I loaded the girls (my two daughters and their great aunt) into the van, jumped in the driver's seat, turned the key and pointed the vehicle toward Lycoming County and, with any luck, some freakishly early snow.

My wish came true (though I'd have never guessed--weather reports notwithstanding--that there'd actually be more snow home in Manheim than up in the higher elevations of northern Pennsylvania).

Whichever friend of my stepfather's who owns and built the cabin that we frequent a half hour's drive north of Williamsport chose a beautiful location.  Perched on a nice vantage point just above the Lycoming Creek, the cabin is close enough (a 2.5-3 hour drive) to always feel within reach but remote enough to seem as though home is far, far away.

Arriving on Friday after the sun was already down, we didn't get a peek at the state of the fall foliage but we could see that there wasn't any snow on the ground.  It wasn't warm, but the temperatures hadn't dipped below freezing.  Regardless, the cabin's wood stove made for a cozy night's sleep.

When I woke to my alarm at 6:30, things had changed.

A solid frost clung to everything, steady snow was falling and a cold fog hung in the dim light of early morning.  The first few miles of my run would keep me low in the valley away from what little warmth the rising sun might bring.  The mercury hadn't dipped far below freezing, but a very wet snow dampened everything it touched and made the air feel that much colder.

I followed Route 14 south for about 4 miles until it reached the town of Ralston.  Once there, I hung a left onto an old logging road that quickly left town behind and crept out toward Loyalsock State Forest.  Rather than continuing into the state forest (which is beautiful), I soon bore left onto McIntyre Road, another unpaved mountain road, that offers a challenging sustained 4 mile, 1000+ foot climb to what, in fairer weather, is a pretty stunning vantage point of the valley that I'd just passed through.

A gathering blanket of snow on the tree branches welcomed my arrival.

I settled into a steady pace determined to run the entire climb and managed to so.  I had the road to myself except for a couple of passing hunters who greeted my wave and smile with the subtlest of acknowledging nods that, honestly, I may have invented to assure myself that we'd made nice.  Because of the road conditions, it took them a long time to leave me behind which gave me a nice shot of adrenaline to finish the climb.

Before actually reaching the vista, the road levels and even offers a slight downhill before the turnaround.  Having run the entire uphill, I decided to mess around with the small tripod in my pack and see if I could get any decent shots of me running.  They turned out so-so, but I liked this one:

When I did reach the overlook, visibility was extremely limited by the icy fog that rolled between the rocky outcrop on which I stood and the far ridgeline, a couple of miles removed.  Vanity coaxed me into another self portrait:

I lingered for several minutes as small gaps in the clouds opened and closed, providing momentary glimpses of the landscape below.

I realized I'd stayed long enough when a torso-shaking chill reminded me that I was soaking wet and it was still snowing.  I dug a dry shirt out of my pack and welcomed the immediate warmth.  Though the hardest part of my out-and-back was behind me, I still had a 9 mile return trip and was glad I'd planned well enough to have brought the change of clothes.

With four immediate miles of downhill, I pushed the pace a bit and was happy to have my legs respond nicely.  At the lowest section of McIntyre Road, the mid morning temps had climbed enough to keep the snow from accumulating.  I really enjoyed the autumnal beauty and almost wished that the road went on forever.

It didn't.  Eventually I was back along the comparatively bustling Route 14 and churning out the last few miles to the cabin.  I was pleased to see that I'd held comfortably below 9 minute mile pace for the entire 18 miles despite the climb up McIntyre and without every really trying to push hard.

This is the route, if you're interested:

Despite having snow fall throughout the day and into the evening hours, we didn't have any measurable accumulation at the cabin itself.  I learned that back home Lindsay had had the displeasure of shoveling 5-6 inches of heavy snow and a limb had sheared off of one our favorite backyard trees.

By the time I got home late on Saturday afternoon (and with the exception of the tree branch), most of the evidence was gone.  It had clearly snowed but little of it remained.  Still, curiosity led me back to the car and off to Pumping Station to check on the Horseshoe Trail.

Because of the closures of Route 322, I couldn't get the car all the way there.

I'm assuming there were trees down somewhere on 322 to merit the closure, but on foot, I couldn't see them.  There were limbs down everywhere on the Horseshoe Trail, however, and it was slow going through the gathered slush and what snow lingered.

After the long, quick road miles of the day before, the varying footing and the riddle that is route-finding on rocky terrain was a nice change of pace.  Topping out at Eagle Rock, I snapped a quick photo to show the couple of inches of snow and the view north toward Schaefferstown, Myerstown and Blue Mountain far in the distance.

For good measure, I took one more "I wuz here" photo of you know who too.

I tacked on a couple more miles before returning to the car to get home to my lovely snow-shoveling wife, some pizza and a couple hours of not running.



How I've dreamed of a complete race.  Just one solid start to finish effort that didn't leave me questioning or second guessing myself at the end of the day. 

I think I may have had one or two over the years, but I was a much younger man the last time it happened.  Even my better results were usually accompanied by some missteps or sections of the race that could have gone differently and ended with a lower time.

So, I'm 37 now and no longer in possession of the speed and lack of wear-and-tear I had at 20.  I'm only gonna go so fast.  Which leaves me needing to be disciplined and smart.  Neither is my strong suit.

All the better, then, to have things come together at a race that references the "not smart" in its very name, Pretzel City Sports's third annual Ghouls & Fools 10K.

A Ron Horn original, this little gem of a race starts after the sun sets and winds its way up and around Mt. Penn, asking runners to weave around trees, duck under branches, clamber over logs and endure endless rocks and roots with just your flashlight or headlamp beam to guide the way.

I ran this race for the first time in 2010, placing 39th out of well over 400 finishers with a time of 52:44.  I was pretty pleased with that result, especially with the hesitancy I felt during the first mile or two as I questioned every footfall on the leaf strewn, rocky course.  I'd also managed to start further back in the pack than I had intended, always a potential obstacle at the well attended (and for good reason) Pretzel City events.

I almost missed this year's race entirely as I had somehow managed to convince myself that it was scheduled for the 29th of October, a day I would be in a little cabin north and east of Williamsport enjoying a weekend away with family.  Thankfully, I emerged from the fog on Friday morning to realize that the race was actually happening on Saturday, October 22nd.

Jefferson was there in body and spirit, but was leaning on a trekking pole that confirmed his ankle hadn't recovered from not one but two nasty falls on a predawn run the weekend before.  I was glad to see him even if he'd only shown up to claim his prepaid race tee.  Steve (50:22!) and Cassie (who earned a 3rd place finish in her age group!) were there, as was Jason though I didn't actually see him until later in the evening.  Shasta, as promised, showed up to try her first night run and ended up running it like it was routine.  There were plenty of other familiar faces too, but many of my closer running friends were out of town, the only bummer of the night.

The weather was perfect...just cool enough to run in long sleeves and a hat without wishing you could ditch them 10 minutes after you started.

After listening to Ron's pre-race threats, I succeeded in wedging in right behind the speedsters at the front of the pack and waited for the gun.  I stayed inside on the first crowded turn out of the parking lot and consciously moved quickly during the first few hundred yards to ensure that I was free of the fray when we hit the initial section of singletrack.

I was really psyched to vanish into the woods with no more than 15-20 bobbing headlamps out in front of me.  The pace was speedy during the first mile as the track tumbled mostly downhill ahead of the climbing to be done later in the course.

It was during the downhill stretch, as I tried to get a peek at how fast we were going, that I discovered I'd left my GPS in the car.  I immediately decided that it didn't matter and never gave it another thought.

At some point within the first two miles, the small pack that I was in fell apart at a spot where a few runners started off course and the others began to follow.  I emerged from that confusion at the front of the group and dug into the uphill section that immediately followed.  Some minutes later I realized that I was running alone and had been for a time as the trail continued to climb and snake here and there in the darkness.

I spent the next few miles mostly alone and shot right past the aid stations, not feeling the need for anything over the short distance and in the cool conditions.  I was eventually caught by a couple of other runners but stayed in the same headspace, just cranking out the miles and relishing the way my brain stayed out of the way of my body doing its thing.

I began to wonder if I should consider ONLY running at night as I really think I was running more purely with the lack of visibility because in order to hold pace I had to pretty much turn things over to my legs and hope that they were making the right decisions.  Every now and then I would hit a rock or root oddly and understand that I was a single misstep away from a disaster, but, thankfully, that misstep never happened.

I was almost disappointed to see the old familiar guard rail that marks the start of Ron's beloved one-last-kick-in-the-ass finishing climb.  A scramble over that last rocky ridge deposited me on the grass just ahead of the finish.  Jefferson threw me some kind words as I passed him and glanced up at the clock.  Crossing the line at 45:39, I'd shaved a full 7 minutes off of last year.

I felt great and loved that the race had felt less like a race and more like the best of runs, free of any expectations and, instead, just a total escape with the sound and noise of real life turned all the way down.


Turned out my time was good enough to land me in 9th place and 2nd in my age group.  And the best part of all that was having Ron proclaim my beard the "best beard in the race" when he handed me this ghoulish medal:

I usually don't mingle with clowns, but I'm making an exception for this guy.


singing the blue's cruise.

I've got blog posts withering on the vine.

I meant to report on my day at the Conestoga Trail Run (and address Kelly's accusations), had a commentary on the wonderfully inherent risks of getting lost at ultras and intended to provide a look back at September's mileage.  A beard vs. aerodynamics entry is way overdue.  There are other ideas rattling around in my sieve of a brain but I've got to let them go or at least set them aside to say a thing or two about the 2011 Blue's Cruise 50K.

Just gotta do it.

I'm actually going to do my best to keep my clumsy words out of the way and let some great pics from some great friends (thanks, Jo and Derek!) do most of the talking.

Speaking of Jo, there she is on the far right smiling away as usual.  This was the crew at the 6.5 mile aid station and they were fantastic.  On a pretty raw day thanks to the muddy, muddy course, cool temps and on-and-off rain, the volunteers at Blue's delivered warmth and encouragement at every stop.  The been-there-done-that wisdom of the Pagoda Pacers was evident at each aid station and much appreciated.

And speaking of warmth and "pretty raw", here's Derek doing, well, whatever it is he's doing.  I'm relieved to say that I didn't witness this spectacle first hand.  I did, however, get the jolt of adrenaline that Derek delivers each of the four or five times I crossed his path on the course as he leapfrogged from point to point, cheering on racers and photo documenting the day.

Derek snapped this pic of me just after I went past the 6.5 aid station.  He had his shirt on at this point, thank goodness.  I was still feeling good enough at this point to have run through the aid station without stopping and it seems I was fancying myself some kind of bird in flight.  Why I can't help but clown for a camera is a mystery worth investigating.

This is ultra-machine Kelly Agnew doing work.  We ran together for the first couple of miles and I forgot to ask him if his stopping to shed a layer and encouraging me to "keep going" was his way of actually telling me to "get lost".  Hmmm.  Maybe it's better that I didn't ask.  The next time I saw him, he was asking me if I was "ok".  And, then, he got right back to the task at hand and cranked out a sweet 5:24 on a track way muddier and hillier than my (once again) poor pre-race reporting would've suggested.

Don't let this photo of Gary and Carli fool you.  The course is about 95% trail, much of it sweet singletrack.  This shot was taken within the first 1/8 of a mile and other than a couple of road crossings and this same short stretch at the end, this was the last paved surface they needed to cover.  Congrats, you two!

Look at that grin.  You think Greg likes ultra running?  I'd say so.  This is another of the wonderful individuals that I met at Laurel Highlands and immediately felt like I'd known forever.  I look forward to spending more time together on the trail...the sooner the better.

Jeremiah caught me from behind coming down the first real climb on the course when my left arch was starting to punish me for punishing it in the stride-mangling mud of the first 1/3 of the course.  He said "you don't recognize me" and he was right.  The last time I'd seen him, he was sporting a full head of dreads that apparently have been shorn.  Jeremiah is the owner and head trainer of the CrossFit Collective in Lancaster.  Whatever he's doing, it's working.  He ran a sub 5:30.  Check out the Collective and maybe he can whip you into shape too (maybe I should consider that a note to self).

Jason is another Laurel blood brother and a face I always hope and expect to see at area races.  We spent some time together on Sunday at a point where we were both in grinding mode, just trying to push through to the finish.  If you haven't been there, trust me, those are bonding moments for sure.  That much more so when you endure them with an already kindred spirit.  Way to get it done, Jason!

I hadn't met Steve before, but knew him through Facebook if that qualifies as "knowing".  Can't imagine a better way to have made his acquaintance than by sharing a mile together on the trail.  He was chugging away and I wish my arch would've allowed me to spend a bit more time with him.  Conversation was easy and he shared stories of Leo Lutz, another Lancaster runner who appears to be known by everyone but whom I've never met despite our similar names and shared interests.  Steve is another of the 6 degrees that will eventually lead to me shaking Leo's hand.  I didn't see Steve later in the day, but, per the results, it looked like he was 1st Senior Male, clocking a 6:02:58 at age 65.  Yes, sixty five.  Awesome.

And, speaking of awesome, the one and only Randy Schultz crossed the line and, in the process, scored his second 50K finish in the last month!  I can only imagine the thrill of being escorted to the end by son Derek.  This is one proud papa who just so happens to be a papa that so, so many of us are proud to know.  If there's a bigger heart out there, I'll need visual evidence as proof.  Congratulations, Randy!  You truly are an inspiration.

Which brings me back to me.  There was a different kind of inspiration waiting for me.  Lindsay and the girls were kind and loving enough to brave less than ideal weather to see me make it to the end.  If only I had as much pep left at the finish as Piper Bea did when she came dashing my way with a celebratory hug and giggles...the best finisher's medal ever.

Shy Lily played coy and got bearded kisses in response.  More joy.

Shout outs too to my beautiful wife, Lindsay, for spending one of her extremely rare days off from work, class, clinicals and studying to wait and worry in the cold rain for me to finally drag myself to the finish many, many minutes after I'd told her to expect me.  We make sacrifices for each other, but, frankly, mine are minor in comparison to hers.  If there is such a thing as an angel, she just might be one.  Thank you.

Thanks also to the race directors and all of the volunteers for another incredible event.  There was pre-race buzz surrounding the Blue's as this was the first year that it would be a true full 31 mile loop around the lake.  Then with the wicked weather of this past month, there was some concern that the course wouldn't actually be ready.  Just two to three weeks ago, most of the trail was quite literally underwater.  Like 10-15 feet deep!   I'm amazed at how well the race came off with those challenges and tip my hat, thinking it way too weak a gesture on my part under the circumstances. 

To trail running friends, old and new, may it please be evident how much I cherish our shared adventures.  Even at low physical moments, I can't imagine wanting to be anywhere else.  I hope that I find ways over the years to at least partly repay the inspiration, kindness and positivity that you gift to me on every meeting.  It's been a great ride thus far and I'm so excited that the road, er, trail looks like it just goes on and on and on.

See you out there!