Photographs are courtesy of Ron Heerkens Jr and Goat Factory Media. Thank you for such beautiful camera work. You can find more of his photography of local theater and trail races at his website.
A little preface before I dive into my most recent adventure. A little over a year ago I ran my first mountain race. Cats Tail was a beautiful marathon that took place in the Catskills, traversing 4 high peaks and 7 mountains total.
Having just set an FKT and finishing the Rochester Marathon in a time faster than I could have imagined, my confidence was high. Everything was going great for the first half, it was harder than I thought but I was holding tight onto 4th female and was moving at my goal pace. As I started to climb the third peak of the day I started to feel it, that deep burn in your legs that let’s you know they are getting tired. Looking down at my watch I was only about 13 miles in. I started to slow significantly and was passed by several people.
Frustrated I pushed harder up the last high peak, as I descended my legs were visibly shaking with exhaustion. Strength training wasn’t my thing, I hated it, I’m a trail runner, I want to run, not lift. It was at this moment I realized why strength work is so important, my legs were gone. Every other step it seemed my feet would jam into a rock as my heavy, useless legs dragged on. It took me an hour to go 3 miles and I was furious but I kept trying to run.
With 5 miles left I tripped AGAIN and my exhausted body didn’t even reach a hand out try and catch the fall. My left hip hit the ground first and collided into a large rock. Pain radiated through my body and I yelled out, laying on the trail, I tried to catch my breath. Little did I know I had just torn my labrum.
Any other race I would have dropped, this race however had one option for out and it was up. Self paid medivac was the only way to get out and we signed off on this when we registered. I was not about to dish out $1000+ just because I didn’t want to walk 5 miles….so I did. I hobbled out and finished.
I continued to train and race for another 3 weeks following Cats Tail. I managed to complete my first ultra at Mendon 50K before the pain in my hip prevented me from even being able to walk comfortably.
A month later I was diagnosed with a labral tear and a stress fracture in the same hip. I was initially told I would never run another ultra without surgery to fix the tear. Luckily I sought out a second opinion which, after 2 months of rest to allow the fracture to heal, landed me in the helpful hands of a physical therapist who helped me with the muscle imbalance that was causing the pain from my labral tear.
During the time before my diagnosis I was granted the generous gift of a sponsorship from TrailsRoc for my first 50 mile race which I planned to complete in March. The reality of having to give this up was overwhelmingly sad. Even though I was working towards running, I knew it would be months before I would even be able to run an hour. With recommendation of my coach, Chris Dunn and the help of Laura Howard, we picked a new race in the fall of 2018, The Bad Thing 50K. This goal helped me look forward, instead of wallowing in the tedious PT and minimal running I was allowed.
I spent months working my endurance up and doing something I had never done before, strength work! Before I knew it October was here and I was back, stronger than ever. Chris and I came up with a bullet proof plan for race day, nutrition, pacing, gear, everything was ready. The day before the race Mort and I drove the 4 1/2 hours up to Ontario, Canada, through beautiful country sides and dozens of farm to the tiny Town of Auburn. I ate the perfect pre race meal of potatoes, quinoa, kale and beets. I hydrated well, felt calm and retired to bed early.
Everything was going perfectly, until my brain turned on as the lights turned out. I lay awake, starring at the ceiling thinking about the race. I stressed about what women would show up, how fast would they be, what if my stomach was off or I wasn’t as ready as I thought. These thoughts raced in and out of my mind for hours, I had officially lost control of my calm. I drifted of for short periods of time only to be awakened by a new variation of the same worries.
By the time the alarm went off at 4:30 AM, I felt like I hadn’t slept at all. I was silent as I ate breakfast and I knew Mort was starting to worry. I visited the bathroom at least 5 times before we left as my entire body was now in full fledged panic and my stomach was revolting. I tried my best to calm myself. “This is only a race, you do this for fun” and my frantic mind would immediately answer “This is your comeback race, it HAS to be great”.
We arrived at headquarters in the pitch black, it was cold and rain had just started to fall. I picked up my bib and my hands were shaking so badly that I struggled to pin it onto my capris. The race was a point to point and headquarters were at the finish line, so the next step was a 20 min bus ride with my fellow 50kers to the mystery start line.
The start was at the end of a pier on Lake Huron. It was brutally cold. The wind was relentless and icy spray from the lake was hitting us as we lined up. I was grateful for my Houdini, gloves, hat and arm sleeves at that point. The RD shouted a few last minute instructions which seemed to get lost in the wind and we were off. For the first 500 ft we followed a race volunteer to the start of the Maitland Trail, which is where the entire race took place.
In the woods and out of the wind I immediately started to overheat. I checked my watch and realized I was running an 8:30 pace which was 2 mins faster than the agreed upon pace. I had agreed upon an all day pace, knowing that would comfortably get me to the finish line within my goal time of 6 hours. Last years overall female winner had a time of 6:07 and I felt that would be safe. I looked around and realized I was just about middle of the pack with at least 5 women in front of me. How could I be running significantly faster than my goal time and still be so far back. Frustrated, I kept my pace.
I met a few Canadian guys who were quite chatty and funny. One of them knew of Rochester and had ran Many on the Genny this year. The brief chatter about mutual acquaintances distracted me for a moment from the competition.
After 1 1/2ish miles on the trail, which was beautiful and technical, we emerged into a neighborhood. I was clearly able to see the women ahead of me now and they were booking it. Again, I ran faster than the agreed upon time and ditched my gloves to Mort, as he and Ron Heerkins were planning to meet me wherever they could. My body craved a gel but the agreed upon schedule for eating was 45 mins, I looked at my watch, 20 mins until gel time, you can wait. Mistake number one.
3 miles on the road, through neighborhoods and deserted highways, was aid station one. I gave Mort my headlamp and responded to his “you’re doing great” with “they are running so fast up front”. My mind was overwhelmed with fatigue and discouragement. I became obsessed with thinking over and over again “how will I ever catch them”.
The next section of trail was BEAUTIFUL. It was what I came there for, it was gnarly, steep and the views were incredible. I caught up to a group of 2 men and 2 women, I passed them but stayed close. I overheard one of the women talking about how a tornado had gone through this area 7 years ago. The damage was unbelievable, trees were snapped in half and many looked as though they had been ripped from the ground and tossed. I had never seen anything like it before.
Shortly after tornado damage area, the trail intersected with a service road, I looked to the left and saw a runner, so I went left and the group followed. Not too long after, the runner came back towards me, he hadn’t seen any flags and looking back down the hill we had just climbed, we could see other runners going straight where we just turned. I booked it back down the hill but still managed to get stuck behind a group of people and the thick brush on either side of the trail made passing the group impossible. It was this moment where I lost all motivation.
I immediately started walking and stopped caring about the race. An intense fatigue overtook me and all I allowed myself to focus on was how badly I wanted to lay down on the trail and close my eyes. I saw Mort around mile 9 and by that point I was a miserable mess. He encouraged me to eat but between my stubbornness and self sabotaging, I refused. My focus was on being tired and how much further I had to go. The fun trail section turned into flat, grass covered service road. It was sometime around this point that I became consumed by my perfect comeback race being ruined, I threw my hands up into the sky and yelled “why is this happening!”. Like some how the God I wasn’t even sure I believed in was going to rescue me from the pathetic state I had dug myself into. By mile 10 we came back out onto the road and I lost it. I walked the next 2 miles until we went back into the woods.
Right before the next trail section, I told Mort I was done, it wasn’t my day and I was dropping at 30K, which was the next aid station where I would see him and Ron. “I’m like in last place so it doesn’t even matter anymore” I whined. He assured me I was 12th woman but understood if I was done.
Something clicked. Well if I pass the woman who is right in front of me, I’ll be in 11th. I passed that woman, wished her luck and made a pact with myself. I decided that if I was dropping at mile 18 I would go out fighting and that I wouldn’t walk for those 6 miles. I then started repeating to myself over and over again “You are stronger than this”. I said this over 100 times, sometimes out loud, sometimes in my head but I just kept repeating it. I spent zero energy worrying about what the women upfront were doing and just focused on me. In focusing on me I was finally able to recognize that I was hungry so I started eating outside of the strict schedule I had made for myself. I would later find out that I set the Strava course record for this section.
I came flying out of the woods at mile 18, charging towards the aid station. As I ran I unclipped my UD vest and threw it at Mort “I’m staying and I need water!” I yelled. I was in and out of aid in a matter of minutes, passing a group of women who were still there. I caught up to two more women within 10 mins and realized I was probably around 6th place. This section of trail turned out to be my favorite. It was steep, mountain technical and covered in mud. I tackled the obstacles with a giant grin on my face even though it had started to sleet.
My favorite section eventually came out onto the road, AGAIN. This road was the hardest for me physically. It was mostly flat. I could see other runners in the distance who looked miles away and it was a mental battle as I dug in as my brain started protesting ‘but look how far you still have to go, they are all the way up there and you’re all the way back here’. I was at 40K at this point and my cardio system felt strained. I wasn’t used to so much flat road running and my joints were feeling the sting as well. Luckily I could see Mort and Ron at the section where I’d be leaving dirt road hell and wandering back into the woods for the last time and that was enough of a boost to get me through.
Some how I had paused my watch while fiddling with my arm sleeves so I would ask other racers as I passed them what they had for distance and then would clumsily try to convert kilometers to miles in my partially functioning ultra brain. Coming up to the final water stop I came up on the runner who I had mistakenly followed off course many miles before. I asked him where we were at, 42K, shit how many miles is 8K, well I won’t ask because then I’ll look like a dumb American it has to be about 5. I spent several more minutes negotiating this in my mushy mind as lost boy Julien and I struck up conversation. This was his first race over a half marathon and he was trying to finish because his brother had been the 25k winner many years in a row but had never completed an ultra.
Julien and I seemed to pick up the pace as one would get slightly ahead, the other would speed up a bit to catch up and we ran like this until the end, pushing each other for every last ounce of energy. With less than 2K left we came upon the 5th place woman. I passed her easily and celebrated silently, it was that point in the race where everyone is suffering and you can’t help but admire everyone’s grit.
With 1k left we reached the highly talked about river crossing and knew it was almost over. I tore through it as happy as could be and narrowly missed a giant dead fish that was laying in the rocks. I had been most concerned about this section and was surprised at how easy it was to cross.
Leaving the refreshing water I realized I had to be really close to 6 hours. The motivation to come in under that fueled my finish line sprint as I breathlessly continued to mutter to Julien “almost there, final push”, it was as much for myself as anything.
I crossed the finish line at 6:00:15 in 5th place.
All in all there were about 13 miles of road. I had spent my time training at OCP and High Tor and this clearly didn’t serve me here. By the time I finished my legs were still there but my lungs were shot. That much constant, flat running was not what I had anticipated. Even though I feel they were more than fair in the description, I misinterpreted it.
I don’t feel I ever need to go back. It was a beautiful, well organized race with amazing people and too much road running for my taste. I learned so much from this experience and the downfall of obsessing over competition. I was finally able to pull out of my funk when I decided to focus on running my race and what I could do in that moment instead of focusing on what everyone else was doing. I am forever grateful for this experience and how it will aid me in times to come.
This report is directly from the runner – #TrailsRoc has not altered, any of the writing and we are not affiliated with the writer in any way outside of sport of trail running
For the past five years, #TrailsRoc has offered a sponsorship/scholarship (now the chance to be a #TrailsRoc ambassador) to Rochester area runners so that they can run a goal race. I had been hesitant to apply for the sponsorship in prior years for many reasons – didn’t have a “goal” race, didn’t want the added pressure and so on.
When #TrailsRoc posted about the sponsorship in 2017, I considered applying but I had the same apprehensions about applying for the sponsorship that I had in prior years. With a little encouraging, I put some additional thought into applying and what race or type of race I would want to run if I applied. I hadn’t run many destination races so that sounded like a fun idea. My favorite time of year to run is in the fall. Considering my ideal fall running weather mostly occurs in the Northeast, this became the general area in which I looked at potential races. I had a general location, now I needed a distance. After running Many on the Genny in 2017, I wanted to take an extended break from ultra-marathons. It’s hard for me to justify travelling too far for anything shorter than a half marathon. With my narrowed criteria, I searched online for potential races.
Eventually, I found the Trapp Lodge Mountain Marathon – a mountain marathon in Vermont in October. The combination of these elements sounded perfect. I had only run one previous marathon (Ontario Summit Trail Marathon) despite having run 3 ultras, but I went into that race with the approach of it being a training run for Many on the Genny. I’ve enjoyed previous mountain races I’ve run, and I appreciate the challenge of some elevation. I had been to Vermont once before and I really enjoyed the Stowe and Waterbury areas. I was also familiar with some of the terrain from having hiked Mount Mansfield and other areas during my prior visit. Lastly, if I had to pick a favorite month for running it would be October. The air is becoming crisp but not yet harsh, and the scenery just pulls you in and makes long runs seem all too short.
I ended up applying for the sponsorship. I still wasn’t sure I would be picked from amongst the other applicants. Luckily, I was selected and I am glad I was given this opportunity.
When I signed up for the race, I had visions of a perfect training schedule that would get me in peak condition for running a trail marathon. In reality, there were both physical and mental hurdles along the way that forced me to keep changing my plans.
My training plan included building my base mileage through the winter so that I could work on both speed and distance as the spring and summer rolled around. My winter running and snowshoeing went as planned, and my early spring running continued that trend.
As luck would have it, Ironwood Adventure Works (the racing company behind the Trapp Lodge Mountain Marathon) was putting on a first year race at the Cummings Nature Center in Naples, NY in early June. I had a chance to check out how Will Robens and crew put on a race without having to make a long haul. The Frost Town Trail Fest 25k was just as challenging and fun as I hoped it would be. It felt like my running was on the right track, and I felt even better about my decision of what race to run in the fall.
However, once the warmer weather came around my training seemed to hit a wall. I can’t quite pinpoint why, but I kept making excuses for why I wasn’t going to run on some days. By the time dense, humid mornings became a daily summer occurrence, it was the only excuse I needed to put off long runs. If there’s one thing that I especially dislike when running, it is when the air is thick and steamy. I tried to fight it, even waiting until mid-mornings some weekends before starting my runs so that the humidity could at least drop below 90% – I didn’t think that was asking for too much. I started to feel a little better after running 0 SPF. I didn’t have a great finishing time but considering it was my least favorite running weather and I didn’t feel well for the last few miles, I came away from the race feeling like I wasn’t too far from making some more positive strides. I still had 3 full months before my race. I just needed to push myself and hope the weather would cooperate just a little bit.
I had pushed myself through some of the mental challenges, when a physical challenge presented itself in a much unexpected way. During a game of laser tag in mid-July, I caught my toe going down a ramp just enough to take a spill onto the cement floor below. The worst part about the fall was that I landed directly on my right knee. This is the same knee that has kept me out of running for periods of time over the last decade due to overuse/ strength issues. At first I tried to walk it off, but it eventually ballooned to about 3 times the normal size. I hoped it was just swelling and I would be back to running in a week or less. Unfortunately, it kept me from running more than a few miles for close to a month.
In mid to late August, I was able to test my knee a bit more as my wife and I spent time hiking in Yosemite with a couple of our friends. To my relief, my knee was starting to feel much better. To my disbelief, I only had 7 weeks until I would run up and down a mountain twice on the two-loop Trapp Lodge Mountain Marathon course. The first few thoughts in my mind were whether I should drop the race or drop down to the half marathon. I didn’t want to disappoint anyone and I felt like either of those options would disappoint those who were sponsoring me and those that made plans to cheer for me. I didn’t even know how to express these thoughts to anyone. I simply told my wife that I didn’t know how I would get ready for this challenge in such a short period of time. She first gave me words of encouragement then told me she was making me write out a training plan for the remaining weeks I had – I needed that.
My plan started with 5 mile runs on Tuesdays and Thursdays that would be increased up to 6 to 8 mile runs. This allowed me to get some speed and hill workouts in during the week – and get the natural push of running with others at the #TrailsRoc Tuesday Trail Workouts. One of these weekday runs included running up one side and down the other and back on Chair Hill for 5 miles (with the #TrailsRoc orange Adirondack chair both greeting and taunting me each time).
Additionally, my plan included weekends filled with back-to-back double digit mileage days. The first weekend began with running the Webster Trail Classic. While I was not as fast as prior years, I felt good until poor nutrition caught up with me in the final miles. This was very encouraging to me. My legs felt really good and I could fix the nutrition issue quickly. The next day brought about my first time in months running double digit miles on back-to-back days. The ten mile run went well and my legs didn’t feel much fatigue. The following weekends went according to plan and I was even able to add a little extra mileage to my original plan each week. This allowed me to lessen my miles the final weekend before the race. It provided some amount of tapering and gave my knees any rest they might need.
The last element of my training plan was cross-training. I knew that running alone would not get me to marathon condition in such a short period of time, but I also usually avoid cross-training like the plague. Fortunately, there’s one type of cross-training I don’t mind so much. This comes in the form of the Beach Body 21 Day Fix workout videos. I had done these videos, often begrudgingly, with my wife previously and actually came to appreciate them. I decided to include these half-hour workouts into my daily morning routine for the first 4 weeks of my training plan. I was especially appreciative of the yoga workout I would do between my two long runs on the weekends.
At the end of my training, I felt like I put in the best effort I could have in the short period of time I had after my knee injury.
I’ve never been good at tapering (maybe because I’m also not good at training). However, life delivered a distraction to keep my mind from racing while my legs were given some rest. The week of the race started out with the passing of my grandmother. It was expected but anytime someone you love passes, it makes you stop and do some reflection on the time you had with that person. She was a very resilient yet humorous woman. I like to think I acquired some amount of those traits from her and they’ve come in handy when running some of the tougher races I’ve done. I hoped they would serve me well during my upcoming endeavor.
The forecast for race day during the week showed chilly air with little to no precipitation. I was looking forward to such conditions but was prepared for less favorable weather if it occurred. While the conditions were different from the forecast, I was glad that it wasn’t towards warmer temperatures. Instead, there was a light drizzle in the air and the threat of more precipitation as we arrived at the yurt for packet pickup. The scenery and weather screamed fall – just what I signed up for!
About 70 marathon runners slowly gathered near the starting area. In typical trail running fashion, no one made their way to the front of the start area until the last second. At exactly 8 a.m., we started our tour of the Von Trapp property to the cheers of our on-looking friends and family. The race started with about two miles of gentle downhills, and the occasionally little uphill, so as to lull you into a sense of having signed up for a leisurely fall stroll through the woods. At least they provided some gentle uphill in the next couple miles before the real fun began.
The first aid station was at approximately 4.5 miles. Aside from the start/ finish/halfway point, this was the most spectator friendly spot on the course. My family was there to cheer me and the other runners through before we made our 600 foot climb to the next aid station 5 miles away. I didn’t stop at this aid station, but thanked the volunteers for their encouragement as I passed through.
Typically, I find myself caught in large gaps for most of the longer races I’ve run. I was pleased to find that I had company for my first climb towards the highest point in the course – the peak of Round Top Mountain. Along the way I chatted with a college student who was running her first marathon. It helped pass the time during the brisk hike.
Before I knew it I was at the next aid station. I passed through and thanked the volunteers without stopping to take anything. I had been drinking and eating along the course (although kept lagging behind my original mile marks for taking nutrition). On the final 300 foot climb to the peak, I chatted with a gentleman whose first goal for the race was to beat his wife’s half marathon time from the prior year during his first loop (he did). The climb was a slog as the continued rain/ sleet made the steep ascent a bit slick. Once at the top of the mountain, I was able to take in the beautiful view of …… snow. Although it wasn’t the scenery I was hoping for, the snow was quite enjoyable.
I thought the final climb to the peak was a slog but I found that the next half mile was much more daunting. It was much of the same terrain as the final ascent, but now going down. Running down slick, technical trails definitely is not my forte. I took this section slow knowing that I could pick up speed in the final 3ish miles of the loop since it was about 1,000 feet of decent over that distance. This section was very enjoyable with its combination of switchbacks and steeper descents – all of which was very runnable.
I made it to the halfway point in about 2:36. I was still feeling good and only stopped to grab a couple energy bars from my drop bag. The second loop started uneventfully as the downhill running continued for another 2 miles and I ate some of the mini pierogis I packed. It was around the 15 mile mark that the approximately 5 miles of mostly consistent descent started to wear on my right knee. Momentum was still guiding me until I hit the start of the gentle incline to the next aid station. I started to feel a weakness in my knee and I wasn’t sure if it would pass or if I needed to be more concerned about continuing. By the time I made it to the aid station, I had been walking for about a half mile and started to get slightly cold from the rain and the slower pace. My personal cheering squad was there doing a great job encouraging me and the runners around me, but I was in my own head and didn’t feel much like being cheered up. My wife asked if there was anything she could do to help and I only thought to say wait for me longer at the finish line. I grabbed some Gatorade from the aid station and took my time. It was probably only 30-45 seconds, but a long time for me. I started to look for reasons not to continue, but a voice in my head kept pushing me to move forward even if I had to walk the remaining 8 to 9 miles.
I left the aid station walking but forced myself to try to run about 100 yards later. I’m glad I did. Whatever pain/ weakness I had in my knee seemed to be gone and I was able to run until I made it back to the hiking section of the course. I wasn’t moving as quickly as I typically do on these sorts of climbs but I was moving forward. Thankfully, I had company again for part of the climb. I briefly chatted with a couple – the woman was running the marathon and her partner was running the half but acting as her support for the second half of the race. They picked up speed (or I was losing it) as we marched toward the next aid station. They left the aid station as I arrived. He said, “see you on the other side” as they went on their way. I stopped again to drink some Gatorade and grab a wedge of peanut butter and jelly sandwich to go. It wasn’t until I started up the last scramble to the top that I processed what he said and the line triggered my recollection of the exact same line in the Hamilton musical. I began to sing the songs in my head as the lyrics were fresh in my mind from having listened to the soundtrack over two dozen times in the last year.
Between the musical interlude in my head and the exchanging of encouragement with two of the half marathon runners I had passed, the final climb to the peak passed quickly. This time I was greeted with a much different perspective from the top. The rain and clouds cleared enough that I could see the bright red and orange colors on the trees in the distance. I stopped for a second to appreciate the view.
The next half mile down was the worst part of the race. The section that was already slick on the first loop felt like a slip and slide the second time through. At this point, most of the 200 half marathon runners had come through in addition to half the marathon runners making their second pass. I was actually moving slower down this section than I was walking uphill at any point. Toward the end of this segment, I tried to pick up speed as it seemed like the trail conditions were improving from the earlier section. This was a mistake. My foot slid and got caught on a root. I went down fast. I landed right knee first. I panicked for a second only because of my previous issues with my right knee. I realized just as quickly that I wasn’t in pain and got back up. As I walked the final bit of the single track, I assessed that I didn’t have any cuts or major bumps. The only damage was a sizeable tear in my left sneaker, but nothing that would keep me from continuing on.
When I made it back to the wider trail, I knew I only had about 3 miles to the finish and it was all downhill. My plan was to let momentum carry me until I got to the finish. The majority of the final stretch went by quickly as I twisted and turned through the switchbacks and let gravity take hold on the open hills. With about half a mile left, I realized that the course leveled off more than I remembered. I now had to put in more effort to get one foot in front of the other. I spent a few minutes walking until I saw my wife. She started cheering when she first saw me in the distance. I continued to walk a little bit until I got closer to her. She snapped a few final pictures as I started running toward the finish in the open field just beyond the wooded path that guided most of my journey.
I crossed the finish line to the cheers of my family, the race organizers and fellow runners. I completed my second marathon in a time of 5:25. In what I know believe to be typical Ironwood Adventure Works fashion, there was beer waiting at the finish line to be served in a glass that served as our finisher medals. I couldn’t think of a more delicious way to celebrate having completed such a race. We hung around the finish line a little longer to cheer on runners as they completed their adventures, until my body started to realize just how cold it was.
After I got a much needed warm shower, we celebrated further by going to the Von Trapp Brewery (based on the crowd, it appears many had the same idea) and a couple other local establishments.
Thank you to my extremely supportive wife, Annie, who not only joined me on this adventure but has encouraged me to believe in and push myself throughout our relationship.
Thank you for my sister, Lee, and brother-in-law, Rob, for joining us on the trip to Vermont. It meant a lot to have you there cheering for me and the other runners. And just importantly, it was great to have you there to celebrate with afterward.
Last but certainly not least, I want to thank the #TrailsRoc board members. I am very appreciative of the support you provided me for this particular endeavor. I am even more thankful for the support that you provide me and other runners on a regular basis through the runs and events you create and coordinate, and the great community that you’ve formed and fostered.
This report is directly from the runner – #TrailsRoc has not altered, any of the writing and we are not affiliated with the writer in any way outside of sport of trail running
Every winter we award scholarships to runners to tackle the race of their choosing. We support them financially, training, and with encouragement and energy. In return they wear our shirt, and write us a post race recap. Join us as we trace Jen
Wait, patience, trust.
These three words helped me conquer my first 50K, and it was what my mind dwelt upon during each lap.
Lap 2: Wait
Lap 3: Patience
Lap 5: Trust
WAIT: To stay in a place of expectation.
~Expect a slow start, expect to get tired, expect to finish!
PATIENCE: Remaining steadfast despite opposition.
~Patient with self if struggling, patient in each and every mile. “Run the mile you are in.”
TRUST: Assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of something or someone.
~Trust in the training I had completed up to this point, and trust in The Lord to help me through!
The Mendon Trail Run was perfect for me because it was close to home. I had pondered other races but in the end a loop style race seemed a great way to enter the 50K playing field. I was able to train there often and really knew and appreciated the course.
I had so many unanswered questions going on in my head all the way up to race day. Would I try to go out at a steady slow pace and remain there the entire race? Should I try to run hard the first three laps and then do whatever I could to get through the last two? Well, the gun went off and I just ran. I was comfortable and found my rhythm pretty early on. Just over an hour later I was finishing my first lap. That flew by! My husband and daughter were my amazing team and I loved seeing them. Took a sip of Gatorade and off I went. I believe it was somewhere towards the end of lap two that my stomach started growling. I did have snacks and fuel on me but hadn’t consumed much yet. I also carried orange salt tabs and chewed one every 6 miles. After lap 2 Jeff and Laura were checking in with my needs and Laura told me how much food I really needed to be eating! Thankful for pb & j sandwiches, pickles, and gummy bears!!
The weather was incredible. Temps hung in there right around 35 degrees all day. Lap 3 was the toughest for me mentally. I thought I would see more people on the course now that the 10, 20, and 30k were underway but it was still pretty quiet out there. About a half mile into lap 4 the outside of my right knee started hurting. It through me for a loop because I had been feeling so strong! I had to slow my pace to a steady walk/Run. I started running up the hills and walking the downhills since running downhill put more strain on my knee pain. I texted my love and told him about the pain. Upon finishing this lap he held out some Motrin for me and I swallowed those up. They went to work pretty quickly and I was now in my final lap! I kept thinking how fast the race had gone by and I wanted to get this last loop in the books. I was still walking some but I was determined to finish strong and trust my training.
Ta da! The last few miles were delightfully easy (or so my mind tells me that now!) and I was headed across Douglas Road, to the finish line! I was so satisfied with my finishing time and boy was I on a runner’s high!
Isaiah 40:31 “but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”
This report is directly from the runner – #TrailsRoc has not altered, any of the writing and we are not affiliated with the writer in any way outside of sport of trail running
Every winter we award scholarships to runners to tackle the race of their choosing. We support them financially, training, and with encouragement and energy. In return they wear our shirt, and write us a post race recap. Join us as we trace Dylan Jenning’s report.
Jundo SPF by Dylan Jennings
Spoiler Alert: I injured myself training for this hundred mile race and I did not toe the line. I ended up volunteering at the race and I made a memorable vacation out of it.
I would like to give a huge shout out to TrailsRoc, its founders and its board members past, present and future and to the trail runner, the reader. The sponsorship program which I have taken advantage of is a core feature of TrailsRoc. When I speak of TrailsRoc to people unfamiliar, the sponsorship program is one of the first things I describe. It pretty much sums up the group’s philosophy to work together and give back.
0 SPF is also a core feature of TrailRroc, the flagship race and one of my favorites. I consider the Crescent Trail to be home field. My time spent in the desert would require something a bit stronger. 100 SPF sounds about right for a 100 miler. The Javelina Jundred (which happens to be a four point UTMB qualifier as well as a Western States Endurance Run qualifier) is a grueling 20-ish mile loop, run five times. When you finish a loop, you run the next loop in the opposite direction. They call this washer machine style. The Javelina Jundred takes place mostly on the Pemberton trail in McDowell Mountain Regional Park near Fountain Hills, AZ. Think dusty desert trails and tall saguaro. The We Ko Pa resort and casino hosted package pickup as well as the out of town guests. We Ko Pa translates to four peaks or something along those lines. There is a beautiful ridge with four peaks right next door. It is located just a quick drive from the Javelina Jedquarters, which includes the start/finish line, a tent city, aid station, medical tent, DJ, food vendors and crowds. The group rate with the race at the hosting hotel can save a traveler a lot of money. In this case, I saved over 65% of the regular price of a room. An expensive room out of my price range was about the price of a regular room I would have normally stayed in. I would definitely urge a traveling trail runner to contact the race director to see if a hotel is offering race discounts, or check the race website. Regrettably, the casino did not have a sic bo table nor did it have a craps table. Worse, the roulette wheel was automated (but still kind of fun).
I would like to encourage everyone that reads this to submit an application for sponsorship. I heard a rumor once and I am not sure if it is true. I know it is just a rumor but I want to believe it is true. You should too! I heard that the TrailsRoc board has a very difficult time denying a sponsorship application. They have such a hard time denying an application that they have not yet done so. I don’t know if that is true or not, but the reader should go to trailsroc.org and find the link where one can submit an application. This is quite an opportunity. How do you say free money?
Knock Knock. Who’s there? Opportunity. She is presenting herself to you.
I would also like to thank the runner. The everyday person that likes to run trails is a core feature of TrailsRoc. We hit each other up on whatever social media, plan some runs, preview runs, pay race fees, enjoy fat asses, donate money and buy merchandise. We volunteer at races, supplying aid and support. Most ultrarunners would not be able to finish nor stay alive for long without it. The aid stations look like a kid was set free in a convenience store with a jundred dollar bill. I like how tough these races are and that means a lot of training. I like how tough these training runs are. I meet a lot of people that I otherwise would not meet.
My time spent in the desert went like this. I invited my folks along and we went to the Grand Canyon! We hiked some trails and saw some sights and ate lots of food and saw more sights. My father and I hiked the Bright Angel trail for a few miles. We hiked at Bell Rock. We also climbed Camel Back Mountain near Phoenix. I hiked the first few miles of the race once the 100k started. I hiked some other trails whose names escape me. We had a blast! Eventually race day arrived. My parents also volunteered. They did packet pickup as well as a shift at Javelina Jedquarters. I did a shift on the overnight since I am up all night anyway. It is nice to see the sunrise and I had the opportunity to see it two days in a row. I also helped my parents during their shift while taking frequent breaks. I spoke with an older man during one of these breaks. He is a grizzled veteran ultrarunner. He had been injured many times. He fell off a bike and shattered a hip. A car jumped the curb and landed on his back. Doctors told him he would not walk again. He liked to respond, “see you at the finish line”. He described more gnarly injuries but those two stuck out. My plantar fasciitis seemed like a stubbed toe in comparison.
The Javelina Jundred kicked off before sunrise. I was shaking an antique cow bell. It was loud and annoying. The runners were impressive! This race is a Halloween celebration and racers are encouraged to dress up. There is a best costume award. There is also a best ass award. You have to show the RD your butt if you want to win. I would like to be on that judging panel and unfortunately I did not witness that show. Besides costumes, runners were decked out in a wide variety of gear. I was most curious to see the hats. There were trucker caps, buffs, visors, straw hats, white sun hats with flaps that covered the neck. Some runners carried very little, others had loads of accessories.
The Javelina 100k started an hour later (the 100k is also a four point UTMB qualifier). This is when I saw the legendary runner featured in the book Born To Run. The mystical running tribe, the Tarahumara, can run all day and not tire while nourishing themselves on what seems to be starvation diet. This is the tribe that Caballo Blanco disappeared in the copper canyons of Mexico trying to find. And he did find them. He spent plenty of time running with them. He organized a race with the best ultrarunners in the world against the best runner this tribe had produced. And Scott Jurek, legendary winner of seven consecutive Western States was bested by this man! I saw that runner and his friends and family. They were posing for pics with star struck fans and doing the usual pre-race nervous chit chat baloney. It was rad! They were also selling stuff, I bought a hand stitched leather wallet from them for 20 bucks later in the day. I’ll show it to you if you ask me.
Volunteering consisted mainly of filling five gallon jugs of water and bringing them to the aid station for hours. It was about a jundred meters away. I realized after making a few trips that a cart was available. It was hot! Runners need a lot of water. A LOT! I heard a rumor that five runners needed to be airlifted out of the desert. I saw helicopters circling above constantly so I don’t doubt it. I had fun pouring drinks for confused runners. It was fun watching runners go by as I was filling jugs. The water hose was located right near the trail so I got to watch runners. I could tell they liked to see me filling jugs. The overnight shift was more relaxed. There was only one trip to the water hose. The other volunteers were awesome! I made a point to go around and talk to each volunteer one on one for a few minutes. Two of them looked like they were going to hook up after the shift. The DJ came over and asked for requests. I asked him to play anything by the Gorillaz. He said no. Another volunteer was like, c’mon play the Gorillaz!
The absolute worst thing about this trip was the fact that I was injured. I had trained hard and my body was in prime shape, excluding the sharp pain with every step from my left foot. I was ok to walk five miles before it started getting bad. I took advantage of that and squeezed in some nice five mile hikes. I figured I might as well. I came all the way to Arizona. My body was itching to hit the trail hardcore. Patience, I would tell myself. Just spend the winter hibernating, drinking beer, roasting coffee beans and eating cheese. Heal up and see what happens come spring time. (I shaved 23 minutes off my trail marathon time come spring time.)
Let us consider healing. Running is hard and it hurts. It feels great, it’s fun and it makes me happy. But it hurts the body, rips and tears flesh and doesn’t make one stronger. It actually weakens the body. If Hans and Franz saw me post ultra, they would most likely call me a weak girlie man. That flesh needs to heal. It heals and becomes stronger as a result. That is why I like to sleep in, eat all the good food and just be lazy. That wear and tear on the body can be described as abuse. There are other bad things that can happen to the body that can also be described as abuse. A key aspect of abuse is the victim. Victims display specific behavior patterns. There is an inability to make eye contact, guilt and depression. There is a loss of confidence and sense of self-worth. Depressed people have a hard time getting out of bed. Feeling pain makes people depressed. The body doesn’t know the difference between being beaten up by a large assailant or beating the ground all day. The abuse of an ultramarathon has a similar effect on the body and its mental state as being the victim of an assault. A very nasty assault. I learned in martial arts that the hardest thing to hit an opponent with is the ground. Have you heard of PUD? It stands for post ultramarathon depression. A friend of mine told me about it and it is the reason she quit running ultras.
The ground hits the runner’s body at about three times body weight per step. Target cadence is 180 steps per minute, but let us be realistic. I only take 150 steps per minute during a long run. How long a run? The cutoff for Javelina is 30 hours. 150 steps per minute times 60 minutes per hour times 30 hours yields 270,000 steps. That is a lot of impacts on the body. Imagine being a bully’s punching bag for 270,000 straight punches and each punch has about three times the force of your body weight. OUCH!
A key reason I applied for this sponsorship was to find the limits of my body. I figured there is no better way to do that than to run 100 miles. I do not have a death wish, but I would like to know my limits. There is so much that seems limitless about the human body that I sometimes wonder just where they lie. Go walk the tightrope and find out. I imagine running great distances as walking the tightrope. There are just a few places where balance must be maintained and anything is possible. A little bit of food, salt, sugar, easy breathing, water, happy thoughts, and pretty much nothing can stop you. There is also the will, one must want to do it or one won’t do it. And do not forget to train and to rest.
People should prioritize the happy thoughts part of it. It doesn’t matter if you are stuck in traffic, talking with your boss or any old stupid idiot, or if you are at mile 37. Just keep to the happy thoughts and you’ll make it.
I found some of the limits of my body. I also found out how long I need to recover and I can keep pushing the distance after I have recovered. I found that my favorite trail distance is the half marathon. I can run hard and not tire for about 15 miles before I am toast. I found the marathon distance is fun but it tears the crap out of my body. I can go 37.5 miles in one day, that is the most I have measured. It was in less than 12 hours but I was totally shot. My body was good for the drive home and a shower and not much else for a day. I have pushed myself for an entire day. I can sleep before and after, eat well and push hard for about 24 hours. These are some of my limits.
I like to go places in my imagination while my body is in pure agony. I pretend Wolverine and Lobo are doing shots with me at the bar. The bikini ladies squeal and bounce as I run by. I pretend a house is being built and I create it as I explore it. One time the Karate Kid and I took on a plane full of terrorists (my mind did this while my body attempted Twisted Branch). I think it is just a function of the brain, to create a model of the surrounding environment in real time. That requires a vast playing field for things that do not happen, false models, simulations, or the imagination. I find it funny that the brain would work so hard to create an accurate as necessary model of the world and willingly put itself in a life and death situation, only to escape all this by creating a false model of the world which is much more pleasant. I guess it doesn’t matter how or why the dopamine is released, as long as it gets released.
I did not attempt the Javelina Jundred. Right now I know my body is not ready to do it. Maybe it will be in the future. I don’t know. We’ll see. Aravaipa Running puts on a wide variety of races year round, not just the Javelina Jundred. The Javelina Jangover looks like a lot of fun. It’s a night race in September and has options for 25k, 50k, and 75k. I am more comfortable with a jangover than I am with a jundred. There is a whole series of night runs in the desert. That is so cool!
Once again I would like to thank TrailsRoc and the trail runner. Thank you so much. Now go submit an application for the sponsorship program if you haven’t already. Hop to it.
Every winter we award scholarships to runners to tackle the race of their choosing. We support them financially, training, and with encouragement and energy. In return they wear our shirt, and write us a post race recap. Join us as we traverse Laura Howard’s report.
Every winter we award scholarships to runners to tackle the race of their choosing. We support them financially, training, and with encouragement and energy. In return they wear our shirt, and write us a post race recap.
Jamie Hobbs was one of our winners and the first to tackle his scholarship race. Below is his recap! Enjoy.
I’ve been intimidated by the 100 mile distance since . . . well, since I was a kid. I had the fairly rare experience – particularly in the 80s – of being raised by a guy who ran 50 milers and had friends who ran 100s. As a middle schooler, I saw slide shows and heard stories that came back from trips to Western States and Angeles Crest. This did not have the effect of normalizing ultras for me. In particular, the 100 was presented to me as a completely nutty feat, to be attempted only by the toughest, lifelong runners and, still, at great risk to the rest of their running lives. I ran in school, but became more interested in climbing and mountaineering, and I never considered that I could run that far. Decades later, when I began to turn from other sports back to trail running, I learned that mortals of all shapes, sizes, and speeds ran 100s. But still, my fear and respect was ingrained, and it only grew as I saw capable and talented friends struggle with their own first attempts at 100. Some finished, some did not, but nobody – or nobody in my league – made it look easy.
I knew years ago that I wanted to run a 100, but I waited several years to work my way up, and I looked to run tough longer ultras to help bridge the gap between 50 and 100. I thought I would be ready in 2016, but plantar fasciitis broke up my training for too much of the year. So I began looking at two 2017 options: Massanutten (MMT) and Vermont. I was fortunate to be awarded a generous community sponsorship from #TrailsRoc to support me at whichever one I chose. As a public defender with two kids in daycare and law school loans, help with race fees and travel costs is a big deal. When I received the award, Amy Lopata, a TrailsRoc board member, gave me a bit of a nudge by letting me know that she and Dan would crew me if I picked MMT. She had crewed Dan there the previous two years in a row. . . . Monetary support and an experienced crew thrown in. Not a bad deal, TrailsRoc, not a bad deal. . . . A couple of additional factors drew me to MMT: it had more single track, it’s a mountain course, and although it’s not point-to-point or a true single-loop course, it is close. It is roughly a figure 8, with only two small bits of the course repeated: the cross-over between the two circles and a little tail at the beginning and end. I was a bit hesitant about choosing a tough, rocky course for my first, but I felt more inspired by the challenge of traversing a mountain range on technical single track and I knew that inspiration would matter. The MMT lottery went my way, and my decision was made.
My training was not ideal, but not terrible. I had squeezed an undertrained Hellgate 100k into December 2016, so I figured I’d take some time to recover through the holidays, and then start building in January. But come January, plantar fasciitis symptoms started to come back, so I quickly backed off for two weeks. Things felt okay when I came back, but I’d lost more fitness, and I was afraid to up the miles too quickly. One downside of an early May 100 miler is that it doesn’t leave much room for a glitch in the training cycle. I have never been a high mileage trainer, but I had hoped to build up to several weeks in the 70s and low 80s. With a shorter window and a more conservative build up, I ended up topping out at 69.8, with no single run of more than 35. But I had quite a few quality long, tough runs over 20 miles, some decent back to backs, lots of elevation change, and more weeks between 50 and 70 than I had for previous ultras. I also had good specificity late in my training, getting in long trail runs with sustained climbs and descents.
In terms of goals, I was determined to finish, but more than that I wanted to run a smart, solid race, without unnecessary blow-ups. I felt that if I did that sub-24 was realistic. At times I thought that it might be possible to run a couple hours faster than that, but setting out with that more aggressive goal, on this course, in my first attempt, seemed like a great way to set myself up for disaster. As my training mileage fell short, I knew I should stay conservative. Using data on the race website, I had put together the range of aid station arrival times for 21 to 24 hour finishers over the past few years. And I decided I wanted to be in the back half of that range for the first two thirds of the race. While running, I never thought about that chart and I couldn’t remember any of the times on it. But I gave it to my crew to use as a check, to let me know if I was running too fast or falling off the back end.
The day before the race, my dad, myself and Ron headed down to Virginia. The Lopatas were already down there camping and hiking. Given their experience with the race, they would lead the crew, with my dad helping out and providing moral support. Ron was there to film for his Beastcoast series. I had no pacer, and no concerns about it. I like running alone, especially if I’m suffering. And there are only a handful of people I thought I’d feel comfortable asking or having out there with me. After Mike couldn’t make it, I decided I’d rather just run it alone.
The morning before the race the mountains had received a big downpour, but the sky had cleared by the time we arrived. Spring was weeks ahead down there, and the mountains were a vibrant green against the crisp blue sky. Along the road up through Edinburg Gap, streams were rushing, and the forests seemed to be filled with fresh new, life. It was invigorating, and I was excited to get out there.
I fell asleep without too much trouble and managed few solid hours before my 2 a.m. alarm. We got pulled over on the way to the race start (my dad didn’t dim the high beams). We didn’t get a ticket, which was nice, but the officer –noticing my kit and bib – wanted to make small talk about the race, the route, and his post-race dining recommendations. We sat there politely, but I was worrying about time ticking away. We made it to the start with a few minutes to spare. Phew.
Miles 1-4.1 (Moreland Gap Rd) – The course starts with four miles of pavement and gravel country road, climbing gradually up to the trailhead at Moreland Gap. But first we had to cross a soaked field with standing water to get to that road. Then there were the actual streams crossing the road. Clearly there were not going to be any dry feet on this run. I ran comfortably up the road, letting the front runners go. I had expected to feel some relief to be under way, but I was anxious to get to the trail.
Miles 4.1-12.1 (Moreland Gap to Edinburg Gap) – Leaving the road, the world shrunk to a headlamp-lit circle of singletrack, and my focus went to the rocks at my feet. My mood changed immediately. There was about a mile of flat semi-technical running, and then the climb up Short Mountain began. I found myself behind a small group. I might normally have passed them, but with all that lay ahead, I was content to use them as an external governor. The climb never seemed bad and it was over sooner than I had expected.
Up top, it was a rolling, rocky ridge, surrounded by flowering rhododendrons – probably the wild azalea featured on the MMT buckle. It looked and smelled beautiful up here as morning light phased in, and I enjoyed the morning call of the whippoorwill. The first half of this ridge was highly technical – not unrunnable, but constantly rocky – and the trail twists and turns onto and then down off of little rock outcroppings. There’s a lot of ridge running like this along the course. At 100 mile pace, the footing is not a huge problem, but it adds to the work and requires attention. In the second half, the trail seemed to open a bit and become a bit less technical. After a nice view looking out over Edinburg Gap, the trail switchbacked, and we began a fun, runnable descent down to the first real aid station and crew.
Coming in, I peeked at my watch for the first time: 6:15 am, right about where I had planned to be. I chatted quickly with Dan about what was coming, then swapped bottles for a pack, grabbed some watermelon, and headed out. It was over 20 miles to the next crewed aid station, and I immediately forgot most of what Dan had told me. Oh well.
Miles 12.1-20.3 (Edinburg to Woodstock Tower) – I hiked and jogged the initial climb. Like the one before it, the climb never felt too steep, and it passed quickly. Near the top there were gorgeous views across Fort Valley to the south and east. I didn’t know exactly what I was looking at, but I knew that I would be running over there later in the day and I marveled at the distance to go. Around this point, I also caught up to two guys. On the descent and the flatter ridge running that followed, these guys were setting a comfortable pace, so I again decided to let them be my governor for a while. They were chatting about various races I’d never run, and I followed along listening for bad ideas. (Tip: Eastern States sounds hard.) I was glad to be running conservative, but after a few miles I worried that I wasn’t taking enough advantage of this runnable section of the course. I pushed ahead, only to find we were about to come into the next aid station. I hit a dramatic view over the Shenandoah valley to the West, and from there it was a short jog into the aid station. The three of us regrouped there.
Miles 20.3 -25.8 (Woodstock Tower to Powell’s Fort) – I topped off my fluids, grabbed some PB&J to go, and got out ahead of them. But after a pit stop, I was right behind again, and had to make a third push to pass. I had forgotten the course profile in this section, and thought it might stay flat the whole way. So, after about 4 miles, I was surprised to be cruising down a long descent off the east side of the ridge. The woods and the trail got wetter and wetter as I went down. At the AS, I checked my watch again: a bit under 5 hours for a bit over 25 miles. I didn’t remember my split chart, but that pace seemed about right, accounting for slow down. I got some info on what the course did next, I grabbed some bacon and folded it into a big fat slab of French toast (best AS food of the day), and I headed out.
Miles 25.8-33.3 (Powell’s Fort to Elizabeth Furnace) – This section starts off uninspiring, but ends with some great mountain running. There’s a couple miles of gradually climbing dirt road, which was made drearier by the beginning of a steady rain. The road also featured a couple stream crossings, running mid-calf deep and too wide to jump. Next there’s a bit of flat–ish singletrack around a reservoir. On the north side of that reservoir, you run into a small trailhead with a few options. I had one of my only moments of being unsure about which way to go. I soon found a confidence marker to tell me that I had made the right choice. After a few more foot-soaking crossings, the trail headed up a long, rocky climb. Maybe it was leg fatigue setting in, or the wind and rain, or maybe this climb is actually steeper and harder, but this was the first time I felt like I was climbing a real mountain. I enjoyed it. The descent off the other side was an absolute joy. It is well graded and only mildly technical – just enough to keep you focused. I caught up to another runner, tucked in behind him, and enjoyed some easy speed all the way into the aid station.
Miles 33.3 to 38 (Elizabeth Furnace to Shawl Gap) – I came in around 6:20 for 33.3 miles, somewhere between 19 and 20 hour pace if the course is 103 miles as advertised. I felt that was a good place to be, but I knew I could easily use up that 4 to 5 hour cushion in the next two thirds of the race. I was glad to see crew again, but it was raining enough here that it wasn’t all that pleasant to linger. I’d see them again in less than 5 miles so I ditched my pack and took a handheld. I declined a second handheld, and within a mile of the aid station I took my only fall of the day, cutting up the palm of my unprotected hand. I don’t recall much more of this section, except that it has a rocky singletrack climb, followed by a wet grassy trail descent. Completing this section was nice mentally, because it meant I had hit the northernmost point of the course and crossed over to the east side of the mountain range to begin the return trip south.
Miles 38 to 41.1 (Shawl Gap to Veach Gap) – From Shawl it’s about 16 miles to the next crewed aid station. Two short road sections sandwiching a longer trail section. I swapped out my bottle for a pack. With the road sections and the ridge running in between, I figured now was one of the few times that a change into dry socks and shoes wouldn’t be futile. It was probably worth it, but it cost me some time. As I was about ready to head out, a couple of MMT veterans caught me, Keith Knipling (who has 18 prior finishes) and Kathleen Cusick, who I knew was last year’s MMT (and Twisted Branch) winner. I figured these were good people to be running near. I caught them both on the road and passed. But we would yo-yo back and forth for much of the next 30 to 40 miles, with me running a little faster but them moving through aid stations more efficiently.
Somewhere in here, I began to break down my 24 hour goal and focus on more immediate time goals. Since Dan hadn’t blown any alarms at the crewed aid stations, I figured I was still somewhere on my split chart. But it would be a while before I saw him again, and it wouldn’t be too hard to slip off target. I didn’t know what the chart said, but I decided I’d better get to 50 miles in 10 hours, so that I’d still have 4 hours to play with in the second half.
Miles 41 to 50 (Veach Gap to Indian Grave) – This section follows the pattern of several to come: a long steady climb up the mountain, some technical but relatively flat running along the mountain top, then a long descent back to an aid station. Kathleen had moved through Veach AS faster than me, and I reeled her back in along the climb and got ahead of her somewhere along the ridge. The average pace along the climb and the technical ridge on the top had me a little concerned about whether I was going to hit that 10 hour goal, but those slow miles up were soon offset by faster miles down. Indian Grave aid station is right about at 50, and I came in in 9:56. I was happy enough with that that I sat briefly to take in some calories. I began to fixate on my next self-imposed target: hit the 100k mark by 13 hours.
Miles 50 to 54 (Indian Grave to Habron Gap) – I jogged 9 and 10 minute miles along this fairly flat gravel section. Not fast, but well below the average pace I would need to maintain. The rain had stopped and it was nice to pull up to a cheering crowd at the aid station, especially to see crew again. I gave back most or all of the time I had just banked by taking a long pit stop to treat a painful blister between two toes. I was losing my taste for gels, so with another 9 mile trail section coming up, I grabbed a little to go bag of something savory … pierogis or bean burritos? I don’t remember. I tucked them into a shorts pocket and headed out.
Miles 54 – 63 (Habron Gap to Camp Roosevelt) – I was stiff after the long break, but the hike back up to the mountain top gave me a chance to loosen up. I thought this was another climb up, run the ridge, descend to aid station section. And it is for the first 6 or 7 miles, except that the aid station doesn’t come at the bottom. Instead there’s another 2 to 3 miles of rolling singletrack down in the valley. That’s a nice runnable bit of trail in the end, but I was mentally ready for the aid station long before it came.
My made-up time goals were looming like cutoffs in my mind. Not that I was going to stop or be pulled if I missed my made-up goal, but I felt that if I missed them 24 hours would slip away. I ran much of the race with sense of anxiety about hitting them. After the long break at Habron, I was worried by the slow pace climbing and along the ridge, but again I made the time up on the descent and along the runnable miles at the end. Per GPS, I came through 100k just ahead of my 13 hour goal.
I believe it was here at Camp Roosevelt that Amy had made pierogis for me. They hit the spot. And she got my watch hooked up to a charger, so that I could keep it going throughout. Meanwhile Dan reminded me how miserable the next section was going to be.
Miles 63-69.6 (Camp Roosevelt to Gap Creek I) – I had been looking forward to getting through this section because it would mean I had closed the larger, northern loop of the course, and that I just had the roughly 50-55k southern loop and tail to go. My watch would be in my pack for this section, so I couldn’t track the time, but I figured that if I could arrive at Gap Creek before 15 hours, that would leave me 9 hours to close out the race.
Dan had warned that this section was wet, and that it had some of the worst, nastiest footing on the way down. He probably understated it. Maybe it was the fresh rain, but for the majority of the ascent, the trail was simply a running stream. The grade would have been mostly runnable, even at this point, but the extra weight and resistance of the water made it a tough slog, and I was walking a lot more than I would have liked. There were also several knee high crossings in here. Mercifully, the trail finally turned away from the water, but only so that it could climb more steeply up to a notch below Duncan Knob. The descent off the other side was as nasty. Not just technical, but loose rock. The fatigue in my legs wasn’t helping. I recall greeting crew and volunteers with my unvarnished opinion: “Well, that sucked.” That got a laugh, and I was smiling again. I was happy to be there at about 14:35, ahead of target, and ready to see what the last 30+ miles held. But I had to take another long stop for another blister between my toes. I grabbed a headlamp, Dan’s trekking poles, a snack bag, and an extra shirt.
Miles 69.6 to 78.1 (Gap Creek I to Visitor Center, aka Kerns Mtn) – For the first time I left the aid station feeling not only stiff, but cold and shivering. Evening was approaching. It was getting cooler, and exhaustion was setting in. Soon enough I was on the climb up Kerns Mountain, and warm again. This tough, steep climb marks the crossover point in the figure-8, and it is one of the only bits of the course that would get repeated. Using the poles, I made good time up the climb, catching and passing Kathleen, who must have gotten ahead of me at an AS. Along the rocky, and beautiful ridge top, I struggled with the poles a bit. The trail was too tight, with rhodies and rocks on either side. I couldn’t figure out an efficient way to use them, and I didn’t know whether to put them away or not. Kathleen and I began to yo–yo back and forth along the ridge.
One of my goals in this section was to hit “Q’s view” – a major viewpoint near the southern end of the ridge — before sunset. We had been in clouds for many of the views during the race, but it had cleared now and I was looking forward to a sunset view. We hit on time, but Kathleen announced that she would be taking a bathroom break there. I took the announcement as a request for privacy, and even if it wasn’t, I would have felt a little odd lingering for the view. I guess I’ll have to go back.
The trail from there was gorgeous runnable singletrack, and I was happy to try to cover a little bit more of it before needing the headlamp. This trail ends at Crisman Hollow road, which then winds down to the next AS. I was enjoying a good pace cruising down the road, as darkness set in. I became convinced that the road was going on longer than what I had been told, and I began to look for a ribbon. No ribbons, no ribbons, come on … Worried that I missed a turn and that I was going to have to climb back up, I slowed to a walk. But after a few minutes, I saw Kathleen’s headlamp behind me, and suddenly a ribbon ahead of me. I picked it up and headed down to the aid station, with Kathleen right behind me again.
This was my first night aid station, and I enjoyed the lights and soaked in that feeling that unique feeling of a night aid station. I had passed my previous furthest distance run, and I was happy to find that my legs had not yet exploded. I was more than fatigued and looking forward to being able to get off my feet for good, but I could still hike and run.
Miles 78.1 to 81.6 (Visitor Center to Bird Knob) – Again I lingered at the AS too long. Even with a blanket over me, I was thoroughly chilled by the time I got up to go. I wouldn’t get warm again until the climb up Bird Knob started in earnest. This was a stiff climb, but again the poles helped me crank up it. I must have been moving well because when I caught Kathleen, she remarked: “Someone’s feeling good.” I passed her for the last time there. There’s a nice view point at the top, and I peeked out at the distant lights, but there was too much wind to linger. (New goal: When I come back for Q’s view, I’ll just have to speed up a bit to make it here before sunset.) The section ends with some runnable double track into the AS, which seemed to come sooner than expected. I had told myself I wouldn’t sit here. But they had homemade mac & cheese that looked amazing, and a cranking space heater, so I sat just long enough to inhale a bowl. I eyed the bottle of bourbon on the table, and thought about the warmth it could bring to my core, but I was riding the edge of exhaustion with too much night running left to do. I got out of there.
Miles 81.6 to 87.9 (Bird Knob to Picnic Area) – I recall running along a forest road for a fraction of a mile and then hanging a left on singletrack and heading up. But after that I have basically no memory of the rest of this section other than arriving at the aid station. From looking at the course profile, I can tell you that it goes up and down a couple of times before descending steeply to the aid station, but I don’t recall a step of it. I think that I may have spent much of the section attempting to do pacing math, over and over with different results. At some point, I settled on one thing: that I really wanted to be back at Gap Creek, the last aid station, by 22 hours. So that I would have a full 2 hours to cover the last 6 mile section. I figured I could do it in less, but I knew that I was slowing on the technical climbs and descents, and I wanted the cushion. I do recall coming into Picnic Area AS. I got to see crew here again, and I was also waited on by an attentive volunteer. Maybe it was just his way of dealing with addled runners, but I got the sense that he was examining me closely to see if I still had it together. Probably had reason to, given my memory. If so, I must have satisfied him, because he soon began to push me to get out of the aid station. It was good advice, but it was still too late to avoid another case of the chills.
Miles 87.9 to 96.8 (Picnic Area to Gap Creek II) – I left stiff and shivering, and unfortunately this section starts with some technical downhill. So I was trying to pick my way down rocks, shivering, and propped up by Dan’s poles. It soon became more runnable and I warmed up. Then the trail began to climb. There’s nearly 4 miles of climbing here. Either I can recall this much better than the prior section, or my imagination has filled it in. The trail climbs up to a road crossing, then along some grassy double track, then into the woods, all gradually at first, but eventually more steeply up the Big Run trail. I was warned that I would be climbing a creek bed with running water, but I climbed on and on and on up dry trail. I began get upset that I wasn’t stumbling around in the creek, because I knew the climb wouldn’t end until I did. When I finally found it, it was no big deal compared to the miles of stream hiking out of Camp Roosevelt. Near the top, I had my only near-bonk experience. I felt my energy dipping to its lowest point of the race. I had two gels that I had carried almost 50 miles for a moment just like this. I sat on a rock and looked at them, they looked back at me. Ending the standoff, I forced them down. A few minutes later I was feeling better. I used the poles to make my way down the descent and along some rocky trail out to a dirt road.
This section ends with a bit less than 2 miles of dirt road. I hit that road with about 20 minutes to spare on my 22 hour goal. I jogged, poles ticking along, at a pace that felt about right. I pulled into the AS at exactly 22 hours, with a bit of disbelief that I hit the target on the nose. But mostly it was relief and excitement. Just one section to go, and barring a major misstep, I was going to get it done.
Miles 96.8 to 103 (Gap Creek II to Finish) – During the prior section, I had the sense for the first time in a while that there were people behind me, but I didn’t see them until the road just before the aid station. Three guys came in within the few minutes that I was there, and there were also people coming in from the other direction, just hitting Gap Creek I at mile 69. I had been running alone and encountering only the same couple people for so much of the day. It felt strange to find myself in the middle of so much activity.
I climbed up Kerns again, but this time with headlamps ahead and behind. This climb wasn’t easy the first time, and it didn’t get easier with 7 hours of additional wisdom and experience. At this stage of exhaustion, the technical descent off the other side was even worse. I figured a broken skull was one of the ways I could blow this thing. So I just stepped aside and let two runners go ahead. Place did not matter, only the ticking clock did. The trail seemed to go on longer than it should, and I had a momentary relapse of anxiety. But eventually I hit the road a touch under 23 hours, and the anxiety lifted. I could cover 3.5 mostly downhill road miles in an hour.
I set out between 9 and 10 min pace, which physically felt decent, but with the anxiety gone, I struggled to keep up the effort. I saw no point in pushing, even when another runner passed me here. I allowed myself several short walk breaks, but kept returning to a decent running pace. Soon enough I turned off the road and pushed up the final little kicker hill into the campground. From there it’s down a little trail, across a high single log bridge (thankfully, there’s one handrail or I might have taken a DNF right there), and around the field into the flood lights at the finish line.
I enjoyed a handshake from the RD and the warm congratulations of my crew. There were so many feelings and thoughts swirling around at that moment, but most of all it was relief, joy, gratitude, exhaustion, and an urgent need to pile on layers before the chills set in.
The numbers: 23:41:31. 19th place. The last sub-24 hour finisher. Per GPS: 101.4 miles, with 20,315 ft of gain.
I couldn’t sleep much that morning. I soaked in the tub, sipped on a beer, laid uncomfortably in bed, and sobbed, several times. I have run a bunch of long, hard races, including some that I was unsure I could finish or that have pushed me to exhaustion. But I have never felt so overwhelmed after a finish. I don’t know that I could put those feelings into words. I don’t really want to try. But from where I am now, a month and a half out, I have some thoughts on how this one feels different. I had finally faced up to a challenge that had scared and inspired me for years, I had made a plan to get it done, I had stuck to it, and it had worked. That in itself is immensely gratifying. I rarely plan and execute that well, even at distances I am comfortable with. But at this distance it also felt transformative. I was governed by caution in this attempt, I will be pushed by confidence in my next. I am not about to get cocky. I know that there are a million things that could have gone wrong in this race, but didn’t. I know I won’t get that lucky every time, especially if I push to run faster. But I know now that I am capable and how to get it done. I am not afraid of 100 miles anymore.
This race was an amazing personal experience for me, and so many people helped to make it possible. I can’t thank Dan and Amy enough for building their vacation around the race and being there to help me out. They were a perfect support crew, and I owe them, big league. Huge thanks to my Dad for being there to help as well. It is always such a lift to have family there for events like this, and I feel so lucky that he takes pride in seeing me out there. And I am grateful to Ron for coming down and filming, helping out with the support. Ron’s been there for so many of my big races over the years, and he knows better than most how I run them. It was reassuring to have him there, and I feel honored that he came down to film this one. I am extremely grateful to #TrailsRoc, both as an organization that thought I was worth backing, and as a community of runners whose cheers buoyed me in training and in the race and whose congratulations kept making me tear up afterwards. The race organization and the volunteers were amazing, and I really appreciate the work and time it takes. They put on a flawless race. And of course, I owe the biggest thanks to my wife, who puts up with all the hours I spend training and thinking about these things and who took care of our two young kids while I was playing in the mountains. None of this would have been possible without her.
“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”
Every winter we award scholarships to runners to tackle the race of their choosing. We support them financially, training, and with encouragement and energy. In return they wear our shirt, and write us a post race recap.
As one of our sponsorship winners in 2015, Danielle Snyder traveled to Canada to tackle the Squamish 50K. Her story is below.
Some experiences are difficult to explain using words, the vastness of the experience is just too great to capture. Usually I can do a pretty good job somehow finding a way to describe it but trying to come up with the right words for my Squamish experience has been utterly impossible. As a part of my TrailsROC’s sponsorship, I was asked to complete a race report and I have just struggled to get my shit together and write something that completely captures the experience. Here is my futile effort at describing something that can’t be described:
Back in August, my friend, Tammy, started to research races and spotted a race called SQUAMISH. Like any good runner friend, she told me to look up the race. She said something about mountains, it being called Squamish and I didn’t need to look up the race, I just told her I was in. This is how most of my trail adventures start, limited knowledge about the actual race and more of a tag along effort. As awesome as Squamish sounded, it seemed a bit far fetched. We chatted about it and I decided to enter the TrailsROC’s scholarship on a whim not thinking I would win. Somehow, out of all the other awesome applicants, I was picked to represent TrailsRoc at Squamish. This locked me into the race and I called up Tammy and said: “Hope you were serious about this race because we are going!” (I am not sure any of us were that serious about it until that point). Since winning the scholarship, it has been a series of ups and down training for the race. Tammy, the mastermind behind the plan, had to undergo a significant surgery and could not run. Watching a friend being unable to do the thing she loves is heartbreaking. But in true Tammy form, she went along for the ride, was one of the main reasons this trip happened and the race was successful.
Prior to leaving for BC, my amazing friends threw me a party to celebrate the experience. I couldn’t write this race report without recognizing how thoughtful it was for them to do that. Although I am a tad superstitious (by tad, I mean EXTREMELY), they handled me trying to cancel the party because I was so afraid I was not going to finish. To a lot of people, it was only a 50k but to me, it was going to be a huge challenge. My friends who love me regardless of my idiosyncrasies, refused to cancel and gave me the best party a girl could ask for! I left for the trip feeling extremely blessed and encouraged. The three of us (Tammy, Emily and I) boarded a propeller plane seating 20 people to begin the adventure on August 19th. We arrived in the gorgeous city of Vancouver and everywhere you look there are mountains. I fell in love with BC as soon as we arrived and the days leading up to the race were full of exploring: we went to a nude beach, explored the city and mountains. The night before the race, we went to packet pickup and just seeing the other runners gave me butterflies. They had some serious muscles and you could tell these runners were the real deal.
August 23: The morning of the race! We wake up and there is a huge crack in the windshield of our rental car…. and it proceeds to get worse as we drive the winding mountains to the start. Thankfully we arrived at the start without a complete shattered windshield!
The morning was gorgeous, a bit chilly but temps were predicated to get hot. I have butterflies in my stomach and am so thankful for Em and Tammy to keep me semi-calm. The RD talked a bit to us and informed us that anyone who liters is DQ’ed (which I dig). Everywhere I look around, people are smiling and embracing each other. Even in a city so far away, I immediately feel welcomed and reminded about why I love the trail community. The start was mostly single and dusty track, it had not rained for quite sometime. I had heard the first 10k was flat but around mile 3, we encountered a portion kindly termed a “hill”. This was not a hill, it was the size of Bristol!!! But the runners around me informed that this was nothing compared to what was going to happen. I quickly learned that Rochester and BC’s definition of flat vastly differs. Going up the little warm-up hill, I talked to this Adidas Rep who filled me in a about the race and warned me about the portions to come. He said after this flat portion the real climbing started and boy, was he right! After the first Aid Station, we came to the first big climb of the course which I was told was the worst. It went up, up and then up some more. I cruised through the climb but the downhill killed me. It was super technical and my quads did not get that type of training. Feeling a bit discouraged about the fact I was so tired before Mile 10, I focused on the beautiful trails and making it to Tammy. At mile 15, I finally make it to Tammy! As I climb towards the aid station, I look up and the entire courtyard is full of dogs. I think mountain and puppies, this is my heaven. I see Tammy smiling and I am just beyond grateful for her support. I tell her: “this is the fucking hardest thing I have ever done.” Then hugged a stranger’s dog for a bit. It had gotten really hot at this point and as happy as I was to see her, I was really tired already. I got a little teary-eyed and told her I didn’t know how I was going to finish. Like any good friend, she said something along the lines of,” oh you are finishing. Now go.” And Off I went! Every climb I completed, I focused on the amazing views and continued to fight with the voice that told me I wasn’t going to finish. I continued to just tell myself make it to Tammy at the last check point. My legs got less tired and I started to make up some time. At the final check point, Tammy was expected to be there. When I arrived and she wasn’t there, I decided in my head that I had ran the last section so fast, I beat my crew! Looking back now, I recognize that is not possible but during the race, it was such a motivating thought. The last miles of the course are what some consider the hardest but at this point, I knew I was finishing and just kept moving. We climbed one of the harder climbs of the day and met some dude at the top who informed us it was smooth sailing from there. At the bottom of the climb, there were some rock climbers hanging out on the cliffs. I stopped for a few seconds, asked if I could climb and then remembered I had to finish this race and started moving again. Someone yelled at me only 2 km left and I was pumped until I realized I had no idea how far 2 km was… I was ready to be done. In the past, the last mile of a race has always been a grind but this race, the voice of my friend, Liz came to me. She always says: “This is the last mile you will ever run for this race, you better enjoy it. “ And that I did. I actually looked back and took in the mountains we just climbed and let it soak in. I head up the road saw Tammy’s smiling face and headed towards Gary (the RD) for the finish. Gary is well-known in BC for his huge hugs for every racer who finishes and he had a huge hug waiting for me as I crossed the finish line.
The website for Squamish reads: “The Squamish 50 races are TOUGH, truly unforgettable trail running experiences. The Squamish 50 – 50 km is a very challenging course as evidenced by the 11-hour cut off time. ” (Ascent: 2500 m / 8500 ft Descent: 2750 m). I had read that description prior to starting to the course but didn’t really process it until I saw the mountains. I thought I had climbed mountains before this race. I thought I understood what mountain running was. And boy, was I wrong! Going up one of the mountains, I pointed out an amazing view, someone recognized my accent and asked where I was from. I told them New York and they asked me how I trained for this type of climbing. I talked about my trips to the ADK’s and hill repeats and the guy laughed. He said: “The Adirondacks are molehills compared to our mountains.” At some point in my life I might have been offended by this comment but after that race, I couldn’t agree more with that statement. Those were some mountains.
Even on beautiful amazing trails, when it gets tough, it is really easy to get down on yourself. You start to look at your accomplishments and there is always someone who is running more, harder, longer, etc. It is hard as a human not to compare yourself to other’s accomplishments and start to belittle yourself or not believe in yourself. After you work so hard for a goal, it is difficult not to think about what you could have done better. Each time I go into the woods, I always receive a take home lesson. In the mountains of British Columbia, I learned that it is not about the fastest time, the furthest distance but about the amount of heart. I can honestly say, I have never used as much heart during a race as I did during Squamish. It was by far, the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. Not only because the size of the mountains but because I was able to overcome not believing in myself. Toeing that start line, the biggest challenge for me was starting the race not believing in myself. Somehow those mountains helped find a portion of myself I had lost. I’ve said it before and I am sure will say it again but the mountains are like coming home.
I am so very grateful to TrailsROC for the scholarship. Without the scholarship, I am not sure this adventure would have happened and it helped propel a once in a life time change to run an amazing race. And to my friends and family who never stop believing in me (even when I don’t believe in myself), I couldn’t do anything without you guys. Life is very much like the trails we run, when things get hard, you put one foot in front of the other and hang on until it gets easier.