Eastern States 100
“A rocky death by a thousand cuts in the heart of the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon.”
That is the tagline used for the race in the Participant Guide.
My summary of it is “A challenging and unforgettable journey through the remote PA Wilds, where you will experience glorious highs and soul-crushing lows.”
More on that in a moment.
First, I want to give a huge shout-out and thank you to each and every person, company, or organization, that was in anyway involved with this race. The massive amount of time, people, and resources that go into the planning, supporting, providing, and coordinating, that it takes to not just pull this race off but to do so at the highest level possible is incredible. So, thank you race directors, board members, volunteers, sponsors, parks and forests staff, EMS, spectators, crews, pacers, and fellow runners. You all are rockstars!
Now with that being said, here’s some of my random reflections over the past couple of days, and a race recap.
First, I want to apologize to each of you. I’m sorry that I failed, and I feel that I let each of you down. I dropped out when I got to Aid Station 10- Slate Run, 64 miles into the race. Sure, 64 miles is far, and 22 hours is a long time to be on your feet. But I stopped, I quit, I FAILED. I’m ashamed to admit that, and I’ve been trying to wrap my head around how I let that happen. I’m not ashamed that I failed, I’m ashamed that I gave up. This wasn’t just a race; this was one of my huge goals. To finish Eastern States as my first 100 miler was a dream. I was so excited to get the chance to make it happen, and I was determined to do so. Well, at least for the first 57 miles.
During those first 57 miles I was grateful to be out there running and hiking. I was enjoying the whole experience and envisioning myself sprinting (or what version I had left of a sprint at that point) across the finish line. I was reminding myself whatever discomfort I was feeling at times was only temporary. I would acknowledge the discomfort, remind myself that crossing the finish line would be worth it, and promise whatever was hurting that it would be tended to immediately after crossing that finish line.
It wasn’t extremely warm out, the temps were in the 70s up to low 80s. But there was 100% humidity when we started the race at 5am, so I was drenched in sweat shortly thereafter. Still not really a big deal. But between the sweat, the humidity, and the moisture along the trail. My socks/shoes/feet were quickly soaked and no doubt my feet were getting super wrinkly despite having slathered Desitin on them before the race started. Eh, whatever. Not ideal conditions, but not a major issue that will keep me from going on. Based on past races, (especially Laurel Highlands 70 miler) my feet might be sore for a couple days after but no blisters.
It was dark for about the first hour of the race. But I had my headlamp, and I had run on this section of trail a couple times before, so I had an idea of what to expect. It was a fairly technical/rocky trail with some narrow and slick sections with a drop-off on the right side that went down towards Little Pine Creek. My legs and mind were sharp, and I was able to get through that well enough. Then came the first climb- over 1000 ft gain in a mile: with some sections at a 40% grade. No problem, I love the climbs; and there’s usually a nice view once you get to the top. And it was getting light out by the time we got to the top, so that was a plus. I got to AS1 (water stop only)/Ramsey Road/Mile 5.8 at 6:33, only 13 minutes behind my estimate of 6:20. Then we started the first descent, followed immediately by another climb. At the top of this climb there was a short side trail off the course that goes out to a nice view. I decided to go ahead and take the extra couple of minutes to check it out and soak it in, and I’m glad I did.
Then it was back down the mountain via some switchbacks. I got to AS2/Ramsey Village/Mile 11.3 at 8:06. I refilled my water bottles and chowed down on some grub. Mini cinnamon roll, and what would become my standard choices for the rest of the race (bacon, potatoes, pierogies, pickles, watermelon and oranges). We then ran on a short section of the Pine Creek Rail Trail as we crossed the Ramsey Bridge, before making a right turn onto the Tiadaghton Trail and starting our climb again towards the sky. Then of course when we got to the top it was time to go right back down. I think it was somewhere in this section that my feet were getting a bit irritated, and it felt like I had some sort of hot spot or blister issue on the bottom of my right big toe. I made it to AS3/Lower Pine Bottom/Mile 17.8. And just then there was some light rain that lasted for a few minutes. I refueled, and then sat down for a moment to take my shoes off, check out my feet and readjust my socks. I was back out on the trail by 10:10.
Of course since we were now in the valley, that meant it was time to climb again. We started with a gradual climb about 1 mile up the gravel Lower Pine Bottom Road before making a right turn onto Wolf Path and another steep mile climb. Another run down, hike up, and run down again brought us to AS4/Browns Run/Mile 25.8. My feet were still hurting a bit, but my mind was strong and spirit was high. Seeing Michael, April, Mike and Rusty (the coolest trail dog ever!) and other friends also gave me a boost. I believe I had my hydration bladder refilled here, and I made sure to eat plenty of the great food to get in some calories. I was back on the trail by 12:30pm.
From here it was a gradual, but long 6-mile climb to get to the next aid station. I don’t remember a whole lot about this section but I’m pretty sure this is when I finally decided to put some tunes on. This helped the time go by and it didn’t seem too long until I got to AS5/Happy Dutchman/Mile 31.6. Yay! A 50k of what is often mentioned as the most difficult section of the course is done! I refueled (that banana and Nutella wrap was awesome!) and topped off my fluids and then I was headed out by 2:35pm.
The next section of the course was really nice and definitely the most runnable of the entire course. There were some minor rolling hills, but it was wide snowmobile trails. I managed a few 10-minute miles in this section while running with Kyle! I believe this might have been the section that had some crazy muddy parts towards the end of it. And this was also the section that had the Fuzzy Friends Club. (A bunch of stuffed animals along the course to cheer us on lol 😊) It was again right around 2 hours until I made it to the next aid station- AS6/Ritchie Road/Mile 38.5. I again made sure to eat and drink plenty, did a little conversing, and then was out by 4:29pm.
Then there was about a 2-mile section of dirt road next to the powerlines. It was fairly level and runnable for sure, but it was also one of the few exposed sections with no tree canopy for shade, and during the hottest part of the day. Kept a relaxed pace as there was still plenty of miles left to cover. Once we turned back into the woods it was downhill to Hyner Run State Park. I still mostly kept a relaxed pace except for the last mile or 2 into the park. I felt strong and rolled into AS7/Hyner Run/Mile 43.2 at a good pace. Upon arriving I saw my friend Ryan who was waiting for his runner that he was going to pace for. Ryan immediately helped me by getting my drop bag, and some food for me, and even helped me get my fresh pair of socks on. He also encouraged me and gave me some tips. It totally boosted my mood even more and I was confident and determined to finish. I left AS7 at 6:02pm. I was hoping to reach the next aid station before it got dark out, but I put my headlamp around my head just in case.
Out of Hyner Run it was another 2 mile climb up the mountain. Once we got to the top it leveled out a little bit. Well, except for a few shorter but crazy steep and slippery drops that were immediately followed by equally shorter but steep climbs. This was also the section where we ran through the “bigfoot pens” (a fenced-in area with steel man gates that we lifted to climb through to get in/out). Thankfully I made it through those parts before it got dark, but I didn’t quite get to the next aid station before it did.
AS8/Dry Run/Mile 51.2- I was happy to see Sophorn here and to see Steve and Keith again as well. They gave me a much-needed boost, as I must have been getting tired at this point. I left there at 9:07pm, but only managed a few steps before I realized I left my poles there. I walked back and I saw two pairs on the one chair, so I was trying to figure out which ones were mine. Turns out neither of those were, mine were a few chairs down. Oh boy, this is going to be an interesting night, lol. I headed into the darkness and tried to catch back up with Keith, but he was moving pretty good, and I was happy to see that.
I don’t remember a lot about the section between AS8 and AS9. It was dark out, but I don’t remember any tricky or really technical sections here. I just power-hiked and kept moving forward. My feet were still hurting but didn’t seem to be getting any worse. I was still determined to finish. Just keep my head in the game and keep moving forward. I made it to AS9/Big Trail/Mile 56.6 feeling how most people would after 18 hours on their feet; a bit tired and with some discomfort. I took my time to refuel, rehydrate, get some caffeine in me, and sat down to rest my feet for a couple of minutes. One of the ladies that I had been running near for a while was also sitting and was not feeling well, but her pacer was helping to lift her spirits back up again. I set out again at 11:23pm. I had almost 4 hours (by 3:15am) to make it 7.3 miles to the next aid station. I had a complete wardrobe change in my drop bag waiting for me there. Fresh socks, shoes, shirt, shorts, and hat. I just had to stay focused and keep moving forward. I got this.
When I first started walking away from the aid station all the sudden I felt a bit cold. I thought, “oh no- this might not be good.” Thankfully once I started moving quicker I warmed back up and felt fine. Within a few minutes after I left the aid station the ladies caught up to and passed me and were moving good again. I tried to keep them in sight but things started to go downhill, figuratively and literally. It was about a 1000 ft descent over the next 1.5 miles. It was now past my usual bedtime and the little bit of caffeine I got hadn’t made much impact yet. This was also where there were several blowdowns across the trail. Which seems to be common in this area according to the official course description:
“Mile 55.8 – 63.1 Turn left on the road then right and descend Callahan Run. Partly very steep, partly rocky, partly a delight to run. At the forks where the three branches of Callahan Run meet, cross the stream on your left and head back up a new hollow, increasingly steep, mostly rocky, and partly way up on a narrow side hill to avoid blowdowns from a tornado that struck in May 2011. At the top, it’s a mostly rolling (with a couple very short steep pitches) run along the ridge top to the Hemlock Mountain Vista. If you ran fast enough to get there before dark that is. From there it is all downhill. Steeply at times, fun switchbacks at others. You will come out on an old logging road to take you gently downhill along Naval Run. Black Forest Trail will veer off to the left, but you go straight on Naval Run Trail to the next stream crossing, then out to Naval Run Road where you will run a nearly level mile on drivable gravel road along Pine Creek. Proceed to the bridge and make a right over Pine Creek and to the aid station on the other shore.
It was somewhere in this section that the cracks in my mental strength were forming and eventually broke me. I think it started with all the blowdowns. There was one section where I didn’t see the marked detour around a large fallen tree until after I had already managed to climb my way over it. So, then I climbed my way back over it to get back on the marked section. It was a bit muddy and slick in several spots and I almost fell a couple of times. Then came the hollows. I was proceeding cautiously up the steep, narrow, and banked trail so that I wouldn’t fall down the rocky slope towards the stream below. The climbing was okay other than trying not to fall down the hollows and navigating through/around the blowdowns. But on that downhill that was very steep (one small section was a -49.5% grade according to Strava) and slick and rocky, I started to unravel. I went very cautiously so I wouldn’t slip and fall, and because at this point my feet felt like they were in very bad shape. Having to plant them securely on the downs made it feel like the soles were completely raw and just getting shredded more with each step. Plus, my headlamp seemed like it was starting to get dim. I had an extra battery in my pack but didn’t want to have to change it while on this steep and narrow trail. I did have a hand torch in the side pocket of my vest though, so I was able to get that out okay just in case I needed it.
Somehow during all these distractions, I completely forgot about everything else that was important. I forgot about running (or more like slowly walking at this point) for those that can’t. I forgot about being thankful for the opportunity. I forgot about all the work I had put in to get this far. I forgot about #comfortisalie, #doepicshit, #keepshowingup, #keepmovingforward, #trusttheprocess, #determination, #goals, #dreambig. I forgot about my vision of sprinting across the finish line.
I FORGOT ABOUT MY DREAM!
HOW THE FUCK DOES THAT HAPPEN??
I knew and fully believed that I am capable of finishing this race. (And I still do).
My mentality going into this race was “Death before DNF.” Whatever it takes. Keep going until you cross the finish line, or they have to pull you off the course.
Even when I left AS9 I knew I had plenty of time to make it, just keep moving forward. I even told myself to stay strong mentally and just make it to the next aid station. If you make it before the cutoff you’re good. Don’t take yourself out of it.
What do I end up doing?
I checked out. I FUCKING QUIT!
Why? Because my feet hurt and were swollen, my knees were getting tight, I was tired, and I was afraid of falling?
THAT’S ALL SOME WEAK-ASS BULLSHIT EXCUSES!!
If I fell I just had to get up, brush off and keep going. I could sleep after I finished the damn thing. And my body would probably heal and recover within a few days.
I guess the saying should be “If you don’t fall for something, then you won’t stand for anything.”
Once I made that lame-ass decision to stop at Slate Run I slowed down even more and took my sweet time getting there. I walked the sorry fraction of the man I used to be across that bridge and checked in at 3:09am. I still had 6 minutes to get out of there and head to the next aid station. I walked around aimlessly for a couple of minutes checking out the food, and the medical tent, seeing if there was anyone around that I knew that could somehow magically restore my broken spirit.
What was I doing? Why was I looking for some kind of help?
I could have helped myself. I could have grabbed my drop bag, quickly changed, topped off my fluids, grabbed some food to eat on the go and check-out by 3:15am. Would it have been difficult? Yes, but certainly not impossible. But I didn’t even try. It’s like I had entered the twilight zone or something in those previous 7 miles. This seemed like an alternate reality.
Then at 3:14am I walked over and told them I was dropping out. I had to remove my bib and turn it in.
That’s when reality hit, and it hit like a fucking freight train. It fucking sucked! I immediately started to get emotional, and I tried to hold it together as I made it back over to see whatever food was left while waiting for a volunteer to give me a ride back to the start.
It was only about a 5-minute wait until one of the volunteers (unfortunately I’m drawing a blank on his name) was able to provide a ride. There were 2 other runners that were getting a ride back also; a guy and a girl (unfortunately I didn’t get their names either). We all had a nice conversation which made the almost hour-long ride seem to go by quicker. Once I got back to my vehicle I wiped myself down, changed my clothes, and then slept in the back on the folded down seats for about 3 hours.
I missed the top few runners coming in but wanted to hang out until the last runner came through. But I needed to get cleaned up first. I made the 40-minute drive back to my hotel in WIllamsport. I got showered and changed, then headed out for breakfast at a local diner. I felt refreshed so I headed back to the finish at Little Pine State Park. I collected my drop bags that had made it back so far, and just hung out and talked with some fellow runners who hadn’t finished. We all cheered as each finisher came down the home stretch and across the finish line. It was a fun and festive atmosphere. It was great seeing Kyle, Andrei, Keith, and all the other finishers crossing that line and getting their well-earned buckle and finisher jacket.
I was disappointed with myself on Sunday, but I was still kind of in the moment seeing the other finishers. That drive home Sunday night wasn’t great. Monday was awful. I was very disappointed and depressed, and I didn’t want to be back to reality. Before and during the race I was expecting to be a changed and better version of myself after crossing the finish line. I thought I was born for this, the stars were aligned, and I was going to fulfill my destiny. But since that didn’t happen, I ended up feeling like a lesser version of who I was. I felt empty inside. My soul vanished into the darkness the moment I turned that bib in. Here it is three days later and I still feel the anguish just thinking about, and I probably will for quite some time. And perhaps therein lies the good that came out of this. I will NEVER FORGET that moment. This one will sting for quite a while; well at least until Sunday 8/14/22 around 4:30pm.
Now that I’ve gotten all that out it’s time to quit stewing in the dumps. It’s time get back to putting in the work and making things happen. I’m 81 days out from Rim to River 100 which will be a nice boost, and 360 days until my 2nd date with destiny. I damn well guarantee I will be taking my soul back and getting that buckle and jacket.
LET’S FUCKING GO!!
Aid Station Splits: Pre-race estimates vs. Actuals
|Aid Station||Sect. Dist.||Total Dist.||Cutoff Time||Est. Time||Actual Time|
|AS1- Ramsey Rd||5.8||5.8||7:00am||6:20am||6:33am|
|AS3- Lower Pine Btm.||6.5||17.8||11:30am||9:30am||10:10am|
|AS4- Browns Run||8.0||25.8||2:00pm||12:00pm||12:30pm|
|AS5- Happy Dutchman||5.8||31.6||4:30pm||2:30pm||2:35pm|
|AS6- Ritchie Rd||6.9||38.5||6:30pm||4:30pm||4:29pm|
|AS7- Hyner Run||4.7||43.2||8:15pm||6:30pm||6:02pm|
|AS8- Dry Run||8.0||51.2||11:00pm||9:00pm||9:07pm|
|AS9- Big Trail||5.4||56.6||12:45am||11:00pm||11:23pm|
|AS10- Slate Run||7.3||63.9||3:15am||1:30am||3:09am|
|AS12- Long Branch||6.5||75.8||7:30am||5:30am||DNF|
|AS14- Sky Top||4.5||85.0||10:45am||9:00am||DNF|