A few things you should know about me. I am just a dude. I don’t really do data. I pretty much only wear a watch to keep track of my nutrition and occasionally check distance. I don’t look at or pay attention to elevation changes or gains. If there’s a hill in front of you go up it. I don’t compare myself to other runners, I just go and do. I stop when I’m done.
I have never written a race report before, and this is my first try at doing a blog. I’m going to make this interesting. There is a comedian named Jim Gaffigan, & a big part of his stand up is that he will do a bit, and then follow it with a voice that is basically an inner monologue from the audience. That is what I’m going to do here. But most of this is going to be an inner monologue of my own thoughts in my head. I spent a lot of time being sarcastic to myself inside my own brain. What else do you have to do during an ultramarathon!
Last November I was honored to be one of three local runners to be awarded the #TrailsRoc scholarships. Each of us here submitted an application, and we were each given a giant cardboard check to take to the bank to put towards dream race of our choosing. They wouldn’t cash my giant check! Myself, Dan Lopata, and Danielle Snyder were the big winners for 2015. The sponsorship of #TrailsRoc was to help make these races possible, and I had already decided that Dances with Dirt 50k in Hell, Michigan was going to be my goal. Www.danceswithdirt.com
I chose the Dances with Dirt 50k because it historically has a great Rochester contingent. They offer 5 person 100k relays, 50 mile and 50k options. I had been to the race previously once as a driver for a relay team, and once as part of a relay team. You need a sense of humor to do this race (but you’re not funny!), it’s not easy, but it is also not the most difficult out there . The terrain in Michigan is very similar to our local Rochester trails, so I did most of my training on Crescent Trail and Mendon Ponds Park. Unfortunately training did not go as planned and a nagging Achilles injury forced me to take 10 days off completely from running just two weeks before the race. I never got more than 15 miles of running at one time leading up to the race. Aren’t you supposed to run farther before a ultra marathon? I was in a good place mentally, my body was the big question.
We are off
Kristen and I left about 8 a.m. on September 25th. Our plans were to drive to Michigan through Cleveland so we could have lunch at Great Lakes Brewing. Great Lakes is a little over 3 hours from Rochester, so perfect time for lunch. Beer and pizza seems like a good choice, with homemade tater tots almost as big as my fist. Aren’t you supposed to be eating spaghetti and drinking lots of water? It was about 4 more hours from Cleveland – Michigan, so fighting off food coma was a blast.
The night before
Packet pickup went smoothly. Here I was able to get my bib, we were able to get parking passes so Kristen could get in and out of the park. Ultra registrants got sweatpants as part of the swag as well as a fridge magnet. Free beer was given outside of the apparel tent. Sure, loosen us up and send us shopping!
Fast forward 2 hours, I am curled up in the fetal position on a hotel bed at 7 p.m. the night before my first 50k trail race. Stomach cramps. Sweats. This isn’t good. I was sound asleep by 830, my last thoughts wondering if I would be racing the next day.
The morning of
Up by 4 a.m. to be out the door by 5:15. The 50k and 50k start at 615. My stomach was still feeling a little off, so I nursed a bagel with peanut butter. The morning was cool but the temperatures we’re going to start climbing. Mid fifties start, with 100% humidity, but no rain. A 20 degree jump in temperature in the first four hours of running. That doesn’t sound pleasant at all!
I ran into a local runner, Andrew Bucci who is also part of the Medved Snowshoe Racing Team. He was also racing his first 50k. Spoiler alert, he won the 50k! There wasn’t much fanfare before the race. There was some music, some lanterns strung up. It was still dark. Headlamps are mandatory, so there was the glowing around the start line. I gave Kristen a kiss goodbye, and weaved my way up to the middle of the pack at the start line. I have some time goals for the race , but nothing to concrete. I figured I would just run what I could, walk when I needed and the course would dictate when I finished And we were off.
Inov 8 Roclite 295
Injinji compression socks
Princeton Tec headlamp
Turtle Fur sweatband
Under Armour compression shirt
Trails ROC sleeveless
Trails ROC buff (on wrist)
CWX Ventilator compression short
Tailwind (lemon lime)
Roctane electrolyte tablets with ginger
GU (vanilla, chocolate outrage, peanut butter chocolate)
Mizuno trucker hat (drop bag)
Medved Ambassador singlet (drop bag)
This section passed pretty quick. A bit of single track, with some modest Hills, only a couple minutes and people were walking, that surprised me but some of these runners had 49.8 miles to go when we got to the first hill. It was dark so you could really only focus on the person in front of you, & I was focused on the butt of a girl in pink tights. About 15 minutes into the race a girl a little bit ahead of me took a really hard fall. I stopped to see if she was okay. So did pink tights. I left pink tights to keep on moving. I saw the girl who fell at the finish line, she was pretty scraped up but she finished as well. I had a couple of knuckleheads talking behind me for quite some time, it sounded like a podcast so I didn’t really mind. It passed the time. At the end of this leg there was a headlight drop off and a mini aid station. They would transport all headlamps to the finish line. I had not planned on leaving my headlamp, I figured I would give it to Kristen at the second aid station. But everybody else was dropping theirs, so I figured why not. But what if someone takes my headlamp!
Leg 2- Limbo
This section has dirt road and horse trails. Was able to do a bit of running. At this point The Sun has come up, it’s daytime. The fog on the trails has lifted, as well as the fog mentally. Being able to run through here was able to awaken the legs. Kristen was at the aid station, it was good to see her. I did not spend much time, but did take off my Camelbak to whip up a batch of tailwind on the spot. I had pre packaged and portioned Ziploc bags of powder, so I could add on the fly. I am strict on my nutrition, I take a Gu and Roctane electrolyte tablets with ginger every 45 minutes. With nothing but time on your hands it can be easy to lose track of your nutrition. I find this happening with the longer efforts . At aid stations I typically stick just to orange slices, and I usually will mix half water half Gatorade. When ginger ale is available I will drink that as well. Today Mountain Dew sounded good. It was amazing!
This sucks – less
About a mile after leaving I was feeling pretty good and fresh. 11 miles in, 2 hours down! Only 20 miles to go! Oh….
This leg involved what is described is some grungy horse trails. There were some areas of two way traffic. Around mile 14 begin a stretch of Rail Trail. That sucked. After about a mile you run around a cone in order to come back 10 yards or so to an aid station. I filled up my camel back again, grab some orange slices and set back along the two way traffic. Then I saw a girl who looked like Kristen running towards me. What the heck, Kristen has a doppelganger in Michigan! It was her! Anybody who knows Kristen would not be surprised that she changed into running outfit and was logging some miles while waiting for me she ran along with me back down the rail trail until I had to jump in to some actual trails. It was great to see her, & I knew I would be seeing her in about 4 more miles at the next aid station. She actually ended up running over 5 miles on trails killing time
Leg 4- Stripper pole
This was the toughest section, and taking you from mile 15 to 20 it was also tougher because of where it takes place within the race. Shortly after leaving Kristen it got right into bushwhacking before you came to some climbs and descents. Fittingly named the stripper pole slide, the downhill section and the dirt ladder, because you had to use your hand and feet to climb up. When I got to the top of the hill I came up on a lady who was definitely beat up by that first part of this leg. She looked at me and said
“What was that shit!” I gave a chuckle and told her that we have been spoiled up until this point. I put my head down and kept going. After the hill there’s quite a bit of ridge running, which was welcomed after the climbing and descent. This was followed by meandering through a wooded area. I love this section, but was also frustrating. Could only get three or four strides before having to climb over downed trees. I now know why the guys from Goose Adventure Racing love this race. This is the race that they would lay out .They always went over or through something instead of around it. They would even take us over rock piles instead of going around them just because it was fun. This leg was also tough, because they were flagging with yellow flags, in the fall, in Michigan. There were times where I just had to stop and just look around for a minute or two trying to find the marking. This leg ended around mile 20. My goal was to do about 5 miles an hour regardless of what terrain the leg threw at me. I came into the next aid station a little bummed because I had lost about 5 minutes on that leg. I was still feeling good though. It was good to see Kristen again, I even had some beer at this aid station
Styx, River of Death
I had run this leg previously is a member of a relay team, so I vaguely remembered this leg. We were following pink flags and a bit of this was packed trails. It reminded me of Ellison Wetlands. At one point the trail hooked left around a tree down towards some water. And then I couldn’t find the next flag. I circled around the tree ans scampered back up the hill only to realize that it was back where I started. So I followed it back down towards the tree again only to have lost the path. A runner came up on me and we were both standing looking around. A 3rd runner came up and found the flag. It was on the other of the river! Of course dummy! Over the next mile or so we traversed the river 3x. About thigh deep, stomping right across. I loved it, it was also good to feel nice and cool on the legs. This leg also involved running through rows of pine trees, winding through them serpentine style. It was like the Forest Endor from Star Wars, without the speeders or Ewoks! Geek!This leg finishes with a almost mile going upstream in the river. When I jumped into the water my feet sunk right into the mud, and as I tried to get unstuck my hamstrings started to tighten up. This is the first cramping I’ve had all day, but what better place for that to happen than in an ice cold river. The end of the river section finishes with an aid station and with your drop bag section. I crushed 4 or 5 orange slices and a bunch of Mountain Dew. Made a full batch of Tailwind with as much ice as I could fit in the Camelbak. Here I had a tough decision, my socks are soaked and my shoes are heavy. I am wearing knee high compression Injinji (toe socks GROSS) and my favorite shoes Inov-8 Roclite 295. I also wear ankle braces. All these things are a pain to get on and off when you aren’t 23 miles into a race and just finished wading through a waist deep river. I made the gamble to not change anything from the waist down. I put on a fresh shirt and hat and headed out. A little over two miles until I got to see Kristen again.
Bad out of Hell
I don’t remember much about this section. I remember looking down at my watch at 23.5 miles , and I am starting to feel tired. I have a bit of sediment in my shoes and socks, it’s a little annoying, but it is actually taking my focus off of being tired. It’s gotten pretty warm out, and I am starting to get passed by some of the Relay teams. Kris was of course waiting at the aid station. She helped me get ice in my pack and make one last batch of tailwind. She made sure to make me taken some food. She let me know that she had been posting updates on Facebook and texting families. A gentleman behind me asked Kristen to text his wife and let him know that he was doing okay. I found this nice, but also a little weird. I guess he has been asking strangers at every aid station to text her for him, lol. Can’t stand around too long, time to get moving. Just a 10k to go
At this point I’m tired, but I know I’m going to finish. Mile 27 I actually think to myself I wonder if this is going to be one of those “short” 50 K’s. I would have welcomed it. Something interesting about this leg is that I actually have to move aside for some bikers. Multiple times. This was actually in the course description, but everything is odd at this point though. I actually passed a handful of people on this section. Around mile 29 we pop back out on to the entrance road to the park. I know there’s still a way to go. I actually say to some runners who I have come up on “I hope they don’t fu*k with us” , what I meant by this was that I hope they didn’t dance us around the park, knowing how close I was to the finish line, I just wanted to get there. We were taken by the area where the ultra runners crew cars were allowed to park, I unbuckle my Camelback and toss it by a tree near where we had parked, and I pick up the pace. I see Kristen standing to my left. I straighten my back, pull my shoulders back, lift my chin, pump my arms, lift my legs, open up my stride, and smile. I am about to become Ultramarathoner.
At the finish line someone goes to hand me my medal. I don’t think so buster. I stand in front of him and dip my head so he can put it around my neck. Awesome finishers medal, with a built in bottle opener. I probably won’t ever use that ! A woman comes up to me and asked me my name, age, and where I’m from. I give her all that information. She then proceeds to tell me that I won an age group award! I could not believe that. There is no way. WHAT!!! At this point Kristen comes up and I’ve already received my age group award. We hug and I may or may not have sobbed a little bit
I finished this race within the range of my goal time. Having not gotten the training I had wanted, and this being my first time at the distance. My previous trail marathon experience was Ontario Summit , which I did in 6:35 , and Bear Brook Trail Run in New Hampshire (a 29.5 MI marathon), in 7:35 . I was happy with my 50k finishing time and placing an age group.
I recommend this race to anyone and hope to go back and do it again.
Thank you again to everyone at #TrailsRoc for selecting me as one of the winners of the trail scholarship. I was honored to represent you and hope that you were proud to have me represent you at my first 50K. I want to thank all those that sent Facebook messages and texts. My Medved family for their support. Most of all my own family, especially Kristen, for all the support during the race and training.