Once more, with feeling!
Today is Sunday April 25th, 2021. I am in Gettysburg running the half-marathon, bib#1305. I consider the last Sunday in April to be my ‘runnerversary’, or the anniversary of my first-ever race 2 years ago. That was the BEAT BEETHOVEN 5K on April 28th, 2019. The race was held at Alvernia Universary and timed by Pretzel City Sports. My original intent in 2020 was to run all the races I ran in 2019 to see if I improved, but all of the races I ran that first year either were cancelled or went virtual. As I begin to enter my third year as a runner, there have only been 3 courses that I have gotten to do a re-run on. Today in Gettysburg will be my third re-run of a previous course that I have run in the past. Although typically held the last Sunday in April, The 2020 Gettysburg Blue Grey Half Marathon was postponed to October 18th. I ran 2:57:56.8 and my bib was #883. Hopefully I will beat that time today, but an insane workload at my day job has seriously impacted my training and recovery days.
The OTHER two courses I had the privilege of running again this month were the Third Thirsty Thursday 5K course at the Thun trail in Reading PA and the 1st Annual April Foolish 10 Hour Endurance Trail Run in French Creek State Park (both are Pretzel City Sports events). My time for the April 15th TTT 5K was just about 4.6 minutes shy of my 33:22 PR, but I have six more attempts this rear since this is a monthly race held the 3rd Thursday of each month from April till October.
Last Sunday April 18th, 2021 was the 1st Annual April Foolish 10 Hour Endurance Trail Run. Now you might be puzzled on how a person can run a FIRST ANNUAL race for the second time, but that takes a little explaining. Let’s start by saying that I ran FOOLISH before it was FOOLISH!
In 2020 many races were canceled, postponed, relocated, or even made virtual. I spent 2020 training very hard for the 2020 Philly Marathon which never happened. Pretzel City Sports has an annual LABOR PAIN 12 Hour Endurance Trail Run normally held the Sunday before Labor Day on Mt Penn. In 2020, the city of Reading refused to grant a permit that year, so the race was moved to a temporary location in French Creek State Park, changed to a 10 hour race, and re-scheduled to Sunday November 22nd, 2020. By sheer co-incidence this was the exact same date as the cancelled 2020 Philly Marathon, so I signed up. This was my first, only, and LAST LABOR PAIN. I am usually out of state the tradition weekend it is held, and I have run up Mt Penn enough times to know when to quit. It may be a small mountain, but it has some treacherous climbs best left for skilled trail runners. If Chilly Cheeks 10K didn’t ram that point home, the Half-wit Half Marathon up and down Mt Penn nailed that notice to my door with a railroad spike!
The alternate course and location for the 2020 LABOR PAIN proved to be a hit with local runners who found it easier, but still challenging. As a result, this alternate course became a new race in its own right, and The ‘FIRST’ (kinda, sorta, in a way….) Annual April Foolish Endurance Trail Run was born!
I have run less than a dozen trail runs, but this is my favorite trail course. Both of my two marathons were run on this course.
My first attempt last year resulted in a injury. I hit the ground so hard at the 25 mile point so hard that I triggered the emergency alert on my Garmin 945 Forerunner.
My IT band painfully informed me that my attempt at a 50K was over, but I could still limp back and earn my first marathon which I did. I had a few cuts, my legs were covered with bruises, and it took me over a hour to limp that last mile, but I did it! My awesome friends waited for me and helped get me and my gear to my car.
I was unable to walk for two days after the race, but I mended fast and was even able to run a 15K trail run two weeks later.
Now for my second attempt at this course I had one goal. DO NOT GET HURT! I still wanted a 50K ultra, but I definitely wanted to run this race pain-free. I paced myself entirely differently than I did the first time I did this course.
The course is basically a 4 mile loop on the trails around Hopewell Lake. At about the 3 mile point, there is a picnic area where you can set up camp and restock your gels, snacks, and drinks, or take a rest between loops if needed.
At about the 3.7 mile mark, there was this hellacious mud pit that was 3-4 inches deep which threatened to steal my shoes!
Half of the course was flat or paved. About one third was uphill. There was a series of steps to run down near the dam.
There was ONE long paved downhill section of nearly a half mile, which you only had to go back up if you were doing a partial out-and-back milestone distance.
The rest was true trail running territory, rocks the size of baseballs, twisted roots of evil, thorn bushes, etc.
Again this was a TEN HOUR endurance race, however many times you decide to run the loop was up to you, but if you couldn’t complete the final lap of the day within the TEN HOUR TIME LIMIT, based upon prior lap times, race director Ron Horn would not allow you to continue beyond 10 hours, no exceptions. If you were going for a milestone distance such as MARATHON, 50K or 50 MILES, there were signs posted on trees with instructions to turn back at that partial point of the lap and run back to the start/finish line.
It sounds a little complicated, but it’s really not. Here’s an example for the marathon distance which is what I ended up doing, again, just injury free this time. You run six laps of 4 miles each, for a total of 24 miles, next you run a partial 7th lap running out 1.1 miles to the turn-back sign. From that sign, you run the 1.1 miles back the way you just came, giving you the final 2.2 mile distance needed for the 26.2 mile marathon goal. Simple huh?
And you don’t have to run the entire ten hours either. If you just want to run 4 or 5 loops and go home, that’s ok. This is YOU vs YOU. You decided when enough was enough. Of course, there always are runners who are there to compete and try to get the next course distance record. In 2020, the distance records were held by M: Andrew Simpson – 72 miles in 9:49:51 and F: Dixie Bonner 52 miles in 9:34:37 and those records still stand today.
Of the 228 runners of this race, 17 including my friend Greg Arampatzis ran distances of 50 miles or more. 141 ran 50K or more including my friend Justin Kershner. I was one of 22 people who opted for the marathon. I really wanted the 50K, but I wanted to not get hurt more. I took it slow and steady, running at top speed only on flat or paved surfaces.
My official time was 9:35:43 exactly 14 minutes slower than last year’s 9:21:43. I’ll take that. Marathon distance is no joke, and trail running is not for the faint hearted. I heard that one runner took off at top speed early in the race, and received an injury that required a hospital trip. There is nothing wrong with pushing yourself way out of your comfort zone, but it does come with risks. A comfort zone is a nice safe place, but nothing grows there, and you will never know what you are capable of accomplishing if you refuse to take it to the limit. In 1994 TLC released a song titled Waterfalls which had the line “Don’t go chasing waterfalls, please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you’re used to…” Let me tell you from personal experience that that is a load of crap advice fit for losers! The same people who don’t chase waterfalls, don’t run marathons!
You can find me at these upcoming races:
Be sure to check back in two weeks on May 9th for another article.
As always, I wish you success and happiness!