Saturday, July 7, 2018

2018 Western States 100 Race Report

Results - 19:00:59 - 21st place 
     Strava Data 

Getting Into The Race 

The wait is over.

Waiting is a hard game to play. When I have an idea, or want to do something, I obsess over it and get it done. There are a lot of things in life that you can do that with. Dream of something, work hard, obtain the skill, and go for it. The Western States 100 is not that simple.

The Western States 100 made me wait, and in a strange way it was hard to do that. As a young fast 22 year-old, just off a collegiate running career, I anxiously wanted to showcase my newfound love for ultra running at Western States. It’s the granddaddy of ultrarunning. It’s the Superbowl. At that time in my career running was top priority and I was training with a lot of miles and felt confident I could run competitively at any race.

Seven years went by before gaining entry via the lottery into Western States. 7 years of following the December lottery to see if my name would be pulled. I also attempted to “run my way in” with a Golden Ticket race on 5 occasions and came within one spot twice and 92 seconds on one of those occasions. Western States became elusive. Of course, I knew I’d eventually get into the race as long as I continued running qualifying races each year, but the wait sort of became a burden and a weight on my shoulders after a while. It’s that something you want so bad but you can’t get.

The one good thing about having to wait 7 years was that I had the opportunity to run many other amazing 100 milers in that course of time. I went on to win the Mohican 100 in 2015 and 2016. I ran the Grindstone 100, Cascade Crest 100, and Bighorn 100. All of those races tested me and gave me invaluable experience that may have given me better preparation for Western States. In that timespan I also got married, graduated from grad school, had two children, and became a race director for a handful of trail/ultra races. I am no longer that just-out-of-college speedster able to train at crazy high mileage. However, when I got selected for Western States I counted my blessings and knew that I was an older, more experienced, and patient runner. I didn’t want to waste my opportunity at Western States, so I focused on what I could control, and for me that meant training smart, studying and determining a race plan, and running my own race on race day.

Training and Preparing 
Training for Western States entails a few specific details. For every 100 mile race I do I tailor my training to the specific needs for that particular race. For Western States I think the key components are heat, patience, downhills, and runnability. The canyons often reach over 100 degrees so I did some runs in the heat of the day with a lot of layers on. I was also able to access a sauna with temperatures between 150-190 degrees for a prolonged period of time. I learned the sauna wipes you out for about 24 hours, but I was staying in for 25-40 minutes at a time.

Actual running training for me went really well from December through mid-March. I slowly increase my mileage from 45 miles a week in early December to 80-100 miles per week in February and March. I was also averaging over 10,000 feet of elevation gain for those weeks with at least one hard speed workout each week.

I’m slowly learning what my body can handle at this point in my career. With now 12 years of hard training and racing I can no longer handle the prolonged period of times at higher mileage. In mid-March, after a 106 mile week and 17,000 feet of elevation gain I started experiencing severe pain in my left knee. This ended up being a bad flare-up of “runner's knee” or patellofemoral syndrome. Thanks to Dr. Robert Wayner for checking me out and helping solve the issue with diagnosis and strength exercises. I had developed an imbalance where my hips and glutes were weak and tight forcing my left knee to absorb too much of the impact while running, especially on downhills, which I had been doing a lot of at that time.

At that point I was basically halfway through a 29 week training stint for Western States. I knew my first 15 weeks were stellar, but then the focus became completely on getting to the starting line healthy. So for fives weeks I toned down the elevation, keeping my runs flatter, taking 2-3 days off per week, and seeing Jill Brown for targeted massages and Kevin Swank for some Graston Technique massage. Along with the strength exercises, the massages were super vital to regaining health. After about five weeks of lower volume and massage, and after a bit of apprehension, I felt almost 100% again.

This left me with nine weeks of training and I was fortunate to have the opportunity to head to Colorado on June 1st to do some running in Breckenridge and Leadville. I was eager to get into the high mountains. Even though I don’t think getting into high altitude is vital for Western States, I took the approach with a difference mindset. For me it was the mental refreshment that I would get from doing a couple weeks of high altitude mountain running. I slept at 11,000 feet, summited three Colorado 14ers in this time period, and was above 12,000 feet for most of my runs. This felt good, and feeling good mentally made this training worth it.

The Race
As we stood on the line waiting for the shotgun to be fired I closed my eyes and quickly ran through the emotions of what running Western States meant. It was the most prestigious ultra marathon in America, one that I had patiently waited to get in for over 7 years, and now I was getting an opportunity to make the run from Squaw Valley to Auburn. It was time to run.

The early miles seemed relaxed. The near four mile climb up The Escarpment was mostly spent walking. I settled into a good powerhike groove gauging my effort and waiting for one of the most beautiful and iconic views in ultras at the crest. Knowing that the race “starts at mile 62” after we leave the Foresthill aid station I wanted to ride that fine line of conserving energy in the early miles but still putting myself in good position to have a good placement in the race. I had a detailed pace chart that I thought would put me in that position. In the high country I mostly focused on settling into my own rhythm but also keeping track of who was around me. There are so many veterans who are smart and always run a good race at Western States. In the early miles I bounced back and forth and ran some miles with Jesse Haynes, Kyle Pietari, Bob Shebest, and eventual women’s third place finisher Lucy Bartholomew.

Coming into the Dusty Corners aid stations at mile 38 I was within one minute of my target time of 6:11:00. At this point I was feeling great and was sitting somewhere around 17th place. In my eyes, and plan, being somewhere in this position was a great method for moving up late in the race, picking up carnage from the suffering that happens in the front of the race. I stayed steady through the Last Chance aid station at mile 43 but then came the first of three canyons. I knew that the next 19 miles were going to be critical in how I fared for the rest of the day. The three canyons feature the hottest sections of the course with steep descents and ascents in and out of each canyon. People have completely crashed in the canyons, and other people might make it through the canyons well only to crash just after them due to pushing to hard in them. So there is this balance that the great Western States runners of the past master.

For me the canyons were a mixture of good downhills and bad uphills. I seemed to run well descending into the canyons only to making very bad progress, barely even walking, up the steep hills. There were many times I was passed going up Devil’s Thumb by runners simply powerhiling twice as fast as I was hiking. I thought my powerhiking had been improving the last few years but at Western States it was a huge limiting factor the second half of the race.

This trend continued into Michigan Bluff at mile 55. By this time the heat was in full force, and along with my slow uphill hiking and running I was starting to slip behind my target pace. I had hoped to be at Michigan Bluff in around 9:15:00 but ended up there in 9:48:00, now in 23rd place. The heat was a big factor for most people. I felt like I handled it well, and the overall trend with the finishers rate and times is that most runners handled the heat well, even though it was the 9th hottest day in race history. At almost every aid station I had iced stuffed in my arm sleeves, hat, bandana, and in both handheld water bottles. I think my rough stretch through the canyons was mainly due to my inability to get up the hills efficiently.

Foresthill aid station at mile 62 is the central hub for the race. There are the most spectators, crew members, and volunteers here than any other location and the energy can be felt!. Many people say this is where the race starts, because the rest of the race is runnable if you have the legs and there is almost always a lot of carnage to be had. This is also where you can pick up a pacer for the first time and I was happy to have Pete Buckley there with me for the next 18 miles. Pete just recently graduated from Athens High School and he will be running collegiately at Haverford College. He is stoked about trail and ultra running and is about as knowledgeable as any 18 year old out there about the sport and all the nuances within it. Leaving Foresthill I was in 20th place, and I was hoping that I could move well through Cal Street and into the river.

Running down Cal Street I was feeling pretty good. I wasn’t moving particularly fast but my legs felt relatively good at this point in a 100 mile race; having Pete with me was a nice energy boost. The uphills were still a struggle. While I was able to run at a decent clip on the flat and downhill sections, I was a mess going uphill. It was like every gain I made on the downs and flats I gave it all back and more on the uphills. This was frustrating, and looking back I can’t really put my finger on what this feeling was. Was I just feeding into self-doubt or self-pity when I approached any uphill during the race, was I simply not trained well enough for uphills, or were my uphill legs just not feeling it on this particular day? Whatever the case was it cost me a lot of time at Western States and the chance to pick people off at this stage.

Reaching the Rucky Chucky American River crossing was like a beacon of hope. Pete and I had had some good stretches of running, but I only managed to pass one runner along the 16 mile Cal Street stretch. The good thing was that I wasn’t losing ground, but I wasn’t gaining much ground either. With the tough conditions I thought more people would be struggling or dropping out this late in the race, like past years. All the runners in front of me were simply gritting it out and staying strong. I was staying consistent and getting across the river, with 22 miles to go was a great feeling. I knew if I continued to stay consistent and continue doing what I had been doing I’d not lose anymore ground and if nothing else gain a little.

After picking up Nick Voss at Green Gate aid station at mile 80 I continued the same trend of running the downs and flats pretty decently only to slowly walk up any hill. There were actually some good stretches where I was running everything. I don’t know how fast I was running the ups at this point but it felt good to at least run entire mile stretches at a time. I think I came to the conclusion that walking and running up hills basically felt the same so I might as well run them. I was able to see part of the women’s race unfold in this stretch as Kaytlyn Gerbin and her pacer came flying by me shortly after Auburn Lakes Trail aid station (mile 85). Her pace was very impressive and I tried to keep her in my sights for as long as possible, which helped me get into a rhythm. Ultimately she finished second place female and 20 minutes ahead of me!

I picked up Pete as a pacer again at Pointed Rocks aid station, mile 94.3, and the end was near. I was still in 20th place at this point and I felt pretty decent. It was weird how snappy my legs felt almost all day when I would arrive into aid stations and first leave aid stations. Even here at mile 95 I felt pretty agile, but again, any uphill and my energy was zapped. One highlight in the last five miles was as Pete and I was within earshot of the No Hands Bridge aid station (mile 96.8) I rounded a corner and saw the flash of a mountain lion darting up the hill to the left of the trail. I stopped dead in my tracks and told Pete, who was a little behind me, that I saw a mountain lion no more than 25 yards ahead. After talking it over for probably 20 seconds I decided we should just move on because I knew the aid station was literally a minute later. It’s sort of eerie knowing that this mountain lion was probably just hanging out on the hill above No Hands Bridge observing what was going on at the aid station. At any rate it added to the wildlife sightings for me during the day as I had seen a rattlesnake slither across the trail three feet in front of me somewhere after Duncan Canyon. Pete also claims he “heard” and “saw” a rattlesnake as we were running down Cal Street. He literally jumped off of the trail; it was amusing hearing him freak out at any noise in the bushes.

After leaving the iconic No Hands Bridge I just had the climb up to Robie Point before the last mile on city streets into the Placer High School track for the finish. At this point I didn’t care about catching more runners, or who was behind me. I just started to reflect on the entire day, and how special it was to finally be able to run that last stretch of the Western States Trail. As I approached Robie Point with one mile to go I looked behind me and Lucy was not too far back. As Pete and I got past Robie Point I decided to stop for a minute or so to let Lucy and her pacer catch up to me. After telling her good job for hanging tough, I told her I wanted to let her pass us so she could enjoy her third place finish on the track by herself. I didn’t want to get in the way of her finish by being on the track at the same time. So I held back a little while to let her and her crew gain some ground on me before I made my entrance onto the track.

Entering the track was a surreal moment. Since I had been running in the dark for a couple of hours I broke into the light of the track, symbolizing the end of the journey. Just 300 meters to go. Seven years of waiting, and now I was able to finish the most iconic ultramarathon in the world. In the end I finished 21st place overall, 18th male, and in a time 19:00:59. The wait was over.

Thoughts On the Race
Now that the dust has settled from Western States I’ve had time to reflect on the race. My goal was to finish top 10; after waiting seven years to gain entry via the lottery the prospect of finishing top 10 and having a guaranteed entry into next year's race was a great goal to have. I’m disappointed that I didn’t come closer to that goal. However, I can’t be entirely disappointed with my overall performance. Finishing as 21st overall and 18th male isn’t something that I should be upset about. My day was overall consistent and smooth. I stayed in 16th-23rd place the entire day. With the exception of the bad uphill running and hiking I felt energized and strong even in the late miles, and I never had that “dark” low moment that can sometimes come in a 100 mile race. The positive is that I know I can improve and I am as motivated as ever to get back to Western States and fix what I did poorly and improve on what I did well.

The slow powerhiking is what I took away as my biggest weakness during the race. There were many instances when I was being passed without being able to keep up by people hiking and when I was hiking as fast as other runners I felt like I was expending much more energy than them. I think training for hiking needs to be a priority at Western States. In training I mostly run, so in a race where I need to hike it is foreign to me. I think training for powerhiking, potentially while with a weight vest or something, would greatly improve the muscles and movement of this motion.

I also look back and think about nutrition during the race. Overall I think I did a good job on staying fueled, but would approach it differently next time. My plan was to get a full serving of GU Roctane Energy Mix every hour and I did that, plus a little more. This was 250 calories per hour, something I have found works for me from past ultras. I also took 2-4 GU Roctane Electrolyte Capsules every hour, but I didn’t start this until about mile 45. The only thing I’d change with nutrition is to eat more and to eat more early. There were a couple of occasions I grabbed Clif Shot Bloks from the aid station table and take an entire sleeve in a short period of time and I always felt more energy and less leg cramping. I started trying to do this as often as possible late in the race and it seemed to help. If I would have started to do this earlier in the race, say getting 350-400 calories per hour, I think I would have felt better nutritionally.

The heat was definitely a factor but I feel like I handled it about as well as I could have. With some pre race heat sessions and in-race tactics I never felt that overwhelming heat fatigue that I have felt before.

Overall, my biggest takeaway is that I want to go back to Western States and I’m eager to improve. I loved the experience and the atmosphere of the build up in the day prior and along the course on race day. After running the entire course I feel like I am suited well for this type of course. With the knowledge of seeing the entire course I think I can do a lot better and I hope that chance comes before another seven years from now!

Thanks and Shoutouts!
One of the coolest things about Western States is the community around the event. The aid stations and network of people there to help all the runners unsurpasses any ultra I have ran. People ask why other races can’t be as popular as Western States and the community within the race, built by history, is the reason. It was really special being a part of that and now being able to consider myself a part of the Western States community.

The support and love I received from my own running community in and around Athens, Ohio was amazing. From the personal text messages to the well-wishes on social media, I felt every bit of it! For me personally, I think this is the biggest difference in my own running from seven years ago - it’s the friends and community of runners that is part of my life in Southeastern Ohio. I use that positive energy when I race and I very much appreciate all of it. To know there are hundreds of people back home rooting for you means a lot, and to be able to share this experience with them is something I want to do. THANK YOU!

What goes hand in hand with the growth of the running community in SE Ohio is SEOTR Events and Ohio Valley Running Company. The races that SEOTR puts on has given SE Ohio races that attract people from all over the region and has created a community of runners connected to those race. Ohio Valley Running Company opening in 2016 gave the area that staple brand that tied the entire running community together in form of a physical store location and OVRC has done a lot of work to grow that community. To have the support of OVRC through sponsorship not only provides me with the needed shoes, gear, and equipment to train and race, but also garners support from all the people connected with OVRC and the community. OVRC also provided all my family and friends who crewed on race day with “Team Owen” shirts! So, thanks you OVRC and the support you’ve provided throughout the past several years.

Lastly, I couldn’t have had the consistent day I had without an outstanding crew. I had a whole host of people along the course crewing and pacing. My wife Bobbi and the kids, my sister Becca, my parents, as well as friends Nick and Pete were all there at every crew point to keep me cooled off with ice, quickly refill my bottles, and send me off onto the course. Pete paced for around 24 miles and Nick paced for about 15 miles. Having this many people also allowed me to have crew at both crewing routes, which added the advantage of getting personalized aid at three additional locations compared to just having one crew. Thank you everyone, it was a lot of fun sharing the day with you.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Chasing Grossman's Ghost: 2017 Promise Land 50K++ Race Report

2017 Promise Land 50K++

Results - 4:31:16
     Strava Data

The Promise Land 50K++ has been a staple race on the east coast for many runners over the past 17 years.  Race Director David Horton, and the entire trail and ultra community that's been built in Central Virginia, has created a race that offers a beautiful course and a low-key but yet inclusive pre- and post-race atmosphere.  Like many races in the Lynchburg, VA area many of the runners will elect to camp at the start/finish area giving the race a close-knit feeling that makes ultra running special.

My first experience at Promise Land, which is 3 miles longer than an actual 50K, was in 2012 as a spectator.  That was the year Eric Grossman set the course record, coming from behind and passing a young Kalib Wilkinson in the last 6 miles, and dipping under Clark Zealand's course record from 2002.  This was a major goal for Grossman and he had come up short of the course record several times in previous years.  I still remember the emotion Grossman displayed after finishing the race that year, breaking down in tears of a mixture of exhaustion and accomplishment.

Since that year of spectating I've wanted to run Promise Land and experience the course, atmosphere, and challenge of the competition.  From the time I lived in Virginia for a bit I had been on every section of the course on training runs a time or two.  Seeing Grossman's performance was inspiring to me; Grossman was a huge influence in my ultra running beginnings and was one of the first mentors I had when starting to dabble into long trail running.  I wanted to go for his course record, and use it as a tribute to the positive influence Grossman has had in my life.      

An early wake up announcement from Horton on the bullhorn got the camping field buzzing as people emerged from their tents or RV for the 5:30am start time.  I've camped at races many times but for Promise Land my wife and I both were running the race, and our 2 year old daughter slept between us in our 2-person tent.  Grossman wrote about his fitful night of sleep in his campervan with his then 2 year old daughter in his 2012 race report.  Fortunately for my wife and I our daughter slept brilliantly and we got a full nights sleep (as much as that is for a 5:30am start).  Big props to my sister for watching Fern during the day and even toting her around the course!

The race starts on a 4 mile gravel forest road gaining over 2,000 feet until it reaches the first trail.  It was cool and dim but the forecast was calling for a very warm day.  After the race Horton said this was the second hottest Promise Land in the 17 years but this year might have been harder because of higher humidity.  I had a close eye on Grossman's CR splits and was content letting one runner go ahead, out of sight, and settle in behind a few others.  Once we entered the trail Sam Chaney, who was making his ultra debut, and I settled into 2-3 together.  We ran the grassy road into the Reed Creek AS at mile 9.7 where we finally saw the first place runner.  Sam and I were quick in and quick out and moved into 1-2.

At this point in the race I was happy with my own effort and position in the race, but I was already 6 minutes slower than Grossman's CR pace.  I knew I wanted to go out a bit conservative and gain ground on his ghost later in the race but being 6 minutes back really showed me how hard he pushed from the gun.  Heading across the ridge to Sunset Fields at mile 13.7 Sam opened a gap during a gravel downhill.  The section after Sunset was a steep, sometimes technical, downhill for 4 miles.  I felt good flowing down the singletrack and was able to catch up to Sam and we ran into Cornelius Creek AS at mile 17.8 together.

Grossman's Ghost:  2:10:00;  Me:  2:18:00

After Cornelius Creek Sam and I crushed a few low 6 minute miles on a gravel forest road before entering "The Dark Side."  I knew this section of the course could be a deciding point in the race; The Dark Side isn't the hilliest or most technical section of the course, but it's remoteness and closed in feeling can really press on you.  Colon Hollow AS is mile 20.8 and the most remote point of the course.  Leading into this aid station Sam and I were still running together but I began to feel stronger on the uphills compared to earlier in the race.  After leaving Colon Hollow I pushed ahead and began to open a gap into first place.

Grossman's Ghost:  2:30:00;  Me:  2:41:19
The ultimate experience in running is when you morph into a flow like state and are able to see yourself from a "birds eye view."  Around mile 22 I started to really feel that flow.  Even though I had only run these trails once or twice before, and 5 years ago, I had deja vu moments where I was remembering the terrain and distinct physical features of the trail.  This flow state carried into one section of the course I was looking forward to the most, Apple Orchard Falls.  Apple Orchard Falls is a 2,000 foot climb over 2.9 miles that starts at mile 26, meandering in and out of the falls on rocky technical trail that includes wooden steps and scenic vistas.

I was still 10 minutes behind Grossman's Ghost heading into the big climb, and knew based on his splits that this was the section I could gain some ground.  I figured the course record was out of reach at this point but knew if I kept pushing hard up the climb and tried to make up some of that time it would take a lot of effort for anyone behind me to catch up.  Fortunately I had the legs to grind up the falls and only needed to walk on a couple of the steep wooden steps.  When I reached Sunset Fields at mile 29 with 5 miles remaining I had gained a few minutes on my CR deficit but was still 7 minutes back.  The last 5 miles are all downhill, getting to run down the same gravel road that the race starts up.  After a few 5:30 miles I came into the Promise Land, 5 minutes slow than Grossman's CR Ghost, but in first place and given it a solid effort. 
After finishing I got to hang out with my daughter at the Promise Land camp, soak in the creak, and clean up while we waited on Bobbi to finish.  She did great coming in under eight hours.  It was awesome seeing her put in a lot of hard work, running early in the morning before work and still being a great wife and mother.  This was her third 50K, second in the two years after having Fern, and the hardest course she has run.  We stuck around until all the finishers had come in before tearing down our camp, capping off a fun weekend in the mountains.  

Promise Land 50K++ is a special race.  The beautiful course that presents a lot of difference variables for the runner, the classic ultra and Horton atmosphere, and all the participants and volunteers make this a true gem.  I didn't quite reach my "A" goal but I am really happy with the outcome and that I was able to push hard while feeling good and giving the course record an attempt.  Maybe next year I can go back and try it again!

Happy Trails

2017 Athens Ohio Marathon: 50th Year

Results - 2:38:28
     Strava Data

Two weeks before Promise Land I toed the line at the 50th consecutive running of the Athens Ohio Marathon.  This hometown race is the longest consecutive run marathon in Ohio, and I didn't want to pass up the opportunity to run this anniversary run.  I've been on the event planning committee for for several years and wanted to be a part of the local running growth in Athens.  Plus, the race served nicely as a training race leading into Promise Land and summer races.

The main goal was to run with Mike Cooper for the first half and help him set a marathon PR.  Mike has been a great addition to the running community.  He started running for the first time at age 32 and in just three years ran his first 100 miler and has become one of the strongest ultra trail runners in our region.  His previous marathon PR was 2:52:xx and I'm happy to report that he ran 2:47:xx for 2nd place.

I ran with Mike for the first 14 miles before starting to drop the pace.  My legs responded nicely and I was able to move into the 5:40-5:50 range, with some 5:30's near the end, after running the first half between 6:00-6:10.  It's always nice to feel good at the end of a marathon and to win in front of a hometown running community.  I really enjoyed seeing my friends and people I've met at Ohio Valley Running Company on the return side of the out and back course.

If you're looking for a spring full or half marathon with around 1,000 runners I suggest checking out Athens.  The course is FAST, FLAT, and scenic as it runs in the Hocking River Valley along the Hockhocking Adena Bikeway after starting in beautiful Uptown Athens.  It's a great event.

Monday, November 28, 2016

2016 JFK Race Report + Cascade Crest 100 & Columbus Marathon

Early in the Cascade Crest 100.  Photo by Glenn Techiyama
My last blog post was a race report from the 2016 Mohican 100 Mile Run - even though I've been absent from the blogosphere I've run another 100 mile race as well as a road marathon that I never found time, or set aside time, to write a race report.  And here recently I completed the historic JFK 50 Mile Run for the first time.

Before reporting on JFK I'll write a quick synopsis of what I've been doing since the Mohican 100.

Last year after the Mohican 100 I knew it was a time for a break from running.  I could sense my body breaking down and mentally I was beginning to loose the motivation and drive to compete.  Even though I ran a great 2015 Mohican 100, winning and setting a course record, I told myself during the race that I was going to take an extended time off from running. So last year I didn't run a step in July, August, and much of September.  This time off gave my body a chance to heel and recover from a lot of imbalances as well as give my mind some time off from the daily pressures I placed on myself to train at a high level.  Luckily the time off allowed me to find the joy in running and I came back with a lot of motivation and perspective.

Since last fall I've found a good balance with running.  Even though I'm busier than ever with being a father, husband, working full-time managing Ohio Valley Running Company, and directing two spring trail races, my motivation and drive for running has been at an all-time high.  A lot of this is attributed to the growing running community in Athens and SE Ohio.  Having the support from OVRC, the runners that regularly come to group runs, and most importantly, the flexibility that my family gives me to train, has a huge impact on me.  This growing community is what it's all about, and it really helps keep everything level while training and racing.
Before the start of Cascade Crest getting a hug from baby Fern.
Cascade Crest 100 Mile

12th Place - 22:15:25
      -Strava Data (watch died at 75mi.)

After another satisfying Mohican 100 run in June, I geared up for the Cascade Crest 100, a one-loop mountain 100 with over 20,000 feet of elevation gain traversing the Central Cascades in Washington State, just north of Mount Rainier.  This was a race that I gained entry in through the lottery in January, so part of the charm of CCC is the small field of runners, plus the beautiful region and history of the race.  I won't go into an in depth race report like normal but I'll break down my race at CCC here:

Cascade stripped me to the core.  I've tried to focus on getting out of my comfort zone a couple times a year with mountainous races on terrain that I'm not aptly able to train on in SE Ohio.  The inability to train in the mountains shouldn't limit us in reaching epic places.  Having good races at the Grindstone 100, and two years at the Georgia Death Race at least showed me that I was able to hold my own in the mountains, but those races are in the Appalachia Mountains, terrain I'm much more used too.  Cascade ended up being a new challenge.

Things went great for 70 miles.  I started conservatively at the beginning running much of the race with Hal Koerner and Gabe Wishnie.  My main focus was easing into the course, adjusting to the big climbs as I moved on, and setting myself up for a strong finish.  This worked out great, as I started around 15th place, moved into the top 10 near the Hyak AS at mile 54, and then after a long uphill to Kecheelus Ridge I bombed a downhill and averaged under 6:30 pace for 5 miles going into the Lake Kachess AS at mile 69.  This strong 20 mile section moved me into 4 place and I was feeling good, especially since I was picking up my pacer Nick Koop.

Unfortunately for Nick, we didn't do a lot of running after he started pacing.  I traversed the "trail from hell" about as good as I could, still feeling fresh, running from one blowdown tree to the next on the ridge above Lake Kachess.  I was still in 4th place at the Mineral Creek AS at mile 75, but it was the long gravel road climb to No Name Ridge that zapped me.  The feeling came over me very quickly, and I began to regret the 6:30 miles coming off  Kecheelus Ridge.  The next 15 miles were a struggle, and it coincided with the hardest part of the course, "The Needles."  This was the first time in an ultramarathon that I needed to lay down on the trail, and I did this several times.  I would just tell Nick I needed a few minutes, turn my headlamp off, and lay down on the ground in order to regroup, only to bounce back up when I became too cold.

Tired, weak, completely vulnerable on the mountain - this was everything an ultra does to you.  I was passed by a lot of people, and there was nothing I could do about it.  I walked, and paused, and continued walking, even on downhills through all of the needles.  It wasn't until the sun started to rise, and a jolt of encouragement from a first-place Krissy Moehl at mile 95 that I was able to start running again.  Fortunately I was able to finish the last 5 miles running, and finish strong, but I fell back to 12th place, with the winner being the course!  I'm super glad I ran Cascade Crest 100, and loved everything about the race - I came away with some great experiences and memories in the mountains!
Coming into the finish at the Columbus Marathon.  Photo by John Meadows.
Columbus Marathon

8th Place - 2:34:30
      -Strava Data

After the Cascade Crest 100 I had 7 weeks to recover and gear up for a faster cycle of training for the Columbus Marathon, and then another 5 weeks before the JFK 50 Mile.  My legs surprisingly came back pretty quick after Cascade considering it was my second 100 mile in the summer.  I jumped up in mileage quick and started throwing in faster workouts.  One key workout 2 weeks before the marathon was a 20 mile run, with the first 10 at normal pace on hilly trails, and the second 10 on flat pavement where I started at 6:10 pace and inched by way down to the mid 5:30 and 5:40's before being able to close in 5:07 on the 20th mile.  This workout, and a couple other similar race pace work gave me a lot of confidence going into Columbus.

I had a mile by mile plan for the Columbus Marathon.  I was running with former Shawnee State teammate Joe Stewart and we wanted to work together for as long as we could running faster splits throughout.  Joe's goal was to get under 2:40:00 and so we set our first half-marathon to be at 1:19:20.  This would put us ahead of his goal and also allow a faster time if we felt good.  6:00's felt really comfortable early on and soon we decided to start running in the 5:50's.  We nailed our first 13.1 miles at exactly 1:19:20 like we had planned.  Once we crossed over to the second half of the course we stayed together for another 5 miles and started to dip into the 5:40's.  Joe dropped off a bit but I pushed on feeling great.

Running a conservative first half really played a difference in being able to finish hard.  In past marathons I ran aggressive at the beginning and always faded.  This marathon was a complete opposite when it came to pacing.  As the temperature warmed and we made our way into the last 10K of the course I began passing more and more top runners who were noticeably struggling.  I continued to get faster and locked in on 5:30's pace the last 6 miles, and surprisingly moved into 8th place overall at the finish!  2:34:30 earned over a 4 minute negative split from the first half to second.

The time didn't surprise me as much as being in the top 10 did.  Being a ultra runner, and Columbus being just 7 weeks after my second 100 miler of the summer, I didn't think I'd be able to hang with the top road runners in Ohio.  With this race being the key workout leading up to JFK, I gained a lot of confidence and started to reevaluate how I wanted to race it.      
Shortly after the Team Ohio Valley Running Company finished JFK.  Photo by Luke Kubacki.
JFK 50 Mile

3rd Place -5:56:01
      -Strava Data

JFK is one of the "must-do" ultramarathons in the United States, with rich history and a big field of runners, it's a race that every ultra runner needs to put on their bucket list and experience.  Being from the Eastern United States, and only a 4.5 hour drive, JFK has definitely been on my radar but due to other races and being later in the year the timing never worked out.  After Cascade Robert Wayner and Mike Cooper, two local runners and training partners, and I started discussing signup up for JFK and making a trip out of it with our families.  After taking a couple weeks easy post-100 in early September I had 10 weeks of training to prepare for a fast 50 miler.

I knew I had the base to put some good work in before JFK but the biggest challenge would be switching gears from a slow mountain 100 to a flat and fast 50 miler.  10 weeks is a short time to turnaround and switch gears like this but I felt like after a couple easy post-Cascade weeks I was able to focus on some faster specific pace work.  The Columbus Marathon 5 weeks before JFK was the perfect tune-up and workout to see where I was with running fast.  As the race approached a few fast names emerged on the entrant list, including all the hype with Jim Walmsley going for the course record and adding to his stellar year.  This would be a good one!

Trusting pace and training is crucial in a race like JFK.  Unlike the varied terrain of most trail ultra's, especially in mountains, you can really plot out a race plan with pacing during the different sections of the JFK course.  I poured over the results, splits from previous top runners that are provided on the JFK website, as well as past-runners' Strava splits.  This started to paint a picture for what I wanted my plan to be on race-day.  There were a few ways to go about running JFK.  What to do, attack the first 16 mile trail section and hope you have the legs for the 26.2 miles on flat towpath, or conserve on the trail and then go at the towpath hard?

One of the biggest things that helps was having a chance to preview the first 20 miles of the course with Mike and Robert.  We drove over four weeks before the race and ran from the start in Boonsboro, MD to Harpers Ferry so we could preview the 16 mile trail section.  This gave us a good idea of what the terrain, uphill, and downhill was like on the hardest part of the course.  The trail section can be pretty rocky in some parts so it was really nice we didn't go into the race blindly.
Maneuvering the switchbacks at Weverton CLiffs on the Appalachian Trail at mile 15 of the JFK 50 Mile.  Photo by  Paul Encarnacion

Appalachian Trail Section - First 16 Miles

The fastest split I could find for the first 16 miles was in 2012 when Max King broke the CR.  Dave
Riddle and Max both began the towpath around 1:45:00.  Last year Walmsley was under 1:50:00 and I knew he would be going through faster this year.  I didn't want anything to do with being that much under 2:00:00.  When I previewed this section of the course, not running hard by any means, I entered the towpath around 2:15:00.  I knew after that easy effort I could be around 2:00:00 without overtaxing myself so that was the goal.

When the race started a large pack formed up front.  Walmsley shot off much quicker and literally had 40 seconds on the entire race in the first mile and almost 2 minutes before entering the trail for the first time!  He was flying.  I focused on the rest of the guys and found myself in the back of a long singltrack line in the top 15.  Once we hit the long uphill road section that took us to the highest point of the course I began to pass a few people here and there, and shortly after entering the Appalachian Trail again, I skirted by two more runners and moved into 2nd place.

Being in second place this early was fine by me.  I had a couple guys right behind me but I would rather be in front seeing the trail ahead of me than behind a few bodies blocking the technical sections.  This position held the same for a long time until Anthony Kunkel ran by me as we started the downhill going into Weverton Cliffs at mile 13.5.  This 2 mile downhill featured 1,000 feet of elevation loss and a lot of switchbacks, and would be the last such downhill, and dirt trail of the day.

I went roaring through the 15.5 mile aid station at Weverton Cliffs, only a quick bottle swap from my crew, before letting the energy of the people surrounding this location carry me the last half mile down to the towpath.  I was right on pace, arriving on the towpath in 1:59:50, 7:29 per mile pace.
The best crew member we have, baby Fern, waiting at Weverton Cliffs at the 15.5 mile mark of the JFK 50 Mile.  Photo by Luke Kubacki
The C&O Canal Trail - 26.2 Miles
Running the Columbus Marathon five weeks before JFK makes this 26.2 mile section seem much more reasonable.  Pacing is key on the towpath.  There is 26 miles of controlled, level, smooth, crush gravel terrain ahead.  Normally this may be a monotonous task, but having the Potomac River flanking the West side of the towpath, along with being in competition mode made this stretch easier.  Anthony Kunkel was within eyesight when we entered the towpath, maybe 30-40 seconds ahead, and no one was within sight behind me.  I knew I set myself up for a podium finish by hitting exactly what I had planned for the trail section.

The plan on the towpath was to start conservative near 6:40 pace for the first 5 miles, then drop down to the mid 6:30's for the 5 miles after this.  I thought if I maintained these paces early I could finish the last half of the towpath in the 6:15-6:20 range, running a similar way to the Columbus Marathon, except for about 30-40 seconds per mile slower.  This plan would put me just under 2:50:00 for the 26.2 mile on the towpath, which I felt was super reasonable.

Unfortunately I deviated from the plan soon after getting onto the towpath.  The first couple of miles were spot on just under 6:40.  Anthony was still in front of me and I was feeling really fresh.  It wasn't long after this I started seeing 6:16, 6:15, 6:18, 6:17, 6:15 on the watch.  I was 25 miles into the race and already jumped down to the mid-6:10's.  This may be inexperience or stubbornness, or just being stupid, but I completely shot my race plan.  At the time it seemed like the right thing to do.  I told myself, "you have to take a risk to get bigger rewards" or "this feels easy, you'll easily be able to maintain this pace."

Part of that little voice in my head is correct.  Sometimes you have to compete, get out of the comfort zone to make something special happen.  At the time I felt great, and I averaged 6:23 pace from miles 16-34, so if I were to finish that off I would have been 3 minutes under my goal of sub 2:50:00 on this stretch.  Unfortunately I started to feel it near mile 35 and the pace became much harder to maintain.  Having 15 miles to go felt good but I started to realize running 6:20 pace would not be happening anymore.

During this stretch I was also bouncing back and forth into second and third with Anthony Kunkel.  We were both feeling comfortable at those paces and it ended up being a good battle for a bit.  We both started fading a bit after 35 miles, trying to keep it in the 6:40's but when I started to struggle a bit more in the last 3 miles of the towpath, into the low 7:00's, he pulled away from me and was out of site when we made the hard right-hand turn onto the paved county roads at mile 42.

At the end of the towpath, even though I didn't hold it together like I hoped I would, I finished the 26.2 mile stretch in 2:54:00. an average pace of 6:38 per mile.
Mile 38.  Last crew stop, and I told them, "I'm starting to fall apart."
Rolling County Roads - The Last 8 Miles
The last 8 miles on gentle rolling county paved roads can be tricky.  I knew about the initial climb up and out of the river valley from the towpath, but depending on how one felt, the last 8 miles could either go really well or really bad.  One person I looked at and wanted to mimic was Dave Riddle and his race splits from his "then" record-setting run in 2011.  His first 16 miles were nothing special at 1:55:00, and his 26.2 miles on the towpath that year was 2:53:00, just one minute faster than mine.  What he did great in 2011 was close the road section in about 53:00!  This put him at 5:40:00, but very easily could have been 5:50:00 if he had run what most people run.

For me, the wheels were already falling off before entering the road.  Anthony had put a gap on me to where I couldn't see him, even on straights, but I kept pushing and thought I could still break an hour for the finishing stretch and I would have been happy with it.  All 8 miles were a struggle.  It's not that I was struggling running 7:30 pace - luckily stepping back into that zone was easy, but I wanted to push and it seemed like anytime I'd get down to 7:00 pace I would tighten up.  I did what I could, looked over my shoulder a couple times, and even peered as far up the road as I could for Anthony showing any signs of weakness (or even Jim Walmsley ;).), but he never came back to me.  Fortunately a hard-charging Mike Wardian was just enough behind me that I didn't see him when I looked back.

My road section time, which is about 8.4 miles. was 1:02:23, an average pace of 7:25 per mile.

When it was all said and done I ran 5:56:01, good for third place 34 minutes behind new JFK record holder Jim Walmsley and four minutes behind Anthony Kunkel who ran a strong last 10 miles.  Iron Mike Wardian came in just three minutes behind in fourth place.
Just after finishing the JFK 50 Mile, embracing baby Fern!  Photo by Luke Kubacki.
JFK Reflection
Looking back on the race I am honored to have joined the list of 33 runners who have broken 6 hours in the 54 year history of the JFK 50 Mile, as well as being the 22nd fastest runner in race history.  Events that are draped in history, with stories and memories from the many years before, are really important to me, and to be able to be a part of that means a lot.  It was also really cool to be in the race that Jim Walmsley arguably ran the single-best American ultra race in history.  It will take some time to see if his performance is held up as the best performance in ultra history, but I think it at least ranks up there as one of the best, and will add to his legendary 2016 year.

Still, I can't help but think that I left 5-10 minutes out there.  Who knows what would have happened if I stuck to my original pace plan on the towpath, but I would have liked to have found out if it meant I would have felt better during the last 8 miles.  My thought is even if I would have ran the same exact time on the 26.2 mile towpath, but starting out slower and easing into a faster pace, I would have run onto the road with momentum instead of just holing on.  Regardless, it makes me hungry for more at JFK and I really hope to be back soon!
Top 10 men.  Photo from Mike Wardian.
Thank you!
I can't think my family enough for the support during training and at the race.  Bobbi and Fern were troopers as I often came home after dark when I needed a couple hours after a 8-hour workday to get the mileage in.  I averaged close to 100 miles/week in the 7 weeks leading up to JFK, so that's a 12-16 hour time commitment each week.

My crew support was off the charts!  Having Robert and Mike along for the trip meant having three crews at each stop!  Fern had Robert and Ali's two kids to play with on the weekend, and Athens friend Luke Kubacki traveled with us for his first ultra crew experience and he was a huge help, including providing some great photographs that we'll be able to cherish forever.  Thanks Luke!  As always, my sister was along as part of the crew, and solidifying her role as an experienced ultra crew leader.

Also a big congrats goes out to two good friends and OVRC runners Mike Cooper and Robert Wayner.  Mike just started running about 3 years ago and progressed all the way to finishing 13th at JFK and sub 6:40.  This was Robert's first ultra marathon and ran an incredible debut with a 17th place sub 6:50 finish!  Team Ohio Valley Running Company was second place overall in the Male Team category, behind only a team assembled with Walmsley, Wardian, and Koerner -- but we were the first "real" team, with runners from the same city!  

My biggest sponsor is Ohio Valley Running Company, new running specialty store in Athens, Ohio, and where I manage day-to-day.  Owners Jonathan Bernard and Ariana Davies area gracious enough to think that supporting me will help grow the brand of running in SE Ohio!  I strive to represent the brand well, and also represent the growing running community in Athens and SE Ohio. #OVRC #RunAthensOH

Swiftwick socks have been with me for three years and on my feet for four years in every single ultramarathon I've run and probably almost every single run I've completed in that time.  It's a brand and sock that I trust almost more than anything when it comes to my race day kit.  UGo Bars, Julbo Singlasses, and Cocoa Elite are brands that have supported my ultra journey with quality products and gear.  Their help is much appreciated - if you want to learn more about any of these companies, click their logo on the right side of this page.
It's the Walmsley show, get in line!  All photo's below by Luke Kubacki.
The Crew!
On the podium with Race Director Mike Spinnler.
Watching their dads run.

Monday, July 4, 2016

2016 Mohican Trail 100 Mile Race Report

The Mohican 100 Mile Trail Run was my staple 100 mile race last summer and once I didn't gain entry into Western States 100 this year I set my sites on Mohican again.  Having won the race last year I wanted to go back to see if I could defend my title and run a faster time.  Last year the course was super muddy, so I wanted to see how different the course ran on a dry year, and as the race approached we had a long dry spell in Ohio so it was prime for fast trail running.  Mohican is a fairly low-key 100 miler (despite being one of the oldest ultras in North America), so I never felt like I had a target on my back or any pressure to perform.  I knew the only way to run well again was by focusing on my own race and executing the plan and paces I laid out.

Photo by Butch Phillips
Loop 1
The race started out in the Mohican Campground and a large pack of runners soon found the solace of the singletrack.  Last year I immediately found myself in second place but this year I stepped back a bit and posited myself well behind a pack of leaders.  One aspect I focused on were my splits from last year.  Even though 2015 was such a muddy year I still managed to break the CR on the current course (altered in 2006 to have less road), so I knew what I was working with.  Although there is always a chance that someone would run lights out and break away early in the race, I was pretty confident the race wouldn't start until the second half.  

We rolled into the first aid station at Gorge at the same time I ran that section last year, except this year there was at least 6 guys ahead of me.  This was fine by me at this point - my goal was to tone it back some on the first lap becauase last year I was too fast and paid for it on the second lap.  So the goal was to be steady the first lap and keep the second lap more consistent opposed to last years huge positive split.  

After spending a few minutes in the woods for a pit stop, I found myself just outside of the top ten twelve miles into the race.  Soon though I began passing people and moved up into the top 4, and shortly after Covered Bridge (mile 15) I hooked up with Andrew Snope and Ron Wireman and at the next aid station I found out the person who we thought was leading the race must have stopped, or got lost, so we were now commanding the lead.  At this point I was still in cruise control and was glad to see the time-split was 10 minutes slower than last year as Ron and I ran into Mohican CG aid station to complete our first 27.3 mile loop.  Having a slower first lap, I was hoping, would set me up better for the rest of the day.

Loop 2
I can't remember where I lost Ron but soon I was alone in first place, and at this time felt like I was rolling along pretty well.  My times compared to last year were starting to get faster on the second loop, so I was executing just like I wanted to.  Even though I felt like I was in the driver's seat, running down the dam at Pleasant Hill Harvey Lewis caught up to me.  I had only realized Harvey was in the race at the starting line but definitely know how strong of a runner he could be.  Harvey won the iconic Badwater 135 in 2014.  That along with his list of other accomplishments had me on edge when he pulled up to me.

I latched on to Harvey after this moment to finish out the second loop but from miles 45-54 I could get the sense that Harvey was feeling much better than me.  The temperature had risen a lot since the morning miles and I erroneously failed to grab a second bottle from my crew at the previous aid station so I ran low on water for two long segments.  I spent a lot of time in the Mohican CG aid station at mile 54.6 to make sure I was staying cool and hydrated.  I was about 22 minutes faster to this point compared to the previous year, so my first two long laps were much more consistent this time, but I was feeling the heat, both from the weather and from Harvey.  As I continued to take my time in the aid station, Harvey was quickly out with his pacer.
Loop 3
There is almost always bound to be low moments in a 100 mile race - sometimes they last for 2 hours, other times they may be shorter low moments but more frequent - this was the moment for me.  From near 52 miles, before completing loop 2, until mile 62 was the low moment that I have come to expect.  I think keeping an in-the-moment perspective in low moments can really benefit when trying to rebound and come out of it to regain momentum.  There is a tipping point - it's the moment in a race where you've committed to going for it, numbing the pain, when all discomfort morphs into your sanctuary.

I walked the majority of miles 54.5-62.  The section from Mohican CG to the Gorge Overlook was over 10 minutes slower than on the first two laps, and when I picked up my pacer, Robert Wayner, at mile 58, I was only briefly able to snap out of it before spiraling into a fit of walking.  When I rolled into Fire Tower at 62 I was on fumes - I half jokingly told Bobbi that I was not having fun - but at this point I knew deep down that I had crested the tipping point.  I was golden.  I just needed to get up and start running again.  Word at the aid station was that I was 12-15 minutes behind Harvey, meaning he put over 1:30 per mile on me in 8 miles.

Before leaving the Fire Tower aid station I sat down and changed shoes.  It was a short sit-down break, long enough to change shoes and drink and eat some more.  When I got up, I headed into the woods with Robert to cut across the short loop and down to Covered Bridge.  This section was mostly downhill so I decided to push it hard to see if I could get the wheels spinning.  Luckily they came back to life, and in that section I regained the confidence to go for first place.
Loop 3, falling behind, changing my shoes to try to break out of the funk.
It was nice having Robert there to pace.  Just like last year with pacer Nick Reed, having someone to simply have small talk with helps eat away at the miles - before too long we had made it to the Hickory Ridge aid station at mile 71 and I was told I was still 10 minutes behind Harvey.  Since I had only gained a couple minutes on Harvey in the previous 8 miles I relegated myself to continue pushing hard, but believing if I were to catch up to him, it would probably be late in the race.  At that point I was feeling really good coming out of Hickory and began to drop the pace.

I am not sure if I was moving along the trail really fast, or if Harvey was having a low patch in the next section but about 3 miles before the completion of loop 3 Robert and I were simply chatting as we ran along the trail and suddenly I spotted Harvey around a bend in the trail ahead.  I was literally shocked.  I was feeling good and hoping I was gaining, but I never imagined I would catch him so early, especially if the AS workers at the last stop were accurate about me being 10 minutes behind.

My first reaction when spotting Harvey was to do what I did last year - sit and wait. This was almost déjà vu at this section of the race last year, where I finally caught Nate Polaske to move into first place.  I spotted Nate at around mile 70 and eased up for several miles so I could wait for a good moment to move into first place, which wasn't until mile 77. When I saw Harvey it was around mile 74, and I started having flashbacks of last years battle with Nate. This time I knew I needed to capitalize on how I was feeling in the moment, so I whispered to Robert that I was going to go by Harvey, and do it with authority.

I didn't need to change gears to get around Harvey, but a true testament to his grit is that he latched on and moved with Robert and I.  This is when "racing" a 100 miler becomes "racing."  At this point, 75 miles into the race, we were moving faster than we had all day.  I started running harder and harder, pushing the short little rollers that I had walked on the previous lap as we came into the Mohican CG area.  Harvey was hanging tough behind me and I had doubts that my race tactic was backfiring, and that I was going to bonk from this hard effort, but I had committed to breaking away from him so I continued pushing.  After one more uphill and downhill push I glanced back and I couldn't see Harvey anymore.  I was finally in first place alone but continued to push hard.  The mile 77 split from my Strava data shows that my fastest mile of the day came at mile 77 for a 6:56, the mile that I broke away from Harvey.
All business with Robert in the last lap.
Loop 4
The last time my crew saw me I was over 10 minutes behind Harvey and sitting on the ground at the aid station looking pretty beat up - so when I came *sprinting* into the Mohican CG aid station at mile 78 in first place it must have been pretty exciting.  Just like last year I came back from the low of loop 3 and regained strength before the fourth and final loop at Mohican.  I was all business in the aid station and quickly grabbed what I needed.  At this point, Robert, my crew, and I had our aid stations stops pretty well-oiled.  Just before getting to the aid station tables I hand Robert my bottles and he would fill them with ice and water.  In the meantime I grabbed several cups of soda and salty foods while my crew refilled my bandanna with ice and restock my gels and anything else I needed in my pack.  This stop was less than 90 seconds; I wanted to get out and begin my last loop before Harvey came in.

I was able to get out of the aid station before Harvey saw me.  This was a competitive tactic that I hoped would put some doubt in him thinking that I had gained so much ground in a short period of time.  I knew I still had work to do though, as anything could happen in the last 22 miles of a 100.  Robert took a little break from pacing here so I had about 8 miles by myself before he would rejoin me to the finish - this was the same tactic I used last year, being confident to handle 8 miles alone at this point, and then joining a pacer again would give me another mental boost in the last 14 miles of the race.  I ran virtually every step from Mohican to Gorge Overlook, had another fast and well-fueled aid station exchange, and again ran almost every step from Gorge to Fire Tower at mile 86.  Feeling strong here was so uplifting, as the previous lap I struggled mightily.

My thoughts here turned into running as much as I could, as I knew the more I ran meant I was either remaining the same or gaining on anyone behind me.  The strength I had on the first 8 miles of the last lap was really encouraging as I hooked up with Robert again to begin the last 14 miles.  There was a lot of positive self-talk going on between Robert and I so the mood remained light and relaxed; I was getting reports that I was over 15 minutes up on Harvey.

The last 14 miles clicked by fairly quickly.  At this time I was passing 100 milers on their 2nd or 3rd loops and it was great getting encouragement from them.  I felt so in control of myself, mentally, physically, and nutritionally.  When we had to flip the lights on around mile 95 I noted that last year the headlamps were needed around mile 88 - this meant I was much faster than my time from last year.  When it got dark I was still pushing the pace pretty hard, but would cautiously slow down over some of the more technically segments.  I tripped and stumbled once with a few miles to go but mainly felt comfortable maintaining a consistent running pace.

Coming into the last mile on road is a great feeling.  I remember the overwhelming sense of achievement last year in this finishing stretch.  This time around it was more a sense of validation, as I came back to defend what I did last year, and a validation to myself that I could go faster.  I swung around under the overpass to cross over to the finish area, and clocked in at 16:51:22, running over and hour better than my CR time from last year on the current Mohican course!
Photo by Butch Phillips.
I want to thank my crew, as they continue to get me through these ultras.  Bobbi and Becca have become quite the tandem, with Baby Fern there as well providing inspiration.  More of my family is able to come to Mohican and my mom and dad were at every aid station for help.  Once again, I relied heavily on my pacer to help pull me out of low patches - Robert ran 38 miles with me at Mohican, his longest run ever!  Now, he is thinking about doing a 50 miles - how awesome!  The Mohican community is awesome and it's a privilege to be a small part of the long history of this race.  I don't know if I will be back next year, but Mohican will always be a race that is a part of me.

Finally, I need to give a huge shout out to the running community that is growing and thriving in Southeastern Ohio.  We have a good thing going in Athens, Ohio with community running group Team Run Athens and new specialty running store Ohio Valley Running Company.  I represented OVRC on my singlet, as well as my great sponsors Swiftwick, Ugo Bars, and Cocoa Elite but it is the support of the people in the community that I think about and feel inspired by while running the race.
Photo by Butch Phillips

Photo by Butch Phillips.
Photo by Butch Phillips.
Photo by Butch Phillips.