Eastern States 100 was such an awesome experience. I had the time of my life out there, spending almost 32 hours on that course and loving every second of it. If I could use two words to define the day I’d come up with gratitude and joy. So grateful for all the people I had out there helping me and sharing in the joy of what that meant. It takes a village, y’all.
I had to save a lot of mental energy by letting some minor things go early on; I’ve had races fall apart long before the actual start because of wasted mental energy. I had a terrible night sleep pre-race, but I usually do anyway, so I just let that go.
Couldn’t get my Suunto to sync to Movescount to change the GPS accuracy so I could have battery life for the whole run, so I just let that go. I felt so free not checking my splits and pace and elevation gain and all that jazz every 5 to 10 minutes. Think I’ll do every 100-miler with no GPS from now on. Let the aid stations be my mile markers and use “time of day” as my guide.
Woke up about 4 minutes ahead of my alarm after getting maybe 4-5 hours sleep; made coffee, ate some oatmeal, used the porta-potty, lubed up my feet and assorted moving parts, dressed and ducked my head in to my tent to kiss my wife and baby boy good-bye, only to find my little guy awake playing with a flashlight. I was delighted when my wife says, “we’ll come down to the start to see you off…” which was awesome for me but I knew she was in for a rough day since our guy was awake at 4:45. Oof. They were set to crew me twice, once at Lower Pine Bottom (mile 17.8) and Hyner Run (43.2) so I was hoping she’d get a few minutes of peace around his napping. More on this later…
Was looking down at bib numbers furiously to find my buddy Mike from a running message board we participate in together- we’d run together until the aid station at mile 11.3 (Ramsey) and what a great dude, we chatted all things running, life, music, etc!
We parted ways when he had a shoe issue to take care of at Ramsey, hoping all day that he’d come up behind me and we’d get some more miles in together. After I finished I was absolutely gutted to find out he dropped, he looked so good when we were together, conservative and controlled- as a matter of absolute fact I owe my awesome race to Mike by staying with him and keeping it really easy during those early miles. I learned one very important thing today- the easier you go at the start of these things, the more you can kick it in at the end. Duh.
I was all the way back in 124th at mile 17.8, when I got to Lower Pine Bottom, passing our car and thinking, “Where’s Allyson?” I got some help from a volunteer that yelled up to the top to try to find her; the aid station is up this little switchbacked road on top of a hill and the car was parked along the road leading to it. They yelled back, “try to see if it’s unlocked!” which it was so I grabbed a Red Bull and a few gels and a pre-measured Ziploc of Skratch. Ran through the aid, kissed Ally and Eamonn, he wanted to run a little bit with me which was so cool, this little dude I love so much loves to run! Grabbed some salty potatoes and watermelon and was off.
Steadily worked my way up to Brown’s Run at mile 25.8 and accessed my drop bag, all I really wanted to do was lube up again and drop off my rain shell since it was super clear right then. I thought, “no rain today…” and boy, was I wrong. I’d semi-regret this later.
About 15-20 mins after that aid I had to work through some horrific stomach issues from just about 1 pm until about 3:30 (took 11 shits during the race- Desitin is amazing stuff, people). I literally shredded my poor little butthole. It was starting to warm up a bit as we entered the early afternoon, and good thing for me the first of two decent thunderstorms would roll through and drench me, keeping me cool and offering some temporary relief; all the while stopping to projectile poo every 20-30 minutes. I kept thinking about this story I heard on NPR a little while ago about all the different things people have used to wipe themselves after pooping since time immemorial. I was using sticks, rocks, bunches of long grass, leaves, I would’ve really liked to use a rabbit or squirrel because they look really soft.
Went through Happy Dutchman aid at mile 31.6, stopping briefly for some hand sanitizer, baby wipes, Vaseline and a refill of my hydration bladder (yes, do it in that order to make sure you’re not contaminating those around you, or yourself).
Luckily one of the race medics, Brian (you rule, dude!) took care of me at Ritchie Road (mile 38.5). I explained to him what was happening, he ran and grabbed this kit and then I needed him to “block” for me as I hid behind a pick-up truck with a bunch of baby wipes, paper towels and Desitin for maximum relief. If anybody saw anything there, my bad, my pasty white butt was in a very bad way. Ultrarunning is hard. Take care of your b-hole, I imagine your cheeks will rub against themselves about a million times during a hundo…
On to Hyner Run (43.2) where I’d again see my wife and child, so psyched to see them. Despite all the issues, I was moving well and still passing people. I was actually passing a lot of people, kept telling myself to relax but my legs felt really great. My spirits were good in spite of my stomach issues, which started to clear up as I doubled my salt intake. Just pouring Skratch and Tailwind and gels and whatever in me, not letting some minor poopy issues take me out of this race.
I got to Hyner at 4:48, a good 12 minutes ahead of what I told my crew- my buddies Dave and Steve were on their way up from the Philly area to pace and crew me through the night and do a gear hand-off with my wife. As I started to frantically scan the parking area for our silver CR-V, another buddy, Steve Tucker, grabbed me. “I think I beat everyone here…” I said. He was really great about keeping me calm and focused. I knew I needed a shoe and sock change because my feet had been soaked from both falling into a creek crossing (yeah) and those rain storms. I knew I also needed a headlamp because it might take me 3 hours to do the next 11 miles.
Steve had just finished Hardrock like three weeks earlier so I knew I could absolutely trust every word he said. He told me to relax, eat, not worry about anything- he ran to his car to give me his back-up headlamp. I was okay with taking some time here and we decided that I would just go to Halfway House at mile 54.7 and do the shoe change there. My feet felt good, no hot spots or anything like that so I figured I’d be okay for another few hours.
Just as I was about to check out of the aid station and start up the trail, my wife pulls in. “Stop that car!” I yell as people started flagging her down. She stopped in the middle of the lot as I ran up and was like, “open the hatch, babe!” She was in near tears, having both gotten lost trying to find this aid station and cleaning up our kid from puking all over himself. Everybody was having a day! I changed shoes real quick while chugging a Reed’s ginger beer, Steve ran over with a look of relief- I gave him his headlamp back, grabbed mine and was off. I hopped back on the trail right at 5 pm.
The next section was really runnable, so I alternated a few minutes of decent running and decent hiking. Kept passing people, moving up to 85th place by mile 51.1 (Dry Run aid, you all were so rad!), at this point people were starting to look terrible, I guess they went out too hard?
Picked up my pacer Dave Stango, was so psyched to see him and Steve Neugebauer at mile 54.7!
Dave was 6th place here last year, and cool story about how we met: Eric Schranz from URP has taken quite a shine to Eastern States (Eric: come do this race next year!), so after Dave was a guest on his podcast I started following him on Strava. After I didn’t get into Western States (again- five time loser!) I reached out to Dave to pick his brain about ES100, he was more than happy to oblige. Seeing as we grew up about 15 minutes from each other in Delaware County, PA and are around the same age we had a lot in common, and he even showed me around the trails at Ridley Creek State Park. After doing a few runs together whenever I was back in the Philly burbs to visit my parents, I offered to pace Dave at North Face-Massachusetts, which he won (and dropped me with about a mile and a half to go) he then offered to crew and pace me at ES100.
Ultrarunners are cool like that- if you’re ever in the Connecticut area, shoot me an e-mail or blow me up on Twitter and I will be more than happy to take you out on my local trails. I think that 95% of us will be into this sort of thing. The other 5% that might say “no”, you don’t want to know those guys, and they’ll probably be doing something different in two years time anyway.
So I hooked up with those guys a little after 8 pm, and my legs still felt great. Was feeling the general fatigue of running for 13 hours and being awake for almost 16, but that’s to be expected. Good times ahead. I’d check out of Halfway House in 84th place…
Stayed patient but steady- didn’t push too hard here, just continued to move up through the field, passed another 20 runners to move up to 64th place at mile 63.8.
Me and Dave stopped for a minute at one point to see the large “blackness” off to the side of the trail that was the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania, switching off our headlamps to see a few meteors from the Perseid shower. I don’t remember if this was between Algerines (mile 69.1) which I had been calling Al Green’s and started singing all his classic hits and Long Brach aid (mile 75.6) or between Long Branch and Blackwell. At any rate, my mind was beginning to show signs of mild deterioration.
Moved well through the night, switching pacers at mile 80.3- also was mildly hallucinating right before and just after sunrise, I kept seeing houses off to my left along the trail that weren’t there. Luckily I knew they actually weren’t there. There actually was this “DYNAMITE” shack on the side of the trail though that Dave was telling me about so when we finally saw it I chuckled to myself, thinking that I may have already seen it, but probably not. Ultrarunning is a hell of a drug, people. Passed another few runners at Long Branch in chairs and cots that had that 1000-yard stare going. I feel you, bros.
Steve took over pacing duties and humored me through my mild hallucinations (look, there’s a bridge with some kids sitting on it and… no it’s just a log with some fallen branches… okay, this is weird.) Started having stomach issues again here, stopped for some quick liquid poops and had to re-attach my inflamed b-hole again at mile 84.8 aid station, SkyTop. That coffee I had at Blackwell was, in a word, terrible. I’m never drinking coffee in a race ever again.
Pulled into the 92.8-mile aid for another pacer change, stayed here for a while and really took care of myself for the final push- foot re-lube and sock change, a Red Bull and a lot of salty things. Watched runners I beat into the Aid Station leave before me; Dave was like “come on man, come on!” I was like (deadly serious): “we will pass all of them back and then some in the next ten miles”.
We did catch all five runners that left Barrens before me and would pick off another six runners on route to a really satisfying and enjoyable 31:42 finish time, good enough for 43rd dude (47th overall). That section between Blackwell and SkyTop was really tough on me, a lot of climbing late in the race, stomach issues, hallucinating harder than I ever have (legally) but just knew that good times were ahead if I just kept on moving- two-plus hours to go 4.5 miles, wow. But I was still cracking jokes, still laughing, still having an awesome time out there when I felt like my body had somewhat betrayed me. I was not going to let anything wreck the fun I set out to have.
This was the most fulfilling and awesome experience I’ve ever had running. Not wearing my GPS watch for a race? I don’t do that sort of thing.
I’m way too obsessed with splits and elevation gain and all that jazz that I have a really hard time having fun because mentally I’m somewhere else. I’m wondering what it’s going to look like on Movescount, or how much elevation gain I’m going to lose or gain when I sync it to Strava.
I was actually relieved to not record the data, because I wanted to stay firmly rooted in the present. I wanted to look at my watch, say “it’s 2:30 pm and I am deep in the Pennsylvania woods somewhere between miles 33 and 35 and I don’t give a crap because this is fun.”
Getting rained on is FUN. Having a funky stomach while running and trying to problem solve is FUN. Training since January 1st with one goal in mind, to finish the Eastern States 100 is FUN. Eating bacon at mile 51 is FUN. Trying to get dudes up out of that chair to run with you at 4 am is FUN. Running past a rattlesnake den is FUN. Asking your pacer why there isn’t any gravel spread out on the trail at mile 96 is FUN. Seeing your 22-month old watch all the runners go in and out of the aid station and pretend to run just like them is FUN. Listening to your pacers’ awesome stories and life experiences is FUN. Seeing a black bear barrel down a fern-covered canyon is FUN. Taking part in Pennsylvania’s best 100-miler is FUN.
This is why I run ultras.
This is why I love this community.
This is why this is FUN.