Two Years, Two Buckles
|Two years of buckles.|
|A view of Loyalsock Creek near the start/finish area.|
My actual training was about the same as last year, lots of running trail miles while trying to get as much elevation gain as is possible in South Jersey. Since there’s very little elevation change anywhere in South Jersey, this year I tried to supplement my running regimen with other workouts: lunges, box jumps, and burpees. My hope was that although I’m not getting a ton of elevation gain during runs to build my climbing ability and endurance, the other workouts focused on my legs would prepare them for the long, demanding climbs that nearly destroyed me last year.
|Photo credit: Tania Lezak (http://tanialezak.com)|
I made the sixish hour drive from South Jersey to Worlds End State Park in the PA Wilds on Friday, cursing the Philadelphia traffic just before the midway point of the trip. I grabbed my race packet, chatted with a few folks I hadn’t seen in awhile, and then headed to the same campsite I stayed at last year. Weather forecasts from about a week out had been predicting a washout the night before and day of the race. With wet weather seeming imminent, I was set to sleep in my car rather than dealing with getting soggy the night before the race in my water “resistant” tent. I ended up sharing a campsite with a buddy that was planning to sleep in his car as well, but didn’t have a campsite lined up. We caught up a bit that evening and talked race strategies before retiring pretty early to get a good night’s rest before the 5 AM start to a long day on the trails.
|Just off the course, but you will |
see boulders like this on course.
There are two pretty solid climbs between the start and the first aid station (High Rock) at mile 4.3. I didn’t want to lose much time at aid stations so went through pretty quickly, eating a gel and shoving one in a pocket of my hydration pack to eat on the trail. This was my basic nutrition plan for the day: a gel at and between every aid station. Additionally, I planned to start eating some real food around the halfway point, basically whatever looked or sounded good to me at that point. The next six miles to aid station 2 (Sones Pond) are more runnable than the first section with only one steep but not too long of a climb. I ran these six miles at just slightly faster than what I like to call my “forever pace”, basically a pace you feel you could maintain indefinitely without rest. After a quick chat with a runner (shout out Christian) I had met on a long training run earlier in the year, I continued my nutrition plan and ran the next 5.6 miles to AS 3, Devils Garden. This stretch is basically a medium distance descent followed by a medium climb. It was during this stretch that I caught up to and ran with another running buddy (shout out Steve) who was running the race while still recovering from a bit of an injury. Additionally, and for reasons I don’t understand, he was also running the first half without carrying any hydration of any sort. I get it that all ultrarunners are probably a bit of masochists to some degree, but this just seemed to me to be a bit ridiculous. In his defense, he intended to drop before the halfway point. After chatting for a bit, there was no doubt in my mind that he was not going to finish the race. To my surprise and amazement, he got his water bottle from his drop bag at the halfway point and finished the full 100k. So nothing but respect to you sir!
I ran the short 3.4 mile stretch between AS 3 to AS 4 (Worlds End) at what still felt a comfortable and sustainable pace. I started drinking some soda (Mountain Dew or Coke) at aid station stops at this point for some additional calories. From last year I recalled the next 2.9 miles to AS 5 (Canyon Vista) as being some long, slow miles tackling some big climbs. While this section is mostly climbing with very little of it being flat or runnable, I felt much stronger taking it on this year and actually covered the distance more quickly than last year. Last year I was already beginning to feel exhausted at this point, so much so that my awareness of my surroundings was diminished to the point that I didn’t even notice the beautiful vista from the Canyon Vista AS. Not so this year. I took in the view and realized how much better I was feeling this year in comparison to last year’s race. I didn’t plan it, but that would then become my mantra for the remainder of the day: “Remember how you felt last year at this point? This year is so much better!”.
|The view from Canyon Vista.|
|How could I have missed the Vista in 2017?|
It was around this point that the race started getting really interesting for me. During my stop at High Knob, I was updated by a friend of another running buddy that my running buddy (shout out to Nate) who I hadn’t seen since the start of the race was only about 20 minutes ahead of me and looked really strong. With that update, I didn’t think I would see him until the finish. But then I thought about it some more. I was feeling really good after the halfway point. Twenty minutes on this course could be only a one mile distance of a long tough climb. Also, he went out hard from the start like I did last year. If that fast pace is going to catch up to him, it would likely be happening soon as it did me last year around this point of the race. All of this gave me hope that I may see him again before the finish, so I pushed myself on trying to up my pace a bit (we have a bit of a friendly competitive thing going on). After Dry run it is 3.8 miles to McCarty (AS 9), a water only aid station. From there it is a medium climb and descent to cover the 4.6 miles to Brunnerdale (AS 10). It was somewhere during that climb that I caught up to my buddy. I was a bit surprised to see him and I’m not sure if I surprised him, but he seemed a bit spent at that point. I finished the climb with him and ran some of the downhill with him before wishing him well and picking up the pace a bit to reach the next aid station, Brunnerdale. I was getting a bit hungry at this point and tired of the taste of gels. I took a little extra time to eat some real food, mostly pickles and grilled cheeses. While refueling, my buddy rolled into the aid station and joined all the volunteers there in encouraging me to do a few shots of the Fireball they were offering (like I said, we’re a bit competitive with one another). I regretfully declined and headed out from the aid station just before my friend. It would be a climb, descent, and climb to cover the 4.9 miles to the next water only aid station, The Gate (AS 11). From there it’s another three miles of smaller hills to Fern Rock (AS 12), the final aid station. I focused mostly only on moving forward as quickly as possible to avoid getting caught by my friend, but looked back a few times during this stretch and saw no sign of him.
I ate a few Tums to settle my stomach which was feeling a bit queasy then left spending little time at the final aid station to hurry on and finish the last 5.9 miles of the race. To my surprise and distress, within seconds of leaving the aid station I heard a loud cheer from the volunteers there. Without a doubt, another runner was coming in just as I left. I couldn’t be sure, but I figured it was probably my buddy trying to close on me during the home stretch. Most of the last section is pretty nontechnical and runnable without any big climbs. I had hoped that this would be the part of my day where I just comfortably cruised in for the finish. Given the situation though, I was running this section scared, checking over my shoulder a few times every mile. There’s one stretch (maybe about a half mile) of straight paved road in this section. With my friend having been a damn fine road marathoner, I knew that would be his prime opportunity to close on me, but there was no sign of him as I anxiously looked back. Suddenly, with about two miles to go I was no longer worried about being chased. I caught sight of two runners about a quarter mile ahead of me. All of my focus and effort went to chasing rather than being chased. Shortly after I saw them they saw me and started to book it. The chase was on. I lost sight of them as they hopped onto the final single track that takes you down a gnarly and steep descent before dropping you out into the parking area of the start/finish area. I saw them again and they seemed within reach on this technical descent, but they disappeared again as the trail ended at the parking area. When I reached that point I saw them sprinting around the parking area towards the finish and I gave it my all to catch them, but they still had enough in their legs to maintain a gap. I finished about 30 seconds back with a story of what was the most exciting and probably the tightest finish I had ever experienced in any ultra I’ve ever run.
And with that intense last six miles of being chased and chasing over, it was time to celebrate with friends, food, and some IPAs from New Trail Brewing Company. My buddy came in just about 10 minutes behind me and let me know that it was in fact him that came into the final aid station just as I was leaving. The finish line food was just as amazing as last year and this year my stomach was able to handle it a bit better. After a couple hours of food, drinks, telling stories of our days and listening to everyone’s adventures, the exhaustion began to set in and I decided it was time to get clean and crash in my sleeping bag.
|The start/finish area, very empty (also very clean) the day after.|
July 4, 2018
Strava data ------> https://www.strava.com/activities/1615925605