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John "lakewood" Fegyveresi

Thursday, April 14, 2016

A Tasmanian Adventure

Standing at the Southernmost accessible point in Tasmania

A lot has happened since my last substantial post here.  Since returning from the South Pole, I was mostly playing "catch-up" at work...trying to spin my projects back up to where they were before I left.  But then, after being home for just a month, I literally hopped on a plane and headed right back to where I had just come from.....the South Pacific.  This time, I was headed for an international conference in Hobart, Tasmania.  The IPICS meeting (International Partnership in Ice Coring Sciences) was one that I had applied to attend several months ago, but honestly wasn't holding out hope that I'd actually get to attend.  The travel alone was incredibly pricy, and despite two of my abstracts being accepted, I just didn't think that my new job would approve me to go.  But then, I was awarded an Early Career travel grant through a partner University, and voila, suddenly it was looking more plausible.  At the last minute, I did get word from the higher-ups at my new job, that I was officially approved for the international travel, and it was GO! I have never spent any time in Australia, other than at airports, and here I was destined for the one place I've been wanting to spend time since I was about 5 years old:  Tasmania!

As excited as I was to be spending time in this beautiful part of Australia, I was honestly more excited about the meeting/conference.  I went to the IPICS meeting back in 2012 (it happens only every 4 years) and it was the best meeting of my entire graduate school tenure.  It truly is the meeting that focuses most directly on the research I do...and brings in just about everyone else in the world that also does similar research.  There were several hundred scientists, researchers, and graduate students in attendance this year, and I sat through nearly every single talk, presentation, and special session.  I presented two posters related to my work, and was asked some great questions.  All in all, it was a fantastic conference that really paid off.  And, in addition to all of this, on the day before the official conference started, a group of Early-career ice-core researchers hosted a "Ice Core Young Scientist" meeting that was geared towards graduate students and recent grads just starting their careers (like myself!).  For me, this was probably the most beneficial component of the entire conference, as many mid-career level scientist gave advice on navigating the tricky and often frustrating world of the early-career scientist.  I learned betters ways to apply for grants, better ways to write manuscripts, and better ways to seek collaboration.  I even heard many speak of the current setbacks with a life in academia, particularly when a spouse or partner is also involved.

Early Career Ice-Core Young Scientist (ICYS) Sub-Meeting
(I'm sitting in front row)

At any rate, a trip to someplace like Australia just wouldn't be a proper trip for someone like me, if it didn't also involve a LOT of running and/or hiking in fun places.  While at the South Pole a few months prior, I had made arrangements with some folks to sign up for, and run, a trail festival immediately following the IPICS meeting in Tasmania.  Many of my coworkers from South Pole were planning on backpacking around Tasmania that same week and we were hoping to put together a solid "reunion" of South Polies at a kick-ass trail festival.  I'm getting a head of myself here though....I would be remiss if I didn't first talk about the running around town in Hobart, and my many adventures up the local mountain: Mt. Wellington (a 4000' technical climb only a few miles away).

Every day after the conference ended, I'd spend most of the evening thrashing around in the Park/Preserve behind my quaint little air-bnb.  There was plenty of climbing involved, and I could usually get in a fun 5-8 mile loop on beautiful trails.  The other nice thing was that as busy as Hobart was as a city, as soon as I stepped out that back door and headed into the Preserve, I never saw a single other soul....unless you count Wallabies.  I saw dozens of those little guys.

A wallaby greeting me on my evening run.

A typical "loop" in the Knocklofty Perserve

When I wasn't busy playing around in the Preserve behind my place, I took on the loftier challenge of bagging Mt. Wellington Summits in one push.  It took me a few times up and down the mountain to figure out the most direct/shortest route.  This route was about 13 miles total, but had about 3-4 miles of road running.  If I opted for the trail-only route, it made it about 15 total.

In total, I summited Mt. Wellington 5 times during my 7 day stay in Hobart...each climb totaling about 4500 feet of gain.  The trail system going up the most-direct mountain route was no joke either, about 1000' per mile on very technical and rocky tread.  It was loads of fun, which is why I just couldn't help myself from doing it so much.  I even did a night climb up it mid-week with my headlamp.  Generally each ascent involved running the lead-up, power hiking the major climb (4 miles), and then running most of the way back.  My best round trip was a little over 3 hours.

Direct-route up Mt. Wellington from my air-bnb

Mid-climb, looking back at Hobart

Looking out from the vista near the summit back at Hobart

On the Summit benchmark with 
view of transmission tower and parking area

During my week in Hobart, I totaled over 100 miles of running/hiking and well over 30k' of gain.  In retrospect, this was probably not the wisest thing to do before heading to the Tassie Trail Festival to run over 100k...but like I said, I just couldn't help myself.  I figured I spent over 24 hours on planes to get there, I was going to milk the trails for everything I could.  So...it was on to the Trail Fest.

This was the inaugural year for the Tassie Trail fest (http://www.tassietrailfest.com.au) and while I knew that it would likely go well, I was a little worried about logistics.  You just never know how the first year of any event might/could go.  The biggest issue for me was that the festival was way up on the North end of Tasmania, which required me renting a car, and making accommodation arrangements in the town.  The small town of Derby was hosting the event, and most of the course was on newly-developed mountain bike trails.  Derby used to be a tin-mining town, but after they closed the mines down, the town decided to develop a fantastic network of trails to hopefully draw in the lucrative mountain biking community.  For us, this meant running on some of the most beautiful and well-groomed trails I've ever seen.  The one down side to Derby, is that there were basically zero resources in town.  There were a couple of small cafe's, and a few corner stores....but really nothing else.  I managed to secure a rented room in a old motel-style bar...above the bar.  Needless to say, it wasn't always easy getting to sleep at night over the raucous noise below me down in the bar.

The festival itself featured several events stretched out over the entire long-weekend...and all of the events were marathon or shorter (although the marathon was actually about 28 miles).  During registration, they offered a "slam" package for the entire weekend which would involve running 5 total events, with upwards of 100k total distance.  Of course why would anyone NOT want to do the weekend slam?  Right?

So my schedule looked like this for the weekend:
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
Saturday : 7:00 AM : Trail Marathon (28+ miles, 45K)

Sunday:    7:00 AM : "Recovery" Trail race (10+ miles, 16K)
                11:00 AM : Trail Half-Marathon (14+ miles, 23K)
                 7:00  PM : "Recovery" Trail race (10+ miles, 16K) - Same course as morning

Monday:   7:00 AM : "Dash for Cash" Trail Sprint (1+ mile, 2k)

Total Distance : ~102K or ~63 Miles

Overall, I did fairly well and am pleased with how everything turned out.  I took it very easy during the full marathon, finishing about 30 minutes slower than I probably could have, but then picked it up for the remainder of the races.  Considering my heavy training week leading up to the event, I was pleased with my 5th place overall placing in the SLAM.

Results for "MultiDay Madness Slam : RESULTS

I would say that the mid-day half-marathon course on Sunday was my favorite of the weekend, and I absolutely enjoyed that portion of trail.  It was the most rugged and remote as well. The one negative to come of the race series was due to my heavy mileage week, and the technicality of that week, by the end of the Series, I had a very sore and overused knee.  It took over a week of resting it for it to come back to normal (only to be re-agrivated at the Tammany 10 once I was back home).  Below are some pics from the event.  Many of these pics were taken at the event by the various photographers and credited to them (see the Tassie Trail Fest website for photograph details).

As far as my South Pole friends....well only one other of my Antarctic Program cohorts made it (Curtis) and he came in 2nd overall! Curtis also won the South Pole Marathon that I participated in back around New Years.  He definitely inspired me to run faster throughout the Trail Fest.  I'll hopefully see you in Maine in a few Months Curtis...


Marathon Course

Early on during the Marathon

10-Mile Recovery Run Course

Mile 2 of the 10-miler

Coming across the footbridge towards the finish line
at the 10-miler recovery run.

Mid-Day Half-Marathon Course
(no pictures from that event)

Evening 10-mile recovery run before the sun set completely

The 2k Sprint loop

Trying my darndest to bust out ~6 min miles early in the morning
after a very-long weekend of over 100 kilometers and 10k+ elevation gain.

Finishing the 2k sprint and crossing 
my last finish line of the slam.

 Before leaving Tasmania for home, I had to satiate my appetite for "all things remote".  I've talked many times on here about my love of extreme, remote, or odd geographical places.  So I figured with 1 more day on the rental car, where could I go that would be memorable in this regard.

What I decided on was to see if I could get to the Southernmost point in Tasmania, and therefore Australia.  To be fair, there are a few small islands off the coast of Tasmania that I wasn't about to swim too, nor was I about to charter a special trip to the Sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island (the TRUE Southernmost point of Australia, not counting their Antarctic stations).  For me, I just wanted to see if I could to the practical Southernmost point, and maybe within sight of the nearby islands.  After some quick reading online, I plotted my route to the Cape Bay Peninsula and the small hamlet of Cockle Creek (the Southernmost Road in Australia).  This trip would require a ~10-mile roundtrip hike out to the coast, and if I wanted to make the true southern point, I'd have to bushwack through some nasty and very unsafe terrain.  Still, I figured I go as far as I could.

From Hobart, I plotted my route as such....

Road route to South Cape Bay

Once there, I'd hike to the trail terminus
and then assess whether or not I could get
out on to the peninsula

I arrived in Cockle Creek, registered with the rangers office, and began the 5-mile hike out to the South Cape Bay Coast.  There was some fun signage at the end of the parking area listing the road as the Southernmost Road in Australia!

Australia's Southernmost Road!

At the parking area and trail head at Cockle Creek

South Coast Track Trail Head (start of 5 mile hike)

Along the trail

One of many "Boardwalks" along the trail

South Cape Bay Peninsula in the background!

Once at the coast, I starting evaluating the feasibility of backcountry trekking out to the tip of the peninsula itself and after much consideration (and waning daylight), I opted not to go for it. It looked very dangerous, and it simply wasn't worth the risk.  Nevermind that getting there would take hours through the very thick brush.  I decided it was good enough to simply point out the spot with a smile...realizing that while I wasn't on the peninsula, I was still likely the southernmost person in Australia at that moment (other than maybe a handful of researchers down on Macquarie Island).

Pointing out the southernmost point on the main Tasmanian Island

From my vantage point at the rocky beach, I noticed I was able to spot a very distant, but also uniquely-shaped island far off in the distance.  After a quick glance at my reference map, I realized it was in fact Mewstone Island.  Not counting the Sub-Antarctic Islands owned by Australia, or the tiny 6 acre Islet known as Pedra Branca...Mewstone Island is the Southernmost Point.  Alas, this would be the closest I would get...but still, it was absoltuely worth the hike.

Zoomed out view of South Cape Bay

Standing at the Overlook at the trail terminus
Mewstone Island faintly visible in the distance.

Zoomed in view of Mewstone.

(Picture of Mewstone Island from the web : Rachael Alderman)

Thinking about all of these superlatives (Southernmost) and extreme points, it made me realize something oddly profound.  During all those times when I was at South Pole and I walked out during the evening to take a few pictures at the Geographic Pole, it never really occurred to me that at those moments, standing at 90.0 south, that I was the Southernmost person on the entire Planet.  Literally the entire population of the planet, all 7+ billion people, (except for maybe those on the International Space Station), was North of me.  That is a rather ridiculous realization.

I hiked back to Cockle Creek, drove back to Hobart, returned my car, and began my long journey back to the States.  This was a wonderful trip to Tasmania and I am incredibly grateful that I was able to do it.  I do not take opportunities like this for granted, and I hope that 2016 continues to be just as remarkable! I'm looking forward to what adventures await me still.....

-j

All of Planet Earth, and all of her inhabitants, are North of me
That's a profound thought...and one that I hadn't fully realized
when I took photos like this....

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Tammany 10!

(pic credits : mt. peak fitness and others)

Delaware Water Gap Ridgeline (Looking West into PA)

I have run and/or hiked many a technical course or trail in my day.  Certainly there's the Rothrock 30k course, which is simply littered with all sorts of fun and difficult-to-navigate rocks.  Or, perhaps a better example would be the HURT 100 course which requires constant vigilance to avoid the myriad roots.  One of the best examples I can think of is the Manitou's Revenge course which was simply in a class of its own. Obviously there's also Barkley, but that's technical for different reasons.  There were certainly many sections along the AT, PCT, or even CT that required all sorts of tricky navigation or technical prowess...but nothing exemplifies this better I think than Eastern PA / Western NJ.  You ask anyone thru-hiker about their experience on the AT, and which parts were the "most difficult", you will often get responses about Eastern PA, or Western NJ...sections known amongst hikers as the "places where hiking shoes go to do".  The rocks are ruthless and relentless.  There no way to avoid rolling a few ankles, and shredding at least one pair of shoes there.  Just mention "Lehigh Gap" to any thru-hiker, and they will probably grimace and give you a look that says something along the lines of...."oh man, that section was dreadful".

Well, this past weekend, I decided it would be "fun" to run a 40-mile race on this terrain.  The race was the Mt. Tammany 10!, and I use the term run loosely, as the course was so incredibly technical and full of steep climbs and descents, that it was very difficult to ever actually run for any significant periods of extended time.  The course was also blessed with almost 13,000 feet of elevation gain, and the wonderful mental test of 10 repeated loops.  So just to be clear....the race was 10 loops, each with almost 1300 feet of gain, and each ~4 miles long.  Each loop had one large ascent, and one large descent...all littered with rocks that were nearly impossible to run around.  It was epic-ly brutal....but also incredibly rewarding and challenging.  Plus, the view from the highpoint over the Delaware Water Gap was simply magical, and the geology there is quite complex and storied.  (Lots of great glacial geology as well...if you're into that sort of thing...which I kindof am.)

At any rate.  I had no plans of racing hard (as I had a really long and mile-filled week last week with several climbs up Mt. Wellington in Tasmania (4000' gain each), and a weekend full of running in the Tasmania Trail Festival (I'll write up a full report on all this soon).  I really just wanted to get in the full ~40 miles, and the 13000' of gain.  I thought I had read that the time limit was 12 hours (Turns out it was really 10, but I only found this out after the run).  Doing any repeat course is difficult.  Doing a course like this...10 times, is incredibly difficult.  I knew the mental challenge would be tough alone, so I tried not to think about it, and simply enjoy the beautiful day and think of it just as a 40-miler.

I drove down to the Delaware Water Gap area early in the morning and showed up just before the race start.  There were probably about 40 of us crazies lined up to have a go at the 10 loops.  I was simply geeked out to get to some good climbing.

Caught with my pants down....pinning on my number.

The first loop brought the true reality check.  The climb was tough, but manageable.  What really surprised me was the difficulty of the subsequent descent.  It was littered with thousands of small pointy rocks, arranged such that it was very difficult to find solid footing while trying to run.  It truly was mentally exhausting constantly scanning the ground for good footing.  It took a lot of focus.  I opted for no trekking poles for the first 4 loops, and soon realized that was probably a bad decision.  So at the start of my 5th, I grabbed my poles and never dropped them.

The course was set up such that you left the parking area and ran down the road to the trail head on odd numbered loops, but only returned all the way to the parking area after even number loops.  So when transitioning from say lap 1 to lap 2, we simply started another loop right from the trail head.  I had no real time goal other than to try and keep it at about an hour per loop.  This would result in a 10 hour race.  Seemed like a good number.

Coming in after 2 loops

My first few laps, were all in the low 50's for minutes, so I was slowly making a cushion for myself off of the hour-per-loop mentality.  But, as the day went on, my laps slowly creeped down a few minutes per loop, until about lap 7 when I bagged my first 60 minute loop.

Topping out on the climb

Rock hopping

Coming in after loop 8

After about 6 or 7 laps, it was tough to stay motivated, despite my adequate times, and decent performance. I simply was getting tired of the same loop.  So naturally, I tried to enjoy the scenery a bit more.  When I'd get to the top of the climb, I started spending a few minutes enjoying the vista/view and trying to take in the surroundings.  Sure it cost me a little time, but it probably saved me mentally. I was certainly struggling to maintain enough motivation to finish out the final 3 laps.

But I just kept ticking them off 1 at a time.  Soon I was leaving the aid station parking area for the last time starting loop 9 and I knew I was in good shape to finish.  I took it nice and easy on 9, and it was my slowest lap (about 65 minutes).  When I finished off the loop though, and began my final lap, it was a really great feeling knowing I was on my last climb of the day.  I really took it slow and tried to enjoy it.  I had over 90 minutes to finish the loop and still finish under 10 hours, so I knew I was golden on the time front.  At the top I spent about five minutes relaxing on a rock and enjoying the great view. When I finally started my last descent, my body was definitely feeling it.  I had not taken any salt all day, and many of my muscles were aggressively cramping.  I knew it was going to be a long drive home, so I tried to go very easy on that descent.

Very gingerly I popped out of the woods after 2 miles and ran the short road section back to the parking lot and very-happily finished with a time of about 9 hrs 27 minutes.  I was thrilled...and other than my body being a bit torn up, felt as though I completed my goals for the day.

I had some real problems with cramping post-race, and kept seizing up while trying to change my clothes. It was quite embarrassing actually. And the ride back home....well yeah...that was pretty rough.

Turns out that while there was a 12-hour time limit on finishing the race, the true Tammany 10 challenge meant doing 10 loops, with over 10k of gain, in under 10 hours.  So I had also completed the challenge.  My prize was a rock mounted on a wooden platform (with nameplate), and a homemade apple pie (Probably the single greatest finishers award I've ever won).

Here's the course online:  Mt. Tammany 10 or here (Garmin)

On a side note, I used this course as a test for some new shoes....and man did I put them through wringer.  I wore a new pair of Sportiva Akasha's...and they held up great.  They had just the extra beefiness I was looking for over the Mutants.  Great shoe so far.  I look forward to playing in them some more.



Working up the ascent

Finishing #10

My award (The pie is already gone)

Typical trail-tread

The course and elevation profile

At the end I chatted with several folks about the Barkley all while my legs were cramping up.  Some  lovely pictures were taken during these exchanges.

Grimacing as my leg is seizing up.

Had a lot of fun running alongside these guys all day.

Really great people at this event.


Tuesday, February 23, 2016

A Febapple Frozen 50-Mile Victory!

Coming into the final aid station at mile 47
(all pictures taken by O. Lam and E. Acosta)

Well it somehow happened again.  I've somehow come away from a race weekend with a victory in my pocket.  I knew that with all of my recent running and hard training, that I had a shot to perform well at this year's running of the Febapple 50, but I was not expecting a win.  The weather forecast on Friday was calling for a beautiful day, up into the 50's.  I knew there'd be some residual ice on the course, but that it would probably melt throughout the day.  My only real goal for the event, was to try to run as consistent a race as possible.  In other words, I wanted to try to eliminate the all to prevalent problem of burning the first loop too fast, and then slowing down significantly over the subsequent loops.  

The Febapple course features a ~10-mile loop, and I told myself that I really wanted to try to do each loop under 2 hours, BUT to make sure the first loop wasn't faster than 1:30.  I wanted to keep all 5 of my loops within 30 minutes of each other.  I know this would mean that the first loop would feel ridiculously slow, and if I was to do well, would mean a lot of late-race passing....but so be it.  I did NOT want to be tempted to go out fast, like I almost always do.  This was going to be about consistency and enjoyment on the trails.  I wanted to actually be able to run all 50 miles, and not be exhausted the final 10...walking too much.  As you can tell by the title photograph of this post, I was in fact running at mile 47, and did all the way to the finish...all while *mostly* smiling too!  It turned out to be a fantastic day, and one of my best overall races to date.  I felt great, ran one of my best times, and honestly enjoyed the trails.  I was admittedly nervous about the course, and just assumed it would feel very "urban" being so close to the big cities of Newark and NY.  Well I was proven incredibly wrong.  The park (North Mountain Reservation Park), was an absolute GEM of a park.  Beautiful, scenic, and very wooded.  I felt completely disconnected from the urban hustle, despite its obvious proximity.  

The course was essentially a 10-mile-long figure-8 shape, taking you about 4 miles on the first loop, coming back to the start, and then taking you out 6 on the second loop.  There was a secondary aid station at the far end of the course at about mile 7, before you turned and headed the last 3 miles back to the start.  There was also a surprising amount of elevation gain per loop.  I had assumed the course would be "flat", but was happily surprised by the 1250' of gain per loop (~6300' total).  Not bad for a small park outside of Newark.  Add to that, the course was littered with technical rocks to navigate, and a whole slew of solid (and very slippery) ice that hadn't yet thawed.  Over the course of the 5 loops, the slick ice would turn to slick mud.

Park Location

The course (green pin marks miles 0, 4, and 10 for each loop))

Profile of a single 10-mile loop


I stayed the night in a little hotel outside Irvington, NJ, and was able to make it to the start in about 10 minutes.  There were about 25 of us starting the full 50 to a cool/brisk morning.  I did my best to keep warm and was reminding myself constantly not to go out with the leaders.  Just hang back and have fun.  I wanted the race to be about consistency, not speed over the first half.  I knew if I ran smart, I'd catch a fair number of runners late in the game.  Still it's hard not to get caught up in the "I should build a small cushion" game.  I purposely wore my heart-rate monitor for this race, just so I'd stay under 155 bpm (preferably under 145).  For the most part I did keep my heart-rate in check, pushing a little hard at the start.

Rick McNulty (Race Director) moments before the start of the 50 mile
I'm in the back in green shorts / blue shirt standing on the sheet of ice.

And we're off!

One of the things I really liked about this course, is that it had just enough change of scenery and hill work, such that you never got bored.  The miles really did go by quickly.  You never had a "long stretch" of anything.  This is always a nice way to break up the miles.  The first 4 mile loop began with a mile-long straightaway, followed by a nice technical downhill (the longest of the course).  You eventually work your way around a couple of small lakes and back up to the top of the mountain after a really good climb.  Before you know it, and after some very nice single track, you come back into the start area around mile 4 to refuel.  I was running steadily and at a very smooth pace with another runner (Scott), and we didn't stop at all.  I wore my single bottle vest, so had plenty of supplies (I have a tendency to waste time at aid stations if I'm not careful).  Scott was keeping me moving well, so I went with it.  The 2nd half of the course was my favorite.  It takes you 3 miles out along some remote and beautiful sections, hitting the farthest point at the remote aid station (mile 7).  From there you turn back towards the start and run a nice 1.5 mile-long stretch of very runnable trail.  I always made up good time on this stretch.  Then, you finish with the most scenic stretch along a waterfall trail (that was completely iced over), and a final quad-busting climb back up to the start area.  Like I said...great little course.

for two laps, Scott and I plugged along together at a really good pace.  There were probably 6-7 people ahead of us, but I was sticking to my plan.  My first loop took 1:36, so while perhaps a smidge fast, was within my desired window.  Still, I wasn't worried.  I told myself that I wanted to aim for about 1:45 for loop 2 and I had already thought of places in my mind along the course where I could slow up or walk little hills.

There were many patches of ice along the course that required some vigilance and concentration.  I saw a lot of people take spills throughout the day, so I made sure to slow it down over these parts.  By the time I was on loop 2 with Scott, the temps had risen into the 40's and the sun was beaming.  It was turning into a gorgeous day.

Early on during the second loop (Mile 17)

Scott and I stuck together for the entire 2nd loop and it seemed to go by even quicker than the first.  I was already familiar with all the little bits of the course, and practically had it memorized.  I stayed on top of my nutrition and salts all day and ate regular fruit strips and snacks (as well as salt tabs).  As we crossed the mat at loop 2, we had a total loop time of 1:41...another perfect time.  I was happy that my plan was panning out, but I knew that the hardest laps were yet to come.  I kept asking myself, would my stamina hold? I was cautiously optimistic.    

Half-way through the race (mid-loop 3, mile ~27)

Loop 3 is where things changed.  I still hadn't really passed anyone, so just assumed I was still in ~6 place.  It was really hard to tell though as many of the faster 50k, 20m, and 10m runners had passed me, and more-than-likely some 50 milers had dropped out or dropped down.  I had no real way to know, and honestly didn't care to ask.  So plugged along.  It was somewhere in the middle of loop 3, probably about the half-way point of the race, that I re-affirmed that I wanted to finish all 5 loops under 2 hours if I could.  I decided to aim for about a 1:50 on loop 3 and then a 1:55 on 4, and right at 2:00 on 5.  Somewhere during the last mile of loop 3, I finally dropped Scott.  I'm not sure what happened to him, I just know at one point near mile 29 I turned around and he was gone.  I found out later that he stopped after his third loop. I finished loop 3 in 1:48, so was exactly on the schedule I was hoping for, but with 20 miles remaining.  I trusted in my training, and went out on loop 4 running non-stop for the first 4 miles.

By the time I made it to the midpoint of loop 4, I was familiar enough with the course and my times, to be able to extrapolate loop finish times quite accurately.  I had estimated a 1:50-1:55 finish time for loop 4.   When I got the the 37-mile aid station, I finally asked the volunteers how many 50-milers were ahead of me.  For the previous 2 hours or so, the course seemed incredibly empty.  Most of the shorter-distance runners were now done, and I felt completely along on the course.  They informed me that just one other runner was ahead of me (Jonathan).  What?  Really?  I was in a close 2nd place? And...he was only 10 minutes ahead of me to boot!

I made the decision not to chase Jonathan down though, but simply to keep doing what I was doing, and if I caught him great, if not...well then no worries.  I just had to hope that maybe he went out too hard and would be fading a bit.  I left the station with the mission of just finishing my penultimate lap in under 2 hours and saving whatever I had left for a strong final loop.  I crossed the timing mat in 1:52 (right on schedule) just as I was coming up on the first place runner.  I had caught him.  Now....what to do.

Loop 5 was a stress-filled, yet exhilarating ride.  As I left to start the loop, I noticed Jonathan sitting down.  This was my chance to go for it.  I thought if I can get out quickly, perhaps I can build a large enough gap, where he won't know how far ahead I am and give up on me.  I was forgetting that the loop was still 10 miles.  That's a long way to run hard after 40.  Still, I went for it.  I left the station quickly and run the first 1.5 miles at 9 minute/mile pace.  I figured there's no way he would keep up with me.  I was wrong.

He did, and he did well.  No matter how hard I ran, every time I stopped to take a walk break or catch my breath, I'd see his pink shirt come around the corner just a few hundred yards behind me. It was thrilling...but man was it an anxiety rollercoaster.  I managed to play the accordion game with him for the first 7 miles (blowing completely through the 4-mile aid station).  I'd gain a little on him, and then he'd come right back.  At one point he was probably only 10 seconds behind me.  

As I came into the 47-mile aid station, I was honestly unsure if I'd be able to hold him off any longer. He was still holding my tail, and even gaining a bit.  By the time I filled my water bottle he was just coming into the station.  Had he not stopped for water, he would have actually passed me there.  I remember vividly filling my bottle and watching him come in out of the corner of my eye thinking, "crap!...I'm gonna lose it".  Turns out, the photographer snapped a picture at that exact moment.

Looking over my shoulder while getting water as the 2nd place
runner coming in just 20 seconds behind me.  The victory would
not be coming easy.

The last 3 miles were exhausting.  Thankfully the 1.5 miles after the station are very runnable, so I did my best to maintain about 9 min/miles over this stretch.  I though I must have built even a small cushion on him...but nope.  There he was, persistent as ever.  I figured if I could just get around the waterfalls, then we'd both be walking the final hill up towards the finish line and I'd probably be able to hold him off.  I made it to the climb and he trailed about 15 seconds behind me.  When I got the top of the climb, there's still about 0.2 miles to the finish of flat runnable course.  I had to stop and walk for a few seconds because I was simply so exhausted.  I looked over my should and saw he was about 30 seconds behind me, with about 0.2 to go.  I knew, pending some disaster, if I could just limp/jog my way in, that I'd get the victory.  I jogged across the timing mat, and Jonathan came in looking much better than me, just a short 25 seconds later.  He made me earn it...that's for sure.  My closest finish for a top-3 finish ever.  It was incredible....and oh so thrilling.  There's no doubt that I finished faster, because of the chase.  My final time was 8:49:29.  Definitely not a course record or a PR, but pretty darn fast for me considering the course (and good enough for the win!).  My 2nd fastest trail 50 to date (by only 6 minutes).  My fifth lap time was 1:53, so in total, all five of my laps fell exactly within my planned timing window (1:36, 1:41, 1:48, 1:52, 1:53).  I was absolutely thrilled with this outcome, and was really only sore for one day after. 

Again, Rick and Jennifer have managed to put on another spectacular event, at a great venue.  Instead of an award or metal, my victory prize was a huge discount on the 3 Days at the Fair registration.  So, it looks like I'll be heading back to NJ in May to go for that elusive 250 again.