• 29th September 2010 - By greg

    “That’s just not the way we do things around here Greg”.

    This was the response offered to my question: “Why don’t you guys plan more long, flat, ‘runnable’ sections in your race?”

    I was talking to one of the race organizers at an aid station who asked me how I liked the course. His response to my question was obviously referring to race director Ian Golden’s decision to add over 2000 ft of elevation to the 2010 Virgil Crest ultramarathon totalling 19,900 ft, while removing most of sissy runnable fire road and pavement from last years torturous route.

    Helen and I on race morning ready to rock!

    Helen and I on race morning ready to rock!

    The resulting hellish pain-fest consisted of 102.8 miles of either extremely technical single track, or impossibly steep black diamond ski runs with a couple of very short – I’m talking less than a half mile – of flat fire road or paved road logistically required to link one brutal punishment to the next. The 36 hour cut-off time is one of the longest there is, and according to finishing times, most runners needed every minute allotted. .

    Helen and I woke up at 4:45 am on Saturday morning, downed a couple of coffees, ate a bagel and headed down to the race start at hope lake park near the town of Virgil, in upstate New York. Helen was apprehensive, as this was her first 50 mile ultramarathon, and I was just plain dreading it in a way because this was to be my third attempt at running 100 miles and I was very familiar with the inevitable pain and misery that I was about to voluntarily subject myself to.

    Ready to race!

    Ready to race!

    This isn’t to say that I wasn’t actually looking forward to it in a way. My two-week taper had me feeling fat and sluggish and I was looking forward to hitting the trails. I felt ready to tackle Virgil Crest 100, as I had trained the entire summer for it, logging about twice as many training miles as last summers two attempts at making it through the big 100.

    My first shot at completing a hundred mile ultramarathon was Sinister 7 in the Crowsnest Pass area of Alberta in July of 2009. I was forced to abandon at 70 miles due to extreme blisters on my feet. My second attempt was the Lost Sole ultra in Lethbridge, Alberta, and again I dropped out after 50 miles due to inadequate planning – I departed on a rather long leg shortly before sundown without a jacket. I got hypothermic and when I eventually made it back to the aid station, I had made up my mind to check-out and I dropped.

    This years Virgil Crest ultra boasted 32 runners registered in the 100 mile race and another 44 registered for the 50 mile race – a growth of over 25 percent from last year.  At 6:00 am sharp, we collectively passed between two fire torches that marked the start line at hope lake park.

    The first leg was deceptively reasonable – a wide track through the forest with modest grades, but never flat. We were running with our head lamps and I remember thinking that it wasn’t that hard to see the trail at night and falsely thinking that this could be typical of the remainder of the course. I was way wrong.

    My legs didn’t feel good. I think that I over shot my taper by easing up too much on my running volume in the two weeks leading up to this race. My feet were getting numb, and my hamstrings were tight and sore. I wasn’t concerned because I knew that in a few hours everything would be functioning normally as it always does – and did.

    I reached the first aid station at 5.4 miles feeling confident, but the next 5.4 mile leg shattered that confidence. The reasonable trail through the forest had turned into a nasty, twisting, technical single track route littered with roots, stubs, steep climbs, creek crossings and many navigational challenges. By now, the sun was up, but in the dense forest, it still seemed like night time. I was thinking that this was going to be a bitch in the middle of the night. The course was well marked with reflective markers and white painted “blazes” on many of the trees, and was fairly easy to follow in the light of the day. I was worried about staying on course after dark – and not stepping off the edge of the trail and falling 50 feet to the creek below.

    I reached the 2nd aid station known as “Lifthouse 5” thankful that I had made it through the challenging part of the course.

    After swallowing a few cookies and other goodies at LH5, I set out to conquer the Greekpeak loop – a 3.9 mile loop that climbed Greekpeak ski hill twice and retued to LF5. YIKES! Gone was the technical single track which was replaced by impossibly steep black diamond climbs and descents, relentlessly, up and down the ski hill. The loop was only 3.9 miles, but it took me over an hour to complete.

    One of the reasons I run ultras is that I love getting to meet and know some very interesting people. This race was no exception. During the Greekpeak loop, I got to know ultra runner master Ken Posner who has finished ten 100 mile ultras. I do believe in “meaningful coincidences” but our connection was kind of bizarre.

    Lately I have been devouring a genre of books about the recent financial crisis caused by the sub prime mortgage collapse. My keen interest in this subject matter stems mostly from my re-entry into the world of derivatives trading. I am very interested in learning all about the causes of our current economic situation and have been voraciously reading every book about the crash published.

    The one un-read book that is still on my short list is called “Stalking the Black Swan“. It is especially interesting to me because as a technical systems trader, I am exposed to sudden statistical aberrations otherwise known as crashes or “Black Swans”. The book was written by none other than my new ultra running buddy Kenneth Posner. Needless to say, we had a lot to talk about!

    Anyhow – back to the ultra:

    After returning to LH5 I was looking forward to some sane, relatively flat trail running for the remainder of the 50 mile out and back course – which I would repeat to total 100 miles.

    Now, I must admit that I didn’t read any of race director Ian Golden’s course description. If I had, then I would have known that this imaginary fantasy of mine consisting of a wide open, soft pine needle trail with gentle grades, singing birds, breathtaking vistas, and yes – even Bambi – was pure fiction.

    The next 2 legs after the GreekPeak loop – 6 miles, then 5 miles were carbon copies of leg 2 – dark, twisted, scary technical creations from the mind of a mad, ultra running scientist –  race director Ian Golden. Pure evil.

    I made it to the turn around aid station misleadingly named “Daisey hollow” (There were no Daisies and Bambi was nowhere in sight), in 6 hours, 15 minutes. This was exactly 1/4 of the total distance – a thought that I found somewhat discouraging, so I refused to think about it. When I do these kind of endurance events, I’ve learned that I need to focus on the here and now. The thought of the incredible distance and effort that remains is far too depressing.

    My 25 mile return to the start line was actually good. The weird pains in my legs had dissipated and I was adjusting to the cruel reality of this course and the task ahead. I completed the first 50 miles in 13 hours, 36 minutes which converted to a 27 hour finishing time in my deluded, overly optimistic mind.

    The second loop started out great and I was feeling good up to about mid Greekpeak when a healthy and cleansing period of farting ended with a rather surprising wet one.

    I need to issue a warning here, as I am about to get a bit graphic. I’m not going to pull any punches.  I want you to. “enjoy” the entire experience as it actually happened. If you have a weak stomach then you might want to consider skipping the next few paragraphs.

    As you might have gathered, I made a quick dash into the woods to empty my bowels – otherwise known as a bowel movement, or more accurately in this particular case, known as diarrhea. Luckily, I was wearing my jacket and had stashed a wrap of TP in a pocket – just in case.

    On way way down from Greekpeak summit I returned to the woods another 3 times exhausting my supply of TP. When I arrived back at the Lifthouse5 aid station, I visited the porta pottie and replenished my TP supply and enjoyed another helping of bean casadias with hot pumpkin soup which I had so enjoyed my first three times passing through lifthouse 5 aid station.

    I was becoming very concerned about my GI issues as I woofed down a second helping of bean cassadias and a steaming hot cup of bean and lentil soup. What on earth could be causing this?

    OK, maybe this isn’t rocket surgery, but you have to realize that most of my blood, at the time, was in my legs and probably my stomach trying to deal with all the legumes and fibre I was consuming – not, obviously in my brain.

    After my re-fueling stop at LH5, I headed back out toward my next stop at the rockpile aid station – 6 miles of extreme technical single track through dense forest in the dark.

    That’s is one spooky place at night. Very cool and I was enjoying it. I discovered that staying on course was easy, as the light from my headlamp reflecting off of the blazes made finding my track effortless.

    I was feeling pretty good and my stomach was behaving. I saw two eyes in the forest reflect back and I stopped. The animal stopped and stared back. When it turned sideways I could make out a shape that was about the size of a large cat, but totally white. Could have been a coyote, but it may have been a bobcat – very cool!

    Then I started farting again. Normally, during an ultra endurance event, the releasing of intestinal gas is a good, happy feeling. But when that process continues for 30 minutes and ends with another surprising wet one, that’s not a good sign. Another dash into the woods and I’d better start rationing my TP stash. A few minutes later with my stomach not feeling very happy at all, I made another mad dash into the forest and exhausted my precious TP supply.

    I was not feeling good at this point. Without getting into a ton of needless gross detail here – let’s just say that over the next few hours, I became somewhat of an expert on leaves of the Virgil Crest forest as suitable replacement for toilet paper.

    The leaves on most of the deciduous tress are quite suitable, but only in a stack of at least 5. Skip the leaves with holes from bugs eating through and always shake each leaf well to shed any insects. Warning: during the Autumn season, you must be suspicious of any leave that could be close to changing color. When they change, they get brittle and your fingers can break through the leaf (as I learned).  If the leaves are any smaller than 3 inches wide, they would be from an immature tree and are just two small to properly serve your purpose. These leaves are temptingly soft and moist, and are usually the last to dry up in the fall, but you are best advised to walk away.

    I learned that there was one kind of rare plant with very large leafs and this was always my best choice.  But in this forest, they were very hard to find. The fruit of this particular bush was a large, fresh, soft leaf, still a bit dewy on the underside. Discovering this gem at the exact right time was like finding a goldmine.

    Back to the race: the 6 mile leg from LH5 to rockpile aid station was hell. With every detour into the bush, I was loosing energy. I was completely drained. It took me over 4 hours to finally make it to Rockpile aid station where I decided to throw in the towel after running 70 miles. And I was starting to limp, as I had continuously stubbed by right toe on invisible tree stumps and roots. After my 12th stub, it felt like kicking a tree stump as hard as you could – repeatedly.

    Quitting is never an easy decision. In this case, I really felt that there was no other alternative, as I was just too weak and drained and dehydrated due to my stomach problems. At the rate I was going, it would have taken me an additional 24 hours to complete the remaining 30 miles.

    As I crossed the road near Rockpile aid station, a runner from one of the relay teams asked if I was OK. She was waiting in her van for another team member to arrive at the checkpoint. I asked her if she could give me a lift back. She phoned Ian and informed him of my dropped status and kindly drove me back to my hotel.

    In the end, 18 of the 30 registered in the 100 finished including Ken. Helen had a great race and successfully completed her first 50 mile ultramarathon. 33 of the 50 racers registered for the 50 mile finished.

    I must commend evil race director Ian Golden for organizing a fantastic event. The course exceeded my expectations regarding the level of challenge, and the event was very well planned. The volunteers at the aid stations were friendly, encouraging and helpful. I would not hesitate to recommend this race to anyone looking for a serious challenge.

    Note to self: stay away from the bean soup and bean casadias next time.

    Post race - I'm toasted!

    Post race - I'm toasted!

  • 8 Comments to “2010 Virgil Crest 100 mile ultra”

    • Bryon Howard on September 29, 2010

      That is hilarious!
      … what could be causing all this farting?

      Racing Ironman in St. George on May 7, 2011 will now be a cake walk!

      Looking forward to the training and racing with you buddy. No bean casadias.

    • steve nelson on September 30, 2010


      Thanks for the valuable info regarding bean casadias. You’e a great story teller.

    • Ian Golden on September 30, 2010


      I gave aid stations pretty much free reign on food selections…I guess I’ll have to impose some criteria including a limitation on legumes…oh so deceptively tasty but indeed conducive to forest foraging. Good stuff on the write up, thanks for passing it over and will definitely link it. Congrats on making it through a challenging 70. One of these times things will just go right!


    • Megan Wagenet on September 30, 2010


      First, what a fantastic write up! So spot on and entertaining, minus the terrible GI upset you suffered.

      Second, I was the mini-van owner and one of the runners who crashed in the back on our way back to your hotel. I am glad my team could be of assistance to you at what seems like what was your lowest point. I hope you have recovered and your vacation is going well!

      Best, Megan

    • Kim on October 1, 2010

      You are a champion!!! I was the driver of the van that night, and although under major anguish, still managed to ask us where we were from and how we were doing! Perhaps you don’t remember, but Im glad we were able to save you!

      By now your biking in on vacation in France, the many adventures of Greg!!

      Congratulations on an amazing event, you are forever in our memories!

      Best of luck to you in the future!

      P.S. No more casadias! I had one too, and NOOOO GOOD!!!

    • Jon on October 1, 2010

      when reaching for leave (which I often do) one should know the difference between white oak and poison oak (which I don’t).

      Agree, course is amazing and Ian is Evil!

    • Kristina on October 2, 2010

      Awesome report (it was funny!) It was a really hard course but who doesn’t love a challenge! I can honestly say that it was easier for me to climb Denali than it was to run this race. I will be back again next year for another beating!

    • Ross on October 4, 2010

      I laughed and i cried with even more laughter…….i like marathon and i like Ironman……I love a good half, but when ever i get the thought of an ultra……i just have to read this……i think there is an endurance test, then there is just the insane.


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