Thursday, October 20, 2016

Eastern States 100 2016

It just couldn't possibly happen.  I couldn't let it happen.  There was no way that I was mentally, or emotionally prepared to let anyone cross that finish line ahead of me.  The road behind me stretched too far, the training had gone too well, I wanted it too badly, and deep in my chest, it ached too desperately to not get what I'd sacrificed so much to achieve.  Not even a 19 year old, young gun with serious wheels was going to deter my aspirations.  My Mom used to tell me, "Devon, patience is a virtue."  Though I'll continue to go back and forth along a long ridge, bouncing from side to side, this is a sentiment I'll always keep trying to improve upon.   Thanks Mum.  The Eastern States 100, on August 13th, 2016 was a true test of patience.

I had run Eastern two years ago, for the inaugural run, soon after moving to Steamboat.  It kicked my ass, but I still finished 3rd, thankfully.  After a really intense, and memorable training block this winter, I had my hopes set on top two at Black Canyon 100k, with the objective of getting a spot into Western States.  I fell slightly short, placed 5th behind Sage Canaday, who absolutely annihilated the course, but came out feeling really good about my performance overall, running a 9:07 100k, in intense heat.  You'd think I was bummed, but it was just fuel for the fire.  It was February, and it was time to choose a focus 100 miler for the year, as Western, and Hardrock weren't going to happen, this time.  It took a lot of self examination, and soul searching to make to right decision.  At the end of the day, I said to myself, "I want to go to Eastern States, and run really fast, with a slew of the people that I love by my side.  I love the course, I love the heat, and I think it's one of the most technical courses around."  And that's exactly what I pursued.

Under the guidance of my coach Justin Ricks, I was able to recover from Jemez 50 in May, fairly quickly, and get back to the last big training block before Eastern.  Man, aside from a shitty little quad strain right before pulling out of Speedgoat 50k, my training was next to flawless.  Justin had me doing workouts like 40 minute uphill tempos every single week.  Holy cow, talk about pain.  He had me running pretty much every single day, and rarely ran less than 80 miles a week. I topped out at a 121 week, followed by an about 104 week. He had me working my little ass off.  Justin, along with his wife, Denise, also happen to be my sponsors (Mad Moose Events).  I was absolutely focused.  I was confident, but not too cocky.  I wanted to go home, and represent Pennsylvania, as well as Steamboat Springs, Colorado.  Those two things weighed heavily in my mind.  Most importantly, I wanted to make my coach, friends, and family proud.

As race day approached, training became more emotional, and I kept envisioning how things would go.  Looking back, it gives me tingles thinking about some of those intense moments, alone, out on the trails.  The days I ditched my friends to go run.  The nights I called it early because of what I had to do the next day.  The smiles, and sense of achievement after a hard workout.  The sore legs, all the time.  Those are the things that demand success.  Those are the things that stoke my fire.

I arrived at Happy Acres Resort campground on the Thursday before the race, meeting my friend Ron Martin, who would be crew leader.  It was so good chilling with Ron in the woods for a couple days.  He knew I had it in me.  He knew my goals, and expected nothing less than perfect.  I went out for 4 miles upon arrival, up a really amazing trail near the campground.  I knew right then, that Saturday was going to be hotter than hell.  I had a brilliant time, and didn't want to turn around, as those trails are remote, and gnarly.

I woke up Friday morning practically naked, and sweating like a fat man.  The humidity blew my mind.  I always forget how intense it is.  Ron and I didn't do too much that day, just caught up, and chatted.  I made it a point to drink lots of water and liquids throughout the day, and eat well.

Soon enough, I woke up around 3am Saturday, in my tent.  I hadn't gotten much sleep, and was slightly stressed that my friends Avery, and Jesse (from Steamboat) hadn't made it.  I woke up, looked inside a truck parked across the jeep road, only to find Avery passed out in the passenger seat, and Jesse sleeping on the ground next to the truck.  If you only knew Jesse, you'd expect nothing less.  hahahah.  A real mountain man.

Pre Race
PC: Tania Lezak

It would be a battle between myself, and Patrick Caron
PC: Tania Lezak
So there we were, Jesse, Avery, Ron, and myself at the start, game faces and all.  It was about to be on.  The energy in the air was relaxed, but serious, and intently focused with all parties involved.  The boys wished me luck, Avery told me to show them how we do it in Steamboat, and before I knew it, we were off....and we weren't going slow.

I was not that surprised about the fastish start.  I expected it.  I did not really research the entrants list too much, as I didn't care much.  I saw that Patrick had run some REALLY fast 50 mile times, but didn't worry much.  I also didn't see a 100 mile finish on his resume.  100 miles is really far.  What happens between 60, and 100 is really fucked up, to be perfectly honest.  A comedian would have a hay day with footage like that.

It is always the plan to run my own race.  I don't stress too much about what everyone else is doing.  My thought, going out in 3rd, or 4th place was that "this is perfect, right where I wanna be."  I found out later that Patrick's plan was to lead the race from the gun, and win it.  Well, I don't race 100 miles like that.  To each his own.  Yeah, it is a running race, but it's Eastern States; 22,000' of climbing/descending, 103 miles, and super technical all day.  This year was overwhelmingly hot, and humid.  It deserves respect.  Therefore, I had no fear.  I told myself "may the best man win."  I didn't give up all day.  That's a first in a hundred miler.

As always, the first 20-30 miles were fairly uneventful, and a good opportunity to get the legs warmed up.  I'd say that I was moving at a great pace.  I really focused on not letting my heart rate spike at all.  I knew that I wanted to run well the last 30 miles, and wouldn't be able to hold on if I pushed too early.  No matter what, Patrick had already created a 25 minute gap by mile 17.8, though I had caught third, and fourth, and moseyed my way into second place for the rest of the day.
Lower Pine-AS 3-mile 17.8
PC: Tania Lezak
My friend Jesse, and Avery getting me out of Lower Pine
PC: Jeff Calvert
By right around the marathon mark at Browns Run AS (aid station), I was finally getting into my groove, was feeling light, feathery, and was crushing calories, salt, and water like it was my job.  I had gapped 3rd by around 10 minutes, but Patrick had 25 on me, which seemed to be the story most of the day.  At this point, the humidity was ridiculous.  I was lucky to have brought a hat to put ice in, 
Zoning out, enjoying the PA wilds
PC: Jim Blandford
which seems to work really well for me.

I didn't see the crew at all from Lower Pine AS, until Ritchie Road AS (38.5), which was a really productive 20 mile section.  Man, it was just so much fun running these trails.  Pennsylvania trails can be really intense, with so many running alongside, or in creek beds.  The rocks are always mossy, slippery, and you rarely get a break.  I found myself grinning from ear to ear on several occasions.

I came into Ritchie Road with people cheering me on, addressing me by name.  It was really cool.  At so many junctures in the race, random people were like, "Devon, you know this course.  This is your race.  Go get him!  You're looking strong...etc."  I really felt a strong sense of pride for originally becoming a trail runner in PA.  It was such an honor to have so many local folks rooting for me.  One of the many reasons I returned to this race was to get that record in the hands of a PA guy, even though I'm living in Colorado these days.  Ron, Avery, and Jesse were waiting for me, got me stocked up, told me they'd see me in less than five miles, and my family would be there waiting for me.  Holy moly, I just started laying it down.  I felt great.  The emotional highs, and lows were just beginning.

Hyner AS (43.2)
PC: Manu Gili

The next section from Hyner, to Halfway House AS (54.7), was full of rollers, and difficulty.  I kept my composure, and moved fairly efficiently, but definitely had a little low spot, which passed after eating more, and being patient.  It was still really hot, and there was a solid 8-9 mile section with no water stops at all.  I ran dry for at least a few miles, which really pushed back my effort.  By the time I reached Halfway House AS, Patrick probably had about 35 minutes on me.  He was just cruising.  But, it was still just a little over halfway done.  Lots of time.  Lots of miles.  I also saw a cub up in a tree in this section.  I didn't see mama, but did get the hell out of there.  A few miles down the trail, something growled at me through the thicket.  Yes, I freaking swear, growled at me.  Again, there was NO point in sticking around to find out what it was. 

From Halfway House, it was about 9 miles until I'd see my crew again at Slate Run AS (63.8).  Patrick was still maintaining at least a 30 minute lead, but no matter what, I felt really confident about the pace I was running.  I rolled into Slate Run a little run down, but still moving pretty consistently. 

Slate Run was a really vital AS, for me.  This is when the race really started, in my eyes.  I wouldn't be seeing any of my crew of 16 or so miles, where I'd pick up my boy Jesse to pace at Blackwell AS (80.3).  My crew forgot my backpack with my light jacket in it, across the river in the truck, so I got some pizza, and calories in me while they rushed over to get that, and my headlamp ready.  I probably spent more time at this AS than any other, which ended up being a great thing, because I got some solid food in me, and mentally prepared for the last section of running alone.  I will also go and say that this was my crankiest part of the run.  I'm a spitting ball of fire when I want to be, and sometimes my crew has to deal with me bitching, and swearing, and throwing mini tantrums.  Okay, sometimes really big tantrums.  This time I kept it to a minimum, I think.  

So, I left Slate Run, and began the really arduous climb that followed.  That climb, really wasn't much fun.  I kind of ate too much food at the aid, was starting to feel the miles, and the night was approaching.  But then, like everything in life, things changed.  The next two aids, in between where I could see my crew, were called Algerines (69.1), and Long Branch (75.6).  Shit got real around here.  My level of stoke was growing every step I took.  There was a lot of grunting, and extreme focus.  Right before dark, I arrived at Algerines, set up in the middle of the woods, which I'm pretty sure is where there were all these Amish dudes working the AS.  Those guys were so rad.  They got me all fired up.  I think that was my favorite aid station.  As soon as I left those guys, a monsoon began.  As branches came down all around me, and lightning struck in front of my face, I huttled under my light jacket, and told myself, "This is fucking amazing.  This is what trail running in PA is all about.  It's time to turn it up."  The storm revitalized my soul.  I was alone.  I was smiling.  I was wild.  I was tearing those trails up as much as they were tearing me up.  Those were some incredible moments, that I'll savor forever.  It was wu wei, a concept in Daoism.  Doing without doing.  

After the rain ceased, and I passed through Long Branch, I knew there was less than 5 miles until I'd see my crew, and get a pacer (Jesse).  At this point, it was strictly business.  I ran those miles fast.  I felt like I was at 30, not 80.  I approached Blackwell AS (80.3) frantically screaming what I needed, to get out as fast as possible.  I had officially gone into the loony bin.  Regardless, I had restocked, picked up Jesse, and left in under 60 seconds.  It was awesome.  My crew was on fire.  I had closed the gap to less than 20 minutes, and I wasn't going to stop there.  

There were a few good little climbs right after leaving Blackwell.  I think one was called Gillespie Point.  Jesse was immediately impressed with the course.  He also had no idea how I was moving so quickly.  We were working hard the whole time, pretty much running everything, except really steep stuff.  The 3700' of climbing that is Mt. Werner (10,600), that happens to be in my backyard, prepared me to run sub 10 minute miles uphill at 80+ miles in.  

Jesse and I have put in a lot of great runs together.  I told him sometime after picking him up at Blackwell, that "you know, I had some really magical moments out there today, running by myself, but man, am I glad to see you!"  It was so much fun having him there for 12+ miles.

We ran through Skytop AS at 84.8 like a couple of freaks on amphetamines.  "Where is he?  How long ago was he here?" inquiring about Patrick.  At Skytop, I had a dog bother me the entire time, so I was really glad to get out of there.  18 minutes.  18 miles to go.  18 minutes to make up.

Jesse and I rushing into Barrens AS (92.8)
PC: Tania Lezak
As you can see by how sweaty Jesse, and I were, we were running like absolute manics.  It was So. Much. Fun.  I told Jesse about how much I wanted that Ax, a stupid, material item, that only is symbolic of what you've achieved.  The entire way he ran with me, he kept saying, "Just keep thinking about that ax.  That's your ax.  Go get that ax."  My mind was so fried, that obsessing over getting that ax, only made sense.  

And then it happened,  Jesse and I arrived at Barrens, the last crew accessible AS, to Avery, and Ron screaming at me, while I screamed at them.  It was really intense.  Patrick was right outside of the aid.  I had caught him.  It was time to put myself into a really dark place for one more time. 

I had no idea it was going to happen, but Avery jumped in, and Jesse concluded his miles with me.  Jesse was so excited.  Avery was so excited.  Ron was ecstatic.  And me, it was just another day at the office, for me.  

Avery and I left Barrens just flying down the trail.  Within minutes, I had caught Patrick.  I told him, "good work", then put the hammer down.  We passed at a rather high rate of speed.  I don't know what Patrick was thinking, but I know what I was thinking.  "There is 10 miles left, and I'm going to run every single one as if my life depended on it.  Having Avery there was cool.  We were bullshitting the whole way.  Me, telling stories from the day, asking how everyone was dealing with my parents all day, with Avery making me laugh, and telling me how proud everyone was of my efforts.  I was finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.  But, I was still desperately nervous that Patrick would catch me.  Man, we were just "floating", as Avery described it later.  

And then, Haketts AS (99.1), with one last descent left on the day.  At this point, yeah I pushed, but I knew I was taking the title.  It was a tough last 4 or so miles to the finish, but we powered through it, and made it count.  After what seemed like 5 long years,Avery and I sprinted across the finish line, and "Team Devon" celebrated the kick ass day we all had.  I couldn't have done it without them.

To start, thanks to race director Craig Fleming, as he has to put in so much to make this race happen.  It took much time, and planning, over a serious period of time, to make this epic 100 mile loop happen.  Thanks to my parents for both showing up to something that means so much to me.  Thanks to my brother Kevin for being the most awesome bro ever.  Thanks to my sister Lindsay, and her "Italian family", the Gili's.  You guys rock!  I really appreciate your presence, and good vibes.  Uncle Dennis, you're the man, thanks dude.  Ron Martin, you are the best crew a person could ask for.  What a great friend.  Coach Justin Ricks, and Mad Moose Events, you have helped me achieve the impossible.  Thank You.  Lastly, my bros Avery and Jesse that came all the way from Colorado, just wow.  I love going on runs with you guys.  I love drinking beer with you guys.  Mostly, you're just two of my best friends, that I love spending my minutes with.  Thanks dudes.  And, to all of you that continue to cheer for me, and offer kind words, thank you.  It was one hell of a day.

Here are some random pics from the day.

Trouble is all we know
Me, Dad, Mum
Bros for life
Lindsay, Uncle Dennis, crew in the back, The Gili's on the right
Best crew ever- Ron, Jesse, Avery
Uncle Dennis and Kevin goofing around
Kevin, Uncle Dennis, and the Italiani

RD Craig Fleming and I