Redemption, Hallucination, and a Moment of Bliss

an oil creek adventure

by Steve Vida

Last year, I DNF’d the Oil Creek 100-Miler after 75 miles.  It was my first attempt at this distance.

I returned in 2022 with a little more experience and confidence.  Everything proceeded as planned, and I (mostly) crushed it with the indispensable help of my pacers and crew.  I was 23rd out of 46 finishers and 84 starters.  I feel redeemed and content.

The Oil Creek 100 Trail Runs take place in Titusville, PA.  This is a well-organized event with an established reputation for outstanding aid stations and abundant course markings.  It’s a 5-hour drive from Reading, but worth the trip.  The start/finish is at the Titusville Middle School, but the course is a 50k loop in Oil Creek State Park.  The 100-mile race repeats this loop 3 times, with an extra 7-mile “going home” loop tacked on the end.

There are also 50k and 100k races with staggered starts on the same day.  My sister (club president) Michelle Henry and my daughter Olivia finished the 50k this year.  It’s a popular event with a generous cut-off time, and the signups fill quickly.  All 3 of us had great weather with temperatures mostly in the 40s and 50s.

Everything about my 2022 race went smoothly.  I wasn’t sure how to pace the early parts of a 100-miler.  So I looked back at times from 2016, averaged the splits from the bottom 2/3 of finishers and used those as my targets.  I managed to run the first loop 20 minutes ahead of target.  The second loop was 7 more minutes ahead of target.  But the biggest boost came when I picked up my pacers for the third lap, and we came through 40 minutes faster than target.

Sometimes, all you need from a pacer is company.  But Matt Brophy and Jason Karpinski were bringing the deluxe pacer package to Oil Creek: they understood me, and I trusted them.  This team (along with my wife Tracy as my crew captain) would be able to guide me through anything.

Jason joined me at the start of the third loop, not too long after dark.  I was using an hourly alarm on my watch as an eating reminder, but now it became a countdown til sunrise.  Every hour I would announce “10 hours til sunrise” and then eat a gel.  Halfway through the loop we reached the aid station where I dropped last year, and Matt started pacing.  Every step now was farther than I have ever run, and I wasn’t sure what to expect.  But I was able to keep up some hiking/running mixture that surprised me.  I kept up the sunrise countdown with Matt, but when we came down off the mountain at the end of loop 3, it was still dark, and I was 67 minutes ahead of plan.

This was probably my emotional highpoint during the race itself.  In my mind, I was moving like an unstoppable machine.  I had 9 miles to go and almost 5 of them would be flat.  I had so much time left that the cutoffs no longer mattered – I was definitely going to finish.  But I was also about 5 miles away from my lowest point of the race.  And I was starting to see things.

There’s about a mile of paved bike path between the trail and the school.  As we headed back to the school to complete the third loop, I spotted a person well ahead walking their dog alongside the path.  But as we got closer, there was no dog and there was no person … and I think, weren’t they right here where this sign is now?  This kind of episode repeated itself for the remainder of the race.  I’m uncommonly tolerant of lack of sleep, but at this point I had run through 2 sunrises during the race, and it felt like my brain was stretched too thin.

These few flat miles to the school and back gave me a break with a chance to fast-walk for a while.  But after 45 minutes, when I needed to start uphill again, there was a new and significant soreness in my right quad.  It wasn’t excruciating, but still the discomfort quickly sapped everything I had left.  Downhills felt even worse.  So at mile 96 I reached my lowpoint, staring at a sign that identified the next section as the “Hill of Truth”.  It was a slow and quiet battle.

Jason and Michelle met us about half a mile from the finish, and Michelle captured a photo that is my favorite from the weekend.  It’s Matt, me, and Jason walking together, but we’re spread out and clearly not speaking.  I think we look like 3 tired guys just leaving work after third shift.  And I think we give off an attitude like this is all something routine.

As we got closer to the school, Matt reminded me that I was expected to run it in.  I wasn’t convinced it was possible, but he also assured me that once I turned the corner, the energy and ability would be there, and he was right.  I lumbered down the home stretch with some mixture of disbelief and triumph.  I crossed the finish line, buried my face in my hands and choked back a quick couple sobs.  I imagined this finish so many times, but I never understood how the whole experience would gradually grind me away, and for a few blissful moments, all I would have – all I would be – is this belt buckle.

“Freddy Foose Is Coming In — Tear Everything Down but the Clock!”

call of the wilds 50k; waterville, pa — race report

by Fred Foose

The Challenge – A year earlier, when I signed up for this race, I saw myself as much more fit and ready to tackle what is considered one of the hardest 50Ks on the East Coast. I was going to make this my ‘A’ race of the year and do all I could to be ready. A year later, work, family, and a nagging hip issue found me, in my opinion, under-trained, sore, and debating whether or not to run this race. I had opportunity and excuses to step down to the 25K with no questions asked. No one would fault me and many running friends highly encouraged me to do so (very hard, you are sore, still just as challenging, they will let you switch before the race, etc.) But I am stubborn if nothing else and knew if I didn’t try I would wonder, “What if…” So, I packed up the truck with more gear than I would ever need and headed north to the beautiful and remote regions of the state, to the middle of nowhere: Waterville, PA. 

Evening Before – Night before the race, I got a decent meal and a beer. Back at the cabin I detailed out my ‘flat Freddy.’ No drop bags so whatever I needed was going to have to come with me! Decisions, Decisions! Worked on my hip one last time as if this one last session would get it right before the race after months of it nagging at me day after day and then tried to sleep. I don’t sleep well on race night–too anxious–but I got a few well-rested hours of sleep. 

Race Day – Up at 4:30 a.m. to get ready, eat, hydrate, and load up with all the stuff that should help me on the course including my secret weapon – mashed potatoes — and head to packet pick-up by 5:30. Looking at all the other 50K runners I knew I was in the wrong race! They were younger, fitter, and looked like they belonged there – still time to step down to the 25K?! Nope–I came to meet the challenge of the 50K or bust.  After a cup of Joe by the fire, it was go time – 6 a.m. sharp start and we are off! And…I am the last one out of the gate – telling!

In the Dark – My first ever in the dark start. Headlamps on looked pretty neat! Just follow the other runners up the first hill by tracking their headlamps. By the time I got to the top and by a few other runners. there were no headlamps behind me (making good time?) and only a couple in the distance ahead of me (good pace – guess not!). By the time I got to the second aid station I had overtaken the two in front of me in the dark and it was now light out. Ditch the headlamp and keep going – feeling great! I am doing this! Made it to AS3 and the two behind had caught up on the last very steep and rocky downhill, but I was still ahead of the cutoffs and going strong!

More Hills and Rocks – Back up the hills I go picking my way through the rocks on both the ups and downs. As added fun the course follows along the river up on the ledge on a single track which slopes toward the river, and you have to run kinda sideways as you constantly pick your way through more leaf-covered rocks – slower going, but still beautiful. Now the two in front of me are getting further ahead but there are still at least two behind me right? Yep and nope – they pass me on the downhill headed into AS4! That will be the last time I share the trail with anyone, and it’s only mile 14. Quads now feeling the downhills. Too soon for that! Keep going – get to that next aid station and focus on your race.

The Never Ending Hill – I pull into AS4 with 10 minutes to spare and all alone the guy tells me, “You have 2 hours to go six miles to the next aid station. Just get to the top of that hill and it’s all downhill for the last 4 miles.” Off I go – sounds doable – NOT! The top of the hill never came until what seemed like 10 false summits later and then it’s a couple of miles of rollers before you get to a nasty rock-strewn downhill which most of is no trail at all! Rockslyvania! Oh great – two guys following me down the hill – are they pulling down the flags?! Yep the sweepers are gaining on me! Still, somehow, I pull into AS5 only 30 seconds past cut-off. Legs are feeling like lead after the rocky climb down, but somehow I pull into AS5 (mile 20) only 30 seconds off the cut-off only to find out they sent the sweepers out early!

Chasing the Sweepers – I assure the ladies at the aid station that I am going to finish the race with or without the markers! They take my number in case they have to search for me later and with a quick dash of water I am off to run down the next set of sweepers as the sweepers behind me cheer me out (probably thinking “This guy is crazy!”). I catch them about a mile and a half up the trail screaming for them to stop – ONE MORE COMING! The dog hears me and they stop amazed there is still someone out there! They assure me I have an hour to go the 3.5 miles to AS5 at the bottom of Torbert! I am spent running them down but finally some level trail and I know I can get there in time. By now I am using the poles to propel me with a goal to stay ahead of the sweepers and get to mile 25 and AS6. I push my body through the cramps and shot quads and pull in with 15 minutes to spare! They work me over like a Nascar pit crew and I am out of there and headed up Torbert with 10 minutes to spare! The end is near…!

Torbert and Beyond – I start up the most famous and last real climb of the course – only 1 mile to the top. Stephanie and her dog, the next set of sweepers,  are soon on my back as I inch foot by foot up a gentle but brutal climb. Halfway up I am done. My legs are gone. This is the end. There is nothing left. It was spent chasing down the sweepers. I want to just stop. Stephanie tells me there is no turning around. If I want to quit we both have to get to the top because that is where her car is. So I climb… 5 steps, stop. 5 steps, stop…until finally the top of the hill! I made it! And its flat and runnable! Another mile to the aid station – I got this! The hard part is behind me!

New Life – I am actually jogging again at a 13ish minute mile by the time I get to AS7 with 15 minutes to spare! I am making up time! Again, they work me over and see what I need. I tell them to call ahead and let them know Freddy Foose is coming in and they can tear everything down but the clock! I am going to finish this damn race!  Five minutes later, I am headed back down the trail – 1 mile of straight, steep, rocky trail down, begging my body to just hold together for 3.5 more miles.

The Final Push – At the bottom there is one more twist of fate. You can almost see and hear the finish line, but nope – back up we go! Another mile of switchback to a crest which overlooks the valley before another precarious steep, rocky downhill to the road leading back to the finish. I can hear the staging area. People are cheering – still some 25K finishers coming in? Maybe I won’t truly be the last one in! It sparks my feet to keep moving -almost there!

The Finish– I have found my way to the road again. Every step my legs are now threatening to completely seize up and now my upper body has joined in the fight against my will to finish! As I come around the final turn – there it is the finish chute and clock! They left it up! Time to make a good showing of it – run the last stretch in – don’t embarrass yourself! They are cheering – finally the DFL racer is in and we can all go home! (I am sure that is what they were thinking and cheering about!). How nice to be greeted after all those hours by fellow runners, sweepers, volunteers, and workers who helped me accomplish the hardest race of my short (so far!) running career. I came, and I answered …The Call of the Wilds!

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

MY JOURNEY TO EASTERN STATES 100 AND THE PA TRIPLE CROWN

A race report by Brooke Schell

“This is what trail running is all about.”

It all began back in 2015. I was fairly new to the trail running community, but quickly fell in love! Karen Blandford had reached out asking for help in crewing Jim at this race called Eastern States. Being new to it, I didn’t think much of it other than an opportunity to see what running 100 miles looks like and an opportunity to help a friend out. I knew I would never run 100 miles, and even told many people how crazy these runners are. After one weekend of witnessing this amazing event, I became curious.  I started asking questions, wanted to know how this affects the body, wondered why someone would do this and what they get out of it, and the list goes on and on. Standing at the finish line, watching the runners take their final steps on the course, I became inspired.  Maybe someday I can do this too…..

In 2016 and 2017 I had the opportunity to crew and pace for Brian Stones. 2016 was a horrible year with strong thunderstorms, tornadoes, trees down all over the roads, and just a bad mix of conditions for the runners to go through. There were a lot of DNFs (did not finish), and I didn’t blame any one of them for calling it quits early.  No pacing happened that year, but Brian returned in 2017 to earn his finish and buckle. I paced him to the finish, and as we came down Panther Run, you could hear the cheering from afar.  How cool is this I thought! I might have to consider this for next year. I was so inspired, once again, by all the runners. Seeing their determination and motivation made me want to be a part of this someday. That December, I decided to run my first 100 miler in Virginia called Devil Dog 100. I became hooked on the 100-mile distance. Why? I still don’t have that answer myself. HA HA!

2018 I made the decision to give it a go. I heard about the PA Triple Crown and thought I might as well attempt that if I am going to attempt Eastern States. Hyner 50K and Worlds End 100K would serve as training runs for this beast of a course, and so my journey began. I decided that in order to do the best I possibly could do, I wanted to be accountable to someone and have someone help me along the way. I work best that way.  I love and do well with constructive criticism, tough love, and structure when it comes to athletics. Who better to ask than Mike Ranck? Mike, to me, was the God of running. He coached me in HS track and was what I consider an expert in ultra-running after completing Western States multiple times and many more ultras (too many to list, actually). He graciously accepted the challenge, and so the training began. I won’t bore you with the details of training, but I can tell you that he gave me everything I asked for. There were days I hated him, but only because he pushed me beyond my comfort zone, and then there were days I loved him, when I would see my progress and know he made it happen.  He not only told me what to do, but he did it with me! That was pretty awesome, and I cherish all the training runs I had with him. I can honestly say I was in the best shape of my life while training that year. Hyner 50K came and went, Worlds End 100K came and went, and then it was time to focus on the big one: Eastern States.  I was ready mentally and physically, and I was getting nervous and excited after completing 2 of the 3 races. 

Then, the shocking email arrived. We were told that Eastern States was being canceled due to permitting issues. WHAT!?!?!?!?!? I remember the day well! I must have read that email 10 times thinking it had to be a joke. Many phone calls later to friends who were in the same situation, and it was confirmed that the race was indeed canceled! There were tears! Tears of frustration, anger, and sadness, knowing that all that hard work and sweat equity would have to wait. I was so disappointed that I vowed right then and there that I would not sign up for this again for fear the same thing would happen. Long story short, I didn’t let my training go to waste, and I decided to run Oil Creek 100 that October. I did well there, but it just wasn’t the same.

In 2019 I stuck to my vow and did not sign up for the Triple Crown. I can honestly say I was still bitter about the previous year. I did get back to the Eastern States atmosphere, but only as a pacer for April Zimmerman. I decided to get back to running for fun and not train so hard and enjoy the time on the trails with friends. Mike and I continued to train, or I should say, stay in shape just in case I decided to run another 100-miler. I soon learned that Mike was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. We continued to run until he could only walk and then it became too hard for him to do the things he loved. He passed on September 11th and my running has not been the same since. He was and always will be a big inspiration to me! He has taught me so much, and I carry him in my heart on every trail run I do. It was in the following weeks after his passing that I decided I would someday attempt the PA Triple Crown again, and put all his effort into training me to good use. It would just be different this time because I would have to recall his training style by memory and my written notes of when he was here. Thankfully I had a folder where I kept precise notes on my year of training with him. Would it be next year I sign up, or the following?

2020 I decided I wasn’t quite ready to take on the task of the Triple Crown and decided I would instead do another 100 miler as a test–to see if I could train without Mike and still be successful. I signed up for The Mohican 100 in Ohio that would be held in June. Well, COVID put a stop to that and instead moved the race back to October. The course was different due to park permits not being signed due to COVID restrictions, and this race was a lot of roads, which I am not a fan of. I did well, but it wasn’t the trail race I was hoping for. During this race, I cried for Mike and wished he were there, but I knew he was watching from above, and I just wanted to make him proud. Prior to Mohican, I had started to have pain in my ankle when I would run. It would sometimes go away, but as time went on, it began to hurt all the time. Being the stubborn runner that I am, I ignored it, continued to run on it until it would keep me up at night and wouldn’t stop hurting. I still ran, but finally made the dreaded appointment to see a foot doctor.

2021 started with an X-ray at the doctor. The doctor came into the room after reviewing the images and asked me when I had broken my ankle. I sat there in shock and kind of laughed while thinking I have no idea!  Turns out, apparently, I had broken it in the past year or so, and now, since it healed on its own, I had what they called “ossicles.”  I was now referred to Dr. Jeffrey Zimmerman at Berks Foot and Ankle Surgical Associates. He did an MRI and discovered that the point of the ossicle had rubbed and torn my tibial tendon. So, major ankle surgery in February prevented me from giving the Triple Crown a go in 2021. During recovery and therapy I had lots of time to think and miss being out there on the trails. I made up my mind that 2022 would be the year!  I wasn’t sure how the ankle would hold up, but I was determined to give it my best shot; plus I had unfinished business from 2018 that I now needed to attend to!

2022 PA Triple Crown here I come! The training began and I prayed that my body and ankle would hold up. I will admit, my training was not where it should have been. Some weight gain through inactivity with the ankle, menopause, and just lack of caring at times, really made it tough some days to get out there. I did the best I could. Well, I probably could have done much better, but my motivation just wasn’t there like it had been with Mike. I was thankful to have Christine Daniels, Donny Mengel, and Rhoda Smoker who would get me out the door to run. I did many runs alone, but they were a big contributing factor in getting me to do longer runs.

Hyner 50K came and I was not motivated at all to do that race. My goal was just to finish and then that would be one race down with two to go. It was a beautiful day weather-wise, and I finished in a decent time. My motivation increased a bit, and then it was time to focus on Worlds End 100K. I did what needed to be done for training, did some cross training as well as road and trail running. I still was lacking the motivation somedays and was now really missing Mike. I missed that accountability. Days went by and Worlds End quickly approached. It was another beautiful day in the woods, and we couldn’t have asked for better weather! I started to struggle late in the day and cutoff times were getting closer. This is the first race I ran where I felt like I had to beat the clock. Thanks to my amazing crew of Christine, Rhoda, and Donny, they got me to the finish in time! 

One race to go, and it was the big one! No turning back now. 

As the days and weeks went by, I began to get more and more nervous. I was never this nervous for a race in the past. I knew I had to finish this, and I wasn’t sure how I would do it. I had done some training runs on the course and had some experience with pacing at Eastern States in the past, so I knew how difficult this course was.  So many questions in my mind.  Can I do it? Will my ankle hold up? Will my body hold up? Am I too old for this? How will I deal with the humidity that we have been having?

Finally, race week arrived. My husband, Steve, was probably thinking, “Thank God, now she can soon stop obsessing over this race and stop talking about it.” I don’t know about other people, but when I sign up for a big commitment like this, it consumes my mind for weeks, even months leading up to the actual event.  Always thinking about strategy, training, race day, gear, food, weather, my crew, pacers, you name it–if it has to do with the race, my mind is there.  

EASTERN STATES WEEKEND IS HERE!!

Rhoda, Brooke, Christine, and Donny (left to right)

The nerves really started kicking in. I had never been this nervous or nauseous before a 100-miler. Friday night consisted of packet pick up (I felt like I could vomit at any minute) and takeout food from the Waterville Tavern, which, by the way, was delicious! My crew laughed at me and my nerves, but that’s OK; it was all in good fun. I laughed too at the thought of how nervous I felt. I managed to get to bed by 9:00, but then the tossing and turning started. Thankfully I had a good night’s sleep Thursday night. I somehow managed to get a few hours. I had my alarm set for 3:20 a.m. I like to get up and have a little bit of time to double-check that I have everything ready and eat something. 

It was now time to go. We made our way up the road to Little Pine State Park and saw the mass of people gathering around. I went to check in and congregate with friends. This is really happening! The butterflies in my stomach had thousands of babies! I stood in the start line, said a silent prayer, and heard the count down 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1 and we were off!

The first couple of miles were a nice easy pace to warm up and get the nerves out of the way. I chatted with Mike Zimmerman going down the road and onto the trail at the campground. This became a conga line, and we were single file. I got the urge that I must pee. What? Not already, it must be nerves; I can’t possibly have to go. I ran a little more until I realized this was not nerves. I stepped into the wood and sure enough I had to go. I got back on trail and went another mile before I felt the same way. Oh no, what is happening so early on? Again, I stepped into the woods as I watched runners pass by me. I panicked, thinking I am already falling behind. This happened one more time, and I was getting worried. Bladder infection? Not now! By the time I hit the first big climb, I was good to go. Turns out, it was all just nerves! 

I was dreading that first big climb, but it went better than I had anticipated. One down, many more to go. There were a few “Idiot Runners,” myself included, that had hoped we could run the course together. I saw Kip Hoffman up ahead. Kip and I recently ran 6 hours together at an Idiot event and we had a blast! My goal was to get up to him and see how far we could run together. Once I reached Kip, I also noticed that Andy Styer was close by, as well as Jason Karpinski. We formed a train and ran together while talking and laughing. Kip stepped off to the side for a bathroom break, and as he was heading back to us, he yelled my name. I turned to yell back, and before I knew it, I was on the ground.  No blood, no bones so all was good. Thankfully it happened in a grassier section. I’m sure I gave Jason a good laugh as he watched me tuck and roll. 

Andy, Brooke, and Kip

This train of ours continued for awhile, picking up people along the way, making the train bigger at times, and at times we lost a few. In the end, we were a strong force to be reckoned with and the miles just seemed to fly by. We came into the Ramsey Aid Station and I saw a port-a-potty. I wanted to take advantage of that, so I went over, but the people inside were taking forever! Kip was gracious enough to bring me food while I waited, and after what seemed like an eternity, we were off again on the Pine Creek Rail trail. 

We hit the next big climb on the Tiadaghton trail. This seemed like a never-ending climb, but eventually we made it to the top. We had a flat section before dropping into Bull Run and eventually worked our way towards the Pine Creek. I remember running along here thinking how narrow the trail seemed. One wrong slip and you were down the steep drop off to the creek. That didn’t last too long, and before I knew it, we were making the climb to the State Forest Research Center where I would see my crew for the first time. 

Kip, Andy, and I got refueled and were back on the trails together. We had a long road climb up Lower Pine Bottom Road before turning into the woods onto Wolf Path. I wasn’t prepared for this climb other than April Zimmerman coming up to me at the last aid station to tell me, “This next climb is a bitch!” She was right!! The next 20 or so miles the train of 3 tried to stay together as best as we could. We sang, talked, laughed, told jokes, did anything to make the time go by. It worked! I can honestly tell you, though, that I will never hear certain songs the same way again! I think the theme song by that point had become “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” 

Brooke conquers another climb

As we approached the Hyner Aid station (mile 43), the train of 3 became a train of 2. Andy was slowly slipping behind. I had begun to start feeling some hot spots and knew once I reached my crew I would need to take more time then I had hoped to change socks and get some spots taped up. Kip and I agreed coming into Hyner that since we were picking up a pacer that we would continue on with them and if it worked out that we stayed together, great, but if it didn’t, we both understood. I was just so happy to have shared all that time with him and Andy, and it really did make the time fly by. 

I was still feeling pretty good at this point. I had a game plan of a 33-hour finish, and I was ahead of schedule by about an hour. I got fixed up, and it was so nice to see so many friends at this aid station. Everyone was so helpful! I was excited to pick up my first pacer: Rhoda. I was dreading the start of this next section. It is a long gradual uphill that could be runnable, but I didn’t want to run it. It was still early in the race, and I didn’t want to burn out my legs for the later miles. I shuffled along here and there, and I did run more of the flats up top. 

Then we hit the “V.” I was thankful to have picked up my poles at Hyner, because I definitely needed them here. When we left Hyner, Rhoda told me the next aid station was 4.7 miles away. I was looking forward to that knowing by then that this section would be behind me. Many miles came and went, and Rhoda realized this was the 8-mile section, not the shorter one. I was happy I could still laugh about that at this point, and it quickly became the running joke for the remainder of the time she paced me. We came into Dry Run aid station and as quickly as we got there, we quickly left with some food in hand. I was hoping to make it to the Big Trail aid station before dark so I could see the vista, but that didn’t happen. I came into that aid station and was greeted by many friendly familiar faces! Jeff Kascsak was the first one I saw, and he and his son Jacob were a tremendous help in filling my bladder and getting me food. You can’t miss their smiles!! All the aid station volunteers were awesome! Can’t thank them enough!

Next stop would be Slate Run. At this point, things are starting to get a little blurry.  I remember being on the Black Forest trail and I was thankful to have Rhoda with me. She is very familiar with this trail and at night, it looks different to me. She kept me on course and kept the conversation lively. As we approached the long gravel road leading into Slate Run, I was excited to be able to see my crew again. We crossed the bridge at Hotel Manor and came into the aid station around midnight. I was still ahead of my 33-hour schedule and still feeling pretty good. I was getting a little sleepy, but happy my feet and everything else were holding up well. I looked around at everyone and they were all bundled up. The temperature dropped, but I was still happy to be in a tank top. I knew I had a big climb coming out of this aid station, so no need for a jacket. I was happy to be doing it at night because you can’t see the top, so it doesn’t play games with your mind knowing how far you have to go. After what seemed like an eternity, we make it to the top. I was mentally checking off the climbs in my head and happy to have a checkmark next to that one!

It was flat and runnable up top so I took advantage of that and shuffled along when I could. I remember running through mountain laurel just waiting for a bear to step out onto the trail. I think I even said to Rhoda that it would be my luck to have a bear come out and knock me over. We continued this shuffle until we came into aid station 11. Here I saw Jeremy Hand, and he was so helpful in getting things filled up for me. I asked him to empty my water and fill it with fresh stuff out of the bottled water cooler. Somehow at Slate Run my water was refilled, but not with the bottled stuff. I don’t want to sound picky, but there was a huge difference the non-bottled water vs. bottled. From Slate Run to AS 11, every time I drank I felt sick to my stomach. The water at Slate Run had a strong metallic taste and didn’t sit well with me. Jeremy swapped out the water and I was good to go. I could have easily spent some more time there since I was now starting to feel sleepy and tired. A quick hug of thanks to Jeremy and then Rhoda and I continued onward. 

I was dreading this next section going into the Algerine’s. I had done a training run here with Mike and April and the black flies were horrible! It was a long slow section of climbing over mossy rocks, swatting flies, and getting annoyed with both the flies and the trail. Thankfully, the only thing happening now was the annoyance of constantly crossing over the trail and trying to see where it went. The flies must have been sleeping. As we were descending this area we saw a runner running towards us. He reassured me I was going the right way, but had me baffled as to why he was running opposite of us???? Not long after, he came flying by us again while talking on the phone. That was strange, and I know I wasn’t hallucinating. We had our own theories about this. 

After what seemed like hours, we finally emerged from this section of the course and headed to aid station 12, Long Branch. I knew I had to eat something, but I wasn’t feeling too hungry and didn’t have an appetite for anything. Chris Young was a welcomed sight here and took care of me. He mentioned that they had potato soup and that sounded pretty good. It hit the spot. Off we went to the West Rim trail, which would eventually lead us into Blackwell. I knew I lost some time from Slate Run to Blackwell but that was ok. I was expecting that through that last section. As we were approaching Blackwell, the sun started to slowly come up. It wasn’t light enough in the woods to go without a headlamp, but mine was starting to die. Thankfully I was almost out of the woods, because I didn’t have a back up. 

I hit the Blackwell aid station at 6:31 a.m. I lost an hour of time, but I was exactly on target for my expected time coming into there and still on track for that 33-hour finish. Rhoda was now finished with her pacing duties, and I was going to pick up Christine. I brushed my teeth (which felt amazing) and got refueled and new lube in my chafing spots. My feet were still doing ok, but I was tired (sleepy-tired) at this point, and my body was starting to feel the ups and downs more.

Christine and I headed out of Blackwell and began the long climb up to Gillespie Point.  Christine was filling me in on the crewing and how she miscalculated getting to Slate Run. She was doing her best to keep conversation flowing, but I was starting to not communicate much. I answered her questions with one- or two-word answers. I felt bad about it and wished I could be more talkative, but I was tired and focused on just getting this done. I hurt with every downhill; my quads were really starting to feel the climbing that I had already done. I knew that our next stop would be at SkyTop and they had the most amazing made-to-order pancakes. I LOVE pancakes, especially during an ultra, but my stomach wasn’t wanting much of anything at that point. I tried to convince myself that I must eat something and I tried to get my mind and body ready for a pancake. We made our way along the trails until we came to a sign that said to push the air horn, so they would know we were coming. We arrived at SkyTop, and I reminded Christine she needs to eat a pancake. I, on the other hand, was disappointed that they just didn’t sound good to me at that moment.

We got to the aid station, and we were welcomed with big smiles and helping hands ready to attend to our every need. Clayton mentioned chicken noodle soup, and I think that sounded better than pancakes, so I agreed. I was told to have a seat, and I should have known better. I don’t like to sit down during a race, but it was so inviting in the moment. I took one sip of my soup and started to feel really sick and dizzy. Christine looked at me, and I remember her saying, “You look really white.”  So thankful to have a nurse pacing me, because she knew exactly what to do. She and the medic at the aid station got me to lie back and get my feet up. I was starting to get really upset because here I am at mile 85, and this shouldn’t be happening! I get like this at the end of races, not during!  My first thought is, I really hope they let me finish! I was so afraid that they wouldn’t let me go on. To this day, I still don’t understand why my body rebels like this.  Low blood sugar? Low blood pressure? Who knows??? Long story short, Christine and everyone at the aid station were wonderful and brought me back from being pale and white to having some color again. I sat up, got some ice to go (because I love eating ice during an ultra), and we were off. 

I was feeling better, but so ready to be done at that point. I knew I lost some more time here and worried about cutoffs, but I was reassured leaving SkyTop that I was still 2 hours ahead of that, so I relaxed a bit, yet, I knew I still had plenty of miles to go. Christine reminded me that I would finally get to see my parents, Steve, and the dogs at the next aid station. She did her best to keep conversation going and told me when we would be climbing and how steep the climb would be. She was pretty much talking to herself at this point other than my one- or two-word answers. I felt bad about this, but I just didn’t have the energy to be chatty. I knew she understood, but I still felt bad! 

I think this is the section where there was a long grassy road. Christine was motivating at this point and got me to run from flag to flag. The sun was out in this section, and I was looking for snakes. I figured this would be a perfect location for them. Thankfully, I didn’t see any. We continued to the flag that had us turning into the woods again, and I knew we were finally close to Barrens. I tried my best to shuffle when I could. We hit a climb and after that we headed down the long dirt road to the aid station. 

Brooke with her husband and parents

I heard cowbells ringing and Christine pointed out the fact that my parents were right there at the gate waiting. I saw that my Dad had a cowbell and as soon as I got on the other side of the gate I gave him a hug and started to cry. Mom was quick to come over and give me a hug as well. They were such a welcomed sight! Christine, Rhoda, and Donny jumped into action, refilling my bladder and getting me some food while I greeted Steve and the dogs and talked a bit with them. I was about 30 minutes behind my goal. 10 more miles to go. I remember complaining about how my feet felt raw and hurt with every step, and that I wanted to be finished. 10 more miles to go, but in my head, it felt like 50. Christine kept me moving and we were off to finish this beast. 

The last 10 miles were the slowest and never-ending. I thought I was moving quickly, but realized I was not. We were alone through this section for awhile, and then every now and then, someone would pass us. I didn’t care at this point. I felt pretty confident that I would finish in the 36-hour time frame. I didn’t really care anymore about the 33-hour finish; I just wanted to finish. I couldn’t push myself any faster than I was going at the time. A few more little climbs and some downs and I was starting to hallucinate. I swear I saw tree stands in every tree I looked at. My eyes were blurry from exhaustion, and I felt my eyelids starting to close. I heard Christine talking every now and then, but I honestly felt like I was in a trance. She pulled me back on trail at one point when I fell asleep. This has never happened to me before–I fell asleep walking on the trail. How does that happen? Brand new territory for me. Then I saw an alligator and a candy cane. I needed to be finished now! 

I knew that once we hit Hacketts aid station I was close to the end. Even better would be turning onto Panther Run Trail.  That is where I would start to “smell the barn.” We came into Hacketts and I remember feeling so tired, sleepy tired. I just wanted to lie down, but no, keep going. In and out of Hacketts and then the long walk following the stream which would eventually lead us to that last and final climb. Is this really happening? Did I actually make it to the last and final climb?  So many emotions are starting to creep in.  Once on top of that final climb I knew it was pretty much downhill to the finish, but wait, I don’t recall the downhill being so long and so painful! Christine was trying to push me because she knew I could still make it in that 33-hour range, but my body was only moving so fast. I tried, I grunted, I even let some outbursts come out of my mouth with every downward step. It hurt! I came up on Erica on the downhill and I noticed she was going down them backwards. It made me feel better knowing I wasn’t the only one in pain. She graciously let us go by and we congratulated each other on a job well done. 

How much farther is this??? I am starting to think I’ll never finish.  Wait, is that people cheering?  Can it be?  I think I am there!  I tried to go a bit faster, but I just couldn’t, and then I saw the grassy section at Little Pine State Park. I saw orange cones and I knew I was there. Christine was still pushing and I was trying. We got to the bottom of the trail, crossed the road, and I was not sure how my legs were doing it, but they were running. I was numb; I started to tear up; I felt so much. 

Brooke with Steve and the dogs

I gave Christine a hug and thanked her for everything. I saw Steve and the dogs, and I knew I wanted to cross that finish line with them. I went over to him, and he handed them off, not sure if he should or not. He knew they would pull me, but at this point I didn’t care. I made it! I heard the cheering; I saw the finish and I saw that I was going to miss 33 hours by a few minutes. Oh well. The dogs were pulling; I was numb; I was crying; and I realized that I finally finished what I set out to do 4 years ago. I crossed the line in 34:03:24, and I was the oldest female finisher this year. I just conquered Eastern States 100, but more importantly to me, I am now an official PA Triple Crown Finisher! That was hard, that was tough mentally and physically, but that was a moment of a lifetime! 

Brooke and Donny
Brooke and Rhoda
Brooke and her dad
Brooke and Steve
Easter States / Triple Crown Finisher!

The Inca Trail Marathon

A race report by Michael Whalen

As it was for most of us, the COVID Years were not fun for me. I found myself working way too many hours and not taking much time to run or engage in much social activity. In November 2021, I found that my state contract was ending and I had the opportunity to take a few months off of work. I was not sure how I was going to spend the time off, but I knew I wanted it to be epic!

As I was deleting a ton of old emails, I saw an email from “Six-minute mile”. I usually delete these without opening them, but I decided to open this one. I am very grateful that I did. There was a small write up about “The World’s Most Difficult Trail Marathon”. That piqued my interest, and the more I read, the more I wanted to research how difficult the Inca Trail Marathon could be. My research revealed that only a few people are entered into each race and the conditions are like no other (as you’ll see in the photos below). As we all do, I decided to pull the trigger and attempted to enter the September 2022 event. Quite rapidly, I was declined entry. Oh, well, I most likely would have had a DNF anyway. I started to investigate other options (Frozen Snot, Hyner View, Laurel Highlands, Vietnam 70k, Call of the Wilds).

A few weeks after the notice, I received an email from the race director asking if I desired to run the August 2022 Inca Trail Marathon. Within minutes, I was sending my credit card info and officially entered in the “World’s Most Difficult Trail Marathon”. I did research and found that most hikers complete this trek in 3-4 days and the FKT is 6 hours 24 minutes (for a marathon!) 

Training: I began training on New Year’s Eve with a hike down Mt. Penn, laps on Weiser, and a race to the Pinnacle. Since I signed up for the Rocksylvania Elevation Challenge, I thought I would begin using this virtual race as the start of training aggressively. For 3 months, I did more hill repeats than I could count. I was lucky to have more than 15 local runners to help me reach a 3-month goal of 141,243 feet of elevation and 702 miles of running. I was excited to have been the overall winner for the challenge. Training was right on schedule. I tapered back and trained with the “run what feels right” theory. I found that in previous years, I really was overtraining. HITT and time in the weight room helped to get me ready for this adventure. The above races went well, and I was really pleased with my performance. In June I hit the trails hard and did a moderate taper in July. I really did my best not to become injured as the race date became closer!

August 3, 2022: The eve of my departure from Philadelphia to Lima. With a full day of nothing to do, I studied the course again and attempted to make a race day plan. The first two climbs are the hardest and taking them somewhat slower may be the best plan of attack. I continue to worry about the acclimation to high elevation. The highest point is nearly 14,000 feet above sea level! I decided to Google the most difficult marathons in the world and across the board this is what I learned:

“While some marathons are described as the world’s most extreme, the Inca Trail Marathon is unquestionably the most difficult. Starting at an elevation of 8,650 feet, the treacherous course features more than 10,400 feet of elevation gain, 11,000 feet of elevation loss and two high passes of 13,000 feet and 13,800 feet. Often described as the equivalent to running a tough 50-mile trail run, the marathon is limited to just 40 to 50 people and sells out quickly. The payoff, of course, is the luxury of running (or walking) across the fabled 500-year cobblestone path amid spectacular views of the Andes Mountains and crossing the finishing line in the legendary Lost City of the Incas.” (www.andesadventures.com)

For the first time in many years, I became worried about race performance. To be honest, I was actually scared about the difficulty of this marathon. But I knew I’d find out what I had gotten myself into in a few days. 

August 4th: We arrived in Cusco (11,000 feet above sea level) late the previous night. I was only able to sleep for four hours, wide awake at 3:30 am. I had a slight headache and an oxygen saturation level 78%. Usually that would be considered a medical emergency, but I knew it was due to the altitude. I rested, drank plenty of water, and began taking Diamox, an altitude sickness prevention medication . 

The team of athletes: We all quickly became friends. As we casually spoke about previous experiences, words like Mr. Rainier, African Safari Marathon, Pikes Peak, Kilimanjaro, 7 continents in 7 days, Great Wall, Everest Base Camp Marathon, Antarctica Marathon, the Germany Rennsteig Marathon, and many more were discussed. What did I get myself into? There were a ton of hard-core runners there.

August 5th: We had an 8:00 a.m. meet time to go on the initial 5-mile acclimation hike. The hike was slow and not very long, but I had noticeable breathing issues. After short periods of rest, the breathing quickly improved. 

August 6th: The first run. We had a controlled downhill 4.5-mile run. The breathing was much easier and there were a few times that 4-5 of us were going at it hard. Toward the end of the run there was a nice, paved area where I was able to let it rip and it felt really good. The day ended with me providing a “how to use poles on trail” class for a few of the accomplished street runners 

August 7: Tragedy strikes. We had another slow 4-mile downhill scheduled. I decided to run in the middle of the pack and take it nice and easy. 100 yards into the run EVERYTHING changed. I rolled my left ankle badly and heard something snap. The person behind me witnessed it and stated, “Oh my God!” I thought that I could run it off but after a mile, I knew I was in trouble. Just as with the race course, there were no exits from this trail. Once I started running, I was committed to get to the end. My mind was racing at 1,000 MPH. Was this it? 7 months of intense training–being careful as often as possible–over 1,000 miles and 140,000 feet of vertical training wasted? To say I was emotional is an understatement.

Then the trail magic began. As soon as I arrived to the bus, it was obvious to everyone that something was wrong. I was placed on the bus steps so I could remove my shoe for an initial assessment. The balloon effect was nauseating. Within minutes I was assisted to a seat, someone applied pain relief cream, 800 mg of Motrin was provided, and condolences were received from everyone. The arrival to the hotel is foggy. Someone carried my pack, and another held me upright on the way to the dining room. I sat down and someone from the team got me a plate of food from the buffet. My leg was elevated and I received an ice bag from the kitchen within minutes. My sadness and dejection was very obvious.

My first savior arrives. Jill is an extreme hiker and a physical therapist. She did an initial assessment, and her impression was not easy to hear. Her plan was ice, elevation, and Motrin followed by a complete assessment after the tour tomorrow. Somehow I was checked into my room and my bags arrived. Packed in ice, on to pillows and nothing to do but reflect. It was a horrible few hours. In late afternoon Adam called and asked if I could join him for a coffee. I declined. The last thing I desired was to be around people, but I changed my mind and joined Adam, Tina, and her husband; they were very reassuring and calming. As we spoke, Tina (savior #2) offered to provide acupuncture for pain and swelling. I was overwhelmed with this opportunity. We decided to wait 24 hours. Motrin, ice, elevation, and no weight bearing until further notice.

August 8th: complete rest. I opted out of the tours and hike to completely rest. Every person on the trip offered emotional support and healing advice. A lot more happened on August 8th. The ankle was swollen–black and blue to my knee–and the race director told me I was unable to start the marathon. I haggled for a final decision after the 9-mile hike to base camp, or to start the race and at the turn for the 30K v. Marathon decide then. The RD said I couldn’t do the Inca Trail Marathon. He explained that the 30k is just as difficult and it is on the Inca Trail. 

August 9: Hike to base camp. Swollen and bruised but with NO pain. The hike went well, and I ran past the RD to show I was good to go! He again explained that I need to run the 30K.

August 10th: Inca Trail Marathon report. The porters went through camp at 2 a.m. ringing the wake-up bell. Ugh, it was raining hard. We all donned rain gear and headed off to the breakfast tent. 3:30–the rain stopped, and we walked 20 minutes to the Inca Trail entry point. Exactly at 4:00 a.m. the marathon and 30k began at the sound of the whistle. We all immediately began the 1st climb of 3300’ in 6 miles.

Mistakes happen. I was feeling great at the mile 3 split until I accidentally turned the wrong way. “Oh no, I am on the marathon course–NOT the 30K course.” The first climb up to 11,900′ above sea level had decent terrain, although I was overly cautious to prevent additional injury. This portion was an out-and-back with 2 water stops. We turned around to a beautiful sunrise over the snow-capped Andes Mountains. In an unprecedented race move, I stopped to take photos and to talk with other runners on this “out-and-back” portion. I had a strange emotion when I realized that I was in 5th place at checkpoint 2. We passed very basic homes, beautiful mountain views, some streams, and chirping birds. The tranquility was indescribable.

As soon as the downhill from the first summit ended at at mile 10 in Wayllabomba, we began the dreaded ascent up Dead Woman’s Pass. I trained hard for this section, but she humbled me quickly. I entered this 20%, 2 mile, 4,000’ of gain monster in 8th place, feel really strong. The Dead Woman slapped me in the face hard. The thin air climbing to 13,800 feet made breathing extremely difficult. Pushing as well as I could, I was able to do 1-2 (not a typo, one) mile per hour. We were in or sometimes above the clouds, so there were not many distractions. I had my Coros watch on high elevation mode and was delighted that the altitude sickness danger alarm did not activate. If my memory is correct, I did say “Hi” and pet a wild llama on the way up. 6 hours into the race, mile 13–I summited Dead Woman!!!!! The hardest of the three climbs was completed–one more major climb to go.

I cautiously descended Dead Woman and began the difficult 1,200′ climb up Runkurankay Pass. Although this is our final time at 13,000 feet above sea level, that fact was not reassuring. I caught a few of the struggling 30k racers and stopped to provide encouragement. It was also amazing to see dozens of porters with 80-pound packs passing by on both the up and down hills. The were all very kind and encouraging.

The research I conducted made me believe that the 70,300 “steps” that we were going to encounter were more like our traditional stairs. These steps were basically sets of lower cobblestones. 80% of the trail was cobblestone and not much of that was runnable. The mountains and jungle vegetation were very enjoyable. We were hopeful to see monkeys but none of us saw any. I did not push any of the downhills in fear of trashing the ankle anymore than it was. At mile 18, I remained pain free but could feel the swelling was increasing. Most of the 5 aid stations only had water. The best aid station (mile 16?) had soup, bars, a simple sandwich, and Gatorade. It is hard to believe that all the aid station supplies needed to be carried 6 or many more miles.

Somewhere around mile 18, Olga from our group caught up to me. Olga and I were passing each other frequently and decided to finish the final 7 miles together. I usually enjoy racing alone but found that the both of us were using each other to keep a good pace. It seemed like that final 10K was taking forever. There was no flat terrain as we conquered through Phuypatamarcia at 12,000′. The miles were slowly clicking off and Winay Wayna, the next landmark was getting close, but I was out of water. We were both grateful that we will easily make the cut off time of 11.5 hours to get through the Sun Gate. Those that did not make the gate needed to take an extra 5-mile detour. Runners that crossed the finish line in more than 13.5 hours also needed to walk 3 miles to the hotel. The only way to arrive in the town of Macau Picchu is by train or foot. There are no roads to the town. The only road is down to the ruins. The bus only operates from 9:00 a.m.- 5:30 p.m. 

We were delighted to see one of our tour guides at the Sun Gate. We checked in and prepared for the final 4 k of the race. Water bottles were filled and off we went! Within a relatively short period of time, we were able to see one of the seven wonders of the world. The Manchu Picchu ruins seemed to appear 20 miles away, but the adrenaline was kicking in and we increased our pace. With less than a half mile to go, we were met by Olga’s son. The excitement to see him and to learn that we were this close to the end was exciting. Around a bend we see Freddy, our guide, and Olga’s family holding the finish line ribbon. How freaking exciting is this! We finished 6th and 7th in the world’s most difficult trail marathon in 12 hours and 20 seconds. Finish line hugs and photos and we head to the bus. 

Ugh, the steps down to the bus took about 20 minutes. The line for the bus was 30 minutes long. I just wanted to take off my shoes and lay down. We arrive to town and learn that the long walk to the hotel was also uphill. We finally checked in!

The next day. Early breakfast to catch the 9:00 bus to the ruins of the lost city. Well, since we were there, we might as well climb the half mile, 970 feet of vert up Huayna Piccho Mountain to see the epic views of the ruins. At 9,000 of elevation, we are again as high as the clouds and the view is wonderful.

The next day we travel 7 hours by train and bus to be in Cusco for the award ceremony.

The award ceremony was very emotional for everyone. This incredible group of athletes became a very tight family. There was plenty of applause, hoots, hugs and happy tears. Additional race photos: https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=2181744685347713&set=pcb.2181750582013790

WARRIORS….COME OUT AND PLAAAAAAAAY

A race report by Michelle Henry

Let me start off by saying I’m so excited that I was finally able to do this run! I had been so jealous and wanting to do this since Steve Vida, Jon Durand, and Jason Karpinski did it in 2020. Full disclosure and spoiler alert — I still haven’t done the whole run. But I did 17 of the 28 miles, and I’m proud of that!

What is The Warriors UltraRun?

The Warriors UltraRun is an overnight, underground running experience that covers 28 miles, as participants re-create the escape route from the iconic 1979 film by Walter Hill. After attending a 1 a.m. Conclave, held at a secret location in the Bronx, runners pass iconic shooting sights as they race for Coney Island. It is an unofficial race run by fans, for fans. 

This was the 4th annual running of The Warriors UltraRun, which has evolved so much since the founder, Todd Aydelotte, ran the route solo in July 2018. This was also Steve Vida’s 3rd time running it. 

The event itself is more fat-ass than race. There is no swag, no aid stations, no timing, no bibs; however, this year (as opposed to previous years), we did get a marked course…sort of. Turns were tagged with “W” and an arrow in chalk. You can read more about it in the article featured in the New York Times last year. 

How do you prepare for an overnight run through NYC?

Our prep involved a meeting a few weeks prior to the run, hosted by Steve, complete with a presentation, which included a map of NYC with plotted out (and linked) locations and images showing each of the gangs in the movie and a bit of background on them. Steve was obviously super-excited about our upcoming adventure, as was I.

At the conclusion of the presentation, we watched The Warriors movie and then discussed and decided on our costumes. That’s right–costumes. So not only did we start this run through New York at 1 a.m. and run through the night, but we will also did it dressed as members of an imaginary gang. We decided on being the Hi-Hats, and we each left Steve’s with an info sheet, which he also posted as a PDF on our Facebook group. I mean, really, there wasn’t a more prepared gang of mimes in all of NYC. Steve’s prep for this run was top notch! 

Who are the Hi-Hats?

The Hi-Hats are a fictional New York City gang in 1979. They are a quiet, but solid clique from Soho, and they dress like mimes. However, on July 24, 2022, the Hi-Hats were Steve Vida, Julia Hager, Jason Karpinski, Curtis Musser, and myself.

How was the run?

We hopped on the subway and arrived at the pre-run gathering spot, The Tortoise & Hare in The Bronx, at 11:30 p.m. We grabbed a pre-run drink and mingled amongst other runners from all over dressed as gang members. At 1 a.m. we all gathered in a nearby location for the conclave, lit only by headlamps. After listening to an audio replay of a clip from the movie, the race begins at the sound of the gunshot that kills Cyrus. The elite team of Warriors get a bit of a head start, and we are off to chase them all the way down to Coney Island.

The night was hot….I mean REALLY hot.  Even at 1 a.m., it was 80 degrees, and the city streets that hold the heat made it feel like it was in the 90s. We did our best to stay hydrated by stopping for water and snacks at bodegas and stores along the way. We hit Columbus Circle at 10 miles, Time Square at 11 miles, Union Square at 12 miles and the Brooklyn Bridge at 15 miles. Along the route we had our own local tour guide (and fellow runner) who kept popping up out of nowhere to show us points of interest like where Malcom X was shot and what running groups run in particular areas, which was pretty cool, but it was also weird when he pointed out places like where he went to elementary school and where his grandmother died. 

We made it to the Brooklyn Bridge as the sun was coming up over the city. I was so freaking happy to see that bridge! The sky was colorful and provided a gorgeous background to the structural elements of the bridge itself as we walked over it. Yes–walked. At this point, I had hardly any juice left and was really hurting. Thankfully Steve pre-planned an escape route for Jules and I after we crossed the bridge. Our hotel was just a few blocks away. We hobbled our way back to the hotel as the guys continued. Now able to run at a faster pace, they picked off several other gang members (13?) on their quest to get to Coney Island and finish all 28 miles of the run. 

Brooklyn Bridge

After a bit of rest time, Jules and I took the NYC subway and made our way to Coney Island to meet the guys on the boardwalk for the finish. 

Subway Warriors
Curtis is still wearing his hat!

Overall, this run was a lot of fun. There was no point throughout the night where I felt like we were in a sketchy situation or unsafe. There are places to stop along the way for refueling and plenty of things to see. The experience of running through the streets of New York in the middle of the night with some of your favorite people is one I highly recommend!

Race Report: Coventry Woods Trail Running Festival

by Kelly Ammon

After running Dirty German 50M in May, my plan for the summer was just to take it easy. No goals. No training schedule. No races. The plan was going smoothly until one day a notification popped up on my Facebook feed. (Damn you Targeted Ads!) Big Woods Running Club was having a Memorial Day special on their TrailFest. I could now suffer just as much but for less money! Perfect! 

I immediately texted Andy Styer, fellow Pacer and one of the race directors. 

[Actual transcript]:

Me: I can’t decide if I should sign up for your 10k or do the 3 hour one. Lol.

Andy: Well…the 6 hr sounds like fun : )

Me: Hahah. I’m trying to be responsible/take it easy

Andy: Well…then 3hr!

Keep in mind, my plan for the summer was just to take it easy. No goals. No training schedule. No races. Also keep in mind, Andy Styer is the most wonderful kind of crazy that will run World’s End 100k and Laurel Highlands 70M on back-to-back weekends

I compromised and signed up for the 3 hour.  

The morning of the race, I couldn’t have asked for better weather. I mean, I guess I could have, but it was mid-June in Pennsylvania and the humidity was less than 300%–in other words, ideal. Jokes aside, the weather for race day really was perfect and made the day much more enjoyable. I arrived at the course about 45 minutes before start time, made my way to check-in, got my race bib, and was handed the softest t-shirt I’ve ever owned. After moseying around for a little while before start time, I made my way to the port-a-potties and then the start line. The line really was magnificent: someone’s heel dragged across the ground to indicate a clear “start” and “end.” 

“It doesn’t need to be fancy. If you’ve got a love and appreciation for nature– and at times like to saunter, walk, jog, hike, run, dance through it–that’s what matters.” –Kelly Ammon

I know my tone does at times lean towards sarcastic, but sincerely, the dirt drawn start line really was one of the best things about the day and a great reminder of why I love trail running. It doesn’t need to be fancy. If you’ve got a love and appreciation for nature– and at times like to saunter, walk, jog, hike, run, dance through it–that’s what matters. 

My goal for the race was to complete 3 laps in 3 hours, and I knew the course would make that a challenge. In the early spring I did a group run at Coventry with the Big Woods Running Club, so I was familiar with the course. There is a lot of climbing in the first half (~900 feet of vert/lap) and the second half, while downhill, has plenty of rocks and roots to keep you on your toes. I really, really love this particular type of course.  I knew if I could make it through the first part with its challenging climbs, then I’d be able to make up some time on the latter half of the course. Since it’s a time-limit race, I knew my biggest challenge would be the clock. In order to complete 3 laps in 3 hours, I’d have to push it each and every lap. Typically, I like to ease myself into a race–start a bit conservatively, get faster gradually, and then, if all goes well, hammer at the end. With a 3-hour limit, I wasn’t sure how much I’d be able to ease into it. What if my first comfortable lap made it impossible to run 3 in 3? I decided the best strategy was to hammer from the start until the wheels came off, and that’s exactly what I did. 

The first lap of the race I ran as much as I could, only power hiking on the steepest climbs. I definitely pushed, making sure to set myself up with enough time to finish my third lap. On the last half of the first lap, I shared a few paces with the guy who would go on to be the first male overall for the 6-hour race. (Important to note first male overall, because our very own Karin Tursack was the real OVERALL winner for the 6 hour race! #goals #You’veBeenTursacked)  

He mentioned how he wasn’t usually into “racing” but, damn, he really wanted to get the dinosaur trophy. At that moment, he perfectly summed up my feelings towards this race. I usually race against myself: I have my own personal goal I’d like to beat. Then I have goals B,C, D, E, F etc. if/when the wheels fall off. Never do my goals for a race include finishing before x # of competitors or in xth place. It’s always me against me. Except maybe when there’s a 3-D printed trophy of a velociraptor on the line, and, in that case, hot damn, I wanna win. 

“When there’s a 3-D printed trophy of a velociraptor on the line…hot damn, I wanna win.” –Kelly Ammon

I made it through the first lap comfortably under an hour. I knew I had set myself up for success for the second and third laps, but I didn’t want to relax too soon. I cruised through the aid station and on the next climbs, tried to toe the line between all-out aggressiveness and being too conservative. It’s usually the mid-race miles that I struggle with the most. The first few miles, I am high on the energy of the crowd and the event. The last few miles, I am driven by the idea of being over this sh*t. The middle miles can be a cesspool of pain, doubt, and stomach agitation. This is usually the point of a race where I begin reciting a mantra. Science extols the benefits of a positive mantra. Sometimes mine is “happy pace, happy face, happy race.” However, more often during this point in a race, my mantra is “pick up your feet, dumbass.” In these middle miles it becomes so easy to get lulled into complacency and tiredness with your feet; the next thing you know you’re doing a Superman sprawl into the rocks. (I always seem to fall during the “easy” parts of a race. Give me a technical downhill and I’ll send it; I’m much more likely to trip over my own feet on a marginally bumpy gravel section of trail.) Fortunately, my only fall in this race came as I was slowly walking uphill and only resulted in some slightly skinned palms. Shout out to fellow Pacer, Fred Foose, who fell, finished his 6 hour race, got beers, and ONLY THEN got four stitches in his finger. What a BEAST!!

I finished my second lap well under 2 hours and was feeling pretty good. Even if I resorted to power hiking every single climb of the last lap, I was pretty certain I’d be able to finish 3 laps in 3 hours. The little voice in the back of my mind kept me from taking it completely easy, but I was able to finish my third lap within 3 hours. As I crossed the finish line, I double-checked with the race director and he assured me I was done with the race and confirmed I was the winner of a dinosaur trophy!!! I wish I didn’t care so much about a plastic velociraptor trophy, but I’m sorry, dinosaurs are cool, and I’m glad I have a trophy commemorating them. Without dinosaurs, we couldn’t drive. In all seriousness, Coventry Woods Trail Fest is an amazing event that I would recommend to anyone. The race directors, volunteers, and members of the Big Woods Running Club are some of the best, friendliest, most caring people you will ever meet; the course is great, but the people are what make this race truly special.  

“Dinosaurs are cool, and I’m glad I have a trophy commemorating them. Without dinosaurs, we couldn’t drive.” –Kelly Ammon

Double Race Report: Worlds End 100k and Laurel Highlands 70-miler

by Andy Styer

I never intended to do these two races the same year, since they take place on back-to-back weekends. The plan was always to just do Laurel Highlands and that’s it. Well, I had my name on the waitlist for Worlds End, just in case I didn’t get into Laurel for some reason. I actually forgot about it, and since I was pretty deep on the list, I never removed myself once I was officially registered for Laurel Highlands. The last 3 weeks before the race I catapulted from 93rd down to single digits. It wasn’t until a week before Worlds End that I actually got in. I had a little help, too, but that’s not for public knowledge : )

So, the real question was, could I actually pull this off ? Worlds End is a course that always had my number. I finished in 2020 @ 18hrs 4 minutes, and in 2021 I DNF’d at mile 35. Laurel Highlands I did in 2019 with a finish time of 17hr 13 minutes. No crew, no pacer. 

For Worlds End, I quickly assembled a team of pacers and crew. I secured a camping spot where my good friend and training buddy Kyle was renting a yurt. The race started off great–I wasn’t trying to kill it, just trying to finish it! All was well until my stomach turned south and my pacers & crew had their hands full with a runner in the “pain cave.” They all had explicit instructions from me to not let me drop unless I broke a leg. They didn’t, in spite of my whining and fits. They kept me going and I was able to finish in 18 hours and 55 minutes. 5 minutes to spare!

At Laurel, this time, I just had my crew of Kim (my partner) and Nathan (my son), who met me at every crew access point. No pacers, but the race went well. Laurel Highlands is a similar course in elevation gain, but it has many more flowing, runnable sections. This race went rather well, and I finished in 17 hours and 52 minutes. 

Andy finishing the Laurel Highlands 70-mile ultra just a week after running Worlds End 100k!

I was rather surprised that I could do these back-to-back. There was little to no recovery coming from hard 70-80 mile training weeks to Worlds End, and then really no recovery time head into Laurel Highlands. I really cherished this feat and the support I got from my family and friends. 

What’s next on the race calendar you say? Nothing,  just rest and having fun on the trails!

Race Report: The Seneca7

by Lisa Domeshek

In the early morning hours of Halloween 2019, I sit at my computer, stretching my fingers, preparing myself for the frenzy of the Seneca7 race registration.  The race is known to sell out within minutes, so I have to move quickly if I don’t want to miss out.  True to form, my friend Emily types faster and fortunately secures our spot.  We’re excited and have no idea that we won’t embark on this adventure for two and half long years.

The Seneca7 is an annual relay race held in April that spans 77.7 miles in the Finger Lakes region of New York.  Teams of seven runners complete three separate legs ranging between 2.5 and 6.2 miles on roads surrounding beautiful Seneca Lake.  The format is similar to a road Ragnar Relay with the team riding in a van during off-legs.  The exchange points are often at local wineries and breweries, which the region is known for. There is also an option to form a bike team where you cycle opposed to riding in a van during your non-running legs. This would be quite the challenge as you are self-supported in either case. 

Fellow Pacers Donna and Blair introduced me to the race.  They had been participating for a few years and Donna had already formed a team, so I rounded up six other running friends. (The list of teammates ended up changing so many times before we actually got to run the race!)  We name our team “Pour Choices” and make cute matching hats. We meet several times to plan the logistics, including renting a house and a van, planning what we want to eat, and exploring which wineries we might want to visit after race day. 

It’s now March 2020.  Our grocery lists are ready to go, we requested time off work, and we spent a decent chunk of change. But you know what happens next – everything is canceled.  Our excitement quickly fades to disappointment.

The race offers a virtual option, but we decide not to participate.  We receive the option to forfeit our money, with a portion being donated to charity, with an automatic entry for the following year, avoiding the morning registration frenzy.  2021 comes and the race is once again held virtually, which still isn’t how we want to participate.  However, we still have automatic entry for the following year. 

2022 rolls around and it looks like we are finally going to get to do this! But for various reasons, three of our team members have to back out.  This shouldn’t be too big of an issue though; we have a great local running community, and this race sounds awesome.  Donna’s team is going through something similar and is also looking for teammates.  At this point, the race requires participants to be fully vaccinated.  Also, we need runners who can get away for a weekend, preferably a long one, as the race is on a Sunday and takes the full day, and ughhh Hyner is the same weekend. Donna and I are both scrambling and asking the same pool of runners.  By the beginning of March, we finally have our team together.

We found a house again, but no cute matching hats this time.  My energy for planning and replanning this trip is really starting to wane. Two weeks out, a team member gets injured, which was way worse for her than it was for us. We double-checked but Seneca 7 won’t let us start the race with six runners.  Desperately, we try to secure one more runner and with a stroke of luck we find the perfect fit three days before we must submit our final roster. Game on! 

Our final team includes Karla Reppert, Jackie Snyder, Kate Willis, Jenn Guigley, Emily Trudel, Blair Hogg, and myself. Maybe we could have come up with a much funnier team name, but it’s too late for that now. 

We get ourselves up to Seneca Lake and it’s finally race day with a 6 a.m. start and I am runner #1 — Eeekkk! The teams start in waves, and we are in the first. The race starts at the top of the lake in Geneva and runs counterclockwise around the lake ending back in Geneva.  My first leg is beautiful.  The temperature is in the low 50s, and I get to watch the sun rise over the water while I run 3.8 miles over a few rolling hills. When I finish running, I hand off a slap bracelet to runner #2, Jackie, and get on a shuttle to rejoin my team at the second exchange. Legs 1 and 2 involve a shuttle to help alleviate traffic; after that, you are in the van. 

Our entire team is running well and having a great time. Then it’s time for my second leg. Now I am fully awake and ready to go. My second leg is 3.3 miles, and I am running my heart out. The first mile is straight downhill, and I am passing the very few runners that are ahead of us.  We are all running better than expected. I get to a turn and some lively spectators partying on their porch yell, “Wait for It!!!” and sure enough I round a sharp turn to a very steep uphill. Ughhh — I was not prepared for this, and I don’t want to become “roadkill.” (Teams are tallying their “roadkill”–the number of runners they pass–and it is recorded in the results.)  So straight up I go for a mile, finishing this leg on the flat main road and now it is HOT! The temperature rose to the high 80s with no clouds and a “real feel” of 90. Two years ago, it had snowed right before the race. 

Everyone proceeds to run their second leg just as well, and it’s time for my last leg. I was originally a little nervous about being stuck in a van for such a long time but the day has flown by. Something was always happening.  My last leg is 3.7 miles and feels flat, but is slightly downhill. I am very thankful that I have not been on a bicycle between legs at this point, as it feels so brutally hot. I finish, and it’s finally time for a beer! Blair is our last runner and we all meet up to run the final part of his leg as a team to the finish. Little do we know, he has finally passed the guy in front of him, and he plans on really running it in, so we chase him down, unprepared, which is a little comical. 

Overall, this race was very well organized and a lot of fun. I can see why it sells out so quickly every year. Pour Choices placed 109 out of the 211 teams, at 12:31:17. Not too bad considering that we just wanted an excuse to have fun, drink wine, and visit the Finger Lakes.

Race Report: Hyner 50k

by Jason Karpinski

April 23, 2022

To say my first Hyner 50k experience was unique is an understatement. My day started bright and early around 3:45 a.m. with a shower. Michelle and I left at half past 4 (as planned) with an ETA of 7:27 a.m. All was going smoothly, and my mind was at ease…until my low tire pressure light switched on somewhere in the neighborhood of Minersville. One quick stop at a nearby Sheetz turned quickly to panic when their air pump was out of order, and I was able to put a dent in my tire with little effort. Frantically, I found a nearby Sunoco which was a mere 2.5 miles away. Unfortunately, as many of you may know, Pottsville’s roads are fairly unforgiving. Every bump in the road felt like a cramping hamstring (more of that to come later in the day). After paying $2 to attempt filling my tire, I faced the seemingly daunting task of changing my first flat tire. Luckily the donut was in good shape, and we were quickly back on the road. 

Our ETA was now 8:02.

Did I mention that the race start was scheduled to start at 8:00??

Several deep breaths were needed to calm myself down to a reasonable level. The temptation to hit the gas was overwhelming; however, the desire to arrive safely was even greater. All was well, and I was confident I would be able to start a couple minutes late, even if it meant pleading graciously with RD, Craig Fleming. As our trip progressed, I proceeded to calm further, that is, until we hit a stretch of 45 miles on US-220. Since we had to limit our speed to 50 mph on the donut, we realized the ETA on my GPS app wasn’t accurate, as we saw it tick later and later. I felt my anxiety growing and growing.

By the time we arrived at 9650 Renovo Rd in North Bend, PA, it was nearly 8:30. By now I was significantly less confident I would even be given the chance to start the race. My saving grace was that the 25k started at 9 and there were already designated cut-off times which would force me to switch my race regardless.

Upon scrambling to find the appropriate personnel to get my bib (#1913), I was sent to find my way to the start line and officially start my race day. As the miles ticked away, I traversed the many named trails along the way: Carl’s Way, Humble Hill, Post Draft, Johnson Way, S.O.B., and Huff Run. During my miles I had the fortune of seeing many familiar faces and meeting many others. Luckily, my legs carried me through the miles with general ease until a downhill of what seemed like miles. During this downhill my right hamstring felt like it would either cramp until my heel touched by backside or simply tear in half. Small steps lend relief from danger, and I made it to the bottom. Mile 24 and I saw my car in the distance, with a brand spanking new tire, courtesy of our very own Pagoda Pacer President, Michelle Henry. Relief swept through my mind, and I was greeted by the joyous smiling face of Michelle. 7 miles to go and one more long climb to reach the finish line. Upon finishing, I checked to make sure my time was official (6:20:23), so that the quest for the Black List could continue.

There was one person missing from this race weekend, and this was unfortunately a result of his passing at the top of the first climb during last year’s race. This man was Carl Undercofler, a Hyner legend, and someone I unfortunately never got to meet. His presence was felt by everyone, however, as his face was appropriately plastered on every race bib. Throughout the day I was reminded how awesome the running community is. From volunteers and spectators to fellow runners, my day was filled with smiling faces and words of encouragement. It all culminated in a unique experience which I will never forget, and a race that I would highly recommend to all trail runners.