Chasing 42

Life, the Universe, & Running

JFK 50 Mile Race Report

I’ve always been an eager student of history. The world is a strange and fascinating place, and there are more stories out there to explore than can be held in a single lifetime. That’s a large part of why “America’s Ultramarathon” has intrigued me for so many years. I first learned of the JFK 50 shortly after starting to run, long before I really had any grasp of the idea of an ultramarathon. I was fascinated by President Kennedy’s call to action of sorts, and the challenge of meeting the same physical requirements that President Roosevelt had held military officers to at the turn of the 20th century. Although numerous 50 mile races popped up following Kennedy’s call to action in 1961, the JFK 50 Mile race is still the only 50-mile footrace continuously held each year. The storied history has seen many great champions, and the military roots have remained strong and influential throughout it’s now 53 years.


With the pull of history in the back of my mind, the race became the first thing I registered for when the epicurean and I decided to move to Delaware for a new life adventure. I’ve had a rather busy fall race season, but have been looking forward to this longer than anything else, and I can say without a doubt that the experience did not disappoint. I drove west to Hagerstown, MD on Friday for packet pick-up and to check into my hotel room. I was flying solo, so I went for the cheapest room I could find, which proved to have considerable drawbacks but I made the most of it. I set everything out on Friday night to make the early morning wake-up call that much smoother, and actually got to bed at a decent hour, which is typically not my forte.


A 7AM race start meant waking up at 5AM to get ready, eat a light breakfast, and drive the 15 minutes to the start in Boonsboro, MD with enough time for a final “system cleansing”. I had hoped to make it to the pre-race meeting at 6:20, but ended up waiting in line for said cleansing a bit longer than expected. However, I still had just enough time to warm up in the high school, and then walk down to the starting line a few minutes before the gun went off. It was a brisk 27 degrees when the race started, so I was happy to have remembered arm warmers and gloves, along with my Buff for my head and neck (seriously, such a versatile piece of equipment!).

It was a chilly start!

It was a chilly start!

I knew from studying the elevation chart and reading the course description that I was in for some climbing in the initial miles, but that really hadn’t quite sunk in. However, it only took about a half mile to realize that we were heading straight up. The first 2.5 miles were on the road out-of-town, before meeting up with the Appalachian Trail for a quick mile and then onto a fire road for two more miles. In those first 5.5 miles, we gained over 1,700 feet of elevation, which my quads could definitely feel. I managed to hold myself back a bit more than usual, however, so I was feeling good when we stepped onto the AT again at mile 5.5. This was the first race in quite a while that I had succeeded in not going out too hard, and recognizing that brought a smile to my face.

The next 10 miles or so were all along the AT, and luckily along a good portion of the trail that I was familiar with after my hiking adventure in October. Knowing what was coming didn’t make the trail any less challenging, however. Additionally, running along the rocky, rooty section was far more challenging than hiking, and I was definitely as focused as I have ever been during a run. It was still early enough in the race that the pack had not completely thinned out, and I tucked into a pack of runners the entire way, which meant I had much less room to stop or slow down much. Luckily, I’m fairly certain that the past 6 months of increased trail running in Delaware definitely paid off, and I moved along really well. I never once lost control of my footing, and only slightly slid a few times despite the leaf-covered ground hiding the roots and roots underneath.

I knew the last section of switchbacks was coming because I had hiked down them several weeks ago, but they still gave me momentary pause as I began the speedy downhill assault. Dropping over 1,000 feet in such a short period of time, all while running as hard as I could, was quite the exhilarating experience, and I loved every moment of it. When I reached the final few stone steps, it was clear to me why so many people talked about yelling joyfully after making their way down unscathed. This area was also a major meeting point for spectators and crew members, neither of which I had waiting for me, so I kept rolling along the trail towards the C & O Canal towpath.

Hmmmm...I wonder which section was along the AT?

Hmmmm…I wonder which section was along the AT?

In retrospect, I wish someone had been waiting for me, because I would have benefited from trading out my Altra Lone Peak 2.0’s for a much lighter pair of Hokas for the long, flat towpath section. However, this was not an option, and the Altras were still holding up beautifully and comfortably, as they had done countless times before. The towpath section stretched for just over a marathon (26.3 miles), and was a beautifully flat, crushed gravel trail. This meant I could zone out a bit more and just let the miles tick off. I had planned on making up a bit of lost time on the towpath, but I still managed to run the AT section a bit harder than I had planned, so my legs (especially my quads!) didn’t have quite the pep in them that I thought they would.

The towpath miles were ultimately more of a blur than anything else. I moved along pretty well for the duration of the segment, and made sure to take walk breaks every so often to make sure I had some energy left in my legs for the final 8.2 mile stretch. The biggest motivational aspect by far proved to be the aid stations along the way. This was without a doubt the best supported race I’ve ever run, and each aid station (and they were about every 2 miles!) continued to outdo the one before. Between Star Wars, Christmas, and a myriad of other themes, the volunteers really went out of their way to make everyone feel welcomed and supported. By the time I had made it onto the towpath, the pack had spread out considerably more, so I saw far fewer runners along the way. It was a treat to know there was an aid station every 2 miles that I could zero in on when I was pushing myself from one point to the next, and it made the long section that much more enjoyable.

It's never too early for Santa, right?

It’s never too early for Santa, right?

That being said, I was still fairly bored with the towpath by the end, and very excited to leave it at the 41.8 mile mark, and hop onto the road for the final section. Those final miles were rather hilly and rolling, but the beautiful landscape made it easier to forget. Aside from some random aches and pains every once in a while, my legs were feeling good and I was excited to know I was so close to the finish. Reaching the final aid station brought a huge smile to my face, and I picked up the pace a bit, knowing I only had 2 miles to go. As I entered town, I could hear the announcers at the finish line, and that gave me the final push I needed to eek out a final kick to the finish. I crossed the finish line in 8:45:35, ultimately good for 129/794 overall, and knew I had earned the medal that was placed around my neck.

After lingering at the finish line for a bit to watch a few others come in, I made my way into the nearby school to wash up and get some food. As I sat for a bit and people-watched, I was reminded of just how much I love this community. This race definitely lived up to my expectations and exceeded them in many regards. I was certainly tired when I boarded the shuttle bus to take me back to the start and my car, but I was surprised by how much energy I still had. I knew others were still out there, and I sent them my extra energy to power them towards the finish. I probably could have stayed the night, but it was only a 2.5 hour drive, and I was much more interested in getting home and sleeping in my own bed. The drive back was a breeze, and the hot shower and hot soup (and cold beer) were a wonderful treat when I got home that night. History takes place around us every day, and many events often go unnoticed or forgotten. It was a privilege and an honor to be a part of history on Saturday, November 21st, 2015, for the 53rd Annual JFK 50.


Baltimore Marathon 2015 Race Report

You’ve no doubt noticed a “busy” trend with the past few posts, and the active extravaganza that was October continued with the Baltimore Marathon on October 17th. I’m still in the honeymoon phase of our move to the east coast, so having such easy access to so many large metropolitan areas and so many new races is a thrilling novelty. Thus, when the opportunity presented itself to run the Baltimore Marathon, and I realized it was an easy 90 minute drive, I obviously jumped at it.

Stefan was able to reserve an inexpensive hotel room in Baltimore, and I drove down on Friday night after work to meet him and a bigger group of folks from D.C. for a fun morning of running and exploring the city. It was a whirlwind of a trip, and I was gone less than 24 hours, but it still ended up being quite satisfying and I had no regrets! Stefan was able to pick up my packet earlier in the day, along with his own, so we simply relaxed for a bit in the hotel room, got everything ready for the race the next morning, and caught some zzz’s.

The 8AM start time, coupled with our close proximity to the start, meant we didn’t have to leave all that early from the hotel. We ran into some minor traffic, but made our way around and found a relatively close parking space with plenty of time. Everyone else was running the relay, so Stefan and I made our way to the start (he was running the first leg) while the others made their way to their respective checkpoints. I had no expectations for this race, aside from enjoying the course and finishing, and I figured I’d simply run by feel when I got there.

I might look a tad bit more pained :)

I might look a tad bit more pained :)

It was a beautiful morning for a race, with temps in the low 40’s, a little breeze, and the sun shining. We made our way a bit closer to the front and ended up around the 7:30 pace mark, which seemed rather fast to me, but it would at least mean we wouldn’t have to bob and weave through as many people to hit our stride. I decided I would simply hit the pace hard from the beginning and see how long I could hang on. I hadn’t raced a marathon since moving to the east coast, and I was curious to see what all of the hill work over the summer had done for my pace and endurance.

The first few miles definitely went by like a blur, but I was feeling good, and Stefan was pushing me enough that I didn’t notice the pace as much. I had my simple hydration bottle with me, filled with Tailwind, so I could avoid most of the water stops and keep pushing through, and that proved to be quite advantageous. My splits for the first 6 miles were pretty consistent and in the 7:35/mile range, which I knew was too fast, but I had already made my mind up to try and push myself. I will say that I “tried” early on to pull the pace back a bit, and both Stefan and I said we needed to do so, but the collective adrenaline meant we never actually slowed down much!

The hills were weighing on my legs!

The hills were weighing on my legs!

At the first exchange point for the relay, Stefan decided to keep running and simply run the marathon (he had really been planning it all along), so he passed the chip off and continued on with me. We made our way through the Baltimore Zoo and were greeted by several birds of prey and a penguin (with handlers), which made for a welcomed distraction from the pace, not to mention a nice touch for the route itself. Despite our continued attempts to slow down, we still managed a 7:07 9th mile, and I knew I was probably on borrowed time before my body forced me to slow down regardless.

I continued to push and hit the half marathon mark just short of PR time, which was encouraging. However, it was about this time when I realized just how hilly this course really was, and I started to think more about the unrelenting rolling hills. We made our way through Under Armor Headquarters (Baltimore Running Festival sponsor) and continued on past the half-way mark. My pace was holding, even if I was feeling the effects a bit more. Around mile 15, I began to pull away from Stefan a bit but knew I only had one pace in me so I kept moving, and he happily pulled back a bit. I made it through 20 miles before my body left me no choice but to slow down a bit.

My mile splits dropped down to the 8:05 range, but I was still feeling good, and content to continue pushing and tackling the hills. The last 10K was definitely a challenge, and the hills never really quit, but I could taste the PR at that point, and I wanted to know if I really had it in me. The final push past Camden Yards, greeted by a sizable crowd, was considerably energizing and made the stretch to the finish line tolerable and invigorating. It had been a while since I had really left everything out on the course, and it felt great to have truly pushed my body to the limit.

We were all smiles at the end :)

We were all smiles at the end :)

The bottle of water I downed once I crossed the finish line tasted extra-delicious, and the mylar blanket was especially warming. The medal around my neck even felt a bit more hard-earned. Ultimately though, the 3:23:40 was my reward, and a PR I once thought well out of reach was now in my possession. I collected some food in the finish area, made the mistake of trying a Gatorade protein shake (awful!!), and waited a bit until I found Stefan and the others. We hung out for a bit in the finish zone, and ultimately decided to make our way back to the cars and go find some lunch.

B-More 1

Unfortunately, I got stuck in traffic on the way to lunch, so I never made it and decided to just head home. However, despite it being a whirlwind race experience, I couldn’t have been happier with the end result. The Baltimore Running Festival was well-organized, the aid station volunteers were friendly, and the organizers seemed to have a great handle on the race experience as a whole. Even though I had already crossed Maryland off my 50 States list back in August, it still left a smile of accomplishment on my face as I made the brief journey home to enjoy the rest of the beautiful weekend with the epicurean! #chasing42 #chasing42reports #tailwindnutrition


Army 10-Miler Race Report

Running a 50K in the woods makes for a perfect warm-up the day before a 10 mile race, right? After Stefan and I returned from Prince William Forest, we headed over to the D.C. armory to pick up our packets for the Army 10-Miler. I’ve been hearing about this race for the past several years, largely as a result of Stefan and Jamile being nearby and various friends visiting the to run the race. Thus, I was quite excited to have the opportunity to share in the experience myself this year. The expo itself was larger than many marathon expos I’ve been to, and it was clear that the size (35,000 runners), location, and notoriety of this race made it quite the high-profile event. We spent some time wandering around the expo, but were eager to head home and get cleaned up and find some food!

All smiles where delicious food is concerned!

All smiles where delicious food is concerned!

As it turns out, this was the first race expo I had been to since beginning my part-time job at the Delaware Running Company. I’ve learned an enormous amount about the specialty running industry (shoes, gear, apparel) in a short amount of time, and the result seems to be my viewing expos “sales” with an entirely new light. I’m far less tempted now that I know what times retail for, and when they happen to be a discontinued or updated product. It made it much easier to walk out without purchasing anything!

We headed back, met up with Jamile and the epicurean, and wasted no time leaving for dinner. An amazing gluten-free Ethiopian feast awaited us at a little restaurant around the corner. It had been entirely far too long since either of us had been to an Ethiopian restaurant (not a cuisine you see much of in Iowa), and we were elated to re-acquaint our pallets with the delicious earthy flavors. The GF injera was an added bonus, and tasted remarkably similar, and even better than the gluten-laden conventional Americanized variety. Then we made our way back home (after stocking up on some delicious ciders and micro-brews) to relax for the remainder of the evening and prepare for the race the next day.


The race began at 8AM, so we arrived around 6:45am at a parking spot within walking distance of the start outside the Pentagon, and wound our way through the crowds and security to the start. Others had said the security bottleneck had been atrocious in previous years, but they clearly made some changes because we wandered through with ease and began making our way through the various corals. I had underestimated my pace quite a bit, and was initially assigned to a slower coral, but was able to make my way further up, and Stefan and I settled in around the 7:30/mile mark.

A view from the start...

A view from the start…

Even thinking about moving along that fast was a mental contradiction of sorts. After my training this summer, I knew I was capable of holding that general pace for the full 10 miles, but my mental image of myself hasn’t quite caught up because it still seemed like an intimidating pace. Nonetheless, it was a calm, cool, sunny morning and I was feeling good so I wanted to give it a go. Luckily Stefan has a very similar easy-going attitude and felt like hanging out with me for the race despite his ability to hold a faster pace. I was certainly happy for the company and motivation!

The pre-race ceremonies were well done, and everyone seemed to be a good spirits when the gun went off. We were far enough up that I didn’t need to do much weaving through crowds, aside from the woman who was walking with heavily swinging arms and landed a light blow a bit too close to my groin for comfort! We took off at a pretty good clip, and were close to 7:00 minute miles for the first few miles, which wove through D.C. amid large crowds of spectators. I was feeling really good and trying not to get too excited about my pace, which was even a bit faster than I had hoped. My breathing was dialed in, and my legs felt fresh and strong despite the 50K the day before. I had elected to wear my Delaware Running Club singlet for the first time, and I was pleasantly surprised by the number of folks who recognized it and shouted words of encouragement. I guess I was indeed on the east coast now!

At the half-way point, I was making amazing time and sitting at a 7:12/mile average. I knew that holding that pace was probably not possible for the next 5 miles, but I figured I would simply push as hard as I could, and see how long I could hold it. As it turns out, I had about 8 miles in me at that pace before I began to pull back out of necessity. I was finally able to convince Stefan to push it a bit more, and he began to pull away, but I kept him in sight. the final two miles went over the Potomac, and then turned around and headed back towards the other side of the Pentagon. The final push took all the energy I had left, but I held on to finish in 1:13:56, which was a definite PR!


It took me about 15 seconds to down a bottle of water as I made my way through the finish chute, after I caught my breath a bit, of course. Stefan had finished just ahead of me, so it was easy to find him, and we made our way into the after-race area, where all of the different branches of the military from various parts of the country had their own tents and were handing out food and other goodies. We made our way through the light crowds (the benefit of finishing rather fast) and collected a nice haul of snacks and other fuel, along with some other swag. The epicurean and Jamile met us in the finish area, and stopped to chat with some folks before heading out. It was an enormous race, and certainly lived up to the hype, and I was quite pleased to have had the experience. Another amazing running weekend was in the books, and I had a blast #chasing42. I do love the fall race season!

PB & J Fatass 50K Race Report

It’s a beautiful thing when a race falls into your lap and you can add it to your calendar with minimal additional planning. It’s even better when the race is free, and happens to be a trail race through a beautiful national park. So, when Stefan sent me a message asking if I wanted to run a 50K the day before the Army 10-Miler, which I was already heading down to run in D.C., my obvious answer was yes! The Virginia Happy Trails running club offered the PB & J 50K as a fatass (i.e. no registration fee, bring your own nutrition and something to share) organized race through Prince William National Forest, and not only was it a great race on some beautiful trails, but it served as a perfect tune-up for the JFK 50 in November. I registered as soon as I got the message, and all that was left was to pack some extra running gear, along with some coke to share at the aid stations, and head down to D.C.

The epicurean was able to join me on this D.C. trip to visit Stefan and Jamile, so it made for a great weekend getaway! We sent the dogs to daycare and got on the road Friday night after work. I’m still giddy over how easy of a drive it is from home to so many great locations on the east coast, and the ease with which we are able to pop down to D.C. to visit friends is a wonderful treat. We rolled in around 10PM, got unpacked, I laid out my gear for the morning, and we drifted off to sleep. The race started at 8AM, so we didn’t have to get up horribly early for the short drive to the trail head area of the forest, but 6AM still came soon enough. Stefan and I took off, leaving our partners to sleep in and enjoy the morning on their own. We picked up another friend, and made our way to the starting area. The lack of traffic on an early Saturday morning was a welcome treat, even if it was short-lived.

All ready for a great morning on the trails!

All ready for a great morning on the trails!

We arrived in plenty of time, and chatted with the other runners as we stretched, got our packs on, and prepared to have a great morning in the woods. There were probably 65 people at the start, and the small, intimate nature of the race was right up my ally. I’m always a fan of smaller trail races where everyone has some connections. It’s nice to start seeing the same people  and make connections along the way as well. I donned my Salmon hydration vest, and decided to break in a new pair of Altra Lone Peak 2.0’s for the race as well (I know- shame on me for “breaking them in” on race morning, but I love the shoes, know they fit, and wasn’t worried in the least!).

The weather could not have been more perfect, with clear skies and cool temps for the start. Around 8AM, the race director yelled “go!” and we were on our way. From the get go, I could tell I was going to enjoy adding these new trails to my mental collection of running experiences, and they did not disappoint. The course was two 15+ mile loops, with around 1500 feet of elevation gain during each loop. The trails themselves were not terribly technical and quite runnable, which made it easy to fall into a rhythm pretty quickly. Stefan and I stuck together for the race, and fell in line with a group of other runners during the first loop. The route followed a stream for a bit, but meandered up and down, always hidden below a beautiful canopy of trees just beginning to find their fall colors.


The only minor annoyance of the entire race was the hornet that stung me about 5 miles in, but I managed to get the stinger out pretty easily and the pain was minimal. Several other folks got stung as well, so I’m guessing we ran through a nest and didn’t realize it. As I’ve indicated in the past, my sense of direction isn’t always the best, and we did manage to take one wrong turn during the first loop, which added about a 1/2 mile, but we realized it pretty quickly when we ran into a relative dead-end! The organizers had two aid stations set up along the course, and the friendly volunteers were happy to provide us with a plethora of treats provided by the runners themselves. By mile 11 or 12, Stefan and I had separated from the pack a bit, and were on our own for the remainder of the race.


The morning seemed to fly by even more quickly than I expected. We rolled right along at a comfortable pace, chatting about all sorts of random topics, as we are often prone to do, and it made the time and miles tick off quite easily. The second loop was just as comfortable as the first, with the added bonus of knowing exactly where we were going, which is always nice. I very quickly fell in love with the beauty of the forest, and decided then that I would return at some point to explore even more of the trails at my disposal. I was relaxed and comfortable for the entire race, my legs felt great, and i had my nutrition dialed in quite well, which made the experience that much more enjoyable. My overall execution during the race seemed to fall into place beautifully, and it gave me quite a bit of added confidence for the JFK 50 as well.

We made our way around the second loop, and calmly made our way back to the finish area for a clocked time of 5:47, which was good enough for 5th place, making the morning that much better! After the race, we hung out for a bit chatting with folks, and then hopped back in the truck to head back, find some coffee, and continue our busy day. This race was the perfect reminder of why I love trail and ultra running so much, and feel so much more at home on the trails, and I couldn’t have been happier with the outcome!

P.S. No PB & Js were consumed during this race :)

Hiking with Joaquin- Part II

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity”
― John Muir, Our National Parks

The increasing intonation of the alarm slowly beckoned us back to reality as we awoke following a good night’s rest in a nice, warm bed. We probably could have managed sleeping in our hammocks for the evening, but I’m not sure it would have accomplished much, aside from an achy body for the following day. As it was, we awoke, happily dressed, re-packed our packs, and headed down the hall for a quick breakfast at the hotel. As it happened, our hotel was only about a third of a mile from the trailhead, so we were able to leave one vehicle in the lot, and simply drive the second to the stopping point from the previous evening.

The bounty of the trail!

The bounty of the trail!

The weather forecast was looking to be even more in our favor, as much of he rain from Hurricane Joaquin had passed us by, and the temperatures were a bit warmer, along with calmer winds. Thus, we ventured back into the woods and onto the trail in good spirits, excited for what the second day would bring. It wasn’t long before we were deep enough into the woods to escape the traffic noise that accompanies the unfortunate realities of an overpopulated society. Luckily, for another day, we would have the luxury of forgetting those concerns and embracing the natural world.

Some history along the way...

Some history along the way…

We hadn’t been hiking more than ten minutes when we discovered several paw-paw trees with fruit scattered on the ground. We collected a few and tasted the delicious banana-like, fibrous fruit, and then continued on down the trail. Overall, this section of the trail was less technical, and more well-defined than the previous day’s journey, so we were left to discuss a wide variety of different topics. Over the course of the weekend, we managed to plan out our retirement, start a new business, correct for the ineffectiveness of the American two-party political system, philosophize over the nature of endurance athletics, and plan for future adventures. This last accomplishment would prove important for future discussion, so I’ll return to it in a bit.

Greetings, Harpers Ferry!

Greetings, Harper’s Ferry!

Just as we had yesterday, we stopped when we were hungry, rested to rehydrate, and made sure to enjoy the numerous opportunities to gaze out over the expanse of nature that was joyfully enveloping us. This section of the trail happened to also be a portion of the JFK 50-Miler route, which I’ll be running next month, so I was excited to have the opportunity to preview the course. Aside from a section of intense and steep switchbacks, I found the section relatively runnable in most areas, which got me even more excited for the race. We came across some historic markers and memorials along the way as well, which helped to quench my consistent appetite for history. After about 15 miles, we emptied onto the C & O Canal towpath, which runs along the same route as the AT.

We obviously needed to stop in a coffee shop housed in a converted church, enjoy a hot cup of joe, and listen to some live music!

We obviously needed to stop in a coffee shop housed in a converted church, enjoy a hot cup of joe, and listen to some live music!

The C & O Canal towpath took us all the way to Harper’s Ferry, WV, where our vehicle was parked. Along the way, this flat path afforded us beautiful views of the Potomac River, and the various water fowl and other wildlife that called this portion of the ecosystem home. We eventually crossed the river into town and it was a strange feeling returning to civilization. We made our way through town, and it was fun to see the AT markers continue into town, up a steep climb, past some old church ruins, and back into the wild along the bluffs overlooking the river on the other side.

Nature's reminders :)

Nature’s reminders :)

As we were approaching the end of our journey, not more than a quarter-mile from the trailhead, we spotted a family of deer up ahead on the trail. We stopped and watched as they stared back at us, seemingly unconcerned with our presence. It seemed a fitting end to our journey, and a reminder of just how close the natural world truly is, but simultaneously invisible unless we make a conscious effort to seek it out and embrace it. Along those lines, this trip left both Stefan and I with the desire to see more of the AT. The stories of through-hikers are amazing, and I found myself that much more connected to my “A Walk in the Woods” moment. Although taking the required time off to complete a through-hike is outside our means at the moment, we decided that conquering the trail one section and one state at a time was much more within our grasp. Thus, I may have disembarked from the AT in Harper’s Ferry, having completed the entire Maryland section, but I will most certainly be back to explore the wild wonders waiting for me along the many remaining miles of the Appalachian Trail.

Hiking with Joaquin- Part I

We had been planning our hiking adventure for several months. The first weekend in October promised excellent weather for a three-day hike across Maryland on the 41.9 mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail. The fall colors would be emerging, the temperatures would be cool and comfortable, and it would be a perfect weekend to camp out under the stars. I finally got around to purchasing a new hiking pack after extensive research and a desire for a carry-on eligible pack to make future international travel more convenient. The plan was to follow the full route of the AT over the course of three days, beginning in Pen Mar, PA on Friday, and finishing in Harper’s Ferry, WV on Sunday. That would give us plenty of time to enjoy the scenery, stop at scenic overlooks, and still set up camp with some daylight at our disposal. Alas, Hurricane Joaquin had other plans.

About a week out, the weather forecasts began to shift as a tropical storm in the Atlantic was quickly developing into a hurricane, with a projected landfall disturbingly close to our destination. There was plenty of rain in the forecast, and the temperatures were looking to be a bit lower than we had anticipated. However, plane and train tickets were purchased, time was requested off from work, and we were intent on converging on Washington, D.C. on Thursday (10/1) night for an early Friday AM departure. We made the decision to condense our trip into two days of hiking (approximately 20 miles each day), and to stay in a hotel in Harper’s Ferry on Friday night to allow us to spend more time on the trail and pack lighter for the journey.

Day 1 begins in Pen Mar, PA.

Day 1 begins in Pen Mar, PA.

I got my pack filled with the necessities, and hopped on the train Thursday night for the short ride to D.C. I was able to meet Stefan, Jamile, and Carla (who flew in from Iowa to join us) at Union Station, and we headed back to Stefan and Jamile’s house in Falls Church, VA  for a few short hours of sleep. The 5AM alarm arrived much too soon, but we are all up and ready to roll by 6AM and we headed out (after stopping for some much-needed coffee, of course). The plan was to leave one vehicle at the half-way point, and take the other up to Pen Mar for the start. It was a relatively easy drive, and we even found a wonderful little cafe for breakfast along the way. We arrived in Pen Mar, and the AT trailhead around 9AM, and embarked on our journey for the day. The weather predictions indicated a strong chance of rain the entire day, but we were prepared and determined to enjoy the experience. A little moisture wasn’t going to get in the way of an amazing hiking trip!

Gorgeous views, even on a cloudy day!

Gorgeous views, even on a cloudy day!

As it turned out, we encountered some light rain and wind throughout the day, but the dense canopy served as a rather effective natural umbrella. The trail itself was absolutely gorgeous, and I found it quite easy to get lost in the moment and find my bearing again only to discover that a considerable amount of time had passed. We found several amazing scenic overlooks with breathtaking views, despite the fog and cloud cover hiding a good portion of the natural terrain from us. The trail had its share of rocky and rooty sections, some of which were a tad bit tricky due to being slick from the rain, but we slowed our paced and carefully navigated them without incident.

We found a heavily graffiti-covered outlook along the trail.

We found a heavily graffiti-covered outlook along the trail.

Although this was a supposed to be a relatively busy section of the AT, we saw very few hikers on this first day. I’m guessing Joaquin had something to do with that! For the most part, we had the entire trail to ourselves, and it was delightful. We were able to enjoy the natural beauty that much better, and soak in the sounds of nature as they drowned out the technological buzz of our daily lives. We stopped to eat and drink when we were hungry, paused to rest at several of the shelters along the way, and let our imaginations wander throughout the day. I couldn’t help but think about Scott Jurek and Heather Anderson traversing these same trails, and marveling at the speed and distance of their daily journeys. I also found myself with a new-found appreciation for Bill Bryson’s AT tale, A Walk in the Woods, and smiling at some of our observations as we ventured around a cascading trail of new experiences and sites.

It was a bit rocky and slippery at times!

It was a bit rocky and slippery at times!

More than the hiking, though, I had been looking forward to the time with friends to reconnect and create new memories together. The transition to Delaware has gone quite well in many aspects, but leaving behind our community in Ames has been by far the hardest aspect. Throughout the first day, our conversations meandered even more than the trail itself, and it was wonderful to realize just how easily you can fall back into comfortable conversation with wonderful friends. I can certainly appreciate the allure of a solitary journey on the AT, especially from a meditative perspective, but there is simply something about the experience that can’t be captured in journals or photos. You need to be with someone to truly catalog the essence of the AT and recognize the history hidden between the rocks and roots, ready to be uncovered and added to with each new footfall. I was happy that I had three wonderful friends to share those moments with, and to add to the history together.

Stopped at a shelter half-way through the day.

Stopped at a shelter half-way through the day.

Filling up our water bottles at a fresh mountain spring- delicious!

Filling up our water bottles at a fresh mountain spring- delicious!

We made relatively good time, and covered a bit less than 20 miles the first day, arriving back at the truck at our predetermined halfway point with daylight left in the sky. However, we had overlooked one small detail. The keys to the truck had been accidentally left in the other vehicle, which was 20+ miles north of us at our starting location. We considered several options, including running the 15 or so miles along the road back to the truck. However, the temperatures were dropping, and he wind was picking up, and we weren’t really in the mood to run for a few hours. So, we decided to give Uber a try. None of us had used it before, but this seemed as good a time as any, especially considering the potential cost of a conventional cab that far off the beaten path. As luck would have it, someone responded in less than a minute, and we were tucked into a Ford Explorer 15 minutes later on our way up to Pen Mar to retrieve the truck and keys to the second truck. It was a really pleasant experience, and our driver was quite nice as well.

A celebratory selfie with Duane, our Uber driver!

A celebratory selfie with Duane, our Uber driver!

After our vehicle juggling, we made our way down to our hotel in Harper’s Ferry, ordered some pizza, and enjoyed a much-needed shower and hot meal. We relaxed for a bit, but it didn’t take long before our eyes were forcing themselves shut, so we retired for the evening. Day two was still ahead of us, and we were looking forward to another 20 miles of memories on the AT!


Gear Review: Northface “Better Than Naked”

I just recently added a few new pieces of running apparel to my already sizable collection, and I wanted to briefly share my excitement! I’ve collected quite a few tech shirts over the years, courtesy of races and other sales. As a result, I’ve always been hesitant to splurge on new apparel, especially when it’s at the higher end of the price spectrum. However, I’ve been curious about the Northface “Better Than Naked” line of running apparel for quite some time. All of the reviews I’ve read have been rather spectacular, and I’ve been itching to slip into the shirt and shorts and give them a spin myself. I finally received that opportunity, and I couldn’t be more happy with the decision!

Everyone sweats when they run, and plenty of people talk about being heavy sweaters when they run. I’m not simply being dramatic when I say that I sweat profusely simply thinking about running, so adequate wicking properties have always been a challenge. The incredible heat and humidity of my first Delaware summer has put that fact to the test even more, and I’ve come back from just about every run this summer soaked and ready to ring myself out. The Northface Better Than Naked line of apparel claims to excel and wicking and drying where other companies have come up short. Thanks to its Polartec PowerDry fabric, wicking is supposed to happen instantly, leaving you consistently dry and comfortable with minimal lag time. In practice, I’m overjoyed to report that their claims are quite accurate!

The TNF Better Than Naked Shortsleeve

TNF Better Than Naked Short sleeve

I purchased the Short Sleeve and the Split Short 3.5 and put them through the paces this past weekend, and they passed with flying colors. Ventilation was outstanding, wicking excelled to the point of me staying almost entirely dry, even after 3 hours of running, and the fit and comfort of both pieces meant I hardly realized I was wearing them. The biggest complement you can give a piece of running apparel is the assertion that you don’t even notice it, and in that sense, both pieces truly were “Better Than Naked”.

TNF Better Than Naked Split Short 3.5

TNF Better Than Naked Split Short 3.5

The shorts have two elastic mesh pockets on either side in the back, and a center zippered pocket as well, meaning you can carry quite a few items without needing to worry about a belt of some sort. This is a fantastic feature, and one missing from many of the shorts I currently own. I also purchased the Long Haul shorts, which are designed for trail and ultra-running. They have even more pockets in the back and sides, and even include pockets on the included compression boxer brief liners, which is an added bonus. There’s a great review of both pairs of shorts over at ultrarunnerpodcast as well, so you can definitely check that out for more details.

TNF Better Than Naked Long Haul Short

TNF Better Than Naked Long Haul Short

Sizing was fairly accurate for all three pieces, and I had no complaints in that area. I tend to like my running shirts a bit more form-fitting (why give the sweat more opportunity to run down my body, right?), and the small fit my 5″11″ 165 frame quite well. The medium shorts were a perfect fit for my 32″ waist as well, providing a loose fit without being too baggy. If you are someone who likes your shirts a bit bigger, you might want to bump up a size just to be on the safe side. I had wanted to try the singlet as well, but it was sold out when I went to order it, so I’ll have to give that a whirl in the future. If you are in the market for a few go-to pieces, I highly suggest checking out the Northface Better Than Naked line!

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