Ghost Train Trail Race Race Recap - "Success is not Final, and Failure is not Fatal"

It’s taken me a bit longer than usual to put together a race recap as I have been working through what I wanted to say in this post over the past few days. I didn’t necessarily make it a secret that I was going for my first 100 Mile finish. I had signed up for this race on January 1st, 2018 proclaiming that “this was going to be the year” I ran 100 Miles. I had also written about it in previous blog posts, and I had told friends and family about the race. So, to not make it all that way was incredibly disappointing and I’m still trying to process it even as I type this a week later.

Start Line!
For this race, my parents both flew up from North Carolina to help crew me. It was parents weekend at Bentley University, and try as they might to convince me to enjoy a normal parents weekend with them, I could not be swayed. We arrived at Camp Tevya around 8:00am on race morning and quickly unloaded our supplies from the car and found a spot close to the start line. The weather at the race was perfect and stayed in the mid-50s for most of the day. For this ultra, I had more supplies and more changes of clothes than I had for any previous ultra. We ended up setting up right across from Brian Butterfield, whom I had met at the TARC Fall Classic 50 Mile, a few weeks earlier. We talked for a few minutes before both going to our respective camps to finish setting up. Brian would go on to run an incredibly even paced race and take 2nd Overall in the 100 Mile in 16:41.

Before I knew it, there were five minutes until the start and everyone began to line up. I ran a quick double check over my supplies to make sure I had everything. For this race, I would be carrying 200 calories of Tailwind with base salts and about 250 calories of chips and cookies. I would be able to refuel my bottle at each end of the course so I would be getting in about 700 calories for each loop. Finally, after some words from the incredible race directors, we were off and running.

I found myself going out quite a bit faster than previous ultras, even much shorter distances than my planned 100 miles. I felt like it was difficult to properly gauge my efforts at times during the first four miles of the out and back as it was pretty much razor flat. As a side note, the course traverses between Brookline and Milford, New Hampshire, with Milford serving as the turn-around point for each lap. Overall, I still really feel like I haven’t hit my full potential on trails. I haven’t been able to translate my marathon and half marathon speed as well as I would have liked, but I’m hoping it improves in future ultras. Maybe I just need to train harder? I rolled through the first few miles in about an 8:20 pace, making sure to keep my heart rate right around 150 beats per minute. I definitely like to run my own race, and I seldom, if ever, find myself running with anyone else for very long. This isn’t because I don’t like to talk with other runners, it's more because I find my pace a bit more cyclical than others. One minute, I judge that I’m putting too much effort in and slow down, and the next I find myself picking it right back up.

Power Line Aid Station: First Lap
Photo Credit: Jon McInerney
One thing that surprised me at this race was that there were quite a few road crossings. None of these, however, were ever a problem with cars, which was a relief. When I was running I always felt like there were two distinct “sections” of the course. The first part ended when we went by a road crossing and went down these big wooden steps on each lap. This section was much more technical and slower than the first part of the course. Towards the end of my race, I really felt like this was the area I was losing the most time at, especially the big hill around Mile 6 and Mile 9, which was rockier than I expected. By far the coolest part of each loop was going under the pipe tunnel a few minutes before hitting the mid-lap aid station. Even during daytime, the middle of the tunnel is still pitch black and cold! I hit the turnaround at the mid-aid station in 1:00:57. I tried to spend about under a minute here each lap, only stopping to refuel my bottle with Tailwind.

15 Miles Done!
A few minutes after I left the aid station, I was caught by Dima Feinhaus and we enjoyed several miles together. We talked about time goals for the race, and he told me that it was a long race and I shouldn’t really think about time goals for my first 100. I wish I had considered his advice a bit more carefully looking back on my race. I lost him after the hill on the course, but the great thing about Ghost Train is that it is an out and back course so you will see each person at least twice during a lap. It was also so uplifting, especially in later stages of the race, to constantly be around people, as everyone was always quick to offer words of encouragement no matter how much they were hurting themselves. Making my way back on the first loop, I was feeling pretty strong. I had decided as part of my racing strategy not to stop at the “mid- “mid” aid station, which was halfway between the start and the turnaround, in order to save some time. Another interesting part of the course is about a quarter mile stretch that is lined with carved pumpkins. I had heard from previous participants that they had been filled with scented candles in the past so I was interested to see how I would react to the smell later in the night after hours of running!

Finishing Lap One!
Photo Credit: David Metsky 
Finally, I hit the road section of the course, which only covers about the first and last quarter mile of each loop. The good thing about the set-up of the course is that at the end of each lap you have to run past your crew and the start line to a covered bridge just down the road, turn around and then run back through the timing mat to begin the next lap. This allowed me to yell out to my parents what I needed for each lap as I passed them and gave them about two minutes to prepare it for me so I didn’t waste valuable time trying to explain. I only stopped for about a minute and a half the first lap before going through the timing mat in 2:06:21 (8:23 Pace) in 9th Overall.

The next stretch heading back to Milford was probably the best I felt all race; I even saw a 7:58 Mile in there at some point, which was probably just a touch fast. Another good thing about the out and back course was that I could generally gauge how far ahead I was from people running close by me, which was helpful in determining if I was gaining or losing ground. By now, everyone was fairly spread out and I didn’t have to really dodge any people like how I felt coming back from the first turnaround at 7.5. Probably my favorite people to see on the course each lap were the family with the two young kids who were also running! I was just so inspired by them being out there together and having the opportunity to participate in this awesome sport at such a young age, one of them was as young as 8. In fact, they were still going for at least 2-3 hours after I had finished and completed the 30 Mile event. Also, worth mentioning is that Ghost Train is special in the sense that there are no “DNF’s”, Did Not Finish, as the race allows you to complete as many 15 Mile laps as you can in a 30-hour time limit. As a result, there were people running 30 Miles, 45, 60, 75, 90, or 100+ Miles, meaning you never really knew what race people were running or if it would be the last time you would see them on the course. Speaking of the course, I hit the turnaround for the second time, Mile 22.5, in 3:07:45 for an 8:20 Pace.

Power Line Aid Station: Second Lap
Photo Credit: Jon McInerney
Heading back to Tevya for the second time was not kind to me. Maybe I went out to fast, or maybe I let the enormity of the task ahead of me get to me, but I found myself really struggling as early as 25 Miles. It’s difficult to shut off your brain when it tells you that you have already run a marathon today, yet you still have 73.8 Mile to go. My pace slipped considerably even though I did not feel all that tired. I did not feel great mentally when I hit Tevya for the second time. I probably spend about 3-4 minutes at my base camp this time, where I made sure I took in a slice of pizza and some water. I felt really stiff leaving camp, especially on my right leg, which was an early sign of future problems in the race. I hit 30 Miles in 7th Overall in 4:23:53 for an 8:47 Pace. I was off for my third loop.

End of Second Lap! 
I desperately needed to “reset” my body and head so I began to implement a nine-minute run and one-minute walk system. This helped tremendously as I was hitting splits that were faster than my last eight miles where I wasn’t walking at all. This system had me hitting just under ten-minute miles as I remember seeing a lot of miles in the 9:40-9:55 range. I was feeling much stronger than the last lap and rolled into Milford for the 3rd time feeling pretty confident. I had moved into 4th place and was in a pretty solid position overall. The only thing I felt like was really draining me was the hilly section of the course and I was ecstatic each time when I would climb up the big wooden stairs and enter the flatter part of the course. Coming into Tevya for the third time my parents remarked that I looked so much better than when I had come in for the second lap. I knew that I only had one more lap before I picked up my parents to help pace me from Miles 60-90. I hit 45 Miles in 4th Overall in 6:57:00 for a 9:16 Pace. On a side, note I wanted to congratulate Patrick Caron for his course record in the 45 Mile race in which he ran a blistering 6:40 pace.

Power Line Aid Station: Third Lap
Photo Credit: Jon McInerney
I set off for my fourth lap with my headlamp, however, I choose to remain in a singlet and not put on any gloves, which was a huge mistake. It had been pretty warm during the day, but I had underestimated how quickly it would get cold. Probably not even two miles into this fourth lap and I suddenly just felt toast. My right leg had been giving me a lot of issues, especially in my hamstring area, over the last 15 Miles and it was only getting worse. I had been having an issue with my right leg in various areas during my training so it was definitely my fault that I didn’t take care of that by stretching, icing, or seeing a sports doctor. My pace, like the last lap, had continued to slip. I was still implementing the nine-minute run and one-minute walk, but already I was splitting about a minute a mile slower. I had also lost my appetite for the chips and cookies I had been eating the last eight hours and was only consuming my tailwind. When I came into Milford for the 4th time I spent a few minutes extra at the aid station. I thought it was really odd that the table where I filled up my water bottle was suddenly moving, but then I realized it was just my head that was spinning.

End of Third Lap! 45 Miles in! 
I left the aid station at Milford knowing deep down that I probably was not going to be back. The sun was also now setting and I was getting cold. I had also spilled water all over the bottle handle and my hand was now freezing, which was definitely poor planning on my part. These last few miles saw me splitting mostly in the 12-13 minute miles despite the fact that I was solely running, having abandoned implementing my walking since my right leg was in so much pain. It was on this stretch back to Tevya that I was lapped by Alex Jinks who ran a ridiculous 8:05 Pace for 100 Miles to set a new course record in 13:29:19. I turned on my headlamp for the last hour of this race, wondering when Brian, whom I had a 20-minute lead on at one point, would also catch me. The answer to that question was right as we hit the road with about half a mile to go for the lap. He asked me how I was and I said not very well and that my right leg was in significant pain. He was nice enough to allow me to use his roller and to take one of his No-Doz if I wanted. He looked super strong when he went by me right before Mile 60 so I knew he was going to have a great rest of his race. When I passed my parents at the end of the fourth lap, I told them I was going to go through the lap timing mat and then come back to them. I knew what this probably meant for my race.  

Breakdown of Lap Splits 
In the end, I crossed the timing mat for the final time in 9:55:57, a 9:55 pace for 60 Miles. I had managed to win the 60 Mile race, but this didn’t really feel like much of a consolation prize at the time. I had wanted 100 Miles. The farthest I have ever run before was a 100k, or 62 Miles, so it was a strange emotion to feel so disappointed at “only” running 60 Miles. A lot (or all) of the issues that had plagued me during this race were my fault, from failing to make sure I was properly taking care of my body in training, to running without proper clothing for the fourth lap, to having my only “real” long training run be my 50 Miles at the TARC Fall Classic. The great thing about ultra-running though is that it is a live and learn sport. I know I will be back to Ghost Train and Camp Tevya, and I’ll be looking to go farther than this time. In the meantime, I have a doctor’s appointment scheduled for November 5th to check out my leg, and I am taking a week or two off from running (goodbye 150-day running streak). If all goes well, I hope to see my fellow Trail Animals at the TARCkey Trot 6 Hour and the TARC Winter Fells 40 Miles in a few weeks!

Finally, I want to shoutout Chris Wristen, the man behind MassUltra, for the mention in the Ghost Train recap article! I really feel as I have joined a special community in the Trail Animals Running Club and I always look forward to all of their races. The race directors really know how to put on a great event, and the runners and volunteers always make it worth it to be out there on the trails. 
MassUltra Article
Credit: Chris Wristen

One last thought I want to leave with actually comes from one of about thirty paper plates that were nailed to the trees along the hilly part of the course. These quotes were all funny or inspirational, but only one really stuck with me: “Success is not final, and failure is not fatal.”


TARC Fall Classic 50 Mile Race Recap

It feels great to race an ultramarathon again! I want to start off by thanking the race directors, volunteers, and fellow runners for putting on an incredible event. Out of the four ultramarathons that I have run, three have been put on by the Trail Animals Running Club (TARC) and they have all been well organized, well executed, and the comradery among runners and volunteers just makes it a great experience.

I went into this race with high expectations given that I have been running about 70 Miles a week for the last two months and have been training specifically on trails. I knew I was in good shape as the week prior to the 50 Mile I ran the Wilmington Half Marathon in Wilmington, MA and finished in 1:19:31, despite losing almost a full minute on a missed turn.

Race Bib! Lucky #2182 

4:00 AM. Race Day. I slowly made my way out of bed and surveyed the gear and food I had laid out
the night before. Everything appeared to be in order. After a light breakfast, I headed down to the main campus to pick up Charlotte and Victoria, who had once again graciously agreed to help crew me for this race. I know college students who would still be awake at 4:00 AM on a Saturday morning, so the fact that they had agreed to help me out once again and get up hours before the sun rose on a Saturday was just really special. We set off for Carlisle, MA at around 4:45 AM and arrived at Great Brook Farm State Park right around 5:15 AM.
The TARC Fall Classic 50M features five laps traversing the trails of the mostly runnable State Park. I knew this course and I had run it before, but I was a bit nervous before the start of the race for a few reasons. Firstly, when I ran the 50k at the race last year I went off course twice on the first lap, losing over ten minutes and it was just demoralizing. I wasn’t in nearly as good of shape last year and it hurt losing those valuable minutes. Secondly, the competition, based on UltraSignup results, was supposed to be pretty strong. There were numerous runners who have run in the 14 -18-hour range for 100 Mile races. Finally, 50 Miles is a long race. It would be the second farthest I had ever run behind only my 100k.

6:00 AM. The race begins. I was smarter this year and actually bought a headlamp instead of just using the flashlight on my phone since the sun doesn’t rise until about 40 minutes into the race. I started the race in 4th place for the first few miles while I tried to settle into a rhythm. At about Mile 2, I was caught by another runner named Brian. We decided to stick together since we had around the same time goals and we would both be running Ghost Train in a few weeks. One thing about this race that was surprising to me was how fast runners started out the first lap. I know I can be guilty of the same thing, but I knew better than to try that the first five miles of a 50 Mile race. I was running in about 8th place by the time I was about an hour into the race, but 50 Miles is a long race, so I wasn’t worried yet. The best way I could think of to mentally handle each lap was to split it into thirds. The first third, was relatively flat and runnable fire trails until you reach the first aid station. The next third included mostly winding trails and my favorite section of the race where there is an open trail where you can see about a quarter mile ahead of you. The final third of the race, after passing the aid station for the second time, is the toughest. Three of the four major hills are in this section and it is also the most technical and difficult to run. Overall, I was feeling pretty strong by the time I reached the wide-open field the last half mile, which we would run around to reach the start line and aid station before beginning the next lap.

Loop One: 1:38:15 (9:49 Pace), 7th Place. Total Time: 1:38:15 (9:49 Pace)

20 Miles In!
I reached the end of the first lap in about 1:36 and only spent two minutes refueling, taking off a layer, and dropping off my headlamp. For fuel, I was carrying an 18oz bottle of water mixed with Nuun Performance, and eating snack bag with about 250 calories of cookies and potato chips that I could stuff into a pocket on my water bottle. I’m honestly not a huge fan at all of running ultras with energy gels or similar products as I really can’t stomach the taste and the sugary feeling. I would take real food any day, and it has never given me any problems. At the start of the second lap, I lost Brian, who I had been running with the entirety of the first lap. I wasn’t too sure if he had left the aid station before me and had gotten ahead or if I had left before. Now that I was warmed up and had dropped my extra layer I felt strong but wanted to be careful not to run too overzealously. The temperature was still relatively cool for this lap so I felt pretty relaxed. For the most part, I ran this loop by myself, but I did hang on with one of the top women running the 50k for almost an hour. I was passed by a few more people in the 50k, which I expected, but I did not see anyone from the 50 Mile outside of one person that I passed towards the middle of the lap. Finishing up the loop around the field, I still felt strong, which was a far cry from how I felt during this race last year, even though I was only running the 50k then. I reached the aid station, and stripped off my last top layer and began refueling. I was lucky to have my crew prepare my water and Nuun mixture beforehand each lap, and I already had assembled a snack pack the day before so I did a good job of getting out of the aid station fairly quickly. After this lap, I also ate a slice of pizza I had cooked the night before, and it was honestly one of the best decisions I made with my race fueling.

Loop Two:
1:34:30 (9:27 Pace), 6th Place. Total Time: 3:12:45 (9:38 Pace)

Thinking about Pizza
Lap three and four are always big laps for me. I am generally a pretty strong finisher, so it's these 
middle laps that make or break my race, whether I let my pace slow or hang strong. I felt like I was making significant ground on some of the people ahead of me, and I passed another runner about four or five miles into this lap. I hit the halfway mark, 25 Miles, in about 3:59, which put me right under an eight-hour finishing time, although I knew I had no shot at that given the difficulty in negative or even splitting ultramarathons. Still, I felt good and was moving well. It was now getting much hotter than the previous two laps and I was definitely drinking my water faster than before. I probably should have stopped at the second aid station for more water on this lap, but I plowed ahead as I had another runner in the 50 Mile in my sights. I passed this runner going through the last technical section of the trail and opened up a bit of a gap over the last two miles. I came through to the aid station where my crew told me that I was about 15 minutes behind second place at this point. I once again refueled my bottle and had another slice of pizza, which was definitely my favorite part of completing each lap. My crew told me I looked pretty good and I actually felt pretty good too! 30 Miles down, 20 to go.

Loop Three: 1:40:10 (10:01 Pace), 4th Place. Total Time: 4:52:55 (9:46 Pace)

40 Miles Down, 10 to go!
Since I had stopped at the aid station for a bit longer than the guy I had just passed, I was back into fifth place for the next two miles before I passed him on a long winding hill. I had been power walking small sections of this incline on previous loops, but I did not want to show any weakness so I kept running and put on a permanent gap this time. By now, the temperature had reached the high 60s and low 70s and the sun was beating down, and I was honestly pretty uncomfortable. I knew this was going to be a tough lap, and I had told my crew to expect slower time than before. This lap was also the first time all race that I stopped at the aid stations and refueled my water bottle. I knew I needed the calories, but I was getting sick of eating and drinking. I finally spotted third place as I entered one of the only open sections of the course. She was about two minutes ahead and moving well, but I managed to catch up by Mile 37 when we both reached the aid station. I left before her and worked hard to increase the gap on the hills the last 3 miles. I actually came in a bit faster than I expected to for the fourth lap, which had surprised me as I felt like my pace had started to suffer. When I reached the aid station for the last time I took a final slice of pizza, refueled my bottle and sped off. My crew told me that 2nd place was 11 minutes ahead and appeared to be hurting. I felt much better and told my crew three simple words: “I’ve got this.”

Loop Four: 1:46:45 (10:40 Pace), 4th Place. Total Time: 6:37:40 (9:56 Pace)

Sprint Finish!
In actually, I did not quite “have it” but we will get to that shortly. I set out on my final lap on a 
mission. Just like my last ultra at the TARC Winter Fells 40 Mile, I was shocked at how good I felt. I was determined not to stop or slow down outside of at the aid stations. When I reached the first station I refueled my water bottle and asked about 2nd place, but much to my dismay they did not remember 2nd place coming through recently. I kept expecting to round corners and see them up ahead, and I definitely expected to be making progress by the time I reached the open part of the course, but there was nothing. Coming into the aid station for the last time, I refueled with just water as I was so sick of Nuun, and asked again about 2nd place one again. Still nothing, except that they “maybe” left a bit ago. I powered ahead, running up the steep inclines that I had previously walked or power hiked the prior four laps. I finally exited the trails and entered the flat stretch before the last lap around the field. Just as I entered the field, I finally saw her. 2nd place, who I had been chasing for the last 20 miles, was about 1:30 to 2:00 minutes ahead. Seeing 2nd place lit my adrenaline on fire. I sped up and I was closing rapidly; my watch was showing my pace at 5:40-5:45. I had closed the gap to about 20 seconds with less than a quarter mile to go, and I think she could sense it because she finally turned around. I knew then that it was over when she saw me. I closed hard down the stretch and finished 4 seconds behind. In the end, I had closed the last half mile of a 50 Mile race in 3:05! I finished in 3rd Overall with a final time of 8:15:56, or a 9:55 Pace. I spent a long time after the race thinking about where I could have cut off 4-5 seconds off of an eight-hour long race. Could I have left an aid station earlier? Did I really need to stop for water with only 3 miles left? In the end, I made peace with it. One of the scariest things about ultras, but also one of the best things, is that seconds can completely change your race. My entire race could have been different if I spent less time at an aid station or decided to forgo refilling my bottle.

Loop Five: 1:36:16 (9:37 Pace), 4th Place. Total Time: 8:15:56 (9:55 Pace)

Support Crew: Charlotte & Victoria 
Overall, I was really happy with my race. I ran pretty consistent by ultramarathon standards (1:36, 1:38, 1:40, 1:46, 1:38) as there was only a 10-minute split between my fastest and slowest laps. It always difficult to rationalize how you feel at the end of a race when you think about it the next day, but I definitely felt like I could have gone farther. Right now, I am entered into the Ghost Train Ultra in three weeks with the intention of running my first 100-mile race and I am really looking forward to it. Finally, I just want to again thank the race directors and all the volunteers for putting on a great event. None of this would have been possible either without the help of Charlotte and Victoria supporting me. I also want to congratulate Megan, the second-place finisher, who ran an amazing race to take over 35 minutes off the women’s course record. Results for the race can be found at: https://ultrasignup.com/results_event.aspx?did=52483#

Thank you to the Trail Animals Running Club (TARC) for a great race!



2018 Run for the Red Marathon – A Pennsylvania Redemption Run

I want to start off this blog post a little differently than I usually do. I want to talk about my experience at a different marathon first, the 2016 Lehigh Valley Via Marathon, a race that has plagued me for almost two years. After running 2:53:16 in only my second Marathon at age 18 at the 2015 Thunder Road Marathon in Charlotte, NC, I decided I still had better times in me. I signed up for the 2016 Lehigh Valley Marathon held the first weekend in September in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Then, I went to work. During the Summer before the race, I put in an average of 85 miles a week over a 10-week period, with two weeks at 100 Miles. I was in the best shape of my life, having run 16:35 for the 5K in high 80 temperatures, and a solo 14 Mile Marathon Pace Tempo in the middle of July at 6:14 Pace. I was ready to run a huge PR.

Unfortunately, the weather had other plans for me. The weather that day was already 72 degrees by the start at 8am, and only climbed from there. The humidity was also in the high 80s to low 90s. Obviously, not ideal marathon temperatures, but I was so steadfast on my goal of 2:45 that I didn’t even consider adjusting. I hit the first mile in 5:58, still my fastest split at any point in any marathon to this day, and kept going from there. I hit the 10K in 39:20, about a 6:17 Pace. I still felt great at
2016 Lehigh Valley Marathon - 10K Split 
Mile 11, but then I took a Gu, missed the water stop right after that, and everything went crashing downhill from there. Anyone who has run a marathon will tell you that Mile 11 is not where you want to be really hurting. By Mile 13, I had slowed considerably, by Mile 17, I was walking and running. At Mile 22, I passed a medical tent and an aid station. I ran about 100 meters past it before I threw up, and then promptly turned around back to the tent. I sat in the back of a stationary ambulance for about 10 minutes while I had my vitals and my personal information being taken. Afterward, they asked me if I wanted a ride back to the finish and I briefly contemplated taking my first DNF ever, before saying I wanted to go back out. The last 3.6 miles of the race, after the 22.6 Mile checkpoint, took me over 56 minutes to finish. I finally crossed the finish line in 3:42:31, almost 50 minutes slower than I had run about 10 months before.

Finished! (Medical Tent Time) 
I didn’t post about this marathon afterward, and I didn’t put it on Strava. I had worked the hardest I ever had to get myself into the best shape of my life, and everything collapsed. In the 20 months since this race, I have run 4 more marathons (3:01:34, 2:56:30, 3:03:03, 2:58:21) and two ultras, a 50K, and a 40 Mile race, but even completing these races I still feel as if I haven’t really put my best effort forward. I got away with training for all these races on literally no long runs over 10 Miles, and weekly mileage of 20-40 miles a week. Back in February, my Mom and I signed up for the 2018 Run for the Red Marathon, and I was nervous about going back to race in Pennsylvania, considering how poorly things had gone the last time. After running 3:03:03 in the Milan Marathon on April 8th, technically a Boston qualifying time, but definitely not enough under the standard to get in, I knew I had some work to do. After taking about a week of recovery, I put in weeks of 60, 65, 70, 40, and 50 in the five weeks leading up to and including the marathon. While I didn’t have any long runs over 10 Miles I had days where I sometimes ran 3 times a day for a total of 15 Miles.

Pre-Race
Fast-forward to May, and I find myself, my Mom, and my girlfriend pulling into the middle of nowhere Poconos Mountains in Pennsylvania at Stroudsburg High School for the race expo. The weather had been nonstop rain for the past two days and it looked as if that may continue into the race tomorrow. The race had even issued a special email stating that the weather for early that morning included lightning, and if the lighting was spotted prior to the start of the race, the race would have to be called off. After leaving to the packet pickup, we drove to our hotel near the start, lounged around quite a bit, ate dinner at one of the only Italian restaurants we could find, and then went to bed early.

My goal for this race was, hopefully, to run around 2:55, but more importantly to run under three hours and give myself more breathing room on my Boston qualifying time. When we woke up the next morning, we found the weather less than ideal, although we were anticipating this. The good news was that there was no longer lightning, or even rain, in the forecast. However, near 100% humidity promised to make it an interesting morning. We arrived at Pocono Mountain High School at around 6:20am, about 40 minutes before the start. Usually, the half an hour leading up to a race moves fairly quickly for me, and this race was no exception. It was already 6:55 by the time I decided to do a quick two-minute shakeout and head to the starting line. A quick rendition of the National Anthem, and few words, and then we were off! 

Game-Face On Always. 
The Run for the Red Marathon was a little bit different from others that I have run in the past, as it features about a 1400-foot elevation drop over the course of the race, with the vast majority coming between Miles 6-11. I was interested to see how my quads and my hips would react to Miles 7-8 specifically, which dropped over 550 feet. What I wasn’t interested to see was the last eight miles of the course which featured significant rolling hills from Mile 18 all the way to the finish. For this race, I had ordered a Marathon Pace Band with the goal of a 2:55 finish time. I had selected the splits to be based on the course profile, with a negative split, increased effort in the second half, and boy was this a mistake. I don’t think I hit a single split within 5 seconds of the band all race. The first five miles of the race is fairly rolling, and I focused on settling into a rhythm and feeling strong with controlled breathing by the time I reached the downhills at Mile 5.5. I hit Mile 1 in 6:40, only a mere 22 seconds faster than my pace band. Shortly afterward, and much to my surprise, I literally “ran” into another runner I knew from Charlotte, Andrew Charters. We had raced against each other quite a few times at the U.S National Whitewater Center. He told me was going for under three hours, so I had somebody to work with.

The first few miles of the race were largely uneventful, but try as I might, I couldn’t reign in my pace and put 45 seconds on my band by the time we hit the downhills. I consider myself a fairly strong downhill runner, but much to my surprise, I was already developing some pretty strong tightening in my hips by Mile 6. I’m not entirely sure if this was due to my shoe choice or not. I ran in a fairly new pair of HOKA Clifton 4s, with only about 8 Miles and a bit of walking on them. I had not anticipated wearing them, because the weather did not seem like it was going to cooperate, so I did not break them in that much. It was either these shoes or a pair I have been wearing the last few months with over 550 Miles and at least 150 more walking.
Moms 6th Marathon Finish!

My favorite part of this race was definitely Mile 7 & 8. It was absolutely, totally, and 100% downhill. I just let my legs fly, even faster than I had anticipated. Nothing feels better than a 6:08 at Mile 7 and a 6:00 at Mile 8 with minimal effort. However, after the race leveled out the next mile, I could really feel the effort of running on rolling hills versus running downhill. I hit Mile 9 in a time of 58:50, about a 6:34 Pace Overall, and 1:29 ahead of my pace band. By this time, Andrew had been running a great race and he pulled away from me as well so I was working with a few other guys for these middle miles. It was shortly after around Mile 11 or so where I just felt off. I’m not sure if I worked it too hard on the downhills, or if the humidity was getting to me, but I lost almost 40 seconds on my pace band in just 3 miles. Once I took my second Gu at Mile 12 I started to feel a bit better, then earlier and picked it up to hit halfway at 1:27:07, still 43 seconds ahead of the band, and only 29 seconds behind my PR pace. For the next several miles I ran with only one other person, working together to try and close the gap on a group of runners up ahead. Even after the half marathon split off and finished I found that we lost very little people, as most ahead of me were in the Marathon.

Overall, I would say my largest gripe with this race was that the road was not closed off from traffic at all the second half. The course was completely open and we had cars going by us constantly. We were relegated to the left of the white line, only about two feet at a time and slightly cantered to run on. I understand it may not be entirely possible to shut down the whole course, but there were not even cones or markings blocking the runners from passing cars. Regardless, I was willing to put up with it for a downhill course and the beautiful scenery of the Poconos.

Obligatory Post-Race Medal Pic 
Shortly after Mile 16, I lost contact with the guy I had been running with the past few miles. This was definitely a rough stretch for me for whatever reason. I did not feel like I was slowing down a ton, but I still had about 5-6 people pass by me. I was worried that the last 8 Miles would be a nightmare if I was not feeling great already. At Mile 18, to quote numerous people, the “party is over”. Unrelenting hills awaited us. I hit Mile 18 in 1:59:50, about a 6:39 Pace, and only 7 seconds ahead of my pace band. I had run the Miles from 9-18 in about a 6:45 Pace. At this point, I was already calculating the pace I needed to hold to the finish, about 7:20 per Mile, in order to finish under three hours. I decided I needed a “reset”. I needed to take a Gu, get my breathing under control and focus on my arm movement. It actually helped tremendously, at least for a little while. I thought I could ride my second wave of energy all the way to the finish, but alas it was only until Mile 21. The last split I remember hitting was a 6:45 at Mile 20 before I stopped looking at my watch. The good news was that even though I was slowing down, so was most everyone else. In fact, looking at the results after the race, I went back to look at the top 75 finishers and only two negative split, or even managed to positive split within a minute. Going up the largest hill of the race at Mile 21 I managed to gain ground and eventually passed back 4 of the people that passed me earlier.

The Best Support Crew! 
The last few miles of the marathon for me are always the same, a painful fight to the finish. The only race I can say this wasn’t true was the Vermont City Marathon last year, the only marathon I have ever negative split. Maybe I should try that strategy more often… The last few miles I was running entirely by myself without a person in sight on either end or so I thought. Right before Mile 25, I had another young guy, who had asked to look at my pace band while we were waiting in line at the bathroom before the race, blow right by me. I hit Mile 25 in 2:49:50 overall, so I knew a sub-three-hour finish and a BQ were within reach as long as something drastic did not happen. The last bit of the race, as we entered Stroudsburg High School seemed to last forever. Even though you “enter” the grounds of the high school, the last 300 meters on the track where we finished is still a good half mile away. I managed to pass one person during this last part before entering the track and another runner on the backstretch before finishing on the straightaway in a time of 2:58:21! I finished in 21st Overall for a pace of 6:48 per mile. The eight miles, despite the hills, didn’t cost me too much time as I averaged about a 7:08 Pace. I also want to give a congratulation to my fellow Charlotte runner, Andrew, who finished in 2:57:11 for 16th place overall!

As far as my racing plans go for the future, I have a busy schedule. I can confirm I will be running the Boston Marathon in 2019 so I am very excited about that. This summer I will be training for two very important races: the Kodiak 50 Mile in Big Bear Lake, California, and the Ghost Train 100, in New Hampshire. Finally, I will also be racing the Drummer Hill 50K in New Hampshire, and the TARC Fall Classic 50 Mile as tune-ups!

Race Finish!