Wednesday, October 22, 2014

My Photographer's Special Day

Today is my photographer's birthday.  Number 28.  When I opened the box at the end of my driveway after work today it was stuffed with a newspaper, two magazines, two bills, and a birthday card from Gary K. to Kari.  I tossed the newspaper, magazines, and bills into the trash and asked Kari to open her card.  She found this:

I would expect nothing less from Dr. K...

Sunday, October 19, 2014

22 Sep-19 Oct

22 SEP -- 1:02:36 -- 8.10 miles -- 641 elevation gain
23 SEP -- 37:42 -- 4.63 miles -- 791 elevation gain
24 SEP -- off -- studying
25 SEP -- off -- stationary bike for 4 miles -- studying
26 SEP -- 49:23 -- 5.95 miles -- 306 elevation gain (after my 8-hour exam...)
27 SEP -- 35:50 -- 5.11 miles -- 258 elevation gain
28 SEP -- off

TOTAL -- 3:05:31 -- 23.79 miles -- 1996 elevation gain

Tough week for running.  I was consumed with homework and studying for a big exam on Friday.

29 SEP -- 30:25 -- 4.07 miles -- 216 elevation gain
30 SEP -- off -- stationary bike for 6 miles
01 OCT -- off -- light upper body weightlifting
02 OCT -- off
03-04 OCT -- 14:00:00 -- 65.65 miles -- 12000 elevation gain (Grindstone 100)
05 OCT -- off

TOTAL -- 14:30:25 -- 69.72 miles -- 12216 elevation gain

06 OCT -- 31:18 -- 2.83 miles -- 173 elevation gain
              -- 1:35:23 -- 11.01 miles -- 9 elevation gain (roads in Norfolk, VA during site visit)
07 OCT -- 57:52 -- 7.73 miles -- 12 elevation gain
08 OCT -- off
09 OCT -- off -- played racquetball for an hour though
10 OCT -- 1:07:53 -- 7.71 miles -- 1322 elevation gain
11 OCT -- off
12 OCT -- 1:22:54 -- 10.42 miles -- 656 elevation gain

TOTAL -- 5:35:20 -- 39.70 miles -- 2172 elevation gain

I was still upset with myself over Grindstone, so I logged some miles early in the week on tired legs to sort of haze myself.

13 OCT -- 2:14:29 -- 15.18 miles -- 942 elevation gain
14 OCT -- off -- upper body weightlifting
15 OCT -- off -- upper body weightlifting -- stationary bike for 3 miles
16 OCT -- 54:38 -- 4.69 miles -- 763 elevation gain
17 OCT -- off -- upper body weightlifting
18 OCT -- 4:35:05 -- 30.44 miles -- 1767 elevation gain (PB&J 50k)
19 OCT -- 1:00:00 -- 3.00 miles -- 147 elevation gain (mowing the lawn, last time for the year)

TOTAL -- 8:44:12 -- 53.31 miles -- 3619 elevation gain

This was a fun week of running and working out.  Monday was a stress-free run that didn't involve looking at my watch.  I took a few days off to rest my legs and try to maintain my biceps.  Thursday was a relaxing run with Rob to stay loose for the PB&J on Saturday, which was a blast!  Good week.  Happy to call myself a runner!

Recount #12: PB&J 50k

The inaugural PB&J 50k (aka, the Fat Lip Fun Run): a 16-mile loop in Prince William Forest Park, done twice, with aid stations at miles 6.7, 12.5, 15.5 at the turn around, 22.2, 28, and 31 at the finish.  Weather was perfect: in the mid-50's at the start, high of about 72 in the afternoon, dry trails, VHTRC atmosphere, clear skies and sunshine.

Kari and I picked up our friend Rob in the morning - this race would be his first ultra.  We arrived around 0715 for the 0800 start.  My friend Brandon also met us in the park for one loop of fun since he wasn't registered for the race.  Many other friends were there as well, either running or volunteering: Dan, Snipes, Gary (the RD), Irawan, Q, Stephanie, Jo (she made the trip from FL!), Jack, Bernard, Keith, Tom, and many other VHTRC-ers.  Here are some photos before the race:

Me and Snipes

Rob, me, and Brandon

My photographer and me

Irawan and me
Today, we celebrated a new VHTRC race with Jo (and Toni, who arrived later in the afternoon with delicious bread pudding.  I ate a pound of that stuff.)  During the pre-race brief we sang happy birthday to some folks while Q held the birthday cake.  This has become somewhat of a tradition for VHTRC races.  Well, Gary's races, anyway.  Afterwards, Gary passed some word, obviously vital to the day's activities.  Then, we hung around and drank coffee, water, or monster for another few minutes before we made our way to the start line.
It wasn't long before we started the race and took off down the road to the trail. 
Me, with Snipes close behind and already in visible pain?

Reaching for Kari's belly to say bye to Little Man Cillo
The start/finish aid station, commanded by the Commander of all troops, Kari Cillo (and Little Man)
I ran with some folks for the first few miles until the first aid station at mile 6.7.  Then, as always, I ended up alone in 2nd place until the turn around at mile 15.5 when I caught up with Evan.  Evan and I ran together until the next AS at mile 22.8.  After that, for some reason, my hamstrings started cramping up real bad.  I took a salt cap but 10 minutes later I started cramping again.  So, I took another one, and 10 minutes later I cramped yet again.  This continued all the way to the finish.  I think I simply got behind in my salt consumption throughout the first loop and it caught up to me on the second loop when it warmed up.  Thankfully, the trails in Prince William aren't too technical and it was only a 50k, so I didn't have too much trouble fighting through the pain.  I finished 2nd in 4:33:00.  More photos:
Me, breaking the imaginary tape

Happy to be able to run (and work on my tan)
Podium finishers - James (3rd), Evan (1st), me (2nd)
The man, the myth, the legend, Dave Snipes, finishing in prideful fashion

Gary hung out at the AS at mile 12.5/28 during the race where he was stung in his lower lip by a bee who tried stealing a swig of his Jim Bea...I mean, Magic Elixir.  Apparently, his lip was huge, but we didn't see him until after the race and after the swelling had subsided.  As Gary told us the story he explained, "My lip's been shrinking, like everything else on my body..."  That's the Gary we all know and love.

Snipes presented Gary with a small token of appreciation for...I don't know, for something though.  It was a coin from Silverton, Colorado that said Good For One Screw
Gary, Dan, Tom, and Snipes, laughing about the ridiculousness of the coin 

 Today was awesome.  Today, I'm grateful to be able to run!  I'm grateful for good friends and good company.  I'm grateful that my photographer, who is 9 months pregnant, is happy and healthy.  And, lastly, I'm grateful for the weekend!
 End of recount...

Monday, October 13, 2014

Recount #11: Grindstone 100

I debated whether or not I would write a recount about this race.  In the end, obviously, I decided I would.  I must admit, though, I didn’t make the decision on my own merit.  My photographer (aka my wife, for those new to this blog) caught me in a completely selfish moment and called me out on it.  If you haven’t checked the race results and haven’t read into my subtle hints thus far…I didn’t finish…  The conversation went something like this:

AJ: “Do I want to write a report for this race?  I really think I don’t.”
Kari: “Why not?”
AJ: “Well, what for?  Nobody reads it.  Plus, I didn’t finish.”
Kari: “Now, wait a second.  When you started your blog, your goal was to tell people your stories - especially your family.  And, you said ‘If I can help just one person train or plan for this race next year then I’ve succeeded.’”
AJ: “You know what – you’re right.  But that means I need to admit that I’m not Superman.”
Kari: “Yup.”
AJ: “Well, then, what am I supposed to do with my Superman underwear?”
Kari: “Throw them away, I guess.”

So, I’ve decided to put myself out there in an attempt to contribute to the ultrarunning community writ large.  It has also been brought to my attention that people do, in fact, read my stories.  I’ll get to that point later.  Although I’m deeply disappointed with myself and embarrassed that I failed, I see the importance in sharing my experience with all of you.  Likewise, I have a rather slow work week ahead of me that will provide me with plenty of time for reflection.  I’ll dive right in...

To start, my pacer and best friend, Tristin, who you all know from Massanutten last year, was expected to arrive Friday evening with Ryan (also came to Massanutten 2013) and Barb to crew/pace and hang out with Kari.  Well, things changed when he was struck by a vehicle while on a run back home in Pennsylvania.  He broke a few ribs and jacked up his back.  He was in a crosswalk!  Needless to say, he didn't make it, and Ryan and Barb stayed back to get him better.  Tristin is still tough as nails.  One time, I witnessed his defeat of a rabid goldfish with his bare hands.
Like most races, my photographer and I met up with Danny and Snipes beforehand for chow and story-telling.  Helen and Adam joined us for pizza and tuna sandwiches as well.  Clark gave the pre-race brief and tossed out prizes for about an hour while we watched in awe.  Helen won a pair of socks.  I didn’t win anything – looks like I didn’t get my grandfather’s lucky genes.  That guy used to win the 50-50 at every baseball game, every summer, every year.  Around 1400 the race brief ended and we parted ways until 1800, when we would convene together again behind the starting line.
Typically, races start early Saturday morning after a good night of sleep, so from 1400-1800 I really didn’t know what to do with myself.  At first, Kari and I moped around the field outside the kitchen.  Then, we walked over to Snipes’ tent and made fun of him and his 28 drop bags.  After that, I tried to take a nap on the ground next to the car.  I tossed and turned for only about 20 minutes before I was awakened by rain in the face (not to be mistaken by the Indian, ole Rain-in-the-Face). 

We weren’t camping this trip since my photographer is 8 months pregnant, so we just sat in the car and listened to music.  That lasted for about an hour until we got really bored.  If I attempt this race again I’ll need to account for the boredom factor on Friday afternoon.  Let’s fast forward to the good parts of this story…but first, a belly:

Eventually, I got too bored and started getting ready for the race around 1630:

 (all photos taken by Kari Cillo,

Around 1730 Kari and I made our way towards the starting line.  Sure enough, we met up with Danny as he galloped towards us, trekking poles in hand.  We found a third friend, Ryan, and took some photos:
Me and Danny 
Ryan, me, and Danny
Finally, we shuffled towards the starting line.  Excitement was in the air.  So much excitement that the back half of the field didn’t hear Clark’s request for a minute of silence to remember fellow ultrarunner Maj Mike Donahue who recently died in Afghanistan.  Snipes brought some red, white, and blue parachute cord for everyone to wear during the race in his honor:
Cord on my pack, which I plan to keep in this location

Kari also wore some throughout the race 

My race bib
Ok…hat back on, shoes tightened, pack tightened, GPS calculating…3…2…1…Go!
After the race started Kari headed back to the hotel for dinner and some decent sleep.  I wouldn't see her again until the next morning.  I knew it would be a long and miserable night.  Yes!  It was already raining on and off and the temperature was going to start dropping around midnight.  Kari took this picture just after the race started and the torrential rains came upon us:

Here, I need to point out that I had never been on the Grindstone course until the race.  All I had was an elevation chart and a turn sheet.  The rule “if you can’t see the top of the hill then walk” was definitely in play for this one. 
The first mile was rough.  We took a dirt road around a small lake by the camp which funneled us into a tight corner to get onto the trail.  The bottleneck backed us up for a minute or so as the front-runners made their way through the small gap.  I was towards the middle with Danny, both of us complaining about putting our jackets on before the race started.  Once on the trail we each struggled with our packs and bottles to get our jackets off and stuffed away for later.  About 1.5 miles into the race we circled back around behind the camp where crews and families were cheering us on.  After that, the course turned dark and depressing for the next 12 hours.
I stayed with Dan until mile 2, but we were running different paces so I pushed ahead as we bid each other the best of luck.  He would finish in 25 hours and some change - congratulations, brother!
Around mile 3 it REALLY started to rain - it was then that I realized my feet wouldn't stay dry for long.  In fact, around mile 3.5 my left foot slipped on a rock going over a small stream and got wet from heel to toe.  So, to even things out, I ran through the next one and got my right foot wet too.
The strangest thing occurred around mile 4.  I mean, very weird.  I was running along the trail, looking at the ground and minding my own business, trying to get into a groove and mentally prepare myself for the awesome night ahead of me.  Usually, it doesn't require my complete attention to follow pink streamers in the trees in order to stay on course.  If a turn is coming up, it usually jumps out and bites me, especially when the trail is well-defined and the only linear feature through the woods.  So, when a reinforced squad of 25 people was suddenly running directly at me I was thrown through a loop.  I'm going to call this event the Epic Blunder of Grindstone 2014.  Chronologically, it went like this.
1.  A bunch of people come running at me
2.  I ask, "Where are y'all going?"
3.  They proclaim that they missed a turn and haven't seen a streamer in over a half mile
4.  All but 2 of the runners in that group start running backwards on the course to look for a streamer
5.  About another 50 runners behind us all stop in the middle of the trail and assume they are also lost
6.  There are now about 100 people standing in the middle of the trail, apparently lost
7.  Someone sends a runner backwards on the course to look for a streamer
8.  Meanwhile, I stand in one spot and stare in amazement for about 15 seconds
9.  After 15 seconds, I realize there was no way that 100 of us missed a turn, so I continue running
10.  Just then, someone behind me yells, "We found it!" and everyone starts back down the trail
11.  About 4 people scurry to get back in front of me, so I move over and let them pass
12.  Everyone is now running in the same direction, towards the finish, as a group of 100
It was surreal and I've never experienced anything like it.  Hilarious!  The first aid station was at mile 5-ish and I ran through it in 22nd place.  I quickly calculated that I somehow got in front of about 50-ish people as a result of the Epic Blunder of Grindstone 2014.  Unreal.
Around mile 4.5 I found myself running alone with someone I didn't know.  After a few minutes I broke the silence:
Me: "So, what's your name?"
Megan: "Megan.  What's yours?"
Me: "AJ.  Nice to meet ya."
Megan: "Are you the AJ that ultra-writes?"
I had never heard the term "ultra-write" before, and it caught me by surprise, so I didn't know what to say other than...
Me: "......Huh?" 
Great first impression, bimbo...
Megan: "Do you write about your races online?"
Me: "Ohhhh.  Yes, I do that..."
nervous and embarrassing laughter
Megan: "Cool.  I follow your blog."
Me: "Really?  Wow!  You're the first person I've met, other than family or friends, that actually reads it.  Thank you!" 
Holy smokes - people DO read my blog!  I suddenly felt relieved knowing that other ultrarunners read my stories.  Once I launch a race recount on here I don't really follow up on the number of hits, where it was posted, who left comments, etc.  But I secretly think it's really cool that accomplished runners like Megan, who has been victorious at all distances including 100 miles, take the time to read what little AJ has to say.  Megan finished 2nd female overall in this race - congrats, Megan!  And thanks, everyone!  I will continue writing recounts of my trail experiences.
Megan and I ran together through the first aid station and up a portion of the hill that followed.  At some point, I don't remember where or when, I got ahead of her and found myself walking the mountain alone.  Unfortunately, I would be alone the remainder of the night until the sun came up on Saturday when I raised the white flag.
Miles 6-10 were difficult.  The course winded up a mountain for about 3,000 feet during those couple of miles.  Although I had never been on the course, I picked the brain of the great Dave Snipes to determine where/when to walk and where/when to knock out 10:00 minute miles.  Thus, I knew I would be walking this portion of the course.  What made things difficult, however, was the fog.  Oh, the fog.  Words can't explain how bad it was on the ridgeline.  In fact, the fog deserves its own paragraph in this recount.
The definition of fog is ,"a cloudlike mass or layer of minute water droplets or ice crystals near the surface of the earth, appreciably reducing visibility" (, search parameters "fog", retrieved October 12, 2014 from  If Grindstone could define fog it would probably be, "a wall of white clouds, exceptional at nullifying headlamps and flashlights during periods of darkness, efficient at concealing navigational streamers and trailways" (My brain, search parameters "the gosh darn fog", retrieved October 12, 2014 from  The fog worsened as we climbed higher and higher.  Around mile 7 the trail dumped us onto a service road for the next 2 miles to the top.  I didn't think it could get any worse, but sure enough the fog steadily thickened more and more from miles 7-9.  Just below the summit, I legitimately walked right off the service road multiple times.  I couldn't even see my feet at one point.  I tried dimming my head lamp, brightening my head lamp, walking in the dark, taking my head lamp off and holding it by my feet...nothing worked.  Clearly, if I couldn't see my feet then I couldn't see pink streamers in the trees anymore.  Luckily, there was only one turn off the road and it was well-marked.  Finally, I reached the top, punched my bib with the stamp to prove I was there, then ran away real fast.  I don't have any good pictures of the fog that night, but it would probably look something like this:
Courtesy of google, pretty sure it's the Golden Gate Bridge
The course took us down the backside of the mountain from miles 10-14, so I was able to gain some time back from the 17:00 minute miles climbing the front side.  I kept thinking, "what goes up, must go back down."  I tell myself this all the time during out-and-back ultras - it helps me come to peace with monster climbs knowing that I get to run back down on the way back.
I linked up with a guy named Ryan for a mile or so during this stretch.  He had long hair, dreadlocks.  I've always liked dreadlocks.  If I could, I would grow dreadlocks.  The Marine Corps should permit dreadlocks.  We griped and moaned about the rain, fog, and the hills.  He stopped to tie his shoe and I kept running.  I didn't catch his last name but I checked the results and every guy named Ryan finished the race.  So, congratulations Ryan!
I ran into the aid station at mile 14 by myself.  There were two other guys eating some chow and filling their bottles when I got there.  This AS was operated by Clark's students - about 6 of them.  I shoved a few pieces of PB&J into my mouth, grabbed a few for the road, and headed off leaving the other two runners behind.
Right after I left the AS I turned on my music for the first time.  I wanted to wait until the field spread out - I don't ever want to be that guy, the guy who doesn't move over for someone to pass because his music is too loud.  There were some hills over the next 8 miles - some went up and some went down.  Overall, there was about 2,000 feet of elevation gain until mile 22. Again, I was alone this entire section, so I was able to get into a groove and zone out with the music.  Lots of Michael Franti who, ironically, has dreadlocks.  Some older songs from the Goo Goo Dolls, Ludacris, Juvenile, Green Day and Blink 182.  I saw Green Day and Blink 182 in a concert at Hershey Park in 2002 - insane!  And, of course, "Love Shack" was placed on repeat for a few miles during times of heavy rain and high winds (which I'll speak to shortly, well, right now I suppose).
From miles 14-22 the wind started to pick up but the rain subsided at times.  As the weatherman might put it: tonight you can expect periods of rain with winds 10-15 mph coming out of the west, heavy fog at times so watch out for those deer, humidity will hover near 80% until temperatures start to dip into the lower 50's around 3am, by sunrise expect the rain and fog to clear up and temps in the upper 40's.  It was chilly along the ridge, but my jacket remained in my pack until later on.  This stretch went by pretty quick and I was alone the entire time.  I strolled into the AS at mile 22 where I found a ton of people!  Since I didn't have a crew until the next morning when Kari would meet me at mile 65.65, I didn't pay much attention to aid stations prior to that.  Families and crews lined the service road into this AS for about 100 yards.  Like the last AS, I ran by a few runners with their crews as I headed into the tent to get some chow and refill my pack with cold water.  Just as I shoved a PB&J into my mouth, my friend Megan McGrath came up and gave me a good luck hug in the absence of my photographer.  She was crewing/pacing another friend and was waiting for him to arrive.  She asked how I was doing, ensured I was keeping up with my salt, then sent me on my way.  It was refreshing to see someone I knew after running alone for so long. 
Miles 22-30 were interesting and fun.  I left the AS at mile 22 and started walking up a mountain.  There were about 10 of us, all equally spread out.  I could see headlamps both in front of and behind me in a Congo line.  We all jostled for position over the next 8 miles.  One guy, Matt, stopped on the side of the trail to rearrange some gear, so 3 of us passed him.  Not 10 minutes later he came roaring down the trail behind us, "Passing on the left.  Passing on the left.  Passing on the left." as he knocked us off one-by-one.  Sure enough, about 20 minutes later, I passed him again.  We all did this for 8 miles.  In the end, I somehow rolled into the AS at mile 30 by myself again, but ahead of that pack of runners.
The AS there lit up the entire treeline.  Not very tactical, but they had pickles!  As I shoved a few into my mouth I explained to the AS crew that my wife had been stocking the refrigerator at home with pickles for the past 3 months (ya know, cravings).  I took a quick shot of Coca-Cola and headed off into the darkness for the next 6-mile stretch to mile 36.  As I walked away I blurted out, "Real quick - do y'all know how many are in front of me?"  Some guy yelled back, "Seventeen!"  "Sweet, thank you guys.  Thanks for being out here in the cold and rain all night!"  Wow - I was in 18th.  I mumbled to myself, "I might be going too fast."  Like most races, I wasn't keeping tabs on what place I was in, but it's always good to have a reference point to work with.  I was averaging 12:00 minute miles and felt like I was holding back, so I didn't make any drastic changes to my pace and simply kept on pushing.
The next 6 miles were fun and offered lots of downhill running.  Typically, I start to feel really good after mile 30, which held true for this race as well.  This section was fairly technical, though, and I knew there was lots of running to go.  So, I continued to walk up the hills, but I started crushing the downhill sections hard.  I also knew there was a killer climb from miles 36-43 and that I would be walking nearly all of it, along with everyone else, so I didn't hold back on the downhill sections here.  In fact, I knocked off a few 10:00 minute miles and even passed a few runners.  I linked up with Keith K. just before the AS and ran in the last half-mile with him.  We entered the AS in 11th and 12th places, respectively.  ("Sweeeeeeeeeet! Level twoooooooo!")  We took turns on the scale and grabbed some eats for the road.  At the start, I weighed in at 146 pounds.  Here, 144 pounds.  Only down two pounds - not bad after 36 miles.  The clementines were exceptionally tasty at this AS, so I ate a few and took a few for the climb.  I also helped myself to two pierogies - mmm mmm good!  I quickly headed to my drop bag, replenished my Gu gels and Honey Stinger chews, and started hiking.  The next 7 miles were straight uphill - literally, straight uphill, 3,200 feet uphill.
Keith and I were walking together initially, but he was saving energy for later so I pressed ahead.  Again, I was alone...again...the entire climb....which felt like it would never end.  It was at this point that I realized Grindstone isn't necessarily difficult - it's dark with lots of hills, but it isn't too technical and most of the course is what we call runnable.  However, the section from miles 36-44 and, subsequently, miles 57-65.65, is VERY difficult.  Climbing that mountain temporarily broke me.  About 95% of those miles were uphill.  Only a few short sections were runnable, but I walked most of those anyway to give my quads a break.  By the time I reached the top I was broken and depressed.  I had averaged only 16:00 minute miles climbing that dang mountain, with my slowest at 20:17 and my fastest at 10:52.  What made it worse was that I thought the AS was at the top, but I had to run another mile and a half down a service road and through a couple fields to get to it.  And, as if things were bad enough, the fog had returned and was thicker than ever along the ridgeline.  And, even worse yet, the wind was howling and my jacket still resided in my pack.  And, just when things couldn't go any wronger, yes wronger, my headlamp ran out of juice.  I was in a bad place. 
Finally, after a miserable section, I reached the AS at mile 44.  I managed to stretch out the life of my headlamp until the AS by dumb luck - I was walking and taking off my pack to scrounge together some batteries as I saw the lights ahead of me.  Thankfully, one of the volunteers at the AS offered to change the batteries for me while I ate more pierogies.  But not so thankfully, it took him 5 minutes to do so.  This is where things went south in a hurry and I had my first scare of the race.  It was raining all night and I hadn't put my jacket on yet, so I was soaked.  The wind was howling.  Wet is ok, wind is ok, but wet and wind together is not ok.  I started shivering bad - teeth chattering, knees shaking, brrrrrrrr.  Then, my hip flexors starting cramping up.  And then my hamstrings got achy.  I jammed two salt tabs down my throat with some water.  Then, I elected to finally put on my jacket just as he finished assembling my headlamp.  That $5 Nike Golf jacket from TJ Maxx, which I introduced to you all during my JFK 50 Mile race recount from last year, is what saved my race.  Well, saved me from dropping at mile 44, at least.  I zipped it all the way to my neck and took off in a sprint to get my body warmed up again. 
The next 5 miles were along the ridgeline on service roads - a nice break from walking up steep inclines.  I started feeling better once I got moving and got blood flowing through my body again.  I kept my pace between 11:00 and 12:00 minute miles through this section.  Around mile 47 the lead runners started passing me in the other direction, about 7 miles ahead of me.  First was Jeff Browning, running solo.  Man, he's hard.  Next was Brian Rusiecki, about 10 minutes behind, just as I rolled into the AS at mile 49.  Here, we had to make a quick detour to the summit of the nearby mountain - only half a mile up, punch our bibs with the stamp, then half a mile back down to the AS, all on concrete.  I ran right through it on the way up to the lookout, but on the way back down I stopped for some chow - dark chocolate, PB&J, and some ginger ale.  It was only 2 miles to the turn-around at mile 51, also on concrete.  I grabbed half a S'mores Pop-Tart and headed off down the road.
Immediately, 5 or 6 runners passed me in the other direction, which meant they were about 4 miles ahead of me.  I kept to myself with my head down and pushed on.  It was mostly downhill until the turn around and I kept my pace around 10:00 minute miles all the way there.  Strangely, the AS at mile 51 was the first one with oranges.  I ate probably 3 full oranges while the volunteers filled my pack with water.  Nearby, a group of 4-5 kids, probably 12 years old or so, were sitting in lawn chairs by a fire roasting marshmallows.  I was about 10 hours and 30 minutes into the race, so it was 0430-ish in the morning.  I asked why they weren't making S'mores and they told me they ran out of chocolate, which was probably the reason they were still awake!  I stood by the fire and joked with them until my pack was full.  I grabbed a few pickles and some more oranges, thanked the volunteers, and started the journey backwards...
"What goes up, must go back down."  Also, "what goes down, must go back up."
Those downhills miles were nice from 49-51, but going back up was uncomfortable.  I shuffled most of it but there were some places steep enough to warrant walking, so I gave in and walked.  My splits were in the mid-13:00 minutes, which I was fine with.  One runner passed me heading towards the turn around and say "Good job, man!"  Sometimes I forget where I am, and for some reason I blurted "Errah!" as if acting obnoxiously amongst fellow Marines.  Oops.  Well, maybe that motivated him.  I'll never know. 
I got back into the AS at mile 53, also mile 49, and grabbed more dark chocolate.  The AS Captain here was wearing camouflage overalls with a camouflage hat.  Righteous.  He offered me a fresh PB&J, and who doesn't want a fresh, soft, delicious PB&J?  I took it for the road.  After one bite I realized the bread was crusty.  It had definitely been sitting out for a few hours.  Maybe he grabbed from the wrong pile.  I tossed it into the woods for the rabbits. 
At this point, runners were passing me going the other direction every minute or so.  I tried to ID each person to see if I knew them, but it's difficult with headlamps because we blind each other in the process.  Therefore, I defaulted to yelling "All right, all right!  Good job!" to each person.  But then, someone ID'd me - it was Danny! 
Danny: "Wooooooo!  All right, AJJJJJJJJJJ!  Great job, man!"
Me: "Dannnnnnnnnnyyyyy!  Looking good, mmbannnn...bannn...mannn..."
What the f---?
It was then that I realized something was going wrong.  I was around mile 55, heading to the AS at mile 57 before that monster 3,000-foot downhill.  I started thinking what could be happening - was I overheating?  Nah.  Was my face frozen?  Heck no, it was only 50 degrees.  Well, what the heck?  I was confused.  I noticed I started getting tunnel vision a few miles earlier, which is normal after looking through the cone of a headlamp for so many hours.  But it didn't occur to me until I was forced to think and act quickly that I was very tired.  So tired, in fact, that I began to hallucinate after seeing Danny.  My brain was motoring, 100 miles per hour.  Meanwhile, runners kept running towards me, passing me going the other direction at a steady clip of 1 every minute.  Holy smokes - what is going on?  I tried shaking my head side to side - no luck.  I tried slowing down - no change.  I tried dimming my headlamp - I couldn't see the ground anymore, duh.  I tried sprinting - sheesh, too tired for that.  I took an Endurolyte thinking it might help in some medically unfathomable manner - negative.  Below is my attempt to verbally describe what I was experiencing, which lasted all the way to mile 65.65 where I subsequently called it quits:
- "Dannnnnnnnnnyyyyy!  Looking good, mmbannnn...bannn...mannn..."
- Woah, something is wrong with my mouth, my lips won't move how I want them to move
- Oh shoot, the ground looks really close, like I can touch it right now
- Ok, more headlamps coming towards me
- Hey, there's a runner right in front of me now, "Hey Matt..."
- That definitely wasn't Matt, he's in Quantico right now, he's not even an ultrarunner
- Oh man, why did I think that was Matt?
- Another runner is coming towards me, "Hey Matt..."
- Shit, that wasn't Matt, he isn't here
- Woahhhhh!!!  Turtles!!!  All over the trail!!!
- I gotta dodge all these turtles, so I'll just hop right over them
- Another runner, "All right, all right!  Good job, man!"
- That was a girl...
- Wait, maybe it was Matt
- Oh yeah, he isn't out here, we just discussed that
- But Matt should be out here!  Yes, he should certainly be out here
- I bet Matt is connected to these turtles somehow
- Matt is like a ninja
- Ohhhh, ok, I get it, these must be ninja turtles
- Gotta keep hopping over these ninja turtles
- Oh, thank goodness, there's the aid station, I'll pick up the pace (laughing out loud, literally, as if I just uncovered a dirty little secret)
- Man, that aid station isn't getting any closer
- Darnit, those were city lights in the distance, not the aid station
- There's another runner, "Hey Matt..."
- Oh shit, I'm just gonna stop talking
- Another runner coming
- Crap, he said "good job" but I didn't say anything back
- It's all good, it was just Matt, I'll see him on Monday and apologize
- Ok, there's a bright light ahead, that has to be the aid station
- Hey, look, there's a sign that says it's the aid station, this must be the aid station
That was just from miles 55-57.  That would continue after the AS, all the way down the hill, and into the next AS at mile 65.65.  Along that section of 7-ish miles, I ran across VHTRC Ambassador Gary K., the padre of Keith K., just as the sun came up.  He was climbing the mountain, still at mile 39-ish.  What a stud.  Basically, he's a freak of nature.  He finished the race in 35 hours and 29 minutes after running through the night...both Friday and Saturday nights!  He's also 70 years old.  And a freak.  And a stud.  His legs are made from the horns of 27 unicorns.
After 60 miles and 12,000 feet of elevation gain/loss, it starts to hurt running downhill more than it does uphill.  Dropping 3,000 feet over 7 miles really hurt my quads.  I was able to maintain 13:00-14:00 minute miles, which isn't impressive to anyone, but it was better than 20:00 minute miles.  But I was getting really sleepy - more sleepy than I was even after finishing Massanutten 100 after running for 25 straight hours.  And the hallucinations didn't end when the sun came up.  Shortly after I saw Gary, I stopped and started to lie down on the side of the trail.  I got down on one knee, then the other, then lowered my right hand towards some grass and started leaning my head towards the ground...
Thoughts to myself:
Wait, huh???  I can't take a flipping nap right here.  Dang, dude, I gotta get to that aid station.  I know I'm close - I remember that rock.
A few minutes later I started running across little wooden bridges.  That's when I knew I was nearly there.  A few minutes later I started hearing people talking.  Then the trail turned and I was looking straight down the barrel of a Cannon 60D:
The AS at mile 65.65 had Clementines!
When I first arrived, I gave Kari and her belly a kiss and made sure she was feeling alright.  She was a little tired and didn't sleep well in a new bed.  Plus, I forced her out of bed around 0600 to come aid me in my quest. 
I fully intended on continuing with the race.  I grabbed the remainder of my Gu Gels from my drop bag and replaced them with empty rappers in my pack.  Kari put some more salt tabs in my Ziploc then put it back in my pack as well.  I asked her if she had any Ensure with her, but she left it in the car.  So, she took off running to the car and I yelled out, "Bring two!"  I helped myself to 3 pierogies, a few Clementines, and some M&Ms while I waited.  When she got back I downed both bottles of Ensure.  I asked if she had more, so she ran back to the car again to get more.  I was feeling ok at that point.  I still hadn't weighed in so I headed over to the scale - 140 pounds, even after the Ensure and chow.  Not good.  Down at least 6 pounds since the start.  I shoved another pierogie in my mouth and started preparing mentally for the next 6-mile stretch.
Just then, my eyes shut.  I was standing up, eating food, talking to my photographer, and my eyes closed.  My knees buckled and I swayed to the side.  Yikes - I just fell asleep standing up.  I've been awake for 3 days straight before during long operations in the desert, and I ran through Massanutten without sitting down even once, so this was a surprise.  Kari looked scared when I opened my eyes.
Kari: "Did you just fall asleep???"
Me: "Yeah.  I've been hallucinating for the past 10 miles or so as well."
Kari: "Are you ok?"
Me: "I don't know yet.  I'm seeing stars."
I couldn't believe how quickly I went from having one foot out of the aid station and on the trail, to falling asleep standing up and hallucinating again.  Again, Kari tried to ask me if I was doing ok, but I fell asleep again and almost fell over.  We repeated this a few times until she got angry and starting pushing me towards the trail.  I was prepared to keep running, but I wanted to take some chow for the road.  But as I walked over to grab a PB&J I fell asleep walking.  I also thought I saw a jar of pickles on the table but there were no pickles.  I stopped and leaned my head on Kari's shoulder to take a break for a second and, as expected, fell asleep standing up again.
Me: "Kar, I don't think I can stay awake right now."
Kari: "You need to.  What do you need before you leave?"
Me: "No, really, I cannot stay awake.  And I keep seeing shit."
Kari: "No.  No.  You're finishing this race."
Me: "Dude, I really can't stay awa........"  (again, sleeping while standing, eyes closed and all)
In hindsight, I should have taken a quick nap or found some coffee or something.  I tried jumping around and smacking my legs to wake back up, but every time I stopped moving for even a second I fell asleep standing up.  And then, I started shivering again.  Teeth chattering, legs quivering, brrrrrrr.  Now, I was falling sleep standing up while shivering.  Things were going south quick.  I knew I either needed to get running again, or drop.  Taking a nap wasn't an option at the time, for whatever reason, although it was probably the most sensible plan.  After some more debating with Kari, who was genuinely scared and upset and emotional, I decided to pull myself from the race.  I knew the next 6 miles were mostly uphill with roughly 2,000 feet of climbing, and I kept doubting my ability to remain awake on the run.  I was in a rut like never before.  I had a deeply regretful moment of fear and weakness and told Kari to tell the AS volunteers that I was done.  Certainly, I could have taken a nap for a few hours and still finished the race.  I was on pace to finish in roughly 21 hours and I had plenty of time to waste.  But my head wasn't right and I completely rejected stopping unless I was stopping for good.  During ultras, something always tells me that I cannot take a break.  I take pride in the fact that I have NEVER sat down during a race.  However, dropping from yet another race is painful... 
While Kari grabbed her things I stood by the AS tent with a blanket wrapped around me to stay warm.  Pathetic little weakling...  Apparently, I legitimately fell asleep standing up because a woman tapped me on the shoulder and told me I should sit down in her chair. 
Getting to the car was difficult.  My legs were cramping everywhere because I kept shivering.  I was falling asleep every 5 seconds - at the back of the car, at the front of the car, standing with my shirt off, sitting down in the middle of the road, leaning against the car, everywhere.  I struggled hard to stay coherent enough to change  my shirt and sit down in the front seat.  Once I got there, I zonked out hard until we got to the hotel.  When I woke up, I still wasn't with it and had no idea where I was.  God bless my wife - she dragged me out of the car, got my bags, and got me into the hotel room where I immediately fell asleep sitting on the grungy floor.  These shenanigans continued until 1500 that afternoon.  After a shower and a long nap, I was finally able to hold a conversation with Kari for more than 30 seconds. 
Trying to run Grindstone is tough after a full work week...
Ok, I think I've shamed myself enough.  This blog needs to come to an end eventually, but not before I share some pictures of the awesome food that the small town of Staunton offers:
Sulking before getting pizza for dinner
This stuff was legit 
 3 scoops for me
 2 scoops for my photographer
Still angry with myself, but how can I be upset with ice cream in my hand
End of recount...

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Grindstone 100 D-5 Days

I never feel trained enough for a race, and it's no different here.  I am injury free, though, which is always a good thing.  I'd rather be a little under-trained than a little over-trained for a race.  We can always gut it out the last few/30 miles, but it's much harder to do that with lingering injuries and unnecessarily tired muscles from a taper-less week leading up to a race. 

It looks like Grindstone will have live tracking of the runners throughout the race.  How often it will be updated from the mountains will little signal/service is unknown to even the race director.  Nonetheless, here is the link to that site:  

My trusted weather app tells me there is a 70% chance of rain on Saturday, and who doesn't like running in the rain?  I hope the temperature drops into the 40's Friday night - I love being miserable.  It makes these adventures much more memorable and adds dramatic effect to the stories.  The food afterwards always tastes better too.

Good luck to all at Grindstone.

Monday, September 22, 2014

08-21 Sep

08 SEP -- 1:07:58 -- 6.25 miles -- 190 elevation gain
08 SEP -- 42:00 -- 5.12 miles -- 578 elevation gain
09 SEP -- 44:19 -- 6.01 miles -- 395 elevation gain
10 SEP -- 28:01 -- 3.02 miles -- 630 elevation gain
10 SEP -- 45:35 -- 5.76 miles -- 459 elevation gain
11 SEP -- off -- upper body weightlifting -- stationary bike 7 miles
12 SEP -- off -- stationary bike 15 miles
13 SEP -- off -- visited family in PA
14 SEP -- Dam Half Marathon -- 1:54:38 -- 13.10 miles -- 2500 elevation gain (7th Overall)

TOTAL -- 5:42:31 -- 39.26 miles -- 4752 elevation gain

A few shorter runs early in the week, followed by a few days of rest afterwards, prepared me for the race on Sunday.  Kari and I joined Tristin and Molly for the race and after party, then we headed back to VA in the afternoon. 

15 SEP -- 48:38 -- 6.38 miles -- 599 elevation gain
15 SEP -- stationary bike 7 miles -- upper body weightlifting
16 SEP -- 46:28 -- 4.71 miles -- 791 elevation gain
16 SEP -- 31:12 -- 3.59 miles -- 453 elevation gain
17 SEP -- 45:39 -- 4.76 miles -- 704 elevation gain
17 SEP -- 1:00:00 -- 3.00 miles -- 147 elevation gain (mowing the lawn)
18 SEP -- 31:55 -- 4.03 miles -- 326 elevation gain
19 SEP -- 26:55 -- 3.04 miles -- 61 elevation gain
19 SEP -- stationary bike 7 miles
20 SEP -- 1:18:08 -- 8.71 miles -- 681 elevation gain
20 SEP -- 1:29:44 -- 6.86 miles -- 527 elevation gain
21 SEP -- off

TOTAL -- 7:38:39 -- 45.08 miles -- 4289 elevation gain

Another week full of numerous shorter runs due to time constraints at work, but at least I spent 7+ hours on my feet in the woods (or walking in squares in my back yard...).  I'll continue running through next week but taper off come Saturday/Sunday.  Next week I'll wear my fat pants and sit around as much as possible.

Friday, September 12, 2014

25 Aug-7 Sep

25 AUG -- 1:23:27 -- 9.31 miles -- 1395 elevation gain
25 AUG -- 42:53 -- 5.23 miles -- 426 elevation gain
26 AUG -- 45:01 -- 4.63 miles -- 775 elevation gain
27 AUG -- 1:01:19 -- 7.16 miles -- 693 elevation gain
28 AUG -- off -- upper body weightlifting
29 AUG -- 2:24:00 -- 14.50 miles -- 1100 elevation gain
30 AUG -- 1:50:14 -- 12.28 miles -- 1451 elevation gain
31 AUG -- 1:28:51 -- 12.56 miles -- 417 elevation gain

TOTAL -- 9:35:45 -- 65.67 miles -- 6257 elevation gain

Solid week.  Had a few good runs later in the week with some running pals. 

01 SEP -- 48:03 -- 6.46 miles -- 290 elevation gain
02 SEP -- 55:23 -- 4.74 miles -- 761 elevation gain (rolled my ankle...)
03 SEP -- off -- upper body weightlifting -- babying my ankle...
04 SEP -- 26:43 -- 3.92 miles -- 181 elevation gain (ankle felt better)
04 SEP -- stationary bike for 15 miles
05 SEP -- 52:03 -- 6.20 miles -- 518 elevation gain (ankle pain gone)
05 SEP -- 1:16:29 -- 7.97 miles -- 691 elevation gain
06 SEP -- 4:37:30 -- 18.50 miles -- 4759 elevation gain (Beer & Bacon Festival afterwards)
07 SEP -- off -- rest

TOTAL -- 8:56:11 -- 47.79 miles -- 7200 elevation gain

Rolled my ankle Tuesday morning which slowed me down for a bit.  The swelling and purple coloring went away quick with RICE (rest, ice, compress, elevate), and I was back out on the trail after only a day off.  I've got a trail half marathon with Tristin next Sunday which I'm looking forward to.  Only a few weeks left until Grindstone.