John Calabrese

2024 C&O Canal 100 mile race report

Buildup to race day
A few weeks leading up to the 2024 C&O Canal 100 mile race I tweaked my right leg. I was able to run but as the race drew closer my leg started to hurt more. I took 4 days off running the week of the race hoping that would help.

Race Morning
I got decent rest Friday night but had to be up at 3 am to leave by 4 am in order to get to the race about 6 am to prep and be ready. My leg was feeling okay but I wasn’t extremely confident about it.

I got to the race around 6:14 am. I got my stuff ready, got my bib/ checked in and then started looking for my friends to hang out.

The Plan
I had spoken to my friends Charlie Raffensberger and Ben Nalette, both of whom I’ve run many races with. We were going to start at a 12 min pace and attempt to keep that up to the 50k mark and then see where we were at that point. We wanted to get sub 24 but also were realistic that if we felt bad and needed to deviate we would just go for a finish.

In addition to Ben and Charlie I talked to Nick and Sam Neakrase, Betsy and Johnny Lyons, Greg Loomis, Scott Lee, Jim Lampman and I knew there were other friends out there I didn’t bump into at the start that I’d see on the course. I thought to myself, “This is nice. I’m comfortable. Let’s go.”

Charlie, Ben and I went to the Joke Well early here. Lots of Pacino in the first few miles. This was followed up by a full NFL draft breakdown where some people near us were laughing because it sounded like we were doing a podcast. It was good and we were going slightly faster than planned but nothing crazy.

We got to the initial turn around and on the way back we bumped into Sam Neakrease and she said I’m on sub 24 hour pace! I told our group keep that in mind and we slowed down.

We didn’t go out crazy hot, we were pretty sensible.

Plans Shift
At about mile 13 my leg started to feel really bad. Ben was in an interesting spot too, extremely undertrained, so we were like a yin and yang of over and undertrained. Which left poor Charlie….who was feeling good. When we were headed up to the Harper’s Ferry bridge area our friend Charlie went ahead and Ben and I did not blame him. We told him many times to go ahead if we were slowing him down. I was very concerned Ben and I were not going to make cutoffs and we immediately sank to the back of the pack.

One thing that really saved us was putting on ponchos immediately when it started raining. It rained off and on for awhile and I kept mine on until we got to Manidoken. So even though we were really struggling with pace we were dry and warm not in wet clothes or anything.

At Manidoken Ben offered me a set of trekking poles. I’ve never used poles in this race but I was open to anything at this point. I was trying just about anything to stay under an 18 min pace it was really bad.

Headed to Brunswick it was depressing. We were so far back and just not moving with any real speed. Usually it starts getting dark at Brunswick or when I’m leaving most years I do C&O, but this time it was getting dark and we were still miles away. We had to run. We started slowly at the Antetim aid station and pushed as best as we could all the way to Brunswick. Along the way we bumped into Michael Ortiz and Jim Lampman, so Ben and I felt better about the situation, but knew we were in deep leaving Brunswick into the night to do a loop. We would really have to work hard to maintain pace.

Enter Tracy Cooley
At the Brunswick aid station while Ben and I were preparing to go into the abyss Tracy Cooley asked if anyone needed a pacer. I was like hell yeah we do. So she said bye to Sam and headed out with us. Lauren was about to head out with Sam. So off we went. Ben and I were extremely happy to have Tracy pace us and we joked a lot, especially about a newly drafted NFL Quarterback Michael Penix, Jr. I’m not going to put all the jokes on here but they were elite. Tracy helped us stay on pace because we were tired from pushing on the way over to make up time. On the way to the Manidokan aid station Tracy said that Sam dropped and we were sad. Also we were totally on the ropes here and needed help on the next portion going from Manidoken to Antietam, then to Brunswick and to the finish. It was going to be extremely hard, tired and sleepy in the dead of night. We needed someone to help. Lauren volunteered to help us and she would meet us at Manidoken. We were saved!

The Work You Don’t Want to Put In
Lauren and Tracy helped us get ready. We said our goodbyes to Tracy and off we went. When we got back on the Canal we knew we had to get some faster miles. Slowly Lauren got us running and we topped out around a 14 min pace. It was brutal but we worked as hard as we could. Lauren was really a good babysitter. Ben and I were toddlers and needed a patient handler because we were not in a good place. She deserves some kind of award just for this stretch alone.

When we got to Antietam, I was wrecked. I slammed a black rifle coffee with lots of caffeine and it did nothing. Jana was there and she was really cool and everyone was trying to help, but we couldn’t stay long. We just basically got some quick calories and caffeine, and bailed.

The Lowest Point So Far …
The coffee did nothing. I couldn’t run I was just capable of shuffling and I started passing out while walking. I looked like I was drunk. I had to use poles here just to keep upright. I needed the sun to come up badly, to help wake me up. I was going so slow that Ben just went ahead.

The Sun Heals All
I started feeling better but still slow once it got light out. I bumped into Randy Kreill. He passed me and we spoke about how it looked like there would be 100 finishers this year. The rain got some people but we were going to have more finishers than ever before! That made me happy. Then we saw Ben! He was laying on a bench. He said he had started going too fast and things got blurry. So he went with us.

A Slow Moving Trek
At this point I was making noises and going extremely slow. I couldn’t keep up with Ben and he was looking much stronger than I was. When we got to Brunswick I was happy to only have like 10 miles left or whatever but I knew it would be a struggle to maintain even an 18 min pace. I was that bad.

Last stretch!
Early on Ben had to go ahead. I was an absolute mess. Lauren really helped me here, talking to me telling me if I got too slow. Which was a lot! The most memorable part of this section was when Lauren played Bruce Springsteen and we talked about Blockbuster video. The last part between the porta John to the bridge headed to Manidoken took forever ( these have become landmarks and beacons to me over the times I have done this race!). It felt like the Bermuda triangle. When I die, if I find myself in some weird purgatory where this stretch never ends, it would not surprise me at all.

The End
Lauren and I got to the parking cone of happiness ( another landmark of mine!), we made the right and climbed up to Manidoken. I made it with only 12 or so minutes to spare I think.

I took some pictures and talked to friends for a bit then I had to take care of my feet, change clothes, then get home to the family.

I only finished this race because of all the people on the course. Volunteers, Runners, and race organizers etc., but I want to give a special shout out to these 4 people.

Sam Neakrase
Tracy Cooley
Ben Nalette
Lauren Gabler Masterson

I also don’t want to single anyone out specifically, but Lauren basically did the work of a saint pacing Ben and I, and once I really fell off the rails, that was probably the worst pacing assignment ever.

Lauren won this race in my opinion. She is patient, extremely nice and encouraging even in just really bad situations. I can’t thank you enough for helping me get to the end, Lauren!

Aid Station Shout Outs
This race has arguably some of the best aid stations in ultra running. Make no mistake the standard is Sarah C Smiths on The Reverse Ring but all the aid stations this year on C&O were really motivated trying to get all the runners to the finish and it shows in the results! Most ever! A couple quick shout outs. Dargan Bend man wow what is there to say. They have a dig deep mother fucker sign and every time I came in there I was wrecked even in the beginning of the race they helped me like a tired toddler. Hurt aid station best coffee in all of ultra running and best tacos Manny is the best. Also Bill Susa is hilarious. As I was headed back to Manidoken just dying hobbling my 18 min death shuffle he was killing me with laughter.

I love this race and intend on doing it every year until I can’t run. Thank you Lance and Emily! This was an experience that I’ll never forget and I can’t wait to come back. Congratulations on the most finishers ever! Next year we have to break it again!

Link to C&O Canal 100 Miler race results