Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Inaugural Eastern States 100

Sometimes you don't know what the hell you're doing, or why exactly you're doing it.  Welcome to my race report about the inaugural Eastern States 100, one of the most difficult, yet beautiful days of my life.

When I moved into a place in Steamboat Springs on July 1st, Eastern States became my focus after having another solid year at the Laurel Highlands Ultra this past June.  My new roommate Avery Collins has helped push me on days.  Some days I push him.  Overall, it's been fantastic to have a great training partner, and friend to crush the trails with.  That kid is fast.  In fact, he just became the youngest finisher to reach the podium (3rd place) at the Fat Dog 120 miler in Canada a day before Eastern.  Congrats to him.  Watch out for Avery.  He's dangerously competitive.

I became interested in Eastern States about a year ago when I heard about one of the most gnarly 100's in the east that would take place in good old Pennsylvania.  I waited too long, and was forced to join a wait list.  Thankfully, a couple months later I was good to go.

Months earlier, my friend Steve told me he would crew for me, and maybe pace me a bit.  My wonderful mother also committed to being there for me.  She'd seriously do anything for her kids.  She's sacrificed so much for my siblings and I.  It truly baffles me how selfless she has been through all of my running adventures.  In fact, she hung in until almost 4am when I finished on Sunday morning.  I honestly don't even think she's ever stayed up that late...ever!

So the whole extravaganza began on Tuesday, August 12th with my flight from Denver to Atlanta, then finally Pittsburgh. My flight left Denver a little after midnight, and I got in to Pittsburgh around 9am.  The flight was pretty tiring, but great at the same time.  Airports are exhilarating in their own sort of way.  Before my flight I shared a table at a restaurant, and had a fine glass of pinot noir with a very kind yogi from Denver.  She was really interesting, and generally passionate about life.  My kind of person!

After landing in Pittsburgh, my friend Steve was nice enough to scoop me up at the airport.  We drove to my brothers house, and shot the shit for a bit.  It was really good seeing my brother.  He's a really good dude, and even let me crash on his couch for a few nights.  After catching up with some friends, and venues in Pitt, I got a rental car and departed for Warren, PA to see my parents, and mentally prepare for the race.  Before you knew it, Friday had come.  After eating breakfast with my parents at  The Plaza (my favorite in Warren), I packed up again, and headed for Waterville, PA, where the race would begin, and commence.  Steve, his wife Carrie, and I would be camping at Happy Acres Resort, about a mile from the start/finish.  We all met in the early afternoon, started a fire, had a couple beers, and cooked up some burgers and brats.  Thankfully I was in bed by 8:30 for the 5am start.

And the day had finally come!  All those miles, and hard work here in Colorado would either make me or break me.  With 100 miles, you just never know.  The uncertainty is high, and hopes are blinded.  This is precisely what makes it such an adventure.  The ups, the downs, the all arounds.

After I had gathered all my gear, filled my water bottle, and chatted with some folk pre-race, 5am came and we were off.  The first mile is pavement, and people were seriously doing nearly 7 minute miles right out of the gate.  This is not how I run, however wish I would've shot out  little faster because not even 4 miles in I was struggling to pass on the narrow, rugged single-track, in the dark no less.  It was a little frustrating.

Anyways, this first section was maybe the worst 20-26 miles I've ever run.  I've never felt so shitty besides in my first marathon in Pittsburgh 2012.  At 20 miles I couldn't see straight, and felt like passing out.  Medical personnel asked me if I was having any issues, and of course I said I was fine.   Thankfully I shared much of this suffering with my friend Mark Cangemi, who I hadn't seen in some time.  Mark is one of the most awesome dudes I know, and he can certainly lift one's spirits.  We had a pretty great time out there.  Mark is training for the Tahoe 200 miler, which traverses the entire Tahoe alpine lake.  He's got balls.  Did I mention how terrible I felt.  Yeah, it wasn't good.  Mark and I kept talking about how unforgiving this course really was.  "All day, all day" we kept saying.  "It's going to be this technical all day".

Thankfully at some point I started to come around a bit.  I knew that if I just stayed fairly consistent people would start to fade.  Sure enough, sometime around the marathon distance I started running fairly quickly.  After going from 12th to 4th or 5th in a very short amount of time, I started getting pumped.  These aid stations were incredible.  I've never see so many people at an aid station, or had so many people cheering me on.  The volunteers were too good, and I even made a few of them laugh a bit!  At the 40 mile aid station, we had to take our shoes off and weigh in.  I lost 3 or so pounds.  Uh oh, that's not good I kept thinking.  They warned me to hydrate better, and eat more.  I put my shoes back on, and I was off for some more climbing, and descending.

To be perfectly honest, I don't remember that much after 50 miles or so in.  I remember running through the middle of the woods in the dark, doing my best to navigate up a stream which the "trail" crossed several times, and talking to myself.  I kept saying, "this is !^#&*% crazy, what the #&$*$ am I doing out here.  I want to rest on that tree.  What the hell is that thing?  I'll show that bear.  Oh, it's just a stump.  Am I hallucinating?"  By this point I didn't give a damn about bear or rattlesnakes.  Getting bit, or attacked would surely be better than this crap!

"Finally some coke.  Is it cold?  I can't really tell right now.  Pretty sure I'm sweating.  Please think for me, someone.  Do you guys have any ginger ale?"
I know that I had some serious stomach issues at multiple points.  I gracefully kept it all inside, as I knew I was calorically depleted, and couldn't afford to lose what little I had in my gut, though it pushed my effort level back significantly.  Gels, coke, ginger ale, salt pills, and water were the only things that my eyes would accept, which somehow got me to the end.

My friend Steve said he'd do the last 22 or so with me.  I'm really glad about it, because it was really nice to have someone there.  I think that Steve was also astonished about how steep and technical this was.  I should also mention that this was the first time Steve had ever run on trails at night!  Yeah, props to him.  I think he may of hated me there at some point there because I was determined to not let 4th place catch me, and I was hiking those hills really hard.  Though I fell apart, I somehow never let it happen.

Though I can't tell you too many details about the latter parts of the race, I can say that the only thing I could think about was the finish line, and how good laying down would feel.  What felt like days later, I made it in 22 hours and 53 mins.  I was all smiles.  My mom hugged me, and proceeded to feed me pizza as I laid on a bench, and felt like death for a good half an hour.  Mission accomplished.  Not a pretty finish, but a finish for sure.  I couldn't be happier.

I'd like to thank everyone that was involved in putting on such a gnarly event.  It was first class, for sure.  The volunteers, and people at aid stations were top notch.  On the day there were 72 finishers, while over 160 toed the line.  Also, Steve and Carrie were a really great crew, along with my mom who was constantly concerned that I wasn't eating enough.  Hahahaha, that's what mothers are for.  I can't explain how thankful I am that they took time from their busy schedules to help me achieve my dreams.  For once in my life I feel as if my Mom truly believes in what I'm doing, which is a really great, and settling feeling.

I'd like to congratulate Ryan Welts for an incredibly strong finish, which resulted in a pass for first in the last 5 or so miles of the race.  That gentleman is remarkable, and is also a really great guy.  You know it's funny, I passed Ryan and moved into second somewhere around half ways through, and he was feeling terrible.  I noticed the sweet color scheme on his Pearl Izumi trail N1's and kept wondering where he got them (I also wear the N1's for long stuff).  Because I was so out of it, I never looked up and saw his PI jersey.  Turns out he's a PI sponsored athlete!  When he passed me to take back 2nd place, he was moving strong, and asked me how far up 1st was.  "I have no idea man.  I just wanna drink that stream water.  I'm all out.  Go get him, dude!"  Sure enough, Ryan passed James Blandford who lead the whole race until the very end, and put the hammer down.  What an inspiring performance.  I hope to learn from that.  Always be patient.  Always know that things can turn around.  Always know that you can do better, you can push harder, you can be stronger, and that all will eventually end.  

Congrats to everyone that toed that line, finish or not.  You're all very brave people, and inspire me to no end.  When things got a little rough, I told myself to be thankful that I have the ability to suffer so hard.  When I woke up the next morning, I returned to the race as people were still crossing the finish line.  The looks on their faces bred butterflies in my stomach, as I could only partially understand what a feat they had just undertaken, how emotional it is to do 100 miles in one push, and how proud, yet relieved one feels after completing something so insane.  These people have hearts the size of a whale.  Every one of them has a different, yet equally interesting story to be told, and has some desire deep down that makes them need to be a 100 miler.  Pretty marvelous stuff if you ask me.  

After getting back to Colorado, my training parter Avery and I went out for a couple well deserved beers at a local pub, and exchanged stories about our experiences in Canada, and Pennsylvania.  One thing that we both concluded is that this occasion would be one of the first times that we've ever come back from vacation, or a race and weren't bummed about getting back home.  I think we're really getting to like Steamboat, at least for the time being.   

Next on the list is Run Rabbit Run, right here in my backyard (Steamboat Springs).  I've never tried two 100 milers a month apart, so I have to see if I can do it.  Also, I'll be toeing the line with some of the best mountain runners in the country, which will be an honor.  Wish me luck.  Thanks for reading!

And since I don't have many pictures this time around, here is one of my favorite Flaming Lips songs off of one of my favorite Flaming Lips records which really touches home for me. 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Laurel Highlands and Colorado

I should start by saying that though this report is late as frick, I could never forget any detail about June 14th, 2014 at the Laurel Highlands Ultra (70 miler).  Those steps are ingrained forever.  An epic and stoic experience to say the least.

Because the last month has been pretty boisterous with moving to Steamboat Springs, Colorado, acquiring a job on the second day after arriving, and having been tramping around Colorado the 2 weeks prior while being slightly homeless, I've decided to combine the Laurel Report with my transition to Colorado, one beautiful experience so far.

So, here's my take on the Laurel Highlands Ultra of 2014.

When I called my friend Eric (Morelli) wishing that he'd come crew and pace me for the last 24 miles at Laurel Highlands AGAIN this year, I was doubtful that he'd be available, as he's got a life of his own, and you certainly can't expect someone to jump at your convenience.  However, once again he agreed, and seemed ecstatic.  Both he and I were calm about our hopes for the race, but either way we were both excited.

The night before a race I never really sleep well.  Or the night after for that matter (Sugar, caffeine, neurotransmitters...did I mention sugar)?  Anyways, I got up at 2:30am after pretty much rolling around uncomfortably for only a few hours.  After all, Eric didn't arrive until late, as he had a show to play in Oil City, or Titusville.  Therefore, we had to chat a bit before bed, naturally.  He asked me if I had a plan, and I chuckled, because I never have a plan going into a race.  Run fast, far, have know, the basics.  The only thing I really knew was that I wanted to run the last 20 or so strong, and win of course.

We both got up knowing that we weren't going to sleep for shit, then brewed some coffee.  I only ended up getting in two clif bars, and a banana I believe.  Soon after, I compulsively checked my stuff, and we hit the road to the startline in Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania, only a 1-1:30 hour drive from where I used to live in Pittsburgh.  Upon arrival, I got my gear, gels, and headlamp together, and started to get excited.

Never, EVER forget to apply body glide.

Eric wished me luck, I lined up at the start and soon enough we were off!

I only went out in like 5th place or something, as I knew I had some time to warm up, and we had a long way to go.  In fact, after a juxtaposition of last years and this years splits, I ran the first 19.3 miles 3 minutes slower than last year.  I ran and chatted with a cool dude named Doug who knows much about the race's history, and the gnarly old men that direct the race.  After all, Laurel is one of the oldest ultra races in existence, and the race director Rick Freeman, along with co-director/volunteer Tim Hewitt are those hard ass kind of dudes that traverse the Iditarod trail for 350, or 1100 miles in the middle of winter.  In fact, Tim Hewitt holds the 1100 mile course record.  To sum it up, this race and course is frequently associated with badassery.

Anyways, upon reaching an aid station somewhere around 15 or 20 miles in, I departed before Doug, and never saw him again until the finish.  From that point on it was time to do work, to get down to business.

I started to push a bit around the marathon distance (26), as I knew I had some catching up to do.  Soon enough, sometime a little before crossing over the turnpike around 35 or so, I caught up with a really nice guy named Colin (3rd at the time), who traveled from Maine.  My goal was to push really hard from the turnpike to the route 30 aid station (mile 46), which is where I'd be picking up Eric, and see my family, and friends Marlon, Olivia, and Steve very briefly.  I passed Colin sometime soon after, and made my way though an area called Beam Rocks, which is really beautiful.  The next miles were pretty productive as I caught 2nd place right before the aid station.  I cruised into the aid station, and my family told me that 1st was only 2 minutes ahead, and he didn't look so good.  "2 minutes" I kept saying to myself.  Less than a mile out of the aid station I caught Amos Desjardins, who promptly stated to Eric and I that "this was just a training run". Well, that right there was a good enough reason to not let him win.  I think we were slightly annoyed.

This is where the fun began.  Eric immediately asked me what I was going to do.  "I'm going to pass him", I said with fire in my eyes.  I knew as soon as I saw Amos that I couldn't let him win.  After all, he looked like hell, and I felt pretty good considering the circumstances.

I let him lead for a little while, not only to analyze how he was feeling, but also because I started having stomach issues.  Though I never ended up spilling my guts, I was damned near close to it, which forced me to back off just a little.  The only thing on my mind was the next aid station at 57, and ginger ale.  Sure enough, in what seemed like days we reached the station with my friends Steve, Marlon, Olivia, my Mom, and Lindsay waiting with the best ginger beer I've ever had.  Real ginger, real sugar, glass bottle.  Bam, stomach cured.

Amos rolled in first, with me right behind.  From the moment I caught up with him, he kept trying to put a gap between him and I.  Surging is almost always a sign of weakness, just like looking back.  Racing is very primitive by nature, which is a large part of what attracts us freaks to run really far, in competition no less.  At some point,  Eric and I exchanged our similar observations about Amos' strategy and condition.  The time had come.

Like I said, we rolled into the 57 mile station, Steve got me ginger beer, and they stocked me up with gels, and refilled my bottles.  I made eye contact with Amos, and I literally made a run for it.  Eric had to restock also, so he caught up with me.  That was the last I'd see of Amos until the finish.

What happened in the last 13 miles are some of my proudest and most surreal moments I've experienced in the relatively short time I've been racing.  There is a lot of technical, nasty downhill in the last miles, especially in the last 4 or 5.  I love the downhill.  It's basically the will to commit, and hopefully not eat shit, or run into a tree.  Eric and I were just cruising.  We finally hit the only 1 mile section of fire road, which ends at the last aid station before hitting the singletrack to the finish (mile 61-62).  After running out of the woods onto the gravel and dirt road, I took a few seconds to catch my breath, and Eric patted me on the back and told me I was crazy.  I conceded with a grunt.  I told him, "let me eat a gel, take a salt pill, drink some water, then let's do this".  The road is a very gradual uphill before the last station.  Eric absolutely hates this section, because it's the only road, and it's always really sunny and hot.  This time he hated it even more because I was pushing really hard, and he had to keep looking back for Amos.  He eventually confirmed "I'm liking what I'm not seeing"!  I mumbled back "me too", pathetically.

You can probably guess what I did at that last aid station.  That's right...more ginger ale!  This time not as natural and delicious as the ginger beer Steve brought me, but still refreshing at the very least.  I could seriously write a blog on the depth of my affinity for ginger drinks.  Shit, throw coffee and beer in there, I've got myself a thesis!

Back to the race.  I really love running with Eric because we don't get to do it very often, and our philosophies of running are very similar.  We almost always get ourselves into bushwhacking territory, find ourselves forced to drink from streams, and/or return battered and bloody.  We have a way of bringing out the animals in each other.  This occasion was no different.  I remember thinking to myself as we were flying down the last 4 miles, descending 1200ft. that this is freedom, this is flow, this is what I'm constantly striving for.  It always makes you proud, and work harder when your friend keeps telling you how well you're doing, and how ridiculously amazing the whole thing is.

Up until this point, I told Eric that I didn't want to know what was going on with his garmin watch, as I was afraid of what he'd tell me.  After leaving the last aid station he had to tell me, and I had to know how fast we'd run that road section.  A 7:50 mile it was.  I was stoked, and so was Eric.  For me, that is a fast mile after 61 miles of running, especially on a slight ascent.  I was pretty sure by mile 65 that Amos would have to pull something crazy to catch me at this point.  As it turns out I ran the last 13 miles 8 minutes faster than last year.  I was also able, and fortunate enough to put 18 minutes on Amos in the last 13 miles, and finish in a time of 11:50:23, 15 minutes better than last year.

It's been said before, and it'll be said again.  It is always good to get to that finish line.  It was really fun cruising in so quickly, with my friends and family cheering me on.  The emotion and energy that's put into racing 70 miles, let alone 100 or more is what keeps me coming back.  I think Anton Krupicka, or one of those bad ass mountain guys said it best, that "it's not very often that we are forced to strip down to the bare necessities of sugar (calories), salt, and water to keep going, and to survive".  Beyond that, there is always another unexplained element beyond nutrition or physical fitness that gets us to the end. It is a magical experience, even with such taxing repercussions.

Sasha, myself, and Eric
3rd place Kevin Rumon (CA), and 2nd place Amos Desjardins (VA)
I'd like to thank the aid station volunteers for laughing at my bad jokes and being awesome, race director Rick Freeman, my parents, my Uncle Dennis and Marcia, Lindsay and Wes, Kevin and Sasha, my friends Marlon, Olivia, Steve, and lastly Eric for helping me push hard to the end, and for keeping me company those last 24.  Amazing family.  Amazing friends.  I'm extremely grateful for such a great crew, and such an amazing event.

Next on the list is the Eastern States 100 on August 16th, followed by Run Rabbit Run 100, right here in Steamboat a month later.

I departed for Colorado on June 17th with plans to move into a place in Steamboat on July 1st with a friend/fellow runner Avery Collins.  What an amazing journey it's been.  Though it's great to have a place to call home, tramping, camping, and bumming around was tons of fun, and a learning experience to say the least.  After getting acquainted these last few weeks, I'm confident in saying that Colorado feels like home.  Never before could I run out the front door into the mountains, ride my bike to work, and only drive a couple of times a week.  Sleeping at nearly 7000ft. isn't so bad either!  Ubiquitous vistas leave me speechless every time.  It's fascinating how landscape draws from emotion, and the other way around.  After all, for me, racing and sport will always be second to the art, discipline, and beauty of getting out consistently.  In my experience, genuine fun and satisfaction is almost always a byproduct of difficulty, sacrifice, dedication, passion and foresight.  Almost every night, or morning that I'm not running or working, I'll go out on the balcony, have a coffee or beer, and stare Mt. Emerald, or watch the sunset. The sky is enormous.  Instead of continually ranting, I'll just post a few pictures.  I wish I had taken more.  Too many stories to fit into this script.  I hope everyone's well and striving for what's good!

Fish Creek Falls (Steamboat)

On the way up Mt. Werner

Silverton, CO for the Hardrock 100

Camping in Silverton

Chris at Snowmass

Zak at snowmass

My Boulder rental

Snowmass Mountain with my friends Chris and Zak

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Glacier Ridge 50 miler

Sometimes good things take time.  This is the story of my life.  

Exactly two weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to finish first at the Glacier Ridge 50 miler in Moraine State Park.  You know, it's funny that even though I finished first, I'm not that impressed with my run (8:14 and change).  A couple/few days before the race I managed to mess up my foot/ankle somehow.  On my run two days before the race, there was some serious compensating going on.  That is never a good sign. However, I am seriously grateful for simply finishing, let alone making the podium.  

The day seemed as if it had started the day before, with a simple 7 hour work day on the feet.  Though I know that on the day before a race it's best to stay off the feet, I needed the cash, and this was intended to be a training run for the Laurel Highlands 70.5 on June 14th.  I also only tapered for a week, which was a risky move for how my body works.  After I got out of work at 5, I had to get an oil change, inspection, yada, yada.  By the time 9 or 10 rolled around I was cursing myself for doing so much the day before a fifty.  "Devon, you're such a dumb ass.  Why?"  

Anyways, 3am rolled around soon enough.  I drug my haggard butt out of bed and immediately ate a PB&J with raisin bread, in addition to a banana or two.....with coffee of course.  I had it in my mind that "Everything I do is for Laurel", and that I was going to finish this thing.  I arrived at the start by about 4:30 or so, being one of the first to arrive.  It was still dark, so I got my drop bag ready in my car.  It was time to mentally prepare for what I was about to put myself through.  

Then, time started fading away, as it always does.  I met with my friend Mark Cangemi (Mark Vincent on FB) before the start, and chatted a bit.  

At 6:30 sharp, we were off.  From the gun I knew it wouldn't be a perfect day for me.  However, I did know that I could still be strong.   From the gun, I took off at the front with Mark, (a then unknown) Billy Hafferty, and a couple unknowns.
Start of the race

The first, I don't know, maybe six or so miles I spent chatting with Billy and Mark.  They were some great miles.  I'm fortunate for each and every one of them.  
I started to just run my own race, and forget about what everyone else was doing.  It's stupid to race the first 20 of a 50.  There was some back and forth with a few cats until after 17 miles in.  By this point, I was not leading, but was not worried.  I reached the aid station (mile 21) at some point, tied for first.  An older (but fast) friend Jeff Nelson was there helping a friend out, and pointed at my competitor, and said "he's right there".  So, I took off.  I made my move.  Thanks Jeff!

The next miles were a lot of Jeep Trails/Fire Roads, so I used this to my advantage, being that I couldn't run technical downhill well (which is normally my strength).  My foot/ankle was hurting good.  I didn't run any rocky/rooty trails with confidence, which was not fun.  I did however, run those Fire road sections fairly quickly.  I knew it was my only chance.

It got hot out there
By the time I reached the aid station at mile 40, I was feeling good, and thought, "Hey, I think I can break 8 hours".  What a jerk I am for thinking that.  My injury was pissed.  Every technical, or downhill section that I normally glide through, was aimed at sparing myself. 

Finally, I reached the paved bike trail at the end (~1-2 miles), and started running kind of fast.  It always feels good to cross the finish line.  

Soon after, my broken body hobbled over to a picnic table while some fine people fed me gatorade, pizza and cold water.  Not long after (~3 mins), an inspiring gentleman named Billy Hafferty from Massachusetts comes cruising in for second in his first 50!

Yeah, it's cool to win.  It's nice for the ego, and whatnot.  But, the best part of these races is always about the people you're surrounded with.  The best parts of this experience were based on genuine human interaction, which is slightly ironic given the nature of trail runner. 

Billy, Myself, and Mark
After Billy finished, we put our feet up on some chairs in the grass, and enjoyed the sun while we geeked out on running, and got to know each other a bit.  We had some good laughs, especially about how pathetic we were at the end of a fifty miler.  

Then, I met a dude named Ben that is an incredible marathoner, who intends to run a 2:30 marathon at some point.  I chatted with him for a while and collected his insights on running, marathoning, ultras, pro runners, Boston, training, etc.  That was pretty informative and inspiring.  

Afterward, Mark was nice enough to invite me to The North Country Brewery in Slippery Rock with his friends.  They were almost, if not all runners, all specializing in different distances, terrain, etc.  Everyone was different, and awesome in their own way, but also super nice/genuine/inviting to say the least.  I struggled through a burger, and salad, cherished a beer, and had a nice time with friendly folk. 

Here we come Laurel Highlands Ultra, 2014!  I hope to arrive at your line healthy.  

This last effort at Glacier Ridge is dedicated to my Grandma, Liz Swalga who passed on Friday, April 4th, 2014.  She was out there with me, for sure.  Also, to my Mom who is the strongest person I've ever met.  Always look forward.  Always stay positive.