Monday, February 10, 2014

Big changes

So, most people that know me, know that there were some big changes in 2013. Big, and busy changes! 2013 was the year that Katie and I got married, and also the year we decided to bail on the East Coast and move out to Colorado. We are living in Lakewood, CO and absolutely loving it.

Surprisingly, it hasn't been a very easy transition. The physical move was easy enough, and our sight-unseen apartment that we signed a lease on turned out to be awesome and in a truly great location. That part could've been a disaster. But we've each had our bumps in the road with work, and trying to figure out how things are done professionally here in Colorado. Luckily, we are both fairly easy-going and we've figured it out.

Running-wise, Colorado has definitely lived up to its reputation. Since we've moved here, I've hit several of the 14ers but look forward to getting up high the rest of this year. The apartment we're living in, is within 1.5 miles from a great trail system on the local hill in Lakewood, Green Mountain. I've also met a couple of local runners, and we've started a Wednesday night group run that has showed me around to a ton of the other local trails.

This year, I've also decided to start keeping track of what I'm doing in training. I've only done this before in terms of mileage for product testing for Smartwool but now I'll be keeping track of a bunch of stats and I'm hoping it'll help to keep me more accountable and actually train specifically for races. I'm not sure I'll need to publish my weekly mileage and elevation, but I'll definitely be keeping track myself. So far, I'm signed up for the Salida Marathon, Quad Rock 50 miler, and Bighorn 100. I'd also like to run a race later in the year but haven't decided which one yet.

This is the first post I've written in quite a while, and while I'd like to think that it'll be a more common thing in the coming year, I'm not sure I can say that with certainty. I'll try though...

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

TARC 100

The Trail Animals Running Club from Boston decided that there needed to be a 100 mile race in Massachusetts. So Josh Katzman and Bob Crowley created one. They also held a 50 miler at the same time. 25 mile loops repeated four times (twice for the 50 mile, duh) with very minimal elevation change; start it at night so the heat isn't much of an issue until the end of the race; add in a few aid stations, a drop bag at the start/finish and mile 4.5 and go run 100 miles. Simple enough. Better yet, slap on a cheap price tag and you've got a really great thing going!

Photo Ron Heerkens

After my Massanutten fiasco, I needed some redemption and this seemed like as good of a time as any: I still had a high level of fitness, I wasn't sick, and seriously, why not just get a redemption race over-with rather than string it out.

I signed up the week before, figured out a carpool with David and headed up there on Thursday night amid tornadoes,  pouring rain and generally unpleasant weather. Boston also got rain...which is relevant to the story. David and I slept a decent amount on Friday but just lounged for the most part (I'm still unsure of the connection between David and the guy who lived there) before heading out to the park in Weston, Mass where the race was held.

The VHTRC had a decent presence with 6 or 7 runners coming for the inaugural event. Skipping menial details of what kind of bagel I ate with "blank" amount of minutes before the start time...the pre-race meeting started at 6:30 where the race director told us about a little mud out on the course. A little mud. He also told us that volunteers were out on the course all night in the pouring rain marking the course. This course's map looked like a nightmare with more turns than anyone would care to count. Though, out of all the races I've run, this one was marked the most effectively. There was no way anyone could have gotten lost. They did an awesome job at that. 

At 6:57 we all lined up on the starting line awaiting the start. There were A LOT of starters. Especially for a first year race. I was very impressed. I think there were about 280 starters between the 50 and 100. At 7:00 pm on the dot, we all took off....some of us much faster than others. Seriously. People bolted. The majority of us made our way around the initial 4.5 mile loop in a very loose pack before getting back to the start/finish and starting the bigger loop; though, not before getting our feet nice and wet in several spots on the mini-loop. I felt very relaxed, and a little bit distant. I just made sure that I ate when I needed to, drank when I needed to and took care of myself nice and early.

The turn-filled course. 
After reaching the start/finish I grabbed my head-lamps and headed out very relaxed. I ran with Glen Redpath, Jack Pilla and Eric Ahearn (fast marathoner, first 100) and several others who I knew to be reasonably fast guys. Amid the normal banter we slopped around in the mud that was about shin deep in some spots, the creeks that were waist deep in some spots, and the sweet sweet single track. Somewhere in there, we switched on our headlamps and the crowd thinned. Glen and a handful of others went ahead, some fell behind, and some spent a few more minutes at the aid stations than others.

Towards the middle of the first loop I needed to relieve my bladder so I pulled off the side of the trail to pee. I knew Jack was behind me about a minute but it was dark and I figured he'd just pass - no questions asked (this is not at all uncommon BTW). I heard him coming up behind me but just as he passed me he tripped on a root and narrowly missed landing in my stream. We each had a chuckle and moved on.

I finished the first loop having no idea where I was in the pecking order. It was 25 miles in, and I didn't care. I switched out my gel flask, added the Heed powder to my bottle and moved on. So far, the mud was "noticeable." Even "very inconvenient" in spots, but the magnitude of the toll the shoe-sucking mud was taking on the field of runners was unbeknownst to me. After the first loop, roughly 60 runners dropped out between the two races.

The second loop was run entirely in the dark. I ran every step I could, nice and easy, just being patient. One of the coolest parts of the course were all the times you cross paths with other runners. No one had any idea where the other runner was in the course or where exactly they were, but all night you could see headlamps to your left, right, above and sometimes below you. You never felt completely alone in the woods. 

Around the 35 mile aid station I came upon Jack and Glen running together. I stayed with them for a bit and left to run my own race. Jack stayed with me for a bit but as we were fording one of the deeper streams he jammed his leg on a stump. The scream he let out was undeniably one of agony. He said he was fine so we moved on. I didn't get a good look at it but I know he wrapped it in a big bandage and later dropped because of it. I finished the second loop in the lead. The top two 50 milers had finished and my shoes were filled to the brim with grit, grime, mud and pebbles. At the start finish I took off my shoes and rinsed them out, took out the insoles to rinse those off and made sure my socks were clear of rocks. It only took about a minute per shoe, but it was well worth the time.

While I was doing that, Glen came into the aid station and we left together. We did the 4.5 mile section together and I could gauge how he was doing. When we got back to the start/finish I ditched my headlamps and left quickly. I knew Glen was a very strong runner, and would surely finish very strong. So when I left I didn't look backwards, I didn't ask aid station workers how far back he was (until mile 90), I just kept running. 

The mud was becoming really difficult and made me realize that it turned this very easy course into one that was actually pretty difficult. Aside from the mud it was VERY runnable and I made sure to keep running everything in the third loop. On some sections there were large fields we had to cross. They really were very peaceful. High grass with a heavily traveled trail across them made for a good spot to glance over my shoulder to see a minute or two behind me. I always expected to see Glen's red hat and jersey bobbing towards me, but I didn't.

I started lapping a few of the runners while I was on the third lap. We exchanged pleasantries but I didn't feel  much like talking. To be honest, the third lap was lonely. I didn't spend any more than a few seconds at any aid station and I just wanted to be done running.

Arriving back at the start/finish completing 75 miles, Josh the RD was there and he helped me with rinsing out my shoes and insoles. I wanted to make sure I could run the last 25 without any issues (at least to start). Josh was a brave man even coming within 20 yards of my shoes at that point. They'd been wet for many many hours and I can't imagine how they must have smelled.

I ran the 4.5 mile loop and passed a few more people, always exchanging "hellos" and "good jobs." Despite the circumstances of the race with the mud and difficulty, I had an immense amount of admiration for the people who were just starting their third loop. They were in for a looooong 2nd 50 miles but they were smiling and laughing and talking with the people they ran with and looked like they were just having a grand old time...all while their feet were in the process of rotting.
Josh the RD

Shortly after I left the start/finish for the last 20 miles my left knee stopped bending. It was really painful, but I just figured it was because I'd twisted my right ankle on the second loop and unknowingly favored my left leg. I realized that as long as I was running, it was manageable, but walking made me want to puke, so I didn't really have a choice. When I arrived at Ripley #1 (I think about mile 85ish) I stopped moving my leg to fill my bottles and eat a banana. It was probably the worst decision I made all day; my knee froze.
I limped out of the aid station seeing stars and I instantly felt the pain all the way into my stomach. I knew if I could just get momentum for running again, I'd be fine, but the momentum just wasn't there. I came up on a group of 3 guys just as we came up on a fairly deep stream (upper thigh depth) with a sign that warned "unstable rock wall." Two guys opted for the rocks, a guy with a pony tail and green shirt opted for straight through the water and so did I. Green shirt made it across before I did but as I got to the deepest part of the stream my foot slipped beneath a rock and twisted my left hurt knee. I must have let out quite the yelp because the pony-tailed man didn't miss a beat. He immediately turned around and offered a hand. I took his hand and he yanked me straight out of the water. It all happened so quickly and my vision started blurring the pain was so striking. I think (and hope) I muttered a "thank you" before leaving. I knew that I had to start running before I had too much time to think about my knee. So if you're reading this, green-shirted-pony-tail man, thank you.

I continued on and left the Ripley #2 (mile 90) aid station after finding out I had about 20 minutes on Glen. I left just after a couple guys. I reached them just after a stroll across a big field that gave way to some really deep mud. On one of the big spots, I fell into a mid-thigh deep hole under the mud and it tripped me enough to cause me to belly flop and plunge my hand-bottle deep into the muck. The two guys behind me made sure I was okay, I thanked them and ran on. If it's a secret so far, I appreciated all the help from the people on the course.

The rest of the section until I reached 97 I was looking over my shoulder. 20 minutes would be a lot to make up but it would be doable if Glen decided to burn it, and I knew it was not beyond him to do that. From the last time I left the Gun Club aid station (97) I knew as long as I kept running I could win. It was a very relaxing feeling, even though I wasn't relaxed. I reached the last mile, and the insane amount of mud that it held. I didn't waste time dancing around the sides. I was now covered from shoulders to the soles of my feet in black mud. I had nothing to lose, nothing to hold back, and no reason not to swim in the stuff.

I crossed the finish line in first in a time of 19:35:46. Not a PR but given the day, I'll take it.
Photo by Topham Photography

To add to the dramatics of the race, Padraig Mullens caught Glen and took 2nd in the last 3 miles finishing in 20:09:05; Glen Redpath rounded out top 3 with 20:15:46. On the women's side, Donna Utakis 1st in 22:37:27, Sara Walsh 2nd in 25:26:37, and Katya O'Hagan was 3rd in 26:40:17.

There were about 135 finishers between the 50 and the 100 with an attrition rate of 60%. AND 100% finishing rate for VHTRC. What's up!

The TARC 100 was a first year event, but ran very smoothly and professionally. Thank you to the RDs, the volunteers and especially Josh, who cleaned my shoes and socks and dumped water on me at the end. Way above and beyond RD duty. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Races as motivation

We all have motivation issues. Even the people that you only see (or forcibly read about on Facebook posts) waking up at 3 and 4 in the morning to get their 20 miles per day would rather sleep in. After working all day, of course it is more appealing to take a nap, or make a bag of pop corn and clock into your couch and waste away; only turning or moving to avoid getting bed sores. Instead of eating healthy foods, I think everyone would rather eat pizza for every meal followed by cake. Everyone is human. Even the serial Facebook informer.

Motivation is a funny thing. Dogs are motivated by food or by praise. Not surprisingly, people are motivated by the same things. Some people run or workout for the extra piece of cake. And some people run and workout to post their pictures and workouts to social media sites and receive "likes."

I've been listening to Ultrarunner Podcast quite a bit lately and I listened to a great one featuring Max King and then another one featuring Michael Wardian. Both are phenomenal runners. And both are extremely versatile. They win races both at the ultramarathon distance and also shorter distances of 5k, 10k and marathons. Aside from the fact that they are both versatile, and both speedy Olympic marathon trials qualifiers, they actually don't have much in common. King is built like a powerhouse who won the World Mountain Running Championships as well as the Olympic trials for steeplechase - Wardian is built closer to the Kenyans yet places 3rd at the Badwater 135 one week and wins an indoor marathon the next.

Whenever I listen to or read interviews, I try to apply something to my own running. Even though these guys are extremely out of my league in terms of being competitive they are perhaps the most relateable. They run. A lot. They race. A lot. But they don't just race one race. They race short and long and all types of terrain - road, trail, and track.

What do either of these guys have to do with motivation aside from the fact that they have enough to solve the obesity problem in this country?

With a looming race and a desire to perform, that could be all the motivation anyone needs. Any time someone comes into the running store telling us they have some problems staying motivated, we suggest they sign up for a race, it doesn't have to be long. But knowing that you have a race coming up, might give you a reason to lace up the shoes in the summer's humidity and go an extra mile or 5.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

MMT 100

Saturday I ran the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100. Well, to be more specific, I started the race. But dropped out. I'm just now reaching a mindset that I'm able to look at the race from some sort of objective standpoint and dissect it to a point that makes any sense; without feeling like I "failed" or just came up with "excuses." That being said, the past couple days have largely been spent moping, being generally down, and genuinely sad about the way the race played out.

This was a race I had been looking forward to since December when I found out that I had gotten into the race. It had been a long time since I was truly looking forward to a race with happy anticipation. I've run races recently, but every race this year has been considered a "training run" for Massanutten. I had trained harder, and put in more miles, more long runs, I actually did some speed work, and purposely destroyed my feet every chance I got in giddy anticipation of the sheer amount of rocks on the Massanutten course. It's a home town course and I got out on it every chance I could. I even did the first 63 miles solo on a training run carrying my supplies the whole way. I trained to win this thing. I wanted a Virginia Happy Trail Runner's Club member to win it out-right. The women's side has been won by a VHTRC member for the past couple years, which is awesome, but I thought it'd be cool to bring it home for the men.

For some reason, I put a lot of pressure on myself for this race. There were several fast guys there who could possibly win and I knew who they were. If they beat me, I wanted it to be because they were faster, older, or more experienced. But I wanted to be sure I trained harder than them.

All of that being said, I guess it's time I explain what happened. Even now, the reasoning still sounds a little like excuses but it is what it is.

Katie and I got married on April 27th and it was awesome. The wedding and everything was such a blast. Afterward we went to Costa Rica on our honeymoon, which was also amazing. It is such a beautiful country and the people are very nice as well. The week before the wedding, I had my last really long runs. From there, it would be two weeks of just running to maintain fitness and a one week taper until the race. Everything went as planned. While in Costa Rica I didn't run much, but enough just to keep the legs moving. But as soon as Katie and I got back from CR, we both got pretty sick with some sort of intestinal thing. It wasn't pretty but we assumed it was something we ate since we didn't drink any local water because we'd been warned about that.

Fast forward to the Monday before the race, 10 days after we got back, and I was finally starting to feel better. Tuesday, I felt fine, so I thought it was a good ol' "game on" for the race. The whole rest of the week I felt fine, and when Friday afternoon rolled around, I found myself setting up my camping stuff with my dad for the night and listening to the pre-race brief.

Saturday morning, I woke at 2:44 buzzed. I was so ready, I woke up a minute before my alarm. I slept well, and even though I only slept about 4 and a half hours, it felt like enough. Besides, I was sure it was more than most people got. My dad and I got the crew gear ready, and I went over the specifics of what I needed where. He'd been to so many of my races, I think he knew all of it already but he listened anyway.

Fast forward to the start of the race, we all moved away from the safety of the start/finish line tent at 4:00 on the dot and into the darkness with headlamps bobbing. I wanted to make sure that I was never running any faster than was comfortable. After mile 70, if I felt like I could go harder, I would. But before then, I wanted to just cruise, no hard breathing. Even though I didn't feel like I was working hard, it didn't take long to get quite sweaty because of the humidity and lack of air flow.

We all made our way up Short Mountain in the dark, got to the ridge and ran along rather comfortably. No one took off at a sprint and that was fine. I wouldn't have followed if they did. It got light while we were just about to descend into the Edinburgh Gap (mile 12 ish) and a group of 5 or 6 of us got there a minute or two under two hours. I tossed my dad my headlamps and he was ready with replacement bottles. I grabbed a couple bananas and left for the next climb. Again, no hard work.
photo by Bobby Gill
On the next climb, I ran alone for the most part with Jason Lantz and Denis just ahead about a minute. On long straight stretches, I'd see them up ahead but I wasn't chasing them by any stretch of the imagination. Through Woodstock Tower, and Powell's Fort we all stayed within a minute or two. I imagined I wasn't the only one just cruising. No one looked to be working very hard.

The climb after Powell's Fort, I found myself in the lead and didn't see anyone behind me, but figured they weren't far behind. I got into Elizabeth's Furnace (33 ish) first, got new bottles from my dad and started up the Shawl Gap climb. On my way up I saw a black bear and as soon as it saw me, it turned around and fled. I thought it might have been a cub because it was pretty small which meant that mama bear was around somewhere, but I didn't see any others...though I stayed alert for awhile after that just in case.

Running down the backside of Shawl, I expected to see Jason because he tends to run more of the climbs earlier in the races. I saw my dad at the Shawl Gap aid station (38) and grabbed my pack since there would be a longer section coming up.
The race felt easy so far. I hadn't been working hard at all. I started imagining myself floating down the trail at mile 80 and 90 effortlessly. Jason came into the AS a minute or so later and we left about the same time. We ran the road section to Veach Gap (42) together and Jim Blandford (who would later win the race) joined us for the climb out of the aid station. Climbing out of there, Jason and Jim went on ahead during the long section. Right near the top of the climb, my calves and fore-arms started to cramp. It almost never happens to me, especially when I stay on top of my nutrition like I was doing that day. I took an extra Enduralyte and the issue dissipated pretty quickly. I thought it was nothing more than needing to bump up my salt intake for the day since it was so humid. I still felt fine, my legs still had a spring in their step, and everything else felt great.

Just before the Indian Grave AS (50) it happened again. At the aid station, Jim had already left. I ate salty foods and started the 4 mile road section to Habron Gap. Jason went ahead, and still, this early in the race, I didn't try to keep up. Though, about a mile before Habron, everything seized. My forearms cramped, as did my calves, and one quad. I, all of a sudden, didn't feel well. I got to the Habron Gap AS and told my dad I was cramping a lot and my pacer, Jeremy Ramsey, was there as well. He asked what I'd been taking and I told him. Everyone around us had a strange look on their face like, it sounds like you're doing everything right... Jeremy suggested maybe taking the next long section especially easy and seeing what I felt like at Camp Roosevelt.

The climb up Habron was slow to say the least. I didn't want to run it and made myself go even slower and tried to catch up on my nutrition. That was the only thing that I could imagine it could be. Once I reached the ridge, I ran easily what I could, but never pushed it. I felt like I was going so slowly, it was frustrating. While I was on the ridge, I realized something was wrong. I couldn't pin-point what it was. My head was foggy, my sight started getting blurry and I started seeing multiples of things. I slowed down and was drinking both electrolyte drink and water, and taking electrolyte tablets and eating gels and real food more frequently than I ever have in the past, and my condition seemed to be declining still.

Upon reaching Camp Roosevelt I sat down. I wasn't hungry because I'd been eating, but I ate anyway. I promptly threw it up. I felt like I was going to pass out so I lied on the cot they had set up and things got even foggier. Something was definitely wrong. I'd never experienced anything like that. After 10 minutes and talking to my dad and Jeremy we didn't know what to do. I couldn't imagine what could be happening and quite honestly, that scared me more than anything. Any time I'd had an issue in the past, I knew what could fix it. It was always fixed by a reset. Slow down, eat more, drink more, get on top of your salt and electrolytes and go through a "system restart" if you will. The only problem is that I'd been resetting since the top of the Veach Climb and I'd only declined.

Somebody asked if I'd been sick lately and suddenly it all made a little bit of sense. Except for Tuesday-Friday of last week, I'd been sick with whatever-it-was for the previous 10 days. That dehydrated me and trust me...I wasn't absorbing a whole lot of vitamins and minerals from my food during that time... My big question was whether or not it could be fixed in the course of the next 38 miles. So Jeremy and I left the aid station planning to just walk and see if I could feel better.

With my head still spinning and my vision still doubled, we started up the trail. As the climb turned steeper, I think I realized that I wasn't going to get better if I continued. I think I was in such a deficit, nothing would improve unless I stopped. My body was sending me a message, a rather strong one at that, to stop. And when I got to the Gap Creek Aid Station at mile 69.8, I listened to that message before it involved me passing out on the side of a mountain. I'd like to think that I made a smart decision to stop because I'm not sure what would've happened. Maybe I would have been able to death march it to the finish line. But maybe not. That's also not what I went to do. I wanted to run a race, win or lose, I wanted to at the very least lose the race while pushing myself and finishing.

I'm not sure how much more disappointed I could have been about it. But that's just the way things go sometimes.

I really appreciate my dad coming out and supporting me for the duration of the time I was out there. Also, Jeremy definitely kept me entertained out there on our stroll through the woods on the last section.
Thank you to both of you.

Monday, April 8, 2013

City Slicker

Saturday I moved from the suburbs to the big city. No, not in DC, but close, Rosslyn (just over the Key Bridge from DC). Katie and I are getting married at the end of the month (WIN) and so we found an apartment we could live in after the wedding. While she isn't moving in until after the wedding, I moved in on Saturday. It's a small apartment with nothing extra. Main room, kitchen, bathroom and bedroom and plenty of windows. It's quaint and perfect for us.

I'm not going to lie, I kind of dreaded moving into the city. I think I was more nervous about moving into a city than I am about getting married (I'm just plain excited for that!). The last real city I lived in was Richmond, but Richmond has a sweet trail system and the James river to escape the skyscrapers and business people. Rosslyn has the Custis Trail, which leads to the W.O.&D. trail....but all 40 some miles of that are paved, and are FLOODED with high-speed bike commuters. It's pretty much like running on the road, except running the road is probably safer with some of the sound-barrier-breaking speeds these bikers are riding. I thought I was going to have to succumb to all roads until the weekends, when I could head out to the mountains.

Then I remembered a couple years ago I ran the Potomac Heritage 50k put on by the VHTRC. I didn't actually run the whole thing - a strange sharp pain in my foot scared me into dropping after 14 miles or so since I was leaving for my cross country trip two months later. But from what I did remember it was largely on a trail, so I looked up the route and saw that it crossed the Key Bridge (.9 miles from my new crib) and got on the Potomac Heritage Trail and stayed on it for 10 miles in one direction. Saturday was spent organizing stuff in the new place (and realizing I have way more crap than I thought I did). But Sunday, I decided I'd go out and explore this trail.

I ran down the .9 miles to the trail and have to say, I was pleasantly surprised. The beginning, and parts of the trail are pancake flat and smooth as butter, all while cruising right along the Potomac River. These parts are aesthetically pleasing, and mentally rejuvenating, but about as physically demanding as watching TV. Though other parts of it beg for slightly more attention while picking your way through large rocks and roots, at times seeming a lot like the Massanutten course in terms of the amount of rocks. There are even some pretty steep hills. I decided to run the whole trail end to end and back to my new place while adding in some of the little side trails and it made for a good day exploring. It put my mind at ease in terms of living in the city knowing this little gem is close by.

Monday, April 1, 2013

More pics than words.

What a week. All last week I was battling a serious cold and so I didn't get much running done. I had initially planned on running the first 30 or so miles of the Massanutten course on Saturday because I'd never been on that part of the course before. Dave said he wanted to come out and leapfrog so he could get some miles in and provide a bit of aid. I don't really feel like writing about it. I had no energy since I was still a little sick (which I didn't really realize until I started running), but I did it, and took some pictures and by the end, I wasn't sick anymore. Here they are. 
Western Ridge of the Massanuttens 
The trail and leaning trees coming down from Short Mountain into Edinburg Gap

Vista in front of Woodstock Tower

Looking back toward the climb up Blue  

Feeling like a champ...or not. 

Top of some mountain. Maybe Signal Knob but I doubt it. 

The water was clear 
The End.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Terrapin Mountain 50k

You win some and you lose some, and sometimes you take a wrong turn less than a mile from the end go an extra 1.5 miles out figure out this can't be right and turn around to add an extra 3 and really lose some.

I had never run Terrapin before, but always wanted to. This year, I was able to. I drove down on Friday afternoon and picked up my friend, Matt from JMU on the way. We were planning on going by Clark Zealand's (race director) running store, The Aid Station, then going to the start line where they had packet pickup. The Aid Station was very impressive. It's all the trail shoes and stuff for ultra and trail running you see on-line but no one carries in stores because there's not a "big enough demand for it." Well, the Aid Station is where it all is.

Matt and I arrived at the starting line around 6 o'clock to the smell of fresh pizza from a Domino's truck. That truck rules and if I ever win the lottery, I'm buying one complete with a staff to just live in the back and bake me hot fresh pizza at all hours of the day. Anyway, we spent the evening visiting with friends, eating pizza, and enjoying the cool mountain air. Oh, and Matt didn't bring a jacket or coat to camp in March. Lucky for him, I brought an extra couple layers. He probably would've died of exposure if I hadn't. I probably saved his life, no big deal.

Terrapin Mt evening before race
 The temperature probably only dipped down to the low 20s that night, I doubt much lower but it was chilly. We awoke the next morning to Clark's voice over the loud-speaker. "Good morning everyone, please check in....we have coffee for you." The man was luring us all out of our toasty sleeping bags with the promise of caffeine and warmth. The problem was, there was a bridge of chilly air between the starting and ending stages of warmth.

Fast forward, to the race: we started with the sound of a gong. A real one, made by the cymbal company Zildjian. I didn't stick around to ask them who's gong is was. We were off. The group off the front was sizable containing both the 50k race and the 1/2 marathon race. Down the road we made a left, then we made a SHARP LEFT and a SHARP RIGHT. These directions would be important later...but then again, opening my eyes would've been more helpful.

I had a goal to finish under 4:30 just based on what people I knew had done. After a mile we started to climb a little more gradually people spaced out a bit and I ran in a group with Jordan Whitlock, Neal Gorman, and a guy named Ryan Welts who was from New Hampshire. Frank, Sam, and a guy everyone just referred to as "the 2:30 marathoner" took the first climb to Camping Gap #1 a little more ambitiously than we did. The four of us traded spots a couple times up the first almost 2,000' climb but were all within about 2 minutes of each going through the top of the climb. Immediately following the aid station at the top, we descended the other side of the mountain. Neal blew us away and seemed to be making a break for the leaders as expected. Jordan, Ryan and I ran pretty conservatively down the other side blowing through the second aid station.

Toward the bottom, I pressed on and went through the third aid station without stopping. I saw Neal up ahead during the next climb and figured I was staying about a minute behind him consistently. I caught him after we entered the steeper single track on our way back to Camping Gap #2 and Ryan caught up with me again. Neal said something about not feeling great, which would explain why we caught him. Ryan and I ran all the way back through the fourth aid station and up to Camping Gap #2 together. We were running pretty conservatively I think but still not going too slowly either. On some of the switchbacks we could look behind us to see if there was anyone coming for us, and we didn't see anyone. When we reached the aid station at the top, Horton yelled to us that we were 4 minutes behind Sam and Frank who were running together. Ryan and I started the White Oak Ridge loop together but I lost him on the first part.

That loop was really my only down spot of the race. The grassy double track made it look less steep than it was and became discouraging because it was difficult to run. I knew I'd feel guilty walking it, so I just kept running and tried to keep my heart rate under control.

After close to 3,400 ft of somewhat continuous climbing, the summit is rather uneventful since it's all wooded but soon enough, I started running down. I let gravity do the work and I just focused on staying upright. Rolling back into Camping Gap #3 for the last time, Horton yelled that Frank and Sam were still 3 or 4 minutes ahead. I couldn't believe I hadn't made up any significant time after the downhill I'd just come off. From Camping Gap #3, it's largely downhill to the finish with a few short but steep climbs. The first being the steepest up Terrapin Mountain. I knew the chances of catching them on an uphill would be highly unlikely and we still had 8 or 9 miles left, so I took the climb hard but not too hard.

As soon as I punched my bib number at the top of the climb proving I was there, I charged down the mountain. The trail gets very technical in a few spots with loose rocks, loose dirt, little to no footing and the pair of rocks that make up "Fat Man's Misery." Fat Man's really is rough. It's a steep downhill alley of slanted rocks that I initially went to jump down and quickly realized that was a bad idea because I slid the whole way down it just pushing off one wall to keep my face from being scraped off. I continued to careen down the mountain now passing 1/2 marathoners but keeping an eye out for Sam and Frank.

The last aid station is at the end of a little 1/8 mile spur as I was going down to the spur, I saw the two of them coming up the trail. I looked at my watch and noted the time so I could see how long it took me to get to that same spot. Upon reaching the aid station, I snagged one gel and yelled out my number. I didn't even stop running. I reached the spot where I crossed them with a gap of 2 minutes. I was closing.

The last section I had heard was all very run-able but was also 5.5 miles long. If I pushed really hard too early they might out surge me at the very end so I made sure to never be comfortable but not go too hard. It was very exciting! I felt like I was hunting. The trail meanders in and out of the ridges of the mountain and every time I came around a corner I looked for them. I stayed calm...until I saw them. We were still too high on the mountain to give it all I had. I knew we still must have had about 2.5-3 miles left. I increased a little bit but not too much. They had a 1:15 lead on me. I saw them on the next ridge just disappear beyond sight as I came into the ridge. 1:10 lead.

Finally, came the creek crossing. As I descended to the creek, I saw one of their heads disappear around the corner. This is normally a somewhat calmer crossing from what I've heard, but this year it was flowing pretty heavily, I jumped in and crossed not even thinking of any way to keep my feet dry. I got to the same point where I saw them within 1 minute.

I turned down the wide trail and stood on the gas pedal. I knew it was just a rough gravel trail, that gave way to a smooth gravel road, which turned right onto a paved road, and then I'd be home. I saw the "1 mile to go" sign at 4 hours and 10 minutes thought, sweet, I'll probably finish by 4:16 and turned off my brain. I told myself not to think and just run as hard as I could...but I didn't realize I actually stopped thinking. I reached the road and took the right but didn't see them. I knew they had to be close, I surged harder and harder but still couldn't see them. 4:15 came and went...4:16....4:17...4:20....? Someone had to be messing with us with that one mile sign. At 4:25 I decided I had made a wrong turn. I ran back to the last intersection with streamers and sure enough, I was supposed to go LEFT and THEN RIGHT. I didn't know how many people had passed me but I went the right way and found the finish line. I crossed in 4:35 in 8th place.

Things I learned from this race:
-Run hard but not so hard you can't see a thousand streamers and chalk arrows in front of your face.
-It's probably best to just not tell Horton you got lost - even if you admit you're an idiot for it. He will make relentless fun of you.
-Don't turn your brain off.
-I actually can turn my brain off....which I think is more scary than anything.

Matt enjoying some veggie burgers after his 5:10, first mountain 50k finish

Jordan Whitlock went on to drive far away to his Spartan Race (obstacles) and win it on Sunday...pretty sick. 

Matt after his first mountain 50k

The mountain.