Showing posts with label foot. Show all posts
Showing posts with label foot. Show all posts

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, November 12, 2016

2016 Batona 50 Race Report

The Batona 50 is point to point race with 53.4 mile and 50k options. The course follows the path of The Batona Trail. The trail derives its name similar to but not exactly in the format of an acronym: BAck TO NAture. It makes its way through the NJ Pinelands National Reserve from the north end at Ong’s Hat in Brendan T. Byrne State forest to the southern end at Lake Absegami in Bass River State Forest. Along the way it takes you on a tour through the heart of Wharton State Forest passing Batsto Village and numerous campgrounds.The trail is pretty typical of South Jersey trails in that it is a reflection of the common sandy soils of the coastal plains, resulting in high sand content and sandy trails. The second common feature of trails in Southern NJ and the landscape in general is a lack of elevation change. The Batona Trail shares the nearly total absence of climbs and descents with the rest of the landscape in the region with only 530’ of elevation gain recorded by my Garmin for the entirety of the trail. 
Elevation Profile
The Batona 50 event is organized as a “fat ass” event. Typically, “fat ass” events have no frills, no fee, no aid, no schwag, and no course markings; making them more or less a large group run. However, the organizers of the Batona 50 have gone beyond what I would consider to be the standard definition of a “fat ass” event. While there are no course markings, the trail is pretty well marked already by trail blazes so there really isn’t any need for additional markings. As for frills, there was no schwag for registering or finishers’ medals, but they did offer the option to purchase a
pretty nice looking long sleeve shirt. There was no registration fee, but the organizers did ask that in lieu of the fee that participants consider donating to the Pinelands Preservation Alliance or NJ Conservation Foundation. It was in the aid department where the event really went beyond my expectations from a “fat ass” event. The course had six planned aid stations along the 50+ mile distance, four of which doubled as aid for the 50k distance. A surprise aid station popped up during the event for the 50+ mile distance between aid stations on the second half of the course where they were about 10 miles apart. All of the aid stations were stocked with standard fuel and hydration donated by the runners and the amazing group of volunteers manning them. And heck, they even offered the option of transporting a drop bag to any of the aid stations for you!

This was my last ultra for the year and with it taking place only four weeks after finishing my first 100 miler, I was really questioning how hard I wanted to push myself while running it. I didn’t train much between the two events. I did some easy medium to short recovery runs following the 100 miler, one long (25 mile) training run, and some mid to short runs during a taper leading up to the 50 miler. In total, I ran about 75 miles in the four weeks between the two races. I was really banking on the fitness and endurance from the 100 mile training to carry over and get me through the race, which is a strategy I have never used and did not trust. Additionally, I was trying to comfort myself with the fact that the course was super flat and therefore the 50 miles would seem “easy”. All the while I knew that while one 50 miler may be “easy” relative to another 50 miler, running 50 miles is never “easy” and I knew that at some point during the run I would most likely be hurting and in pain. With these trepidations leading up to the event, I was telling myself that my plan was to go out at comfortable pace and maintain that for the entirety of the run. I stuck to that plan up until the race started.

I stood in the crowd while the race director made some brief announcements. Then with the start of the race imminent, a strange thing happened. All of the other runners towards the front of the crowd started shuffling backwards in small, barely noticeable increments. Without moving, myself and about four other runners were all at the front of the starting line and with that the race began. Three of the other runners that took off first had actually intended to be there. The one immediately in front of me, however, had apparently ended up there inadvertently due to the pre start backwards shuffle and hopped off to the side of the trail to let me pass after maybe 100 yards from the start.

The start of the race was 7 AM so the sun was just starting to rise and it was still a little tough to see the trail and blazes without a headlamp. My plan, or lack thereof, was to run with someone else with a headlamp for the first half hour or so until the headlamp would be completely unnecessary. I was going out at what felt like a pretty comfortable pace for me, but no headlamps were nearby behind me and one was not too far ahead. I figured I’d pick up my pace a bit to catch the pair of runners, one of whom had a headlamp, in front of me. I told myself that even though it was a little faster (around 8:30 miles) than I had intended to go out, it would be less than a half hour until it would be light enough that I would be completely comfortable running without any lighting.

After just a few miles with the two runners, it was daylight and one other runner that had sped up from the starting pack had joined up with us. With a little conversation between the four of us the miles started to click off and we were at the first aid station. We all passed through quickly (less than a minute) and continued on. And just like that, I scrapped my whole plan of taking it easy and decided to see if I could keep pace with these guys who were the lead pack with the exception of the front runner who was running a blazing pace and set a new course record of 7:11:00. As much as I had told myself that this is my last ultra for the year, I haven’t trained enough or recovered long enough from the 100 miler, and I should take it easy and just focus on finishing and enjoying it, I couldn’t convince myself to execute that plan. For me anyway, the attraction of ultras is to truly test yourself and find out what you are capable of. The way I see it, if you aren’t pushing yourself, you won’t find out.

One of the stretches of narrow boards.
Even though I was pushing harder than I had intended and in a bit of pain, I was still enjoying the run. The first couple hours were a bit chilly, mid 30s, but once it warmed up a bit it was perfect running weather. It may have been a bit past the time for peak fall colors as the sassafras and the sweetgum trees had nearly dropped all of their leaves, but many of the oaks still displayed the majority of their leaves ranging from green tinted with yellows to brilliant reds and earthy browns. Though the most stunning colors belonged to the blueberry shrubs that dominate much of the understory of the Pinelands. Running through the seemingly endless sea of fiery red was a reward in itself. Nearly every footfall was cushioned by a bed of oak leaves and pitch pine needles along the sandy trail. While much of the scenery along the Batona trail is consistent, it does offer some variety passing by several lakes and long abandoned cranberry bogs. Additionally, for some stretches it follows forest streams and passes through several low lying swampy areas where the trail weaves its way between the thick stands of Atlantic white cedars on treacherous looking narrow boards.

Between enjoying the scenery and the off and on conversations within our pack, we were a little over
Fall colors.
20 miles into the run before I even realized it or thought about changing my pace. It was around this point that one runner from our group picked up his pace and for the next few miles I could just barely catch a glimpse of his orange jacket in the distance every few minutes. Not long after that another from our pack picked up his pace as well and the one runner remaining with me slowed his pace. I ran alone for a good stretch of the trail after that and maintained just a slightly slower pace (just under 9 minute miles) than I had when running with the group until I started feeling some rumbling in my bowels. After assessing the situation for awhile, it became clear that I was going to have to resolve the issue soon. I didn’t want to waste much time by going too far off trail, but I also did not want to perform a public demonstration of how to wipe your ass with leaf litter and pine needles. My main worry was that I had no clue how far back the next runner was. I waited until the next side trail crossed the course and went just a little way down that trail and hopped off the trail behind some shrubs thinking “this side trail won’t have any traffic”. Well, one of the pre race announcements was to be very mindful and on the lookout for trail blazes because there are many cross trails and fire roads making it easy to go off course without realizing it. I had noticed this during the race as well as how often times along the trail there are braided sections that separate then quickly rejoin to a single trail. It turned out that this “cross trail” that I hopped off of was actually just a braided section of the Batona trail. I realized this shortly after taking care of business and going just a few paces down the trail to find the paths reconnected. Thankfully, there was enough of a gap between me and the next runner that my privacy was not disturbed.

With that catastrophe avoided, I continued on in good spirits. Soon after, I passed the 50k mark and checked my watch to realize I had just run my fastest 50k, bettering it by about 13 minutes. Even though my previous 50k best was on a tougher course (Blues Cruise) with far more elevation change, it was still a bit of a boost for my morale and encouraged me to continue to push as best I could for the remaining 20 miles or so. I was feeling a bit tired by this point so it really did help me out mentally. Although I was telling myself that I didn’t have a target time for this race, I was really hoping to keep it under a 10 minute per mile average. With that pace, I would improve my 50 mile time. I pushed on sustaining around a 9:30 per mile pace until around mile 40 when I caught sight of one of the two runners I had been with earlier that had picked up his pace. It was his first race greater than a 50k distance and it looked like the miles were beginning to take a toll on him. We rolled into the final aid station at about the 43 mile mark together.

I was feeling pretty tired by this point, but the excitement of running a faster time than I had hoped for and knowing that I could be at the finish within a couple hours had me pumped and ready to push on and wrap this thing up. After refilling my bottle and downing some bacon, a banana, and some coke I was ready to move out. I looked over at my running mate to realize that he did not look as excited or as pumped as I was to finish this run. A chair was set up just a few steps from the aid station table and one of the volunteers pointed it out and mentioned it to the guy I had been running with. I felt it was my duty at this point to tell him not to even think about sitting down. I told him to not even look at that chair, it’s only another ten miles until you’ll be back at your car and can sit down there. With that we headed out from the aid station and pushed on.

The next few miles passed quickly with the company and the boost of the caffeine and sugar from the coke. Then we found ourselves on a fire road and there was no sign of the familiar pink blazes we had been following on the trail all day. We turned back following the road until we found a faint pink blaze. Thinking that this confirmed we were still on the trail, we doubled back and continued on the road until it came out to a larger road crossing we had already crossed from the opposite direction not too long before the blazes had quit appearing. We saw the trail nearby where we had
crossed earlier and knew for certain that we had made a wrong turn. We got back on the trail, running a section we had already run, a little frustrated that we had probably just added about an extra one mile loop to the final stretch of the course. We got back to the point where we made the wrong turn and I immediately realized how we had both messed it up. What looked like an arrow pointing left where the trail met the fire road was actually an arrow directing hikers from the opposite direction onto the trail we had just come from. If either of us had looked to the right at that point we would have seen that the trail was clearly blazed in that direction. Clearly both of us were feeling the effects of the miles that we had logged already. Thankfully, that was the only wrong turn we made.

We continued on together until about 5 miles from the finish when my trail companion decided to slow down to take a gel and walk for a bit. I think his stomach was bothering him a bit as he had mentioned that he hoped the coke would help settle it shortly after leaving the last aid station. I’m guessing that he wanted to let the gel settle a little before continuing with the gyrations from the pounding of running. He told me not to wait for him, but I felt kinda bad about continuing on ahead of him so close to the finish when we had run the better part of the entire trail together. However, at that point I could practically smell the finish and was running out of motivation. I just wanted to be done as soon as possible. I just gave him a nod and continued on. My brain was feeling kinda fried at the time and in my mind it was a very encouraging nod that said “Stay strong, keep up the pace and finish strong!”. Looking back, I doubt it conveyed that entire message to him.
Lake Absegami at the south end of the trail.
For the last few miles I tried to run the tank dry, but there wasn’t a whole lot left. I was digging deep in an attempt to eek out one more sub 9 mile, but the closest I could get was a 9:15. I crossed the finish with a time of 8:40:45 which I was pretty impressed by since my time goal that I was saying I
didn’t have was 10 hours. I am so thankful that I fell in with the group that I did from the start or else I don’t think I would have pushed myself to the same degree. To me, that really sums up what these ultra events are all about:  the eloquent intermixing of camaraderie and competition that drives everyone to be the best version of themselves.

Scott Snell
November 10, 2016

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

2016 TARC 100 Race Report

TARC 100 Race Report

How I Broke Two Ultrarunning Commandments and Succeeded

First lap and feeling fine!

The TARC (Trail Animals Running Club) 100 is a hundred mile race which takes place in Westwood, MA, about a 20 minute drive from downtown Boston. In fact, the Boston skyline is visible, weather permitting, from one point on the course. The 2016 running of the TARC 100 was the fourth running of the event and will unfortunately be the final running of it for the foreseeable future due to a number of reasons. From the few TARC members I heard from about putting the TARC 100 on hold, the main reason that seemed to be repeated was that a TARC member had past and the club felt stretched thin between TARC 100 and all the other races they put on. With it possibly being the final running of a race being put on by a club that already felt stretched thin, one might expect a subpar performance for overall race event coordination. The TARC 100 race director, Josh Katzman, and the TARC crew had quite the contrary in mind with an amazingly well organized event that was run smoothly and exceeded all expectations.

The course was amazingly well marked with flagging and signs both with reflective tape so they were easy to see when a headlamp was needed; it would have been difficult to get lost or go off course unless you were in a seriously foggy state of mind (or you head out fast and miss the first turn, that will be explained later). All aid stations were well stocked with everything you would expect and manned by super helpful and friendly volunteers. Additionally, the course route and the spacing of the aid stations was proof that a significant amount of time and effort was put into getting them right. The course is a 25 mile loop of primarily single track trail. There is one short section, probably less than a couple hundred feet, of the course where there is two way traffic. Other than that, there is no repeated trail during each loop. I’d estimate that the course is easily over 90% trail with the remainder being made up of short stretches along gravel and a few paved roads. It was somewhat technical, some sections more so than others, with a decent amount of exposed roots and rocky sections. There is also a fair amount of elevation change with about 2,500 feet of gain during each lap for a total of 10,000 feet of elevation gain. Not a crazy amount of gain, but definitely not flat either.

Lacing up my Altra Lone Peaks
 for the start!
I registered for this 100 miler more or less to overcome my fear of the 100 mile distance. My goal for 2017 is to complete the PA Triple Crown Series:  Hyner 50k, World's End 100k, and Eastern States 100 miler. Up until finishing the TARC 100 I felt confident about everything in the Triple Crown Series other than the 100 miler. Wrapping my head around covering 100 miles was something I was struggling with so I figured if I want to have any confidence next year in finishing the series, what better way than to just get a hundred miler out of the way this year and prove to myself that it is a doable distance. So, with having done a 40 and two 50 milers already this year, I registered for the TARC 100 about a month before the race. I basically viewed all of my training runs and the 50 milers as training runs building up to the 100 miler.

With it being my first shot at a 100 miler and not being familiar with the course, it was tough to decide what an achievable yet challenging goal would be other than just finishing. I figured 24 hours is kinda the standard time goal for a 100 miler that isn’t ridiculously technical or that has some other feature that would really cost you time, so that became my A goal with finishing before the 32 hour cutoff being my B goal. After my final long training runs of back to back 30 and 20 milers, I was feeling extremely confident going into my three week taper. I even feared that I was dangerously overconfident and I was going into this with way too much optimism and that quite everything I hoped this journey to be could very well come crashing down and destroy me around 70 miles in. Thankfully, that bout of overconfidence passed a few days before the race and I was filled with a more extreme version of the nervous excitement that I am accustomed to before a race.

My basic race strategy went against several of the ultrarunning commandments I have heard stressed time after time on podcasts and in race reports:  don’t go out too fast and don’t try anything on race day that you haven’t practiced on your long runs. I broke both of these to a certain degree. I planned on running the first half faster than the second half for two reasons:  I’d have fresh legs and wouldn’t feel as tired during the first 50 (novicely planning on banking time for the second half) and that I had not done much trail running after dark so I thought even if I am still feeling strong after dark, my pace was still going to suffer due to my inexperience of running trails with a headlamp (breaking two commandments in your overall race strategy, maybe not a good idea for your first 100?).  I further broke the “do nothing you haven’t practiced on long runs” commandment with nutrition/hydration. I had used and was comfortable with everything offered at the aid stations, but decided to bring a couple untested items that I’ve heard raved about on a few occasions. Those items being coconut water and Starbucks frappuccinos, neither of which really caused any problems.

Towards the end of loop #1.
The first 25 mile loop went well and was for the most part uneventful. I started middle of the pack and followed the people in front of me. Probably less than 50 yards from the start, I hear from right behind me, “you’re going the wrong way!”. It turned out the leaders missed an early turn, possibly the first one, before even getting on the trail. Thankfully it was a mistake caught early, but it made for a lot of passing early on as the lead pack attempted to get back to the lead. Other than this, the first lap was smooth and right on my target pace (12 to 14 minute miles). I was eating and drinking at every aid station as planned and was back to the start/finish area in about five hours.

The second loop deviated a little from my plan, mainly because of some chatting I did with another runner. Not that I didn’t talk with anyone during the first loop, but shortly after meeting this runner, Dima was his name, and chatting with him a bit, I found out there were only about five or six runners in front of us. I had no idea until this point how far I had moved up with respect to placement. I had no place goals going into the race, only the 24 hour finish goal which I thought would likely put me into the top 10 if it worked out. Finding out this early on I was already in the top 10 was really unexpected. I also learned that Dima had finished about 13 or so 100 milers and a few 200 milers. With this conversation, I began to think that my newbie overconfidence of the 100 mile distance might wreck my second half. Dima was way more experienced than me and good company so I decided to match his pace for a while. After about 10 miles of running together we were probably still averaging around 14 or 15 minute miles, but I found myself getting angry and frustrated that I wasn’t banking the time in daylight like I had during my first loop. I decided that whether my legs blew up or not due to my plan, I did not want to run angry or frustrated and parted ways with Dima as I picked up my pace to the higher but comfortable effort level I had maintained earlier. I finished the second loop at about the 10.5 hour mark, just a few hours before dark as planned.

Going into my third loop and the unchartered distance of over 50 miles I still felt good and my legs felt like I could push them if needed. I believe I was in fifth place at this time as I passed another runner shortly after parting with Dima. I wanted to maintain the pace from my first 50 miles until the sunset during my third lap. I was able to do this for what seemed much less painful than I had expected until the 10 mile aid station. At that aid station my wife was going to join me to pace me for the remainder of the loop. It was really last minute plans as my wife wasn’t even planning on coming with me to the race until maybe a couple weeks before it. I really had been planning on going solo and not using a pacer, but it was tough to turn down the offer after she had arranged to be there to support me. So after a short stop at the aid station we headed out with our headlamps on as it had quickly gone from sunset to darkness. Surprisingly for both of us, my pace did not slow down a great deal running in the dark. It changed so little that my wife had problems keeping up which was a bit frustrating for me. I’m not saying this to take anything away from my wife or to brag, because she is a good runner, but she is a very apprehensive trail runner even in the daylight. I think the mediocre at best headlamp and technical terrain were the two things really slowing her down. Anyhow, after a couple miles she yelled to me to just go on without her. It was kinda bittersweet as I wanted to run with her, but I didn’t want to have to sacrifice my pace for it. I came into the next aid station (around mile 15 on the loop) at the same time as another runner. I was pretty surprised when the aid station captain announced that we were the third and fourth place runners. I had passed other runners since the last aid station, but I had assumed they were all 100k distance runners. I passed through quickly and continued on feeling good physically for the remainder of the loop. Mentally, however, I was a little worried about both the pressure of knowing the fourth place runner was right behind me and the fact that I had left my wife a few miles back. Maybe it was that or maybe it was just the adrenaline I had flowing that helped me maintain my pace until the finish of the loop when I was able to see her again at the start/finish area and know that she had made it back safe. It turned out she was able to catch a ride back from the next aid station, just a couple miles from where I had left her. That was a bit of relief and peace for me before heading out for my final lap.

I started the final lap with the goal of doing everything I could to maintain my pace until the finish. I left the start/finish area the final time at about the 16 hour mark giving me ample time to meet my 24 hour goal. Although I hadn't gone into the race with any goals of placing, after being in third for about ten miles hanging on to that position had become a goal. Physically I was still comfortable, but mentally I was worrying about other runners who may have been waiting until the final lap to really push. I went through about 13 miles of the loop with nothing but those thoughts circling through my head (other than singing the Finding Dory song that I hear my son sing sometimes to myself, “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming”, only I change the “swimming” to “running”). About that time I passed a couple of 100k runners who informed that second place was just a few minutes ahead of me. Over the next two miles to the next aid station I passed about three runners. I wasn’t sure if any of them were the second place 100 mile runner until I reached the aid station to find out I was in second place. It was at that point that for the first time during the race I asked how much farther I had to go until the finish. My gps had been getting farther and farther off
After a nap and a change of clothes.
with every loop, my thinking was a little scattered by this point, and although I had an approximate idea of the spacing, I never knew the exact distances of the aid stations throughout the course. Maybe it was the mental game of knowing how close to the finish I was, but shortly after leaving the aid station I began feeling more pain than I had all day. Primarily in the lower shins just above the ankles which took me by surprise because I normally never have pain in that area and have only had shin splints once before nearly 10 years ago. I figured that a bit of pain during the last 10 miles of a 100 miler is probably pretty normal, so I accepted it and continued on as best I could. I made my final pass through the final aid station and pushed myself through the final tough stretch of the loop that the TARC crew lovingly refer to as “The Grinder”. I guess it gets this name due to how technical it is with lots of exposed rock (which had become pretty slick from the drizzle that had started in the last few hours) and how windy the trail feels through that section. It was just very difficult to maintain any pace or feel any flow when constantly rock hopping and turning. It was pretty amazing how much more difficult it had become the fourth time through compared to the first time when my fresh legs told me it was nearly all runnable. I was grateful to get through without eating it and push with anything I had left for the last mile or so of the course which was pretty easy terrain. When I saw the Christmas lights of the finish area it was a beautiful sight. The only thing that topped it was seeing my 22:02:00 finishing time and being handed a shiny buckle shortly after.

All things considered, I couldn’t have been happier with the outcome. I proved to myself that the 100 miler is achievable. I had a plan (even if it did go against some fundamentals) and for the most part stuck to it. My goal was to get it in under 24 hours or blow up trying to. My inspiration for the all or nothing mindset of that goal really came from watching irunfar’s post UTMB interview of Zach Miller multiple times. The passion, perseverance, desire, disappointment, and heartache was all on full display during that interview. As inspired as I was by that interview, it also haunted me for the last lap. During the interview Zach talks about how things had gone so well for so long until he started bonking with somewhere around 15-20 miles to go. As I was approaching the 80, 85, and 90 mile marks I was almost waiting for things to fall apart. Thankfully, they never really did and the wheels never really came off.

The Buckle!

Scott Snell
October 19, 2016