PRE-RACE: I wake up at 5:15 AM ready to do the Dam Scramble for a third time. One year ago things didn’t go so well for me. Just a few miles from the finish and I ended up wincing in pain and cursing the heavens when my achilles tendon seized up on me. Knock on wood, I hoped things were going to be better this year. I drove over to the Giant Eagle parking lot in Altoona and met up with Todd Lewis and John Weaver. Todd hoped to improve his calamity last year as well. He also had an achilles tendon problem that had been persistent all summer. Midway through the race last year, Todd did his own rendition of the guy being shot in the stomach by a cannon but instead of a cannonball, Todd was shot by a flying log. The log shattered into splinters like it was hit by a lightning bolt.


This year would be John Weaver’s first attempt at the Dam Scramble. He hasn’t ran a lot since a big race back in April. He also had a very busy summer has kept them off the trails. He is looking at this race as a “jump start to his training” for the races he plans to do this fall.
The drive up to Lake Curwensville took even less time than I thought it did a year ago. We were one of the first people to arrive at the lake. I got in line to pick up my packet.
“What is your name?” The race volunteer said to me.
“Mazur”
“I have a Mah-sore” she said.
“No, it’s Mazur. I think I know how to pronounce my own name” I said.
“Mazur?! Well, I don’t care how you pronounce your name. Now you are known as number 254” she said.

After registration check-in, I found out that I only had one race shirt in my race packet while Todd and John had two – a second extra shirt from another race. John offered me his second shirt but the last thing I needed was another shirt since I have tons and tons of race shirts. However, if I knew ahead of time the awesome quality and softness of the race shirt I got, I might have chosen differently.
Todd gave me his extra pair of running gators to wear. Running the race last year, the dust and dirt kicked up on the downhills got between my feet and socks and made for very unhappy feet. I was going to buy my own pair of gators but I forgot about it until it was too late. The gators were colored “rainbow tie-dye”. Very masculine. Almost as masculine as the hot pink compression socks I found in the “no one would buy this crap” discount bin at Ross. I put on the gators but could not put on the socks without loosing my dignity. While getting ourselves ready for the race, Andre Sweely, another local runner arrived. For some strange reason I kept calling him Andrew for that entire day. (Sorry, Andre. You should have corrected me at some point.) This was going to be Andre’s first long trail race over 5 miles. He sure picked a good one.

While we were getting ready several friends of mine as well as some of John’s friends appeared. There is nothing like the camaraderie of a trail race — getting together with some of your running friends and occasionally meeting up with old friends that you have not seen in a long time.
Soon it was a few minutes before race time and we all gathered together at the pavilion for the race briefing. After some words by Donna Carahan she yielded the floor to the race director and course designer Carl Undercoffer. After thanking some volunteers for making the race possible he began to explain that he was working on removing some of the off camber trails.
“As I was working on the trails to even out some of the off-camber surface, I was chastised by a another trail runner for ruining the race. He said that this person complained that this is supposed to be a trail race — not a stroll on a path” said Carl.
As he said those words I thought to myself that I wrote something on Carl’s Facebook page that was very similar.
Carl continued. “So if anyone wants to complain about the trails please talk to that guy over there” he pointing at me. “His name is Ben Mazur” and everyone looks at me. What the hell, Carl?! Throw me under the bus. We all walked over to the starting line as I wondered if I was going to be stabbed by a shiv at some point during the race.

The First-Half of the Race:
The race announcer said go and we all ran down the dirt road toward the lake. Todd takes off. Prior to the race Todd said “I don’t know if I’m going to run this race hard or the Mount Nittany Marathon next week.”

Donnie from last years race. "I'm too good looking to fall... I'm too good looking to fall..." Donnie would say to himself.

Donnie from last years race. “I’m too good looking to fall… I’m too good looking to fall…” Donnie would say to himself.

When we heard this statement John replied, quotation marks in the air, “I’m sure when the gun goes off you’re just gonna go for it” said John mockingly. John was right.
About a half a mile into the race before the first uphill into the forest I met up with John. This is his account of what happened: “I was running along and had a hard time getting warmed up and this jerk comes up behind me and says he too was having a hard time warming up but then he takes off. What a jerk!? His name is Ben Mazur.”
We climbed the first uphill between mile one and two. I am not sure what happened to Weaver but Andre was close to my tail. I don’t know how well Andre usually runs but I was quite surprised and impressed that he was keeping up. Nearing the top of the ridge I caught up with Todd Lewis. Out of the two of us, I am a better hill climber than Todd and I figured I would catch up to him on the uphill sections.
Then came the downhill… a lively section of singletrack even though this year it seemed like the sides of the trail were cut a little wider than previous years. As the singletrack started to go down the mountain, it widened into a double track and Todd slowly slipped away while Andre was still behind me. I found myself in a pack of four runners including Andre and a few other Dam Scramble virgins. I was able to give them a heads up on what to expect next.
We headed back toward the lake and passed the first aid station. Everybody else stopped while I went through it but only 50 yards past the aid station I had to step off the trail to take a piss since my back teeth were floating. During that detour Andre ran ahead of me. I got back on the trail and we both attacked a section of the course called “The Jungle” — a section of trail that winds around like a serpent along the lake as we dodged river debris, thorny thickets, and leap-frogged over ravines. Next we transected a section of the course called “Woodcock Trail” where we picked up a couple of other runners — one a guy with wearing a yellow Dam Scramble shirt from last year and another runner who I will just refer to as “The Jock”. He looked like he just graduated from high school and still thinks he is still the shit since earning his letterman jacket.

At this point I realized I was running a lot faster than I wanted or even expected to. My plan prior to the race was to take the first half easy and then run the last half hard. However, I was running the race hard since the beginning of the race.
We arrived at the second aid station. I did not stay long long — just a few seconds — The Jock and I came out of the aid station first while the Dam Scramble shirt guy and Andre refueled but caught up to us shortly. We headed toward the rocky half pipe ditch called The Scramble. At the entrance of The Scramble the same woman who was there last year sat in a folding chair and was warning people about the rocks ahead. I said to her as I ran by, “Hey, you were here last year and you told my friend to watch out for the rocks. He then said okay and immediately biffed it.”
“I remember that”, she laughed. See that, Donnie… you are memorable.

knob

The Spine

We came out a The Scramble and then eased the pace to rest our legs before The Traverse. I was still running a lot faster than I initially planned but I felt good so I pressed on. We made it to The Traverse — a section where you are running precariously on a mountain side between the river below you and the steep slope above. This section was a lot easier this year since they did a lot of trail work to take some of the off camber stuff off the trail.
“Was this what the guy was talking about” said the yellow shirt guy. “By the way, who was the guy that the race director pointed to?”
Realizing he did not recognize me as THAT person, I played dumb and I replied that I didn’t know he was but assumed he was a pretty big deal. Ha ha.
Out of The Traverse, we began to climb up the mountainside in a section named “The Ascension”. Halfway up the climb, the course splits. The short course runners continue up the hill and the long course runners turn right along the ridge. We make a right.
“There are about eight runners ahead of you on the long course” said a trail marshal at the split.
One of the commandments in trail racing is NEVER believe what a race volunteer tells you. “Only five easy miles downhill” often turns out to be 12 miles of rugged hell. Having him say “only eight runners ahead” just didn’t seem right to me but I took his word for it, rationalizing that even a volunteer should be able know how to count to eight, right? “Eighth place!” the guy in the yellow shirt said. “That’s exactly where I wanted to be.”
It was now The Jock in front, I was in the middle and the yellow shirt guy was behind me. We were ahead of Andre who got held up at The Ascension. The three of us talked about our shoes since we all wore Solomons. I also noted that among the three of us I was the only one that was not in their early 20s or younger. I was pretty happy that I was able to keep up with the kids. In this section The Jock kept running past the trail markers and off course. He was glad I was there to stop him or he would have been really off course.
We then made it to the field at the far end of the course where the route came very close to the river. I warned The Jock that up next was The Spine. We are halfway in the race.

Looking up The Spine

Looking up The Spine

Last Half of the Race:
Last year at The Spine I took the lead from Todd and Donnie who both stalled on the climb. They said I looked like a billygoat climbing to the top. This year as we climbed to the top of The Spine I again gained a lot a distance from The Jock and the guy in the yellow shirt. Again I credit myself as a pretty good climber and The Spine seemed to be shorter than last year, making short work on this task. During the entire time preceding the climb I thought that I would catch up to Todd here but he was nowhere in sight. Then as I was almost at the top, I saw Todd running down the side of the mountain to my left. He was about 60 to 90 seconds ahead of me. I reached the top of The Spine, made the hard left turn and run down the switchback to the spot I saw Todd. I ran down The Spine faster and a bit more recklessly then I normally would but I was in “chase mode”. Finally at the bottom is a tram road and a slow climb back up the mountain. Here, the kid in the yellow shirt had caught up to me.

“Wow! You can really climb a mountain fast! I had to use everything I had to catch up to you on the downhill” he said. We both left The Jock in the dust. High school is over, pal!

I look up and I see Todd at the top of the hill about 45 seconds ahead. I put myself into low gear and started to march up the incline. At the top of the tram road there is a sharp left turn and a short yet very steep downhill section to where the trail merges with the short course and then climbs up to the top half of The Ascension. After Todd, the guy in the yellow shirt and I crunched through this section with everything that we had. We passed a kid, maybe 18 or 19 years of age, wearing a blue One Run for Boston T-shirt. We crossed the hard road and up-and-down dirt mounds — mining remains back from who knows when. Even though my legs still had a lot in them I could feel that I was my at max VO2 for awhile. I needed to step off the gas. I told the guy in the yellow shirt to pass and that hopefully I might catch up to you later. I never did.
The next section from the top of the ridge and to the aid station was downhill and I hoped to use this section to ease up on the throttle. Here I still managed to pass some of the slower short course runners. I was passed by one person however, by the kid in the One Run shirt.
Coming out of the woods and looking down a powerline above an aid station I saw Todd leaving the aid station. I estimated that he might be about 90 seconds to 2 minutes ahead of me depending how much he spent at the station. I put it into high gear and passed the kid in the blue One Run for Boston T-shirt for the second time. Chasing me down the hill, he almost runs past the aid station where I stopped.
“I didn’t see this here” said the kid.
“It hard to miss a banquet table in the middle of the woods,” I said in a sarcastic tone. I stopped only to bite into some pretzels and drank a cup of Gatorade. The kid in the One Run shirt only had some water and left the station before me.
After the aid station the course veers toward the northeast near the breast of the lake. We entered “The Sidewinder”. The Sidewinder is a section of trail that goes back up the hill and zigzags across a stream within a hollow before cresting over a hill and down the other side back toward the dam of the lake. I began to realize I wasn’t going to catch up to Todd after not seeing him on the climbs. I did run into several runners from the short course including Carl Undercoffer and we chatted for a little bit as I resigned in knowing that Todd was long done. Carl apologized for making fun of me but I told him that’s part of being a race director and there was no harm done. Coming out of The Sidewinder I saw the kid in the blue One Run for Boston shirt and I decided to refocus my efforts. Instead of trying to catch up to Todd, I would refocus my efforts toward beating the kid in the One Run shirt. I started to catch him as we climbed up a ravine. We got to the top of the climb and he took off again on the downhill and pulled away from me.
I ran downhill and onto another tram road with a gradual grade up a hill. Here I got a chance to talk to a friend that lives near Lock Haven. He said how disappointed he was for not registering at our Rock ‘N The Knob race since that was the same weekend as the Dam Half/Full race near Mifflinburg. I mentioned the circumstances as to why the race was scheduled on the day that we scheduled it — the resort only had a couple days open for the race and the September date was the best out of any of the dates.

Elevation profile - lots of ups and downs from mile 8 to finish

Elevation profile – lots of ups and downs from mile 8 to finish

Don't trust a man wearing this tri-suit.

Don’t trust a man wearing this tri-suit.

I climbed up the hill and slowly spread the distance away from my friend. At the top there is a downhill section immediately off the tram road. A guy in a gray IronMan one-piece was there at the top and said “Hey, you go first”.
I turned left to go down the hill. Miscalculating the steepness of the drop off I almost fell end over end but I was able to catch myself before falling. I slowly made my way down the canyon until I reached the lake. The trail makes a hard turn back toward the finish line toward the southwest at mile 11.75. Not too far was the second detour on the long course as it diverted from the short course. It was here last year that my achilles failed on me but this year my ankles felt fine. My thighs and calves were feeling a little tight at that moment after running hard for almost 2 1/2 hours. The detour sent the long-course runners up a pretty significant hill, a hill that I completely forgot about because of my achilles injury last year. The vegetation in this section sometimes obliterated the trail and it was making it hard to navigate at times. There were many a time when I stepped off the trail when briefly losing the trail markers. As I climbed up the hill I slowly started to gain on the kid in the blue shirt. I was the dog hunting the rabbit and the kid knew it. He would look back and realize I was gaining ground on him and he would pick up the pace. Then the trail turned back toward the lake and downhill. The kid again started to pull away. The long course yielded with the short course but only for a quarter of a mile until the next and last detour. I went into the last aid station at mile 13. I was tired but I still knew that I did not have that far to go. I decided to take a gel of Carb-boom to give myself some quick energy for this section. This detour offered crazy turns — sometimes running in directions opposite than you think you should be running toward — as it literally curves and winds through fields and pine forests. It was a section of spaghetti plot that drove me completely insane last year. But this year, knowing what was ahead, I was in a better mental state this time. Even though I knew I probably could not catch up to Todd, I was still playing a game of cat and mouse with the kid in blue.

Detour

Detour

Slowly inch by inch, foot by foot, I started to gain ground on him. Finally I was on his ass. Going around a sharp corner a jagged thorn from a tree hit me on the left side of my head, nicking me in the ear. It felt like it took the top of my earlobe off. “Son of a bitch!” I shouted. The kid in blue made the mistake of looking back when I yelled. Suddenly in front of him was a wet and muddy marshy mess and he falls straight into it. I ran around him. I wind through the marshy fields and patches of dark woods feeling kind of cocky for overtaking a kid about 25 years younger than me when suddenly I realized I was running up a hill and there were no red ribbons to my right and I hit a yellow ribbon in front of me. Dammit, I missed the turn! I turned around and retraced my steps then realizing I missed a sharp left turn back into the field. Even though the kid is not in sight, I assumed that he was now ahead of me! I snaked my way through the field, grumbling that I missed the turn. I then come to a section where the trail goes up a hill into some pines. Luckily running uphill was the kid wearing the blue Boston One Run shirt. I passed him at the crest. Running together now, I decided to show some good karma and I told him that he was doing great and was making a great effort. He asked me how far it is to the finish. I told him that all we needed to do is cross one field and back into a small section of woods, past the dock and then to the finish line.
When I was saying this we passed a race marshal who overheard my directions and she said “Yep, he’s right. All you need to do is go through this section of woods and you’re home.”
I told the kid in blue, “Let’s get this thing in high gear and do this.” I kicked it in. I crossed the dock and into a set of tall trees and across the finish line. Todd was there cheering me on. It looked like he could’ve been there for more than an hour as he stood holding a beverage. I crossed the finish line in three hours and seven minutes — 16th overall and forth in my age group. I turned around and shook the hand of the kid in blue and told him he did a great job and we had a good race.
Donna Carahan, one of the race directors, handed me my medal and congratulated me. Todd walked over and congratulated me as well and told me that he finished six minutes earlier at three hours and one minute. “So I guess you decided to race this one,” I said.
“I just felt very good today. Today was my day,” said Todd
Actually we both had a great races. We weren’t sure if it was from training, lack of injury or the cooler weather conditions but it was a great improvement from last year. Todd finished 35 minutes faster than last year. I finished 20 minutes faster than last year.
Not long after Andre Sweeley runs through the chute. He also had a great run especially for being his first long trail run. He finished and three hours and 17 minutes. Soon afterward John Weaver came through the finish line at three hours 21 minutes.

Post-Race:

That evening was at the pub when I overhead several people at the bar. A kid was boasting about how tough the race he participated in this morning. My ears perked. As I listened, he realized he was talking about one of those mud runs — and it wasn’t even one of the hard ones. It was only a 3 mile run. He went on and on how tough it was. Then he got out off the bar stool and he was actually limping! I guess I was in one of my moods but when he walked past I said “Looks like you did that same trail race?” I said.

“Huh” he shrugged.

“Yeah. What about The Traverse along that cliff side? Pretty intense, eh” I replied.

“What are you talking about?”

“That 20-mile trail challenge in Clearfield County. What are you talking about?”

“A mud race in…”

“Oh. One of those,” I interrupted. “Never mind.”

The course.

The course.