A collection of race reports and other writings of and about ultrarunning, trail running, and other running related topics with a strong focus on the East Coast. The "Beast Coast" has a strong trail running community and some amazing events; this blog aims to showcase some of that.
It’s been a little over a week since Eastern States (ES) 100 as I begin to write this and now that my sodden, pungent clothing and gear has been cleaned and the wounds are for the most part healed I am beginning to have a greater appreciation for how my day there played out. I went in with a single goal that I thought was well within reach given the year I had thus far. The goal was simple, finish in less time than it took me in 2017 (27:17:24). This would also ensure a faster cumulative time for the 2019 Pennsylvania Triple Crown Series over my 2017 time for the series (47:47:36). Since I had finished both Worlds End 100k and Hyner 50k faster in 2019 than 2017, this goal seemed well within reach. However, the uncertainty of the 100 mile distance and how things can go south at any point was a constant concern for me. Excessive worrying about the potential for things to fall apart may be what ultimately led to me failing to reach my goal.
For about two weeks leading up to the race I was feeling extremely anxious, more so and for a longer period before the race than I have ever experienced in any other lead up to a race. Adding to my trepidation was a work trip that I had scheduled for the week just before race weekend. I would be flying back to Philadelphia Friday around noon, then getting picked up by my wife to make the remainder of the drive to Little Pine State Park. I packed my two drop bags and everything I would need at the start the weekend before the race then worried all week hoping I hadn’t forgotten anything. By the time the work week was over and I was picking up my bib at registration the relief I was expecting didn’t wash over me. I had my stuff ready a week prior, managed to get there without any flight delays interfering with my travel plans, and now all I had to do was run 103 miles on the rugged trails of the PA Wilds. I guess there was still good reason to have a fair amount of nervous excitement.
Lower Pine Bottom AS, Mile 17.8
Thankfully, I managed to get a pretty solid night’s sleep before the 5am start, but at the starting line the jitters were still present. I did my best to deal with them in hopes that they would subside once I got on the trail and put a few miles behind me. Everything went well for the first 50k or so. I knew what pace I had to keep to meet my goal and I was staying ahead of that pace and feeling comfortable doing it. The climbs didn’t seem as bad as I had remembered and my quads were handling them well. It almost seemed like it was too easy this trip around Pine Creek. It was shortly after AS5 (Happy Dutchman) that I got hit with my first blow when I realized my watch had led me astray. The actual mileage at AS5 is 31.6. My watch, which has otherwise always been reliable and pretty accurate, was reporting that I had covered a little over 36 miles. I was focusing on only getting aid station to aid station so I was mostly just using my total mileage to see how much farther to the next aid station. When the signage at AS5 showed the mileage to the next AS as 6.9 and I used the inaccurate information on my watch that would put me at about 43 miles total. That was a significant mile marker as it is the second crewed AS, Hyner Run. I got excited that I would get to see my wife and boys again and it felt so soon since I had just seen them at the first crewed aid station. Mileage and the next aid station came up in conversation with a couple other runners and when their watches synced I realized mine was off and there was one more AS between us and the next crewed AS. It was a bit shocking at the time, but I tried to comfort myself by saying I was happy to find out early how far my watch was off rather than later. However, later in the race while talking to one of the other runners that helped me realize my error, he would tell me that my face showed a bit of a soul crushed reaction when I realized it was my watch that was off.
With that minor mishap out of the way early, the rest of the daylight hours of the race rolled by pretty pleasantly for the most part. I don’t know if it was due to the low temperatures we had on race day or just my misconstrued recollection of the course, but my second time running ES I was shocked by how much of the course felt runnable. The majority of my memories of the ES course was super technical descents intermixed with steep, rocky climbs. This time though,outside of two big early climbs (just before AS1, Ramsey Rd. and just after AS3, Lower Pine Bottom) the bulk of the first half of the course was feeling runnable. And I was running the bulk of it and staying on my target pace even after I adjusted for my watch’s misinformation without feeling like I was pushing myself even near the point where I thought a blow up was a possibility.
Another AS stop.
A second mishap started emerging or at least giving indications of larger problems about the same time as when my watch mishap was discovered. This mishap began with some slight discomfort around the bottom elastic of my hydration vest. I was wearing the same vest and same shirt that I have worn for 100ks and 100 milers in the past with only minor chafing issues, but this time around those minor chafing issues became exasperated and caused major chafing that was never resolved no matter how much or what kind of lube I threw at it. Since the equipment and clothing was the same, the only explanation I can come up with is that I was carrying more weight in the vest than I had ever packed before. I had trained with Science in Sport (SIS) gels all season and wanted to use them for the race so I packed 10 in my vest at the start and had 10 replacements in each of my drop bags. Also, I wasn’t positive gels would be available at every AS. Ten gels may not sound like much additional weight, but SIS gels are roughly about twice the volume of standard energy gels making a bit bulkier to carry and nearly doubling the weight. The best guess I have at this point is that the extra weight/volume in the vest made it fit and move differently than any time I’ve worn it in the past. Ultimately leading to some terribly painful chafing. I like to think I’m not one to complain about the little stuff, but this turned into a steady distracting pain from about the halfway point to the finish. I also like to think I’m not one to blame equipment for my failures, but in this situation the equipment had a major impact on my focus and overall mindset. I never thought about quitting because my sides had been rubbed raw by my pack, but the pain constantly pulled my focus off of running and moving efficiently to just thinking about taking this pack off as soon as possible.
The worst of my chafing.
The watch incident and the chafing issue are the only two concrete items I can point to that led to me falling off of my target pace, neither of which I truly deem responsible. I was ahead of my intended pace for a 27 hour finish at AS9, Halfway House (54.7 miles), but somewhere between there and AS14, Blackwell (80.3 miles) where I was picking up a pacer and had my next time goal calculated I was well over an hour behind where I wanted to be. It was strange because I never felt completely exhausted, but had this strange feeling of never feeling like I was pushing myself to the limit and always running overly safe without getting out of my comfort zone. In retrospect, it seems like I was so concerned about blowing up that I never pushed to my full potential for the day. Usually with hundred milers I feel like I get into some kind of singular focus and survival mentality, only concentrating on getting to the finish as quickly as possible. For whatever reason, that switch never got flipped this time.
A power hug from my youngest!
Even with my time goal out of reach and twenty some miles to go, I was excited to pick up a pacer at Blackwell. It was my first time using a pacer. It wasn’t the situation I had envisioned of being on pace and having my pacer push me to the finish ahead of pace, but he was able to up my morale and that of the couple other runners I had spent the majority of the night with. I will admit, we had a bit of a pity party on the trail overnight and it likely would have continued the rest of dark early morning hours if we were not joined by a pacer. With a bit of fresh energy provided by our pacer, Kurt Foster, we picked our pace up for the respectable climb out of Blackwell. Kurt continued to push our pace for the remainder of the race, reminding us every time the trail was runnable. With my time goal a lost cause, he kept me from basically giving up and walking it in, pushing me to earn a finish time that I could be proud of.
At AS11, Slate Run, 63.8 miles.
We grinded our way in the dark to the next AS, Skytop. It was a little tough mentally to leave this one because the crew there was so accommodating and we knew the stretch to the next AS was one of the longer ones of the race. Without getting too comfortable, we ushered ourselves out and pushed on. Thanks to Kurt, our pass through the second to last AS, Barrens, was one of our fastest. We refilled bottles, grabbed food, and were out in probably 1-2 minutes. We were as fast if not fastest passing through Hacketts, the final AS. With only about four miles left, not much was needed and the excitement to finish was peaking, at least I thought.
At packet pick up.
Shortly after leaving Hacketts near the top of the final climb of the course we heard a runner coming up behind us quick. Kurt turned to me and said something along the lines of “you don’t wanna get passed just a couple miles from the finish.” I replied by saying that I wasn’t sure if I have anything left. Then Kurt said something that finally lit a spark at the time. He basically said even if I attempted to outrun him for the last two miles and still got passed, then I could just walk it in and still get the same result even if I hadn’t made the effort. For whatever reason, at the time that got me to dig and give it my best effort to stay in front of this other runner. That’s when things finally started to become fun again. I was moving and feeling good. Before I knew it, I caught sight of a runner ahead of me. We passed him. Now things were getting really exciting for the finish and the final gnarly descent of the course. In the last two miles or so, we passed four runners. It amazed me that we were so close to these other runners and without that little spark provided by Kurt, I would have contentedly shuffled in to the finish after them.
My 2019 finish!
I crossed the finish line at 28:46:52, a full hour and almost 47 minutes after when I had intended to finish. At the beginning of this report I wrote that I failed. I may come off sounding like a bit of a jerk or a real pessimist by saying that I wasn’t entirely pleased with this finish. It’s easy to say that any 100 miler finish, especially a tough 100 mile course like ES, is something you should be proud of. However, after assessing how my legs felt during that last steep downhill this year compared to two years ago, I knew I had more left in me at the finish this year. In 2017 I was desperately bouncing from tree to tree to keep from going into an out of control tumble down the incline. This time, although my quads were screaming, I was bombing the downhill mostly in control. The fact that the spark to push harder earlier never happened is what I was really disappointed about. The “what if”s were what bothered me. After a few weeks to digest it all, I still can’t say that I’m not a bit disappointed that this final piece of my PA Triple Crown Series goal didn’t fall into place like I had hoped, but I can say that I am proud of the finish and to have completed the full series for a second time.
"Disclaimer: I received free entry to GAP Relay as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out BibRave.com to review find and write race reviews!"
With my summer racing season coming to a close after Eastern States 100 and the end of the PA Triple Crown series this past weekend, it’s time to start thinking and solidifying plans for fall races. So far, I haven’t given it a great deal of thought because I’ve been so focused on spring and summer running goals. I’ve got some ideas and there are plenty of options, but so far the only definite I have on my schedule is the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) Trail Relay. The GAP relay race challenges teams of 8, 6, or 4 runners to complete the 150 mile GAP trail starting in Cumberland, MD then traversing through the Allegheny Mountains and finishing in Pittsburgh, PA.
When offered the opportunity to run the GAP I was excited for a number of reasons. The first being that I’ve never seen or traveled any of the Great Allegheny Passage Trail and I’m pretty much always a fan of exploring new trails. With a chance dropped in my lap to cover a large section of completely new to me trail on foot and other portions in a pacer vehicle, there was no way I wasn’t going to do my best to partake. After learning a little history about the trail and how it is basically a conglomeration of rail/trail conversions, I am even more pumped to explore it with the potential to see some of the surviving historical railroad artifacts (old railroad stations, telegraph poles, mileposts, and foundations for signals). Also, since the trail is built along former railroads, all of the grades are gentle never exceeding a 1.5% grade. Although I love the challenging and rugged trails PA offers, I would be lying if I did not admit that I’m looking forward to a less strenuous (and likely faster) trail run through PA that still includes the beautiful scenery of the Pennsylvania landscape. Tunnels and bridges will take me through the mountains and over the water crossings that at other trail races I would have to climb over and wade through.
A second reason that I am getting more pumped as the start of the GAP Relay nears is that this will be the first ever team relay race I have run. I like trying new race formats to keep running fun, interesting, and challenging. Working as a team of runners is something I have not experienced at a race yet, and I look forward to how the team dynamic will add an entirely new element to the journey. Additionally, the relay team I am running with is a group of other BibRave Pros, none of whom I have ever actually met before. Getting to know and run with a group of runners that I have only interacted with via Twitter and Instagram adds to the sense of adventure in this undertaking. Thus far, all the BibRave Pros I’ve met are passionate about running and having fun while doing it, so I envision this jaunt along the GAP Trail to basically be 150 miles of an ultrarunning trail party!
If you get a crew together to take on the GAP Relay, be sure to use code “BIBRAVE100” for $100 off the registration fee!
Nobody will protect you from your suffering. You can't cry it away or eat it away or starve it away or walk it away or punch it away or even therapy it away. It's just there, and you have to survive it. You have to endure it. You have to live through it and love it and move on and be better for it and run as far as you can in the direction of your best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was built by your own desire to heal.
Going into Worlds End (WE) 100k this year my head was not in a good place for both personal life reasons and running related reasons. Advanced warning before you get too far into reading this report, as I begin to write it I fear it will sound like I’m whining and will get into some nonrunning related issues in my life. If you want a more Worlds End running focused report check out my 2017 and 2018 reports. Otherwise if you’re somewhat intrigued with a poor mental state leading up to a race and a lesson learned from it, by all means continue reading. For multiple reasons to be explained, I was battling a lack of motivation, questioning my abilities, and suffering from an overall rather pessimistic outlook in general.
The day before at registration.
I’ll start with the running issues that contributed to me having a bit of lack of motivation and confidence leading up to WE. I was feeling pumped based on my two most recent races before WE. I ran my best time after three attempts at Hyner 50k and a week later I ran a road marathon PR at the NJ Marathon. With basically just a month between the NJ Marathon and WE I planned to do an easy recovery week, ramp up with a decent training week, get in a quality 20ish mile long run, then ease into a taper. Things went as planned up until that quality 20ish mile long run. I got in my 20 mile long run, but it by no means felt like a quality run. My legs felt heavy from the start, I felt tired and sluggish for the entire run, and I struggled to maintain what I felt like should have been an easy pace for flat, nontechnical trails. So I did the only logical thing I could do, I did a 20 mile road run the following weekend expecting it to be much faster and to feel much better about myself going into WE. That follow up long run did not go as planned either. I felt better and was slightly faster (20.08 miles in 2:49:41 versus 20.0 miles in 2:59:27), but the small pace improvement and still not feeling strong while achieving it did very little to improve my confidence.
With back to back weekends of disappointing long runs behind me, the next weekend I followed the most logical course of action: I asked for advice from a retired Olympic trampolinist (aka my brother in law). After talking about training cycles, building, peaking, and my lack of all of those things much less a training plan, he said I should just rest the last week before WE. I took that advice and did not run at all for an entire week before WE. I had never tapered that hard before, so I was extremely nervous not even having a couple easy paced short runs the week leading into WE. It also didn’t help improve my confidence at all, but as my brother in law was suggesting, the training and endurance are already there, my body just needs a break to recuperate before being pushed again.
Now to go over the non running issues that were contributing to my less than ideal mental state for the start of WE. I shouldn’t say issues, as it was more so a singular work related issue. For the most part I’m usually pretty good about not letting work frustrations bother me outside of work, but given this situation I could not let it not bother me. In an attempt to not make this a long, drawn out complaining post, I will try to sum up the main points of the situation quickly. Basically, I was offered a temporary detail promotion because the manager of our office had been reassigned to a one year detail. Not long after accepting I was told the position didn’t exist and so I could not have the promotion but I could still do the additional duties that came along with the promotion. Not such a good deal. Not long after that development the temporary detail position was advertised and two other employees from other offices were selected for the three and four month temporary acting manager details. The motivating factors that went into the decision making are still unknown to me. Being passed over for a temporary promotion that I was told doesn’t exist after I had unofficially been doing the additional duties of that position for four months was enough to make me update my resume and start job searching, but not do anything crazy like quit on the spot. Anyway, that’s enough non running stuff to explain why my head was out of sorts.
The view from my cozy car camping.
To add to my disappointment just before the race, my family had a last minute change of plans for the race weekend. We had planned to make an extended camping trip out of this race weekend with our neighbors who have kids that are friends with ours coming along for the trip. I had been telling my family and theirs about how great Worlds End State Park is and how nice the camp sites are for two years. I had finally convinced them to come along for a camping trip and 100k trail run. Unfortunately, the weather reports for extended thunderstorms and rain for the entire weekend caused our neighbors to fear that it would be a miserable weekend for camping so they bailed on us. I got the news Thursday afternoon when I arrived home from work. Making the blow sting even worse, my family decided to back out as well since their friends wouldn’t be coming along. In a flash my weekend went from running an awesome, scenic 100k with my friends and family there to cheer me on and celebrate with afterwards to just me taking off for the weekend.
Between the poor long training runs, last minute plan changes, and the professional life disappointments I was feeling confused, cynical, and worthless which is not a good way to start an ultra. Regardless of the outcome, I showed up even if my attitude about it was pretty crappy. I tried to convince myself that I was excited for it and that even if things weren’t going well in my professional life I at least still had ultramarathons as an escape, but when I woke up the morning of the race after a night of camping the initial thought I had was “time to get this over with.” Not the best mindset to start a gueling 15ish hour endeavor, but I had faith that once I became immersed in the trail running things would start to feel right.
Just before the finish!
Makes it all worthwhile!
For the most part, that’s exactly what happened. I tried to turn on autopilot and just run the course basically the same way I did in 2018, going out at a comfortable pace while taking in plenty of calories and not blowing up. Pretty much everything fell into place. The course didn’t completely cooperate, but it didn’t bother me. It had been wet leading up to the race and the course had long stretches of extremely sloppy, swampy areas. It reminded me of the conditions from my first time at WE in 2017. That year it really got to me because every stretch of trail that looked runnable ended up being a sloppy mess and I was not able to get into any kind of rhythm. This year was different. Even though the conditions were similar, I managed to still move in a way that felt efficient and consistent. I felt strong on the climbs, my stomach never felt upset, and I was never completely exhausted. It was almost a perfect repeat of last year based on performance, only slightly faster as I finished in 14:11:21 compared to my 14:18:47 finish last year.
I mentioned at the beginning that there was a lesson learned for me from this whole experience. It wasn’t about how important thinking positively going into an ultra is because I was pretty negative going into this one and still executed better than last year. The lesson for me was that ultramarathons or running in general can’t always be used as an escape from other issues in my life. Or maybe more accurately, ultras and this silly hobby of mine will not resolve other life challenges. I went into this race with a bad attitude. Then the race was going well and I had a great time. I felt even better when the outcome was an improvement over last year. But afterwards all of the circumstances that had caused my mental anguish had not changed. I had just lowered the amount of attention I allowed them for a few days. This may be kind of a sour note to end a report of a positive race on, but that is how this chapter of this ultra season ended for me.