Guest blog

Guest Post: Stewart Dutfield's Q2 Somewhat Running-related Diary

Seeing as how I'm basically a seasonal blogger myself at this point, I'm thrilled to have Stewart Dutfield continue to update his yearly diary on a quarterly basis.  ICYMI, you can read his 2017 year in review and his 2018 Q1 musings.  This current iteration may be my favorite so far.  It isn't all running-related, but then again, neither is life.


6 April. To have spent four hours at the National African American Museum with a 13-year-old boy is to look forward to returning for a whole day, to take things in more slowly. In single file down a narrow ramp, we walked several storeys beneath ground, and then slowly up through the historical exhibit—from before slavery (and, it was suggested, even before racism) to Obama and Oprah—to emerge at the foot of a heavy spiral staircase. Bounded by tall black walls, it continues the journey upward, but we have arrived here understanding that historical progress is neither unambiguous nor even consistently forward. 

Clayton led us to the sports exhibits: Owens, Robinson, Gibson, Ali, Jordan. Most moving to me was the bronze statue of Tommie Smith, John Carlos, and Peter Norman (who afterwards was just as shabbily treated as the others) on the medal podium at the 1968 Olympics. Harry Edwards, very much part of events leading up to Smith and Carlos's protest, appears in short videos on aspects of black sports: reminding us, for example, that racial integration of major league baseball destroyed black-owned businesses in the negro leagues. While taking a photograph of the monumental staircase from above, I was tapped on the shoulder and quietly told that photographs should only be taken from below. With mild shame and indignation I struggled to grasp what seemed an arbitrary and unstated rule, but left feeling that perhaps this was exactly the point. 

Descending Castle Point on a run through Mohonk and Minnewaska
28 April. In Carmel NY is a statue of Sybil Ludington; the story goes that in 1777 she rode 40 miles overnight from here to rouse militia in defense of Danbury against the British. Two centuries later, a 50K road race roughly followed Ludington's presumed route and has taken place every year since. This year the event was no longer based in the basement of the VFW—where the business portion of the men's urinal still bears an image of Jane Fonda—and followed a new loop course never approaching within a mile or so of the statue. As usual, new leaves gave little shade on the pretty, undulating country roads. Some well-established metropolitan area road runners showed up, a few still going in their 50s, 60s and 70s. With luck, though having departed from its roots in the dubious history of Sybil Ludington's ride, the 50K will continue as a no-frills footrace for old-school athletes.

6 May. Live audacity at the Egg in Albany where Brandi Carlile sang "Babe I'm Going to Leave You", a tour de force for a young, fresh-faced Led Zeppelin who had transformed the song from a Joan Baez recording of the early 1960s.

Refreshment at Kaaterskill Falls on a run from Olana to North Lake
2 June. The Piccadilly Line from Heathrow brought me to Boston Manor, where I embarked on a gentle walk through West London history; first along the Grand Union canal to the mouth of the River Brent, where Julius Caesar may or may not have crossed the Thames in 54BC. Tom took me to a plaque to commemorate where Pocahontas had lived; then through the fields of Syon Park—little changed for 200 years—to lunch at the London Apprentice, which was here when J.M.W. Turner lived in Isleworth and might have been his local. Then over the lovely Victorian painted iron of Richmond lock and back to Kew, where an afternoon cricket match was in progress. We had spent our afternoon amidst Turner's picture of Syon House and Kew Palace, swans and all.

The Thames at Isleworth
Loch Lomond, the low road.
Photo credit: Joe Brown
9 June. It was dark as the bus descended the steep valley past Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater to deposit us beside the falls at Ohiopyle, PA. From here we would run the Laurel Highlands trail northeast to Johnstown, which in past months has crawled with journalists trying to understand the 2016 presidential election results. For my part, in nearby Ebensburg the previous evening I had visited a new microbrewery with the slogan "Our beer is always coaled" (fortunately, it wasn't). The trail is marked by 71 mileposts, and follows a ridge where we were a couple of weeks too late for the peak of the mountain laurel. "Highway Patrolman" playing in my head, I started comfortably but, as the humidity undermined my appetite for eating and drinking, gradually slowed over the later more runnable part of the trail and finished, once more in the dark, less than an hour before the clock ran out.
Joe on the Highland Boundary fault, descending Conic Hill.
Photo credit: Fiona Rennie

23 June. Just behind Tesco's in Milngavie, a footpath sign indicates that Glasgow is 6¼ miles away. The nearby terminus for the commuter railway is also the start of the West Highland Way: 95 miles in the opposite direction, along the shores of Loch Lomond and through the West Highlands. After a moment of silence for the great Don Ritchie, runners set off at 1am through the town centre toward Fort William. Daylight roused me at 3am from sleeping in the van, in time to support Joe at 19 miles with coffee and a bacon roll. Stella later joined me as Joe's crew. Approaching Glencoe over the Black Mount, Joe began to struggle with the increasingly rough, granite underfoot conditions. He and I covered the last 25 miles together overnight, and ran not a step. As the race director had predicted, there was no weather this year by Scottish standards: conditions proved largely dry and fresh, keeping the midges at bay except where Stella slept in the van at Kinlochleven. After a grim night on the granite paths, Joe finished at 5am and took his turn to sleep in the van as we drove to our B&B.

Crews provide all food and drink to West Highland Way runners.
Photo credit: Stella Potter
26 June. I took Joe to the Scottish National Gallery to see the large painting of Niagara Falls, which was my introduction to Frederic Church long before I first visited the Hudson Valley. Among the Titians and Poussins hangs a large, jarring new work by Jenny Saville; in El Greco colors of grey, red and blue, it depicts and bewails child casualties in Aleppo in our own time—on our watch, so to speak. See it if you can.

Guest Post: Stewart Dutfield's Q1 Somewhat Running-related Diary

I'm happy to welcome back the musings of Stewart Dutfield to the blog.  Stewart was kind enough to share his diary of 2017 at the end of last year.  I really enjoy his deep thoughts, both running- and non-running-related.  This year hopefully he'll continue to update us on a seasonal basis with his distinctively British observations of the world around him.


1 January. The rituals of this time of year reassure us that life continues in a familiar pattern, but perhaps they also show us what has changed. A longtime Christmastime staple for its scene of Kolkata's Howra Station set to "Silent Night" is 36 Chowringhee Lane, produced by the late Shashi Kapoor: a melancholy Indian movie about people out of place & time. Its earlier cousin, Shakespeare Wallah, also evokes the sadness of holdovers from the Raj and the dubious attractions of modernity. Watching it now, I feel out of step with a contemporary world that every day echoes Rimbaud's Démocratie: "ours will be a ferocious philosophy, ignorant as to science, rabid for comfort, and let the rest of the world croak."

SUNY Plaza Tower
4 January. East of the Greyhound terminal in downtown Albany, a tall Gothic structure glowers over a row of businesses that look like Ireland 50 years ago. What is now SUNY Plaza was newly-built just when its model, the Cloth Hall at Ypres, was destroyed in 1914. With snow falling hard, this was a good day to walk a few times up and down the 12-story tower. One climb more than I had done previously amounted to the height of the Empire State Building observation deck. Having over a few years gradually increased the number of repetitions, perhaps I am fit at last for this to be a weekly training workout.

9 January. The tunnels at UAlbany form a kilometer-long rectangle of concrete and ductwork. During winter break, largely empty of students moving between academic buildings, they see an occasional subterranean interval session. Some runners—me for one—turned up as much from curiosity as to be out of the winter weather. I discovered that it's easy to lose count of right-angle corners in a tunnel, unless running hard and gasping for a brief rest.

11 February. The Pine Hollow Arboretum was farmland returned to pine forest in the 1960s, when its pediatrician founder started to build ponds and plant trees. It grew from backyard landscaping to a lifelong calling, with several thousand specimens—some rare, and many beyond their native range—and a tangled couple of miles of trails. So far I have visited this local treasure mostly in winter, and am yet to see the magnolias and azaleas in bloom. On this day, running in wet snow, I visited my favourites so far: the Japanese specimens, the knees surrounding a bald cypress, and the "Glacier Ridge" trail along what to this untutored eye appears to be a short esker (Eiscir in Robert MacFarlane's word-hoard).

Cypress Knees
18 February. Since 1973, the low-key and by now old-style Winter Marathon has started at UAlbany and followed a succession of inner and outer loops round the New York State office campus. More than once, I have called it a training run and quit several miles short of finishing. Today it was breezy, and too warm for ice to form on cups of water at the rudimentary aid stations. Qualifying for Boston was never a concern 30 years ago, but I haven't been close now for a long while. On a pace at half way within that limbo between a qualifier and a time fast enough to actually enter, I didn't fade much and ran faster than in several years: so no Boston qualifier, but the task of recovering and continuing to train.

4 March. Two months after its appearance in the London Review of Books, I read Alan Bennett's diary for 2017. Humbled by the pale imitation that this journal is of the great man's work, I also feel gratified to learn that he and I were reading the same Borges story at around the same time last November.  

8 March. A snowmobile passed by on the rail trail this morning while I was walking the dog. I took the opportunity to trace its tracks—similar to those I saw a year ago when snowshoeing home from work—over local  streets and neighbors' yards to their source. A while later, our town's competent police department called to inform me that Plod and the enthusiast in question had had a quiet chat.

10 March. Scotland has its Munros and Corbetts, summits above 3,000 and 2,500 feet respectively, and the Catskills have the 3500s. Joe had set out to climb all 35 in the winter months, and West Kill Mountain would be the last. His retinue—a few more and we'd have needed a permit—strapped on snowshoes for the 1,800-foot ascent by way of Diamond Notch Falls and an excellent ridgetop viewpoint. We celebrated at the top, more demurely than Scott Jurek's notorious debauch after narrowly breaking the Appalachian Trail record, and Mike recalled that he is now exactly half way through a second Catskill Grid: each 3500 foot summit climbed in each month of the year. It takes focus to bag 420 summits, and yet more to keep an exact tally in mind at all times. The vicar who genially characterized me as obsessive at my father's funeral had no idea what people are capable of.

The view south from West Kill
11 March. I have been watching the BBC documentary on Eddie Izzard's run around Britain of a few years ago: extraordinary because shortly before those weeks of back-to-back marathon distances he claimed no history of running. There's something very un-Church of England about such audacity.

24 March. Where the Susquehanna River flows into Chesapeake Bay, Steppingstone Farm Museum preserves a glimpse of rural life in its stone house, carriage barn, and old cannery. The 50K HAT Run starts and finishes here, also passing through after four and 17 miles. The course through "The Land of Promise" and Susquehanna State Park was partly covered with snow. I splashed through the knee-deep Rock Run creek and passed the late 18th century grist mill for the second time, still feeling strong with four miles left to run; as the day warmed and several hundred pairs of feet passed by, the trail had by now turned to a treacherous mud. For some reason I love these conditions, and in a dozen races here have finished faster only once.

Guest Post: Stewart Dutfield's 2017 Journal

And now for something a bit different...

Local ultrarunner Stewart Dutfield was kind enough to share the diary he's been keeping for 2017 and I thought it would be fun to include it here. His journal is based on the diary of fellow Brit Alan Bennett and is a cool glimpse into the thoughts of a dedicated runner who enjoys experiencing the world around him. Hopefully Stewart will keep us updated with some semi-regular posts in 2018.


Trail markers at the terminus of the Long Path imply that it continues northward...
13 January. Old Stage Road, above Altamont in Albany County, is currently the northern terminus of New York's Long Path; Ken Posner's recent book describes his 350-mile journey that ended here with a wry twist. On a clear, cold Friday evening 18 of us arrived at the trailhead for a the first full moon adventure of the year. People had traveled for hours, from Connecticut and Westchester, to walk five miles in the dark and watch moonrise over the Hudson Valley. After Dick had fallen hard on ice fifty yards in, we encountered good footing except on the dirt roads (back country ice skating, anyone?). The trail climbed hardly at all, but the view from High Point took in all of Albany and beyond. The informal trail along the cliff edge led, at one point with the rising moon directly ahead, to another high overlook at Hang Glider Point. As we took snapshots of people doing headstands, a bright light emerged from the woods: a fat-tire cyclist, no doubt as surprised to see us as we were to see her. 
16 January. I ski conservatively, focused on avoiding injury with limited technique and simple equipment ill-suited to "packed powder" and "corn snow"—euphemisms for concrete with ice balls on top. Trying to keep up with Clayton, I was knocked down hard by a youngster skiing fast who "didn't expect me to turn". I was angry, and my shoulder hurt; little wonder I don't ski often. 
28 January. From miles all around Albany you can see the Corning Tower, the most priapic feature of Nelson Rockefeller's Empire State Plaza. On the 44th floor, Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy held its 25th anniversary celebration. To the south west, the view encompassed several of its 15 preserves. Beyond, the sun set behind the Northern Catskills: Thomas Cole, Black Dome, and all the summits of the Escarpment Trail between Windham and North Lake. 

Empire State Plaza from the Keleher Preserve
29 January. Ron Hill ended his running streak, which started when I was nine years old. In the following few years he held three world records, ran the second-ever sub-2:10 marathon, and in 1970 broke the Boston marathon record by more than three minutes—he had been expecting the five miles after the top of Heartbreak Hill to be all descent, but "it looked undulating to me". Ron's example and his two-volume autobiography "The Long Hard Road", an unremitting catalog of many years' training, races and breakdowns, have inspired countless runners to get out of the door. Many do so every day without a break, as Ron did for more than 52 years. 
17 February. To work by snowshoe down the rail trail, carrying the snowshoes for the final two miles on city streets. On the gradual but strenuous climb homeward under the Thruway and past Normanskill Falls, the snow glowed slightly orange from the scattered city lights. The moon was not yet up, but Venus shone brightly ahead. I have never needed a light here except to be seen by, and on this night there was no-one to see me except a furtive snowmobiler, who had less furtively left tracks all around the houses on a nearby street. I wonder how the neighbors felt about that. 

19 February. Snowshoe races take place at the whim of the weather. Smaller now than in its heyday in the Albany Pine Bush (where Vladimir Nabokov would collect butterflies among the sand dunes), Brave the Blizzard takes place at Tawasentha Park, in what some locals believe to be Hiawatha country. Today's snow was deep and soft, with a thaw in progress that would extinguish our tracks within a couple of days. We slapped and slithered around the woods in the warm sunshine, a world away from Gitche Gumee. 
24 February. Two books arrived in today's mail: Geoff Nicholson's "Walking In Ruins" and a biography of Edward Payson Weston, who in 1910 walked across the US in 77 days, fifty years after having walked from Boston to Washington in ten days in settlement of a bet on Abraham Lincoln's election. Weston's longevity in multi-day pedestrianism may never be matched, though I hope to be completing ultramarathons over as long a timespan. Having started a few years younger than Weston, perhaps I have a chance. Anyone who has ascended the trail from KTD monastery above Woodstock knows the ruin of the Overlook Mountain House, and among the many delights of the North Lake area are the remains of roads, railways, and huge hotels. Thus goes the glory of luxury resorts and golf courses.
The only remnant of the Catskill Mountain House

4 March. Not long after dawn, I set off from Woodstock village wrapped against the cold wind. There was just enough time to complete nine road miles and join Doug's training run for two more loops plus a bonus climb back to KTD monastery. Doug and I walked the uphills and put the world to rights. I completed more than 30 miles, and perhaps 10,000 feet of elevation change, with no more sustenance that morning than two granola bars and a few pints of Darjeeling tea. A depletion run might precede carbohydrate loading, but I immediately resumed a normal diet. It surely can't hurt to become accustomed in training to low glycogen, which inevitably occurs in an ultramarathon with many miles still to run. 

29 March. Two years from today, the UK will leave the European Union. 
Friday's football, punted, arched high over the weekend. 
The radio played Vera Lynn as Nissan Oxfords paraded in the High Street. 
Supermarkets ran Saturday specials on small bananas, shut on Sunday. 
Lawns were clipped, all fences and gates made good. Everyone was nice to everyone nice. 
The Lord's servants, dismissed, filled the pubs to right a world once more pint-sized. 
And on April 1st the ball fell back to earth. 

The Helderberg Escarpment
9 April. Thacher Park offers many miles of trails, all on top of the limestone Helderberg Escarpment. I've found only one major uphill, south from the main overlook (where parking is limited to one hour but doesn't cost $6), crossing Beaver Dam Road to an out-and-back trail that once continued as the Long Path. The land is now closed at the top of the hill, and the landowner seems unresponsive to written requests for occasional access. On the way back, I stumbled and tweaked an upper hamstring, impairing my running for a couple of weeks. A physical therapist had told me not long before that aging leaves muscles more liable to injury, but I continue to avoid preventative stretching. Perhaps when truly unable to run I will stretch in earnest, but meanwhile I live with the guilt. 

7 May. The Double Up training run climbs both sides of Kaaterskill Clove. First, it follows the Harding Road to the site of the once-huge Hotel Kaaterskill and continues to Boulder Rock, where splendidly-clad visitors once posed and aspired, perhaps, to a romantic ideal. Cole, Church and Gifford all painted the sublime from hereabouts, despite the nearby tanning and clearcutting. Earlier in the spring, Joe brought me to the ruined water tower for the Catskill Mountain House; a pile of curved planks and steel bands that once formed a huge wooden barrel, this is all that's left above ground from these grand mountain hotels. On my way up the second climb, to the more remote but still romantically named Poet's Ledge, I began to reflect that ruins are less interesting than traces: the old paths, roads and rail beds that we follow while somehow aware of the ghosts of those who were here before, when it all looked so different. 

Puddingstone Hall was once an attraction of the Catskill Mountain House

28 May. Lake Ontario and the upper St. Lawrence River are several feet above their usual level, and the Long Sault Dam is holding back water from further flooding parts of Quebec already under water. Owners of waterfront property worry about their docks and boathouses, and the river rats of the Thousand Islands wonder when the excess will drain from the system and the season's recreational boating and Seaway shipping return to normal. The river has inundated sections of trail in the Minna Anthony Common nature center, and a dock that protrudes into the narrows between Wellesley and Murray is barely visible to approaching boats. Feathers, beads and pottery shards decorate the tree beneath which Vivekananda sat, on his visit to Thousand Island Park in 1893, and seem to echo a feeling that not all is as usual. 
Drowned docks in the 1000 Islands
3 June. The Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy manages preserves on and below the Helderberg escarpment, and on National Trails Day I set out to run between several of them. I followed markings for the Long Path (several miles beyond its official terminus) around Wolf Creek Falls and, with a detour to the Winn preserve, on roads and trails until a couple of miles beyond Thacher Park. Munching trail mix & sipping water from a backpack, I ran the roads between each preserve and trail loops in Keleher and Bennett Hill. At Holt preserve a recent entry in the sign-in book described the trails as very soggy, so 2 after 11 hours on my feet I elected to simply follow the old Copeland Hill Road to meet the car that would drive me the 45 minutes back to the start.

25 June. Overlook Mountain in Woodstock offers a classic training ground for mountain ultramarathons: 2,500 feet of ascent in five miles, repeated several times in one day. I park at the KTD monastery, half way up, and start on the dirt road to the summit where the view from the top of the fire tower includes most of the Catskill high peaks, as well as Mohonk, the Hudson Highlands, and Mt Greylock. The Devil's Path seemed close enough to touch, but morning haze obscured the southern Green Mountains in Vermont. Side trips through mountain laurel on forest trails offered some variety, as did the very steep climb to California Quarry where I was able to imagine myself on the forest roads below Auburn just as the morning's last Western States finishers would be making their way up from No Hands Bridge. 

1 July. Having completed Nicholas Crane's epic "The Making of the British Landscape" I revisited its 1955 forebear, W. G. Hoskins' "The Making of the English Landscape". He imagines a supposed primeval landscape "...seated beside a wide, flooding estuary as the light thickens on a winter evening, dissolving all the irrelevant human details of the scene, leaving nothing but the shining water, the sky, and the darkening hills, and the immemorial sound of curlews whistling over the mud and fading river-beaches... We are seeing the natural world through the eyes of men who died three or four thousand years ago, and for a moment or two we succeed in entering the minds of the dead." In a beautiful end to the book, he describes how the view from his window came to be; imagining of people from the past also happens in places affected by humans, whose ghosts one can sense in the evidence of what they lived amidst, whether pristine or man-made. 

An exposed island campsite overlooking 40 Acre Patch
5 July. Early in the afternoon I set off by kayak to Canada for Indian takeout. Two hours later, while reporting to Canadian customs, it occurred that I could paddle the contraband jalfrezi to the obligatory US border checkin across a broad expanse of water known as Forty Acre Patch. To the west, a sloop sailed in the distance with the Wolfe Island wind farm as background. People, it seems, are seldom persuaded by arguments for and against wind turbines, but simply rationalize what they already prefer. One argument against is that turbines are ugly; perhaps I enjoyed too many Dutch seascapes in my youth, but this view seemed beautiful to me. 

19 July. The Mohawk-Hudson Bike-Hike trail runs from Quay Street in downtown Albany to the erstwhile manufacturing town of Cohoes, where it joins an old rail bed towards Schenectady and turns westward towards Buffalo. From the volunteer organization that advocates for the trail, Jean had obtained a trail map gratis; she and I rode down from our local rail trail and then 35 miles or so to the town of Rotterdam. On our right we passed Erie Canal lock 8 on the Mohawk River, with the old ditch of the Erie canal inland to our left. Then we climbed away toward home. On a small road between a lower portion on one map and an upper portion on another, we confronted an array of signs as the road turned to gravel: Private, Posted, Road Closed. On close reading, the road appeared unmaintained and closed to automotive traffic, but the signs on private property strained to suggest that they applied to the road as well. We carried on: what looks like a right of way deserves to be followed just in case, and we needed to be home by mid-afternoon. At the top of the steep climb a sign for Rotterdam appeared amidst nothing but farms and fields, and we cruised down for the last couple of hours' cycling on familiar roads. 

4 August. Friends brought me to the Watts Cemetery Chapel, built beneath the old Hog's Back in Surrey by villagers of Compton under the guidance of Mary Fraser Tytler. Married in 1886 to a much older and established artist, she seems to have made her own way in social reform and in engaging people who were not established artists in creative work. I wonder whether, when they married, the august George Frederic Watts was prepared for such subversion.

Watts Cemetery Chapel
photo: Alison Acred
Watts Cemetery Chapel interior
photo: Alison Acred

5 August. Having left Farnham early in the morning, I trotted along the dry and sandy path past the Watts Gallery with another 28 hours before I would reach Ashford in Kent. Afternoon rainstorms made the going slick enough to make staying upright a challenge, let alone moving forward. The North Downs Way 3 repeatedly—and exhaustingly—climbs to the top of the chalk ridge, and then drops back to the Pilgrims Way below. I later read Burton Raffel's modern English translation of The Canterbury Tales in a fruitless search for any reference to mud or sore feet along my route, but Chaucer's party appear to have travelled considerably to the north of the old pilgrims' track from Winchester to Canterbury.
7 August. After lunch at the marvellous (if quirky) India Club, an afternoon with dear and long-established friends continued with a visits to the Temple Church—where barons confronted King John prior to Magna Carta—and the Tate Modern's Giacometti exhibit. I know little about sculpture but have always liked the look of those etiolated figures; the show made a persuasive case that this was less consciously-adopted style than emotional response to the human damage of the first half of the 20th century. Beneath the Hungerford Bridge, Feliks Topolski's Memoir of that century is now a bar, with the proceeds to maintain some of the paintings a few arches away. Whenever friends planned to visit London I've told them to see Topolski's Century, but they seldom found it open; I hope that the new arrangement will both preserve this marvellous and quirky work and make it easier to visit. 9 August. Back from a visit to my godfather, I set off from the India Club for a long walk in the rain around the City of London: ghosts of the Roman city at St. Bride's church and Watling Street, covered arcades at Liverpool Street and Leadenhall Market, and the site of my godfather's office furnishing business in Lime St. He moved out in 1973, since when the site has been redeveloped twice. Last stop was the Cockpit (pub, not theatre) behind Ludgate Hill, where I narrowly avoided drinking too much fine Guinness while chatting with an Irish bus driver. 1 September. I ran along the Thames towpath from Oxford to Nuneham Courtenay—appearing much as in the young Turner's view of 1787—and returned by way of the Iffley Road track, which I could not trot around because the university football and rugby teams were running miles. I had crossed, without noticing its design, the Mathematical Bridge at Iffley Lock; I hope to return and see it as more than simply a means to cross a small body of water.
2 September. Feeling greater urgency now than when I had the opportunity every day as a teenager, I visited the Ashmolean for the first time. I was pleased to recognize a few paintings from having recently read the catalogue of a ten-years-ago Belgian exhibit of British art: Holman Hunt's London Bridge..., Sickert's Ennui, and a lovely Constable cloud study (are they not all lovely, their supposedly analytical origin notwithstanding?). I didn't see the El Greco on long-term loan from New College, where it once lived in the antechapel with the memorial to four Germans that has always felt profoundly moving— perhaps as a counter to the despair that I imagine among those who had been part of World War I: 

3 September. I had arranged for dinner at the India Club with yet more well-established friends (we're at an age when "old" is the wrong word). Entertaining a Master of Wine, I was unsure whether the bar would be up to pre-dinner drinks, but need not have worried. With an hour to spare, I nipped into the National Gallery for the first time in decades. Big Constables and Turners (Flatford Mill, The Hay Wain, The Fighting Temeraire), once staples from old British biscuit tins, now live on a single wall. Visible all at once, with the benefit of age and one's back to the Gainsborough, is a collection of images that transcend nationalism and cliché. No doubt there remain some who celebrate in Temeraire the glorious days of Nelson rather than meditate upon the perpetual passing of the old, but my preference has always been the apprehension of the new in Rain, Steam and Speed. Though the location is the Thames at Maidenhead, I have always imagined it further north amidst the muck and brass of the Industrial Revolution: perhaps at Ribblehead, instead.

17 September. En route for Montreal, the Adirondacks or Great Escape Fun Park, the Northway passes a sign for Moreau Lake State Park. The hills come as a surprise, since no hint of them appears until one is 4 beside the lake. As the Hudson River makes its way southward, these hills turn it north again toward Glens Falls. The visitor feels disoriented; it took a close look at the map to work out that the 15K trail race climbs from the south and takes a broadly clockwise loop, with no sign of either the highway or the river. Early in the ascent we encountered bees, and then pain of a different kind on the "Staircase of Death" which sharply climbs several hundred feet with no hint of a helpful stair. Once on top, the course calls for constant transitions between short uphills and downhills, rocks, roots, and sharp winds in the trail; unlike mountain bikes, trail runners can use an infinite number of gears—continuously variable transmission. Avoiding last year's navigational errors, I basked briefly in the glow of having run considerably faster until the results showed an improvement of only one minute.

2 October. Who thinks and prays for the dead yet to come? As we agonize over victims and their families from one incident in Las Vegas, we evade what might be done to prevent carnage elsewhere and in the future. Policy and legislation that attain positive social outcomes are just so 1990s. When people say "Thoughts and Prayers", what are they thinking? 
  • 1. There, now I feel better. Wonder what's on twitter. 
  • 2. We stand for these soldiers who fell in defense of American freedom, and honor their contribution to USA being #1. 
  • 3. Had it been a rap festival the guy would be alive and out on bail by now. 
  • 4. If all the attendees had been armed they would have been quite safe. 
  • 5. How do I avoid doing something that will affect my 2018 election campaign? 
  • 6. We hope all this goes quiet before our next SEC 10-K filing. 
  • 7. Buy! Buy! 
  • 8. I'm not sure this really happened, anyway. 

28 October. Twice a year, the Albany Running Exchange encourages both runners and volunteers to adopt fancy dress for a race in the woods. Almost everyone dressed up for the Hairy Gorilla half marathon in Thacher Park, I somewhat modestly in mismatched socks, ancient but still dazzling Eric Clifton tights, and duck-themed T shirt. Perhaps one day I shall obtain two pairs of otherwise identical running shoes in contrasting colors and then run in mismatched footwear. Approaching the finish after only six miles, I asked directions of a zombie brandishing a (running) chainsaw before retracing my steps to where I had ignored people yelling "turn left". I was pleased to be the first old male to finish, though a woman my age was eight minutes faster. 
4 November. The many trails in Willowdale State Forest, on Cape Ann in Massachusetts, have numbered intersections but are otherwise scarcely blazed or signposted. The Stone Cat race takes four 12.5 mile loops, brightly marked for the occasion with ribbon. What had seemed largely flat at first felt increasingly hilly as I unsuccessfully tried to balance an even pace with conserving energy—and while eating ever messier handfuls of pumpkin pie on the run. Over the course of the day, features of the trail became familiar, and on passing the "This trail courtesy of Mr. and Mrs. Moose" sign for the last time I was piling on whatever was left in reserve. Courses that cover the same ground more than once miss the sense of journey and adventure that I prefer, but despite poor pacing I was pleased not to have struggled, at the start of each new loop, with the senselessness of it all.

Fall view from the Escarpment Trail
1 December. The habit of an occasional winter hike under the full moon erupted once more, with eight of us numbering off at the Long Path trailhead in Windham. The moon rose behind clouds on a calm night with very little snow or ice. The trail off Blackhead looked a little like the entrance to Narnia, and when the sky cleared it was almost bright enough to hike without a light. We danced on North Point, with a view over North/South Lake and miles of the Hudson valley. In 1993, two of our party completed the 20 miles in five hours; older now, if not wiser, we took more than twice as long. 

Guest Blogger: A Cayuga Trails Recap from Phil Vondra

all photos: Joe Azze
It's been a little over three months since my last race at the Cayuga Trails 50 mile, and I'm just about ready to get back on the horse.  My training partner Phil, with whom I've shared many, many miles, finished just a few minutes behind me there, and returned to racing last weekend with his second straight runner-up finish at the famed SOS triathlon.  This week he sent me his CT50 race report for some reason, and as he doesn't waste anyone's time with a blog, I offered to waste some more of my readers' time by posting it here.  So, here's Phil's slightly delayed CT50 recap.  I think you'll like it.  It's kind of like a race report on acid.  Picture a drunk British guy telling you about his last race and you've got the general idea.


Race : Cayuga trails USA 50 mile trail champs.  3 June 2017 Ithaca NY

  • Improve on 2016 place and time.
  • Eat, drink beer and hangout with a bunch of cool ultra runner type people.
  • Hangout with Laura Kline
Loop 1

We arrived at the park with about 40 minutes until the start time and organized a drop bag for Buttermilk Falls with some spare bottles and nutrition in it. The weather was perfect and glowing red/pink cotton ball clouds drifted over our heads, today would be a good day to die. I lined up 4 or 5 rows back and found Jay my New Paltz running buddy. Ian said a few words and then blew the rams horn, we were off. We set off at that quick pace that almost every race starts at and we hit the first small hill, I backed off and started to think about the miles that lay ahead. Jay and I ran close to each other and chatted a bit. The trails where nice rooty, rocky and rolling, the miles passed easily. We hit the new loop which added some vert but also some fun trails. I was jumping over a few logs which was fun but I knew in 5 hours each one would be a cunning trap just waiting to send me face first into the dirt. We ran past the Old Mill aid station, no need to stop. We headed to the first river crossing, it didn't have as much water as i expected and it was actually nice to get my feet wet. Let the squelching begin! 

The miles passed quickly and the trails were really nice rolling forest rooty and soft. Jay was in front of me and was running the steady smooth pace he always runs. We headed down to Underpass aid station and onto the easy single track and river crossing, I thought the crossing would be deep and was expecting it to be waist deep. Jay was ahead of me and I figured he would go in head first but it was kinda shallow so sadly no fun. We popped out the other side and cruised to the base of Lick Brook climb, I felt great on this climb, but kept a lid on it, knowing that these trails wouldn't give up a finish without a fight. We got to the top and started to roll through the forest and fields. I knew some of this course would be muddy but so far it was in great shape. Rolling along and chatting to Jay we missed a turn and ended up next to a farm and a pig pen, when I heard the banjo playing I knew we had over shot our turn. We did a 180 and ran back to find the turn we had missed. Running with Jay is like being with an able-bodied House MD, so i was probably riveted by some intense medical chat and didn't see the big red arrow telling us to enter into Mirkwood. 

Into the wood we went, it was wonderful mudfest everything an East coast runner wants. Jumping rooty and muddy ground I prayed my shoes would stay on my feet. We emerged onto some grassland with the odd mud patch. At this point I felt hungry and wasn't sure why, I had been good with nutrition and fluid, it was odd but I figured my body was giving me fake news and I would go all in at Buttermilk Falls AS. We headed to Buttermilk Falls, all was good. When we hit the aid station, I took on about 450 calories and some fluids, we got in and out very quickly. The climb up Buttermilk Falls was harder than I thought it would be but I kept my legs moving, spurred on by the fact my T-shirt had turned into a weapon of mass destruction. It single-handedly contravened several international weapon and pollution treaties, but I was racing I had no time to hand it over to the appropriate authorities. The waterfall is beautiful and the trails are perfect. I saw my buddy Tim at a merge point and he was looking good, that gave me a nice boost.  We headed back through the muddy forests and fields along the rolling descent, over the way too shallow river and back to Underpass AS.  It was time to go the dark side.

“Coke please.” 
“More Coke.” 
“Just one more Coke.  What's the worst that could happen?” (I have Youtube, I know the worst that can happen, especially if you're a tooth, a coin or a Mento!)

Fully loaded on sugar and chemicals, I set off again hanging just behind Jay. I took a fall but the ground was soft and I was fine. I felt it was a bit early to be falling.  The trails are good, the Coke is working, I felt great. We hit that big flight of stairs and I felt a bit weak but not too bad. The descent felt good and we headed along the trails to the river crossing and back to Old Mill AS. I got some Coke and ginger ale, the more sugar the merrier! We set off for the turnaround, some easy trails, some rocks some roots but it was fun, until I had another fall, this was a type 3 trail running fall, you don't see it coming, all you know is you're on the ground and you're cut and you hurt but nothing was broken or twisted (well, no physical part of me), I got up and felt ok but not great, I felt a bit sick. We ran into the turn around and I grabbed a few things, forgot a few things and lingered deciding if I should run back to my drop bag. I felt quite sick and weak at this point, so I figured I would just get back to running.

Loop 2

Jay was gone. I wasn't feeling great, I was sure I would be sick. It wasn't an exciting prospect. I also felt weak/dizzy running through the new loop near Old Mill. I knew that if I kept going it would pass. I got to the Old Mill AS and had some more Coke and ginger ale. Shuffling on the easier trails felt ok but I wanted to walk now. The internal battle was raging, "Just walk you'll feel better"; "Why walk on the flat or downhill that's silly;” “ A 15 min mile is better than a 20min mile;” “I'll run flat and downhill and walk ANY hills- that's the deal otherwise all the beer will be gone when you finish- lets go” on I went feeling kinda sick but pushing as best as I could and sticking to the deal my mind had made with my body. 

I crossed the river and wanted to sit in the water for a bit. I didn't, I pushed on. Up and down a few hills, I got a bit lost, I turned back and went down a hill I had just walked up, I saw a runner coming towards me and they confirmed I was on the right trail. All good, back to the struggle. The miles passed more quickly than I thought they would. I got to the Underpass AS and gorged on that sweet dark nectar! Off I went over the tracks and through the river. I got to the Lick Brook climb and I was slow but just as slow as the other runners already on it. I was starting to feel better, I was going to finish strong. I found extra strength knowing that I had passed that epic low and what lay ahead would be better. I was starting to overtake people and getting stronger. I felt strong running through the muddy field and forest, jumping roots and dancing around shoe stealing mud pits. Stairs, rocks, roots it was all passing by me now, I had sub 15 miles to go. The T-shirt was excited too, it often reminded me, it had gone from awful to suggesting that it was a close relation to a long lost ancestor who was responsible for the London plague and the rats where purely minions in a grand scheme. I thought about ditching the T-shirt but it wouldn't have been fair to leave it at at aid station that didn't have a hazmat team on standby. I would have to finish with it. 

Phil with Laura and Tim at a happy finish line.
I got to Buttermilk Falls AS. Coke, Ginger ale and watermelon. I was homeward bound, I was strong, climbing the falls felt good but I wanted to get into the cool waters. On I pressed running flats, downhills and small hills, i was overtaking people. I was going to enjoy the last 10 miles. It was nice to get encouragement from other runners and people out for a hike, it really helped. Coke and Ginger ale at every aid station, I got to Old Mill and was told 5k to the finish, time to give it my all. I got just passed the AS to the stone bridge and the volunteer said 2.6 miles to the finish, heck yeah I eat 2.6 miles for breakfast. The miles passed quickly. I overtook the lead woman and she said “you go girl” and then said “Oh sorry you're not a girl!” I wanted to say something witty/encouraging as a response but I had nothing. I got on the downhill back to the finish and felt great, took the left and ran to the finish. I had so much energy I sprinted to the line to finish a shade over 9hrs. I was happy and Jay told me I was 16th! That was better than 2016 and I knew that lots of beer was left! I got to eat and drink beer with some awesome trail people.

16th place, 9hrs 13 seconds (my time was slower than 2016 but the course was longer and had more gain)
1st AG 45-49
The new course was amazing, it had everything.

What did I learn  the advice i got from an ultra runner a while back was so true on this day. “You're going to get lows, everyone gets lows, you have to believe they will pass because they will.”

Thanks Ian and your volunteers you put on an amazing race!

Gear used
Salomon shorts
Hoka One One Challenger 3ATR
Patagonia T-shirt and its 20million microbe friends
Injinji compression socks
Salomon 2L vest
Huma gels
Ginger Ale

Nerve Gliding

I'm currently in the Best Western Inn & Suites in Huntsville (home of Sam Houston, the patron saint of Texas), about 16 hours ahead of the start of Rocky Raccoon, my first official attempt at the 100-mile distance (notwithstanding last year's 24-hour effort at North Coast).  Right now I've literally got my feet up, propped on a pile of pillows, and I'm watching a Law & Order marathon, so I'm about as happy as I could possibly be.  In about an hour we'll head out for a little shakeout jog before dinner.  I feel pretty good.  The last few months of training have gone great.  I'm a man without an alibi.

I've talked before about how much I hate tapering, and this time around hasn't been all that different.  But I've added a new element to the pre-race routine that seems very promising that may give me a bit of an edge come tomorrow afternoon.  Prior to my last effort at Recover from the Holidays, I visited Greg at Momentum PT for a routine called nerve gliding.  Basically, the brain and the nervous system are in control of pretty much everything that happens to you during a long race...and if we can fool the nervous system into thinking we don't feel quite as bad as we think we do, we can actually run faster and longer than our brain would otherwise allow.  I'll let Greg explain it better:

Common issues and complaints related to physical/athletic performance are fatigue, cramps, decreased muscle activation/strength, diminished coordination and good ol' fashioned bonking just to name a few.  This is especially the case when talking about events that significantly test one's endurance or during long periods of exertion.  There is a complex interplay between many systems in the body to cause these issues but it is impossible not to implicate the nervous system with each one since it is still the CEO making final decisions based on the information it receives.

Most, if not all, runners have experienced these issues at some point during training or a race.  One of the main factors is when the nervous system has had enough,  the rest of the body will follow suit pretty quickly making it very difficult to reverse course.  Even if everything else like nutrition, training and rest went according to plan, nothing can defy the limits of your nervous system.  So those muscle cramps at mile 22 in a marathon are probably not a salt or nutrition issue anymore; it's more likely to be exertion-related fatigue of the neuromuscular system resulting in those muscle cramps.  The good news is that the nervous system is not static, but is actually quite adaptable and something that can be trained leading to an elevation in performance.  Who doesn't want that?

Before going any further, a quick (simplified) physiology lesson is in order.  The nervous system runs on a baseline level of sensitivity but this is something that can change.  It can become more sensitized which means it is more easily triggered causing it to fatigue and run out of fuel faster or less sensitized which means it is less trigger happy and runs more efficiently (read: less fatigue).  In essence, a less sensitized nervous system is able to provide a more accurate picture of any sensory information coming in to the brain since it's not being triggered over every little and insignificant type of stimuli.  An accurate picture going into the brain results in a better, more consistent output to your neuromuscular system.  You can probably see where this is going: good info in + good info out = improved performance.

The question, then, is how to accomplish this?  The short answer is through what are known as nerve mobilizations or nerve glides.  In the case of runners, the posterior nerve bundle of the leg, the sciatic nerve, is important to target because it innervates the hamstring and calf muscles which tend to be susceptible to cramps.  You can think of them as very specific and repetitive short duration stretches which  can be done in a variety of ways.  Just like many systems in the body, when exposed to some kind of stress, the nervous system will adapt and become "stronger" and more efficient.  Nerve mobilizations are a way to expose the nervous system to new stimuli and gently push its boundaries so that it becomes more comfortable with more stress.  This can be combined with other desensitization and calming/relaxation techniques to compound the effects of nerve mobilizations.  The end result is a robust and fatigue-resistant operating system that allows you to push yourself physically with fewer issues.  A nice bonus is that recovery tends to be quicker after your race or training session as well. 

Get it?  Just like the musculoskeletal system and the cardiovascular system, the nervous system is adaptable.  Placing it under some gentle stress shortly before the race teaches it that the stress it will experience a day or two later is manageable.  Our perception of the stress, and of fatigue, changes.

The routine takes about thirty minutes and is pretty painless.  Greg does some static stretching of the hamstrings, placing some strain on the sciatic nerve; it's mildly uncomfortable but not bad at all.  Then he places some gentle traction on the legs and moves them back and forth (abducting and adducting them, if you're anatomically inclined) while kind of shaking them around.  It's actually pretty relaxing.

Does it work?  I only have the one anecdotal experience to report from last month...which was awesome.  I ran a very relaxed 3:39 solo 50K, feeling much less leg strain and fatigue than I usually would for an effort like that.  And the next day, when I would normally be pretty sore from a long, hard road effort, I was able to cruise an easy sixteen miles, definitely fatigued but without any significant soreness or discomfort.  Maybe it's a placebo.  But if it's even a 1% advantage, that's at least ten minutes in 100 miles.  Tomorrow, I'll need every ten-minute advantage I can get.

Guest Blogger! A Race Recap from Joe Puleo

One of the biggest influences in my running life has been Joe Puleo. I first met Joe when I was a medical student in Philadelphia and he was the owner of the Haddonfield Running Company, a specialty running shop in Haddonfield, NJ. I started taking the PATCO train out to Haddonfield on Wednesday nights to join their group runs and Joe and I became good friends. He was my coach through residency and for several years afterwards, guiding me to some of my best performances, including my marathon PR and my first few 50Ks. Joe is a fantastic coach, both for private clients and at the high school and collegiate levels; he is also the coach of the elite marathon team for the US Marine Corps. He is also the author of Running Anatomy, which is a must-read if you are a runner looking to build functional and core strength (and if you're not, you should be).

Joe has a long competitive history as a collegiate and post-collegiate athlete, including having been one of the top amateur triathletes in the country, and can still drop a sub-5:00 mile when he's fit, but until this year has always considered ultra running to be pretty stupid. However last week he ran his first ever 50K, and when he asked if he could commandeer the blog to share his experience, I was only too happy to say yes. I'd like to invite anyone else who has a story to share to take over the blog as well, as long as you also happen to be one of the ten most influential people in my life.

Anyway, here's Joe's race report. He sounds just like a real ultrarunner! But he probably still thinks it's stupid.


On December 19, 2014 I began to think about my New Year’s resolutions.  I decided that besides losing a few pounds, doing bikram yoga, and incorporating more high fiber foods to my diet I would also run an ultra marathon.  All of the previous statements are false except for the final one.  The final is just plain stupid. I had averaged about 14 miles/week for 2014, and I had a long run of eleven miles in early November, yet I felt pretty good about my fitness.  So, why not run an ultra!  A lot of my friends do them, and two athletes I coached just finished JFK in approximately eight hours.  They reported it was not miserable. Why not run an ultra?

I reviewed a list of ultras on some website devoted to the silliness of running hours and hours, eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, m&m’s, and licorice, (also Oreos) until I found the perfect race: The Frosty Fifty. Four 7.75 mile loops of a mostly flat hard-packed trail.  I don’t enjoying running on any hard surface, my 48 year-old body has about 45,000 miles of jogging on the odometer. Also, the temperature would be 45-50 degrees, not 75-80 degrees. After burning my hair (I think that is what I did. It smelled like it) in a race in the early 1990’s, I have an aversion to running in the heat, unless it is dry heat like in Sacramento where I ran last summer when it was 101 degrees.  Then, the heat is ok.  An added bonus was the race was in Winston-Salem, NC so I could visit two of my closet friends.


So I signed up, and started planning my training.  I decided to run a few, easy, five mile trail runs and race a 5k (roads) as my prep.  I did not do a long run because it would unduly fatigue me for my race, which was two weeks away.  

Two weeks!  

That is normally the duration of a marathon taper, not the length of an ultra training program.  Actually, I think Dean Karnazes claimed in Runner’s World and Vanity Fair that he ran for two weeks straight.  No sleep, no solid food (just yak urine fortified with manna from the Gods), and no shoes (Christopher McDougall wrote the article), so running about ten miles a week for the two weeks leading up to the race made total sense to the contrarian side of my personality.

I re-read all of Jay Friedman’s blog posts to see if I could glean “magic” insights that could help me master the distance and enjoy the experience.  The most cogent piece of information was actually from Lexi , “Then I ran around a corner and there was the finish line.  Everyone was cheering for me and that felt embarrassing but good.”  

I couldn’t wait for that feeling.  It would be worth enduring running two weeks worth of mileage in one morning.

I packed my bags with my planned racing gear.  

Nike Air Pegasus 10.5
Open Eye Café’s Defeet AirEator socks md.
Hind wind briefs xl
Puma short tights lg
Nike clima-fit running pants md
Patagonia short-sleeve base layer md
Puma singlet-md
Saucony Razor jacket (water-proof) md
EMS sports liner gloves
PearlIzumi water shell gloves
Sugoi Waterproof jogging cap

(I felt a bit like Homer, in the Iliad, listing the roster of ships, but Jay Friedman describes all his clothing choices, so I figured that is what we ultra runners do).

I brought five GU’s of various flavors, a handful of saltstick caps, and a packet of Skratch to mix with water as part of my hydration plan.  The rest of my hydration plan consisted of water, Mountain Dew, and Coke at the aid stations during the race, and sampling a lot of the microbrews and coffees in Asheville after the race.

I flew to Raleigh on Friday, January 2nd, arriving at 11:20 am. A driver sent from the race picked me up at the airport (actually it was my best friend, Scott Conary, owner of Carrborro Coffee Roasters, the Open Eye Café, and Caffé Driade in the Chapel Hill area of NC.).  We had lunch at Mama Dip’s Kitchen.  I had the chicken potpie, cornbread and greens.  After gathering ourselves, we had dinner and then drove to Mocksville, NC to stay with friends, Dave Salmon, the former food service director at my alma mater Elizabethtown College, his wife Diane, and their daughter Amy, who lives next door.

Scott, Dave, and I ran together while at Elizabethtown, and our friendship has endured for thirty years.  Scott was planning to bike on the trails during the race, and Dave was planning to run with me for a loop.  At 72 years old, he still can muster up the energy to help me.  We caught up until 12:30am and I woke at 5:15am, but felt totally rested.  Diane, per usual (we ate at their home regularly after long runs or races while in college), fed us a hearty breakfast (oatmeal, eggs, toast, fruit, coffee) that I ate whole-heartedly (I was about to run 31 miles), and at 6:15 we began the: 45 drive to Salem Lake in Winston-Salem.

I get to the lake at 7:15, check-in, get dressed, and sit in the car until 7:50 am.  I walk down to the start, use the port-a-john, and join the 250 or so runners (about 125 in the accompanying 25k).  At 8:00 am the race director wishes us luck, starts the race, and off we go.  I immediately start jogging.  Unlike shorter races which I am competitive in (age-group wise) I have no interest in racing an ultra.  There is only one goal: finish the race, and enjoy the emotion Lexi felt upon completing her triathlon.

I naturally settle into a 9:35-9:45/mi pace.  Slower than my training pace for endurance runs  (8:35-9:03), but I feel comfortable, and my stride feels natural.  I spend the first five miles of the loop talking with a nice man from Winston-Salem who trains regularly on the loop we are running.  He describes the whole course and tells me that he wants to break 2:30 for the 25k.  I ask what pace that is.  He says, “I don’t know, but I want to break 2:30.  As a running coach I find that to be a strange approach to pacing.  But what do I know.  I still have three loops to go before I am an ultra marathoner and can make judgments on others race strategies.

The second loop starts and I find myself running with Jill Baulieu, a fifty-three year-old female 25k runner who began running approximately four years ago.  When I walk up the hills she scoots ahead and I reel her back in on the flats.  We are averaging 9:40-9:45 miles, and I feel fine.  Not cold, not hot.  No real fatigue despite passing 11 miles, my longest run in over two months.  She is a genuinely nice woman and the loop disappears in conversation about our life stories.

As Jill runs up the last hill in preparation to finish her 25k, I eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and walk gradually up the same hill.  I think of how proud all my ultra friends would be of me, keeping my heart rate down and eating “fat-ass” food.  I am getting this ultra thing.

For the third lap, Dave, my 72 year-old friend jogs along side of me.  He has just come from leading a beginning runner’s group run where he ran four miles.  I forget that Dave is pretty old.  I am transported back 25 years ago when we ran together pretty much daily, a time when roles were reversed and I paced him through 18 miles of the Northern Central Trail marathon. As we pass an aid station a volunteer yells congratulations to Dave for being the top 70-74 ranked age group runner in Davie County.  Dave mumbles something back, Dave is good at mumbling, and then we march on through miles 19, 20, and 21.

We talk about how our lives have changed the past 25 years, but in so many ways we are doing exactly what we were doing then.  Running long and talking about the circumstances of our lives.  I stop at the aid station at mile 6.5 (approximately mile 24 of the race) and drink some Coke and Mountain Dew.  I don’t eat any more peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  They are nasty.  I peel off my jacket in preparation for my last lap.  I am planning to run fast to get this over with!  Dave and I have been running 10-minute miles, and I am hoping to drop down closer to 9:00/mi.

Dave asks if I want to have him continue with me and I say, “No, I need to do the next few miles on my own.”  Big mistake!  As soon as I start the last lap my natural desire to run fast takes hold.  My best event is the mile.  I have fast twitch fibers that love to be used.  I had fought the desire to listen to my “natural” instinct to run fast by relying on my “wise” instinct to be patient (sort of like not succumbing to the siren sound, Homer again, of the fourth microbrew when three works perfectly well).  Why the hell at mile 24 would I change my mindset?  I admit it I am weak, a man of sin, I can’t control my impulses, but by mile 28 I find myself no longer able to lift my knees.  And as any runner knows if you can’t lift your knees, you can’t lift your feet off the ground.  If you can’t lift your feet, you invariably trip over pebbles and twigs on the course.  Anything higher than an inch becomes a steeplechase barrier.  I do not hurdle well, so I shuffle, walk, amble, meander, and sidle my way to the final hill, which I charge up like a champion!  Actually, I do nothing of the sort.  I whine like a sissy as my psoas muscles totally give out and I am reduced to a stiff-legged walk up the hill as my glutes join my psoas in picketing the endeavor of the final climb.  

Finally, with the finish line in sight I switch gears and remember the joy that Lexi described upon finishing her triathlon.  I can’t wait for the adulation of the adoring crowd.  I turn to Scott and Dave, and say I will see them at the finish, take pictures.  I throw them my running pants and t-shirt so I can triumphantly straddle jog down the hill, wearing a singlet and short tights, which I hope, make me look good in the post-race pictures.  They don’t.  I look tired and old which is exactly how I felt.  I forget to look at the clock, it is not relevant to my performance, but later learn that I ran 5:22:00, and finished 40th.

My takeaway from the race is that 50k’s are not difficult if you run slow enough.  I would not have changed from my 10:00 pace on the last lap if I had a do-over.  Also, I would have run a few runs of two plus hours in preparation.  Not in the two weeks leading up to the race, but probably in the two months before the race.  My psoas and glute muscles gave out because they were not trained enough (read, at all).

The rest of my body felt pretty good, and after soaking in a 40 degree creek in Black Mountain, NC the next day I went mountain biking in the mountains around Asheville the following morning.  I had some lingering glute pain on Wednesday when I went for a jog, but I don’t think it is an injury, just a welcome soreness.  It means that I ran well, and that my muscles are firing correctly.

Unfortunately, unlike Lexi’s experience at the kid’s triathlon nobody was cheering for me when I finished, but it didn’t matter.  I got handed a handmade pottery Christmas ornament that says I finished an ultra marathon, and that is pretty cool.

Will I do another one?  Not that the universe or anyone reading this cares, but the answer is a definite, “we’ll see.”  I have a desire to run JFK and Comrades for the experiences, so I need to qualify, but I also have many other challenges I want to take on, so I am not sure of how much a priority revisiting ultra running will be. For now, I am proud to have completed one, and to have joined the great bunch of people who have earned the moniker ultra marathoner.