Trail Monster Running

Visit the official TRAIL MONSTER RUNNING website for information on upcoming group runs, local trails, trail races and more, including the Pineland Farms Trail Running Festival and the Bradbury Mountain trail Running Series.

Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 Running & Racing Recap

Total mileage for 2012: 2166.8 miles
Total time spent running: 376 hours, 21 minutes

240 runs this year, 9.03 miles per run average, 1:34:04 average time, 10:25 pace

My graph
Monthly Mileage

My graph
Weekly Mileage
This is my highest mileage year ever, but only a little higher than 2011. I started out the year with 6 months of solid, high mileage (for me) running leading up to the VT100 in July. I was averaging more than 200 miles per month, everything was going well and I was feeling great. Even though I had a great race in Vermont I was pretty stupid about my recovery, too much hard racing too soon after the 100 miler and it all came crashing down at the Bruiser in September. I struggled to try and train for the Stone Cat 50 in November and in the end dropped down the the marathon. Following the marathon I took two weeks off from running and then a very cautious low mileage return with less than 80 miles for the whole month of November (about 1/3 of that mileage was in one run).

In December, when I found out that I got into the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100, I made a cautious return to training and started to ramp up the mileage again. During this last week of December I logged just over 50 miles, the first time I've done this in a training week since before the VT100. Looking ahead I know that I need to be very careful with how I train for Massanutten and will probably do a lot less racing this winter/spring and just focus on base building and long runs.

Recap of 2012 races: 2 road, 3 snowshoe, 13 trail, 5 ultra, 3 fat ass 50k's, 7 PR's

Hangover Classic 10k
distance: 6.2 miles
time: 39:46 PR
pace: 6:27
place: 41/422 - 9.7%
With no speed work leading up to this race, no taper and very little road running in general I wasn't feeling particularly fast, but I did feel good. Surprised to get a PR, the only logical reason for this is that the course was short.

GAC Fat Ass 50k
distance: 31 miles
time: 4:25:10 PR
pace: 8:33
place: 13/80 - 16%
Good early season test of fitness and endurance. No snow meant fast conditions. Gradual increase of pace over first three laps, then minimal slow down in the last two. Overall pretty consistent.

Bradbury Squall
distance: 3.5 miles
time: 33:00 PR
pace: 9:25
place: 4/40 - 10%
The only race of the series that had decent snow so this was hard work for sure, and fun to race strategically. Really happy with how things went especially following the previous days 3 hour snowy trail run.

Bradbury White Out
distance: 4.1 miles
time: 32:32
pace: 7:56
place: 4/45 - 8.8%
New course on the east side, hard packed snow and ice meant fast conditions. Hard work racing other Trail Monsters but very happy with the result.

Mockingbird Lane Fat Ass 50k
distance: 31 miles
time: 5:32:01
pace: 10:42
place: N/A
Tough conditions, as usual, but managed to keep the pace pretty consistent thoughout.

Bradbury Blizzard
distance: 5 miles
time: 39:17
pace: 7:51
place: 2/37 - 5.4%
New course on the east side, hard packed snow and ice, snowshoes not even needed. Hard work racing other Trail Monsters but very happy with the result, second place overall thanks to Jeremy being out of town.

One More Fat Ass for Sunshine
distance: 30.5 miles
time: 4:45:21
pace: 9:21
place: 3/5 - 60%
Overall a good run despite some major stomach problems.

Merrimack River 10 Miler
distance: 10 miles
time: 1:12:17 PR
pace: 7:13
place: 22/240 - 9.1%
Following a broken little toe the week before the race and a 20 miler mid-week I wasn't sure what to expect but I did feel pretty good. Very happy to get a course PR.

Muddy Moose
distance: 14 miles
time: 1:50:09 PR
pace: 7:52
place: 16/94 - 17%
Felt great for this race since I was tapering for the Peak 50, psyched to get a 10 minute course PR!

Peak 50
distance: 53.5 miles (?)
time: 12:20:08
pace: 13:50
place: 7/25 finishers /59 starters - 11.8%
Crazy, brutal race course. Felt good for the first 30, suffered off and on for the last 20+. Uncertain about placing because intelligible results were never published.

Pineland 5k Canicross
distance: 3.1 miles
time: 21:38
pace: 6:57
place: 7/96 - 7.2%
Two weeks after the Peak 50 and a very hot/humid day so took it easy for my sake and Kip's, except for the first downhill mile in which Kip pulled me along at a 5:37 pace.

Bradbury Scuffle
distance: 6 miles
time: 47:05
pace: 7:50
place: 17/171 - 9.9%
Supposedly racing at 90% effort since this was the week before the VT100, felt great, very comfortable race. Easily could have PR'd if I'd put in 100% effort.

Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run
distance: 100 miles
time: 21:04:36 PR
pace: 12:38
place: 48/218/290 - 16.5%
Definitely the highlight of the year for me, extremely happy with how I ran this race and with the result. Grateful for all the support from Emma, my parents and the TMR crew.

Bradbury Mountain Breaker
distance: 9 miles
time: 1:25:04
pace: 9:27
place: 34/144 - 23.6%
Two weeks after the VT100 it probably wasn't a good idea to even start this race. Another hot day so took it realtively easy the whole way. Pleased with the result considering my recovery from VT.

Ragged Mountain Run Around
distance: 9 miles
time: 1:22:12
pace: 9:08
place: 7/34 - 20.5%
Still too soon to be doing another mountain race, but I couldn't resist. Very fun event and much happier with how the race went compared to the Breaker.

Steve Day 5k
distance: 3.1 miles
time: 20:26
pace: 6:35
place: 7/201 - 3.4%
Finally starting to feel more recovered so put in a hard effort but my legs weren't used to trying to run fast on the road.

Bradbury Bruiser
distance: 12 miles
time: 1:49:10
pace: 9:05
place: 33/156 - 21%
I should have been in good shape for a fast race but strained my achilles a few miles in and then had both calves cramp badly on the O-Trail. Definitely the worst race of the year for me and a major injury setback. In hindsight it's clear that I was really stupid about my recovery from the VT100.

Stone Cat Marathon
distance: 26.2 miles
time: 3:44:03 PR
pace: 8:33
place: 16/210 - 7.6%
Had signed up for the 50 miler but due to achilles/calf issues couldn't get the training in. I really wasn't even well trained for the marathon but managed to get my head into the race and push myself to a new course PR. (Official results added a 15 minute penalty because I was registered for the 50 miler.)

Apart from the ups and downs of racing, most of the 376 hours I spent running this year were a lot of fun. I covered many enjoyable miles with Emma, our dogs and many good friends old and new. What none of these numbers show is the strength of the bond made through sharing the joys and struggles of running with other like-minded people. Time well spent. I'm looking forward to the miles and friendships of 2013.

Friday, November 16, 2012

2012 Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run

This year's Vermont 100 was a step into a new realm of running in a 100 mile race for me. For the first time ever I wasn't questioning whether or not I'd make it to the finish line, the question was how fast could I get there. Fast is a relative term or course, I finished more than 6 hours after the winner of the race, but this was my first 100 where within the 15+ hour time range between first and last finishers I finished significantly closer to the first.

Of course, confidence in my ability to get to the finish line didn't stop me from being afraid of how much pain I might encounter along the way.

At the beginning of the year I had no specific plans to run a 100. Without a real job and a lot of uncertainty about what lie ahead for me I was reluctant to commit to any event that would require vast amounts of training and potentially a lot of expense and travel. Actually, I had plenty of time for the training, it was the expense part I was worried about. In early December 2011 I put my name in the lotteries for Western States and Massanutten, two events that would require significant travel expenses but I figured it was worth a shot. In the end my money was safe because I didn’t get into either event. After a bit of contemplation I decided I’d sign up for the VT100, at least it was close to home and logistically easy so I knew I could do it on the cheap. By the time I was ready to commit I found that the race had already filled to capacity. 0 for 3, and it began to look like the 100 Mile Wilderness might be my best option for a 100 this year.

In the first half of the year my training was focused on the Peak 50 miler in May, but beyond that I still hadn’t figured out what the next goal would be. Following the Peak race I talked with Jeremy about what we wanted to do next, and since that event had felt like a glorified Fat Ass 100 for him he was looking to do a well organized 100 miler, one where the race organizers knew what they were doing and knew how to look after the runners. He had proven that he could suffer through the worst of conditions for 30+ hours, now he wanted to see what he could do in a race. The VT 100 was the obvious choice but the race had been filled to capacity for the past 6 months. Ah ha! Thanks to a connection with one of the event sponsors I realized I might have an opportunity to get a place for Jeremy in the race, and since I was asking for one place why not go all out and see if I could get two of those entries that were reserved for sponsors. It was a tense two weeks while we waiting for the magic to happen, but eventually we got confirmation that we could both get into the race. What was going to make this really exciting was that we’d be joining Zak, Joe and George who were also running, and over the following weeks we assembled a large contingent of TMR members, friends and family as our various support crews so we had a great big Maine posse headed to VT.

After three weeks of recovery from the Peak 50 miler I found myself training again for another trip to Vermont. This time an even bigger one, but I was comforted by the fact that I had completed this race before, and with the intensity of my training leading up to the Peak 50 I knew I had a great base to work with. In the 5 week stretch that would form the bulk of my 100 miler training I managed to get in 4 runs between 28 and 31 miles, averaged a little more than 50 miles per week and had my highest weekly mileage at about 75. This is a little lower than I had planned, but I think it’s important to train by what feels right when I’m in between big ultras and trying to find the balance between recovery and training. I was hitting all my long run targets but I didn’t feel like I was training or getting in quality workouts in between, just a lot of easy recovery runs. I made the mistake last year of jumping into training too quickly after the Virgil Crest 100 and the result was that I had a pretty poor race at the Stone Cat 50. I was hoping to avoid that this year by paying closer attention to what my body was trying to tell me, and not pushing it when I didn’t feel up for it. By the time the taper came around I was so ready to stop training. My weekly mileage really dropped off sharply but that’s what I felt like I had to do to rest and be ready to run hard for 100 miles.

The 8 mile week in May was the week of the Pineland Farms Trail Running Festival when I had no time/energy to run.

Like all big races I do I had three goals going in:
    Ambitious: Break 22 hours
    Safe: Beat time from 4 years ago (22:54)
    Cover my ass: Break 24 hours

I actually felt like my ambitious goal was fairly realistic based on the way my training had been going, not just the few weeks leading up but in the entire 6 months prior. I also felt really good about my support crew. When I first mentioned to my parents that I would be returning to the VT 100 they immediately offered to help before I had the chance to ask. There was some feigned excitement on their part, but eventually it turned to real excitement as race weekend approached. And of course I had Emma there to not only crew for me all day but also to pace me through the last 30 miles. While they had all done an incredible job helping me get through my first 100 fours years ago we’ve all learned a lot since then and I felt like I had everything in place to allow me to run hard, efficient and reach my goal. I will forever be grateful for everything they have done to help me get there.

Friday afternoon Emma and I arrived at Silver Hill Meadow, checked in and set up our camp in the parking lot. We planned to sleep in our Honda Element and set up a tent next to it for all our gear. Mom and Dad planned to arrive on Saturday morning and meet me at the first handler aid station. We met the rest of the TMR crew for the pre-race meeting, ate dinner and then went for a walk to see the last mile or so of the race course. It was a beautiful night, very relaxing and the perfect way to prepare for the next day's adventure.

We were up at 3:00 AM, coffee on the stove, a quick breakfast and we made our way to the race start in the darkness. It was surprisingly cool for a late July day, great running weather. Lots of nervous energy and everyone just wanted to get on with it.

Apparently Jeremy was stoned and Zak had morning wood

Start to Pretty House: 22.5 miles, 3:50
2 minute stop

Prior to the race Jeremy, Zak and I had all talked about how great it is to run with each other, but how important it also was to each do our own thing. Come race day though I really wanted some company for the early miles, and to see how long it made sense to stick with Jeremy and Zak. I think we had a better chance of keeping the pace under control if we looked out for each other. Tyler was also with the three of us early on, mostly because he had packed his only headlamp in his drop bag which went to mile 70 and he needed to poach someone else's light.

Once the sun came up our group stretched out a bit. I stopped for a bio-break around 10 miles in, Zak and Tyler moved ahead but Jeremy slowed until I eventually caught back up to him. Somewhere in this part of the course there was a re-route due to a washed out bridge, this added a few more road miles into the early part of the course and allowed for an overall quicker pace than we had expected. The cool, overcast weather also made for comfortable running conditions. A great way to start a long day. At around 12-13 miles into the race the detour had us passing through Woodstock village where our crews were there waiting. It was great to see them, especially since the first handler aid station didn't come until 22.5 miles into the race.

Skipping through Woodstock
After leaving Woodstock Jeremy and I ran for a while with Cynthia from Kentucky and Mike (?) who had overslept and missed the start by 15-20 minutes but had done a good job catching up to us and soon moved ahead. Tyler, not being interested in conversation, took off and it was along here that I started to notice Zak being pretty quiet and soon Jeremy and I started to pull away a bit, but never very far. Even after the sun had come up it remained a pleasant temperature. The miles ticked by easily.

Jeremy and I rolled into Pretty House with Zak right behind. We were ahead of schedule, or at least I was, on track for a 20:30 finish. The weather was better than anticipated and with a few extra road miles in this first stretch it wasn’t surprising that we were on the fast side. My parents had not arrived yet but Emma did a great job getting me in and out in about two minutes. I downed an Ensure, dropped off my headlamp, picked up my sunglasses and switched to a new handheld bottle.

Pretty House to Stage Rd: 8 miles, 1:29        (30.5, 5:19 total)
4 minute stop  

A few days before the race I started to completely rethink my hydration strategy. For pretty much every ultra distance run I've ever done before I've taken a hydration pack, and kept the handheld bottles for shorter runs. But since Vermont has more than 20 aid stations and it wasn't supposed to be too hot I decided I'd be OK with one handheld for the early and later miles, and two during the middle of the day. To supplement the bottles I bought a small waist pack from EMS a few days before the race and took it out for a 5 mile run to make sure it felt OK. This would hold my gels, Honey Stinger wafers and trail mix. This was part of the plan to be fast, light and efficient. The hydration pack is heavy, and very fussy for refilling. Pretty risky to go into a 100 miler with an untested fueling plan, but I felt like it should work out. I also made sure that Emma had access to my Nathan pack during the race in case I decided that I needed to revert to that mid-race.

Jeremy and I left Pretty House together, he with what appeared to be an entire meatloaf wrapped in a tortilla. I don't know what it actually contained but it was huge and it took him at least a mile to get it down. I began to doubt my own plans for eating but I certainly didn’t feel like I needed any more than I was taking in at this point so I wasn’t too worried. With the trail mix, gels and Ensure I probably had about 600 calories in the first 5 hours, on top of my breakfast. In hindsight that doesn't sound like a enough. Zak was a little ways behind us but we were confident that he'd catch up soon enough.

Near the top of Sound of Music Hill (28 miles?) we met Po’Dog from Arkansas, we enjoyed the view from the top with him and a woman but we pulled away on the downhill that followed. I was impressed with Jeremy’s friendly, chatty demeanor with other runners, not because he shouldn’t have been friendly, but it was clear from listening to him talk that he was relaxed and having fun. Our pace required a little more mental focus on my part and this is when I was reminded that Jeremy is a faster runner than me, and I may not be able to keep up with him for much longer.

As we cruised down the hill towards the Stage Rd aid station I told Jeremy that I needed to take a few extra minutes at this stop to be sure that I was prepared for the long stretch ahead. It would be 17 miles after this stop until we'd see our crews again, and now that the sun was out I knew it was going to start getting hot. My parents were there when I arrived and they set about taking care of me as quickly as they could. I grabbed a new bottle and picked up a second one, change of shirt, something to eat, a bandana full of ice cubes for my neck, quick hugs and kisses and I was ready to go. I looked for the optional medical check-in but it wasn’t there this year. I really wanted to do a better job of keeping on top of my hydration this time around and I thought that weighing in early would help. Oh well, I just needed to keep on drinking. On the way out I ran into Chip Tilden taking photos, I stopped to say hello and give him a hug, then gave a shout back to the GAC crew who was there cheering. It's amazing what an incredible boost the aid stations can be when they are filled with your family and firends. I took off down the road at an easy jog while Jeremy worked to catch up. Unfortunately Zak hadn't made it in during the four minutes we were stopped there, I hoped he wasn't far behind.

Stage Rd to Camp 10 Bear: 17.1 miles, 3:20        (47.6, 8:39 total)
9 minute stop

The huge climb out of Stage Rd actually seemed pretty manageable, but it was on the open road stretches that differences between Jeremy and me started to become evident. Out in the sun Jeremy would pick up the pace and pull ahead, then ease off in the shade. While he was running some kind of strategy I was just chugging along, trying to be consistent. We never got too far apart and I'd always catch back up to him, but I could tell he had a little more spring in his step than me. In the last few miles leading into C10B we picked up a couple first time 100 milers and had a good chat with them while picking up the pace on the long downhill to the aid station. It felt good to open things up a little bit and after more than three hours since the last crew stop we were all looking forward to a refreshing break. My feet were starting to feel a bit cooked from the hot dirt road miles but I wasn't too concerned.

I was definitely starting to feel the day warming up, but overall I felt pretty good, and a lot better than I had at this point when I ran the race 4 years ago. When I arrived my crew was there to take my bottle and waist pack, then I hopped on the scale for my first weigh-in of the day. 159 pounds, down 4 pounds from yesterday. This had me a bit puzzled, I had been drinking a LOT, although not eating much, I hadn’t been peeing and I hadn’t been sweating for that long so I wasn’t sure where that four pounds had gone. I suspected that the 163 from the day before was a bit high so I wasn’t worried. The volunteers gave me a few words of warning and I went off to check in with my crew.

Emma reminded me that I needed to be eating more. One thing I hadn't anticipated about my fueling strategy is that with a handheld bottle in each hand it's a lot of work to try to get food in your mouth, and as a result I ended up not eating enough (good reason not to try something new in a 100 mile race!) I drank another Ensure here, had something to eat, received an application of muscle rub, a new bandana of ice, and two fresh bottles.

Jeremy and I walking out of C10B, the hill felt a lot bigger than it looks here

Camp 10 Bear to Tracer Brook: 9.8 miles, 2:15    (57.4, 10:54 total)
6 minute stop

I was surprised to find that after all the time I took at the aid station I had to wait a minute for Jeremy to get ready to go. We took off feeling refreshed, this was our longest break of the day so far but it needed to be done. It soon became clear, however, that Jeremy was feeling a bit better than me. I was doing my best to keep up with him but I was really feeling the heat on the climbs. My energy level was pretty low on the steeper climbs, probably a result of not eating enough and I had to let myself slow down. At one point I stepped off the trail to let a few horses pass, which took forever and I was secretly happy for the opportunity to stand in the shade on the side of the hill and relax while they went by. Jeremy was a little ways ahead at this point and he was able to stay ahead of the horses on the hill. This was the last I'd see of Jeremy. We covered the better part of 50 miles together, but I couldn't match his ability to shovel in the food and my energy level was suffering as a result. I hoped I'd see him again but knew it was unlikely.

It's funny how these things happen, you run with a good friend for 10 hours and then, without a word, part ways. There are certainly no hard feelings about the situation. I didn't want to admit that I couldn't keep up and I'm sure he didn't want to suggest that he was going to drop me for good, so we just drifted apart. I feel lucky to have been able to share that time with him on the course. For the first time during the race I was running alone and my thoughts turned to Zak. I wondered how he was doing and if he'd soon catch up to me. Knowing how well he had trained and how consistently he runs I figured it was just a matter of time until he caught up, and then I'd have someone else to try to keep up with.

Mom and Dad waiting for my arrival at Tracer Brook
Coming into Tracer Brook my feet were feeling pretty beat up, especially my little toes which were developing hot spots. I had brought another pair of shoes to change into but didn't want to make the change too soon, I figured I could go another 5 miles to the next handler aid station. Besides, I wanted to make the shoe change as quick as possible and I wanted my crew to be ready for it. I did sit for a minute here to give my feet a rest and to get some food in me. I always struggle getting enough food in when it's really hot, and now that it was about 3 in the afternoon the temperature had climbed into the 80's.

Mom and Dad sending me off

Tracer Brook to Margaritaville: 5.1 miles, 1:09        (62.5, 12:03 total)
10 minute stop

Even though I had dropped back from Jeremy and my feet were beginning to protest I felt pretty good about where I was at. I was definitely doing better than at this point four years ago and I was optimistic about my finishing time. The next 5 miles I was on my own, although I passed several other runners I never spent any time running with anyone. The hills were pretty fierce but I was able to move well despite the pain in my feet, and the rest of my body was holding up.

Leaving Tracer Brook

Over the next few miles I could tell that blisters were forming on my little toes. Amazing how such a small part of the body can be responsible for producing so much pain. I knew I was going to have to take care of this at the next aid station and hoped that a change of shoes would help. When I arrived at Margaritaville I sat down immediately and Emma went to work getting my shoes and socks off. There were indeed blisters on both of my little toes so she attacked with a needle. Alison watched on with giddy excitement. To distract me from the pain my dad produced a jar of pickles. At that moment the jar of pickles was the greatest thing I had ever seen. I grabbed the jar and took a big swig of the juice, then munched down 3 or 4 pickles. Perfect. Dave and Mindy were also there and once again I felt a huge boost from the support of the team.

Ryan was there to lend a hand which made me think that Zak must be close behind. This is when I learned that Zak had dropped from the race back at Lincoln Covered Bridge. I didn't really know what to do with this information at first, it didn't seem real. He should have been right there with me, or off ahead with Jeremy. This was so unfair.

There wasn't time to get into the details of what had happened. Emma got me into a fresh pair of socks and I switched into my Saucony Kinvaras. Mom and Dad refilled my bottles, got me something to eat, a fresh bandana with ice and sent me on my way. Ryan walked out of the aid station with me as I hobbled along, still trying to make sense of what happened to Zak.

Margaritaville to Camp 10 Bear: 8.0 miles, 1:40    (70.5, 13:43 total)
5 minute stop

It seemed at first like a mistake to change my shoes, my feet actually felt worse than before. Eventually they calmed down and I was able to run without wincing. It took me a while to refocus on my race, especially since I was alone and there were very few distractions. Knowing that the next time I'd see my crew I would be picking up Emma to pace me to the end helped get me back on track. I ate and drank as much as I could in preparation for the next weigh-in, not to mention the 30+ miles that I still had to go.

When I came out on the nicer dirt road section and knew I was getting closer to C10B and I picked up the pace. I recognized a runner ahead as Nate Sanel, he was walking and it surely wasn't right that I should be catching up to him. He didn’t look tired and he seemed in OK spirits but his foot/ankle was in a lot of pain and he knew that he had to stop when he got to C10B. For a race that has a reputation as being one of the easier 100's it was definitely sobering to see the course and the distance get the best of another strong runner. This reminded me not to take anything for granted. The finish is never guaranteed until it is in sight.

Just before making the last turn onto the stretch of road that leads to C10B I saw Ann at the corner, she gave me a quick update on the rest of the team out on the course. Ryan came up the road to meet me before the aid station and to take my bottle and pack so I could go straight to the scale: 160. +1 pound from 20 miles earlier. This had me pretty psyched, I punched the air, shouted and hopped off the scale. I had managed to avoid losing any weight during the hottest part of the day, a good sign that my eating and drinking was finally dialed in. I wanted to get through here as quick as possible and my crew once again had everything ready for a quick transition.

I was so happy to start running with Emma and I really felt like the race was on at this point, not that I was racing anyone other than myself on the course, but all of a sudden it really started to seem like the end was within reach. I had made it through the hot and lonely miles, I now had cooler conditions and Emma’s company to help get me through the rest of the race. Mike Silverman, RD for the VT50 and leader of the C10B aid station, gave us a nice shout out over the microphone as we headed out down the road together.

Camp 10 Bear to Spirit of '76: 6.9 miles, 1:44        (77.4, 15:27 total)
10 minute stop

The long and technical climb out of the aid station, which is probably the most difficult climb of the race, really didn't seem too bad now that I had Emma out in front of me. There was plenty of walking, but my energy level was back on high and I was moving well. After we crested the first major hill we saw Tyler and his pacer walking up ahead. I was able to get back into a run and it didn't take long to catch up and move past. This is one of the spots where the official race photographer always hangs out, and fours years ago we got a very nice shot of the two of us walking together. This year he got us running. And smiling. It was moments like this that fueled the fire inside. I felt strong.

Synchronized Ultra Running (photo by Spectrum Photography)

It was fun getting caught up with Emma on everything she had seen during the day and sharing all that I had experienced. It was good to hear about how Jeremy, Joe and George were doing, but very sad to get the details on Zak's catastrophic knee failure coming down the Sound of Music Hill.

The pain in my little toes was making a comeback, it felt like the blisters were refilling and we planned for another drainage session when we got to the Spirit of '76. I also planned to make this a longer stop since it would soon be getting dark and cooler. When we got there I sat down and removed my shoes and socks while Emma got out the first aid kit. She redrained my blisters while I ate noodles and Mom and Dad refilled my bottles. I took out my contacts, put my glasses on, changed my shirt, grabbed my headlamp and belly lamp and was ready to take on the darkness.

Spirit of 76 to Bill’s: 11.6 miles, 2:44            (89.0, 18:11 total)
7 minute stop

Unfortunately my legs started thinking that the 10 minute break was a sign that they were done for the day and they were not too happy about being put to work again. My quads in particular were complaining and it took a little while to build the momentum back up to a reasonable running pace. The downhills were actully the toughest at this point because of the increased impact on my feet and the extra work that my quads were doing to absord the shock.

Despite the pain Emma and I were having a lot of fun, especially since we were covering ground in daylight that previously we had only seen at night. There was a lot of uphill on dirt roads on the way to Bill's aid station and I found that I was able to run much of what I had walked four years ago. Shortly after leaving the unmanned aid station at Goodman's (81.4 miles) darkness set began to set in and by the time we reached the Cow Shed aid station (84 miles) we were relying on our headlamps. A few minutes out from that aid station, while I was sucking down a cup of noodles and Emma was re-assembling her hydration pack, a car pulled along beside us and told us we had missed a turn. Luckily we were only a few hundred yards past the turn, it could have been much worse.

The detour caused me to work a little harder to make up for the lost time and we ran most of the rest of the way to Bill's aid station. When we arrived at Bill's I was feeling pretty tired from pushing the pace on the hills and my feet were asking for a break. After weighing in at 161 (up one more pound from C10B!) I sat down to eat another cup of noodles while Mom, Dad and the rest of the TMR crew helped get me ready to go back out. Dave was out with Jeremy, but Alison and Mindy were still there, along with Ryan and everyone lended a hand or encouraging words. Much to my surprise Zak even made an appearance, with his knee wrapped up. I can only image how tough it must have been for him to deal with decision to drop from the race - not that he really had a choice - but then to come out in the middle of the night to show his support for the rest of us still running was huge.

Bill’s to Polly’s: 6.9 miles, 1:50                (95.9, 20:01 total)
4 minute stop

Leaving Bill's I was really struck by how amazing it is to have the support of so many people. I've often said that I think of 100 milers as a team sport, and I felt lucky to have such a great team of people willing to offer their time and energy. Running through an open field at 11:00 at night, 90+ miles into the race Emma pointed out the beauty of the stars in the sky. It really was a perfect night for running and I was grateful to be sharing these moments with Emma.

I had lost track of my expected finishing time quite a while ago. Dad had been giving me updates for most of the day based on my ultra-geeky finish time predictor spreadsheet, but in the last few stops he either didn't tell me or I wasn't paying attention. Either way, it didn't really matter any more. I knew I was well ahead of my time from fours ago but I had no idea by how much.

Polly’s to Finish: 4.1 miles, 1:03            (100, 21:04:36 total)

We arrived at Polly's moments before my parents did, they stopped the car and rushed out to help but I was feeling exhausted. I needed to sit for a minute and wasn't in a hurry to get going again, although I should have been. With just over 4 miles to go there really wasn't any need to sit and rest, and Emma tried to stop it from happening but I wouldn't listen. I soon learned that the worst part about sitting was the getting up and going again. My muscles were ready to be done with this and stopping only let them think that it was over. Worse than the time I spent stopped at the aid station was the amount of time it took me to get going again. I would have been much better off if I'd just kept going.

The 10 minutes after leaving Polly's was probably my lowest point of the whole race, but once I got back into a running rhythm the realization that I was almost done sank in and my spirits lifted again. With each of the last miles I ran faster and walked less. Before long I started to recognize the trail from our walk the night before, and then came the sign marking 1 mile to go. I ran hard, up hills that I had no right running at this stage of the race. I was making up for sitting down at the last aid station, if not in time then at least in attitude. I knew when we hit the last uphill, a straight shot on a dirt road that had me winded when we walked it the night before. There was no pain any more and I ran the entire way up. Into the woods on a gradual downhill and the illuminated milk jugs soon came into sight. Euphoria.

I shouted at the finish line to let it know I was coming. Joy, pain, gratitude, exhaustion, and elation were combined into an overwhelming outpouring of energy that moved me forward and kept me shouting until I crossed the line. Mom and Dad, Jeremy, Dave, Mindy, and Alison were all there. After embracing Emma I hugged each one of them and thanked them for being there. I was grateful for everyone being there throughout the day and staying up until I finished.

time: 21:04:36
place: 48/241 finishers/321 starters

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

2012 Stone Cat Marathon

Back in August when registration for Stone Cat opened up I think it was a little too soon after the VT100 for me to commit to another ultra. Everything was feeling fine but I couldn’t make up my mind so I let it pass. Of course, once I saw how many of my TMR team mates got in I was wishing that I could be there with them, and thinking maybe this could be the year that I could break 8 hours in the 50 miler. Coming off a fast-for-me Vermont 100 I would, in theory, be in good shape for a 50 mile PR as long as I was smart about recovery and training. As (bad) luck would have it, Christine realized in mid-August that injury would prevent her from being able to run the Stone Cat marathon this year so she offered up her number and I was the first to jump on it. The Stone Cat RDs were nice enough to let me take her place and even let me upgrade to the 50. It was on.

Meanwhile, I was being anything but smart about recovery and training. Two weeks after the VT100 I ran the Breaker, and even though I didn’t run particularly fast it’s still a pretty tough course with some abusive climbs and descents. The following week I went up to Camden for the 9 mile Ragged Mountain Run Around, another abusively hilly race.  After three weeks of “easy” running (with a few long runs thrown in) it was time for the Bruiser and I felt good about putting in a hard effort, however, my body had other plans. Two miles into the race I noticed a dull ache in my left achilles, which progressively developed into a sharp pain with every step.  Shortly after entering the O-Trail my left calf, which had been overworked while compensating for the achilles issue decided it had enough and just stopped working. I stumbled to save myself from falling and when my right foot slammed into the ground my right calf seized up and I collapsed. I lay there screaming while both calves cramped and spasmed and it looked as if there were snakes writhing under my skin. But I needed to earn that Bad Ass hoodie so I got up and finished the race. I could barely walk for the next three days and running was out of the question, until the following Saturday when Emma and I ran the Big Brad Ultra 50k Pounder course in about 6 ½ hours. I honestly didn’t think I’d make it up the first climb, but everything held together and I didn’t feel significantly worse after the run. I did feel bad enough that I only ran once during the following week, until the next weekend when I paced Dave for 42 miles at the Virgil Crest 100.
Over the next few weeks I pretty much said “Fuck You” to my achilles as I attempted to train for the Stone Cat 50. While my weekly mileage wasn’t where I wanted it to be I was still getting out for a lot of technical, hilly trail runs. Certainly not the best way to recover from an achilles injury and the pain continued. By mid-October I started to realize that the 50 miler was not a good idea, even if I could make it to the start line of the race I would be woefully under-trained for my time goal and there would be a high likelihood of either completely destroying my achilles or unearthing some new injury over the course of the race. Certainly not worth it for another 8+ hour finishing time. But the marathon...

Maybe I did have one good race left in me this year. The obvious goal would be to try to beat my time from 2008, the only other time I’d run the marathon at Stone Cat. But wait, if I’m too injured to run 50 miles what reason do I have to think I can PR at the marathon? Shouldn’t this be just about finishing and avoiding more serious injury, and maybe having fun in the process? Sorry body, I can’t let you do that.

Friday night Emma and I met Jim to watch “The Man with the Iron Fists.” The perfect way to prepare for the carnage of a trail marathon. It was my fear, however, that the race course would be the one wielding the sword and I would be the one laying in a bloody heap when the day was done.

Saturday morning I got up at 3AM, met Joe just before 4AM and then picked up Mindy a few minutes later and we made our way to Ipswich, MA. We arrived with plenty of time to register, place our drop bags and hang out with the team. Then wait for the 50 miler start and learn that the marathon would be starting 15 minutes after, instead of starting together as in years past. It was a perfect temperature for running, but a little too cold for standing around outside in shorts for 45 minutes.

The chill that had set in probably lead to a start that was a little too quick but I needed to do something to warm up. My achilles immediately protested at the the sub-8-minute pace of the first mile, but luckily it eased off once I was warmed up. I had positioned myself right behind Julia even though I knew this was a pretty risky move. Julia’s goal was a few minutes faster than my previous time (I had been coaching her to break the course record time of 3:42), and even though I know her training was much more consistent (and pain-free) than mine I couldn’t resist letting her pull me along. Despite everything I should have learned over the years I never can seem to start out at a relaxed pace when I think there’s even an outside chance that I might be able to pull off a decent race. I have just accepted that this is the way I run. Knowing that Julia probably was starting out at a fairly conservative pace I didn’t expect to stay with her for too long, but I was also very curious to see how she was going to do.

By 3 miles into the race the sun was up enough that I could turn off my headlamp, and since we had not yet caught up to the 50 milers we continued to move along at a decent pace.  When we reached the swamp which last year was flooded with nearly-knee-deep water I looked around and marveled at how dry it was this year, practically a dirt road... THUMP! I caught my toe on absolutely nothing, continued my leg turnover and forward momentum in a nearly horizontal position until my right knee slammed into the ground.  With all four limbs flailing I managed to get back on my feet without significantly slowing my pace. I glanced down at my knee, no exposed bone or gaping skin flaps so I just kept on going. But it did hurt.

Julia had started to pull away and Nathan passed me so I refocused on keeping the two of them in sight and tried to ignore the throbbing pain in my knee. Al Cat’s aid station was a welcome distraction with many familiar faces, and even though I didn’t take any aid it was a great early boost and I soon caught back up to Nathan and then Julia. David was out on the course as a spectator, finding all the shortcuts to stay ahead of Julia and we both benefited from his yips and hiyas.

For the rest of the first lap I was feeling good, the pain in my knee subsided and my achilles wasn’t a significant issue. The pace felt like I was working hard, definitely harder than I would have gone had I not been trying to tag along with Julia, but I became optimistic that I might be able to keep this up for a while. At around 11 miles we came to a fork in the trail where the obvious path went left, but the course marking went right. I was just about to call Julia back from making a wrong turn when I realized that she had gone the right way. I surely would have got it wrong. A few minutes later we saw a couple runners we recognized as having passed earlier coming at us from a trail on our left. I recognized the trail we were on from previous years so I knew we had it right, I told these two guys they had gone wrong and they immediately turned back. A few minutes later we came up on another small group of runners and we recognized several of them as people we had passed before, knowing they had inadvertently made the same short-cut, but at this point it seemed like too much work to try and explain to them what they had done wrong so we passed them again and cruised in to finish the first lap.

Mindy, Val, Ryan and Alison were there keeping the TMR camp running and they provided a much appreciated boost, but both Julia and I were focused on moving through as quickly as possible. We picked up fresh handheld bottles and headed back out without actually stopping. 1:49 for the first 13.7 miles. I was psyched for Julia knowing that she was on track for her goal, I just hoped I could hang on.

About a mile into the second lap we caught up to Joe who was walking up the first of the significant hills on the course. We passed Joe but I started to think that his 50 mile pace was much more appealing than the one I was trying to run. I was definitely starting to feel the effects of the distance and the pace as we made our way up and down a series of hills. By the time the course flattened back out my everything had started to ache. Achilles, knee, quads, core, arms (WFT?). I came to the realization that I couldn’t keep up with Julia any longer and by 17 miles she was gone. Along with a mental low that came from running alone I started to get worried that I was on the cusp of turning these aches and pains into a full-on injury if I wasn’t careful. I consciously decided to ease off the pace for a while in hopes that I could pick it back up again for the last few miles and have a strong finish.

The one and only aid station I stopped at was at 21 miles, my water was getting low, but the reality was that I needed an excuse to stop for a moment and get my shit together. I didn’t stop for long but it was long enough for me to have a bit of a reset and assess where I was at. Everything still hurt, and my calves felt like they were on the verge of cramping, so I kept the pace easy for the next two miles. I lost a few places along this stretch and was even passed by a few 50 milers whom I had passed earlier. With each one I wanted to hang on, but I knew it was too soon to make a move. By 23 miles I actually started to feel like myself again and I picked the pace up. Nothing heroic, but it started to feel like I was racing again instead of just trying to finish. With 1 mile to go I began to reel in a runner who had passed me a few miles prior. By the time we hit the field that leads to the finish line he knew I was on his tail and we both ran hard to the line. With the Trail Monster crew cheering I was closing the gap but ran out of course and he finished about 5 seconds ahead of me. But I really wasn’t concerned about the place, just grateful that I was able to get back into the race for a strong finish. 3:44 and a 2-minute PR on the course. 17th out of 216 starters/210 finishers.

Julia was there right after I crossed the line, having come in 5 minutes before me, breaking the old course record by 3 minutes! Unfortunately there were two other women who also broke the course record ahead of her this year, but she had a great race as I knew she would. I put some warm layers on and spent the rest of the day with the Trail Monster crew cheering on the rest of our runners. Danielle was next in, then Nathan, Kevin, George, Rick and Ann in the marathon and Jeremy and Joe in the 50. It was a great day for the team.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Peak 50 Race Report

Before I get into the details of my own running I have to rant about the organization of the Peak 50 and my perception of the other related events going on this weekend. While I thoroughly enjoyed the entire weekend I spent in Pittsfield, VT it was because I love a challenging race and the company of my Trail Monster team mates, the race management left a lot to be desired. If you don't want to hear me bitching you can skip the blue text.

Jeremy was the first to pull the trigger on signing up for the event when he chose the 100 miler back in November last year, Valerie and Mindy chose the 50, as I later found out because the timing and location were right, not because they actually knew anything about what they were getting themselves (or the rest of us) into. Talk of the event began to circulate around TMR, and although there was very little information available about the race on the event website I went ahead and signed up in December, just after Dave. We were then followed by Chuck and Zak, all going for the 50 miler.

Over the past few years I had heard a few things about the Peak races, mostly that they were out to create the most challenging events around, from a snowshoe marathon to a 500 mile trail race, all in the beautiful Green Mountains of Vermont. What initially put me off was that the course sounded contrived in a way that linked up a series of the most rugged natural obstacles within a certain area without much consideration for how they were connected. Elements were created and thrown in for the sake of making the race more difficult, not because they were there naturally. As for the 50 miler I had heard a number of people talking about it at Pineland over the past few years because it was held a week or two later and some people ran both. It appeared that the 50 miler, which had previously been held in early June, was moved to coincide with the 100, 150, 200 and 500 mile races being held in May. It seemed that when this move happened any detailed information specifically pertaining to the 50 mile race and it's history was lost forever. No previous race results, no course description, just a sentence added to the page of the website dedicated to the longer distance races.

The entire race website is an absolute joke. While it has a pretty slick, professional look about it there is very little useful information contained on it. No course description, no mention of aid stations, no information about crew access or drop bags... A map was added to the website about one month before the race. No mention of which course the map was intended to represent, although I was able to determine that it was for the 50 miler. Unfortunately the map represented a course that was run in a previous year, not the course that we would be running, and it didn't include useful things like where the race starts, which direction the course is run or where aid stations might be located. Just a squiggly red line on a blurry topo map. I understand that some races are held on private property where there are limitations on public access and for that reason course maps are not provided, although a description of the course usually is. In these cases the race organizers usually make it clear what the reason is for not providing a map and participants understand and respect that. I also understand that a certain amount of mystique about the challenges of an event can be appealing. No one expects a course map and aid stations every 3 miles at the Barkley, but participants know what they're getting into, and the entry fee is appropriately scaled to the level of organization. As a participant it's hard to plan for an event if you don't know anything about the terrain and what, if any, support is being provided.

Since I wasn't getting any response to my emails to the RD I posted some of my questions about aid stations and crew access on the event's Facebook page where there was some regular activity (mostly posts containing an individual letter as part of some spelling game). Chuck asked if I had a crew, perhaps suggesting that one doesn't need a crew for 50 miles, and my response was something like this:

"I'll have a crew if there is crew access, if not I'll rely on drop bags, if drop bags are not allowed I will use aid stations, if there are no aid stations I will carry everything myself. It's two weeks before the race and I'd just like to know which scenario to plan for."

That's not too much to ask for is it? 

This is what it felt like trying to communicate with the Dude RD (in case you couldn't tell, I'm the pissed off guy with the legs that don't work properly any more):

The most useful information I was able to find about the event came from Sherpa John's race reports from previous years (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010). I guess I was lucky to have known that he had done this race before, because his reports were not among the one listing under the "Race Reports" section of the race website. Thanks Sherpa. It was from these that I was able to figure out that there would in fact be aid stations on the course and crew access, or at least there was when the race was held in June. From these detailed reports I was able to put together my own version of a course map:

Color coded to differentiate types of terrain

From what I saw the vast majority of runners in the longer races were exclusively utilizing their own crew for support between laps on a 10 mile loop which made me wonder how anyone could justify the entry fee. I've only done two 100 mile races, and they both cost around $200. At each one I came away with a belt buckle, a long sleeve technical shirt, and I probably consumed $50 worth of food and drinks which was brought out to numerous remote forest locations. The level of organization and coordination that clearly went into making sure that volunteers were where they were supposed to be when they were supposed to be there and that they were capable of looking after the participants needs makes these entry fees seem like a bargain. There was only one aid station at Peak (which we passed three times) that had attentive volunteers, the others were either unmanned or self-service because the volunteers didn't really give a shit. And on the subject of entry fees what's up with the increase in price as the race date approaches? As a race director I know that it's easier to plan an event when you know how many people are coming, so I do what I can to encourage people to sign up early. In my events I will have a $5 or $10 increase in the entry fee a few weeks before race day, but the Peak races increase by over 50% more than a month before the race which I don't understand at all.

Despite my reservations, aggravations and low expectations, I had heard from a few people that the actual execution of the event on race day was pretty decent - not great, but decent - so I went into it with an open mind, a plan for partial self sufficiency and Emma as a dedicated crew. I brought my own 5-gallon bucket of water and all the food and other supplies I'd need to get me through a mountainous 50 mile run.

(end rant)

Emma and I arrived in Pittsfield, VT late Friday afternoon to discover a beautiful little town that had been ground zero for the devastation of Hurricane Irene last fall and was still in a state of rebuilding. While most, but not all, of the towns buildings appeared to be intact it was clear that many of the roads and bridges had been wiped out. In an unfortunate turn of events the hotel we booked, following Mindy's lead, was NOT destroyed in the hurricane. But on the plus side Mindy, Pete, Val and Rick soon arrived and we all got caught up in the excitement of what was to come. After a little poking around the area we discovered that the Original General Store was pretty much our only option for eating. Luckily they had good food, and conveniently this is where we picked up our race numbers, as well as our generic Peak Races shirts applicable to any event these folks put on. Totally lame. We returned to Ramshackle Resort to make the final race preparations and attempted to get to bed early, although none of us were enthusiastic about lying awake between "clean enough" sheets.

Before I knew it my alarm was going off, I jumped out of bed and went outside to brew some coffee on the tailgate of my car. The sun wasn't up yet and I was immediately struck by how cold it was. All week long I had been focused on the ever rising predicted high temperature for the day and hadn't taken much notice of how cold it was going to get overnight. Luckily I had packed a light pair of gloves and my Moeben sleeves, as well as an extra t-shirt I could layer over my singlet. For breakfast I ate a cold bagel and sipped a bottle of Ensure as we made the 5 minute drive from the hotel to the race start at Amee Farm.

The Trail Monster contingent congealed in the frosty field as Dave, Zak, Chuck and Jeremy arrived to join Mindy, Val and I along with all our support crews. We wandered across the road to the race headquarters to hear the pre-race meeting delivered by The Dude... "there's boulders the size of this barn, and it's like Jurassic Park, and there's stuff flying around..." I had been warned that Sherpa John tends to exaggerate the difficulty of an event in his race reports, and I suspected that the Dude was doing the same. Either way, I knew this race was going to have a ton of elevation change due to the mountainous terrain all around us so I planned to go out quite conservatively in hopes of avoiding the kind of massive slow-down I experienced in my last 50 miler. The 50 and 30 milers crossed the road from where the 100 milers were going to be doing 10 mile laps, we were about to set out on a 40 mile cloverleaf of sorts. There were hugs all around and when the Dude shouted GO we started the walk up the first hill into the woods.

I had to fight the urge to start running, but there was certainly no need to waste energy going up this first hill. I also wasn't ready for our group of Trail Monsters to split up just yet, even if we only stayed together for a few more seconds. Zak and I settled in next to each other and when the hill started to level out we started a slow jog. We soon saw Serena Wilcox ahead and increased the pace slightly to catch up with her. Zak had run a good part of the 30 miler with her here last year, and she had blown past me at around mile 46 of the Stone Cat 50 last year. I didn't want to get caught up running someone else race but once we caught up with her we settled back into a comfortable groove and the early miles ticked by as we chatted. We were also having a lot of back and forth with Chuck, he'd fly by us on the steep downhills and we'd catch back up and pass him on the ups. There were a few hills steep enough to warrant walking but overall the terrain seemed pretty easy-going in the first few miles.

The first aid station was supposed to come at 7 miles, just before the first really steep climb of the race. I wasn't wearing my Garmin, but it seemed to be taking a while to get there. Turns out that the aid station was actually closer to 9 miles in and by the time we got there my handheld bottle was getting low so I stopped to refill. No volunteers, just two gatorade buckets on a picnic table. I had decided to go minimal through the first few aid stations and not pick up my hydration pack until mile 18. Given the cool start to the day this strategy seemed to work just fine. Zak kept moving but slowed enough for me to be able to easily catch up.

By now we were starting to see the front runners coming back towards us on the short out-and-back stretch that climbed half way up Wilcox Mountain and then came back down again. A few runners warned us about the "fun" that was coming up and soon enough we began a steep climb up a jeep road. This was the first challenge of the course so far but it didn't last as long as I had expected it to, before I knew it the pink ribbons marking the course lead us off trail to a short stretch of bushwhacking that looped us back downhill onto the same trail we had just run up. Zak and I pulled away from Serena and Chuck on this stretch and we probably picked off a couple other runners in the process. All the long winter training runs and Lunch Break Hill repeats set us up well for dealing with this kind of terrain. On the way back down we passed Dave on his way up and exchanged encouraging words and high fives. In about 1 mile we were back at the unmanned aid station where I topped up my bottle once again. It was starting to warm up now and we had about 4 miles until the next aid station. Shortly after this one we saw Mindy and Val coming down the road towards us and we broke out into the Sanford and Son theme song, a cleansing song borrowed from Randy to push out any unwanted tunes that got stuck in our heads as we ran and it became our anthem:

This stretch actually went by pretty quick since it was mostly on dirt road and downhill, and we soon arrived at the first real aid station and crew checkpoint on Upper Michigan Road. Advertised as 12 miles it was actually much closer to 13, but no big deal. Emma helped me swap handheld bottles, got me an Ensure to drink and got me on my way pretty quick. Zak was without his own crew but got some help from Alison who was in between crew stops for Jeremy, and we were soon back on the road. This aid station, which we would pass a total of three times during the race was the only one that was well staffed with enthusiastic, if somewhat under-prepared, volunteers. Zak had to wait for a PB&J sandwich to be made and I had to wait for someone to find a bag of potato chips in the back of her car, but all-in-all it was a fairly efficient aid station stop.

The next section was a roughly 6 mile lollipop. There was more dirt road running, progressively getting more rugged until we eventually turned off onto double-track trail and then onto pretty gnarly single-track. Part of it reminded me of the 100 mile wilderness, where even though the elevation wasn't extreme the terrain was technical enough that running was almost out of the question in parts. This was a fun loop when we could run, and once we started to make our way back down hill and headed back on the loop we moved along at a pretty good pace. Shortly before hitting the aid station again we crossed paths with Dave, then Mindy & Val and once again broke into a few bars of Sanford and Son.

We returned to the Upper Michigan Road aid station where I had planned to take a slightly longer break in preparation for the Blood Root Loop, 19 miles (or 22 depending who you ask) of the toughest terrain on the course with only two aid stations. I changed my wet and muddy socks here, picked up my hydration pack and had a few sips of Coke before heading back out. The Blood Root Loop started with a short descent almost too steep to run and then made a gradual climb over the next few miles through wet and sloppy snowmobile trails. It was still well before noon but the temperature had been quickly rising and we were starting to feel it. There was another runner with Zak and I but none of us were feeling like talking much. The fun was over and it was time to get down to business.

The 23 mile aid station (24.5 to be exact) seemed a long time coming, and when we got there it was just two gatorade buckets on the ground. I still had plenty of water in my hydration bladder but I made sure to refill it completely, the next stretch ahead featured the biggest climb of the race, over Blood Root Mt at more than 3,000' as well as the "Jurassic Park" section of trail on the other side of the mountain. Not to mention that it was 8 miles to the next "fully stocked" aid station if you believed the RD, which I didn't.

The real climbing started shortly after the aid station and this was where I noticed that Zak really wasn't feeling too well. We took a few minutes to stop off in one of the streams we crossed to wash our faces in the cold water. It felt great but wasn't enough to bring Zak back to life, when we started moving again I gradually pulled away. The trail got progressively steeper the higher it climbed and apparently the idea of switchbacks never occurred to anyone making these trails. I was feeling pretty good and hiked at a decent pace knowing that when I hit the top I'd be half way through the race and that the second half would feature more elevation loss than gain. When I did reach the top and the race course crossed the Long Trail I paused for a moment and wished I had someone to share this with. I had no idea how far back Zak was, 2 minutes, 20 minutes? I was regretting leaving him behind but knew that he was more than capable of getting through this on his own.

Going down the other side of the mountain was just as steep as the way up, almost too steep for me to be able to run well. I had to put on the brakes to keep myself under control which took a lot of energy and I could feel my back muscles and quads getting overworked. I stopped about half way down to enjoy the view, take a bio-break and give myself a rest from the pounding. At the bottom of the hill I was delighted to find a few gallon jugs of water on the ground. We had been told that they might be here, or not if the folks marking the course decided to drink all the water. Luckily I was able to top up my bladder and it was here that the guy who had been running with Zak and I earlier caught up to me.

The next few miles really seemed to drag on. There was a very gradual climb but the ground was completely saturated and nearly every footstep sunk into the mud. In drier conditions this would be a great section for running but today in was a sloppy slog. It wasn't even worth trying to avoid the wettest spots, once my feet were soaked and muddy I actually sought out the deepest water to rinse away some of the mud that accumulated on my shoes and legs. This section is also where I started to notice the bugs for the first time during the race and they got bad pretty quick. They must have decided to sleep in late since it was a cold morning, but now that it was hot out and I was stomping through their breeding ground they made sure to let me know I was on their turf (swamp).

When the trail finally started to dry out and I could run with a little more consistency I started anticipating the next aid station. I know that there was a lot of difficult terrain on this stretch so I was moving pretty slowly but it was definitely taking a long time to reach the aid station that was supposed to be at 31 miles. The guy that had been following me for the last 7 miles finally caught up and we both agreed that this was taking a while. It was now officially hot, even moreso now that we had reached an open dirt road and there was nothing I wanted more than a cold drink. Eventually we saw cars up ahead and knew that we had reached the aid station. The first person I saw was Jordan, Dave's crew, and I wondered what he was doing here. I would later find out that a few hours in to the race the Dude RD learned that the aid station volunteers hadn't showed up, so he found Jordan, gave him some cash, a shopping list and driving directions and asked him to go set up the aid station. Fucking ridiculous.

There were a few volunteers there at the aid station but it was clear that they were pretty clueless about what was going on. I heard one of the other runners ask "What mileage is this?" to which the volunteer responded "I think it's 31, but some woman came by and told us it was 33." I was inclined to believe that it was 33 and I later found that to be correct. I had read in previous race reports that the 50 mile course was actually 53 or 54 miles, so I wondered where that 3-4 miles was built into the course and I guess I found out where a few of those miles were added in.

I refilled my bladder, took two cookies and walked on down the road. I could have run but this race was starting to piss me off so I needed to take a few minutes to get myself together. I was definitely starting to feel all the miles, the hills, the life-sucking mud and the sun beating down. The obvious lack of organization that went into this race was starting to get to me more than it should and the result was that I was getting myself into a pretty low spot mentally. When I started to run again I soon got passed by a man and woman running together, then another guy. This didn't help my mindset. It should have fired me up and inspired me to fight back, but I didn't have it in me. Then we started to climb again. And it just kept getting steeper. And hotter. And the bugs were going nuts on me. My quads were starting to spasm and cramp. They'd quiver for a few seconds and then seize up. I stopped and sat down on the trail, feeling completely exhausted. I really didn't want to move any more, but I still had somewhere between 15 and  20 miles left to go. Who knew how much exactly? Probably no one, including the Dude RD.

It was at least helpful to know that my other TMR team mates were out here running too, it was the thought  of them that made me realize I wasn't truly alone. Once my heart rate dropped back down I got up and continued to climb, and it didn't take long for the trail to level out and then start what would be a long runnable downhill stretch back to the Upper Michigan Road aid station. The downhill running, while somewhat painful at this point, was at least able to help rebuild my confidence in my ability to get through this race. Once I got to the aid station I'd see Emma and she would make everything right again. After that I'd have a 3 mile stretch of dirt road before the final 10 mile loop that I'd be running with her. I realized that facing the uncertain challenges of the race by myself was my weakness. I had done well in the early miles when I was with Zak, but ever since leaving him I had felt like I was in a slow downward spiral mentally and physically. Suffering with others often doesn't feel like suffering at all, but alone it can be too hard to pull yourself out

Eventually the trail bottomed out along a river and soon I was seeing evidence of the aid station ahead: a balloon tired to a tree, a cardboard cut-out of a flamingo, then parrots. Then as the trail took a sharp turn and started a steep climb I knew for sure I was in the final stretch back to the aid station. As soon as I crested the hill I saw Rick and Pete there cheering me on, I broke back into a run for the last 50 yards coming into the aid station and I already started feeling better. The Blood Root Loop was done.

A later look at the GPS data from several other runners showed that this aid station was much closer to 41 miles that the 37 advertised. No wonder it took so frigging long to get there.

I sat down and changed my socks and shoes while Emma prepped my pack for the final stretch. The aid station volunteers were still full of energy and were great about offering up whatever help they could. I really didn't need any more than what Emma was doing for me though. While I was having muscle rub applied to my screaming quads Zak came rolling into the aid station looking pretty good. I got up and went to see how he was doing, I believe his exact words were: "I haven't puked that much since college. Eyes bulging!" Now I really regretted leaving him behind. Had I known he was only a few minutes back it surely would have been worth waiting for him so we could have suffered through Blood Root together.

I was ready to go so I said goodbye to Zak, then headed off down the road with my handheld bottle. I'd see Emma again in 3 miles where she would be waiting for me with my full hydration pack, ready to run me through the last 10 miles. My pace was pretty good along the road and I picked off a runner who had come in and out of the aid station while I was there changing my shoes. I was feeling good and ready to go hard to the finish. When I rolled into Amee Farm at 40 miles (43.5 really) Emma was there waiting with Alison who was expecting Jeremy to come in from his 4th lap any time now. I had heard that the last 10 miles was entirely single-track and some of the best terrain on the whole course. Despite having a fair amount of elevation change I was expecting it to be more runnable than the previous 40 miles. However, when I realized that I had covered my 40+ miles faster than Jeremy had done his I began to worry. Even though he was doing 100 miles Jeremy is significantly faster than me, so on this "easier" terrain he should have been further along by now. It wasn't because he wasn't running well, he was. The reason is because that 10 mile loop was different from previous years, much harder, but it took me a little while to really appreciate this.

Things started out innocently enough, Emma and I cruised along a little downhill stretch, then over a temporary 60' bridge set up across the Tweed River and uphill along some mellow switchbacks. It was great to have her company and to get caught up on some of the other events of the day from her perspective. But then the switchbacks ended and the trail went straight up, and just kept going. Even though it was getting late in the afternoon it was still hot and I was feeling waves of something like heat exhaustion coming over me. The muscle spasms in my quads had stopped but I was keenly aware of an elevated core temperature, I had stopped sweating and my breathing while hiking was labored to the point I felt like I was suffocating. On several occasions during this climb I had to stop to catch my breath or even sit down until my heart rate dropped and I could breath normally again. So much for going hard in the last 10 miles.

The 10 mile loop

When we reached the top we stopped briefly at a small cabin that was a self-service aid station, reported to be 3.5 miles into the loop (more like 2.5), but I had plenty of water left in my pack so we moved on gingerly. There were a few little ups and downs, some of them quite steep so it was hard to get into a rhythm. Anything steep enough to require walking seemed to push me over the edge into a wave of exhaustion that forced me to a standstill on more than one occasion. There was nothing I wanted more than to run in to the finish, but we were still up at a high elevation and I just couldn't get myself moving at a consistent pace. Emma kept me going, when I no longer cared about doing this for myself I just kept moving because I didn't want to let her down.

After making our way through a labyrinth of single-track we started a series of long gradual switchbacks that descended the mountain and I finally found a slow running groove that I felt like I could sustain, as long as there weren't any more climbs. I knew we must be getting close, but my sense of distance wasn't working correctly, not to mention that at this point I had no idea what kind of craziness the course might throw at me. Eventually I could hear the road, then see the Tweed River through the trees and I knew we must be getting close. But the switchbacks went on forever. At one point I heard a way-too-cheery voice from behind and looked back to see Nick Tooker coming up on us, and pretty quick. I moved over to let him pass but tried my best to keep with him as long as I could. No luck, he was moving too well and I could feel myself overheating with the additional effort I was putting in. Not knowing how much more trail there was I was reluctant to keep up this push so I slowed back down and let him go. We were running out of room for switchbacks between the mountain and the river and I wondered how we were going to get back upstream to the crossing when all of a sudden the trail made a sharp turn and the course marking lead us into the river bed, through a field of boulders and then back to the riverbank for a long stretch of bushwhacking. There were places where there was evidence of the route previous runners had taken, but nothing that could be considered a trail. It became very frustrating knowing that we must be close to the finish but unable, in my current state at least, to run because of the stupid terrain.

Then, off in the distance I could see the makeshift bridge across the river and a huge sense of relief came over me. For the first time in this race I knew what was coming up. I'd been out here for more than 12 hours of never knowing what I was going to find around the next corner or over the next hill, until now. As soon as we crossed that bridge I'd be able to run it in for the last half mile, and then I could stop. Emma cheered me on and I moved as fast as I could, which probably wasn't fast at all, but it felt so good.

As soon as I crossed the line I hugged Emma and then looked for the nearest object to prop myself up against. A boulder would do, and it was just about the most comforting rock to ever have embraced me. I may be skewed by the freshness in my mind of how much this race hurt, but I think I felt worse than after any other race I've ever done. 

time: 12:20:08
distance: 53.5 miles?
pace: 13:50
elevation: (RunningAHEAD) 12,250' gain, 12,280' loss
place: ?
results: ?

weather: low 30's to high 70's, sunny

conditions: everything imaginable (except ice and snow)

gear: Inov-8 Roclite 295, socks, compression shorts, over-shorts w/ pockets, singlet (t-shirt, sleeves & gloves removed), hat, handheld bottle or Nathan HPL #020

After resting on the rock and being tended to by Emma, Alison, Rick and Pete I eventually stood up to see Zak coming into the finish, then Jeremy right behind finishing his fifth lap of the 10 mile loop. Hard to believe he was only half way done with his journey. Jeremy's cousin Jeff was there to join him for a lap and he was soon back out there with a smile on his face. I don't know how he does it.

Over the next 17 hours I got cleaned up, ate, and watched the rest of the Trail Monster team come through the finish line with impressive displays of grit, determination and inspiration. Zak and Valerie both battled stomach issues and made strong comebacks. Mindy and Dave couldn't have picked a tougher race for their debut 50 miler, but that's just how they roll. After crewing for me all day, then running me in for the last 10 miles Emma took a 7 hour break and then joined Jeremy for some of his toughest miles, 70-90 through the late night hours and into the new day. The next morning the team was there to support Jeremy as he continued to knock out one lap after another. And when Emma was done and Jeremy still had one lap left to go Pete jumped in without thinking twice to keep the team strong to the end. I'm truly honored to be part of such an amazing group of runners.