"I have arrived. I am home. In the here. In the now. I am solid. I am free. In the ultimate I dwell." --Thich Nhat Hanh

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Eastern States 100 - DNF

Feelings of excitement, elation, highs and lows, feeling strong, feeling down, and finally feeling broken. Broken not physically, but mentally. Feelings of happiness and anger and major disappointment, all in one day. Eastern States 100 2015.

I first heard of Eastern States 100 in 2014 as soon as it was announced. I was very excited about this 100 miler so close to home and was looking forward to it right away. I was not ready to tackle the 100 mile distance yet, and looked from afar how the race developed. I was supposed to go and pace a friend in 2014 edition, but never made it to the course due to him dropping before I even got there. Not knowing anyone else at the race I turned around and went home. Toward the end of 2014 I felt that I was ready to make the step to the 100 mile distance, and naturally, ES 100 was at the top of my list. I heard of some minor issues during the first year, but every first year race has those, and race was working on fixing them. In January I signed up and began my training. It was so exciting watching the amazing volunteers prepare the trail throughout the year. They were doing some major work.
My amazing crew at the start
Initial plan was for Amy to crew and pace me for the last 22 miles. However, as the day got closer we realized that having her do that would be close to impossible and a logistical nightmare. Thankfully, my friend Mo offered to come and crew/pace, which made all the difference. Along the way, Mo also recruited Sandy, and that right there made a spectacular crew/pacing team. I loved having all 3 of them there. Soon enough the race weekend arrived. Amy and I drove up and picked up the race packet, and met the crew in Williamsport for dinner and relaxation time. Mo set us up in a very neat historic B&B. Wake up call was at 3 am which would give us plenty of time to get to the start and take care of business.
The start
The start area was glimmering in the early morning hours with headlamps everywhere. Lots of people moving around, getting their drop bags sorted out, meeting runners new and old and getting in the state of mind to tackle the beast that is Eastern States. Eastern States 100 is a giant loop in the Pa Wilds. Extremely difficult and technical course. A real challenge. After my year of training, and especially after my adventure on Velebit this summer, I was ready to go. Count down happened at 5 am and we were ready to go. Early miles in the dark were fairly flat and easy running on the road before we turned onto trails. At about 3 miles in we hit the first major climb, of many more to come, a steep hill that went on forever. Honestly, a great warm up to get your heart pumping. As we crested the first hill, the sun was starting to come up and the forest came alive. While the guys up front were long gone, mid pack runners seemed to be taking it easy. After all, we had 36 hours to complete the race.

First crew access
Going into this race, I had one goal in mind - finish it. Even if it took me the entire 36 hours I was going to finish it. I used the provided course description, aid station locations and cut-offs to devise a plan that would keep me conservative, on pace, with plenty of time to spare and even finish well before the final mark. I felt great through the early miles. A silly little fall in the forest, on flat ground make my calf cramp up, but it went away fast, and I was back to feeling good. I kept a pretty even pace, not worrying about the cutoffs. There were several crew points along the way, first one being at Aid Station 3, about mile 17 or so. Everything was on pace. I fueled, said my hellos and goodbyes and kept going. Next stretch to mile 24.7 was fairly long, 7.2 miles. At this point it was getting warm and I was conserving my water. So far all the aid stations have been pretty on mark as far as the distance goes. With less than a mile to go to the aid station, I finished last of my water. 7.2 miles arrived and there was no aid station in sight. Just thinking it was around the next corner I kept moving forward. At last it was there, more than 2 miles from the designated point, more than 9 miles from the last AS.  There were plenty of people just sitting around at this one, as many have run out of water. At first I didn't think much of this, except that this was way off. Next crew point was AS6 at Richie Road, which was another 11 miles away. I refueled and kept going strong. Next 2 aids stations were a bit off but not too bad. I was slowly starting to accumulate more and more miles. Before I go too far, it is a well known fact that most 100 mile races are not exactly 100 miles. This one was described as 100.8 miles. So far it was proving to be wrong. At first I thought it was just me and my watch being off, but more and more people around me were making the same comment.

Getting it done
By the time I made it to AS 7 at Hyner Run to pick up Amy as my pacer, I was already at almost 44 miles (AS7 was listed at 40.9). Amy and I were both in high spirits as we took off for the next station 7ish miles away. Amy was going to pace me for 2 segments (11 miles) before Sandy and Mo took over. Similar story repeated it self when we did not hit the aid station at mile 7. Again, it was close to 9 miles away. Many runners were getting delirious and struggling to reach it. It was a scary sight. Once we got there, there were several people lying on the ground basically done. As we left AS8 on our way to the halfway point I hit my only low point of the day. It was a short mental break down. I could not trust my plan any more to go from aid station to aid station in a certain pace, as I did not know if I would make all the cutoffs. Based on mileage I should have been hours ahead, but I was getting closer and closer to it. I picked up Sandy at AS9 for a short 4.5 mile segment. We had plenty of time. However, as we reached this Water Only aid station, we were informed at we just made the 1am cutoff. What the hell? How did I got from at least 2 hours ahead to just making it? Why have a cutoff in the middle of the woods with no easy access or way out? Regardless, we got some water and flew out of there making it to the next point again gaining 30 minutes back in the process.
Not sure where this is
Mo and Amy were excited to see us at AS11 - Slate Run. We were feeling good and ready to go. Mo said that they were pretty sure that next segment was true in distance. It is crazy to have to worry about how much time and distance do I really have. These things should not be in the air. They should be exact. Again, Mo and I busted it and made it to AS12 at mile 66.7 with 30 min to spare. At this point the cutoffs we 2 hours apart from aid station to aid station regardless of terrain or distance. My heart kind of sank when I realized it was almost 7 miles to the next aid station and we just had over 2 hours to go. This segment did not look pretty with huge downhill and uphill and it was still night. We gave it our best shot. However, the terrain proved much too difficult and dangerous to navigate in the dark. It was 5 am at this point, and the sun still had ways to go. We were going down a creek bed with extremely unstable footing and steep terrain. Once we made it down, the up was equally difficult. Cresting that hill, as the sun came up and mosquitoes started their feeding frenzy we realized that there was no way we would make the 7 am cutoff. Again the AS was a little further than we anticipated, and we were 40 minutes past the hour. 40 minutes due to use taking it easy in the last part as we realized there was no way we would make it in time. Even if we did make it, we would have been chasing the cutoffs for the last 30 miles. My Eastern State 100 was over at mile 73, or should I say 78. I made my peace with the cutoff before reaching the aid station only to learn that at some point while we were moving, the cutoff got changed to 7:30 and we just missed it. How does that happen? How do you change a cutoff in the middle of the race and don't let anyone know about it? The crew at previous AS told us it was 7am. We asked - twice!
Half way point
Once we got down to Blackwell where Amy was supposed to take over with pacing duties, we learned that cutoff was extended as well to 9:30!?! Those are the things that I keep replaying in my head. With that knowledge, I would have pushed on. Believe me, there was plenty of time to make it to the end before the final cutoff. There was no logical explanation that I could find on how these times and cutoffs were designed. Clearly, they were based on a premise of 100.8 mile distance. With that distance in mind I should have been at least 2 hours ahead and gaining. Instead I was out.

Am I bitter? Yes, of course I am. I trained long and hard for this. I was feeling great the entire race. I had plenty left in me to speed up and bang this thing out once the sun came up. Is it possible that I could have failed to make it? Maybe. But I will never know. I was not given that opportunity. I understand why the cutoffs are there. I understand that they serve a purpose. But they need to be correct and make sense. Distances need to be at least somewhat accurate. Having several aid stations off by more than 2 miles is not ok, ever. I understand that this does not affect everyone, and that there were 57 people that did finish. However, with almost 180 some people starting and 30% finish rate, there are clearly issues that need to be looked at. While it was hot, it was not insane. It was a fairly normal August day. There was no reason for such a poor finish rate.
Getting ready to go out
It is normal to have issues in the first few years of a race, especially 100 mile race. Eastern States 100 was great in many ways. The swag and the organization at the start were great. The volunteers at  the aid stations were very helpful and super friendly. The course is amazing. It is technical, it is rocky, it is difficult. The climbs are long and steep, and downs are longer and steeper. It is hard, but not impossible. There is a decent amount of very runable terrain as well. Overall, Eastern States has a potential to be a huge race in this country.

In the past week, I've spent countless hours thinking about this race. What if I ran a bit faster? What if I wasn't so conservative? What if? What if? I've spent many hours looking at other 100 mile events around the country, closely examining the information and documents that they provide for runners. I have done a lot of research, and I've walked away with one conclusion. Eastern States has a work to do. Work that is not impossible or hard to achieve but it has to be done. Cutoffs have to be adjusted to match the terrain and distance. Data provided needs to be accurate. Small but simple things are what makes the race. It comes down to what does Eastern States want to be. A small 100 mile event in PA that is extremely hard and only few can finish, or a major 100 mile race that draws people from around the country and world. It has a potential to be just that. Changes can only happen if people speak up. I am not alone in these thoughts. I realize that I might get flack for this post, but these are my opinions. I have been at plenty of races here in the US and in Europe and have a pretty good knowledge and understanding of this sport.
Eastern States is a good event with potential to be great. I had an amazing time, and will be back again. I have unfinished business with the PA Wilds. I'll be back.

Huge thank you to Amy, Mo and Sandy. I could have not done this without you. You were invaluable, and I hope to be able to return the favor one day.

Go forth and run.

Note: I did reach out to RD and the race organization with the issues I encountered. I will post an update when I get a reply.

PS. Great podcast about the race with race winner Mike Wardian. He brings up some good points. He saw it a bit different from the front. I hope RDs learn from year 2 and grow.
Still in good spirits at end.
Few extra photos:
Go go go

Crew man Mo

Feeling good

At the start

Finish line


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