an uphill climb.

Today was the first day since the weekend that I made it up and down stairs relatively pain-free.

Not surprisingly, that made today the first day that my want to run (up, up, uphill) came creeping back in with a vengeance or, more to the truth, the first day that that urge wasn't drowned out by the ouch.

Now, navigating stairs is hardly the same as tackling trail ascensions but it's close enough to clear the fog to reveal summit daydreams.

I'm three weeks out from another trip west, this time to the Canyonlands region of southeastern Utah.  Can't wait, but need to get my feet back underneath me.

Underneath me and functioning, that is.

Bring on the baby steps of recovery...and dry soil.



I'm not sure I've learned a single thing about performance over the years.

With yesterday's debacle all too fresh in my mind (and apparent in the ache of my feet), it's certainly hard to believe that I have.  I do know, however, that post-race recovery is of utmost importance...for the head as much as the body.

Which is why I just had a hearty recovery breakfast at Lil's diner.

As soon as I walked through the door, I inhaled the sweet smell of a good old fashioned kitchen hard at work.  I wasn't going anywhere near that pork chop, or whatever it was, but at least it smelled welcoming.

First things first, I needed a good stiff cup of coffee and a look around the room revealed that I wasn't the only one feeling that same need.

Once the caffeine kicked in, I was ready to see a menu.  After looking over the offerings (which seemed strangely to consist solely of page after page of green eggs and ham), I decided to see if I could order "off" of the menu.

A glimpse into the kitchen had me hungry for fries.

The waitress took my order...

...and soon returned with appetizers.

While I waited for the main course, I checked out the jukebox.

The veggie burger, tofu dog and fries (hidden beneath Lily's signature flower petal garnish) sure hit the spot even if they were accompanied by a long, black hair.  Allowing that there was some minor chance it belonged to me, I decided not to bring it to the attention of the waitress.

I passed along compliments to the chef who emerged from the kitchen to acknowledge my thanks and pose for the camera.

I'm still not quite sure what I paid for the meal, but by the time I settled the bill, I was feeling much improved and am positive it was worth every penny.


one bad hat.

I turned the key, opened the driver's side door and eased into the seat.

In my peripheral vision I could see other runners approaching the finishing chute of the 24th annual The HAT Run 50K in Havre de Grace, Maryland.  The torrential rain of earlier in the day had tapered to a fine drizzle but everything remained gray, gray, gray.  Instinctively, I grabbed the Nathan vest that I'd just plopped down in the passenger seat and stepped back out of the car.  As soon as my weight shifted onto my left foot, I felt the stabbing pain that had brought me there in the first place.

I collapsed back into the seat, pulled the door shut behind me, lowered my head to the steering wheel and sobbed.

The HAT consists of three laps, one short  3.6 starting loop, followed by two consecutive 13.7 mile loops.  At the end of each loop, you pass through the finishing area and directly beneath a pavilion just beyond the actual finishing line.  It's a neat feature and guarantees contact with friends and family should they choose to hang around and wait for your return trips.

Anyone at the pavilion at that moment had just completed the first of the two final loops and had another 13.7 miles to go before collecting a finisher's medal and the satisfaction of having completed one of the oldest, most esteemed 50K events.

I'd been in that very spot about 15 minutes earlier.  The preceding 7 miles had been, to be blunt, miserable.  As my four loyal readers are well aware, I struggle in the mud.  My flat feet hold up for a bit but end up failing to give me any lift and the more tired they get and/or the muddier the course becomes, my shoes begin slipping out from beneath me and "tired" begins to give way to pain.

Such was certainly the case today and though I moved along comfortably for the first 7-8 miles, by that point I could feel things starting to break down.  I vaguely remember mentioning something to Todd, in one of the moments that I caught him from behind as (and only because) he slowed to fuel, about recognizing that this was going to become a matter of "course management" which is my idiot code for picking my spots as my body (and perhaps my mind) begins to go.

The next mile to a mile-and-a-half was mostly downhill which is not my strong suit to begin with but especially on singletrack that has gone to mush.  I'd begun daydreaming of Ibuprofen as we hit a sustained stretch of paved road.


I prayed for dirt as that road seemed to go on forever.   It didn't.  We probably weren't on that surface for much more than a mile, but I got beat up.

By the time we were back on the trail, even after downing a couple of those dreams-answered pills, I was having trouble maintaining my footing even when power hiking and staying on my feet meant waves of pain in the instep of my left foot and across the top of my right foot that were making me run with my eyes closed on the road and on non-technical trail sections that I thought I could manage without breaking an ankle.

Cardio was never an issue and I actually enjoyed all of the climbs when the ground didn't give way beneath my feet.  There are a ton of ascents, supposedly 9,800 feet (if you finish the whole thing) of climb, but they aren't long, few of them are very steep and, compared to back home, they aren't technical.  Of course, feeling pretty fresh otherwise only made the arch troubles more irritating.

And, if you can't stay upright, you've got problems.

And I certainly had problems.

There were two more road sections before we hit the end of the loop, including one long (to me) downhill section that was just torture.  The long climb on muddy singletrack that waited at the bottom of that road was a welcome transition in my book.

Except it meant more mud.

When we reached the pavilion, I was pretty done in, but spent a good 5-10 minutes regrouping.  Fueling hadn't been an issue.  I'd eaten and downed fluids at every aid station and my stomach gave me no complaints.  I consumed more of both and thought about more Ibuprofen but knew I was pushing my luck, having taken some just a few miles back.

As much as I was hurting, I stuck there long enough to convince myself that I was going to grit my teeth and finish the race.  I gave my usual thanks to anyone within earshot for being there to help us runners out and started on my way.

About 30-40 yards out from the pavilion, there is a short jumble of rough-hewn rock steps.  This spot had served as a bottleneck earlier in the day and I was relieved to see that it was unclogged at the moment.  I stepped from the grass onto the first rock and got a shockwave of pain in my left arch that made me purposely drop onto my rear end.  I didn't stay there long but in climbing back up onto my feet and feeling that same sensation with the next step, I was pretty sure my day was over and I'd just rung up another DNF.

So, I sobbed. 

Like I haven't in a long, long time.

Like an I-can't-even-begin-to-imagine-when-I-last kinda long time.

I sobbed because I'd failed.  Again.  Because I was weak and wanted to be strong.  As strong as I thought I should be.  As strong as I know other people are and maybe, just maybe, think that I am.

I sobbed because I'd become an athlete who can't be counted on to finish what he's started.  A quitter.  There's already enough doubt to deal with in long-distance running.  I didn't need a growing list of drops to shake my confidence any further in low moments on long races.

And then I really sobbed because I was sobbing in the first place about a race.  About a run in the woods.  A voluntary, arguably meaningless bit of semi-reality in an otherwise all too real world.

I sobbed because I have a lovely, precious wife who possesses shoulders that can't help but hoist the whole world upon them even though they aren't built (as if any shoulders are) to carry such a weight.  I sobbed because she suffers inescapable physical pain on a daily basis, not because she choose an activity that unnecessarily subjects her to it, but because her eye is threatening to quit, to stop delivering visual signals to her brain and, as if that alone isn't bad enough, does bother to deliver ample amounts of pain and discomfort.

I sobbed because my children were going to have to watch me hobble around the house and refrain from our usual rough-housing because I choose to spend my free time beating the living shit out of myself.

What a selfish son-of-a-bitch (just an expression, Mother).

And somewhere right about then, as though I'd been deaf up until that moment, my ears picked up the actual sound of my sobbing (last time I use the word, I promise).  And somewhere right about then, I began laughing hysterically.

The sound issuing from my throat was absolutely, undeniably ridiculous.

The idea of someone passing by my car, seeing me crying and hearing THAT sound that was coming out of me was even more undeniably ridiculous.

And the sound of my laughter reminded me of the laughs I'd shared earlier in the  day with old, dear friends.  Dear friends who I would not even know without my little hobby.  I'd had warm, felt-like-old-times conversations with new folks too, strangers up until that very second, and each and every one of those conversations included laughter.

Finishers medal or not, I'd just experienced another day of, yes, failures, but also shared moments.  Trail runs, even those with several hundred participants, serve up quiet, open corridors of openness and sharing that continue to amaze me and, obviously, keep me coming back.

Frankly, the sound of my laughter was a bit ridiculous too and I suppose I wouldn't have looked any less crazy sitting in my car laughing than I would have crying.  But, laughing sure felt better, at least after the purge of crying.

My wife would be waiting at home.  In our way, a way that I expect all happy couples do, we would relieve each other of at least a bit of the weight of existence.  I knew, at least, that she would me.

Lily and Piper would be there too and, regardless of whether my feet were wrapped in ice (and they would be), they would be thrilled to see me and full of stories from the night at Memma and Pop-Pops and the bouncy-house birthday party that had filled their day.  My finishing or not finishing wasn't going to mean much to them one way or the other, so, on that front, I'd done no damage.

How much can one bad HAT hurt?  Bad enough to try again next year, I bet...

...IF it doesn't rain.


a slow (unseasonably warm) march along the a.t.

Think the Amish go to church every Sunday?


They don't go to church at all, but they do meet for worship at a different farm within the community every other week.  And, on those Sundays, we impatient motor vehicle operators get a stern lesson in slowing the hell down.

Normally, this is "ok" by me and I often don't get stuck behind any buggies until I'm on the way home from my morning run and gassed enough to barely notice.

This past Sunday, however, the "man" had decreed the clocks be thrust forward an hour and my way less smart than everyone else's too-smart-for-their-own-good-smartphones phone got confused, maybe even frightened, and failed to sound the alarm that was supposed to get me on my feet at 5:30 AM, er, 4:30 AM, um...sometime well before I actually managed to rouse myself.

I'd frittered away 2 potentially glorious hours of trail running on a day that my sister had graciously offered to watch the kids while Lindsay attended another round of nursing clinicals.  Two hours is a good many miles and the warm sun and ridiculously mild temperatures that met me at the door seemed a cruel heckle to my oversleeping.
And that was before the endless parade of buggies.

The combination of my late start and the slow progress seemed a bad omen and I considered bagging my plan to put in 20 miles on the Appalachian Trail and head home for a day of play and (gulp) yardwork.

The sun shining on Blue Mountain convinced me otherwise.

I pulled into the lot along the northbound lane of Route 501 just southeast of Pine Grove, cut the motor and laced up my shoes.  I glanced at the GPS, ignored the headlamp I'd originally expected to need to start the day and made quick note of my revised 8:50 (7:50?) start time.

I had hoped to hit the trailhead at 7.


Heading east, I was immediately greeted by the arch-severing rock that gives the Pennsylvania sections of the AT such a bad reputation.  I was at least partly relieved to be doing this stretch in full daylight and considered that some compensation for my being behind schedule.

About 2 miles into the trip, I came upon the first real vista and soaked in the expansive view of the Lebanon Valley a few hundred feet below.

The full beauty of the day didn't just begin to sink in, it filled me immediately and left me feeling foolish for my earlier melancholy.

Head back on straight, I returned to my eastward march and soon came upon Shower Steps, another impressive overlook that demanded I stop for a moment.  This vista provides a great view of my "home" ridgeline, the site of Eagle Rock and the perch from which I spend most Sunday mornings looking in this very direction.

I'd remembered to throw my little Joby tripod in my pack and pulled it out to snap a few running photos before continuing on my way.

I cruised along for a couple more miles before the climbing temperatures had me wanting to shed my windshirt and, while I was at it, catch my breath.  I took advantage of the opportunity to shoot a quick video review of the jacket (see my earlier post) from the high point of Shikellamy Lookout and also shed the hat and gloves that were no longer needed.

The footing had mellowed out quite a bit after Shower Steps (though it's all relative) and I made good time as the trail stuck mostly to the top of the ridge before meandering downward into Shuberts Gap, the site of some sweet designated camping spots that I immediately decided I'd be returning to in the coming months with my hiking buddies.

After a short, moderately steep climb out of the gap, I came across a gas line (I'm assuming) and paused to note the seemingly endless drop down to the valley below (Brian, I think we've found the place for our hill repeat-athon).

The next few miles were a total blast.  The trail was technical but not nearly as relentless as a few miles before and it wound around a couple of small ponds and slowly, almost imperceptibly, to the pass at which Route 183 bisects the AT.

Just before reaching the intersection, I saw a sign in a tree that seemed fitting in weather that seemed exceptionally April-ish for early March.

Feeling certain I was making good time, I'd held off on peeking at the GPS even as I crossed 183 and knew I'd gone close to 10 miles.  Another mile further along, the singletrack changed over to road with newly spread stones.  Seemed like as good a time as any to check my progress and it was good I did.

First, I realized that I hadn't restarted the GPS after I'd stopped to photograph the spring sign.  Second, and more importantly, I found I'd been out on the trail for 2.5 hours and really did need to spin around and begin the trudge home.

What I didn't take proper note of for another mile or two was how damn hungry and thirsty I was.  I'd been drinking as I went but, as evidenced by the photo below, I'd barely put a dent in the water that I was carrying.  One of these days, I'm going to find a way to drink appropriately during long runs.  One of these days.  Today, it just meant that I had plenty of fluids to wash down my Honey Stinger Waffles, trail mix, GU Chomps, Snickers and granola bar lunch.


Minutes later, after recrossing that power line and ignoring its wordless invitation to repeat, repeat, repeat, I tumbled back down into Shuberts Gap and noticed a trail registry box that I'd failed to notice on my first passage.  There was no logbook in the registry, only the following note:

With the sun climbing higher and the temperatures rising, both of which may have set said rattlers a roaming, this note was an interesting reminder to watch my step.  It was also food for thought regarding that plan to return with friends for a night of camping.  For the record, I didn't see a single snake.

The return trip was mostly a matter of putting one foot in front of the other.  I'd stuck pretty easily to 12-minute miles throughout the day and now made up my mind to hold that pace until the end of the day.  I'd shorted the mileage by failing to restart the GPS near 183, but not by more than a mile and I felt pretty sure that the Garmin was giving a fair reading on the day's pace.

I paused for a short time again at Shower Steps as it was just too good a view to pass up and it gave me a chance to rest before the brutal footing of the last three return miles.  I tried, but there was no denying that I was tired.  A small group of backpackers arrived at the overlook and we chatted for a short while about our collective day out on the trail.  As much as I love a solitary trail, I'm often disappointed by how few hikers and backpackers that I see out on the trail, so I was really pleased to find them out there.

I'd just as soon stayed there for another hour soaking up the sun, but I knew it was best that I get back on my feet and crank out the last few miles.

I did a bit of hiking over the worst of the terrain but slogged through most of what remained at what sort of resembled running.  Long story short, my 12-minute pace didn't hold.  Guess what?  I couldn't care less.

I didn't make it to church or even any local farms, but it was still a day of worship in my book.



an ano-what? (Review of the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Anorak)

Went for a run this past weekend (and plan on having a lot more to say about that) up on the Appalachian Trail between Route 501, north of Bethel, and Route 183.  I ran North-to-South on the 9.5 mile "out" and then came back to where I'd started.  I had hoped to go further and run longer but my phone/alarm clock struggled with the "spring forward" required of it and either botched its task or (as I choose to believe) kindly decided to just let me sleep in.  That trimmed a good 2 hours off of the time I had to be out on the trail.

Anyway, while I was out, I decided on a whim to shoot a snippet of video about the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Anorak that I was wearing AND have been wearing on just about every run I've taken the last couple of weeks.  The pullover is brand new for Spring '12 but I've been seeing it here and there on Montrail athletes for many months.  Long story short, I've been coveting it and sometimes when this is the case, I end up disappointed with the product once I put hands on it.  Not so with the Ghost Whisperer.

The video is not very comprehensive and gave me a chance to catch my breath as much as anything before continuing on my way, but I kinda like how it turned out.  I shot it on my point-and-shoot and had made up my mind that I was going to do no more that put the camera on my little tripod, hit "play" and see what happened.

One take and done.  If it didn't work, no harm done, off I'd go.

Like I said, I kinda like how it turned out.

Humor me on the beard primping/fluffing...it's a bad habit.

So, this was a test run (ha, ha) as much as anything and you can watch or not watch as you see fit.  If you are intrigued, I'd be remiss to not mention that we sell the jacket at my place of work, Backcountry Edge.

"And how, Leon, might we get there?"  Glad you asked.

"Screw you, salesman, I just want to know more about the jacket!"

Got it.  You can visit http://www.mountainhardwear.com/ if you'd prefer to hear directly from the manufacturer.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got running to do.


me all fall down.

Late February in Pennsylvania sometimes means snow, cold rain or, as is the case this year, clear skies and mild temperatures.  You just never can tell.

What you can count on is another running of Pretzel City's Ugly Mudder, a self-proclaimed "doggone ugly way to spend a day" on the trails on Mt. Penn.

The trails are plenty rocky and, depending on the whim of race director extraordinaire Ron Horn, full of steep climbs. This year, apparently, he felt the need to add a few more and steeper inclines than last year.

I've been climbing well as of late (and enjoying the hell out of it), so this should have played in my favor.

I can't seem to turn down a good climb, however, and had made the mistake of putting some time in on Mole Hill the day before (though it was good company, Steve).  Not the wisest decision the day before Ugly Mudder, not when I recover like the 37 year old I am rather than the 24 year old who's body I sometimes seem to ignorantly think I am in possession of and certainly not when that trip up/down Mole also resulted in a body-jarring fall on an iced-over log.

Anyway, Jefferson and I drove to West Reading on Sunday morning relaxed and ready to run and I was blissfully unaware of any latent fatigue.  The weather was perfect.  I have no idea what the temperature was but I felt perfectly comfortable in shorts, tights, long-sleeved t-shirt and lightweight windshirt.  There was just enough chill to merit the addition of gloves and a hat, but there was little wind (unlike the day before when friends at the FebApple 50 were pummelled with wicked gusts all day long) and the sun was shining.

The Ugly Mudder had been added to the renowned La Sportiva Mountain Cup, a series of a dozen or so sub-marathon distance trail races strewn all around the country each year.  This lured out some fast legs from afar (here's a race report from eventual 3rd place finisher and La Sportiva-sponsored runner Jason Bryant: http://lifethroughtheeyeofarunner.blogspot.com/2012/02/la-sportiva-mountain-cup-ugly-mudder.html) and added further interest to an event that routinely draws over 700 participants all on its own.  If I understood correctly, there were over 700 pre-race registrants and another 150+ on the day of the event, though the posted finishing times would suggest either a lot of DNF's, a bunch of no-shows or some combination of the two.

Long story short, there were a ton of bodies packed behind the starting line and only a couple of hundred yards before those bodies needed to funnel into an uphill section of singletrack.  I'd hit that clogged mess the year before and made up my mind to stay ahead of the fray if at all possible.

I managed to meet that goal and scampered up that first climb somewhere just behind the lead runners and the next chase pack.  I hadn't gone far, though, before I recognized that I was working on two tired legs.


The flat in-the-park start and quick transition to singletrack was comparable to last year but, if I'm not mistaken, we actually took a slightly different route up that initial climb than we did in 2011.  If anyone reading this can confirm, I'd appreciate it.

Regardless, at some point we were back on familiar sections and I settled into as quick a pace as I could manage in expectation of maintaining it throughout the full 7 miles.  I wanted to be going a bit faster, but I was definitely "racing" and pushing the pace any harder at that point was sure to bring on a bonk later.

No more than a mile or two into the race, we hit a road crossing at which runners were receiving on-the-fly course instructions from the Horns, Ron and his lovely bride and fellow person-who-makes-Pretzel-City-happen Helene...the very sound of Helene's voice makes me happy and the smile she always (and I mean always) has to offer only adds to that happiness. 

There was a steep 5-foot section of poured concrete that led from the trail down to the road surface and it had three or four runners in front of me drawn basically to a stand still.  Determined to keep moving, I scooted by them on their left and leaped almost to the bottom of the "step", fell forward, rolled on my shoulder, popped back up and kept going.  It happened quickly enough that my brain failed to process an "ouch".  Seeing Ron a few feet ahead, I decided to run behind him so I could give him a congratulatory smack on the butt.  In doing so, I gave myself an odd angle back onto the trail and didn't really make sense of his advice to "look out for the cable" before falling to the ground a second time, having struck said cable full on with my left shin.

While my brain FULLY processed the "ouch" and even found some time to go back and address the one it had missed a moment earlier, I mumbled something like "oh, that cable?" and dragged myself back to my feet.


Not only had I fallen off my pace but I wasn't going to get back there right away as the next short section was a relatively steep scramble up to the Pagoda.

A peculiar out-of-place landmark, the Pagoda has loomed high above Reading since just after the turn of the 20th century.  The first half of my childhood was spent in Berks County and because the Pagoda was always "up there", its oddity didn't really strike me until later in life.  Its constant presence and touch of uniqueness has made it beloved (I think) and I genuinely love the strange touch it gives Pretzel City races and am always amazed by how sweeping a view is offered from its high perch.  The image below was taken sometime in the 20's and while it gives some sense of its elevation above the city, it also shows a deforestation that, thankfully, has been replaced nicely by new growth.

The next portion of the course was the most strikingly different from the year before, at least the way I'm remembering it, serving up a fairly sustained and more-than-fairly steep climb soon after leaving the Pagoda behind.

None of it was so steep that it was completely unrunnable, at least not in a 7 mile race (50K+ and I would've considered these sections as hiking required) and, on fresher legs, I shouldn't have had to do any hiking at all.

To say it another way, I did some hiking.

We finally hit an aid station at the mid-way point and while I didn't need any actual aid, I did enjoy the confirmation that we'd made it halfway.

There were other climbs to be had in the second half, but nothing like the first 3.5 miles and, instead, it was a matter of keeping the pace and managing the technical track.  To make sure I stayed focused, I drank a beer at the mile 6 aid station.  I'm not sure it worked but it tasted great.

As I made the final clamber up Ron's infamous finishing hill, I heard familiar cheers from Erin, Finn, Noah and Helene.  Knowing it had an audience, the shameless clown-in-me decided it would be funny to turn around and run a few steps backwards.  No, I didn't fall down (yet again), but I did find when I turned back around that my body now wanted to puke.

I really didn't want to puke, so I walked the last few steps and came across in 1:02:47 with 35 runners already in ahead of me.  In 2011 I finished 32nd in 1:02:02 and, frankly, was hoping to improve upon those numbers this go round.  That disappointment came and went in a hurry, however, as I embraced the victory of not puking when I was sure it was going to happen.


In the end, as is usually the case at a Pretzel City event, I walked away thrilled to have taken part.  I met some new folks, reconnected with old friends, finally saw J.C. in the flesh (let's make it a habit, brother), witnessed Jefferson shave 2 minutes off of his 2011 time (!) and was there for Sheldon's impressive trail race debut.

A doggone pretty way to spend a day, I'd say.

Now if I can just stay upright next year....