Another DNF at Barkley

Q: What’s harder than failing to complete the Barkley Fall Classic?

A: Failing to complete the Barkley Fall Classic again.

Things looked promising at the start of the 2016 Barkley Fall Classic, the event at which I found my limit last year, when I did not finish the full distance and had to claim the “drop-down” option of a “marathon” finish.

Working against me was a slightly warm forecast, in the 80’s, and negligible training, just some cycling and 5K runs. But I was familiar with the course, feeling strong, and highly motivated to collect a Croix de Barque, the finisher’s medal which appeared quite glamorous compared to the dog tag memento I received last year. I knew what to carry: water, performance-enhancing tablets, and some solid nutrition, as gels are banned, and the provided aid was described as fairly spartan “light snacks.” Even cups were deemed too luxurious for this event, so I clipped a paper hotel cup to my pack, and got a mineral dose each time I stopped to pour sports drink into the dirt that accumulated at the bottom.

BFC_2016_cup

I had a sound plan: to at least pace Ray through the major climbs and never ever get behind Leonard, the Timex-like power hiker who knows every step of the course, always skirts the cutoffs, and always finishes just in time.

Everybody has a plan until they have to run through a swarm of bees.

The eternal switchbacks at the start were just like last year. We passed the Grim Sweeper at the top, a race official who would follow the last runners and make sure those who did not make a cutoff time were sent packing. He wore black and carried a large scythe for effect. I thought to snap a quick photo but decided against it; every minute would count today and there was no time for goofing around.

Conga lines formed where the trail was too narrow to pass comfortably, and these restricted my speed but helped me keep a conservative pace. I saved energy by walking at the same rate that people ahead and behind were running.

A few miles along, I heard screams and shouts ahead. Someone nearby wondered if a runner had taken a fall and gotten hurt. We approached a line of stopped runners, five or six, and I slowed as I passed by them on one side. I heard someone say “bees” and saw more people far ahead on the trail, beyond an empty, straight and slightly downhill section. Without stopping, I decided that there was only one thing to do, and sped up to a full sprint down the trail. I never saw anything, but suddenly felt like I had run through a swarm of bees, with a multitude of little bounces on the front of my body.

A few more strides at top speed and the stinging started on my lower legs. I began shouting, both to warn others that the danger was real and because it was fun to yell. Then I continued shouting because it hurt. I went on until I thought I must be clear of the swarm and stopped to swat away the yellow jackets I found on my calves and ankles. One had gotten down into my shoe and I had to fish it out with a finger, cursing all the while.

“Welcome to Barkley,” someone joked, and we continued along on the trail. I heard some terrible cries of pain from behind, reminding me of “the screaming bedlam of women” in the shipwreck scene of The Sea Wolf, the book I packed for the trip. I thought I should go back to try and help, but all I had was Band-Aids and Advil. I would later hear reports of people stung 40 times, and people with bees in their ears, so I felt lucky to get away with three or four stings around my ankles.

By the time I arrived at an aid station, two and a half hours in, I felt unwell. My heart rate was more elevated than it should have been and I felt a bit of nausea. I took on some fluids and walked out, making a note of the location in case I had to turn around and come back.

I walked slowly, and climbed very slowly, for about 45 minutes, and many people passed me. My ears were hot and itchy, my fingers were puffy and my palms tingled. Sometimes my ears would ring, but my vision was clear and I passed a self-administered MSE, (though I had to think about my age because my birthday was the same weekend). I thought about the queries I would put into a search engine if I had a data connection: “bee sting symptoms,” or “antifrenetic” or “epipenetic” or “intergalactic” shock, whatever that’s called. I took an S-Cap electrolyte pill, which seemed the most useful item in the limited inventory of my Ziplock pharmacy.

An hour after the bees, I started feeling better. Anxious to get back into the race, I swallowed a drug cocktail, one dose of each remedy in my medicine chest.

  • Vitamin I (200 mg ibuprofen)
  • Go Go Juice (200 mg caffeine)
  • Salt (S-Cap)

These did the trick, and my mojo was back about four hours after the start. I reached the first checkpoint and asked the bib puncher about my status.

“How we doing on time?”

“I dunno. You seen any sweepers?”

“No. Haven’t seen Leonard either.”

“Oh, Leonard’s up ahead. He passed a minute or two ago.”

“Okay then.”

I had seen Leonard at the start but didn’t notice him pass. If I let him get far ahead I knew I would fail. I started running at a sustainable trail pace, determined that I would not stop running until I either saw Leonard or else dropped out. I managed to go on a while until I saw one of those defeating upward-pointing trail markers and had to start walking the climb. I asked a runner nearby if he had seen Leonard. “Yeah, that’s him” he said, pointing just ahead. Relieved, I caught up, observing that Leonard is not a monotonous power hiker after all — he was running wherever possible like everyone else. While passing Leonard I said hello and asked about his feelings about our position. He courteously pretended to have forgotten my name, expressed concern about the hot weather, and mentioned some target times for waypoints to come. I jogged on, extremely relieved to be able to keep a reliable finisher in view behind me and feeling strong again.

I arrived at Testicle Spectacle and saw the newbies stop to gawk and snap photos just like I did my first year. I didn’t pause for a moment and plunged directly into the steep initial descent. With my gloves on I was able to do a lot of controlled falling, usually on hands and feet, sometimes in full butt-slide mode. The entrants coming back out were spread thin but there seemed to be a lot of them and I knew I was near the back of the pack. It was a long and hard descent and there was an extra leg with a loop added to the end, with a checkpoint bib punch outside a church at the end.

Leonard was never far behind. He said he wanted to be back at the top by 1 p.m., six hours after the start. At 1 p.m. I was most of the way up, but still a good snowball’s throw from the crest. It took me twenty minutes to haul myself up that last section.

Then down the other side, dubbed Meth Lab Hill, toward the prison. I didn’t feel like eating, but forced myself to start on the bag of peanut M&Ms I carried, unable to contemplate my two Clif Bars. Washing down the candy caused me to finish the water in my hydration pack, but I remembered an aid station at the prison entrance last year. It was there as expected, and they had ice.

I will always remember that distant afternoon when, facing an imminent mortal threat, I discovered that cooler full of ice. A volunteer shoveled scoops into my empty bag while I watched with immense satisfaction. As another volunteer poured lukewarm water over the ice, I knew it wouldn’t stay cold long, but I would enjoy the refreshment while it lasted. We jogged across the prison entrance drive, then through the prison and around to the back, where this year’s theme came into play: “Over the Wall.” Extension ladders were placed to enable an escape over the high prison wall, then we walked through a long and dark tunnel to get to the base of the long, long climb up Rat Jaw to the fire tower.

At the base, the steel cable was gone or cut from the short, nearly vertical face, and people were scrambling up by grabbing roots and weeds. I went up just left of the conga line, where it was a little steeper but less crowded. Then the fun began.

It was really just steep. The saw briers had been cut down, an immeasurable advantage, though it meant no shade and no restful time spent hunting for a path. There was nothing to do but climb. Climb until the heart is about to burst, stop and rest a minute, then climb some more.

My climbing cycles became shorter and shorter. I used the proven motivational technique of choosing some point ahead and determining to march on to that point, forgetting everything else, then I would rest. Usually I could plant my feet and stand still and blow to recover, but sometimes I flopped over and sat for a minute or two. If someone was behind me, I thought I would have to let them pass, but they often stopped as well rather than overtake me. There’s a lot of camaraderie among the people foolish enough to sign up for an event like this, and the encouragement and “good job” salutes can start to feel a bit automatic and tedious after a few hundred times. On Rat Jaw the focus was on survival and relentless ascent and no calories were spared for salutations. I remember having a long sit, washing down another S-Cap and staring vacantly as some climbers crept past me. I spotted Leonard coming up and realized that sitting was the way to fail.

I continued setting small goals, advancing on them, and rewarding myself with a half-minute bake under the sun. Sometimes my objective was to get my feet on a root or lump of earth that I could have reached out and touched with my hands. My steps were short and monotonous, lifting the advance foot, putting it down twelve or eighteen inches ahead, the pulling the rear foot up behind. Step, step. Mortar. Block. Mortar. Block. Inexorable, slow progress toward a goal Ivan Denisovich would surely find quixotic.

It always seemed the top was just ahead. Then we would reach it and there would be a new top just ahead. Leonard caught up and I asked him what to expect. He said we were almost done with the hardest pitches, then the course would bend left and the climb would be less severe. He went on above me but I kept him in sight. When he passed a power line pole about 50 feet ahead I checked my watch. It took me seven minutes to reach the pole, seven minutes that felt like a week.

My sweating was profuse, which I took as a good sign. I popped another S-Cap every 45 minutes. The ground was so dry and crumbly, it was like climbing a sand dune. I tried not to look up often, and when I did it was always the same line of sitters and climbers up to the next crest.

Somehow I got out of it. The comparatively gentle climb under forest cover was a relief and I made the best time I could. When I sighted the fire tower between the trees I hooted with joy and scanned it for a sign of Leonard’s red hat. He was out of sight before I got there, using my arms to pull myself up the three flights of stairs. The bib puncher at the top said I had about an hour until the cutoff, and “four or five” miles to go, as if an extra mile were not worth measuring. My watch showed 8 hours 40 minutes, and I knew ten-minute miles even on level trail would be extremely optimistic. I swung myself down the stairs on the handrails and headed toward the next aid station, overhearing someone say “If they’re not charging down the mountain now, they’re gonna get cut.”

I spent half a minute at the AS, half-filling the two-liter bag in my pack which I had emptied since the prison. I was unfit to run, yet I ran. I slowed when my legs felt rubbery or the terrain was difficult.

I wasn’t sure if I could make it to Laz by 9.5 hours. He would be on gun time, synchronized with the start, but I started my watch a little later, when I crossed the starting line. Mainly I didn’t know how far I had to go. But it was slightly downhill, and the pain would be over sooner if I covered ground faster. I ran on. I imagined the pleading and justifications I might make if I were just a little late, hoping to get waved through, contrary to Laz’s reputation. Then I told myself I should focus on running instead of thinking of excuses for being late. Then I told myself to shut up, I was running, and needed something to take my mind off of that.

I passed some entrants walking; they courteously stepped to the side of the trail to let me by. I checked my watch at about 9 hours 20 minutes. I passed a guy lying flat on the side of the trail. “I’m okay” he groaned, not very convincingly. I ran on.

I heard voices up ahead. My watch showed 9:27. I ran on. The voices continued, but I didn’t see anything. I glanced at my watch again and saw 9:29:57. I ran on.

When I turned the last corner and saw the small crowd, I knew I was late, but pretended not to. I let out a whoop and bounded straight up to the RD and said “Great to see you Laz! Where do I get my bib punched?”

Laz replied calmly: “It’s marathon time.”

“Laz, I ran all the way down from the tower. I’m feeling great, you gotta let me go on.” He said I was three and a half minutes past the cutoff. I told him I could make that up in the next mile. I began remonstrating with propaganda prepared on the way. “Laz, I ran when I wanted to walk.” Some people around chuckled, recognizing the language Laz used in e-mail messages sent ahead of the event, vaguely threatening, but not really, but yes kind of. “I gave up a chunk of my soul on Rat Jaw.”

Laz wasn’t budging. Someone told me he had already cut off five other runners, dashing any hopes I had of an exemption. This was a lie, only one runner missed the deadline ahead of me, but he missed it by 9.8 seconds and was still cut off.

I stood rooted for a few minutes, staring up at the treetops to keep my nasolacrimal ducts clear, though I was too dried up to need to bother. I hunted down my drop bag, picked it up and started hiking to the finish, giving Laz an awkward fist-bump/high-five hybrid as I passed.

Later it would occur to me that I ought to have asked Laz if I was required to proceed directly to the finish, or if I could perhaps dawdle around a bit and maybe take a detour past Chimney Top on my way to the finish, staying on the marked course. He might not have DQ’d me, but I wasn’t going to get the Croix and have doubts as to whether I could have completed the full course, even with the additional 3 hours 50 minutes allotted for the last leg. I was spent.

Eighteen runners were awarded the drop-down marathon finish ahead of me; all but one were qualified to continue for the 50K but declined. Of 324 starters, 73 suffered DNF, 132 finished the drop-down, and 119 completed the full distance, including Leonard, who finished with eight minutes to spare.

I got another dog tag, which I’ll keep at the very bottom of my sack of race trinkets so I don’t have to see it often. But I don’t mind looking at the record of progress recorded on my bib. Each checkpoint had a punch in the shape of a different letter, to spell out a message compatible with the year’s theme of scaling the prison wall. I didn’t complete that theme, but my bib spells out the theme and symbol of my day in the Tennessee mountains, i.e., S-Cap.

BFC_2016_bib

Achieving DNF at Barkley

It was 6:59 a.m. on a warm September Saturday in Frozen Head State Park when I began the Barkley Fall Classic, the first running event I ever started that I did not finish. The letters DNF are often considered a badge of shame among runners, but I’ve come to believe that if you never fail, you’ll never find your limits.

We set off at the ceremonial lighting of a cigarette by Lazarus Lake, the race director notorious for devious and cruel events designed to break the will of the most hardened runners.

BFC1_laz_lights

Laz is the man behind the infamous Barkley Marathons, held in the same mountains near Wartburg, Tennessee. According to race lore, he was unimpressed by the eight miles covered in 55 hours by escaped prisoner James Earl Ray. He mapped a course in the mountains around Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary and challenged entrants to complete the circuit five times, for a total of about a hundred miles, with a twelve hour limit for each loop. Many years no one finishes. Recognition is offered for a lite version, the “fun run,” which consists of three loops.

“The Race That Eats Its Young” is therefore an unrealistic prospect for rational creatures, even those foolish enough to think that the word “marathon” is improved by the prefix “ultra.”

So Laz launched a baby version of the Barkley, the 50K Fall Classic. This requires a single transit of a Barkley-like course, with a seemingly generous time limit of 13 hours 20 minutes. (I am a dedicated back-of-the-pack trail runner, and needed 6½ hours to finish a Virginia 50K on a hot summer day.) As an added sop, a “drop-down” option of a “marathon finish” is available to those who complete the first 22 miles within 9.5 hours. Shortcuts back to the finish, termed “Quitter’s Roads,” are conveniently indicated along the way for those who decide to bail out early. (The 2015 results would show 101 finishers of the 50K, 69 who took the the drop-down option, and 44 DNFs.)

My strategy was to stick close to the heels of Ray, who had completed the inaugural BFC the year before. He treasured his medal from that event, and was determined to pick up the rare and illustrious Croix de Barque offered for the first time to finishers of the 2015 Fall Classic. Ray would be familiar with several signature features of the course, which changes every year, and his report from 2014 included intel he gathered from Leonard, a power-hiking veteran of the real Barkley.

The sun rose as we began our climb from the start/finish area into the mountains. Ray told me to expect a lot of switchbacks, and the trail delivered them. There might have been some people running near the front, but everyone I could see was content to march up the zigzag trail at a steady pace. I got a stinging welcome from a yellow jacket along the way. As a kid I was terrified of bees and would get an allergic reaction to stings requiring Benedryl and hours of cartoons. Now I laughed the annoyance off, certain that a bee sting would soon be the least of my discomforts. The switchbacks were tiresome, but eventually we reached a crest and started jogging along. “That wasn’t so bad,” I thought, the first of many positive thoughts to be dashed that day. The climbing soon resumed, and it was an hour before I reached the real peak, after a climb of about 1600 feet. I calculate that it would take a typical escalator half an hour to gain that much elevation.

Down the other side we went and then some more ups and downs until I reached the first aid station about eight miles in, more than an hour ahead of the 4-hour cutoff. Laz is an old-school cross country runner and doesn’t go in for fancy signs and flag-waving volunteers directing traffic at every corner. GPS is prohibited, and runners are required to carry a compass and whistle along with a cloth topo map of the current year’s course, a closely-guarded secret until packets are distributed the night before. Nevertheless, I spotted several course markers along the way, though I suspect that some of them were meant to dishearten as much as assist.

BFC2_climb_ahead

A few more hours of running and hiking and we arrived at the first real horror, a feature the map described as a “scenic side trip” dubbed “Testicle Spectacle,” allegedly named by a Barkley victim who made the sign of the cross upon first witnessing what lay ahead. We were at the top of a power line right-of-way clearing that stretched steeply down into the valley. Wasted-looking humans wearing colorful synthetic fabrics, slick with sweat, were clambering out of the void. Going down was quite challenging, with a few short nearly vertical drops and longer dirt sections that could only be navigated by butt-sliding. We struggled to the bottom, got our bibs punched at the checkpoint, and turned around to march out, crawling on hands and knees where necessary.

BFC6_climbing_out

At some point my mind fused the identities of Lazarus Lake and Leonard Smalls, the Harley-riding villain of “Raising Arizona” played by Randall “Tex” Cobb. Ray would provide a reinterpreted description from the movie:

He was horrible. The lone race director of the apocalypse. A man with all the powers of Hell at his command. He could turn turn the day into night and lay to waste everything in his path. He was especially hard on the dilettantes – the untrained and the gentle runners. He left a scorched earth in his wake befouling even the sweet mountain breeze that whipped across his brow. I didn’t know where he came from or why. I didn’t know if he was dream or vision.

I dutifully crossed myself as I clambered up out of the valley and took a few minutes to regroup. There was a runner prone and getting some attention, probably in the early stages of heat exhaustion. Ray pointed out Leonard, the experienced power hiker, and I made a mental note of his appearance with his walking stick.

An entrant with a British accent asked me if I had any water to spare. I didn’t have a sanitary way to share water from my hydration pack so I declined, but kept an eye on him until we made the next aid station. It was at the bottom of the other side of the mountain, near the entrance to Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary.

BFC4_bushy_entrance

The prison was closed in 2009, and Laz had arranged for the course to go through it, passing the cell that once held James Earl Ray. There was a checkpoint in “The Hole,” a tiny cell in a pitch-black corridor. Runners clumped around anyone with a light and lined up to get their bibs punched.

BFC5_bushy_interior

The relative cool and shade was a relief, but the comforts of prison life did not last long. We were at a low point topographically, and would soon be at a low point spiritually. The Rat was just ahead, to be followed by the infamous Rat Jaw ascent.

Rat Jaw is the stuff of legends. It’s a steep climb, of course, but overgrown with saw briars. These are too tall to see over and do to exposed flesh what their name implies. There is no trail, and the way is vaguely indicated by a fallen power line and an unrelenting ascent to a fire tower at the top of the mountain.

To get to this attraction, we had to scale The Rat, a short but very steep exposed rocky outcropping. I put on my Harbor Freight oil change gloves to get a better grip on a steel cable that once supported a utility pole and hauled myself up. Under the sun it was very slow going.

I rejoined Ray at the base of Rat Jaw. I had some idea of what to expect based on his report. We plunged in, trying to pick out a path between the thorny bushes. The scratching was annoying, but the real irritation was the constant snagging on clothes and gear. My hat got snatched repeatedly and soon looked like it had been in a blender. We were making slow progress and at one point Ray stepped to one side and offered to let me break trail. Against my best judgment, I forged ahead, eager to take on the challenge.

Within 20 minutes I was up ahead but firmly stuck. In a half crouch I crept left and right but couldn’t find a way up. I couldn’t stand to get a look around and couldn’t sit to rest. Eventually I found something sort of flat to park my butt on and sat to drink some water and breathe. Between the tops of the briers I had a gorgeous view, all green hills. I shouted at Ray and added some oaths for good measure but didn’t hear anything back. For the first time, I was alone.

Really alone. Deep down I knew that by nightfall I would be resting in a clean bed, but for now I was exhausted, miserably hot, sucking tepid water from a rubber bag, scratched up and itchy, with no prospect of relief or forward progress. I passed a long dark half-hour of the soul, wondering how this was supposed to be fun and what I was doing in such a place. I didn’t care about finishing anything any more, I just wanted to be done with it.

There was only one thing to do: move on. After a while I found some beat-down paths and dragged myself along them, eventually finding my way to more of a cleared area that was still steep but showed signs of human passage. I kept climbing and finally found a proper trail. There were reassuring footprints so I hiked along a while until I walked through a spider web. That couldn’t be right, so I turned back the way I came, noticing that the prints were left by hiking boots, not running shoes. I thought about blowing my whistle, but wasn’t in danger and didn’t want to raise alarm. Continuing roughly upward, I encountered a wayward band of entrants and joined them.

It was a long hike up. I think Leonard must have passed ahead by this time. The last bit was another short vertical climb to a gravel road by the fire tower. I was spent and sat down to watch other people haul themselves up out of the forest.

Some volunteers were hanging around cheering people on and calling out directions to climbers below. I saw the power line and realized that it was the top of the right-of-way clearing that was choked with saw briars. I asked a volunteer if any runners came all the way up through the thorny bushes. “Yeah, the bloody ones,” he said. He told me he saw one guy slip and do a faceplant into the thorn bushes, letting out a daisy-cutter F-bomb.

Ray appeared and suggested that his race was probably over, it would be tough to make the time cutoff to qualify for the last section needed to get the full 50K distance. Some people were still running on, though. I felt numb and didn’t care one way or the other. I climbed the fire tower to the checkpoint at the top and took another breather. There was a body and a nice breeze. I enjoyed the view then climbed down and began the long slow hike toward the cutoff point.

BFC3_tower_body

Laz was there, making wisecracks about all the abandoned drop bags scattered around, wondering what they might fetch on eBay. There were lots of trekking poles. I was glad to know my ordeal was over, silently swearing I would never set foot in Tennessee again.

I asked Laz for a photo and he agreed to pose for my souvenir selfie. “This is for my lawyer,” I quipped, getting a chuckle out of the R.D. from Hell. I hung around a while longer, enjoying the banter between Laz and some volunteers and worn out runners, until I realized that I wasn’t done. It was another mile or two back to the start/finish before I could leave this place.

BFC7_with_laz

I walked along, now on a paved park road, dejected. I spotted the famous yellow gate that marks the start and finish of the real Barkley and stopped to take a photo, but I couldn’t find an angle that looked right. Eventually I realized it wasn’t the same gate. I walked on.

Sometimes runners would pass me, shuffling along like war wounded fleeing some atrocity. What’s the point of rushing, I thought. Then it occurred to me, they were still in the race, they had long since beat the cutoff and survived whatever trial by ordeal was on the last leg and were heading to a glorious finish. I goaded myself into a pained jog to maintain appearances.

At the finish, they didn’t check my bib for the missing punch but simply asked me how far I went. I got a dippy dog tag consolation prize for completing the “marathon” version. Failure is failure, but it was nice to get some recognition, and the official results included me as a finisher for the shorter distance.

I renewed my firm vow to never again make the mistake of taking part in such a foolish enterprise. I think I decided I was done with running altogether. It’s all kind of fuzzy now, as it’s been a year since the Barkley Fall Classic. Probably it will come back to me when I try my luck again in Tennessee this weekend.

15 × 50

Much was in my favor before the 2015 Bull Run Run 50 miler. I had survived the two previous years, giving me confidence of not only a finish but a lot of fun. I had been eating better and making more vegetarian choices for several months, leading to the unintended loss of a few pounds and a greater sense of well-being. And I had recently returned from a week in Paris, an ideal spot for carbo-loading. Jet lag had me asleep by 9 p.m. and up at 6 every morning during the week before the run. Friday I had four meals, followed by a dose of pizza Friday night at Ray’s place, topping off the tank.

I hoped these factors would compensate for my having run fewer than 25 miles during the previous three months. I hadn’t run more than ten miles in one go since the Canary in the Cave 25K+ five months earlier.

My “alpine style” success at that event led me to retreat from the siege mentality I had previously brought to Bull Run. I started with my utility belt lightly loaded with three or four gels and a half-full bottle of Gatorade. I knew I could survive the early miles in the cool morning without extra fluid.

Most important, I had a strategy. I reviewed my recorded pace data from prior finishes and saw wild changes in speed from mile to mile. 2014 was smoother than 2013, but it was clear that if I could avoid the egregiously slow miles of 20+ minutes and keep closer to my 15-minute target, it would be a big help, even if it meant giving up my occasional fast miles under 15.

BRR_charts

To achieve my steady pace goal, I determined to start slow, even more than I determined to start slow in 2014. I started among the back of the pack with Bruce, my teammate on the “Wheezing Geezers,” a gang of four we thought might have a chance of taking the slowest team prize, if not the most aged. (Our average age of 45 was barely over the average entrant age of 43.) I took it easy on the early miles, focused on chatting, walking the rises, and patiently waiting at the crowded stream crossings.

I came alongside Ken Swab, who I had greeted in the morning with Mark Zimmermann. Ken told me that Mark preferred a steady pace, while Ken followed the “fly and die” philosophy. That sounded like my usual style, to run when the legs had run in them, but I was trying to maintain discipline, often putting on the brakes during these early miles. (Ken’s report, Mark’s report)

Ken mentioned that he had studied his past data, and prepared a pace card with his target arrival times at various points of interest. I had done the same, but forgotten to bring the slip of paper along. I also forgot to tie my shoes — or rather I had intentionally tied them very sloppily to make sure I would tie them properly before the start. I paused to take care of this business, and also made frequent stops to relieve pressure from sipping Gatorade while not sweating. I told myself these slow miles would be so easy they wouldn’t count against me in the second half.

I spent a brief minute at the first aid station, continued on to the turnaround, and counted other runners to determine my position: 64 from the back, my slowest start by far. The plan was working, now it was time to get to work!

runner_late
photo by Bobby Gill

I caught up with veteran Frank Probst, and mentioned to him that our team had been DQ’d because of one no-show. Frank had earlier expressed surprise, or perhaps umbrage, that our team would dare to attempt to claim the “oldest team” designation. His team, Huffin and Puffins, would win easily with four finishers of average age 66.

I arrived at the start/finish aid station (mile 16) after three and a half hours, a pace of just over 13 minutes per mile. Close enough to 15. I considered dropping my belt, since the weather was perfect and I could maybe get by with just a bottle like the elite runners, but wanted to keep my pocket pharmacy of band-aids, Advil, salt tablets, and caffeine-laced gels. Maybe next year I will start without the belt and pick it up after 16.

After six hours I had covered the marathon distance, with an average pace a little over 14 minutes. This is a psychological halfway point, though it is a peculiar kind of pick-me-up to say “just another marathon now.” I knew it was much less than 26 more miles, but it was still too early to start counting down. I kept shooting for 15-minute miles, and was usually within a minute or two of my target. The White Loop was not as defeating as before, though very solitary. The archery range warning signs and the bangs and booms from nearby Fairfax Rod & Gun Club always provide incentive to move along.

By the time I reached the Do Loop after mile 30 I was still on my pace target and knew I would have a good finish if I could avoid mishaps. The weather was still fine, though warmer, and I didn’t mind the frequent ups and downs with the views over the water. It’s the last one-way section, and with no witnesses I dared to take my shirt off. It was a pleasant sensation and helped take my mind off the long climbs. Toward the end there was a group of three spectators watching what must be a fairly boring spectacle, and I made a show of channeling my annoyance at the constant elevation change by charging up a rise. I didn’t regret it as much as I expected to.

Decently attired again, I resumed the homeward stretch with just over a dozen miles to go. I knew the fastest runners were already finished, and I was happy to get more for my money by hanging out in the back of the pack. I covered a mile with a serious runner who claimed to hold an age-group record for the course, but had been slowed this year by surgery, maybe knee surgery (apparently just a few weeks earlier; a doctor had vetoed his plan to do a marathon the previous week).

I saw an impressive pair of calves ahead, but did not know it was Gary Knipling until I caught up and recognized his infectious smile and cheerful voice. We chatted a bit before I pressed ahead and joined another low-bib-number veteran. His modesty belied a considerable amount of experience running trails. He said he could not recall better weather for a BRR, and I later learned that he was tied with Frank for the record 23 finishes. He did not mention his celebrity status, but I noticed that volunteers would cheer and call his name as we approached an aid station. I snapped a quick photo of legendary Tom Green at the superhero-themed Wolf Run Shoals aid station.

BRR_Tom_Green

Be well, Tom!

I finished in 11:36:01. By the nominal distance, my pace was under 14 minutes per mile, but Runkeeper shows a GPS-based pace right on target.

BRR_2015_pace

Excel confirmed my steadier legs.

BRR_pace_131415

The organizers seem a little touchy about the distance: “We believe that our course is about 50 miles long. That is all current management of the event cares about.” But the course notes also point out that “Some of the hills on the course are gentle, a few are rather steep.” These elevations changes add distance, of course, as Science-based Running investigated.

I did my own experiment, and found that my iPhone 5 did not give me credit for climbing a 50-floor building, showing only 48 feet of climb. So there is definitely some unreported additional distance. When my Runkeeper record appeared, a friend commented: “Dude. For real? 46 miles?” I felt a little cheated too, but perhaps I saved by running the tangents.

Runkeeper Record

2014 BRR 50 report

2013 BRR 50 report

BRR_2015_finish_self

Alpine Style

The New River, along with two other Appalachian rivers, is among the oldest in the world. It is also the site of one of my oldest memories. My grandparents lived in South Charleston, West Virginia, and I remember long drives along highways and hilly byways for Christmas and Easter visits. One year we visited the New River Gorge Bridge, perhaps around the time construction was completed in 1977. My father took a slide photo which ended up in my collection.

nrg_bridge

So when Ray suggested the Canary in the Cave “25K+” trail run, and I saw that the course would finish with a long riverside approach to the bridge, I had to jump in. Ray reserved space at the Morris Harvey House, the top floor of which we would share with Peter, the speediest of the colleagues Ray cajoled into coming.

Canary in the Cave course map

The forecast was for a sunny and cold day, and we woke to 23°F and a dusting of snow on the ground. After chilling in the starting area, I got off to a fast start to warm up, finishing the first mile in 9:19, but soon found myself walking in a single-file conga line. But as the field spread out, I fell into a rhythm of consistent ten- and eleven-minute miles.

Going in to the race, the scorecard showed a lopsided 4-8 record against Ray, and that was counting a half-second photo finish victory at an earlier 5K. I had yet to win at a distance greater than ten miles. Ray was making the usual noises about injuries and lack of training, and I saw this as a desperate chance to begin to correct the 2-to-1 ratio on the scoreboard.

Despite my speedy start, I knew Ray would not be far behind, and I may have spotted him over my shoulder. As a PSYOPS tactic, I sped through the first aid station, hoping to appear stronger than I felt, grabbing only a paper cup of water. There were (false) rumors of inadequacy at the aid stations, including a shortage of cups, and I held on to that paper cup for the whole race, just in case. I was running alpine style, carrying only my phone and layered clothes, with hat and gloves. The outer layer came off early, and the event photographer captured my black with green accent ensemble, a photonegative of a Pamplona bull runner.

We continued along the ridge trails, struggling to pick steps through a layer of leaf debris and the snow. I kept to the middle of the path, trampled down by earlier runners, hoping to avoid invisible obstacles. Then, I fell.

Falling down must have been something my forebears got a lot of practice at, and the judges of fitness took notice. I don’t do it often, but I seem to be good at it. I don’t know how it started, but before I knew what was happening I had folded my knees to one side, rolled through on a thigh and hip, and splayed my arms ahead to sacrifice the more expendable joints on impact. I also heard myself emit a loud “puta madre” before landing, though I doubt it enhanced my survival chances. With an irrational concern for decorum, I bounced up right away, checking for witnesses while shaking the snow and leaf litter off, then continued on unharmed.

Ray appeared and said he had taken a tumble as well. He thought he was bruised, but the photographer captured evidence of a long thigh-scrape, a souvenir from the trail.

I got a compliment for bringing my own cup to Aid Station 2, but was too dull to come up with a better response than “Uh, it’s not heavy.” I took on some fluids, but it was still too cold to remove my hat so I wasn’t sweating much. I continued on, keeping up a fairly steady pace around 10-11 minutes. Then we started down the Craig Branch Trail, a gradual descent from the crest of the mountain. I had gotten ahead of Ray and was mostly unaccompanied through this section. It was a wide and flat road, stubbornly cut into the steep mountainside.

Trail runners speak of “runnable” terrain as wine drinkers use the term “drinkable” — something you might think goes without saying. This smooth road, padded with a layer of leaves, was like going down a slide. I knew Ray would be locomoting like a mofo through this section, so I pushed the pace, posting my fastest mile of 9:03 as I descended into the valley. Then there was a hairpin turn and we were finally heading back toward the finish, the New River to the right and the bridge a few miles ahead.

I was in a good zone and feeling strong, confident that I could make good time until the last two miles, where an arduous climb out of the valley was promised before the finish. I even paused to take a snapshot of an old mine entrance along the way.

I hit another aid station, presented my paper cup, and made a prepared quip about my “official Dixie Cup of the Canary in the Cave.” It was warming up a bit and I took off my hat. As I approached the climb out of the valley, a race official told me there was ice up ahead, and I said “Awesome, thanks!” imagining filling my cup with ice cubes. I’m not sure why that sounded appealing, since I wasn’t planning to improvise an ice pack for one achey joint or another. But ice cubes would have been preferable to the stream crossing ahead, slick with ice-covered jagged rocks.

The last climb begain at mile 15.5, with 25 kilometers done this would be the “plus” in the 25K+ event name. I started hiking up, pausing again for a self-portrait with bridge.

Before long I could hear my heart beating in my ears, and counted a 160 pulse, a tolerable level within my discomfort zone. It was about a mile and a half to gain 600 feet of elevation, costing me 17 minutes for my slowest mile. Coming out on top, I ran in a 3:22 finish and grabbed a quick shot with the RD wearing the gimme hat race premium, then jogged off to the parking lot.

finish

I found Peter sitting at a picnic table, looking pretty ragged — understandably so, after his finish in just over three hours. He gave me the car keys and I retrieved my jacket, then jogged back to the finish line to see Ray and the others come in. I had just enough time to pose with my prop, a briar pipe, when he came over the line. It took a while for anyone to get the joke, that the leaderboard uses an ASCII pipe symbol for each win. I recorded this score with a more suggestive mark.

canary_leaderboard_pipe

Barkley Fall Classic 2014

WARTBURG Tennessee, September 20 2014

Geoffrey Baker describes the Barkley Marathons thusly:

In the fringe world of ultra endurance sports, there is an outlier: The Barkley.

With 59,100 feet of climb and decent [sic] over 100 miles, it’s considered the most difficult endurance event on the planet. In its 25[+]-year history, only twelve [fourteen, as of this writing – RWH] men … have actually been able to finish the race. No woman has successfully completed more than sixty miles on the course.

The race has no website.

It is not on any race calendar.

The entry procedure is a well guarded mystery. Ask a veteran how to enter and you are likely to be sent down a rabbit hole.

The race director lives under an alias.

There are no manned aid stations. You must carry everything you need to survive “out there” including a map and compass (no GPS allowed) to navigate the course.There is no official race start time. The race begins when the Race Director decides to light his cigarette.

I did not run the Barkley Marathons.

But when “Lazarus Lake”, the evil genius who designed the Barkley course, announced earlier this year that he would be putting on the Barkley Fall* Classic – an easier, more traditional race held on much of the same terrain as the Barkley – I had no choice but to sign up.

The trip to Frozen Head State Park was long, some 500 miles from The Aerie. It was a pleasant drive through the mountains surrounding I-81, though. The weather was turning ahead of the leaves. The traffic was not too bothersome, mostly big rigs carrying the nation’s lifeblood down one of its eastern arteries.

I arrived at the American Legion hall in Wartburg, Tennessee late Friday evening. I was a little unsure about which entrance packet pickup was behind, and I wandered around aimlessly for a bit until I heard a lady call out “Are you from Maryland?”

“Virginia,” I replied, confused until I remembered I was wearing my race shirt from the Rosaryville Off-road Half Marathon. It turned out that my new friend was from Annapolis. We chatted very briefly, then she directed me to the basement, where packets were being handed out.

Pickup was very smooth. An efficient volunteer handed me a bag and said “There’s a compass and an emergency whistle in here. Make sure you bring them tomorrow.” Uhhhh, dude. I might need a compass and an emergency whistle. Well, you paid for that kind of a race, why are you surprised when that’s what you got?

I rooted through the bag, and sure enough, there they were. I had stolen The Boss’s large capacity race vest and had plenty of room for these items, so I made a mental note to stow them in the vest when I got back to the hotel.

The rest of the night was uneventful. I went to the hotel, called The Boss, prepared my gear, took a shower, and headed to bed early.

I was back at the AL hall at 0500 the next morning for the pancake breakfast. It was good. When I was about halfway finished eating, K. from Annapolis hailed me with a hearty “Virginia!” We chatted a little about DC area commutes – We are both pretty fortunate by area standards; I get to my office by bicycle and train, she by foot – and about the race.

We were soon joined by B., who as a local had solid experience on the Frozen Head trails. We picked his brain as best we could, then we all wished each other well and headed out for the short drive to the park.

It was dark at the start area. I texted The Boss that I was safely on site, then set about making sure my gear was ready, shoes were tied, etc. I repeated these last steps over and over; aside from my regular OCD, I knew I’d need to give myself every possible advantage if I wanted to finish.

The race is a nominal 50 km, with a cutoff time of 13 hours, 20 minutes. That alone should give you an idea of the difficulty. You also have to figure in, though, the course designer’s cruel penchant for lowballing mileage. The actual race ended up being somewhere north of 35 miles.

There were echoes of the real Barkley at the start. Laz blew the conch at 0600, indicating one hour until the scheduled 0700 start. At the true Barkley, the start time is unknown until the conch blows.

We made our way over to the starting area, some 250 nutjobs awaiting the lighting of Laz’s cigarette, which would start the race. I looked around and saw several people I recognized only from getting to know them online through the ultramarathon mailing list I subscribe to: Dan B., Keith D., Joe F.

Joe, an outstanding runner in multiday events, was there to observe and volunteer. Dan is over 80 years old and holds the record for the worst performance ever at the real Barkley – something like 8 miles in 36 hours. Today he would turn back at the top of the first climb and only get 10k or so in. Still, he won his age group.

And then we were off. I was in the back, so I only learned we’d started by the motion of the runners around me. Suddenly we were running down the road towards the fabled yellow gate, and even though it was only the Baby Barkley, still, I was there. As I crossed the start line I followed the example of runners ahead of me and gave Laz a clumsy handslap.

The road was easy. Maybe a mile of it until we reached the yellow gate. Our path took us off to the left side of it, but some runners could not refrain from quickly going over to lay a reverent hand on it. Pffft. Fanboys. I just ran on.
The fabled yellow gate

Very soon we were climbing the first set of switchbacks. They were long. Like, real long, but not as steep as I’d feared, and not terribly technical. I settled into a pretty good hiking rhythm, just keeping my place in the conga line. Very occasionally someone would zip past or fall back, but mainly we all held our places.

Bib numbers had been assigned in rough order of ultrasignup rank. Mine was 243, near the bottom. I quickly took an interest in finding runners with numbers near mine, in hopes that they might set a pace I felt comfortable with. I noted one participant a few positions ahead of me in the conga line whose number was 248, and resolved to stay near him.

We continued up the switchbacks. My shoes were a half size too large, and they were loose. Near the top of this first climb I was ascending a particularly steep, winding section, and my foot somehow came out of my shoe, which then proceeded to start to tumble away from me down the mountain. Averting disaster, I turned and snatched it up. I lost only a few seconds sitting on a rock and replacing it.

Then a long descent. It was reasonably technical, but not too bad. My splits show that I was slow here – some 18 minutes per mile. Then another long, grinding series of uphill switchbacks.

Maybe two-thirds of the way up this section I heard someone near me call out “Sniper!” I looked ahead and there was David Snipes, a fixture at VHTRC events around my local Northern Virginia. He was hiking alone up the switchbacks, and the group I was with was slowly gaining on him. As we reeled him in, and one-by-one passed him, he was looking at us with mock indignation. “Really? Really?

“Can I get by? Thanks, buddy,” I said as I passed him. Then a beat later he called after our departing queue “How y’all doin’ – Kilians?” I was later very sorry to see that David was in the one fourth or so of starters who failed to finish.

Soon we found ourselves at the first aid station, mile 8 or so. The volunteers were local high school athletes, earnest and eager to help. I got some calories in me and headed out, feeling pretty good. There were not many runners behind me at this point, but there were some. I felt like this first segment was not as difficult as I had feared it would be – I had taken the Baby Barkley’s first punch and was still in the fight.

Then there was a long, rolling section along Frozen Head’s North Boundary Trail. After a while we came to one of the colorfully-named landmarks from the true Barkley, Son of a Bitch Ditch. It really wasn’t that bad. Down, across, and up. Then nearly as far as The Garden Spot before we took a right and headed down Coffin Springs Trail, then onto some jeep road on the way to AS 2.

On this jeep road section I caught up to #248, whom I’d targeted earlier. It turned out he was from Fairfax, Virginia, just down the road from my home in Manassas. We chatted a little bit, both of us expressing some desire to drop at AS 4, which was a short walk from the finish area, then I got up ahead a ways.

Carl L., a veteran of many attempts at the true Barkley was one of those manning AS 2. As the group I was with arrived he was saying something to the effect of “Y’all are OK on time now, but you don’t want to fall any further back.” I thanked him for this advice, and for his assistance, and headed on out towards Fodderstack.

This out-and-back section was some three miles each way, and mostly jeep roads. Not far into it I saw Leonard M. coming up behind me. I knew his name as another true Barkley veteran – he even has a hill on the course named after him – and I recognized him from my DNF at this year’s MMT, when Caroline W. greeted him at the aid station where I had dropped.

“You’re Leonard, right?” I asked him, and he graciously allowed as he was. I introduced myself, and he was very willing to grant me his mentorship. Leonard had a great deal of facts and figures about the rest of the course, and how fast we could expect to complete each segment. He seemed to do very little, if any, running, depending instead on a metronomically consistent power hike. The terrain was pretty easy around here, so eventually I decided I should run a little and get up ahead. Leonard would have no trouble catching me when things got steeper and more technical.

At one point the jeep road crossed a somewhat larger road, and there was a gate separating the two. There was no good way to get around this gate – I don’t remember why now, must have been rocks or something on either side – and so we had the choice of up or under. My legs groaned in protest as I ducked under, and I remarked to someone near me that getting past this gate was the hardest part of the course. I was wrong of course; I’d have to go under it again on the way back with even more wear on my legs. And even that was not the worst – Rat Jaw was still looming.

This out and back was a good opportunity to see who was ahead of me and who was behind. There were, of course, far more of the former than the latter. I remarked more than once to runners heading outbound with me that there were a lot of low bib numbers coming towards us hung on wasted-looking runners.

Near the top of the jeep road I thought I heard someone call my name. It confused me for a moment until I realized it must have been B., from breakfast. He was heading back inbound with a small group. He looked strong.

I chatted briefly with a tall, older racer here. I thought he may have been Ed Furtaw, many time true Barkley participant and friend of Laz, but apparently he was not. We both complained about the hills a little bit, and then I said something like “Well, we all knew what we were getting into when we signed up.” “Not me,” he said, “I’m from Iowa.” I laughed a little bit, then eventually power hiked ahead.

Soon there was a turnoff onto trail. I asked someone coming towards me how far the turnaround was, and she said about a half mile. This was not terribly inaccurate. The trail was steep, but not too technical. Most people coming the other way were running. After what seemed like a long slog I finally saw the sign for the turnaround up ahead. I made sure to walk all the way past it, impulsively kicked the back of it, then headed back down the trail at a mild jog.

There were more people behind me than I expected to see. I saw Leonard very soon after turning around. Then not far after that I saw the fake Ed Furtaw, and I impishly told him “just a mile to the turnaround!” I doubt he was fooled. Number 248 was hanging in, not too far down the trail. There was a fairly steady stream of people approaching me for a mile or so after the turn.

I finally saw K. from Annapolis, but she was way behind. Maybe a mile and a half from the turn. She said she’d gotten turned around after AS 2, and found herself on Rat Jaw before realizing she’d gone astray. She would have to push hard to make the cutoffs, and in fact I regret to say she wound up among the DNFs.

A couple miles further on and it was time for Rat Jaw.

Rat Jaw is one of the true Barkley’s signature climbs. It’s nearly a mile of mostly 40% grade through a field of saw briars grown over your head. This is not hyperbole. It really is nearly a mile of mostly 40% grade through a field of saw briars grown over your head. There were several runners paused at the bottom, preparing their anti-briar methods: Duct tape, calf sleeves, heavy gloves, etc. I rested a moment, relaced my shoes, then dived in.

It was tough. The temperature was up to some 80+ degrees, or at least felt like it. In the first section the briars were formed into a kind of tunnel system. We had to duck down and crawl up through them while trying to find footholds in the crumbly soil. a few times I started to fall back, and had nothing to grab onto except palm-shredding briar plants. It was a hot, sweaty, scratchy slog. At one point the tunnels ended and the plants became more upright. Around here there was a downed power line that people were using to haul themselves up the monstrous hill. Eventually we came out to a kind of plateau.

It looked like the top was near, but there was no beaten path through the briars. I wound up following a guy who claimed to have some experience at the true Barkley. He led a little group over to the left into the woods, and I followed. This group would wind up fracturing a few times. Each time some would go farther into the woods and some would turn back. I was always in the group that turned back – I felt like the true path should go through the briars as much as possible, so I didn’t want to stray too far from that briar patch.

Eventually we came back to Rat Jaw proper not far from where we left it. After struggling a short distance up the hill we saw the fire tower at the top, and knew we were near the end.

Finally we popped out of the briars, and the course markings directed us up the fire tower. Leonard was here, having used his Barkley skills to somehow get ahead of me on Rat Jaw. I climbed the fire tower and got a mark on my bib from the volunteers at the top. Then it was back down and a short run down a jeep road to AS 3 (the same station as AS 2).

Rat Jaw souvenirs

Rat Jaw souvenirs

Carl L. was still here. I advised him that my group had gone a little astray back on Rat Jaw, but he said it was OK as long as we generally followed the course and did our best to stick to the intended route. He did say, though, that several people had gone seriously wrong on that climb and wound up coming into the AS from the wrong direction. He had told them they’d have to go back and do it right. Apparently only one runner acceded to this plan; the others said “Nah, bro,” and continued on. Carl had gotten their bib numbers, though, and he said they were DQed. I hoped they were not the cells that fractured off from our group.

From here to AS 4 was some easy running – 4 miles of lovely downhill down North Old Mac trail. I was feeling a little wiped at this point, and I wasn’t sure I would have the sack to continue on when I got to the aid station. AS 4 is less than a mile from the finish, but there is another 10 mile loop to do once you get there. I told myself “All you have to do is start down that loop when you get there. If you start, you will continue.” The time cutoff for AS 4 was nine and a half hours. I was pretty safe to make this time, but there was some tough trail in the next segment, if I didn’t drop.

I was making pretty slow time on this easy trail until someone came up behind me keeping a measured running pace. “I’m Terri,” she said, passing me, “excuse me if I fart.”

“That’s OK,” I replied, “it wouldn’t be the first time today. And, to be frank, it would restore a certain karmic balance.”

She laughed, then I asked “Are you Terri D.?” and she allowed as she was. I recognized her as the wife of the race director. I asked her if she minded if I paced with her for a while, and she kindly agreed. We enjoyed some conversation, then caught up with Leonard near the aid station. He was, of course, hiking, so I slowed to chat with him for a while and pick his brain about the final loop. Eventually he told me that I was walking too slow, and I should run or let him pass. I chose the former and hustled to catch up with Terri before the AS.

Laz was manning this AS and chuckling at us poor lost souls. I was just a couple minutes over nine hours here, some 25 miles in, so I had plenty of time to go on. “Are you going to continue?” Laz asked with a grin. “Darn right I am!” and out I headed. My strategy turned out to have been sound – once I got just a few meters down the trail it was unthinkable to turn back. Very soon, though, the final climb was looming.

Terri had told me that we were facing seven miles of climb. Laz had said that it was five miles to the next aid station, but Laz lies. The truth, I figured, was somewhere in between. Chimney Top is not a seven mile climb, it turns out, but it feels like one.

It is just unrelenting. Switchbacks upon switchbacks, punctuated by short, sharp ups. It doesn’t end, but at least it’s not too steep. Well, until you get to the last mile or so. That’s pretty steep.

I usually do OK on heavy climbs. Today, though, I was about done in. Once we hit that über-steep trail to the summit my heart rate would skyrocket whenever I took more than 20 steps or so without resting. So I took the hill 20 steps at a time, punctuated by 20 – 30 second rests leaning back against tree trunks. I had dropped Leonard and Terri at AS 4, but they both passed me before I made it to the summit, Leonard at his rock steady pace, and Terri doing a marginally faster version of my walk-rest-walk pattern.

Finally, the summit. The trail turned down and I was pretty sure I had a finish in the bag.

AS 5 turned out to be 6 miles from the previous aid station. Not too bad for Laz miles. Here I met Mike D., another mainstay of the true Barkley. He told us it was 3.5 miles to the finish, and I regret to say that I did not receive this news as graciously as I should have. “Is that an honest 3.5 miles?” I asked, “Because they’ve been stretching the truth all day.”

“It’s 3.5 – I don’t lie,” he firmly replied, and I went so far as to ask his name (I didn’t know it at the time) so that I could curse it later, should the finish be farther than advertised. Mike, I would like to offer you my most humble and abject apologies – the distance was just as you said.

I left this aid station in the company of two young ladies, who would accompany me until we reached the trailhead. This section was a little bit of a death march. It was easy downhill, but we were not doing much running. I learned that one of my companions, M., had chosen this race as her first ultra. “That’s … uhh … psychotic,” I said.

“No, that’s badass,” T. corrected me. “Ah, yes. That’s what I meant.”

When we got down to a mile to go to the trailhead, per Mike’s promised 3.5, T. started frequently asking me for updates on our remaining distance. “I’ll tell you when we’re down to half a mile,” I told her. She replied “OK”, but still couldn’t keep from asking for updates now and then.

“Half a mile to go.” “Woot!”

“A quarter mile.”

“There’s a sign.”

“There’s the trailhead. And there’s Laz.”

He was waiting for the last few finishers to come through. It was nearly dark, but we didn’t have our lights out – the finish was just a few tenths down the road. I let the girls get up ahead and walked over to shake Laz’s hand.

“I hate you so, so much,” I told him, and he laughed. I doubt there was anything I could have said that would have made him happier.

The girls were fast on the road. They declared their intention to wait for me and finish together, but I insisted that they go on ahead. “I want my DFL,” I told them (I would proceed to fail in this aim – there were some eight official finishers behind me).

I knew I would easily make the 13:20 cutoff, but as I neared the finish area I realized that I could do a little better – 13 hours was quite achievable.

I broke into a shambling parody of a jog up to the turn leading to the finish line, whereupon I broke into a pathetic attempt at a sprint. There were loud cheers, which I welcomed. I crossed the line in 12:56:16 – a personal worst at the 50k distance** by some five hours, and a time of which I am very proud. Anybody who wants to tell me that’s slow had better run it themselves first.

I watched the last few finishers come in, then headed out in search of much needed food. Before leaving I saw Leonard and thanked him for his help out on the trail.

I stopped and ate some fast food, went back to the hotel, called The Boss to let her know I was alive, took a shower, then crashed hard.

The drive back to Manassas was pleasant. Autumn was finally in the air, and satisfying memories of an ambitious goal achieved carried me home.

Humble and sincere thanks are due to the following people:

  • Terri D. for pulling me down North Old Mac. I’d’ve had a much harder time making the cutoff had I kept at my own leisurely pace on that section of trail.
  • Steve D. for directing the race, and giving us all the chance to experience a taste of the Barkley course and achieve something epic.
  • Carl L., Mike D., and all the other volunteers for making the whole thing possible. No way I was getting around that course without aid.
  • Leonard M. for his kind and patient mentorship.
  • Everyone else I shared a word with before the race or on the trail.
  • Lazarus Lake for recognizing that people will rise to the challenge they are presented with, and for presenting us so many challenges to rise to. Thanks, Laz. Thank you, man.

You may also enjoy this report from Kimberly D., another BOP finisher (but at least she beat me).

*Even this is obfuscation and misdirection. The race was held in the final days of Summer, 2014.

**Actually more like 36 miles, with some 12,380 feet of elevation gain

Miles this race: 31 (officially)
Miles raced this year: 241.9

North Face Endurance Challenge 50K

My first official events were a 5K in 2010 and the Marine Corps Marathon in 2011. Gradually I filled in most of the intermediate metric and statute distances and then added a 50-mile trail event after noticing that, in contrast to pounding pavement, trail running is actually fun, so it makes sense to get more for your registration money.

I was missing a 50K. In addition to doing this “marathon plus 5K and change” distance for the first time, I would be doing my first event during the warmer months, making the heat an intimidating factor. The June 7 forecast called for a high of 84 degrees (29°C). These uncertainties led me to predict a pretty wide spread in my probable outcomes:

5%: DNS
10%: < 7 hours
30%: 7-8 hours
30%: 8-9 hours
10%: > 9 hours
15%: DNF

I thought it wise to carry a water pack, but wasn’t patient enough to wait for an online order. I ended up grabbing a CamelBak Sabre with a two-liter bladder at a military supply shop. I gave it a test drive on a run home from work, about nine miles, feeling a little silly since it was cool and raining. (To complete the image, I was carrying my umbrella, which I thought I might need in the morning.) Two liters did not seem too inconvenient at first, but after going up a long rise I started to notice the weight. I decided to start the 50K with the bag about half full and refill it as necessary.

The weather was great Saturday morning, and I actually felt cold on the drive out to Sterling, making a mental note of the sensation. I was at the parking area early and got some intel from veterans on the shuttle bus. The couple in front of me had done this course and Bull Run Run before and were fans of both. The guy next to me was doing his first 50K and seemed hungry for advice as his experienced running buddy had bailed out.

At the start/finish, I had 45 minutes before the 7 a.m. start to apply sunblock, adjust gear, and drop my bag. I decided to go without bug spray, figuring I should be outrunning them. I carried two caffeinated gels, three or four each of salt capsules and Advil, and a little medkit with Band-Aids and tissues. I was looking forward to a long run with empty hands and no belt.

I saw Robin and her crew; she invited me to their post-finish picnic. I told her of my eight-hour target time and said she didn’t have to wait around, but they were planning to stay and watch people come in from the 50-mile event that had started at 5 a.m.

With my gear sorted, the only remaining duty was Job Number Two: elimination. This is often a challenge so early in the morning, even with a salutary coffee. Focus, determination, and a positive attitude produced the desired output in the end.

And then we were off! I started in Wave 3 at about 7:05, my wave no doubt determined by the back-of-the-pack 8-hour finish estimate I provided during registration. Even eight hours seemed a bit optimistic; I had finished the Bull Run Run behind 77% of other finishers, while at last year’s North Face 50K 72% of finishers took less than eight hours.

I was near the front of my group and soon ran into the rear of Wave 2. The early miles were on a very narrow trail with few opportunities to pass. And because of crowding at obstacles the pace was frequently slow. Thinking I would race smarter, not harder, I found I could walk several paces at a time without losing ground to the runner in front of me. More than once I walked quickly for at least half a minute while everyone around me was running at the same speed.

I found myself behind a guy wearing a shirt with a NPS logo with some Latin on it that I couldn’t make out. He executed some daring passes, bounding through underbrush on the sides of the path, and I kept up with him. We made some small talk about his school and running on the west coast, then he made some more passes and faded ahead.

Somewhere near two miles out, we approached what looked like an old stone house. But as we passed, I saw it was a cinderblock structure under construction with stone walls that had been half completed. I decided that would be a good reminder to kick for the home stretch.

Before long we were running alongside the Potomac. This was the part of the river I had played and paddled in as a kid, though I doubt I ever saw more than a mile of the shoreline in a day. It was sometimes muddy but fairly flat as we approached Riverbend Park. The trail opened up and I made good time, trying to cover some miles in the cool morning and make up for the early walking.

Crude plank bridges spanned most of the streams that were still swollen from recent rains, but one crossing was a major obstacle. I noticed a backup while approaching and surveyed the scene while walking up. People were clambering across a thin fallen tree, getting little support from a climbing rope that had been strung parallel to the makeshift bridge. The stream was too wide to jump over and too deep to cross without getting at least one foot soaked, an invitation for blisters later.

I took my spot in line behind a young guy who was making what seemed rather delicate, whining noises about his shoes. He managed to get across without spoiling his footwear, then within ten steps slipped in the mud and executed a full-body splat into the soft brown earth. The sound was exactly the same as that of a body impacting terrain on Saturday morning cartoons. It was all I could do to postpone my grin until I had made sure that he was okay and passed ahead.

mile / minutes
1 / 13:02
2 / 9:33
3 / 10:45
4 / 11:34
5 / 13:05
6 / 12:25
7 / 11:02
8 / 10:18
9 / 13:55
10 / 10:11

I passed a group of four young guys who had stopped to roll around in the mud and apply it to their faces. I tried to think of a “Predator” reference but came up blank.

A bit farther along I was chugging along a gravel road and some runners in the woods to my right caught my eye. I spotted one of the day’s innumerable arrow signs pointing out a hard right onto the trail and made the turn and heard someone say “oops” behind me. The runner thanked me for saving him from missing the turn and we chatted a while, mostly about nutrition on long runs. He was experienced at long distances but was doing this event for the first time. I mentioned that I usually pop an Advil or two in the second half. I don’t notice that they make me feel any different, but still seem to get a performance boost. “Placebo ergo volvo” came to mind, but I didn’t say it because the tenses were all wrong. Alan told me he was shooting for six hours, and shortly after I told him my target was eight hours, he bade a kind farewell and advanced ahead. We crossed paths once or twice more with a wave and a smile. I think it was Alan Kusakabe; if so he met his goal with a finish in 5:40:56.

The hills began in Great Falls. I was expecting three good climbs, twice each, on the out and back course, but only remember two significant efforts, and only one of them as heartbreaking as the rises that come regularly at Bull Run. The aid stations were welcome breaks, though I had been told to expect rather less than the five-star buffets I had been spoiled by on the BRR 50. Sometimes I found my staple, PB&J sandwich quarters, sometimes I found a jar of peanut butter and some bread scraps. I was conserving my last remaining salt capsules, and took advantage of the “french unfries” I found at most stops. These were chunks of cold, boiled potato served in plastic baggies. Grab a few and drag them through the plate of salt and wash it down with whatever brightly-colored fluid is on offer. Sometimes it was just a can of Morton’s Iodized to dump into your hand with the potato, but the main thing was to get salt in.

At an early aid station I heard a familiar voice calling out bib numbers and recognized my neighbor G. I stopped for an extra minute to chat, while stuffing nutrients and minerals in, and asked if his wife Blair was running. He reminded me that she was five months pregnant and suggested that she is “retired,” but I don’t believe that simply having a kid is an effective cure for this hobby.

Before I knew it I was cruising through the scenic paths in Great Falls Park. I refilled my water pack and wondered how well the runners were faring that were carrying only a handheld bottle. It was warm out but the trail was almost completely shaded and largely level. I came up to a stop where a race official inscribed another checkpoint glyph on my bib. Beyond them was a nearly vertical rocky climb. “Now we go up?” I asked, pointing. No, it was the turnaround point, I was already halfway done and it was just past 10 a.m.

Confident of a finish and a PR, I hadn’t been calculating a finish time, but now realized that the first half had taken me just over three hours. I was feeling good and wondered if six hours was a remote possibility. But I also knew I had started out too fast and would undoubtably slow down in the second half. I saw the Predator guys less than a mile from the turnaround and decided that my only absolute goal was to finish before them.

I overheard a couple chatting behind me, the older guy advising the young lady on what to expect. He said there was some technical rock-hopping ahead, but it was beautiful and his favorite part of the course. I thought I wouldn’t mind an excuse to slow down a bit. We climbed some and came out on a ridge and enjoyed beautiful vistas into the gorge and islands and the water below. I walked and gawked a bit and made a mental note to come again sometime when the clock wasn’t ticking.

mile / minutes
11 / 11:17
12 / 11:04
13 / 11:34
14 / 12:26
15 / 11:26
16 / 12:58
17 / 13:16
18 / 13:04
19 / 14:58
20 / 14:02

We were on the home stretch, and I heard more than one person remark on the psychological benefit of taking steps toward the finish rather than away. I saved a second runner who cruised past a turn, shouting to her to be heard over headphones. I had started into my salt capsule supply and taken my second gel with caffeine. I picked up two more from an aid station, each loaded with 50mg of the wonder drug. All together it was the equivalent of a large coffee and gave a welcome boost. It was time to get to work and grind out the long flat miles, no excuses, knowing that Team Predator was on my heels. I leapfrogged with a very disciplined black jersey with a big white H on the back. I passed him on a pee stop and he passed me again. I passed him at an AS and he passed me again. I kept him in sight for a long time but eventually lost him ahead, and didn’t get to thank him for pulling me along.

My water pack was definitely an asset, but when full it tended to ride up on my left side and rub into my neck. It would have ground down to the collarbone if I didn’t keep adjusting the strap and pulling my shirt up. Serves me right for getting the rugged military version instead of day-glo running kit. I took my last electrolyte capsule and sucked at the tube to wash it down; they always seem to go down sideways. I heard the disheartening sound of a straw at the bottom of an empty milkshake and barely managed to get enough fluid out of the pack to get the pill down. It was nearly a worst-case-scenario — hot and sweating and running, adding salt, and out of liquid — but I hit another aid station soon and had one last fillup and one last pee stop before the final stretch.

Six hours was unrealistic, but I was making good time and felt confident of making seven, well ahead of my target. I remembered 50K was about 32 miles but didn’t know if this course might measure long or short. Around the time my phone announced 26 miles, someone said we had four and a half to go. That would be a nice discount and was easy to believe but would prove a lie. We did the big climb again, me leaning over with my hands below my knees, or else levering each step with both hands on my thighs. This time I had to walk down the other side too. But as we got closer I thought I might make 6:30. The Predator guys were nowhere in sight.

I kept pushing, trying to run a little faster in the sunny stretches to get them done sooner. I started looking for the stone house after six hours, sure it was just ahead. Miles passed, a quarter-hour at a time. Finally we came up on an aid station and someone told us it was 1.6 miles to the finish. This was exceedingly welcome news. I blasted through the station without a pause and began bounding with long strides, no longer avoiding puddles. I kept this up for what felt like a mile. Where was that stone house?! Was the route different on the way back? Everyone in this section was pushing hard, but it wasn’t easy to tell who was who because of the simultaneous events. Bib color indicated who was in the 50-mile event, the 50K, the marathon, and the marathon relay. Some of the relay runners were just starting and ran like 5K sprinters. I obligingly moved to the side when runners came up from behind, and ran through nettles on the left while overtaking.

Finally, the stone house. I was gassed, but kept the steam on. Then the course turned onto exposed blacktop. The last mile was like running through a pizza oven. I saw many runners forced to walk at this point. I caught up to the NPS shirt and very gradually overtook him without a comment. For the next few minutes every spectator seemed to say “good job guys” and I knew NPS was about to pass me back, but it would be someone else. I did not look back for fear of seeing Predator. Someone said “almost there,” gallingly vague. Then someone said “300 meters.” I started counting my strides but lost count. Finally we came to the green lawn and the finish chute and I opened all the valves, sprinting on my toes for a proper showoff finish. I heard the announcer say my name but was cognizant of little else as inertia carried me over the line and toward the nearest source of shade. I stood puffing for a while until I felt confident that my stomach and legs would not betray me, then walked back to the finish line to collect a medal and my prize of a water bottle. It was hot and empty.

mile / minutes
21 / 12:25
22 / 13:22
23 / 14:13
24 / 17:14
25 / 11:30
26 / 12:11
27 / 18:04
28 / 16:00
29 / 14:35
30 / 15:20

It took another twenty minutes or so to stop sweating, while I sat on the ground and recharged my phone and sucked the last water from my pack. I found the picnic and watched other finishers come in. The joke of the day was that we 50K runners were distractions from the main event. At aid stations and the finish it would be a perfunctory “good job good job” to us blue bibs and then “here comes a 50-miler what do you need water here gatorade there!” when an orange bib showed up. I met G again and he bought me a second beer after my free one, which was plenty since it was going in almost like an IV.

I heard a lot of finishers complain of cramping. I saw the guy from the bus, he was stretched out flat and said cramps had really slowed him down. I remarked on his cold hand after a congratulatory shake and he said he was back from the ice bath. Salt intake not to be neglected.

Final time 6:34:06. Runkeeper captured 29 miles before the battery died.

209 of 442 finishers (behind 47% overall)
161 out of 284 among males (behind 56%)
36 out of 57 in my division (behind 61%)

A Journey of 80,000 Steps Begins with a Single Mile

Preparation

Last year’s Bull Run Run 50 Miler was my first, so I was careful not to make the rookie mistake of starting out too fast. Nor did I finish too fast. In 2013 I just beat the twelve-hour mark on my first ultra, and given the weather and my utter lack of training in 2014 (one impromptu 18-mile jog in February snow), my realistic goal this year was to do no worse. My hopeful goal was to attend the 6 p.m. award ceremony, and my conservative goal was again to avoid a DNF. This despite the wisdom I had since encountered on the value of “achieving” a DNF in order to explore one’s limits.

This wisdom, and much more, appears on the ^zhurnaly, the online repository of ^z = Mark Zimmermann, an indefatigable polymath who has enlightened me on such subjects as Bayesian probability, Frog and Toad, and quantum mechanics, and also inspired me with his reflections on far more diverse subjects in the deep Zhurnaly.

I again enjoyed the gracious hospitality of dear friends, staying at Chez Ray Friday night before the event. Last year Ray calmed my nerves with a showing of “The King of Masks” which features no long-distance running. This year we started with a friendly go match in which he spotted me a handicap of at least 13 stones; the board looked something like this:

Despite what I thought the proper strategy of ceding much of the board in order to reinforce and secure a couple of corners, I failed somehow to make life and eventually accepted a courtesy resignation offered before all my stones overflowed Ray’s bowl lid.

After the teaching game we watched a documentary on the Massanutten Mountain Trail 100, for which Ray qualified and has entered this year. The MMT is for those who find a mere double-marathon in the hills inadequate to achieve a DNF. The DVD depicted the 2006 event, in which Sim Jae Duk was the unexpected winner, setting a course record by finishing the race in less time than it took him to fly to the event (from South Korea, two days before the race, according to a New York Times profile).

Ray had invited me to join him at the MMT, but in the same spirit of generosity he showed at the go board, he would give me a 63.5-mile head start. I would meet him as a pacer for the back third of the course, an intimidating and challenging idea as much of this would be done after nightfall.

Overnight I sorted my supplies, collected using my inventory list from the year before.

2014_BRR_supplies

 

I brought:

  • a paperback
  • chia seeds
  • Starbucks poop inducer (ineffective)
  • gels
  • Clif Bars
  • wet wipes
  • medkit with athletic wrap, Body Glide, Vaseline, Chap Stick, and sunblock
  • towel
  • bandana (not used)
  • smartphone armband
  • my uniform: hat, tech shirt, swimming trunks, compression shorts, DryMax socks
  • (not shown) my cleaner pair of sneakers

My belt was loaded with one 22-ounce bottle and sundries like S-Caps, Advil, Band-Aids and a sleeping pill. This last item was not like the others, and I ended up using it late Friday night. I couldn’t sleep for what felt like an hour or two, though I didn’t dare look at my watch for fear of adding deadline pressure to my restless mind. I would have plenty more opportunity to struggle against the clock.

Outbound

My accommodations included a drop-off at the start (thanks, coach!) and we made our way through the dim early light to set out our drop bags and perform final preparations. Ray spotted ^z and we exchanged greetings and good wishes. Ray then went up to the starting area for some breakfast, while I hung back to bug Mark for a celebrity photo.

Before the start, I got one more photo but didn’t see any familiar faces among the 321 starters.

The first mile is a casual loop through the parking area, spreading out the field, with most people adopting a comfortable warmup pace. I joined in somewhere in the middle of the pack. It felt good to be moving, to get into the physical rhythm that the body understands. I was already thinking about pushing just a little harder than my leisurely start last year. It seemed a good idea, as the forecast called for temperatures as high as 70 (21°C), and the weather was perfect and cool at 6:30 a.m.

My biggest mistake in 2013 was lolling about far too long in aid stations, spending perhaps as much as an hour over the day idly stuffing my face with peanut butter and jelly sandwich quarters and chasing them down with Gatorade. This year I again used my watch to time the minutes I spent stopped, with an eye to improving my finish time without spending much extra effort. Runkeeper on my phone recorded my progress, with audible announcements of my time and distance every mile.

Somewhere along the first few miles, I heard a familiar voice behind me. I turned and saw the face of Gary Knipling, who seemed omnipresent at the 2006 MMT. “I saw you on TV last night!” I called back. “You wasted twenty bucks on that thing?” he replied. I introduced myself and we chatted a bit. The dialog was frequently interrupted by greetings from seemingly every other runner, who greeted Gary by name, and he responded in kind.

I made good on my hopes of an express pit stop at the first aid station near Mile 7, pausing for just one minute and 15 seconds to load in some food before moving on. I was concerned about pushing too hard so early, so I planned to determine my position in the crowd. Before long I saw the leaders coming back from the turnaround at Mile 9 and I began counting the runners ahead of me. I also watched out for the few entrants I knew, and managed to recognize and greet Bernard and Robin as they passed going the other direction.

I was quite surprised and confused on arriving at the turn to have counted about 135 people ahead of me. I clearly remembered that my position at this point the previous year was 92. I guessed that I wasn’t going as fast as I thought, but at least I was ahead of Ray, whom I had not seen yet. We crossed ways a little bit after the turn, and his exclamatory “Dude!” with elongated vowel and falling intonation (PDF) indicated that he also thought I was setting an aggressive pace. Eventually it occurred to me that I was 92 positions from the back last year.

mile / pace / elevation (ft)
1 / 10:38 / -42
2 / 10:55 / -101
3 / 10:23 / -17
4 / 11:09 / 59
5 / 12:27 / 46
6 / 11:58 / -51
7 / 12:12 / -62
8 / 12:54 / -9
9 / 10:41 / 29
10 / 10:36 / -2

This first section seemed casual and fun, like before. I noticed that I managed ten miles without serious thoughts of quitting, which seemed an accomplishment. Not being a first-timer made a considerable difference in my confidence. I made another short stop at the Centreville Road aid station heading back, and saw Ray enter as I was leaving. I was following the protocol I established last year of walking out with my hands full, and this time paused by a trash bag to down the last of a sandwich quarter and some liquid so I wouldn’t have to carry the cup. Ray had wasted no time snacking and joined me there.

We proceeded together a while, both revealing the intel that a more insistent pit stop would probably be required before the day was done. He gave an enthusiastic recommendation of the loo we would pass after Mile 16, at the start/finish where our drop bags were waiting, but I was wary of even going a little off course only to have to wait in line. When Ray suddenly fell silent and disappeared, I concluded that it was this duty and not a root that had awarded me the lead again.

He didn’t linger long, though, and pulled on ahead before we got to the drop bag stop. I then saw him there briefly as he slipped on fresh shoes and set out, looking strong. I tried to chug a lot of the water with chia seeds I had prepared in the morning and grabbed some more gels and two Clif Bars. I decided to leave my spare battery pack behind, making it a race between me and my phone to see which had more juice.

By now the warmth was beginning to tell, and I was finding it hard not to think about the magnitude of the physical task ahead. Another two or three hours would make it a marathon, yet it was still far too soon to start counting down miles to the finish. I alternated greeting other runners with a cheery “Good morning” and the hopeful witticism “Got it in the bag.” At some point I asked someone if it was still morning and was assured that it was. I did the math and concluded that it was not yet 10 a.m. We reached the soccer fields and I spotted a proper Porta Potty. Another 90 seconds on the stoppage clock and I was on my way again, lighter and more comfortable.

mile / pace / elevation (ft)
11 / 10:30 / -15
12 / 15:11 / 34
13 / 12:46 / -9
14 / 14:25 / 107
15 / 13:44 / -128
16 / 15:50 / 140
17 / 17:46 / -38
18 / 15:30 / -36
19 / 16:20 / -88
20 / 16:01 / 32

The middle fifth was the one I’d just as soon forget, and mostly did. I was still keeping to my promise of maintaining some kind of running gait over level ground most of the time, but with some cheating now and then. Somehow I managed not to worry about my speed very much, often not even paying attention to my phone’s time and distance announcements. I was usually low on fluid entering aid stations but never felt overheated or sick. I was confident of a finish, and the only motivational struggle was over the goal of beating my previous time.

I remembered the White Loop as a ruinous walk of 20-minute miles, and determined to do better this year. What I didn’t remember was that it is actually pretty hilly. But a chance encounter led to some conversation that helped the miles pass. I caught up to someone with a T-shirt from Le Marathon du Médoc: “le Marathon le plus long du monde.”

“So how long is the Médoc marathon?”

“Oh, it’s a regular marathon, it just seems long.”

“Is it because of the metric system?”

“No, it’s a standard 42 kilometers, but it’s like a big party. Every year there is a theme, and everyone dresses up in costume. When I was there, the theme was space. My buddy and I got some shirts with a steampunk motif, but a lot of people took it farther. There were robots, aliens, stormtroopers. A Chewbacca. I got a photo of a line of ten supermen before the start, all peeing. The aid stations are châteaux and they serve wine and cheese, everything. And I don’t mean a little sip of wine, you can get a whole glass if you want. People who usually finish in three or four hours take six or seven there. It’s great. Toward the end one of the châteaux was serving raw oysters. It was actually really good race food. Feel free to go on ahead if you want. Some of the costumes we couldn’t figure out what they were. We saw these guys running and pushing a giant bowl. They were all dressed up in yellow with red on their heads. We asked them if they were chickens. “Non, non, super shoe!” They didn’t speak any English, and we couldn’t figure it out, they kept saying “Super shoe!” After the race we asked our hosts if they knew what the Super Shoe was about, they didn’t know either. We came back home and tried to look it up. Asked friends and relatives. Nobody had any idea. Finally we found someone who recognized it. Soupe aux choux, it means cabbage soup, it was the name of a movie. It’s about these two old men who spend all day sitting on their porch getting drunk and farting. One day an alien comes and visits them and offers to take them back to his planet in exchange for their cabbage soup. But the men don’t want to go. The alien makes promises and gives them gold and says they can have whatever they want. One of them men asks for his wife back; she died long ago. So the alien brings the wife back to life, but she is still 20 years old and she immediately runs off with a young man to Paris. So the men continue drinking and farting on their porch. But eventually the town changes and becomes more developed and they don’t like it anymore. So they decide to go with the alien to his planet. It’s a well-known movie.”

Then he said something about having to “plant a seed” or “water a tree” and stopped, then later passed me and I lost sight of him ahead.

[Update: Ken Swab’s report from Médoc, including Supermen photo.]

mile / pace / elevation (ft)
21 / 20:14 / 17
22 / 18:05 / 41
23 / 17:32 / 81
24 / 17:21 / -104
25 / 20:57 / -21
26 / 17:04 / 81
27 / 19:04 / -17
28 / 17:28 / 25
29 / 15:31 / 7
30 / 17:48 / -71

How to carry two Clif Bars for 30 miles and despise them the whole time

It was a little farther on to the Do Loop, where I anticipated a popsicle at the aid station that greets runners before and after that circuit of grueling elevation change. Ray was on his way out as I arrived, some three miles behind him. The spark of competition had faded, but I was motivated by the approaching point at which the shortest way to get to the finish would be to go directly to the finish. There was a small line for a frozen treat but I didn’t mind waiting, using the time to drain some of my freshly-filled bottle to make space for more. They also had stacks of pizza boxes, but a hot greasy mess was the last thing I wanted to take with me. I strolled out with my popsicle and took the loop at its word; it was neither less nor more than anticipated.

On the way out I thought I should appreciate the pizza; it is really an amazing job that the volunteers do all day. I had run out of Gatorade by the time I came back so that was a priority, but I grabbed a couple of thin slices of pizza to go and worked on them as I walked out. I had been taking S-Caps every couple of hours but wondered if they would make me drink more. I had also taken an Advil by now and a caffeinated gel, hoping to spark another kick like the one that carried me in in 2013.

The kick was not as dramatic, but it came at a good time. The miles after the Do Loop are long, dull, and fairly flat. Since my fast start, I had been getting passed pretty regularly all day, but now I started pulling people in. Many of them were still running, but I managed to keep up a pace just fast enough to overtake, and each time I passed one there would be another runner in sight ahead to keep me going. I leapfrogged with a lady in an “Alaska” shirt several times, mainly thanks to her longer stays in the aid stations.

I ran low on fluid again, and applied the motorist’s ill logic of going even faster to the next station to get there before running dry. Seeing the “10 Miles to Hemlock” sign gave me almost as much of a boost as it did last year, when it seemed an impossible lifesaver.

By now walking was very little less unpleasant than running, so I continued to try and make time. I had started the race with a thin pair of Injinji toe socks under my trusty Drymax trail socks, but the toes of my right foot seemed cramped and I had removed the Injinji sock on that side. A root caught that foot pretty good, and I cut the corner off a turn demonstrating that most ungainly of human gaits, the pre-faceplant: hunched over, stomping and windmilling, but somehow managed not to fall down.

mile / pace / elevation (ft)
31 / 18:59 / 47
32 / 16:44 / -39
33 / 20:27 / 56
34 / 19:45 / 27
35 / 17:00 / -7
36 / 16:44 / -21
37 / 12:46 / -94
38 / 20:24 / 45
39 / 16:11 / 74
40 / 17:04 / -95

At some point my phone emitted a plaintive buzz and then ceased announcing my mile times. I was likewise pretty well used up but sensed that the job was going to get done. The aid stations were frequent and refreshing, with iced Gatorade tasting as good as something can taste. There were cold wet washcloths, also uncommonly pleasant. I would drape one over my head during the whole of my brief respites from forward progress, trying not to drip onto the doughnuts, chips and cookies spread out.

PBJ and Gatorade was not the only awkward combination made palatable by exertion. Pizza and popsicle went together surprisingly well. At a station toward the end I heard someone say there was coffee, and while waiting for a cup I spotted a tray of stuffed grape leaves, delicious-looking dolma. A volunteer said they were popular and I grabbed a serving, but it didn’t quite hit the spot. Washing it down with tepid black coffee didn’t help. I finished it off, though, and managed to get through the day with no tummy trouble. I hated the thought of those Clif Bars in my pocket though. I was afraid to throw them away for fear of regret, but they are hard enough to get down with a drink and I never had any desire to open them.

mile / pace / elevation (ft)
41 / 18:33 / -28
42 / 21:36 / -3
43 / 13:41 / 7
44 / 22:18 / 3

With no smartphone updates, I thought I might still be able to beat my previous time, but didn’t feel much urgency about it. Then I remembered that my stopwatch was also a watch. I switched it to clock mode, having timed just under 30 minutes spent not in motion since the start. I wasn’t sure how far I had to go, but it looked like I would finish well past 12 hours. I gave it a good push though, and only walked the incontrovertibly upward-sloping hills during the last miles.

The finish was no less sweet for having seen a “12” on the clock. I sprinted in the last stone’s throw for show, then gathered my loot and plugged my phone in to stop the recording and get a shot of ^z coming in. Among those who finished in both 2013 and 2014, he was one of the few who managed to improve his time this year. I was happy to see that I was only about 1% slower, a little better than the average change, and my overall average time was still just under half a day.

Coda

Probably I am not the only person who finds it difficult to give satisfying answers to the questions posed after an event like this. How could anything be worth that much effort and discomfort? After it’s done, it doesn’t seem like any effort at all. It is really just a matter of not doing one very specific thing from the time you start until the time you finish. After last year’s unlikely success, this time I never had serious thoughts of quitting. And another answer: were the things I did on the previous and following Saturdays worth the effort I put into them, now that I have forgotten what they were?

Maybe it is simplest to focus on the little pleasures. It’s one thing to extol the charms of a rag soaked in ice water. How much more appealing is the idea of spending hours in the woods, hardly ever hearing an engine or seeing a house. Being among people who are all in an improbably good mood. Absolutely no distraction from any thoughts of the outside world, just one single task upon which all attention is focused. And now and then you look up and see a stretch of gorgeous single-track smooth dirt path surrounded by wooded scenery.

I was immersed in this effortful reverie about 15 miles in, trying to experience the moments and not dwell on the challenges ahead. I happened to be on my own, just running through the forest. Suddenly there was a grand mechanical roar and an Amtrak train appeared, racing by on unseen tracks atop an embankment. Like something from a film, resplendent with power and momentum. Nothing more natural for that body than to keep moving. The image carried me through the day.

After the final chow of burgers and soda, the beginning of a couple of days in which food and liquid would disappear into some internal void, it was time to go home. I looked up directions on my phone, to avoid getting turned around in the dark, and headed out on the country roads. It was strangely exhilarating to travel with such speed and so little effort. To move while seated, a little miracle.

At a red light, I pulled up beside a car with IRUN100 vanity plates and bumper stickers to confirm that we were both coming from the same place. I tooted the horn.

She didn’t put her window down and gave me but a brief glance. “How was your race?” I said aloud, but mostly to myself as the driver stared straight ahead. This wouldn’t do, but I would have to double down before it got any better. I pulled out my finisher’s premium, a large beach towel, and honked again. She looked over, and I held the navy blue towel up, the full moon doing little to illuminate the dark lettering, and gestured at it. Hey, I’m the jerk in the car again, and I have a towel! Fortunately the message was received, she held her own towel up, we exchanged thumbs-up, and then I stared straight ahead until the light changed.

The drive home was 24.7 miles. I am no Sim Jae Duk; the race took me a good deal longer than the commute.

BRR 50 Report from 2015

BRR 50 Report from 2013

La Soupe aux choux

Hyner View Trail Challenge 50k 2014

HYNER Pennsylvania, April 26 2014

If you are looking for Δz, Hyner is your course. The 25k race has some 4200 feet of climb, and the 50k adds another 3300 or so, for a total of 7500. Almost a mile and a half of total up.

The 50k race subsumes all of the 25k course and adds a separate 25k loop in the middle. I’ve done the 25k version three times before, so I knew what to expect for the first 8 miles and the last 8, but the middle 15 was going to be new ground.

The 50k started at 0700, two hours before the shorter race. The start is a mile over road to the trail head, followed by a mile or so of easy, flat trail. It lulls you. It sets you up.

Around mile 2 you see a sign: “Humble Hill”, and the path turns up. And up. And up. Nearly a mile of hands-on-knees, nose-to-dirt, sweaty, wheezing trudge gets you to a brief respite where you can run a little before round two – another near mile of death march up to AS1 on top of the mountain.

When I ran the 25k they always had somebody ringing a cowbell up there, but I reckon the ringer hadn’t gotten set up yet, or maybe they figured that the 50k runners were more serious and didn’t need the encouragement. I don’t mind saying, I’d’ve liked to hear some cowbell. The aid station volunteers were great, though.

I headed out of AS1 pretty quick, and on down the first descent, almost back to the level we started at. A few more small ups and downs brought us to Johnson Run, with its myriad stream crossings. Don’t bother to try to keep your feet dry, just slosh through and roll on.

Halfway through this section was the split-off for the 50k course. We turned right and went up a mild, muddy hill before turning left onto Sledgehammer. This was a monster. Not quite as steep as Humble Hill, and it was nice, smooth double-track, but it just doesn’t ever end. It was a straight line to infinity. I kept thinking of a passage from that children’s book, The Phantom Tollbooth – “‘Just follow that line forever,’ said the Mathemagician, ‘and when you reach the end, turn left.'”

“Does this hill even have a top?” I asked a woman I had caught up with, exasperated. She grinned and expressed her own doubt of the proposition. I got a little frustrated at this point and set off at a strong hike, passing several tiring racers. It felt like we’d been on this hill for hours, but finally we took a right turn and a little more climbing brought us up to AS2.

There was a little more climbing here, though gentle, then quite a bit of easy downhill running. Around mile 11, some three miles past the aid station, there was a simple cache of water on the ground. Just a few cases of bottled Deer Park or something. Someone said that it was seven miles to the next AS, so I filled my carry bottle and took a deep draught from the cache. A few more miles of down brought us out to Ritchie Run.

This was basically a mirror of Johnson Run. Many, many foot-soaking stream crossings followed by a long upward grind. I was ready to be done with it long before it ended.

We finally came out to the next AS, but they were out of water! They had a few drops of Gatorade, some oyster crackers, and three tiny cups of soup. The soup was nice, but, dudes, when you are 10 miles past the last real aid you really hadn’t ought to run out of water. At least the weather was cool.

After this was some easy trail running and then a few tenths of a mile of road. Back on the trail again and up to the aid station at the top of Sledgehammer. It was only about a mile and a half from the previous, waterless AS, and I was a little concerned that maybe I’d missed a turn somewhere. All the runners I was with seemed to think we’d stayed on course, though, so I eventually accepted that I hadn’t missed anything and set off to get my revenge on Sledgehammer.

Now this was more like it. It was great to pound this downhill, though it still felt like it took all day to traverse. I was psyched to join back up with the 25k course, and I was passing suckers all the way down that hill. Near the bottom I said to a woman near me “Man, how did I ever get up this hill?” “I know, right?” she replied, smiling.

Back through the muddy section and then I could see some of the slower 25k runners down below on the course. I dropped back onto the Johnson Run section of trail and started picking my way forwards through the hikers.

I enjoyed giving out advice to the 25k runners as I passed them. Many of them wanted to know whether we were already on the second big hill shown on the elevation chart, and I felt very elder-statesmanlike handing out reassurances that this was the case. A lot of people were stopping to rest on the last push out of Johnson Run, but I kept up a pretty good power hike. I admit to getting a little vicious glee from telling people what was waiting for them on the following climb. Then out to a short runnable section before another aid station at the top.

Then there is a long, rocky downhill where I must have gone around like 30 people. Very few of the 25k racers were running here, so I was constantly calling out to pass. I made sure to express gratitude to those yielding the trail for me.

This section eventually bottomed out and it was time for the SOB. This is a killer at mile 11 of the 25k; I learned that it is much worse at mile 27. There is a long steep approach, riddled with switchbacks, that just grinds you down. I was still passing many people here, but I was really dreading the short, sharp shock of the SOB proper. It’s steeper than it looks. I had to stop to rest halfway up.

One more aid station at the top of this monster, then out for the final push. I saw a few 50k runners here – passing some, getting passed by some – but mostly I was reeling in the 25k people. I passed one perky-looking couple and couldn’t resist tweaking their spirits a little: “Only eight miles to go!” I called out. “Nooooooooooo!” said the woman, and I immediately relented, “No, no, it’s only three and change.” I think she forgave me.

A little more dorking around on some fire roads and a little single track, and then I hit the final grinding, quad-shredding downhill of Huff Run. This punishing section always seems to go on forever, but at least it’s mostly runnable. I continued passing a few people here and there.

At the bottom of Huff Run is a bridge, and from there I know it’s less than half a mile out to the road and then a mile back home. At the intersection with the main road back to the finish there are some cars coming from my right, but I think I can get across in front of them. I power out into the road, and some lady yells “Watch it!” “I got them, they see me,” I reply, and make it safely across. Probably a little risky, but I didn’t want to give back even a few seconds waiting to cross.

If I hustle I can make it in under eight hours. The slowest 50k I’ve ever run, but also by far the hilliest. I manage a weak jog down the road and up the final hill, and finish in 7:58:xx. I accept my finisher’s medal and collapse on the ground in the finish area.

Eventually I get up and partake of the excellent food and beverages this race always provides. As I’m gathering my strength to head home, Steve C., whom I met at the VHTRC’s Magnus Gluteus Maximus 50k in December, comes and sits beside me. We had talked about this race at the MGM, and I’d been wondering if I’d see him here. He’d finished in some 7:20 and was waiting for his buddy who’d come up with him. We talked a little about MMT, where he will be volunteering this year.

I also saw Gary P., whom I’d met earlier this year at the 모자, but I didn’t talk to him. He is also registered for MMT.

This race was a great experience, but it felt a little unsatisfying traveling there and back alone. I don’t think I’ll return unless I can convince The Boss and/or some friends to go with me, although if I lived closer I’d never miss this event.

Miles this race: 31
Miles raced this year: 185.8

Bull Run Run 2014

CLIFTON Virginia, April 12 2014.

Pre-race
I attend the pre-race briefing on Friday evening, but skip the pasta dinner this time. At the briefing I meet a dude named Pete who will be going for his 10th BRR finish. As per developing tradition, Steve stays over at our place and The Boss drives both of us to the race. I am running for the South; I tell Steve that if I break 10 hours I will holler out a rebel yell when I cross the finish line.

I chat briefly with Caroline W., who is injured but planning to run anyway. Steve and I try to start a conversation with ^z, but he peels off to talk to someone he knows. I enjoy the anticipation before the start, but I am not nervous or overly excited. This is not my first time around the barn, after all.

Start to Centreville Road
I lose sight of Steve before the start and I assume he’s behind me. I feel comfortable the first few miles. I see Pete from the briefing early on; he’s moving faster than I am.

It’s cool, but very humid. I can’t keep my glasses from fogging up. I wind up stashing them in the pocket of my shorts. Somewhere after the second set of stream-spanning pylons I catch up with Gary K. and we chat for a minute or two. I tell him I picked him in my office pool to win the 70+ division, and he chuckles heartily. “What’s the Vegas line on me?” he asks. “They’ve got you at 3:2, Frank P. at 2:1 and Bill W. at 20:1,” I tell him. I’d’ve put Frank higher but it was projected to be hot. Frank fares poorly in heat.

I tell Gary that I am in the MMT 100 miler coming up in a few weeks. I hope that I’ll be able to draw from his experience some during that race.

I am very pleased to see my friend Paul P. hanging out at the aid station. He hands me a Gatorade and agrees to hold my water bottle until I get back from the upcoming out-and-back section.

Centreville Road (back) to Centreville Road
Two miles out and two miles back. Last year I saw the leaders coming back just before I reached the first aid station; this year it’s just after. Maybe I’m faster, maybe they’re slower, maybe both. It’s starting to warm up. I am approached by a steady stream of runners, most of whom apparently feel compelled to offer an encouraging word. I appreciate the sentiment, but I wish people would put a little more effort into originality. I very quickly tire of hearing a pro forma “Good job” every time I encounter another runner. I occasionally offer encouragement of my own, but I try to change it up a little – “Looking good”, “Tear it up, man”, “Stay strong, buddy”. I recognize a lot of runners coming towards me, and I greet a few by name even though they don’t know me.

I am surprised to see Steve coming back about one minute before I reach the turnaround. He looks pretty strong. Maybe The Boss was right about him training hard on the sly.

There are still plenty of people behind me. I’m surprised to see that Caroline is in last place. It turns out she is more injured than she thought and will drop soon. I see Steve leaving the aid station as I arrive. He asks me to teach him the sub-10-hour rebel yell, and I let one rip as I climb the stairs up to the AS – “WAWWAWWAWWAWWAWWAWWAWWAWWAW!”

I collect my water bottle from Paul and offer him hearty thanks in exchange.

Centreville Road to Hemlock
Steve has stopped to dump some trash in a bag set out for that purpose some short distance past the AS. I catch him up and we run together for a while until I decide to run down a side trail to take care of certain biological necessities. I catch back up to him shortly before AS3 and take the opportunity to practice my rebel yell once again. I expect that we will run together at least back to the AS, but Steve seems to need a little time to recover from his early fast pace, so I trot on ahead.

Back at Hemlock I swap my shoes for the pair I’d left in my drop bag. I think this is the first time I’ve done this during a race.

Hemlock to Bull Run Marina
I catch up with and pass Pete early on in this segment. It’s heating up, and most of the humidity has burned off. I’ve put my glasses back on.

The soccer fields are exposed and the mounting heat starts to make a statement. Just past the fields there is a muddy area, but there are cut logs and bridges across the worst parts.

AS4 has cold, wet towels, which are amazingly refreshing in the still-building heat. They also have V8 and Yoo-Hoo. Outstanding.

Bull Run Marina to Wolf Run Shoals
Heat … growing. Legs … tiring. Must … not … drop.

The theme of the Wolf Run Shoals this year is Christmas. The costumes look hot. I recognize Alex P. and call to him: “Hey Alex! You got any sunblock?” He recognizes me instantly from last year’s incident. He has the sunblock ready, and informs me that he’d be honored to anoint my noggin with it. “On the way back,” I tell him, a plan to which he accedes.

Wolf Run Shoals to Fountainhead
A short two miles. I see the leader heading back, and the second place runner not far behind him. “You’ve got 30 seconds to the lead,” I inform this latter guy. The final gap would turn out to be some five minutes.

There are more cold towels at the Fountainhead AS. They also have pierogies.

Fountainhead to Do Loop
Just after the white loop I hear a woman behind me say to her companion “These Altra people have yellow feet on the bottom of their feet.” While I am trying to parse this surreal locution she continues “You have a foot on the bottom of your feet!” I eventually realize she is talking to me – she is referencing the design Altra puts on the bottom of their shoes to highlight the anatomical shape of the forefoot – but I don’t know how to respond. I just run on.

I catch up to Frank P. just before the Do Loop AS. Last year I didn’t catch him until after the second pass through the Marina, and he came back to beat me by a few seconds. Frank is 70 years old and had finished the BRR every previous year. I knew he was hurting in the heat, and I offered him an encouraging word as I went by. I hoped he would make it to the finish.

I’d been hoping all day that the Do Loop AS would have popsicles, as it did last year, and they did not disappoint. Thanks, guys, you are the best.

Do Loop (back) to Do Loop
Once you leave the Do Loop aid station you are kind of committed to finishing the race. You are still heading outbound, but you’re on a loop to come back around to the Do Loop AS in about three miles. I like to measure out a mile and a half by my watch; I get a boost out of knowing I’m on the way home.

The Do Loop proper is really only about two miles long. There is a half mile approach from the aid station which is an out and back section. Once you hit this section on the return trip, the people coming towards you are behind you in the race instead of ahead of you.

I saw Steve at the AS, he outbound and I inbound. This was very similar to our positions at this point last year.

I grabbed another popsicle and headed on.

Do Loop to Fountainhead
I saw a steady stream of people here on this section. I met ^z on his way out and advised him that he was roughly half a mile from popsicles. He expressed gratitude for this news.

A few miles further on I met a young lady who must have been flirting with the cutoffs, but was still keeping a good attitude. She asked me if there was any water up ahead she could jump in, and allowed as how it would not be the first time today she’d done so. I told her she had about a mile to go to find some. It really was getting oppressively hot. My water bottle seemed to have a hole in it.

The stream of runners coming towards me petered out as I approached Fountainhead. Anyone still going outbound would have missed the cutoff by the time I got back there.

Fountainhead to Wolf Run Shoals
I did pass one more outbound runner, though, just over a mile past Fountainhead. He looked to be in OK shape, but he was way past the cutoff. I said something to him, intended to be kind. I don’t remember what it was, but it wasn’t “Good job”.

Back at Wolf Run Shoals I accept Alex’s offer of sunblock. We get a picture of me with it slathered all over my head.

Wolf Run Shoals to Bull Run Marina
A fair number of people pass me from behind during this segment. I am walking a lot. I am reduced by the heat.

I linger at the marina aid station. I drape one of their cold towels over my head and just sit and rest for a while. This is the final stop for aid; time to head out for the last push. There is a volunteer hosing down runners as they leave, and I take full advantage of this kindness.

Bull Run Marina to Finish
I know I will be slower than last year, but I also know I will get it done. I run very little, but I still bust out a few hundred yards of ballistic motion here and there. I keep looking over my shoulder for Steve, expecting him to loom up behind me, intent on evening the score from last year.

After I pass the soccer fields I notice that I am starting to get significant chafing of the inner thighs. There are still some four miles to go, so I know this will be painful. I try re-applying some Body Glide, but once chafing starts it doesn’t really help much.

I lose a lot of places during this last stretch, but I am just jazzed to be on the show, man. I still worry that Steve will come up and pass me in the last mile.

The last hill is brutal. It’s always brutal, but this year’s heat has been beating me down all day and I have very little left. Race director Toni is cheering runners in at the finish line. She comes out to slap my hand as I cross.

Just freakin’ beautiful to be done.

Post-race
The food is outstanding. I just eat whatever they can put on my plate.

The Boss is a sublime sight. I tell her I’d like to hang around and watch people finish, and she graciously agrees. Steve comes in about a half hour after me. Everyone is slower this year in the heat, but he only lost some eight or so minutes.

I learn that Tim S., one of the three people who’ve completed all prior BRRs, had to drop with medical issues. Tom G. and Frank P. are still on the course. Tom comes in with some 15 minutes to spare. Now everyone is waiting for Frank.

Ten minutes to go. No Frank. Anstr D. walks down a ways to try to try to see a little further down the course.

Eight minutes. Six. Five. I start to consider for the first time that he might not make it.

But then a form comes around the final bend, a form with Frank’s characteristic rightward lean. The crowd goes wild. They love him.

The only thing going through my mind is the last bit of Tennyson’s Ulysses. It’s clichéd and overly sentimental, but then, so am I, so I don’t mind reproducing it here:

Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Frank_P_BRR_2014
Frank finishes his 22nd consecutive Bull Run Run with less than five minutes to spare. God bless you, sir.

As I hobble to my car, still trying to pamper my chafed legs, I see Gary K. heading to his truck and I tell him that I’m dropping out of MMT. I don’t think I have the stones to make it 100 miles. “Nooooo,” he says, and looks crestfallen. I am chastened, and promise him I’ll wait a few days before making a decision.

It turns out that a few days was long enough for ultramnesia to set in, and I’ll be toeing the start line of MMT early in the morning of May 17th. If I die it’s Gary’s fault.

Miles this race: 50
Miles raced in 2014: 155.8

Buck Ridge Burn 2014

GARDNERS Pennsylvania, April 6 2014

In 2013 I ran a half marathon six days before the Bull Run Run 50 miler. The Run for the Animals turned out to be one of my favorite races ever – the course was great, the volunteers were friendly, the cause was righteous, the post-race food and music were outstanding, I set a half marathon PR and got an age group award. There was no feature of that race that was less than top-notch.

Since I believe in doing what works, and I attributed my much-better-than-expected performance at BRR 2013 to my experience at the RftA, I decided to run a half marathon six days before the 2014 BRR as well.

I strongly considered going back to Onancock to run the RftA again, but it’s a little too far for a day trip and staying overnight for a mere half seems a little excessive.

So I chose this charming little trail half instead. It was still a couple hours drive, but that is easily day-trippable.

I enjoyed the race. The course abutted the Appalachian Trail; I’m not sure whether any of it actually joined up with the AT or not. There was more delta-z than I expected, some 1600 feet of gain according to my GPS record. The organization was impeccable. I am a little late in writing up this report, so I may be mixing up the post-race spread with some other event’s, but in my memory there was this outstanding vegan curry that really hit the spot.

I don’t have much to say about the actual running. The aforementioned delta-z caused me to walk a fair bit of the course. A shamefully large bit, it must be said. The trail was beautiful, though, and the weather was great. I did my share of passing, I did my share of getting passed. Near the end of the course, in the last mile, I sloshed through a small stream and started climbing a good-sized hill. About three quarters of the way up I heard something behind me and looked back to see a woman determinedly hiking the rise. I got the feeling she had it in mind to pick me off before the finish, and I picked up the pace to stay ahead of her.

This turned out to be a challenge.

I wasn’t sure how far we had left to go, so I was hesitant to go all out, but I kept hearing footsteps closing the gap behind me. Finally I came off the trail onto the road leading back to the finish, and I felt comfortable starting a strong kick. I held a good pace through the finish and held off my rival by four seconds.

This race was great, but all-in-all I think I’d rather do the the RftA again. Maybe I’ll make that trip again next year.

Miles this race: 13.1
Miles raced this year: 105.8