Last year's version of this race had been burned into my skull. At a preview run, I rolled my ankle, then trying to make up time fell and tore up my knee bad enough that I had blood soaking through my sock. At the actual run, I rolled my ankle again on the descent to the Beaver Pond Lean-To, and then paid so much attention to my ankle that I missed that I dehydrated and then heat exhausted to the point that anything faster than a slow trudge would give me tunnel vision. I ended up coming in a little behind Sonia, who hurt herself so bad at this race that she hasn't been allowed to run for a whole year. But it is this same race where Dan Lopata showed me his true powers as cheerleader, and Mike Valone burst upon my consiousness as a man of steel.
This year has been planned for two years now as my year for the Ultra. All my plans were to best prepare me for the Finger Lakes 50k this July (only three weeks, panic, panic, panic). So, I signed up for the marathon this year planning for it to be a validation of my training thus far, a chance to test equipment and water and food plans.
But you're here because you're polite and I promised a race report, so one more aside... I'm a bit of an introvert and find people exhausting. I love the outdoors and find it invigorating, so races are always a delicate balancing act between the two effects. I think it was Stephen Wright that has the joke that he likes to put a humidifier and dehumidifier in a room and let them fight it out. I bring this up because Goose Adventure Racing are a group that I can trust to get the balance right for me. No giant speaker stacks, respectful-of-the-trail race sizes, and a friendly staff that know me personally and are always kind and professional.
I arrived early and was working on calf raises and squats and run in place things in an attempt to get my legs warm for what I know is a tough run. There was a delightful wind fighting to keep the temperature/humidity down, and repeated warnings about inchworms on the course. Lots of nervous chatter about making the cut-off from runners much stronger than I and a joke about only being able to drop at the bottom of the hill, and we were off.
Right off, I knew something was not quite right. Calves and shins tightened up almost immediately with a phantom rock on my outside left heel was bugging me almost immediately. I grimaced knowing that this was a mix of jitters and improper warming up. From experience of running cold, I know its taken me on average of two miles for my legs to give up the whining and get to work. Sure enough, right before I hit the first aid station, I finally started to be able to move. Sweat drenched and already with empty hydration, I rolled into what essentially was the #TrailsRoc aid station for this course (although that isn't fair, as all three stations were staffed by people that wear the orange). So many kind words and help when nobody has any business needing help so early in a race. Absolutely reinvigorated, I began to run and close the distance and time deficit that I started with. Prem and Sonia and Valerie saved the day.
I was moving well up and down the short rollers and descended toward Beaver Pond Lean-To. Deeply aware that I broke myself there last year I was a bit overcautious on the descent, but it was fun and beautiful and I hit the later boardwalks at a run. Convinced that Ron was the only photographer on the course that day I was surprised to look up and see Lesher just feet from me snapping away, catching me running on a Lesher photo only the second time ever (I always seem to be exhausted and trudging near where he stations himself).
Around the corner, down the road, and over to the Gell Center, I'm moving well enough that I'm going to make the cut-off and get my deeply desired second loop. At the second aid station, I got some friendly banter a chance to try pretzels and Tailwind during a race, and I was off up the hill. BTW, for me, pretzels are a no for future races.
The course has drastically changed since last year and "the hill" is now spread over nearly three miles. So, visually the unrunnable section is a short bit near the beginning. And I died. Something about the first two miles of the climb killed everything. I would look and see easy running, and rebel almost immediately. I look down at my watch (something I try to not do during race) and realize that my 15 minute cutoff buffer had disappeared. Push harder, run faster, get to the aid station, then get on the next loop. Mile 9.5 (where I foolishly was looking for the aid station from last year), I glance down again and more time is lost. Too much time. I have to move faster than I have that day and I fight to hold back the tears.
I drop to that stupid slow trudging pace that makes trails miserable. To slow to be energy efficient, hard on the feet, horrible pace. Mentally, I'm living to fight another day, but really I was back in self-extraction mode. I hear a cry go up in the woods "It's Jeff McBeth, happiest guy at Palmer's Pond!" The aid station has spotted me, and Colin, my Ultra RD daddy has joined that crew. I clown around, pull the corners of my mouth up, and I'm happy again.
So, I make another stupid decision. I'm close to the end, I have to be, so blow through the aid station, push to the end. So, I scorned the love and support of those people, pushed through those last miles dehydrated and without any water. I pull out some other experimental food (Perogies) and find them amazing. I run/walk through the next while in a daze and come into the end content and half an hour over the cut-off.
My heart is filled with disappointment and relief that I wasn't going to be given the option to make the bad decision to go back out. Trotting through the finish, I high five Mort announce I'm going to beat that hill some day, and am shocked to discover I'm not the only marathoner at the finish line. So many good, powerful, stronger runners are sitting on benches and the grass tired and done. I'm not alone.
The next four hours was a parade of victory and effort and delight as people come through the finish line having done something truly impressive. Chris is jumping ahead of everyone, running the most needed and understated aid station ever. So many people came in desperate for help, and him there with water and ice and aid. I ask, how many finish lines have you been at where the attention on you ends the moment they get your bib-tag? Not here! Best service ever.
The food was wonderful, the company was delightful, the weather refreshing. I came out of the day surrounded by people and nature invigorated. Pleased with the friendships, and memories formed, and determined to make the next three weeks really count.
I've heard rumors that they're worried about the marathon. 60% drop rate today, but if allowed, I'll be back repeatedly until I beat this beast. The beauty, and friends, and challenge, and joy are too compelling.
Two weeks, 20ish miles, and one DNS after my accidental 50k; I'm checking in for a race that had me more terrified than any since my first triathlon. This is Goose Adventure Racing's legendary Muddy Sneaker 20k. Gobs of friends see the terror in my eyes and try to buoy me up with encouraging words like "mile for mile, this is is harder than Sehgahunda". It isn't working. Why am I terrified? Lower leg trouble (to paraphrase an erstwhile candidate for NY governor, my calves are too darn tight) has kept me off of hill work for months, and heights give me the screaming heebie-jeebies. In fact, I know for a fact that if you look at my performance, you can see my pace drop and heart rate spike each time we got near the edge. Where was I, oh yes, terrified. Was I going to fall to my death? Was my calf going to explode climbing out of Conklin?
The quick answer is no to both. Slightly longer answer, the terror of the gorge was overwhelmed with thankfulness that I was on single track, and while I felt every muscle, tendon, and ligament from my knee on down through my foot; nothing exploded, and except for running out of energy after the steeps but before the finish, life was beautiful.
Even longer answer. The single track parts of the course are beautiful, and if it weren't for the impending doom to the right, it would deserve 13 thumbs up. Side note, I've put some 2000 miles of trail running in since I started running, and yet Medved's beginning course they are giving right now was immensely helpful those first two miles. The jeep trails are long and ugly and a relief to be off of. The volunteers and workers are beyond cool. I don't know what I've done to deserve to be known by sight by them, but there is something reassuringly Cheers theme song-y about that. The after party was delightful, and I really appreciated how as each finisher came in, all business stopped and attention switched to that person and cheering them in. That is how you create a community.
So, Muddy Sneaker is not as terrifying as I'd built up in my head. At no moment was it egregiously sadistic like some course designs. At all moments, the community strive to make it an enjoyable experience. Injinji socks are so the bomb dot com. My beloved Peregrine 6s that I got just 2.5 weeks ago have already toe popped on both sides, and that makes me sad. My pocket book is not ready for a $1.50 a mile running habit.
I never use this, but I need to get yesterday written down before I forget them. So much is already slipping away. Back at the end of February, I was struggling with a torn calf muscle, barely able to move forward. Ron Heerkens wanted to go to a FA near Palmers Pond NY and was looking for a ride. I offered to drive him with the plan that I'd hang out, help out, and maybe tour one or two of the loops. In fact, here is my message to Colin Bailey signing up for the event.
"Hey, I'd like to come to your event, but there is no way I would be running the whole thing. I'd probably tour both loops, but would mostly be hanging out. If I do that, I really don't want to take away a spot from someone. Thoughts?"
His simple response:
"You're in. Don't worry about it. Come, have fun, hang out. It's a FatAss! You'll have a blast. And won't be alone, trust me."
Talking to Ben Murphy last week, I told him my plans; and he said something offhand and crazy like "or all of it". And it stuck in my head.
So, writing him this week I said:
"Saturday, I'm setting the plan as three half loops with the goal being 4 (which
would be my longest run ever), and I'll be prepped for anything up to 6 just in
case. (I think each half loop is 5.5, so that would be 16.5, 22, and 33
Eric Eagan this week, thinking about the upcoming run at Palmer's Pond said:
"Going to a fatass 50k tomorrow - Plan is to run 15 hard as a workout then cheer/crew.... what if..... i just kept running....."
Freaking me out, 'cause those were the thoughts running through my head.
So, I wake up well before my alarm, get ready as best I can, and head out to Palmer's Pond.
'twas cold there at the start line, and Colin talked forever; proving himself to be the most organized FA RD ever. So many people there that I knew and love, heckling a bit, keeping the mood light. Man, I love trail runs. So much less of the posturing and bravado I see at road runs and triathlons. He pressed the start on his iPhone, and we start trotting into the woods. We were promised a dry fast west loop and a muddy east loop. Going into the west counter-clockise you hit mud almost immediately, and everybody starts joking about the mud and how it wasn't fair, and broken promises. Little did we know...
Around three miles in, I roll my ankle, but it walks off quickly; but I've been struggling with lower leg troubles this year (ankle, torn calf, and lately heel pain). As I began to run again, my heel pushed up into the top of my consciousness, and I would slow again. So, if/when you look at my times, I am going at a speed that didn't make every other step cry out in terror. The nice thing for me then was the mud. It was soft, I could easily go in toe first without stressing the calf, and take some pressure off of the heel. My watch is covered up, but on; buzzing each time I go another two miles. With the second time it buzzed, I knew the right thing for me to do was to stop at 11 total miles and call it a day.
As we came around into the east loop, we all had to recalibrate what mud was. Suddenly the loop we had just completed was bone dry. My memory (erroneous and exagerated by time already) is that we hiked/ran for 5.5 miles down calf deep in mud with the water reaching our knees. There were dry parts of that loop, and I got better at finding them with each loop, but that was mostly due to me being more and more willing to find my own path, at one point accidentally leaving state forest and tromping on some guy's private road. Add to that sudden snow flurries, wildly swinging temperatures, and you've got the beginning of an idea.
Toward the end of the second loop (miles 6-11), Michael Valone finally reels me in, and we chat a bit. I decide to let casually drop my plan to be done after this loop, confident that there are others like me. So, social expert that I am, start the conversation like
"J: So, what are your plans for today?"
"V: (dismissively) Finish, you?"
"J: I'm planning on just the 10"
And the bug gets planted again.
There is an obvious new goal to go for. If I do one more loop (16 miles), I'll make up for skipping my run the day before due to laziness. But, if I'm going to do that, I'm going to have to fix some things... I hadn't been eating, 'cause this was a short training run and who cares. Tummy's been rumbling for a while, since I do horrible with breakfast before a race, and I know I'll crash soon if I don't do something.
Coming into the aid station, I grab a bunch of Monk Packs (oatmeal) and some M&Ms and head back out for one more of the easy loop (now not muddy, since we just saw the real definition of mud). Some more great conversation with Valone about fish eggs, and what a beautiful day we're having, and I get thinking. If I just did one more loop on the horrible side (why does it have to be the horrible side?), I would have a personal record on distance in a day.
And so I grab more Monk packs, M&M's and go. I see Mertsock nearly finished with his race and I get jealous. I see so many people, and greet them with how happy I'm feeling. I'm feeling great, and I'll be done soon with 22 miles under my belt. And then Sheila catches up to me. We have a delightful conversation about who knows what, she gamely slows down for me, while I speed up and run for the first time in who knows how many miles, and we just share one of those trail moments that I love so dearly. And in that moment, I decide what I'm going to do; I'm going to do the hell route again, giving me a Fleet Feet ultra (26.3 guys, really?) at 26.7 miles, and give me the option of an easy 5 miles to get my 50k if I want it.
See, two weeks ago, I was at MedVed listening to a panel on ultra running and some amazing stories; and Mort asked a question about how to come back after DNFing on a race you really care about (or something like that). I consider myself a non-competitive guy, and so generally I don't care. But, his question has had me wondering if I'm going about things wrong (yes, duh). I've been pushing a bit harder and eating a bit better, and just generally trying to care. And his words kept running through my head as I was out on these trails. How much do I care? I have had the goal to do a 50k this year (Finger Lakes 50), but I know how bad the mud gets there and how hot it can be. Here I am, not far from a 50k, I know the weather is great (the postal service should send their guys to this thing to find out what it means when they say the mail must go through), my body is working tolerably well, and I'm not so far behind the others that I would be a burden if I kept going. Why not now?
And so, my decision was made (with so many caveats). If Valone and Tom Reding and HBO and her crew haven't dropped or finished, and if Eric will FB my wife and tell her I'll be getting home late, and if I can get them to do the #TrailsRoc "One more loop" cheer, I'll go and get this stupid thing done.
And so, climbing that stupid hill into the aid station with five easy miles to go, without any prompting from me, the cheer starts. I get swarmed with people putting water in my pack, food in my hands and pack, and a pat on the back; and before I even knew for certain that my caveats had been met, I started my last loop. You should have seen how excited Colin was, following me down the track asking questions about what was going on. And me just thrilled to be there. I'm tearing up writing this now as I think about the love and support I received.
Each person I passed going the other way warned me that this loop was not the dry route we all loved, but had mudded up in the intervening time. And they were right, we had beat the dry places into mud. But I didn't care. I found a stick, and fell in love with it. I walked, and walked, and walked.
Coming in to the finish line, I saw Valone heading in to finish his race, doing his usual antics. And I'm screaming at the top of my lungs cheering him on. I couldn't have cared less what was about to happen to me, I was so happy to see him finish in his grand style. And then, I stole the attention. I feel bad about that. Hit the dangling PP and declared my finish. Once again swarmed and surrounded by the love of this community; we all set about packing things in. The temperature must have dropped 15-20 degrees from the time I finished to when we had things packed up, and we all slinked off in the middle of a blizzard.
Driving back to Rochester, my wife and kids finally heard what had happened to my 10 mile plan. The joy and cheering from that phone call made me miss them so much, and feel the love of my family.
Me, I went straight to a church meeting, where I got to sit and listen about ways to be better men (care for your wife and family, help those in need, apologize, strength comes from serving not dominating, etc). Surrounded by suits while I sat in my backup running clothes and a hoody, mud and blood caking my legs, being given silent high-fives and kudos from my brothers in the gospel.
I'm not sure I could have asked for a better day. Surrounded by love and support and the beauty of this earth from before the sun rose until long after it set.
Random thoughts that belong nowhere else:
Shorts with built in liners should die the death of a million scissor cuts
Injinji socks are the bomb in muddy/wet conditions, but be careful about the fit. When your feet swell, they can be a bit hard to get off, and your toes might die if you don't.
The shoes I bought on a whim this week were a hail mary that ended up being full of grace and perfection. I couldn't have made it on my last pair of shoes.
Internal clocks suck when you wake at 4:30am the morning after your first 50k and can't get back to sleep
I ran across this in the book I was reading. It seems awful familiar.
Only then, after all these preparations were well under way, did the governor call the House of Burgesses into special session and ask for the money necessary to pay for everything. Faced when they convened on February 14 with the fait accompli of war measures already undertaken, the Burgesses did their patriotic duty and appropriated ten thousand pounds, but only after attaching provisions that guaranteed them strict oversight of all expenditures. A war may have been in the offing, but the legislators were not such fools as to forget that the threat to their own authority (and even perhaps to their rights as Englishmen) came not from the French but from the rotund Scot who demanded they outfit an expedition to the Ohio Country. The last thing they intended to do was to give an unpopular governor carte blanche to start a war that, for all they knew, would be no more than a pretext to expand the scope of the prerogative in Virginia government while enriching himself and his Ohio company cronies at public expense.
Some things never change
On the other hand, if Congress had made the same provisions we wouldn't be in quite the mess we are now.