by April Zimmerman
I’ve been waiting a year and a half for this weekend – Eastern States 100. 36 hours to run, hike, (crawl?) 103 miles. Two years ago, I got my first 100 miler experience as I helped crew and pace Brian at this race. It was an incredible thing to witness runners pushing through the suck, and the volunteers and crews out there to support those runners. I fell in love with Little Pine State Park and the surrounding areas we traveled to for crewing during the race. I’ve had many trips back to the area since then, for other races, and training runs. I feel like I don’t have any business attempting a 100 miler, but here I am. I have a lot of badass, influential friends (or bad influence?). I’m sure there are many other great races out there, but this is it for me–I want this one. The course and the area it travels through have all come to mean something to me, so I don’t think any other distance race will mean as much to me as this one does. I’m not fast. I’m not competitive. I don’t push myself as much as I could. I don’t train as hard as others. I just do what works for me, or maybe I’m just lazy. Despite all that, I do not doubt that I will finish this. That might make me a fool, but all I see is me finishing this race. I know this course. I’ve trained on it. I’ve re-read the course description and race reports. I love the time I’ve spent on these trails, and I hope I still feel that love when I am out there all day, and night, and into the next day. I don’t want to be the girl that fails, that didn’t train hard enough, or isn’t tough enough. Reality is though that anything can happen. I might not eat or drink enough, or eat the wrong things, get hurt, or find myself at 3am hoping a bear would just eat me and put me out of my misery. I want to smile and enjoy this, just take it all in, rather than be miserable, which I can be at times, especially under these conditions. I hope I can remember out there that I GET to do this. I can see, hear, walk, run… things I usually take for granted, things some people are not able to do.
6 years ago, I wasn’t a runner. If you had told me I would run a half marathon, marathon, 50K, or 100K, I would have laughed at you. I didn’t even know that trail running and ultramarathons were a thing. To all the people that don’t think they could ever do this, well, I didn’t either, until I tried. I put in the work and built up to the distances. Our bodies are capable of much more than we realize; it’s our mind we must convince.
Eastern States 100 – I don’t even know where to begin… I had so much support from my friends and family, especially my husband. He got my crew to each accessible aid station, and he found some other spots along the trails to spectate and cheer the runners on. It was great to see my sons out there experiencing an event like this. Tim, Wendy, Will, and Michele camped at Little Pine State Park and came out for the race. Gabe, Jess, Hunter and Kassidy volunteered at the Hyner Run (mile 43) aid station, and then Gabe planned to pace me from there. Fran and Brooke were also there to help crew and pace me. Was I supposed to have a plan? I’m not much of a planner. 100 miles is a lot of unknown for me. How would it go through the night Saturday after already having 65 miles on my legs and not getting any sleep? Would I be able to move fast enough as my legs got tired? Would my stomach shut me down? The only thing I knew is that I needed Brooke with me for the last 20 miles. She had the experience, and I knew she would keep me in line and get me to the finish.
We rented a cabin at Happy Acres for the whole crew and went up Thursday night to try and have a relaxing Friday before the race. We had dinner at Mountain Top (so good!) and then went to packet pick up. I tried to get to bed early, but that’s usually something I fail at on a regular basis. I set the alarm for 3 am, but I was already awake and didn’t need it. We were only a few miles away from the start/finish area. As always, it’s nice to see everyone before the race starts. It didn’t fully sink in, what I was about to do. I was ready to start and get the pack spread out. I never know where to place myself. I don’t want to feel pressure from people behind me to go faster, and I don’t like being behind someone knowing I could go faster. The first 20ish miles are the hardest part of the course.
The race starts at 5 am. Here we go! The first mile is on the road to Little Pine State Park Campground and then we hit the Mid State Trail. It’s narrow, with plenty of rocks and roots to turn your ankle on in the dark, but I get through it safely to Dam Run Rd, to one of the worst climbs on the course. It’s a conga line on the climb, no need to push it, but the guy in front of me almost hits me in the face a few times with his trekking poles. I finally had enough and went around him. I didn’t want to be that person passing early in the race on a climb, but I also didn’t want to get stabbed in the eye! Throughout those early miles I got to chat with Karina, Brian R, Bryan S, and the company was nice while it lasted. On the back of my phone, I had the aid station chart with distances, cut-off times, and my estimated times, which were based on Brian’s times from 2 years ago. I looked at it a lot to know the distance to the next aid station. That’s basically how my whole race went, aid station to aid station. Climb, descend, repeat…
The first aid station is at Ramsey Rd, mile 5.5, which I went through without stopping. There is a rocky, off camber descent to Ramsey Run. I felt good on the descent and wondered to myself if I was running it too fast, which my quads would hate me for later. We start another long, rocky climb, and then the Mid State Trail descends once again, but not quite as technical this time. I worry about my feet going out from under me on the steep descent, trying to slow myself down, wrecking my quads. I got to chat with George along the way.
We cross Route 44 to the Pine Creek Rail Trail, and aid station 2, mile 10.5, where RD Dave Walker is helping. From there we run the Pine Creek Rail Trail for a short bit, and I enjoy the view as we cross the bridge over Pine Creek! I really do love this beautiful area! I exchange a few words with a guy from Sweden, and I find it interesting how far some people traveled to do this race. I believe there is a group of 10 from Japan as well! Shortly after the bridge on the rail trail, we turn right on the Stone Cutter Trail, and then the Tiadaghton Trail. The guy in front of me kept going on the rail trail, so I had to tell him he missed the turn. It’s too early to be missing turns! The Ramsey climb is another tough one, but I kind of like it because of the view towards the top, and it’s familiar to me from the times I’ve done it before. I take a moment to enjoy the view, and then we have some more gradual climbing along the ridgetop.
We get to a gravel road, Bull Run Rd, and I think I see a deer, but it turns out it’s my dog, Rusty. I see my friends and family found a spot to spectate and cheer us all on! Next is the descent along Bull Run, which is pretty, but rocky. I take my time here. I’m very thankful the bugs aren’t as bad as they’ve been on other days, and that the stinging nettle have been trimmed. I find myself getting emotional a few times early in the race as I think to myself, this is it, you are doing Eastern freaking States! Towards the bottom of Bull Run we turn and run a nice rolling section, with Pine Creek down to our right. We pass through some hunting cabins to Route 44 and make our way up a trail to the Lower Pine Bottom DCNR building, aid station 3, mile 17.8.
I’m happy to see my crew, and the only real bathroom on the course! It’s about 9:50am. I refill water and gels, ditch the headlamp, and back out I go. So many familiar faces, but it’s all a blur. I have 8 miles to the next aid station. We climb the gravel Lower Pine Bottom Road for ¾ mile and then turn right and cross a stream to Wolf Path, for more climbing. Along this section I think back to my training run here with friends, and it gets me through the lonely miles. The descent along Ott Fork is nice, gradual, and not technical. I’m surprised again to see my family and friends spectating here!
We cross Route 44 to climb the Plantation Trail. We are on some ATV trails towards the top and then a there is a nice descent on the Jack Martin Trail, with some waterbars to throw my rhythm off. I notice the girl in front of me looks like she is hiking down, and while I’m running down, I’m not really catching up to her too quickly. Maybe I should save my quads and do what she is doing?
Aid station 4, Browns Run, mile 25.8, and again it’s nice to see some familiar faces! Joe is there taking photos. He completed this race two years ago. I also see Luke, who did a lot of trail maintenance before the race. Thank you! It’s sometime after 12pm. I’ve been moving for over 7 hours now. I know I have 6 miles to the next aid station, and it’s a long, gradual climb along Browns Run. I chew some RunGum for caffeine to get me through it. I also turn some music on my phone, quietly, when no one else is around me on the trail. I don’t normally listen to music, but whatever it takes right now. Seriously, 6 miles of gradual climbing? It’s a mental grind. I am surprised to see my husband found another gravel road to spectate at near the end of this section!
At Happy Dutchman, aid station 5, mile 31.6, I get my water refilled and eat a little something before heading out. I think it’s around 2:20pm at this point. I cross Route 44, and it’s mostly grass snowmobile trails, and then the Donut Hole Trail to Ritchie Rd. All very runnable, if you’re up for that. 6.9 miles to the next aid station. I make myself run a lot of this section, and I wonder how my legs can feel this bad already, after “only” going 50K. Once again, they found another spectating spot. I’m alone for most of this section. There is a nice couple sitting out along the trail, though their “fuzzy friends club” (lots of stuffed animals) seems a little strange.
I love the creative signs along Ritchie Rd, coming into the aid station. It’s around 4:00pm, mile 38.5. Again, it’s nice to see some familiar faces here! Jade, Michael, and Kiran are here! I make myself eat something, and then I have 4.7 miles to Hyner Run. This is one small section I have never done. The dirt road power line section seems to go on forever, and I bet that’s tough on a hot, sunny day. I pass a few runners, and then finally get back on a trail and descend Bear Pen Hollow to Hyner Run Rd. I am slow on the descent, and happy to be done with it. I start running on the gravel road, and it feels like my home away from home, coming into Hyner Run State Park.
It’s around 5:15 pm. Aid station 7, mile 43.2. It’s crew accessible and I can pick up my first pacer, Gabe. I’ve been moving for over 12 hours now. I take time here to make sure I have what I need as I will be heading into darkness before the next crew access. I take my arm warmers, buff, headlamp, and fingerless gloves so I don’t get blisters on my hands… and then I never stop at the aid station to eat. I’m happy to see my family and crew, and Gabe’s family cheering for me with the signs they made. I head out with Gabe for the two mile climb on the Donut Hole Trail. It’s so nice to have someone to talk to as he fills me on his day with his family, volunteering at the aid station, and how others are doing in the race. I start to feel ever so slightly nauseous, and I realize my mistake not eating any real food at the aid station. I get some calories with my gels and baby food packet, and I mention that I need to eat at the next aid station. I know this section to Dry Run Rd very well, from the Hyner Half, and think of the fun times with the PA Trail Dogs. The trails are in excellent shape, thanks to them. I might know this section too well though, which makes it drag on for me mentally. Oh, the painful, short, yet steep descent of the “V”, where the trail just seems to drop out from under you, and then goes right back up again. I think back to watching Brian go down this on his butt because it’s that steep. Descend, climb, descend, climb…
We finally get to Dry Run aid station, mile 51.1, and it’s nice to see Sophorn here. I eat some real food and then we head back out. We have 3.5 miles to the next aid station at Halfway House. It’s dark and all a blur in my memory now.
We get to Halfway House aid station around 9:15pm, mile 54.7. Gabe paced me for 11.5 miles. Now I am picking up my next pacer, my 16 year old son, Dylan. We have 9.1 miles to the Slate Run aid station. We cross Route 44 and continue on the Black Forest Trail. He’s excited and a little nervous to pace me, but we’ve reassured him he’ll be fine as he’s done trail races with us before. He thinks it’s cool to be out in the dark. He tells me repeatedly how proud of me he is and how great I am doing. Having him experience this with me means more than words can say! He fills me in on what’s been happening, like how they got to chat with a Tesla owner from New York. It’s nice to hear him talk about Tesla instead of how we should have a pet wallaby (his current joke).
I’ve done the Black Forest Trail before, but it’s hard to remember it all in the dark. I know this will come as a surprise, but there were some rocky, muddy sections, with some descending and some climbing. At spots it’s hard to follow the trail in the dark, along Callahan Run, probably because it’s not much of a trail at times. Certain spots would come back to me, and I’d say, hey look, it’s clear and there would be an awesome view to see here if it wasn’t dark. I think we passed some people on the descent to Naval Run, but I’m sure they ended up passing me again later. Dylan informs me that Brooke instructed him to tell me run to the next reflector. Ha, of course she did! Once we get to Naval Run Road, I run all of it, so that should make Brooke happy! My son hid it well that he was feeling sick while he was out there, but he held it in until after he was done pacing me. We get to Hotel Manor around 12:40am.
Aid station 11, mile 63.8. I change my muddy shoes and socks because I don’t trust my Saucony Peregrines once they get wet. I’ve had issues with my mid soles working their way out from under the insole. My sister made a last-minute decision to drive up for the race, and this is the first place I got to see her. I ate some things, enjoyed seeing more familiar faces, and then headed out with my pacer, Fran, for the next 16.5 mile section. The climb on the Black Forest Trail out of Slate Run is a big one that seems to never end. It seems like it’s over, and then it starts climbing again. Right before we started the climb, Ryan passed us and told his runner how I dropped him on this climb during the Black Forest 100K, and then they disappeared, dropping me this time. I am feeling pretty slow on the climbs and my legs feel like they have no power. It’s a shame we are missing the great views along this climb. Poor Fran got the worst section to pace. Once we are finally done with that climb, I try to move with purpose. We get a break from climbing and descending for a little while. Every time I’ve done this section on a training run, it ended up being miserable, so I was mentally prepared for it to suck. I think that helps it suck a little less. I check what time it is and look forward to the fact that, as the hours pass, we will soon be in daylight again. We hear the Algerines aid station before we see it, which is impressive for the ridiculous time of night. Or is it morning?
Aid station 12, Algerines, mile 69.1. It’s around 3am. At this point I am done with anything sweet and only want salty foods. They talk me into sitting down by the fire for a few minutes. I think I had a hash brown that I had to wash down with broth because everything just sticks in my mouth. I see Luke again, and it’s nice to chat with Jeff, however it’s not so nice to get back up and moving on stiff legs. Fran and I head back out, and I’m prepared for the suckiest section, starting with another rocky descent that is hard to navigate in the dark. I probably complained about it a lot through here, just for something to talk about. We cross a gravel road and start climbing again. The more we climb, the harder it gets to follow the trail. Look for the next reflector and make your way towards it. It was hard enough to find the trail on our training run in the daylight! Once we are finally at the top, I complain some more about how long it seems to be taking to get to the next aid station.
We finally get to the Long Branch aid station, mile 75.6. It’s almost 5am. Broth or soup are my preference at this point. We see David and Lea here, and I love when she sternly tells him it’s time to get moving. We head out close behind them. I’m looking forward to seeing the sunrise and making it to Blackwell. That seems like a big milestone in my mind, to make it that far and get this section behind me. We get a nice, foggy sunrise view along the West Rim Trail.
David and Lea pass me, which means they missed a turn, because they had been in front of me. I’m impressed by how well he’s moving. Fran tells me I can catch the girls in front of us, which is something Brooke would say. I don’t really care about that at this point, but I do manage to pass them eventually. The descent seems to go on forever, and I whine some more about it. I watch my footing as I don’t want to go falling down the side of the mountain to the creek below. There is a big washed out section on the Bohen Trail that they have fixed since my last training run here, but that bridge seems a little sketchy. It’s probably because of that intimidating drop I just mentioned. There are some pirate flags along the trail, which makes me think of our PA Trail Dog pirates John and Larie. We finally get down to Blackwell, where I make a very pathetic attempt at getting my legs over the guard rail to the road, where we then cross the bridge over Pine Creek.
Blackwell aid station, mile 80.3, 7:35 am. I have been moving for over 24 hours. It’s nice to see my crew again, and more familiar faces. Brooke already has some food picked out for me from the aid station. What do I need? I have no idea! I sit down and take my shoes off because there is dirt in them, and it feels like sandpaper to the bottom of my feet. The muscles in my legs and feet feel stiff and sore. I spend about 5-6 minutes at the aid station. After I get some food in me, I head out with Brooke for the last 23 miles. The only other time I’ve done this section was when I paced Brian two years ago. I think I prefer knowing what I’m in for, and I can’t remember this section well. I look forward to the view at Gillespie Point, but climbing feels really hard by now, and extremely slow. It’s only 4.5 miles to the Skytop aid station, but it seems to take a long time, probably because it did! It’s a pretty section of trail, with a few stream crossings, but I’m not really appreciating it at this point. It’s nice to chat with Brooke. She is very encouraging and full of praise for me. Running has brought so many great people into my life.
Skytop aid station, mile 84.8, 9:26 am. They have an assortment of pancakes. Clayton tells me to sit down and eat some soup, and then before I know it he tells me I need to get up and move again! I was there for less than 10 minutes.
Onward we go, with 6 miles to the next aid station. We spend what seems like a long time on grassy roads, which are totally runnable, but I refuse to run. I believe I spent some time whining to Brooke about not wanting to run through the grass, because somehow the grass made it feel hard. I felt bad that I was slowing down so much, yet I really didn’t care. Brooke mentions to me that my sister expressed an interest in pacing me the last 10 miles. She wanted to make me aware of that before we get there so I have time to think about it. It’s a tough decision, because I feel bad cutting my time short with Brooke. I don’t want to disappoint her, missing out on the last 10 miles with me, but then again it would be nice to spend some time chatting with my sister and sharing some of the beautiful trails and experience with her. I know it would mean a lot to both of us, but then I’ll miss out on that time with Brooke. Ugh! I know I originally said I needed Brooke to get me the last 20 miles, but by now we all know that I am the one that will be getting myself through the last miles. There is no doubt I am getting this done. The struggle I expected never came.
Once we are back on a trail, I manage to do some running. There are some pretty sections with lots of ferns. (If you want a course description, you’re not really getting it here, but there’s a great description on the race website.) We get to a gravel road, which we run to the aid station, but again it seems to take forever. I’m met with disappointment every time we come around a turn, with no aid station in sight yet. I run when I can, and then I finally see it!
Barrens aid station, mile 92.8, 12pm. Hi Debbie and Nicole! Another great aid station where I am asked what I need, and I have no idea how to respond. I look at what they have and get something to eat and drink. My crew is getting my sister ready to pace, with a pacer bib and a waiver. We head out of the aid station, leaving my husband very confused as to what just happened. He thought it was a train wreck because he knew I felt very strongly that Brooke pace me to the finish, so why was Stacy with me? He wasn’t aware of the conversation Brooke and I had while she was pacing me. I still feel bad that Brooke wasn’t with me those last 10 miles, but I enjoyed sharing the experience with my sister. I slowed down A LOT those last few miles, and I know Brooke would have tried to push me, in the nicest way possible. I’m not sure if I could have handled that mentally, but I’m sure I would have told her in my whiny way. I have 6.3 miles to the next aid station. This is another section that I have never done before, and I find myself wishing I had, so that I would know what I was in for. I try to run when I can, but it all feels terrible anymore. There are no major climbs, but even going downhill feels bad. I enjoy talking to my sister, and eventually we make it to the aid station.
Hacketts aid station, mile 99.1, 2:30pm. Eat, drink, it’s all a blur, but the volunteers are fun. We head back out, and it’s downhill, which hurts. Really, everything hurts at this point. We cross a gravel road and briefly see my family, and we also see Tracy driving by. She says she will be sweeping this section later and doesn’t want to see me. “Only” 3.8 miles to the finish, but it feels like a death march. I was tired of climbing, and yet downhill wasn’t any better. I know the last part of the course to the finish, Panther Run, and I’m looking forward to getting to it, but where is it? We climbed on the Mid State Trail, and then we start descending, which is confusing me because I thought we descended on Panther Run. I didn’t realize that Panther Run wasn’t the top of the mountain! We keep going down, with no sight of Panther Run. How is this possible? I complain about this quite a bit! I’m sure it felt much longer with how tired and sore I was. Even though it was downhill, I am extremely slow. I am passed by people these last few miles, but I don’t care. I will finish this race in time, and that is all that matters anymore.
I finally see the Panther Run sign! We have about a mile or less on the ridgetop before the last steep descent. Of course, we take photos of the rattlesnake den! Thankfully none of them are out on the trail. There are a lot of cool rock formations on this ridge, but I’m still hating every step I take.
We get to the final steep descent, and I am so happy to hear people and see the road down below! As I make my way down, pathetically slow, I think of Bob and me running down this hill last year at Call of the Wilds. I’m certainly not about to run down it now! Once down, we cross the road and make our way through the parking lot and across the grass to the finish line. I slowly run to the finish line, so happy to be done, yet not really feeling any of the emotions I expected to feel. I think I felt more emotion coming down the last descent, knowing the end was in sight. RD Dave Walker is at the finish line with a smile on his face, along with my family, crew, and friends. I can finally stop moving! I tell Dave I don’t want to do Black Forest 100K, but he says I should give it a few days. He gives me my buckle and a hug. I am given my finisher jacket and BOCO Gear backpack. I don’t like beer, but when Dave hands me a New Trail beer, I sit down and drink it! It’s been a long 35 hours and 12 minutes!
I did it! I finished this beast of a race, Eastern States 100! I don’t have a desire to run another 100 miler, but I can see myself possibly doing this one again in the future. Maybe… I have so many experiences on different sections of this course, from other trail races and training runs, and that plays a big part in my love for this course. It’s rocky, brutal, and yet so beautiful! I’ll be back next year, preferably as crew or a volunteer. I can’t say thank you enough to my family, crew, and friends for the support and encouragement, and all the awesome volunteers that make this race possible! I can’t imagine all that goes into putting on an event like this, and 100 miles is a lot of trails to clear. Thank you, Luke, Christian, and everyone that helped clear the trails! Thank you to the original RD Craig for creating this race, and thank you, Dave, for taking over as RD. I hope this race continues for many years.