Sunday, August 21, 2016

Viaduct Trail Ultra 100 Miles

Saturday August 13-14, 2016  Lanesboro, PA               

Photos mostly by Ralph Pisle

I dropped from the race after completing 75 miles in a little under 23 hours.  The heat forced a slower average pace because of more walking, and drained both my ability to process food and my desire to continue to the finish.

This race is held on a 12.5 mile course, mostly a rails to trails route.  Runners in the 50 mile race do 2 out and back round trips, 100 milers are in for 4 round trips.  There is aid available at the start/finish area, at 7 miles out, plus water at the midcourse turn-around.  The turnaround is unattended and had a list of runners on which we were to record our arrival time at each visit.  There used to be train bridges around 8 and 10 miles from the start/finish.  With the bridges now gone the course drops, then climbs back to its normal track.  One of these is shallower and gradual through grassy land.  The other is deeper and rocky, with steeper inclines.  This one crosses a stream near a scenic waterfall.

The race website describes the course this way:
"Beginning at the Starrucca Viaduct in Lanesboro, PA, the course is a somewhat challenging series of out-and-back laps, mostly on stony, unimproved rail trail. Although four-wheeler traffic has made two nice gravel tracks along much of the course, rocks are impossible to avoid in some places. Because of the many rocky sections, decent trail-running shoes are probably the best option.

Gaiters can help to keep out the gravel and cinders.
The overall elevation change is gradual, and there are two dips where trestles (bridges) used to be. Including the hills in Lanesboro and Bucks Falls, the total elevation change is about 1000 feet for each lap. From the start to the turnaround, it's up, and it's down for the return. The course map has a profile graph below it."

The weather was warm and humid at the start - low to mid 70 degree temps.  The forecast was for a high of about 90 degrees, possible thunderstorms, Saturday night temps down to about 70.
I wore shorts and a short-sleeve shirt with a running vest holding a 1 liter hydration bladder.  I started out wearing Inov8 295 Roclites with gaiters and switched to Altra Olympus after 25 miles.

My longtime running friend Ralph was accompanying me on his bike for the whole run.  He carried some extra food and drink items and was there to support me in whatever I might need.  This was a huge help to me and provided some comfort to my family members who were worried about me doing the race in the hot, humid conditions.

Honorary finisher award - presented by Ralph

The details:
75 miles 22:54

Lap 1 - 5:00 am to 10:33 am (5:33 elapsed)
According to my plan I ran the first 3.5 miles except for the short uphill to the trail entrance 1.25 miles from start.  Then I began a run/walk
pattern of run 7 minutes/walk 4 minutes. I walked the uphill at the deeper dip in the trail about 10 miles out.

I spent about 5 minutes at the beginning running with Nora who I had met at a course preview run 3 weeks earlier.  Around the 4 mile
mark I nearly fell in the dark when trying to avoid an overhead branch and so not seeing a steep sideways slant on the trail.  I was
thinking about avoiding ticks on vegetation.  So I quit avoiding contact with plants after that.  The course soon ran near a home and we heard roosters crowing as dawn approached.  At most road crossings we saw someone waiting to meet a runner.

About mile 6, still looking fresh.
We stopped at the Melrose aid station (mile 7 & 18) to refill water and food items.  My nutrition plan was to eat a Lara Bar or Cliff Bar and a pack of cheese or peanut butter cracker sandwiches on the way to and from the Melrose aid stop.  That would be about 400 calories including carb, protein, fat, salt.  Additionally,  for variety and supplementation I hade some chocolate milk, V8 Energy drinks, lunchpack cups of peaches, ready to eat Progresso chicken rice or noodle soup. These were in my dropbag at Melrose and my storage bin at the start finish. So my plan was for a minimum of 1200 calories per 25 miles.
On the way out we passed the 50 mile lead runner coming back - perhaps 4 miles ahead already. 

At the turn around there was a small table with a list of the runners.  Beside out name we were to use a sharpie to write the time we were there.  It wasn't so easy since the plastic page protector was wet.
Mid-course turn around point
Steep climb on the inbound side at Buck Falls
The return trip was really routine.  My watch gave the signal for switching from run to walk and back to run.  The temperature was rising and the open areas had more sun exposure.  I felt a blister developing on the small toe of my left foot.  I thought it was early for that, perhaps due to the heat and moisture in my shoes.  The last mile to finish the lap is along Main St in Lanesboro. There were some yard sales going on and other small town things to see.

Transition 1 (49 minutes)
I changed shoes and socks. My left foot small toe was crowded, blistering underneath.  I sat for a while with my bare feet up, taking
time to eat & drink.  I replenished my food and water and started back out.  Ralph would soon follow after charging up his electronics.

Ralph's bike is not camera shy like he is
Resting my feet after 25 miles

Lap 2 - 11:22 am to 6:30 pm (7:08 elapsed)
For this lap I added a wide brimmed hat for sun protection.  My plan was to continue the 7/4 run walk for the first couple miles where the 
course is more downhill.  Then I would reverse to 4/7 until it is too warm.  It turned out that I walked most of the outbound miles due to heat.  I abandoned the timed walk/run plan because I wasn't getting cool enough during the walk period to run without overheating.  I had left the transition with more in my stomach and it was a while before I could eat much.

After the turnaround I tried a little running with the slight downhill terrain.  During this part of lap 2 we connected with Amy Winters who had fallen, gotten skinned up and developed problems with her prosthetic leg.  Nora's crew person Vera was able to help get her fixed up.  But Amy stopped after 50 miles since the stump of her leg had been bleeding inside the prosthetic.  Amy has quite the story and some fame.  Check her out:

Running behind Amy
A few miles from the end of lap 2

I could feel blisters forming at the back of my left heel.  And my feet were hurting from the rocky places and being on them more than 13 hours.  Toward the end of this lap that had involved so much walking, I wanted to keep the possibility of finishing the race within reach. So I ran for 10 or 15 minutes straight toward the end of the trail portion of the lap.  For some reason this triggered some strong emotions in me that had me on the verge of crying.  The long stretch of running and the sniffing caught Ralph's attention and he asked if I was ok.

Transition 2 (60 minutes)
I again changed socks and tried to adjust my shoe for new blisters on my left heel.  I think now that the extra
walking changed my foot movement in the shoes.  And a week before the race I had added some heel raising inserts that been tested for only an hour.  Maybe that was involved too.  I rinsed off by pouring water over myself, then dried and changed my shorts and shirt.  I ate some chicken and rice soup, drank chocolate milk, sat with feet up for a while.  And I had a bit of turkey sandwich and some gatorade and grapes.  It took a long time to take care of everything.

Lap 3 - 7:30 pm to 03:54 am (8:24 elapsed)
On the way back out another runner was coming in and asked about me going back out.  I said yes, thinking 'of course - I have 50 more
miles to do'. She said she was coming in because she didn't want to be out there alone with only 3 others still on the course.  I
suggested she could run with me, but she had decided she was done.

I started out expecting temps to drop to a comfortable level and to be able to get back to my planned run/walk pattern. It was no longer really hot, but it was not cool.  I resumed run walk but within a few miles was discouraged that conditions had not cooled more.  Too much walking was still needed to keep from getting too hot.  I was walking more than even a run 4, walk 7 pattern.  During much of the out portion of this lap we were seeing lightning flashes and hearing thunder ahead of us.  We never reached the storm though.

Gradually I was allowing myself to consider the possibility (or eventuality) of not finishing 100 miles.  And I also began expressing it out loud.  Trying to resist this, I remembered a quote from another race about "not letting pain turn you into a coward".  It seemed I might be watching that happen in myself.  At one point Ralph said that if I had decided not to finish we might as well turn around now. (It had a kind of parental tone the way I heard it.) I wasn't ready for that, saying I at least wanted to finish 75 miles.

By the Melrose aid station I felt the need for a longer stop. A volunteer asked if I needed anything.  I asked for some "want-to" to go.  After a little thinking the she said she believed that I already had enough if I would use it.

We stopped at the Buck Falls road crossing for me to sit down and refill water on both outbound and inbound passes.  I did occasional running until returning to Melrose.  I sat again and ate some soup there, while again taking a longer break.  I was asking about sending my drop bag back to the start if anyone drives that way.  I guess I told them I wasn't doing the 4th lap.  Someone there was saying how much of a factor the heat and humidity were this year.  These breaks consumed time that would be important for a runner planning another lap, but didn't matter to someone ready to be finished.

Last break at Buck Falls around midnight
Late night running
I believe I walked the remaining miles from Melrose.  My painful feet and lower legs made the walking more unpleasant.  Ralph was mostly walking too since riding slow wasn't easy.  We talked about how long it was taking and how good it would be to stop.  With about 2 miles to go the 100 mile leader caught up and passed.  His pass took several minutes since was walking a long stretch there.

Finally we were off the trail, onto the pavement for that last mile or so.  I jogged down the hill to Main St, then walked the road to the finish.  The cutoff to start the last loop was 4 am and I signed in just before that.  I marked an 'X' in the column for my lap 4 time.  I had not finished, but I was done.

Several days later, I question whether I did the best I could have in the circumstances.  For example...
  • My 2 transitions between 25 mile loops were about an hour each.  I wasn't working so hard that I needed that much rest.  If I had cut that time in half, things may have looked better during lap 3.
  • During the third lap I allowed longer stops as if it didn't matter that time was ticking away, even before I had decided/announced I would stop at 75 miles.
  • Mentally I took the race for granted.  I had done 100 miles in a race back in May.  I had 31 hours to make the distance - I thought I could walk most of it.  I had company to keep me from getting lonely or in trouble physically.  I didn't prepare myself for a serious mental challenge.
  • My nutrition plan was rather limited.  I hadn't prepared for switching to mostly fluids for nutrition if heat made eating difficult.  And that did happen.
  • I had staked a lot on cool temperatures over night.  When they didn't arrive it seemed my hope was gone.

More photos