Monday, April 27, 2009

RR: The XTerra Muddy Moose Trail Race

Sunday, April 26, 2009
Wolfeboro, NH
10th Annual Muddy Moose Trail Race
14 Miles

To run or not to run, that was the question I posed to myself in the last few weeks leading into this race. After the disappointment at McNaughton in Illinois (yes, ONLY 100 Miles), I was unsure of how I wanted the few weeks between then and Massanutten to play out. During last Sunday's Dirty Moose Adventure race, it was very evident that I am tired and struggling to recover from my 100 mile effort and lack of subsequent training. It was after that adventure race that I finally made the decision. As I sat around the BBQ grill at Chris Dunn's house and listened to the boys talk about heading up to Muddy Moose, I figured what the hell... why not go up there and at least hang out? The decision was easier knowing that my usual gang of buddies was going to be there as well. With Josh, Nate, Adam, Steve, the boys from Acidotic Racing and the usual trail running crowd coupled with some friends from The University of New Hampshire I knew it was going to be a great time. I even convinced Sarah to come along and try her luck at the 4 mile distance.

I had zero expectations on the day. No time goal, no place goal, no pressure. The only goal I actually had was to run 14 miles. But as the race developed, and the heat of the moment took over, the race evolved into much more then I expected. I've run this race twice previously and I know the ins and outs of how the course looks. It is very easy for me to visualize and remember some of the shorter courses, especially in having the opportunity to think critically of some of the 50 and 100 mile courses I run. As I told a few of the gang pre-race; go right when you get to the loop and once finished you can hammer back to the finish. The course is a lollipop course, an out and back with a 1 mile lollipop loop at its furthest point. I hold my experience with the course close to my heart as I take great pride in knowing the ins and outs, as is with many other courses. If anything, I knew that my race strategy here would be the same as in the past. Nice and easy on the way out, right at the loop... hammer it home; following my own advice.

As the race was getting ready to start, all of us runners gathered in the driveway of the Kingswood Regional High School. Nate asked me where the starting line was, I pointed to it and he replied, "that's where I want to be" and off he went. I kind of sauntered into the starting area with everyone else, huddled together like a can of sardines in the unusual April heat wave. The temp was topping out in the mid 80's all ready and the sun was truly beating down on the pavement. We listened to the RD's final instructions before he yelled for us to "GO!" The wave of runners took off down the road. I couldn't even see Nate but I did see Adam up ahead. Steve tried to hang with me for a little bit but it was obvious to him early on that I had a plan. At this point in the race, my plan was to run ahead of the pack and get to the mud pits before everyone else. Getting there with a large pack of runners tends to be disastrous as one ends up getting caught in an absolute melee of people going through and around the mud. The pace slows exponentially and this is truly a spectacle to avoid.So as we headed down the driveway and through the golf course, I made it a mission of mine to stay ahead of the crowd. As we made the turn onto the trail, I passed Chris Dunn of Acidotic who was sure to give me an ear full for being a sand bagger. I had mentioned to him my desire to hang back and enjoy the run and not planning to run fast... this was still my plan, and I was up front early, but I explained to him the need to beat the crowds to the mud.

After making it through the muddiest sections of the course and out onto the long dirt road I fell into a comfortable groove with a small group of runners, a few of whom included Chris Dunn and a couple of the guys from Trail Monster Running in Maine. One of the trail monsters joked about the upcoming hill and challenged me to run it offering $1 if I could make it to the top without walking. Of course you know me and as we took the turn to take on toughest hill on the course, I id my damndest to get to the top without walking. About 3/4 of the way up, I placed my hands on my knees and continued with a brisk walk. I heard the guy in the back "I see you walking!" I laughed as I carried on at a hurried pace. I must have passed 6 or 7 runners on this uphill alone. I LOVE hills and it showed today.

As I hit the top, I walked briskly gasping for air trying to refill my depleted lungs even managing to jog in short bursts while I recovered from the climb. Shortly after this rocky ledgy section, the trail monster caught up to me at which point I introduced myself, "If I had known you were Sherpa John, I would have never challenged you on the hill." I got a chuckle as we carried on together. We got to the loop and they elected to go left while myself and a few others took off to the right. We had all been running the same pace so it was going to be interesting to see who comes out on top. I headed off to the right which maintains a high trail before finally dumping down into the beaver swamp. In the swamp the water was knee to thigh deep. I trudged through as hard as I could and emerged on the other side. The cool water invigorated my legs that as I emerged on the other side, I took it to the hill leading back up to the fork.

Upon reaching the fork I noticed I had just barely come out ahead of the trail monsters and even better... my buddy Adam was right in front of me... the race was now about to change. As I crested that hill off of the loop I yelled at Adam, "Lets go Wilcox... get the lead out!" "Holy cow, where did you come from?!" he exclaimed. It didn't matter where I had come from, I was here now and the race just changed. Adam and I immediately picked up the pace and started pushing each other down the hill. To this point in the race I had run at a comfortable pace right around my threshold. To this moment, I have no idea how I found anything extra in my tank and started racing Adam, call it adrenaline, but whatever it was, I had it. As Adam and I pushed each other down the hill we saw Steve then Josh. They gave us added motivation as Adam and I scurried along. I chased Adam downhill as closely as I could. Still no sign of Nate, I assumed he went the same way on the loop or was way far ahead. At the next aid station Adam stopped to fill is water bottle, this was my chance to pull ahead a bit and create a gap. I took off out of the station and darted down the trail at a pace just above threshold, I was gasping for air and tensing up with 4 or so more miles left to run. I took the hard left turn and stared at the deepest puddle on the course, everyone had gone around.. I wanted to run through it to not waste any time. As I stepped into the coffee like pond, I heard the race volunteer yelling to me that it was two feet deep. I kept trudging along until I kneed a root or something in the water, my foot caught hold of it and I fell forward. I was completely submerged in the water. I pushed myself out of the water, drenched and chilled to the bone... my camera was now broken.. and I was pissed... the race just changed some more.

(The Final Shot)
As we got out of the puddle we headed up the next steep hill. I was drenched but continued to look back for Adam. After my mis-step he had caught up to me again. As I forged up the hill, I hiked as fast as I could trying to keep my distance. As we crested the top, Adam took off again, ahead of me on the next downhill section. "You're cruising on the downhills Adam! Simply Amazing!" He replied, "Don't worry, you'll catch me," and at the next uphill, which was at the ledges, I did. But as we climbed the hill leading up to the ledges, I looked up and saw a runner above us making some kind of motion with his arms. I would later find out he was making the pac-man motions.. the "chomp chomp." It was Nate.. I had told him in the days before the race that I really like to pour it on on the way back to the finish, eating other runners like Pac Man. And as we moved past him, I was in a state of shock. I never expected to catch Nate. I yelled out while clapping, "Mr. Sanel! What the hell is goin on?!" He replied, "you really don't know when to shut up." I can't say that I wasn't expecting his response to be so negative, but regardless Adam and I moved ahead of Nate as we tried to encourage him to come with us. He declined... and we forged ahead.

As we topped out on the ridge I thought my gap on Adam was a bit larger then it was. I asked a runner to step aside while I past him on the left. The next runner was Chris Dunn, my team mate from Acidotic.. I sang the Jaws theme as I came up on him and he let me pass... then out of no where Adam comes BLAZING past me in a burst of speed heading into the next downhill section. Adam took off down the hill as I gave chase yelling at him how much I hated him. I gave chase, yelling for Dunn to come along for the ride, he declined. As we made our way out onto the long road section, I watched as Adam ran strong up the hills, putting a bit of distance between us. I started to wonder how long he could keep this pace up for... hell... I started to wonder how long I could keep it up for. I started to really get tired and dizzy given the heat. But I LOVE heat.. I love it... most of my best performances happened on days where its been hot and humid and I was quick to remind myself of this as I struggled to hang on to Adams lead. I called more for Dunn to catch up to us and run it in... he yelled for me to go.

As we approached the last aid station I kept looking back for Nate, hoping he might have caught up a bit, but honestly running hard to stay ahead of him. As Adam hit the aid table, I was hoping he;d pause for a break.. but he didn't. He grabbed a cup and kept going. I yelled, "You asshole!" I could hear him laughing.. I ran to catch up to him as he ran strongly back towards the mud but as we entered deeper into the mud pit, Adam quickly slowed, he went to a walk and said, "Its all you." I didn't believe him so I kept pushing and pushing, and it was awhile before I looked back again. I looked back and saw no one... I looked ahead and saw more runners... I figured... "What the hell... might as well try to catch them too." I ran my butt off through these final mud holes wrking my way back to the final road through the golf course and down the driveway. I thought of years past when I had run this course, pac manning my way up through the ranks on my way back to home. I had no idea where it had come from today and then I finally wondered if I could break 2 hours. I poured whatever I had left on as I made my way down the home stretch. I remembered 2 years ago when I ran here 1 week after having run my first 100 miler, stalking other runners as best I could after only having run it in 2:33... but today was MUCH different. I sprinted to a 2:02 finish, my 2nd best of 3 times here, missing a course PR by 4 minutes.
I came in 20th out of 123 finishers!

If I can save the pictures off of my camera I'll post them here. I'm sending the unit in to get fixed. I'm pretty bummed about it. I'm pretty bummed in general. I'm not sure why. I kicked butt at a race I entered hesitantly with zero expectations. But then again, thats always been the key hasn't it? I show up, run my own race and let the cards lie where they may. Patience goes a long way. I again prove to myself that 70-100 mile weeks are not entirely necessary, and maybe a big heart and a smart head on your shoulder are the keys to success in these events. You don;t need to be "fast," but more patient and knowledgeable of the course and yourself. Listening to my body was the key to this race and I'm glad I'm still able to do it smartly. Maybe this is going to be a great year after all. My next race?? 100 Miles in Virginia.. BRING IT.


Sunday, April 19, 2009

RR: Dirty Moose Adventure Race

Dirty Moose Adventure Race
Date: Sunday, April 19, 2009
Location: Mt Blue Job Strafford, NH
Acidotic Racing Event


This is the view from the summit of Little Blue, a small peak/knob adjacent to Mount Blue Job in Strafford, NH. This was the site of my first ever adventure race today, a fun little get together put on by my running friends in the Acidotic Racing Team. I had no idea what to expect, had no idea how I would hold up... I really was just clueless and showed up expecting only to have a great time with some new friends. Of course, I showed up at Sherpa Time which many of you know as a term defined by "fashionably late." The event started with a 30 minute prologue where our RD, Chris Dunn, took us on a 35 minute tour of the area pointing out various areas of significance. We all made a special attempt to memorize these areas and to take a mental picture of any clues/notes that may help us in our adventure. After climbing in and around the summit area of Blue Job, we all settled in on the top of little Blue, split up into our teams and awaited our first clue.

My team was comprised of young Austin Stonebreaker, who ran his first 50 miler in Pittsfield, VT back in November and did a fantastic job. Today, he showed up a bit under the weather due to a night full of excessive beer drinking, followed up this morning by the burps, vurbs and sharts. Ri Fahnestock is who I usually refer to as the 10,000 Dollar Man, after jvaing won the coveted peaks purse last year by completing all 6 Races. Ri ran 100 miles at McNaughton Park last weekend in a staggering and speedy 25 hours. And myself, who slogged around the McNaughton Park course in 36 hours. We were quite the team of rag tag misfits, tired, still sore, licking our wounds and dreaming of that case of beer the winning team was about to win in this adventure race.

While on the summit of Little Blue, our RD handed us our first clue. It was a riddle that could be solved by unscrambling the letters posted about 300 yards away at the openning to Porky's cave. Luckily, I had all ready memorized the letters upon our passing earlier. I don't remember what the riddle was, but the answer was "Nothing." We wrote the answer down on the index card, showed it to the RD and he handed us our directions on how to locate the 2nd clue. We ran all the way down the mountain to the parking area where our next clue was pinned up to the backside of the map kiosk. We answered the question on the back of the cache's lid, retrieved the directions to the next locale and headed off through the woods once more. We bushwhacked a short way until we located a stonewall. The Next clue was somewhere in the vicinity. Once we located the cache, we answered another question and headed off on a fast paced bushwhack to the next cache which was hidden under a down hardwood.

This next clue sent us back up the mountain to the frog pond where we searched the embankment. We were very close to one of the other teams and rather than it being two teams looking feverishly for the clues before each other could... we were searching together and aiding each other quite a bit. This new cache had a green index card inside which led us out on a Bonus Trip if we so chose to take it. We decided to skip it as our next route clue led us to the anvil on the top of Little Blue. Back to the top of the mountain. The next clue sent us to the other peak, but there was another Bonus card inside. We took the 2nd Bonus card and headed down the mountain about a 1/4 mile to an old cemetery where we had to write down the age when one of the locals had become deceased. We then turned around and ran back up to near the top of Little Blue (yes again) before heading back over to Porky's Cave for the other Bonus Trip. By now my team mates are dragging me up and over the mountain. My legs are still tired and sore from the weekend befores 100 miler. I'm not sure how the hell Ri is doing it... or Austin with the hangover for that matter. But together, we held it strong and made our way to Porky's Cave. We climbed a short rock scramble to a sign with animal prints on it. After some discussion, ridiculous at that we determined that the tracks indeed belonged to a Raccoon.

From here we ran over to Blue Job's main summit area, around the back side where we were to search for our next cache down in a drainage. We found the clue and made quick work of once again ascending the mountain. The guys really took off on me here as I gasped for air and struggled to keep up. At this point I really felt like I was just along for the ride. We find the next box which included yet another question on survival (all of the boxes thus far had) and another green bonus card. We followed the directions on the card that had us contouring around the summit cone to the powerline area. The bushwhack was rough, traversing along some ledgy sections of the small mountain. Eventually we found the powerlines and the green concrete building which was home to the next bonus activity. Ri opened the canister and began tying the knot required to continue on our adventure, an Alpine Hitch. While he tied the knot, we remained low and hid from the other teams as they ran by us on their way down the mountain. We headed up to the Wardens tower, retrieved our clue which congratulated us on completed Part 1 of our adventure. I was beat. While the boys read the next direction card... I drank liberally from my water bottles. Weather forecasts called for a cloudy and cool day... it was near 55 degrees and not a cloud in the sky. I was DYING from being over dressed.

The next clue sent us all the way down the powerlines to the bottom of the mountain, of course it did. When we got there our next set of directions were stapled to a telephone pole. We were being instructed to carry 2 small logs, a rock and a larger log to the top of Little Blue by following the red flagging through the woods. The larger logs all had different point values dependent upon their size. The largest log left was the 2nd biggest in the competition. So I quickly grabbed the 30 point log and began to carry it through the woods. It was tough going as I got the log tangled in low lying branches. We were on an all out bushwhack and there was no real easy way to carry the awkward shaped log. BUt we carried on as a team hiking briskly back up the slope. We went up and around, twisting and turning our way through the woods for what seemed like aimlessly. We went through two knee deep mud and water filled bogs on a trail near the top. Then we emerged above treeline to the magnificent views, once of which included the summit! I had to take a picture of me enjoying myself.. (check out the sweat)

At the top of the mountain, we had one final task (besides finally not having to carry the log)... (why lie.. I loved it)... we had to blindfold one of our team mates and the other two of us had to jump up on the summit rock. We received a final card which had a picture of a pattern which we needed to get our 3 logs and stone to re-create below. The catch was, the blindfolded team mate was doing the work while we depicted the design without using certain words. We made pretty quick work of that and we finished our race.

After the event, we all headed to the RD, Chris Dunn, house for a small cookout which included the tasting of various fine home brew beers Chris had made in his basement. After eating chicken, burgers, chips and salads, we tallied our points to which we found out the final word that our team had won the event. Our prize? A case of Redhook Longhammer IPA. A great way to end the perfect day of adventure.

We Win!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

RR: McNaughton 150

What Am I Doing Here?
After a wet and windy sleepless night in McNaughton Park, I stood huddled under the teepee with a few dozen other runners. They were all ready to go, anxious to start running through the chilly sheets of rain. They were all ready in their running gear, bottles in hand, jumping around trying to stay warm. I was still in my fleece pants and rain gear, muddling about, generally unexcited about getting started. It wasn't until about 30 minutes before the race that I retreated through the rain to my tent where I slowly proceeded to get ready for the journey I was about to take. This is my 3rd year coming to McNaughton Park, and the third year that it is raining. I know what lies ahead in terms of terrain and MUD... I'm not excited. Come to think of it, in the weeks leading up to this race, I was never really excited I was complacent and nervous about what to expect.

It's been a long and arduous winter for me. Battling my demons ferociously having almost given up entirely on a few occasions, even spending some time in a psychiatric ICU. I had a surgery on December 30th that was "supposed" to keep me action-less for 6 weeks, I ran over 100 miles during that time in training anyway. I struggled through the winter and knew that while still in some kind of good shape, still underprepared, undertrained, for this 150 mile adventure. However, I still showed up in Illinois with all of my gear ready to run as far as I could with my heart and soul. This was as good a time as any to spend some time alone and work on rediscovering myself, to work on slaying my demons. This race was less about surviving the distance and more about surviving myself. So as the clock ticked down to the start, I slowly pulled on my worn and tattered running tights, laced up my shoes and covered up with my rain gear. I reluctantly stepped out from my tent to listen to the pre-race briefing and then tuned to stand behind the starting line.

The Start
The countdown began and it wasn't long before the horn blasted into the saturated air while 50 some of us crazy ultra-runners placed our first foot in the front to only be followed quickly by the other... we'd repeat this process a few thousand times over the course of the weekend in an attempt to complete what only a few have... 150 miles at McNaughton Park. We turned sharp left and was faced with the first of many steep downhills. This one leads to the first field and the mud here is a quick indication of what the rest of the course is going to look like. It must have been funny to watch 50 runners slip and slide down a hill looking as if someone had dropped a bag of marbles. Legs went this way and that as all traction was lost due to the peanut buttery mud. I couldn't stand the be sucked into a tight group of runners bumping elbows the entire way down this hill, so I snuck t the outside and quickly scampered down the hill emerging at the bottom in the top 10 runners.

The First Loop
I had a vision of running this loop in around 2 hours, hoping to keep pace with some of the leaders as we made our first rounds of the park. Rain continued to pour down in sheets soaking us to the bone with a chilly wind whipping across our faces. It was easy to get the chills yet even easier to be overheated and encumbered by the amount of gear one was wearing to try to stay dry. I'm not sure if it even mattered, because what you wore to stay dry only made you sweat making for a rather uncomfortable experience. Between the totem pole and HEavens Gate aid stations, Ryan Dexter caught up to me and made the comment, "A little fast Sherpa, slow down bud." I often wondered why people make these comments... I mean, how does HE know that I've gone out too fast. Ryan would go on to be the eventual winner, but in my head I was right on the pace I wanted to accomplish for the first loop. I paid no mind and kept running at the pace I wanted to run. The creek crossings were both about knee deep with the first one sinking us up to my waist, the cold water simply took my breath away and I was growing increasingly more grumpy. As I finished the first loop, I rain into the start/finish area and began taking care of my resupply when one of the race volunteers and other runners father came up to me and warned me to "slow down, you're way too fast bud." The first loop took my 1:58 and I was very happy with my time, having come in right on the time I had wanted. I looked at him and said, "it's all good." I refilled my water bottles and headed out for loop 2..

Not far into the 2nd loop, A female runner I knew from years past had caught up to me. She doesn't seem to be her usual cheerful self, and I worry about her. As she come up behind me in the first field she says, "You ran that one balls out didn't you?" I asked, "where have you been?" after not being able to locate her at the start "Obviously behind you." I'm getting quite irritated now with the comments of the locals. I always thought ultra-running was a personal journey. That's at least why I love it so much... so why do others feel the need to make these comments. It would be one thing if they said them in a caring manner and added some kind of supportive conversation on the end of it... But so far I only felt like I had been talked down to and scolded by my peers. In fact... the night before the race, I really felt like I was being scorned for even showing up to try the 150 again. "How far you running this year John?" "150" "Really? After you told me last year that this was the dumbest thing you've ever done...?" I mean... really? I'm not sure what the deal was, if it was the weather or what, but I have every bit as much right to try my limits as I see fit as anyone else regardless of how things went in years past... yet I digress..

After the 3rd loop I stopped at my tent to change my socks and shoes. I had brought enough of everything to keep up with things throughout the race. After a quick inspection everything looked fine except for a hot spot on my big toe. This has been a common place for a blister in wet conditions of the past, so I expected a new child to grow on my toe this time around as well. I put on dry socks and shoes and headed out for another loop. The rain had finally stopped and the sun had peeked it's shiny face through a few times. The wind was calm and intermittent, blustery in the fields but all ready doing tis job to make the course a bit tacky, the thoughts of what tomorrow held were promising. Somewhere shortly after the first river crossing I ran into Regis. Regis is from Ohio and had recognized me from races previous. We ran together for a bit enjoying conversation with each other. Regis' pace was a bit faster then mine so I let him go ahead, lagging behind and continuing to run alone. I ran into the start finish after the 3rd lap, I grabbed by headlamp and prepared for the night. I left the main aid station and headed out into the darkness.

My feet are all ready pruned and hurting. My pace is slowing down ever so slightly as each lap continues on. As the night falls I wondered if I could make it the night without having to sleep. I keep slipping and sliding through the mud which is now ever so harder to see with just the glow of ones headlamp. I struggle up and down the hills and feel myself getting tired. My back really starts to hurt and tighten up on me during the 4th loop, its an experience I've never had while running ultras. I have terrible posture, constantly hunched forward while I run and not forcing myself to stand up tall, straight. And as I motor up and down these step hills, I hunch forward like Quasi-Moto as I briskly swing my arms for locomotion. My back is killing me and I stop periodically to stand up tall and try to stretch it out. As loop 4 melts into 5, I find myself growing more and more homesick. It's Easter Weekend and the guilt of being away starts to fill my soul. I want ot be with my family, home, awaiting the Easter Egg hunt and a warm dinner... but my selfish hobby takes over.. and here I am, in Illinois, alone and running in circles. After the 4th loop I stopped to take my depression med's during my re-supply. I really wish I didn't have to take them, and wonder what effect they'd have on me during the race. And as I head out on loop 5, it was pretty obvious rather quickly the effect the meds were going to have.

Hush Little Baby
After running through the field opposite the start/finish area about a mile into lap 1. I headed off into the woods, alone, and promptly slipped on some mud and plopped onto my ass, sliding the rest of the way down the short hill. I got up, tried washing off my water bottles in the first stream and continued to run along. Except, running was slowing and my eyes were getting heavy. I struggled to remain conscious and awake but the effort was being beaten by the effects of my depression meds. I'm growing more and more tired with each step as I struggle to keep moving. I strolled into the Totem pole aid station and had some caffeine before heading off down the trail. After leaving the aid station, I made my way through the short fields and to towards the sandy area. When I got here, I was catching myself falling asleep on the run and I finally decided to duck off into the leaves and take a quick nap. So off the trail I went where I curled up into a ball and slept for 5 minutes. When I woke up I was cold and shivering. The night time temps were dropping well into the 30s. I made my way through the first stream crossing and wound my way over to rope hill. As I grabbed the rope I took a deep breath as my eyes continued to grow heavy again. I made it across Gold HIll and over to the mansion on the next hill. As I took the sharp left and re-entered the woods, I had to stop again and laid down in the leaves off the side of the trail. I was fading fast. I made my way back to the start/finish where I ran into the staging area with the clock reading just over 14 hours. I headed to my tent where I sat down and removed my soaked shoes and socks again. My feet are sore and becoming badly blistered. I took care of my basic needs, dried off my feet and put a new pair of dry socks on. I looked back at my sleeping bag and pad and decided that I'd throw the sleeping bag over me and take an hour nap. I laid back, draped the bag over me and went to sleep... it was a quick LIGHTS OUT.

Let's Go Idiot!
I woke up to the loud bounding sound from RD Andy Weinberg and his microphone. I looked at my cell phone to see what time it was, it said 5:00am. I slammed back down onto my sleeping pad, put my hand on my head and thought to myself, "It's a lie.. it can't be that late." Then Andy, "Wake up.. it's 5am.. time to get ready to run!" My one hour nap turned into a 3 hour slumber party. I was so pissed at myself. I laced up my shoes, got what I needed and immediately headed back out on the trail. As I made my way around the first fields, I could hear Andy Weinberg on the loudspeaker giving those about to run, the 50 and 100 mile runners, their pre-race briefing. My goal was to get as far away from here as I could and hoping it would be rather late in the loop when all the new runners catch me. This course is notorious for being chewed up once you throw a couple hundred more runners on it. The further I could get before they came out, the better off I would be. To make matters worse, I had developed a rather uncomfortable tooth ache that was causing me to wince in pain and search for a place to lay down once more. As I got to totem pole, I sat down in a chair and tried to put some pressure on my jaw in the hopes that the pain would quickly go away. Ryan Dexter was lapping me, again, and he asked how I was doing. I told him about my ache and he wished me well. He is one class act for sure as he sped off into the distance.

It was during the Heavens Gate Loop that a sea of runners had caught up to me and the encouragement and mutual support I had been waiting and longing for during this race was finally pouring out from the mouths and hearts of the new runners. Excited about their own adventure I received many pats on the back, a few hugs and a lot of encouraging words. I was feeling great and my legs continued to turn over at a comfortable and feverish pace as I continued to make my rounds. The tooth ache was gone as I continued to make my rounds of the course.

Everything Is Going Good
60 Miles down and 90 to go. I start to think about how the hell I'm going to do it. As the sun shines ever brighter in the sky, I was excited to be able to run in a pair of shorts. I took off the running tights and shed some layers from the night and prepared for a warm day with cool breezes. I continued to chomp up the miles, taking on as many loops of the course that I could. I'd like to say that I enjoyed the company of the other runners, but I was surprised to spend most of the day by myself once again. The field was quickly spread out as we all made great time on our own. I continued to slow down and once again my back continued to ache. As each lap went by I watched as my pace continued to get slower and slower. Attrition is having its effect on me and I start doing math in my head. I can still make it, I can still make it.... as I made my way around the course for an 8th time, I could feel the grit and sand in my shoes and knew I'd need to change my socks and shoes shortly if I'm going to make it.. I made the decision to do it after 9 laps.

The Wheels Are Falling Off
As I made my way through the last river crossing on my 9th loop, it was very evident that my feet were in bad shape and a change of socks and shoes were needed. I was still very much in the game and if I wanted to finish, I need to take care of business. Though I can feel that my feet are in bad shape, I wouldn't know how bad until I sat down. So after 9 laps, I ran through the chute and sat down in my tent. I peeled off my socks and shoes and took a good look at my feet. I was terrified with what I saw. I was the sand and grit off as best I could, but it was all ready long since ground into my skin. I had huge blisters on 8 of my 10 toes, I was starting to get a very sore skin fold on the balls of my feet and I was acquiring trench foot in between my toes. I grabbed a pair of Injinji toe socks and struggled to put them on. It actually took my more then 10 minutes to get the socks on my feet. The pain was intense and I was very uncomfortable. I was gasping for air and hyperventilating from pain. I put on thin pairs of Darn Tough mesh socks and looked for dry shoes. I tried on a few different pairs of shoes and none of them were comfortable anymore given the swelling of my feet. I found what pair felt the best and slid them on. When I stood up, my groin muscles were tight and cramping. I shuffled over to the aid table to fill my bottles and left leaving knowing that I could very well be taking off for my last loop once again. I was falling apart, rapidly and in a painful way.

I made my way around the course for a 10th time. I was sucking down as much caffeine as I could between caffeinated gels and mountain dew. Amazingly I felt wide awake during the entire loop. But one thing was evident as I shuffled along. I was getting exponentially slower. As I dipped my feet into the first creek crossing, I started to shiver and get extremely annoyed. I continued to shuffle along, watching the clock and trying to be mindful of how much time I had left. There was no more room for error, no room for big breaks.. I needed to keep moving. I was shivering, cold and my feet are killing me. The race had turned on a dime and I was well aware of what my limits were about to be. As I made my way to Heavens Gate, I made one more pass of the aid station... I carried on down the trail as best I could, struggling to make it up the up hills... starting to lose my whits. I was delirious and confused. My race continued to crumble. The clock continued to tick and tick and tick. I was out here way to long as the clock ticked past 4 hours for the loop. In fact, it took me over 2 and a half hours to go the 2 miles from the Heavens Gate aid station to the last creek crossing. As i stepped into the creek one more time... I shivered even more, my feet screamed in pain and I made a decision to not return again.

Another DNF
After crossing the creek for the final time, I continued to try my best to reel in that start/finish area. I was tired from trembling. Trembling both from being freezing cold and from my tired legs. I struggled to climb up hills and on each downhill, my legs wobbled like a Jenga Set. I knew that if the clock was much past 36 hours when I got in, I would need to establish the biggest comeback of my life... Was there any way that I could go 50 miles in less than 16 hours at this pace? Yes.. but the chances are slim. I started to think about life since October. I've all ready over come so much all ready. I'm lucky to be alive. My training has suffered, I'm beyond underprepared for this... 100 miles is a milestone in and of itself. "It's ok to quit right?" I was hoping someone would answer. I wanted to ask everyone who past me but I remained silent... It is ok to be done right? No one will hate me? No one will be disappointed in me right? I continued to ask questions. The answers didn't matter. I could barely walk anymore let alone run. I'd had an amazing time out here. I tested myself... mentally and physically and I had survived 100 miles... "I've got nothing to prove... to myself or anyone... I had fun... I want to leave it at that." So as I slowly weaved my way down the field and into the chute, I looked at the clock and saw it said 36:15. My time was up... my race was over. I stood up proudly with my sore back and smiled as I told Tom Landis that I was done. Andy was in bed... GREAT! And So was Mike! I saw Phil Rosenstein over in the aid tent. "Phil!!.... I just Dropped!" I said with a smile. HE brought me over to the fire and sat me down. I felt so alone... accomplished yet disappointed. Phil brought me warm food as I sat there and reflected...

I know what I can do it.. I know I can go 150 miles. This weekend it just wasn't meant to be. I realized just how selfish I can be in my life. Where I was willing to leave my family on Easter Weekend to run in circles in Illinois. I deserved to be alone. And as much as I deserved it, maybe it was good for me. I offered myself another chance to look deeper into myself, to ask myself important questions and to search for the answers. Isn't that why we do these races? A chance at self discovery? I LOVE challenging myself in these long events. I love achieving and striving and driving and being myself. I enjoy the time alone... yet I hate the time away. I learn a lot about who and what I love. I learn a lot on these journeys. While I may not have made it 150 miles, I still walk away having run 100 miles and being a better person through doing so. I walk away accomplished... surviving and alive. I have a new appreciation for my life... and I'm lucky to still be living it. I'm going to continue to get back on track... to continue to dream and achieve at long distances. While I start 2009 with the same disappointment I started with in 2008, I continue to run with a brighter torch, looking ahead to the future and dreaming of races to come.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Interview: Travis Liles

The McNaughton Park Trail races are a week away and there is no better way to start giving you an inside look at the race then with an interview. Travis Liles is an Ultrarunner from Illinois who is no stranger to McNaughton Park and I had the opportunity to ask him a few questions about the race.

Name: Travis Liles
Hometown: Girard, IL
Years Running Ultras: 3

SJ: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us today about the 2009 McNaughton Park Trail Races Travis.

SJ: How many years have you been running races at McNaughton Park?
TL: This will be my 4th time running one of the distances at McNaughton. I ran the 30 in 2005 as my first trail race and ultra. I swore off ultras after that but have been back every year since.

SJ: And in what race are you entered in this year?
TL: 100

SJ: You tried the 100 mile event last year, what prevented you from finishing?
TL: I think a few things added up to me only getting through 50 last year, but mainly I can point back to my training. The course conditions got pretty bad. I had not been training in conditions that matched what I might have seen on race day. That caused some unhealed injuries to pop up and for me to ultimately drop. It was the right decisions as I was laid up for about 8 weeks, but I think overall I had not prepared by body enough.

SJ: How are you feeling about your chances this year to go the distance?
TL: I've done the things like getting in the miles regardless of weather or trail conditions. These were things I might have pushed off to road running or not at all the year before. This time I would just tell myself to "suck it up and get going." It's been a muddy mess here in the midwest up until about the last few weeks, so as far as slopping around goes, I've done a lot of that. If it's dry, I'm not sure I will know what to do! I feel like I am physically where I want to be, I just have to go out and execute now.

SJ: So tell us about McNaughton Park, what's it like there?
TL: It's a place that is easy to under estimate. The footing is not really technical. There are not a lot of rocks or roots to deal with. There are lots of steep short climbs and, of course, short steep down hills. It's a loop course, the same every single time so those short ups and downs add up.

SJ: What's the best part of the race?
TL: For me it's the atmosphere. McNaughton was my first trail race, so it's a special place for me. On top of that, the 3 fully stocked aid stations and volunteers are top notch. Also, it's not far from where I grew up so I can con my family and friends into stopping by. Lastly, like in any ultra I have run, the other runners are the best part. That is what keeps me coming back.

SJ: What's the worst part of the race?
TL: The sand after the first creek crossing. You come out of the water with wet shoes then step in the sand and just do your best to keep it from getting in your shoes. Golf hill kind of sucks too, but I have found that crawling up it on all 4's seems to be easier than using the rope.

SJ: 10 Mile loops, advantage or disadvantage?
TL: I see it as an advantage. I'm never that far away from my stuff. I know that after I complete another 10 mile loop I can grab whatever I might need out of my bag. My family and friends can also drop by and catch me coming through. The other thing is pacing yourself. You get to know the course really well and can be strategic about when to walk or run.

SJ: What kind of role does the weather play at this race?
TL: It's a huge factor. The course can get really slow and even more taxing on you if it is muddy. Take last year for instance, there was something like a 19% finish rate in the 100 and the course was a slop hole. The big issue is that you are in Illinois in April. You don't know what kind of weather you are going to get. When I ran the 30 in 2005 it was around 80 degrees and dry. The last 2 years have been in the 30's and raining.

SJ: What do you think are the major keys for success at this race?
TL: Be prepared for crappy weather, bad footing and remember that the course never gets any easier.

SJ: The stream crossings, are they as awful and cold as it sounds?
TL: I was up there 2 weeks ago and they were cold. It has just not been that warm here lately. The good news is that they were not that deep. I never went in much above my ankle.

SJ: What are your thoughts about Andy Weinberg directing this race for the final time?
TL: Like I said, this is a special race for me since I started my ultrarunning "career" at McNaughton. I still remember Andy calling me an "animal" as I limped my way though the finish line of the 30, high-fiving me and treating me like I had done something awesome. Andy is always a good time. Telling jokes and making sure everyone is tended to when they come through the start/finish. He makes you feel good to be there and to be part of the event. It's unfortunate that he won't be the RD after this year, but he's got to do what is right for him and his family. Hopefully the event continues on. I'd hate to see it go away for selfish reasons and because there are not a lot of 100 milers around middle of the US.

SJ: What is your goal for this years event?
TL: FINISH! I'm going to listen to my body and do what I am capable of. If that means sub 24 hours, great! If that means I stumble in at 33:59:59, that's ok too. Though with the 12th being Easter I think my wife would like it to be before lunch time :)

SJ: What strategies will you use to help you achieve your goal?
TL: I have a tendency to over think things so I am going to keep it simple - eat, drink, and keep moving. I'm going to do my best to enjoy the journey. I know there will be times where I will feel bad and I just have to remember all the time and effort I put into training for this. I have to remember the sacrifices of time my wife and daughter made (and are still making) to support me, especially over the last few months where I was gone a lot for long weekend runs. Lastly, I have not had a drink since New Year's and a cold celebratory beer at the finish line is going to hit the spot. Who wants to join me??!?!

SJ: Thanks Again Travis... Good Luck and We'll see you in Pekin next week, I'll join you for that beer!