When I ran the Pine Creek Challenge 100 I knew that I had a great support team consisting of my wife and my closest running friends cheering me on and supporting me. What I did not realize is how many other peopl would be cheering me on and supporting me without me even knowing it that day.
My crew is awesome. I knew they would take photos of me throughout the day and they would have fun and post their adventures and fun to social media. I also knew my wife would likely be posting updates of how my race was going on her social media. What I did not know is how many people would be following along on social media and clicking the like button and posting messages of support while I was out there on the course. There was this whole invisible cheering section online. They were all sending me their good vibes and pushing me along the course.
After I got home and began the post race recovery process I eventually turned on my phone and got on social media. I don’t think I got on social media expecting to see anything from my race necessarily, but boy did I ever. There is so much positivity and good will flowing on social media it was amazing. It shows me what social media is really there for, building community and supporting your friends and family when you can’t be there in person.
I saw post after post after post about my day on the course. There were posts about the good, the bad, and the ugly of my race. I think just about every post was then followed by a trail of comments wishing me luck and congratulating me on being out there and spreading good will and positivity. To be perfectly honest it was all quite overwhelming as I lay in bed recovering and read post after post and comment after comment from all the friends and family I have out there supporting me. It became difficult to read all the posts as my eyes brimmed with tears of joy and then overflowed and tears ran down my face.
Seeing such an outpouring of support play out right before your eyes is something I never expect, but there it is. All the good, kind, supportive people that are a part of my life in one way or another are spending time letting me know that they are thinking of me. That is just so humbling of an experience.
Social media being what it is these days, even scrolling through my feed for long periods of time did not reveal all the posts about that weekend all at once. For several days after my race I would check into my social media account and in my feed would appear some post about my race that I had not seen before with a whole new string of likes and comments attached to it. Each time I encountered a new post with new comments to read I was overwhelmed anew with the emotions of that day and thankfulness for all the people I have in my life. My eyes did not remain dry seeing these new posts even days after my race. It means the world to me to have so much support out in the world.
I wanted to share this as a way to show my gratitude for everyone out there who took a moment to like or comment on a post from that weekend. You have no idea what it means to me. This post contains images and posts from that weekend shared by my crew and others while I was out there on the course including the likes and comments associated with each post. Thank you all for following me on this amazing journey. I look forward to the next adventure.
This year has been the most challenging year of running for me yet. Not because I set big goals for myself, I mean yes because I set big goals for myself, but also because of other struggles. Going into this year, after running only two 50k’s I decided it was time to push myself farther and longer. First I decided that I would take on a 50 mil race. Later I decided that this would also be the year I took on a 100 mile race. This all before I even ran my 3rd official 50k. I didn’t even wait to see how a 50 mile race would feel before diving in head first into the 100 mile pool. I put it all on the table early on in the year.
It seemed so….. Simple? I would train like my previous year for my 50k in May. That 50k would be my longest training run for my 50 mile race about a month after. The 50 mile race would be my longest training run leading into my 100 mile race two months later. The 50 mile race would also give me some experience at a new distance so I would have an idea of what to expect through the half-way point of my 100 mile race and that seemed like important knowledge to have.
Then life happened and all the plans and “simplicity” melted away. Like many runners I got injured with what turned out to apparently be hip bursitis. I ended up injured before I even got to the point in my year where I would run my 50k. So I tried to rest and recover as best I could and went into my 50k feeling under trained and nervous if I would even be able to finish. Worlds End 50k was the most painful and grueling race I have suffered through to date. I was in so much pain I walked the last 10 miles and almost every step of those ten miles caused pain in my hip. But I finished. I learned that if I had to I could tough it out and endure the pain as long as needed to cross the finish line. Not what I wanted from that race but a valuable lesson that would pay dividends later.
I had a month to try to get right physically for my 50 mile race. I got as much treatment and rest as I could and maintain my fitness for my 50 mile race. Finger Lakes 50’s 50 miler did not go as well as Worlds End. I was not in as much pain from my hip but it was hampering me, slowing me down and probably causing me to expend unnecessary energy. In the end being out in the heat and humidity of a July summer day did me in. I couldn’t keep up with the time I needed to move on to the third and final loop of the 50 mile race. But I did finish a 50k. The heat punished me. I was dizzy and wobbly on my feet at times. Heat exhaustion was hitting me hard. Then the rains came and I bounced back allowing me to finish in a decent time and feeling ok instead of suffering through to the end. Even though I wasn’t able to finish the 50 miles and gain the experience of feeling what 50 miles felt like I learned that I could bounce back from a physical low and keep moving on.
Training between the 50 mile attempt and my 100 mile race was not ideal but it was better than I had gotten any time since April. I decided that in order to reduce the impact on my hip I would focus on making sure I got in my long runs and decrease all other mileage. I ran regular 3 mile runs during the week and then a long run on the weekends. I was able to get in more long ruins during this time frame than any time since April and it included two 20 mile runs in the same week which I feel like were crucial to my physical preparedness and my mental preparedness. I knew my hip was getting better. I thought it would probably be an issue but not cost me the race. I was actually becoming more concerned about my long standing right ankle pain that tends to flare up with long runs, which seemed to be getting worse.
As the week of the race approached I was getting more and more nervous about it. Would I really be able to do this thing? Anxiety and fear were closing in on me. Was my training good enough? Would I be prepared? Was a physically strong enough? Was I mentally strong enough? I took the whole week leading up to the race off from running. I focused entirely on recovery and being as healthy as I possibly could be going into the race. I included a massage from Soul Ease Massage to help ensure that my hips and legs were in as good shape as possible. I am not sure you can ever feel relaxed when you have a 100 mile race looming.
If there was one secret weapon I knew I had to get me through this race, it was my crew. I was going to have a great crew, of my wife and my friends, out there taking care of me at the race. They would not let me fail.
The night before the Pine Creek Challenge my wife and I met up with two of our friends to camp for the night at the race location. We hung out. We chatted. I tried to relax. One thing we talked about is what to do if things don’t go according to plan. I had planned for this race more than I had ever planned or prepared for any other race or maybe even event in my life. I was organized. I had everything labeled. I had times for when I hoped to be in and out of aid stations. I planned for the best case scenario, even though I knew that the race was unlikely to play out that way. I knew what I wanted to happen and what I had in mid as more reasonable though still quite lofty goal for a first 100 mile race. I wanted to finish in under 24 hours. I thought that I had a good chance at making that happen as long as the first half of the race went reasonably well. I knew that a sub 24 hour goal was very likely not going to happen but it was the goal and it was really hard to think about anything outside of that goal. But we talked about just thinking about what is going ot happen if plan A doesn’t work out and plan B doesn’t work out and so on and so on. What do you do? How do you proceed? I think it was good to go through that mental exercise to just think that there are so many different ways that this event could unfold, none of which could be anticipated maybe. This perhaps is where experience would be valuable. If you have done this before I think it is easier to have contingency plans or at east to know what to do to get you back on track.
I sometimes have trouble sleeping before a race, but not usually too bad. I am also not much of a dreamer while I sleep. Well the night before my first 100 mile race was going to be different. I slept OK until about 4 AM when I was awakened by a nightmare. In this nightmare I had a full blown panic attack and completely shut down and was curled up in the fetal position in the tent and could not even manage to put on my clothes for the race. So, that resulted in me staring at the ceiling of the tent for an hour before my alarm went off at 5 AM and I got up and started to get ready for the race. I was not as anxious getting up and getting ready for the day as I thought I would be. There were the normal pre-race jitters but not anything major. I managed to not forget anything significant before starting. It was surprising to me that for the 6 AM start I still was going to end up needing my headlamp as I set out. I was not expecting that. We got to the start line. I kissed my wife and hugged my friends and then I set off on an adventure.
The start was hard. Not physically hard but mentally hard. My strategy was to go out at a 12 minute per mile pace, running a mile then walking 1 minute, much slower than I would go at any other type of flat run. The first bunch of people pulled away from me. Then another group of people pulled away. Then more people caught up to me and passed me. I kept trying to go slow. Eventually I seemed to essentially be alone on the trail. As I was alone on the trail I struggled a bit to stay out of my head. I began to think about all the things that could go wrong during this journey. I had to tell myself out loud multiple times to get out of your head. As the sun rose I stopped to take some photos along the way and used my GoPro while running some. I saw an eagle fly low along a swampy area and land in a tree, so that was a nice way to start off the race. It was 5.6 miles to the first aid station and I tried to go as slow as I could, but when I arrived my crew reported to me that I was still 5 minutes ahead of my planned pace. It was nice to get that first section over and see my crew though. The course is a multi out and back course to complete the full 100 miles and I was already at the terminus of one end so it was time to turn around and run back the other way for along time.
My crew got me out of the aid station without wasted time and I headed back the way I came. I needed to go slower. I took the time to use my GoPro more and take other photos. Run slower, walk longer to slow my pace. I got back to the swampy area and saw a great blue heron and snapped a few photos. I saw a few people with their dog and a woman with her camera and she said this is one of her favorite places to come for photography, so I made a mental note of that. She wasn’t kidding though because that bald eagle was still up in its perch on the large tree in the swamp. I tried to capture a few more photos of it. I might be the only one able to tell there is an eagle in the photos though because it is so far away. Eventually, I started to see runners from the other races of different distances happening on the same trail coming towards me on the trail. That made things a little more interesting on this return trip. I eventually got back to the start line where the next aid station was. I got some fuel and some hydration. Then waited forever some non-runner who decided to occupy the portapotty at the aid station, despite all the others available for spectator use, so that I could finally pee. That was probably the biggest frustration of that sort for me the entire race though, so I will call that a win.
Next was a 3.4 mile jaunt to the next aid station. I arrived at the aid station felling pretty good. Still going at what felt like the right pace. On plan. My hip wasn’t giving me any serious problems. It felt tight and maybe a little uncomfortable but not painful. My ankle was a little sore but nothing major. My crew made sure I had what I needed and got me going through the aid station without wasting too much time which is the goal. The next section would start the portion of the trail that really went through the valley.
The next aid station was nearly 8 miles away but I wouldn’t see my crew again for 16 miles. This 16 miles between seeing my crew again is one of the places I struggled most mentally. I had done marathon to 50k distances 8 times over the last three years. I thought I knew what to expect from it. I thought that on a flat course going the relatively slow pace for me that I had planned to go and was sustaining that the first 30 miles would feel relatively easy or at least not too hard. Maybe that was just being naive especially considering how my training had went. But during this 16 miles to the next time I would see my crew I really felt like I was struggling mentally. I felt like I was going slower than I wanted to when I was running and that I was walking longer than I wanted to to rest after each mile of running. My legs felt tired and sluggish and sore already. I really began to think that maybe I had gotten in over my head. If I was already feeling like this and it hadn’t even been 30 miles yet, what on earth was the rest of the race going to feel like?
One things that was a cool uplift for me during this 16 miles alone was seeing something I had never seen before. As I ran down the trail eventually I came to this spot where I saw someone had scratched out in large letters in the gravel the world snake with an arrow pointing to the left. I was instantly curious. Was someone just fucking with runners or was there really a snake over there in the rocks along the side o the trail? I had never seen a rattle snake in the wild but I was well aware of all the reports of snakes along this trail and the potential to see one. So I walked over to the side of the trail cautiously and looked at the rocks. Sure enough there was a rather large snake with a baby toy attached to its tail slithering underneath some rocks. I called back to a runner I had recently passed and let him know that there was a snake over here so that he could be aware and take caution. I did not get close to the snake or even try to get a photo of the snake. Those who know me are probably surprised by this. It was cool to be out doing something entirely new to me and see something entirely new to me as well.
After being a bit down physically and mentally it was a great relief to finally see my crew waiting for me a the Blackwell aid station. The aid station is half a mile before the turn around so I ran out to the turn around first as I dropped off my pack for my crew to refill. My first pacer of the day accompanied out to the turn around and we talked about how the race was going. Then I came back to the aid station and ate some food and got some extra hydration. I also took some Tylenol for my hip and ankle and had some bio freeze applied to my ankle. The first 30 miles had been harder than I thought they would be. That much was clear.
My pacer would accompany me the next 26 miles. We headed out to start the next phase of this journey. At least for this trip through the valley I would have someone along for the ride. WE talked quite a bit through the first 8 miles or so. We talked a lot about nature. I think I complained about all my grievances. I am kinda surprised my pacer didn’t just run off ahead of me or at least stay far enough ahead or behind that they couldn’t hear me anymore. This section started off strong. We ran 3+ miles without stopping for a walk break. Which was OK at the time because I was feeling strong. I didn’t actually feel like I needed a break after every mile which is how I had been feeling during the previous 16 miles. This run of 26 miles with my first pacer went OK. Not as well as I had hopped, but not as bad as it could have after how I felt during the end of the first 30 miles. I could feel myself slowing down some eventually. At times running much slower than I would have liked and at times taking much longer walking breaks than I would have liked. I stopped at the aid stations for extra food and hydration along the way. I had more bio freeze applied to the painful areas which seemed to be getting a little worse with more time on my feet.
At one point early on during this 26 miles with my first pacer we saw a group of people gathered up blocking almost the entire trail and many of them were over along the edge of the trail near the rocks. As we approached I knew they were looking at or for a snake. They were so close. I told my friend to get his camera out because there was about to be a Kodak moment. I don’t wish people harm, but these people were being dumb and unsafe. They were way too close they were essentially standing in the rock pile and had their phones out trying to get photos. They very easily could have gotten bitten and who gets blamed for that, the snake. Those kind of things really get me riled up. As we passed by I could see that there was a more light colored rattle snake among the rocks. Then shortly thereafter I saw a large almost completely black rattle snake out in the open along the rocks. It was the first time I was able to see the entire body of a rattle snake. It was quite large. They are amazing creatures and I am thrilled to be able to share a trail with them and pay them the appropriate respect they deserve by keeping my distance. I may be one of the few people happy to see a rattle snake on the trail, but I was secretly hoping to see one during the race.
Eventually my pacer were arriving at the 50 mile turn around aid station. The people running this aid stations had it going right. There were lights along the trail lighting the way. There was a fire. The crowd there was cheering so loudly. It was really making me emotional. I was getting choked up at all the people there cheering and supporting the runners out here like me. It is truly a blessing to be part of a larger community of runners like this.
When we arrived I took more Tylenol at the mile 50 turn around aid station and got more bio freeze. I don’t really remember much about this aid station, because I was too overcome with emotion from all the support from my crew, which kept expanding as more and more of my friends showed up over the course of the day, and the people at running the aid station itself cheering and high fiving. I changed my shoes here because I thought half way through a 100 mile race would be a good time to put on shoes with more cushion. My crew got me in and out of this aid station in good time. At this aid station I was picking up a new pacer, my best friend was going to run the next 9 miles with me.
It was really nice to be able to run part of this race with my best friend. We haven’t been able to run together much since early in the year. She may be my friend but she had no sympathy for my foolishness of getting myself into this race. She was going to make sure I stuck to my plan of running and then walking. She was not going to let me take it easy. She pushed me to run as much as I could and then told me when it was time to rest. I think I almost begged for a little longer time to rest at one point. I think she allowed me 30 more seconds to walk. Talking and sharing miles despite the slave driving was nice. I think the sharing of miles with friends is something you can only understand if you are a runner. During our 5+ miles together my friend informed me that our other friend who had been injured for the last month or more and not running was feeling better and may be running with me from the next aid station.
I arrived at the next aid station and fueled up. Got what I needed and was ready to head out. Sure enough my friend was ready to run with me. We headed out for the next 3+ miles to the next aid station. This might be one of the few ways that deviating from your plan can be a good thing. It was so nice to be able to share miles with my two running friends whom I have shared more miles with than anyone. Picking up a new pacer, an unexpectedly new pacer can only be good when it is your friend who you know would have wanted to be your pacer anyway, but due to injury wasn’t able to plan for it. She had been cleared to run just the other day and wanted to share some miles with me on this journey and it doesn’t get much better than that. She was not quite as much a hard ass on this section. I ran as much as I could but I needed longer rests, or at least I took advantage of my friend to get longer rests.
I arrived at the mile 65 aid station feeling pretty good all things considered. I enjoyed running with my friend that I didn’t expect to be able to share any miles with. I was in good spirits. I was tired but doing OK. The plan was to resupply water and food in my pack, add a warmer layer of clothes as it was now getting dark and pick up my new pacer. Then it happened. It felt like someone just pulled the plug on me and the power went out. I went from feeling fine and ready to go to crashing hard. I started to feel light headed and then nauseous. I thought I might throw up. My crew tried to keep me standing and get me some food. Then I started to experience things I had never experienced. My arms started to go numb and get tingly. My mouth started to get tingly. I was losing control of my body. It was shutting down. I was losing it. My mouth got number and number. I couldn’t feel or move my mouth or tongue. My left hand curled up into a claw. My hand was clenched and I couldn’t move it. My crew mates were literally holding me up. They got me seated and just started to literally pour sugar into me. Cups of Coke went in. My crew literally holding cups to my inoperative mouth and pouring little bits in so I could swallow. It was like being a helpless child being fed by your family. I couldn’t even drink from the cup if they held it to my mouth they had to literally manage to pour it in my mouth so I could swallow. I don’t know if I literally thought about quitting, but if I was going to it would have been here in this moment. There is no way I could have made it through this without them. My chosen family, My wife and my friends. This is why they mean the world to me. They would not let me fail.
My wife told me later that she had to walk away because it was too hard for her to see me like that and she didn’t want me to see her upset. At one point I looked at my inoperative curled up left hand and said “It’s the claw” making a Friends joke that probably only my wife would get, but she said when she heard that she knew I was still in there and that I was going to be OK. I think that is also when I knew I was going to be OK too. I was able to keep my mind right even in this lowest moment of what felt like at the time there would be no coming back from. My crew kept working on me. Getting more calories in me, more Coke to drink. Then I could slowly feel it. My body started to respond. I started to get the feeling back in my arms and my hand. I could actually use my hand. At one point I was able to hold a cup and I thought drink on my own, but apparently my face was still numb and I just poured Coke down my face. But it was OK. I am pretty sure I laughed at that. Eventually as my body recovered my crew got me some warm clothes. I put on a light long sleeve shirt and a light jacket. I put on a pair of wind pants. I put on a dry hat and a buff to keep my ears warm. I eventually regrouped and headed out with a new pacer.
Just reflecting on this moment in time makes me emotional. This was one of the toughest moments I have ever endured and I owe it all to my crew for getting me thorough. Literally propped up on the shoulders of my friends. Fed and clothed by my friends. Taken care of by my family. I owe the next 35 miles to them. If I did not have them there my day would have ended at that aid station and I would never know anything else.
After arriving at the mile 65 aide station in such good shape, leaving that aid station was not the same. I felt like I was barely moving. I could move but just had no energy. The next 16 miles till I saw my crew was going to be a very slow walk in the dark. Thank god for pacers. I don’t know how people ran in the dark, alone and tired. Thankfully my pacers worked to keep me engaged. We talked about Star Wars. There was line dancing. I think the best I felt was when we actually listened to Christmas music, Straight No Chaser, I actually had the energy to sing along with the music. It really helped lift my spirits at a time where I was moving way slower than I had hoped to. I eventually just got exhausted during this 16 mile section. I don’t know if was the normal kind of exhaustion that one would expect or if I was suffering more because of my crash at mile 65. But, I was struggling to not just fall asleep while standing up. My eyes kept closing. I was essentially just staggering down the path. Often not in a straight line. I am pretty sure that if I were alone I would have fallen off the trail, into the ditch or into the water. Thank god for amazing friends willing to walk miles in the dark with you and play ping pong with your body bouncing you from one edge of the path to the other to keep you safe. I felt like I needed to be on a leash. I eventually hallucinated that there was a huge wagon wheel in the middle of the path. Then I saw or at least am pretty sure I actually saw my first every flying squirrel in the wild. I saw something fly across the trail from the trees on the right and land in a tree on the left then climb up the tree. Not a good look due to it being dark, but I could only imagine it was a flying squirrel or another hallucination. Another tough part about this 16 miles was that my feet began to hurt. I could tell I was getting blisters on my feet and that was not going to be good. I thought that the shoes I changed into had caused the problem. I decided that I was going to change back into the shoes that I started with at the mile 81 aid station when I saw my crew again. We also decided while walking that I was going to try and take a brief five to ten minute nap at the aid station because I was just staggering around so much that I was wasting too much time and energy and not making enough forward progress and I thought that if I could just close my eyes for a few minutes I would recover enough energy to make much more substantial progress in the next phase.
I got to the mile 81 aid station and began to do all the normal things. Refresh food and water. Change shoes. Reapply anti chafe. Then it hit me again. My body started to revolt for a second time. As I sat in a chair I got light headed and nauseous. I started to lose feeling again. Me team sprung into action immediately getting me what I needed. They started to load me up with Coke again. They responded to my needs immediately despite what had been a long and strenuous day for them as well. They were right there to take care of me and get me out of this funk. They pulled me out of it faster than last time and with less severe symptoms. Then while wrapped in a space blanket I tried to fall asleep. Somehow the exhaustion that was overcoming me on the trail would not grant me sleep that I felt I needed. I had expected that I would close my eyes and instantly pass out, but it didn’t happen. I don’t know if it was the shock of the crash and then recovery but now my eyes wouldn’t stay closed and I couldn’t slep. Finally, filled with frustration I stood up ready to set out on another 16 mile trek through the valley in the dark. I knew I would have a pacer for this section but I learned to my surprise that my best friend would accompany for this 16 mile section. She knew I was moving slow and had gone fewer miles than anyone else that could pace me at that point so she joined me.
I think it was reassuring, when I was so low, to have someone on the trail with me that I had shared a lot of miles with. Someone who knew me well and could keep me going. We started out on a slow pace. Shortly after we left we saw the only other runner that remained behind me. He needed to push to make the cut off time at the mile 81 aid station and we encouraged him as he went by. Not too long after we saw him this same runner who was struggling caught me from behind and passed me with a huge surge, he had gotten another wind and was moving well. I was now DFL. I could accept being DFL as long as I finished. For a while as we moved down the path I actually almost reveled in the idea of being DFL. Early on during this stretch I was moving slowly but I at least felt more awake than I had previously even though I didn’t sleep. I don’t remember much about those first half dozen miles. I know that we were a little concerned about making the cut off time at the mile 89 aid station so we tried to speed up and when we finally arrived there id din’t even stop. I just essentially walked on through.
At some point during this 16 mile stretch my pacer could tell I was feeling better and she started to encourage me to pick up the pace some. We eventually could see the person who had passed me to leave me in last place. My pacer was like, oooh we can catch him. She encouraged me to move faster. We added some more very slow running into the mix. Honestly I am not sure I even wanted to pass them. Something in my mind wanted to just stay in last. There seemed to be more honor in being DFL than to be second to last. Or maybe I was just afraid that I would over take him only to be passed again. Eventually the mix of running and walking allowed me to pass him. But then we ran out of water and despite being well hydrated I was too afraid to push it with still a while to go until the next aid station. There was at least 3 miles and I was afraid of another crash which I could not afford this late into the race. So we dropped back to a walk and stayed ahead of him although he gained on us. It always seemed like we were farther away from that last aid station than seemed possible. Seeing a sign post for 1.7 miles until the aid station area was almost soul crushing. My pacer was critical to getting me through this tough section She kept me entertained with singing and dancing to music she played from her phone. It was slow going and would have been easy to get demoralized but she kept me uplifted. We decided that at the last aid station I would drop off my pack and pick up a hand held for the last 3.4 miles. Dropping of my heavy pack at the last aid station was something that never occurred to me. This is one of the many reasons yo have pacers. They will think of things you will not.
We FINALLY arrived at the aid station. I dropped my pack and grabbed a hand held and a gel. FYI, I didn’t even have a hand held at the race, it was one of my previous pacers hand helds. Have I mentioned how awesome my crew was for me. As I stopped at the last aid station briefly and ate some food I was once again overtaken by the person we had passed earlier. I was back in last. But I headed out on that last 3.4 miles anyway.
My pacer insisted I was going to run this last 3.4 miles. I was not so sure. But she pushed me anyway. She somehow knew what I had left to give to this race. I don’t know how she knew, but she knew. I sure as hell didn’t know. So, guess what? I ran. It wasn’t fast and it wasn’t pretty but I averaged around a 13 minutes/mile over the last 4 miles. I hadn’t run a 13 minute mile since mile 35. I am not sure how this was possible. I ran and took walk breaks. Somehow feeling pretty good. Walking just enough to give me strength for another push. My pacer took charge. She told me when to run and she told me when I could walk. It was starting to get sunny and hot as the morning sun continued to rise in the sky so we tried to run through the shady areas and walk in the sunny places. I didn’t try to over think it. I just listened to my pacer and tried to do what she was encouraging me to do. She believed that I could do this and somehow I was doing it. My legs carried my better and felt stronger than they ha at any point over the last 30+ miles. I don’t know how it is possible. When I left the last aid station I was last. I quickly passed the guy who had passed me again to put me in last. Then as we ran down the trail we began to see other runners up ahead. My pacer told me we could catch them. I had my doubts. She encouraged me to keep moving. Run to that tree and then we will walk, she told me. Then run to that post and we can walk. This strategy was working. We caught and passed multiple runners. I passed 6 runners in the last 3.4 miles. I can’t even imagine that being possible at the end of a 100 mile journey especially considering how dead I felt just a shot time ago. The only person we saw that I did not catch was the person who turned out to be a pacer. But that guy looked like he was a runner. He kept looking back at us and then speeding up like he was trying to keep me from catching up to him, so my pacer was like lets catch him. So I chased someone down the trail who wasn’t even technically in the race. But I guess whatever keeps you motivated right. I got to the final turn off the trail and up the gravel road to the finish line and could not believe how good I felt. I heard my crew start cheering for me. My family was waiting for me. I started to run faster and a little faster. My wife was there waiting for me. I was so happy to see her. She started running with me. I ran as hard as I could. I basically sprinted through the finish line with my wife by my side. It was amazing to feel that alive and have that much juice left in my legs after such a long journey. The energy that my family was giving me was amazing. Having them there for me right up until the end was amazing. I crossed the finish line and hugged my wife so hard. I cried. I was just completely overcome with emotion. My whole crew came and congratulated me on finishing this journey. Hugs and handshakes all around. I am so thankful for the person who took the picture of me with my finisher awards and my crew by my side. That is a memory I will never forget.
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Saturday I take on a challenge that not only did I never think I would take on I never even knew such a thing existed. Even when I started running I wasn’t aware of anything beyond a marathon. Discovering the world of trail running and ultra marathons has been a mind blowing experience. I have gained so much since this adventure began.
This year of training and running has been different in a lot of ways from my past several years of running. Training for and taking on new challenges. Fear, doubt, anxiety. Physical setbacks. All of that is in the rear view mirror now. Well, all of it except the anxiety, but it is mostly nervous and excited energy to just go do the thing.
The waiting and planning and organizing are hard for me. None of that is my strength. I can Do the training. I can go Do the race. I struggle with the effort involved in the planning phases. If someone would just put me on the start line and point me in the right direction and say go, that is all I really need. Taking on something like this requires a whole different level of effort on different planes.
Thankfully I have a great crew that will be down there supporting me and taking care of me. People I can talk through things with and that help my make sure I am prepared. They do things like send me packing lists to help me make sure I don’t forget anything.
I am as ready as I am ever going to be to get out there and take on this 100 mile adventure at the Pine Creek Challenge. Let’s go do this thing.
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.
It is always nice to be able to check one of your running goals of the list for the year. I was able to check off one of my running goals for 2019 at my first race of the year. So that is obviously a great way to start of the racing season. I ran the 2019 Skunk Cabbage Classic hosted by the Finger Lakes Running Club . My goal was to improve on my half marathon PR that I set at this raced last year. The race went well for me and I was able to knock 5 minutes of my previous PR and that could be the end of the story but it’s not.
Achieving a new PR at this race while something I wanted to accomplish this year it was not on the top of my list as I wrote about my running goals earlier this year. What lead to my success at this goal was the focus I placed on other goals this year; Enjoy running more, Run with my friends, and Enjoy the process. This year while I have been training and have a training plan I have not been a slave to my training plan. I have been flexible and done what I can when I can that fits in with other things I want to do even if it means doing different workouts or different distances. I have been fortunate enough to be able to run more frequently with my friends this year than last year during my training. A big help in achieving that came when I was able to change my work schedule. But prioritizing running with my friends once again meant being flexible and doing what makes it work so that we can run together so I can enjoy running more and share more miles with my friends.
Race day was a great day. The race takes place right around my birthday and what better way to celebrate ones birthday than with a race. The weather was nice perhaps too nice, but better than the previous year’s winter wonderland. My wife, who is amazingly supportive of all my running shenanigans was there to support me and cheer me on. The plan for the race was for me to run the entire race with my friend while I achieved a PR. I was looking forward to sharing miles together because we have never actually run a race together before. She’s a roadie and I’m a trail junky so our preferences and skill sets do not often align. 3 miles in she knew it wasn’t going to be a good day for her at this race. She knew that I had a goal to PR at this race and she told me to go ahead and leave her and run the pace I wanted to because she knew it wasn’t going to work out the way I had planned. I am thankful that she did that because if she hadn’t I would have stayed with her and I wouldn’t have had the race I ended up having. I would have enjoyed running with her but I would not have been able to see what I was capable of. I am thankful that she was willing to run on alone knowing full well that the day for her was going to entail some suffering and I would have stayed with her and she could have had company and support to help make the race more enjoyable for her but she wasn’t going to ask me to give up my goal to stay with her.
Through three miles I knew I was still relatively close to what my goal pace of 8:40 minutes/miles would need to be in order to achieve the PR that I was after, and you can see that looking back at my mile split times. I figured I would just need to speed up just a little bit in order to achieve a new PR. I made a conscious effort to pick up my pace a little bit. I was running at what left like a good relatively comfortable pace. I was working a little but I wasn’t exerting myself too hard. When I look back at what my pace ended up being it seems hard to even think that because I never expected to run this pace. I run with a Garmin Forerunner 230 watch to track my runs. Prior to the race I set up pace alerts on my watch to notify me when I was going too fast or too slow. The too slow pace alert was set with the purpose of making sure I stayed close enough to my goal pace to achieve a PR and I had set that at an 8:50 pace. The too fast alert was set to make sure I did not run too hard and burn myself out so that I would crash later on in the race resulting in a different way of not achieving my goal. This is a relatively hilly course with approximately 600 ft. of elevation gain over the course of the half marathon distance. I fully expected that there would be times when my too slow alert would be chiming me. I expected that most of those alerts would be chiming off on some of the steeper or longer sections of climbing the uphills. I also fully expected that there would be times when I would have the too fast alert chiming at me. What I expected was to have the too fast alert chiming at me during the steeper downhill sections after completing the climb up a hill. And those two occurrences did come to pass.
What I did not expect to happen is to have my too fast time alert chime at me pretty consistently for probably 9 miles of the race. As my watch began to beep and buzz pretty regularly alerting me that I was going too fast I really wasn’t sure what to make of it. I am not an experienced runner at trying to run races with a goal time and pace in mind. This is only the second time I have gone into a race with the specific goal of setting a PR at a specific time goal. So as my watch continued to alert me I began to think more and more about my run. Once I got to the half-way point I really wasn’t sure what to do. Each time my watch sounded an alert that I was going to fast I began to actively think maybe I should slow down. I thought about my experiences and how I have felt training. I thought about how my body felt. I knew from my training that I was capable of running as fast or faster than I was currently running, but that was for shorter distances. I knew from my training that I was capable of running more miles than was required for this race, but that was typically at a slower pace. I was pretty confident that I could run my goal pace for the entire race and PR just as planned. What I did not know is if I could keep this pace up for the rest of the race and finish without blowing up and destroying my shot at a PR.
I listened to my body. I felt pretty good. I did not feel like I was working too hard. I did not feel like I was getting tired to the point I would need to slow down. I listened to my heart and I listened to my soul. I run because I want to find out what I am capable of. I run because I like the feeling of challenging myself and succeeding. I like to push myself to do new things. I was feeling good and I was running better than I ever expected to. My heart and soul was telling me not to waste that. There are many days when a run feels bad and you have to grind. Enjoy the day when everything is clicking. Let your body ride this wave as long as you can. See what you are truly capable of on this day. I could slow down and try to ensure a PR, but who knows what effect that would actually have. But if I slowed down and was cautious I would never know what I could do I pushed myself on this day. Would I PR? Probably. Would I be happy with a PR? Sure. Would I be satisfied? Would I feel like I did my best? No. I would always know I left something on the table that day. I decided I would continue at the faster than anticipated pace and listen to my body and if my body told m,e I actually needed to slow down not as a precaution but because my body just couldn’t go that pace anymore then and only then would I slow down. If this lead to me not getting that PR it would be a disappointment but at least I would know that I left it all out on the course.
Around mile 8 my right hip got a little tight. This made me a little nervous. I reconsidered slowing down. Was the tightness in my hip a sign that I was pushing too hard and I should slow down? After just feeling the sensation in my hip out a little to get a better sense of it while I was running it seemed like even though I could feel tightness it wasn’t necessarily pain, it was more like a slight discomfort. More importantly the tightness did not seem to be affecting my running. My gait seemed to remain essentially the same gait I normally have, which by any standard is not pretty but gets the job done. I decided I would proceed as before. Continue running the pace I was running comfortably until it became necessary to slow down. If the discomfort in my hip progressed to something more like pain then I would slow down. Fortunately that did not happen and I was able to run without any increasing pain the rest of the race. That was such a relief.
It’s funny how you can be essentially be running the race of your life and then still find yet another goal to strive for in the midst of it. When I got to within a couple miles of the finish I looked at my watch and I thought maybe I would have a chance if I pushed myself a little faster I would be able to run this half marathon in under 1 hour and 50 minutes a time that previously I had not thought possible for this race. It is hard for me to reconcile how my training, the race day, and my body all coincided to let me have this great day of running where I could be running at a pace I really did not expect to be running and then still have enough left in the tank to try to surge for the last couple of miles to strive for an even faster time. I ran the fastest splits of the entire day on those last two miles, which to be fair are a bit of a downhill. I don’t know how that would have went if they weren’t. When I got within sight of the clock and could finally read the official time I saw it closing in on 1:50. I ran as hard as I could, but I was just short of going sub 1:50. I couldn’t quite get there in time. I finished with a time of 1:50:11.
It’s funny how you can have the best run of your life and then still be just a bit disappointed because you didn’t quite get this goal that you just made up on the fly mid run because you were having such a good race. I was super excited to have run a half marathon in the time I did. I was even more excited that I did so without any significant pain by the end. The first 3 half marathons I ever ran I remember the end of them feeling excruciating getting through the finish and then post-race. Training is really paying off in terms of result times I run and in how I feel during and after a race.
I said repeatedly after the race that I was happy with my time and I don’t think it is a time I will improve on any time soon since it was much faster than I had even planned to run for this race. I ran about 20 seconds faster per mile than I planned on running. I took 5 minutes off my previous PR. It wasn’t long before my mind started to shift and think differently about this though. I achieved this outcome for a half marathon while I have been in the midst of training for a succession of trail ultra marathons. The training has not necessarily been geared towards running my fastest half marathon specifically. My results are just the product of my improving level of fitness due to overall improved and consistent training. I like the half marathon distance on the roads so I like to run at least 1 each year even if it is not my main goal. So what would I be able to do if I actually trained specifically for a half marathon and trained specifically to improve on my new PR in the half marathon distance? Maybe this is something to think about for next year.
Another unusual aspect of this race for me was that I was completely focused on my time so I took zero photos. Something I almost never do. So all the videos and photos we taken by my wife.
I am half way through week 4 of my training plan with one short run and my first 16 mile run of the plan left for the week. Trying not to stress about the numbers during training this year as my goal race is a long way off and little differences won’t have an impact. I’ve only had one run where I really did not feel like running. Otherwise training has been going pretty well. I am trying to keep a little strength training and yoga in the mix with running.
Recently it has been frigid here in upstate NY and I’d prefer not to run on the treadmill but have been forced to several times already.
It’s been so cold lately that my brain tricked me into thinking 18 degrees seemed relatively warm and I should run outside. It was still crazy cold. I was running harder than I should be for a training run just to get warm and stay warm and ended up setting a 10k PR. That was not the plan. Despite the cold my Boco Gear hat and gloves kept my head and hands warm, however the rest of me could have used another layer. My neck especially could have used more coverage. Luckily its supposed to warm up to above freezing the next few days.
Regular training runs have been going pretty well. Long runs have been fine. I even added in my first round of speed work just for something different and to help me through a treadmill run, which I always dread. Today I ran harder for longer than I have in a while and the run felt pretty good. I probably could have even gone a little faster. Aside from being cold everything was clicking pretty good. Especially since this fast run was not planned at all I will definitely call this last run a small victory on the way to 50 miles.
Best of all I have been fortunate to share many miles with a variety of friends.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.