Tahoe 200- 2019

The night before the Tahoe 200, I made a point to read my grandfather’s letter to his parents, dated August 4th, 1945. In it, he explains that he just turned 21 and explains how his life had changed over the past year. He said it was one of the most exciting years of his life…which included adventures, hardships, happy moments, and sad moments. He said this one year had everything that the rest of his life would be made up of. Zoom in and read this one letter if you can. I really enjoyed reading his letters to his folks. At the end of them, he normally would include comments like “please send me licorice candy” or “please send me Old Spice shaving lotion”, or “send me gum drops”. Boy did he ever have a sweet tooth. You would have never guessed during these letters, he was in the middle of WWII(Battle of the Bulge). I read this letter for inspiration.

The morning of the Tahoe 200, I remember feeling relieved and calm. Months leading up to it, I was as nervous and as excited as I have ever been in any running race I had ever done. Mentally and physically I thought I was ready. There was no stopping me from finishing. Bones needed to be broken in order for me to DNF…or they had to pull me from the course.

I am going to try and remember as much as I can between each aid station. All of them ranged between 7 miles and 20.4 miles between them. Let’s start with Barker Pass…..

Barker Pass- mile 0 to 7

Once race director of the Destination Trail series Candice said “go”, we started hiking up Homewood Resort.

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It was a nice climb and once we reached the top, had a great view of the Sierra Nevada Mtns. I did not get a picture of this, but they were beautiful. Some peaks still had snow on the tops from last winter. After close to 3,000ft. of total gain, we started to descend and reached A.S. 1. They had the best guacamole role-ups I’ve ever had. What a great sign to come!

Loon Lake- mile 7 to 24

After some more descending, it seemed we gradually started meshing with the Rubicon Trail.(I know this is false. You leave one trail and go to the next, obviously. No meshing!). Most of the race, we ran on the Tahoe Rim Trail. Once in awhile we would venture on to other trails. I don’t remember the names of them….except the Rubicon. It was at this point that I realized how dry and dirt filled the air really was out there. I remember asking someone maybe around mile 10 if we were on the Rubicon and he wasn’t sure. Within a mile, it was obvious. We approached an overlook, which included about 5 massive Jeeps and their tires. I yelled over to a woman sitting by the Jeeps and asked if we were on the Rubicon. “Yep” was the confident reply. She also had a smirk, but also a possibly confused look that runners were actually going onto this trail. A half mile later I took this picture.

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For the next few miles, trail runners mingled with big jeeps, coming within feet and inches of each other. Dust and dirt in the air made it difficult to breath. I covered my face with a buff for a good 3 miles. The trail at this point was very technical. It would become one the main conversations of the whole race.

Tell’s Creek– mile 24 to 30.5.

This little stretch was much better. By this time it was mid-afternoon and the sun was shining. The trail was dirt, roots, and rocks. I remember taking pictures of the big Jeffrey Pine trees…

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Once at the aid station, one of the volunteers, Brandon, helped me. I knew him. He was there to help Jon who was there to complete the race. Brandon got me a cheeseburger and other good stuff. Throughout the race, the aid stations had very good food and good support. I thanked Brandon and continued on.

Wright’s Lake- mile 30.5 to 44

Wright’s Lake included some descents, but it also was almost a carbon copy of the Rubicon Trail. But only this time, night was falling. Whether I liked it or not, the dry air and the dust was definitely becoming an issue. I used my buff as much as possible to cover my face. Even in the middle of the night men and women were driving their big Jeeps on this technical trail. We knew they were coming ahead. You heard them and saw their headlights. You had to get out of the way, “or else”! But truthfully, they were very good and actually shared the trail with us. Some stopped to allow us pass through. At the aid station, I had a drop bag. I used it wisely by putting on dry and warmer clothing. It was cold outside that night. Truthfully, it turned out to be cold every night out there.

Sierra at Tahoe- mile 44 to 62.9

After the aid station, I started to descend on a paved road. By this time it was in the middle of the night. The sky was so clear and the moonlight was so bright, I decided to turn my headlamp off. It was awesome! This picture was from a night or two after. You get the idea of how bright the moon was….

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It was at this time that I started to feel burning on the bottoms of my feet. I never really had issues with my feet up until this summer. The burning feeling just started to show up during some runs and lingered throughout the rest of the summer. It took a very long time to get to the bottom of the mountain. This would be a common occurrence as the days would go on. These mountains were big, and long. Getting to A.S.’s started to take longer than I wanted them to. We got onto a trail and ran parallel with Rt. 50. We eventually got onto a road and climbed to the Sierra at Tahoe A. S. where I met my wife Caryn, for the first time. My pacer starting at mile 103, Brett, was also there to greet me. It was a pleasant sight to see both of them! It really lifted my spirits…

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Housewife Hill- mile 62.9 to 70.5

This stretch  was only about 7 miles long. I do remember having a bit of a mental struggle. A few tweaks and the use of a walking stick made me feel better. I was welcomed at the aid station by Caryn and Brett. After them pampering me, I asked for my hiking poles. I knew I would need them on this next stretch.

Armstrong Pass- mile 70.5 to 88.1

The start of the second day of sunlight was welcoming. It was a cold first night. The weather around the lake would fluctuate. During the time of the race, they were calling for highs ranging from mid to high 70’s and as low as mid to low 30’s. Those lows would actually dip into the mid 20’s on the last night. Much of this 17+ mile stretch was on a gradual incline. Total elevation gain in this stretch was more than 4,300 ft. Continuous climbing was a bit of a relief to the burning of my forefeet. At one point, we were on a decline. I had decided to get some relief, as well as attempted to take a little dirt nap. I was unsuccessful….

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We climbed again and eventually crested at the highest point of the race above sea level, 9,716ft. I was expecting the aid station to be towards the top, but I was wrong. We started to descend a somewhat technical trail. At this time, I started to get a bad feeling on the top of my left foot. I did not twist the ankle or anything out of the ordinary. It just started hurting. Once we finally got down to the aid station, Caryn and Brett were there to greet me, fill my hydration pack, give me food. Wait on me hand and foot. I checked my foot, and it wasn’t swollen at that point. I was able to get  a bit of rest in one of the sleep tents they had set up.

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Heavenly- mile 88.1 to 103.1

This stretch of miles was a turning point for me. It started out very good. I got to an overlook and took these pictures with some very nice people I had met….

 

Once I started descending, the top of my left foot really started to hurt. Combined with the burning of the bottoms of my feet, and the blisters that had already formed miles ago, the turning point was not a good one. The last 8-10 miles were the start of some of the longest hours of my life. Each step started to become more painful. At one point, I sat on a rock and thought about quitting right there. There was no way I could go another 110 miles feeling like this. I continued down the mountain…extremely slow. I sent a text message to Caryn to warn her that I was in need of a medic. After what seemed like an eternity, I got to the Heavenly aid station, with Caryn and Brett greeting me with smiles. Two medics were there to attend to me…John? and Brian. They were sincere and knowledgeable. I would stay at this aid station for 6 hours. I would sleep for 4 of those hours. I would ice and elevate my left foot, and Brian would work on blisters and taping me up.

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Once waking up from a restless sleep, I felt nauseous. This was one of my lowest points. I don’t know if Caryn sensed it, but I was on the verge of just quitting right there on that blowup mattress. Caryn and Brett tended to me. Caryn got me some ginger ale and I eventually got up to go to the bathroom. At that point, I did feel a little better and felt I could go on. Plus my awesome pacer Brett was ready to start with me! It was time to start moving forward.

Spooner Summit- mile 103.1 to 123.5

I was so glad to have Brett on board. I was in need of a change. Something to take the pain away. Brett was the answer. This would be the longest stretch between aid stations…20.4 miles. However, with conversation that included sports, trails, other races, the meaning of life and how fragile it is, and chewing S-Caps, the miles went by faster than they were previously. I still was very frustrated because I simply could not run. The pain radiating from my feet was intense. We had some great views of Lake Tahoe. Here is one of them….rightfully named “The Bench Overlook”…..

Here we are at the aid station. As you can see, the feeling in my feet stretched to my face here. Brett was having a great time! Caryn once again was there to fill up my hydration pack, made sure I was getting enough food and enough attention to my feet…..

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Tunnel Creek- mile 123.5 to 140

This section consisted of a nice climb followed by some beautiful views of both Lake Tahoe and Marlette Lake. The photographers throughout the race would trek in some tough miles so that they could get the perfect shot of the racers. The woman taking this photo was at this spot the entire day. And it was very cold and windy up there….

 

After a few nice stretches of trail, Brett and I got onto a somewhat rocky/ dirt gravel road. This road led us down to the Tunnel Creek aid station. This was a very long decline. It was now night time for the 3rd straight day. With my feet on fire, the trip down seemed to take forever.  Mentally this was one of the longest stretches for me. Brett and I did notice some massive ants. At least that’s what we thought they were. The back legs were shaped like a cricket, though. I think we ended up naming them “crickants”. Brett also pointed out a small scorpion. I took a picture of it….

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We eventually approached the aid station, with a few theatrics from another runner. He did not seem to be in the right frame of mind. After the race was over, we had heard he went off trail, was lost, and was being rescued. Scary stuff.

Brockway Summit- mile 140 to 155.5

After a very sub-par aid station at Tunnel Creek(seemed to lack essentials, including help), the next 4 plus miles were on a flat, paved path along the lake. This was welcoming. Even though all I could do was hike, we still made some good time. Eventually we cut across the road and started doing switch backs up a neighborhood. At one point, the markers we were following took us to the base of an incline. Like the Rubicon, this incline left an impression. As we started up, it reminded me of a section of a race back home. The Hyner Challenge has a small section of trail that is straight up, called S.O.B. Well, whoever is reading this and knows S.O.B…. picture S.O.B. but add on 1 mile of it. Also remember to add the 145 miles into the race, and it being at 3am. This incline put S.O.B. to shame. It kept going straight up and up….

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After multiple stops with other racers, multiple uses of the F-word, and simply questioning our own sanity, we got to the top of the incline. People were looking at the view. I couldn’t see shit. I was still gasping for air. Of course the kicker here was…..WE WEREN’T AT THE TOP! After a few hundred more feet of less vertical climbing, we finally seemed to crest. It was windy and freezing. There was no room to rest. We had to move to keep warm. We continued on, crossing a stream or two, trying to keep warm. We ended up seeing a snake. It resembled a metal bar. It didn’t look real. I nudged it with my trekking pole and it hardly moved. Because it was so cold and they are cold blooded, the poor thing was probably suffering…..

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After a long stretch of declining down a mountain, followed by another climb half way up the next, we reached Brockway Summit. This was where I would bid my friend Brett farewell. A firm handshake, a hug, and a thank you was all I could share with Brett. But his support for those very tough, but memorable 52 miles will last a lifetime….

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Caryn and my next pacer and friend, Kristen, greeted us. I spent some time getting my feet worked on, refueled again, and about an hour of sleep in the SUV that we rented. Here’s a picture of us all….

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Tahoe City- mile 155.5 to 175.5

After being persuaded to put pants on and multiple layers of clothing, Kristen and I were off…

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Within a mile or two, we were climbing and we both ended up shedding some clothes. Kristen even got down to a tank top. The sun was coming up and it was going to be another warm sunny day, just like the last 3 days. WRONG! We knew there was weather coming, but we were expecting rain. It started out as rain, but as soon as Kristen commented that she would prefer snow, it started snowing. It snowed for close to an hour. We both had to laugh. It was hard to believe that it was snowing in the summer time in California……

 

Kristen was very excited for this trip. She rarely is able to get away from her husband and 2 children. She was lucky enough to have enough airfare miles for basically a free flight. The views did not disappoint on her stretch with me. Between the snow, the moss on the trees, and the vistas, it was great! Unfortunately there was no running involved for the majority of it. We took a very long hike down into Tahoe City, enjoying what the beauty of nature gave us…but with feet on fire. Kristen had asked me during this stretch what I wanted to eat at the aid station. After giving it some thought, I requested Taco Bell Taco’s and french fries. Sure enough when we finally got down to the aid station, Caryn and Brett greeted me with fast food bags. What service!

 

Stephen Jones- mile 175.5 to 195.1

After being pampered some more, I changed clothes and Kristen and I were off….in the rain. The rain didn’t last that long and we were glad for that. Early on in this section we hiked in an area called Page Meadows. It was a nice area with, of course, a section of meadows. I spotted what I thought was a gray fox. I attempted to get a photo, but it ended up being blurry. Eventually the sun went down and for the 4th day in a row, I turned my headlamp on. We started climbing, again, and ended up hearing running water. I happened to turn my head to the right and was shocked to see a waterfall. We had no idea it was even there but realized if it was daylight, it would have been a nice setting. Kristen was actually able to get a pretty good picture in the dark…

 

The climb continued on, and on, and on. And it got cold. Real cold. Luckily we both were dressed accordingly. I however, was starting to get into a mental haze. Kristen took a picture or two of the moonlit cold night sky….

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Once we finally crested the mountain, it was time to make the very long trek back down. During this trek down the mountain, I started seeing faces and shapes in all the rocks and tree stumps. I kept that to myself until Kristen pointed out she saw a woman/witch face? I was flabbergasted. I thought I was the only one who saw it. After that, I started pointing out other faces. The one face on this flat rock was green, with one eye and a half smirk on it’s face. I was not hallucinating, but I was definitely not in my best frame of mind. Intertwine that with a swollen ankle and feet that felt like they were on fire at each step, and you have a not so happy fella. We finally got off the mountain and now on to the paved path that went parallel with Lake Tahoe. I was swaying back and forth while walking, was seeing more designs(maps?) on the walk-way, and I was being difficult with my pacer Kristen. If I were her, I would have pushed myself into the lake and be done with it. But she did the best she could. She is used to dealing with her kids. She now had a grownup kid to deal with.

Eventually we cut back up into a neighborhood and started climbing again! At one point I didn’t care anymore. I was just going to keep walking no matter what. I had no control over myself…completely vulnerable. Anything could have happened to me and I would have let it happen. It was the least control I have ever felt over myself. It was a very lonely feeling. Luckily Kristen knew what she was doing. We finally got to the aid station. It was probably in the mid to low 20’s. It was very cold and I was very grumpy. Caryn and Brett did the best they could. I was being rude and inconsiderate to everyone. I just wanted to sleep…or run….or both at the same time if possible. I opted for sleeping and eating. The pancakes and syrup hit the spot.

Finish- mile 195.1 to 205.5

Before I knew it, I had more clothing on and Kristen and I were back out to tackle the last 10 plus miles. I gave Caryn a kiss and told both her and Brett I’d see them at the finish. Kristen and I started hiking into the dark, cold abyss…..

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While hiking out of the last station, I thought of something. This was it. This was the last 10 miles of the race. I figured I might as well leave every last ounce of my being out on this course, even though I couldn’t run. So I started hiking hard and fast up the mountain. Kristen right behind me. We remember seeing glitter on the dirt road. They were actually ice crystals, but it looked like someone threw glitter all over the ground. I continued to hike hard and just like that, the sun started to come up. As it came up, and when the opportunity presented itself, I started a slow jog. Eventually we got back to the first aid station area, Barker Pass. There was a photographer at this spot and took this good picture of Kristen and I…..

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After that, I began to run more. I figured that if I were to do serious damage to my feet, so be it. I was going to give it my all. I started running harder and harder, when possible. Adrenaline can be very powerful. We hiked the uphills, but I ran the the flats. Something I had not done in roughly 150 miles. I began to think of my grandpa, and the letters he wrote. This made me even more determined. We started going downhill towards the finish with a few miles to go.

My adrenaline was off the charts! I was now out of control again. But it wasn’t the out of control that I dealt with earlier the previous night. I knew exactly what was going on. I was running like a maniac. Kristen asked what they put in the syrup at the last aid station. I told her it was the gum drops, thinking back of all the times my Papa asked his parents to send gum drops. At that point I lost it. With tears in my eyes, and basically sprinting down the mountain, I started to hyperventilate. I ended up going through that twice on the way down. I wanted to get a small glimpse of the pain and suffering that my grandfather had gone through in WWII. Of course, I will never know the extent of losing friends in battle. I was choosing to run over the rocks that were on the trail. I felt absolutely nothing going down that mountain. It literally felt like I was flying. I had never felt that way before. After waiting for Kristen to catch up a few times, we started the final descent together. I could see the finish line and I just went. I crossed the finish line just shy of 95 hours. The first picture is with my pacers. The second picture is with medic Brian, who really helped me and encouraged us throughout…..

 

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I had done it! I grinded out a 200 mile race the way I thought I couldn’t, by hiking MOST of the last 110 miles. I learned so much about myself on this race. I had a lot of lows at this race. But I had game changers with me. I had two amazing pacers to get me through those last 110 miles. I appreciate them more than they know, and I owe them big time!

I also have the biggest game changer of them all, my wife Caryn. She kept me on the most steady path imaginable. She was there through it all and never complained! She drove over 800 miles on the car that we rented to follow me. When it was all done, I got the feeling she was lacking more sleep than me. I am looking forward to treating her to a Nashville vacation for her birthday and a big thank you from her very much appreciated husband!

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As easy as 1, 2, 3C’s for me(My running mantra)

Years ago when I was really starting to get into running, I wrote 3 letters on my running sneakers in black magic marker…. C.C.C. I hadn’t given it much thought…it may have taken me 5 minutes to think up. They stood for Conserve. Concentrate. Confidence(Corny, I know! But stay with me please, there’s lessons to be learned). Marathons were the runs of choice when I wrote these letters down. I didn’t trust myself and was giving me fair warning. I was telling myself to conserve during the beginning of the race, focus on concentration during the middle of the race, and have the confidence towards the end of the race to finish.

Recently my mind drifted to that past. Back when long runs were brand new. When runs were complex. Back when I was running all road and when how fast and how far was most important. And now, with pavement being on the back burner, and dirt, roots and rocks being on the front lines, I thought back to those abbreviations. And I had gotten chills down my spine. It was a personal mantra that I had been using, subconsciously, for all these years since. These are my thoughts on them. And I feel they can be used in any race…from a 5k race to a 3,100 mile race.

Conserve– “(physics)- maintain(a quantity such as energy or mass) at a constant overall total”…  This part of my mantra I’ve witnessed more people than myself flat out ignore. I personally enjoy allowing people to go ahead of me the first few miles of a race. Energy is your most valuable tool. Save it! Ironically, I was running with someone in a race earlier this year brag about how people run too fast too early. Yet he sped away “too fast, too early”. I ended up passing him later. Though I felt bad, because he understood what had happened when I passed him the last few miles. This is my beginning faze of the race.

Concentrate– “focus one’s attention or mental effort on a particular object or activity”…  This part of my mantra is important in that if you can’t conserve, then you can very easily lose concentration. Especially if the race is long enough. Minds wonder. That is for sure. And they especially wonder when concentration is lost. That is why conserving is so valuable. It has allowed me to stay focused during the middle part of the race. Keeping nutrition and hydration in tact is extremely beneficial. Concentration will also be lost without it. If you are feeling in tune and concentrating within yourself, your body, and your race, you will easily move confidently into finishing the race. This is my middle faze of the race.

Confidence- “the feeling or belief that one can rely on someone or something; firm trust. the state of feeling certain about the truth of something”… This by far is most important. Obviously it’s known that if you don’t have confidence in something, then you will struggle to achieve the expectations of it. But to me it’s most important because it fits firmly into what the 3C’s stood(stand for). You won’t have the confidence in a race if you don’t conserve(I’ve never felt confident after feeling like shit and not conserving). You won’t have the confidence if you’ve lost concentration(when my mind wonders in races, I am not focused. I’m screwed and there’s definitely no confidence in that!) It’s a domino effect. If you follow the first 2C’s, you’ll be sure to most likely finish with confidence! This is my ending faze of the race.

I personally wanted to share this because  1)I hope it helps others achieve their running goals now that running is such more popular 2) This mantra can be used in not just running, but in life. 3) I haven’t blogged about running in a year 4) It brought back good memories of me starting my insane hobby.

If you have your own mantra, saying, believe, or otherwise that helps others or yourself….stick with it!

 

 

 

Beast of Burden 100(Summer) ’18

Hearing that the Eastern States 100 miler on August 11th was cancelled left me feeling lost, confused, empty, and agitated. To me, the ES 100 miler was the cream of the crop, the toughest of the tough in our region. It was a race that many of us were looking forward to for at least a year. The big mountain climbs, the creek crossings, the woods! The unfortunate action of one person quiting on the race director and not being able to fill his important roll, was the reason for the cancellation.

A month ago I had come back from a run at the beach…frustrated and pissed. It was hot, it was flat, and it wasn’t the type of training run that I had been planning on. I was in a rut. When you are training for a 100 mile mountain race and it gets taken away from you a month and a half before the start, you toss everything else out the window. Everything. At least that was my thinking. But why did I feel this way? I simply wanted to shut everyone and everything off in regards to running.

Then I happened to see on Ultrasignup.com that the Beast of Burden 100 miler had a few spots still open. I was somewhat familiar with it to the point that it was on my radar last year, but I never signed up for it. It’s located in Lockport, NY and is run on 12.5 miles of th Erie Canal towpath, with an aid station in the middle around mile 7. It’s an out-and-back(25miles) route run 4 times. So I signed up…..and didn’t tell anyone, except my wife.

A complete 360 degree turn from the Eastern States course, BoB 100 is flat and open. It isn’t a single track trail course. It is on a gravel towpath, with a few miles on a paved path. It was perfect. I was already in a mental “running rut”. Why not consume myself in a 100 miler that I would normally not be a part of? For 3 weeks leading up to BoB100, I mentally prepared for the worst possible conditions. Hot. Flat. Boring. Monotonous. I also got in a few of those types of runs…long, flat, and boring. I eventually told my family about the race and also asked a close running friend for some positive words.

Race day came and I felt I was ready to at least finish the race. A man asked us for sunscreen lotion and noticed my bib #125. He said that was his lucky number for the Moab 240 mile race he did the year before. Yes, 240 miles. They are given 5? days to complete it and he was able to finish. I would see him throughout this race and would call him “Moab” each time I saw him. In return, he’d ask how my lucky # was treating me. Towards the end of this race in passing, he said he was going to quit at mile 93under our scrutiny. But when I looked at the results, he had finished and fought through!

A few people had given me info in the past about how to run long, flat races. It came down to a run/walk method so you don’t tire yourself out too fast. I decided a day or two before the race to use the 5 minute run, 5 minute walk method. This method would last maybe the first full 25 mile loop. The day was getting warm….the high temperature was to reach 87 degrees with a “real feel” of 92….

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This race started at 10am….a lot later than a normal race. They definitely tried to make this race as much as a burden as possible. During that first loop, I met a woman by the name of Louise. She was pleasant. We talked about how tough this race could be and how to go about running it smartly. She then told me this was her 8th BoB100! At one point I left her, but would see her multiple times in passing, giving her encouragement. It wasn’t until yesterday that I saw results and she was able to finish for the 8th time. But not only that. This was her 6th 100 miler this year…..and 94th 100 miler completed!! She started running them at age 40 and she is now 65. Here she is with me…..

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Around the end of the first 25 mile out and back, I started to use the 4 minute run, 6 minute walk method. Previous experiences with heat told me to slow down, even though I was already going slow. The miles continued on. Multiple bridges(maybe 7 or 8) would cross the canal path through the 12.5 span. Of course the difficult part would be that you could see these landmarks, but would seem like an eternity before you actually got to them.

My experienced crew chief, my wife Caryn, was always there when I needed her. I sweat so much during these summer races. In the middle of the second loop, I plopped down on a chair and she had everything I planned on having ready for me. All I really wanted for the most part was liquids. I’d reach to coke, then to gatorade, then pickle juice, then coconut water, then chocolate milk. It was almost humerous……until I threw it all up a half mile after I left her.

I was pleased with how the first 50 miles had gone. At some point Caryn informed me that the husband of the friend I told about this race was on his way up to pace me the last loop of 25 miles. I look up to both Jenn and Ryan. They are very experienced trail runners, with lots of knowledge. They are also very nice and caring. I was happy that Ryan(he’s run multiple 100 milers and now bikes across the country for fun) was on his way up, but I wasn’t that surprised. It was in their nature….

The day/night went on. A beautiful half crescent orange moon came up through the horizon around 10pm. I then basically got into a trance. Before I knew it, the 3rd loop was about ready to be completed at 5:00am?! I was crossing the bridge at mile 74 and approaching the last turn around.

I greeted Ryan with a handshake and a smile, sat for about 10 minutes at aid station mile 75, and then we went on our way for the last 25 miles. Ryan had driven more than 5 hours to meet me at the Buffalo suburb of Lockport just to make sure I would finish. That’s pretty fucking cool. What a guy! At this point, it was more of a run 1 minute, walk 3 minute venture. But it was all good. The conversation with him made the time fly by. Here we are at the mile 81 Caryn aid station….

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While running with Ryan, I was pointing out land markers that were basically mile markers..i.e. “here’s the group of weeping willow trees, which is 3 miles from the aid station” and “there’s the shed beyond the bridge right before the turn around”. Oh yeah!! It got to that point! Ridiculously monotonous. Caryn, Ryan, and I sat at the last aid station, mile 87.5, eating popsicles. The aid station was inside a building in the town of Middleport.

I wasn’t able to run much the last 12.5 miles. The sun was zapping me for the second day and I was sick of drinking and eating the same foods. I ended up walking most of those 12.5 miles and became some of the longest miles I’ve experienced during an event. However, I thought back to Eastern States. The race that I “couldn’t finish because of the heat and hills”. And then I felt relieved. Even though my feet were about ready to catch flames and my right hamstring was also on fire, I was alright. It wasn’t like any other race I’ve completed. I use adrenaline to get me to the finish. Not here. I was completely spent at this race. I ran the last 300 feet….here I am crossing the line…..

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Though smiling at Caryn in this picture, I remember feeling and seeing completely dazed and confused…..

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My best crew and aid station I’ve ever had……

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Completely spent…..

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The fight and the reward….

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Three things are certain after this race: 1) You can never get by in life without friends and loved ones. 2) My mental and physical limits have been pushed a little more. 3) My rut is no longer.

Harrisburg Marathon- ’15

After running a 50k, a 100K, a 50 miler, and a half marathon in 27 days, a few people had told me it was a good idea to rest a bit. But knowing that the new and improved “hometown” Harrisburg marathon was on the horizon, I felt I could squeeze it in before the dark depths of winter settled in.

This year’s Harrisburg marathon featured a new course in and around the city. Instead of taking the runners through the scenic, but hilly Wildwood Nature Center hills and the infamous Industrial Road, they had the runners run on the “west shore” and north to Fort Hunter.

The weather was to be perfect with sunny skies and cool temperatures. My wife Caryn was also running the relay event. She would be running the first leg, which equaled just over 8 miles. This also meant that we would start out running together!

We started on the Market St. bridge and headed west. Both Caryn and I fell into a comfortable pace. Caryn had her normal headphones in, but when I did mention something, she was able to hear me. Thanks for keeping the music low, hun 🙂 . As we ran up along the west shore in the first mile, I took time to appreciate my surroundings. Here we were in the capital city of our state, on a gorgeous morning, running 26.2 miles just because we love it. Better yet, my wife was by my side…

HBG marathon

We crossed back over the Harvey Taylor bridge and headed south. Aid stations were separated every 2 or so miles, so we would get a cup of Gatorade or water. By about mile 5 or so, both Caryn and I had shared that each one of us did not want to hold the other up and to go ahead. A little past mile 6, she had said the sun was getting warmer and she wished she would have dressed with less gear. I gradually went a head of her. The next time I would see her would be about 20 yards from the finish, screaming her lungs out as normal. She is my best supporter and my #1!

As we left the PennDot area, I realized the next 10 miles or so I would be heading north, mostly along the Susquehanna River. The great part of running a hometown race is that you see a lot of your running friends either in the race, or cheering along the course. The support was great. I felt comfortable the entire time and the fan support had a lot to do with it.

At the halfway mark at mile 13, I was shocked on how fast this race was going. I don’t mean how fast I was running it physically. I mean how fast mentally. I have been used to going 6+ hours at each event this past summer. This picture was around mile 14, I believe…

HBG marathon 2

Approaching the turn around at Fort Hunter around mile 17, runners ahead of me were passing me heading the other way. It was another opportunity to see fellow runner friends and cheer them on and give them support as they went by.

I was pleased with the way my legs held up, but by around mile 21 or so, they were getting a bit heavy. This is a normal feeling. I had no sharp pains or anything of the sort.

The last few miles I stopped to walk a few times. It’s not what I wanted to do. My brain said go, but my legs said no. At any rate, the finish was in downtown Harrisburg. The race director and volunteers had the finish line set up to be a “party” atmosphere. As I turned the corner for the last tenth of a mile, I heard my wife’s voice cheering me on. I glanced off to my left and sure enough, there she was. Here I am crossing the finish line….

HBG marathon 3

I was pleased with the way I ran. After completing it, I did a little math and figured out that I ran a negative split. I ran the second half of the marathon faster than the first half. I love that feeling!

Caryn’s relay came in 5th place in the mixed division. We celebrated in town with good friends, good beer, and good food. Another great day of exercise in the books!

Baker Challenge 50 Miler- ’15

The Baker Trail is a 132 mile foot trail featuring roads, dirt roads, old jeep trails, and single track trails in wooded lands and farmlands located northeast of Pittsburgh. Each year a group of knowledge, experienced trail/ultra runners put on an ultra run. They separate the run into three segments: northern trail, central trail, and southern trail. This year was the central portion of the trail, which consisted of about 70% road/dirt road and 30% trail.

Baker Challenge2

The night before the race, I went to the finish. The finish was someone’s home. Yes, someone’s home, and it was a farm. The GPS stated that I had arrived at the destination on the left. I looked left and there was a corn field. I drove about 100 yards further down and saw the sign that said Baker Challenge Ultramarathon, and pointed in the direction of a farm. When I pulled up and parked, an older man asked if I was pre-registered. I said yes, and he said to mosey on down to the house to pick up my bib and get something to eat. There were tents set up by fellow runners. This was where the bus would pick us up and take us north to the start the following morning. I didn’t want to mess around with a tent, so I decided to book a room in Punxsutawney about 20 minutes away. Yes, I knew I was going to see my shadow the next day, multiple times.

As I entered this nice, old farmhouse, the first thing I noticed was spaghetti, salad, and Italian bread spread out across the kitchen area. On the dining room table was where to check in and get our “goodie bag” and bib. I then asked if I was included on this dinner feast and she had said yes, to help myself. I did, then went out back onto their deck to a beautiful view of open farmlands with the other participants that were there. They had Dogfish Head beer and water that we could help ourselves to as well! So far, this race was an A+, and it hadn’t even started.

The next morning, the race director said “go” and we were off. We started on paved road and continued for some time. Normally, ultra events are on single track trail or at least in wooded areas. Seldom around these parts of the country do you find road ultras. The second(middle) leg of the Baker Challenge is just that…rolling farmlands and roads.

I’m not going to say that the first 26 miles of the event were boring. There were brand new views and scenery that I experienced, but it wasn’t anything special for the most part. I will stress that throughout this whole event, the aid stations and the volunteers, were great. The participation was small this year I was told. It was mainly due to other ultra events in PA the same day. I’ll tell you this, the aid stations and the people manning them, were spot on and great. And knowledgeable, caring people at aid stations help a great deal. This race had both.

Around mile 26 or so, the trail entered the area of Mahoning Creek Lake, which included a nice view of a large dam that created the “lake”. It seemed like a small version of Raystown Lake, a winding body of water for miles. I turned to my right and this is what I saw….

Baker Challenge1

The trail was a single track trail at that point. I was told that part of the trail was just created a few months prior. I was not surprised. It was on the side of the mountain and the trail was not built up at all. The main issue was the slanting of the mountain. Each step was at an angle. And there were some rocks. I’ve been traversing the NJ and NY portions of the A.T. in recent months, so this part was no issue. Afterwards, however, other participants said they hated this part. I loved it. It showed since I must have passed 10+ runners in that section.

At the aid station around mile 34, I was feeling rather good. I had a specific time I wanted to finish the race in and I was well ahead of that time at that point. From the elevation chart, I had gotten through all the major climbs. I also knew that there were a few miles left on some shaded, jeep type trail, before I reached mile 40. The rest of the race was then open and susceptible to the open sun, and paved roads.

The last 10 miles were a struggle. I had run low on my salt tablets and it was showing. I must say, I have to thank a participants’ husband for helping me through those tough miles. He was following his wife throughout the event and I would see him throughout the race. He offered cold water when he drove by during the late miles .He’d give encouragement and would offer water, Gatorade, or salt tablets to me. Most of the time I declined, but at one point I took up his offer and had some Gatorade and a dump of ice water on the head. At the last aid station at mile 44, he stuffed ice in my hat to put on my head for the last few miles to help keep my body temperature down. I thanked Lloyd, and his wife, who blew past me at mile 43, after the race. They have run local races including the Hyner Challenge and Rothrock, and are from Pittsburgh. They are obviously originally from another country with their accents. I’m pretty sure they said New Zealand when talking to someone else. I hope to see them again!

The last 5 miles I dealt with is what I like to call, “the run/walk thing”. I’ve always used that terminology when I run out of gas/energy during the end portion of a race mostly during marathons. Both of my calves were cramping when I would attempt to run, so mostly it was a shuffle.

The last mile was interesting. I was expecting to finish on the main road and then turn back to the farm that I had been at the night before. Instead, they had us turning right, into a green pasture, up over a hill, down the hill, then through a wooded area, to the finish. It was quite a capper to a different type of ultra for me.

I received 1/3 of a medal. Yes, one-third. Here’s a picture of a participants’ medal prior to this event. She completed it and is now a full medal. Awesome!…

Baker challenge medal

For me, to get the full medal, I have to go back and complete the first portion and the third portion of the Baker Trail.

Sign me up!

Relay for Life- ’15

This past weekend I participated in the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life. It is an event that was started back in 1985  that gives everyone in communities across the globe a chance to celebrate the lives of people who have battled cancer, remember loved ones lost, and fight back against the disease.

Normally it is a 24 hour event at a local track, where individuals and teams continue to circle the track to honor and raise money for the cause. For some reason, this years’ Capital City addition was cut short down to 21 hours. There was a dedication opening ceremony with cancer survivors who went onto the football field and told of the type of cancer they beat or were dealing with.

I really didn’t have any expectations in terms of how many miles I was going to go on the track. I brought a cooler filled with ice, water, gatorade, black bean burritos, pickles and also brought chips and bananas. We had a team of 12 walkers and runners in our group. Most of them are in a local running group.

The afternoon was somewhat warm and sunny, and a breeze. I had never been at that specific track, so it was new scenery for me. My plan was to run a few miles at a time, then walk a lap. After about every 6-8 miles, I’d change direction. With other participants on the track, it was easy to stop and walk and chat with people. Every hour or so, I would stop by the tent we had set up, and cooler to replenish. As the day turned to night, the illumination ceremony took place. This is where bags with candles in them are placed around the track in honor of lost cancer victims. People are able to donate money to have their loved one’s bag placed around the track. The candles would burn throughout the night and into the next day to the end. After roughly an hour, the organizers then turned the track lights on.

At some point during my running/walking, I decided I would go 31 miles the first evening, go home and get a few hours sleep, and then wake up and do another 31 miles the next morning to make it an even 100K. At the end of the first night, I felt good enough to run the last few miles at a faster pace. It felt good to change the speed of my run. I went home feeling good, but tired, since it was almost midnight.

After a restless sleep, I woke the next morning and headed to the track. Some of our group stayed overnight, with a few only resting little during that time. What determination they had!

I started where I left off the night before, but at a much slower pace. I noticed it seemed it was taking more effort than normal early on. The volunteers had made complimentary bacon and eggs for the walkers and runners. It smelled delicious, but running, bacon, and eggs just don’t mix together. So I “suffered” through the smell.

I continued to run a few miles, then walk a lap. Sometimes I’d walk with a few teammates and we’d talk about past races or anything in general. Eventually, the miles dwindled down. My right hamstring started to tighten at some point. I did some stretching and shortened my stride a bit.

The event was ending at 1:00pm and I had a few miles to go to reach 31 miles for the day. If I’d continue my pace, I’d be able to reach the goal. The monotony of the track was really starting to get to me, though. Luckily there was a walk way right outside the track fence. I went outside the fence and circled around for the last few miles. I hopped back onto the track and completed the 31 miles at 12:54pm.

I had a great time at the Relay for Life. To date this year, our team of 12 has earned $4,073.30.

New Jersey Marathon- ’15

This past Sunday, my wife Caryn and I ran the New Jersey 1/2 and full marathons respectively. Our running friend Sheri also ran the full marathon. I had to work on Saturday, so both Caryn and Sheri drove to Long Branch Saturday afternoon to the expo to gather our good bags, including our bib numbers. I took the 3 hour trip via Interstate 78 after work. I arrived at the hotel at about 8pm. My wife was nice enough to have a spaghetti with meatballs dinner ready for me when I arrived. I typically have pasta before a distance race. We all fueled up and discussed running tactics for the upcoming race and went to bed pretty early.

We woke to a nice, sunny morning. The hotel we were staying at was about 8 miles from the start, which was at Monmouth Park, a popular horse racetrack on the east coast. We were concerned about getting to the start at a decent time. The drive in was on a single lane road. We ended up having no troubles, though, and were at the starting line 45 minutes before the start.

After some pre-race preps, “the call to the post” sound was heard for the first wave off. It took about 2 minutes for our Wave C to start. We wished each other luck and were on our way. Here we are at the start…

N.J. thon 2

My legs were screaming for a race like this. The weekend before, I had completed the Hyner Challenge 50K, which included 7,600 feet of elevation gain. The New Jersey Marathon had an elevation gain of 415 feet! I was looking forward to stretching out my legs for 26.2 miles.

It took a good 5 or so miles for me to get into a grove. My legs still were somewhat stiff from the previous week. Sheri and I run similar paces so we would run a few miles together, then would separate from each other. The morning was starting to get a bit warmer, and by mile 10, I was dipping into my first salt pack. I had forgotten my salt tablets, but thankfully Caryn was able to take some packs from the Italian restaurant they ate at the night before for me.

I normally try to drink fluids at every aid station. I skipped the first two because I hydrated well leading up to the event. I also try to rotate the type of fluids at aid stations…the first aid station water, the next aid station Gatorade, etc. I felt sodium intake was most important for me and my muscles this race so throughout, I drank more Gatorade.

By the halfway mark I was feeling good. I had a good/steady pace going. By mile 15, I started to feel as though it could get warmer and could end up being a tougher run than I wanted it to be. But that feeling passed. I continued to take a few salt packs, had a gel at my 16, and took advantage of each water station.

The course was nice. I was expecting more of an ocean view, considering we were right along the ocean. Most of the race, however, was on the back streets. Around mile 21, we were on the boardwalk, but that lasted a mile. My wife, Caryn, told me after the race, that this was one of the areas that Hurricane Sandy had hit hard in 2012. I was unaware of that while I was running and didn’t take notice that there were still some buildings that were still being rebuilt.

We ran a few more miles on back beach roads before getting back onto the boardwalk for the last mile or so. My legs were really working hard as I crossed the finish. My Garmin watch had the distance at 26.6, and I heard murmurs throughout from other runners getting the same readings. Unfortunately this type of thing happens in races. I’ve run some 50K’s where the distance would be off by more than a mile.

We all had a good time and had good runs at this marathon. Here we are at the end….

N.J. thon

Both Caryn and Sheri were looking to run faster times than what they did, but they both still did great and finished in the top 30% overall! I was pleased with the way I ran. I stayed steady throughout. I had a negative split from the first half marathon to second half marathon. That’s the type of running I enjoy most, finishing strong.

Boston Stronger- ’15

Fellow running friends were kind enough to give my wife and I the opportunity to go up to Boston for the Boston Marathon last weekend. We knew of about a dozen runners who were going to run the marathon on Monday. We decided to make the trip early Sunday morning. The day before, I had run the Hyner Challenge 50K ’15, so I was a little on the dreary side. Luckily my wife was kind enough to drive the first half of the way so I could rest up.

It was a beautiful, but windy day when we got to Natick, a small town about 20 miles outside of Boston. We met Robyn and Jeff at the hotel and took the subway in to Boston to meet up with some running friends at the Boston Expo. Here we are on the train…

Boston 2

We met Carol, who would run her 6th Boston Marathon the next day, and her husband Gary at the expo. The expo was similar to other expos I’ve been at, but had twice as much stuff. It also had Samuel Adams 26.2 Ale beer samples. We took advantage of that. We also walked around the downtown area. Gary and Carol took us down to the finish line. It really has become “hallowed ground” in the running community. They also pointed out to us where the two bombs went off two years prior. It was scary to think that Gary was literally 10 feet away from the first bomb. He described in more detail the events of that day, but I won’t get into that. Here we are at the finish line…

Boston 7

Gary and Carol also showed us the Boston Common area. Here we are with the commons in the background….

Boston 3

After a long day, Linda, Robyn, Jeff, Caryn and I went back to the Morse Tavern, a local establishment about 15 minutes from our hotel room. They have great food! We then decided to head back to the hotel. We definitely needed to rest up, for Marathon Monday was fast approaching.

The next day we woke to a cold, rainy, windy morning. This is what we, as well as all the runners, were expecting. I don’t mind running in conditions, but if I were to choose, the combination of rain and wind would be the worst to run in. The Boston Marathoners were going to have to really earn their finishers’ medals this day.

If you don’t know, the famous Boston College and pro NFL quarterback Doug Flutie’s home town is in Natick. He and his childhood friend, Alan, were planning on running in the marathon for Doug’s Flutie Foundation for Autism. His son had been diagnosed and for years, Doug has raised millions of dollars for research. Linda got to know Doug through this amazing cause.

We decided to set up in front of the Morse Tavern, since the marathon runs right past it. It would be around mile 10. Here we are in front of the tavern….

Boston 4

Just after 10am, the first of many marathoners came through…the wheelchair division. What grit and determination they had on their faces. They were really moving by us at a fast clip. Here are some of them…

Boston 6

Next to pass through were the handicapped runners. I’m in awe of their determination and their drive to complete 26.2 miles. They truly are Boston Strong..

Boston 5

It got to be about 11am and as the helicopter flew overhead, that only meant one thing. The lead elites were getting close. The lead pack of women flew by us 58 minutes into their races. Two Americans, Desi Linden and Shalane Flanagan, were in this pack. It was exciting to see….

Boston 10

About 20 minutes later, the men zipped past us. I couldn’t help but notice the form of all of these elite runners. Their bodies in unison with one another. Legs and arms running symmetrical to one another. I also noticed that their heads stayed perfectly still, while putting in so much effort. They reminded me of robots. Here is the eventual 3rd place finisher…

Boston 8

After the elites went through, the waves of runners started coming. With them came the rain and wind. Runners of all ages running by, in top form. We continually cheered for them….high fives, yelling their names that were on their bib numbers, yelling the city or country that was on their shirts, etc. It was a blast. We started seeing some of our fellow runner friends too. It really was a great time! When we got thirsty, we would go into Morse Tavern to quench our thirsts. For some reason, the liquor fireball was the drink of choice. Maybe because it warmed us up so fast.

We continued our cheering straight through until about 2pm. By mid afternoon, we had built appetites, so we decided to eat at the tavern again. With our bellies full, our arms tired from clapping, and our voices hoarse from yelling, we decided to head back to the hotel for a much-needed nap. I can’t help but laugh. We were exhausted from drinking fireballs and standing for a few hours. I wondered how the marathoners felt after running 26.2 miles in rain and driving winds?

After our naps, we drove over to Doug Flutie’s childhood friend, Alan’s house. They had a nice spread of Chinese food for all of us to eat, if we were hungry. Alan and his wife made us feel very welcome in their home. Here is my wife Caryn, Linda, and Doug just finishing our Chinese food and having a good conversation.

Boston 9

Doug is a great, down to earth type of guy. He still stays active, obviously, since he had just finished running a marathon. He also plays baseball in an over 18 league. After a great day to a very great weekend, there was time for one more photo….

Boston 1

My wife Caryn and I had a memorable time in Boston. We experienced a lot. That city is really nice. The people also seem very nice and personable. From other articles I’ve read, after the bombings at the Boston Marathon, the people and the marathon itself have gotten stronger. No one can beat the human spirit down, and Boston Strong proves that.

Life Lessons

Life sometimes steers us in directions we don’t intend to go. Other times we are on autopilot and where it takes us, we want to stay forever.

My grandmother passed away on March 20th. She was the sweetest grandmother. There were hardly ever any complaints coming from her mouth. From what I observed, her complaints consisted of a mere smile and a little giggle about the topic that was in question. I have no bad memories of Nana. She made the best butter rich cookies on the planet. She would always have the candy jars filled every time we would come visit her. She would help me with my game each spring, which consisted of counting robins. Why, I have no idea. She would tend to her garden in the warmer months. She’ll really be missed by a lot of people.

The last few days of her life, she really fought hard. Our family watched as she struggled. I had been told at one point, her BPM were at 119 and had been around that rate for a day. I put that into my own perspective. Back when I used a heart rate monitor to run marathons, my BPM would hover around 120-140 for much of the marathon. Nana was running a marathon…that lasted longer than I’d ever run one. I pray she wasn’t in pain. She is now with her parents and other loved ones, including my Papa.

The weekend my wife and I were scheduled to go visit my parents in Florida, we spent with my family. We mourned, but we also spent good, quality time together. It was a weekend that resembled holidays at our house. It was good, family, love.

Initially, when making our plans for Florida, I was excited to see that there was a trail marathon not far from where my parents stay down there. Without blinking an eye, I signed up for it. It was going to be a completely different type of marathon than I’d ever run before. One that could have included sand, pythons, and aligators. After the winter that we had, we were really looking forward to spending time with my parents in the warmth of Florida and running this marathon. It wasn’t meant to be. I contacted the race director to let him know I wasn’t going to make it. Life goes on.

After the weekend spending time with the family, I woke up Monday morning with a stomach virus, visiting the bathroom on multiple occasions. It was the worst I had felt in a long time…years. By Wednesday, it seemed I was feeling a little better, so I went for a 4 mile run. By the first mile, I was throwing up. This bug was sticking around for the long hall. Thursday seemed better, but by this past Friday, Nana’s funeral service, I was feeling sick again.

A while back, I remembered a marathon I had run called the Two River’s marathon. This was unique in that the director held a marathon for both Saturday and Sunday. You could run Saturday, Sunday, or in my case, both days. It was going to be a good challenge for me, and I love challenges. It was a weekend I had been looking forward to the entire winter. But when I woke up Friday morning, before Nana’s service, I decided to go for a 3 mile run. I felt sick the entire time and when I was finished, I was exhausted. After not having an appetite for much of the week, and still feeling sick, I decided to contact the race director to inform him that I wasn’t going to make both the Saturday and Sunday marathons. I was too wiped out. Life goes on.

Ironically enough, I woke up Saturday morning feeling the best I had felt in a week. I did go for a 6 mile run and felt good afterwards. I felt even better Sunday, so I decided to accept an invitation by my running friend, Gary, to explore the Conestoga Trail for 15 miles. A beautiful trail, with vistas and waterfalls, this trail is awesome. However, by mile 12, my body had had enough. The past weeks’ toll caught up to me. I was completely drained and had to sit and catch my breath multiple times. I was able to complete the 15 miles, but it seemed like I was running for a day straight without stopping…….

Maybe a glimpse of what my grandmother experienced during her last days. Life goes on.

Hey Runners, it’s free will!

Whining runners, beware. This post is about you.

Let’s get right down to it, runners. I’m going to ask you the age old question. Why do you run? Well I’ve heard all types of answers to this question…for the health of it, for the friends, etc. You’ve heard those answers too. Yep, they are all legit answers. If someone asked me the same question, I’d give those same answers. But seriously though. Why do you run? Maybe you just like to run, period.

Now, could you say that you love to run? If you can say that you love running, there shouldn’t be a need to continue reading this post…………….

Alright, so here we are deep in the heart of a frigid cold winter. And just like the temperatures, the whining and complaining about it are breaking records. Lots of runners seem to have problems with the cold. But hey, lets not end right there. I’m going to give you some “problems” that fellow runners are put through (aww, poor things), followed by some basic solutions to those problems. After all, running is pretty basic.

P: “It’s 10 degrees outside. Waaah. How am I going to get my long run in?”

S: Stay inside and whine about it. Let another runner run it instead.

P: “I have to run my long run on a treadmill. Waaah. It’s so boring. I hate it.”

S: Don’t run. Let someone else run it.

P: “I hate that trail route. It’s too technical. Waaah”

S: Don’t run it. Let another person run it.

P: “That race is so tough. It’s 20,000 ft. of elevation change. It’s dreadful pain.”

S: Sit at home on a couch. Another runner will run it.

P: “It’s supposed to be 95 degrees tomorrow. How am I going to run that half marathon. Waaah.”

S: Go jump in a pool. Another runner will run it.

P: “I hate roads. Waaah. They hurt my joints and they are boring.”

S: Don’t run on them. They don’t like you either.

P: “10 interval repeats on the track. Waaah. That’s really going to hurt.”

S: Don’t run them. Let a track star worry about them.

Folks, like I said. Running is very basic. You either run or you don’t. Your choice. Free will. You can choose. I do know this, though. Those who put forth an effort, no matter what the circumstance, will likely succeed from those efforts. Those who don’t, won’t.

I love to run. I try to let my legs, and my legs only, do the whining.