Saturday, June 18, 2016

Mohican Trail 100: June 18th, 2016

Mohican Trail 100 is one of the oldest one hundred mile races in the country.  The current course is 95% trail and has nearly 26,000 feet of elevation change.  Leading up to the race I knew it was going to be my toughest one hundred mile challenge thus far.  I learned from previous one hundred mile attempts that it's better to be a bit under-trained than over-trained, especially going into a race of this magnitude.  Last year going into Burning River 100 I was extremely burnt out and I did not want to feel that way going into this race so I made a few changes to my training.  I reduced the amount of training weeks to twenty-three and cut 100 miles out of the total plan.  I believe this was a winning recipe because I felt great during the three week time period (the taper) leading up to the event.  I was as ready for the challenge as I would ever be and I had thirty-two hours to complete the course.  Jessica has always been the best crew I could ever ask for and I was glad she was going to be there for me during this race.  Her mom Jane also made the trip with us to help out and I am extremely gracious for her assistance and support.

Ready to start the race

We arrived at the Mohican Adventures campground on Friday evening and set up camp.  Then we went down to the pre-race check-in and meeting.  I ran into several friends who were running, crewing, or pacing during the weekend.  Lucas was attempting the 50 miler and Jauffray showed up for a go at the marathon.  It was great to see both of them there and they were excited to run.  A Mohican 100 veteran, Ron Ross, accepted a 2,000 mile award because last year marked his 20th time crossing the finish line!  After catching up with a bunch of people we went back to camp so we could get some shuteye before the alarm would be going off at 3:45 am.  I laid down in the tent around 8:30 pm.  The campground was still bustling with people and would not quiet down until after midnight.  I could not sleep due to severe anxiety and anticipation about the race.  I tried everything to get to sleep including a meditation practice of counting backwards from one thousand.  I could not believe it when I counted backwards all the way to zero and I was not sleeping!  Dreamland finally came after 1:30 am but it was very short lived.

We are all anxiously awaiting to go!
I woke up at 2:30 am to go to the bathroom and something weird had happened to my foot.  I must of slept on it weird because I could not lift my foot or my big toe up.  I could hardly walk to the bathroom and was freaking out that I would not be able to start the race.  The thought of throwing away five months of training along with hours of planning race logistics was disheartening to say the least.  I sat up in my tent for the remainder of time trying to massage my foot to get feeling back in the nerves and tendons.  I was slowly able to start bending it but my big toe was not cooperating.  By the time my alarm went off I was able to bend it enough to at least start the race.  Jess and Jane were down at the starting line to see me off.  I was able to briefly chat with several friends who were also running the one hundred miler.  This includes Amy Love, Don Baun, Nick Longworth, and Cheryl Splain,  All of these friends mean a lot to me and I was honored to be toeing the line of this historic run with them.  The Mohican course consists of four loops.  The first two loops are 27 miles each and the final two loops are 23 miles each.  I decided to break down this race report by high lighting the notable moments and emotions of each loop.  There were a lot of ups and downs in this race literally and figuratively.

Loop 1 "The Start":

Coming into crew point at the dam
250 runners set out from The Mohican State Park (Campground A) into the first trail loop and everyone was fresh and just happy to be moving.  My foot and ankle started to loosen up a bit from whatever debacle happened to me.  I stayed in the back of the pack because I knew that a fast start could destroy me later.  The first section of the loop is a long gradual climb up the switchbacks of the mountain bike trail to the Gorge Overlook aid station.  The group was bottle necked during this climb so it was very slow going.  This section is only about four miles so after the group spread out a bit it went by pretty quick.  I saw Jess and Jane at the first aid station, switched out water bottles and kept going.  No need to waste any time this early because when your fresh you have to bank time for the later stages of the race.  The next segment was a very runable section of the mountain bike trail.  I tried to keep my pace as slow and steady as I could while making sure not to trip over any roots.  I heard my name called out on the trail and I looked over through the switchbacks where I seen Amy, Cheryl, and the rest of the crew.  I was glad they were looking fresh and having fun.  I reached the Fire Tower aid station and kept going because there was a crew access point about a mile further down the trail where fresh water would be handed off to me by my rock star crew.  After leaving here the leaders of the 50 mile race were passing us and they started an hour after we did!  The next section of the course was very technical but also exciting.

Best crew a guy could ask for!

We traversed some pretty tough horse trails leading into Lyons Falls where we went down a bunch of steps and I was able to splash some water from falls on my face which was very refreshing.  Then we got to climb over a bunch of fallen trees in the "enchanted valley" which is basically a long ravine with very technical but beautiful terrain.  The enchanted valley dead ends at the Little Lyons Falls where we had to climb up a set of tree roots to get to the top of the falls.  I have done this climb dozens of times now and it never gets old.  Once at the top of the falls we went a little further down the trail until we reached the top of the Pleasant Hill Dam where Jess and Jane were waiting for me with a little food and a fresh water bottle with tailwind mix.  Tailwind is my sports drink of choice because it's very simple and contains the perfect mix of electrolytes and glucose to keep me fueled and get some calories.  Then I went down the numerous new steps that were built this year at the dam in order to get to the bottom.  It was here that I ran into John Rutherford whom I recently befriended through Team Possum which is a trail running group started by friends in the Delaware, OH trail running community.  One skill that John has is that he has a super fast power hike.  On the flat path leading up to the Covered Bridge aid station I had to do a slow run to keep up with his walk.  Upon leaving Covered Bridge I saw my good friend Nick coming in and he looked fresh which I was happy to see.

One loop down and three to go!

The next section of trail is the toughest section of the entire loop.  It has a lot of climbing until you reach the aid station at Hickory Ridge.  John and I pretty much destroyed this section as we were on our first loop and feeling fresh.  Once we got to Hickory Ridge I refilled my water bottle and took off.  The last section of the loop is mostly switch backs going slightly downhill on the mountain bike trail and there are a lot of rocks and roots.  This is the longest section of trail between aid stations as it covers nearly seven miles until you get back to the Mohican State Park.  It is nice that it's mostly down hill but it gets very tedious going on switch back after switch back which makes the miles go by very slowly.  Once you get off the mountain bike trail you are in Mohican Adventures Campground and have a little over a mile until the next aid station.  It is kind of a bummer because mentally you think you are finished with the loop but your not close at all.  I finished out the loop and Jess and Jane gave me an ice bandanna which I thought I wanted but the heat was not really bothering me much at that point.  I was very pleased with my pace on this loop.  I think I finished it in about 6.5 hours which was a little faster then I anticipated but like I said you have to take what the trail will give you early in this race.  I got some fresh Tailwind and also ate some food before setting off on my next loop!

Loop 2: "The Wheels Fall Off":

This loop is identical to the 27 mile route from loop one and it started off well.  I was cruising along and even helped a guy that was struggling and out of water.  I dumped about two thirds of my bottle of Tailwind into his water bottle to help him out.  I made it to the next aid station at Gorge Overlook with ease.  Jess and Jane were there hooking me up with everything I needed.  I left there still feeling solid and settled into a nice little pace that seemed to work well.  I reached the Fire Tower and after checking in I kept on rolling.  A little less than a mile later was the crew access point where I took a little break and Jess and Jane helped me cool off as it was starting to get hot out.  After refueling a bit I was off again.  I ran into Jessica Meeker who is part of the Northwest Ohio contingent of trail runners and we shared a few miles in this section.  Then I met a fellow trail runner from the Detroit area named Jesse and he, John, and I traded some good conversation and many miles together on this loop.  The company was much needed because it was really hot at this point and I was starting to feel exhaustion set in from only sleeping an hour the night before.  Going through the enchanted valley and the root climb was not as exciting as it was the first time.  Although standing under the water fall and cooling off was maybe the highlight of the loop.  I reached the the top of the Dam and was glad to see my crew.  I ate some fruit and refueled again.  I was in and out of the Covered Bridge aid station.  After leaving here I ran into my good friend Steve Hannahs who informed me that Nick was struggling pretty bad.  I started to worry about him because I know how much training he put in for this race.

Completely destroyed after loop two
Jesse, John, and I braved all the climbs up to Hickory Ridge and upon reaching the top I was feeling pretty worked over.  After leaving the Ridge I was zapped of all energy and this last seven mile section of loop two about did me in.  I was reduced to a walk for almost the entire segment and even had to lean up against some trees to rest a few times.  All I could think about was going to sleep.  The mental darkness started to take over and I had convinced myself this was not my day.  Not being able to sleep the night before along with the heat had sucked out everything I had.  Even though my overall pace was still pretty decent I was positive that I could not complete the remaining 46 miles of this race if I felt that bad at mile 54.  I decided that I should try and take a short nap when I reached the campground aid station and see what happens.  When I got done with lap two I saw Jess and Jane and told them my plan.  They could tell I was in rough shape and they told me about all the runners who were dropping out due to the heat etc..  They said they would wake me up in ten minutes so I laid in the grass and closed my eyes.  About 4 or 5 minutes went by and I realized there was no way I was going to sleep.  I decided to just head out on loop 3 and see what happens.  Instead of throwing five months of intense training down the tubes I could at least do myself the favor of keeping going until I time out.  So after eating some food I set out on the next loop.

Loop 3 "Second Wind, Snake, Skunk, Vomit, Cooler Temps, Wipeouts and Fun":

As my new running friend from the Detroit metro area, Jesse, kept saying in the first two loops "the real race does not begin until loop 3"!  He was correct about that statement and that is true of every one hundred mile race because the first fifty miles is a lot different then the last fifty.  As I set out onto loop 3 I had only one thing in mind.  Just make it to the next aid station.  Once I got on the trail and talked to a few other runners I actually started pulling out of my funk and was feeling decent!  The temperature was starting to lower a bit which was a big relief.  I saw a large black snake slither across the trail about a mile into this loop and it was kind of cool. I pressed on making it to the next aid station and was welcomed in by my friend Kevin Motsch who was working the evening shift at Gorge Overlook.  After a brief chat with Kevin I was greeted by Jess and Jane who gave me some food and Tailwind along with my flashlight and backup headlamp.

Loop 3, Gorge Overlook aid station: Second wind has arrived.
As I was leaving this aid station I was walking with Ron Ross whom I congratulated for his 20 Mohican finishes.  He is without a doubt the legend of this race and a super nice guy as well.  Then darkness fell on this section of trail.  I heard some runners coming up behind me and I stepped aside to let them pass.  As they went by me I noticed it was my good friend Trail Runner Steve Pierce!  He was pacing his friend Brandi, whom are both part of the Northwest Ohio trail running contingent, and it was nice to see a familiar face at this point in the race.  I did not have a pacer for this loop because I did not actively pursue one prior to the event.  I knew that was risky as I have never done the night portion of a 100 miler without a pacer but I was also confident in myself that I could handle it.  So having Steve out there was definitely a nice mental boost.  We kept passing each other as our run walk patterns were not lining up.  As I was slowly running along in the dark I noticed something shoot out from the undergrowth of the forest out onto the trail.  It was headed right toward me and I leaped in the air with both legs spread out.  While I was airborne the animal sprinted between my legs and I noticed a white stripe ran down it's back.  Upon noticing the animal resembled a skunk I found some reserved energy deep inside and sprinted like a mad fool down the trail in the dark.  I caught up to Steve and Brandi and told them what happened and they got a good laugh out of it.  I am just thankful I did not get sprayed because the rest of the race would of been nasty to say the least.

I reached Fire tower aid station and Jess and Jane were there waiting for me.  I got some extra batteries for my flashlight and also some food.  The third and fourth loops were short loops so the next section of the race cut a few miles out including the pleasant hill dam crew point.  So I would not see them again until I got back to the state park.  I told them to go get a few hours of sleep and I would wake them up when I got done with the loop around 3:00 or 3:30 am.  Since this segment was much shorter the 2.5 miles to covered bridge went by in a hurry.  I was in and out of the aid station as I only needed to make sure my water was topped off.  So I set out to tackle the climbs up to Hickory Ridge for a third time.  During the first big climb I was in a group with a girl whose pacer found her a good walking stick to help her up the hills.  She said it was working nicely and I started to see if I could find one for myself but then decided it took much mental power away from my mission and I gave up.  Also in this group was Jessica Meeker and her pacer was dressed like a bunny.  Literally she was only wearing a bikini, a rabbit tail, and rabbit ears and she called herself a pacer bunny.  This time of night when running on little sleep and it's dark out, reality sometimes becomes blurred.  I thought I was hallucinating but it turns out I was not.  Jessica had told me earlier on loop 2 about her friend who was going to be her pacer bunny for loop 3 and she was not kidding.  Steve and Brandi were also in the group as we were power hiking these long steep hills.  A little bit later the girl with the walking stick was in front of me and she let out a loud burp followed by an "oh yeah here it comes" and then puked.  I kept going around her so I could put that noise behind me!

loop 3 Complete, walking zombie with blood on shirt
Even though I was exhausted it felt good to be moving through the cooler temps and the darkness of the Mohican forest.  Finally after all the climbing I was back up at Hickory Ridge for a third time.  I think I was running low on sodium because all I could think about was drinking some warm broth.  They did not have any straight broth on hand but they had a huge pot of celery soup and one of the awesome volunteers hooked me up with a bowl of that.  He even put some potatoes in it and I was in heaven!  I actually moved through the next seven mile stretch pretty well.  Alternating a slow slog of a run and power hiking.  I am not sure which was faster but it felt good to alternate.  With about a mile and a half to go on this loop I was in front of Steve and Brandi running on the trail when I tripped on a root and launched forward completing a shoulder plant into the roots and hard ground.  I laid there for a second wishing that did not happen but quickly came to the reality that I needed to get up and deal with the situation.  Steve made sure I was ok and once I got up and started moving I felt better.  Winding through the campground I made a quick stop at one of the bathrooms where I cleaned up all the blood and wounds from my epic wipeout.  This put me about 15 minutes behind schedule but that was not a big deal in the overall scheme of things.  I power hiked the rest of the way to the state park where Jess and Jane were waiting for me at 3:15 am.  Jess was really happy that I made it through loop three in the night without a pacer.  I quickly refueled and was excited to get started on the final loop!

Loop 4: "Let's put this thing to rest"

Before heading out on this loop I wanted to make sure I drank some broth as it was still the thing I craved the most.  Once again the great volunteers of this race came through and gave me a huge cup of Ramen broth which I took "to go."  I wanted to make sure I didn't waste any time because if I ended up walking a lot on this last loop then I would be close to the cutoffs.  I realized I only had one battery left for my flashlight and got worried about that so Jane gave me her flashlight as a backup.  I didn't want to deal with digging the headlamp out of my pack etc.. if my batteries all died.  This late in the race my exhaustion made medial tasks seemed so monumental and I needed to avoid them at all cost.  So I had a spare flashlight in one pocket and the big emtpy cup I used for broth in another pocket.  My legs were completely shot at this point.  I had never experienced severe quad issues in an ultra until this race.  I think all the climbing had something to do with that.  Every hill now seemed like a mountain but mentally I was ok with that because I knew I only had to traverse the course this one last time.  I gladly to waved goodbye to each climb and each section of trail.  When I got to Gorge Overlook aid station the first volunteer asked if I had any trash to get rid of.  I was glad he asked because I forgot about the huge cup in my pocket and would of had to carry it to the next aid station if I did not discard it there.

Loop 4: Daylight, pain, and persistence
I seen Jess and Jane and grabbed a little food to go and I was off.  Jess was ready to pace me from wherever I thought I might need her.  I told her to be ready at Fire Tower aid station and it would be great if she could pace me the last 14 or so miles to the finish.  I was doing the best I could in the next section to keep moving.  I was excited for daylight to make an appearance.  Many thoughts were going through my head.  I knew I was on pace to make the cutoffs and if I kept a good power hike I would have no issues completing the race.  I had heard a few of my friends dropped from the race after loop two.  I had not seen John, Nick, or Amy for a long time and I was wondering how they were doing.  I made it to Fire Tower and daylight was finally peaking out.  Jess was ready to go and we didn't waste anytime leaving that aid station.  We bid Jane farewell and told her we would see her at the finish line.  She said she was going to go get a little sleep and pack up our tents along with the rest of the campsite.  I am so grateful for all her help and it was so great having her there for support.  Jess and I cruised to the Covered Bridge aid station where I seen the one and only Robbie Gannon!  He is one of the funniest and coolest guys I know and just seeing him boosted my spirits.  I knew the next section was going to make me or break me.  The good news is that it was the last time I would have to climb up to the Hickory Ridge aid station.  The bad news is that my legs were screaming and I had to climb up to the Hickory Ridge aid station.  I had plenty of time so I just took the climbs a little at a time.  I was pausing to rest occasionally and also trying my very best to run a little on the flats and downhills but it turned out to be more like a fast walk because my feet could not take any more actual running.

Mustered up some energy to run across the finish
We climbed hill after hill and then finally we reached Hickory Ridge!  I was in luck because they had some celery soup left which was a pleasant surprise.  We set out to finish this thing once and for all.  It was definitely a time to celebrate as we only had one last section to go and it was mostly downhill.  A tendon under my ankle on my left foot had been flaring up gradually for quite awhile now.  The pain was pretty severe at this point in time with seven miles left to go.  I wanted to run so badly but putting the pressure of a running stride on that tendon was too much to bear.  It seemed like these last miles were taking a long time and just wanted to be finished.  A few people passed me as they were running and I was so jealous.  Oh well, as long as I crossed the finish line and got that belt buckle it's all that mattered.  It is very surreal knowing there are only a few miles left and I was almost at the moment I was looking forward to for over my five months of training.  We made it to the Mohican Adventures Campground and there was one last very steep downhill which was absolutely brutal!  We continued power hiking up the campground road and was nothing stopping me at that point.  We got to the bike path that runs along the main road and the finish line across the street came into view.  Jane was there cheering Jess and I on and it was getting very real.  I was feeling emotional as we jumped on the little trail which took us under the road and into the grass field which led to the finish line.  As I rounded the last corner I was able to start running because the adrenaline completely cancelled out the pain of being on my feet for 30 hours and 13 minutes.

Excited to get my buckle from the race director Ryan O`Dell
The finish line was crossed and as I was about to pose for a picture the race director asked if I would like to have my new belt buckle to have in the picture and I responded with a very enthusiastic YES!  I thanked him for putting on such a great run and told him the volunteers were top notch.  They did a great job helping us runners all day and night.  It really shows the true spirit and goodness of people that they would sacrifice some or all of their weekend to be there for us.  I ran into Steve Hannahs at the finish line and he informed me that John, Amy, and Nick had all made it through Hickory Ridge before the cutoff.  This was great to hear and we stuck around to see them complete this beast of a race.  The positive spirit and attitude of runners and supporters is so contagious at events like this.  I sat down and had some lemonade, potato salad, beer, and pizza in that order while we were waiting.Then John and Amy came through the finish line which was so awesome to see they toughed it out.  A little bit later I saw Nick coming down the bike path.  He got through his struggles during the second loop and was able to overcome and conquer the race.  The best words I can use to describe finishing Mohican 100 trail run is "true grit" and that applies to everyone involved from runners and pacers to volunteers and crew.  It is such a grind but in the end we are all successful and it really is a team effort.  I am so proud to be part of such a great community of people.  Jess and Jane were on point for 30 hours straight and I am so grateful for everything they did for me.  I am really looking forward to future adventures in this crazy but fulfilling sport of ultrarunning.  Until next time, Cheers!

It's official!  The Mohican buckle will be worn with pride!
Here are some links to videos about this year's Mohican 100 race:

This first one is a video that John Rutherford's friend made for him.  This is the same John from my race report above.  I got a shout out around minute 28:15 in this video and also a little footage of me congratulating John, Amy, and Nick: The MO 100 - Story Of Redemption

This second one I believe is made by some videographers called Trail Hound Collective.  It is nicely put together: 2016 Mohican 100 Trail Run

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Detroit River Walk 10K: June 11th, 2016

Ready to run!
The Detroit Riverfront Conservancy put on this race as a fundraiser.  Jess and I were very excited to support this race because we often use the River Walk and also the Dequindre Cut Pathway for running after work.  We got to see a newly created section of the Dequindre Cut Pathway.  This race fit nicely into my training schedule because it was the weekend before the Mohican 100 mile race and I did not want to do any long distance running.  The turnout for the race was very good and we were happy to see that.  After the race we met up with a friend at Great Lakes Coffee Shop in midtown for some breakfast and coffee.