This race died on race day morning. That's right, my third DNF ever and my third DNF this year. But this is probably the one I feel the most comfortable with and the most worried about all at the same time. Conflicting, I know, but keep reading and it may make sense. Assuming you can stay awake for that long. And, just in case you don't already know, yes, this will be a long post. And yes, there will be graphic details revealed as well as adult language used. You've been warned!
So, leading up to the race, my summer was pretty rough. I didn't train as much as I needed to and I paid the price for that over and over again. It's a common excuse for runners everywhere and it's mine as well. I knew I wasn't at the level I wanted to be but I still gave it my best. I knew the time limit for this race made finishing feasible, even on my low level of training. Anyway, it was a bad summer. Aside from the low miles, I was pretty burned out. My last "good" performance was my Father's Day Fat Ass 50k and even that wasn't as good as I wanted it to be. I made the mistake of attempting a 50k the next weekend and it quickly became my second DNF. Things went downhill from there and it sucked.
The good news from my bad summer was I finally got my thumb out of my ass and hired a coach. He's not only holding me accountable for completing my training, he's also scheduling my training. I needed it then and still need it now to have that structure. So far, the results have been good but it's still too soon to see anything solid enough to make me a convert and drink the Kool-Aid. We, meaning the coach and I, both knew that this 100k would be too soon in the training plan to have a good showing so we're looking at my 2014 races for a solid go of things. This was going to be a suffer-fest and just a question of how much walking I'd be doing.
So there's the background of the days and months leading up to the race. I opted this year to skip the timed event the weekend after in Erie and to cut my trip short to just a few days instead of a solid week. I drove up on my birthday (yay for old age!) and had a bit of a Sheetz Marathon along the way. I live close to one, I go there often, and they're always good to me (both as individual employees and also as a company). So I wanted to pay them back a bit by stopping at many stores on the way. I'd end up doing the same thing on the way back, mostly for walking breaks but also to do a bit of a repeat for a Sheetz Ultramarathon. Maybe it should be considered a Sheetz Marathon Maniac instead? Either way, it wasn't out of my way and if I can get them to sponsor me ::hint hint :: , all the better.
Getting my iced latte on.
Once I got to mom's house, I unloaded, chilled out, and had a tasty dinner. Oh, did I mention that I got off to a supremely late start? I didn't pack in advance so I just started tossing stuff on the bed to pack. Then I had breakfast with my dad. Then I had to run errands in town. The list went on. But I high-tailed it and made it in time for dinner.
Pre-Race Packet Pickup
I went up to Titusville a little early to preview the second aid station and remind myself where stuff was up there. I got out in a few places and looked at the trail and generally just tried to visualize the route and where things were. I didn't visualize myself finishing so that may have been a factor in the DNF. For packet pickup, I got to the school early enough to see teachers leaving but stayed in the car listening to Game of Thrones. People were already setting up tents in the empty field next to the parking lot and there was some rain sprinkling here and there. Nothing major but just enough to notice.
Once I saw people coming out with their race bags, I decided to go inside. The only benefit I saw in going in before the official 5pm time given was you get a better choice in picking your door prize. The prizes weren't great but weren't horrible either so showing up late isn't that big of a deal. Winning was easy. Show your bib, win a prize. I opted for the Oil Creek hat. It looked cool and I didn't see much else that interested me. Next time I think I'll go for the Hammer towel and use it in my drop bags in the future.
In the swag bag there was some Sport Wash, Hammer Recoverite, and some other ads. This year's race shirt was dark green, not quite as "pretty" as the blue from last year. Once I checked in and got my swag, I went to the cafeteria to give it the eye and waited for dinner. I saw who I thought was a runner I knew but being the anti-social person I am, I never went up to ask. Thankfully he wasn't anti-social and came over to introduce himself. I met JD and his wife Heather online through their blog and Facebook. And I think Dailymile too.
Anyway, the three of us chatted for a bit before another guy walks up and knows both of us. I didn't know Ron and only vaguely remembered his website. This would be the first of several instances where I was known and I didn't really know the person that knew me. It's flattering, embarrassing, and a wee bit scary all at the same time. I'm awestruck that people know who I am. I don't know what makes me so memorable and I don't know how someone can remember me after a year, but they can and do remember. It makes me feel all sorts of special inside. But at the same time I'm petrified because I don't know this person. So having a complete stranger know your name is a bit startling. And then it's embarrassing because I feel like I should know this person. They know me, why shouldn't I know them? Well, unless I've run with you or spoken to you a few times at races or something, I probably won't remember you. I'm horrible with names and only slightly better with faces. But I'm ashamed to say I just don't know many people (see the anti-social part above).
So, we all chatted a bit and then dinner was served. I ate a salad, pasta, a roll, a cookie, and lemonade. Pretty much all they had to offer and it was all good. I vaguely recall there being more sauce options last year (vegan maybe?) but either way, it was all good. No nuts in my cookie and no chicken or turkey in my meatballs so I was happy.
While I was there, I also picked up a jacket and browsed some of the other merchandise. Nothing too exciting so I eventually left early and went back to my mom's to make sure all my stuff was stowed and ready to go. Things were looking good. Like the calm before the storm.
Race Day Morning
So on race day morning I got up at the crack of dawn, took a quick shower, killed a small bug in the bathroom, got dressed, and headed out the door. I swiped a banana which would be helpful and painful in the end. Bananas are a sure fire way for me to take a dump but I still eat them before races for some reason. I think from this point forward I will completely avoid them. Unless I need to take a shit, then I'll have one. Or I forget what they do to me and screw up all over again. As I headed down the road, I was barely 200 feet into the trip and I run over a possum. Damn thing just kept coming across the road and even though I tried to slow down, I just wasn't fast enough. And he was too slow. The rest of my drive was safer for the wildlife but I did nearly smash a deer. The 6 point buck decided to leave the safety of the ditch, run across my lane, run down the other lane, cross in front of me again, then go into the woods. He's pretty dumb so I doubt he'll survive the winter. The red fox I saw was fast enough to make it across the road but I have no idea what he said. Tons of fog meant driving slow but I made it safely.
I made a mad dash to the bathroom, got my chip, checked in, and dropped my drop bags. This year they didn't rearrange the ones at the school (AS #4) so I could easily find it when I got there. Not that I needed it, but it was nice to not waste time searching. I saw JD wished him luck, then quickly camped out at the back of the crowd.
The view from Saturday. These were the 100 milers but my view was similar.
Loop 1 - Section 1 - Start to Aid Station #1
(aka Wolfkiel Run, aka Wolfkill Run, aka Halloween) - 7.1 Miles
For a bit, I was the last person but I quickly passed a handful of walkers, maybe 8, before heading into the woods. I felt pretty good but I was quickly feeling the heat and humidity. I tried fiddling with my intervals by setting my watch but it just didn't feel right so I just tried to listen to my body and do what it said. Maybe I should have taken my heart rate monitor. I made it off the bike path and into the woods without any issues. Climbing up the hill I forgot how many damn rocks there were. And that was really the story of the trail surface for the day. Damn these fucking rocks. Sharp rocks, pointy rocks, round rocks, big rocks, small rocks, slippery rocks, rocks rocks rocks. I think the only rock that wasn't there was Dwayne Johnson.
Anyway, through the first section, the elevation gain wasn't too painful. I knew it was easy here and had it marked as such on my cheat sheet. I passed the Coming Home Loop spur where I expected an unmanned water table to be like last year but I never saw it. Maybe I missed it, maybe it wasn't there, either way, it wasn't a big deal. I was on track with my hydration and I felt okay. I kept going. And then I tweaked something. My right heel felt horrible when I flexed my foot too much. It would eventually go away but the pain nagged me for a few miles. I was worried about it until the pain eventually left by the time I got to the first aid station.
Coming into the first aid station I felt good. In this section last year I was being passed by quite a few of the faster 50k runners. I knew they were coming but I managed to hold them off until just before the aid station. In fact, only two of them passed me by the time I got to the aid station itself. That made me feel pretty damn good. In the aid station, one of the volunteers addressed me as "The Lumberjack" and yet again, I was a bit shell-shocked. He said he remembered me from last year, said he was the guy in the tutu, and then it all clicked. I remembered he was one of those fast 50k runners last year that passed right before the aid station.
While I was here, I snagged a Hammer Gel, refilled my bottles with water, and ate two Fig Newtons.
Loop 1 - Section 2 - Aid Station #1 to Aid Station #2
(aka Petroleum Center, aka Half) - 6.8 Miles
Coming out of the aid station, I knew there was a massive hill. I hated it all over again. I still say Cemetery Hill and Rockefeller's Revenge are the worst, but this one is clearly second. Steep, switchbacks, and way too early in the race. Plus it's right after an aid station where you fill your belly with goodies. Turns out I finally realized this year that that's a theme for the course. Every single massive hill on the course comes right after an aid station.
Anyway, I climbed out of there with two other runners from Syracuse. They were both nice, we swapped some tales, and they were on their way. I'd eventually pass them somewhere but they'd return the favor later. This held true throughout the day as I'd slowly pass people and they'd come back to pass me later in the race.
I was happy that coming into the midway point, I was prepared. Running it blind last year sucked. This year I had a cheat sheet with mileage and I knew I'd have about 3.4 miles to the unmanned water station. So climbing through the course, I knew I was close when I hit the water tables. I refilled and continued on. From there I knew I was close to the big derricks and sure enough, I was suddenly dumped out into the clearing. From here I was maybe a mile from the aid station, although it felt longer. The heat was getting to me and I was all out of fluids. I kept creeping along slowly knowing that I was almost there.
After the derricks, you cross a road and then a boardwalk before coming out onto a gravel road. This seemed to take forever. And worst of all, I slipped on the damn boardwalk. I knew it was slick but had a momentary lapse in my attention span, slipped, and banged my toenail pretty hard. Thankfully it stayed on and the pain went away. I eventually made it into the shelter and grabbed my drop bag. I swapped shirts, ditched some gear, grabbed some gear, and had some fluids and fuel. I was feeling a bit sluggish here but felt good knowing I was halfway through my first loop.
This is the trail crossing the road before coming to the boardwalk.
This is the train station you pass at the end of the gravel road.
And this is the grassy section leading into Aid Station #2.
Loop 1 - Section 3 - Aid Station #2 to Aid Station #3
(aka Miller Farm, aka HELL) - 8.8 Miles
This is where things were slowly falling apart. Coming out of the aid station is yet another climb but I knew that so I just plodded away. My pace was slowing and I was behind on my splits but not so much to worry about it. That would eventually change as my hydration and electrolytes would tank. As it stood in this section, I just had a slow leak developing and couldn't quite stem the flow.
I did have my GoPro for this section and took some pictures. They turned out okay but not great. The humidity wreaked havoc on keeping a clean lens. In other words, I was sweating so much, I was just dripping all over everything. Anyway, the trail eventually turns into a cross-country skiing trail. This means it's wider than normal and the hills are more gradual. You travel for a bit before coming to an unmanned water table. I refilled since I knew this section was a bit longer and I was drinking more.
The overlook shows you the oil derricks from the previous section across the valley. Hard to see in the fog.
This was a shelter for the skiers that was close to the water table.
Somewhere in here I started walking. Well, more like death marching, but I wasn't quite dead yet. My fingers were swelling more than normal so I took my wedding ring off and attached it to my watch. This was one of many signs that I was headed in the wrong direction with the heat and humidity. More signs were coming.
It was in this section I believe that I ran into another runner that knew me. The conversation went something like this: "Excuse me, Mr. uh, The Lumberjack, but, uh, do you have a blog and write about races?" "Yep, that's me." "Well I'm carrying your race report from last year and I wanted to tell you it was great. Everyone else wrote that their family came and they had a good time but you actually wrote about each section." So yet again, I was known by a complete stranger but this time I was completely flattered by the feedback on the race report.
What the trail looked like.
Once I saw the signs for the Boy Scouts, I was happy. I knew this was another check point with water and the signs kept me distracted. I was still moving slowly but I was still moving. The negative thoughts were creeping into my head and every five minutes brought a change in my mind from dropping out to continuing on. I got more water at the Scout camp and carried on. And on. And on. I ran out of water again and knew I wasn't quite there even though I could see the train tracks. Those damn train tracks fool you. When you see them, know you've still got a long road ahead before you get to the road. Once I finally got to the road, I was whipped.
The tricky train tracks.
The sign reads "PLEASE DO NOT READ THIS SIGN!" So I closed my eyes.
I took my time at this aid station in an attempt to recuperate a bit before slogging up the hill. I also knew by now that I needed solid food and I needed to balance my fluids and electrolytes. I had a slice of pizza, some Coke, two Hammer Enduralytes, and chilled in a chair for a bit. I also had the volunteers fill each bottle with ice and water. This helped but damn did that ice melt fast.
Loop 1 - Section 4 - Aid Station #3 to Aid Station #4
(aka Titusville Middle School, aka TMS, aka Start/Finish) - 8.4 Miles
Coming out of Hell, I knew the first climb was only 10 minutes. I made it in 7. The second hill came shortly after but the bridge in between freaked me out. Last year I was fine going across the first time and nervous the second time in the dark. This year I was a bit more freaked out and I don't know why. I think my brain was fried by then and I had a touch of vertigo or something. Anyway, I made it up both hills in about 20 minutes which made me feel pretty good. I didn't expect to see the end of the hills so soon but there I was. I made it to the last unmanned water table, refilled, and felt good knowing that I was only a few miles from the Drake Well Museum where you get dumped off the trail and onto flat ground. In other words, from that water table to the school was easy. Or at least it should have been.
Cemetery Hill is hard. Be prepared.
I was still suffering. And by now I had decided I was going to drop. The warning signs were all over the place now and clearly visible. My wrists and arms were swelling enough that I needed to loosen my watch. I've never had that happen before. My fingers will swell eventually but they triggered early. My wrists never swell. My face was crusted in salt but that was normal. Having salt on my arms was not normal. The first half of the race my shirt was soaked with sweat. I expected that but not to have a dry shirt in the second half. I had the chills which is a normal warning sign for me to slow down and cool off. But not the chills were coming every 20 minutes or so and I stopped walked long ago. I had no ice available to me and there wasn't much of a breeze. I had no way to cool off beyond slowing down even more. I wasn't really dizzy or nauseous but as soon as I tried to go faster to get the pain over with, both of those triggered and I had to slow to a crawl. The bottom line was I was red-lining my body in the heat and it wouldn't take too much more. I was worried that I was seeing signs I had never seen before and I was worried that if I did continue, that I would eventually be pulled by the medical personal at the next aid station. Or worse.
On top of all this, I had some serious chafing. Serious enough that I'd end up peeling the next day. Kind of like a sun burn or a tattoo. Kind of like that Steven Seagal movie, Fire Down Below. It was bad enough that my quads, calves, and soles of my feet didn't hurt anymore. Bad enough that I would shove anything down there to alleviate the pain but nothing worked.
I think this face says it all. I give up.
Just a mile or so past the unmanned water table, I dropped my camera. As I was working to clear the error it showed by reloading the memory card, I heard a rustle to my left. Figuring it was another chipmunk, there were millions of them out there, I glanced up and went back to my camera. Well, my double-take revealed it was a black bear. A small one. I was so caught off guard I nearly turned into stone. I continued to fumble with fixing my camera because I knew nobody would believe me if I didn't have a picture. As I did so I looked around for the mother because I knew the one I saw was a bit too small to be an adult. I quickly spotted the mother to my right. If I had continued down the trail I would have been in between them so I was happy I stopped to fix my camera when I did.
The medium-sized cub I saw ran towards the mother and I thought I was clear until I saw one on the left up in a tree. It tumbled down to the ground and then a third cub came boiling out of the tree too. These two stragglers ran to the trail, stopped, looked around, then continued on. I snapped as many pictures as I could but alas, they aren't as clear as I'd like them to be. The GoPro doesn't have a zoom so I just did the best I could. Other than the millions of birds and chipmunks and one tiny snake, the four bears were the only wildlife I saw on the trail.
I'd eventually run out of water yet again before I reached the museum. As I came off the trail I thought about cutting the course and going across the bridge to drop but toughed it out and made my way around the Drake Well Museum in my painful waddle. The women's winner came flying by at this time and I saw a Ferrari drive by. She was moving faster than the car. I was sad when I went by the museum and instead of seeing the cables and well heads moving, they only had the sound effects blasting through speakers. The magic of a working museum was tarnished a bit but by then I didn't care too much. I continued to waddle on to the school where I officially dropped. My mom and Steve were there and I told my mom I was done. She put her arm on me to see if I needed anything and I promptly told her that probably wasn't a good idea. I knew I smelled bad because the flies wouldn't leave me alone and I could smell myself.
The Ferrari. What? You expected me to take a picture of a woman's ass instead?
Once I had something to drink, made sure I had dropped and turned in my chip, I grabbed my drop bag and headed to my car. I didn't even go into the school. At the time I didn't think much about it but I think I wanted to keep it in my mind as more of a sacred place for finishers and not quitters. Not that I felt like a quitter but I think I was subconsciously thinking that way.
After I dropped, I told them I was going back for my other drop bag, so please don't bring it back. I then went to McDonald's, drowned my sorrows in two Happy Meals, and went for my bag. I hobbled out of my car, got my bag, saw a guy with a medical crew swarming him because of his busted ankle, and loaded up for my trip home. Once back at my mom's, I had a shower, another dinner, and generally tried to chill out.
I really should have put on my compression socks and stretched but I was just hurting too much to do it. The best recovery was my massage a few days later. Beyond that, it's just been slow and steady getting back into the grind.
The mileage on the sections above appears to be a bit different this year. The mileage I posted here is what I have from last year. But according to this photo, it changed a bit. Not really enough worth noticing but I noticed.
Somewhere in the first section, I realized that I wasn't feeling bugs on my arms, but instead I was feeling water condense on my arm hairs and drip down every step I took. There were bugs eventually on the course but they weren't too bad. None of them bit.
Last year I saw a porcupine. This year I saw four black bears. I'm not sure if I need to add a bear tattoo or not. Right now I'm thinking no because I didn't finish the race. I did eventually think clearly enough to blow my whistle at the bears but by then they were already running away. But it makes me feel good knowing that they didn't seem to like it.
The trail was in better condition this year than last year. Partly because it didn't rain that much this year but mostly because you could see various sections had been improved with logs and what-not to prevent erosion.
This was the worst year for trash. I was completely appalled to see so much trash on the trail. It was bad enough that I stopped to pick up everything I found. Then continued to be so bad I couldn't pick up anymore without a trash bag and adding hours to my time. It reminded me of my Asheville Marathon experience but was far more shocking. I mean, this is a trail run and an ultra. Both of those groups of runners pride themselves on keeping the trail clean. It was disgusting, shocking, and baffling all at once.
Having wet wipes in my car was great. It meant I could evacuate like I normally do but keep things clean enough to lube up before the race. Aren't you glad you read that?
Even though I couldn't keep them cold like I wanted to, the small applesauce packets/pouches worked great. They could easily go with me on the trail, the trash was minimal, and they weren't messy. Plus they tasted better and went down easier than gels.
I may joke about it, but my wife would have killed me if I had died out there on the course. This was yet another reason to drop out. I knew things were bad but they were quickly going into uncharted territory. I think Lauren and her experiences helped me a bit too by reminding me not to overdo things in the heat. Firefighter might be cute, but I don't want to call them for help.
Note - All times are in HH:MM:SS format just to keep it easier to read. I've also added my average pace, approximate distance, and tried to space them out to make them easier to read.
Start to Coming Home Split (about 3.5 miles) - 00:54:42 [15:37 pace]
Coming Home Split to AS #1 (about 3.6 miles) - 01:02:18 [17:18 pace]
AS #1 - 00:02:03
AS #1 to Unmanned Water Station (about 3.4 miles) - 01:03:17 [18:36 pace]
Unmanned Water Station to AS #2 (about 3.4 miles) - 01:01:16 [18:01 pace]
AS #2 - 00:05:07
AS #2 to Unmanned Water Station (about 2.0 miles) - 01:12:37 [36:19 pace]
Unmanned Water Station to Scout Camp Water Station (about 2.9 miles) - 00:38:04 [13:07 pace]
Scout Camp Water Station to AS #3 (about 3.8 miles) - 01:29:31 [23:33 pace]
AS #3 - 00:05:05
AS #3 to Unmanned Water Station (about 2.5 miles) - 01:14:23 [29:45 pace]
Unmanned Water Station to AS #4 (about 5.9 miles) - 02:22:28 [24:08 pace]
DNF at 50k - 11:10:56 [21:36 pace]
2012 Loop 1 vs. 2013 Loop 1
Section 1 - 01:49 vs. 01:57 - 8 minutes slower
Section 2 - 01:50 vs. 02:05 - 15 minutes slower
Section 3 - 02:38 vs. 03:20 - 42 minutes slower
Section 4 - 02:52 vs. 03:37 - 45 minutes slower
2012 Loop 2 vs. 2013 Loop 1
Section 1 - 02:39 vs. 01:57 - 42 minutes faster
Section 2 - 02:51 vs. 02:05 - 46 minutes faster
Section 3 - 03:32 vs. 03:20 - 12 minutes faster
Section 4 - 03:48 vs. 03:37 - 11 minutes faster