back down into the woods I eventually caught up to my two friends who I originally hatched this crazy plan with. We were able to talk for a little while out on the trail. We were all in good spirits. I also took some video of them running which I don’t know if they were aware of at the time. I continued to move along in the trails at a pretty good pace for me. I was just casually running down a relatively nondescript section of trail when I apparently failed to pick my size 14 foot up high enough to clear a root or a rock because I went down. I tripped and went straight down flat on my chest and face. Luckily I was able to brace myself somewhat with my outstretched hands like superman. Fortunately I was not hurt and I popped back up and continued to run. One of my fellow runners asked if I was ok and my response was that “I’m a professional faller at this point. I don’t get hurt.”

The large number of participants from our running club, Southern Tier Running Club, included several teams running the relay. The relay teams from our club included some very fast kids. Kids who are much faster than me on my best day. My friends and I had been talking about how long we thought it would be before I was passed by one of our club’s relay teams. Even with a 30 minute headstart it was only a matter of time before they overtook me. I said I would be happy if I stayed ahead of them for 10 miles. I actually did better than I expected. I didn’t get passed by the first member of one of our relay teams until mile 12. He went flying past me like I was standing still.

As I approached the 3rd aide station/check point at mile 15 I was starting to get tired. The plan here was to take the time to change my socks and reapply anti chaffing ointment to my feet because I have had problems with blisters on my past long runs. First I had to scrape the mud off my shoes just so I could get to my shoe laces. Changing my socks felt so good. It was much more noticeable than I had expected and even though I didn’t change my wet and muddy shoes my feet still felt dry and comfortable. I don’t know if that was a byproduct of wearing Darn Tough brand socks or what, but I was happy for it. The second half of the race was a little drier and less muddy so the change in socks was a good decision even though it took a significant amount of time to do. It also helps to keep your feet dry if you keep your shoes on while running which I managed to do during the second half of the race by keeping my weight more on my toes through the muddier areas. I was able to see my wife again and talk and absorb some of her positive vibes and every as she cheered me on and then I was off from the third stop.

The second half of the race was kind of a blur. The aide stations/check points were closer together and I took advantage of that. But the second half of the race felt like much more of a grind. Just trying to keep movingforward. It also seemed to have more elevation gain or at least more sustained segments of elevation gain requiring more walking. One part I do remember was falling once again on a very nondescript section of trail. Not doing anything that really should have lead to me falling. Just failing to pick up my feet. When I got up I saw another pair of runners standing over me and one said that they had just fallen there too. So it must have been booby trapped. At least I wasn’t the only one it took down.

At some point as the day progressed it began to get warmer and more humid down in the forest and when you emerged at aide stations/check points you could feel the cool breeze out in the open and we bantered with the great volunteers regarding their nice weather. I took some ice and put it under my hat and tucked some into the buff I was wearing around my neck to help me stay cool.

As I traversed the trails over the second half of the race what I knew to be my weakness became increasingly apparent. My hips and core muscle were getting tighter and increasingly sore. All the muscles you use to lift your legs and stabilize yourself in you pelvic girdle were screaming at me. I pushed on through the discomfort. I walked when I needed to on inclines and stretched my muscles as best I could at side stations/check points.

When I began the flatter section that was basically old logging road or gravel road or some combination of the two I knew I was getting closer to the end from the preview run I did here with my friends. Only about four miles to go. It was both a relief and a bit of mental torture. I was relieved to know the end was in sight but felt like how can there still be four miles. And those four miles seemed to drag on forever. But despite that the simple knowledge of how close I was to the end and the relative flatness of this section of the course allowed me to run at a reasonable pace and push myself to sustain it.

When I emerged from the woods onto the park road I was almost done. The finish was literally in sight. Just one more hurdle to get over. That last section of road included a not so small hill and it feels especially daunting after 25 miles. Who does that? Who throws one last hill in within the last quarter mile of a trail marathon? I was determined not to walk up that hill. I don’t know how fast or slow I went up that hill but I maintained some version of running all the way up. I am sure it wasn’t pretty.

As I approached the finish I saw my wife there cheering me on. She has been such a huge support for me during all this insane training. It helped push me across the finish just to see her. It was a great feeling to cross that finish and just stop moving for a minute. It’s a great post race vibe at Sehgahunda. Talking to friends who’ve already finished, waiting to cheer friends on through the finish, and cheering on other runners is a great way to finish off the day. Oh yeah, did I mention there is food and beer.

The other aspect of all this aside from the running for me has been trying to document as much as possible as a photographer. Race day was not a good day for photography so I did not take many still photos with my GoPro, but I did shoot several segments of video, which I honestly haven’t even watched yet to see how they came out. I’m hoping I can compile the footage into something bigger at some point. Race photos didn’t turn out great which is a bummer but I did some creative editing to try to make them look as good as possible and they accompany this post. I hope you enjoyed reading this way too long race report.

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Skunk Cabbage Half: Race Report

On Sunday 4/8/2018 I ran the Skunk Cabbage Half Marathon. Four months into 2018 I am running my first race. I generally don’t sign up for cold weather races because while I don’t necessarily mind running in the cold I like it to be by my choosing on my terms. I don’t really like to have the obligation of having to run on this day particular day where the forecast is for cold weather. Last year I ran the Skunk Cabbage Half in shorts and a T-shirt and it was so sunny that I ended up with a sunburn by the end of the race.

I realize it is early April and anything can happen with the weather but this year the weather was slightly different. The forecast was for about 30 degrees at the time of the start of the race. So dress was a little different for this race. I was wearing tights and three layers of shirts and a hat and gloves as well. After three miles the sun was actually starting to peak out a little and I felt a little warm and contemplated taking my hat and gloves off. I decided against it as it seemed possible I would just end up having to put them back on later and I didn’t want to have to worry about fussing with things and possibly slowing myself down unnecessarily.

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Keeping the gloves on was the right choice as by mile seven snow squalls moved in and there was on and off snow for the rest of the race. I have run int he snow, but I have never raced in the snow, especially when I am trying to run a fast race for me. At times the snow and wind were blowing right into your face. The snow just driving right into you pelting you and feeling like little ice bullets. It was not even possible to look straight ahead because the snow would literally hit you right in the eyes if you didn’t have glasses on which I did not. This was not a condition I had anticipated. It was snowing hard enough and directionally enough that just one side of your body would be coated in snow. By the end of the race the roads were wet and my feet were wet. It almost felt like I have run a trail race. Running in that kind of weather at a race was a new experience for me and even though I managed it ok, I would prefer not to do it again.

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The next part of the event that I had to navigate for me was my photography. I have been photographing and writing about my running especially my 50k training as a way to document my experiences. This race is in the midst of  my 50k training and was a good opportunity to get a sense of my overall running fitness even though a half marathon is nothing like a trail ultra marathon. I really wanted to have a camera with me to document the race so I could have photograph to accompany my writing. I debated if I should even take a camera with me for fear of using it and slowing myself down and self sabotaging my effort at a goal time at this race. I did end up bringing my GoPro with me and carrying it with me during the race, however I did not take it out and photograph anything until after I crossed the finish line. So all the photos here are after I finished the race.

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And now we come to it. The actual running of the race. How did the race itself and the actual running go for me? The first three miles had me a little nervous. I felt ok but I had a really difficult time settling into a pace. I was either too fast or too slow. I could not get on track. The vast majority of my training has been at a slow pace to build mileage for long distances. It took some mental effort to make my legs move faster. There was a time when I felt good and settled in and then my watch buzzed at me and I checked and I was running a 10 minute mile pace. That is a full minute slower than the pace I needed for my goal. so after that I knew I had to be much more conscious of my pace and really pay attention.

The real challenge to this race is the course itself. It is a relatively hilly course with 500 ft of elevation gain. So it isn’t really possible, at least not for me to plan to just run one steady pace the whole way. There would be times on the uphills I would be too slow and times on the downhills I would be too fast. My goal was to just check in at my mile splits and make sure I was on pace at each mile and adjust accordingly. As it turns out I had only two 1 mile split times where I was over 9 minute miles which is the pace I needed to hit my goal of a sub 2 hour time.

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My previous best for a half marathon was 2 hr 15 min and with all my training the past year I was pretty sure I would beat that relatively easily, baring injury. What I really wanted was not just a PR I wanted that sub 2 hr time.

So can training for a 50k increase your fitness enough that you can PR at a half marathon and hit a new and challenging goal for yourself. The answer for me, a middle of the pack runner, is yes. Improving my overall fitness and endurance through 50k training was enough for me to run a half marathon 20 minutes faster than I ever had previously at an official race.

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I achieved my goal of a sub 2 hour half marathon with a time of 1:55. I ran better than I every expected. More importantly I felt better than I ever expected. This was the best I had ever felt at a race. This is the first time I have ever been working through an official training plan and the benefits are pretty clear. I felt good the whole race. I was even able to speed up for the last three miles. I ran mile 13 at a 7:57 pace. That seems like a near miracle for me and what my running is normally like as far as speed goes. Having enough left in the tank to run that fast at the end of a half marathon is unheard of for me. Usually I am limping across at the finish getting passed by people. This time coming down the stretch I was passing other people. It makes me think I could have actually run a little faster. So maybe the future holds more room for improvement at the half marathon distance for me. But I am extremely happy with this accomplishment and extremely happy with how I have felt before, during, and after this race. I could not have done it without the support of my wife and my friends who have supported me on this journey.

 

Planning for Skunk Cabbage Half

In three days I will be running the Skunk Cabbage Half for the second time. This wil be the first time I have run a race with a very specific time goal I want to achieve. I have been training hard ever since the last time I ran this race and I am in the best shape of my life. That said I am still nervous. What if I fail?

I have only run four official half marathons, but I have run many half marathon or greater distance fun runs or training runs. I ran a recent training run where my Garmin reported a half marathon PR of 2 hr 2 min. So I know this goal is within my grasp. I think that is part of what makes me nervous about this race. I feel like I should accomplish this. I have this expectation of myself now.

I have worked harder and ran more miles in the last three months than I ever have in my short running life. But the training has not been for a half marathon. The training has been for a trail 50k with 6,000 ft of elevation. Will that kind of training translate into a half marathon PR for me. I guess we will have to see. But I think it will.

I think it helps that my actual official half marathon PR is 2 hours and 15 minutes. So, if nothing else I should at least PR. I rarely run a half marathon distance in that time frame these days unless I am intentionally running at a slower pace. So my A goal is a sub 2 hr half at Skunk Cabbage and my B goal is to at least PR which I believe is a gimme as long as I don’t get hurt. I am probably jinxing myself right at this moment typing those words.

The other issue I have been debating in my head is do I want to bring my camera? I have been documenting and photographing as many races and training runs as I can and have been increasing that as part of my 50k training documentation. If I bring my camera I don’t want to get distracted taking photographs and lose time and cost me my chance to reach my goals. But it would be nice to have my camera in case the race does not go as planned. It will be easier for me to enjoy a race that goes off the rails if I have my camera with me and I can at least take some photos and find other ways to keep myself positive.

So I think the conclusion is bring the camera but commit to only taking it out for pre-race and post race photos unless something goes wrong and I will not hit my goals. Then I can take out the camera and document what is going on. That seems to be a good compromise that will not compromise my goals.

I will likely write a race report after the race. Look forward to reporting back. Wish me luck.