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Saturday, August 24, 2019

2019 Eastern States 100



PA Triple Crown Finisher Award Display

It’s been a little over a week since Eastern States (ES) 100 as I begin to write this and now that my sodden, pungent clothing and gear has been cleaned and the wounds are for the most part healed I am beginning to have a greater appreciation for how my day there played out. I went in with a single goal that I thought was well within reach given the year I had thus far. The goal was simple, finish in less time than it took me in 2017 (27:17:24). This would also ensure a faster cumulative time for the 2019 Pennsylvania Triple Crown Series over my 2017 time for the series (47:47:36). Since I had finished both Worlds End 100k and Hyner 50k faster in 2019 than 2017, this goal seemed well within reach. However, the uncertainty of the 100 mile distance and how things can go south at any point was a constant concern for me. Excessive worrying about the potential for things to fall apart may be what ultimately led to me failing to reach my goal. 

Pretty early in the race. Photo credit:  Joseph Hess
For about two weeks leading up to the race I was feeling extremely anxious, more so and for a longer period before the race than I have ever experienced in any other lead up to a race. Adding to my trepidation was a work trip that I had scheduled for the week just before race weekend. I would be flying back to Philadelphia Friday around noon, then getting picked up by my wife to make the remainder of the drive to Little Pine State Park. I packed my two drop bags and everything I would need at the start the weekend before the race then worried all week hoping I hadn’t forgotten anything. By the time the work week was over and I was picking up my bib at registration the relief I was expecting didn’t wash over me. I had my stuff ready a week prior, managed to get there without any flight delays interfering with my travel plans, and now all I had to do was run 103 miles on the rugged trails of the PA Wilds. I guess there was still good reason to have a fair amount of nervous excitement.

Lower Pine Bottom AS, Mile 17.8
Thankfully, I managed to get a pretty solid night’s sleep before the 5am start, but at the starting line the jitters were still present. I did my best to deal with them in hopes that they would subside once I got on the trail and put a few miles behind me. Everything went well for the first 50k or so. I knew what pace I had to keep to meet my goal and I was staying ahead of that pace and feeling comfortable doing it. The climbs didn’t seem as bad as I had remembered and my quads were handling them well. It almost seemed like it was too easy this trip around Pine Creek. It was shortly after AS5 (Happy Dutchman) that I got hit with my first blow when I realized my watch had led me astray. The actual mileage at AS5 is 31.6. My watch, which has otherwise always been reliable and pretty accurate, was reporting that I had covered a little over 36 miles. I was focusing on only getting aid station to aid station so I was mostly just using my total mileage to see how much farther to the next aid station. When the signage at AS5 showed the mileage to the next AS as 6.9 and I used the inaccurate information on my watch that would put me at about 43 miles total. That was a significant mile marker as it is the second crewed AS, Hyner Run. I got excited that I would get to see my wife and boys again and it felt so soon since I had just seen them at the first crewed aid station. Mileage and the next aid station came up in conversation with a couple other runners and when their watches synced I realized mine was off and there was one more AS between us and the next crewed AS. It was a bit shocking at the time, but I tried to comfort myself by saying I was happy to find out early how far my watch was off rather than later. However, later in the race while talking to one of the other runners that helped me realize my error, he would tell me that my face showed a bit of a soul crushed reaction when I realized it was my watch that was off.

One of the early climbs. Photo Credit:  Tomas Castillo
With that minor mishap out of the way early, the rest of the daylight hours of the race rolled by pretty pleasantly for the most part. I don’t know if it was due to the low temperatures we had on race day or just my misconstrued recollection of the course, but my second time running ES I was shocked by how much of the course felt runnable. The majority of my memories of the ES course was super technical descents intermixed with steep, rocky climbs. This time though,outside of two big early climbs (just before AS1, Ramsey Rd. and just after AS3, Lower Pine Bottom) the bulk of the first half of the course was feeling runnable. And I was running the bulk of it and staying on my target pace even after I adjusted for my watch’s misinformation without feeling like I was pushing myself even near the point where I thought a blow up was a possibility.

Another AS stop.
A second mishap started emerging or at least giving indications of larger problems about the same time as when my watch mishap was discovered. This mishap began with some slight discomfort around the bottom elastic of my hydration vest. I was wearing the same vest and same shirt that I have worn for 100ks and 100 milers in the past with only minor chafing issues, but this time around those minor chafing issues became exasperated and caused major chafing that was never resolved no matter how much or what kind of lube I threw at it. Since the equipment and clothing was the same, the only explanation I can come up with is that I was carrying more weight in the vest than I had ever packed before. I had trained with Science in Sport (SIS) gels all season and wanted to use them for the race so I packed 10 in my vest at the start and had 10 replacements in each of my drop bags. Also, I wasn’t positive gels would be available at every AS. Ten gels may not sound like much additional weight, but SIS gels are roughly about twice the volume of standard energy gels making a bit bulkier to carry and nearly doubling the weight. The best guess I have at this point is that the extra weight/volume in the vest made it fit and move differently than any time I’ve worn it in the past. Ultimately leading to some terribly painful chafing. I like to think I’m not one to complain about the little stuff, but this turned into a steady distracting pain from about the halfway point to the finish. I also like to think I’m not one to blame equipment for my failures, but in this situation the equipment had a major impact on my focus and overall mindset. I never thought about quitting because my sides had been rubbed raw by my pack, but the pain constantly pulled my focus off of running and moving efficiently to just thinking about taking this pack off as soon as possible.

The worst of my chafing.
The watch incident and the chafing issue are the only two concrete items I can point to that led to me falling off of my target pace, neither of which I truly deem responsible. I was ahead of my intended pace for a 27 hour finish at AS9, Halfway House (54.7 miles), but somewhere between there and AS14, Blackwell (80.3 miles) where I was picking up a pacer and had my next time goal calculated I was well over an hour behind where I wanted to be. It was strange because I never felt completely exhausted, but had this strange feeling of never feeling like I was pushing myself to the limit and always running overly safe without getting out of my comfort zone. In retrospect, it seems like I was so concerned about blowing up that I never pushed to my full potential for the day. Usually with hundred milers I feel like I get into some kind of singular focus and survival mentality, only concentrating on getting to the finish as quickly as possible. For whatever reason, that switch never got flipped this time.

A power hug from my youngest!
Even with my time goal out of reach and twenty some miles to go, I was excited to pick up a pacer at Blackwell. It was my first time using a pacer. It wasn’t the situation I had envisioned of being on pace and having my pacer push me to the finish ahead of pace, but he was able to up my morale and that of the couple other runners I had spent the majority of the night with. I will admit, we had a bit of a pity party on the trail overnight and it likely would have continued the rest of dark early morning hours if we were not joined by a pacer. With a bit of fresh energy provided by our pacer, Kurt Foster, we picked our pace up for the respectable climb out of Blackwell. Kurt continued to push our pace for the remainder of the race, reminding us every time the trail was runnable. With my time goal a lost cause, he kept me from basically giving up and walking it in, pushing me to earn a finish time that I could be proud of.

At AS11, Slate Run, 63.8 miles.
We grinded our way in the dark to the next AS, Skytop. It was a little tough mentally to leave this one because the crew there was so accommodating and we knew the stretch to the next AS was one of the longer ones of the race. Without getting too comfortable, we ushered ourselves out and pushed on. Thanks to Kurt, our pass through the second to last AS, Barrens, was one of our fastest. We refilled bottles, grabbed food, and were out in probably 1-2 minutes. We were as fast if not fastest passing through Hacketts, the final AS. With only about four miles left, not much was needed and the excitement to finish was peaking, at least I thought.

At packet pick up.
Shortly after leaving Hacketts near the top of the final climb of the course we heard a runner coming up behind us quick. Kurt turned to me and said something along the lines of “you don’t wanna get passed just a couple miles from the finish.” I replied by saying that I wasn’t sure if I have anything left. The Kurt said something that finally lit a spark at the time. He basically said even if I attempted to outrun him for the last two miles and still got passed, then I could just walk it in and still get the same result even if I hadn’t made the effort. For whatever reason, at the time that got me to dig and give it my best effort to stay in front of this other runner. That’s when things finally started to become fun again. I was moving and feeling good. Before I knew it, I caught sight of a runner ahead of me. We passed him. Now things were getting really exciting for the finish and the final gnarly descent of the course. In the last two miles or so, we passed four runners. It amazed me that we were so close to these other runners and without that little spark provided by Kurt, I would have contentedly shuffled in to the finish after them.

My 2019 finish!
I crossed the finish line at 28:46:52, a full hour and almost 47 minutes after when I had intended to finish. At the beginning of this report I wrote that I failed. I may come off sounding like a bit of a jerk or a real pessimist by saying that I wasn’t entirely pleased with this finish. It’s easy to say that any 100 miler finish, especially a tough 100 mile course like ES, is something you should be proud of. However, after assessing how my legs felt during that last steep downhill this year compared to two years ago, I knew I had more left in me at the finish this year. In 2017 I was desperately bouncing from tree to tree to keep from going into an out of control tumble down the incline. This time, although my quads were screaming, I was bombing the downhill mostly in control. The fact that the spark to push harder earlier never happened is what I was really disappointed about. The “what if”s were what bothered me. After a few weeks to digest it all, I still can’t say that I’m not a bit disappointed that this final piece of my PA Triple Crown Series goal didn’t fall into place like I had hoped, but I can say that I am proud of the finish and to have completed the full series for a second time.


Getting my chafing patched up at the finish!

August 24, 2019
Scott Snell

2 comments:

  1. Saw this posted on Running Blogs on my Twitter and a great accomplishment. Was hoping to run a 100 miler this year, but never materialized. So amazing how much of a morale booster your pacer was. Congratulations! :)

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    1. Thanks Carl! Picking up Kurt at Blackwell was a game changer for the last 23 miles or so. I just wish I had been where I wanted to be mentally and pace wise when I made it there, but we all know that things don't always go as planned during 100 milers. Are you looking at any 100 milers for next year?

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