Thursday, June 6, 2019

2019 Hyner View Trail Challenge 50k

Third Time Is the Charm, 

Even If It Takes a Month to Realize It

I’m just getting around to writing this race report after over a month has passed since running the 2019 Hyner 50k and less than a week until I will be running the Worlds End 100k. This is less of a traditional race report in the sense of an overall course description and background information on the race, but more of a reflective piece on my expectations and reactions to how the race went for me. The reason being that much of the race is not fresh in my mind at this point and I’m more focused on mentally preparing for WE 100k. An additional reason is that I have written race reports on the past two years of the Hyner 50k and feel like I would just be rehashing the same info. If that’s what you’re looking for, my reports on 2017 and 2018 Hyner 50k are still available. However, this is the story of the 2019 Hyner 50K.

The Hyner course had a very slight course change this year.

I went into the race with the exact same goal as last year, however with one added caveat: to not destroy myself to the point that I thought a marathon PR would be unachievable the following weekend. My goal last year was just to get close to my 2017 Hyner time (5:36:36) in order to be able to better my cumulative 2017 Pennsylvania Triple Crown time (47:47:36). Since in 2017 my Hyner performance was probably my best of all three races that make up the series, I thought just getting close to it would make my season’s goal of improving my cumulative 2017 Pennsylvania Triple Crown time achievable. Since Eastern States 100 was cancelled last year, I was not able to find out if that held true. So, I’m giving it another shot this year with a few additional goals added. One of those additional goals was to improve my marathon PR and the marathon I chose to make that attempt at happened to be the weekend after Hyner. With all this in mind and knowing how last year’s Hyner 50k went where I felt like I gave it my all and was still somehow slower than the previous year, I wasn’t sure if both of these goals could be achieved within the time frame I had set. But I wanted to give it a go anyway.
Strava data for the three years I've run Hyner 50k.

I went into it with the same plan as last year as well, attack the climbs and hammer the downhills harder than 2017, only this time try not to feel like crap around the 20 mile point like I did in 2018. Without doing a lot of homework and studying my splits, it felt like I was accomplishing this even with less than ideal conditions to start the race. Heavy rainfall and thunderstorms were forecasted leading up to race day, but come race weekend, all the rainfall passed through the night before the race. This made a course that is well known for its many stream crossings (or using creek beds as the trail) a bit more daunting. How deep would all the water crossings be? How sloppy would the trails be? Thankfully, other than the first stretch of trail following the initial road section near the start, the trails were in surprisingly great condition. Given the few mini landslides that caused minor bottlenecks and more than one runner’s shoe to be lost in the muck, the great condition of the rest of the course was shocking.

All packed, ready to go!

I tried to be even more focused on efficiency at aid stations this year than last, spending little more time at each one than it took to have a water bottle refilled, grab a couple energy gels (Carb Boom, not my favorite, but what the aid stations offered), and throw out my mess of sticky gel wrappers if I remembered. I also forewent my beet juice plan (chugging some beet juice just before the start and then starting the race with a water bottle filled with mostly beet juice) that I tried to employ last year and apparently didn’t do much good. I used my standard fueling plan that has worked pretty well for me for anything up to a 50k. I ate a gel just before the start and then another basically every half hour. Thankfully, it worked well for me this year and I never had any signs of bonking or just feeling completely depleted.

I ran the early road section harder than I ever have in three years of partaking in the Hyner 50k festivities. I also attacked the climbs in what felt like it may be a risky pace for a tough 31 mile trail run, but I put a lot of faith in the extra gym training I had started at the end of 2018. I really was banking on all of those stair stepper and inclined treadmill sessions paying off on this day. Since this is the first time in years I had incorporated any kind of gym workouts into my training, I wasn’t sure how it would turn out, but was hoping to see some benefits. The last secret to improving my time was to run the downhills faster. It sounds simple, but a lot of people struggle with downhill and worry (with good reason) about blowing out their quads due to hammering the descents to hard. For me, downhill running has always seemed to come pretty naturally and I’ve never been too afraid of a nasty fall to try to make up some time by hitting the downhills hard. As tough as I find the climbs at Hyner, the descents are the opposite for me. In my opinion, nearly all of the downhills at Hyner are nontechnical and super runnable, which is perfect for me. The real blessing about the whole situation is that with the race being only a 50k, who cares if you blow your quads up. It will be over before blown quads really matter that much.

The muddy parking lot the morning of the race.
With that philosophy and planning, I cranked the miles out on race day feeling good physically and mentally all day. Hyner is always fun as it is the first race of the year where I see and get to catch up with many of the other trail ultrarunners I have gotten to know over the past few years and haven’t seen or talked to (outside of Facebook) since the previous season. Since I was feeling so good and enjoying the trails so much while racing, I really didn’t look at my watch too often to check on my pace. I checked often enough to know I was close to my 2017 pace, but that was about all. My final race goal before the finish was to run, not hike, the final, steep ascent just before the finish line is in sight after the road section. I was pulling it off until I was about halfway up it and hit a slick spot where my foot flew out from under me and I had to throw my hands out to avoid face planting into the trail. Undeterred, I attempted to continue running it, but my other foot slipped as well. This happened for at least a full three strides where it would have appeared to an onlooker that I was doing mountain climbers in the middle of the trail. After exhausting the last of my efforts with muddy mountain climbers I gave up trying to still run it and got myself some secure footing. Once past that steep, slick patch I hiked a few steps disappointed with the outcome and then switched back to the fastest trot I could manage after giving it all I had to get nowhere just before the finish.

Sloppy the night before the race.
After finishing I learned my official time was 5:32:31. At the time I knew it was faster than my 2018 time which I was happy about, but for some reason I thought I had run it faster in 2017. I continued to believe this untruth all the way up until I was putting together the data for my split times for Table 2. I was comparing the cumulative times from 2017 to 2019 trying to see where I was faster each year. While doing this I finally realized that my total time in 2019 was less than in 2017. Thinking I made a mistake somewhere in my data entry into Excel, I checked my results on Ultrasignup. Sure enough, plain as day, I was about four minutes faster in 2019 than in 2017. It only took me about a month and a half and examining a spreadsheet to realize it, but when I did it sure was an awesome finding. The real beauty of it is that it sets me up so nicely to accomplish my overall PA Triple Crown Series cumulative time goal (see Table 1) for my 2019 season! Additionally, I found out the weekend after Hyner that I had achieved my other goal for the race when I was able to get a new road marathon PR at the New Jersey Marathon! I’m super proud of how those back to back weekends of racing turned out. They both felt like real successes to me and an excellent start to my race season!

Scott Snell

June 6, 2019

Table 1 shows my finishing times for all of the Pennsylvania Triple Crown Series races I have finished as of the publishing of this report.

Table 2 shows my splits and cumulative time for the Hyner View Trail Challenge 50k for 2017, 2018, and 2019.
Hyner '17
Hyner '18
Hyner '19
cumulative '17
cumulative '18
cumulative '19

Figure 1 shows my pace (min./mile) for the Hyner View Trail Challenge 50k from 2017, 2018, and 2019.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Team Commando or Team Runderwear?

"Disclaimer: I received a pair of Runderwear Men’s Running Boxer Briefs to review as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out to review, find, and write race reviews!"

Time to talk underwear! More specifically, Runderwear. Runderwear are the first underwear that I have ever run in that were designed specifically for running. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going out and running ultras wearing cotton boxers that offer no support. I am typically a wearer of athletic boxer/briefs made from a polyester/spandex blend. While this has worked for me thus far with minimal complaints, I’m always willing to try new running products to see where improvements can be made in my running habits.

Runderwear started with a common running problem: chafing. Most runners have experienced it at some point and many have accepted it as just coming with the territory. I know I have had my fair share of chafing during ultramarathons. Others, the lucky ones, often look at you perplexed when you tell them about the misery you experienced in the shower after your last 100k (if you’ve ever chafed worse than you realized then took a shower, you know what I’m talking about). Runderwear’s founders are runners whose goal was to create chafe-free, comfortable underwear for runners. Since then, an entire line of chafe-free athletic wear has followed: socks, baselayers, and triathlon suits. I’d say it is easy to see they have had success just based on the accolades their products have received with recognition by Runner’s World, Women’s & Men’s Running, Outdoor Enthusiast, and 220 Triathlon. Not to mention receiving the “Best Underwear & Socks Brand” at the 2018 Running Awards. But I am a bit of a skeptic and like to learn through experience, so I was excited at the opportunity to try a pair out for myself. 

With the primary Runderwear claim being supreme comfort and chafe-free running, I decided to really test them out in that department and take them out for a long run. I intended for my first run wearing them to be the NJ Marathon where I was shooting for a new marathon PR, but decided at the last minute that it may not be the best plan if it turned out these new underwear rubbed me the wrong way ten miles in. So I took them out for a few shorter runs and then finally for a 20 mile long training run this past weekend. Comfort? Check! Chafing? Negative! Runderwear made good on their Chafe-Free guarantee.

So how do these underwear do it and how does a company have so much confidence in their product that they actually offer a Chafe-Free guarantee? Well, here is an excerpt from the Runderwear website and then I’ll offer my thoughts on all of the key features:

Chafe-Free Guarantee

"Runderwear’s whole ethos is about creating chafe-free performance clothing. Runderwear clothing has no side seams and is label-free to prevent irritation and rubbing. Runderwear technical fabric is extremely soft, breathable and highly effective at wicking sweat away from the body, ensuring you remain chafe-free in ultimate comfort, no matter how many miles you run.

We’re so confident that your Runderwear will provide the solution to your chafing, that we offer a 28 day, no fuss guarantee. If you wear our products and they cause you to chafe, we will happily refund you, it’s as simple as that.

Remember, Runderwear will stop chafing in the area that it covers and not the surrounding areas, so make sure you select the best style for your problem area. For example, briefs will protect your nether-regions from chafing but not your thighs, whilst our Long Boxers (for Men) and Hot Pants (for Women) will protect all that they touch."

Runderwear’s tagless and seamless design are two key features in preventing chafing. Chafing is caused by continual rubbing from clothing or accessories against your skin. Take away features that are prone to rub, such as tags and seams, and you reduce the likelihood of chafing. Simple. Compared to some boxer/briefs I have worn that have a sewn on tag on the waistband, the tagless design was exponentially more comfortable. The lack of seams also did not go unnoticed. Most of my other athletic underwear has seams running along the inner thigh to the crotch in addition to the seams running from the waistband at the hip down to the bottom of the boxer/brief along the outer leg. Runderwear has none of these seams with their 360 degree seamless design. The little stitching that is used, around the elastic waistband, is a style of flatlock fine stitching which was barely noticeable and non irritating for the entirety of my 20 mile run.

Moisture is another deadly sin that can lead to chafing. How Runderwear goes about combating this one is via moisture wicking fabric. Runderwear are made from polyamide (92%) and elastane (8%), a much different composition than my normal athletic wear blend of polyester/spandex. Their blend is designed to wick sweat away from the skin to keep you dry and stop chafing before it starts. I can’t say how much better this material is at pulling moisture away as I haven’t had the opportunity to test them out during a truly hot and muggy, typical East coast August day, but I can say they performed well during my 20 mile test run on one of the warmer (high of 76° F) May days we have had. Part of the key to removing the moisture is the breathability of the fabric. The fabric blend used by Runderwear has mesh panels containing micro perforations that make it breathable and allow moisture to be removed from the body.

The last benefit I found with Runderwear is not specifically related to chafing, but rather just overall comfort. The material is soft and form fitting, providing great support to keep things from getting jostled around while running without being restrictive. Unlike other boxer/briefs I’ve worn that like to migrate a bit during long runs and need some readjustments, Runderwear stayed right where they were supposed to for all of my trial miles with them. This is in part due to the “rubberized” strip at the bottom of each leg hole. At first glance after unpackaging, I thought this was an adhesive to keep the Runderwear in place in the packaging. Then I realized the true purpose, to keep the legs of the boxer/briefs from creeping up your legs while in motion. And it works too! I didn’t have to adjust or pull my boxer/brief pant legs down from creeping up my running shorts once. Cleanliness is one more aspect of comfort where Runderwear impressed me. Much of my athletic clothing tends to get a bit of a funky smell attached to it after enough use even freshly out of the wash. With the limited amount of time that I have used Runderwear, they seem to wash well and come out looking and smelling super fresh. Granted, that is only after about five uses and washes, but I have high hopes for that trend of cleanliness to continue.

Although my relationship with Runderwear has been limited (thirtysomething miles), I can say I have enjoyed them for all of those miles and found them comfortable and chafe-free. If you are looking to try a pair for yourself, they can be found on Amazon (Runderwear) or on the Runderwear website where you can use code “BIBRAVE20” for 20% off. Valid until Friday 31 May.

Friday, May 3, 2019

2019 Novo Nordisk New Jersey Marathon

Ten Years In The Making

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

It’s strange how 10 years can sound like a long time when you say it, but when you reminisce over the same portion of time in your life it appears to have gone by in a rushed blur of all of the events, big and small, that have culminated to be the story of your life. This past weekend’s race, the Novo Nordisk New Jersey Marathon, motivated me to examine that roughly quarter sized chunk of my life thus far. It was just a little over 10 years ago that I ran my first and only marathon up until this past weekend. Now with my second official marathon finish, I’ve found myself looking back at where I was before my first, where I’m at now, and wondering what the heck happened in between.

I ran my first marathon about a week after my 29th birthday. Running a marathon wasn’t a bucket list item for me or a box to check before my twenties ended. It was something I decided I wanted to do to hopefully keep running interesting to me. Leading up to it, I’m regretfully admitting, I had become a bit bored with running, or at least the running I was doing at the time. I wasn’t racing, training for a race, or exploring new trails to run. It was before I even entertained or had a desire to run an ultra. At the time, I was basically only running what I consider now to be my “maintenance” runs, for the most part 3-6 miles at an easy pace. The required training and challenge that comes along with preparing for a marathon I hoped would reignite the passion for running that it had originally sparked when I first started running recreationally about five years earlier.

I'm pretty happy with how my CEP compression socks performed as well!
Thankfully, it did. In fact it made me want to run even farther and longer than the marathon distance. I didn’t dive head first into ultramarathons. I studied them and the training methods others had used. For several years I said I was too busy due to other personal events 
(marriage, baby, etc.) in my life to commit to training for an ultra. Looking back and having the experience I do now, I know it would have been possible, but I may have been a bit too naive and impatient to make it work. Even if I had pulled it off then, I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed it. So I waited and then in 2013 when I decided it was time to train for my first ultra, I got taken out with a hip injury that required corrective surgery (here’s the full story on that). I waited longer spending 2014 recovering and rebuilding a decent running base. I began ultra training for real in 2015 and ran my first ultra that October, the Blues Cruise 50k in Leesport, PA. 

The course map and my Strava data.
After discovering and experiencing trail ultras, I lost interest in road marathons for the most part, until recent years as I started wondering how I would do if I were to take another crack at one. The question of how I would do at a road marathon after several years of running trail ultras piqued my interest enough for me to run a marathon distance around my neighborhood, finishing it about five minutes faster than my one and only official marathon time (3:43:02). After this I decided it was time to sign up for another road marathon. Deciding which marathon to run was easy as I was offered the chance to run the Novo Nordisk New Jersey Marathon as a BibRave Pro. Sweet! Now my only goal was to run a marathon faster than I had 10 years ago. 

I went with my Altra Escalantes for the race, it was a good decision.
I changed up my normal training routine a bit by getting a gym membership and increasing my mileage earlier in the year than I normally do because I’m not the happiest cold weather runner. I didn’t do this specifically for marathon training, although I believe it paid huge dividends on race day, but mainly to go into this ultrarunning season with a higher mileage base established. I arrived for the race and immediately felt out of my comfort zone. Mainly because of the crowd size. This is a big marathon with over 2,300 marathon runners plus marathon relay runners and half marathon runners all starting at the same time from the same starting line. It was in stark contrast even to the starts at the largest trail runs (several hundred runners at most) I’ve experienced. I did my best to try to appreciate the energy of such a large crowd rather than allow it to make me feel uneasy and worked my way into my assigned starting corral.

Having my Aftershokz for my training runs and during the race was a huge plus!
I went out with a plan at the start to race smart. Knowing that I needed to average just under 8:30 minute miles to better my marathon PR, I told myself I would take it easy the first few miles. As the wave I started with crossed the starting line, I saw the 3:35 pacers not far ahead of me in the crowd. I ran at what felt like a comfortable pace until catching up with that pace group. I decided to avoid doing anything stupid like running too hard too early I would stick with this group for awhile and then pick it up later if I was still feeling good. That only lasted until about the six mile mark. The Eminem on my playlist started playing through my Aftershokz at that point and I decided that this pace felt too easy. I said to myself “I’m running this to see how fast I can run it, not just to improve my PR!” And with that I picked up my pace and pulled away from the pace group.

The AWESOME finisher medal!

It was a matter of several miles, but it was surprising to me how quickly it seemed that I caught sight of the signs held by the 3:30 pacers. I continued to run at what felt like a slightly more strenuous than comfortable pace until joining this pace group crowd. I decided to reel it in a bit at this point and just see if I could hang with the 3:30 pace group or if that would be too tough to maintain for the 16 or so miles left. I told myself if I can maintain this pace and I felt like I had anything left I would try to empty the tank in the last five miles.

I have to admit, Strava's "Last Mile" challenge drove me at the finish.
As we passed the halfway point of the race, the course got a bit more interesting and scenic in my opinion. Rather than it feeling like the course was mostly running through neighborhood roads (my take on the majority of the first half), the second half really displayed more of the traditional Jersey shore scenery as the ocean and beaches were in sight and we began running stretches of the boardwalk. Along with the more attractive scenery came the out and back portion of the course. Seeing the fast marathon front runners still hammering hard after 20 or so miles kept me inspired and motivated to keep my pace up. A short time later with about 10 miles to go I decided it was time to pick up my pace and part ways with the pace group I had become comfortable running with.

My final mile pace according to Strava.
Shortly after pulling away from the 3:30 pace group I saw all of the faster pace group returning from the U turn of the out and back. The 3:15 group went by followed shortly after by the 3:20 and the 3:25 groups. A short time later I found myself at the turn around (about the 19 mile mark). Realizing the 3:25 pace group wasn’t that far ahead of me, I decided I would make it my goal to catch that group before the end of the race. I had only seven miles to pull it off. It was exciting to have an additional goal that I wasn’t sure was actually achievable. It motivated me to push myself harder than if my only goal was to get a new PR which at this point was nearly guaranteed. Passing other runners nearly continuously for the next six miles kept me pushing until I finally caught site of the 3:25 pacer signs with about a mile to go. I continued pushing and made my last mile of the marathon my fastest of the race passing the 3:25 pacers with the finish line less than a quarter mile away.

Cheers from the finish!
My official finish time was 3:23:17, nearly a 20 minute improvement over my only other marathon finish over 10 years ago. It was a greatly satisfying race as everything went so well. Other than a little upset stomach early on, I felt great the entire race. As happy as I was with my finishing time I still walked away with a bit of regret. Solely because I left the race wondering what would have happened if I had pushed harder earlier? What could my marathon PR be if I focused on running marathons? What if I hadn’t just run Hyner 50k with 7,500’ of elevation gain just one week earlier? All are questions that I don’t have an answer to, but am curious to explore.

Scott Snell
May 3, 2019

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

My First Time Streaking (Run Streaking That Is)!

Disclaimer: I received an annual Strava Summit subscription and Strava merchandise as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out to review find and write race reviews!

After back to back weekends of racing at the Hyner View Trail Challenge 50k followed by the Novo Nordisk New Jersey Marathon, my May schedule is looking kinda lame and pretty empty without any races scheduled. I have nothing lined up until Worlds End (WE) 100k on June first. I had thought that I would be okay with this since I have a heavier race schedule planned for June and going into July, but now as the excitement of smashing my marathon PR wears off, I’m less certain. I feel the need to have something to train for and keep me focused between now and WE 100k, but nothing too big that will beat me up too bad. Thankfully, an opportunity knocked: The BibRave Run Streak.

BibRave is hosting a run streak for the month of May. All Strava users are invited to join many of the BibRavePros by running or walking at least one mile per day from May 1 - May 31. Want in? First things first, you have to join Strava. Believe me, if you’re a runner and you’re into maps you won’t regret it. Never heard of Strava or heard of it and not really sure what it is? Get a quick overview of it here and then join in the fun. Now that you’re a happy Strava user, join the BibRave Strava Club and get ready to streak for the month of May!

Why am I streaking for the month of May? Mainly because I have no races lined up and I want to stay motivated and focused on training to be ready for WE 100k. That and I feel a deep emptiness welling up inside of me as I come off of back to back race weekends and know I won’t get another fix until June. Kinda kidding, kinda serious. So I figured, if I’m not going to race in May, what better way to combat the post race blues but to try a new kind of running challenge like a run streak? Since it’s new to me, I’m not sure what to expect which will likely make it an interesting endeavor. Physically, I foresee no difficulties with doing a mile a day. However, mentally and logistically I expect it to be a bit more challenging. Just like pretty much all other runners, I have days where I just don’t feel like going out for a run (until I’m running) and have to practically force myself out the door. Those will be the mentally challenging days. Logistically, there are some days when I just don’t have an ideal block of time to run. This is where I feel like I’ll really benefit from this run streak. It will force me to find times and ways to work in a short run when I would otherwise opt not to run justifying it by saying that I wouldn’t have enough time for a “good” run. Even if it is just a one mile out and back on lunch at work, I intend to get that daily mile in for the month of May.

So if you’re interested and whatever your reason may be, I encourage you to learn more and join the BibRave Crew for their Run Streak this May!

Strava Swag!

Monday, April 22, 2019

Strava: A Safer, Happier, and Healthier Addiction

Disclaimer: I received an annual Strava Summit subscription and Strava merchandise as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out to review find and write race reviews!

So far as a BibRave Pro (BRP), all of the products I’ve tested were brand new to me. I may have heard of some of them, but testing them as a BRP was my first direct experience with them. Until now, as I have been selected to tell my story of how I became a Strava user which will hopefully motivate you to become a Strava user as well or at least pique your interest enough to look into Strava and learn how it could benefit your running habit. As soon as the opportunity to work on this project presented itself I knew it was the perfect fit for me. Just in the past year I have turned two of my coworkers into Strava users (one of the two I converted over from using the IOS app, Health). 

I have been a regular Strava user for about 2-3 years now. I first heard of Strava after I fell in with a new crowd, the Facebook group “Trail and Ultrarunning”. I hooked up with this group of trail and ultrarunners around the same time I ran my first ultra (Blues Cruise 50k) in the fall of 2015. I kept seeing people posting in this group about Strava this and Strava that. “If it isn’t on Strava, it didn’t happen” was also a common refrain. I decided I should learn what the heck this whole Strava thing is.

At first glance, I didn’t see what the big deal was or why Strava was so popular. My initial impression of it was that it was just another online fitness tracker. I had used several others before and at the time was a Garmin connect user only because I used a Garmin GPS watch and all of my data was automatically uploaded, tracked, and stored there. It was simple and I questioned why I would have any need for a secondary online fitness tracker. In my mind, it would only complicate the system I was using which seemed to be working fine for me.

Then I learned what Strava brings to the table where many other online fitness trackers fall short: the social networking aspects it offers. Where Garmin Connect and Suunto Movescount (probably the two most broadly used online fitness tracker apps with 10,000,000+ and 500,000+ installs respectively) were limited to just users of their GPS devices, Strava provided a platform where users of all GPS devices could play and interact, including folks who tracked their activities with their phones. Strava also allows users of other third party fitness tracker apps to sync those accounts with their Strava account so that like minded fitness addicts have a common playground to interact with one another. Now other online fitness trackers may have taken note and followed suit with Strava’s lead, but I’m unaware if they have. Once I drank the Kool-Aid, I haven’t looked back at any other fitness trackers. I use Strava exclusively as my fitness tracker and it fulfills all of my needs and then some. 

Inclusivity isn’t the only benefit that makes Strava shine. Here is a short list of some of my favorite Strava features, all of which I will go into and explain in more detail in a future blog post:

  • Group Activities and Events - A way to organize and get more social with other athletes.
  • Clubs - Join up with other athletes by geographic region or specific interests. Find the BibRave club here.
  • King Of the Mountains (KOMs) - Think of these as virtual races.
  • Flybys - Probably the coolest way to relive a race. This one is probably my favorite. Check the boxes for “Scott” and “Rich” and watch!
  • Segment Explorer - Traveling to a new area and want to find a great running route? Use segment explorer.
  • Gear Statistics - Track the miles on all of your running shoes!
  • Challenges - For when you need a little extra motivation.
  • Achievements - Think of these as racing yourself.
  • My Year In Sport - This is like a celebratory video of your past year’s activities. Here’s mine from 2018.
Stay tuned for a more in depth explanation of all of those Strava features. Until then, here is a short “how to” video about creating strava segments and just a general Strava overview.

If you're already a Strava junkie, you can now show your Strava pride with some Strava swag
Strava swag on Amazon.

Monday, April 8, 2019

2019 Rat Race 50K

My cool finisher mug!

A Cinderella Story Without The Cinderella Ending

Even though everyone had told me he wasn’t that far ahead and that I could catch him, I was not prepared for the kick at the finish. Honestly, what are the odds that in a four plus hour race it will come down to who has a faster kick for the last quarter mile. The chances are pretty slim, but it happened. It was the type of ultra finish I had dreamed of witnessing and to have been more than just a spectator to it and to have had the honor to share it with the caliber of athlete that I did left me downright giddy for weeks. This is my story of the inaugural Rat Race 50k!

The Rat Race trail runs have been an annual event for awhile; I only became aware of them last year. I ran it for the first time last year, opting for the longest distance offered, the 20k. This year the RD decided to offer a 50k option. I happily partook. In the past, both the 10k and 20k distances used the same 10k loop to reach their total distance. Until arriving at the race, I was expecting this to be the case with the newly offered 50k distance. To my surprise and satisfaction the RD had altered the course a bit for the 50k runners. Rather than five laps of the 10k loop, he added a longer 20k loop which was then followed up with three laps around the original 10k course. If you want a more in depth description of the 10k loop, go to my race report from last year on the 20k. As happy as I was to hear that I wouldn’t be running five laps of the 10k course, the added 20k loop to start was not 20k of completely fresh trail. In fact, about half of the large loop was the same trail as the 10k loop (see Strava map). And all of the added distance to the large loop was either fire road or powerline cuts, no new single track. I’m not trying to complain here, just making it clear that the 50k is for the most part achieved by running the 10k course five times.

With this being my first race of the year, my primary goals were to test out my fitness level, get adapted to those pre race jitters before my “A” races, and have some fun of course. If everything went well, I hoped to set a new 50k PR (4:54:29) for myself as well. Why did I have such high hopes for my first race of the year? I went about training over winter completely differently in this past offseason than I have since I started running ultramarathons. I got myself a gym membership and started building up my mileage and doing some speedwork on the treadmill in January after light mileage in November and December. I’ve found that I enjoy a couple months of lower mileage to allow the body to recover and to avoid burnout after heavy training and racing. This year I increased mileage and intensity more quickly with access to the treadmill. I wasn’t sure how well all of the treadmill miles would transfer to trail running, but I was excited to find out and hoped for the best results, a 50k PR. 

All set, ready to race!
The week before the race the timing company sent out an email with a link to the entrants list. I scanned it to see if anyone I knew would be running the 50k. I didn’t see any names I recognized except for Rich Riopel. If you’re not familiar with who Rich is, in short, he is one of the best ultrarunners to come out of NJ. He has qualified for and represented the USA multiple years on the 24 Hour National Team to compete at the International Association of Ultrarunners (IAU) 24 Hour World Championship. If you want more evidence that he is an accomplished ultrarunner, just look at his Ultrasignup results. Why am I giving you all of this information about Rich? Well, he is a main character in my race report.

As we all took off from the start the course started off following the same unpaved road that 
the 10k loop starts on. I was following Rich and one other runner when early on, probably a quarter to half mile from the start, Rich hops of to the side and begins retying a shoelace. I passed him at that point and expected to see him passing me within a couple minutes. To my surprise, I ran with the other lead runner for a couple miles at what felt like a pace that I could maintain for the entire 50k and there was no sign of Rich. We were doing around eight minute miles and it was feeling good so I tried to maintain it knowing that the 10k loop was more technical than what I was running on this bigger loop. Other than some sandy sections, and even those were runnable, it was all easily runnable. I figured to meet my goal I only had to average 8:30 miles so I was trying to bank some time for the loops around the 10k course which I figured would be a bit slower paced. The 10k loop was a bit more wet than it had been last year and the wet spots were a bit sloppier and more treacherous than I recalled. Regardless, I made it around the large 20k loop and back to the start/finish at about 1:34 with only another 30k to run. 

A Strava Flyby screenshot of just before the final lead change of the race!
Starting my first of three loops around the 10k course, I began to wonder what the heck happened to Rich. Did he drop? Was he just here for a fun run and jiking this 50k? These questions were answered about two miles later when he passed me just a bit before hopping on to the start of the single track portion of the course. I tried to keep up with for him a bit and soon realized he was in no way jiking this thing. With the curvy, heavily vegetated trails it didn’t take too long before he was out of sight. I was shocked to see him again just a couple miles later making his way back onto the trail. I assume he must have made a pit stop and he hopped back on to the trail just behind me. Having him right behind me and knowing that we were in the first and second at about the halfway point of the race lit a bit of a fire under me and I pushed a bit harder than I probably otherwise would have. We ran within a couple paces of each other for about a mile until the course pops off from the single track to a short unpaved road section again. At that point Rich cranked it up a bit and pulled ahead. I tried to give chase and kept him from pulling out of sight on the unpaved road section, but shortly after being back on the single track he was gone again. 

Battle wounds.
Going out for my second to last lap and knowing he wasn’t that far ahead I tried to push harder and earlier than I had intended. I could see him in the distance on the long straight fire road sections that start the loop, but as soon as we reached the single track again there was no sign of him. I tried to maintain my pace hoping that he may slow down and I’d have a chance to run with him again, but my other motivation to keep a good pace during this lap was completely unrelated to my race goals. My wife was running the 10k and with the staggered timing of the start times of the multiple distances if I had any chance to see my wife on the course it was during this lap. I was pushing hard during this lap in hopes I would get to see her and give a few words of encouragement. It was the first race she had run in a long time, her first trail race ever, and the first race we had run together in an even looonger time. It was great motivation for me to push, even more than chasing after first place at the moment, but to no avail. I wouldn’t see her until passing through the start/finish area for the final time. 

As I passed through the last time I was surprised at how encouraging the few people hanging out were. They were excitedly telling me that first place wasn’t far ahead and that I could catch him. One person even said he was only ahead by maybe a couple minutes. With that information and knowing it was my final lap, I ate my last Honey Stinger gel (I believe my sixth of the day) and pushed as hard as I could for the last easily runnable section of the course before the single track. I thought to myself that maybe I’d catch a glimpse of him on the long straight road, but nope. I held on to a bit of hope running the single track, but by the halfway point with only about three miles to go I had pretty much lost hope and started comforting myself by focusing on the positives. I was going to be able to pretty much cruise into a second place finish. I was going to set a new 50k PR with a finish time of easily under 4:30. From then on, my main motivation to not totally just coast in was to improve my PR by as much as possible and hang on to second place. I had lost all hope of catching up to first. 

All I need for a 50k.
That is until about a half mile from the finish when I heard some grunting and heavy breathing from behind me. It was just before the little wetland section of the course around the lake where there’s a couple of single log pathways for water crossings. Basically a section that is unrunnable. I looked back initially thinking it was probably a 20k runner sprinting it in to the finish. I was shocked to see Rich behind me with a full head of steam sprinting to catch up to me. Shock quickly turned to a mixture of fear, confusion, and panic. I would have to run this unrunnable section and then sprint the last quarter mile or so if I wanted to have a shot at first which just a few seconds ago I had already thought a completely lost cause. I tried my best to get across the logs quickly without falling and then going into any kind of a sprint that I had left. It wasn’t long after that the wet section that the trail widens then a quick left up a little hill and about a 100 yard dash across a grass field to the finish line. It was just before the left turn that Rich passed me. At that point I knew that I would have to give it everything to have any chance of keeping up with him. I was mentally committed, but my body wasn’t. My tired legs showed themselves as I tried to sprint up the little hill only to catch a toe, go down and skid on one knee for a bit before pushing myself back up onto my feet with both hands. It felt like only a second, but by the time I was back on my feet I knew I didn’t have a chance of catching him. He only had a few paces on me but I was moving like I had just run a 50k and he was moving like he was finishing a 5k.

Video Credit:  Greg Lassik

I was proud enough to at least continue to run it in as hard as I could even when I knew I wouldn’t be able to catch him. And amazingly, from the point just after my fall to the finish line was all caught on video by a spectator. In the end I finished in 4:15:24 just 10 seconds behind Rich. After congratulating one another on a ridiculously exciting ultra finish, I had to find out how it came to be. As it turned out, Rich had missed a turn about a mile from the finish and did an extra half mile or so. Sometime during that extra out and back he did, I unknowingly passed him. In retrospect, I can’t be disappointed with how the day turned out. I improved my 50k PR by almost 40 minutes! I raced a world class ultrarunner for much of a 50k to finish only 10 seconds behind him after a sprint to the finish. I mean, I could be super disappointed that I didn’t manage to sneak in with first place, but that wouldn’t be as much fun so I’ll stick with what has worked best for me in the broader scope of ultrarunning and be happy about all the positives.

Photo at the finish.

Scott Snell
April 8, 2019