“Looks like this race is PPD – porcupine-ed.”
Until about a week ago, this was just supposed to be an easy 50k weekend jog that happened to cost some money and have some food/drink support along the way. Alas, I have troubles not racing when I put on a bib number, so I realized only last Saturday or Sunday that I was 100% going to be racing it. So far in 2017, I had raced pretty well, so I was looking forward to trying to continue that streak. Also, the course record of 4:42:06 by Adam Russel last year (2016) seemed to be in reach if the course was dry (it generally was) and the weather was cool (it definitely was). Long story short, this definitely turned into a race-ish long run.
I road up with Tom Hanna to the Mid-State airport (~35 minute drive, Tom was doing the half marathon option). After checking in (I got the number 1 bib – woo-hoo), we did nothing for a little bit until it was time to put on my race clothes (Nike Kigers, Wildhorse shorts, Swiftwick Maxus 0 socks, Hammer bib, Swiftwick arm sleeves, Garmin 210 GPS watch and Hammer trucker hat) and made my way to the start line. I recognized a few of the faces there, so I chatted with them for a little bit, and before I knew it, we were off.
I quickly jumped out in front, wanting to set an easy pace at least for the first 20 miles-ish so that I could keep everybody in my sights. Even though I was going pretty easy, I turned around about a half mile in and saw nobody. I could still hear them behind me (which was comforting because I’d been told that the course wasn’t super well marked – this was definitely NOT my appraisal since I didn’t come close to missing any turns) but I had already jumped out to a good lead. However, as soon as I thought that, I saw 2 porcupines sitting in the middle of the trail.
Not entirely sure what to do about porcupines, I stopped about 5 feet short. The smaller of the porcupines quickly jumped off the trail into the woods, but the larger one just kind of sat there. Eventually, 5 or so people came up behind me as the porcupine started to waddle its way down the trail. I assume that once the porcupine realized that there were enough people getting irritated at it, it waddled its way off the trail into the woods, and we got on our way.
After that little PPD (porcupine-ed) restart, three of us separated ourselves from the pack – me, Robert (2:40 marathoner, first trail ultra), and William, who got 4th in 2015 in 5:30-ish). We were moving pretty well through somewhat technical trails. There were some 2x4s laid out on the ground which made it less muddy but much more slippery. We eventually worked our way past those, through the first aid station and the campsite at Black Moshannon State Park. We meandered a little bit and then hit our first major-ish climb at mile 8 (~300′, so nothing compared to Hyner, but more than we’d had yet). I had already opened about a 50′ lead at this point, and as soon as I got about halfway up the hill, I completely lost sight of Robert and William behind me. This gave me a little boost, so I hiked/ran up the rest. As soon as I reached the top, I popped out of the forest on to the road where I hit another aid station. I grabbed some Gatorade and Swedish fish (my stomach was a little queasy all the was through about mile 15) and kept on going.
After the aid station, I hit a pretty quick descent where I lost 800′ in 2 miles. Luckily, the majority of it wasn’t too technical so I was able to keep my speed up through the downhill. From there, however, we would gain those 800′ back over the next 8 miles; not a whole lot of intense climbing, but there were some technical parts and it’s not necessarily fast going when you’re essentially grinding up the same terrain/slope for 8 miles. At least a lot of it was next to a creek/river, so it was gorgeous, just somewhat monotonous.
At ~mile 15 however, the monotony was broken by a massive tree that had fallen over across the trail. This wasn’t just like a branch of a tree of a small tree – it was a full-sized, massive tree that I had to crawl over and through to get to the other side. There was a creek on one side of the trail and kind of a boggy area on the other, so there wasn’t any way around. Once I got through the tree, it returned to the general sludging up the climb. Even though the climb was ~1k’, it didn’t really even seem like it was a net uphill.
Coming through the end of the climb into the third-to-last aid station (mile 20), I had a pretty good idea that I was going to win, so it was at this point that I turned my mind to trying to break the record. My legs were feeling it a little bit on some of the uphills, but I was still able to get myself moving forward pretty well and I was running all but the most steepest or most technical uphills. I started pushing the pace, occasionally glancing over my shoulder to make sure that nobody was sneaking up on me. I came through the penultimate and then the last aid station. I knew that there were slightly less than two miles left after running though (without stopping at) the last aid station.
The last two miles weren’t overly technical and certainly weren’t hilly, so I was really able to drop pace and push for the record. But, alas, it wasn’t going to be. 4:42 came and went, and, while I could see the clearing through the woods that the airport and finish line were at, I wasn’t quite able to close fast enough. I eventually popped out of the woods at 4:46:03, a solid 3:57 off Adam Russel’s record from last year.
All in all, it was a good training run. If I had someone to run with for the last 22-ish miles, I think the record may have been in reach, but at some point I should learn how to push through by myself. It was a pretty good feeling to essentially jog to a win on a fun course after only a week of taper and still feel decently fresh afterwards. I should definitely be able to ramp up my training before Tussey and hopefully push into 40 mile weekends and consistent 100+ mile weeks before I have to ramp the training back down the last week or so of September. For being such a small race, it was put on very well with a decently marked course and even top-3 finisher medals, which is something that I never expect. AFTR may become a staple of late-summer training for as long as I’m in this part of the country.