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Saturday, September 2, 2017

Runner's World Claims That Top Finishers of the 2017 UTMB Have Weak Butts and Hips

Runner's World Claims That Top Finishers of the 2017 UTMB Have Weak Butts and Hips


Author's Note 9/26/17:  This is a sarcastic piece of writing. I assumed it was pretty apparent, but after several serious comments defending Runner's World and questioning my judgement, I wanted to clarify this point. I readily admit the title I gave this post is total clickbait. However, I have no qualms with using Runner's World as the bait considering some of the clickbait they put out. For example, see the screenshots from the official Runner's World website below. The one serious point I intended with the article was to show that maybe Runner's World blows things out of proportion and jumps to unfounded conclusions at times. A little mud on your calves may be a sign of weak glutes, or it may be a sign of a muddy course. 


I'm not trying to bash Runner's World here. In fact, I usually don't pay their articles a great deal of attention. Mainly because I am more interested in longer distance running than their publication focuses on for the most part. I normally scroll right past Runner's World posts on my Facebook feed without a second thought, but today (as I was watching the top finishers of the UTMB cross the line) was different. Immediately following a Runner's World post about mud or kick marks on your calves being a "telltale sign" of a weak butt and hips was a post with photographs of Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB) winner Fran├žois D'haene. And what do I see on his calves? Mud! This is just a fluke I thought. No way the winner or other top finishers of the UTMB could have weak butts and/or hips. But it didn't stop there. Upon further investigation (see photos) I found the trend continued with other top ten finishers: Tim Tollefson, Gediminas GriniusZach Miller, and Jordi Gamito. In the Runner's World article Dave Scott, six-time Ironman world champion, states that mud smudges on your calves typically occur "because that person has weak glute muscles, which help stabilize your foot in the stance phase”. So am I to believe that all of these guys have weak glutes, or did Runner's World get it wrong and a little mud smudged on your calves isn't such a "telltale sign"? Interestingly, Jim Walmsley's calves looked clean and mud free. Is this a Runner's World / UTMB conspiracy? Is Jim "come back from the dead" Walmsley truly an alien? Special thanks to iRunFar.com for their amazing coverage of the UTMB and for providing the photographic evidence of the weak glutes of the top finishers of the 2017 UTMB. 

Fran├žois D'haene - Mud!


Tim Tollefson - Mud!

Gediminas Grinius - Mud!

 Zach Miller - Mud!

Jordi Gamito

Jim "Come Back From The Dead" Walmsley - No Mud!

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Aonijie Triwonder Withwind 5L Hydration Vest Review

Aonijie Triwonder Withwind 5L Hydration Vest Review


I purchased the Aonijie Triwonder Withwind hydration pack and two soft flasks (17 oz. each) a few months ago off of Amazon (http://amzn.to/2w9yFD1) for $52.99. Since then I have run with it for over 250 miles with the shortest run being around 11 miles and the longest being 102.9 miles at Eastern States 100. Overall, I have been very pleased with it. However, I do have one complaint about it that I will get out of the way to start.

Soft flask (17 oz) and bite valve cap.

My only real complaint isn't with the vest itself, but the soft flasks that I purchased with it (optional). The soft flasks have narrow mouth openings (less than an inch diameter) which is a minor complaint, but make refilling without spilling a bit more difficult than it should be especially if you are rushing. The other downside of the bottles in my opinion is the fact that the caps use a bite valve. I personally have never been a fan of bite valves because it feels like to me that they throw off my breathing. Maybe this is partially due to the fact that I was trying to drink from them without removing them from the vest. The positioning of the vest and my neck to achieve this never felt comfortable. The reason I did this was because the soft flasks were a pain at times to get back into their snug vest pockets if not completely full. My last complaint about the soft flasks is their durability. Both of the soft flasks I purchased with the vest have split at seams and leaked. The first after about 120 miles and the second after about 150 miles. Unfortunately, the only other product option offered by Aonijie is a 1.5 L water bladder for the back pocket. Thankfully, I was able to find a couple hard water bottles (kids' bottles from Party City, 18 oz. each) with pull valves which fit nicely in the vest pockets.

Replacement hard bottles (18 oz) I purchased from Party City ($2 each).

Now that my griping over the bottles is done, on to the vest itself which has been nothing but a positive experience. The fit of the vest is great. I ordered the small/medium which fits me well (5'8" and about 165 lbs). It fits snuggly, but comfortable and does not slide around or bounce while running. I may have also been able to go with the medium/large and get a good fit by adjusting the straps. Also, the mesh back of the vest provides great breathability. The vest has not caused any chafing other than at the base of my rib cage on each side where the base of the water bottles sit. This chafing occurred when I ran with both the soft flasks at Worlds End 100k and the hard water bottles at Eastern States.

The Aonijie provides plenty of storage space as well. Above each water bottle pocket is a small pocket (zippered on the right side and fold over closure on the left side) which could fit a gel, a key, or spare batteries. Next to the water bottle pockets are a set of three pockets that wrap around the sides to the back. The left and right sides are symmetric. Nearest the front is a small unclosed pocket which could probably fit three gels (the most I've carried in this pocket is two). Next is a small zippered pocket. Finally towards the back is a medium unclosed pocket. The large back pocket is zippered and also has a smaller hanging net pocket inside of it.






The strap system of the vest provides many options for adjustments of the fit of the vest to make it perfect for a wide variety body types. The plastic hooks and straps basically create a system of four straps, the tightness and placement of which can all be adjusted independently of one another. The vest also provides straps for poles, however I did not test these out as I have not attempted to use poles.
 

Hook and strap system.
 
Lastly, the vest came with a few bonus items:  an insulated pouch for the a water bladder (sold separately), an emergency blanket, and a safety whistle. The only one of these items I tested out was the safety whistle, and it is mighty loud.
 


Bonus items.
 
Overall, the Aonijie has served me well for several long training runs and two long races. If you are looking to buy a new or your first (this was my first) hydration vest, I would highly recommend looking into this vest. It is available for purchase at Amazon:  http://amzn.to/2w9yFD1.
 
If you'd like to see more of the vest check out my YouTube video review below.
 











Monday, August 21, 2017

2017 Worlds End 100K



2017 Worlds End 100K


Running A Tough 100k The Day Before A Wedding Is The
Greatest Excuse For Being A Crappy Dancer.



Panoramic of the view from aid station 5 - Canyon Vista (22.2 miles).



“It’s OKAY to be scared. Being scared means you’re about to do something really, really brave.”

-Mandy Hale



As I begin writing this report I have just wrapped up running back to back 25 mile training runs which will be my last long training weekend before Eastern States 100 which is now less than three weeks away. During these back to back long runs I had plenty of time to relive and analyze my day at the Worlds End 100k. It wasn’t a perfect day, but it was by no means a bad day either. I had some low points and there was plenty of room for improvement, but I managed and dealt with the tougher times to experience some high points throughout the day as well. The high points were positives for me, but the greatest and most valuable positive for me from my day at Worlds End was what I’ve learned from struggling through the low points that tested me. You see, Worlds End was only the second race I’ve done of over 50 miles so although I’m somewhat inexperienced in ultrarunning in general, I’m extremely inexperienced in running the longer distance ultras. Thankfully or not (I’m not sure if I should be grateful for this), the main cause of the majority of my challenges throughout the day were self imposed and largely due to just poor planning on my part. Hopefully, I will apply what I’ve learned from my mistakes when it comes time to run Eastern States 100 as repeating them there may lead to greater consequences and ultimately a DNF as problems that begin within a 100k distance could very well intensify and worsen if they happen during a hundred miler. Not to mention that even on a good day Eastern States is not an “easy” hundred miler as it has an overall finish rate of around 30 percent in it’s three years of existence.



A welcoming sign at the start/finish area.

Worlds End Ultramarathon offers 50k and 100k distances. I chose to run the 100k as that is the second race of the PA Triple Crown Series and successfully completing the series is my ultrarunning goal for 2017. I feel that the best way to describe Worlds End is simple and only requires one word:  relentless. This is how another runner described the course to me early in the day and as the day went on and I covered a greater and greater distance, the closer to perfection that word became. Just look at the elevation profile and I think you’ll agree that “relentless” is a great descriptor. The technicality of the course hits you early and never lets up. They call it Rocksylvania for a reason. Stream crossings? Check. Maybe not all years, but at least this year many sections that at first glance looked completely and easily runnable were anything but due to the ground being so wet that my feet sank into the shoe sucking muck. For all of these challenges I was accepting; my greatest challenges during the race were not due to external factors such as weather or trail conditions. My greatest hurdles during Worlds End were of my own doing, primarily due to poor planning or a total lack of planning.



Copied from Words End Ultramarathon website:  http://worldsendultra.com/runners/course-maps-100k/
 



I’m going to start with what I believe may be an often overlooked challenge due to the fact that it is for the most part not apparent to anyone but the runner himself or herself. It may be displayed in their body language, but if so it may be masked well or at least not obvious to anyone else. It is a lack of confidence or an overly anxious feeling going into a race. It is a fear that you didn’t train enough or train well enough. It results in thoughts of insecurity and mental orchestrations of countless scenarios of a day ending in a grand failure. In brief, it is a poor mental state to face a challenge. And I believe that’s where I was leading up to Worlds End, which is quite a challenging event.



A view of Loyalsock Creek near the start/finish area.



Thankfully, I believe I know how I ended up there and I was able to work through it with minimal impacts affecting my race. I believe the cause of my excessive anxiety was due to my divergent outlooks going into my previous two races (NJ Ultra Trail Festival and Hyner View Trail Challenge 50k) and my overall mental state during those two races. Going into NJ Ultra Fest I was very confident. With hindsight I would say I was overconfident. Then, to put it plainly, I had what felt like a crap run. That’s the short version. If you want all the details you can check out the full race report. Following what I felt like was a crap run I went into the Hyner much less confident. I had low expectations and set goals for myself that I thought I probably would not reach. I then ended up having a nearly perfect day and exceeding all of my goals. So high expectations and solid confidence led to missed goals while low self confidence and planning on failure led to over achieving. This was my mindset going into Worlds End. Do I fake self confidence and envision success as I always hear people say you should do or do what actually worked last time:  lower expectations and expect failure? I struggled going back and forth leading up to Worlds End and never came to a decision. I only made myself overly anxious, stressed, and uncertain. This is not how you want to feel starting your second longest intended run ever. I was shaky pinning my bib to my shorts and continued to shake at the starting line. It was dark at the start and I hadn’t done much night running so that added to the uneasy feelings. It was raining lightly making all of the exposed rock on the technical trail extra slick. The guy right in front of me was moving at a pace that I didn’t feel a need to pass, but his feet were sliding around so much and he nearly crashed so many times right in front of me that I was nervous for him. All of this added to the anxiety which I struggled through for the first 10 to 15 miles of the run. I would say it wasn’t until aid station four (19.3 miles) that the anxious feelings had completely subsided and I finally felt like I had settled into a good pace and bearable mindset for the day.


A little extra motivation from the Canyon Vista aid station.


After leaving aid station 4 and over the next 20 miles or so were the golden miles of the day for me. My head had finally calmed and I continued to feel good with a decent portion of the distance behind me. I began to push a bit harder on the climbs and hammer the not as technical downhills and my quads continued to respond and hold up to the abuse. I covered the majority of this middle section of the course with a couple other runners at what I would call a slightly faster than conversational pace. We could chat with one another, but it wasn’t always comfortable due to the pace. During this stretch we had several stream crossings and ran through many mucky sections of trail. It was the kind of muck where if you step in the wrong spot your shoe will sink ankle deep and your foot will feel wet and grainy after removal. Earlier this would have worried me, but not now. I had just run my last two 50ks with soaked feet and little to no foot problems to show afterwards. We had intermittent conversations between the three of us as we covered some decent miles while we played leapfrog for several hours. For the most part, the three of us followed this pattern until aid station 8 (41.6 miles). Not long after this, my day began to go downhill, but only figuratively as there were still plenty of literal climbs remaining on the course.


Not exactly on the course, but right behind the Canyon Vista aid station. I stopped in to check it out the day after the race and it was definitely worth the time. 

The cause of the downward spiral that would begin was no one’s fault but my own. Yes, I could point some fingers to disperse some of the blame, but if I had simply done a bit more preparation before race day and had a better plan in place the bonk and mental low points I was about to experience likely would have been completely avoided. The underlying cause of the problem was poor planning and an altogether lack of planning. This led to me going through a bit of a bonk which, to make matters worse, coincided with two water only aid stations. To begin with, the main cause of the bonk was my overall nutrition plan. I had decided against my better judgement that I would simply do the same thing I had done at the Hyner 50k that had worked so well for me: drink lots of tailwind, eat a gel at the aid station, and eat a gel between aid stations. I had finished Hyner feeling like I still had some gas in the tank doing this, so I decided I would just do the same thing for twice as long at Worlds End. In all honesty I never truly believed I would maintain this nutrition plan for a 100k, but sold it to myself by convincing myself there was a slim chance it would work and if it did I would have an amazing day just like at the Hyner. It didn’t and I bonked hard several times from around mile 41 to mile 58.




Arriving at High Knob aid station (mile 35.8).
Photo credit:  Tania Lezak (http://tanialezak.com/)

A poor and unrealistic nutrition plan was mistake one. Mistake two was not doing my homework. I mentioned a bit earlier that my bonk coincided with two water only aid stations. This is where doing a bit of planning in advance such as knowing how far apart between aid stations and which ones are water only would have been extremely useful. In my attempt to combat my pre race anxiety and be relaxed and carefree about this race I had done almost no planning. I had no drop bags, crew, or pacers. I hadn’t even examined the aid station guide close enough to realize that there were any water only aid stations. All I knew for certain was that this was going to be the hardest course I had ever run and the second longest distance I had ever attempted. I’m not trying to make excuses here, just stating facts. All of the race information was published and on the Worlds End Ultra website for anyone to see. I just didn’t look. And so as it happened as I was bonking and as I realized I was bonking I passed through a water only aid station, aid station 9 (45.4 miles), not knowing how far until the next aid station where I could get some calories in me. At this point I was over 10 hours in consuming primarily only Tailwind and gels. My stomach was rumbling for some real food and the rest of my body needed it too. It turned out to be another 4.6 miles to aid station 10 (50 miles) where I quickly ate anything that looked good. That was mostly a few bites of grilled cheese, pickles, and pretzels. I left feeling better than when I had arrived knowing that I had some real food in my stomach.
  

I felt like I may have over packed for just two nights of camping and running, but I was going straight to a wedding after.

That positive feeling started to fade a few miles out as my feet finally started to complain. The super technical terrain combined with hours of saturation had taken a toll on my feet and they were beginning to rebel. I had felt several hot spots during the day and more recently I had felt several blisters tear open and gush. It was somewhere in this stretch that I hit my lowest point of the day. I had a grumbling stomach, blistered feet, and a bonky head. I wondered why I had ever decided to attempt the PA Triple Crown Series. I told myself that I probably wouldn’t be able to finish Eastern States based on how today was going. I wondered if I should even make the drive all the way to the middle of nowhere PA to start Eastern States. I kinda had a bit of a pity party for myself. As I rolled up to aid station 11 to find out it was water only, it was just one more item to add to my list of reasons to celebrate the pity. It felt like it took a long time, but I finally made it to aid station 12 (57.9 miles), the final aid station. I decide that I would take my time here and get the calories my body needed and the solid food that my stomach craved. I think I ate nearly two grilled cheeses and drank a 12 ounce can worth of Coca-Cola. I left the aid station in much better spirits and with a satisfied stomach. I was moving better immediately leaving the aid station and quickly caught up with a couple guys that had passed me shortly before reaching the aid station. I ran with them for a bit, but quickly found myself wanting to push the pace a bit more. This was some of the most runnable terrain we had seen all day and the elevation change was extremely gradual compared to the other 95% of the course. I don’t know if it was the Coke, the grilled cheese, or just the excitement of knowing I was only a few miles from the finish line, but I was ready to run again. The pain had subsided and I was feeling more energized and motivated than I had at almost anytime earlier in the day. Shortly after I had started to put a bit of distance between me and the couple guys I had just been running with I heard another runner exchange greetings with them. He was moving fast and it gave me an adrenaline rush and a goal to try to keep pace with him. It felt like we were doing sub 8 minute miles, but my Garmin data tells me that at best we did just over a 10 minute mile. Although cruising at a 10 minute mile pace certainly does feel fast when you’d been struggling to do sub 20 minute miles not that long ago. I kept with my newest companion until about the last half mile of the course where there is a gnarly and steep descent. I nearly wiped out on a slick piece of stone and decided to cut it back so I wouldn’t hurt myself with less than a mile to go.


Coming into High Knob aid station (mile 35.8).
Photo credit:  Tania Lezak (http://tanialezak.com/)
With that final “sprint” at the finish I ended the day on a high. It was like the low points had never existed. I wouldn’t remember them again until later that night as I hobbled into the camp showers and attempted to wash my busted up and raw feet. That was later though, and at the finish I felt good. There was a camping party feel at the finish area with most of the 25k distance runners already recovering and hanging out. There was no shortage of food with pulled pork, burgers, mac and cheese, and a plethora of hot soups to choose from. The pulled pork sounded so good, but after a few bites I realized my stomach wasn’t ready for a full meal. However, at about 3 AM the following morning when I woke up in my sleeping bag with a mad appetite that pulled pork sandwich was devoured in about two minutes flat then I rolled over and went back to sleep. It all could have been a dream, but I found the empty plate next to me in the morning to confirm that it had actually happened.


Somewhere around mile 11. Photo credit:  Tania Lezak (http://tanialezak.com/)

So what is the take away and what did I learn from this race? For one thing, avoiding planning or making plans does not solve anxiety. Maybe planning would have helped relieve some anxiety.
The buckle along with my
V8 the morning after.
Secondly, this was the hardest race I had ever attempted and although that scared me and made a good part of the race painful and unenjoyable, I was proud of myself for doing it and happy that I put myself through the process. The day after the race my wife and I attended a wedding where we drank a bit more than usual and danced, at least I attempted to with my shot quads. Running a tough 100k the day before a wedding is the greatest excuse for being a crappy dancer. Sometime during the evening when we were talking about the race and I was saying how it was the hardest thing I’d ever done and how it had made me so scared of Eastern States that I was questioning even attempting it she fixed everything. I don’t remember her exact words (thanks hard cider), but basically she reminded me that it isn’t supposed to be easy, that ultrarunning is supposed to be hard and is supposed to push you to your limits. And what better way to push yourself to your limits than to attempt a race you fear you will not be able to finish. Look out Eastern States, it’s almost go time!

Scott Snell
July 29, 2017




Sunday, July 2, 2017

2017 Hyner View Trail Challenge 50K

"If you never did you should.   
These things are fun, and fun is good."  
---   Dr. Seuss


The cool and wet start of the 50K.
Photo credit:  David Whitney Potts

 

If you’ve read my previous two race reports (Naked Bavarian and NJ Ultra Festival) you may be wondering why the hell do I run ultras when it seems like I just complain and get disappointed after they’re over. Well, the reason is because sometimes you have a great day where it feels like everything goes right. And when you don't you usually get a great story to tell and you learn something. My day at the Hyner View Trail Challenge 50K was one of those days where everything clicked all day long. When you have a race day like that, it makes you appreciate all of the long hours of training you put in even more and also the subpar race days you struggled to grind through. Although those rough training runs and bad race days provide an opportunity for you to prove your grit and determination, a great race day when everything seems to just fall into place can be much more refreshing and just plain fun.


Somewhere midrace, but I'm not sure where because I think I was smiling the for the entirety of it.
Photo credit:  David Whitney Potts
 
What can I say about this race? I could make this the shortest race report ever and just say that this felt like it may have been the best ultra I’ve run thus far. I felt prepared for it. I felt well rested and healthy leading up to it. I never felt exhausted during it. I experienced no stomach issues or any other unexpected physical pain. I had zero low points from beginning to end. My running felt strong throughout the entire distance and I still had some excess energy at the finish to push at a faster pace for the last couple miles. I could wrap this report up here by saying that this race was probably my best performance at the 50K distance and definitely the one I am most proud of. However, I feel that would be doing a great disservice to the stellar event that is known as the Hyner View Trail Challenge.
 
If you live in the Mid-Atlantic area and have been into trail running and/or ultrarunning for some time, you have probably already heard about the Hyner View Trail Challenge. If not, you may be living
An example of some of the rocky terrain along the course.
Photo credit:  Don Halke
under one of the many rocks that frequent the rocky terrain of the course. This year marked the 11th annual running of the Hyner View Trail Challenge and in those 11 years the PA Trail Dogs (the running group that organizes the race) have earned quite a reputation in the ultrarunning community for putting on an amazing event. Race director Craig Fleming strongly stresses the challenging aspect of the course on the Hyner View Trail Challenge website stating that the “course was not designed for the ‘leisure’ runner or hiker. Nor was it designed so that ‘everyone’ can easily finish”. This description and the reputation of the race strongly attracted me to it. I, like most other ultrarunners I know, enjoy a bit of a challenge. Which would explain why the Hyner View Trail Challenge seems like it’s gotten so dang popular; it was sold out at 1300 runners this year and both distances (25K and 50K) have already sold out for next year. Likely adding to the popularity and the amount of exposure the Hyner View Trail Challenge has experienced in recent years is the fact that it is the first race of the PA Triple Crown Series, a rather newly formed (2016) race series which also includes Worlds End Ultramarathon 100k (June) and Eastern States 100 (August). Because of all the great things I have read and heard about the Hyner and because I am attempting to complete the PA Triple Crown Series this year, I was excited to check out the Hyner course this year and take the first step towards completing the series.


The view from the top of the first climb at Hyner View Overlook.
Photo credit:  David Whitney Potts
 
The Hyner course is technical and challenging, but also offers some breathtaking vistas along the way and beautiful scenery for its entirety. If you live on the East Coast and thought you had to go “out west” to find breathtaking and scenic trail courses with challenging terrain you were right and wrong. You do have to go west, but only as far as central Pennsylvania. Other than at the start and the finish of the course when you follow a short stretch of road to use Hyner Bridge to cross over the Susquehanna River, the rest of the course is basically all single track trail with a few fire roads mixed in. If you like hills, the Hyner course will not disappoint. The 50K course has few flat sections and will treat you to basically five big climbs totalling 7,232 feet of elevation gain (according to my Garmin). The course brings the climbs early as well. Maybe about or a little under two miles from the start we hit the base of the first major climb, lovingly named Humble Hill. This climb is steep and lasts for over a mile before we reached the top and were treated to the beautiful view of the Susquehanna River from the peak of Hyner View. I felt good during this climb and forced myself not to push too hard, accepting my pace based on my effort level rather than aiming to maintain a specific pace. I knew that I still had a good distance to go and a lot of climbing to do after this hill and I did not want to blow up my quads before the finish. What I thought was really awesome about this first climb of the race wasn’t just the view, but the fact that the Hyner View overlook at the peak is highly accessible by road allowing spectators an easy means of access. This allowed for a big group of spectators cheering right at the peak of the first major climb. It was a welcome and motivating sound as I got near the peak to hear all of their support. It also felt like getting completely recharged from their energy after having just spent so much to make the long climb to the top.


The elevation profile according to my Garmin data.
 
An example of where the trail follows the creek.
Photo credit:  Don Halke
An example of where the trail became the creek.
Photo credit:  Don Halke
After some switchbacks, a quick descent, and a small creek crossing the 50K course branches off from the 25K course to cover the extra miles. Shortly after the split is the next big climb. I felt stronger and more confident from the start of this one and decided to push myself a bit more. I guess I had just warmed up a bit to the climbing. Following the peak of this climb was a long downhill that I felt like I was just cruising down effortlessly. After this enjoyable descent, I got into the wet section of the course. It felt like during much of this middle section (maybe from around mile 14 to 23) the course was either crossing a creek or ascending the two next major climbs directly up the creek bed. Let’s just say that my feet were wet for the middle part of the course, which made me so thankful for the terrible, wet conditions of the previous race I had run, the NJ Ultra Festival 50K. I trusted that my feet would hold up and not blister though the wet running conditions just like last time and thankfully they did hold up (thank you Altra Lone Peak 2.5s). Although a major difference between the two experiences was not only how much more positive and stronger I was feeling on this day, but also the fact that the wet trails on the Hyner course had a base of rock rather than the shoe sucking mud I experienced at the Ultra Festival. The way I powered up those two wet and technical climbs without feeling like I was emptying my tank encouraged me to try to push harder as I knew there was only one more major hill to conquer.


One of many creek crossings.
Photo credit:  Don Halke
 
Another aspect of the course design and race planning that I loved was the staggered timing of the starts of the 25K and 50K distances and the locations that were selected on the course for the 50K runners to branch off and rejoin the 25K course. The 50K start time was at 8 AM and the 25K runners started at 9 AM. What was great about this for the 50K runners was that with a cap of 300 runners there was very little bottlenecking near the start where we transitioned from road to trail. I can imagine and I heard from other people that this becomes an issue for the 25K runners as the cap for that distance is 1000 runners. Although the 50K runners get the better end of the deal, the staggered start times improves the situation for everyone as a single start time would force all 1300 runners to become congested at the shift to the trail. The 50K course splits off from the 25K course at about the 5.5 mile mark, makes two big climbs over the course of about 15 miles, and then rejoins the 25K course at about the 21 mile mark. What I thought was great about this was that after running the better part of the the first two thirds of the course alone, suddenly the course felt really crowded. Some people may think this is negative in that a crowded course means their pace will be slowed due to congestion and they may have a valid argument. Personally, I found it super motivating, maybe even exhilarating running past groups of people who were doing the 25K. Granted I wasn’t racing them and I’m sure many of them had every intention of hiking the better part of the 25K from the start, but when you’re constantly passing people for the last quarter of a race it is such a mental boost. Then when you start realizing that you’ve already run farther than the entire distance of their race you start feeling like frickin’ Superman. Not to mention how so many of them were so supportive. It felt like I had a cheering section for the entire last third of the race. I heard more “good job!”s and “nice work!”s in the last ten miles of this race than I did for the entirety of the one and only road marathon I’ve ever run. I really do credit a good part of having a race that I was so proud of to the synergistic effect of the combination of the cheerful support of the 25K runners and the mental and physical boost that resulted from seeing runners in the distance on the trail, catching up to them, and then exchanging encouraging words to one another as I passed. This may come off as sounding a bit egotistical, but this experience reminded me of how amazing the ultrarunning community is and how awesome the people who choose to partake are. We run 30, 50, and 100 miles in a single go. I’ve said it myself and I’ve heard plenty of other people say the same words:  “anyone can do this”. While I still believe this is true, the fact is that most people choose not to even make the attempt.


One of many beautiful views along the course.
Photo credit:  Don Halke
 
There are two small sections towards the end of the course that I feel I would be remiss if I did not mention them. The first being the very top of the final big climb of the course which is the steepest climb I have ever seen during a race. It is lovingly named SOB. It wasn’t a long section of it, but it was as close to requiring hands in contact with the ground to assist your climbing as you can get. Let me put it this way, I took an introductory rock climbing course at Yosemite National Park and some of the “rock climbing” we did was not as steep as SOB. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that I saw one man basically clinging to SOB, full body in contact with the steepest section of the climb, as he was coaxed by several others to push on to the top. The second of the two sections I felt I had to mention was a small but steep and unexpected climb just before seeing the finish line. After cresting SOB, making the descent down the trail, and getting back on pavement to cross the Susquehanna River I was fully expecting to see the finish line right where the start line had been:  on the road entering the Western Clinton Sportmen's Association area. However, that was not the case. The course has you make a quick left off the entrance road back onto a trail. At this point you can hear the cheers at the finish line. Shortly after hitting the trail, there is a short but steep climb that I can only describe as feeling like a kick in the teeth. Then you round a quick corner and the finish line is in sight. It felt like getting sucker punched. My mental state was so positive and my running felt so strong all day that to have to dig deep just to manage a trot across the finish line completely winded was not what I expected. Nonetheless, I was still proud of my run and what a great after party they provided! 
 
A view of the Hyner View Overlook from the camping area.

I feel I’ve talked this race up quite a bit already, but it was a lot of little extras that made it even more
Another view from the camping
area just after sunset.
special. One of those was the camping right at the start/finish area. A huge thank you to the Western Clinton Sportmen's Association for allowing this event to use their land as a camping and staging area. Another was the food at the finish. A local company was grilling chicken and serving it with potato salad and slaw for everyone there. In addition, a local brewery was providing several of their brews to everyone of age. I can attest that the IPA I tried was delicious and refreshing. The ample supply of porta potties was so great that I never saw a line. Even more amazing than the number of porta potties was the quality of the TP. I’ve pooped in my share of porta potties. I’ve also wiped with a lot of different kinds of vegetation in various stages of decay in my day. In some cases I would prefer the vegetation over the excuse for TP that you usually find in porta potties. That was not the case here. The TP in the porta potties at the Hyner was top notch. By all means, it was better than any vegetation that I have ever used to wipe with. But in all seriousness, the one thing that stood out to me more than anything else at the finish area was the number of families that I saw together there. I saw plenty of couples with young kids. I saw families celebrating mom or dad’s finish and husbands and wives awaiting their significant other’s finish. It made me wish that my family had been there to share that experience with me. It also reaffirmed my belief that ultrarunning certainly can be a family affair. And that a future filled with traveling, ultrarunning, and camping with the family seems pretty bright and completely possible.
 
Scott Snell
June 30, 2017


Thursday, May 18, 2017

2017 NJ Ultra Festival 50K

 

Missed Opportunities

 
Everyone has the obligation to ponder well his own specific traits of character. He must also regulate them adequately and not wonder whether someone else's traits might suit him better. The more definitely his own a man's character is, the better it fits him. ---  Cicero   (106 BC - 43 BC)

 

The bridge crossing the dam just after leaving the aid station.
Photo Credit:  Kleinschmidt Group
Have you ever had a race or a training run after which it left you in a bit of a funk? I’m not talking about what seems to be the somewhat common “post race blues” I see people posting about and hear people on podcasts talking about that occurs after the excitement of the finish has faded. I’m referring to a race experience that felt like something was missing from the start to the finish and although it for some reason feels incomplete, as many times as you replay the experience back through your head searching for that missing piece you just can’t seem to identify what it was that was missing. The deeper and more thoroughly you search you realize that there was nothing lacking with the course, the aid stations, or the organization of the race. You realize that the lacking piece was an internal factor, your interpretation of the experience and your outlook and attitude leading up to, during, and after the experience. I am not proud of it, but I am willing to admit that this was the conclusion that I came to after the process of searching and analyzing that I went through following the 2017 NJ Ultra Festival 50K.
 
The view of the falls overflowing from the dam.
Photo Credit:  Princetonblairstown.org
The 2017 Ultra Festival is a multi distance event put on by NJ Trail Series. The distances offered include half marathon, marathon, 50K, 50 mile, 100K, and 100 mile. Something for everyone, right? The 2017 race took place on April 1st at the Princeton Blairstown Center in Hardwick, NJ. The course consists of two loops which both start and end at the race headquarters which also acts as the solo aid station. The two loops were referred to as the forest loop and the lake loop. Respectively, the distances of the two loops according to my Garmin were 3.1 and 2.25 miles making each lap about 5.35 miles long. The 50K distance consisted of 5 full laps and an additional lake loop which my Garmin recorded as a total distance of 28.99 miles with 4200 feet of elevation gain, the majority of which was on the forest loop as the lake loop is relatively flat.  

I signed up the Ultra Festival 50K because the timing and terrain seemed to be perfect for a final long training run before the Hyner 50K, the first of the three “A” races (PA Triple Crown Series) I had planned for 2017. It was three weeks out from the Hyner giving me plenty of time to recover and taper. Little did I know at the time, but the weather and trail conditions of the Ultra Festival 50K would be the best possible training conditions to prepare for the Hyner. Looking back, this mindset of going into a race as a training run may have been part of or nearly all of the reason why I felt that something was lacking when the run was over. Every other ultra I’ve run has always been a test to see what I can do. There have been plenty of times where I have fallen short of my goals in a race, but even in those situations when I realize my top goal is no longer feasible I have continued to push myself to reach the goal at the next tier down. With this race, it felt like I gave up when my “A” goal of a sub five hour finish began to slip out of reach.
 

The first water crossing of the forest loop.
Photo Credit:  @khaosnrg (Instagram)
Race day followed a day of severe thunderstorms that dropped a tremendous amount of rain in a short amount of time. To say the trails were wet is one of the greatest understatements that could be made. Although there are four water crossings along the route of the course, many sections of the trail had become miniature creeks with flowing water due to the previous day’s storm. It was basically the best situation for someone like myself to overcome their fear of running with wet feet. Facing this fear and dealing with it was better than any training run I could have planned to prepare for the conditions of the Hyner 50K. Unfortunately I wouldn’t appreciate it until three weeks later when I was running some similarly wet trails at Hyner View State Park with soggy Lone Peaks on my feet. Just before the start of the 50K the race director, Rick McNulty, let us all know about the trail conditions. In short the message was to plan on having wet feet. With that encouragement and advice, we were off for our first time around the forest loop.
 

The second water crossing of the forest loop.
Photo Credit:  @rick.stahl512 (Instagram)
Both loops leave the aid station by crossing a bridge over a dam before coming to a “Y” where the lake loop cuts left and the forest loop cuts right. Shortly after the split, the forest loop makes about a half mile ascent along what appeared to be a maintenance road before hitting a true hiking trail. By this point my shoes had already sank ankle deep in mud and although my shoes had not been completely submersed in water, they were already saturated throughout. The course then has about
The wooden bridge near the end of the forest loop.
Photo Credit:  @khaosnrg (Instagram)
a half mile descent before reaching the first water crossing. This crossing had a downed tree with high and low limbs across it which you could walk across and use for balance to avoid getting wet feet relatively easily. However, given the trail conditions it did little good to keep your feet dry at the
water crossings. Following this came one of the muckiest sections of the trail and the biggest climb of the course. Water was actually flowing down the trail in sections as I climbed the next half mile up with a little over 200 feet of gain. Then it was about a half mile descent back down to the water for the second water crossing. This crossing had what appeared to be a slick, narrow limb that you could balance on to cross, but I opted to walk through the knee deep water rather than risk slipping and taking a bad landing in the water. By this point my feet weren’t getting any more wet. This was followed by another sloppy, half mile climb before a quick descent to a wooden bridge crossing the water. The trail then followed along side the water for a short run before the final water crossing of the loop. After this there was a short but steep climb during which we were treated to a view of the falls where the overflow from the dam is released to feed the stream we had just crossed several times during the forest loop before making it back to the aid station.
The final water crossing for both loops.
Photo Credit:  @khaosnrg (Instagram)
It was at this first aid station stop that I met another runner who asked me if I was racing this. It was still early in the race (about 3 miles) and I was still well within reach of my 5 hour time goal so my response was simply a “yeah, kinda…”. He headed out from the aid station as I was filling my bottle. Shortly after I started out for my first time around the lake loop. The lake loop was flat compared to the forest loop. It likely would have nearly all been pretty fast and runnable if conditions were decent, but on this day it had basically become a mudfest. Conditions had become sloppy and slick causing my pace to slow. The loop follows the east side of the lake from the dam crossing. At about a half mile from the dam the lake ends and the trail crosses the stream that feeds the lake. This crossing had a few options for getting across. There was a rope bridge or a fallen log that could be used to cross. The rope bridge seemed to always have a line at it and the water level was high enough to flow over the log so that option wouldn’t do much good to keep your feet dry. Dry feet, however, had become a lost cause altogether. I simply used the log for balance as I waded through the waist deep stream. And wow, that water was chilly, but it felt good to wash all the mud and grit off my legs. The trail then followed the west side of the lake back towards the aid station. Just when you near the aid station, the course cuts away and heads back into the woods for about a 1 mile loop where the trail merges with the end of the forest loop trail just after the bridge crossing and before the final water crossing. I spent the majority of the lake loop with the runner I had just met at the aid station and one other runner. After grabbing some food and refilling my bottle I headed back out for lap 2 alone.


  
Another view of the rope bridge.
Photo Credit:  @rick.stahl512 (Instagram)
The rope bridge crossing option.
Photo Credit:  @khaosnrg (Instagram)
Lap 1 had taken me just under 1 hour to finish. I knew I would have to move faster to meet my goal as I had a lake loop to do after 5 full laps. I could blame it on the conditions of the day or the fact that I hadn’t trained on hills much leading up to the race, but my target time slipped farther out of reach as I ticked the miles off. At the end of lap 2 my total time was just over 2 hours. At the end of lap 3 my total time was just a little further over 3 hours. It was during lap 3 that I was so desperate to shave a little time off that I urinated in my shorts. It wasn’t as bad as it initially sounds. During the deepest water crossing of the lake loop, which was about waist deep for me, I let it flow while wading across. The flowing water washed away the urine as it was released keeping me relatively clean and not smelling like urine while saving the time it would have taken me to hop off the trail to go. Even with this completely ingenious tactic, rather than gaining on my time goal, it was getting farther out of reach with every lap. Now just a little past the halfway point, I was beginning to accept the fact that today was not going to go as I had hoped. At the end of the forest loop during lap 4 around the 19 mile mark I was about 3 hours and 51 minutes into the race, well behind my target pace with almost no chance of catching up to my target time. It was at this point that I met up again with the other runner who had asked me about racing the event. I hadn’t seen him since the end of lap 1 and this time he asked if I wanted to run the rest of the race together. Having just realized that my goal time was completely out of reach I was feeling a bit defeated and not competitive at all. I said yes thinking it would be nice to have some company for the last few loops and take my mind off of what I was currently viewing as a failed race. I had the singular time goal for this race and if I didn’t reach that my only secondary goal was to get a good training run with some hills. With this mindset and my goal time a lost cause, I did not have any motivation to push myself harder to compete for a higher placing at the finish. Even considering the fact that as we left the aid station for the second half of our fourth lap we now shared the lead.

The muckiness of the trails was impressive.
Photo Credit:  @rick.stahl512 (Instagram)
We had some conversation during the lake loop and I explained how earlier I had been aiming for a time goal that was now an impossibility. We finished the loop at a comfortable pace without either of us pushing the other. It was during the forest loop of our next and final lap that another runner caught up with us. She past me and was on the heels of the guy I had been running with during the first big climb of the loop. I watched as they both climbed hard and eventually out of sight while my legs and my mind refused to push. It was like the shoe sucking mud I had been running through all day had sucked the will out of me as well. It was towards the end of the forest loop that I caught back up to the guy I had been running with. We basically picked up our plan to finish the run out together once first place was out of both of our sights. So together we ran the last 2 lake loops and finished at the same time about 16 minutes behind the first place finisher.  

     
   Left: Finisher medal; Center:  Race registration swag; Right:  Sweet placement prize

At the finish I was content with getting through a tough day in rough conditions and getting a good training run done leading up to the Hyner, but after leaving the race and some time passed I began
Drying my feet by the
 fire after the finish
feeling disappointed about it and just a bit empty. After examining the how and why I was feeling this way I came to a few conclusions. The first being that maybe I’m a bit more competitive than I thought I was. I tell myself and others that I don’t run ultras competitively, but for personal enjoyment. But when I think back to how I felt as first and second place raced up that hill and out of sight while I felt powerless to chase them and I didn’t particularly enjoy it. I ran decently in pretty tough conditions. I thought that I should have been proud of that, but for some reason I wasn’t feeling that way about the run. I ran about a third of the race with the company of another runner. This should have been a positive as well I thought. However, looking back at the day and my finishing time, I kept on asking if I really pushed myself to my limit and the answer I kept getting was no. Maybe part of the reason why I had this feeling after this race and no other race I’ve done is because of a conversation I had with my brother in law a few hours after the finish. He was basically asking how it went and I explained how I finished with one other runner for second place. He immediately asked “How’d you tie?”. I tried to explain that we ran the last 10 miles together then just decided to finish together. Just as a side note and some background info that may clear things up a bit, my brother in law was a competitive trampolinist who competed in the 2012 London Olympics. So even though I may be more competitive than I had thought I was, he may have an even stronger hunger for competition. It was after this conversation that I started questioning my race effort and whether I ran my race or someone else’s race. The more I relived and examined the experience the less happy I was with it. The last ten miles I ran with another runner had benefits for sure, but also negatives. Honestly, it left me with more “what if” questions than I liked. What if I had run the last ten miles alone? What would the outcome have been? Would I have been faster? Would I have been slower? I guess I’ll never know. I’d say the lesson I’m taking away from this race is how important it is to me, for better or for worse, to run my own race. Whether I meet my goals or fail spectacularly, at least I did it on my terms and have no excuse for the results other than the effort I put forth. Most importantly though, I want to enjoy the experience and the memories of it. If I am looking back on any given race and questioning my effort I feel it is somewhat tarnished as a subpar effort, even if I went into it with the mindset of it being a training run. Maybe this is a fault within me that I need to reconcile in some way. For the time being at least, I am recognizing it.


 
 

Scott Snell
May 16, 2017