John "lakewood" Fegyveresi

Sunday, April 6, 2014

2014 Barkley Marathons Run Report

Photo credits (John Price, Karen Jackson, Karine Comeau, et al.)

3-Loop Fun Run Finished (Just BARELY!!!)

I came into this year's Barkley run in a very different and unfamiliar mind-space than I had the previous two years........let me explain,

Back in 2012, I was completely and whole-heartedly all-consumed by the idea of finishing. My training was regimented and intense.  I was single in purpose and a goal of a sub-60 hour finish was my only option.  I had spent months studying every resource available, fallen asleep nightly dreaming of climbs and descents I'd never even seen in person, and imagined nothing greater than touching that yellow gate after 5 loops.  My schoolwork suffered a bit, I saw very little of friends, family, and loved-ones, and getting my daily hill workouts in was not was required.  It helped that we had fantastic weather that year, which made compass-navigating more feasible...and a finish more possible.  When somehow, I was able to pull off the impossible and actually finish, I wasn't quite sure how to feel.  Certainly it was incredible, and I knew I had earned something that no one would ever be able to take away, but I didn't know how it would affect my trail and ultrarunning in general.  I sort-of wandered for a bit and had trouble finding enjoyment out of other races for several months afterward.  I kind of had this nagging feeling of "what's next?".  It wasn't just that I finished either.  It was the entirety of the event.  I loved the people, the atmosphere, the culture, and the camaraderie of the Barkley.  It was a how an event should be in my mind.  When I showed up to some future races that year, I was turned-off by the sponsorships, the swag bags, the expos, and the corporate feeling.  I still had some fun at events like Hyner and Finger Lakes....but other events made me feel out of place.  I just wanted to go back to Frozen Head, to a place and an event that made me feel as I should.

When I got accepted for 2nd attempt last year, I was ecstatic to be going back.  I had been pining for it for almost a year and while tucked away in my little tent in Antarctica, I could think of nothing other than getting back out there and playing on the steep and briar-infested slopes at Frozen Head.  My training in 2013 was even more intense.  I pushed harder than I ever had in my life hitting 100+ mile weeks, 35,000' ascent weeks, and streaks lasting all winter.  I wanted to finish a 2nd time.  At least I thought I did.  I came to the 2013 Barkley more trained than for any other event in my life, even more so than the 2012 race.  Showing back up to Frozen Head was magical.  I was home again.  I played in the park for a week or so before the race and sucked the marrow out of it.  I got to be the veteran, giving advice (some good, some bad) to the virgins as they began to file in.  It was awesome.  I got to catch up with Brett, Travis, Jared, Carl, Nick and the Abbs' (along with many others).  It was truly magical.  When the race started, I comfortably, and strongly pushed out a quick 8:24 first lap in mediocre weather, still feeling great.  I knew that I was more trained and it was showing.  I was on great pace to finish again, even with the new course change.  But then something happened.  On loop 2, a whirlwind of things piled up on me and left me feeling empty.  I had stopped eating and the cold rain steered me into a hypothermic state.  A group of us got lost in the fog and I felt personally responsible for ruining their race.  My last quote that I remember uttering to Nick and Travis as we passed each on Rat Jaw on loop 2 was, "Guys.....I'm in a horrendously dark place right now...and it is so indescribably terrible".  Nick, trying to be encouraging said something along the lines of "Just don't quit at the tower!  Finish this loop dammit!".  But I did quit at the tower.  I stumbled down the mountain a cold, shivering, hypothermic, and depressed disaster.  Laz tapped me out and told me that even had I been legally finishing loop 2, he would have pulled me because I was shivering so badly.   I wasn't so much mad about quitting as I knew, for safety and health reasons, that it was likely the right thing to do, but I was confused and saddened by the horrible despondency and depression I was feeling.  I had never felt that way during an event before and it was simply awful.

As the following day went on, I found solace in becoming a member of Travis's crew and support.  In 2012, he and Alyssa were a big reason for my finish, so I got to feel like I was returning the favor.  Seeing he (and Nick) triumph was magical, and allowed me to find some peace out of the entire ordeal. When I got home I didn't run for a long time....weeks.  I couldn't find my center and I struggled with a lot of things.  I had lost sight of what it was that was important to me with regards to being outdoors and playing on trails, and my experience at the Barkley allowed me to realize this.  I slowly found my compass bearing again, and started up with the running...more cognizant of the aesthetics and beauty of the running, and not so much the number-crunching.  Gradually I found that happiness again, and ended up having an incredibly fun year playing at events like 3 Days, and Vol State.  I slowed down a bit in 2013, and like I said, I tried to enjoy the trails and roads more for what they were, and not for the times I might clock running on them.  It was a bit of a soul-search I had to go through I think, a sort-of running-epiphany....but one that I necessarily needed.  It was my failure at Barkley that made it possible.

So....when I applied for this year's Barkley, I wrote a very different kind of essay and had a very different mental goal for my run.  I knew, without question, that I would not be able to get in the training that I would really need, especially if the course change was to be at all significant (which it WAS!).  I have been in the final stages of writing up my doctoral thesis, and finding time to squeeze in the necessary hill workouts was an incredibly difficult struggle.  Still, I got in a fair amount...and enough to give me a small fighting chance.  The most important thing to me this year was to just enjoy as much time as I could on the course for whatever that meant.  I wanted to just be out there.  I also had made the decision beforehand that I would not forcefully latch on to anyone.  I would simply do my own thing, and if that meant I was around others great...but if others went ahead, that'd be great too.  I wanted to find myself on the course, and absorbing the experience within my own mind.  No ipods, no time-math, no crazy heart-rate monitoring....just me and the woods.   I had made a few other adjustments as that I had decided that I would use my trekking poles this year...something that I had wished I had done last year.  I proved in 2012 that a stick works, but I missed my poles for sure.  I also carried a lot more clothing, rain gear, and I was heavier.  I knew the forecast was not looking so great so I didn't want to screw around with hypothermia again.  There were also a lot of people I was really looking forward to meeting and catching up with this year.  People like Willy "Natureboy" Syndram (with whom I hiked the 75 miles of the Smokies on my AT thru-hike back in 07),  and Heather "Anish" Anderson, the current PCT speed record holder.  I knew other fast runners with large ultra resumes would be coming too...people like Jamil Coury and Eva Pastalkova, that I was looking forward to chatting with.  But as always, I was really looking forward to seeing the likes of the legends like Ed Furtaw, Matt Mahoney, Mike Dobies, Stu Gleman, and of course Laz himself.  I wanted a year to relish in, and remember, regardless of the outcome.  I knew in my heart, that this could be my last year participating in a while as I just don't know where I'll be, and what I'll be doing next year at this time.


This year I again came to Frozen Head a few days early, but mostly just to get myself in the right headspace, not so much to explore trails.  I did spend a few days making some trailed loops around the park, but mostly I just sat in my cheap motel room in Wartburg or my tent at Frozen Head working on my thesis.  As the week got closer to Friday, I was amazed at how slowly people were filing in to camp.  I thought for sure that more virgins would want as much time as possible to prod the veterans for useful info...but it seemed there was a general attitude this year of "ahhh...I'll just follow a veteran"  By Thursday afternoon people were still slowly trickling in, and I found myself settled in nicely at the site right next to my site from the previous 2 years.  I was sharing with a few others, and right next to the Abbs' and Jared.  It was a great little group.  I wandered around and met whom I could, caught up with those I knew, and chatted with the virgins.  I helped a few with map issues, tried to give hints where I could...but mostly just relaxed.  I did not do any running or hiking for the 2 days before the race.  I simply ate and took it easy.  On Friday afternoon, Laz put out the map and we all glared at it in horror as we envisioned the new 600+ foot climb that we'd now have to do (Hiram's Vertical Smile).  Last year's change, while not trivial, was still manageable.  This year though, it was going to definitely add some time onto loops.  It was quite significant....and we all knew it.  Even Jared knew it.  I prepped my gear, set up my car-aid-station, made my food bags, and wrote down all of my necessary compass headings on my two maps.  It all went fairly smoothly, and I was relaxing again by the time the chicken came out.  I enjoyed some lively banter up by the fire and traded some good Vol State and Barkley stories (particularly with Alan).  The general opinion around camp was that Laz was going to start the race early morning, but no one knew for sure.  I was guessing a 5 - 6 am start.  Sure enough the conch blew at 5:46 am waking me up in my tent after a very poor night's sleep.  

Talking chicken and Vol State with Alan and Nikki.

We all scrambled around getting our gear and supplies in order.  I burned through 20 minutes just taping and prepping my feet, but it was worth every minute of it.  Thankfully I had prepped my entire bag the night before so really just had to eat, and freshen up before heading up to the gate.  About 5 minutes before the cigarette, I checked in and took my place at the front of the gate.  I wanted to again take a spot near the front up Bird Mountain.  I knew Jared would likely go out first, but I had hoped to be not far behind.  At precisely 6:46 am, Laz lit the cigarette and we were off....

6:46 AM Start (still in the dark)

The forecast for the race was basically that the first day would be on-and-off rain, cooler, with a very cold first night (with maybe even some snow).  There were also conflicting reports of high winds for later in the day.  In other words I knew the first 18-24 hours would be tough and I mentally prepared for it.  I would not be pulling out another 8:24 loop, pending some miracle.  I led the wave up Bird Mountain with the Abbs', Jamil, and Jodi not far behind.  At the top we broke off onto the Cumberland Trail taking at least 6-8 people with us.  It was a large crew that seemingly wanted to keep us veterans in sight.  After quick work through Fangorn we came upon the first book and chaos ensued.  Everyone frantically wanted their pages first.  It was a bit of a push/shove match but eventually I left with my page just behind Alan and Bev.  We bolted down Checkmate still pulling several other runners with us and before we knew it were climbing up to Jury Ridge.  At the top, we put our game faces on as we began the dreaded new section.  After grabbing the new Book 2 just off of Jury Ridge's ridgeline, we took an incorrect line down to the confluence and Book 3.  We ended up passing the gas well, but were still too far North.  We wandered around for a good 10 minutes looking for the draw and the confluence and eventually bumped into Jared who was also wandering around looking for the Book.  We all agreed we were too far North as the landscape didn't seem right, and after a good 15 minutes we finally found the right place and the book.  We began the new, and very steep climb back up to the North Boundary Trail where we would pop back in to the usual course.  From here on out, the course would be the same as last year.  On the climb, the first real significant one of the day, I noticed I was already lagging behind the others.  I decided that I would do my own thing and let them go on ahead.  I was here to enjoy myself and that was it.  What none of us knew was that while were were looking for Book 3, several others passed us.  At the top of the climb, we scrambled up the Vertical high wall (which was tons of fun!), and popped out on the NBT.  I jogged my way along the trail, past the coal ponds (passing several others along the way) until the final switchbacks up to Garden Spot.  I hiked up and gathered the book...making sure to eat as well.  By this point, the rains and fog had started.  I had caught up to Jodi at this point and I decided to navigate down through the Stallion, Butt-slide, Fyke's sections.  

The two of us made quick, albeit briar-infested work up on Stallion, and were soon descending down to the New River.  The Abbs and Jamil were still well out of view ahead of us.  We had some great conversation up and over the Spectacle and I showed him the navigation ropes up Pig Head Creek.  My climbing was still labored, but I was having fun.  Once we hit Rat Jaw, the rain was full-on.  It was cold, windy, wet, and foggy on the climb.  This also meant that the mud had become similar to last year...almost impassible.  We found ourselves climbing Rat Jaw by staying on top of the briars for traction.

Alan, Bev, Jamil Descending....Jodi and I ascending 
(I'm at the top of picture, a bit behind Jodi)

Jodi killing the climb up RatJaw

Final push up Ratjaw

Topping out in the fog

Jodi and I getting pages at the tower (Loop1)

I made the descent with Jodi and we made quick work through the prison tunnel.  On the other side we could see the Abbs' and Jamil starting the climb up the Bad thing and we figured we'd probably catch up to them if things went well.  We dove into the briars by the water towers and began the slow and painful climb up the Bad Thing (probably my least favorite climb on the entire course).  I explained the contour around the top to the proper capstone and we nailed it almost dead on.  Within a minute or so on the top we were tearing our pages out and checking our compass headings for our descent down zip line.   Our line wasn't terrible down, but was a smidge off as we found ourselves a little off course near the bottom.  We spotted the Abbs' and Jamil across the creek though and jumped in to join them.  The 5 of us got our Beech Fork pages and climbed Big Hell together to the summit.  After the long/slow climb, we grabbed our last pages and began the jog/run back to camp down from Chimney Top.  The wind was blowing and I had to stop to put on another rain shell.  We had a good pace all the way back to camp and came up on the gate at about 9 hours 12 minutes....a little slower than I would have liked, but not bad considering the rain and fog that had been plaguing us all day.  I knew the night loop was going to be tough and I informed the others I'd be spending 20-25 minutes in camp.


In camp I moved with purpose, but also made sure not to miss anything.  I knew on our current time and pace, we'd likely get through the new parts still in daylight which was fantastic in my book.  We each spent about 25 minutes eating, and resupplying.  I was careful to bring lots of extra clothing.  I knew it was going to be a cold night, and even though the rain had mostly stopped, we were all still wet  and would get even colder as the night moved on.  Additionally, the winds had started to pick up.  At the gate, we all checked out and began the climb up Bird.  Things went smoothly at checkmate, and we were soon climbing up to Jury Ridge mentally preparing for the new parts.  I was again lagging a bit, and had decided that once on the climb up from the new section, I would slow up a bit and let the others go ahead.  This time, we navigated book 2 perfectly with the help of Jodi (who had nailed it his first time through).  On the climb, I watched as the others slowly pulled away and I mentally prepared for a long, cold night alone.  I took time to eat, and kept a smooth and even pace.  The NBT went by mile by mile, and soon I was climbing to Garden Spot.  When I arrived, I was surprised to see that the others were only a few minutes ahead of me.  I stopped for a couple minutes to warm up and eat.  I made the turn to Stallion, feeling pretty good, and made quick work down the Barley Branch towards Leonard's Butt Slide.  At the bottom, I had caught back up to the group, but there was someone missing.  I noted Bev wasn't around and had assumed she was just taking a pit stop, but Alan informed me that she had to drop due to borderline hypothermic conditions.  I knew exactly how awful that feels and it brought back vivid memories from last year.  I was super bummed to hear the news, but you simply don't mess around with safety issues.  The night had gotten very cold and it was now sleeting on and off.  We were all so far into the loop yet all we could all think about was getting back to the gate.  There was definitely some quit temptation coming on at this point.  Moving through the remaining parts of the loop were slow and labored.   Generally on the climbs I fell back behind the group a bit, but then caught back up on the downs.  One by pages were collected, and we suffered through the cold up to the tower.  The fog was pretty bad, but not quite as bad as last year.  At the tower, I was presented again with a temptation to quit and recalled my mental state last year.  This is where I gave up.  I refused to this year.  I quickly headed down Ratjaw before the debate was even settled, so that I would have no choice but to finish the loop.  I was dreading the thought of the Bad Thing.  I simply hate that climb...but we were making steady progress.  We ran into Jared at the Beech Fork as he was heading out on his loop 3.  It was good seeing him and he still had quite a bit of spunk in his step.  I had no doubt that he'd be going for 5, pending some major blowout.  We made the last slog up to Chimney Top, got our pages, and began the jog back to camp.  

We came into the gate at about 23 total hours. The first words out of Laz's mouth were "Well that was kind of a slow loop for you guys!".  My immediate response was...."you're a bad, bad man Laz".   On the run into camp, we had all discussed our intentions, and the general consensus was that we would all like to go for loop 3, but none of us were particularly thrilled about it.  I informed the others that I would be taking at least 45 minutes this break.  I need to warm up, and re-evaluate my goals.I set up in the warm bathroom, and ate a lot of food to replenish.  Alan and Jamil were also doing the same, while Jodi was taking a nap.


The decision to go out on loop 3 was a very difficult one.  Had I not dropped so early last year, there is a good chance I would have pulled the plug at 2.  At 24+ hours we all knew it but didn't want to say it: A 5 loop finish was no longer possible.  A 3rd loop would be it if we went for it.  A fun run would be all I would come away with.  Considering my lack of training, and the horrendous weather on day/night 1, I was actually quite content with this thought.  The problem was, we still had to do that 3rd loop.  I had many debates in my mind, but after about 70 minutes of mulling around, I finally just got up and starting walking towards the gate.  If I didn't do it then, I was never going to do it.  Jamil and Alan reluctantly followed.  We hadn't see Jodi.  We were all starting to suffer from the effects of sleep deprivation a bit.  We were slow on the climb and since it had become clear that this would be our last lap, we laid into the caffeine tabs.  Alan and I started popping 200mg tabs left and right.  The mini boosts were nice, but really did nothing more than to keep us alert.  Slopping around in the mud and cold the previous night had really cost me a lot of energy...much more so than in 2012.  I was much more tired on this loop 3 than on my 2012 loop 3.  Thankfully, the sun was just starting to come up on the climb up to Chimney Top.  Branches along the trail were caked in wind-blown ice.  It was quite surreal.  The wind at the top was still biting hard and made for a brisk morning.  It felt good to be on a reverse first since 2012.  We navigated perfectly down and up the Beech Fork and were soon descending to the prison.  Alan and I got off course going down the Bad Thing, but corrected quickly.  Still, Jamil had managed to beat us down and was waiting for us at the book.  We noticed that Jodi's page was also missing, meaning he had passed us at some point.  It was apparent that the sleep did him well!  I was happy for him that he was having such a strong loop 3 and finally going out on his own.  I secretly began to hope that he might sneak in under 36 and still have time to go out for a 4th. 

The long climb up lower and upper Rat Jaw took a while, and we were greeted part way up by the French film crew.  I think at one point they got video of me that'll be some lovely footage. Right as we began climbing upper Rat Jaw, Jodi was already coming down.  He had already gained about 45-60 minutes on us and was looking fantastic!  I could see the hunger in his eyes.  It reminded me of myself two years ago.  We all wished him well, and the three of us plodded on.  We made quick work on Rat Jaw and Alan began hinting at quitting.  I tried to keep his mind distracted and soon the three of us were descending back down Pig Head Creek.  There'd be no quit at the Tower this loop dammit!  I led us down that descent and got out on the road quickly.  The climb up Meth Lab Hill, despite being tame, really sapped me.  I fell behind again.  I began to worry a bit about our finishing time.   I kept telling the other two NOT to wait for me as it might come down to minutes.  On the descent down the Spectacle though, I caught back up with Alan and we breezed down to the New River grabbing the swamp book in the process.  In my mind we now had 3 major climbs left...Stallion, Hiram's Smile, and Checkmate.   We just needed to get through them and we'd be done.  The climb up Stallion was the longest, but it's one of my favorites so it didn't bother me.  The sandwich I'd eaten at the tower was finally kicking in and I maintained a steady pace up the entire climb.  Within an hour we were en route to Garden Spot with 4+ hours of time remaining.  We hustled at the Spot, and began a very brisk hike along the NBT.  We passed the turn off to quitter's road where I told Alan he had come this far...he was stuck with us till the end.  There'd be no quitting.  When the three of us made it to the "Wilderness" Ridge at the turnoff to the new section, we all breathed a long sigh, gathered ourselves, took a bearing, and dove down into the woods.  I took lead, and navigated quite well, down to the confluence.  On the ascent up to Jury Ridge, Jamil confidently took lead and picked a perfect line up to the Book 2 cairn.  This was critical to our finishing as we lost no time here.  It was truly a perfect ascent.  At the top, we all ate quickly, sussed ourselves out, and did some time-math.  We also put our headlamps on as it was getting dark.  We all agreed we needed 2 hours from Phillips Creek to be safe.  We were at 2:20.  We hustled down the switchbacks to the creek and began the climb up Checkmate with about 1:55 remaining.  It was going to be close.

I had never navigated up Checkmate in the dark so we all agreed to let Alan lead.  It was a lot of pressure to put on him, but he navigated us perfectly and when we topped out on the coal bench I thought we could relax and had the finish in the bag.  We rounded the bench to the book...BUT IT WASNT THERE.  Panic set in. We scrambled back and forth and could not find it.  I knew all of the visual markers.  The rusty cable, the fallen tree....everything was where it should be...but no book.  Precious minutes ticked by and I yelled, "I'm not going to go out like this dammit!".  Finally, I took a deep breath, climbed up on the center ridge where we come down to the book, and traced an approach to where it should be.  I popped out on the bench, looked to my left where the book should be....and there it was.  It was there all along.  Annoying! In the end, we lost about 5-7 minutes, making our precious cushion that much slimmer.  We quickly bolted into Fangorn. I navigated, praying that I didn't screw us up.  A couple of times I didn't recognize the surroundings, but I always gathered myself quickly and refound the route quickly.  Soon we were making the final climb up to Hiram's Gambit and the final high-point of the race.  We popped out on the Cumberland Trail, hopped over the Pillars and hit the Bird Trail junction at the top with 25 minutes to get to the bottom.  I did the quick math, turned to the guys and said,

"I think we have to run a bit to make this guys.  I don't want to be the guy that misses it by 2 I'm running.  I don't care how much it hurts".

They agreed and we sort-of run-hobbled our way down the mountain, grunting and groaning the entire way.  My attitude shifted between elation and panic.  Moments would pass where I was convinced we'd make it, and then after countless switchbacks not ending, I'd panic and start running faster.  I kept hearing the creek, but it never seemed like it was getting closer.  

10 minutes left.  Still switchbacking....still seemingly no closer.   7 minutes left and the creek is now loud.  I see a headlamp and know we are close.  I recognize the last switchback and realize I'm about to pop out on the road.  We're going to make it.  This is the first moment I'm truly convinced we'll make it....only about 1/4 mile from the finish.  The headlamp was from some of the film crew waiting.  I turn on the adrenaline afterburners and run around the corner not waiting for Alan and Jamil (I know they are just 30 seconds behind me anyway and that they're safe to finish as well).

I ran down the final road to a large and welcoming crowd of my Barkley Family cheering and hollering for us all.  I touch the gate at 39:56, with just 4 minutes to spare.  Alan and Jamil are a minute behind me.  The crowd tells us all that it was the most intense and exciting fun-run finish ever...waiting for us.  They were all biting their nails and watching as our headlamps descended the mountain, wondering if we'd make it.  I took a well-earned seat in the chair by the gate, turned in my pages, and then stood up to gracefully accept my Taps.  We all laughed about the crazy finish, and then gradually retired to our campsites and tents.  It was a hell of a fun run finish.  Jodi had gained over 3 hours on us during his 3rd loop finishing with an amazing 36:36...just a smidge over the cut-off for a loop 4 attempt.  He had the 2nd best performance at Barkley this year and should feel pretty darn good about that.  I can definitely see him coming back for another go.

The next day at about 4 pm, I stood patiently at the gate and watched as Jared Campbell became the 2nd two-time finisher.  I stood eagerly for over an hour and listened to his wonderful stories of loops 4 and 5.  I couldn't help but smile to see such an incredibly humble guy, with such a kind heart, finish the Barkley for a 2nd time (especially on this tougher course).  It was an honor to shake his hand and hear his stories.  He earned his finish, and I hope he takes a nice long rest in the coming weeks.

All in all it was a great success.  I was of course somewhat disappointed not to be out on a 4th or 5th, but considering my lackluster training this year, I can't be anything but content with my fun run.  I drove home from Tennessee quite pleased with my experience and happy to have met and talked with so many great people.  I will miss my Barkley Family over the year, but will be thinking of all of you often.  Thanks for again imprinting the indelible memories in my heart and mind.

hike on my friends,

39:56 Fun run finish

Alan's Finish and Taps

Jamil's Finish

The Barkley Buckle

Celebrating with Jodi the next day.  (Using a pole to walk!)

Jared Campbell Finishes again:  57:50

Monday, March 3, 2014

An Honest Attempt at Ranking my Runs

Resting between loops at the 2008 Peak Races Funeral Run

I came across a fantastic web journal from a fellow ultrarunner (D. Crocket) where he had discussed the various difficulties with each ultra he had run, followed by a formal "ranking".  He has over 50 100-milers on his very inspiring resume.  I realize any time you rank something moderately subjective like this there is a very large "personal experience" component built in.  Perhaps the course was not very technical, but you had a really bad time with humidity or with keeping food down on race day.  Do you rank the course based on that personal experience, or simply on the technical and environmental difficulties of the course assuming all else being equal?  What about distance, what if you ran a ridiculously tough and technical 50k and a moderate 100 miler.  Does the 100 miler automatically come out being "harder" just because of its length, or do you rank a course per-mile?

I looked back through my ultra resume and while respectable, I do feel it is still somewhat nascent and thin as far as overall number of runs and the diversity of those runs.  I suppose if you factor in my thru-hikes it gets a little thicker.  I decided to try and take a stab at ranking my own experiences...mostly just for fun, and partly as a way for me to walk down memory lane.  In my case I decided to take the overall approach of objective race difficulty and putting my personal ups/downs aside.  Meaning that if someone were to read this, they'd get a feel for the difficulty of the course and race in general and not be influenced by a "bad day" I might have had.  A perfect example of this was my experience at Badwater.  Being that I was ill with a stomach virus, my personal experience of the course was much more difficult that had I been healthy.  This obviously won't apply to people reading my reviews (unless they also happen to come down with a random stomach virus 2 days before race day).

I first broke my races up in to 4 categories:  100-milers, 50-milers (and 100K), 50K, and Sub-50k Trail Races.  I left out road marathons or shorter.  I also decided to do 2 different rankings. I rank each race within it's own category compared to the other races I've done of the same distance, and I rank each race with a distance-weighted difficultly ranking.  In other words I weighted the difficulty of a course somewhat based on it's length, so if a short race was really difficult, I ranked it as more of a "per-mile" rank.  So in this weighted ranking, a 50K could rank more difficult than a 100-miler based on its technicality. 

First some totals:
I have run 
*  17 100(or more)-milers, on 10 different courses.
*  10 50-milers and 1 100-K, on 5 different courses.
*  6 50-Ks, on 5 different courses.
*  7 sub-50k trail races on 6 different courses
There are several other races I decided not to include in my totals as they were mostly all paved marathon or shorter, or simply not worthy or notable enough for this list.

Obviously I haven't run very many high-profile races like Hardrock, Bear, HURT..etc.  These would almost certainly fall high on a difficulty list.  Below reflects just my own personal rankings of the few races I have participated in.

OVERALL RANKINGS (Weighted Difficulty Based on Distance)

1.  Barkley Marathons (100+M)

Without question, this race is at least an order of magnitude greater than any other event I've participated in. It ranks #1 in difficulty by all measures.  60,000 feet of unforgiving gain, endless saw briers, self-supported, compass self-navigation, no digital aids, unpredictable weather, potential for injury, name it.  The Barkley has it all.  The most difficult mind games and self-doubt you can ever imagine and endure.  I am living proof that with proper training, this race can physically be completed by a "mid-packer", but the mental anguish is indescribable and near-impossible to overcome.  The worst race you can imagine or remember, is not even 10% of what you will experience here in this regard (except for maybe a Nolan's run or some such).  There's also the fact that while no one has officially measured it, the course is roughly assumed to be closer to 125 total miles (25 per loop).  On my 2nd attempt last year I only made it around the loop twice and was utterly destroyed.  You are pretty much guaranteed to have weird weather too.  My first year it was 80+ degrees and horribly humid, and last year it was snowing, raining, and foggy.  If you want to get a very small and much tamer taste of what the Barkley is all about, the race director is now offering a 50K version in the fall (The Barkley Fall Classic).  While also at Frozen Head though, this race will be on marked trails and feature aid stations.  Still, I imagine there will be many who don't finish.  Even the marked trails at FH are brutal.  To date, my 2nd running at Barkley is my only recorded DNF.

Overall Per-Mile Ranking:  1
Ranking of 100-milers: 1
Times Run:  2
Total Finishes:  1
Best Time: 59:41:21 (3rd)

2.  Frozen Snot (14+ M)

This may seem weird to have a 14-miler as my 2nd most difficult ranked race, but from a per-mile perspective and distance-weighted, this course is horrendous (and took me almost 4 hours to complete).  Three horrific climbs, over 5000 feet of gain, and terrible conditions.  If it were stretched out to 100 miles, it would have over 30,000 feet of icy/snowy gain.  Ugh!  Everything was covered in ice, the trails were crunchy with unavoidable post-holing, and some of the descents were so steep that it required rocky/icy butt-sliding.  Trekking poles didn't help here, and screw-shoes or micro-spikes were an absolute necessity.  I started with 36 hex screws in my shoes and ended up with just 8.  To say that this "short" 14 mile course absolutely kicked my ass would be a huge understatement.  In the spring or fall, I would probably rank it lower, but being in the heart of January, just adds to an already brutal race.  The first climb out of the gate was a 1600 foot boulder scramble straight up an icy boulder field (see pic above).  The fact that it took me 4 hours and yet I still finished 13th place should say something.  The only "moderate" sections of this course were the first and last mile.

Overall Per-Mile Ranking: 2
Ranking of Sub-50K: 1
Times Run: 1
Times Finished: 1
Best Time: 3:51 

3.  Massanutten 100+

There's no other way to really say it.  Massanutten is a really tough 100-miler.  One of the most difficult East of the Mississippi by most measures.  The race is almost 105 miles total, and the rocks are soul-crushing.  Endless miles of very technical terrain, an elevation profile that almost seems like it's just messing with you, and widely-spaced aid stations had me ranking this bad boy at #3.  I had an incredibly tough day at Massanutten in 2012, and struggled even worse through the night.  The finishing percentage might lead you to believe that this course isn't as bad as I make it out to be, but I can assure you that it is a tough one to get through.  I ran very hard, and was in great shape...but still took over 26 hours to finish (and that was a 20th place finish too!).  I struggled many times with the desire to quit during this event and barely hung on.  I told myself that I would not return to the course after I finished, and two years later I still have not been back.  I imagine I will tackle it again at some point, but for now, I am content with my 2012 finish.  It's important to note that the temperatures can get hot too.  I remember it being quite humid during the race.

Overall Per-Mile Ranking: 3
Ranking of 100-milers: 2
Times Run: 1
Times Finished: 1
Best Time: 26:26:12

4.  Vol State Road Race (100+M - actually 314 miles)

I had a very hard time deciding where and how to rank Vol State.  Certainly based on the finishing percentage, it appears on paper to not be that difficult.  It's just really long.  I remember when waiting to board the bus at the start before the race, Carl Laniak was talking about the overall race.  He looked at a group of us and said something like, "You guys just have no idea how hard this is".  I remember thinking that he was just exaggerating and while it was over 300 miles long, it was all road.  How could it be that hard?  I very quickly learned how wrong I was.  Yes the course is on roads, and yes there isn't much elevation gain. is hot, it is humid, and 314 miles is a really, really, really, long way;  especially if you are entirely self-sufficient.  There's an enormous level of logistical planning involved when thinking about how and what you are going to eat and where you might sleep (if at all).  For over 200 miles you will be operating in a sleep deprived state and taking unsatisfying cat-naps under a mylar blanket in the grass on side of the road.  This is almost guaranteed and it is extremely difficult.  It sounds so easy doesn't it.  Just plod along for 5 days right?  How can the course record only be 4.5 days?  I could do it in 3 easy! you can't.  314 miles is a really, really, long way, and this is coming from someone that has thru-hiked two trails over 2000-miles long.  Completing Vol State is a complete exercise in mental fortitude not all that unlike Barkley, especially if you are trying to finish up front (4-5 days).  You get very little time for rest, and trying plan for food and sleep while in a sleep-deprived haze is a horrific chore.  I stumbled half-awake for dozens of miles along this course and was in constant pain from the endless walking/running.  This race was the one I underestimated more than any other.  It deserves respect and a large amount of humility from anyone hoping to finish, especially in sub-5 days.  You will chafe, you will have chronic pain, you will run out of water at least once, you will likely get chased by dogs, you will almost get hit by several cars, you will take a wrong turn in some random town, and you might even have to eat of a garbage can (ask Alan about that one).  It is a very difficult race, but for very different reason than at typical races.

Overall Per-Mile Ranking: 4
Ranking of 100-milers: 3
Times Run: 1
Times Finished: 1
Best Time: 112:19:01 (2nd)

5.  Peak Races Funeral Run (50-Miler)

The Peak Funeral Run was a one-time race held back in 2008.  It has since been replaced and/or integrated into other races offered by Peak Races (The same group that puts on the Death Run and the 500-miler in May).  I ranked this run at 5 because as a weighted 50-miler, I think it deserves it.  It's been a while since I ran it, so the details are hazy, but the course involved 4 loops, each being 12.5 miles.  A loop had just under 4000 feet of gain putting the overall gain at about 15000 (if I remember correctly).  Extrapolated to a 100, this would put it up near Hardrock's gain (without the altitude of course).  This was only the 2nd ultra I had ever run so I didn't know any better.  Mostly what I remember was that the climbs and descents were all really tough.  This was the first race I came back from with several bad toe nails from all of steep downhills.  Additionally it took me 12 hours to do the 4 loops and I was running hard.  There were only 7 finishers total of which I was 2nd (beaten by the legendary Ben Nephew).  Having so few runners also meant that I was almost entirely alone on the course, which gave it a very lonely feeling.

Overall Per-Mile Ranking: 5
Ranking of 50-milers: 1
Times Run: 1
Times Finished: 1
Best Time: 11:55:00

6.  Badwater 135

The Badwater 135 was definitely on my bucket list, but I was somewhat shocked and hesitant when I got the acceptance letter.  When I sent in the application in February of 2012, I had just sort of expected to be rejected.  I threw my name in after again being denied both Hardrock and Western States and thought.....why not!  I have never done historically well in hot races, so I had assumed that this would be absolutely brutal. The race organization boasts that the Badwater 135 is the "Toughest Footrace on the Planet", and I was certainly approaching it as such.  Upon acceptance, I had still not run Barkley, so really had no concept of scale to compare it to.  By the time I arrived for the race in July though, I had successfully survived Barkley and had a much larger level of respect and tolerance for "extreme" events.  Many people will offer many opinions about this race.  Many will declare it nearly impossible.  Some will cite the high finishing percentage as proof it's "quite easy".  For me, I would say this:  If you properly train for the heat by prepping in saunas and steam rooms, and you truly prepare your body for 120+ degree temps, the race itself is very doable.  135 miles is more than a 50k longer than a typical 100, so you also have to be ready to be on your feet for several more hours, but my honest opinion is that Badwater is actually much more tame than you'd imagine.  Now of course it is still Badwater.  It is still 120 degrees in July.  It is still 135 miles on radiating pavement alongside dust devil, sand-blasting storms.  It is still several thousand foot climbs up to Townes Pass and to the Whitney Portal.  It is tough.  But, with proper training, a good crew, and sufficient gear it's actually quite manageable.   This is why it ranked #6 on my list and not #2.  The entire course is on smooth pavement, meaning you don't have to worry about footing or trail tread ever.  If you wear a nice padded pair of Hokas (or similar), your feet should hold up just fine.  With all this being said, and despite my personal situation of getting a stomach virus before race day, I would say that the atmosphere surrounding Badwater is quite surreal and incredible.  I really enjoyed the fanfare of the event, and LOVED the geology and landscapes of Death Valley.  If you are at all into the geosciences, there's no better place to run an ultra than Death Valley.  There were also little things too, like watching the faint line of headlights climbing up in the Distance to the Darwin Plateau.  Popping into the gas station at Panamint Springs at 1 in the morning.  I actually have many wonderful and incredible memories from this race and would absolutely love to do it again someday in the future (when I'm not a poor grad student).

Overall Per-Mile Ranking: 6
Ranking of 100-milers: 4
Times Run: 1
Times Finished: 1
Best Time: 38:06:00

7.  Rothrock Challenge 30K

Oh Rothrock.  I have an absolute love/hate relationship with this race and this course.  It is brutal.  4500 feet of tough gain over 19 very rocky miles in the heart of summer.  There are also a couple of sketchy boulder scrambles and a few 1200' steep climbs.  It's a beast....but it's also the course that's in my backyard that I ran back-to-back every weekend while training for Barkley. There is no better place to train for the steep and unforgiving terrain of the Barkley than up and down the direct trails on the Rothrock Course.  As a weighted course, this is easily #7 if not higher.  Both times I've run this race I've finished completely depleted and exhausted (and usually covered in ticks and mosquito bites).  In  2011 when I ran this course I idiotically ran it wearing minimalist shoes.  To this day, I still deal with toe pain incurred at that race when I smashed my big toe into a rock.  Mile-for-mile, Rothrock is right up there and will put you out of commission for a few days afterward from the general soreness.  On the upside, there is always amazing food and beer at the finish line.  It's one of the best post-race parties second only to possibly Hyner.

Overall Per-Mile Ranking: 7
Ranking of Sub-50K: 2
Times Run: 2
Times Finished: 2
Best Time: 3:39:00

8.  Virgil Crest 50K

Again, strictly weighted for distance here, I would rank Virgil Crest at #8.  This course is another tough one riddled with some hearty climbs and descents.  I would rank it as the most difficult 50K I've ever run by far (edging out Hyner 50k).  The 100-miler is no joke and many people this year dropped down to the 50 miler option.  The course features several direct climbs up ski lift slopes and back down rocky technical trails.  For me this year, the mud was a killer, but that does not weigh into my ranking.  As you can see from the elevation profile, you are always moving vertically on this course with no level trail (although the steepest climb is only about 800 feet).  Still with 6500 feet of total gain, you can imagine doing it three times for the 100-miler.  This past year there were only 18 finishers of the 100-miler with the average finishing time being about 30 hours.  

Overall Per-Mile Ranking: 8
Ranking of 50K: 1
Times Run: 1
Times Finished: 1
Best Time: 6:24:00

9.  Hyner View 50K

16 of the 31 miles of the 50k

The gas-line climb up "The S.O.B."

The Hyner View 50k is another one of these hidden gems of Pennsylvania that makes use of our underestimated, steep and rocky terrain.  I have run the race twice now, and both times I finished completely exhausted.  Like Virgil Crest, the climbs and descents are endless, and in many cases more technical.  The one exception here is that through the middle 10-15 miles of the race, you actually get a little break with a decent and run-able "flat" section up along a mountain top.  Still, with climbs like "Humble Hill", and "The S.O.B.", you can pretty much guess how the course will be.   The race used to just be a 16 miler but now features the longer 50k.  The original and more difficult 16 miles (see profile above) are still in the 50k course, but with the several more moderate miles in the middle.  Hyner also features the absolute best post-race party-shindig that I've ever experienced.  I'm registered again for this April.

Overall Per-Mile Ranking: 9
Ranking of 50K: 2
Times Run: 2
Times Finished: 2
Best Time: 5:44:26

10.  Leadville Trail 100

You might be wondering why I have Leadville ranked so low considering that during my first running in 2009, I barely finished under the cut-off.  Again, considering a weighted scale here, I had to think about the course form an overall perspective.  The biggest challenges with Leadville are the overall elevation and the aggressive time cut-offs.  If you come in good shape, and have had a few days to acclimatize, you have a good chance to finish.  In 2009 when I ran, I was in mediocre shape, overweight, and showed up a day before race because I read somewhere it's better to do it that way (which is so very wrong by the way).  Still, I managed to limp across the finish line in 29 hours.  Since then, every year I've gotten faster (except last year when I slowed back down a few minutes).  Generally speaking, the course does have some tough climbs, but really only 5 major ones (Hope pass x2, Sugarloaf x2, and Twin Lakes inbound).  I think an important factor with finishing this race is also to get out at a decent clip during the first 13-mile leg around Turquoise Lake.  Every year that I've run Leadville, the number of runners has increased.  This in turn, has made the narrow single-track around the lake increasingly congested.  I found that just by running a little fast in those early miles, saved me almost 20 minutes on my time by not getting stuck behind the proverbial "conga-line" of slower runners.  In 2009 I made it to the first aid station in almost 2:30.  Last year I did it in 2:00 flat just by running 8:00-8:30 miles for the first few.  I always made sure to keep my heart-rate under 155, so realistically, this didn't cost me much energy expenditure.  On a personal note, I have always had a soft spot for Leadville.  Many people have since boycotted this race due to the direction it has gone from both a management perspective and a race perspective.  Because I almost exclusively run alone (no pacer/no crew) now, I find that despite the 700+ runners, I am still able to find a nice "quiet" spot in the race and really focus on the beauty of the Sawatch Mountains.  I never regret running Leadville despite the chaos that can ensue.  Additionally, part of my experience always involves staying for 7+ days at the Leadville Hostel where I always make great memories.  I have run and completed the race 4 times now, but unfortunately....will not be running this year.  This has nothing to do with the race itself, but rather my impending PhD defense happening likely at the same time.

Overall Per-Mile Ranking: 10
Ranking of 100+M: 5
Times Run: 4
Times Finished: 4
Best Time 24:17:30

11.  Oil Creek 100

I always have a very hard time trying to find a place for Oil Creek in my difficulty rankings.  I have historically done very well at this race, but I also have several memories of struggling through it.  On paper, the profile doesn't look too intimidating, but the course nonetheless is a butt-kicker.  The overall gain is not tremendous (~14,000 feet), but there are many small ups and downs that add up quite quickly.  In addition there is a very difficult mental component at work here.  The course is 3 full 50K loops around the park, plus an additional 8-mile "coming-home" loop.  This can be very daunting mentally when you are knee deep into loop one, trying to comprehend that you still have to do 2 more full loops plus another baby loop.  I think this is a big reason many people pull the plug early on in this race.  This last Fall when I ran it, I struggled incredibly with this during loop 2.  I actually came relatively close to quitting, but managed to trudge on until eventually I was out on loop 3.  Once on that the 3rd loop, it starts to feel much more manageable.  Weather is usually very nice for this race and the trail tread is fantastic and well-maintained.  The volunteers are some of the best at any race and the director really puts a lot of thought and care into the event.  You can tell when you are there that the group of folks putting this on really think of everyone as a big family.  This is one of the main reasons I keep going back.  It still has the smaller home-grown feel to it as well, something that is becoming increasingly difficult to find in modern ultras.

Overall Per-Mile Ranking: 11
Ranking of 100+M: 6
Times Run: 3
Times Finished: 3
Best Time 21:43:23

12.  Greenwood Challenge (Half Marathon)

This one was tough to place and even harder to "weight" properly.  The race was a short half-marathon, but quite literally consisted of a huge climb, huge descent, huge climb, huge descent.  Perhaps I'm placing this a bit high, but I think it merits it for how short of a course it was.  I remembering red-lining my heart-rate monitor for the entire ~14 miles and finishing feeling as though I had just run a 50K.  I spoke about many of the specifics in my race report here:

Overall Per-Mile Ranking: 12
Ranking of Sub-50K: 3
Times Run: 1
Times Finished: 1
Best Time: 2:08:57

13.  Vermont 100

The Vermont 100 was my very first 100-miler.  Over 75% of the race is on forest roads and the single-track that does exist is fairly tame.  This is a fantastic race to do as a first 100-miler and provides a nice moderate mix with plentiful aid stations (one basically every 3-4 miles).  Even in 2009, when I was in much worse shape than I am today, I still managed a sub-24 hour race.  The humidity can be a bit rough, but with so many well-stocked aid stations and plenty of tree cover, it's quite bearable.  I really enjoyed running along with the horses on the course as well.  This all being said, it still is part of the Grand Slam..meaning it still has some spunk.  One shouldn't go into this race lightly, but if properly prepared, there's a good chance you'll be able to finish.

Overall Per-Mile Ranking: 13
Ranking of 100+M: 7
Times Run: 2
Times Finished: 2
Best Time 21:48:16

14.  Vermont 50

The 2008 Vermont 50 was my very first ultra.  I signed up for it two weeks before (back when you could still do that) after getting back from a mediocre showing at the Rochester Marathon.  I figured the marathon was a good "training run" for a 50.  Little did I know that running the VT50 would forever change my life and get me hooked on ultras forever.  The course is definitely hilly, but is also absolutely fantastic. To this day the VT50 course is still one of my all time favorites...especially the wonderful single track around mile 30.  Nothing particularly stands out on this course as terribly brutal, but overall it's still a challenging course.  There are definitely hills, but they are all quite manageable.  I have run this race 3 times, and look forward to getting back there for number 4 sometime soon.  It can get a bit muddy, but the changing fall colors make it all worth it!

Overall Per-Mile Ranking: 14
Ranking of 50M: 2
Times Run: 3
Times Finished: 3
Best Time:  8:42:11

15.  3 Days at the Fair (72-hour)

I was really torn on where to put 3 Days.  I could argue that based on its distance, it could very easily be in the top 10.  But here's the catch.  While it was a 72-hour event, you don't have to run all 72 hours.  The course itself is a 1-mile loop on a fairly even paved path.  The only real difficulty here arises from just how many miles you want to run and how much sleep you want to take.  If you want to get at least 200 miles, then you will struggle a bit.  But as far as course difficulty goes, it's about as simple as you get.  What makes this race so fun are the awesome people you get to hang out with for 3 days.  I had an absolute blast running in circles for three days and managed to finish in 3rd with a very respectable 231 miles!  I am again signed up for this race in a few months and can't wait.  Great people, and a great way to challenge yourself.  I rank it at 15 under the assumption that most people will probably try to get at least 150 miles over 3 days.

Overall Per-Mile Ranking: 15
Ranking of 100+M: 8
Times Run: 1
Times Finished: 1
Best Finish: 231 Miles

16.  Finger Lakes 50

I have run Finger Lakes 50 four times....and there's a reason.  It has always been a fantastic event.  This could probably be ranked a little higher, but I'll leave it here for now.  What makes Finger Lakes so special is the wonderful homegrown feel to it.  The night before, runners gather around a campfire to chat, sip beers, and eventually retire to their tents.  It's cozy at this race with a very friendly atmosphere.  The course itself has a few climbs, but is essentially all runable.  I've always managed to pace myself down a little so that I can simply enjoy being out there.  This is one of the few events that I ever really check my mileage.  I just sort of play until it's over, and I think this event has epitomized that component of ultras that I love so much.  I am unfortunately not returning this year, but likely will in future years provided I'm still living on the East Coast.  This would be a fantastic 50 to do as a first.  Very very moderate running on well groomed trails, with a couple of small hills.  A really good novice mix.

Overall Per-Mile Ranking: 16
Ranking of 50M: 3
Times Run: 4
Times Finished: 4
Best Time: 8:54:22 

17.  Winter Beast of Burden 100

The winter BOB 100 is a tough race in that it is held along the Lake Effect tunnel of Upstate NY in the heart of January.'s also on a completely flat and very runable course.  If you can manage your temperature well, there's no reason you shouldn't be able to run a very fast time at this event despite the frigid temps.  For my running, we had avg temps in the low teens with a fair amount of wind chill thrown in.  Still, I set a new 100-mile PR of 19:36 and ran probably 95 of the 100 miles (only walking the last few).  I imagine the summer BOB is even faster!

Overall Per-Mile Ranking: 17
Ranking of 100M: 9
Times Run: 1
Times Finished: 1
Best Time: 19:36:15

18.  Laurel Highlands (50K)

I really enjoyed the Laurel Highlands 50K.  There is a companion 71-mile race, but I only chose to run the 50K.  The race starts out with two moderate climbs, but once up on the ridgeline, the entire rest of the course was very smooth and runable on beautiful trail.  Very stunning course.  This could possibly move up a spot or two as I do recall those first hills being decent, but like I said, after those climbs, it was all very pleasant.

Overall Per-Mile Ranking: 18
Ranking of 50K: 3
Times Run: 1
Times Finished: 1
Best Time: 5:54:33

19.  Fire on the Mountain 50K

Honestly I can't remember a lot of the details of this race, other than I PR'd at it.  It was fast, but I do seem to recall a couple of good climbs too.  There was a 6-7 mile road stretch in the middle that was very fast, and some lovely single-track interspersed throughout.  I remember the field being somewhat small, and smiling a lot.  I would like to do this one again at some point for sure.

Overall Per-Mile Ranking: 19
Ranking of 50K: 4
Times Run: 1
Times Finished: 1
Best Time: 5:40:54

20.  Tussey Mountainback 50

Tussey is fast, and entirely run-able.  It is a great course to shoot for a 50-mile PR.  When I ran it in 2011, I had just PRd my 50-mile distance at the Vermont 50 a few weeks prior with an 8:41.  At Tussey, I went out fairly quick and managed to stay running the entire 50 miles.  I crossed the line in 7:49 which is still my 50-mile PR (and will probably remain forever).  I re-ran it this year and finished a much more modest 8:24, but the course has also been altered to be a little slower now (since 2011).   There are climbs and descents, but they are on roads and all still very run-able.  I enjoy this race because it is right in my back yard and essentially my only "hometown" ultra.  Many members from my local run club run this event as a relay and it's always a great time to be out there will folks I run with all the time.

Overall Per-Mile Ranking: 20
Ranking of 50M: 4
Times Run: 2
Times Finished: 2
Best Time 7:49:50

21.  New Jersey One Day (24-hour)

This event was the exact same race as the 3-Days at the fair, only it was a 24-hour event.  It was on the same course, at the same location.  I had never done a 24-hour event and this is a superb course to test your limits on.  I managed a respectable 114 miles that day and had a blast doing it (Finished 3rd place overall too!).  Flat, paved, and a lot of great people...equates to very easy running.  If around this year, I do plan on returning.

Overall Per-Mile Ranking: 21
Ranking of 100M: 10
Times Run: 1
Times Finished: 1
Best Finish: 114 Miles

22.  Allegheny Front Trail 50K

Not much to say about this event other than it was a very relaxing loop around Black Moshannon Park here in central PA.  The trail was well groomed, and the elevation mostly flat (a couple of modest climbs).  I came in under 5 hours which is still my 50K PR.  I don't know if this will be an annual event, but if it is, it's a great place to try a 50K.

Overall Per-Mile Ranking: 22
Ranking of 50K: 5
Times Run: 1
Times Finished: 1
Best Time: 4:58:46 (3rd)

23.  CJ's Resolution Challenge (3-hour)

I wrote a fairly detailed write-up about this event here: 
For the most part this, despite the cold, this race was very fast, and very moderate.  I ran hard for 3 solid hours and managed a tie for 1st place with local legend Jeff Smucker.  The course was a 1.6 mile loop that we repeated.  Half of the loop was paved, half snow-packed run-able trail.  All fun.  Amazing food and aid station setup at the start of each loop.  There was also a "last-man-standing" race, but that sounded a bit more frantic.  I had a relaxing day doing loops with Jeff.

Overall Per-Mile Ranking: 23
Ranking of Sub-50K: 6
Times Run: 1
Times Finished: 1
Best Finish 23 miles

24.  Pine Creek Challenge (100K)

And I finish off my list with the Pine Creek Challenge.  Of all the races I've ever done, this is the only one that I've flat out won.  in 2012 I ran the 100K race and finished in just over 10 hours.  The entire course is flat and on a crushed gravel bike path along Pine Creek and the "Grand Canyon of PA".  Very beautiful scenery and very easy to get lost in the miles.  They do tick by quickly.  This is the absolute perfect course to go for a PR at either the 100 mile or 100K distance.  The time of year is perfect, the temps perfect, and the course flat.  It doesn't get any faster.  I ran it again this year and finished about 30 minutes slower in 3rd place.

Overall Per-Mile Ranking: 24
Ranking of 50M/100K: 5
Times Run: 2
Times Finished: 2
Best Time: 10:21:56

So that's it.  Like I said, there a few I left off, but I think this is a pretty good summary of the highlights.  It was fun looking back on some of these.  Ok...back to thesis writing now.  Distraction is over.

hike on my friends,