Chasing 42

Life, the Universe, & Running

Daily Chase: Vol. 44

It’s officially race season! There have certainly been some exciting early season races, including the GDR, but there’s no doubt that things have kicked into high gear. My social media feeds are jam-packed with race pictures and reports every weekend, and I love seeing the energy that comes out of each and every event. It doesn’t matter if it’s a 5K or a 100-miler. The smiles are genuine, the sweat is real, and the hard work shows on people’s’ faces. The commitment folks have put in over the winter months are beginning to manifest in PRs, new distances, and the added sense of accomplishment that comes with crossing the finish line. Any finish line. So, to those of you that just finished a race, and those of you getting ready to race, I raise a pint to you!

Chasing42 Log: 20160420- 20160425

Run: I’ve been feeling a bit sluggish at times during the day, and that has carried over into my runs off and on, so I’ve been doing my best to pay attention to my body, hit the rolling hard, stretch out, and make a good faith effort at enough sleep (such a good idea in theory!). The weather has been quite nice, so I’ve been able to get in some comfortable runs over the past few days. I’ve been playing around with my heart rate, my cadence, and my power output in an effort to better assess each effort and create some baseline metrics that I can use to better pace myself during races. Who knew that keeping my heart rate below 125 or my cadence @ 180 would be such a challenge, eh? These are only a few of the numbers I’m gunning for when I’m #chasing42!

Thought: While my running has remained consistent and my #runstreak has kept moving forward, I haven’t necessarily zeroed in on my race schedule for the year yet. I’ve obviously tackled a few events and have a few more on the schedule, but I added two exciting opportunities in the last week. I’ll be running the Delaware Trail Marathon on 4/30, which will give me a chance to spend some more time on local trails, and cross Delaware off my 50 States quest. Then, on June 4th, I’ll be heading up to Ithaca, NY for the Cayuga Trails 50, which doubles as the USATF 50-Mile Championships. We’ll get a chance to camp for a couple of nights and I’ll get to explore some amazing trails. I’m wicked excited about both additions to my calendar!

Run Report: Brandywine End to End

Sometimes you seek out adventures and sometimes they seek you out. The Brandywine End to End was definitely the latter, and it turned into quite the memorable experience! Several months ago, a friend mentioned the event and invited me along. Frank had run the 36 miles on several previous locations and spoke very highly of the event itself, so it didn’t take much convincing. I’m always up for a new event, especially when I get a chance to join a friend for some quality trail miles. Mother Nature might not have been feeling charitable on this particular morning, but it was still a blast!

The Wilmington Trail Club has been organizing the Brandywine End to End 36-Mile hike for 55 years, so there is no shortage of history associated with this event. For most folks, this is an all-day event and a chance for a rather long day-hike from the north in PA down along the Brandywine Creek to the state park in Delaware. I’m not sure how long folks have also been running the course but I’m guessing there have been a few intrepid souls tackling it at a bit of a faster clip for some years. The fee was quite low, and the group provided t-shirts and aid stations, so it had all the makings of an inexpensive ultra race and a pleasant morning. The forecast had been predicting rain and snow all week, but the percentages kept fluctuating, so I was hopeful that the storm system might miss us a bit. Alas, it did not.

My 3:30 alarm caused some brief disorientation, as it always does on race days, but I managed to get myself up and quietly moving pretty quickly. I packed my Solomon pack the night before, and actually managed to lay out my clothes, so getting ready involved minimal mental effort. We had to be at Brandywine Creek State Park by 5:00AM at the latest in order to catch a bus to the start. I made it in plenty of time, checked in and grabbed my number and a map/list of directions before climbing onto the bus. The hour drive was mostly in the dark at this point, so I never really had a good sense of where we were going, but then again, I’d be running back on foot so it didn’t really matter! We arrived at the start, otherwise known as a random dirt road, around 6:00AM, and everyone piled out of the bus and lingered for a bit before we unceremoniously began our journey.

Aside from Frank and I, I noticed two other runners jumping out to the front of the pack. We ran alongside another woman for a few minutes before our pace found us ahead of her. The other runner was already out of sight and he was clearly on his own mission! This wasn’t a race by any means, and we were treating it much more as an adventure, with aid stations every 10-12 miles or so. The first few miles were mainly on side roads until we hopped onto the Brandywine Trail and began following the white blazes. The temps were cool and in the high 30s, and we had yet to feel the impending precipitation, but it was only a matter of time. We enjoyed some nice single-track for a bit as we ran through Marsh Creek State Park and along the reservoir. From there, we picked up the Struble Trail, which runs along the Brandywine Trail, and served as a nicely paved bike trail. We began to feel some slight precipitation, but nothing significant, and I began to naively hope that was all we’d experience. We hit the first aid station around mile 13, just north of town, and they were happy to see us. We learned we were about 20 minutes back of the speedster we saw at the start, not that we had any notion of trying to catch him.

We headed out after a quick fuel-up, and this paved section led us into Downingtown, PA and we picked up some more single-track south of town as we continued our journey. The trail itself is by no means technical, and with 2218 ft of gain, and a net downhill, we were free to enjoy ourselves. That’s not so say that we didn’t find some steep climbs, however, and they served to break up our pace and routine nicely. We made our way south, continuing to make sure we didn’t miss the white blazes (by “we”, I mean me, of course!), and eventually hit the Stroud Preserve, which offered some nice trails and more open landscape. We had been running for around 3 hours at this point, and that’s when the rain/sleet/snow began to rear its ugly head. The winds were calm, but the temps were just warm enough that it became a constant fluctuation between rain, sleet, and snow. I was starting to get a bit chilled, but happy I decided to opt for tights instead of shorts. We arrived at the second aid station (mile 23) and they had strategically set up shop under a small bridge, which offered some welcome cover. We topped off on fluid, enjoyed a few Oreos and were on our way before we got too cold standing around. I pulled out my waterproof mittens at this point, although I probably should have done so sooner since my gloves were pretty darn wet by this point.

Conditions got sloppy and muddy quickly!

Conditions got sloppy and muddy quickly!

We hopped back on the trail and were treated to a nice climb up a ridge line, which afforded us some decent views of the surrounding area. This transitioned to some more road-running, which was made all the more uncomfortable by the oncoming traffic and wet weather. By this time, the snow was coming down in wet clumps and I was brushing it off of myself every few minutes to prevent it from soaking in at least a little bit. We made our way to Chadds Ford, PA and hopped back onto trails that were familiar to me as Frank had led us out on a longer run along this section a few weeks prior. It was nice to see some familiar scenery and have a sense of where we were and how far we had to go. We crossed the state line on the normally nice single track trails, which were now a sloppy, muddy, slushy mess and headed for the last aid station. We stayed even more briefly as it became clear that moving to stay warm was the name of the game. I have to hand it to the volunteers that toughed it out at these aid stations- it couldn’t have been a comfortable experience, especially considering we were a few hours ahead of the closest hikers at this point. Major props for their effort and organization!

This was an April event, I promise!

This was an April event, I promise!

The final section led back into the north end of Brandywine Creek State Park, and the trails were messy but familiar. We came up on a few hikers, but most folks had enough sense not to bother spending any time out in this weather! We reached the damn and headed onto the last mile of single-track leading up to the park shelter and it brought yet another smile to my face. We stomped and slopped our way up the final hill where a few folks were waiting for us under one of the park shelters, and took a deep breath. The conditions had been far from ideal, our feet were soaked and cold, and the rest of us wasn’t much better, but there was still plenty of reason to smile for a great morning of challenging trail running. I couldn’t have been more happy that Frank had invited me along, and the experience definitely embodied what #chasing42 is all about. We paused briefly to take a few pictures, thank the volunteers, grab and snack, and then we eagerly headed to our cars to turn on the heat and begin thawing. I’m pretty sure it took my feet the rest of the afternoon to warm up, but it’s all part of the adventure!

Wet and muddy trail shoes = happy runner!

Wet and muddy trail shoes = happy runner!

 

 

Daily Chase: Vol. 43

Spring has finally arrived on what appears to be a more permanent basis, and the urge to run only grows with each passing beautiful day! I can say with some degree of certainty that I’m spending considerably more time thinking about being outside running when I’m not outside running, and more time muttering “just one more mile” to myself when I am outside. When the sun is shining, the winds are light, and the temperatures are mild, the call is just so strong. The light beckons me outside and makes me think that anything is possible, and it’s a wonderful feeling. It’s also delightful to see more people outside enjoying the weather and being active after spending so many long, solitary, dark, cold mornings by myself while the few folks away simply drove by in their cars and shook their heads in disbelief. Our one year anniversary in Delaware is fast approaching, and I’m excited to see what adventures the spring and summer bring for us both!

Spring is in the air!

Spring is in the air!

Chasing42 Log: 20160415-20160419

Run: I’ve found myself running more and more two-a-days as of late, not simply for the added exercise, but because I wanted to spend more time outside. This past Sunday afternoon was no doubt the highlight of the past few days, as I spend several glorious hours out on the trails at Brandywine Creek State Park. If it wasn’t for life’s actual responsibilities, I’d probably spend all of my days out on the trail, and work remotely from a camp chair, soaking in the sun, sounds, and energy of the outdoors. I’ll have to settle for taking it in a few times a week as the #runstreak continues with gusto on a collision course with summer!

#trailporn

#trailporn

Thought: Yesterday was the Boston Marathon, which meant I was rather distracted by race updates, photos from friends, and the general energy that comes with the event. It’s even more exciting for me now that I’m living relatively close, and I’ll hopefully travel up there next year to spectate and take in the experience. I may not be running it anytime soon (not without a 20 minute marathon PR), but you can bet I’ll be enjoying it. That question of qualifying seems to be a constant back-and-forth for many folks. The race has emerged as the go-to bucket-list item for so many people as of late, and although my heart belongs on the trails, I certainly understand the draw. What I don’t understand are the folks that make counterfeit bibs and run the race illegally. It’s a sad statement on our society that the marathon needs to remind folks not to post photos of their bibs on social media, lest they are copied and printed out by cheaters. I suppose I just don’t understand what someone would get out of the experience if they didn’t qualify in the first place. For so many folks, their training all year revolves around that “A” race that will give them their qualifying time. Many people work for years towards that goal, and the marathon itself is simply a celebration of that accomplishment. There is a sense of pride in wearing that medal around your neck, and putting on that distinctive Adidas jacket, but you get none of that if you cheated to get there in the first place. If you are putting on a show, you can only be doing it for people who don’t really know you anyway, since anyone who knows you as a runner will no doubt know you never qualified for Boston. That’s simply not the kind of information you keep to yourself after a race. So, who are you really trying to impress, and is it really worth it once you get caught and are banned for life from ever actually reaching that dream? I’d go out and ask someone these questions myself, but I’m not going to be joining you on a run anytime soon if you think cheating your way into Boston is a good idea😉 Everyone is #chasing42 in their own way, and as long as they are true to themselves and recognize that they are a part of something bigger than themselves, then I’ll always be your biggest cheerleader!

Daily Chase: Vol. 42

That’s right, folks, today is the day! We’ve reached the golden birthday of daily logs (so to speak). I wish I could tell you that contained within this brief post would indeed be the answer to everything, but it may not quite reach those heights of splendor. However, it has been eventful past week or so, including a great weekend trail run through some difficult weather conditions. As with most things in my life, my running and blogging has only left me with more questions and topics of curiosity as I expand my knowledge and interests. At the same time, I’m constantly amazed by the resources as my disposal. As someone with a very strong “input” strength, I’m constantly collecting information in the form of articles, websites, and new running projects. I truly feel that this makes me a better runner, but also a better student of the sport, and makes me better equipped to do what I enjoy almost as much as running itself…talking to others about running in all of its incredible forms! So, volume 42 may not contain all the answers you seek, but if you do a bit of poking around through the rest of the blog, I’d venture to guess that you’ll find some answers you didn’t even know you were looking for to begin with, and ultimately, that’s an even greater reward!

42cluster

Chasing42 Log: 20160408-20160414

Run: Most importantly, the streak is still in play. I wouldn’t say that it has been an easy adjustment to my already busy schedule, but I’ve managed to make it work and it feels good to run every day, even if it is only a mile or two. Over the weekend, I participated in the Brandywine End to End, which was organized by the Wilmington Hike Club. The event is a 36 mile hike along the Brandywine from PA down Brandywine Creek State Park. Most folks make it a day-long hike, but myself and a friend (along with a few others) ran the 36 mile route instead. The weather was less than ideal and certainly presented some challenges, but it was still a fantastic event and made for some wonderful memories. You can look for a full report coming soon! My miles this week have remained consistent, and I was even able to sneak out for a bit of a longer run this morning and take advantage of the brisk, sunny morning. These are the weather days I’ve been looking forward to, and I’m excited to spend as much time outside as possible.

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Thought: I’ve been thinking a lot more lately about the mental side of running. After conquering the Georgia Death Race, I had a new respect for my own mental toughness and it left me wondering just how much my body is capable of being pushed. The Barkley was recently run in TN, and Jared Campbell emerged as not only the sole finisher, but the first person to finish the event 3 times. After watching that race unfold, listening to an interview with Gary Robbins, who made it 4.5/5 laps before sleep deprivation caused him to get lost and time out, and then watching the Barkley Marathons documentary, my spirit or pushing myself further and further has been renewed. I had been feeling in a bit of a lull after GDR, but I’m not on the hunt for new and unique experiences. There are plenty of races that excite me, but more than that, there are plenty of trails around the country that excite me, even if there is no race on them. The only question is where to head to next!

Daily Chase: Vol. 41

Spring is most definitely in the air! I arrived in Delaware in May of last year, so I missed most of the spring season. My allergies are certainly still adjusting, but I’m looking forward to being here to see everything bud and bloom. Of course, there’s a good chance that it will snow on Saturday as I tackle a 36-mile run along the Brandywine River, but it’s still spring:)

Chasing42 Log: 20160402- 20160407

Run: My running has remained consistent, although my legs have felt a bit more sluggish than normal on a few occasions. I’ve been rolling them out consistently, and have been working on doing some more stretching as well. I’m guessing that a lack of sleep has contributed to this as well, so I’m hoping that my body and mind will let me sleep a bit more in the coming weeks! I returned to the Biden loop the past two days, and enjoyed the familiarity, although I found myself wanting to explore tangents but lacking the time to do so. I’m doing my best to spend some quality time running through Winterthur as well since spring means the grounds are beginning to come alive with color!

Thought: I came across this article today and it gave me pause. The author is questioning whether significantly slower runners (more than 6 or 7 hours) should really be running marathons or if they should find other outlets for their interests. There has been even more conversation lately (this article is from 2009), as the number of people registering for marathons increases, about whether these “plodders” take away from the marathon experience and in some way diminish the accomplishments of others. I must say that I’m torn on the issue. On the one hand, it makes sense to consider that we certainly have assumptions when someone proudly shows off a medal or shirt from a marathon. In that sense, it could be viewed as dishonest to say that you “ran” if you finished in 7 hours or more. However, everyone is entitled to their own journey and should have the ability to set their own goals. I would also point out that the increases in marathon entrants aren’t coming from a hidden group of 3 hour marathoners either so these “plodders”, as the author calls them, exert a significant financial influence. Perhaps the more dangerous outcome of this trend is the assumptions folks might make about their health simply by finishing a marathon in 7 (or 8) hours. Being able to walk at a 17 or 18 min/mile pace doesn’t take the place of eating healthy and living a healthy lifestyle. Physical activity of any kind is a step in the right direction, however, and it’s always easier to get out there and move when you have others cheering you on:) Whatever your journey, keep #chasing42!

Daily Chase: Vol. 40

You might have been tempted to think that my #chasing42runstreak was in jeopardy based on the lapse in Daily Chase information, but you can let out a collective sigh of relief. The streak is still in play, and more importantly, my legs are fully recovered after my epic GDR adventure. Lord knows my quads were shredded after 40,000 feet of elevation change, but I feel like I’ve bounced back nicely:)

Chasing42 Log: 20160325-20160401

Run: My legs were feeling much fresher this week, and I was able to incorporate some more tempo and speed work back into the mix. It was also spring break at the University of Delaware, so I had a bit more flexibility in my running schedule, which meant I was able to spend a bit of time taking in the early spring blooms at Winterthur. All-in-all, it was a great running week and I’m looking forward to the 36-mile Brandywine End-to-End on April 9th!

Such vibrant colors, even this early in the season! The daffodils filling out the "clouds" on the hill in the background are amazing :)

Such vibrant colors, even this early in the season! The daffodils filling out the “clouds” on the hill in the background are amazing:)

Thought: The debate between workout approaches seems to be never-ending, with some folks extolling the benefits of hill work to cover strength and speed, and others focusing on specificity. The physiological evidence might be mixed, but the mental evidence seems to be pretty clear for me. Even if I could benefit the most from focusing on one time of workout and one surface, the reality is that I would still need to mix things up. The variety is as much about mental stimulation for me as it is about the physical benefits. I’ve perhaps fallen into the ultra-bug trap a bit too much lately, and found it hard to justify shorter races when a training run will suffice. However, I am hoping to be more mindful this spring and summer of the mental benefits of pinning on a bib for overall training readiness. Distances from the 5K to the marathon each offer me different challenges, and will ultimately benefit my ultra efforts. If the path #chasing42 was straight, it wouldn’t be much fun, right?:)

Race Report: Georgia Death Race- Part II

This race is all about the elevation change. Let there be no mistake that RunBum did his best to avoid anything that even remotely resembled flat land when marking this course. He warned us from the beginning, and the reports I read from previous years confirmed the difficulty. However, in my mind, this was somewhat balanced out by the less technical nature of the trails themselves. The terrain itself was indeed not the most technical I’d ever run, but it was far from easy, and looking up still meant going down so I remained diligent throughout the many hours of running. At the risk of offering up an early spoiler, I will tell you now that I remained upright for the entire race, and was quite proud of that fact, especially with the amount of running I did after the sun was a warm, distant memory.

In case you forgot ;)

In case you forgot😉

I should be careful not to get ahead of myself, of course. We understood very clearly that the course was marked with numerous pink flags with black polka dots so as long as we kept them in sight, we’d be in good shape. The course was indeed marked incredibly well, and Sean had a host of volunteers helping him mark the course in the days leading up to the race. I would meet many of them at the various fantastically stocked and staffed aid stations throughout the race. The first 8 miles to the first aid station hammered home the significance of the climbing pretty quickly, with almost 3,500 feet of elevation gain, including a 3.8 mile stretch with 2,300 feet up to the top of Coosa Bald. I was feeling good throughout this stretch, and running conservatively, and power-hiking the climbs as best I could. The trail was still relatively crowded at this early stage in the race, which I didn’t ultimately mind all that much because it kept my pace in check. I’ve regretted going out to fast at far too many races, and I was determined not to make that mistake again this time!

Beautiful views through the tree line...early and often!

Beautiful views through the tree line…early and often!

The views throughout this initial stint of climbing were quite spectacular, even with the partially overcast skies, and the cool temps kept everything comfortable. Luckily, the rain that was once scheduled from 8AM to 2PM ultimately held off, aside from a mere 30 minute period after mile 8. I slipped into the first aid station pretty easily, took in some nutrition, but didn’t bother filling up my bladder since I had plenty of water/Tailwind left, and the next aid station was only 7 miles away. The next 7 mile stretch to the Fish Gap aid station might not have had “quite” as much climbing, but it more than made up for it with the mountain goat, cambered ridges we were running along. At one point, the woman behind commented on how shocked she was as she watched my ankles bend the way they did. I felt very lucky to pass through this section (which was otherwise quite runnable), without a twisted ankle!

I arrived at the Fish Gap (mile 15.5) aid station in a little over 3 hours and my legs were still feeling fresh, and I was loving the trail experience. I had clearly kept my pace in check, and had been hydrating with Tailwind consistently, as well as supplementing with other items at the aid stations. The result was a rush of pure joy that I’d hoped I’d feel throughout the race, considering the amount of build-up it had entailed. I topped off my hydration bladder with the help of a fantastic volunteer, and set out on my way. The next aid station at Skeenah Gap was as the midway point of a new 1.5 mile out-and-back on the course. The sole purpose of this addition was adding more elevation gain, because the course obviously needed it:) The 1.5 mile run to Skeenah was a wonderful downhill romp. I tucked in behind two other runners finding beautiful lines down the trail, and I felt like I was flying! As I passed by folks heading back up in the other direction, I knew what awaited me but I focused on the joy of the downhill and had a blast. I got to the bottom full of energy, topped off my bladder again, and helped myself to a small shot of Fireball (I told you I was feeling good!), along with a few Girl Scout Cookies and some salted boiled potatoes. Who knew that the combo of Fireball/Coke/Samoas/Salted Potatoes could taste so good in your mouth at the same time! I’m always amazed at what tastes good during a race, and this was a new and delicious combo!

Fireball gives you wings!

Fireball gives you wings!

I took off out of Skeenah and headed back up the almost 1,000 foot climb at a far slower pace than I had descended. Although it was a bit of a slog, the terrain was quite hike-able, and I had plenty of endorphins to fuel my ascent. After reaching the top, I turned right and continued on my way. The overcast skies began to give way to some patches of sun, and it began to get a bit warm so I shed my long sleeve shirt and stuck with the short sleeve Northface flight series t-shirt. In another 5 miles of smooth sailing, I reached the Point Bravo aid station, which contained my first drop bag. I was able to restock myself with Tailwind, fuel up again with some PB & Js and potatoes, and head out again. I had 28 miles under my belt and I was feeling good.

By the time I reached Point Bravo, the routine of the aid stations had become commonplace for me and I looked forward to it. I announced my entry loudly so they could check me in, and always felt a ping of excitement when I bellowed my departure. Leaving each aid station became the start of another mini-adventure, and I was enjoying these small moments enough not to think about Mordor at the end of the trail! I took off from Point Bravo having logged a bit over 6 hours, and was still feeling quite good as the afternoon sun warmed things a bit.

Someone needs to make this into a shirt!

Someone needs to make this into a shirt!

The next 19 miles and two aid stations ticked off rather nicely and I had reached a point of comfort with the trail and my pace on it. Based on my time and pace, as well as the strength left in my legs, it was clear to me that I had finally nailed my early pacing, which was a huge boost. The climbs continued up and down the ridge line and I embraced them. I fell into a routine that involved effectively pushing off on my quads while climbing, and simultaneously massaging them to keep them as loose as possible. I’m not sure if this had any actual physiological impact or it was just a placebo effect, but I embraced it nonetheless. The beauty of the landscape around me helped to hide the difficulty of the course, as I knew it would, and I had no problem rolling with it. Somewhere along this section, I fell into the same pace as another guy and we got to talking as it became clear that our paces and attitudes matched up well. I would end up running the remainder of the race with him, and it once again demonstrated why I love trail running and ultras so much. It’s the people.

We were making good time and doing some solid power hiking on the steeper inclines as we made our way to the Winding Stair aid station. This was a crew access point and the first opportunity for pacers to join the fray. The beautiful epicurean wasn’t able to join me on this adventure, so I was on my own for this journey, hence my attention to my two drop bags. However, my new running friend had a group of friends waiting for him and another runner at Winding Stair when we rolled in around 8:30PM. I’d been running for over 12 hours at this point, and it was finally dark and time to bust out the headlamp. I slipped my long sleeve shirt back on, along with a beanie and a pair of gloves, and topped off my bladder with the help of some very energetic aid station volunteers. I did my best to say thank you as often as possible when I passed through each station, but really no thanks is quite enough for the investment they all made of their own time. Our sport thrives on each of us helping each other and giving back to the community, and it’s yet another reason why I’m so passionate about it.

The climbing never quit!

The climbing never quit!

The two of us left Winding Stair with a new pacer ahead of us, and the moonlight to light our way. The next stretch was mainly along old fire roads, which made the terrain more manageable but still challenging since our torches were lighting the way. The rolling hills continued and we seemingly climbed higher and higher with each drastic turn on the road. Things were starting to get sore at this point, and I was considering a few ibuprofen to avoid the aches in my quads, but I held out and ultimately avoided taking anything at all. We were at mile 47-ish when we left Winding Stair, and we new the next aid station, Jake Bull, was about 7 miles away. The next few miles were full of short bursts of running followed by more power hiking, but we were moving right along. The fire road had plenty of random offshoots that looked like they could have been trailheads, but weren’t. Thus, we were keeping our eyes peeled for the pink polka dot flags! We hopped on a section of single track for a bit, and then back out on the fire road again as we continued along.

After about two hours, we reached a fork in the road and realized we didn’t see any course markings. We ventured down one side, stumbled upon an interesting campsite full of guys drinking and laughing, their enormous Jeeps parked everywhere, and this was our first significant indicator that something was wrong. After surveying the area a bit more, we came to the conclusion that we had taken a wrong turn somewhere and missed the trail markings. This realization made for a rather significant sinking feeling in my stomach. We were on pace to finish in around 19 hrs 30 min, which would have brought us in well under the 21 hour cutoff needed to qualify for Western States. I tried not to worry too much, knowing we had a sizable cushion, and we doubled back in search of our missed turn. We had been descending for the better part of the last hour, which in retrospect should have probably been a sign of error itself. However, this meant we had to do some decent climbing as we retraced our steps and tacked on some additional miles.

A rather strange sight on the trail, wouldn't you say?

A rather strange sight on the trail, wouldn’t you say?

The search felt like it took forever. With each false trailhead illuminated by my headlamp, I felt my 21 hour goal slipping away. After what seemed like forever, we finally found the turn we missed. In total, we had gone almost 6 miles off course, and lost around 1 hr 45 minutes. There was nothing any of us could do at this point, so we simply hopped back on the trail and began climbing the ridge line again towards Jake Bull. Just before reaching the Jake Bull aid station (mile 54), we heart a distinctive snorting noise that sounded like a wild boar coming from the woods. A short pause to collect our thoughts was followed by a much more brisk pace into the next aid station. I’m pretty sure the noises were nothing more than a speaker hidden in the woods, meant to scare us, but that reality didn’t occur to any of us until much later!

We rolled into Jake Bull, accompanied by several runners that we hadn’t seen in many hours, and tried our best to stay positive. At that point, the reality of our situation had sunk in, and I knew it was more about simply staying focused on finishing, and recognizing what an incredible race experience this had already been. We fueled up, warmed up a bit by the fire, and took off for one of our final climbs. The next and last aid station, Nimblewill, was 9 miles away and pretty much all uphill. It was dark and the temperatures were dropping into the low 40s by this point, so it was a chilly march up to the top of the mountain. The road and trail undulated like a continuously moving serpent, and we were never out of the wind for more than a few minutes before we turned back into it. On a clear, sunny day, this section would probably have been quite beautiful, with the mountain always to our left, and enormous drop-offs to our right. However, in the dark, I was much more focused on staying on the trail and not getting to close to the edge! Surprisingly, despite it now being after midnight, I was wide away, and the effects of very little sleep hadn’t gotten to me like they typically do. I’m guessing this had something to do with proper nutrition intake, and the steady stream of caffeinated Tailwind all day, and it certainly made me even more of a believer.

We finally made it to the (almost) top and the Nimblewill aid station and fueled up for our final descent back to Amicalola Falls State Park. As we were leaving, we asked the volunteers how far it was to the finish, or at least to the base of the falls that we would then climb. We received some pretty mixed estimates, ranging from 4 to 7 miles, which wasn’t quite the precision any of us were looking for after having run almost 70 miles. However, we set off on the final leg and wove our way back down the mountain . Upon reaching the bottom, we had the pleasure of running past the finish line (within 100 yards) and heading for the base of the falls and a final climb. Earlier in the day, I had run into another runner who shared that we would encounter 179 stairs up the falls before heading back down on an accessibility path to the finish. I had kept that number in my head for the rest of the day, and psyched myself up for the final ascent. By the time we reached the base of the falls,climbing felt much better than going down did, so it was simply a matter of doing it. The stairs were no walk in the park, but we reached the top of the 179 stairs as promised, and turned left down the path. That’s when we say them. The course markings turned right and up the remaining 400 stairs to the very top of the falls! I’m sure I uttered a few choice words, but I had come this far and I was ready to do it regardless.

This 600 stair climb to the top of the falls would be challenging on fresh legs, let alone after running approximately 79 miles.  We stopped a few times to catch our breath, and eventually made it to the top. It was a short-lived feeling of accomplishment, however, as the reality of our descent sunk in. The grade along the road up to the top of the falls and the lodge was around 25%, which meant a 25% grade descent was now standing between us and the finish. It was probably one of the more painful descents I’ve ever encountered, for a short time on the road, and then winding through a more technical trail to the bottom. However, the excitement of finishing trumped everything else. We could hear folks at the finish cheering, and see the lights and fire up ahead as we reached the base. As if meant to add one more challenge, we then needed to cross a large stream before crossing the finish line immediately on the other side. Lifting my legs and doing any sort of jumping was out of the question at this point, so I simply jumped directly into the water, which rose above my ankles, and walked across before climbing out the other side and greeting Sean at the finish with a huge smile and a high-five! I pulled out my old railroad spike from my pack, tossed it into the appropriately positioned coffin at the finish, and claimed my engraved finishers spike.

As much hard work as any buckle I've earned :)

As much hard work as any buckle I’ve earned:)

I was equal parts elated and exhausted as I unclipped my pack and released the metaphorical weight from my shoulders, along with the material weight. I finished in 21 hrs 40 min, having run 81 miles (instead of the projected 72) and had long since come to terms with missing my qualifying time goal, but not disappointed in the least. The extra adventures, extra miles, and extra memories are all part of the ultra experience, and just made the experience that much more memorable. I had been planning for and training for this race for longer than most, and couldn’t have been happier to be holding that engraved railroad spike. It was the perfect symbol of the hard work that made this finish possible. This race had come to represent #chasing42 in some very significant ways, and it will stick with me for a long time to come.

The journey home involved a bathroom wet wipe bath, shipping my finishers spike home, and catching a flight back to Philly but it was all a blur. I crashed pretty hard when I got home, which was only fitting, but I was back at it with classes Monday morning. Oh, and in case you are wondering- I most definitely tackled a mile run on Monday to keep my streak in play. It wasn’t comfortable, but sometimes #chasing42 isn’t about comfort. Sometimes it’s about pushing the limits of what you think you are capable of, and discovering that you are capable of so much more. Now on to the next challenge!

 

 

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