Twisted Branch 2016

I've sat down to write a race report for this year's Twisted Branch a couple times today, and I can't find a through narrative, as I was relatively stationary.
Strong moments for me include:
Sadness and relief as my friends arrived by car rather than on foot and threw themselves into helping others
The power of training and science as Daven transformed himself from a beaten man to a powerful contender over an hour.
The colorful pig headedness of Welden as he terrified the paramedics, entertained the crew, and pulled himself together to a powerful finish
Watching those paramedics transform themselves from intrusive horseflys to helpful and effective aid station workers
Single minded care and efficiency with which Prem tended to each runner
The perfect selfless pairing of runners and pinch-hit pacers and crew as the carnage mounted
And the tears on Chris Reynolds face as she missed our cutoff
The nonchalant running power of sweeper extraordinaire, Colin
The smooth and effortless finish by Danielle
The barely upright and conscious Valerie
The patience and relief apparent on Hobbs' face at the closing of Urbana
The wonderful food from Natalie
Barely contained chaos managed by Scott and his minions with panache
This community is amazing. Thank you all for letting me and my family be a part of it.



It's been a rough week. My heel has flared up, and outside of running, I can barely walk. Fun times.

I first heard of ROGAINE (apparently, originally named after its founders from Melbourne, but commonly backronymed to something like Rugged Outdoor Group Activity Involving Navigation and Endurance). The fun thing is that the sport came to the name fourty years before the drug ever did.

Anyway, it is essentially a Score-O transformed into an endurance sport. What's a Score-O? You are given a map of the area, which displays a collection of check points and a point value for each one. You have a time limit, and the team to collect the most points within that time limit wins. So, in a ROGAINE, the time is typically 24 hours (we signed up for 6). But, these maps are big. A mile is about 2 inches on this map, so there is a lot of potential ground to cover.

So, in my head orienteering, and ROGAINEs seem like the perfect trail runner side sport. They take all you have already, add navigation, and then force you off your favorite trails and onto new land. And, if you're nuts, it seems like a great way to practice for the Barkley Marathons (well, that and running up and down hills covered in razor blades for days on end).

But, I haven't got into any expectations yet. I've never done this before. This race is down in Virgil, so I'm imagining hills. Until this week, I was only worried about water. Now I hope to be able to run and not disappoint my team mate. Its going to be hot, humid, new ground, and a lot of fun.

I've run east of Virgil before, and the hills there were intimidating at points but manageable. With orienteering markers, we could end up anywhere. I do well at the Rochester meets, but the markers tend to be fairly close to easily recognizable markers. I wonder how much bearing taking we'll use. I'm really good at visualizing maps onto the world around me, I'm really bad at distance estimation. Should be pretty exciting

Slight update. I realized the day before this event that this is the first time in a long time that I've had to prepare for an outdoor event where I have no idea what I'm getting myself in to. I've done plenty of short runs, triathlons, etc. My first ultra was accidental, so by the time I needed to prepare, I had done one already. I have no idea what I'm going to regret not having tomorrow.

I've cooked up this idea of a string with markings on it to help with the route planning. I have long pants (icky in 90+ degree 90+ percent humidity weather), lots of water, my trusty Monk Packs, Fig Newtons, and Perogies (thanks Dan!). A whistle, hat, compass (in the stock and this thing that tells time). We'll just have to see. I had a person today tell me that he's run several ROGAINEs before but never orienteered. He clearly knew I wasn't talking about hair replacement and is making me wonder if I know what I'm getting into.

I've cut open my leg, further damaged my heel, and burned my fingers tonight, and sliced a friends house into three pieces. Tomorrow'll be easy after today. The decision after 0SPF to spend more time in quiet contemplation, hanging with my family, and generally being chill is helping some with the usual jitters. A week is awful fast for a change, so we'll see how it continues to change.

The race

Hoo boy. I picked up Matt Webster and we were down at the race base camp around 10:00. The two RD were a delightful local couple. I'm pretty sure that he was Laz's spiritual third cousin. Or, maybe long races involving orienteering just attract this particular personality and look. We spent a while futzing with our gear and pack load out. I had four liters in my pack between bladder and bottles with 1500ish calories and buffs and compass and backup money and... I hoisted the pack, and ugh.

Not long after we got there, Olga arrived with her team and was much much better organized. We chatted a bit, and I claimed a table behind her so I could cheat off of her if I needed to.

1:15 to go before start, there was a mandatory meeting talking about not dying, not trespassing, we heard stories of buckshot in control points and participant's backside. We heard stories of agressive dogs on course, and were pled to not go be stupid.

1:00 to go before start, the maps were handed out, and we discovered how not prepared we were for this. I had brought a piece of string on which I'd marked mile increments, some cork board, and some pins so that we could do our planning. Those maps were handed out, and suddenly we say scissors, tape, 16 colors of highlighters, protractors, those rolly distance measuring things, and so much more. We borrowed scissors and tape, scrounged a pen from the car, and were able to hobble through, although we had many reasons to lament our lack of preparedness out on the trail.

So, you have an hour to plan on what you're going to do and where you're going to go. We had to turn in an itinerary to the RD, and then do our best. The string was a life saver. It was amazing how quickly the string disappeared as we planned routes. We would have totally overstepped our abilities without that thing.

We finished early, put our stuff away, and nervously waited for the start.

As is typical with my favorite trail races, at the proper moment, the RD said "Okay, you can go now", and we were off. The group split up into about three groups, with the majority going the same way we were. Matt had never done a trail ultra before and was most amused at the start, as we all just kind of sauntered off the start line and walked down the road.

An easy trot up to the first control point, where I punched our card, and Matt would sign us in nothing the time and where we were planning on going next. Continuing bushwacking up the hill, we went through the clearest "clear" forest we saw the whole day. That probably distorted our plans later, and we associated that color with wasy walking, and the rest was not.

By and large, in the early race, we would often divert over to the nearby sparse trails, adding distance to our route, but gaining the ability to move quickly and smothly. There were three other teams that had planned routes similar to ours, and consistently we would get there first, then spend longer finding the control, then get past them again.

Further timing mistakes that we made was that we picked controls that made sense from a distance point of view. We assumed that we could orient off of park boundaries and vegetation boundaries, and that is really stinking hard. We probably underutilized our compasses and need to work on distance estimation. About half way through the day (3pm), the wind and shade had kept things cool and pleasant. We had found 6 of our planned 9 controls, and so were right on task for my mental 2/3 in the first half plan.

We scrambled up a hill to find yet another "edge of needled tree" control point, wandering much too long, and then realized we were low on water. In an audible, we changed the plan to strike for the nearest water drop, and then figure it out from there.

If you wanted a textbook example of wheels coming off, a video of the next hour was exactly that. We wandered up and down hills, spent twenty minutes trying to move forward 100 yards through brambles, rolling our ankles, disturbing habitats, and seeing some of the most beautiful country I've ever experienced in NY. When we pushed through the last bit of brush and stumbled upon a dirt road that we knew was ahead of us, but didn't see until we were there, we almost reenacted every movie about exploration ever. I don't think either of us had been so happy to see a dirt road in our lives. We finally validated the wild guess at where we were half an hour ago and how seriously we had messed up our plans. We had a clear route to evacuate and get back to base camp, and a reasonable chance to get it done in time.

Down roads, up hills, and a moment of hubris, and we decided to snag one last control on our way out. Perfect orienteering got us to our attack point, drove us down a giant hill, and we hit where we expected to see the control perfectly. Ten minutes later, we had to abandon the search and flee to the finish.

For the second time in my life, I burst out up on a firing range. Which is bad. Except that meant we again knew where to go to finish, A quick skirting of the range, and suddenly an orange parked car appeared to view through the underbrush. One more climb, and a trot across an open field, and we were done with three minutes to spare.


So amazing. The other teams were a delight to interact with, and provided a sense of comraderie as we went along the course we had picked for ourselves. We gained so many stories, of which nary a tenth made it into this report.

I completed the destruction of my shoes, I have scratches all over my legs and feet from brambles, that occurred in spite of the long pants and shoes. My heel is seriously screwed up, as bad as it's been since late March. I'm tired and happy, and we've been plotting about doing this again next year since early in the race. Seriously, you should all be doing this. Why aren't you?

On the drive home, we realized that we were going right by the Candlelight 12 hour race. A quick call to wives about our delay, and we pulled into the parking lot. It is so amazing to watch so many of you accomplish so many life goals. It is an honor to know so many, and I am so proud of you guys.

I am grateful now to continue my pivot over to spending time trying to give back to the communities that have given me so much. I'll get a chance to heal, cheer all of your amazingness' on.

0SPF 2016


Chris O'Brien suggested I start writing down my thought prior to races too. The purpose is really to capture thoughts and expectations prior to new experiences, and 0SPF is not a new experience; but perfect practice makes perfect.

I've run parts of the route for 0SPF oodles of times, it is probably the best known to me route of anything I've done. I ran 0SPF last year in much hotter weather and survived. And yet, I'm a ball of stress. There is nothing to be afraid of (no heights, no crazy new distance, no expectations), just prerace jitters. These jitters have gotten worse over the last two years or so, and I need to figure out the source and control it better; as it takes some of the fun out of running and all the pleasantness out of being near me.

More than anything else this year, I'm running this to be with people. Which is crazy, as I'll be alone from start to finish; but before and after I'll be around people I truly enjoy. Having said that, here I am writing rather than being there earlier.

If I have a goal, it is to do better than last year. My endurance is better, my speed is worse, I figure its about sixes on who wins. Push, smile, look forward to chatting and laughing and seeing some of my favorite people at the start and turn around and end (turn around wins for favorite people in the world, sorry everybody else).

I expect beautiful trails, a better feel of how I am doing physically, a chance to feel reasonable paces for next week's ROGAINE, and lots of smiles.

The race

My favorite part as the race began was shortly after the race started, and we all started up the hill. There was plenty of room for people to pass each other, but everyone was lined up and following Amy. I settled into a comfortable spot and a pace that felt good. I was shortly joined by a nice runner (I'm reminded it was Denise) and we chatted for a couple of miles about, well, this beautiful country in which we live. It was delightful and the trail disappeared under my feet. I rolled in to Garnsey road after cheering my way through several aid stations filled with people I admire and am so grateful for.

Then I hit my first bump. Kindness dictates stepping aside for the runners returning back to the start, and I did so. Except, unlike last year, I ended up stepping aside for most of the race participants as I progressed through McCord woods. It was wonderful seeing and complimenting and cheering for so many people that I knew. This was why I was here, and one of my favorite parts of PP50k. My brain figured out that we were now in run/walk mode rather than run mode and struggled to break out of that misconception for the rest of the day.

Busting down Chair hill, I lost my friend; and came into the aid station staffed by the love of my life. A quick turn around and I'm on my way back up, plodding rather than running. Shortly thereafter, another runner that had been hanging back behind me made a move to push by me. Thank goodness he did. I didn't want to lose where I was and so decided to hang on. He could only muster a trudge through McCord Woods and Woodcliff, and so I followed behind catching up just a little on each hill. After crossing Turk Hill, those short rollers pushed the advantage back to my side, and I went neatly on by. There is no way I would have been as happy as I was, or run as well without him to urge me on.

Dropping on to High Point, I see up ahead my friend and partner in stupidity Matt Webster. He should have been way ahead of me, but now I have another target. Slowly getting closer, I finally catch up upon finally completing the Power Line Hill climb (specially shortened for your enjoyment) and with his quads hurting, I barrel past and into the finish line.


Good weather won, and I beat my personal best on this course by a whole twenty minutes. To be enveloped by the love of my family and the careful care of my friends. Grateful to be done.

I messed up several things horribly. I was so caught up in myself this week, that I wasn't eating properly; including this morning. My stomach was empty and loudly growling before I hit Moseley the first time. I'm sure the agony of McCord Woods was as much that bit of stupidity as anything.

Even with the beautiful weather, I struggled to hydrate and will need to take a second look at that. I have a lot of problems to solve before next Saturday.

Most important for me though, is halfway back through McCord Woods, while I was following my Mechanical Hare, I figured out my stress problem. There's been several hints that I've missed, but this last year or so I've been so concentrated on meeting my 50k run goal, that I've let my dedication to others falter and living a very self centered life. So, I'll be dropping some race plans and spending more time with my loving family (those hit hardest). We'll get out there and volunteer more, and find ways to make others live's easier, together.

Tokien uses this delightful word "Eucatastrope" to describe the wonderful moment when you glimpse that place where Joy and Sorrow are at one, reconciled. I have those moments with my faith, my family, my science, and lately my trail running. I know that I cannot repay the blessings that I've received through these things, but I can sure keep trying.

Finger Lakes 50k 2016

Pre Race

The Finger Lakes 50s has been a goal race of mine for as long as I've known about it. It traverses the Interlocken Branch of the FLT inside Finger Lakes National Forest on Fourth of July weekend. I have familial attachment to the National Forests, familial attachment to the Fourth of July, and have hiked parts of the Interloken trail several times. So, two years-ish ago, when I started contemplating doing an ultra some day, I picked this race as my first.

Life didn't end up that way, and I'm so very glad it didn't, as Palmer's Pond 50k taught me a lot about myself, and pushed me to test and prepare things that I wouldn't have otherwise. I'm endlessly grateful to this community for its support and love through these crazy adventures.

I wish I knew a way to reduce pre-race jitters. My co-workers we just about done with me and my mecurial crankiness by Thursday, and my family suffered too. They were so tired by time Friday came along, that we chose for me to go down self supported rather than asking my kids to be on their best behavior one more day.

I recently read a book where Mark Twain is a fictionalized protagonist. In it he comments about how under stress, even rational people pick up superstition to make it through. So, I show up planing on full #TrailsRoc regalia, white injinji toe socks, and place my tent exactly where it was two years ago at the 25k.

I wish I knew a way to reduce pre-race jitters. I checked in quickly, as accidentally rude to one of the volunteers (while handing me a free GU "Do you have any flavors that aren't disgusting?"), and had four hours until it was reasonable to sleep. So I took off to Ithaca and acquired myself a case of their finest. There's a lot of rootbeer in our house right now. In fact, I see an opportunity to compare/contrast Iron Fireman and Ithaca's.

Upon return, I fell in with Tom Butler, fixture of many Rochester trail races. We ended up spending a delightful evening talking about running and how various races have changed over the years, and generally using each other to not talk about the next day.

In the middle of all this, there was a crazy downpour during which I discovered my tent is pretty good and reawakened my fears of the mud, a two mile scouting walk to see how the trail conditions were, and the meeting of a scared Canadian lady and her family. She had come down to do her first 50k, hadn't found anyone admitting to less than 50 miles, and wanted to know what the trail was like. I'm not sure she'll ever forgive me, as I described them in mental comparison to Palmer's Pond, Ontario Summit, and videos of Ben runs.

Lap One

I woke to the best feeling legs I've had in months. I wisely mostly packed up camp in the morning, waved at several Rochester runners, and made it to the start line just as the RD began his spiel, and we began the race with the traditional leisurely half mile tromp down the dirt road to the single track. Two miles later, I was miserable and already considering quitting. Luckily, shortly after that my Gordon B Hinkley paraphrase came to mind "Forget yourself and go run", and I was able to get down to business.

I can't continue to blow by blow this run and keep you entertained. The first 3.5 miles down to the Morgue are largely (endlessly) downhill and smooth. You get past the first cow pasture (three of them), and the sites where most of the pictures of the race. I ran, and started to enjoy the unnaturally beautiful weather. Other than Ron, how could you not love running the FLT bug-free in 55 degree weather with a light breeze that somehow managed to be at your back all the time? I blew through the aid station (how do people take so long?) and headed to the next one. The morgue is usually decorated with skulls and the vollies wear scrubs. Fun stuff.

The second leg to South Beach is about a mile and a half up a gully over some fairly technical roots/rocks. I moved up the hill well, and had no problems keeping the heart rate sane. I was holding back some energy for the next section. The nicest volunteers ever were here, and they sent me off telling me what great shape the next part of the course was.

3 miles gets you back to South Beach through portions of the trail I'm very familiar with. Every time I have been on this trail, there is a mile of pure thick mud hashed up by boots and hooves. You turn right before the site of my kids first backpacking trip, and spend some time on the Finger Lakes Trail itself. But, I've been coy about the mud. There was none. Oh, you could see where the mud would be, but it was soft dirt with footfeel similar to pine needles, rather than the shoe removing muck that is the usual.

On to the Library, which is another 2.7ish miles. Straight, largely flat and simple running a couple boardwalks, and a cow pasture with stunning views of the lake below.

My least favorite part of the course follows. You start by running a steep ravine down over a rooty mess, followed by climbing right back up. To an open asphault climb. Just when you think you hate things, you take a left into a horse camp and spend the rest of the run dodging deep horse prints and a smell that would make even Princess Leia complain loudly. Oh, and then to punish you, a long neverending straight open climb to the next aid station. But, none of the smells or deep quagmires of poop were there. This really was magical conditions year. On my way to the aid station, I was delighted to run into Josh Stratton, the first person I recognized on the course. Then the aid station hove into view, and I see two people wearing #TrailsRoc Hoodies. Salvation!

I have no idea who they were, and they didn't know me, but any port in a storm. To my right was the next climb. Two years ago, that climb was through a melange of mud and cow patties that was up to my knee (Ron says he went in even deeper). Rock solid, other than the openness, an easy climb.

Two and a half miles back to the start over crazy collections of roots, rocks, boardwalks that look more like a roller coaster than a path. I was broken at this point. Body was fine, I was going to continue, but I said something stupid to a spectator. "18 miles to go!". I couldn't get that out of my head, and I was tired.

As I came into the finish line / loop restart, the RD is announcing that he expected to see the winner of the 50k any minute, and I look up at the banners. Left means another loop, right means I quit. Shutting the mind off, I take the left and commit myself. Fifteen minutes of fighting with my food storage, and headphones (I gave up on them), and water bottles and I was off again. Now this is about honor. I had done a 50k before, I had paid silly amounts of money to get ready and be here, my wife was home alone with the kids for me, I had promised many volunteers I would be back, I had so many of you I didn't want to disappoint.

Lap Two

We can breeze through this lap, the opposite of what I did. I had lost most of my get up and go (Thanks, The Bickersons), and just wanted this done. As I argued with myself over how excited I was to be here, I managed to get up a run. Finally moving well again for the first time in miles, I catch a rock and fall, and suddenly realize how much more comfortable the ground was than running. Up and out and down, the hill down to the Morgue doesn't allow anything other than running, and so run I did.

I climbed the gully to South Beach with the gentleman in second place for 50 miles (I didn't get lapped by any 50k people, the lead for 50 miles lapped me shortly after my fall). The fact that I was keeping pace with him up hill tells you how rough he was feeling. I later heard that maybe both he and first place dropped, but don't take my word for it.

And then from behind trotted the Canadian lady. It shouldn't need to be called out, but holy cow are Canadians nice. She inquired after my feet, my stomach, and everything else, offering me half her pack of remedies while I turned them down. She then floated off down the trail, smooth as butter. At this point, it felt like something was wrong, but I couldn't pinpoint the nature of the problem. My back hurt, but I haven't figured out how to navigate dense roots without craning my neck over, so that made sense. My stomach wasn't icky, but it wasn't happy. So, keep moving forward.

With the cool temperature of the day and wind, getting a feel for sweat was hard. My face was covered in dried salt, my back and hat were saturated wet. Finally, most of the way to the Library (24ish) I stumble off the trail to try, um, alternate measures of hydration. I wasn't pleased with what I saw. Time to drink more.

So, I varied between moving well, stumbling, and climbing with stops this time to get the pounding of my heart out of my head.

Shortly after Library, I realize that I've just PRd my marathon time. Some quick math points out to me that if I halved my PR, they still wouldn't let me into Boston. Not that any road marathon is ever an ambition of mine.

Up up up, over ground I've covered before, I end up getting lapped by 11 50 milers. One of which, I'm pretty sure, picked up a pacer in the middle of the loop. I'm fueled by perogies and left-over monk packs, water and heed. Two miles to go, I invent a new goal that is achievable in my current state, and gain the ability to run well right about where I lost it on the first lap. Oh it felt good to be moving again. Why didn't I do that sooner?

I come in to the strains of Taylor Swift's Style, and start dancing as I run. I only know the music due to a delightful coworker of mine that has always insisted on her awesomeness, and something about finally being done made me agree in that moment.

Post Race

I come through, insist on shaking the RD's hand and thank him for putting the race on, then put my foot in it as I insult him about the finisher prizes. I had been fighting back pain for much of the second lap, they hand me a backpack, and I listen horrified as my mouth says "Just what I want, another thing on my back." I still have so much learning to do still.

I collapse into my camp chair in front of my tent and just deflate. I'm done, I'm happy, and I'm missing the endorphin rush from Palmer's Pond. I don't know, is it that it wasn't my first and so my body was already inured to the accomplishment, or something else?

The Canadian lady had beat me by only 20 minutes, which said she did a great job at putting on a happy face as she floated away. We chatted, and became the typical fast friends of trail running. Her name is slipping from my mind even as I write this (Update: found her). Her husband hopped up and had my site packed up before I could even protest. That random act of kindness exemplifies part why I love this community so much.

After about an hour of watching and cheering and resting and hoping for others to come through, I haul my gear out and begin the long drive home.

Things I learned

It is harder to be happy and upbeat when you don't know the runners or the volunteers. There were several times that I was as bad as the comic character Cathy, and I'm sorry about that. The volunteers at South Beach, Josh Stratton, and the #TrailsRoc folks gave me miles of energy that I cannot thank any of them enough for.

This is the most important one, and so I'm going to bury this in the middle of the others. I can do this. The stupid fear after Palmer's Pond was that the distance was a fluke, and here I am with two. I had ideal weather for both, and I'm sure that that will gnaw at me for a while, as humans are excellent self-doubters, but I can do this.

I need to lose more mass. Last time I was on this course, I was about 40 pounds lighter, but hadn't ever run further than 13 miles. There are sections of this loop where I was moving smoothly and happily this year that had me near tears two years ago. My legs are stronger, my mind is more curmudeonly, but I can't move as fast. Speed has a benefit all its own.

Hydration is weird, and I don't know where my body was this weekend. By my calculations, I drank somewhere around 10-11 liters during those 50k. That is a crap ton of liquid, but I was never sloshy, nor needed to urinate, and had reason to fear that I wasn't drinking enough. I'm going to have to figure this out soon, as I can only carry about 3 liters in my largest running pack, and a 6 hour self-supported run in three weeks.

The messages of love and support from all of you on Thursday and Friday were of immense use to me, and I'm grateful to all of you for that. I'm positive I couldn't have done it without you

Other than that, I have a bunch of silly couple sentence anecdotes here. More Stories

Ontario Summit Trail Race 2016

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.