Nick Neakrase

Return of Robot Knee - The Reverse Ring

Subtitled: Foreshadowing!**

  • I had training, I had recon, I had a plan, I had motivation - for The Ring that is!
  • That, having gone pretty okay, in January I was encouraged to run the Reverse and I accepted.
  • Building on the Couch-to-Ring training plan of last summer, I added more miles, commitment and strength; as it turned out I would need it for the unexpected (snow), now if only I had more padding on my ass.
  • From running the Ring, I knew I had the juice, but I still expected the unexpected… and I was not disappointed.

40 Registered, 24 showed on a morning right around freezing. Cold, but I was not overdressed at the start in compression shorts and short sleeves with gloves. I run hot anyway, but the internal furnace got going right away heading up Signal Knob, so I heated right up.

It was going to be very cold later Saturday night, but at least there wouldn’t be any kind of precipitation (foreshadowing),

…so that light weight rain jacket that Samantha strongly urged me to buy and carry would stay in the pack! (more foreshadowing: how wrong could a person be anyway?!?!)

Q was stripping off clothes halfway up the climb; fun to watch. I felt right at home in my minimal base layer. Weather is great!

For the record - Signal Knob “up” is better than Signal Knob down with an actual RUN down the back side to Powells Fort Camp - Glorious. Was that actually a sub 11 minute mile, you betcha, I was Bligan-fast™️ (LMAO)!

Jamie and I kept running for a not too long detour down the fire road instead of turning at “the bench”. We self-corrected and got back on track.

Past Powells Fort Camp, spent some miles with John Hord, before he was off ahead, he wasn’t going to miss those cut-offs. For me, nice running on fresh legs, pancakes and bacon at Woodstock Tower Aid.

Speaking of food: Here’s the plan honed in the much faster-paced ICY-8 (35.7 miles) a few weeks before: 1. Eat Aid Station food, 2. Gels (only) on trail. One every hour. Salt tabs (190 mg) every two hours, keep a feel on cramping to up the dosage, 3. EAT EARLY and REGULARLY, and 4. No-to limited Ibuprofen.

(This is going to come up later - so take notes - FORESHADOWING!)

Bottom Line Up Front: I would successfully navigate the full Reverse Ring with no cramping or stomach issues of any kind - of course it wasn’t hot.

Without the cramping or stomach issue, I should be able to make 24 hours, right? (foreshadowing)

Picked up Rookie Ring Recon buddy Rob Tidwell along the way; good company. Feeling pretty good.

Fall number ONE on wet leaves. No biggy. Classic push-up position.

During The Ring my absolute nemesis (with a sick stomach) was the two miles up Waonaze from Edinburg, while the way down Waonaze during Reverse did me no favors, as Robot knee detests those steep step downs, I can safely say this was way better than September.

Wait a second, is that snow? Isn’t it supposed to be like 45 today? And they weren’t calling for ANY kind of precip! Well, it can’t be anything but a passing flurry (wrong - foreshadowing).

Edinburg Gap Aid was delightful, I got a great breakfast burrito, thanks for the hot tots to go, Charlene, but I accidentally left them on the table. Is it possible that leaving food could become a theme? (more foreshadowing)

There was Ashley Carr at Edinburg, she had stopped to breastfeed her baby, it was not the last time. Children can be so demanding.

Up and over Short Mountain, in the daytime for the first time - nice (yes, I said nice). A little disorienting.

Ashley Carr catching Nick on Short Mountain, and saving him from more lost time running on a trail that is Not Orange

Speedy Ashley caught me as I was perusing an alternate overlook trail; no, not that way, this way. Stayed with her for a bit, and off she went.

Gee, that snow is really picking up: not a flurry, more like a squall, I pondered. At least it is not sticking to the trail (dumb, I’m dumb).

Jamie Greenawalt picked me up on the descent to Moreland, she remarked how pretty the snow was: diabolically pretty, Jamie, diabolically!

I had been up by about 1.5 hours on the cut-off and was feeling comfortable, the snow (and the unbelievable slip and slide to follow) did start to slow me down, but I still rolled into Moreland 45 minutes under the cut-off (and a great improvement from the Ring).

Ashley Carr is already there: baby time again. If anybody mentions my robot knee, I’m likely to say, well I never had to breastfeed multiple times during an active race; pretty badass.

Drop bag: Picked up a long sleeve, water-resistant vest, and a hat. Picked up John Calabrese (not from the drop bag).

Picked up my drop-bag ready, pre-packaged Ziplock bag (2 of 3) of Gels specific to the Moreland-Roo section (remember this one!!!). It’s more foreboding than foreshadowing at this point I think.

Chelsea Butler was persistently reminding me about the headlamp, she wasn’t taking the chance that I might leave without it… oh Chelsea, if you had ALSO been at Roo (FORESHADOWING!!)

Had some hot soup and headed out (with my warm clothes, nutrition, and my head lamp).

Gosh, it’s kinda looking like Wintery Wonderland out here, but this has got to be it, right? There wasn’t supposed to be anything. It’s not like it could snow all day (Okay, I’ll stop saying the F word now, no I won’t… foreshadowing!)

Up and over Kerns in the daytime for the first time - nice-ish? While daytime Kerns is far superior to nighttime Kerns, the snow and slip and slide was starting to count for reals. By count I mean how many times would I hit the deck. With Jamie again, fall TWO, fall THREE (oof, went down hard on that one).

Fall number FOUR! Robot Knee’s tripping fault: SLACKER!

The sign at the top of the climb up Jawbone, and the start of the notorious Kerns Mt section of the trail. The snow is starting to accumulate; the bitter cold is still on the way.

Jamie and Nick catch John C., John, Jamie and Nick, catch John H. Ashley just ahead. Five, out of what would ultimately be Ten total finishers roll into Crisman together. What fun.

The Crisman crew couldn’t haul the canopy up the hill so snow on the food it was, how lovely. The broth was hot and nice.
Feeling fine, feeling strong, Jamie and I head out, John-squared a little back. Brought the battery pack to charge the Garmin.
What is Ashley doing? Oh that’s right. See you soon (apparently, LOL).

Lets play a game: It’s called better on Ring or better on Reverse?

Signal Knob - Reverse, Waonaze - Reverse, Short, Kerns (even with the falls) - Reverse, Reverse.

Waterfall? Surely this must be better (DOWN) on Reverse, right? (foreshadowing - wamp, wamp).

Fall FIVE - down hard, flat on my back, pointy rock, probably lucky I didn’t puncture my hydration.

Internal self talk - slow down Nick!

As the snow flurries start to gain more traction, Jamie Greenawalt leap-frogging with Nick on the Kerns section

(Postscript: as of the writing of this on the following Wednesday, I still have an uncomfortable knot in my back.)

Fall - SIX right on my right hip. Put your headlamp on, maybe that will help. Audible self talk - SLOW THE HELL DOWN!

Fall SEVEN! Stop the madness. John and John pass while nimble Jamie waits at the bottom. I side stepped the whole way down after THREE big falls on Water”Fall”!

Our foursome heads up Big Run. We did not run, but the trail sure did. To the scene of Calabrese’s near total submersion. No swimming John! Phew, made it! Now, up the trail of rivers, or a river of trails.

Down goes Jamie in a kind of pirouette. Sorry, Jamie, but that was pretty graceful under the circumstances. LOL. Jamie, we said no swimming.

We see a headlamp behind us. Ashley again! Ashley spends some time with our crew, but pulls through and is off ahead again. John H. is off the back refueling from a self-proclaimed bonk!

Jamie, John C. and Nick head up and over and into Duncan Hollow. Lots more snow, lots more water, lots more mud - but this is not AT ALL unexpected. Right into it we go. John H. catches back up. The foursome slogs it’s way down and through. Also, it’s getting decidedly colder.

As you may know, the second cut-off at Roo is a little more forgiving than the first at Moreland, but we needed every bit of focus and hustle to make it through the wintery morass on time. The cut-off is the goal, but also, warm dry clothes await for some.

We made it! 23 minutes inside the cut-off. The slog is done, the cut-off made. But the cold push to the end is just beginning. Warm fire, great food at Roo, but don’t get comfortable, there’s work to do.

I guess it did stop snowing. Not sure when, but I estimate it snowed more or less, off and on, for about seven hours.

Drop Bag: Dry shoes and socks, fourth base layer, that damn waterproof rain jacket that there was NO WAY I was going to need (Samantha is so smart), new gloves, warm hat. John C. “borrows” a coat (he didn’t have one) for the unanticipated wintery bits. Jamie changes in a warm car and then picks up pacer Larry Tumblin. Ashley planned her stop here. John Hord calls it a day, sorry John.

Come on Trio - Move, move! Got to get out of the aid station by 10 PM. So much to do, so little time - Made it. Jamie (with Larry), John and Nick head up to Kennedy.

TO MILFORD - 57.5:
And then … uhm, 0.5, maybe 1 mile climbing out of Camp Roosevelt. I have an unfortunate revelation. I had done nearly everything right, I had overcome challenges, I was having a good race. In my haste to eat, acquire new clothes and get out of Roo, I forgot to pack my (Ziplock bag 3 of 3) nutrition pack (wump, wump). What an idiot!

Jamie (and Larry) were almost immediately ahead. I told John the news and that I had a Plan B, if not a good one, or a well planned one. I had just eaten a bunch at Roo, I had three gel packs on me, John offered an almond butter pack and other things… it would have to get me to Milford and figure something out there to get me the rest of the way. Come on pizza!
John and I worked our way now at a comparatively casual pace. Though I did run some bits later, I postulated at the time that I would be satisfied walking it to the finish. I think for me the slipping and sliding and stabilizing and falling started to accumulate. My energy was flagging, and it was a bad time to be rationing food. The cold and the late hour were also taking an accounting of our fitness and enthusiasm, but we sojourned on.

John was sleepy, but he saved that stashed cold brew for the stretch run.

Up and down and up and down again and again. This section seemed sooooo much longer than when I did it the other way around, but that was to be expected. We arrived at Milford about 2 hours slower than I had “planned”, 3:30 AM, but no worries.

With no stomach issues (and no other food options - because I’m dumb), I was ready for the much revered pizza. Snarf, snarf! Would you like me to make another piece? Sarah asked. Yes please!

Water refill, coke, tons of pizza… but what to take with, what would take the place (on the trail) of my scheduled (and now missing) gel packs?

Sarah Smith provided me with a baked potato with cheese - nice, unconventional, but nice. Making it easily the strangest food that I have picked at from a pack on a half marathon starting at 3:45 in the morning. And making this the best (or at least most welcome) aid station ever, phew. Made a monumental mistake at Roo and was saved.

In the warm morning sun of Day Two, ready to head down Shawl Gap to the finish.

We carefully navigated the dodgy bits after Milford that I call “Rock Ridge”. Gonna call the night time, wet leaves, snow, and ice on that section legit dangerous. We didn’t take any chances.

After that we just rolled, John had mentioned the likelihood of him being affected by the late hour. He drank his cold brew, but was doing some pretty heavy sleep walking. I kept looking back - he was in Total Zombie Mode.

Funny thing at that moment, I started doing some math and calculated (poorly) that we would have just enough time to make the finish line cut-off if we maintain a 23-minute per mile pace. Turns out that we would NOT have made it (we did some miles a “bit” slower LOL).

The good news, however, was my ultra brain used a 9:00 AM cut-off, when it was really 11:00 AM. Although we were safe (all along), I passed my bad information to John and John responded. I had awakened TURBO ZOMBIE!!

And with John in the lead, not only was he awake he was rollin’! He was alert to the trail changes. It was awesome. Check this, do that, “how we doing?” 1 mile, 2 miles… movin’! Took a wrong turn, got back on track, thought we took another, assessed, we were right.. keep going! We took a similarly timed uh, how shall i put it “poo” break; now I was light as a feather. We were jammin’!

John offered more of his food. John was on point! TURBO ZOMBIE for the win!! Another brisk mile…

Uh, John, Hey, uh, wait, I think?

Oh damn, what?

John, I have “good” news. I miscalculated… we have like FIVE HOURS left to do 7.5 miles. DOH! It was like finding gold. Safe. And we were cut-off safe all along (facepalm). Anyway, it woke us up LOL.

The trail was still long, the finish was still a few hours away, but we were good. One more big climb, back hurts (from my Water”Falls”).

Sunrise on the ridge, more pointless ups and downs before the final descent into Elizabeth Furnace.

Got off track just one more time, no biggy. We made our way through EF and up that last diabolical hill and into the finish - 9th/10th. 27 ½ hours.

I was on an empty, but still happy stomach. I was ready to eat and get warm and dry. The cafe was great and I ate a bowl of tots, chili, and cheese, oh and I had a beer. Tired, but I felt good, and I drove home. Thanks everyone.

This is one of the few times that I have run a race with other people. I’m usually unnervingly alone. But from Moreland to the finish I had four, and then three, and then two and finally one with me. Thank you Ashley, John H., Jamie and especially John Calabrese for making this very, very difficult race more bearable. John, so proud that we did this together, it felt very collaborative and team-like.

Though I wouldn’t exactly call it “mastery”, I am a Master of the Ring (cool). Do I get a Gold Jacket or something? No?! It’s okay, I like stickers.

A couple of heavy rock kicks that hurt A LOT. Other than that, it just worked how it works. Today, I am sore in weird places, but I think that’s from the falls. The robot knee, if not the rest of me, is ready to run today.