Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving: Gobble Cobble 7K Race Report

Welcome to a special mid-week update, courtesy of my foolish decision to run the Gobble Cobble 7K this morning in Fells Point. Because I've never actually run a "turkey trot" on Thanksgiving Day, now seemed like the best time to start. That, and the race was only a couple of miles from my house, so it made for an easy warmup/warmdown en route.

I almost didn't go out to the race, and I got partway down the block in front of my house, feeling terrible, and thought about not running it. But since it was cold outside, and I had gone through the trouble to put clothes and shoes on, it seemed stupid to turn back. So I ran the rest of the way out to the race, stood in line at the MAC to register, and then walked down to the start line.

As I stood near the front, I looked around to see that apparently, nobody that could clearly beat me was standing there. I briefly contemplated that this would be a chance to win a race, NBP-style, but before I had too much time to think about that, Jim was mumbling some stuff into the bullhorn that we could barely hear, and then we were off.

For about the first half-mile, I was within 10 meters of the leader, and not feeling so bad, and it seemed as though I might actually be able to do this. Then things turned south very quickly. As we hit the cobbles, I suddenly had this overwhelming "dead" feeling in my legs, and, as Meg D would later tell me, a look on my face that was something to the effect of "what on earth am I doing here?" It wasn't long before people started passing me, and as okay as I felt in the lungs, I had nothing in my legs.

We passed the Polish war memorial and headed out to the Inner Harbor promenade, and I gradually started to make a comeback. That, or people in front of me were fading. At least this was something I knew how to do - hang tough when a race goes bad. I started picking up ground on the pack of four or five runners in front of me, and eventually passed them all. Then it was just hang on for dear life to the finish, down the chute to the right that came up all too quickly, which meant I hadn't really had time to kick in the finishing sprint.

This ordeal took a little over 25 minutes, which, considering how I felt, suggests that the course was probably a little bit short. Who knows what my exact place or time was, but I do know that I accomplished one thing, which was to find out what I had today. Not to wax overly poetic about a silly little Thanksgiving morning run, where nearly every winner left before the awards were handed out, but with all of the long races that I do, sometimes I wonder how fast I might be at a shorter distance. Today, I found out. And I also suspect that, on a better day, I could go substantially faster, and, with some more specific training behind me, I could go even faster than that. I'd like to do that.

But for now, I'm going to be thankful for everywhere I've been, everything I've done, and all the good people in my life over this past year.

That, and this sweet youth extra-large t-shirt from the race:

(EDIT: Reportedly, the race was 3.8 miles long, which, at about 25 minutes, means that I was running about 2:52 marathon pace, which is probably about as fast as I can run for any distance longer than 100 meters now. So, from that perspective, maybe I should feel a little less disappointed.)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Week In Review: 13-19 November, and Stone Mill "50 Mile"/Philadelphia Marathon Race Report

Day by day:

13 November: 7 miles (50 minutes), Canton/Fells

14 November: 2 miles (20 minutes), Huntsville, AL

15 November: 2 miles (20 minutes), Huntsville, AL

16 November: 2 miles (15 minutes), back in Baltimore

17 November: 2 miles (15 minutes), Patterson-Park-style

18 November: 2 miles (15 minutes), again around Patterson Park

19 November: 55 miles (538 minutes), Stone Mill "50-Mile" race, 8th overall (I think)

Total Time: 673 minutes

Total Distance: 72 miles

*Yawn* Now, on to the good stuff . . .

In preparation for the "big dance" that is the Hellgate 100K on December 10th, my past few weeks have been focused on long, logistically complicated, mentally (if not physically) draining events. For a race that starts at midnight, and is a good 4-5 miles longer than 100K, there's a lot to be said about being mentally prepared.

This weekend's festivities kicked off at 3:30 a.m. on Saturday, when I woke up, got dressed, and hopped in the freezing cold car for the hour-long drive to Watkins Mill High School, the start/finish of the Stone Mill "50-Mile" race. I got there a few minutes after 5 a.m., only to see a long line for the OUTSIDE packet pickup. I knew better than to assume that packet pickup would be inside the school, but I was sort of hoping that it would be. Just more cold weather training, I suppose. After 20 minutes in line, I had my bib, a cup of coffee, and about half an hour before the start of the race - enough time to sit in my relatively warm car, drink the coffee, eat a couple of Hammer gels, and make one last trip to the restroom.

Why does every Saturday morning look like this lately?

The race started promptly at 6 a.m., ready or not (and there were quite a few "nots" in there), with a loop around the high school before we hit the single-track Seneca Greenway/Muddy Branch trail that comprised the majority of the course. Thanks to the dark and my dimming headlamp (should have put new batteries in it - oh well), I chugged along conservatively for the first half-hour or so, until the sun came up. Some people passed me, but I wasn't worried, especially since this was more about putting in a solid effort than placing high. I concentrated on keeping my uncovered hands warm, the valve on my hydration pack from freezing (which it did fairly quickly), and generally not doing anything terribly stupid.

In maybe an effort to be more like the JFK 50, aka the greatest ultramarathon ever, which is probably worth a $1000 entry fee, and a bargain at the current $200 (considering that Stone Mill cost $35, there might be a hint of sarcasm in that statement), the organizers added some additional road sections to the course, one of which passed by the entrance to The Kentlands. That, of course, raised the moral question of whether or not this:

belongs in a trail race.

In any case, there were plenty of friendly, familiar faces at the aid stations, and because I was keeping the pace comfortable, the experience was generally pleasant, even on the long, straight, flat, bland towpath section of the course near the water. As we neared the 30-mile mark, I passed a few people, the temperature had become much more bearable, and aside from some lingering soreness/fatigue, I was feeling pretty positive about the next 3 or 4 hours of this. Over the past couple of weeks, I've developed a pretty good "grind" gear, which allows me to churn out 8-9 minute miles, almost regardless of the terrain or how terrible I might be feeling - an invaluable resource in the ever-present uncertainty in an ultramarathon . . .

Especially because gradually, things seemed to be a bit "off." Distances between aid stations seemed longer than claimed, considering my effort level, and while nothing catastrophic had happened, I began to suspect that perhaps the race was longer than the already-too-long advertised distance of 51.5 miles. This was confirmed when I reached the last aid station, and was told that I had to run an "out-and-back" that would cover the distance from Mile 42.5 to Mile 48.5. Half an hour later, when I hadn't reached the turn-around point, I realized that this section was clearly longer than I had been told. All because they wanted us to run this:

which was pictured on the front page of the website. (You would have felt so misled if you saw that on the website and then never got to run it during the race, right?)

In any event, it was a good thing that I saved a little bit, because with the "turn-around" section being over 8 miles, this put the race at close to 55 miles total, which is enough longer than the claimed distance that the last few miles could have been a bitter struggle. As it was, when I reached the final aid station, I was glad to be close to the finish, and ran strong all the way in, to finish in just under 9 hours (8:59:17, say the official results), feeling relatively okay.

Pushing up the last hill on principle; Keith Knipling was about a minute behind me. (Also, clearly, I dressed myself in the dark.)

In retrospect, considering that the winner finished in just over 8 hours, part of me wishes that this had been a race unto itself, rather than a training exercise, because, with a PR of a little under 7:30 on a "real" 50-mile course, over comparable terrain, a winning time seems within reach. But, water under the bridge now . . .

End Act I.

Sunset over Watkins Mill High School - the first day.

For my next trick, it was back home to shower and put together a clean set of running clothes, and then head up to Philadelphia for the marathon. I hadn't actually entered the race, but I was able to purchase a bib for $50 from one "Brandon," so that I could run the race at least somewhat legally:

Brandon, the apparent road-running rockstar, has a Philly Marathon bib.

And, because I owed her at least one for her heroic crew/pacer effort at the Grindstone 100, I would be running the race with my friend - her first marathon. She was looking to run around 4 hours, which was about what I could feel comfortable committing to the day after a 50+ mile race, so this would work out well for both of us.

The start was predictably chilly, but things warmed up as soon as we started running. Although my bib gave me the right to start near the front, in the "black" corral (they really ought to re-think the corral colors), I started in the "purple" (GO RAVENS) corral with my friend, and we spent the first hour of the race weaving through a sea of people. It gave me a new appreciation for what people in the middle and near the end of large races go through - there was very little room to pass until almost 10 miles in. The water stops were dangerously crowded, the ground was covered with cups and discarded gel packets (and, in some places, was so gel-covered that you could feel your shoes sticking to the ground, as if it were a low-rent movie theatre). And, worst of all, there were lines at the port-a-johns along the course, which became a real issue when my friend's stomach started affecting her pace. We went from cruising comfortably at sub-9-minute miles to walking parts of the race, particularly from Mile 20 on.

Including four restroom stops, and some walking, we finished in 4:23, in spite of having lost 25 minutes to the aforementioned obstacles. I felt relatively comfortable the whole time, and almost a little bad crossing the finish line as fresh as I was (especially since one person in the crowd actually recognized me and cheered for me by my real name, unlike the dozens of other spectators, including one particularly loud and frenzied fan near the finish, who were cheering wildly for "Brandon.") But that said, this effort was about helping my friend finish her first marathon, and from that standpoint, it was completely successful. Even setting that aside, the constant weaving and pace-shifting and eating on the go, all on less sleep than I would like, was all good Hellgate training.

In summary, over the span of 30 hours on the clock, I ran about 81 miles in about 800 minutes total, for about a 9:52/mile average pace, driving a little over 200 miles and consuming about 3500 calories in the process. (No wonder I'm hungry today.) I'm satisfied with this effort, and really looking forward to the next couple of weeks of biting off the mileage in more "normal" 5, 10 and 15-mile chunks at a time, each day, not to mention turkey trots, turkey day, and sleeping in on a couple of Saturdays. Mentally, the "down time" will be nice. But I don't intend to get too comfortable - as David Horton said in his last e-mail to Hellgate participants: "I hope your training is going well. It better."

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Week in Review: 6 November - 12 November, and Double-Richmond Marathon Run Report

Okay, let's do the darn thing:

6 November - 34-ish miles (370 minutes), counting being lost at Fire on the Mountain; we went over this

7 November - 2 miles, in my button-down shirt, khakis, and Steve Madden dress shoes; 1 to lunch in 6:17, 1 back in 5:53

8 November - 3 miles easy at lunch (30 minutes), 7 miles at TNT, including 2x800m (3:04, 2:51), 2x400m (79, 79), and 4x200m (37, 35, 34, 34), 2 miles warmup, 3 miles warmdown (45 minutes)

9 November - 3 miles easy at lunch (30 minutes)

10 November - 10 miles fast-ish at lunch (65 minutes)

11 November - 2 miles easy, around Patterson Park (20 minutes)

12 November - Starting at 2:15 a.m., Reverse Richmond Marathon in 4:40, followed by Regular Richmond Marathon in 3:46; 52.4 miles

Total Time: 1075 minutes
Total Distance: 113 miles

And now, somewhat belatedly, but before this coming weekend's adventures push last weekend's too far into the back of my mind to write this, the Double-Richmond (what does this mean?) Marathon Report . . .

To say that I was a little bit nervous about attempting this would be an understatement. Richmond just sort of "happened" for me, in that I was contacted to pace the 3:10 marathon group, as a result of my prior pacing exploits, and Dave Snipes has a tradition of running the Richmond Marathon from finish to start, starting at around 2 a.m. on marathon day, then changing clothes and running the official marathon. Glue those two together, and you get a challenging, vaguely risky endeavor . . . right up my alley.

Theoretically, it seemed doable - Sniper was planning on running around 4:30 for the "reverse" marathon, so it would be a total of 7:40 for 52.4 miles, which is more or less in the ballpark of my 50-mile PR set this past spring at Bull Run. But there was also the drastic difference in pace (non-stop 10-ish minute miles down to non-stop 7-ish minute miles), the early start time (and associated minimal sleep), the weather (a little below freezing overnight), and the general unfamiliarity of all of this to consider.

All of that aside, I set out for this ridiculousness at around 3 p.m. on Friday afternoon, and by the time the traffic (which made the drive closer to 4 hours, as opposed to the 3 hours it was supposed to be), the expo (pleasantly low-key), dinner (pizza at a local place with Sniper), and parking near the finish (on a street fittingly "just south of Grace (Street)") were behind me, it was nearly 11 p.m., leaving me with less than 3 hours to sleep. Sniper woke me with a phone call at 1:30 a.m., and not long after, I found myself stumbling onto the streets, dressed in multiple layers, top and bottom, clutching my water bottle for dear life.

I met Sniper and another friend and we walked to the finish line, chattering away pleasantly, as if it were totally normal to be out like this on the nearly-deserted, starkly-lit city streets. As we unceremoniously began our run, we passed a crowd of sloppy drunks, who, it briefly occurred to me, might have more sense in them than we did at this point.

But my reluctance gradually faded as we settled into a comfortable pace, and Sniper settled into "tour mode," telling us all about details of the course that, in the dark, were sometimes barely visible. The most amusing of these was the Dollar Tree, which Sniper pointed out as we got closer, only to have our other friend point out that somebody had apparently crashed a car into it, breaking down the center panel in front of the store, and, judging from the debris on the ground, had made off with a ton of iPhone cases.

Aside from the cold and the dark, both of which became more managable following a port-a-pot break around 4 miles in (thankfully, these were all over the course), trotting along through the streets at an odd hour of the night was peaceful, even pleasant. Thanks to the cold, I didn't have to drink as much as I usually would, and I was perfectly comfortable subsisting on Gu Chomps which I kept in my pants pocket in a reasonably successful attempt to keep them warm and edible.

At around 10 miles in, another friend jumped in to run the last 16 miles with us, and at this point, the course (which I hadn't seen up to this point) got significantly more scenic. About a mile later, we crossed a bridge with a view like this:

Richmond apparently has a skyline; see above.

Eventually, this gave way to neighborhoods, and then a dark, rolling section near the water, before we headed back into downtown again. As we came closer to the start, and past 6 a.m., nearing 7 a.m., the sky became lighter and somehow, it seemed as if we hadn't spend the past 4+ hours running at all. We passed the Dollar Tree again, and, now camera-equipped, we got a shot of it in its now half-repaired state:

The Dollar Tree, in some sort of glory.

We jogged towards the finish, talking about nothing and playing chicken with the faster runners striding out before the start of the 8K. With as little ceremony as we had when we started, we crossed the start line (our finish line), and weaved our way into the crowd.

Now, at almost 7 a.m., I had about 15 minutes to use the port-a-pot, change clothes (and put on my multi-bibbed pacer shirt), and get to the hotel where the pacers were meeting. Wearing different shoes (Asics 2150s - the blue and white ones - for the reverse, my trusty blue-and-yellow Nike Run Avants for the official) and less clothing (long-sleeved undershirt layer, and gloves, but just shorts without pants on top, and a baseball cap in place of my skull cap), I jogged to the hotel, where, fortunately, I was on-time enough to spend some time making small talk with a friend of mine, who was pacing the 3:05 group. A little small talk actually made me feel a lot better about what I was going to do.

I picked up my 3:10 sign, used the port-a-pot one more time, and headed for the starting line. Of course, now that the Boston qualifier is 3:05, 3:10 isn't what it used to be, so a lot of people were asking me where the 3:00 and 3:05 groups were. But my loyal core of 3:10 runners and I headed out together, and, despite my worries, and the temporary panic that we had gone well under pace until somebody noted that the 1-mile sign that we saw was for the 8K, we passed the first mile in 7:09 - remarkably close to pace, and with little feeling of fatigue.

And so it went, splitting a little under 7:15, and not feeling the worse for wear, for the first 10 or 11 miles. I think the pace group coordinator, who saw me at around mile 7, was surprised that I looked so comfortable, considering that I had been up most of the night running in the cold. And the weather was getting warmer (almost a bad thing, given all of my layers - in retrospect, I could have worn less and been okay), and for a while, I thought I was going to pull it off.

Then, around the halfway point, things started getting more difficult. Maybe it was the rolling hills, or maybe just being up for so long, but for whatever reason, I was struggling to hold on to pace. I gave back nearly a minute of cushion between miles 11 and 13.1, splitting the half at right around 1:35. I bravely held on for as long as I could, but at around mile 16, when the 3:15 group passed me, I stepped off the course (and into a much-needed port-a-pot) at 1:56 and change into the race. Still technically on pace, but not feeling like I could continue.

And then my body decided to subject me to every version of difficulty that I've ever had in a race. About five minutes later, I was back on the course, walking through the aid station, feeling spent. I tried to run, but the pain in my legs was reminiscent of what I had felt at Fire on the Mountain the prior weekend (oh right, speaking of reasons to be nervous about this whole thing . . . ), and I did my best to slow down to make it manageable, but eventually, only a walk was manageable.

In about fifteen minutes, my body started to come around, but then I started feeling weak - the same feeling I had at the end of Holiday Lake, when I out-ran my nutrition and staggered through the last two miles. Knowing how bad this could have gotten, I made sure to eat plenty at the next aid station, and, gradually easing back into running, I managed to avert this crisis.

Now all that was left was the pain, and to struggle through this, I kept recalling scenes from "Surviving the Cut," when the drill sergeant is yelling at the recruits, telling them that they are weak, and to "stop feeling sorry for yourself!" and sometimes, "what are you doing? if this was for real, you would have gotten somebody killed!" Strangely, this seemed to work, and, as I approached the last 5K, I started picking it up again, running the last 3.2 miles in about 25 minutes - not blazing-fast, but much improved from walking not so long ago. I hauled down the last hills into the finish, and, 3 hours, 46 minutes, and 17 seconds later, I could breathe a sigh of relief. It was finished.

So, overall, about 36 minutes slower than I would have liked, which was disappointing, and a large part of why it took me this long to write about this. But, on the other hand, I was closer to the goal than it appears. In retrospect, my nutrition during the reverse run was good enough for that run, but not the run to come. I essentially ran out of gas for the pace that I was trying to run, and it might have helped to eat more at the aid stations during the official marathon, in spite of the water slosh in the stomach (gels maybe, and less water, because it wasn't particularly hot).

Still, I'd consider it progress, and a solid training run for Hellgate (which, if you haven't guessed, is the next big race for me), thanks to the timing, temperature, and distance involved. One more big weekend like this, and then it'll be back to focusing on the daily run until midnight on December 10th . . .

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Week in Review: 30 October - 5 November, and Fire on the Mountain 50K Race Report

Okay, first the mediocre news:

30 October - 17 miles (120 minutes), sort of fast, around the usual Baltimore Inner Harbor haunts

31 October - 1 mile (10 minutes), feeling lethargic

1 November - 1 mile (10 minutes), still feeling lethargic

2 November - 1 mile (10 minutes), feeling like this lethargy needs to end

3 November - 6 miles (45 minutes) - that's more like it. Patterson Park, and such.

4 November - 10 miles (75 minutes), Loch Raven, where somebody called me "Nadal" . . . it's everywhere

5 November - 7 miles (50 minutes), Inner Harbor and whatever, cold morning warm-up for the next day's race

Total Time: 320 minutes
Total Distance: 43 miles

Clearly, sort of a crummy week. In retrospect, the 17-mile run on Sunday was a depleted run, run to exhaustion, and took me perhaps too long to recover from, as we will see . . .

And now, the race report:

The Fire on the Mountain battle began long before the horn went off. It began at exactly 2:47 a.m., when I woke up, without the aid of my cell phone alarm, and immediately began to dread the day ahead. Not that this is necessarily uncommon when I race; I can't even count the number of races (good ones, even) where I felt like dropping out in the first mile. But this kind of trepidation, this early in the game, was particularly nerve-wracking. In general, this was an all-sorts-of-out-of-sorts day, with this not even supposed to be Fire on the Mountain day (it was postponed from last Sunday, due to snow), daylight savings time meaning that 2:47 a.m. was really 3:47 a.m. (although, thanks to a very early bedtime, sleep-wise, this felt like 6:47 a.m.), and the fact that there were several other races this weekend that were of interest to me, all of which I had to forego to run this race. At least a dozen times on the dark, desolate drive out to Flintstone, I thought about turning around and going home, right then and there. (The problem, of course, was that every time I thought of it and didn't do it, I was a little further from home, making that decision just a bit more impractical.) My Vans Warped Tour 2011 CD kept me awake and company until I finally stopped to use the restroom at the Sideling Hill rest stop, and, having gotten out of the car and walked around a bit, now felt a little more human. Still not great, but slightly more invested in the race.

The check-in at the finish, in a random field somewhere, and the bus ride to the start, were pretty uneventful. The view from Lookout Mountain is worth noting:

As close to heaven as this is going to get . . .

The race director told us that the course was marked "as good as it was going to be" and that if we had a question, we should "find somebody who ran it last year." And, with those words of encouragement, we were off on our ridiculous adventure . . .

And it was apparent from the start that this was going to be a roller-coaster day. Not just the course, which, in the span of the first two miles, consisted of a very steep uphill on a road, an even steeper downhill on a road, and then a quick turn-off onto a narrow, rocky, leaf-covered single-track trail that dove further down the hill. But as I navigated this nonsense, somewhere in the top 10, every bit of my body was protesting. First my left quad hurt. I managed to shift the pain away, and then it was my right shin. And then above my left knee. And then above my right knee. The uneven terrain and nearly non-existent trail (thanks to the leaf cover, downed trees, and excess water) was not helping at all. I maintained position until around 3.5 miles, when I managed to run off course about half a mile, taking five other people with me. Turned out that there was a turn-off that we had missed, because although it was marked with a surveyor flag, the trail straight ahead was wide, while the left turn up the hill was narrow and unappealing.

Back on course, we all slogged up the hill, but now there was no way to tell what position we were in, since, this early in the race, a 10-minute detour is enough to put you all the way in the back of the pack. The random pains continued, and while I thought vaguely of dropping out, I also felt committed enough to this, particularly since this was what I was doing in lieu of several other things, that I wasn't going to do it.

As it turned out, I was soon cursing the fact that I had not given dropping more serious consideration, as the next segment of red trail, following a brief reprive on a logging road, was even more leaf-covered, less defined, and on the side of a steep hill, to boot. One missed step would send you tumbling to, well, let's not get that morbid right here. It was at this point that the pain from the laces on my Hokas (yes, I had hoped the heel slippage would resolve itself, but in spite of multiple efforts to lace them differently) started becoming a significant nuisance. The digging into the front of my foot was making navigation on the uneven terrain a more painful challenge than it should have been, and just when I thought I had made peace with that, here came the stream crossings . . .

I am not exaggerating when I say that there were at least a dozen stream crossings. Maybe a dozen is too conservative. But for whatever reason, the trail wound snake-like across the stream bed, over and over again. It later turned out that because of all of the snow, this was a particularly wet year, and, last year, this section of the course was bone-dry. As it was still around 30 degrees, being forced to get wet, in some cases, up to your knees, was unpleasant. I foolishly tried to tiptoe around, and minimize the drenching, but on the third or fourth stream crossing, I slipped on a rock and fell in. Completely soaked, including through two layers of gloves, I spent the remainder of this trail section hoping that the sun would come out and dry my gloves. Somewhere along here, the numbness in my feet caused me to roll my right ankle at least three times. Perfect. And we weren't even 10 miles in . . .

Red turned to green, but the scene remained the same. Rocks, roots, water, stream crossings, fallen trees, over, and over, and over again. At least the sun was starting to come out, but the random pain all over, and the specific lace pain in my shoes, was wearing on me. Somehow, I managed to hold it together enough not to trip, and, as we approached the halfway point, navigating through the "green region" (which the "trails" shall henceforth be known as), got easier, and I passed the three people who were hanging with me through the wet, nasty, technical bits. I reached the "midpoint" (who really knows where it is) at around 3 hours and 20 minutes, obviously really slow, but at the same time, I didn't feel all that bad about this (which maybe, in and of itself, was bad).

Now for the "easy" logging road section. And although people complained about this last year, I have to admit, it was fairly easy. There were a few rolling hills, but overall, this was where things started to turn around for me. The sun was out, my clothes were drying, and, in spite of all of the pain, I was starting to find a rhythm (albeit an uncomfortable one), and I passed four more people on this section. This was in spite of having to re-tie my shoes twice, finally reaching a still uneasy compromise with the painful Hoka lacing system.

But eventually, easy gave way to the purple woods region, where we went back to leafy, rocky, vaguely marked trail. In spite of sore feet from my lace issue and rolling my ankle early on, I finally fell into a rhythm here. I wasn't moving all that fast all the time, particularly down the really rocky downhills, but I was averaging around 10-minute miles overall. The pain hadn't really stopped shifting randomly, or gone away, but I was finally dealing with it. As I climbed the last hill, to gunshots in the distance . . .

Firing on the Mountain (courtesy of Mark Rodriguez)

. . . having passed four more people in this section, part of me was actually disappointed that now that I was making some kind of decent progress, the race was over. (The smarter part of me realized that this had been a bad day, and it was probably best to cut my losses here.) I took a log from a volunteer, ran the last loop around the field, and dropped the log into the fire to finish the race.

The (arguably weak) fire . . . maybe if all 120 registered runners had showed up, it would have been more impressive . . .

Overall, I'm still not totally sure what to make of the race. I clearly had a terrible start, but ended up finishing in a little over 6 hours, which means that the last half took me somewhere between 2 hours and 40 minutes and 2 hours and 50 minutes - a little closer to what I wanted to do for the entire race, and, especially if I had counted only the last section, probably on pace for a "good" time given the conditions. Over the course of the race, in spite of increasing foot/ankle pain (which disappeared, even the ankle sprain pain, as soon as I took off the damn Hokas - back to the drawing board with those . . .), I managed to adapt and slog through it, so I must not be totally burned-out for the year. If anything, I think the 17-mile run that I did a week ago took quite a bit out of me, and I hadn't recovered my 50K speed for this race, Truthfully, I could have done with a 100-mile slog this weekend . . . my heart was in Alabama, pining for Pinhoti, and the way I ran today, it seemed like my body was, too. Ultimately, the overall effort was one that I felt like I could have repeated twice more . . . But oh well, live and learn. I'll spend this week running gently, recovering rapidly (I hope), and preparing for my next adventure . . .

All's well that ends with a smoothie from Sheetz (the race's sponsor . . .)