Friday, August 22, 2014

Eastern States 100

The Eastern States 100 (website) was held for the first time this year, right here in central Pennsylvania. Created by local race directors and runners who wanted to showcase just what we have to offer here in what is known as the PA Wilds. As soon as I heard about the planning for such an event, I was immediately on board - this was a great idea! The east coast deserves a little more attention when it comes to trail and ultra running.

So back in August of last year, I signed up for this event, knowing that it would be the hardest race I have attempted so far. Mostly single track, over 20,000' of elevation gain, combining such trails as the remote Mid-State Trail, the iconic Black Forest Trail, and others, to bring together a loop that would give runners a healthy taste of what running here is like. It may not be high altitude or remote mountain peaks, but is full of beautiful, technical singletrack through secluded forest wilderness.

I was feeling very confident coming into this race - indeed much more confident then any race I entered this year. Manitou's Revenge (race report) proved to be a great training race, and I got in multiple good training runs over the summer leading up to it. I knew I had a shot of running a fast time, but without the course having been run before - a goal time was hard to come up with. I settled for under 24 hours.

The race started at 5:00 a.m. on Saturday morning, with another one of these oddly mild, even chilly, August days – perfect weather for a race though. I started off down the road through Little Pine State Park with nearly 200 other runners, so many of them my friends, knowing this was going to be a long day for all of us. Thankfully, this meant I had company for almost the entire first 45 miles as I ran with many of my friends, but mostly my husband, David, and our friend, Ian.

Photo: Amey Johnson
The course was already living up to its expectations – the climbs were tough and the descents equally so. A fellow runner, Jay Smithberger, asked me as we ascended an early hill, “What do you guys have against switchbacks?” Most trails just went straight up and back down the mountain. Also, the rocky, technical trail kept you paying attention, unfortunately missing out on all the great views. I got "bit" several times though - as I like to call it when a rock gets you just right.

For most of the day, I just enjoyed running with friends, taking care of myself nutritionally and ticking away the miles. My new inov-8 Race Ultra Vest made nutrition easy - I love all the small pockets, allowing me to be organized. I reserve one pocket for my bag of S-Caps, two I split for gels, and the last pocket I keep as my trash pocket. My aid stations visits were kept short, especially when my crew was involved. As I came into an aid station, I’d switch out my bottles with fresh ones my parents had already refilled. I’d restock the gel pockets, empty trash, and leave the aid usually with some form of solid food in hand.

Fueling at Ritchie Rd AS. Photo: Jeff Lister

After 40 miles or so, I found myself running alone as Ian, David and I got dispersed around an aid station. This loneliness continued for the next 20 miles. I was excited to get to Slate Run, around 61 miles, which would be when I picked up my pacer, Bryce Gavitt. At 17 years old, Bryce is fairly new to trail running, but already is making waves in central PA. Finishing in the top tier of many of our competitive races, and even winning some – Bryce is tough and keeps getting faster. This would be a new challenge for him - running 40 miles through the night with me. He was enthusiastic about the task, and I was excited to share some miles with him.

As I finally came down the road into Slate Run, I was surprised to see David running towards me. It turned out it just wasn't his day and he dropped at 51 miles. After questioning him, I knew he was okay, but I felt for him - dropping wasn't easy, but it is a fact of life in these races and sooner or later happens to everyone. Thankfully, for me, this meant I had another expert addition to my crew.

Fueling up at Slate Run. Photo: Jeff Moyer
After grabbing some pierogies and departing the aid station with Bryce, the miles went by smoothly with my new companion. I hiked uphill out of Slate Run hard to catch the runner I saw ahead of me and it turned out to be Ian and his pacer. Once on top of the mountain, Ian fell into a good pace and I followed behind, enjoying how easily the miles drifted by. Night began to fall and Bryce and I flicked on our headlamps. He helped me follow the trail in this section as he had previously scouted it and it was difficult to follow. The downhills began to be more difficult on my legs and a pain was beginning in my foot that I was trying to ignore. The descent into Blackwell was much slower then it should’ve been...

Up until this point, I was keeping slight tabs on how big of a lead I had. I was tending to stay in the 7-12 minute range. When we got to Blackwell, I learned I only had a few minute lead when I left Slate Run.  I quickly changed into dry shoes and socks, grabbed some food and Bryce and I began the climb up to Gillespie Point via the MidState Trail. A little over 4 miles to Skytop Aid Station, which would be run by David's family. The climb was long, but the downhill on the other side was worse. I couldn't figure out what was wrong with my right foot, but it was definitely starting to bother me on the downs the most. When the decline got less steep, I managed a run, which loosened my foot up. Then we were crossing a road and heading up to Skytop.

Jeff, Becky, and Pat had put a lot of time and effort into this aid station to be the best, even by driving around during the day putting up clever signs along the course, which counted down the miles to Skytop. It easily was the best aid station. After being greeted by volunteers waiting down the trail to welcome the runners, we then followed a line of Christmas lights through the woods and across the open field to where the cabin sat and the aid station awaited. Lines of volunteers cheered us through - it was almost like we weren't in the middle of nowhere.

Photo: Tania Lezak
Not feeling great after that last climb, I didn't take as much enjoyment here as I should – I tried to push the thoughts of sitting down and staying here a while from my mind as I grabbed several pierogies. I was glad to learn I was more then 20 minutes up on the next female at Blackwell; I asked Bryce if he was ready, and was cheered out into the darkness once again.

There’s always highs and lows in 100s, and I tried to remind myself this as I went through a really bad spot mentally for the next several miles. Bryce was a great pacer, he talked even though I didn’t give much response, telling me stories and encouraging me along. I moved in and out of my lows, sometimes keeping up a steady pace, but with increasing pain in my foot. I soon realized that it was the muscle or tendon that connects my leg to my foot, allowing it to flex as I go up or down hill. The extension of the foot to descend a hill was causing the most discomfort.

Rain began to fall and the 6 miles to the last aid station at 97 miles felt like an eternity. Now walking was even painful – at times I would run and it would loosen, but soon I was walking uphill over rocks and roots and just hoping the aid would come into sight. After what felt like hours, it did. I hardly spent any time there, anxious as I was to reach the finish. The downhill out of the aid station also proved to be my downfall. My foot completely locked up and I was reduced to using Bryce's shoulder as my crutch downhill. The pace was so miserably slow, the finish so close and yet so far. As I moved down and across to a short uphill, Kathleen Cusick, the female who was chasing me all day finally caught up. She passed me swiftly and headed on up the last hill. I tried moving quickly to stay with her, but I knew it had long since been over. As I crested the top and traveled across the ridge, I experienced the worst pains of my life – just walking was excruciating.

Never did I think this could happen, and I wasn't quite sure how it did. The descent into the finish at Little Pine was steep – the least ideal terrain for my foot. We moved, slowly and methodically, Bryce doing his best to guide me down the trail and encourage my progress. I tried everything – sliding down on my butt even, but the best motion turned out to be side stepping. At some point, I sent Bryce down ahead to get me a jacket, but I also because I knew my family would be worried that I wasn't there yet. David came back up with a jacket and took over aiding me into the finish. 

It took me over two hours to complete the last 3 miles of the race. Never have I been so happy to cross a finish line. 
Photo: Rick Burkett

From feeling so great for so long, I was very disappointed about being reduced to moving so slowly and losing my lead so close to the finish. It may not have been quite how I envisioned finishing this race, but I’ve learned that things rarely go as you want them to. Especially over 100 miles, a lot can happen, no matter how hard you train. I’m happy with the accomplishment and am working to recover quickly to get ready for the next adventure!

I could never run a race like this without all the support I am so lucky to receive! I was thankful my parents came out to crew me; it was their first time crewing at an event like this, and it was like they were professionals! 

Also, a big thanks to David - not only did he run 55 miles and deal with his own issues, but he stayed up all night to crew me, and even hiked up the last mountain to help me down! Running wouldn't be the same without you. 

And thanks to Bryce for being such a great pacer! He was excellent company for the last 40 miles. He made sure to remind me to eat when I had to, to keep moving when I slacked, and supported me (literally!) when I could hardly move, and most of all - he dealt with my painfully slow moving and whining. I really enjoyed your stories Bryce, and hope you can pace me sometime when I feel better and complain a little less! P.S. We need a picture!