Tuesday, May 29, 2018

You Can't Always Get What You Want


On May 19th, I went to 3 Days at the Fair with one objective: cover enough miles in 24 hours to effectively guarantee a spot on the USA 24 Hour National Team. If I did that, I’d be able to compete at the biannual World Championships held in Austria in 2019. For the 2017 team, 153 miles was enough to secure a spot on the 6-person roster. Assessing my fitness and comparing against other successful 24 hour runners, I put together a plan for 158 miles, something I felt I could achieve on a problem-free day. That 153 to 158 window gave me about 5 miles of slack for a couple things to go wrong. That could accommodate a 50 minute deviation from my race plan; something that extreme has never happened before – I take pride in my planning for races at 100K and beyond. So yeah, I was feeling pretty good about my chances.

The Plan:

It's not all left turns!

The course is a flat loop, exactly 1 mile in length. That meant for this race I didn’t have to worry about sorting out proper aid station splits and accounting for vertical gain/loss. I knew from a couple races in the previous year that I could run 50 miles on rolling, runnable trails at 8:20 – 8:30 average and not feel completely spent. I figured that pace was a good place to start, and then plan to gradually get slower as time went on. I don’t like planning to slow down, but I wanted to be mindful of the fact that I typically train for mountain running which varies the way muscles are activated, as opposed to sustained flat running which uses the same muscle mechanics mile after mile – I know how to prepare for blown quads in a mountain race, but I had no idea what would happen to my muscles after hours of flat pavement.



Here was my plan:
Hours
Miles / Pace
Simpler Pace Goals
0 – 4
28+ (8:20 – 8:30)
8:20
4 – 8
28 (8:35)
8:40
8 – 12
27 (8:54)
9:00
12 – 16
26 (9:15)
9:20
16 – 20
25 (9:36)
9:40
20 - 24
24 (10:00)
10:00
24 hours
158 miles





Basically, break the day into 4-hour bins and plan to get slower by about 20sec/mile every 4 hours. I also planned to stop at my personal aid station every 10 miles for up to 2 minutes. That, plus maybe 1 gear/shoe change, would put me right at 155 miles.

The Race:


As the race approached, it became clear that I’d be running in the rain for a good chunk of time. If it were a normal race where all competitors had to deal with the same issues, it’d be no big deal. But I was racing the clock, and competing against efforts posted by other runners at other races with likely better weather. I was concerned, but found it hard to believe that bad weather would cost me upwards of 5 miles in 24 hours. 1 – 3 miles was more likely. So not a deal breaker by any stretch, it just meant not a lot of other things could go wrong.

The race started at 9am and … well …

… At this point I would normally dive into an enthralling, captivating, action-packed play-by-play of my race. But I’m gonna take a little different route this time around.


SPOILER ALERT: I didn’t hit my mark. I didn’t even run for 24 hours. I ran 100 miles in under 16 hours, and then called it quits.


Here’s a graph of my splits:

 
Clearly, something went wrong and I gave up. So let’s walk through the issues that led to my failure!

Weather:


The first 3 hours saw persistent rain with temps in the mid-40s and the occasional 10mph winds. It wasn’t that bad; I actually would’ve enjoyed this weather on the trails.  I knew the rain would pick up after 3 hours, so I had already planned to stop at some point and put on a dry top and warmer rain jacket. I covered my first 28 miles in about 3:55, on perfect pace. I’d been running the last hour soaking wet and decided it was time to dry off. The process took longer than I would have liked, just to put on a new shirt and jacket. But no harm, no foul. I got right back to running.

The real problem the rain presented concerned my feet. Early on, I was obsessed with hitting the best lines, and ran through puddles frequently. More puddles, wetter socks and shoes, and more dirt and grime on my feet. I abandoned that tactic after about 2 hours. It may sound stupid to be talking about puddles and how they can throw a wrench in your race, but going around them probably cost me a couple seconds each lap, too. Anyways, the bigger issue was that after 8 hours I knew my feet needed some fresh socks and shoes. The 3-hour downpour from hours 4 to 7 had subsided and a long stretch of limited rain awaited me. I ran through Mile 50 just over 7 hours, feeling great and still hitting my planned splits perfectly. But getting new shoes took FOREVER! My feet were sopping wet and there was dirt and sand stuck in between my toes. There was no point throwing new socks and shoes over dirty, wet feet, so I had to diligently clean and dry them first. And just like that, 8 minutes disappeared! 8 MINUTES! Ugh!

Since I was still feeling fresh and had just nailed my 50 Mile split, I wasn’t concerned.

Time eaten up by weather in the first 8 hours: 10 minutes


(The Bridge! The rain made for this slippery, inefficient turn all day long. Courtesy of Emmy Stocker.)

Gut:


TRIGGER WARNING: I’m gonna talk about pooping

My first 100 Mile race in 2015 was, by all accounts, a success. But I had to jump off the trail a half-dozen times in the final third of the race to go scratching in the woods. I likely gave up 20 minutes because of an upset stomach.

After that, I started taking Imodium before all long races. In the 18 or so hours before a race, I will take the recommended daily maximum. Roughly 20 to 40 miles into a longer race, enough pressure will build and I’ll need to poop, at which point I’ll generally take another 1 or 2 doses. That usually keeps my gut in check for the rest of the race. The process has become routine and predictable.

So I did the same thing before this race. And starting at roughly Mile 16, I felt the urge to poop. A little early, but whatever. Only, when I eventually tried to go, nothing happened. As time went on, the pressure and pain in my lower abdomen kept increasing, but I still couldn’t go. I periodically tried going to the bathroom in the hopes I could finally clear out my gut. When all was said and done, I tried pooping 6 times, and could never go. Instead, I wasted at least 10 minutes and kept getting more and more frustrated.

So what happened? Well, my initial urges to poop in a long ultra are typically coincident with a long downhill stretch of running. Bounding down a mountain shakes up my system and even though I dose up on Imodium, I can still count on enough downhill running to force me to go scratch in the woods. Only, 3DATF was perfectly flat, so no stomach jostling. I basically overdosed on Imodium because I didn’t account for how flat running might affect my stomach differently than mountain running.

Time eaten up by unsuccessful bathroom visits: 10 minutes

(Race schwag was a Marmot PreCip jacket. Serendipity! Photo courtesy of Yoshiko Jo.)

Nutrition/Hydration:


My nutrition plan was the same as always:
  • Bottles of Tailwind at a 200cal/20oz concentration, drinking around 16oz/hour
  • 100cal Huma gel every hour
  • random fruits, fig bars, PBJs, and potatoes to supplement whenever I had hunger pangs or low energy
Also, I’d have apple juice, ginger ale, tea, and chocolate milk lying around if I had a hankering. For the most part, the plan worked. I never felt that nutrition or hydration was an insurmountable problem.

I’d planned to swing by my table every 3-4 miles and grab a bottle. I pictured it like those road marathon races – effortlessly swinging by a table and grabbing my bottle. It was gonna be awesome!
With my table setup, the reality was that I had to put my table about 5 feet off the course, and the rain turned that 5' stretch into a muddy, slippery hell. Coming into and out of my aid station probably cost me 5 seconds each time. It adds up, but mile-by-mile it wasn’t noticeable, so I’m not going to claim this had anything to do with me giving up. Still frustrating though.

The rain kept me cool and I quickly realized I needed much less liquids than planned, which meant I had to supplement my calorie intake with more solids from the get-go. This probably contributed to my gut problems a little bit.

(My Aid Station, before the mud took over.)

Peeing:


I talked about pooping, so why not peeing?!

I overhydrated pretty quickly and felt the urge to pee entirely too often during the race. Normally I don’t pee much in the first 8+ of a race, but for 3DATF I struggled to make it 6-10 mile stretches before stopping. I did a good job adjusting my liquid intake accordingly, but the urges to pee never subsided. Usually, by the end of most 100 Mile races I’m reduced to peeing every 10-15 minutes for only a few seconds at a time because my bladder won’t stop feeling painfully full. On a trail, it’s irritating but not a big deal as it maybe slows me down by 1-2 minutes overall … maybe. But at 3DATF I either had to jump off course to hit up the restroom, or run completely off a good line to hit up a nearby tree. Each time I did that was a solid 10 seconds of unnecessary running. Again, it adds up, but it’s not noticeable in the splits so I won’t say it had any impact on my failure.

The Nail in the Coffin:


Like I said earlier, at 50 Miles I was doing great. I lost some time with a shoe change, but I never thought I wouldn’t be able to clear 155 miles.

As I started Mile 60, all was good. Legs were fine, nutrition was fine, and I was mentally in the game. A few minutes later, things got scary. I have no idea what happened, and I can’t figure any way to chalk it up to anything other than a random fluke of bad luck, but I felt like I got hit by a ton of bricks and immediately felt woozy and dizzy. I started uncontrollably weaving along the course. My legs felt dead – my muscles weren’t sore, it just seemed like my legs were incapable of moving. I looked at my watch and thought to make it to 62 miles so I could claim 100K in under 9 hours, but as I passed by my tent I knew I had to stop immediately.

It felt like I was suffering from vertigo, while drunk and tired.

I sat down, told myself I had plenty of time, and I just needed to take a break, down some food, and relax for a few minutes. Don’t press on until this gets sorted out first. I probably took in 800 calories – cookies, potatoes, fruit, Starbucks Frappuccino, PBJ, you name it – in under 10 minutes. I felt kind of silly. I kept picturing those old, beleaguered souls in pictures at Hardrock, etc., camped out in an aid station chair, looking totally wrecked and showing absolutely no pressing urge to start running again. BUT, sitting down and resting felt like it was just what I needed. After about 17 minutes, I hopped up and was on my way again.

For the next 10 miles my pace was exactly what I wanted and my legs felt great. The gut issue was still present, but felt manageable still. However, I kept getting distinct shifts in perceived effort. All of my miles were roughly the same pace, but one would feel like a breeze and the next would feel like I was racing a marathon, the next a breeze again, … At 70 miles I felt like I needed to stop again, hoping that would get the weird effort swings under control.

A little more than 10 minutes later and I was ready to run again. Only, I knew that I’d effectively bled 40 minutes in a mere 20 miles. Nearly all of my planned slack had disappeared.

158 miles, out the window. 155 miles, extremely unlikely. 153 miles? Only if I could right this ship, and fast.

The next 2 miles still didn’t feel quite right, so did a risk assessment and decided to abandon my goal of qualifying for Team USA.

Since my muscles still felt fine, I wanted to continue on to 100 miles, but without any rush. I passed by Pete Kostelnick, who was walking at the time, and decided that slowing to walk with him for a while was the perfect way to force myself to quit. From then on out, my woozy/dizzy spell never came back and my perceived effort slowly stabilized with the help of some more excessive rest breaks.

Who knows, if I had a crew maybe I would’ve been coaxed into pushing through, having a much shorter rest break, walking instead of sitting in a chair, whatever. But out there by myself, experiencing something I couldn’t explain that came out of nowhere, it rattled me and I opted to play it safe and not put my body on the line for something that had an increasingly small chance of working out.

Time eaten up by whatever the hell that was: 17+ minutes for one break, 30 minutes before throwing in the towel.

PostScript / Fun Fact: Dizziness is a symptom of Imodium overdose...

The Rest of the Run:


After I gave up, the rest of my run was rather enjoyable. No pressure, totally low key. I didn’t beat myself up or sulk. It was actually quite fun. I still hit the paces I had expected to hit when I ran, but I took extended breaks just for the heck of it, and chatted up some folks and walked whenever I wanted.

The final 25 miles I could tell my feet were suffering from maceration due to the wet starting conditions. That would’ve been rough to run through and try to hit 150+ miles. The rain picked back up after 13 or 14 hours, but was fun to run in with no pressure remaining to perform well.
I eventually finished my 100 miles in 15:57, and that includes the 70+ minutes of time I wasted. I had to do 101 to get a buckle, so I took my sweet time, got some tomato soup and a fresh grilled cheese sandwich, then walk-jogged that last mile. Afterward, I hung out around the main aid station, had a beer and a burger, kicked back, and relaxed. I took a shower, then headed to my car to log a few solid hours of sleep.

I woke up with maybe 2 hours left in the race, packed all of my stuff up, and then checked the standings. Somehow, with an hour left, I was still in 2nd place ... and they gave out awards to the top 3. And, there were 2 guys on their 101st lap, running together looking to overtake me. Convinced by Pete that I should go ask for my timing chip, I threw on some running gear and headed over to the timing station. The RD, Rick McNulty, happily obliged and I went off to run another 7 miles in less than an hour, ruining somebody’s day in the process!

(I'm such a jerk...)

 
Mulling it over the past few days, I’ve found no reason to regret bowing out. It’s probably for the best. The race conditions were less than ideal, my gut was oddly uncooperative, and that dizzy spell scared the crap out of me (well, I kinda wish it had…). I only ran 60 miles purposefully, so my legs aren’t in bad shape right now. Not trying to push through has probably given me back another 2 weeks of focused training. So now it’s on to a couple months of more enjoyable trail running to focus on Eastern States 100 in August … with the potential for an audible in mid-July to give this 24 Hour thing one more attempt.

Lessons Learned:


My race schedule is packed until the end of the qualifying window in December, but I might try to fit in a 24 Hour attempt one more time in July. If I do that, I’ve certainly learned a bit about what it’s going to take: 
  • Start out with less Imodium, or maybe none at all until I poop for the first time
  • Run on a track where my aid station table can be right on the course
  • Get a crew. I like doing things on my own, but with small margins for error, I need someone in my corner looking out for me as the race progresses
  • Stick with the pace plan I devised. It worked well for the first 50 miles and ignoring my excessive rest periods, it held up through 100 miles.


Additional thoughts:


  • There are few things in life as frustrating as having to zig-zag around a line of zombie-like multi-day runners multiple times every mile
  • Still not sure how my legs will handle flat racing after 100 miles
  • My quads and hamstrings weren’t sore after the run, but my achilles were stiff as hell and my ankles grew to the size of grapefruit
  • My body doesn’t feel wrecked at all, which is leading to unnecessary guilt while I indulge in my typical post-race Week of Crappy Eating



Monday, February 12, 2018

2018 ICY-8

To get the year started off right, I wanted to head back down to the ICY-8 race put on by Alex Papadopoulos at Lake Anna. While the race duration of 8 hours and roughly 50 miles is my least favorite type of ultra -- I just cannot figure out proper pacing in that type of race -- the format is one of my favorites. And the location provides a great opportunity for a weekend away in a cabin with the family, which is hard to pass up.

For those not in the know, ICY-8 is an 8 hour loop format trail race on painfully runnable trails. It comprises two separate loops that runners can choose from: an 8 mile long loop and a 4.7 mile short loop. You can run any loops you choose and in any direction you'd like, but you only get credit for whole loops. So it starts getting interesting around halfway through the race when you start paying attention to your pace and how much time remains to try and sneak in as much mileage as possible. And for those intent on pushing the limits, the fact that the short loop is actually around 0.3 miles longer than advertised -- for which you get no credit! -- further complicates things. ... And if you're curious ... yes, of course I have spreadsheets to figure out my best strategies!

I surprisingly won this race in 2016 and kind of figured I'd win it again this time around. But I just wanted to use it as a hard training run to kick-start my training to qualify for the 24 Hour Team USA. My objectives were pretty straightforward:

  1. Run a bit fast to start to tax my legs on the back end of the race
  2. Get the course record by running 56 miles -- 7 of the 8 mile loops
If I could nail 7mph on the trails in an 8 hour race, I figured that'd be a good indicator of how well I could handle that same pace during a pancake flat 24 hour race on asphalt.

Overall, the day went pretty well. The temp was in the teens to start, so I willingly satisfied the role of The Weirdo In Shorts to start the race. I took it out at a comfortable pace with an effort that was borderline unsustainable, just under 8minute miles for the first 3 hours. At one point I started deciding if I should stick with the 56 mile plan or go for broke and push it for 57.4 miles. A couple hours later I was feeling the effects of that pace and began doubting if I could even achieve 56 miles. On the penultimate loop I took a hard fall and my hamstring seized up, which took a couple of minutes to sort out. It was just enough to make me uncomfortable trying for 56 miles, so I instead walk-jogged a short loop to close out my day with 52.7 miles. I still took the win (and a voucher for a free pair of Altras!), but that was more of a consolation prize. It was a solid, hard training run that didn't leave my legs shredded and, despite not hitting my goal of 56 miles, it was a good indication that qualifying for the 24 Hour Team is well within the realm of possibility.


Here's a run-down of my race, loop-by-loop:

Loop One: The Fast Loop (0-8mi, 1:02)

I went out front immediately in an assertive yet comfortable pace. I let the miles come to me, trying to strike a balance between a maintainable pace and something closer to a 50K effort. After a few miles I fell into a groove hitting miles in the 7:30 to 8:00 range. In the last mile or two of the loop, I think I got a little excited and pushed it into the aid station a bit faster than I should have. A quick swap of bottles and I was back out in no-time.

Loop Two: The Why-Am-I-Still-Running-This-Fast Loop (8-16mi, 1:02)

68 minute loops would get me 56 miles, and I had wanted to start out with some 64 minute loops. So having come in just under 62 minutes the first time around, I made a point to dial back the effort. Or at least that's what I thought I was doing. The slight downhill grades and the flats felt completely effortless. And the next thing I knew, I had perfectly repeated the first loop's pace. I was feeling good and already had 12 minutes of slack in my game plan. But I was a little mad at myself for going another hour at a pace I knew was unsustainable.

Loop Three: The Poop Loop (16-24mi, 1:05)

I wanted this loop to be a more manageable pace, but halfway through and I was still chugging along at closer to 50K effort. Oops! Aside from a jump into the woods, it was a fairly unmemorable hour on the trails.

Loop Four: The Hubris Loop (24-32mi, 1:05)

I started loop four in the reverse-direction to compare with the previous loops. I don't typically like this direction as much because there more low-grade uphill miles -- I'd much prefer to climb a steeper hill for a minute than run a slight grade for a mile. Towards the end I started doing some math, figuring if I could knock out this loop and the next two in about 67 minutes each, I'd have a chance at 57.4 miles instead of 56 ... which course record should I go for today?!

Loop Five: The It's All Falling Apart Loop (32-40mi, 1:12)

I finished loop four on a high. I was 18 minutes up on even splits. All I needed to do was run 3 more loops at 75 minutes each. My previous 4 were all 65 and below. This was going to be a piece of cake!

Then the struggle began.

Instead of hovering right around 8:00 miles, I was around 8:30 consistently, and putting in quite an effort to stay under 9:00. Then I finally broke 9:00 on Mile 39. My spirits were crushed! I stumbled into the Aid Station at 5:26, with a loop that was nearly 1 minute per mile slower than the previous. With hands on my knees I took a look at Alex, the RD, and vocalized my fears: I don't think I can make two more loops!

I had 2:34 to complete 2 loops and 16 miles. 77 minutes per loop. 9:30 miles. It was still doable. Alex thought it'd be easy. But I had my doubts.

Loop Six: The Wheels Come Off Loop (40-48mi, 1:18)

I pushed on. But the slightest hill felt impossible to overcome. I stopped a few times in one mile to do some stretching and find an excuse to catch my breath in the hopes that'd jump-start my legs. It didn't work. 10 minute miles ticked by.

Halfway through the loop I had already racked up three 10 minute miles. If I could book the last few miles and manage to come in under 77 minutes, I'd be good. 77 minutes. 77 minutes. Just get this damn loop over with!

Then I caught a rock (bye bye toenail!) and flew through the air. I tried getting up and my right hamstring seized. I collapsed back to the ground. I tried using the other leg, but it too started to seize up. I rolled to my back and tried getting up from that position, but was again thwarted by the right hamstring. After managing to get my upper body up, I slowly tried reaching for my toes to stretch the muscles. When they felt good and ready, I rolled into a side plank and then a regular plank position, and delicately walked my hands to my feet with my knees locked. I was up! Finally! After a bit of hanging and stretching, I hobbled on down the trail.

Tenths of a mile ticked by. The loop would never end! Every time I tried to pick up the pace I felt a sting in my hamstring. I finally finished the loop, checked the clock, and bent over in exhaustion. There was no way I'd be able to squeeze in another long loop without going to the well.

Loop Seven: The Lazy Loop (48-52.7mi, 0:55)

If you run in the reverse-direction, the first 3.3 miles of the short and long loop overlap. It gives you more time to gauge your pacing to decide if you can cram in those extra long loop miles or if you need to pack your bags and bail. So I decided to push for 3.3 miles and see if I could overcome my failing muscles. But first ... I just had to walk the short, steep climb out of the Aid Station. It felt like a walk of shame. Oh, and an 11 minute mile .. fan-freakin-tastic!

My watch beeped at 49 miles and I realized if I kept pushing I'd be able to clear 50 miles in 7 hours, something I'd never done before. At 6:59:30 my watch beeped and I immediately slowed down. 50 miles in 7 hours was enough satisfaction for the day. I was done. 52.7 miles and a short loop for me!

I killed the time over the final miles walking and chatting up a couple of folks, and then picked it back up for the final mile or so ... at which point my legs felt infinitely better already! I rolled in just under 7:40. It wasn't exactly what I wanted, but it was pretty damn close. All things considered, it was another fun day on the trails! On to Holiday Lake 50K in 2 weeks!

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Another Year, Another Hellgate!

Special …  yes, that probably is the best way to describe Hellgate.

In my three short years of ultrarunning, I’ve run roughly 20 different events. Not one of them compares to Hellgate. It loses out on “favorite race” to Grindstone – which might cause some to question my ability to effectively judge the merits of a race – but when it comes to uniqueness, Hellgate takes the cake.

There’s no one solitary thing that gives Hellgate a leg-up on other races. It has solid, but not unwieldy, climbs. None of the descents are particularly excruciating. At times it has great, sweeping views. It’s a healthy mix of gravel roads, double-track, and single-track. Just an ordinary race, right?

But then you’ve got the 12:01am start. It’s likely the last race on everyone’s calendar after a year of hard training and running. Chances of showing up sick or injured, or both, are not insignificant. The weather is drastically different from one year to the next. The course tests enough different running skills that you’re bound to confront a weakness somewhere in those 66.6 miles. The volunteers, braving the elements, are the best you’ll ever come across. The limited entry gives the race a family feel – when you drive into Camp Bethel before the race and when you run in at the end, you’re coming home. And then there’s the leaves … oh god, the leaves … the endless piles of knee-high leaves hiding untold numbers of nefarious rocks.

It’s an agglomeration of characteristics, an equal share of wonderful and awful, all working to build you up, to break you down, to impart what some might describe as self-shadenfreude, and, perhaps, to leave you with the sense that, somehow, you will have left Camp Bethel with a better awareness of who you are as a runner, as a person. Hellgate is Horton’s gift to us all. Each year we think we know what we’re getting, what will be revealed when the wrapping paper comes off – joy, suffering, a bond with others, aching muscles, those damned leaves, and an incredible atmosphere. This year, I ended up with a bit more: humility, affirmation, self-reflection, and an eagerness for next year.

Enough with the poetic ramblings … on with the race report!


***DISCLAIMER: What follows is as close to brevity as I'm ever going to get.***


Anticipating 20 degree temps and up to a foot of snow, I opted for tights. I also opted to put on too many layers, nearly replicating my clothing choices from last year’s single-digit excursion. I didn't feel warm. Did I just make a stupid mistake?!

The race started and I immediately tagged along with Matt Thompson. I know he’s a better runner than me, but the handful of times I’ve started out with him, I’ve never felt overtaxed. I’d hoped John Andersen and Chris Miller would join us, but from the get-go I could tell John was more interested in hosting a social hour to start off the day, and I knew Chris would be somewhere nearby.

I ran in/around Matt and Frank Gonzalez for the early miles. The pace was comfortable, but I was not! Within 15 minutes I knew it was nowhere near 20 degrees … yet. I struggled to dig into my jacket and my long sleeve shirt to grab and peel off my arm warmers by Mile 3 – they were drenched in sweat. By the time we began Petite’s Climb I was stopping again to peel off my jacket and throw it in my pack. There could be snow and wind up at 3500’ where I could need it again, but at 1000’ it was just too much clothing. Once I was down to nothing but a long sleeved midweight I could feel the chill and the slight breeze perfectly modulate my body temperature. I was finally comfortable and it was time to get down to business!

I had splits for a sub-11:40 finish which I figured would require perfect trail conditions and a strong final third of the race. The slightest difficulty – snow, nutrition lapse, a rough section – and I’d have to pivot to a sub-12:00 goal. Early on, everything seemed to click. I was in the Top 5, my effort level felt manageable, and I was hitting the climbs with ease. I ran all of Petite’s and began gapping Frank as I made my way down to the Terrapin section of trail. At the bottom, I saw the trail continue on, but also a trail veer up and off to the right. I couldn’t spot any markers, so I stood around for about a minute until Frank caught up. We took a couple steps on the offshoot and saw a streamer in the distance, and we were back on our way!


(If I knew the pic would be this cool, I wouldn't have opted for a cheesy smile and thumbs up. Courtesy of Keith Knipling.)

I pulled ahead of Frank again going up the Camping Climb – those endless hours of 12% treadmill climbing were really coming in handy! Jordan Chang finally caught up and rapidly gapped me. I stopped for some quick power-hiking a couple of times, but for the most part it was run, run, run.

At the Camping Gap Aid Station I caught back up with Jordan and left ahead of him. I crested the climb and cruised along the grassy roads, frequently looking back, waiting for Jordan to catch up. Matt and Brad Revenis were well up on me, way out of sight. So I ran through the night alone in 3rd place. Near Mile 20, well into the climb up Onion Mountain I was caught by Paul Jacobs. Before we crested, I hopped off into the woods to take care of some business for a few minutes. Two more headlights streamed by. Just like that, I was in 6th place.

I finished the last few minutes of the climb, then headed down the rocky, technical Promise Land trail to the temporary Overstreet Creek Aid Station -- moved back from Headforemost because the Blue Ridge Parkway was shut down because of the storm … the storm that still hadn’t produced a single snow flake. I don’t like this stretch of trail in the daylight at the end of Promise Land, so I certainly did not enjoy it in the middle of the night.

At the Aid Station I caught up with Frank, who was one of the headlights that passed me a couple miles earlier, and quickly jumped ahead of him. As I rolled out of the station, I could hear John Andersen coming in – man is that guy chatty. I yelled that I wasn’t waiting for the two of them, but that they needed to catch up. I had imagined this race starting out with John and I running together, and hopefully trying to break each other on the climbs, so I was eager for him to catch up and start a stretch of hard, competitive running. But I felt good on the climb up Headforemost and their headlamps drifted off behind me more and more. I patiently chased a light ahead of me, no more than a minute up at times, but I never caught up.

I arrived at Headforemost, the ghost of an Aid Station, on my splits to the minute – 4:07. I was pumped! This is going to be a great day! The temps had dropped, the snow began to fall, and I was no longer concerned about ditching my tights at the next Aid Station. It was turning into a perfect night out on the trail!

Then things started to turn. A sense of nausea and a loss of appetite had been building for some time. I reached for my 4th Huma gel, gagged upon seeing that it was Chocolate, then just barely managed to gulp down an Apple Cinnamon instead. My nutrition plan was now on the verge of crumbling … and I still had over 40 miles of running left. Moreover, the newly falling snow was messing with my visibility and it was starting to give me a headache – light bounced off every snowflake and it was as if I were running through an endless parade of white confetti.

I managed to make good time on my descent into Jennings Creek while battling a whole-body fatigue trying to fight with the competing nausea and hunger pangs. My spirits were lifted when I miraculously made it through Miles 27.25 to 28 without getting lost for the first time in 3 years – the forest thins out and any hint of a trail all but disappears. But a mile later, on a rocky downhill I was startled by an owl, jerked my head around to look for a headlamp that wasn’t there, tripped on a rock, and went skidding down the trail. I tried to get up and buckled back to the ground. I gave up and laid there for at least a minute, with my head resting on a fluffy pile of leaves, waiting for John and Frank to come help me up. My knees took the brunt of it and a good deal of flexing and rubbing was needed to get back up and head down the trail. Surprisingly, I was still all alone when I worked my way back to a shuffle.


(Accurate recreation of my Jennings Creek fall.)

The final mile into Jennings Creek Aid Station, I spotted the guy in front of me and picked it up to an honest pace. Sophie Speidel and Annie Stanley helped me with my drop bag. I let them know I’d probably be puking when they saw me again in three hours, and then I was off. My pace was slow as I started the next climb while battling to down another gel.

Somewhere between Miles 30 and 40 I also became tremendously over-hydrated. I needed to down my Tailwind for calories, but it was cold enough that my body was hardly sweating and retaining too much liquid. Nearly every mile I had to stop and pee. At some point I found myself catching up with 4th place, who happened to be Nick Pedatella. I caught him over and over again, like the friggin’ Groundhog Day of running. Each time I’d catch him I’d immediately stop and pee. I can only imagine what he must have been thinking to have a competitor repeatedly catch up and back off – who the hell is this guy?!

I felt good climbing up Little Cove Mountain and ran the entire time. At one point I could see Nick making the turn to the Aid Station. I checked my watch and chugged along. 5 minutes elapsed by the time I got up there. I looked back down the mountain and didn’t see any other lights – John and Frank were at least 5 minutes back. I was in No Man’s Land.

The Aid Station was still getting set up when I arrived. I desperately needed calories and asked for potatoes. A dude handed me a whole potato, in foil, and freezing cold! Props to you, volunteer dude! The cold didn’t bother me, but I felt bad taking a whole damn potato, so I asked if we could cut it up to just take some of it. Fast forward through 2 minutes of an entire aid station digging around to pull out a pocket knife and I was back on my way with a handful of potato slices!

Still in the dark and still on my splits, I made good work of the smooth downhill before the Devil Trail. The snow continued to fall and I was overwhelmed with a sense of calm. Snow, trails, solitude … this is why I run!


(Jazz hands! Courtesy of Keith Knipling.)

My memory fails me, but if I hadn’t been catching up with Nick before, I certainly was now. Daylight came as we entered the den of thigh-high leaves that comprises the Devil Trail. I quickly found my rhythm, just like last year – slow the pace to a recovery jog effort and throw a little bounce into your step and you just might be nimble enough to make it out of the Devil Trail with only a handful of falls! Nick was a fish out of water and I blew past him.

I cruised into Bearwallow Aid Station a few seconds ahead of Nick, perfectly on my splits at 8:10. I was again assisted by Sophie, Annie, and others. Nick left ahead of me as I spent some time at the Aid Station, gathering up tater tots and freshly made cheese quesadillas. I was way down on my calories and this did wonders for my spirits. I was ready to blast through the final 20 miles!

… Then I started up the climb out of Bearwallow...

I don’t think this climb has a name. It needs one. I’m gonna start calling it Horton’s Revenge. I always forget how long it is – 2 miles and 1000’ of climb – and how technical it can be. Instead of cruising and catching up with Nick, he climbed well out of my sight. The snow and rocks and leaves were killing me. I couldn’t get traction. I couldn’t make progress. I was grinding to a halt. Most long ultras will present at least one major challenge … this climb was mine … and I wasn’t doing a very good job of overcoming it.


(Gonna go out on a limb and guess this is right at the low point of my race. Courtesy of Keith Knipling.)

Close to the top of the climb I looked back to find John Andersen’s smirking face. If I didn’t let out an F-bomb, I was certainly thinking it. How the hell did he catch me?! I wasn’t going to just stop and let him catch up, so I drove on. I hit my stride through the ins-and-outs along the mountainside – it’s my favorite stretch of trail on the entire course ... smooth, flowing, runnable, with tremendous valley views (that is, if you're not bogged down in a cloud of snow). Things began to look up. Moreover, I had somehow dropped John entirely.

I rolled into Bobblet’s Gap Aid Station as they were still getting set up, so they had no food (potatoes) to devour. I dilly-dallied to let a volunteer help me grab some PB crackers out of my pack so I could get some calories in. As I started to leave, I saw John approaching. I checked my watch and did some math. It was 9:31. I probably lost 10+ minutes on that climb! I was trucking it to the finish at this point last year and it still took me 2:30 from Bobblet’s to Camp Bethel. I just had a terrible climb in the snow, calories were becoming a problem, hydration was a mess. If the next few miles of trail had snow, it would take a Herculean effort to break 12:00, never mind the now impossible 11:40. So I waited for John to sort himself out and then blurted out: “I’m not sure we can make it in under 12. Wanna just run in together?” He happily obliged.


(Trying to calculate my finishing time at Bobblet's Gap.)

Now let’s rewind for a sec…

Remember when I said it took me 2:30 to complete the final stretch last year? Well that’s what I thought at the time. I was too mentally defeated to pull out my time sheet from my pocket which had last year’s splits written on it. And so I made the terrible error of thinking I might not make it in under 12:00. In reality, I covered the final miles in 2:20 last year. I was literally 1 minute per mile faster through 50 miles and if I’d just maintained last year’s pace at the end, I could’ve finished in around 11:50. But my memory failed me and I messed up my math. I’m an idiot!

Anyways, back to it…

The Ultra Duo who shared literally 100+ miles in races last year was finally back together! All it took was abandoning all competitive desires and, well, kind of just giving up on life for a little while.

We jogged through the Forever Trail, walking entirely too much of the inclines. At one point, Frank came barreling through. I briefly had a mind to pick up the pace and run with him – I’d give my odds of being able to keep pace at better than 50/50 – but my spirits were broken … I’d abandoned all hope of a sub-12, and at that point a 12:01 meant the same to me as a 12:31 just so long as I didn’t slip out of the Top 10. And so, Frank disappeared into the distance and I sauntered on with John.

Jaunting into the final Aid Station, I had more than enough supplies to make it the next hour to the finish – I’d consumed maybe 10 ounces of liquid in the past 2 hours, still trying to fend off over-hydration. So I was well stocked up. But I stopped to stick with John, who wanted some soup. I don’t drink soup during races, I think it’s weird. But I asked for some because I was done caring about this race. The muscles were fine, the mind and spirit were toast. Another runner came right on through and both John and I just shrugged our shoulders and kept standing around.


¯\_(ツ)_/¯
(What's that? Somebody's passing me? Meh...)


We eventually left, and did our best to keep to our promise of walking Every. Damn. Step. of the final climb. There were a couple short spurts of jogging in there, but we were largely successful in Operation: Maximize the Laziness.

At the top of the climb, yet another runner passed us. I had slipped from 4th to 8th/9th in 17 miles. Ouch! My legs felt good so I tried to run just behind him. John wasn’t keeping up, but was doing his best to ward off any other runners coming by. I eventually took over the dude in front of me, but firmly let him know I wasn’t in the mood to drag race -- if he could keep up, there’d be no race to the line from me.

My legs turned over faster and faster. I was nearing sub-6 effort as I hopped onto the road that would take me down to the camp. In the distance I saw the guy who passed me at the final Aid Station, so I picked it up even more and quickly overtook him. My watch beeped: a 6:02 mile. I maintained the effort with surprising ease and cruised into the finish in 12:21 for 6th place and an 18 minute PR. Not bad for practically walk-jogging the final third of the race.



Hellgate demands introspection and self-examination. Am I satisfied with this year of running? Where have I improved and where have I fallen short? What weaknesses in my skillset has the course exposed? Where will I find motivation for next year and what goals shall I set for myself?

So, am I satisfied with how Hellgate went down this year? Yes. And no. ... And that’s okay.

The first 8 hours of the race I performed EXACTLY how I expected … I put myself into a position to achieve what I knew I was capable of achieving. More so than a great finishing place or a competitive race, I run to seek affirmation of my abilities, to test myself, to know myself, to gauge where I am as a runner, where I came from, and where I might soon go. And the first 47 miles of Hellgate gave me exactly that.

On the other hand, I just plain gave up at the end. I hit one snag in the race and refused to put in the effort to right the ship. Instead, I sought comfort in complacency and a companion to drag down with me. Don’t get me wrong, sharing trail miles was great, and I don’t regret it this time around … but I was in a reinforcing duo of despair, and the next time John and I cross paths I’d rather agree to gut it out and push each other to the edge of our abilities. We’re too talented to ask anything less of ourselves.

All told, I left 30 minutes on the course after Mile 53 compared with last year, to say nothing of the time lost climbing Horton’s Revenge. I should have finished under 12:00. I should have been in 3rd place, or even 2nd, at the end of the day. But I wasn’t. All because I couldn’t adapt to a little curveball and I refused to embrace and tap into what limited competitive drive I have. So next year I’ll be training harder, getting faster, and working on harnessing a more competitive spirit. If I can ho-hum my way to a 6th place finish at Hellgate, I owe it to myself and to everyone else toeing the line with me to suck it up, grit it out, and embrace a more competitive attitude.


Saturday, November 4, 2017

Western States Waitlist Odds

2017 was the first year that Western States instituted a waitlist to compliment their lottery system. At the end of the day, the most important question for anyone entering the lottery is: How does this increase my chances?!

I conducted MonteCarlo simulations to answer that question.

But first, some lottery and waitlist info:

  • In 2016, 270 individuals were selected in the lottery
    • To maintain the 369 starter average over time, the lottery was constructed to assume a number of these 270 (and other) runners would not actually start the race.
  • In 2017, only 250 individuals were selected, but a 50-deep waitlist was drawn as well.
    • By controlling this 250 individual set plus the waitlist, the race organizers vastly increase their control over 369 starter limitation.
  • Due to increasing popularity, odds for lottery tickets went down across the board from 2016 to 2017
  • The waitlist ended up going 39 deep for 2017, so 250+39=289 individuals had a chance to start from the lottery, an increase from 270 in the year prior.
MonteCarlo details:
  • I set up a simulation to replicate draws from a lottery that mimicked the actual 2017 lottery. Details of the lottery can be found on the Western States lottery webpage.
  • I expanded my simulations to create a waitlist.
  • I created a 2016 simulation from the 2016 data, as well as a 2017 simulation with no waitlist and 270 draws to replicate what would've happened if no waitlist had been instituted.
  • I ran 10,000 iterations of the Monte Carlo simulations.
    • My 2016 scenario reveals slightly different values from the Western States 2016 Monte Carlo results, but they're damn close -- our odds differed by only 0.06% on average. So you can rest assured that I know what I'm doing! (I have a Master of Statistics degree, trust me!)
  • I looked at various Waitlist options to observe a range of possible outcomes:
    • Drawing 39 deep -- what actually happened for 2017
    • Drawing 30 deep -- a reasonable estimate of how far the waitlist will go at a minimum
    • Drawing 50 deep -- fully utilizing the 50-deep waitlist


First Takeaway: Damn Popularity!


Here's a table of the odds for:
  • 2016
  • 2017 if there had been no waitlist
  • 2017 with the actual 39-deep waitlist utilized


1 2 3 4 5 6 7
2016 No Waitlist 3.66% 7.16% 13.86% 25.73% 44.89% 69.40% 90.75%
2017 No Waitlist (270 draws) 2.69% 5.30% 10.35% 19.58% 35.40% 58.18% 82.37%
2017 Pre-Waitlist (250 draws) 2.47% 4.89% 9.53% 18.18% 33.01% 55.04% 79.82%
2017 39-deep Waitlist 2.89% 5.72% 11.08% 20.98% 37.49% 60.95% 84.89%



As you can see, odds dropped across the board from 2016 to 2017 because the number of entrants increased.

Note that the 2017 No Waitlist odds represent a draw of 270 participants. The odds of being drawn before the waitlist for 2017 were actually a bit smaller all around because only 250 runners were selected.


Second Takeaway: The waitlist itself doesn't seem all that helpful


This table indicates your conditional odds of being given a chance to start in 2017 from the waitlist ... that is, you didn't get drawn in the lottery, but you were one of the first 39 in the waitlist. Pretty meager, right?!

Years Waitlist Odds
1 0.42%
2 0.83%
3 1.55%
4 2.80%
5 4.48%
6 5.91%
7 5.08%


Third Takeaway: The waitlist value reveals itself!


The value of the waitlist becomes much clearer when you contrast it with a scenario where 2017 had no waitlist at all.

This chart shows the relative gain in odds for the 3 simulated waitlist variants -- 30 deep, 39 deep, and 50 deep -- when compared against a 270-draw No Waitlist scenario for 2017.

If you were in the lottery for the first time and had just one ticket your odds without an instituted waitlist (scenario reminiscent of 2016) would have been 2.69%. But in reality for 2017, as per the 39 deep waitlist utilization, your odds of having a chance to start increased to 2.89%. While that 0.2% gain looks rather meager, it represents a 7.4% relative increase in your chances.

The longer you've been waiting to start Western States, the less the waitlist helps you. This is rather obvious because you have a higher chance of actually making it through the initial lottery draw. But for, say, folks waiting 1-4 years, in 2017 the waitlist increased the chance to start by 7-8%. For someone waiting 4 years (8 tickets), that represents a jump from what would have been 19.6% odds to 21.0% odds, a 7.1% relative increase; if the waitlist had gone 50 deep the odds would've increased further to 21.8%, representing an 11.1% relative increase ... every little bit helps!


Conclusion:


Cutting back the lottery from 270 to 250 runners obviously makes it harder to initially get into Western States.  BUUUUUUUT, it's more than made up for by the utilization of the waitlist. All in all, the waitlist implementation seems to have been an incredible success.

Here's a rundown of all the reasons to love the new Western States waitlist:
  • It increases your odds of being given the chance to start
    • For most runners in 2016, the odds were on the order of a 6-8% relative increase
    • If the waitlist gets fully utilized, those relative odds shoot up even further, to north of 10%
  • It makes it easier for the race organizers to fully utilize the 369 participant limitation each year
  • It makes for one heck of an exciting run-up to race day -- hello, John Fegyveresi!
  • Being selected from the waitlist gives you the chance to start but also leaves you the ability to decline without resetting your ticket count for next year.
  • It keeps the hope alive for 50 runners well past December!
  • It's a phase-shift in lottery strategy that helps to delay/reduce the inevitable creep of decreasing odds due to increased interest in the race.


Once the lottery entrance period closes and entrants data is released for the 2018 event, I'll provide a follow-up analysis that looks at updated odds, expected wait times, and all that jazz.


All the data:


Here's a table with all of the odds, if anyone is interested.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7
2016 No Waitlist 3.66% 7.16% 13.86% 25.73% 44.89% 69.40% 90.75%
2017 No Waitlist (270 draws) 2.69% 5.30% 10.35% 19.58% 35.40% 58.18% 82.37%
2017 Pre-Waitlist (250 draws) 2.47% 4.89% 9.53% 18.18% 33.01% 55.04% 79.82%
2017 30-deep Waitlist 2.80% 5.50% 10.72% 20.34% 36.62% 59.65% 83.43%
2017 39-deep Waitlist 2.89% 5.72% 11.08% 20.98% 37.49% 60.95% 84.89%
2017 50-deep Waitlist 3.01% 5.94% 11.56% 21.76% 38.68% 62.49% 85.73%

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Potomac Heritage Trail 50K Race Report



Today was the day! It had finally come. Sunday, October 29th, 2017. The VHTRC Potomac Heritage Trail 50K. My A-Race for the year. ... And I was ready! Anything less than an outright victory would be impossible to bear.

I had just completed a spectacular training block, having peaked 3 weeks prior with a killer training run at The Grindstone 100. Now, 100 miles may have been a bit ambitious for a training run in advance of my key race for the year, but after nearly 30 months of ultra running I'm basically an elite athlete, so I knew my body could handle it.

I caught wind a few days earlier that all of the elite competitors -- Jim Walmsley, Hayden Hawks, Zach Miller -- were bowing out. I knew, then, that the race was already mine for the taking.

But ... I wanted to make sure everyone else had a fair shot at competing, just to spice things up a bit. That was the theme of the day.

My 7 month old son woke up a dozen times the night before, to ensure I didn't feel well rested. Thanks, buddy! Then, instead of leisurely jogging to the race start -- at a rando house in Woodley Park ... totally sketch -- I decided to press my time by making homemade biscuits before tearing ass out of the house and borderline sprinting the 3.5 miles across the city and up the fabled Klingle Climb to arrive at the starting line at the last possible moment. Moreover, I further handicapped myself by loading my race vest down with 100oz of liquid, and then only planning to consume half my usual calories for the race. You're welcome, competition!

I knew that race day conditions were not ideal -- the course would be covered in slippery rocks and leaves. A course record was likely out of the question. The race started, rather unceremoniously for such a high profile event, around 8am. I opted to hang back with the front runners instead of showing off ... mind you, this had nothing to do with my navigational ineptitude and complete unfamiliarity with the roads and trails in the early miles ... instead, I simply wanted some of the other runners to feel like they had a shot at fame and glory, too.

We travelled at the most pedestrian of paces through roads, alongside Rock Creek, through Dumbarton Oaks and Glover Archibald Park, eventually arriving at AS1 in Battery Kemble Park (well behind course record pace, I might add). Now, the PHT 50K is unusual in that some runners can receive "bonus time" that improves their official race finish time. This occurs at aid stations, where runners can elect to perform any variety of physical tasks (push-ups, break dancing, ...) or consume gastronomical monstrosities (peanut butter and hot dogs, Gatorade, ...). I'm a real runner, so I didn't waste my time on such activities. But I did make sure to stop at AS1 for a moment to put on the appearance of being a full-fledged fun-loving Happy Trails member. In all honesty, I was afraid that if I just flew through the aid station I'd receive a time demerit or something ridiculous like that.  When the Happy Trails Figurehead Emeritus, Keith Knipling, departed I knew I could finally leave without consequence.

Onward we jogged to the tunnel underneath Canal Road, popping out on the C&O canal moments before a road-runner-tacular half marathon was about to start. I elbowed, shoved, and kicked my way through the throngs of overdressed participants for what felt like minutes, until finally the wide-open canal towpath lay before me. I seized the opportunity and made my move. Let the race begin!

Two victims fell into my trap and followed suit as I accelerated to nearly Boston Qualifying pace. We progressed down the canal and over the Key Bridge to the start of the race's namesake trail. They loitered at AS2, filling up their handhelds, as I continued on with my ~5.2lbs of liquids strapped to my back and chest. At one point I feared I had built up such an unfair lead that I chose to depart the trail and answer Nature's call for a few minutes. As I had hoped, the two runners ran past. I was no longer in the lead...

... But I was not afraid. I had sized up these other runners and judged them to be PHT n00bs ... I had a feeling they'd quiver at the site of the upcoming Gulf Branch rock scramble and waste time seeking out an easier path along the river bank. And that's exactly what happened! I began the rocky climb just as they were returning from their fruitless foray. The lead was mine again!

... But wait, what's this?! After the rock scramble, I dutifully stayed on the unnecessary switchbacks of the trail, while the other two cheated by blasting up a shortcut "trail". For shame!!! No matter, though. A few minutes later I recaptured my rightful place at the front of the race!

Onward I labored, up to AS3 at Chain Bridge, past Fort Marcy, and through Turkey Run Park and AS4. Each time I came to an aid station I stopped and briefly chatted with the volunteers, again, for fear of receiving time demerits if I simply ran on through.

When I approached the turn-around just after Mile 18 at the American Legion Bridge, I stopped to assess my competitive advantage. I heard no one. I saw no one. I was fresh as a daisy. This simply was not fair to the other runners. I observed that there were no signs, nor was there any flour on the ground indicating a turnaround point. So, instead of turning around "at the bridge" (according to the Turn Sheet), I continued on ... under the bridge, up the steep climb to the top of the bridge (Strava Top 10 effort!), and then back down to begin my return journey.

Moments later, I came across 2nd place, still heading outbound to the bridge. I cheerfully informed him that, with my impromptu hill climb, I had been kind enough to let him close the gap by nearly 5 minutes. A mile or so later and still feeling generous, I kicked a rock and slammed to the ground (bye bye big toenail), with the presumed intent of jarring loose my last Huma gel from my pocket, thereby sending me further into caloric deficit at later stages of the race. Yes, I was doing everything I possibly could to level the playing field. It's the least someone of my running caliber can do for my less capable "competitors".

Arriving back at AS4, I loitered briefly so that I could be admonished by volunteers for not consuming their PB&Js. Later, I selflessly broke out of my hyper-efficient stride so that I could respond to Gary Knipling's desperate request for a fist bump -- it's the little things us young, talented folk do that can make a slow, old dude's day.

On my way back to the Chain Bridge aid station, I briefly observed the beauty of Pimmit Run, with a light fog dancing above the babbling water. But I dared not look more than once ... this was a race! I returned my focus to the trail with laser-like precision, guided by the immortal words of Queen: We are the champions ... of the world! Indeed, Freddie Mercury! On this day, I would be the champion!

I proceeded across the bridge and onto the canal. At this point, all of my competitive handicapping was paying off. My quads were tightening. I was unable to achieve my marathon pace on the pancake-flat towpath. My focus was fading from the caloric deficit. Doubt crept into my mind. What if I can't do this? For what felt like hours (8 minutes, to be exact), I wrestled with my existential crisis -- If you can't win the PHT 50K, why bother running at all?

Finally, Gloria Gaynor's angelic voice echoed inside my mind -- I will survive! I snapped out of my funk. It was time to put down the hammer and win this race. I deserved the glory!

I maneuvered through the Canal Road tunnel with the speed and grace of a drunken three-legged cat, and began making quick work of the remaining miles of the race. ... But the work was quick, almost too quick. Every few minutes I would slow down to search for the yellow flour markings that littered the course route -- not because I didn't know where I was going, but because I wanted to give my competitors a chance to catch up.

... But even that wasn't enough. So I ingeniously tried playing soccer with a rock firmly planted in the ground (bye bye other big toenail). It worked to perfection! I flew through the air ... landing, sliding, and coming to rest along a stretch of the partially exposed concrete water pipes upon which the Glover Archibald trail is built. Crimson blood poured out from my knee and forearm. I took my sweet time getting back up. All in the name of sportsmanship!

... Then, Cake: He's going the distance!

As the end of the race neared, I found myself along the bank of Rock Creek, a simple turn away from pavement. I halted, scanning the ground and every nearby tree for a semblance of yellow flour to point the way. I knew where to go, mind you, I just wanted to make sure it was obvious the other runners would be able to figure it out, too. I made up my mind to forge on ahead to the road in the distance. Then I spent the better part of 15 minutes (okay, 1 minute) trying to decipher the tattered remnants of my Turn Sheet. Yup! Confirmed! This was the right road. Of course! I knew it all along!

As I proceeded through the neighborhood streets and up the final mountain-like urban climb, I slowed to nearly a crawl -- so that I could mentally reflect on my accomplishment, not because my legs were tired or anything like that.

Now, Queen again: I want to ride my bicycle!

When I came upon the finish, I chose to entirely overlook the house I was at less than 5 hours prior, and instead, with purpose and clear intent, jogged all the way to the end of the block. I really meant to do that, I swear! After a quick 180, I came up to the door, stopped my watch, entered the house, and jotted my time down on the sign-in sheet ... 4:57:10 ... because, yes, those 10 seconds matter.

As you might expect, I was greeted with tremendous applause and fanfare, the likes of which few have ever had the pleasure of experiencing:

"Did anyone get here before you?"

"Oh, hey, I think you're the first one in..."

"...Want a beer...?"

Though the result was a foregone conclusion, that does not lessen the greatness of my accomplishment. It was a monumental achievement. I won the 2017 Potomac Heritage Trail 50K! A performance worthy of the history books, no doubt.

And for my reward, an ice cold Dogfish Head!

By the time I finished my cool down jog back to my neighborhood, word of my incredible achievement had spread like wild fire. No less than 3 companies had already contacted me to discuss sponsorship opportunities. A well-deserved storybook ending for yours truly!

Look at all of those fear-inducing 100' mountains!