Saturday, July 28, 2007

Friday, July 27, 2007

My First Ultra YUT-C 50K September 2005

A Run in Youngstown Ohio

I woke up early on Saturday September 24th, 2005. I did not sleep well with the excitement and anxiety running through my veins. At 5:30 a.m. I rolled out of bed and fixed a cup of hot tea. I wasn’t sure what to eat so I opted for some dry cereal, an apple, and an orange. That seemed to satisfy me. I took a nice long hot shower and actually caught myself pondering under the running water whether or not I could run a 50 kilometer run. I had not run this distance in over ten years. That was about 20 pounds ago. My head doubted my heart and legs abilities. This is what was scaring me the most. There is an old adage that if you can put your mind over your body, you can accomplish anything. While standing in the shower, I was having a hard time convincing my mind what the rest of my body was getting ready to do.

I could feel my pulse race just slightly every time I thought about the three loops around Mill Creek Park affectionately known as the YUT-C, I had to conquer today. From the time I wrote the check and sent in my application, I got an uneasy feeling thinking about those loops. The course was set-up by some good friends of mine and I had run each part of the course close to one hundred times. I could step over rocks without even looking at them. I knew the course like the back of my hand. The first loop is 12.5 miles and goes in a clock-wise rotation. The second loop is exactly the same as the first with the exception of one small climb being omitted and moving in a counter-clock-wise rotation. This loop is 11.75 miles. The third and final loop follows the first loop in its direction but turns around before getting to the third lake. This loop is 7.5 miles.

On every loop there is a section of the course known as the Monkey Trail and the Monkey Trail Extension. In these two sections is where you will find about a mile of unforgiving climbs that challenge your quadriceps and calves to their fullest. On the first loop this section is at about mile 2.5. On the second loop this section is at about mile 22. In the third and final loop, you go through this section at about mile 25. I told myself while standing in the shower to “get through the Monkey Trail” and “you got this thing licked”. Unfortunately that is easier said than done.

I arrived at the park at about 6:40 a.m. and had only 20 minutes before the run started. I went into the Log Cabin and saw my friend Bob “Gombu” Combs there. Bob was the run director for day. This was the first ever Youngstown Ultra Trail Classic 50K, or YUT-C as it has become known in its short existence. He was energetic and full of encouraging words when he saw me. I had many reservations about attempting this run that resulted in many long conversations with Bob. Bob and my other friend Brian Musick are the reasons I decided to give this a try. Without their encouragement, I was content to work an aid station and clap for the other runners.

Brian and Bob organized a trail running group in Mill Creek about a year ago called Team PR. While I was running in Mill Creek one Sunday morning, I came across them on the trail. They both stopped and started talking to me about joining their group. The weird thing is, as we were talking, Bob and I were staring at one another. Bob then said, “Stacy?” just as I was saying, “Bob?” Bob and I knew each other 20 years ago and as things go in your college years, people come and people go. I hadn’t seen Bob since we did a triathlon in Columbus in the late 80’s. It was great seeing him after all these years and knowing that he kept his love for the outdoors and running alive and intact. I immediately said I would love to join their group and within a week I was joining them for group runs in the park.

Now one of the bad things about running with a group is keeping up. I had labeled myself as a recreational runner and sort of kept to running the same trails over and over. I would pretend I was racing every once and a while and run the same course for time. By keeping a running log and accurate records, I could compare one run to the next and set my PR’s. Running with a group like this presented new challenges, like trying to keep up. As much as I struggled, I also enjoyed pushing myself the extra little bit.

This is an eclectic group. We have Bob and I who are both 38, we have Brian who is 24, two former YSU runners in Erin 22 and Jaclyn22 (they usually come as a pair), Bruce who is about 40 and numerous others that have joined us over the past year, including my son Taylor 16 and daughter Kyrsti 16. Brian has also convinced his younger siblings Jeff 18 and Jamie 19, who both run in college to join us. These individuals make up the core group along with Charlie who joins us occasionally.

We have fun on these runs. Every once in a while we will do the “unexplored trails run” which encompass any part of the park the leader would like to run. This can be straight up large hills, through creeks and small streams and into huge rock formations. You will realize after a run like this how challenging the park can be, but you will also be grateful you got to see a part of the park that you would have never seen had you stayed on the trail. Bob and Brian are usually the choices to lead these runs as their adventurous spirit is unmatched.

It was about 6:55 a.m. and I was getting real nervous. Not nervous like I would be if I were going to making a speech in front of a large group, but I had that funny feeling in the pit of my stomach. My head was still asking my legs “are you ready for this, because I’m not?” My legs answered back “you better be ready, because we are doing this with or without you”. The voices in my head laughed at that and I got that pain in the pit of my stomach again.

It was about that time I ran into Karen and Ed Pierson. They were my neighbors for years and then moved out of town and I didn’t see them as much. Ed and Karen are two of the nicest people you would ever want to meet. Once over the summer, my daughter and I were running in the park and came across Ed and Karen. It was then that they shared with me that they too were planning on running the YUT-C. I told them I was thinking about, but at this time I had not committed. They proceeded to tell me that they were going to be “trekkers” for the day. I told them that I was going to be “trekking” myself, and that this would be fun. I am not sure if I was trying to convince myself or them, but I don’t think I sounded too convincing.

At exactly 7:00 a.m., Bob called all of the “trekkers” to the starting line. Trekkers are defined as people who think it is going to take them longer than the standard eight hours to complete the 50K, so with permission from the run director, they are allowed to start early. It is usually assumed that trekkers will walk sections of the course, and therefore they may need an extra hour. I was glad to have the extra hour because I was still not sure what the run had in store for me today.

Jim Harris found me at the starting line and said to the group of us that he would run a short distance with us to “get us started”. Jim is one of the nicest guys to find at a race. He is helpful and genuinely concerned about how you are feeling and how you are doing. I had done a group run with him and was amazed at what great shape he was in. We talked all the way to Volney Rodgers field which is probably close to a mile from the start. He was starting his run at the official start time which was 8:00 a.m. I thanked him for joining us, he wished us all luck, and then he turned around and disappeared. The group of trekkers plodded down the trail. It was still somewhat dark as the sun was on the other side of the hill. There was fog and heavy dew on the ground that made the beginning of this run look kind of mystical. I joked with Ed and Karen for a while until they encouraged me to “not wait for them” and to “run my pace”. I said I would see them at the turn around and began to fall into my pace.

There is something about running in the park that is about 50% exciting, 25% thrilling, and 25% scary. I felt really good, but having done marathons I knew this was a feeling that could disappear quickly. I talked to myself the whole day. “Stay focused.” “Run easy.” “Walk the ups, enjoy the downs.” I chanted these things to myself and sometimes aloud all day long. I was running the trails that I had run countless numbers of times. The trails were so familiar it felt as if I was running among friends. I was gliding down the trails alone with a lot of doubts in my head.

My first trip through the Monkey Trail was beautiful, with the exception of coming across a pack of four dogs that were sizing me up. When dogs show their teeth that is usually a great sign that you are going to be bit. So without even thinking, I made an immediate left and went straight up the biggest hill that is not part of the trail. This hill was so steep that it required using both my hands and feet to climb it. During my ascent I grabbed onto a big stick and two small rocks. If these dogs were going to come after me, they were not going to get me easily. As I reached the top, I turned around to find the dogs were walking the other way and totally disinterested in me. I dropped the stick and stones and got back onto the trail. I remember thinking to myself, “as if the Monkey Trail is not tough enough, I just made it tougher.”

I made my way up to Lanterman’s Mill which is where the aid station was located. This was about four miles into the run and I was feeling really good. I saw Jaclyn there and she gave me some words of encouragement. I asked her where Erin was (they usually travel in a pair) and she told me Erin was on her way. I told her I would be back shortly after I rounded Newport Lake.

The Mill is at a location in the run that it served as an aid station for people going two directions. After getting to the Mill, you run around the third of three lakes (Lake Newport) and then catch the aid station on your way back. I took a small drink at the Mill but having only covered four miles, it was more of a hello and goodbye.

I proceeded on my run. Lake Newport is probably the largest of the three lakes in the park. At one time, it encompassed a great deal of space and was the home for egrets, ducks, and other waterfowl. Over time, the lake developed some ecological problems like “sludge” build up so it was determined by the park commission to drain some of the lake and maintain part of it as a wetland. The lake remains visually appealing and the home for numerous species of birds, but for a sweaty runner in September, wetland may as well be capital letters for Mosquito.

It was early in the morning and the mosquitoes must have been still sleeping. I cruised around the lake and was dissatisfied about running on the only section of the YUT-C that entailed a paved road surface. For about ¾ of a mile, there is no dirt trail, so you run on a paved bike trail slash one way road. It wasn’t bad, but through all of my training runs, I always find this section the worst for me to tolerate. “Just run and get back to the trail” I told myself. So I plodded along, trying to not think about the surface, but enjoying the run. Around Newport Lake is somewhere close to 5 miles. I enjoyed all of it. The sun was coming up over the horizon, the ducks were practicing take-offs and landings on the lake, and I could hear the placement of my feet with each stride. Sometimes I pretend the noise I make when running is like a chorus, and each hill is a crescendo in the music. Building, climbing, allegretto, louder, climbing, building, allegretto, louder, finally at the top and back down. Crescendo over.

I was around Newport effortlessly. It is one of the flattest sections of the YUT-C. But with that flatness you may experience boredom. You have to keep your mind and sense of adventure open. Think about what’s in front of you. Think about the next stop at the aid station. Say hello to the walkers and other park users you pass by. I was still the first person in this run (having started an hour early) so there were no other participants for me to talk to. Running alone has always been enjoyable. I can truly get away in my mind. When running trails though, you have to think about little things, like your next step. One false move and the run can be over due to an unanticipated tumble down a steep cliff or hill. Since I usually fall about twice a year and I have already taken a bad fall this year, I was determined that the YUT-C was not going to be the day I had my second fall.

I made it back to the Mill to find Erin had joined up with Jaclyn. Joe “Moose” Novicky was running the aid station and he was there also. As I was telling jokes to the girls, I noticed that the race had officially started because runners were coming from the other way and were stopping at the Mill aid station. In other words, I had traveled about nine miles and they had traveled about four. I knew it would not belong before these experienced ultra-runners would be catching up to me. I filled up my bottle and continued on my run.

The next section of the race is probably one of my favorite sections of the park. Traveling down the west side of the Mill trail is beautiful. Over looking the trail are a waterfall, the mill, and a quickly moving creek that it just gorgeous. Most people who live in Youngstown drive past the Mill everyday and never park their car and walk this trail to enjoy this beauty. If you were blind-folded and lead a person to this trail and posed them with a multiple choice question about where you were, Youngstown, Ohio would be the last answer picked. I enjoyed the long down-hill and scenery and felt like I could run like this forever.

At the bottom of the hill the trail flattens out and winds around the bend towards what is affectionately called the Silver Bridge. This bridge exemplifies everything good about Youngstown. It is made of steel, has been there forever and still looks ornate and beautiful. When you look at it, it makes you remember how prosperous and hard-working the people were in Youngstown and it brings back a sense of antiquity.

I started along the west side of Lake Cohasset Trail which is a trail that winds up and down this side of the lake. It is not tremendously difficult, but it is challenging enough. On the first loop of the YUT-C, this is the loop that has the extra section added on. It is a moderate climb that takes you up a hill onto some decking. This area of the park is known as Big Bear, and has one of the prettiest wading pools you can see from high above on the deck platform. I remember years ago running with my friend and co-worker Mark and he told me that when he was in high school cross country, his team used to make their way upstream and sit in the wading pool to cool down. Since then, every time I run pass this section I think about climbing down the steep embankment and sitting on the large rock that has water trickling over it into the wading pool. On a hot summer day, this is very tempting. “One day I just might try it” I say to myself as I trudge along the trail. Right now I have “bigger fish to fry” like running another 21 miles or so.

I start to get my head in the game and run like I used to when I was younger. I am thinking about where I am stepping and watching the trail closely, but at the same time I am day dreaming and thinking about a hot shower and finishing this thing. The next couple miles go by quickly and soon I am back to the Old Log Cabin, where this whole thing started about 2 hours and 15 minutes ago. I am 12.5 miles into this now and as expected I am feeling great. I talked briefly to Mr. Musick (Brian’s father) and a few other people who were volunteering. Everyone was so nice that it really made me feel great. I filled my bottles, ate a little something and told them I would see them in a few hours. They wished me well and I was on my way.

The second loop is nearly identical to the first loop with a few exceptions. You run this loop counterclockwise and you do not run the extra loop up to the top of Big Bear. I plodded along trying to take in the scenery and enjoy as much of the park as I could. I realized about this point that since leaving Karen and Ed nearly three hours ago, I had been running by myself the whole time. That doesn’t really bother me, but this was the first race/run I felt like I was in by myself. Just as I was feeling all alone in the woods, a runner coming the other way approached me quickly and looked up and gave me a quick hello but kept moving on. Just behind him was a younger runner who went by me as fast as the first runner. I stopped and started to walk. It was then that I realized this was the leader and the second place runner. They had narrowed my one hour lead to about 3 miles. . “Stay focused.” “Run easy.” “Walk the ups, enjoy the downs.” I kept saying to myself. I picked it back up to a comfortable pace and started looking forward to the other runners that were sure to be coming from the other direction.

And come they did. Other runners kept coming, sometimes one at a time, sometimes in pairs, and sometimes in small groups. It was at this point that I got to see how many people were actually out here doing the same crazy thing I was. Many of them mistook me for the leader, as I was the first person they saw coming the other way, and many of them weren’t even at the park when I left at 7:00 a.m. As I passed by and saw the look of confusion on some of their faces, I would purposely exclaim, “I am not the leader…… I am a trekker.” Many looked puzzled by this, but what the heck, it was keeping me entertained and I chuckled to myself as I continued on down the trail.

The next four miles breezed by relatively easily as I thought it would. I was on my favorite trail and the most popular route that I would run when practicing. This gives you a real sense of comfort when you have been running 16 miles and know that you have 15 more to go. Just before I got to the covered bridge for the third time, the leader and the guy in second place came from behind me and passed me effortlessly. Again a quick hello and they were gone.

Now I am by no means a sprinter, a 6:00 minute miler or even a 7:00 minute miler, but I do run fairly decent for a 38 year old man who weighs close to 200 pounds. These two passed me like they were running the 100 meter dash. Again I started to walk and watch in amazement as they went by at this torrid pace. I smiled, shook my head, and picked it back up.

When I got to the covered bridge, the aid station had grown into a full fledged restaurant that had pretty much any type of food you could want. I stood in amazement taking it all in. I took in some Hammer Gel, drank Gatorade, and ate some pretzels, cookies and some Tostitos. I wasn’t real sure about what was going to settle where in my stomach, so I only ate very small amounts of each. I drank two large cups of Gatorade and another cup of water. I filled my bottle that was on my waist pack and took off for the last loop around Lake Newport.

This time around Newport would be trails first and then the road section. Of all the parts of the park, this was my least favorite. I don’t know why it was, but for some reason I just grew tired of running this section every time I was on it. I ran the trail part of it pretty well. I could feel myself starting to fatigue a little, so I tried to slow my pace and conserve energy as much as possible. I got ¾ of the way around the lake and got back to the road section. About one and a half miles from here and I would be back to the covered bridge and back to my comfort zone.

Just as I emerged from the trail, a lady pushing a baby jogger went by on the road. She was just in from of me, so I thought I would catch up to her to give me someone to run with. I pushed the pace a little and came up along side of her. She smiled and turned her head to look forward as if I was just passing by. After a few strides, she turned again and I was still there. Now picture this in your mind. Here is a house-wife type who looked like she showered, perfumed, put on her make-up, got in her best designer running clothes and decided to take baby for a run in the park. Just as she is thinking what home-cooked meal she is going to make for her husband that night for dinner, a smelly, muddy ultra-marathoner comes out of no where and decides to shoulder up next to her. She smiled politely and I casually asked her, “you going all the way around?” She said she was so I asked her if she wanted some company. Since she probably felt like she had no choice, she said “sure”. I smiled to myself for a brief moment and was content that I finally had someone to run with.

In my twenty five years of running I have learned many lessons along the way. One big lesson I learned was to never underestimate anyone. They are all faster than they look. I once had a 60 year old man blow by me in the last 100 yards of a 10K to run like 37:00 minutes. This house-wife was no softie. She ran well and maintained a pace as well as she maintained her make-up. We did get to talking (as I have the knack to be able to talk to anyone), and it turns out we had some mutual acquaintances. After a short while, she looked down and saw that I had a race number on my race belt. She immediately looked surprised and asked what I was doing. I gave her the “Reader’s Digest” version of the race and she could not believe it. She then apologized for holding me back and I assured her that her pace was quite perfect and the company was priceless. She kept saying, “You’re in a race right now?” I kept saying “yes, but I am a trekker, this is a long run.” She kept shaking her head saying, “That is crazy.” Sadly, I got back to the point where the trail meets the road and I told her I had to split. She said goodbye, wished me luck, and I told her thanks.

I got back to the trail and quickly had to remind my legs that no more asphalt for them today. I got my mind back to looking at rocks, roots, and single track, rugged terrain. I got back to the covered bridge and by this time I was starting to feel some discomfort in my lower back and calves. One of the guys at the aid station asked me if I was taking in any salt. I said, “No. Why am I supposed to?” He said that I should be and offered me some e-caps. I swallowed a couple of them and he opened up a few more and poured them into my drink. I shook it up and tasted the salty mixture. Weird enough was it to be dumping salt into my drink, but even weirder that I thought it tasted pretty good. I generally don’t use salt on anything, especially in my drink. I ate a few more snacks, poured some Hammer Gel down my throat and got back to the mission at hand. The next section was downhill on some decking that runs under the Mill and to the trail that follows the stream. I again started to enjoy this, but all the while thinking of the Monkey Trail and Extension that was quickly approaching.

I crossed the road and made my way up the first hill to the top of the Monkey Trail. I could feel my legs pulling and cramping from this extreme climb and I was content to walk all the way to the top. A few other runners passed me on the way up and offered encouragement. I appreciated that immensely. I got to the top and into the small clearing. That part was over but I did not feel relieved. I still had the Extension to contend with, and it would be no small chore based on how I felt on that last climb. I was now at about mile 22 and five and a half hours into it.

I entered into the extension section of the trail and decided that this was going to be a “steady as you go” section and that I would walk when I had to, jog when I could, and run if possible. It all made sense too me, now I just had to convince my mind, my legs, and the rest of my body. My spirit would not be broken today. Going downhill did not feel too bad as my legs shook and dripped with both sweat and dirt. I balanced precariously as I lowered myself down the first big hill. At the bottom of this hill is a steep climb on the other side that forms a large culvert down the middle. It was here that things were about to change the rest of my day.

I stepped across a few big rocks and was switching my feet to get prepared for the first step up when the foot I was standing on slid off the rock and left me crashing down on top of the large rocks. As I lay there for what seemed forever, I noticed how blue the sky was. How clear and cool it was. I heard people walking on the more traveled, better groomed trail that ran parallel to the trail I was on. Their dog was playing in the water and they were two young people holding hands, laughing and not a care in the world. I quickly assessed the damage. Toes move…. Check. Knees bend…… Check. Hips creek (that’s normal)…… Check. Arms go up and hands grasp…… Check. Neck moves……. Check. “Okay big guy” I say to myself, “get up, you are all right”. I get to my knees, and then stand back upright. Everything is apparently normal, so I let out a curse at the rock (it didn’t care) and decide that if I am going to get this done, I need to get moving.

I wiped the blood off my knee and take the first step up the hill. Ouch! The cramps in the back of my legs just introduced themselves to my brain. My brain says, “I don’t want to hear it, just get up the hill”. I keep walking and before I know it I am up the hill and now moving about the extension. Get me to the Cohasset trail I tell my legs and I will be where I feel comfortable again. After about 15 minutes, I reach Cohasset and decide to reward myself with a 5 minute walk to stretch everything back out.

I had just started to jog again when Jim “Slim” Harris shows up again running along with a lady. We exchange pleasantries and Jim asks me how it’s going? I tell him not too good and explain about the fall and the impeding cramps. He gives me a few salt pills and tells me to make sure I get more at the next aid station, which is about 3 miles away. I thank him over and over and quickly he is gone as fast as he came. I keep telling myself to run and I manage to run all the flat and downhill sections back to the aid station, walking only when the hills made the back of my legs hurt.

At the aid station I was hurting. The encouragement I received from Gombu and Mr. Musick were enough to make me feel like I could run one-hundred miles today, but in my mind I was telling myself only 7.5 more. One more loop. This will be nothing compared to the first two loops, as I am done going around Lake Newport. It was then that I thought to myself, “If I have to crawl around this stinking course, I will complete this run today”.

One of the factors that kept me going oddly enough was the fact that Gombu had promised to assign me a trail name after I completed my first Ultra. I took this as the ultimate initiation and decided that I would have a trail nickname before the day was over or I could never show myself on a trail in Youngstown again. Now to the average person, a trail nickname would sound very insignificant, but to me it meant the world. I run with a bunch of great people with trail names like Gombu, Little Pebble, Shubi, Moose, McMoose and Slim, so being assigned a name is a right of passage into an honorable fraternity.

Just as I was leaving the Log Cabin for the last time, I was running by Bill Losey (Shubi) who is a friend of Gombu, was standing on the road cheering and he looked me in the eye and said, “Let’s go Super Sport, one more loop to go”. I ran by him thinking to myself, “What did he say to me”. I got around the bend and stopped and then realized I had just been indoctrinated into the Ultra group with my new nickname. With my initials being SS, it was only appropriate that Gombu incorporated that into my trail name. I liked it. The irony is that usually a Supersport when referring to an automobile implies a fast ride. I am anything but. I chuckled to myself as thoughts went through my head. “I can be the first diesel Super Sport in the Ultra running world”.

I picked it up as much as I could and managed to “run” down the road to the long set of steps I first climbed at 7:00. It was now about 1:15 in the afternoon and I had been on my feet for over six hours. I crossed through the Volney Rodgers section and there were crowds of people cheering for several midget football games going on. Cheerleaders were cheering, fans were clapping, parents were screaming. In my mind, I pretended they were cheering for me. Anything to motivate I thought as I plodded onto the trail along Glacier for the last time today. This section was mostly downhill and I enjoyed it as much as possible. The tall foliage above me was giving way to sunlight and the day had warmed up much more than I thought it would have.

I made my way along the lake and proceeded down to Pioneer Pavilion. Auto pilot I told myself. This is like my back yard. I had run this section of trail more than any and aside from one more trip through the Monkey Trail, the blood dripping down my leg, the cramping in my back and both legs, nothing was going to stop me. I got on the East Cohasset trail and began the run along this beautiful lake. It was there that I had seen Jim “Slim” Harris only a half hour earlier. That seemed like a day ago. Once again I was all alone and wondering how do I always manage to end up by myself. As I looked to my right out over the water, I saw the Blue Heron standing near the shore as majestic as he can be. I stopped and watched. I have always felt this great bird was like the “king” of the water in the park and how lucky I was to have spotted him today. After a short time, I said goodbye to my old friend and got back to the pace.

Through this section I am having a lot of difficulty running for any length of time without my calves contorting and cramping to some unusual shapes. The pain is almost intolerable but walking seems to be okay. My legs are shot and I have about five miles left to complete my day. As I start to enter the Monkey Trail for the third and final time, Brian (Little Pebble) and another guy come up from behind me. Brian encourages me to run with him, but I don’t have it. My legs are tired, sore, burning and starting to bottom out. I tell him to go ahead and ensure him that I will see him at the finish line. He gives me encouragement and the two of them are gone. I trudge up and down the hills of the Monkey and curse my legs for there unwillingness to cooperate with what my brain wants them to do. This is what I feared in the shower this morning and now it is my brains job to prevent it from happening.

I get through the Monkey section very slowly and finally arrive on the section of trail that runs up to the covered bridge aid station. This is mostly on a deck overlooking the gorge and is easy running compared to the semi-technical single track I have been on all day. I jog the deck, walk the stairs and make my way up the final rest stop before the finish. As I approach the Mill, I start to pick the pace up in anticipation of getting some food and drink and get the worst cramp of my life about 100 yards from the bridge. A female runner comes up from behind and says, “You okay?” I say, “I have felt better, check out my right calf.” As she looks down at my leg, my right calf is so contorted that most of the muscle is being pulled in toward the bone and has shifted to the inside of my leg and the whole thing is pulsating constantly. She gives me a weird look and says, “I have never seen anything like that before.”

I stand along the fence and stretch and massage my leg as much as I can. Like a defeated warrior, I hobble to the aid station all the while thinking that I have to hurry if I am going to finish this thing under 8:00 hours. At the aid station, I get more encouragement to keep going….. Press through it……. It will get better. I shake my head, dump a bunch of empty calories down my throat, consume some salt and say my final goodbye. My water bottle is full and I am now embarking on the best part of the trail. A smile creeps out of the corner of my mouth like the cat that ate the canary. No more Monkey Trail. I walk the hill leaving the aid station and begin to get myself psyched for the final push.

I jog down the west side of the Mill trail and enjoy every rock jutting off of the large hill. It is warm, sunny and I start to appreciate everything about the park. I pass a few people out hiking the trail and say hello as I pass by. My legs are tight and hurt but they will not let me down today. I keep focused on the trail and put the most determined look I can on my face. I may not feel very good, but to the average person that sees me, I look real confident in my ability.

As I trudge down the trail I am careful not to trip and fall as I know this will do me in for the day. My feet do not come as far off the ground as they were this morning and I am weary or catching a root or rock and pitching forward. I concentrate. I look at my watch and realize that I have about 25 minutes to make it to the Log Cabin, aka the finish line to get in under the eight hour limit. Even though I am a trekker, in the back of my mind my goal was to finish under the eight hour limit. Hopefully I will be done by 3:00. I pass Pioneer Pavilion and estimate that I have about a mile and a half to get to the finish. If I stay at this pace, don’t cramp or fall I should make it. I continue on down the trail.

A few runners pass me on the way to the Log Cabin and I wish them well as they go by. These are more experienced trail runners and offer me encouraging words as they pass. I keep my eye on the prize and trudge forward. I pass by the area of the Lily Pond and think to myself that I have one last steep climb and I will have this run licked. I grit me teeth and dig into the hill before me. Since I run in the park a lot, I kind of feel like I know the hills and this one was a good friend of mine. I placed my feet in all the right holes and actually caught myself stretching my calves as I ascended the steep climb. It seemed like in no time I had conquered this hill and again I was on my way. The remaining trail winds up along the ridge that runs parallel to the prettiest of the three lakes. Lake Glacier is absolutely beautiful and from this elevation I actually thought for a moment of running down the steep hill and jumping in. This lake has a boat house, fishing docks, and provides the backdrop for the Rose Garden that sits atop of the hill.

I move on thinking about the glory that lies ahead. I have less than a mile and about 18 minutes left to get in under the 8 hours. I smile to myself. My brain sends the signal to the legs that we have made it and to press on to the finish. I pick it up just a little bit and suddenly I am hit with a sharp pain in the right calf. Another cramp like the one at the last aid station has just bit me hard. I have taken so many salt tablets that I find it hard to believe that I am dehydrated. I wipe my face and feel the salty granules all over my face. What a weird feeling. I start walking in an attempt to stretch this thing back out. It hurts but the pain is tolerable. I walk for a few minutes and then break into a jog. I am moving. I look back at my watch and I now have about 13 minutes to get in under the goal time.

As the trail starts to descend back towards the Log Cabin I can’t help but pick up the pace. I emerge from the woods and can now see people standing near the road by the Log Cabin. I look at my watch again (I am a little obsessive that way) and know that I have made it barring getting run over by a car when I get to the road. I can now see the “finish line” and give it all I got, which is not very much right now. I am running “hard” but believe me I am not moving very fast. As I approach the line, the other runners that have already finished along with the small group of spectators begin to clap and cheer. As I cross the line, Mr. Musick exclaims 7:51.00. I smile and chuckle to myself. I have just completed running the most consecutive miles in my life since 1994.

The group of ultra-runners is not exclusive. As a first timer, the support of all of the people in the run was amazing. Most people that participate in runs like this are still figuring out their own plans on what works for them, what doesn’t, and what can they do differently next time to have a more positive outcome. I spent nearly eight hours on the trails in a Metro-park in Youngstown Ohio on this day and challenged my body and my mind to the limit. I don’t know where else you can get this feeling in everyday life. This most likely is the explanation to why ultra runners do it. It’s not for the bravado or to strut their own stuff, but to find themselves within themselves. I look forward to my next ultra. Who knows, maybe a 50 miler?

A Short Story

I have been running for nearly 27 years. I have had some of the most unusual runs over that time. Some that included climbing trees to elude dogs to the most mundane runs that I almost ran into a parked car as I was half asleep.

Running to me has always been an escape. I tell myself before going out the door that no one or nothing can bother me for the next hour. Unfortunately this theory does not always hold true.

It was an unusually bright, sunny clear day in Northeast Ohio. Unusual in the sense that most days in this part of the world the skies are gray and overcast with very little sunlight. When we see the bright yellow ball in the sky that most people refer to as the sun, we think the earth is being hit by a meteor from outer space.

I strapped on my running shoes, grabbed a water bottle, and headed for the park. Mill Creek Park is one of the best kept secrets in Youngstown, Ohio. Nestled in the downtown area, it incorporates endless miles of well kept trails for a runner to loose themselves on. I set out for one of my favorite courses, a little bit of hills, a little flat speed work, a lot of scenery.

Not 10 minutes into the run, I passed a group of high school cross-country runners that were going the other way. Shortly after that, I came across a man who was walking around aimlessly looking at the ground. As I bounced toward him, I was trying to figure out if he was crying, hurt, lost, or just plain crazy. The closer I got, the more confused he looked. I pushed the button on the watch and stopped to see what he was doing. He started to tell me that he was walking on the trail and realized when he reached his car that he no longer had his cell phone with him. I said, “I come out here to get away from it all, don’t you?” He said, “I just carry it with me, but it was turned off.”

Now I am probably one of the ten Americans that do not own a cell phone. I figure that if I need to talk to someone, I will use a payphone. If they need to talk to me, they can call me at home or work, e-mail me, or come on over. If I am out, it is because I am “getting away from it all”.

After giving this guy a troubled look, as I now realized he is taking away my run time, I say, “well where were you?” He chuckles, “here, there, and everywhere.” I respond, “well, we are here, I am going over there, and you can go everywhere else.” He laughed, but then looked puzzled again as I pushed the button on my watch and started to run away from him, back to my “time away.” As I bebop down the trail, he yells something to me about where his car is and how to get the phone back to him if I find it. I wave in acknowledgment, not really listening to what he said.

“Ah, back to my peaceful time away” I think to myself. I am now about 10 minutes behind schedule and decide that I will try to push it a little harder for a mile or two to get “back on track”. Running harder has always felt good to me. I don’t normally run hard except when racing, as I am usually more interested in just unwinding and taking in the scenery. I am not a serious racer anymore, and in fact I only enter races to meet interesting people before, during and after the race. I have evolved into what they call a true recreational runner.

As I proceed on my run, I half purposefully look at the ground thinking about this guy’s cell phone. I figure with all of the leaves on the ground, the rocks, and the foliage, the chances of finding this phone is about as likely as finding the proverbial needle in the haystack.

I reached the mill, which is about the half way point of my run, and I decide to refill my water bottle as the sun has made the run hotter than I expected. I leaned over the fountain, and there it was, a bright and shiny cell phone. I looked around but no one was there. It has to be the man’s phone who I met on the trail. I started to go through the conversation we had, and what he was saying as I was running away from him. I remember him saying something about the boat docks at Glacier Lake.

I thought for a moment, and decided that I would head that way and see if I could catch up to him. I began a tempo run and picked up each mile as I went. Glacier Lake was about five miles away from the mill on the trails, and I already had about four miles in. From Glacier, it was about three miles back to my car. I stretched my legs out as I hurdled rocks, puddles, and logs. I began to feel like a cross country runner in high school again.

Running on the trails always feels faster than the road. The constant change of speed, direction, leg motion, and momentum can give you the feeling that you’re flying! As I was “flying” my way down the trail, to be the rescuer of the lost cellular phone, the same group of high school cross country runners came up on me and passed me as if I was standing still. They nodded as they went by; each finely tuned and poised to run 5:30 miles all through the park. I came to a screeching halt. Recreational runner extremist or not, these “kids” going past me as I felt like I was flying was troubling. Age is catching up to me I thought.

Back to the crisis…..the cell phone. I made it to Glacier Lake in about 41 minutes. Not too bad as I patted myself on the back, somewhere around 8:00 minute miles. I started to look through the parking lots for the man. I did not remember what kind of car he said he drove, so I went from one parking lot to the next. As I was running down the long side of the lake, I saw the high school runners stretching and cooling down. Grinning as I strode by them, I was thinking of the story of the tortoise and the hare.

As I entered the last parking lot, my legs were now pretty well tired. I had run over nine miles, most of it harder than I had anticipated, and I still had about three miles back to my car. Standing along side his car, with the same puzzled look on his face was the man from the trail. I ran up to him and asked, “did you find your phone?” He replied, “nope, but I am sure it will turn up.” I then smiled and said, “Is this it?” He laughed and said, “Where did you find it?”
I then explained where I had found it and hoped that he would offer me a ride back to my car. He thanked me over and over and even offered me a reward. I declined, and told him that I had to be going.

I am 40 years old and stopping and starting is not as easy as it once was. I had talked to the guy for about 10 minutes, so my legs were good and stiff now. I started to run like the last leg of the triathlon, after pedaling 30 miles. My legs were moving, but I had to think about every step. I believe I was even grimacing at times. I thought to myself, three miles is nothing, after completing an ultra-marathon last fall, (this is my battle cry every time I get tired now).

About a half mile down the road, I passed the parking lot where the cross country runners were getting into their cars. I glanced up and I could hear one of the runners say, “that guy is a machine, he is still running!” Another shouted out, “keep it going buddy, you’re looking good!”. Still another said something like “I hope I am running like him when I get older.”

Adrenaline surged through my sore body. I picked it up. “Tempo run” I thought. I am a machine. I look good. I am a flying recreational running machine who looks good after 11 miles. I just love running.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Just Starting Out:

This is my first attempt at making a "blog" and at doing anything remotely technical. I have sent two text messages in my life and they each took me about 30 minutes to figure out how to do. I will keep this page updated with my exploits, such as running, swimming, biking, backpacking, traveling, coaching, firefighting, and anything else I may try. As you can below, I have a boy and a girl (twins) who will be freshman in college this year. They too will be included in my blog. Last and certainly not least, I will include my lovely wife on this blog, (as soon as I take a picture of her with the digital camera). Hope you like it!

My Ride "Elle"

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Taylor State Champion!

This was Taylor's second year on the varsity team for McDonald High School and he helped his team win the State Championship for Division III. Although he never won another state championship, he went on to place in the top 20 his next two seasons and make All-Ohio. He will be running cross country this fall at Mount Union College in Alliance, Ohio.
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Kyrsti Signing National Letter of Intent

After six years of running track and cross country for McDonald High School, my daughter Kyrsti signed a letter of intent to run for Seton Hill University in Greensburg PA. She will be running for the Griffin's starting in the fall of 2007. She is seen here with her high school coach Mike Richards and his son on the day she signed her letter.
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My best friend Scott and I at Kinzua overlooking a vista

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My Son and I backpacking Minister Creek in Kinzua PA

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