Thanks for visiting my blog. This is where I document and share all of my running adventures with my friends and fellow runners. The good, the bad, and the unquestionably painful. All for your entertainment! Enjoy!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Dark and Dirty Nighttime Trail Race...Beer and Buddies

Jo and I ran in the Dark and Dirty nighttime trail race Saturday night. I'm hesitant to refer to it as a race, but there certainly are some people that show up to "race", while the majority of the runners come to drink beer. 

I went to a party and a trail race broke out!

This is one of the many fine, yet challenging events, put on by Pretzel City Sports. These are the trails where I ran my first trail race and the same trails where I ran my first ultra. Running here is like coming home. And that feeling is reinforced by the closeness shared among most of the runners. We really are like a big family...without the fights and other abuse that some families inflict on each other. 

After a tough week, I was happy to be among my favorite people.

Jo and I arrived early so we could socialize and partake in a pre-race happy hour. I killed a 6 pack while waiting for the race to start.

Jo and our dear friend Kelly Murdock. Kelly is a top female runner (with a guys name)

Jo and I were also joined by our friend "Flat Bart". Flat Bart is the miniature cardboard likeness of our friend Bart Yasso and he will be accompanying us to the rest of our races this year.  They look cute together!

Flat Bart getting frisky with Jo. Real Bart is in the background, clearly jealous of his little friends amorous adventures.

In an attempt to cover his bases, Ron Horn advertised 3 different start times for this race. And we weren't close to any of them by the time we actually got started. If nothing else, Ron is consistent.

Right before the start

Jo settled into the pack closer to the rear and I picked a spot about 10 feet from the front. That felt about right. 

We started by running down the driveway to the park, then around a nearby lake on a wide path. This helped thin us out slightly, but as soon as we hit the single track, we were bottlenecked. I expected this and rode it out. I wasn't in a hurry so I settled in.

This course has always been somewhat easier than the other PCS events. I always assumed they did this because we were running in the dark and that in itself provides enough added difficulty. I can only assume that Ron was disappointed by the low casualty rate, so he "enhanced" the course this year by routing us through much more technical terrain.

We quickly hit a number of very steep and rocky ascents. A lot of ambitious front runners immediately faded. I kept a nice easy pace as I ran these hills, passing dozens of runners searching for air. I was sincerely concerned for many of them. But not enough to stop and check on them. There are plenty of people behind me that can handle the body recovery duties.

I was having a blast and was running comfortably when we hit the first aid station. Ron stated this was located at 2.75 miles. Then he revised that and said it was at 2.85 miles. Without exception, every Garmin I saw measured it at 3.4 miles. So Ron was pretty close! For Ron.

I stopped and drank two cups of water and chatted with the aid station crew, many of which are friends. I eventually bid a farewell and headed on my way.

The next section presented more of the same type of trail. A few long fast sections, sprinkled with some serious up and downs, all pretty technical.

I ran this section quickly. Not because I was interested in getting a good time, but more interested in HAVING a good time. There was fun to be had at the Pagoda!

The Pagoda all lit up

I can see the Pagoda glowing in the night sky! One more hill!

I bypassed the traditional water stop and walked right to the beer table and settled in for a prolonged visit. This is a truly welcome and glorious sight!

Beer #5. It tasted just as good as the first one!

The beer stop makes me smile. I love these people!

Jo had been running with our friend Jo Kappus. They took some time to pause and enjoy the beer stop too. These girls are all about the party!

No rush! Have a beer!

After getting my fill of beer, I headed off into the woods for the last mile to the finish. 

Evidently, the beer stop added a level of difficulty for a lot of runners, because they were tripping and falling all around me. This last mile has some steep downhill and I was seriously worried that I would be taken out by an avalanche of drunken runners washing down the hill behind me. I ran for my life!

I eventually crossed the finish line, then went in search of a beer.

Jo and Jo crossing the finish line! 

Smile Girls!

Once we got the race out of the way, we were able to really start having fun. The weather was excellent and we all sat outside and shared beers, ate stale hot dogs, and enjoyed each other's company.

Kelly and Gary are great friends and excellent runners. Kelly finished 3rd female overall and 1st in her age group. Kelly is an amazing runner and always finishes near the front. I'm constantly impressed by her abilities.

Fun friends, Kyle and Daria. Kyle finished 18th overall! A very impressive run. Daria was there to support her man.

Just hanging!

 We continued to enjoy our beer and camaraderie outside under the stars, until somebody called the police. Evidently, loud drunken polka music, laced with deeply offensive language, annoys the neighbors.

Honey Badger don't care! We'll just take the party inside!!!

A few minutes after midnight, we realized it was now Kelly's birthday. And is there any better way to celebrate than to sing Happy Birthday accompanied by a drunken accordion player? I submit that there isn't!

In my mind, races like this optimize everything I love about trail running. The idea for me is to simply have fun, while pushing your body through some demanding conditions. It's as much about friendship as it is about sport. We had a fantastic time, as we always do at PCS races.

I'll be running the Old Dominion 100 in a couple weeks, so now is the time to rest and get my mind right for that adventure. There's a lot to do between now and then.

Happy Trails!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Zion 100: Lessons Learned...The Hard Way

For the first time in my running career, I felt the stinging sensation that comes with dropping out of a race. DNF...three very bitter letters.

Leading up to the race, I felt great. I was physically strong and mentally prepared. There was no indication that I would struggle in any way.

Yet...I still failed. In a big way. And it sucks.

Race morning was very typical. We went through our usual motions, getting all my gear organized, getting dressed in my race garb, and headed to the start line in Virgin, Utah.

Me and Jo at the start line race morning.

Listening to the race briefing.

Lined up and Ready to go!

I knew the weather would be HOT. It had been in the mid 90's on the days leading up to the race and race day wasn't going be any cooler.

In anticipation of this, I elected to run with a hydration pack, which is something I never do, but I knew I would need to carry more fluids than normal. In addition to the pack, I was carrying one handheld bottle.

Aside from the extreme heat, I was also aware that aid stations would be 8-10 miles apart, and we would be fully exposed to the sun all day because there simply isn't any shade in the desert.

The race started at 6:00 AM just as the sun began to rise. It was cool and comfortable as we set off into the desert.

The race started along a rolling dirt road that took us toward the mesa that we would climb within the first few miles of the race. This is a daunting climb on narrow single track.

A look down the trail. This is 1/4 of the way to the top.

A view from the climb, near the top.

This ascent is steep and grueling, but I still felt good, or as good as I could feel under the circumstances. It was warming up quickly and I was getting a taste of things to come.

I eventually topped out, shook my legs off and began to run again.

Not something you see every day. Headed to Flying Monkey aid station!

After cresting the mesa, we still had a couple miles before the first aid station. By this time, my pack and handheld bottle we nearly empty. We followed a dirt road uphill, headed toward aid. 

Leaving the first aid station, we ran along the top of the mesa on a wide dirt road. By this time, the sun was beating down on us and the wind was blowing hard. This was a powerful headwind that slowed my pace. Aside from slowing me, it was also drying me out terribly. My sweat was doing nothing to cool me because it would evaporate before it had appreciable benefit. I drank heavily in this section.

View from the mesa.

A view from on top and a shot of our "trail"

This was a 10 mile stretch between aid stations. When we finally reached it at mile 18.5, I was out of fluids. I refilled everything, ate some food from the table, and headed out.

It was at this aid station that I knew it would be a tough day. There were 3 runners laying under a bush, trying to find shade. 18.5 miles in and there were already victims.

After leaving the aid station, we followed a narrow trail toward the edge of the mesa and started to make our way down a very steep and technical descent. 

The footing was terrible so they had ropes and spotters stationed along the way.

YES! This is our trail!

We eventually made it back to the valley floor and navigated 9 miles of rolling desert terrain. Again, we were running under the scorching sun with no opportunity to cool off or get aid.

This is where I really began to struggle. I had been drinking water, small amounts of Gatorade and taking salt tabs. My clothes were bone dry, but stiff from all the dry salt. I could feel that I was falling behind with my hydration and struggled to keep up.

I slowed significantly and focused on my body. I've hit low points in races and I've bounced back with great success. As we got closer to the aid station at mile 27, my stomach began to rebel. I was extremely thirsty, weak, and was about to launch my guts on the trail.

These are all new experiences for me. and I didn't like it.

I made it into the aid station at mile 27 and did something I've never done at an aid station before. I sat down in a chair.

I promised myself I would stay there until I began to feel better. I grabbed a friend that was heading out of the aid station and told him to tell Jo that I was staying at 27 for a while. I knew Jo was waiting for me at mile 35 and I didn't want her to worry. I was well off my typical race pace and about 45 minutes off my race plan.

I hydrated and tried to eat for 30 minutes. I regained some strength and pushed on.

Leaving this aid station we had a long run on a paved highway. The heat radiating from the asphalt was intense. I continued to drink heavily, but still began to deteriorate.

I was now frustrated and worried. I had never felt so bad in a race and I couldn't control my degrading condition. I was doing everything I could to get the upper hand but all my efforts were falling short.

Mile 35 was the first crew access point in the race. I've never run an ultra where I had to wait for 35 miles to see my crew and now I was beginning to doubt that I would make it that far. But I had no choice but to keep moving in that direction.

Along with Jo, I had a pacer waiting for me. My boss, and good friend, lives in the area and I had invited him to run with me for a short section in the race. Bob is a fantastic guy and a wonderful mentor. I had been looking forward to sharing this adventure with him, but was really disappointed in what I was going to put him through in my condition.

I rounded the corner and could see the aid station ahead. Bob was waiting for me up the trail and fell in with me to run to the aid station.

Me and Bob heading to mile 35.

Getting weighed.

Bob cooling me down with sponges and ice water.

I had lost 8 pounds at this point.

I informed my crew that I was in a desperate situation and needed to stay at the aid station while I worked on gaining the upper hand on my failing condition. I stayed at the aid station for 30 minutes. I drank liberally and tried to eat, but I was having trouble getting calories in me. My voice was almost gone due to dehydration, my stomach was in knots and I simply felt like shit.

I eventually began to feel stronger and my voice returned. We packed up and headed out.

Me and Bob leaving the aid station.

We ran well for a while and managed to pass several runners. But it didn't take long before I began to slip back into that feeling of physical depletion.

Now I began to get really worried. I was taking my time on the trail. I was working on my body extensively at the aid stations. But things continued to get worse with each passing minute.

We had a 7 mile run to the next aid station and once again, we were running in the convection oven.

This is when I began to think I would have no choice but to drop from the race. I kept my concerns to myself and tried to occupy my mind by talking to Bob. We talked about work, our families, our hobbies...almost anything except my failing body. Bob knew I was hurting and he tried to help me in every imaginable way. He was a saint and my temporary savior.

I would guess that most people don't want to show weakness to their boss. But here I was exposing myself in my weakest and most depleted and desperate condition. I was a total mess and as weak as an infant. I felt pathetic.

We finally made it to the mile 42 aid station. When we arrived, it looked like a triage center. Every chair was filled with a savaged runner. The aid station workers were overwhelmed with the workload. Suffering runners were scattered everywhere.

Once again, I found a place to sit and began licking my wounds.

I drank as much as I could. I got some ginger in me for my stomach. I tried every trick to get my body temperature to drop. I was in bad shape.

But I couldn't eat. I tried to force food into my stomach, but it wasn't working. I drank more and waited longer.

I eventually managed to wash down ONE saltine cracker, but it only made me feel worse.

I knew my day was ending at that point.

After leaving this aid station, we would have a 5 mile run back to the mesa, then have a 1500 foot ascent over 1.5 miles. I would be without aid for more than 9 miles during this time.

There was no way I would make it that distance over that terrain without the ability to take in much needed calories.

I drug myself out of my chair and told Bob I was done.

This was the hardest thing I had ever done. I was physically and mentally destroyed and now I was admitting total weakness and defeat.

Bob gave me encouragement and support. His kind words will hang with me forever.

Bob was planning to part ways with me at 45.5 and our wives would be there to pick him up. So we decided to run out to that point and get a ride with them.

We headed out toward my ultimate defeat.

Me and Bob coming in to 45.5. The end of my day.

I announced to Jo that I was done. She knew I was in trouble and was very supportive. I wasn't going to see her again until mile 69 if I had chosen to continue and we were both worried about what would happen during those miles. Dropping was the only smart answer.

Me and Jo right after I dropped.

We still had a long hike to get out and we all walked quietly toward the car. Jo and I held hands, but there wasn't much to say.


As I write this, I'm still can't pinpoint exactly where I made my mistake. Proper hydration was the problem, but I felt like I drank constantly. My pack carried 1.5 liters and I had a 22 oz. bottle. I nearly depleted them between every aid station. I used my Endurolytes and ate proper foods. Nonetheless, whatever I was doing wasn't working.

It hurt me that the aid stations were so far apart. 8-10 miles is too far in these conditions. It was also a problem for me that my first crew access point was at 35 miles and my second would have been mile 69. I get a lot of support from Jo and knowing that I'll see her soon always keeps me moving forward. And the special treatment I get from my crew always makes the race easier.

Every aid station was packed with hurting runners. I know there were people experiencing the same issues I was. Some dropped and I'm sure some continued on. But I had never seen this amount of carnage in any race.

Yes...I could have carried on. This thought will haunt me forever. I had ample time to finish the race, even in my condition. But the thought of real damage prevented me from doing this. If this was my first 100, I might have kept going, thinking this was normal. But I know better. I know how I feel in a 100, and this was not right. Something was seriously wrong and I was damaged somehow.

During the last few miles before committing to my DNF, I struggled silently with the decision, fighting off overwhelming emotion. It's not something I could take lightly. I had always been a strong and capable runner and I never even entertained a DNF in the past. I didn't even know how to process the thoughts.

I'll spend time studying my race and my failure. I hope to find a way to avoid it in the future and come out of it as a stronger, more capable runner. 

I still have a lot of big races coming up. I'll be back to redeem myself and push this horrible failure into the background of my running career.

Thanks to everyone for their support and kind words. And special thanks to Jo, who is always there to care for all my needs on the trail. And an extra special thanks to Bob and Kathy Carter. I never would have made it as far as I did without them. They're truly wonderful and loving people.

On to the next adventure! Happy Trails.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Potomac River Run: Jo Makes Her Debut!

I think it should be mentioned that ultra runners are not the easiest people to live with sometimes. And if you happen to be married to one, and you express a deep desire to run a marathon, things around the house can get interesting.

Jo had been wanting to run a marathon for a long time and I really wanted to help her make that happen. However, being a typical married couple, she wasn't really interested in having me tell her how to do ANYTHING. This is the same woman that has cheered for me at dozens of marathons and ultra marathons. She's seen me finish some gnarly 100 mile races. She's seen me finish top 5 and top 10 in some rocky, root, nasty ultras...but she wants to go her own way with this marathon training thingy!

I took Jo out to our favorite bar in Manayunk for a healthy and sensible pre race meal. This is something I feel like I know a lot about, so she was actually willing to follow my lead on this.

This is our dinner from Lucky's Last Chance, located on Main Street. The best food ever...I swear!

Her burger is topped with mounds of Mac-N-Cheese. Mine with bacon, egg, and cheese. And of course, a huge mound of greasy fries covered in cheese sauce. And several cold beers to wash it all down!!!

Carbs...fat...protein...yeah, it's all there!

Fast forward to race morning...

Jo says, "I'm pretty nervous because I really slacked off during my training. I hope I finish."


I agreed to pace Jo for the entire race. We were in this together. The good, the bad, and the painful.

Pre Race Pic!

Start Line!

After waking up at 2:00 AM and driving to Carderock, MD, we found ourselves at the start line of Jo's marathon. I was equipped with a HUGE waste pack that housed 2 water bottles, about 300 pounds of gels, chapstick, gum, and of course...the camera. I looked like a Japanese tourist packing all that shit around.

The race started promptly at 6:30. The entire race is run on the C&O Canal Towpath along the Potomac River. This is a FREAKING DOUBLE OUT AND BACK!!!! Meaning, we run approximately 6.5 miles out, turn around and go back to the start. Then turn around and do the same thing over again. Not my favorite race format, but it does break the race up a bit mentally.

Jo, right before we were OFF!

As we crossed the start line, Jo was running a pretty aggressive pace. I suggested we slow up a bit....

Jo didn't want to.

I explained a pacing strategy that I had in mind.

She had her own plan.

I was eager to listen and be sensitive, while trying to get her to comply with my will. If all else fails, she's getting pushed in the river.

In the early miles, I floated around, dropping back to chat with other runners, then running ahead to take pictures of Jo while she still looked fresh.

The early miles...somewhere around mile 2. All smiles and optimism. GO JO!

As we kept running, I was watching her splits closely. She was clocking splits at a pretty aggressive pace still. I was a bit worried, but didn't want to be pushy. I just kept her fueled and hydrated.

I would tell her exactly when to take a gel, often running up ahead, tearing it open and handing it to her right before an aid station. I told her what to drink and how much. 

As fatigue set in, she was less willing to disagree to anything. I was winning through physical depletion. A few more miles and she would be putty in my hands!

My plan is similar to when parents wear their kids out so they'll shut up and go to bed. This tactic even works with adults!

Aid station on the first leg of the race. She's still feeling pretty spunky in this picture.

We made it to the turnaround much sooner than I expected. Shortly after we started heading back, Jo was complaining of stomach issues. SERIOUS stomach issues. I could see she was in distress and I really began to worry. I tried to assess how fatal this might be, but kept encouraging her.

Eventually, this tummy problem began to threaten her race. I began telling her about all the horrific and painful crap that I've dealt with while running. This didn't comfort her.

At mile 12, she mentioned dropping from the race when we got back to the start line. At first I told her it was a good idea. I was hoping to frustrate and embarrass her, but my plan backfired. She agreed to drop and said she would wait while I finished.

I nearly shit myself! I had to change my tactic. What I wanted to say was "You're finishing this race no matter what! If I have to drag your dead body for the next 13 miles, you WILL cross the finish line. I'll bury you with your finishers medal!!!" But what I said was this...."Let's make the turn, go to the restroom, let you get fueled, rehydrated, use the bathroom, and see how we feel then. OK?" I said this with my best Mr. Rogers smile. 

She agreed. Thank God!

When we reached the half marathon mark, I pointed out to Jo that she had just set a new half marathon PR!!! During her marathon! That's pretty bad ass! This lifted her spirits some. And I was impressed!

This is the last of THREE major potty breaks during the race.

After a while, she began to feel much better and came back to life. She was more comfortable, but the miles were starting to wear on her in a big way.

Feeling better and looking good!

I can barely keep up! 

After making the turn at the 20 mile mark, Jo was pretty beat up. I had to start getting her to focus on little things to give her goals. Reminding her that distance running is like eating an elephant...you have to do it one piece at a time. I started giving her poles, trees, or aid stations to focus on, encouraging her to just worry about running to THAT spot. And she did.

This picture below, I'm encouraging Jo to pass a couple of old ladies out for their morning jog. Everything was fair game!

In the last 5 miles, I began ramping up my encouragement by pulling out some of my favorite lines from my pacer handbook. Here are a few of my favorites:

1. Jo! You're making this race your BITCH! Good job!
2. Damn woman! You're stomping the hell out of this course! Leave some for all the slow people behind you!
3. That's right Jo! Grab this race course by the throat and tell it who the boss is!!
4. Jo...1. Race...0.
5. Damn baby...I almost feel sorry for this race. You're making it look stupid!
6. WOW! Looks like somebody washed down a gel with a can of WHOOP ASS!

We hit a pretty rough patch around mile 23, and I realized my cheerleading had pretty well run it's course. We needed to buckle down and focus on the finish.

Jo was getting some pain in her side and it was slowing her down more than ever. I had already calculated her finish time in my head and I knew where we would be within a minute or two. I wasn't the least bit worried. But she was REALLY wanting to get to the finish.

As we got within a mile of the end, Jo came back to life. She was headed to the barn! This one was in the books and nothing could stop her from finishing her first marathon. She came back to life.

This is my wife at the 25.5 mile mark. She looks fresh, strong, and beautiful!

We rounded the last corner and could see the finish line. Jo dug deep and finished strong. We crossed the finish line, holding hands!!! She finished her first marathon in 4:55:10!!! I was so damn proud!


The aftermath...Jo was chafed, battered and blistered. But she survived. I'll coach her through recovery just like I did coaching her to the finish line. And she'll listen about as well...she's already ignored most of what I recommended. But I can't argue with "HER WAY" either, because she did it!

Jo's MONSTER blister! 

Jo surpassed my wildest expectations today. The longest run she's done all year is 13 miles. She probably ran 20 miles a week at THE MOST. She had never run more than 15 miles in her life. If she hadn't had to stop for the restroom so many times, she would have pulled a 4:40 with no problem. As far as I'm concerned, she KILLED it today!

With serious training, she would be unstoppable. 

Jo ran nearly every step of this race. She was tough and endured several difficult low points. She killed her half marathon PR, set a new marathon PR (which will fall soon enough) and she stuck with the lows and rode out the oncoming highs. She ran like a true veteran of the sport. She amazed me.

I enjoy working with runners and helping others. But it really is hard when it's your spouse. She lives with an ultra runner and has access to a lot of helpful information, yet we don't really discuss it often. We both just do our own thing. 

I've run a lot of really cool races and I've had my fair share of epic moments. But my race with Jo will forever be one of the proudest moments in my life. And I can't thank her enough for sharing it with me.

We're leaving on Wednesday, headed to Utah for the Zion 100. And it will be Jo's turn to take care of me. She's better at it than I am anyway.

Happy Trails!