by Adam Devine
When: May 13, 2017
Where: Pennypack Park, Philadelphia, PA
So this may be a long recap, but it was also a long race, so bear with me.
I did the North Face Endurance Challenge at Bear Mountain last year, but wanted something not quite so challenging course-wise this year, so at the suggestion of Jana and Shan, I signed up for the Dirty German Endurance Fest 50 mile race. It is in Pennypack Park in Philadelphia, and has a lot fewer climbs and rocky bits, so I thought it would be a slightly saner endeavor. I was wrong.
In the 10 days or so before the race, the forecast went from mostly sunny with highs in the mid 60’s to downpour and low 50’s. Sara and I went down to Wilmington, DE and were graciously hosted by Shan and his parents. We went shopping the day before to stock up on supplies and then relaxed and watched the Avengers with Shan’s dad (a definite highlight of the trip).
We got up at 4:15 am, packed up the car, and headed out after only one small freak out where I couldn’t find my wallet. The rain had started in earnest, but I kept hoping that I was perceiving it letting up a little, even as Shan kept changing the wipers to higher and higher settings. We drove up to Philadelphia with minimal fuss and used the flush toilets at a Wawa near the park as a luxury, where we ran into our first fellow participants.
Once we got to the start area we ran into Jana and Anh-Tuan, but only had a little time to get our bibs, set our drop bags, and take a second to appreciate how miserable the conditions were. I was running in my normal shorts and singlet with a handheld water bottle, and as I scanned my fellow runners with their Camelbaks, ponchos, packs and hats and gloves and compression socks, I commented that I felt underdressed. “That’s because you are!” chuckled a gentleman with 15 lbs of extra gear. I usually feel very intimidated at the start of a race, like everyone else is going to fly by me, but for the first time ever I had a sense that I belonged among those other runners, that I had trained as well as possible and fit in, even if I wasn’t wearing as much as they were.
“That’s because you are!” chuckled a gentleman with 15 lbs of extra gear. I usually feel very intimidated at the start of a race, like everyone else is going to fly by me, but for the first time ever I had a sense that I belonged among those other runners — that I had trained as well as possible and fit in, even if I wasn’t wearing as much as they were.
Before I knew it, they were shuffling Shan and me into the herd, and we were off for the first of three 16.5 mile loops in the park. We fell in toward the back of the pack, and just sort of settled into a rhythm. The conditions weren’t too terrible, some puddles and mud, but nothing too bad. I was happy to have serious trail shoes with what amounted to cleat treads on the bottom. Shan was obviously struggling to keep his footing in his AB2s, but we slowly moved up through the pack.
We almost went off course at one point, but were hollered at by two women and realized our mistake. I think Shan and I decided it was best to stick with them for a little longer and let them lead the way, content to be safe in a pack. We stayed there for most of the first loop until speeding up a bit towards the end. The course was really well marked, the aid stations were evenly spaced and well stocked, and the volunteers were all super cheerful and helpful. I can’t say enough about how well this event was organized and executed in really terrible conditions.
At the start of the second loop I quickly noticed two things: 1) we were probably a little quick on our first loop and 2) an extra 2.5 hours of rain and a couple hundred runners worth of footfalls hadn’t done the course any favors. What used to be small puddles were now like the world’s worst kiddie pools, and they rerouted us across a condemned bridge instead of one of the stream crossings because it was safer.
The extra mud was playing havoc with my footing, and I was really feeling for Shan, but was also approaching what I consider to be the hardest part of a 50-mile race — miles 20-30. That is where my survival instinct kicks in and my brain starts telling me it is better to stop. Along a particularly muddy section, Shan dropped back and I had to make the conscious decision to stay on pace because if I slowed I didn’t know if I would be able to finish.
I figured I was in the top 20 or so, and was just focused on keeping moving as fast as I could. The lead woman passed me, and we chatted a bit, mainly my letting her regale me with tales of her 100-mile races as I panted and tried to keep up. I was happy for the company, but she soon left me behind.
At this point, I was running by myself, but I was not alone. I had read that positive self-talk helps other runners, so I started talking to myself, telling myself that I could do this, that I had trained hard, that I had been through worse. I also started thinking of all the people that I had the opportunity to train with over the last few months, even if we only shared a few miles, and I began to thank them out loud for helping me along this journey. Knowing that I had a whole team with me helped immensely.
My second lap was about 20 minutes slower than the first, but I still had a slight hope of averaging a 10 min mile by doing the last loop in three hours flat. This turned out to be a false hope. I have never run a Tough Mudder, but that is the only thing that came to mind while traversing the last 16 miles. It was nothing but puddles, mud, and slogging, accompanied by the squelching of my shoes and my increasingly labored breathing.
Fatigue had set in, but I knew I was doing well overall. I had seen the lead woman drop out after taking a tumble, and was passed by Chris Scarpetti, a very accomplished ultra runner, with about 12 miles to go. I was feeling alternately bone weary and giddy, finding myself laughing at the absurdity of what we were doing. The last few miles ticked away, and my goals kept getting pushed back, but I had no doubts about finishing now; it was merely a question of how much more suffering was in store. I consciously didn’t press the pace too much, knowing I wanted to cross the finish line strong and not sobbing. I also made sure to thank all of the volunteers on the last lap, knowing that they were the real rock stars on that day, standing in the cold for hours on end just so a bunch of crazy runners could gallivant through the woods.
As I headed out of the woods for the last time I started going at a pace that could be considered “running” and saw Shan scrambling out of his car to join me. He was shoeless and chasing me like a crazed animal, shouting what I thought was an encouragement. Sara and Jana were there at the finish cheering too, and I ran through the finish arch just relieved it was over.
At that point, I saw a volunteer approach me and say, “Third overall!” while attempting to hand me a jug, a hat, and a box. I was slightly confused, as I had no idea I was in third, and had never even considered the possibility of a podium finish. The box contained a little cuckoo clock that says “3rd Place Dirty German,” a really cool and unique award. I wanted to hug and high five everyone and tell them I loved them, so I did. We took a bunch of pictures and ate some AMAZING bratwurst and sauerkraut.
Within minutes of finishing my body started to revolt: shivering, cramping, and pain, oh so much pain. Hips, feet, and ankles were especially bad, but it was just general pain. We piled into Shan’s mom’s car, trying our best not to destroy its interior too thoroughly, and headed to a post race feast of Five Guys and frozen yogurt, which tasted amazing after months of low carb training. More hugs and high fives were exchanged, and Shan and Jana dropped us off at the train station to head home.
Forty hours or so later I feel moderately human again. I managed four miles at a decent pace this morning, and I don’t seem to have done any lasting damage. I continue to be amazed at what I am capable of, but also know that I am only capable of doing this with the love and support of those around me. If you are reading this, I am truly grateful to have you as a teammate and in my life. You all continually inspire me to become the best possible version of myself. Special thanks to Jana and Sara for sticking around in the cold rain at the finish after kicking butt in their own races and to Shan for joining me on this crazy journey and providing accommodations, chauffeuring, coaching, and inspiration. Finally, thanks to Mr. and Mrs. Haq for allowing us to stay in their home and for letting us trash their car. I hope the smell comes out soon.