What: Pisgah 50K (31 Miles)
Where: Pisgah State Park Chesterfield, NH
When: September 14, 2008 8:45am
Place: 40 out of 68 (78 Starters)
For Photos I invite you to check out Pam Dolan’s Report HERE
There are many things that attract us to this sport, those of us who have been here for a while now. And I’ll be the first to admit that over time my faith, in what it is that has indeed attracted me to this sport, has waned. But it’s times like what I experienced this past weekend at the Pisgah 50K that brings me back to earth. Its time like these that help me realize that Ultra-running has become a part of my every day life. It defines who I am and it has helped me define and reshape my very existence. I gained more then experience this weekend in Chesterfield, NH. I gained spirit, hope and motivation moving forward… and here is how.
It has been an amazing year thus far and September is typically a time each year where I stop and reflect on this wonderful road I’ve been down in running. It was in September 2004 that I challenged myself to run a mile without walking, and after 2 weeks of hard work, stubbornness and determination, I accomplished that goal. I’ll reflect upon this various times moving forward towards the VT50. Four years later, I’ve run my legs into oblivion, transforming my body in a metronome like machine, and click miles off like they are nothing but routine. That was until I found out that I was anemic. I don’t need to go into the details here because you can read about it in a previous blog post of mine. The effects of anemia sent shivers down my spine and caused quite a stir in my life. Learning that if my blood count was any lower I would have needed a transfusion, that during the Wapack Race a few weekends ago I could have gone into cardiac arrest.. are never wonderful things to hear. I honestly thought for a short time that my running days had ended, many dreams left to chase dashed away and my heart left to work in overdrive just to maintain basic homeostasis. Sure… I might have over-reacted then; but as I lived in the Now heading into Pisgah I had many questions to answer.
Will my treatments have affected me yet? Will I even be able to run half of this rather than the whole 50K? Am I going to simply embarrass myself? Should I have just stayed home? I was scared stupid on the car-ride over but as with any challenge in my life, I stepped up to the plate and prepared for battle. I’m one stubborn individual, and I was sure I’d get the answers to my questions quickly.
I ended up at a friends Birthday Party the night before the race and didn’t get any sleep. Not only was I nervous, but the borrowed alarm clock died as did any near-by cell phones. I laid in bed all night waiting for civil twilight so I could rise and head over to meet Nate and Steve in Pembroke. As the sun began to rose to illuminate a brand new day, I turned my phone on to see the time.. I was running very late. We changed the plans for meeting time and location and I was quickly driving down the dirt backroads in Deerfield and Allenstown, NH on my way to Concord. Rain was falling heavily and fog encased the scene the whole way. Ah yes… another ultra.. another mud fest. I have quickly become the king of mud! Of the 19 ultras I have completed, I have been rain free in only 5 or 6. Thats only 25%.
Nate was ready to roll when I met him at the Park N Ride in Concord off of Route 89. Steve was stuffed in the back seat ready to go on what would become his very first ultra-adventure. Steve is a runner I met almost a year ago in the Eastern Mountain Sports I work at in Portsmouth. As he tried on trail running shoes, I spoke to him about my fun and fascinating exploits as an ultra-runner and dared him and his wife Allyson into researching the culture. Steve and I tried our best to run on a weekly/bi-weekly basis for a few months before Steve decided to explore the ultimate Step. Steve wanted to try an Ultra… a 50K.. and he wanted to go to a race together. I became Steve’s coach and he became my first student. We worked through science, injury and motivation. I helped him plan a training routine which he followed as closely as possible and today in Pisgah… he would take his final exam. His first Ultra… a 50K. His longest run to date? A 17.5 mile race on the Wapack Trail just 2 weeks ago. I was praying for his sake and my own.
As we arrived at the fire station in Chesterfield, we meandered over to the porta-potties and then into race registration. Event staff was in a flurry to set everything up for us runners. Word was that the RD was hurting for money to put the event on. In doing the math and in seeing what had been assembled for us, I found it hard to imagine that he could be in debt. The race appears to be very bare bones in nature, and is New Hampshires ONLY official Ultra-Marathon. We squeezed into the tighly packed fire house to get our bib numbers and headed back to the car to get ready. The fog was thick and the air was 100% humid. The temp rose ever so slightly into the 70’s as a chilling wind brushed across our faces. Nate and Steve quickly clothed themselves and sought out the shelter of the car in and attempt to stay dry. I opted to stay out in the sheets of pouring rain, getting soaked from head to toe before the race even started. What the hell right? I was going to be in it most of the day anyway, might as well adjust to my environment.
But what slowly began to happen next is what called to my heart and sang to my soul. I’ve met MANY people over the last 4 years of running in this sport, and what I experienced next is what sets our culture apart from that of your shorter distance trail runners and your road runners alike. As my fellow runners began to trickle in from their various locations, many saw me meandering about and made a point to come on over. I received warm hugs from a few, a few hands on my shoulder and a pat on the back and each runner expressed the same sentiment; “John… we’re really glad you made it here today.” I was moved deeply by all of this as pre-race preparations continued. Not only was I glad to be ok but my friends were as well. I think it was Jeff Waldron’s sentiments that moved me most. He didn’t say much but I could see it in his eyes. We’ve become great friends he and I and his pat on the shoulder and contagious smile re-lit the fire in my soul and super charged my legs for what lie ahead. I was ready to go! LETS DO IT!
Steve and I walked over to the starting area where Gary Montgomery gathered us around to shout out the last minute instructions. All I heard was to “turn left at the aid station for the loop for 50K runners!” I had no idea what he was talking about but I’m sure I’d find out. Nate settled in up in the front with aspirations of a 5:15 finish. Steve nervously waiting along side me and I cracked my usual pre-race jokes with a few fellow knuckle-heads. Then I turned right and saw a tall gentleman reach out his hand asking if I was John. I was of course and he introduced himself as Sean Hurley. Sean is a reporter from New Hampshire Public Radio. A few weeks ago I was randomly contacted by Sean about his interest in doing an article on Ultra-Running in NH. A runner himself, the story had potential. Through e-mail communication I fed him what info I could and invited him out to Pisgah for the states only official Ultra. It was great to see him here, though I was sorry I had forgotten he was coming. As Sean lined up beside me, he took a long microphone out of his pocket and began interviewing us right away. I called Nate and Steve over as I wanted as many of my friends to get in on this as possible. We are, after all, a community. Sean then went to the front to catch some of Gary’s last minute pre-amble and then the whistle blew and we were off!
The pack began to sort out immediately. Steve and I ran at a comfy but good clip as we headed down the first hill. Sean found us in the mix and ran along side us continuing his interview. We were asked all of the typical questions. What do we carry? What do we wear? Why are we doing this? How long will it take? Whats the course like? etc etc. It was a LOT of fun. We walked ran quite a bit of the first hill and walked our fair share too. Sean did great in interviewing us as the rain continued to drive down and he even entered the woods with us running out to about the 3 mile mark on the course. This was remarkable to Steve and I because we both agreed later that carrying that damn microphone must have been a pain in the arse! The trails were saturated and submerged by the recent rains. Torrential rains on Friday night and Saturday Night left water ponding everywhere. The mud was early, deep and thick. Beaver activity was everywhere and their flooding caused quite a problem for us trying to keep our feet wet. I’m glad Sean saw some of this and can’t wait to hear his story.
In the meantime, Steve and I had a race to run Steve’s plan was to hang with me as long as he could and then take it from there. Knowing how individual we all are, I was unsure how his plan was going to play out but I decided to play along. After 3.5 miles of jumping puddles, the effort was worthless and energy consuming at best. I ran straight through a puddle, submerging my foot and encasing my ankles in mud. “Screw it Steve.. its going to be a long day. Get it over with and worry about it later.” Our feet were soaked and our focus turned to post-race blister care. Oh well.. such is life.
As we made our way into the first aid station, we ran into two guys running together. I listened into their conversation and it was easy to pick up that this was their first Ultra. They had the right mind-set and I’m not sure if they finished but they had the right ideas. I wished them well as we refilled our bottles, took S-Caps and hurried on down the road. The rain began to pick up as did the wind and what I knew might be the last hurray of this for the day. I didn’t mind so much, after all, I’m getting used to it. We continued to pick our way around puddles even after getting our feet wet, but as the miles wore on I began to trudge through more and more puddles as the day went on. Steve and I fell into a groove and slowly began to run like pac-men. We picked off runners as we slowly went along; we’d run until we saw someone and then we picked it up until we overcame them. This type of running is a fun way to pass the time and miles for me and it always feels good to pass another runner.
We hit our first manned aid station and I told Steve that 8 mile were all ready gone. We began a long climb up an old paved road where we caught Dave Delebec. Dave is from Vermont and a true gentleman. He is one of those guys who is both courteous and fun and knows how to liven things up when needed. Further up the trail I was walking a bit when Dave gave me an old “Drew-ism”… “hey… get the #%$%^& Lead out!” I groaned and started running as I mumbled under my breath. We laughed about it and bounded through the mud. We then found Josh and Rik Roberts on the trail as well as Movingon from Kickrunners. We all buddied up and chipped off quite a few miles together. We went up and over hills around bends, over bridges, around swamps, over dams.. all the while running on a soft bed of pine needles. Pisgah State park is the States Largest State Park and true hidden gem. CHECK IT OUT!
At Mile 17 we reached the reservoir aid station. We had lost Rik a few miles back and Josh was now opting to hang back for his old man. Dave came wandering in as Steve, Movingon and I prepared to head back out. We drank some soda and made sure we were set to go. I had Steve empty his trash and concentrate on his nutrition moving forward. He was starting to look tired as we approached his previous “longest mark” of 17.5 Miles. He claimed he was cramping up a bit, so we worked on his electrolyte plan as we walked down the course. We got back into a groove as we talked with Movingon. As we made our way up Mt. Pisgah I quickly realized that I felt pretty mint, getting back into a groove and ready to roll. Steve was slowing down and feeling tired. I was impressed he hung with me 18 miles but I knew now was his time to find himself in this event. I kicked it into gear leaving Steve behind, quietly, and hoping he would dig deep within his soul and find himself crossing that finish line.
I made my way to an aid station where I ran into Ryan Pretess’ Dad. I’m not sure what race he was in but he looked beat. I realized he had no bottles, no gels no nothing. The guy was running with the aid from stations alone! WOWSERS! I said hi and headed t the right before being called back to the station by some grumpy volunteers. I thank them for being there but SHEESH! They told me this was the loop and I needed to go left. I wished the directors had made some decent signage for this aid station indicating so… but regardless, I headed off on the loop alone. The loop took us down and around a pond area. The fog remained thick and heavy as smells of my grandmothers old basement wafted from the molded earth. I was very much alone, and digging deep to keep on pace. I passed a couple and headed back to the aid table, took the right and headed on my way across the final 5 miles of the race.
The next mile was pristine pine forest, soft footing and wonderful sounds. I ran past more waterfalls and gorgeous landscapes. Pisgah is an amazing place and on this day resembled an enchanted forest or even the fire swamp from the Princess Bride. And then all hell broke loose. I turned right at an orange Backhoe where a lot of trail work had been done. The trail was an all out mud best. Ankle to shin deep all around. My foot slipped and slid all around, my legs began to burn, covered in slick mud and sore from the constant twisting actions. Water splashed up to my face with each step, mud splashed everywhere as I continued to push on and pick up my pace. I wanted to catch just one more runner. I pushed on. Compared to running over the last month, I was feeling great. My legs were full of energy, never short of breath, alone for the last 12 miles and picking up steam. I felt reborn, resurrected and hunted the finish line with each forward step.
I finally slid off the trails and onto a dirt road heading for home. Up ahead I spotted a runner and knew exactly who it was. It was Ryan’s father again, walking slowly but in good spirits heading down the road. I ran along and caught up to him, lended support, offered a gel and got him to run a bit more. As he slowed back to a walk I continued on vowing to tell Ryan pops was ok. The road led adjacent to two massive fields/meadows as the clouds continued to swirl and the fog lifted. The sun tried to burn through to no avail and the wind blew lightly across my face. My eyes were wide open, my heart pounded proudly as blood flowed through my arteries and veins. I could feel the burn in my legs, pain in my feet and a journey in my soul. The end was near. A gray car came down the road, It was my friend Dan Myers, he had dropped and told me to “Run it in! It’s right there!” I thanked him for his encouragement and picked up my step!
I headed down the final stretch of road, took the final right and saw the finish ahead. I made the sign of the cross, pounded the “moe” on my chest and pointed to the sky as I thanked god and my grandfather for the strength to carry on in this great adventure. I ran into the chute and sprinted as best I could before doing a baseball slide across the finish line on the saturated grass. I got up to my feet and proudly stood there offering a high five to Nate. A few weeks ago I wondered if I’d ever be able to run and compete again. Scared and alone, I faced my demons once more; rose to the occasion and ran to the promised land. You can do ANYTHING you put your mind too.. and I once again proved my point. I felt great in hearing my time of 6:31. I sat down, sore but satisfied. I left it all out there as I chomped down on a burger. Its great to be back, this is home. Nate and I talked and joked as we waited for Steve. Would he finish? Where was he? At 7:09 (race time) I watched as a runner sprinted to the end with a runner on his tail. I moved my position and noticed it was Steve racing to the finish line coming in strong. HE DID IT! From never running more than 17.5 miles; from doubting his own ability to complete the task; Steve dug deep and found his Human Potential and carried himself through thick and thin to finish his first 50K. I’ve never been as proud.
The Vermont 50 is in 2 weeks and I’ll be ready; hoping to break 10 hours for the first time in one of my favorites. I hope to see you all there; my friends.