Running Through Puddles

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I’ve been itching for some new dirt, and yesterday I decided to try out a new trail at Gifford Pinchot State Park. I had no idea this little park even existed until Emily ran the Squirelly Tail Twail Wun half-marathon last month, but it turns out it’s got a decent trail system with about 18-miles of trails. The park is situated around Pinchot Lake, and all of the trails wrap around the lake at a pretty low elevation. With all the recent rain and snow melt, suffice it to say that the trails were anything but dry. Wet and muddy trails add a whole new element to trail running, and it can turn a run into an amazing or terrible experience, depending on how you treat it. My strategy is generally to embrace the suck. This mantra gets me through trail runs with soaking wet feet and mud-caked legs and a smile on my face. Running is my time for contemplation, and yesterday I was trying to figure out why I was the only one out there enjoying the muddy trails.

Grown-Ups Don’t Jump In Puddles

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My mud-caked legs after 10 miles of muddy trail.

Everyone knows that kids love to get dirty. When you’re a kid, a puddle can be entertainment for hours. But for some reason, as we get older, we forget that such simple things can be tons of fun. It’s fun to get dirty. I won’t say that I intentionally run through muddy spots to get dirty, but I can’t say I go out of my way to avoid them either. But believe me, I have to remind myself of this mentality whenever I get outside and discover less-than-ideal trail conditions. But once I remind myself to embrace it, I have a blast. It’s far too easy to get frustrated because your shoes and feet are getting wet and you’re slipping backward in the mud or snow more than moving forward. You just have to remember that it doesn’t matter how fast you’re going, or how wet your feet are, it’s about enjoying the experience as a whole. Once you remember that, it’s not too hard to start loving your run.

It’s Out Of Our Comfort Zone

I can’t help but think this is another big reason why runners tend to avoid the trails. “I don’t do trails because I’m uncoordinated and I’ll trip and fall.” So? Everyone makes mistakes, gets ahead of themselves, and ends up face planting in the mud at some point. That’s just something you have to expect and know will happen at some point. But the more you get out there and build up your trail legs, the more confident you will become, and the less this will happen. Sure, trails don’t offer the consistent and dependable homogeneous surface of the mundane and repetitive asphalt. But trails do offer a new experience every day with every step, which keeps them new and exciting. I won’t go into why trail running is so much better than road running, because I’ve already discussed this in my post on “5 Reasons to Get off the Road“. But I will urge you to forget about any self-doubt you may have when it comes to running trails for the first time, or just getting out on a muddy day, and just push yourself out the door and do it. I don’t think you’ll regret it.

So there you have it. There’s my charge to get out of your comfort zone and remind yourself to play in the mud. It’s tons of fun, and you don’t have to register and pay the $100+ for a Tough Mudder to do it. I don’t think that I would have as much fun as I did yesterday if that was my daily run. But every couple days I can learn to enjoy getting a bit muddy, and I think you can too.

No, I Don’t Eat Fish

It’s been about two and a half years since I last ate meat… unless you count that bite of kangaroo and that bite of crocodile I had when I was in Australia, but I just couldn’t resist (the kangaroo was delicious, the crocodile tasted like chicken). I am a vegetarian, meaning I don’t eat animal flesh of any kind, including fish. A diet that includes animal flesh but not seafood or fish is called pescetarianism, and one that abstains from consuming animal products of any kind is called vegan. While I am very conscious and picky about the non-meat animal products I do purchase, I have no plan to become a strict vegan.

I began thinking more about where my food comes from while employed at the Dickinson College Farm, a small-scale organic vegetable farm, as well as while taking classes on sustainability and food politics as an environmental science major. I began to learn about the inhumane cruelty that goes into the production of factory farmed food, as well as the negative environmental impact that our nation’s food system is creating. I learned about the concept of voting with our food dollar, and I eventually decided that as an informed consumer, there was no excuse to not make a change in my eating habits.

I became what I deemed a “conscientious omnivore” (because every OmnivoresDilemma_fulldiet needs a label), a term I picked up after reading Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”. With this new gastronomical philosophy, I would only eat meat that had been raised by a trusted and local source. I did this because I was concerned about the treatment and quality of life of the animals I was eating. I’m also cheap, and as we all know, local meat is expensive. So for a bit over a year, my meat consumption plummeted. By working at the Dickinson College Farm and by having friends working on other local farms, most of the meat I did eat I acquired for free. I was okay with only eating meat on rare occasion, because when I did eat meat, I knew that it was the most nutritious and best-tasting meat I could be eating.

Even while I was drastically limiting my meat consumption, I was still intrigued by the idea of cutting out meat entirely from my diet. I was also enthusiastic about the idea of being able to keep myself alive and healthy without having to rely on the death of other living things to do so. I was also curious about how my body would react to an entirely meat-free diet, and at the same time I was learning about how foods interact within the body, and how it is entirely possible to maintain an active and healthy lifestyle on a diet based entirely on plants. This was the fall of my junior year of college. In the spring, I would be travelling to Australia for a semester studying abroad. I decided that this would be the perfect opportunity to test out a vegetarian diet.

After three months of no meat (except that roo and croc), I felt great, and I decided that I would keep it up after returning home. That summer was also the summer that I first started getting into ultra-distance running. I had always been a runner, but that summer I veg-08ran my first marathon and ultra-marathon. I trained with some of the highest mileages I’ve ever run, regularly logging 75-85 mile weeks. I was amazed that even on a completely vegetarian (and mostly vegan) diet, my body felt fantastic. A year and a half later, I’m still running long distances on a vegetarian diet. If anything, eating vegetarian has only improved my health, fitness, and running performance. It’s important to note, though, that vegetarian doesn’t necessarily mean healthy. There is plenty of unhealthy food out there that would still qualify as vegetarian. It’s important to eat a diverse diet of real food, full of vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, and grains. My girlfriend Emily is lactose-intolerant and also limits her meat consumption, so together we eat mostly vegan. We typically don’t keep meat or dairy products in the house, and so we laugh about the fact that we can never share a dish when we go out to eat, as she orders meat and I order cheese.

My diet has evolved with my running. It reflects my values of eco-conscious living and animal welfare. It also seems to work well with my body and I enjoy it. I love to cook, and I enjoy vegetarian and especially vegan cooking because of the challenge it presents. Most cooking relies on meats or other animal products to bring flavor to a dish, but vegan cooking forces innovation and creativity to satisfy taste. I don’t believe that vegetarianism is necessarily right for everyone, because everyone’s body is different, and I am frustrated with those who preach that everyone must sacrifice meat for the good of the planet or for animal rights. I recognize that meat is not all bad. We as omnivores and opportunistic eaters are designed to eat meat, and meat certainly offers a reliable and convenient source of all the essential amino acids that we need to manufacture protein. I do, however, believe that everyone should learn more about where their food comes from, and make choices about their eating habits that reflect personal values. I would encourage everyone to experiment with vegetarian eating, because perhaps they might enjoy it. If you do decide to eat meat, purchase local meat that has been sustainably and humanely raised whenever possible. And remember, every food dollar spent is a vote for the food policy that supported that food’s production.

Eat and Run: Diet On and Off the Trail

I am a health-conscious but food-loving vegetarian. I think it’s important to make that distinction: I generally eat pretty healthy, and am still able to eat amazingly delicious food. I am also an ultra-marathon runner. Plenty of ultra-runners have already proven that ultra-running is entirely possible on a vegetarian or vegan diet. The most common contention results from the argument that we can’t possibly get enough protein to maintain our high level of expenditure. However, there is tons of sound science out there to suggest that the average American actually eats too much protein on the Standard American Diet, and that more than enough protein for a healthy diet can be derived from a diversity of nuts, beans, grains and various vegetables. Of all the books I’ve read about diet and food, my eating mantra is best{EB0A93B1-0594-4015-8955-00F4776C5541}Img100 summed up in Michael Pollan’s “Food Rules“. In the book, Pollan addresses our three most nagging dietary questions: 1) What should I eat? 2) What kind of food should I eat? and 3) How should I eat? His answers are summed up in seven words: “Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.” On and off the trail, I believe in whole-food, plant-based, eating. When competing at any distance, it is important to properly nurture the body by providing it with good nutritious food. This is perhaps most important when competing at ultra-distances, when the body is most dependent on a steady supply of energy and nutrients to maintain energy. The human body is an extremely capable instrument for determining what is good to eat, and it doesn’t take a degree in nutrition or health science to recognize nourishing food. I don’t believe in eating goos. When I look at a goo, it’s hard to see it as any kind of real food that could actually nourish my body. Instead, I choose to eat a diversity of simple and complex carbohydrates, vegetable proteins, and fats to keep myself energized. I prepare all or almost all of my own foods for a race. By doing this, I can ensure that I will not only have access to the foods I know I will be craving, but I will also have the foods that will properly nourish my body and keep me moving forward. Some of my favorite foods that I have prepared and race-tested include Chia Seed Corn Patties, PB&J and Banana-Walnut Two-Bite Pies, PB&J fzp_96dpi_400pw_strBalls, and simple PB&J or Rice and Bean Wraps. I like PB&J, whether it be on bread, rice, by itself in a ball, or some other form. I’ve gathered many of recipe ideas from Born to Run by Chris McDougall, Eat and Run by Scott Jurek, and Feed Zone Portables by Allen Lim. I highly recommend checking out Feed Zone Portables, as it’s an amazing recipe book full of highly practical and delicious portable foods ideal for runners, cyclists, or backpackers. It includes many vegan and vegetarian recipes, and often offers a vegetarian alternative for carnivorous courses. When selecting foods for a race, I go for foods that I know I’ll be craving, as well as that will provide me with the nutrients I’ll need. It’s also important to have a variety of foods on hand, because it’s impossible to predict what foods you’ll be craving in the later miles. In particular, I love PB&J because of its combination of simple carbohydrates from the jelly and protein and fats from the peanut butter, plus it tastes great! Simple carbohydrates (from sugars and fruits) are easy to digest and provide a quick energy source. The protein and fat in peanut butter is slow to break down but help to fill essential energy reserves for late-race energy. Incorporating these various types of carbohydrates (both simple and complex), proteins, fats, and sugars is an important element of race nutrition. I like to eat a diversity of foods throughout a race, but tend to favor complex carbohydrates in the early miles so that I have energy reserves in later hours. Complex carbs take longer to digest but provide a more nutritious and longer-lasting energy source. I then turn to simple carbohydrates in the later miles when I need access to quick energy. Whatever foods you decide to prepare, no matter how nutritious they are, the most important factor to consider is whether or not you’ll want to eat it. For example, when foods don’t have any sweet element and are chewy or tough to swallow, I tend to avoid them. I always favor sweet and wholesome foods that are easy to chew and digest. If you don’t enjoy it when you’re not running, odds are you’re not going to want to eat it 40 miles into a run. I love bananas, oranges (pre-peeled), rice (in manageable portions), sweet and savory wraps, and PB&J (have I mentioned that?).

On Risk: Leaving my Job to Travel

In three weeks, I’ll be leaving my steady full-time job and cozy apartment to spend an unknown amount of time living on the road, searching for an unknown place to live and (hopefully) finding an unknown job. There’s a lot of unknowns there, and yes, it’s scary, but here’s why I’m doing it anyway.

I graduated college in the May of last year. Right away, I thankfully was able to find a job, in the same town as my now Alma Mater, that I have enjoyed and that has provided me with valuable work experience. Some of my best friends also stuck around the area to work as interns at the Dickinson College Farm for a season, so it’s been great to be in an area where I don’t have to find entirely new friends. Plus, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being able to head into campus whenever I want to visit my undergraduate friends as well. I’ve also been lucky enough to live literally right next to the Appalachian Trail, so I’ve been spoiled with some of the most accessible trail running I’ve ever had. It’s been an amazing year. But even though so far everything has pretty much worked out perfectly for me, I still feel that I’ve missed something. I never had that big adventure that everyone seems to think is so important before hunkering down. I’m not so sure I’m going to be ready to hunker down anytime soon, but I do know that I’m still ready for that big adventure.

Unknown risk breeds unknown adventure. We constantly hear about people who take big risks and find big payoffs, and sure, this definitely doesn’t happen for everyone. And we tell ourselves that these people must be geniuses or just really lucky, and maybe that’s true in many cases. But the truth of the matter is, there is risk involved in every decision. Even those people who follow the script and play by all the rules take some level of risk. What it really comes down to is what degree of risk we are willing to accept. But whatever we decide is an acceptable risk, it is important to remember that no one has ever lived an extraordinary life without taking extraordinary risks. I thoroughly believe this to be true.

“No one has ever lived an extraordinary life without taking extraordinary risks.”

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Our tiny “woody” teardrop trailer.

In two weeks, Emily and I are leaving our steady jobs and and our home in Boiling Springs, PA. We will be spending an undetermined amount of time living on the road out of our tiny teardrop trailer. We will drive west, exploring as many new places and learning as much as we can. We hope to visit all the national parks and forests we can, run the most spectacular trails we can find, and WWOOF along our way to meet new people and learn new skills. When we do find somewhere that suits us, we hope to rely on our education, background, and ingenuity to find good work.

Who knows, in a few months, I may write that I should never have taken this risk and dived head-first into the unknown, though I’m thinking this will not be the case. Even if we should fail in some manner or the next, I believe we will never regret the risk. Sure, we will make mistakes. This is something you cannot plan for and you have to be willing to accept. We will learn from those mistakes. In a sense, this experience is a test of ourselves. It is a test of our ability to throw ourselves into an uncertain situation and figure out how to land our feet. What we are doing is scary. We are taking a big risk, but it will also be a big adventure. In just under three weeks, on April 1, we’re off.

How I Run: A Mindset for Distance Running

This past weekend I was able to take advantage of the beautiful weather (mid-forties all weekend!) and log just shy of 40 miles over two long runs. I had plenty of time for contemplation during my 6+ hours of running and decided to write this post about some of my thoughts. Almost every runner who blogs, and especially every blogging ultra-runner out there, has written the classic “Why I Run” entry. In this post, the blogger attempts to answer the question that they presumably receive on a regular basis regarding their irrational running habits through a series of bulleted points. As a distance runner and beginning blogger, I figure it’s about time I get started on mine, but with a bit of a twist. Rather than discussing the answer to the “why I run” question, I’d like to tackle the “how I run” question. I don’t think I’ve ever actually been asked this question, but I think that nevertheless this question is important to address. The reasoning for “why” we run often differs drastically from person to person, but the answers to “how” we run I think are much more applicable to a wider audience.

For The Love of Running

I run because I love to run. As such, I approach running with the mentality that if I’m ever not enjoying a run, I’m going to stop. For me, it doesn’t make sense to keep going if I’m not getting what I want out of it. This is an important rule, as I can’t stand the concept of going out for a jog solely to burn calories and without actually enjoying the experience. I’ve mentioned it in a previous post, but I’ll say it again. I hate exercising. For me, running is not exercising. Running is heading out to the trail and enjoying the way my body communicates with the dirt (or snow) beneath me with every step. This may sound a bit out there and new-agey, but broken down to its philosophical core, it’s true. I think mentally approaching activities like running in this manner is extremely important. The thought of exercising for its own sake sounds terrible. If we instead learn to enjoy how our bodies feel as we discover and push past our physical limits, no matter the distance, we will become overall healthier individuals. It is far easier to adapt healthier habits when they are enjoyed rather than dreaded. Running with this mentality, I don’t feel pressured to run any faster or longer to get a better workout. If I’m enjoying my run, I go further. If my body is feeling great, I run faster. Or, if I’m having a bad day or something is just feeling off, I turn around and go home.

Running with Zen

I was first introduced to this concept when preparing for my first 100-mile race. I was doing some reading on how to prepare and what to expect and I stumbled upon this article. Toward the end of the article, the author asks a 100-miler veteran how he gets through the second half of a 100-mile race. To this, the response is: “The second 50? Oh, that’s all zen.” Although I’m really not entirely convinced that I experienced this zen during my first 100-miler, it is a feeling that I am constantly striving for on any of my long runs. While reflecting on this idea over the past weekend’s runs, I realized that I do experience this zen feeling quite regularly, and it doesn’t take me 50 miles to get there. I experience this zen when I’m out for my long-ish runs of 15-20 miles. In the first several miles of any run, thoughts and ideas regularly zip through my mind as I try to make sense of everything that is going on in my life. Once I hit a certain point though, my thoughts begin to relax and I enter a place of calm and sometimes even thoughtlessness. For me, this is the zen feeling I am always searching for. Here, my body is on auto-pilot, and the only thing my mind is focused on is the physical sensory experience of my body. A book I’ve read that discusses ideas similar to this concept is called Running with the Mind of Meditation. Although this book wasn’t really my style, I know that others have enjoyed it. This may be a good read if you are interested in exploring this topic further.

Expedition Running

Gold rushers scale the “golden steps” on their journey into the Yukon Territory.

This idea has followed me from the beginning of my still youthful ultra-running career. It can be traced back to a single day during the summer of 2013 while I was an intern at a National Park in Alaska. I decided to run the Chilkoot Trail, a historical gold rush trail that runs from Skagway, Alaska to the Yukon Territory of Canada. This breath-taking 33-mile wilderness trail progresses through coastal rainforest, over a snow-capped mountain pass (right), and into the Yukon’s vast tundra landscape. I ran the first half of the Chilkoot with a guy I had met earlier that summer. The way he runs, as he described to me not long after our 3:30AM start time, is to treat running like an expedition. “Some people climb mountains, I run really far,” he said. I consider the Chilkoot Trail to be my most exciting and enlightening running experience to date. I learned that there is far more to the ultra-running experience than logging long miles. Mountain climbers must face the challenges of the mountain as they push their bodies to their physical limits. Ultra-running is no different. We ultra-runners must overcome rigorous terrain over grueling distances, but our biggest challenge is overcoming the mental and physical limits within ourselves. With this mindset, running, especially ultra-distance “trailing,” becomes a far more adventurous and exploratory activity. We never really know what the trail is going to throw at us or how our body is going to react, and so treating running with this respect brings about a whole mentality to the sport that I think impacts the running experience in a very positive manner.

Gear Review: Black Diamond Storm Headlamp

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The headlamp is an essential piece of gear for any ultra runner. I finally decided it was time to invest in a new headlamp a few months ago after suffering vision problems during my last 100-miler, probably due to running off of a cheap $20, 30 lumen headlamp. And with winter approaching and the anticipation of having to negotiate more trails in the dark, it was time for a new torch.

After a bit of research I finally decided on the 2014 Black Diamond Storm. I mention specifically the 2014 model, as I read that the product was updated since 2013 with a higher lumen count and is now a more popular light among runners. When deciding on a headlamp, my primary criteria were: weight, brightness, battery life, and price. The Storm has met expectation in all four categories.

1. Weight

Weighing in at 3.9oz (110g) with batteries, it’s not the lightest lamp on the market. However, I do consider it to be light enough. The weight took a little getting used to, as it was heavier than my previous headlamp that only took two AAA batteries. The Storm takes four AAA batteries, so a little bit of added weight was expected if I wanted more brightness. I’ve read some reviews that complain about the back of the headlamp not molding to the curve of the forehead. For me, this was just a matter of figuring out that I needed to wear it a little lower on my forehead than what I was used to with the lighter torch. After I corrected for this, I didn’t experience any excessive wobbliness by the device or the beam.

2. Brightness

Overall I’m very satisfied with how bright this headlamp is. Black Diamond claims 160 lumens at max brightness, which is pretty impressive compared to similarly priced models. I’m also very satisfied with the array of modes it has to offer. It includes: max strength,  (both proximity and distance modes), dimming, strobe, red night vision and lock mode. Its unique PowerTap technology, used for negotiating between modes, is a bit tricky to get the hang of at first, but once you learn all of the variations of taps and holds used to switch between modes it is easy to use.

3. Battery Life

Black Diamond boasts a battery life at some outrageous number like 70 hours at max brightness. You and I both know this isn’t going to happen. That said, however, I’m not disappointed by the battery life. I’m still working through my first set of batteries and I’ve logged several hours worth of solid night running. For me, I’m satisfied if I can get through one race on a single set of batteries. I think the Storm can perform to this credential.

4. Price

The Storm’s retail price is $50 purchased from the Black Diamond store, but you can find it on amazon for under $40. At that price, this headlamp is a no-brainer.

Overall, this is a very solid headlamp for anyone running trails in the dark. Its diversity of settings, brightness, PowerTap technology, and price make this headlamp stand out from the competition. There are definitely brighter and longer lasting headlamps out there, but for the price this is a great choice. Plus it looks cool, with a bunch of different colors to choose from and a hella sleek design.

5 Reasons to Get off the Road

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Last week after cursing every step of an 8-mile run on a trail resembling a block of ice more than a dirt path, I finally decided to take a break from trails. I’m a bit spoiled in that I live right next to the Appalachian Trail, so for the past 10 months since I’ve lived here in Boiling Springs I’ve run almost exclusively trail. After this past week’s 50 miles of pounding pavement, here are the 5 reasons why today I went back to the trail (and it was glorious):

1. Peace and quiet

Thankfully this past week I didn’t encounter any terribly rude drivers. There isn’t a whole lot of traffic around here, especially on the backcountry roads I tend to favor, so people are generally pretty willing to share the road. That said, I’ve encountered my fair share of assholes who refuse to give me any room, yell at me to get off the road (even when I’m comfortably on the shoulder), or otherwise call me names or honk at me (ruining my zen). Even when I encounter no trouble whatsoever, just having to worry about sharing the road can keep me from entering into the meditative state that I love so much about running. When I’m out on the trail, there is only peace and silence. Every now and then I’ll pass a fellow runner or hiker, but I don’t think I’ve ever encountered someone on the trail who wasn’t friendly and courteous.

2. Beautiful views

Besides the peaceful nature of the trail, the scenery can be just plain beautiful. Every now and then I’ll start to get sick of running the same routes over and over again, but it only takes a moment’s pause to look around and realize the repetition is worth it. Although today’s run wasn’t plagued by ice, much of it was run through open fields where snowdrifts have piled up, making it slow and tough going. I can’t say running through this is the most fun I’ve ever had, but when I looked up at a landscape of silhouetted trees and snow-covered fields illuminated by a bright red and orange sunset, this less-than-ideal trail was worth the view.

3. Better exercise

The fact is that running trails is better exercise than running roads. Sure, your pace suffers because of the terrain and obstacles you have to deal with, but a mile on trail is worth more than a mile on road, as far as training goes. Trail running is a more wholistic body experience, as it requires the use of the entire body to keep balanced and in forward motion while negotiating rocks, roots, mud, streams, branches, or whatever else the trail throws your way. On trail, your body is forced to activate and work far more muscles than traditional road running, resulting in a much better workout.

4. Better health

In addition to trail running being a much more balanced act for the body, running trail greatly reduces the amount of impact on the feet. With less overall impact, less impact is transmitted to the ankles, knees, shins, and hips. This then reduces the risk of injury. According to this article by Runner’s World which cites a study by the Journal of Sports Sciences, running on grass reduces impact by as much as 17 percent. Plus, it just feels better. This past week I kept noticing new aches and pains as I progressed through my runs. There was no lasting injury, but I can’t help but think that this was nonetheless a result of running road.

5. More fun

I hate exercising. Exercising is something I associate with weight loss or “getting in shape,” of which I am trying to do neither. I love to run, so therefore I don’t consider it exercise. When I’m running roads though, I can’t help but feel like I’m exercising. With no obstacles to slow me down, I find myself pushing my pace faster and faster. The faster I run, the more I realize that I’m not really enjoying being in the moment of my run. I get the feeling that I’m only running to add another mile to my runner’s log. When I’m on the trail, sure, I’m just as conscious about my mileage, but I love every minute of it. Even when I’m cursing the ice.

Race Report: Pine Creek Challenge 100 Mile

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It’s been almost 6 months since I completed my first 100-mile race in Wellsboro, PA. Maybe it’s a bit late to be writing a race report, but on the other hand, these past 6 months have given me plenty of time to recuperate and reflect on my overall race experience.

Signing up for the 100-mile distance seemed like a natural progression in my running career. I had previously completed races at the 26.2, 50k (31mi), and 50mi distances, so a 100 didn’t seem too far fetched. Even though this race would effectively double any previous distance I had run, how hard could it be? After the first 50, it’s all zen anyway. At least that’s what I was convinced going into the race. I soon learned that 100 miles is a very, very, very, long way. But, nonetheless, I finished, and now I can without doubt count myself into the ultra-marathoner community (some don’t consider a 50 miler a true ultra, as it doesn’t factor in sleep deprivation). I didn’t do it alone though, and I don’t think I could have finished without the support of my “crew”. I was accompanied by Emily and Kyle, who helped me out at aid stations and paced me for much of the second half of the race. Here’s my report:

The Race.

I have nothing but good things to say about the race itself. The Pine Creek Challenge is put on by the Tyoga Running Club, and I must say they did a splendid job. The volunteers were all awesome, and I encountered nothing but friendly runners. It’s a very new and small race, even as ultras go- 2014 was only its third year- so there was a very relaxed and non-competitive atmosphere. The food at the aid stations was also surprisingly good. Highlights included hot coffee and hot vegetable soup late into the night.

Miles 0-20.

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Kyle working hard.

I should begin with a brief description of the course. It takes place in Northern Pennsylvania in an area nicknamed the “Pennsylvania Grand Canyon.” Despite the name, the course is entirely flat, and actually meanders within the “canyon’s” valley. I think the total elevation change was around 1000 feet, which is barely noticeable over 100 miles. The trail’s surface is crushed gravel. I thought this flat course would work to my favor for my first 100, but I’m not sure if this was the case. The first 20 miles was two 10-mile out-and-backs. The race started at 6:00AM Saturday morning, so after around 4 hours of running, I was right back where I started. The first 20 felt great and I kept a pretty strong pace. Nothing much to report here other than that the scenery was beautiful- green marshes and streams covered in a light morning mist as the sun rose- my favorite section of the course.

Miles 20-50.

Although I started to tire out a bit after my first marathon, there was nothing during these miles that I was unprepared for. After having already completed a 50-miler and several 30-40 mile runs, I knew what to expect physically and mentally during these miles. Anyone who’s run a marathon can tell you all about the infamous “wall”. A marathoner hits the wall usually between miles 18 and 20. Mentally, this is where demotivating thoughts starts creeping in. The body is nearing the end of its glycogen deposits and is reaching into its fat stores for energy, causing physical and mental stress. In an ultra, hopefully no one is reaching the end of their glycogen stores, as they should be continuously consuming fats and sugars (fast to break down), carbohydrates (slow to break down), and proteins (very slow to break down). However, for one reason or another, these walls still present themselves many times throughout the race. Between miles 20 and 50, I typically hit several walls. These miles can most readily be described as an emotional roller coaster, as stints of lethargy are often followed by feelings of utter exuberance. This, I was prepared for, and I pushed through them.

Miles 50-75.

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Heading out after the mile 69 aid station.

As soon as I broke 50 miles, I was testing new ground. I had no experience with this distance, and I had no idea how my body would react. Miles 50-75 were fraught with emotional and physical stress. Thankfully, somewhere around 50 Emily and Kyle began taking turns pacing me, and would stick with me for most of the second half of the race. This was a huge help to keep me moving. By now, my speed in the first 20 was coming back to bite me and I was slowing down rapidly. I ran the first 50 in about 8 1/2 hours. The second… in 17. Over the section, I had a couple spells of complete break down. At about 60 miles in, I laid down on the trail and started crying. It’s hard to describe what your body feels like after running 60 miles, especially while knowing you’ve got 40 to go. However, after a quick pep talk by Emily, I managed to get up and start moving (moving, not running). By the time I made it to the aid station at mile 69, my condition was rapidly deteriorating. I felt completely beat, and I had a pain in my knee that was slowing me down. I sat down, half in tears, and for thirty minutes refused to get back up. It just sounded too painful. Coming up was a 5 mile stretch between aid stations followed by a 22 mile stretch. I didn’t think it was possible to keep going. Somehow Emily and Kyle used their jedi mind tricks to get me to attempt the next section. They told me I needed to finish this last 5 miles, then I could quit there if I wanted to. Sure. While walking back to the trail, a volunteer took one look at me and said “You’re fine. My first 100 I walked the last 40 miles. You’re 70 miles in and you’ve got 17 hours before the cut-off. Get going.” This was the push I needed.

Miles 75-100.

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Handmade finishers mugs.

Even though I had been determined to quit once I arrived at the mile 75 aid station, I was now in good spirits and decided to keep going. I was terrified about this next 22-mile section, but knew that if I could get through this, I would finish. Thankfully, I had Kyle alongside me. We started off fairly strong, alternating walking a mile, then running a mile, but soon this gave way to knee pain that kept me from lifting my leg beyond a brisk walk. We eventually paired up with a couple older veteran runners who kept us moving. Ten minutes run, six minutes walk. At this point, I was starting to have vision issues, probably from having to focus on the dim beam of my headlamp, so I was thankful to be able to turn my headlamp off and run by their lights. Finally, at around 6:00AM on Sunday we pulled into the last aid station. Here, Kyle switched off with Emily, and Emily and I began our 3-mile walk to the finish-line. By now, I was in enough pain that I could only manage a hobble, so this last section took us 1 1/2 hours. I walked across the finish line at 7:19AM after a 25h19 race. I took my pick of the hand-crafted finisher’s mugs (above), laid down, and fell asleep for a quick nap before our car ride home.

Asleep at the finish line.

Asleep at the finish line.

The Aftermath.

It’s been almost 6-months since the race. I’ve recovered from what turned out to be an ITBS injury (this is when your iliotibial band gets inflamed from overuse, probably exacerbated by 100 miles of flat terrain, which produced the exact same stride again and again, and again, and again), which led to a couple months of forced time off, and am now steadily working my mileage back up. Admittedly, though, this is tough when there’s snow and ice and single digit temperatures outside. The inevitable question remains, would I do it again? This is the question I most struggle with. It seems almost masochistic to sign up for another 100 after knowing the pain that it involves. However, I feel that with better preparation and more respect for the distance, I could do it again. I want to prove to myself that I can tackle this massive distance. However, I expect my next 100 to not be for a while down the road. I’m planning on jumping back to the 50-miler and 100k distances for a while before I’m ready to take the plunge back to the 100.

Coming Out of The… Dumpster?

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So… there’s been something that I’ve been wanting to share for quite a while now. It’s something that I know will change how some people think of me, and yet I feel that it’s important that people know. Even though it’s been a part of my life now for a year or so, most of my friends and family members still do not know this about me. I think that it’s finally time that I just put this out there for all to know: I’m a dumpster diver.

Before I go any further, let me back up and explain what dumpster diving is not. Most of you who are reading this have never dived a dumpster, so the only image that you have in your mind of what dumpster diving looks like is probably not the reality. I know this because, before I started, I had this preconceived notion of what it would be like, which turned out to be far from the truth. I imagined jumping into a garbage dumpster full of.. well.. garbage. I imagined being neck-deep in other people’s waste, covered in disgusting food, and sorting through discarded scraps to find the little bit of still edible (and appetizing) food that I could salvage. Now that I have about a year of diving experience, this idea is completely ridiculous- it couldn’t be further from the truth.

The truth is that when I dumpster dive, I rarely even have to get in the dumpster. Trash and food are often piled high enough that I can cherry pick what I want without even having to climb inside. Even though the food I recover is in the trash, it is usually of good enough quality that if laid side-by-side with store-bought food, no one could tell the difference. It is also packaged and therefore the food has no contact with the dumpster itself. Oftentimes the food has only “expired” a day or two prior, and sometimes it hasn’t even reached its expiration date. Even when the food is technically expired, these dates are established to remove any liability from the food companies and therefore are labeled for expiration much sooner than the food will actually go bad. Plus, all food is required to have an expiration date- even food that really doesn’t ever expire. For example, I once recovered several liters of olive oil that had passed their expiration date. Who ever heard of olive oil going bad?

I was first introduced to dumpster diving during my senior year environmental science senior seminar course. We had to make videos describing something about nature (this is extremely broad- it was intended to be so). A friend of mine was making a video about food waste, and so for part of his video he included footage of us gleaning food from the local grocery store dumpster, to show how much food is wasted. We hooked up with a friend who already had some experience with the local diving scene, and off we went. When we arrived at the dumpster, I was amazed to learn that there was so much perfectly edible food available for the picking. We didn’t even have to get into the dumpster if we didn’t want to. It was just a matter of showing up and cherry picking the goods that we wanted.

Fast forward a year, and this past month Emily and I are determined to spend as little money as possible on food, while still maintaining a healthy and wholesome (mostly vegan) diet. Over the month of February, we’ve spent about $15 on food to feed the two of us, and most of that was on almond milk, an item we’ve never found in the dumpster. Sure, some of our diet is purchased or preserved foods like rice, pasta, lentils, and this past season’s preserved tomatoes, but we by no means hoarded any food stocks before we began this venture. We eat dumpster eggs, granola, or cereal for breakfast, take dumpster bread, hummus, and whatever else we can scrounge from the previous night’s dinner for lunch, and our dinners are largely determined by what’s in the dumpster the day before. Last night, we had vegetarian burritos for dinner (dumpster tortillas, guacamole, spicy bean dip, vegan ground beef, and cheese- the rice was purchased).

Americans waste half of all food that is produced in this country. 50%. Half of that 50% is at the consumer level. 25%. Dumpster diving is one small contribution to fighting this one-way waste stream to the landfill, plus I am virtually eating for free in the process.

I’m sure after reading this, most of you are not going to head to your local dumpster and see what’s for dinner. Most of you will probably be disgusted by the idea of eating from a dumpster. But at the very least, I hope that this post will make you stop and think about the food that is wasted in your house. Maybe you will make some changes in your lifestyle to waste less food. And who knows, maybe I’ll see you at the dumpster.

Interested in learning more about waste and dumpster diving? I’d recommend:

Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair With Trash by Edward Humes- though not really about dumpster diving, this book does do a great job of discussing the amount we waste, our country’s history of waste, and where our waste ends up.

Rob Greenfield’s Blog– This guy biked across the country living off of what he found in the dumpster. Definitely some good information on dumpster diving in here and some great articles regarding other food and environmentalist topics as well.