Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Recipe: Peanut Butter Hemp Balls

Last night I went down to the Ithaca commons for a festive, holiday-themed social run hosted Finger Lakes Running & Triathlon Co. The event had a solid turnout and was comprised of runners in ugly sweaters, a Saucony rep demoing some new shoes, a cookie swap, and a lot of positive feedback about my balls. Wait, what!?

Baking is not exactly my forte. I have neither the patience nor the willpower to follow written instruction to a T, at least not while in the kitchen. I do enjoy cooking, which usually involves throwing a bunch of stuff into a bowl, pot, or pan without measuring anything, but measuring things precisely and managing micro adjustments never had much appeal to me. So rather than bake traditional Christmas treats for the cookie swap or buy some at a store, I decided to make some peanut butter and hemp balls that take only a few minutes and don't require any baking. After the run they seemed to go over well as hungry runners gorged themselves on an array of holiday treats. A lot of people said they loved the PB hemp balls and discussions ensued on the merits of particular ingredients. I promised I'd post some sort of recipe, so here ya go.

My friend Adam introduced me to this snack during a day long hike in the Catskill High Peaks. The combination of fat and carbs will provide energy for a longer, slow-paced endurance event like a hike, and the raw hemp protein is easily digestible to help with muscle recovery. Plus they make a delicious and relatively healthy holiday season snack. This recipe takes about five minutes to make and yields 12-15 balls. And for the record, the edible hemp seeds have nothing to do with cannabis or inebriation.


To make the peanut butter hemp balls:

- 1/2 cup natural peanut butter
- 2/3 cup hemp powder
- 1/8 tsp sea salt
- 3 Tbsp agave nectar
- 1/4 cup shredded coconut

Stir the agave nectar, peanut butter and sea salt together in a bowl until well blended. 

Add in the hemp powder and stir until mixed thoroughly. If the mixture is too dry, just add a bit of water. If it's too wet add some additional hemp powder. 

Using your hands, roll the paste into 1 inch balls. Place the balls on wax paper and cover in a container. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour. 

Optional: You can roll the balls in shredded coconut (or some other additive like chia seeds) before refrigerating. 

Additionally, you can substitute any of the ingredients for similar ones. For example, almond butter or any other nut or seed butter instead of peanut butter, honey or maple syrup in place of the agave nectar, or pea protein powder in place of the hemp powder.

From the Saucony Everun, Ugly Sweater, and Cookie Swap Group Run (SEUSCSGR).

Some Notes on Hemp Powder *

Hemp powder is simply raw hemp seeds ground down into flour. The calories from hemp seeds, and thus, hemp powder, are about 35% protein. Hemp protein is one of the few complete proteins derived naturally from plants, meaning that the powder contains all 10 essential amino acids. Being a raw food, the protein from hemp flour is easily digestible. Hemp powder can be found at most natural food stores, such as the bulk section at GreenStar Natural Foods Market in Ithaca. 

Hemp protein is also alkaline forming, which helps the body maintain an optimal pH level, thus reducing stress on the body and assisting in athletic recovery. 

* Brazier, B. (2007). Thrive: The Vegan Guide to Optimal Performance in Sports and Life. Penguin Group.

Monday, December 7, 2015

'Twas The Night Before Gingermas

'Twas the night before Gingermas, and out on the trail
The finish line awaited with local craft ale.
The RD was sleepless, in the crisp autumn air
In hopes the lead pack soon would be there.
The midpackers were scattered all along the course,
While the elites sped along as quick as a horse.

And my pacer with his Suunto, and I with my Garmin,
Were hours behind coach Ian Sharman.
Long ago I had bonked, and my face lost its smile;
Barely half done with the one hundred miles.

Food rations were low - just a handful of pretzels -
As the light slowly faded from the bulb in my Petzl.
I felt so light headed, I had nothing left,
And was ready to drop - my first DNF.
We wandered forever and could not find the path.
I'd never make the cutoff - just do the math!

I sat silently on a stump because all hope was lost.
I just wanted to quit, never mind the cost,
When in the woods behind me there arose a loud rustle,
I sprang to my feet and prepared for a tussle.

The moon on the breast of the fresh-fallen leaves
Gave a luster of midday to the ground 'tween the trees.
When what to my much addled mind should appear,
But a red headed runner with a case full of beer!
His wore a "GRL" cap, and his legs were so limber,
I knew in a moment it must be The Ginger.

"I'm hallucinating," I thought. "I must need more rest."
When in ran his posse of co-hosts and guests.
Swifter than gazelles his friends they all came,
He clapped and he shouted, and introduced them by name:

"It's Yassine, Gary Robbins, and Sally McRae!
And here's Vargo, and Varner, The Gearist, and Sage!"
Last but not least in came Mile Long Legs,
(Sipping local craft brew, not that crap from a keg.)
"We found a new crew," my pacer said with a chuckle,
And right then I knew I'd earn a silver belt buckle.

Then out into the clearing that ginger he ran,
Trotted right up beside me and stuck out his hand.
"What is up everybody? The Ginger Runner here.
But we're not airing this live, so nobody fear."

On his feet he wore Altras - heel-toe drop was zero,
And wielded in one hand a black Go Pro Hero.
A drop bag of supplies he had flung on his back
And looked like a peddler just opening his pack.

"Take these," he told me. "Calories you can use."
And offered a bag full of S-Caps and GUs.
"Here's your own GRL buff" the ginger said with a grin,
As he took a long swig from his flask of Tailwind.
His friends shared with us their brew - some dark IPA,
While the bulbs from their headlamps turned night into day. 

Now I've oft heard it said a ginger has no soul,
But I knew at once that was folklore of old.
Bright and multi-hued was the cap on his head,
While the beard on his chin was like a flame blazing red.
He wore a dark long-sleeved shirt - sweat wicking, not flannel -
Its breast bore the logo for his own Youtube channel.
His hydration vest from Ultimate Direction
Had grey and red shades that brought out his complexion.

He gave us fresh AA batteries from out of his pocket,
Then led us on course and told us "Go rock it!"
His demeanor reminded me to not be a quitter,
So I promised I'd follow on Facebook and Twitter.
I got one last gift - my own Tailwind bottle!
Now I felt I could sprint to the finish full throttle!

He zipped up his pack, and to his team gave a yelp,
Then I thanked him profusely for all of his help.
Gingerclaus started running off into the night,
But I heard him exclaim ere he ran out of sight -
"Now get on with your race, I'll see you next year;
Merry Gingermas to all, and don't forget... train, race, beer!"


I am sometimes asked what I think about while out for several hours on a long run. Well here's your answer! This poem more or less wrote itself in my head during a series of training runs for Virgil Crest this past summer. Hopefully fans of Ginger Runner Live will find this entertaining. For the rest of you, check out the show, streamed live on Youtube every Monday night. 

Enjoy watching Gary Robbins read "Twas The Night Before Gingermas" to his baby boy in the opening to Gingermas Live 2015. (The video is long but his reading is right at the beginning.) Merry Gingermas to all and to all a good night!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Staying Motivated With #RunChatHunt

Now that the fall season is winding down and the ideal weather for runners has nearly passed, it can be tough to stay motivated to get outdoors. Add to that the hustle and bustle of the holiday season and all the treats and goodies that come with it and it's easy to lose that last bit of leftover base fitness you've been clinging to since the conclusion of the fall marathon season. Sure, there are plenty of local holiday-themed 5Ks worthy of your morning mileage, but it's easy to fall out of a regular running routine.

Enter social media and scavenger hunts. A scavenger hunt run such as #RunChatHunt is a fun way to get in some easy mileage without growing bored or skipping your planned exercise altogether. #RunChatHunt is free to play and the rules are simple - download a list of holiday and running related things find. Then take your phone on a run and snap pictures of the items on the list, finish your run, and post the pictures to Twitter. You can find all the items in a single run or split them between multiple activities over the course of the month. When the scavenger hunt closes on New Years Day, you are entered into a drawing for a boatload of prizes, with one entry per item you've found.

With the increase in popularity of Twitter and Instagram, scavenger hunt runs are becoming more common. The holiday #RunChatHunt has been around for a few years now, and organizer #RunChat also hosts a hunt annually in June. Last December The Ginger Runner held a similar contest, and Finger Lakes Running & Triathlon Co, our local running store, has hosted one during the summertime. 

So grab your camera, go hit the trails or roads, and have some fun. Because isn't that what running is all about? Happy hunting!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Giving Thanks

As a trail runner who's as involved with work, family, and social life as the next person, it's easy to take the little things for granted. To have the physical capacity to be out there on a run, surrounded by nature, fresh air, and beautiful scenery - this is a gift. I know it sounds cliche, but it's important to remain thankful for this gift that could suddenly be taken away without a moment's notice.

This realization hit me hard this past weekend. I had quite the scare during a routine trail run in a park I've traversed dozens of times. Running down a moderate grade slope, seemingly in the zone, I suddenly clipped a toe on a rock. Before I knew what hit me I was on the ground, face first in the dirt. On impact I banged my patella on an upturned root and began to panic that there may be some serious damage. After a quick systems check I was able to walk it off and then finish the run. (A few days later the knee feels okay, albeit a little tender when palpated.)

I spent the last half hour of that run thinking of how that day could have ended badly. A broken kneecap is no joke, so I've heard, and one of the most painful fractures one can sustain. The solution to a patella fracture would likely have been surgery, followed by months of rehab and, of course, a slow return to running regularly. All that work of maintaining base fitness gone, simply because I lost focus for a split second. As I ran slowly along, I took a mental timeout to recognize and appreciate my good health and how lucky I am to be able to go out and run on any given day, around Ithaca's waterfalls and gorges no less. 

There is of course a similar risk with athletes of all levels and abilities. Take Dave Mackey, for example. Earlier this year, the former Ultrarunning Magazine Ultrarunner of the Year went out on an easy trail run near his home. He took one misstep that led to a horrific fall, resulting in a mangled leg. The accident may have ended his athletic career and nearly cost him his life.  

The caveat is of course not limited to just sports. It's easy to point out the risks and consequences associated with sports injuries, but the recent attacks in Beirut and Paris are proof that no one is immune to tragedy and loss. The victims of the attacks had their lives forever changed, or in some cases ended, in the blink of an eye. For these victims, their losses are obviously much greater than a sports injury, but the principle is the same. Our only nationally recognized day of giving thanks upon us. However, it remains important to appreciate all that we have, not just annually on a Thursday in late November, but daily throughout the entire year. 

So when you're out there on your next run - be it trails, treadmill, or Turkey Trot - take a few moments to appreciate your ability to breathe the fresh air while moving forward unimpeded. We all have some time alone with our thoughts during  a run. Even when running with friends, a few seconds of solitude is always possible. If you have no plans to step outside for a run, spend a moment in gratitude during your morning commute, before drifting off to sleep at night, or whenever else suits you best. Keep a mental inventory of everything you have, like your loved ones, your health, and your happiness, and remember how fortunate we are to have these things in our lives. 

Happy Turkey Trot Day!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Ultra Reading

What better way to relax after a run than to grab a snack and kick back with a good book. Anyone who knows me or regularly reads my blog knows that next to running, reading is my favorite pasttime. I enjoy polishing off pages by the dozen and will pick up pretty much anything that looks to be entertaining, interesting, or thought provoking. Reading helps me relax and open my mind to various viewpoints and different ways to express oneself through the medium of paper and pen (or keyboard and monitor.)

So what does any of this have to do with trail running? Well, there are three books in particular that I read a few years back that first got me interested in the sport. It was through these books that I first discovered ultramarathons even exist, let alone that I (and many other non-elite athletes) are more than capable of running beyond 26.2. These three books are a must-read for any current or aspiring ultrarunner, and the first two are both entertaining and educational for the general population, including non-runners. (I am in no way affiliated with any of the books or their authors, and all opinions are my own.) 

Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Super Athletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen

Since its release in 2009, Christopher McDougall's autobiographical tale of an eccentric group of American ultrarunners racing against the Tarahumara in Mexico's Copper Canyons has become something of a pop culture staple. Over the last six years, pretty much anyone who's ever purchased a pair of running shoes has read Born to Run. Even my non-runner brother found the book interesting and highly entertaining. On its way to selling millions of copies, Born to Run introduced ultrarunning and barefoot running to the mainstream. Although opinions on barefoot running have reached a broad spectrum, there is no debate that Born to Run helped turn the running shoe industry upside-down. Additionally, the book is frequently cited as one of the major reasons ultramarathon participation has increased significantly over the past five years.

Shortly after the publication of Born to Run, a friend recommended I read it, telling me that it would give me a completely different perspective on the sport. At the time I was running exclusively on roads. I had only run one race - a 10K - and never ran more than about 12 miles at once. I couldn't even comprehend running 26.2 miles continuously, and figured that a marathon was the ultimate test of human endurance - a distance which no human being could ever run beyond.

I found Born to Run so encapsulating that I read the whole thing in a few days. There is something so enchanting about McDougall's conglomerate of human evolution and biology, his history of long distance running, the Tarahumara tales of incredible feats, and his picture of America's ultrarunning scene as we know it today. Add to that the author's witty commentary and knack for suspenseful storytelling, and you have yourself a best seller that will be talked about for years to come.

My friend was right about the book shining a new light on the sport of distance running. Previously, marathoners alone seemed crazy enough. Now I was reading about a third world tribe running in sandals through the scorching desert for 50 miles at a time, 100 mile races at 13,000 feet through the Rocky Mountains, Western States, Badwater, and so on. I had no idea that any of these events even existed, and at first even doubted that I was of the same species as the people who competed in these freak shows.

As I began to poke around the internet, I realized ultramarathons were even more commonplace than the book made them out to be. There were even a few within an hour's drive of my house. I thought it was neat to hear anecdotes about people running ultras, but figured it must take some kind of superhuman athlete to successfully complete one. In Born to Run, McDougall chronicles his own journey from an overweight, oft injured road runner to a fit ultrarunner. But McDougall was working with a professional coach and hanging out with some of the best ultrarunners on the planet, so clearly he had the means to become an endurance sports outlier. An average Joe like you or I would never have a shot at surviving a run of 26.3 miles, nevermind running 100 miles off road. Right?

Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner

About a year or two after reading Born to Run, another friend told me about some guy who had run a marathon in every U.S. state in 50 consecutive days, all while traveling from place to place, making media appearances, mingling with fans, and sleeping only 3-4 hours a night. I was deep in my phase of reading ultramarathon stories for recreation, so I googled the name Karnazes to see what would pop up. As I quickly found out, Dean Karnazes was arguably the most recognized name in ultrarunning in the entire world.

To my surprise, I learned that Dean had in fact run 50 marathons in all 50 states in 50 days. He also had completed dozens of other superhuman feats, such as running a 200 mile relay race by himself, running a marathon at the North Pole, and several finishes at the infamous Badwater 135. He had also written a few books about his ultra endurance exploits. I picked up a copy of his first book, Ultramarathon Man, since it had overwhelmingly positive reviews online.

In his autobiography Ultramarathon Man, Karnazes dedicates a different chapter to each of his most notable endurance challenges. I found it entertaining to read about his preparation and execution at each of his biggest ultramarathons and adventure runs. What I enjoyed even more, though, was Dean's account of how he first got involved with the sport. His backstory is pretty well known. An average cross country runner in high school, he hung up his spikes at age 15 and didn't run another step for 15 years. Despite earning an MBA and working a very lucrative office job, Dean became disenfranchised with the corporate lifestyle. On the night of his 30th birthday, and a little drunk, he decided on the spot to run 30 miles around his hometown of San Francisco. Dean was bit by the ultra bug, and before long he was signing up for races and eventually made ultrarunning into a full-time career.

Upon completing Ultramarathon Man, I realized an average guy like me or Dean, with no endurance sports background, no coach, and no elite training tools at our disposal, could not only survive ultra distance events, but could excel at them. Knowing that I was capable of running for that long and that far gave me the drive I needed to sign up for an ultra. However, one important question remained. How does one train for a race like this?

Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons 

I went ahead and signed up for my first ultra in January of 2013, with six months to prepare for the 50 mile trail race. I found all kinds of free training plans online for anything from 50K to 100 miles and beyond, but didn't really trust any of them to get me to the starting line prepared and uninjured. Enter Bryon Powell and iRunFar.

By chance I came across Relentless Forward Progress online and decided to purchase it not only for the training plans, but for the advice given by the author and numerous elite ultrarunners regarding all things ultra. Powell's book covers many of the training topics discussed in the posts on, the ultra conglomerate that started off as his personal blog and has evolved into the go-to source for all things ultra. The site features well written training and nutrition discussions, runner profiles, gear reviews, video interviews, race previews and recaps, live race coverage, and more. The training columns are all written by some of the biggest names in American ultrarunning.

Relentless Forward Progress sums up the best of iRunFar's training and race execution articles in a single book. Reading chapters on pacing, power hiking, fueling, managing aid stations, and gear choices gave me a good idea of what to expect mid-race. This allowed me to practice and experiment with different tactics throughout the months of training leading up to the 50 miler. Additionally, Powell provides various 24 week training plans for distances of 50K, 50M/100K, and 100M, based on peaking at either 50 or 70 miles per week. He also explains how one can tweak the plans to better accommodate his or her weekly schedule. For my ultra debut, I followed the 50M/100K plan for 70 miles per week, and modified it a bit to make the most of the plan without the training taking over my life. The training plans and execution provided in Relentless Forward Progress worked well and I got through the 50 miles in one piece. I think that any beginning or seasoned ultra runner could benefit from the advice found in Relentless Forward Progress, regardless of background, abilities, or aspirations.


There are hundreds of books out there covering any and all running related topics one can dream up. Many of them are good reads, and some not so much. The ones I've discussed above are the three that helped me get involved with the sport I am most passionate about, and I've read each one cover to cover multiple times. If you are considering getting into trail and ultra running, or just looking to expand your reading list with some new topics, you should definitely pick up these books at your library, or better yet, support you local bookstore. Books of course make a great gift for the holidays too!

Have you read any of these books and if so, what did you think? What are some of your favorite books or authors, running related or otherwise?

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Letchworth State Park: The Grand Canyon of the East

While Upstate New York is home to many beautiful parks, forests, and wilderness areas, there are none quite as popular as Letchworth State Park. Nicknamed "The Grand Canon of the East," and rightly so, it is the most visited of New York's 180 state parks.

On the western edge of New York's Finger Lakes region, the Genesee River cuts through many miles of bedrock to create a gorge that exceeds 600 feet in depth within the park boundaries. The river snakes and winds through the gorge, forming three major waterfalls along the way before reaching the Mount Morris Dam near the northeast end of the park. In a 2015 USA Today reader's poll, Letchworth was voted the best state park in the entire country. (Watkins glen State Park, also in the Finger Lakes, took the bronze in the same poll.)

Since this blog focuses primarily on off-road running, you may be asking yourself impatiently "Sure, but what about the trails?" Well, Letchworth boasts over 60 miles of trails inside the park proper while connecting to a few other major trail systems outside of Letchworth's borders. The Finger Lakes Trail crosses the river near the park's south entrance with an official FLT branch trail splitting off into the park. The FLT Letchworth Branch Trail extends for 25 miles along the Genesee River's east side, and as part of the FLT system it is maintained by the Finger Lakes Trail Conference. In fact, the conference is headquarted near Letchworth Park's north end, near the northern terminus of the Letchworth Branch Trail. Additionally, the 80+ mile Genesee Valley Greenway rail trail connects to the park trails and FLT branch trail, opening up the trail network even further.

One sunny day in mid July I decided to take a drive out to Letchworth and explore as much of the park as possible on foot. Being a Friday, I was hoping the tourist count would be lower than typically seen on a summertime weekend. After some fumbling around trying to find a good parking area and then locating the gorge trail, I settled into a steady pace and was able to see all of the most popular parts of the park in one run. I figured it would be a solid day of training for Virgil Crest. Unconcerned about pace, I took dozens of pictures along the way. Finally, after four months, I've found the time to create a blog post to show off the pictures.

Most of the pictures are from the seven mile Gorge Trail on the northwest side of the river. I didn't have time to explore the FLT section on the southeast side of the gorge, but hope to go back someday to check out the rest of the park.

There's only one foot bridge to cross the river inside the park.

Lower Falls

The area around what is present day Letchworth State Park was once known as Sehgahunda, a Seneca native word meaning The Vale of the Three Falls. The aptly titled Sehgahunda Trail Marathon follows the FLT from the north end of Letchworth to the south end.


At about 107 feet, Middle Falls is the highest of the three major waterfalls in the park. The trestle seen in the background, just above Upper Falls, was built by the Erie Railroad Company in 1875 and remains active to this day.

The Gorge Trail gets so up close and personal with the water than one can almost walk right into the mist as it permeates the air along the trailside.

Upper Falls is located near the southern end of the park, with the trestle just upstream from the falls. The trestle crosses the river more than 200 vertical feet above the water.  

Upper Falls

The next several shots are from other points along the gorge trail, which parallels the main road running the length of the entire park. Although I traversed the park on foot, one can drive his or her car to many scenic overlook spots and see all of these same views from the parking areas.

Gardeau Lookout

By the time I finished my run, I was still interested in checking out the Mount Morris Damn at the far north end of the park. It was too far away to reach by foot. After a cooldown dip in the park's pool, I drove up to the same for a little bonus sight seeing.

The Mt. Morris Dam near Letchworth's north end.

Who else has been to The Grand Canyon of the East and what did you think of it? As I mentioned earlier, the park is huge and offers a lot to see. I was hoping to someday run around the entire park fatass style. That is, up one side of the gorge and down the other without backtracking - roughly 40-45 miles. Anyone interested in possibly doing this sometime in the summer of 2016 please contact me.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

And Miles To Go Before I Sleep

[This post is more of an experiment in creative writing as I retell my experience at the Virgil Crest 100. It is heavily influenced by several novels I've read and borrows from some of them. Click here for a more straight forward recap of the day's events.]  



I can feel the heat closing in, feel them out there making their moves - those tiny seeds of doubt planted deep inside my cerebral cortex at such an early hour, destined to grow and blossom into a vast web of self-pity. As I slowly make my way toward the Rock Pile, those seeds are beginning to grow at an alarming rate. There seems to be a direct correlation between the arc of the sun and the declining state of my well being. Surely the mercury has not yet hit its high point of 85 degrees, but I already feel the lack of sodium intake is contributing to my loss of appetite and the dull pounding in my skull. 79 miles to go.

"Just make it to The Rock Pile."

As I plod onward I am passed by runners in the opposite direction, some looking like a million bucks and others ready to throw in the towel. As I walk up Hauck Hill Road I am reminded of my last training run on this part of the course, getting eaten alive by black flies in 90 degree heat. The flies appear to be satiated today. At least that's something positive I can dwell on for now.

I reach the end of the road and make my way through the winding singletrack to the Rock Pile aid station at mile 25. My head is still pounding and I my confidence quickly diminishing. As the orange blazed path snakes its way deep into the heart of Kennedy State Forrest, staked heads and severed limbs are exchanged for magazines. Yes! First one, then dozens of copies of Ultrarunner Magazine adorn the surrounding trees on all sides of the twisting trail. My destination must be close now.

Soon I find - rather than Mistah Kurtz's horrific compound - an aid station buffet and a gaggle of trail runners and volunteers scurrying about. Guns 'n Roses' Appetite For Destruction is blasting on a boombox. That's right - the whole album in it's entirety. On a battery powered CD player.

I grab some watermelon and orange slices in an attempt to rehydrate and down some sodium capsules with ginger in them, breaking the cardinal rule of not trying anything new during a race. The AS captain "performs some triage" (her words, not mine) by quizzing me on my name and address. Apparently deeming me fit to continue, she allows me to grab a seat on the rock pile marking the top of Virgil Mountain. The headache persists and my body feels no better, so I decide the only thing to do I is to push through it. "We ain't gettin' any younger," or so they say. I grab my pack and take off from whence I came, following the magazine trail back toward the dirt road as Axl's sweet timber slowly fades away.

Well well well, you never can tell
Well well well, my Michelle!


At the aid station tent the scene is a hectic one. By mile 6.3, the runners are not yet strung out along the course and arrive nearly en masse as volunteers scramble to record bib numbers and fill bottles. It seems that everyone's crew is here save my own. Located a mere mile up the road from race HQ, The Hitching Post is commandeered by Finger Lakes Runners Club members selfless enough to get out of bed at some ungodly hour without even the reward of squeezing in an early morning run themselves. For these people I am grateful.

I make sure Jim Miner records my number. The 4-7-1 pinned to the anterior aspect of my proximal femur is now as much a part of my identity as my name and SSN. I am nonexistent to the entity that is Virgil Crest without that unique numerical value as a piece of my profile. To have never been assigned that number would be to have never been born. To remove it would be suicide.

I swap my handheld for my Ultimate Direction vest and opt to carry the headlamp in the pack, rather than leave it in my drop bag as originally planned. The 20 ounce bottle was enough to get from the start to this point, since very little water was needed in the early morning. But now I'm leaving with double the water and an arsenal of gels and nut butter packets at my disposal to supplement the aid station grub. "Thank you, volunteers!" I yell out as I run up the slope across Clute Road and toward the trailhead. I'm out in two minutes and on the hunt for Rusty.


"I heard about the Forest Frolic when I was training for my first marathon in the summer of 2011," I found myself telling Gary. "It looked like fun so I signed up and came in totally unprepared. I mean, I, uh, wore old road shoes on the trails so my newer pair wouldn't get dirty or torn up or anything. I suffered big time and enjoyed it so much I ran the Monster half two months later."

Gary and I are running and walking the singletrack as dusk is rapidly approaching. The first of my three pacers, chronologically, Gary will see me through TenKate's Crossing at mile 63.4. As a longtime race volunteer and perennial 100 mile relay runner, Gary knows the course well enough and manages the dark forest efficiently. Feeling pretty solid and with a long stretch of trail time looming, I decide to narrate to him my history of trail running.

"That Monster half marathon was even tougher and probably didn't help me much in finishing my first marathon. That was the Empire State Marathon by the way. But by the next summer I was hooked on trails and finally in July of '13 I ran the Finger Lakes 50s for my first ultra. It was epic"

And so it went, spilling my life-on-the-trails story to pass the time. In turn, Gary regales me with tales of glory and woe from different years with his relay team. The team was always the same group of five guys and they even pulled off the win one year. Gary explains how this year three of his four teammates were suffering injuries and in no position to run. He was excited when I sent out my S.O.S for pacers since he'd have the chance to run through part of the night on the Virgil course.

"Oh yeah and I got stung in the arm by a yellow jacket that first time I ran..."


        I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
        Straining upon the start. The game’s afoot:
        Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
        Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’

- William Shakespere.
Henry V. III.i.1122-25


I feel fortunate to be moving at the same pace as Rusty, sharing tails of the trails to pass the time in the early stages. Rusty is a local trail runner who I met last year through the Finger Lakes Runners Club, seeking his first 100 mile finish, same as me. He orates in detail his experience at the TransRockies Run a few months previous, a trip he made with his girlfriend and Jeney and Adam. I listen in earnest as he tells me about the treacherous terrain and thin air high in the Colorado mountains, and describes the sweeping landscape of peaks and valleys that simply don't exist anywhere east of the Mississippi. Rusty's stories make me want to head west more than ever.


"Let's go."

- Rancid.
From "Let's Go" on the album Let's Go. 1994. Epitaph Records.


I am somewhere around Virgil Mountain Road on the edge of Greek Peak when the drug begins to take hold. I remember thinking something like "I feel a bit more clearheaded. Maybe you should speed up..." It is almost 2:00 p.m. and I still have more than 60 miles to go. They will be tough miles.

Caffeine can do wonders for the body in certain situations, and the hit I got from my bottle of mate at TrailsRoc Junction felt wonderful indeed. In a matter of minutes the headache vanished, my vision cleared, and the fatigue melted off into the dirt.

I am still in the early stages of the race, but I feel like I'm all business powering my way back through that meat grinder Ian likes to call The Alpine Section. The 2,200 feet of gain and 2,900 feet of loss between TrailRoc and TenKate's have nothing on me and my solid power hike. Coming through the trails on the ski resort, I match my pace with a few other guys - one fellow 100-miler and a couple of 50-milers. For the life of me, as I write this I can't recall what banter ensued, but I know it helped to pass the time.

"Anyone want to bomb down this thing Crosby-style?" one guy asks as we stare down the face of Odyssey - the steep, black diamond ski slope we are about to descend either precariously or recklessly. Knowing that he is referring to Cole Crosby's superb downhill tactics, I politely decline and begin to pick my way down the 25-30 percent grade, all the while minding my steps to save some spunk in the ol' quadriceps for later. Yep, it's still only loop one and I'll be descending this beast again sometime tomorrow, most likely in the dark.


The light through the trees feels so strong, the pull so irresistible, that we decide it must be the incandescent glow of the aid station tent. We get closer and closer, and see that the light is bobbing up and down and left and right. False alarm - the light is a solitary headlamp strapped to some lonely soul lacking a pacer, approaching us in retrograde fashion back to Trailsroc Junction.

Once in earshot, Jeney yells out to our nocturnal comrade and we discover it's none other than Rusty. We exchange a few words, perhaps some "Great jobs," and move on, too tired for conversation proper. Only a few minutes later it's deja vu, but this time the approaching runner is Rob.

It's been like this ever since TenKate's. We see a runner heading in our direction and speculate on who it might be or whether it's a relay runner or a soloist. First it was the 100 mile leader, a middle aged guy running sans pacer. Next, a woman who was absolutely killing it in second place overall and looking tough as nails. At one point we encountered Scotie Jacobs and his pacer Ryan. In the dark, the pair looked like twins with their shaggy hair and identical royal blue Red Newt singlets.

"Well done Pete!" Rob makes his presence known with his trademark phrase of encouragement. We stop and talk for a bit and Rob assures us that he's doing just fine on his own and will be picking up a pacer later on. Upon leaving Rob, it dawns on me that the 74 miles I've covered so far is a long distance to travel. I mutter something about this aloud. Jeney concurs, cheerfully.


"Virgil Crest!" I scream, mustering one last ounce of energy to address my foe with the utmost sincerity. "To the last I will grapple with thee. From Hell's heart I stab at thee!" And with that, I fling myself up from the coffin-like camping chair and charge like a madman down the road to complete the race or die trying. Bewildered spectators stare, jaws agape, at this scarred, war-torn megalomaniac on a suicide mission to destroy his White Whale.

At least that's how I had planned things in my head over the past 24 hours. With so much time to be alone with my thoughts, I had spent hours dreaming up the most climactic of scenarios to cap off the race, charging out of the final aid station in spectacular fashion. In reality, I'm still feeling pretty good here at mile 93.7 and decide to spare Hayley the embarrassment of having to explain her husband's psychopathic tendencies to a group of innocent bystanders. So rather than performing Melvillian theatrics, I simply walk up the dirt path with Aaron in tow as we make our way into the woods. We leave the Hitching Post for the final time with a respectable amount of fanfare for this common midpack man.

The next several miles become something of a blur. The sun is out now, and the cool, mid-morning breeze feels great on my skin. I walk a lot while Aaron "suggests" running from time to time. I begin to have visions of grandeur and fantasies of catching Rusty in this final stretch, but the time spent walking all but guarantees this as an impossibility.


Is it the warm glow of the tent lights or the actual heat from the campfire that make it so difficult to leave? A small handful of runners find solace in the darkness at TrailsRoc Junction, attracted to the activity in the clearing like moths to a stadium light. Jeney chats with the TrailsRoc volunteers while I struggle to remove my shoes and socks, repeatedly waving off any offered assistance. As I finally yank the socks off, there appears to be no damage to my waterlogged feet. I silently down some Guayaki Yerba Mate and rearrange my pack as I wait for my feet to dry out. The arduous process of sock swapping may rack up some time on the clock now, but I know the blister prevention will be worth it later on.

Someone refills my bottles - one with fresh water, the other with ice for my Tailwind concoction - while I down a few cups of veggie broth. The heated broth hits me like a slug to the chest, shocking back to life any and all fibers of my being that had any notion of calling it quits.

I look around for Amy. Nowhere to be seen, I figure she's getting some much deserved sleep at her campsite a hundred yards away.

Finally I deem my feet dry enough to squeeze on a fresh pair of socks. Once the Salomon's are laced up, I grab some cold salt potatoes and some fruit and join the others up close by the fire. My legs are already stiffening up from sitting for 15 minutes or so. Jeney does not push me to head out immediately, even though the next five mile stretch to the Rock Pile should be the easiest section of the course.


I first met Jeney earlier this summer during the final miles of the Forest Frolic. We had previously crossed paths while collecting GPS data for the Cayuga Trails course, but that meeting was brief. At the Frolic, we pushed each other over the final two miles to a strong finish while making small-talk about Vibram Fivefingers and such. As we hit the final half mile stretch of dirt road, my competitive instinct kicked in. My first thought was to make a mad dash for the finish, but then decided it may go against the spirit of trail running. As it turned out, she had the same idea and we found ourselves picking up the pace on the final straightaway.

Now it's on.

Before I knew it, we were running something like a 5:00 mile with the finish line in sight. Thinking of the legendary Roger Bannister's late stage heroics, I put in one final surge, sure that it would bury her. Suddenly she was in front and I was out of time, finishing less than a second behind. Afterward, I was amazed to learn that she'd only been running for a few years, rather than competitively in college like I'd assumed given the strong finishing kick. Afterward, I met her fiance Adam and we hung out for a bit before I set out to run the Frolic course again, alone, and was subsequently feasted upon by the black flies. The idea of her pacing me at Virgil came about months later during a pub run.


Somehow I am still riding the same buzz that began in this same spot at mile 30. The preceding 40 miles did not bring the doom and gloom I'd been fully expecting, but rather a steady flow of dopamine and heightened sense of awareness. Jeney seemed as astounded as I was that I had not hit any low point since long before I picked her up as my second pacer. The conversation over the previous few hours was, surprisingly, entirely two way.

Finally I strap my Ultimate Direction vest back on and tell Jeney it's time. We exchange goodbye-for-nows with the all-night volunteers and set off for the Rock Pile in near darkness. The conversation continues and I am feeling much better now than I did when leaving TrailRoc Junction at mile 20.


"Number 471!" I call out my bib number just as I do when approaching any of the aid stations. Gary and I hop the guardrail and make our way into the tent at TenKate's, seeking reprieve from the elements despite the rain having stopped several minutes ago. Jeney greets me, ready to run after waiting around for the last two hours. My buddy Nick, volunteering on the graveyard shift, refills my water and Tailwind bottles and makes sure I get enough food.

I quickly learn that my drop bag here is completely soaked, rendering my extra shirt useless. Somehow the volunteers learn of my plan to have Gary and Maria return with Aaron's jacket. As I pull out my phone to call Aaron, one of the volunteers hands me a bright orange, waterproof Mammut jacket. "Here, just use this if it fits," she orders me. In no mood to argue with a commanding officer, I fumble around until I get the thing over my torso. The jacket fits pretty well and seems like it'll keep me dry enough. I thank her and learn her name, Zsusana, so I can make sure to return it later.

At some point, Gary and I exit the tent so Maria can get a picture of us where the lighting is better. I thank them both profusely. Before long, Jeney and I are making our way across the rising Gridley Creek and up the steep, muddy switchbacks - the beginning of the Alpine Section redux. With the jacket I feel reborn, and the fresh pacer helps to speed things along as we continue up and out.


Aaron peels off to the side and I cross beneath the Virgil Crest banner. The clapping and cheering seem deafening at the moment as I do my best to leap over the finish line and embrace Hayley with a big hug. Mom is there too, and I forget who else. Ian puts down the Go Pro to give me a congratulatory hug before handing me that sweet, sweet belt buckle.

Eventually I sit down to tear off my socks and shoes. I fully expected to feel exhausted after 100 miles and nearly a day and a half of no sleep. Au contraire, I remain fully jacked on adrenaline and look around to take it all in. Rusty and I exchange some stories, and after a few minutes we both rise to give Rob a standing round of applause as he comes into the finish with his daughter. I decline assistance from Hayley, Mom, and Aaron as I hobble into the pavilion to grab some hot food.

A nice breeze comes across the small lake as we sit by the finish line with plates of food awaiting the other runners. The sun occasionally peaks it's head out from under its cloudy cover, as if trying to break free and regale us with the last throws of summer. Yesterday's afternoon heat has long since vanished. And here and there a stray orange leaf litters the ground around the pavilion. The first signs of Autumn indeed. And I think to myself, "Was there ever a better day for a walk in the woods?"


The punishing hike up The Odyssey is especially brutal and we're only four hours into the run. The black diamond ski slope the few of us are now ascending is comprised of something like 700 feet of ascent in under a half mile. Several other runners slog up the mountainside next to me, but we all remain silent for the most part. I glance back down the slope and spot Rusty at the base, about to make his ascent.

Running the Whiteface SkyMarathon and Vertical K have certainly helped me prepare for this part of Virgil. All the climbing and descending on Whiteface Mountain has led to improved form and efficiency on the uphills, plus it's prepared my mind for the daunting task at hand. I also heed Yassine Diboun's advice of "hike like you're late for work," trying to maintain a steady effort as the slope begins to get steeper. I think of Yassine's recent second place at Cascade Crest, and how he must have had it so much worse than me while running a Hardrock qualifier in the cold rain.

Not even halfway up The Odyssey I'm duly passed by Rusty. My five minute head start is no match for his strong climbing skills. With the summit now in sight, the grade steepens to over 30 percent and every muscle in my legs feels weaker and weaker. I make that final push up to level ground and look around at the lift station and surround woods and trails, ensuring that there's no possibility of any more incline. That monster climb took a lot out of me, and I begin to doubt my ability to make that climb again later on. Meanwhile, things heat up as the sun begins to beat down while approaching its apex.


"Well done Pete!" Rob declares as I slow to a walk. We had been tailing the duo for the better part of an hour, occasionally catching glimpses of Emily's bright pink jacket between the trees as we made up ground.

"Thanks. You're looking pretty solid yourself." I ask Rob if they'd like to run with us, inviting the possibility of us finishing together provided we can move at an equal pace for the final 11 miles. Rob tells me his feet have been killing him for the last several hours and to go on without him. Aaron and I decide to pull on ahead. Rob's been here before and I know he'll have no qualms about finishing the thing off.

For some reason the next mile feels excruciatingly long. I know there is an unmanned water stop at the Cortland 9 road crossing, marking mile 90. I start to get this idea that with each step toward those water jugs we also take a step back. It's as if I'm some pulsating orb and the direct line segment between my center of gravity and the water continues to elongate and foreshorten in moderately rapid succession, forestalling any forward progress toward that water stop. I feel my sense of time and distance beginning to wane while my train of coherent thought becomes shorter and shorter.

After an eternity we make it to the water - a dozen gallon jugs on the side of the trail, 20 feet from the road. I top off my bottles and suddenly snap back into it. I'm struck by the realization that the remaining mileage is now down to single digits. With that thought in the forefront of my consciousness, we pick up the pace toward the penultimate aid station.


Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son?
And where have you been my darling young one?

It's really quite incredible, headlamp running, the way the entire universe shrinks to a ten foot radius. Nothing exists beyond the reaches of that single beam of light, concentrated on the dirt immediately in front of you. Gone are the surrounding trees. Only some of their roots remain, the roots that lackadaisically cross the the forest path in hazardous fashion, waiting to prey upon the careless runner who becomes too lost in his own world to live stay present in the moment - in that tiny universe with a volume of a mere 4000 π/3 ft 3.

I've stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains

I mention something of this to Gary as we plod on through the heavy rain. Over slippery roots and crevasses through the most technical stretch on the course, and hampered by my fatigue from the 50-something cumulative miles, we are sullenly reduced to a walk.

I've walked and I've crawled on six crooked highways

I realized as soon as the rain hit that I was stupid not to take Aaron up on his offer to borrow his waterproof jacket. I came to the start completely unprepared for precipitation, as the weather report two days earlier made no mention of any possible shower. Now I'm freezing cold as the rain beats down on us through the trees. Even with fresh legs and a warm jacket, running here would be risky due to limited visibility through the rain and Gary's glasses than keep fogging up.

I've stepped in the middle of seven sad forests

At first the rain felt good. We were both sweating fairly hard even after the sun bid us adieu, so the rain helped cool things down quite a bit. But now it's too much. As the early stages of hypothermia loom in the distance, Gary tries to help me focus by pointing out the mileage remaining to Carson Road. Once out of the woods, it's a mile downhill on paved road and then we'll cruise into TenKate's Crossing at mile 63 where I'll change clothes, warm up, and pick up Jeney as pacer number two. The problem is we aren't out of the woods just yet.

I've been out in front of a dozen dead oceans

My hands are shaking uncontrollably as I clumsily open and suck down a gel. Gary warns me that the next leg, the brutal Alpine Section, is mostly exposed to the elements. The steep terrain and slow pace would ensure a ton of time in the direct rain. My spirits begin to sink as I realize that without a waterproof jacket I'll probably end up a DNF - another casualty of Mother Nature's cruel sense of humor.

I've been ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard

It's then that I'm hit with the solution, as clear as day. I nervously ask Gary for an additional favor. "Is there any chance you'd be willing to go back to Hope Lake to get Aaron's jacket, then bring it back to TenKate's while I wait there and warm up? I'll call Aaron and let him know you're coming, to have it ready." Hope Lake is only a mile uphill from TenKate's Crossing by paved road. Aaron is attempting to sleep there in the back of my car before his turn for pacing duties, but I doubt he'd be asleep and awoken by my call.

And it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard, and it's a hard
It's a hard rain's a-gonna fall.

Gary is sure Maria, who was picking him up, would agree to my plan. Suddenly I'm back in the game and the dirty driving rain doesn't feel so bad. Before I know it, we're running downhill on blacktop and, wouldn't you believe it, the rain has stopped! We pause to watch a deer stare us down with it's spooky yellow eyes caught in the glare of our headlamps. The deer watches us for a moment, then scurries off as we do the same. It's all downhill from here!

And what'll you do now, my blue-eyed son?
And what'll you do now my darling young one?


It feels so different to step off the dirt trail and onto asphalt for the final time. The blisters of my forefeet begin to hurt more than ever on the solid surface. The pain, however, is immediately masked by the realization that I'm now in the final mile of the race. The only thing standing between me and personal victory is a mile of flat, paved pathway that runs counterclockwise around the edge of Hope Lake.

"I'm telling you, we can catch that guy!" Aaron pronounces as I begin the slow jog around the lakeside. About half a mile down the path are two other runners - clearly a hundred miler about to finish along side his pacer. The pair is walking up what barely qualifies as an incline. I know that picking off the other guy is futile, but decide to go along with it anyhow. The eleven minute per mile pace I manage feels more like 5K pace by this time. I maintain my pace up that incline. At the same time the other runner crosses the finish line, although I can't see him because of the trees blocking my line of vision.

I round the final curve, the finish now in my direct line of sight, and wait for a flood of uncontrollable emotion that, inexplicably, fails to make an appearance.

I continue to push onward and leave the asphalt for the grassy lane that leads straight to the end of the line. A crowd of spectators and volunteers are clapping and cheering, Hayley among them, while Ian records the finish on his Go Pro. The last few seconds become a blur and a feeling of relief washes over me. I'm ready to stop moving forward.


What a difference 50 miles can make during a hundo! On my last visit to the Rock Pile, I was already deep inside the dreaded pain cave cursing the course and the masochist who designed it. At mile 25, I could only imagine what degenerate state I'd arrive in at mile 75. Well now, 16 hours later I have my answer.

I feel phenomenal! The five miles since TrailsRoc were easy going, albeit slow, but the bonk that occurred after TrailRoc on the first go-around decided not to reappear here in the wee hours of the morning. Jeney has been keeping me moving forward from one aid station to the next.

Tim Hardy, CBA, is captaining the Rock Pile. I've known Tim for a few years as the race director of the Green Lakes Endurance Runs. I recently learned that Tim had earned his Certification in Badassery a few years ago by completing the Arrowhead 135 and Badwater in the same calendar year. Simply unbelievable! And here I am, fumbling my way through a minuscule hundred miles in a temperate climate.

Tim sits in a camping chair puffing on a big cigar, looking exhausted. I don't blame the guy - it's 4:00 a.m. for Christ's sake. Tim recognizes me once I tell him that I ran the Green Lakes 100K three week prior. Jeney and I are the only runners here so we receive undivided attention from the other two volunteers. They go through their entire list of edible inventory and try to push food on us like it's a visit to my grandmother's. I'm told the salty bacon will taste especially delectable at this time of night.

I settle for orange slices and the last dregs of salt potatoes and decide not to hang around for too long. We thank everyone profusely and head back out into the void.


"If you're going through Hell, keep going."

The well known quote often attributed to Winston Churchill is now immortalized on a cardboard sign at TenKate's Crossing. As someone who is not currently going through Hell, does this mean I can call it a day and catch a ride home? But doing so would then, by process of deduction, admit that I am in fact going through Hell, and a paradox ensues. So the only logical option, then, is to continue moving regardless of weather or not one is going through Hell. Makes total sense, no?

Jeney has come full circle, ending her pacing duties where they began. As we cross the creek and roll into TenKate's, I'm oblivious to the chilly creek water permeating my shoes once again. Aaron is here, ready to head out immediately. I quickly explain that we passed two guys on the alpine section a few miles back and would like to leave before they arrive. Aaron fires back that two other guys left here 10 to 15 minutes ago, a few minutes apart from one another. One guy is being paced by his daughter, and I deduce that it must be Rob and Emily.

I use that piece of current events to my advantage and it motivates me to move out in under three minutes. I clumsily hop the guardrail and we head east down NYS route 392 in pursuit of Rob, catching a glimpse of him and Emily from the base of Carson Road. Throughout the mile long walk up Carson, I fill Aaron in on everything that transpired overnight and explain how the thought of passing a few more runners can will me to a quicker finishing time. We reach the road's plateau and swing left into the woods for the final time, following the white blazed Finger Lakes Trail as it twists, turns, and dances majestically through the forest. This time the trail leads not into an immense Heart of Darkness, but rather to the aptly named Hope Lake - the fantastic beaming light at the end of the tunnel and the heart of all things radiant.



I am sitting across the table from my beautiful wife Hayley, preparing to inhale copious amounts calories. The four blocks we just walked from the car to Viva Taqueria were painful.  Freshly lanced blisters on my forefoot, bilaterally, sent waves of agony to my brain with each and every step. Fortunately the prospect of a massive burrito made bearable the quarter mile trek along the outskirt of the Ithaca Commons.

Hayley has already told me how proud she is that I gutted it out for 29 hours and change. As I think about what I just accomplished, a few hours after the fact, it does strike me as pretty absurd. In a race where the annual finishing rate fluctuates around 50 percent, I find it almost hard to believe that I am one of only 16 to earn a belt buckle today.

Sitting at the dinner table, I try to reflect again on why I would go through with so much self imposed punishment. I know in my mind that it has something to do with exploring the boundaries of human endurance, discovering one's absolute breaking point, and then basking in the afterglow of a deep sense of accomplishment. Every endurance athlete will tell you this. Yet we all subject ourselves to the pain and uncertainty for our own unique reasons that make sense only to the individual in some abstract thought process. The true answer hovers just out of reach, "somewhere beyond the right frame" as DFW might say.

I've already been asked several times today about whether or not I'd do another 100 mile run or maybe something even longer. I consider my future as a trail runner for a brief moment. Then Hayley and I cut into our meals as we fall into conversation about –


The crisp morning air surrounds us, here on the cusp of another Upstate New York Autumn. A restless crowd or runners make nervous small talk amongst each other as the orange LED clock lights indicate that the hour is nearly upon us. Those final few seconds tick down. On Ian's command, a chorus of digital beeps sound in unison. The crowd swells forward and we are off.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep.

Smile... Tomorrow Will Be Worse: The Virgil Crest 100

[This is one of two race recaps I wrote about the 2015 Virgil Crest Ultras. Click here for the other, which is more an experiment in creative writing than a conventional race report. Click here to read the race itinerary document I created for my crew. ]

One late September evening, while volunteering to provide food and assistance to a bunch of runners at the Hitching Post, is when I first got the itch. I decided then and there that I'd like to run this thing as a 100 mile debutante. It felt so epic just to be there, filling water bottles for 100 mile runners coming into mile 44 or 56 late in the evening. Knowing what these warriors had already endured, and what trials lie ahead throughout the night, brought a certain level of respect for all those attempting to go the distance. Having marked half the course the day before, I knew it wouldn't be easy. I'd have loved to spend the night at the aid station if I didn't have to leave at 10:00 PM to go to work at the hospital.

I spent nine months training for the 100, starting in late January, and come September 19 I was ready to go. My successful run at the Green Lakes 100K three weeks prior gave me some much needed confidence going into Virgil Crest, while the adverse weather conditions and uphill battles at the Whiteface SkyMarathon in late June helped me prepare mentally. After scrambling last minute to finalize my pacer situation, I had created a step by step game plan to help me get through this monumental task. The night before the race, I drove out to Virgil for packet pickup and to check out a few parts of the course. I went home and slept surprisingly well that night, given the amount of self imposed pressure I felt.

The calm before the storm: Sunset over Hope Lake on race day eve


The Course

The Virgil Crest Ultras begins at Hope Lake Park in the tiny, rural town of Virgil, NY. The route cuts over to the adjacent Tuller Hill State Forest, following some horse trails and the Finger Lakes Trail. Runners then descend a paved road and cross NYS Route 392 into Greek Peak territory. This alpine section is comprised of several ski slopes and steep trails and utility roads. After leaving the mountain, the Virgil course cuts into Kennedy State Forest and follows the orange blazed Finger Lakes trail to the top of Virgil Mountain at mile 25. Runners then reverse the course back to Hope Lake. 50 milers are done here; 100 milers have the pleasure of doing the whole thing again. The 100 mile race has an overall cutoff time of 36 hours, with pacers allowed for the second half. Virgil Crest is one of many trail races presented by Red Newt Racing and created and directed by Ian Golden.

3-D course map, designed by Jim Devona


The Race


The lot of us set out from hope lake in the 6:00 am darkness, headlamps ablaze to light the way for the first hour or so. 50 and 100 mile runners all started together, with 100 mile relay runners starting two hours later. The line of headlamps winding tightly around the lake's perimeter would have made for a great aerial view. Imagine a hovering UFO above the lake, its occupants watching the string of lights bobbing and weaving around the paved path and off into the woods. 

It's was all fun and games while runners laughed and joked around in the early miles, and before long the sun crested the eastern horizon, allowing us all to switch our headlamps off. I ran some of these miles with my friend Rusty, whom I marked the course with the year before. Rusty told me about his recent trip out to Colorado to run the TransRockies stage race and about his experience at UROC the year before. With all those mountainous miles under his belt only a month earlier, I was impressed that Rusty was now attempting his first 100 mile race.

I more or less blew right through the Hitching Post aid station at mile 6.3, stopping only to exchange my Ultimate Direction handheld bottle for my UD vest. I decided to carry double the water and triple the calories for the race's remainder. All the Finger Lakes Runners Club volunteers at this aid station were awesome at this first stop, as they were throughout the race over the next day and a half.

Somewhere in the early miles. Photo: Steve Gallow
The miles flew by all the way through the dreaded alpine section. The third and final major climb up Greek Peak was on The Odyssey - a black diamond ski trail with a 25-30 percent grade. I tried my best to power hike up the thing, using the climbing skills I practiced earlier this summer at the Whiteface SkyMarathon and Vertical Kilometer. The ascent sapped up a ton of energy and I was passed by Rusty around the halfway point despite having a five minute lead over him at the base. Upon reaching level terrain at the summit, I was forced to walk awhile to regain some energy and composure. I think this was the beginning of my early bonk.

The next stretch, from mile 20 to mile 30, was the roughest of the 100. The crash set in almost immediately after leaving TrailsRoc Junction outbound and lasted until I left the aid station again in the inbound direction. Coming into TrailsRoc the first time, 50 mile leader Cole Crosby was on his way out. Yep, less than four hours into the race and he already had gapped me by 10 miles. 

Photo: Steve Gallow
I felt like a slug for the next two hours, struggling to move forward at all. I think the heat was getting to me and I wasn't talking in enough sodium. I remember wondering how he hell I could keep this up for another 70+ miles when I felt so bad so early.

As I neared the 25 mile turnaround at the Rock Pile, the trail was adorned with copies of Ultrarunner Magazine hanging from the trees while Guns 'n Roses' Appetite For Destruction blared from a trailside boombox. It was like some sort of college dorm prank set deep in the heart of Kennedy State Forest. I again found many familiar faces at the aid station, but the salt and fruit I took in didn't provide any magical comeback. I sat down for a bit, then left while still feeling like death.

I somehow found myself back at TrailsRoc Junction, where I changed shirts and chugged some yerba mate. The #TrailRoc volunteers here were great, as always. I'm hoping to check out some of the club's events in the Rochester area sometime next year.

Look down into the valley close enough and you can spot the finish line.

Gridley Creek at TenKate's Crossing.
Photo: Gloria Lemus-Sanchez

Immediately upon leaving the mile 30 aid station I started feeling invincible, which I'll attribute to the caffeine. I met up with a pack of guys moving at my pace and together we powered through the alpine section. One of these guys told me he was running the 50M as his first foot race of any distance beyond a 10K.

Sweaty mountaintop selfie
Eventually I made it through TenKate's crossing at mile 36 and came into the Hitching Post at mile 43.7. Knowing that Hayley would be here kept me moving for the last few hours. She was nice enough to bring me an avocado and hot sauce sandwich, one of my favorite snacks but something I've never tried eating during a run. Gary, the first of my three pacers, was here as a volunteer. My mom and Aaron met me here too, and seeing everyone really lifted my spirits a lot. After I left the tent, the others drove a mile down the road to the race headquarters at Hope Lake - the start, finish, and halfway point aid station. Gary would jump in as pacer when I arrived.

Prior to the race, I had given my crew explicit instructions to get me out of that mile 50 aid station STAT. The rules for Virgil Crest stipulate that anyone who completes the first 50 miles within the allotted cutoff time of 17 hours before dropping will be counted as a 50 mile finisher. Although officially a 100M DNF, I'd still have a completed ultra under my belt if I decide to throw in the towel at Hope Lake. This fact, coupled with the siren call of delicious hot food and 50 milers celebrating their finishes, was enough to make me paranoid about opting for an easy exit from the pain cave. The plan was to refill my water bottles, grab some fruit for the road, and immediately leave town with Gary before the notion of dropping could even manifest itself in my consciousness. But you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and ultrarunners.

Thankfully the buzz I had going since mile 30 had not yet dissipated. I took longer than I wanted to at Hope Lake but never felt even the slightest urge to quit. Gary was a great pacer for the next section, keeping me moving forward while keeping up a conversation to distract me from the discomfort. The heat and humidity continued to make things difficult even after sundown. We were both sweating quite a bit, but that would soon change. 

Back at the Hitching Post at mile 56.3, I was again greeted by Hayley and Aaron. Aaron offered me his waterproof jacket as he heard there would be guaranteed rain. For reasons unclear to me even now, I repeatedly declined. This cloudy decision would haunt me soon enough and nearly ruin my race. 

Shortly after leaving the Hitching Post the steady rain began to fall. At first it felt refreshing, cooling down my skin and core temperature. But before long the precipitation would become almost unbearable. In the dark with limited visibility, we were forced to walk through the most technical terrain Virgil had to offer. We slowly picked our way over crevasses and slick roots as Gary's glasses kept fogging up. I began shaking uncontrollably from the cold and could barely manage to open and eat a gel. Aaron's jacket would have undoubtedly been a blessing at this stage. 

Gary reminded me about the exposed parts of the course coming up in the alpine section. Without the cover of trees on the steep slopes, the rain would be pouring down in buckets on my head as I slowly suffered through the unforgiving terrain. I knew then that I'd be a sure DNF if I couldn't track down a jacket. 

Gary agreed to go with Maria to retrieve Aaron's jacket while I waited under the shelter at TenKate's Crossing, eating and trying to dry off and warm up. Aaron was attempting to sleep in my car at Hope Lake while the rain beat down on the windshield. I'd call him to let him know Gary would be coming up for the jacket. 

As Gary and I hopped out of the road to turn down Carson Road, the rain stopped. I was thankful for the reprieve but still freezing cold and soaking wet. We ran the mile downhill into TenKate's crossing at mile 63. As we passed the 100K mark, it was now officially the longest distance I've ever run continuously.

My drop bag at TenKate's was soaking wet, so changing my shirt and socks was out of the question. I switched pacers from Gary to Jeney. One of the AS volunteers from Mountain Peak Fitness selflessly lent me a Mammut rain jacket, not really giving me a choice but to take it. My friend Nick grabbed me some broth and filled my bottles. I found out that once the rain started runners started dropping like flies; now only 16 of us remained. Jeney had been waiting for two hours and was ready to go. 

We made short work of the Alpine Section and I remained in good spirits as we arrived at TrailsRoc Junction at mile 70. I'd been timing my stops at each aid station. By the time I traded water logged socks for dry ones, restocked my pack, and warmed up by the fire, we spent nearly half an hour at the aid station. I had been doing okay at keeping my AS times low, but this time I felt like I needed the extra rest. 

The time passed pretty quickly over the next several hours. My phone battery died as I tried to take a picture of the sunrise from atop the mountain. With Jeney's encouragement I passed two runners on the Alpine Section around mile 82, moving into the top 10. Despite trying to avoid a competetive mindset, the prospect of a top 10 finish gave me the energy lift I needed to keep moving as I accelerated on a long downhill stretch. I came into TenKate's Crossing feeling strong. 

Aaron was ready to pace me for the final half marathon and we moved out quickly. From the base of Carson Road I caught a glimpse of my friend Rob up ahead. Aaron and I walked the hill and then hit the trail running, albeit slowly. I had last been on this stretch of trail with Gary, moving in the other direction in the rain. Now it was much later, but the sun was out and I was almost home. 

The technical nature of the FLT made things tricky, but we soldiered on and passed Rob after a few miles, along with his daughter Emily who was pacing him to the end. I invited them to join us, but Rob's feet were hurting and he told me to continue on without him. 

Somehow I lost all sense of time and perceived distance during this leg and felt like we were moving fast and going nowhere. In reality, we were moving pretty slowly and gone was my ability to perform simple math calculations after 27 hours and 90 miles. I kept looking at my watch, certain that we were closer to the final aid station than we actually were. I could feel some blisters developing near the balls of both feet, and soon every step was slightly painful. By this point I didn't care. 

I rolled into the Hitching Post for the last time still feeling pretty good. 94 miles down, just a measly little 10K to go. Hayley met me here again after driving home for a night of restless sleep. She was excited that I was looking solid and feeling so strong at this stage in the race. I swapped my UD pack for the trusty handheld in order to lighten the load. I didn't hang around long to rest up; At the next stop I could finally quit moving altogether. 


The Finish


The last section was mostly a blur. I remember shuffling forward in silence for awhile to reflect on the day and take it all in. At some point Aaron ran up ahead on an incline. At the top he turned back and yelled to me "This is it! The last hill. Just downhill and around the lake to the finish." Knowing there was only about a mile to go was an amazing feeling. Trading singletrack for pavement for the last time felt better yet. We rounded Hope Lake counterclockwise via a paved path - the same path I had set out on 99 miles ago. We saw another runner with his pacer less than half a mile ahead of us. In a race this long, runners separated by only a few minutes is comparable a few seconds difference in a road marathon.

Aaron and I rounded the final curve and I veered into the grass for the straightaway, trying my best to appear strong as people clapped and yelled. I crossed under the finish line banner in 29:25 and feebly jumped into Hayley's waiting arms for a hug. My mom was there too, having driven back up from Johnson City to watch the finish. 

It felt so good to finally get off my feet and shed the shoes. (The Salomon Sense Pros performed very well for the distance and type of terrain.) Keeping with the tradition of 100 mile races, Ian awarded me a belt buckle for my efforts, as he did with all the hundo finishers. I grabbed some hot food and made myself at home in a camping chair by the finish line for the next hour, standing to applaud Rob and Emily as they came in soon after me. 

After several plates of veggie burgers, portabello burgers, salad, and potatoes, it was time for a massage. Dale Cooper, local LMT extraordinaire, was available for finish line massages like he usually is at Ian's races. Let's just say that the massage was so much more excruciatingly painful than anything I endured during the 100 miles or in any other race ever. In other words it was what I expected. Completely torturous and totally worth it. 


The Aftermath 


The completion of Virgil Crest brings my nine months of training and preparation to and end. I'd have to say, looking back several weeks later, than my run couldn't have gone any better than it did. After hearing so many horrific tales from 100 mile veterans, I was totally expecting to bonk many times, have stomach issues, mental meltdowns, and unbearable pain with every step after mile 75. Aside from some minor blisters there was no pain or injuries. Despite getting pretty tired, I never bonked after the mile 30 rebound, never hallucinated, and never came close to breaking down into a sobbing mess. I attribute the lack of GI issues to sticking with calories than have always worked in the past - primarily Justin's Nut Butter, Tailwind, GU Roctane gels, Guayaki yerba mate, S-Caps, salt potatoes, and assorted fruit from the aid stations. I took in a good mix of simple carbs, fat, and electrolytes from these sources, plus the occasional caffeine boost as needed. 

With the hundred under my belt I haven't decided yet what's next, besides some much needed R&R. I have no idea how long a full recovery will take and don't want to rush back into anything. Four weeks after Virgil Crest, that deep sense of accomplishment still lingers heavily, and the buckle is a constant reminder that anything is possible if one is willing to dedicate the time and effort. 

The list of people who helped see me through this thing is long. I couldn't have made it without Hayley, who selflessly supported me throughout the entire training process with all those hours and miles spent in the woods. Thank you Mom for driving up to "check up" on me in the evening and again at the finish. My pacers Gary, Jeney, and Aaron kept me moving in the right direction and kept me sane every time my brain began to suggest otherwise. big thanks to all the volunteers and volunteer groups who gave up part of, or in some cases all of, their weekend to ensure the safety and well being of the runners - Finger Lakes Runners Club, #TrailsRoc, the RNR/MPF team, Finger Lakes Running & Triathlon Co, and Team FLRTC. Also, it was a pleasure sharing the trails with and talking to so many people during the early stages of the race, particularly Rusty, Rob, and Tom. And lots of thanks and gratitude to Ian Golden for once again working tirelessly to ensure that Virgil Crest remained a safe and well organized event on a challenging but beautiful course. I look forward to coming back to Virgil Crest in some capacity again year after year. 

Ian's compilation video: