Making a List

by Jason Karpinski

The year begins to wind to an end; the sometimes dreaded, but always highly anticipated, task of reviewing your year and planning the next begins to take hold. As runners, this means looking back at a year of triumph, tribulation, and many miles shared with countless friends. This time also means planning out the upcoming year of races and personal challenges. I will look back on this year as by far my most challenging year of running. Fortunately, it was also a year full of successes.

Back in 2021, I attempted, and DNF’ed, World’s End 100k. It was my first attempt at that distance, and as some may remember, it was a day that would challenge even the hardiest of runners. Somehow, with very minimal training, I managed to complete 58 miles before being pulled for time. But as many failures do, this propelled me to push my limits by attempting “The Blacklist”. For those of you who are unfamiliar, as I was in 2021, the Blacklist is a series of what are claimed to be the toughest trail races in Pennsylvania: Hyner 50k, World’s End 100k, Eastern States 100, and the Black Forest 100k. Each of these races presents its own challenges, and each requires a fair amount of training and preparation. I have shared my experience at a couple of these races in the newsletter earlier in the year; however, I failed to recap the race which finished off this incredible ride of a year: The Black Forest 100k.

Midnight, October 2nd: 70-ish anxious runners toe the line just mere feet outside a pavilion at Hyner Run State Park, surrounded by a surprising amount of cheering family and friends. For about a dozen of these individuals, it marks the final start to a year-long mission. (Spoiler alert: only 9 complete this grueling task.) What lies ahead of all these individuals is 7 hours of non-stop rain brought by the remnants of Hurricane Ian, 64 miles of constantly undulating hills, minimal aid stations (5 fully equipped; 3 water-only), and a couple dozen swiftly moving water crossings. In case you missed it, this race starts at midnight. This reason alone starts to show why the race slogan is “Diabolically Epic”. The other part that makes this race a bit different is that the racers are not allowed any outside crew or spectators from the moment the race begins until they cross the finish line. You truly do have to rely on your drop bags or of the ever-helpful strangers that run the aid stations.

The first 15 miles seems to breeze by as we get accustomed to the soaking conditions, muddy terrain, and pace of those around us. Although in my experience there were not many fellow runners to be seen after about 5 miles. As with most ultra trail races, you get to spend minutes and often hours at a time alone in the woods with only your sloshing water, your crinkling gel wrappers, and your own thoughts (sometimes the best and oftentimes the worst company).

As I approach the next aid station, I begin to feel tired. Throughout the year I have learned to know this tired. It is a tired not due to lack of sleep or accumulation of mileage, but rather the dreaded blood sugar low. I arrive at the aid station and proceed to have a feast: 3 pierogi, half a grilled cheese, an Uncrustable, a cup of chicken noodle soup, Coke, Mountain Dew, and water. I restock my pack with gels, and I am off to traverse the next 13 miles to the next aid station. 

After my gluttonous undertaking at mile 18, I begin to make the next climb, which is about a mile and a half of switchbacks, and about 500 feet of elevation gain. It takes about 3 miles until the food begins to take hold, and I swing from the extreme low to an extreme high which leads me not feeling tired, but rather half unknowingly sleepwalking for 2 miles. I recognize it is happening as I catch myself opening my eyes a couple dozen times just as I am about to take an ill-fated step into a rut in the trail or a small boulder. After this passes, my legs and body begin to click again until about mile 24-26, when I do not manage to avoid said small boulders. I kick three rocks all with my left foot which leaves my 2nd-4th toe feeling as though the nails have been lost, only being held in by the Injinji toe socks. Anyhow, this is trail racing after all, and the show must go on.

Map

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Fast-forward to 5 miles left in the race. I have all but decided I am going to “walk this one in,” knowing that I was well ahead of the 17-hour time limit. While powering up a hill of switchbacks familiar to those who have run Hyner, I look down to see two brightly colored shirts making their way up. In my head I was tired of the race and tired of seeing people pass me and I told myself that no one will pass me from there to the finish line. I took off running and somehow managed to run the fastest 5 miles of the entire race. There were only two miles to go, as I started to make my way down the final hill. It was a technical descent with plenty of roots and rocks; however, my legs, mind, and body told me to let it all go for broke and simply let go. I passed the final runner I would see on course. 

At the start of the race, I had placed an Apple Airtag in my pack in hopes that Michelle and my mom could track my whereabouts throughout the race. It was at this moment shortly after seeing this final runner that I heard the ping of the Airtag for the first time. This sound broke me out of my extreme focus and pace and reminded me of why I do these adventures. It is a reason many of us do these races: to prove to ourselves and those around us that the limits we set are only limited by our minds, because our bodies have so much more to give than we know. I proceeded to spend the next half mile with tears of joy and gratitude streaming down my face. These tears were replaced with childish joy, yells, and laughter as I made my way out of the woods, across the gravel path, and finally rounding off into the air across the finish line. My legs immediately hurt, my body tightened up, my feet screamed, but my mind was calm, quiet, and fulfilled. 

This year was one I will never forget, and one that I owe so much to those around me. From friends joining in on many training miles, veterans giving me advice about the races and strategies, my family for telling me I am crazy while also telling me they are confident I can do it. And finally, to Michelle, for sacrificing so much of her time which allowed me to leave the house, oftentimes well after my bedtime, to get a run in. All these folks have heard my thanks but deserve to hear them repeatedly. The year was memorable, but the best is yet to come; 103 miles only opened the door to possibilities, and I know I have so much more to give!

Eastern States 2022: A Race to Finish Last

A race report by Jason Karpinski

the author

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 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.

Bee Careful!

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.  

Jason’s secret weapon

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.

a dromedary
no cure like a pedicure

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.” 

Jason doing math in his head

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.

hallucinations so vivid the camera was able to pick them up

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.

Squats, Jason, Steve

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.”  

powered by love

The View 25k (11/08/2020)

by Jason Karpinski

The author and Penelope-the-Pup; photo by Michelle Henry

Over 300 runners gathered at the start line with “The View” looming overhead. Race Director Craig Fleming briefly addressed the participants and quickly gave up the mic because “he worked too hard not to run the race.” The gun goes off and the shuffle of feet begins. This was my first time at the heralded Hyner Challenge course in North Bend, PA. The misfortune of the Hyner cancellation earlier in the year became my fortune to enter this “once-and-done” race. A course which featured many of the staples in this area, including: Humble Hill, Cliffhanger, Post Draft, and the seemingly vertical SOB Hill.

As the first couple miles unraveled, I somehow ended up immediately ahead of previously mentioned RD, Craig Fleming. This unique experience gave me an inside look into the preparation taken to make the course race-ready. Such preparation involved cutting downed trees, re-routing the usual course to add a mile and more elevation (because the regular course simply would not cut it), and even leaf-blowing several miles. While learning of the work put into the course, I had my first Humble Hill experience, which will certainly not be forgotten. Shouts of joy could be heard from a select few runners picking their way up and up and up. Approximately 1900 feet of elevation gain and we reached the first aid station around mile 3.5. Crews at this aid station and the 2 others were quick to help the runners and offer words of encouragement.

The miles continued, as did the hills. Around mile 8 we hit a section of the course which was believe it or not, downhill. However, this downhill was unlike any I have ever run–approximately 3/4 of a mile steady downhill marred with large, grapefruit-sized rocks (an absolute ankle destroyer). Moisture on the course was nearly non-existent, which in my opinion made for a great race day, but it was almost too clean. That is, until we reached mile 10 and were faced with SOB Hill–a hill which is wrought with loose dirt and stones, and what seemed like a 70° pitch. Luckily this was the last of the hills, and we were told at the third aid station that the last 4-5 miles were flat or downhill.

The last several miles flew by and before you knew it you were crossing the finish line to a round of applause, cheers, and cow-bells from the on-lookers and those who run just a bit faster than I. Hot food and cold beverages awaited, as did a beautiful mid-day ride back home where the memories of the day were relived with others and stored for later runs. The Hyner course and surrounding area is one that should not be missed and added to trail running fans’ wish lists. I know I will certainly be back in the future.

Keep running, smiling, and being kind to others.

Run Like a Warrior

by Steve Vida

You’re in the woods at a secret location in the Bronx.  It’s 1:00 AM.  You need to get to Coney Island, about 28 miles away, but there is no marked course.  You’re about to begin the Warriors Ultra-Run.

Jon Durand heard about this race, and we headed to NYC together to check it out.  The race format is inspired by the 1979 gang movie The Warriors, where 8 members of the Warriors are trying to get from the Bronx back to their home turf in Coney Island while being chased by an assortment of rival gangs.

The event itself is more fat-ass than race.  There is no swag, no aid stations, no bibs, no course.  You do get Todd Aydelotte, the enthusiastic race director.  You get a fun group of people to run with.  And you get New York City – a lot of it.

Jon and I followed Broadway from the start and through the length of Manhattan, counting down the cross streets from 242nd to somewhere below 14th.  This route was well-lit and simple to follow, with places to restock food along the way.  Bathrooms weren’t as easy to come by.  The overnight atmosphere through here was surprisingly subdued.

There were opportunities in Manhattan to see locations from the movie.  Jon and I are pictured outside 72nd Street station, where the encounter with the Furies begins.  (It’s presented as 96th Street in the movie.)  We also made a slight detour to see the real park where the opening conclave was filmed.  Further down Broadway we passed through Times Square and Union Square.  

We took the Brooklyn Bridge out of Manhattan.  The temperature all night was upper 70s with high humidity, so it was a relief to get some cooler air on the bridge.  The optimal route through Brooklyn wasn’t obvious.  We passed the Barclay’s Center and Prospect Park and then turned straight toward Coney Island.  We were spent by this time, and traffic was picking up with the daylight.  But we soldiered on and made it to the finish on the boardwalk well after sunrise.  There were a few beers available for the finishers, but Nathan’s wouldn’t be open for a few hours yet.

The top 3 finishers (in the 4:30 range) will get replica Warriors vests.  The plan is for them to begin next year’s race with a 10 minute head start, while the rest of the field chases after them.  2020 was only the second year for this event.  Last year had 32 participants, and this year was on track for well over 100 before COVID reduced the number to around 30 again.

The race director added a few nice features for big fans of the original movie.  We gathered for the start and listened to an audio replay of Cyrus’ speech at the conclave (pictured – note our masks).  The race began at the sound of the gunshot that kills Cyrus.

Participants were also encouraged to come dressed as one of the gangs.  You only have to watch the first 10 minutes of the movie to get plenty of great costume ideas.  But in the July heat this wasn’t very practical.  I started the race with a Furies baseball jersey and a ring of face paint around one eye.  Both had to come off in the first mile.  However, if you go with a group of people, it might be fun to wear matching running shirts and show up as your own “gang”.

You can eventually find updated information at thewarriorsultra.com, or hit up me, Jon or Jason Karpinski (another local participant) for more details.