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Showing posts with label eastern states. Show all posts
Showing posts with label eastern states. Show all posts

Monday, January 20, 2020

Top Five Beast Coast Performances of 2019




5:  Rich Riopel’s 24 Hour Performance to Make the 2019 U.S. National 24 Hour Team


Rich Riopel at the 2019 Dawn 2 Dusk 2 Dawn 24 hour. 


At the 2019 Dawn 2 Dusk 2 Dawn 24 hour Ultra in Sharon Hill, PA, Rich Riopel returned to the world of competitive timed racing with an impressive performance. He ran a steady and consistent race to finish with 161.8207 miles. This earned him a first place overall finish at the race and a spot on the 2019 U.S. National 24 Hour Team! It was also good enough to earn him the third best 24 hour performance of 2019. This move back to timed races came as a bit of a surprise as Rich had moved away from those races and had run mostly specific distance trail ultras since running with the 2017 U.S. National 24 Hour Team at the 24 Hour World Championship Race in Belfast, Ireland. 


I admit that I may be a bit biased for including this performance in my top 5 of 2019 as Rich is a fellow New Jerseyian, but having a Beast Coaster throw down one of the top 24 hour performances of the year and represent ultrarunners on a World stage is pretty impressive in my opinion. 


4:  Alondra Moody and Luke Bollshweiler For Their Smokies Challenge Adventure Run FKTs


Alondra Moody (Ultrasignup photo)
Luke Bollshweiler (Ultrasignup photo)

Last year Alondra Moody improved the unsupported FKT for the Smokies Challenge Adventure Run (SCAR) route from 23h11min to 20h11min. The previous FKT was held by Natalia Traver and set in December of 2018. Luke Bollschweiler bettered the male supported FKT from 14h50min22s to 14h28min33s. The previous record was held by David Worth and set in May of 2011. Their performances earned them both nominations for the Fastest Known Time of the Year Award (FKTOY). The SCAR is a route following the Appalachian Trail (AT) across the Great Smoky Mountains National Park from Fontana Dam over 70 miles to Davenport Gap. Given the quick turnaround on the bettering of the FKT for the entirety of the AT in recent years (Scott Jurek - 2015, Karl Meltzer - 2016, Joe "Stringbean" McConaughy -2017, Karel Sabbe - 2018), I predict we’ll see faster FKTs for well established sections of the AT becoming the target more frequently. 


3:  New Male and Female Unsupported FKTs on the Long Trail

                 
                     Jeff Garmire (IG photo, report)


New England friends!!! I am so excited to return to the @greenmountainclub and kick off the 28th annual James P Taylor Outdoor Adventure Series with a talk about hiking the Long Trail this fall. I would love to see you there! Below are some details. 🀩🀸🏽‍♀️🧚‍♂️ • “Rugged Happiness: Setting the Unsupported Female Record on the Long Trail”
When: Friday, December 20th, 2019, 7 P.M. 
Where: GMC Visitor Center, Waterbury Center, VT • “This past fall Nika “Early Bird” Meyers returned to the Long Trail for the second time, however, this time she ended up setting the Unsupported Female Record by finishing the trail in 6 days, 11 hours, and 40 minutes. Through photos, videos, and stories, she will share moments from the journey of deep strength, unexpected fear, sleep-deprived silliness, abundant discomfort, and overwhelming happiness. The Long Trail is where her love for long-distance hiking started and she is excited to share her story with the community that has helped give her the confidence to dream big!” •

Admission is $5 for members and $8 for nonmembers; kids under 12 are free. Tickets are available at the door only. Proceeds support local sections and the GMC Education Program. •

Colorado friends, I’ll be giving a talk in Aspen on January 7th 😁. More details to come. .
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#longtrail #fastestknowntime #longtrail2019 #fallhiking 
#hikingadventures #triplecrownofhiking #thruhike #hikevt #pct2014 #cdt2016 #at2018 #appalachiantrail #longdistancehiking #storytelling #ultralightbackpacking #sheexplores #womenwhohike #optoutside #takemebackpacking #everyoneswilderness #vtraised #trailchat #hikingultralight #forceofnature #palantepacks #vermontsports #vermont #motivationmonday #mountainmonday
Nika "Early Bird" Meyers (photo from her trip report)






Vermont’s Long Trail saw a good deal of FKT action in 2019 with three unsupported records set. The Long Trail is a rugged 273 mile jaunt running from the Canadian border to the Massachusetts/Vermont state line. It has a long history of FKTs, with the earliest documented record I could find being set in 1978 by Dr. Warren Doyle (8 d13h25min). Nika “Early Bird” Meyers set the bar for the female record with a time of 6d11h40min. Although this is the first female unsupported FKT (there is a “self supported” record - Jennifer Pharr-Davis - 7d15h40m) for the Long Trail, it is not the FKT just for the sake of being the only known time. Meyers’ record is only about six hours shy of the male unsupported record which was set in 2010 and was just surpassed in 2019. That 2010 male unsupported record (6d17h25min) was surpassed twice in the past year, first by Josh Perry (6d9h48min45sec) then by Jeff Garmire (5d23h48min). For a record that stood for nine years to be
broken twice in under a month’s span, I believe is a sign of the rising popularity and interest in FKTs.

1.5: Big’s Backyard Has Its First Female Winner - Maggie Guterl

Maggie Guterl at Big's Backyard (photo from Tailwind blog)
There have been plenty of times in ultrarunning events where a female is the fastest runner in the race. I’m not sure if it has been researched, but I would venture to guess that it is even more likely for a female to get the overall win at last person standing events such as Big’s Backyard. What makes Maggie Guterl’s performance at Big’s this past year so amazing isn’t the 250 miles she covered in 60 hours. It’s the fact that Big’s is “THE” last person standing race. It has the highest qualifying standards (a selection from Laz) of all the last person standing races. You have to earn your spot at the starting line by proving yourself with past performances. Basically, it’s an international competition of the best of the best in this style of race. And Maggie proved she was the best one there this year.

1.5: Wesley Atkinson Wins the Pennsylvania Triple Crown Series of Mountain Running

Wesley Atkinson (left) at the Easter States 100 finish with Race Director David Walker (right) (photo from Eastern States website)
Let me start this final top Beast Coast performance with the explanation of the “1.5” and the lack of a first and second place performance. I could not place either Maggie or Wesley’s performances above or below the other. Both amazed me and I did not want to diminish either. Additionally, why can’t we have a male and female Beast Coast Performance of the Year? My blog, my list, my rules. Right? And with that, the male Beast Coast Performance of the Year: Wesley Atkinson’s two year journey to win the Pennsylvania Triple Crown of Mountain Running.

If you’ve been a reader of my blog, you know that I am especially fond of the PA Triple Crown Series. But that is not why I picked Wesley’s performance as male Beast Coast Performance of the Year. He spent both 2018 and 2019 chasing the Triple Crown and achieved that goal in stunning fashion in 2019 setting two course records along the way. It looked like he was well on his way to winning it in 2018 with first place finishes at Hyner 50k and Worlds End 100k, but due to circumstances beyond his control (the cancellation of the 2018 Eastern States 100) he would not even get a shot at finishing it that year. Wesley returned and started the 2019 series with a 10th place finish at Hyner. After that he dominated the series. He bettered the course record at Worlds End 100k from 11:37:52 (2016) to 10:50:38. This set some high expectations for everyone watching Eastern States 100 to see what he could do at that distance. Wesley did not disappoint. He finished first place and took over two hours off the course record from 20:30:36 (2016) to 18:23:47 to finish first place male finisher of the series!

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. Then 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

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

2019 Goals



Disclaimer: I received free entry to Novo Nordisk New Jersey Marathon as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out BibRave.com to review find and write race reviews!

"Perseverance

Against all opposition
Crushing all limitations
Pure strength through solitude
Discipline and determination"
- Hatebreed - Perseverance -


With Thanksgiving over it is officially time to get ready for Christmas. Additionally, it is also time to make goals and put together a race schedule for 2019. As I begin writing this post I am in the midst of making the decision of what my race calendar and running goals will be for next year. And I will have to come to a decision by the end of the week as that is when registration opens for one route I am considering. It seems a bit crazy to plan out next year so early, but with registration for races that are likely to sell out quickly opening so far in advance, there really isn’t another option if you want to get into certain races. As of now, my only definite races are the Hyner 50k (April 20) and the Novo Nordisk New Jersey Marathon (April 28). Beyond that, I have two paths I’m considering. So, undecided what I will decide come Saturday when registration opens for Worlds End 100k, here are the two plans I’m considering.
  • Finish out the Pennsylvania Triple Crown Series
    • Hyner 50k (April 20)
    • Worlds End 100k (June 1)
    • Eastern States 100 Mile (August 10)
  • Focusing on timed and elimination race formats
    • Three Days At The Fair 48 Hour (May 17)
    • Last Man Standing Ultramarathon (August 31)
Obviously, as with everything in life, there are pros and cons to both options. I’ve run the PA Triple Crown Series and I loved every race course. However, I’ve been itching to try a timed event for awhile and I really like the idea of the last man standing format event as well. I think both would turn out to be a lot of fun and I’d like to try out some racing formats that are new to me. I’m afraid of ultrarunning beginning to feel routine if I go the PA triple crown route again for the third year in a row (the only reason I didn’t finish it last year was because Eastern States 100 was cancelled). So, maybe I’m leaning towards option 2 at this point. Also, given the timing of the events, trying to do both options in the same year would most likely be foolhardy and end with me disappointed in how I performed at the end of all the races. Seriously, two weeks after a 48 hour race to go into Worlds End 100k then three weeks after Eastern States 100 until attempting a last man standing event? Sounds like a plan for disaster and likely a good dose of misery. So it will most definitely be one or the other, not both. 

As for other running goals for 2019, I have only one and it is not trail or ultrarunning related. I want to PR a marathon. It will have been 10 years since I have run my one and only official marathon race in March of next year. Ever since then I have wondered if and how much I could improve on that finishing time of 3:43. I hope to find out next year at the Novo Nordisk NJ Marathon. However, the timing is terrible as it is eight days after the Hyner 50k. Regardless, I still aim and hope to run a marathon PR time there. The poor timing isn’t due to poor planning, more just a matter of choice and accepting opportunities as they arise. I registered for Hyner 50k early this year as it sells out quickly and I dare to say it is my favorite 50K course I have run. Then more recently I was offered the opportunity to run the Novo Nordisk NJ Marathon as a BibRavePro with my registration fee covered. It was hard to say no to that offer even if the timing was less than ideal. So that’s the plan and I’m sticking to it! Wish me luck! Also, even though I am leaning slightly towards option 2 at this point, I’m open to any advice or recommendations as to which option I should choose.


Saturday, November 10, 2018

2018 Mines of Spain 100 Mile Footrace

Ser·en·dip·i·ty
     noun: serendipity; plural noun: serendipities
     1. the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way


A view from above the old quarry, hard to believe it's in IA.
Photo Credit:  Mile 90 Photography
Serendipity. That was the word that repeated through my mind as I slogged through nearly waist deep, chilly water with only my headlamp to light the way. All the while telling myself excitedly and with some degree of disbelief “this is what I do for fun!” Did I actually mean it or was I trying to convince myself that this was still fun? Regardless, that is where I found myself and I intended to make the best of it. The path that led to me running the inaugural Mines of Spain 100 mile foot race in Dubuque, Iowa was strewn with many chance occurrences. Although these events all ultimately played a role in leading me to a very positive outcome of having a great time running a really cool race, several (one in particular) of those chance occurrences felt like huge negatives in the moment that I experienced them. That one in particular that I had trouble finding any positive about was the cancellation of the 2018 Eastern States 100. At the time the news broke and for weeks after I was pretty bummed about it. However, without that event being cancelled I would not have been on the search for another 100 mile race to squeeze in before the end of 2018. If Eastern States 100 hadn’t been cancelled, I highly doubt I would have made the trip from NJ to IA to run a 100 mile race. So in that regard, a positive was revealed due to the cancellation of the 2018 Eastern States 100. This was just one event of a much larger series of events that fell into the right set of circumstances and timing that ultimately led to me taking a road trip back home to IA to run a 100 mile race.

The start of the 100k and 100 mile race.
Photo Credit:  Mile 90 Photography
I could dive deep with this race report and tell you all about my roots and childhood in Iowa, but I’ll save that story for another time. I do have to cover a few details from that era as they are necessary to explain why someone just up and decides to drive halfway across the country to run a 100 mile race. Well, it’s not “THE” starting point, but it’s “A” starting point: I received a wedding invitation from a childhood friend that I met in kindergarten and have stayed in touch with to some degree ever since. My initial reaction was that I would likely not be able to make it. Between work and family life, I just didn’t see a long weekend trip happening in mid October. However, pieces started falling into place without me even realizing. Eastern States was cancelled and I was browsing Ultrasignup regularly to find a replacement 100 miler close to home. Thankfully, my wife was searching on my behalf and was not limiting her search to the Mid-Atlantic region. In fact, she found a 100 mile race that was only about a one hour drive from Davenport, IA (where I grew up and where my parents still live) which is only about a 20 minute drive from where my friend’s wedding was scheduled to take place. That race was the inaugural edition of the Mines of Spain. Even more amazingly, the race was scheduled to start on Friday (October 19th) at 8 AM giving me plenty of time to run a 100 miler and then make it to my friend’s wedding at 3:30 PM on Saturday (October 20th). When I considered the odds of the timing and location of all of these events falling into place so perfectly, I couldn’t resist and pulled the trigger on the Ultrasignup registration page.

One of the small creek crossings.
Photo Credit:  Mile 90 Photography
The first challenge of this ultramarathon was just getting to the area. When is the last time you made a 15 hour drive with your four and six year old kids? Well, that’s what my wife and I did just couple days before the start of the race. That long in the car is challenging no matter what and it’s even more challenging with kids in tow so we decided to make the drive overnight. We piled in the car Tuesday evening and drove straight through stopping only for gas and bathroom breaks. The kids fell asleep in NJ and woke up in IL to finish the drive into IA. It was tough, but in many ways it was better than breaking up the drive into a two day trip with the kids awake for the majority of it. My main concern was that I would be a bit sleep deprived to start when going into the early morning hours of the race making them a bit harder to deal with.

On the Horseshoe Bluff Trail running through the bottom of the old quarry.
Photo Credit:  Mile 90 Photography
The Mines of Spain course isn’t strictly a loop or out and back course. I would call it a hybrid of sorts with a stronger emphasis on the out and back sections. It is a 20 mile route with a few smaller loops mixed into out and back sections with three aid stations in addition to the start/finish area aid station. The way the course is set up allows you to stop at aid station 1 on two occasions: as the first aid station (kinda obvious) and again between AS 2 and AS 3. The stretch between AS 2 and getting back to AS1 is less than two miles, so it’s probably not really necessary to stop again, but it was nice to know there are plenty of opportunities for aid stops on the course. The course starts at Louis Murphy Park and follows a paved path down hill along a power line cut to Julien Dubuque Dr. where you run by the City of Dubuque Water & Resource Recovery Center (there’s a bit of a smell in the air around this area). This makes up about a 1.5 mile stretch after which there is one more short stretch of road running then the rest of the course is on trail. For the initial loop the RD added a very short out and back to run around the Julien Dubuque Monument overlooking the Mississippi. It was less than a quarter mile of extra distance and gave the photographers there a great opportunity to get a very picturesque photo of all the runners. After this there was about a quarter mile of trail with a lot of stairs, some metal, that I made a mental note of how treacherous they would be in the dark. After this a quick road crossing over a bridge before a half mile of trail, a half mile of road, and then a hard left and you’re on the Horseshoe Bluff Trail which in my opinion was one of the most scenic spots on the course and very unique for Iowa.

Photo from my first lap after circling the Julien Dubuque Monument.
Photo Credit:  Mile 90 Photography
The Horseshoe Bluff Trail starts with a climb then takes you through the old quarry where lead was mined in the late 1700’s when the land was owned by Spain, hence the name of the recreation area and the race. The trail sits at the bottom of jagged rock walls on either side. The rocky outcroppings are tall, it wouldn’t surprise me if they were over 100 feet high in some instances, making you feel pretty miniscule as you follow the relatively narrow path between them. Then you come to a fork in the trail and cross a short (and slick when wet) bridge to begin the lengthiest out and back section of the course. Over the course of this out and back you’ll pass through AS 1, make several small creek crossings (if you’re careful you should be able to keep your feet dry), and pass through forests and prairie grasslands dominated by big bluestem and Indiangrass. At the turnaround there was hole puncher hanging from a tree to mark your bib each time you passed. On the way back you’ll make an additional short out and back to AS 2 before returning back across the bridge and onto some new trail. From there it’s a lollipop section of the course with lots of stairs leading up to AS 3 and lots of stairs coming back down. A short out and back part of this lollipop section happened to be a bit flooded a little above ankle deep during the race for what I estimated to be a stretch of about 200 feet (I counted about 70 paces). There was no chance of keeping your feet dry here. And shortly after your return pass through this wet section you were treated to the most flooded section of the course. This section of the trail runs along Catfish Creek, a tributary which feeds into the Mississippi and is affected by water depths of the mighty Mississippi. By chance, water levels of the Mississippi were near record levels leading up to the race and serious flooding had occurred in many towns along the river. The result in regard to the race was a 300 foot or so section of trail with about three foot deep (depending on if you found a hole or not) water to wade through. Survive this and then it’s just a quick hop on the road to cross the flooded creek you just waded through, a little loop with a bit of a climb and a descent, and then you’re on your way back up the metal stairs and on the road past the water treatment facility to return to the start/finish area.

The short, slick bridge mentioned above.
Photo Credit:  Mile 90 Photography
And that’s the Cliff’s Notes version of the course overview. If it sounds a bit confusing with all the out and backs, forks, and a lollipop that’s because it is. The area is made up of a lot of interconnected trails, many of which are relatively short when a 100 mile run is the goal. Without being familiar with the trail network, I thought the race did a great job of using the trails available to create a fun and more challenging than expected 20 mile course. Course marking was good, but even so I found myself questioning if I had taken the right turn several times during my first lap. This usually was shortly after one of the trail junctions and usually due to my uncertainty of having chosen the right turn, not due to me not seeing any flagging. For that reason, I would highly recommend anyone planning on running this race to study the course map leading up to the race. I know I regretted having not studied it and wished I had made myself more familiar with it ahead of time.

 Left: A small portion of the stairs leading to AS 3. Right: The least helpful volunteer at the race.
(yes, it's a Tonya Harding cardboard stand up)
Photo Credit:  Mile 90 Photography

My primary goal for this race was a time goal. It’s hard to set a goal for a race that is on unfamiliar terrain, so I tend to error on the side of overreaching. This course had an elevation gain of 14,000 feet, so not flat and fast and especially not so by Midwest standards. I decided to shoot for a 20 hour finish, partly because the math would be easy to do during the race: 5 laps X 4 hours/lap = 20 hours. The math was easy, as it would turn out the running would be much harder. For the most part, the course is completely runnable. At least that’s what I thought for the first lap which went really well. Other than the aid station stops I think I ran the entirety of the first lap. I spent the first half of it running and chatting with another guy then he fell back a little after AS 2. This left me alone in front running in first place, an abnormal experience for me. I questioned what the hell I was doing running out front ahead of my target pace, but the course just felt runnable. I even ran the entire paved climb up the powerline cut, one of the most notable elevation gains on the course. Making it back to the start/finish AS was exciting as I arrived in under 3.5 hours, way ahead of my target pace. Even more exciting was that my parents made it there in time to cheer me on and get their first taste of what ultrarunning is. And more exciting on top of that was the fact that the second place runner came into the AS within a minute or two of me and was back out on the course very quickly. I rushed a bit and was back out on lap two hoping that I had a shot of keeping up with him.

It's all smiles for the first 20 easy miles, see completely runnable.
Photo Credit:  Mile 90 Photography
I passed him on the paved downhill after leaving the aid station and didn’t see him again until AS 1. I had sat down for a second there to relube my right foot that had developed a bit of a hot spot. While doing that the other runner flew through the aid station and didn’t even stop to refill a water bottle. I had my doubts about catching him again at that point, but gave it a shot anyway. The rest of lap two felt pretty much as good as the first, but was a little discouraging because at every out and back on the course I realized that this other runner that I was trying to chase kept on extending the gap between us a little bit farther and farther. I believe that it was by the end of lap three that I wasn’t even seeing him on the returns from the out and backs anymore.

This wasn't the deepest section and the water only got colder as the day went on.
Photo Credit:  Mile 90 Photography
It was probably around that time at the start/finish AS after lap three that I started sliding into the lowest points of my race experience. It was dark by this point and the water level of the flooded section of the trail near the end of the loop seemed to be getting deeper with every pass. It was certainly getting chillier every time I waded through it. I had finished my third lap just under the 12 hour mark so I was still on pace to meet my time goal, but after 60 miles my body was starting to tire and the pace of my most recent lap was showing it. I conceded the fact to my wife that my time goal was not going to happen today. Then I started complaining about my feet hurting. That’s when she hit me with a shocker that I didn’t believe. She told me I was in fourth place. I didn’t argue, but I didn’t believe her either. No one had passed me, not even 100k runners. I didn’t give it much more thought at the aid station and prepped for my next lap. I put on a heavier thermal three quarters zip down and gloves. I took in some calories, pretty much just simple sugars which had been the majority of my fuel thus far. Then chewed down some candied ginger to hopefully settle my stomach which had begun to feel a little disgruntled. With that I headed out into the night for loop four.

My before (left) and after (right) pics.
Photo Credit:  Mile 90 Photography
My fourth loop may have been the toughest for me. I’m pretty sure it was my slowest. Emotionally, it was the lowest I got during the whole event. I wasn’t holding a high importance on placement at this race. But when I was under the impression that I was securely in second while sliding into a low point and at that moment was told I was actually a couple places back from where I thought I was it affected me. More than it ever should have. During much of that fourth loop I replayed all the laps from earlier in the day trying to figure out how two people passed me without my noticing. It didn’t add up. Then I started getting frustrated with the out and backs. The first long out and back to the hole puncher was my nemesis while I ran it. “I only have to run this stupid out and back one more time”, was my mantra for it during that lap. I don’t know why, but that one really got to me. By this point I was finding many parts of the course that were no longer runnable for me. The miles had taken their toll and my mental outlook had changed. I knew it was bad at one point when I caught my toe on a small rock and stumbled but stayed on my feet. Rather than just being happy that I didn’t full on superman and land on my face I stopped to look at the rock that I tripped on and call it a few choice words. When I started running again after that incident and gave it a little thought I was able to laugh at myself over it. Thankfully for that event and seeing the comedy of it in the moment my attitude started to turn around a bit. It was during this fourth passing through the now nippy water that I began recognizing how lucky I was to be in that nearly waist deep water. Locals said that the water level in the creek was higher than they had ever seen it. One more in a long string of chance occurrences that led to me being waist deep in the cold water in the middle of an Iowa night saying to myself “this is what I do for fun!”

Crossing the finish line!
Photo Credit:  Mile 90 Photography
That fourth lap took me about 5.5 hours putting me at about 17.5 hours to reach the 80 mile mark with one loop left to finish. Coming into the start/finish aid station this time I felt like I was still in a bit of a funk, but not as bad as I had been for the majority of the fourth lap. I think the lack of sleep was catching up to me as I was feeling more sleepy and overall grogginess than I ever have at any previous 100 mile attempt. But with only 20 miles to go the end was in sight which motivated me and reignited a bit of fight in me. My wife told me again that I was still in fourth place and that another runner had left the AS a few minutes before me. Last time she told me this I didn’t believe her, but I had accepted it at this point. However, like I said I had a bit of fight back in me at this point, I argued with her for just a few sentences about how that wasn’t possible. Not wanting to waste time and just wanting to get this done, I quit arguing pretty quickly and headed out from the aid station to see if I could catch any of these runners that had passed me. In hindsight, that may have been what pushed me to pick up my pace a bit for my last lap. I passed a few runners over the course of that final lap moving better and more determinedly than the previous lap. I wouldn’t find out until the finish though that they were all 100k runners. During this last lap I moved better between aid stations, but spent a bit more time refueling and enjoying the mental boost from the volunteers there. And the volunteers at these aid stations were stellar. Unbeknownst to me at the time, but I actually spent a bit of time with the legendary Ann Trason at my final aid station stop. I found out later that she was even at the race when the race photos were posted. To think, I spent my last aid station stop with Ann Trason debating whether or not to take a shot of Fireball before heading to the finish. If I had known who I was with at the time I’m sure I probably would have had some other questions, but it was a very fun aid station stop with some laughs regardless. And yes, in the end I did take the Fireball shot before heading out for the last stretch to the finish.

My first time to ever literally occupy a podium spot after a race!
Photo Credit:  Mile 90 Photography
The smell of a water treatment facility never smelt so sweet as it did during that final pass by it when I knew I was within a mile of the finish line. I happily returned to the finish line for the last time to be pleasantly surprised that my wife and kids were all awake and there waiting to cheer for me as I made my way across the finish line. Nothing in my experience will give you a greater boost of energy than having your kids cheer for you at the finish of a 100 miler. At that moment if you asked me I would have told you I could run another hundred. The RD, Joshua Sun, and a group of super energetic and cheerful volunteers were all waiting as well to congratulate me on the finish. Shortly after coming in the photographer asked to get my after pic as they were taking before and after pics for all the runners. She then told me to make sure I get my buckle and hardware from Josh. He was right there handing me the biggest buckle I’ve received for any race and the only one in the shape of the state of Iowa. He then proceeded to hand me a second place finisher award. A bit confused I questioned why I was receiving it. He went on to tell me that I had been in second place pretty much the whole race, ever since the first lap. I was pleasantly surprised by this and then realized that all the runners I had passed during the last lap were 100k runners. It turns out that my wife was getting tracking information off of some live updates and apparently the information was incorrect. Whether it helped or hurt my overall time being fed that information, I can’t know. What I do know is that it definitely
I got chilly quickly after the finish. And the sun surprised me,
but damn that was some good hot chocolate!
Photo Credit:  Mile 90 Photography
brought me down emotionally for that fourth lap, but it got me to push harder for the final lap. Regardless, it made those last two laps much more interesting than they would have been otherwise and provided a decent amount of laughs when I recounted the story after receiving the second place finisher award. And in the end, even though I missed my time goal, I was happy with my official finish time of 22:38:10, good enough for second overall.




Scott Snell
November 10, 2018



I made it to my buddy's wedding with my lovely wife and was even able to dance, albeit a little awkwardly. 

Friday, October 12, 2018

2018 Squatchung Surprise 6 Hour Race

Fueled By Candy Corn and Mountain Dew

Disclaimer: I received Now Sports BCAA Big 6 Natural Watermelon Flavor sports supplement to review as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out BibRave.com to review find and write race reviews!
At the starting line.
Credit for all photos: Sassquad Trail Running
“Everything went just as planned, nearly accurate down to the second.” That’s something you usually can’t say about running an ultra where the race format consists of running laps of four differently lengthed loops while being randomly assigned a said loop via the draw of a colored golf ball out of a bucket for six hours. But, that’s exactly what I’m saying now as I report on my race at the Squatchung Surprise. This was the inaugural running of the Squatchung Surprise, organized and implemented by Sassquad Trail Running. While the Sassquad Trail Running group has only been putting on races for maybe a year or slightly over a year now, after running two of their events (the first being the Fat Sass Switchback Challenge) they have quickly become my favorite NJ based group that organizes trail running events in NJ. They keep their events fun and unique by changing up the race formats. Additionally, they seem to always have a charity benefit associated with each event. This event benefitted Operation Chillout, a nonprofit which aims to end homelessness particularly for veterans of our military services.

The four loops.
The Squatchung Surprise took place at Watchung Reservation in Mountainside, New Jersey on Saturday September 29, 2018. Like many of the other Sassquad Trail Running events, this one offered multiple race options: a 5k, a three hour, and a six hour event. I was really excited to run this race as it used a format I had never experienced before. I’m not sure if this race format even has an accepted name, so I’ll do my best to just describe it. More or less, each runner is randomly assigned a certain trail loop to run by drawing a colored golf ball out of a bucket. The color of the golf ball corresponds to a specific trail loop. At this particular event there were four loops of varying distances and elevation gain: blue loop (two miles), yellow loop (three miles), red loop (four miles), and the green loop (5 miles). In addition to the blue, yellow, red, and green balls there was also a black ball which if drawn meant the runner got to choose which loop they wanted to run. This process was continued for the duration of the event and like most other timed events, the runner with the most miles at the end is the winner.

The drawing of  another golf ball.
It would seem that this format basically comes down to chance, however the format throws a curveball at you in the last hour of the event where if you employ a bit of strategy it could benefit you quite a bit. And if you have a bit of luck, as I did, it will benefit you even more. This hiccup in the format forces the runner to make a choice when they cross the finish/start line during the final hour of the timed event. Whether it’s one minute or 50 minutes into the final hour the runner must choose whether to continue drawing balls and running random loops or opt to run a paved, flat half mile loop. The catch is you are only allowed to run the paved loop for the last half hour. So if you finish your trail loop just a couple minutes after the five hour mark and opt to run the paved loop you’ll have to spend the next twenty some minutes waiting until the start of the mini loops. In the same situation if you opt to continue to draw balls and get the green five miler and end up not finishing the loop before the six hour mark you get zero miles added to your total mileage for that last hour. Hence the strategic decision. And whatever decision you make is final for the remainder of the event.

Still high energy at this point!
I went into this race with a definite strategy and several major goals. My first goal was to get a long training run in. I was using this race as my final long training run in preparation for the upcoming 100 miler I’m running in October, Mines of Spain. I figured whatever mileage I ran, pushing myself for six hours at a trail race would give me a better workout than a set distance long run. Not to mention it would be far more fun. My second goal was to test out how my stomach would handle a new supplement I’ve been training with during a race. I’ve been using Now Sports BCAA Big 6 (watermelon flavor) supplement either before or after runs, but had never used it while running. I figured this would be a great opportunity to test it out and make sure it didn’t disagree with my stomach if taken for an extended period while running. My last goal was to get as many miles as possible and have a good time doing it.

Some sweet swag!
I checked in at the Loop Pavilion of Watchung Reservation, grabbed some pretty sweet race swag and drew my first ball of the day prior to the start. Blue. I’d be running the shortest of the laps to start the race. After a little downtime before the start the RD made a few announcements and went over the rules of the race format a final time. And after that we started promptly at 9 AM. All loops started on a common easily runnable trail. After about a quarter mile you reached the first fork in the trail with red/green going left and yellow/blue going right. I quickly realized that remembering which color to follow every lap could become a challenge as I almost took the wrong path initially because I was just following a couple other runners in front of me who were going down a different colored path than me. I caught myself right away this time and vowed to be more cognizant of my loop color going forward. The blue loop simply made a short loop around Lake Surprise. At about the one mile point the other three trail loops merged back on to the blue loop and all four loops were identical for the last mile back to the aid station area.

Feeling good with a pouch full of candy corn.
Next I drew a red ball for the four mile loop. I enjoyed the red loop as it was a bit longer and felt like you weren’t just doing a quick lap before arriving back to draw another ball. I liked the red so much that when I drew a black ball next I chose to do red again. Next I drew a red and then a yellow. The yellow three mile loop felt pretty similar to the red, just a little shorter. For my sixth ball I finally drew a green. I was bit excited as I would finally see the last of the four loops. My excitement ended when I reached the new section of the green loop and realized it was probably the most technical of all the loops and had the most gain. It wasn’t ridiculously tough, but just had elements that slowed you down more than the other loops. There was what felt like a long sloppy wet and heavily rooted section. Then a bit of a more rocky slick section. It could have been the miles I already had on my legs, but I’m pretty sure the terrain had something to do with it as it was without question my slowest paced lap of the day. I got back to the aid station and hoped to not have to run the green loop again.

And now a mouth full of candy corn.
At this point I was a little past the halfway point (about 3:20 into the event). I decided to refill my bottle with my watermelon flavor Now Sports BCAA Big 6 supplement with a second serving as my stomach and the rest of my body was still feeling good. Up to this point, other than calories from the electrolyte drink mix provided at the aid station the only calories I had consumed were handfuls of candy corn and the very similar candy pumpkins. This seemed to be working well as a fuel source in place of gels which weren’t offered and I’m too cheap to buy so I stuck with it, packing a sandwich baggie of the delicious dyed fructose into the pocket of my hydration belt before heading back out on the yellow loop. I made it back to the aid station by the four hour mark, drew a blue ball, and was back after that lap by the 4:20 mark. Up to this point I hadn’t given much thought to which loop I was assigned. But it was getting to the time of the event where luck and strategy would start to play a role. And I got a good deal of luck going forward. I drew a black ball and chose red as I figured as long as I maintained a decent pace I’d be back just before the five hour mark to draw at least one more ball before being forced to make the decision of running the paved loop or continuing to run random loops. I had to push a bit, but finished the four mile loop with a few minutes to spare before the five hour mark. I drew another ball and as luck would have it I got black again, runner’s choice! It took me awhile to decide, but I finally chose the yellow planning to take the three mile loop at an easier pace and get back right before the half mile paved loop run started. The timing was a thing of beauty, a dang masterpiece if you will. I made it back after the three mile loop just as the runners were given the starting signal on the paved loop!

The group of runners just prior to the last half hour of the race (I was just finishing my last trail loop at this time).
I ran through the aid station without stopping, I just slowed down long enough to let the volunteers know that I was opting for the paved loop for the last half hour. I dropped my hydration belt and joined the crowd of runners starting their paved laps. My goal for the last half hour was to run sub 8 min/mile pace which would give me 3.5 miles in 28 minutes and allow two minutes of fluff time in case I felt worn out towards the end. Amazingly, I still felt really good for having just run five and a half hours of trails and I cranked out two sub 8 miles without feeling like I was redlining it. With my goal in reach, I eased off for the last mile and a half knowing that I wouldn’t be able to sprint the remaining 14 minutes of the race to only add an extra half mile to my total. Some people may think that running a half mile paved loop for the last half hour of a six hour trail race sounds like a terrible thing. I would disagree with those people. I thought it was fun to push hard after a long day of running to see what’s left. I also found it a bit comical as it reminded me of the training runs I did with the Runhole crew early this year. The chief Runhole himself, Jon Nicholson, decided that after two 25ish mile days of running the second half of the Eastern States 100 course that it would be a good idea to extend the run a bit beyond the actual finish area of the course and add about a half mile of paved road section before reaching the lot where our cars were parked. I appreciated the gesture after I realized it was a bit of a joke when he kept on saying how great it felt to “open it up a little” and “stretch the legs out.” I borrowed the jokes and made sure to let the other runners know that I was having a good time that last half hour “stretching my legs out” and “opening it up a little” before the finish. If it weren’t for that Runhole training run I definitely wouldn’t have appreciated that last half hour of laps as much.

Early in the day while the tracking board was still looking empty.
With the six hours of the event passed, I headed back to the aid station to have my Sassport checked and find out my final mileage. The Sassport is a small paper booklet that all the timed event runners carried with them for each lap. At about the halfway point of every loop was a box with colored stickers corresponding to the loop it was on. It was the runner’s responsibility to make sure to stop and grab a sticker placing it in the their Sassport in the same sequence as the runner mileage tracking board at the start finish area. At the check in area, volunteers assisted with recording the runner’s laps on the board and totaled the runners’ mileage after every finished lap. At the end of the timed events, volunteers checked every runners’ Sassport against the tracking board. I’m not sure what the official rule is, but I assume that if there was a discrepancy between the two that unverified (missing/incorrect color sticker) laps would not be included in the runners’ total distance. I was a bit nervous as my Sassport was checked as I hoped I had not forgotten to stop for a sticker at every loop. Thankfully they were all there and gave me a total official mileage for the day of 38.1 which was good enough for first place overall!


Me with an awesome award to take home.
Having not looked at my mileage or the standings of any runners all day, this was like the proverbial icing on the cake, the cherry on top. My strategy regarding timing had worked out perfectly pretty much to the second. Where I needed to have a bit of luck it worked out as I drew the appropriately colored balls. I got the minimum 50k training run in that I wanted and then some. The whole day my stomach felt great with zero issues arising from testing out a new supplement (Now Sports BCAA Big 6) or from grazing on candy corn washed down by Mountain Dew all day! I can’t point to one thing that made this such a great race day for me, but I can point to many things that went well.


Scott Snell
October 12, 2018



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