Chasing 42

Life, the Universe, & Running

Archive for the category “Endurance”

Daily Chase: Vol. 71

The chase continues! It’s been a hectic couple of weeks, but that’s what keeps things interesting, right? If you follow politics even remotely, then you’ve had plenty of opportunities to shake your head, roll your eyes, and let out a sigh of sadness, confusion, or utter frustration. It’s about this time of the year that the higher education professional in me begins to feel the stagnation of the semester, as do the students. This is a bit mitigated now that I’m working at the University of Delaware, since the spring semester doesn’t begin until February, but students still get antsy very quickly. I’ve been adjusting to my new schedule this semester, and the changes to my workouts as well. However, the clock continues to count down towards the Umstead 100 so I will continue #chasing42!

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A weekend getaway to Virginia meant some quality time in Shenandoah National Park. 

Chasing42 Log: 20170205- 20170219

Run: It has been an incredibly busy and adventurous two weeks of running and I have the numbers to show for it! I’ve clocked in around 150 miles and 14,000 feet of vertical gain in the last two weeks as my training reached a peak weekend yesterday and today. Getting up early on Mondays and Wednesdays to run a few miles has proven quite the unique challenge but a necessary evil since I’m on campus both evenings teaching. The flip side this semester is that with my Tuesday evenings free, I’m able to make it to the track workouts and get in some speed work, which I certainly missed during the fall. So, not only is the streak alive but I’m feeling really good about my training as I head into a busy spring filled with plenty of work trips and responsibilities, and some exciting races. Did I mention that it was 70 degrees and sunny this weekend? This is normal February weather, right?

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Nature’s beauty rarely disappoints. 

Thought: Don’t worry, folks, climate change isn’t that big of a deal. There’s nothing to see here. The strange weather patterns, melting glaciers, and disappearing species are a perfectly normal part of the natural world.

Well, at least that seems to be the messages many of the financially motivated, administratively inept and otherwise corrupt members of our new governmental regime would have us believe. It’s absolutely unbelievable to me that despite the overwhelming scientific evidence demonstrating the impact of humanity on the global climate, we are still debating it. We are still arguing over putting in place measures to preserve the dwindling natural environment around us, secure the clean water sources that give us life, and protect the species that keep our ecosystem in balance. We should not need to host data collection parties to preserve scientific research before it disappears from government websites. We should not find ourselves needing to protest the destruction of our environment by corporations seeking to irresponsibly develop protected lands in an effort to make money by producing goods that nobody needs in the first place. Don’t start lecturing my on the nature of capitalism, either. This isn’t capitalism. The benefits (if there are any) do not outweigh the costs. Those in power continue to demonstrate their inability to act in favor of the greater good, and not what’s good for their re-election campaigns.

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Appreciation and action go hand-in-hand. 

The more time I spend on the trails, running and hiking, the more I think about how fragile the beauty around me truly is at the hands of man. The gorgeous mountain top views, flowing streams, and rushing waterfalls have been around for millions of years, existing in harmony with the flora and fauna they support. It’s sad to realize that in the blink of an eye, our species has managed to destroy so much of that beauty, and replace it with concrete jungles and fossil fuel pollution. I know I have a role to play in that, as a consumer, and as a steward of the land I explore, but it’s hard not to throw up my hands in disgust. It’s hard to fight when what you believe is so seemingly logical and rationale, and yet pushed aside in favor of fleeting notions of personal wealth and comfort. Sometimes #chasing42 feels like chasing my tail. Still, we must continue to #resist!

Daily Chase: Vol. 70

January was a bit of a blur in many regards. The University of Delaware offers a 6-week winter term for students, of which a small percentage partake and an even smaller percentage are on campus. The result was an incredibly calm, quiet, and productive month that was nothing like the rest of the year. I’m typically juggling quite a few projects, so January was a wonderful opportunity to get a lot of uninterrupted work done, as well as tackle some meetings that would typically be much more difficult to schedule. Since I wasn’t teaching yet in the evenings, it also meant a much more consistent and easy-to-follow training calendar. The consistently mild temperatures meant I was able to really start the year off right, and my 325+ miles in January are proof positive of that. I know things will be getting much busier beginning on Monday with the start of the Spring semester, but I’m ready to return to a more fast-paced schedule. I’ve always been someone that thrives when I have more on my plate, and I’m looking forward to getting back in the buffet line on Monday!

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Chasing42 Log: 20170129-20170204

Run: It was another solid, consistent week of training, helped in part by the fact that I finally put together my training plan for the first 6 months of the year. Although I love to just go out and run, I know that I need to be a bit more regimented with my schedule so I don’t burn out, and I can truly enjoy the races I have coming up. This past week was my last opportunity for Monday and Wednesday evening runs for a few months, as I’ll be teaching those evenings during the Spring semester. This likely means attempting to get up early to squeeze in a run before work. This is a prospect I am far from excited about and uncertain as to how effective it will be. All I can do is try, but waking up is already a challenge during the week! After some sound advice, I made my way over to the UD football stadium earlier this week, and was pleased to find out it was open and I could venture in for a very rewarding stadium stairs workout. I followed this up with the first of six club hill workouts on Thursday, and my climbing was in solid form heading into the weekend. I capped off a solid week yesterday with a strong 27-mile effort on the trails at Brandywine Creek State Park, and I couldn’t be more happy with how well my legs are feeling. It’s time to hit the semester running and #chasing42!

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Thought: I have declared that this is the season of downhill training. I know, after quite a few experiences, that the downhills are the bane of my existence late in a race, and I’m determined to have more strength for those late race downhills this year. This means I’ve been hammering the downhills during my hill workouts, and pushing upward more methodically. It’s a strange reversal for me, but it seems to be working already, based on yesterday’s long run. I can only hope that my quads are ready for the Umstead 100 in April and Laurel Highlands in June. I have every intention of training hard so I can push those downhills while I’m #chasing42!

Race Report: PHUNT 50k

When a friend messages you to let you know he found a bib for an upcoming race for you, you don’t ask too many questions. This is even more true if it’s a race you wanted to run in the first place. I suppose distance does play a part in such decisions, but I happily added a last-minute 50K to my early season race calendar. The PHUNT 50K/25K is a race I had been hearing about since I moved to Delaware 18 months ago, and I was eager for the chance to toe the line!

The Trail Dawgs Running group is a fantastic local group of trail and ultra runners who put on a number of great races in the area, including a marathon I did this past May. In general, the running community in Delaware/Maryland/Pennsylvania is fantastic, and the Dawgs are a big reason for that! So, I knew this would be an enjoyable, laid back, and well-run race with a bunch of cool folks. Of course I wanted to spend a few hours out on the trail!

Packet pickup on Friday night was a breeze, not the least of which because it was only a 10 minute drive from my office. For a very low cost race, the Nathan water bottle and waist pack, along with some other items, amounted to a surprisingly great set of swag. I couldn’t resist picking up a new winter hat as well 🙂

The unusually late 9AM start time, coupled with the easy 25 minute drive, meant I was able to sleep in on a Saturday morning, which felt rather strange! I had time to relax, have some breakfast, get read, and still arrive in plenty of time to wait in the short porta-potty line. I’d certainly call that a win! One of the reasons I love small trail races so much is for the ease and convenience, and this race definitely worked that aspect quite well. The large activity hall at the Fair Hill Recreation Area, right next to the start, provided more than enough warm shelter for runners prior to the race, and proved a great location to meet up with friends before the race. Did I mention the convenience?

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The trail signage was fantastic! Photo Credit: RunningMadPhoto

Around 8:55AM, we wandered outside and made our way towards the starting area, and at 9AM sharp, the RD unceremoniously sounded a starting horn and we were off. No corals, no timing mats, no waiting around for waves. It was all about going out on some beautiful single-track trails and having a great time. The course was two 15.6 mile loops, with aid stations at mile 3.8, mile 7, and mile 10.8. I didn’t need my hydration vest by any means, but wore it anyway so I could easily carry my phone, nutrition, and the all-important TP. The forecast had called for rain and snow earlier in the week, but it pretty much all held off, with the exception of some light sleet, so the trails were for the most part in great shape.

I had no intention of racing this event hard, but of course the adrenaline of the first race of the year got the best of me, and I went out and ran the first mile in about 8 minutes. I knew the course didn’t have any significant climbs, but I wasn’t sure about total gain. However, I knew I had gone out too fast, but my mile 1.5, I figured I’d push it a bit and see what happened. The 50K and 25K runners started at the same time, but the pack still spread out pretty quickly. I was moving really well on the comfortable terrain, and found myself latching on to several different runners for pacing over the course of the first loop.

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All smiles out on the course! Photo Credit: RunningMadPhoto

I spent minimal time in well-stocked and energetic aid stations and saw it as an opportunity to practice efficient transitions for future races. The temperature was hovering right around 30 degrees, and I quickly regretted the running tights. I know I run hot when I’m racing, so I should have known better. I was moving really well, and eagerly tackling the short climbs on the rolling terrain. I had committed to running this first loop at all points, and I enjoyed the challenge those first 15+ miles presented. The first loop flew by rather quickly and I rolled back into the start area after about 2.5 hours. I realized around mile 12 that the other runners I was latching on to were probably only running 1 loop (25K) but I rolled with it and kept pushing.

My legs were a bit tired at the end of the first loop, but I had been hydrating well and taking in a decent number of calories, so I was feeling good. I spent a few minutes at the aid station enjoying some Coke and GU waffles, and then launched myself back out onto the course. The crowd on the second loop was obviously a lot more spread out, and I almost felt like I had the trails to myself at times, which was fantastic. The trails were still in really good shape, even after 500+ runners had trampled them on the first loop, and my feet were feeling really good thanks to my Altra Olympus 2.0s.

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Look up and you’ll go down! Photo Credit: Mark DeNio

I kept expecting to hit some sort of wall on the second loop, but thankfully never really felt any sort of bonk, despite pushing it a bit hard on the first loop. My pace did slow somewhat, and I walked up a few of the hills, and lingered at the aid stations a bit more, but still felt really good for the most part. It began to sleet a bit at this point, but the tree cover provided plenty of protection, and it created a nice natural forest chorus as it struck the foliage around me. I was able to set small targets for myself during the second loop, which was helpful as well. That’s definitely the advantage of a looped course, and one of the reasons I enjoy them so much…as long as it’s an enjoyable loop!

I rolled into the finish line calmly in around 5 hrs 29 min (16th place, 6th in my always tough age group!) and would have happily gone out for a 3rd loop after such an enjoyable race! My quads were a bit sore, but nothing out of the ordinary, and I was overall really pleased to have such an early 50K under my belt. I collected my medal and unique finisher’s plate, and relaxed for a bit as I waited for others to finish. The environment, support, love of running, quality trails, excellent organization and aid stations, and energy that this race had is what trail running is all about. I can think of no better way to begin #chasing42 in 2017!

Race Report: Philadelphia Marathon

Well, it feels like an eternity ago, and I could pontificate on the variety of reasons why I haven’t written this review sooner. It’s the holiday season. The semester was coming to an end. Darker days sap my energy. Blah. Blah. Blah. At any rate, the reasons are irrelevant. The race may have taken place over a month ago, but the memories are still there so I wanted to share!

Most folks are probably on the verge of being thoroughly entrenched in their holiday plans, balancing increased opportunities to eat with decreased opportunities to run, and not even thinking about races in 2017 just yet. December is always an interesting time for runners, especially those in cooler climates. The weekend before Thanksgiving is always a wild card when it comes to weather, and is typically about as late as you can push most longer races unless you are committing to the cold, or happen to live in Florida. I was actually a bit surprised that the Philadelphia Marathon was as late in the season as it was, but it provided me with a nice racing bookend for my season. I probably wouldn’t have even considered it, but for the fact that a good friend from Iowa decided to fly out for the race and end her season on a high note as well. I couldn’t say no to that!

The epicurean and I made our way up to Philly on Saturday to pick up our packets in the afternoon before meeting our friend for dinner. It’s been a while since I’ve been to a larger race expo, and I found it interesting that the mystique of the experience definitely isn’t there for me anymore. If there was any question about whether or not I was a trail runner at heart, it was put to rest at the expo. I love the simplicity of a trail race, the community, and the environment. The expo just seemed overly commercial by comparison. Luckily, it was very well organized and we were in and out pretty easily. After a nice dinner, we parted ways and headed home for the night. In retrospect, it would have made much more sense for me to stay in Philly with my friend that night and not have to drive back up in the morning, but that didn’t occur to me for some reason. Hindsight is 20/20, eh? On the drive home, the temperature drops rather significantly, and the freezing rain began. Yikes! I could only hope that the weather system would be gone by morning, or the race would be brutal.

City Hall was all lit up early…the race began with the sun!


I woke up on Sunday morning at a rather ungodly hour, and went through my pre-race routine in a bit of a haze before hopping in the car. I parked near the finish area, and walked to meet her at her hotel before the race. We procrastinated a bit to limit the amount of time we’d be standing around before the race, and then headed over. I was thankful I had worn a sweatshirt and a pair of flannel pants I could toss before the race, because the temps in the low 30’s and the 30-40 mile wind gusts made for a chilly morning. Those winds wouldn’t let up in the least bit over the course of the race, and they proved to be a challenge for many folks!

I had no intention of truly racing, but rather wanted to go out and enjoy myself, and cheer on folks throughout the race. Thus, I decided to commit to dialing things back for the first half of the race, and then seeing if I could conjure up a negative split. I went out rather conservatively, and stayed closed to the 4 hour pace group. The cold wind, and my lack of warm clothing probably pushed my pace a bit more than I had planned, but I still managed to run well within myself. The crowd support throughout the race was phenomenal and the route through the city was visually entertaining. Over the years, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Philadelphia. I’ve always seen it as being a bit too dirty, and lacking the character and charisma of someplace like New York or Boston. However, as I’ve spent more time in Philly, I’ve grown to appreciate it for what it is and stopped hoping it would be something different. The history is obviously important, but the character of the people and the energy they bring to the city is equally important. Philly is a city of hard-working folks who go about their business, don’t try to be too flashy or outgoing, but still establish themselves as worth of their position as a World Heritage site, among other accolades. I was reminded of this subtle significance as I calmly tackled the first half of the course.


I meandered through the course, sticking to my slower pace and trying to stay conversational, even if I wasn’t actually conversing with anyone along the way. It’s a relatively flat course as far as I’m concerned, but trail and ultra-running has arguably skewed my perspective a bit. Over the course of various other runs, I had become familiar with a majority of the course as well, which helped me feel quite comfortable throughout. The few hils of consequence that do exist along the course are conveniently located in the first half, around miles 6 and 8, which made slowing down a bit that much easier. The route passes the Philadelphia Zoo around mile 8.5, but sadly the animals weren’t lining the streets with the crowd to cheer us on. I would have appreciated a clapping monkey at the very least! Around mile 10, after a bit of climbing, the route passes the “Please Touch Museum”, and I had to giggle as I heard a few folks wondering if this was the art museum, and hence the end of the race (for the half, I presume). They sounded a bit sad upon realizing they still had a few more miles to go, but it was a mostly downhill route to the finish of the half marathon so I’m sure they survived.

I hit the half-way timing mat in 1:55, which was a few minutes ahead of my modest 2 hour target, but still very comfortable. After a few hours of calm running, I was excited to pick up the pace a bit and really stretch my legs. Around mile 14, you pass near the finish line as you head out along the Schuyukill River for an out-and-back segment. Years ago, I probably would have been annoyed at being so close to the finish line, but I was simply excited to pick up the pace along the river. I’ve run along this stretch of the river on a number of locations, and the route has a particular urban beauty to it as you progress along the shore. If it had been earlier in the fall, you would have seen crew teams out practicing on the river. As it was November, we had to settle for the wicked 40 mph winds indecisively alternating between blowing us along and bringing us to a standstill. 

Over the course of the next 4 miles or so, I pushed myself a bit and enjoyed realizing how much pep I had in my legs after 13 miles. In some past races, it has taken me a solid half marathon to even warm up and hit my stride, so I was definitely aware of the endurance training at work. I received a small ping of happiness each time I passed someone, and it helped me forget just how cold I was with very little to break the wind or protect myself from it. The route continues down the river until around mile 20, where you reach the turn around point and naively hope that reversing directions will help with the wind. It did not. However, it was fun to see so many runners with the out-and-back segment and be able to cheer people on. After mile 18 or so, I pulled up a little, having passed the 3:45 pace group faster than I anticipated. I was comfortably in negative split range, and sought to maintain a decent pace the rest of the way that would challenge me but not exhaust me. 

I may prefer smaller trail races, especially due to the family atmosphere, but there is still something special about a large urban marathon. I’m always keenly aware of the folks out there pushing themselves, running the distance for the first time, or attempting a new PR or a BQ. The extrovert in my loves cheering people on, and feeling as though I am sharing their their triumphs and struggles. It was that energy that propelled me back along the river towards the finish line as the final 10K ticked off. The crowds weren’t heavy along this stretch, but they were consistent and you never felt alone. I made a point of stopping briefly at each of the well-staffed and well-stocked aid stations and thanking the volunteers, and surprisingly managed to keep myself properly hydrated the entire time. The race finishes near the famous Art Museum steps immortalized in the Rocky movies, and the spirit of the marathon is certainly characterized by that particular brand of grit and hard work. 

I crossed the finish line in about 3:39 as the Garmin flies, and locked in a solid negative split in the process. I have never run a negative split during a marathon so it was a nice feather in my running cap. I finished just a few minutes behind my Iowa friend, which made it easy to find her amidst the crowd. We collected our medals and space blankets, and shuffled our way through the finish chute towards some snacks and water. Had it been a warmer day, I would have loved to stick around and cheer others on. However, we began shivering pretty quickly so our priority became heading back to the hotel for a hot shower and some more substantial food. As I walked back, I was subtly aware of how good my legs felt, which brought a smile to my face. This marathon was all about the human element, and the celebration of our sport, and I couldn’t have been happier with the smiles I logged along the way while #chasing42!

Delicious waffles make a great post-marathon treat!

An Open Response to Female Runners…from me

“An Open Letter to Men from Female Runners” has been making the rounds on my own and many other folks’ social media feeds. Runner’s World re-published it, which drew even further attention to the article. Make no mistake…this is an important message, and one that more men need to hear, and more women need to feel empowered to make on a regular basis. Women should feel empowered to share this message without fear of reprisal, without fear of being told they are over-reacting, or being told to calm down. This fear is real, and we created this fear. This feeling begins when we wrap girls in pink blankets and boys in blue blankets, continues when we reinforce stereotypical gender roles and communicate to girls and women that their worth rests in their bodies. Not their bodies as active instruments of achievement, but passive instruments of visual and physical pleasure for men. This fear is reinforced when we teach girls to carry their keys between their fingers, use the buddy system, cover their drinks, and cross to the other side of the street when a man they don’t know approaches. I am certainly in favor of safety, but putting this responsibility in the hands of women alone ignores the problem. We shy away from teaching boys and men to respect men and women equally, and to be quite blunt, not to rape!

photo credit: Jen Benna

photo credit: Jen Benna

This is such an important message. Sadly, this is the reason that I intentionally avoid solitary women when I am out running. I take as large of an arc around them, cross to the other side of the street, and at the very least yell “on your left” as far back as my voice will carry me, and speed up when I’m passing a woman to make it clear that I’m not stopping or slowing down. I always smile and say hi, but avert my own eyes. I hate that I have to do that. I hate that I need to assume any woman is going to be fearful of me, without even knowing who I am. It doesn’t matter that I just launched a campus-wide sexual assault and misconduct awareness campaign, that I proudly identify as a feminist, or that I teach Women’s Studies courses, give workshops on diversity and inclusion, and research sexuality and gender. It doesn’t matter that I firmly believe I have a responsibility to act proactively to end sexual misconduct, or that I reach out to get more men involved as active bystanders. It doesn’t matter that I grew up in the Midwest and everything about me is “Minnesota nice”. On that dark street or trail, I’m a nameless man and my identity gives a woman running the other way reason to fear for her safety.

I’ve been attached on the street before, been harassed by passers-by in cars and had homophobic slurs hurled at me, but I still don’t know what it’s like to constantly be on guard. However naive I may be, I still feel comfortable heading onto the trails before the sun rises, by myself, with only my headlamp to light my way. My mind might conjure up images of animals jumping out to attack me, but ultimately I still feel confident enough to not wait for the sun to come up or to join the rest of the group. Many women wouldn’t make that choice, and I hate that. It infuriates me that I live in a society where common sense human decency has not yet been normalized. It infuriates me that the female runners I know and those that I don’t can’t have the same meditative running experience that I have so often. There is no feeling quite like it, and I’d give anything to be able to extend that opportunity to every woman who has ever feared for her safety while out running. However, I know I can’t, so my work continues. In the meantime, I’ll always be “on your left” from a quarter mile away, chasing42.

Race Report: Grindstone 100- Part II

Did you think I forgot about you? Decided to just leave you hanging? It’s more likely that last week was simply a perfect storm of projects at work. However, it’s fitting that you are now curling up to read this the day after Halloween, to keep the fear factor going. Ok, so it’s not THAT bad, but it was certainly an adventure!

Our story left off at N. River Gap aid station, and that’s truly where things got interesting 🙂

N. River Gap (AS #5) to Little Bald Knob (AS #6): I knew this climb would be daunting to some degree, but I had apparently missed the “Grindstone Grind” nickname when I was reading old race reports. It was well after midnight by the time I set out on this climb, which meant it had been raining for almost 24 hours already. I gathered pretty quickly that this was a challenging climb under the best conditions and a downright slog under the conditions I was now facing. I took some solace in the fact that everyone was in the same boat, but this didn’t do much for my morale once I was out of earshot of the aid station and plunged into the darkness.

It’s relatively common to hit a low spot or two during races of this distance, and I’ve certainly had my fair share of “screw this” moments. Typically, though, they come a bit later in the race. This time, my legs were still feeling fresh, and the rest of my body was coping with the distance and the time on my feet just fine, but the mind was challenging me. At one point during this climb, as I was slowly pushing my way up the mountain, I exclaimed out loud “it’s 3AM, pitch black, the only thing I can see is illuminated by my headlamp, I’m soaking wet, stomping through more mud than I’ve ever seen, climbing up a mountain, and I’m all alone…why am I doing this?” I kept moving forward, my trekking poles slowly becoming my saving grace, and eventually could only laugh at the ridiculousness of my situation.

I eventually made my way to the top of the climb, but that simply meant that the flat land became a marsh. I plodded along through ankle-deep water and mud, getting colder and colder as my speed decreased. I had avoided pulling out my rain shell thus far since the rain had been light enough that I was wet but not cold. However, once my pace slowed down on the climb, I started to get quite chilled. I eventually stopped and struggled to pull out my shell and put it on over my pack because I didn’t have the dexterity in my fingers to take everything off and re-situate it. Luckily, someone stopped and helped me get my shell on, for which I was eternally grateful. This last section of the segment seemed to take forever, but I could not have been more happy to see the next aid station. I rolled in, having warmed up a bit, and filled myself with mashed potatoes, cookies, and some broth, all of which tasted delicious. I spent a few precious minutes warming myself by the fire, but knew I needed to be on my way. I had come close to entertaining the thought of dropping during that climb, but arriving at the aid station, and knowing that I would be reaching the half-way point soon was enough to restore my confidence. I thanked the volunteers for their time, and headed out again into the darkness.

Just a little climbing :)

Just a little climbing 🙂

Little Bald Knob (AS #6) to (halfway point): The first section of this stretch can best be described as a series of muddy, rut-filled paths that had been dug up by trucks and other vehicles traveling up and down them over plenty of time. Deep ruts and rain make for some mighty impressive puddles and small bodies of water. I’m not entirely sure why I continued to try avoiding the large puddles since my feet were completely soaked (along with the rest of me) at this point, but I think it may have at least helped to keep me alert and moving forward. There were no significant climbs, but rather a series of rolling hills that seemed to go on forever. This was the only small window of time where sleep deprivation caught up to me a bit, and I did some sleep-walking, but it only lasted for about 45 minutes, which I considered a victory!

The rut-filled path gave way to a paved section of road that wound up to the top. I had been especially looking forward to reaching this summit, as the views at the top looked spectacular. However, it was still raining and overcast, so my wishes were not going to be granted on this particular day. I fell in step with another runner, and the two of us made the push up to the top, recognized that the hole punch we were supposed to find had long since been stolen, and we headed back down the mountain on the two-mile or so journey into the half-way point and the next aid station. This short paved section reminded me of just how long I had been on my feet already, and I was eager to return to the soft, marshy, muddy trails. Such hilarious irony! I rolled into the aid station and was greeted by the epicurean and others. To say that seeing her lifted my spirits after a night by myself would be a huge understatement! I eagerly traded my wet short-sleeve shirt for a dry long-sleeve shirt, replaced my rain shell, and even gingerly slipped on a dry pair of socks, even if they only stayed dry for a short time. The epicurean’s bag of delights also included a dry pair of waterproof mittens and the opportunity to hand off my headlamp for charging.

She had already been standing out in the rain at the aid station for quite a while, mostly to make sure she didn’t miss me, and seeing her was the boost of energy that I needed to set out on the journey back the way I came with the confidence that I could finish this race. That faith would be tested at one other point, but I left the halfway point in good spirits and back-tracked my way down the mountain.

Halfway to Little Bald Knob (AS #8): This section was relatively uneventful. I welcomed the daylight, even if the sun didn’t make much of an appearance, and the light, combined with warm clothes and plenty of fuel, gave me a nice boost of energy moving forward. I knew what to expect at this point as well, which filled me with that much more confidence. However, this wouldn’t be a true trail race without a few wildlife adventures. On the way back down the rut-filled trail, I came across two pickup trucks with hounds riding in the back in large boxes of a sort. As it turned out, this was the opening weekend of bear-hunting season in the area! Luckily, I didn’t meet any new friends, but I did manage to narrowly avoid stepping on a rattlesnake on the side of the trail. This close encounter certainly refocused my attention on the trail, and I spent a fair bit more time near the center of the trail. 🙂 I arrived back at the Little Bald Knob aid station for the second time, and in much better spirits. My nutrition plan had been working really well at this point, and I didn’t want to mess with what was working, so it was coke/ginger ale/ pretzels/ cookies/ potatoes once again. I left in good spirits, despite knowing that I now had to make my way back down the 7-mile Grindstone Grind!

Is that me, or bigfoot? You be the judge!

Is that me, or bigfoot? You be the judge!

Little Bald Knob to N. River Gap (AS #9): Everything looks different in the daylight. In this case, that meant being able to clearly see the swamp I had already waded through, and now had to slog back across, just to get to the muddy mountain. Any small portion of dryness on my feet was squashed out as I made my way across. Once I hit the trail heading down back to N. River Gap, I can best describe the experience as mud surfing! The trail was even more of a mess than on the way up, and my trekking poles came in mighty handy as I slowly picked my way down the mountain. I managed to fall only once, which I considered a fair accomplishment. After a mile or two, I fell into step with two other runners, and we made our way down the mountain together, which definitely helped with my energy and momentum. I no doubt moved much faster than I would have on my own, and pushed myself to hit the slope aggressively. By the time I rolled into N. River Gap, I felt like I was covered in mud, but it also meant hitting the 100K mark (or close to it), which gave me another mental boost! I met the epicurean, indulged in a delicious Going the Distance Muffin, and discovered a stockpile of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups to supplement my potatoes. I “may” have gone a bit overboard with the Reese’s, and that came back to bite me in the stomach a few miles later.

N. River Gap (#9) t0 Dowells Draft (AS #11): I had to do a bit of walking to get my stomach back in order but it was nothing I couldn’t handle. This section, from miles 65 to 80, involved some more decent climbing and descending, and it was a bit of a blur amidst the mid-afternoon light. I wasn’t sleep-walking by any means, but I was approaching 36 waking hours in total, so I focused my energy on putting one foot in front of the other, utilizing my trekking poles, and continuing to make relentless forward progress. I met up with a few different runners along the way, and that definitely helped to pass the time and miles. I knew that once I reached Dowells Draft, I’d see the epicurean, and then again at all of the remaining aid stations. This helped push me forward because I knew once I got to mile 80, I could happily mark my progress in smaller segments.

Dowells Draft to Dry Branch Gap (AS #12): Aside from the Grindstone Grind, this was hands-down the most challenging section for me. After fueling up, and leaving the epicurean in good spirits, I wandered off into the woods amidst the dusk light breaking through the tree canopy. It had finally stopped raining for a bit, and the light streaming down to the forest floor was simply beautiful. After 36 hours of fog, rain, and poor visibility, the beauty of this area was overwhelming to the senses. After about a mile of meandering along the relatively flat portion of the section, I began climbing. The sun made its departure, and I flipped on my headlamp for another night of darkness. I had been running for a bit over 25 hours at this point, and the darkness brought the first real signs of fatigue. I had been excited about the fact that the race began in the evening initially, because it meant I’d be running through the night on fresh legs. I wasn’t counting on running into a second night and my body began to revolt. Unfortunately, this drowsiness set in just as the incline increased, and I felt like I was climbing hand-over-foot. Under foot were slippery, wet, shifting rocks, and to the right of me was a sheer cliff face that would have caused vertigo if I had been able to see more than 5 feet in front of me. I slowly worked my way up the mountain, bracing myself with my trekking poles because my footing was far from sure, and I tried to concentrate on staying on the trail and not worrying about falling off the mountain! The climb seemed to last forever, and my foggy brain could not, for the life of me, remember running down this steep mountain face on the way out. I obviously had, but it had not given me nearly as much cause for concern. After quite some time, and many false summits, I found myself at the top, and was greeted by a flatter but just as rocky section of trail. I had, in part, motivated myself to keep climbing because I thought the aid station was at the top, so I was rather dismayed to find nothing but more rocks and darkness at the top. After another good chunk of time, I finally arrived at the Dry Branch Gap aid station, and I could not have been more happy to see people, and see the epicurean especially! At this point, I briefly sat down in a chair for the first time, and getting up was one of the hardest things I had done. I rehydrated, and ate as much as I could handle before departing, and took solace in knowing there was only one more aid station before the finish!

Dry Branch Gap to Falls Hollow (AS #12): This section started out like most, with a significant climb that just kept going. At this point, the racers were quite spread out, so I was very much alone on the trail, and left to keep myself company as I moved higher and higher up the steep incline. After a mile or two, I reached the summit of sorts, and visibility was almost non-existent. My headlamp simply highlighted the fog, and it was all I could do to make sure I was stepping onto solid ground as I moved forward. At this point, I began to have what I can only describe as the most intense feeling of deja vu I had ever experienced. I was absolutely sure I had been on that mountain before, and taken that exact path. To my knowledge, I hadn’t, so I know my mind was playing tricks on me, but it was an uncanny feeling. I was also quite exhausted but kept moving forward, even though I felt like I was going in circles and not actually on the course any more. In my sleep-deprived state, I was fully prepared to huddle up in a ball on top of the mountain and wait for morning because I felt like I was hopelessly lost. Just as I had begun to have these thoughts, I spotted another headlamp up ahead and I picked up what little pace I had left to try and catch it, assuming it was real. Luckily, it was real, and it belonged to a fellow runner. He and I commiserated about the climb, visibility, and the race as a whole, and worked together to get back down the mountain to the final aid station. There was no shortage of stream crossings, mud pits, and rocks intentionally placed to kill us, but we worked together and the time went by much easier. Together, we made our way to the Falls Hollow aid station, and I got my 4th or 5th wind just as we rolled in. I briefly greeted the epicurean, downed some ginger ale, and then the two of us were off into the night once more.

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Falls Hollow to the finish: The last 5 miles or so were some of the best miles of the entire race. The trail was relatively runable, the company was wonderful, and the great conversation helped the miles melt away. At this point, I knew I was going to finish, and it was a fantastic feeling. I may have been beyond exhausted, but I’m pretty sure I had a smile on my face the entire time. As we neared the last turn back into the Boy Scout Camp, we met a few other runners, and we all decided to trek in together to cross the finish line. After more than 32 hours, I crossed the finish line a bit after 2AM, and I was almost too tired to really be emotional. Clark, the RD, handed me my buckle and finisher’s shirt and congratulated me, and the group of us all shook hands and congratulated each other. As is the Grindstone custom, we hugged the pole near the finish, and that was that.

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The epicurean and I made our way back to the car and campsite, and promptly decided we had no interest in sleeping outside at this point, and agreed to find a hotel room. Sadly, after packing everything up, we discovered that every hotel in the area was completely sold out because it was the opening weekend for bear-hunting season. Yes, you read that correctly. Bear-hunting season. Good grief! So, we stopped at a gas station, the epicurean poured herself a big cup of coffee, and we hit the road for home. I definitely passed out for a portion of it, and spent the rest of the time failing to get comfortable and admiring the enormous blood blisters on both of my big toes. We got home around 9AM, I hopped in the best shower I’d ever taken, and then we collapsed into the bed until that afternoon.

So happy to be done!

So happy to be done!

I know this was quite the epic tale, so I appreciate you hanging in! When you’re out on the trail for 32 hours, a lot happens, and if I don’t get it out now, it will certainly fade from my brain. However, I can look down at the buckle on my desk and be reminded of my amazing adventure in Virginia, #chasing42!

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Race Report: Grindstone 100- Part 1

Anyone who has ever trained for and run a 100-mile race knows that the entire experience is one of endurance, perseverance, and mental fortitude. By the time you get to the starting line, you have spent countless hours on the trails, analyzing your training, contemplating your nutrition, committing to recovery, and preparing for the experience itself. The full commitment can be a challenge, and certainly necessitates an understanding partner and family members (if you have others), and it means sacrifices in other areas of your life.

So, by the time we arrived in Swoope, VA for the Grindstone 100, I could have very easily already been exhausted. However, I managed to balance my training block perhaps better than I ever had, while also training harder and putting in more miles than ever before. Although I didn’t register for Grindstone until July, I had been targeting a Fall 100-miler much longer, so this race was the culmination of quite a bit of training. After a full year on the East Coast, running the technical trails and collecting more vert than I had ever seen, I felt ready to tackle a race like Grindstone. I had fared well at the Georgia Death Race, which had given me a lot of confidence, and I was ready to test myself against a Hardrock qualifier.

I have the best crew!

I have the best crew!

I started watching the weather on Monday, and the chance of rain was present, but the percentage was low, and I wasn’t too concerned. However, by Tuesday, Hurricane Matthew came to life and had the southeast in his sights. When Thursday rolled around and I needed to finalize my packing, the chance of rain was at 90% and it wasn’t scheduled to stop until almost 24 hours into the race. I packed my rain shell, plenty of extra socks, and other dry layers, and did my best not to worry all that much. The epicurean and I (along with Looper) planned to arrive at the start/finish at Camp Shenandoah around noon on Friday to get checked in and set up camp since we (well, really just her since I’d be running the whole time) would be camping out. We hit rain just south of D.C. as we drove down, but it was fairly light so I didn’t get worked up about it.

When we arrived, the rain was light but steady. I had just enough time to walk to the main cabin, pick up my bib and race packet, and get weighed in before the pre-race briefing started. I absolutely love the environment at ultras and trail races, and this was one of the biggest ultras I had been too. I’m always fascinated by the conversations, the gear, and the humbleness of the runners at these events, and Grindstone was no different. The RD did a wonderful job outlining the race and providing us with all the necessary announcements, and I was happy to sit back, sip a cup of coffee, and listen.

Getting ready in the tent...Looper would rather snuggle up!

Getting ready in the tent…Looper would rather snuggle up!

A 6PM race start makes for some interesting nutrition and sleep planning, and I can’t say I’ve ever really been in that position before. We had been up since 6AM to get on the road, and I had every intention of trying to take an afternoon nap, but I was far too wired to really calm down. I ate a Subway sandwich around 2pm so the meal had enough time to digest before I committed my stomach to the endurance effort. We rested in the tent, out of the rain for a bit before I got changed into my running clothes. I’ve always been one to plan everything out, and opt for having the gear for any scenario just in case, and this race was no different. I felt confident with my choices going in, and overall, everything worked out pretty well for me. There were a few changes I would have made, but more on that later. My starting line gear consisted of:

  • Petzl Nao headlamp
  • lightweight beanie (I took it off after 2 miles)
  • short sleeve tech shirt
  • Saucony rain shell
  • Northface Long Haul shorts
  • compression calf sleeves
  • Darn Tough wool socks
  • Dirty Girl Gaiters
  • Altra Olympus 2.0
  • Salomon S-Lab 12 pack w/ 2L bladder (tailwind)
  • Black Diamond Distance Z trekking poles
  • Honeystinger chews
Suited up, with Looper's help :)

Suited up, with Looper’s help 🙂

When I initially registered for the race, the 6pm start was appealing because it meant I’d be running through the night with fresh legs, which would presumably help with so much climbing and a highly technical course in many parts. I lined up for one final bathroom stop and then gathered near the starting area, and said my parting words to the epicurean. I wouldn’t see her until the 3rd aid station, which was around 22 miles in, so she had some time to take a nap back in the tent. We lined up, Craig, the RD, had some final announcements (including warning us about a random group of night-time mountain bikers out on the course), and then we were off. I was determined not to go out too fast, recalling my experience at the Mark Twain 100, and luckily the narrow single track and technical rocky and rooty course made it much easier to slow down. We hit a brief bottleneck about a 1/2 mile in due to everyone needing to climb down a short embankment, but after that, the running was consistent.

Let's get this party started!

Let’s get this party started!

Start to Dowells Draft (AS #3)

The first few miles were comfortable, and I was moving along nicely as the sun set. It was nice to have at least a fleeting glimpse of light before being plunged into darkness and the rhythmic bounce of headlamps. I held out as long as I could before turning on my headlamp, and was able to wait until leaving AS #1 (Falls Hollow). Up until this point, the trail had included some rolling climbs, but as soon as we left Falls Hollow, the trek up Pilot Knob began. A good portion of this steep climb was on a service road, and we were required to summit, punch our bibs with a hole punch, and then roll back down a bit before hopping back on a trail. The steep incline and 2500 ft of climbing in less than 5 miles was a wake-up call for my quads, and I pulled the trekking poles out to assist with the climb. Little did I know that I wouldn’t put them away again, and they would prove to be an incredible asset.

Almost 300 people started...how many will finish?

Almost 300 people started…how many will finish?

After the climb, the Dry Branch Gap aid station approached pretty quickly, and I stopped briefly to fuel up. The race is cupless, so they offered everyone the opportunity to purchase a Ultraspire silicone reusable cup, and it worked like a charm throughout the race. By this time, I was at peace with the fact that I would always either be going up or going down, as there didn’t seem to be any flat, easily runnable sections on this course. I forgot to mention that the rain hadn’t quit and was still coming down light but steady. I was in the middle of the pack as I usually am, and the trail was still in decent shape, mostly on account of there being more rocks and roots than dirt to become mud. I tackled a long downhill section and rolled into the Dowells Draft aid station (#3) and happily met the epicurean. I was 22 miles in, and feeling pretty good at this point. I had done a good job of conserving energy, and the temps remained a bit warmer because of the rain. I had shed my rain shell a while back, and was fine being a little wet because I was staying warm (and didn’t want to overheat in the fully seam-sealed shell). I enjoyed some ginger ale, along with some pretzels and cookies, and the epicurean sent me off. I wouldn’t see her again until the next morning at the turn-around and she was eager to try and get some sleep.

Dowells Draft (AS #3) to N. River Gap (AS #5)

The next 15 or so miles were a bit of a pleasant blur. I was feeling really good, and tucked in behind a few other runners for many additional miles along the way. After around 1500 ft of climbing in the next 5 miles, the following 10 miles were mostly downhill running, and I was moving comfortably. By this point, the rain had thoroughly soaked everything, but I was still feeling fairly warm. There hadn’t been much mud yet, and my gaiters had kept my shoes relatively dry, which meant my socks and feet were relatively dry as well. As I rolled into the N. River Gap aid station, I was in a positive mood. I enjoyed some delicious and hot pirogies, along with some other snacks. I was making decent time, despite the weather conditions, and I’d had company on the trail up to this point.

I finished fueling up, and headed out for the 7 mile climb up to the Little Bald Knob aid station (#6). I had no idea what was in store for me on the Grindstone grind, but this soul-sucking section would test me in a number of ways. Stay tuned for Part 2 and find out how it went, along with the rest of the race!

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