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As I noted previously in earlier posts, this spring I decided to do something different with my racing. Instead of running a few big races, I decided to load up on shorter 50K’s before my big dance with Mr. Manitou.

Enter Glacier Ridge 50K. I have had various friends do this race many a time before but this would be my first outing. In the hills of Western PA between Butler and Slippery Rock, the terrain is gently rolling, making almost the entire course runnable.

This is something I needed.

Despite running a conservative race at Hyner, my injured quad from February was still giving me grief. I didn’t have problems with it during the race at Hyner, but I felt it in the days after Hyner. Sore and achy, it seemed my left quad was much slower to recover. It was frustrating since I wanted to run immediately after Hyner but it was about a week before I went out for a run.

With my quad still an issue, I decided to run the race as easy as possible.  I headed out to Butler around mid-afternoon Friday, meeting up with Todd Lewis at Reclamation Brewing in Butler. In marketing circles, I am considered as an “Experience Seeker” – one who explores new places to eat, drink, participate in activities, traveling and such. A small but way cool brewery, Redemption Brewing was a great find. Thanks Google Maps! The food included pints of bacon, mac and cheese and a sandwich called The Swanson! Later that night I stayed at a Holliday Inn Express.

Stuffed with pork, fine beer and well rested, I was ready for the race.

Glacier Ridge 50K is a smaller, low-key race held in Moraine State Park. It offers a 25K, 50K and 50 mile races. Todd had ran the 50-miler a couple of times previously. This time we were both doing the 50K.

We set out on the race under perfect weather conditions. Todd and I ran together for several miles – both of us just taking things easy. Todd noted that this was the best he had ever seen the trail. In years past, leaves and spring debris obscured the trail but this year the course was well traveled and grooved in. The course was almost entirely singletrack.

Hey, hey! It’s Kool-Aid!

We continued along until we came to the first major downhill of the course. Between Todd and I, I am a better downhill runner so when we got to the first descent, I took off. Halfway down the hill, I felt a little tweak in my quad – not enough to affect anything – but enough to warn me not to go crazy. I dampened my pace in response. After the downhill, there was a twisty section near the lake before a slightly technical climb. I trained on such terrain so I felt right at home.

I vectored away from the lake and I was slightly climbing as I run toward the north and out of the valley until I came to downhill toward what I thought would be the 50K turnaround. On the way down, Tim Flaherty from Pittsburgh was coming toward me. He was running the 50 miler – his race stared an hour before me and he had already made the turnaround.

“Turnaround is up ahead. Go right,” he said.

Since I failed to look at the map before the race, I knew the course was an out and back with a lollipop at the far end. However, I thought the loop was only a few hundred yards around, not the 3.5 miles to do the loop! It felt like I was running and running without getting anywhere. This got in my head.

Finally, I seemed to curve toward and continue toward the west instead of northeast which was the general direction I had been traveling toward since leaving the lake. Now, it seemed I was heading back toward the start and soon entered into an aid station. I was only there for less than a minute before Todd arrived on my heels. We left the aid station toward and toward a low-land section of the course near Big Run. Coming out of the bottom land and up the hill toward where we would meet again at the end of the lollipop. It was then an uphill over a small ridge then back downhill to the lake. After the lake I was in a funk. I think it was a constant running with no big climbs or opportunity to use other muscles on a steep downhill, I could not get myself into the race. I felt like I muddled along – I was continuing forward but without any energy or intent. Then at times after consuming a gel, or had a nice downhill ahead, I wanted to surge forward but was worried about upsetting my quad. I was like in this melancholy – a running purgatory where I was either tired and worn down, or afraid to charge out of my doldrums.

With a few miles to go, I got hooked up with a female runner from Ontario who chose this race as her first 50K. Considering that this was her first ultra and she admitted that the forest near Toronto is rather similar, she was doing great. We ran together out of the last lowland and over a ridge toward the finish. Whenever I run with someone, I tend to ignore whatever I am feeling – good or bad – and just enjoy the company with whoever I am with at the time. In this race I have been running alone since mile 5 or so. During races, I rather be running with someone, or have someone chase me. This is something I have thought about a lot and which is why I asked Todd Lewis to pace and push me at upcoming Manitou.

Running toward the finish, I kept asking my new running partner that the last stretch was coming up. On the way out, Todd and I ran past a DCNR building and crossed a paved road. Where was this road? I thought. Finally we get to it. As soon as we get to the shale walking path, my newest friend took off while I was left behind, my feet spinning in the loose shale. I run down the gravel trail, made a left and crossed the finish.

Yeah… okay. Right. Woo, fricking hoo…

My time was 6 hours and 39 minutes, good enough for a 16th place and 75% UltraSignup score. That sounds good but I swear if I was feeling better, this would normally be a sub-six hour course for me. But again, you get the cards you are headed with and all and all it was a good day to be out and about on the trails.

Todd was happy with his run, 15th place and 6 minutes ahead of me place. This for him was a recovery run. He had a bout of Lyme’s Disease this past winter and this had been the first time in a few months that he had felt better since receiving a strict regiment of antibiotics.

Always watch out for those outsiders.

After the race, I hung out at the finish a bit longer than I intended but still had a great time. Patrick Knott from Ohio and Jeff Nelson near Titusville bullshitted at his truck for a time until I went back to the finish line to see some of the North Park Trailrunners finish the 50-miler and talk to Matt Lipsey who said he had a bad race for once. Seriously, he had a bad race! He was a bit pissed since the weather was perfect and he set out to beat the course record when the unthinkable happened! He tried Hammer Perpetual at the last aid station for the first time ever and it ended up wrecking his stomach so much, that it reduced him to a walk!

After that, a bunch of North Park Runners and I went to North Country Brewing for tasty bevs and dinner and thus concluding a good weekend in Western PA. There we spent most of the time making fun of Matt. I wish life for him was not that cruel. God bless, Matt Lipsey.

 

 

 

 

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Left to right: The Virgins. Katherine, Janice, Lisa and a random ear.

The Hyner Challenge is always like a family reunion of sorts. It seems like almost all of my trail running friends are there. This year was even more special. This time I had several Hyner Virgins to share in the experience. The cast of characters included Katherine Hainley, Janice Hartkorn, Lisa Spangle and Marc Wisniewski. They were doing the 25K while I was to do the 50K.
We met Friday and decided to caravan it from Hollidaysburg to Hyner, meeting up with Marc along the way in Tyrone and eating in Lock Haven before arriving in Hyner about 30 minutes after sundown.
We were up for only a couple of hours before retreating to bed. We all parked in the landing field below the Sportsman Association and slept in our vehicles.
My plan, again considering my nagging quad, was to take things easy and treat the race as a training run. I felt good the past week so I decided I would take advantage of the situation but had the option to throttle it back if it started to hurt during the race.

Ryan doing what Ryan does.

My race, the 50K, was an hour earlier than the 25K at 7am. As I was getting ready for the race, I realized I had left my running pack at home! In my rush to pack yesterday, I had left it behind! Lately, I been forgetting shit before a race and I wondered if I should start using a checklist.
I went around the parking lot and at registration, asking whomever I saw if they had a spare pack. Finally after about 30 minutes, Ryan Espulgar said he had a pack to spare.
Some background: I first met Ryan several years ago at Hyner. We were both climbing the last major hill of the race and Ryan asked me, since it was his first time there,”how much further it was to the finish?”.

At that race, he struggled. But flash-forward a few years later  he has become a superstar – running ridiculous distances and a few hundred mile races as well. It is remarkable how much he has accomplished. My sincerest kudos to him.
Anyways, he gave me a Scott Jurek Ultimate Direction pack but he did not have bottles the for it. After some more roaming, Jenny Rodgers, found a spare bottle in her car. For my second bottle, I would carry a 20oz. Gatorade.

Poor Roth

Finally getting my shit together, I was ready to walk to the start when it began to rain. The race starts at the Sportsmen’s Association. There was the usual cast of characters; Jeff and Renee Calvert, Tom McNearney, George Conrad, Aric Sponsler, Thad Will, about a dozen more familiar faces. While everyone was huddled together under whatever shelter they could find, Roth Reason was standing in the rain looking like the David Tennent in the rain meme. “Why are you so sad?” I walked up to him and asked.
After RD Craig Fleming and dignitary Sherry Collins from PA DCNR made some comments, it had stopped just prior to the horn going off.

Me at Cliffhanger

Over the bridge, through Cliffhanger and up Humble, I was bouncing between people I knew like Thad Will, Sean MacMillen, and Janine Gustzaw. I spent a lot of time running with Thad. I had volunteered to be his crew chief for the upcoming Eastern States 100 in August 2017. While climbing Humble, we talked about his prior races and his training plans for the big dance in August.
Prior to going up to Humble Hill, I already felt that this was not going to be a race for me. I was worried about my injured quad and the bad juju trying to find a running pack has all shed doubt that this would not be a good day. But as I reached the top of Humble Hill, I didn’t feel as tired and spent as in years past. But I decided to treat this like a training run rather than a race. Worried that I would aggravate my quad and I was just not in the mood to race, I was content to just having a relaxed run.

The iconic Hyner photo from the top at the point. The photographer wasn’t here when I past so here is Lisa who is much more photogenic than I.

At the top of Hyner, I stopped at the aid station to get the pack to fit right. It was too loose – the bottles bounced on my chest with every step. However, I was impatient and only wanted to stay at the aid station for a few seconds and for some reason I wasn’t able to figure out how to make the pack any tighter than it already was.
Going down into Reikert Hallow, I was able to overtake about a dozen runners, again using my experience going downhill to my benefit. I would try to find a sweet spot between insanity and breaking too much with my quads. I wanted to run with as less pounding as possible which meant at times bombing on the downhills. A couple of times I was able to use the patented “Tim Stessney-system” of leaping side-to-side like a mogul skier.
At the bottom I had caught up to a train of runners with Renee Calvert among one of them. Jeff Calvert, who I saw briefly at Humble Hill, had long gone ahead. At the 50K turn off the 25K course, David Walker as pointing runners onto the right path. As we started up Sledgehammer, Thad and I got hooked together amidst a train of about a half dozen runners. We chatted it up with the other runners and basically having fun. One runner, who was from Western New York near Ellicottville, was asking about different races in our part of the area. It turned out he knew Elmo Snively through his posts about Elmo’s Vol State 500K run in 2016.
Down to Ferrell Point and down into Ritchie Run, I was running with Thad. Then doing up Ritchie Run, I started to feel a little stronger than I had earlier in the race. I decided then (about halfway in the race) to put it into a higher gear. I actually started to race and charged up the hallow. This year the course was wet… much wetter. Ritchie Run was flowing about twice than I have seen it in years past. I had lost Thad and had caught up to Aric Sponsler and we jockeyed back and forth for the next few miles. That bastard did not want me to pass. We climbed out of the hallow and over the top to a scrubby plateau before reaching the aid station at a cabin that was a former Conservation Corps camp.
Out of the CC camp I had been feeling strong, passing more than being overtaken. I got to the top of Sledgehammer and I decided to press on the gas a little more on the downhill. Again I had caught up to Aric by the time we got to Johnson Run and merged with the 25K course. This year it seemed fewer people were on the 25K course than in past years and I didn’t reach any large groups until I hit the base of Psycho Steps. I felt good going up Psycho Steps despite the water that seemed to be everywhere on the trail. Many times it seemed like the trail and the creek were one of the same.
I remember The Hyner Virgins asked me earlier if the course was wet or muddy.

A little wet up Johnson Run.

“No… don’t be silly. You’re on a mountain!”, I said.

Now I was worried they were going to kill me when I reached the finish line. (It turned out that Katherine did not like the water torture at all!!)
Up Psycho Steps, I began to run into more 25K runners. As a courtesy and a good trail ambassador, I encouraged each one of them as I passed.
I got up to the top of the Black Forest and the aid station. I think it was manned by Team RWB Williamsport Chapter since every volunteer made mention of my red Sweat for Vets shirt and I couple of them recognized me as one of the race directors.
While at the aid station, I had caught up to Adam McGinnis and soon we started talking trash to each other. Adam left before I did since I was caught talking to some of the volunteers and tried again to adjust my pack to no avail. By this point my man boobs were very sore and I had developed a rub burn on my shoulders from the strap on the pack.
Realizing I had already spent too much time at the aid station, I grabbed two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches without eating them. I munched on the first sandwich as I ran down the trail. I began going down Post Draft. This year it was very wet and with leaves calf high covering the trail, I had to go by faith on my foot placement. At the first section, I passed Adam. “Get out of my way, slow poke,” I said as I passed.
I gained speed and distance away from Adam as I entered another technical section. Going too fast on the leafy and muddy downhill, I ended up going wide to the left and off the trail. My shoes got caught in the tangle of laurel and I fell forward. My sandwich goes flying into the woods.
“My manwich!”, I cried out!
Another runner gives me a hand to get up. I am unhurt but my pride is broken and I was pissed to have lost a perfectly good sandwich. But I had more urgent matters than to cry over my lost lunch. Adam was catching up.
I got up to my feet and continued down Post Draft, hoping to keep up my surge to the bottom. I think I passed maybe a dozen slower 50K runners, passing them as quick as I can but showing as much courtesy as possible. I was constantly yelling “on your left!”
Finally, it was the climb up Cleveland Hallow. Though I knew from the onset that my legs felt much better than last year, I also know it was still going to be a tough section. I was always at the edge of my physical limit and wanted this section behind me as quick as I could muster. It was a slow grind up to the top before the awesome finale, S.O.B. – a straight-up the mountain scramble to the mountain to the top.

Thanks for being racist, Adam!

Halfway up the climb, I heard Adam, just reaching the bottom of the SOB, yell up to me, “Ben! I’m coming after you! I am going to get me some Chinese!” Other runners around him gasped, clearly offended by his racial taunt.
“Shut the fuck up, Adam!” I yelled back. Adam’s outbursts only pushed me to go forward. I got up to the top and paused at the aid station for a few seconds, grabbing a gel for the last leg home.
Next is the last section of the race which begins with the Horseshoe. Here, the course is an easy double track/Jeep road before reaching a pipeline and then Spring Trail to the Huff Run descent. The toughest thing about Horsehoe is not the terrain – but after climbing Cleveland Hallow and SOB, you reach Horseshoe’s flat and runnable terrain. Using muscles that haven’t been used for maybe hours, many end up here crippled on the side of the road with seized muscles. For me the challenge has always been not spending too much energy on the climb up Cleveland and SOB so I had plenty left in the tank. This section can be so frustrating since the entire section is so… runnable.
For me, it turned out that this year was not my best performance but also far from the worst. At least I was able to jog this section rather than walk even though I was tired at this point. Going over past races, I was slower than the first 50K I did here when I flew through this section crushing at 8 and 9 minute miles but I was faster than last year.
Just about when I reached the pipeline, Adam was on my back. We agreed to work together from here to the finish. Every single year – good years and the bad – running the 25K or the 50K – every time I turn off the pipeline and get onto Spring Trail… my legs would cramp. I think its from running a steady cadence on the Jeep road and pipeline then onto a technical singletrack. Also the pipeline right-of-way is about three and a half feet lower than the singletrack trail, requiring you to do a couple of “step ups” to lift yourself onto the trail.

Leg Cramp!

As we approached the turn onto Spring Trail, I recanted to Adam about how I would always cramp up up ahead. You would think I would have prepared for this, knowing what to expect. Well, as soon I made the turn and stepped up onto Spring Trail, my legs went into complete seize mode! In all the years running Hyner, this was the worse cramp I had and all I can do is shuffle forward. Adam disappeared into the woods like wildlife.
Spring Trail is about a mile or so long and it took me almost the entire length before my legs started to work like normal. I ran past Hyner View Run and then down Huff Run, trying to catch up to Adam but running at only about two-thirds of my capacity. My legs were always on the verge of cramping up again so I didn’t want to do any fancy feet work to cause them to seize up again.
Finally I made it to the paved road and the bridge. Entering the Sportmen’s Associations property, race director Craig Fleming has a “last F-U” – a small hill climb to the finish. At the bottom of the climb, I heard Adam from the top yelling at me. I was a little bit surprised he was only a few dozen yards ahead. I though he was gone like a rabbit when my legs cramped up at Spring Trail had reduced me to a crawl.

I finished at 6 hours and 47 minutes which was my slowest Hyner 50K ever. However, I am not disappointed since except for a small section where I was chased by Adam, I wasn’t out there to compete.
I had two races done and three more to go this season before summer. Spring has barely even started.

The beginning of the 25K. Left to right: Marc, Coryn, Katherine, Lisa, and Janice. (Also in orange on the right is Mike Haffley.)

POST RACE:
Hyner is always special. It is my favorite race, family reunion, and homecoming party all rolled into one. The post-race afternoon was spent drinking beer and talking to dozens of trail running friends as we recanted our race and what we have been doing with ourselves since the last time we saw each other. It was great hear the experiences of the Hyner Virgins; Katherine, Lisa, Marc and Janice. Janice helped Katherine get through the race when she had enough of the flowing water going up Johnson Run to last her a lifetime. Lisa tore up the 25K course with a mid-4 hour run – excellent for a first time. Marc had a solid run as well.
I was somewhat a bad host as the Hyner Virgins retired to the campsite while I continued to hang around at the Sportsmen’s Club for a few more hours. It was almost evening before I appeared at camp. We were joined by Matt Lipsey and his girlfriend before crashing the party and fire ring hosted by Robbie Risley and Mike Haffley.
Though this race had its share of highs and lows, the highs by far eclipsed the lows. The best was being able to share the experience with the newbies, catching up with friends, and planning the year ahead. It was the most fulfilling Hyner outing yet.

In March 2017, Todd Lewis, Ralph Smith, Elmo Snively, Janice Hartkorn, David Endress and I decided to do the Tuscarora 50K in the namesake state forest near the town of Blain, Pa. I figured instead of jump-starting my season by doing Hyner 50K, Tuscarora would give me the opportunity to get a month head start. A fat-ass race, the cost of entry was to bring an aid station item on race day. I was assigned to bring Oreos but I so bought additional Little Debbie cookies to the race.
It was a rather unseasonably warm yet cloudy day. There was a snowstorm two weeks prior but the warm spell melted most of the snow come race day.

Elmo fills up his gas tank for his sex machine.

The race started out with mildly technical running through a valley. As soon as we started running, Todd took off into the distance, leaving Elmo, Ralph and I behind until Elmo made a move and went up ahead.

Doesn’t look bad here, it turned into a bunch of cool colors since. It is late July and the bruise is still there.

I was following a guy down a wide section of singletrack when he kicked up a stick about four feet long and about three inches in diameter. The one end of the stick wads planted in the dirt while the other end jammed into my left hip flexor. I stopped dead then threw the stick to the side. Damn, that hurt! Ralph, several dozen yards behind me, saw me throw the stick in disgust and wondered where it come from and wondered what I was doing.
I ended up bruising pretty badly – the bruise turning into many shades in the weeks thereafter. (In fact, even after almost two and a half month later, the area is still blood red under the skin.) However, at that moment, all I could think of wass that I was lucky that it didn’t jab me a few inches to the right and into my crotch.
The pain from the stick would be with me for the entire race and a few days afterward. It also affected my mobility.
A few minutes after my stabbing, I had caught up to Elmo.
“Hey, Elmo, buddy, old pal! How you doing?!” I said as I gave him a high-five.
“Great! I just used that hand to pee!” He replied.
The other runners nearby all laughed.
For the next several miles, Elmo and I ran together, joking around and not taking anything seriously. We ran around flags planted near the aid stations as fit they were slaloms, cracking jokes for the amusement of the volunteers and other shenanigans.
Elmo, who had spent the past year and a half in Nashville, recently returned back to Altoona. During his stay, he completed the Vol State 500k – running across the state of Tennessee for five days in the middle of the Mississippi heat of summer. On one of his last weeks there, Elmo was hit by a truck… literally. He suffered a broken collarbone, broken ribs and another minor injures despite being hit by a Chevy at 40 miles an hour.

Along the ridge and snow drifts.

After he was able to move, he had signed up for Tuscarora and was in worse shape than anyone else. As we made our way up 500 foot hill climb at about 8 miles on the course, he mentioned how hard it was for him to go uphill. Perhaps it’s because his bones refused to set in properly… I don’t know. I don’t have a fancy medical degree. Anyhow, we finally made it to the top of the ridge. We began running a state forest road on a downhill that seemed to take forever. We then began up another ridge on the other side of the valley. We were warned prior that on the windward side of the mountain, a winter storm two weeks prior dumped 4 foot drifts onto the road. Though there was a lot of melting in the abnormally warm weather we had that week, we still had several miles of drifts of spring snow to traverse.

At the top of the mountain prior to the snow, we had caught up to Todd. As we made our way along the ridge and the waves of snow drifts, Elmo started to trail behind – his injuries catching up to him. Finally at the end of the road, we crested over the ridge and down the other side. I train on highly technical terrain as possible so when I reached the downhill, I took off with reckless abandon. I flew down the ridge, bouncing down the mountain and ended up passing a handful of more careful, sensible runners. At the bottom of the hill I reached a dirt road and made a left turn and continued down the mountain. Not wanting to lose the momentum I had gained, I ran as fast I could down the road. It was not until a few minutes later when I looked at my watch and realized I made a wrong turn. I had downloaded the GPX file of the course onto my Garmin. It was supposed to alert me when I went off course. Well, when I went off course at the road, I had also a hydration alert (which I had set to remind me to drink every ten minutes) and I had another alert go off at the same time but when I looked at my watch, I just saw the hydration alert. Gah! Alerts are only as good as long as you pay attention!

Elmo is upset for being a quit-er.

I turned around. Since I had gone down a hill and now had to go up a hill exhausted and a bit frustrated, I had to walk. Going past the place I missed the turn, I saw the words “No!” written into the dirt and ribbons going the other way. Not only did the people who I passed on the downhill had now passed me. After a bit more time running up the road, I had also caught up Todd, Ralph and Elmo who all had past me while I was off course.

For the next several miles Todd, Ralph, Elmo and I ran together – onward but not racing since we all had treated this run as a training run from the get-go. We had reached the next aid station. There, we realized we had to run up a mountain that earlier took forever to get down. We knew it was going to be a long, slow slog up the damn thing.
At first all of us continued on. But Elmo, which his injuries exasperated when climbing, and knowing there was much more ahead, decided to turn back to the aid station (from the aid station it was only a few miles and relatively flat to the finish – cutting out a 1250 foot climb and 10 more miles.) We said goodbye as Elmo flipped us off and went back to the finish.

Argh! This race is getting to me.

Ralph, Todd and I slowly made our way to the top as Ralph slowly started to inch ahead of Todd and I until he disappeared by the time we reached the top. Todd, who said he was feeling crappy that day, and I, whose grumpy quad started to hurt once again, we both decided to stick together to the end. About 3 miles to the finish, I was reduced to a run/walk with Todd noting that I had a pretty several limp going on. Not only was my quad throbbing, but my hip flexor that endured the tree stabbing had made my already bad left leg feel even worse.

I ended up finishing with a 7 hour 22 minute finish, which was my slowest 50K ever. However, despite the time, I was happy considering the issues I was dealing with, the early season and at no time I was in racing mode.

Also of note was the post-race when Elmo, myself, Danielle Diamotos, and Perry Ligon went to Al’s of Hampton (or also known as Pizza Boy Brewing) and later to Ever Grain Brewing in Enola, PA. Both places are worth the trip if you ever find yourself in the area west of Harrisburg.

My thigh was so sore, I had to grab some snow to cool it down as I ran.

Parting shot. Left to right: Blazin’ Hazen, Toddzilla, Full Nelson Jeff Nelson, Calcium Deficiency Elmo, Dave Race Never End-ress, Janice Hardcore. Ralph the Mouth and Achy Benny.

I decided to do something new and different this year. Instead of spending my time training for one or two long races, I wanted to run do more shorter races. All 50Ks in the spring, tehn return to Manitou in the summer and spend more time on exploring and weekend adventures in between. I also wanted to start the season earlier. So my plan evolved as such…

Tuscarora 50K – March
Hyner Challenge 50k – April
Glacier Ridge 50K – May
Worlds End 50K – June

The finale would be a return to Manitou in middle June.

One of the “fun runs.” Here I am with the Central PA Trail FrEINDS at Rothrock State Forest.

WINTER 2017
It turned out to be another great winter weather for running. We never had a lot of snow and it didn’t get very cold for much of the winter. Things were going very well, embarking on plenty running adventures.
I finished two sections of the Mid-State Trail from Route 45 at Hairy John to Route 192 and from Hills Creek State Park to Cowanesque Lake. I knocked off more sections of the Standing Stone Trail from Loysburg to Everett and Cowans Gap to Three Spring and thus completing the entire trail.

I fell about 250 yards from where this pic was shot. As you can see, the trail is covered with leaves.

After completing the Standing Stone Trail and realizing all the weight I gained from the Fall and Winter, I cut down my calorie intake and increase my running. Everything was going well (losing more that 20 pounds) until one day back in early March I was running the possible new course for the Call of the Wilds, which was dialed back from a long marathon to a 25K. I was going along a mountain above Waterville on the Tiadagahton Trail when I toed a rock hidden in the leaves and I fell fast and hard. A pointed rock slams into my left quad. Though painful at first, I got up, shook myself off and continued on. I was okay for about 5 or so miles as the trail climbed over plateau and then we descended again down into Pine Creek Valley. As we took an old carriage road up the valley and our pace began to increase up a gradual slope, my leg pain slowly set in. I was in a lot of pain afterwards and took a week off.

 

Eastern States Preview Run Group Shot

The following week I ran with some friends doing an Eastern States preview from the start at Little Pine State Park to Browns Run at mile 24. At mile 12 or so my leg was giving me problems and I bailed at mile 18. It also didn’t help that my shoe literally fell apart half way in the run.

I had to take more time off afterward. A lot of time. It turned out that my quad would give me problems into the Spring. On March 25, several friend and I embarked on the Tuscarora 50K.

 

 

 

My shoes are falling apart!

 

 

Here is a tale of two races. The first race was the 2015 Oil Creek 100k, which even a year later is still at the top of the list as one of my best races. Then the second race as a comparison, the 2016 Oil Creek 100 miler when things went far off course. I will be going back and forth between both races. Blue text is the 2015 race and the red text is 2016.

TRAINING

2015: In the 2 months prior to the 100K I had some great runs in Penn’s Woods. In August I found myself on a couple excursions on the Laurel Highlands Trail, a 50K Oil Creek training run (one loop) and the Megatransect race. Even on an ordinary run, I would purposefully seek out running adventures. On September 6, I did a 30 mile run on the Laurel Highlands Trail starting from Route 31 where I felt good up until the last five miles when I began to feel sluggish. Then on September 19, on a 30 mile jaunt through Ohiopyle State Park, I started to “break-through”. I felt fantastic! Then the following week I did another 50K Oil Creek training run for one loop around the course. I dusted Todd, feeling so fast on my feet. Todd Lewis was training for the 100 miler. In the end, I had some solid long runs that boosted my confidence for the upcoming race. 

Solid runs wasn’t the case for 2016. For starters my mileage and time on my feet wasn’t at the level it should be for the additional challenge of going a hundred miles. This year I struggled with the heat. Also, with Rock ‘N The Knob being run one week later than previous years, with all the marking and deflagging the course, it seemed like the race was a major interruption to my training. The 25 mile+ plus runs that I did manage to run – Allegrippas, Laurel Highlands and an Oil Creek training run – all of then I felt slow and sluggish. In 2015, I slowly eased into a gradual taper. For 2016, I literally stopped running for 10 days prior to the race. 

THE DAY BEFORE

My work is done here.

My work is done here. I’m glad I helped, Miss Gilbert.

2015: I drove up mid-afternoon in my father’s Honda Element, getting trapped behind school buses as I drove for three hours up rural Route 36 all the way to Titusville from Altoona. Driving three hours, my cranky right ankle and left quad gave me issues during the ride up. Both are lingering pains from injuries long ago. I hope that it was just being in the car for so long and not a preview of what was to come. I rolled up to race headquarters at the Middle School parking lot at around 6pm. I pulled in front of Luke Ebeling, Shaina Gilbert and others from the Lock Haven area as they were putting up a tent in the football field adjacent to the parking lot. I stepped in to help by supervising and not lifting a finger of assistance. Then, congratulating myself on a job well done, I went inside to see Brian Newcomer to get my packet, and then proceeded to find some friends to hang out with. Before that, per instructions from my dad, I threw a tent over top of the Honda “Tentament” as he called it. I called it a Honda “Ele-tent”. Bad puns aside, all it was was a tent with the bottom “floor” cut out of it and then thrown over the vehicle like a tarp. Not sure why I bothered. I found Todd, John Weaver who was Todd’s crew, Danny Mowers, and his crew person Mark Grove. We ended up at a dive pizza joint down the street and around the corner from the Middle School. Back at the school parking lot, as the 100 milers resigned for the night, I hung out with friends I found from the Pittsburgh area for awhile before calling it a night. During that night, I didn’t sleep that much. For some reason I woke up about six times to get out of the Honda (slept in the back sans rear seats) and walked across the lot and into the school to take a piss. Each time I had to get out of the vehicle I had to contort myself around the front seats to reach the front door handle while sitting in the back then opening the front door and then the side rear doors in order to get out. Yoga time! 

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On my feet at MDL

2016: The day before the race I had to wake up early and travel to Bedford for a trade show at MDL Manufacturing. I found myself standing on a concrete floor in dress shoes for six hours before hitting the road to Titusville, a four hour drive from Bedford. The worst was that if it was any other day, I could have had the day off.

I drove up about the same time as last year – mid-afternoon. This time I decided to take a different route with more four-lane highway to cruise. However, in Phillipsburg of all places, I get caught in a traffic jam which took me about 40 minutes to drive through a town with only 2700 in population. I got to the Middle School at Titusville at 6 in the evening and again I needed to see a man named Brian Newcomer for bib and packet pickup. After getting my bib, I got together with Jeff and Renee Calvert (Jeff is my pacer from mile 62 and on) and Jen Kline and we made a bee line to Blue Canoe Brewery. In 2015, the brewery was closed when half of the city block burned to the ground. It reopened recently. On the way there, crossing the street to the brewery, I fist bump Todd, Adam McGinnis, and their entourage. At Blue Canoe, I run into Danny Mowers and Mark Grove as well as a few people from the Pittsburgh area. Leaving, I overheard the host telling a customer, “Sorry, this is our second most busiest day of the year. There is a race here in town. There is a half marathon, a marathon and some other distance.” 

After that meal of appetizers (loaded fries and pierogies), we headed back. I slept in my dad’s Honda again, sans the ridiculous tent. I didn’t sleep that well again, waking up often. However I must have had some sleep since there was couple of hours of rain that I slept through during the night. 

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PRE-RACE

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The Running Devil’s Idle Feet Pre-Race

Hours before dawn, 2015. I quietly get dressed in the Element. I get ready and dressed just prior to seeing my friends in the 100 miler depart. I then got my timing chip and then back to the Element to finish up. Several days before the race, Tom Jennings, the race director, posted on Facebook that the unlucky individual assigned with the bib number 666 was me! I decided to make the most of it. I pinned my bib to my shorts and donned a pair of plastic glowing devil horns to my head. I planned to wear it for the entire first 50K loop. Bruhahahaha! I went back to the cafeteria and patiently waited until the race briefing and then the announcement to go.

The Beast has a Gatorade. He looks under the cap to see if he won another Gatorade.

The Beast has a Gatorade. He looks under the cap to see if he won another Gatorade.

One year later, I woke up an extra hour this year than last since the 100 miler is at 5am instead of 6am. I slowly marched into the school in pajama pants and an old long sleeve T-shirt from Adam McGinnis’s Pumpkin Run five years ago. The artwork looked like something a talent-less child would draw. Inside, I saw Todd and Adam and told them that I would be running in those clothes. After getting my bib and chip, I went back to the car to change. For the past week I have been organizing my drop bags, nutrition, and items I would need pre-race, during and post-race. Everything was organized in plastic bags within other bags or in plastic containers. As I was getting ready I discovered the cap to my waterbottle was gone! Shit! How could this happen? As I frantically looked around the car, I saw Ralph Smith walk by. “Dude, can you find a spare bottle anywhere? I lost the cap to one of my bottles.” He nodded and goes on to search. He returned five minutes later with a Ultimate Direction bottle. I don’t know from where he found one. 

I finally got my shit together and made my way to the Middle School while dropping off my drop bags in the process. Along with Todd, Adam, Jeff, Renee and Perry Ligon – a runner from near Harrisburg who we ran with in a few races before – we sat and listened to the race briefing. This was Todd’s forth time hearing it. This year, with his rock-solid training plan leading up to it and his drive to finish it and be done with it, Todd had the best chance this year. Except for a training run we did together, I am not sure where Adam is in his ability to finish the hundo but he has had one prior attempt four years ago. I gave him even chances. As for me, I gave myself less than a coin flip. I didn’t feel the best going into this. I didn’t have it “in my head”.

Soon we filed out of the cafeteria and to the rear entrance of the school. Without much pomp and circumstance or even a countdown, the RD utters “go” and we embarked into the black night.

Josh Gavit and John Weaver have a chat with the running devil. A concerned runner on the right looks on. Repent, dude!

2015 – Josh Gavit (orange) and John Weaver have a chat with the running devil. A concerned runner on the right looks on. Repent, dude!

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SECTION 1 & 2: START TO PETROLEUM CENTER

From the school to the beginning of the Gerard Trail. 1.52 of "not really" scenic views.

From the school to the beginning of the Gerard Trail. 1.52 miles of “not really” scenic views.

The beginning of the Gerard Trail to Boughton (first switchback)

The beginning of the Gerard Trail to Boughton (first switchback)

2015 – We ran across Oil Creek at Jersey Bridge, turned down Bank Street to the bike path – a mile of rolling asphalt to the Gerard Hiking Trail. Worried I would go out too fast, I hanged back with OC veteran Brian Newcomer and mutual friend Dave Hunter. Things didn’t spread out once we hit the trail, finding myself in a conga line for the first thirty minutes or so. Though I ran this course before, I never had done it at night, I realized how tricky this section was with its roots and unsuspecting holes and rocks. Still, everyone around me was in good spirits and talked.

I came to the first set of switchbacks down into the Boughton Hallow and up the other side. Suddenly I was running alone. I really don’t like running alone since I usually find myself slowing down. When running with someone, either the conversation would mute my inner dialogue and put my head out of what my body was telling me, or I end up “pushing” or “pulling” another runner. I rounded over a rise and heard Brian talking about fifty yards behind me. At the top of the rise there was a fast section of singletrack. I pressed on the gas and flew down the trail, trying to build as much distance as I can. I kept the pace until I reached the first aid station at Wolfkiel. 7 miles gone. 55 miles to go.

The Caboose

The Caboose – 2015

Even though I was in a race and all and in a hurry, Wolfkiel Aid Station #1 volunteers wanted to take a picture of me in my devil horns. It was also now bright enough that I ditched my headlamp. After the climb immediately after AS 1, I got into a group of about eight runners. Like an express train, we choo-choo-chewed our way all the way to the second aid station at Petroleum Center and the far end of the course at mile 15. Overall things were well except there was a slight hot spot on the outside of my left large toe. Elapsed time: 2 hours and 50 minutes. 27th place.

2016 – Ultrarunning 101 states that you never ran at someone else’s pace. But even though we promised each other not to run with each other, we did anyway. Down Bank Street and down the bike path, Todd would occasionally glance at his watch and say “we are going too fast” but we made little effort on slowing down until we hit the hill before getting on the Gerard Trail that circumnavigated the canyon at Oil Creek State Park. Here we found an old friend, Perry Ligon from Mechanicsburg, which we ran together in many races before. On the singletrack, we and several other runners managed to settle into a grove. Again we would chat and catch up on events and going-ons in our lives. Todd talked about his training. Adam talked about his adventures as a PA state trooper. Perry talked about the races he did since we saw him last, etc. 

Boughton Hallow to Wolfkiel Aid Station

Boughton Hallow to Wolfkiel Aid Station

After a quick shoe lace issue, I found myself in the rear of the group with Perry in front, Adam was next and Todd parting the waters in front. Among us were other runners either running with our group or those jockeying for position. I had my head down, looking at the terrain two feet ahead, when I heard an awful crash and saw Perry lying on his side off the left of the trail. “Are you okay?” I said reaching my hand out to Perry.

He said he was fine though his tone and expression was full of anger. A couple minutes later he said that he was elbowed and pushed off the trail by another runner. The fall had snapped one of his trekking poles. 

We ran downhill toward the aid station at Wolfkiel at mile 7. Along the way, volunteers had put up large poster board calendars with a list of birthdays of all those who ran that day. I never seen that done before and I admitted it was cool. At the aid station Todd had to take a bathroom break so Adam and I collected my thoughts until the moment passed (ha! Get it?) and we started onward together. There was a steep climb after the aid station. We heard commotion above us as someone screamed at another runner. 

Agh! I feel dead on my feet.

I was dead on my feet. 2016

“There’s no yelling in ultras,” said Adam loudly to whomever may be listening above.

About a mile later I told Adam and Todd that I had to make a bathroom break in the woods. I told them I would catch up. I never did. 

I ran into Petroleum Center about eight minutes ahead of schedule 8:22am. (3 hours, 22 minutes; 13:28 pace) I had mixed feelings about this. Per Jeff Nelson’s advice, my plan was to run the first and second lap in eight hours. Jeff Nelson is very nice person and a phenomenal runner. He has or once held many of the course records here at Oil Creek. Recently he has been running the 50k race and then commands one of the aid stations on the course. We ran into Jeff on a training run prior to the race and we asked him for race advice. Oil Creek 100 Miler consists of three 50K loops around the park and an additional 6 mile “coming home loop”. He said that the most successful runners are those who run consistently – he suggested running the three loops as close to eight hours each. When he first suggested this, I couldn’t imagine how anyone could run that slow for the first lap. But here I was on race day and running close to that pace. I was more tired than I thought I would be at his point. Last year I was in 27th place at Petroleum Center – in 2016 I was way in the back at 115th!

Wolfkiel to Petroleum Center

Wolfkiel to Petroleum Center

Going into Petroleum Center on the first lap.

Going into Petroleum Center on the first lap – 2016.

PETROLEUM CENTER TO THE MIDDLE SCHOOL

2015:  This section after Petroleum Center was a blur. I was in “race mode” the entire time through I did stop at the top of Heisman Hill to check out what the deal was with my hot spot. (John Heisman was born in Titusville.) It turned out that I had my sock inside out and their was bunched up fabric around the toes that was causing the rub. After the sock fix, I found myself racing with a fast dude. Remember when I mentioned that I enjoy chasing or being chased? I was on full on chasing mode cranked to 11. I would gain on the dude on the uphills then he would sprint away on the downhills. This would only egg me on to run faster. At various dirt roads and side trails we crossed, he had his own cheering crew with banners, signs and cowbells. I began to wonder who this guy was. With my devil horns and Foo Fighters songs as my mantra, I got into a serious groove. As I passed other runners, they yelled things like, “It’s The Beast!”, “You go running devil!”, “It’s the devil! I must be in hell.”, etc.  The fast dude in front of me kept looking over his shoulder, frustrated that he could not “shake the devil”.

Petroleum Center to Miller Aid Aid Station

Petroleum Center to Miller Aid Aid Station

At the third aid station at Miller Farm (mile 24), I lost track of the rabbit I was chasing. I am not sure if he leaped on ahead or Was left behind at the aid station. At Miller Farm, I ate little and ended up losing a pair of gloves that I had been wearing that morning. From the Boy Scout Camp at Cow Run to this aid station and then to the Middle School, it all went by so fast with what seemed like little effort despite being a demanding section with a lot of climbs and hallows. There is also the “sound of the smoke monster” – the loud bang of the Drake Well of metal hitting metal. You would hear it and think the end of the Gerard Trail was just around the corner, but the loud bang often travels miles down the valley. 

 

I think I should mention that Oil Creek in many ways is the birthplace of the modern world. Colonel Edwin Drake struck oil here in 1859. Hundreds of oil derricks and boom towns sprung up in this area immediately afterward. Except for the historical areas at both ends of the park at Petroleum Center and Drake Well, second-growth forest has filled in between those points. Occasionally you would be pipes and other oil drilling equipment along the trail. Tales of ghosts, men killed from blow outs, haunt these hills.

On the rolling singletrack toward Drakes Well, I got hooked up with several runners. I joked that at the pace we are going, we could go to the Middle School, take a nap for a few hours, go into town for dinner, then start the second loop at 11pm and still get done before the cut off. That is one of the appealing things about the Oil Creek 100K is that the cut offs  are so generous. It is the perfect race for your first 100k. Down the side of the canyon, around the Drake Loop (which sucked BTW) then down the asphalt bike path, I gobbled up the scenery. Approaching the school, the bike path has runners coming both ways, I noted just a few 100K bibs and also saw Todd Lewis and Jenn Kline on their way out near the Jersey Bridge next to the school as I made my way in.

Stats: 50K in 6 hours, 18 minutes. I climbed from 27th to 16th place. 12:11 pace overall and 11:38 from Petro Center to Middle School.

 

2016: I rolled into Petroleum Center and was greeted by the trifecta of trail running: Jeff Calvert, David Walker and Brian Newcomer. All Johnnies on The Spot, they each went on a mission to help me out. One went through my drop bag for baby powder and Band-Aids (my feet were already suffering hot spots on the inside of my right foot), one got my bottles filled with Tailwind, and another rattled off a bunch of questions to guage how I was feeling. After they got me settled, I went to get some solid food at the aid station. I got a few potato chips and a fig bar. I wasn’t hungry. 

As I started my way out of the aid station, it dawned on me. Where was my aid station crew? The person who said that they wanted to crew wasn’t there! Jeff, David and Brian weren’t assigned to crew for me at all. WTF?! I asked Jeff what was going on and he shrugged his shoulders.

As I embarked toward the trail, I saw Ralph Smith, who was crewing and pacing for Todd. “Where is my crew chief?” I asked. Ralph too shrugged his shoulders. 

Leaving Oil Creek, a slight mist slowly turned into a steady rain. Even though the canopy of the forest shielded myself from most of the precipitation, the rain became steady. Later when Ralph was recanting his day, he said a storm came through with driving rain and gusty winds. He had to dodge downed trees (and a flying cow) on the highway on his way back to Titusville after I saw him at Petroleum Center.

That morning I decided to wear my year old Hoka Rapi Nuis. I had a brand new pair of Hoka Speedgoats but after some few long runs prior to the race, I wasn’t happy with them. My feet didn’t feel right in them and on some longer runs I got blisters. I had the Rapi Nuis for more than a year and had about 500 miles on them. The sides on the right shoe had a thumb-sized hole in them which I sealed with glue and duct tape which left up for about 10 miles. Even though they were old and worn, they been good to me. I wore them at last year’s Oil Creek. Not only was the upper worn but the tread was worn as well. Going around a hallow in the rain, I leaped over a ditch. My shoe made contact with the ground and slid back from under me. I planted my left side head to toe into the mud. I got up and continued on. My entire side was covered in mud. Then I looked at my hand. I punctured it on my palm and blood was dripping down to my elbow. Luckily it looked worse than it was. It was just a superficial wound. 

Though I wasn’t sick, everything was going through me and I needed to take a crap again for the second time that morning. So when I got to the unmanned water station at about mile 17, there was a Porta-John where I could do my business. While inside some of the 50k leaders like Jeff Nelson flew by. 

Miller Farm to Jersey Bridge (Iron Bridge near the Middle School)

Miller Farm to Jersey Bridge (Iron Bridge near the Middle School)

I got to the Cow Run Boy Scout Camp, although wet from the constant rain, I was not cold. I wasn’t chaffing despite the dampness. The super-underwear I was wearing from SAXX seemed to be doing their job. However, since I was so worried about chaffing and knowing that when I did chafe, it was too late, I decided to take some preventative measures. I went into the bathrooms at the camp to lube up. Walking out of the bathroom, I saw a woman taking a seat on a folding chair, surrounded by some boy scouts and their adult chaperones. 

“I need a pair scissors. I gotta do some surgery.”

I was hoping to see this.

I was hoping to see this.

“Whoa? Trail triage! This is going to be awesome!” I thought. I decided to stick around to see the carnage. Blood! Mayhem! Gore!

The woman took off her shoe. She grabbed a pair of scissors and started to cut out the back of the heal on her Salomon Speedcross shoes. The cushioned tab at the top and back of the shoe was giving her rubbing issues. It was a shame to see someone destroy a $130 pair of shoes. I was also disappointed there was no blood, stabbing into flesh, or trail side amputations.

After the Boy Scout Camp it is a short run to the third aid station and then onto some of the more hilly terrain on the course. The forth section of the course is the most hilly with numerous hallows you had to go around. Between the scout camp and the aid station I was running with the woman who did surgery on her shoe. She said she had issues with the shoe rubbing the back of her Achilles. We were running on a flat section of trail when she toed a rock with her right shoe. Somehow, defying physics, she spun in a complete 180 and was now falling toward me alongside the trail and immediately slams herself into a tree! She, dazed and pissed, I outstretched my hand to lift her up to her feet. She grimaced with pain. She sprained her right ankle. I yelled out to her husband who was several dozen yards ahead. She had that look on her face I knew all too well – the face of someone who was concerned that their race was over. Her ankle was already swelling. I asked if she rolled it in or out. She said it rolled in. I said that rolled ankles are weird and that sometimes the best thing to do is “run through it”. I mentioned that I have seen rolled ankles where after ten minutes, it worked itself out and everything was fine. She shook her head, not believing me. I wished her luck and continued on. About a mile or so at the aid station, she had caught up to me as I was leaving and she said that her ankle was fine and appreciated my advice. 

Running into the Middle School at mile 31.

Running into the Middle School at mile 31. 2016

The next section from the third aid station at Miller Farm (mile 24) to the Middle School has the most hills on the course. I was very gloomy at this point. I could not get into rhythm. My form was awful. I don’t remember feeling this worn out so early in a race. I was not having a good time. I was frustrated. 

Stats: 7 hours and 53 minutes overall. Dropped further from 115th to 122nd. 15:15 pace.

LOOP 2 – MIDDLE SCHOOL TO PETROLEUM CENTER

At the middle school, I didn’t have crew so I went through the drop bags for my stuff. Jeff Calvert and David Walker were there. They both were hanging out until when they each had to pace other runners later that evening. They asked how the race been going for me. “Fantastic!” I said. I did the first 50K in 6 hours and 18 minutes (A 50K PR) and was in 16th place. Without taking too much time, I was back onto the course. Back onto the Gerard Trail, it seemed so much faster in the daylight. (Stats) Then between the Middle School and Wolfkiel, I hit a low point. I was getting dizzy and lightheaded and I couldn’t remember what food I had, if any, at the Middle School. Since I had this happen before, I realized I was not eating as much as I should. Surprisingly all I had to do was to take two gels for me to bounce back. I had caught up to Todd between Miller Falls and Wolfkiel Aid Station. This was after he had slipped on a small wooden bridge and tore his quad even though both he and I didn’t know how bad he had torn it. I ran with him only for a few minutes before he said to me to go on ahead. At Wolfkiel Aid Station, I took awhile as I had to poop. During that time, Todd had caught up to me. While I waited for Todd at the aid station, it allowed me to slow down and think for a minute. I chose to eat as much food as I could, preventing any other sugar and food crashes going forward. Todd and I both climbed out of Wolfkiel on the switchbacks until he once again told me to go on ahead. I would not see Todd again.

Though it didn’t seem like it at the time but the section from the Middle School to Petroleum Center took a lot of time. Looking at my splits, I was a lot slower than what I would have liked though at the time I though I was moving along quite well.

I didn’t hang with anyone, opting instead to press on ahead and I passed anyone I came across. About halfway between the aid station and Petroleum Center, I passed Jenn Kline which meant either (or both) that she was running faster than she intended and/or Todd must have really slowed down. Todd and Jenn were together when I was approaching the Middle School earlier that day. Prior to Petroleum Center, I felt blisters coming on on my middle toes. Not having anything with me, I ripped a strip of plastic from a shopping bag I had in my pack. I wrapped the plastic around my toes, then used the sock to apply pressure around my toes to keep the plastic wrap in place. It would do until I got to Petroleum Center.

Stats: 45 miles in 9 hours 35 minutes. When up two spots to 14th place. 12:46 overall pace. This section I ran a 12:08 from the Middle School to Petroleum Center on the first loop, 14:08 on the second loop.

2016: Down off the hill and onto the Drake Well Loop, I was running with the husband of the woman who had rolled her ankle. Since he was running alone, I wondered if her injury had caught up to her. Fortunately, she was a few minutes behind us. He said he would always run ahead of her so he can have everything ready at the aid station for her. He is a class act!

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Are your Hokas making too much noise?

I got into the Middle School aid station and I was greeted by Jeff who went to work going over a checklist of items. I completed the first loop in 7 hours and 53 minutes. Though it was on track for 8 hours, I was way back in 122nd place. Even though I was slightly behind the clock, gauging how I felt, I knew I could not maintain a similar loop without getting a second wind. I decided that because of my fall in the mud earlier in the day, I needed to switch shoes for the next lap. I put on my pair of Hoka Speedgoats. I was never happy with these shoes. It seemed I was more prone to hot spots and blisters when wearing these shoes but I decided it was better than falling and getting injured. 

In the field in front of the aid station was Ralph, Coryn (Adam’s pacer), Adam’s wife, Michele Jacoby’s husband and others. I walked up them saying “I feel like I’ve been crucified,” then I held up my hand with the stab wound on the palm. I then admitted that the race wasn’t going well for me as I pantomimed a plane going into a nose dive, my trajectory was on a rapid decline. In retrospect, I was not in a good frame of mind and I think I was already resigning myself toward defeat. 

I left the aid station at the same time as Renee Calvert and Jennifer Kline, both doing the 100k, and Kathy Kotje-Simin (Renee’s pacer). I hung out with them until we hit the Gerald Trail when they slowly drifted ahead of me. I would say I was a bit peeved that I could not keep up with them. I was left behind to fend for myself. 

Again, I had changed into a pair of Speedgoats and the long training runs I have had, my feet would either hurt or I get hot spots or blisters. But I figured as long as I was on top of the situation and took care of my feet, it would be better than falling flat on my face and breaking an arm. As I slowly lumbered my way to Wolfkiel aid station, I felt the telltale signs of a hot spot on the inside of my right foot and blisters forming around my smaller toes. Again, knowing I needed to get ahead of it, I needed to fix my feet as soon as I can find a chair to sit on at the next aid station. I made it to the aid station, sat down and immediately took off my shoes. I packed a giant blister kit to carry with me throughout the race. It included:

Foot First Blister Care Kit contents: 1. 2-1.8×3.5″ Alcohol pads for cleaning area prior to dressing 2. 4-2×2″ Gauze Sponges for cleaning and drying area prior to dressing hot spots and blisters 3. 2-Single use benzoin a skin adhesive to help the Hypafix, moleskin, and KT tape stick more efficiently  4. 1-2×18″ roll of Hypafix tape that can be used to treat hot spots, wounds and areas of blistering 5. 4-2×4″ precut sheets of Hypafix tape that can be used to treat hot spots, wounds and areas of blistering. 6. 2-2×2.5″ precut sheets of Hypafix tape for protecting nipples 7. 1-2×18″ roll of KT tape to be used to treat hot spots, wounds, areas with blisters as well as tendon strains and sprains 8. 1-2×4″ sheet of moleskin to be used to treat hot spots, wounds and areas of blistering 9. 3-7gram single use packets of Trail Toes Foot AND Body Cream to help decrease risk of foot AND body areas at risk for abrasions, blisters and chafing 10. 1-2′ safety pin for treating blisters or to help secure items if needed 11. 1-1″x18 gauge beveled needle to help with trephinating blisters under toe nails 12. 1-3×5″ Fresealable bag to put unused cream, benzon or other supplies.

imagesI reached into my running pack and to my shock the blister kit was gone! Then I recalled during my stop at the Middle School I had taken the kit out of my pack while I was fishing for something else at the bottom of my pack. Mother Effer! 

I asked the aid station volunteers for any lube, baby powder or band-aids. They didn’t have anything. Good grief! I set out from Wolfkiel knowing I was in a bad place. I tightened my shoes as much as I could to prevent my feet from sliding as much as possible. I kept looking at my watch realizing that time was slipping away. My form was awful and getting worse. I was running like an old man with a walker looking for bus ticket stubs left on the ground. I wasn’t running. I was more like… flopping… like a fish.

Nearing Petroleum Center I ended running with a couple – a father and daughter team. There were hours when I was running alone and anytime I was running with someone, my pace would quicken. I think it was because I would be focused on striking a conversation rather than on my own misery. 

After a couple of minutes, I asked where they were from. One was from Bedford, the other was from Johnstown. Then it all dawned on me in a flash. Last year, Ralph asked for me to be on the lookout for his friends from Raystown Lake who were running in the 100 miler. My reaction as the time last year was how in the world am I going to find two runners who I have no idea what they look like? But low and behold, here they were – just one year later! Then I remembered that they were pulled last year for missing a cutoff. I wasn’t sure how well they were doing this year but I assumed that I must be near the back of the pack at this point. Sad Ben.

Despite talking to them for about 10 minutes, they too slowly pushed on ahead. Sadder Ben. (When they appeared before me at Petroleum Center, Ralph knew then that I must be having a very bad day.)

An actual ad for SAXX underwear. If it's so good, why are you face-palming?!

An actual ad for SAXX underwear. If it’s so good, why are you double face-palming?!

After Ralph’s Friends went bye-bye, I noticed that unmistakable burn down in my undercarriage. Not again! I was chaffing! Damnit! Son of a bitch! From the Middle School on, I was without my blister kit and also any lube. It was nowhere near as bad as the burn I felt at Mantiou so I knew I had time to take care of it as soon as I made it to the aid station. (On a 1 to 10 scale and if the burn at Mantiou’s Revenge was a 10, I was about at a 3 to 4 at this time.) I was upset that the magic underwear I was wearing, a pair of SAXX, though it had worked well, it didn’t make it to mile 43. I think the underwear was still keeping the heat in, causing things to chafe in the later stages of the race. Also I am sure that the rain earlier had not helped at all. Upon careful reflection: I have had chafing twice in six years of running – once at Manitou’s Revenge this past year when I forgot my shorts at home and had bought a pair which had a compression liner, and now at Oil Creek. Never before had I had chafing. The only thing that I did differently in those races was my shorts. At Oil Creek, my underwear was compression underwear. Even those underwear had a special “sack” to keep my “sack” in place, the heat generated from being in those shorts all day had caused things to chafe. Before, in training and in races, I wore shorts with a short inseam with loose liners. Light and breezy. 

I stumbled into Petroleum Center with Jeff, Dave, Ralph and Kathy (who since Renee and Jennifer were running together, she was relieved from her pacing duties) taking care of me at the aid station. Ralph, who saw his friends from Raystown come in ahead of me, knew more than anyone that I was in trouble. I asked for my blister kit but it was still back at the Middle School so everyone scrambled to find stuff I needed to take of my feet and crotch for the next section. 

Feeling hot, hot, hot!

Feeling hot, hot, hot!

For my undercarriage, Jeff handed me a tube of Ruby’s Lube (slogan) and a rubber glove and pointed to the rest rooms adjacent to the pavilions. I walked in, rolled down my shorts and underwear and did my thing. OH MY GOD, THE BURN! I walked out of the bathrooms doing a bow-legged dance. 

“That burned like Hell. Gah!” 

“What? How? It’s olive oil based.”

That comment was very confusing to me. Olive oil? Should I have had some bread to go with it? “Whatever! It burned SO BAD!” I said to Jeff.

I have been to a few of these ultra rodeos before. I knew in the back of my head that if was burning this bad at this point, it was not going to get any better. It is going to be a long night. But as I got my shit together, the burning slowly cooled. 

Even though I planned to use the trekking poles on the final lap, I asked for them anyway. Perhaps my arms can push me along. Ha! 

When leaving the aid station, I saw a banner wrapped around a concrete ash pit exiting the pavilion. It had the Allegheny Trailrunners logo with pics of both me and Todd. 

“What the hell is this shit? Who put this here?” I said out loud. 

Jeff shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know.” He told a picture for posterity. 

Ralph, though he didn’t admit it at the time, was the person who put it there. He did say that it had been there all day and that Todd, who was far ahead by this time, had not seen it at all despite running right by it – twice. We would ran by it again later at night and would again not see it.

Stats: 45 miles in 12 hours and 20 minutes. 16:26 overall pace.  14:25 on the first lap, 19:04 on the second lap. 122th place.

LOOP 2 PETROLEUM CENTER TO ???

2015 – At Petroleum Center I got some assistance from Jeff Calvert, David Walker and John Weaver. Even though I did not have a crew, they pitched in to help. Even though I had been feel okay since my low point, and I only had to more sections  to the end, I couldn’t estimate when I would be done. I was guessing about 14 to 15 hours – maybe just under 14 hours if all goes well.

Leaving Petroleum Center, and knowing I had this last leg to go. Only — miles until this race done and over. My legs were feeling great and I continued to push myself along. I downed a gel hoping to give me a boost. After Heisman Hill immediately leaving Petroleum Center, there is a lot of flat running until the Boy Scout Camp. I must have passed more than a dozen runners in that section while being past by only two. Without looking back and looking at their bibs, I had not idea if they were 100 milers, 100k or 50k runners. At the camp, I didn’t stop for water. As I blasted by one of the scouts yelled out asking what I did with my devil horns.

Reporter: So you were on this trail before, but now it was a different trail? Ma'am?

Reporter: So you were on this trail before, but now it was a different trail? Ma’am?

It seemed like I was at the camp in no time flat. Then I was hit hard by a bad case of Trail Dementia. Previously I had two training runs prior to race day and the previous lap earlier in the day. In my head, it seemed like all I had to do was run downhill to the next aid station. After that it was just an uphill to the edge of the canyon and along the side to the end of the trail and then the bike path home. Easy Peaszy, right? I went down the first hill and running alongside the railroad tracks. Then the trail goes uphill? What? Uphill!? I don’t remember any of this! (Ida Tarbell’s Wrath)

Finally I made it to the aid station just before The Golden Hour. I recall seeing Jeff Nelson at the aid station. I am not sure if I conveyed to him how confused I was with the terrain I just ran. 

After the aid station, all I needed is to climb one big hill and then a couple of hollows before a rolling section above the canyon before dropping down to the creek and the Drake Oil Loop… So – I went up the hill, down the other side, around a hallow, then another, the another, and another! What is going on?! I swear that all the descents and climbs and each of the hallows were all looking the same. I began to wonder if I stumbled into some weird “Purgatory by Repetition”. I never realized until a training run a year later that there are six hallows between the aid station and when I finally make it to the top of the plateau. Gah! I began to think that I was going to finish beyond 14 hours.

Finally.. FINALLY, I made it to the top of the plateau. Even though the Drake Well is more than two miles away, I could hear the iron pump hitting metal at Drake Well off in the distance. The trail here is along the side the canyon, of gently rolling with the terrain. The trail is lined on the downward side with a guard rail of long and slender logs, mitigating any erosion of the edge of the trail. The woods seems drier here, the forest filled with maples, beech and ash trees, perforating the canopy. I looked at my watch and the sun about to set. At the very least, I wanted to be out of the woods before it become too dark and my pace would slow.  Also, with the end of the Gerard Trail just up ahead, I began to shave my estimate as to when I would roll into the finish. 13 hours 30 minutes? 13 hours 45 minutes? Everything in my being – my legs – my mind – my heart – my whole being, had one purpose and it was to finish fast and finish strong. Never before (nor since) have I had that amount of drive and determination to go and get it.  

Gauging my speed, I decided that I wanted to finish at 13 hours 33 minutes – a fitting time for the number of The Beast.

2016 – Even though I did not plan to use the trekking poles until the third lap, I took them anyway when leaving the aid station at Petroleum Center. Normally this is an ultrarunning commandment no-no. I never used poles before and you never, ever, want to do something new on race day. At Petroleum Center, Jeff gave me a 30-second lesson on Trekking Poles 101. The consensus is mixed. Jeff had used them and didn’t like them at all. However, David Walker, Todd and Kathy all said that it had helped them, especially on varied terrain and in the latter stages of an ultra. 

Looking back now, I really think that the poles helped. It seemed like it helped with my form. Instead of being hunched over, the poles allowed to keep me upright. They did take awhile (a few miles) to get accustomed to, and there were times (downhill) that they gave me more problems than benefits – but overall I was glad I had them. 

my_watch_by_pokefan117-d65dlon

When is when? Right now?

Unfortunately by this time my forward progress was not going well. Obsessively, I stared at my watch. It was getting dark and I knew if I was running as well as I did last year, I would be starting my third and final loop. Going by my 8/8/8-hour plan, I should be back at the Middle School by 9pm but I knew that wasn’t going to happen. It was approaching 7pm and I had another 15 miles to go. “Maybe before 11pm?” I thought.

Most of the time I was running alone for what seemed hours on end. Occasionally I would get passed but I’m wasn’t sure if they were a 100 mile straggler or a 100k runner who started a full hour behind me. In the 100 miler, it seemed there was a higher level of athlete who are all capable of doing a hundred mile run. With the 100k, it seemed like there were more of your “average Joes and Janes” who weren’t necessary fast.

My feet were trashed and my undercarriage was raw when I got into the Boy Scout Camp again at Cow Run. I sat down for a moment in a lawn chair. As Boy Scouts and parents gathered around me, they actually had some duct tape for my feet. I took a tip of a pocket knife and punctured a large blister on my right foot. For most of the race, I thought I had a callus and that the skin was fissured around the edge of the callus. Now I discovered that there was fluid behind the callus. I also patched up my toes that were all blistered as well. The scout didn’t have any bandages but they did have duct tape. The scouts watched on, amazed to see someone patching themselves up with duct tape like MacGyver. I then went into the bathrooms and lubed my underside again. Then, thanking the scouts and parents, I ventured off into the darkness. 

Ugh.

Ugh.

On the way to the next aid station. A tall, slender guy sneaked behind me and passed, saying excuse me in an Eastern European accent. Ultrarunning can be a very exclusive sport. Sometimes you run a race and end up running with someone you had ran with before. Earlier in the year I ran in the Manitou Revenge in the Catskills. For the first half of that race, I was leapfrogging two people with Russian or Eastern European accents.

“Didn’t I run with you at Mantiou?” I said when he got in front of me. He slowly turned around as the gears in his mind started to turn until it sprung like a glockenspiel. We started talking. He was doing the 100K. I am not sure if he can see my face with my headlamp but we talked for a few minutes before he said was in a grove and he needed to go a bit faster. 

Finally I made it to the plateau about a mile or so from the Miller Farm aid station. With blistered feet, chaffed raw and slow as molasses, the final hammer hit the empty shell that was now my body… my temperamental ankle started to hurt with a piercing pain. I have had ankle problems for the last few years. I haven’t had too much of a problem this year except during some of the longer races when I was on it for hours on end. It was 9PM. My initial plan was to be at the Middle School and beginning my third lap by 9PM but I still hadn’t reached Miller Farm yet. I had another – miles before I would be at the school. I figured I wouldn’t make it until 2 or 3 in the morning to get there. As I tried to consider my options, a pair of headlamps came up from behind me. I didn’t turn around. As the two runners past, I recognized the runner in front. It was the last runner to come across the finish line last year. She past me quickly, looking fresh. Looking at her condition and weighing my own, I knew that it was time to put a fork in me. I was done. 

Before the third aid station, there is a slight technical downhill before a dirt road to the aid station. I began the downhill. With my ankle giving me grief, I took the rocks painfully slow. Still, somehow I managed to catch up with a runner who I assumed was worse off than I was. She was with someone who I think was her pacer. Then from behind, Jenn Watts from Pittsburgh, who was in the 100k and I knew from our Allegheny Trailrunners races, had caught up to me and gave me some positive encouragement as I negotiated the rocks on the downhill. At the road, they all took off ahead as I held back until the bottom of the hill at the aid station. 

I'm done!

I’m done!

At the aid station, instead of immediately getting food or drink, I sat down in a folding camping chair and one of the aid station volunteers inspected my feet. There were paramedics and some other volunteers there who obviously I could tell that this wasn’t their first rodeo – they knew what they were doing. They popped the blisters, dried my feet, and wrapped them in bandages. They did a great job.

In fact, they did such a great job that I almost considered that I was good to go. But as I sat there and thought about the trail (the toughest eight miles were still ahead), it was 9:30pm, and the temperature was dropping. I knew I would never make the cut off for the third loop. Even though my feet felt good, nothing would help my undercarriage or fix my ankle. It was going to be an utterly miserable crawl to the Middle School. I decided that my day was done. DNF.

Though I am not exactly sure, but I estimated it took me just under 4 hours to do those 8 miles and a crawl of about 27 minute pace!  Gahhhhhhhh……

THE LAST LEG

2015 – It was the last downhill off the plateau. I was flying! As soon as I reached a flat or downhill, my legs would spin. I was feeling fantastic! I was passing other runners like they were standing still. I was a Rock Star. Then at the very last sharp turn down into the Drake Well loop, I went wide and my right foot caught a rock and I go down tumbling. It was like slow motion – a cinematic sequence – as I got back on my feet, brushed off the dust and grime without breaking my stride, then leaned forward to attack the trail. 

I started on the Drake Well Loop. Up in the forest, it was dark enough to need a headlamp but around the loop and in the open, it was bright enough that I turned it off. I kept obsessively looking at my watch. “Will I make it in 13:33? No. Wait. Maybe. Yes, I’m going to make it! Nope. No. Well… Perhaps.” I was riding a roller coaster of estimates. It just depended on how I felt at that time. I was going between ecstasy and despair ever 15 seconds. Even though I was sore and tired, every fiber in my being was driven to finish in what would be the best performance in my short six years of running.

The turn for the 100k is at the lower right corner.

The turn for the 100k is at the lower right corner.

Out of the loop and down the bike path, I still kept at it. Even the time I thought about walking, I’d cry out “no!”. I was on a mission to finish at 13:33. “Thirteen thirty-three”. “THIRTEEN THIRTY-THREE”, I chanted to myself. To the end of the bike path, down Bank Street, across the iron bridge, around the corner of the school grounds, through the grass and across the mat! DONE! WOO HOO! RIGHT ON! WHAT A RACE?!

Then I looked around me. It was a very anti-climactic. No race director or race officials to shake my hand. No applause. Everyone seemed indifferent to my finish. What the…  Jeff and David stared at me with a confused look on their faces. 

“What are you doing here?” David said.

“What do you mean? I finished.” 

“This is not the finish line. This is the aid station of the 100 miler.”

“What?!”

“You ran past it! The finish is behind the school!”

“Oh shit!” I said in a panic.

The signs on the corner that I totally missed.

The signs on the corner that I totally missed.

David begins to point for me to cut across the field to the spot on the street where I went off course but I was already running the way I came. I went around the corner and down the street. The 100k turn was lit up like an airport with runway lights, a half a dozen flags and three large arrows printed on large windshield sunshades. I must have been in the zone to have missed this. I ran down the lane to the back of the school, crossing the finish line in 13 hours and thirty… FIVE minutes. If I would not have made the wrong turn, I would have been dead on 13:33.  

Nevertheless I was done! It was the best race ever. The 13 hours and 35  minutes was good enough for me to finish 12th place overall in the 100k. 11:12 overall pace.

2016 – I told the aid station captain about my decision not to continue. She shook her head, wrote my number down and told the radio operator that I was dropping. I walked over to the other side of the food and beverage tent where there was a fire. I sat quietly with two other people that had dropped out at the same time I did and several runners that needed to get themselves warm before venturing out onto the course once again. 

I sat around the fire for about an hour before I and the two other people who had dropped got a ride back into town with one of the EMTs.

At the school, I hobbled through the front doors and into the cafeteria where both Jeff and Renee Calvert were sitting. Jeff saw me first, grabbed his running gear, thinking I made it to the Middle School ahead of schedule. I sat down, put my head on the table for a second, then lifted my head, “I dropped. You don’t need to pace me, Jeff.” After giving both Jeff and Renee a short summary of my day, I stumbled to the showers and then went to bed. It was about 1am. 

POST-RACE – THE NEXT DAY

2015 – 2106: The morning after, both years, I woke up around 7:30 and went to cheer on both strangers and friends who were finishing the 100 miler. The best end to the weekend was this year (2016) when I was able to cheer on Todd Lewis for finally finishing his long journey in the 100-miler.

Before going out on his final six mile “Coming Home Loop”, Todd made some adjustments before setting out. “What are you doing here?” said Todd, thinking I might have been still on the course.

“It’s not about me, right now. It’s all about you. Got get it!” I replied.

Jeff later said. “You were there so all the bad karma would fall on you, leaving the rest to finish there races unscathed,” about how my day didn’t work out for me but worked out so well for others. Though I think Jeff was slamming me, but somehow those words were comforting. Even though you might be out there with only you and your abilities, sometimes alone for hours in the back country, there are times you are reminded that the world is a much bigger place…  at least big enough that you can share with some brethren. Running – just like life – is a more than a journey… it is a shared expedition.

 

Todd Lewis ends his journey just under 30 hours.

Todd Lewis ends his journey just under 30 hours.

Crossing the line, Todd drops to the ground. RD Tom Jennings joins him on the ground to hand Todd his buckle.

Crossing the line, Todd drops to the ground. RD Tom Jennings joins him on the ground to hand Todd his buckle.

Group shot: Left to right, Jeff Calvert, Me, Danny Mowers, Todd Lewis, Todd's wife Erin, Mark Grove and Renee Calvert.

Group shot: Left to right, Jeff Calvert, Me, Danny Mowers, Todd Lewis, Todd’s wife Erin, Mark Grove and Renee Calvert.