Monday, October 16, 2017

The Best Laid Plans of Moms and Men (2017 Tussey Mountainback 50m USATF Championships)

My mother and I have always had the greatest intentions for State College, PA. Over 25 years ago, this was to be her new hometown, teaching at Penn State while my step-father made the most of his retirement fixing up an old house in the college district. Life threw in an unexpected twist, and it became a path not taken, forever a "what if" in her life journey. This last weekend, she returned to State College to crew for me at the 2017 Tussey mOUnTAiNBACK 50-mile run (her first crewing experience), where I would use my fitness and course experience to cruise to an easy finish, needing little more from her than a few pictures. Um, yeah...that didn't quite pan out either. But it was a worthy adventure, full of vivid Fall colors, miles of cramps, and some shared adventure that gave my Mom a good taste of the voluntary suffering that is the ultramarathon. The best laid plans of Moms and Men, I suppose.

(Team Dunlap, go!)
Mom (aka, Dr. Diane Dunlap) was more optimistic for the 85-degree humid air than I was, relishing any east coast Fall/Winter day that didn't involve sub-zero temperatures. For an unacclimated runner, I explained, it meant a struggle with core temp right from the gun, followed by a losing battle with dehydration, and the oh-so-fun "find the chafe spot" post-race shower that feels like angry ghosts armed with heat-seeking cattle prods. She got a good laugh out of that one, asking what she could do to help. Just be there, I said. Flat Coke, pb&j squares, and Vaseline for back up, but really, just be there. "That's what Moms do," she replied, and she was right. Although it had been a few decades, this was certainly not be the first time she stood in the rain for hours so her son could get muddy in the name of sport.

(The colors are out! Photo courtesy of
It took a lot of courage for her to be here, not just for the race, but to revisit a place where her life could have been. This became clear as we drove the streets looking for the house she had once bought but never moved into. By some stroke of luck (and her impressive internal compass), we found it, and she quickly pointed out all the home projects that David (my step-dad) had been ready to tackle. That would be the master bedroom, the library would go there, you should see the workshop...she recalled every napkin sketch he had scribbled just days before the move while they were on a retirement vacation in Australia. When David died of a heart attack on that same vacation, the plans for State College ended just as suddenly.  Now there are just memories of sketches of a house almost lived in - a path nearly forged with the best laid plans.

(97-year-old runner George Ertzweiler gives us a few pointers, photo courtesy of Jean Pommier)
Mom was thrilled to be here though. She joined me for the pre-race dinner, where we sat with David Roche and his parents, super Master Jean Pommier, and some local runners. David gave a short talk, then Race Director Mike Casper introduced us to 97-year-old George Etzweiler, whose six person team had an average age of 78! George was naturally doing the hardest leg with 1,200 feet of climbing. ;-)

(Liza and David before the race)
(And we're off into the storm!)
(Through the rain)
The warm rain was in full force when we lined up to race, but it was quite pleasant. Mom was a little nervous, but knew that the course layout of 50 miles of dirt roads meant she would see the runners along the way throughout the day. We wished each other luck, and RD Mike Casper sent us off down the lush forest roads. I cruised along with Mike Ryan from Ohio, who had his sites set on fellow M50-54 runner Jean Pommier a few yards ahead. David Roche, Joel Frost-Tift, Anthony Kunkel, and a half dozen others were already well into the distance at a 6 min/mile pace.

(Liza heads through the fall colors)

(The stillness of an early AM aid station!)
As we crossed the first aid station (mile 4) and leaned into the downhill, the rain parted to show a glorious canopy of fall colors. I found the familiar stride of Liza Howard (forever famous in my mind for breast-feeding a newborn while winning the Rocky Raccoon 100m), and tagged along with her effortless form. We knew we were going too fast when we cut through a pack of 20-somethings while saying "old people coming through", so eased up after the second aid station.

I found my Mom at mile 11, and she got me set up with more Vespa, Vitargo, and snacks. I had fooled myself in to thinking I could "bank time" in the cooler early hours, but was pretty sure any tactic was not going to hold off the humidity. Over the next couple of miles, I chatted with local Josh Litofsky about his breakthrough race at Kettle Morraine, his six person crew (cheering the most of anyone), studying chemical engineering, and his desire to break 7 hours at this race after a few solid finishes here. We took on the big climb together (mile 25), before he noted he needed to pick up his pace and pulled ahead. There had already been a lot of people dropping up front, and we found ourselves in 6th and 7th place much to our surprise.

(All smiles)
(Liza is such a ham)

I got through the first 50k (3:47) before the twitches of cramps showed up, and those twitches soon spread like wildfire through my quads and hamstrings. Grrr! I pounded a few more S! Caps, but knew the cramps were evidence of a deeper hydration problem, forged in a lack of training/acclimation. I stopped to chat with my Mom, letting her know this was one was going to be a slog. She still smiled...she was having a blast meeting all the crew, volunteers, and their dogs.

Despite the required walk breaks every half mile, only a few people passed me, so I suspected I wasn't the only one suffering. Every aid station had people dropping, including all the lead women up to Liza (go, Liza!). Mike Ryan went by quickly, so I suspected he might give Jean a run for his money. I felt like I was going SO SLOW, but my Mom kept saying I was making up time. Just keep going!

(Liza brings it home!)

(Anthony Kunkel for the win)
The gold and amber leaves kept my gaze up in the last 10 miles, a nice crutch to my crumbling form. At one point my cramps seized so much I fell over, and I almost couldn't get up! It's been a while since I've felt that messed up, but all you can do it get up and keep going. Just eight more miles...six more miles...three more miles...oh, thank god, there's the finish chute! Ninth dude in 7:34, third Master, and the only one of eight in my age group that didn't drop. All hail, the slog king!

(Mike Ryan, Jean Pommier, and Liza Howard with their bling)

(Great run, great haul!)

(The fast women)

(Ready for that beer)
Anthony Kunkel (5:43) had moved into first on the big climb, and steadily distanced himself from the pack for a decisive win. Best of all, he stayed on course this year (he took a six mile detour before the first mile marker last year)! Liza Howard (7:07) won the Women's division (and Masters), with Jean Pommier (6:39) blazing to a Masters win as well. Aside from Anthony, everyone seemed to have struggled with the humidity, but had the fortitude to find that finish.

Ah, the best laid plans of Moms and Men. But today, it was a team victory, and a chance to create a new family chapter for State College, PA. My thanks to my Mom, Mike Casper and the volunteers, and my fellow adventurers for a day well spent!

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Bar For The Boston Marathon (BQ) Gets Higher for 2018 - 3 Minutes and 23 Seconds

If you were hoping to get into the 2018 Boston Marathon this year, you had to beat your Boston Qualifier (BQ) time by 3 minutes and 23 seconds. Wowza! That's the biggest gap since the Boston Marathon established this new process five years ago, and the fifth year in a row you needed to run faster than your age-group standard BQ. Here's how it compares to previous years:
  • For 2017, you had to better your BQ by 2 minutes and 9 seconds.
  • For 2016, 2 minutes, 28 seconds.
  • For 2015, 1 minute, 2 seconds.
  • For 2014, 1 minute, 38 seconds.
And it appears Boston qualifying runners are getting even faster. Here's the breakdown compared to the fields in previous years:
  • 4,691 Qualifiers met their qualifying time by 20 minutes, 00 seconds or faster. (+7.5%)
  • 7,673 Qualifiers met their qualifying time by 10 minutes, 00 seconds or faster. (+7.9%)
  • 7,505 Qualifiers met their qualifying time by 05 minutes, 00 seconds or faster. (+10.3%)
  • 2,905 Qualifiers met their qualifying time by 3 minutes, 23 seconds or faster. (-35.4%)
  • 424 Qualifiers were accepted based on finishing 10 or more consecutive Boston Marathons. (+2%)

That's a fast field! Congrats to all of you who got in. Hopefully you had a great year, and I'll be seeing you in Hopkinton on April 16, 2018. 

- SD

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Finding The Perfect DNF Cocktail at the 2017 Cascade Crest 100m

What is the recipe for a DNF cocktail? Is there a specific blend of physical and psychological ingredients, shaken or stirred, that guarantee an unforecasted “Do Not Finish” result? Ah, the contemplation that sets in with the post-drop reality of a cot that has become your personal finish line for the day. This was me at the turnaround point (mile 52) of the 19th annual Cascade Crest 100m Trail Run, an epic adventure in the mountains brought to an early and unexpected close. Yet I got up and walked away with a smile and no regrets, posing a mystery (and bartending analogy) worth further contemplation.

I’ve been quite fortunate that in toeing the line at 100+ ultras and marathons, the dreaded DNF has only popped up a few times, and usually with pretty obvious physical symptoms. If you’ve ever had a fever before the race has begun, have peed blood for over six hours, or had to stop because a gash didn’t pass the “if the bone ain’t showin’, keep on goin’…” test, then you know what I’m talking about. These obvious physical symptoms are the double straight shot DNF – a hard to swallow chug that hits like a Floyd Meriweather haymaker, and with similar body-slap-on-floor results.

My DNF at the CC100 was more akin to a classic cocktail - a unique mix of physical, spiritual, and emotional elements that brought me to a perfect and undeniable conclusion. All ingredients were simple and known, and no one ingredient large enough to take me down single handed. Yet somehow they magically combined into a delectable ambrosia, as if at the hands of a three-Michelin star chef or master bartender.

After some analysis, I have concluded the recipe is as follows (consume at your own risk):
  • One part injury – as previously mentioned, injury is the hard liquor/high proof element to a DNF cocktail. Any semi-serious injury will do, as long as it packs a punch and cannot be ignored. Perhaps it is a sharp pain that overrides the senses like a cheap tequila, such as a groin pull, wasp nest attack, broken toe, nettles, severe nipple chafe, or those poor souls who run through hours of rain just to sluff off the bottoms of their feet like old carpet. Or it could be a dull pain with an aged, smoky flavor akin to a whiskey, such as a hip injury you have let simmer in a dark cave of ignorance and stubbornness for years, untouched by therapists, doctors, or cross-training. Either flavor works, adding just enough to give the cocktail its bass notes. 
  • One part fortified “whine” – like a good Manhattan that needs vermouth (a fortified wine) to balance out whiskey, a fortified “whine” is essential to the DNF cocktail. Take a gripe that your ego/mind has brought along for the run, let your ego defend your position by injecting sugar and sweetness (fortification), and heat until it become that saccharine sweet, deceptively complex elixir that morphs into a perfect drop excuse faster than Mystique from the X-Men
  • Two shakes of bitters – no DNF is complete without the bitters. A good DNF bitter has a solid foundation of regret (ironically tastes like cherry), a hint of “I could have been a contender” (orange), and essential “I’ve failed my crew” face-contorting tartness, often with the salt of a few tears for balance. You’ll feel the desire to pour about 50 shakes into your cocktail (aka, “pity party”), but don’t. Just one or two shakes will do. Get over yourself. 
  • One slice of hope for zest – all classic cocktails have that curl of lemon, that twisted rind of orange, that uplifting and citrusy sunshine that attacks the nasal system with optimism before the first sip hits the tongue. For the DNF, this zest is hope. Hope that you will live to fight another day. Hope so instant and clear, you are already thinking of the next redeeming race to wipe out this blasted DNF cocktail heading down your gullet, even before you’ve taken a seat at the terminal aid station. I can’t stress how important this ingredient is – if you don’t have that hope, you will never give yourself permission to stop the race at hand. Just make sure it’s a slice of hope, and not the whole fruit…there’s no prize for first DNF, no matter how delicious a fruity cocktail tastes (or how much healthier it is for you). 
Stir the above ingredients, and serve straight up in a mason jar or paper cup (for added humility). There you go – the DNF cocktail.

If served properly, the DNF cocktail can take down even the greatest of race experiences. I found that out at the 2017 Cascade Crest 100m (CC100), a challenging and low key hundo that is a perennial favorite among the ultra crowd. The CC100 has always had fun and experienced volunteers, and this year (led by the extraordinary Race Director Rich White) they took the local forest fires in stride and dynamically created an out-and-back course that promised 25,000’+ of climbing and over 60 miles on the Pacific Coast Trail (PCT) for 150 lucky runners. They even managed to double down on the ropes section (so steep you need ropes to descend/ascend) and a 2-mile tunnel that used to be the only way to access this area 40 years ago. Now this epic course was set up for a one-of-a-kind brag worthy adventure!

(New with even more vertical!)

(A hot day greeted us at the 9am start)
(Jimmy Dean Freeman and Carly Koerner are stoked to get going)
(Amy Burton and I calorie up with some pancakes before the start)
(Ready to rumble!)
We had great weather, and my trusty crew chief was one of my favorite co-pilots, my Dad, Larry Dunlap. He was in the Class of 1960 from nearby Bellevue High School, so I particularly enjoyed his many stories and historical references that gave me a special appreciation for the course, lakes, and mountain towns of the area. I was in good physical shape, and a stay at the McMenamins Anderson School Hotel had lulled me to a few long, relaxing pre-race nights with their unique combination of microbrew, live music, theatre, and great food (overtaper?). How in the world could a DNF cocktail even conceive of attacking this stacked deck?!?

(Dad and crew chief, and we are ready to go!)
(And we're off!!!)
But as I sat on the cot at mile 52 and looked back, I can see how this special DNF concoction took shape.

First, there was an injury. It wasn’t a big injury, but when it hit at mile 42, it conjured many hours of struggle to come, and a steadily growing percentage of losing the rest of the season. I had enjoyed a conservative pace through the big climbs in the first 20 miles, but once we hit the Pacific Coast Trail (PCT), I couldn’t help but open up my stride on its delicious, runnable single track. When I did, every 50th step would send a tuning fork surge of pain up my left leg that reminded me of a tumble I had a few weeks back, when I got caught in some brush that took 20 minutes to untangle. At the time that crash didn’t seem big, just weird cramping at odd angles as I pulled myself out, but that F# ping of pain was an unmistakably familiar note. No problem, I figured, slow down and I’ll be fine. We’ll walk some flats and downhills, but we can still make it. Onward!

(Smoke on the morning horizon, photo courtesy of Gary Wang)
(The PCT did not disappoint!)
(The volunteers at Blowout Mountain get us refilled and full of popsicles)
(More yummy single track!)
(Glad to be above the forest fire smoke from nearby BC fires)
(The canopy is the place to be!)
(The most helpful shark I have ever met at an aid station)
Next, a tall glass of fortified “whine”. At its core was a sense of regret that I don’t spend enough quality time with my Dad. I think we all feel this way as our busy lives fill the calendar, but the 24 hours prior to the race was so much fun just to hang out, it was a vivid reminder. Without the constant interruptions of grandkids, spouses, and the day-to-day of a planned vacation, our conversation was rich, deep, and revealing. The detailed reality of his best friend losing a battle with Alzheimer’s hour by hour, sharing decades of relationships with women and what we have both learned (and refused to learn), and his pride and struggle with my half-sister, Claire, who survives (and in a unique way, thrives) on the verge of homelessness in nearby Tacoma, WA. As wise and grey as we have become, he remains a fountain of endless knowledge and perspective, and I the perennial student. But instead of having a few beers to engage even deeper, or meeting his old friends in person, we are pulling an all-nighter in the mountains again. I have more buckles than I can possibly wear already…wouldn’t it be sweeter to spend more quality time with the old man? Yes it would. Fortified sweeter, in fact.

(A trail crew at mile 24 was handing out ice cold PBR and Sierra Nevada...we say YES!)
(Getting through a hot spot)
(Descending down the ridge)
(The 2 mile tunnel was something!)
The two shakes of bitters were a bit harder to decipher. Few things can cleanse the soul of bitterness like the start of a 100-miler, since, let’s be honest, it is unneeded baggage. If that baggage tries to make the trip, you ain’t gonna make the trip, so best to chuck it at mile 0. When I started the race and joined some Canadians and first-timers for the first insane climb, there was no bitterness at all, only joy. As we shared whoop-whoops through the canopy of the PCT, in and out of the forest fire smoky dryness, finding costumed volunteers who loaded us with popsicles at each aid station, and my Dad who nearly cashed in our rental car insurance with every trek up a pass to meet me, I was all smiles. But as the injury got tougher and the inevitable “why should I finish” dialogue began, I found this little bug that wouldn’t go away, reminding me that my main motivation to sign up for this race was to get points for UTMB. A month prior to the race, the Race Director of CC100 (and Hardrock and others) sent an email saying “your points won’t count to UTMB because…[don't want to pay $100 to UTMB because it isn't right]”. At the time of that email I was bummed, of course, but I never thought twice about not racing the CC100. Yet, here it is, offering up two shakes of bitter to the cocktail. Finish or not, there was no UTMB in my future thanks for placing a bet on this race.

(Rolling with the Canucks in the early miles)
(Slowing down, but getting there!)
(Volunteers were crazy good all day)
And then comes the zest. Why do we do these 100’s, anyway? There's always a chapter of an ultra where you have to ponder this question, and it's actually one of the fun parts of the journey. For me, it's to get out of our comfort zones, to have a shared adventure with like-minded warriors, and to mix with Mother Nature on her terms….yup, got all of those. In fact, got them all by mile 52. Herein lies the rub, and the more challenging mental hurdle of out-and-back courses – the first 52 miles were so perfect, full of amazing trails, lakes, trees, views, heat, suffering, wildlife, new friends, and the best tasting perogis I’ve ever had (served by legend Scott McCoubrey), my spiritual cup was already overflowing. If I kept going, I could get more, and there was no doubt my crew would see that I found that finish. Or I could drop and spend the next 48 hours exploring the area with my Dad, hearing more stories and wisdom, visiting his friends and our long-lost family, and taking him back to the McMenamins Anderson School for a night of relaxed enjoyment. A different and possibly greater adventure dangerously unfurling in the eye of this beholder.

Mmmm, that went down easy! A perfect DNF cocktail.

(Female winner Kaytlyn Gerbin cheers on finishers; both she and overall winner Lindsay Hamoudi clocked impressive times on this difficult course)
(To the winners go the spoils, silver if you're finishing your 5th/10th)
(Getting it done! Yes!!!)
And so, that’s what we did. I dropped at 10pm, 13 hours into the race, injured but likely capable of making the finish on any other day. We helped a few more runners get through the turnaround, then packed it up to enjoy a few beers and gas station sandwiches on the curb. After a full night of sleep, we came back to cheer on the incredible runners who cranked through the night/morning, then took the long way back through Leavenworth (awesome Danish style town complete with beer halls), cruised along Hwy 2 where the mountains rival Hawaii and Switzerland, spent the night at the McMenamins Anderson School for beers/swims/long chats, and reunited with my half-sister Claire (after 18 years!) to spend a few hours sipping milkshakes before heading home. It was one of those trips you would never do if planned, but wouldn’t trade for anything once it was done. No buckle, but no regrets. And to be honest, I have CC100 to thank for opening this adventure to me...without that race, none of this would have happened.

(Catching up with Claire after almost 20 years)
Back at home, my 52-mile legs had no trouble jumping back into training fully motivated, and I set my sites on the Tussey Mountainback in October (yeah, zest!). The DNF cocktail has no lingering hangover this time.

I hope you don’t taste the DNF cocktail often, but if you do, may it be as delicious and life-changing as this one. See you on the trails!

Cheers, Scott

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Registration for the 2018 Boston Marathon Starts On Monday (9/11)

If you would like to be one of the 30,000 runners at the 122nd Boston Marathon on Monday, April 16, 2018, have your qualification times ready to register next week!

The race will once again follow a rolling registration, based on a qualifying time run since September 17, 2016:

  • Monday, September 11 - Qualifiers who have met the qualifying standard by 20 minutes, 00 seconds or more. 
  • Wednesday, September 13 - Qualifiers who have met the qualifying standard by 10 minutes, 00 seconds or more (if space remains). 
  • Friday, September 15 - Qualifiers who have met the qualifying standard by 5 minutes, 00 seconds or more (if space remains). 
  • Saturday, September 16 - Registration closes at 10:00 p.m. ET. 
  • Monday, September 18 - All qualifiers who have met the qualifying standard (if space remains) may submit an entry. 
  • Wednesday, September 20 - Registration closes at 5:00 p.m. ET. 
If space remains after this initial period, then on Monday, September 25 registration will re-open to anyone who meets the qualifying standards on a first come, first served basis. Registration will remain open until the maximum field size is reached.

Historically, you have had to have been faster than your qualifying time by 1:02-2:28 to get a spot since rolling registration has been in place. Let's hope you have a speedy qualifier under your belt for 2016/2017, maybe even fast enough for Corral #1!

I'll be there for sure. Let me know if you're coming to Hopkinton!

- Scott

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Smart Clothing Expected to Hit $4B by 2024

The era of smart clothing is about to break open, according to a new market study from Global Insights that says this industry will grow 50% annually to $4B+ in the next eight years. Sensors and haptic feedback are expected to move from watches, bands, and independent devices to be an integral part of the t-shirts, shoes, and jackets of the future.

Fitness is just one industry driving the trend, with health care and military applications also providing a big boost. They all share the desire to use real-time feedback and artificial intelligence to determine health levels, track goals, monitor form, and prevent injury. A seamless integration of tech and clothing also has the potential to rapidly change industries - imagine getting lower insurance rates for clocking your daily workouts, or custom supplements shipped to your door based on your chemical balance and level of workout.  Prices are still a bit on the high side, but if these projections are accurate, these should quickly become affordable.

(Projected growth in smart clothing, according to Global Insights)
If you like to track the intersection of tech and health, you've probably seen a few of these products announced. Here are a few that I find interesting:

The Australian company makes a yoga pant called the Nadia X that gently pulses to help you adjust your form and hold your yoga poses properly.

Lumo Body Tech makes a pair of shorts that helps you optimize your stride by measuring cadence, bounce, pelvic rotation, and braking and giving you audio clues in real time.

Canada's Hexoskin makes a complete triathlon suit that measures heart rate, breathing, and more to provide insight into intensity and recovery, calories burned, overtraining, and sleep quality.

Athos uses micro-EMG sensors in clothes to detect how much your muscles are working, heart rate, and breathing to get your workouts dialed. This is one of many "muscle exertion tracking" technologies coming to the market.

The market study says it is good 'ole t-shirts and shoes that will lead the way, but we clearly are going to see a lot of cool breakthroughs across the board. Data junkies will get their fill for sure!

For the rest of us, I'm sure regular old t-shirts will continue to be available and culturally accepted. Whatever it takes to get you outside and running is cool by me.