I literally shaved my leg for this race – A Twisted Branch 100K Race Report

I spent the first 30 years of my life growing out my leg hair.  It is quite thick and makes my legs often appear more actually tan.  Oh, I have shaved my back and occasionally my chest (IT WAS A PHASE), but never had I ever even considered shaving my legs.

My knee was still sore and not really getting better, despite the rest.  It was the Thursday before the race and I was showering before work, thinking about the Chiropractor appointment with Dr. Reinhardt later that day.  He had attempted to use K tape a couple times prior, but it never worked quite right because it would stick to my hair on my quad/knee, rather than the skin.  I knew what I had to do.  Sucking up my pride I trimmed it down really short with clippers.  Gulp.  Here goes nothing.

Waking up at 2am, I was excited and nervous.  Meagan (my wonderful fiancee) was nervous as well, about to be crewing for the first time (in earnest).

Everything made it into the car: 400 containers of potatoes I wouldn’t end up eating, 16 pairs of shorts in case I pooped myself or decided to be stylish and change at every aid station, a spare hydration bladder so we could “hot swap” them out without me even taking off my pack (! that’s such a cool idea….. if we had actually ended up doing it), and more crap than I ever ended up needing.

Driving down to Ontario County Park, my knee started to throb.  It was still injured.  I knew it.  My knee knew it.  Mumford and Sons were sort of drowning out the pain.

We arrived to see sleepy camper-runners climbing out of tents as my headlights shined at them.  (I’m pretty sure I saw Jeff Green downing some mustard on a crash pad to carb load for the race.)

Little headlamps dancing around near the check-in area, people small talking, frantic last minute runs to the bathroom.

Scott asks everyone to move to the start line as it’s going to start soon.  We all take a quick picture.

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Courtesy of Dave Justice, Pacer and Person Extraordinaire

Suddenly we’re running, making our way through the woods in the dark.  My knee is actually not hurting, maybe just a dull ache!

As we made our way to the first aid station (Cutler), I actually caught up to Laura, Jeff, and Chris — making me realize I was going WAY too fast.  Chris was talking about hitting a 13:30.  I was hoping simply to finish.

CURRENT RUN TO WALK RATIO 5:1

I remember the road section after Cutler, running a bit too fast, then deciding to walk up the “hill” road section.  Laura, Jeff and Chris pushed on ahead.

Thus would begin the theme of the day: somehow staying near Laura, Jeff, and Chris (within minutes of every aid station) but really only running with them for a few minutes.

I remember being so excited for the first crew access aid station.  Meagan was there waiting for me, along with the rest of the crew.  They all asked about my knee, I mumbled something unintelligible.  I remember thinking “I hope they don’t keep asking about my knee all day” but I didn’t want to be rude, so I didn’t say say anything.

Climbing up into Hi Tor was, well, a thing that we did.  It was relentless.  But while my knee was only at a dull ache by this point, climbing felt much better than descents still.   Unfortunately, this reprieve from my minor knee pain was short lived.  Running along the top of Hi Tor was when my knee pain started to be like “OH HEY GUY, MISSED YOU.  LET’S BE FRIENDS AGAIN.”  I got to run with Brandon for a bit here, we chatted about out respective pre-race injuries and he hustled off on ahead (he would later finish about 1.5 hours before me).  This was the point when I remember starting to see Jeff’s parents quite regularly.  It was always amazing to see them not only for the support, but also knowing some sort of aid station or road crossing was coming up ahead.

As I closed in on the Hi Tor Aid Station, I started to wonder how far ahead Laura and Jeff were at this point.  As I stopped to refill my hydration bladder (which I incorrectly decided not to refill at the last aid station where Meagan and company were) a crowd suddenly arrived.  Laura, Jeff, and Rob Feissner were all behind me?  I suddenly wondered if I had cut the course (which I was almost positive I hadn’t) — turns out they all missed a turn and were now “behind” me.

CURRENT RUN TO WALK RATIO 3:1

Okay.  Time out for a second.  This is a really long race to do a boring blow-by-blow of every section and each aid station.  I can only creatively say “I stayed at the aid station for a short time” or “I hiked up the hill at a slow pace”.  Let’s change it up.

At some point around mile 20, I stopped thinking about how far we had come and started thinking about how far from the 50k mark and really “how close am I to picking up Jason”.  Jason Vidmar, for those of you don’t know him, is one of the most positive, awesome dudes I know.  He’s a ridiculously strong runner who likely could have run this race himself, but graciously offered to pace me for the last 23 miles (turned out really 26-ish miles) despite knowing I was injured coming into the race and it could turn out to be an 8 hour death march (see my past blog post about the great range traverse for more information about death marches).

One descent I distinctly remember was into Italy Valley.  When we had previewed this section, it looked like someone had bought a brand new chainsaw and bulldozer??, got wasted, and decided to hack through the woods.  It was awesome for adventuring; terrible for racing.  Somehow Scott and company had cleaned that up with magic and the trail was clear?  I don’t know.  Dude’s a champ.  Anyways, back to this descent.  In the beginning of the descent Chris, Feissner and other random people passed me early on.  The descents were really starting to hurt so I was taking it slow.  I knew Laura and Jeff were behind me, but they didn’t catch me on the descent.  Somewhere along this steep and arduous descent, I ran into Travis Money (T$ to the cool kids).  Gave a sweaty handshake/highfive, despite him coming in for the fist bump — ain’t nobody got time for that.  That descent really hurt.  Running into/out of that aid station was the first time I was really like “Okay.  Adrenaline is gone.  Knee really f-ing hurts.”  Somewhere along the way I took Aleve.  I knew it was a bad idea, kidney wise (those are an important organ, I think?) but the pain was getting intense and I needed to reduce the inflammation.

One thing I hadn’t planned on, but ended up helping me immensely: taking like no time at the aid stations.  I routinely got into aid stations after people and left before them, netting me 5-10 minutes and allowing me to stay up with my friends (hi Laura, Jeff and Chris).  Italy Valley was no different.  Somewhere in the climb/traverse in Italy Valley, Laura (and then Jeff/Chris) caught up to me — we all chatted for a bit.

Trails roc aid station was awesome.  The road section before it sucked big time.  It should have been awesome: 1-2 miles of lightly descending roads, perfect to make up some time.  Instead it just flippin’ hurt.  I didn’t walk, but it still hurt.  Barf.

Right around the 50k mark, I was with Laura and Jeff.  I remember us being like “holy shit, it’s only like 7:10 and we’re at the 50k point!  I bet we can all finish in 15 hours or something!!!11oneone!”  In retrospect, I was apparently delusional.

Also, this was the section that was not nearly as fun without Copper/Phillip.  And there was a corn field?  Hi getting wacked in the face with Corn.

I lost Laura and Jeff quickly.  And I thought Chris was ahead of me/us too?  Apparently he wasn’t cause he caught me again.  This section sucked.  It’s one of the “flatter” sections of the course — it’s still pretty hilly — but it’s also one of the more technical sections.  Perfect to twist your ankle or trip and land on your face!  I hadn’t fell or twisted my ankle yet and I didn’t plan to.  I just slowly plodded along.

CURRENT RUN TO WALK RATIO 3:2

Next thing I really remember is seeing Jeff’s parents again (YAY) and knowing that Bud Valley (and Jason) were really close.

I saw Mike & Mike (Welden and Valone) as I descended into Bud Valley.  They cheered me on a bit, checked on my condition (I think people had stopped asking about my knee shortly after this — they knew it was bad and wasn’t getting better).

It was awesome to see Meagan.  Just seeing her face made me feel better.  I felt bad that I stayed in Aid Stations for such a short amount of time.  It was working well though.  Jason was ready to rock and roll.  We took off and he caught me up on what had been going on with the leaders, how he had biked from the finish to Bud Valley (like 20miles? shit.)  We talked about the aid stations and how Meagan was doing.  A couple miles after picking him up, some random runner came up to us and asked if we had any athletic tape — we didn’t and I asked him if everything was okay.  He looked at me strangely and said it was for me — the back of my ankles where my shoes stopped were rubbing raw and he was like “doesn’t that hurt?”  I honestly had no idea anything was even wrong.  I just shrugged, thanked him, and we continued.

CURRENT RUN TO WALK RATIO 2:3

Everything now started to slow down while simultaneously speeding up.  I started walking a lot more.  Jason was ever encouraging.  The knee pain was starting to get intense.  Laura and Mike passed us looking super strong, I can’t  remember if Jeff was with them.  I later found out he had thrown up and his stomach wasn’t doing well.  Laura looked sad.  I felt sad for both of them.  I felt sad that I wasn’t moving nearly as well as they were.  But, I still wasn’t in a “dark” place per se.  Just realizing my predicament.

We eventually got to the next aid station, Glen Brook.  Meagan was there!  We chatted for a second.  I ate some things.  Said “see you in 8 miles!” and then left.  8 miles was the longest stretch without an aid station.  It would be more than 2 hours until I saw here again.  Within minutes of leaving the aid station, we pulled out my hand dandy map and realized we wouldn’t see her in 8 miles: that aid station had no crew access.  It was going to be 13+ miles.  3.5-4.5 hours (at my current pace 3.5.. but who knows if I’d slow.  Hint: I slowed. ).  We also started to realize that it might literally be dark by the time we got there.  We hadn’t grabbed my headlamp from Meagan.  Jason, the superhero that he is, had planned for this and brought an extra.

CURRENT RUN TO WALK RATIO 1:3

I knew this was going to be a tough section.  There was the another huge climb.  The knee pain was starting to get bad.  This was when the scariest event of the day occurred.  I was climbing over a downed tree and used one of the broken off limbs on it as a brace, putting my full weight on it.  As I climbed over, the rotted out branch snapped and free fell onto the log, landing on another broken off branch.  The pain in my ass was immediate and insanely intense.  I stood up immediately to assess the situation.  I got light headed, almost threw up from the pain.  Felt around, there was no blood.  It had not impaled me.  I must have hit it at just the right angle.  I was inches from being impaled on butthole by a broken tree branch (this is not a sentence I ever wish to utter again).  Jason, who is almost always positive, was even concerned and stated as such.  We were good though.  My butt cheek was incredibly sore and hurt with each step, but at least it made my right knee hurt less (relatively speaking)?  That was an unintended benefit, so I guess it was cool.  It was a short lived victory, as my left knee decided it felt left out.  It quickly joined the fray.

If my right knee was like someone taking a lighter to my knee on every step of a descent, my left was a blow torch.  It made my knee pain thus far seem like child’s play.  Shit.

CURRENT RUN TO WALK RATIO 1:4

Let’s take another timeout to address how awesome of a pacer Jason was.  He was always encouraging when I would actually run (as opposed to more frequent walking).  Would once in a while check in to see if I wanted to run, but no too often as he knew that would get old.  Never really asked about my pain, but listened to me complain.  Had no qualms (at least vocally) about walking for almost 8 hours with me.

At some point after the BHB aid station, on a huge hill, we saw Chris (and Dave – his awesome pacer).  I yelled up to him.  This must have lit a fire under his ass because they took off.  The descent down the backside of said huge hill was the worst of the race (so far).  We even tried (unsuccessfully) to fashion large sticks into poles, but it wasn’t really helping much.  I descended that hill significantly slower than I ascended the other side.

CURRENT RUN TO WALK RATIO 1:6

As we started our descent into Urbana, it started to get dark.  We had been playing the math game a lot.  Initially, I was hoping for 15:30-16:00.  Which turned into 16:00-16:30.  Now I was starting to think “maybe I can get around 17 hours?”.  We were moving slowly.  I was starting to miss Meagan intensely.  I hadn’t seen her in hours now.  We still had 3-4 miles to go.  I was still 1-1.5 hours from seeing her.  The descent was long and slow into Urbana.  We started estimating that we’d be there by 8:30.  This meant more like 17-17.5 hours.  Still well under the cutoff, however.

I knew Jeff was behind us (hoping he was going to catch us soon) and Laura/Mike and Chris/Dave were ahead of us.  I didn’t know how far either were.  I was still so confused that I was so close to everyone, despite being sure I was in such worse shape than them.  Very fitting though, I suppose.  My training partners were almost all nearby.

CURRENT RUN TO WALK RATIO 1:15

The moon was breathtaking as darkness grew around us.  It was red and hovering over Mt Washington.  Perfect.

As we got to the fields near Urbana, I became elated.  I was going to see Meagan again, finally.  I was close to the finish (ha!  that was a lovely, incorrect assumption).  As I pulled into Urbana, I saw Chris and Dave.  They were closer than I expected.  Jason and I refueled for the huge hike and took off.  I put on some Mumford and Sons for the ascent.

CURRENT RUN TO WALK RATIO 1:10000

With renew strength, we ascended the 900ft+ faster than I had during previews.  I was excited and attacked the climb with all the strength I had left.  Making it up in under 20min/mile pace on a steep climb, I felt great.  This would not last.  The traverse along the top was awful.  The pain was excruciating.  My filter was mostly gone by then and I was full out wincing and moaning in pain with every step of descent.  It was rolling hills.  A runner passed us.  We didn’t see Chris and Dave’s headlamps behind us.  We pushed on.  Another runner passed us, saying that the blue trail was 1.5 miles long, which didn’t make sense because we were 3 miles into the 4.5 mile section, with well over a mile to go until we even got to the blue trail.  I was confused and saddened by this news.  We continued to move, albeit slowly.  Somewhere along the way, we realized we were even starting to approach cutoff time, but likely would be okay.

As walked along the road trying to find the blue trail, I was getting quite defeated.  Everything hurt, especially my knees (and even more especially my “non-injured” left knee — what the hell).  We finally found the trail.  This was the only section of the course I hadn’t seen.  I barely even remember it now.  We continued our death march.  Suddenly we heard cheering.  Jason said these switchbacks meant we were very close.  We now saw headlamps above us.  Chris and Dave were right behind on the trail.  We made it to the bottom.  I saw the finish.  I ran with every once I had.

CURRENT RUN TO WALK RATIO 10000000:1

I was done.  I had finished before the cutoff.  I hugged Meagan.  I hugged my friends.  I cried.  Laura had just finished minutes before me.  Chris was right behind me.  Strat was there (sorry my friend!), as was Jeff (he must not have made it in time, yay for him being okay though).  We all celebrated.  I sat down.  I drank chocolate milk.

This race was nothing like I had ever experienced before.  Despite knowing the course well, it was harder than I could have imagined.  I’d like to think if I wasn’t injured, I would have been able to do better, but seeing my closest friends and training partners have similar performances to my own, I really don’t know.

Honestly, I couldn’t have been happier with how it turned out though — I got to spend 18 hours in the woods with my closest friends, the amazing Rochester running community, and my (soon-to-be) wife.  I worked harder than I ever have.  I experienced more pain that I thought I could.  I completed a race like no other I had seen before.

This is going to be one hard life experience to top.

Note from the editor: As of this publishing, it was already topped by my wedding to Meagan McNelis (now Bertrand) 8 days after the race.  Still, my second coolest experience ever.

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