It has been over a month since the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run. It was an amazing experience but one which I had hoped would have had a better result. Since then I have been preparing mentally and physically for my next major race in 2 weeks, the inaugural running of the Eastern States 100 (ES100).
My primary goal for the weeks between these races was to get out on the ES100 course. I have made a couple of trips out there in recent weeks and covered most of the last 70 miles of the course. It is the first time I have done this before a race but was motivated by fear based on what I had heard about this unknown course.
My first trip involved a 2 day excursion where I ran the last 50 miles with a group of runners who will be towing the line with me on August 16th. It was great to meet some new friends, learn the course, and get lost a few times together. However I recently went out on my own to cover what will be miles 30-52 during the race for a memorable training run.
Logistics – Running Miles 30-52
Since I was on my own, I did something that I haven’t done in years – ride my bike for more than a mile. Since mile 30 and 52 are both found along route 44, I decided to park my truck at mile 52, ride my bike to mile 30 (see map), and then run back to the truck. Route 44 isn’t exactly flat and my mountain bike is circa 1990. It weighs about as much as a small car and it wasn’t fun covering those 10 miles along a hilly road with no shoulder. Fortunately I finished the ride and run without running into at least two of my fears I had observed before I began my run – motorists speeding on these winding country roads or the large black bear I saw cross in front of me near mile 30!
I prefer races that are idiot proof with markers every couple of yards to ensure I am on course. Unfortunately this was a training run on trails that were not well marked to begin with. In addition, cell service is non-existent on over 80% of the ES100 course (be warned runners and crews heading out to do this race – I have Verizon.) This meant using maps and a compass for the first time. I also brought water purification tablets and enough food to last a while in case I got lost. Although this did happen several times, I was fortunate in that I caught my errors rather quickly and only ended up adding about 2 miles to my total. However, the stress was constant given that I was alone and without a signal to call for help if needed.
The first 10 miles went well with the only major issue being a long section covered with stinging nettle (a plant that has many hollow stinging hairs on the leaves, which act like hypodermic needles, injecting histamine and other chemicals that produce a stinging sensation when contacted). I assume and hope that there is still some clearing to be done before the race. Although I was fortunate to have calf sleeves on, the small area exposed on my knee and lower thigh made for many uncomfortable moments. However I won’t complain about this discomfort as I was reminded that this area is well-known for lots of rattlesnakes as I drafted this post. I am glad I forgot about this given that I had enough to worry about.
While the 2nd half of my run didn’t look as bad on the elevation map, I was given the impression that it might be a tough section based on what I had heard. It turned out it was, but for a different reason. This section turned out to be a mental challenge when a nasty thunderstorm rolled in during the late afternoon. By around 4:30pm, the thunder grew in intensity and daylight faded quickly under the thick covering of the woods. If I had been stressed about navigation earlier, it was taken to a new level as I pulled out a new headlamp which was still in the package. As I began to assemble the new headlamp in the rain, the main part slipped out of my hand and began to roll down the side of the dark mountain as I stood watching. Fortunately it stopped about 10 feet down and I VERY carefully recovered it, put it together, and quickly started again with flashes of lightning in the trees overhead. To make things worse, the temperature had dropped and my short delay on this ridge made me realize how cold I had become in that brief stop for the headlamp. Within an hour I had reached another summit and while the rain continued to fall, the sun began to appear and the canopy of trees above thinned out. I soon entered a field covered in fresh blueberries and saw an amazing rainbow in the sky. The colors were so brilliant and I thanked the Lord for his amazing creation and for all the blessings in my life. I then took advantage of this natural aid station in addition to some of my pre-packed nutrition.
Back at the Truck – Start
I finally finished this epic training run that turned out to be much more of a mental challenge than a physical one. I made it back to the truck by 7:30pm, cold, wet, and hungry but excited about what I just completed. After turning up the heat in the truck and picking up my bike 10 miles down the road, I headed to dinner and my hotel. I look forward to getting back out there in 2 weeks for the race and will feel much better knowing that there will be aid stations and (I hope) lots of markers on the course. I am very hopeful that much of the thick brush and stinging nettle will be cut down by then based on Facebook updates from those clearing the trails. This is a beautiful part of Pennsylvania that I had never seen before these runs. These trails need some work but if all goes well, I believe that the Eastern States 100 may be one of the premier 100 milers in the US in years to come. However I, along with my fellow runners, the race directors, volunteers, and others first need to get past the weekend of August 15th before we can look that far ahead.