MY JOURNEY STARTED BACK in Hollidaysburg, Friday morning on November 16th. Even though I packed my drop bag, nutrition, run bag, and overnight bag a couple days before, I still had a lot to do. I filed baggies with either Perpetuem or Accelerade and stowed them away in my running back or drop bag. I ran to Martin’s to get my breakfast for race morning. At Ollie’s I bought a small zippered pocket to attach to the front of my running pack. I met my dad for lunch and we exchanged cars for his more runner and travel-friendlier Honda Element. By noon, I was on my way to Gaithersburg, Maryland to run in the Stone Mill 50 Mile. (Read previous blog entry about my preparation for this race.) The Stone Mill 50 Mile is a 50-mile trail run on the Seneca Greenway and Muddy Branch trails in Montgomery County, MD. The course traverses forested, rolling terrain. The course is primarily on single track dirt. The Stone Mill 50 is in its third year. Despite being in the heart of suburban sprawl, it is almost entirely on single track as it winds from park to park along Great Seneca Creek and Muddy Branch waterways as it makes a large lollipop route. The race was created as an “overflow alternative” to the nearby JFK 50 further up the Potomac Valley. On the same weekend as the JFK 50, the race directors also created the Stone Mill 50 feeling that the JFK had become too crowded and expensive. At $35, the registration fee for the Stone Mill is a incredible deal. Plus, unlike the JFK with 26 miles of mind-numbing canal towpath and sections of road running, the Stone Mill course is almost entirely on rolling single track.

My bib number.

I made it to the hotel before 3pm. I always forget how close D.C. is to Central PA. Long ago my mother, before there was any Japanese food locally, would have my dad drive her to Rockville, MD every 6 to 8 weeks for groceries. Then after college, I had friends who I visited that lived in the area. Every time I made the drive, I would always be surprised on how quick it is. Today it was just over 2 hours. After checking in, I decided to drive from the hotel to the starting line at Watkins High School between Rockville and Germantown so I would not have trouble negotiating unfamiliar streets in the dark on race morning. After getting familiar with my morning route to the start, I ventured to Fleet Feet Sports in the Kentlands to get my race packet. The $35 entry fee goes almost entirely toward aid station supplies. However, I did get an extra item of schwag – a nice coffee mug to remember the race. I also paid extra for a race logo Patagonia zip-jacket. I also met the race director. It might be a coincidence but he looked like a strange mash up as if Craig Fleming, race director for the Hyner, and Mike Hunter, race director for the Mega, were both genetically fused into one person.

Map and elevation profile

After getting my packet, I then drove to Germantown to Carrabba’s since I wanted pasta but didn’t want to eat some place unfamiliar. As a rule, I don’t like eating at chains but I didn’t want to be adventurous that night. Carrabba’s was suggested by one of the runners on the Stone Mill 50 Race forum as a place for some of the out of town runners to meet. However, I got there at 5pm and the others would not make it until 7pm so I missed them entirely. By seven o’clock I was already back at the hotel laying my clothes out and packing everything I needed in my drop bag and running pack for the race. Pack Mule Ben really overloaded on supplies. I had five small pockets on the back of my shorts and they were loaded with baggies full of Perpetuem and Accelerade. Then I had about a dozen nutrition bars, lots of gels, gel in my flask, and a baggie full of Endurolyte capsules. Then take all that nutrition I just described and TIMES IT BY TWO, because that was what I had in m running pack and my drop bag! Seriously, that is a lot to carry around. Looking back, I could have done a hundred-fifty mile race and not needed an aid station except for water. I over packed and had too much nutrition on me that I never used. Live and learn… I went to bed around 8pm and woke up a few times during the night but all and all I had a good sleep until about 2:30am when the alarm on the watch I borrowed from my dad went off. I have a bunch of watches but all of them are huge and heavy with giant metal bands. I needed a simple and lightweight watch with a easy to read LED so I know what time it is without getting out my iPhone. Anyhow the watch alarm went off and I had no idea how to stop the alarm. It would snooze for 10 minutes and then it would go off again. It took me an hour of pressing the right buttons in the right sequence before the alarm was disabled. It was close to 3:30 and I had a restless hour before 4:30am.

Start photos. From upper left, clockwise is just prior to the start; the start, around the school and down the hill.

4:30AM. I GOT OUT OF BED AND HAD breakfast that I had ready made the night before: a blueberry bagel with Nutella, a banana and a Snickers marathon bar. I was on the road by 4:50. I stopped at a McDonalds and got a coffee to go. I was parked at the high school by 5:15. It was about 30 degrees. I had on my Rock N The Knob shirt with arm warmers. Then I had a long sleeve Pittsburgh marathon shirt over top of that. I really debated whether to wear the long-sleeve shirt but I was cold and I can always shed clothing along the way. Over top BOTH shirts I wore a red Salomon lightweight windbreaker (Fast Wing III). Except for

Down the hill from the school to the trail.

using the rest room, checking in and dropping off my drop bag, I opted to stay in my car as long as possible. At 5:55am everyone started to get out of their vehicles. As soon as I got out of my car, put on my pack and walked to the start, the race director said “go”. I could not have timed it any closer. First we did a lap around the school and some of us joked that the course was actually two hundred laps around the school grounds. After going around the school once, we ended up near the starting line but then ran down a steep hill and into the woods. It was frick’en cool to see about 100 runners in front of me, headlamps bobbing, running down the hill and into the woods. Immediately, the trail narrowed into single track but there was still a lot of passing and jockeying for position. The trail was much more rolling than I expected and was entirely covered with leaves. This was a pleasant surprise despite increasing the level of difficulty. I was expecting a wider and cleaner single track much like you would see on the hiking and biking trails around Lake Raystown or Shawnee. It is more comparable to the trails along the creek and lake at Canoe Creek. Not even 10 minutes into the race and I was having a blast. I was running at the pretty good clip and passed often until I finally settled with a group running at a pace I was comfortable with and got into a groove. Still dark, there was a lot more tripping and falling around me. After climbing a small hill and then running down the other side, we started to run through flat lowlands as the terrain became flatter and the trail was cleaner with hard-packed dirt.

The turnaround at Brink Road. I am behind the guy in blue.

The first section was a 5.25 mile out and back (2.5 miles or so out and another 2.5 back) to gain enough miles to make it a 50 miler. (The official mileage is 50.96 miles.) After a mile from the turnaround, I saw headlights coming toward me. It was the lead pack. I would pass about five or six packs before I made it to the turnaround at Brink Road and headed back. After a quarter-mile and in the pre-sunrise light, I heard John Notte say “Hey Ben” as he ran by. I had no idea how he was able to recognize me in those low-light conditions. John Notte, back in August, told me about this race when I was looking for a ultramarathon in the Fall. I heard my iSmoothRun app blare “walk now”. I set my app for run and walk intervals: 25 minutes of running and then 5 minutes of walking. With the lack of major hills, I decided to time my run/walk intervals. But it was so early into the race so I felt it was okay to ignore it that time and I continued to run. I reached Watkins Mill Road again but instead of heading back to the high school, we made a right along the

On the trail approaching Route 350 in the morning. About mile 6.

road for about 50-yards and then back onto single track. In the first 11 miles runners will travel along Great Seneca Creek, sometimes along the creek, then at times the trail would rise above the valley and wind along the contour or over knobs and down small dales. The course would do this again and again. I counted nine hills in those first 11 miles. Most hills were no more than 25 feet or at most 40 feet of climb. Most climbs would take about minute or so to scale. (Later in the race the hills would grow to about 40 to 100 feet per climb.) This is what I suspected and was why I chose timed intervals rather than walking up the hills. (After the first 18 miles, if a hill was long enough or steep enough, I would walk it anyway but still adhere to my timed intervals.) AT AROUND MILE NINE I RAN INTO Shelly Cabe, an Allegheny Trailrunner member on Facebook from southern Pennsylvania and who participated in last years Stone Mill. She runs about one ultramarathon a month and I been following her blog all summer. It is good to actually meet someone you have read about their adventures online. We came to a high-tension power line where the trail makes a sharp switchback. About a half-mile later, we came across a road near the breast of Clopper Lake. Still hanging with Shelly, she said that the course hops over the guardrail in front of us while two runners ahead of us completely ignored the markers. I was feeling fortunate that she was there to point me in the right direction but soon we parted as my app directed me to walk for five minutes which I complied. As I write this, I am not sure if run/walk

Typical hill on the trail

intervals helped or hurt. On one hand, there was never a point where I felt extremely tired during the entire race. I did spend a lot of time “leap frogging”. When I took a five minute walk, runners would go by. Then when I ran, I would either catch up or even pass a few of the runners that passed me earlier. So overall, during the first 20 to 30 miles, my overall pace would have been about the same as if I would have ran the entire distance. On a negative side, I realized that my power walking muscles were not as developed as I thought they were and I often found myself it was more stressful on my legs walking than it did running. If I were to do another ultra using a run/walk intervals, I would need to work out those power walking muscles more than I did for this race. Prior to this race, I only practiced run/walk on one training run. It is also worth noting that run/walk really takes a lot of discipline. When that alarm went off to remind me to walk, I would say to myself “I’m not tired. Why should I walk?”. Or there is a nice flat or downhill section of trail and I would think, “why should I walk here on such a great section of trail?” Or I will be running with a group at a perfect pace and then have to say goodbye to them at the end of the running interval. Or maybe you have to much pride to have people pass you when you are probably feeling better than them. Well, as for me, the verdict is still out for run/walk, but so many people trust the system that you just have to run on faith that it works. Again I think in the first 20 to 30 miles, my overall pace would have been about the same as if I would have ran the entire distance. But the intervals did help to make sure I was getting enough nutrition. I used the 30 minute interval to remind me to eat or drink.

Approaching and then crossing Riffle Ford Creek at around mile 12.

Just before mile 12.5, a photographer takes a snap shot of me crossing Riffle Ford Run. I am surprised how many stream crossings there were on the course, yet all were shallow with enough rocks to keep your feet dry. At 12.8 miles I stopped at the second major aid station and had caught up with Shelly. I grabbed a handful of gummy bears and ginger snaps and was on my way. Riffle Ford also marks were the course splits. The course is lollipop-shaped. Here at Riffle Road runners will run toward the southeast into Quince Orchard Park and along Route 28 to Muddy Branch. In the late-afternoon, runners will be running up Great Seneca Creek from the west, reach Riffle Ford and then run up the course we just ran on for 8 to 9 miles to the finish.

I can’t remember where this pic was taken. somewhere between Darnestown Rd. and Penny Lock aid station.

About a mile after the aid station, the trail looked like it slowly went downhill toward a stream. A couple walking their dog just happened to be at the right place at the right time and told me and another runner that the course actually veered to the left and up a hill. If it wasn’t for that couple, I would have went the wrong way. I started to think that this was my lucky day. Houses started to close in on both sides until when I ran over an embankment found myself at a busy four-lane highway. Here we emerged out of the woods and onto Route 124 or Quince Orchard Road. A race marshal tells us to run down the road several hundred yards and then turn onto Route 28/Darnestown Road. This section was the only sidewalk section of the entire course — about 1.3 miles downhill to Muddy Branch. This section is unavoidable since it served as a land bridge between Great Seneca Creek and Muddy Branch. At the bottom of the hill, we dropped down near the creek and then through a tunnel underneath the highway. On the other side was a section of abandoned roadway and another aid station – mile 16. The last section, out in the open sun, was rather warm so I took off my long-sleeve shift and stowed it away in my pack. I still chose to wear my windbreaker over top my Rock N The Knob shirt. I put my hand to my stomach and realized I really needed to take a dump. In the course description I read that there were three aid stations that had porta potties. I asked a volunteer if this was one of those aid stations. He looked around and said to “go make friends with a tree.” I took a walk to the end of the abandoned road to what looked like an abutment to a bridge that once spanned the creek. I did my business and then buried it in the sand along the creek and hoped there was no intake further down the stream. Luckily I always carry toilet paper with me in my pack. Back on the trail, we run downstream along Muddy Branch to the Potomac. The tiny hills became more frequent. Several days later, I was talking to a friend who also recently finished his first 50 miler. We are both amazed how much of the race we can’t remember. There are many miles and large spans of time that I just can’t recall! With endless miles of single track, through bottom land, then over the small hills and around snake-like turns – it kind of all runs together. I have been able to jog my memory and piece things together from looking at the GPS route and the few pictures I took but I apologize for the large parts of the trail that I just can’t remember. [Makes for a shorter blog entry, though.]

A runner taking off at Quince Orchard

Between the Route 28 aid station at mile 16 and the next station at Quince Orchard was just 3 miles apart but looking at my GPS track, this area had a lot of hills. “It’s not the mileage, it’s the terrain.” Not too far after leaving the aid station I see a few runners including Shelly running toward me. This is not a good sign. Did we miss a turn? But as we ran toward each other, I see the trail markers to my right. Shelly and her friends must have ran through this intersection. Again I was thinking that this must be “mah luh-key deh” and I was in the right place and at the right time once again. I made it to Quince Orchard before Shelly. When she came into the aid station, she started asking if anyone lost a timing chip. I looked down at my shoe to discover my chip was gone! Now there was a greater probability that it could be someone else’s chip. But I took it anyway and stowed it in my compression calve sleeve and figured I can sort it out later at the finish. The next aid station was more than 8 miles away so I loaded up on cookies, took a photo and I was off again. After the aid station, we ran above Muddy Branch in what seemed forever – up and down countless hills or closer to the creek were it was flatter and the running surface was hard-packed mud. This section was a blur. (Mile 16 to 25 were the fastest miles I did that day). Then about mile 22, we hit Esworthy Road where we had to run a quarter-mile up the road to the top of the hill. This is when I started to feel some tiredness in my legs but it was pretty much what I expected — or a tad better than I would normally feel for a run of about 20+ miles. Not too far, we darted back into the woods, now higher above the valley before dropping again toward the creek. I am not sure if it was here at the first hill after Esworthy or the second hill, but I was passing a runner on the left when my

Up the last hill climb just before the downhill to Pennylock.

left foot T-boned with a large stick. Luckily my stride length was short and the stick did not catch on anything. As I felt a sense of relief, my right ankle rolled as I tried to merge back onto the trail. Except for the first few steps after landing awkwardly, I did not feel any discomfort in my ankle. I felt I had averted disaster. I roll my ankle all the time and this didn’t even register as anything serious. Then several miles later while climbing before reaching River Road, I noticed a slight pain for several feet but the pain was gone after a few steps. My spirits lifted when the trail started to descend steeper than ever before. I knew I was getting closer to the Potomac River. Then at the bottom of the hill, I could see an expansive clearing. I was approaching Pennylock Aid Station and across from it was the historic canal and on the other side of the canal was the towpath I would be running on. Another runner and I ran side by side as we approached the aid station. “Great job! You two are on track for a 10-hour run.” The guy beside me laughs. “Yeah, right!”

The Potomac River near Stone Mill.

“That guy is assuming a lot” I said. “I doubt I will keep up this pace for another 25 miles.” We entered the aid station and I immediately went on my second pit stop to the porta-potty. I had a minor GI issue. Then I got some food and then updated my Facebook status that I have reached the river. The aid station is at mile 25.1 – halfway. I took off my damp jacket and wadded it up into my pack and then I was off. To my right was the Potomac River – the river was as blue as sapphire. The entire river was peppered with large white craggly rocks, each one as large as car. Atop the rocks were warpped and ravaged trees that clawed into any crack it can find. They were no higher than three feet tall — leaves and debris hung off their limbs. To my right was the canal. The other side was lined with sycamore trees during the low land stretches or stunted jack pines that clung to the granite cliffs in the rugged areas. Below, blue herons tiptoed along the basin. It was a great day for a run. Still adhering to my run/walk cycles, I was yo-yoing between several runners – one guy sported a blue Laurel Highlands Ultra zip tee like I have at home but he was in no mood to talk. There was also a couple, I think siblings, who were running together. She was pacing him since she was coming off an injury and didn’t expect to run. She convinced him to do the race. He muttered to me, “You should run a 50-miler, she said. It will be fun, she said.” “Stop your whining” she replied. The canal section in the Stone Mill 50 was just little over 3 miles. I have no idea how the JFK-50 runners would deal with running 26 miles on the towpath further north. That would drive me bonkers. Toward the last mile on the towpath, the discomfort in my right ankle became noticeable. It was a constant yet still very dull, slight pain. I would say it was at a level two on a scale of 1-10. There was no affect in my gait or stride.

Approaching Stone Mill Aid Station – mile 29

I ROLLED INTO STONE MILL AID STATION at mile 29. This is a great time to talk about the outstanding work of the volunteers. About 25 yards before each station, there would be two people recording your bib number. After those two, three other people would greet each runner individually and cater to everything they could possibly need. The guy who greeted me wore a rubberized red-headed mullet. At first I looked at him thinking it was real. “Welcome to Stone Mill. Do you have a drop bag? Is there anything I can get you? Do you need me to fill your bottles?” “I got a fresh pair of shoes in my drop bag” I said. “Bag bags are sorted by number. Yours is right there” pointing right to my bag under a tree. “Sit down in this chair, change your shoes, and I will fill your bottles while you change. What do you want in them? Water, Heed, Gatorade, Ginger-Ale, Soda?” Everyone that came into the aid station was treated this way. They were true “Johnny-on-the-Spots”. I changed from my stiffer soled Crossmax’s to the more nimble Speedcross’s. Even though I had a fresh shirt in my drop bag, I decided not to change. Also I had lots nutrition in my drop bag. I was going through my food supplies a lot slower than I anticipated since I was eating more at the aid stations. After changing, I walked over to the aid station. They would have three people manning the station while two other people would be cooking hot foods and/or sandwiches. “Hey friends. This is a glorious feast! Zoidberg should run all the time!” Two of the volunteers laughed, getting the Futurama reference. I think I had a helping of homemade chicken noodle soup, cookies, and a peanut butter sandwich. “Would you like a beer?” said one of the volunteers “Beer? Would I!” I exclaimed. “Want do you have?” “We got light stuff like Miller and PBR. But we also go Belgium ales, IPA, Yuengling, and some Flying Dog brews. A woman overhearing our conversation joins in. “Got any Raging Bitch?” she said. I decided to pass on the beer but I did notice the bottle of Jim Beam and Jack Daniels. Obviously that was for those who needed the pain to be dulled.

Around mile 33 or so. This shot is a good example of the trail conditions during the “lowlands.”

I ran out of the aid station and immediately noticed my right ankle hurting a lot more than it ever did. I will probably we thinking about this all winter. Did the change of shoes make my foot hurt more or was it because I took a long pause at the aid station giving enough time for my ankle to stiffen up? In any event, this is where my right leg started to give me an issue. Still I was not favoring my foot, but the pain was now noticeable with every step. The pain was even more noticeable when I transitioned from a walk interval and started running. I would hold my breath during those first few steps as I started running until I was up to speed and the pain would subside. However, mile after mile, I noticed my gait/strides began to become sloppy. Starting from Stone Mill at Mile 29, the course travels up Great Seneca Creek. This officially marks the return from the river to the finish. Overall it would be a slow climb upstream. But despite my foot, my pace was still steady and I continued to prod along. In fact, I have very little recollection of what happened between mile 29 and the next aid station at mile 35. I do remember that at mile 31, I realized that this was the farthest I have ran at one time and was thinking that I was doing pretty good considering my foot. I still had the opportunity to finish this race in a decent time. “I will be done before dark” I thought. Going into the Darnestown aid station at mile 35, I sent out a Facebook status message:

“35 miles. 7:26. Sufferfest – rolled ankle at mile 18. Onward.”

Shot of the pines.

It was about 2:15 to 2:30pm. But again, my ankle wasn’t slowing me down between mile 29 and 35 too much. At the aid station, I asked for a pack of ice when I noticed my ankle was slightly swollen. When I got up and tried the leg, it seemed the ice had stiffened it up and the pain got worse. I refused to take any NSAIDs since I believe that NSAIDs should not be taken for anything more than a 10k for fear of possible liver damage. From mile 35 to 42 is a section called “Seneca Ridge Trail” as the creek makes a sharp easterly turn as it cuts through a small ridge. The trail makes is largest amount of up/down swings, and loops, and sidewinders. Physically I think I am going okay despite the pain. My left leg and both of my hip flexors were starting to get tired but it was nothing more than I experienced or expected. If there is any successful takeaways from my performance it was that doing this entire race, it was that I did not feel any bit of cramping. In this aspect, this race was much better than the Laurel Highlands Ultra when cramping really did me in. I attributed my lack of cramping by being well-hydrated, well-fed and taking salt tablets very regularly. Also being that it was 20 – 40 degrees cooler had

On the trail between mile 35 and 42. Not sure what the green bushes were but they were the only green foliage I saw for most of the day.

a lot to do with it too! Also of note, even though the course had its most dramatic turns and elevation swings in this section, it was also here it was most varied with many different types of trees, terrain and levels of forest growth. I would also begin to see less and less runners in front or behind me. Mentally I was doing okay considering my struggle with my ankle. Usually on a race I often begin to play the entire Foo Fighters discography in my head. But today all I can think about was my ankle and the trail twelve feet and twelve miles ahead me. FINALLY I REACHED RIFFLE FORD aid station at around 4:15 to 4:30 in the afternoon. Several factors happened here that looking back in hindsight would become critical… #1) I didn’t realize it at the time but it took me between 90 to 110 minutes to travel the last 7 miles (12:50-15:30 pace). If I had my senses about me, I would have realized that it would take me at more than 2 hours to travel the remaining 8 to 9 miles to the finish. But at that time I was doing my trail math based on what I could run on a normal day – never taking account the 42 miles I just ran let alone running on my slowly failing ankle. Yet at that moment I actually thought “I have this in the bag!” and I almost sent out that exact message out on Facebook and I was going to be done in under 12 hours. Luckily I did not.

Riffle Ford Aid Station food.

Near the end of the course from lower left to upper right.

I ate some awesome chocolate covered bacon, a Nutella sandwich, a few Cliff Blox and some cookies and I was off again to conquer the last ‘9 glorious miles’. But as soon as I started to run, my ankle protested enough that I backed off from running. Naively I thought it would eventually loosen up. I also rationalized that if I had to walk the entire distance, I can still walk my normal 15-minute mile pace and be done in a respectable time. “I can still get this done in ninety minutes” I mistakenly thought. If I realized how much slower I would be in the next several mikes, I would have known that my ninety minute goal was unattainable. #2) Not only did I make the wrong estimate of my pace due to my foot, but night was coming which would drop my pace even slower. #3) Don’t listen to volunteers when they say “it is less than 4 miles to the next aid station and then another 2 to the finish”. In reality it would be near 9 miles. If you have been following my races and the races my friends had ran this past summer, I should have known better. #4) The most critical and potentially most threatening mistake I made was when I unpacked my red windbreaker from my pack and zipped it on, it was still soaked in sweat from the morning! Not only would the next 9 miles be the most painful and slowest nine miles of my life, but it will also be the coldest! NOT TOO FAR FROM THE AID STATION, I was under a busy highway. Immediately I thought I was under I-270 and in the home stretch. After a mile or so, I realized I was wrong and haven’t even begun my torturous leg. [Pun] A group of about six runners all in a pack caught up and passed me just after the power line. Then I was alone again as I slowly made my way and it starting to get dark. Every attempt to run was thwarted with a unbelievable pain in my right foot. Even walking was tough traversing over uneven terrain and trying not to have one of the hundreds of exposed roots or rocks catch on the soles of my right shoe that would pull painfully on my ankle. Each time my foot would drag I would utter a profanity. This ordeal become more difficult as it became night. I turned on my headlamp only to see eerie eyes in the darkness peering back at me in silence. My world was focused on what was six inches in front of me, especially in a particularly rocky section of trail along a small road that paralleled the trail, or where ballast stone fell from a railroad bridge high above. Even on a flat section where the trail was along the creek and lacking in rocks, the path was so hard-packed that it gave my feet no rest. I finally did make it under the interstate and then under Route 350 and emerged out of the basin alongside Route 350 and then onto the sidewalk to the last aid station. [Riffle Ford to Route 350 – 5.2 miles around 1h:30m or 15:00 to 20:00 pace] The volunteers fed me Pringles and warm vegetable soup. As I drank some soup I heard on the walkie-talkie that they just let the last group of runners past the checkpoint at Riffle Ford five miles behind me. It was around 6:10pm. I became relieved that there were runners still on the course behind me and I wasn’t going to be the last to finish. My iPhone battery had died and unknown to me, friends and family began to call, text and post on my FB timeline concerned about my whereabouts. My last post was at mile 35 at 2:30pm and at the rate I was going prior to mile 35, I should have finished long time ago. I asked which way was the finish and the volunteer pointed down a hill and I stumbled off into the darkness. If there was any opportunity to quit, it would have been there. But strangely enough, the thought of quitting never crossed my mind. I rationalized that all I had to do was to walk up the valley for three more miles. But things went from bad to worse. I think my mind must have completely shut off since I am lacking in details as my pace dropped even further. I do remember being more surprised by the amount of hills and leaf-covered trails that hid roots and other obstacles that dragged on the lugs on the bottom of my shoe and sent a pulse of pain up my leg. The miles between Riffle Ford and the last aid station were very lonely so at least I was somewhat relived that there were quite a few more runners in this last section. I would hear them approach, yield off the trail as they passed, each would ask how I was doing and then reassured me the finish was not too far away. Then about a mile before the finish, a guy in his forties, glasses, mustache, stopped instead of passing me and continuing to the finish. “You are not looking too good” he noticed. My stride and gait was awful at this point. I limped with every step and my body was severely pitched forward. I told him it was not my day and told him about my ankle. “I know how you feel. I always seem to turn an ankle at the worst possible time” he said. “Put your arm over my shoulder and put your all your weight on me. I will carry you to the finish.” I started to refuse but he already pulled my arm across his shoulder and as soon as my center of gravity shifted over and I was not putting so much weight on my leg, my leg felt so much better. He would carry me for the next three-quarters of a mile. As a rule, I am pretty stubborn and normally I would have too much pride to be helped. But in hindsight, he showed up at the right time and really pulled me through. I think that last mile would have been extremely ugly if it wasn’t for him. His name was Mike Stasiowski and we talked about where we were from and about trail running in general but for the most part I wasn’t too much in a mood to talk so he did most of the talking. At one point he mentioned about finishing one hundred miles and at the time I didn’t understand what he meant. As we got to about a quarter-of-a-mile to the finish, I insisted on trying the foot out again. I was walking a lot better, admitted Mike, comparing to how I was walking when he first saw me. We went on a short stretch of sidewalk and then back into the woods below the school. The finishing push was up a very steep climb – the steepest of the race – to the finish. “Run to the light!” said someone on a megaphone as I saw two volunteers waving at me with flashlights as I tried to go up the hill. I began to flounder when Mike came to my side and helped me up the embankment. At the top was a sharp right turn and then we crossed through the finish chute. I did not even pay attention to the clock – all I knew was that I made it. I explained to the race director about my ankle and he immediately found a chair for me to sit and ordered one of the volunteers to fetch some ice for my ankle. As I sat there in the chair, Mike explained to the race director that he started running last evening, ran through the entire night and day and completed the course twice – 100 miles! I interrupted “I heard you said that but I thought I was hearing things!” My time: 13 hours and 43 seconds. It took me about 90 minutes at pace around a 30 minute mile to hobble 2.96 miles!!!

Finally at the finish

AS I WAITED FOR ICE, I began to shiver. I was chilled to the bone and I wondered if I was at the onset of hypothermia. I needed to get warm now! I started to walk toward the direction to where the volunteer went for ice. I was told there was a hot meal and heat waiting for me in the school gymnasium. Then after about 50 yards from the finish line, I realized that the gymnasium is on the other side of the building. Luckily the volunteer rounded the corner and appeared with a bag of ice and a plate of rigatoni. I decided right there I had enough for one day, turned around, grabbed my drop bag and then hobbled to the car and turned the heat on to ‘thermonuclear’ and made a beeline back to the hotel. I had plans to take a shower and celebrate with a few brews and dinner at Dogfish Brewery in Gaithersburg. But I was spent and all I wanted to do is get into a warm bed as soon as possible. I drove back to the hotel, limped to my room, and ate the now cold rigatoni and bread. On one hand, my body, except for the cold, was fine considering I just ran 50 miles and for the entire waking day. But everything below my shins were shot and were in meltdown. I couldn’t even bear the pain to take a shower, knowing I wouldn’t be able to lift my legs into the tub. I decided to put on compression tights on the help with recovery and immediately went to bed despite the days stench still radiating from me. Housekeeping will probably hate me tomorrow and be forced to incinerate my sheets. I turned on the heat on maximum trying to get warm. As you may or may not know, I am single and have been unattached more years than not throughout my adult life. It really has never bothered me being alone. But that night, the cold penetrating to the bone, now both ankles screaming for mercy, and worse of all not knowing if I will have the strength to leave the bed come morning, I have never felt more lonely in my entire life! I may end up paralyzed here come morning, cold, alone, broken and so far from home.

My swollen “cankles” about four days after the race.

I went to bed around 9pm but woke up several times during the night. One of the times I woke up to find my legs had swollen so much, that the flesh was spilling out between my compression tights and socks. It took me 30 minutes to remove them. When I woke up in the morning, I really thought I wasn’t going to be able to get out of bed. But after 10 minutes or so, blood started to circulate through my legs and I was moving around much better than expected. I got a shower, packed, and was headed home without having too much trouble. My recovery had been slow. The day after the race wasn’t too bad but the swelling and soreness came back with a vengeance on Monday. My ankles were swollen to the size and stiffness of ironwood trees and were hot to the touch. In fact, my other foot, the one that wasn’t injured, hurt more than my injured ankle. Then on Thanksgiving Thursday I turned a corner, with most of the swelling gone until later in the day. Exactly one week later from when I was marching between Riffle Ford and Route 350, my ankles were painful around the main joint. If it didn’t get dramatically better in the next 3 or 4 days, I decided I should go in to the doctor. But on Sunday I had a dramatic improvement and my recovery accelerated in the days afterward. LOOKING BACK NOW THAT it has been about 10 days since the race, if I remind myself that my goal prior to the event was to finish it, then it was a success. However I am disappointed that I could have done a lot better if my ankle would have held up. Surprising my Achilles, which I had problems in late-summer had held up and I did not have one issue all race. Also, for the Laurel Highlands and for the Pittsburgh Marathon, I did a lot of strength training with my back and core but I have done a poor job keeping that maintained this summer and fall. I was worried my back would have some problems during the race but that too held strong during the race. I still have a lot to learn though. Even though I think I have my race nutrition down, I carried far more than I needed. I also made the mistake of not changing into DRY clothes for the race. Doing run/walk intervals (for this particular race) is up in the air. With my list of things I did right and my list of “do-overs”, I am really considering running this race again year. Despite my ankle, I really enjoyed the course, volunteers and the other runners. Probably what I enjoyed the most was the long training runs prior to the race which really pushed me physically but yet allowed me to enjoy the trails of the Alleghenies as much as possible.