I'm back from a great trip up to the PA country for the Viaduct Trail 100. I hope everyone who checked in for my audio updates during the race found that technology to be pretty cool. Since we all know ESPN won't be doing live updates of any 100 milers in the near future, I think this type of runner-generated media (along with twitter, etc) will go a long way to satisfying the rabid ultra fans out there who love to follow the progress of 100 milers all over the country. I know I'm one of those fans, so if anyone has any questions on how to set up this audio-posting system for themselves, I'll be happy to help out. All you need is a cell phone, and yes, it's free!
With that said, let's move on to the amazing weekend I had up in the woods of Pennsylvania. If I had to sum up the whole experience in three words, the first would be "Moose"...as in the Moose Lodge in the sleepy little downtown next to the race (the building on the right). For some reason I got a kick out of this:
...the second word would be, appropriately, "Viaduct". This amazing structure serves at the Start/Finish line for the race:
...The third and most important word to sum up the event would definitely be "SuperAwesomePeople". Everyone from the race directors Carl Albright and Dave Kennedy to the fantastic group of runners who came from all over the country made this event a truly spectacular one. I'm not sure I've ever been at a race where everyone seemed to get along so well and pull for each other in such a community effort. Since we all passed each other multiple times on the out-n-back legs, it was easy to follow each other's progress and keep everyone's spirit up. I love races like this. Here's RD Carl Albright with one of his 3 sons (all of the Albright boys and their mom volunteered all day/night to help us out!): I made the 5 hour drive up to the race site from DC on Friday afternoon in the XTerra Inn. Yes the Viaduct 100 technically starts in Lanesboro, PA, but as far as I could tell, Lanesboro isn't really a "town" as much as it's just a handful of people living in the woods. I got the feeling if they had to field a town softball team, the player in right field may or may not have to be a bunny rabbit. Luckily for those of us looking for a general store, just a couple miles down the road there are actual signs of life in neighboring Susquehanna.
I love little towns like this. Check out the old school water tower...and yes, another shot of the coolest Moose Lodge around.
Just around the corner from the bright lights of the Susquehanna strip, the Starrucca Viaduct stands in imposing fashion. Apparently this thing was all the rage 150 years ago, and as I found out at 2:05 a.m. on race day, it is still in use today. ...and quite loudly at that.
It's tough to convey just how tall this thing is...maybe this shot from directly underneath will help. Blow this picture up and tell me it doesn't make you dizzy...
Just a few yards from the Viaduct is a little parking area where about 20 of us chose to camp out the night before the race. I snapped a shot of this barking beast, who I affectionately named "Son of Cujo", as he welcomed me upon my arrival. Good thing all dogs love me...a few minutes later he put the fangs away and was laying at my feet licking my legs while I was sorting things out in the back of my car. Good boy.
As more runners showed up, I made friends with them as well (although there was considerably less leg-licking from them). I particularly enjoyed meeting PA native Gary Ferguson, as we talked for a while about all things running. It was great to follow his progress during the race, and when I saw him heading out on his last out-n-back at 1am in the rain, I thought, "This guy is one tough SOB!" ...and proving that thought right, he went on to run his fastest loop of the day and broke 24 hours for the first time in a 100 miler! I love seeing people kick ass like that! Way to go, Gary!! Here's a shot of him earlier in the day enjoying the course:After chatting with a few other campers while the sun went down, I retired to the XTerra Inn for the night (I actually upgraded myself to the "Xterra Suite" for this race as I added an air mattress this time). I slept like a baby in my plush accommodations all night, only waking up for a few minutes at 2:05 a.m. when a train came barreling over the Viaduct right above our heads. Talk about an impressive site to see/feel/hear, that moment was one of the highlights of the trip for sure.
In the morning I had the presence of mind to take a pre-race shot of my feet. For some reason, a few crazy people still don't wear Drymax socks. Here's the before and after proof of their magic. ...and yes, my big toe nails are still growing back from the game of Rock Soccer I played in the last few miles of Bull Run in April. Here's the "Before"...
...and here's the "After"...check out my sweet sock tan!!
I didn't have any blisters or hot-spots all day, as always. That fact is especially notable this time since my shin injury has limited my training over the past few months. Because of this reduced training load, my feet haven't had a chance to build up their usual toughness. I knew this heading into the race, but the Max Protection socks stepped up and kept them in great shape all day. Thanks guys!!
As for the race itself, it was a great day for running, but I knew I had to treat this as a "training run" and force myself to go slowly right from the start. It's kind of odd to say "I'm running this 100 miler as a training run", but that really was the case for me. I've only been running for 5 weeks since my injury shut-down months, and the mileage for those 5 rehab weeks was 20, 30, 40, 50, 60...and all those miles have been S-L-O-W. Not exactly the training schedule for 100 mile racing success. The plan for this race was to keep it slow and easy all day to keep my shin healthy and get some quality miles in while having fun.
My plan was tested early on as I forced myself to run slow from the start. That's not an easy thing to do when chatting with great people like Byron Lane and Gregg Geerdes. The three of us ran together at the front most of the way until the first turn-around at 12.5 miles, and then Gregg and I ran the whole 12.5 trip back stride-for-stride with Byron a minute or two behind us. It was pretty funny that I ended up running with Gregg considering we were both wearing the same orange Bull Run t-shirt from this year's race. How random is that? Here we are coming into mile 25 looking like twins:After the 25 mile mark, I let Gregg run about 100 yards ahead of me for the next leg of the race. Not that I didn't have a great time chatting with him, it's just that I knew it would be too tough to keep myself from running too fast unless I was running solo. Running with people always makes me go faster for some reason, even though it usually means I'm talking a lot too. I wonder why that is? Anyway, right around mile 30 I found a nice 10+ minute/mile pace and settled in. I was able to keep that same pace (give or take 30 seconds) all the way to the finish.
In order to keep my racing instinct from kicking in, I made a point to take a looong time at the turn-arounds with random time-killers (change my shirt, brush teeth, chat w/ the volunteers, etc). I'm usually so hurried to get in and out of an Aid Station during races...it felt so good to not feel any pressure and just relax for a few minutes. I knew if I kept the "race" out of my mind I wouldn't do anything stupid to re-injure myself. Lucky for me, both Gregg and Byron ran great races and stayed a couple miles ahead of me throughout the night. Out of sight, out of mind...perfect! Here's me killing time with a little water cooler chat at mile 62.5:
Of course, I can't take all the credit for finally figuring out how to run slowly from the start. The terrain of the course really helped me keep it slow-n-steady all day. There were about 78 billion rocks on the trail, so keeping constant focus to find the least painful foot purchase prevented me from opening up into a more natural (i.e. too fast) stride. This was the perfect terrain for keeping me in check all day long. Thanks, Mother Nature!
Speaking of the terrain, after the sun went down, just for the heck of it, I decided to run as long as I could in the dark without my headlamp on. With overcast skies (it was actually drizzling off-and-on at this point), there was no help from the moon either...I just let my eyes adjust and got to work. Given the number of rocks waiting to roll my ankles on the trail, this was probably pretty stupid, but I felt like mixing things up a bit after the 75 mile turn-around. As a surprising benefit, it actually kept me from getting lazy w/ my feet, as occasionally happens late in races: I didn't kick a single rock the whole time! Plus I was simply having a flat-out blast doing it too. The added excitement from this little game really made time fly out there. I made it about 9 miles (!!) before I needed to turn on the light when I reached the nasty section where an old railroad trestle used to be. I borrowed a Barkley term and affectionately referred to this section as the "Son of a Bitch Ditch". With all of the loose rocks and sand on this sharp drop-off (followed immediately by the steep incline back up), I knew this was probably a good time to turn on the headlamp for safety. ...but I sure had fun in the dark while it lasted!
It was when I turned on my headlamp that I realized there were about as many bats flying across this trail as there were rocks piled on it. I kept a running tab of all the wildlife I saw during the day (Rabbits: 14, Wild Turkeys: 4, Frogs: 3, Deer: 2), and if I included the bats in this contest, their count would be easily in the 100s. It was pretty cool to see so many dive across my field of vision over the last 14 miles or so...there were so many, in fact, that seeing them flying right at me before diving out of the way actually got pretty boring by the end. ...Now that's a lot of bats!
As I made my way back through the last section, my ipod had died so I was just cruising along enjoying the final miles while singing to myself. I was definitely having a good time out there. My legs still felt great (my feet were feeling smashed up from the rocks, but that's another story) and I was so happy with how the "slow and easy" plan worked out so well for me. Even more surprising, my legs feel great as I type this a day later. I guess the old saying that endurance takes a long time to build up, but also a long time to go away applies here. It's amazing how the body can respond when you treat it right!
As I neared the finish, I picked it up a bit on the last couple miles for no other reason than to randomly break 19:40. Super nice RD Carl Albright was there to give me my railroad spike for finishing. What a great time I had out there!
As far as the race for the win went, Byron Lane ran a great race (even after tripping on a rock early in the race and breaking his finger!!) and finished about an hour ahead of me in 18-something. Gregg ran great all day as well and pulled in about 30 minutes behind Byron for 2nd. I rounded out the top 3 about 30 minutes after Gregg in 19:38. Here's Byron, happy to be done with the race so he can finally head off to the hospital - You're one tough dude, Mr. Lane!!One important note: I definitely need to apologize for calling Byron "Lord Byron" on my audio posts during the race. I was trying to refer to him regally since he's such a good runner, but it turns out the actual Lord Byron was a pretty dirty dude. Definitely the opposite character of Mr. Lane. Sorry Byron, I didn't mean to sully your good name!! It'll be "Flyin' Byron" from now on!!
A few other technical notes on the race:
For those of you who keep track of these things, this course is definitely long. I noticed this on the second loop, and RD Dave Kennedy confirmed it with me after the race. He said it's about 2 miles long, I think it may even be a little longer than that, so if you're running this to set your PR, keep that in mind. Much like the Iron Horse 100, the rocks on the course slow you down and chop your stride just enough to keep it a little slower than a Rocky Raccoon or Heartland 100 (from what I've heard). Also, if you're planning on running this race, definitely consider a light trail shoe. I actually ran it in road trainers (Brooks Glycerin 6), but my feet were pretty sore on the bottoms at the end from all the rocks. Plus most of the trail is made up of cinders/stone-dust, so keeping some of that debris out too of your shoes is probably a good idea too.
I ran with EFS fuel from First Endurance up until mile 62.5 or so. After that my stomach wasn't too happy with it. I love the idea of EFS having both carbs and electrolytes (and easily mixing in with my hydration bladder), and it was certainly convenient to just dump it into my camelback and not worry about gels/S-Caps, but for some reason my stomach didn't like it in the 2nd half of the race. I also felt the need to brush my teeth for the first time ever during a race, so I'm guessing whatever sugars/chemicals they use in EFS are the reason for that. I think I'll go back to Gels, Perpetuem, and S-Caps for my next race since, even though it involves keeping track of more than one product, I never have stomach issues with that mix.
As for my upcoming plans, I'll take a day off today and get back out there for some shuffling on Tuesday. My legs actually feel great, so I'm feeling good about getting a couple solid weeks of training in before heading out to West Virginia for the Cheat Mountain Moonshine Madness 50 miler on August 28. ...and seeing how that race starts at 9:00 p.m., I'm looking forward to testing out my night-vision abilities again!
A million thanks again to everyone who checked in on the blog during the race (I really felt your support out there!), and for all the amazing volunteers, pacers, runners, and of course RDs Carl and Dave. You guys worked so hard and pulled off such a tremendous event - Congratulations and Thank you!!