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Showing posts with label run. Show all posts
Showing posts with label run. Show all posts

Thursday, June 8, 2023

2023 Capital Backyard Ultra - Father of Four, Ready for More... Ultrarunning

 
beast coast trail running scott snell capital backyard ultra

When my wife and I found out we were having another child to join our already family of five, I can honestly say I was shocked. I also selfishly thought of how it would affect my training and my running goals. I’d say I panicked a bit fearing that my ultrarunning days were more or less over or would at least have to be put on hold for a few years. Thankfully my race at Capital Backyard Ultra relieved any still persisting panic and alleviated my fears. After incorporating training around the birth of my fourth son and caring for his older brothers with ages ranging from 2 to 11, I put that training to the test and managed to come home to my two month old baby and my amazing wife having exceeded all of my expectations of what I was capable of and having achieved all of the race goals I set for myself. Long story short, this proved to me I was still capable of running backyard ultras competitively even with my family life becoming busier and more hectic than it has been the last few years.

 beast coast trail running scott snell

So what does training for a backyard race look like for a busy father of four that works full time? The key ingredients for me are consistency, volume, and flexibility.
 

Consistency: Getting in the miles day after day. Yes, I do take rest days, but usually it's one day a week. Some days are longer, some shorter, but I don’t do a huge number of “long runs”. Typically, my daily runs usually range between 6-13 miles. Personally, I feel like I get better fitness training by running three consecutive days of 13 mile runs rather than running 39 miles in a single run and taking a couple rest days before and after it.

Volume: Increasing volume of easy paced runs has been my primary goal of training since becoming focused on the backyard format. I aim to have a consistent build of volume leading up to a big race. I do this by setting up a 3-4 month training cycle focused on gradually increasing volume. I simply run consistently, then look at the daily average of miles per day for the baseline month. I then aim for an increase in the daily average mileage every month until the month of the race. I used this method for the first time last year as I trained for Capital Backyard Ultra. I ran a PR of over 100 miles and was the last one standing at the race last year, so that pretty much sold me on this method.

Flexibility: Life is busy and responsibilities get in the way of training. When that happens being rigid is not going to benefit a training plan. Adapting and finding a way to incorporate the desired mileage around other responsibilities has become my standard method of operation. Some days that means I run even slower than normal miles pushing my sleeping two year old (that most likely has a lollipop that has fallen out of his mouth stuck to him somewhere) in a jogging stroller. Would I have rather run my normal trail route? Yes, but road miles with a stroller are better than no miles. On days that I have not had an opportunity to run until 9 pm or so when the kids are asleep for the night, I view it as an opportunity to train my mental fortitude. Yes, I’m tired and I would like to go to bed for the night, but I ask myself “Are you too tired to run one more yard?” And the answer is always a simple “No.” So I push myself out the door to run and remind myself that I am building mental toughness for that time during a backyard when I feel so tired that I don’t think I can do one more yard. I remind myself that this is how you get one more yard, by choosing to start it, as much as you may not feel like it.
 
beast coast trail running scott snell capital backyard ultra
The view from my aid station.

I want to move on to focus specifically on my race experience this year at Capital Backyard Ultra, but before doing so let me give a brief description of the “backayard” race format for anyone reading who may not be familiar. Basically, it is a race of attrition without a set distance. The race continues until only one runner remains. Hence, these races are also referred to as “last person standing” races. So how are runners eliminated? By not completing a 4.167 mile lap every hour on the hour. Every hour all runners start a lap and must finish before the end of the hour. If they finish early, they must wait until the start of the next hour to start their next lap. With that caveat, this race prevents any runner from building a lead, more or less taking away the advantage of speedy runners. The cycle of on the hour lap starts continues indefinitely until all but one runner has opted to not continue running or has timed out. The last runner remaining must run one complete lap more than all other runners within the hour time limit before being named the winner. This leaves the possibility that there could be no winner (which has happened) if several runners go out for a lap and they all time out.
 

Day 1: After experiencing several multi day backyards, day one becomes a bit of an obligatory process. And honestly, with the depth of the field at Capital this year, I was viewing the first 48 hours as an obligatory process. It’s more or less a thinning of the herd, separating those there that have the capability and drive to be the last one standing from the rest of the group. Although it takes 24-48 hours for this process to play out with the caliber of backyard runners assembled for this race, that doesn’t mean it has to be a boring process. I spent most of the first day meeting new people and catching up with folks I had run with before. A good number of the runners I already knew were my teammates that I ran with on Team USA last year at Big’s: Kevin McCabe, Jennifer Russo, Keith Van, Justin Wright and Levi Yoder.

It had been a few months, but we were running together again, although this time not as a team but individuals. We all had our own reasons for being there and running the race. I believe Keith and I had pretty similar motivations. One motivator Keith had that I didn’t is that he currently has the most miles accumulated at Capital. As long as he runs the race and puts in a solid performance, he will likely be able to hold on to that record. Neither of us really needed to run this race. We both were pretty safe on the Big’s at large list with a performance of 62 yards. So it was something else that drove us to run this race. I believe our common motivations were first, just to run with our teammates again, and second, to assist them in earning a spot at Big’s this year. You can only go as far as your assist takes you in the backyard and to secure a spot on the at large list to Big’s this year will likely take a performance of over 60 yards which is no short order. Justin and Levi were both seeking performances to break onto the at large list as their best performances thus far for the qualifying period fell short. Kevin and Jennifer were both already on the at large list with performances of 57 and 60 yards respectively. While that puts them both on the at large list, it doesn’t leave a lot of breathing room and leaves the opportunity for a few big backyard performances to knock them off the list. I believe both of them were seeking to at least better their standing on the list.
 
beast coast trail running scott snell
My aid area for the duration of the race. 

I arrived at the race uncrewed (again) and spent the first day getting into a routine. I got my aid area set up and tweaked a few things throughout the day to make it flow a bit easier. Being uncrewed at Capital is pretty manageable for the first 24-48 hours if you’re a self sufficient runner. After that, things can start to get a little hectic or your brain just can’t function as smoothly due to the sleep deprivation and exhaustion. So, thankfully, I had a plan this year. A runner I had met at previous races and that volunteered at my last 24 hour race was running Capital. This runner is 72 year young Marty Fox. I chatted with him before the race and he agreed to crew for me when his race was finished and he had a chance to rest. The timing would be nearly perfect for him to be ready and rested to help me when I would start needing help.

Night 1: The first night was smooth and uneventful, just as you want it to be for a multiday backyard. I didn’t feel too tired that first night and didn’t use much caffeine either. The pace continued to feel easy to come in with 9-10 minutes between yards. I laid down a few times the first night to rest my eyes, but I don’t think I got any real sleep. The biggest challenge for me that first night was the temperature. It felt pretty chilly to me overnight and between each yard I was bundling up in my sleeping bag which made the start of every yard feel even colder.
 
beast coast trail running scott snell

Day 2: The sun rose again and the day warmed, rejuvenating me and most of the other runners as we finished our night laps on the paved path and returned to the trail for another set of 14 day yards. I don’t think we had lost many runners at this point. I know we lost my soon to be crew rock star, Marty, as he set a new PR for himself with 20 yards!

With the lack of sleep and just being physically worn down from running over 100 miles, day two just begins to feel like a grind. But all you can do is bear it and soldier on, hoping you ran that first 100 miles smart enough to allow you to run the second 100 miles relatively comfortably. That’s the name of the game in the backyard, minimizing damage. There will be cumulative damage, for everyone. It’s the ones who handle it well and minimize it as much as possible that will be able to continue to compete for the ultimate prize.
 
beast coast trail running scott snell squat party capital backyard ultra
A few impromptu squat parties occurred throughout the race in the starting corral. 

The biggest disappointment for me on day 2 started between loops when I saw from my chair Kevin shake Keith’s hand and then turn to look at me and start heading in my direction. I already knew what was happening, Kevin was calling it quits. He shook my hand and confirmed my suspicions. His head wasn’t in it this time and he was walking away. Keith and I did our best to talk him into going back out. My line was “it can all turn around in one yard.” I feel like we almost had him convinced to go back out with us, but it seemed his drive was gone and there wasn’t any fight left for him in this race. Once it became pretty apparent to me that he was done, I gave him a hug and wished him the best as we prepped to head out for another yard. The backyard is rigid and makes no exceptions. Either you’re in or you’re out. And once you’re out the race plows on without you. Those continuing to run are left to speculate about what caused the other runners to end their days. I would think a lot about Kevin for the next few days, wishing that I had something better to say to reignite a fire for him to continue.

Night 2: We lost a second member of Team USA shortly after the switch back to the paved course. Justin disappeared from the field of runners suddenly. A lot of questions were asked, but no clear, definitive answers came back from anyone back at camp. Obviously something went wrong for him, and it apparently happened suddenly as he seemed in good shape and good spirits going into the switch of courses.

Having run through a second night at two backyards previously, the second night didn’t have me worried. I knew what to expect and had established tools and methods to address the issues that I knew I would face eventually. Drowsiness is usually the biggest issue for me during the second night; short naps, caffeine consumption, and comradery are pretty much the extent of the tools I use to battle that issue. I only had one pretty bad scare due to drowsiness. I was alone on the path taking a little walk break and resting my eyes when I felt a change in the surface under my feet. It had gone from paved to soft, cushiony grass. Obviously I wasn’t walking a straight line and I had veered off the path. I opened my eyes just in time to see I was about to walk into a drainage ditch where a metal culvert came out from under a driveway. It was a pretty good drop and pretty steep. Another step or two and I may have taken a fall into the ditch. I didn’t have much time to react when I realized what was about to happen so I made a little hop over the drainage ditch to the other side towards the road. I shook my head to try to expel the sleepiness then looked at the ditch and thought about how bad that could have been. I got back on the path feeling really proud of my fast athletic reaction to avoid a catastrophe and kept my eyes open for the rest of the lap. When I completed that yard, the first thing I did back at my aid station was down a half bottle of a Stacker 2 energy drink.

We got a bit of rain during the second night, but thankfully I invested in a running rain jacket prior to this race after my lack of preparation left me cold and shivering at the 24 hour Adventure Trail Challenge just a little over a month ago. As a side note, it was Marty, my crew volunteer, who saved me at that race. He was volunteering at the aid station and when he saw me come in soaked and shivering he grabbed his Patagonia Houdini rain jacket for me to wear. And here he was again at my next race, crewing for me and keeping me going through that second night after running his own PR. As a bonus, I also got two additional crew members through Marty. His son, Derek, was running the race crewed by his buddy Jaron. Once Derek called it a day for his race, they both jumped in to help Marty crew me. I felt like I had a full on pit crew attending to all my needs by the time I rolled into day three.
 
beast coast trail running scott snell
The Fab Four on Day 3! Team USA!

Day 3: After 200 miles, the field really started dwindling. At this point, I’d say the odds are pretty good that the only runners left are the ones who are all in to be the last one standing. When you’ve come this far, there’s no reason to quit unless there’s no one left to push you farther or something goes bad for you and you can’t continue. The third day the sleep deprivation really started messing with my head. I had managed a few short naps during the second night, but not like the solid 9-10 minute nap I got last year at Capital. The brain was super foggy which I tried to treat with caffeine, but there’s only so much that can do. I started experiencing a feeling of awake day dreaming that I’ve had on the third day of past backyards. The symptom that really tips me off to know it’s happening is when I’m chatting with other runners and all of a sudden I’m not sure if I actually said something or just thought I did. Or I’ll have an entire conversation in my head with someone running by me and then be uncertain if we actually had the conversation or I was just imagining it. It makes me question reality a bit when it’s happening, but I’m pretty certain it is mainly just a side effect due to lack of sleep.

As runners dropped off, one by one, the day and the race unrelentingly carried on without them. Eventually it was down to four of us, all former teammates from Team USA at Big’s last year: Jennifer Russo, Keith Van, Levi Yoder, and I. We weren’t a team for this race, but there’s no question that some of those team bonds remained. We chatted, we joked, we helped each other out, we even talked about goals for the race. That eventually led to us all agreeing that 72 was a good goal to shoot for together. I pushed a bit further and raised the question of what about when we hit 72 (I was confident I could at that point). Do we continue to work together or is it straight back to the backyard format, every runner for him/herself? It was agreed that in the spirit of the backyard format that we should continue on until only one is left. There would be no finish line or celebration for achieving the benchmark of 300 miles. It would just be one yard closer to a DNF for all but one runner.

The idea of hitting 300 miles was not a shock to me at all during our talk on that third day of running. I had posted a graph I made of my “great expectations” for this race. That graph included the benchmarks of 100 miles, 200 miles, course record (62 yards), personal record (63 yards), American record (86 yards), and World record (102 yards). Having done 258 miles at Big’s last year while still recovering from a chest cough and cold, I was sure I could do 300 on the easier course at Capital while healthy. So I set some big goals to shoot for, to keep me pushing for as long as other runners were willing to go with me. While those big goals were real for me, I wasn’t confident the opportunity to chase them would present itself at this race. You can only go as far as your assist will push you at a backyard. What I was confident of being pushed to was to run through a third night, something I had never achieved before and the mental hurdle that ultimately ended my race at Big’s last year. Last year at Capital a major goal for me was to run through a second night for the first time ever to prepare for having to do it at Big’s last October. This year, I was again using Capital to prepare for Big’s, but this time the test was making it through that third night.


Night 3: The third night began with three of us; Keith had timed out on his 58th yard towards the end of the day to finish with a total of 237.5 miles. After a couple night laps, Levi’s stomach would turn on him. He headed out on his 64th yard, but the lack of a stomach that can digest and process fuel would take its toll on this yard. He would turn back to finish his day with a PR of 63 yards or 262.5 miles, a performance that is pretty certain to earn him his spot at Big’s this October. I was a little ahead of Levi when he stopped running on his last yard. I was pretty focused on getting myself mentally prepared for another night of sleep deprivation and exhaustion. I was battling my own mental monsters as I had just exceeded my backyard PR and not particularly looking forward to another sleepless night of running. It would have been easy to check out with a new PR and a pretty much guaranteed spot at Big’s at that point in the race. With everything going on in my own head, I didn’t do much to push Levi on. I tried to give a little encouragement by telling him that his stomach could come back, he’s just gotta make it through this yard, but honestly I don’t think I could have done or said anything to save his race at that point. He had the desire and the fight to carry on; he just needed a functioning stomach, not a pep talk.

beast coast trail running scott snell, Levi Yoder,  and Jennifer Russo new female backyard world record holder at finish of capital Backyard 2023
Jennifer Russo, Levi Yoder, and Scott Snell -
The last three standing at Capital Backyard Ultra 2023
  
So Jennifer and I were the last two standing again, just like last year. Only this year we were both in better shape to push on through the third night. We had had pretty ideal running weather for the first three days with decent cloud cover and highs in the 70s. It was nothing like last year with brutal heat and full sun outside the woods. We both pretty much ran on our own all night. My pace was just slightly faster and I would come in just a few minutes before Jennifer on every yard like clockwork. I only attempted to pick up the pace for a little extra sleep time for one yard on that night. It worked and I felt like I got good sleep, but I also stiffened up a bit during those extra few minutes of rest, so much so that I decided it seemed risky to do that again. So I just continued to come in with my comfortable 8-9 minutes and fell asleep quickly getting 4-5 minute naps every lap. I was impressed with how well I was sleeping in those short bursts through the night.

Even with the “quality” sleep I was getting, the lack of sleep was obviously affecting my brain function. I didn’t have any full, vivid hallucinations, but shadows and objects in the dark definitely began to resemble other random things. The shadowy shrubs were most often some type of animal. I saw lots of dogs and horses, sometimes full bodies, other times it would just be a giant dog face in the flora. I swear, one shrub along the path took on the shape of an elephant man until I was within a few feet of it when I was finally able to distinguish that it was in fact a bush. They had recently mowed the edges of the path which left a lot of tall grass clippings scattered on the path. Those clippings had dried and yellowed after a few days in the sun and took on the appearance of golden hay. Hay is for horses, at least that’s what my discombobulated brain reasoned. So I kept seeing horse faces in those strewn, dried grass clippings along the path. The fire hydrants along the path were painted silver which kept reminding me of the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz. Before I knew it, every fire hydrant I approached appeared to be the Tin Man wearing a fire fighter’s helmet. The strangest visual miscue I had was just the bare paved path itself. On a few occasions as I just stared down at the path it seemed to take on a CGI rendered quality. It would smooth out and look slatey in a way, like it was a creation of some low quality computer animation using 3D rendered polygons. Thankfully, those didn’t last too long and things went back to the current normal pretty quickly.

Day 4: Jennifer and I ran our last night loop together as the sun came up. We didn’t plan it or talk about it. Our paces just happened to match up, maybe mine slowed a bit and her’s increased a bit, but we ran that yard pretty much side by side. I think we both knew at that point, having survived the night, that we were going to make it to 300 which was now only two day yards away. I believe that also meant that we both knew this was going to turn into a battle of wills as the day carried on past the 300 mile mark. At least that’s where my mind was headed.

We both completed yard 72 with little celebration. For a goal that we both worked so long and hard to achieve, the celebration was overshadowed, at least for me, by the knowledge of the battle that would ensue. It wouldn’t end with high fives and cheers of our victory. It would continue until one of us failed. A few fist bumps and a pat on the back from Jennifer as we headed out on yard 73 and the celebration was over. During that yard I began questioning how much longer this would go. I was growing tired both mentally and physically. I wasn’t struggling to complete the laps with 6-7 minutes to spare, but I could feel the wear of three days and three nights with little sleep or recovery time building on me. I began to wonder how Jennifer was faring, she wasn’t showing any signs of weakness at this point. In a way I had hoped she would hit 300 which was a big goal of her’s for a long time, and then her mind and body would just say, “We did it! Time to relax!” But that didn’t seem to be the case. It seemed like we would continue on through a fourth day at that point. That thought excited and scared me. It meant the American record would be well within reach. It also meant one more day until the race ended and I could go home to see my kids. I was starting to miss them and was tired of the struggle of the race. I quietly told Marty this between laps 73 and 74. It was the first time during the race I actually envisioned myself quitting. Thankfully, Marty said the right thing when I said I was ready to go home and see my kids. He asked if I was still with my wife and if she was with the kids. I said yes and he responded by saying just be thankful she’s still around and caring for the kids. We had a bit of an emotional moment, maybe just a few seconds, but it was enough to get me teary eyed. He was right. The kids are in good hands and I needed to just focus on one more yard.


As it turned out, it wouldn’t be much longer until I didn’t have to focus on the race anymore. Jennifer came in from lap 74 with only a few minutes to spare. She didn’t go into her aid tent as she had between every other loop. Her crew had placed her chair outside her tent right at the edge of the corral. My aid tent was right next to Jennifer’s so I could get an idea of how she was doing. This was the first time I had any indication that she was struggling. As it seemed she rushed to get some calories in and prep to head back out, my crew joked with me while I enjoyed some avocado toast with bacon. The song “Get Up, Stand Up” was playing and my crew joked about what an appropriate song it was for the situation. I found it pretty hilarious at the time and started cracking up. It was at that moment that I felt like the race had finally shifted in my direction and could be nearing the end. I made a comment to Marty just before getting up that I thought Jennifer might be starting a death spiral based on how close she cut the last lap and that she moved her set up outside her tent to the edge of the corral. He didn’t confirm if he agreed or not, but just said to focus on my yard.

During the 75th yard I went out ahead as I had been for the day laps and realized Jennifer’s pace had slowed a bit more on this yard. There is a short, maybe quarter mile out and back at about the halfway point of the trail course. After I completed the out and back I passed the trail that leads you to it and caught my first and only sight of Jennifer during that yard. She was climbing the small hill before you exit the woods to run the out and back. She looked like she was struggling, her shoulders a bit slumped. I didn’t see the fight in her that I was so accustomed to. For the last two miles of that yard, I eased off my pace a bit thinking that it could very well be my final yard. Of course I knew that Jennifer had the wherewithal to keep going indefinitely even with only a minute or two between yards (she did that for hours last year), so I didn’t get too comfortable or start celebrating. But something I saw in how she was climbing that hill made me think that her race was coming to an end.

When I got back from yard 75 my crew did exactly what they were supposed to, they got me ready to go out for number 76. There was no celebration or even talk of the race being over. The closest thing to it was when Marty told me he saw Jennifer’s time when she crossed the mid yard timing mat and that it was going to be close. He immediately followed it up with, “you get ready to run another, because she can still make it in!” We went through our normal interloopal process and waited. The 3 minute whistle blew and no sign of Jennifer. The crowd was looking for her to see if she exited the woods yet. I got no indication of whether she was within sight or not. I stayed in my chair. The 2 minute whistle blew. Still no indication of any sign of her. I took the complete lack of reaction from the crowd there that they had not spotted her. With less than two minutes, she should have been within sight of the finish if she was going to have a chance to make it. The 1 minute whistle blew. No reaction from the crowd, just a lot of peering at the landscape in the distance. I stood up and moved into the starting corral pretty sure I was less than a minute away from a win. The last minute seemed to move slowly, but the clock eventually ran out and Jennifer had timed out on yard 75.


Although the clock ran out on Jennifer’s 75th yard, she had still achieved something extremely impressive, a new female backyard world record. The previous record of 68 yards had been held by none other than Courtney Dauwalter since the 2020 Big’s Backyard. Rather than celebrate at the finish line, Race Director Sarah Smith and I walked back on the course to find Jennifer and congratulate her. She was about a half mile from the finish when we reached her. We hugged and I told her how impressive the run she had put together was and how much I love how much fight she has in her to never quit even when it gets ridiculously tough after 50, 60, or 70 some hours.

beast coast trail running scott snell and Jennifer Russo new female backyard world record holder embrace at finish of capital Backyard 2023

For me, I hit all of my goals and then some this year at Capital. The biggest being that I survived the third night which went relatively smoothly. I also learned a few new fuel options that worked well for me and some pain treatment methods thanks to my Crew Leader Marty. The icing on the cake, a consecutive overall win. That was a big goal to shoot for this year as I knew how deep the field was. I believed it was possible, if not it likely wouldn’t have happened, but I knew I’d have to have a REALLY good race for it to happen. Thankfully it happened and what a great confidence booster to build on leading to Big’s this year. With this performance, I know that as long as I stay healthy, I am capable of a much better day at Big’s this year than I had last year. And that is exciting because I’ll have the opportunity to run and compete with the best backyard runners in the world this October to see how I stack up against them on a common course. The thought of it scares me as I know the most likely outcome is a DNF, but even so, I know I have the potential to hang on into the final handful of runners and I believe there is at least a possibility that I could outlast the rest of the field there. I’ll never know what’s possible for me at Big’s unless I show up healthy and give it my all.

 
beast coast trail running scott snell capital backyard ultra jennifer russo
Jennifer Russo, Race Director Sarah Smith, and Scott Snell at the end of Capital Backyard Ultra 2023!

I would be completely remiss if I did not thank a whole slew of people who made my amazing experience at Capital so amazing.

Of course Sarah Smith, Race Director of Capital Backyard Ultra, must be thanked. The race was created by her, is organized by her, and is a very special event thanks to her attention to detail and personal touch on all aspects of the race. Also, a huge debt of gratitude is owed to the many race volunteers that sacrifice their time and energy to allow us runners to enjoy the race. An extra special and huge thank you to the chefs who provide what I can honestly say without the risk of exaggerating the best aid station food I have ever had at a race. Without an extensive crew of selfless volunteers these races just could not happen.

Additionally, I need to thank Jennifer Russo and the many other runners that ran Capital this year. Without their comradery and her assist, I would not have continued to run as long as I did. I personally really appreciated and liked how Sarah Smith described the finish in a Facebook post.


A more personal thank you goes to the crew that adopted me this year: Marty Fox, Derek Fox, and Jaron Holmes. Marty and Derek are a father and son duo that ran the race this year. Jaron is a buddy of Derek’s and was crewing for him for this race. I had met Marty a few times at previous races and was chatting with him during the race aid set up time on Friday afternoon. He was planning on sticking around after his race ended to volunteer and help out other runners. I asked if he’d be willing to crew for me after he had a chance to rest. I am so grateful he agreed. Marty ran a PR of 20 yards (83.33 miles). Derek ran 33 yards (137.5 miles) being crewed by Jaron. After their efforts and only getting a little rest, all three jumped in to crew me for the remainder of my race. And they were a rockstar crew! I like to think of myself as a pretty self sufficient and independent runner, and I did go the first day and night without a crew, but I never would have lasted as long as I did without their help. I definitely owe those guys for making this run a very special achievement.
 
beast coast trail running scott snell capital backyard ultra
Left to right: Marty Fox, Derek Fox, Scott Snell, and Jaron Holmes -
my rock star crew!

The most personal thank you goes to my wife, Amanda. Ultrarunning certainly seems like a pretty selfish hobby at times. My wife takes on a lot to allow me to get in training runs and then disappear for long weekends to run these races. She keeps the house from burning down while corralling our four boys whose ages range from 11 years to 2 months old. I honestly don’t know how she does it but she does and she still doesn’t seem to hate me when I get home. Without her support, what I now consider my biggest running achievement would not have happened. I love you! Thank you!

 
beast coast trail running scott snell

Scott Snell
8 June 2023



Monday, May 22, 2023

2023 Adventure Trail Run - 24 Hour Event

Beast Coast Trail running scott Snell adventure 24 hour finish

A little over two weeks have passed since the 24 hour Adventure Trail Run and I am wrapping up my final training week before going into a taper period to prepare for Capital Backyard Ultra. I decided to run the 24 hour Adventure Trail Run for a few reasons. The main reason was for a bit of redemption after being disappointed in my performance at my last race (Big’s Backyard) and my last time running the 24 hour Adventure Trail Run two years ago (if you’re looking for a more complete course description, go to that race report). The second reason was to serve as a warm up race and fitness/endurance check leading into Capital. I wasn’t completely successful in fully achieving the first of those goals, but I felt really good about the second.

The Adventure Trail Run is a combination of timed and distance trail running events held at Prince William Forest Park (National Park Service) in Triangle, VA. This year the event offered 8 hour solo, 4 person relay 24 hour, solo 24 hour, 50k, and 100k options. The course is basically a lollipop design with a 1 mile out and back to a 4 mile loop. The 1 mile out and back section is definitely the most challenging in my opinion and basically my only gripe about the race, so let me get that out of the way. It is probably the most consistently technical section of the course with intermittent stretches of jagged rocks and toe catching exposed roots. It also has many short but steep climbs and descents to deal with. In addition to the technicality of that narrow single track section was the fact that it was also the section of the course where you had to deal with two way traffic of runners. Since this is a relatively small event (around 100 runners) it didn’t present a major problem but with 50k and 100k runners on the course at the same time as the 24 hour runners, it did feel a bit congested to me on a few occasions and made it feel like I couldn’t get into a flow of running. This year I kept on thinking about how that section of the course was like an analogy of Washington DC traffic; drive 70 mph for a few minutes then stop and go for ten minutes and repeat.

I alluded to it earlier about how one motivating factor for me to run the 24 hour Adventure Trail Run again was for a bit of redemption and to hit the missed targets I set for myself last time I ran it. My goal at the race two years ago was to break the course record of 108 miles and I narrowly missed the mark finishing with 103 miles. I’d say that last time I missed that goal primarily due to the fitness level just not being there and a lack of training. Even after failing again (finishing with 100 miles), I still believe the fitness was there this year, but other factors led to my demise. I can reduce those factors to three words, but will expand upon them: weather, diarrhea, and priorities.


Weather: For the most part the weather during the entire 24 hour race was great. It was a cool morning and didn’t warm up too much going into the afternoon. With the 7 AM start it was in the low 60s and never rose past the low 70s which is pretty much ideal running weather in my opinion. The weather trouble started for me when a powerful storm system rolled through in the early afternoon. I had seen it forecasted, but looking at the temperatures I figured it would be a warm rain and I’d be fine running through it. However, the rain was downright cold and the temperature dropped enough to cause me to feel extremely chilled. The storm hit quickly at the midway point of my 11th lap, if I remember correctly. I was quickly soaked and shivering as I completed the second half of that lap thinking about how I didn’t have any rain gear and contemplating quitting and calling it a day. Thankfully, a race volunteer I had met at Capital Backyard and spent some time with again at Big’s saved me. (Thank you Marty!) As soon as I came in shivering and soaked, Marty asked me if I needed anything, warm soup or other warm food. I told him I was good with food, but what I really needed was a rain jacket. Without hesitation, Marty ran to his car to grab his jacket for me to borrow. He even zipped it up for me as my hands were shaking so badly from shivering at that point that I probably would have fumbled with the zipper. And with that crisis averted, I was back on the trail towards my goal. Unfortunately, it did set me back a bit. However, the impact would be felt later in the race. Prior to the storm, all of my laps had been under an hour and a half. They were under 1:20 for the first 50k and under 1:30 for the second 50k so I was definitely on my target pace up to that point. However, lap 11, when the storm hit, and lap 12, as the storm cleared, were 1:35 and 1:41 respectively. It was not a huge increase in time, but it affected my decision making towards the end of my race.

Diarrhea: Maybe I don’t need to expand on this one too much or go into too much detail other than to say that I had some gastrointestinal issues for a good portion of the race. So much so that at one point I ran past the single restroom on the course just after the aid station thinking to myself that I don’t have to go too bad only to turn around about 100 feet later because it quickly became an emergency bio break. I felt good without any issues for the first 100k or so, but after that every fart felt like a huge gamble. Honestly, it was probably the worst and most drawn out bout of gastrointestinal issues I’ve ever dealt with during a race. I was eating another anti-diarrhea pill for about 3-4 passes through the aid station, and it didn’t seem to improve the situation. I also can’t really pinpoint what caused it which is troubling. I was eating food I had before and using the same types of gels so I don’t think my calorie sources were the cause. Regardless of the cause, the effect was time. It didn’t slow my running pace much, but frequent bio breaks, as brief as you try to make them, begin to accumulate the minutes and those minutes add up. I’d say I probably used the restroom right after leaving the aid station at least 4-5 times and I made at least 2 emergency trail bio breaks. Even at only about 5 minutes a stop, that’s a half hour of time lost not spent covering ground.

Priorities: The last nail in the coffin for my course record goal was my prioritization of races and motivations. I completed my 14th lap (84ish miles) at about the 19 hour mark leaving me five hours to complete another three laps. By this point I was feeling pretty worked over and wasn’t sure if I could complete another three laps within that time. I thought it was possible, but I knew it would be close, maybe really close. I also knew that if I didn’t complete the third lap by the end of the race I’d finish with 16.5 laps, the exact same distance as my last attempt. I really didn’t want to push super hard for another five hours only to match what I had done last time. Adding to my lack of motivation to push for the last five hours was the fact that after the previous lap I was informed that the leader of the race had just stopped at 13 laps putting me in the lead without anyone really close behind. With all of this information swirling around my groggy brain I was also thinking about my next race, Capital Backyard Ultra, and how I want to be in the best form possible there. Although now it sounds a bit more like an excuse to me, at the time it sounded like a smart move to make and I decided I would take it easy for the remainder of the race. I decided to power hike another lap and then reassess whether it was necessary for me to go back out for another lap to be certain that my first place finish was still secured.

Beast Coast Trail running scott Snell adventure trail run 24 hour

I returned from my power hiked 15th lap with about two hours left on the clock and almost a guarantee that I had first place locked up. With 94ish miles, first place secure, and two hours left in the race I was ready to call it, get cleaned up, and maybe even get a nap before breakfast. I was pretty much decided while sitting by the fire at the aid station explaining this situation to a couple other runners and some race volunteers when the RD, Alex, came over yelling for me to go back out for another lap. I tried to explain that I had Capital coming up in a month and I wanted to just begin the recovery process so I can get another couple weeks of good training in before I start another taper. He wasn’t having it though because one more lap would mean I would hit 100 miles. I fought it for a bit longer, but eventually I gave in and went back out.

As much as I didn’t want to at the time, I was eventually happy that I went back out for another lap to hit the 100 mile mark. Especially when I was chatting with other runners and volunteers at the breakfast after the race. I knew it kinda felt douchey to quit with two hours on the clock, ample time for another lap, just because you know you have first place secured. So in the end, that extra push to go back out for 100 really made it a run I could be more proud of and it certainly felt like a more noble way to win the race then to just put my feet up and wait for the last couple hours.

Beast Coast Trail running scott Snell adventure trail 24 hour finish

So that explains how I missed my first target for the race, but doesn’t address the second, to serve as a warm up race and fitness/endurance check leading into Capital. While I ran this timed race, I was thinking a lot about expected effort and perceived effort. The first time I ran this race I didn’t think hitting the course record would be too tough, but it was much tougher than expected. This time around, I wasn’t shocked that it was challenging which made it easier to keep fighting towards that goal. Even though I ultimately came up short on my A goal, I’m happy with where I was mentally and physically throughout the race. I was clear with my hierarchy of priorities. This race forced me to push through weather related, physical, and mental challenges. The overnight portion was a great practice night run for Capital, to familiarize myself with running through the night before being shocked by the drowsiness during the first night at Capital. It also gave me one more tool for my sleep derivation fighting toolbox, Five Hour Energy. I brought one bottle of Five Hour Energy not really expecting to need it, but just in case I was feeling drowsy I figured I could test it out. Turns out it helped me tremendously during the wee hours of the morning. Based on my experience with it during this race, I am bringing three bottles to Capital.

I could torture myself with a bunch of “what if”s and “only if”s about missing my A goal like I did last time I ran this race, but I’m not doing it this time around. Once the motivation of chasing that first place spot was gone and reaching my A goal was extremely uncertain, my focus immediately went to Capital. And that’s fine because at Capital and the nature of the backyard race format, whether I reach it or not, I will never not be chasing first place until the race is over.



Scott Snell
14 May 2023

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Preparing for a 24 hour - Taper Panicking



By the numbers, yesterday’s run wasn’t amazing for any reason. It wasn’t a tough work out. It wasn’t at a high intensity or a faster than normal pace. The distance wasn’t crazy long or even any farther than my average training run. I did not reach any significant milestones for the month, year, or the number of miles on my shoes. Barring all the things it was not, yesterday’s run was special. The numbers and data behind the run didn’t make it interesting or significant, but the feeling of it did. Which is exactly what I needed to feel ready and prepared for this weekend’s 24-hour trail race.

The day before after getting home from work I began to feel depleted, like my mind and body needed some time off. That isn’t the feeling I was hoping for halfway through my taper week leading up to what I expect to be a pretty hard effort for 24 hours. I caught myself sneeze a couple of times and my throat felt scratchy. I feared I may me getting sick as my son was still getting over a cold he picked up a couple of weeks ago. Waves of anxiety, panic, and anger all took turns floating to the surface of my emotions as I feared that this was going to be a repeat of my last race that I ended up running while still recovering from a cough/cold. That would most likely make this weekend’s race a total sufferfest. Although my wife has told me, “you’re the best sufferer,” that doesn’t mean that I seek out extra opportunities to suffer or actually enjoy it.

I decided that as soon as the kids’ extracurricular activities were over for the night, getting ready for bed and getting some rest was my number one priority. But shortly after we got home my son reminded me that we had run our 1 mile training run for the day yet. We had just started running a mile a day this week because he wanted to train for his school’s fitness challenge run. I honestly had forgotten about it for the night, but when he asked if I was ready, I couldn’t bail on him and say no. We got our headlamps and went out for our mile. Once finished, it was bedtime.

Yesterday didn’t seem like it was going to be a change in my mental outlook or physical health until I managed to get out for my run after getting home from work. My legs felt great! I was full of energy and truly happy to run after a day of feeling worn out. Most importantly though, it was the confidence booster I needed to be ready for a 24-hour effort. It resolved the taper week feelings of panic I was experiencing just the previous day. It set my headspace right to trust my training and know that I have done the work to be as prepared as possible for a challenging physical endeavor. It’s almost go time, and I am ready!


Scott Snell
20 April 2023




Thursday, March 16, 2023

February Monthly Mileage Check In




Happy #MonthlyMileage check in! I wrapped up February with a little over 239 miles! February was about increasing the solid base I started building in January and maintaining consistency without abandoning non running aspects of my life. With a baby boy due to arrive this month to join our family of five, the non running aspects of my life are obviously pretty demanding. Add in an unexpected bout of kidney stones leading to a trip to the ER that my wife had to endure while about eight months pregnant, and it’s easy to see how my training could have fallen pretty far off track. Thankfully it didn’t and I was able to meet my mileage goals and still have a few days at the end of the month dedicated to a ski trip with my older boys, or we can call it cross training if preferred.

My average daily mileage increased from 8.30 in January to 8.55 miles per day in February. Only a 3% increase in average daily mileage, but I am thrilled with it given the circumstances over the past month. I am especially happy with my mileage and where I’m at right now this early in the year with my training because it already exceeds where I was last year in preparation to run Capital Backyard. Last April leading up to Capital, I averaged 8.37 miles per day. This year, a full two months out from Capital, I’ve already surpassed where my training was last year. This gives me some high hopes and big expectations for how my days go at Capital this year.

But before I start focusing on Capital, my more imminent goal is to better my performance and the course record at the Adventure Trail Run 24 Hour race. Given my training thus far this year and my current fitness level, I am more confident in reaching my goal of bettering the course record there than I was when I attempted to do the same two years ago. I believe it is mainly due to the focus I had on consistent training and building volume last year. I had a decent endurance foundation prior to last year, but my training was still primarily structured around long training runs. I got away from those last year and refocused on consistency to build volume. That meant less recovery days for me and an overall increase in volume. I tested out the “brick by brick” training ideology and would say based on my results so far I am a subscriber. I feel like the long training run loses training value as you progress as an ultrarunner. They’re great for testing fueling options and improving mental toughness but after a few years of ultrarunning you tend to get fueling that works for you figured out and mental toughness develops and is refined over time. Therefore, my long runs are pretty much reserved for races, at least for the time being. We’ll see how that training regimen works for the 24 hour race format, but it has served me well in the backyard format so I intend to continue using it.




Scott Snell
16 March 2023












Wednesday, March 15, 2023

A Healthy Mix of Joy and Fear


Scott Snell beast Coast Trail Running

Big's Backyard was the first race to break me. Although it didn’t do it single handedly; it had a pretty helpful assist from the cold I came down with about a week before the race. It was a culmination of events and circumstances that led to me succumbing and ending my race shortly after beginning the third night of running. Immediately and for several weeks after I wasn’t sure I would go back or if I even wanted to, but now I’m certain. I hope to be back at Big's this fall, better prepared mentally and physically. And hopefully in better health as well. When I think about going back I’m filled with a healthy mix of joy and fear.

The phrase “healthy mix of joy and fear” was one that I spouted off on a whim recently. One of the scout leaders from my oldest son’s den was congratulating me as my wife and I are expecting a new baby boy soon. Maybe I didn’t gush with as much excitement as I should have and he said to me a bit sarcastically about how thrilled I look. I replied with, “yeah, I’m excited. It’s a healthy mix of joy and fear.” Later I realized that is exactly how I feel about going back to Big’s as well.

I believe the joy stems from the opportunity to have a second crack at Big’s to do better; second chances are never guaranteed so I am grateful for the opportunity. Last year I was so dead set and focused on Big’s that I feel like I built it up to be more than it actually was, like it was a once in a lifetime opportunity and no one ever goes back for a second attempt. Not that I all of a sudden don’t think that running at Big’s isn’t a big deal. It’s just that now I recognize that it was not a one time shot, that I may have several years of running Big’s with the national team format and in the strictly individual world competition format. In a way, it seems that strictly focusing on Big’s last year took away from the joy of the experience and made it feel like an impossible task. With what I hope to be my second chance at Big’s this year, I not only want to have a better performance but also want to enjoy the process.

The fear emanates from having experienced Big’s and having been broken by the backyard race format. Like I said earlier, I don’t think the race format alone broke me but it was the cumulative effect of the cold I was battling unrelated to the exhaustion and sleep deprivation which were directly induced by the race format. Top all of that with a severe drop in temperature and some strong gusting winds going into the third night and I was done. I’ve now experienced how quickly things can go from bad to worse and over so quickly in this race format and that is scary. It’s so scary because like second chances, there are no guarantees in the backyard format. Any runner, no matter how talented and resilient, can have a bad hour and sometimes that’s all it takes to end your race in the backyard. That is why I have a great deal of respect for the format; because it can humble anyone with little to no notice. I look forward to facing that specific fear that wasn’t there last year when I ran Big’s. I’ll still go into the race with high expectations for myself as I feel confidence is a key to success in backyards but this time with a bit more fear and respect for how quickly a race can fall apart and be over.


Scott Snell
15 March 2023






Wednesday, January 11, 2023

2022 Goals Reviewed and Examining 2023 Goals


Scott Snell Beast Coast Trail Running

My singular goal for 2022, well it actually began to form midway through 2021, was to earn a place on the 15 person Team USA for the international Backyard Ultra Team competition at Big's Backyard in October. I accomplished this goal in May by winning Capital Backyard Ultra which was a silver ticket event guaranteeing me a place on the team. With my main goal for the year accomplished only a few months into the year, I put all my effort into training to achieve my best possible performance at that competition. In retrospect, maybe that was a mistake putting all of my eggs into one basket. As luck would have it, my son got sick with a bad cough/cold about two weeks before the race and then I picked it up about a week before the race. While I still had a decent performance there (62 yards or about 258 miles), it was not the performance I hoped for and I was just angry the majority of the time for the timing of the virus I contracted. Which I guess is a major downside of focusing all of your effort preparing for such a long period on a single race. All it takes is one poorly timed sickness to destroy your hopes. So, I have decided not to do that again. I will do almost the exact opposite this year and just send it, running all the races I want to run. Which is probably equally bad for different reasons.

Overall, this year I just want to run the races I want to run and let the chips fall where they may. Maybe I'll burn out and be sick of ultrarunning (not likely) before October and the big dance at Big's. But I don’t think I will. The more likely flaw to this plan is either an overuse injury or insufficient recovery time between races to achieve optimal performance. But I don’t care. I’d rather run that risk and have a few races that I’m really proud of, a few that I deem mediocre, and a few that were total misses rather than have one race that I put so much time and effort into feel like a failure. So with that introduction and philosophy behind my running goals for 2023, here they are (in chronological order)!

Scott Snell Beast Coast Trail Running

1.  Set a new 24 hour PR for myself and a new course record at the 24 hr Adventure Trail Run in Triangle, VA. - I made my first attempt at this goal and my first attempt at a 24 hour race in 2021. It was my first race after races had been shut down due to COVID. I believe I am better prepared to achieve this goal this time around. I know what mistakes I made during my first attempt and how I can remedy them. I also believe I am better prepared physically and mentally this time. My fitness level has improved and my mind is better adapted to overcome temporary setbacks within a 24 hour period. I was so close to achieving this goal last time that I am almost certain I will have success this time.

2.  Run Capital Backyard Ultra and be sure to secure my spot at Big's this year. - With the qualifying period for the 2023 Backyard World individual Championships ending in mid August, Capital Backyard Ultra (at the end of May) is one of the final more competitive backyard races likely to produce an at large qualification. Right now I'm sitting at the 56th spot out of 75 spots available. Chances are pretty good that where I'm at is good enough and I will qualify regardless of whether I run another backyard between now and then. However, there are some competitive backyard races between now and then. If I'm pushed farther down the qualifying list, it's most likely I'll be pushed off the list due to at large qualifications at Capital. If that does occur, I want to be in the race to compete for my spot at Big's.

3.  Run a 12 hour race at the Midnight Squatchapalooza. - I've never run a 12 hour race before and this is one of the most local ultras for me. It's also hosted by one of my favorite NJ race directors, Kim Levinsky of Sassquad Trail Running. My personal goal for this race is to run at least a 100k before the 12 hour clock runs out. From what I can tell based on the Ultrasignup results page, it looks like the course record is 25 laps of a 2.5 mile looped course or 62.5 miles which is just over a 100k distance. So, if I hit my personal goal I will at least tie the course record. Of course, if things are going well for me late in the race and it is within reach, I’d love to be able to better the course record and complete 26 laps to hit 65 miles.

4.  Run Backyard Squatch again. - I have multiple reasons for this goal and several achievements I’d like to reach within this goal. This race is also hosted by Sassquad Trail Running, so that alone makes me want to run it again. After running and winning it in 2021, I was invited back by Kim Levinsky to run it again in 2022 but I felt like it was a little too close and would disrupt my training cycle leading up to the Backyard Ultra Team competition at Big's Backyard in October. Although I wanted to run it again last year, I opted not to, hoping it would better my performance at Big’s. That is not the plan this year. Like I mentioned earlier, the plan is just to send it this year and hope for the best. With that mindset, my goals for this race are to better the course record (36 yards) that still stands from the inaugural year (2021). Additionally, I intend to be the last person standing there.

5.  Run a 200 mile race. - After spending the better part of the last two years making earning a spot to run at Big’s Backyard my primary focus, I’m trying to freshen things up a bit this year with some new exciting goals, hence the completely new goal of running a 12 hour race. While running a 200 mile race isn’t a completely new or fresh idea for me to pursue, this year I plan on acting on it. In the past I had kinda dreamt about running a 200 miler. I had always thought I’d sign up for one out west, most likely one of Candice Burt’s races but a few things kept me from acting on those dreams. The first being the cost. When you add up the registration and travel costs you’re looking at a minimum of a several thousand dollar price tag for an adventure that will most likely be a handful of days. I have trouble justifying that with my current household budget. The second primary reason was the fear that I wasn’t ready to tackle the 200 mile distance. Well, after running two backyards last year that went over 250 miles the fear of not being ready for the 200 mile distance is gone. However, the financial limitation is still there so I have been looking at other, more affordable options. As of now, the race I think I will register for to take a crack at the 200 mile distance is the Cowboy 200. Since I’ve already run two races greater than 200 miles, some may justifiably be questioning why I’m pursuing this as a goal this year. The reason is that although I’ve done the distance, I’ve never raced the distance. I’ve only run it in the backyard format where your pace is constrained to not exceed 100 miles per 24 hours. So the real goal within this goal is not to finish a 200 mile race, but to finish it in under 48 hours. Giddy up!

6.  Run the individual backyard world championship at Big's Backyard in October. - If you read my race report on my performance at the 2022 Big’s Backyard team competition, I think it’s readily apparent that I feel like I have some unfinished business there. I intend to be there again this year for the individual competition and do better. It would be na├»ve and maybe a bit foolish to make winning this competition my only goal. Of course it’s the top goal, but these are the best backyard runners from around the world competing here. It is the most competitive backyard competition in the world. Do I believe there is a chance? Yes. Likely? Probably not. Can I do better than last year? Most definitely yes. Outside of being the outright winner, I have a few other objectives that are more likely obtainable. The first being just to improve upon last year’s performance of 62 yards. Simple and definitely doable. Second is to make it through that third night of running and see how long I can hang after that. That will be more difficult, but I believe I am capable of it. My third alt objective and likely the most difficult if I am not the last person standing there is to simply not allow my race to end in apathy again. An apathetic outlook was the final piece that ended my run there last year. I don’t like excuses. Allowing apathy to take hold over the last few hours of my race last year feels like creating an excuse to quit in the moment. If not an excuse, then a defense or escape mechanism at best. It’s not fair to use either after putting so much time, effort, and sacrifice into preparing for this event. It’s not fair to me or others close to me who have also made sacrifices to allow me to not only be there, but to prepare to do the best I can while I am there. So that’s the final alt objective: to do my best with no excuses.

Scott Snell Beast Coast Trail Running



Scott Snell
11 January 2023