CUT112—C: Stands for Community And Lots of Rocks. My Journey of a DNF.

So what does the CUT actually stand for? Well it stands for Connecticut Ultra Traverse. The run is not necessarily a real race but more of a communal running challenge where 20 some odd accomplished runners undertake running across the whole state of Connecticut on the New England trail, a rugged and technical hiking trail. It is a run where navigation is key: you follow the blue blazes all across the state–through the woods, up rocks, down a small cave, on lamp posts, and on a few road signs. It is an epic adventure and when RD and creator: Art Byram of CULTRA says it is a “graduate level running event” he is not lying. It is truly one of the hardest runs of its kind in the Eastern part of the US. Sure the elevation gain is on par with other tough ultras at around 16,000-17,000 feet of gain with equal descent and no high altitude climbs (you get up to 1,000 feet at Castle Craig), be warned, the trail in its entirety is very tough. To get a better idea of the course here is what a lot of the course looks like! The course follows all kinds of trails that start with the letter “M” and are cool native american names: like Mattabasset or Metacomet, Mattatuck etc. These trails by themselves are hard but to link all of them is what makes this truly a grand adventure.

To start my year, I was up for the challenge of running the CUT. I felt it was a great way to run across my second state after my New Jersey run, and why not experience all of Connecticut on some of its most iconic trail sections. With my move to Providence, RI in March, I was excited to get the chance to scope out the course and get to experience more of New England trail running. Below is the link that shows the New England trail. The portion the CUT goes on is from the Massachusetts/Connecticut Border down to the ocean in Guilford.

https://fastestknowntime.com/route/new-england-trail-ct-ma

Training was going well for the race. It was on April 17th when I went for a trail run out on the tough 94 mile turn in the course. It was a nice warm spring day. As I jumped onto the blue blazes all was going well. I was moving well through the trails and was excited for the race after seeing a section of the trail. As I was on top of one of the summits, I went to take a selfie and stepped awkwardly on a rock as I was moving downhill. I felt a pop and immediately collapsed. I knew I really messed up my ankle. I immediately started to swell as I hobbled the 5 miles back to my car. This was the start of the real adversity for me leading into this year’s CUT.

I did my best to rest the ankle and felt fine logging miles on the roads. So I did that. I ran the Manchester to Monadnock 55 miler as a tune-up and my ankle held up pretty well but it was not perfect. I felt like my fitness was there and as long as I did not do anything serious to my ankle to re-injure it, I would be just fine.

Then came the CUT run. My ankle has felt much better but I knew it was still weak. I wore a supportive Ankle brace/sleeve that allowed some natural movement but also supported my weakened ankle. I was up for the challenge.

We drove to the start from our hotel in Enfield, CT. It was a short 20 ish minute drive. The start is in the woods by a field off of Rising Corner road. It felt like we were out in the country but still near civilization. That was the beauty of this run. Rugged hard trails, but always near amenities if need be. That is part of the beauty of the Northeast really. We pulled into the parking lot and immediately met the whole crew of runners and race management helping out. I was immediately brought into this awesome community of runners. Jimmy Mac tried to get me to eat a maple bacon doughnut but I was already stuffed from a Mcdonalds breakfast. I met Art in person, his wife, the whole Steep Endurance Crew, saw Amy with MPF/RNR and gave her some encouragement as I knew she would crush this run (and man did she–more on that later). The vibe of this event was awesome! It was like just hanging out with all of my best running friends doing an epic running adventure. I loved it.

The trail register

After our group photo it was time to walk over to the trail. Alright Cole, what is the game plan man? Well, I came into this just looking to run a relaxed pace I knew I could maintain for 112 miles. I settled into the group. And then at 8am sharp, we headed out. I settled with two runners to start, and the trail was so smooth and nice. I could not help myself. I took to the lead and just started to move along the trail. It was pure New England Single-track. The sun was cresting through the trees on the wooded summits and it was epic. I was so blessed to be doing this. After a crazy 2020 of no racing, no travel, not much trail running for me, this was my true medicine. Being out in nature, moving through this incredible terrain was really something special. I felt great as I ran miles around 9-11 minutes a mile. Fast, but the terrain was fairly runnable so I just went with it. That was my strategy. If the course had a technical section, I would take my time in it. If I could run fast, I would run fast. I felt that if I did my own thing, the result would be really something special. I had 24 hours in my mind, and I was well on my way to that. At the first major aid station, people were shocked I arrived so early. I was fresh and ready for the journey.

Photo Credits to Kate at Aid 1–7 miles in

I got the hook-up of the GPX of the course interfaced onto google maps. Thank you thank you for sharing this with me. It was so clutch. Though you follow the blue blazes, it is not always so straightforward. By having the map of the course in relation to my actual location was MAJOR! If you run this, you need this, unless you know the trails like the back of your hand. I had my phone out at any tough juncture, or road crossing/road section, and often periodically just to make sure I was going the right way. It really helped me stay the course as a newbie.

I kept on my pace and went through checkpoint 2, then kept onward on this fast pace. It was near mile 14 after a climb by this rock quarry or mining area where I saw a gentleman on the trail and he gave me some encouragement. As I hit a downhill, I stepped on a rock and “WHAM!” I could feel my ankle flex in an awkward way and I immediately fell to the ground. I cursed out and had a hard time even walking. It took me a few moments to start hiking. This was not good. My brace helped me from breaking my foot, but I think I snapped a ligament again. I knew this was the worst case scenario. Why couldn’t this have happened at mile 100 or something? I assessed the situation. I could weight bear on it but I re-injured it for sure. So I slowly was able to get back to pace, but it was not close to my opening miles. It really sucked feeling physically limited from running how I felt I could if this did not happen. I took a moment to regain my composure. I had a lot of time to work through this. I told myself I was going to keep going until it became too much of a danger or liability. So I kept plugging away.

Views from the highpoints–Approx mile 40

I hit the next few checkpoints still feeling strong. The heat and humidity was rising, but I kept hydrating like a champ and eating plenty of calories. Thanks to Jimmy Mac’s PBJ, that tied me over for awhile. After Talcott Mountain, I made it to the Reservoir. My Dad gave me my re-fill of bottles: which I carried two 18 ounce handhelds and 1-12 ounce staw flask in my pack. I would drink almost all of those every checkpoint which was why I was still sweating and really strong. When its hot people, drink up. I did this and honestly the heat did not really bother me, besides being gross and sweaty the whole time.

It was at Pinnacle rock on a tough ascent and descent of the first big sections of rock gardens around the marathon mark that was a tough section. It was at this point, I started to show signs of my body being affected by my ankle. I had a charley horse on my left calf going down this tough slide rock descent. With my ankle injured, I favored my left side to get me over the rocky ups and downs. I made my first wrong turn as I went straight onto a bike path and ran on that for about a mile. I realized I was wrong and turned back. I lost maybe 15 minutes here. This would not be the first slight navigation miscue.

As I hit the parking lot before going into Ragged, I knew that I had to be careful here. If my left side would take on too much stress, I may not be able to finish. I took about 10 minutes here to cool off and refuel. I ate a lot of fats at the last checkpoint, and my body took a lot of energy to digest the food, so I was a little dazed through this section. After a reset here, I was ready to take on the “crux” of the run. Ragged and Castle Craig were the hardest sections of this whole thing. I was ready. As I went under the highway and onto the trails, when Art said this section was hard to follow, it truly was. It was running on creek beds, and the trail did not make sense at all. I even missed a turn and had to hop a creek to get back onto the trail. I lost maybe 15 minutes here too.

Here was Art giving me Directions!!! Photo Cred Jim Mac

Ragged. Oh Ragged. So I moved fine through here but then I got to the big rock wall. I could see the blaze going up and then it stopped. Do I climb up this thing? I did not want to chance it so I whipped out my phone and walked around trying to navigate. I followed the trail on the map around the rock and no blue blazes. This was not it! I went back to where I was confused. I then decided to crawl up to the top and see. It was sketchy to get up there with an injured ankle. Once on top, I could see the blue blaze on my left point the way. You got to be kidding me. I wasted 30 minutes here trying to way find. I tried to push my pace, but my ankle made it tough. I had another twist here, and felt like one more and I would be done. And Done, meaning, serious injury like needing surgery and having no ability to weight bear. It was scary knowing that I was running a fine line here.

After Ragged I hit a nice road section running over to a farm. I was slower through here than I would like. I wanted to make sure I followed the trail. I hit that aid and kept on the road. Once I made it to the beginning of the Castle Craig section, I had a hard time staying upright on the road. My left side was finally falling a part from supporting my right side. This was a recipe for disaster. At this aid, I knew I was going to drop. I was not going to make it all the way to Guilford. But I wanted to do the 5 mile section to Castle Craig. Its a freaking Castle and the high point of the course. I had about an hour and a half before I would be in pure darkness. Time to race the sun. I missed the trail juncture and waisted like 6 minutes here. Cmon dude! I pushed as hard as I could hike and slightly run. My left hip was hurting, my left calf was fighting charley horses, and my left lower back was aching like crazy. As I hit some of the trap rock sections, I new I was getting close to the castle. I wasted more time trying to see where the trail went next on a high point section. I maneuvered through a narrow shale section that was a little scary for sure. Then the big climb. That climb was long and tough. I pushed to the top, then some more trail and finally as the sky was a beautiful pink and orange hue, I hit Castle Craig. It was epic. There was a haze in the valley below, as the world below felt miles and miles away. Wow. This is why we do these things. To feel big and yet so small. I could had been here forever. It made all of the struggle worth it. Now to get down!

Part of the trail up to the Castle

I then wandered up at the top of the Castle trying to find the trail. I could not find blue blazes anywhere. Orange blazes, yes, but no blue. After 10 minutes, I began to panic. I called my Dad and he said to call Art. I called my wife Ashlee, who would be my crew for the night portion and it went to voicemail. I finally pulled a low-hanging tree branch and saw the blue blazes after hovering around this area for another 20 minutes. With handlamp on, I made the descent. It was tough with my ankle and losing that ideal vision of the daylight. I had many close calls through here. I was able to talk with Ashlee and had about a mile more to go before the Dam aid station. Once I hit that pavement, I hauled it in. I saw everyone and laid right down on the pavement. Dr. Pepper in hand. I was calling it. With my left side compromised, and my injured ankle that I twisted hard twice, and a slow and not clean descent down Castle Craig, I was worried I was close to my body failing me completely, being a liability to the great community that is at this race, having to put Art and the Cutting Board in a tough spot to have to extract me from the woods if something went wrong. And so I bowed out gracefully, still on pace for a 25-26ish hour finish.

It is never easy to DNF, but I know this was the right call. Running is supposed to be fun and it can be hard, but when it borders real danger and danger to others, I am not in. I never want anyone to have to risk their safety at the hands of my misfortune. We talked to Art at the next aid and officially hung up my hat. The Shadow Bear got my ankle this year, but not my heart, not my grit, not my survival instinct. It is on hold for another CUT, when I feel my ankle can handle the rigors of this course, and that I can run it the way I know I can.

A full healthy me, and watch out CUT! I am coming for you. 24 hours, yeah, I think it can be done, and I want to go for it!

The finishers like winner: Howie Breinan  and Amy Hanlon were super inspiring. As were all of the other runners; from the crews, runners, volunteers. And congrats on the engagement Amy!! This run challenges you and to finish this is really saying something! It is hard like Eastern States for sure!

Why does “C” stand for community? Well I had never met any of these people in person before that day and I instantly felt like I was a part of the family. The community that makes up this run is really something special. How people rally together to take care of one another and help the runners make it to the sea, is what inspires me. I loved the CUT. It is because of all of the CUT community that makes this such an incredible event. To all you other runners out there, if you want challenge, views, new perspectives, a blue blazed Barkley, well this is your run. The Community is the real constant of this great run. They will always be there; willing to fill up your water bottle, feed you maple bacon doughnuts, give you navigation tips, run after you to stop traffic for you to cross the road, spray suntan lotion on you, smile, cry, wipe your sweaty legs with baby wipes, and so much more. That is Community and that is the CUT. I have unfinished business with this beast of a course. When I return, I look forward to sharing those miles with you. Let’s bring a village!

Dang you Shadow Bear–what is that thing anyway? That is a Q for RD, Art Byram.

Welcome to the CUT

Welcome to Connecticut, home to the Blue Blazes, and one incredible running community! (Cole gracefully raises a pint of Narragansett Beer to you)–Its a Rhode Island thing I have been told.

Recommended Gear for the CUT:

Hydration packs are great! I ran with the Smaller Nathan Vapor Zach pack and switched to the 12L Vaporkrar later on. Hydration packs allow you to carry all types of food, hydration, and other goodies easily as you never know if something might happen like an ankle sprain and what would normally be 10 minute miles becomes 30 minute miles.

Great socks. It is going to be hot, humid, and the footing beats you to heck. Nice padded socks make a huge difference and switching out a couple of pairs will ensure your feet can move you to the ocean. I use Fits Socks. They have been a supporter of mine since 2012. Their run socks are the right fit, nice light merino, and just keep your foot cool and protected.

Food: I would try to eat solid food on this one. It is a running picnic across Connecticut. The more variety of food you can eat, the better off you will be. I ate hummus, chips, fruit packets, gels, Coke, DR. Pepper, Tailwind, Skratch Labs , Pickles, olives, Swiss Cheese. This effort takes a big toll in terms of calories.

Shoes: With the shoe debate–you need cushion, protection, and tons of grip. Like Tons of Grip. I went off script and wore a Hoka Speedgoat because I needed to make sure I could scale the rock like a cat and protect my ankle. 361 has some great trail shoes for 2022 on the horizon where grip becomes more of a topic. If my ankle was healthy I could get away with the Taroko but it was not worth chancing it on this one. A mis-step on that terrain could be very serious so I relied on that shoe which was great.

Trekking Poles, I think as you navigate at night and later on, they are more important.

A tough mentality to be patient but strong– You need that to do well here.

Good Shorts: Yes Shorts! I wore the Janji AFO Multi Vent Short. It has a whole waistband with pockets. The fabric is light and airy for the heat and humidity of summer. The short even feels cool when you sweat in it so it is a nice feature for beating the heat. The pockets are so clutch to stash all of your essentials on the go. It helps make you hydration pack be lighter which is a nice thing too. Try them out!

A cool hat. Runners need cool hats. I wore my Nathan Trail emoji hat which is my favorite. It is now a collector’s edition.

Thank you to everyone that made this experience for me a special one, even with a DNF. It is a to be continued for me for sure.

M2M: Manchester 2 Monadnock-Welcome Back to the Races

Back to the races. It is a great feeling getting back to running Ultramarathons with actually people yet again.

The last time I ran an in-person race was at the Caumsett 50k the very end of February 2020. What transpired afterwards was the crazy year that was 2020. Now in May 2021, things were looking up for my first race, the Manchester to Monadnock 55 miler. As a new resident of New England, it only seemed fitting to open-up with a race in the region.

The Manchester 2 Monadnock 55 miler is a challenging and diverse ultra. It has a unique blend of road running, dirt roads, and trails, with two steep rocky uphill ascents of two local mountains. Looking on paper, the race I felt might be similar to an effort of Tussey Mountainback with a little more technical terrain. What I found was a course that was steeper, had more consistent climbs, and a finishing mountain ascent and descent that is a very rugged but epic way to finish an ultra. Let’s dive in.

https://www.trailrunproject.com/trail/7091672/manchester-to-monadnock-55-miler

The Manchester 2 Monadnock ultra starts in the City of Manchester, the most-populated city in all of New Hampshire. Usually, the race starts at the ball park but instead this year, started at the ice arena. I had been told the race is more of a “fat-ass” style and really it was well put together. Course markings were well-done across the run with yellow arrows and ping flags all along the course. It is an ultra, so you do have to have your wits about where to go, especially since cell phone service is spotty throughout the run. We arrived the evening before the run and grabbed a bite to eat down-town. Manchester is often referred to as “Manch-Vegas” because of the tall buildings and the bustling night-life in New Hampshire. Our hotel was at a Residence Inn Downtown which was a good but also bad move. The race start was at 4am, much earlier than other races of similar distance so we had a hotel close to the start so that we could maximize sleep. Lucky for me, the two beers at dinner helped me sleep like a log while my wife stayed up because of the loud music coming from the night club across the street as well as finding the hotel was like a “party hotel”.

The Race Start:

As we headed to the start, I was excited to head off and enjoy the day which had perfect weather in early May: 74 degrees and sunny. We checked in and got situated. It was a small race field: 50 or so runners. I had been dealing with a bad ankle ligament sprain so this would be a test to see if I was healthy enough to compete. I ran with a slight brace which worked wonders. The race begins out on a bike path trail that is a mix of asphalt and dirt. At 4am, we were off.

I immediately went to the front not knowing if anyone would be with me. I was running around 6:50 mile pace which felt nice and strong in the cool morning. That pace was not something I was planning on averaging for the whole run- rather my goal was to run 50 miles in around 6 hours and 20 minutes and then push the last 5 miles in to finish around 7 hours. I was surprised as a runner came up right beside me and was keeping pace. I have had this happen to me at events before and it was a great thing having some company. Little did I know it was Brandon Newbold, a very strong New England runner and mountain runner known for some strong finishes across the New England Mountain running circuit. We linked up and then shared the miles and had great conversation about New England, and the trail scene. Brandon knows his stuff. Brandon then had to use the bathroom quickly so I kept on going easy.

We hit the first check point in downtown Goffstown by a church. I felt good so I kept going. Brandon eventually caught up as we started the climb up towards North Ucannoc. This was the first mountain ascent and even though it was at 1,300ft tall, I wanted to make sure I did not get lost here as the sun was just starting to come up. We hit the trail and immediately, this was going to be a powerhike. With the steep and rocky terrain, trying to navigate this terrain on road shoes: my 361 degree Fierce, would be a tough task. We then grinded up the mountain. I had a hard time following the flags as some flags were leading the wrong way. Luckily, there was a race volunteer that was hiking up that told us to keep going up. Once at the summit, it was awesome to catch the views. Brandon starting to fly on the downhill and I wanted to take it easy with my ankle so off he went. The next section would have us go onto a snowmobile trail then onto the road on the other-side.

Tunnel Vision:

I knew that if I could navigate this section correctly, I would be able to follow the directions on my phone for the remainder of the race. As I lost sight of Brandon, I hit the downhill harder as I went down a riverbed ravine. I saw a pink flag and pushed down the mountain. It was then about a mile down that I hit a road right in someone’s driveway. I had some hunters ask if I had seen any Turkeys, and I was a little wonked out and was like “Nope”. I had been drinking a new energy drink: Liquid IV. What I found was that it would be a little of my un-doing. I ran down the road not seeing a pink flag for about a half mile and then stopped and pulled up my phone. I typed in the road address I needed to be and I was 2.8 miles away. I then realized I was way-off course. I then turned around and sprinted back up the mountain. This was the one spot I tried to avoid getting lost and here I was–lost and now back-tracking. I ran about 2 miles extra but with stopping, lost about 20 or so minutes in total. I finally got back on track and once on the correct road, began to pick things up to 6:40 mile pace.

I started to feel woozy here are my Liquid IV drink was just too much sugar and was playing around with my electrolytes and insulin. I really went into a mental funk knowing I really was going to make my goal tough to reach now. I did my best to compose myself and know, that after 15 miles, I still had a long way to go. After some more miles down the way, I finally came into the town of New Boston. It was here I met with Ashlee and saw Brandon who had to drop because of his own ankle issue. I re-fueled and then kept pushing on.

A New Perspective:

What I loved most about this race, was how the course reminded me of a European-style mountain ultra. Between each check-point, you run up the hills in the area and each major aid station is often in a major town, allowing for you to get that nice boost and change of scenery. So now back in 1st place, I knew I just had to grind. I did not feel great, but know that in ultras, things can change in your favor if you are patient and persistent. I kept taking in calories and pushed up the dirt and paved roads up in the rolling hills of Southern New Hampshire. This is my type of terrain, but for some reason, I did not have the power I usually have and so my pace suffered. I was stalling out at 7:20-7:30 miles when I was hoping to be closer to 7-7:15. I kept plugging away though. The course winds through the woods, with big lakes beside of you and truly it was peaceful and nice. I then hit the next aid station at mile 29 and really re-fueled with lots of solid foods such as hummus which was a big time game-changer. And with all things considered split a 4:06 50k. I was still within reach of my goal as long as I could stay efficient. Off I continued onward down the road.

The Sails :

I did not realize it while I was running this but much of this 29-37 mile section was some form of uphill. It was a grind. I had moments in this stretch where I stopped and looked at my phone to make sure I was following the course directions properly. I wanted to make sure which is in part why my pace started to really slow. I started to lose more of my mental sharpness. The next town would be Peterborough and I knew I had to make it here before a 7 mile run up to the start of the Pumpelly trail. There was a bridge out here and a slight re-route. Ashlee texted me that the flags were hard to follow. I came into the town and as I was running on the road, the flags then disappeared. I started to worry as I had no cell service and was only going off of turn directions of the course saved on the notepad of my phone. I kept down to the highway and made a right turn to eventually find the flags again. It was here that I was hemorrhaging time on a course record assault. We then fueled-up some more and off I went up the dirt road.

Death by Hill:

This next section was death. It was sharp uphills on dirt roads where I just did not have the best traction. Man I just wanted to make it to the Mount Monadnock section. My miles felt slow but I kept plugging away. It was at mile 41 I met with Ashlee again for a quick re-fuel and some sun-tan spray and up I went. I will say this section was cool because to your left through the trees, you could see Mount Monadnock in the distance. As you progressed through here, it kept creeping closer into view. At this point, I was holding on. By the time I made it to the Pumpelly trailhead, it was 6 hours and 46 minutes elapsed in my run. I was almost done, or so I thought. I was felling pretty gassed and knew I was in the home stretch. It is that part in an ultra where you grit your teeth and just get it done.

Pumpelly to Monadnock:

The Pumpelly trail has no markers. It is just one main trail. If you follow it up, you eventually make it to the summit of Mount Monadnock, a 3,000ft plus juggernaut. The first half mile of the trail was nice and relaxed, standard New England trails. I looked at my watch and knew that if I could maintain under 15 minute mile pace, the record would be mine. I pushed along until then the rock-wall came. The trail became something out of Catskill running where I scaled the rock-wall in the woods up. I was now slogging at near 20 minute mile pace. Let me just say this mountain is incredible, but again doing this in road shoes was not the best idea. I pushed as hard as I could often hitting these cool rock gardens, exposed to the sun and sky, where you could look out and see how far you climbed. The thing I did not realize was that the Pumpelly trail is like 8 miles long- and its all rock baby. I got a little lost in the pines as I took the long way around the mountain. There was a decent amount of hikers out on the trail and I kept asking them where the summit was and they kept pointing to a summit that felt like a lifetime away. I kept plugging away.

By the time I finally saw a sign: 1.4 miles to summit, I was so ready to be done. I did not think I was going to get the record at this point. I crawled up to the summit. By the time I finally made it. I took a moment to refuel and video the sights. It was such a grind the last 12 miles to get here and man was it a sweet feeling to have no more big climbs left.

About 5 minutes go by and then another runner came up. I learned his name was Roy. An awesome dude and we chatted before being shown the White arrow trail. To finish the race, we would need to descend the mountain on the White Arrow trail and then run a little gravel road to the final trail section to the reservoir.

Trails Company:

Roy and myself descended the mountain together as Roy would take it easy for me with my ankle on the descent. It was amazing to share in this finish. We chatted a bunch and I learned about his running exploits and how he was hovering 15-20 minutes from me all day. Kudos Roy! This section was rocky but more open than the Pumpelly trail. Once we finally hit the road after a 2 mile descent it was like 2 more miles to the finish. As we got closer on the Parker trail to the finish, I asked Roy if he wanted to finish together and he agreed. I was fine with him taking the win but I also think he knew how hard I worked that day and was being a real gentleman about giving that place to me. We could not agree so I think sharing in this victory together was only fitting as we both pushed one another the last few miles.

We crossed the line together with our arms together in 8:46:03. Just about 10 minutes off of the record. We were so close. And I know that if I did not get off-course, even with the slog of a day that I had, I would had just gone under the time.

What a finish!

https://ultrasignup.com/results_event.aspx?did=83680

Conclusion:

As an intro to New England Ultra running, the point-to-point ultra of the Manchester 2 Monadnock was the perfect choice. It gave me comfort, it gave me challenge, it gave me comradery, and it gave me hope. As we get the chance to attend organized race events again, I am so grateful to be a part of the New England community. From the race directors, volunteers, to the athletes, I felt so welcome and in a way this was a baptism by fire to the world of New England Ultras. Some times you do not have your best day- that was my day, but know that great stories are not always so sugar-coated. The raw experiences make this race special for me. And to get to share the experience with two special athletes was something I will never forget. I have learned that results are not everything and only tell a fraction of the story behind the result. My hope is that as ultra running becomes more commercialized, athletes can still compete not for the results, the glory, the $$$, but for the comradery and journey that we go on when we push ourselves along side others. Each athlete has a story and that shared experience, is what I missed in the time of Covid. When we run together, incredible things can happen as we look to get the most out of ourselves and our fellow racers.

Race Recommendation: Absolutely. Go out there and do it! It makes me want to run across the whole state of New Hampshire. It is a beauty state!

What did I use for this run:

Running Shoes: 361 degrees Fierce road shoes

Buff: Dion Snowshoes Orange Buff

Gels: Boom Gels (Vanilla Orange)

Hat: Nathan Boco Tweener Hat

Socks: Fits socks- the best socks

Ankle brace: some light brace from Amazon–Powerlix

Strobe light: Nathan Green Strobe

Headlamp: BlackDiamond Headlamp

Windbreaker: Nathan Stealth Jacket (Love this–so lightweight and fit is amazing)

Hydration Pack: Nathan Vaporkrar 2.0 4L

Hydration: 4 Nathan Handhelds: Quicksqueeze Lite 18 ounce and Insulated 12 ounce

Watch: Coros Apex (best watch around)

Compression Sleeves: Compressport

361 degree singlet

Shorts: Janji 3 inch AFO Split short

The Turning Point: NJ Point 2 Point-The Culmination of Unleashing Your Inner Wild

Running across New Jersey was an experience that has changed my life forever. It was a moment where everything I had been working towards my entire athletic life, culminated at this distinct “Turning Point”.

The Points in the Past:

Growing up, I was that kid that could just never get tired and always had the speed and endurance while playing other sports. It was until the 6th grade mile run in gym class where the teacher, who also was the High School Cross Country Coach suggested I join the Cross-country team. I thought cross-country was navigating with a compass and a map in a field and the first person to make it back was the winner. Of course I know now that what I was describing is called Orienteering. Running in middle-school changed me. It was at that point that I knew I could be a runner and soon fell in love with the sport. My high school coaches Wilfredo Rivera and Adam Nalven (also my middle-school coach) helped cultivate my fitness and really fostered my love for the sport. It was throughout this time where I had the fire burning, as I was always told that I was really good, but not good enough. I was not All-state in Cross-Country or track. I had talent, but had yet to come into my own. I then moved out to Oklahoma and walked-on to the Cross-Country and track teams at the University of Oklahoma. It was here that I learned to be a grinder and being lucky to just be on a Division 1 program made me even hungrier to find my place. I gravitated towards the longer distances: 5k-10k but also wanted to go further. After college, I entered the world of trail/mountain running and marathons. My debut ultra marathon came at the White Rock 50k where I set a course record during that run in 3:53:55. A couple months later, I ran the Oklahoma City marathon and placed 2nd in my debut running 2:36:25. As I moved back East for graduate school, I took on snowshoe running, the US mountain running scene at races such as Loon Mountain, Cranmore, and the famous Mt. Washington Road Race. What I learned was that the longer the distance went, the stronger I could be.

The Idea is Conceived:

Imagine spending a winter’s day browsing on the internet. This time of year is perfect for building out your race calendar. I had big aspirations of running a US 50k and/or 100k time that would qualify me to represent the US at the World Championships in the Fall, a major goal of mine the past 8 years. Being back home in NJ, I wondered, had anyone ever ran across the whole state of NJ? I hit the Google search and did not find much of anything. But what I did find changed me. I saw a documentary called “Running the NJ 184” and let’s just say the rest is history. What I saw was three runners make the trek from the High Point State Park Monument, the highest point in NJ and run all the way down to the Cape May Point Lighthouse, the most southern point in the state. I was captivated by this idea. And so the seed was planted. Then fast-forward to World Snowshoe Running Championships in Japan which was an incredible experience and our teams did very well: Women’s Team Gold and Men we won the Silver. I ran the Caumsett 50k on a whim and ran hard but faltered due to the blustery conditions and finished 5th place. The season was just getting going. Or so we thought. Covid-19 hit and everything shut down. What followed was a year of self-reflection and finding a new way to use my running for good. I ran the whole D&R canal towpath (71 miles) near my home in NJ to set a record and raise funds for NJ Covid relief. This was a new start for me. With work being busier than ever and races canceled, I targeted January 9th ,2021 as my chance to go for this run across NJ. My training for the remainder of the year was all preparation for this long run. If I could be trained to run a fast 100 miler, I felt that would translate well for 200 miles.

The Strategy:

*My goal for this run was to average 10-11 minute miles for the first half-putting me around 16-18 hours for 100 miles. My hope would be that I could split another similar split for the second half, with some sleep and hopefully would be around 40 hours.

*I would consume 300-400 calories an hour with a combination of all of my favorite foods- Tailwind, Black Forest Gummy Bears, Avocados, Olives, Pizza, and Boom Gels. This challenge would be to eat lots of food to make sure I stay strong and am not depleted.

*My goal was to nap somewhere past the halfway point through the night stretch of 206 heading to Hammonton. Maybe a 30 minute nap. From there, I was hoping I could nap in 15 minute intervals to get a little boost needed.

  • I wore 2 pairs of shoes: The 361 degrees Spire 4 and then would switch to the 361 degrees Fantom. The idea here was to switch shoes halfway to keep my body feeling fresh and also giving myself a mental boost. The Spire is a max cushioned shoe that is great at keeping my body fresh and protected. The Fantom is my favorite 361 degree shoe and is one that I use for fast 50 mile to 100 mile road ultra events. As I would fatigue, my hope was that the Fantom would give me the pep needed to finish strong.
  • For pacing, 12 minutes and 30 seconds a mile was the goal pace. Anything faster than that was one split faster to going under 40 hours. If I had to walk, I wanted to walk fast– 15 minute mile pace and under as this would allow recovery but also keep my splits closer to the goal pace.
  • Look for inspiration. Running 200 miles takes a lot of mental strength and when you are mentally energized and focused, you can push through the physical pain.

Get to the Point: The Run

Getting this run started was not easy. My training was solid and I felt prepared to push well beyond what I had ever gone before. The furthest I had ever ran was 86 miles at the Pine Creek Challenge 100 miler. I started a fundraiser through Custom Ink to sell some beanies and raise funds for the Road Runners Club of America. As this run across NJ would mostly be a road run, I wanted to support a running organization that went beyond just New Jersey and I loved what they do for kids with the “Kids Run the Nation” Program. I had incredible support from friends, family, and the membership at Roxiticus Golf Club where I worked. I had sold over 50 beanies and raised close to $3,000 dollars.

The week leading up to the run, I created a new Gofundme for those that did not get a beanie but wanted to donate. Little did I know that the NJ media would start to latch on. I did my first initial interviews and then like a snowball rolling down the hill, things became Bigger, and BIGGER as the week went along. Wednesday of that week, we drove the course to make sure we had driving directions and got the course set. Come Friday, the first articles came out. The Nj.com article generated a ton of buzz- so much so that I had sooo many people reaching out. I was not ready for this amount of attention and honestly, I was a nervous wreck. I have to say my Wife, Ashlee, was the real strong constant in all of this and took on so much of the media and attention and outside stresses so that I could just run. The course was set, the tracker set, food and supplies ready; the run was going to happen.

The hotel we stayed at had a lighthouse outside of it and I knew it was a sign. I was going to get myself to that Cape May Lighthouse. I could not sleep the night before. My heart just kept thumping in my chest the whole night. My alarm went off at 1am, and I knew it was go time. With only maybe a few hours of real sleep, I had no idea what would happen. It was a cold night. Temperatures were in the 20’s with windchill up top at the park which made things feel as if they were in the single digits. It was COLD!

When we made it to the park entrance to be greeted by a really nice couple and Tom Eickelberg, who was a buddy of mine from grad school at Suny Cortland. It was awesome to have this support so early in the morning. That helped to get me fired up. The unfortunate part of this whole thing was that we had a security guard that said I could not start right at the monument as the park was closed and if I went through, I would be given a citation for trespassing and even jailed. That was something I wanted to avoid. So I did not get to touch the monument up at High Point to start the run. But I was pretty darn close. With that technicality in play, I did not want this thing to be derailed just because I am .5 miles away from touching a monument. So we started where we could. It was so cold, I could not feel my hands and had lost my phone. I needed the phone as it had my directions and tracking. I was able to find it and rushed to get going. At 1:58am, I was off heading down the peak. With the monument in my rear-view, I worked my way down to Colesville and onto the back-country roads of Northern NJ. The stars in the sky was beautiful, with the moon in the distance. The first 5 miles, I focused on staying relaxed and trying to warm up my hands as even with mitts, did not have much feeling in them yet. To start a 200 mile run is something pretty wild. It is a long way and my first main goal was make it to Princeton and Mercer County Park as both were close to the 100 mile marker and the half-way point. I then get a text from Ashlee. She tells me that there is a group of people ahead that are going to run some miles with me. After feeling my legs tighten from the long downhills, I was nervous that I was pushing too hard. Like clockwork, I started splitting 10-12 minute miles. My goal would be to come into halfway around 16-18 hours hopefully knowing this would give me some time to sleep and rest to average a finish time around 40 hours.

As I followed my turn-by turn directions on my phone, I saw a bunch of lights and car horns up ahead. It was the group my wife was talking about. With a wild roar of cheering and disco ball of light, I was then joined by three runners as we made our way through the darkness. It was amazing sharing those miles- and they even took me out along the Berry road bridge that was out but showed me a way to detour and take a short cut. It was truly a moment that set the tone for the whole run. In doing this, I wanted to inspire others and bring some pride and attention to NJ runners, and in doing so, find a way to unite us responsibly-even at a distance. After about 8 miles with my new friends, I was back to running solo. I felt pumped and excited to do this.

I worked my way now through the farm roads leading to route 206. Just so you know, 206 is a main two lane road on two sides that runs down the length of the state. It can be a busy road at times, but the shoulder of it in many sections can be generous enough to be out of the way of cars. I crossed over the main road, passed the Sussex fairgrounds and jumped onto 206 heading towards Newton. This is the part where it is easy to dwell on what is ahead. I just lived in the moment. I had a long way to go and no business worrying about the future. I had to just be present in the present. And so I pushed along to Newton. Once there, it was a nice major check point to get some more fuel: Tailwind, Black Forest Gummy Bears and some Boom gels. So far, I was taking in my 300-400 calories an hour with a combination of gels, bars, bananas, and Tailwind. After running through the adorable town of Newton, I made my way to the Sussex Branch Trail. During my recon, I did not get to run this section. It looked like a type of rail trail, so I thought I would be good. What I found out as I got into there was that the footing was much harder than expected. It was a hard dirt path that had ice all over it and each step through the 8 mile section was a challenge. Not having the chance to run this section yet, was a new challenge. It was here between 6-7:30 am I hit a bathroom break and then weaved my way through the trail. Once I made it to the end, the directions said for me to turn right. I was on top of a bridge and could not do so. I looked down and saw my Wife as I worked my way down an embankment and bushed-wacked down. We connected and I took some time to re-fuel. I was feeling a little woozy through the Sussex trail section as I could tell the sodium of the Tailwind was bothering my system. With come water now in me, I quickly regained my focus. Dealing with the salt levels in my body would be a challenge I would wrestle with for the whole run.

I continued along 206 some more as the morning sun was coming up. It was going to be a very nice winter day with sunshine at temps near 35 degrees and a slight breeze. The next challenging section was running under Interstate 80 by Netcong. As I whizzed my way through the opposite side of the road, I hit some more big hills leading down along 206 as I now would make my way through Flanders. It was here that I was feeling strong and having a great time. I challenged all the hills really well and was excited to see some of my Roxiticus team as I made it to Chester. I was lucky to run with an awesome guy that was a big engineer and lived in the area. We shared some miles up the hills until just before Chester. It was at Chester that I saw CJ in his truck (He is the Director of Instruction at Roxticus) and as I turned into downtown, I saw Kim and his girlfriend and their dogs: Barkley and Pepper. That gave me a boost as I pushed some fast 7 ish minute miles as I crossed the road and headed towards the gravel roads of Mendham Horse farm country.

This section was one of my top favorites. Just the peace and quiet of the area, being in a nice canopy of trees. It was where I would go after work and just have a moment to myself, as I would log some miles to clear the mind before heading back home. I love the big farms and the mansions that hide out here away from the hustle and bustle of things. It is here where a part of the Patriot’s Path crosses through-which I would love to run the whole thing one day. It was here that I kept a nice solid pace. I was out minding my own when a runner comes my way. He says “Cole” and I respond “Yes?” It turns out it was no other than Ryan Thorpe. I know Ryan from much of the same running circles but never had the real chance to get to spend some time with him. It was awesome to get to get to know one another. We bounced along the trail just talking everything ultra running. For me, it was a major mental boost. We carried along through the farm roads of Bedminster up through Branchburg and then across 202 into Hillsborough. Ryan in my eyes is a real rock-hopper. He is that runner that looks for the gnarliest terrain out there: rocks, roots, steep inclines and descents. It was maybe 17 miles together at a narrow bridge where Ryan headed back. 8 miles prior, I started to feel a little light-headed but did not think anything of it. As I was on the farm roads on my own I looked down at my leg and saw my right ankle to be swelling up like a beach ball. I noticed the cuff of my running tight has compressed the spot right where my compression sleeve met- in turn cutting off the circulation to my right foot. I immediately stopped to open up the zipper and adjust my calf sleeve. As soon as I did this, all of the held blood began to rush to through my body. It was a very surreal feeling. I yelled out to my father and my wife to let them know that this could had been a game-ender to my run if this was not caught. That is what ultras beyond 100 miles are like. Any little slip-up and the run is over. This next section really took it out of me. At almost 80 miles in, the shoulder of the road went away and more and more cars started to be out on the roads. I had to constantly jump off of the road into a ditch and then hop back on. It was until the Sourland Mountain park where my father took his car and stayed behind me with flashers going which allowed me to run on the road without having to maneuver. This was a decision that proved to be critical.

Going Beyond-The Point of No Return

As I worked my way through the back-side of Hillsborough and Montgomery- I started to feel that pull. This was a section I had run countless times. These were my home training grounds. As I hit the climb up by the Montgomery High School, I was joined by Anthony Russo- star runner from the “Running the NJ 184” documentary. He would be sharing some miles with me through Princeton, NJ. And in that stretch, I was able to see my Aunt Joyce and Uncle Glenn which I had not seen since before the pandemic started. I had a moment to talk with them and give them an embrace. I had two other women that joined up as we hit the section through the back-side of Princeton. I was also cheered on by my cousins: Andrew, Emma, Caroline, John and Elizabeth. They were going to then grab me some pizza for when I would make it to Mercer County Park- one of my major stops in the run.

Running with Anthony through this section was awesome. As the sun started to set we had all types of great conversations going as we made our way to the infamous Quaker Bridge Road Overpass. It was a surreal moment running on the roads, I have frequented my whole entire life, knowing that at this moment, I was running them to complete a near 200 mile journey across the state. It was during these moments, that I hit my first “REAL LOW”. I knew I had to just make it to Mercer County park, and I would be greeted by some of my closest friends and family and could be a place where I could do a nice reset near the half-way mark before setting out for the second half. As we hit the D&R canal towpath and then onto Quaker Bridge road, things got real. This section I would classify as the “Kamikaze section” of the run. This was the real section that was not the wisest idea to run through especially when I did at 5:30-6pm. We had to be smart here as there is 3 lanes on either side of speeding cars. But we did have a wide median in the middle that could allow us to maneuver across and then onto the sidewalk by the Quaker Bridge Mall. As we crossed the median onto the sidewalk, I put in a strong surge and kept moving at 7-8 minute mile pace. As I could feel my body really start to feel depleted, I pushed harder. The next section by a Costco had an even smaller bridge. It was here we had my father and my wife drive in front and behind us with the flashers going so that we could cross this bridge. The execution of this was really flawless. Now it was just 2.5 more miles to Mercer County Park.

The “Half-way Point”-Mercer County Park–

As I run into Mercer County Park, it was like a huge party. It was so awesome to see all of the people that came out to cheer and be a part of this experience with me. We even had some news reporters out there. My cousins came through in the clutch with yummy pizza and I stuffed my face and took a nice 20+ minute break. This was a point for me knowing the big hills were in the past and now it would be even more runnable to the finish. It was awesome to see everyone and it really gave me a new boost. As I headed out past Mercer County park, I had a group of runners with the “Uptown Gentlefriends” take me all the way to Bordentown and soon beyond it towards Hammonton. Every step I would be taking now was beyond 100 miles. I was now in that realm of space exploration for myself, my body, and what my limits could be.

It was on this stretch, I was able to get into a nice rhythm and be led to Route 206 in Bordentown, where I would run 33 miles straight on this desolate stretch to the Pine Barrens Town of Hammonton. As I went past the High School and then to the “Block Party” that was the Bordentown Aid station. It was amazing. Turn a bank parking lot into a celebration of running in NJ! I was blown away. It was here I refueled some more and got worked on with my feet and legs as things were really tight. Thank you to Keilynn for taking care of my feet, which I had two blisters on my big toes but they never bothered me. She bandaged me up and man it really made a world of a difference.

This was where I felt like I needed rest. It was around 9pm by this point and I took 1 whole hour as a stop and slept about 30 minutes. It is wild how your body just shuts down in this state of fatigue to rest. As I would close my eyes, it felt as if time asleep felt like an eternity.

The Long Point–206 to Hammonton

It is now 10pm and we head out along the barren 33 mile stretch of Route 206. It is here I make a shoe change to my favorite Fantom from 361 degrees which gives me some pep in my step as I start to hit 9 minute miles. What makes this stretch so profound is that this is normally a busy road, but with running on it throughout the night, it was quiet and kind of spooky even. An urban wasteland segmented by when the next Wawa would be. It was at this point, the wind picked up and the temperature dipped into the high 20’s. Mentally, I knew this would be my biggest challenge to survive the night. I still had crew help from some of the Uptown Gentlefriends and others that came during the stretch. We even had the state police checking on us to make sure we are okay.

Mind you, when you run 200 miles, you body processes food like warp-speed. I felt that after every aid station stop, I had to go “Number 2”. I was ready to freshen up and so came me bouncing around Wawas at 1 in the morning looking to use a bathroom to change my bottoms. All of the 4 I went to told me the restrooms were closed- which maybe they thought I was some smelly deranged runner, that was just running across the whole state of NJ? Who knows. After wasting about 10 minutes per Wawa and about 40 minutes in total trying to use a restroom, I ended up just changing in our car. I put on some Janji Mercury joggers and the silky smooth fabric was exactly what I needed. I continued to slog down the road. The physical and mental fatigue and sleep deprivation was taking over. I started losing depth perception and by around 3am, I took another nap. This one for about 40 minutes.

The Really Tough Point

After getting that 40 minutes of sleep, I felt much better but still my body was exhausted from the lack of sleep the day before and the minimal amount of sleep in that now 26 hour period. My pace had slowed and I had another bathroom stop behind some evergreens. I wrestled with the challenge of the task at hand. I knew though, that I would be better than my circumstances and come out of this on top. I asked for Ashlee to drive back to me with some baby wipes to clean myself up and then, I did it.

I asked for the trekking poles. Yup, I did it. I was not running through any technical trails, rocks, or uphill climbs; just asphalt as dark as the night. I used them to keep my pace around that 12-14 minute mile range and at times I would slip to 15. I thought to myself that if I could keep my “walking pace” to 15 minute miles, that once the sun would come up, I could regain some more fuel and strength to push that pace down. My face was wind-chapped and this to me was my arctic expedition of survival. The click and the clack of my trekking poles was enough to keep me awake and focused. I kept plugging away. 8 miles later, I was met by Patrick who was a part of the Pineland Striders and man was it great to have some company. The only thing was that I was moving slow. He was a fan of the apparel company: Janji which I am too and we talked all about the brand and some of our running adventures. Patrick was also one of those trail angels that kept me moving forward and motivated.

As the sun was prime to come up in about an hour and 30 minutes, the desolate open farmland and road now changed scenery into deep dark pines and cranberry bogs. I was entering the Pine Barrens. For those of you that do not know what the Pine Barrens are, look it up as it is one of the true natural wonders of New Jersey. The short explanation of the Pine Barrens is that it is about 1 Million acres of Pine forests, sandy acidic soil, dirt roads, and cranberry bogs. It is a creepy but also majestic place. And it is VAST!

New Points Ahead: The Dawn of a New Day

As we had almost made it to Hammonton, Patrick challenged me to run as fast as I could across the sections of bog that made the temperature drop 5-10 degrees. I grunted in sheer pain and exhaustion through these stretches, but soon started picking it up until I was running 7-8 minute mile pace again. It was a point to me that shown that after 140 miles of this, I could still keep going fast. I grinded and gritted my teeth as the sun had just started to come up and we had finally made it to Hammonton.

That feeling of personal triumph was incredible. I had pushed myself through a desolate and nasty stretch through a very cold night and made it to the “Gateway of the Pine Barrens”. After a refuel and reuniting with Ashlee, we were off.