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Showing posts with label ultrarunner. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ultrarunner. Show all posts

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

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

2022 Goals Reviewed and Examining 2023 Goals


Scott Snell Beast Coast Trail Running

My singular goal for 2022, well it actually began to form midway through 2021, was to earn a place on the 15 person Team USA for the international Backyard Ultra Team competition at Big's Backyard in October. I accomplished this goal in May by winning Capital Backyard Ultra which was a silver ticket event guaranteeing me a place on the team. With my main goal for the year accomplished only a few months into the year, I put all my effort into training to achieve my best possible performance at that competition. In retrospect, maybe that was a mistake putting all of my eggs into one basket. As luck would have it, my son got sick with a bad cough/cold about two weeks before the race and then I picked it up about a week before the race. While I still had a decent performance there (62 yards or about 258 miles), it was not the performance I hoped for and I was just angry the majority of the time for the timing of the virus I contracted. Which I guess is a major downside of focusing all of your effort preparing for such a long period on a single race. All it takes is one poorly timed sickness to destroy your hopes. So, I have decided not to do that again. I will do almost the exact opposite this year and just send it, running all the races I want to run. Which is probably equally bad for different reasons.

Overall, this year I just want to run the races I want to run and let the chips fall where they may. Maybe I'll burn out and be sick of ultrarunning (not likely) before October and the big dance at Big's. But I don’t think I will. The more likely flaw to this plan is either an overuse injury or insufficient recovery time between races to achieve optimal performance. But I don’t care. I’d rather run that risk and have a few races that I’m really proud of, a few that I deem mediocre, and a few that were total misses rather than have one race that I put so much time and effort into feel like a failure. So with that introduction and philosophy behind my running goals for 2023, here they are (in chronological order)!

Scott Snell Beast Coast Trail Running

1.  Set a new 24 hour PR for myself and a new course record at the 24 hr Adventure Trail Run in Triangle, VA. - I made my first attempt at this goal and my first attempt at a 24 hour race in 2021. It was my first race after races had been shut down due to COVID. I believe I am better prepared to achieve this goal this time around. I know what mistakes I made during my first attempt and how I can remedy them. I also believe I am better prepared physically and mentally this time. My fitness level has improved and my mind is better adapted to overcome temporary setbacks within a 24 hour period. I was so close to achieving this goal last time that I am almost certain I will have success this time.

2.  Run Capital Backyard Ultra and be sure to secure my spot at Big's this year. - With the qualifying period for the 2023 Backyard World individual Championships ending in mid August, Capital Backyard Ultra (at the end of May) is one of the final more competitive backyard races likely to produce an at large qualification. Right now I'm sitting at the 56th spot out of 75 spots available. Chances are pretty good that where I'm at is good enough and I will qualify regardless of whether I run another backyard between now and then. However, there are some competitive backyard races between now and then. If I'm pushed farther down the qualifying list, it's most likely I'll be pushed off the list due to at large qualifications at Capital. If that does occur, I want to be in the race to compete for my spot at Big's.

3.  Run a 12 hour race at the Midnight Squatchapalooza. - I've never run a 12 hour race before and this is one of the most local ultras for me. It's also hosted by one of my favorite NJ race directors, Kim Levinsky of Sassquad Trail Running. My personal goal for this race is to run at least a 100k before the 12 hour clock runs out. From what I can tell based on the Ultrasignup results page, it looks like the course record is 25 laps of a 2.5 mile looped course or 62.5 miles which is just over a 100k distance. So, if I hit my personal goal I will at least tie the course record. Of course, if things are going well for me late in the race and it is within reach, I’d love to be able to better the course record and complete 26 laps to hit 65 miles.

4.  Run Backyard Squatch again. - I have multiple reasons for this goal and several achievements I’d like to reach within this goal. This race is also hosted by Sassquad Trail Running, so that alone makes me want to run it again. After running and winning it in 2021, I was invited back by Kim Levinsky to run it again in 2022 but I felt like it was a little too close and would disrupt my training cycle leading up to the Backyard Ultra Team competition at Big's Backyard in October. Although I wanted to run it again last year, I opted not to, hoping it would better my performance at Big’s. That is not the plan this year. Like I mentioned earlier, the plan is just to send it this year and hope for the best. With that mindset, my goals for this race are to better the course record (36 yards) that still stands from the inaugural year (2021). Additionally, I intend to be the last person standing there.

5.  Run a 200 mile race. - After spending the better part of the last two years making earning a spot to run at Big’s Backyard my primary focus, I’m trying to freshen things up a bit this year with some new exciting goals, hence the completely new goal of running a 12 hour race. While running a 200 mile race isn’t a completely new or fresh idea for me to pursue, this year I plan on acting on it. In the past I had kinda dreamt about running a 200 miler. I had always thought I’d sign up for one out west, most likely one of Candice Burt’s races but a few things kept me from acting on those dreams. The first being the cost. When you add up the registration and travel costs you’re looking at a minimum of a several thousand dollar price tag for an adventure that will most likely be a handful of days. I have trouble justifying that with my current household budget. The second primary reason was the fear that I wasn’t ready to tackle the 200 mile distance. Well, after running two backyards last year that went over 250 miles the fear of not being ready for the 200 mile distance is gone. However, the financial limitation is still there so I have been looking at other, more affordable options. As of now, the race I think I will register for to take a crack at the 200 mile distance is the Cowboy 200. Since I’ve already run two races greater than 200 miles, some may justifiably be questioning why I’m pursuing this as a goal this year. The reason is that although I’ve done the distance, I’ve never raced the distance. I’ve only run it in the backyard format where your pace is constrained to not exceed 100 miles per 24 hours. So the real goal within this goal is not to finish a 200 mile race, but to finish it in under 48 hours. Giddy up!

6.  Run the individual backyard world championship at Big's Backyard in October. - If you read my race report on my performance at the 2022 Big’s Backyard team competition, I think it’s readily apparent that I feel like I have some unfinished business there. I intend to be there again this year for the individual competition and do better. It would be na├»ve and maybe a bit foolish to make winning this competition my only goal. Of course it’s the top goal, but these are the best backyard runners from around the world competing here. It is the most competitive backyard competition in the world. Do I believe there is a chance? Yes. Likely? Probably not. Can I do better than last year? Most definitely yes. Outside of being the outright winner, I have a few other objectives that are more likely obtainable. The first being just to improve upon last year’s performance of 62 yards. Simple and definitely doable. Second is to make it through that third night of running and see how long I can hang after that. That will be more difficult, but I believe I am capable of it. My third alt objective and likely the most difficult if I am not the last person standing there is to simply not allow my race to end in apathy again. An apathetic outlook was the final piece that ended my run there last year. I don’t like excuses. Allowing apathy to take hold over the last few hours of my race last year feels like creating an excuse to quit in the moment. If not an excuse, then a defense or escape mechanism at best. It’s not fair to use either after putting so much time, effort, and sacrifice into preparing for this event. It’s not fair to me or others close to me who have also made sacrifices to allow me to not only be there, but to prepare to do the best I can while I am there. So that’s the final alt objective: to do my best with no excuses.

Scott Snell Beast Coast Trail Running



Scott Snell
11 January 2023









Thursday, November 3, 2022

Mental Recovery From Big's Backyard


I hit a total of 369 miles for October with 258 run in a single go at Big's Backyard. I'm pretty sure this was my highest monthly mileage ever and I am completely sure that my run at Big's was a distance PR for me. For all of that I admit that I am proud and maybe I shouldn't say it at all but I'm going to anyway. I can't help but be disappointed in myself with how my run at Big's went. It certainly felt like giving up towards the end. And I hate that. What could I have done differently? Mistakes were made. I didn't change from shorts to pants soon enough to deal with the drop in temperature. I didn't stay positive. I lost hope. I didn't use my last resort lifeline that I have the previous two times I was ready to quit at a backyard: to call my wife and say "I'm done." Maybe I didn't have time. Maybe I didn't want the pressure to keep going. I'm still not sure and I may never know exactly where my head was at that point. What I do know is that it's on me for making those mistakes. There's no one else to blame. I take full responsibility. I also know that I'm not happy or impressed with what I did and it's impacting what I had planned for 2023. My primary running goal for 2023 was to make an attempt at the IA crossing FKT. Now I don't know; a "redemption" backyard run sounds pretty attractive. We'll see... Regardless, my plan was to take some time to recover and focus on family time from November and over the holidays until I start training again for a specific goal next year. What that specific goal is, I don't know at this point. I still need to accept what I interpret as a failure. But I am determined to find the good in this situation, to learn from my mistakes and use it as motivation to drive and to train harder towards whatever my next goal is. 


Scott Snell

3 November 2022 




Wednesday, October 26, 2022

2022 Big's Backyard Team World Championships


Team USA - 2022 Backyard World Champions

Not All DNFs Are Equivalent


  beast coast trail running scott snell big's backyard 2022 team usa world champions coin

The rules of the backyard race format are simple. There can be only one winner. The winner is the person that successfully completes one more 4.1667 mile loop than any other runner in the race. To remain in the race each runner must complete that loop within a one hour time limit every hour beginning on the hour. If a runner fails to complete the lap within the time limit or to be in the starting corral at the start of the next hour’s lap, they are out of the race and recorded as a DNF (Did Not Finish). It is a race format based on attrition with the sole remaining runner being the victor. When a team aspect is incorporated into the format, the sole focus of an individual athlete’s success is no longer centered only on him or herself. It also depends on the success of their teamates. That is what happened in 2020 when international athletes could not travel (due to covid travel restrictions) to Bell Buckle, TN where the Backyard World Championship race is held every year in October. To continue the annual international competition, the race format adapted to a team competition with teams of 15 runners representing their home country in their homeland negating the need for international travel. Teams would run an equal distance course on their “home court” following the same backyard rules with the addition of a simple team scoring system where one point (or yard) is scored for every team member that completes a lap within the one hour time limit. The team with the most points is crowned the champion team that year. Incorporating team camaraderie and representing one’s home country as a group were just a couple aspects that made the revamped team format of the race a worldwide success in 2020. So much so, that it was incorporated as a biannual event being held on even years while the individual world championships would be held on odd years. This report is the story of how I earned a spot on the 2022 USA Backyard World Championship Team and my race in Bell Buckle, TN.
 
Beast Coast Trail Big's backyard Team USA 2022 champions

To make a long story short of how I earned a spot on the US team, I won a bronze ticket race (Backyard Squatch) in August 2021 which earned me a spot at a silver ticket race (Capital Backyard Ultra). Winning Capital Backyard Utra guaranteed a spot for me on Team USA. Earning a spot on a national team to represent my country in an international competition felt like a pretty big deal to me. It also felt like a good deal of pressure to perform well. I hoped to have one of those ideal days when everything just clicks and it feels like the energy flow is infinite. I wanted to have the performance of my life, not just for the sake of the team, but to achieve a performance that I could look back at and say “wow, that was it! That’s one that is going to be hard to ever top!” But, in ultrarunning, as in life, things don’t always go as we hope or plan.
 
Beast Coast Trail Big's backyard Team USA 2022 champions

Beast Coast Trail Big's backyard Team USA 2022 champions
My training mileage leading to Big's Backyard.

Training went splendidly. I followed the same basic plan as I did for the build up for Capital Backyard Ultra with the only major difference being an increase in volume of mileage. I had less hiccups, speed bumps, and interruptions to the training preparing for Big’s than I did for Capital. I had serendipitously met a local runner at Capital (Dagmar - thank you!) that volunteered to crew for me at Big’s. By the numbers (larger volume training) and other factors (crewed versus uncrewed) leading into Big’s, I expected to have a better day there than at Capital. Which is likely a major reason why I come away from the experience feeling so disappointed with a performance that was about on par with what I did at Capital. Of course I can make excuses, which I hate, but there has to be some explanation why things happen how they happen. The best explanation I have, least sounding like a bs excuse, began about two weeks before Big’s when my youngest son came down with a cold (not covid, we tested). The cold made its way through our whole household and I definitely had a remnant cough and some sinus congestion en route to Tennessee for the race. Finding yourself in the cough and cold aisle of a CVS to get cough drops and restock with zinc tablets is obviously not the ideal situation two days out from a multi day race where you’re hoping for the performance of your life, but that’s the situation I found myself in. That’s the hand I was dealt, and I chose to play it.
 

After a couple days of travel, we arrived at Big’s backyard Friday afternoon before the start of the race the following morning. Big is the name of the Race Director’s dog and the trail course is in his backyard, hence the race name “Big’s Backyard”. We got our tent and most of our gear set up and situated with a few hours of daylight left so we decided to hike the trail course. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this course was going to be far more challenging than the Capital trail course. The trail is nearly all pretty technical single track with plenty of roots and rocks to catch your toes on. With tired legs, this is an ever present danger. Add in the elevation change (about 470 feet of gain per loop whereas the Capital trail course had somewhere between 300-350 feet of gain per loop) and you’ve got yourself quite a challenging backyard course.

Beast Coast Trail Big's backyard Team USA 2022 champions

Day 1 - October 15 AM

The race started with the trail loop at 7 am. This particular race location requires runners to complete 11 day loops (7 am - 5 pm) before switching to the night road course beginning at 6 pm for 13 night laps. That is one of the quirks of the backyard team format international competition; each team is on a unique course in their homeland with varying lengths of daylight hours. Some have more day course laps than night course laps and some vice versa. Some have more runnable courses with less elevation change. It's not an even playing field, however, what plays to the strengths of some runners is a weakness of others. It’s a bit of a luck of the draw as to how your running strengths align with your country’s home course.
 
Beast Coast Trail Big's backyard Team USA 2022 champions tent
This was home for the duration of the race.

A few minutes before the start of the first yard, Laz (the Race Director) called all of the runners out for a pre race briefing going over all of the rules and reminding us he would make no exceptions in enforcing them even if it would be severely detrimental to our team effort. That is the essence of backyard racing: the rules are simple and must be strictly enforced. Shortly after, Laz was ringing the cowbell that would signal the start of every yard on the hour, every hour until there were no runners left in our competition. As he rang the bell, Laz shouted “Happy Times!” with what seemed to be a mix of emotions covering the ranges of excitement, joy, and anticipation of how the race would play out and what all of us runners would achieve.

The trail course of Big’s is actually only a little over 3 miles so to get the required 4.1667 mile distance it begins with a short out and back on the road course. It was during this initial road out and back that Harvey Lewis (a very accomplished ultrarunner and a bit of a personal running idol to me) called in our team for a little team building and strategy talk. It was real now! I was on Team USA with Harvey Lewis!

The trail course was a bit challenging on the first day, but having hiked it the evening before it wasn’t a surprise for which I was grateful. I’d much rather be aware of the challenges stacked against me rather than be surprised by them. The miles and yards rolled by smoothly while I took in calories between and during laps with no issues. The goal of day one here was the same as the goal of day 1 at any backyard: stay steady, be patient, and cause as little stress to the mind and body as possible.
 
Beast Coast Trail Big's backyard Team USA 2022 champions

Night 1 - October 15 PM

The overnight portion of any long distance race always presents a set of challenges not faced during the daylight hours. The sun sets and darkness sets in and head lamps are lit. Your body’s circadian rhythm reminds you that this is when you should be preparing to rest after a long day outdoors, but that’s not an option in the backyard. I feel like the need for rest is more intense or at least more apparent during a backyard race than a standard point to point race. During a standard race the goal is to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible. Depending on the timing of the race and daylight hours, point B could be reached before the sun rises. Having a finish line to target is a huge mental motivator to push hard and continue onward. The physical output intensity of a standard race is greater than a backyard. During a standard race you’re pushing your body harder to edge that line of moving as quickly as possible without breaking, whereas in a backyard the goal is to restrain the body from even approaching over exertion, keeping the pace as calm and relaxed as possible while still allowing a few minutes between laps to not feel too rushed. The backyard allows the mind to realize that the body is tired and in need of sleep while also holding the body in a state more ready for sleep with a lower heart rate than standard races. Maybe not during the first night, but it can be a recipe for disaster as the race continues.

The first night of most backyards probably produces a greater loss of runners than any other portion of the race. But this backyard was not a standard backyard, this was the International Backyard Team competition and although one team member (Brady Winkles) developed a knee injury overnight, our team had no drops during the first night.
 
Beast Coast Trail Big's backyard Team USA 2022 champions

My night was uneventful other than battling some standard drowsiness. I attempted short naps between laps more frequently than I had at any other backyard since I had crew support at this race, but honestly I’m not sure if I ever actually slept. I made what I believe may have been a mistake towards the end of the night. I attempted to run a fast lap (37:55) in hopes that I could manage to get a bit of a longer nap, but the faster pace raised my heart rate too much and I mostly just spent that interloopal period lying on my cot with my eyes closed waiting for my heart rate to recover. I believe the negative mental impact of that failed strategy was far greater than the physical. It was the same strategy I used during the second night at Capital and it worked perfectly there as I got a solid 10 minute nap and felt refreshed before the sun rose for the third day. As the race continued, I would find many things that went right at Capital would present greater challenges at Big’s.
 
Beast Coast Trail Big's backyard Team USA 2022 champions

Day 2 - October 16 AM

Although our team would make it through night one with no losses, Brady would have to tap out early during day two due to his knee injury. He would complete 25 yards before timing out on his 26th.

The second day of trails felt like more of a struggle for me and required more effort than the first day, but that is to be expected when you have over 100 miles on your legs. The elevation change was definitely having an impact on me as most of my training is on extremely flat terrain in south Jersey. By midday my quads were letting me know just how unprepared they were for all of the climbing and descending on the trails. As the day laps wore on, I found myself falling in line with a group of teammates right behind Harvey Lewis. I did my best to just turn my brain off and just focus on his feet as I ran behind him. Sometimes the best thing to do during a long ultra is turn off the mind and just follow the footsteps in front of you. It helped get me through some challenging laps during that second day.

Beast Coast Trail Big's backyard Team USA 2022 champions

At one point when I was hurting pretty bad physically and feeling extremely sleep deprived and drowsy I asked Harvey in a pretty general way, “what do you do when it starts to hurt really bad?” I think he responded with a few questions asking what hurt and how it hurt. I answered that it was mainly my quads just feeling spent. He came back with some tips and possible solutions to improve the situation: stretching between laps, making sure I’m taking in enough electrolytes and fluids, and more generally to think of someone important to you while you’re running through the pain. The advice helped me get through some low points during that day as our team approached a second night of running. It would also be one of the highlights of my experience of running Big’s. Just little old Scott out running trails and getting advice from one of the best backyard runners in the world.

Beast Coast Trail Big's backyard Team USA 2022 champions

Night 2 - October 16 PM

The switch back to the road course was a welcome change after the second day of trail running. It rained intermittently during the second day making the trails a bit muddy and the rocks slick. Sure footed, mindless running of the road was a relief after a day of concentrating on uncertain footing on the trails all day. Sleep deprivation is obviously intensified during the second night after the sun sets. This is when the field really dwindles to a few serious runners with their eye on the ultimate prize during a normal backyard, but again, this was not a normal backyard. All but two (Kevin McCabe who was suffering from nausea and vomiting for 8-10 hours before ending his run with 38 yards and Justin Wright who was battling an injury sustained on the trail during the day would fight on to complete 44 yards) of our 14 remaining team members would survive the cutoffs the entire second night. It’s not to say there weren’t struggles, myself included. I found myself chatting with teammates more during the second night than the first. It was in part to encourage them when it seemed they were struggling and as a means to keep myself awake and as alert as possible.

At one point while I was bobbing and weaving while walking (possibly sleepwalking) a headlamp came up beside me. It was Cody Eubanks who I hadn’t chatted with much earlier in the race as his pace was typically a few minutes faster than mine. He pulled up and invited me to run with him so we could keep each other awake and on the road as we struggled through the wee hours of the morning. I had been turning my headlamp off for portions of the road laps overnight hoping that it would help me to fall asleep faster between laps. The trade off is that I felt even sleepier while running in the darkness. With Cody’s headlamp next to me I woke up a bit and turned mine on as well. The dual headlamps help stave off some of the drowsiness that night. The conversation with Cody helped chase off all remaining drowsiness for a few stretches of that second night as we ran the next few laps together. We chatted about coffee at one point and that’s when I realized I had a package of chocolate covered espresso beans I had not even opened yet. I became irrationally excited about them at that moment. I invited Cody to stop at my tent during the next interloopal period and join me for some espresso beans. In retrospect, that espresso bean party at my tent kinda felt like closing down the bar and inviting all your drunk friends back to your house. Then all of your sober roommates (in this case your crew, sorry for the unexpected extra runner you helped take care of at that point, Dagmar) see you arrive and are just saying “WTF” to themselves.
 
Beast Coast Trail Big's backyard Team USA 2022 champions

Day 3 October 17 AM

Towards the end of the second night, I began losing hope that my legs would be able to complete the trail loop within the time limit. I voiced this to teammates and crew and got encouragement all around. I was committed to giving it a go. I didn’t want my race to end by choosing to not go out for a lap. I wanted to keep going until I timed out. Thankfully, after the first trail lap, it felt like my legs got a little spring back in their step and I felt more confident I could complete the trail loops on that third day without timing out. The shift back to trails was not as forgiving for all of our team. We lost both Cody and Jennifer Russo on the first trail lap. Jennifer barely missed the cutoff and was maybe 15-20 seconds away from completing her lap when the bell rang. Cody was a bit farther back and our team congratulated him on a race well run as we passed him making his way back on the trail. With their losses, our team was down 6 runners and 9 runners continued on into day 3.

After many hours and several days of hearing Laz howl “Happy Times!” at the start of every yard, it began to sound more like a purely sadistic yell to me than anything else. The excitement and joy was gone; now it was just hurting. I did my best to fight on through it and stay positive, but it was getting really tough. Food wasn’t attractive anymore. My mouth had begun to break out and felt like I had mini canker sores covering the insides of my lips. I was experiencing heartburn like I never had during a race before and all the Tums I ate didn’t seem to help but for a brief portion of each lap. I was losing the mental battle and I knew it. The sleep deprivation intensified. I attempted to chat with teammates, but I wasn’t sure if I was actually saying anything out loud or just thinking of saying it in my head. Making it back from the loops with about 5 minutes to spare began to feel like a challenge. I told myself just to hang on and the night loops should get easier. If I could just survive the day trail loops. My cold congestion started bothering me more and more during day 3. I found myself taking running breaks to move to the side of the trail to hack up phlegm from my sinuses. We lost Levi Yoder and Jason Bigonia after laps 52 and 54 respectively, reducing our team to 7 runners by mid day. During a standard backyard, losing a runner is motivating in a sense as it puts you one position closer to being the sole survivor of the race. But with the team format, it is more of a punch to the gut as you just lost another teammate.
 
Beast Coast Trail Big's backyard Team USA 2022 champions

Night 3 October 17 PM

We entered our third night with 59 yards completed, about 245.8 miles. My personal backyard record is 61 yards. Surpassing that was a personal goal for me going into this race. It was well within reach at this point, but I was fighting a complete lack of motivation to continue and an onslaught of apathy about the race in general. I believe I had lost the mental battle at this point. I actually just wanted to quit and not go back out for another yard although I knew I would regret it. Dagmar was able to reason with my unreasonable attitude enough to get me to commit to at least getting a new PR of 62 yards. Those last two laps were ugly. It was a lot of walking and feeling sorry for myself. Then reminding myself that I had to pick up the pace to make it in and get that PR. I came back from my 62nd lap torn. I had bettered my PR and now I could quit and be happy and proud. But that’s not the case for me with the backyard. I knew I couldn’t refuse to go back out without feeling like a total piece of garbage. Thankfully another runner’s crew member had found out I was planning to drop out and wasn’t going to allow it. He made me lay down for the few minutes I had between laps, threw a pair of running pants on me (temperature had dropped when the sun went down that night), put a water bottle in my hand and pushed me into the corral to go back out for another yard. Dying in the chair is unacceptable in my backyard ethos. If your race is going to end, at least go out fighting and let it end by timing out on a lap.
 

And that is how my race ended on the 63rd yard. I started out, legs feeling stiffer than ever before. I pushed them to run. It hurt, but they began to pick up the pace. Then I was unexpectedly walking again. I repeated the cycle until I hit the half mile mark at 8 minutes. That made me worried. I would have to increase my pace to make it back in time. The cycle of walking and mentally pushing my legs to run continued until I hit the 1 mile mark at a little over 20 minutes. Then I realized my pace had slowed even more even with my attempt to pick it up. And I realized I would not complete that lap within the cut off. I stood still for a few moments looking at the night sky, then the ground, wondering if I could hammer out a 10 minute mile uphill to give myself a chance of making it back in time. I even made the attempt to run a bit more, but my legs wouldn’t have it. They refused to pick up the pace and I didn’t have the mental capacity to convince or force them to move. With that, I knew my race was over and I began my cold, sad walk back on the dark road.

I couldn’t quite explain at the time what went wrong and I’m still not completely sure. Was it the shock of the cold weather that third night, the sleep deprivation, the lack of stretching, calorie depletion, the phlegm I was hacking up and sinus congestion I was battling, just physical exhaustion, or most likely a combination of all of the above. Lack of sleep and physical/mental exhaustion will take your mind to some strange places, and I went there over the course of my time at Big’s. I had some big personal goals and high hopes going into Big’s, and I failed on several accounts. I wanted to run through a third night and break 300 miles, both of which I failed to achieve. I bettered my PR, but only by one yard. I truly believe that failure is an opportunity for growth and improvement and I hope to embrace my failure at Big’s to improve my future backyard performances.

Beast Coast Trail Big's backyard Team USA 2022 champions
My performance was good enough for 24th in the world out of 555 athletes.

With my race over, I was chauffeured to a hotel where I showered and slept for a few hours in a real bed. I felt a bit more human again the next morning and we returned to the race to clean up our tent and gear just after the two remaining runners had headed out on what would be their final lap. Harvey Lewis and Piotr Chadovich both went out for a 76th yard, but only Piotr would successfully complete it making him the Team USA Champion with 316.67 miles. I was so happy to be back and alert to witness the finish of our team’s race and congratulate both Harvey and Piotr on their amazing performances. With our team’s race over and a healthy lead in the team competition, it looked like we would have the team win, but with several other country’s teams continuing to accumulate points it was too early to celebrate. We took some team photos and chatted a bit about all of the challenges we all endured over the last 3 days or so. We had all suffered together for a common goal: to accumulate more yards than any other team in the world. Some of us faced more challenges earlier on than others. Some of us overcame and bounced back, some of us succumbed to those challenges. But through it all, we worked as a team encouraging one another to push on. Our crews assisted one another sharing resources such as foods, beverages, pain relief supplies, and expertise such as taping and wrapping injuries. True team bonds were formed as a result of our shared hardships. Although it took about another 25 hours or so to be official, Team USA was declared the 2022 Backyard Team World Champions with 860 total yards over Belgium's 788 yard performance as second and Australia's 744 yard performance for third.
 

I am still so grateful to have had the opportunity to compete in this international competition as a part of Team USA! I hate to tarnish our team victory in any way by expressing any disappointment in my personal performance, but that feeling is there. I don’t have any running plans as of right now. I expect to run more backyards and maybe chase some FKTS. Right now I’m not sure where to focus my efforts next. I can say with complete certainty that I hope to improve as a backyard runner and I would love to represent my country as a member of Team USA again in 2024.
 
Beast Coast Trail Big's backyard Team USA 2022 champions


Scott Snell

26 October 2022

















Friday, September 9, 2022

UCAN Edge Energy Gel and Bar Review



Best Coast Trail Running Scott Snell UCAN


"Disclaimer: I received a variety of UCAN Edge Energy gels and bars to review as part of being a BibRave Ambassador. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Ambassador, and check out BibRave.com to review, find, and write race reviews!"

Sugar Free Energy!? Say What? I Can and UCAN Too!

Scott Snell beast Coast Trail Running

Usually when I see “sugar free” used to advertise any type of endurance sport energy supplement, it’s a turn off for me. I associate “sugar free” with low calorie, which is a negative characteristic in my opinion when selecting fuel sources for long efforts. I look for calorie dense foods that can be easily packed in my hydration vest and consumed on the move. Calorie dense means more calories in less volume and less to carry to fuel my long runs. So when I learned of UCAN sugar free Edge Energy gels I was a bit skeptical. But once I overcame my bias against sugar free fuels, read the nutrition label on the gel packet, and gave them an honest try, I became a fan.


Each Edge Energy gel packet contains 70 calories. This is only slightly less than most other energy gel brands I have tried which have ranged from around 90-120 calories per packet. So not a deal breaker at all. For me, it would just mean adjusting the timing of how frequently I eat a gel during a long run. I usually consume one gel every hour or so. Using UCAN Edge Energy gels would just mean I’m a bit more strict about not going beyond that “one gel per hour” schedule.


The taste of the gels was different from other sugary gels I’ve tried. UCAN Edge Energy gels were certainly less sweet and it felt more like I was consuming some type of actual food. These are both positive traits, in my opinion. I’m always very turned off by overly sweet drinks and foods during long runs. It was nice to feel like I was consuming actual food rather than a packet of syrup.


I was similarly impressed by the UCAN energy bars. Again, not overly sweet, sticky messes being marketed as sports nutrition. The bars were tasty, soft, and easy to eat on the go, fueling the longest test run I did with them (22 miles) without any stomach issues or energy crashes.


As I approach the end of my training block for Big’s Backyard (only a little over a month away now), I’ve been pretty certain my nutrition plan is dialed in and set. However, testing out these UCAN Edge Energy gels and bars has made me question if there’s room for improvement. I believe UCAN products could be another valuable tool in my nutrition tool box while I run at Big’s. I will definitely be bringing some UCAN products with me to Big’s because who knows, it could be what saves my race and keeps me going on day two, three, or even four?


Scott Snell

9 September 2022


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Thursday, July 28, 2022

Running Home - IA FKT - Post 2: Why





Running Home - IA FKT
Omaha, NE to Muscatine, IA
276.6 Miles < 72 Hours
Post #2: Why


  

Why would anyone want to run 276 miles in a single go? And even if the answer to that question was obvious, why would someone who lives in New Jersey decide to run across Iowa? Every long distance runner has their own “why” for what drives them to the pursuit of covering long distances on foot. Sure there is bound to be a good amount of overlap in individual’s “why”s, but every long distance runner’s “why” has some unique spark or twist to it. Some people will never understand the “why”s of long distance running no matter how many they hear from multiple runners. Some people will intentionally deride the “why”s in a condescending, cynical manner. I’ve explored my “why” in previous blog posts. It’s a multifaceted motivation for me. I like to push myself to see what I am capable of and tackle tasks that may seem daunting to most. I believe that life is bereft without seeking new challenges. That is the short version of my “why” for long distance running, but it doesn’t explain why I chose to run across Iowa.

The simplest explanation as to why I chose Iowa of all states to run across is that Iowa was home to me for the first 26 years of my life. Honestly, the FKT route, "Run Across Iowa (IA)", probably wouldn’t haven’t have even really piqued my interest had I not called Iowa home for the majority of my life so far. Although I have spent more time living in Iowa than New Jersey, I’m certain that I’ve seen more of New Jersey than Iowa. I’ve explored more areas, everything from historical sites to tourist attractions to state parks and forests, in New Jersey than in Iowa. Which is a major motivation for choosing to run across Iowa, to see and experience more of my home state than just the Quad Cities and the immediately surrounding area. While living in Iowa, I didn’t explore much beyond my home town of Davenport and the surrounding Quad Cities. I have driven all the way across Iowa on Interstate 80, but the whole point of crossing a state via an interstate is to do it as quickly as possible with minimal stops. Granted, an FKT attempt has the same goal in mind, but two key differences are the mode of transportation (doing it on foot one step at a time versus at 75 MPH in a vehicle) and the route (interstate versus two lane highway). I hope to see more of Iowa in my 2-3 days running the length of the state on Highway 92 than I did my entire time living there.

In addition to seeing more of Iowa, I also chose to run across my home state simply for personal motivations. I still have friends and family in Iowa that I rarely have an opportunity to see. Usually it’s only around Christmas when I make it home to visit and those visits always feel rushed. Making an additional trip back home to visit my folks and hopefully catch up with some friends I haven’t seen in years was a huge motivating factor for me in deciding to chase this FKT.




Scott Snell
28 July 2022