Eastern States 100M, Waterville, Pennsylvania

Elevation Range: 592' - 2132'               Elevation Gain: 19,288'

August 13, 2016 - My light saber may not glow as brightly as it used to, but the force was with me for this one. I have been resolved for months to go the distance at Eastern States. It was my A race for 2016. My finish here demonstrates that the execution of an intelligent plan works. There is no luck in these things. Nonetheless, despite detailed planning and all the mental rehearsal the key to my success was having pacing support in the later miles when the psychological demands become greatest. With respect to both the plan and the support I received I want to leave these detailed notes as somewhat of a template to follow for future tough endeavors. I believe there is a right way to accomplish this type of objective and I believe it is replicable. So here's how the old guy did it this time.

To finish was foremost in my mind, unequivocally. The difficulty and any incidental challenges were merely bugs on the windshield. I came to get it done. Most people taper for the two weeks or more before a race like this. Since I can no longer run fast or be competitive I don't feel like I need any extended rest beforehand. (I could be wrong!) So I push hard in my play and practice right up to the event itself. More than a couple days of rest before any race leaves me less than sharp. Climbing 11 peaks in the Adirondacks one week prior to this event sharpened my climbing and descending muscles. If you are running just to finish, then too much rest is detrimental, in my opinion.

Arriving in Waterville early I knew I had done everything possible to prepare both body and mind, which gave me the confidence to relax in the days before and not think about it. I slept well before the race and enjoyed socializing and even having a few drinks. Waking at my usual 0300 I took time with last-minute preparations and was ready to engage at 0500.

As 196 of us headed out in the balmy, humid darkness I hung back to watch the field stretch out ahead on the road. Feeling I wanted to be back even further I stopped to pee and relax after a mile before hitting single-track to begin the day's work. Conditions were warmer than one would like for a race. When your shirt is soaked after one mile, it is a reminder to go easy. Much of the field went out too fast. Only 66 would finish the course. A slower start would have seen more reach their goal.

The first three miles were a patient exercise of 3 mph jogging before reaching the first significant climb of the day. On my first venture here two years ago I raced from the beginning, leading a train of people up the first climb and over, at the ultimate cost of not finishing the race. This time I even stopped several times to reset my muscles with oxygen on the climb. We were all sweating profusely, but I was comfortable, drinking abundantly, and breathing lightly. After the first aid station on the second climb of the day the carnage became apparent for those that had overextended from the outset. People were falling by the wayside and would drop before ten miles. It was one of those days where patience trumped enthusiasm.

It was not surprising that I knew some of the other runners that were hanging back and following a similar strategy, veterans of other campaigns won and lost. I would see many of the same folks off and on all day and all night long, and many of them would finish just because they started easy.

Much of the day was pure execution of a patient strategy, with no racing involved. The true challenge arrives after dark when body and mind have been at it for 12 to 20 hours. That's when the race begins. There were several incidents of note that stand out however.

The most significant story of the day occurred after a steady three-mile slog up the hollow of Brown's Creek at about 28 miles into the day. Rain was in the forecast and expected in the afternoon so it was no surprise to see storm clouds and a front moving in at about 1400. The cooler air and rain would be welcome after the long run up the hollow, in which temperatures and humidity combined for a real feel condition of over 100 degrees. The storm arrived with an unexpected vengence, however.

Several of us were running separately when some limbs started to come down on the trail along with increasing rain. I put one arm over my head as protection against being hit with a limb as I continued running. Very quickly wind speed rose and the trees began whipping in the wind as lightning cracked overhead amidst deafening thunder. Atop the plateau we were running right under the leading edge of the storm. When treetops began to break off on all sides I quickly assessed the situation, found an 18-inch oak with no widow-makers above, and stood in its wake as the wind and rain drove horizontal at what I estimate to have been at least 70 mph. I grabbed another guy, AJ, who ran up behind me, and pulled him along side against the lee side of this mighty oak as we watched the terror of the moment unfold for a good ten minutes.

Tree after tree was destroyed all around. Perhaps two dozen in our immediate vicinity. Treetops with six to twelve inch limbs littered the trail where we had just run and where we were headed. It was a war zone with violent lightning overhead. Water pooled up quickly and would have rendered us electrocuted had there been an electrical discharge close by. There was nothing else we could do. We were "in the shit" with no other options. I looked up the trail to see a couple other people cowering beside trees for protection. For a moment I wondered if the race would turn into a rescue with so much potential for harm. With about fifteen of us in harm's way, somehow everyone escape injury and was able to continue.

AJ and I continued on the course in standing water around countless windfalls as the storm abated a bit. With so much lightning, I just wanted to get out of the line of these thunderstorms as soon as possible. We immediately picked up the company of Pedro who was emotionally terrified by the whole incident and not sure what to do. Spreading out, we gradually made our way out from under the storm, continuing to move along the course if for no other reason than to prevent hypothermia from being so soaked. The rain at that wind speed at ground level felt like bullets hitting you. The tree we stood next to protected us from the driving rain and wind, but we had to constantly look up and listen for a crack to make sure we got out of the way in the event the tree we were under broke off under the 90 to 110 mph gale winds happening at the top of the canopy. Very tentative for awhile. The experience was rich, but it was more than lucky that everyone came away without injury.

The heat of the day was broken with this cooler air front and rain storm. Hereafter we were all gifted with more tolerable conditions. When I arrived at the 31M Happy Dutchman aid station I was running well within myself and very pleased with how my body was responding to the duress of weather conditions and all the climbing and descending. This aid station was as far as I got two years previously when I stopped for a severe respiratory infection and fatigue. The fans and crews at the aid station were in surprisingly large numbers and I enjoyed responding to their cheers and high-fiving little children along the route. Out of the crowd popped Laurie Reinhart to run with me for a couple hundred yards. Seeing her smile just made my day. Many other friends were there as well, including Renee and Jeff Calvert who graciously saw to my every need throughout the entire event. Having folks take care of you to such an extent was not just vitally helpful, but also very humbling. I am forever in their debt and will certainly want to return the favor in times ahead, in kind or for other racers.

The following ten miles to reach Hyner State Park at mile 41 were mostly down-sloping grassy runways and easier single-track trails that enabled me to step up my tempo and run consistently. This section went quickly. Lots of bear poop on the grassy section and a three-foot rattler crossing at a powerline. It was nice to roll smoothly under cooler conditions. After Hyner, with the approach of darkness between miles 40 and 60, my pace slowed with more climbing. It was a psychological boost that I really needed to know that my pacer Amy Hanlon was waiting at Slate Run at mile 63. To have something to look forward to when you get down to the hard part of the race is so key to continuing with a good attitude. This is the part of the race that I generally lose interest, due to fatigue, both mentally and physically. The anticipation of having a partner to buoy you up and keep you company the rest of the challenge made all the difference. I can definitively say that I probably would not have made it on my own, once again. Having Amy as a pacer was the difference.

Arriving at Slate Run somewhere around 0100, I felt good despite having sore feet. The exhaustion was manageable. Because of the heat of the day, a storm delay, and purposefully descending all the rocky downclimbs through the hollows at a very deliberate slowed pace, I was a couple hours behind my anticipated schedule. It played on me mentally, but I was still well within cutoffs, maintaining a bit of a cushion for later in the course. I changed shoes and socks, which felt good, but I'm not sure if it made much difference. My feet were already blistered enough to make running on rocks uncomfortable. I would just have to run though it regardless of the pain. If I made one mistake on the day it was that I did not stay long enough at the aid stations to eat more food, specifically warm soup. To keep my stomach at bay I under-ate, but at a cost of not having enough energy throughout most of the night.

I didn't linger long at Slate Run before heading out across the new bridge to share the balance of the course with Amy. Up, up, up we climbed for the next three miles. My legs were good but my feet were shot and I was mostly running on fumes from not eating enough, but Amy's company put some spark back in my step, the vital missing ingredient in the many hundreds I have failed to complete.

I moved slowly through the night and didn't emerge at the mile 78 Blackwell aid station with much room to spare before the cutoff, but there was enough time yet with 25 miles yet to go to finish. I never doubted whether I could go the distance, but I was beginning to question if I could now meet the cutoffs. Again, it was Amy gently reminding me when it was essential to run more if I was serious about making it. We took up with a group of about a half dozen others going through the same time crunch. The extra company was supportive toward the end. With each aid station we kept teasing the cutoff time closer and closer to the point where we made it with only one second to spare at the mile 93 Barrens aid station.

With sore feet and knees and quads that were beginning to buckle on the downhills Amy kept me going, applying just enough pressure/encouragement to keep me on task. The final descent back to Little Pine and the finish was awesome as we charged down with marked urgency, not knowing whether we would make it or not since neither of us wore a watch. At the bottom we were able to round the final turn and charge up the grassy finish together to share the momentary glory of completing the 103 miles with 20 minutes to spare in 35:40:34.

It was a community effort. I could not have succeeded alone. My sincerest gratitude goes to Amy for dragging me through the hardest part of this challenge; but also in Renee and Jeff and the countless volunteers that make this all possible. My thanks extends to other friends along the course that offered words of encouragement and cheer. Craig Fleming has always been a superb race director and I have nothing but praise for the perfection of his execution, trail marking, and organization. And I never take for granted the support we all get from our fellow competitors. Often it is those in the trenches beside us that offer the most support and understanding and encouragement when we most need it. I love being with my tribe.

A good day. A coveted buckle to hold my ego up a while longer. What did I learn? Simply, I need a pacer late in the race, somebody I love and trust and enjoy spending time with - not just anybody or a stranger. I need to take more time to eat. I drank enough (I think I stopped to pee a dozen times or more with good color), but I did not get enough energy and lost two pounds on net for the day's effort. Something to work on. My stomach was contentious during the heat of the day and once I became exhausted, though I did not upchuck, but once I switched from drinking water to filling my bottles with ginger ale I had no more stomach issues. None. I will do that again. And I learned that I can finish any of these by just taking what I have learned over the course of my experience and applying it as a successful formula each time I set my sights on a finish, irregardless of the disadvantages of my age. Enough said. It was a damn fine day and shall continue as a damn fine memory.