Saturday, September 15, 2012

Hallucination 100

7-hour downpour during the 100
51% finishing rate 
No pacer 
28th overall in 25:45
3rd place in my age group

  • September 7-8, 2012 
  • 4PM start from the Hell Creek Ranch in Pinckney, MI
  • 100 Miles on a 16.7-mile loop 
  • 15,000 feet total elevation change (The Garmin said double this but it could have been having a bad day)
  • Terrain is medium 
  • Aid Stations every 4 miles
  • 30-hour time limit
  • 133 starters and 69 finishers (51% of starters made the 100M. There was also a drop down option available for those that completed 4 loops. 13 runners used this)
  • Jonathan Clinthorne 1st place for Men in 18 hours 10 minutes 
  • Anastasia Andrychowski 1st place for Women in 21 hours 46 minutes 

Loop 1
0-17 miles (4pm-7pm)
It was hot, humid and I was shirtless. Around my neck I had tied a handkerchief filled with ice and the water was melting down my back. I still felt like I was suffocating.

I previewed the race using any photo or video I could find online. Somehow my mind formed this picture of magically even trail and gently meandering hills.

But of course none of that was to be. The trail had been washed out many times and there were piles of loose, decomposed dirt at the base of the hills and low points on the course. Often the ground was uneven and rutted. Tree roots rose up to grab at weary legs.

Loop 2
17-33 miles (7pm-11pm)
We were running through the dark. There was occasional rain that passed over us and it made the air a little more bearable.  At mile 23 I vomited a PB&J and that was some of the last food I would eat for the next 20 hours. I ran on maltodextrin, soda and soup broth. Most of my energy came from body fat slowly converted to energy.

A cold, hard driving rain began at 10PM that lasted for the next 7 hours. I finally felt motivated to run. The deluge was heavy and at times vision was limited to the ground just in front of my feet. Occasionally a large drop of water would land squarely on the top of my head with a resounding thump.

Each loop was about 17 miles and on the way back from the turnaround point, I was running with a Dr. from Thailand when my headlamp gave a very distinct on/off flash and signaled that the batteries were going to die. I had plenty of batteries 4 miles ahead and plenty of batteries 4 miles behind but I was not carrying any on me. Rookie mistake.

Mike Heider, #53, selflessly lent me his two mini lights and I tucked in behind two new friends Jerry and Dale as we headed back towards the main aid station. It was a very dark trek as I tried to preserve the batteries in Mike's lights yet give myself enough light not to twist an ankle.

It is still pouring.

Loop 3
33-50 miles (11pm-3:30am)
I made it back to the main aid station to my stockpile of batteries and sent out a silent thanks to Mike wherever he may have been.

I checked in at the aid station board and as I turned to enter the runner's area, much to my surprise, I found two bikers standing there complete with sleeveless leather vests, cans of beer and one smoking a cigarette! A second surprise "Can I fill your bottle?" These guys were volunteering at the aid station!

I was getting ready in the tent and I could see the carnage for this race was starting. A stronger runner than I was dropped even though she looked solid the first few laps. There was a group huddled around a heater in their wet clothes and blankets. And as I donned an extra layer, someone gave me a dire warning that parts of the trail were completely washed out.

My new biker pal filled my bottle, changed my headlamp batteries and got me absolutely pumped up to go back out! The next morning when I shuffled into camp I saw him sitting in a golf cart and we were both so psyched that I was still going that we shared a big high five.

The next 17 miles of running were mostly solo in the rain. It was fun to trek through the night like that.

Loop 4
50-67 miles (3:30am-8:15am)
I left for my fourth loop and it was getting cold. The trails were channels of running water and that loose decomposed dirt had turned into a thick mud. One climb was so slick that I used some small plants to pull myself up to a ledge.

I rolled into the aid station at mile 54 and knew I had to stay there to warm up. Both the temperature of the air and my body had dropped considerably. I waited around and watched while the DNF's piled up. After 45 minutes, one runner's boyfriend picked her up and she was kind enough to give me her poncho. I headed back onto the trail and started to warm up. That was about the time that the rain stopped!

I headed back from the turnaround point and daylight was on the horizon. A few miles later the 50k'ers and 50M'ers appeared and they were hauling ass in the outbound direction.

Mile 67. Returning to the aid station after a night in the rain.

Loop 5
67-83 miles (8:15am-1:15pm)
I said to myself that I would set myself right before I left the aid station so I changed out my clothes and took care of my feet for the 3rd time. There were no blisters to break because my feet were macerated and looked strikingly similar to the ruffled potato chips.

This loop felt like the slowest to me but at least the humidity was gone. There was a new mental assault to deal with as the 50k'ers and 50M'ers were blowing past at much faster speeds. Oh to have fresh legs! The constant passing made it tough to get into a rhythm and I continuously had to step aside. The runners were absolutely kind about this but it added a mental challenge.

Loop 6
83-100 miles (1:15pm-5:45pm)
Mile 83. Heading back out on the final loop.

It felt great leaving for that last loop! Granted I couldn’t move my ass any faster but I had a much better experience than Loop 5. My finishing time was going to be slower than planned (25:45) but I was happy it was hard and that I earned this finish.

I kept myself shuffling forward until a few miles before the end where there were a couple of steep downhills. Descending felt similar to getting hit with a baseball bat in the quads. "HEY! –SMACK-- I just wanted to remind you this is 100 miles."

As soon as I heard the band I was in striking distance of the finish line. I had a good surge and ran it in. Then I dropped on all fours to do some push ups.


3rd place in my age group
The 100M buckle

"3 days of peace, love and running". No kidding.
On site camping
The finish
Bands Friday night and Saturday
Resting before the start

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Rocky Road 100

4th 100 miler
1st sub-24
21hours 31minutes
12th place

  • February 18-19, 2012 
  • 100 Miles on a 7.5-mile out-and-back course 
  • 18,000 feet total elevation change 
  • All horse trail with occasional street crossings
  • Aid Stations every 2.5 miles
  • The course is marked by an obvious three-rail horse fence 
  • 6AM start in Coto de Caza Sports Park, Coto De Caza, CA
  • 34-hour time limit  
  • 120 starters and 87 finishers (73%. There is also a drop down option available for those that complete 60 miles)
  • Jon Olsen 1st place for Men in 13 hours 14 minutes 
  • Jeri Ginsburg 1st place for Women in 18 hours 45 minutes 

Six legs on this 7.5-mile out-and-back course with a final, 5-mile out and back.

I chose Rocky Road because:
  • I wanted to complete one more 100 miler before our first child was born in April 
  • I had been going up against gut crushing, technical mountain races for my first three 100's and I had not tested myself on a fast 100
  • It offered a controlled, consistent environment where I might learn more about my mind and body as I progressed through the 100-mile distance 
  • I wanted to run a 100 miler in less than 24 hours and the course is entirely on horse trail with no technical terrain and relatively low elevation change 

Differences going in this race compared to previous 100's:
  • For the first time I would be running a 100 without a pacer 
  • I had intentionally reduced my training regime to see if I could run 100's with much less training, which would free up more time to be with my family. (My previous training plan was 80 miles per week and this new plan was 50 miles one week alternating with 30 miles the other)  
  • I would be running in a state far, far away and would not have familiar faces

My stomach typically has a complete meltdown between miles 25 and 60 and then I don't take in enough calories. This makes it much harder to perform so for this race I planned to add maltodextrin powder to my water. This would give me extra calories in a liquid form which is much easier to take in.

I did face one hurdle of how to transport this across the country. The maltodextrin comes in a fine white powder and is sold in a container shaped like a powder keg. My buddy suggested I separate it into plastic bags and bring it in my carry-on... Thankfully Rob, the Co-RD, was really helpful and I had the manufacturer ship him one container.

Pre-Race Briefing
When we landed at John Wayne Airport, we were taxiing towards the gate and from my window I saw a private plane with a 360-degree bubble-shaped cockpit coming the other way. I was too shocked to take a photo even though I was holding a camera.

At the Pre-Race Briefing they served some pretty delicious food and after a second helping I walked over to the trophy table and took the photo of the two buckles below. I had been on the fence about pushing for a sub-24 when a few days before the race I noticed the USATF (USA Track & Field) elevation profile that read 20,000 feet of vertical in this race instead of the 10,000 I thought I saw when I had signed up. Earlier in this report I listed a number of differences between this race and my previous 100's and the one that I kept thinking about was that I had trained on 50% less mileage. In other races I had known some friends that blew up from pushing too hard. But seeing those buckles side-by-side helped me make up my mind. Screw it, I'm going for it.

One advantage of flying from the east coast to the west coast to race is being able to fall asleep at 8PM PST
and then to be wide awake and chipper at 4AM!

Last minute race preparation at the start. I ate 4 Entemann's donuts.

Leg 1 (Miles 0 to 15)
I went out hard for the first leg of a 100 mile (2h 25m). Some of the downhills were steep and I had to lean only a little ways forward to bomb down. I was cruising along the course and I was trying to memorize the profile since I had another 5 laps to go after this.

The way out is 7.5 miles and the first 5 are mostly downhill with some abrupt uphills.
The next 2.5 miles reverse and are mostly uphill with a few quick downhills.
These sharp up and downs is how the total elevation change reaches 18,000 ft!
 The turnaround is at mile 7.5 and then the whole roller-coaster happens in reverse.

The race is held in the Coto de Caza Sports Park where they filmed the Real Housewives of Orange County.
[Most of the photos in this post are from The Green Girl who generously allowed me to use them without knowing who I was or what I was about. Thank you Green Girl!

Leg 2 (Miles 15 to 30)
On the second leg the temperature rose into the 60's and I was not used to this. It is still winter in NJ and the previous weekend I had been training in light snow! The heat was absolutely oppressive and I started to run in the shadows of the fence even though I knew it did not make sense.

The second leg of the race was a low point as my glycogen stores depleted and I was overheating. At the 7.5 mile turnaround there was a tray of salty focaccia bread which helped propel me back to the start.

This three-rail horse fence marks the entire course.

Leg 3 (Miles 30-45)
I needed to cool my core temperature so I switched to a handheld bottle filled to the brim with ice and soda. Wow! The caffeine coursed through into my system and brought me back into focus. For the rest of the day I refilled my bottle with soda even though I knew it wasn't a good idea. I should have switched my fuel back to the maltodextrin but my senses were pretty sharp and brewed coffee would have been too hot plus I don't think they had it.

BTW one 20oz. soda has 250 calories, 75 mg of salt and 65g of sugar which is equal to 17.25 sugar packets according to 17 sugar packets. 17. sugar. packets.

There was an aid station every 2.5 miles and I blew through most of them. Occasionally I would spend a minute to refill a low bottle or grab a handful of chips but I minimized my time at the aid stations.

I found that so much of the course was runnable and there were no long climbs to break up the running. Sometimes I would just tire and would have to slow down to a walk. I wasn't used to quicks up and downs. Walking was more comfortable but it ate up precious time so before I fully recovered I would remind myself to have discipline and would start running again. I wanted that sub-24 buckle and little decisions like this helped to make it more of a reality.

What? I missed this sign on the first 2 passes. This is a densely populated suburb with two golf courses, tennis courts and mountain lions?
After the race I learned that "Coto de Caza" actually means "game preserve" in Spanish.

Since the course was an out-and-back, runners constantly passed in the opposite direction. We greeted one another with words of encouragement: "Great job" "Looking strong." But I had been pushing hard for the many hours and as I approached another runner my brain misfired and I said loudly and clearly "GOOD GAME!"

Leg 4 (Miles 45 to 60)
I reached the 50 mile mark in 9 hours and 25 minutes. I still did not think that I had the sub-24 in the bag since those last 20-30 miles are so unpredictable. And as I mentioned before, one of my concerns was that my legs might blow up and I would be forced to walk. If this second half of the race took 30% longer than the first half then that would push me over the limit.

It was starting to get dark so I carried my headlamp. At the mile 50 aid station I suddenly felt very, very nauseous. My stomach was not absorbing the 17 packets of sugar per bottle and I was feeling it sit on the bottom of my stomach. It felt like I had ingested sand. The urge came on pretty strong so I moved off to the side and heaved. There were a few teenagers volunteering at that aid station and I could their shock and horror. But hey, it's an ultra, it worked and I felt like new. I switched back to the maltodextrin powder, took some NoDoz and felt pretty good as I moved into the second half of the race.

I remember looking up and seeing the cypress trees standing out against the sky. Very cool.

Leg 5 (Miles 60 to 75)
The sun was going down and the headlamps were coming on. The residents of Coto de Caza started heading out for their Saturday night.

Throughout the day I passed many residents taking walks and one even riding a horse. They were all very welcoming and offered lots of encouragement to the runners. But as I reached one of the intersections there was a couple in a Mercedes stopped at a stop sign. Two runners were crossing in front of their car and the man threw both of his hands up in the air and started shaking them because he had to wait a few seconds. After I saw his reaction I just had to pass in front of his car even slower than they had.

Leg 6 (Miles 75 to 90)
Earlier in the day I felt something tight in the upper part of my left calf and I assumed it was cramping. I popped a few S-caps and that seemed to take care of it. Later in the afternoon I felt a strain in the lower part of the left calf just above the ankle. I took more S-caps and it also went away. Then around mile 80 I felt a very sharp pain in the back of the knee and I yelled out loud. 

Something was definitely wrong and I had never felt anything like this before. Suddenly I realized that the calf cramps and the knee were all related. “Oh ___”. What could I do? 80 miles into a 100 and I was making great time. This was some bad news and I did not know what it meant yet. I tested the leg with different strides and force to find out exactly where and what caused the pain. The sharp pain came when the leg extended and I figured out that if I shortened the stride for the left leg then there was no pain. It looked a little awkward but I could actually run better like this than I could walk! 

I kept on racing but of course there were times that I had to walk or at least transition to a walk. The sharp pain returned whenever this happened and sometimes it would be too much. I would have to grab onto the white fence for support. I considered all of my options and what each of them would mean. I continued the race with the adjusted stride. 

The NoDoz wore off when I was about 10 minutes from the mile 87.5 aid station. I started falling asleep while running and I started listing side to side like a zombie. I had been hoping to make it back to the mile 90 before this happened where I heard they were finally serving coffee. Unfortunately I knew I wasn't going to make it back with taking a nap. At the aid station I fell into a chair and asked the family volunteering to wake me up in 10 minutes. While I was sleeping I overheard their hushed conversation that there will be more runners like this shortly. I was too far into sleep to tell them that it is 3AM east coast time. They had about 3 more hours before there were more zombies on the trail.

Final 5 mile out and back (Miles 80 to 90)
At mile 90 I pulled into the start/finish area and sat in a chair. I started in on a coffee and was readying myself mentally for the last 10 miles. I had just sat down when coming across the line were three runners that I had seen at the last turn around. I thought I was much further ahead! The coffee splashed on the ground and I launched myself out of the chair.

I kept a hard pace to put as much distance between us as possible. I was hoping that after I hit the 5 mile turnaround there would be enough of a gap that I would not be caught. But the course had those abrupt changes in vertical and this forced me to transition from fast to slow. I was getting those sharp sensations in my leg and it felt like the muscle had locked tight. I could only push down and behind without pain and I was losing control of my stride.

I had been drinking plain water for a few hours now and when I hit the aid station at 92.5 miles I made a 50/50 mix with Mountain Dew. I never really had much of the coffee and I wanted to be focused again. Only a mile or so down the road my stomach turned. I went over to the fence and retched over the side. I was half laughing because the fences were the perfect height to do this! Runner #9 came over to me and she rubbed my back and asked if I was ok. This made me feel so much better. Ultrarunners always seem to be such great people.

At mile 95 I climbed up the hill to the final turnaround. As I bombed back towards the finish I saw one of those three runners from mile 90 only about a half mile behind me. I pushed on as fast as I could with my hobbled stride but it was much more difficult than before.

But I was getting psyched for the end and I thought, “This is it. You don’t have to pass this place again.” I made it past this one ginormous mansion that had a driveway hundreds of yards long and I was getting close. I started counting down the cross streets as I made it closer to the end. “4, 3, 2, 1.”

I made a left at the cones and ran up that last hill to the finish line. The official time was 21h31m.

It was around 3AM PST and I changed into every clean layer I had and sat in the passenger seat of the rental car. I was psyched to have my sub-24 silver buckle and surprised I had finished 12th.

The spike in speed before mile 60 was a planned sock change and foot maintenance. The spikes at the end were the leg.

The morning after I was hobbling around but luckily there were no sharp pains. 6 weeks later with lost of rest and ice and I was, thankfully, ok.
Here's our little Maya keeping me company while I write this race report.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Balled Eagle Fatt Ass 100, well... 50

                    While walking up the hill on the way towards the Kennedy Peak Observation Tower, we are 
                    about to pass in front of two weathered strangers sitting on the side of the trail in front of a small fire. 
                    They are wearing a patchwork of hunting gear and flannel. 

                    Sniper asks in his friendly Virginian banter "Is lunch almost ready?" 
                    The chilling response: "Looks like it's walking up the hill right now."

How this race came to be and the ties between us (The short, short version)
All of us are friends and have paced, ran races together or crewed one another. Each of us had at least one medium to hard 100 under the belt. Sniper had run hundreds of ultras, thirty nine 100's and is our official ultrarunning mentor.

Zoe (crew), Jim (runner), Seth (crew), David/Sniper (Race Director and runner), Dave (runner), Mike (runner)

In October 2011, at the brunch following Grindstone, I was talking with Sniper and shared the recent news that my wife and I are expecting our first in April. We talked about how I wanted to run one more 100 before my life changed forever. Sniper offered to accompany me so he could help me solve an eating problem where I stop taking in solid foods in the latter half of 100's. This sounded like a great idea but in my mind I thought we would choose one of the established races with volunteers with walkie talkies, course markings, etc. but this was not to be. I did not know but the wheels had started churning and the newly crowned Race Director, Sniper, had begun to formulate a plan to craft The most demonic, badass race east of the Rockies. And this is our story.

Relevant Details Leading up to the Start
I live in NJ and Sniper in VA and so we talked and texted about this race many times during the planning stage. One ground rule David established early on was that we would move as a group and no one would be left behind. The course itself was kept completely secret from the runners so that there was no chance the Forest Service would hear about it through the ultra forums. And since we did not see a map until the night before the race and there was no elevation profile, much of our mental preparation had been clouded. Only Sniper truly knew what awaited us! The anxiety was only heightened with exchanges ahead of the race including the following:

                              David sent me a text and said the first question on the post-race survey will be "Are we still friends?" 
                              I laughed and then he said "No really."

Considering that I have all black running gear and it was hunting season,
it was a good thing we stopped at Cabella's in PA.
I was thinking about my baby girl on the way down to VA
and how I couldn't afford to take a head shot. 
Then we painted Jim's car so we would blend in with the locals.
The leaves had turned two months ago and the trees were barren.  The drive down on Friday was overcast and's prediction for Saturday was a high of 47 and low 28 with a 30% possibility of snow showers developing later during the night. Sniper called to say the number of runners had dropped from 9 to 5. As we drove towards Virginia I remember looking out through the front windshield and thinking the landscape looked nothing but cold.

Given to us at our last meal

The night before

We suspect that Sniper is a major stockholder at The Dollar Tree because most of his stories, experience and guidance about life will somehow reference this store. Anyway, he picked up all of our supplies from there which made this an affordable and very well stocked race. He continuously went above and beyond the call for a Fatt Ass race including giving us each a huge thing of SWAG in a beer mug. At 10:30PM we finally settled in at the hotel for a few hours of restless sleep with a 3:30AM wake up call.

Mile 0 to 7, Signal Knob to Aid Station #1 at the Veach Gap Parking Lot
We met the first group of volunteers in the parking lot of Signal Knob at 5AM. There were no less than 5 people volunteering for the first shift and again this shows you how much effort and coordination Sniper put into this race. We were immensely grateful to the volunteers for trading off their sleep with support for this race.

Sniper welcomed us all to the inaugural Balled Eagle and named the race. Unfortunately the explanation for the name can only be shared with runners and volunteers and I felt compelled to share this so that readers understand the name of the race is spelled correctly.

I stepped out of the car and put the rest of my gear on. Then while we stood around in the cold waiting for others I second guessed my layers and added an extra shirt. Of course the extra shirt came right back off in the first few miles so that is a reminder to trust your experience!

We started climbing Sherman Gap Trail towards Little Crease Mountain along with our first pacer, Adam, who was sticking with us for the first 30 miles. The sky was still pitch black as we wove up and down the mountainside using headlamps for illumination. All of us were feeling pretty great with the exception of Mike who had been nauseous for the entire ride down yesterday. He could not tell if it was motion sickness or if he was sick but since the feeling did not fade in the past 8 hours we were leaning towards a bug.

Mike, Dave, Yours Truly in my Tron Jacket, Jim, Adam (pacer and crew)

We went over a few stream crossings and one or two of them were pretty tricky. As we summited our first mountain Mike was looking very pale and this was worrisome. It was around 30 degrees F but we could see he was sweating heavily and rivulets of water were coming down his face. Honestly it did not look like he was going to make it farther than the first Aid Station.

As we started cruising down the mountain for a long, pleasant descent we could see the sun starting to rise on the horizon. The sky was changing colors from black into deep hues of blue which is one of my favorite moments during this sport. While we were crossing a stream on wet rocks, Dave slipped and dunked his foot in some icy mountain water.

Sniper on a stream crossing

The sun was now climbing and we had arrived at the first aid station to a smorgasbord of food. I gorged on anything and everything knowing that later in the race my stomach would reject all solid food. As I write my blog I still feel remember how the spice cake with white frosting was so very delicious. I tore into that as well as a couple of ham and cheese quarter sandwiches! The volunteers Sniper recruited were top notch: positive and wanting to help out as much as possible.

Mile 7 to 12, Veach Gap to Aid Station #2 at Milford Gap Road
Fortunately Mike's color was returning and so he decided he would go back out and then take one leg at a time. We headed back up the mountainside and onto the Massanutten Trail which is along a ridge. We were all pretty energetic so there was a lot of banter and catching up with old friends. The scenery was impressive and the trails were pretty fun although a good number of them were coated with several inches of leaves which can hide ankle twisting rocks.

This is the much improved Mike

Sniper started regaling us with history lessons about Front Royal including a few about one Captain Daniel Morgan (1736-1802). Captain Daniel apparently punched his superior officer for which he received 499 lashes. Usually this was fatal but he lived only to be shot a little later on in life which he also happened to have survived. Curious about this, on I read that he was "seriously wounded by a bullet that hit the back of his neck, knocked out all his teeth in his left jaw and exited his cheek." After the 499 lashings and the bullet he then went on to build a road near Front Royal that is still in use.

Waiting on another part of the ridge were two of the volunteers, Carter and Brian, and they paced us for a few miles as we headed towards AS #2. Mike was looking significantly better and Carter had a theory about what could be happening to his bug. As she pointed out after the race this comes from "a lot of disparate sources". I think the theory is pretty cool and I like the logic:

When athletes are working out at a high-intensity threshold, intense prolonged exercise causes a slight depression in immunity. However in moderate and lower-intensity exercise, there is serological data (blood serum and other bodily fluids) that demonstrate that the immune system is temporarily boosted. The pace Mike was exercising at probably boosted his metabolic activity which included his immune system. His core body temperature was also higher which created the same effect as having an induced fever. The body’s responses then increased the body’s ability to attack and neutralize the pathogens. This created a hostile environment for the bug which prevented it from flourishing. Mike’s immune system and the natural inflammatory response caused by the exercise attacked and flushed the bug from his system faster than normal which explains why he was ok when he stopped exercising.

Mile 12 to 27.5, Milford Gap Road to Aid Station #3 at Camp Roosevelt
It was time for more spice cake! Again I stuffed myself with as many calories as possible while my stomach was still taking in food and I picked up a packet of Shot Bloks for later. We climbed back up to the ridge and Dave sent an email Seth saying “Where the hell are you? Bring a suitcase full of unmarked bills to Aid Station #3. We’ll see you in two hours.”

Along the ridge line we had some excellent views. We had not seen Seth and Zoe yet so whenever we found a break in the tree line Jim would go out to the ledge, and to our amusement, would start calling out "Seth" across the Massanutten Valley 2000 feet below. At one point we climbed to the Kennedy Peak observation tower where we stood under the overcast sky in the cold and wind. There was a single ray of sunlight radiating down on part of the valley and Dave pointed out the ray of light had definitely been avoiding us all morning.

I heart technical terrain

This was a very long and enduring leg that dealt a solid blow to our energy. Also we began a trail maintenance program that continued for the next 20 miles. Why? Because a 100 miles is not hard enough and so it is good to also lift trees.

When we made the descent to Aid Station #3, it was very steep and also technical. Jim’s IT band took a beating and I stayed with him until we finally made it into the aid station.

Steep descent
Still no Seth and Zoe so this time we were getting a little concerned since it was now early in the afternoon and we thought worse case they overslept and had brunch. Adam departed so he could meet his girlfriend for dinner but they would return to crew us for the entire next day. On the menu now were some delicious perogies and ramen soup. The sky was so overcast and gray that it felt like it was the end of the afternoon. We headed out on the next leg onto some nice single track that looped around the mountain side and was really enjoyable.

Mile 27.5 - 33.5, Camp Roosevelt to Aid Station #4 at Gap Creek
We had a pretty good run here for awhile and continued our practice of trail maintenance. Dave attempted to skirt around a tree that was only partly on the trail and Sniper caught it! After that we picked up every twig, branch and redwood.

Later as we were running up a hill Sniper snapped his fist up in the military signal to hold. We bunched up and peered towards the top of the hill where there was a problem circling on the trail aimlessly. We hoped he would move into the woods so we could sneak by but then he spotted us. It was a little unreal to be charged by a skunk but nonetheless that is what happened. We were flanked on both sides by an embankment and some trees. Five grown humans scattered back down the trail. The skunk bound down the hill and then chased three of us up the embankment. As we ran by him up the hill he pursued! Getting tired of running uphill he then did an about face. Now he set his sights on Mike and Jim who had gone farther down the trail in the direction we had come from. Mike used his best running back moves to fake right and dodge left. It was remarkable but again the skunk turned around to follow Mike uphill! At this point I was sure Jim was doomed and was going to get sprayed. Cornered, alone, he was desperate but quick in thought. He picked up a rock, charged the skunk, tossed the rock ahead and to one side for distraction and then ran past. Somehow we made it out and smelled no worse than what 12 hours of running will do to you.

Mile 33.5 - 39, Gap Creek to Aid Station #5 at Crisman Hollow Road
Seth and Zoe were finally there when we arrived. Turns out there was a bit of a miscommunication and they said they would show up for Shift 2 rather than at AS 2. But then they had gotten lost and for the rest of the day could not time their arrival with the roving crew at the aid stations.
Sniper, Jim and I
I tell you this next bit because my choice led to more complications that ultimately had an impact to the outcome of the race. I was still wearing shorts at this time but my body felt pretty warm when I arrived. Choose-Your-Own-Adventure choices included:
(1) add pants, risk overheating and then sweating. Body heat could then be lost 25x faster from the wind wicking it away.
(2) eat while we were around food, then try to get moving again and warm back up.
I went for the #2, food but asked Seth if he could find my pants in my drop bag so I could put them on at the next Aid Station. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time.

Zoe looking cold
Stew and perogies
The distance to the next aid station was only six miles but I overhead Sniper’s exchange with Janice (one of the volunteers and chef extraordinaire) and it went something like this
                    “How long till we see you? Maybe one or one and a half hours?”
                    Sniper’s reply “Well you know what’s coming at the end so probably two.”

The sun started to go down and we grabbed our headlamps. Seth was giving out handwarmers as we were leaving which turned out to be a great call because the temperature dropped quickly! We started back up the hill along with two new pacers, Doug and Mike.

While on the trail, Sniper called a pitt stop and we snacked. He told us very little about the end of this leg except we knew we were approaching Waterfall Mountain and there was no water... We kept on cruising through the woods and as the sun set the headlamps flicked on a few at a time. When we finally reached the base of the waterfall, it turned out to be one hell of a vertical climb: one thousand feet in a half a mile. I stopped at the base to text my family but by the time I was done the group had moved out of sight. I hurried up the hill to catch up with them but I was breathing pretty hard and never really recovered until well after we reached the top. By now I had a new situation to deal with in that the batteries for my headlamp were fading fast and I was losing sight. Thankfully, from the top we were only a mile from the next aid station and Jim dropped back so that I could safely maneuver through the rocks on the trail.

Mile 39 - 44.5, Crisman Hollow Road to Aid Station #6 at Moreland Gap
Before the race I sent out a suggestion to the runners to bring your warmest winter coat to wear while refueling at the aid stations. Each time we arrived, the volunteers had kindly set all of our coats out on chairs. We zipped up like the NFL players waiting on the sidelines but not everyone had brought a coat. They were loosing body heat fast while waiting for everyone to slowly refuel, change gear and regroup.

In my mind this aid station is really where the mayhem began. I was exhausted from hurrying up the waterfall route and then trying to keep close to Jim with a faded headlamp. When I arrived I was having a hard time keeping my head on straight so I could talk to Seth and another volunteer that were helping me to:

  • Fill my hydration pack with water and Nuun
  • Find my spare headlamp so they could put it on and see my faded headlamp and then change out the batteries
  • Help me find layers, eat food and drink  
  • Also my Garmin 310 had been on for 15 hours in the cold and the battery was about dead. I had a portable USB charger in my bag so we could re-charge the watch midway and have the entire run recorded on one set of data. 
This is where the choice not to put on pants comes in because by the time we sorted through all of the bullets above, pulling off my mud caked shoes to put pants on seemed to be too much of a hassle and I was short on time.  I tried to eat a grilled cheese but the stomach was now revolting against solid foods. I pounded a smoothie instead that I had pre-made at home using fresh fruit and ground up caffeine pills. The smoothie was turning to slush even though it was kept in Seth's car and what this was effectively doing was flushing out heat from my body's core. Don't be stupid! David Horton's message from the Grindstone race briefing echoes in my head as I type this.

We entered the woods and it took a good ten minutes of running to return my body temperature to comfortable. To compound it all the temperatures dropped into the low 30’s and we were heading onto Kern’s Mountain which is one of the more technical parts of the course. Yes, going back to my earlier statement this is where the mayhem had definitely begun.

During this section David must have been doing some calculations in his head because he asked me what time we absolutely had to leave for home by. Mike and I had to be back on Monday so I backed up the time to get home and said 5pm would be ideal. (We were on track for a 36 hour finish best case so that was 5:30pm) Also we could not see our mileage on the watch because while the Garmin 310 is charging the face information is not visible. The chord to the watch also made it more difficult to eat and my laziness to not reach into my pack and have a snack was another mistake of mine.

We averaged 2 mph on Kern's Mountain because of the leaves, rocks, darkness and overall tough conditions.  Dave remarked about a section and Sniper replied "Do I hear a Patty?". Dave replied "No. I am not complaining that we are going 40 feet down to climb right back up 40 feet." Mike's ankle started bothering him on this section probably because it was overstressed on the steep, technical descents. We never knew if under the leaves were those ankle twising rocks so on the descents we slowed ourselves by going from rock to rock. This was much harder on all of our bodies. At one point on one of the ridges we could see two lights on the mountain across from us and it looked like they were coming towards us. After an hour we realized that they had not moved and that it was probably someone's house. The Garmin watch battery finally reached 100% and I took off the charger to learn, sadly, that we had only gone 45 miles.

Slower progress at night

Mile 45.5 - 51.5,  Moreland Gap tAid Station #7 at Edinburg Gap One
When I write my reports I do a memory release over the next few days after the event. It makes it much easier to recall detail and let's me publish reports much later than the event. As I look back my notes for this section though were brief. I wrote down simply "shortcut and disaster".

We made it to the Aid Station and I was still only able to drink fluids. I chugged another smoothie but it was again slush. I started shivering despite my down jacket and so Sniper suggested I take off with Dave and they would catch up. This next section was originally planned to be Short Mountain and after Sniper's earlier conversation about what time we could run until on Sunday night, he made an Executive decision and diverted us onto a road to the next Aid Station. Instead of 8 miles in 3.5 hours this cut us back to 6 miles in 2 hours.We were desperate for making up time and we hightailed it on the road. We were all so happy to finally be moving and we had the space to run next to one another and talk. It was refreshing and gave us all a mental boost.

Short Mountain in Daylight. Photo by Aaron Schwartzbard

Mile 51.5,  Aid Station #7 at Edinburg Gap One
When we cruised into the next AS we were hot and sweating and then we suddenly stopped moving and started to refuel. We were offered chili, chicken noodle soup and coffee but the liquids were very hot and while it was cooling we were also cooling rapidly. While I was sitting in a chair finally putting on my pants I started shaking. Then the shakes came in waves and grew a little uncontrollable. The volunteers working there were all experienced 100 milers and thought it best to put Mike and I into their van to warm up. They cranked up the heat and Mike warmed up but I kept on shaking. Without the solid calories my body lacked the energy to keep warm. It was now 27 degrees and in a postmortem discussion about the race with an MD, I learned that my body had progressed too far into mild hypothermia and that by placing me into a warm atmosphere it determined that it was ok to now shut down. The volunteers were bringing hot food and drink to the van but at this point I was in bad shape.

The volunteers suggested that I skip a leg, take in some calories, get myself right and then rejoin the group. My mind starting running through all of the choices and scenarios. Eventually I concluded that I would have to let down all of the volunteers and Sniper. This though was smarter than being out on the side of the mountain in below freezing temperatures and possibly encounter a problem. I would take my DNF, take a 2-3 hour break, get some food in, change into warm clothes and then rejoin my friends after one leg if I was ok. Stricken, I agreed I would stop.

I guess the volunteer told Sniper because in a few minutes the van doors opened and it was loaded with Dave, Jim and Mike for a group discussion. Sniper said he was happy to call it. This was incredibly tough for me to hear because my intention of pulling myself out was not to deep-six the race. The rest of the group could continue and get the whole race in! I did not want to ruin this for everyone. David reassured me that my friends were in equally bad shape. (With the exception of Dave and Sniper who could have easily finished the race) Another serious considerations was that it was currently 27 degrees, 10:30PM and the temperatures were only going to drop until 8AM the next morning. The reality was that it had taken us 17.5 hours to go 52 miles, we had only recently started night running which is much slower than the progress we made during the day,. The last half of a race is always slower than the first and the second half of this 100 was harder than the first with an absolutely brutal ending planned. We were approaching a 40-hour finish time. As Race Director it was Sniper's decision and he tried to reassure us that would not be a DNF since it was a Fatt Ass race and you do as much as you want to. (I still count this as my first DNF since the race was set out as a 100). Sniper did make one final crucial point in that this race was about having fun and not about getting anyone hurt. We had had a good long day together and there was no need to risk anything further. Looking around at the carnage, David made the call.

We went back to the hotel for a hot shower, change of clothes and a little sleep. The next morning it was bittersweet receiving the buckle from Sniper. I am half proud for the immense level of energy and difficulty it took to get through those first 52 miles. But it is also a sad reminder that we could not complete the whole race.

My friends reassured me that eventually we would have been doomed (Jim told Mike on the road he was not sure he could finish. And Mike said in the van he knew was not going to finish but he just did not know which AS he was going to drop at). But we cannot go back to that moment and redo the alternate paths so we will never know what would have happened.

A sad ending yes, but up until the moment we had to stop, we had a really great time. And that was still one hell of an adventure.

Movie with my Flip camera of the skunk attack: