The 2017 Eastern States 100 Race Report

Eastern States 100 was such an awesome experience. I had the time of my life out there, spending almost 32 hours on that course and loving every second of it. If I could use two words to define the day I’d come up with gratitude and joy. So grateful for all the people I had out there helping me and sharing in the joy of what that meant. It takes a village, y’all.

Friday afternoon

I had to save a lot of mental energy by letting some minor things go early on; I’ve had races fall apart long before the actual start because of wasted mental energy. I had a terrible night sleep pre-race, but I usually do anyway, so I just let that go.

Couldn’t get my Suunto to sync to Movescount to change the GPS accuracy so I could have battery life for the whole run, so I just let that go. I felt so free not checking my splits and pace and elevation gain and all that jazz every 5 to 10 minutes. Think I’ll do every 100-miler with no GPS from now on. Let the aid stations be my mile markers and use “time of day” as my guide.

Woke up about 4 minutes ahead of my alarm after getting maybe 4-5 hours sleep; made coffee, ate some oatmeal, used the porta-potty, lubed up my feet and assorted moving parts, dressed and ducked my head in to my tent to kiss my wife and baby boy good-bye, only to find my little guy awake playing with a flashlight. I was delighted when my wife says, “we’ll come down to the start to see you off…” which was awesome for me but I knew she was in for a rough day since our guy was awake at 4:45. Oof. They were set to crew me twice, once at Lower Pine Bottom (mile 17.8) and Hyner Run (43.2) so I was hoping she’d get a few minutes of peace around his napping. More on this later…

Pre-race announcement from RD Dave Walker- a class act and all-around awesome dude

Was looking down at bib numbers furiously to find my buddy Mike from a running message board we participate in together- we’d run together until the aid station at mile 11.3 (Ramsey) and what a great dude, we chatted all things running, life, music, etc!

Just about sunrise, headlamps coming up from behind

We parted ways when he had a shoe issue to take care of at Ramsey, hoping all day that he’d come up behind me and we’d get some more miles in together. After I finished I was absolutely gutted to find out he dropped, he looked so good when we were together, conservative and controlled- as a matter of absolute fact I owe my awesome race to Mike by staying with him and keeping it really easy during those early miles. I learned one very important thing today- the easier you go at the start of these things, the more you can kick it in at the end. Duh.

Taking a lot of pics early is a great way to control your pace…

I was all the way back in 124th at mile 17.8, when I got to Lower Pine Bottom, passing our car and thinking, “Where’s Allyson?” I got some help from a volunteer that yelled up to the top to try to find her; the aid station is up this little switchbacked road on top of a hill and the car was parked along the road leading to it. They yelled back, “try to see if it’s unlocked!” which it was so I grabbed a Red Bull and a few gels and a pre-measured Ziploc of Skratch. Ran through the aid, kissed Ally and Eamonn, he wanted to run a little bit with me which was so cool, this little dude I love so much loves to run! Grabbed some salty potatoes and watermelon and was off.

So fresh and so green green

Steadily worked my way up to Brown’s Run at mile 25.8 and accessed my drop bag, all I really wanted to do was lube up again and drop off my rain shell since it was super clear right then. I thought, “no rain today…” and boy, was I wrong. I’d semi-regret this later.

Just working with a few fellas in the early miles

About 15-20 mins after that aid I had to work through some horrific stomach issues from just about 1 pm until about 3:30 (took 11 shits during the race- Desitin is amazing stuff, people). I literally shredded my poor little butthole. It was starting to warm up a bit as we entered the early afternoon, and good thing for me the first of two decent thunderstorms would roll through and drench me, keeping me cool and offering some temporary relief; all the while stopping to projectile poo every 20-30 minutes. I kept thinking about this story I heard on NPR a little while ago about all the different things people have used to wipe themselves after pooping since time immemorial. I was using sticks, rocks, bunches of long grass, leaves, I would’ve really liked to use a rabbit or squirrel because they look really soft.

Just after Ramsey we crossed this bridge on the Canal trail…

Went through Happy Dutchman aid at mile 31.6, stopping briefly for some hand sanitizer, baby wipes, Vaseline and a refill of my hydration bladder (yes, do it in that order to make sure you’re not contaminating those around you, or yourself).

…and we were treated to some really cool views

So misty

Luckily one of the race medics, Brian (you rule, dude!) took care of me at Ritchie Road (mile 38.5). I explained to him what was happening, he ran and grabbed this kit and then I needed him to “block” for me as I hid behind a pick-up truck with a bunch of baby wipes, paper towels and Desitin for maximum relief. If anybody saw anything there, my bad, my pasty white butt was in a very bad way. Ultrarunning is hard. Take care of your b-hole, I imagine your cheeks will rub against themselves about a million times during a hundo…

Rock formations here looked like Roger Dean’s Yes album covers

On to Hyner Run (43.2) where I’d again see my wife and child, so psyched to see them. Despite all the issues, I was moving well and still passing people. I was actually passing a lot of people, kept telling myself to relax but my legs felt really great. My spirits were good in spite of my stomach issues, which started to clear up as I doubled my salt intake. Just pouring Skratch and Tailwind and gels and whatever in me, not letting some minor poopy issues take me out of this race.

I got to Hyner at 4:48, a good 12 minutes ahead of what I told my crew- my buddies Dave and Steve were on their way up from the Philly area to pace and crew me through the night and do a gear hand-off with my wife. As I started to frantically scan the parking area for our silver CR-V, another buddy, Steve Tucker, grabbed me. “I think I beat everyone here…” I said. He was really great about keeping me calm and focused. I knew I needed a shoe and sock change because my feet had been soaked from both falling into a creek crossing (yeah) and those rain storms. I knew I also needed a headlamp because it might take me 3 hours to do the next 11 miles.

Steve had just finished Hardrock like three weeks earlier so I knew I could absolutely trust every word he said. He told me to relax, eat, not worry about anything- he ran to his car to give me his back-up headlamp. I was okay with taking some time here and we decided that I would just go to Halfway House at mile 54.7 and do the shoe change there. My feet felt good, no hot spots or anything like that so I figured I’d be okay for another few hours.

Just as I was about to check out of the aid station and start up the trail, my wife pulls in. “Stop that car!” I yell as people started flagging her down. She stopped in the middle of the lot as I ran up and was like, “open the hatch, babe!” She was in near tears, having both gotten lost trying to find this aid station and cleaning up our kid from puking all over himself. Everybody was having a day! I changed shoes real quick while chugging a Reed’s ginger beer, Steve ran over with a look of relief- I gave him his headlamp back, grabbed mine and was off. I hopped back on the trail right at 5 pm.

Beautiful trails…

The next section was really runnable, so I alternated a few minutes of decent running and decent hiking. Kept passing people, moving up to 85th place by mile 51.1 (Dry Run aid, you all were so rad!), at this point people were starting to look terrible, I guess they went out too hard?

Lovely singletrack

Picked up my pacer Dave Stango, was so psyched to see him and Steve Neugebauer at mile 54.7!

Dave was 6th place here last year, and cool story about how we met: Eric Schranz from URP has taken quite a shine to Eastern States (Eric: come do this race next year!), so after Dave was a guest on his podcast I started following him on Strava. After I didn’t get into Western States (again- five time loser!) I reached out to Dave to pick his brain about ES100, he was more than happy to oblige. Seeing as we grew up about 15 minutes from each other in Delaware County, PA and are around the same age we had a lot in common, and he even showed me around the trails at Ridley Creek State Park. After doing a few runs together whenever I was back in the Philly burbs to visit my parents, I offered to pace Dave at North Face-Massachusetts, which he won (and dropped me with about a mile and a half to go) he then offered to crew and pace me at ES100.

Ultrarunners are cool like that- if you’re ever in the Connecticut area, shoot me an e-mail or blow me up on Twitter and I will be more than happy to take you out on my local trails. I think that 95% of us will be into this sort of thing. The other 5% that might say “no”, you don’t want to know those guys, and they’ll probably be doing something different in two years time anyway.

BEWARE THE CHAIR (I would fall out of this chair while eating pizza later) photo by Dave

So I hooked up with those guys a little after 8 pm, and my legs still felt great. Was feeling the general fatigue of running for 13 hours and being awake for almost 16, but that’s to be expected. Good times ahead. I’d check out of Halfway House in 84th place…

The wilds of PA sure are awesome

Stayed patient but steady- didn’t push too hard here, just continued to move up through the field, passed another 20 runners to move up to 64th place at mile 63.8.

Me and Dave stopped for a minute at one point to see the large “blackness” off to the side of the trail that was the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania, switching off our headlamps to see a few meteors from the Perseid shower. I don’t remember if this was between Algerines (mile 69.1) which I had been calling Al Green’s and started singing all his classic hits and Long Brach aid (mile 75.6) or between Long Branch and Blackwell. At any rate, my mind was beginning to show signs of mild deterioration.

photo by Dave Stango

Moved well through the night, switching pacers at mile 80.3- also was mildly hallucinating right before and just after sunrise, I kept seeing houses off to my left along the trail that weren’t there. Luckily I knew they actually weren’t there. There actually was this “DYNAMITE” shack on the side of the trail though that Dave was telling me about so when we finally saw it I chuckled to myself, thinking that I may have already seen it, but probably not. Ultrarunning is a hell of a drug, people. Passed another few runners at Long Branch in chairs and cots that had that 1000-yard stare going. I feel you, bros.

Steve took over pacing duties and humored me through my mild hallucinations (look, there’s a bridge with some kids sitting on it and… no it’s just a log with some fallen branches… okay, this is weird.) Started having stomach issues again here, stopped for some quick liquid poops and had to re-attach my inflamed b-hole again at mile 84.8 aid station, SkyTop. That coffee I had at Blackwell was, in a word, terrible. I’m never drinking coffee in a race ever again.

Pulled into the 92.8-mile aid for another pacer change, stayed here for a while and really took care of myself for the final push- foot re-lube and sock change, a Red Bull and a lot of salty things. Watched runners I beat into the Aid Station leave before me; Dave was like “come on man, come on!” I was like (deadly serious): “we will pass all of them back and then some in the next ten miles”.

We did catch all five runners that left Barrens before me and would pick off another six runners on route to a really satisfying and enjoyable 31:42 finish time, good enough for 43rd dude (47th overall). That section between Blackwell and SkyTop was really tough on me, a lot of climbing late in the race, stomach issues, hallucinating harder than I ever have (legally) but just knew that good times were ahead if I just kept on moving- two-plus hours to go 4.5 miles, wow. But I was still cracking jokes, still laughing, still having an awesome time out there when I felt like my body had somewhat betrayed me. I was not going to let anything wreck the fun I set out to have.

Carrying my boy across that line

This was the most fulfilling and awesome experience I’ve ever had running. Not wearing my GPS watch for a race? I don’t do that sort of thing.

I’m way too obsessed with splits and elevation gain and all that jazz that I have a really hard time having fun because mentally I’m somewhere else. I’m wondering what it’s going to look like on Movescount, or how much elevation gain I’m going to lose or gain when I sync it to Strava.

photo by Jim Blandford

I was actually relieved to not record the data, because I wanted to stay firmly rooted in the present. I wanted to look at my watch, say “it’s 2:30 pm and I am deep in the Pennsylvania woods somewhere between miles 33 and 35 and I don’t give a crap because this is fun.”

Getting rained on is FUN. Having a funky stomach while running and trying to problem solve is FUN. Training since January 1st with one goal in mind, to finish the Eastern States 100 is FUN. Eating bacon at mile 51 is FUN. Trying to get dudes up out of that chair to run with you at 4 am is FUN. Running past a rattlesnake den is FUN. Asking your pacer why there isn’t any gravel spread out on the trail at mile 96 is FUN. Seeing your 22-month old watch all the runners go in and out of the aid station and pretend to run just like them is FUN. Listening to your pacers’ awesome stories and life experiences is FUN. Seeing a black bear barrel down a fern-covered canyon is FUN. Taking part in Pennsylvania’s best 100-miler is FUN.

This is why I run ultras.

This is why I love this community.

This is why this is FUN.

Allyson, Eamonn, me, Dave and Steve (photo by Jim Blandford)

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2017 Manitou’s Revenge Race Report: Hot Takes!

Manitou’s Revenge is a 54 mile point-to-point ultra with 15,000 feet of gain along the Long Path of the Catskill Mountains that runs like a 100-miler, at least that’s how my legs are feeling in the aftermath…

I had the loose goal of ~16 hours, wanted to finish in daylight…

I started in wave 5 (at 5:22 am, 20 mins after the first wave) so had to amend the finishing goal to 15:38 (since 9 pm was “last light”) so I had some work to do…

Legs felt great all day, it’s amazing what a 100-mile week followed by a 60-mile week followed by a 25-mile week will do for your legs- they felt fresh and snappy and light, at least until mile 51 or so…

The first 3 miles are on road to the trail head, then a nice singletrack for a while, then the first really big un-runnable climb was a class 3/4 scramble, the first of like 25 of these- if you’re gonna “run” this race, hit the climbing gym in prep or at least have some super steep scrambling skills, holy shit…

Look at this thing.

I opted to not bring my trekking poles for this fact, wanted my hands free for all the climbing…

Just kept a nice steady pace, worked my way up through the field in the early going- some guy about three miles in asked me “is this your fist time?” Me: yep! He comes back with a snarky “better check your pace”. Whoa, dude- this ain’t my first rodeo. Better check your attitude. I never saw that guy again so I assume he was out there all night and possibly eaten by bears…

Course was so gnarly it made a plane crash on it. True story.

Latched onto some runners that have run this race previously for course beta, kept hearing about the gnarliness of the upcoming “Devil’s Path” section…

Legs felt awesome, finally settled into a train with some of the same runners for a while now, there was Tom, Jenny, then Scott and Jeff…

Biggest climb of the day comes at mile 21, was lucky enough to catch up to this guy David and did the climb with him, would actually run most of the rest of the day with him…

An as luck would have it, turns out he’s the RD for my upcoming 100-miler, Eastern States- sometimes the stars align and put people in your path that you’re supposed to meet, and I honestly think running and leap-frogging each other for almost 10 hours pulled me along to a faster time than if I went it alone…

Caught up to some other awesome folks I knew from some other Connecticut ultras, Scott and Sarah- celebrating their 12th wedding anniversary while running Manitou’s! So awesome…

Mile 31 aid (Platte Clove knows how to party, I love you Jack!) was the shit, was basically waited on like a champ- this also makes this race feel like a 100-miler in that you can sit down and have three people working on you, changed out of the Vazees and into my Hoka Speedgoats, got a refill on fluids, ate a lot of Swedish Fish and drank a ton of Mountain Dew…

Then the Devil’s Path section- the next 7 miles took almost 3 hours because of the terrain- un-runnable rooty rocky climbs, like actual climbs, looking for footholds and roots to grab, these miles were all in the 24-to-28 minute per mile range…

The crux of the race happens at mile 37- Pecoy’s Notch, an honest-to-god, legit scary downclimb, definitely class 5 shit- you fall you break your pelvis/back/neck/face/testicles and possibly die…


The next few miles were cool, still hairy as shit, but the worst is over…

I should mention here that I took three nasty falls on the day- one on my ass (tailbone), one on my hip (felt like a skateboard slam circa 1992) and another on my knee/elbow (that one drew blood)…

I also banged my head on a rock while climbing, this race looks to take you out any way possible…

Legs still felt great and was able to run any flat part pretty hard, switched into power hike mode whenever there was an un-runnable up, but if it was runnable I went at it hard…

So at the mile 43 aid station David says to me: “let’s go really hard here on out and finish strong”, with only 10 or 11 miles to go, I say, “okay, let’s do it, let’s just crush ourselves and blow up in glorious fashion”…

We hammered the first climb together but he started to pull away on the flat section…

He’d stay somewhat within sight for the next few minutes, but this was where I finally hit a low point, I had about a half hour of low energy, semi-negative head space stuff…

…and pulled myself out of that pity party, looked the clock, thought if I really hammered I could break 15 hours…

Made it to the mile 48 aid station , the Tiki Torch aid- they were rad, said I could probably finish in daylight, all downhill from here…

Hammered this next section, drops 2100 feet in like 4 miles, just totally destroyed my quads right here- there’s no better pain than searing quads after mile 50, most races would be done by now, but 54.3 miles sounds way more serious than “just 50″…


I fucking hammered that shit…


15:19 finish time (no idea what place since the wave starts and relay runners and all that) but was the last person to finish in daylight, at 8:41 PM. This is an actual thing per the website: breaking the 16 hour benchmark time of โ€œI donโ€™t need no stinking headlamp!โ€…

…that was pound-for-pound and mile-for-mile the hardest race I’ve ever done, by a lot…

I feel physically, like I ran a 100-miler. San Diego 100 may not have hurt this bad actually. Bighorn definitely did though…

Seriously: do not do this race. It’s too hard. You will not finish it. It makes Lake Sonoma 50 look like a road half marathon. I say that with all due respect. Manitou’s wants to kill you, or at least make you go home covered in scrapes and bruises. Seriously, do not do this race…

I can not wait to do this race again…

The only mistake of the day I made was setting my GPS to record every 10 seconds and set it on “okay” accuracy, since it died just after 10 hours last 50-miler. I lost 8.7 miles from that. I think I need to set it to record every second but set it to “good” accuracy, should get me like 50 hours of battery life? Someone help me out with that…

Strava stats…

Manitou’s Revenge website: do not even think about registering… ๐Ÿ˜‰

Pure elation to be done.

Video from Mountain Peak Fitness of Kehr Davis, 2017 women’s champ:

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The 2017 North Face Bear Mountain 50 Miler Race Report: Hashtag Edition

Trying really hard to step up my Twitter game lately, so please forgive all the hashtags. #sorrynotsorry

Somewhere around mile 35 it dawned on me, I was having a pretty great day out there. #joyofrunning

Silvermine Aid, mile 8.9. photo by Brian Vanderheiden #steeprockendurance

Sure, the weather was absolutely foul but I kept repeating an old mantra (don’t know who coined it), but it goes (paraphrased): there’s no such thing as shitty weather, just shitty clothing. I actually had a lot of mantras going- and never, ever will I underestimate the power of positive thinking ever again. #focusandrefocus #embracethesuck #ivehurtworse

It’s as if I had totally convinced myself I was having the race of my life today and the safety of the entire world was at stake if I happened to DNF. That would be a super sweet Hollywood movie, like the plot was that I had an atomic bomb strapped to my back and I was racing the clock to get it to some expert bomb-disarmer guys to disarm it, and the sweet plot twist was that it could only be disarmed at the finish line by Dean Karnazes, of course- played by DEAN KARNAZES OF COURSE!!! #deanbro #neverstopexplaining

So, a high of 48 degrees and several different types of rain? Probably suits me well as I am descended from the hearty and robust stock of Ireland, where it’s pretty much 48 and rainy like 300 days a year. #wikipedia

This is how poor people “buy” photos. #cheap #screenshot

My clothing was drenched straight through within a few hours and any attempt at lubrication to avoid chaffage was futile at best, it just washed right away. But my mind was so happy and engaged, even though my stomach went south around mile 16, I was determined to stay on track with my nutrition plan. That’s where a lot of these races go to die; our tummies feel funky so we stop putting calories in, we bonk, then death march in the last 15 miles for a 16-hour finish. #racethecutoffs

Not today, gut. You will take all of this god-damned sugar in and you will like it. #caffeinetoo

The aid stations were awesome as they usually are at North Face events- just rad folks trying to get us fed and hydrated and keeping us happy. All my dumb jokes were met with smiles and laughs, telling me how good I looked. I swear you people lie, I know for a fact that I looked terrible for a good four hours on Saturday. #pleasekeeplying

I stopped training with music a few months ago so when I listen to it now when I run, it’s amazing. I’m psyched I kept my iPod dry. #possibleziplocsponsorship

My tastes were eclectic; there’s my hippie stuff (Grateful Dead, Yes, Phish, Yeasayer), for locking into an extended groove and letting my mind wander just a bit. #15minuteguitarsolo

Then I had my “Girl Pop” (Katy Perry, Ellie Goulding, Taylor Swift, Rihanna, Florence + the Machine, Alicia Keys, Sia), that stuff makes me so happy and I relied heavily on it today. #nojudgment

Then my heavy nuggets (Black Sabbath, Metallica, Gorilla Biscuits, Quicksand, Iron Maiden) for when shit is about to get very fucking serious, just put your head down and hammer. #getintouchwithyouranger

Then some techno dance stuff (Crystal Method, Mylo) because #bleepbloopblip

Then a ton of hip-hop (Kanye, TI, Run the Jewels, OutKast, Jay-Z), to give mad props to being in New York where it all started. #southbronx

There were some extended pavement/road sections that after a while I came to realize- it’s so hard to put together huge loops of interconnected trail in the Northeast United States because real estate is really at a premium here, so using roads to link them up is okay. Instead of cursing it (like Killian that one year at UROC) I started to see it as a positive- it’s a great way to stretch the legs and give them a break from the rocky trails. I saw a lot of bloody knees and shins. #ineverfallonasphalt

The only negative experience from the entire day was the sheer amount of trail trash I saw- I picked up the first 3 or 4 gel packages I encountered but gave up when I realized folks were treating this race like a damn triathlon. Not gonna lie, probably saw 50 discarded gel packages on the course and other assorted detritus. Not cool, New York, not cool at all. Whoever swept that course is my hero, though. So. Much. Trash. #litterbugs #doyouevengreenbro

Gin-Gins and Coca-Cola probably helped get my stomach back to normal. At mile 29 I stopped to use the Porta-Potty but it sounded like someone was in there wrestling with an alligator; we’ve all had poops like that, admit it- also, whoever was in there I hope you’re okay. #fishhookornah

I decided to grab an extra neck Buff from my drop bag as “insurance” (read: $15 toilet paper). Soon as I started moving the urge to deuce left me and I basically farted through the next five miles. I literally farted my stomach back to normal. I’m talking those like 10-to-12 second rippers, where you’re basically praying to not crap yourself the entire fart. Every one brought a little bit more relief, physically and mentally (possibly spiritually, too), I felt as though I was “gambling” big time, like playing Russian Roulette with a loaded cannon aimed right at my shorts. #ihopethatsmud

I rebounded hard at mile 35 and started to push it, must’ve passed 25-30 runners on my way to the finish line. I don’t take any particular joy in passing people as they suffer through the end of a long day, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t gain a serious amount of strength from it. It’s like the movie Highlander, when that guy chops off people’s heads and gets all their strength, plus the strength of who ever’s head they chopped off, that’s kind of what I’m doing, but in a “good job, nice work” sort of way. #carnage #coffeeisforclosers

Those last 2-3 miles were so much fun, probably my fastest miles of the day- I made my way to the finish line singing at the top of my lungs to Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’ “Empire State of Mind”, cranked up to full blast, belting out that line from the chorus “Let’s hear it for New Yorrrrrk…” just loving every second of it. #turnt

Run hard through the line. #myquadslookdope

So that’s it- I’ll recap with this: what a fun day I had out there in what should’ve been a miserable time. #expecttheunexpected #neverstopexpecting

I’ve had a couple of bad races this year and one of the worst injuries of my life but it all seemed to melt away at North Face Bear Mountain. I just stayed within myself, enjoyed chatting it up and sharing miles with so many different runners (Tom from NYC- you’re awesome for running that whole thing in those Tarahumara sandals! and you dudes from West Point were rad, keep at this stuff please!); kept my goals reasonable, and they were as follows: don’t fall, don’t bonk, run happy, run under 10 hours (missed that one) and try for a negative split (just missed, 5:13 and 5:18 for each half). But dammit, I had some serious joy out there last Saturday. #wewantyoutobehappy

Okay, stop running now. #feedme

Thanks for reading! Follow me on Twitter! #shamelessplug

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Traprock 50k: Jimmy and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Synopsis: the author tries to come to terms with a recent string of injuries.

I have decided to make myself a checklist in order to determine my readiness for my next race, it’s going to look something like this:

  1. Are you hurt? If yes, you should not start this race. If no, proceed to #3
  2. You answered “yes” to #1, so on a scale of 1 to 10, how much pain are you in? Do you have a decent range of motion of all your limbs?
  3. Are you planning to race this race all out or use it as a long supported training run?
  4. What would be the worst thing about not starting this race?

Here’s my answers upon awakening Saturday morning:

  1. Yes, I am injured. I hate writing those words. I caught a toe running down a somewhat gnarly trail on Sleeping Giant and fell harder than I’ve ever fallen, right on my right shoulder eight days ago and can’t lift my arm over my head without help. Is that bad? I can still run although it’s not ideal. I mean, I can dress myself, drive a car and wipe my own ass. I’m cool. I also experienced some minor back spasms two days before this race as well as jamming a toe on our cat’s scratching post while cleaning up my kid’s toys.
  2. I’d say pain scale, hmmm- I go anywhere from 1 to 10 depending on where my arm is resting. If it doesn’t move, it’s a 1, if I try to run, it’s like a 4 or 5. if I try to run fast, it’s like a 7. Running uphill, hard: hurts a lot, like a 10. Range of motion, hmmmm: I have like 60% use of my right arm. Is that good enough?
  3. Yes, it’s just a long training run, so I can do it. I mean, miles on the legs is miles on the legs. Time on the feet is time on the feet, yadda yadda. I have some really long races coming up soon, so…
  4. I mean the absolute worst thing about not starting today would be I lose out on the $65 and for someone that’s as broke as me, that’s like really a lot of money.

Here’s basically every mistake I made from the moment I woke up on race day:

So I woke up and felt that I was about 80% okay, and decided to run the Traprock 50k (this was a mistake, I should’ve stayed in bed).

I mean, it’s just a 50k (mistake: not respecting the distance).

Looks like it’s going to be about 60 degrees today (mistake: it’s always warmer than what Weather Underground forecasts).

I’ll run with my Camelbak reservoir since I can’t really grip a hand-held in my right hand today (mistake: you really hate running with all that water sloshing around on your back).

I’ll get a drop bag to access after every lap, that will be awesome! (mistake: you put your drop bag too far from the start/finish turnaround, thus adding a good 10 minutes to your finishing time by farting around with it)

I’ll make sure to get a really good stretch before running so I’m nice and loose (mistake: you saw people you knew and chatted with them before running, you never even stretched).

If I feel like dropping during the race, it’s okay, I can just drop out (mistake: you’re ridiculously stubborn and still hate that you DNF’d a race for no good reason two years ago).

Ugh, as far as race reports go I’m not going to do that thing where I get overly pedantic and go over every gel I took and what I felt like at this mile, jokes I told at aid stations, none of that. Just going to be short and sweet about it, (not really) but here goes…

I’ll give a quick description of the course: three 11-ish mile loops with about 1600+ feet of gain on each loop; some sections very steep and rooty, some sections were like stone stairs cut into a frigging cliff, mostly jagged rocks everywhere, some sweet singletrack, some wider jeep-type fire roads, a lot up and down, totally exposed from no leaf cover and great views of a picturesque New England town (Simsbury) from the cliff top. I’ll say this is most likely Connecticut’s “spring classic” ultra race.

Okay, first loop went great- split that in 1:59:xx but spent six minutes farting around getting my water reservoir filled, then putzing with my drop bag: changing into a singlet, applying sunscreen, Body Glide, grabbing gels and then I couldn’t get the cap off my bottle of ice cold flat Coke (the EMT on staff used his rubber glove and got it for me). Was back on course by 2:05, next loop was…

Horrendous. Starting feeling like I could really run hard now, my shoulder totally hurt like hell but, what the *expletive deleted*, let’s go for it! I put the headphones on, cranked the tunes and… caught my *expletive deleted* toe on a *expletive deleted* rock and went *expletive deleted* flying.

Right onto my left shoulder. Now I have owwies on both shoulders, great. My immediate reaction was “I’m done.. race over… forget this, I’m dropping.” If it wasn’t for the runner coming up the trail behind me to check on me, I would’ve dropped. To say I was angry would be an understatement.

I cooled off, repeated to myself over and over, “just let it go, can’t do anything about it now, people fall all the time in these things…” She ran on ahead and told the aid station to expect a bloody and dirty guy to clean up, but my shoulder scrape wasn’t that bad and the dirt was basically sweated away by the time I got there.

So, loop #2 in 2:31, oof. Gonna be a long day. About a mile before the start/finish aid station, I got that slight twinge in the calf of a cramp, then a minute or two later the twinge starts in my groin, oh no. Within three minutes I’m full-on cramping all up and down the legs. Awesome. Gonna be a very long day.

In and out of the start/finish pretty quickly, start back up the climb, fighting off the cramps as best I can. I envision a shuffle-walk for the last loop. My lower back doesn’t feel great- those back spasms I had two days before the race are coming back in slight twinges as well, I think it’s because I can’t quite fully use my right arm so I’m probably over-compensating and it’s affecting my left hip/glute/lower back area. Wonderful.

Not bad for a guy who can’t move his right arm!

Up the climb again, totally cramping, stopping every five steps so they can subside. My body just does not want to cooperate today. Luckily I do not go to a dark place because everyone else around me is feeling just about the same. I tuck in behind a taller guy that’s feeling kind of rough, says he was out a bit too late last night- I can smell his sweat, it has the faint odor of vodka and cigarettes. To each his own.

He goes on and I’m joined by a local runner named Andy and we basically shuffle the last ten miles together, alternating between mild jogging, serious power hiking and teeth-gritting periods of running that unfortunately last no longer than 3 or 4 minutes.

Then just to add the slightest bit of insult to the day, I roll an ankle at about mile 27. This has just been so great.

So I did that last loop in 3:07. To put that in context, I am a 3:07 marathoner. I ran the last loop of this race in the same time it took me to run an entire 26.2 miles in Santa Rosa, California, about 20 months ago (I just ran a 3:10 four months ago).

7:47 for the whole 33.2 miles. More context: I just ran a 50-miler in November that was only 31 minutes longer. I’d say I did not have “it” today.

Takeaways from this race were:

  • I ran a bunch of early miles with a few folks I recognized from Bimbler’s Bluff 50k (Sarah and Art).
  • I really let the folks at the aid stations take care of me, and thanked them for giving up their Saturday so I could do some silly loops in a state park.
  • I pulled a tick off of me at one point, he started to burrow into my leg. I think I’m pretty safe from getting Lyme Disease, it’s more likely you get it from a tick nymph bite and they have to be attached for like 24 hours. Phew.
  • I ran a lot of the later miles with a guy named Andy and we’re already planning on getting some runs in together, he’s in Westville (about 5 minutes from me).
  • I showed a lot of (foolish) grit and determination to get finished.
  • Caught up with Art again at the finish to chat real quick- seems though everyone had a rough day except for the winner, local East Coast beast Brian Rusiecki- a 21-minute victory on the #2 finisher. Only nine runners went under six hours.
  • I cramped late into the night on Saturday; I cramped on the couch watching TV with my wife (she was a little freaked out) and I cramped some laying in bed. That’s weird.
  • I’m full of resolve now to NOT start a race when I’m not 100%. I’ll eat the entry fee instead. Trail running is freaking dangerous, it’s probably best I have full use of all limbs while racing from now on.

So it’s now Thursday, five days later, and the right shoulder is probably 90%- I can lift it over my head, can’t fully rotate it around (all signs and symptoms point to an impingement- looks like 2 more weeks of discomfort and limited range of motion), the left shoulder is totally fine, just scraped (so is my knee and elbow). My back feels pretty great, it’s been nice and loose since the race- I should probably still go see a chiropractor though. My toe really hurts and I’m losing the toenail on the toe next to that one.

Trail running is so glamorous!

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The 2016 Boston Marathon Race Report

Ambivalence. Defined as the “uncertainty or fluctuation, especially when caused by an inability to make a choice or by a simultaneous desire to say or do two opposite or conflicting things.”

That word (or the idea) has been plaguing me since getting accepted to Boston in September of 2015. At first I wasn’t going to go.

What do you mean you’re not going to run the most iconic, most recognizable foot race in the entire universe? The one marathon that everyone knows about? That’s what I’m going to attempt to explain here- bear with me.

That ambivalence would eventually give way to “well, I might not do it again for a while so maybe I should…” which gave way to “yeah, I have to do this” which then landed on “I’ll just use it as a long tempo run for Canyons 100k” to “I do not want to embarrass myself, I should train hard for this”.

This whole range of weird emotions: indifference, excitement, resignation and finally determination.

I mean, I really want to run scenic, long(-er) trail races. So for me, putting a road marathon in the middle of a 100-mile training block felt counter-intuitive. My initial hesitancy stemmed from not wanting to get hurt before attempting another Western States qualifier- that’s every trail ultrarunner’s ultimate goal.

That’s our “Boston” so to speak. I don’t want to jeopardize that.

But I also don’t want to “mail it in”, I mean people spend years, decades even, trying to get a Boston qualifier. Some folks give up on the qualifier and go the charity-runner route, which is hard in its own right. I have to respect that I got a BQ on my second attempt, and I don’t know what my chances look like in the years to come (even though I get five extra minutes to qualify for turning 40 this year).

I didn’t even want to write a race report for Boston, today is Race Day, 2017- the race was exactly a year ago.

A year to write a race report? Must’ve been some race. Seriously, though- I need to write this report, in order to come to terms with the aforementioned ambivalence.

Looking strictly at the numbers, there were 30,741 runners entered to run Boston. I can’t find an exact number of “charity runners” but it seems like 6,000-ish is the number floating around out there. So that’s about 25,000 runners that got in from qualifying times. There were 551,295 marathon finishers in 2015. So, using “math” we’re looking at 4.5% of all marathon finishers in the September 2014 to Sept. 2015 official qualifying window get into Boston.

I can’t find the age group breakdowns but I imagine it’s a similar number, maybe slightly lower. Also, running is funny in that you can be in the top 4.5% and not be considered an elite. I know, the elite ultra guys do fast road marathons all the time, run a sub-2:30 and then turn around and jam a 6:30 50-miler a few weeks later.

That ain’t me.

So in thinking about that number more in-depth I realized I’m not at the top 4.5% of anything, so I should probably take this chance to run the race. I’ve had people joke with me about “not being a real runner until I’ve done Boston” and I’m sure part of me signed up to quiet their judgments, but really- it’s Boston. Of course I had to try to run the oldest, most prestigious of all marathons in the known universe.

So ambivalence made way for excitement after a few months of ultra training and both a 50k race and a 50-miler. A few workouts here and there; a Jack Daniels’ inspired tempo-long-tempo run, then a 3 by 2-mile repeat session, throw in a six miles at marathon pace run, then a 16-miler at 20 seconds off MP, followed by a 12-miler with 20 x 1 min fartleks, a 5-miler at MP, a Brad Hudson-inspired 25k fueled progression run (five 5k’s, each one getting progressively faster until the last 5k is about 5-10 secs faster than goal MP) and finally a 5 x 1000 meter repeat session on a track, and that was enough to basically not embarrass myself.

Looking back on it now, I can see how foolish it was to try to cram all these workouts in when all I really had was a semi-decent aerobic base. I literally could not wait to get back to 100-mile training where I measure standard road marathon training with “is this good enough and was I fast enough?” with the requisite “how much time did I spend on my feet this week and how much vert did I gain?”

The folly of this thinking has been replaced by my current mode of training, i.e.- having a decent aerobic base to support more quality sessions, making every run have a purpose and getting my body as strong as possible with core work and light weights.

Yep, I’m kind of becoming a gym rat. You can do threshold runs on a treadmill just fine. It’s not great in terms of specificity, but it works.

So I flew in to Boston on Sunday afternoon, eliciting a few “no way, dude- you gotta go Thursday or Friday and get the whole weekend in…” but having grown up right down the road (I-95) in Philly and visiting Boston enough times to realize I wasn’t going to miss all that much. Maybe a selfie with Bill Rodgers or hearing Shalane Flanagan give a talk would be cool, but I could probably catch them at a local mall or diner one day and it would be way more special because of the randomness involved.

Anyway, took the T over to the expo, grabbed my bib and race swag, looked at the over-priced jackets and weird new nutrition companies yadda yadda. Honestly, I can’t stand road marathon expos. 20 minutes of that and I was exhausted. Hopped back on the T to go over to Cambridge to meet my friend MB to pick up her house key, I was staying with her and her husband Toby in Somerville (pronounced SUMMAH-VILL). They’re the raddest and sweetest people ever, we even had a taco party on Monday night after the race (spoiler: I did not go to the party at Fenway because why go to a baseball stadium when no baseball is being played?) I also don’t drink beer so Samuel Adams is as about important to me as Karl Lagerfeld.

Seriously though I was over crowds anyway. They freak me out when I’m tired, cranky and sore.

I also like to freak out about on-course nutrition. So Clif Shots and Gatorade, woo hoo! I did a little bit of training with it to see how it sat at near 7-minute pace. All systems go! As far as gels have been concerned lately, Honey Stingers have been going down and sitting really great so I went with four of them, a “Gold” (basically just honey with a B-vitamin complex) and a Vanilla and two Fruit Smoothies.

I figured I’d mix up a few hundred calories of UCan beforehand then bring 2 servings of ~150 cals in 3-oz travel size shampoo squeeze bottles, that worked great. I tried to mimic everything I did at Santa Rosa because that was my most recent best performance, so it has to be my model of consistency. Gotta stick with what works, right? I also did a Vespa about 45 mins before the start and another at the half marathon mark.

I did try something new before Boston, however, and I don’t think it worked, in hindsight it may have hindered me because after the amount of calories I took in before Canyons 100k, I probably should’ve eaten more. The new thing I tried: eating a tiny breakfast before the race. Before Boston my M.O. was to start racing on an empty stomach (or at the very least some type of easily-digestible “super starch”) and although I didn’t feel “heavy” as I am wont to after eating and then running, it was something I definitely wasn’t used to.

Watching the race day forecast starting ten days out was another thing driving me nuts. I know I can’t control the weather but I just kept thinking “ugh, I’m not at all trained for running in the heat.” Northern California has turned me into a baby, so for every degree over 60 a little part of me slowly dies.

Race Day

So I had a great night sleep, slept in a bit and took a later bus out to Hopkinton from downtown, there was no way I wanted to be hanging out at the athlete’s village for 3 or 4 hours before my wave started. Everyone I rode out with had really high numbers, up the high 20-thousands. I think these folks were all the charity runners. Part of me felt guilty for hitching a later ride, but again- I can’t understand why anyone would want to hang out in Hopkinton for 3 or 4 hours before the race. I guess that’s the trail runner in me; I show up for a local 8 am race at like 7:40 and that’s more than enough time to slap a bib on, fill a water bottle and pee in the woods.

I started to get hungry on the bus ride out so I started in on part 2 of breakfast (UCan) and just focused on breathing. This is around where I decided if I get back to Boston next year, I’m staying in Hopkinton or Framingham or somewhere close to the start. I’m already tired from being awake for almost 3 hours. I’d like to run now, actually I like to start running 45 minutes to an hour after waking up. It takes a lot of mental as well as physical energy to wake up, get on the T in Somerville, go downtown, drop off your bag, get on a bus, take an hour ride, then get in line to give someone your warm clothes, then get in another line to walk a half mile to get in line to go pee, then get in another line to walk to the start, then run a half mile before you actually start.

That’s the real race- just getting to your wave and corral. Exhausting.

It was 10:04 when I crossed the start line and I was already pretty tired- have I mentioned that yet? The excitement I had of running Boston had given way to what I call “comically exasperated frustration”. It was like the LA Marathon all over again; so much energy wasted on “other stuff” that when it came time to run, I was ready to nap.

I understand the logistics of getting 30,000 people to a small town 26 miles away from Boston (that’s why they want us first wavers out at the start at like 7 am) but damn, I was not prepared for any of that. I was told what to expect but that’s a lot of people. Next time I’ll fend for myself, thanks.

So I wanted to run around 3:10 to 3:12, which meant 7:14-7:19 pace. Funny thing is, right here after the start everyone told me these things: “don’t get swept up in the excitement… take it easy… it’s a long downhill, save your quads…” but again, I was so tired already. I knew by Ashland (mile 3) that I was in for a rough day.

I had printed out one of those Asics pace wristbands and kept my eye on it. Went through 5k in 22:41, cool. Only ten seconds off, no biggie. Went through Framingham and then 10k, 45:16, only 14 seconds slow, okay- not bad. I noticed that it was starting to get warm here, maybe it was 65? Just keep drinking water and Gatorade, keep dumping water on your head, you’ll be fine.

15 km now, 1:08:19- only 45 seconds behind, gonna have to throw in a little tiny surge here, something manageable- there’s still a lot of race to go. I also felt my bladder starting to fill a bit… First porta-potty I see after the half marathon mark I’ll use it. Gotta make my 13.1 split at 1:35:02… and what’s that noise?

The Wellesley Scream Tunnel. Deafening. Had to move over to the left side of the road because it literally hurt my ears. Holy shit, you can hear it from almost a MILE AWAY AND STILL HEAR IT A MILE LATER. Gotta be 120+ decibels.

Here comes halfway, and I glance down at my wrist again. 1:36:27. Shit. That’s a minute and twenty-five seconds off, which is an eternity. That’s a 3:13 if I can mange to run an even split. Gonna have to throw in another surge, right after I stop to pee.

Sup, brah?

The crowds started getting bigger at this point, and the mercury had to be up around 70. Non-runners be like “that’s perfect!” but we feel it probably 15 to 20 degrees warmer, and like I said before anything over 60 degrees sucks to run fast in. Passing through 25k at 1:55:36, now almost 3 mins off, and here comes the Newton Hills!

So yeah, this is where I go to die. First Newton hill: dipped to an 8:30 pace. Not good.

30 km comes and goes in 2:20:12, now five plus minutes off schedule. Next hill: oh my, slowing to mid-9 minute pace. Just… if… no.

I’d be lucky to run sub-3:20 at this point.

Does Newton like to party?

So I wasn’t going to re-qualify I realize as I make the right hand turn and see the Newton Fire House and the last of the Hills, the biggest one of them all. I’m literally running in molasses now, way up over 10 minute pace. The struggle bus pulls over, picks me up, and lets me drive it. Awesome.

Once you crest this hill it’s about 5 miles to the finish and you are greeted with a very pleasant breeze from the east, blowing some gentle, cool ocean air. Too bad I couldn’t appreciate it because I was dead on my feet.

I told myself to just have fun from here on in, just party with the crowd. I started pumping my arms, working the crowd up. Doing the Hulk Hogan hand to the ear thing, all that.


My biggest take away, the thing I’ll never, ever forget is the absolute electric feeling I got from the crowd. Every time I needed their mojo, it was like getting hit with a wave of positive loving energy.

This is probably the best pic of me all day. Still not gonna spend $29.95 on it though.

Way to go, sixty-seven sixty-one! (my bib number)

NICE BEARD BRO! (my beard was big)

Hey SFRC! (I was wearing my SFRC singlet, they’re famous now)

I was doing the Hulk Hogan hand to the ear “I can’t hear you” thing and getting doused with cheers. Was pumping my arms in that “c’mon get loud” motion, more cheers. The crowd literally picked me up and carried me onto Boylston Street, the last five miles were a blur.

The Snot Rocket Heard ’round the World (I wish)

So I ran the Boston Marathon one year ago today.

The biggest reason to want to go back is to recapture that feeling, all that joy and love I felt from the crowd. After chilling out for a while in Copley Square, sitting on the grass and eating the fruit cups and bananas and whatever else they gave us, basking in the glory with all the other runners from around the world, I was struck by how awesome the entire day was, and how I almost missed out on it. I get it now. It’s more about the experience of being there than running a great time or having the race you want. It’s about sharing in something so gigantic and special that people come from Australia and Denmark and Kenya to run this thing.

So I hopped on the T with my space blanket and medal around me, and someone gave up their seat for me.

“No, man, I’m good thanks.”


“Okay.” I said. Then a mother and her daughter, decked out in full Red Sox gear sat across from me. ”

How’d it go today?”

“You know,” I said, “not great, but it was really, really awesome.” They said they do this every year, go to the 11 AM Sox game then get out and cheer people on for a bit before heading home.

“This really is Boston’s best day, nothing beats Boston on this day.”

I’ll have to agree. To borrow that quote: if you’re ever losing faith in humanity, go watch the finish line of a marathon.

You just finished the Boston Marathon, try not TO CRY LIKE A BABY NOW

STRAVA STATS (if you’re into that sort of thing)

So officially, I ran a 3:25:04, and I did not re-qualify for 2017, mssing the standard by 10 minutes and 4 seconds (actually more like 12:30 with the cutoff times, but yeah). I did “beat my bib” though, which is a big deal apparently. Here’s the official result page.

Crossing that finish line

I qualified for the 2018 edition at the hilly and frigid Roxbury Marathon last December. So I’m going back, and you better believe I’m going to take it very serious this time, take it as an absolute honor that I get to do something that people spend a lot of time and energy trying to do and come up short time and time again.


Synonyms: hesitancy, indecision, inconclusiveness, irresoluteness, quandary, tentativeness.

Antonyms: certainty, sureness, decisiveness.

I’m gonna try to live in that second list of words from now on…

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The 2017 Two Rivers Marathon Race Report

For those keeping score that’s two bad races in a row to start the year; after ending 2016 on such a high note (another BQ and a 50-mile PR) I’m left wondering WTF?

Not really, I know exactly what went wrong. I’ve had the last 3 days to settle down, get over myself and really sit with the discomfort of knowing that my training has been not great. Taking an extended off-season complete with the killer flu and then another weird cold PLUS spending way too much time on the treadmill (lack of specificity) PLUS trying to cram in too much threshold work without proper recovery between workouts EQUALS recipe for disaster.

Let’s put it this way: at the Colchester Half on February 25th I ran a strong 10k before imploding, meaning I was adequately trained to run a decent 10k, but not a half. Then four days ago at the Two Rivers Marathon I ran a somewhat strong 13.1 before imploding, meaning I was adequately trained for a strong half showing but not a full 26.2. The holes in my training are there like Swiss cheese, I just didn’t want to smell it, because then I’d have to admit it was very stinky and moldy.

Lessons learned:

#1- The greatest teacher I’ve ever had is failure: this is the thing that gets me back out there every day. Setting new goals, putting old goals on hold for the time being, re-evaluating what I’m doing to get me towards my goals, failure is important. I recommend everyone try failing at least once in their life.

#2- The greatest achievement I’ve ever had is progress: this is the other thing that keeps me referring back to #1. I didn’t hit my goal but I learned something about myself out there last weekend, that when it gets unbelievably hard and I want to quit more than anything else in the world, that I can re-focus and get it done, albeit very slowly. That’s the progression, I used to just quit things that were too hard, like art school or that job that made me wake up at 9 AM. And another thing- more often than not progress is not linear. It’s kind of an arc overlapping a circle wrapped around a bent fish hook. It might not look like what I wanted it to look like, but there’s so much more value in gutting it out than getting what you want all the time. That’s how I get what I need.

So here’s the pedantic “actual race report” part: had a great night sleep, 8+ hours, woke up gently to the chill iPhone alarm. Made strong coffee (always bring your own if you’re a coffee snob, do not ever trust or rely on the hotel/motel/Holiday Inn to satisfy your fix), ate about 400 calories of what’s lately become my preferred race day breakfast; about a cup of white rice, cooked with a tablespoon of sugar and 2 tablespoons of coconut oil.

Drove to the finish line in Lackawaxen, a sleepy little burg tucked in between the deep folds of the Pocono Mountains at the confluence of the Lackawaxen and Delaware Rivers. Hopped in the shuttle, tried to find the other ultra runners (sadly they’re the only folks I relate to) and sat with this guy Steve from NYC that’s done a bunch of silly long-distance races just like me; he well as doing the back-to-back marathons with the Maniacs (the Two Rivers has a Saturday & Sunday marathon, I think 30+ folks were doing both days).

Steve was funny, he tried to get me to do the NYC 100 in June, 100 miles on roads/sidewalks thru all of NYC. Told him “I’m done with roads after today… the trails have been calling me, and I must go.” He totally understood what I was saying, for he is a member of the same wacky tribe.

So about that goal for the day: I was all about trying to get that 2:58 NYC marathon qualifier, I didn’t care about “just squeaking under 3” or “improving my Boston corral seeding”, I was going totally for broke.

Having that BQ already for 2018 took the pressure off a lot so I felt that I could go out really hard, and if I blew the F up royally, then I’d just blow the F up and chalk it up to trying to do something that’s probably just outside of “reasonable” for me.

Go big or go home. No “safe” times here, no “gentle, even pacing” to just slide in under the bar, I was either going sub-2:58 or was gonna die trying. #realtalk #thuglife

The check in was in the theater at the Woodloch Resort, nice place.

Then cut to: the start, we’re off and it’s 8.5 downhill miles, they felt effortless, easy, flowy.

I went out with the leaders of both the full and the half, wanted to run somewhere around the top five until about mile 20, then start my kick.

Little climb at mile 8.5-9, pace dipped to 8:00, no big deal. Wanted to hit mile 10 at 1:08, was about a minute off right there and things started to go awry at about 11.5- wanted to hit the half at 1:27:30-ish, hit that at like 1:32.

Then things got really rough, from mile 12 to the turnaround on the out-and-back at mile 18.7 there’s a mellow, slight uphill, gains like 20 feet per mile but I just fell apart, completely. Could not generate power, I watched my pace sag, and sag, and sag.

Tried taking twice as much Gatorade at every aid station here, had my flat Coke on me, was chugging that, taking gels- body just would not cooperate. Quads felt great, too- it wasn’t an issue of taking that long downhill too hard, I love running downhill. The little specificity I did do in the build before the race was some downhill stuff, really hard.

Somewhere along that out-and-back as i started counting runners coming back to me, I started to laugh as I realized 1) that 2:58 NYCQ was gone, 2) sub-3 was also gone, 3) it would be a battle to best my 3:07 PR and 4) you better fucking enjoy, NAY– embrace this level of suck right now, because you paid money for the pleasure of this suffering.

Kept telling myself “regroup, regroup” and that I could still turn it around. At the very least this was a really great tune up for my 50k in three weeks, I mean- a 26.2 mile supported tempo run is a great workout!

Tried all my mental tricks and mantras: focus on your breathing, in through the nose, out through the mouth. Land on your midfoot, drive the knee back, pump the arms. Nothing. Execute, dammit, execute! Nope. You’ve hurt way worse than this, this is nothing! Nada.

Turnaround at mile 18.7 to the finish was back down that slight hill, tried to start kicking, had a decent 7:30 mile in there but that just finished me. Last 10k was a nice cooldown: 8:27, 8:28, 9:06, 9:14, yeah- you see where this is going…

…then an 8:51 and a 9:32 (yuck) before the YUGE finishing kick over the bridge with a 7:52 for the final 400 meters.

3:24:35, 12th place overall, 5th in the 40-49 age group. A really solid result on paper, but I know that it wasn’t my best effort. You absolutely cannot fake the marathon distance, no matter how many times you’ve run the distance, it will chew you up and spit you out if you disrespect it. I’ve said it before- you can fake almost any distance up to about 20 miles but there’s something very difficult and inexplicable that happens around mile 20 when you’re running at your aerobic threshold.

There are changes taking place, not only physical but psychological, that just break you down. I didn’t have the emotional capacity to handle feeling that lousy that early in the race to overcome it. By the time I figured out what was going on, it was too late.

I tried to fake the distance, and it showed me exactly what it thought about that.

In hindsight, salivating profusely over seeing the elevation profile was the hook, definitely thought I’d cruise to mile 12 and then the real work would start- it drops like 800 feet in the first half. I was done at 12 though, should’ve just done the half. Maybe the 1:25 NYCQ was doable today. Might never know. But I gotta let that go, ain’t nobody got time for that…

…oh well, I’m ready for ultra season. Traprock 50k in less than three weeks!

Strava stats

Post script: …and about that goal of qualifying for the NYC Marathon; it’s definitely on hold right now. I might make another go at it come October at the Hartford Marathon, but for now I’m shelving it. It’s still a goal, I’m not abandoning it, just gonna move it to the back-burner for now.

I had two really great runs this week back on the trails of West Rock and I realized that I had missed this place so very much, here under the evergreens, amongst the rocks and roots, splashing in the mud and puddles and patches of leftover snow.

This is my happy place, this is the place where I don’t care about what pace I’m running, where I don’t care about having to hit a certain mileage for the day, a place where I can just be. The place where the process is so much more important than the outcome.

Thanks for reading.

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The 2016 Stone Cat 50 Mile Race Report

The Stone Cat 50 Miler is a really cool little race on Massachusetts’ North Shore, in a sleepy little burg called Ipswich. The home base for the race is the Doyon Elementary School which borders Willowdale State Forest, a 2,500 acre state park with a decent mix of single-track and fire roads. It meanders around swamps, woods and meadows.

A little Willowdale single track

A little Willowdale single track

Here’s a little story about the 2016 edition of the race.

September: so I was desperately searching for an early to mid-November 50-miler to end my ultra season and this seemed to be the only one in New England. So, easy choice. Oh, but it’s a multiple loop race, oh no. Well, these surely are true tests of one’s mental stamina- I can do four 12.5-mile loops. Wait, can I do four 12.5-mile loops? Guess I’ll have to find out. Oh and it’s about to sell out so… Ultrasignup does not issue refunds, guys. Looks like I have to do it now.

October: training is going well, autumn is awesome in New England. I still haven’t had a pumpkin spice latte. I almost bought one but the kid at Starbucks told me it tasted “perfumey”. Then he asked me what I usually drink. Black coffee. “Yeah, you definitely won’t like it.” I feel like that kid jumped in front of a bullet for me. I’ll never forget you, “Chad”.

November: fresh off of a fun 50k deep in the CT woods, I really didn’t taper much for the 50 miler. Seriously though, who tapers? I’m joking, I tapered. Kind of. Anyway, day before the race I loaded up the CRV and drove up to Ipswich. My plan was to put the seats down and inflate the air mattress and crawl into my sleeping bag and dirtbag it in the parking lot of the school. Great idea- I got it from a few guys I ran a bunch of miles with at Miwok a few years ago, they were like, “yeah we just slept in the Stinson Beach parking lot in our cars last night.” I’ve always wanted to be an ultra dirtbag.

Everything was going awesome until a cop rolled up at 1:41 AM, woke me up and shone the brightest light in my face. After figuring out that I was here for the race, and running my plates to make sure the car wasn’t stolen, and then running my ID to make sure I wasn’t a fugitive from justice, he let me be. He probably thought better than to write me a fine, I mean- if I didn’t have $70 for a motel room, I sure wasn’t going to have $200 for a vagrancy ticket.

It was cold as hell so I started up the engine and ran the heat and drifted off back to sleep. Then I woke up an hour later covered in sweat, it was probably 108 degrees in the car. It said 33 outside. So I shut her down and went back to sleep. Apparently this was not smart because people with leaky exhaust systems could give themselves carbon monoxide poisoning and die. Luckily I was in a two-month old car, and it’s a Honda, and they are reliable.

Finally I woke up to the iPhone alarm at 4:30, fresh as a daisy. I can’t believe I managed to get seven hours of sleep, albeit somewhat interrupted, but dammit I got a great night’s sleep. That never happens the night before a 50-miler. Today might be a good day!

I had my camp cook stove so I heated up some water, made coffee, ate breakfast- rice balls cooked with coconut oil and some sugar, so damn good. High carb, low fiber- makes my tummy happy. Around this time the volunteers started showing up, slowly waving in the first few cars. Damn, it was cold. I made small talk with some of my new neighbors, explaining how I dirtbagged it here last night. They thought that was cool and I was relieved they weren’t judging me (to my face) for being a cheap ass.

Yadda yadda: Bib pick up, bathroom line, 6:15 AM and we’re off.

It’s pitch black still so we make our way across the field and onto this wide fire road, my plan was to take it really conservative the first 3-5 miles then start finding a comfortable rhythm and work towards a pace that I could sustain all day.

We’re already getting kind of log-jammed here in the early going so I make a few quick little pushes to clear some room and as we funnel on to the first single-track of the day… I’m walking. And everyone is walking. I see a line of headlights stretching into the woods, and they’re all walking.

Like I said, I wanted to take it easy but not this easy.

First of all, it’s cold, so I need to move to generate body heat. Secondly, I think most of the runners this morning have maybe not-so-great headlamps, so they might be taking it easy because they literally can not see. I’ve got this bad ass 370 lumen Petzl MYO that just lights up the night, my suggestion to you if you plan on running in the dark is to get something that will stun a deer. 110 lumens is cool and all, but that sort of headlamp is for looking for stuff in your garage.

Anyway, it took about three miles to finally break into a clearing where I could actually run. This would be my biggest (and only) mistake of the day, not starting more towards the front. It cost me about 5-6 minutes.

I always second guess myself, thinking I don’t belong towards the front of the race before we start, like I haven’t earned that right by now. In my three other east coast races I’ve run I’ve finished somewhere in the top 20, I really should be right around there a mile into the race. Oh well, mental note for next time.

So my nutrition plan on the day was primarily to just sip on Coke and water all day. Hey, it worked at Bimblers, it might work here. I also had a bunch of those delicious Huma gels, they’re like real fruit puree with chia seeds, super tasty. I also made a bunch of rice balls and had a few packets of Tailwind on hand. I bought a liter of Coke and let it go flat in my fridge the days before the race, and kept it back at my drop bag.

We got freezing rain-slash-hailed on for a few minutes (I’m telling you, it was cold) somewhere in the early going, that was unexpected.

I spent a few miles running with a woman named Lauren through the first aid station, then was on my own to watch the sun rise, a little over an hour in. A really cool mist hung over the swamp, giving it an eerie effect among the pinkish glow of the sunrise. Alright, Massachusetts, you’re pretty cool.

The first loop came and went, it was still pretty cold. I wanted to do each loop in about two hours to have a reasonable shot at going under eight hours and I came through in 2:07, so I’m going to chalk up those seven minutes to being stuck in that conga line at the beginning, and I just let it go, nothing to do about it now.

I’ll just churn out loop #2 in 2:00 and see what I have for loops 3 and 4. There’s still a lot of race to go and I feel really good, so let’s not get all sucked in to racing just yet. Loop two was still pretty cold, but slowly warming up. I had on a short-sleeve tech shirt underneath a long sleeve tech shirt, a faux wool winter hat (H&M, $7, I jam econo), REI winter running gloves and a neck buff. The sun still wasn’t out and that was good.

Again, a pretty uneventful loop, finished that one in exactly two hours. 25 miles in 4:07 and feeling very, very good. I took a long time at the drop bags here, got rid of the long sleeve and hat and grabbed a trucker cap, finished the rest of the flat Coke, grazed the aid station feed table and was out. I thought I’d be able to replicate another 2-hour loop for #3, so I just tried to keep the effort as even as possible.

...and some Willowdale fire road.

…and some Willowdale fire road.

I also grabbed my iPod since the field had really thinned out by now and I had been running alone for a while. I knew that loop three was where I needed to be smart- if I ran it too hard, the 40s would be a sufferfest. Looking back at my GPS data, this loop had the most consistent splits of the day. I was both actively engaged in deep concentration AND kind of zoning out to the music. I knew the pain cave usually shows up for me somewhere around mile 35.

Luckily the pain didn’t show up until the 4th loop, somewhere around mile 41-ish. I’m going to credit my “five days per week core and stretching routine” to that, usually my hips and glutes are absolutely blasted after 50-milers, but they didn’t hurt at all. Especially on a rolling course like this, there weren’t any huge climbs or descents so I was able to have a pretty even gait. I usually don’t do well in races that have a lot of running, I like to power hike the ups, it sort of recharges my battery. I literally charged every hill in the race until the end. That was weird.

Anyway, back to loop #3- I just kept drinking Coke as my main fuel source, I can’t believe this stuff works as well as it does for me right now. Maybe because I never drink soda outside of races- I mean, one 16-oz bottle of Coke has something like 12 teaspoons of sugar in it, that’s insane. That’s about two gels per one bottle of Coke- I usually take 2 gels per hour so I was drinking about 12-16 ounces of Coke per hour supplemented with shots of Gatorade here and there.

After overloading my stomach at Bighorn on “real” food earlier this summer, I learned that I’m pretty much a liquid calorie kind of bro. I used to do Vitargo but even that stuff was too “heavy”, I even tried doing really watered-down solutions, it never really sat right. I tried Ucan, it’s okay, but same thing as Vitargo, just didn’t sit well. I think my body needs just straight up crappy junk food when I’m racing. Or watermelon. Basically, liquid calories with water.

Then that thing happened again, where I had to pee a lot. Started around mile 33 or so, right before the two “big” climbs (about 125 and 95 feet, respectively). I also was passing a ton of the marathoners here, they were close to finishing their second loop (we had a 15-minute head start on them) and a trail angel (whose name I forget, sorry!) gave me a salted caramel Gu, totally got me going strong through the end of the loop. I got that one done in 2:05, having lost maybe 3 minutes to all the extra pee stops in the last 40 minutes (maybe 4?), seriously it was like every ten minutes.

Okay, 37.5 miles done. One more loop. I knew I was probably over-hydrated and under-salted. I grabbed a bunch of salt pills from my drop bag, did 50% Coke, 25% ginger ale and 25% water in my handheld and was off.

I saw 6:12 on the clock and thought, “can I do this last loop in 1:48?” If I could stop peeing every ten minutes I’d be cutting it close, I thought that the amount of fatigue I had accumulated was adding up and that a 1:55 was totally doable- I had that feeling in my legs that’s sort of just between a dull ache and a full-blown pain cave. I was wishing I was already in the cave so I knew exactly what I’d be working with for the next 2 hours.

I felt like I was at mile 20 of a road marathon; the wheels were readying themselves to come off. I welcome this moment in every race, this is where I learn about what I’m made of. Gut check time.

So the next maybe hour or so I was stopping to pee every 10-15 minutes, maybe 5-6 times and then I was suddenly okay- I wouldn’t pee again until my drive home on the Mass Turnpike. I was just drinking too much water. I had to find the line to where I’d be just hydrated enough, so at the next aid station I again did a mix of 3-to-1 Coke to water. I think I forgot about salt and electrolytes because food, salty or otherwise, was just so unappealing to me all day. I usually can do salty potatoes or chips or even bacon but today I wanted no parts of the actual chewing of food. Gels, de-fizzed Coke, un-naturally colored Gatorade- was my jam for the duration. I had these rice balls made up but never touched them.

Anyway, last loop was carnage time. I passed a few runners that were just running out of steam. I entered that pain cave at around mile 42, had a few minutes where it was just really rough- got passed by a guy that looked as fresh as a daisy. I tried to latch on to him but that wasn’t going to happen, I just had to go it alone. I looked at my watch: 7:15. Seven hours and fifteen minutes. Probably wasn’t going to cover the last 8-ish miles in 45 minutes, but I could really make myself hurt trying.

So that’s what I did.

Almost every runner I came up on from behind would turn their heads when they heard me grunting and yelping. It wasn’t a “hey I’m coming for you” battle cry, it was more of a “oh this hurts so fucking bad right now” and “dude, sorry, I might actually die on or near you”. Yeah.

When I passed them I said “good job, bro” but probably sounded like “gahut jaharb bahrooh”. I basically felt how Richard Nixon looked. I did straight Coke (no water) at the last aid station and was basically chugging it while burping and spilling it all over myself the last 4 miles.

I hammered those last two little climbs, still passing runners, I probably looked like hell. At the top of the first climb eight hours came and went, I would not go under. I had about 2 miles to go and figured, hey- if I can go under 8:20 that’s faster than 10 minute miles. I was gonna PR by a lot so I really tried to enjoy these last two miles, fighting back tears as I usually do at the end of 50-milers and longer, because dammit- these are hard.

They just break you down physically and emotionally and sometimes the only thing that fixes that is to just finish- it’s a raw and visceral experience that is really hard to explain. It’s like eating psilocybin mushrooms, you just gotta try it to understand it. I’m not suggesting taking mind-altering drugs (or am I?) but I am suggesting finding your limit, whether it’s something that scares the shit out of you or trying something you thought you’d never do and pushing past that into unknown territory.

The greatest thing about being broken down physically and emotionally is it leaves you just vulnerable enough to get filled up spiritually. That’s probably the closest I’ll ever get to god; yes, with a little “g” for me, sorry- I’m not a believer (yet). But that’s also the reason I do these sorts of adventures. Maybe that’s what I’m searching for out there.

I also really like myself when I’m running long and I really like other people- the part-time curmudgeon and sometimes road rager we all descend into just doesn’t work out there. I’ll try to offer gels and electrolytes to other runners and always thank the volunteers. I mean, you kind of have to like yourself because that’s a long time to spend with just you. It’s also a good idea to like other people because they’re there to help- they’ve always enhanced my experience somehow. There’s been times when I’ve rolled into an aid station and have literally had all five people there attending to me. That’s gotta be what a rockstar feels like.

So we’re all out there, running, sort of orbiting around each other, passing in and out of the peripherals- but an ultra is ultimately going to be you, alone, preferably in the woods, for a very long time. I had a long time in the Massachusetts woods to think about things, to think about why I do this sort of thing.

Chances are if you’ve read this far you’re a runner of long distances as well, and you’ve had some time to ponder this.

If not, keep searching, keep trying. Hopefully I’ll meet you out there.

Strava link to race data

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