I have now run 7 half marathons but this last one I ran might just be the one that means the most to me. I ran my first 5k around 6 years ago and my foray into running dates to before that time. I never really thought I would have a chance to experience what I did in this last race and it was truly special to me.
When I started running my wife had no interest. As I began to run more and more she supported me but didn’t understand why I did what I did especially as I began to actually enjoy running and testing myself. Then a couple years ago my wife decided she wanted to run a 5k and then an 8k and she did both of those things. She never expressed any interest in running any event farther than that distance. She would scoff at the idea of running a half marathon. She loved watching me run and push myself at races but she said it was not for her.
Then at the 2018 Wineglass Half Marathon a friend of hers had decided she was going to run it. We were there to cheer on the runners as we had the past year. My wife was able to cheer on her friend and see her as she closed in on accomplishing her goal. My wife was so inspired by her friend that shortly after that day she decided she also wanted to run the Wineglass Half Marathon and that she would run it in 2019.
Once she had gotten the idea firmly in her mind that she wanted to do it she committed and registered for the race early on. The first step was done.
My wife would be the one to tell you she is not really a runner. She doesn’t really run and go on and on and equivocate about not being a real runner because she run walks and mostly walks and isn’t very fast. I have always tried to instill in her that if you do any amount of running at any pace and go any distance, YOU ARE A RUNNER.
I think that the “I am not a real runner” mindset is hard to break. I also think that this mindset makes other things even more challenging than they have to be.
When you first get the notion of running a race into your head, the idea of running the race seems fun and that is what you focus on. The hard part is committing to the training. This is especially hard early on in the process. It is even more challenging when you set an ambitious goal, but that goal is far way on the calendar. I think this is where my wife struggled. She wanted to do more running than she had at her previous races and fully recognized that she would need to train more in order to do that and to do it at a much longer distance than she had experienced, but there was just so much time between the present and that future race day that it was always easy to delay starting the training process.
Then when we finally did get the training process started there were all too frequent setbacks due to various injuries that would cause training to cease and then it was really a struggle to get back into training each time. So the process of training was really challenging.
As race day drew near we were able to finally find some consistency in my wife’s training. She was able to log miles using her run/walk strategy. We took a vacation and logged miles hiking and exploring, but then there was another injury. It was getting very frustrating for her with all the setbacks especially when she was finally finding her groove in training.
Then I was in the process of getting the in the final push for training for my 100 miler and trying to figure out how best to help her train. We decided on a strategy of focusing on her getting used to as much distance as she could. That meant mostly walking, but miles are miles. I would go out for my long runs on my training and my wife would go with me. I would run a mile then circle back to her and check in with her and we would go until I got as many miles as I needed and she would rack up miles all the while checking in with each other after each mile. This strategy worked out even better than I had hoped and it was so nice to be out there working towards our goals together.
In the last several weeks leading up to the race we tried to focus on race strategy and pace for her to execute at the race. My wife really wanted to be done in 3.5 hours. She felt that it was an attainable goal given how her training had went. So we had to devise a plan to get her there. We set out on various training runs trying out different walk run strategies and seeing how they felt. And then came more leg pains and setbacks to training. So much frustration in the training.
Finally we were able to settle on a plan of run for 30 seconds and walk for 1 minute that she tried out and felt pretty good. It allowed her to move at a pretty decent pace and run normally during the 30 seconds and then have time to recover before another burst of running and didn’t cause too much fatigue. It seemed like a plan that could be executed over 13.1 miles. Critically it also should get her in under her goal according to our estimates.
Then a week before the race I got sick, but I recovered in a few days. Then my wife got sick. Never a good sign. Colds have a tendency to kick her but. In a few days she was down and out. Leaving work early one day and then calling in sick the next. Not something my wife takes lightly she is kind of a workaholic in that way. So two days before her first half marathon my wife was so sick she missed work. Not ideal, obviously. We were both nervous. How would this impact her ability to run the race? Would she even be able to run the race? If she could go to the race would she be able to run at all or would it just be a long walk. Luckily by race day my wife was feeling much better and we took cold medicine to the race for her to use.
Emotionally at least, the days leading up to the race went smoothly and my wife, at least outwardly, seemed relatively relaxed despite what was approaching for her. She said she was nervous but really handled it well.
On race day we boarded the bus and got to the start line uneventfully, exactly what you want on race day, especially for ones first half marathon. We were there plenty early to stretch and get prepared. We talked about how to start the race. It would be very exciting and it would be fun to just run as much as possible at the beginning. But we discussed the importance of sticking to our plan. It will be hard to let people go by us as we execute our run/walk plan but it will benefit us in the end. We made a plan and now we need to execute it.
The race started and we crossed the start line. My wife was now running her first half marathon. Something I never thought would happen and something I bet she really never thought would happen. We executed our plan. We ran and we walked. Occasionally running or walking more or less as seemed appropriate. It was amazing. My wife was doing so well. Despite all the setbacks. The injuries, the nagging leg pains. The cold the week of the race. She was conquering it all. She was doing this. Not only was she doing it she was doing it well. She was executing the race plan exactly the way we had discussed. I checked in with her frequently to see how she felt and she felt good almost the entire race. No pain. Not much effects from the cold. We had packed my race vest full of tissues just in case, but we only ended up using a small handful of tissues over the course of the race.
I could not have been more happy for my wife at how this race was going for her. I knew she was nervous about it especially after getting sick. I know she had doubts about whether or not she could do it and do it the way she wanted to with a run/walk strategy. I always tried to reassure her. But I would be lying if I said I expected it to go as well for her as it did.
We went along at our intended pace and before you knew it 5k done. I told my wife think about this. You had so many setbacks this year, but you just ran a 5k and you feel fine. You feel better than you had on any of your other 5k races. You felt better than you did on your training runs. I tried to build her confidence by pointing out how well she was doing. It was just so great to see her out here feeling so well.
Then the next milestone hit before you knew it. We were approaching the 8k distance. I think that made us both a little nervous because we both knew what that meant. We were about you cross not uncharted territory. My wife had been able to walk longer distances, but she had never gone farther than an 8k at the pace we were going using this run/walk strategy. Still she felt strong. She was happy and in good spirits. We entered uncharted territory and continued to sail through it without so much of a hiccup.
It is kind of amazing to me to see someone running their first half marathon who is in as good of spirits as my wife was. She was happy and friendly. We talked a lot. She talked to everyone on the course she could. She thanked every single volunteer we crossed paths with.
Through mile ten she had barely a complaint. She felt fine. She was in good spirits. Our strategy was working. She was overcoming all the obstacles thst had been put in her path. After mile ten my wife started to waver. Her energy was starting to ebb. It was noticeable that she was slowing down. Then at just the right moment one of our friends who was volunteering at a water station. After we ran by, he road out onto the course to provide some levity and entertainment to lift us up and it really helped get us smiling though a tough stretch.
As we neared the end of the race my wife seemed to be in awe of what was happening. She was actually accomplishing this huge goal she never even thought she’d ever take on. In the last few miles she said multiple times “I can’t believe I’m doing this.” I told her “It is amazing when you start to find out just what you are capable of.” My wife was getting tired but she still felt pretty good despite everything. She could start to see the light at the end of the tunnel. As we got close to the end it really began to hit my wife. She was going to finish this race. She said, “I can’t believe I am actually going to finish.” She began t get emotional and tears began to well up in her eyes. She began to cry. I don’t know if she ever really truly believed that she would be able to do this. She wanted to and dreamed about it and hoped to be able to do it, but I don’t know if she ever believed she could. Now she was proving to herself that she could do it and she was doing it and she was going to finish. Seeing my wife so happy and so close to accomplishing her goal and her tears of joy and emotions overflowing almost ha me crying. I had to keep my emotions in check so she could focus on what she needed to do, but I was just so overwhelmingly happy for her.
We turned onto Market Street. We continued to execute our plan. We ran the section of Market Street that we had planned to run through to the finish line and we ran through the cheering crowd and crossed that finish line together. It was an amazing feeling. I hugged my wife. Meb would have to wait.
This was the most amazing experience for me. As much as it was for my wife. This is the kind of experience I have dreamed about having. I think anyone who runs has had these thoughts. Thoughts of how great it would be to be able to go out and run with your spouse or significant other. To be able to share in this thing you love. To go out and move your bodies and enjoy what running has to offer together. For a long time I never thought this would be something I would experience. As I dove deeper into running my wife seemed to become more resolute that she was not going to be a runner. Then she began to get interested in running. We have now run around six events together including this half marathon. Being able to share this with my wife is so special to me.
Experiencing this race with her. Seeing her run her first half marathon up close and personal. See her enjoy running. Watching her smile and and talk to people and thank every volunteer. To see her joy in running this race. It makes me so happy. It is a memory I will never forget.
My wife will probably continue to say she is not a runner despite my admonishments. We don’t run the same pace. But we can still get out and have fun running together. We make time to do some running with each other and it makes all the difference in the world to me. I think she thinks it is a sacrifice or me to slow down and run with her, but for me it is the biggest joy I can get. I get to be out here doing something I love with the woman I love. There could not be a bigger gift that she could give to me. She will tell you she is slow and that she doesn’t really run, but I can see a day in the future when I am asking her to slow down and run a race with me.
My wife talked about how much fun she had running the Wineglass Half Marathon and how it was better than she expected. She is already talking about running it again next year. If she could do it this year despite all the setbacks, how much better could she do next year if things went smoother for her?
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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It is now less than a month away. I will be lacing up to attempt to run 100 miles and this has been a crazy year for my running so far. I set bigger, higher, more challenging goals than I ever did before. I suffered my first running related injury, hip bursitis, which is still nagging me. I DNF’d my first attempt at 50 miles due to the heat. And in really only my second year of trying to have any form of structured training I have struggled for various reasons to meet the standards of training I wanted to get for this adventure.
Now that everything else on my calendar as far as running goes is behind me I am really trying to focus on this huge challenge ahead. I have been wanting to get down to the Pine Creek Rail Trail all year, but have been unable to due to my inconsistencies in training. But I finally made it happen. I really wanted to see it and feel it. I needed to get a sense of what it was going to be like running there all day and all night and possibly longer. I wanted to feel how that trail would feel under my feet. I wanted to test out what shoes I might want to wear on this adventure. (FYI I still don’t know).
My plan for the day was to run the trail from the starting point for the race for the Pine Creek Challenge and run 10 miles out and 10 miles back. It might sound silly to say I wanted to know the trail conditions, I mean it’s on a rail trail after all, but all the trails I have been on have a different feel to them. Some are soft, some are more gravely, and some are pretty firm. Getting this knowledge could help me to plan for the appropriate footwear. I have run most of my races in the same style of trail shoes and my preference would be to run the Pine Creek Challenge in that same style of shoes as well. I have loved Altra shoes for the past several years and I am currently running in The Altra Superiors. However, after running 20 miles on the Pine Creek Rail Trail I am not sure if that is the best option for this race. The trail is pretty firm. I think I need footwear that may be more along the lines of road shoes with more cushion and less tread. As I ran I could just feel the tread of the trail shoes under my foot because there was no softness for them to sink into. Over the last couple of years I have been doing most of my road miles in one specific model of shoes, the Saucony Kinvara, currently the 9’s. So I think I might use something more like that style of shoe for this race, but right now it is still up in the air.
This was also ended up being my first 20 mile long training run of the entire year partly due to injury and partly due to other factors. I was excited and nervous to get out there for a 20 mile run. I have been feeling pretty good. I have been running consistently but keeping the mileage and effort relatively low to minimize risk of aggravating the injury. Last week I broke 16 miles up into 3 different runs, 10 miles, 3 miles, then 3 more miles at night to see how it would feel to absorb that many miles on my hip. It seemed to go pretty well. So I was encouraged going into this run. As far as my hip bursitis went this run went really well. Of my entire body system my old achy ankle bothered me more than anything else. My hip felt pretty good and mostly painless until the last few miles when there were moments of tenderness. They were not intense and did subside so that is encouraging. Nothing like what I experienced back in May. I think this will add an additional element of challenge to this event but I don’t think it will prevent me from finishing at this point.
The one other strange concern I ended up with by the end of the run had to do with my hydration pack. I have been using this pack all year for all my long runs and my long races with no problems. But, for some reason during this run it was rubbing on the center of my chest. The left upper section where the straps are able to be adjusted up and down and there is a herder plastic there just kept rubbing to the point where at times I was holding it out off of my chest while I ran. I tried different strategies to try and get it to stop while I was running to no avail. I did not want to stop and meddle with my pack during this run. It ended up leaving an inch long red raw mark on my chest. Needless to say I will have to do some work to dial in the fit of my pack before race day. Luckily there are adjustments I can still make.
I am planning to head back out on another run on the trail soon.
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Last year after running my first two 50k ultra marathons I decided to take the next “logical” step and test myself out at the 50 mile distance. Perhaps many people would not see any of this as logical but it made sense to me. I wanted to find a race that suited my preferences. My first two 50k races were very different from each other. One being very flat and one being much more rugged with a lot of climbing. I did not feel like either of those things suited me well for a 50 mile adventure. I really needed something in between, not flat but not too much climbing either, I needed to find something in my Goldilocks zone. I also didn’t really want to travel too far. I didn’t want to have to worry about any extra logistics other than the running of the race. So that obviously limited my options as well. But as it happens just the right race takes place not too far from where I live and even better I had some experience at this race. The Finger Lakes Running Club puts on the Finger Lakes 50’s race each year. This event is comprised of races of 25k, 50k, and 50 miles. I had already run the 25k in 2017 as my first ever 25k, so I was familiar with it. The biggest downside to this event is that it is held on the first weekend of July, and I do not generally do well running in the heat. In my first experience at this event I guess I was fortunate that it rained the whole time so that I did not have to deal with the heat.
Finger Lakes 50’s is a loop course event. Each loop is approximately 25k. So for the 50 miles I would run 3 loops, plus a half mile baby loop to round out the 50 miles. I was a little concerned about the course being loops because of the temptation to drop at the start finish line after the conclusion of each loop especially if I was struggling. I tried to reframe this as loops being a positive aspect of the race. I convinced myself that it would be good to get more familiar with the layout of the course as things went on and know what the course conditions were like out on the course. FYI course conditions can change mid race.
I was able to “convince” one of my best friends to go on this journey with me. And by convince I mean I casually mentioned that I was going to do it and then she was “convinced” to do it as well. We both have run the same two 50ks together and shared many miles of running and training and adventure. We are similar runners, so our plan was to run this thing together and share the miles, the adventure, and the suffering.
We spent the first half of the year trying to pretend that at some point we were going to be running 50 miles. We focused on all the other races we had planned. Once we both completed our 50k in June Finger Lakes 50’s loomed large. In mid April I had developed a some sort of injury to my hip/groin area that had not recovered by Worlds End 50k in June and really hampered me there. I already had tried just cutting back on training some prior to Worlds End. So, post 50k the only realistic option for me was to try and get some type of treatment for my issue and rest as much as I could and hope it would recover or I would never make it through a 50 mile race.
I went and saw a primary care doctor for the first time in about 20 years. I started a prescribed medication other than antibiotics for the first time. I began massage therapy treatment with Soul Ease. I also received chiropractic treatment from Market Street Chiropractic. Orthopedic doctor’s opinion was that it was likely hip bursitis.
The hardest part about trying to recover is that I was really cutting back my running, especially my long runs because that is what aggravated the injury the most. So since the goal was to rest it and not aggravate it I was not testing it either so I had no idea how it was going to respond on longer runs. Just over two weeks prior to the race I decided I needed to try to get a little feedback regarding my injury and test it out. I went for a long run on the Interloken Trail, a side branch of the Finger Lakes Trail and also a location of some of the trails I would have to run during the 50 mile loop race. I ran my planned 13 miles and I was pretty happy with it. I had no major issues. So for the next 2 weeks I did minimal running including zero running for the 5 days leading into the race. I wanted to maximize my chances of being healthy. I figured my best chance at completing this race was to be as healthy as possible. I could grind out the miles on tired sore legs if I at least had my health. After all my very first 50k trail adventure was a solo adventure on the Finger Lakes Trail with very little planning and no training and my longest run prior to that was a 25k, what could go wrong? That is was I kept telling myself at least.
So with less than ideal training and while recovering from an injury I embarked on a 50 mile race. Good idea? Only time would tell.
Race day arrived and it was going to be a hot one. As start time neared the temperature was around 70 degrees. 70 degrees is the temperature around which I start to be unable to sustain my running. Most of the races I have done in this temperature range have not gone great for me. The high temperature for the day would end up being around 88 degrees. Far hotter than I would choose to run in.
The 6:30 AM start time arrive and we were off. Down the gravel road we went and shortly we took a right into the woods and onto the trails. Pretty early on in the first loop before the first aid station there is a long downhill section that is on a gravel road. On a shorter race or at least a race of a distance I was experienced with this is the type of section I would love and run hard down to pick up time. In my one and only other experience on this course I ran down this road hard and was passing people, but that was a 25k race. With close to 50 miles still to go that did not seem prudent on this go around. We talked about how we wanted to handle this section and just decided to run casual, not trying to run hard but not putting on the brakes either. We just let gravity do the work, gaining some speed on some steeper sections and then letting speed dissipate on lesser grades.
As we made our way around the loop the first time the heat and humidity intensified. We played it cautious trying not to burn out before we got to where we needed to really hit cut off times. Especially in open exposed areas and other areas that felt particularly hot we took it easy and even walked. We walked when we otherwise could have run in order to save strength for later on. We were trying to strategize to mitigate the effects of the heat. If we felt like we needed to go easier we did just that without hesitation.
One good thing about the heat the past several days and on race day was that the trails were remarkably dry when the race began. They weren’t totally dry, but much improved from when I had been out in the area on a training run. This made running when we wanted to a much easier thing to do and made walking at a decent pace much easier too. When I was out on the trails two weeks prior there was significant water on the trails during the first loop of the course there was almost no water and not even much of anything that could be called mud except in a few spots.
We complete lap 1 in 3 hours and 35 minutes. That left us around 4 hours to complete a second lap. We took stock, refreshed ourselves, ate and drank, and then headed back out into the heat for lap number 2. At this point I was pretty confident we would get our first two laps done within the cutoff of 7 hours and 45 minutes. As lap two wore on the heat and humidity did not relent. I was having difficulty eating much of anything solid. At aid stations I ate watermelon and drank whatever non water fluids they had for calories, and I was able to eat some of the salt potatoes I had with me, but I wasn’t able to eat any of the other food I had been relying on for fuel that I carried and none of the other food at the aid stations were appealing. As the heat continued to wear me down I exchanged my hat for a buff that I could put ice in. Then at a later aide stations I added another buff so I could carry even more ice. Eventually, shortly before the half way point on loop 2, I gave up everything extra I was carrying just to try and keep from overheating. I gave up my food and I even gave up my camera gear which is saying allot for me considering I am a photographer who documents everything and that was the plan for this race.
Shortly after the half way point of the second loop I really started to feel the effects of the heat. As we ran, my hands started to go numb and I began to feel a little light headed and dizzy. I said I needed to stop running and walk for a bit. We walked and I recovered enough to run after a while. Unfortunately the same symptoms returned and we continued this walk run approach. My friend was not going to just leave me there in the woods even though I encouraged her to do so. We arrived at the first aide station after the half way point and I tried to regroup. I added as much ice as I could. I put ice in both of my buffs and in my shirt and in my shorts to try to cool down. The effect of the cold from the ice on the extreme heat of my body made me a bit dizzy and took me a moment to recover from. I used more ice at this race than I had ever used before at a race and more than I had thought I would. It was a necessity. It was the only thing allowing me to keep going. Unfortunately the ice did not last very long once you started running again. It lasted only mere minutes in the heat. After getting more fluids and fuel I needed more time to recover. I told my friend to go without me. I know she didn’t want to leave me at that aid station, but I knew that she did not have time to spare to wait for me and could not afford to move as slow as I would likely be going once I started off on the trails again. She looked back, frowned, then she went on without me.
I regrouped and then headed back out on the trails myself. I was moving slowly on the trails. The heat and humidity were nearly unbearable for me. Then it happened. First a trickle and then the skies opened up and a deluge of rain burst from the skies. In a matter of minutes everything was soaked. I was getting what I desperately needed. The rain cooled me off significantly. Not only did it help me physically but it lifted me mentally as well. It rained so intensely that the trails quickly flooded. It was like running up a stream. the trail conditions quickly converted from nearly pristine and dry to possibly worse than the conditions in 2017. I ran. I don’t know how fast I ran but I ran as fast as I could. I felt better and stronger than I had since the beginning of the race. I surged forward knowing that I had to beat the clock. I ran at a pace that took my breath away and eventually required me to walk and catch my breath. I repeated this run hard as you can then rest approach trying to surge through the storm. I was running so much better at this point that I actually passed a few people which would have been unthinkable even a few minutes ago. The change in weather and course conditions were so uplifting and provided such a sure of adrenaline with the chance to chase the clock that I completely forgot about the pain in my hip that had begun to bother me again. I kept looking at my watch thinking that I might actually be able to complete the loop in time to move on for a third loop. Could I actually do it?
The whole race my wife had been at each aide station to cheer us on. My friends husband joined our crew stating on the 2nd loop. When I emerged through the woods in the torrential downpour and arrived at the final aid station my wife was there in the pouring rain cheering for me as she had been all day. My friends husband had gone ahead to continue crewing for her up ahead of me as she continued to race the clock as well. As I arrived at this last aid station there was a new face there. Another of my friends had arrived to cheer me on and crew for us in this crazy storm. Seeing another familiar friendly face at the aid station helped to lift me up. They asked me what I needed. I just took a cup of coke. I told my wife I thought I still had time to make the cut off. It was then that she had to do the most difficult thing and break the news to me that I wasn’t going to make it. I had two miles to go, JUST TWO MORE MILES to complete the second loop. But I only had 9 minutes to get there. On my best days on completely fresh legs I couldn’t get that done. There was no way I could make it. My day was going to come to an end without even starting a third loop. As I write this I am fighting back emotions and tears are welling up in my eyes. This was not the outcome I was hoping for.
Despite the news that I could not possibly make the cut off I was determined to push through as hard as I could to what would be not the start of my third loop but my finish line. I somehow summoned the strength to overtake a few other runners on the road with me. I continued to run down the road, towards the end of the loop. I knew that the news of my imminent finish was demoralizing because as I headed down the road the pain in my hip that hope had vanquished returned more painful than I had felt it the entire day. I tried to push through it. I ran as hard as I could for as long as I could, but what was the point. I wasn’t going to make it in time. I walked and relieved the pain. Then when I could I resumed running again. This section of gravel road felt longer than any other stretch on the course even on the first go around, it felt interminable on this final approach before ducking back into the wood rounding the pond and emerging at my finish.
I don’t know if I would have been able to make the final cut off at the 10 and a half hour mark, but I wish more than anything that I had had the chance to find out. If you finish the second loop but do not finish in time to start a third loop they credit you with a 50k finish which is nice, but that is not what I was here for on this day. I was here to push myself to new limits. I was here to run more miles than I had ever run before. I wanted to get out there and try for that third loop more than anything. I would have rather start the third loop and not finish but run more miles than ever before then to finish my 4th 50k. I was here to test my limits and in some ways I did test my limits just not in the way I had hoped for. Apparently when I rolled into the last aid station I was not doing as well as I thought I was. My crew at that aid station told me after the race that I was a bit unsteady and wobbly during my time at the aid station and also appeared to be wobbly after I left the aid station and started running again as well. I did not get the result I had hoped for but I got an experience like nothing I had experienced before. Pushing through pain again, fighting off heat exhaustion, having a resurgence in the rain, and running with fun and joy when previously it had dissipated.
There is nothing better than taking on a new challenge like this race and having my wife and friends there to cheer me on. Running through most of my race with one of my best friends was the only way to take on this new challenge. I am so grateful that she went along on this crazy ride with me. I am even happier that she did make the cut off to start a third loop and then the final cut off to be able to finish that third loop. And I am overjoyed for her that she finish that race and that I got to cheer her on for that third loop and see her finish. That made the day a good day. Seeing my friend overcome the adversities I could not and succeed at this race that stopped me in my tracks was what I needed after not being able to finish. Having our other close friends there at the end was also a blessing. They were there to console me and cheer and celebrate her accomplishments. I am fortunate to be a member of this group.
It is really easy to second guess myself about this race and how we approached it. Should we have run harder on the first loop especially in places we took it easy? Should we have moved through aid stations faster? Should I have started taking on ice sooner? Should I have worn the arm sleeves and filled them with ice as I had planned to? Should I have not carried as much as I did for the first loop plus? What could I have done differently to produce a better outcome for myself? These are all pointless questions because there is no way to know how a change in any one thing would have effected everything else that occurred that day.
Looking on the bright side I learned a lot about myself. I learned that I can maintain enough fitness to run a 50k without a whole lot of training between races. I learned that my hip while not completely healed is actually getting better. I was able to run much farther in this race before experiencing significant pain than in my last race. I learned that if I ever run another long summer race I need to have a real strategy for dealing with the heat. I learned that I can run a 50k without having to change my shoes and have no major issues as a result. I learned that I still have not found socks that my toes will not poke a hole in. I continue to learn that I have a lot more to learn.
One of my goals with this race aside from finishing the 50 miles was to capture as much of it as possible on camera. I carried 4 devices for this purpose: my cell phone, a chest mounted GoPro, a hand carried GoPro, and a small mirror less Nikon camera in my pack. I was not taking many photos in the beginning because I wanted to save it for later when I was tired and needed to take my mind off things especially on the third loop. Then I realized what if there is no third lap. When I evenutally realized I had not been taking many photos and that I would be giving up all my camera gear at the next aid station I just turned on my chest mounted GoPRo to capture as much as I could of the race until the memory card fillled up.
I utilized my chest mounted GoPro the most because it was the easiest to use in the circumstances. I used my hand held go pro a few times. I took a few shots with my cell phone in just one spot. I never even took my Nikon out of my pack. The lack of photo taking was due to the heat and humidity requiring all my energy to just remain focused on the race. There really wasn’t much time where I felt comfortable enough to either stop and take photos or to just make the extra efforts to use cameras. Plus as I ended up losing to the clock there really wasn’t time for it anyway. An even more disappointing factor is that after not finishing the 50 miles I got home and uploaded my photos to the computer and for a variety of reasons, many of which are beyond my control a lot of the photos did not turn out well. So that was extra demoralizing.
The day after the race I needed to do some recovery. I tried to recover with Avital’s Apiaries products I was given to test out. I soaked my sore and tired legs in a hot bath with Avital’s Apiaries Recover Bee bath fizzies. I used their Recover Bee soap. Then once I was done tired soaking my legs I gave them a rub down with Avital’s Apiaries Recover Bee massage oil. After that my legs did feel a little better.
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Round and round they go. When they’ll stop, nobody knows.
I have been fortunate to be involved with quite a few races over the last several years. Some as a volunteer. Some as a runner. Some as a photographer. Sometimes I’ve been involved in more than one way at a given race. My good friends were putting on a race to help support our local youth running club, SOAR. I wanted to be involved in the event and support them in their efforts.
The race was called The Monster Brant Hill Challenge put on by Rebellion Running. It was held at Newtown Battlefield State Park in Upstate, NY. The race format was a timed loop course event. The runners would have 3 hours to complete as many laps as they could or wanted to. I had only ever participated in one timed loop course event before and I enjoyed it more than I expected. I had never photographed an event held in this format before.
I started off photographing some impressive younger youth athletes that took on the one hour youth course.
I was very intrigued as to how this format would lend itself to photography. My normal process is to scout out what I think will be the best location on the course to take photographs and stake out a position there and photograph every runner as they pass me by. The format of this race lends itself to so many different possibilities that it threw me of my game a little bit.
One thing I did differently was set up a GoPro at the aid station taking time lapse photos every second to record the runners as they made their nutrition choices. The cameras recorded over 14,000 images which I have not even begun to go through yet, but it ought to be interesting. Also, it is highly advisable to turn off the camera after the event so you don’t have thousands of empty frames to look at and delete. And you should pick up said GoPro so the race crew don’t have to bring it back to you after the event. There are always new wrinkles and things to learn from.
I began the event by photographing the runners as they took off down the trail at the start of the event. Then I moved around to the other end of the loop and went up the trail a little ways from where the loop ends so I could photograph runners completing their first lap. Then I moved back to where the end of the loop was and the aid station was set up to photograph runners as they made the turn to continue for another loop or stop for some aid.
I decided to make my way around the loop in reverse so that the runners would be approaching me as I walked up the trail. I stopped and photographed each runner from wherever along the trail I encountered them. This was really cool to be able to feature a large portion of the course in photographs. It also allowed for runners to be featured in different ways as they were covering different terrain on the course. They were able to get photographs on flatter faster sections where they felt better as well as on the tougher sections. I really enjoyed the variety of different photographic opportunities that were made available by being able to move throughout the course without missing any runners.
As I made my way around the course I stopped in a few key spots to photograph all the runners as they came through. These key locations were on the climbing section of the course. I know runners really hate having their picture taken during the tough climbs on a course but as a photographer I always feel like they make for some of the best photographs because they really show the blood, sweat, and tears that the runners are putting into running the race. You can really see the runners working and see the determination etched on their faces as they climb. Also, going out on the course more gave me a better appreciation for the conditions on the trail that the runners were dealing with.
I think this having so many opportunities for photos during one race also allowed the athletes to have more fun with their race photos at this event.
Photographing this type of event also freed me up to be more creative and take chances with some photography. I really strive to get a quality photograph of every runner at a race so I don’t like to do things that might cause that not to happen. But on the loop course I knew I had already seen all the runners multiple times and I was confident that I had good photographs of everyone. I used my smaller camera with a wider angle of view on the trails to photograph the runners on the trails as they passed by me. The goal of the photographs was to pan with the runners and shoot at a slower shutter speed than normal to create a sense of motion as the runners move. This sense of motion can be generated in the background as I pan the camera with them and in the runner’s body’s as their arms pump and legs strike the ground and push off. This series of photographs will have a more artistic feel to them. They most likely will not have a crisp image of the runners in many of them.
Now I have really come to like this race format as both a runner and a photographer. I am looking forward to photographing another event like this and sparking some even more creative ideas.
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.
So, I did something new this year. I ran two races in one weekend. I was expecting it to be a challenge, but I was not expecting the layer of challenge that nursing and injury coming into the weekend presented. I survived the first race of the weekend, Sehgahunda ok. I was tired and a little sore, but no major issues. I was still able to run. So on to Chief Wetona we went.
I met up with my friends and upon walking up the hill to the packet pickup/start finish I noticed a bit of a twinge in the area of my leg where I had been feeling discomfort. That did not make me feel hopeful. On top of everything else it was shaping up to be quite a warm day. It was nearly 70 degrees as start time approached with a high in the 80’s during the day. I do not generally do well in the heat. Between being a little banged up and the heat I was really unsure of how I would perform on this course. I had no idea what to expect given this was my first time running this race. I was prepared to spend a long, long time out on the trails. I told my wife how long I thought I could end up being out there so that she would not be worried if I was not done sooner.
As the 14 mile race began and we headed down the downhill road that lead to the trails I was determined to take it easy in the beginning and feel things out. See how I felt and make adjustments as I went along. I really tried to focus on pacing myself and not pushing too hard especially in the early stages of the event. My original plan was to photograph this event using my GoPro cameras as I ran. I have one GoPRo that I use attached to a chest mounted harness, but with the heat I decided that was not a good idea because I didn’t want to do anything else that would make me hotter. So, that left me with the hand held GoPro which works well for me. After we got a little way into the beginning of the race I decided to shoot some photographs with the GoPro. I turned it on and it began beeping at me and giving me an error message that there was no memory card in the GoPro so it could not record anything. Turns out that after Sehgahund I returned home and downloaded those photos and I forgot to put the memory card back into the GoPro. Sometimes, no matter how many times we do things we still make boneheaded mistakes. There was another option. I could use my cell phone, which in a lot of ways actually takes better photos than the GoPro does. It is just not as easy to use and handle during a run as the GoPro is. So I learned that my GoPro with its handle will fit in the zipper pouch on my vest and that I could successfully get my cell phone in and out of my pockets to take photos during the event. It actually worked out that knowing it was hot and I was banged up and would not going to be going all out on the trails so I was able to take the necessary time to make the use of my cell phone work.
I enjoyed this race much more than I expected. My leg cooperated fairly well. I had some discomfort but could run. I took it easier on some sections I would normally like to run hard down the descents but with the leg issue and the heat I did not want to push myself too hard. This course was probably my favorite course I have ever run. There were challenging climbing sections, but nothing too steep or too long that it totally sapped my strength. There were descents that were runable and not too technical. I would have loved to push myself harder down those had I been healthier. There were many great runabale relatively flat sections of trail. A feature I feel like is often missing from too many races. The amazing single track sections cut into the side of the hill were fantastic. They made for a challenge in that they were pretty narrow, especially with my large size 14 feet and the fact that I was running in Altra’s with their wide toe box. I don’t think I can adequately express how much I really liked this course and wish I was feeling 100% for the run. I took my time at aid stations and made sure to stay hydrated. I felt way better than I expected to in the heat. As I neared the end I was starting to feel fatigued and hot. As I approached the surprise 4th aide station an amazing volunteer called out to me and asked what I needed. I told him I just needed some water pour on me. He grabbed a gallon of water and came out into the road and poured the water over my head as I walked by. That was just what I needed to get me to the finish line. That volunteer was a life saver. All the volunteers were great and the race director did a great job putting on this event.
I finished in a time I was pretty pleased with all things considered. My friends and I gathered at a picnic table in the shade. We ate the great food provided to us. We enjoyed the amazing weather that most of our spring so far had been lacking. And we talked and hung out and enjoyed having time to spend together and enjoy the things we love. Friends, Food, and Trail Running. It doesn’t get much better than that.