Wednesday, October 23, 2013


I headed into Sunday’s USATF 50 Mile Road National Championship, hosted by the Tussey Mountainback 50 miler with hesitant excitement.  Last year, when I was 39.5 years old, I ran a 22 minute PR at the 50 mile distance in 6hr11min.  I was pretty stoked with that effort, as I ran with Brian Rusiecki for the majority of the race, only to stumble with about 12 miles to go.  Leading up to that race, I had spent the majority of my time training for the Grindstone 100 miler with many hilly runs and hill repeats, yet a lack of mental fortitude forced me to quit at 1:00am after only 7 hours of running.  This year, I would be vying for my first Masters Championship, so needless to say my training differed quite a bit.  I spent many a morning doing track workouts under the lights at Ursinus College and tempo runs on the Schuylkill RiverTrail dodging deer and fallen branches.  Although my training would predict a faster time than last year, a mid-week cold would threaten my appearance on the start line.

For once, I decided to attend the pre-race dinner and it turned out to be a pretty fun event.  As it turned out, my wife and I found a seat at a talent-filled table which included Zach Bitter (last years champion), Cassie Scallon (female runner extraordinaire), Matt Flaherty (king of the stache) and his father, DavidRiddle (no introduction needed), and a couple other fellows.  Conversation was somewhat lacking for I think everybody was nervous about the event that would take place the following morning.  After a rather long, but interesting speech/question-answer period by Zach Bitter and a very spirited “pep-talk” by Harry Groves, a legend of Penn State cross country, the room emptied quickly.  I stuck around to talk with Anna Piskorska and Mike Reddy (good friends and occasional running partners) and was able to have a nice reunion with an old friend, Carroll Pope, from San Marcos, CA, who was attempting his first 50 miler.

Our alarm went off at 5am.  When I say our, I mean my wife/crew and I.  After getting ready, we headed out to the foot of the slopes at the infamous Tussey Mountain Ski Resort.  I tried to make a pretty simple nutrition plan to simplify my aid station “stops”. 

I would start with 1 bottle of Vitargo S2 for the first 2 legs and would get a replenished bottle every leg.  In addition, I would take the occasional S-CAP, as Vitargo lacks any electrolyte replacement

So, promptly at 7am, we headed off toward the first climb. 

I settled into a rather pedestrian pace with Jason Bryant, my main Masters competition, and stayed a few yards or so behind the trio of Zach, Matt, and David.  Toward the top of the climb, Scott Hilditch would catch us.  Scott is another young, inexperienced ultrarunner with a 4:07 mile PR that he set in high school.  I joined up with Scott very shortly after we started the descent on leg 2 and we chatted for awhile. 

I noticed that he wasn’t carrying any fluid, which would later plague him at about the 50K mark.  Soon enough, Cassie Scallon joined us heading out of leg 2 and we had a trio of our own.

We reached the dam in 1:17ish (11 miles).  This was a tad slower than last year, seeing as I made it there in 1:13 in 2012.

Over the next 2 legs, Scott and I would see-saw back and forth.  When there was a climb, he would pull away slightly.  On a flat or descent, I would close the gap.

We exited the aid station at mile 20 as quickly as we had entered.  I didn’t get any updates on the front-runners, as I knew they were out of my league.  My concern was behind me and I wanted to keep pressing as long as I could.
The next 3 legs were new territory for me, as the course had changed from the previous 13 or so years.  We would start with a very mild ½ paved road stretch, followed by a rather challenging 3.5 mile ascent with over 1300 feet of elevation gain.  My pre-race plan was to ease into the ascent by backing off on the short paved portion.  Scott put about 100 yards on me before the climb.  I made sure to keep that distance throughout the whole climb while watching my altimeter click off the elevation.  Soon enough I crested the hill about 30-40 seconds in tow of Scott.  

He was in the aid station when I arrived and a quick exchange of my bottle with my wife and then I was off.  He quickly followed….for about 200 yards….abruptly stopped…and depleted his stomach contents on the beautiful scenery.  That would be the last that I would see of him, until I was drinking beer at the post-race festivities.

What goes up, must go down.  The descent over the next 2 legs would do a number to my legs.  I started to feel some early signs of dehydration as some cramping started in my right calf.  In addition to that, the small rocks started to jab the underside of my foot, which was a bit uncomfortable.  So at the mile 28 aid station, I made the switch to my Hoka’s.  (SIDE NOTE:  I don’t think I will ever really go back to the Montrail Masochist).  

The Hoka’s breathed new life into my feet.  Unfortunately, they didn’t do much for my already damaged legs.  Continuing with the descent, I would get passed by a guy named Jason Baer and Cassie Scallon (the eventual women’s champion).  I tried to go with them, but the pain in my legs was too much.

I reached mile 30 at ~3:45, 15 minutes slower than last year and realized it would be a struggle to the finish.  As I turned up the road for leg 9, I saw Jason up ahead….walking.  I tried to use that to motivate me and give chase, but my legs didn’t want to respond as much as I wanted them to.  Rather slowly I made it to the mile 35 aid station at Penn Roosevelt Park.  

I took my only potty break (#1) and realized the extent of my dehydration.  I made a pact with myself to drink some more water and take more S-caps.  My nutrition seemed pretty dead on, but the pre-race illness left me somewhat empty.  I stuck to Vitargo S2 for the entire race, and probably went through at least 9-10 bottles!  Not once did I desire any solid food, however, I did take ½ a Clif Shot gel for the caffeine.  It was at this point, that I noticed Jason Bryant walking around, as he had dropped early with a recurring injury (or so I heard).  That boosted my confidence, as he was my only known threat for the Masters Championship.  Additionally, my amazing wife informed me that David Riddle dropped.  I was now the 4th place male with 3rd place in my sights!  Unfortunately, my elation wouldn’t last, as Scott Dunlap entered the scene.

I had never met Scotty D., but have come across his blog several times.  I knew that he was a strong athlete, but wouldn’t consider him a threat under normal circumstances.  However, this race was everything but normal.
My legs are done.  I am dehydrated and cramping.  Shit! 

I climbed strong, knowing that that didn’t affect my cramps so much.  I started the descent down to the river and soon enough Scott closed the gap.  Fortunately for me, he didn’t make the pass, but started a conversation.  The pain started to subside from my legs as we progressed toward the lake.  

As we hit the road around mile 40, I mentioned to Scott that David dropped and that the top master was only 10 minutes up.  He was somewhat surprised as he thought I was top master.  I informed him that I was joking.  It would have been a good ploy, but I wouldn’t have felt right being dishonest.  We quickly made it into the Coyler Lake aid station.  A quick exchange of my bottle and I was off for the last long climb of the day.  I made sure to make it quick so that Scott wouldn’t latch on.  As it would turn out, I put about 4-5 minutes on him by the end of the leg, running the entire way, even up the steep climb!  Well, it was a running motion, anyway.  I could have probably walked much faster, but I had to give it every ounce of effort that I could, as I saw Jason walking up ahead.

I crested the hill and began to pick up the pace heading into the next aid station. 

As I came to the intersection with Bear Meadows Road, there was Jason walking up the short ascent before the final 3 mile downhill finish.   With Jason in my sights, I quickly hit my aid and started to give chase.  As I made the short ascent, I glanced to the right, down Treaster Kettle Road.  Scott was nowhere in sight.  Perfect!  Knowing that last year I was able to descend with a couple 6:30 miles, I felt I would be able to close the gap on Jason.  After a short ascent, I made my way to the final downhill miles.  All of the sudden, both calves cramped to the point where I threw my bottle to the ground along with a couple inappropriate curse words.  After what seemed like days, I managed to rub the cramp out and make my way down the hill.  3 miles to go.  As I tried to pick up the pace and catch Jason, a small cramp would hit.  2 miles to go. Looking over my shoulder, the coast was clear.  Every little attempt at acceleration, would bring on a small cramp.  I could only maintain 7:50 down the hill.  1 mile to go!  Look over my shoulder, all clear.  ½ mile to go.  A calmness started to set in as I realized that I was about to accomplish what I set out to do.  As I slowly made my way to the finish line, my head in full tilt and trying to not induce any cramping, I noticed the clock ticking by.  6:53:45, 6:53:50, etc.  As it turns out, I would give back that 22 minutes from last year and become the USATF 50 Mile Masters National Champion for 2013 in the process.

No more than 2 minutes later, Scott would enter the scene and finish with a 25 min PR!  After he caught his breath, I congratulated him on a well fought race.


The best part, of course, is the post-race refreshments at the Pavilion.  You can't beat a nice cold beer after 50 miles of pain!

Congratulations to everybody, runners/crew/volunteers, on another successful race.  I am already looking forward to returning in 2014!

Most of all, thank you to my beautiful wife for supporting me in all the stupid stuff that I do!

Muscle Fuel:  Vitargo S2 (1:1 mix of unsweetened and tropical)
Electrolytes:  Succeed S-CAPS
Shoes:  Montrail Mountain Masochist, then Hoka One One Evo Stinson
Socks:  Balega
Shorts:  Pearl Izumi Compression Shorts
Shirt:  Race-Ready
Altimeter:  High Gear Axiomax
Garmin:  310XT
Post-race beer:  Pale Ale, I forget which one it was