Okay, let’s start from the beginning…
THE WEEK PRIOR
A week before the Megatransect, several friends and I decided to run the 18 mile John P. Saylor Trail in the northeast corner of Somerset County. It was turning out to be an epic run. The terrain allowed us to run as fast as we wanted and the scenery was tremendous as the trail meandered its way on top of a broad ridgetop high in the Alleghenies. About three-quarters of the way through the run, I was crossing a damp section through a meadow. My right foot sank into mud up to the top of my ankle. When I pulled my foot out, I could feel the ligaments and bones in my foot and ankle stretch. I heard and felt a pop in my ankle.
And just like that, I had reinjured my sprained ankle that I hurt back in June.

It was this deep…

Even though it hurt, I tried to “run past it.” I was fine until I stopped as everyone waited along the trail for everybody else in our group to catch up. When I started to run, I limped. Elmo noticed.

“Are you limping?” he said.

“Yeah, I think I pulled something when my foot sank in the mud.”

“Are you okay?”
“Yeah. It doesn’t hurt when I run.”
Honestly it didn’t hurt as long  as I kept moving and we continued on the run.
The last section of the trail was at the top of the ridge parallel to Route 56 by several hundred yards. My foot felt fine right up until when I hit slightly technical ground. As soon as I asked my foot to roll with the terrain, my ankle angrily protested. Then suddenly, as I got past the rocks, it was fine – only to cry again as soon as the ground got technical.
During the following week, I decided to stay off my ankle as much I could. It even hurt without running. It was even affecting my normal walking gait – a very bad sign. I began to panic when race day came closer and my ankle seemed slow to heal. During that week, I tried every trick in the book. I soaked them in epson salts. I elevated them as much as I could. I even took some Hammer Tissue Rejuvenator. I half-jokingly mentioned to friends that I was haging out in dark alleys meeting my dealer to sell me some horse tranquilizers, shark cartilage and stem cells to inject into my ankle.
[Skip this section if you are not into shoe porn. It is quite a tease. Skip to the brackets below.]

SHOES!

 

Two weeks prior to the Mega I took stock in my shoes. My New Balance 910’s were shot, blown out after just a few long runs. That was a pity since they were light, comfortable and responsible but lasted less than 70 miles! My Salomon Fellcross had a lot of traction but without a rock plate and little cushion, it was not a shoe to wear for a technical 20-mile run. I also had a pair of Brooks Cascadias which offered much more cushion but didn’t have the traction like the Fellraisers. Also my Cascadias were heavy compared to my other shoes. Last year on race day, I asked Brian Newcomer, co-race director and course designer, which shoe to wear – the Cascadias or a pair of Salomon Speedcrosses that I had at the time. He said it is a close call but since it was a dry year, he suggested to go with the Cascadias.

Fast forward to this year: Brian Newcomer began to post parts of the new course on his Facebook page. Looking at the new trails, it looked to be fresh and soft. Plus if there was rain, it would be a slippery run. I began to pine for a new pair of Speedcrosses. The pair I had were past their retirement and I had not ran in them since Hyner back in April.
I decided to shop for a new pair. Most of the prices I found online were at, or at most, ten dollars below retail. But then I found a place online from a shoe store in New York City. The shoes were $75, making them $50 below retail. Having had two pairs in the past, I ordered a size 10. Out of their inventory, they had only one color available – Pop Green. It was a Monday, less than two weeks before the Mega. Two-day shipping was free. After ordering Monday I got a shipping confirmation via email however by Thursday it had not yet shipped according to UPS. I tried to get a hold of the 56944664business but they were closed for Rosh Hashanah. My phone call was returned on Friday from someone who all they could was tell me was what I already knew and that the shoes had not shipped for some reason. He said that it might still be at the warehouse but he didn’t have any details since the warehouse was closed for the holiday. Monday I got another unhelpful call from someone who said for me to contact UPS who I already called days prior. UPS said they never got a package. I called the store for the third time and I finally got hold of an individual who seemed more willing to make it right. She said that for some reason their quantities online were not matching up with what was at the warehouse and that they had sold out of that shoe. She asked if I could wait until they got a new shipment of shoes which she said could be “any day”. It was Monday – five days before the race. I didn’t want to risk it so I went online again and found out that they had another color available in size 10. Black. So I called again and told her to exchange the previous order with the new color. She said that she was going to walk down to the warehouse herself and pull the shoes from inventory and ship them out. Within minutes I received an email that they were on there way. A few hours later UPS confirmed it. They arrived Wednesday, three days before the race. As I do with all my shoes, I had a secret christening at a secluded location, named them Darth Maul, and ended with pagan ritual of grinding dirt into the uppers.
[Shoe porn excerpt ends]
With the race just days away and my ankle still cranky, I didn’t have the opportunity to break them in. From my cranky ankle to bad luck ordering shoes, I had a lot of bad mojo going into the race.
RACE MORNING
I have had worse nights sleeping but all in all I didn’t get a good night sleep. I went to sleep later than I wanted and woke up around midnight for 3 A.M.wake up. In my running pack were ankle supporters, bandage wraps and KT tape in case I needed them. I had a lot of doubts but I hoped that my ankle would hold through the race though knowing it was weak and any slight tweak could make for a miserable race. I also had with me I had two energy bars and enough Tailwind for an eight hour jaunt. Any other nutrition I would need I would grab at the aid stations.
I left my apartment and went to Sheetz for gas, coffee and a snack before I went to Joel Noal’s house 4:15am. From Joel’s, we caravaned up to Lock Haven and to the airport on the far side of town. We were one of the first fifty participants to arrive just before 6am. We parked and got our race pullover, bib, chip and packet. We also got the map of the course. The Mega course changes every year. Brian posted parts of the course on his Facebook page a week before the race and I was able to assemble the pieces like a crazy conspiracy theorist gathering the clues of revolution from used bus tickets. Yet I was vindicated when my assumptions were correct.
Elmo is having breakfast pre-race.

Elmo is having breakfast pre-race.

At the start under the pavilion, breakfast was being served. Joel and I already ate. Yet we were surprised to see Elmo having breakfast. Elmo’s usual motive opertandi was to arrive at the start the very last minute in a sweatshirt and sweatpants – and often not his own. Seeing Elmo ‘up-and-at-them’ more than 75 minutes before a race was something Joel and I were shocked about and we wondered if this was a sign or omen of some kind – either tragedy will bestow upon Elmo, like being struck by lightning, or perhaps great fortune will grace on ye and Elmo will have the best race of his life.

I went back to my car. Though warm for early October, it was spitting rain. In the car, I filled up my bottles and more importantly I decided to tape up my right ankle with KT tape as a preventative measure. The rain started to pick up.
I walked over to Joel’s car and sheepishly, like an anxious teen lurking in the back parking lot looking for a fix, I asked Joel for some Lifewave. Lifewave are dermal patches those supposed to enhance your performance on race day. Here is the scoop according to the website:
 LifeWave patches are an advanced form of homeopathy. The patches contain homeopathic materials, that when stimulated by body heat, reflect low levels of light in the infrared and visible band. FTIR (Fourier Transform Infrared) substantiates this phenomenon. When placed on the body like a band-aid, the patches stimulate nerves and points on the skin to produce health benefits…
Joel, who swears by the stuff, said that with it fatigue doesn’t set in as fast. “If I normally can run a course for an hour at peak effort to the point I start to get tired; with Lifewave I can go on for ninety minutes. I don’t how how it works but it seems like it does.”
Elmo, who also used the product said, “It is almost like you a being pulled forward. It could be a coincidence but it seems like I can run longer at a higher output with Lifewave.”
tumblr_neoomtEVOP1rkg2f4o1_500

Me on Lifewave

Desperate for anything to counter my ankle, I decided to try it out. Per Joel’s instructions I placed each dermal patch, one “positive” and the other “negative”, about two inches below my collar bone on each side. Immediately a strange sensation washed over me.. My body began to tingle as it was bathe in new found strength and then rainbows and lightning bolts shot from my hands. (Okay, I made that part up.)

Finished with my pre-race prep, I walked back to the starting area and mingled with some friends. As it got closer to ‘go time’, I mingled with Joel along with Hope and Craig Thompson. Last year, Hope had a very good race while Craig was sidelined with a stress fracture. This would be the first time Craig would run the race.
Even mild-mannered Joel was serious and had his game face on. Last year he ran it with a friend and hanged with her the entire way. This year Joel was running to race it.
[Note: All the videos in this blog post are shot by Brian Newcomer.]
The race director had some parting words and then we were off. As soon as I leave the gates, Joel, Craig and Hope take off. Though I felt good, I knew “several hundred yards does not make a race” so I held back. Soon I found myself alongside with Elmo, Jeff Calvert and Tom McNearny who started farther behind. Jeff has been on a lot of runs with me this past summer including the retracing of the Eastern States 100 course that we have been doing in chunks since August. Tom and I first met at the Hyner 50k and then at Eastern States 100 at the Halfway House aid station at mile 51 while I was crewing for Todd Lewis.

Elmo at the start. “So tough.”

 

As we ran the first section, a flat paved road along rows of corn and over a railway, we joked about various things. “Oh my garsh, a puddle. My feet are wet. This sucks! I hate nature! (pause) Oh my garsh, this pavement is uneven. This race is so tough. (pause) Oh my garsh, this grade is too much. (We climbed a foot high hill to cross a railroad.) I hate this race!” and so on as Elmo continued in his sardonic ‘Altoona runner’ persona.

Elmo inched ahead and soon enough he was twenty feet ahead of Jeff and Tom and then soon I found myself twenty feet behind Jeff and Tom. They all slowly slipped away. Before we got to the cloverleaf and the bridge to the the town of Castena, several more running friends Michele Probst and Chris Yeager had caught up to me. They were on one of the Eastern States retrace runs, specifically the rainy 10-miler from Dutch Hollow to Hyner Run State Park. We chatted briefly until they too had continued on without me.
Was I running too conservatively? Was the fear I had about my ankle holding me back?
I ran through town and then uphill toward where the paved road finally turned to dirt at mile — at a point most local runners call “The Red Gate.” Once on the dirt I decided to increase my pace. I had ran the paved road conservatively because of my ankle even though it didn’t hurt. I was constantly aware of my ankle because it was wrapped in tape. Also, as expected, my new Speedcrosses felt horrible on the pavement. This was because the tread was fresh and the deep lugs like to “swim” on hard surfaces. Either way I didn’t want to over do it.
Going into the race my plan was to run the first half conservatively and then make a decision halfway: If I felt good, I would run the last half more aggressively; if not then… well…
I ran past the first aid station in front of a blue water tower as the course makes a hard left onto a jeep trail and up alongside the ridge. I started to climb. Even though I was with more than 900 other participants in the Mega, I figured I was somewhere in the top 20 percent of runners. Yet somehow, it seemed like I was running by myself.
Also, now on terra firma, I felt more like myself – maintaining a nice constant speed up the hill and even overcoming a few runners that had slowed when the climbing began. I had caught up to Michele and Chris who were just seconds ahead. Soon the trail narrowed to singletrack. I was running at a pace with most of the traffic, only passing a few. Feeling good and holding my own, it did seem like last year I was scaling up this trail (Link Trail) much faster last year. While going up the mountain I met up with Hope.  She voiced her frustration about not being a good uphill runner and that Craig had left her behind to chase after Joel. She also said that she was passed by Elmo as soon as she started to slow at the bottom of the hill. Even though a bit cranky, she had resigned to the fact that “it is what it is” and told me to go on ahead. I did. Goodbye Hope.
At the crest of Link Trail the trail began to become technical and the first few warning spasms of pain leaped up from my ankle. Trying to negotiate the rocks, I began to realize that I was in for a long day. I began to run to the point just under the “true” pain threshold and tried to maintain at that level. For the next 10 miles, I would continue this dialogue between my brain and ankle. Not too far from the top, Hope, who is a downhill bomber diva, passed me, leaping like a gazelle over the rocks. Goodbye, Hope. Goodbye to my hopes on the downhill.
startMap

First Half of the course

Even at the top my ankle warned me that it didn’t want to have anything to do with the downhill. Any downhill running, my apprehension and hesitation become an anchor, I felt like I was descending at half the pace I did the year previously. Even though I was keeping up the pace with the runner in front of me, I wasn’t going to attempt to past. Moreover, it seemed like I was “off” – making mistakes in my footfalls, picking poor lines, and my feet cranking at the wrong cadence. In a word, I felt ‘clumsy’.  I was faced with two handicaps: one was my ankle and its constant negative feedback and then there was the mental barrier. After my initial ankle injury in June, I felt like I had lost my nerve. I was slower, more cautious, and at a loss of faith in my feet. Now, with my ankle re-injured, each problem compounded off of each other. Fearfulness. Short foot spans. My mind refusing to go. My “trail vision” not syncing with where my feet were going.
The downhill seemed to take forever as compared to last year. In fact a few weeks before I was recounting the Mega course to Elmo and I told him that this was a “non-technical section” that one could fly down. Wow, what a change in perspective!
On the downhill I ran into Janine Gutshaw, who I last met at the Eastern States 100. (She rocked in the ES100 by the way!) Last year I ran past her on the Boulder Field, leaping from rock to rock. “Show off!”, she said. However she eventually passed me just beyond Rote Lookout late in the race last year when I came apart by the seams. Today we chatted for a little bit and we teased each other as to who would finish first this year. “I better get going and get a head start before the boulder field,” she said before taking off.
I made my way up a rolling section of up and downs before the Boulder Field when I run into Jeffry and his daughter Alex.  Last year at Mega, Jeffry and Alex were the two runners that I played cat and mouse with for most of the race. I didn’t know their names nor who they were at the time but I constantly mentioned them in my race report from last year. Fast forward to Rock N’ The Knob in September when I was at the clubhouse at Blue Knob post-race and had striked up a conservation with a couple having dinner. When I mentioned who I was, Jeffry said he had been tracking me down the entire day, hoping to chat. He had read my race report and realized it was him and his daughter that I mentioned in my report and that he knew I was also the race director for Rock N’ The Knob.
We talked for awhile as we got closer to Boulder Field.  The Boulder Field is a hillside bald spot that is simply a concentration of sandstone boulders on the surface of the slope. Here, there is an absence of soil and fine-grained Earth materials; openings exist between the boulders. Any fine-grained material generated by weathering will move down and into the openings. As a consequence, soil does not accumulate easily, and the boulder concentrations are devoid of vegetation.
It seemed like I was only a slight bit slower than last year. I was making good yet steady progress this time but not any of the mountain goat leap and bounds like last year. I thought I picked a good line up the two sections of boulders. After the fact, looking at my race stats on Strava, I cleared the entire Boulder Field in 18 and a half minutes this year. I scaled it in 16 minutes last year.
Near the top and with fresh comedic material that I accumulated from the past year, as I past some of the course marshals from Lock Haven University, I told the volunteers “Hey, the moon called! They want their rocks back!” It got a big laugh. (Credit goes to Brian Kunkle on that one.)
Less than a hundred yards from the top I had caught up to Janine. “You are doing a lot better this year! It took me all the way to the top before I caught up to you,” I teased.
Several runners and I merged onto the trailhead at the top of the ridge. In front on me was Jeffry and Alex. At the top we continued our conversation we had at the bottom. We both commented that the morning rain had made the rocks more slippery and treacherous this go around. I admitted that I thought I was having a case of “trail amnesia” and that I didn’t remember this section (Rattlesnake Ridge) as being so technical. As we plodded along, I was third in a group of maybe eight to ten runners. Jeffry and Alex were now right behind me.  Then I heard Jeffry speak to someone other than me or Alex.
“How are things? What are your goals?” said Jeffry.
“I just want to beat that son of a bitch in front of you,” she said.
Not turning around, was this person talking about me? Why me? I’m the nicest guy I know!
I never look behind me at races so I tried to figure out who would say such slanderous lies.
The mystery woman passes Jeffry and then is on my tail. Finally, seeing an opportunity, she passes. It is Janine. Considering my current state with my ankle and that this past year she earned her tough as nails/superstar running cred, I kindly obliged.
IN THE WOODS – METAPHORICALLY SPEAKING
I guess the best word to describe my condition at this time and how I would feel for the majority of the race was “frustration”. I was frustrated that when the trail got technical, or when I wanted to push harder, or when I tried to get into a groove – my ankle wanted nothing to do with it. It wished it could stay home, lie on the couch and watch CMT.
We made the right turn down and off the top of the ridge and down Winchester Trail. Again, this seemed  like a whole new trail to me – much more steep, technical, and treacherous than I recalled from last year. I descended the ridge to the point I would almost call gingerly as compared to bombing down it last year. Fortunately I held my ground despite my ankle and no one dared to pass me on the downhill. Nor did I have the courage to pass anyone either. I estimated I was about where I was last year – at about 125th place.
At the bottom of Winchester there is a left turn down East Kammerdiner Road, a jeep road down a secluded hallow on the back of the ridge. Finally I was able to stretch my legs, obtaining an average of a 9 minute mile. It seemed lightning fast after the technical trails I had been on.  Again, dissecting the data over both races, I was more than 30 seconds slower per mile in this section than last year.
Middle section of the Mega 2014 from mile 9 to 19.

Middle section of the Mega 2014 from mile 9 to 19.

At the end of the jeep road and the hard right turn up a hill called Lost Trail, I said to a volunteer on an ATV directing runners the very same thing I said last year: “Hey, do you have any beer with you?”
This time, instead of a laugh, I got a snippy “no!”  Well, okay then…
From here at mile 9 to the aid station at mile 19, would be all new terrain compared to last years course. “Last year we ran up that hallow,” I told Jeffry as I pointed to my right. “This year we are climbing the crown of the ridge.”
I placed my arms behind my back and slowly made progress up the hill – a 475 foot climb in a mile.  Halfway up, Jeffry paused to allow Alex to catch up. Soon I had caught up to Hope who again expressed her frustration over not being a great climber. I managed to pass her.
Do you see a trail? It's Knotta Trail.

Do you see a trail? It’s Knotta Trail.

I finally rolled into the aid station and got my bottles refilled. I am not sure but I think while here I was passed by Hope. After a short runnable section, I was headed toward the Giant Steps. As I approached, I grew concerned. Last year, we climbed the Giant Steps but this year we were going down the son-of-a-bitch – a chasm with large rock steps about or even higher than knee high. I took the descent cautiously, grabbing trees and using my hands to plant in front of me and vault down the rocks. Despite my ankle I was able to catch up to a large pack of runners until my right foot gets lodged between two rocks. I struggled for about a half minute before I was able to pull it out! Despite my predicament, I was able to catch up with the rest of the pack but did so with a quite a bit of discomfort. Soon we crossed McElhatten Creek and some of us were able to advance beyond the main pack while some more trailed behind. Soon there were two groups: the leaders and laggards. The leaders included about six to eight runners including me, Jeffry and Alex. Then soon came the next challenge – a climb called Knotta Trail. Get it… “not a trail”… Knotta Trail. Like it sounds, it’s more of a scramble up a spine of a ridge up and out of the canyon.

“Remember what you said about the Mega when we talked at Blue Knob?” I said to Jeffry.
“Yes I do,” he shrugged.
He mentioned how less runnable each Megatranscent had become over the years.
As we got closer to the top I thought to myself that I better start making my move. Half of the race was almost over and I had better start making lemonade from lemons – bitter and jaw crushing lemons made from aggregate. I started to charge up the hill, running before anyone else. Soon I was by myself as I kept the pedal to the metal hoping that there was flat running ahead before making a descent down back into the canyon and passing a precipice called Hunters Lookout named for either hunters spying on prey at its high vantage point or for David Hunter, the Mega’s race director.

Before reaching the edge I had caught up to another runner. I was able to keep up since, for the most part, the downhill was soft and less technical. Near the bottom, there was a repel rope of about 25 yards from a tree to the base of the hill. The runner in front of me, at the midpoint of the repel, started to fall backward not realizing the slack there was in the line. I grabbed the line and pushed forward, taking up the slack. “I got you,” I said.
Time to make lemonade - from rocks.

Time to make lemonade – from rocks.

At the bottom my leg mucles began to tighten with the change of grade and from the working of different muscle groups. I had to ease in into the transitions.

It seemed like only a few dozen yards until we started to climb again, this time up a section called Demko’s Revenge. Going up and down and up again out of the canyon, instead of running up along the creek, is one of the sadistic games that race directors like to play. Thanks Brian and David.
At the top the course transitions to a section called Rim Trail. Rim Trail, rather soft, full of roots and lopped off trees, is a mile of foot-tripping hazards. On top of that, the entire trail is off camber – in some places as much as ten inches. Elmo said he loathed this section due to the off-camber surface. However I faired better since the camber was sloped in such a way to that it was easier on my right and temperamental ankle while my left power leg was uphill and did all the work. I did trip on an exposed root and only fell down slightly, just enough for my left knee to make contact with the ground before recovering. This turned out to be my only fall for the entire race.
The trail started to roll as I made my way closer to the reservoir and the plateau just before it. Near the top, a medical volunteer on a four-wheeler was stationed beside the trail asking passing runners if we had seen a female runner that was hurt behind us. Not I nor the runners in front of me had seen anyone distressed. Also as I got closer to the reservoir the air got remarkably cold – cold enough that I was immediately chilled to the bone and I could see my breath. The medic in the four-wheeler drove past me as I got to about 30 feet before the edge of the woods and the aid station. As I entered the station, I kept up with the ATV and mimed as if I was pulled from behind like a waterskier.
WHATEVVER COMES MY WAY
The rain started to intensify while I was at the aid station but fortunately the volunteers had erected large army surplus tents to keep the volunteers and runners dry. As I was leaving, a bunch of runners including Jeffry and his daughter came rolling in.
“Time to go,” I thought.
After the aid station, we headed back toward the creek, this time along my left was a roaring cascade, rock ledges and farther to my left was a waterfall. Across the creek were two women, one of which was Kirsten Labant who I helped man an aid station along with the Central Region Trail F(r)iends at the Rothrock Challenge in June and who I had  seen a couple times since then.
I clamored down the rocks, one time almost falling all the way down into the creek if it wasn’t for the tree that I grabbed just in time. After swinging around like Tarzan, I looked at the ladies across the creek, not sure if my antics looked ridiculous or totally awesome. (Below is video of Joel and Craig through this section.)
 
Soon I was behind a runner as we crossed the creek toward the rock ledges. “I was here the other day and the stream really reaked of sulphur,” he said.
“I can smell a little bit of it,” I replied.
“It was much worse the other day. The reservoir is our water supply for Lock Haven.”
“That’s not good,” I affirmed.
We ran toward an escarpment of rock ledges above the trail and the creek. As we ran along the ledges and I was looking down at my feet, I slammed my head on a rock overhang. “Ugh! Damnit! Son-of-a-bitch!” I yelled.
“What happened?” the guy said in front of me, not looking back.
“I hit my head on that rock!” I said. “Nature is stupid!”
The guy in front of me starts to belly laugh. He laughs hard enough to miss his cadence and trips.
“Dude! You okay?” I said.
Recovering, he answered, “Please! Don’t make me laugh!”
PLEASE STOP TALKING!!!!

PLEASE STOP TALKING!!!!

Next stop is E-Z Rider, a relatively easy section for me to run. Soon I was revisited by Chatty McClure. I ran with him for a time back at the Boulder Field and after a few minutes of constant yammering, I literally ran away. He was now back! “How are you doing? I’m doing fine. This section is not as rocky as the last. The last section was really rock. Hey, that rock looked like my aunt Betsy. Betsy is my dad’s sister. Betsy isn’t a runner. Though she could probably run on this trail. The weather looks like its clearing up. It was raining hard not too long ago. I don’t mind the rain so much. Rain makes the grass grow but it sure makes this trail slippy…..” and on and on. I was cranky but I really wanted to scream at him to shut his pie hole.  After maybe a few minutes of him spitting his verbal vomit I was actually relieved to have him pass.

Soon I was in a section called Area 51 and I was able to continue to make some ground after the tough first half of the race. My leg was still bothering me on the technical stuff but with this section of soft singletrack, I was able to continue on at a good pace.
Then I came of the aid station at around mile 19. From here on out we would be retracing the route from last year. After leaving the aid station my legs started to feel tired and spent but I was encouraged that I was running a lot better and had more energy in me than I did last year at this part of the course. Last year at this point I started to unravel. On this day even though I was tired I was encouraged that I was feeling a lot better than last year. After the aid station was a beautiful section amid the ferns that were now a bright fall orange. I was kind of happy to be able to enjoy the scenery instead of cursing at it.
Rote Lookout

Rote Lookout

I got to a rocky jeep road and then downhill for a few thousand yards before turning up the hill to Rote Lookout. Even though Rote Lookout offers a tremendous view to the south, I only glanced for a few seconds before continuing on.

Last year I suffered through the next section. It is a very technical section with a lot of flat, loose rocks which made for some technical terrain. Even though my ankle was cranky and I flinched now and again from the pain, at least it wasn’t the constant suffering in my muscles like last year when both legs tightened and then cramped up, starved for fuel. In fact if it wasn’t for my ankle, I had a lot of energy in reserve at this point.

Last third of the race.

Last third of the race.

THE LAST LEG OR MY LAST LEG
"Yeah... so what if my foot will look like this?"

“Yeah… so what if my foot will look like this?”

I started down the mountain in what I considered as the last leg of the race. After some technical stuff at the top that slowed me down, Luge Trail was probably the first downhill on singletrack that I could actually run. Perhaps since I was approaching the end and my adrenaline might have been pumping, I recalled an inner dialouge: “I made it this far so who cares how much more abuse I can throw at my ankle!” Or maybe it was the lack of rocks but I was actually overjoyed that I could run this downhill.

Toward the end of the Luge Trail, there was a series of short uphill rollers before another downhill. Behind me I hear “Hey Ben! How’s it going?”
Not recognizing the voice and not turning around, I asked “Who are you?”
“Derrick!”
Derrick ran with me and several of my friends on a Rothrock State Forest training run. It was the very technical 22 mile expedition several weeks ago. During that run Derrick proved that he was a excellent downhill runner. On that run Jeff Calvert said to Derrick “I bet you can catch up and beat Elmo'” as we descended the Greenwood Spur Trail from the Fire Tower to Alan Seegar. Derrick took off and closed in on the substantial lead to just mere inches.
Today Derrick was on my tail. “Way to go, Derrick! Good race!” I said. Before I reached the bottom, Derrick passed. “Go for it!” I said.
“Yeah! You’ll catch me on Raw Trail,” said Derrick.
What Derrick had on the downhills, he didn’t have the strength nor to go uphill fast.
“I am not sure about that,” I admitted. Today with my bum ankle, I would have done anything to have his bravery and skill to be able to charge down the hills.
After a short stint on a jeep road down West Kammerdiner I reached the last aid station.
“I want potato chips,” I said as I grabbed a handful. Taking inspiration from Ron Swanson, I continued “You might have thought you heard that I wanted potato chips but what I actually meant was that I wanted ALL of your potato chips,” I said dead-panned.
I paused before I said, “Ha, ha! Just kidding,” not caring if anyone laughed.
I grabbed a few fig newtons and a couple of CarbBoom gels. Out of all the gels in the market, CarbBoom is my favorite. I get immediate energy, it is less syrupy or sticky that most, it goes down rather easy and tastes better than any gel I tried.
Leaving the aid station, it isn’t too far before I hit the Raw Trail. I down a gel.
Raw Trail is one son-of-a-bitch, kick you in the fucking ass, type of trail–an angry incline of ugly boulders all bent on your destruction. Last year this section just chewed me up.  At the after-party, Elmo said that he had cramped up badly and it made his legs do things he never experienced. It was here that he cursed the race directors. Even here the co-director, Brian Newcomer (as seen in the video above) said that it took every ounce of energy out of him, requiring him to stop for a few minutes as his legs and body cried out asking him what in the hell he was doing,
You know Raw Trail is bad when the race director has this expression on his face while climbing up.

You know Raw Trail is bad when the race director has this expression on his face while climbing up.

This year was a remarkable improvement from last year for me. Though slow and plodding, I was able to climb up to the top at about twice the pace as last year. One step at a time, I climbed up the jagged face. There was about a half dozen of us that climbed up Raw Trail at that point. Derrick, even though he predicted I’d beat him to the top, had about a 75 yard lead at the bottom, and yet I only managed to catch up to him at the very top. At the top we started to go back down the mountain, I saw everyone slip away, including Derrick, as my right ankle gave up. It was a mixed moment for me. Last year when I transitioned from the climb to the downhill, my legs cramped up so much that they completely locked up. This year, I was good to go, taking the transition from the different muscle groups more easily.

But on the other hand, my ankle wanted nothing to do with the technical downhill and I had to descend very slowly with each step. Several weeks before the race, David Walker, a trail running prodigy and Eastern States 100 finisher told me “races are won on the downhill”. Even though I was able to gain on many runners up the hills, I lost more than I gained on the downhill.
Alone, I reached the Link Trail where we started the trail section of the race so many miles ago and arched back toward the Raw Trail and the water tower that marked the end of the off-road. I tried to fight against my aching ankles. “Damn my ankle. I don’t care if can’t walk for the next few days,” I thought as I pushed it further than I probably should. I didn’t care at that point.
For the past few hours I had been looking at my watch. I had been doing trail math all day figuring out my estimated finish time. Since Rote, I figured that I’d be finishing around 7 hours and 30 minutes. Comparing to last year and considering I had two additional climbs at Knotta Trail and Demko’s Revenge, the added mileage and my ankle, I was rather content and satisfied with my current state. True, it was nowhere near what could have been but I figured that taking all the factors into account that I could not have foreseen or control, I was pleased.
Now on the hard road at the outskirts of town I did a double take realizing that I was the only person I can see in front of me of hundreds of yards. Derrick and the rest of the crowd that had climbed Raw Trail were long gone and out of sight.
I ran past a group of cheering co-eds along the course holding a sign that had an arrow which read, “They are already wasted at the finish.” I was a little unclear if that was supposed to motive me or not.
“I told my ankles that if they keep it together, I will drown them in beer at the finish,” I said as fast as I could as I passed.
They laughed.
I made the left turn into the center of town and I am again surprised that I still haven’t caught up to anyone. No one was in sight.
It wasn’t until I went over a bridge beyond the town and looked down from the cloverleaf overpass that I saw a pair of runners. Now I have someone to chase! I was able to catch up to them just prior to the infamous Green Mile. The Green Mile is a mile-long grassy section of the course as it parallels Route 220. I might have mentioned this last year but many consider this section as the worse. I am not sure why. Yes, it is a mental challenge. Granted, if have been running for most of the day and then comes this, yeah, it will play with your head.
Despite having a miserable last half of the race last year, I faired this section very well a year ago.
As I made my way closer to the Green Mile, I focused my efforts on passing whomever was in my way. Just prior to the Green Mile, I overtook two runners. As soon I made the right turn and into the grass, my legs felt like they are on the onset of cramping. But I took in a deep breath, relaxed, and the cramping dissipated within seconds. The chase is on!
First I overtook two large groups of walkers. When I approached closer, I saw that they had their bibs in their hands. I immediately assumed that these were hikers that did not make it to checkpoint in time before the cutoff. These people didn’t count.
Soon, I did pass two runners that were still competing. Then I caught up to Derrick. Since I considered him more of a friend than a competitor, as I got within earshot I yelled “Do you want me to push or pull?”
“Push!” he said.
As I got beside him, he reconsidered. “Go! Great job! Go for it!”
I pressed on. I think I passed one other person before the end of the Green Mile. At the end, three volunteers stood to direct runners to the left,  “Less than a mile to go!” said one of the volunteers.
“Hey! That hill up the the railroad tracks is the worst!” I joked as I approached them. Well, maybe half jokingly. The transition from the grass to the pavement took my musles by surprise but I was able to ease into the transition onto the road without incident.
What remained was a straight section of pavement, over the rail tracks, along the cornfields and then a left turn and over a small rise toward the hanger and the finish.
I crossed the finish line at 7 hours and 27 minutes.  Though it was longer than last year, it did, comparing by statistics, better than last year despite the cranky ankle. According to UltraSignUp, I was 108th and 91st in my gender or about 9 spots ahead and 2 percentage points higher than last year.
AND… DONE
I wondered around the finish area and keeping my legs loose, I looked for the rest of the gang. Soon my attention was diverted toward Jeffry and his daughter crossing the line right behind by two minutes and at 109th and 110th.
“When did you get in?” Jeffry asked.
“Seven, twenty-seven.”
He shakes his head. “We tried our hardest to catch you,” as he walked away.
They placed right behind me so they must have put the hammer down and passed alot of people including those I passed which included Derrick, who had not finished yet. (He came on at 7 hours and 33 minutes.)
I looked over toward the pavilion and saw Elmo, Joel, and Craig talking to each other. Each of them had a spetacular day finishing 7th, 8th and 9th respectively and only with 90 seconds between them all. (Elmo: 5:40:12; Joel: 5:41:97; Craig 5:41:26) There close finish was not planned and was totally by coincidence. Elmo admitted that mile for mile, this race was the hardest thing he had done and recounted his near meltdown climbing Raw Trail. “I couldn’t move my legs! I never experienced that before! Then I saw behind me ‘Mountain Goat’ Joel was behind me,” he said like someone who just experienced something traumatic.
Post-race beer, please.  Mmmmmm... beer.

Post-race beer, please. Mmmmmm… beer.

The post-race party was much more enjoyable this year than last since my legs, though tired, they weren’t cramping up and I wasn’t realing in pain. I had piles of energy still in me. With my ankle slowing me down, I was far from reaching my peak capacity and thus I had a lot of energy in reserve. Other than the ankle, my left leg seemed to be tired from overcompensating – and there was a point during the post-race party that my hip flexors really bothered me but it only for several minutes. I felt pretty good.

I spent all afternoon post-race with friends as we gave each other our individual experiences and talked about future runs.
I left just about when it was getting dark (about 7pm) I was still surprised with the number of hikers that were still running down the road from the railroad tracks to the finish. (At 7pm, 571 runners out of the 640 finishers had come through. Not sure how many more didn’t make the cut offs but there was about 900 that toed the line.)
Driving the ninety minute drive home, I almost cramped up when I was listening to the radio and hit my thigh playing air drums but after some deep breath breaths, my legs relaxed and the cramp was averted.
I ONLY LOOK BACK POST RACEE
Looking back, it was a very frustrating run with my ankle holding me back. Yet I still able to make lemonade out of lemons, abeit, they were made of sandstone and lichen. I waited four days before running again, my ankle seeming healing up well. Ahead of me is the Stone Mill 50 in mid-November.   Then came a seeming ordinary training run at Allegrippas on October 25th…. (to be continued)