• Day489 Training week 3

    I am procastinating, if anything involving effort.

    I know in the last blog post, I want to do a review of how I am doing in reaching this year resolutions. What I made resolutions? Ya, something at the beginning of the year but now I don’t remember what they were.

    Yet, that can wait till the next post or some time in the near future.

    I had another night run. It felt so good. After four days without running, and I felt I absolutely have to get out there.

    It was hot even though it was 9 pm. I was swimming in my own sweat. It got better later. The rest of the night, while I was still sweating, I was able to feel the cool breeze. Three hours did not feel long. Miles seemed to fly by. This is kind of runs I love a lot.

    There are many reasons why I love running but one of them is just able to park my mind, not think of anything, well I am always thinking in deep thoughts or daydreaming, but running is something that interrupt my thoughts and I am in a dreamy state for 2 to 3 hours with nothing coherent, and it is therapeutic. I was in a meditative state during my run. I love it.

    The houses and my surounding just melted away. It was just me and the pavement. I was not in pain. I just kept pounding on the pavement and it seemed too soon I reached home again. I asked, that’s it?

    My biggest dream, romanticing, is to run and not stop, forever going on and on, till I go around the world. I know actually doing it probably not that fun, but it is something I wish I can do.

    In my last blog, I wrote how our team is 80% at circumpolar-running around the world, virtually of course, meaning our miles added up will equal to the circumference of the earth or more. It’s a 50000 km race.

    Not sure if I ever will pull it off but that is my dream, a small version of my ideal dream of running forever and not stop.

    What am I trying to get at? Not sure. I have been feeling low in motivation to run. I used to be able to run everyday but now I am like running only one or two days after I feel “guilty” or dread that I am failing at my training.

    One way to feel better is searching deep within why I am doing what I am doing. Where is my love and passion?

    I was able to meet up with a running friend one night. Her passion is photography. And when she talks about them, her eyes lit up. She asked about my running and my eyes lit up and I could talk breathlessly on all the things. She was also into running. She was one of first few running friends that got me started on the road of marathons. A friend sharing the same passion really give that push I needed to get back into running. It was not forced, but the passion was enough.

    A reason I like racing is to get to meet other like minded people.

    She asked me if I have run a 24 hour race? I told her my Devil Dog race (an upcoming event) and a 24 hour race in September that I have waited for at least 3 years to have a chance to run in (Pemberton 24). We will be running a 5K every hour for 24 hours. You ask me, why is that fun? For me it just is.

    For a run addict, any form of running is fun, especially in a format I have not done before.

    What does this all mean? I really don’t know. I think I might have signed up too many races and am a bit burn out too. I just want to stop for a season or so and take a deep breath. I don’t know. At the moment, that is what I feel.

    To my readers, it seems to be an inconsistency, that I want to run forever and I don’t feel enough to go out to do my weekly trainimg and need to stop for a time. Ya. I haven’t able to solve this problem of how to get plenty of rest and at the same time to put out high level of performance.

    I’m not getting anywhere with my questions. Until next time, happy running.

    TLDR – just some ruminating to get my passion back

  • Day488 Training week 2

    The next four weeks between now and until IMTR (my race), there is going to be very little activity except for training.

    This year, I have hard time with finding motivation to train. I know training is necessary. I’m not a prodigy with natural running talent. Some people, if they are young can just go out and run a 100 miles because their body has a limitless supply of energy and they are like Wolverine that can self regenerate after an injury. I am not one of those monsters.

    My hardest problem with training is geting out there. Once I am out, I have no problem in running for a long period.

    I have not run much lately. What is shocking is how hot summer is getting. It shouldn’t be a suprise since it is not my first summer running. I found it is hard to adjust to running in the hot sun. Even night time is hot.

    I had couple nights of running at very late hours. It brought back the old feeling of me being out there alone. I love it. At first, it was like poor me, sun was setting and I still had miles to go before I sleep, but then it brought back memories of several races, especially the first time doing a night run, when a runner came by and pointed me to the sky. We stopped and I looked up and blessed the unforgetable view. It was so beautiful that I got goosebumps.

    I think I am back at ground zero with my training like six months ago. I can’t run for long. People said I do walk and run strategy. True, that was how I trained for the last 100 mile race. However, now I want to be able to run say 30+ minutes without having to stop. I have being doing stop and go not because I want it but because my body couldn’t take it to sustain the run for more than 5 minutes and I’d have to walk. I remember maby beginner runners are frustrated that the can’t run. I wish to rebuild my cardio that would allow me to run far in one breath. I struggled with this at the start of MMT training back in winter.

    I have been at lost. I know where I am headed, like I have all the races for this year and next year mapped out. There was a blog post I held back from publishing, that goes into details of why I am struggling. The tone of it does not sound right. General rule is readers want a happy tone. Even if it is not, there should be some kind of hope or redemption. I haven’t find my magic to solve whatever I am going through. The gist is I am living between a fantasy and the real world. I need money to live the lifestyle I want to live, yet at the same time, I want to leave everything to pursuit the dream of exploring around the world. I guess we all are, its called life.

    I know what I want five years from now. There are some really big bucket list items to do (like once in a life time thing). What I am kind of in the fog is what am I doing right now. Half of the year passed. I know in the past, I have quarterly update to keep me moving in the right direction according to my mid term and long term goals. I was not planning to do a refocus session for another 12 weeks, till near the end of the year, but that might be too long to wait for. I was thinking of doing some kind of review in the interim, sort of like half year realignment.

    Don’t mind me, I am kind of at lost this week.

    What update I can give: CRAW – our virtual race around the world with nine other people, we finally reached Alaska. I’m lucky to have other 9 people to share the mileage, but there are crazy teams out there that have only one or 2 people doing this, and it is taking forever for them to finish.

    For us, we only have 4500 miles left. We will run down from Alaska, cross over into Canada, and then run down the plain of the US and to the Mexico border, where we all started about two years ago. 100 running teams have already finished. The race for a prize ended last year. For our team, we are happy if we even reach the finish this year. We are likely will be the 117th team or team 118 to complete this. Probably will take five months. We aim to finish before December 31. There are about 20 teams in front of us and 20 teams behind us. I was told this race will continue on until next year, so we are not in any risk of being dropped (DNF). As long as we continue to make progress the next five months, it should be an easy finish. Our team is a bit beat up though. Even myself, I’m kind of worn out. Several of our star runners have injuries (as expected) from over doing it.

    After we finish, there is an extended CRAW (for another 10 or so regions) that starts in Africa and cross middle east and then into Asia to the Pacific. We likely will not do it since mentally I am beat.

    My display board of the map showing the regions we passed have arrived last night. I haven’t opened it yet. It will be a good motivation to keep on.

    We have done this race virtually (like a mental excercise), though that does not mean it is easy. I wish one day I can do it in person. Of course, I probably will skip couple regions like the south pole or the north pole. It is pretty cool there are people who actually do walk/run around the world. It won’t take just a year to complete in real life, it probably takes 4-5 years runing 40-50 miles a day. For me, it might take 10 years. The reality is, I am running out of time, unless I start this journey right now. Still, I keep my hope up that one day I get to walk around the world.

    Why I share this? It is kind of esoteric. No one knows or cares that we ran virtually around the world. I think the cool thing as the race director mentioned it, is training in itself is boring, but if we imagine we are running in actual places, training can become another level of fun. Are we actually running around the world the last 2 years, no, but do we feel like we ran around the world, absolutely!

  • Day487 Imtr run#1

    Iron Mountain Trail Run (IMTR) is a 50 mile race in Damascus, Virginia. This year I put on my big pants and said why not, lets run this 50 mile. There are other options like 40 mile, 30 mile and 16 mile event.

    The 40-mile was too easy for me last year, but 50-mile might be a bit too challenging. We don’t know. Some of us were whining why not give us 13 hours or 12.5 hours. Nope, 12 it is. Note, originally I thought it was 10 hours, and was freaking out.

    I have my doubt running this race because I only finished a 50 mile under 12 hours once (long time ago) and that was done on roads (flat land). update: I must have gotten the wrong impression or info that the race requiring finishing under 10 hours, I double checked after written up the post, and found the cutoff is 12 hours, so my chance of finishing this has now improved significantly. I went back over and corrected all places where I was calibrating / planning for a 10 hour run. However, I will still train and aim for a 10 hour finish (5 pm finish, instead of 7), only that I have a lot of breathing room. 12 hours is still hard for me but not as impossible as a 10 hour run.

    The race is on the trail but nothing too crazy like the MMT. The trail is mostly smooth and there is a significant portion of the race being on the road. During the training, I was chatting with the race director of how my perspective has changed from last year and this year. Previously IMTR was the hardest thing I did. Now, coming back the second year, it does not seem that scary, especially after running the MMT..

    I think about 15-20 miles are on the road. And another 20-ish miles are on decent / runnable trails, I call them buttery smooth trails. There might be a few miles (5-6 miles) that are too hard for me to run like either too rocky or too steep to climb/descend while running. Sure, fast runners would destroy the hills like breakfast.

    The harder part for me is the climbs. I have different numbers regarding the elevation somewhere between 8000 and 13000 ft. I think the 2000 ft climbs are at the beginning and at after hafway point. Most of run are gladual changes because we are on the ridges but they suck up lot of energy too. It is not remotely as bad as the MMT, but enough to make it won’t be a walk in the park.

    I went out the past weekend to do the first training.

    If preceeding weekend of the Catoctin run was epic, this Iron Mountain Run is nothing less. I am anticipating the race day would be many times so.

    It was only a training run, the first of two weekends. Damascus is a 6 hour (sometimes 7 ish) drive for me, so I can only afford to go there a couple times and not every weekend. I’m lazy too. I went to all the training runs last year and I wanted to redo again this year, just like for the Catoctin.

    I am slow or fast depending on who or what I am being compared to. I felt fast in the Duluth Marathon. I finished it hours ahead of people. I wrote like I ran fast at the Catoctin 50k, also, but I am actually quite slow in that race, barely avoided the cut by 5 minutes. Too close. The point was I finished under the generous time given.

    This race (IMTR) has a tighter cut off. I fear this race more than I fear the Catoctin. Cutoff is a big reason I want to run this race. Catoctin was not hard, just a lot of climbs.

    My training run kind of proved the point. It took me 6 hours to do a 24 mile run. Note, if it were a road marathon I probably get it done around 4 hours ish (4:30). I believe then my predicted finishing time will be 13 hour, which is an hour over the final cutoff.

    So why did I sign up if I don’t think I could do it under the cutoff? I think sometimes you just have to try to know. I want to try. I believe it will improve me as a runner. My goal for this season is “speedwork”, in quote because I’m not sure how fast I will get, but speed it will be. I have a BMI of 26, considered overweight, but there is a chance that I can pull it off. I don’t know how good a chance (I estimate 65%), but a chance nonetheless. I want to see growth and changes from my training and I bet my readers too like to see that I strive for tougher goals and reach them.

    I hope readers would enjoy reading on my planning phase. Many times I blog only on races I already did. They seem easy (and hopefully motivating). Recently, I been hitting my limit and it was not so fun aby more (Devil Dog and MMT come to mind). Fun and game until someone took away the punch bowl.

    This is one of a few where I write on a race I haven’t done yet. This might also be a race I will get a DNF (fail to finish), but we don’t think about that now. The race won’t be until Labor Day Weekend (first week in September, in case my readers are from oversea). I have about 6 weeks to train and get myself up to shape.

    My strategy on running this race is to keep an even pace when going out for the first 15 miles. Many people go out too fast. I did too last year. The Virginia Creeper Trail, being flat and easy can deceptively tired runners before the first major climb. It is actually a gradual climb, hence deceptive. Once I reach the climbing section, literally at the foot of the mountain, I should take it easy to get onto the ridge. Last year, this almost had me throwing up. I was jostling for an early position (you could read last year report, if I not too lazy I will add the link eventually, here). I ran too fast and then faced with a 2000 ft climb. I pressed on the climb and next thing I knew I was dizzy. Once up, there are probably remain a lot of people in front, I should not rush to pass anyone until after mile 15 (Skull Gap / the 2nd AS), by then half of the people probably would be slowing down or turning back (which is the turn around point for the 30 mile distance) and the trail then would be open up to me. I have last year experience of not making the same mistake.

    From Skulls Gap out is a gradual climb and descent to Hurricane Gap in 7 miles, short for ultra distance but might take 2 hours. Here I probably could run faster. After Hurricane Gap, AS3, is a 10 mile loop circling back to Hurricane (where AS 5 is, probably there is one aid station at Rowland, AS4), mostly decending on the roads. This is probably the easiest and hardest part of the race. If I want, here is actually I could run very fast, and key to “win” the race (I don’t mean first place, but reaching my goal for this race, i.e., to finish under 12 hours). It is a 5-6 miles sweet descent to Rowland Creek and a very hard 4 mile climb back up from Rowland to Hurricane. From Hurricane Gap, it is a gentle climb back to Skull Gap (AS6) on the FS 84, on the road this time, also 7 miles. There is a branch off onto Iron Mountain TR, watch for it, look for going SR600. Most people will walk, I probably will walk, since I will be out of energy. However, if I could survive till Skulls Gap #2, then I likely will finish within the time limit. It is 13 miles from Skulls Gap to the finish back using the same trail (Iron Mountain).

    Note to self. Rowland to Hurricane is probably the deal breaker for this race. I must do it fast but not overly exhausting myself here. Fast because of the downhill. Everyone runs on downhill. But it also the hardest and longest climb back. We run down on the road but climb back up using trail. Yep, it will be frustrating hard, especially the fast run down destroy your body. It is a balancing act. Fast, because of the cutoff at Hurricane #2. (by 2:40 pm, 7:40 elapsed, 4:30 remaining). There is still 20 miles left in the race, a long way, and I might need 5 hours for this 20 miles. So 2 pm back at Hurricane is the goal for me.

    The Saturday Training Run (only 24 miles) was on an out and back from Skulls Gap, took me shy of 6 hours. The goal was to finish under 6 hours (5:45). On Sunday I went out again. Ran the same course. It took me 6:30. Granted, I made a long stop and talked to two local elderly couple, and they were a friend with a Latin/Greek teacher at my high school and asked if I knew him. I did not. I think, I had a different Latin teacher, or I look younger than what they think my age was. I don’t think my high school offered Latin after I graduated. They then showed me the most poisonous mushrooms in the region, called north american eastern death angel or killer angel. I don’t remember the exact name. It looked like a normal mushroom to me, snow white beautiful, but of course, I was not going to touch or try its potency, killing myself in the process. We are talking about real plants here and not drug.

    Anyway, my second run through took longer, but was somehow my better run. I stopped often to take pictures of mushrooms. I felt I was not as tired and I did not cramp up like on Saturday. The first day after I finished, I could hardly keep my eyes open (I was sleepy). I went to bed early. On second day, I was stronger. I think I acclimated back to ultra distance running after being couple months off. The body remembers.

    Still taking 6 hours to do 24 miles was not good enough. I need to bring the time below six hours.

    I am hyped for this race. It will be a long and hard training under the hot summer sun. I don’t have any other races at the moment. I am looking forward to a successful outcome at the end of summer.

    Not related, but more like note to self, during the run, I met a guy from the Rim to River 100 race, Jonathan, I vaguely remember him, note, my glasses broke during Rim-to-River, so I couldn’t see him well, but he said he recognize me and I kind of recognize him by his built. I met up with Greg and Lorraine, sweet people who have done the race last year, and I vaguely remember them. Lorraine is from a far away place, might have drove up during the same morning and immediately drove back. I drove up night before and stayed an extra night. Lorraine and Greg dropped down to the 40 mile distance this year because running for the cutoff is too stressful. I looked up their last year time. Indeed. Note, these people were so much faster than me and they are in their 60s. It was kind of a surprise they dropped down while I went for the longer distance.

    There was Tim and Carrie, they will run this race first time. Tim will be doing the 50-mile and Carrie will be running the 40-mile. I will be keeping an eye on Tim since he is likely will be around my pace. He seems like a guy who won’t go out too fast. Tim will be doing the Cloud Splitter 100 in October. I am itching to do that one too, but not this year. I think it is cool to share, because I have one more race to look foward to. Also couple people were talking about the Devil Bathtub, a race somewhere in Harrisonburg, around Grindstone course. Grindstone too is one of my races to do. And another was talking about Deet (a race, not the bug killer chemical). They say I should try. Of course, Chaz, probably was not his real name (couldn’t find him on the entrant list) from Ohio was talking about Burning River. These people are fast. When runners get together, they talk about races and shoes. Yes, we did talk about shoes. I was wearing Brooks Cascadia (not sure what version, shoes have numbers). I like my shoes because of the color, orange edge on dark gray, just beautiful. My favorite pair so far, but they are quite bad on rocks and when wet. Some can vouch running in Hoka Speed Goat 7 as being the best shoes in the universe (note, there is no Speed Goat 7 Hoka, well maybe there will be). I would like to be a speedy goat. These were the conversation around me during my long run. Well most of the time I was alone by myself.

    TLDR – nothing particular, I’m training to run the IMTR 50 mile, and to be sucessful I have run fast in the middle section, I think

  • Day486 Catoctin 50K

    Races are like a feast to me. What do I mean? While driving down on an Interstate on my way to my next running event for this weekend, there is a bubling joy inside me. An excitement.

    I thought back to last year when I made a similar trip, and many previous trips too, they all overlapped. Driving on a dark night, late hours, kind of rushing to get to the place I would stay for the night, and this had me think back in biblical time, when the people of God would go to Jerusalem for their yearly feast, and they would sing or recite the songs of ascend. It must be how they were like, I am full of anticipation of what the day will bring.

    Feast! My mind wandered. Yes we are on feast. I haven’t been to a banquet lately nor do I want to because they are expensive. Only kind of banquets I experienced was wedding. A few of my friends and cousins got married. You know it takes the bride and groom months to plan their wedding feast. But for us showing up as guests, usually it does not take me that much of preparation. Of course the RSVP is sent in a few months ahead.

    I think what so special about such big events is that I will remember it for a long time (if not for a life time). I felt indeed some of my bigger races, I probably will never forget.

    These might be just mumble jumble to my readers, but to me races such as the Rocky Raccoon, Great Southern Endurance Run, Rim to River, Devil Dog, and Massanutten, were a time that means so much to me. I can even remember the smell or the trees and the sound, the food at the aid stations, and every single thing. It is like the time slow down for me and I can see and relive the moment in slow motion.

    I race for the experience. At least that what I realized recently. I had a couple bad races and a couple good races and they made me to ask why and what was I seeking. And why is a race so good and some others are so bad, I think is all in the mind of how we receive it.

    I’ve done the Grandmas Marathon. I’ve done MMT. I didn’t run Worlds End but I was there. And the Devil Dog. I wrote up on them. (I know I should put links here so readers could easily jump to the reports). Each of those was an unique experience.

    I realized recently, especially for races I already done, that I expect a certain experience on a second go-around to recreate what and how I felt the first time I did it. Of course, it is not always possible and sometimes (as at Worlds End) ended up disappointing.

    On the flip side, you could take a (supposingly) bad race and turn it to good.

    Summary, I ran the Catoctin 50k and had a good time if not one of the best races in my recent racing history. It is actually a redo from a goofed up of last year.

    I signed up to run the Catoctin 50k last year (if I am not too lazy, I will link my last year report here, Day428). And it ended up to be a kind of bad day (last year) for me because I over worked myself by trying to do two ultra races in two places (in two different states separated by few hundred of miles) taken place on the same day at the same time, and I really thought and hoped I could successfully do both. It became downhill early on when I realized a mixed up and I only ended up only doing half the distance of the Catoctin 50k. And by the time I rushed to and arrived at the second race, everyone had already left and had gone home. I ended up doing neither of them in a way that I like. Note that all were last year. I think the reason I did not enjoy it as I should was because I put much energy into it and received only a little result.

    I signed up to run the Catoctin again early this year, hoping to actually be able to do the whole distance (50K) this time. This race was hard, or supposedly hard. I trained for a full month last year, going out every weekend for a training run. This was before I ran MMT. Somehow I had conjured up Catoctin 50k as something on a level as strenuous as a 50 mile race or a 100 mile race. Indeed, if it were my first 50k, Catoctin would have been hard. The signup page warns don’t do it as their first 50k. It should not be a training run for another race, or they will come away hating ultras.

    For me, I love the race, every moment of it.

    My shirt from the race has a slogan on the back compares the race being a “love/hate thing.” To me, it was all love.

    I came off after doing the MMT being beat up by it two months ago. I went to Duluth to do the Grandmas for a bit of R&R. Don’t get me wrong, I had a good time at Duluth. It was quite fun and indeed it was a rest I needed. Since then, I was still in a funky mood having this drag of not being motivated enough to run. I haven’t run much. I missed all the training runs for the Catoctin even though I had intended to go to do them. Before I knew it the race weekend arrived. I wanted it to be my pick-me-upper.

    The forecast was not good for the race day. We also had rain the night before and we would have rain during the race. It is not just a little rain but a lot (2.4 inches at times). There were warnings of flooding in many areas. It was going to be a wet one. Indeed, it was. As long as there is no lightning the race would go on.

    I woke up early like for any other races. I had very little sleep the night prior, maybe 2 or 3 hours. I was late in doing my laundry and packing. The drive to the race was not far but I planned for it to be a 2 hour trip. The park where the race was held opened at 6 am, and so I planned to leave my house by 4 at the latest, meaning a 3 AM early rise. I arrived as expected early around 5:30. I decided to wait at a nearby McDonalds since I did not want to be a “bad” guest by showing up too early. Still exactly 6, I went back to the race course. I apologize that I did not know the bib pickup table was not open until 6:30 (I didn’t read), the volunteer jokingly told me to come back in 15 minutes. I was really early. I got my bib and went back to my car to sleep since the race was not going to start until closer to 8 o clock. There were 2 hours of precious time to catch up on my sleep. The reason I wanted to arrived early so that I could get a parking spot, since they say they don’t have enough spot for everyone. Last year I had to park in a farther lot. This year, I was the second car arriving there and I chose just some feet away from the start line.

    There were a lot of runners. Many had done this race before, and some many times. It is a local favorite. I saw the friends I made from MMT were also there. I met up with Ram and Iris and Gretchen (whom I mistakenly remembered as Geselle). It was Ram first time doing the Catoctin. Ram said he will stick with me and I replied he is going to get a DNF if he does since I am slow, but nothing makes me happier than to run with friends. Gretchen was also there. She is one of the oldest runners I met, around 80 years old. I met her last year during one of the training runs. Ever since, she was a cheerful support to me at many of my races. There are not many elderly trail runners out there.

    We started off slow at an easy pace. I knew I won’t be that fast because I had not trained much for the last two months. I naturally stayed toward the back. I was like the last 20 people or so out of 200, no I think I was the final two people to leave the start. Ram was joking around with other people, so it ended up that we were the last few to cross the starting line. The 25k people were cheering us as we cross the start. Their race won’t start for another hour. I knew the trail is narrow and we did not have much room to spread out beforehand. We were piling up once we turned onto the trail. I know I should not rush otherwise, it was just ruin my day to be sitting/standing in traffic in the woods.

    Ram already disappeared once we entered the trail though I was able to catch up to him later before the turn around point, that was a few hours later. I was deprieved of a good companion. I was going very easy, at a walking pace. The first couple miles are hills. I walked like many did. In fact, I felt there was nothing I could do but to walk because we had so many people and I was at the very back. I did not like hustling people and I know it would not have helped.

    Rather, if I could I prefer having some conversation with my fellow runners. I met Dwight on the way up a hill. He and his partner has done this race 5 times. The best part is if we finish it within 9 hours (5 pm), we would receive the Catoctin Card for our wallet, which we could flex (show off) to other runners. It is kind of a joke (white elephant prize). By the way, I lost mine already. He told me, it usually takes about 4 hours going out and 5 hours coming back (for him). He said that is because it is easier one direction than the other. I listened and putting it in my head. To me since the course is out and back, the time should be about the same either direction. I sure wanted to beat the time he mentioned. Note that I didn’t have time to study the race course beforehand. Any info would be helpful at this point. We have a total of 9 hours to finish. I had to be back be 5 pm. It was an out-and-back course. I was sure I could be back around 3-4 pm since usually I could run a 50k under 7 hours.

    Dwight is fast, at least faster than me. He seems to be in his 60s. He told me of his experience of his last race there when he made the cutoff by 3 minutes and (because) he was pacing his wife, he slows down his pace for her sake. I ran with him for maybe quarter mile or half a mile and we were catching up to other people before he stopped. He said he is going wait for his partner to catch up.

    It was uneventful for the rest of the race. I got back to Delauter aid station. There were very little I could remember. The trail was flooded. I was by myself. I had a big cramp in my left leg. I shoke it off. At the aid station, I took a Gatorade protein bar with me. A few were struggling at the aid station. I ignored them. I did not stop for long. My spirit was lifted as I set out because I knew there were only 6 miles left.

    I kept running until I met “Alex”, who later told me his name is Aref. Aref did not talk much but he is a big guy. He ran on all the flat portions and walked all the hills. I did not mind. I was sure I can climb hills better than Aref, but I did not mind to stay behind. I was so out of shape myself, a little of walking did not bother me. Aref slowly picking up the pace more and more as time went by. Soon he was passing people and was out of sight.

    I did not mind and did not chase. Usually I like chasing people.

    Next person was a lady in front, unfortunately, we did not talk and I did not get her name. She did laugh at my one of my jokes later on. I followed behind her for a few miles because she had a steady pace. She was the longest time I stayed with, all the way to the first aid station (6 miles out). We caught up to a group of four or five infront of us. Then the lady took off. I was stuck behind another guy for a long while. He didn’t let me pass (and I didn’t specially ask him to let me). His pacing was annoying to me but I felt I didn’t had it in me to pass him. For me, if I pass someone, I would try to make sure to be able to stay ahead for a while, like at least a mile or longer. I don’t like leapfrogging one another every few hundred feet because that is exhausting way to run (and dangerous) in a trail race. However, some people are just annoying or did not know the trail etiquette. And usually when you are about to pass someone, I felt like you naturally lead someone to run faster, causing a chase. So for me, if I pass someone, I got to make sure, I can really run and withstand the resulting chase. From experience, some people are willingly slow down and some don’t. As I could tell, this guy in front wouldn’t slow down for me. It would be a pyrrhic effort to pass him and it was just too early in the race to do this kind of friendly battle. Only option was to hang back until an opportunity to pass. Later, I was able to find an opportunity when the guy was struggling on some technical section and I passed and I caught up to Aref and together we caught up to the lady I was following earlier just before we arrived at the first aid station (Delauter).

    For me, I carried a full pack of 2L of water so I did not need to stop for too long. I picked a few pieces of fruits from the table and went out. Aref and the lady stayed behind at the station. They seemed to be done (exhausted). I could tell because they lit up during like mile 3 or 4 but as we near the station, their speed crashed. This is the reason, I rather hold back myself, no need to battle out for position so early on. I did not see them again for the remainder of the race (even after at the turn-around).

    I then found someone going about my pace. The dude was from New Zealand. He commented how it was like back home with all the ferns. Indeed, he opened my eyes of how magical and beautiful this trail is. I ran it last year and all the training runs but I did not appreciate it back then because I was too focused on the run back then to see. Today, we had heavy downpour around this time and it was so pretty. I was soaked to the bone but was happy, so were everyone around me. We were children again playing in the rain. We rather run in the rain than in 100 degrees heat. The temperature that day was 72F, maybe 20 degrees cooler than normal. I don’t remember much but I probably arrived at the 2nd aid station, Hamburg, feeling a bit tired but well. The New Zealand guy pulled me at a much faster pace than I planned to run.

    At the aid station, the aid staff said they have salt for me. Good, thinking to myself. I replied hold that off, I might need them on the way back. We had maybe another 6 miles to go before the turn around and another 6 to be back at this aid station. I still had plenty of water in my pack. I left the station just as quickly as before. No need to stay there forever. I believe I took a cookie or something on the way out.

    Pretty soon I caught up to Ram, a friend I met at the MMT. Ram is in his 50s but he runs quite well, better than me at least. He was trying to run with sandals that day. I think he is crazy but he does his. I think the trail is too rocky for that. And at one point, he almost tripped on a rock or root, but nicely recovered. We stopped so he could adjust the laces or straps. I was glad that I finally have someone to talk to. Ram was witty and poked jokes at me. We both did Devil Dog (and DNFed) and we plan to redo it this year. I tried to get him to pace for me in future races. He is set with his because he had several people pacing him on his last 100 mile attempt. The talk helped passing time on the trail. We then passed Iris. Iris and her husband were doing the 25k so they started an hour later from the other direction. Gretchen was them. It was uplifting to see them. I didn’t tell them, but I was secretly hoping to make the turn around quickly and catch up to Iris since I know Iris is slow. This is like lapping a runner.

    Ram and I headed together to the turn around point. The last couple miles before the turn around, I lost Ram. I was much better at uphill and so I left Ram. Maybe it was the residual from MMT. I could run up a hill. He was not too far behind me, for he finished 5 minutes after me, but I did not see him again till at the very end after I came in.

    As the turn-around (High Knob), a few people dropped out. I was surprised by that. To me it was unbelievable. This was only halfway. 13-15 miles. There were a few runners I passed, and when I looked closely at them, they were as if they already ran a marathon. They were struggling. The couple guys that called quit were much younger than me, maybe college age. They were all so fit. I arrived there around 12:15, so it was taking me 4.5 hours on the outbound. I was hoping to do the same if not faster on the return portion of the race, since I still set my mind to finish before 4 pm. Dwight had tipped me that the return wouldn’t be easy, but I didn’t believe him.

    The return portion was rather lonely. Some runners already dropped. There were only 10 or so runners behind. Those who were ahead, will continue to get farther away. We had a steep descend from High Knob and then a long hard climb. This knocked out a lot of people. I followed a guy and I knew I don’t have what it takes to pass him. I am stronger on uphills but the guy has a better burst on the flat. I think he could handle 9 min pace easily. Fatigue was getting to me. By now I had used most of my gels and might be only one or two gels package left. Out of courtesy, he later stopped for me and stepped aside to let me pass, but we were together for a couple miles or more.

    For the first time, I felt the trail finally opened up for me. There was no one blocking me in front. All I know was there were runners behind. It was mostly like this until the finish.

    The challenge of running alone is having to make sure I was on the right trail and two, run fast enough to stay ahead. The race was not marked (or flagged with the usual race ribbons). This whole race is on the Catoctin Trail and it was up to runners to look for the blue trail blazes to stay on the right trail. The thing is there were a few places that were iffy because the trail light blue color blaze looks at times white. This drove me nut because I started questioning am I on the right trail. There are trails blaze with white in the area too. I think they also have done trail rerouting this year (several other people gps trackers showed the trail is 2-5 miles longer) and some they might have repainted with either black, gray or white blazes over them. It could be confusing. I was wondering am I following on the old trail or the new trail? At a few turns, I was not sure if I had it correct. Luckily I did not get lost, but I felt I ran a total of 36 miles instead of 31 miles and a few people confirmed this.

    I got back to Hamburg aid station. Was I glad! They refilled my pack with full water and I took the salt tabletes. I was revitalized. This is smart running. I learned to use salt from MMT. Not just salty chips but real salt helps. I saw a couple people were cramping there. I had a bit of a cramp myself, but I hoped the salt will get me through. We had about 9 miles left in the race.

    My goal was first to get to White Rock. I imagined it was going to be a long rough climb up. However, in fact, it was mostly downhills. At times I thought someone was on my heels. I chose not to look back. At one of the switch backs, I was able to catch sight of the person behind, maybe about 25 feet away. I kind of said hi, the other did not respond back.

    I concentrated on staying on my pace. Actually, now I felt it is a race. I divided my protein bar into third and told myself to eat a third every 15-20 minutes. My goal was to get back to the finish by 4 pm but I saw the time been slipping by 2 pm, then 3 pm, and then 4 pm. We passed a sign that says 4 miles to Manor. By now, I just wanted to finish. I don’t fear DNF and I was confident I could get in before 5 pm. I knew we were close. Based on my long distance pace this means an hour more to go. Then I saw White Rock. The rest of the race if I recalled correctly was downhill (in a good way). I have been running the whole time, but now I tried running my fastest (MMT came to mind).

    My strategy then was to at least catch up the guy in front. At the time I had no clue who was ahead because for the past couple hours I had not seen anyone. I was alone. Only occasionally I heard footsteps from behind to confirm I was on the right trail. So the chase began.

    I caught the first guy. He would not let me pass, but eventually, there came a wider path, and I easily passed him. You know instinctively if somone would let up and let you or if someone would gun it. He was gunning it, but I saw he was in pain too. He was in no shape to race me. Now was the time to battle for position and duke it out. Not long I was out of his range. I restarted the game to catch the next guy. Not long another runner came into view. I repeated this game all the way to the end. Though the last guy was pretty fast and he scurried up the last hill to avoid me catching him (normally most (slow) people don’t run up a hill in ultras, especially at the very end). He was one that got away.

    I finished at just before the 9th hour (probably around 4:45 pm). My race time was 8:54 (eight hours and 54 minutes). Ram came in a little bit after me at 9:05, he said. We had good bbq food. I stayed for an hour or so chatting with Ram and then helped with the cleanup. It was a good race. I got a shirt and a magnet.

    In a race for me, either I finish or I don’t. Having a finishing time is good only for comparison from year to year. This is my first time running the full 50k cat. (the race short form, people call it a cat). Out of 200 people, I was like the final 10 to come in. There were also about 30 did not finish. Many did not start.

    I enjoyed the run. It took a lot out of me. Still it was a short run not like a 100 mile. I would give anything to have this kind of runs every weekend.

    Aftermath, I was sore. I had rub burn on my thighs. It was painful taking shower. I had blisters on my feet. I was cold and miserable. I could not walk for a couple days. It was because I am in a poor shape. What I enjoy out of it the most was I laughed all the way back. Normally I don’t have the strength in the end, but in this race I was chasing down people. It does not mean much, but it was fun chasing people.

    Lesson/recap. Running I think is a mental thing. Sometimes I am miserable even doing a mile. This race, even though the extetnal elements were bad, but my mind turned it into a fun experience. A bit of note to self, I was singing Rebecca Black Friday song over and over again during the run because it made me so happy. I was also wanted to get back by around 3 pm so I could catch a streamer stream (Wakalaka4eva on Twitch) but I wasn’t able to make it. It helped me run fast nonetheless. Otherwise, it might have been a different blog post (a L instead of a W).

  • Day484 shooting breezes

    TL;DR bye to Techno, gambling in a raccoon game on Twitch, and I signed up for Cowtown

    Happy 4th for those in the States or abroad! Not technically the fourth yet, but a day or two won’t be much of a difference and I won’t wait till Monday to post my blog…I could, but why?

    First off, a salute to Technoblade, who passed away on June 30th due to cancer. I started to watch a bunch his videos during the start of the pademic and he became my hero for his exploits in Minecraft (mostly from the video Potato War). He appeared on my radar might have been due to youtube algorithm and also because Minecraft Monday, a series of minecraft competitions that happened at the beginning of the pademic. He gained a huge following because of it. Last summer, I was sadden when I learned he had cancer.

    I have moved on from watching Youtube videos to switching over to Twitch for real time streaming video since the past year.

    As I have nothing to post today, I scraped the bottom of the barrel and found this I wrote up a few weeks ago, not the actual post itself, but close enough. It was about gambling on a Twitch art channel (lunarniaa, check out her channel and art and her community of streamers). If those viewers found this post, they would be laughing their heads off of the time and energy I went through to get a win. I love them really, hence the amount of time I spent there. I figured it wouldn’t be that interesting if I posted the full writeup on the gamble thing so I didn’t post it.

    In brief, I have been spending my time of the last six months in the Twitch chat at the channel. She has a gambling game of guessing where the raccoon. Mostly I visit there to “gamba”, their term for gambling. She is an art illustrator and the raccoon game is just a mini game she played with her audience in the chat.

    We stop calling it gambling to be more wholesome because it is illegal in certain countries but call it the raccoon game now. We play it during the stream with points given to us based on the time duration we watch the channel, just like a loyalty point system. Points can also redeem awards from the artist, like a small sketch.

    I want a chibi head, a cartoon blowup head of your character (they call it OC, an original character sketch, that represents you, most people on Twitch would use an OC for their profile picture). Usually it takes maybe half a year of watching to earn enough points for the prize, currently is set at 100000 points. I get between 1000 to 2000 points per stream watched. So about 50-100 streams will make it, roughly 20 weeks (5 months) for me because I don’t watch every stream or stay for the full length (normally 3-4 hours). Yes, I would have gotten the chibi head by now if I didn’t gamble. Gambling is a way to gather points quicker as some believe. However, for many, their dreams come to an end each time they gamble. Mine too. I’m an enabler.

    It is a 50-50 chance game, like guessing head or tail of a coin toss. If it is purely random (RNG), then it does not matter of either choice because in the long run, your winnings or losings would even out, meaning zero payoff). However, some of us think it is ‘rigged’ because some people seem to always lose and others always win or we are just saying it to tease the host, Luna. Maybe it is a halo effect. We play because maybe we have better luck than others.

    I think it is just funny to laugh at other people’s bad luck / as well celebrating people’s good fortune. So what I thought was a smart thing to do is ‘reverse rigged’ it by creating a second account to always bet the opposite of what I would bet (I called hedging). This way one of the accounts will always ‘win’. I thought I was clever, but on the flip side, one account also always loses too, which I didn’t see it at the time. In short, it also didn’t prove the game was rigged, but I think it was funny for me to spend my thought and energy on the game to find the best strategy to beat the system. The post would have go into details of the wagers made. I thought I found a way (or strategy) to always win. And the game is usually played twice per stream and I thought I came with a strategy to bet like first round to test the water, and 2nd round to go all in. If it is a pure 50-50 chance, then it wouldn’t matter. As some people who played it already realized, the best thing to do regarding gambling is never to start, especially in real life (with real money)! You don’t lose what you didn’t bet.

    Am I getting a chibi? With both accounts combined I have around 90000 points and probably yes by the time this post goes out. Just a week more, or a quick gamba, and I’ll reach 100000 points needed for the chibi redeem! But I need someway to transfer the points from one account to another (without cheating, what!?, yes I could go into a game/poll where I know I can win, and there is only two people betting, me and my alt (alternate or backup account), and let either me or my alt win, but that would be pretty obvious).

    What this have to do with anything? Well nothing. There might be a little related to investing and that is more practical. At least I tell myself I am “investing” because I have a bit more knowledge than pure betting at chance. I could protect and limit my “risk”.

    I have so much more to say but I will leave it as that.


    I am in a middle of a season with all my hard races already passed. Fall races have not started yet. You can say I’m on a break. My training for last two weeks have been very little, like around 10 miles ish. Usually I put in around 50 miles or more per week. Not that my body is tired but mentally so.

    When this happened, like I feel unmotivated, I go to sign up for more races. As I was looking for races for next year, I decided to go to Texas for my next destination for my marathon. My goal is to run a marathon in all 50 states of the US. It has been slow going as I am distracted by a lot of other races.

    Then I came across the Cowtown Marathon. I read reviews on that and one of the bloggers on WP I followed also has done it. The price is just right for me and that sealed the deal for me. But guess what, during the checkout I found it offers an ultra marathon version and I couldn’t resist of not signing up for the ultra. Yep I will be going to Texas! But for an ultra again! What am I doing I asked myself. Was not going to Texas to cross off a marathon there for my 50 states goal? I guess I would have to go back for a marathon some other time. I got distracted, hopefully in a good way. Readers will have to wait till next year for the race report. This is what I mean, I pick races a year to two years ahead to do. Usually I don’t post something so far ahead because no one knows if I get to run it at all. Anyway, it is something for me to look toward.

    Ann Arbor is still up in the air for this year, but I don’t feel a strong desire to go there. I don’t like spending more than I should. Also I have enough races already. One more technically won’t break this camel’s back but I am on the fence, so likely will be a no-go.

    As in my last entry, nowaday, I am looking for the experience rather than running for running’s sake, not sure I’m making sense here. I had a good time when I went to Duluth, but as I also experienced the opposite at Worlds End, there is no gaurantee of having exact experience year after year. I’m sure Ann Arbor would put up a good race, but mentally I’m not hyped for it any more and I’m afraid to jink it.

    I also thought long and hard about MMT. I did not finish it (DNF) this year, and I’m hoping to redo at the next opportunity, and have been asking myself if I’m up to the task to do two 100 races in spring of next year. I think I can, but wisdom says to wait. I plan to sit out of the MMT next year, and fully commit to doing the OBX (Outer Banks) one. I will still attend its training runs (and the MMT Academy) and am willing to pace someone or volunteer at the event. The signup for MMT won’t open until fall, but I have my peace now.

  • Day483 Grandmas Marathon

    TL;DR a long post of I had a good race but I can’t say exactly why it was so good after I finished. I finally put together various tips and my thoughts for this race. Enjoy!

    What makes a race great? I guess everything just clicks in a good race. Many reasons have to do with the host organization but also on a personal level how I receive it (I could list out many external and the internal factors).

    I think it is really about controlling one’s expectation. I just love running and so I see everything through that len. I could run a race without supports after doing ultras. We learn to do with very little (even with no bathrooms, food or sleep). I mean having good supports and cheers from family and friends is good and they motivate/enable me to run faster but they are not essential for me to enjoy a race. Even if it is one or two people, I think I can enjoy a race. I think what I like is the unique experience and the challenge of the course itself. For marathons, it is no longer an impossiblilty and there is never a risk (yet) of me not finishing a marathon as long as I am healthy.

    That’s a long opening for what make Grandmas Marathon a good race. I could list many things how this race did it better than other races. Logistically it was a phenomenon. They were able to host 20,000+ athletes in the three events combined. It went smoothly. They are proud of their small town is able to deliver a top city size marathon. Personally, I think it is compatible or even better than the Marine Corps Marathon (one which I had a strong impression). They made my weekend so much more enjoyable.

    Why I like it is not so much the mega marathon hype. In fact, because I live in a moderately big city, I try to avoid crowds. Usually crowds mean delay and scracity of stuff and restrictions (from crowd control measures). Sometimes you could lost yourselves in the sea of crowd and feel less validated (or fulfilled). I experienced some of those at Grandmas. However, they were not the race’s fault.

    Grandmas Marathon held in Duluth, Minnesota, was my 9th state in my 50 states marathon quest. It was one of the reasons I went there. I could have chosen some other races in the state, but Grandmas attracted me because of the town Duluth. I first heard of it last year while going to the Eau Claire Marathon. Mostly why I run a race is to see new places and have new experiences, and plus I had not seen Lake Superior.

    I did it as a runcation (vacation as an excuse to run). It is more expensive compares to doing a local marathon and to spend that much money for just a 2-3 day trip does not make sense to most people. I know I should and could have stayed a bit longer but I am one of those who is mission focused, fly in, run, get out.

    It was not tough like the other races I recently did (ahem MMT 100, in which I failed to finish). In fact, it was comparable to the last two states I did, Carlsbad Marathon in California, in 2020 and Eau Claire Marathon, Wiscousin, in 2021. Each of those races is held in an awesome and beautiful town.

    Training for marathons now requires very little effort, maybe a week of fear/anxiety prior to the event, but once I get going usually it becomes as easy as walking – I’d compare it as water flowing down the stream. Still of course, I wanted to do well.

    I did two local marathons this year for comparison: Newport News Marathon and Salisbury. I use the word local loosely. They were great too but nothing compares to when you get to travel on an airplane. It makes the trip so much more memorable.

    Leaving from the airport (MSP)

    Performance wise, Newport News I finished a little beyond the 5 hour. Salisbury, I had an amazing time to run with a guy and (and other friends) I finished it around 4:52, an improvement. This race, I was not aiming for a particular finishing time, but I picked up a 4:35 pace band and I was kind of dreaming would it be nice to reach it, since ultra training makes me a very slow runner. I wrote how I became fat and unmotivated during my training. I finished (*spoiler alert*) around 4:20. It is not my fastest time, but it is the fastest in the recent years. It is just thrilling to finish fast. They say it is a fast course and indeed I felt happy to be able to reach that expectation.

    With a big race like this, logistics is a bit of a challenge, especially with accomodations. I did not book my accommodation early so I did not have a room in Duluth. I stayed in Minneapolis which is two+ hours away. I thought making two and half hour drive to the race course is not too bad even if I have to drive it back and forth twice (first pick up the bib and second for the race itself).

    Another slight hiccup was they overbooked my rental car. Though I got my car early after landing in Minneapolis, but my car was also claimed by another driver (he was going to Duluth to run in the marathon — we finished together). Instead of getting into an argument with the person, I yielded the car to him because it was totally the rental company’s fault that created this conflict. This costed me an extra 4 hr delay until they found another car for me.

    Overall, I like their highways. While driving out to Duluth, there were not much to see. The land is flat. We have young pine trees on both sides and occasionally we have big fields. It is a boring drive if not for public reststops along the way. A few times, I needed to stop to refresh myself or take a nap. It was very boring and I was falling asleep. One of the trips was during the wee hours.

    On my first trip out, I was stuck in traffic with all other runners. It was trafficky when 20,000 athletes not including their friends and families and volunteers driving to Duluth using the same two lane road and going into the same parking lot at the same time! There were bounded some contruction delays added in couple of accidents that made the road impassible for the afternoon, plus it was a Friday weekend, and first weekend after the school is out for a lot of families, and we were stuck in the middle of nowhere. I arrived at Duluth when the 5K was about to start. Road closures were already happening around the event area. One can imagine the traffic. The nightmare. Bad things kept compounding and spiraling out of control. All this could have been prevented if I had planned better or had better luck.

    So I said now what? Knowing I would face the same traffic the next day for the marathon do I drive back to Minneapolis or do I stay in Duluth for the evening? I felt I had no choice but to take on this ordeal one more.

    I was hungry and I was late getting back to my hotel, which was still 2-3 hours away. I had been out all day in the car. I landed 8 am in the morning and was up since 4 am (3 am local time), the convention hall was packed, they had all you can eat spagetti dinner hapenning. Gosh, if I had planned it better, it would have been a blast. There I was tired and exhausted, knowing I had a marathon still to run the next morning.

    The place I stayed in Minneapolis was not in a “nice” neighborhood, though it might have been nice by their standard. I did not do sufficient research before booking. It might have looked good from thousand feet above but once on the street level, it was not that great. I didn’t spend too much time there to make a generalization but from the feeling of it, I wish I stayed in a better neighborhood, maybe by paying a bit more. Maybe I am just naive that any places where the hotel had to lock their front door as an indicator that it was not a good place. Our hotels back home do not need to lock their front entrances. However, they might have lock the door maybe to prevent beggars other desireable guests from coming it. The two nights I stayed there, some kind of loud arguments were happening outside the hotel’s parking lot. I was like what!? Why are people shouting. It makes me wonder why the city is so bad. A few times I had to stop in the city to buy gas for my car, my experience was the same, to quickly fill it up and get me out of there. Unlike in DC, there is no revitalization or gentrification I can see. Maybe there is, but their city is just huge! I can’t see an obvious break from the city proper and the surounding suburbs. I lived like on the 97th st or something and still felt I was in the city and that is like 5 miles from the city center. But I think it is better than Baltimore or Richmond, at least some other bad places I stayed at.

    Remember how handling the logistics ruined my experience at the Worlds End event a couple weeks back (one of my favorite races to go to and aspiring to run it), I wanted to focus on just the positive. I needed a good sleep. Luckily I did, though maybe for about 3 hours before leaving for the race.

    Was the race good? It was out of this world. How can I say? I ran almost 40 “big” races so far in my last six years. I can say I’ve seen it all, the good, bad, and ugly. Most if not all of my races were A+ good. Actually any organization that is able to hold a big race year after year usually puts up a good race. I avoid those that can’t seem to able to measure the course correctly but wanted to make money off you (names unsaid) and I am not talking about trail races. I do my research.

    If I compare this race to my other 40 races, I got to say this one is maybe at the top 3 or higher. Not that other races are bad, they are sometimes different. The pampering of a 100 mile race is different from the pampering from a marathon. But if I want to compare apple to apple, this was a very good race.

    What went well? A lot! We had a perfect racing weather. It was cold around 50F (45 F at night), but sunny. The temperature went up a bit during the race, I think might have gotten to near 60F or higher. They were offering ice to cool is off. Heck, in 60 degree temp! They said we have tail winds coming in from the Lake of North-North-East, and it helped a lot whatever that means. By late afternoon the temperature dropped to 45 F, and that is winter temperature where I live. I was already in my car on my way back to Minneapolis where it was a balmy 80 F.

    The race was well organized. We had water stations at every two miles ish and well managed. It was more than enough. I was in the end of the pack after 15000 runners had gone through them and the volunteers were just as enthusiastic and crowds were just as excited to see us. I saw how quickly they cleaned up the cups dropped. 15,000+ cups tossed at each station and they still managed to keep the road / running lane clear of them. This is one of my irritations after doing trail racing of why people need to toss their cups on the ground after drinking! Not cool. Throw them in the bins and save the volunteers the trouble! And it is why I found running in mega merathons undesireable.

    It was well stock with water and gatorade, plus sponges and ice. The course was well marked and roads were blocked off completely for us. There was a high security presence. The course was flat but some would disagree with me and call it rolling hills. For me, the couple of inclines we had were nothing at all to be considered as hills.

    Super friendly aid station volunteers (I just noticed the stroller/walker). I saw a lot of elderly volunteers speak to passiom of the residents

    The half marathon started an hour before us, unlike some of marathons I did, where they started the Half either concurrently or an hour or two later (e.g. Baltimore or Morgantown). They were finished by the time we went out the starting line. The race organization did well to transport all the runners to their respective start locations and it was a challenge because this was a point to point course (ending is different from the start). 9000+ runners for marathons and another 9000 for the Half marathoners. There are 6000 marathon finishers and 7000 half marathon finishers. I have been in marathons where the runners from the Half just cleaned out the table and nothing (water) was left for us who were running the Full (e.g., The Moonlight Marathon, given that was their inaugural year)

    To get to the start, I took the train rather than the bus for the experience. The train ride took longer to get to the start, but to me it was the calm before the storm and worth the ride. It is like playing the violin on the sinking Titanic. Weird metaphor but I like the relaxation as well as the nervousness. To the people who were sitting with me, on the train, I enjoyed your company even though I forgot your names by now! Maybe some did not like the restlessness and chose the bus instead. I recommend the train and feel it is an integral experience of this race. This was free. If I had to pay for the train ride, maybe I would have taken the bus instead.

    We had a lot of bathrooms at the start. Note, I ran the Marine Corps marathon before, which had maybe twice as many runners but I felt Grandmas Marathon had more bathrooms than the Marine Corps Marathon.

    Massive crowd waiting for restrooms. This is only a portion

    I started about 7-8 minutes after the official gun time because I had to use the bathroom at the last minute. It was bib timed so, it was not a big deal not to start exactly at the gun time. It was actually better to let the crowd go first and let them spread out before I give chase. Some may want to follow me with this strategy of delaying the start so as to be able to run faster after the crowd disperses (because as usual a lot of slower people put themselves further up at the line up, and I don’t blame them, I did that too when I was young/imexperienced).

    About to cross the starting line. Crowd already thinned a bit but it was still a lot of runners

    Another strategy which might be obvious to many seasoned runners, but I did not see many people do in this marathon (maybe because I was in the tail end of the pack, and many might be their first marathon), is running the tangent, which is to run the shortest distance possible around a curve, so it requires looking up and get yourself into position. In many smaller marathons, the race path is narrow (like two person wide) and roads are straight, running the tangent doesn’t matter much, but for this race, we had both sides of a wide road (like a four lane wide), plus wide shoulders, and it is winding left and right for most of the race course along the Lake, heck, run the tangent! However, most people (including the front runners, I rewatched the race on youtube, the commentators were commenting on this) stuck to one side or the other the whole time. Well maybe they thought it was too curvy to do a tangent. I don’t know. I felt it saved me some extra miles. Don’t do it early on, I understand that, when the crowd is on the left, right, front and back, all around because you could trip someone when weaving in and out, but take advantage of the tangent whenever you can. It might save half a mile to a mile on this course and this could mean saving 20-30 minutes or more for the walkers! Imagine if I had to walk the last mile, the saving from running the tangent would have made a big difference!

    I used the same strategy as in my last half marathon race a week before, that is, to imagine myself in a desperate situation. I told myself I was back at the MMT 100 race, the morning had dawned, I just descended from Kern Mountain, and now this would be the last stretch and some serious running required to seal the race as long as I could run a marathon by 1 pm (of course, I couldn’t do it during the MMT and so I DNF). Since MMT was fresh on my mind, all the desperation to do one more marathon after just running 70 miles unleashed, when everything is on the line, the world on your shoulders, the raw emotions of being defeated by the course, the feeling of impossibility of the task but I still needed to try. It was a weird mixed of emotions of exactly how I felt at a point in time with the emotion afterward overlapped and layered on top because now I have a perspective of the past as well as the future of running the MMT. It may be why I love running, is for the insanity. I felt like I was a time traveller. I think this is what is like standing between the living and the dead (I like to be dramatic). I wanted that win/finish of the MMT so bad, if only I can redo it. At least treated it as a training run so I can do it in the actual MMT. I told myself I can redo it at this race. All I had to do was to run it again and let my feet fall where they needed to fall. Of course I could do it, but I imagined I can’t and needed to struggle for it. It was a controlled panic.

    Going back a bit, the first several miles were crowded. I learned not to be frustrated by that from the Rock n Roll Marathon and the Marine Corps Marathon, but just be patience. I took my time to take some pictures, and enjoyed the race. I found someone who did the 50 states thing like me (he was in his 70) and also someone came from near my state (MD). We were happy to see each other. I chatted with a lady in a raccoon/fox outfit. They posed for me to take their pictures.

    At Mile 4 marker, course is still crowded but runnable now. Note, every mile is marked with a balloon (yellow for marathon and blue for the half)

    By mile 4, it was still crowded but I could run now and I could weave in and out the crowd. Everyone was now a few strides apart. I told myself to get serious and put away my phone.

    Also by now I felt a bit exhausted, maybe from the lack of sleep, I felt a bit out of breath because I pushed a bit too early to escape from the crowd and my legs were dragging, so I decided to take my first gel early. I only had three packages on me. Note, I did not see aid stations offering gels. Gels are expensive. Eating them so early might get me into trouble later when I definitely needed them. From experience, I usually need all the gels I can get my hand on around mile 20 and onward. Normally, I save them till that point. I chose to risk it this time by taking it early so to get myself into a good early pace. I didn’t have time for breakfast earlier as I was driving and no shops were in sight and so I was a little hungry now. I had been up since 2 am. Also no restaurants open at that time unlike back home. Now as the race was underway, my body started reminding me various things, such as I was actually hungry. Note, some experienced runners packed sandwiches for the morning and ate them before the start.

    I reached halfway, mile 13, without further trouble. The gel carried me. If I remember correctly, I ingested my second gel of sugar here at this point. My pace did hamper a bit even after having the gel, but I believe I passed the 4:35 pace group and the 4:20 pace group. It was hard keeping up with the 4:20 group because they kept escaping from me. I followed them for a few miles. I remember the pace leader shouted out we are in “single digit” – meaning we have less than 9 miles to go (at mile 17 marker). We are in the single digit territory! Woohoo! I think that gave me a boost to pass the pace group. Here my memory is a bit cloudy. I’m not sure if the group passed me back or I kept in front of them. They probably passed me back at some point. I was at a breaking point.

    We ran along Lake Superior. At halfway we had a wide open view. The Lake is breathtaking. Some whitcaps can be seen, indicating breezes from the lake.

    A little afterward, I struggled with a big bonk maybe around mile 18 ish or even be at mile 19. They say the worse is to come at mile 20 because of the “hill”. They called this the lemon drop.

    I ingested my last gel package, trying to keep my legs in motion. Still I knew the gels I had were not enough for me and I was sputtering. There was nothing I could do. I ate all my gels. Apparently I put a big package of gummy bears in my pack the night before but I have forgotten about them — I was angry at myself hours later when I open the pack and saw them and found out why my pack was heavier than normal during the race. Stupid gummies. It was my first time carrying them in a race. I was a noob.

    Preparation of the night before the race. I carried a lot of things on me. I ate the Kind bar while on the train as breakfast but totally forgotten about the big pack of gummy bears until well after the race

    I knew I needed supports from the crowd. As we got near the city more and more people cheered us on. Not only cheers, but also the citizens set up their own “fun” aid stations. The official stations were plenty and enough but there were special menu items you only could get at a private support station. I appreciated the grapes and strawberries and oranges offered me at several of the private stations. These are items ultra runners need and familiar with. I was given pancakes too. Jolly ranchers and lollypops were a big help to me in this race because they were long lasting, slowly releasing the sugar. What got me going again was at one of the private stops, someone offered me a jello shot and a beer! Usually and maybe never do I drink and run but this shot of jello, whatever in it (tongue in cheek), made all my pain go away and I was reborn as new, so it was time for me chase the 4:20 pace group again!

    I pressed the Lemon Drop. It is not the last hill but it is the most famous one with 4.1 mile from the finish. Most people walked this hill but no way would I be walking this. Full speed ahead! I told myself I ran a 18,000 ft race (elevation) not long ago, this tiny 50 ft (guessing here) was nothing to me.

    Three miles later, we were in the city. I was sputtering again. Now I was out of gel and had no more jello shots, only way to get to the finish was to endure.

    I tucked my chin in (they say don’t do that), put my chin down and digged deep. I stopped counting the miles. Many people passed me but I also passed all the walkers. I told myself I can’t let the 4:35 pace group pass me. Not sure if I ever caught back up with the 4:20 pace team, but I felt the devil was on my back. At the last mile, I could hear the finish line music. Unlike at a lot of races, this one set up loud speakers miles out. So we could kind of know what was going on at the finish of who is coming in as well as having rave music beats going. It gave me a bit more motivation to stay on pace.

    Many people walked in the last couple miles and many surged on ahead. About 65 runners (a lot) passed me on this stretch (and think the most during the whole race). My pace was somewhat in between. I was not strong enough to surge but I held onto my pace. I don’t know how I did it looking back, yet I crossed the finish line. I had my tempo back at the final hundred of feet and kind of coasted in nicely. I did not need to be fast, I just needed not to stop or slow down. You know many times I had the kick, a final burst of energy that allows me to run fast at the end. This time I just coasted in. They say near the city, the run is tricky because you know the finish is near but you can’t see it. Having done Newport News where you could see the last two miles ahead compares to this one, where the finish is unknown, I think I prefer this.

    Finish chute of the last few runners

    One thing I like about this race was they gave us wet sponges and ice at many of the aid stations. Having learned from MMT 100, I put ice inside my hat and put it over my head and let the slowly melt over me. I probably one of the few who used ice this way. I think many put them in their mouth. In ultras, I would pour ice in my hydration pack too, but I felt this was not needed. I used the sponges to clean my face, neck and arms (I hate having salt on my face and body during running, but in many races, I just have to ignore the salt on me). The sponges were a godsent. I like my skin being smooth. Sponges were nice. The temperature was 50 F and I was sweating a lot! The ice was also so good.

    Finish line food. I did not feel hungry after finishing. They offered us bagels and granola bars. I took a chocolate milk. I understand feeding 20000 runners is a hard task and I appreciate any food for us. There was no free food at the Baltimore Marathon if I remembered right. This race was above and beyond my expectation. For comparison, Newport News Marathon had the best finishing food (I wrote about that)! Bagels and bananas are nice too, can’t complain.

    Then it got very cold in the afternoon. Luckily I had a jacket and a long sleeve. Yes, put a jacket in your drop bag! Though the parking lot is not too far away. Prepare for the stair climb though! I put on my shirts and I stayed at the race to cheer other runners until near closing time. I stayed till 7.5 hour mark. I think the race closed at either 7.75 or by 8 hour. A couple of us tried to stir up the runners who were near finishing to encourage them to surge. It was fun to see runners actually responded to our cheers. During that three hours, a lot of runners came through. If readers recalled I did the same at the Newport News Marathon. This was way better, because the crowd stayed.

    I was really strong in this race and ran beyond my own expectation. Of the three marathons I did this year, this was the fastest. I beat last year time (Eau Claire Marathon) too by a hair. Not bad after doing the MMT. I guess the strategy worked. Also I think my spring training got me to a peak condition.

    How do I close this? After running so many races, do I get tired of doing the same thing? To me sometimes yes. I can see how similar it is to my previous races, and yes I do get tired of doing the same thing. I have been asking myself why I do it again and again. But as to why I like it, is I sometimes learn new things unexpectedly. Who would have thought jello shots helped? Also each time, my feeling while running is different. This time, it was so good, I was completely speechless after the race. I don’t remember if any races where I was speechless like this time. My mind was silence for a few days. Completely quiet! It was so good to have nothing to say. And so much so I could not find the ability to write this report. I got back to Minneapolis in the evening. At first I wanted to go to the pool at my hotel. It seemed to be a decent pool, but I was too tired. I slept not long after. The next morning I had an early flight back, so I woke up at around 5:30. I slept some more once I landed. Monday, I was still very much tired. This race, unlike previous races, I couldn’t bounce back after a nice sleep. The race sapped everything from me in a good way. I also mentally spent, also in a good way, not like when I ran a 100 miler, and I couldn’t find words to say why this race was so good. I only know I was satisfied with it. It was my A-goal race and I was able to run it as I envisioned and in the end, I surprised myself of having done it. It is the feeling after each marathon, you did it.

  • Day482 Bishop’s Half

    I ran with them once some years back maybe in 2018 or 2019. I might have a post on it. I will need to search back at the older entries (I think I found it, day 136). Bishop is I think the name of the race director. Last time I ran was to do it with couple friends.

    As the weekend approached, I realized I had no plans of going any where because I had no race scheduled. By Friday, my itchyness of wanting to run a fast simple race reached its fever peak, so I Googled for a 5k, 10k, marathon, or half marathons, any that are within my driving distance for me to do. It was my fault that the plan for weekend has slipped my mind since I originally wanted to run in the OSS/CIA race, but I missed its sign-up, which closed a week prior.

    I found Bishop Half from one of the running websites. It was a perfect distance. I needed a fast, flat, normal half marathon to test myself. It was long enough to keep me out for a good part of the day but short enough as not to sap my strength too much, since I have a full marathon (my A+ goal race) coming up the following weekend. Maybe that was the reason I didn’t sign up the OSS/CIA race in the first place. I think OSS was a 50 mile race. I had done too many of the long races already. I wanted to go back to the fun little ones. Not that big races are not fun but big races take so much out of me. I wanted to know how fast I can run as of today too. I used to call this a limit test. It is like taking a car onto the track and run it as fast as it can. All the ultra marathon training for the past six months had made me very slow. I need something opposite.

    The previous time when I ran the Bishop’s Half, I was on a verge of or was recovering from being very sick due to having caught the Lyme disease. My pace then was terrible. I think I pulled a 2.5 hrs half, which normally I run it sub 2:00 time. This time around my body was in a much better shape. I was near my peak of my condition if not at the very peak, since I just ran the MMT (a 100 miler) not long ago.

    The race was what I expected and remembered. This was a contrast to my last post about WEU, where a lot other things dominated my experience of being part of it. I had a lot out of the Bishop Half and it scratched my running itch. It was on an out and back course with a 6.5 miles going out on the C&O Canal and 6.5 miles back. There was a .1 mile somewhere to make it a true half marathon.

    I struggled more at finding a parking spot than at running the race itself. Though the race was pretty interesting for me. In this post, I won’t spend 5000 words on how I slept the night before or what time I woke up and my drive to the course and circle around for half an hour to find the best spot to park. All those of course was a drama. I didn’t sleep well. I woke up super early and parking in downtown was a love-hate relationship.

    The race was in the city on the C&O towpath in Georgetown.

    It was really fun and lowkey. Sometimes I really need to run more of local races instead of all the big names cookie-cutter races. We had a shirt and many water stations, I think 9 in total. Stations 3 and 4 were very close together (like half mile or less). They were also same as stations 6 and 7. There were maybe about 100 of us, but it felt more like around 50 ish. It was bib timed. Bless the director of doing the start in two waves. The first wave was for those who can/think they can run under 1:30. I started in the middle of the second wave. So I think I placed myself at near the rear pack. But truly, I hadn’t run this fast for so long.

    It took me about 1:10 hour:mins going out, which according to my own standard was slow. I became tired at the turn around point. While going out I found a buddy to follow. He had a steady pace and we passed maybe 10-20 people during the first couple miles then we stayed steady. JP, a friend I later met, stayed a few steps ahead of us. By mile 4, JP pulled ahead and I followed JP, but by mile 5 I couldn’t keep his pace and dialed back on my pacing. Then there was two ladies, I wanted to follow. I passed one of them and caught up with the other at the turn around. Unfortunately, I spent too much energy catching her and I was not doing well after reaching halfway.

    With my recent knowledge on bonking, I quickly identified I was not doing well and I needed to get energy quickly into my body and I took my first gel package. I could then get back into pace but I fell far behind the lady I was trying to chase. By about mile 9, I had my second bonk. So opened my second gel and tempo came back up a bit. I think I was running at 11 minute pace. I wasn’t wearing my watch so did not know my exact pace. I can kind of guess. My goal was to pretend it was the last 5 miles of my MMT race and I wanted to “revenge” it by trying to run it under an hour. As readers might know I did not finish the MMT for failing to get to the final 5 miles to make the cutoff during my MMT race a month ago. I don’t feel bad about that but I felt I need to be able to do it. It was a motivation for me to run fast. If that is a pace to run after running 90 miles then I have better to do it now that I have fresh legs.

    As I reached 1 mile from the finish, I felt the energy from the last gel fully kicked in. I also had what is called a runner kick and usually I get a speed boost near the finish. I finished it under 2:10. Supposingly, I might have run a negative split but there was no way to be sure.

    The race reminded me the joy of running a fast simple race. With ultra or even marathon, we normally try to hold back our pace. But with a half marathon I could be riskier by running fast early. In my mind, the thought was to let my feet do their things. There was a feeling of letting them fall into steps. It is also a lot simpler in term of planning, unlike MMT or WEU last weekend where fretted on many things. This race I just put on my shoes and ran. This race was a blast.

    Another thought I had while out on the course was the idea of hitting a comfortable pace. I actually wanted to reject that, unlike in longer races, a comfortable pace usually the one that will get you to the finish. What I mean is over time we developed a pace we love to stick at. I use the same pace foe short, long or any length course. It gives a comfortable feeling when we reach it. I called it hammering. You just keep them pounding. It is a pace we could run and fall asleep on. I tried to remind myself in this half marathon that a comfortable pace is not what I seek. If my body feels comfortable, it means I am not pushing myself hard enough. I want to be off balanced and uncomfortable.

    A race should give that discomfortness. I am not in training any more. So I pushed myself. I wanted to feel as if I was about to choke and I needed breath. My muscle and lung should be screaming. In my mind I told myself I want to be broken by my pace. Let it rip. Break me! Peel the layer off me. Yes it is like breaking a blister or peeling a layer of skin. I felt only in a race like this can I run fast.

    MMT broke me mentally but I wanted this half marathon to break me physically. It felt good when I reached the finish line.

    Next week, I will be going to MN for a marathon. It has been couple months since I last ran one. I hope I can still remember the pacing and get to the finish. It is weird to hear myself say this, but sometimes running a marathon makes me nervous. I do hope I will have as much fun as this half marathon.

    P.S. Grandmas Marathon happened over the weekend. I hope I will write a report on it. Bishop Half was a good preview. I ran till my tank was empty. And I ran fast

  • Day481 Richmond virtual option

    TL;DR flexing a few races I will be doing

    I wrote up two entries this week. They are not related. I am excited of both of them. Here is the first. I will be also traveling this weekend for a race. I will write about that race soon. Keeping it under wrap for now as not to jink it.

    I deferred the Richmond race two years ago because of the Corona. Last year, I was waiting for the signup email and it came late after I already signed up for another race. This year I knew what to expect.

    Yesterday I received the email from the race organization with the signup link for it (for people who deferred). Originally I was not going to run the Richmond race. Just like last year, I already picked out another race for that weekend. This year I didn’t antagonize over whether to do the Richmond race or the other one. In fact, I had four races to choose from for that weekend. Richmond was at the very bottom of my list. Then I realized what if they have a virtual option. They do, so I signed up to run it virtually.

    This is for November 12 weekend. I probably will fulfill my virtual obligation the week prior. I plan to travel down to Richmond to do it. It seems silly but it will give me the motivation to run it.

    As for what race I picked to run on November 12, readers would have to wait and see. It is not a big secret, but I like to keep it kind of a secret for now.

    Related I signed up for The Wild Oak Run (they called it applying but I think likely I will be accepted since I am doing a “fun” run). More on this when the event arrives.

    I might have mentioned I signed up for Lake Ridge Ultra (Lake Claytor) on 9/11 weekend and the Iron Mountain Ultra (Hurricane trail).

    My next ultra will be the Catoctin. A few years ago when I wanted to run it, the race description scared me, so I ended up running 25K instead. Well that was really last year and when I showed up to the course, I was like what!? 25k is like a half marathon. Can you believe I was freaked out by a 50k? I am amazed by how my perspective has changed after running a 100 mile.

    Also in case I forgot to say, I locked in a spot for the 24 5k at Pemberton. It is highly anticipated. I have been wanting to do it since I had an eye on running ultras. Can I do it? The answer should be yes.

    What this all about? Somehow signing up races get me excited. Also relating to the last blog entry how my perspective change the 2nd year of redoing some of the same races.

    “Your mercy are new every morning”

  • Day480 WEU

    TL;DR – weekend trip to a running event

    There’s a saying you can’t step into the same river twice. This becomes more likely as I repeat many of my past races or events. My weekend at the Worlds End Ultra (WEU) was my attempt this year to step into the same river twice (2021) and ended mildly disappointed. Disappointed might be a bit harsh but being unexpectedly disatisfied is more like it when compared to last year. What did they say about jealousy? Comparison is the thief of joy?

    Why did I go in the first place? It was a race I wanted to do myself. It’s a very hard race and with a lot of friendly people. It has beautiful views. I only knew about it last year when a friend promoted volunteering for it on his social media. I joined him there. To me it was like a retreat and a runner paradise. I never run in the official Worlds End Ultra but being a volunteer there was like brush with celebrities.

    Like in Psalm, the psalmist wrote a day in your court (temple) is better than a thousand elsewhere.

    Going to a race is like going on a pilgrimage for me.

    I signed up to volunteer maybe back in January. I booked my camp in March. As the race day approached, I was a bit concern after not receiving any confirmation/instructional email of what I will be doing and who’s my boss. Maybe I did receive but I couldn’t find it or maybe the email might have gone into the spam folder.

    So I went and signed up again. I signed up to help clean up on Sunday too. This time I received an email both from the signup site and from the volunteer director. I got things settled. Basically, I was asked if proofing the course would be fine with me. I’d rather to do sweeping as I have done that last year, but if that is not available, proofing would be fine too. Best of all, I could run on the official course before anyone.

    So I prepared for the weekend. Here I have a bit of complaint. Mostly it was my fault too of not asking for the pertinent info: who, what, when, where, and how. I had only the location and what I would be doing. I was not told where to meet and when to meet or more details on what I will be doing. I guess most volunteers would get there on Friday night and received their briefing. I live about 5 hours drive away and though I wanted to be there as early as I can, but realistically I could not arrive until Saturday.

    The coordinator understood this and assigned me a post where I don’t have to start until noon.

    Like last year, I plan on driving to PA on Saturday morning instead of Friday due to work. It is a 5 hour drive for me (4:30 according to Google map) but Google Map assumed I will be driving 55 mph or more on mountain roads where sometimes they posted a very high limit higher than what I am comfortable driving and driving it in the dark. Their time estimation is usually wrong for me. Never trust google when going to a remote place.

    After thinking a bit I’d rather drive there late at night than early in the morning since I rarely was able to sleep early enough to wake up before the crack of dawn unless it is for my own race. This race starts at 5 AM, so if I want to make it to the start I would have to leave my house at the latest by midnight, meaning I have to be in bed by 6 pm. I do plan to depart way before then. I hate late night driving too, but I felt I could at least make some miles before I was tired.

    What I wanted to do rarely goes according to plan. I had a dental appointment that afternoon. It was partly unexpected, and forgotten. When I thought I went in for a filling, I came out with a deep below the gum cleaning. My mouth was bleeding during it because they had to cut into my gum. It was not painful but it was uncomfortable. I compared that to running with blisters on my foot, which I had done quite a few times in my ultra marathon runs. I could stand the pain and the uncomfortableness and the bleeding. I was advised to rinse my mouth with salt water but I told my dentist I was going camping immediately that night. Salt would be hard to come by. There wouldn’t be salt etc out in the woods. I would deal with the pain was what I told myself. It couldn’t get it infected over the weekend. F*

    The Friday afternoon traffic was as bad as usual and by the time I got home it was 6 pm. I wanted to eat and pack — it was my fault for not packing the night before. I got those taking care of by 7 ish. Then I still had some work left from my day job to be taken care of. Theoretically, I could do them on Monday but I try never move things planned for that day to the next day. My home computer acted up and needed an update. I couldn’t get to my work without the update since it fixes the two factor authentication that I needed for the company login. Long story short, I spent another hour getting the computer ready for work and by the time I finished everything it was 9 o clock, much later than I wanted, but at least now I could get on the road. The pressure I was put under to try get as much done as possible and also my own internal deadline dealing with the trip, because my mind kept saying, I got to leave now every five minutes.

    I loaded up everything and went to a gas station to get myself a tall cup coffee. I needed it and I knew it would be a long night. I’m not a coffee drinker but I found it helps for long trips. I could run while being half awake but driving in that condition is not something I want to stake my life or any other people’s life. It’s dangerous. I can tell first hand, having been through an accident due to lack of sleep.

    The drive that evening was peaceful because it was past rush hour. It was finally a release from all the stresses I faced that day/week. I used a local road to get to PA (hwy 15) instead of the Interstates. Once in PA, I went passed Gettysburg and passed a lot of familar places where I raced before. I continued on to Harrisburg. The drive brought back memories of various trips I took the past few years. I usually use the same roads. From there, I headed toward Williamsport, the nearest city near the race site. I booked hotel there and I knew I probably be tired by then. Midnight came. Then 1 AM, I was started to get drowsy, but luckily I got to the hotel just as it started becoming hard to stay awake.

    The hotel staff was cheerful and checked me in. They had expected me and left the light on in my room and also cooled my room. Probably I was the last guest to show up that night. This was a low end inn but I was greeted by name. The place was a bit dated but room was good and comfortable. I only planned to stay for a couple hours to get rested enough to drive again, for I still planned to get to race by 4 ish in the morning. I have an hour more to go. It means I would have an hour and at max two hours of sleep. By now I was no longer sleepy but I knew I was also in no condition to drive. I was still full of adrenaline (probably from the coffee), like I was in a race, but I knew I must sleep. I set my alarm for 4 am as a compromise, but waking up at 3 AM was originally the plan. Now it was near 2 AM. I did not have a lot of time left. I didn’t even change my clothes but laid across the bed. Alarm went off not long after as if I didn’t sleep. Still I did not feel ready to drive. Since I promised to arrive before noon, I decided to at least sleep at least till 7:00 before continuing the trip. The sun came up at 5, and with the curtains opened and I couldn’t sleep any longer so I decided to check out and be on my way. I felt much refresh by now. Initially, I planned to sleep by the side of the road to save money, but having a hotel room was a wise decision.

    They had breakfast at the hotel so I made myself a waffle and grabbed an apple and some cake. I went then to a nearby gas station to refill my car. I was too early that the pumps there did not work yet. Small town gas stations do not operate 24 hours. The staff was there but they had to set up their registers and computers first, which also control the pump. I think they did not close the book the previous night, so they had to print their sale records first before the pump could be operated. The clerk was having trouble doing that. Another person was there training the person. So I waited, and one of the staff smoked by the door. When everything was ready, they apologized to me for the wait. I got my tank filled and drove out of the town. The sun has fully risen by then.

    Anyway, I arrived at the race site exactly 7:00 as the 50K runners went out. I saw them took off up the road as I walked up to the start. It has been 10 hours since I first left the house for this trip. Finally I arrived.

    For the next couple hours I had nothing to do but walking around. I couldn’t find my contact person or any of race staff at the start. Again that was on my part of not communicate better beforehand. I thought I was going surprise them by arriving earlier than my scheduled time. There were other volunteers there cleaning up the breakfast table but they had their jobs and from experience I know the one in charge was probably busy since the race had just started and I didn’t mind waiting around a bit. I thought soon someone would be back at the start since that was the traditional headquarter for the race. No one came. A few other volunteers showed up too looking for the same person I was looking for, so it was good, at least I had someone to talk to and follow. Someone directed us to look for the Aid Station 4 across the street, likely the coordinator would be there. They were short on staff, it seemed.

    A little while later a runner got lost and came back to the starting line. I think he was one of the 50K runners. He said he has run this race 7 times and had usually gotten lost in the same place. Another volunteer offered to lead the runner back onto the trail saying she knew the way, and so I later decided followed them. I wanted to explore the course. We came to one of the stations (picnic shelter) where the RD (race director) was. By the way, the runner should have been DQ or pulled from the race since it was impossible for the runner to make the next cut off, but we didn’t know. It was not our fault there was no race marshall at the start. The race director told us that the sweeper already went out and so the runner would likely be behind the sweeper if he got back on the trail. We did not know that and we shouldn’t have guided the runner back onto the trail. Oops, but what done was done. The RD was not happy of what we told him of what we just did since now he would have to contact subsequent aid stations to keep a lookout for this particular runner and we had no idea of what the runner’s bib was. I offered to chase down the runner, but the race director did not want that, because it would have ended up with two unknown runners now they have to track. Also we were not a race official that has the power to pull a runner from the race.

    I asked about my volunteering. Fortunately the person I needed to talk to was also there. I did not recognize him at all but he recognized me from last year. He was the volunteer coordinator and he gave me my briefing and basically said I could start my shift any time. He had to bring water to another station so he could not drop me at where I needed to be.

    I was given a race phone and the RD gave me the direction to the part of the course I had to proof. The phone was important because it was specifically set up for our location and would allow me to be in contact with the race management team. I believed AT&T set up a special cell network wih a temporary mobile cell tower(s) for the race and the phone only worked on this network. We each have a preset phone list of various volunteers (such as head of each aid stations/radio operators/my team/etc). They also had traditional ham radio at each station and they used it to track runners and report them back to headquarter because cellular signal is not always the best.

    Proofing in traditional sense is to make sure the course is set up correctly. However, I had no clue how my section of the course is supposed to be like, so no way to confirm if the course was according to the intended course. It is my first time running on it. My section was from Brunnerdale to the Finish, about 14 miles. I drove to Brunnerdale, which I believe was the farest point on the course (took about 30 minutes drive). Finding the trail was easy. The runner handbook had everything I needed, plus I had the verbal directions from the RD. I had the gps offline map on my phone, but I didn’t get lost and didn’t have to use it. I got there before the Aid Station was even set up.

    I enjoyed my run. Basically I was the course’s test bunny. I won’t go into details. 100K course is much harder than the 50K, especially near the finishing. We had maybe 2000 ft climb. The section was muddy. My duty was to add markings to the course if I think they were needed. If I was confused about some part of the course so would the runners. My job was to make those confusing parts clearer. I was given a roll of ribbons to mark the course if needed. I could hang as much tape as I wanted to direct runners to the right way. This was not the first time the race was held, and the course was marked by one of the race directors or his friends so it was well marked and guaranteed to be correct. My only confusion was when I came to a tall maybe 8 ft fence across the trail. The fence extends in both direction indefinitely and it seems we either climb across or go around. I tried going around first but had to back track when the trail disappeared. I was not sure if I was to climb the fence. I haven’t been to any races where we had to trespass into private property. Luckily later, I found a “hole” / a window gate to climb through. The window is normally locked but was unlocked for us on race weekend. After getting through it was obvious that was the way. As for the rest of the trail, I only had minimal work to do, basically, just run it was what I needed. My coordinator was surprised how little tape I used when I got back. Was I supposed to use all of it?

    I thought also I had whole day to run it since I started a little after 9:30 and I had only 14 miles to cover. I should be back by 12:30, well before 100k runners get there. For the 100K runners, there race didn’t end until midnight. Unexpected to me, the course final couple miles were shared with the 50k people. It always has been for this race but it slipped my mind. The first 50k already finished by noon. So I was really racing against time when it dawned on me to try to beat the 50K people and I ran against the faster runners from the 50k event. It was kind of embarrassing as I came into the Coal Mine Aid Station (last aid station for the 50K) and they asked me what was I doing there. Noted, it was my fault too to come into the station from the wrong way where they didn’t expect. I was not aware I had gotten off course at the time because I missed an earlier turn near the station. Looking back, I failed my proofing duty there, because if I missed a directional sign or ribbon, it means others might miss it too, and I should have gone back to mark it. I said I am a volunteer, proofing the course. They didn’t laugh at me, but they kind of took a double-take because, since both the first 50k and 100k people already passed by and were on their way out (to High Knob), there was nothing left of the course to be proofed. They told me the 100k proofer already came through too earlier as if they didn’t believe my story. I did not argue with them, since that section was done by two 100k proofers, one to proof the way going out from Coal Mine to Brunnerdale passing through High Knob and mine was from Brunnerdale coming back to Coal Mine and to the Finish on a different trail. It was a small loop. I know I did my part but it got on my nerve when people didn’t believe me. It was not particularly from staffers I was being irritated at, but because of the situation I was put in. All this spoke of the lack of foresight in arranging the proofers in proofing the course. I know, I just need to do my part.

    Later I found that front runners of the 100k actually over took some of proofers in the earlier sections. Luckily I had the last stretch and the 100k guy did not catch up to me. I was like still a couple hours ahead of him. However, I felt I failed them by not proofing the last couple miles of the course before the 50k runners got there. Not sure if the 50k proofer covered the last section to the Finish or whether they relied on me since both trails are joined there. I found it was generally well marked, so I was not worried or blaming myself for not covering the last couple miles. If I had known, I would have started out a bit earlier to avoid such incident.

    One critique on my section where most runners would reach it at nightfall is we should also proof it by running it at night to be in similar condition as the runners. There was only little value for me to proof that section in the daytime, except for me not to get lost. The reason being is it was so much easier during the day to find my way and what might have seemed fine to me in daytime might not be when the course is completely dark. So even though the markings might be adequate during the day time, it might not be at night. Hopefully not many runners got lost in my section that night.

    For the rest of my weekend, it was uneventful. I got back to the Finish around 1 pm. I had food from the finish line and reconnected with my volunteer coordinator and turned in my phone. He drove me to get my car back from Brunnerdale. The Aid Station captain there said the 1st and 2nd place 100k runner already came through. It was around 3 pm and likely the first place would finish by 4 pm. I and the captain talked about last year event. I was there last year with her because I was the sweeper for that section. They were waiting for me that time to come through. She asked if I wanted to hangout there again with them this year. I said I have to figure out my campsite and get some rest to enjoy the late evening hours. I was sleep deprived and I started to feel the effect in the afternoon sun. So next up for me was to set up my camp and have some rest first.

    For the rest of the day, I was driving around looking for cell signal because I found out when I got to the campground, I did not know which campsite I made reservation. Due to budget cut, the campground was unstaffed. This year, might be due to privacy reason, the camper names were redacted on their posted master list of who occupying where. So there was no way for me to find out my site number from the list. I needed the cell signal to access my email reservation for my site number. I remembered reading that the highest point on the course, High Knob, has signal, so I drove up to High Knob. I got signal and what I needed from my phone. I stayed longer afterward at High Knob since the aid station there was about to close in an hour, at 5 pm. I actually waited there until 7:30 when everyone left because we were waiting for the sweeper to come through and I was trying to relive my last year experience too as being a sweeper. Last year, I was the sweeper from High Knob to Brunnerdale. Sweeper was supposed to be a designated person on the trail to accompany the last runner. But the sweeper never came through at High Knob or I somehow missed the person. We were all waiting. By 7:30, we all left. I don’t know if they finally figured out where the sweeper was or whether there was even one for that section. I know they tried to call the person on the phone.

    View from High Knob

    It was evening by the time I descended from High Knob. Having very little sleep and hadn’t eaten much for whole day except some aid station food and candies, I was exhausted. This year, the Aid Station staff only fed me a little (like couple spoonful of mac and cheese). I wasn’t complaining, food was for runners and since I didn’t have a runner bib, they were not supposed to feed me. They had to make sure their food would last for a whole day until midnight.

    I headed to my campsite, hoping to cook my dinner, setting up a base before heading to the finish to watch the race. Most 100k people would be coming into the finish around 9 pm to 12 am. I wanted to go watch them. However, after dinner, it got dark and cold fast and only thing I wanted was sleep. We had an unusual cold weekend where temperature was down low 45 F at night where the previous weekend was around 90+. I crawled into my tent and felt asleep not long after. The race could have their own fun for all I care.

    Sunday, I volunteered to clean up the course. About 10 of us met back at the volunteer shelter around 8:30. I chose to cover the first 20 miles of pulling the course ribbons and other race markings. Many of them paired up. Mine would be a looped segment and would take me back to the start where left my car, so I didn’t need to arrange for ride.

    I did this loop last year too. Last year, I went out just for the fun of it. I wasn’t volunteering then. I was hoping I could make better time this year. I think I ran the course better than last year except I had only a 2L water on me this time. I had a filter but I forgot to bring a pressure bag (for reverse osmosis) to filter the water. So I had to conserve my water on my 20 mile run. As an aside, I could connect the filter to the hose of my pak but it requires some DIY of cutting the tube, and I had been reluctant to cut my pak. Last year, I had to filter water twice during my run, meaning I drank 6L that time. This time I only could take a sip when I was very thirsty. I finished the run by 4 pm still with some water remained. I dropped off the reflective ribbons I took down before heading home. They reuse the ribbons for other races. I was told those ribbons cost over $300, they would avoid spending this much every year.

    Actually since the ribbons were bucky to carry when there were a lot, I was advised to hide them halfway during the run and to drive back to pick them up. I did exactly that and hid them at the Iron Bridge and later I went back to pick them up. Note, I was at the Iron Bridge at 1 pm and it took me 3 more hours to get back to the finish. But after I got back, I got into my car and drove back to the Iron Bridge to pick up the ribbons, it only took me 17 minutes to drive. The time and effort to cover the same distance by car always surprised me.

    Iron Bridge. Ribbons well hidden in the bushes not shown

    Anyway, there was not much happened after. I had my runs. Both runs were fairly long and decent workouts. I enjoyed the challenging course. It has becoming less challenging this year due to my improvement at trail/hill running.

    One of my regrets was I wished I had rested well and so would have enjoy the race more on Saturday. I was hoping to hang out and meet runners at the finish and to basically revamp my running passion. I was pretty much beaten down from the MMT race. However, because of the rush to get to the race site on Friday, plus my volunteering duties, I ended up spent little to no time with runners.

    Not all was lost, I was able to talk to and listened from other volunteers of their running stories. I learned about one volunteer is going to Laz races, the Barkley Fall Classic and the Last Annual Vol State. Someone was saying their race in France they had helicopters to transport things to the aid stations (I think they were referring to UTMB, a famous race). I think that was so amazing.

    I plan to volunteer again and maybe one day soon I will run in this race as well.

    In review, I spent 10 hours in the car. 3 hours at a hotel and ran about 8 hours. I had a few hours at an aid station and a few more hours in my own tent. I did not get back home until 10 pm Sunday, with a couple hours for a side trip to Harrisburg. What I used to do in other events is compared how much driving time to my running time, like whether it is worth 10 hour drive for an 8 hour run. If the driving time is longer than the running time, then it is not worth the effort. I know sometimes this is just a tease. I had signed up to run in a 10k where I had to fly across the country before. Just saying.

    I don’t mean to rant but only to show logistical part often plays a big role in a race or a trip. It is like 99% of the iceberg. Most people only see the top of the iceberg. I wish I focus more on my two runs I did there that weekend. But this was my second year running them, so there was not much more to say except I enjoyed them tremendously. I actually ran fast enough that I cramped up in the end because I was racing against time, but that also had to do with me not drinking enough water. Who can brag that they almost ran with the front runners at least for couple minutes in the last couple miles in a race? They actually thought I was one of their competitors. Then the passed me and wonder what’s wrong with this guy being so slow.

    In conclusion, I came into the event expecting being more involved with it. I did more this year but I was also a lot more detached from the race itself. It was not a bad thing. I felt I could have gone there any weekend to run on my own if running was what I after. Overall, I knew my purpose there was to help make the event successful. My part was small. Though I didn’t see the result directly, I knew a lot of runners enjoyed it. Later, after I reached home, I actually found out one of my friends ran in it. It was a surprise to me. I was there all weekend and did not know. That pretty much sum it all up, I felt I missed a bigger picture. If I was given a chance, I would have spent more time with my friend but then knowing the things I did to help with the race was important too.