Algonquin… We finally meet

  
The longest trail on Maryland’s Eastern Shore had eluded me for far too long. It knew it was there and it knew I was anxious to conquer it…. But we never met until this past weekend. The nuisance and potential dangers of ticks, chiggers and mosquitos kept me away during the summer and so when an available Saturday opened up this winter I knew it was game on. I didn’t just want to run the trail, I wanted to run the length of the trail and then run back to the start. 

The night before, while watching “The Making of a Murderer”, I packed my Orange Mud hydration vest with three packets of GU, two mini bagels, energy chomps and two bottles filled with water and Tail Wind. I was preparing and planning for a self supported 25 mile run on the soft dirt trails. The trails are fairly new and are relatively unknown. They were created for hikers, bikers and horseback riders, but this weekend the trail runners of Delmarva would own it… Well sorta, when we weren’t lost. 

When I arrived at the north trailhead at a little after 5:30 in the morning there were five cars and seven runners waiting for me (Yeah I was late, It took a few extra minutes to scrape the frost off my car). It was an amazing collection of runners including a few guys who have run 50 and 100 mile races. It was a chilly 23 degrees when we began and after two days of rain and snow I thought a colder day would freeze the trail and make for an easier run. I was wrong. 

After a quick dark selfie, thanks to Gabe’s long arms, we were off and running. The proper-speed-pecking order usually doesn’t happen in the first mile or two so I was lucky to be up front talking with The Swift Brother… Who happen to both be quite swift. Really. The conversation was flowing and we were laughing at each other’s running stories. Until we began to realize we hadn’t seen a trail marker for a while. Oh boy. 

The Algonquin trail is marked every tenth of a mile througout the 12.5 mile trail. You would think after not seeing a trail marker beyond the third one we would turn around after a few tenths of a mile. We ran another mile and a half before deciding to turn around. I have no one to blame but myself considering I was in the front of the pack at this point. We turned around and realized that after only covering 1/3 of a mile of the actual trail we had already added an extra three miles to our trip. 

No one was upset. Most were pretty excited that instead of 25 miles we were now going to go beyond a marathon. I was worried more about time than distance and the worry would increase in the next few miles….

Mile 2 of the actual trail was covering in water. I mean completely covered. At this point I was behind the actual group with one guy behind me. When I saw the trail buried in water and the majority of the group tiptoeing around the pool of water I decided it was of no use trying to stay dry.

I saw Gabe on the other side of the water and I plowed through. My feet were soaked to the bone with blistering cold water. As the feet crushed through the thin ice and sank the six or seven inches to the bottom they numbed up… But I kept moving. On the other side all I could think of was moving. Moving. Moving. I had to warm up my Klondike feet. I looked down and saw my shoes were icing over from the water. My feet warmed up pretty quickly until we tinted the corner and there was another impossible-to-get-around flooded portion of the trail. Icy cold… Tingling… Numbing… And so much FUN. An adventure. We kept going until about mile 3.5 of the actual trail (6.5ish total). 

  
On a random road that crossed the trail was Jay waiting near his truck. We were 40+ minutes later than he expected, but I am sure he enjoyed waiting around at six in the morning in the middle of the woods. We took a group picture and ventured on….

  
Melissa was our only female runner and she lead the way with both her speed and her toughness… Until Jeff comes blazing up the trail from the opposite end. He started at the south end at five a.m. and ran to meet us. He must have been clipping off miles at an insane pace because he showed up less than a mile after we met up with Jay. The entire group was together. All ten of us headed south. 

The mud, snowy patches and pool of water slowed us down, but the stories and company kept us moving. Eight miles in and Chris and I began to lose sight of the group. We couldn’t even see Jim’s shoes (Altras with their footprint-looking bottom soles). The other runners were all much faster and we would have exhausted ourselves trying to keep pace. It probably didn’t help that Chris and I ran into this…

  
We had no clue which way to go. So we went straight and ended up at a road with no further direction or trail markers. We quickly turned around and headed down the “closed” area of the trail. A mile into the closed portion of the trail we realized why it was closed. More swamp running. A half a mile worth of it. 

When the swamp ended the muddy road began and there were very few stable places to throw down your feet. Slippery and sloshy we pressed forward until we ran into…. Beautiful epic winding single track trail! Wow. The energy level skyrocketed. We were depleted physically, but alive with excitement from the newly found trail. 

Fueled by the trails we checked off mile after mile. Mile seven, mile eight, mile nine and mile ten.

Wait. There is Jeff’s car, but where is Jeff? It was mile ten of the trail, but mile 13 or 14 for the two of us. Chris had to get home and the trip down took much longer than I expected. There were two more miles south and we had to believe that Jeff and the others were with him. 

After a mile and a half on the southern most end of the trail we ran into Gabe, Brian, Mark, Melissa, Jay, Jeff and Jim as they headed back north. Jeff was heading back to his car and said he would pick up Chris at the end. 

I was in a dilemma. Run the 12.5 miles back and be extremely late getting home, go back with Chris or call my wife from the trail and see if an extra hour could be added to my adult recess time.

Green light! I running back I thought! Solo! I thought. Wow.

Chris and I arrived at the end of the trail and I was able to fill my water bottles. We had time to snap a picture before Jeff arrived. I wanted to to sleep, I wanted to rest, I wanted to eat, but more importantly…. I wanted to run this entire trail back to the beginning! 

  
A quick goodbye to Chris and Jeff and I was off. 

It was tough. I dug deep. I dug real deep. The puddles were not as exciting running alone and felt more like annoying obstacles than Adventurous challenges. I kept telling myself to just keep moving. I kept saying to embrace the suck. 

Ken Chlouber, a Colorado miner and creator of the Leadville Trail 100 mile race once said “Make friends with pain, and you will never be alone.” Pain is a mean friend. Pain and I hung out for a few more hours as I endured and relentlessly carried on. I had plenty of water, enough fuel, and adequate warm with my gloves and hat, but my legs were hurting. They felt like they were covered in thick metal. Heavy and difficult to move. 

Suddenly, I passed a hunter who had a decoy set up in the middle of the trail. He was trying to hunt crow. I didnt help his cause and he didn’t help mine as I feared hunter the rest of my journey. My orange hat came in handy today. 

Mini goals moved me forward. Tiny little goals. 

Let me get to the next mile marker I’d tell myself or let’s make it to the muddy road or let’s just run until there is another puddle and then I can rest… But you never truly rest. You kinda lie to yourself It works. Self deception is a wonderful thing. I lied to myself until three miles to go when I hit a root and went flying. 

I landed on my side on the trail and I suddenly cramped up. The entire left leg cramped up. Okay I screamed a little. Maybe a lot. My leg was shaking. I had to stretch it out and wiggle my toes. Within a minute the cramp was gone – A LONG MINUTE, but I suddenly had the urge to take a nap. Yes. A nap.

I wanted to sleep on the muddy, cold, stinky trail with 27 miles logged and three to go. I wanted to just sleep. No one would have known. I could have slept for an hour and then woke up and finished the trail. The sleep would have been wonderful. I would have dreamed of hot chocolate and German pancakes…. And a warm bed. 

That was a foolish idea. I got up. Told my legs to basically shut up and finished the last three miles. 

Not fast.

Not strong.

But I kept going. I didn’t come out here to go on a hike or to fall asleep on the trail. I came out with some good friends to run The Algonquin Trail and that is what we did. In the end my watch showed 29.9 miles logged on the trail, but more importantly were the memories logged as we spent the morning reaching a goal. 

When the trail ended there was no band at the finish line, no finisher’s medals, no ALQ 29.9 sticker, no bananas and chocolate, no beer tents or picture booths…. In fact there was nothing and no one. Just me. 

And a smile. 

  

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What is this?!? the gummy bear marathon?!??

  
I was eating more sweets than a six-year old on Halloween. Who can focus on getting a good time or even running a marathon when at every corner there is an Irish person cheering and handing out gummy bears? A water bottle in one hand and a handful of gummy bears in the other while yelling at the crowds with my brother is how I will remember The Dublin City Marathon. 

There are only four people who care how fast I ran the marathon (and I’m not one of them), so I won’t bore you with speed, pacing, time goals etc. The bottom line: 4:31. This one was different. This one was for fun. We planned it to be an adventure among brothers to see the country and throw in a marathon as a little icing on the cake. And that is what we did. 

When I say run a marathon for fun I mean suffer for fun and leading up to the race it seemed as if suffering would include cold, rainy, windy miserable weather. We woke up early on Monday for the marathon at the house of our Irish friend Claire. She wanted to feed us a proper fry, a breakfast consisting of bacon, sausage, eggs, beans, and a tomato, but we insisted on having a piece of toast with jam and a bottle of Lucozade (The European Gatorade-type drink). We piled in Claire’s car and headed downtown. I traveled over to Ireland with my brothers Travis and Brett. Brett came to run the marathon with me and Travis came to support us and cheer us on. 

Fifteen thousand people flocked into downtown Dublin and we were thankful we did not have to take the train or the bus into the city since we would have surely ended up far from the start. Claire kept us from chaos by dropping us off a block away from the start of the marathon. 

It was chilly and drizzling with rain. We were ready to run an agonizing, depressing rain marathon. The thoughts of the chaffing alone almost brought me to tears. I couldn’t tell my brothers that the thought of a rainy marathon didn’t sound fun so instead I kept thinking of the IronMan champion Macca’s mantra to “Embrace the suck”. However an hour before the marathon the rain began to stop and cool clouds rolled in. The weather became pretty much perfect. 

Travis was long gone by this time and Brett and I were surrounded be strangers, most of which were Europeans in spandex running shorts. It was still chilly and with 30 minutes before the beginning of the race we decided to duck into a cafe and grab a hot chocolate. You would think with over fifteen thousand runner the cafe would be packed, but it wasn’t we sat and sipped on hot chocolate and mentally prepared for the drama ahead.

Then we were off. The first miles we slow because we were weaving between people. Wait let me rephrase that… The entire race was slow because we are…. Well slow. But that didn’t matter. We spent mile after mile yelling at the crowds!

“Come on crowd. You got this! Only four more hours!” 

“Looking good crowd. Looking fresh and ready to tackle more miles”

“Stay focused crowd!”

I wasn’t kidding about the gummy bears. They wear everywhere. What was also interesting was instead of cups of water at water stations mini water bottles were handed out. This helped the tendency to want to stop and drink. We could stay in stride and gooooooo. 

We met a twenty-four year old Irish gal name Caroline around mile three or four and talked with her for miles. We were called loud Americans, which surprised me. We kept asking her where the Irish train since the roads are so narrow and have no shoulder at all. She had no real answer, but maybe it is a secret because the Irish are FAST. 

I started to embrace the suck around mile 22. The marathon wasn’t extremely hilly, but they were rolling hills and my quads began to tighten up and cramp up a little towards the end. Then I literally started laughing at myself and thought “you pay to suffer like this… Get your money’s worth”. It was then that I pressed forward. 

Sometimes you just run. You don’t think. You don’t plan. You don’t come up with a strategy. You just put one foot in front of another. I was alone yet surround by strangers. Brett and I loss sight of each other around the halfway point of the race. I was hoping to see him again, but by mile 24 I was thinking I may not see him until the end. I just kept running. The last few miles looked like The Walking Dead. People were in pain and were showing it. A lot of people were walking, but I kept on pushing forward. 

Mile 25. 

Mile 25 was the highlight. Travis my youngest brother was there cheering me on and yelling at me. He spent the entire day walkin around the entire city of Dublin and catching the sites. In fact he walked over 13 miles before meeting is at the end. He took some picture and told me to keep going. It was awesome to see him and it was just the fuel I need to finish. 

The crowds were wild and with one mile to go I decided to start picking people off. I started to count how many people I passed… 1, 2, 3,….. 10, 11, 12. And then 11, 10, 9… Yeah that wasn’t smart. Most of the people I passed ended up passing me again. I just had to chuckle and think of the finish. I crossed the finish line and was suddenly very cold, hungry and had to use the restroom right away. My legs were wobbly and tired. I need to warm up and get some energy back.

So I did what any Dublin Marathoner would…

I ate some more Gummy Bears. And suddenly I was ready to drive across Ireland with my brothers…. Well after that proper Irish Fry meal at Claire’s house. 

  
  

Undistracted or Hyperlinked?

  
For almost four years now people have asked me why I run and for the first six months to a year I was saying, “to lose weight and to get in shape”… But you get a point where you have lost the weight (or most of it) and you are in fairly good shape. However people keep asking, “why do you run?” and “why do you run so much?”. For the record, and I hope my wife reads this,…. I am running less was than before, but the question still comes up and until this past week the answer for the last few years has been “it is just something I do.” That is what I believed. 

Yet that all changed last week. I was running the zoo trails in Salisbury with Chris and I asked him a relatively easy question. I say “easy” because we could have found the answer in seconds with our smart phones, but mine was in the car and his was on an armband that made it less accessable. We didn’t have the answer, which was fine because it didn’t matter. What mattered at that time was enjoying the single track trails and kicking up dirt as we logged mile after mile.

Glowing screens, pop ups, beeps and notifications distract us hour after hour throughout the day. We are continually distracted. We are continually available to be distracted. How often have you tried to read an article online and found yourself clicking on a sidebar or a hyperlink in the article. How often have you been sidetracked by an email or text message…. Off track, less productive, everywhere but nowhere. 

This is not just a modern problem. We can get hyperlinked out of our focus by other things as well like the refrigerator for the late night snack, the door bell ringing with solar power peddlers, or the sound of crazy neighborhood dogs keeping us up at night. Distractions are everywhere and some, like the sound of a baby at night, are good distractions and some, like The Golden Arches that suddenly have the entire family chanting “French fries”, are not so good. We have all had that moment sitting down on a bus or plane ready to enjoy some reading time only to be swept into a one way conversation about how great The Chicago Red Wings are… Distracted. 

The moment. The undistracted moment counts. 

It was that moment running down the mountain biking trails that I realized that the reason I run is to have undistracted moments in the early morning. Moments to reflect when I run alone and moments to connect when I run with others. Some of the best conversations I have in any given week are during a nice long runs. I think my running friends and I have solved most of the world’s problems. We discuss family, work, religion, politics, running, more running, biking, even more running, food and Melissa has even started talking to us about culture. The topics are lively and sometimes controversial, but always fun and entertaining. Want to get to know someone? Go on a few long runs. 

I am not rejecting technology. I still run most long runs with my phone in case there is an emergency on the run or at home, but mostly it is tucked away unseen and unused. I am embracing the need to be undistracted, which is different than running to escape something or running for therapy. I run to be in the moment, to clear my head and to enjoy the beginning of a new day…. But most of all I run to enjoy the company of good friends in person undistracted. 

And now…

Be distracted

Streaks 

  

 “The Seagull Century has been cancelled due to the threat of hurricane Joaquin” was the message I received last week while preparing mentally and physically to tackle 100 miles on my bike. I was disappointed and frustrated that I put in so much time and effort preparing for this awesome event.

I was fine with the cancellation understanding that the event was about more than just riders. It also included lots of volunteers, police officers and emergency personnel as well as vendors and business owners. Weather can be unpredictable and as bikers, runners and individuals in general we need to understand that sometimes things just don’t work out. Sometimes we have to make other plans. We need to be flexible.

Not everyone was okay with the century being cancelled. Most were, but a few decided to take it upon themselves to conquer the century. I am all about running and biking in extreme conditions and in extreme locations and this post isn’t about people who put themselves at risk to accomplish a goal. Several groups of riders took to the streets and battled the 40mph winds to ride 100 miles and lay claim to another century ride…. And I am fine with that. However I did read a comment from a guy who said “I have to go out and ride. This will be my 18th year in a row and I don’t want to break my streak.” What I don’t understand and what has never impressed me are those who streak. Those who set a goal in running, biking, work, school, or any other endeavor that involves keeping a streak alive have always made me scratch my head and wonder. I know. I know. Many of the things I do make no sense and cause others to scratch their heads… But hear me out… 

Streaks are selfish. I read about runners who have run 100 or 200 or 1000+ days in a row. These are people who run on every holidays, on every day of vacation, when they are sick, when their family members are sick, the day of weddings, the day of funerals, and on other days they should probably push the sneakers to the side. They run when they are asked not to run. They run when they are begged not to run. They run when their doctors tell them not to run. 

This isn’t just about runners or bikers. It is the employee who will never take a day off. Who strives for perfect attendance for years. Where is the glory is that? When a sick person goes to work or school they get other people sick. Most jobs offer vacation days and/or personal days to enjoy life and spend time with family and friends. We need to use those days. I understand that some people don’t get sick. I have had a few years at work where I didn’t have to take a sick day, but there have been other years where I have had to take quite a few. Now that I have kids I know even more how important personal days are to see a play at school or spend time with family on a day kids have off of school. 

I speak from experience. I was a streaker in high school. I thought probably how many streakers think now. Really. There was a class I took I took in school that I never missed for three years straight. Was I ever sick those days? I don’t remember, but I am sure there were a few days I should have missed. 

You won’t be as missed as much as you think you will be at school, work, your running club, your biking crew, or your social activity. There is no glory in streaks. Your body, mind and spirit need a break at times. 

Injured runners who run with their injuries after being told repeatedly by doctors and friends not to run risk further injuring themselves. Bikers who bike when the conditions are unsuitable for their skill level just to keep a streak alive risk accidents and injuries. People who try to keep any streak alive just for the streak itself can lose the passion and the desire they have for doing the activity in the first place.

People assume I run everyday. I don’t. There are weeks I run five or six days of the week, but I always take a day off. I always have a day of rest. When it comes to anything in life… Work, school, church, sport etc we should remember what David O. McKay said, “No other success can compensate for failure in the home.”, which is better than the guidance I saw on a bumper sticker that read: “If you are in a relationship you aren’t training hard enough”…. Family plans? Skip the run. Behind at work? Push back the bike ride. Your kid is singing in The Christmas Concert? Take a day off work. Be flexible. Wake up earlier and run. Run double days. Want a streak? Try a family streak of eating dinner together every night for a month. 

Train smart, train hard, and train often, but remember to have balance and priorities that don’t suck the life out of the rest of your life. If you miss a run you will care more than anyone running. 

Now wait..if you want streaks to be proud of here are a few: sober streaks, days a person has not smoked, days where one has practiced random kindness, and days reading inspirational books…. 

Now go run.

Forever strong. 

Running across Delmarva

  
I jumped off the plane from Montreal and began walking down the terminal in Philadelpia. I knew I had three hours to kill. Three hours that I could have used at home preparing for the next day. I was just about to walk to the food court when I glanced up at the departure flights and noticed there was an earlier flight to Salisbury and that it left in forty-five minutes. What?!?! I could get home earlier! 

I had no real good excuse to change my flight. What was I going to tell the lady at customer service… “Uh I am running nearly sixty miles across Delmarva tomorrow, so could you change my flight and let me get in at 7:30pm instead of 9:30pm, so maybe I can get somewhat prepared and a few hours of sleep” – That might have worked. Instead I decided to just tell the truth. “Hi. I have no good reason to change my flight. I just want to get home earlier and see my dog and my yard needs mowing.” Change fee waived. Flight changed. Forget food. I bought the largest bottle of water available and I sat for thirty minutes waiting and calling to get a ride from the airport. 

Demone was waiting for me at the terminal. He and his son took the time to come out and pick me up, which was awesome and a lifesaver. My parents were coming into town but not until much later. Chris Demone’s son a big reason I am running this insane distance. He is a cancer survivor and half of the money raised for this charity run is going to John Hopkin’s pediatric oncology ward. We pulled into my driveway….

I had to do everything quick. Most of the preparation was completed before I left with my family to Vermont to visit my sister and to Montreal to visit my wife’s family, but there was still lots to do. The lawn was a mess. It was so bad my neighbor decided to mow the front of my yard. What a blessing that was since it shaved off half of the mowing time. As I mowed I reviewed the route across Delmarva in my head… Cove, Jester, muddy hole, whitehaven, nanticoke, pemberton, fitzwater, main…. And that was just the first twenty miles. I wanted to have the entire course memorized for my security, sanity, and confidence. 

Walmart run. I had to get water. Lots of water. I bought the huge three gallon container, a box of peanut butter and strawberry jelly crustables, bagels, soft cookies, hot tamales (candy), and Gatorade. Was there any food item missing? I wasn’t sure. This run was going to be 22 miles further than my longest run. I packed the the cooler when I arrived home with the food and a few small towels. I mixed the Gatorade and filled up my Orange Mud hydration vest water bottles. I then packed my backpack with an extra running kit and clothes for after then run as well as a few extra pairs of socks and an additional tech shirt. I also threw in Vaseline, medical tape, a handful of energy gels. By this time it was around 9:30pm and my parents along with my brother Travis were on their way from The Baltimore Airport. It was time to sleep.

I couldn’t sleep.

I have run five marathons, two ultras and countless other races and I never had trouble sleeping. I was nervous. I never get nervous. Never. I am constantly on the edge of exhaustion and so normally when I get in bed I am asleep within minutes. Not tonight. The pressure to run across the Delmarva was there whether I wanted to admit it or not. I rolled around from 10pm until midnight. At midnight my parents and Travis rolled into the driveway. Thinking I was sleeping they walked in the door and I scared them. They thought I was crazy for being up…. And I was. We went over final logistics and then I finally crashed. 

4am. After a little over three hours of sleep my alarm went off. I sprung out of bed like a mad man. My clothes were set out the night before. I was wearing an Athletes Serving Athletes tech shirt, grey shirts, and Saucony road shoes. It was rainy and in the low 70s, which was a blessing since the beginning of the week saw temperatures in the high 80s. The rain was a welcomed addiction. I had a threshold for heat for this run. I decided week before that if the temperature was forecasted to be over 85 I would reschedule the run. I was the only one that knew this and maybe that was so no one would worry or maybe it was so I wouldn’t have to follow my own counsel. “Get up Travis!” Actually Travis was pretty much up. We packed the car and then realized… “Where is Dad?” I forgot to wake him up. We quickly woke him up and he was ready within minutes. 

Our plan was to pick up Jose Luis at 4:30am, but that ended up being 4:40 and put us at The Cove at 5:10. We wasted no time once arriving. I quickly went to the water and touched it with my hand. The bay. One side of The Delmarva Peninsula. My Dad and Travis took pictures of us taking off. I don’t think we said much. We kind of took off right away. No sense in hanging out in the rain.

  
 “Jose…. No matter what don’t let me run faster than a ten minute per mile pace” – The entire run I relied on those running with me to keep my pace. The gaol was not a time but rather to complete the run before dark. I felt good about the goal and knew it was for a few good causes. I was pretty confident I could cross Delmarva before dark, but just in case I didn’t I packed my headlamp. This run had to be finished in a day. That was the fundraising message. I was prepared to run until 5:00am the next morning if I had to, but that wasn’t the plan. 

It was just Jose Luis and I. We had run hundreds of times before together but this was a little different. This time we knew that we could go as slow as we wanted. We talked a lot about the route and the blessing it was to get rained on for hours. What we didn’t expect or plan on were two pests that were about to torment us: dogs and greenhead flies. I get chased by dogs on occasion while running or biking. Today I was numb and when this huge dog came running across the street I just stared at it. I wasn’t quite awake yet. Jose Luis Luckily was wide awake. He quickly pulled out a water bottle and began spraying the dog… Then a smaller dog flew across the street. This one was smaller but was a pit bull. I kept running, not any faster but with increased focus. Jose Luis squirted the second dog and we were safe. Safe for maybe a mile. 

Why had I not thought of the flies?

  
The flies tormented us for the entire length of Muddy Hole Road Or about three miles. It was terrible and they were relentless. Wearing hats helped a little and we spend a lot of time swatting flies off each other’s backs. I laughed. What a great story I thought. We were thirty minutes into this run and we are getting eaten alive. Let me emphasize it was miserable. At the end of Muddy Hole Road Travis and Dad were waiting. We had planned to have them waiting about every five to six miles during the course. They had a little rental car with a hatch back that lifted right up for access to the cooler and the backpack. It was perfect. 

The night before I put a set of running clothes on the floor and running shoes out for Travis. He goes to the gym throughout the week, but I was hoping to make him a runner. As we slowed down for our first water break Travis ends up running the last part with us. He would continue to run parts of the transdelmarva run throughout the day. He and my parents were a sight for sore eyes quite a few times during the day. 

Twelve miles in and Jose and I were peeling off miles. It was awesome to run with Jose Luis. The furthest he had ever run before this day was thirteen miles and at around the 12th mile he says he going to do fifteen miles with me. I was super happy. I thought there would be a few miles where I’d be running solo before hooking up with Jim Chaney at Jeff’s house. I was wrong for several reasons. All of a sudden at around the half marathon mark Ivan drives by with his son Benny. Ivan and his family moved two hours west of us last year, but this morning he surprised me and said he came out to run with me. I was shocked and very pleasantly surprised. He also offered to relieve me of my hydration vest. I thought about disqualifying myself from my own run for taking help, but decided against it. From that movement on at around mile 15 until the end I never once carried my own hydration vest. Those running with me carried my water and fuel. I had Sherpas! And they were amazing. 

  
It kept raining and the rain kept it cool. Delmarva in July can be hot and very humid. We eliminated the extreme heat but the humidity was with us today. At mile 15 my parents took Jose Luis home and I continued  running with Ivan as Benny rode his bike along side us. Three miles later we pull up to Jeff Roger’s home where we picked up Jim Chaney. Jim was preparing for a ultra the following week and wanted to log some miles with me and so the four of us kept putting one foot in front of another down Pemberton a Drive towards downtown Salisbury. 

 I grew up in Salisbury. I was on the cross country team in high school… As the equipment manager. Yes you read that right I wasn’t Good enough to be a runner on the cross country team so I took care of their stuff. I ran with Ivan, Jim, and Benny through downtown Salisbury and actually had a few people come out to see me run like high school friend Christy, my new buddy Roy and his family, and Brian Perez and his kids. I told a group of runners that I would be arriving into the park at 10am and I was right in time (that wouldn’t happen the rest if the day…smiles). Running towards the park I could see a group of running waiting for me near the bridge and my family at the top of the park. It was an amazing feeling to have put twenty-three miles behind me. I felt great.

I thanked Ivan and Benny for the dozen plus miles they ran with me and the four plus hours they traveled round trip to be part of my journey. This day I would witness over and over the overwhelming expression of support, concern, and love from friends and family. 

The new support crew consisted of another Jim (Jim Veal), Michelle, Kelley, Jake and Jill. This group was all in some way connected to ASA and they were ready to put in some serious miles. The excitement could be seen on their faces. Jill’s kids would be following our progress in a van and supporting us along with my family. 

  

It was shaping up to be an amazing day to run…. Not because of the weather but because of those who came out to join me and support the cause. We ran past the park and the zoo and I have to say I was a little tempted to run on the trails around the zoo. I was now a marathon distance into the run and I realized that adding a little trail work in would not be a good idea. It was at this point that I exclaimed to my fellow runners “I just ran my slowest marathon ever…awesome”. Today was not about speed. It was about enduring the distance, the rain, the heat, and the day. A little before 11am we were running along Johnson Road when I told everyone I had a surprise for them and I turned down a small road. It was pool time. I set up three locations with kiddie pools along the route when I was expecting temperatures in the mid 80s, but with the lower temperatures and the rain I had canceled two of them. I forgot to notify The Bailey Family… So I took a dip. 

  
We were just about to continue our journey when the Bailey family arrived and showed me some motivational posters they had created for me. The Perez family had also created and displayed posters cheering me on and this gave me encouragement and motivation. There were now seven of us running together and before long Brian began running with us pushing his daughter with his son along side him riding his bike. We were an army of ten pushing towards the airport. We were close to thirty miles in and at this point the skies were starting to clear up and the rain was dying off. The sun wasn’t planning to come out, but we were happy to dry off a bit. I was beginning to cramp up a little at the top of both of my calves. Jim Chaney suggested I take Tums in case of cramps and luckily we had picked some up at The Bailey home. That would be the last time I felt cramps the entire run… But not the last of my suffering. The suffering was just beginning. Chaney is an experience ultra runner and so I was picking his brain as we ran. I was also catching up with the other running and getting to know Jake for the first time. I had met Jake briefly weeks ago when my friends Joey, Gabe and I came blazing out of a trail onto a road where Michelle and Jake were running. I think we may have scared him… Since that time he ran his first half marathon and today he was going to for more miles. 

We refueled at the airport and Brian said he would meet me at the end. Jim Chaney said he would come back if I needed him and headed running back. In the end Jim would log in over twenty four miles that day. 

  
Jill is one of the cofounders of the ASA chapter on the Eastern Shore and I have talked with her several times at The YMCA and participated in group classes there with her, but this was our first time running together. Her dedication and energy to ASA is inspiring and addictive. She was full of fun uplifting stories and helped keep my spirits high. Michelle is a running machine and wakes up several times a week to meet with other runners at five in the morning to put in often double digit runs. She is also a very kind encouraging person that pushes others to go further by her example. Kelley I met for the first time going to see the Iron Cowboy in Cambridge. He is full of life and seems to know something about everything we pass along on the road. He wouldn’t say there is a flower he would tell us the type, why it was there, and what was surrounding it. He is also always putting other needs before his own. He was a wealth of knowledge in this run. Jim Veal ran with us through Salisbury and through to Johnson road. He came to support us and his being with us meant so much because he had a family member in the hospital, but didn’t want to miss being a part of this experience. He is a very positive, focused individual that I look forward to running with more. I was honored to have so many people out supporting this run. 

Just south of the airport is Fook road that turns into a dirt road. My feet and knees were happy. The soft dirt below my shoes felt heavenly. I was tired of the constant pounding of the road beneath me. It was getting to a point that each time my foot landed I felt the impact throughout all my muscles. I should not have become to happy. The dirt road would only last three miles and the other runners around me were getting eaten by Mosquitos. At this point I was probably too stinky to attract any insects. They may have thought I was already dead. My wet shirt and shorts were beginning to cause problems.

Chaffing. Ouch.

I had to text my dad. I packed a few changes of clothes and now we were on Wango road and need of a change out of these wet clothes that were causing discomfort and making running difficult. My wingmen showed up quickly and I changed right there. Yes in the middle of the road. Good thing we have empty country roads out here. 

  
I was back in the business. Fresh, clean clothes and some cold Gatorade gave me renewed energy and determination. It was now nearly one in the afternoon and we were headed towards Powellville. We were able to get into a steady pace and moved forward talking about how every began to run and who or what influenced them. Everyone was relentlessly moving forward. It was then that I found out Jake and Jill both had distance personal records of thirteen miles. I knew at that moment that I wanted them to surpass that…. But did they? When I told them that if they ran to Powellville they would pass 15 miles of running that day they were eager to complete the challenge. They were strong and pushed toward the park in Powellville. The goal was to make it to Powellville by two in the afternoon and we arrived at 2:10pm. It felt great. We were met by my family and Cathy. Cathy was planning to run to Berlin with me or about ten miles. The plan was for the others to taper off, but Jake, Jill, and kelley wanted to go further. Jake and Jill would complete another mile before Jill’s kids picked them up. They bought were able to run a record 16 miles! Kelley continued with Cathy and I. Michelle would leave, but return a short time later. 

The sky was beautiful. It was warming up to the upper 70s. We saw deer racing across breathtaking fields. These roads barely saw any traffic. It was a very relaxing time of the day to be running. Kelley talked about his experience running The JFK 50 miler and his love for running. Cathy shared how her training for The Marine Corp marathon were going. It wasn’t long before Michelle met back up with us and Chris Demone began searching for us. We were on autopilot… If for a brief time. 

My legs were heavy and I was hungry. I stayed positive. I never thought about stopping, but I was craving pizza. Delicious cheese pizza with thick tomato sauce… My parents thought I was crazy. “I want some hot pizza and we can just eat it on the side of the road.” This was further than I had ever run in my life. We were at mile 43 and my parents hooked us up. The pizza came and although it was delicious I knew not to have more than one slice. We didn’t have the time and I would have jacked up my stomach…. I actually did a little bit afterward anyway. Pepperoni is a bad idea 🙂 A few miles later I felt that pizza juggling around in my belly. I laughed. 

  

Only seventeen miles left I thought to myself. Then I reminded myself that that is still a lot of miles and I was getting pretty darn tired. One foot in front of the other I kept thinking. Having new blood in Chris Demone helped. The conversation swayed into injuries and he thankfully changed the subject to what to wear on a run and how he wears dress socks when he runs. I had no clue. By this time I was quiet. I was getting depleted. The heat was bearing down. I kept drinking a ton of water. Everyone around me was so positive and understanding. I never stopped moving. I never sat down when I stopped to drink. I had to think forward and more forward. We crossed through Berlin just south of the center of town and Chris wanted us to go through the town to stop by and check my vitals at Rite Aid…. That wasn’t happening. Later I found out they wanted a medical professional on the run for my safety. That was probably a good idea. At this point I wanted to cross route 113 and get closer to Assateague. Chris and I have known each other since high school and we have run so many epic runs together including his first marathon and ultra. I was glad he was there. He is like a brother to me. I had lots of brothers and sisters today. 

I downed some Chewy Chips Ahoy cookies. So good. And another crustable. My fueling and hydration seemed to be on target..minus the pizza. 

As we were almost all the way through Berlin with eight miles to go I saw someone running towards us. “Is that Melissa?!?” Or was I seeing things? Melissa was suppose to be running the hills of Patapsco. What is she doing? Talk about a sight for sore legs. It was her and she full of fire. She was spunky and ready to lead us to the end. Chris had to peel off with five miles to go to get to a gig he had to play at. So we now had Kelley, Michelle, Melissa and I. Melissa hand me handful of chomps for energy… I also gulped down a very sweet drink handed to me from Brian and pressed on. 

I was struggling. I was moving forward slowly. Wanting to finish. My dad was sending group texts to my family to let them know my status… Little did he know I was on that group text and was reading some of them as I ran… And at the second to last water stop I read a text from my mom:

“He seems to be doing ‘ok’. Sweating a lot and is very quiet. Still moving”

I guess I needed to motivate myself and so I took the ‘ok’ as a challenge. I felt better than ok. I felt awesome… As I was barely running. I was moving slowly at a now 13 plus minute pace, but I decided to run past the Last water/aid station.. Let’s see what they say now…

  
Dad: “Not even stopping!! 3-4 miles to go!!” 

I had Michelle, Melissa, Cathy and Kelley feeding me every word I needed to hear to push me along. They are all experienced runners and know how to keep me going. Friends were sending them messages to relay to me. My friend Martin said something to the effect of “this is what you trained for!”… I thought of that and kept going. 

My legs were on fire. Everything hurt. Even my shoulders! 

Blisters we forming on my little toes… 

I was exhausted. 

Depleted.

Spent. 

Earlier in the day I said “there is no ‘I’ in quit” after which someone responded “yes there is”… I quickly responded “Well there is no ‘u’ in quit” – “huh Trent  there is…we just won’t remind you of that”…. I kept thinking of that exchange of words at this point of the run and laughed to myself. I was probably talking to myself as well. I was pretty zoned out and zoned in on finishing. 

When I turned the corner and saw the Verrazano bridge I felt so fired up. I had no energy to put that fire to use, but I kept running. I ran past Jose and his family. I saw Brian and Santi join me going up the bridge.
One mile to go. 

One little mile. I hated that mile. I loved that mile. 

When we arrived at the Assateague State Park sign my Dad wanted a picture… I wanted to keep going but I knew this meant a lot to many people not just me.. My parent flew out to be a part of this experience. My father And brother woke up the same time I did and along with my mom navigated the roads of Delmarva to support me the entire day. They sacrificed time, money and lots of sleep to be a part of this special day and I love them for it.

 So I stopped… But not for long. 

  
This was a team effort and as we ran by friends and family members at the beach bath house I felt alive and so extremely happy. As I crossed the sand dunes I thought of the kids at ASA and the kids at John Hopkins. I went straight to the water. Shoes and everything. I handed my phone to Jose Luis and jumped in. It was over. 

I floated in the water. The Atlantic Ocean felt better than ever. 

In ran 59.7 miles from bay to beach 

13 friends ran with me totaling over 163 miles with me

I burned 11,600 calories

I showered and stumbled to a bonfire set up to celebrate. It was great to be with friends and family and know that I was done running for the day. 

My run ended a little after 8:30pm, but I will remember it forever. 

Maybe I really have gone from lazy to crazy. 

PRC! 

  
  

“Slay the dragon!” 

 
Three years ago I arrived in Ocean City to run my very first race of any kind, The Island to Island Ocean City Half Marathon… Yeah that is a mouthful to say. I was nervous and excited wondering what it would be like to cross the finish line of a half marathon. 

I didn’t conquer my first half alone. My friend John, who had run several Boston Marathons and has recently completed an Ironman, joined me and paced me. I remember vividly when I asked him how fast we were going he responded, “Are you going to win?”…. Oh course I responded “No.” He then said, “Are you going to finish?”…. Without hesitation I said, “yes!” and I sorta believe it. He then said something that has stuck with me ever since… “Then don’t worry about the time. Enjoy the race. It is your first.” He then proceed to distract me from the difficulty of running further than I had ever run at that point by telling stories, asking questions and keeping me laughing. It was amazing to log mile after mile. Running down streets and over bridges. I was conquering a goal set months before that seemed daunting and very difficult. My body was sore and wanted to stop, but my mind kept pushing forward and my friend was there to encourage, support and give me advice. 

We finished and I felt great. Ever since that day I thought that if I was going to return and do The Ocean City Half of better be something just as special as my first race. 

Fast forwarded three years. May 2015. A few months ago I was asked if I’d be interested in being a pacer for the Ocean City Half. “Of course!” I knew I could run steady at any pace over a two hour finish time. I was flexible and willing to run an pace. When the organizer of the pace groups sent me a message asking me to pace the 2:30 finish time I was ready. The goal of a pacer is to bring the group in within two minutes under the goal pace. This would mean I would be running a half marathon at roughly a 11’23” pace or nearly two and half minutes slower per mile than my normal pace for a 13.1 mile run, but this wasn’t about me. This was about helping others reach their time goals and for some finish their first half marathon. 

This was exciting. As I boarded the bus with the other pacers I could see people looking at my sign and wondering to themselves and sometimes out loud… “Should I run with him?” – I was more interested in sleeping since I had to get up at 4am to get to Ocean City and catch the 5:15am “run” bus to Assateague.

The race didn’t start until 7am so I had some time to walk up to the beach. The sun was just rising and so I was not alone in taking in the beautiful beach scene and take a few pictures. I also took the time to hydrate knowing that my plan was to not stop at water stops until I built up a nice cushion of time for the pace group. 

At 6:50ish we lined up. I was towards the back holding my “2:30” sign up high. I ended up having a crowded of about 10-12 people hanging around me. They were asking questions and one asked what my strategy was… “Run the exact same 11’20” mile over and over for 13.1 miles”. One lady came up and said she was debating between my group and the 2:40 pace group….. So I responded to her “If you go back to the 2:40 group you will never forgive yourself for breaking my heart right now.”

And suddenly we were off. 

I have run lots half marathons. Most of them for fun with friends around town and most often for my own goals… But today was different. Today my time didn’t matter. My goal was to get this group following me over the finish line before two hour and thirty minutes flashed on the clock. Ideally pacers should cross inside two minutes before their pace time – so in my case between 2:28 and 2:29:59. 

Distraction was my goal. If I distracted the people running with me they were less likely to worry about their pace, the mileage and most importantly how tired they are or how much pain they are feeling. So I told stories. I told jokes. And I asked questions.

“Where are you from and why are you running this…” was my favorite question. I then called the person by their city or something that stuck out. Around me I had Pittsburgh, pink, Massachusetts, Philly, and Ravens. I emphasized that they should talk too much so they could focus on breathing and saving energy… So I talked away. I shared stories of running with random dogs, beach runs, night halfs, and of course my experience at my first half and how john gave me a Milky Way at mile 10 to give me an extra boost.

“Hey you are going the wrong way!”, I yelled at a guy who was obviously running into the wood to relieve himself. “Stay with me Philly”… “Pittsburgh and girlfriend… Where are you?”. 

We lost Massachusetts at the second water stop around mile five or so. She was never seen again, but we picked up Baltimore. It was Baltimore’s first half. I said “stay on my left the entire time”… “But my Garmin says we are going too fast…” I just pointed to my sign and said “watches lie…. Have I have ever let you down? I’m a professional pacer”

Truth is it was a first time pacing. 

I was clueless. Sorta.

I figure it all out the night before. Elapsed time was the key. All I had to do was compared the elapsed time to the time on my pace band when each mile flag appeared. 

Man I was nervous.

Six miles in and we were two minutes under goal. The six people around me, counting on me were feeling good and looking strong. 

I constantly looked at my watch, the pace, the average pace, the elapsed time, and my running group. 

Mile 8. “Everyone! Be sure to get water. You need to hydrate and we are good on time. Grab a cup.” Baltimore was feeling the pain. Pink had stepped it up and was a quarter of a mile in front of us. Pittsburgh and his girlfriend were to my right and Philly was on my left. There were also a few people in front of us that kept looking back probably thinking “We can’t let 2:30 pass us”….. Ravens was one of those people now. 

Mile 10. “Do you ever drink during a run?” I was asked as we approached the water stop. I hadn’t noticed that I didn’t drink anything the entire first ten miles. It wasn’t too hot and I was focused on helping my group meet their time. It was more of a concern for Baltimore than it was for me. So at mile ten I became a social drinker and grabbed a Gatorade cup. There. I am hydrated. 

We crossed the bridge into Ocean City. I stressed the importance of breathing and not thinking of anything but moving those feet forward. I wasn’t leaving any of my core six runners now. Their eyes were focused foward. 

When I say “two” you say “30”… Yeah we yelled that.  

A mile to go. 

“Let’s go!!! Get up here! You paid to suffer! Get your money’s worth”

“Slay this dragon!”

“You wanted 2:30! Come get it”

That last mile I changed from a story-telling jokester to a boot camp instructor. I wanted everyone to finish strong. I wanted everyone to meet their goal. Ravens in front of me next to Pink. Philly and Baltimore to my left and Pittsburgh and his girlfriend a few yards behind us. It was happening. 

“Push through it”

“Tell your legs to shut up. Your heart is the boss today!”

We passed a lady who cursed pretty loudly at me… “What was that for” – I asked. “You weren’t suppose to pass me!”… “Then run with me and finish with us!” And she did! 

“Slay the dragon…. Now!”

“Get your bling!”

“Finish this!”

“Cross the finish”

“Kill it!” 

It was done. 

Clock time: 2:29:01 

Out of my six core runners two completed their first half marathon. Three others were able to get their best half marathon time and the sixth, Pittsburgh, was able to watch his girlfriend complete her first half….. And we all able to come in under the goal. 

It was amazing! 

We are all going to finish… Together.

  
This wasn’t how I wanted to finish as I plowed through the last aid station with 1.7 miles to go in The North Face Endurance Challenge 50k. Both of my calves were locked up and cramping to a point that I could barely walk let alone run. My shaking thighs were also cramping up at this point in the race and I was shocked and disheartened wondering how I was going to continue. I walked and ran as much as a could until about a mile to go. I looked at my watch and realized if I could finish this next mile in under twenty minutes I could have a personal best…

Did you say 20 minutes?!?! Yes, yes I did and at that point it did not seem possible. You see speed is relative. I can run a 5k at a sub eight minute mile. I can run a 10k at a little over eight minute mile. I can run a half marathon in under two hours or a sub nine minute pace…. But when you crank that up to 31+ miles for a 50k with hills, mud, heat and cramping moving forward is tough at any speed. With a mile go I thought I couldn’t run anymore. I was bummed. Broken. Months of training and I thought I may fall short of my goal by minutes.

This was my second 50k and the elevation profile looked difficult, but not impossible. The website for The North Face Endurance Challenge said there was a little over three thousand feet of elevation change. I was prepared for the hills and the dirt. What I wasn’t ready for was the mud and the heat.

The field of runners converged on the mud within the first mile. It was deep in parts and difficult to navigate. People were slipping in front of me and when the trail turned to single track it was tough to pass people, so we ran one behind another for what seemed to be miles. I felt like I was running my second Tough Mudder instead of my second ultra. My shoes were caked with mud within the first fifteen minutes of the run and they would stayed that way for the next few hours.

Miles clicked by and by the turn around point, mile 15, I was holding steady completing the first half of the race in three hours. Not fast by any means, but on pace to cut an hour off my previous 50k time. The tempurature was in the 60s at this point and I was running along side a young guy from Chicago. He mentioned how there were no hills where he is from and that I was lucky to live in Maryland where I could train on hills. He must have never crossed The Chesapeake Bay. Delmarva is flat as a pancake and the only way I train for hills is to visit the local parking garage and run around the outside and up and down the stairs. The only trails where I love are parks with 2-6 miles worth of sandy trails.

We ran along the Potomac River and were blessed to see some amazing views of the river and the hills on some pretty rocky technical terrain. There were aid stations every five to six miles and it was there I filled up my fuel belt and chowed down on some PB&J sandwiches and M&Ms… And gulped down some Coke and Mountain Dew… Yes they have all of that at the water stops on these ultra races.

I started the race with my good friend Chris and his cousin Eric. Chris was basically running on a broken foot and was taking on the same terrain and difficulties I was, but with foot that had been healing for the last three weeks. We ran the first few miles together and then we were separated by the field of runners and the mud. I kept hoping to see them on a turnaround point, but didn’t. I kept thinking of them. I knew no matter how much his leg was hurting that the mental toughness Chris has would carry him to the finish line.

At Mile 25 the true struggles began. The legs became tired of the climbing, the running, the pounding, and the heat. There was no transition period this year. I had not run in the heat since the fall. The tempurature slowly climbed until it settled in the low 80s and towards the end of the race I was sweating and becoming a little sunburned. It was sucking the life out of me. I ended up running for five minutes and walking for a minute… Yes, the Jeff Galloway way. The legs began to cramp up and at one point I tripped on a root causing my legs to give out from sudden cramping. I had to lean against a tree and stretch the cramp out. Runners passed me asking if I was okay and if they could help me… “I am fine, just cramping… Just need to stretch it out”. Passing the marathon point, 26.2 miles, gave me an extra boost of energy and I started running again… Until that last aid station. Again with 1.7 miles to go I hit another wall… I pressed forward and I ran and walked until that last mile.

I thought maybe I just needed to walk out this last final mile. I never let it enter my mind that I wouldn’t finish, but it did enter my mind “How will I finish? How can I finish?”

Then he showed up.

“You okay buddy?” – This guys asks me.

“Both of my calves and my thighs are cramping up. I can barely walk” – I said as I relentlessly moved forward.

“This is my friend and she is struggling to finish as well… I just met her this past mile” – he stated.

I then looked down at their bibs and realize that they were running the marathon relay or six miles each as part of a team. I looked over and saw this lady walking beside me pushing to finish. It then struck me. Clear as daylight. This lady and I needed each other and we needed the guy that had joined her.

“We are all going to finish…. Together. If he can run on cramped legs after thirty miles we can run beside him” – He said to the lady… and I believed him…. And so did she.

I somehow… Someway… Started to run again…. And so did she.

They both gave me the power and motivation I needed to pick up the pace and run that last mile. We encouraged each other.. “Come on!” “Let’s go!” “Let’s finish strong!”

We turn the corner and had 250 feet or so to the finish line. The final push. There were people cheering for my new friends. The guy running with us told everyone – “This is Trent! He is cramping bad and needs your help! Cheer him on!”

All of a sudden I had a fan club, but most importantly I had two instant friends that finished strong with me.

Dean Karnazes once said he would take motivation wherever he could find it. I lived that quote today. Sometimes it just takes looking around and accepting help, receiving inspiration, or reaching out to help another person to move forward… And sometimes it takes just pushing everything aside and plowing through, knowing that things may be difficult and dark… But they say the sky is always darkest before the sun rises. And the sun did rise.

I crossed the finish line and checked my time. I beat my 50k best time by six minutes. Would I have accomplished that personal best without the help of encouraging strangers? Doubtful. I know I would not have been running strong and pushing through to the end. Each time I stopped to stretch out my calves they cried for me to “keep running….”

A little while later I received a text. Chris and his cousin Eric had just crossed mile 30. I went back to the finish line and watched my friend of over 25 years complete his first ultramarathon. While strangers were pushing me along his cousin and good friend, Eric, was pushing Chris forward. The joy I felt watching a good friend reach such an amazing goal equaled or surpassed the joy I felt just moments earlier.

I believe any journey worth taking is worth taking with others. The ultra journey this past week taught me that at times we carry others and at times others carry us… But we always finish with the strength of others.

Forever Strong

Eric, Trent, and Chris 4/18/2015