Archive for the 'Family' Category

Crash! Part Trois: Unfortunately This Time a Motor Vehicle Was Involved!

The rib pain and back pain are terrible, but the x-rays were negative and showed no fractures, which is fantastic news. The feeling I have is frustration as my third serious bicycle crash (requiring medical attention) in five years occurred during my commute home from work on Monday night.

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Those feelings of frustration are fueled by all the news I read and hear about the challenges that cyclists experience all over the world. The story about the glass bottle thrown at one of my teammates on Wednesday night that resulted in double flats–the story also from Wednesday night about a cyclist killed in Connecticut in a head on collision–the crazy story about a chain reaction crash that claimed the life of a cyclist in Brooklyn earlier this week–the July hit-and-run of former Bicycling editor Andrew Bernstein in Boulder. I could go on and on. Every circumstance was different.

After visiting Boulder and Ft. Collins, Colorado last month, I wrote about them in this blog post. Both cities are cycling “Mecca’s” and hold Platinum Bicycle Friendly Community honors from the League of American Bicyclists. That’s great, but as mentioned, Boulder isn’t even a safe place to ride a bike. Nowhere on the roads of America appears to be safe.

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I’ll avoid casting generalizations and try to narrow my focus to my home roads. It’s dangerous out there. I admit it, I choose to take the risk every day. I’ve commuted to or from work 60 times this year and LOVE doing it. It checks all the boxes for me.

  • I value a car-free commute.
  • I lower my carbon footprint.
  • I get my exercise on my way to work, which is a very efficient way to accomplish two things at once.
  • I experience nature.
  • I identify with a community of like-minded riders.
  • I get to ride my bike.

I tell people all of the time that my best days are the days I ride to or from work. I find that morning rides are a great way to start the day and help me plan ahead for the items on my to-do list. Equally enjoyable are the evening rides when I get the chance to unwind before walking through the door at home. It gives me so much pleasure, but is it worth it?

Connecticut isn’t Ft. Collins, Colorado; Portland, Oregon; or San Francisco, California where there is a culture of bicycle commuting, a much larger community, better cycling infrastructure, and more motorist awareness. They have their problems too. The roads of Southern New England are filled with riders. Boston is a busy city and has a strong cycling community. I ride there a lot and have a long history with the city having gone to school there, but it has been plagued by deadly accidents in recent years as traffic increases and distractions abound. Last year, MassBike produced one of the most chilling videos a cyclist will ever watch.

Is it worth it? This is a rhetorical question that even I can’t answer. When I phoned my Mom on Monday night to tell her the news before she heard it from someone else, it bothered me. It was an emotional conversation, just like the calls I placed in 2014 when I crashed on Soapstone Mountain and fractured my scapula and in 2018 at the USA Cyclo-Cross National Championships crash when I broke my fibula. No motor vehicles were involved in those wrecks so even cycling without traffic has its risks, but I can manage that risk better. It’s the risk that is totally out of my control that I’m struggling to reconcile. She knows I don’t call her about the “little” crashes because we talked about that. She also sees me commute because we have worked together for 30 years. Sometimes she is at work when I arrive on my bike. She knows the roads I ride and she sees the way people drive. It’s a huge risk.

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I’m a dedicated commuter and was thrilled when the East Coast Greenway was expanded from Manchester to Bolton Notch. A new section of paved bike path (it’s actually a multi-use path) now connects with the Hop River State Park Trail, a rail trail that is right out my front door. I ride that trail all of the time. I can now ride to East Hartford with even less time spent on the roads that are shared with motor vehicles, but that hasn’t stopped me from riding with vehicular traffic.

On Monday, I called home at 5:28 P.M. and told Debbie my plan. I left HORST Engineering’s South Windsor plant site at 5:47 P.M. I rode towards Prestige Park to meet up with Mike Reilly, a friend from the cycling community. We both commute regularly but had never ridden together. He messaged me in the morning to see when we could ride and I told him I brought my bike and that today would be the day. I was late as usual, but five minutes after I rolled out.  We intercepted each other on Long Hill Rd., chatting amiably on the descent, and then headed towards Wickham Park. Tolland Street was under construction. The top layer of asphalt had been skived, but we have gravel bikes and managed. Dealing with road repair is another challenge for cyclists. We cut through the park where they were setting up for the Monday Night Summer XC Series (running) and then got on to the Greenway at the Burnside Avenue intersection.

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Burnside has a bike lane now, but there were three cycling deaths on that road during an 18-month time frame in 2010-2011. I ride Burnside a LOT. It’s sketchy, but much better after the improvements. It used to be a four lane road without a divider and the speeds were high. They removed the second lane headed in both directions, narrowing the flow of traffic and reducing the speeds. Sadly, much of the paint markings for the bike lane are fading and there has been little maintenance. Mercifully, there has not been a “Ghost Bike” placed on Burnside since 2011. If I can avoid that road, I seek an alternative route, but that is not always the case. The paved bike path is a huge help. Mike and I spent time chatting about our love of cycling and the risks involved. He was surprised to learn that I was a bicycle messenger during college back in 1991. I gave that job up after my third big crash involving motor vehicles and thankfully have pursued other career options. We had to briefly get off the path where there is a missing section in Manchester between Bidwell Street and McKee Street. We got back on the path and rode to Charter Oak Park where we split up. He headed towards Mount Nebo Park which is closer to his Manchester home, and I stayed on the Greenway headed towards Bolton.

In June of 2018, I had a bad incident during a commute home. This episode didn’t involve a crash, but did result in a citation to a motorist and an arrest of a passenger in the offending car. They tried to “door” me on East Center Street in Manchester. I wrote about that incident too and described it as “The Perils of Bicycle Commuting.” Is it worth the risk?

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After splitting with Mike, I hemmed and hawed about which route to take. I mix it up a lot, but on Monday I decided to take the bike path all the way to Bolton Center Road. Before the extension, I used to always ride up Camp Meeting Road, but the shoulders have deteriorated and are no fun to ride on. They are full of cracks and debris. Plus, cars travel at a high rate of speed and there are some blind corners. Again, I ride that road all of the time, but Debbie refuses to go on it and I’ve heard from others that they avoid it too. Now that the bike path continues through Bolton, there are better options depending on where you are headed.

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It’s nice to have the Greenway, but it’s worth mentioning that the path parallels sections of I-384 and also I-84. That subjects you to the exhaust fumes from all the vehicles on the highway. There are some nice spots, but there are also spots covered in glass and debris that gets tossed from vehicles on the highway. Plus you are always subject to the highway noise. It isn’t; very peaceful. One of my favorite spots is where the path actually crosses under the highway and you ride along the Hockanum River. You can hear the vehicles above you, but I often imagine what this area looked and sounded like 300 years ago. Periodically I will see a Great Blue Heron in the water. Other sections have wide cracks with long weeds growing up from the openings in the pavement. My newest bike has extra wide 42 cm high volume tires and they do a great job soaking up the road shock, but I shouldn’t have to resort to that option. Sadly, no one maintains these paths. Last week, I rode the spur between Tolland Turnpike and Burnside Avenue and was dismayed to see the memorial and dedication plaque overgrown with weeds with the nearby benches crumbling. It isn’t the prettiest place to ride, but it’s safer than riding in traffic.

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My commute continued and I rode the new section of the bike path along I-384. I had the option to continue to the Notch and then get on the unpaved rail trail, but I wanted to get home sooner and figured the express route down Bolton Center Road for 2.3 miles to my house would be fine. I ride that road ALL of the time. I’ve ridden that road thousands of times. We moved to Bolton 15 years ago. When there was no bike path extension through Bolton, I took that road even more frequently. It’s a busy road and doubles as Route 85, and I worry about the traffic every time I’m on it, but that didn’t deter me.

Sometimes I take my 13-year-old son Shepard on that road and we talk about the danger. I’ve taught him to ride defensively. His friend Alexandra lives off of 85 near the exit ramp and I’ll often meet him there on my way home from work, and then we will ride home together. Our kids are involved with mountain biking and cyclocross, but not with road cycling. They ride on roads, but they don’t train or race on roads like I did. I still ride on the road frequently, even beyond my commuting, but I haven’t raced on the road in years. Lately my only exception has been triathlon. I have done more than 400 road bike races but that is a risk I stopped taking. It’s crazy but I have not data to prove that racing is more or less risky than commuting. I stopped for some of the same reasons that others have stopped commuting, including the fact that crashing is often out of your control. The pavement is so unforgiving.

On Monday, I was on the road and I was riding my new Seven Evergreen XX bicycle. I didn’t have a headlight on because I was running my handlebar bag and haven’t mounted a light on the new bike, but I often ride with one. I have an adapter for it, but just hadn’t gotten around to installing it. I’ll often wear a reflective vest and reflect ankle straps, but not always in middle of summer when it is light out. I was wearing my bright orange Team HORST kit with an orange helmet. I have reflective material on my bike and I had my rear tail light on. It was the same set-up that I’ve been running all summer.

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I’ve got all the details on this ride because Strava captured it. You can see the spot where I crashed because there are all these squiggly lines. I approached the Birch Mountain Road intersection where Bolton Center Road bends to the left. I was just cruising along at 16 mph with about 1.4 miles to go. It was about 6:45 P.M. I recall seeing a car on Birch Mountain and they pulled out to head east on Bolton Center towards the town green. I saw a vehicle approach (I now know it was a mini-van but had no idea at the time) coming towards me. I don’t recall if they were using their left turn signal but they never hesitated and that surprised me. I’m not sure what came out of my mouth but it was probably “Hey!!!” which is a common alert I use. It all happened in a split second. I was clearly going straight and the vehicle turned left, right in front of me.

In an instant I grabbed both brake hoods with all my might while yanking my bike to the left to avoid a collision. It felt like the vehicle was inches from my nose. This new bike has hydraulic disc brakes and they have serious stopping power. I didn’t even skid because I squeezed them so hard. There was no way for me to prevent going straight over the bars. I flipped over (doing an “endo”) body slamming into the asphalt. I’ve described it as WWF body slam without the soft mat and without the acting. My rear wheel went straight up in the air and I stayed clipped into my pedals until my back impacted the ground. As soon as I grabbed the brakes with such force, I was doomed to crash. I was alert and conscious the whole time but in that instant, I was flat on my back looking up at the blue sky with no air in my lungs. Every breath had left my body as I slammed into the pavement.

I was in such pain that in that instant I did not know:

  1. if the vehicle hit me
  2. if I crashed avoiding the vehicle but they subsequently ran me over/hit me
  3. if I completely avoided a collision and crashed on my own.

I think that I ended up in the best possible scenario as it was the third one. I don’t think I ever contacted the van. I think the drive also hit the brakes at the last moment. I don’t know. It was a blur. I saw my life flash before my eyes, reacted, and then I was down. I know I tucked my head, which is instinct and I thrust out my left arm to brace my fall. I think the damage to my bicep was from my bicycle’s handlebars. That seems to be the best explanation given that I couldn’t hit the outside of my arm on the pavement at the same time as the inside of the arm. The bars must have jammed me good because I have a deep black and blue welt.

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In the seconds following the accident, I laid there flat on my back trying to catch my breath. I noticed more than one vehicle around me as I was right in the middle of the road and holding up traffic. I glanced up and there was a man standing over me. I think he was the passenger from the offending vehicle. I heard someone say, “Get him out of the road.” I put up my right hand in a “stop” motion and rasped, “don’t touch me.” I needed to self-assess and could barely get the words out, but I didn’t want to be touched. I was worried I broke my back or even worse, my neck. From all my past first aid training, I knew that you never move someone with a suspected injury like that.

I again made the plea to let me be and said, “give me a minute.” It felt like several people were around me, but I wasn’t seeing that clearly. I asked this man if “he hit me.” I think he said something like “by the grace of God” you avoided a collision. I don’t know exactly what he said, but I know he absolutely said “by the grace of God.” I don’t really look at things that way. I was thinking to myself that God or whatever had nothing to do with this. I also knew that it was my quick reflexes that saved me from a potentially even worse injury and not the reaction of the driver or some higher being.

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After what felt like an eternity, but was probably only two minutes, I realized that I could move my legs and arms and wanted to get up, so I rolled on to my side and curled into a ball to see if I could flex my back. After a few moments, I used my arms to push myself into a seated position and saw where my bike was positioned to my left. I saw the vehicle and realized it was a mini-van. I think it was maroon, but I could be wrong. I was not in the right frame of mind to start taking pictures. I gathered my strength, and stood up. I think someone else grabbed my bike (maybe the passenger) and I walked to the side of the road where there is gravel and dirt with some sparse grass and weeds in the corner. I sat down on the ground with my bike to my left and pulled out my iPhone. I said out loud to everyone listening that I wanted the situation documented. It was 6:50 P.M. and I made the 911 call myself.

I could barely get out the words as tears ran down my cheeks, and snot mixed in my beard, but I was lucid enough to describe the intersection I was at. I explained the situation and my condition. The dispatcher said they would connect me with the State Police. They put the call through and I repeated everything that I told the 911 dispatcher including my location. The call lasted a minute.

It felt like longer, but five minutes later at 6:55 P.M. I dialed Debbie. Between whimpers I told her that I was in an accident, but OK. I gave her my location and she said she would get Dahlia and be right there. Our son is away at Boy Scouts camp. I thought that State Trooper Eckman arrived before Debbie, but I don’t remember. I also thought it took 15 minutes for him to get there, but it must have been quicker. I didn’t talk to anybody. I tossed my iPhone on the ground next to me and just sat there with my head between my knees waiting. I occasionally glanced up as the passenger from the vehicle stood nearby. I had to make sure they didn’t drive away. I thought about taking some photos of the scene, the vehicle, their license plate, etc. but I was zonked. I just sat there.

When the trooper arrived, I recall getting up and approaching him. Maybe he spoke with me while I was seated. It doesn’t matter. I think I was seated. He asked for my ID and I dug my wallet out of my handlebar bag. I gave him my license and waited. He must have collected a license from the driver too and went to his vehicle. I think it was when he returned that I actually got up to talk to him. I told him I wanted the “case” documented. He said there was no case, but that I could call the barracks and get the records if I needed them. I figured there would be a claim against the driver and their insurance company, but I didn’t have my wits and had no interest in engaging with the driver.

I never even saw the driver. I didn’t want to look at the driver. I had no energy to complain or argue. I told Officer Eckman that I had ridden this road a thousand times. I told him that I hadn’t even planned to take it on this ride. I told him I took the Greenway and then switched to the road. He said without any sympathy, “Well, then this was bound to happen at some point.” He went on to compare my situation with a car accident in that they happen all of the time. In hindsight, I think that he has probably seen a lot of tragedy, pain, and suffering and that he realizes how dangerous it is on the roads. He likely sees the same crazy antics and distractions that I witness every day.

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In that moment, I wasn’t thinking about his perspective. I digested the comment and my retort was quick, “Well, that’s one way of looking at it, but it shouldn’t have happened tonight. That driver wasn’t paying attention.” This is when the frustration really kicked in. In the background, my daughter was bawling as she saw how hard it was for me to move. She saw me upset. She saw my tears. She saw me bleeding. Contrastingly, Debbie was quite stable and tried to calm our daughter down insisting that I was going to be alright. She is a strong woman.

I was upset after the exchange with Trooper Eckman. I grabbed my bike and straightened out my brake hoods. They were bent in at 45 degree angles. I spun my wheels to make sure they were running true. My chain was off. I asked Debbie for help to put it back on the front ring. She asked me what I was doing. I said, “I’m going to finish this ride.” She insisted on loading my bike in our VW Eurovan, but I wanted nothing to do with that. I didn’t look around. My focus was on getting home. I climbed back on my bike and got rolling. I got home around 7:20 P.M. It took me a little more than five minutes to go the last mile and a half. My back ached, but I was able to spin my legs no problem. The entire time from crash to getting home took about 26 minutes but it felt much longer.

I let myself in through the garage, put my bike in the basement, went inside, and got undressed. Debbie arrived home shortly afterwards. She said she spoke with the officer and he said he gave the driver a $185 fine and citation for “failing to grant the right of way.” That should help prove it was the driver’s fault and not mine. She also said she glanced into the vehicle. The driver never left her seat. She reported that the driver was female and then gave me some additional background information. Like I said, I was disinterested in meeting this person. Accidents happen, but normally for a reason. I don’t know if she was distracted, if she was a poor driver, if she was tired, or if as the passenger claimed, that she just didn’t see me. When he spoke, he said, “they” indicating that neither of them saw me. He had also referenced the sun, but at that moment when I was still sitting on the ground waiting for the police to arrive, I looked up and know that it wasn’t that bad. Speed doesn’t appear to be an issue. The limit on that road is 40 mph. Not far from the crash, there is a section of road that permits passing, which I think is wrong. That road is too narrow and winding for passing to be allowed, but that wasn’t a factor here. I could find all kinds of problems with how our roads are laid out and governed, but that’s not going to change. In my case, some combination of factors resulted in the fact that the driver was unaware of my presence on the road and she turned in front of me.

I’m sure the driver was shaken up by the situation. It could have been worse for her too. Distracted driving is an epidemic. The number of people that I see on their phones talking, texting, or performing other tasks is beyond alarming. In addition to all my riding, I spend a lot of time driving too. The problem is completely out of control. I don’t see that changing. Driving under the influence (DUI) reached a critical point in the 1980’s and people became more aware, but that hasn’t changed the fact that people still drive impaired by alcohol, drugs, and prescription medications.

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In addition to those risks, people are angry. They care less than they used to. More people are selfish and that shows up in their driving behavior. They don’t get enough sleep and drive when they are tired. They don’t do enough to manage the stress in their lives and they behave badly behind the wheel. People are in a bigger rush than ever. They fail to use their signals, they drive way too fast for conditions, they pass on the right, and they constantly blow through stop signs and traffic lights. I see it every day. Cyclists have a unique vantage point. They are higher up than most cars and they can see what’s going on. Vehicles are bigger than ever. Some SUV’s and trucks have large mirrors that stick out and come very close to you when they pass you. How many cyclists have been struck by a rearview mirror?

In recent years, I’ve been “coal rolled” multiple times. It’s disgusting. One of my pet peeves is that some vehicles have windows that are tinted so darkly that you cannot see the driver. You can’t see what they are doing. You can’t see what direction they are looking. You can’t see if they are staring at their phone. There is no way for you to tell if they see you. My fear is that their obliviousness is camouflaged by the tinted glass. It’s a problem that needs to be addressed.

The anger on the roads is just an extension of the broader anger in our society. When the bike path was being expanded in Bolton, our small town of 5,000 people 15 minutes east of Hartford, it caused so much angst. There has been a small but vocal group of people who have railed against the expansion of the Greenway and other paths. They have claimed that it’s a waste of their taxes. They have wrongly asserted that cyclists shouldn’t have access to roads because they “don’t pay taxes.” It’s a joke. They have blamed the problems on government. They have said that cyclists and pedestrians should stay off the roads. They have said even worse.

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The vulgarity and anger is so bad that I’ve ignored it. Social media has only fueled this problem and that’s just using OUR small town as an example. The “Everything Bolton” Facebook page is full of this nonsense. I don’t pay attention to it, but I know it is there. Who mounts professionally printed signs on trees to protest bike paths? Are those the same people that take their anger out on the roads when they get behind the wheel of a car?

The roads are in bad shape. I mentioned the cracks and debris. There is little funding to care for our failing infrastructure. The safest place for a cyclist to ride is as far right as possible, but sometimes that is on the worst possible surface. Many roads have no shoulder. It is best to avoid those, but sometimes you go from having five feet of space and in a matter of no time, the road narrows and you are left with nothing.

In Connecticut, a big deal has been made about the “three feet passing rule” or “three foot law.” It’s not followed and it is not enforced. There has to be more awareness and education around cyclists and pedestrians on the road. Debbie and I run the roads of our town too and it is only marginally safer than riding. As pedestrians, we face traffic and can stay just off the edge of the road when the space permits. But whether you are riding or running, the problem of distracted motorists is the same.

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Back at the house, I got my shredded cycling kit off and took a shower. The body has amazing healing powers and I wanted to get a jump start on my recuperation. I laid on the couch for a while. Then I had some dinner and went to bed. Despite a fitful night of rest and waking up stiff as a board, I was out of the house by 6:15 A.M. and back on my bike. Since I had left my car at work the night before, I figured the only logical way to get to work was to commute back. My psyche hadn’t changed and this was my way of saying, no motorist is going to stop me from doing what I love. Adrenaline was still coursing through my body and I knew that in the coming days, my pain and stiffness was only going to get worse. I wasn’t thinking about medical attention despite the pain I was feeling. There is no question that my pain threshold is higher than average. Debbie offered to take me to work and we have three vehicles, so I didn’t have to ride, but not riding was not an option.

Tuesday was a long day at work and by the end, I was out of gas. I returned home to an empty house because Debbie and Dahlia were at the 10th and final Winding Trails Summer Tri Series Race. I talked with my friend Arlen Wenzel and described the pain I was feeling. He suggested I get it checked out to make sure I had no fractures in my vertebrae or ribs. I got worried and decided to follow his instructions. Again, I didn’t want to go to the emergency department at the hospital, so I drove to the Go Clinic in East Hartford. This is the same clinic where I took Shepard when he broke his wrist back in June at the West Rock Superprestige Mountain Bike Race.

I signed in and then had a word with the technician. 30 seconds later, I was deleting my info from the iPad and walking out the door. The mobile x-ray unit that they used on Shepard was not going to cut it for my back and ribs. I thanked them for not wasting my time and returned to the parking lot where I sent an email to the same orthopedic doctors that treated my broken leg in 2018. I cc’d my PCP who is an Ironman triathlete veteran and understands my thinking. I requested an appointment with the ortho. By the time I got home, I had a reply from both doctors with some advice and the ortho cc’d one of his assistants so she could reach out to me in the morning. I went to bed.

I was feeling even worse on Wednesday morning, so I stayed home to work from the kitchen island and to work on getting an appointment and x-rays. The entire Wednesday saga and challenges of navigating our broken medical system is a long enough story for its own blog post, so I’ll save it. I spend a lot of time on healthcare issues because after wages, materials, and special processes (heat treatment, coatings, testing, etc.) health care premiums and related costs are some of HORST’s largest expenses. Even though I hate the topic, I’ve learned a lot about medical insurance. I’m thankful that my family is generally healthy and that my personal experience with it has mostly been related to injuries rather than illness.

I spent all day trying to get an order for x-rays and then a follow-up with a back specialist. By evening, I was frustrated and just ended up driving to UCONN in Storrs where there is a walk-in clinic. They had the large General Electric x-ray machine needed to shoot back and ribs images. The clinic was dead quiet as students have only just started to return to campus. I was seen immediately and the doctor wrote an instant order and I had the x-rays taken in the adjacent room. I was bummed that I waited and worried all day. I could have had this done by 10:00 A.M. and it was now approaching 7:00 P.M.

Within minutes, the doctor came back with a report that the x-rays were negative. He said he wasn’t an expert and that a radiologist would review them overnight, but that barring a major miss, he thought there were no fractures, breaks, or bone related issues. He said the spacing between my discs looked normal. He said I had a lot of muscle trauma, inflammation, contusions, and related back spasms. He said a combo of Tylenol and Advil would be a good over the counter option to manage the pain and reduce the swelling. He also suggested that I take hot showers. I drove home and followed his instructions.

On Thursday morning, the pain was reaching its peak. I was up quite during the night, but still got up early. I spent all day at work and again was tired by evening. I went to see Bob, my longtime massage therapist at Buckland Therapeutic Massage and had the best and worst massage of my life. I needed the work and knew it would pay dividends, but the suffering was immense. Just getting face down on the table was hard. After the message, I drove home, ate a little food, and went straight to bed. Friday morning, I got up and was feeling the after-effects of the body work. My wounds were weeping a bit, but I decided to spin for 30 minutes on the stationary bike with no resistance. I needed to move my legs and it felt good despite a few jolts of pain in my mid-back.

Friday was a little better and I could tell that the healing process was underway. By the end of the day, I was tired again. Debbie is away for the weekend at the AMC Women’s Trail Running & Yoga Retreat that she is hosting at the Highland Center in Crawford Notch. I didn’t feel like cooking, so I took Dahlia too Rein’s Deli. My elbow is getting better and I hope that by Monday I’ll be ready for some outside exercise again. I know that I have to take it easy. I’ve got some thinking to do about how active I plan to be in the short term. Cyclocross season is coming and I had a full season planned. However, I can’t afford to crash again. I’m in super shape right now, but I’m banged up. I went from an amazing high at the Niantic Bay Triathlon last Sunday to an amazing low on Monday night during the commute home. Close family and friends are always reminding me what I have “at stake.” I’m well aware of my family, work, and community responsibilities. I view it differently. We all have a lot at stake. Everyone has a different risk tolerance. Mine happens to be quite high. That’s probably why I continue to “swim with the sharks” by commuting and riding on the roads.

One of the unfortunate results of my crash is that I’ve fallen way behind in the HORST Engineering steps/activity challenge. My FEELTHEBURNhamSt Team is still in 5th spot, but we are losing ground to The Daily Grind and Waka Waka Waka. We have 2,105,919 steps since the challenge started last month and I’m now holding the team back! At least I can laugh a little about an awful circumstance. We have more than 70 employees participating and the initiative is being led by our F3 Team (Fit, Form, Function) focused on employee health and wellness. It’s a good thing. IMG_2975

I’ll likely turn more attention to bicycle advocacy, though I fear it is a losing battle. I already support MassBike, BikeWalk Connecticut, Bike Walk Bolton, the League of American Bicyclists, and other groups. I’ve talked about these matters in the past on the Bicycle Talk radio show/podcast. I won’t stop, but I’m doubtful that we can change the way people drive.

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I went years without a serious bike crash, but I’ve now had three major ones in a relatively short stretch. The physical and mental scars linger for months and years. The older you get, the harder it is to bounce back. You become less willing to push as hard. I’ve spent more times on trails for a reason, but I still love to commute. I’m sure that I will be putting more thought into my commuting routes. I’m sure that I will make even more use of the rail trail and the East Coast Greenway in an attempt to limit my exposure to motor vehicles. The days are getting shorter. Darkness and foul weather will become a bigger issue again as summer wanes. I plan to revisit my attire and anticipate that I’ll add even more lighting and reflective materials.

I can feel my body healing as I type, so I know that I’ll be back in the saddle soon. Some people might quit after a crash like this. Others would certainly slow down or delay their return to the road. Mentally, I’m ready to ride again. I’ll monitor my back throughout the weekend and see if by Monday I’m ready to ride again.

2019 Niantic Bay Triathlon

The weather conditions at yesterday’s 21st annual Niantic Bay Triathlon were spectacular. We were greeted at dawn by a picture perfect blue sky and a cool temperature. It was high tide and Niantic Bay was calm. It really was a great day for a race.

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I returned to Niantic for the first time since 2015. It was my 7th time doing the race. My first was way back in 2002. My father wore the 2002 race shirt yesterday to honor my return. When I got back to his house in Old Lyme, I gifted him my 2019 race shirt, so he can wear that one 17 years from now.

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A theme of the day was age group. I’ve changed age groups again since my last Niantic and when they wrote “47” on the back of my left calf, I gulped. I was well off of my best times on this course. I put down a 1:08:07, which was my slowest since I was a triathlon newbie in 2002. 1:01:25 was my best in 2013. Keep in mind that the course has changed a bit over the years. The swim is always slightly different and it has gotten longer, which penalizes me. The bike course has largely remained the same, but the run has been redesigned. You still finish on McCook Park Beach, but you don’t go over the Bluff.

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I love the course and that is why I returned. I’ve spent summers in Old Lyme my entire life and with my parents’ home only minutes away, Niantic is a fun and convenient race to do. The best part of yesterday was seeing all our friends from the triathlon community. It had been two years since my last triathlon. I haven’t focused on multisport, but it felt good to give it a go again.

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My legs are still heavy from the Never Summer 100K which I did three weeks ago. It’s very hard to go from a 22 hour endurance effort to a 68 minute all-out effort, but I love the range of my racing. I am gearing up for cyclocross season so any event in the 45-70 minute range is good training. Last Tuesday I also returned to one of my other local favorite races, the Winding Trails Summer Tri Series. WT is an off-road triathlon and was the last tri I did in 2017. It’s a training race but I still gave it a full effort.

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Debbie has been racing the series and I’ve been watching, but last week, I raced to get my tri legs back. Unfortunately, during the bike leg, I took a hard fall. My wet left hand slipped off the bars on a notoriously rooted section and I lost control. I cartwheeled at high speed and hurt my back and ribs. I remounted and finished the race, including a good 5K run, but I’ve been sore all week.

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I didn’t know if I could start Niantic, but 1) I was looking forward to it 2) I have a high pain tolerance and 3) there was no way I was going to make a $100 “donation” plus $7 registration fee to the Hartford Marathon Foundation. I applaud their efforts, and the volunteers at yesterday’s race were awesome, but that’s big money for a race and it wasn’t going to go to waste. Even the New York Times recently wrote about the high cost of triathlons and the state of the sport. I won’t spend any time on the debate in this post, but it’s true, the number of entrants are down (there looked to be 100-200 fewer participants at Niantic than five years ago–a ~20% decline), fewer youth are participating, and the cost (gear, fees, travel, etc.) is a barrier.

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One youth who raced yesterday was Luke Anthony, a 15-year-old athlete from East Lyme. Niantic is a section of East Lyme, so that is as local as you get. Luke crushed the race, winning in 1:00:27. He was fastest on both the bike and the run. His Dad John is a member of Team HORST Sports and I’m sure he is very proud of Luke’s progress. I was stoked to have my photo taken with Luke after the finish.

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My own son, Shepard, who is 12, did his first full Winding Trails Tri a few weeks ago. He is away at camp so he missed the chance to at least watch Niantic, but I hope we do it together some day. He hasn’t done any racing on the road, whereas Luke is also a talented cyclist who has been affiliated with the CCAP for several years. The Team HORST Junior Squad is also affiliated with CCAP, but for cyclocross and mountain biking. I know that triathlon has similar youth development programs, but it’s going to take a bigger effort to garner interest in the sport. Racing on the road has hazards that are different from off-road.

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I seem to have no problem crashing on roads or trails! Even still, I think the trails are safer. Debbie road over from Old Lyme and she was part of a loud cheering section. She and I had a nice cool down on our bikes. We went over to the Waterford side of the bay and explored some pretty roads, spotting deer and other wildlife. I love riding along the shoreline.

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I didn’t train for this race so I can’t be too harsh on myself. The competitive spirit inside me always wants to improve upon every performance. I had a full day of exercise yesterday. In the early evening, I rode home to Bolton from Old Lyme. It was 41 miles and I was “cooked” when I finished. I listened to a good podcast interview with Coach Ian Sharman. The subject was failure and he offered some interesting insight into performance. The talk was focused more on ultra distance trail running, but it is applicable to any sport. By no means was my face a failure. Quite the contrary, it was a success. However, the idea that you can perform at a high level every time as you age is a fallacy. I think the longer events suit the older athletes as the mental game becomes more important than the fitness. In a 15 mile sprint triathlon, there is no time for strategy. You have to execute well, but it’s more about sheer power and speed.

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One positive aspect to my race is that I made up ground from the moment I exited the water. I picked up a few spots on the bike and even more on the run. I pushed and despite the “pain” in my ribs, I did well. The sun never stopped shining. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. They moved in by late afternoon and a breeze kicked up, but by then, I was headed north on the back roads of Lyme, Salem, and Colchester. I took Grassy Hill Road, one of my favorites and wound my way through some eastern Connecticut hills.

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I don’t know when I’ll do another triathlon, but I’m glad I did Niantic Bay. It was a blast.

Race Results

Boulder, Gould, and Fort Collins

Last week Debbie and I visited two of the country’s five Platinum Bicycle Friendly Communities. The irony is that we didn’t bring our bikes and we didn’t rent bikes. We were there on our feet but still soaked in the velo vibe. Our visits to Boulder and Fort Collins were on either side of our visit to Gould.

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I’ve been immersed in bike culture for 42 years +/- since I first rode my “Purple Panda” as a kid. It was very cool to visit Boulder and Fort Collins during our trip to the Never Summer 100K. Debbie and I preferred Fort Collins. Granted, we barely spent 24 hours in each city, but it appeared to be more rustic. Boulder was a bit more slick.

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Both Boulder and Fort Collins are super-cool for cyclists. There were bicycle paths, bicycle lanes, bike racks (of all different types), bike shops, and bicycle adventure/tour companies. You could buy bikes or rent bikes. Both communities visitor centers featured bicycling as a central activity.

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As noted, we didn’t have bikes with us, so we explored some different terrain. In Boulder, we went trail running in Chautauqua Park. It’s an iconic and beautiful location right at the edge of town.

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Gould was very rustic. During our drive from Boulder, we stopped a few times to explore the banks of the Michigan River. We watched white water rafts navigate the easier rapids. The water was thundering down in spots that looked to only be navigable by skilled kayakers. We camped at the North Michigan Campground which was formerly a private KOA campground, but is now part of the state park.

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We stopped at the State Forest State Park visitor center on the way into Gould and we visited the Cache la Poudre River National Heritage Area on the way out.

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Gould didn’t have any restaurants, but Boulder and Fort Collins are great for vegans and those interested in healthy eating. In Boulder, we dined at Leaf and explored the massive Whole Foods. In Fort Collins we ate at Tasty Harmony and The Gold Collective, which was awesome.

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Our trip to Fort Collins was after the Never Summer race, so our activity was low key. We opted to do something different. We rented SUP’s from Inlet Bay Marina at Horsetooth Reservoir and enjoyed a leisurely two-hour paddle. We had a blast.

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I definitely left Fort Collins yearning to ride. It would be an awesome community to explore by bike. I can imagine long road rides, intense mountain bike rides, and a lot of commuting around the city. We shall return.

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2019 Never Summer 100K

This time when I got one mile down the trail and my Garmin Forerunner GPS buzzed, I knew exactly what the alert was for, and I ignored it. I decided in advance that I wouldn’t look. I knew that I had a long day (and night) of running and hiking ahead of me and the last thing I was going to do was glance at my watch and take the risk of seeing a “negative” Performance Condition. Last month at Manitou’s Revenge Ultra, I took the chance, saw “+5” and my morale was boosted. I came into this past weekend’s race a little nicked up, and dragging. The altitude was also going to take a toll, so I never looked.

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It’s barely been a month since I updated my Toughest Ten and I’m at it again. It had been five years since the prior update, and five years before that, which signals that I did a lot of short (but hard) races, dealt with several injuries, was consumed with work and family; and simply focused on different types of athletic events. I went from version 2.0, to 3.0, so I’ll call this latest update 3.1. I’ll be 47 soon and the fact that I could update it twice in a month is pretty good. I might have to establish a Toughest 20, which means I’m staying fit and still capable of finishing hard races, even as I approach 50.

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I feel pretty good about the two 2019 races that made the list. Neither suited my strengths, but I did them to spend time with Debbie, to explore new trails, and to push my limits. The Never Summer 100K which Debbie and I did this this past weekend, is the latest addition.

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I don’t have as extensive an ultrarunning career as Debbie, but I’ve done enough of them to know that this one was super hard. For me, last month’s Manitou’s Revenge is still the toughest mile for mile trail race I’ve done, but Never Summer is also up there too. Both races are on part with our two White Mountain Hut Traverses (not races) for hardest mountain adventures on two feet. I’ve never done a 100-mile distance race, and this may be the closest I get (never say never), as my body just isn’t very good after 50 kilometers. I have the mental fortitude to go forever, and I could walk the whole way, but running is totally different, and it isn’t as much fun when your legs hurt that bad.

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Just like Manitou’s Revenge, my legs (particularly my quadriceps) were shot after the 30-mile mark. My heart rate declined because I just couldn’t push. The second half of the race became a long frustrating slog because I wanted to run, but couldn’t. I probably could have pushed even harder (it’s all mental, right?) but my legs wouldn’t move any quicker than a 17 minutes per mile shuffle.

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The stats on this race are impressive:

  • Distance: 64.2 Miles with 13,000ft of vertical gain and 13,000ft of descent.
  • Max Elevation: 11,852′
  • Min Elevation: 8,450′
  • Average Elevation: 10,220′
  • Starters: 318
  • Finishers: 219
  • My Time: 22h 17m 01s
  • Debbie’s Time: 20h 58m 25s

Let’s go back for a minute. How did I end up in Gould, Colorado running 64 miles? It’s a long story, but the brief version is that Debbie needed a Western States Endurance Run 2019 lottery qualifier. The race cutoff time was 24 hours, but the WS100 qualifying time was sub-23 hours. An even longer story is why she hasn’t done the WS100 in her 20-year career. Regardless, it’s a bucket list event for her and she wants to keep her name in the lottery. So every year she needs a qualifier. Over the last 10 years, she lost her accumulated “tickets” twice. Once when our daughter Dahlia was born. Once when the qualifying cutoff date was more than a year after finishing qualfiers ULTRA-TRAIL Mt. FUJI, and just days before finishing Hellgate. The more tickets you have, the better chance you have of being picked in the lottery.

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Mercifully, the rules have changed so that 1) you can get a pregnancy deferral and 2) you get a once in a lifetime chance to miss a qualifier and keep all your tickets. Unfortunately, these rules were put in place after she lost her tickets. I am proud to say that for rule number one, we played a small role in the change by advocating with the WS100 Race Director and members of the Board of Directors.

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She wants in, so for now, she has to keep ticking off races on the qualifier list. Last year, she did Ultra-Trail Harricana, which I wrote about despite not being on the trip, a rare miss for me. She made a mad-dash to Quebec with Amy and Brian Rusiecki, and got the job done. She wasn’t chosen in the December lottery, so the entire process started over for 2019. Speaking of ultra lotteries, she also wants to return to the Hardrock Endurance Run, and ideally in a clockwise year (beggars can’t be choosers). She finished the run in 2017, but missed out on the 2018 lottery (for the 2019 race that was recently cancelled due to the extreme snow in southwest Colorado) so it is likely she has to run a Hardrock qualifier in 2020 if her third year of eligibility isn’t extended. The goal would be to get into the 2021 race.

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This ultrarunning game is getting more challenging and I’m not talking about the actual running. None of this explains why I would run this far. I’m usually just the crew guy, doing the driving, hauling gear, filling hydration bladders, mixing energy drinks, changing flat tires, and dealing with all the other race logistics. When our kids are with us, I’m also playing the role of Dad.

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This past weekend, our kids and our rabbits were with Debbie’s parents, which is a treat for everyone involved, but also a lot of work. That meant we could make the trip to Gould without them, and be more flexible with our itinerary. Debbie researched Never Summer (named for one of the two mountain ranges that the race passes over), which was in its 5th year, and realized it was one of the only races that fit our tight schedule and wasn’t sold out. The race has grown rapidly. Ultrarunners are yearning for tougher and tougher adventures. Running 50, 64, 100, or 200 miles just isn’t enough anymore. People want rugged terrain, lots of climbing, and elevation change. 318 runners signed up for the challenge. I was one of them.

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I wanted to do more trail running in 2019 after not running at all in 2018 following my broken leg. I had been yearning for more mountain adventures. I love the intensity of cyclocross, cross-country mountain biking, and sprint triathlon; three disciplines that suit my abilities. However, I’m most happy when deep in the mountains and pushing hard. When Debbie said she was returning to Manitou’s Revenge, I figured, “what the heck,” and registered too. I saw sections of the course when I crewed for her in 2017 and knew that it was a beast. I used another race that I’ve done several times, Traprock 50K, as part of my build-up.

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After I registered for Manitou’s Revenge, I thought, OK, if the kids aren’t coming on the CO trip, then maybe I should run Never Summer with her too. It would be farther than I’ve ever gone on two feet in one shot. I knew that I would have a blast crewing and taking photos, but sometimes it’s nice to see all of the course and get the shots that you can’t get from the aid stations.

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The race was sold out, but I put my name on the wait list figuring I would get in. A few months later I got an alert on my iPhone that said my American Express card had been charged for the cost of the entry fee. That was that. I was on the start list for what would be my longest ever run. Again, things are all relative. When you live with a woman who has done more than 100 ultras you have a different perspective on what is tough and what is really tough.

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So, how did it play out? Everyone wants to know who won. Well, Debbie did. We were even on 2019 ultras at 1-1. She beat me at Traprock after I got lost and ran some extra miles before reuniting with her and then losing on the fast final descent. Our finish times were only 39 seconds apart, which is not much after 6.5 hours. I got her back at Manitou’s, where she had foot and calf injuries that hobbled her.  Same thing, after nearly 16 hours, we were only separated by 21 minutes. We are opposites (I’m strong on the up and she is strong on the down), but evenly matched which is kind of crazy, but good, after 20 years together.

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The entire race was inside State Forest State Park which is a cool name that I enjoyed repeating. We packed our new Big Agnes tent, which is very compact. It fit right in our luggage. Each of us brought a lightweight sleeping bag and a sleeping pad. We spent Friday night and part of Saturday night (after the race) in our tent at the North Michigan Campground which was only three miles from the start/finish line at the Gould Community Center.

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Gould is way off the grid at about 8,900 feet. There was no AT&T phone service so for a few days, we were totally off the grid. The weather on race-day was a real mix, but it would be described as terrible. It dawned cool with partial sunshine, but there were pockets of dark clouds that were foreboding. The first 30 miles are the hardest because they had the most climbing including the vicious ascent of Diamond Peak at 11,852 feet. As we were headed up Diamond Peak the clouds got darker and the thunder started to rumble. By the time I made it to the summit, the wind was whipping and bolts of lightning were flashing in the distance. The descent was very hard for me. I was already knackered from the climb, which took me much longer than expected. Debbie had long since gone ahead of me and I was struggling.

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At the top, I managed to smile for a photo and then donned my jacket for the downhill. The rain started to come and the thunder and lightning were a motivating force to keep moving. There was absolutely no tree cover. The ridge was very exposed and went for several miles. The trail, which is normally not marked, wasn’t hard to follow because it was marked with pink flags. It rained on and off for the next few hours as the storms kept rolling in.

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I was really hurting between miles five and 25, but then from 25 to 40, I felt better. From 25 to 30, there was a break in the t-storm action and the sun came out (at least where I was on the course) for a while. I stripped off my jacket and arm warmers and was feeling better. Then, from 30 to 40, the weather got bad again. For a short period, the sun would come out and warmed up the air, but then another t-storm would roll through. Many of the storms brought hard hitting hail that was cold and irritating. This pattern continued for several hours and I took off my jacket and put it back on several times during this stretch. It was also a period where my stomach was really off. I had massive air bubbles in it which I attribute to the altitude. It wasn’t right from the start and no amount of burping relieved the pressure. It was uncomfortable and I didn’t eat much out of fear that it would come back up in a manner that wouldn’t be enjoyable.

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There were nine aid stations. Clear Lake was used twice because of the out and back. The Gnar Runners published a helpful table on their race page:

Aid Station
Mile
Split
Total
Distance
Aid
Drop Bags
Crew Access
Michigan Ditch
11.4
11.4
Full
No
No
Diamond
5.8
17.2
Full
Yes
Yes
Montgomery
6.0
23.2
Full
No
No
Ruby Jewel
6.2
29.4
Full
Yes
Hike In Only
Clear Lake 1
10.0
39.4
Full
Yes
No
Clear Lake 2
4.5
43.9
Full
Yes
No
Canadian
6.2
50.1
Full
Yes
Hike In Only
Bockman Road
5.7
55.8
Full
Yes
Yes
Ranger Lakes
6.2
62.0
Full
No
Yes
Finish
2.2
64.2
      Yes
Total
64.2

One of the worst storms of the day hit when I was nearing the Ruby Jewel Aid Station. That was the first time I saw that I wasn’t alone in the suffering. The station was full of runners who were cold, many too cold to continue. This was an experienced bunch, but many still appeared to be undressed, lacking the gear for a sudden change in weather. Others were prepared, but the combination of tiredness and being soaked to the bone was too much to handle. I didn’t stay long and pushed on. A huge climb followed the aid station and once again, I was hurting. That 10 mile stretch to Clear Lake 1 was awful. I had lost a lot of ground on the Diamond Peak section and didn’t make much time up at all. The last few miles before Clear Lake seemed like they would never end. It was getting later in the day and the temperature remained low. I kept me jacket on the entire time.

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The out and back to the actual Clear Lake was a 4.5 mile round trip. That’s where I saw Debbie for the first time since she passed me more than 12 hours earlier. I was happy to see her and got a hug and kiss. She was on her way back to the aid station following a 1,300 foot ascent to the lake. I was moving slowly but steadily. It was pretty dark in the woods, but I had left my light in my hydration pack back at the aid station. I had clipped it to my only drop bag. I didn’t take much from my drop bag as I kept my most important gear including arm warmers, gloves, bonnet, and light in my pack all day. I had my hydration belt in my drop bag, so I took that for the 2.5 hour round trip to Clear Lake and back. It was nice to give my back a break. I kept my poles with me, which was smart.

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On the way back, I saw Sophie Speidel, a longtime friend from Virginia. It was also her first time running Never Summer. She was lured west by a former running mate, Marlin Yoder, who had relocated to nearby Loveland. It was great to meet Marlin and his family who came to cheer for them. His daughter, son-in-law, and two grandkids were our neighbors at the campground.

My key gear included: 

  • Altra Lone Peak 3.5 trail running shoes
  • Pearl Izumi gaiters
  • Black Diamond poles
  • Patagonia Capilene shirt
  • 2XU compression shorts
  • Patagonia running shorts
  • CEP compression sleeves
  • Darn Tough socks
  • Outdoor Research Helium jacket
  • Rudy Project sunglasses
  • Patagonia Hat and Gloves
  • Shenipsit Striders Boco trucker hat,
  • one drop bag (dry bag) with spare shoes, socks, gloves, hat, Patagonia Air Shed
  • UltrAspire Zygos hydration vest
  • UltrAspire Synaptic hydration belt
  • UltrAspire Lumen waist light
  • Verge arm warmers
  • Bandana

Seeing Sophie gave me some motivation, but it didn’t last. By the time I made it back to the aid station, it was pouring again. I stopped for about 10 minutes to eat a little, repack my hydration vest, and get situation for the night time portion of the race. The aid station was only three small canopy tents and there wasn’t a square inch of space as they were packed with runners trying to keep dry. I got very wet as I feverishly worked to situate my pack with everything I needed. It was past 8:00 P.M., the sun was down, and I was figuring at least another eight hours on course.

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I finally got moving and it was downhill for a long ways, so I wore everything I had including my shirt, my Airshed, and my OR jacket. I wore my trucker hat on top of beanie and had my hood pulled tight over that. My gloves were soaked through, but I wore them and it helped. I had no idea that I was headed into some of the worst mud that I’ve ever seen. Throughout the day, we had encountered mud and there were many stream crossings, but the section from mile 43.9 to mile 55.8 was absolutely ridiculous. We went through field after field and the soft dirt had turned into a “smoothie.” The trail got very wide because the 175+ runners who had gone through before me had trampled all the vegetation at the edges in an attempt to get some traction. If you didn’t have poles, you were probably miserable. The front runners may have gotten through before the heaviest rain and less traffic meant firmer dirt. But by the time I got there, it was like a slip and slide.

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Other friends at the race included runner Stacey Clark, also a Connecticut resident; and Bogie Dumitrescu, a former New Englander who we have known for many years. He was volunteering this time. It was nice to cross the streams as it provided a moment to rinse off your shoes and poles, as some of the mud was sticking in clumps. However, nearly every stream crossing was followed by a total mud pit on the other side. You were clean for an instant and then up to your shins in mud a moment later.

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It was completely dark during a long wooded section. I hooked up with another runner by the name of Yaroslav Nesenchuk who was a Colorado resident. We didn’t exchange many words during the night, but we shadowed each other and helped motivate each other all the way to the finish. There were times where we were apart for up to 30 minutes at a time, but one of us would slow or an aid station would come, and we would reconnect. At one point, we were separated coming into the Bockman Road aid station and I heard a loud animal noise in front of me. I had my light beam on low to conserve the battery, so when I heard the noise again, I turned it to bright. I was worried about a moose, but I was in the middle of an open field. I couldn’t believe it when my light illuminated this large cow (not a moose but a regular old “milk” cow) only 15 feet in front of me. She wasn’t happy with me, so I gave her some space to pass and she “mooed” again. I scurried by her and never looked back. Other than this fair lady, the only other fauna that I saw all day long were birds, bugs, and chipmunks. I did see a lot of beautiful flora, as the mountain wildflowers were in full bloom.

It was hard to take photos with my iPhone, but I managed some. There were times where I was just too tired to pull it out and fuss with it. My hands were often wet and cold, making it impossible to get my fingerprint reader or passcode to work. Next time, I need to do better because the scenery was spectacular. My food and hydration was pretty simple I went with the same approach as Manitou’s but I wasn’t as comfortable eating because of the gas in my stomach.

I stuck with:

  • Bananas
  • Potatoes and Salt,
  • Pickles
  • Vegan broth
  • Go Macro bars
  • Watermelon
  • Tailwind
  • Water

Our preparation for this race wasn’t as good as Manitou’s. We had a busy month of work and family obligations in between the races. I had a freak calf injury that hurt me for the three weeks prior to the race. Debbie was nursing the foot and calf injury that she aggravated at Manitou’s. We were both going at no better than 80%. We hadn’t planned for this to be an A race because of the altitude, which helped. It allowed us to remain relaxed and focus just on finishing within the WS100 lottery qualifying time. Unlike Hardrock, we didn’t use our Hypoxico altitude tent. We had too many nights where we were gone that would have negated the effects of sleeping in the chamber. It would have just tired us out.

Debbie had one hard fall during the race, on a dirt road descent. She banged up her knees and cut one of them pretty good. I stayed on my feet the whole time. I was cautious and had some close calls, but never hit the deck.

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After the cow episode, I made it to the second to last aid station. Soon after, we hit a long dirt road that seemed to go on forever. That turned to a rugged double track path that pushed this climbing section up another 2,000 feet until we crested before the final descent. On the long road section I was alone for a while until I got passed by some other runners. I was nearly asleep on my feet, winding my way from edge to edge. I had been on course a long time. I would have loved to finish this race in 16 hours and maybe with better preparation and altitude acclimation, I could have, but the reality was I was headed for the 20 hour mark with nine miles to go.

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I trudged on and eventually reconnected with Yaroslav. We reached the last aid station together. Another runner, Stefan Schuster, was with us, and the three of us cover the final few miles together, shuffling on the flat trail to the finish. I wanted to get there ASAP, so I pushed a bit harder, shuffling as fast as I could. I got to the finish and it was the most anti-climactic of my career. One volunteer congratulated me and collected my bib tag. Debbie saw me come in and met me at the line for a congratulatory something. Did she kiss me? Did she hug me? I can’t recall if we embraced or not. We immediately walked to the car, which was parked 100 feet away. We drove straight the campground. She was changed, having finished more than an hour and 20 minutes earlier. I didn’t change at all and just got behind the steering wheel.

Within an hour, we were rough showered and in our sleeping bags. It was about 4:00 A.M. and we ended up sleeping fitfully for about four hours. We awoke and the rain had stopped. We took our time to pack up before making our way back to the community center for the 10:00 A.M. breakfast and awards ceremony. It was great to see all of the runners, including those who finished and those who didn’t. There were many family members and volunteers hanging around too. The Gnar Runners did a fantastic job with the event. They were great volunteers and had wonderful enthusiasm.

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It took some perseverance to get to the finish line but I’m proud of my finisher’s award. I also accumulated enough steps for my team at work to “win the week” in our walking/activity steps competition. They said I can take time off to run an ultra any time I want as long as I accumulate more steps than the competition. For one day, I was a success! Plus, that’s even factoring that my Garmin Forerunner GPS died with more than six miles to go. I’m always amused when I see a Strava post with a description about a GPS malfunction, a battery dying prematurely, or some other malady that prevented an athlete from capturing a full race or workout in all its glory. For once, I was that guy.

Race Results

The Toughest Ten 3.0

I drafted my inaugural Toughest Ten in December 2009 and then revised it in 2014. Then this past weekend, I did the Manitou’s Revenge Ultra and the race immediately made its way on to the list–slotted in at #6. Something had to get bumped and it is only logical that #10 and one of the shortest (but steepest) races on the list get pushed to “also ran” status.

I’ve tracked every race since 1985 not counting my middle school and high school events (cross country, track & field). I’ve “pinned on a number” more 1,060 times across a number of endurance sports disciplines. Through today, these are the toughest races that I have ever done:

1) Jay Challenge, Jay, Vermont, 29-31 July 2005, 20:09:11

Hands down, this is the grandaddy of my palmares. Just finishing the Jay Challenge was an accomplishment.  It is a bit different from others on this list because it was a three-day stage race with the overall winner achieving the lowest cumulative time. Each of the three stages would make this list on their own. I was 10th overall and know I would have done better with a faster kayak, but that doesn’t matter. Finishing was the real accomplishment. The first day was a 27 mile kayak paddle across Lake Mephramagog from Quebec to Vermont. The second day was the classic Jay Mountain Marathon, but it wasn’t 26.2 miles, it was 33. The third day was a 65 mile mountain bike ride on hilly terrain. You summited Jay Peak in both the run and bike. There was so much climbing in this race (except the paddle) that it made you silly. The race was in late July and at the time, I had never been more fit. We completed our End-to-End hike of the Long Trail three weeks before Jay, so I had a pain threshold like never before…and never since. I could go all day long, get up and do it again. The LT was 13 days and 285 miles of supreme effort, so three days at Jay was simple, yet still very hard. Pain Index: 10

2) Ironman Brasil, Florianopolis, Brasil, 30 May 2010, 9:58:53

I’ve never gone deeper. As one day races go, Ironman Brasil  will be hard to top. I earned a Kona slot and had a sub-10 on the line with 10K to go and I buried myself to reach the goals. I was delirious at the finish and it was surreal. It was an epic trip with the family, which made the race that much sweeter. Check out the report and the coda report for the blow-by-blow. Pain Index: 10

3) Sea to Summit Triathlon, Jackson, New Hampshire, 22 July 2006, 9:29:21

It was difficult to rank the Sea to Summit Triathlon third ahead of races four and five because they were all wicked hard. However, given the fitness I had at the time, this one beats out the others. The Sea to Summit Triathlon was an 112 mile jaunt from Portsmouth, New Hampshire to Jackson, New Hampshire. The race consisted of a 12 mile kayak up the Piscataquis River to Berwick, Maine. Then, after a transition, you rode 90 miles to Jackson, New Hampshire. From there, you ran four miles uphill on Rt. 16 to Pinkham Notch. Then, you ran/hiked five and a half miles up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail to the summit of Mt. Washington. Only 40 people were allowed into the race. It was a special day, though I suffered dearly. I started the morning at sunrise in the pea soup fog at sea level near the mouth of the river. I finished wearing a skinsuit and a windbreaker on the top of the mountain in gale force winds blowing cold rain and sleet at 6322 feet, the highest point in New England. If it wasn’t for my awesome crew (Debbie, Art, Mel, and Bill), I might still be out on the course. It was shorter than an Ironman, but the weather conditions, lack of organized support/aid stations, and terrain, made it tougher than any other triathlon. Bad decisions by some of the racers resulted in a challenging day for the race directors and the race hasn’t been held since. Pain Index: 10

4) Ironman World Championship, Kona, Hawaii, 09, October 2010, 10:27:31

Despite the five months in between Ironman races, I still wasn’t on top form for the Big Dance on the Big Island, but I still survived the Ironman World Championship and lived to tell about it. The race report and highlights tell the story. The no-wetsuit swim was painful and I suffered dearly on the bike from the heat. The sun and its burn (mostly during the bike leg) sucked the life out of me and made for a very miserable marathon, but I never walked. I sorted of slogged my way through it. I feel like I honored my slot, though I missed my time goal. It doesn’t matter because I got to the race and got through the race. 2010 was a pressure packed year and I really haven’t been the same since then. Yeah, it’s four years on, but I left something on the course back in Brasil. I went so deep in that race that everything since then has sort of felt different. Pain Index: 10

5) American Zofingen Ultra-Distance Duathlon, New Paltz, New York, 12 October 2008, 8:28:02

The American Zofingen was also run at a time when I wasn’t quite at my top fitness, but it helped me get back to a high level after my first real long layoff. That means it hurt a heck of a lot. After I finished it, I knew that if I could learn to swim, then I could finish an Ironman. Zofingen is the toughest duathlon in the country, and maybe the toughest in the world. The first leg was a 5 mile trail run in the Mohonk Preserve. The second leg was an 84 mile bike ride around the Shawangunk Mountains. The third leg was 15 mile trail run on the same course as the first leg. Again, at 104 miles, it was shorter than an Ironman, and there was no swimming. Still, due to the terrain (major hills) and my lack of fitness, it was harder, but not by much. Pain Index: 10

6) Manitou’s Revenge Ultra, Phoenicia, New York, 22 June 2019, 15:45:25

Having just finished this one, it is the newest on the list and immediately leapfrogs some other epics, including a couple of Ironman’s. The rugged terrain (rocks, roots, mud) and elevation gain/loss are what separates this 50+ miler from ordinary ultras. I was in great shape coming into this race and was hobbled by the 40-mile mark, but I persevered. As they say, “it was the legs, not the lungs” that did me in. Nevertheless, I was pleased with my performance and proud to join the club of Manitou’s finishers. This one was extra special (but no less painful) because I did it with Debbie. Two of the races in this Top 10 (the other being Wapack and Back) are ultras I did with her.  It’s going to be several weeks before I’m walking normally again. Pain Index: 10

7) Ironman Lake Placid, Lake Placid, New York, 26 July 2009, 10:44:48

Ironman USA in Lake Placid was an amazing race. I did it in August 2010 and it was my longest ever one day race at the time. 2.4 mile swim/112 mile bike/26.2 run. That should be enough to put it on the top of this list. However, I managed to get into top form, so it hurt, but not as bad as some of the other races on this list. I had my rough moments, and the swim was terrifying, but I managed to race within my limits and finish strong. The support was phenomenal (great volunteers) and the conditions were good. I’m sure that most people would put Ironman at the top of their list. For various reasons, it isn’t quite there for me. Thinking back, Zofingen and Sea to Summit were just plain harder, but mostly because I fell apart in both of those races. I was strong to the end during Lake Placid. I’m still proud of my first ever Ironman finish. Pain Index: 9

8) Wilderness 101, Coburn, Pennsylvania, 28 July 2012, 8:30:55

The 101 was ridiculously hard. It is my longest ever mountain bike race. I did it with teammate Arthur Roti. We were rookies at the 100 mile distance. This course is as rugged as it gets. The 30 miles of singletrack were hard, but the washboard/washed out dirt roads were even harder. I did the race on my Seven Sola SL singlespeed with a rigid fork, which was nuts. That is a brutal way to ride a race like this, but I wouldn’t do it any other way. The race organization was awesome. It was so hard that so far, I’ve had no desire to go back. Pain Index: 9

9) Wapack and Back 50, Ashburnham, Massachusetts, 10 May 2014, 11:53:20

I first ran a 50 mile trail race at the Lookout Mountain 50 Miler, but Wapack made Lookout look like a cakewalk. In hindsight, Wapack is what led to this year’s left foot stress fracture that has been a real drag on my year. I haven’t run in 13 weeks. The Wapack Trail just pummeled me. I pushed as hard as ever in an effort to stay in front of Debbie. See, we aren’t that competitive! I finished and said I would never run another 50 and certainly never run a 100, but time heals and you never know. Pain Index: 9

10) Survival of the Shawangunks Triathlon, New Paltz, New York, 13 September 2013 and 09 September 2012

I always knew that S.O.S. was hard from hearing the war stories of other athletes. I always wanted to do it and finally committed in 2012. I’m a weak swimmer, but the beautiful course really appealed to me and I wanted to test myself. This race is the real deal. I cramped horribly in 2012 and it slowed me a great deal. I figured I would return in 2013 and improve my time, but the cramping and suffering were even worse. After last year’s debacle, I had no interest in returning for 2014. I’m glad I didn’t because I’m injured now and the race is coming up soon. Maybe it will be a comeback race for 2015 when it celebrates its 30th year. I don’t know. It just doesn’t suit my strengths, but it is brutally hard and a finish is something to cherish. Pain Index: 9

Former Top Ten Toughest races that dropped off the list since 2009:

Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hill Climb, Gorham, New Hampshire, 23 August 1997; 1:14:54, 21 August 1999; 1:10:37, 19 August 2000; 1:08:04, 25 August, 2001; 1:11:04, 16 August 2014, 1:17:33

I’ve done the Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hill Climb five times, including this year after a 13 year layoff. Incidentally, I’ve run it once, but it is the bike race that destroys the legs and puts your heart rate into a new category. Each time, I  pushed so hard that it made me dizzy. The last 22% grade is nothing like anything you have ridden before. As far as I’m concerned, it is the hardest section of road on Earth.  It comes after 7.6 miles of constant uphill at an average grade of 12%. For a hill, on a bike, this is as hard as it gets. My best finish was in 2000 when I rode a 38 x 25 low gear, which was way too hard. This year, I rode a 39 x 27, which isn’t much better. My knees are still hating me for that decision. Back in 2009, I said, “I haven’t done the race since 2001 when the entry fee rose to $300 (though it is for charity) and the event got too popular. I’ll do it again someday.” This year was the year to do it again and I was slower, but so happy to finish. This is the shortest race on the list, but there is no resting, and it is one of the most intense. The weather at the top is the most inhospitable in the world, with constant wind and cold temperatures, even in August. It is no surprise that two of my top ten toughest races have finished on the Washington summit cone. Pain Index: 8

Ultimate XC (Jay Mountain Marathon), Jay, Vermont, 28 July 2007, 6:51:37

The Jay Challenge has not been held in the past few years, but the race morphed into an ultra-distance trail running race, when it was reduced to one day from three. Now known as the Ultimate XC, the Jay Mountain Marathon started as a run years ago, became part of the three stage Jay Challenge, returned to a run, and eventually migrated from Vermont to Quebec. A version of the race has also been held in Moab, Utah the past two years. All of the variations and names are hard to keep track of, but the one constant is the difficulty of the courses. This run took us up Jay Peak to an elevation of nearly 4000 feet. Then, it plunged us down the backside, through deep mud, into a bushwhacking section, then into a series of streams, then to a river crossing, then through a swamp, and eventually back to town. It was 33 miles of agony. Debbie caught me at mile 16 and I hung with her for 15 miles, before she dropped me like a wet sandbag. I finished, and that is what counts. Pain Index: 9

Hampshire 100, Greenfield, New Hampshire, 17 August 2008, 7:41:57

Other than the third stage of the Jay Challenge, the Hampshire 100 is the hardest mountain bike race that I have done. It was 100 kilometers, but it felt like 100 miles. Thanks to a month’s worth of unseasonable rain, the course was a quagmire. It was one big loop, which added to its epic nature. There was a ton of climbing and there was the added benefit of racing against two teammates for the honors of fastest mate. I kept dropping off their little group, before getting shed for good. Then, I had a wild mechanical failure when a stick wedged into my lower derailleur pulley going downhill at 20mph. I came to an abrupt halt and my chain was jammed. With less than five miles to go, I was afraid that I was going to have to walk the rest of the way. I made a delicate repair, extricated my derailleur from my rear wheel, and rode it in. It was a long day! Pain Index: 8

Jay Mountain Bike, Jay, Vermont, 30 July 2006, 8:56:00 DNF

It is a testament to Jay Race Director, Dan DesRosiers, that his events show up on this list three separate times. They are unique, they are painful, and they are unmatched. He goes out of his way to make the races difficult. You feel like a champ just for finishing. Unfortunately, this one, I didn’t finish. I was a DNF at the Jay Mountain Bike, with only five miles to go in the 70 mile race. It was one of two DNF’s on this list. I stopped at nine hours and I was at least an hour from the finish. Debbie was eight months pregnant and crewing for me (no excuse). It was hot (no excuse). I did Sea to Summit  a week prior (see number two on this list, but no excuse). I just didn’t have the legs, and suffered terribly. I walked the five miles before I quit and was resigned to the fact that I just wasn’t going to make it, so I climbed off after hours of struggling on the bike. It was the brutal fresh-cut singletrack that was the last straw for me.  No regrets. Pain Index: 8

Borgt-Grimbergen Kermesse, Grimbergen, Belgium, 06 August 1994, 2:19:56

I spent the summer of 1994 racing kermesses all over Belgium. In 15+ races, this was the hardest one. There have been many longer bike races over the years and many that hurt a lot, but the Borgt-Grimbergen Kermesse had the romance of racing in Belgium. I made the front group for the first time all summer. There were 15 other riders in a breakaway and I had to give it everything I had just to stay with the group and take my pulls. My heart rate hit 200bpm in this race, which was typical at the time, but still very high. This was the race where I started to burn out on road cycling. The other riders in the break were downright violent. There is no question that performance enhancing drugs (amphetamines) were being used. I risked being crashed out of the race at the hands of these merciless riders. I was happy to be up there, but wasn’t going to make it to the finish with them anyway, so I dropped off the group and finished behind them. I’ve never had to ride harder to stick with a break. Pain Index: 8

Race for the Gate, Nashua, New Hampshire, 24 June 2000, 1:08:00, DNF

I did a lot of tough road cycling events over my career. I’ve wrecked in many, but that doesn’t mean they were hard. There have been long and hilly road races. There have been intense cyclocross races where I was in oxygen debt. But, the longest cross races were 65 minutes. I did the Race for the Gate criterium when it was held as a twilight/night-time race. That alone made it different and difficult. I recall that it was a crash fest. The race was delayed by a huge pileup and people were going down left and right. The shadows cast by the large spotlights that the organizers had on the course, were very deceiving. There were more than 100 riders in this Pro/1/2/3 race and I was hanging on for dear life. I wish I had made it to the finish, but I got popped off the back with only a couple of laps to go. I was completely anaerobic and I was in danger of losing control in a corner. I was ecstatic to have made it as far as I did. It was a long criterium and it was a hard one. Pain Index: 8

Honorable Mention’s in no particular order:

Most of these races can be easily searched on my blog. Some wintry day, I’ll add the links. I look forward to the day that I displace the next race on this list and get to update it again. I’m open to suggestions. Tell me how to top these. But for now, I’ll go for a little rest and recovery.

2019 Manitou’s Revenge Ultra

One mile down the road, my Garmin Forerunner GPS buzzed and I knew exactly what the alert was for. The question was, do I glance at my watch or ignore the alert? In a split second the decision was made. I looked–and thankfully it said, “+5” indicating my Performance Condition was good. At the start of a 54-mile ultramarathon, that is so much better than seeing a “-5.” “Minus-anything” would have been a soul crushing blow.

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It was only 5:20 A.M.and my  spirits were immediately lifted as I had 53 miles to go in the Manitou’s Revenge Ultra and I hadn’t even hit the first section of trail yet. Manitou’s is seductively beautiful. The ruggedness of the Catskills is only rivaled by the other Northeastern mountains of New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine, but in a weird way, these New York peaks seem rougher. You only top out around 3,900 feet and rarely get above the treeline (there are a few overlooks), but the combination of hills, rocks, roots, and mud make for a challenging landscape. You might suffer vertigo just looking at the course profile.

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Manitou’s is no ordinary 50-miler. Running that distance is no joke, but on this point-to-point course, with 14,000 feet of elevation gain and 15,000 feet of elevation loss, the level of difficulty is so much greater than the average race of this distance. The terrain is as harsh as it gets, with undulating hills averaging a 15% gradient and peaking out at 60%. The trails are littered with rocks and roots that make even the “flat” sections difficult to run. There are parts of the course that if you average two miles per hour, then you are doing well. I haven’t updated my Toughest Ten in several years but this race is an instant qualifier.

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Yesterday’s weather was spectacular. The temperature in the valleys was in the high-70’s and it was cooler on the summits with a constant breeze. That wind kept the bugs away and offered a lovely cooling effect as the sun was strong given the proximity of this race to the Solstice. The sunset was amazing. I finished just before dark, so I experience all of the “golden hour.”  The race started at 5:00 A.M. and went off in waves at five-minute intervals. The 24-hour cutoff indicates how tough this race is. Double that and you have a similar cutoff ratio as the toughest 100-milers in the world.

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This was a return to Manitou’s for Debbie. She first ran the race in 2017 in preparation for that year’s Hardrock Endurance Run and subsequently the Cascade Crest Endurance Run. It was perfect training for those tough events. The big difference is that the extreme elevation change of Manitou’s is an accumulation of short and steep ups and downs. “Relentless”is the word that comes to mind when you think about the course profile and trail conditions. The wet spring made the usually muddy trails even muddier. Some sections were so awful that you had nowhere to go other than straight through the muck.

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I destroyed my new Altra Lone Peak 4.0’s. I don’t think this generation of Altra’s are built with the same quality as prior, but they still shouldn’t have fallen apart in their first race. I struggled to dial in their fit throughout the race. I tied and retied them no less than 10 times. They just don’t fit like the 3.0’s that I had come to love. I got the same size, but something isn’t right about these shoes. I had a pain on the top of my right foot that wouldn’t go away. Thankfully, the bottom of my feet, despite being soaked all day long, were in great shape.

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Another solid gear choice was my Black Diamond trekking poles. They were as helpful on the steep downhills as they were on the steep uphills. Periodically, I put them away, strapping them to the bottom of my UltrAspire Zygos pack. I did this on some of the steepest and longest downhills that required two hands to grab rocks and scramble safely. Some of the granite strewn ascents and descents were so sheer, that they reminded me of The Knife Edge on Katahdin, but with trees and a bit less exposure. With a slip, you wouldn’t fall 500 feet like in Maine, but you could fall 40, and the consequences would likely be the same.

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My fueling and hydration went well. I drank water from my hydration pack’s bladder, and Tailwind from an additional bottle that I carried in the front of the pack. I ate GoMacro Bars, Clif Bloks, potatoes with salt, pickles, vegan quesadillas, potato chips, vegan chocolate/coconut “bombs,” and veggie broth. I took S Caps to augment my electrolyte intake, and I ingested two Tylenols’ (at mile 30 and mile 40) to take the edge off of my leg pain, which was severe.

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The “+5” on my Garmin wasn’t the only indication that I’m in good shape. I’ve been feeling good all spring. I had a slow build in 2018 following a lot of rest in the first half of the year after my broken leg. Then last fall, I had a strong comeback cyclocross season. I maintained my fitness throughout the winter, started to run again by the end of the year, and have subsequently built some great form in 2019. I’ve had a lot going on at work which has been a mental and physical strain, so I started 2019 by intentionally improving my diet and sleep. This effort to counteract the stress, has kept me on an even keel and has been a benefit for my athletic performance. I’m feeling strong.

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I prepared for Manitou’s using a similar approach to past ultras. I got in my overall exercise, which is mostly riding with a little running. I try to average 10 hours a week with 80%  of that on a bicycle and 20% on my feet. Much of my riding comes from commuting to work. I did core work to stretch and strengthen my muscles. I did some trail racing including Traprock 50K and Soapstone Mountain 24K. I did a couple of long days in the woods with Debbie. We had one such adventure in Massachusetts in May, and another earlier this month in Vermont. Both trips included long days and lots of vertical ascent. When she put Manitou’s on her 2019 calendar, she suggested I prepare and join her. I’m glad I did.

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Debbie and I started in Wave 3, 10 minutes after Wave 1. Sheryl Wheeler was in our wave. She is a legend in northeast trail running, and did the 2000 Escarpment Trail Run with Debbie. Yesterday, Sheryl and I spent some time together on the first climb of the day and she was reminiscing about her trail running past. She said that the 2000 Escarpment was one of her first trail races and that after that, she was hooked. She said she finished third behind Debbie (Schieffer back then), and Nikki Kimball. Nikki got her start at racing trails in 1999 the same year that Debbie did. They did their first ultra together at the Vermont 50. Sheryl won her first Escarpment in 2003 and has gone on to win the race four more times. In the 2000 race, Ben Nephew won for the first time. He has gone on to win Escarpment 12 more times.

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Both Sheryl and Ben are multiple-time winners of Manitou’s Revenge. Ben won yesterday’s race in 11 hours and 25 minutes. Sheryl was fourth woman. Success at the Escarpment Trail Race can be translated to success at Manitou’s because the Escarpment Trail features prominently, with much of the first 18 miles of Manitou’s on it. The Escarpment Trail Race finishes at North/South Lake, which is Aid Station 3 at Manitou’s. The other trail that contributes to Manitou’s toughness factor is the Devil’s Path. The name says it all. The steepest ups and downs are on this section of the course. AMC’s Best Day Hikes Catskills & Hudson Valley is a good resource. The updated maps show the many trails in Catskills Park.

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Debbie and I didn’t run together, but we saw each other several times. I would get ahead on the climbs and she would close the gap on the descents. She caught up to me several times. We reconnected at some of the aid stations. After the 40-mile mark, I was having serious problems going downhill. I couldn’t sustain a pace and was forced to walk a lot. This cost me 20 spots as I was helplessly passed by a steady stream of runners, including six in the final three miles of trail, which was all downhill on loose rock. I felt really good, but my legs, particularly my quadriceps, were shot. I knew it and accepted it, but it was still demoralizing given my form. This result was predictable as I have suffered the same fate every time I’ve run longer than 50K. My leg muscles just can’t handle the longer distances and the accumulated pounding eventually does me in.

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While I was slowing down, Debbie was suffering a similar fate. She started the race with a sore right heel and Manitou’s rocks took their toll. She ended up favoring her left leg, which resulted in her own quadricep soreness. She too struggled on the descents, which is uncharacteristic for her because running downhill is her strength. I finished 44th in 15 hours and 45 minutes. She was 20 minutes and four spots behind me in 16 hours and 6 minutes. That’s a long time for a 50-miler and only our White Mountain Hut Traverses in 2011 and 2013 took longer for a similar distance. I was hoping she would catch me one the final descent so that we could finish together, but if I stopped, I might never have gotten moving again, so I kept shuffling to the finish in Phoenicia.

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Over the last six years since the founding, Manitou’s Revenge has become a community. Finishers are members of a fraternity. It doesn’t matter how fast you go. Getting to the finish line gives you serious ultra credentials. That stats prove this out. My Garmin Connect data says I took 115,000+ steps, ascended 936 floors, and burned more than 7,000 calories.

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The competitors make the race, but the volunteers make the race happen. Race Director Charlie Gadol is fortunate to have a cadre of dedicated helpers who put a lot of time into the event. Some of them hiked and hauled food, beverages, and supplies to difficult-to-reach aid stations. It was greatly appreciated.

After similar poundings at the Lookout Mountain 50 and Wapack and Back 50, I swore I would never run a mountainous 50 again. I won’t make any more perditions because I actually enjoy the challenge, but I’m pretty sure that one Manitou’s Revenge is enough. Congratulations to all of my fellow finishers. You earned it!

Race Results

HORST Engineering Expansion

In recent years, I’ve written more about running and cycling adventures than I have about business adventures. The pattern of highlighting my family’s outdoor pursuits won’t stop, but today, I’m sharing news of a major expansion at the HORST Engineering Family of Companies.

Our website post and press release cover the basic facts.

There is sure to be more news coverage (and we hope positive) about our expansion, but also more generally about the resurgent growth of manufacturing in the USA, and particularly in Connecticut. I’m proud of our 73-year, three generation track record of crafting precision machined components for aerospace and other high technology industries.

Our Core Purpose has never been more powerful: We help people fly safely and keep our communities strong by making precision parts in the USA.

Yesterday, I gave a new hire presentation for four people (including a summer intern) at our Massachusetts operations (HORST Sterling Machine) and I repeated our Core Purpose multiple times. I showed them that in the front of my notebook, I carry a laminated copy of the Core Purpose along with a copy of our Core Values, so that they are ready to share at a moment’s notice.

Manufacturing is a tough sport, just like cyclocross, ultramarathon trail running, and some of the other crazy endurance activities that I do in my “spare time.” My business experience helps me become a better athlete, and my athletic strengths (and training)  make me a better businessperson.

The passion that I have for business is very strong and that comes through whenever I host a shop tour. I did one last Friday for a group of new hires at our Connecticut operations (HORST Engineering) and they were thrilled with the prospect of moving to a world class factory. It helps that our new location will only be three miles from our legacy Cedar Street plant site where my grandfather moved (from 602 Garden Street in Hartford) in 1950. We have accumulated a LOT of stuff over the last 69 years. This will be no ordinary move!

At our Massachusetts plant site, where we lease the building, we are also making improvements to the work environment with updated offices, conference space, and a renovated cafeteria. A modern factory is a key part of any manufacturing company’s infrastructure, but we have survived (and thrived) since 1950 headquartered at our current location. We have never had a chance like this to realign our manufacturing processes using lean enterprise to organize in cells and flow lines. This move requires an entirely new way of thinking.

Naturally there have been many expansions over the years, but the opportunity to get our three Connecticut plant sites under one roof is a huge step forward. I’ve personally worked on the project to acquire 141 Prestige Park Road (East Hartford), since last August. It was an atypical deal that required a lot of perseverance. It’s helpful that perseverance is one of our five Core Values and that I practice it all of the time.

I spend most of my waking hours working. That ethic has been in my family’ s blood for a long time. If you know me then you know that I commute to and from work by bicycle frequently. Those rides are when I do a lot of my thinking. My role as a business leader and manager requires a lot of decision-making and it is in solitude when my thinking is most clear. I’ve done a lot of thinking about this expansion and the risk associated with it. Despite the success of our key customers and strong demand for our products and services, manufacturing in New England is a battle. We have a tough business climate, particularly in Connecticut, and the cost of doing business is very high. That is often a tradeoff when a region has a highly skilled workforce. I want to believe that the business climate is better than perceived. I wish it wasn’t so negative, but I don’t have control over how others react to the situation.

I choose to focus on what I can control and I’ve put 100% into improving our business by focusing on four principles: People, Strategy, Execution, and Cash. These four are espoused in Scaling Up, a book that I keep on my desk. Our Senior Leadership Team and our Management Team have rallied in support of the plan that we have in place and the foundation is the Core Purpose and Core Values, which are “forever.”

I’m sure that I’ll share more about this project as it progresses. The building will be green…very green. Our goal is to grow responsibly with the welfare of our people at the top of the list. Everyone knows that it is very hard to recruit skilled workers to the manufacturing sector. We have made much progress by focusing on our culture and investing in technology and lean enterprise. We spent the better part of the last four years implementing a next generation ERP system. It has been rough going at times. The building project has been on the back burner for nearly 20 years. I first started looking at new locations in 2000. Sometimes it takes that long to find what you want. I passed up (some time regretfully) on other opportunities when the timing wasn’t right, or the risk was too great. The good news about being the steward of a 73-year old business is that you can take the long view.

It was a lot of work to get to the closing at the end of April, but we are merely at the starting line now as the major renovation has just begun. That will be followed by a multi-year transition from our current plant sites. The good news is that we have the decades of experience and many business cycles to look back on as we ponder the next steps for our family enterprise. This new factory will be a symbol of our progress and the fulfillment of more than one dream.


HORST Engineering Family of Companies

Cross Spikes™ by HORST Cycling

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Shepard had an awesome two weeks at @troop25ct Camp Kirkham in #newhampshire Some of the learning included First Aid, Fish & Wildlife, Sports, Photography, and Swimming. It will be great to have him back home. @boyscoutsofamerica
Little D and I passed though our favorite state on the way to NH this morning. #vermont
I dusted off my #triathlon gear for the first time in more than two years. I had to wipe mold off my running shoes, and it felt good to wash my bike. It’s good to know I can still throw it down at 47 but I will admit that we all got thrashed by a talented 15-year-old Junior. At least I got my photo with him! I’m waiting for his Dad to message it to me. 😀 MY Dad even pulled out a vintage 2002 race shirt to honor the occasion. The weather at the @hmf_events Niantic Bay Triathlon was spectacular. We saw lots of old friends. 🏊‍♂️🚴🏽🏃🏿#teamhorstsports @horstcycling #shenipsitstriders @seven_cycles #sevencycles
We successfully got the kids to their camps. Then we had a nice adventure ride in the Quiet Corner including a section of the Air Line Trail and some Natchaug State Forest wandering. Our newish @seven_cycles Evergreens were built for rides like this. #teamhorstsports #shenipsitstriders #airlinetrail #natchaug #sevencycles #evergreening
@horstcycling is the new home for Cross Spikes news. This community will expand with more in depth #cycling oriented product info. Keep following @horsteng for your #aerospace and #precisionmachining fix! Oh, and... #crossiscoming ### #crossspikes #teamhorstsports #teamhorstjuniorsquad gravelbike #fatbike #cyclocross #horstengineering
Another great post #windingtrails #triathlon #sunset 🏊🏽‍♀️ 🚴🏽🏃🏿🌅
#windingtrails #triathlon #sunset 🏊🏽‍♀️ 🚴🏽🏃🏿☀️
1) More @nemba_mtb #nembafest 2) More sweet @kingdomtrails #kingdomtrails 3) More #vermont mud ### #teamhorstsports #teamhorstjuniorsquad #crossspikes #mountainbiking #mountainbike #vermud 🚵‍♂️ 🏔 🌧
Our week of adventure continued with a quick trip to @kingdomtrails for @nemba_mtb #nembafest where we saw LOTS of friends on the awesome trails. ### #vanlife #mountainbiking #mountainbike #teamhorstsports #crossspikes #teamhorstjuniorsquad #kingdomtrails #vermont

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