Sunday, June 14, 2015

Forget The PR 1/2 Marathon: April 13th, 2015

Luc and I after our 4:30 am run
This is one of my favorite weekends because I get to see a few hundred trail runners enjoy the Forget The PR 50K and 25K.  It is nice to give back once in awhile and that is why I make it a point to volunteer at this race every year.  The fact is that I have just as much fun volunteering as I do running the races.  I also like to get a few runs in since I am in Mohican for the weekend!  Last year I did a run at 4:30 am on the race day and was done before the 50K started.  Lucas was camping and volunteering with me and when I suggested doing an early morning run before our volunteering duties this year he was completely on board.  Both of us also signed up for the half marathon which was on Sunday morning.

50K runners ready to roll
I got to Mohican Adventures in the late afternoon on Friday and was able to assist with loading the boxes of aid station supplies into the trailer.  My friend Steve Pierce was also there and we put out the parking sign and did some other odds and ends.  We both went down to Trails End Pizza for some dinner after helping out.  I went back to the camp site and set up my tent along with getting ready for our early run the next day.  Lucas showed up around 10:30 and we got his tent set up and talked until around 11:30.  It was a cold night and I did not get much sleep but when 4:30 rolled around I was ready to go!  Lucas and I set out into the dark trails and completed 10 miles in the cool morning.  The showers where we were camping had no hot water and taking a cold shower when the air temp is 40 degrees is not an ideal situation.  We decided to go down and say hi to all our friends that were racing before the 50K started.  Then we were able to get showers down at the conference center where there was hot water.  After that we went down to our aid station at the start finish area and helped Cheryl and Amy set up although they almost had it all done by the time we got there!  It was non stop action as Luc and I were refilling everyone's water bottles and I think we became camelbak experts.  It is not easy filling the water bladders and they come in all shapes and sizes.  Cheryl and Amy along with a few others were making sure the runners were getting enough food.  Along with being a great aid station captain Cheryl is a PB & J making machine!

Relaxing at site 500!
We had a good time volunteering and were exhausted from getting up so early.  We left the race as people were finishing and went to Trails End Pizza for some food.  After eating we just went back to the camp site and sat by the fire talking for awhile.  I think we both went to our tents around 8:30 to go to sleep.  We got up the next day and packed all our stuff up so we could both take off after the half marathon.  Luc and I ran with Amy during the half marathon and she had already done 5 miles or so before it started because she needed extra miles for her training run.  It was nice to catch up with her and hear about her training for the Mohican 100 miler in June.  Lucas did well in the half marathon and did not have any stomach issues when using Tailwind Nutrition that I turned him on to.  I have been using Tailwind nutrition for running and it literally is everything you need to keep fueled during a run.  After the half marathon we hung out and talked for a little bit and then started the long drive home.  I left with a big smile on my face as I always do after the Forget the PR weekend.  It was great to see all of my Ohio ultra friends and hang out with my bro Lucas.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Forget The PR Race Director 50K: March 28th, 2015

Ready to rock!  Mohican hills behind me calling my name.
Finally back to the trail running paradise of The Mohican State Forest!  You may remember from the last few years I volunteer at Rob Powell's trail race Forget The PR 50K and 25K.  Rob graciously invites all of the volunteers to come to Mohican and run the course a few weeks prior to the actual event.  Rob is such a great race director and friend that he not only let's the volunteers run the course he also gives us the same schwag and 50K buckle received by the runners of the actual event. Another cool thing is that he treats us to beer and pizza after our volunteer run.  Before I get into the details of the actual run I want to say a few things about how Forget The PR was the event that gave me the final nudge to get me into running ultra marathons.  After high school I did very little running until the fall of 2009 when I started getting back into shape.  I did my first trail half marathon in 2010.  Then in the spring of 2011 my great friend Lucas Hardbarger, who had been around the trail ultra scene for a few years, introduced the me to the scene by inviting me to come down to Mohican and volunteer with him at Forget The PR.  I really liked trail running and decided to come down and see what an ultra is all about.  Lucas seemed to have a lot of fun running the crazy distances and these ultimate tests of human endurance just seemed like an adventurous and fun thing to do.

Scott and Lucas on Big Ass Hill Round 1

In April of 2010 I met Rob along with the other volunteers and I could already sense an awesome vibe surrounding this event and ultra running in general.  They were full of passion about this race and also pulling out all stops to ensure the runners were going to have a safe and fun time.  They also discussed how almost all of the proceeds were going back to the park and the groups who maintain the trails.  Then on race day I could see how much fun the runners were having and how grateful they were to have us out there for support which gave me a big rush of excitement.  I met so many awesome people that weekend and I could see why Lucas was hooked.  I knew right then and there that this was something I wanted to do.  A year later I completed Forget The PR 50K with Joe Gatton and since then I have never looked back.  This is not only a fun trail race but also a tough trail race.  There are over 4,500 feet of ascent / climbing, a section where you have to literally climb up roots, and 5 river crossings for the 50K, which is pretty serious for the midwest!  I love this event and was really excited to go down there this year to see all of my trail friends and get my fourth year Forget The PR 50K buckle!  A cool thing about Forget The PR race director 50K is that it is kind of the official kick off to the trail race season.  It is in late March and the weather has usually shown a little sign of improvement from the cold winter.  The final epic thing about this years event is that Lucas had taken the last year and a half off from ultra running and over the winter he started training again and now he is back!

 The crew looking happy before climbing the Dam Wall
I arrived at the starting point, Mohican Adventures Campground. around 7:30 am for an 8:00 am start.  I said hello to many friends that I have made over the last few years and was happy to see them all.  Then Rob came running into the campground and we found out that he and Don Baun had started running around 4:30 am to mark the trail course turns for us!  How cool are these guys to get out that early for our benefit?!  Rob informed us that we would have to run the 25K route twice because the rivers were way to high for us to cross in the southern sections of the course.  I kind of liked that because we would be able to stop at our car around the half way point.  Rob also informed us that he added in some more hills for us and we would have about 5,600 feet of climbing which is 1,100 feet of bonus elevation gain!  My quads are still thanking him for this new punishment errr...I mean challenge.  Lucas, Scott Love, Amanda Mowery, and myself ran together for almost the entire 50K.  We had a great time exchanging stories and politely cursing Rob for sending us up North Rim Trail four times and also Big Ass Hill twice!  There were two different roving aid stations for us and it was so nice of them to give up their day to give us food and water.  We took our time and enjoyed the nice weather and each others company.  Finishing was great because I had been thinking about the beer and pizza for the last two hours of the run!  The weather turned out to be perfect.  It was in the high 20s for the morning start but got up into the low 50s and it was sunny.  One of the first nice days of the year, thanks mother nature!!  The course was pretty dry overall which was surprising since the winter thaw had just happened and it rained two days before the run.  There were three different spots on the course that we were not sure which way we were suppose to go but we guessed right every time!  If you want to see a video of this years course then click this link.  That video was taken on the day of the actual event.

Climbing the roots
Running into Rob at covered bridge
Big Ass Hill Round 2!!

I was proud of Lucas because this was his first ultra in awhile and it was a tough one!  He was struggling in the second half of the race but he kept pushing on.  He toughed it out and finished strong.  At our post run pizza feast we discovered that Lucas and I both got our 4 year buckles so that means next year we will be going for our 5 year buckles!  We had a great time at our post race dinner as we listened to Rob Gannon tell us the story of his son pulling a seabiscuit move and winning state in the 3,000 meter.  Rob Powell called us up individually to give us our buckles and he had some really nice things to say about each of us.  I can't explain in words how awesome this community of trail runners is.  After a beer or two and a bunch of pizza it was time to make the long drive back to Detroit but the drive is a small price to pay for the amount of fun I had on this day.

Enjoying the day

It's official, the 4th year FPR 50K buckle!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Resolution 4 hour Trail Run: January 17th, 2015

The group Photo!
I heard of this race through RUT which is a local trail running group.  It is another Fat Ass type of event but this FA was very well organized with course markings and finisher prizes etc..  It was a 2.5 mile trail loop in the snow at Cass Benton Park off Hines Drive in Northville, MI.  Participants could choose from the following time limits: 1 hour, 2 hour, 3 hour, and 4 hours.  Which ever time you chose was how long you had to complete as many laps as you could.  I went into the event knowing I wanted to do four hours.  Jess decided to come with me and she wanted to run the one hour event.  Through facebook I found out that Steve "Trail Runner" Pierce was coming up from Toledo to run this event as well.  I was surprised at how many people showed up especially since the temps were pretty cold and we just had a few inches of snow fall the night before.  We took a group photo before the run started.  Somehow Jess, Steve, and myself happened to be standing right in the front of the group when they announced it was picture time.  I tried to duck out of the way since I felt like I was blocking most of the group standing behind me!

Lap One!
The run started and we were stuck in a slow moving group which was fine for me.  I was not looking to kill this run or anything like that.  Running in the snow is a little tougher then a dry trail and I was just there to have fun.  Jess was also ok with the slower pace at the beginning.  Steve had too much energy so he darted around most of the group so he could resume his normal faster pace.  We settled into a group that had a perfect pace for us.  The landscape was really neat looking with all the fresh snow that had fallen. Footing was not too bad for me and there was not really any ice which was a good thing.  The traction on Jess's shoes was not that great and she had trouble with footing.  After she was done with her one hour run she said goodbye and I kept at it.  I wanted to see how many miles I could complete in four hours.  Slogging through the snow really starts to wear me out after a few hours and the day was getting tougher.  I met a lot of cool people during the remainder of my four hour run.  It is good that I was able to meet some local Michigan ultra runners.  Most of my ultra running friends live in Ohio.  I do not really have anyone up here in Michigan to run with.

When I finished my seventh lap I still had ten or fifteen minutes until my four hours was up.  I
decided to call it good at 17.5 miles total.  I was ready to be done and go find some hot coffee.  I got to meet the two guys that put this event on; Keith and Paul, and they are both really cool down to earth kind of guys.  I hung out and talked with Steve and his friend Jessica for awhile.  It was a top notch event for being a FA.  The guys really went all out to make this a cool event.  I would highly recommend it to any of my running friends for 2016.  It's a great way to start out the year!

Detroit Turkey Trot 10K: Nov. 27th, 2014

Jessica and I have wanted to do the Detroit Turkey Trot for a few years now but we are usually in Toledo for family events on Thanksgiving day.  This year it worked out that we didn't have anything going on until later in the afternoon so we decided to head out with 25,000 Detroit area runners to trot along the Thanksgiving Day Parade route.  We did not really know how big of an event this was until the week of the race. People were telling us to get downtown at least three hours early.  What?!  I am not getting out of bed at 4:00 am on thanksgiving morning.  We took our chances and left about an hour before the start of the race.  Luckily Jess has a parking pass for one of the garages at the Renaissance Center so we were able to bypass the huge slug of traffic waiting to find parking.  We actually found parking right away and were early to the starting line!

We ran into one of Jessica's co-workers who is originally from Ireland.  Her parents were in town visiting and her Dad was there to walk the Turkey trot with her.  It was cool meeting them and then we went out into the cold weather to get lined up to run.  Then we were finally off and running.  There were thousands of people running which is always a cool atmosphere to be around.  We were not going for any speed records, rather just wanted to enjoy the atmosphere of downtown Detroit on parade day.  It was very lively throughout the whole course.  People were lining the streets to cheer runners on as they were getting ready to watch the parade which followed the run.  There were also a ton of Lions fans out tailgating before the traditional Lions Thanksgiving Day football game.  I must admit that I was starting to get hungry smelling all the food they were grilling.  Halfway into the run I noticed we had a pretty good pace going.  We kept it up for the rest of the run and it was over before we knew it.  We went to a bar in the Renaissance Center to have a bloody mary which turned into two bloody marys.  We did not know they were going to be the most expensive bloody marys we ever had!

Everything throughout the day went really smooth until we tried to leave the parking garage.  It was a traffic jam getting out of there.  We must of sat in the same spot for about a half hour.  Then we moved little by little and finally we were able to get on our way home for a nap before our Thanksgiving feast back in Ohio.  This was a really neat event and I cannot believe how many people are downtown for the race, parade, and football game.  Must be like 50,000 people total!  It is quite a tribute to how awesome the people of Detroit and metro Detroit are when it comes to getting together for a big celebration.  I think we will definitely do this race again if we are in the area on Thanksgiving morning.

Fall FA Oak Openings 25K: November 22, 2014

My friend from Perrysberg, OH, Steve "Trail Runner" Pierce, invited me to this fat ass race in Oak Openings Metro Park.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with a fat ass race it is basically a run that is not an official race.  It is kind of a word of mouth type thing where a bunch of runners just get together and run a certain course usually without course markings.  These are becoming more and more popular as most trail events get sold out quickly these days.  Anyway, this FA trail run was being put on by the Toledo Road Runners Club.  My plan was to get up early and make the hour and a half drive down to the park for the 8:00 am start.  I was excited to do a run in Oak Openings since I grew up in that area and this was technically my "home trail."  The weather called for freezing rain on the Saturday morning of the race which concerned me a little bit.

I left my house with plenty of time in case the weather turned bad on my way down there.  As soon as I left my driveway the freezing rain had started.  The expressways were not too bad at first so I decided to keep going.  When I got about half way there the roads were becoming a sheet of ice.  I slowed way down and took my time.  I finally reached the park after a crazy drive and as I was pulling into the entrance I noticed a lot of cars in the parking lot.  I thought a lot of people would of just stayed home due to the freezing rain but runners are usually a determined group so of course everyone made it out.  I was happy to see the crowd and also excited that I made it there without crashing and only a few minutes late.  Then I hit a patch of ice and my car started sliding towards an embankment.  It stopped right before sliding down the embankment.  Nothing like getting your heart pumping before the run even starts!  When I got there some groups were starting and I noticed Steve was in the lead group so I hurried up and sprinted to catch up to him.  He was surprised I made it considering the weather.

The trail we were running on is a 16 mile dirt trail around the perimeter of the park.  It is well maintained by local boy scouts and therefore it is called the Scout Trail.  Every time we are back in that area visiting family I usually try to go there to run a lap on that trail so I know the course pretty well. We were off to a pretty good pace at the beginning with a group of four or five runners.  I kept up with them because I was chatting with Steve about..well..trail running..of course.  Steve is a much faster runner then me and he and the lead group were really pushing me to my limit.  After 9 or 10 miles me and another guy had to tell Steve we were slowing down.  He said he was just out there for a slow fun run anyway and no problem he would go at our pace.  The weather actually turned nice into the upper 30s during the run.  There was a little layer of snow on the trail for some added cushion.  We kept up a pretty good pace for the next 6 miles to the finish.  I was very exhausted.  I am not use to pushing that hard on trail runs but it really paid off.  When we finished at the shelter I noticed there was a huge spread of food.  Looks like almost everyone brought something and it was all really good stuff.  There was also a fire going in the fireplace inside the shelter which was awesome.  This was a really cool event.  I am glad I decided to go and it was nice to meet some Toledo area trail runners.

Bloody Border Dash 1/2 Marathon: October 5th, 2014:

My mom works in the Hemophilia clinic at the Toledo hospital and the Hemophilia Foundation of Michigan and Ohio put on this race to raise money.  She sent us an invite to sign up for the race and Jessica and myself thought it would be fun to do and at the same time we would be contributing to a great cause.  A cool thing about this race is that it started and ended at The Centennial Quarry which is only a few miles from where I grew up.  The race course was designed in a way that took us North across the Michigan / Ohio state line, thus the name of the race Bloody (for Hemophilia) Border (crossing state lines) and well..Dash (self explanatory).

We stayed at my parents house the night before the race since it was so close.  On race morning it was a lot colder then average for the beginning of October.  In fact, it was the first day of the entire fall season where temps dropped below freezing.  I think it was in the high 20s and with nothing but fields around the course the wind was whipping like crazy.  We waited in the car until we had to line up for the start.  Once the race was underway we decided to start quickly so we could get warmed up.  Once our body temps reached a comfortable cruising temperature we settled into a nice pace.  I have always wanted to break two hours in a half marathon but never have.  I came within three minutes of that goal in the past but never succeeded.  I thought I would just relax and have fun during this race which I did for half of it.  After the course went North for a few miles across the state line we took country roads west for three or four miles. About mile seven I was feeling pretty good and Jess told me to go ahead and take off.  I kicked it into high gear and thought if I kept a really fast pace that maybe I could bust two hours.

The course turned South and we ran back into Ohio.  For sentimental reasons the course was awesome because it traversed the flat country roads where I grew up.  It was cool seeing all of the Berkey Firefighters and EMTs at the intersections.  I come from a long family line of Firefighters so it is emotional seeing the active volunteers who are some of the most selfless people in the world.  My mom is one of these Firefighters / EMT volunteers and she donates a ton of her time to this volunteer department and I am very proud of her for what she does.  It was cool seeing her rooting me on as we ran back into Ohio and turned East to run the last few miles.  With about two miles to go I realized that I was not going to break the two hour barrier unless I magically received some superhuman speed powers and could utilize them without getting injured.  I was suffering from a hamstring strain that came about at the Devil Mountain 50 miler back in August so I just slowed things down and enjoyed the rest of the run.  As I was running down a paved pathway to the finish I heard my name over the loud speaker and there was a lot of people braving the cold weather cheering me on to the finish.  After I finished I waited for Jess and it was not long before I heard her name over the loud speaker.  She had a great finish and we were both glad to be done and headed for the car to get some warm clothes on.

Hanging With Paws
The after party for this race was really great.  They had a band playing up on stage.  They had plenty of food and also kegs of craft beer!  I couldn't believe this was the first year for this event because it went so smoothly and they had such a great party after the race.  They even had the Detroit Tiger's mascot Paws their handing out finisher medals and I thought this was strange since the Tigers had a ALCS game later that day.  Unfortunately because it was so cold many people had left right after the run instead of hanging out at the party.  Jess and I sat with some family friends Jerry and Ann Lumbrezer for awhile and chatted while eating some food and drinking some beer.  The good thing was we did not have to worry about our beer staying cold!  Then my mom showed up and we sat and talked with her for awhile.  I hope they have nicer weather for their 2015 race so more people stick around and enjoy the after race fiesta.  I also hope more people sign up to run this race in 2015 because it is for a great cause and these guys really know how to put on a top notch event!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Devil Mountain 50: Aug.23rd, 2014 "When the going gets tough!"

Me, Ed, Charlie, and Joe Ready to Rock
The Devil Mountain 50 Miler takes place in Pagosa Springs, Colorado in the San Juan Mountains.  I found about this race through Jessica's cousin Joe and his wife Debra who live in Pagosa Springs.  Joe told me he was going to run a local 50 miler called Devil Mountain and said it would be awesome if we could make it out there for the race.  I love visiting Colorado so I instantly started searching for plane tickets after Joe told me about the event.  I found a great deal on round trip tickets and signed up for the 50 miler.  In addition to the 50 mile race they also offer a 50K along with races of other distances including a half marathon which Jessica signed up for.  The 50 mile course traverses over dirt service roads, dirt fire roads, open meadows, beautiful single track trails, and mountain ridges.  It is some of the toughest but most beautiful terrain I have ever seen with steep rocky climbs and sweeping views of the area.  The course was designed by an ultra running legend, Frozen Ed Furtaw, who has many years of experience running the Barkley Marathons which is one of, if not the, toughest foot race in America.  He even wrote a book "Tales From Out There" detailing the evolution of the Barkley over the years.  Devil Mountain brought me to a conclusion that Frozen Ed likes to make things challenging because he knows the mental reward for finishing is so much greater.

Me, Joe, and Debra before the start
This challenge was sort of an awakening for me in many ways which I will describe throughout this race report.  I had to start training for Devil Mountain in mid May after the dust settled from the excitement of my first 100 mile finish back in April.  I was riding on cloud nine from my accomplishment but had a tough and longer then expected recovery and my motivation to start training again was very low for most of the summer.  In the back of my mind I knew I should of been training really hard by doing a ton of hill work and strength training as well as getting in a lot of miles on the trail; however, I did very few back to back weekend long runs and pretty much just went through the motions.  About six weeks before the race I finally started to get some quality trail runs in and also some high mileage runs throughout the week.  This helped to boost my confidence for Devil Mountain but I had no idea of the adventure I was about to face.  In June Joe had mentioned to me that he started running with this guy named Ed Furtaw.  I read "Tales From Out There" awhile back and when I made the connection I was really excited to meet Ed.  It was going to be an honor to meet someone that brings new meaning to the word determination.  With his superior ultra running resume I knew I could talk to him for hours and barely scratch the surface with all the info I wanted to pick his brain about.  I also found out Ed was running the Devil Mountain 50 miler in preparation for a fall race on the Barkley course.  Also, we found out that Charlie, a friend of Jessica's cousin Therese in Indiana, was in Colorado and he was running the race as well. 

Frozen Ed Furtaw giving me words of wisdom
Jess and I arrived late on Thursday night before the race.  We stayed up late talking to Joe and Debra and it was really nice catching up with them.  Early Friday morning I woke up with a pretty severe ear ache.  I went back to sleep and it was mild when I woke up again.  I thought it might be from the pressure from flying as I had developed ear aches in the past from flying.  I was hoping it would go away before the race on the next day.  We toured Pagosa Springs and went to get supplies for Debra's aid station that she was in charge of for miles 32 and 37 of the 50 mile race.  While picking up supplies at the one of the race director's house we met Ed and his wife Gail.  They seemed like great people and I was looking forward to hanging out with them.  Then we went to pick up our race packets in the San Juan National Forest where the race starts and finishes.  After getting the race packets we went back to Joe and Debra's place for Debra's famous pre-race spaghetti.  We also met some of their friends from Pagosa Springs; Stephen and his wife Randi.  Stephen was looking forward to running Devil Mountain as his first 50 mile race but became sick a few weeks before the race and was still not well enough to do the run.  They were really fun and we had a good time eating dinner and getting to know them.

Joe and Doug bombing the downhill
We were up early the next morning and Debra gave Joe and I a ride to the starting line since Jess's race didn't start until later.  It was chilly out and many of the runners were hanging out around the big fire they had going.  Joe and I were able to meet Charlie and also hang out for a little bit with Ed before the race started.  There was only about 45 - 50 people that started the 50 miler which gave this race a nice family like atmosphere.  The race started at 8,000 feet above sea level and we ran down a relatively flat gravel road for a mile or so before we turned into the woods.  Joe was pointing out the mountains we would be climbing during the race and we were discussing which climbs in the nearly 8,000 feet of elevation gain would be the toughest.  We had a nice gradual 800 foot climb up Chris Mountain from miles 2 to 5.  One thing I noticed is that my heart was beating pretty fast on this ascent.  I knew it was due to the altitude and I had not acclimatized at all for this race.  I didn't have issues at Run Rabbit Run in 2012 which was a similar elevation profile so I just assumed that I would not have problems at this race in the altitude.  After reaching the top of the first climb the next 5 miles were all downhill, 1,700 feet of descent on a nice wide service road with awesome views.  The first aid station was at the beginning of this downhill section and we were in and out quickly.  We thanked the volunteers and then bombed down this section at a fast clip and our pace was a lot faster then I thought it would be at this point in the race.  It turned out to be a good thing we had a swift pace here because what I was about to face was going to kill that awesome start.   

The air is thin but Joe is dominating the climb
On the downhill Joe and I met a guy named Doug from Denver.  He was in the Navy and was running his first 50 miler.  It was nice to chat with him on the 5 mile sprint down to Devil Creek.  Once we got to the bottom Joe told us we were beginning the biggest climb of the race but when we got to the top then we would see spectacular views from the ridge of Horse Mountain at 10,000 feet above sea level.  We stuck together for the first mile of the 7 mile 3,000 climb.  Joe had a great amount of energy at this point and he was telling everyone we passed that his wife Debra was working the aid station before Sally Overlook and that she will play whatever music they want!  My heart was racing like crazy and my ear was starting to bother me and Doug's heart was beating so hard he could feel it in his ears.  Joe was really dominating this climb and I was glad that he pushed on ahead as I didn't want to hold him back since he was feeling so good.  Doug also pushed on ahead of me as I decided to take it slow because I didn't want to burn myself out with so much race left.  All 7 miles and 3,000 feet of that climb up Horse Mountain were on steep single track trail.  There was one aid station on this climb and I refilled my water, thanked the volunteers, and kept climbing.  It seemed as though this climb went on forever.  My heart was racing faster and faster the higher in elevation I got.  I was relieved when I reached the summit and I was able to see the amazing views from the ridge that Joe was telling us about.  That moment in time was so mentally rewarding as the views were the ultimate payoff from that tough ascent to the top of the mountain.


View from the 10,000 foot ridge
While traversing across the ridge I came across another runner who seemed like he was in rough shape.  I offered him an electrolyte pill and he gladly accepted.  Then I flew down the steep and rocky 2 mile and 900 foot ascent to the third aid station at mile 19 where Ed's wife Gail was working.  It was nice to see her and I ate my share of their delicious peanut butter and Jelly sandwiches.  I was not doing too good at this point because my stomach had some familiar pains that I had during the IT 100 and my ears were still bothering me.  I was also feeling pretty tired since I was a bit jet lagged and was running on about 5 hours of sleep.  I decided to try drinking a little coca cola which is new for me. I don't drink pop in normal everyday life and I had never tried any during a race until now.  It turned out to be a life savor as it gave me a caffeine boost and seemed to ease the pain in my stomach.  After thanking the volunteers I marched up Middle Mountain on a fire road for about 3 miles and 500 feet of rocky ascent and then back down a steep 600 foot descent in the span of about a mile to the next aid station at mile 24.  It was at this point I realized the course was very tough and I was wondering if my sea level training in the Midwest was going to be sufficient enough to get me through this race.  

Pic from Pagosa Trails FB page
Coming into mile 24.  Pic from Pagosa Trails FB page
When I came into the aid station at mile 24 I was greeted by a gentleman who told me the next 21 miles are going to be the toughest miles of the course and he wants to make sure I feel good enough physically to continue.  He said the course has a steep 1,200 foot drop down Corral Mountain to the Piedra River and then we had to climb up to the next aid station and then come all the way back.  He said I could decide at this juncture to drop down to the 50K and head 6 miles back to the finish line.  What?!  The next half of the course is going to be harder then the first half?!  I was feeling decent at this point but mentally I started to get worried about what he said.  It didn't take me long to decide to stick with the 50 miler because I came all this way to do the 50 mile race and I wanted to experience the whole course.  I figured I would rather go on and drop out of the 50 miler then decide to do the 50K and be mentally disappointed in myself for not seeing if I had what it took to finish the race I signed up for.  I saw Randi there taking pictures and she said that Joe came through that aid station a half hour before me and he was doing good.  I was happy to hear that Joe was having a great race.  I knew it was 8 hard miles to the next aid station so I made sure I filled my water bladder in my camelbak and after eating some food and thanking the volunteers I set off on the next section.  When I left that aid station I saw Doug coming back the other way and he said he decided to drop to the 50K because he couldn't handle 21 extra miles of rocks, roots, and hills.  He went right past me and I didn't even have a chance to try and talk him into continuing on.

Bridge over Piedra River
I started not feeling well over the next few miles because everything I had working against me all came boiling to a head including some severe upper back and neck pain that had been slowly cropping up throughout the race and a pounding headache.  The course drops down a few hundred feet over a mile or so and then went through some rolling meadows.  Then the 1,200 foot drop to the river started and it was almost straight down as it only covered about a mile.  It was really rocky, steep, and technical which was bringing my mental and physical state to record lows for the day.  I was thinking to myself "if I feel this bad right now going down this mountain then how the hell am I going to make it back up this thing several miles later???"  This was dangerous ground for me mentally because the negative thoughts were going in the direction of wanting to drop out when I got to Debra's aid station at mile 32.  I convinced myself that it was not my day and I did good considering the circumstances but it would be wise to drop out rather then attempt to climb back up this section of the course.  I even told myself that I was not going to feel bad for dropping out and I was ok with it.  When I got to the bottom of the mountain and popped out of the woods I seen one of the most majestic views of my lifetime.  I was in a valley by the Piedra River and crossed this really cool bridge with views of mountains all around me.  Words can not describe how awesome this area really is and at that moment all of my bad feelings just vanished into thin air.  After I crossed the bridge I followed the trail along the other side of the river.

Piedra River
At this point the first place runner passed me going back the other way.  I was surprised this did not happen sooner and my good feelings turned to dread as I figured I had a tough climb up to the next aid station.  I also seen a runner who was wearing Luna Sandals and coming from a minimalist footwear background I could appreciate that and was extremely impressed this guy was dominating in them.  I also saw Charlie along this stretch on his way back and he was very focused and doing great.  Then the course turned off the trail along the river and went straight up a steep hill to anther trail.  When I got to the top of that hill I looked back down toward the river and saw Ed with another runner and they were closing in on me.  Then I followed a narrow rocky trail along a steep drop off and I thought to myself that one slip here could be deadly so I took my time.  I kept pushing on through some more climbing and rolling terrain and one last big climb up to Debra's aid station.  It was nice to see her when I got there.  She told me that Jess did really good in her half marathon and it was awesome to hear that.  I told Debra I was not feeling good and today was not my day.  There was a younger guy named Mark sitting in a chair with a little teddy bear strapped to his camelbak and he told me that we are all hurting.  I thought to myself that I should at least go 2.5 miles out to Sally Overlook and see the views and then go 2.5 miles back to Debra's aid station where I would call it quits at mile 37.  Ed came in and he was excited to see me still in the race.  He was in great spirits and it boosted me up a bit.  When I left the aid station I saw Joe on his way back from Sally Overlook.  He was excited to see me still in the race and I told him he was doing great.  We both agreed that the beer and pizza at the finish line sounded pretty damn good at that moment in time.  I didn't have the heart to tell him I was plotting to drop out of the race because I was just feeling so terrible and didn't think I could survive the climb back up Corral Mountain on the other side of the river.

Sally Overlook.  Pointing down to Piedra River
I walked most of the flat 2.5 miles to Sally Overlook and saw Ed coming back from the overlook as I was getting there.  When I got out on the cliff edge of the overlook I seen the absolute best view I have ever witnessed in my lifetime.  It was a panoramic view of the surrounding mountains and the valley which the Piedra River ran through  We had to take a page from a book that was placed at the overlook to prove we went all the way out there.  That was a nice little touch from the Barkley which I am glad was incorporated into the race.  I took the page out of the book then snapped one picture from the overlook and my phone died so I stood there for a minute to enjoy the view.  Mark, the younger guy with the teddy bear strapped to his camelbak, was also out there and we were discussing how we could see the river so far down there and that was where we came from.  We left the overlook together and I told him that I was going to drop out and he told me not to.  I told him that if I stay in the race I would be walking all the way back to the finish line.  He told me he would walk the rest of the race too.  I decided to at least wait and decided when we got back to mile 37.  We came into the aid station and I told Debra I was thinking about dropping but was unsure.  She told me I was an hour ahead of the cutoff and I came all this way and I should finish this thing up.  That got me pumped up and I was able to eat a decent amount of food and drink some more coke which really helped me feel better while giving me a caffeine boost.
Mark and I left Debra's aid station and began the descent down to the Piedra River.  I magically found some energy and we both began running through this section.  In fact, we were running pretty aggressively and I let Mark push on ahead.  It was nice to meet Mark and learn how he moved to Colorado from the Midwest so he could train for his dream race the Hardrock 100.  I later figured out the teddy bear he had symbolized his next race, the Big Bear 100 which was a Hardrock qualifier.  I caught up to Mark again after crossing the Piedra River and we began the one mile 1,200 foot technical climb up Corral Mountain that I was horribly dreading.  Mark was really climbing well and he once again pushed on ahead of me.  My heart was still pounding hard from the ascent in the higher altitude although I was feeling a lot better then I thought I would.  I developed a nice routine in which I watched the elevation on my Garmin 310 XT watch and I would climb 100 feet in elevation at a time and then stop to let my heart rate settle down.  I kept repeating this procedure and before I knew it I was at the top of that intense climb where some of the local horse riders were on their horses sweeping the course and offering runners water.  The camaraderie among humans can be astonishing at times and I especially notice it during ultra marathons which is one of the reasons I am so hooked on the culture of these races.                 

Rolling Meadows
Over the next few miles I did a slow shuffle across the rolling meadows and forest trails.  I was surprised that my headache and back / neck pain had pretty much disappeared!  I passed two girls and mentioned the climb back up Corral Mountain was not as bad as I thought it would be and they told me in a joking manner to speak for myself.  I eventually reached the last aid station at mile 45 (same one as mile 24) and when I came in Ed was sitting there in a chair and he proclaimed "Jamie! you caught me! *brief hesitation* but not for long!" as he got up to leave the aid station.  I grabbed my fleece and my headlamp out of my drop bag along with filling up my water to get me through the last 6 miles of the race.  I was in good spirits here because Joe told me the last section of the course is mostly downhill; although, after leaving this aid station and dropping down to 7,300 feet above sea level over the next two miles down a semi-technical trail I knew we had some climbing to do since the race started at 8,000 feet and that was where it finished.  Then I came to the gravel service road which meant I was a few miles to the finish and it was about dark so I switched on my head lamp.  The road was a gradual climb for a mile or two and at this time I was thrilled I would be able to finish the race but was just ready to be done.  A few cars drove by telling me good job and I am almost done but the road just seemed to go on forever.  I finally heard a bunch of party noises in the distance and also started to hear a cow bell ringing and a guy yelling stuff over a loud speaker.  I knew this was it and I ran the rest of the way to the finish line but I slowed up crossing into the yard where the finish line was because I did not want to trip and fall in front of the big crowd cheering me to the end.

Joe, Debra, Jess, and myself on day after race
After I crossed the finish line I was greeted by my awesome wife, all of my friends, and some really drunk girl who was overly happy for my accomplishment.  Jess helped me escape the drunk girl's persistence for continual high fives and we went over to the pizza stash and grabbed a few slices.  It felt great to eat some hearty warm food and sit down.  I was so spent that I could not even drink a beer.  I was mentally very happy that I pushed on and finished this thing.  I would of been very disappointed in myself if I dropped out even though half way through the race I figured it would not bother me if I quit.  This was one of the toughest races I have done due to the physical makeup of the course and also my mental break down.  It was one of the most rewarding finishes of my ultra running career because I overcame some huge obstacles to succeed in my goal.  It is not easy for us Midwest flatlanders to run the mountain courses out west but it is zen being on the amazing trails.  The day following the race Joe, Debra, Jessica, and myself had lunch by the Piedra river and we took Jess to see the view from Sally Overlook. Then we met up with Ed, Gail, Charlie, and his wife Sara at the Pagosa Brewery for dinner and had an after party at Ed and Gail's house.  Then Jess and I went to Albuquerque for a few days of much needed rest, recovery, and relaxation at Jessica's Aunt Terri and Uncle Brian's house.  With their help I held up my end of getting called out for the ALS Ice Bucket challenge.  Along with Brian dumping an ice cold bucket of water on me I donated money to ALS and also the PKD Foundation.  It was definitely a great trip and I did want it to end but reality was calling us back. 

Dinner at Pagosa Brewery with some great people