A watchless marathon?

I’ll be honest, running a marathon without a watch sounds stupid in my eyes. I’ve always been a numbers guy. I love seeing split miles, especially in races when I want to perform my best. I love to finish any type of race, get home, shower/relax, and then view my splits. It’s rewarding, it’s what I’ve been known to do…up until this point. So last month when I decided to run a rail trail marathon without a watch, I was somewhat skeptical.

I was familiar with The North Central Rail Trail Marathon, (NCR Trail Marathon). I ran it last year. It has a small town feel to it. This was their 25th anniversary of the marathon. It seems that there are a lot of people who run this marathon for a specific goal, i.e. a PR, or to add or complete a running streak of some form. After running a lot of marathons and running a small marathon like this, it was obvious this marathon has had it’s share of experienced runners and ultrarunners. I’m sure it has it’s share of first timers, too.

The race is an out and back course primarily along the Northern Central Railroad Trail. The start and finish are at Sparks Elementary School, with the first 1.8 miles being on rural paved roads as you make your way to the trail. The last 1.5 miles of

NCR Trail thon

the race are also on paved roads.The remainder of the race is on the flat stretches of the NCR Trail. The trail surface is a compacted combination of dirt and fine stone. The trail winds along the Gunpowder River, through quiet farmland.

……a perfect time to experience a marathon without a watch. I wanted to listen and feel my body through the race without having a watch come in to play. I wanted to see if there would be any physical or mental changes running a marathon without a watch. There was only one issue, though. I’ve had a sore achilles tendon since last week. I knew the soreness could change the way I ran the race. I was hoping for the best, with minimal soreness.

It was nice to see Clay Shaw and Karen Mitchell at the race….but it wasn’t a surprise. They seem to be at every race. Look them up! They both take exceptional photographs. Clay took this picture of me…

NCR Trail

We started at Sparks Elementary School and headed down to the rail trail, via road. There’s not much to a rail trail….it’s runnable, it’s scenic, and you can find yourself mentally. I felt good the first 10 miles or so. I felt the same way I normally felt up to that point in marathons: glad, honorable, curious and anxious on what was to come in the next 16 miles…. At one point I recognized a familiar voice approaching me from behind. To be honest, I’ve heard this voice a lot during my marathons. I would say he has run 70 % of the marathon’s I’ve run. Keith Straw was approaching, with his English accent. He has run hundred’s of marathons and ultra marathons. If you don’t know him, maybe you have at least seen him before. Here he is…

Keith Straw

I had my Oil Creek 100 shirt on and I heard conversation behind me about it. It’s a great feeling when runners can relate to you. Keith and his running buddy’s related, and we talked about Oil Creek when they ran by. By the turn, around mile 14, I felt pretty good. I didn’t really have the urge to check my watch. There was only one issue, though. My achilles was starting to hurt. It’s not good when you feel a pulse down by your foot. It was definitely sore.

It clearly wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted to run  26.2 miles strictly on feeling. I wanted to listen to my body, tell me when I was getting tired, tell me when I was ready for a gel, tell me when I could push myself further. But it wasn’t meant to be. It turned out, I was limited on what I could do. At mile 18, watch less, my achilles pain had taken over…..And that was not the feeling I wanted. I wanted to feel free, I wanted to let loose when the time was right. It never happened. All I felt was a thumping pain near my left foot.

My plan was to predict what my finish time would be as I was running. I knew last years’ finish time probably wouldn’t happen this year. At mile 19, I thought I could reach a goal of 3:45. With the pain, all I could manage from then on was to jog one mile and then walk 20-30 seconds. That really didn’t help much because once I got running again, it hurt even more. By mile 22, I was predicting somewhere around a 3:55 finish. By the time I got to the last mile, which by the way is all up hill, a 4:04 seemed reasonable. It was hard to push off the foot going uphill, so I walked most of it.

It was a wash…This  watchless experiment thing was a complete failure. I debated naming this blog “Cry baby” or “achilles tendonitis”. Though each marathon is a fun and challenging experience, this was one of the few I’ve done where I just wanted it to be over. When I approached mile 26, I made the final prediction that I would finish at  4:06. So when I made that final turn and saw the clock, I was pleasantly surprised. It read 3:50. I normally run as hard as I can when I see the finish. This was a trot. I crossed at 3:51:11. I honestly had no clue what type of pace I was running. I really have no clue how I finished under 4 hrs. This is me finishing……

   NCR Trail

I did learn a few things after this marathon. I do prefer wearing a watch, but I still didn’t get the satisfaction out of not wearing one. I’ll have to pick another marathon at a later time to experiment more. Unfortunately, I found out I have achilles tendonitis and that I’ll have to take it easy the next few weeks.

Do you run watchless? Why? Do you have or have had achilles tendonitis? Why? How did you recover?

It’s cold? It’s Pale Ale brew time!

For some reason, I always get in the beer making mood when the weather turns cold. This brew day was the coldest day of the year with temperatures at a high of 28 degrees. The last time I brewed was this past April. It was my scheduled day off of work this time around, so I thought I’d venture back into it.



I had gotten the ingredients months ago to make a basic pale ale, so everything was in place. The ingredients are as follows:

-6.6 lbs. Golden Light Liquid Malt Extract (LME)- Add at boil

-1.0 lbs.  Plain Light Dry Malt Extract (DME)- Add at boil

-1.0 oz. Citra hops- Add at 60 minutes

-1.0 oz. Tettnang hops- Add at 30 minutes

-1.0 oz. German Mandarina Bavaria- Add at 15 minutes

-1.0 oz. German Hull Melon- Add at 5 minutes

– ¼ oz. Crushed Coriander seeds- Add at 10 minutes

-1 tsp. Gypsum- Add at boil

-1 tsp. Irish Moss- Add at 15 minutes

– 1 pack of Danstar Nottingham yeast

All of these ingredients can be found at a wine and brew product store or can be ordered online. I do all of my shopping at Scotzin Brothers. They have lots of ingredients, equipment, books, etc. for both wine and beer and also normally have a beer on tap they allow you to sample when shopping there. You can visit them at www.scotzinbros.com .

I make 5 gallon batches when I brew, which comes out to be roughly fifty 12 ounce bottles, or two cases worth. The recipe starts with me boiling 2 ½ gallons of water in a stainless steel  pot. Once boiling, add the gypsum. Gypsum isn’t really necessary unless you have hard water. We have two filtration systems in our house, and I still use gypsum. They also say it adds bitterness and calcium to the beer. Once adding the gypsum, take the pot off the burner and add the two containers of Golden Light LME, stirring thoroughly.

Adding LME

Adding LME

Turn the stove down to a medium high heat and put pot back on burner. Then add the DME and continue stirring.

Adding DME

Adding DME

Adding hops to a beer is fun. I love the smell of fresh hops so I look forward to this stage in the brewing process. There are 3 stages with the hopping process during the boil. You want to add certain hops during certain times for certain reasons. Adding a hop at the beginning of the boil adds the bitterness. Adding a hop in the middle of the boil adds the flavor. Adding a hop at the end of the boil adds the aroma. During the boil, you want to leave the lid to the pot off!

With this recipe, you first want to add the Citra hops(citrus, tropical) at the beginning stage of the 60 minute boil for bitterness.  BE VERY CAREFUL THAT THE WORT DOESN’T OVERFLOW THE POT! This is why the heat needs to be turned down to medium/high,…to have a controlled boil.

Continue until you reach 30 minutes left in the boil, then add the Tettnang hops (slight spice).

Adding the hops

Adding the hops

Continue the boil with the lid off until you reach the 15 minute mark, then add the German Mandarina Bavaria hops (tangerine, citrus) and then add the Irish Moss. Irish Moss is a clarifying agent. You see the big commercial beers and see how clear of a beer they are. That is because they have expensive filtration and clarifying systems they use. We have Irish Moss. If you smell it, it takes you directly to a pier at the ocean. I can’t explain it any better than that.

With 10 minutes left in the boil, add the crushed coriander seeds. I like a pale ale with a citrus type finish. This was my own added touch.

Adding the crushed coriander

Adding the crushed coriander

At the 5 minute mark, add the German Hull Melon hops (fruit, melon, and strawberry).

Once the 60 minute boil is complete, you want to immediately cool the wort to 70-75 degrees. They sell products to help this process, but I am old-fashioned and can’t really afford the equipment at the moment, so I use ice cubes and freezer packs. Since it was 28 degrees outside, I also stuck it outside. The entire cooling process took about 1 hour.

Ice and freeze packs to cool the wort

Ice and freeze packs to cool the wort

Cooling the wort outside

Cooling the wort outside

Once assured the wort is 70-75 degrees, pour the wort into a 6.5 gallon bucket or carboy. Add the entire packet of Danstar Nottingham dry yeast. They also sell liquid yeast that may or may not start the fermenting process quicker. The yeast combines with the malt/sugar to form alcohol (the hops are strictly for taste and aroma). Stir in the yeast. Don’t be afraid to really mix it well. It will activate the yeast. Once mixed, seal the lid and put the airlock on the top lid.

Carboy ready to ferment

Carboy ready to ferment

You can fill the airlock with water or vodka. The airlock releases carbon dioxide from the beer when fermenting. It doesn’t allow air to get into the fermenter, though. You will know when CO2 is released when bubbles start coming up out of it. See the bubble below…

Airlock- with CO2 bubbles. Let the fermentation begin!

Airlock- with CO2 bubbles. Let the fermentation begin!

With this specific brew, you should see bubbles for roughly 3-4 days. If no bubbles show, mix warm water with more yeast and add to the wort and re-seal. I will let the beer sit in the carboy bucket for 2 weeks, in a darker location where the temperature is between 65-70 degrees. I will then transfer to a bottling bucket, add 2 cups of warm water to 5 ounces of priming sugar and mix into the beer thoroughly. The priming sugar adds the carbonation to the beer over time. I’ll then bottle the beer and let sit for another 2 weeks in a dark, cool spot.

This was a quick walk through. I’m looking forward to tasting this pale ale just in time for Christmas!

Do you brew beer? What’s your favor beer? Any questions about my brief brew process?

Do you smell your running sneakers?

When I was a kid, I’d love to smell different things. I know, it sounds weird, but I was a weird one. Heck, I’d play an actual football game in my front and back yards with….myself. Yeah, and my parents have videotape of it. Heck there was even a halftime show, with me marching along, holding a shovel or a broom in the air imitating a flag being held by a band member. I also played baseball by myself, whipping a tennis ball against a very large rock in our backyard. I’d throw the tennis ball against this rock and wherever it went from there, was the hit of the ball against the bat…an imaginary bat. First base was the clothes line post, second base was the corner of the house, third base was the little tree, and home was the rock. It wasn’t uncommon for me to smell the inside of a baseball mitt, or the tennis ball I was throwing. I would even smell a brand new pair of baseball cleats, or any sneakers for that matter.

So now that I’m all grown up, I still smell my new sneakers I buy. These days I’m buying many pairs, all of them are running sneakers. I know a lot of runners that live and die by a certain pair they’ve had success with. After all, if it works, why change it. I can’t say the same thing. Over the past seven years, I have owned the following road running and trail running sneakers: Nike, Mizuno, Asics, Adidas, Altra, and am currently rotating the following trail and road running sneakers: Saucony, New Balance, Brooks, Puma, and Hokas. I have even contemplated buying a pair of running sandals. Yes, there is such a thing. I have run a few miles in an older pair of Timberland sandals (don’t ask why) and they did the job.

I’ve never had a major running injury before where I have had to take, say, 3 to 6 months off of running. I’ve had a tight hamstring, a pulled groin, a tight calf, a twisted ankle, and a metatarsal injury. It seems like a lot, but I’ve run a ton of miles. None of these were too severe to stop running, and none were due to my choice of sneaker. The twisted ankle was actually due to a very bad twist from basketball years ago and I had stepped on the side of a big pot hole and re-aggravated it. The metatarsal injury was due to my own stupidity, wearing running sneakers on a tough terrain trail years ago. Never run a rocky trail with a pair of worn down Asics 1130’s.

What I believe has helped me stay fresh, and basically injury free, is the rotating of sneakers. The sneakers I am currently rotating are definitely different from each other. The New Balance doesn’t have much cushioning. I like to wear these on the track for speed work. If I haven’t worn them in a while, I’ll just put them on for a 5 miler around the neighborhood. The Brooks are my main road running sneaker right now. They’re light, with good heel cushioning. I’ll wear them for races and long runs on the streets. The Pumas have just about had it. When they were new, they were very light and had good tread. Now, with over 600 miles(by the way, I GO BY FEEL, NOT BY MILES!!!!) of trail running, and with the tread and cushioning diminishing, it’s almost time to hang them up. The Sauconys still have some good trail tread on them. They seem to be a little big on me, so I’ll wear thicker trail socks with these. I’ll use them from time to time on both easy trails and rocky trails.  I’ve even worn them on the road from time to time. My go to trail sneaker right now are the Hokas. If you haven’t seen them, they look like moon shoes. The cushioning is unlike any other and they appear not to interfere with my foot strike. I’ll wear them on rocky sections of trail and in races. They did wonders on the more rocky sections of the PA Appalachian Trail when we went through there. One complaint with them is that you roll your ankles a lot with them. They aren’t very stable. It’s true, I have rolled my ankle a few times with them. It is definitely noted…

I may be sniffing a new pair of trail sneakers soon!

What are your thoughts on sticking with the same pair of sneakers, trying new sneakers, and/or rotating sneakers?

Time to put color back into my runs!

It’s time for me to start adding some color back into my running. Over the past several months, my runs included mostly black, yellow, and a few reds, but overall, it has been a gloomy painted picture when it comes to variety. I’ll explain…

I use a running log at Running Ahead and I have a bar graph set up for the type of workout runs I’ve done. Each type of run has a different color. They are as follows…

Yellow- Easy run

Black- Long Run

Green- Hill Run

Purple- Interval Run

Blue- Tempo Run

Red- Race

I’ve gotten into the habit of running long runs followed by easy runs to recover, and basically nothing else. It has been somewhat tough considering all of the ultra running I have done recently. I will be cutting back on the longer, ultra runs for the next four months. So I think it’s a prime time to start up on the speed work again. The winter months offer limited daylight, so a shorter, speed work session would work well. Speed work and long runs, especially trail/ultra runs, are on different ends of the spectrum. Or are they? I personally think I get as much out of a 30 minute interval run as I do on a 2 hour long run. My body feels similar after each run. Though my heart rate sky rockets with the interval run, the long run also causes the heart to work extra hard as the run goes on. That’s just my personal opinion and I know everyone is different. And I’m sure there is scientific evidence that says one type of run is better than the other.

In the next two months, I have the following races….a trail marathon, a road 1/2 marathon, a turkey trot 5k road race, and a 5 mile road race. They all call for speed and fast cadence turn over. Time to get colorful!

What are your opinions on the subject?

WV/MD Appalachian Trail- November 1st, 2014

During the later runs of the PA Appalachian Trail- Summer of 2014, something occurred to me. After the journey through the PA A.T. was over, what next? After having so much fun on the trails and running so many miles, I’d be afraid it would be a shock to the system if I were to just stop. It really was such a great time, why stop?

The A.T. has such a unique atmosphere. If you take a hike or run on it, you are bound to see an awesome view, meet a fellow traveler, see one of the numerous shelters, and/or see wild life. Most of the entire trail is through wooded areas and mountains, so you experience the wild side of things. But there is also a civilized side to it, so you are not completely isolated from civilization. If you don’t see people themselves, you’ll see a walking stick propped up on the side of a tree, or a smoldering campfire along side the trail, or a cairn, to name a few things. A cairn is a pile of rocks that someone has built along the trail. It could mean a warning of sort, like a sharp turn on the trail, or a nearby branch off trail. It could also be a marker for a particular section of trail. Sometimes there is nowhere to mark one of the A.T.’s famous white blazes, so a cairn could help the hiker stay on trail. Other times, cairns are made just for fun…here’s a picture of one….

Cairn pile


Speaking of fun, the West Virginia and Maryland portions of the A.T. sounded fun. The mileage from Harper’s Ferry to the Mason/Dixon line is roughly 44 miles, ideal for a fall day’s trail run. So onward we go!

Jen, AKA Earth Girl (EG), and Stacy joined me for a fall run through the woods on November 1st. We decided to start at Harper’s Ferry and run north to Pen Mar, which is at the border of Maryland and Pennsylvania. If you look at a map, Harper’s Ferry is in West Virginia, with Virginia bordering on the east and south and Maryland bordering north of town. The weather forecaster leading up to that Saturday had pretty much stayed the same: overcast with about a 50% chance of rain and windy. It was a forecast we weren’t used to, with all of the PA A.T. runs being sunny and warmer with hardly a breeze each day.

I woke up Saturday morning to a Timex watch that supposedly died overnight. This was the only watch I had along with me on the trip. I never ran without a watch before. I guess there is a first for everything. As we pulled into the parking lot on the northern end of the Int. 340 bridge, rain drops started to collect on the windshields. The first mile included going through the actual town of H.F. The town is rich with all kinds of history, mostly history that took place during the civil war.

Harper's Ferry

Me, EG, and Stacy

following the white blazes through Harper's Ferry

following the white blazes through Harper’s Ferry

Once going through town, we crossed over a bridge, basically where the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers meet, and joined up with the C & O Canal Towpath. This towpath ventured along the Potomac river for a few miles. It felt good to “stretch out the legs” on this stretch of trail. Eventually we met up with EG’s family….husband Ryan, daughter JJ, son Aidan, and Ryan’s brother Shawn. They kindly volunteered to crew us with food and drink throughout our adventure. We would see them on average every 6 miles this day. After a few chips and a quick adjustment in clothing, we were off…and up to Weverton Cliffs. It was one of the better views we would see all day.

Weverton Cliff view

Weverton Cliff view

This time of year, the trail is coated with leaves. They make it very hard to see those pesky little rocks that protrude from the ground. I call them “shark fins” because, well, they look like fins sticking out of the ground. We navigated through these the next few miles, settling in on a nice, easy pace. The wind had picked up a bit, but the rain that we were expecting, hadn’t gotten to us yet. And if there is wind, cold, and rain, that makes for a not so fun experience. After a meet up or two with our crew, we continued our morning trek north with more miles running on top of a ridge…. enjoying the dreary, gloomy, but still colorful fall foliage type of morning. Eventually we got to White Rocks Trail, which included a nice view of the eastern side of the mountain we were on, I believe it is still considered the Blue Mountains.

White Rocks Trail

White Rocks View

The total elevation change on our 43 mile trip equaled roughly 8,800 total elevation. Normally, that deserves recognition as being a tough amount of elevation to complete. However, it didn’t seem all that bad. There were climbs and descents, but overall, there weren’t quad and hamstring busting changes. We were glad for that, because cold and windy conditions and tight/sore legs equal a not so happy person. Though I had gone ahead of both EG and Stacy, they were only a few minutes behind after each aid station stop. Jen’s family continued to do a superb job in finding the right locations to meet up with us. They had been so used to crewing our PA A.T. runs, that it was second nature to them. I do feel for them, though. It was cold that day, and they did a lot of sitting and waiting. The one aid station I happened to look in their van and all the kids and adults were wrapped in blankets waiting for us. It became apparent, it appeared they were having a more tiring, uncomfortable day than we were. But they never complained and they continued to meet us every 6 miles or so. Here’s a picture of Stacy, Jen, and Ryan at one of the aid stations. Yep, people were getting cold….

Stacy, EG, and Ryan

Stacy, EG, and Ryan

As the day went on, and the miles kept building, we realized we had gotten lucky with the rain. There wasn’t any! Another thing that we noticed, was that the hikers in Maryland are an active bunch! We saw so many hikers, and runners for that matter, on the trail. We were a bit surprised by that. The weather wasn’t the greatest, but there sure were groups of 1 or 2, followed by groups of 7 or 8. And they were a variety of people too…young women, old men, old women, young men, old runners, young runners, etc. You name the type of person, and I think we saw them that day. It was an active trail, for sure. I also saw a cairn. We normally see a few each run and this run wasn’t any different. I had got to thinking that I hadn’t really taken a picture yet of one so I snapped one. Haha, it has to been the smallest one I have ever seen. It was stacked maybe 3 inches high….and I’m pretty confident it was one of the “just for fun” ones.

Can you see the cairn?

Can you see the cairn?

A.T. emblem found on a root

A.T. emblem found on a root

Like I said earlier, I had been running solo with Stacy and EG behind me. With about 10-12 miles remaining, and daylight starting to fade, I had noticed that I hadn’t see Ryan and family for a while. Though I wasn’t that worried, it did get my attention. At one point, I had crossed over a main road. On the other side of the road in the woods, there was a blue blazed side trail. The sign read “Parking” and had a arrow pointing the blue blazed direction. I was stuck. I wasn’t sure if I should continue on the white blazed A.T., or attempt this blue blazed trail to reach this parking lot. For one, I really didn’t know how far the lot was from the trail. For two, if I got to the lot, were Ryan and family going to be there? Figures, I didn’t have my A.T. map/booklet with me, so I couldn’t get any information about it. I started on the blue blazed trail and then slammed on the breaks. I thought, “Jeremy, you love adventures. Why don’t you just make an adventure within and adventure and forget about the parking lot?” So I turned around and got back onto the A.T. To make matters a little tougher, my cell phone battery was minimal, and I really didn’t know how much battery life I had left with my flashlight. A mile or two later, I approached a stream, and it seemed drinkable, so I filled my hydration pack to the top to be safe.

I decided to attempt to call Stacy with the minimal battery life I had left. Luckily, I got a hold of her and she confirmed that I should have taken that blue blazed trail to the parking lot and that would have led me to the crew. I was to meet Ryan and the gang 4 miles beyond there. I was relieved to hear that. I hung up the phone and started to head up a side of a mountain with better spirits. I should see the crew in about a mile. As I was heading up the mountain, I heard this rumbling and cracking of sticks and such. I looked over and all I could see in this thick patch of small trees and bushes, was this big, round, black, furry blob sprinting away from me. It was a bear! Thank goodness it was sprinting away from me. I scurried up the mountain even faster, with brief glances over my shoulder as I went. I eventually got to Ryan and the gang. I loaded up on food, coke, and coffee that I had requested at the last aid station I was at, some 3-4 hours prior. It tasted good. I also had my headlamp stored in their van, so I had backup light. I talked with them for a while and then was off for the final 6 or so miles.

The first mile was quite a climb up a mountain and it seemed like it would never end. Once at the top, it was pretty good ridge running, but it eventually got rocky. With about 10 minutes of light left, I snapped this photo…

Darkness was settling in

Darkness was settling in

After another mile, I turned the headlamp on and continued. It seemed like another mile or so until I got to an intersection on the trail. The A.T. went left and a blue blazed “vista view” labeled trail was straight ahead. After thinking it through for a minute, I decided to take the blue blaze to see what it looked like. It was the Pen Mar High Rock Vista, and was it ever awesome! It was so deserving, after a long day in the woods. The night was tranquil, with hardly any wind. And the gloomy skies had started to clear. The following picture doesn’t do it justice….


Pen Mar

Pen Mar High Rock Vista

After gawking for about 5 minutes I decided to start the descend down into Pen Mar. Rude awakening! Rocks, boulders, rocks, boulders, everywhere, for at least a half mile heading down that mountain!! Later, all three of us agreed we weren’t expecting that type of finish. It was very hard to pick up the white blazes mixed in with all of the rocks. It resembled the toughest/rockiest sections of the PA A.T! Eventually, I got down to a flatter area, but it was still tough to spot the shiny blazes of the A.T. Luckily, I only ventured off the actual trail a few feet each time I got disoriented and finally got to a nice, flat, runnable section. I had never been at the Pen Mar State Park before, so when I got to it, I was expecting a parking lot with Ryan and family waiting. I was wrong! No parking lot, no Ryan and family. Now what? I continued to follow the blazes until I got to the train tracks area…the same area where we started the PA A.T. way back in June, but Ryan and the kids weren’t there either.

I had about 5% left on my cell phone and the last text message I had gotten was from Ryan, who said the park closed at dusk and he would meet me past the park at the gate? My phone was now dead. Hmm? Well, I knew there was a gate at the main entrance to the park, so I walked up there. No Ryan. It was starting to get cold, since the temps were now back down into the higher 30’s. So I ran back down to the train tracks…No Ryan. I continued to go back and forth from the main park entrance gate, to the train tracks. Finally, after at least a mile of running back and forth in the dark, and numerous cars passing me along the way, I saw a headlamp by the train tracks….it was Ryan. There must have been another parking location beyond the train tracks that I was unfamiliar with. He lead me back to the van, with Stacy and EG just finishing up. I gave each a high five! We were all glad to be done. And I was grateful that Stacy and EG had come along for the journey.

2 more states checked off the 14 state list!












Oil Creek 100K- 2014

The Oil Creek 100, www.oilcreek100.org , is located in between Titusville and Oil City in northwestern PA. Most of it is run in the Oil Creek State Park. A lot of history is found in this location with it being the first location to drill and profit off of oil in the country.

I thought I would give 62.2 miles a try. After all, our PA Appalachian Trail runs were considered great training runs for an upcoming 100K or 100 miler, ranging from 16 miles to 36 miles for each run. I had heard a mixed bag of opinions on what the terrain is like at OC. Some said it is technical, with lots of roots and rocks. Others said most, if not all, is completely runnable, with minimal roots and rocks. You will hear all kinds of opinions on any type of run, whether it be road or trail, hilly or flat, short or long. Though I do listen to each ones’ opinions on these descriptions, I listen to my own opinion more. Of course, it is rather tough if you have never run an event before. These are the races I love the most, the uncertain ones!

The weekend started off good. My wife Caryn and I left early Friday afternoon for the 4 hour plus drive out to Oil City. The drive was similar to the one’s we’ve done in the past. I typically have a Nature Valley bar, Gatorade, and water with me on these race weekend drives. Caryn is normally crocheting something, a scarf, hat, gloves, etc. If any of that stuff sounds nice to you, and if you have Facebook, check out “Creations by C.M. Hand”. She is very talented and she loooves to do it. A crafty woman, she is! Once we hopped on Interstate 80, we made some good time. The northern part of our state is beautiful, especially in fall with all of the trees changing colors. The drive out Int. 80 reminded me of a marathon I ran a few years back, the God’s Country Marathon, which is a point-to-point marathon, starting in Galeton and ending in Coudersport. The race is run on Rt. 6, which traverses the entire northern part of the state. I recommend that race to anyone looking to enjoy some nice scenery and who is willing to run up a mountain at around mile 17. I’ll be running it next June!

We arrived at the Titusville Middle School to pick up my race packet and Oil Creek long sleeved shirt. Our trail friends, Anne(Dreamweaver) and Kristen(Trail bait) were sitting at one of the cafeteria tables as we walked in. If you don’t know, most trail runners and hikers are given trail names. I was given Minqua as a trail name. There is a nice story behind it, but we won’t dive into it now. All I know is that it fits me well. Dreamweaver, Anne, was planning on running her first 100 miler. Trail bait, Kristen, opted to help Dreamweaver through the last of 3 loops. Each loop is roughly 30 miles in length. I think it is pretty damn awesome for someone to “pace” another runner through an event. I had never heard of it before diving head first in to trails. I wonder if “pacing” would be allowed during a road marathon, or would that be “against the law” by the race director? Wow, are road and trail running differ!

We sat down and ate a great spaghetti dinner the OC volunteers made for us. It was free! Our friends Matt and Don also were there and they joined in on dinner. I don’t know if they have trail names or not. Both Matt and Don were also attempting their first 100 milers. Once we were done, we sat around, relaxing as much as possible and talking about the upcoming two days. Jen(Earth girl) and her husband Ryan then made an appearance. Both Earth Girl and Ryan were planning on doing the 100K with me. This duo is very knowledgeable when it comes to trail running. They’ve been doing it for years…and very successfully, too. Ryan was planning on competing for the overall winner’s spot in the 100K. Supposedly Ryan trained for this 100K by……biking? Yeah, and running “hear and there”. Ok, righto.

Friday night I slept similarly to other nights before a long race. I got up a few times to go to the bathroom and ended up getting about 5 or so hours of sleep. Early on, this amount of sleep would have been drastic. I would have been dragging through the race. But my body is now accustomed to it and 5 hours seemed to be enough.

We met up with Trail bait, Ryan, and Earth girl at the cafeteria for a quick picture around 5:30am. Dreamweaver, Matt, and Don had already started their 100 mile journey’s at 5:00am.

Trail bait, Ryan, Earth girl, Minqua, and Caryn

Trail bait, Ryan, Earth girl, Minqua, and Caryn

I had never run in the woods in the dark before. I had recently gotten a knew head lamp and had tested it out 2 day prior on the road. It seemed to do the trick in the dark and on the road, so I though it would do well for the first hour of running. The weather was to be ideal. High 30’s at the start and low 50’s in the afternoon, with sun!  We started off slow, real slow, and on a paved walking path. Lots of trail runners cringe at the sight of any type of pavement. I don’t mind, especially with my heavily padded Hoka trail sneakers I’ve been wearing. They make it seem like I’m running on clouds. They are ideal for running over rocks and roots. And since I really didn’t truthfully know what type of terrain I’d be dealing with, the Hoka’s were the best choice to be safe.

Once we hit the single track trail and started heading up, I started to get a good feeling about the terrain. Though it was kind of muddy and rocky to start, it quickly became apparent that this trail had nothing on the sections of Appalachian Trail we encountered in the northeastern sections of PA. I was happy, it was going to be a “running” type of race. The aid stations are evenly sprawled throughout the almost exactly 31 mile loop. A good thing about their placements is that they are placed right before a climb. The first aid station was stocked with anything you wanted, bananas, oranges, chips, candy, noodle soup…heck, there could’ve been pizza there, but I didn’t want to stick around. I probably could’ve stayed there all day to veg out. I continued on for a few miles, weaving up and down beautiful scenery, crossing a stream here and there, then got to aid station 2, where I met T.B. and Caryn. After a brief chat, I was off, and doing fine. I felt good, I thought, but also knew that I would be passing through these sections for loop two.

At aid station 3, I was starting to feel a bit sluggish. I gobbled up a burrito?, and had my “go to” drink during these long trail runs, Coke. There is something about Coke that hits the spot. Well, maybe it’s multiple things…caffeine, sugar, carbonation, whatever it is, I love it. Leaving aid station 3, I knew there was a hill coming. It turned out there were two. Once at the top of the first hill, the trail evened out for a little bit, but then another hill showed itself. This one was kind of intimidating, because it went straight up. It wasn’t steep, but it was there and you could see all of it. It didn’t seem that bad at the time, but did I ever wonder how I was going to do it the second time around. I eventually hiked to the top and after 5 or so more miles, I started making my way back to the middle school. Right before, that, I recognized a familiar gait ahead of me. It was Dreamweaver’s gait! I was happy to see her and she said she was doing real well. She had met up with a different Matt, who had wanted to join us for a few of the PA A.T. runs this past summer, but wasn’t able to. After introductions, I wished them good luck. Once back at the start…or mile 31, at the middle school, I was greeted by Caryn and T.B. The other Matt …I’ll call him House, and Don were also there. House said he was doing ok, but was struggling a bit. He was diagnosed with Lyme’s Disease this past summer and said his training had gotten off track a bit. Don appeared to be doing very well. Here we are at aid station 4……

O.C. aid station 4

I was feeling pretty good, but started to have that dreaded, woozy feeling, the feeling I had during one of the PA A.T. runs where I had gotten sick. Great! Half way through and I’m starting to feel like crap already. Right before House and I headed back out, Anne and the other Matt came in. Here they are ……

O.C. aid station 4 Anne

I couldn’t imagine them going back out for two more loops. But here they are with smiles on their faces….just out for a morning stroll.

Don left the aid station first, followed by House, then me….slowly. Unfortunately, the woozy, crappy feeling stayed with me. I started the “run/walk thing”, running a few hundred yards, then walking. What the heck is going on, I thought?! This can’t be happening to me at mile 32 of a 62 mile event. There was a bright spot, however, when I looked up from that pavement to see Earth girl heading my way. We both asked how the other was feeling. She said she was feeling crappy. I acknowledged I felt the same. We wished each other luck in passing and continued on our ways. Here she is just a short time later approaching aid station 4. If she’s feeling crappy here, I wonder how she looks when she’s feeling happy?

Earth Girl feeling crappy

Earth Girl feeling crappy

Notice there has been nothing said of her husband, Ryan. That’s because he was to fast for everyone to notice him. He bypassed T.B. and Caryn at aid station 2 without them even seeing him and apparently his average time at the aid stations is less than a minute. How does one have enough time to get the camera out, focus, and get a good picture? Well, Caryn managed to get a picture of him somewhere…

O.C. Ryan

After doing the run/walk thing for the next 5 or so miles, I approached aid station 5. I remember thinking the first time around what a cool aid station it was and would love to just veg out there the whole day. Well my thoughts on that hadn’t changed, and actually contemplated just staying there. House was there also, and both of us were feeling like crap. I remember sitting down, putting my head down, and thinking I’ve never had a DNF before. This seems like the perfect day to have it. What a F$cked up feeling. I had gotten up to get some chips and to get some more Coke, and when doing so, I remember this herd of runners coming in…each one of them laughing and carrying on. Wow, I wish I’d feel that good, I thought. It turns out, Dreamweaver and the other Matt were part of that crew. Damn, they looked good. Not even tired! Like they were 2 miles into a 5 mile trail run or something. D.W. asked me how I felt and I pretty much just smirked and shook my head, NO. I really didn’t want to put my negative thoughts and feelings into this potential 100 mile finisher’s head. After saying good luck, I noticed someone had taken my seat that I had been sitting at. I really wanted to sit back down, but turns out, it was for the best that someone took it. After that, I said the hell with it, wished House luck, and continued the journey. By mile 40, all I could think of was how ugly a DNF would look on my resume. I never had one before. But I really didn’t care because I really felt horrible. No energy, blurred vision, really dark urine, you know, the normal stuff that happens when one is dehydrated. Wait, what?

Before the race started, I had spoken with a few of my trail friends about knowing that if one was to crash, hit a wall, or something similar, that there was plenty of time to gather one’s self. In ultras, you can sit down on a stump for 20 minutes and rest. Heck I even heard stories of people taking hour long naps during these things and eventually successfully finishing, with great times. So….I knew what was wrong with me. I was dehydrated. I had been walking the hills and flats and gradually trotting the down hills. I decided to take two S-caps(pills that help with electrolytes) and a salt tablet within a span of 5 minutes. I also started drinking water, lots of it. I also decided to completely walk for almost a mile. I then started the run/walk thing once again. By mile 42, I noticed a change. I’m not sure what was first, the mental side of it or the physical side of it. But by mile 43, both were moving on all cylinders. I was back, and I knew I was going to finish. It’s a great feeling when you get over a mental barrier. I’ve heard of people getting past multiple barriers during a race. Thank goodness, I only had to deal with one. I came into aid station 6, with a nice hop in my step. I was very glad to see Caryn. that only helped the cause even more! Once exchanging pleasantries and telling both Caryn and T.B. about my ups and downs, I ventured off. Up and down hills, through hollowed woods, I went.

At aid station 7, I was dying for a coffee. It was scalding, and I only took a few sips, but it tasted real good. Speaking of real good, this OC 100 is set up real good. All of it, aid stations, volunteers, the trail itself, a great set up. Anyhow, I knew what was ahead of me, the pesky back to back hills that I remember thinking “how will react to it the second time around”. I hiked up the first hill without hesitation and confidence. After leveling off, I came to the second hill…I debated whether or not to run up it or not. Yep, correct! I felt that good, that I wanted to run up it. But I thought I better not, I still had a long 6 or 7 miles left. Within those last 6 or 7 miles, it was to get dark, and that could be mentally heart breaking. As it gradually got dark, I couldn’t help but think of how lucky I was. So lucky that unless I’d fall and break a bone, I was going to complete a 62 mile event in one day. Not many people can say that. I was so grateful to have the opportunity to do something like that. About 30 minutes after turning my headlamp on, it started to dim. It got to a point where it was starting to effect my vision on the trail. I had thought I had more battery life than what I actually had. Thank goodness Earth girl recommended that I have a spare flashlight along just in case. Phew! At that moment, I crossed paths with Don. He seemed he was doing great! He asked about House and I told him the last time I saw him was at aid station 5. I wished him continued luck and went on my way. As I approached the final descend down to the Oil Creek Museum, about 2 miles from the finish, I started to hear voices. Almost home!

At the bottom, a gentleman asked if I was a 100K’er or a 100 miler. Thank goodness I was only doing the 100K, though I still did have a jump in my step. I’m sure if I had 1 more 30 + loop to do, that jump in my step would be more of a crawl. Anyways, I had a great pace circling around the museum. What a rush it was! As I got to within two blocks of the middle school and the finish, I almost had a tear come to my eye, but that quickly changed to a smile when I saw the finish line. A saw a few people just relaxing, doing their thing, while I approached the line. I was looking for Caryn, but didn’t see her. About 10 ft. from the line, someone must have recognized me because it seemed like the whole place exploded in cheers, even though there may have been a total of 10 people there. I crossed the line at 14:04:54. I had said to myself if I run the first loop in 6:30 and run the second loop 7:30, for a 14:00 finish, I would’ve been pleased. I was pleased, even with rough spot in between. My wife gave me a hug and kiss and it felt great! Of course she missed a finish line picture and the photographer that she is, had me crossing the line a few times more. The first picture is the “official” finish line picture. The second is my wife’s…..

O.C. finish official picO.C. finish Caryn's pic

Unfortunately, after leaving aid station 5, where I last saw him, House decided to call it a day. Though I’m sure he was pissed off about it, there was nothing to be disappointed about. I know he’ll be back at it and stronger than before.

I never felt so great, and 10 minutes later, feel so awful. I wanted warmth, so we went into the middle school gym. I sat down on a metal chair, and stayed there for about 30 minutes. I couldn’t move. The only movement in my body was of it shivering. Here’s my zombie like state in the gym with Caryn….

O.C. finish in gym

Eventually, after my wife served me hot soup, pizza, coffee, coke, and a banana, I hobbled across the gym floor and hit the showers. I stood motionless under the showerhead for it seemed like an eternity. Eventually, I thawed out and got into a change of clothes.

Apparently, Ryan had no issues finishing his 100K. He finished his in under 12 hrs. Pretty awesome. Here he is finishing in daylight. Must be nice!

O.C. Ryan finish

E.G. finished after me. She cut almost an hour off of her time from last year’s OC 100K! We both agreed that the PA A.T. runs helped tremendously for all of us. E.G. has a bunch of potential, and I think she gets that, and is improving on each run these days. Dreamweaver eventually completed her second loop and both her and T.B. went out for the third and final loop…at 9:45pm. It’s just really hard for me to fathom going out for 30 + more miles in the dead cold of night after completing 62 miles.

We all got a good night sleep and in the morning we were back at the middle school, having some breakfast. Don had gone through the final 30 mile loop and he was completing the coming home route of about 8 miles. DW and T.B. then came through mid morning…here they are having a great time….

Trail bait and Dreamweaver

Trail bait and Dreamweaver

I had missed Don’s finish, but apparently he finished strong. What a great accomplishment for him! Caryn offered to run the final 7 + miles with D.W. Caryn was a little apprehensive knowing she was going to be running with someone who was on her 93’rd mile. We told her to try and keep spirits high and encourage a run/walk scenario, where possible. After two more cups of coffee for myself, I left the middle school and headed out in search of my wife and D.W. I found them with about a mile to go. D.W. seemed really good. I ran/walked with them the last mile with Dreamweaver finishing with a smile on her face….

O.C. Anne finish

I couldn’t have been more pleased with my first 100K experience. It was an enjoyable weekend spent with my wife and trail running friends. I can’t wait to run another one!

Caryn, Minqua, Ryan, Earth girl, Dreamweaver, and Trail bait

Caryn, Minqua, Ryan, Earth girl, Dreamweaver, and Trail bait

O.C. 100K finisher's belt buckle

O.C. 100K finisher’s belt buckle

PA Appalachian Trail- Summer of 2014

Where to begin. The idea of running the Pennsylvania Appalachian Trail had been on my mind ever since I started running trails, 4, maybe 5 years ago. Grant it, it was in the far backend part of my mind, but it was there. At that point in my running “career”, running marathons as fast as I could was the main priority.

I had gradually started getting into trail running more and more over the past 2 or 3 years. I took the plunge, though, when I chose to sign up for local road and trail running legend Don Halke’s Fatass race, the Conococheague 50K in August of 2013. I met Jen Henry trying to find Don’s race. Once we found it, and started, I somehow managed to run into her during the race, and one of her running friends, Kristen, was with her. It turned out Kristen knew Megan Michael, who went to my high school and who I was familiar with….small world. We completed the 50K and at the end, I met a person by the name of Randy Dietz, who happened to know my uncle and graduated high school with him. Randy is considered as being a hardcore distance ultra runner himself. From what I’ve heard, he’s blazed a considerable amount of trail miles and races for himself. There’s such a great respect for experienced, knowledgeable long distance trail runners. Don and Randy are two of those people.

Since that Fatass, I’ve run off a few more 50K’s, including Don’s other Fatass race, the Tuscarora Trails 50K. They are both considered challenging, but at the time, I really didn’t know any better. I just did it. I just listened to what other trail runner’s were saying about it and went along with them…they were considered tough. Agreed, they are tough!  (FYI…Megan, Kristen, and Don all have blogs. I’ll work on linking them up on future posts, but until then, look them up. You could say they are active people.)

Sorry, I’m getting off trail….Anyhow, late last year I created a facebook page with about 20 or so ultra runners I had come to meet and run with in my short time of running these trail runs. I knew I had a few takers…after all, Megan Michael said it was on her bucket list and I had remembered Kristen mentioning about it at some point. I knew I had some takers. That facebook page has grown considerably(I’m really hoping a few will join me on the A.T. in future runs). We decided to split the runs up with a running weekend in June, July, August, and September for a total of 8 days.That’s 229 miles on the PA Appalachian Trail in 8 days. Yes, we covered some good miles on those days. Even though it was one of the greatest summers I’ve experienced in my life, I’m too lazy to type all that I remember on each day so……The following is simply a copy and paste, brief description from my personal running log on each day:

Day 1: June 7th (29.2 Miles)

PA/MD border to Big Flat/Shippensburg Rd………………Day 1, perfect day/weekend to start the PA AT run…with Jen Henry, Kristen, Anne Weaver, Carol Varano, Missy Miley, John Weaver, Bill Bechtel, and Megan Micheal. Rolling hills and mountains. took it easy the first day. enjoyed it.

PA A.T. Day 1

Day 2: June 8th (27.8 Miles)

Big Flat/Shippensburg Rd to Boiling Springs……………………..Day 2, with Jen Henry, Kristen, Anne Weaver, Carol Varano, Missy Miley, Danny Mower, Gary Bowman, and Bill Bechtel. Another nice day, may have been a little warmer. Started off slow, steadily ran harder throughout. more up and down hills, with open field at the end at Boiling Springs. Overall, great weekend, took lots of pictures!

Halfway point of A.T.

Day 3: July 12th (26.9 Miles)

From Boiling Springs to Clarks Ferry Bridge…….Day 3…..Danielle Diantoniis, her two guy friends, Allison Longenberger, Kristen, Anne Weaver, Jen Henry, Don Halke, Rik Keener, Matt H. Brigitte Sheehan, Chris Booke……..warm and humid, a mix of open fields and woods the first 16 miles, then hit the mountains for the last 10-11 miles. I personally had a rough day, was dehydrated, cramped up, threw up…but still was fun. we stopped at the Doyle Hotel in Duncannon for a beer before finishing at the bridge.

PA A.T. Sick

Day 4: July 13th (32.4 Miles)

From Clarks Ferry Bridge to Green Point/Rt. 443…………Day 4………Jen Henry, Anne Weaver, John Weaver, Kristen, Bill Bechtel, Gary Bowman, Danny Mowers, Sayard Gonzalez, Ashleigh Garber, Carol Varano………a better day than the day before for me. I started off slow for the fist 10-15 miles and was hesitant and wasn’t sure if I was going to crash like the day before or not. I got stronger as the day went on….wanted to fill hydration pack at Rausch Gap with 4-5 miles left, but couldn’t locate the spring(it was at the shelter)…still a great weekend with good friends and Caryn did an exceptional job again crewing.

PA A.T. Day 4

Day 5: August 9th (36.5 Miles)

Day 5……Swatara State Park to Port Clinton….Jeff Merritt, Ian Kraynak, Don Halke, Jen Henry, Stacy Gautsch, Carol Varano, Bill Bechtel, Kristen, Danny Mowers, Anne Weaver, and Paul Moretz….another fun, but this time a very challenging run. a beautiful morning, the terrain started out similar to peter’s mountain/clark’s valley terrain, nice, runnable terrain. we had beautiful views. gradually the terrain got to being rockier and rockier. the run got tougher and beat up my legs and feet toward the end. was completely exhausted when finished…a few of us saw a black rattlesnake.

PA A.T. Day 5

Day 6: August 10th (26.7 Miles)

Day 6………Port Clinton to Rt. 309….Bill Bechtel, Gary Bowman, Ashleigh Garber, Stacy Gautsch, William Bordner, Anne Weaver, Ian Kraynak, Kristen, Jon Rich, Carol Varano, Jen Henry, Maggie Wonsick, and Cassy Lizza…….a better day than the day before. More beautiful vistas including Pulpit Rock and the Pinnacle. the terrain was still rocky, but also had a nice mix of runnable trail and logging road. I personally felt better and had a great time enjoying the sights…I also tried the Hoka’s for the first time and worked well over the rocks.

PA A.T. Day 6 Pulpit RockPA A.T. Day 6 The Pinnacle

Day 7: September 6th (34.0 Miles)

Day 7…………..Rt. 309 to Wind Gap……..Jen Henry, Anne Weaver, John Weaver, Carol Varano, and me…..Unfortunately, Kristen was injured and couldn’t run this run……a very long day. we all stuck together due to the humid and warm conditions and all of the rocks!!! hydrated and fueled well throughout. at least half of the run was actually hiking over rocks. A very nice view at the Lehigh Gap overlook. a fun but tiring day.

PA A.T. Day 7 Lehigh Gap

Day 8: September 7th (16.0 Miles)

Day 8……..Wind Gap to Delaware Water Gap(PA/NJ border)…….Jen Henry, Anne Weaver, John Weaver, Kristen, Carol Varano, Stacy Gautch, and me………a better, “easier” day in terms of weather. it was very comfortable but still rocky conditions. it was bittersweet at the end once we finished on the other side of the Int 80 bridge. sad that there are no more runs in PA, but happy to complete it and looking forward to starting other states on the AT!!

PA A.T. Day 8

Yes, correct. “Other states on the AT.” Stay tuned.

mY fiRsT BLoG

This is a forewarning, my writing skills are as good as my Puma Faas 500 TR trail sneakers…warn down, dull, lacking, etc. You get the idea. My mind is currently scrambled. There is so much stuff I would like to accomplish. There is so much stuff that I’ve already accomplished. Stuff that I’d like to have already written down and published. Most of this stuff involves trail running, some of it involves road running, and a bit of it involves the following: beer and coffee. I guess I’ll jump to it…..or rather, run to it. Enjoy, bloggers!