smith's challenge (and the week after).

Father's Day means Smith's Challenge, a 10K men's only race held for 20+ years in Lancaster County Park.  Reportedly, this 23rd running would be the last, but we've heard that before.  I hope I hear that claim every year for as many years as I'm able to keep running and that it keeps people coming back each time.  It's a beauty of a race.

Last year I'd not run the entire week prior, resting up after my leg of the Laurel Highlands 50K Team Relay put its hurt on me.  I had pretty dead legs and, frankly, took the course too lightly, running 1:00:59 and feeling lucky to have managed that.  This year I'd logged a good many miles on the heels of Laurel and felt pretty good about the effort I'd given in the altitude of Boulder in the days just before Smith's.  I hoped to improve dramatically on my 2010 time.

Lindsay and the girls came along this year (which was awesome) and joined Erin, Noah and Finn at one of the playgrounds while Jefferson and I chatted about the course.  I spoke with Chris McDougall for a bit and was stoked to hear about some of the forward progress on the Born to Run film and Chris's confirmation that he had every intention of again doing the Conestoga Trail Run in September.

Before long, we toed the starting line, listened to Ron Horn do his schtick and then headed off into the park.  My legs weren't nearly as fresh as I'd hoped but I felt certain I was running stronger than last year.

It was nice to see numerous familiar faces on the course, be they running or volunteering.  I'd forgottent that, despite the fact that much of the course is under the trees, there are some sustained exposed sections that felt awfully warm in the sun that greets a 10:00 AM start.  Most of my running happens before or right after sunrise or in late afternoon/early evening.  I definitely noticed the difference but was slightly irritated to be feeling like it was negatively impacting my efforts.  What a baby.

Thankfully, I was holding a good pace in spite of not feeling terribly strong.  I hit the finish line in 50:32, having shaved just over 10 minutes off my time.  True to form, I immediately started pondering where I might've done better and gotten down in the 40's, but that faded away pretty quickly as I lounged with Erin, Lindsay and the kids.  Jefferson came across the line looking strong, rightfully psyched to have run sub-59.

Forgot my bib!

Admittedly, I spent much of the rest of the day being L-A-Z-Y, but I suppose if there's a day to get away with it, it's Father's Day.  I was slightly concerned that as fatigued as my legs felt, I might be looking at a weak week ahead, but I'm proud to report that I rebounded nicely and got in my fair share over the days that followed.


Monday, June 20 - Post-work loop on Colebrook, Hossler, Power and Sun Hill roads.

Tuesday, June 21 - Mt Joy Rd to Power and Sun Hill roads.

Wednesday, June 22 - Pumping Station - locked my key in the car and needed a ride home from John.

Wednesday, June 22 - PM Run from work out to Pumping Station to retrieve the car.

Thursday, June 23 - Run to work.

Sunday, June 26 - (Post-Western States nerd-out) Pumping Station and Horseshoe Trail.



Laurel Highlands put some cosmetic hurt on my feet, but otherwise left me surprisingly none the worse for wear.

Peel off a toenail...

...band-aid the ankles..

...lance a blister...

...good as new.

It was back to business and a few days in the office before boarding a plane for Boulder, Colorado.  I'd only be on the ground for 3 days and most of those hours would be devoted to work, but remaining on East Coast time, I hoped, would allow me to do some exploring each morning.  This would be the first time in several Colorado business trips that I'd be staying in a hotel in downtown Boulder with easy access to the endless trails that beckon from just outside of the city.  I'd picked a few of the brains I trust most about what trails to hit and how to get their from the Boulderado.

The flight to Denver International was blissfully uneventful and provided beautiful glimpses of the American patchwork below.  My girls are fascinated by planes (and why shouldn't they be?) and have rekindled my marveling at the experience after years of not giving flying much thought at all.  Surely a 2 and a 4 year old must believe that there's magic at work and if I think on it for too long, as I did on the flight, I tend to agree with them.

Our host for the visit, Ben, whisked us (my boss, Tim, was also along for the ride) away from the airport and shared a good laugh at the full behind-closed-doors pat down I'd received at the Harrisburg Airport after the scanner reportedly showed a large threatening bulge in the crotch of my pants.  All I can say is that a most thorough search on the part of two TSA employees failed to turn up anything incriminating.

Ben treated us to an awesome dinner at a local Japanese tea house and, at least according to Mountain time, we turned in early.  Despite being excited to run in the morning, I fell quickly to sleep.  Except for a middle-of-the-night wake-up call from the amorous couple in the room next door (short-lived, but vigorous), I slept soundly until my alarm went off at 5:00 AM "their" time.  The trails were calling my name.

Three blocks and a couple of hundred yards later, I was here:

Back in April, I'd run and hiked in Utah with Jon Webb, a current Boulder resident, and we'd hoped to get out on the trails together when I hit town.  Unfortunately schedules did not align and he was back in Utah on business of his own.  He had, however, been generous enough to give me some insider beta and it was at his suggestion that I was climbing the Viewpoint Trail on my way to the Flagstaff trailhead.

The sun rose quickly and after a few hundred feet of ascent I'd reached Flagstaff and continued to climb toward the summit.  The single track was incredibly forgiving in comparison to the rocks and roots of home and the surroundings were breathtaking.  I saw several deer during the run and they seemed determined to offer up postcard worthy poses against the sub-alpine backdrop.

I made it to the top of Flagstaff winded but pleased to find that the four day window after Laurel Highlands was enough to restore some energy to my legs.  The run down from the summit was quick and fun despite the fact that I managed to lose the trail somewhere along the line.  I didn't lose the trail so much as I somehow found myself on another, the Ute Trail, which took me further from town and down into Gregory Canyon.

Ute ended at a parking lot which was also home to access trails to the top of Green Mountain and I immediately made up my mind to return there the next morning.  A short jog up the road afforded a sweet view of the Flatirons.

Remembering that I did have a meeting that morning and confirming with the GPS that I'd been out on the trail for a good bit of time, I stuck to the road which returned me to Viewpoint and a fun sprint back down into town.  I got back to the Boulderado with just enough time to jump in the shower and wolf down breakfast.

Tim and I put in a full day of line reviews of Spring 2012 backpacks, tents, sleeping bags and other outdoor gear before enjoying another delicious dinner.  We roamed around Pearl Street for a bit before calling it a night.

My neighbors serenaded me again, this time with a little more gusto.  Perhaps they too were getting used to the altitude and building endurance.  I didn't give it too much thought and thankfully fell right back to sleep.

Knowing I had a more significant climb ahead of me than the day prior, I planned to wake up at 4:30.  I was up before the alarm went off, made my way through the eerily silent hotel and headed for Green Mountain.

As I climbed back up Viewpoint again, I was psyched that my legs felt fresh even after logging 8.5 miles the day before. I was feeling about as good as I could possibly hope to in the unfamiliar altitude.

I couldn't immediately determine where the Ranger Trail began but stumbled upon Saddle Rock and decided I'd run the loop in reverse.  Within a couple of hundred yards, I understand why Saddle Rock was suggested as the downhill portion of the loop.  That climb went on and on and alternated between maintained step-ups and technical track that surprised me after the smooth surfaces I'd tackled earlier.  Here's a look back over my shoulder:

I was no longer progressing very quickly but I was having a blast.  The sun had just gotten fully above the horizon when I reached a high point that looked back down on Boulder.

That high point, it turns out, was nowhere near the top of Green Mountain and I had plenty of work ahead of me.  I missed a couple of steep switchbacks that made the run even longer than it needed to be, but every single step was a joy.  I tried not to look at the GPS for fear that it would tell me it was time to head back down.

Eventually, I topped out at the summit and drank in the expanse.  The monument called out the parade of peaks that marched off into the distance.

I finally managed to drag myself away from the view even though I would've loved to linger.  I was still daydreaming about those high peaks when I took a misstep and crashed hard on my right knee.  Even the lump that rose above my kneecap couldn't ruin the day (though it did complicate the descent).

Less than a mile outside of town, I was granted one last gift as a mule deer in velvet allowed me to take his photograph.

And that was that.  I'd eked out 17.5 miles in two days and loved every inch.



I'm staring at the keyboard knowing there's a long, long story waiting to be typed.  Even before I begin, I feel like I'm not going to manage to say everything I'd like to or convey all that transpired that weekend.

Nothing to do, I suppose, except start stringing letters and words together, like footstep after footstep, and see if we finish.  A theme emerges.

I left work midday on Friday headed for Ohiopyle and the acceptance of an invite from Derek to take part in the Laurel Highlands Group Weekend (I'll introduce the team in a moment).  I'd purposely run very little that week, sneaking in a run to work and another run home from work on Monday before spending the rest of the week on my bike.

Derek, Jason and Kelly (who I'd yet to meet) were going to be attempting the classic 70 mile Laurel Highlands Ultra (actually measuring out at 77 miles for the 2nd straight year due to a detour around a bridge that was out) while I was going to be tackling the shorter 50K race after running just the first leg of the 50K relay last year.  Greg, Bob and Randy, all of whom I'd never met, were also going to be running the 50K while Jo, Kelly's wife, would be crewing her husband's attempt at the full distance.

Jo and Kelly had been kind enough to offer to help shuttle cars to ensure that those of us running the shorter race would find our vehicles at the race's end.  This was no small gesture on their part considering the surprising distances between checkpoints and the fact that they'd be rising extremely early on Saturday morning to make certain that Kelly was ready for the 5:30 starting gun.

I'm hardly shy, but I did wonder at how well we'd all mesh.  I shouldn't have had any concerns.  As we settled into dinner, conversation flowed as the camaraderie I've come to expect and cherish in trail and ultrarunning came easy.  While Derek attended to the science experiment that is his pre-race food preparation, getting-to-know-yous transitioned into race story swapping and laughter.  We walked together down to the Youghiogheny River (the "Yough") so Randy and Derek could soak in the chilly water and the rest of us could enjoy a beautiful evening in downtown Ohiopyle.

(L to R) Bobby, Kelly, Greg, Randy, Derek, Jason and Me (photo by Jo Weakley Agnew)

Kelly and Jo chauffeured Bobby and I back to the lodge after letting us park our vehicles at the finish line 31.1 miles away on the meandering Laurel Highlands Trail.  We said quick goodbyes to let them get what little sleep they could sneak in before 3:30 AM, said final good lucks to Derek and the rest of the crew and retired for the night.

Bobby and I swapped a few more stories before flicking off the lights and getting some sleep.  He was without his iPhone and concerned that he'd either left it in Kelly and Jo's vehicle or, worse yet, forgotten it on the hood of his car.  We both joked that it was good he'd done it at a trail race because it was likely the phone would still be there, agreeing that at a road race someone would've jumped at the chance to pocket the loot.

We awoke just before 7:00 AM, leaving us more than an hour to cover the couple of hundred yards between the lodge and the starting line.  I commented immediately that I didn't feel my best, but I wasn't too concerned either.  I headed off to search for coffee and was relieved to find an open door with the smell of fresh brew wafting out onto the sidewalk.  Caffeine hit the spot and any trepidation I had was long gone.  It was time to sound the gun and get out into the lush beauty of the Highlands.

Bobby's plan all along for Laurel Highlands was to pace his friend, Chuck, to what would hopefully be his first 50 kilometer finish.  By the time I hit the parking lot, Bobby and Chuck had met up and were ready to go.  Chuck had friends along to crew and they generously agreed to transport my pack to our final destination, a detail I'd managed to not consider ahead of time.

The 50K starts in the parking lot of Wilderness Voyageurs, an Ohiopyle fixture for gear, good times and raft trip send-offs.  As we broke from the starting line, we were headed in the opposite direction of the boat launches and up, up, up and away from the Yough.  I remembered from last year that the initial broad track quickly turned into tight single track as a narrow set of stairs (yes, stairs) ushered runners into the first of the day's climbs.  I did my best to stay ahead of the pack so as not to immediately bog down.

Well familiar with the sustained, unrunnable climb that lurked at miles 6-8, I made certain to maintain a realistic pace at the outset.  I knew all too well that I hadn't logged a run of any significant length since before my Achilles flare-ups and nothing near 30 miles since last October.  I was pleased to settle pretty comfortably into what felt like somewhere in the range of 8-9 minute miles.  Foolishly, I'd forgotten my GPS in the pack that I'd handed over before the start of the race, so I'd spend the day without solid beta on how much time had elapsed and how steadily I was progressing.  That mattered little at this stage of the race, however, and I was thrilled just to be back on the Laurel Highlands Trail.

At some point I found myself right on Greg's heels and after a few switchback's he caught sight of me in his peripheral vision and realized I was stalking him.  We spent the next couple of miles in good conversation, discussing how we'd come to running, why it meant so much and marveling at the galvanizing force that is Derek.

I stuck with Greg through maybe mile 7 but watched him keep pushing on while I took a few moments to stretch the Achilles in a preventative attempt to stave off any strain issues.  Having loosened up again, I got back to the climb and topped out feeling much better than I had the year prior.

And then I threw up.  Violently.  I was somewhere around mile 9 and didn't feel bad leading up to the episode and felt pretty good immediately thereafter.  I chalked it up to the effort of the climb, shrugged it off and began moving swiftly again toward the first aid station at mile 11.6.  I'd end up puking twice more before reaching that station and by the 3rd time, my body was going through the motions but finding nothing to expel.

The trail levels off and transitions into rolling terrain ahead of the first aid station and my legs felt surprisingly good when I finally reached it.  I didn't bother to ask the time but, having been passed by few runners, I knew I was still on pace for a decent finish.  Despite it not occurring to me to retrieve my GPS, I was able to part with my hydration pack, shirt and hat which my new friends generously offered to put with my backpack.  The hat and the shirt were unnecessary as most of the trail up to that point and beyond was beneath the trees.  Carrying two handheld water bottles, I hadn't put a dent in the water I'd been carrying in my hydration pack, so I didn't see any reason to continue to carry the weight, especially with closer spacing between aid stations the rest of the way.  I'd come to second guess that decision.

I drank a cup or two of Pepsi which felt really good on my churning stomach.  I ate an orange slice which tasted a bit harsh but seemed like a worthwhile indulgence.  I refilled my water bottles with cold water and continued on my way.

I felt good.  Really good.

For about 10 minutes.

Somewhere around mile 12, I threw up again.  And again.  And again.  And....

Each time I thought I'd gotten everything out of my system, I'd set off again for the finish line.  Progress had grown ridiculously slow and I believe I may have even sat a time or two over the course of just a mile or two.  The trail has little stone markers at every mile, so you can easily keep track of how far you've come.  Shortly after passing the mile 13 marker, I had the most violent episode of the day despite the fact that my stomach had gone empty quite some time before.  It was at this point that I realized I wasn't sweating anymore.  Almost simultaneous to this realization, I got hit with the worst stomach cramp of my life.  A deep horizontal indentation in my stomach made it look as though someone had begun sawing me in half, lost interest and walked away after making it halfway through my torso.

My day was done.  I began moving again but this time I was headed back to the first aid station.  It seemed the only logical decision with aid station 2 placed somewhere out beyond mile 19.  I was upset but didn't want to end up like the listless guy that me and Taylor had transported from aid station 2 to the finish line last year, wondering if the guy was going to pull through and knowing that, without an IV, he was in a bad, bad place.  Oddly enough, while sitting to gather strength, that very runner passed by, stopping in his tracks when I asked him if he was the guy I'd given a ride to last year.  He thanked me and urged me not to allow myself to get where he'd gotten.

Soon after that exchange and totally out of gas, I plopped down into a creek to see if I could cool off and give myself enough of a boost to get back to the aid station.  Many (most) of the folks who passed by kindly offered to help me if they could.  I turned down most of the offers knowing I had little chance of keeping anything down.  One seasoned ultrarunner wouldn't take no for an answer and gently placed an electrolyte tab (I could've sworn it was a Listerine strip) against the inside of my cheek, gave me a salt pill and made me drink a little bit of water.  She told me to take all the time I needed and then assured me that I'd come around.  I couldn't help but think back on my dear friend Matt's claims that "trail magic" from a kind stranger had carried him to the finish of the 28.4 mile Susquehanna Super Hike.  That image faded as before my trail angel had even passed fully from sight, I vomited up everything I'd just been given.

Which makes it all the stranger that a few minutes later I clawed my way up onto my feet and began heading back down the trail, not toward the start but toward the finish.  I wasn't moving well and, at this point, I had very little hope of finishing but something had convinced me that I could at least make it to 19.6.

During one of my frequent sitdowns to try and calm my stomach pains, Bobby came upon me.  He too was having some GI issues and had urged Chuck to push ahead.  Though he was definitely moving better than me at this point, Bobby seemed disappointed to not be setting a quicker pace.  All the more reason I appreciated his offer of an electrolyte tablet even though I turned it down.  He assured me that he'd alert the next aid station to my difficulties and carried on his way.

Though I continued to creep further along, it seemed like an eternity between trail markers.  I still hadn't managed to keep anything down and because of the slow progress, no longer had any water left in my water bottles.  Luckily, another trail angel passed my way.  Laurie wasn't fast but she was dogged.  She was way, way back in the pack but I had no doubt that she was going to eke out a finishing time.  She hadn't intended to have her 3-liter water bladder filled completely at the aid station but an enthusiastic volunteer couldn't be talked out of adding water until the bladder bulged.  Laurie confided in me that she'd been spilling the water away to shed weight and urged me to take some.  She gave me enough to fill my water bottles about halfway and then settled back into her machine-like pace.  I watched her go and slowly mustered the determination to follow.

I hadn't gone more than 100 yards before I brought one of the water bottles to my lips to discover that the water was nearly undrinkably warm.  Just like that my determination was gone again.  The trail was again nudged right alongside a stream and I clambered in one more time to see if there were restorative powers to be had.  I submerged both bottles and hoped that their contents would cool.

I do not know how long I sat there but it was long enough to turn the water in the bottle ice cold.  I drank both bottles empty, savored the coolness for a bit and talked myself up and out of the creek.  I was moving again.

I alternated between fast hiking and, on downhill sections, something resembling running.  The further along I went, the longer I was able to sustain runs and transition more quickly between walking and running on steeper sections.  Taylor had run the second leg in 2010 and I recognized one of the climbs from his descriptions and knew that I was about to make it the second aid station that had seemed impossible a short while ago.

When I tumbled into the aid station, the volunteers looked bewildered.  I have a feeling it wasn't just Bobby who'd mentioned the state that I was in and it was clear that they'd been discussing what to do about me.  I pounded more Pepsi and, though I still had no stomach for solid foods, I licked the salt off of a handful of Pringles.  Laurie was there at the aid station and offered words of encouragement and admitted that she hadn't expected to see me in the state to which I'd seemed to return.  I gave her a hug, filled my bottles with 9 parts ice, 1 part water (roughly) and continued onward.  I'd made it through the aid station 2 cutoff with just 23 minute to spare.

Within the next few miles I came upon Bobby and another gentleman.  They too looked shocked to see me and admitted that they were struggling.  Bobby had not previously known the other runner but they'd teamed up as Bobby continued to battle his stomach and the other runner wrestled with the strain of a first time 50K attempt.  Together, we all determined to push the pace as best we could to ensure that we managed a qualifying time.  After a short sustained stretch in which we slowly, painfully ultra-shuffled instead of just walking, Bobby and I shared a good laugh at how crazy it was to be excited at having gotten our pace down to 17 or 18 minutes!  Any other day, we'd have probably been humiliated by that realization, but it was a genuine victory under the circumstances.

The remaining miles are pretty much a blur of cramping, shuffling and, oddly enough, laughter.  Too many hours had passed for there to be any chance of achieving a time to be proud of, but we did move along steadily enough to know well before the finish that we'd be managing to secure a qualifying time and a finisher's medal.  This allowed time to take in and fully appreciate the beauty of the Laurel Highlands.  With the exception of the short uninteresting pass through Seven Springs ski resort, the entirety of the trail is as pretty as can be with the crisscrossing streams, tall tree cover, sprawling sections of prehistoric ferns and an overall quiet remoteness.

My final time of 9:15:50 proved to be my slowest 50K to date...by 3.5 hours!

On paper, it's one of my worst, if not the worst, running performances of my life.  Truth is, it's the one of which I'm most proud and one I honestly believe could be a real breakthrough for me.  Throwing out the true injury that occurred at Hyner View, this is the first time that I've really had to push through "you should really stop" obstacles and do proper battle with the ultra demons.  I didn't do much more than barely finish the race, but that result was very much in doubt for most of the day.

Best of all, I made a great friend in Bobby and was able to immediately share the kind of profound experience that seems reserved for lifelong friends and loved ones.  It was a pleasure to suffer through the day with him and together lay claim to our finisher's medals.  We even managed to both arrive (via car, not on foot) at the aid station at mile 64 to spend time with Jo as she waited for Kelly to arrive and then offer encouragement to Kelly who certainly inspired me by looking like he was out for a walk in the park.  I guess, in a way, he was, but 77 miles is one long walk in the park.

We'd held out hope that we'd manage to see Derek at that aid station, but learned instead that he'd passed through earlier and, when he'd passed, was convincingly in first place.  We were already hooting and hollering at that news when the volunteer confirmed that Derek had actually already arrived at the finish and WON the race!  Bobby and I glanced at our phones to check the time and were astonished.  Not only had Derek finished in first place, he'd shaved an unthinkable hour off of the old 77-mile course record.  The recent news that construction on the bridge was expected to be completed before next year's race meant that Derek's record would stand in perpetuity.

Needless to say, it was a Laurel Highlands Group Weekend to remember.


week 21 plus 2.

Didn't I just type the phrase "May is here"?

I did, but it turns out it isn't.   Not any longer.

June came on fast and August-ish heat and humidity are already in full effect. Wish my legs (and lungs) were keeping pace, but they're going to need a few more weeks of exposure to summerlike conditions.

No complaints, however.  I've been running just about every day for the last several weeks and even though the runs themselves aren't long in duration, their mere existence is joy.


Tuesday, May 24 - Mid-day White Oak and Penryn roads loop.

Wednesday, May 25 - Pulled out a pair of old but beloved New Balance for a fairly fast-paced 4 trail miles at Speedwell County Park.

Thursday, May 26 - After work run up Power, Sun Hill and Junction Roads - started strong but absolutely wilted as the mercury flirted with 90 and the humidity soared.

Friday, May 27 - Good solid pre-work effort - ran in Pearl Izumi and didn't realize until seconds before my Saturday run that I'd forgotten to document it - hence the appearance of my legs and the Montrail stand-ins.

Saturday, May 28 - Bushwhacking on the northernmost section of the Conestoga Trail between Pumping Station and the southern side of the bridge across Speedwell Lake.

Sunday, May 29 - Horseshoe Trail and Mole Hill - muggy, muddy and awesome!

Monday, May 30 - Got a jump start on Memorial Day with Jefferson on the Oak Loop at Speedwell Forge County Park.

Tuesday, May 31 - Repeated the Power, Sun Hill and Junction Road run home of a few days earlier and didn't handle the heat/humidity much better this time around - Gotta keep working.


memorial day musings.

Memorial Day weekend allowed me to string together a couple of consecutive days of trail running and the weather couldn't have been more cooperative.  The sun shined and shined.

And shined.

I finally managed to explore the northern end of the Conestoga Trail and am looking forward to piecing together the entire 60+ miles and, in the process, identifying which of those miles don't need revisiting (lots of road crossings, I'm afraid).  The handful of miles between the initial trailhead and Speedwell Lake aren't nearly as technical as those to be found at the southern end of the trail but they are lush, lovely and apparently woefully untraveled.

I stumbled on a Superman tag in a turnpike underpass.  So dumb.  Of course, I couldn't avoid sneaking into the picture.

Pssst...Will Oldham called.  He wants his moustache back.

I got home to find the girls posted up behind one of the kitchen screens, serenading the birds who were serenading them back from the feeders along our driveway.  I love it.

I woke early the next morning to meet Jefferson, Josh and John on the Horseshoe Trail and hoped I would still be considered part of the gang despite my incompatible first initial.  Thankfully, they didn't seem to notice or agreed not to hold it against me.  Arriving a little bit before they did, I strolled over to read the contents of the State Game Lands bulletin board.

Is it a Pennsylvania thing to find such hunting-centric language and empty shotgun shells littering the ground below?

The humidity was stifling and served as a proper reminder that summer was lurking.  It made running that much more challenging but sure did make the early morning woods look incredibly beautiful.

I was going to write more but, damn, that trail looks inviting.  Doesn't it?

I gotta run.