Friday, November 21, 2008

The Feronia Frolic (11/08/08)

This is what trail running is about, for me.

Our TrailDawg pals Phat Phil and Paulus Treemarkus (aka Phil Nissen and Pawl Melzer) put on a first class fat-ass event at Fair Hill State Park over in MD. I rolled out of bed listening to the rain tapping on the siding, made a pot of coffee, read the paper, and realized -- just in time -- holy hell, the race starts in 30 minutes! So, a 15 minute drive to Fair Hill and I arrive at the start in my slippers -- and, with a quick change, I am ready to run!

What a nice day for a run. Sure, it was drizzly, but who cares? The temperatures were really pleasant (60-ish). The fall colors were fantastic, brilliant in places, with shimmering golden leaves laying next to some of the maples looking like a shadow of sunlight. And, Phil and Pawl had picked out for us a primo assortment of trails.

There was a decent crowd, maybe 40? It included most of the Dawg regulars, some of the Newark area fast guys, and s good number of RASAC folks from the other side of the Susquehanna. I ran a lot of the race with some really nice people, which made it especially fun - Curt, who works down the hall from me -- Laurie and Chris (and Laurie's dawg), down from PA -- and RASAC folks Steve, Steve, and Cath from over in Harford County. There were plenty of route-finding adventures, as it appears mischievous hikers, bikers, or hooligans removed some of the key trail marks for turns. Phil and Pawl threw in a section were clues were needed to find the way, as well as ample shiggy running and a couple of log-crossings over creeks and ravines. We ended up with almost 19 miles and four hours worth of cardio by the time we finished!

Best of all, socializing with fellow Dawgs and chowing down on the excellent Roman bread and lentil and barley stew at the finish.

Thanks a lot you guys for a great day!

Running with my kid: The C&D Canal 10K (11/02/08)

I've had the pleasure recently of running more and more with daughter Megan (23), and sometimes also her boyfriend BJ. A great father-daughter bonding experience.

The kid has been through a couple of knee surgeries in the last year or so, the first for an ACL and meniscus repair, and the second as meniscus touch-up just this past summer. Well, getting back in shape, she set the admirable goal to run a 10K. At the end of the summer and during the fall, she steadily worked up her mileage. And, on a nice cool fall day, we did her first 10K together -- the C&D Canal 10K, part of the C&D Canal Running Festival put on by Piranha Sports.

Maybe I wasn't the best person to do a first race with -- I almost got her there late! Well, not late for her -- she was pre-registered -- but I was purty dern close to the last one to be allowed to register onsite. My buddy Greg, poor guy, was even later -- he called me from the starting line minutes before I arrived, wondering if he had the day right because there was nobody there. Turns out, he went to the starting line of last year's race in Delaware City! I tried to be as nice as I could to the folks handling registration -- the event staff looked thinner than last year and late registrants were giving them headaches as they were needing to get other things ready for the race.

Anyhow, with registration taken care of, Megan and I chatted with Greg, fellow Trail Dawg Angus, and a guy who works in our department, Curt. Megan didn't seem to be too nervous. The race starts were staggered. Marathon first -- Angus was out of the gate pretty quickly. Half-marathon next -- we got to cheer Greg and Curt as they took off.. Then our 10K, and I assume we were followed soon after by the 5K.

We went out with a steady pace, about 10 minute miles, occasionally having to slow down after the adrenaline of the start. Megan's goal was to average about 10 minute miles and to break an hour if possible. The course heads from the St. George's general store to the old St. George's Bridge, to the canal, then eastward along the gravel road next to the canal. After about 2 miles, with a bit of a headwind, I could tell by Megan's breathing that the challenge would be in maintaining our more or less 10 minute pace. Before the turnaround, we backed off slightly and let a 60-ish guy we ran some with get ahead. From the halfway point turnaround, I tried to psyche her up, pointing out the benefit of the tailwind. But, as you'd expect for a first 10K, it got harder and harder. By the time we hit 4 miles, I knew she was at a place that Greg said she'd need to be ready for -- I love this -- "that magical place of misery somewhere between the adreneline wearing off and too far from the finish to be excited." I don't know if any further proof was needed about how unfit I am to be a parent, but I began trying to talk her into "embracing the pain, embracing the fatigue," and telling her that "suffering is good." Trying to bring out more motivation, as we hit the 5 mile point, I tried to point out to her that she was going to soon feel great -- because she could stop!

As we rounded the second-to-last turn, we hit pavement and Megan began to pick it up. As the last turn got in sight, only yards from the finish, she really picked it up, getting out ahead of me with a spring like she was chasing a ball in a soccer game. I hustled to try to catch her and we crossed the finish line in close succession, Megan at 1:04:18 and me at 1:04:19 -- just about a 10 minute mile pace!

It's a real pleasure to be able to share something like this with your kid. I was proud of her for her effort in training and running the race, and even prouder of her for forgiving me for being a task-master in the last couple of miles.

Post-script/race review: I appreciate the race organizers' efforts, and really like supporting great local races like this one -- but I think the race slipped a notch since last year (where I did the half). Pluses: pleasant running along the canal (except maybe when the headwind was bad); really nice volunteers, friendly and hard-working; pretty cool concept to offer races from 5K to marathon distance the same morning; a very generous number of awards, including three for each 5 year age group; and the race set up is really easy to get to. Minuses: poor course control causing wrong/missed turns and bad mileage postings in places; not enough cups for the runners (they were out of cups so unable to give drinks by the time we hit about 4 miles on the 10K); not the same party atmosphere in the little town of St Georges as you can have by the ferry landing in Delaware City, no loud music or loudspeaker announcing finishers like they did before.

Kudos: Speed Dawg Angus Repper won the marathon for the second year in a row. He finished in 2:54 and change and looked great as he crossed the finish line. Fellow Dawg Mark Holliday broke 4 hours in the marathon for the first time with a great run. Greg Forgang and Mary Holliday had what I believe to be male and female course records in the 12K or 13K or 14K or 15K race. This was a special event at this year's C&D Run Fest made possible by poor course control causing them (and maybe 1/5 of the 10K field) to miss a turn and run extra miles -- and in their cases cheating them of high podium finishes.

Cheat Mountain Moonshine Madness 50 Miler (8/22-23/08)

"Cheat" was a fun, end-of-summer roadtrip for our trail Dawg contingent. The concept: drive out to West Virginia on Friday afternoon, have a nice group dinner, pick up our registration materials, and -- starting at 9 pm -- run around in the dark, climbing up onto and around a big West Virginia mountain, via trails and dirt roads, for 50 miles. The ladies: Margie, Laurie, and Brigitte (doing her first 50 miler). The guys: Angus, "Reading Dave," Greg (doing his first 50 miler, too), Hunt, Phat Phil, and Gerard. Also there were Baltimore Dawg Alberto, and Laurie's Lehigh Valley running pal Bud.

This was a first-time event organized by the West Virginia Mountain Trail Runners. The race organizers had a 4-H camp arranged as the headquarters -- very convenient. After registration, and some time to chill out on the lawn, we gathered just before 9 pm for the national anthem (sung, I think, by the RD's wife, assisted by the crowd), and we were off into the night!

The beginning of the course follows roads, first paved, then dirt, climbing up onto the mountain, about 1700 ft up in the first 9 miles. It seemed to me that the crowd was going out pretty fast, so I opted to plod along at an enjoyable pace, running with fellow Dawg Phil Nissen. The roads leveled out a little after nine miles, so we were able to jog along and have a nice conversation.

After about 13 miles, the race course turns off onto some trail. At this point, we were up on a plateau, with the big climbs out of the way. But, this was not just trail. It was serious trail -- rocky, boggy, overgown, mossy, misty, hard-to-follow, and -- did I mention -- rocky? Incredibly beautiful -- at least within the narrow, 4-foot swath of our headlamp beams -- but incredibly challenging, requiring real concentration. I think our conversation slowed down a little there. When we entered the woods, there was a lone runner in front of us. We stayed behind him for a while, then caught him and chatted a bit -- as the trail became harder and harder. We figured he might want to stay with us, rather than run this tough stuff alone in the dark, but he showed no real sign of interest, so we moved on.

From what I have read, Cheat Mountain is one of those high Allegheny plateaus that occur in a few places in West Virginia that has a winter climate somewhat like northern New York or even eastern Canada. A good size river, Shavers Fork, runs along the top of the plateau, something like 2500 feet higher than the next river to the west, in the valley where we started the race. The climate and geology are apparently what gives Cheat Mountain its unique look. We were up and down small, steep, roller-coaster hills. The trails alternated between rocky and boggy, with a lot of mucky poorly drained areas. The vegetation was awesome, with the trails so overgrain by small bushy red spruce trees that it was hard to see the way ahead -- and the trail footing so overgrown with ferns that it was ofeten nearly impossible to see if you were going to step on a rock or in mud. This would be a challenge in the daylight -- at night, it was a true adventure!

Anyhow, Phil and I made our way along the Yokum, Turkey, and Crouch Trails -- and, after a short stretch downhill on an old road, were at the first backwoods aid station along Shaver's Run (Aid #3, 17.7 miles). The people there were really nice. Phil and I knew we were running a bit slow, especially with the tough trails -- and that there was a very aggressive cutoff time at the next aid station, the 23.2 milepoint by the 6 hour mark. We told our worries to the RD's buddy running the station, who assured us that we shouldn't sweat it, that they'd likely be flexible on cut-off at the checkpoint if we were close (as you might expect, this being being a first-time event, and all, so time actually required not yet firmly established).

So, off we went, downstream along Shavers Run for a bit, then up, up, up across the rocky Whitmeadow Trail. Amongst the running, there was a lot of walking here. Where the trail conditions permitted, we tried to get as good a pace going to make up a bit of time -- with the cut-off lurking ahead of us. A couple of miles before Aid #4, it dawned on us that we might not make it by cut-off time. Phil told me that I should feel free to go ahead and try to make it, if I thought I could, so I was off. The trail got better, little by little, and I got into a thythm, running faster, little by little. By the time I hit the last stretch of rad to the AS, I was flying (for me), running I'm sure at my 800 m repeat pace at Tuesday track workouts (8 min miles). As I rolled into the aid station, I knew I was just over the cut-off time, but figured I was close and running strong so would be safe. Six hours, three minutes. Three minutes, cool, right? Wrong. Race over. And, frankly, rudely handled (in contrast to the folks at AS 1, 2, and 3 who were awesome).

I stomped off across the road, full of adrenaline from my sprint to the AS, into the woods, had a (hopefully private) personal tantrum, pitching my water bottles, cursing a string of unpleasantries under my breath, as Brigitte and Margie tried to say hi as they headed off from their break at this AS (they came in just before me). After cooling off, I waited for Phil to come in, who arrived maybe 5 minutes later. He was also pulled (as were maybe a half dozen or maybe 10 people after us?). So, what to do? Wait for a ride back after only 23 miles of running? Naw, screw it -- we decided to run back to the start. So, we had a very pleasant 17 mile jog (and hike) back to the start, chatting all the way, running along the mountaintop in the moonlight, watching the woods get brighter and brighter as we ran down the same 1700 ft we had come up. A nice cool morning greeted us as we ran by small farms with cows, barking dogs, crowing roosters, mist over their ponds. We rolled back into the 4-H camp at 7:20 am, getting in 40 miles in 10 hours and 20 minutes. I have to say, I can't think of a pleasant way to spend 10 hours running than to run with Phil -- finisher's shirt or no finisher's shirt, running with him is a heck of a good time.

Would I do this race again? Probably not. It is a really cool race concept, the 9 pm start in particular, with (I think) some really pretty parts. But I just think they were pretty because I couldn't really see much! As roadtrips go, however, it was a really great time with The Dawgs.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Summer musings

The summer is not my favorite time to run. As a big guy, the heat hammers me. A run that is a pleasure in the winter can be a struggle in the summer. But, I'm getting my mileage back up, little by little with longer weekend runs, and keeping up some quality speed and tempo work during the week (of course, with my slug-like pace, "speed" is a very relative term).

Of course, it's all still fun if you run with the right people.

Topic A. Detestable summer music.

In an email about car arrangements to a run this weekend, Greg asks: "But here's a great question: Would you rather walk to Avondale or ride and be forced to listen to "I will possess your heart" over and over on "11" ?????? And what hurts more, that song or finishing Umstead?"

This was very easy to answer:
1. Walk to Avondale.
2. The song hurts much more -- running 100 miles is physical pain. Death Cab for Cutie music is existential pain.

Of course, though I find DCFC's music highly detestable, my kids find (almost) all of my music impossible to take. Don't ask to borrow my MP3 player. You may be sorry.

Topic B. Why do we run so much?

I saw this blog posting distributed on the Ultralist and it just cracked me up:

“To be completely honest, I despise running, HATE IT! Competing in these insane 100-mile running races all weekend long and all the training that goes with it is utter torture,” said ultra-marathoner Marc Skednick of Philadelphia as he applied super glue to a heel blister the size of a plum. “That said, I continue to do it because I hate spending time with my family a thousand times more than competing in this ridiculous sport.”

The rest is on (Ummm, to my wife and kids... ummmm, really, this is just something I find funny, not how I feel! Really! I'm serious!)

C. Team work and JFK preps.

Thank goodness for the kindness of fellow runners. Or, at least those I have been lucky enough to make friends with. You see, I got onto a team for JFK, the John F. Kennedy 50 mile race held annually in November in western Maryland. The Leashless Beasts. I am running on the same team with fast guys. Really fast. Several will finish this race hours (like, 1 or 3 or maybe 4 hours) ahead of me. What in the H-E-doublehockeysticks are these guys doing running with somone as slow as me on their team? I dunno. Other than the fact they are pretty cool guys.

Actually, though, besides the cameraderie and "hijinx," this team thing does me a world of good. We are doing some long weekend "training runs" together -- except for Mike, the guy in Atlanta -- little too far of a commute. This forces me to run long (which I might do anyway) but also to try to run at least some of it fast (so I can at least stay in the conversation for part of the run). And this might turn out to be a major help to me in training enough to break 10 hours, this year's goal.

I am looking forward to JFK. I really love the race. Some hate the tow path. I enjoy it. there has been a lot of grousing about the price this year. But, what the hell. It's JFK. The one and only. It's not really that expensive, in the big scheme of what I spend on running. I ain't whining. As I noted to some of my fellow TrailDawgs, I think of it this way...

New album for JFK loaded on my (clandestine) IPod: $9.99.

Dinner at Al Pomodoro in Hagerstown the night before with my wife: $75, wine included.

Hotel in Hagerstown: $100

Race registration fee: $130.

Local residents stand on the roadside, with their kids, holding charming, hand-lettered misspelled signs saying things like "Runers goe home" (with a backward N): Priceless.

D. The Paradox of DK.

How can something be both spine-tinglingly inspirational and stomach-turningly repulsive at the same time? Death Cab for Cutie cannot manage it -- they are only stomach turning. Some of the Olympians on TV this week -- now, there are some inspiring stories among them.

And then, there is DK. Dean Karnazes. Or, at least the (fictionalized?) public face of the man. Maybe it's just an image? Maybe it's really him? People say he is nice. He does lots of charity work. He would crush me in any run at any distance (it wouldn't even be a race). But some of the stuff that comes from the "Dean Machine" has the stench of a pile of bovine waste.

It started for me with his book "Ultramarathon Man." My running buddy Greg gave it to me. I owe him -- something (thanks? revenge?). It, in many places, reads like from-the-heart inspiration. This makes the book a real page turner. Enjoyable. I recommend it. Seriously. And then, there is the naustingly self-congratulatory stuff and exaggerations. Ick! Barf! Many have ranted extensive about it elsewhere online, so I won't say much more. But, it's like a car wreck on the side of the road. I want to look away, but can't.

Oh, nevermind, I am going to say more... If you have the courage, check out his 60 minutes interviews with Leslie Stahl at The King of Pain. Amazing career highlights like... Dean is in such a hurry he always pees while he runs! (how about the other number?) The "I had a pizza delivered while I ran" legend, recounted on live TV! These were so over-the-top, I did look away -- I could not watch the entire show. And, now there is "Dean -- The Movie!" (I'd like to see Sam Thompson -- The Movie! 51 marathons, 50 states, 50 days for Katrina victims, before Dean)

So, I am inspired to collect and cite great quotations, chapter and verse, from "The Book of Dean." Thoughts to laugh at and/or be inspired by, maybe both at the same time. So I close this blog with one of the many gems:

"I run because I'm not much of a car guy."
The Book of Dean, Chapter 18, Page 277, Verse 2.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Off Season

It's been an interesting learning experience in the month-and-a-half since I ran Umstead. Although I proved to myself I could complete a 100 mile race, I have been surprised by how much it has taken out of me, how long it has taken to recover.

So, I have decided to look at the spring of 2008 as my "off season." Time to rest and recharge the batteries. I was forced to take almost a month off running to let my achilles tendinitis recover. That's now at about 95%, so I am back to running. Easy running, though. Enjoyable, modest distances, modest pace. Solid recovery times between runs, either because I feel tired after a good run, or because my crazy spring field work schedule for work hasn't permitted daily running. It's a real change of pace to run only 3, maybe 4, days a week, and to be running less than 20 miles a week. But, it's been fun to run with Megan. Hopefully, this recovery period will let me run stronger for the second half of the year.

I tend to do better when I have goals and figure this is the perfect time to refocus on the ones I set at the start of the year. I accomplished the big one for the year, a 100 miler. I have two other ultras planned, 50 milers. One is the Cheat Mountain night run in August, which I'm using to get back in ultra shape, something to do slow and for fun with a contingent of fellow TrailDawgs. A slow buildup of mileage and intensity of training through the summer should get me get ready for that race. The other is the goal race, the JFK in November -- I really want to break 10 hours and plan to train hard for it.

I also had set a sub-4-hour marathon as a goal. I doubt this will happen at world famous Stumpy's Marathon ("Delaware's Longest Running Marathon") so think I'll target Steamtown for that. This means the summer will need to include some speed training, probably a mile repeat workout every other week. Maybe I can get my 5K time under 23 minutes as I train for this (another goal)?

And, the real trick will be to stay uninjured while doing this. My achilles heel could be -- well -- my achilles heel for this plan. It is still a bit tight and swollen, though not painful. I am hoping that a gradual training buildup while doing yoga will help in getting back in good shape without injury.

Well, got to run...

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run (Part 2)

The Race

Lap 1 (mile 0 to 12.5)

A surge of bunched-up runners headed uphill from the start into the otherwise peaceful, damp, pre-dawn air of these North Carolina woods. "What's the hurry?", I thought. I've got the whole day, and part of tomorrow, too. So, I took my time heading out, letting the crowds get ahead, power-walking until the first right turn of the course at the start of the course's "Airport Spur".

One thing I like about the Umstead course is the ease of breaking it up, mentally, into sections. I found these sections to be a convenient way to divide and conquer the course, reducing it to manageable pieces. The first 6/10 of a mile is the access road and trail for Camp Lapihio (side note: for the start of the race only, runners are routed out a slightly longer but wider gravel road). From there, the course does a fairly flat, 1.5-mile out-and-back "Airport Spur" near the park border with the Raleigh-Durham airport (ends is 2.1 mile mark). Returning from the airport spur, the runners pass the Camp Lapihio access road, continuing straight on a 1.3 mile stretch of the Reedy Creek Trail (to the 3.4 mile mark), which serves as a two-way connector to the main part of the course. And, the main part of the course is a pretty 7.2 mile, one-way loop, with a number of modest climbs and drops, including some steep little hills in the "Sawtooth 79 Section" (miles 7 to 9). After completing the loop (10.6 mile mark), the course connects back to the start by repeating the 1.3 miles of the Reedy Creek Trail, with the climb up Cemetery Hill being a highlight, rejoining (at the 11.9 mile mark) the 0.6-mile connector road and trail to Camp Lapihio (for 12.5 miles total).
The first pass on the Airport Spur was a really cool sight in the early morning darkness. As I jogged along, getting my running muscles warmed up, I was treated to a scene that looked like a procession of dancing fireflies flitting toward me in the hazy morning darkness, an illusion produced by the line of headlamps of runners on their way back from the spur turn-around. After passing the gate to the access road, the Reedy Creek Trail rolls a bit, then drops down a bit to the first water stop. I was running easy so far, with my pace between 10 and 11 minutes per mile, but made a point of stopping to force myself to keep my first-lap effort at an easy level.

After the water stop, the course makes a brief rise, and then becomes a l o o n n n g g g g g gradual downhill. The downhill was a pleasure to run, the road serpentining gently toward the creek below, as the hidden sunrise, masked by the gray, overcast sky, began to gradually light the morning. At the bottom, where a puddle-covered wooden bridge crosses Crabtree Creek, a sweet smell announced the presence of wisteria-gone-wild, with climbing bunches of purple-flower-covered vines festooning the trees in the creek valley. The nice, misty morning scenery continued as the road passed a small lake (Reedy Creek Lake) on the right, and then -- since what comes down must go up -- started up a mile-long, gradual but unrelenting climb. This was a walker, and would doubtlessly be one for the entire race.

At about the 5-mile point, the course splits off of the dirt road onto a narrower path, what I suppose could be called carriage trail. I stopped, again by design, at the water station and topped off my bottle, walking a short bit as I took a swig. Then, back to a jog as the trail bounced up and down and wound back and forth, much of it within ear-shot (but mostly out-of-sight) of a road (Ebenezer Church Road). Really, rather pleasant trail, with nice soft footing and enough bends to keep it interesting. After passing the 6-mile mark, the trail was mostly rolling downhill, with the descent ending at Aid Station #2.

Aid Station #2 was a welcome outpost of hospitality at quarter after seven in the morning. A row of aid tents were set up between the trail and a bridge along Ebenezer Church Road where cheerful race volunteers were recording runners times and offering wealth of hot food and snacks. I had determined ahead of time that I would take advantage of every aid station to ensure my calorie intake never became low, so I stopped to grab some food and let the nice volunteers refill my water bottle.

The abundance of aid at Umstead makes food and fluid intake an easy part of the race equation. I run my ultras with a simple plan, which has worked reasonably well whenever I have followed it -- every hour, I figure I need to get around 300 calories, 25 ounces of fluid, and 360 milligrams of sodium into my body. I knew I could count on the aid stations to provide an easy fix of 100 to 200 calories, plus water refills, every hour-and-a-quarter to hour-and-a-half early in the race and maybe only every two hours or so later in the race. For the rest of my calories and sodium, I had packed a small zip-loc baggie for each lap with enough Clif Shot gels, Clif blocks, Powerbars, and S!Caps to take between each aid station.
Though Aid Station #2 was a friendly place, and it would have been easy to hang out a few minutes to munch, I knew I had to minimize wasted time so began walking as soon as my bottle was ready, eating the handfuls of pretzels I had grabbed from the aid tables as I headed toward the mile 7 sign. From seven to about nine-and-a-half miles, the course climbs a little over 200 feet -- really, a pretty modest gain of elevation. However, the way the course makes this climb is where the fun is -- it does it in nasty, steep little ascents. Hence, the name "Sawtooth 79" for this section. These steep little hills were kind of fun on this lap (foreshadowing: not as much fun on later laps), with steep short ups followed by steep but shorter downs. As the course was following a soft dirt carriage trail, footing was great, too. I stuck with plan and walked every one of the uphills.

After the last "Sawtooth" climb, the course bears left onto Graylyn Trail and a great section for stretching out the legs -- a long, gradual, joyously runnable downhill, where the dirt road drops down under a power line toward a creek valley, ultimately ending at a stone bridge of Sycamore Creek. It felt so good to be able to run this with some longer strides, but I held back quite a bit, telling myself I needed to save my quad strength for the later part of the race. The section after the stone bridge heads back uphill -- I ran the lower part of it, but walked the majority.

Graylyn Trail, and the hill, and ends at its intersection with Reedy Creek Trail. I turned right, quickly popped into the tent at the unmanned water station for a cup of gatorade, and then resumed jogging as I headed up the two-way stretch of this trail. The jog only lasted for a short while. The downhill that didn't seem all that significant on the way out definitely seemed significant as an uphill in this direction. I walked it. When I reached the top, I noticed a small cemetery to the right, nearly hidden back in the woods -- ah-hah, this is the infamous Cemetery Hill noted in the course description.

Running the last few rollers on the Reedy Creek Trail and hit the access trail to Camp Lapihio, I was feeling great. Hell, I should have, I only had knocked out the first 12.5 miles! As I approached Camp Lapihio on a fun, muddy downhill (where it is easy to look like you are running strong), I noticed that my "crew" had set up chairs and bags in a small clearing just before the camp steps. They spotted me and started cheering, yelling that I was right on schedule -- their spirit gave me a real adrenaline rush. I walked the steps up to the time checkpoint, where the nice folks recording times had encouraging words. And, I was extra psyched to see my TrailDawg buddy, and designated pacer, Scott, waiting in front of the lodge ringing a cowbell -- which prompted me to yell "I got a fever and the only prescription is... More Cowbell!" (a rallying cry among some of the Dawgs).

Lap 1 summary: 2:21 lap split vs. 2:20 target for 24 hour pace

Lap 2 (mile 12.5 to 25)

My stop in the lodge was quick. With my full bottle, and a cup of gatorade and a handful of snacks in hand, I headed out and made a quick stop to say hi to the kids. I gave them my headlamp and took my Lap 2 baggie of gels, blocks, and S!Caps from them. From the area of the lodge and cabins, the trail essentially is uphill, so I had a chance to give my running muscles a break and let my walking muscles do some work for a few minutes.

On the Airport Spur, I ran more than on the first lap. The out-and-back design of the spur provided a great chance to see who was ahead of me (when I was outbound) and who was behind me (when I was returning). I saw a number of runners who, because we were running comparable paces, would become familiar faces through the course of the race. The tall guy with the long stride and neck bandana... the really tall woman.. red-shirt-hat-and-long-hair guy... bandana lady (they changed colors during the race)... green-shirt-and-moustache guy.. but mostly faces without names.

The Reedy Creek Trail was enjoyable as I jogged all of the flats and downhills, and even some of the easier uphills. I had it in my mind that I wanted to maintain a good pace on the second lap so was pressing, but not too much. On the way down the long grade toward the wooden bridge with the fragrant wisterias, I chatted with one of the other runners about how lucky we were that the weather was holding up. The forecast, yesterday, was for a rainy race. However, though the air was damp and the sky gray, we hadn't been hit by any of the predicted showers. Because of this, the temperatures were reasonable and the running conditions great, if a bit sticky. The light mist hanging over still, silvery surface of Reedy Creek Lake made for a peaceful morning scene as I started up the long hill toward the five mile marker.

I leap-frogged some of the familiar faces over the rest of this lap, through the couple of longer hills on the "front end" of the main loop (about miles 3.5 to 5.5) and through the Sawtooth 79 section (miles 7 to 9) on the back end... some people I'd pass on the uphills, only to be overtaken by them on the next down... some would pass me on the uphills, but I might catch them on the flats... familiar faces becoming even more familiar as the race progressed. I was still feeling good, and a number of my mile splits on the easier sections were down around 10 minutes

Coming in from Lap 2, I was still feeling good and excited to be on-track with my optimistic time goal. The kids were waiting for me just before the lodge, cheering, as I again took advantage of the nice mushy downhill through the camp area to run in looking strong. Another nice greeting from the timing crew, a quick run into the lodge for pretzels, a few cubes of boiled potatoes with salt, and a cup of gatorade and I was quickly back out the door.

Lap 2 summary: 2:26 lap split vs. 2:30 target for 24 hour pace

Lap 3 (mile 25 to 37.5)

Well, almost a marathon down and doing fine, I thought. On the way out for Lap 3, I stopped to swap out supply bags with the crew. Had I been taking my electrolyte capsules, Megan (left) asked? How were my feet? Wow, I was impressed, these kids have really caught on to the crewing thing!

Up to the Airport Spur, back again past the access road gate and heading down Reedy Creek Trail, down Cemetery Hill, and a quick stop at the 3.4 mile water stop -- there were plenty of packets of Gu, so I grabbed one for the road, keeping in mind my constant need for calories.

On this lap, I began to feel the effort of the uphills a bit. My body felt like it usually would on a weekend long run, a little tired but still no problem in keeping a decent pace at a moderate effort level. My pace slowed to about what I expected, maybe slightly slower, with most of my mile times in the 12 to 13 minute range -- and, in a few cases where they were slower, like after uphill walks, I would try to speed up the next mile to make up some time. Amazingly, despite a few periods of slightly misty weather, the rain continued to hold off, with the clouds even thinning a bit at times.

Just before the Aid Station #2 was the marker for mile 31. I looked at my watch -- 6 hours and 15 minutes. This gave me a real surge of adrenaline. Not only had I knocked out 50K while still feeling good, but a 6:15 time for 50K was not much slower than I might run a rolling trail 50K if that was it for the day! I continued to trade places with some of the same people on this lap. For quite a while, I was running behind a fella in a blue Happy Trails shirt (from the VHTRC, Virginia Happy Trails Running Club), sometimes close, sometimes further away, closer, further, back and forth like the bellows on an accordion. In the Sawtooth 79 section, I eventually caught and passed him, but we continued to "accordion" back and forth for the rest of the lap, with me in front of him.

The climb up Cemetery Hill began to feel like more of a climb this lap, but the stretch of access road and path into Camp Lapihio put a little spring back in my step, between the downhill direction and the knowledge another lap was done. Another round of cheers from the kids was great, but an extra voice this time -- "wow, look how strong he's running" -- was even cooler. My sister Tery had arrived!

Lap 3 summary: 2:41 vs 2:35 target pace puts me at 7:29 total vs 7:30 target, still good

Lap 4 (mile 37.5 to 50)

After another quick stop in the lodge, I went out to make a visit with the crew. It was great to see Tery and get some extra encouragement and a hug. She had driven down from the DC area just to see her crazy brother run this race. Steve, my future pacer, was also clearly ready to run and champing at the bit to join me at the end of this lap, him doing Laps 5-7 with me, Scott doing maybe Laps 7 and 8. After a change of socks and a baggie exchange -- my Lap 4 Zip-loc for my nearly empty Lap 3 bag -- I was back off onto the trails.

On this lap, running began to seem more like work. My training long-run had been 38 miles, which was really tiring -- and, at 38 miles on this run, I was also definitely feeling tired. A nice surprise, and a real energy-lift, was running into fellow Dawg Scott about six miles into this lap. Scott and another friend-of-a-runner were walking a lap in reverse and greeting runners as they came by. As I was basically running the race alone, at my own pace, it was great to see a friend at this point.

Some of the same faces that had become familiar the last few laps were still in the neighborhood, leap-frogging, one of whom was the blue-Happy-Trails-shirt guy. By Aid Station #2, we were about even, and so fell in together for a while and talked. He introduced himself as Bill (Turrentine, I later learned). He's a nice guy and experienced ultra runner, so we had an enjoyable chat, running much of the rest of the lap at the same pace. Not only was he attempting the 100 miler here at Umstead, but his wife was attempting to do the 50 miler, for the most part walking.

It was good to have company, because I was really beginning to get tired in the later part of this lap. Despite doing pretty well with my food intake, I was dragging a little. I was falling off my 24 hours a pace a bit more, with my mile splits now averaging somewhere around 14 minutes, more than a half-minute slower than my target. My stomach was slightly off, sloshy, but I corrected it quickly by taking another S!Cap. Above all, my feet were getting really tired toward the end of the lap. As I ran into Camp Lapihio at the end of the lap along the the rocky, muddy, downhill path, I was choosing my steps more carefully to be sure I did not make a dumb mistake and take a fall.

Despite falling a little off my target pace, I was pretty satisfied with my running at the end of this lap. My first 50 mile race, the 2006 JFK, took me 10:23, and the 2007 JFK took me 10:11. Remembering that, I felt great that I had completed the first 50 miles of this 100 mile race in 10:26 and still knew I could do another 50 miles -- a real measure of progress!

Lap 4 summary: 2:55 vs. 2:45 target gives me a 10:26 split time at 50 miles vs 10:10 target (but well ahead of secondary target of 12 hours)

Lap 5 (mile 50 to 62.5)

I made a quick stop at the aid tables in the HQ lodge and then went back out to meet the crew and get my light bag (headlamp and extra batteries) and baggie of gels. I was tired -- not doubting I could finish, but tired like I expected I'd be after 50 miles. And, to be honest, I was feeling a little grumpy. I apologized for it, but the kids swore I wasn't acting grumpy to them.

This was the point of the race where I could pick up a pacer and Steve was ready to roll. Now, as I alluded to before, Steve is an energetic (even hyper), positive, and talkative guy. But, I was not in a talkative mood. I was envisioning running along, grumpily, with him talking non-stop to try to encourage me --- and me snapping and telling him to zip it. Well, I think the guy must be a mind-reader (or was prepped well by my kids), because he was about as perfect a running partner as I could have asked for. He was quiet unless I wanted to talk. He jogged along with me calmly at my speed, even though he had the energy to push harder. Eventually, my grumpy mood passed, and we fell into some good conversations.

Early in Lap 5, Steve and I started running with Jim Sullivan of Florida. Jim is a very experienced 100 miler and knoew several of the other TrailDawgs who do ultras. He and Steve hit it off because Steve had just run a trail marathon practically in Jim's backyard. Lots of discussion of the race, the trails, and the (controversial?) race director ensued.

By the time the three of us hit Aid Station #2, my body was feeling like it was dinner time. So, instead of my usual routine of pretzels and potatoes, I had a hamburger. Wow, that was good! Unfortunately, the weather was beginning to turn as the evening came on. It had been surprisingly pleasant so far, with no significant rain and comfortable temperatures, neither hot nor chilly. But, the clouds darkened a bit and began to drop a light mist, then a few brief showers. At the same time, the temperatures gradually began to drop. I had an emergency poncho in my pocket as my rainwear -- compact, lightweight, and surprisingly effective -- so put it on as the weather got less agreeable.

Coming in from Lap 5, I was feeling pretty wiped. I was a 1/2 hour off my 24 hour pace target and, though my timetable included a 30 minute buffer, I had a hard time envisioning myself holding my 24-hour target pace for the rest of the run. I think the crew knew I was pooped, too, so they pulled out the heavy artillery -- an inspirational poster made by my very cool ten-year-old nephew -- thanks, Bobby! A couple of slices of pizza in the lodge were a big help, too.

Lap 5 summary: 3:11 vs. 3:00 target puts me at 13:38 vs 13:10 target (falling off 24 hour pace - I had given myself 30 minutes of slop in schedule and it was about used up.

Lap 6 (mile 62.5 to 75)

The balls of my feet were becoming increasingly tender and I knew I at least had hot spots, maybe blisters. Similar foot issues were misery for me at Laurel Highlands, so I resolved to deal with them promptly before heading off on Lap 6. I took off my shoes and -- too late -- I had the start of a blister on my left foot. I cleaned the surface, covered it with gauze, and then secured the gauze with duct tape ("the handyman's helper"). For the hot spot on my right foot -- slap a strip of duct tape on it. One toenail was also bugging me, as the swelling of my feet in my shoes kept it pressed against the top of the toe box. So, I changed shoes to a pair I knew fit slightly larger.

Between the fresh shoes and socks and the tape on the tender spots, my feet felt much better as Steve and I started into the lap. The weather continued to deteriorate, with the rain more frequent, harder, and patches of fog developing as the temperatures continued their gradual slide. Running with a headlamp through fog is a bit disorienting, the beam of light reflecting off the fog in a way that made it look like chasing a tunnel of light with gauze over my eyes. It was really heard to see in places.

Between the fatigue, weather, and darkness, my pace was beginning to seriously slow on this lap. However, others were also suffering, and many were dropping out. Around Aid Station #2, Steve and I hooked up with Alex Taylor, a great guy from Minnesota. Alex had done several 100 milers previously and seemed to be proceeding at about our pace. He was positive, encouraging, and funny -- it really helped me rolling through the suffering. But, my pace was still awfully slow, the second half of Lap 6 taking 30 minutes longer than on the previous lap.

However, there were two high points on this lap. When we passed the 7 mile sign just after the aid (the signs all findable by a glow stick draped on each), we knew we had passed a helpful psychological milestone -- "only a 50K left!" Steve was pretty amused that I could have the frame of mind that 50K seemed to be a minor task -- I suppose it was a kind of delusional thought, but it helped. Soon after, we passed the 8 mile sign, which staked out new territory for me -- the farthest I had ever gone on foot. I took a a little hop past the sign, another minor (and, again, delusional) cause for celebration.

When we came into the Headquarters aid station, we knew to expect that the girls and Tery had moved inside the lodge. Here it was, after 11:30 at night, and the lodge was bustling with energy. My crew was ready for me. The aid workers were cheery and got us taken care of quickly. As I lost my taste for my gels and blocks, but wasn't much in the mood for a lot of solid food, one of their offerings looked really appealing -- the potato soup. Wow! It was hot, had plenty of carbs and salt, and a little fat for taste. A couple of cups of that were just what I needed.

Lap 6 summary: 3:56 vs. 3:15 target, so total of 17:35 vs. 16:25 target, first lap significantly off target

Lap 7 (mile 75 to 87.5)

Steve and I headed back off into the darkness with Alex. Gawd, the weather was nasty -- cold, rainy, foggy. But, we were able to carry on a good conversation -- I think Steve (right), especially, enjoyed having a couple of guys to talk to. We encouraged ourselves by celebrating there was less than a marathon left. And, Steve was excited that this lap would take him past the marathon mark, the longest he has ever run.

As we moved along, struggling to see through the the thick gauze of fog with our headlamps, Alex made a great suggestion -- turning the lights out! With a few seconds for our eyes to adjust to the dark, visibility suddenly became much better. The main hassle was along two-way sections, where we had to battle the headlamps of other runners flashing into our dilated pupils. It finally struck me why, earlier in the evening, other runners moving with their lamps off looked so annoyed when we greeted them on the two-way sections -- we were blinding them.

Alex was fun to run with. On the way down Cemetery Hill, we passed a trio of ladies who were a lap behind us at this point -- Monica Nop, Debbie Daughtry, and (I think) a friend who was pacing them. Alex struck up a conversation by declaring that they were the "most beautiful women on the trail tonight." We had a good time joking around when we leap-frogged each others' groups, the irony of cold, wet, smelly (at least us guys) runners calling each other being beautiful or handsome in the middle of a woods at 1 am after 19 hours on our feet!

We maintained a reasonable pace in the first half of the lap, forcing ourselves to jog the downhills and flat sections (at this point, perhaps 50-50 jog-walk). However, my feet were becoming progressively more tender and it was clear that the duct tape on my tender spots had slid off. In addition, the lower parts of my calves, down into the junction with the achilles tendons, were becoming increasingly tired and, on my left leg, sore (I think because I altered my foot-strike to ease pressure on the left-foot blister). We reached Aid Station #2 at 1:44 am and I told the guys I needed to stop to fix my feet. Knowing it might take ten or more minutes, I told Alex I'd understand if he wanted to keep going -- happily, he decided to wait. One of the aid station workers led me to a chair in the back of the aid tent, and I gently eased myself down, stiffly pulled my feet up to where I could see them, took off my shoes and socks, and went to work. First, clean up the sore areas with rubbing alcohol. Then, pop the fluid-filled blister on my left foot. Once it was drained, another alcohol wipe-down. Next, a gauze pad, cut to the size of the blister. Then, to better secure it this time, I wrapped the duct tape entirely across the ball of each foot and up onto the top side of the foot.

As I was fixing my feet, I noticed a guy zonked out on a cot in the far back part of the tent. He looked absolutely trashed. I remembered him as a chatty guy from the start area who ran hard and fast, not far behind the leaders, early in the race. A couple aid station workers were trying to decide when he had told them he wanted to be woken -- and when they asked him, he groggily grumbled back, rolled away in his cot, and went back to sleep. Wow, what a crash he must have had. Steve and I commented how bad we felt for him as I refueled with soup and pretzels, preparing to head back out for the second part of the lap.

The Sawtooth 79 section had changed a lot in character through the day. By this point, 20 hours and more than 80 miles into the run, the little hills seemed as daunting as mountains. My left achilles tendon was getting worse quickly -- I was beginning to distinctly limp. The soreness, especially on climbs, was bad enough that I took to walking up the steepest hills in a zig-zag pattern, back-and-forth across the road. Steve was a patient pacer and hung with me, but Alex understandably had to keep moving, gradually getting further and further ahead and, by the top of the last Sawtooth hill, was out of sight. I knew that 24 hours was now well out of reach, but also knew (barring a really dumb mistake) there was no way I would not finish.

We arrived back at the headquarters lodge just before 4 am. I was exhausted, soaked, cold, and hurting. The kids had my stuff ready for Lap 8 and did their "crew thing" like a well-oiled machine, recognizing that I have run myself stupid by this point -- how are my feet? do I need new socks? am I eating enough? am I taking my electrolytes? John Straub greeted me -- he was already finished with the race and snagged 10th place. Scott Hodukavich was standing by, ready to pace me for the last lap (after already doing 2 laps). A very kind volunteer, Rhonda Hampton, and a nurse or medic checked up on me, seeing that I was pretty wiped out, and point me to a chair. I sat down to have something to eat and drink.

Lap 7 summary: 4:17 vs. 3:25 target, 21:53 vs. 20:35 target

Lap 8 (mile 87.5 to 100)

As sat eating, drinking, and trying to rest my hurting feet and achilles, my heart rate wouldn't come down. Instead, it began to flutter and stayed high. Crap, I realized, I'm having an episode of atrial fibrillation (a-fib). A-fib is an irregular heart beat that is stressful but not dangerous -- it's not uncommon for me to have very brief occurrences (a couple beats) every few days, but have only had extended episodes (more than a minute) twice before. Well, make that three times -- it kept up for five minutes. I got up to see if I could walk it off. The nurse commented I was looking kind of pale. Then, I began to shiver uncontrollably: hypothermia. Holy cats, what else can go wrong?

Across the room there was a roaring fire in a huge stone fireplace. Megan and Katie, looking kind of nervous, and Tery, trying to look comforting, got me a blanket and led me across the room to a bench in front of the fire. I continued shivering for five, maybe ten, more minutes in front of the fire, getting close enough that I was afraid I might catch fire myself. Finally, the shivers subsided. However, my racing, fluttery hear rate did not. I was getting depressed by the minute. How long am I going to have to wait this out, I wonder?

I did quick math in my head... OK, even if I have to walk the entire last lap and it takes me five hours, I still have time, I think. The cut-off time for finishing is noon. That means I could leave as late as 7 am and still finish. Given that it was only 4:30, I knew I could rest a couple more hours if I need it...

Still, these calculations didn't calm me. I was feeling simultaneously anxious and depressed, which wasn't helping the a-fib calm down. Someone suggested I try laying down, and the kids helped clear a place near the fire (next to the napping John Straub) and brought my stuff over. I napped for a few minutes (5? 10? 15? I'm not sure) but my heart was still fluttering when I awake. A medic came over, tooks my blood pressure and pulse, and asked me a few questions about my history with a-fib to be sure I'm OK. I have to get out of here, I think. I need to finish this. But, I worry, is it a good idea to try to run while the a-fib is acting up? Megan tried to calm me down. And, she managed to get an encouraging tone that sets me back on the right path. Why don't you get dressed warmly and just start walking, she suggests. If you feel too lousy, you can come back and rest some more. Just give it a try, go easy.

So, I got up, put on two additional layers of dry clothes, snapped my water bottle belt back on, put my Lap 8 baggie in my pocket, and threw my rain poncho back on (do I still look a little pale?). Rhonda, the nice race volunteer, gave me some words of encouragement. Scott was ready to go and pace me through the last lap. Steve (after a brief nap of his own) has decided he was up for the last lap, as well. [sidebar: Youth is a crazy thing. With no training beyond basic road marathon preparation, this 21 year old kid can knock out 50 miles and be no worse the wear for it]. Now, with the clock somewhere around 5 am, after almost an hours-and-a-half in the lodge, we were off into the darkness for the last lap, walking uphill from Camp Lapihio.

It was still dark, wet, and chilly. My heart rate calmed down slightly as I walked, more toward 150 rather than above 160. I decided to jog a little on a flat part to see how I do and, strangely, my heart rate dropped a little more and got less fluttery. Damn, I thought, I can handle this. But my feet, and especially my left achilles, were killing me.

We completed the Airport Spur and head toward Cemetery Hill. At the base of the hill, we could make out three other runners, lights-out in the dark, approaching us from the other direction. One of them was Carl Camp, who Scott had ridden with to North Carolina. After greetings were exchanged (it may have included a TrailDawg howl), Carl's pacer mentioned that he had to leave at the end of this lap. Carl seemed to be talking with a bit of a slur, and I wondered if he was hypothermic (like I was). A discussion ensued and Scott asked me if I wouldn't mind if he switched off to pace Carl for his last lap. I though it was a really smart, and nice, idea, so assured him I'd be fine with Steve for the rest of the lap.

We moved along at a slow but steady pace as a hint of light appeared in the sky. We tried to jog the flat sections and gentle downhills to make as good time as possible. I was hobbling, hurting, but knew it was in the bag. At around 7:30 am, as I hobbled into Aid Station #2, a shirtless runner blasted past us. Holy smokes, it was the guy who only a few hours earlier was half-dead on the cot at this same aid station! We yelled and cheered for him as we headed for the food table. [as it turns out, this "Lazarus" runner was Ray Krolewicz, an ultrarunning legend known for his naps]

The last pass through the Sawtooth 79 section was brutal, given the condition of my achilles, as was the long downhill on the Powerline section that followed. Steve and I got through it by setting goals for our jogs (or "yogs," as we took to calling them, channeling Sven from the AT&T wireless ads), picking out a spot a quarter-mile ahead, yogging to it, taking a walk break, picking another spot, and yogging to it. I was determined to try to jog half of this lap if I could -- focusing on little, achievable goals made the miles pass more quickly and easily.

I dragged myself up Cemetery Hill, another tough one. Soon after we were passed by a guy who seemed to be hobbling as badly as me, but was moving faster (yeah, passed on the home stretch, but I didn't care). As we turned onto the camp access road, it began to hit me -- I was just about there, I was about to finish 100 miles! Steve and I cheered on the runners heading the opposite direction, outbound on their last lap, as I gingerly worked my way through the last rocky downhill. As I ran up the final short stretch of steps to the finish, a stretch I had walked on every other lap, I was overcome by a wave of emotion and [in a serious violation of the Hardcore Manifesto] and began to get a bit choked up. Half a year of dedicated training, 27+ hours working as hard as I ever have in my life, and it was done! Other than at my wedding and the births of my kids, I don't know I've ever been so elated.

Lap 8 summary: 5:47 vs. 3:40 target, 27:41 total, number 69 of 104 finishers


The glow from finishing Umstead hung with me for days. It was almost immediately clear, though, that this accomplishment came with a price. My lower legs took a beating I did not expect. My calves swelling like big ol' fat, shiny sausages in the hours after the finish, with the left leg hurting the most. By the time I got home Sunday night, I knew that I had seriously offended the achilles tendon on my left leg and that it was an injury, not just soreness. Good thing I had the foresight to take the Monday after as a vacation day -- I could hardly walk. By Monday, my left ankle was becoming Red, Hot, and Puffy (hey, that could be a rap group!). I was able to get in to see a physical therapist I know through running and our kids' soccer team, Steve Rombach (Christiana Care Physical Therapy Plus), for a quick assessment. He was worried the problem could be as bad as a partial tear. Tuesday, still walking like an escapee from a geriatric home, I got into my doctor and she was a bit more optimistic (swelling was down a little), thinking I likely had a nasty case of achilles tendinitis and prescribing PT. However, she was also worried about the red, hot, and puffy ankle, thinking it could be an infection (cellulitis) starting, so she prescribed antibiotics and and ordered x-rays to rule out other issues.

As it turned out, the achilles tendon became less of an acute problem, day-by-day, little-by-little. After a week of lots of rest, ice, and PT, I was walking with only a minor wobble, good enough to help out with an aid station at the Bull Run Run 50 miler. Another week and I was walking normally, though not yet running. Steve's PT treatments helped a lot -- spinning on a stationary bike to warm up the muscles, massage to loosen adhesions and push out swelling, and cold whirlpool baths to further reduce swelling. The funky ankle swelling, I soon figured out, was an attack of gout (acute arthritis), which I have had before. Picture little needle-like crystals in a joint -- and then picture your immune system attacking them. Feels like getting a hot ice-pick jabbed into the joint. I wonder if other runners get this after ultras. Good thing I figured it out -- two days out gout medicine (colchicine) and and a gallon of cherry juice later, it was gone. Other than the disaster of my achilles tendons, the good news? Nothing else really felt all that bad after the race. My quads, hamstrings, and glutes were all fine. No crushing exhaustion, either -- I only needed 8 hours of sleep each night, only slightly more than normal. Just the calves were a bit sore.

I didn't run a step for almost three weeks after finishing Umstead and now, more than four weeks later, I have gently jog/walked maybe a total of 15 miles. It's been frustrating -- not being able to run sucks when running is a habit. It left me rather morose on some days. I tried to be patient in the weeks afterward, holding off resuming my addiction/habit to let the injury fully recover. I have managed to get in some OK cardio work by doing 45 minute sessions on a stationary bike at the gym on top of the sessions at PT, but, frankly, spinning on a stationary bike ranks somewhere on the Thrill-O-Meter just (barely) above tedious activities like sitting in the waiting room of a doctor's office, weeding the front garden, or listening to people whine about their running injuries (ha!).

I also find my changing frame of mind interesting. In the days after the race, I was hurting but on a high. At first I was not sure if I wanted to do another 100, but by a couple days later had decided that I would run Umstead again next year and break the 24 hour mark. Now, I wonder about the wisdom of that... it has become clear to me, really, that the race broke me down physically. Is it worth losing more than a month of my enjoyable, five-day-a-week running routine to recovery from a 100 miler? We'll see, with time, what I decide. In the meantime, I'm trying to convince myself to enjoy an "off-season" and looking forward to easing myself back into a running routine.

All of that aside, though, it's been worth it -- training for and running Umstead is one of the best experiences I have had in my life.


I owe a lot of people a truckload of thanks for being able to complete this race. First and foremost, my family for their support and encouragement -- I am a lucky man. Second, my pacers -- that crazy (and fun) college student, Steve, for having the fortitude to pace me for 50 miles and the positive attitude to make it enjoyable (this guy is a future ultra racer) -- and fellow Dawg Scott for being there and ready to help. Third, my running pals in the TrailDawgs -- training with them was half the fun. And, finally, race director Blake Norwood, assistant RD Joe Lugiano, and all of the awesome people who volunteered at the race, especially Rhonda (who, as it turns out, had completed the 50 miler before spending the night in working at HQ) -- you folks make the race a great experience.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run (Part 1)

The Big Chill

Tongues of yellow and orange flame leap from a large stack of crackling wood in the massive rock fireplace at the end of the headquarters lodge. It is 4 a.m. and I am shivering uncontrollably. My kids look slightly freaked out as they sit me on a bench in front of the fire, as close as I can get without bursting into flames myself, and drape a blanket over me. I have completed 87.5 miles of the Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Race. After hours of running through the night in rain and fog, the temperature slowly dipping into the 40s, I have gotten a touch hypothermic. On top of the shivers, my heart is racing unevenly in atrial fibrillation, somewhere around 160 beats per minute, even though I've been stopped for five, maybe ten, minutes. This has me slightly freaked out. The shivers pretty much subside 15 minutes later, but my heart rate doesn't. How in the hell can I finish this thing, I wonder, if I can't get my heart to stop racing?

Getting There

I'm not sure exactly how I ended up at the starting line of the Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run. Back in February, 2007, I was thinking about long runs to try, maybe the 70.5 Mile Laurel Highlands Ultra in June, maybe a 100 miler. I researched the various 100 mile ultras scheduled for 2008 and tried to identify a race that would be the most reasonable for a first-time attempt. The Umstead 100 seemed to fit the bill. It is reasonably close to home, a half-day's drive south. From all descriptions, it looked like a great event, especially for a first-timer -- a course that traverses rolling hills but is definitely not mountainous -- a trail-type course, but run on dirt carriage trail instead of rocky single-track of harder courses -- and, a reputation as a well-organized event run by friendly, encouraging people dedicated to helping the runners finish. I emailed the director, Blake Norwood, and asked to be put on the email list for registration information.

I signed up to do Laurel Highlands first, a beautiful point-to-point race across the mountains of western Pennsylvania (already noted in this blog). Well, the ordeal of running that long, rocky trail had me about persuaded to drop the idea of a doing a 100. The race is beautiful, yes -- but easy, no. It was the longest run I had even done and it made a real impression on me. Declaring it "the stupidest thing I have ever done," I told myself and my family that I would never run something that long again. No Umstead, or any other 100 miler. Somehow, though, as the memories of the pain faded through the summer, I felt better and better about the accomplishment of conquering that 70 miles. And somehow, as the memory of those tough miles seemed less punishing, the challenge of trying a 100 mile race became more and more attractive. So, on August 31, less than three months after swearing off long ultras, I received Blake Norwood's email announcement that Umstead registration was open -- and promptly registered the same day. Good thing, too (assuming I really wanted to do it), because the race slots filled in just a few days.

A 100 mile race is a big commitment, in my book. It requires -- for my level of running ability, anyhow -- a pretty serious level of training. Lots of long weekend runs, extra mileage during the week, a definite step up from the 25-to-30 mile weeks I was accustomed to running. The time commitment for higher mileage means more time away from the family. Sometimes I feel selfish, leaving for entire weekend days for long runs in the mountains, getting dinner started late on weekdays because of evening runs (I am usually the cook in our household). I count myself as very lucky to have a supportive family -- most of all, a supportive wife. Some spouses resent the time their partner is gone, hassle them about being away, about chores put-off or parenting duties needing to be covered. Not mine -- Jennifer is amazingly supportive and encourages me to achieve my running goals. My kids, my parents, my sisters, they all think my running hobby is great (well, maybe Mom worries some) -- I am healthier, happier, more relaxed than when I was overweight and stressed in my pre-running years. I try to do what I can to compensate for the absences, catching up on family time and chores in the later evening, scheduling around the kids' activities as much as possible. However, regardless, I know my running absences are a sacrifice for everyone in the house -- which makes me so grateful for all their support.

So, through the fall and into the winter, I ramped up my mileage, changing from a 4-day to 5-day-per-week running schedule. I did a lot of long weekend training runs with my great pals from the Trail Dawgs -- a series of runs on the Horse-Shoe Trail, a couple of trips to parts of the Mason-Dixon Trail along the Susquehanna River, the loop around Blue Marsh Lake near Reading, several great training runs at Fair Hill, all good for 15 mile, 25 mile, or even longer outings. I began to get in high quality runs during the week. I tried to do Coach Jim Fischer's Tuesday track workouts at the University of Delaware for speedwork as often as possible, probably averaging 2 to 3 times a month leading up to the race. Thursday night 6-mile tempo runs from Starbucks on Main Street in Newark became a regular habit. My speedy friend Greg Forgang was a great running partner for these -- sometimes we'd have a group, sometimes it would just be the two of us, me getting in an uptempo workout (8-1/2 minute miles), him getting in an easy run at the same pace (he's a quite bit faster than me). I also managed to squeeze in extra mileage during the week, running to the track or Starbucks from home or the office and running back afterwards. I got in a few good long races, including the JFK 50 miler in late November and the PHUNT 50K Fat-Ass Race at Fair Hill in January (as well as a crash-and-burn at the Hashawha Hills 50K -- no, make that 25K for me). By January, my mileage was up to 200 or more miles per month, well above my average mileage a year ago.

By mid February, my training was peaking. I built up to a 38 mile long run. I had done quality runs. I felt ready. I knew I was capable of finishing the race and running reasonably well. My thinking was... Primary Mission: finish the race -- Best Case: beat 24 hours -- Most Likely: 27, maybe 28 hours. My buddy Scott Hodukavich from the Trail Dawgs was kind enough to volunteer to pace me in the later part of the run, so I knew I would have the company of of an experienced, strong runner I enjoy talking with to help keep me going during the tough night-time hours. I also did another one of my ridiculously detailed race plans to make sure I had all my bases covered, this time putting it in a binder as a "race manual" (I don't understand why Jennifer thinks I'm obsessive-compulsive). I made lists of everything I would need to pack, what my crew would need to give me at various times during the race. I included a description of the kind of physical and psychological unravelling they might expect to see me undergo during the race, which was most disconcerting to my crew/kids. I also included a list of "motivational statements" they were instructed to use on me if I ever uttered the "Q-word" (as in "quit") -- they were really amused at having permission to say these kinds of things to their dad -- like, "you can't quit unless you need to be hospitalized -- and I don't see protruding bones or uncontrollable bleeding or loss of all bowel function -- so keep your candy ass moving!"

Now, about my crew... my kids are awesome. Katie (our 20 year old) was the first to express interest in coming down to the race. It was scheduled for the end of her spring break, so it would not present a conflict with her classes at UD. Megan (our 23 year old) soon decided to come along, too, once it was clear she was also free over spring break. So, the support crew was in place -- hey, if Dean Karnazes (world's greatest living ultrarunner) can have Team Dean, then I can have my own: Team Pete ("The Only Team that Matters"). A couple weeks beforehand, Team Pete was beefed up even more when my sister Tery decided she wanted to come along to see what her crazy brother was up to. Jennifer and Joe, very sensibly, stayed home, away from the crazy ultrarunners, so Joe could go to soccer games and Jennifer get ready for a business trip. So, with the roster for our family road trip complete, I booked a hotel room near the race and lined up our plans to head down Friday morning.

A little over a week before we left, Katie came to me with a question -- her friend Steve Slacum has run some marathons (as fund-raisers for African orphans) and was interested in seeing an ultra... could he come with us? Sure, I said. Then, a couple of days later, she told me Steve was reading the race website and saw that some runners had pacers, but it was probably too late for him to sign up to pace me for maybe a lap. No, not a problem, I told her, he can do a lap with me if he wants. So, I'd likely have two pacers willing to help, Scott and Steve -- cool.

Tapering was, in some ways, pretty frustrating. The week of the race, I really backed off my running. I got a hard time, via email, from Greg for not showing up for our Thursday night Starbucks run. He questioned my hardcoreness, suggesting I should be reassigned to Team Pansy, wondering if I was sitting at home eating bon-bons and getting a pedicure. I couldn't believe it -- how did he know? Yes, it was a major violation of The Hardcore Manifesto, but I needed to pamper myself before a run that long.

Friday at 10 am, Team Pete was on the road. Steve had just flown in at 9 am from a spring break trip to Florida and was brought by Katie directly from the airport to our house. I'd never met Steve before. He is not a shy guy, so we had great ride to Raleigh, the car essentially a rolling, nearly continuous, six-hour, four-way conversation (one of many things I learned -- he loves Dean, world's greatest living ultrarunner). Reaching the park just after 4 pm, we were directed to our assigned parking area a couple hundred yards from the race headquarters at Camp Lapihio.

The registration area was bustling, and a few familiar faces were in the crowd -- fellow Dawg Scott, who (besides pacing) was volunteering to help clean up after the dinner... John Straub, who I got to know while running my first 50K with him a couple of years ago... Carl Camp, tough veteran of many 100s... fellow Delmarva Sluggos Derek Hills, Amanda Bundek (aka Pokey Slug), and her friend Lisa, race director of Delaware's World Famous Team Slug Russell B Cheney 50K. Race orientation started at 5 pm in the lodge, with about 30 minutes of useful information on what we could expect in the race, and warnings about the expected bad (rainy, cool) weather. The orientation meeting concluded with the newbies (like me) being assigned the task of moving tables into place for the race dinner. The expected rain held off through the afternoon and into the evening, so we were able to enjoy the race pasta dinner at the picnic tables by the lodge. After dinner, we checked into our hotel (the Sleep Inn at the Airport -- pretty decent hotel for the price) and went to a nearby Target for a few last minute provisions for me and "the crew." I also had a few text messages and calls during the afternoon and evening from fellow Dawgs wishing me luck, which really helped keep me fired up for the run (thanks all!).

That night I got about the best sleep I have ever gotten the night before a race -- almost 6 hours! We had a roomful, four of us, and everyone was a bit wound up. I did my usual routine of getting all my race clothes laid out and gear packed so I wouldn't have to think in the morning. I managed to get to bed before 10, dozing off as the crew played cards. When the alarm went off at 4 am, I was quickly out of bed, excited about the day to come. I changed into the race clothes I had laid out and double-checked my pre-packed gear bags. Stepping outside into the the early-morning darkness, I was happy to see that the forecasted downpours hadn't (yet) materialized. The ground was wet and the air heavy with humidity, but the temperatures were comfortable, probably around 60.

We arrived at the park around 5 am, joining a long conga line of headlights snaking along the dirt roads to Camp Lapihio. At HQ, I hit the very nice breakfast spread, wolfing down some bagels and muffins and trying to stay as well hydrated as I could. As the start approached, I hung out with my kids/crew just off to the side of the crowd of runners congregating behind the starting line. Then -- BOOM -- a gunshot, and we were off!

to be continued (with race details)...

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Spinning sucks

Since Umstead, I've taken off running to let my aggravated left achilles recover. For cardio, I've been spinning on a stationary bike. Cripes, how boring! Trails, take me away... OK, whining complete.

At least it has given me time to work on my race novella...

Monday, April 7, 2008

Umstead complete!

A full race report is forthcoming, but I thought I would make a quick post about this weekend at the Umstead 100 mile race in the Raleigh-Durham area, North Carolina.

Umstead is a super race. A pleasantly rolling, readily runnable course. A nice time of year (maybe not as nice this year as others). Well-organized, almost lavishly supported, with aid stations handled by extremely friendly and helpful volunteers.

My family and I had a great time on our trip there. I was really happy and grateful to be able to complete this race, my first attempt at 100 miles, in 27:41, and to do it with support from family and friends.

I hope to have a complete write-up online in a week or so.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Section Running the Horse-Shoe Trail

I think running the Horse-Shoe Trail has been one of the highlights of the last half-a-year of running for me. The Horse-Shoe Trail is a 140-mile-long trail that winds through southeastern Pennsylvania, stretching from the Revolutionary War battleground at Valley Forge on its east end to a western terminus at the Appalachian Trail on a ridgeline a thousand feet above DeHart reservoir in the wilds east of Harrisburg.

A section-by-section, six-part run of the trail was the inspired concept of TrailDawg Angus Repper and his buddy (and Mileage Game arch-rival) Dave Krausse. Angus and Dave did every section, and covered every foot, of the trail between late September, 2007 and late February, 2008. And, besides running it, Angus was kind (and organized) enough to coordinate the logistics of getting everyone and their cars where they needed to be for each outing (explaining why I heard someone say "Now we had a chance to meet this young man, and boy that's just a straight shooter with upper management written all over him.") I was able to join them, and a rotating, fun cast of characters from local running groups (mostly TrailDawgs), for five of the six legs.

The H-ST is a real gem, as far as I am concerned. It provides an amazing variety of trail types and terrain only a short distance from the major metropolitan area of Philadelphia. It sneaks through suburbs, traverses long unbroken stretches of woodlands, winds through farms, cuts across small towns, and rolls up and down hills, large and small. It runs along rocky single-track trails, logging roads, a few streets, and even the rare stretch of highway.

The section runs ranged in length from 20 to 30 miles. These made for great weekend distance workouts. Angus and Dave would do them for their slow-and-easy weekend long run and be the first to finish. I would do them for my hard weekend long run and finish 30 or even 60 minutes later!

Here are some of my recollections from the various legs...

Leg 2: French Creek Rocks! (10/14/07)

Leg 2 is basically the French Creek portion of the Horse-Shoe Trail. We ran 28 miles or so on this beautiful fall day. We started in Warwick County park, getting in the gate just after opening as the park ranger was putting up the flag. The ranger was so friendly and chatty that we had a hard time getting away and onto the trail. The first mile took us through some areas of residences and small farms, and then the fun began -- 4 miles of rocky single-track trail through hilly woodlands... then a mile or so of road running gave us a little variety... then back to the rocks as we entered Hopewell Furnace National Historical Park and French Creek State Park.

Hopewell Furnace is an interesting place. Iron ores (hematite and magnetite) were mined in the area beginning in the late 1700s. The park preserves the remains of the big furnaces that turned the ore into iron for, among other uses, the American Revolutionary War armies. What really caught our eye, though, was the "Hobbit House" - a weird, pointy-topped log house that looked like it could be a portal to Middle Earth, but was actually just a log structure for making charcoal.

French Creek trails are a hell of a lot of fun -- assuming you like rocks. Of course, I like rocks -- I am a geologist. The trail does a wide, (appropriately) horse-shoe-shaped, eight-mile loop through the park, running up and down one rocky hill after another. We were passed (not always that quickly) a lot of mountain bikers, and even saw one bite the rocks (ouch!). Dave hid a welcome stash of rice crispie treats and gatorade by Hopewell Lake, so we were able to refuel a couple of hours into the run. After leaving French Creek, the trails were much less traveled, and pretty much devoid of mountain bikers, mostly running through state game lands, power-line rights-of-way, and lumber lands, with a few stretches of road.

Our return cars were parked about a mile from where the trail crosses Maple Grove Road. The group I was with (the tail end, of course) missed the fact that we were near our cars and continued along the trail uphill for another 1/2 mile until we realized our error -- bonus miles at no extra charge! This run was a great way to spend 7 hours of a pretty fall weekend.

Leg 3: Black Blazes (12/09/07)

This is another nice leg. We have the usual assortment of fast people (led by Angus and Dave) and slow people (me). It is a cold morning, very damp, with ice coating trails, roads, and bridges that haven't had much exposure to the sun. As usual, we kind of hang together in one group at the beginning of the run. Another uphill start through the woods (very nice) and then a couple miles of trail through the woods.

We pick up the first of many stretches of road for the day, this a nice rustic gravel drive with lots of ice patches (careful where we run!). Angus and Dave disappear into the distance, Cole with them. I am taking a more mellow pace, Brother Phil running at about the same speed, Margie hanging with us most of the time, too. As we approach Adamstown, we are on a hillside above US Highway 322. Looking west toward town, we can see the speedy Angus-Dave-Cole trio as small figures on a road traversing the opposite hillside, seemingly a mile ahead of us as the highway traffic roars through the valley in between.

After running under the highway and through the congestion of the interchange, we finally head off road again and up another climb into the woods. This is a nice stretch, with almost 3 miles of trail and a couple of hills that rise 400 feet above the surrounding valleys. After some zigging and zagging between road and trails, we arrive at Dutch Cousin campground and the highlight of every Horse-Shoe Trail run - food! Cole is waiting there for us, understandably tired from trying to keep up with Angus and Dave, and a bit chilled from hanging around until we arrived.

Navigation soon gets interesting. Just past the campground, an unhappy landowner has apparently decided he doesn't like the trail (boo, hiss!). He has posted no trespassing signs and painted black over the trail's yellow blazes (more boos and hisses). Holy cats, what do we do, where do we go? Backtrack to road? After a millisecond of thinking, the decision is easy: trespass! So, off we go through the woods, following the black tar blazes. (Please don't tell anyone)

We pick up yellow blazes after a mile or so and end up back on roads at the town of Denver, where we pound pavement for almost 3 miles. Ugh. Margie and Cole move a little faster than me and Phil, as we relax and enjoy the miles. Back into mostly woodsy trails for maybe three more miles, then another stretch of that blasted pavement, maybe 2 miles worth. Finally, the finishing stretch, rocky downhill trail through the woods, gives me a chance to let gravity do my work for me. We meet Cole, who has let Margie run ahead. I blast the downhill parts when I can, bounding from rock to rock, feeling like a downhill skier in a Warren Miller movie, knowing the end of the trail is just ahead. We hits the cars, cold but happy after a good day. I've gotten in 23 enjoyable miles (well, enjoyable except for the hard boring road stretches) in a relaxed 5:25.

Leg 4: Governor Dick (01/12/08)

It is officially called "Clarence Schock Memorial Park at Governor Dick" -- but it's so much more fun just to call it "Governor Dick," especially for men who still act like boys (do we ever really grow up?).

Governor Dick Park was the end point for the hilly and scenic fourth leg of the Horse-Shoe Trail Run. Perched on a 1,150-ft hilltop in the park is a 66-ft-high monolithic (and rather ugly) cement observation tower that provides a fantastic 360-degree view of the surrounding wooded hills and farm-studded valleys.

But I have gotten ahead of myself. We had to run 20 miles to get there. And these were some of the best miles of the Horse-Shoe Trail.

After dropping a return car across the road from Governor Dick, we headed back to our start at Middle Creek Reservoir near Kleinfeltersvilleburgtown. We had a nice sized group this day -- I think eight. This trailhead makes for a great start to what we expected would be a 24 mile day -- a 400-ft climb right out of the gate. And, starts like this tell something about a runner. Angus and Dave prove their hardcore bonafides by waiting until the end of the climb to realize they need a map left back at the car -- so run back down to the start, do the hill again, and quickly catch back up with us. Bonus miles at no extra charge!

Big hills and great views are the rule for the day. The hills aren't really that bad because we are traversing the top of a ridge for most of the run. In our first descent off the ridge, about 3 miles in, Laurie twists her ankle on a particularly nasty stretch or rocks, so she ends the run there and Scott accompanies her back to the start. We're down to six.

Another casualty of the rocks -- Dave's shoes. Blown-out sidewalls. Dave and I both wear Brooks Cascadia 2 trail shoes -- great shoes in many ways -- but we have the same problem with them: the uppers. The fabric is junk. Any running on rocky terrain will quickly abrade the uppers around the flex point at the ball of the foot. Dave just got a giant rip in the side of his (hello, sand and gravel! for the rest of the day). I have nice size holes in mine, growing larger by the mile. Mini shoe review: Don't buy Cascadia 2s, unless it is just to have shoes that look really cool while drinking beer in town on Saturday night (post-script -- the uppers on the new Cascadia 3 are much more sturdy). OK, enough candy-a** shoe talk. Back to the trail.

The trail is great fun in this area. Down to valleys at 400 or 500 ft elevation, up to ridges at 1000 ft, some above 1100 ft. Nice single track trail through the woods, across one paved road, takes us to the one of the best natural vantage point on the entire trail, Eagle Rock. Eagle Rock is a nice rock outcropping at the top of a ridge -- I like rocks, in case I have not mentioned that -- and provides a superb view to the north. I think we could see all the way to Lebanon (that's Lebanon, PA, not Lebanon, Middle East). We descend again, cross US Highway 322, have a welcome stop for refreshments stashed by Dave, and then climb again. The trail goes up and up. Angus and Dave go up very quickly and are soon out of sight. The others also eventually disappear in the distance, leaving me alone, dragging my big ole 215-pound-frame steadily uphill. OK, here is a paved road, the trail follows it so the climb ought to ease, right? Wrong -- it continues to go up and up and up. I pass an old guy hunting about 10 feet away from his car. He gives me a really strange look, probably wondering why someone is huffing and puffing, "jogging" up this hill in the middle of nowhere (as I am wondering why he doesn't figure that a short walk into the woods may yield more deer). The road, and climb, bring us to a series of radio (microwave, cell phone, etc) transmission towers that look out over the Pennsylvania Turnpike, which is only a mile to the south.

I catch up with Margie as she is signing us into a trail register at the junction where the trail leaves the road and again becomes woodland single-track. There are TrailDawg entries now in maybe half of the trail registers on the H-ST. We head downhill and pop out into the open along a utility right-of-way. Normally, a cleared power line or pipeline path is a downer after being in the woods. However, this one was fun! It rolls, up and down, giving us a chance to bounce across plenty of rocks and splash through mud puddles -- kind of like a little roller coaster ride. After a couple miles of the roller coaster, the trail ducks back into the woods and gets nasty-rocky for more than a mile, and then our only significant stretch of civilization, a mile of road.

A quick hop across Rte 72 brings us to another stash of goodies (mmm, Gatorade AM) and the back side of Governor Dick. OK, our second aid stash, that would mean maybe six, eight more miles? And, up hill we go, gradually, at first, along the old highway grade, then some rolling single track through the woods. And then, the long climb. I made up my mind I would run it all -- I figure I need a hill workout and had walked too many of the other hills that day. It went on. And on. And on. And finally, we were at the tower. The uphill run was a good workout for the end of the run. Figuring the others had been waiting a long time for us, and we still had a couple of miles to go, we continue past the tower and down another hill until we're met by Greg and Paul coming back up the trail to the tower. As it turns out, we're only a couple hundred yards from the parking lot! Trail guide users beware, it is wrong on mileage, short by at least 2 miles.

So, while Angus and Dave are out running a few more miles (20 isn't enough for these guys, at least when they had planned 22 or 23), we take advantage of the chance to climb the tower. Now, this isn't your normal observation tower with a nice stairway. Getting to the top means climbing a series of cold steel ladders inside the tower's thick, concrete, graffiti-scrawled exoskeleton. But it's worth the climb -- the five-county view is truly magnificent (and the viewpoint feels pretty safe because of the presence of a steel cage at the top to keep climbers from using the tower to practice rappelling). And so concluded the fourth, and perhaps my favorite, leg of the Horse-Shoe Trail section runs -- a 20 mile, 4:45 mile workout for me.

Leg 5: Buffet in a Box (01/27/08)

I guess we should expect lots of sweet goodies to eat when in Hershey, America's Chocolate City. Every leg of the Horse-Shoe Trail section runs has featured a fine selection of trail food stashed at key locations by Angus or Dave. Our friends Deb and Anne from the Harrisburg-Hershey area Crispies decided to join us for this run and offered, as the locals, to drop the aid stashes. But "aid stash" or "refreshments" doesn't quite describe the food and drink feasts they provided -- these were more appropriately called a "buffet in a box."

What the heck is wrong with me when a run becomes all about food? Sheesh. Next thing you know I'll be talking about shoes (oh wait, I already did). OK, so I guess I should talk about the running...

We knew from the map that Leg 5 would involve a lot of road running, some of it on busy US highways. I was not looking forward to all of the pavement. But, surprisingly, this was a really nice route, much of it following very pleasant country roads through pretty farm country.

We had a big crowd for this run. Our planned route was about 25 miles, starting at Governor Dick and ending at US Route 22, east of Skyline View (which is east of Harrisburg). Dave and Angus would, of course, lead the run. Four Lancaster-area runners (Jim/Jasz from MileageGame and a trio from Team Fun) joined us at the start to do a short (less than 20 mile) out-and-back -- and Jasz very kindly offered to take our bags of dry clothes to the finish! Deb and Anne were going to do the whole enchilada with us. The Dawg contingent was large -- Greg, Gerard, Margie, Brigitte, Scott, and Laurie (and a friend of hers from Virginia). Hunt planned to drive to the finish and run from there to meet us, and run back with us.

The morning was cold a crisp, with a thin crunchy coating of ice and snow. The fast guys (as usual, Angus and Dave, this time with Greg) went out pretty quickly and were soon out of sight. I hung back with the Team Fun group and had a chance to chat some with Christian. The first part (7-1/2 miles or so) of this run was very nice and easy, the beginning part downhill across fire roads on state lands and then trails and dirt roads through gently rolling wooded countryside. Toward the end of that stretch, the trail follows dirt roads that are essentially long driveways through new, countrified housing developments -- the markings are not current enough to indicate, in all cases, which routes are the trail and which are side spurs to houses. As we approached one of the more densely built developments, Anne (who had been ahead of me) was waiting on the trail for Deb. As it turned out, Deb and Scott took a wrong turn, went off trail on a driveway, and I had passed them without knowing. After a flurry of cell phone contact attempts (cell phones on the trail? feigned shock), they were back with us, just in time for... Buffet Number One.

A brief gastronomic digression... you know how things taste extra good when you are really hungry? After getting up at 4 am, driving over an hour to the trailhead, and running almost eight miles on a cold damp morning, it is easy to work up a hunger. And, Deb's Buffet in a Box was a sinful treat for a pack of hungry runners. Fresh fruit, sandwiches, junk food, energy blocks, gatorade, it was all there -- I halfway expected her to pull out an espresso machine. A group of six of us congregated around the buffet, munching away, feeling sorry for the out-and-back runners who had turned around just short of this treat.

After slacking for a bit too long at the food, we were back on the road -- and that meant, literally for the most part, road. We trotted along for eight miles through pretty farms and countryside on the east side of Hershey, and then zigged and zagged for a few more miles through town streets, around the golf course (including a brief detour on the back nine where we lost trail markings), and past some warehouses and old quarries. After a nasty little climb out of town, we arrived at the Hershey Cemetery where, besides the grave of Milton Hershey, was Buffet-in-a-Box Number Two, courtesy of Anne. We stood behind Hunt's car (who finished his run and met us there), sheltered from the biting cold wind, enjoying chocolate milk, Hershey's Kisses, pretzels, gatorade, and the abundance of other treats in her food boxes. A mile more of road running brought us to a nice stretch of rolling trail in the woodlands above Swatara Creek. When the trail comes out of the woodlands, there is a quite nice panoramic view of the valley and fields to the north before the trail drops down to cross the creek.

The run finished with a short stretch of field and woods along the west bank, and then about four miles of road running. Wanting to finish strong, and feeling like I had been a slacker hanging at the back of the pack all day long, I decided to run the last couple of miles hard and -- once I heard the traffic for Route 22 -- did the last mile about as fast as I could. A nice finish to an enjoyable day, 25.3 miles in 5:20.

Hunt was waiting for us with a van at the highway junction to take us to our finish cars parked at - where else, considering the food theme for the day? -- a pizza restaurant. The fast guys (Angus, Dave, and Greg) were already there and had ordered pizza for us -- totally cool. Jasz was there with our dry clothes - awesome! It should be noted, though, that the HS-T miles for the day were not enough for the fast trio, so they ran the couple of miles west on US 22 to the pizza place! So, make that totally cool and hardcore.

I think I gained five pounds on that run.

Leg 6: The End of the Line (2/24/08)

February 24 was just perfect for a winter run, spectacular really. The sky was crystal clear, a brilliant cloudless blue. Everything was covered with snow, less than in inch in the sun, a few inches on the north slopes and in the shade. Temperatures were nice, warming from 20s early to 40ish through day, and no wind to speak of.

Angus, Greg and I drove up from Avondale, dropped some food and drink about 10 miles along the route, and headed for the start near Route 22 east of Harrisburg, where we would meet Dave and Laurie (Brother Phil. Ethnarch of Fair Hill, drove to the finish and ran in to meet us en route). Dave found a great place to park, right in front of a house proudly flying our nations colors, where we were soon greeted by a smoking lady in her bathrobe yelling at her yapping dachshunds (one of which was blind and flailing wildly around on the ice-crusted snow).

After maybe five or so miles of mostly roads at the start, we were on a great mix of trails on PA state game lands -- a lot of very rocky single track, some ATV roads, a section of pipeline right-of-way, a flat-and smooth old railroad grade. The snow made for challenging running in places -- sometimes soft, like running in sand -- in other places, crunchy with a thin crust on top we constantly were breaking through. Mud in places, plenty of rocks in others, but the good fortune of snow covering many of the rockiest parts. The hills made it even more challenging -- three long, steep, and strenuous climbs in the last half of the run being the most fun, but fantastic views from the top as the payoffs. All told, with a few extra side excursions, I got in about 23.5 miles in 6:15 of running.

The fast guys -- Angus, Dave, Greg -- went on ahead after the first hour. Laurie and I brought up the back of the pack at a more leisurely pace, enjoying the great running weather and spectacular scenery. The fast guys were far enough ahead that they were already gone when we reached our food stash at around the 9 mile point. Gatorade and pretzels were just what the doctor ordered, though. After climbing one mountain and descending into a remote valley interrupted only by lumber roads, we heard howling that sounded more TrailDawg than real dog -- and sure enough, there was Phil, who had run in from the finish to meet us.

After navigating the last climbs and descent down the Appalachian Trail, we piled into Phil's car for the ride back to the start. And "piled in" is an apt description for this hilarious scene, six runners (the five sweaty males all smelling disgustingly bad -- poor Laurie!) stuffed into a Hyundai with seating for five. Greg demonstrated career potential as a contortionist, twisting himself into a space between the front seats, behind the stick-shift, and extending somewhat into the back compartment. Even more notable was that Phil drove 2-1/2 hours north to shepherd his running mates over the biggest climb, drive them back to their cars, and then drive 2-1/2 hours back home. That kind of friendship makes days like this one really memorable.