Twisted Branch 2015: A [pacer/volunteer/ultra-loiterer]'s Perspective
Picture notes: Yep, that's my runner, Matt Bertrand, becoming one with the Twisted Branch logo, channeling its ancient tree strength to propel him to an incredibly gutsy and power-of-will-driven finish on aching limbs and deteriorating joints, with me pacing close behind. At least, this is exactly how I remember it going down. Cover photo from Twisted Branch Trail Run Facebook Page; pic of me and Matt from Jeff Green's Dad.
WARNING: This "report" is mostly a stream-of-consciousness, hyphen-laden recounting [read: rambling] of my experience doing several things at the inaugural version of the Twisted Branch 100k Trail Run, some of which included: pacing [basically, running and hiking 24 or 25 miles with Matt Bertrand in the woods for 8 hours whilst trying to distract him from that fact that he had no knees left]; volunteering [essentially, carrying heavy stuff around for Scott Magee]; speculating [er, spectating]; photographing (amateurishly); pickle transporting (professionally); driving around; cycling around; and just generally hanging around with various runners, supporters, friends, family and trail misfits for over 24 hours.
In other words, this is a summary of my experience doing just about everything besides actually racing this damn thing. (And, after the first cut of this report, it seems to be a lot more about the lead-up to Twisted Branch than it does the race, itself...I guess big experiences have a way of causing you to think a lot about how it is you arrived there.) It promises to be a wholly inadequate retelling that barely samples the full experience in any meaningful way, and may, in fact, even greatly distort it. But, it is my attempt at getting something written about this incredible thing that culminated in one wild day on the trails on Aug 29, 2015 (before the daily grind takes over and my thoughts on the matter find their way tot my fast-growing "race report" graveyard). Thus, continue reading only at your own peril!
If under a time crunch, you may want to jump to the Conclusions section and my feeble attempt to string together some waxing on what it all might or could mean in a broader sense.
Also, for a related report that does a much better job capturing information and details relevant to the Twisted Branch experience, I strongly recommend that you visit my runner Matt Bertrand's recounting here: "I Literally Shaved My Leg For This Race - A Twisted Branch 100K Race Report" (https://pequalsmv.wordpress.com/2015/09/10/i-literally-shaved-my-leg-for-this-race-a-twisted-branch-100k-race-report/)
WHAT THE HECK IS TWISTED BRANCH?
What is Twisted Branch, the uninitiated among you may ask? I might be tempted to retort with the-suddenly-perfectly-reasonable-to-me counter-question: what isn't Twisted Branch? That may well be a faster path to answering the original question...eliminating what it is not in a hopeful attempt to arrive at what it is. As what transpired that day amounted to so much more than just a race--with so many interwoven storylines, experiences, struggles, triumphs, broken bodies...but resurgent souls--that it seems to me that only the metaphysicists and/or poets among us might truly be able to parse and describe it. (Where is Michael Valone when you need him.)
Alas, my philosophical struggles aside, I suppose that for the sake of context, something should be said of the physical parameters of the race:
In pure technical terms, TB is a 102k-ish (officially 63.7 mile...but, I will go to my grave swearing it is a solid mile longer than that) point-to-point ultra-marathon trail race along the entirety of the rugged and staggeringly beautiful (yet, also relentless and deceptive...relentlessly deceptive, even) Bristol Hills Trail, which is a major branch trail of the Finger Lakes Trail located in Western NY. The full route starts off in Ontario County Park in Naples, NY, near the high point of Ontario County (atop Gannet Hill), rising high to the west of Canadaigua Lake, within close proximity to Bristol Mountain Ski Resort; this area around Naples is oft-visited year-round by Rochester-area athletes looking to get in some quality hill training, as it is home to many high-grade, 1,000 ft.+ climbs. As per the official race website (http://www.twistedbranchtrail.com/), the trail then winds its way over an ever-varying mixture of terrain consisting of "single track, logging roads, groomed trails, dry stream beds, abandoned roads, dirt roads & paved roads" while passing through multiple different property designations, including "county parks, state lands, FLTC land, and hundreds of private properties."
Picture notes: Matt's GPX file data for the Twisted Branch course overlaid on a Google Earth map...suggesting that the course might possibly be visible from space if coated heavily in red sharpie ink. Canadaigua Lake to the east of the start, and Keuka Lake at the finish (with Lake Ontario depicted to the north). Google Earth has it at over 10,000 ft. EG and over 20,000 ft. EC, though it under-reports the distance by a bit. Official race distance was cited as just under 64 miles, though most GPS watches seemed to have it a bit longer.
Somewhere after the double marathon mark around mile 54, the BHT comes to its end and the race course transitions onto a segment of the main Finger Lakes Trail, now climbing high atop a pine-infused bluff overlooking an idyllic gully cut by Mitchellsville Creek, and then descending down through a classic Finger Lakes vineyard on the way into the town of Urbana. Only then does one come face-to-face with the soul-crushing massif known locally as Mt. Washington, which serves as the official welcoming party to the brutal last 5-ish miles of the race...a stretch that took most mortals in the neighborhood of 2+ hours to navigate at that point in the race--and even purportedly took the winner well over an hour--and was particularly acerbic to the many (majority?) of finishers who arrived to navigate it after dark.
Things finally wind down on the newly constructed Triad Trail, a wonderful new trail leading down into Hammondsport from Winding Stairs Rd. which was spearheaded to completion for this race (but which also undoubtedly served as the bane of 47 race finishers as those final, taunting switchbacks were traversed). The end comes at Champlain Beach Park in Hammondsport, NY, a sleepy little Finger Lakes village of less than 1,000 residents (apparently, also recognized as America's Coolest Small Town), which lies serenely at the southern tip of the breathtaking Keuka Lake. It is an incredibly rich and varied landscape that continuously chips away at you over the span of 10,000+ ft of total elevation gain and 20,000+ ft of total elevation change. I may be contributing to hearsay (or legend), but there is a yarn going around that race winner and regionally elite ultra marathoner, Daven Oskvig, called the course as challenging as any 100 miler he has raced, pound for pound.
Picture notes: Where the FLT and new Triad Trail meet on Winding Stairs Rd. (captured during a scouting run the week before).
The course was supported by 9 incredibly well-run aid stations, some with crew access and some without, whose locations are shown below:
Picture notes: Aid station locations shown relative to the sadistic course elevation profile. Recovery at these incredibly well-run aid stations was fleeting, as more often than not they were followed by massive climbs. Source: http://www.twistedbranchtrail.com/images/courseProfile.png
What Others Have Had to Say
I could go on about the course itself, but I'd prefer to stop here and sample some of my favorite passages from the race reports of others, which touch a bit on both the physical and philosophical (and, I encourage you to read their reports in full):
"It was finally over. A baker’s dozen style 100k, in which the Race Director tosses in a free 5K in case some of the purchased kilometers aren’t up to snuff. A trail marathon plus another trail marathon, plus a trail half marathon, one after the other. A crazy distance that, after the fact, seems impossible. And yet it was possible."
--Rob Feissner, "The Inaugural Twisted Branch Trail Race"; source: https://gooseadventureracing.wordpress.com/2015/09/09/2/
"This was a difficult, sometimes brutal course: about 64 miles, nearly all trail, most of it technical with about every surface you could imagine. Up and down all day with 10,000 ft of climb and 11,000 descent, no mountains but a good handful of long hills and steep banks. But we weren’t fighting the trail. We weren’t even competing with each other (most of us, for the most part). We battled our own perception of limits. People often say that about things like running, and I’ve had some idea of what that means in the past, but in this race I really experienced what it was like to transcend your own limits and fears and ego. That is what ultrarunning is really about, I think."
--Mike Mertsock, "Twisted Branch 100 km Trail Race"; source: http://www.runningcode.net/2015/09/07/twisted-branch/
"Time slowed down as my eyes fell upon one of the silver tins. The hubbub of the aid station dimmed to a dull buzz. My stupor lasted only a fraction of a second, but from my perspective, civilizations rose and fell, the oceans boiled and vanished, the sun fell from the sky and ignited the Earth in holy conflagration. A blood-spattered Matthew McConaughey stood above it all, shaking with uncontrollable laughter, up to the very moment he was engulfed by the flames. In the exact second that the ground beneath my feet buckled and split, threatening to swallow me whole, I awoke from my reverie. I blinked, then reached into the tin and grabbed a corner of grilled cheese."
--Jeff Green, "No, oh no, I can't be done yet!"; source: https://hahaitsjeff.wordpress.com/2015/09/08/no-oh-no-i-cant-be-done-yet/ [I picked out a particularly amusing section from Jeff's report here, but there is plenty more goodness, and some amazing custom artwork, to be had in his full report.]
The Race Director
Finally, a word must be said here about Mr. Scott Magee. Scott is the visionary, creator and first-time Race Director for Twisted Branch, a man who worked in relentless, meticulous, transparent, diplomatic and above-all-else passionate fashion to make something happen that otherwise may never have happened...something that many thought was not possible: an organized footrace spanning over three counties and 100 kilometers of Finger Lakes Trail system. After I signed up to do both some volunteering and pacing at the race, and chatted with Scott a bit (including running into him on the Triad Trail the weekend before the race whilst on a preview run with Mike M., where Scott was literally helping to cut the final portions of the Triad Trail himself, along with a band of volunteers), I was thoroughly impressed with his craftsman-like approach to race organization and the treatment of all the fine details--surely this man must be an engineer, I thought (something I need to confirm with him at some point). A genuine guy doing it for genuine reasons: his love of a particular gem of a trail and his desire to create a shared experience through a beautiful stretch of Finger Lakes country lying in our backyards. You can hear more about the race backstory, planning and motivations as told by Scott, himself, on Chris O'Brien's excellent Running Inside Out podcast, episode 1 (http://www.runninginsideoutpodcast.com/podcast/001-10th-overall-female).
(I will also note that Scott evidently also has a massive and supportive family, as I got the impression that perhaps the entire living family tree of the Magee clan was volunteering at and/or working the race in some capacity that day, in addition to troves of other supporters, volunteers and friends.)
HOW I GOT INVOLVED IN THIS CRAZY ENDEAVOR
In The Beginning...
The road to Twisted Branch for me is certainly not one I could have foreseen a year ago (granted, TB wasn't announced yet by that point, but my involvement in any ultra race wasn't much more than a glimmer of thought in those days). If forced to describe it, I have what I'd call a weight-lifting-cum-adventure-seeking background, but not much of a running background, prior to 2014, deferring mostly to cycling and hiking for my outdoor activities prior to then. For various reasons that would be out of context here, I ramped up significantly on my trail running, and running in general, in 2014. I was primarily interested trail running as a vehicle for exploration and adventures, and not testing my performance per se. My interaction with the local running "community" at that time was essentially limited to Strava, and I became familiar with the names of various local folks via the #TrailsRoc Strava club and miniscule Strava profile pics. My running goals slowly took the shape of looking to move up various Strava segment leaderboards in those days--hoping that the likes of Jamie Hobbs and others would leave some leftovers for me; short, unsustainable efforts up steep hills were my particular jam, and I binged on that for awhile. There would be some limited dialog with other runners via Strava's comment system. That was all still pre-Facebook era for me.
At some point, I met up with Mike Mertsock (following up on a Strava discussion) and started to do a little running with him in late 2014...I remember that the first run I ever did with Mike, in November 2014, was a 20-mile trail run that was up to that point the second longest run I had ever completed (next to a Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim fastpack/run I completed solo a few months prior to that...local ultra-running royalty Mike Welden sold me the shoes and some of the gear used on that effort). Mike M. and I seemed to be pretty well-matched on the trails, and we did some other long run efforts together, including a couple of 3+ hour outings in wintry conditions in Hi Tor and from OCP down to Naples Creek. After some incremental improvements on the Dirt Cheap circuit and at other local races, and after doing a Fleet Feet speed camp and discovering that I was still pretty quick (for an older guy), I came into 2015 with an intensified focus on running and reaching some new heights. Mike M. and I swapped race goals in late 2014, and that is when I first heard of Twisted Branch and his plan to make it his race goal. After much vacillation and tinkering, I settled on a non-ultra-specific plan for 2015, and set my sights on the Pittsburgh Marathon in May as my primary goal. I was still mostly motivated by speed and time trials rather than distance trials--and might still be to a large extent--and didn't really have any strong pull toward ultras. Still, I loosely toyed with the idea of signing up for Twisted Branch depending on how Pittsburgh went.
I did make some big gains in 2015 fitness-wise, but kept my racing to a minimum (did a Snow Cheap, finished 8th; did Pittsburgh, finished in 3:24:01 in my first marathon after grazing that proverbial wall in last 10k; took 2nd in the Mendon Mauler 8-mile; received a sobering and valuable lesson at 0 SPF while holding on for 18th during a difficult outing). I fortunately managed to stay mostly injury free and trained pretty consistently all year, using the foam roller voraciously, and had logged about 1300 miles and over 90,000 ft. of elevation gain year-to-date heading into TB.
Picture notes: Top: A histogram view of my weekly training distance leading up to Twisted Branch--mostly running, with a little biking mileage thrown in. Bottom: Summary of my YTD running stats just after Twisted Branch...oh man, 177 hours...seriously? Perhaps it is best not to count things.
The Traverse and the Thought of Pacing at TB
Over the course of the year, I slowly started meeting more folks in the local community and occasionally running with them: Laura Rekkerth (one of the very first runners in the community that I ran with outside of the context of a race), Chris O'Brien, Matt Bertrand, Jeff Green, Ron Heerkens Jr. just to name a few, and a whole host of other great folks I met through Medved Wed. night runs, or races, or simply tagging along on the occasional and impromptu group run.
Meeting more people in the community led to other running/adventure-related experiences throughput the year, culminating in what I consider to be a watershed experience in completing the ADK Great Range Traverse in late June with a band of adventurous cohorts including Laura, Kyle, Matt, Jeff and Danielle Snyder. (Mark Monachino, Ron and some others also joined that weekend in various pre and post activities; in particular, spending over 10 hours conversing with Ron in the car, and tapping into some of his ultra-insight while driving up and back was a real treat.) It was during that 18-hour, 24-mile, nearly 10,000 ft. EC trek through the 'Dacks that I got to know folks quite a bit better, and a lot of time was spent talking about Twisted Branch, given Laura, Matt and Jeff were running it. By that point, TB had seemingly started to develop its own gravitational pull and began entering into a sort of quasi-shared consciousness in the Rochester trail running community.
On the traverse trip, we joked about how our 18 hour finish time might actually approximate the TB finish time (which had an 18-hour cutoff)...I seem to recall everyone thinking that was crazy...no way that could happen (in that TB couldn't take that long)! There were many very memorable moments on that trip, such as descending down from Mt. Marcy on the Van Hovenberg trail in headlamp-painted darkness, buoyed by Mumford and Sons playing on Matt's phone speakers (a moment that, unbeknown to us at that time, would end up foreshadowing a similar experience Matt and I had as we faced Mt. Washington together in those final hours of Twisted Branch...again, in the dark, with Mumford and Sons on blast, hoping to provoke any remaining bits of energy and inspiration into forward motion).
This is the trip during which I got to know Matt Bertrand quite a bit better, and we hit it off well; Matt is an extremely sharp, humorous, adventuresome and easy-going guy, just the kind of chap you could easily click off many miles with on the trails. Conversation with Matt flows smooth and easy, and usually involves a lot of laughter. That's when we first discussed the possibility of me pacing him at TB, a possibility that became more cemented as a plan over the next couple of months. To me, pacing was an ideal scenario...I love the idea of lending something, however little it may be, to others in helping them achieve a goal. Plus, it generally eliminates the pressure of racing, which is something I feel strangely compelled to do despite me really struggling to enjoy at times (racing, that is). But, pacing...running with someone else for a portion of their momentous achievement...that may be the ticket. Requires you to be on point with your fitness and preparation, and samples the experience associated with racing, but without battling your own expectations so much.
(Aside: Dear Lord this is report is running long...and I've already trimmed out a lot of possibly relevant background material, such as my SAT scores and all-time max bench press and squat; if simply pacing at Twisted Branch causes this much introspection and historical reflection, I shudder to think what actually running it might do...)
TWISTED BRANCH: RACE DAY
So, in true Jason V. style, I've expended an enormous amount of space and verbiage on just the introduction to what I want to say. In a future release version, I will surely either have to trim this back, or more likely than not I will expand the rest with additional notes and content as it comes. But, given I am running up against cut-off times (due to other life commitments), I am going to switch up my flow here away from stream-of-consciousness and/or chronological style to more of an assemblage of sampled notes, picture, captions and thoughts as they come in. After all, one can really only hope to sample parts of something as big as TB, and try to figure out what it all means much later. (Consider this the P. Diddy version of the report.)
Other race reports: The rest of the day and many of the dramatic in-race developments has certainly been well documented in many other exquisite race reports, including the aforementioned pieces from Matt, Rob, Jeff and Mike, as well as ones from Laura ("Twisted Branch 100K - 2015", https://onbelaydesigns.wordpress.com/2015/09/06/twisted-branch-100k-2015/) and Chris ("Little by a Little and a Lot by the End of the Day - Twisted Branch 100k", http://www.christopherobrien.net/blog/twisted-branch-100k-2015). I encourage you again to check them out.
Some words about Matt's Day: Matt fought his way to an incredibly gutsy and immensely inspirational finish of Twisted Branch. Matt came into the day with an injured knee--I'm betting that most folks might not have toe'd the line at all given the pain he was experiencing in the 3 weeks prior to the race (I know I strongly would have considered pulling out if it were me). But, he fought through pain and doubts to finish in 17:42:52, in 36th place. The man has an iron body and iron will, and it was an absolute honor and privilege to be his pacer.
Picture notes: Matt Bertrand heading into Italy Valley AS (mile 22.6). I had the great honor of pacing Matt starting at mile 40-ish and through to the end at mile 64/65-ish.
An additional thing I'll say about Matt is that he definitely embodies the mantra Go Big or Go Home. This is a man who proposed to his lovely fiance Meagan after his (first?) ultra at CanLakes 50; and then tackled the ADK Great Range Traverse 2 months ago; and then mowed down Twisted Branch 100k on a busted knee; and then summarily proceeded to marry said-lovely-fiance Meagan the weekend after TB! I am excited to see what this man does next (and I wouldn't be at all surprised if it involves Elon Musk, Meagan and rocketry of some kind).
In Matt's write-up on the race, he expresses the opinion that he felt he did some complaining in the later stages of the race as his knee pain intensified. I frankly recall no such thing; if he did complain at all, it must have been minuscule by my standards and well beneath the noise floor. I can guarantee that I have complained significantly more under much less trying circumstances (such as not being able to momentarily find my wallet or phone when heading out the door). So, Matt, by all standards and measures I know, showed great optimism and focus the entire time when I was with him. I frankly wasn't sure what shape he'd be in coming into the mile 40-ish aid station at Bud Valley, and whether he'd still be in the race at all given the knee issues (and the report I had received from someone that he was limping a bit at a prior aid station); but as soon as I saw him at Bud Valley, it was clear to me that he had his mind set on finishing what he started, come hell or high water. In my view, Matt's big strength is that he was incredibly steady and consistent all day...he spent an absolutely minimal amount of time at aid stations (maybe several minutes), and just kept moving...and moving...and moving. He was particularly strong on the climbs, and I'd imagine he power-hiked as well as anyone on the course that day. He also showed great fire in mixing in solid bursts/bouts of runs when he was able, in order to put some time back in the bank (in fact, he was still pretty much chasing a time goal of sub-17 up until a couple miles out from the second to last AS at Urbana and mile 59...so, not possibly not finishing was never really a scenario that seemed to enter his psyche). This overall approach worked very well, as up until the last couple miles, where we had 2 or 3 runners pass us as Matt had to take things particularly carefully on the descents, by my count we maintained fairly even position for those last 24-25 miles (we passed several folks, and several passed us).
The end became a bit drama-filled late, as a handful of runners suddenly began traversing those final switchbacks on the Triad Trail at the same time. This was a bit surprising, as Matt and I had seemingly gone forever without seeing a soul as we descended down the backside of Mt. Washington and then onto the Triad Trail. In fact, the entire traverse from Urbana until the finish was spent in near isolation from other runners....it seemed as if we were entirely alone out there for awhile...we thought that, perhaps, we would be the last finishers of the race. One runner, sans a pacer, did finally pass us on the descent from Washington--he then proceeded to get turned around somehow, and ended up heading back toward us quite a bit later before re-correcting his course again--but then it wasn't until the last half mile or so of the Triad until we saw anyone else. That's when we noticed headlamps converging in the distance further up the trail behind us. Matt was in no shape to sprint to the finish at this point--dealing with very touchy knees that were made all the more painful due to the Triad downward grade--but, he poured everything he had into it, with me leading the way out front a bit, trying to pull us along. We let one runner pass here, and shortly thereafter we speculated that the other two headlamps gaining on us must be Chris O'Brien and has pacer, Dave Justice. Matt called out, and confirmed this much...Matt and I were both elated to see Chris still in it and charging hard--how incredible it was that we were all hitting essentially the same spot at the same time after 64 hard-fought miles and over 17 hours on the trial--and, at the same time, it lit one final fire under our feet. At this point, I don't believe it was about racing in any sense...or beating anyone...but seeing Chris and Dave fast-gaining did seem to inject us with one final sense of urgency. We were soon at the road, and crossed the Twisted Branch finish line threshold just ahead of Chris and Dave. Quite a dramatic finish.
There were certainly some tougher moments out there, but none when I ever once doubted Matt's ability or will or certainty of finishing. Rather, some of the tougher times seemed more rooted in the fate of others on the course and/or the psychological (that is, aside from the time when Matt was nearly impaled by a log and settled for an impact that was sure to leave a JJ Watt-level bruise on his buttocks). For instance, the "low point" for us, if there was one, was likely the stretch between Pub 54 AS and Urbana (between miles 54 and 59), when we were atop the Mitchellsville Creek gully, in a growing darkness. This was a stretch that tallied up to 13 miles cumulatively between full aid stations, and thus since Matt would see Meagan, and seemingly after we had also fallen far behind Chris and Laura. But, we kept talking, kept chatting, kept moving, kept doing our ultra math, and felt confident of making it into Urbana about 45 minutes ahead of cut-off.
It was also very tough to hear about Jeff, and that he had urged his pacer to go on without him, and that he was suffering from nausea and likely to not finish. Rumor had it that he also might have been alone in the dark, sans headlamp, and Matt and I talked about how great it would be if we could go back and find him (and, I think we might of, if there was a guarantee on his location and that he was still in the race; we also knew that his adoring parents were out on the course, and were likely to intercept him). It was also tough for me to leave Laura behind at Pub 54, after seeing that she had been struggling out there on the day, her body perhaps not cooperating fully, and possibly dealing with some respiratory-related challenges. But, Matt and I both chatted about this and knew she was in as good of hands as possible with Mike W., and that she would likely be blowing by us both in no time (which is exactly what happened a couple of miles outside of that AS).
Picture notes: Matt and I somewhere between Glenbrooke AS and Pub 54 AS (I think), probably somewhere around mile 49-50 or so. Picture caught by Jeff Green's dad.
Picture notes: The wonderful Twisted Branch starting line, complete with a lighted thing rigged up by Scott Magee (his description), powered off his car battery, and simply perfect in my view. I am visible in the blue jacket shown to the left--Scott told me to stand somewhere around there to help keep this boisterous crowd in check. Photo courtesy of The Ascend Collective (http://www.theascendcollective.com/).
In typical fashion, I don't sleep much the night before a big event that requires a high degree of logistical planning, and TB was no exception for me. I think I must have finally gotten to sleep around 1:30AM, and then up again at 2:30AM to get ready to leave for the start line (needed to be there at 4AM), after spending significant time the night before parsing all the aid station information once again, and planning how and when I would be managing volunteering at the start line + tagging along with Meagan a bit + getting myself to Bud Valley AS (whilst also making sure I had transportation at the finish line). After chatting with fellow pacer Katie Ann a bit the night before, we both decided that we would drop a car at the Hammondsport finish line at some point during the day and then bike the 13-14 miles to Bud Valley AS in time for pacer pick-up. I've done a fair bit of road cycling and a duathlon, and Katie is an accomplished tri-athlete, so this plan seemed reasonable enough. (Turned out it was quite a bit of climbing up out of Hammondsport, but I was sure to take it easy so not to burn myself out for Matt, and completed the trip in a just about an hour.)
Picture info: Some Strava stats for my bike ride from the finish line to pacer pick-up at Bud Valley. I received a text from Meagan saying that Matt had just leave Italy Turnpike AS just as I started my ride, which meant that I needed to ride 13.5 miles faster than Matt could run 10.5. I figured by that point in the race that was a pretty safe bet--and it was--but I did have some momentary concern, so I opened it up on the flats and downhills when I could (there weren't many of those portions, however).
My dear wife Valerie and the girls drove all the way out to Bud Valley AS to meet me there and show their support prior to picking up Matt. That's right--this pacer had my own crew support, and I'm very grateful for that. Allowed me to change out of my biking gear, stash the bike in the car, ingest some lunch from Wendy's. Zoe and Harper were very interested in clapping and cheering, though later-on were distracted by running around in circles inside the "arcade" at Bud Valley, while Harper later expressed her extreme disappointment at not being able to go swimming there.
Picture info: Getting some support from my "crew" (Zoe) at Bud Valley prior to Matt arriving for pacer pick-up.
Matt's data center-grade computational race model: Pic below says enough; was a great planning aid to many, and I carried a printed copy with me all day.
Picture notes: Matt's amazing Twisted Branch finish time calculator spreadsheet, a very sophisticated and valuable tool for many runners, and something that I'm quite certain also had an option which independently proves that the Higgs boson ("God particle") exists.
Pacer camaraderie: In addition to running with Matt, and seeing many friends, I was privileged to hang out a bit with a great and accomplished group of pacers over the course of the day. Folks like Dave Justice, Mike Welden, Mike Bray, Katie Ann, and others. This are all accomplished athletes in their own rights, and there was a collective energy gained by having such an awesome group ready to lay it down on the trail in support of their runners. (We pacers also got an additional boost of our own from all the awesome volunteers and spectators, of which Danielle and Josh Stratton--who I kept seeing at every AS even after an injury forced him to drop earlier--deserve particular mention in my book for their infectious gung-ho-ness and support.)
Picture notes: Fellow pacers Dave Justice and Mike Welden getting into Italy Valley AS (mile 22.6). Still awhile before official pacing duties; Mike's dog apparently didn't think much of this AS.
The beauty of the trail and the surrounding landscapes of the Finger Lakes region: I purchased several shots from The Ascend Collective which aptly captured some of the incredible scenery, and included a few below (one of their amazing shots may soon end up on my wall):
Picture notes: The shale-strewn Bristol Hills Trail outside of the Patch Road AS (near mile 35.6). Photo courtesy of The Ascend Collective (http://www.theascendcollective.com/).
Picture notes: Cornfields splayed across the Naples valley as twilight transitions to morning. Near Naples Creek AS (mile 12.5). Photo courtesy of The Ascend Collective (http://www.theascendcollective.com/).
Picture notes: A hot air balloon rises above Mt. Washington in Urbana as sunset grows near. Not too long after this shot, an incredibly full and low hung, yellow moon--truly, one of the most incredible views of the moon that I've seen--helped serve as a beacon for exhausted runners making that final, treacherous, but oh-so-rewarding push to the finish. Enough so that Matt and I momentarily paused several times to remark on it. Photo courtesy of The Ascend Collective (http://www.theascendcollective.com/).
Post-race hang-out at Casa de Welden: A fitting end to an inspiring day. For the folks who could make it, we swapped stories, joked, hobbled, replenished and hung out into the early hours of the morning, all in the presence of fine company and a particularly gracious host, on the shores of Keuka. Possibilities of what to tackle next seemed limitless. Dave said something about pacers turning the tables in 2016 and running TB--seemed like a fine idea to me. I finally crashed around 3:30am on the floor, in my sleeping bag, before rising at 6:30 to start the 90 minute trek home. Stopped to get donuts for the girls on the way home, hugged them all upon arrival, then promptly passed out until about noon. Body was in good shape...but, certainly spent.
Hmmm...what to put here. I feel this will have to be a TBD that I'll need to keep coming back to. Mike, Rob, Jeff and many others shared some philosophical riffs (noted above) that provide a good deal of insight into why people are moved to run races such as Twisted Branch, and what might possibly be taken away from such an experience. It may well require some time to understand what it all means, what impact it might have had on our lives (if any), long-term. I'm not so sure we necessarily have to know, or that it even has to be profound. But, I think it can be.
That all aside, I'll share what I could stitch together so far:
Many came together that day and pushed the boundaries of what was known to be possible for them--whether the goal was more performance-oriented or more survival-oriented. When you operate in formerly uncharted territory, and push one's boundaries, fear is certain to be there. And, in an ultra, there is a lot of time out in the schoolyard to confront this fear. Sure, finishing or hitting a certain time goal is sweet, but I don't believe you need to do either of those things to find and confront this fear. I think it is perhaps how we face this fear and accompanying self doubt--when they are coaxed out into the open, when the band-aids are ripped off--that might give us a slight glimpse into who we really are. Or, perhaps who we could be if we are willing to become unshackled from the more ephemeral protests of the mind. Maybe this is possible on our own if we are willing or able to dig deep enough, but I have the sense that the collective energy, support and love of others tackling such a journey together is the kindling for something truly special to occur. I don't think it will happen automatically, but these experiences just may, in fact, have the capability to inspire us to greater awareness and good in our lives off the trail, as well as on it.
In the words of Mumford and Sons, "I don't even know if I believe / Everything you're trying to say to me." But, what I do know is that Twisted Branch was an incredibly rich experience. Something Real. And, my feeling at this point is that I must do what it takes to make sure I can toe that start line in 2016.
- UltraSignup Results for Twisted Branch 2015 (https://ultrasignup.com/results_event.aspx?did=30894)
- The Ascend Collective (http://www.theascendcollective.com/) - A group of local, but world-class, photographers who took some amazing shots on race day. See here for their Twisted Branch album: http://galleries.theascendcollective.com/2015-twisted-branch-trail-race/
- I also took some of my own shots while hanging out at a few of the Aid Stations. Facebook album is here: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100009814890080&sk=photos&collection_token=100009814890080%3A2305272732%3A69&set=a.159552714381891.1073741836.100009814890080&type=3