A race report by Jason Karpinski
Race weekend began upon our arrival at our cabin on Thursday night. We spent Friday driving around and seeing the area a bit more and getting one last run in before race day. While driving to packet pick-up Friday evening, we quite literally almost ran into a mama black bear and her two cubs, just a mere few hundred yards from the Happy Dutchmen aid station. After an eventful trip to packet pick-up, we arrived at Little Pine State Park and greeted many familiar faces before making our way to the cabin to settle in for a fairly restless pre-race night.
Race day started dark and early at 3:00 a.m., and with the non-traditional breakfast of a peanut butter sandwich and a side of chicken and rice. We left the cabin at 4:00 a.m. to make our way to the start line. The anxiety was building in me, and I kept saying, “I just need to get started.” 5:00 a.m. and the race started with the crowd cheering, “5, 4, 3, 2, 1.” I made the decision to start towards the back of the pack in order to calm myself down and force myself to settle in for what would surely be a long day-and-a-half of forward movement.
The first couple miles seemed to fly by as we approached the first climb for the day, which I was warned by Jim Blanford to be quite possibly the worst climb of the entire race. I began my ascent with Andy Styer in tow, as Jess Gockley cheered us on with a joyful, “Oh come on, this is runnable.” Upon reaching the summit of the first climb, I was relieved to think that the climb was not too significant. Through the next several miles, I had the opportunity to talk to familiar faces with familiar names such as Andy, Brooke Schell, and Ryan Espulgar. A new name and face was met in this section: Kip H. Kip is a light-hearted, humorous, and clearly knowledgeable runner who helped pass the time before the second aid station. Shortly after arriving at this aid station, we climbed to what was, for me, the most stunning vista of the entire race.
The next attraction was also the first crew-accessible aid station at mile 17.8: Lower Pine Bottom. Coming into this aid station was overwhelming as there was a ton of people running around and cheering. I was immediately jumped on by Tod Slabik’s crew (Mark Weaver and Kyle Benjamin), everybody’s crew (Jim and Karen Blandford), and my own crew chief and girlfriend, Michelle. Before I knew it, my bottles were filled; Michelle had replenished my gels and stroopwafels, and I was off with pickles and turkey wraps in hand. The high of the aid station was very short-lived as I was stung by a bee just a few steps back onto the trail. In traditional trail ultra-running fashion, I decided to use this as a mental game and use the adrenaline rush of the bee sting to push the next hill.
The miles ticked on, and before I knew it, I was coming upon the Hyner Run aid station at mile 43. Shortly before this stop I hit my first big low point; however, coming out onto the road section knowing we were approaching the aid station, I was able to push a 9:30 min/mile pace for almost a mile. The Hyner Run aid station was a sight-to-be-seen with what seemed liked hundreds of folks camped out in chairs spread out all over the lawn and a bank of at least 3 tents with anything a runner’s heart could desire or dream of. At this aid station I began what became a new system of maintenance: change shirt, wipe feet with baby wipe, apply Desitin, and finally new socks. I picked up my first pacer at this stop, Michelle “Squats” Batt.
We made our way through familiar trails from the Hyner 50k course and eventually arrived at the Aloha station of Dry Run, mile 51.2. At this point I started to truly get tested mentally. I had a thought that would have surely made me quit had I been alone in this effort. That thought was of course a rational one, “I AM ONLY HALFWAY?!?!” After refilling bottles, enjoying bacon soaked in chicken broth, and reapplying my headlamp, we were off to traverse the last 12 miles of our time together. We passed the time by discussing many animal topics such as: “What is a dromedary?”, “Is that a tree frog making that noise?”, “Is a millipede or a centipede poisonous?”, “Did you know that manatees use farting to regulate their buoyancy?” Anyway, we eventually made our way to Slate Run, mile 63.
At Slate Run my crew, led by Michelle “el Presidente” Henry, jumped on the previously mentioned system of maintenance. I was led back onto the course by my next pacer, Steve Vida. We had 40 miles to cover with just about 15 hours until the cutoff. We were in good shape for time, but I knew we had to keep moving. The miles slowly ticked by as we traversed what was possibly the most runnable sections of the course. Unfortunately, my feet were so tender that I was unable to muster much more than a quarter- to a half-mile of running at a time. Each transition from down-slope to up-slope and vice versa became more and more painful. Fortunately, my mind stayed alert as I confirmed trail math with Steve, “If I keep at least 25 minute miles for the last 10 miles, I should have about half an hour to spare…right?”. To which Steve would take a couple seconds and respond, “Correct.”
With about 10 miles to go, I started to get very dizzy and my vision quickly tunneled in to a small circle. Without looking up from my feet, I said, “Steve, I keep getting dizzy.” In classic Steve fashion, he responded with “okay.” I decided to look up, and all of a sudden I really got dizzy, but my visual field expanded exponentially and Steve said, “Good–a change of perspective.” It was at this point that I felt my lowest, and Steve said later that he realized I was in a really tough spot. Steve has a saying that is well known within his family, and he pulled this out (somewhat jokingly) at this moment, “It will all work out.” Luckily, it was at this point that we noticed three individuals walking towards us over the horizon. These three were Andy, his girlfriend Kim, and Kelly Ammon. Kelly asked what they were surely all thinking, “How are you feeling?” All I could think of for some response was, “Eh, okay I guess. Like I have traveled 93 miles.” Seeing familiar faces lifted my spirits tremendously. I knew at this last aid station with my crew, Barrens, I could not sit, and would need to pass off my bottles, grab food, and keep moving. I looked at Michelle H. and said, “I cannot sit; I love you; thank you.” Later Michelle told me she had piled stuff on the chair so I had no other option but to stay standing.
The last 10 miles seemed to take as long as the first 93, with each downhill feeling like my feet were tearing apart. But, I knew if I did not get injured, I was going to cross that finish line. I pushed through the infamous rattlesnake den and down the last few downhills, which felt like they would be un-runnable even on fresh legs. Downhills that even made Steve say, “GET ME OFF THIS FREAKING MOUNTAIN.” Finally we heard cheers and knew for sure that the finish line was approaching. I passed my pack and poles off to Steve and crossed that line with my traditional round-off, much against the advice of Steve. I was greeted by cheers from everyone remaining and given the best hug from my crew chief Michelle. Did I mention that I was DFL? I could not be happier to hold the honor of finishing dead last in what was quite the adventure.
Eastern States is an incredibly well-run race with aid stations crewed by some of the best and most helpful individuals. It may not be the best pick for one’s first 100-miler, but I would recommend it to anyone who is interested. For me, it may be a one-off, as I cannot imagine it getting any easier. I want to thank my crew chief for putting up with all the long training hours and complaining, my pacers for keeping me moving and keeping my mind occupied, and lastly to all the locals who spent their weekend driving around and cheering on all of us idiots. I have my eyes set on bigger and longer races and seeing where I can push my body and mind to. I truly believe I have a lot of potential to unlock and look forward to writing many future race reports.
Lastly, always remember, when you hit a rough patch out on the trail…”we are the lucky ones.”