Eastern States 100 Race Report: (Warning: long post) Race started at 5AM. I got about an hour of sleep from 1:30-2:30. The crew and I had rented a house 45 minutes north of the start/finish line where we did some logistics planning the night before. We found out it was located in one of the darkest spots in PA, some people rent that house to stargaze. We noticed we could see the milky way when we first arrived. We left the house about 3:20. Lots of commotion going on once we got there a little after 4 but I just chilled in the car until shortly before the race start. Went to the bathroom one last time and I was set to go. I had many doubts and fears going into the race based on race reports and the huge DNF rate in such a remote area. Along with my knee issues I’ve been dealing with all year but at least I had doctor permission to push through the pain no matter how severe and it wouldn’t cause any permanent damage.
It seemed like the race director still had a lot more announcements to go through with minutes to go before the start, I thought for sure he was going to go over, but sure enough we started at exactly 5 AM. First mile was just paved road around the park. Just like that over 200 of us all funneled into our first trail of the race, nice and rocky, bringing everyone to a walking pace already, I immediately witnessed a guy fall HARD right on his side…welcome to the PA wilds. This section was gently rolling and everyone was going extremely conservatively. Still pretty easy and keeping heart rate low despite the rocks. Cross a road after a few miles then BOOM, straight up. Steepest climb of the course just before sunrise. Thank the Lord this was near the beginning of the race. Extremely loose sharp rocks with everyone back to back to back. You’d go a little bit and look down on the long train of headlamps. If you can imagine something like Dragon’s Tooth but with a bunch of medium sized loose rocks instead of big solid boulders.
A lot of people including me pretty much blew through the first aid station since it was so cool. I was hoping to see the sunrise from up top but I couldn’t see much through the trees. This would be the theme throughout the race. Everybody ended up falling into groups since it was hard to pass and no one wanted to go out too hard. The main person I was behind during the section was a girl from Colorado acting how much more brutal the trails are on the east coast but at least there’s a ton of oxygen. Overheard a guy behind me talk about doing the race before. I asked him what all views I had to look forward to. He only mentioned one that he could remember a ways up from the next aid station.
Then we reach the lowest point of the course at mile 11, cross a pretty nice bridge. I had a guy approach me saying he actually remembered me from Grindstone 100 last year. He said we were part of the group of people leaving the last aid station and all shared the same hallucination of someone standing in a tent collecting permits in the final few miles. Anyway, cross the bridge and then the start of an equally steep loose rocky climb. Usually it’s hard to capture how steep the trail is in pictures but it was a lot easier to here. Some guy was joking how we could be at home watching Saturday morning cartoons right now. Halfway up the climb I fell into a long line of people with the Colorado girl up front again. It was funny how much she was talking, I was starting to think how many words she would say if she talked at that rate the entire race lol. But thanks to the guy earlier letting me know where the view was, I turned my head back, broke away from the group and actually noticed the view he was talking about. It wasn’t obvious and pretty nice. Started listening to music a little after this. After some runnable sections in some lush forest and gradual up, it was some very steep decent into the first major aid station where crew was allowed close to mile 18. I was actually the most worried at this aid station..I was already feeling it pretty bad in my knees mostly thanks to the last downhill, knowing there’s stuff like that way late in the race, the thought of the pain escalating at that rate had me terrified. I tried to stay focused and get out of there pretty quick.
First time charging my watch going up the next climb, I was wondering how I was gonna hold the charger and poles at the same time. Came up with a better way of doing it and just strapped the watch dangling to the clip on my pack. I wanted to keep it charged to track the entire 103 mile loop on my workout. Another couple steep climbs and descents from the valley up close to 2,000 feet and back down I arrive to Browns Run close to the marathon mark. After this was the longest rocky climb of the race, but it was gradual. I actually pushed the pace here and was feeling good. It felt better on my knees with the gradual uphill. It was all with constant stream crossings with slippery moss all over the rocks etc. I passed some people who seemed really surprised anybody caught up with them.
Happy Dutchman aid station at the 50K mark was interesting, the trail just randomly opened up into someone’s backyard, it was an official aid station though. After this is where things got interesting. It was obviously more spread out at this point, but it was one of those things where a stretch of 15-20 people was just far enough back they could always see the person in front of them. There was a section around mile 37 everyone was blindly following the person in front of them and the orange ribbons/blazes. Problem was there was a sharp right turn but someone missed the double orange ribbons and kept going forward into the inviting open scenic trail that kept climbing up the mountain. Since everyone saw the person in front of them do it, it’s amazing how so many people made the same mistake. Very easy to do since the trail was also orange blazed, for the race we had to follow the orange ribbons, so everyone saw people and orange and kept going. I was getting excited we were getting pretty high and actually got some open views, even got signal for the first time I noticed while taking a picture. Everyone said there wasn’t signal on the entire course. Then we get to a road crossing where on the other side of the road was trails with overgrown grass which it was very obvious no one had been there before and we made a wrong turn. We all turn around and everyone came up behind us and we all congregated trying to problem solve. So we backed tracked down the mountain and found where we went wrong. We were all like imagine if that road wasn’t there and we just kept going wrong. I think someone would’ve figured it out pretty soon since we were expecting an aid station soon based on the mileage. It didn’t seem like a big mistake at all but I realized it cost us all about 30-40 minutes. Which would be detrimental to someone in the back of the pack making the cutoffs in the end.
Once we rejoined the route we fell in with people who caught up with us from behind. One of them just so happened to be the guy I witnessed fall hard in the second mile of the race. He ended up bruising his rib or something and he wasn’t able to run almost any of it, he was going to have to drop out at the next crew aid station. It was funny at the aid station was supposed to be pretty remote but it ended up being crowded as could be with all the people who missed the turn. After this was a bunch of surprising wide open very runnable area so I cranked the music and made up some time here. Then a super steep descent into Hyner run aid station at mile 43.
I was still really worried about my knees on this super steep downhill, it sucked cause I had to inch my way down instead of run it. But I knew if I took it conservatively I could keep it under control to the end. Hyner is where I picked up my first pacer, Nancy from New York who I ran the Inca Trail Marathon in Peru with the year prior. She had experience pacing people in 100 milers and it showed. My dad was supposed to do this section but she gladly picked up the extra section and she ended up doing 37 miles with me. It almost felt like cheating as we left cause it feels so much easier running with someone who’s fresh to keep you company, while most people around me didn’t have a pacer. We immediately realized once we left I forgot to get a headlamp since the original plan was to meet the crew again at mile 54 at sunset, but since she was gonna stay with me the whole stretch and 54 was a pacer drop off only, there was no need for them to go there. Luckily she had an extra headlamp. We climbed back up to the ridgeline and did a bunch of short descents and climbs up there. There was a wide open section up there that had a fenced in area with a big metal gate, I guess to keep animals out. On one of them I jammed my left worse knee really hard into it. It was crazy how normally it would be really painful, but it was already so painful and there was so much adrenaline going, I didn’t even feel it too bad. Shortly after this there was some pretty runnable section then I just start laughing ironically as I look ahead and the trail is so steep ahead I see a runner just disappear like he fell off a cliff or something. But it was just that steep. It was similar to the V shaped descent and climb on Tinker Cliffs except it was steeper with no stairs. Nancy actually went down this slower than I did. Both going down sideways like we did on the Inca trail to even get any footing.
Continuing with the steep descents and climbs but mostly heading up to Dry Run Aid station mile 51. We were at the top and we made it just before sunset. I was pretty excited and hoping for a view of the sunset but of course there was none. I could tell it was pretty decent through the trees too. Got out our headlamps and did some more running while we could before it got dark. The light she had for me was pretty dim so I was making do until I could get mine at the next crew station. But thank the Lord she had an extra one or I’d be having to hold my phone light up or something. Somewhere along this section once it got real dark we came across some super muddy sections. Usually you can always find a way to go around and avoid it but we were forced to stomp through that crap. It was getting a lot colder this night too in the low 50’s. Coming down from here we got to some especially loose rocky sections straight down the river bed, it reminded me of earlier, only this time in the dead of night with a dim headlamp. Ironically the trail name was Black Forest. Every step was extremely calculated. Any slip on this 103 mile course could be detrimental. I was surprised how much of the course was runnable actually, but the majority of sections like this just slow you down to an absolute crawl. Get down from this and climb right back up the other side. It was crazy we are in a totally different area but how similar all these climbs and descents are. We fell behind a guy in which this was his first 100 mile race and talked to him for a while up the climb. Somewhere in that area too we fell in with the same guy from way earlier in the race who was a stranger to me whole told me about the view. Totally ironic that Nancy actually knew him from New York and we talked to him for a while too. He had a bright headlamp which made it easier for us to stay with him for a while. At the top was a water only aid station at mile 59..but it surprised me how it was Barkley style and it was simply water jugs sitting there in the dead of night. Coming down from this hurt my knees the worst and actually brought it to a new level of pain. I’m like this is downright going to be unbearable if it gets any worse than this. Beyond steep down, I’d go like 1 MPH and still be afraid of slipping or putting too much weight on my knee. It was the biggest sigh of relief once we got to a gravel road that gradually lead down to Slate run where our crew John Andescavage, Donald Lewis, and Melissa Lin was awaiting. This section was extremely runnable but my knees took so much of a beating on that last drop I could almost run none of it. I knew I was in trouble if I couldn’t run anymore than that to the end.
I picked up a jacket as it was a bit passed 1 AM. I sit down for a while and look over the course map and profile they had posted. I had someone point to where we were and was kind of let down just how much was left in the race. Might’ve spent a little too much time at this aid station but what do you expect, definitely didn’t want to forget anything this time. And then as I try to leave I got stopped by an official and said I failed to check in at one of the aid stations and crew was having a search and rescue for me. I was like what?! That’s ya’lls problem, I checked in each aid station. I was getting antsy to leave she finally let me go. I was really cold leaving this aid station, then quickly on the climb I got hot and either took the jacket off or rolled the sleeves up. Going on 2 AM I was battling sleep deprivation pretty bad here, it took an incredible amount of effort to focus on each step and overall was losing my morale. We get to the top and I get cold again. Actually noticed there was some nice views up here but of course there wasn’t much to see. Was able to see the moonset though. This was the first time I actually had the urge to lay down on a log and try to take a little nap. I did sit down once to apply cream but my competitiveness forced me to get up and keep going. I was in absolute misery. Get to the aid station at mile 69 and they had a fire going with three guys sitting around passed out cold. I knew this could be a bad idea to sit down and get comfortable and waste too much time. Nancy got me some food and coffee, the coffee really did the trick. Needless to say it was hard to leave the comfort of the fire but I knew I had to keep going. Shortly after I saw a guy leaning over taking a nap on a log, I had a hallucination he looked like a little up pinball machine. Nancy asked if he was ok, he said he regretted not taking a nap at that aid station and just did it there. It was funny cause later on he got up and passed me, which proves taking a nap can actually be beneficial in the long run.
And what do you know..more treacherous dangerous beyond steep loose rocky terrain right down the river bed of the mountain. Constantly weaving in and out of the water, moss infested, constantly looking for the reflective ribbon to even know where the hell the trail is. It was getting kind of comical at that point. I was surprised though cause after all that I still never had a mile slower than 30 minutes. I wanted to keep that going. I think I had a 29:55 mile there. We saw a pretty cool hidden waterfall then right back up the other side. It was starting to get light so I was getting my motivation back. Near the top even though it was getting light the ribbons got pretty confusing on where to go. Then we left the river bed and the between the sun close to rising and the entirely different atmosphere and environment of the forest, the race was starting to feel a lot different. I got the feeling of, this is actually fun again. I got the false feeling of my brain telling me, “this race is almost over”.. far from the truth. I was excited we reached the top in time for sunrise…but of course no views to see the sunrise. It felt like we were pretty distant from everyone and were about the only ones at the Long Branch aid station mile 75. But people quickly came up behind us in the short time we were there.
Off to the next section and down the mountain yet again. I was starting to see views through the trees and was getting really hopeful for an awesome vista coming up. We finally get to one, you could tell it was awesome, had signal and everything..but there was so much fog I didn’t even take a picture cause it was all white and we weren’t high enough to be above it. Very runnable downhill section from here but I could barely trot it my knees were in so much pain. A big group of people from Japan passed us pretty easily. I was impressed with how some of the people were tackling the downhills so late in the race but it would help not to having hurting knees holding me back lol. I was thinking the bottom of the drop would be the Blackwell mile 80 aid station but I got a little frustrated cause there was another little climb and drop to get to it. A lot of people were passing me at this point.
Saw my crew again at Blackwell and I had some major blisters to take care of thanks to all the numerous stream crossings and forced to stomp through the mud pits. There was a guy at the aid station helping deal with peoples foot problems so I let him do that while my crew got me stuff to eat. I must’ve spent the absolute longest at this aid station. I’m afraid to see how much time I spent here. But surprisingly it seemed like Melissa took better care of my blisters at Hyner mile 43 than the foot guy did here. It was cause I had so many of them though. Thinking back to earlier how my knees were the main cause for concern, now my feet were in way more pain between the blisters and the general beating from the sharp rocks. I always find it amazing like at Grindstone how my feet get like that even with the most comfortable cushioned Hokas. I can’t imagine the people who do these races without the thick cushion and especially without crew or pacers. It took me so much to get to that point and I’ve still got about a steep rocky marathon left to go.
Pick up my final pacer Melissa and we’re off. Off to a hobbling start at first to adapt to the blister treatment pain. We quickly get to a major steep climb and I’m actually enjoying the climbs more at this point. I seem to gain ground more on people on the climbs. First climb into it and we get our best view of the race on top of the clouds at mile 83. There was signal so I made an unexpected update post. The early morning sun created a nice vibe in the mountains, I knew I had this race in the bag, I just had to keep moving forward no matter how slow. That was the problem, I mentally had this race in the bag but there’s STILL so much to go. My foot pain increasingly got worse, to the point they got at grindstone but way earlier. Somewhere in 80 mile range my feet hurt so bad it felt like stepping on legos barefoot with every step. I kept trying to reiterate to Melissa how much pain I was in. It was hard to concentrate or understand anything she was saying, my mind was too busy on moving forward and putting up with the pain. My feet were in so much pain that even though I could tell my knees were still as bad off as they ever were, I didn’t even notice it much in comparison to my feet. We get to Skytop Aid station at mile 84 and I’m nauseated by the fact I even have to keep eating and drinking anymore. I knew I had to, but I was barely taking a sip here and there and peeing clear constantly.
Down.Up.Down.Up.Down.Up. It never ended. Mile 90 felt like it would never come, but oh wait..still 15 miles to go?!. That’s still a long ass way to go with me reduced to what I am at this point. I was getting worried about snakes since there was so much hype about it in the Facebook group before the race. A tree fell from a branch and I was having hallucinations during the day. I stopped the people about to pass me warning them of the snake but they blindly trudged through not even caring. Then a lot of stuff I was looking at looked exactly like cars parked out in the forest. It was wild. Funny enough Melissa saw the same car hallucination I did. We were both like how are you seeing the same hallucination I am? Somewhere a little before this I believe I felt a strong sensation I was being stung by something on my shin close to my foot. I kept peeling down the sock and looking at it but nothing was there. Went a little bit, looked back down, it kept feeling like I was getting stung over and over. It’s almost like my brain is just creating this sensation on it’s own somehow. Even Melissa said she didn’t see anything.
We get to a nice downhill heading into the Barrens aid station mile 92. There we awaited the most excited we saw the crews and spectators. Turns out the cutoff time for that aid station was only 10 minutes away?! How could that be?! Sure I wasted about 40 minutes on the missed turn earlier in the race, but I felt like I was doing pretty good otherwise. Here we go again, now I’m chasing overall time cutoffs for some damn reason. An official was yelling out we had 8 minutes to get out of that aid station or we were being pulled from the race. So much intensity. It set off a huge adrenaline rush in me, coupled with a 5 hour energy shot Nancy gave me. I was out of that aid station like a bat out of hell. All the pain seemed fade away and I pushed 5.5 MPH pace for at least a few miles. Picking off all kinds of people and gaining lots of ground. I could taste the finish line. I knew it’s still a damn ways to go so I had to slow down some. Interesting enough I started seeing some people I hadn’t seen since from the beginning of the race. At mile 97 when I go to charge my watch, it kind of glitched and tried to update or something and cancelled my workout. I was starting to freak out thinking it deleted it but thankfully it was still saved. I just started another one and merged them later.
Make my way to Hacketts at mile 99 and I tactically blew through this aid station pretty quick, the big group of people from Japan was there and I wanted to stay in front of them. I was thinking it was mostly downhill to the end but there was sneakily a decent climb after this. Get to the ridge line and I see a sign saying 2.2 miles to Little Pine State park. But I didn’t know how much of the race mileage once I got there would be to the finish line. I was looking at my watch and had my sights set at under 35 hours but I had to push for it. My watch flashed low battery and I didn’t want to take the time to charge it anymore since I was so close so I just turned the GPS off. That’s why there’s a tiny gap in the map. I later found out from the Barrens aid station about the 1PM cutoff that no one who left there after that time had ever made the overall finish cutoff. And here I had an entire hour to spare..It was a true testament at this point of how mental this sport is. If you want something bad enough and with enough adrenaline you can just mentally write out the pain and push through it. I had 15 minutes left to my goal time and we hadn’t started going down yet, we were still at 1900 feet and I knew the finish was at 800. Sure enough, that final mile was the steepest thing ever. It was very much like coming down from Dragon’s Tooth and which it is basically straight down and every step carefully calculated. Way over a 1000 foot drop in about a mile. We saw the infamous rattlesnake den with a ton of snakes in under the rock chilling literally right on the trail. As afraid Melissa was and dreading this section the whole time, she was actually excited to get a picture once we got up on it. I guess cause they were all curled up under the rock away from striking distance.
The clock hit 35 hours shortly after I hit solid ground at the park and approaching the finishing stretch and ended up finishing in 35:01. World of difference and excitement between this and Grindstone. Grindstone was anticlimactic since that finished in the middle of the night. Amazing how I felt way better and talkative at that finish line than I sometimes do at most marathons. I was telling the race director about the group of people who went off course at mile 37. I was pretty good at staying awake unless I stared off too long. Got our post race pictures, food, etc. Went to get something to eat for later that night. I actually didn’t go to bed til 11 or so Sunday night. Having been up since 11 AM Friday with an hour nap before the race. Went to the bathroom when I woke up at 9AM Monday and realized that was by far the longest I had gone without taking a crap. I hadn’t gone since before the race which was over 50 hours prior. My workout entry said I burned over 30,000 calories during this race. My dad and I stopped by to check out Mount Davis and get pictures of my buckle at the highest point in PA at 3,213 feet. Huge thanks to my crew and all the staff and volunteers at the race. It would’ve been a very different experience without them.
TLDR: Toughest race of my life. Very rocky. Made a wrong turn at mile 37 causing me to almost miss the cutoff at mile 92. Incredibly hard on me physically but stayed strong mentally.