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.