Saturday, January 24, 2015

HURTin' and Highpoints in Hawaii

A very tired and hard-fought H.U.R.T. finish

The last 10 days have been quite a whirlwind for me.  At some point last year, I rather nonchalantly tossed my name into the HURT 100 lottery.  Knowing my luck with lotteries, I wasn't particularly confident I'd have any chance at getting selected....but then, somehow I was.  I knew I had a long time to prepare for the race, so after the excitement wore off, I honestly put it out of my mind.

After my late-Summer defense, I spent most of the fall taking things easy.  Needless to say, my fitness level dropped noticeably.  Normally I wouldn't be too concerned about something like this going into an ultra, as I know at this point I can usually just "slog" it out even if partially out of shape.  BUT...the HURT is not the kind of race you can just "slog" out.  The HURT is quite arguably one of the top 5 most difficult ultras in America (definitely top 10).  The course is notorious for a very low finisher rate, with slow finishing times.  The course quite literally has no flat sections at all.  the elevation profile looks eerily similar to an EKG readout....up/down/up/down/up/down/etc.  The temps are always high, the humidity guaranteed to be off-the-charts, and the trail-tread is simply brutal.  There is no place on this course that a runner can get a "rhythm" going with regards to pace or leg turnover.  There are just too many roots, rocks, and obstacles to navigate through.  On top of all this, the course is comprised of 5 loops...which is a beast mentally to get through.

HURT Elevation profile - 100 miles of climbing/descending

As December creeped up on me, my training was still incredibly lackluster.  I rightfully began to panic and thought many times of simply dropping from the race.  I decided though after much thought, that I didn't want 2015 to be another year of DNS's.  So regardless of outcome, I was going to run the race.  How many times would I truly be able to participate in an ultra in Hawaii anyway?  I had to take advantage of my lottery pick and my frequent flyer tickets to beautiful Hawaii.

As the new year rolled in, I finally started picking up my training.  My daily runs began in earnest, and I even began twice-weekly hill workouts again.  Still, I knew I would be going into the race in less-than-ideal condition.  I did manage to get enough training under me that I felt I had an honest chance at finishing...but there was no way I was going to be at all "competitive".  For me, the HURT would be about finishing under the 36 time limit.

I got to Hawaii on Thursday evening before the race and took things easy.  I went for a light 5 mile run and got back in time to enjoy a lovely sunset on the beach.  I was staying at a hostel over near Waikiki.  Needless to say, the scenery was quite a bit different from what I had left up in Pennsylvania.

Sunset in Hawaii

On Friday, I spent the day hiking and exploring.  First I went over to Diamond Head and hiked up to the rim.  The trails were crowded, but the views were worth it.  The temps were in the 80's but it was the ridiculous humidity that I already knew was going to be an ass-kicker during the race.

Hiking up Diamond Head

Panorama near the top

Part of the trail goes up an old stairwell

Looking down from the rim

Diamond Head Benchmark

After Diamond Head, I drove down to another crater on Oahu.  In the Southeast corner of the island is the Koko Crater.  What makes this one so unique is that there is an old cable-car line that goes straight up to the summit.  This line is now a day-use trail that rivals Colorado's famous "Incline".  The trail is so steep in spots, you have to get down on all fours.  In total, the trail takes you up just over 1000 feet in under 1/2 mile.  Probably not the smartest idea to climb this the day before the HURT, but I simply couldn't resist.

Looking up the climb from the bottom
About half-way up

View from the top of Koko

Looking back down the trail

View of Rabbit Island

Eventually I made my way back to Honolulu in time for the HURT pre-race meeting at 2:30.  I grabbed my gear bag, and listened to the short info session.  After catching up with Nick Hollon and Jamil Coury, I headed back to my hostel room for a quiet and restful evening.  I still had to get my running gear and drop bags in order for the race as well, and didn't want to feel rushed.  By 8pm, I was all set up and ready to go for race day.  I probably should have been panicking a little bit at this point, but I refused to let the fear of the HURT get to me.  There was nothing I could do now but show up and run.

On race morning, I got up early (I was still on East Coast time), and headed over to the race start.  I was a little worried about parking, so it was good that I got there early.  After a little mulling around, we all gathered on the small bridge at the race start.  We observed a moment of silence to take in the beauty of Hawaii, and we were off.  The very first 2 miles is uphill, so I found myself powerhiking immediately.  It was rather bizarre, but necessary.  I mentally prepared for what I knew was going to be a very long race (probably close to 36 hours). 

Start of the race

Very quickly the first climb progressed....and the trails were a bit crowded.  But after a few miles, the trail opened up on a road for a few hundred yards and from that point on things were wide open.  The sunrise was beautiful and I recall talking to the person next to me about how nice it was to be running along in Hawaii.  This was of course before the humidity really kicked in.

We topped out on the climb and began the descent down to the Falls and the Pirate's cove aid station.  The descent went quickly and before I knew it I was out on paved road heading into the station.  Most of the descent was runable with a few really technical sections.

Sunrise along the road (first climb)

After a quick refuel, I retraced my steps back up the descent to the geographical center of the course.  The way the course was laid out, meant there was a triple-junction right in the middle that you hit after each climb.  It was still early, so I really enjoyed the climb.

One loop at the HURT

Course map showing the three "legs" of the course.
Note that they all meet in the middle

The 2nd half of the course was definitely my favorite.  As you top out on leg 2, the course takes you along a narrow ridgeline with beautiful views off to either side.  It's very much a like a "knife edge", only it's very overgrown.  This was something I found to be really intriguing...the foliage.  It was as if I was running the entire course through a legitimate rain forest.  The closest I've come to something similar was when I hiked on stewart island in New Zealand.

The drop down to the 2nd aid station at the end of leg 2 was even quicker than the first descent, and not quite as much actual elevation drop.  It went very fast and before I knew I was climbing back up.  It was loop 1, and I was already not thrilled with the repeating of segments.  I am definitely not a fan of repeating parts of a course.  Still...the course was beautiful.  

Leg 3 was the longest.  It featured a very drawn-out descent from the top of the course all the way back to the start at the Nature Center.  In the middle of the segment there was a cross-over that shared about 1.5 miles of trail with leg 1.  In total, I would run that segment 10 times over the course of the race.

When I made it back to the Nature Center, the heat/humidity index was starting to climb.  I was probably about 50th place or so at this point and already getting tired.  I decided it was time to break out my trekking poles as well.

Running along the top of "leg 2"

Loop 2 was one of the more difficult ones, despite it still being early.  This was mostly because it was run entirely within the heat of the day.  I remember taking it easy and letting my body try to keep hydrated.  My first loop time was exactly 5 hours and I decided to see if I could make my 2nd loop 6 (and then my 3rd, 7).  That would leave me 18 hours to do the last two loops (or 9 hours each).

Somewhere near the end of loop 2, it set in that I would be doing this repetition for 3 more loops and I got very discouraged.  I was clearly out of shape for this type of event, and I was losing all desire to be out there.  Even though it's easy to say "just keep moving" and eventually I'll be at the still seems so far away.  The mental aspect of the HURT 100 is incredible...and overwhelming.  I think most people could probably finish the HURT timewise, but it's the mental stamina that fails most.  Slowly but surely I ticked away checkpoints on loop 2 and rolled back into the start at mile 40 right at 11 hours.  This meant I had completed my 2nd loop goal of 6 hours exactly.  Now, in my mind, I had 7 for loop 3.

Of all the loops in the race, loop 3 was definitely the hardest.  I remember all I kept thinking on the first half of the loop was that I STILL wasn't half way done with the race yet.  All I wanted was to be on my 4th loop.  4 just sounded so much better than 3, and it was only one away from 5.  On loop 3 is when I came closest to quitting.  I remember thinking I would drop at the 2nd aid station right after the half-way point, but when I got to the station, I literally forgot to.  I was half way back up the climb when I realized I was still running.  Oops.

View from the course

After what seemed like an eternity, I finally rolled into the Nature Center at mile 60 right at 18 hours.  I had finished a brutally slow 3rd loop in 7 hours...right on my self-imposed schedule.  I sat for a very long time trying to decide if I wanted to go back out.  Physically I was ok, but I knew finishing the race would mean a lot of hiking, and not a lot of running.  In the end, I decided my favorite time of an ultra is the beautiful night hours.  Loop 4 would be entirely in the dark....and in the wee hours.  I decided to just go out and try to enjoy it.  Not think about a possible loop 5, or the race as a whole...just go out and enjoy 20 miles in the dark.  I left camp at midnight and began what became my favorite loop.  I found a peaceful place within during this loop and spoke to very few people on the course.  I never really ran with anyone, and only saw others as I passed them in opposite directions.  It was a quiet and reflective time on the course and I was glad I pushed myself to do the 4th loop.  I didn't really think about my progress, I simply followed the colored ribbons and enjoyed the cooler night air, and sounds of nature.  As expected, there was a lot of hiking...but fast hiking.  I was actually passing a lot of people with my hiking, that were trying to run.  In other words my powerhiking was faster than many people's running at this point in the race.  I noticed too, that the field had become incredibly thinner.  Many had dropped after 3 loops.  I estimated of the 120 starters, that there were only 70-80 left.

Some fun "jungle" portion of the course

Just over 7 hours later, and just as I was switching off my head lamp, I rolled in to the Nature Center at mile 80.  I was very tired and wanted desperately to nap, but I knew I needed to just start my final lap or I never would.  I drank a full cup of coffee, removed my headlamp, changed my socks/shoes, and reluctantly started hiking out of camp.  The final loop of a course like this is always a reflective one.  You can't help think as you pass by recognizable landmarks, "This is the last time I'll see you...rock(or stump, or root)"

Truthfully, my final loop was very uneventful.  I was exhausted and slow, but muscled out a 7 and half hour final time in the end for the loop.  Somehow, I passed 4 people in the last 1/2 mile of the race and crossed the finish line in just over 32 hours 32 minutes (30th place out of 60).  Certainly I would have liked to have gone sub 30 hours, but considering my training level, I was content to have just finished.  The HURT 100 really is one of the toughest races I've ever done, and it definitely lives up to its name.  I have a lot of respect for anyone who gets through it.  I'd like to also add that the race directors and volunteers really were top notch at this doesn't get any better.

32 hours, 32 minutes of horrendous trail.

After the race, I flew over for 2 days to Hilo on the big island of Hawaii.  I wanted to check out the volcanos and hit the high point of Mauna Kea.  I had very little total time on the island, so made the most of it.  I crashed at a great hostel (wild ginger inn) in Hilo, and was up at 7 am to rent a 4-wheel-drive truck.  I immediately headed up Saddle road en route to the Mauna Kea summit.  Ever since I was a kid I've wanted to see the observatories (particularly the Keck telescope) on Mauna Kea.  Here was my chance.  Additionally, I wanted to hit the highpoint.  I was a wee bit nervous about going from sea level to 13,800 feet in less than an hour, but I figured I'd be ok if I didn't stay up there too long.  Needless to say, once I made it to the summit, I was quite a bit dizzy.  Below are some highlight pics from the day.  I also went over and up the Mauna Loa road as well...which was also a lot of fun.  I ended the day taking a nap along the water before flying home.  

Half way up Mauna Kea (Visitors Center 9000')

At the top

Keck Telescope

On the official summit

Panorama on the summit

On the actual summit (after a short hike over)

My Phone track showing the small hiking trail leading over 
to the true summit (blue dot is me on the true summit).

One of the many cinder cones on the summit (Mauna Loa in the distance)

Mauna Kea Ice Age Natural Area Reserve

Mauna Kea seen from Mauna Loa

Lava Fields on Mauna Loa

My nap view during my final few hours in Hawaii

My final view

My first view upon returning home....*sigh*

I almost forgot to mention....back in March of 2010 I posted this entry here titled:

In this posting I had a picture of me "taking a bite" out of a physical copy of my masters thesis, sort of in the same way an athlete would chomp down on a gold medal.  Well, yesterday I finally picked up the bound copy of my PhD dissertation and thought I'd recreate the picture again.

March 2010 - Masters Thesis

January 2015 - Phd Dissertation

So John, how would you best sum up the past 7 and half years of your new academic life? this I suppose.

Anyhoo...hike on my friends,


Monday, January 5, 2015

2014 - A Hard-Earned and Wonderful Year

(I haven't fully spell/grammar checked this post yet so apologies)

Mt. Frissel (CT. High Point) - Sep '14

As is tradition this time of year, I find myself again compiling my year of experiences into what has become my "year-end" post.  It is always a wonderful way for me to walk through my previous 12 months and reminisce about my year...all the good and the bad.  I certainly don't think that my experiences are any better than anyone else's, and don't create these posts in any sort of selfish way at all...I simply find that putting together my yearly entry is a way for me to reflect on the year and remember all of the ups and downs I've been through.  It think it's also a way to keep me honest, and allow me to remember all the things that I should be thankful for...something I often lose sight of.  Plus, I think it's just fun to go back through all of my pictures and smile at the craziness that seems to follow me through life.  So without any further delay, let's dive in.....

2014 - Quick Thoughts

Of all the years that have come to pass following my life-transition in 2007, this year has definitely been the quickest to progress.  It seems just a month ago I was hanging out up in Geneva NY and going out for cold training runs in January.  This year has also been the most difficult to get through in total, without question.  Each year in December, I find myself being grateful and thankful to have had such a fantastic year, replete with new and amazing experiences.  But this year, I am most thankful for being able to look back at 2014 and simply say, "I did it.  I finished.  I survived"

Of all the accomplishments I have under my belt since 2007 (Thru-hikes, Vol-State, Masters Degree, various other races, travels, adventures, etc...), finishing my doctorate is by far the one I am most happy to have made it through.  Certainly there is a special place in my heart for the Barkley, which I put in it's own category, but unlike running 5 laps in 60 hours, I struggled for over 4 straight months to make it to my PhD defense date in August.  I worked 20+ hours a day, didn't sleep, ate terribly, barely ran, and in short, was in the worst struggle of my academic life.  It was an experience I am eternally grateful I will never have to go through again, and one that I wouldn't wish upon anyone.  I will talk about this more below, but my point here is that while I did have various wanderings and adventures in 2014, the year was quite literally all about my dissertation defense.

The year started off in a quite unusual way for me.  It was the first time that I was home for the Christmas and New Years holidays in 5 years.  For the previous 5 seasons, I spent both holidays waking up at a remote field camp in West Antarctica.  While there was definitely a part of me that missed being out on the ice sheet, it was really nice to home.  I got to spend time with my family, my new nephew, and of course my other-half.  We even bought a little charlie-brown tree (my first tree in over 8 years), and had a great time opening goofy little gifts we got for each other. 

X-mas 2013...AT HOME!

For New Years, we did something completely spontaneous.  While sitting in our small apartment in Geneva NY, at about 9 pm, I posed the random question, "Wanna go to Niagara Falls tonight for the New Year's Celebration?"  So on a whim, we hopped in the car, drove the 80 or so miles to Niagara Falls....because....why not?  While all of the other tourists went indoors or bar hopping at the midnight hour, the two of us stood alone and watched the icy waters tumble over the American Falls right as midnight struck.  It was my first New Year's at home in 5 years, and one I'll never forget.

American Falls (Niagara Falls) at midnight, Jan 1st!

As January began to progress, so did my work load.  I hadn't yet set a date for my defense, but I knew it would be sometime in 2014.  I was only just putting the finishing touches on my first chapter and still had to write up my 2nd, 3rd, and 4th chapters.  It was going to be a rough year and I knew it.  Still, I wanted to get in some early races.  I had been accepted again for Barkley, but I knew my training would likely not be enough.  After my miserable failure in 2013 though, I wanted to at least partially redeem myself.  Throughout November and December I had participated in a REDFAM (run every day for a month) event with some of my friends.  This meant I was actually in really great running shape already.

Within the first few days of the new year, I drove 40 miles out of town and participated in the first annual Resolution Run.  This race involved running as many ~1.6 mile loops as possible in a 3-hour time period.  I ended up running 14 laps (~23 miles) and taking 1st place along with my friend Jeff Smucker.  It was a great way to start the year. 

Here was my write-up for it:  CJ's Resolution Run

Jeff and I coming in on our final (and 14th) loop

In the subsequent 3 weeks, I had a blast playing at home on the winter trails and bike paths.  I decided to have a go at my first true winter ultra by running the 100-mile Beast of Burden race near Buffalo NY.  I knew the course was essentially flat, so running the race was more about seeing how'd I'd do managing fuel and temperatures in sub-zero conditions.  It was a new and interesting challenge, and one that I rather least up until the final 10 miles.  We were actually spoiled with fairly mild weather, although the winds were rough at times.  I ran consistently all day, and managed to finish all 100 miles in my best time to date, setting a new PR of 19hrs 36mins.  I ran, in some form, over 92 of the 100 miles, only truly walking at the very end of the race for the last few miles.

Here was my write-up for it:  Winter Beast of Burden 100

Running along the Erie Canal early on during the Winter BOB 100

Having barely recovered from the 100 miles at BOB, I went out the following week to run what ended up being the most ridiculous course (short of Barkley), that I've ever run.  On paper, the 14+ mile "Frozen Snot" race didn't sound THAT bad (other than the 5000+ feet of elevation gain of course).  What I discovered quickly with my already beat-up and fatigued body, was that the Frozen Snot course truly lived up to it's tagline: 

"the toughest terrain in central Pennsylvania with the worst of winter weather".

This course absolutely kicked my ass, and was just as challenging as the race director promised.  I started the event with 14 screws in each of my shoes, and ended with only 4.  I fell probably 5 times, slipped on icy rocks, staggered my way up boulder scrambles, and ran with a maxed-out heart rate for the entire day.  It took me almost 4 hours to run the 14 miles, and I came in 13th place!  It was quite simply, brutal.  I would highly recommend this event to anyone that really wants to test their mettle on some of the most difficult conditions you can play on.

The write-up for it is in the same post as the BOB100:  The Frozen Snot

About half-way through the Frozen Snot and already exhausted

One of the early boulder field scrambles (1000ft in 1/2 mile)

When February came, I knew I had to really dig in to whatever Barkley training I could muster.  I had hoped to put in enough to again have an honest attempt at 5 loops, but I quickly realized that this was unlikely to happen.  I simply didn't have enough hours on the clock to get in 2-a-day hill workouts plus 6-8 hour long runs on the weekend.  At some point I made the hard decision to put my PhD first despite my very sentimental and emotional relationship with the Barkley.  Of course with all this said, I still put in a fair amount of stepped-up training and felt I would be in sufficient shape to at least go out swinging.  I did run every day in February, but probably didn't get in enough long/hilly runs.  When race day came the following month though, my excitement for the event overshadowed any possible discouragement.  I began running with an enormous Frozen Head grin on my face.

We started in the dark this year, and very quickly I began to see who the strong candidates were.  Of course Jared was very capable of another finish, and Alan is always a very strong Barkley runner, but I was also particularly excited for Jamil and Jodi.  Both ended up finishing fun runs along with myself and Alan.  It was obviously not as exciting as a full 5-loop finish, but I was very content with the outcome and came home from the event happy.  The end of the race was very thrilling in that I only made the fun-run cutoff by 5 minutes.  Squeaking in under the time limit seems to be a theme for me at Barkley.  In addition, Jared Campbell became only the 2nd two-time finisher with a ~58 hour finish.

My full write-up for my 2014 Barkley experience:  2014 Barkley Marathons Run Report

Early morning start

Topping out on Rat Jaw (in the rain)

39hr 55min fun run finish (3 loops)

Jodi and I celebrating the next day.

After returning from Barkley, the dissertation noose began to tighten even further.  I had grand plans for hopeful ultras in 2014, and slowly it was dawning on me that my experience at Barkley may have been my "one big ultra" for the year.  I had hoped to run Vol State in July again, and the Plain 100 in September (which would have served as a Hardrock Qualifier as well).  I also had hoped to return to Frozen Head to run the Fall Classic in September.  As April progressed though all of these events began to slowly fade and all that came into focus was my dissertation. 

I managed to keep my running motivation up for another quick return to the Hyner 50k in April, which has become a local tradition for me now.  Following that event, the switches all began to shut off.  Hyner was truthfully the last event I ran in 2014 at what I would call peak fitness.  While I did end up running both "Mind the Ducks" and "3 Days" hard in May, most of my remaining races or events I managed to participate in during the year, I went into severely out-of-shape, and with the goal of simply finishing or enjoying the company.  I had no real race-finish goals after Hyner.  I did have a great time there (I always do), and remember smiling a lot.   I guess I was able to mentally block out the looming worry and panic of my schoolwork and managed to have a blissfully ignorant day.  For the past 3 years now I've treated Hyner as somewhat of a post-Barkley celebration run.  I had a great day and managed to squeak in just a few seconds under 6 hours (5:59:52).

My write-up for Hyner can be found here:  2014 Hyner 50K Report

Early on in the race (Mile 2)

Topping out at Hyner View lookout

Squeaking in under 6 hours!

After Hyner was over my race schedule started to become more in question.  I still had 3 Days at the Fair and Mind the Ducks, but I knew that basically any race was now in question.  In early May, my mom asked if I'd be interested in shuttling her car back from Florida.  I figured this would be a fun way to spend a couple days hitting state high points and seeing quirky road-side America places...and only take a few days so I quickly accepted.  I knew that such fun little escapades would be non-existent later in the year.  I absolutely could not afford the time to do this trip, but I did it anyway.  Perhaps a bad move on my part, but keeping an enduring motivation to write up my dissertation was hard and this was a good excuse to take a break.

I ended up having a ton of fun hitting some great new spots along the drive, including several new high points, a few Appalachian Trail related spots, and even some bizarre spots like "Foam-henge".  My list of East Coast state high points is now almost complete....with just a handful remaining!  Still, I couldn't help but worry the entire trip about my work load.

I wrote a full trip report here about the adventure here:  Roadtrip Back From Florida

Georgia High Point

Playing at the SC/GA border

SC high point

Mt. Rogers (VA high point)

Foam - Henge!

Neel's Gap (AT mile ~31)

Mt. Mitchell (NC highpoint)

May was a busy month on all fronts.  I was still desperately trying to get in some runs that I so enjoyed but the noose was still further tightening.  I was noticing that some of my daily runs weren't happening as my days were filling up with long writing sessions.  I had finally started working through my 2nd chapter and realized just how much I still had to do (Nevermind my 3 and 4th chapters that still needed work AND to be written up!).  At this time, I was still splitting my time between State College and Geneva.  I had noticed randomly one day on ultrasignup that there was a 12-hour race listed in my childhood hometown of Webster NY.  I was determined to run it.  It was after all, only an hour or so drive from Geneva.  So after a fun escapade at Greenwood Furnace the weekend before, I headed up to Webster on May 10th for a chance to run loops just a couple miles from my childhood home.  I ended up not only have a fantastic time, but I actually ended up WINNING the event with over 72 miles!  This was my first 12-hour event and it felt good to represent my original home town so well.

Here was my write-up:  Mind the Ducks!

After 10 or so hours

Crossing the line 1st place after 72 loops!

Celebrating with a well-deserved rest in the soft grass!

Just one week later I had "3 Days at the Fair" on my schedule.  I had hoped to better my 231 mile performance of last year, but as I sat in my stressful state after "Mind the Ducks", I began to worry that I really couldn't afford to take another 72 hours off.  I made the decision to go for it and that it would likely be my last significant ultra until after my defense was over.  Turns out I was right and even when I did run Manitous Revenge the following month, I stayed up all night before the race to work on figures and plots for my 3rd dissertation chapter (more on that later).

At three days, I was mostly excited to just take 3 mental days off.  Even though it started just 5 days after "Ducks" I still felt surprisingly rested.  Not sure if that means I could have run harder at "Ducks" or that I was simply still in good shape.  My goal at "3 Days" was mostly to see if I could shave more time off of sleeping.  I had gotten a lot of practice in May with sleep deprivation staying up long hours to write, so here was my chance to see if it paid off.  Secretly I had a goal of breaking 240, and maybe even the mythical 250 (although it just seemed so out of reach for me).  I had other smaller strategies as well, such as hitting 100 in the first 24, and actually resting more often, but for shorter stints.  Things actually played out very close to my ideal plan and I had the chance to run alongside so many great people.  I crossed the line with 246 miles (2nd place) just falling shy of my big goal of 250.  I was absolutely content with this number though and drove home happy to have spent a wonderful 3 day mental vacation with such good people.  My 2 year total for the event is now 477 miles.

I wrote a very long and detailed entry about the race here:  "3 Days at the Fair Report"

Early on during day 1

Hour 71 of 72
Having a great time with Brad Compton (vol stater)

Very shortly after the event I participated in a couple of last-minute "local" events near home just to give me short breaks from the writing.  I had a go at a 12-hour event on a track (just to see what it would be like) at the "Dawn to Dusk to Dawn 12-hour".  It went well, but I don't think I can run loops on a track.  It is just too short of a repetitive distance.  I still managed to finish first again with over 70 miles, but it was also a very small field.  I mostly ran this event to see some great running friends.  I never wrote up a race report for the event.

Fun Crew at "Dawn to Dusk 12 hour"

Somewhere in this time I also ran the Rothrock 30k in my backyard.  Honestly, I have very little memory of it.  I know it was hot again, and I know I had a decent day (albeit a bit slower than normal), but it was all a blur.  I found one picture from the event and in it you can clearly see that my mind is somewhere miles away.  I was probably thinking about some equation I had to fix...or a figure I needed to adjust for my thesis.

Mile ~6 at Rothrock

I had a few more events on my schedule but all were in question.  I had my yearly tradition run of Finger Lakes 50 (which is only a 30 minute drive from Geneva), and a new rather difficult race in the Catskills called Manitous Revenge. I had heard many stories of this event and in my haste, I signed up not thinking about my brutal schedule.  I was close to canceling when I found out two Barkley friends would also be running (Jodi Isenor and Julian Jamison) I kept my name on the entrants list.  If anything I would show up, and drop early.

More importantly during this time I remember vividly sitting at the local starbucks and drafting an email to my doctoral committee.  On May 27th at 11:15 am I sent the email that would change everything.  Here is the important snippet from that email"

"I know it may seem aggressive, but I would like to try to defend in August.  I feel confident that I can get my remaining work written up to a thesis-level quality in that time, although the bubble-hybrid chapter 4 will be the most challenging.  Like I said, I will have a Sept - Nov to further clean up and submit my manuscripts before an actual December graduation.  
***Specifically, I'm looking at the week of August 4-8, and if I had to go ahead a set a date I'd say Friday August 8th (afternoon maybe?)"

Within an hour, my entire committee agreed on a day earlier (Aug 7th), and just like that my entire world changed.  The hovering dark cloud was now a torrential downpour and I lost nearly all of my focus on any sort of recreational or running events.  All that mattered was August 7th.

I decided to still show up for both Finger Lakes and Manitous for whatever it was worth, but I already knew that my heart would not be in either event.  Normally, I would have been ecstatic to participate in an event like Manitous.  A race with ridiculous scrambles, unGodly gain, and bone-shattering rocks.  Instead, I merely showed up and went through the motions.  The only thing that really made the day enjoyable were the incredible views along the escarpment and the company of good friends Jodi and Julian.  I was able to run over 10 miles with Jodi and it was really only in that 10 mile stretch that I was smiling.  The last 10-15 miles of the race I was absolutely miserable and wanted desperately to quit.  I had spent the entire evening the night before in my cheap motel room working up figures for one of my thesis chapters.  In my race report I say something like "I was up almost all night".  Truthfully, it WAS all night.  There was no sleep.  Here I was running probably the most difficult 50-miler in existence (54 miles actually) on literally zero sleep.  I paid 60 dollars for a motel room that I did not sleep in....not for one minute.  I was utterly exhausted during the race....but somehow still eked across the finish line after 15 long hours.  The course was the most demanding I've ever run short of Barkley.

I wrote a detailed race report here:  Manitous Revenge

Jodi and I climbing on the course somewhere

Descending some rocky trail into the woods

A very long day.  Happy to be done!

This was the exact figure I spent most of the night putting together
and the reason I didn't sleep before the race

After Manitou's Revenge, my world became a blur.  On July 1st I helped C move to Montreal for her post-doc appointment.  I remember driving a U-Haul from Geneva up to Montreal in a single day, and then flying home a day or two later after working on my thesis all day in a Montreal Motel.  I did end up going to Finger Lakes too, but honestly have almost no memory of actually running it.  I found a couple pictures from the day, but truthfully I don't really recall much about the event.  Honestly, I think I really just ran it because it would be the first race I would run for a 5th time.

Some point during Finger Lakes 50

Finishing Finger Lakes 50

I can't really remember a time in my life that I have literally blocked from my memory so poignantly as I have now done with July of 2014.  I vaguely remember spending about 20 hours a day writing and getting almost no sleep for the entire month.  I stopped running...completely.  It was the first time in years that I took any sort of real break from running.  I remember eating terribly and drinking gallons of coffee a day.  I felt terrible and ridiculously unhealthy.  I was miserable and quite frankly it was unsustainable.  I just had to make it to August 7th I kept saying to myself....whatever it took. 

I remember I made a short video of myself awkwardly trying to say something motivational about not quitting.  I tried to watch this video anytime I felt stressed just to get me to August 7th, but it only marginally helped.  Honestly, I was having real doubts about being able to get through it all.  It was a slow struggle.

Immediately following Finger Lakes, I had to send this email to the Vol State listserve...which was quite devastating for me as well...but necessary:

"It breaks my heart to write this email to you all at this late hour, but my self-imposed deadline has arrived...and I'm not where I need to be with my schoolwork.   I have no choice but to humbly bow out of this year's running of the Vol State.  I have been eagerly anticipating this year's run, and trained fairly well...but I simply cannot afford the 10 days needed with my defense just 1 month away.  Even if I could somehow squeeze it in, mentally I would not be in it, and I would likely be stressing about my thesis the entire time.  That is no way to enjoy Vol State....and factoring in the week+ of sleep-time recovery after the race, I'd be in no condition to pull long hours editing thesis drafts.  So unless the race namesake is actually literal, and it is the last annual....I hope to be back in 2015.

Good luck to everyone and you all have no idea just how much I will miss being there with you.  I will check daily emails and tracking regularly.  To you Vol State virgins, enjoy yourselves.  Suck the marrow out of it and take it all in.  It is what you make of it.  I had an absolute thrill last year, which is why signing up this year was a no-brainer for me.

Take care everyone, and raise a glass for me at the last supper :-)
Definitely feeling morose, but even more motivated now to finish my work knowing what I'm giving up.


Vol State was off and it was really upsetting, but all I kept telling myself was it would all be over in one more shitty month. 

August 7th crept closer...ever so quickly, and the long days and long nights got worse.  I have very little memory of the last two weeks of July other than I don't think I slept more than a few total hours.  At some point near the end of the month as I was putting the text together for my 4th and final chapter, I had my first realization that it might actually happen.  I might actually pull it off.

I remember posting this status update online at one point as well.  It's good to know I didn't entirely lose my sense of humor through it all:

"Here's what I've learned:  The final month turns an otherwise "normal" graduate student into a hissing, feral, unshaved, unkempt, dirty, crazed, pale, over-caffeinated, blood-shot, insomniac animal...that's surviving on cereal, yogurt, and ice cream.  Now leave me alone!  *HISSS*  (Actually, that kinda sounds like a normal ultra-runner now that I think of it.)  Nevermind.  Carry on...."

On August 1st, I vividly remember sitting in the local coffee house here in State College.  This was the coffee house that has pinball machines, sells vinyl records, and allows people to smoke hookas in the corner.  I'm not a fan of the smoke, that's for sure, but man they had good coffee.  After cleaning up some last minute edits from my Advisor, I sent a simple email to my committee that read,

"Good evening gentlemen,
I've uploaded my thesis to dropbox.  Just click the attached link to download it.  See you all in a week."

I'll never forgot after hitting send, I turned to the random guy next to me and said, "That's it.  I did it.  I just finished a full draft of my dissertation.  7 years of work just ended this exact moment."  Obviously it wasn't in its final form and I knew I would have mountains of post-defense edits, but pending some major problem, it was actually looking like I would finish.  I don't remember exactly what he said to me, but it was something like, "That's so awesome man.  I'm glad I was here to see the elation on your face at this moment.  Congratulations."  

I'll never forget that moment.

Seven short days later, I stood in front of my committee, and a small room full of other Geoscience students and faculty and defended my work.  My mom, sister, and nephew also came for the celebration.  I successfully defended and got hearty hand shakes from all the members of my committee.  As expected, I did have mountains of edits to work through, but I didn't care.  That night, C and I hiked into the woods, set up a small campfire, and toasted with my Shackleton Whisky.  In that moment, it felt as if 1000 pounds of horrific weight had immediately been lifted off of my back.  It was magical.

I wrote about the day here:  Defense Day

During my defense

Celebrating with Shackleton

Celebrating with Shackleton

...And then August 8th came.  I woke up; the sun rose; and I was still alive.  But the air...the air was a little more sweet than normal.  We decided a quick celebration trip was in order, so on a whim we spent the weekend driving a few hours down to a cabin in the eastern West Virginia woods hitting a couple of high points and allowing my brain to finally rest.  It was a very quick trip and I never wrote about it. I prefer to keep the memories of this trip to myself.  It was definitely a very wonderful trip.

Our cabin in the woods

En route to the PA high point

En route to the WV high point

Resting against a tree.
It was at this moment while reading congratulatory emails, 
that I finally realized my defense was truly over.
(Needless to say I was giddy)

Maryland High Point

Seneca Rocks
While this quick little jaunt to WV was technically my post-defense trip, we had already planned a much longer visit to Panamint Valley in California.  It was a work/research trip for C, but I came along to play, help out, and sneak whatever of her free time that I could.  We had loads of fun when we could, and when she was working, I pecked away at my dissertation edits.  I finished a large portion of my total edits in the small cafe at the Panamint Springs restaurant.  The same restaurant I stopped at during the Badwater race just 2 years prior.  We visited numerous places in the area and had an incredible time (other than my near lightning strike on Boundary Peak).  I wrote a very long a detailed entry about that trip here:

Here are a few highlight pics:

I stopped for a few days in Colorado on the way and climbed 
San Luis and Huron Peaks

Death Valley

Sailing Stones

Bristlecone Pine (5000 years old)

Telescope Peak (in distance)

Hiking down from Boundary Peak after the thunderstorm cleared

Another Bristlecone

Once september rolled in, I again had to make another difficult decision about races.  I had the Plain 100 and the Barkley Fall Classic on my schedules, but I was in no shape to run either.  I reluctantly pulled my name from both events, but new it was the right call.  It would mean though that I would not be able to qualify for Hardrock in 2015, which was a big bummer for me...but thankfully I would not lose my accrued tickets.

In late September, I had another weekend getaway that I never wrote about.  We spent a couple of days playing and hiking around the Catskills, also hitting Mt. Frissel in the process (CT's high point).  It was a fun and beautiful little trip right at the peak of leaf season.  I won't go into details of that trip, but will post a couple pictures below:

The Catskills

One of the many waterfalls in the area

Playing on the border near bash-bish falls

Bear Mountain CT (and Sages Ravine)

CT high point

NY - CT - MA triple point

I headed out to San Diego for the last of the science meetings associated with my Ice Coring projects at the end of September as well.  It was there that I essentially gave a talk on my full dissertation and even received an award for my participation over 5 years at the field camp in Antarctica.  I wrote a bit about this in my Weary Grad Student Post.

My WAIS Divide award (made form a piece
of an actual ice core tray used at the field camp)

As the year headed into late fall and winter, things quieted down.  I did run in a few more races, but in each case my attitude was all about simply having fun.  Specifically I ran Oil Creek 100 for my 4th time and somehow managed to finish despite almost zero training.  Immediately thereafter, I ran a relay at the Tussey Mountainback and then spent a weekend running the Mountain Masochist in Virginia with 3 other Barkley alums (Travis, JB, and Traildog).  It was awesome spending a weekend with 4 other Barkley finishers (Horton was there too).  It was the first time I ran an ultra laughing the entire time and not caring for one second about my time.  In November I also decided to go play at the NJ one day and eked out 108 fun miles around that loop.  Again, I was quite content with such a number considering my lack of training.  I could fill pages writing about each of these events, but instead, I will simply link to the reports below.

I wrote about all of these races in detail in various posts:

Here are some highlight pics from these events:

Oil Creek Mile 15

Tussey transition zone hand-off

Barkley Weekend at MMTR

Finishing MMTR together

Maggie and me at NJ one day (Maggie hit 142 miles in 24!)

Bill, myself, and a fun crew at NJ One Day

Somewhere in this time period I also zipped down to Austin Texas for the World Premiere of the Barkley Documentary.  This was the film highlighting the 2012 running of the event...the year in which I somehow managed to finish.  I knew I had a rather major role in the film, but it was still very weird seeing myself on the "Big screen".  The film was a HUGE hit and even won the overal Austin Film Festival Audience Award!  This speaks volumes about the directors and producers of the film, Annika and Tim.  There were both gracious enough to host me in their airbnb while in Austin as well.  I am looking forward to the DVD/BluRay release later this year.  It really was a fun film to watch and captured a lot of what I would consider to be the essence of why the Barkley is so wonderful.  I stayed anonymous in the audience until people realized after it was over that I was there.  I went up with Annika and Tim and answered audience questions about the race too, which was a lot of fun.

Annika and Tim presenting the film!

Annika, Tim, and myself by the official movie poster during the festival

I spent most of late November and early December up in Montreal.  It was weird again being home for both my birthday and Christmas this year.  For my birthday, C took me to a live Damien Rice concert just a mile from her apartment.  I have been waiting to see him live for over 8 years.  It was simply incredible.  The absolute best concert I've ever seen except for maybe Glen Phillips.  There's no other way to put it.  Here is a clip from the actual concert:

Other than a fun little jaunt to Province Point which I talked about in my last post (see here: Province Point Oddity), I laid pretty low during this time.  I had to head out to San Francisco for the big AGU conference just before Christmas to present a poster.  Truthfully, I was really only interested in meeting with folks to talk about possible post docs.  I was definitely glad I went as I made some great connections while there and have my fingers crossed about a couple of exciting possibilities for my future.

Province Point

I will end this very long post with two quick additional stories.  For Christmas this year we ended up driving down to Florida to visit family. It was a bizarre little trip, but one full of unique memories.  I spent Christmas night jogging along a cool road in rural South Carolina while staying at a cheap Red Roof Inn.  I spent the following day in 89 degree humid weather near Orlando with family.  On the way back, we took a detour through the outer banks of North Carolina.  Nearly every place along that excursion was quiet and wonderful.  It was the off season for that area and we had the entire place to ourselves.  I spent my final evening of 2014 on the back of a ferry going from Cedar Island to Ocracoke.  I watched the last sunset of 2014 over the Pamlico sound.  It's weird to me to think about the sun setting over water on the East Coast.  We counted down to midnight on a tiny wooden dock in the town of Ocracoke with not a single other soul around...exactly like last year in Niagara Falls.  It was incredible.  The next day (New Years Day), I sat on a small wooden chair with a cup of coffee watching the still water around town as the sun rose for the first time in 2015.  It was magical.  We then drove along the island and flew a kite on the beach alone.  Not a bad way to start the new year.  I even went for a barefoot run along the beach.  On the drive back we stopped at some light houses and even drove through Washington DC.  Of course I insisted we hit the DC highpoint since we were there :-).  

Sand Cranes in Florida

Last sunset of 2014 seen from the Ocracoke Ferry

My view at sunrise over Silver Lake on 
the morning of Jan 1st in Ocracoke NC

Flying a kite on the beach

Ocracoke Lighthouse and its protector

Having fun at Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

Cape Hatteras lighthouse from afar

Washington DC high point (small hill at Fort Reno)

DC High Point

...And finally we come to today.  I realize that I am now into 2015, but I would be remiss if I didn't closeout 2014 with a post about today.  Today was the absolute final footnote in my long year of the dissertation.  Today was the first day that offices were open at Penn State and I was finally able to turn in all of my paperwork for my dissertation.  My advisor and I decided to delay my graduation until May so that I had a little more time to get my chapters submitted for publication in journals, and to find a suitable post-doc.  This of course meant I couldn't turn in my paperwork in November (when it was actually done) because I would have had to graduate in December then.  So today after 7 years of hard work, I took the short walk up to the graduate office and turned in my paperwork.  I then uploaded my final PDF of my dissertation to the school.  Now, all I have to do is show up on May 10th and I will finally get my doctorate.

There was no fanfare today, I didn't get any "congratulations", no hand shakes, not even a penn state coffee mug or some such.  Just a kind young woman at the grad school office saying, "Thanks for your forms, you should be all set."  And just like that, I walked out and my year was over.  I took a couple of pictures on my iphone while this was all going down.  To anyone out there in the world, they will have absolutely no significance, and will appear as just silly photographs.  But to me, they mark a 30 minute window of my life I will never ever forget.

So thank you 2014 for a great year.  It was more difficult than I could have imagined, but I still managed to have a helluva good time.  I am eagerly looking forward to what 2015 has in store for me!

Walking up to the Graduate School Office on a perfect January day

Moments before turning in my final paperwork

...and so it only seems fitting to close out this last post of 2014 with this snippet from the last email I received today, and with the dedication taken directly from my final submitted Dissertation....