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Showing posts with label adventure trail. Show all posts
Showing posts with label adventure trail. Show all posts

Friday, November 3, 2023

2023 October Monthly Mileage Check In

Scott snell beast coast trail bigs backyard

I racked up 385 miles last month with the majority of them during the Big’s Backyard Individual World Championships. The end of the race was a little bittersweet for me as I had hoped to stay in the race quite a bit longer than I did. At the same time, my final yard was one of the most intense pushes to complete a yard that I have ever made at a backyard. It was all the more enjoyable as I was working with Levi Yoder, teammate from the 2022 USA Backyard Team, for the last two miles or so of the yard and we made it in with just over two minutes to spare. Overall, the experience was great with the highlights being meeting so many talented backyard runners from around the world and being able to run with the majority of the 2022 USA Backyard Team again! What a great group that I look forward to running with again! Which leads me to my 2024 plans, or lack thereof. As of now, nothing is certain but going back to Big's for a second team competition year is certainly on my list of possibilities. Especially if my 75 yard performance at Capital this year holds up and is good enough for an at large spot on the team. For the rest of the year, well I'm still trying to figure that out.


3 November 2023

Scott Snell


Sunday, October 8, 2023

Big's Backyard - 2023 Individual Championship Poll - Full Results

 



On a bit of whim that popped in my head while running I decided to create a poll to gauge the backyard community’s thoughts on how they expect and how they would hope to see the 2023 Individual World Championship play out this year at Big’s Backyard. I shared the link to the poll in multiple Facebook groups, on several 𝕏 posts, and on the r/backyardultra subreddit. The poll asked six questions:

  1. Will a new course record be set this year at Big's Backyard?
  2. Will a new world record be set this year at Big's Backyard?
  3. How many yards will Big's Backyard go this year?
  4. Who do you want to see win?
  5. Who do you think will provide the assist?
  6. Who do you think will be the last one standing?

This poll was strictly for fun, and it has been quite fun to check in as the responses are received. As promised, here is a summary of the results. The full data set of results are available on this Google Sheet.

*In the interest of full disclosure, I submitted a response which is included in the results. *


Will a new course record be set this year at Big's?

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The overwhelming majority of respondents believe that a new course record will be set this year at Big’s. In fact, 90.5% of all responses were “Yes.” I didn’t look at the survey results on a regular schedule, but every time I did check the “Yes” responses hovered right around 90%.


Will a new world record be set this year at Big's?

Again, the majority of respondents are predicting a new world record will be set at Big’s. It is certainly a bit more balanced than the prediction for the course record with 56.2% responding “Yes” and 43.8% giving a “No” response. The results from this question fluctuated a bit more than the course record question. The first few times I checked results, it was pretty evenly split with close to 50/50 responses. It wasn’t until the last few days of the poll that the responses started leaning more heavily towards a “Yes” majority.



How many yards will Big's go this year?

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This question received the most evenly distribute responses of all the questions that had more than two options. Nearly all respondents (96.3%) agree that Big’s will go over 80 yards. The most common response was 81-95 yards which was selected by 20.4% of respondents. The second most common response was 106-110 with 19.7%. I’m not ruling out that Big’s will go over 120 yards, but I was surprised by how many people believe it will. The “greater than 120” response was the third most common tied with 96-100, each selected by 14.6% of respondents.


Who do you want to see win?

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Phil Gore, Jennifer Russo, and Harvey Lewis were the three stand out runners for this question receiving 16.1, 11.7, and 10.9% of the total responses. I assume that most runners who responded to this poll selected themselves for this question, I unabashedly admit I did and can understand why. What I don’t understand is why anyone would select “No winner” for this question, but there it is with 1.5% of the responses received. 


Who do you think will provide the assist?

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Selected by over 60% of respondents, four runners were picked as the strong favorites to provide the assist this year at Big’s: Phil Gore (16.8%), Harvey Lewis (15.3%), Merijn Geerts (14.6%), and Sam Harvey (13.9%). 


Who do you think will be the last one standing?

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I think it comes as no surprise to anyone that the most picked runner to be the last one standing is the current backyard ultra world record holder, Phil Gore, selected by 29.2% of all respondents. Also not surprisingly, former co-backyard ultra world record holder, Merijn Geerts was picked second most frequently. Geerts was selected by 16.1% of all respondents. A close third, selected by 13.1% of all respondents, was Sam Harvey who provided the assist to Phil Gore this year at Dead Cow Gully Backyard where the current world record was set. Former world record holder, current US record holder, and Big’s Backyard course record holder, Harvey Lewis, was selected by 9.5% of all respondents making him the fourth most selected runner to be the last one standing. A result that I found surprising was that Ivo Steyaert, former co-backyard ultra world record holder with Geerts, was only selected by 3.6% of respondents, barely ranking in the top 5 most frequently selected runners. 



Scott Snell

8 October, 2023

Friday, October 6, 2023

2023 September Monthly Mileage Check In

 

Scott Snell beastcoasttrail beast Coast trail

“Lord, grant that I may always desire more than I can accomplish.” — Michelangelo



I was pretty apprehensive about going into my training plan this September. It is the last full month of training leading up to Big’s Backyard and I had just missed my mileage training goal for August. I wasn’t sure how I would rebound from that missed mark. I felt like if it didn’t go well, I wouldn’t have a chance at Big’s to accomplish anywhere near what I hope to accomplish. Thankfully, with some perseverance and determination, September’s training went better than I ever expected and I bounced right back to where I hoped to be by the end of September. Not only did I hit my mileage goal of averaging at least 11 miles per day, I exceeded it by quite a bit averaging 12.49 miles per day with a total of 374.7 miles! Last year I averaged 10.2 miles per day for September; with the increase in training mileage this year I fully expect to have an improved performance at Big’s. Not only do I have the increased training boosting my confidence as I conclude my training and begin to gradually taper, but I also have the advantage this year of having experienced running through a third night in the backyard format during Capital Backyard Ultra (CBU). Having overcome the mental hurdle that accompanies running through a third night, I feel far more prepared this year than I did last year going into Big’s. Additionally, having been there last year, having a respectable performance, and then bettering my PR with a win at CBU, I finally feel like I’ve overcome the imposter syndrome that I felt last year at Big’s. I finally feel like I’ve earned my spot there. That is a much better mental space to be in when taking on a challenge that you fully expect to push you to your limit, testing you physically and mentally until either you break or succeed. And that is how I intend for Big’s to conclude, with either success or failure. 


Scott Snell

4 October 2023


“There is no good try.

There is no almost. 

There is only success or failure.”

Laz



Sunday, September 3, 2023

2023 August Mileage

 

Beast Coast Trail Running Giants Ledge


#Monthlymileage check in... Initially I was pretty disappointed with my August mileage. I finished the month with 268 miles for an average of 8.66 miles per day. It felt like it was a pretty big drop from my July mileage of 313 miles with an average of 10.11 miles per day. Since my loose training plan for Big's is to increase my average daily mileage every month leading up to Big's (June - September), I obviously missed the mark for August. Like I said, at first I was pretty upset about this, but then I realized I had still run a higher daily average mileage this August than August of last year (8.4 miles per day) leading up to Big's. Then I considered the number of rest days and lower mileage days I had in August and the reasons for them: a week long camping trip with the family, a day trip to Philadelphia and a Phillies game with my older boys, and a few visits with extended family. After considering it all, I was no longer upset about the mileage drop and decided maybe it was for the best. I may have burned myself out trying to keep up that mileage for another entire month. Now, as I start focusing on September training, I feel fresh and excited to ramp up the volume and be in the best form possible mentally and physically for Big's in October!

Scott Snell 
3 September 2023



Saturday, July 1, 2023

2023 June Monthly Mileage


Beast Coast Trail running scott Snell

Monthly Mileage check in! I ran 151.82 miles in June. This was a bit less than my normal training mileage and a huge drop from last month when I ran over 500 miles, but it was too be expected. I knew I'd have a few weeks of lower mileage for recovery after Capital. Then I just wanted to take some time to enjoy with the family before diving back into serious training. A week long bout of colds and congestion in our household also added a few unplanned rest days. Some down time is good between training cycles. It reinvigorates and prevents burn out while reminding me that there are more important things in life than this silly running habit of mine. In the midst of serious training cycles I can develop some pretty serious tunnel vision. Sometimes I need to step away to appreciate the bigger picture life goals.

This month's mileage is also a great reminder of the relativity of it all. I ran my first ultra in 2015, the Blues Cruise 50k. That year my highest monthly mileage was 155. I only exceeded 100 miles four months that year. After 7-8 years of getting into this whole ultrarunning thing, a low mileage month with a recovery and some sickness is about the same as my best month from my first year of ultrarunning. This exercise of comparing my present self to my past self helps to remind me of how far I've come as a runner and how I continue to push my standards and work for improvement.

Scott Snell
1 July 2023


Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Took a Fall... Recovering from Capital Backyard Ultra

 


Well, my first recovery run after Capital Backyard Ultra felt pretty good. I had some muscle soreness, but for taking only four rest days after a 312.5 mile effort I felt pretty good about the run. I was on my way back from my normal road/trail route and on my last stretch of trail along a power line cut when I caught my toe on a root. This is a non technical trail that I really shouldn’t be falling on, not saying I never have before, but it really shouldn’t happen if I’m not over tired or just not paying attention. Anyway, I took a fall, got up, and dusted myself off. Then I laughed. I laughed because in the 312.5 miles I ran at Capital Backyard Ultra, even with the severe sleep deprivation and through the darkness, I never fell once. And now on this easy trail run, less than a quarter mile until I’m back on a paved surface, I eat crap on the trail. Funny how life and trail running works out sometimes.

Scott Snell
13 June 2023


Monday, June 12, 2023

May 2023 Monthly Mileage Check In


Monthly Mileage check in! I feel like it's kind of misleading to claim 521 monthly miles for May without including some acknowledgement that the bulk of those miles (312.5 of them to be exact) came from a single run at Capital Backyard Ultra (CBU). Also important to note is that I also had a couple of taper weeks with reduced mileage leading up to CBU, so maybe it all kinda balances out. However you slice it though, it is a new personal record for me for monthly mileage with my previous best being May last year with 380 miles, so as far as I’m concerned it is cause for celebration. After some rest and recovery, I’m back at it and training for what’s next. That includes Big’s this October and possibly a shorter race between now and then… we’ll see.

Scott Snell
12 June 2023

Monday, May 22, 2023

2023 Adventure Trail Run - 24 Hour Event

Beast Coast Trail running scott Snell adventure 24 hour finish

A little over two weeks have passed since the 24 hour Adventure Trail Run and I am wrapping up my final training week before going into a taper period to prepare for Capital Backyard Ultra. I decided to run the 24 hour Adventure Trail Run for a few reasons. The main reason was for a bit of redemption after being disappointed in my performance at my last race (Big’s Backyard) and my last time running the 24 hour Adventure Trail Run two years ago (if you’re looking for a more complete course description, go to that race report). The second reason was to serve as a warm up race and fitness/endurance check leading into Capital. I wasn’t completely successful in fully achieving the first of those goals, but I felt really good about the second.

The Adventure Trail Run is a combination of timed and distance trail running events held at Prince William Forest Park (National Park Service) in Triangle, VA. This year the event offered 8 hour solo, 4 person relay 24 hour, solo 24 hour, 50k, and 100k options. The course is basically a lollipop design with a 1 mile out and back to a 4 mile loop. The 1 mile out and back section is definitely the most challenging in my opinion and basically my only gripe about the race, so let me get that out of the way. It is probably the most consistently technical section of the course with intermittent stretches of jagged rocks and toe catching exposed roots. It also has many short but steep climbs and descents to deal with. In addition to the technicality of that narrow single track section was the fact that it was also the section of the course where you had to deal with two way traffic of runners. Since this is a relatively small event (around 100 runners) it didn’t present a major problem but with 50k and 100k runners on the course at the same time as the 24 hour runners, it did feel a bit congested to me on a few occasions and made it feel like I couldn’t get into a flow of running. This year I kept on thinking about how that section of the course was like an analogy of Washington DC traffic; drive 70 mph for a few minutes then stop and go for ten minutes and repeat.

I alluded to it earlier about how one motivating factor for me to run the 24 hour Adventure Trail Run again was for a bit of redemption and to hit the missed targets I set for myself last time I ran it. My goal at the race two years ago was to break the course record of 108 miles and I narrowly missed the mark finishing with 103 miles. I’d say that last time I missed that goal primarily due to the fitness level just not being there and a lack of training. Even after failing again (finishing with 100 miles), I still believe the fitness was there this year, but other factors led to my demise. I can reduce those factors to three words, but will expand upon them: weather, diarrhea, and priorities.


Weather: For the most part the weather during the entire 24 hour race was great. It was a cool morning and didn’t warm up too much going into the afternoon. With the 7 AM start it was in the low 60s and never rose past the low 70s which is pretty much ideal running weather in my opinion. The weather trouble started for me when a powerful storm system rolled through in the early afternoon. I had seen it forecasted, but looking at the temperatures I figured it would be a warm rain and I’d be fine running through it. However, the rain was downright cold and the temperature dropped enough to cause me to feel extremely chilled. The storm hit quickly at the midway point of my 11th lap, if I remember correctly. I was quickly soaked and shivering as I completed the second half of that lap thinking about how I didn’t have any rain gear and contemplating quitting and calling it a day. Thankfully, a race volunteer I had met at Capital Backyard and spent some time with again at Big’s saved me. (Thank you Marty!) As soon as I came in shivering and soaked, Marty asked me if I needed anything, warm soup or other warm food. I told him I was good with food, but what I really needed was a rain jacket. Without hesitation, Marty ran to his car to grab his jacket for me to borrow. He even zipped it up for me as my hands were shaking so badly from shivering at that point that I probably would have fumbled with the zipper. And with that crisis averted, I was back on the trail towards my goal. Unfortunately, it did set me back a bit. However, the impact would be felt later in the race. Prior to the storm, all of my laps had been under an hour and a half. They were under 1:20 for the first 50k and under 1:30 for the second 50k so I was definitely on my target pace up to that point. However, lap 11, when the storm hit, and lap 12, as the storm cleared, were 1:35 and 1:41 respectively. It was not a huge increase in time, but it affected my decision making towards the end of my race.

Diarrhea: Maybe I don’t need to expand on this one too much or go into too much detail other than to say that I had some gastrointestinal issues for a good portion of the race. So much so that at one point I ran past the single restroom on the course just after the aid station thinking to myself that I don’t have to go too bad only to turn around about 100 feet later because it quickly became an emergency bio break. I felt good without any issues for the first 100k or so, but after that every fart felt like a huge gamble. Honestly, it was probably the worst and most drawn out bout of gastrointestinal issues I’ve ever dealt with during a race. I was eating another anti-diarrhea pill for about 3-4 passes through the aid station, and it didn’t seem to improve the situation. I also can’t really pinpoint what caused it which is troubling. I was eating food I had before and using the same types of gels so I don’t think my calorie sources were the cause. Regardless of the cause, the effect was time. It didn’t slow my running pace much, but frequent bio breaks, as brief as you try to make them, begin to accumulate the minutes and those minutes add up. I’d say I probably used the restroom right after leaving the aid station at least 4-5 times and I made at least 2 emergency trail bio breaks. Even at only about 5 minutes a stop, that’s a half hour of time lost not spent covering ground.

Priorities: The last nail in the coffin for my course record goal was my prioritization of races and motivations. I completed my 14th lap (84ish miles) at about the 19 hour mark leaving me five hours to complete another three laps. By this point I was feeling pretty worked over and wasn’t sure if I could complete another three laps within that time. I thought it was possible, but I knew it would be close, maybe really close. I also knew that if I didn’t complete the third lap by the end of the race I’d finish with 16.5 laps, the exact same distance as my last attempt. I really didn’t want to push super hard for another five hours only to match what I had done last time. Adding to my lack of motivation to push for the last five hours was the fact that after the previous lap I was informed that the leader of the race had just stopped at 13 laps putting me in the lead without anyone really close behind. With all of this information swirling around my groggy brain I was also thinking about my next race, Capital Backyard Ultra, and how I want to be in the best form possible there. Although now it sounds a bit more like an excuse to me, at the time it sounded like a smart move to make and I decided I would take it easy for the remainder of the race. I decided to power hike another lap and then reassess whether it was necessary for me to go back out for another lap to be certain that my first place finish was still secured.

Beast Coast Trail running scott Snell adventure trail run 24 hour

I returned from my power hiked 15th lap with about two hours left on the clock and almost a guarantee that I had first place locked up. With 94ish miles, first place secure, and two hours left in the race I was ready to call it, get cleaned up, and maybe even get a nap before breakfast. I was pretty much decided while sitting by the fire at the aid station explaining this situation to a couple other runners and some race volunteers when the RD, Alex, came over yelling for me to go back out for another lap. I tried to explain that I had Capital coming up in a month and I wanted to just begin the recovery process so I can get another couple weeks of good training in before I start another taper. He wasn’t having it though because one more lap would mean I would hit 100 miles. I fought it for a bit longer, but eventually I gave in and went back out.

As much as I didn’t want to at the time, I was eventually happy that I went back out for another lap to hit the 100 mile mark. Especially when I was chatting with other runners and volunteers at the breakfast after the race. I knew it kinda felt douchey to quit with two hours on the clock, ample time for another lap, just because you know you have first place secured. So in the end, that extra push to go back out for 100 really made it a run I could be more proud of and it certainly felt like a more noble way to win the race then to just put my feet up and wait for the last couple hours.

Beast Coast Trail running scott Snell adventure trail 24 hour finish

So that explains how I missed my first target for the race, but doesn’t address the second, to serve as a warm up race and fitness/endurance check leading into Capital. While I ran this timed race, I was thinking a lot about expected effort and perceived effort. The first time I ran this race I didn’t think hitting the course record would be too tough, but it was much tougher than expected. This time around, I wasn’t shocked that it was challenging which made it easier to keep fighting towards that goal. Even though I ultimately came up short on my A goal, I’m happy with where I was mentally and physically throughout the race. I was clear with my hierarchy of priorities. This race forced me to push through weather related, physical, and mental challenges. The overnight portion was a great practice night run for Capital, to familiarize myself with running through the night before being shocked by the drowsiness during the first night at Capital. It also gave me one more tool for my sleep derivation fighting toolbox, Five Hour Energy. I brought one bottle of Five Hour Energy not really expecting to need it, but just in case I was feeling drowsy I figured I could test it out. Turns out it helped me tremendously during the wee hours of the morning. Based on my experience with it during this race, I am bringing three bottles to Capital.

I could torture myself with a bunch of “what if”s and “only if”s about missing my A goal like I did last time I ran this race, but I’m not doing it this time around. Once the motivation of chasing that first place spot was gone and reaching my A goal was extremely uncertain, my focus immediately went to Capital. And that’s fine because at Capital and the nature of the backyard race format, whether I reach it or not, I will never not be chasing first place until the race is over.



Scott Snell
14 May 2023

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

April Monthly Mileage Check In

 

Scott Snell beast Coast Trail

Monthly Mileage check in! I ran 322 miles in April with 100 of them during a 24 hour trail race. My last run was very fitting for April. I was hoping for a break in the rain, but as the rain continued all day it seemed like my options were either run in the rain or not run at all. I chose the former. I ran into the storm and lo and behold I found the sun on my way home and brought it back with me. With my last full month of training build up for Capital Backyard Ultra complete, I am feeling great about where my fitness is and how this training block went. Now that I’m feeling mostly recovered from my 24 hour effort, I am becoming more confident that sneaking a race in before Capital was a good move. It served several purposes: to get my pre-race jitters and anxiety out of the way with a lower priority race, test my fitness level for a long effort, and to reintroduce me to the physical and mental challenges of overnight running during an endurance event so it is not such a shock to the system the first night of Capital. I pretty much always go into races, especially backyards, with high expectations, but this time around I feel even more prepared than I was at previous backyard starts. At this point, my plan is to stay healthy until race day and hope the days and nights go smoothly. 


1 May 2023

Scott Snell





Thursday, April 20, 2023

Preparing for a 24 hour - Taper Panicking



By the numbers, yesterday’s run wasn’t amazing for any reason. It wasn’t a tough work out. It wasn’t at a high intensity or a faster than normal pace. The distance wasn’t crazy long or even any farther than my average training run. I did not reach any significant milestones for the month, year, or the number of miles on my shoes. Barring all the things it was not, yesterday’s run was special. The numbers and data behind the run didn’t make it interesting or significant, but the feeling of it did. Which is exactly what I needed to feel ready and prepared for this weekend’s 24-hour trail race.

The day before after getting home from work I began to feel depleted, like my mind and body needed some time off. That isn’t the feeling I was hoping for halfway through my taper week leading up to what I expect to be a pretty hard effort for 24 hours. I caught myself sneeze a couple of times and my throat felt scratchy. I feared I may me getting sick as my son was still getting over a cold he picked up a couple of weeks ago. Waves of anxiety, panic, and anger all took turns floating to the surface of my emotions as I feared that this was going to be a repeat of my last race that I ended up running while still recovering from a cough/cold. That would most likely make this weekend’s race a total sufferfest. Although my wife has told me, “you’re the best sufferer,” that doesn’t mean that I seek out extra opportunities to suffer or actually enjoy it.

I decided that as soon as the kids’ extracurricular activities were over for the night, getting ready for bed and getting some rest was my number one priority. But shortly after we got home my son reminded me that we had run our 1 mile training run for the day yet. We had just started running a mile a day this week because he wanted to train for his school’s fitness challenge run. I honestly had forgotten about it for the night, but when he asked if I was ready, I couldn’t bail on him and say no. We got our headlamps and went out for our mile. Once finished, it was bedtime.

Yesterday didn’t seem like it was going to be a change in my mental outlook or physical health until I managed to get out for my run after getting home from work. My legs felt great! I was full of energy and truly happy to run after a day of feeling worn out. Most importantly though, it was the confidence booster I needed to be ready for a 24-hour effort. It resolved the taper week feelings of panic I was experiencing just the previous day. It set my headspace right to trust my training and know that I have done the work to be as prepared as possible for a challenging physical endeavor. It’s almost go time, and I am ready!


Scott Snell
20 April 2023




Saturday, April 1, 2023

March Monthly Mileage Check In

 



Monthly mileage check in! Yesterday's run brought me to just over 300 miles for the month and 800 for the year! I'm feeling good and excited for my first race of the year, a 24 hour trail race in April! My goal is to achieve what I set out to do there two years ago: set a new course record. I feel better prepared and am confident I will hit my goal as long as I have a decent day!


Why the 300 theme? Well other than the mileage significance, it is due to a comment I received at Keystone Backyard Ultra about my tent / aid station set up. After the race, I heard someone describe my set up as very "spartan." I took a bit of pride in receiving that comment and still think about it over two years later when I pack for backyard races. Let's go 2023! Always room for improvement!

Scott Snell
1 April 2023

Thursday, March 24, 2022

St. Jude Fundraising Success and a Happy Birthday Run




I am so happy and excited to report that my fundraising effort for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital® has been a complete success this year! Thanks to the generous donations of friends and family, we have raised nearly $600 through the St. Jude Heroes program and I couldn’t be happier about it. I am so grateful to everyone for their contributions!


This success is in stark contrast to last year’s fundraising effort. Last year I ran three events (a birthday 41 miler, Adventure Trail 24 Hour, and Keystone Backyard Ultra) and incorporated a fundraising component. After the three running and fundraising efforts, I came up short of my fundraising goal so I donated a portion of my cash prize from Keystone Backyard Ultra to reach my fundraising goal of $250. This year my fundraising goal was exceeded after the first running event I had lined up, my birthday 42 mile run.


And for an extra thick layer of icing on the cake, my 42 mile birthday run went really well, but not without a few challenges along the way. First off was a small change of plans due to some less than pleasant and potentially dangerous weather. I had planned to run the bulk of the 42 miles on a stretch of the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania. However, leading up to the Saturday I had planned to run, the weather forecast was predicting showers and potentially severe thunderstorms. I decided to push my run back one day and run on some local trails instead when the weather forecast looked better. Well, Saturday arrived and what I expected to be a rainy washout of a day was a beautiful, sunny day. I decided to make hay while the sun was shining and headed out to run early in the afternoon after the threat of thunderstorms was nil.



An additional challenge was also weather related. Getting a later start than I had planned, the bulk of my run was during the warmest part of the day and it was a pretty warm mid March day with highs reaching the low 70’s. The local trails I run on are only a few miles from home for me, so I figured I’d wear my hydration vest, return home once to refill and then finish the bulk of my 42 miles on the trail. Well, I made it to 22 miles when I stopped to refill my bottles, but I ran through my fluids much more quickly during the second half of my run. With seven miles left and no fluids, I decided it was time to head home and refill. With only about five miles left to go after my second refill stop, I decided to just finish my run on roads around my neighborhood. Although I planned to do more on trails, overall the run was a nice mix of roads and trails. Not to mention, it felt good to get a faster road mile in at the end.

A final challenge that had to be faced during this run was the fact that it had been a decent amount of time since my last long run. My last LONG run was at the Last Squatch Standing at the end of August 2021, over six months ago. I had run a few runs around or slightly over 20 miles since then, but nothing where you get to that exhaustion point when your brain says “quit” and you have to mentally overcome the desire to stop. It is a real mental challenge that seems to me to be more manageable when it is familiar. In other words, I find it’s harder to run long distances if it’s been awhile since I’ve run a long distance. Thankfully, I was able to reacquaint myself with my old frenemy and see my run through to its end.


This was my running my second consecutive year of running my age in miles to celebrate my birthday. For me, this is a fun way to celebrate being alive. It also is a great way to get an early, easy paced long run in to kick off the training season. For those reasons, I intend to celebrate my birthday this way every year as long as I am still capable.




Scott Snell
March 24, 2022




Learn more about my fundraising goal here: https://www.beastcoasttrailrunning.com/2022/02/2022-st-jude-heroes-fundraising-campaign.html




Direct link to St. Jude donation page: https://fundraising.stjude.org/site/TR/Heroes/Heroes?px=6955516&pg=personal&fr_id=130587



Friday, June 4, 2021

2021 Keystone Backyard Ultra - Hope and Faith against a DNF






The inaugural Keystone Backyard Ultra (KBU) would be my third backyard format style race. It would also offer the largest and deepest field of runners of any backyard race I had run. This combination of race format and runner depth offers the opportunity for distance runners to push themselves to their limit. It also offers the greatest chance for their race to end with a DNF (Did Not Finish). With the chance for a great reward comes substantial risk. I set two conflicting goals for myself leading into this race. The first being to not quit and find my limit. I wanted to push myself and be pushed by the competition to find my breaking point and see just where my limit lies. I wanted to find out how many laps I could complete before the required minimum pace became unsustainable for me. The second being to finish the race without a DNF. To achieve one goal, the other must be sacrificed. You can’t have both and a sacrifice must be made to succeed at one or the other. In a sense, I got to choose my sacrifice, but one of my two goals had to be sacrificed for the success of the other. Of course, there was also the possibility that I could have failed on both counts.

The DNF bracelet was turned in when a runner DNF'd.

The backyard race format seems to still be growing in popularity with more races of this format popping up around the world. It’s a unique format as it has no set total distance or time that runners must complete; they must simply go farther than every other runner there. The standard format is a 4.167̅ mile loop that is run every hour on the hour. Every runner must finish the loop within the hour and then be at the starting line for the start of the next loop at the next hour. If the runner doesn’t make it back within the hour or is not at the starting line for the start of the next lap, that runner is out of the race with a DNF. This continues until only one runner is left. The winner must complete one loop more within the hour than any other runner. There is also the possibility that the race wins if multiple runners go out for a loop and all fail to finish before the hour cut off. It’s a harsh and unforgiving format that is as mentally draining as it is physically.

Runners' aid station areas.

The original backyard ultra, Big’s Backyard hosted by the infamous Lazarus Lake aka Gary Cantrell, alternates between a trail loop during the day and a road loop during the night. KBU diverged from this format by using a single trail loop for the entirety of the race. This was done as a safety precaution at the request of the hosting venue. The race was held at Mauch Chunk Lake Park in Jim Thorpe, PA. The park is home to a 345-acre reservoir which was built by the United States Army Corps of Engineers in early 1972 to protect the town of Jim Thorpe from damaging and recurring flooding of Mauch Chunk Creek. In addition to a flood control project, the reservoir and dam provide an outdoor recreational area. The park hosts access to a network of trails: Switchback Trail (13.7 miles), Shoreline Trail (0.8 miles), Fireline and Galen’s Surprise Trail (9.9 miles), Orchard Trail (0.8 miles), Board Bottom Trail (0.5 miles), and Anna’s Trail (0.4 miles). However, the course for the race would only showcase about 4 miles of trails.
 
Image from race website https://keystonebackyardultra.weebly.com/course-info.html

The course for the race was basically a large lollipop type course with a loop built into the lollipop. The start/finish area for the race was a large grass field directly across from the parking area for the lake. It provided a great view and ample space for runners to set up their personalized aid station and recovery areas. The course started by following a 0.1 mile stretch of the paved entrance road to the switchback trail. This roughly one mile section of the trail felt mostly like a rail trail. There was one short hill up a gravel stretch, but otherwise any elevation change in this section was extremely gradual. The course then turned, hopping on Board Bottom for the looped section of the course. This half mile stretch of single track was easily the most technical section of the course. There were a couple short climbs and descents with exposed root and rocks scattered throughout, but it certainly wasn’t the most technical terrain I’ve seen in PA. The way the course was set up, this technical half mile stretch would be run twice every lap. After 1.5 miles on the Board Bottom / Switchback loop the course followed Anna’s trail for about 0.2 miles to the Orchard trail. Anna’s trail offered a bit more single track and the steepest climb of the entire course before dropping you off on to the Orchard trail. The Orchard trail was basically a grass pathway, wooded on both sides. While it was not steep, it did offer a subtle change in elevation that was far more noticeable as the miles wore on. From there it was about a 0.8 mile stretch until connecting back with the Switchback trail to return to the start/finish area.

A prerace selfie. 

I went into this race a bit nervous. Partly because of the high chance of facing my first DNF, but mostly because I wasn’t certain if my training had been appropriate to best prepare me for this type of race. The KBU was only 5 weeks after my last race, a 24 hour race (Adventure Trail Run) where I ran about 103 miles. Going into a race that I was almost certain would go over 100 miles only a little over a month since my last 100 mile effort made me nervous about how my body would hold up. It also made getting any good training between the two races difficult. I was mostly recovered from the 24 hour race after about a week or two, but that only gave me about a week of real training if I wanted to do a two week taper before KBU. I ran my normal, shorter daily runs and a couple mid distance weekend runs, but I wasn’t able to squeeze in a long run on one of the weekends between the races as I had hoped to. My longest run in the interim was about an 11 miler. I had run two 100 milers (Eastern States and Tesla Hertz) a little over a month apart before using the same strategy and it seemed to work out alright for me, but that was a few years ago. However, it did provide some peace of mind and kept me from panicking.

Planning my strategy for the race and nutrition were the other key factors I focused on leading up to the race. During my last two backyard format races (Run Ragged and Last Idiot Standing) my strategy was a slow and steady pace throughout. I would run/walk my lap and finish with about 8-12 minutes until the start of the next. For me, less sitting between laps but just enough time to discard trash, refill bottles, and get some calories in was ideal. Since this strategy had worked so well for me so far, I planned to use it at KBU. Nutrition was a bit tougher to plan as only hydration was provided at KBU. No aid station food was provided due to covid precautions. I went with what has been a consistent performer for me in past long, hard efforts, the glorious pierogi. I boiled a box of Mrs. T’s potato and cheese pierogis the day before the race and tossed them in a tupperware with melted butter. My other goto for actual food is mashed potatoes. I prepared a family size package of Idahoan instant potatoes and added about two scoops to small flour tortillas to make about 8 mini mashed potato burritos. I tossed the extra mashed potato into another tupperware. I also packed a couple cans of chicken and rice soup, Chef Boyardee mini raviolis, and three peanut butter sandwiches. I stocked up on snacks and some sweets as well: Funyuns, pretzels, dill flavored chips, sour patch kids, candied ginger, and chocolate covered espresso beans. I also packed some hydration treats in my cooler: coconut water, Coca-Cola, aloe water, and iced coffee.

A few hours in.

With all my calorie and hydration needs in order, I packed my other aid station gear and made the drive from South Jersey to Jim Thorpe, PA the evening before the race. I arrived at Mauch Chunk Lake Park a little over an hour before the race start. I got my shade tent up and arranged my chair, cooler, food tub, and sleeping bag. I had all I needed to run 100 or possibly 200 miles, at least that was my mindset that morning.

I ran my first couple laps just getting accustomed to the trail and the course. With close to 100 runners, it felt a bit crowded early on when everyone started the early laps. Of course the field would continually dwindle as the miles accumulated. The only part of the course that worried me a bit was the loop within the lollipop section of the course. The loop required you to make a right at a fork in the trail your first time around and a left your second time around to basically run the loop 1.5 times. It sounded straight forward and the signage posted by the race organizers was great and very intuitive, but I couldn’t help but worry that at some point when I was exhausted and sleep deprived I would forget which lap I was on when I hit that fork. Thankfully that never happened. After running the course so many times, I was just on autopilot mode and not even thinking about the turns I was making.

The first few hours of the backyard are deceiving. It feels easy. You’re not pushing your pace, you’re taking in calories regularly, and you’re having fun learning your personal routine for the short course. I set landmarks for myself to measure where I should be on the course and at what time. I had planned walk break sections and a set point when I ate my energy gel. Foot placement in certain stretches of trail became a planned activity after several laps. As the day went on and temperatures reached the upper 80s, the exact route was modified slightly to stay in shaded areas of the more open stretches of the course. Besides that, my pace and foot placement had become a precise pattern for every lap.

A few more hours in.

The sun set and the headlamp came out. We would soon get some reprieve from the heat of the sun, but the temperatures would stay in the mid 60s overnight. The field had been reduced by the time it was dark, but I would guess there were still 40 or so runners going out every lap. The race offered a few unique race bib awards for certain achievements during the course of the race. There was one for the fastest first lap, slowest first lap, fastest first night loop, 100 mile club, and of course last person standing. At some point over night I was hoping that the race director had enough of the 100 mile bibs as it seemed like there would be a pretty good sized group of runners finishing that 24th loop to hit the 100 mile distance. I was wrong about that though as runners started dropping pretty quickly during the wee hours of the morning.

The overnight portion of the race went pretty well for me. I started feeling pretty drowsy around 3-4 am, but a couple pierogies and some chocolate covered espresso beans brought me back. I also started laying down on my sleeping bag for just a few minutes between laps. I didn’t have time to fall asleep, not sure if I even could have if I tried, but it felt refreshing just to close my eyes lying down and stretching out my legs.

The first night loop.

Once the sun rose I realized how much our numbers had been depleted. We were down to the final four runners. Of the four runners left, I had only chatted with one of them. His name was Tom and in our short conversation around the 8th or 9th loop I learned that he had run and finished multiple 200 mile races including one in the Swiss Alps. I was not surprised to see him still lining up to go out as we approached the 100 mile mark. After the 100 mile lap the two runners I hadn’t chatted with both dropped leaving just Tom and I to continue on. I congratulated one of the guys that dropped on his 100 mile day. He said something along the lines that it looked like both Tom and I were in it for the long haul and he was happy with 100 so he was calling it.

The before and after.
 
By this point I was out of pierogies and was starting in on my mini mashed potato burritos. Unfortunately my tupperware allowed cooler water to leak in and all my individually plastic wrapped burritos were soggy with the cooler water I had been dipping my sweaty hat and neck cooler in. I drained them as best I could and continued to eat them. They still tasted fine and I needed the calories. The extra moisture actually probably made them easier to get down more quickly.

 

We went on matching each other lap for lap as the miles accumulated and the heat of the day rose to nearly 90. It was around 120ish miles that the first thought of quitting entered my mind. I started having a little pain in my front right ankle. It felt like it wasn’t getting worse, but I started telling myself that if it did then it might be time to call it. The ache felt like an overuse tendonitis injury. I probably paid too much attention to it trying to decide if it was getting worse or staying the same. That was the mind game I played on myself. I wanted to quit if I was going to injure 
myself and not be able to run. Then I started questioning if I was using this pain as an excuse to quit. When I thought about quitting I was planning the timeline in my head. My ankle is injured, I’ll quit this lap, pack my stuff in an hour, drive 2 hours home, and I’ll be home before dark and see my kids before bedtime. It sounded so much better than continuing on in pain in the heat, but that is what made me scrutinize the decision so thoroughly. If I was quitting because of an injury, it had better damn well be an injury worthy of quitting not just a convenient injury that I was using as an excuse to go home. How could I distinguish the two? Thinking of my kids reminded me of what they said to me before I left and what I promised them. They both said "I hope you win." And I responded with "I'm going to try my best." Thinking of that and looking at the poster they made that I hung in my aid area kept me going back out for another lap even as motivation was beginning to lack.

The sign my wife and kids' made me.

It wasn’t long after this internal struggle I was having with myself that I noticed Tom’s pace started slowing. He was usually always either nearly or completely out of sight from me when I made the turn onto the 0.8 mile straight stretch of the sun exposed Orchard trail. The lap when I noticed this (I believe the 29th) he was probably only a minute or two ahead of me. The following lap the same thing happened only his pace dropped off even more. I caught up to him at about the 3 mile marker. I talked to him a bit, but he seemed kinda out of it. I wasn’t sure if the heat was getting to him or something else was going on, but he wasn’t too chatty at the time. That was one of the few laps that I finished before him. He came back in from that lap looking a bit depleted and stopped at my tent. He didn’t say anything, but I thought he was getting ready to say he wasn’t going back out. I tried to just chat a little saying how that sun exposed section of the trail was getting a bit warm. He agreed then went to his aid set up to prepare to go back out. He lined up and went out on the 31st loop but stopped while we were still on the paved section and called me. He told me his legs were feeling gassed and his pace had dropped off. He said he wasn’t sure if he would make this lap within the hour so he might turn back if it looked like he wasn’t going to make it. He told me if that was the case, to go kick some ass and get that last lap done. I was excited to think that the race was almost over, but also uncertain. He yelled up to me again just as I was heading down the Switchback trail. He said he didn’t think it was going to work for him. I yelled back that either way I’ll see him back at base. I ran that lap looking back quite a bit. I thought maybe he just walked for a bit and then he got his legs back. He had looked so strong for 120 miles without showing any sign of exhaustion that I just couldn’t believe how suddenly his pace had plummeted. I continued thinking that and looking back for the entire loop until I returned to the paved section of the course where the final volunteer on course was assisting with traffic control. It was there that the volunteer told me that the other guy had turned back and I finally knew that this was my victory lap.

I ran the final stretch in with the volunteer that had given me the news ringing his cowbell the last tenth of a mile. Race staff, volunteers, and a few spectators that were still around all cheered as I finished my final loop to hit 129 miles. The race director, Jake Martinez, and Tom were both there to congratulate me at the finish line. After some finish line pics and being presented with a really cool Aravaipa Artworx trophy, I was able to relax and chat a bit about the race with Tom and Jake. While chatting, the topic of mind games between Tom and I came up. I think someone asked what kind of mind games we played on each other when it was just the two of us out there. Neither of us were really playing mind games with each other. We weren’t even running together the majority of the time as our paces on different sections of the course were just different. Without either of us really having a mind game to divulge, Tom volunteered that he was trying to finish the loop before me and out of my sight to mess with me a little. Then he brought up the one lap where I went out fast early and finished out of his sight. I explained that I wasn’t running that lap fast to mess with him at all; I just had to poop and was trying to carve out some extra time between laps to hit the portapotty. Maybe it was too much information for the small crowd there, but I was a bit sleep deprived and excited having just won so my filter was pretty much turned off at that point.

Congratulatory poster my Mom made for me. 

This format of race is so mental that a runner can easily defeat themselves before the true competition has ever really started. I nearly did it to myself by using the ache in my ankle as a valid reason to quit. At some point, it all comes down to hope and faith that things will work out and somehow you will succeed. This race was the greatest distance I had ever run. That and the accompanying mindset of curiosity (as to how far/long I could go without breaking) that I tried to maintain helped keep me moving. Surprisingly, it was a podcast I listened to during my drive to Jim Thorpe that helped me to reinforce that mindset of curiosity. It was an interesting podcast with Dr. Roland Griffiths, Ph.D., professor of neuroscience, psychiatry, and behavioral science and director of the Psychedelic and Consciousness Research at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine about research on the psychology of psychedelics. During the podcast, at one point Dr. Griffiths stressed that an essential requirement of subject selection for his studies was that the subject expressed a true nature of curiosity in the lead up to the psychedelic experience. He talked about the intense and realistic appearance of demons that some subjects described during their psychedelic experience and how if they approached that demon, however frightening it may be, with a raw sense of curiosity the experience was less frightening and anxiety inducing. While listening to this, I decided that was how I would approach my experience into an unknown distance, with a true sense of curiosity and a desire to learn how far and how long I could go before it was too much. This mindset gave me additional reason to keep going when I felt like not moving anymore.

Race Director Jake Martinez and I. Photo credit: Matt Jurgs (https://www.instagram.com/matt_jurgs/

With a victory and a new PR for my longest distance ever run, I was pretty pumped about how the whole race played out. The PR for longest distance was one of my running goals for the year so I got to check that box. However, the look on my boys' faces when they woke up the morning after I got home and told them I won and showed them the trophy was definitely far more rewarding than the PR pride. And the icing on the cake was the cash prize ($12.50 per lap) the race awarded me for being the last person standing. The cash prize covered all of the expenses (race registration fee, hotel, gas, tolls, food, etc.) I incurred to run the race. With all of my expenses basically reimbursed, I decided that since I had failed at my earlier fundraising efforts to raise funds for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital that I would donate the remaining difference of how much my fundraiser had raised and what my fundraising target amount was. After feeling like a failure for running two 100 mile plus races and not hitting my fundraising goals, seeing that fundraising goal met was a pretty sweet reward.

Me in front of the lake I had just washed up in.

And that pretty much sums up the whole story of my experience at the inaugural Keystone Backyard Ultra. But before I wrap this up, I want to add one more anecdote that didn’t fit in at an earlier point. After all the festivities were over and pictures were taken I layed down on my sleeping bag and closed my eyes for a bit. I’m not sure if I slept, but I just wanted to relax for a bit before making the drive home. I mentioned earlier about the lake directly across from the start/finish area. Well, after I rested for a bit, I decided that the lake looked irresistible for a guy who felt dirty and needed to get refreshed. I had soil caked on my legs from the trail dust sticking to my sweat. And I thought that washing my face would reinvigorate me for the drive home. I sauntered across the road to the lake swimming area. As I got closer I began to realize how busy it was. There were many families there with kids swimming, playing, and splashing in the water. I became a little self conscious about washing up in the lake with so many kids playing in the water, but I had come so far at this point that it felt like I was beyond the point of no return. I continued on towards the water. I avoided eye contact with children and parents alike. I stepped out of my Oofos sandals at the water’s edge and waded in. After 30 some hours without sleep and running 129 miles, I assumed that how I was walking and my overall appearance may have suggested that I was likely drunk and homeless. I could sense the parents’ collective apprehension about me as I rinsed my face in the water and scrubbed the trail dirt off my calves. I felt ashamed, but I continued on. I exited the lake with my eyes staring at my feet while the parents pulled their children away from my direction. It was an extreme shift of emotions from the high I was just on at the finish line receiving a trophy and it certainly didn’t feel like my proudest moment at that point. But that is the point where the experience ended and that is where I will end this report.




Scott Snell
June 5, 2021