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Sunday, October 29, 2017

Four Years Later

Four Years Later


At the finish of the 2016 North Face Endurance Challenge 50 miler at Bear Mountain, NY.

"If one could run without getting tired I don't think one would often want to do anything else"  
--  C.S. Lewis --



It was only a little over four years ago that the anesthesia wore off and I was wheeled out of the Rothman Intitute's Riverview Surgery Center in Philadelphia by wheelchair to my car. I had just undergone arthroscopic surgery on my right hip to repair an anterior labral tear. After the surgery, the surgeon had told me that my labrum was shredded due to a bone spur which caused a one way valve to form resulting in a painful cyst. Therefore, the shredded cartilage was cut out, the bone spur was shaved off, and the cyst removed. And hopefully, I was fixed and could return to running.

Arthroscopic image of my insides #1.
The story begins a bit earlier in 2013 when I began training for what I hoped to be my first ultramarathon. I had been toying with the idea of running an ultra since 2009 when I ran my first marathon, but it took me three years before I committed to the goal and started the training process. Unfortunately, as I began to increase my mileage I was hindered by an unrelenting pain in my hip every time I ran which lasted for several days following the run. After several visits with a few doctors, x-rays, an MRI, and a visit with a surgeon I was given the diagnosis, told my options, and decided corrective surgery was the best option.

Arthroscopic image of my insides #2-3.
Now, four years later, I am convinced it was definitely the best option. Less than two years after the surgery I ran my first ultramarathon, the 2015 Blues Cruise 50k in Leesport, PA. The following year I decided to test my limits further with the goal of running a 50 miler. Before the end of 2016 I had finished three 50 mile races and one 100 mile race. This year was the greatest test for me and my hip as I aimed to finish the notoriously tough Pennsylvania Triple Crown Series:  Hyner 50k, Worlds End 100k, and Eastern States 100 miler. Following the completion of a goal that I had thought about and worked towards for nearly two years I felt a bit empty. After Eastern States I quickly signed up for and ran another 100 mile race, the Tesla Hertz Trail Race. Obviously, I can’t say whether or not I would have achieved all of these ultrarunning goals if I had opted for physical therapy rather than the corrective surgery. I can say with absolute certainty that I was able to achieve them all following the corrective surgery. A feat that would likely have been impossible if I had opted for one of the other options offered by the medical professionals:  live with the pain.


Arthroscopic image of my insides #4.
I’m not saying that a surgery is a fix all or always the best option. I’m just saying it was the best option for me and my injury. Also, it wasn’t an immediate magical fix for me. I spent all of 2014 just building up some base mileage. Returning to running after the surgery was some of the toughest running I have ever done. The difficulty of becoming a runner is something that I believe most avid runners lose touch with. The forced time off following surgery and physical therapy was a stark reminder for me of just how hard it is to take up running. What would have been an easy three mile run before the surgery drained me. Eventually my fitness level returned and I was able to build up my endurance for longer distances. As frustrating as it is to work hard to get back to where you already were, the substantial and fast gains you witness along the way are the ideal motivators to keep at it. As grateful as I am for how well the outcome of the surgery was and being able to run long distances without the debilitating pain that I was experiencing in my hip, the mental game of rebuilding that I went through was beneficial for ultrarunning as well. It improved my mental fortitude to deal with the low points in long, tough races. It made me grateful to have the ability and desire to run. It proved to me that the desire to run long distances was still there and that I wasn’t hiding behind an injury as an excuse. Maybe most importantly, it spawned a new respect within me for everyone who has ever taken up running as a sport or hobby. Until I was forced to have to rebuild my running endurance, I took it for granted and had forgotten how hard I had worked to get to that level. I hope to always maintain that gratefulness and never forget again how difficult it is to start the journey to run long distances.

Arthroscopic image of my insides #5-6.
I would like to give a sincere thank you to everyone who helped me throughout this process including all of the medical professionals, especially Dr. John P. Salvo Jr. who performed the surgery. Also an extra special thank you to all of my family, especially my mother-in-law, that helped out during the recovery time when chasing my almost two year old son around on crutches was a bit of a challenge.


Scott Snell

October 27, 2017

Sunday, October 15, 2017

2017 Tesla Hertz 100 Miler




"The pessimist complains about the wind;
The optimist expects it to change;
And the realist adjusts the sails."
--William Arthur Ward
-Author's Note - February 13, 2018 - In the interest of  full disclosure I feel it is necessary to inform the reader that at the time this report was written I was not selected for nor even aware of Happily Running's Ambassador program. I was not confirmed as an ambassador for Happily Running until January of 2018. - 


I’ve heard that to find your limits you must be willing to fail. That was my goal with this race:  to find my limit by setting a goal that I felt was beyond my limits, but that may be possible on my best day with all else being perfect. With this thought in mind and this thinking, I looked at the Tesla Hertz trail series and the course record for the 100 mile distance, 19:22:08 set in 2014. Considering my previous performances at the 100 mile distance (two races:  TARC 100 and Eastern States 100) I decided that a sub 19 hour 100 miler and a new course record was a fitting goal. This wasn’t just shooting for a 100 mile pr for me, but improving it by over 3 hours. Looking at the difficulty of the previous 100 milers I had run this goal didn’t seem ridiculous to me, but still somewhat lofty and would require me to push myself to my limit or fail. At times during the race I thought I would reach it, but gradually it began to slip out of reach and ultimately I fell short and failed. However, with that failure I reached my overall goal of pushing myself to my limit and failing which was satisfying and confirmed that my goal was exactly where I had intended it to be:  achievable, but just slightly out of reach.


The Tesla Hertz Trail Series is a younger multi distance race with the first running of it in 2013. Managed by the Happily Running race company, the Tesla Hertz series offers 10 mile, 50k, 50 mile, 100k, and 100 mile distance options on a relatively flat trail loop of just over 10 miles. It takes place at the Rocky Point State Pine Barrens Preserve in Long Island, NY. The course is entirely single track trail with a short (about 1 mile) out and back to the mid loop aid station right around the halfway point of the course. The course has a few short hills, but is for the most part flat with somewhere around 240 feet of gain per 10 mile lap according to my Garmin data. The course isn’t technical. There are some roots and rocks as you would expect on a trail, but entirely runnable. However, the one aspect of technicality that this data doesn’t show is all of the twists and turns on the course. Very little of the course is a long, straight runnable stretch where you can just get into a rhythm and feel the flow of the trail. It is almost constantly twisting and forcing you to lean into turns to maintain a pace and stressing your hips.


Prior to registering, I had almost no intention of running another 100 miler in 2017 after Eastern States. I have to admit that one of the strongest motivators for me to register was the post race blues I faced after finishing Eastern States and the PA Triple Crown Series. That series had been a goal for me for nearly two years and as psyched as I was when it was achieved, I felt a bit empty and lost when it was over. I found myself browsing ultrasignup looking for nearby 100 milers to fill the void. Shooting for a PR at the distance and a course record at Tesla Hertz seemed to fill that void perfectly so I went for it.


Just before the 6 AM start. Photo Credit:  Vinny Cappadora (http://happilyrunning.com/)
Training for Tesla Hertz was much different than my lead up to my previous two 100 milers. The short time period (about 7 weeks) between Eastern States until Tesla Hertz just didn’t allow it. I had some recovery time after Eastern States before really hitting training hard again which only allowed for a few long training runs, the longest of which was 26 miles. I used a different approach and made my training sessions harder rather than focusing on time or distance hoping it would pay off. This new training approach made me a bit apprehensive leading up to Tesla Hertz, but I felt it was the best approach I could use with the time I was allowed. On top of this, about a week before the race I began feeling a bit of a cold coming on. I had some congestion, a drippy nose, and the fog that comes with a head cold. I almost, with the advice of my wife, decided to call it off and not even make this attempt that I had planned. However, about two days out and on the verge of canceling my hotel reservations, I realized I had missed the deadline to cancel the reservation without charges. I figured “what the hell, might as well show up and see what happens”. With that mindset, I made the drive with my family to the hotel in Long Island, NY and tried to prepare myself mentally for what laid ahead.  


Waking up for the morning of the race, I felt like I was over the worst of my cold. There was still some remnant congestion and headache, but I did my best to minimize my thinking of how it would impact my performance. I ate some leftover spaghetti and got prepped to run. After arriving at the race start I got my bib and schwag shirt then awaited the start. After a short pre race speech and an inspiring quote from the race director (Vinny Capp) we were off following the glow sticks that marked the start of the course. It was a small race with only about 25 runners starting the 100 miler and I found myself going out in front to meet the pace (about 11 minute miles) needed to meet my intended goal. A short time later, maybe after 2-3 miles, another runner flew up behind me and passed quickly. I guessed he was probably doing around 9 minute miles. I decided to pick up my pace a bit to see if I could at least keep his light in sight. I was doing around a 9:30 per mile pace and he was still pulling away. I wasn’t willing to push any harder so early in the race and risk destroying my race plan so I let the other runner pull out of sight. I saw him again when he was on his way back from the out and back and I was on my way out. At that point he was less than a half mile ahead of me so I figured I would aim to maintain the pace and see what happened over the next 9 laps. A distance of over 90 miles is more than I am willing to chase anyone or be chased by someone.


Here's the inspiring quote from the pre race speech.
Photo Credit:  Vinny Cappadora (http://happilyrunning.com/) 
I hit the first aid station, refilled my water bottle, ate a gel and took one to eat on the trail. This was my nutrition plan for the early laps of the race:  a gel at each aid station and one between each aid station. This would give me 400 calories per lap in addition to whatever calories I was getting from the Skratch that was provided as the electrolyte hydration at the aid stations. This plan would give me over 200 calories an hour if I followed my intended pace for the race. It went well and I felt good for the first 3 laps and it showed in my pace which was way faster than I had intended. Then my stomach started to feel a bit queasy on me. I chalk this up to a few reasons. First, the day was getting warmer, unseasonably warm for October. Second, I was pushing a pace a bit faster than I had intended to hit my goal. I had finished my first 3 laps in under 5 hours, putting me on a pace to finish in under 17 hours. Additionally, this meant I was flooding my stomach with more sugar from the gels than I had intended. Third, I didn’t eat as much solid food before the race as I probably should have. And fourth, I still wasn’t at 100% after a week of battling a cold. All these factors probably contributed to the upset stomach I was experiencing so I did my best to adjust. I eased off the pace a bit and forced myself to eat the least sugary food available at the aid stations, potatoes.


The worst of my stomach issues was during the fourth lap. Additionally, it was also during this lap that the mental challenge of repeating a looped course started to bother me. By this point I had seen half the course in the dark and the entire course in the light twice. I tried to comfort myself by thinking about how the course will look slightly different as the light and shadows change throughout the day. Also, by thinking about how I would be able to focus on different aspects of the trail on the multiple loops. Neither of those two strategies worked well. The best strategy I found for me was to reward myself with something at every completion of a lap. Since the start/finish area also acted as the second aid station on the course, I had my drop bag there and some treats in it. During the third lap, I willed myself on by thinking about how great it was going to be to kick my shirt off at the aid station and run through the rest of the heat of the day shirtless. During the fourth lap it was drinking a bottle of vanilla iced coffee out of the cooler I had next to my drop bag. Then I gave myself a bonus treat by dipping my hat in the icy cooler water before heading back out. My proverbial carrot on the string for the fifth lap was an ice cold V-8 fruit juice energy drink and another dip of my hat in the cooler. The incentive I used to push myself during the sixth lap I had planned before the race, before I even knew I would be using this quid pro quo mental strategy to get over the challenge of the looped course. This piece of encouragement was exchanging my hydration belt for my hydration vest, which had my mp3 player in one of its pockets.


So refreshing after 40 Miles of trail running! Plus caffeine to keep you alert through the night! 
This would be my first time running with music during a race. For a period of about 3-4 months I ran with music during training runs pretty frequently. This was after being an avid runner for about five years who never ran wearing headphones. I liked certain aspects of it:  the distraction and entertainment, the way it influenced my mood, and especially the way it felt like if the right song came on I would get an immediate boost of energy. However, it had its downsides as well. One being the distraction it provided. When I run I like to think that I become more aware of my surroundings and more aware of myself, mind and body. The music seemed to distract me from the world around me as well as my introspective thoughts. Also, probably my most favorite aspect of running is the simplicity of it. Running with music required me to make sure my mp3 player was charged prior to running, either carry the mp3 player or wear some type of carrier, adjust the headphone cables, skip a track if I wasn’t in the mood for it when it came on, and sometimes adjust the volume during the run. It got to the point where it felt like it was more of a nuisance than a benefit. So now, it is a very rare occasion that I will run with music. Even with all those downsides I listed, I was excited to run with some music during this race because I had never raced with music before. Also, I was interested to see if the music that seemed to give me such a boost during shorter runs would have the same effect when I’m exhausted and 70 some miles into a 100 miler. Not to mention, I had invested a lot of time into putting together what I felt was a pretty kick ass running playlist. (https://open.spotify.com/user/1217893411/playlist/6Vwxr1WIUqavHvRpFWMSaY)


https://open.spotify.com/user/1217893411/playlist/6Vwxr1WIUqavHvRpFWMSaY
With my vest on stocked with music, I waited until I had passed the aid station and halfway point of my seventh lap before putting my earbuds in and starting the seven hour playlist. The music definitely did make an impact. The Hatebreed songs and Mudvayne’s “Determined” motivated me to push my already tired legs beyond the exhaustion and pain that comes with 70 some some miles of flat and curvy trails. I got emotional and thought about my family and my wife and how integral she was in allowing me to run this race when Chicago’s “You’re The Inspiration” played. It lifted my spirits at times and I found myself running through the woods in the dark laughing and singing along to Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up”. I did the best club dancing I could do while trail running in the dark when the Marshmello songs were playing. However my favorite and what I found most motivating to run with were the Eminem tracks. Running with music felt like a huge plus for me during this race. I think they made the last 3.5 laps far more enjoyable than they would have been otherwise.


With seven laps complete, I was just under 13 hours into the race putting me right at target pace for a 19 hour finish if I could just maintain a pace of two hours per lap for the last three laps. However, by this point hitting that 11 minute per mile pace was a struggle. I had started mixing in some walking intervals to lessen the pain resulting from the constant impact of running on flat terrain. My body wasn’t prepared to deal with that kind of pain following Eastern States where so much of the course is spent climbing which is physically draining as well, but is nowhere near the same effect as the constant impact of the repeated footfalls of running a flat course. With this run/walk strategy, sub 12 minute miles felt like success. I wasn’t willing and probably wasn’t capable of it at the time to do the math to determine if this pace would be enough to get me to the finish within that 19 hour mark. I continued this strategy until near the end of my eighth lap when I caught up to a runner with a set of flashlights that looked familiar. The only runner that had passed me all day was the other 100 mile runner who passed me during that first lap. He also had been using what appeared to be a pair of flashlights. According to my exhausted brain, this had to be that same runner which would mean that I had finally caught up to him and was about to be in first place. I passed him and decided I would push myself without any walking intervals the remainder of the lap to the start/finish aid station to create a gap between us. I rushed through the aid station constantly looking back at the trail for any lights. I figured if I got out of the aid station before he got there it would lessen his will to chase after me. I continued to push for the ninth lap with my goal being to get through the out and back without him seeing me. I pulled this off and thought to myself that I now had at least about a mile gap on him. When he got there and realized the gap between us he certainly wouldn’t want to chase me for the last 15 miles.


The finish line after dark.
Photo Credit:  Vinny Cappadora (http://happilyrunning.com/) 
Even with what felt like pushing myself to the limit while running scared my eighth and ninth laps were both still about 2 hours and 10 minutes each which put me just a little over my 19 hour finish goal. I had told myself that I would push for the last lap if I needed to meet that goal, but the increased effort during the last two laps had taken a lot out of me. I tried but just didn’t have what it took to increase my pace for the last lap. At the final aid station during that last lap I knew my 19 hour goal was beyond reach. I rewarded myself for my effort and prematurely celebrated a bit by doing what I had been tempted to do upon every passing of this aid station that is named the “Whiskey Girl” aid station and took a shot with the lone remaining volunteer. The green label Evan Williams was delicious and went down surprisingly smooth after what I had put my stomach through for the last 18 hours. After the shot and a fist bump I was off to wrap up the last five miles til the finish. My legs were a bit wobbly before it, but the shot made the wobbles feel more fluid and numbed the pain a bit. I happily continued on until about three miles from the finish when I caught sight of a light in the distance behind me. I panicked. “He caught me” my mind screamed. I pushed hard trying to not let the light get closer, but every time I let up the light appeared again. This continued until I crossed the finish line physically and mentally drained with an official finishing time of 19:41:33.


Some pretty sweet schwag!
Photo Credit:  Nichole Cappadora (http://happilyrunning.com/) 
It wasn’t until after having a seat and chatting with the race director a bit that I realized the runner I had been chasing and running scared from for the last three laps was a ghost. The first place finisher had finished an hour ahead of me. That runner I had passed with the same lights as the runner that had passed me so long ago was either running a different distance race or was a 100 mile runner that I was lapping. Either way, it had no effect on where I placed at the finish. Regardless, it was great motivation for me to push myself for those last three laps. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t disappoint me, even if winning the race wasn’t my goal. The beauty of it is that it helped me to achieve my primary goals. It forced me to push myself when I thought I had nothing left. The lofty goal that I had set was beyond my reach, but I never gave up and gave it my all to grasp it even as it slipped out of reach during those last thirty miles. The Tesla Hertz 100 cured my post race blues and helped me prove to myself what I am currently capable of at the 100 mile distance.


Scott Snell
October 13, 2017

Thursday, September 21, 2017

2017 Eastern States 100

2017 Eastern States 100



"Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear."

- Mark Twain

I’m not going to lie. I was scared of facing the Eastern States 100 course. It was less than a year ago that I ran my first 100 miler (TARC 100) for the primary purpose of overcoming my fear of the 100 mile distance in order to begin working on my goal of completing the 2017 Pennsylvania Triple Crown Series with some semblance of confidence. That first 100 miler went well, far better than I had hoped it would. I had the confidence from my first 100 miler going damn near perfectly driving me up until Worlds End 100k (the second race of the three race series) where things got a little rough. At a low point during that 100k I began to question my resolve to finish the series. After the race, I tried my best to focus on the positives that came out of the experience:  overcoming rough patches during a long race, having a realistic nutrition plan, and realizing in the moment that highs and lows are both temporary. Try as I might to concentrate on the positives, during the entire training period between Worlds End and Eastern States I couldn’t quite manage to get that little pessimistic voice in my head to completely shut up. Honestly though, that annoying little voice had a convincing argument. The argument was something along the lines of “You may have done a hundred miler, but you’ve never done a tough hundred miler with 20,000 feet of elevation gain and technical trails like Eastern States. Hell, Worlds End 100k nearly broke you with 12,000 feet of gain. Not to mention, you’ve only done one 100 miler that just happened to go well. How do you know that wasn’t just a fluke?” Needless to say, it wasn’t the most enjoyable training block I’ve ever submitted myself to. However, in a way that voice was more motivating than any kind of positive reinforcement could be. The motivation to prove it wrong drove me to train for Eastern States and run the course as best I could even if I wasn’t sure I would make it to the finish.


Arriving at the bib and packet pick up at Little Pine State Park the evening before the race made my head start to spin. It all kind of felt surreal in a way. It wasn’t the nervous excitement that I’ve felt before other races. It felt like I was on the precipice of completing a major journey. The thought had crossed my mind to attempt the PA Triple Crown Series in 2016. However, I did not have the qualifying races required to register for Eastern States until after all the spots had been filled. So, I spent 2016 preparing. Now I was only a few hours and 102.9 miles away from completing the goal I had set for myself nearly two years ago. It was all a bit overwhelming. Thankfully, my wife and two boys had made the trip with me to camp for the weekend while I ran. That helped me bring it all back into perspective and realize that whatever importance or value I had attached to this goal was just that:  the value I assigned to it. No matter how the race went; I would still be the same dad and husband to them, I would still go back to the same job next week, and most people in my daily life would have no clue about it. Maybe I was using this thinking as a bit of a mental strategy and to keep my head from spinning. Based on training runs and past races, I’ve found a little apathy can do wonders.


Just after bib pick up at the start/finish area. 


After setting up our tent and letting the boys play in the water for a bit we settled down for the night. I went through my gear and made sure everything was ready for the morning. Then I went through the schwag bag to be seriously impressed with how much quality stuff was in it. Let’s start with the bag itself. It was an Osprey brand pack that looks like it is water resistant and perfect for doing some fastpacking adventures. Inside was a pair of wool socks, a running hat, and running shirt. It was far more than I expected for schwag, but then again Eastern States pretty much goes above and beyond expectations in every department.


Schwag! Minus the socks.


It felt like my alarm went off early, but even with the 5 AM start time I still managed to get a good six hours of sleep. I crawled out of my sleeping bag, threw my clothes and gear on, and said my silent goodbyes to my family before making my way to the starting area. I hopped into the weigh in line and made it through then hopped into the bathroom line and dropped a healthy deuce before heading to the starting line with just a couple minutes to spare. This was a huge mental boost for me. It felt like my body told me it was ready for what lies ahead. The waste was excreted, now it was time to move. The timing was nearly perfect. Shortly after arriving at the starting line, we had the countdown and the race was off with the sound of people cheering, bells ringing, and hoots and hollers. Then a minute later it got extremely quiet and a dichotomy of ultras hit me. The fact that so much energy is felt at the start, finish, and at certain aid stations contrasts so dramatically with the majority of the time running an ultra where (at least in my experience) I am usually alone and for the most part hearing only the wind and my footsteps. It was an interesting thought at the time, and I may have given it more depth than it deserved for the mere fact that my mind needed a distraction away from thinking about what I was about to force my body to endure.


With that distraction on my mind, I jogged along the paved road (which was the majority, if not the only paved section of the course) to the campground before we hit a bottleneck at the trailhead and the start of the single track. It wasn’t long after hitting the single track that we arrived at the first big climb of the course. I took it easy and reminded myself that there was no reason to push hard this early; the course will provide plenty of opportunities to blow your quads up later. Either during or not long after that climb the sun started to rise and my headlamp was no longer necessary. I arrived at the first aid station feeling good and fresh. I filled my Paw Patrol and TMNT bottles, ate a gel and packed one for between aid stations, and grabbed a few bites of food before moving on. I was surprised to see it, but they also had an entire gum section at this aid station. Maybe it was just because I hadn’t brushed my teeth that morning, but gum sounded surprisingly refreshing so I grabbed a piece to chew on as I left.


I made my way along the trail with the mindset of enjoying the day. If I don’t enjoy it, what’s the point? The sights and smells were great and I got into a flow knowing that I would get to see my wife and kids at AS3 (Lower Pine, mile 17.8). Just before AS2 a few runners and myself got to see a black bear that we scared off of the trail, no big deal after working at Shenandoah National Park for a summer. Otherwise, that stretch of the course was uneventful. Arriving at AS3 and seeing my boys rejuvenated and gave me a much greater boost than I was expecting. Their excitement was real and I felt it. I continued my plan of eating some real food and a gel at each aid station and packing a gel to go and continued on.


Lower Pine AS3, Mile 17.8.
Soon after leaving the aid station, the course follows a gravel road up a good stretch of an easy, but sustained climb. Some were hiking it, but I was feeling good and decided to jog this not so steep and non-technical climb. The next event of note did not occur until between AS5 (mile 31.6) and AS6 (mile 38.5). Somewhere during this stretch the rain that was forecasted for the day showed up. It was short lived, but the rain was heavy and soaked everything. I believe it was also during this stretch that I attempted to make a creek crossing without getting my feet wet by balancing across a slick log. I knew it was a bad idea and it ended with me standing in the creek telling myself that. Suffice to say, the rain didn’t soak anything that wasn’t already wet. Soggy, but in good spirits, I rolled into Ritchie Rd (AS6). I ate more there than at previous aid stations making my way from one side of the aid station table to the other. It was there that I had my first perogi of the day. It was delicious and and mashed potato perogies would become my staple for the rest of the day.


Shortly after leaving this aid station the course follows a powerline cut for a gradual climb. It was somewhere at this point that I had to hop off of trail to take care of some business. Once my GI stuff was resolved, this non-technical section felt easy. Other than a few mud puddles due to the earlier heavy downpour, this stretch of the course was cake. In addition, I had the fact that my wife and kids were waiting for me at the next aid station to spur me on. I arrived at AS7, Hyner Run (mile 43.2), in what felt like a flash. I ate a buttload of bacon and watermelon then shared some Swedish Fish with my three year old son. Up to this point I hadn’t given place much thought. I was paying attention to my pace mainly to see if I was going to be keeping my wife waiting at the aid stations for me. The pace and aid station arrival times I had given her were based on a best case, perfect day scenario of a 25 hour finish. Surprisingly, I was surpassing those splits at this point. Looking at past results, I expected a sub 25 hour finish to easily be a top 20 place finish. I was shocked when she told me that I was in 38th place at that point. I wasn’t disappointed, but more excited. My initial thought when I heard that was “a new course record will be set today”.


Hyner Run AS7, Mile 43.2, where I feasted on bacon.
With that somewhat bittersweet news, I continued on to the next aid station which I expected to be a water only aid station. Upon arrival, it was anything but. They had perogies there. I ate my fill and continued on to AS9, Halfway House (mile 54.7), where I saw my wife and boys for the last time before the finish. There was one additional aid station for spectators, but I would arrive there too late for my wife to bring the boys there. She had to take them back to camp and get them to bed. With the sun beginning to set at the time, I said my goodbyes and thanked my wife for being so supportive. The inspiration that kids bring is irrational. I moved on and focused on covering the distance. My goal was to continue to take the course on in sections. At every aid station I would ask how far it was to the next and then focus on making it there. To assist that goal, every aid station had a print out posted of the distance and elevation profile from the current aid station to the next. Mad props to the race director for that.


This strategy worked great for me. I covered miles without thinking about the majority of the remaining distance I had to cover. It wasn’t until AS12 that I got my next surprise. At the Alegrines (mile 62.9) aid station they were recording and posting runners’ places and arrival times. The last I had heard from my wife at the halfway point was that I was in 38th place. At this aid station, while I was casually eating a grilled cheese sandwich, they announced that I was in 16th place! How that happened, I have no clue. It scared me more than it motivated me. But I continued on just hoping that I could at least make it to the finish with a top 20 spot.


I ran on and shortly before reaching the next aid station (Long Branch, mile 75.6) I came upon another runner. It was dark, and it felt like I came upon the light that I had seen in the distance rather quickly. I intended to give my standard kudos to the guy and continue on my way until I was about to pass him. Then I realized how badly he was shivering and when he finally turned his head and made eye contact with me I saw a fear in his eyes. I tried to motivate him letting him know that it was less than a mile to the next aid station. His response was “Yeah, I’ve been telling myself that.” I kicked myself for not carrying the emergency blanket that was included with my hydration vest. When I bought it I thought “emergency blanket? Emergency whistle? When will I ever need these?” I told him I would hurry to reach the next aid station and let them know he was on his way and could use some help. Shortly after I arrived there and informed them of the situation they had a runner on his way with a jacket to assist.



Not carrying emergency equipment is a general mistake. My real first race mistake didn’t come until AS14 (Blackwell, mile 80.3). It was at this point that I had left my one and only drop bag for myself with dry shoes and fresh socks. I had had wet feet since around mile 30 and they didn’t feel that bad. I went off of feel and the philosophy that if your feet feel ok don’t worry about them. I turned away the super helpful volunteer who offered me my drop bag saying that I wouldn’t need it. Later I would regret that. I drank some coffee and ate a piece of pizza then continued on. Shortly after, I jumped over a rattlesnake that was just on the edge of the trail rattling at mel. Then I hit a super technical and super slick rocky descent. Somewhere around this point I realized how bad my feet felt and my second to pinky toe (ring toe?) nail flipped back. It hurt and I told myself that it would make the last 20 miles interesting.


I made it to the next aid station and that is when my head totally messed with me. I was at Sky Top (AS15, mile 84.8) where they provided some of the best care that I had received all day. I got soup with a pierogi in it. They changed my headlamp batteries and gave me spare batteries. I got Vaseline for the chafing under my armpits. But for some reason, I left thinking that I had six miles to the next aid station then four miles to the finish. In reality I had eight miles to the next aid station, then six miles to the final aid station, then four miles to the finish. It was only a difference of eight miles,but it seemed like an infinite distance at the time that I realized the mileage wasn’t adding up after leaving Sky Top. And with that realization my body began to let me know how much everything else was hurting. My feet were soaked and blistered. My armpits and crotch were badly chafed. It had taken me 80 some miles to get there, but I had reached my lowest point of the race. I finally reached the next aid station at Barrens (mile 92.8), but I was in such a funk mentally and my body was hurting so bad that I didn’t want to eat anything. I was sick of gels and I was sick of everything sweet. I forced myself to drink some coke and continued on with my negative mantra of “everything hurts”.


Thankfully, between Barrens and the final aid station the sun came up. This was something that I had been looking forward to. I had never done a race before where I had run all night and I got to see the sunrise. It was motivating to have daylight break and turn my headlamp off. With that bit of motivation, I continued on to the final aid station even though my feet said no. I reached the final aid station (Hackettes, mile 99.1) and passed through quickly eager to reach the finish. Even though it was less than four miles to the finish, it certainly didn’t feel like the home stretch. There was still one more climb to overcome. At the top of that climb, I decided I had to pee. Unfortunately, I put things away a bit too early and leaked a bit in my shorts. I was close to the finish and I didn’t want to show up there looking like I had just pissed myself. I’m blaming my sleep deprived brain and exhausted body for this, but it seemed to me at the time that the best course of action to hide the fact that I peed myself would be to spray some water from my water bottle on my shorts. Soon after, I realized what a mistake this was. My severely chafed inner thighs and testicles were screaming with every step once the were wet again.


At the finish being helped across by my boys!
I continued on to the final and crazy steep descent. It seemed like I could hear cheering from the finish line crowd for several miles. My quads burned and threatened to completely give out as I tried to descend the last stretch with some sense of control. My feet hurt so bad and my quads were so trashed that I was grabbing trees along the trail to help myself brake. Finally, the trail led out to a parking lot where I could see the finish line. I made it to the grassy field and my boys met me shortly before the finish line to run under the blow up arch with me. And there was David Walker (race director) waiting to greet me. He presented me with the finisher’s buckle, which I was most appreciative of. Having now finished two of the races he directs, I can say with confidence that those races were the most orderly and well organized ultras in which I have ever partaken. I can also say that I think he may be a bit of a sadist. At both Worlds End and Eastern States the courses end with a super gnarly and steep descent for your trashed quads to contend with. And at both finish lines he asked me with a huge grin how I liked that final descent. Seriously though, he is an excellent race director and a great guy. From my experience at both races, I watched him stay near the finish line the entire time and congratulate every runner as they finished.


Just after the finish with race director, David Walker.
Having my wife and kids waiting for me at the finish of the toughest race I had ever done which also marked the completion of the PA Triple Crown Series, my primary goal for nearly two years, I thought I may get a bit emotional or teary when it was complete. I mostly just felt relieved that I had hung on for the last 15 miles or so that tested me to finish in tenth place with a time of 27:17:24. I was also super ecstatic about how well the first 85 miles went. This race proved to me that my performance at my first 100 miler wasn’t just a fluke. It got that annoying pessimistic voice to finally shut the hell up. It also reinforced the lesson that I should have learned at Worlds End:  that preventative maintenance of your feet is not an option. Aside from everything that was great about the race and everything that went so well for me, I was also so grateful that this initial family camping trip went so smoothly for my wife while I was out running all night. The kids had a good time outdoors without any YouTube videos or Minecraft, my wife enjoyed having time with them without the distractions, and I got to run a long time and have them waiting for me at the finish. While making the drive back to NJ, we all agreed that it was a trip worth making again. Just the thought of that makes me smile and want to visit Ultrasignup.


Scott Snell

September 20, 2017

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.