Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Catching up on Life or Whine Whine

It has been absolutely crazy around here since Highlands Sky way back in June.  It seems like forever since that event.  Speaking of Highlands Sky, I visited Dolly Sods last Friday, just to see what it was like following hurricane Sandy and the devastating snowfall and power outages we experienced here in the West Virginia Highlands.  I just knew I would have to back down the mountain, but the Forest Service guys from the Mon had the road cleared.  Actually I was surprised at the lack of downed trees compared to other sections of the state.  My theory is that due to the elevation, the snow was drier and therefore didn't break down trees like it did at lower elevations.  I may be (probably am) totally wrong on that.

Anyway, following Highlands Sky and my mangled knee, I got back into a training routine for the Wineglass Marathon.  Danielle and I were running that together, and I was really looking forward to being with her during that race.  Training was going well, but most of my running was on roads and forest service roads, so no falling. 

In August, Dan and I crewed for Cheat Mountain Moonshine Madness 50 Mile Trail Run.  We had a blast.  The race began at 9:00p.m. and AS workers were up all night helping runners hydrate, refuel, change headlamp batteries and just offering moral support.  Chris Reed (an accomplished ultra runner) and his delightful family helped, or rather we helped them, set up and staff AS5. 

At this point in the summer, I was pretty much just focused on getting ready for Wineglass.  A couple more long weeks and then I would taper.  Then one morning I get this email from Danielle saying she is going to volunteer for the Tussey mOUntaiNBACK 50 Mile Relay and Ultramarathon.  Tussey is held just outside of State College, PA.  It is run mostly on forest service roads and only has 5,000 + feet of elevation gain, so I started thinking, "why not?"  It was going to kind of be off the couch.  I had been maintaining 60 to 65 mile weeks, but no long runs (nothing longer than 20).  I mentally began trying to figure how to get a couple of long runs worked in around the marathon.  I would use Wineglass as a trainer and decided to run a 50K two weeks before Wineglass.  I know that's insane, but I actually felt good during the 50K and only walked about 100 yards during a 6 mile climb.  My recovery was fast (the taper helped), and then I was off to pick up Dan and be on our way to Corning, NY.  Wineglass race day was about perfect (unlike 2011).  It was cold waiting for the start, but very comfortable running, with mostly overcast skies.  Dan set the pace and we went out pretty fast and ran a sub 2 first half.  That kind of scared me and we backed it off a little.  Danielle's knee from the previous year hadn't been bothering her too much, but it began to flare up a little and started causing her some discomfort.  She kept telling me to go ahead without her, but I told her the "deal was we were going to run it together."  I didn't have anything to prove to anyone and we made it through the final 7 miles together.  Dan picked it up in the last mile or mile and a half and finished strong.  I was so incredibly proud of her to tough it out like she did.  We showered and drove back to State College that afternoon.  I was planning on dinner at Otto's, which serves up some awesome vegan fare, not to mention many craft beers brewed on site.  Did I mention their beer is to die for?  So we're driving into Otto's parking lot, which looks extremely crowded for a Sunday night.  As we walked up to the door, there is a sign saying "closed for private party."  What a bummer that was.  So we head downtown to another cool establishment, and believe it or not, it was closed for a private event too.  I was pretty bummed out by then, but we walked back down to College Avenue and the Corner Room was open.  We got some amazing grub and they had Pumpkin Ale on tap.  Not bad at all for a third try.

Between Wineglass and Tussey Mountain (Oct 12 -- 14), the West Virginia Mountain Trail Runners put on their annual (hopefully) West Virginia Trilogy on Spruce Mountain.  I volunteered to help crew an AS for day 1 (50K).  Dennis Stottlemyer and the rest of the crew rode mountain bikes into Judy Springs of Seneca Creek.  I chose to hike the 3+ miles and hit the trail before daylight.  It is such an amazing time of day, watching and listening to the world come alive.  I spooked some coyotes who started yipping at me but soon faded into the coming dawn.  I loved that time alone (are we runners all loners?).  It was a perfect fall morning.  Dennis and the gang showed up a little after daylight and we got things set up and ready for the first runners.  Dennis fixed cheese quesadillas which were a huge hit.  I was really sad I wasn't going to be able to help on Saturday and Sunday, but Tussey was coming up the following week and I had to get another training run in on Saturday.

Danielle emailed the Tussey race folks volunteering to help out, but never heard back from them.  I'm glad she didn't, because she crewed for me.  Due to the nature of the course (roads) Dan was able to be at every AS for me after AS2.  The logistics of the race were great and the AS's were spaced so that runners really didn't have to carry much food or water (unlike trail races).  Pre-dawn race morning was  very chilly, but I was dressed fairly comfortably.  My biggest worry was getting overheated and not being able to shed layers.  AS3 at 11 miles was the first AS where crew could meet their runners.  Dan and I planned on me getting rid of a first layer at this AS and then we would play it by ear. 

The Ultra runners were to start at 7:00a.m. and the relay runners started in waves beginning at 8:00a.m.  A little before 7:00, the usual pre-race announcements were made and one of the runners sang "The Star Spangled Banner."  Then we were off into the near morning dawn.  It was still dark, but light enough that we didn't need headlamps.  Since I wasn't as "trained up" as I would have liked, I started slower than I usually do.  I had no idea how fast to run, and just wanted to beat the cut times; that and I had some wild idea of wanting to finish under 11.  After a mile or so of a slight downhill we hit the first uphill.  I had passed one or two runners on the downhill, but as we began to climb, I was passing quite a few runners who were walking already.  I'm thinking, "what do they know that I don't know?"  I made it to the first AS and jammed some chips and pretzels and took a long drink of water and was off.  Here the course turned back downhill, and some of the runners I had passed began passing me.  This would be a pattern through much of the race.  My training in the West Virginia mountains was clearly paying off.  The downhill began leveling off and I settled in with a lady who was a faculty member at some university in Massachusetts.  She actually had been at Penn State for a few years, before going down East.  We chatted about our dogs and children and a young lady caught up to us.  She had been one of the ones I passed on the climb.  We talked for a few minutes and she picked up her pace and was soon out of sight.  She was clearly a good runner.  On the next climb, I passed her again, and on the following downhill, she passed me.  When I caught her on the third climb, I told her she was a helluva runner, but needed to do more hill work.  She laughed and told me she was from Florida and had no hills available.    We ran together for a mile or so and when she picked up her pace that time, I didn't see her again.  She was good, and I regret not getting her name so I could see her time. 

I have a "26.2" tattooed on the back of my left calf, and while I was chowing down at AS3, a photographer was down on his knee shooting pictures of my tattoo.  I thought that was pretty cool and have wondered if they were ever published anywhere.  Just past the AS Danielle was waiting for me.  I got all choked up when I saw here, and that proved to hold true through most of the race.  It meant so much to me having her there for support.  I shed my windbreaker, gave her a hug and told her I loved her and was off.  One of the things I found interesting were the mile markers at every mile.  At first I thought that was going to be a real problem emotionally.  I mean at 1, you knew there were going to be 49 more of the suckers, and at 2, 48, and like that!  After 15 or 20 miles, I kind of lost track of the markers.  I would see a 28 and think, "hey, that's great, I thought it was only 25."  Then they seemed to come quickly.  I actually thought the course measurements were wrong a couple of times.  I wasn't running that fast, but was pretty zoned out.

I waited far too long to try and write this race report, because I forget many of the details and which AS's were which.  I was beginning to overheat and was looking forward to the next AS so I could  dump my long sleeve mid weight shirt and my "hot pink" skull cap.  After coming into an AS (maybe 7) I ate some cookies and a potato and thanked the awesome volunteers (they were great throughout the race) and saw Dan.  None too soon because I had started to sweat a lot.  She helped me peel out of my mid weight and handed me a short sleeve Patagonia  techie tee and my light weight mesh ball cap.  That was much better, and I was able to maintain a comfortable temperature range throughout the rest of the race.  I was feeling reasonably strong and was making the cuts with plenty of time to spare.  I forced myself to eat and drink every 30 minutes in addition to the AS's.  During Highlands Sky, I got all whacked out on my feeding schedule, and even though I was eating at each AS, I basically stopped eating in between.  I pretty much bonked about 3/4 of the way through and made myself a promise that I wouldn't let that happen again. 

Colyer Lake was the setting for AS9.  My stomach had begun to get a little funky by then and I was trying to eat Tums and cookies at the same time.  I don't recommend that, but I didn't want to linger in the AS and knew I needed nourishment, but also needed to calm my stomach down.  I had started eating Vitamin I by then, but was still beginning to experience some major quad pain.  After a high 5 and a hug with Danielle, I started off again.  I had run close to 37 miles without walking, but this next leg proved my undoing.  The climb started gradually but got progressively steeper, and on top of that, it seemed as if I could see that stupid road for miles ahead.  That did it!  As much as I did not want to give in to walking, I said screw it.  None of the Ultra runners were running this section and the relay guys seemed to be having a "little" bit of a hard time with it.  After walking a couple of hundred yards, I was able to mix in some running, but mostly walked to the crest of the hill.  The downhill was a welcome sight, and my quads weren't giving me too much trouble.  As I cruised in to AS10, it was very congested with vehicles in support of relay teams parked everywhere, crew members wandering about and just a general sense of confusion.  This AS was set up off a "T" intersection and the road was very crowded.  I met Dan and she ran with me into the AS.  At this point the course went out 2 miles and turned back on the same route going through AS10 again (but was AS11 this time).  AS10/11 was very busy with lots of spectators, relay runners and support crews.  I remember trying to eat a potato at AS11, but they were out of salt and it was a little hard to get down.  With just a little over 4 miles remaining, I wasn't too focused on eating, but I remembered Highlands Sky and forced down some chips and pretzels.  The salt was really hitting the spot.  I felt like I was living on "E" caps and Ibuprofen by then and my stomach was becoming a problem.  I left AS11 and headed for the finish line, but I was really struggling by then.  The course was mostly an easy downhill the rest of the way, but I just felt like the wheels were coming off.  My quads were totally blown and I felt like I was gonna puke, but nothing came up.  I caught up with a couple of runners who were walking, and passed them.  I was not going to walk at this point.  One foot in front of the other;  "Relentless Forward Progress!"  Within a mile or so of the finish, there was an intersection in the road and a couple of guys were starting up the wrong way.  They asked me which way to go and I took a guess at the correct way.  We ran together to the finish line and crossed within seconds of each other. 

I looked at the clock as I crossed and it said 10:18.  I thought I had mis-read it.  Was I hallucinating?  I had hoped for a sub 11:00, but was 10:18 actually possible?  Danielle was waiting there, just like she had been throughout this marvelous day.  We hugged and she took some pictures.  My stomach started to bother me again.  I didn't puke during the race, but it was going to happen now.  Well actually it didn't, but I got the major dry heaves (that always happens to me) and scattered a bunch of spectators, which I thought was really funny.  Dan got a cold Coke (with fizz) for me, and that really did the trick.  I felt much better after drinking some of it.  We kind of wandered around for a little while till I began to get cold and then it was time for a hot shower.  I gently eased myself into Danielle's car and she took me to my motel.  After getting cleaned up, it was off to Otto's.  They were open this time (YES!).  I ordered a killer IPA and sipped on it.  I just picked at my food and tried to eat as much as I could, but it wasn't much because my stomach was still a wreck.  I did make up for that at breakfast the next morning though.

Tussey RD, Mike Casper and all of his crew did a great job.  The logistics of an event like this are difficult at best and I only hope everyone who participates recognizes that.  The volunteers at the AS's were absolutely amazing.  They were so helpful in filling water bottles, getting food, offering wonderful moral support, and just being part of an awesome day.

I cannot say enough about my daughter Danielle.  She was an amazing crew of 1; a Goldilocks of sorts, not too much support, not too little, just the right amount.  You nailed it Dan.  I love you!

As we enter the Holiday Season I want to thank everyone who makes these endurance events possible, especially the race directors and their committees, and the volunteers who give tirelessly of their time.  Thanks too to all the runners.  Ultra runners are a very special breed, offering advice when requested, moral support when needed, and encouragement always.  Be safe during the coming holidays and short daylight hours of winter.

                                                                      Happy trails,


  1. Nice to see a post from you Jim! Loved reading about Tussey and congrats on the 50 miler, awesome job!

  2. Very impressive run Jim. 10:18 . . . whew! . . . that's some mighty fine running!

    See you up on the Ridge again soon I hope.

    1. Thanks Adam. On the "Ridge" it is. I'll need to start working on climbing again. I've been slacking the last couple of months.