Monday, May 25, 2015

2015 : 3 Days at the Fair - 72 Hour Event Report

Moving while sleeping - 3rd morning of my 72-hour run, in a somewhat "dazed" state.

My decision to again run the 72 hour event at 3 Days at the Fair came quite late.  With all that's been happening in my life as of late with graduation and job hunting, I just wasn't sure I'd be able to realistically partake in the 3 day event this year.  I toyed with the idea of perhaps dropping down to something smaller like the 24 or even the 12, but to me it just wouldn't feel right unless I was out there slogging it out for 3 days.   I guess honestly, I wouldn't have it any other way.  Another thing holding me back was my perceived lower level of fitness this year.  I admittedly took the entire month of February off from running after a mediocre showing at the HURT 100.  I had sprinkled in a few runs in March and early April to keep my fitness at a decent level, but all of those performances were under par for me.  It wasn't until the 2nd week of April when I finally picked up my training to what I consider a "heavier" load.  Even still, this only meant 60-70 mile weeks, not 100+ mile weeks.  Going into May, I knew that if I did go for it again at 3 days, that I'd certainly survive, and probably put up decent numbers, but likely wouldn't top last year's mileage of 246 (let alone hit the mythical barrier of 250).   Somewhat reluctantly, I did finally decide to throw my name in once I realized that this might in fact be my last year to feasibly do the 72 (at least for a couple of years anyway).  I just couldn't pass up spending 3 days with some of my favorite ultra folks.

Once the decision was made to run, I followed last year's approach of running the 12-hour Mind the Ducks the weekend before.  Unlike last year though, I didn't run it too hard, and left after 10 hours to make it back for my graduation on time.  This meant I was much more rested (and less sore) for the 72.  As far as race strategy for the 72 however, I honestly didn't have a solid plan going in.  For 2013 and 2014 I had two somewhat similar experiences, with some slight notable differences.  For this year, I couldn't decide what strategy I wanted to try to employ, as I really didn't have a set mileage goal.  The most important goal to me for the 72 has been to hit 250 miles.  Had I gone into this year really believing I could have hit 250, I very likely would have.  I honestly didn't think I'd get close enough to even try though, and that was perhaps my biggest weakness going in.  It's not that I wasn't confident or sufficiently trained for decent mileage, it's just that I never really set a hard goal to shoot for.  For me, running the 72 in 2015, was all about enjoying 3 days of running with friends after a very long 7 years of graduate school coming to an end.  All I wanted was to be out there, and not be thinking about school or jobs for a few days, and just make loops and chat with good people.  I knew there'd be ups and downs, and I knew there'd be I decided early just to wing it.

There was one particularly "place" I was hoping to get to in my race that I knew was possible from my 2014 outing.  This "place" I described quite vividly in last year's report.  Somewhere around mile 220 last year, amidst severe sleep deprivation, I arrived at a mental place I can only refer to as absolutely and completely "distilled".   I distinctly remember wandering around the loop in an almost surreal state of existence.  It was simultaneously bewildering and yet wonderful.  It is only after extreme physical and emotional exertion over several days that I can find myself in this mind space.  I remember Marylou having to help me to my tent as if it were a dream or out-of-body experience.  I wanted to again skim the surface of that place again this year if possible.  I wanted to remember what it felt like to exist there again.  This was ultimately the real reason that I finally made the decision to sign up this year.

As far as mileage goals, like I said, I really didn't set any.  I guess I had a soft goal of 200 miles in order to get the new 200 buckle, but otherwise, I didn't really know where I'd come out above that.

The Report:
I went into the race this year with a couple of things a little different.  I did have my usual station set up about 1/3 of the way through the loop, but I made the decision early to go with music (iPod).  It wasn't that I wanted to necessarily tune folks out, it's just that I wanted 2015 to be more of an internal race for me.  In general, I was definitely a little less social this year than in past years, but I certainly didn't enjoy the race any less.  It's just where my mind was this year, and it worked out well for me.

The forecast was calling for a couple of sunny/hot days, with some rain mixed in....and this is indeed how things turned out.  I was constantly swapping out my sun hat for my running cap, and putting on sunscreen when needed.  Additionally, the first night got really cold, which I know affected more than a few runners.  One thing I stayed on top of from the very start this year was my overall body maintenance.  I made sure to periodically apply sunscreen, chapstick, lube, and change clothing at periodic intervals.  This was critical as I had only one tiny blister at the end of the 3 days and didn't even lose a single toe nail.  My leukotape held up for the full 72 hours and my feet looked great.  The only issue I had coming away from the event were very sore hips.  It took a solid 5 days for my hip pain to subside after the race, and only now am I running again.  Another thing that I did this year was to buy a large case of 12 chocolate milk boxes (the kind that don't need refrigeration).  These were absolutely killer when I needed a high-calorie pick-me-up.  I love the aid station food and snacks, but I've learned over my 3 years that there are inevitably times when nothing at the station looks appetizing.  It was during these times, that I'd crack open a chocolate milk.  

I had no plans on trying to place again (in 2013 I placed 3rd, and last year 2nd), but I certainly thought that it may be possible.  At the start line I spoke briefly with Josh Irvan about his training, and knew he was gunning for 300 miles.  I remember a short conversation I had with Mike Dobies at the Barkley, and knew Josh was coming in fired up.  Additionally, I saw that Serge Arbona was running the 72 (A US national team member).  I immediately knew that pending some major blow up, that my best possible placing would probably be 3rd, so I honestly put it out of my mind from that moment on.  I figured I'd just do my thing, and see how things were looking on the morning of the 3rd day.  

My biggest strength at 3 Days is my consistency.  Over the past two years, I've learned that I can survive on little sleep, and simply keep on plugging away.  Other runners will come out after sleep and run faster, but generally I always catch back up just because I keep on moving....always.  I take very few long breaks, and simply keep making forward progress.  One of the 3-Day'ers that I admire the most at this event is George Biondic.  I didn't run in 2012 when he put up a solid 241 miles, but all the accounts of his race are that he was insanely mathematical about it.  He knew exactly what his pace needed to be for optimal efficiency, and how much sleep (and when to take it) per night, and how many calories to eat and when.  He proves my point that if you are consistent, and somewhat mathematical about your race, even with a lot of walking, it's very possible to push upwards of 250 miles.  You just have to keep moving, stay on top of nutrition and calories, and take very few breaks.  I like to think that like George, consistency rather than speed is also my strong suit.  Going in to this year, I figured I was at least probably capable of 220's if not 230's depending on how much sleep I took, as long as I kept moving. BUT, like I wrote earlier, I didn't set a hard goal.

A quick look-back at the data from 2013 and 2014 shows slightly different race strategy approaches.  In 2013 I had no idea what would work best, so I just sort of went out moderate on the first day, and took my first sleep some time in the night at about 85 miles.  Then, I ran solidly after that sleep for a good 15 miles but succumbed rather quickly to fatigue early on the 2nd day.  I slept another short stint much earlier on the 2nd night and went back out much before dawn.  I found that this strategy was difficult in that it meant I had several hours of running in the wee hours before the sun came up.  It was incredibly difficult to function during those times, and I found that my loops were dreadfully slow.  Additionally, I realized rather quickly that my two sleep breaks were definitely too short.  When I hit 201 miles early into the evening on the 3rd day, I went down for what I had planned to be a longer sleep.  Unfortunately, I slept through 3 alarms and was out for over 4 hours.  Without this snafu, I'm almost certain I would have hit 240+ miles that year, but still I came away learning a lot about multi-day racing (especially to always have a back-up person that can shake your tent if you oversleep!).  On the final morning, I had a good push with Dave Lettieri and muscled out 231 total miles.  I was content with this, but still slightly annoyed at my oversleep.  One thing I noticed when looking back at my data is that I didn't really take any regular rest breaks.  Other than my sleep breaks, my laps were all rather random.

2013 data.  The very large sleep break on the third night is easily identifiable.

In 2014, I tried something a little different.  I decided to take periodic rest breaks on what I called "the tens".  I decided to push out at least 50 or 60 miles at the beginning, but then take short breaks every 10th mile to elevate my feet briefly, and rest my hips.  I kept to this strategy very methodically, and took breaks as little 10 mile rewards.  I again took three sleep breaks, with the first two being slightly longer than in 2013.  I also decided not to take my first sleep until hitting 100+ miles and to try to hit at least 100 in the first 24.  I ended up with 104 by 9 am on the 2nd day.  On my third/last sleep, I AGAIN overslept my alarms, but thankfully had Marylou to shake my tent when she realized I wasn't out on the course.  I only lost about 45 minutes on that sleep, but again, was slightly annoyed that I did that.  During the early hours of the last night, as I was desperately trying to hit a magic number of 222 miles before sleep, is when I found myself plunging into the unique and surreal "distilled" mind space.  It was an incredible form of existence that took me a little by surprise.  I had pushed for 222 because it meant that when I woke, even if I was a complete wreck, I only had to do 10 miles to pass my 231 from the previous year.  When I woke though, I found I was in decent shape and had pushed out an easy 15 miles while the sun rose.  During the last 2 hours, I again picked it up, this time running fast loops with anyone that would.  I distinctly remember running a sub 9-min mile with both Marylou and Joe Fejes before finally crossing the line for good with 246.  Somewhere in my mind I began playing the game of, "what if I didn't take that break here or there, could I have hit 250?".  To me the difference between 249 and 250 at a 72-hour event is monumental.  Crossing that barrier takes a level of commitment and training that thus far has eluded me.  Hopefully at some point soon, I will finally join the "over-250" club.

2014 data.  You can easily identify the regular "10-Breaks".

This year, I sort of subconsciously decided to follow last year's approach as I felt it worked pretty well for me.  I wanted to again hit 100 in the first 24, and then take my sleep immediately after.  Then, I would slog through the 2nd day starting up with the "10 breaks" as mini rewards.  I wanted to push my 2nd sleep until about 3:30 am so that when I woke, the sun would be coming up shortly after.  I wanted to minimize my time on the course during the 3-5:30 am block.  Those are the toughest to get through.

Day 1:

The race started at 9 am sharp on Thursday under lovely weather, and a very large crowd of us was off to move for 72 hours.  I settled into a comfortable groove very early and was aiming my lap times for about 10:30 - 10:45 min miles.  As with last year, I made a soft goal of hitting a marathon before taking any sort of break.  I held to this very well, only stopping to grab my gel/gummies every hour.  I hit the marathon mark at very modest 4.5 hours, and pushed out another 5 for the 50k before taking my first sit down break.  It was somewhere around there that I also began slowly incorporating solid food more frequently.  I told myself I wouldn't look at the leaderboard until at least 24 hours, but truthfully didn't really care.  My primary motivator was to simply enjoy my 3 days of disconnection that this event was allowing me to have.  The air was fresh, the loops ticking by, the weather nice (albeit a bit hot/sunny), and the fellow runners were all smiling and ostensibly having a good time.  I was also enjoying my music early in the race, and was only hoping it wouldn't play itself out too early.  I knew I would need the music boost on my 3rd night and last morning to really get me going.

As the first day progressed, I found myself occasionally chatting with other runners.  I saw Dave and Melissa a lot, and made small talk with anyone that made an effort.  Unlike previous years though, I generally did not initiate, and kept to myself and my music.  Like I said, it wasn't because I wanted to be antisocial, it's just that I wanted the event really be an inward journey this year for me.

The start.  I'm in there somewhere

Talking with Johnny Hällneby early on in Day 1.

Finishing a loop with Josh

Running with one of the younger participants.

A group of us all coming in on an early loop

The day progressed rather quickly, and I noticed a few 24-hour runners sprinkled in as well as the marathon folks.  Darren Worts was running the Quad this year (4 marathons over the 3 days), so it was the first time I wasn't actually competing against him.  I ran through the afternoon and into the evening and gradually began passing milestones:  50 miles, 60 miles, 70.... At some point I stopped for a proper dinner, and noted I was on almost an identical pace as last year.  I pushed through the night, which ended up being quite cold (down into the 40's), and maintained decent mileage throughout.  It was very quiet on the first night....many went to sleep to avoid the cold.   I slowly began incorporating consistent walk breaks once I hit 80 miles as well.  When 9 am rolled in on the 2nd day, and the 48-hour runners were toeing the line, I hit 103 miles for the day.  I could have pushed out 1 more and been exactly at the same mileage as last year, but honestly it wasn't that important to me, so I went down for some well-earned sleep.  Immediately, and on cue, as soon as I laid down my hips began throbbing.  I've learned to expect it at this point.  A Tylenol put me at ease and I was out for a short (1:30) sleep.  When I woke and made the rest of the way around the loop on what I like to call my "wake-up" loop, I noticed all the new runners.  I slept through the start of the 48.  When I hit the timing mat, I sat for a bit and enjoyed some pancakes and coffee to get me going.

Day 2:
Day 2 is always the hardest for me, and the early miles 105-125 are so incredibly slow.  Every year I struggle at this point mentally, and I always have a monumental low in the "hundred-teens".  This year was no different.  It seemed that I spent all morning ticking off the 20 miles to get me up near 130, but I eventually began to feel better once there.  The walking was becoming more regular now, and I was punctuating my long miles with 10-breaks and periodic calls home.  Every once in a while I'd call home, and my other half would "walk a mile with me".  Of course the entire time she was usually sighing and calling me an idiot.  Perhaps she was right.  I couldn't remember how long I made it into the 2nd night last year, but I knew I wanted to try and hit somewhere around 160.  I'm not sure why that number stuck out, but it was what I was shooting for.  I began to notice that I was approaching the point in the race where I was on what I call the "3-10's".  Basically there comes a point when I've slowed down enough, and am walking enough, that I very regularly chug out 10 miles in 3 hours almost to the second.  This includes my 10-break too.  For 50 miles this rule held.  I was doing 10 miles every three hours exactly.  To any normal runner, this might seem like a very slow pace (essentially 3.3 miles an hour), but consider my condition, and my breaks, I was quite content with it.  My goal was to try to maintain the 3-10's even after my 2nd sleep though, which I knew would be much harder.  The day progressed into night and 3 am began to creep every closer.  Like clockwork, I hit 3:30 right at 160 miles, and decided it was time for another sleep.  Little did I know that it was at 160 miles exactly that I also took my sleep last year.  It was almost eerily frightening how similar my 2015 and 2014 races were turning out to be.  I did finally start looking at the leader board and noticed a few things.  First, Josh was WAY out in front and pending a meltdown, untouchable.  BUT, I also noticed that Serge was not running.  After racking up a very big day in the first 24, he had run into some trouble with his leg and was ostensibly out of the race (at least for the short-term).  I had, after many a late mile actually caught and surpassed him.  Additionally, there was Daniel Gallo, and Johnny Hällneby who were just ahead of me.  Over the wee hours though, I had managed to eek out enough miles that I was periodically on the podium (3rd place).  On a couple of occasions before getting my sleep, I had actually pushed into 2nd place.  These brief stints never lasted long and were always due to out-of-sync sleep schedules between me and the other top runners.  Things would all change on the third day.  I went down for sleep, asking Bill Schultz (Josh's Crew Chief) to shake my tent in 2 hours if he didn't see me.  Thankfully, he came over just as I was waking up so all was good. I owe a lot of thanks to Bill over the course of the 3 days for adopting me as another one of his runners.  He always asked if I needed everything, he stayed awake way too long for a crew chief, and was always cheering for me.  I'm sure Josh would agree that having Bill around and in "your corner" certainly is a huge benefit on your race.

I slept again for about 1:45, and made my way around for breakfast and coffee again.  I was excited that the final 24-hour day was about to begin.  The last day is always fun watching the myriad other racers beginning and finishing (the 24 hr, 12 hr, and 6 hr).  It's also in the night that I had hoped to again find that deep mental place again.  Right as I hit 175 miles, the 9 am clock ticked by and the 24 hour racers shot out of the gate.  Perfect time for a sit down break under the roof.

Running early on Day 2

Somewhere out on "the loop".

Day 3:
Day 3 was forecast to bring us some rain.  After two rather hot/sunny days, I was frankly excited by this prospect.  It was also on day 3 that we'd get some big crowds at the fair grounds.  There was a large Rodeo going on later that night as well as a horse show of some kind.  Lots of people around the fairgrounds shaking their heads at us crazy runners.  The rodeo proved quite entertaining and at one point they even had 2 skydivers parachute down onto the rodeo stage.  It was rather surreal.

I don't remember much specifically about the 3rd morning other than I was desperately trying to make those 25 miles so that I could hit 200.  In my mind, everything over 200 was just gravy on top.  I knew I hit 200 last year at some point around 4 or 5 pm, so was hoping to be close, but really didn't know how I was comparing in general to my 2014 race.  I simply knew that I wasn't that far off.  I was getting more and more tired, but my music was keeping my spirits up, as well as all of the new faces.  The day progressed at a moderate paces, and I took several breaks.  I found I was stopping by my car much more frequently for breaks.  I was needing to elevate my feet more often as well.   I pushed through the 190's and finally hit 200 right before 6 pm.  I made my 201 victory lap (like the previous 2 years), and then just as I came into the station, a huge thunderstorm opened up.  The timing was terrible for the 6 hour runners as they literally started the race as lightning was striking nearby and torrential downpours opening up.  It was quite brutal.  I decided to take a longer seated nap break during this time rather than to soak myself for a lap or two.  Of course I look back on this break now and it frustrates me to know had I kept going I likely would have made the 2 more miles I needed to reach my ultimate goal by race end (more on that later).  It felt nice to sit out the rain, and the radar showed it would be moving on quickly.  I took this time to rest and call home.  I finally caught up with Dave and Melissa, both who had had some trouble over the course of the three days.  Still, Dave had managed to hit the mileage he needed (158 I think?) to break the 1000 lifetime mileage mark.  I had ran his 1000 mile with him and needless to say, I was definitely envious.  What an amazing accomplishment.  When I set out after the rain, I knew I was in for some rough miles.  Like last year, I decided to try to hit the rather arbitrary number of 222.  This would get me through the horrible teens and within reach of 230 again.  My early math had me believing 235, and maybe even 240 was possible provided I didn't oversleep on my last night.  Some new stories had transpired over the third day.  Serge, who at one point was essentially out of the race, had been up running pain-free for the entire 3rd day.  He'd already caught over 20 miles on me and was about to pass me.  I knew that my only chance of placing would be 3rd unless he ran into more trouble.  On top of that, Daniel Gallo was still running very well and we were basically leap-frogging each other all day....never more than a few miles from each other.  My heart wasn't set on placing, so I just figured I'd do my thing and if I came out in the top 3, then great....but if not, then I'd be genuinely happy for those that did place.

Enjoying a snack break during the rain

A few hours later as the evening pushed on, I remember Daniel had started having some swelling in his leg.  In all honesty, it didn't look to great, and I thought perhaps it might end his run.  I was definitely bummed as I felt like we had been working well off of each other for the entire 3 days.  I told him to ice it well and elevate it and he'd likely be back out soon.  I really didn't want him to be out of the race.  He's one of those "good guys" that you just can't help but root for.  Plus, his wife (crew) was incredibly supportive to all the runners, and always cheering for me each loop.  Sure enough, as the hours pressed on, his leg swelling went down and he was back out racking up loops.

In the wee hours of the night, Daniel went down for a long sleep, and I kept pushing on.  I wanted that 222.  I was also hoping that somewhere around 215 is when I'd hit that "distilled" place.  But, unlike last year, I made it through those miles much easier.  I was definitely exhausted, but I never was so much so that I became disconnected like in 2014.  I was admittedly disappointed that I didn't get to that "place" again, so relegated myself to just taking some sleep and hoping for a decent last morning.  I went down again about 1:30 am, and woke a very short 1:30 later.  I was extremely sluggish and not really able to run, so I plodded out 3 very slow miles.  At 3 am, as I was finishing out my 225 mile, I saw that Daniel had awoken from his longer 3+ hour sleep break.  At this point, he was 5 miles behind me and would have to work to catch back up to me.  But I knew I was going painfully slow though, and figured the sleep probably did him really well.  Sure enough, he whizzed by me doing a 10 minute mile and I knew almost immediately that I wouldn't be able to hold him off for 6 more hours.  My reaction was to simply smile and think, "good on ya Daniel.  Now keep it up!"  Still I kept moving and doing my thing.  I found myself very quickly rooting for him more and more.  He was on a tear and I couldn't help but be inspired.  I wanted him to keep it up.  In just two hours he was already even with me and showed no signs of slowing down, so I kept encouraging him every time he'd pass me.  To see someone who just a few hours earlier had an enormously swollen leg, now cranking out consistent 10 min-miles was just awesome.  He eventually did slow down a bit, but was still moving better than me...and was now 5 miles ahead of me with just a few hours to go.  I was content with my race, and now began to realistically do my own race math.  What was possible?  What would I be happy with?  What was my end-race strategy.

The Final Hours:
When the sun came up on the last morning I had done the math for an easy/comfortable finish, and came up with 242 miles.  This was absolutely fantastic in mind and I was pleased I'd break 240 again.  I was still a little disappointed in the way my last night unfolded so wasn't feeling particularly motivated on the final morning.  Usually with just under 2 hours to go, is when I start my surge!  For whatever reason, the adrenaline starts flowing, the pain gives way, and I manage to bust out 6-10 crazy miles at the end.  This year though, I wasn't feeling it.  I remember telling several people that this year I was "going out with a whimper" and that I was content to simply "walk it in".  I was admittedly a little disappointed with myself, but I was excited for my probable 242, and for Josh's, Serge's, and Daniel's awesome races.

...and then it happened.  At some point Johnny went blasting past me.  He had gotten his push/surge.  He let out whoop and a holler and for whatever reason it hit me....just like that.  I found a little more spring in my step, my thighs went numb, I gave myself a little stretch, and then like a getting smacked in the face with a 2 x 4, I was knocked into the present moment.  I could feel it building incredibly fast and I didn't want to let it go.  I wanted to hold on and embrace it...and let it drive me to a good finish.  I immediately put on my goto music track that always keeps me fired up, and just like that, I was off in a blast.

For all those long hours at night that I had longed to find that feeling, or that "place", and been unsuccessful, it was in the last 90 minutes that it came in another way.  When that music started playing, and the feeling came over me when Johnny ran past, I was overcome by a wave of energy, a wave of humility, and a wave of joy.

...and so I ran.  And I ran hard.  Harder than at any point in the race thus far.  I busted out an 8:37 mile at mile fastest of the event, and it was AWESOME.  Every time I made it to the end of the loop I was expecting to have the feeling wane, and that I'd go back to my shuffling, but the feeling persisted and I kept at it.  I ran another, and another, and another.  Daniel began to panic thinking I was trying to catch him, but I assured him I wouldn't and that I was simply embracing a feeling I had been long pining for over the past 72 hours.  Still, he began running too...and it was inspiring.  In a way, I felt that by my running, I was pushing him to greater numbers.  My math co-processors were chugging at high speeds now and I began calculating my new goals.  245?  246 maybe?  could I break last year and hit 247?  I knew 250 was almost assuredly out of reach, but that I might get close.  I was annoyed with myself that I probably could have squeezed out a few more miles over the past 72 hours and set myself up for 250 but hadn't.  More importantly though I thought, will Daniel hit 250?  And seeing as though he was 4 miles ahead of me at this point, as long as I kept him moving in a panic mode, he would.  Every time I passed his crew station, I told his wife that I just wanted him to hit 250 for the both of us.  Every mile, I latched on to someone else to run with....anyone that would run with me.  I tried to stay with Daniel, but he kept out-pacing me.  So I ran a mile with a 24hr runner, and then another.  I was averaging 9-10 minute miles now, and had passed 242 (my original calculated goal) and still had over an hour left.  So I kept on plugging away.  I crossed the mat a half an hour later and asked Rick, "What number was that?!".  He yelled back "245!".  I really thought it was 246, but alas he was right.  This is when I mentally began to give up.  Had it been 246, I had 50 minutes to bust out 4 miles.  This was totally doable in my mind...12:30 miles.  But with it being 245, I would have had to muscle out five 10-minute miles.  I was fairly sure my surge wouldn't last that long for that pace.  I wanted to believe it would, but as I headed out on my 246th mile, somehow I knew.  I knew I would best my 2014 mileage, but that 250 miles would remain elusive.  My legs were really beginning to ache, and my adrenaline surge was definitely waning.  I jogged out 246 and as I headed out on 247, I paired up with Josh on his 292nd.  I was now in new territory.  I was on the course past where I was last year, and it felt awesome.  Josh and I chatted for a bit and I felt as all of my aches and pains began coming back.  The 247th mile was my last good one.

Zipping through asking Rick about my mileage on the last morning

As we crossed the mat together, we had 20 minutes left.  With my dream of 250 over, I settled with the thought of having one last easy stroll around the course to finish me off with 248 (2 more than last year).  But, as I began the loop with Josh, my body had already begun shutting down.  Somehow it knew.  As I made it to my car and to the turn just past it, I had to stop and stretch my legs.  I was feeling nauseous as well.  All the hard running was making me extremely woozy and I needed to center myself.  I told Josh to go ahead and I saw that I still had 12 minutes to finish the final 1/2 mile. How embarrassing that I was falling apart so quickly at the end.  That last 1/2 mile were brutal.  I was a wreck and every step another part of me began shutting was a comedic domino effect taking place in real time inside my body.  I stopped several more times to keep from falling over and by the time I rounded the last turn, I had only 2 minutes left to finish.  Needless to say, I milked the race for every minute I could and crossed the line in 71 hours, 59 minutes.

Final Numbers:
248 Total Miles

Fist 24hrs - 103
Second 24hrs - 72
Third 24hrs - 73

2015 data with various components identified.  You can really see the push at the end, and when it began to fall apart.

Finishing the race looking back at who else is left to finish

Crossing the line utterly exhausted for 248 miles

Myself, Daniel (red hat), and Johnny (laying down) celebrating after

Some Thoughts:
One of the most surprising things I learned about this year's race, was just how closely it mimicked last year's race.  I not only took my sleep breaks at the exact same mileages, but my first 36 hours were nearly identical (see figure/chart below).  In truth, my 2014 race was actually faster/better, and the only reason I managed a few more miles this year was because I slept less on the last night.  If you look at the plot comparing all three of my years, I actually began to fall off of my 2014 pace mid-way through day 2 this year.  By the time I went to bed at 222 miles, I was actually about 90 behind my 2014 pace.  BUT, I slept 90 minutes less.  So, when I got up and started running on the final morning, I was nearly on the exact same schedule/pace as last year.  What's even more remarkable, is that at mile 238, I crossed the timing mat within 10 seconds of my overall time from was THAT close.  The difference was that this year, my final push/surge was faster, and more protracted.  This was how I managed to eek out 2 more miles in the end.

Total Mileage vs. Total Time for all three years.  Inset shows final 30-50 miles.

While I did come away in 4th place, and with no award this year, I really enjoyed rooting for others, especially Daniel.  I was so excited that he hit 252, and feel like in some small way, my little surge at the end did help to keep him moving faster.  I know he seemed really happy to have done as well as he did.  Additionally, I came into this year's race, more for myself, and with an attitude not really conducive to competitive racing, so for me, 2015 was never about trying to place.  So in a nutshell, the fact that I bested my mileage from last year was more than I could have ever asked for this year.

I really enjoyed the somewhat more pronounced "inner" journey this year as well, and really loved the overwhelming emotional component that came with my final push this year.  It was very reminiscent of the feeling I had near Wartrace, TN while running the Vol State two years ago.  The kind of overwhelming feeling that gives you goose bumps for miles and nearly brings you to tears.  I love that kind of stuff.  It's almost as if all at once, the enormity of what you've just accomplished all hits you.  Holy crap, I've been out here running for 72 straight hours, and moved 248 miles....POW!  It reminds me a little of that feeling I got after finishing my PCT and AT thru-hikes only more diminished obviously.  I took this video at the exact end of my PCT thru-hike.....

I like my upwards progression at this event, and how I've learned so much over the past three years; truly.  I  definitely believe that 250 is within reach and that I just need to come in slightly more trained.  I refuse to believe that 250 will be asymptotic for me.....always getting closer, but never getting there.  Just with this year, I know of at least three places I could have shortened a break, or pushed out an additional mile or two.  But such is the game at a 72.  It's hard to know what you'll want at hour 68 when you're at hour 14.

I did come away with a 200 mile buckle and my 500 lifetime award (which I hit very early my first day after 23 miles).  Next year I would need 275 miles to hit 1000, so it's very unlikely although arguably not impossible.

500+ mile club.  (I have accrued 725 now over the past 3 years)

I guess that's it.  Thanks Rick and Jennifer for again putting on such a unique and wonderful event.  I have really come to love my 3 days of running in circles in New Jersey.  I hope to be back next year.

Oh and Josh Irvan ended with 293, Serge Arbona with 268, and Daniel Gallo with 252!  Congrats guys!  Amazing numbers, and I only hope to join you all in the 250+ club some day.

My loot from this year!

Photo Credits : Various other runners and crew at the event.  Send me a note if you want named credit for one of your photos.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Graduation Weekend...and beyond.

The doctor is in...

Well...after nearly 8 years in graduate school, 2 degree tracks (MS and PhD), 5 field seasons in Antarctica, 6 visits to the ice-core lab in Denver, countless hours coding in matlab, months of writing and editing, over a dozen courses taken, and literally thousands of scientific papers read....

It finally all ended this past weekend.  Despite my successful defense late last year, I purposely delayed my graduation until Spring so that I could finish up my manuscripts and have a little more time to job hunt.  It was really hard last year having all of my paperwork done, but not be able to turn it in.  This past Saturday though, all of that was forgotten, as I did finally get to walk across a stage, shake the University president's hand, and have my doctoral degree conferred.  My mom and sister, as well as C were all able to come as well, which made it even more wonderful.  The fact that it happened on mother's day was an added bonus too!

The entire weekend was a blur, a whirlwind of travel and planning.  I knew that my sister wouldn't be bringing my 2 year old nephew with her, so I decided to head up to see them on the Thursday before graduation.  Then, we could all drive down together for the actual graduation on Sunday night.  First thing Friday morning we all headed to Niagara Falls for a whimsical visit to the falls.  We had a great time and my little nephew loved it.  We went to both the Canadian and American Falls, and it was during this trip that I learned my nephew will likely one day become an ultrarunner like me!

Canadian Falls

American Falls (with lots of snow/ice still hanging on)

Water plunging over the American Falls

My nephew showing off his new ultrarunning skills.  I predict a sub-14 hour hundred-miler in his future.

After our trip to the Falls, we headed back to Rochester for the night.  The next day, I decided to again run my childhood hometown ultra.  Last year, on a whim, I signed up for the 12-hour Mind The Ducks race in Webster NY.  The race is on a 1-mile loop about 5 miles from the house I grew up in, and only about 2 miles from my old high school.  I hadn't planned on running it again this year due to graduation, but once I decided to come up early, I figured why the heck not.  I knew I would have to leave a few hours early, so was not going in with the plan of "defending my title".  Last year, somehow, I managed to eek out 72 miles and come away with only my 2nd overall win at an event.  But, despite the rarity of such an occurrence, I knew this year would simply be about having fun.  I also knew the forecast was predicting mid-80's temps with high humidity, so I wasn't thrilled with the idea of going out hard.  

I took it easy most of the day, and had a soft goal of 50 miles in 10 hours.  I ran a conservative 9-10 min/mile pace and tried to keep smiling.  The heat of the day did get pretty rough, so everyone slowed down significantly.  I remember walking quite a few more laps than last year.  Still I managed to enjoy myself and rack up some decent mileage.  Like last year, I also knew that I'd be running 3 Days at the Fair in less than a week, so I didn't want to push hard at all.

Sometime around 4 pm I realized I was on pace for a little over 50 in 10 hours, so I planned to hit 52 and get the double-marathon award.  I ended pushing a little bit harder and getting 54 total when it was all over,  and pulled myself out of the race just over 10 hours so that I could drive back to Pennsylvania before it got to be too dark.  Overall, it was another excellent experience at the event, and I was thrilled I made the last minute decision to run again.  It is really a lovely looped course.  Next year I'll hopefully be able to return with a full 12 hours, to give myself another honest chance at a top finish!

Just before the start, enjoying a calm morning by the ponds

A nice reflection shot of the ponds

Race Start

Runners heading around the loop

An early morning photo from when it was still cool
(photo : R. Heerkins Jr.)

After 10 hours of running, I decided to say hi to the locals.

More geese

Baby geese!

Before heading out of town, I stopped to get a world famous Abbot's soft-serve ice cream with sprinkles.  I figured that my 54 miles made it well-earned!

...And then....Sunday morning finally came.  After what seemed like an eternity, it was finally the dawn of my graduation day.  I woke up that day a graduate student, and would go to bed a certified Doctor.  I couldn't wait.  All the hard work, all of the hours of research, and even the countless hours and hours of self-doubt about whether or not I'd actually finish, were about to FINALLY be resolved. I would walk across a stage and be introduced for the first time ever as Dr.

I was eternally grateful that all of my family came down for this day.  I know that it was a lot of travel for everyone, and I was so appreciative that I could share in the day with others.  The ceremony itself was pretty standard.  Degrees were conferred, speeches given, photos snapped, and hands shaken.  In the end, it was all pretty routine, but during the entire 3 hour ordeal, I just couldn't wipe the goofy grin of my face.  I never attended my Masters Degree commencement, so for me, this graduation held somewhat of a double meaning as well.  It was a surreal contentment that I felt, and at many times I even got really choked up.  I particularly recall a moment when the University president asked us to turn around, look for our families in the crowd, and then acknowledge them all for all that they've done to help us get to this point.  That was a really difficult moment for me, especially since my dad was not there to see it all.  I know he was definitely a big part of me getting through so many of my low points. for everything.  Miss you.

Figured it best just to show some pics from the day, rather than bore with the details of the ceremony.

Putting on the gown for the first time!

Me and Mom

Me and Carri (sister)

Me and C

Entering the arena....can you spot me?

The distinguished deans and speakers

Ready to walk on stage to receive my degree.  My advisor  (Prof. Alley) is standing right in front of me.

Receiving my Degree!

And the Dr. is in....

Finding my seat, clutching my diploma for dear life!

And it's over....

Myself, my advisor (Prof. Alley), and another one of his students (Nate)

5 years of work for this...

Myself and Prof. Alley (my advisor)

The family

me and C

I thought I'd also attach the two most important pages of my dissertation, at least in my eyes...




What's the big news moving forward John.  Well, I'm happy to say that I am moving to start a new job!  I'm heading up to New Hampshire to start a new job as a Research Scientist at a lab that specializes in Cold Regions research.  In other words, I'll be working on a lot of great projects associated with Arctic and Antarctic research.  I'm really excited about this new opportunity, about the people I'll be working with, and with my new location.  So wish me luck moving forward!  I'm definitely eager to start playing in the White and Green Mountains of both Vermont and New Hampshire.  Lots of potential crazy trail adventures in my near future for sure.

In the coming weeks I'm sure I'll share more information regarding the big move as things progress further.  For now, this is about all I can say with certainty.

In other quick news, I did end up running 3 Days at the Fair again this past weekend, and I plan to do a full write up on that.  I managed to eek out 248 miles (2 more than last year), for a new 3-day best.  I was really hoping to break the mythical 250 barrier, but I came up just a tiny bit short.  I guess that gives me a goal for next year!

Finishing an early loop at 3 Days...

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Springtime in Pennsylvania

Running around Canoe Creek Lake (Dirty Kiln Race)

Spring has finally sprung here in central PA, and it's a quite nice (at least for now...ask me again when it's July, 90 degrees, and humid).  Despite this winter's record warmth around the planet, one of the few areas that actually experienced slightly cooler than normal temperatures was the East Coast.  So while Alaska was baking, sometimes 15 degrees above normal for January, we were consistently colder than normal in our tiny little pocket of the world in PA.  Long story short is that it's nice to finally be outside these last two weeks.

Global Mean Temperatures from Dec 2014 - Feb 2015

After my run at the HURT 100 in January, I took a rather long break from running, and essentially most activity in general.  I did manage to get in some moderate hiking and a small bit of running while spectating at the Barkley, but not much otherwise.  For the past three years, February has been my power month.  It's always when I've hit my peak Barkley training and usually end up busting out 80+ mile weeks with tens of thousands of feet of gain.  This year, after having decided to sit the Barkley out, I opted instead to basically go into full-on relax mode.  I'm not entirely sure what the inspiration was for this egregious act of laziness, but I must admit it felt kind of nice.  After a few weeks though, I got bored, and wanted to pick it back up again.  I'm just not happy, nor myself, if I'm lying around on a couch. 

I slowly began picking up the running again with daily workouts, and ran a few local races.  I thought I'd just touch on a few here for fun.  After running the 10 mile Egg Hill run in March (a race I hadn't done since 2011), I signed up for the local Dirty Kiln Half-Marathon.  I figured a 13-miler was a good way to get my trail legs working again.  It was a great little race, lots of mud, and plenty of full stream crossings.  Just what I needed to stoke the trail fire within me again.  The race went quite quick, especially for the front runners.  I am always amazed at just how fast some of the shorter-distance trail runners are from the area.

The super fast start at the Dirty Kiln

Trotting along the old furnaces

One of many fun creek crossings

First truly warm day of the year

Finishing with a decent time, feeling good to have actually run on some trails!

Shortly after the Dirty Kiln, I had the Hyner 50k on my schedule.  I knew without a doubt, that my time would be much slower than usual due to my lazy February.  Typically, I manage to finish the course around 6 hours or so, but this year I figured it would be closer to 7, as I had planned to take it easier.   The weather was quite nice again for the event, and I opted to carry my new z-pole trekking poles this time as well (which would also slow me down a tad).  I kept it reaaallly easy all day, and had a lot of fun, but was significantly behind my normal times.  Somewhere around mile 20 I stopped worrying about it and just had a great jog along the trail until the finish.  I finished after around 6hrs 50mins of fun.  The trails were warm and snow free...and I was having a blast on them.

Topping out at Hyner View after the brutal 'Humble Hill'

Trotting along at Mile 22

Crossing the line casually, after a great/fun day.

The past couple of weeks I've picked it up significantly with my mileage and training.  It feels good to be at least nearing a level of peak fitness again (although not quite there yet).  Last weekend I managed to get out on back-to-back weekend longer runs, and this weekend I have another back-to-back planned.  Today, I spent several hours playing around in Rothrock on some of my favorite trails.  It was delightful, albeit very tick-infested.  I managed to find 3 deer ticks on me, one already embedded.  Thankfully I got them all off rather quickly, so no risk of any possible infections.

I have some big news forthcoming about my future following graduate school.  I plan to post something soon with the details, but I've decided to hold off for another week on that.  I will say this however: of all the places I will miss when I do eventually leave State College, I think I will miss Rothrock State Forest the most.  I have so many memories running and training on those hills and trails.  No matter where I end up, nothing will ever be like Rothrock to me.

Enjoying one of my favorite spots along the Mid-State Trail.
This Tuscarora Sandstone Formation outcrop is quite fun to 
scramble across (and is part of the Rothrock 30k course too).
I will miss this spot quite a bit once I leave PA.

The snakes were out...

As were the baby ducklings...

Looking ahead, I'll be running another local half-marathon trail race tomorrow, The Greenwood Trail Challenge.  I've run this event twice before and it was great both times.  I plan on trying to push a little bit more tomorrow if I can, but only if I can still have fun while doing it.  Then, next week I'll taper a bit so that I can run the "Mind The Ducks" 12 hour event up in Webster, NY on Saturday.  I wasn't going to run this event this year, but I just couldn't say no to running a race in my childhood home town again.  I had such a blast running it last year, that I had to go back.  Last year, I actually managed to win the event outright with almost 73 miles.  I don't think I'll be gunning for that many miles again this year...but I guess we'll see.

One last thing,
I don't normally post reviews on here, but I thought I'd share my experience today with a new pair of shoes.  I go pretty simple on footwear when it comes to running.  I basically have three classes of shoes that I keep on my shoe-rack.  1) Trainers, 2) Road Runners, 3) Trail Runners.  Occasionally I've played around with having different types of trail runners (i.e. cushy vs. technical), but usually I just try to keep one model for each of these three categories (unless I'm trying out something new).  For my trainers, I usually have something lying around.  These are my workhorses, the shoes I put on most of my weekly easy miles around town.   I try to buy something with decent cushioning at a fairly decent price.  Generally this means Mizunos, or Asics, or similar.  Also, when my nice road shoes (like Hokas) get worn out, I use them as my trainers.  My Road Runners are what I used for road-type events.  I usually buy a nice pair of Hokas for this role, and then, like I said, as they get worn out, I move them over into my "Trainer" pile.   So where I'm getting with this...

Well the trouble I've had recently has been with finding a good Trail Runner.  For years I swore by my Brooks Cascadias.  I went through a few Hoka phases where I would try their trail shoes, but I found that their tread just doesn't do it for me on trails and I would often roll my ankles as well.   I tried desperately to like Altras, they seem to be all the rage now, but they absolutely DO NOT WORK for me.  I can't stress this enough.  Every time I ever put a pair of them on, I come away from the experience completely underwhelmed and disliking them even more.  I don't know what it is, but they simply don't work for me.  I also found that I actually prefer a good amount of heel-to-toe drop.  I know, so old-school right?  It's a shame, because I actually do like the wider Altra toe boxes.  Which leads me to my current problem...

I had always just bought the new pair of Cascadias when they came out, but after the 7's, wasn't a huge fan of them anymore.  More-recently, I started wearing La Sportivas and have had a fantastic experience with them (particularly with the Ultra Raptors and the Bushido - AWESOME shoes!), but I've always sort of missed that true neutral feel of my old Cascadia 7's.  I've had great luck with the Bushidos, but they are naturally a bit stiff.  This feel is definitely not for everyone.  The Ultra Raptors are fantastic as well, particularly as a bomb-proof shoe, but they are quite heavy.  So...I went to the local running store and thought maybe the new Cascadia 10's would be better, but again I was underwhelmed.  I've found that I've really come to like the grippy outsoles on the Sportivas, which unfortunately the Brooks just don't have.  Additionally there's the big issue of the toe box.  It seems that Brooks thinks our toes are getting narrower and narrower, because I tried on a size 12 (which is already 1/2 size big), and my toes were still squished. Take a look below at just how pointy the tip of the new Cascadia gets in the toes.  How are you supposes to fit 5 toes in there comfortably?

Well the end of this very long story goes something like this....Sportiva just released a new shoe, The Mutant, which has essentially an older generation Cascadia feel, but with much grippier lugs, a little more cushioning, and a really nice new tongue system that laces down snugly (and even hides the laces under a built in flap).  I took them out for 13 fun, rocky, rooty, muddy miles today in Rothrock, and thoroughly enjoyed them.  I'm looking forward to see how they do tomorrow at the Greenwood Trail Challenge, but so far, so good!  I may have finally found my go-to trail shoe!  I've got my fingers crossed.

The Brooks Cascadia 10 and it's super pointy toebox

The new La Sportiva Mutant, with it's much more reasonable 
and rounded toe box (and with super grippy lugs!)

Well, I guess that's it for now.  I'll be posting soon with some news about my future, and a few other race and trail plans.

hike on folks, and get out there and enjoy the lovely Spring!